Master Post
Part 4

By the time everybody leaves the house it’s almost two in the morning and Jared and Jensen practically zombie walk up the stairs. He grabs his bag of clothes and toiletries and changes in the bathroom, just like last night, and doesn’t say anything when he comes back in the room and Jared’s already sitting on the bed, handcuffs in hand.

“Uh,” Jared starts, but Jensen doesn’t let him finish, walking right up to the bed and thrusting his left arm out, letting him slap the cuff on his wrist. As soon as the handcuffs are on both of them Jensen flips off the light and crawls on the bed, near the wall, practically dragging Jared with him. He feels Jared shift onto his stomach beside him, and he pulls the covers up and closes his eyes.

He falls almost instantly to sleep.

When he wakes up there’s a warm, comfortable weight against his back. A long arm is wrapped around his waist, big hand tucked flat against his chest, fingers resting just below Jensen’s own. He can feel Jared’s breath skirt along the skin of his neck, hot and moist, every shallow pull of air moving his firm chest against Jensen’s shoulder.

Jensen doesn’t want to move.

Jensen is warm and comfortable, just on the edge of sleep and awake. Jared’s legs are pressed tight against his own, top of his feet rubbing up against the sole’s of Jensen’s, and it’s too close and nothing he should allow and Jensen doesn’t want to move.

The choice is taken from him when there’s suddenly loud knocking on the door, followed by excited voices. “Uncle Jay, Misha get up! It’s Christmas!” After this exclamation there’s another bout of knocking, shaking the door, and Jared jerks awake.

“Uncle Jay wake up! It’s time for presents!” the kids say one more time, and then he can hear them run down the hall laughing, presumably to force someone else out of bed.

Jared is still for a moment against him, and then he carefully moves away, as if hoping Jensen was still asleep and didn’t notice him wrapped around him.

Jensen tells himself he doesn’t miss the warmth.

Christmas morning is all about tradition in the Padalecki household.

Tradition one: everyone must wake up at a god-awful time in the morning, no matter how ridiculously late you stayed up the night before.

That is the reason why Jared is now stumbling blearily down the stairs, still in his sweats, and in dire need of coffee. Jensen is currently taking a shower, something Jared doesn’t need to think about because his morning fogged brain seems to get stuck on a loop with it, thinking of Jensen in the shower, Jensen naked in the shower, Jensen naked in the shower with Jared and--well.

You get the point.

And these thoughts are ones Jared doesn’t need to be having about the guy he kidnapped, handcuffed to his car and dragged four hours away from his home and forced to him to be his make believe boyfriend. Even though if Jensen really was his boyfriend he’d be allowed think about Jensen in the shower, Jensen naked in the shower, Jensen naked in the shower with--
Jared groans as he walks into the kitchen, rubbing one hand briskly over his face in an attempt to either scrub the thoughts from his mind, or wake up.


He looks up, blinking blearily at his sister, who’s holding a mug of coffee out to him. “You are a goddess.” He takes the cup, eagerly sipping at the hot liquid within it.

Megan chuckles. “How about you remember that the next time I need a favor, huh?” She walks over to the fridge and starts pulling out cans of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.

This is part of tradition two: Mama never makes breakfast on Christmas.

Which means, since nobody else wants to slave away on a breakfast for ten Christmas morning either, they usually buy enough quick breakfast foods--cinnamon rolls, waffles, toaster strudels--to feed a small army.

Jared grabs a few cans, pops them open and starts arranging them on the trays Megan has already laid out. They’re going to bake five cans worth this time, one more than last year, and probably one more than next year too. After all, it’s not like Jensen is sticking around.
“What in the world did those rolls ever do to you?”

Jared looks up, blinking in surprise. “Huh?”

“You were scowling at them like they personally insulted you,” Megan nods at the dough in his hands. “What’s up?”

Jared shakes his head. “Nothing. I’m just tired is all. It’s too goddamn early.”

She’s quiet, watching him as he unravels the tube of dough into separate rolls and places them on the tray, taking care with each one so it’s exactly the same amount of space between them.

“Jay,” she finally says softly. “You can’t hide from me. I’m your sister and I know it’s more than that.”

