On the last Sunday of every month, without fail, Jensen and Ryan go to the zoo.
It’s a tradition that began when Ryan was four and expressed an interest in dolphins. It’s a father-daughter bonding day, and no other stragglers are allowed. Danneel and Misha are family, but they’ve never been invited to the zoo on the last Sunday of the month.
“Can I have ice cream?” Ryan asks, not for the first time. Jensen ruffles her hair and she looks up at him with giant green eyes.
“Not until we see the baby tiger,” Jensen reminds her. They’ve been waiting in line for half an hour to get a glimpse of this goddamn mammal and Ryan is starting to get fidgety. “We’re almost there.”
“Okay,” Ryan relents. She rests her head on her dad’s hip and blows her bangs out of her face. “Baby tiger and then ice cream.”
“And then monkeys,” Jensen adds.
“And then the dolphins.”
“Ah, the pièces de résistance,” Jensen says as he tucks Ryan’s hair behind her little seashell ear. She looks up at him with a wrinkled nose.
“The what?” She asks. Jensen chuckles and smiles down at her.
“The main event,” Jensen informs her. She nods in understanding and skips ahead as the line shuffles forward. Eventually they make their way to the front and can finally look through the window that will show them the baby tiger cub. It’s very adorable and Jensen smirks fondly as Ryan lets out all sorts of high-pitched noises.
“Daddy, can I have a tiger?” Ryan asks pleadingly. “I really want a baby tiger.”
A few other parents chuckle and Jensen laughs nervously. He’s pretty sure Jared was a one-time deal but sometimes he’s afraid Ryan will just randomly wish something else into existence. He really doesn’t want to wake up to a tiger in his living room.
“Well baby,” Jensen starts softly. “There aren’t a lot of tigers left and they have to live in the jungle or here at the zoo. They can’t live in an apartment.”
“I guess you’re right,” Ryan says after a long moment of deliberation. She turns back towards the window and waves her little hand “Bye-bye, baby tiger! Have fun in the jungle.”
Jensen snorts and takes Ryan’s hand as they’re ushered along to allow the next group to see. They wander towards the ice cream stand at a leisurely pace and Jensen lets out a deep, cleansing breath.
Things are going really well for him right now. His life has never been better but nothing will ever beat these moments. Spending time with his daughter is like nothing else in this world. Every single second with her is to be cherished.
They eat messy ice cream cones and Ryan tries very hard not to get all sticky. Jensen laughs and finally gets a wad of napkins to wrap around the end of her cone to avoid drips. She gives him a chocolate-coated smile and takes another bite.
“Okay, Daddy.” She’s cleaning herself up with a wet-nap after her ice cream cone is nothing more than sticky napkins at the bottom of a trash can. Jensen raises an eyebrow and tosses his own napkins away. “I think you should give me a piggyback ride to the pieces of resistance.”
“And this would have nothing to do with the fact that the dolphins are all the way on the other side of the zoo, would it?” Jensen asks with a smirk. Ryan looks at him with wide, innocent eyes and a mischievous smile she can never seem to hide.
“’Course not, Daddy.” She hops off of the bench and then leaps up onto Jensen’s back. He lets out a sharp breath and then chuckles as he stands up. She gets situated in prime piggyback position – Jensen’s arms hooked under her knees and her arms wrapped loosely around Jensen’s neck – and they head for the dolphins.
Ryan randomly kisses his cheek and rests her head on his shoulder halfway between the ice cream and the dolphins, and he couldn’t smile any harder if he tried.
He doesn’t even mind that they never get to see the monkeys.
Jensen and Misha are sitting at the bar in the kitchen sipping on red wine while Ryan sits next to them, scribbling in a coloring book while her feet bounce against the counter.
Jared and Danneel are preparing lasagna and Danneel keeps looking at him out of the corner of her eye.
“So Jared,” Danneel finally says. Jared licks sauce from his thumb and looks over at her with a friendly smile. “You’re from Malibu?”
Jared chuckles and Jensen smirks. Ryan isn’t paying them any attention. Danneel knows where Jared came from, but she chooses to ignore it to save her sanity.
“Yes,” Jared replies brightly. “Lovely beaches there.”
Jensen wonders if Jared would like to go to the real Malibu. It’s not far at all, but maybe he’d prefer to keep the idyllic version that he has in his head. Jensen makes a mental note to ask someday.
“Wow, Jensen has a boyfriend,” Danneel says with a smirk. “Who would have thought?”
“It’s all about the kid,” Jared says all matter of fact. “Get in with the kid, and Jensen can’t resist.”
“I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with that smoking bod,” Danneel replies.
“Or that pretty face,” Misha adds. Jensen laughs and leans over the counter to grab Jared’s shirt and pull him in for a kiss. Jared laughs against his lips and kisses him back softly. Jensen’s hand rests on the countertop and sends Ryan’s crayons spinning across her book. She finally snaps out of her own little world and looks up.
“You guys are always doing that!” She screeches as she gathers up all her crayons. Jared and Jensen look down at her with raised eyebrows and Jared comes around the counter. They both lean in and kiss Ryan’s cheeks. She can’t help but to let out a giggle.
Jared picks her up and spins her around. “Are you ready for some lasagna?” He asks, and Ryan nods excitedly. “I said are you ready for some lasagna?”
