Jensen wakes up to the feeling of lips lightly brushing the back of his neck, back and forth, back and forth. He smiles and stretches his neck out a little more, letting Jared plant teasing little kisses up the side of his neck and into his ear.
“Hmm…” he hums in contentment.
“Morning,” Jared mumbles. Jensen can feel his smile against his neck as he wraps an arm around his waist, tucking him closer into his body.
“Hmm…” Jensen says again, grabbing a hold of his wrist and pushing his hand lower. “It is.”
Jared chuckles and sits up, rolling Jensen onto his back. “As much as I’d love to go along with that idea,” he smiles down at him, “I have to get up.”
Jensen frowns at him. “Why? It’s still early,” he mumbles, glancing at the clock on the bedside table. “Ugh. Way early. Stay in bed.” He hooks his wrists behind Jared’s neck, dragging him down for a kiss, morning breath and all.
“Mm,” Jared mumbles into the kiss. He pulls back an inch. “I’d love to.” He says pressing a quick kiss to Jensen’s lips. “But,” and another, “I have to go meet Meryl and get my mama’s present.” He finishes the thought with a longer kiss.
Jensen tries to deepen it, pulling Jared more on top of him but Jared pulls back, laughing. “Seriously, Jen,” he chuckles, and Jensen warms at sound of the nickname. “I really have to go. I’m already late.”
Jensen huffs, releasing Jared and slumping back on the pillow. “Fine. Knew you were going to wake up too early. Just give me a few minutes and I’ll be ready to go.”
“Nah,” Jared shakes his head. “You stay in bed. There’s not even coffee yet, and I’ve seen how much you need it to function. I‘ll be back in less than hour.” His smile is fond when he looks down at him, and Jensen has the urge to kiss him again.
So he does.
They lie like that for a while, making out. Jensen hooks a leg around Jared’s thigh and pulls him tight against him, rolling his hips up. Jared groans, breaking the kiss. “You are making it seriously hard to leave right now.”
“So don’t leave.” Jared smirks at him.
Jared glances at the clock. “Ten minutes,” he concedes, and leans down to kiss the smirk off Jensen’s lips.
When Jared does leave--fifteen minutes later--Jensen doesn’t go back to sleep. He lies in Jared’s childhood bed and stares at the ceiling, stupid smile on his face.
Jared left without him.
Meaning he didn’t feel the need to watch Jensen’s every move, the urge to be suspicious whenever he spends a little too long in the bathroom. Like Jensen isn’t some guy he picked up--almost literally--off the street and forced to pretend to be his boyfriend, like it was real.
It’s a good feeling. Simple.
A thought hits Jensen that has him rolling out of bed and walking out to the hall. He keeps his footsteps soft as he walks to phone, knowing the rest of the house is asleep. He quickly dials Chris’s number, leaning against the wall as it rings.
Chris doesn’t pick up.
“Come on, man,” Jensen mutters. “What’s up?” Chris always answers. No matter where the call is coming from, he always answers. It’s been a joke between them for years, because Chris always end up speaking to the telemarketers and the survey people, but it’s also one of the things Jensen depends on.
With a sigh Jensen puts down the phone. He’ll just have to call back later to tell him to nix the cops. It’s not like he and Jared are leaving for Dallas just this second.
Hearing a noise from the kitchen--followed by a delicious smell--Jensen makes his way downstairs. Jerry is in the kitchen, pouring a cup of coffee. “You’re up early,” he comments when he sees Jensen.
Jensen shrugs. “It’s the smell of coffee. Can’t resist it. It trumps even sleep.”
Jerry chuckles and hands him the mug. Jensen blows on it before taking a sip, practically humming in pleasure. Hot, fresh and strong, just like he likes it.
Jerry watches him with an amused smile. “Sherri mentioned you liked my coffee the other morning.”
Jensen raises his eyebrows in surprise. “That was your coffee? I thought Sherri made it.”
“No. And you don’t want to taste Sherri’s coffee.” The older man grimaces. “It’s practically water it’s so weak.”
Jensen makes a face.
“Exactly,” Jerry chuckles. He pours another mug for himself and leans against the island opposite Jensen as he sips at it.
Jensen suddenly feels a little nervous. In the few days he’s been here, he hasn’t talked much with Jerry. He seems like a man of few words, but Jensen isn’t sure if that’s how he normally is or if he’s just uncomfortable with his gay son’s boyfriend. Most of the Padaleckis Jensen has met are certainly on the more talkative side. Jared especially. Yesterday the idea that Jared’s father wasn’t okay with them wouldn’t have bothered him--or at least not that much--but since last night, well.
“What time are you two heading back to Dallas?” Jerry asks, and Jensen’s heart drops.
That quick to get rid of them, huh?
“I’m not sure. Around noon I think.”
Jerry nods. “Long drive.”
“’Bout four hours, yeah.”
Jerry nods again, studying him over the rim of his coffee. Jensen fidgets on the stool. “Well,” Jerry finally says. “I hope you had a good Christmas here, son.”
Jensen gives him a smile. “Yes, sir,” he says in an automatic response to the word “son.”
“None of that ‘sir’ crap, now.” Jerry says with a falsely stern voice.
Jerry shakes his head, smiling, and straightens away from the island. “I hope we’ll be seeing you around, Jensen.” He walks around the island, clapping a warm hand on Jensen’s shoulder.
“I… think you will, Jerry.” Jensen replies, looking up at the older man with a tentative smile.