Jared drops the dough, bracing himself on the counter. The cinnamon sugar from the rolls has gotten all over his hands and he stares at his fingers, the sugar a bunch of brown dots scattered across the skin.

Like freckles, he thinks, and sighs.

“Have you…” he starts tentatively, “have you ever gotten yourself in a situation that you thought you could handle, but then halfway through everything changes and you suddenly don’t think you can handle it at all?”

He thinks about waking up this morning with his arm around Jensen, how right waking up like that felt, something he hasn’t experienced in a long time. He thinks about how he was sure, just for a moment before he pulled away that Jensen was awake and aware of what they were doing, thinks about the other man’s bed head and pillow creased cheeks as he sat up, the way he didn’t meet Jared’s eyes even for a glare as he shuffled off to the shower.

He looks over at Megan. She’s staring at him in concern, pursed lips and crease between her brows. “That’s… kinda vague, Jay.”

Jared snorts. “Yeah. Guess it is.” He goes back to the rolls.

“Is this..” Megan hesitates for a moment. “Is this about Misha? Are you… breaking up?”
Jared can barely hold in a snort. Misha and him? Already broken up, and it actually didn’t bother him any more. But he and Jensen…

Well. They were never together to begin with.

Jared shakes his head and forces a smile for his sister. “No, it’s not that. Just something…else. I’d really rather not go into it right now.”

Megan gives him a small, understanding smile and nods. “Sure, but you know you can always talk to me if you need to, Jay.”

“Thanks, sis.” He wraps a long arm around her shoulders, pressing a kiss on the top of her head.

This is why Jared always goes to Megan when he has a problem. She always knows when to push and when to back off, and when he just needs to lean a little on that unwavering, sisterly support. Jeff, as much as Jared loves him, would just keep digging until he found out exactly what was wrong, his urge to protect his little brother too strong for him to ignore.

By the time Jeff, the brother in question, walks into the kitchen, Jared and Megan are already back to making breakfast. Jared is pulling out the first two trays of steaming rolls and Megan is peeling away the paper on the next two cans. Jeff frowns at them. “No toaster strudels?”

Jared grins. Jeff’s epic love affair with the frozen pastries was long time joke in the family. “In the freezer, Jeff, waiting for you to do the honors.”

“Awesome,” he mumbles, and ambles over to the fridge.

The three of them finish making breakfast together, and Jared manages to stop stressing about the whole thing with Jensen and allows himself to fall back into the playful rhythm of siblings. They tease each other, bantering back and forth. Jared makes a comment about Megan and Ben’s sex life and she throws a banana at his head. Jared catches it and shoves the whole thing into his mouth--peel and all, much to Megan’s disgust--only to choke on it when Jeff complains that he didn’t need to see such an accurate example of Jared’s sex life.

By the time they are finished Jared feels more relaxed than he has in a long time, before Misha broke up with him, even. Moving to Dallas had been a good idea, Jared truly believes that. It was exactly what he needed, to get away from the worried looks of his family and the kind suggestions from concerned friends, away from the constant reminders around him of how things could have been, of how he wanted them to be. He was a mess after college, he’d be the first to admit it, and going away and starting fresh was the only thing that helped.

Still, Jared thinks as he watches Jeff pretend to drop the giant serving tray--taken from the time Mama worked for a catering company one summer between teaching at the elementary school, and only used on Christmas morning--they’d loaded with food. Still. He’s missed being home.

They take the trays loaded with rolls, toaster strudels and Eggo waffles into the family room where the rest of the family is gathered, going back a second time for the all important coffee and orange juice. Everything goes on the big coffee table in the center and everyone gathers round it, grabbing what they want before settling back into the chair and couches they were on before.

Jared see Jensen on the loveseat, coffee mug in hand, eyes slit in sleepy pleasure as he sips it. Smiling fondly, he makes a plate for him, piling it with rolls and waffles, grabbing a fork and tucking the bottle of syrup under his arm. He walks over to him. “Here,” he says, holding out the plate. “While coffee is vital for life, you need to grab the food fast before it gets eaten.”