“YES!” Ryan yells with a laugh. Jared looks at her with a straight face and sets her back in her chair.
“Well it’s not ready yet,” he tells her. “You’ll just have to wait.”
Ryan blinks and Jensen throws his head back with a laugh. Jared winks at him and starts on the garlic bread.
When dinner is ready they all settle down at the dining table. Each adult has a glass of red wine and Ryan has a glass of milk. Jared dishes out the lasagna and they all grab some bread. Jensen smiles fondly as Jared sits down next to him. This isn’t the first family dinner that Jared has sat in on, but it’s the first where he doesn’t seem like an observer of a long standing tradition. He really feels like a part of it.
“To Jared,” Danneel says as she raises her glass. Jensen looks over at her with mild surprise. She was the one most resistant of accepting Jared into the fold. She didn’t have a problem with who Jared is, but more with what he used to be. But maybe she’s seen how much he belongs with Jensen and Ryan. “Welcome to the family.”
“To Jared!” The rest of the group choruses. They all hold up their glasses, even Ryan and her milk, and Jared blinks. His eyes are shining and he bites his lip as he looks around the table. Finally he raises his own glass and they all clink together.
“Thank you,” Jared says roughly. He smiles and then looks over at Jensen. He just smiles back and curls his foot around Jared’s ankle as he eats enthusiastically.
Jared’s lasagna is fantastic.
Ryan is a good kid.
She rarely disobeys and even more rarely gets an attitude, for which Jensen thanks his lucky stars. But a seven-year-old girl is still a seven-year-old girl, and sometimes she and Jensen come to blows.
“Ryan,” Jensen says through gritted teeth. “Bedtime was an hour ago. I told you to go to bed, and I meant it.”
“I don’t want to,” Ryan whines. Jensen lets a harsh breath out through his nose and Jared sits on the couch and watches the back and forth with wide eyes. “You can’t make me.”
Ryan came home from school running a fever and sniffling. Jensen had made her take some cold medicine and told her she couldn’t go swimming with Jared if she was getting sick. That coupled with her rolling stomach and irritable mood made for one upset little girl.
Jensen can tell she’s exhausted. Her eyes are drooping and she keeps yawning, but her desire to sleep obviously doesn’t overpower her desire to be a defiant little brat.
“Ryan, for the last time, go to bed.” She narrows her eyes at him. “I’m not joking.”
Ryan stomps right by him in the opposite direction of her bedroom and towards the sofa. Jensen’s eye twitches as she climbs up onto the couch and plops herself in Jared’s lap. Jared looks at Jensen desperately. Ryan curls up against his chest and he looks pained.
“I’m gonna watch TV with Jared,” Ryan mumbles. Jensen takes a deep breath. Maybe if Ryan had just asked nicely, Jensen would have let her and then put her to bed when she inevitably fell asleep. But she blew any chance of that out of the water with her attitude.
“No, you aren’t,” Jensen says as he storms over to the sofa. Jared shrinks back like he’s the one in trouble. “You’re going to spend the next week grounded with no TV at all if you don’t get your butt in that bed now.”
“Jared,” Ryan pleads as she looks up at him. “I can stay out here and watch TV with you, right?”
Jared swallows hard and looks from Jensen’s harsh glare and back to Ryan again. He furrows his brow and pushes Ryan’s hair back from her burning forehead.
“Baby girl,” he starts gently. “You need to listen to your dad and go to bed. You need the rest.”
“I knew you would say that!” Ryan cries shrilly. She pushes herself away from Jared and off of the sofa. There are tears in her eyes. “You like Daddy more than me now anyway. So fine!”
Ryan runs past Jensen and into her room, slamming the door shut behind her. Jared looks like he’s just been slapped and his eyes are glistening with unshed tears. Jensen’s heart clenches and he slumps forward in defeat. Jared stares at him helplessly.
“What do I do?” Jared asks desperately. Jensen bites his lip and looks at Ryan’s bedroom door for a moment before turning his gaze back to Jared. He was actually afraid of something like this happening.
“Go talk to her,” Jensen replies tiredly. “She isn’t used to sharing you. Or me, for that matter.”
“Shouldn’t you talk to her?” Jared replies. He looks terrified and hurt, completely unsure of himself. Jensen sighs and walks over to him.
“Jared, you want to be with me, right?” Jensen asks softly as he cups his fingers under Jared’s chin.
“Of course I do,” Jared says adamantly. “What kind of question is that?”
“Being with me means helping me raise that little girl,” Jensen says softly. “If you want to be a part of this family, you’re going to have to act like a parent sometimes.”
“Okay,” Jared replies. He nods rapidly and looks up at Jensen with a determined expression. “I can do that. I’ll talk to her.”
Jensen nods and lets go of Jared’s chin as he stands up. He looks from Ryan’s room to Jensen and he gives Jared an encouraging nod. Jared swallows and heads over to the room with Jensen on his heels. Jared pushes the door open and Jensen leans against the frame as he walks slowly up to Ryan’s bed. She’s on her stomach with her face buried in her pillow.
“Ryan?” Jared says softly.
“Go away,” Ryan replies. Her voice is muffled by the pillow and Jensen very nearly smiles. Jared sits on the edge of her bed and puts his giant hand in the center of her back.
