After he and Meryl haggle over prices for a bit--she kept trying to go lower, Jared insisted that it doesn’t count as a gift if he gets it practically for free--she walks them downstairs and through the antique shop.
“So I’ll bring the check with me when I pick it up. Same time as usual?”
Meryl looks down at the sketchbook she’s still holding in her hands. “Yeah. This shouldn’t take me any longer than that.” She grins up at him. “Your requests are always unique, but not too difficult.”
Jared smiles back at her, gives her hug goodbye before they leave. “Say hello to Jonathan for me. Tell him I think the extra garage is a great idea.”
She slaps his arm with the sketchbook. “Oh, just get out of here.” She turns to Jensen. “It was nice meeting you. You should come back some time, let me design something for you.”
Jensen takes her hand. “I just might. You are a fantastic artist, Meryl.” He gives her his most charming grin and Meryl’s face goes red. She honest-to-god blushes and for a moment Jared thinks Jensen must have some kind of superpower. He’s never seen Meryl flustered in all the seven years he’s known her. Then Jared recalls a brief flash of Jensen laughing, head thrown back and eyes closed, lines crinkling around his eyes, and well, he gets it.
He’s starting to understand that sometimes it’s impossible not to be flustered around Jensen.
Goodbyes said, Meryl heads back upstairs to her workshop, and the boys wave goodbye to Becky, still sitting in the rocking chair. Outside the shop, they’re quiet. Jared awkwardly shoves his hands into his pockets as he walks to the car, suddenly feeling self conscious. While in the workshop he’d been too occupied with planning his mom’s present to think about Jensen and how he’d forced him into being with him, so excited about his ideas and seeing Meryl again that he forgot, when he’d introduced him, that Jensen wasn’t a friend, wasn’t even someone who liked Jared.
Now, with Jensen walking silently beside him, pensive frown on his face, Jared feels highly aware of those facts.
“Why’d you call me Jensen?”
Jared stops. “What?”
“Inside. When you were introducing me to Meryl, you gave her my name instead of Misha’s. Why?”
Was that what Jensen was frowning about? Jared had though the man would be glad to go by his own name for once.
“Meryl’s my secret,” Jared explains.
Jensen looks at him, confused. “Huh?”
He smirks. “No one in my family knows who Meryl is. The first time I ever gave my mama a present from there, she kept trying to get the name of who made it for me. I knew, from the way she loved it, that she wanted to buy more from her. But if she could buy the figurines herself, what would be the point of me giving them to her? So I never told her, or anyone else in my family.” Jared shoots Jensen a sidelong glance. “You‘ve probably noticed that nobody can keep their mouth shut in my family. It didn’t matter if she knew who you really were because she doesn’t talk to my family, though she knows about them, and they don’t talk to her, even though they know she exists.”
Jared doesn’t mention that it was nice, not having to lie to someone. That he could smile and introduce Jensen, not the man Jensen was pretending to be. Nor does he talk about how all the lying was getting to him, that he couldn’t stand the though of trying to fool one more person he cared about.
Instead he shrugs and keeps talking about Meryl. “It’s more of a joke between us than anything. If she really wanted to find out who made them, it wouldn’t be too hard. Not many people around who have talent like Meryl’s.”
Jensen nods and starts walking again. “Yeah. I’m surprised she isn’t up in New York somewhere, with her own art gallery doing commissions for rich people.”
Jensen stares at him in surprise, and Jared lifts one shoulder, grinning. “Meryl’s the best kept secret around here. She was a big hotshot artist in New York City years ago. Her work was featured in several magazines and art journals, shown off in some of the most famous houses along the east coast. Jonathan was her manager. That’s how they met. Eventually she got tired of the big city and they moved back down here to San Antone, where she was born.”
They’ve reached the car and Jared unlocks the front door as he continues speaking. “She made enough money off her art that they can both live in retirement. Now, she only does a few commissions here and there, mostly as favors for friends. What you saw up there? Was actually her personal collection. None of it’s for sale.” They get in the car and Jared starts it. Jensen’s looking through the car window at the second floor of the antique shop.
“She must really love her work,” Jensen muses thoughtfully.
Jared chuckles. “Yeah. She’s no cynical, disillusioned artist. She just loves playing with glass. She’d give me my stuff for free if she could, but I insist on paying, even if it is less than a tenth of what it’s worth. I mean, it’s for my mama, you know?”
He looks over at Jensen as he pulls out of the parking lot to see the other man eyeing him with an expression Jared can’t make out, and he shifts uncomfortably in the seat, realizing he’s been rambling on for a while now. He coughs. “Anyway. Now that we’re done here I thought we’d go see Harley and Sadie.”
“Great. After Chad I’m just dying to meet more of your friends.”
Jared flicks him a surprised glance, sees him glowering out the window again and smirks. “Well, I’m sure you’ll love them. They’re the best friends a man could ask for.”
“Right,” Jensen says sarcastically.
Jared takes them out of the city and back to the neighborhood he grew up in. The house he pulls up to is only a few streets down from his parents’, just a few minutes walk away. He probably would have come here to visit last night if it hadn’t been for Jensen.
He parks in the street, barely putting on the break before he’s ripping the keys out of ignition and throwing open the door. Excited, he rushes up to the front door. Behind him Jensen follows and more sedate (sullen) pace. Jared presses the doorbell once, and then again a second time, bouncing up and down on his heels as he waits.
