“What should we do today, Rigby?”
Jensen’s pet hedgehog stares up at him with a dark, blank expression and he chuckles, twirling his finger in the shallow water. The ripples he creates glow a soft blue and Rigby squeaks happily as tiny waves rock him back and forth.
“You’re right.” Jensen sighs and lifts his hand in the air, making the water swell up underneath Rigby for a moment before settling him back down in the calm spring. “Silly question. More of the same as usual, I suppose.”
Rigby may be a hedgehog, but he’s also Jensen’s best (and only) friend. His father brought him home after Jensen spent a whole month asking for a puppy. Rigby is way better than a puppy. The animal chirps up at Jensen, floating happily on his back in the gentle stream behind Jensen’s well-hidden home.
Jensen flops back onto the grass and dips his fingers into the tepid water. It takes a bit of concentration, but he’s able to conjure up a tiny storm cloud that hovers threateningly over his head. Raindrops fall, fat and cold, on his cheeks. Rigby squeaks admonishingly and Jensen sighs, waving his hand through the cloud until it dissipates.
“I know,” Jensen replies. “Feeling sorry for myself is pointless, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wallow every once in awhile. It’s not like I don’t have all the time in the world to waste.”
Rigby narrows his beady eyes, but Jensen creates another gentle set of waves to distract him.
“Jensen!” He perks up at the call and creates a small swell of a wave to push Rigby onto shore. He rolls onto his feet and shakes the water out of his quills before crawling into Jensen’s outstretched hand.
“Coming!” Rigby scurries up to Jensen’s shoulder as he runs through the back door of his small cottage home. He finds his father, Jeff, looking weary and aged in the living room, and Jensen furrows his brow as he sits down on the sofa. “You’re back early. I thought you were going to town?”
Town is a vague, relative term to Jensen. He knows there is a town nearby, just outside of the forest they live in, but Jensen does not know where it is or how to get there, no matter how much he’d like to. He doesn’t know if it’s a big town of a small one, if it’s sleepy or bustling. There’s a lot he doesn’t know.
“It was a madhouse,” his father says on a long exhale. “The damn circus is in town, of all things, and – “
Jensen perks up and his father seems to sense his mistake, cutting himself off and looking at Jensen apprehensively.
“The circus?” Jensen’s always wanted to see the circus. Well, to be fair, there are a lot of things that Jensen really wants to see but the circus is definitely up there. His dream is to visit the ocean, to dip his toes in it and feel the salt spray on his face. Jeff has never told him where his power comes from, but he suspects it’s the ocean. He’s seen it a few times, glimpses of it in movies, but his ultimate wish is to see it in person. He’s nearly given up on getting Jeff to take him, but the circus is close. It could be a start. “My birthday is coming up. Maybe we could – “
“Absolutely not, Jensen.” His father pinches the bridge of his nose and Jensen visibly deflates. “Must we discuss this again? You know that it isn’t safe for you out there.”
“You say that, but – “
“Jensen, please. I’m not feeling well. Could you…” He trails off and waves his hand in a now familiar gesture.
Jensen swallows hard and nods, stepping up to his father and reaching out to place his fingers on his rough, stubbled cheek. Jensen lets out a hum of concentration, fingertips glowing pale blue as he conjures up his power. His father closes his eyes and Jensen thinks about him being healthy, young, and strong. He watches as wrinkles smooth out and gray hairs turn black, eyes getting brighter and lips filling out until Jeff pushes his hand away, breaking the connection. He still has flecks of grey in his beard and wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. That’s odd. He usually doesn’t let Jensen stop until they look nearly the same age.
But Jensen’s grateful for it. It’s so hard to think of Jeff as his father when he barely looks older than Jensen himself.
Jensen’s fingertips tingle and he pulls them away, rubbing the tips with his thumb absently until they stop glowing. “Better?”
“Wonderful, Jensen, thank you.” Jensen runs a hand through his short-cropped hair, gearing up for another argument, but Jeff must notice. “Now, as I was saying – “
“But Dad, I’m almost eighteen. I’m old enough to know how to be safe out there. You taught me how!” Jensen pleads, same argument as always. Jeff hardens his gaze and Jensen knows that he’s lost yet again.
“Jensen, why do you always have to make me the bad guy?” Jeff stands up and walks a circle around him, throwing his arms out wide. “You weren’t old enough to remember those animals trying to take you away to use you for your magic. Do you really want to put me through that again?”
“No, Jensen. You cannot ever leave this house!” Jeff’s voice is harsh, sharp, and Jensen winces a little as Rigby brushes his sharp quills against his neck in fear. “You have everything you need right here. There’s nothing out there but awful people doing awful things. That’s it, Jensen. There’s no place for you out there. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Rigby must hear the sadness in his voice because he noses wetly under his ear, chirping in quiet sympathy.