“C’mon, Ryan,” he says softly. “Talk to me, please?”
Ryan huffs and rolls over onto her back. She glares at Jared and then Jensen before turning her face back towards Jared. He slides his hand over her forehead and pushes her bangs back from her face. She makes a sad, pained noise that just proves she feels terrible.
Jensen knows that he’s intruding, but this is his kid. Jared’s first parental talk can handle a little supervision.
“Ryan,” Jared begins softly. “You know I love you, right?” Ryan waits a beat and then nods. Jared lets out a relieved breath and starts to stroke her hair. “And I love your dad, too. I love you both so much, but in different ways.”
“I know,” Ryan replies softly. She yawns and rubs at her eyes. “I’m sorry I said that.”
“It’s okay,” Jared assures her. “Look, I know that things are different than they used to be and we don’t get to spend as much time together, but it’s better that I’m here. We can have more fun this way, and I can take better care of you.”
Ryan nods and then sits up tiredly. She touches Jared’s face and he smiles.
“I’m glad you’re here, Jared,” she says. “And I’m glad you make us a family. I love you.”
“I love you too, Ryan,” Jared says thickly. He hugs Ryan and she wraps her arms around his neck. Jensen blinks rapidly and takes a deep breath. Ryan looks at him over Jared’s shoulder.
“Sorry Daddy,” she mumbles.
“It’s okay,” Jensen says as he pushes away from the doorframe. Ryan lies back down in bed and Jensen leans over to kiss her forehead. “I love you. Please get some sleep and you’ll feel better.”
She nods and melts against the blankets, eyes already drooping shut. Jared and Jensen wait until they’re sure she’s asleep, and then get up and tiptoe out of her room.
They collapse onto the couch and let out relieved little laughs. Jared rolls them until Jensen is laying on top of him, head pillowed on his chest. Jensen maneuvers and tilts his head up to look Jared in the eye.
“That was absolutely terrifying,” Jared admits breathlessly. Jensen smiles serenely. Jared did a wonderful job.
“Welcome to parenthood,” Jensen tells him. Jared’s lips go slack in surprise and Jensen chuckles as he kisses him.
It takes Ryan three days to get over whatever bug she came down with. That weekend, when Jensen is very sure that she is back to normal, he takes her and Jared to the beach.
It’s the same beach where Jared and Jensen shared their first kiss. It’s not as stunning under sunshine as it was under moonlight, but it’s still a nice sight to see.
As soon as Jensen parks the car, Jared and Ryan get out and tear across the sand. Jensen watches bemusedly before grabbing the towels, umbrella, and tote bag from the trunk and lugging them across the shore.
He sets up the umbrella and rolls out the towels in a spot close to the water but far enough away to stay clear of the waves. He looks over his shoulder just as Ryan is about to jump in the water and lets out a sharp whistle. She freezes and looks over at him as he waves the sunscreen in the air. Jared scoops her up and carries her over to Jensen. She stands dutifully in front of her dad and doesn’t complain as he lathers her up with the highest SPF money can buy.
“What are the rules?” Jensen asks as he carefully puts sunscreen on her face. Jared pulls her wild hair back into a ponytail and wraps it in a little bun. She scrunches up her nose as Jensen puts sunscreen on it.
“Don’t go in the water without you or Jared,” she replies blandly. “You don’t have to remind me, Daddy. It’s not like I want to get eaten by a shark.”
“You’re not going to get eaten by a shark,” Jensen assures her. He rubs the last of the sunscreen on the back of her neck and then sits back on his knees. “There. Now plop your butt on that towel and let that soak in a minute while we get sunscreened up too.”
Ryan looks longingly at the waves but then sits down on her towel and digs her toys out of the giant tote bag. Jensen waggles an eyebrow at Jared and gestures him down onto his towel. Jared rolls his eyes and smirks as he settles onto his knees. Jensen’s eyes light up at the sight of all that tan skin.
“I’m capable of putting sunscreen on myself,” Jared says fondly. Jensen shushes him and rubs the sweet smelling lotion into his skin. When he’s all done, Jared returns the favor. His hands are soft and warm, gliding slickly across every inch of exposed skin. Jensen suppresses a shiver.
Jared leans in and nips sharply at his earlobe. Before Jensen can even register the brief shock of pain, Jared is leaning back and capping the sunscreen.
“So what are we doing first?” Jared asks Ryan. She stops scooping sand into a bucket and looks up at him. “Playing in the water or making sandcastles?”
Ryan doesn’t even answer. She just gets up and takes off for the waves like she’s trying to break the land speed record. Jared laughs and takes off after her, splashing into the water as Ryan dives into it. Jensen watches them fondly through his heavily tinted sunglasses.
Once he’s convinced that they’re having a great time without him, Jensen drops down onto his towel to work on his tan. Jared is putting him to shame.
Awhile later Jensen is lying on his stomach, close to sleep as the warm sun beats down on his back. He breathes deeply and shifts a little, rolling slightly to get more comfortable.
And then a forty-pound sack of freezing cold water and sand drops down on top of him, shattering his peaceful little bubble of warmth and relaxation. Jensen lets out a shocked gasp and gives a full-body shudder. Ryan is dripping all over him, soaking him to the bone.