“Dude,” came an annoyed voice behind him. “What’s got you jumping up and down like you’re the Energizer bunny?” He turns around to see Jensen standing on the step below him, scowling.
“Just haven’t seen them in a long time is all.” Jared claps his hands together, bounces a few more times for good measure. The door opens behind him and whips around, wide smile on his face. “Cindy!” He jumps forward, hugging the blonde woman. “Are they here?”
Cindy laughs, patting his back. “Yeah, of course they are. We’ve been waiting for you. They’re out back.”
Jared gives her another squeeze and, ignoring Jensen’s slightly bewildered expression, takes off into the house, heading straight for the door to the backyard. The sliding doors open easily and he’s barely set foot outside before he’s bowled over by two, large, flailing, barking mutts.
“Puppies!” Jared bellows, and happily falls to the ground with them, accepting their wet doggy kisses and running his palms over their glossy coats. Sadie crawls right into his lap, licking at his face and Harley runs around and around him in circles sniffing, and pawing and accidentally whacking Jared with his tail. Jared laughs in delight. “I missed you guys,” he coos. “Yes I did.” He senses Jensen behind him but he doesn’t care if he’s making a fool of himself, it’s been months since he’s seen his dogs and he is going to enjoy the reunion
“C’mere, Harley.” He snags the dog by the collar and pulls him to him, ruffling the fur on his neck with both hands. Harley leans in to the touch, mouth open and tongue lolling, panting hot, doggy breaths across Jared’s face. “I think you’ve gotten bigger, boy. You been terrorizing the neighborhood like usual?” Harley woofs and Jared laughs.
“These are your friends, huh?” Jensen asks and Jared looks over his shoulder at him, grinning.
“What can I say?” He leans forward to place a kiss on Sadie’s head. “A man’s best friend is his dog.”
“Or dogs, plural, in this case.”
“Yep!” Jared nods happily, barely sparing Jensen a glance. When he finally does look away from the two animals demanding his attention to look up, Jensen is staring at him with that peculiar look again, the one Jared doesn’t know what to make of. “What?”
Jensen shakes his head. “Nothing,” he mumbles, looking away.
Jared spends a few more moments wrestling with the dogs before finally getting off the ground, brushing off the grass and dog hair covering his clothes. “C’mon inside. I’ll introduce you.” Jensen follows him inside without a word.
Inside, Cindy and her husband, Mark, are in the kitchen. She looks up from the sugar cookies she’s decorating (in red and green, of course) and smiles at him. “Finally visiting us now, huh?” She teases.
Mark grumbles from his spot against the counter where he’s eating the leftover batter. “Second place to a couple of mutts, I see how it is.”
Jared chuckles. “Mark, you love those dogs just as much as I do, don’t even try to deny it.”
Mark pretends to scowl. “Wouldn’t have taken them in if you hadn’t gone to Cindy first.”
“Whatever.” Jared rolls his eyes. When he catches Jensen’s curious expression he explains. “Harley and Sadie were my dogs in college. When I moved to Dallas I couldn’t take them with me, and Dad’s allergic. I didn’t want to give them up to someone I didn’t know and luckily these guys,” he gestures at them with his thumb, “took an interest in them. I would have scrapped the whole Dallas idea if they hadn’t promised to let me come back and visit them whenever I wanted.”
“Of course, we mistakenly assumed that you’d want to visit us just as well as the dogs. But we’ve all seen how that goes,” Mark bitches at him.
“Aww…” Jared coos, his smile feeling wider than Texas. “Does Marky feel unloved? Come here, Marky, I’ll show you how much I love you.” The shorter man tries to dodge him as Jared goes for a hug, but he manages to get Mark pinned against the refrigerator, where he then proceeds to wrap both arms around the man in a bear hug, lifting him off the floor.
Mark laughs. “Let me down, you freak!”
Jared doesn’t put him down, lets the man struggle. Behind him he can hear Cindy move away from the island in the center of the kitchen to Jensen.
“Jared didn’t exactly introduce us when he barreled through the house. I’m Cindy, Mark’s wife. Mark and Jared went to high school together.”
“And he was just as obnoxious then too!” Mark says loudly, still dangling in Jared’s hold.
“Aw, Marky. I wuv you too.” Jared squeezes him harder, rocking him from side to side.
“Uh,” he hears Jensen stutter a bit, probably a little bewildered by the whole scene. “I’m uh, m-Misha.” He hesitates. “Jared’s boyfriend.”
Mark finally manages to get out from Jared’s hold. “Oh really?” he asks, turning to Jensen with an evil smile on his face.
“Nuh uh.” Jared moves in front of Jensen protectively. “You are not messing with this one.”
God, that was the last thing he needed: Mark’s over protectiveness and psychotic need to torture everyone Jared took an interest in. If anyone could blow up this whole sham Jared’s got going, it would be Mark.
“Oh, come on, Jay,” Mark wheedles.
Jared shakes his head. “No,” he says firmly. “No interrogations, no stories, no history check.”
Out of the corner of his eye he sees Jensen turn to Cindy. “History check?” he mouths. She just shrugs, a small, secret smile on her lips. But Jared doesn’t trust her at all.
She’s just as bad as Mark.