“Good.” Jerry squeezes his shoulder once, before walking out of the kitchen.
Jensen stays in the kitchen and drinks his coffee, a small smile on his face.
It’s barely been an hour since Jared left, but when he gets back--silver paper wrapped box in hand--the rest of the house is up. Jensen is chatting in the living room with Laura, who he seems to get along best with. Not surprising, really, since she’s one of the two other people who knows what it’s like to be an outsider of the family who isn’t, like Ben, working for his sister in order to question and torture him.
His mama is in the kitchen pouring cereal for Jordan and Madison, but she quickly finishes when he pokes his head in and says, “I got your present” with a big grin on his face. Jared’s present has become another tradition over the past couple years and they all gather around the armchair in the living room, waiting for her to sit down. He places the box carefully in her lap when she does.
“I wonder what it could be,” she says with a teasing smile.
Jared grins back at her. “Guess you’ll just have to find out.”
“You know, if you wanted to give me a real present, you could give me the name of who makes these.”
Jared shakes his head. “Nope,” he says happily. “Now open.”
With a very put upon sigh, she does, carefully slicing the tape with her fingernail and easing the paper back, so as not to rip it.
Jared rolls his eyes. “You don’t have to save the wrapping paper, you know.”
“Hush,” she says, carefully unfolding the paper. He does, excitedly watching as she opens the box and pulls out the paper, peering it inside. “Oh,” she breathes.
She pulls the gift out of the box and holds it up in the light. It’s a tree this year, based on one he saw while driving a few weeks ago. The branches are twisted and free of leaves, the trunk split down the middle from a lightening strike. Most of the tree is made of clear glass, but it’s tinted dark where it was supposed to have been struck, the dark color bleeding into the rest of the tree. The glass piece is mounted onto a small round mirror, but it too is covered in glass, thick and bumpy around one side of the tree, like dirt, with the roots coming out of it, and thin on the other side and wavy like ripples on water.
“That,” says Megan, “is awesome.”
The others make sounds of agreement and Jared beams.
“You have to tell me who makes these, Jared,” his mom implores.
“Nope,” Jared says, catching Jensen’s eye and grinning. “It’s a secret.”
It’s while the glass tree is being carefully passed around that Jared’s phone rings. He excuses himself and steps into the hall, flipping his phone open. “Hello?”
“Jared, man, I gotta tell you something.”
He frowns at Chad’s voice. “Chad? What’s wrong?”
“Look, you can’t get mad, I really didn’t mean to.”
Shit. Jared knows that tone, and those words. This isn’t the first time Chad has said the exact same thing to him. “Chad, what the hell did you do?”
“I was drunk man, and didn’t know what I was doing, and the people I was with were just as bad.”
“Chad,” Jared growls. “What. Did. You. Do.”
“I lost the charity money.”
Jared sucks in a breath, feeling like he was punched.
Oh. Oh, crap. Oh, fuck.
“What do you mean you lost it?” Jared hisses.
“I lost it gambling.”
“Chad!” Jared barks, then immediately quiets, peering into the living room to see if anyone took notice, breathing a sigh of relief when no one is looking his way. “Why the hell would you gamble with charity money? Is there something wrong with you?”
“I didn’t gamble with it,” Chad explains. “I was at this poker game and I was drunk. I ended up betting more than I actually had. And these guys, well, they weren’t nice guys. When I lost and they realized I didn’t have the money, they weren’t happy. They pretty much beat the shit out of me until one my friends told them about the envelope I had in the hotel room, and they made them go get it. They took it, checks and all, not that I know how they’re going to cash it, but man, these guys are criminals, they’ll probably find a way and shit, man, they were tough, I mean I gave a pretty good fight when they dragged me outside but--”
“Chad, shut up,” Jared snaps. He closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose, taking a deep breath. “I cannot believe you.”
“Hey, man, at least it wasn’t your money this time, right?” Chad jokes.
“No. It was Jensen’s and it was for charity, which makes it worse. God. Just,” he sighs. “Meet me at my apartment. We’ll figure out a way to get the money somehow.”
“Jay, man, I really don’t think we can get that much--”
“Just do it, Chad,” Jared cuts him off, and ends the call.
God. What a mess.
He stands there for a few moments, just breathing, hands clenched. He has to go back to the living room, though, before the others notice he’s been gone too long, so he forces himself to calm down, smoothing out his expression.
Jensen immediately catches his eye when he enters the living room. “All right?” he mouths, brows furrowed. Jared nods and forces a smile, even though he isn’t.
He isn’t close to being all right.
Just as he predicted, they leave around noon. Just like when they arrived, there’s hugs all around, only this time Jensen is included in those. “Come back whenever you want,” Sherri says as he wraps his arms around her. “And maybe bring my son with you sometimes.”
Jensen chuckles. “Sure.” He pulls back and turns to Laura, giving her a hug. “It was really good meeting you Laura,” he mutters. “And you’ve got a great family.”
She smiles warmly at him. “That I do.”
He’s a little wary when Megan comes up to him, but she just beams at him. “You should call me when you use those yoga certificates, tell me how it goes. I’ve heard the teachers there are great, but you know, you can never tell until you take the class. Jared can give you my number.”
“Sure,” he says, dreading, inwardly, the classes in question. But he’s pretty sure she’d be able to tell if he just lied and said he’d gone.
Her smile grows wider and she wraps her arms around him, squeezing tight.
Looks like he got her seal of approval, after all.