“Daddy!” She shrieks. Jensen sighs and rolls over. Ryan scrambles to keep her balance and ends up kneeing Jensen in the kidney before settling on his stomach. “Are you gonna play with us?”
“Might as well, now that I’m soaked,” Jensen replies easily. He gets up and takes Ryan’s hand as she pulls him into the water. Jared is standing in water waist-deep, hair wet and tossed back, looking like some sort of bronzed water god. “You put her up to that, didn’t you?”
“You’ll never know,” Jared replies casually, and then pushes Jensen into the water.
They stay at the beach, frolicking in the water and building epic lopsided sandcastles until the sun starts to set. As soon as Ryan starts alternating between shivering and yawning, they know it’s time to go.
They quickly dry off and Jensen changes Ryan into a tiny pink tracksuit that his mother bought her so she’ll stay warm on the drive home. Jared and Jensen just throw on tee shirts and wrap clean towels around their damp trunks before getting into the car.
They drive home in peaceful silence. Jared and Jensen’s fingers are tangled over the center console and Ryan crashes out in the backseat.
Ryan is out for the count, fast asleep, and it’s late by the time Jensen can get into the shower.
He stands under the burning spray and lets it wash away the sunscreen, sand, and salt. He’s much happier once his skin isn’t tacky, but instead pink with heat. Jensen really loves showers.
They’ve gotten even better since Jared came along.
The shower door opens and Jensen smiles as Jared steps in behind him. It’s a small space and Jared practically has to blanket Jensen just to fit. He really doesn’t mind.
“Hey,” Jensen says throatily as he turns around to face him. Jared responds by cupping Jensen’s cheeks and tilting his head up for a kiss. It’s slow and lazy, and Jensen melts against Jared with a soft sigh.
The honeymoon phase of a new relationship is really dampened by having a kid around the house. Jensen doesn’t get to touch Jared nearly as much as he would like to, which is all the time.
Sex with Jared is intense. It leaves him trembling and mindless and weak. He doesn’t get nearly enough of it. It’s like a fire has been awakened in him whenever Jared touches him like this. He pushes against Jared under the spray, moaning into their kiss and pressing them together from head to toe.
Jared reaches down to curl his long, capable fingers around Jensen’s hardening dick. He digs his fingertips into the firm muscles of Jared’s shoulders and nips softly at his bottom lip.
Jared strokes him until he’s hard and aching and then slips to his knees right there under the spray. Jensen groans and braces himself against the tile as Jared’s lips meet his fingers. He sucks gently at the head until Jensen’s hips jerk and then he pulls him in deeper, fingers curled loosely around the base as he starts to blow him eagerly.
Jensen’s fingers curl in the wet tangle of Jared’s hair and pull as he lets out a low moan. Jared is fucking amazing at this – a combination of perfect suction and teasing fingers that leaves Jensen begging for more.
Heat rolls in Jensen’s belly and he pushes Jared back gently by his shoulders. He releases Jensen’s dick and takes a deep breath as he looks up at him through wet lashes. Jensen tugs him up by the shoulders and licks the taste of himself out of Jared’s mouth.
“Want you,” he breathes. Jared kisses him deeply and lets Jensen feel his hard dick against his hip. “C’mon.”
Jensen gets some conditioner on his fingers and reaches back to finger Jared open while they kiss. He’s whimpering and groaning, biting down on Jensen’s lip and tugging.
Jensen shuts off the water and pulls Jared out of the shower. They don’t even bother to dry off before they’re tumbling out of the door and into the bedroom. Jared pulls away once they reach the bed and grins mischievously at Jensen before spinning around and bending over the bed. He braces himself on his elbows and looks at Jensen over his shoulder as he spreads his legs.
It’s a wonder Jensen’s knees don’t give out then and there.
Jensen steps forward and grabs Jared’s hip with one hand and positions himself with the other. He slowly enters Jared and they moan in unison. Jensen gives him a moment to adjust before he starts moving, rocking into Jared with deep thrusts.
He lets his hand slide down the center of Jared’s damp back before he grabs his hips with both hands and thrusts harder. The angle blows Jensen’s mind, but he wants to see Jared’s pretty face, wants to watch his eyes change color.
He pulls out and tugs on Jared’s shoulder until he turns and Jensen can push him down onto his back. He lands on the bed with a bounce and Jensen pulls his hips up to the edge. He puts one of Jared’s legs over his shoulder as the other wraps around his waist and slides back in.
“Oh god,” Jared moans. He arches up obscenely and Jensen leans in to get a grip on his shoulder. “Yeah, harder. Come on, Jen.”
Jensen begins to pound into him and it’s better this way. He can see Jared’s face and trace his puffy lips with his fingers. Jared cries out when Jensen slams into his prostate and he slips his fingers into Jared’s mouth to stifle the noise.
Jared’s leg slips off of Jensen’s shoulder and he pulls his fingers free before leaning down to give him a dirty kiss, tongues tangling as the pleasure builds. He reaches down to grab Jared’s cock and he swallows the subsequent moan. He’s so close that the pace he sets is frantic. Jared grabs at Jensen’s shoulders and bites down on his jaw as he comes.