“Well,” he says brightly, looking around the kitchen at all the Christmas Eve preparations. “It looks like you’re busy getting ready for the family tonight, so why don’t Misha and I just take Harley and Sadie to the park for a bit, get them out of your hair?”
“See. You really do love those dogs better.”
Jared shrugs, holding his arms palms out in a what can you do? gesture. “Well, they’re more cuddly than you. If you wanna change that however…” he takes a few steps towards Mark, arms wide.
Mark scuttles around the island, hiding behind his wife. “I’ll pass, thanks.”
Jared laughs, guiding Jensen out of the kitchen. “Leashes still in their normal spot?” he calls as he heads to the back to the dogs.
“By the front door, as usual,” Cindy calls back, but she could barely be heard above Mark’s loud, “Don’t think this is the end of it, Jared! I’ll get Misha away from you at some point!”
Jared isn’t worried. Mark can do all the digging he wants after this Christmas, by then Jensen will be long gone out of his life.
He tries to ignore the little stab of disappointment he feels at the thought.
It’s a sunny day outside, around sixty degrees, barely cold enough to wear a jacket. Perfect time for a trip to the park, Jared thinks, and he grabs the Frisbee and ball as well as the leashes.
“History check?” Jensen asks once they’re outside with the dogs, heading in the direction of the park Jared had tackled Jensen in the night before.
Jared gives him an uncomfortable shrug. “Mark’s brother is a detective for the San Antonio police department. He can check up on almost anyone he wants. After a few uh, poor dating choices on my part, he’s taken to looking into anyone I introduce him to.” He flushes a little, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck. “He’s a little over protective, but well, we grew up together, and we’ve always been close. I’d do the same to him if he wasn’t with Cindy.”
Jensen makes a little noncommittal noise and nods, tugging on Sadie’s leash a little as she tries to wander off.
Belatedly, Jared realizes that telling the guy you are currently kidnapping and holding his money ransom that one of your best friends has a connection to the cops might not be a good idea. He slides a glance towards the other man, but he can’t tell if the slight crease between his eyebrows or the way his eyes are roaming the neighborhood means that he’s furiously planning ways to convince Mark to help him, so he lets the thought go, just reminding himself that again, leaving Mark alone with Jensen is a bad idea all around.
When they reach the edge of the park Jensen pauses. “Huh. It looks different during the day. And you know,” he drawls out sarcastically, “when I’m not having my face shoved into the ground.”
Jared ducks his head and blushes, the now familiar rush of guilt appearing again. “Yeah. Did, I uh, apologize for that yet?”
“No,” Jensen says shortly. He makes a small clicking noise to Sadie and tugs on the leash, walking a few paces ahead of Jared.
He sighs and follows Jensen into the park.
More and more Jared wishes that he’d never listened to Chad. The whole thing was just getting too complicated.
Jared plays Frisbee with the dogs for a while, Jensen sitting on a bench--within Jared’s sight--and watching. At some point, Jared manages to convince Jensen to join in (“They’re just dogs, man. Playing with them does not mean you are in any way consenting to be here. I get it.”) and soon they abandon the Frisbee for the ball instead, passing it back and forth to each other and laughing as the dogs go nuts, running from Jensen to Jared, then Jared to Jensen, yipping and panting and trying their hardest to get a ball that doesn’t come near them.
It feels good, doing this. Jensen laughs every time Harley trips over his own feet, gives Sadie and conciliatory pat whenever she pouts at missing the ball again. There’s no tension, no stress of pretending to be something he’s not, of making sure nothing goes wrong, of meeting the expectations of everyone around him. There’s just the park, two dogs, a grungy, slobber covered tennis ball, and Jensen.
Jensen, who seems to forget Jared is someone he should hate and meets his eyes over the scrabbling dogs, shaking his head, chuckling and saying “Dude,” as Harley attempts to jump in the air to get the ball, but only manages to land on top of Sadie. Jared is breathless from laughter, hands braced on his knees, soggy ball clenched in his hand.
This, he thinks, almost without even realizing it. This is how it should be.
It all ends, however, when Jared’s phone rings. He tosses the ball over to Jensen, watches the dogs scramble after it and wipes his hands on his jeans, pulling out his phone. “Hello?” he answers, still laughing.
“Jay-man! How’s it going with the charity freak?”
His laughter stops. “Chad.” He glances at Jensen, who’d gone still at the word and starts walking away, putting some space between them. “What’s up man?”
“That’s what I should be asking you. You’re the one on a little kidnapping adventure.”
“Yeah well, that wasn’t my idea,” Jared snaps, irritated. That good feeling he’d had just a few minutes ago? Yeah. Gone.
“You went along with it, didn’t you? I don’t recall handcuffing you to the steering wheel and forcing you to drive the man to San Antonio. So I’m asking, how’s it going?”
“It’s going… as well as can be expected I suppose,” Jared mutters into the phone, glancing back at Jensen, who was now bent over, petting the dogs. “My family seems to like him, Mark wants to investigate his background--which is normal--and Jensen snuck out of the house in the middle of the night. I had to tackle him in the park and handcuff him to me to get him back to the house.”
“Well good for him,” Chad says brightly.
Jared takes the phone away from his ear, looking at it in confusion. “What?” he asks when it he puts it back.
“Well, the man would be a pussy if he didn’t at least try to escape once.”
“Right.“ Jared sighs, bringing a hand up to his forehead in an attempt to stave off the headache he could feel coming on.
