Jensen burrows his face into the pillow and pulls the covers up to his chin. Rigby is squeaking in his ear and he groans. He was having such a good dream.
“Jensen! Get your pretty ass out of bed!” Someone pinches his nose and he scrunches his face up before slowly blinking his eyes open. A face comes into view, silky brown hair and a sharp nose. “Jared hungry. Jared want food.”
“Jared?” Jensen sits up and looks around the tiny train car. He’s never woken up in anywhere other than his own bed, and it’s a bit disconcerting. Everything that happened yesterday comes rushing back and Jensen reaches out to press his palm to Jared’s firm chest. He closes his eyes and smiles softly when Jared’s hand covers his own. “Jared.”
“Yep, that’s me.” Jared chuckles and Jensen opens his eyes. “You’re not exactly a morning person, are you?” Jensen shakes his head and that’s when he notices that Jared’s already fully dressed. There’s a familiar scent in the air and Jared holds out a cup of coffee. Jensen pulls himself into a sitting position and takes the cup gratefully. “Hey, you wanna see something cool?”
Jensen nods and takes a sip of his coffee. Jared kneels on the bed and reaches across Jensen to take hold of the bottom of the window shade. He tosses Jensen a dazzling grin and then draws the curtain up. Sunlight fills the tiny room and Jensen raises a hand to shade his eyes against the onslaught. It takes a moment but his eyes adjust and he peers out the window. What he sees makes him gasp and nearly drop his coffee.
“Where are we?” Jensen asks, not even trying to disguise the awe in his voice. The landscape rushing by the window is like nothing Jensen has ever seen. The ground is red, stretching out into tall, jagged peaks. Jensen takes in all the scrubby bushes, the cactuses, and the mountains stretching high into the sky. They rise straight up out of the ground and flatten off into a plateau, unlike any other mountain Jensen has ever seen.
“Arizona!” Jared exclaims happily. “It’s gonna be hot as balls and bright as hell outside, so smother yourself in this.” He holds out a small orange tube and Jensen has to tear himself away from the breathtaking view to take it.
“What is it?”
“Sunscreen, my fair-skinned beauty.” Jared pinches Jensen’s cheek and takes another long sip from his cup. “Can’t have you burning up in the big, bad desert.”
“How much coffee have you had?”
“Approximately all of it!” Jared tosses Jensen’s jeans at his face. “We have thirty minutes until our stop. Wash up and get changed and I’ll grab us some bagels.”
Jared doesn’t give him time to answer before he’s sashaying out of the room and sliding the door shut behind him. Jensen snorts and looks out the window for another long moment before rolling out of bed. Rigby huffs tiredly and curls up in the folds of Jensen’s blankets.
He takes a shower in the cramped, tiny stall and pulls on the jeans he wore the day before and a fresh tee-shirt before heading back to their room with his pajamas tucked under his arm. Jared’s already back and sitting cross-legged on Jensen’s bed with Rigby in his lap, tearing off tiny bits of his bagel and feeding them to the hedgehog. Jensen leans against the doorjamb and watches fondly, waiting for Jared to notice him
“Hey,” Jared says around a mouthful of bagel. He swallows and flashes Jensen a grin. “You ready to get off this damn train?”
“Sure.” Jensen comes into the tiny room and stuffs his folded up pajamas back into Jared’s bag. “What’s next on the agenda?”
“We get on a bus!”
“Another train!” Jensen just chuckles and shakes his head a bit.
“This journey is going to be a never ending showcase of public transportation, isn’t it?” Jared laughs and coaxes Rigby into his tote bag with his last piece of bagel. He scoops up the bag carefully and hands it to Jensen before grabbing the duffel from the floor.
“Oh, ye of little faith.” Jared heads out of the room and Jensen follows. “At the end of our second brief train ride waits one of the world’s greatest wonders. Can’t let you venture across the country without seeing the Grand Canyon.”
“We’re going to the Grand Canyon?” Jensen knows what the Grand Canyon is, of course. He’s read about it and seen a few pictures, but it’s not a place Jensen has ever really pictured himself going. Though to be fair, he’s never really pictured himself going anywhere other than the ocean.
Jared just nods excitedly and comes to a stop near the door. The train is still moving and Jensen chuckles at Jared’s enthusiasm. He’s very obviously looking forward to this, and Jensen wants to see whatever Jared is willing to show him, so he can feel his own anticipation ramping up as well.
The train grinds to a halt and Jensen steadies himself with a hand on Jared’s back. The doors are barely open before Jared is tearing out of them. Jensen steps off of the train and wow, Jared wasn’t lying. While it’s not sweltering, the air is dry and warm and Jensen feels sweat prickle at his hairline.
Jared is making his way across the parking lot on his endless legs and Jensen struggles to catch up. He finally gets close enough to grab him by the shirt as he comes up to a large van. “Warm enough for ya?” Jared asks with a grin. He tips his face up towards the sun and his tan skin practically glows with it. He was made for the heat. He thrives on it, that much is clear.