Jared’s ass locks down around Jensen’s cock and he moans, hips jerking forward as he climaxes and pulses out his release inside of Jared.
“Oh god,” Jared pants. He relaxes into the mattress, feet falling to the floor as Jensen slips out of him. Jensen uses the very last bit of his energy to grab a large towel from the bathroom and throw it on the bed before he climbs onto it.
“Shit, babe,” Jensen rasps. Jared grins and rolls over to pull himself fully onto the bed and curl up with Jensen. Their mouths meet again and Jensen’s hand presses against Jared’s heart.
Jensen will never get tired of feeling it beat against his palm.
The mall is packed and bustling with weekend shoppers and Jensen is having a hard time keeping up with his overactive boyfriend.
“Whoa, Jared!” He calls out. “Wait up!”
Jared stumbles to a halt and looks over his shoulder with a wide grin. He spins around and bounces on his heels until Jensen can catch up to him. Jensen rolls his eyes and grabs Jared’s hand.
“Sorry Jen,” Jared says as he threads their fingers together. “I’m just a big fan of shopping.”
“I can see that,” Jensen replies. He’s nursing a cup of coffee as they work their way through the aisles. He’s dressed in a white button down underneath a soft black sweater paired with charcoal slacks and black leather shoes. Jared is dressed in a soft pink tee shirt, black cargo shorts, and flip-flops. To say they were mismatched would be putting it lightly.
Jensen loves the contrast.
“Toy store, Jared. Focus,” Jensen says through a smirk. “We’re birthday shopping for the kid, remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” Jared replies. His eyes lock on a Mrs. Field’s cookie stand. “For the kid. Can I have a cookie?”
Jensen rolls his eyes with a fond smile as they head over to the cookie stand. He gets a chocolate chip for Jared and a macadamia nut for himself. Jared bites his lip as Jensen pulls a five from his wallet and pays the cashier.
“So, uh,” Jared begins awkwardly as they walk away. “I was thinking I should get a job.”
Jensen pauses in biting his cookie and then looks over at Jared, chewing slowly. He swallows and then turns fully to face Jared.
“Well, yeah. It might be a little difficult, what with me just springing to life a few months ago,” Jared says sheepishly. But then his expression turns serious and he meets Jensen’s eyes. “But I’m a part of this family, Jensen. We’re partners. You shouldn’t have to take care of everything.”
Jensen furrows his brow. It had been a little difficult at first, but since he got his promotion he hasn’t really thought about it. But now that he does, it’s obvious that Jared isn’t the type of person to sit back and have everything handed to him. The true obstacle, of course, is that Jared has no paper trail. Maybe he can talk to Misha. He’s the kind of guy that knows the kinds of guys that might be able to help.
Everyone has at least one shady friend. For Jensen, that friend is Misha. That friend also writes children’s books and babysits his daughter on a regular basis, but Jensen tries not to think about that too hard.
“Sounds like a plan,” Jensen finally says. “Maybe you could lifeguard again.”
“Oh, that’d be awesome,” Jared replies delightedly. Jensen smirks and they munch on their cookies as they head for the toy store.
The place is crawling with overexcited kids and exhausted parents. It’s brightly lit and loud with bells and whistles. The walls are painted in garish colors and the carpet looks like vomited fruit loops. Jensen takes the last bite of his cookie and steps inside.
“Let’s get this over with,” Jensen says. Jared looks around the toy store with a slightly perplexed expression. He seems on edge all of a sudden and Jensen furrows his brow. “Jared, you okay?”
“Huh?” He shakes his head a little and then looks over at Jensen. “Oh, I’m fine.”
“Okay,” Jensen replies slowly. His eyes linger on Jared’s face for a moment. “All she asked for is a Wii. The price has dropped so that’s not really an issue. But can I trust her not to shatter my flat panel with the controller?”
“It has a wrist strap,” Jared offers absentmindedly. Jensen looks around the store again. He doesn’t notice Jared’s eyes trained on the showy bright pink aisle.
“Done,” Jensen asks. “Let’s just get that and some games for now and be done with this place.” Jared nods absently and follows Jensen over to the counter. Jensen tells the girl what he needs and she sends someone to the back to grab the console and points Jensen towards the games.
He starts flipping through the large variety of games while Jared hovers behind him. An older woman and a young girl that is presumably her granddaughter pass by. The girl looks only a few years older than Ryan, if that.
“You get one thing, dear,” the grandmother says. Jensen can barely hear them over the flick-flick-flick of him looking through stacks of Wii games. “What about one of those Sandy dolls? You love those.”
“Yeah, when I was a little kid,” the girl replies. Jensen stiffens and stops flipping through the games. He can still feel Jared behind him, still as stone. Jensen is afraid to move. “I’m over them, grandma. I want the karaoke machine!”
The pair of them wanders off deeper into the store and Jensen slowly spins around. Jared’s brows are furrowed and his lips are pressed into a thin line. He looks pale, almost terrified. Jensen reaches out to touch his shoulder.
“I’m fine,” Jared says preemptively. He gives Jensen a fake smile that proves he’s anything but. “Are we done in here?”