One of the cons of being friends with Chad.
“Just make sure to let him know that I’ve still got the charity money, and he needs to behave if he wants to see it again.”
“I’m serious, Jared.” And to his surprise, Chad sounds serious. “I know you. You’re too nice, and too trusting for you own good. You gotta keep reminding him of what you’ll do if he doesn’t cooperate. You can’t trust him to just go along with your plan out of the goodness of his heart. He’s not your buddy, Jay. And he sure as hell isn’t your boyfriend.”
Jared tries to swallow, suddenly finding it difficult to do. “Right,” he says stupidly. “Of course.”
There’s a muffled knock on the other line. “One minute!” Chad yells over the line, and Jared flinches at the volume. “Listen, Jay I gotta go. That’s room service with my lunch.”
Jared’s brows furrow in confusion. “Room service? Chad, it’s Christmas Eve, why aren’t you at your parents’ house?”
“Chad…” Jared starts carefully. “Did you and your dad fight again?”
Chad and his dad don’t exactly see eye to eye. It’s nothing specific that drives them apart, but they’ve been fighting on and off for years. Chad’s mother, when Jared talked to her about it before, said it was because they were so much alike, Chad just said it was because his father was an asshole with a stick up his ass.
Chad huffs out a breath. “It’s no big deal, Jay. Besides, that whole Christmas dinner thing? Boring as all fuck. This is way better.”
“Yeah?” Jared asks skeptically. “And what’s that?”
“Gambling, man!” Chad crows. “I’ve met a few friends here in Austin and they’re going to show me the best local places here. It’s gonna be awesome.”
“Sure it is,” Jared sighs. “Listen, Chad. Just… be careful, all right? Don’t do anything stupid.” Because Jared knew how Chad got after one of his fights with his dad, and he knew the type of people he liked to gamble with.
“Yeah, yeah. Stop your worrying. Now go convince your family that Jensen can’t get enough of your cock.”
“Chad, I’m serious here.” Jared tries, but Chad has already took the phone away from his ear. Jared can hear another knock and Chad distantly yelling Yeah, yeah. I told you one minute. Jesus Christ. before there’s a click and he’s gone.
Jared stares a few seconds at the phone, before turning to look back at Jensen. He’s standing stock still ten feet away, staring at Jared with blank look on his face, both dogs calmly laying down at his feet.
He awkwardly clears his throat. “That was…” he trails off.
“Chad,” Jensen finishes, voice flat, face still expressionless.
“Yeah.” Jensen doesn’t stop staring at him, like he’s expecting Jared to say something else. For a minute he considers Chad’s words, about making sure Jensen knows what Jared will do if he doesn’t go along with him. Jensen, he’s sure, probably thinks Jared will. Chad’s call, after all, is the perfect opportunity for a reminder of what exactly it is Jensen has to lose.
He’s not your buddy, Jay, Chad had said. And he sure as hell isn’t your boyfriend.
Jared clears his throat again, looks away.
He can’t do it.
“Come on, we better take them back. My mama will be expecting us for lunch soon, and we’ll probably need to help get things ready for the party.”
“Party?” Jensen repeats.
Jared clips the leashes back onto the dogs’ collars. “Yeah, you know. Christmas Eve, and the rest of my family.”
“Right.” Jensen says grimly. He doesn’t look pleased at the reminder.
The rest of Jared’s family included his grandmother, aunts, uncles, several cousins and their respective husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, their kids, a few friends the family has known for years, and two dogs. A skinny, big eared Chihuahua-Dachshund mix that wouldn’t leave it’s owner’s lap and shook and cowered whenever someone else approached it, and a small fluffy, yapping monster that Jared’s cousin Salena liked to refer to as “Nugget,” the Yo-Yo Poo.
Whatever the hell that is.
Jensen does his best to chat and smile and answer questions with them all, but Jensen isn’t actually Jared’s boyfriend, and he certainly isn’t this guy Misha he’s supposed to be, so after an hour and a half of questions about the wicker furniture he supposedly makes, and the trip where he was supposed to have gone naked mountain climbing (what the hell?), and asked for a good vegan food recipe, he needs a break.
And if one more person asks, with that slightly uncomfortable, patronizing smile on their faces, how the Queen of England is, like Jensen (or Misha) believes he knows her personally, he just might scream.
He escapes to the quiet of the parlor. A room, Jared had told him earlier, that no one ever really spends time in. The stiff backed, floral printed sofas and antique wood tables in the room had been inherited from his great grandparents. They’re beautiful, but not comfortable, and the whole room feels empty and too still, every doily and knick-knack perfectly in place, no misplaced shoes, or stained coasters, no sign at all that people came in here. It feels unlived in.
It reminds Jensen of his parents’ house.
In the corner of the room there’s a glass case. Out of curiosity Jensen walks over to it, peering into the glass. On the top shelf there’s an old, hand painted tea set, probably inherited as well. The bottom shelf has a few model cars, painstakingly put together, a picture of what looks like Jared’s dad, Jerry and what could be his brother, arms around each other in front of an old mustang, and two unopened, glass Coke-a-cola bottles from the sixties.