The jury is still out on how Jensen feels about it. He peers across the parking lot and the air seems to shimmer above the black asphalt like it can’t seem to sit still. It’s too bright for his eyes and he lifts a hand to shade them. Jared drops the duffle and unzips it, rifling around for a bit before he stands and slips a pair of sunglasses over Jensen’s eyes. It’s instantly better, the air even feels cooler somehow, and Jensen presses his forehead to Jared’s shoulder in gratitude. If he happens to wipe some of the sweat from his brow on said shoulder, that’s just a happy coincidence.
They’re let into the van and it’s much cooler inside. Jensen drops into a window seat like a stone and Jared wedges in next to him.
“You get used to it,” he says, and Jensen looks over at him through his tinted glasses. “The heat.”
“It’s different from what I’m used to,” Jensen tells him. “Different is good.”’
“Hey.” Jared leans in presses his nose to Jensen’s neck and inhales deeply. Jensen instinctively tilts his chin up to give him better access, shivering a bit despite the heat when Jared’s lips brush his skin. “You don’t smell like coconuts.”
“Uh, what?” Jensen asks dazedly. Jared rolls his eyes and pulls the tube of sunscreen from the pocket of his jeans. Oh right.
“Seriously,” Jared says as he presses the tube into Jensen’s hand. “Face, ears, neck, arms. Everything not covered. We have a lot to do and there’s no room to fit you being burned to a crisp into the schedule.”
Jensen is pretty sure he can’t get sunburned, but he takes the sunscreen and starts to apply it anyway. “You’re not wearing any,” he grumbles, wrinkling his nose as he rubs the greasy stuff into his skin.
“Am too,” Jared insists, lifting his arm and shoving it up under Jensen’s nose. It smells like coconuts and chemicals and Jensen chuckles as he pushes it out of the way.
The ride is short and uneventful, and soon they’re tumbling out of the van and Jensen follows Jared to what appears to be another train station. He buys them tickets and ice-cold sodas, and Jensen slips a few ice cubes into Rigby’s bag. He squeaks and licks at them happily, but doesn’t seem to be having an adverse reaction to the heat.
The train that pulls up to the station looks almost completely different from the Amtrak they rode previously. Jared excitedly explains that this is a steam-powered locomotive from the early 1900’s and Jensen looks at it with renewed interest.
The ride itself takes a little over two hours and neither of them talk much, too busy pressing their noses against the glass and watching the scenery change. A live band comes through their car and Jared claps along to the music while Jensen laughs at him. Jared gets more and more excited the closer they get to their destination and Jensen’s own enthusiasm amps up to meet it.
“We’ll stay here tonight, and then Vegas tomorrow with Misha, and that will put us in California on Saturday,” Jared tells him after they get off of the train and enter the office of a small, quaint motel. “Is that okay?”
“That’s fine,” Jensen tells him. It’s odd that now that he’s finally on his way to the place that he’s always dreamed of going, he’s not in such a hurry to get there. He’s having so much fun with Jared that it’s enough to know that he’ll be there soon. “It’s my birthday on Sunday.”
“Wait, what?” Jared stumbles to a halt at the back of the line at the front desk, turning to Jensen with wide eyes. “It’s almost your birthday?”
Jensen nods. He’s not quite sure what the big deal is. His birthdays usually pass without incident. Sometimes Jeff will bring him a piece of cake or pie from in town, but not always. It’s just another day to him. “I’ll be eighteen.”
“Jensen, that’s awesome! Jared knocks their shoulders together. “Eighteen’s a big deal, or so they say. I won’t hit that milestone until July.”
He steps up to the front desk to book them a room for the night and Jensen stares at the back of his head, surprised by the revelation that Jared is actually younger than him. He’s seen so much and has more knowledge about the world than Jensen could ever hope to learn. Not to mention his dark past. He hasn’t mentioned it, but Jensen knows it’s there. He can almost see the long-buried hurt trying to escape sometimes, a dark flash of his eyes or a sharp twist of his smile.
Jared leads him to a small room with two beds and drops their bag between them. “I think we should leave Rigby in here. He’ll be safe,” he says, holding up a key card for emphasis, “and comfortable. We’re going to be out hiking all day.”
“Okay,” Jensen replies hesitantly. Rigby has overturned his bag and is curiously sniffing the duvet on Jensen’s bed. He’s never been apart from Rigby, not since the day Jeff brought him home. That had been quite the surprise. Jensen had been on Jeff for months about wanting a pet, but he’d never thought he’d actually get one. “If you’re sure he’ll be alright.”
“Totally! Look, we’ll hook it up.” Jared scoops Rigby up and pulls the duvet back and fluffs up the sheets a little bit before setting Rigby down on top of them. He tears the bottom off of his soda cup and fills it with water before doing the same for Jensen’s and filling it with more trail mix. He even lays a towel down on the corner and tears up their complimentary newspaper just in case he has to go to the bathroom. Finally, he turns on the television and gestures around with a flourish. “There! Food, water, potty facilities, and entertainment. What more could a hedgehog ask for? You’re gonna be fine, Rigs, right?”
Rigby doesn’t answer, too busy nosing around in his trail mix until he emerges with a dried cranberry held triumphantly between his teeth. Jensen has to admit that it’s not a bad set up.