Jensen spots a shiny-faced teenager walking behind the counter with a Wii under his arm. Jensen has four games in his hand. That’s more than enough for now. Jensen nods and tells Jared to wait outside while he pays for his purchases. When he meets Jared outside the store, he’s staring intensely at a mall directory. Jensen comes up behind him and puts his hand between Jared’s shoulder blades.
“Jared,” Jensen says softly. He spins around and gives him a smile so fake it almost looks plastic. Jensen’s breath catches in his throat. “Let’s go.”
Jared is unnervingly quiet on the way home.
He just stares out of the passenger window with a troubled expression. Jensen had no idea going to a toy store would have such a negative effect on him. And it can’t all be because of what that little girl said. He was twitchy from the moment they stepped foot in the door.
Jared has never retreated into himself like this and it’s freaking Jensen out. He doesn’t know how to handle it.
The apartment is silent when they enter. Misha took Ryan to the children’s museum but they should be back any minute. Misha texted him to let him know they were on their way home. Jensen sets the shopping bags down next to the sofa and turns around to face Jared.
“Hey, come here,” he says softly. He takes Jared’s hands and pulls him close. Jared stumbles forward and Jensen leans in to kiss him. Jared turns his head to the side and Jensen catches his cheek at the last second. The brush off hurts but Jensen tries not to show it. “Talk to me.”
“Maybe,” Jared starts slowly. He swallows hard and his face is twisted like he’s in physical pain. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this anymore.”
It takes Jensen a full minute to realize that he heard the words correctly.
“What?” He flushes hot and cold with panic and nearly whimpers when Jared pulls his hands free. His eyes tear up and his heart bottoms out. “What are you talking about?”
“We don’t know that this will last forever,” Jared replies in a defeated tone as he gestures vaguely at himself. “Ryan’s imagination brought me to life. She’ll grow up and I’ll go back to being a doll when she’s done playing pretend.”
“I don’t think it works like that,” Jensen says in a shaky voice. A tear spills over his eye and he quickly wipes it away. The tip of Jared’s nose and his cheeks are bright red and his eyes are glistening.
“Exactly,” Jared replies. “We don’t know how it works. I don’t know if this’ll fade tomorrow or ten years from now. I don’t want to lose you guys if she decides she doesn’t need me anymore.”
“Jared, stop,” Jensen pleads. He knows deep down that whatever happened to Jared isn’t going to reverse itself. He can feel it in his heart. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“I can’t fall in love with you guys any harder and then have you ripped away,” Jared tells him. Tears are spilling down his cheeks now and Jensen’s chest aches. “I can’t do that.”
Jensen takes a step back and looks at the bags littering the ground. Even through the pain, through the haze of his tears, his paternal instincts kick in. Ryan can’t see them like this.
“We need to talk about this,” Jensen says thickly. Jared stares at him like his heart is breaking, like they’re already saying goodbye. “Don’t, okay? Let’s just put this on hold until Ryan goes to bed. Or – or I’ll see if Misha can take her for the night. Just hang on. I need to put these away.”
Jensen drags the bags into his room and hides them underneath the slats of his platform bed. It’s been his preferred gift-hiding spot since Ryan was old enough to start searching for them. There is no way she could lift his king-sized mattress, even if she did think to look underneath.
Once the presents are hidden, Jensen wipes his eyes on the cuff of his sleeve and takes a deep breath. There’s no reason to cry or get so worked up. Jensen knows that whatever magic turned Jared is permanent. He doesn’t know why or how, but he just knows.
Jensen walks into the living room determined to put this behind them, but Jared is nowhere to be found.
On the coffee table is the puka shell necklace Jensen bought Jared on that very first day – the one he never took off, not even once.
It takes everything Jensen has to hold it together when Ryan and Misha walk in the door. He wipes his eyes and forces a tiny smile onto his face just before Ryan looks up at him.
“Hi Daddy!” She’s a whirlwind of energy and she starts running circles around him. Jensen has no idea what he’ll tell her if he can’t bring Jared back. “I dug for fossils! And I made this painting with marbles! And I learned about kim – no, kinetic energy!”
“That’s great, baby,” Jensen says thickly. Misha is just staring at him with wide eyes. He’s known Jensen for fifteen years. He can spot when something is bothering him from a mile away. “Can you go put your stuff in your room, please?”
Ryan nods and bounces off while singing some song about recycling under her breath. Misha rushes up to Jensen the moment she’s gone and grabs his shoulders.
“Jensen, what the hell?” He says frantically. “What’s wrong? Where’s Jared?”
“He’s gone,” Jensen says as a fresh set of tears spill over. “He thinks that when Ryan gets older he’ll change back. He freaked out and fucking left.”
“Okay, well that’s bullshit.” Misha wraps one arm around Jensen and bites his lip. “Where do you think he went? You know him best. So just think.”
Jensen nods and wipes at his eyes while clutching at the back of Misha’s shirt. If Jared were scared, he’d want to be somewhere familiar. Somewhere that both worlds collided. Somewhere he’d never forget.
Jensen’s head snaps up.
“I know where he is,” Jensen says frantically. He grabs the necklace from the table and grips it in his fist. “Watch Ryan, okay?”
Misha nods and pushes Jensen towards the door. Not like he needs it. He’s already on his way.
The sun is setting.