It’s the middle shelf, though, that catches his attention. It’s filled with little glass figurines. He recognizes Meryl’s work right away, and knows he’s found the gifts Jared has designed for Sherri each year. Just like in the shop, each piece is unique, and there’s something a little whimsical about them--a young girl standing in the wind, her skirt ruffling at the knees, hair whipping behind her, face obscured by a scarf, and empty park bench with little birds scattered on it, like pigeons pecking at bread, a dog that looks suspiciously like Harley chasing its own tail. Jensen smiles at it, thinking about the time spent at the park.
The day hadn’t been bad, not really. Not like he’d thought it would be. Surprising, yes. What with the glass shop, and the dogs, the playful but obviously strong bond between Jared and his friends. Even when they got back to the house and Jensen had to pretend to be the doting boyfriend again, it hadn’t been terrible. They’d helped get ready for the party, cleaning the downstairs rooms and helping Sherri around the kitchen as she made the party food--trays of cut vegetables and dip, a crock pot full of meatballs in a thick marinara sauce, a spicy, six layer nacho dip, and of course, the cookies, fudge and pies that were traditional Christmas desserts.
Megan had put on a Bing Crosby CD as everyone decorated the tree, and Jared had tormented everyone’s ears by wailing along. Even Jensen couldn’t have helped laughing as Jared grabbed one of the Christmas bulbs and used it as a microphone while he serenaded them all with an absolutely horrendous version of White Christmas.
No, the day hadn’t been bad at all. In fact, the moments he happened to forget that he’d been dragged here against his will, it had been fun. Being around Jared, and Jared’s crazy family is fun. More fun than he’s had in a long while.
Jensen frowns at the thought.
“They’re kind of overwhelming, huh?”
Jensen jumps in surprise, turning around to face the door.
Laura shrugs apologetically. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you. I just thought when you disappeared you might have gone somewhere quiet for a break. I mean,” she gives him a wry smile, “I’ve been married to Jeff for years, and I still need a break from them sometimes.”
Jensen nods. “Yeah, they are a bit…”
“Loud? Energetic? Nosy?” Laura finishes for him.
Jensen laughs. “All of the above.”
She walks further into the room, trailing her hand along the back of the old sofa. “I get it. The first time Jeff introduced to me to all of them, it was at the family reunion that summer. Imagine all of this, only three times the amount of people, and drunk.”
He raises his eyebrows. “I don’t think I want to.”
“It was over the fourth of July.” She gives a little laugh, shaking her head. “We were at Jeff’s uncle’s ranch, and the drunken idiots almost set the barn on fire while lighting up the fireworks. I had to grab two of the kids running around and make sure they stayed far, far away.”
“And that didn’t scare you away?”
When Laura smiles this time, it’s softer, wistful almost. “No. It was nice, you know? Being a part of such a big group who cared so much about each other. My parents died eleven years ago, so it’s been just me and my sister for a long time now, but I’ve always wanted a big family.”
“Oh, god, Laura, I’m sorry.” He takes a step closer to her, unsure what to say, but she just waves him off.
“It’s okay. It was a long time ago. And I’ve got them now.” She gestures in the direction of the party, still smiling. “They’re loud, crazy, and nosy as all hell, but they’re good people. Especially Jared. I may be biased because he’s my brother--” He notices she doesn’t say in law, as if it makes no difference, and who knows, maybe it doesn’t. “--but you’ve found a good one with him.”
Jensen forces a nod and a smile, suddenly uncomfortable. Sure, he thinks. Found a good kidnapper. But the thought doesn’t hold as much weight as it used to.
“Anyway,” Laura says briskly, ending the moment, perhaps sensing Jensen’s sudden awkwardness. “We probably should get back to the group. The kids will want to open presents soon.” She nods her head to the door.
“Presents?” he asks as he follows her out. “Don’t you guys open them on Christmas morning?”
“Well we do, Jeff, Jared and the rest of this house, I mean. But all the cousins and their kids? They get to open presents from their family now, and then go home and get stuff from Santa in the morning.”
“Ah, Santa. Right. Are Jordan and Madison getting a visit from Santa tonight?” he asks, referring to her and Jeff’s kids.
Laura chuckles. “Of course they are. It’s the whole point of Christmas, right? Santa and his eight reindeers.” She rolls her eyes a little and Jensen just smiles in reply.
It had been a while since he’d had to deal with that little fairytale. Jensen’s family stopped with the whole Santa business when his little sister, Mac, had turned eleven, insisting that she knew he wasn’t real. He wonders, briefly, just what Mac is doing for Christmas Eve right now, then dismisses the thought.
The truth is, Jensen knows exactly what Mac is doing. The same thing his family does every year--attending the party his father hosts for his friends--or rather, clients--every year. She is probably standing in her cocktail dress--one Mom picked out--glass of champagne in her hand, Dad approved date at her side, politely chatting to someone she only sees once or twice a year.
The complete opposite of what Jensen’s experiencing at the Padalecki’s. For one thing, he doesn’t think a one of them would know the word polite if it came up and smacked them in the face.
Well, that’s not fair. Sherri is definitely polite, and so is Laura for that matter, and of course Megan, she’d been nothing but polite to him the whole time he was here. In fact, he thinks with an almost fond smile, she’d be able to handle herself at one of his father’s parties. Probably take a few of the snobs down a peg or two, even.
They go back into the living room, where most of the people are, and Jared looks up when he enters, immediately coming to his side. “Hey, Misha,” he says brightly, throwing an arm sloppily around Jensen’s shoulders. He’s close enough that Jensen can smell the alcohol from the eggnog on his breath, and Jensen stiffens and begins to pull away until he catches Laura looking at them, eyes thoughtful.