Jeff and Jerry don’t hug him, the former instead clapping him enthusiastically on the shoulder and Jerry choosing a much more sedate, if heartfelt, handshake. “Good to meet you, Jerry,” he tell the man.
“I see you’ve finally dropped the ‘sir‘.”
“Yes, sir,” Jensen says with a grin.
The family waves them off as they drive away and Jensen slumps back into his seat when they’re out of sight. “So. I’m thinking this whole thing was a success, huh.”
Jared nods and hums noncommittally, eyes on the road. Jensen frowns. “Hey, you all right?”
“What?” Jared asks, shooting him a strained smile over his shoulder. “Of course I am. It’s just… leaving home, you know? Always makes me sad, even if I like living in Dallas.”
Jensen nods and lets the subject drop. It makes sense after all, he’s seen first hand what a close knit family they are. It’s got to be hard leaving that behind, even if he’s only going a few hours away.
The ride back to Dallas is like a distorted reflection of the first. Jensen keeps bringing up topics of conversation during the four hour drive, only for Jared to make short, un-interested comments. He gets tenser the longer the drive gets--hands tight against the steering wheel, shoulders stiff. At one point, he turns on the radio, only to frown at every station before turning it off again in frustration.
Jensen isn’t sure what to do.
When they finally drive into Dallas, Jensen speaks up, thinking maybe that Jared needs to be reassured that Jensen isn’t pissed at him anymore, and that the night before wasn’t just a one time thing.
“So are you going to kidnap me for our next date?” he teases. “Just to keep up the tradition? I know how much of a stickler you are for tradition.”
“I dunno,” Jared says vaguely, giving him a sickly smile. “We’ll just have to see.” Then he goes back to driving.
Well. So much for that plan.
“Am I dropping you off at your place?” Jared asks.
Jensen shakes his head, thinking of Chris waiting for him, with Jeff and the police. “Nah. Let’s go to yours. It’ll be quicker and I’m dying to get out of this car.”
Jared nods, but doesn’t say anything else.
They pull up to Jared’s apartment fifteen minutes later, but Jared doesn’t make any move to leave the car after he parks, holding onto the wheel and staring out of the windshield like he’s making a decision.
“Jensen,” finally turning to look at him, face anxious. “I have something to tell you.”
Jensen furrows his brows. “Yeah?”
There’s a knock on his window.
Jensen turns around and his eyes widen. “Chris!” he exclaims, quickly opening the door. “What are you doing here?” Chris grabs his arm, roughly dragging him away from the car and onto the sidewalk. “What? Hey, what are you--”
He cuts himself off when he sees the policemen, five of them, surrounding Jared’s car, guns drawn. “Jared Padalecki,” one of them calls out. “You are under arrest. Come out of the car with your hands above your head.”
Jensen whirls on Chris. “What the hell? How do you even know his name? Or where he lives?”
“I had Jeff,” he nods at the older man, just a few feet away, “figure out who’s phone it was that you were calling from. There was only one Padalecki in Dallas, a Jared Padalecki, who was listed as the son of the people who’s house you called from.”
Jeff walks up to him and places a hand on his shoulder. “You okay, son?” he asks, peering at Jensen’s face in concern, as if looking for signs of abuse or trauma. “I was really worried when I got the call from Chris telling me you were in trouble.”
Jensen stares back at him, at the kind, familiar face of his father’s law partner, almost an uncle to him growing up and the only remaining tie he has to his family, and for a moment he wants nothing more than to tell Jeff everything: the kidnapping and the horrible ride to San Antonio, the crazy situation he found himself in and all the anger and confusion that went along with it, his initial resentment towards Jared and how that feeling changed into something more intense than he thought he could handle, the family he stayed with who he couldn’t help but fall in love with, and just how wonderful it felt to be a part of something like that again, to be accepted, cared for, even,.
He wants to tell him everything, just like he used to when he’d call Jeff up during law school, back when he realized that he couldn’t talk to his dad about any frustrations or fears he had about his studies, that they’d only be seen as a weakness, and Jeff had always taken time out to calm Jensen down from any sleep deprived, caffeine induced manias he happened to have.
Jeff frowns at his silence and squeezes his shoulder gently, and Jensen almost begins to tell the whole story, right there in the middle of the apartment parking lot.
But ten feet away Jared has gotten out of the car, and Jensen sees the panicked, scared look on his face as the cops frisk him and read him his rights.
Jensen shakes his head dismissively. “I‘m fine, Jeff. Really.” He says when Jeff just frowns doubtfully. Stepping out of Jeff’s hold on his shoulder Jensen turns to Chris. “I tried to call you to tell you things changed, Chris. Why the hell didn’t you pick up?”
Chris scowls at him, rubbing one hand wearily over the back of his neck. “We’ve been staking out the apartment all night. My phone died and I forgot the car charger.”
Jensen raises his eyebrows. “Staking it out?”
“Yeah. And we caught him,” he gestures at a cop car parked near the wall of building, where Jensen can see Chad is sitting in the back, “just a few hours ago. He told us the story, about the kidnapping and the ransom--and only you would get kidnapped for someone’s Christmas, for god’s sake--and how he lost the money.”
“He what?” Jensen gazes quickly switches from the outline of Chad’s head in the window to Chris, not sure he heard right.
“He lost it, Jensen. Last night gambling apparently.”
Jensen’s stomach drops, and he suddenly feels sick.