“Good. Now that we’ve got that tiresome argument out of the way,” Jeff says, much more energetic and spritely now that he’s healthy again, “here.” He pulls a bulging plastic bag from his larger leather satchel. “Full of new books for you to read while I’m gone.”
“Gone?” Jensen’s voice is despondent as he takes the bag from Jeff. Almost one entire wall of their small cabin is covered with used books all of which Jensen has read at least twice over. He sets the bag down on the floor to organize later.
“Yes, Jensen, gone. I have to go out of town on business.” Jensen has no idea what this ‘business’ his father is always doing actually is, but he has better sense than to ask. “I’m leaving tonight and I’ll be gone at least a week. You have more than enough around here to keep you fed and occupied.”
“I’ll be fine,” Jensen says flatly, reaching up to scratch under Rigby’s chin.
He’s always fine.
He knows, just by that one screech of his name, that his short-lived days as a carnie are over.
The twinky animal trainer that had just a minute ago been pressing so eagerly up into him gasps and rolls away, knocking Jared off of him as he scrambles to find his shirt. Jared’s pants are unbuttoned and he looks up at the intruder, annoyed that she couldn’t even have waited until they got to the good part.
“What the hell are you doing?!”
Katie is the star of the show. The feisty little trapeze artist that had been a firecracker in the sack unfortunately turned out to also be the ringmaster’s daughter. Jared normally wouldn’t have harbored any reservations about banging the boss’ kid, but Katie has a screw loose somewhere up in that pretty blonde head of hers. Bitch is crazy in a big way.
Jared supposes that growing up in the goddamn circus will do that to you. Not that Jared’s childhood was any better. In fact, it sucked ass and he didn’t even have unlimited cotton candy and tigers to soothe the pain.
“Oh, did we have a date?” Jared says lamely, and he swears he sees Katie’s eyes flash red. Turns out that it was just the reflection of her father’s dumbass ringleader jacket reflecting off of her giant, angry pupils and oh shit, he’s fucked.
“What’s all this?” Katie’s dad, Jared’s boss, the lion tamer, fuck his life, stares Jared down with pure hatred in his eyes. Katie cries into her daddy’s barrel chest and Jesse, Danny, whoever the hell Jared was about to fuck squeaks and tears out of the room without so much as a glance over his shoulder.
The ringleader has henchmen with him, for fuck’s sake. Jared has no idea why he even took this stupid job. Oh, right. Homelessness.
“So… now probably wouldn’t be the best time to talk about that raise, huh?” Jared grins disarmingly while zipping up his pants.
“Oh, you better run, boy.”
“Come on!” Jared shouts. “It’s not cheating if you were never in a relationship in the first place! It was just sex!”
The ringleader lunges forward with a growl and Jared takes that as his cue to mosey on. He grabs his duffel bag, always packed in case of emergencies, and ducks under a bulging, swinging arm and high-tails it across the makeshift fairgrounds.
“Get back here!” Jared laughs and crashes into the main tent, dodging straggling workers and running across the stage before tearing through the other side. The fairgrounds are pushed up against a dense forest and Jared casts a glance up at the waning sun before heading straight for the trees.
“Don’t lose him!”
Jared hears the shout and cackles loudly as he jumps over a fallen log. They’ll never find him.
Getting lost is what he does best, second only to running away.
“You’re leaving now? But it’s dark out.”
Jensen watches his father pack a bag and thinks once again about how he must have some sort of vehicle hidden out there in the woods. It bothers Jensen how little trust he is given, whether it be for his own safety or not.
“I’ll be fine, Jensen.” Jeff ruffles Jensen’s short, dark gold hair and steps past him, swinging his bag over one shoulder. “I’ll be gone at least a week, maybe longer.”
Jensen just nods, looking down at Rigby on the floor nestled between his feet. Jeff doesn’t watch where he steps so the hedgehog never strays too far from Jensen’s toes if he’s on the ground.
“Be good, kid.” His father pats him on the cheek and smiles awkwardly. Jensen has no way of knowing if all parents are as awful at physical affection or if he’s just special. “Be safe.”
“You too, Dad.” Jeff nods and heads out the front door. Jensen stands on the porch, barefoot and chilly, until Jeff’s form disappears into the trees. Rigby climbs up onto Jensen’s foot and nuzzles against his ankle, squeaking quietly. Jensen stoops down to scoop him up and sets him on his shoulder.
“Looks like it’s just you and me.” Rigby pokes Jensen’s cheek with his nose and he chuckles, running the back of his hand carefully along the hedgehog’s quills. “But it’d be nice to have a little excitement around here, wouldn’t it?”
They’re everywhere. Jared is man enough to admit that he might be a little in over his head with this whole forest thing. It’s dark and he’s cold and hungry and he’s probably going to be eaten by wolves or stumble across Bigfoot’s lair or some shit.