“Okay, let’s go,” Jensen agrees, and Jared grins before pulling a few bottles of water from the tiny refrigerator in the corner. “I’ll be back later, Rigby.”
The hedgehog squeaks and shoves his face back into the trail mix. Jared hangs a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob and heads down the hallway, leaving Jensen to follow. After a quick stop in the motel’s restaurant to get some packed lunches, they leave the motel and follow a small road while Jared stuffs the food and water into a small backpack he pulled out of his seemingly bottomless duffle bag. It’s not long before Jared is nudging Jensen’s shoulders and pointing. He looks up to see the Grand Canyon looming ahead of them and is stunned into shocked silence until they reach the rim.
“I know it’s not the ocean,” Jared says softly, wrapping an arm around Jensen’s waist, “and we’ll get there, but this is pretty cool.”
The canyon is seemingly endless, stretching far past where Jensen can see, narrowing down to a tiny blue line at the bottom that Jensen knows to be the Colorado River. He read about it in the pamphlet on the train.
“A river made all this?” There’s awe in Jensen’s voice, he knows, but he can’t help it. Water carved this canyon into the earth. Jensen’s fingers itch as his power builds up in them. It’s been nearly two days since he touched the small creek behind his house and the glimpse of the gigantic river, so close but so far, is like a tease. He wants to plunge his hands into the current and feel it.
“Yep. Pretty amazing, huh?”
“Are we going to go down there?” Jensen asks, motioning towards the river. Jared shakes his and Jensen’s lips curl down in disappointment.
“It’d take too long,” Jared tells him. “We’d have to camp down there and hike back up in the morning, but there’re tributaries and big streams and stuff.”
Jensen nods. If there’s water around, he’ll find it.
“Oh, oh! Hold on.” Jared pulls away from his side and Jensen takes his eyes off of the gorgeous landscape to turn around. Jared is talking to an elderly couple, waving his arms animatedly, and then he pulls his phone out of his pocket. He hands it over to older woman and walks back over to Jensen. He’s just about to ask Jared what he’s doing giving away such a wonderful little device when he throws an arm over Jensen’s shoulder and pulls him close. “Smile, Jen.”
Jensen furrows his brow quizzically but does what Jared tells him, looking forward and grinning widely. It’s not hard to conjure up the smile and keep it as the woman holds up the phone for a moment. She pulls it away and gives a thumbs up as Jared walks back over towards her. She pats his arm and waves at Jensen before turning back to her husband.
“We should have been taking pictures this whole time,” Jared exclaims. He holds the phone out for Jensen to see. It’s a photo of them with their arms around each other, smiling wide with the canyon sprawling endlessly behind them. Jared looks tall and beautiful and Jensen has never seen himself smile so wide. He’s never seen a picture of himself before, but that’s beside the point.
“We look good together,” Jensen says, and Jared pulls him in to give him a quick kiss on the temple that makes him flush to his toes.
“That we do, beautiful.” He takes the phone and shoves it into a pocket on his backpack. “Now, I know you’ve never been hiking before, and it can be kinda daunting, but it’s good for you! Just follow me, stay on the trails, and drink lots and lots of water. You ready?”
Jensen nods and Jared grins at him before heading for the trails. They hike for hours and Jared was right, it is hard, but Jensen enjoys himself. Jared collects bugs for Rigby’s dinner and they talk about their favorite books. Jared tells him about all the movies that he needs to see and promises to take him to a movie theater because apparently Jensen needs to try popcorn. Jensen tries to tell him that he has, but Jared insists microwavable popcorn doesn’t count.
Jensen tells him about the spring that he spent trying to befriend a deer that kept wandering into his clearing, and how by summer both the doe and her fawn were eating out of his hand. It turns out that Jensen doesn’t have that many stories to tell, but Jared assures him that he’s making up for it now.
Jared tells him all about Misha, how they met and all the hijinks they’ve gotten up to. They talk and talk, but Jared never mentions his family or his childhood, and Jensen never mentions Jeff or his magic.
Jensen wants to tell Jared about what he can do. He’s rolling his water bottle back and forth in his hands and making drops dance inside the plastic as he tries to imagine how Jared would react. Jeff has always told Jensen that he was special and there’s no one else like him in the entire world. Jeff has lied about a lot of things, but Jensen has no reason to believe that particular bit of information isn’t true.
He gets a break from the debate inside his own head when they round a corner and come across a large stream. It’s wide and deep and the current is strong. Jensen itches to get closer.
“Time for lunch!” Jared exclaims, and Jensen gratefully follows him down closer to the water. They sit on rocks and eat quietly, staring out at their surroundings. The stream is angry, that much Jensen can tell. He isn’t sure why, and the stream doesn’t seem to want to tell him. It’s so much easier to read the peaceful creek behind his home. Jensen decides not to get close enough to touch, not when it’s in such a bad mood.
“That water looks freezing, huh?” Jared crumples up his lunch bag and wipes his hands on his thighs. “I just want to dunk myself in it. Jeans were a bad choice.”
“I wouldn’t,” Jensen says seriously. He watches the water crash against the rocks, hard and forceful, white caps peaking up angrily as it rushes by. “It’s not in a very good mood.”