Slowly, he turns to where Jared is being handcuffed. He walks over to him, brushing off Chris’s hands when he tries to pull him back. Jared looks at him anxiously over the top of the car. “Jensen, I--”
“You knew.” Jensen cuts him off. “The phone call. You knew that Chad lost the money. That was hours ago and you didn’t tell me.”
“I was going to, Jensen,” Jared swears, face earnest. “I was trying to tell you a few minutes ago, I just didn’t know how and I didn’t want you to think that was part of the plan or something. It just… It just happened. I‘m so sorry.”
Jensen snorts bitterly. “Right.”
He feels like an idiot. Falling for his kidnapper, convincing himself that he actually was a good guy.
God, he wasn’t even going to tell him. “What were you going to do?” he asks, “drop me off at my apartment, promise to bring the money the next day and then skip town?”
And Jensen would probably have waited too, trusting him.
“Jesus, I’m a fool,” he mutters angrily, looking away from Jared and running one hand roughly through his hair.
“Jensen, no. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t do that to you. You know that.”
The cop behind Jared starts to pull him away, dragging him to the police car. “Wait. Jensen,” he calls out, eyes locked on him, voice pleading. “Jensen please. You have to believe me.”
Jensen watches him being dragged away, feeling sick to his stomach. He should be enjoying this, should be filled with righteous anger at the site of his kidnapper, the guy who seduced him then betrayed him, being shoved into a cop car. At the very least he should be feeling relieved. But as angry as he is, he still feels terrible at the thought of Jared behind bars.
Jensen takes a deep breath.
“Wait,” he tells the cops. “You’ve got it wrong. These two didn’t kidnap me, you’ve been misinformed. I went with this man voluntarily.”
“Jen, what are you--” he holds up a hand to cut Chris off.
The cops holding Jared studies him seriously. “Are you sure, sir? Keep in mind that he can’t hurt you in any way. You don’t have to protect him.”
“I’m not,” Jensen says shortly, avoiding Jared’s eyes. “I’m just telling you the truth. I was with Mr. Padalecki and his family for Christmas. You can call and ask them to verify. I had plenty of opportunities to leave if I wanted to.”
The cop hesitates, looking past Jensen to Jeff standing behind him. Jensen turns to look at him himself, giving him a short but firm nod. Jeff studies him for a moment before turning to the police. “Let them go. I’m afraid we’ve had a communication problem. This has all been a misunderstanding.”
The cop is still reluctant, looking back and forth from Jensen to Jared, so Jeff walks up to the man, placing a hand on his shoulder to guide him away, speaking in low undertones. Jensen doesn’t have to listen to the conversation, he knows just what Jeff Morgan’s power and influence can do.
Jared’s just feet away, still cuffed and guarded by another officer, pleading gaze fixed on Jensen.
Jensen doesn’t look at him.
“You realize, Mr. Morgan,” the first officer is saying as he and Jeff walk back, “that there’s going to be quite a few questions still. Your client will have to come down to the station to answer them.”
“Yes, I understand,” Jeff replies seriously, “and he’ll be happy to answer all of your questions at a later time.”
The man gestures to the other police officer and Jared is uncuffed. As soon as he is they walk away, leaving him to rub at his wrists and stare at Jensen while they go to release Chad.
It’s just Jared and Jensen by the car now. Chris and Jeff linger back, eyes watchful.
“Jensen,” Jared says cautiously, taking a step forward.
Jensen holds up one hand and steps back, shaking his head. “Stop Jared. Just stop.” He meets Jared’s eyes, expression blank. “We’re done. I’m not going to press charges, but we are done.” He chuckles humorlessly. “We shouldn’t even have started.”
“But Jen,” Jared pleads. “You have to understand--”
“No,” he says tiredly. “I don‘t. I don‘t owe you anything.”
Jared doesn’t say anything to that and they stare at each other a moment. Jensen’s jaw tight and flexing with the strength of his emotions, Jared’s eyes sad, defeated.
He turns away. “Come on, Chris. Let’s get out of here,” he mutters shortly, stalking over to where Chris parked.
Chris hesitates for a moment, then catches up to him. “Need to get anything out of the guy’s car?”
Jensen thinks about the luggage in the trunk, about the bag filled with the clothes Jared bought him, the watch Sherri and Jerry gave him, the yoga book with the certificates in them. He shakes his head. “No, let’s just go.”
They do, getting into Chris’s car and hurriedly driving away. Jensen’s silent in the passenger seat beside Chris. He doesn’t look out the side window as they leave, doesn’t watch Jared and his apartment fade from sight.
Just a few minutes after Jensen leaves so do all the cops, shooting Jared and Chad suspicious glares as they get back into their police cruisers. Jared is left standing by his car in the empty parking lot, staring down the street where Chris’s car disappeared, hyper aware of the curious looks coming from his neighbors’ windows and feeling more than a little pathetic.
Chad shuffles up from behind him to lean against the passenger side door. “Shit! I thought we were done for. What the hell kind of lie did you come up with to make them let us go?”
Jared whirls on him, the sudden rush of anger making his pulse beat loudly in his ears, hands clenched at his sides and mouth already open, ready to tear into him for being the most irresponsible, reckless idiot he’s ever seen, ready to curse him out for screwing everything up when they just started work out--hell, for coming up with the damn stupid scheme to begin with--but stops when he gets a good look at him.
Chad looks like hell. He’s got a busted lip, a black eye, and bruises along his left jaw and cheekbone. He’s holding his right shoulder oddly, like it hurts, and there’s still blood encrusted in the roots of his blond hair.