He forces himself to lean into the touch. “Hey,” he replies, much more subdued than Jared, who was probably feeling the affects of the eggnog.
“Where’d you go? You almost missed present time.”
“Just talking to Laura in the parlor.”
A slight crease appears between Jared’s brows and he looks at Laura, probably searching her face for any sign that Jensen had told her the truth.
Laura smiles and shrugs, palms up. “Those of us not Padalecki born need a break from the chaos sometimes.
Jared’s face clears and he laughs. “True, true. Even I need a break from it.”
“Whatever.” He nudges Jared gently in the ribs, and then hopes Laura didn’t see Jared’s quick glance of surprise at the action. “From what I’ve seen you’re at the center of it.”
As if to prove this point, Jordan, Madison and three other kids whose names Jensen didn’t catch run up to Jared and start tugging on his pants and free hand. “Uncle Jay it’s present time! And you gotta be Santa!”
Jared lets go of Jensen’s shoulders and bends down. “Me?” he asks in the overly friendly tone reserved for kids and his dogs. “But I thought it was Uncle Rodger’s turn to be Santa this year.” He gestures over at one of his cousins, a dark haired man just a few years older than Jared, who’s sitting on the couch, deep in conversation with Jerry.
A blonde boy who looks to be about ten frowns. “Uncle Rodger’s no fun. He always makes us wait until everyone has a present before we can open any. Besides, he doesn’t want to do it this year. He said so.”
“Oh he did, did he?” Jared chuckles. “Well I guess that means I’m Santa. Now who’s going to be my little helper elf?”
He looks hopefully at Jensen and he quickly backs away, palms out. “Oh no,” he shakes his head. “I’m not going to be anyone’s elf.”
The very put upon sigh Jared gives is for show, and Jensen can’t help the slight smile that twitches at his lips. “What about you, Jenna?” he asks a little red headed girl who’d been hanging quietly at the back. “Do you want to help Santa?”
She nods quietly and Jared stands up, bending down to place a gentle hand on her shoulder as he leads her to the tree, the rest of the kids follow eagerly. Jared plants himself right in front of it, within easy reach of the monstrous stack of presents that everyone brought, and immediately starts digging through it. “Here’s one for Dennis, and one for Madison, ooh, one for Aunt Trish.” He gives the small box to Jenna and points her to the woman sitting in the rocking chair and she runs to give it to her.
Jensen moves from the doorway to the couch, planting himself in between Jared’s grandmother and Rodger. He watches as the kids rip into their gifts, red, green and silver wrapping paper flying everywhere. Jeff’s little boy, Jordan, runs up to Jared and asks where his present is and Jared insists that he can’t find one, a mischievous smile on his lips before he grabs the pouting boy and turns him upside down, tickling him. When the kid’s out of breath he sits him back down and pulls a present from behind his back, giving it to him with a grin.
“He’s good with them, isn’t he?” Jensen looks over at Jared’s grandmother--Grandma Rae, is how he introduce her--and lifts his eyebrows in question. She nods at the kids. “He’s good with them.”
“Yeah,” Jensen nods, looking back at where Jared is sending Jenna off with another gift. “He is.”
“Too bad he doesn’t have any of his own. We all know he wants kids.” She gives a little sigh. “I’d thought while he was in college that he’d be the first to give me great grandkids, but well, things change.” She sighs again, the brightly colored Christmas tree earring she’s wearing jiggling with the motion, but smiles and pats his knee when he shifts uncomfortably. “Don’t worry, I know. You love who you love, but seeing a few more great grandkids before I go would be nice.”
Rodger moves beside him and out of the corner of his eyes Jensen can see him staring at them, frown on his face. Jensen clears his throat. “Well, uh. You know,” he stutters, “there’s always adoption. I mean,” he says hastily, “it’s too soon between Jared and I to be even thinking--I mean, well. It’s always an option. Someday. Maybe.”
Grandma Rae just smiles kindly at him and gives his knee another pat. “That would be nice,” she says simply, then goes back to watching the kids open their gifts.
He too looks back at the kids, slumping against the couch. Beside him Rodger shifts a little, as if to give him more space, but Jensen doesn’t pay him any attention. It’s surreal, Jensen thinks, to talk to someone about having kids with a man he’s only known for a little more than a day.
“Hey, Sherri,” Jared’s dad calls from the corner of the room, where the refreshments are set up. “We’re out of eggnog. Do we have any more left in the kitchen?”
Sherri looks up from her spot on the floor, where she’s helping one of Jared’s cousins, a little girl who can’t be much older than one, open a present. “Yeah, there’s more in the fridge. I’ll go get it.”
Jensen practically jumps from his seat. “I’ll get it Sherri, there’s no need for you to get up.”
“Oh, you sure?”
Jensen smiles smoothly at her. “Of course, you’re busy with her, why don’t you let me be useful.”
“Alright. It’s in the big yellow pitcher in the back, just bring that out and pour it right into the punch bowl.”
Jensen nods to show that he understands, and hightails it out of there. He doesn’t go straight for the fridge, instead collapsing against the doorframe of the kitchen, bringing one hand to rub wearily at his face.
Talking about adopting kids with Jared, Jesus Christ.