“Are you the water’s therapist?” Jared asks with a laugh, but he doesn’t wait for an answer. He walks up to the edge of the water, toeing the edge of the rocky bank. The water has cut into it, making it about a one foot drop down into the water itself. “But you’re right; it does look a bit pissed off.”
The sound of the rushing water gets louder and angrier in Jensen’s ears and his stomach turns with worry. Jared is so close that the toes of his sneakers are hanging over the edge and Jensen starts to panic. He doesn’t like it at all.
“Jared, get back here, okay?” Jensen stands up and swallows hard. “Just – can you get away from the edge, please?”
“What’s wrong?” Jared turns around furrows his brow as he looks at Jensen, but he still doesn’t get away from the damn edge. “Are you okay?”
And that’s when it happens. The water jumps up and laps at the edge of the bank right where Jared is standing. The dirt crumbles, pebbles slipping under Jared’s heels. Jensen can see the way Jared’s eyes widen as he tries to scramble forward, but it’s too late. Jared’s arm hits the jagged edge of the bank as he goes down and he lets out a sharp cry before the water swallows him up.
“Jared!” Jensen rushes towards the edge and scrambles along the bank as the current carries Jared along, trying his best to keep up with him. He’s splashing along the surface, struggling to keep his head above water. Jensen can see the panic in his eyes and Jensen can’t help it; he has no other choice.
He throws his hands out in front of him, heart in his throat as his fingertips start to glow.
Jared is fairly certain that he isn’t going to die. He’s really pretty sure.
The water isn’t even that deep. Jared’s feet are banging against the rocks along the bottom but his shoes are too slippery and the current is moving too fast for him to get a good foothold.
He’ll be able to stand up eventually, or find a rock to grab onto or something, but he keeps swallowing water and his eyes burn. Man, if he dies and leaves Jensen stranded at the bottom of the Grand Canyon he’s going to be so pissed at himself.
The water gets deep enough that he can’t quite touch the bottom anymore and that’s when he really starts to worry. He’s trying to get his head above water to catch a breath when all of a sudden everything stills and he drops like a stone, landing hard on the earth below.
He struggles into a sitting position and coughs up a bunch of nasty river water while reaching up to touch the bump on his forehead. His arm is bleeding profusely and when he looks up he’s pretty sure that he did die, or at least go completely insane.
He’s still in the stream but the water is rushing around him while he sits on the ground. There’s a perfect circle around him that the water won’t touch; it just parts behind him and joins back in front of him like he’s standing in a glass tube.
“What the fuck?”
“Jared?!” He stands up and his eyes are just above water level. Jensen is on the bank a few feet downstream from him and Jared rubs his eyes because Jensen appears to be glowing and that just isn’t possible. His hands are blue and the color runs up to his elbows before fading in streaks under the sleeve of his tee shirt.
“Are you fucking glowing?” This is the weirdest moment of Jared’s entire weird life.
“Can you just – “ Jensen grunts and grits his teeth, lips curled back in a grimace. “Get out of the damn water!”
Jensen curls his fingers forward and the circle starts to move towards him. Jared’s back hits the wall of water and it nudges him forward. He follows along obediently, stepping into every new space revealed by the hole steadily moving closer to the bank because he’s too confused to question it. Soon the whole side of the bank is bared to him and Jared climbs up, not stopping until he’s on his knees and a few feet away from the water. Jensen drops his hands and lets out a deep breath, and Jared looks back to see the hole close up to let the water rush along uninterrupted.
Jared is soaking wet and his lungs burn, every muscle aching like he just went three rounds in a boxing ring. Jensen runs up to him and drops to his knees right in front of Jared and all he can focus on is how Jensen’s hands are glowing blue, the color fading until it reaches the end of his fingertips and disappears.
“Oh my god, Jared.” Jensen grabs his shoulders and Jared stares at him for a long moment. “Are you okay?”
“Did you – how did – “ There’s water running into his eyes and he coughs again.
“Oh, Jared.” Jensen touches his face and suddenly all the water is sucked from Jared’s body. His clothes and hair are dry and he looks up warily to see the water floating in the air before Jensen flicks his fingers forward and it falls back into the stream like a tiny burst of rain. Jensen’s hands are on Jared’s face, thumbs sweeping under his eyes before he pulls Jared into a tight hug that he doesn’t return because he’s too busy dealing with his broken brain.
He vaguely wonders if this is what being catatonic feels like.
“Talk to me,” Jensen pleads, pushing him back by the shoulders and peering into his eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Are you magic?” Jared finally asks, and Jensen blinks at him. “Did you do that, with the water?
“Yes,” Jensen finally says. He cups Jared’s cheek again and then pulls away, rocking back onto his haunches. The front of his shirt is covered in blood and Jared remembers that he cut his arm when he fell. His fingertips are wet and sticky with it. He looks back up into Jensen’s bright, honest eyes. “I’m magic.”
“Huh,” Jared says, and then he falls over.