He’s also grinning, wide and relieved, meeting Jared’s eyes like they’re sharing a joke, like they got away with something and any moment now Jared is gonna hold out a fist for Chad to bump and then they’ll head back inside for celebratory beers and a recap of the whole thing, drunkenly laughing about how close a call it was.
Jared sighs, resigned. Being angry with him is pointless. Chad is just… Chad, and trying to yell at him or talk some sense into him would be like trying to make hole through a mountain with his fist: futile and painful.
“Come on, man,” he says wearily. “Let’s go inside. I’ll help you get cleaned up.”
He makes his way across the lot to his apartment, not bothering to get his bags out of the car, and Chad obediently limps behind him. He sees the curtains move in the window of the apartment next to him, his neighbor sliding them closed to pretend unsuccessfully that she hadn’t been spying on the whole scene and thinks, idly, that a week ago, the idea of his neighbors seeing Jared be held at gun point and handcuffed by five cops would have shamed and embarrassed him enough to move out.
Now he couldn’t care less.
When they get inside Jared immediately directs Chad to the bathroom to wash the blood off, and he goes to the freezer to get some ice. Not that he really thinks it would help--it’s been like, what, ten hours since the guys Chad was gambling with last night beat the shit out of him in a back alley?--but he figures it couldn’t hurt. Chad seems grateful for it anyway, taking the cloth wrapped ice as he comes out of the bathroom with another grin, and pressing it against the side of his face with a small hiss as he sinks onto the couch. Jared opts to lean his back against the wall caddy-corner from it, slumping forward to shove his hands in his pockets and hunching his shoulders around his ears.
“Seriously, Jay,” Chad says from the couch. “How the hell are we not in jail right now?”
Jared sighs, straightening his shoulders and tilting his head back. It hits the wall with a soft thump and he stares up at the ceiling. There’s a yellow stain forming above the window. He thinks it’s spread while he was gone. “Jensen,” he finally answers. “He’s told them he went with me willingly.”
Chad sits up, pulling the ice off his eye to stare at Jared incredulously. “Really? That guy? I thought for sure he would do all that was possible to see our asses rotting in prison. He hates us.”
Jared looks down at the floor. “Yeah,” he says quietly.
Chad studies him for a moment. “Holy shit.”
Jared looks up. “What?”
“You slept with him.”
He stares at Chad, jaw dropped slightly in shock. “H-how? I mean--”
Chad jumps up with a whoop. “You seduced the fucker! Wow, Jay,” he walks around the beat up coffee table to pat Jared on the shoulder, shit eating grin on his face. “I didn’t think you had it in you to do something like that. Who’s the criminal master mind now?” he crows, throwing his head back as he practically cackles.
Jared angrily brushes Chad off, stalking past him to the middle of the room. “Shut up, Chad. That’s not what happened.”
“Oh yeah? So you didn’t sleep with him?”
Jared looks away guiltily, running a harried hand through his hair. “Well. It just. It was--” he sighs, dropping his hand. “It wasn’t like that,” he mutters tiredly.
Chad’s eyebrows crease in confusion. “Then what was it like?”
Jared just stares at him helplessly.
Realization dawns on Chad’s face. “Oh. Oh, shit, Jay. You didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t fall for the guy we kidnapped. Not even you could be that stupid.”
Jared collapses down onto the coffee table, slumping forward and burying his face in his hands. “I know,” he mutters into the skin of his palms. “But apparently I am.”
“Man, I told you. I told you not to let yourself think it was real. Did I not say that to you?” He can hear frantically pacing the room. He was probably waving his arms too. “Did I not say, ‘he’s not really your boyfriend, Jay.’ Huh? Didn’t I? But nooo. Jared has to go and fall in love with the guy. He can’t have a steady relationship with anybody else he meets, but the guy he kidnapped and cuffs to his car is the one for him.”
“Alright, Chad!” Jared interrupts, lifting his head up to glare at his friend. “I get it. I’m a moron. You don’t have to keep going on about it.”
Chad falls silent, finally stopping his pacing to sit on the armchair across from Jared. Jared slumps forward again, bracing his forehead against his palms and digging his fingers into his hair. He can feel Chad’s curious gaze on him but doesn’t meet it, choosing instead to study the stains on his carpet.
“Well,” Chad says quietly. “There might be hope. I mean, he let us go, right? And obviously something happened between you two while you were at your parents‘, so he probably feels the same, right?”
Jared gives a bitter snort. “Not anymore,” he bites out. “He thinks I was part of losing the money, that not giving it back was part of the plan the whole time. He’s not going to want to see me again,” he mutters lowly.
Chad’s quiet for moment, then sucks in a breath. “Jay, man. I’m so sorry. If I’d have known--”
Jared waves him off. “Don’t bother.” He chuckles humorlessly. “I should have known something like this would happen. It’s my own fault for thinking it would work out to begin with.”
Jared rubs his hand over his face and stands up. He picks up the abandoned icepack--now partially melted and seeping through the dish towel--and makes for the kitchen. Chad watches him silently for a minute, then speaks up, voice stopping Jared at the doorway.
“You really liked him, didn’t you, huh?”
Jared exhales a deep breath, shoulders slumping. “Yeah.”
That was the end of the conversation.
Chad leaves ten or so minutes later and Jared is finally alone in his apartment. He stares at the ugly beige walls with the water stains, the funky colored carpet, the worn couch. He’s never really liked it, but it seems bleaker now, somehow. He avoids the couch and sits on the old rocking chair in the corner instead. There’s a wad of tape clinging to the arm rest. Jared picks it up, crushes it in his hand.