Beams of light spill across the horizon and make it hard to see. The traffic is terrible and Jensen is frustrated to the point of anger. It takes him over an hour to get where he’s going, and by the time he parks the car, the sun is little more than a sliver over the ocean.
Pinks and purples and oranges paint the horizon and the waves and eager stars already dot the deep blue sky overhead. It’s an oddly chilly night and the beach is nearly empty. There’s only one person that Jensen can see.
Jared is sitting at the very edge of the water, feet buried in the sand as he stares out at the sinking sun. Jensen lets out a breath and runs across the sand. The sharp shells of the necklace dig into his palm and as soon as he’s close enough he drops to his knees to skid up next to Jared. He gets in front of him, knees in the freezing water as it soaks his pants and shoes. Jared looks shocked, eyes wet and red-rimmed as Jensen grabs his shoulders.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Jensen shouts. Tears spill out of his eyes and he shakes Jared a little. “You can’t just – you can’t run away when you get scared. You’re part of a family, Jared! You can’t do that.”
“I’m sorry,” Jared says roughly. He grips Jensen’s biceps and looks up at him. “I got scared. I was going to come back. I just needed some time to think.”
“Think about what?” Jensen demands. “How you’re going to leave us?”
“I’m not going to leave you,” Jared replies thickly. “Not until – “
“Until what?” Jensen cuts in. “Until the magic wears off? Let’s just say it, okay? It was magic that brought you here. Ryan loved you enough to make you real. What makes you think she’d ever stop?”
“Lots of little girls love their dolls,” Jared tells him. Jensen starts to shiver as the freezing salt-water laps at his thighs. Jared is sitting in it, feet dug into the sand as Jensen kneels between his splayed legs.
“You were never a doll to her, Jared!” Jensen shouts. He hasn’t been this emotional in years and he can’t seem to make himself calm down. “You’re her best friend. Ryan loves you! She’ll never stop loving you and she’ll never outgrow you. You’re not a toy anymore, Jared. You’re her family.”
“What if the magic fades?” Jared asks desperately. He’s clutching at Jensen’s arms with cold, sandy hands as tears spill down his cheeks. “What if it wasn’t meant to last forever?”
“Fine,” Jensen replies. “Let’s imagine for a second that for some strange reason, Ryan stops believing. Let’s say she grows up and moves on and doesn’t love you like she does now.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Jared says softly. Jensen knocks Jared’s hands away from his arms and leans in to place his palm over Jared’s heart. He presses in until he feels it beating and meets Jared’s eyes.
“I love you, Jared. My love will keep you real,” Jensen vows. His voice is thick with tears and he struggles to get the words out. “It’s not just Ryan, okay? There’s me. I love you and I’ll never stop. I’ll always need you.”
“You love me that much?” Jared asks. His cheeks are stained with tears and Jensen just stares at him with a determined expression, hand pressed against his beating heart.
“With everything I have to give,” Jensen tells him adamantly. He takes Jared’s hand and places it over his own heart. They’re beating in sync – rapidly, but in perfect unison. “I don’t care where you came from or how you got here. You’re mine now. You’re the happily ever after Ryan always wanted me to have. It’s you.”
A sudden, brilliant grin breaks out across Jared’s face. It’s his Malibu grin, the one Jensen fell in love with. The sun is gone by now, leaving the shore bathed in eerie twilight. It gives everything a dreamlike feel and Jensen’s teeth chatter as his bottom half stays submerged in the water.
“Do you believe me now? Do you realize that you’re stuck with us forever?” Jensen asks as he shivers. Jared blinks the tears from his eyes and nods. Jensen lets out a huge breath of air. “Then kiss me, you asshole.”
Jared grabs Jensen and rolls them over. Jensen gasps as he lands on his back on the wet sand. Jared fuses their lips together as a wave rolls past and officially soaks Jensen to the bone. Jensen laughs into Jared’s mouth, giddy with relief and shocked from the cold, and grips Jared’s hair with his wet, sandy hand.
“Now I’m gonna get pneumonia and die because you’re an idiot,” Jensen mumbles against Jared’s lips. Jared chuckles and kisses him again, warm tongue slipping into his mouth. “Tell me you’ll never leave us.”
“I’ll never leave,” Jared promises. He kisses Jensen again, soft and gentle this time. Jensen trembles, both from the cold and from all the emotions rushing through him. He arches up into Jared’s warmth and catches his eye. “Let’s go home.”
It’s just past Ryan’s bedtime by the time Jared and Jensen finally get home. They enter the apartment to see a pajama clad Ryan asleep on the couch with her head pillowed on Misha’s thigh as he watches television. He looks over at them and raises an eyebrow when he sees that they’re both soaking wet and covered in sand.
“Everything’s good,” Jensen tells him. Misha looks relieved and still a little confused. “We just need to shower.”
“I can see that,” Misha replies with a smirk. He gestures towards the hallway with his chin and Jensen and Jared head towards the bathroom like little kids who were just caught playing in the mud.
They leave their clothes in a wet, sandy pile in the corner and hop into the shower together. They make quick work of it, scrubbing all the sand and salt from their own bodies and hair. They look up at the same time, gazes softening as they look at each other.
“Jen,” Jared says lowly. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Jensen replies as he turns off the water. “You’re allowed one freak out per year. You just really made that one count.”