When he comes to, which hopefully is only a few seconds later because he really doesn’t want to be the type of guy who faints, the first thing he sees is a nipple. It’s a very nice nipple, tight and pink, positioned perfectly on a well-defined pectoral dusted with freckles.
Jared focuses on the nipple and resolutely ignores everything that came before it.
Unfortunately, this plan only works until Jensen sits up and takes his nipple with him. The sun stings Jared’s eyes and he squints up at Jensen’s worried face.
“Why are you shirtless?” Jared asks, because that’s obviously the most pressing question on his mind at the moment. Jensen is pale and lean with broad shoulders and a flat belly. His bicep twitches as he raises his arm and Jared follows the long line of it down to where he’s pointing at Jared’s own arm. It’s wrapped in strips of green cotton from shoulder to bicep, and blood is already starting to stain the fabric. “You sacrificed your shirt to bandage me up?”
“Well, I didn’t want to – “ Jensen cuts himself off and flexes his fingers in the general direction of Jared’s battered arm. Jared has no idea what that particular gesture is supposed to mean. “You were already so freaked out.”
“I fainted like the damsel in distress in a movie from the 1930’s,” Jared pushes up into a sitting position and the pressure on his injured arm makes him wince. Jensen gives him a crooked smile.
“If you want to say it was from the blood loss and adrenaline, I’ll let you have it,” Jensen tells him as he stands up. Jared takes his proffered hand and stands up as well, swaying just a bit. Jensen eyes his arm and then looks up at his face, bottom lip pulled between his teeth.
“You should put sunscreen on,” Jared says absently. He goes to pick up his backpack but Jensen grabs it first and slips it over his bare shoulders. Jared doesn’t have the energy to argue. “We should probably talk about this.”
“Yeah,” Jensen says, and it comes out sounding vaguely terrified. “But let’s get back to the motel first.”
“Okay. I don’t suppose you could like, wish us out of here.” Jensen gives him a wounded look. “Okay, jeez. We’ll hike out.”
Jared takes a deep breath and tucks his injured arm in against his side as they start the long, awkward hike out of the canyon.
They don’t talk much and it’s dark by the time they make it out of the canyon. Jared is pale and shaking when they trudge into the motel room. Jensen takes off the backpack and looks down at the raw, red marks cut into his bare shoulder, frowning a bit when they instantly fade back to pale, unmarred skin. He wanted so badly to heal Jared’s arm, but he was already so tense and quiet and Jensen didn’t want to spook him even more.
Jensen fidgets in the center of the room as Jared flops down on the bed not occupied by Rigby, who squeaks excitedly at their return. Jensen’s mind won’t stop racing. What if Jared doesn’t want to take him to the ocean anymore? What if he doesn’t want to be his friend or hold his hand or show him all his favorite places?
Jensen works himself into a decent panic without even moving a muscle. Jared sighs and struggles to sit up on the edge of the bed. The makeshift bandages on his arm are stained with blood and there are lines of pain around his eyes and mouth and Jensen wants so badly to make it all better.
“Sit down, Jensen, damn.” Jared scrubs his good hand over his face and pushes his hair back as Jensen perches on the edge of the bed. Rigby nudges against Jensen’s fist and he runs his fingers carefully over his quills before looking up cautiously at Jared.
“So magic, huh?” At first glance Jared looks calm, even aloof, but Jensen can see the strain in his eyes and how tightly he’s gripping his own knee. He just nods, throat working. Jared nods and sucks on his bottom lip for a moment. “You can control water?”
“Yeah.” Jared nods and then winces, reaching out to gently clutch his injured arm. “That’s not all I can do.”
“Oh yeah?” Jared looks wary but immensely curious and Jensen moves to sit next to him. “Are you gonna show me?”
“Yeah, just – “ Jensen takes a deep breath and starts picking the knots out of the fabric around Jared’s arm. “Just don’t freak out, okay?”
Jared looks down at the gash being uncovered and his eyes widen. Jensen doesn’t blame him. It’s deep and ugly, blood still leaking sluggishly from the wound. If Jensen weren’t around he would definitely need stitches. He looks back up at Jensen’s face with wide eyes and nods. He’s scared, but Jensen can see the trust there and it spurs him on.
Jensen places one hand at the top of Jared’s arm just below his shoulder and the other just above his elbow, framing the deep cut with his fingers. He narrows his eyes in concentration and pushes his power outward. His fingertips start to glow and Jared lets out a gasp as his own skin starts to shine a soft blue as well. Light travels up the wound and shimmers a bit as the skin knits itself back together, healing right before their eyes.
Jared feels the same as he did before, bubbly and fizzy like a can of soda but warm like the sun. Jensen is almost disappointed when he has to pull his hands away. The blue light pales until it’s gone entirely and Jared’s tan, uninjured skin is all that remains. Jensen looks up and is happy to see that the color has returned to Jared’s face and the dark smudges under his eyes are gone.
Jared looks up from his arm with bright, wide eyes. His mouth opens and then closes, and then he’s grabbing Jensen by the cheeks and pulling him in. Jensen only has a split second to panic before Jared’s lips are pressing against his. They’re soft and dry and Jensen lets out a little whimper as he melts into the kiss.