Jensen was the last person to sit here.
He buries his face in his palm, shaking.
This morning everything was perfect, Chad’s crazy idea had worked out great. Not only did his family believe that Jensen was his boyfriend, but Jensen…
Shit. He’s never going to talk to Jared again.
Hands shaky, Jared does what he usually does when something bad happens: he pulls out his phone and calls his sister.
“Jared?” she answers. “You’re calling already? Did you forget something?”
“Meggie,” he says, voice hoarse. “I think I fucked up.”
She’s quiet for a moment. And then:
“Tell me everything.”
Jared takes a deep breath.
New Years Eve is spent at his apartment with Chris, beers in one hand, bowl of popcorn on the table, and the Syfy marathon of The Twilight Zone on the TV. Chris tried to get Jensen to go out, to get a few friends together and have fun, but when he’d refused he’d shown up uninvited at Jensen’s place, a case of beer in his hands.
“Man,” Chris says after the third episode that passes in silence. “You need to stop moping.”
“I’m not moping.” Jensen takes a sip of his beer.
“Yeah, Jen, you are.”
“No I’m not. I’m just too busy watching this show to talk to your ugly face. What do you think, will William Shatner stay forever in the town with the little fortune box?”
“You know he won’t,” Chris sighs. “You’ve seen this episode twenty times. And you’ve been moping for days. Ever since we left Jared’s place.”
Jensen tenses at the mention of Jared. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snaps.
“Sure you do.” Chris waves a hand in the air. “Jared. Tall guy. Floppy hair. Kidnapped you and stole the community center money and yet you decided not to press charges. And you’ve been pouting like you’d lost your long lost love ever since.”
Jensen tightens his fist around his beer bottle, glaring at him. “He’s not my long lost love.”
“You sure about that?” Chris smirks. “’Cause I’ve never seen you forgive and let things go when there’s a chance you could take up the issue and fight, and you didn’t even consider making Jared pay for kidnapping you. That tells me something.”
Jensen stares hard at the fabric seam of his couch. “Maybe I’ve got Stockholm Syndrome or something.”
Chris snorts. “You ain’t got Stockholm Syndrome.” He puts his beer on the coffee table and holds up one hand, ticking off his fingers. “You were in no life threatening danger, you weren’t isolated with Jared as your only form of human contact, and you didn’t depend on him for necessary things like food and water--from what little you‘ve told me, I’d say you actually had more food than usual--so you haven’t been psychologically screwed to be dependent on him.”
Jensen stares at him. “How do you know all that stuff?”
“What did you think I did when you came back in love with your kidnapper? I researched it.”
“I’m not in love with him.” Jared protests, but it’s weak.
“I’m not sure about that Jensen.”
Jensen doesn’t reply, staring unseeingly at the TV instead.
“Maybe you should give him a call,” Chris says softly. “From the way I understand it, his friend is the one that screwed up and lost the money. Maybe you should let it go. For once in your life, stop fighting, stop trying to be so strong and independent, and just let yourself be happy.”
Jensen’s quiet, so Chris lets it go, allowing them to get back to the show. It’s a good thing Jensen has seen this episode before, because he doesn’t absorb a thing, too lost in his own thoughts.
Chris doesn’t bother him about Jared again, doesn’t even mention the kidnapping or Christmas, apparently going along with Jensen’s wish to put it all behind him and pretend that it never happened. Jensen has better luck on the outside than on the inside, mind continuously going back to the time he spent with Jared in San Antonio, idle thoughts about what Laura or Sherri were doing right then, if Megan was still expecting Jensen to call about the yoga class, involuntarily imagining what would happen if he were to run into Jared somewhere around Dallas. But it’s not until a week after New Years Eve that he talks to anyone about Jared Padalecki at all, and that time it’s not by Jensen’s choice.
Chad Michael Murray shows up at the homeless shelter he’s volunteering at.
“I’m not serving you,” he says flatly when Chad holds up his paper plate for mashed potatoes.
“Aw, come on dude,” he pouts. “Don’t be like that. Why not?” he asks when Jensen doesn’t budge.
“You’re not homeless.”
“So? You mean to tell me that every single person who comes here is always homeless? There’s never some poor college student, or starving artist or cheapskate loser who just wants free food?”
“Like you?” Jensen spits out meanly.
Chad just grins and shrugs, unrepentant. “Like me. So? Do you always turn them away too?”
“I’m not serving you,” he says again, emphasizing the last word with an angry thrust of the spoon in his hand. A glomp of mashed potatoes slides off and lands on the serving table between them with a small splat.
Chad smirks. Jensen glares.
Finally, Chad sighs. “Fine,” he says, passing his plate, which was already piled high with green beans and fried chicken, to a woman passing behind him to get to the end of the line. “I just came to talk to you anyway.” He gestures to an empty corner of the room, waving at Jensen to come with him.
Jensen snorts. “Like I’m going anywhere with you. How about you just leave before I call the police and have you arrested for kidnapping,” he threatens.
Chad doesn’t look worried. “If you do that then you have to press charges against Jared too. And if you really wanted that you would have done that two weeks ago.”
He sounds absolutely confident about this fact, and Jensen scowls, nothing to say to that.
“Come on,” Chad says, for once sounding serious. “Just a few minutes. Nothing’s going to happen here, with all these people around.”