“Jensen?” Comes a soft voice behind him, and he nearly groans. Jared is the last thing he needs right now.
He drops his hand and shoots Jared and irritated glare. “Don‘t you have some kids to play Santa to?”
Jared bites his lip. “You took out of there kinda fast. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“Peachy,” he says flatly, leaning his head back against the wooden frame and closing his eyes. “Your grandmother wants us to have kids.”
Jared makes a small shuffling noise, like he can’t decide if he should move or not. He finally does, and all of a sudden he’s in the doorway with Jensen, standing so close Jensen can feel the body heat from him. Jensen stiffens and opens his eyes. Jared’s face is barely a foot away from his, hazel eyes looking at him in something that might be guilt, and concern.
“Look, Jensen, I know my family can be a bit much--” Jensen snorts. “--okay, a lot much, and I know you didn’t volunteer for this. But just…” he sighs and looks away, raking a hand through his hair. “Thanks, Jensen.” He meets Jensen’s eyes again. “You have no idea how much this whole thing meant for my family.”
Jensen should walk away. He should snap something angry and spiteful, something sarcastic and mean and purposefully meant to knock off that stupid, grateful, puppy dog expression on Jared’s face. He should do all that, and then stomp back into the living room with the rest of the people there, where he can use them all as a shield between Jared’s earnest eyes and fucking dimples.
Instead he stutters out, “You’re welcome, I guess,” with a shaky smile.
Jared doesn’t say anything for a minute, just stares at Jensen, eyes flickering back and forth. Finally he bites his lip, looking like he’s about to say something else.
“Jared Tristan Padalecki don’t you move!”
They both jump, jerking way from each other and into their separate sides of the doorframe. Jared’s uncle is standing in the hall, an empty eggnog glass in one hand. Apparently he couldn’t wait until Jensen brought it back to the living room.
Then again, who knows how long Jensen has been standing here, soulfully staring into his kidnapper’s eyes.
“What is it Uncle David?” Jared asks with a frown.
David just grins at him. “Hey everybody!” he calls back to the family room. “Jared and Misha have been caught standing under the mistletoe!”
Jensen jumps again and looks up. Sure enough, just a foot and a half above them hangs a scrawny little twig with leaves.
In just a few seconds the hallway is crowded with Jared’s relatives, all staring at them expectantly, stupid grins on their faces. “Well, what are you waiting for,” Jeff says, practically bouncing with glee at another chance to embarrass them. “Kiss.”
“Guys, come on,” Jared pleads, flushing and avoiding looking at Jensen. Jensen feels his own face burn.
Jeff shakes his head. “Nope. You’re not getting out of this one. It’s a Christmas tradition, Jay.”
Jared turns to Jensen, apology on his face and Jensen tenses. “Jared,” he hisses under his breath, but the other man pays no attention. He places a hand on Jensen’s shoulder to keep him still, then leans forward and kisses him.
It’s brief, barely a peck. Just a dry brush of Jared’s lips against Jensen’s, too fast for his brain to even really comprehend it before Jared’s pulling away. Jensen sucks in a gasp of air anyway.
“Oh, come on now,” Jared’s uncle protests. “That ain’t a real kiss.”
“You guys are together, aren’t you?” One of the female cousins Jensen didn’t get the name of pipes up. “Act like you like each other.”
Jared hesitates, sliding a nervous glance at him, questioning. Jensen takes a deep breath, eyes flickering from Jared’s face to the crowd of Padeleckis watching them, and gives a barely perceptible nod.
It isn’t a peck this time. Jared takes a step closer, placing his body not half an inch away from Jensen’s, and leans forward again, the hand on his shoulder moving up to the back of his neck, long fingers tangling in the hair at his nape, thumb stroking the skin just in front of his ear. Jensen unconsciously lets his eyes close.
Jared’s lips are slightly chapped, but warm, pressing softly, insistently against his until Jensen gives in and kisses back. He breathes in a shuddering breath through his nose at the contact, feeling hyper aware of every inch of his body that is in contact with Jared’s. His lips move slowly, languidly, against Jensen’s, parting just enough to brush the tip of his tongue against Jensen’s bottom lip, not seeking entrance, but just testing, tasting. Jensen lets him, too caught up in the kiss to even think about why they’re doing it, or the audience they have. Finally Jared pulls back, nipping slightly at Jensen’s bottom lip before letting it go. He doesn’t go far though, just pulls back enough for them to stare dumbly at each other, eyes wide, breathing short, feeling the puffs of those breaths on their still tingling lips.
Jared’s family bursts into applause.
For the second time that night Jared and Jensen jump, startled. “Whoo, boy! That was kiss!” David exclaims, coming over to clap both of them on the shoulder. “Guess you two like each other after all, huh?” Jensen gives him a pained smile and doesn’t move, frozen, as the rest of the people watching them break up, heading back to living room now that the show’s over.
“Um,” Jared starts, face red and hand going up to the back of his neck in what Jensen now knows is a nervous gesture. “Well, that was--”
“Gotta get the eggnog,” Jensen mutters, cutting him off. He ducks around Jared and into the kitchen, heading straight for the fridge. He can feel Jared’s eyes on him as he walks away and the back of his neck heats up.
He doesn’t look at Jared as he walks back to the living room, quickly pouring the rest of the eggnog into the punch bowl and turning right around, avoiding everyone’s eyes as he carries the empty pitcher back to the kitchen. It’s when he’s leaving the kitchen a second time that he hears it.