Jared keeps one hand on Jensen’s jaw as the other slides around to the back of his head, pulling away only to lick his lips before he’s dipping in for more. It’s a soft, clinging kiss and Jensen’s bottom lip catches on the damp inside of Jared’s upper lip. Jensen fists a hand in Jared’s soft hair and pulls away only to lean in at a different angle.
He loses track of how many lingering, pleasant kisses they share. Jensen doesn’t part his lips until Jared does, letting him kiss the lush swell of Jensen’s bottom lip and then the dip underneath. One more tender kiss is placed on Jensen’s tingling mouth before Jared pulls away entirely. Jensen lets out a broken sound and sways forward a bit before his eyes flutter open. Jared’s still right there, looking at him like he’s something precious.
“You’re fucking amazing,” Jared says, and when Jensen lets out a soft exhale drops of water splash down on them like rain. Jensen blinks up and Jared laughs. Rigby’s makeshift water bowl is empty. Jensen wasn’t even aware that he was making the water dance. “Jesus, you’re incredible.”
“You’re not so bad yourself, Jared Winchester,” Jensen says happily, and the smile slips from Jared’s face almost instantly. He takes his hands away from Jensen’s face and it’s the worst thing ever, like snow on his skin when all he wants is sunshine. “What’s wrong?”
“You trusted me with this huge secret,” Jared tells him, “and you don’t even know who I am.”
Jensen has no idea what to say to that, so he just cocks his head and feels bereft as Jared pulls further away from him. He sits back against the headboard and pulls his long legs up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. He looks down at his newly-healed bicep for a moment and then turns his eyes back on Jensen. They look sad.
“Padalecki,” he says softly, and Jensen is no less confused. “My name is Jared Padalecki.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Jared Padalecki.” Jensen smiles reassuringly and pulls himself completely up onto the bed, crossing his legs and sitting opposite from Jared. He pulls a few drops of water from the bedspread and flicks them playfully at Jared’s face. It makes him smile, miniscule but real. “What’s your story?”
“It’s kind of long and sort of sad,” Jared tells him, and Jensen just scoots closer. Jared snorts and rests his chin on his knee, looking at Jensen for a long moment before he starts to speak. “Do you know why I wanted to come here so badly?”
“It’s beautiful?” Jensen ventures, even though he knows that isn’t the answer. Jared swallows hard and clears his throat.
“When I was eleven years old, I came here with my mom and dad.” He pauses and Jensen doesn’t dare to so much as breathe. This is the first time that Jared has ever mentioned his family and Jensen doesn’t want to ruin it. “It was my mom’s idea. We rode the mules down to the bottom and camped overnight, the whole shebang. My mom took me hiking to see a waterfall and my dad took me fishing. I’d never had so much fun in my entire life.
But when we got home, my mom sat us down and told us that she was sick. Really sick.” Jared’s breath hitches and Jensen aches for him. This is one wound that he can’t heal. “She took us to the Grand Canyon because she wanted us to have one last happy memory as a family before she – shit. She knew that whole time and never said anything.“ Jared’s eyes are shining with tears and he sniffs and meets Jensen’s eyes for just a moment before turning his head down and resting his chin on his knee. “I spent my twelfth birthday in her hospital bed. I was all short and kinda chubby and I could still fit. My dad brought a cake and she sang to me. I wished for her to get better, you know? But uh, it didn’t work. She died a few days later.”
“I’m so sorry, Jared.” Jensen inches closer and curls his hand around Jared’s ankle. His pain is visceral and real, settling over Jensen’s shoulders like a heavy blanket. There are tears in his own eyes and his heart breaks a little at the hitch in Jared’s voice, like he’s trying his best not to cry.
Jared puts his hand over Jensen’s on his ankle and tangles their fingers together, focusing on their joined hands when he starts to speak again.
“My dad became this whole different person after my mom died. He was a good guy before. A good dad, you know?” Jared wipes his eyes on the scuffed denim of his jeans, forehead pressed against his knee for a long moment before turns his head to the side and continues. He’s still not looking at Jensen, but at their entwined fingers. “But it was like she took that part of him with her when she died.”
“What do you mean?” Jensen asks softly. Jared shrugs his shoulders and plays with Jensen’s fingers for a bit before continuing.
“He couldn’t handle it,” Jared says softly. “He started to drink a lot and lost his job because he just stopped going. He got – I don’t know. Mean? He would yell at me just for looking like my mom. He didn’t want me around him. The more I grew, the more I looked like her and the more he hated me.”
“How could he blame you for something like that?” Jensen doesn’t understand and he cries for that Jared, for the child so scared and alone. Tears stream down his cheeks and he doesn’t bother wiping them away. “He should have cherished you not just because of who are, but because you’re a part of her. She never really left because she’ll live forever inside of you, Jared.” Jensen reaches forward and puts his hand over Jared’s heart. “She’ll never really be gone.”
Jared lets out a soft sob and Jensen leans in closer to press a kiss to Jared’s forehead, pulling him in for a hug as he steadies himself with deep breaths. It’s not very long before Jared is pulling back and giving Jensen a watery smile. He sits back on his haunches and takes Jared’s hand again, waiting patiently for him to continue.