Jensen considers it, looking around at the four long tables full of people eating, the kitchen staff through the window and his friend and fellow volunteer, Danneel, just ten feet away, passing out cookies at the end of the serving table. “Fine,” he sighs, putting the spoon down into the potatoes and wiping his hands on his apron. “Hey, Danni,” he calls out. “Can you cover the mashed potatoes for a minute?”
She looks over at him, eyes flickering from Jensen to Chad in curiosity. “Sure,” she shrugs. “People can just grab their own cookies, I guess.”
Jensen smirks at her. “I’m sure they’ll follow the rules and only take two, don’t worry.”
She rolls her eyes at him, shoving past him to grab the spoon, bright smile ready on her face for the next person in line. “Mashed potatoes?” she asks cheerfully.
He reluctantly follows Chad to the empty corner between the doorway to the kitchen and the basket of mini butter tubs. He makes sure that he’s not the one backed into the corner and crosses his arms, frowning. “All right. What do you want?”
Chad rubs awkwardly at his shoulder, eyes roaming around the room, as if, now that he has Jensen willing to listen to him, he’s not sure where to start. “Look man,” he finally says, “Jared really had nothing to do with losing the money, that was all me. I fucked up. There wasn‘t some kind of plan to steal the money and try to make you not care about it or anything like that. And Jared is just as pissed off about it as you are.”
“You can just stop right there.” Jensen holds up one hand, shaking his head. “I really don’t want to hear it, the whole thing is over as far as I’m concerned. I never should have thought--” he cuts himself off with a sigh before looking Chad straight in the eye. “I really don’t care,” he says as firmly as he can, trying to convince both himself and Chad.
Apparently, he’s not very convincing because Chad looks skeptical. “Yeah, well, Jared does,” is his reply, and he digs into his front pocket pulling out sloppily folded envelope. “Here,” he says, handing it over. “This is from Jared. He was going to try and find you raddress so he could mail it to you, but I saw it on his kitchen table and thought to bring it to you instead. Save him the postage.”
Jensen takes it cautiously, not sure if he wants to open it. Is it a letter? He’s not sure if he could handle reading a letter from Jared right now, or ever. But at the same time, he’s curious as to what he has to say. Slowly, he tears it open, slipping his fingers inside to pull the contents out.
There’s no letter, but a check, written out to the community center Jensen had been raising money for, and signed by Jared Padalecki.
It was for four thousand and thirty-two dollars.
“How?” Jensen breathes, eyes wide as he stares at the check. “How did he do this? Get all the money?”
Chad shrugs. “No idea. But I think it’s safe to say that Jared will be living off of peanut butter and Ramen for the next few months at least. That’s how much he cares.”
Jensen doesn’t say anything in reply, can’t say anything, too busy tracing the lines of Jared’s signature with his eyes before going back to the amount scribbled in the small box on the check, barely believing what he sees.
Chad stares hard at him. He apparently finds something that satisfies him on Jensen’s face because he suddenly claps his hands together. “Great. Well, my work here is done,” he says briskly. “Oh, here.” He pulls something else out of his jacket pocket, holding his hand out to Jensen.
He’s holding the handcuffs. “Take these.” He shoves them into Jensen’s hands, giving him no choice but to accept them. “No idea what you and Jared did with them, and I really don’t want them anymore. Jared has the key. So. You know. Go have fun.”
He winks at him and taps Jensen lightly on the shoulder with his fist, giving a careless “See you around,” before striding past him, detouring to snag a cookie from the table before heading out the door.
Numbly, Jensen slips the check back into the envelope and folds it up, pocketing both it and the handcuffs. He takes a moment to gather himself together, to push the confusion and conflicting emotions away for another moment, and then walks back to the serving table. He calmly takes the spoon from Danneel, thanks her for covering for him and goes back to spooning out clumps of lumpy potatoes to the line of people who keep coming through.
Or he tries at least.
“Was that Jared?” Danneel asks, not going back to her spot by the cookies immediately, like he thought she would.
“What?” he exclaims, surprised. “No! And how do you know about Jared anyway?” he asks suspiciously.
She shrugs. “Chris told me.”
Jensen rolls his eyes. Of course. God forbid his friends not keep each other informed on every bit of drama in his life.
“Well who was it then?”
Jensen tries to avoid answering, smiling at the man across from him as he plops down some potatoes on his plate and asking him if he wanted more than that, but Danneel just pokes him when the guy moves on, eyebrows raised expectantly.
He gives in. “Chad.”
“Oh. The other one who kidnapped you.”
“Yes,” he hisses through gritted teeth. Leave it to Chris to share every detail.
When he doesn’t expand on that, she pokes him again. “So what did he want?”
He huffs out a sigh, resigned to actually talking about his. “He wanted to assure me that Jared didn’t have anything to do with losing the money, and that he was just upset about it as I was. And that he cares, apparently.” He leaves out the check, not wanting to talk about that when he’s still reeling and unsure from it.
Danneel seems to take a few moments to process this. “So…does this mean you are going to go talk to him?”
Jensen looks at her sharply. “Why would I do that? He kidnapped me. People usually don’t have genial relationships with their kidnappers, Danni.”
She rolls her eyes at him. “Oh, please. Don’t act like that’s all he is to you. You’ve been miserable these past two weeks.”
“What? I have not,” he protested.
“Jensen, I know you,” she tells him seriously. “You get all determined and workaholic when you’re upset. You’ve been here and at the food bank three times as much as you usually are, and you’ve volunteered and donated money to every extra charity you could find. You haven’t been this obsessed with doing good since the thing with your family.”