Jensen takes the plate, lips twitching like he’s not sure if he should smile or not. Jared just gives him a small one of his own and puts the syrup on the side table by the couch, going back to get his own food.

Perhaps he should have listened to his own advice; by the time he gets his plate almost all the rolls--Jared’s favorite--are gone, only one, scrawny burnt one left on the tray. He pouts, but takes it anyway, snagging the rest of the cream cheese toaster strudels just for spite when he notices that Jeff has three rolls on his plate. Plate filled, he heads back to the loveseat, sitting down by Jensen and immediately digging in.

“Here,” Jensen says softly, and puts one of the rolls from his plate on Jared’s. Jared stares at it in surprise, something warm building in his chest.

“Thanks,” his says, just as softly. Jensen gives him an awkward smile and turns away, focusing on his own food. His hair is still wet from the shower and Jared can feel the moisture lingering on his clothes, smell the shampoo he used. He has a sudden urge to scoot closer, bury his nose against Jensen’s neck and breathe deep.

He bites into his roll.

The food distracts the kids for a little while, but soon they’re both done and bouncing around the room, calling for presents. Megan, since she’s the youngest of the siblings, abandons her food and sits in front of the large stack of presents that mysteriously appeared again, ready to play Santa this time.

It’s tradition number three.

Jordan and Madison happily serve as her little helper elves, gleefully carrying presents to the adults, but even more gleefully stacking gifts in their own piles on the floor. Once everything is divided they run back to their piles, looking up at his mom in expectation.

She smiles at them and pulls out her camera. “Alright, now everyone can open up one present.”

Tradition four.

Jared grabs the top box of his pile and checks who it’s from--Jeff. He grins and starts ripping at the wrapping paper, even though he knows exactly what it is. Then he notices that beside him, Jensen is stock still. He glances over in curiosity to see that Jensen is staring at the pile of presents at his feet, unreadable expression on his face.

“What is it?” he whispers.

“I’ve got presents.”

“Yeah?” Jared asks, confused. “Of course you do. You don’t think we’d just open gifts in front of you, did you?”

Jensen shoots him and incredulous look. “But they barely even know me.”

Jared grimaces a little. “Well, some of these gifts might be based on what I’d told them about Misha. Sorry.”

Jensen nods and reaches to grab one of the gifts, shoulders relaxing, as if that piece of information made it easier for him to accept the gifts.

They all quickly made their way through the gifts, floor disappearing under the amount of wrapping paper, ribbons and bows. Jared got the expected gifts: new books his mom thought he’d like, the new video game that Jeff bought every year with the knowledge that they’d play it together later that afternoon. His favorites were probably the play dough sculptures from Jordan and Madison, though: a rather squished, if happy looking daisy and what might have been an attempt at one of Jared’s dogs. Or a dinosaur.

Most of Jensen’s gifts were, as Jared predicted, originally supposed to be for Misha. A book of yoga positions and their history, as well as a certificate for two free lessons at a gym in Dallas from Megan, and another book, this one a biography on the Queen of England--Jared guessed they were really stretching for that one--from Jeff and Laura, but there was also a nice watch from his parents and a dark sweater, thick and soft to the touch, that Jared knows for a fact that his mom went out and bought yesterday after Jensen was complaining that the sweater he was wearing yesterday--bought by Chad at Wal-mart--was making him itch.

After everyone finishes opening their presents Jared’s mama gets up and walks to the fireplace, which is absolutely covered in red and white stockings, all the same size and all stuffed full.

Tradition six.

“Since Misha is the new addition here,” she says, “he gets to pick his out first. Come on up here, Misha.”

Jensen shoots Jared an uncertain glance and Jared shoos him off the couch. “Go on and pick one out, it’s tradition.”

Hesitantly, Jensen makes his way over to the fireplace where his mom is smiling at him. He stares at the stockings for a second, analyzing them, before taking one near the end on the right.

“Good,” she says. “But don’t open until everyone else has one.” He smiles at her and nods, walking back to the loveseat.

The kids go next, followed by Ben, then Laura, then Megan, Jared and Jeff--youngest to oldest--and then his mama grabs the last two, handing one of them to his dad before sitting down with her own stocking. “Okay, guys: dump.”