Jared smiles fondly and wraps Jensen up in a towel. He ignores his own shivering as he works to get Jensen dry and warm. Jensen returns the favor and they dress quickly in flannel pants and tee shirts. They return to the living room to relieve Misha of his babysitting duties. He carefully gets up without waking up Ryan and comes over to stand in front of them.
“Glad to see you guys worked it out,” he says sincerely. “Let me know if you need anything.”
“Will do,” Jensen tells him. “Thanks.”
Misha salutes and then gives them a little smirk as he leaves. Jensen goes over to the couch and stares down at Ryan with a fond expression. He gently scoops her up into his arms and she blinks her big green eyes open.
“Hey Daddy,” she says sleepily. “You’re home.”
“Yep.” He kisses her forehead and she wraps her arms around his neck. “We didn’t get to see you much today. Wanna lay with us in our bed and watch some TV?”
She nods and Jensen motions Jared towards the bedroom. Jared pulls back the covers and they all crawl inside, curling up together with a sleepy Ryan in the middle. Jensen turns on the television and finds some mindless sitcom. His eyes catch on Ryan’s wrist and he puts his hand over hers.
“What’s this?” Jensen asks, plucking at the new bracelet she’s adorning. It’s a thin, braided black cord with three beads in the middle – blue, pink, blue. Jared leans over to see it and Ryan holds her wrist up.
“Oh, I meant to tell you,” Ryan says through a yawn. “There was this section at the museum on, um, I can’t remember the word. About your family tree?”
“Genealogy?” Jared ventures. Ryan nods and pats his chest before looking back at her bracelet. She holds it up so Jared and Jensen can see it.
“Yeah, that,” she says. “And we could make something else instead of a tree. I made this.” She points at the pink bead in the middle. “That’s me. And this blue one is Daddy, and this one is you, Jared.”
If Jensen hadn’t already been aware of the fact that he has the best kid in the world, that would have cemented it. The look on Jared’s face is absolutely priceless. His eyes well up and his bottom lip quivers. Jensen smiles softly and reaches over to touch his cheek.
“Your family,” Jensen says to Ryan, but it’s Jared he’s looking at.
“Yep,” Ryan replies. She snuggles back into the blankets and sighs contentedly. Jared and Jensen reach up to link hands above her head and she picks at her bracelet. “Disney Channel, please.”
Jensen uses his free hand to change the channel and then curls up with his family, one hand tangled with Jared’s and the other arm slung over Ryan’s belly. Jared pulls the covers up over them and Jensen feels warm and safe. He’s never been so full of love in his entire life.
His eyes slip shut and his lips curl up in a pleased smile. He has everything he’s ever wanted. His family is finally complete.
Ryan’s birthday bash is a complete success.
The last little girl has been picked up and Ryan has commandeered the television to play Wii Tennis with Danneel. There’s a smear of pink frosting on her cheek. (Danneel’s, not Ryan’s.)
Jensen is gathering presents and tossing wrapping paper. On top of the stack of toys and clothes rests a book. Misha’s present to Ryan was a first print copy of his new book, set to hit store shelves within the month. It’s a story about a little girl named Ryan with an imagination big enough to change the world.
Everyone else’s gifts sort of paled in comparison.
Jensen meets up with Misha and Jared in the kitchen. All the shredded scraps of wrapping paper get shoved in the trashcan and Jensen smirks as Jared wolfs down another piece of cake. Misha pulls a plain white envelope out of his pocket and clears his throat.
“So, Jared,” he starts. Jared swallows audibly and looks up. Jensen pulls a soda out of the fridge and leans against the counter. “I know all gifts are supposed to be for the kid and all, but I have something for you.”
Jared furrows his brow and wipes his hands on his pants before taking the envelope. Jensen raises a curious eyebrow and leans over as Jared pulls out various documents.
“It’s a birth certificate, social security card, stuff like that,” Misha says easily. “Anything you’d need to get a job or a driver’s license. Or maybe a marriage license. Or to, you know, get parental rights for a kid. Whatever.”
“Wow, how did you – “
“I wouldn’t ask,” Jensen says, cutting Jared off. “He knows people.”
“Misha, this is so great,” Jared says happily. “Thank you so – wait, Padalecki? How the hell did you come up with Jared Padalecki?”
“Congrats, you’re polish!” Misha says with a cackle. “Welcome to the real world, J-Pad.”
“Beggars with no pasts can’t be choosers,” Jensen says. He squeezes Jared’s arm and then looks over the stack of presents on the counter again. “I think that’s it. Oh no, wait. Shit.”
He goes into his room and comes out with a plain brown box from his mother. It came in the mail the day before and he’d forgotten all about it.
“Ryan!” Jensen calls as he puts the box on the kitchen table. “You’ve got one more present. It’s from Grandma.”
Ryan and Danneel pause the game and come bouncing over. Jensen gives her his keys and she cuts the box open. Everyone gathers around as packing peanuts spill all over the place. Ryan looks down in bemusement and then pulls a familiar looking pink box out with a slightly unimpressed expression. Jensen’s eyes widen and he rolls his lips into his mouth to keep from laughing. Jared nearly chokes on a bite of cake and drops the plate on the table as he reaches over to snatch the box from her hands.
“Who the hell is Malibu Chad©?!”