“I left when I was fourteen,” Jared finally says. “I packed a bag and walked right past him and out of the house. He didn’t try to stop me. I’ve been on my own ever since. A year after I left, I met Misha. He was twenty-two at the time but he didn’t overlook me like I was some stupid kid. He gave me a place to stay and helped me get my GED. I probably owe that crazy asshole my life.” Jared looks up and his hazel eyes look almost blue as he smiles softly at Jensen. “Then two years after that I got lost in the woods and broke into a cabin.”
“And the rest is history.” Jensen chuckles softly and finally wipes the tears from his cheeks. Jared does the same, swiping his knuckles under his eyes quickly.
“Look, Jen. I’ve done a lot of things that I’m not proud of.” Jared looks him dead in the eye and Jensen just tilts his head. He knows how good Jared is, so whatever he’s done in the past isn’t anything that can’t be forgiven. “The card I’ve been using to pay for all this stuff is a fake that Misha set me up with. I work when I can and don’t usually like to take things I haven’t earned, but sometimes I have to. I’m sorry that I lied to you, but I didn’t know what else to do.”
“It’s okay, Jared.” Jensen smiles softly at him. “You went through hell and came out of it as this strong, amazing person. I know how good you are. I can feel it.”
“Sometimes I don’t feel like a very good person.”
“Well, you are,” Jensen insists. “I’m magic, so I can tell. No arguing.” That gets a chuckle out of Jared and he feels immensely proud of himself.
“Well, there you have it.” Jared lets out a deep, shaky breath and rolls his shoulders before shrugging. “Jared Padalecki’s life story. I’ve never really laid it all out for anyone like that before.”
“Thank you for sharing it with me.” Jensen gives him a big smile. “It was very brave of you.” Jared gets this sort of a gleam in his eye that worries Jensen a bit, so he stretches his arms above his head and lets out an exaggerated yawn. “Well, it’s been a long day, so – “
“Not so fast, gorgeous.” Jared reaches out to grab Jensen’s ankle. “I laid my soul bare, man. It’s your turn.”
“Well, there isn’t that much to tell.” Jensen settles back on the bed and gives Jared a shrug. “It’s pretty boring. You knew most of it already and with what you learned today, you pretty much know the rest.”
“I just don’t understand,” Jared tells him, and Jensen frowns at him. “It’s not like anyone would know that you had magic unless you used it in front of them. Why hide you away?”
“I asked him the same thing.” Jensen sighs and flops down onto the bed to stare at the ceiling. A few moments later Jared stretches out next to him and grabs his hand. “I don’t remember it, but he said that when I was a baby someone tried to take me so they could use my power. He stopped them and moved us to the cabin so nothing like that could happen again.”
“Where’s your mom?” Jensen shrugs awkwardly and stares at a water spot on the ceiling. He doesn’t really like to think about his own sad little life so much.
“My dad says she left when I was born. He never talks about her and if she’s out there, I wouldn’t know it if I passed her on the street. I don’t even know her name.”
“I’m sorry,” Jared says, and he sounds so sincere. It makes Jensen knit his brow and wonder if he should feel more for the mother he never knew. He doesn’t ever think about her. He doesn’t even really miss Jeff when he isn’t around.
“It’s okay,” Jensen tells him honestly. “You can’t miss something you never had. Not like – well, you know.”
“Yeah.” Jared clears his throat. “What about school?”
“No school, obviously.” Jensen’s palm is kind of sweaty in Jared’s hand but he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, so Jensen doesn’t let go. “Jeff taught me when I was little and the older I got, the more he was gone, but he was always good about bringing me things to keep me occupied. I have lots of textbooks and workbooks and computer programs. He brought me a book on astrophysics a couple weeks ago that I found really fascinating.”
“Well, I couldn’t even tell you the definition of astrophysics, so you’re doing better than me.” Jensen chuckles but Jared stays silent. He squeezes Jensen’s hand until it’s almost painful and then relaxes his grip. Jensen looks over at him, but Jared stares resolutely at the ceiling. “It sounds lonely, Jen. You wouldn’t want to stay with – you’d really go back to that life?”
“I have to,” Jensen tells him. “Jeff needs me.”
“But you just said that he’s never even there,” Jared replies. “What does he need you for?”
“Jeff – my dad – he’s sick. He’d die without me there to heal him.” There’s a long, drawn out silence in which Jensen just knows what Jared is thinking. Why should Jensen’s father get to live when Jared’s mother had to die? Jensen closes his eyes and wishes that his powers included time travel so he could go back and fix Jared’s mom. “It’s something with his heart. I fix it but it always ends up coming back.”
Jensen doesn’t tell Jared that in his darkest moments that he feels like that means that Jeff is meant to die. It makes him feel like a horrible person, but there’s not really any other explanation as to why Jensen’s magic doesn’t stick.
“How –“ Jared’s voice is rough and he clears his throat. “How often do you have to do that?”
“Every few months,” Jensen replies. Jared still isn’t looking at him so Jensen turns his head to look at Rigby’s sleeping form on the other bed. His back is to them and his quills glint in the dim light from the lamp. “Whenever he needs it.”