And that’s what everyone does, right into their lap, candy and toys and little holiday knick-knacks scattering everywhere. Jensen looks around the room for a second, eyebrows raised, before following suit.

Jared digs through his pile of candy and toys, pulling out a bright green yo-yo and laughing in delight. “Yes! I got it this year.” Across the room Jeff grumbles. The yo-yo has always been both of their favorites, and they’ve always fought over it. One year their mama had gotten the idea to buy two yo-yos and make sure that Jeff and Jared had picked the stockings with them in it, but when Jeff and Jared just argued over which one was better she’d given up, and they were fine with that: the arguing was just as much tradition as everything else.

Jensen snorts beside him, holding up one of his prizes. “A bouncy ball? Seriously? Aren’t we a little old for this stuff?”

Jared grins, knocking his shoulder against Jensen’s. “Welcome to the Padaleckis, Jensen. We’re all a bunch of big kids.”

Jensen stiffens beside him, staring at Jared with wide eyes, and Jared doesn’t know why until:
“Jensen? I thought your name is Misha.”

Oh. Oops.

“Uh,” Jared stutters, looking from Jensen to his sister, who’s staring at them in confusion, completely at a loss for what to say. “Um.”

Jensen comes to rescue. “Misha’s actually my middle name,” he says, and Jared almost sags in relief.

“Jensen Misha? Poor soul.” Ben mutters and Megan elbows him in the stomach, causing him to grunt.

“So do you just prefer Misha then?” his father asks.

Jensen pauses, then gives Jared a little smirk. “Not really. But I have friends who call me Misha just to torment me, they say it sounds like a girl name. They were with me when I met Jared, and he’s insisted on calling me that since. I guess he just likes it better.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jared says lowly, meeting Jensen’s eyes. “I think I’m starting to like Jensen better.”

Jensen stares back at him for a moment, silent, then gives a little cough and looks away. Jared notices in delight that the tips of Jensen’s ears are a little pink. “Anyway,” he tells his family, “Jensen is the name I usually go by.”

Ha, Jared thinks. Isn’t that the truth.

Jared sits back in his chair and starts snacking on the candy, unwrapping a piece of chocolate with Santa’s face on it and popping it in his mouth.

“Jesus,” Jensen says. “You just had a breakfast big enough for three, and all of it sweet. How can you eat that?”

Jared just smiles and unwraps another one, biting into it with an exaggerated moan, pleased when Jensen grimaces. He’s suddenly in a great mood, despite the close call.

Jared’s grandmother arrives about an hour after that and she, Sherri and Laura lock themselves in the kitchen after that, preparing Christmas dinner. Jerry disappears into his garage and the rest of them pile onto the couches in front of the TV as Jeff hooks up the gaming console. He pops in the game he gave Jared, a car racing game that Jensen has never heard of, and they both grab controllers, starting an intense game of yelling and taunting, elbowing and smacking at each other’s hands in an attempt to mess the other one up.

Jensen stares at the crappy graphics and frowns. “What is this?” he asks Jared on a break between games--Jeff had won and he’s currently doing a victory lap around the living room, picking up his kids and swinging them around.

Jared shrugs. “I have no idea. I have never heard of it before.”

“Your brother gave you a game you’ve never heard of? A crap one at that?”

Jared shrugs, “Well, yeah. It’s what we do. The point is to get a crappy game we can play and beat while I’m here. Check out the game I bought him.” He gestures at the coffee table, where another game lays. Jensen picks it up.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. For PS1.

He looks at Jeff, a grown man with a wife and kids, and snorts. Jared grins as if knowing what Jensen’s thinking. He holds up the controller. “You wanna play winner?”

They play video games for almost an hour. The Padalecki family is just as loud and enthusiastic about video games as they are about everything else, even Megan, who is usually the calm one gets into it, yelling at the screen when it’s her turn, yelling at the players when it’s not. Jensen got trumped when it came to the two person racer--Jared and Jeff had been honing their skills far too long for Jensen to take on either of them, but when they switched to Harry Potter he was winning, beating Jared’s time at grabbing the snitch by three minutes.