“God, fucking fags. I can’t believe they allow that in this house.”
Jensen stops in his tracks, fury flooding through him. He clenches his fists and turns to where the man’s voice came from. Rodger and his girlfriend are standing in the small hallway leading to the downstairs bathroom and laundry room. Rodger’s back is to Jensen and the woman is too short to see past him, so neither of them realize Jensen is there.
He fully intends to let them know.
He’s taken two forceful steps in their direction when someone steps directly in his way, forcing him to stop. “Just let it go Jensen,” Jared murmurs, walking forward and forcing Jensen to back up, away from the hall. He wraps his huge hands around Jensen shoulders, gentle, but firm when Jensen strains against them.
“Did you hear him?” he growls. “You’re just going to let him say it?”
“Rodger’s a bigoted asshole, always has been. There’s at least one in every family and I can’t change that.” Jared is still murmuring, low and soothing. He rubs his hands up and down slightly on Jensen’s shoulders, trying to calm him down.
Jensen doesn’t calm. “You shouldn’t accept shit like that from people,” he hisses. “You need to fight it. Nothing will change if you don’t.” He tries to go around Jared.
He doesn’t let him, taking a step forward and forcing Jensen backwards in the small space, hands still holding him back. “Yeah, sometimes you do,” Jared says, voice still too calm. “But not tonight, not at my parents’ house, and not on Christmas Eve.”
For one endless moment they just stand there, Jensen tense and rigid against Jared‘s hold on him, practically shaking with the amount of anger and frustration pouring through him, and Jared calm, steady, sure of himself in a way that Jensen has only seen him when he was planning with Meryl or playing with his dogs in the yard.
Huffing out a frustrated breath, he knocks Jared’s hands off him, casting one more dark look in the direction of Rodger and the woman before stepping back. Jared looks at him in concern, holding one hand out, as if to grab his shoulder again, but Jensen brusquely waves him off. “Gotta piss,” he grunts, and stomps off down the hallway, passing the living room and going into the foyer and up the stairs.
He bursts into the upstairs bathroom, barely flicking on the light before he’s slamming the door shut. He grips the edges of the sink and ducks his head, breathing harsh.
What was that down there?
Not the thing with Rodger, Jensen has no problem with fighting an asshole who thinks he’s better than everyone. But the thing with Jared, the kiss, what the hell was that? His heartbeat picks up just thinking about it.
He lifts his head, looks at his reflection in the mirror. His face is flushed, the dark stain of it on his ears and his neck, continuing down beneath his collar, and his lips look red. “You can’t fall for your kidnapper,” he tells his reflection. “That’s insane.”
He stares at himself a little longer, as if by doing so he could force away this sudden attraction by sheer will alone, then sighs. He turns on the water, splashes a little on his face.
He wonders if thirty-six hours is long enough to develop Stockholm Syndrome.
When he leaves the bathroom he pauses, hesitating before going back down the stairs, eyes flickering to the phone. Making a quick decision, he stalks over and grabs the receiver, quickly dialing Chris’s number.
“Yeah?” Chris picks up.
“Hey, it’s Jensen,” he whispers.
“Jesus, Jen!” Chris bursts out. “You had me worried. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Did you get a hold of Jeff?”
“Yeah but he’s having trouble finding that Murray guy. We’ve found his apartment and his work, but he’s not there. He’s not at his family’s home either.”
Jensen looks over his shoulder and down the stairs, making sure no one is coming. “Yeah, I don’t think he’s in Dallas anymore,” he tells Chris, thinking of the little bits of the phone conversation between Chad and Jared that he’d heard at the park earlier. “I don’t know where though. He’s gotta still be in Texas.”
Chris gives a short chuckle. “That’s a lot of ground to cover, Jensen.”
He groans in frustration. “I know. Just--keep looking all right? It’s important.”
“Whatever you say, man. You gonna tell me what’s going on now?”
“Can’t. No time, I have to get back before he thinks I’ve been gone too long.”
“Who thinks, Jen? Who?”
Jensen just sighs. “I’ll be home the day after tomorrow. Probably late. Be ready for me?”
Chris echoes his sigh. “Yeah. Me, Jeff, the cops and hopefully this Chad guy will be waiting.”
“Thanks Chris. Always know I can count on you.”
“Damn right,” Chris grumbles.
Jensen smiles. “Merry Christmas, Chris. Say hello to your mom for me.”
They say goodbye and Jensen hangs up the phone, just in time. As soon as Jensen starts heading for the stairs again, he hears Jared’s footsteps in the foyer. “Keeping tabs on me?” he says lightly when he walks down.
Jared’s eyes are locked on his face, as if searching for something. Jensen keeps his expression carefully blank. “No,” Jared finally says. “Just…checking.”
“Well, there’s no need to check. As you can see, I didn’t escape out the window again. Now let’s get back to your family. This is a Christmas party after all.” He passes Jared, leads the way out of the foyer.
“Right,” he hears Jared mumble behind him.
Jensen very carefully doesn’t think about the kiss in the kitchen, or Jared’s calm, sure face and steady hands in front of the hallway leading to the laundry room, he doesn’t think about the phone call he made upstairs, or the police that will be waiting to take Jared in when they get back to Dallas.
And he doesn’t feel guilty.
Not at all.