Jared is quiet for a long time and when Jensen finally turns his head, it’s to meet Jared’s eyes. He’s watching him intently, eyes flicking to Jensen’s mouth and back up just once before he clears his throat.
“That doesn’t have to be your life, Jensen.” Jared swallows hard and turns on his side, reaching over to put his warm palm on Jensen’s cheek. “There’s nothing wrong with you, no reason for you to be hidden away. You’re going to be eighteen soon, and no one will have any hold over you. You could be your own person and go back when he needs. I’m not going to tell you what to do, or how you should feel. I’m just telling you that you can have whatever life that want to, and you should think about it. Now, I’m going to take a shower.”
Jensen blinks at the rapid change of subject and before he can even process all that Jared’s said, he’s off the bed and shutting the bathroom door behind him.
“Yeah, because that’s not a lot to think about.” Jensen breathes deep and scrubs his hands over his face, sliding them up into his hair as he stares at the ceiling. The shower clicks on and Jensen rolls off of the bed. The sink and mirror are outside of the bathroom and Jensen uses the hotel soap to wash his face because he just doesn’t really have the energy to do much else.
He’s never controlled that much water all at once before, and he’s never been through so much emotional turmoil. And that was just hearing about it. He can’t imagine all of the horrible things that Jared’s gone through out there on the streets all alone. Jared deserves so much more than that. He deserves to always have someone around to show him how wonderful he is.
He doesn’t notice the sound of the shower shutting off and he’s still standing at the sink when the bathroom door swings open. The knob connects with his hip and he hisses. If he were anyone else, he’d probably have a bruise in the morning.
“You did break my nose!”
“What?” Jensen turns to see Jared wearing nothing but a pair of sleep pants that hang loosely on his hips. Water drips from his hair and Jensen follows the paths of the small beads of moisture as they race happily down Jared’s body.
“When you knocked me out,” Jared clarifies. Jensen is too distracted by the water on Jared’s bare chest. Of course it’s happy. Look at it. Jensen flicks his fingers irritably and all the water rains down onto the tile floor below. Jared pulls the towel away from his now dry hair and shrugs before tossing it onto the water. “I thought my nose was broken but when I woke up it was fine.” Jensen blushes. “Why’d you heal me before you knew who I was?”
“I could tell that you were a good person. You felt bubbly.” Jensen shuts his eyes and rolls his lips into his mouth. He hadn’t meant to let that slip out, but he really is tired.
“I felt bubbly?”
“Your face was too handsome to be messed up like that,” Jensen says, and that shuts Jared up. He grins at Jensen with the tip of his tongue between his teeth. “So I fixed it.”
Jensen grabs his pajamas and ducks into the bathroom before Jared can respond. It’s a warm night so he follows Jared’s lead and just puts the pants on before going back out into the main room. Jared is sitting on the edge of his bed and the lamp is off, leaving the room lit only by the moonbeam tumbling in through the window. Jensen walks between the beds and turns towards his own, but Jared reaches out to grab his wrist.
“Rigby looks mighty comfortable,” Jared says, and Jensen turns to see the hedgehog curled up into a spiky little ball in the center of the bed. There’s trail mix all over the sheets. “It’d be a shame to disturb him.”
That’s all the warning Jensen gets before he’s being pulled onto Jared’s bed. He tumbles down and lands on top of Jared, bracing himself with his palms on Jared’s firm chest. They roll to the side and Jared wraps an arm around Jensen’s waist, fingertips skimming the dip of his spine.
“Is this okay?” Jared asks, and he looks so beautiful in the moonlight. Jensen nods and slips his knee between Jared’s thighs. It’s nice, lying together like this, even if it is a bit too warm and Jared radiates heat like a furnace. Jensen gasps when their skin touches, soft and bare from shoulders to hips.
“You feel fizzy.” Jensen wraps his arm around Jared’s torso and pulls him as close as he can. Every bit of skin that touches Jared’s tingles and Jensen just can’t get enough. “I like it.”
“Goodnight, weirdo.” Jared’s head hits the pillow with a soft thump and Jensen lifts his head, touching Jared’s chin and leaning in. This kiss is longer and wetter, and Jared makes a soft noise as he cups Jensen’s cheek. His thumb pulls Jensen’s chin down, forcing his mouth open so Jared can lick his way inside. It feels so nice and Jared is pulling away before Jensen can even really participate. He settles for licking Jared’s bottom lip, pressing a kiss to it and sucking the soft flesh between his own lips for a moment before releasing it.
Jensen tucks his head under Jared’s chin and he’s surprised to find that he’s breathing heavily, chest heaving as he spreads his fingers along the side of Jensen’s neck.
“Wow.” Jared sounds a bit dazed and Jensen grins smugly, proud that he could do that to him.
“Goodnight, Jared.” Jensen presses his lips to Jared’s collarbone and closes his eyes, hand pressed into the elegant arch of Jared’s spine. Jared chuckles and pulls Jensen so close that there isn’t even room for air between them.
Jensen has never been held before. He quickly finds that he absolutely does not mind. In fact, it’s the best night of sleep that he’s ever had.