“Hah! Yes!” Megan yells, who, strangely enough, had become Jensen’s cheerleader around his second racing game. “Take that Jared, Mi-Jensen beat you!”

That’s another thing that’s a little overwhelming. After the incident while opening presents, most of the family had taken to calling him by his real name, even Jared. It’s a little weird to hear them say it after two days of pretending to be Misha, but a relief too, because it’s easier. He doesn’t have to remind himself that when they say ‘Misha’ they mean him, doesn’t have to stop himself from correcting them every time. He’s not sure it’s a good thing, though. It makes it easier to get lost in the excitement and enthusiasm that is inherent in this family.

Easier to forget it’s all a lie.

Jensen hands the controller to Megan, suddenly not in the mood for video games anymore. “Take over for me?” He stands up.

“Sure!” She hops into the spot he vacated. “Don’t worry, I won’t let them win.”

Jensen forces a smile and nods. Jared looks up from the came. “Where you goin’?” he asks, but his tone is curious, not suspicious.

“Just thought I’d see if Sherri and your grandma need any help in the kitchen.”

Jeff snorts. “Suck up,” he says, teasing.

Something inside Jensen clenches and he leaves the room in a hurry.

The thing is, he wants this. He likes this family and their crazy love of food and everything loud and obnoxious, even likes their weird family traditions. He’s finding himself enjoying himself more and more the longer he stays here, and he’s almost stopped fighting it, not sure he wants to any more. They’re so close to each other, always teasing and joking around, switching to caring and concern at the slightest provocation. Even the way Megan has grilled him over the holiday is done out of her love for Jared--she’s just being protective.

Jensen hasn’t had something like that in a very long time.

It’s just Sherri in the kitchen when he enters it, sitting at the island and slicing potatoes. “Where’s Laura and Grandma Rae?” he asks.

“Oh, they ran to the store to get some items we forgot.” She rolls her eyes a little. “Grandma Rae refuses to cook the ham without cloves. Apparently brown sugar alone just does not work.”

“Ham? Not turkey?” Jensen asks as he takes a seat at the island.

She looks at him askance. “Turkey is for Thanksgiving. We eat ham for Christmas.”

Ah. Another tradition. Jensen nods, unable to help the little smile on his face. “Is there something I can do to help?”

“Oh ho! Jared really did pick a good one this time.” She chuckles at Jensen’s flush. “How are you at cooking?”

“Not too good, really,” he says apologetically. “But I can slice vegetables. Is there going to be a salad?”

“Yup. Makings are in the fridge.” He gets up and gets them, grabbing a knife and the cutting board and setting up a little station at the island beside Sherri.

They work in quiet for a while, each absorbed in their separate tasks. When the silence is breached, it’s by Sherri.

“I’m glad he’s found you, Jensen.”

He looks up from the carrot he’s shredding. “Hmm?”

“Jared. I’m glad you two are together. He seems better with you, more sure of himself, less nervous.”

Jensen shifts on his stool uncomfortably. “I’m sure that’s not because of me.”

“I think it is.” Sherri puts down the potato she was skinning and turns on her stool to face him, face serious. “Jensen, Jared has brought plenty of girlfriends and boyfriends home before--not for a while now, but he has, and they were all nice girls and boys, the kind of people a person wants to take home to his parents. But it was always for our benefit, an attempt, I think, to make us believe that he was all right, that he was happy up there in Dallas. Ever since Sandy he’s--” she cuts herself off.

Jensen frowns. “Sandy. Who’s Sandy?”

She studies him seriously for a moment, and Jensen starts to get nervous, wondering if this was something he should have known. Finally she looks down, picking up the potato again. “I’m not surprised he hasn’t told you about Sandy,” she says quietly. “He doesn’t even talk about her to us.”

“Who is she?” Jensen asks, curious.

“The woman Jared was in love with.”

Jensen’s quiet, weighing that statement in his mind. Not “Jared’s girlfriend,” but “the woman Jared was in love with.” What had happened?

Sherri hesitates when he voices the question out loud. “Sandy moved to San Antonio during Jared’s senior year of high school. She was a year behind him. They started dating almost immediately, doing all the typical high school couple things together--homecoming, prom, all that. Jared went on to the University of Texas here in San Antonio, and Sandy followed him a year later. They got an apartment together her sophomore year.”