Jensen’s quiet. One of the shelter’s regulars hears Danneel‘s speech--a tall, bean pole of a man with a scruffy beard and long, dull red hair that’s covered in a ragged hat-- and gives him a sympathetic look. Jensen wordlessly serves him the potatoes.
Danneel sighs. “I’m just saying you should consider it. It’s about time you had something more in your life than just collecting canned corn and passing out fried chicken and lumpy potatoes.”
When he doesn’t reply she gives up, going back to the cookie basket and leaving him alone.
Jared has barely been home from work fifteen minutes before there’s a knock on his door. “Just a minute!” he calls out, and groans as he gets up from his spot on the couch. Shuffling tiredly to the front door, he quickly releases the chain and flips the deadbolt over, swinging the door open.
Jensen is standing on his stoop, a tight, unsure expression on his face and wearing the same jacket he’d worn the first time Jared saw him.
Jared stares at him, eyes wide, mouth open.
Jensen gives a little wave. “Hi.”
Jared blinks. “H-hi. Uh, what are you doing here?” He looks past Jensen and into the street, a little worried that he was about to be arrested, that Jensen changed his mind.
“There’s no police,” Jensen tells him. “I promise. I just came to talk.”
“Oh. Well, come in, I guess.” He opens the door wider, fidgeting nervously as Jensen passes him.
There’s an awkward moment while he closes the door and they make their way to the living room, standing five feet apart and looking at everything but each other. Jensen still hasn’t said why he’s there to begin with.
“Um,” Jared says when he finally can‘t take the silence anymore. “It‘s good that you came by. I was going to send you something, but I had some trouble finding your address. Not that I’m stalking you or anything, that would be creepy, but I’ve been looking around the internet and the white pages for it and I guess you’re unlisted because I haven’t been able to find it and wow, that really does sound like stalking, actually, but I’m not I promise. I just--” he stops abruptly, realizing he was babbling. “ Just wanted to give you something,” he finishes lamely.
“Something like this?” he asks with what Jared would swear was a small, amused smile. He pulls out an envelope Jared recognizes.
Jared stares at it in shock. “How did you get that?” He peers into the foyer and at the secretary, where Jared keeps his keys and mail. He could have sworn that he put that envelope there yesterday. He has no idea how Jensen could have gotten it.
“Chad brought it to me,” Jensen explains. “He showed up at the shelter yesterday.”
“Oh,” Jared replies, still feeling a little lost. Then his face falls. “So you won’t accept it? That’s why you’re here? To give it back?”
Jensen doesn’t answer, turning the envelope thoughtfully in his hands. “How did you manage to get so much together in such a short time anyway?” he asks instead, eyes fixed intently on Jared.
Jared shrugs uncomfortably. “Oh, you know. Got an advance on my paycheck, made some people who owed me pay me back finally, emptied out my savings account. It was difficult, but it’s all there. This way, it’s like I paid for Chad’s gambling addiction. Which really, wouldn’t be the first time.” He chuckles nervously.
Very carefully, Jensen places the envelope down on the coffee table.
Jared’s stomach drops. “So you won’t take it?”
“It’s not that,” Jensen says. “That’s just not what I want to talk about right now.” Jensen pauses over the table, looking over the stack of pamphlets and enrollment papers he left there. “Going back to school then, huh?” He picks up the shiny booklet for the university, idly flipping through it.
“Uh, yeah,” Jared says, running a hand nervously over the back of his neck. “I mean, I’m thinking about it. Shouldn’t let all those credits go to waste, should I? I’m not completely sure though, still thinking about it.”
“You should do it,” Jensen says firmly, looking up from the book to meet Jared’s eyes.
“Yeah?” Jared asks, a grin slipping involuntarily to his face. “You think?” Jensen nods, dropping the pamphlet back on the table. “Oh, well, thanks.” he says uncertainly. Not wanting to let on just how much Jensen’s opinion means to him. “What did you want to talk about then?”
“Us,” Jensen says simply, eyes studying Jared.
Jared sucks in a breath. “O-oh. There’s--There’s an us?” There’s that small smile on Jensen’s face again, and Jared can’t help the rush of hope that pours through him, that had been there, admittedly, since he’d opened the door and seen him on his steps.
“There could be.” Jensen says seriously, taking a step toward Jared. “What do you say we start over, get a fresh start. One without all the fuck ups from last time.” Another step.
Jared smiles widely as he lets out a relieved breath, dimples showing as he mirrors Jensen, taking a step forward to meet him. “Yeah. Yeah, I think that sounds--that sounds great.”
Jensen nods, taking one more step so they are chest to chest. “Good.” Then Jared‘s wrist is suddenly grabbed, cold metal slipping around it before he has the chance to react. He gapes down at the handcuffs that now chain him and Jensen together. “Then it’s my turn to kidnap you,” Jensen smirks.
Jared throws his head back and laughs, grabbing Jensen’s cuffed hand with his own and interlacing their fingers. “That’s fine. Except there’s one problem.” He walks forward, pressing Jensen up against the living room wall, leaning his head forward so they are barely an inch away.
“Yeah? And what’s that?” Jensen asks breathlessly.
Jared brings their interlaced hands up between their chests, squeezing his hand. “I lost the key in San Antonio,” he whispers. Then he leans the rest of the way down and kisses him.
Jensen kisses back, gripping on Jared’s shoulder with his free hand to pull him closer. He smiles at Jared when they pull apart. “We’ll call a locksmith tomorrow.”