Sherri shakes her head smiling. “I’d never seen that boy so happy than when he was around her. He looked at her like she was responsible for the stars at night. And we all thought it was the same for her.” She goes quiet.

Jensen waits, knowing the rest of the story was coming.

“Jared proposed to her his junior year. He was thinking of applying for grad school after he got his Bachelors and he wanted her to go with him when he moved.”

“I take it she didn’t say yes,” Jensen says quietly.

Sherri shakes her head. “It was like he had his whole life planned out: he was going to become a teacher, get married, have a few kids. It was probably all perfect in his mind, and he wanted it all with Sandy. When it turned out she didn’t want the same thing, he just… didn’t know what to do with himself after.”

“She moved out of the apartment,” she continues. “Jared was a mess afterwards. He fell into a depression, dropping out of school and just falling into himself. He barely went out with his friends, we didn’t hear from him for weeks at a time, he stopped going to work and lost his job. He was just… a mess,” she repeats. “After a while he finally dragged himself out of it, but he wasn’t he same after that. He cared less about himself, or at least thought less about himself, and I think he believed we thought less of him too, because he became almost desperate to prove himself to us.”

She sighs. “He never got that we don’t care if he is successful, or if the person he finds to spend his life with is perfect. We just want him happy.”

Jensen is quiet for a moment, absorbing this. “And you think he’s…happy with me?”

Sherri turns to face him. “The way he looks at you? I haven’t seen that look in years.” She gives him a pointed look. “Since Sandy.”

Jensen has no idea what to say to that. He wants to protest, tell her no, that can’t be, because this whole thing is fake, it’s a lie, and there’s no way he can be that important to Jared in just two days.

The idea is terrifying.

And thrilling, Jensen can’t help but think, and he hates himself a little for it, for the way his stomach gave a little jump at the words, the sudden flush on his face.

This isn’t good.

“What happened to Sandy, any way? I mean, where is she?” Jensen asks in an attempt to distract himself.

Sherri smiles sadly. “She’s still here in San Antonio. She lives about fifteen minutes away with her husband. They just had their first child last spring.”

They finish the rest of the potatoes and vegetables in quiet, both lost in their thoughts.
After a while Laura and Jared’s grandmother come back, and Jensen uses the sudden lack of room as an excuse to quickly finish the salad and then leave. In the living room Jeff and Megan are gone, but Jared is still in front of the TV, controller in hand. Jensen stops just inside the doorway, watching him thoughtfully.

He’s racing against his nephew and, from the way the game is gong, letting him win. Jordan gets to the finish line first and he jumps up, pumping his fist in the air, and Jensen can’t help but smile, remembering Jared doing something similar his first night here.

“Way to go, dude!” Jared congratulates him. “That was awesome.”

“It’s my turn now!” Madison says, reaching for the controller. “I wanna race Uncle Jay!”

Jordan keeps it out of her reach. “You’re too young for this game, Maddie. You’ll just crash.”
Madison pouts “I will not.”

“Will too. This game is only for big kids.”

Madison pouts even more and Jared scoops her up, placing her in his lap. “It’s okay Maddie, you can race against Jordan and I’ll help you. I’ll make sure you don’t crash.”

Jensen watches them play. Jared’s big hands are careful on Madison’s little ones as he helps her with the controller, voice gentle and encouraging.

More sure of himself, Sherri had said, and yeah, he could see that. Jared barely resembles now the desperate man who’d cuffed him to the car door two days ago. But was it really because of him?

Perhaps sensing someone behind him, Jared looks up and way from the TV, smiling when he see Jensen, cheeks dimpling. When Jensen smiles back, it’s genuine.

Maybe it is a good thing. Maybe.

Dinner goes well. Everyone agrees that the cloves made the ham, and Grandma Rae smirks at Jared’s mama. They break out the fine table cloths and china for the meal, but everyone is relaxed around the table, telling stories of holidays past, like the time years ago that Grandpa Richard was forced into helping Grandma Rae in the kitchen and as he pulled the twenty pound turkey out of the freezer he accidentally dropped it, right on his foot.

“What great disasters happened when he dropped it?” Jared asks across the table, grinning.
His mama smiles back at him. “The fall of Turkey.”

“The breaking up of China.” Megan adds, in an overly tragic tone.

“And the running of Greece.” Jeff laughs.

The table cracks up at the old joke. Jared glances over at Jensen and grins wider when he see Jensen chuckling along.

Maybe it’s his imagination, but things have been easier with Jensen today. Conversations between them are a lot less stilted and Jensen has stopped glowering and rolling his eyes at him when none of Jared’s family are looking. He doesn’t know if Jensen has just gotten tired of being angry all the time or has just resigned himself to playing this all the way through, but either way he’s grateful.

Even if it does make him dread the end of this holiday.

“Well,” Grandma Rae says, “he got his way, anyway. His foot was so swollen and bruised that he had to sit on the armchair in the family room with it covered in ice.” She laughs softly at the memory. “He complained the whole time, like it wasn’t his own damn fault.”

Jeff holds up his water glass. “To Grandpa Rich. If he were here right now, he’d be rolling his eyes and telling us all to shut the hell up.”

They all chuckle, raising their glasses. Jensen leans over to Jared, whispering in his ear. “Did your grandfather die?”

Jared nods. “Five years ago,” he whispers back. “Heart attack.”

Jensen nods and moves away. Jared stifles his urge to grab his chair and jerk it closer.
At one point during dinner Jordan and Madison insists that Jensen, who they’d taken a shine too after he joined Jared and them playing video games, move down from the big people table to sit at the very short, plastic picnic table where the kids ate. He tries to tell them he’s too tall for that table, but they refuse to believe it. He’s finally forced to prove it to them--by sitting down with them.

The sight of the 6’2” man stuffing his legs underneath that tiny table has everyone giggling into their mashed potatoes. When Jared joins him, ushering the kids away from their bench seat so he can sit across from Jensen, knees almost up to his ears, they break out into loud, almost hysterical laughter.

“Oh, god. Someone get a camera,” Sherri calls out.

“On it!” Replies Laura with a smirk, pulling out her iPhone.

“This will be talked about for years,” Jared tells Jensen with a grin. Their legs are tangled in the small space beneath the table, his calf wrapped around Jensen’s, ankles brushing. Jensen laughs. “I’ll have to get copies of those pictures,” he says.

“Sure,” Jared chuckles and tries to stand up. His knees bang on the underside of the table and he loses balance.

“Careful!” Jensen lunges forward across the table and grabs Jared’s forearms, stopping him from falling. “Watch it, Sasquatch,” he jokes, steadying him. “The harder they fall, right? With your size you might just shake the whole house down around us.”

Jared isn’t really paying attention, mind too caught up on the feel of Jensen’s hands on his arms, on Jensen’s smiling at him teasingly, eyes crinkly with mirth.

“Don’t we all know it,” his dad laughs, knocking Jared out of his Jensen induced daze. “Kid was always falling over his own feet in high school. So clumsy.”

Jared flushes and pulls his arms out from Jensen’s grasp. “Shut up, Dad. Save my high school horror stories for Easter.” The next time he tries he manages to stand up with little difficulty, and he surveys the room, hands on his hips. “Well. That made me work up an appetite. Who’s for dessert?”

Behind him Jensen gives a muttered “Always eating,” and Jared stifles a grin, that warmth in his chest he’d been feeling on and off all day flaring up again.

As per tradition, when everyone is done eating, Jeff, Jared and Megan are on kitchen duty, gathering the dishes and stacking them in the sink to be washed. Jared takes his customary place as dish dryer--as the tallest of the group he can reach the high shelves--but Megan doesn‘t join him. Instead Jensen comes up and turns on the water, giving Jared a small smile “I don’t know where everything goes, but I can wash.”

They don’t talk much but just stand there, elbow to elbow, steadily working their way through the dishes Jeff and Megan keep bringing to them. Their shoulders bump together a few times, fingers brush as Jensen hands Jared a plate. Jared’s smile feels permanently etched on.

It’s okay sometimes, he thinks, to break from tradition.

Part 6

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