He comes across a shallow stream and decides to follow it, because that always seems to be what they say to do on nature shows. He walks along the crumbly bank for an hour or so before he starts getting cranky.
Jared doesn’t often set aside time to wallow in the mess that his life has become. Not that there isn’t anything to be bummed about, because seriously, take your pick, but because Jared doesn’t really see the point in it. Nothing good comes from feeling sorry for yourself and he knows that, but sometimes he can’t help but to let the depressing thoughts creep into his mind.
Especially at times like these, when he’s lost in the godforsaken woods with wet shoes and no food. He’s mulling over the whole ‘basically an orphan’ thing when he wanders into a clearing and looks up to see his salvation.
It’s a small and rugged-looking house, wooden with no paint to brighten it up. Jared assumes that it has to be someone’s hunting cabin, all the way out here, and he perks up when he doesn’t see any lights in any of the windows or any cars out front.
“Jackpot.” He grins to himself and jogs over to hop up onto the sagging porch.
Jensen wakes up to the sound of a knock.
It’s on autopilot that he rolls out of bed and climbs down the ladder leading up to his loft with Rigby clinging to his shoulder, assuming that Jeff must have forgotten something.
He’s halfway through the living room before awareness catches up to him and he realizes that Jeff wouldn’t have to knock. He freezes, clutching at the back of the sofa as he stares at the front door.
Jensen jumps a little at the sound of an unfamiliar voice. He’s never heard another person’s voice before, other than Jeff and the actors on the movies Jeff brings him sometimes. Jensen doesn’t reply, too stunned to react.
“Hey, so, I got lost in the woods,” the voice continues, rich and warm even through the thick wooden door. Jensen continues to stand there and do nothing while Rigby quivers on his shoulder. “I’m cold, wet, and tired as hell so I’d love some help.”
Jensen continues to stare.
“I’m assuming no one is home.” There’s a beat of stillness and Jensen swallows hard. “So… I’m going to take your continued silence as permission to enter. Cool?”
The door knob twists and rattles, and of course Jensen forgot to lock it after Jeff left because he always forgets to lock it. The door sticks and Jensen gets his wits about him in time to dive behind the door before the intruder sets his shoulder into it and pushes it open.
“Hello?” He calls out again, tilting his head up for a response. When getting none, he cackles softly and immediately starts toeing off his shoes as he shuts the door. This leaves Jensen exposed, standing frozen behind the stranger. He’s male, tall with shaggy brown hair and a skinny waist.
Rigby scurries down the side of Jensen’s body and runs right past the guy’s feet, squeaking as he passes.
“What the fuck was that?” The guy jumps and Jensen uses the moment to sidle up behind the stranger. Jensen isn’t weak. He chops firewood and runs admittedly small laps around his house, whatever he can do to stay strong. Jeff taught him how to fight just in case this exact moment ever arose.
Jensen told Jeff that he could take care of himself. Here’s his chance to prove it.
He pushes the guy’s shoulders, sending him stumbling forward. “Okay, ow, shit. I’m sorry! Occupied, I get it.”
He spins around and instinct overcomes Jensen as he swings his fist with all his might, connecting with the guy’s jaw. Pain shoots through Jensen’s knuckles like fire and the guy lets out a shocked grunt. He holds his hands up, peering into the darkness, and Jensen is glad that he’s obscured in shadow.
“Look, can we just – “ He reaches out towards Jensen and he panics, punching the guy square in the nose. He crumples to the floor, unconscious, and Rigby barely manages to move out of the way before he hits the hardwood.
Jensen erupts in laughter, hopping up and down as adrenaline rushes through him like an electric current. “Did you see that, Rigby? Did you see? I can so take care of myself, ha!”
Jensen is so busy being immensely proud of himself that it takes a moment for Rigby’s squeaks to filter through the excited haze. Jensen turns and looks down to see him gesturing at the unconscious figure with his nose. He crawls onto the guy’s chest and makes a circle before looking up at Jensen and squeaking pointedly.
“That’s a good question.” Jensen rubs his sore knuckles against the opposite palm, chewing on his lip as he looks down at the crumpled figure. “What am I going to do with him?”
Jensen decides that his first order of business should be getting the guy tied up because he doesn’t really have any idea how long unconsciousness lasts. He makes a quick trip outside to find the rope they use to tie up bundles of firewood and tosses it on the floor.
Jensen pulls a kitchen chair over to the middle of the room and hooks his hands under the guy’s arms. “Wow, you are heavy.”
Jensen’s feet slip out from under him and he somehow ends up under the guy’s limp body. After a lot of struggling and squeaking from Rigby that Jensen swears sounds a bit like laughter, he gets the guy into the chair.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Jensen presses his palm against the guy’s chest when he starts to slip. His body is firm under Jensen’s palm, warm and well-defined, and Jensen snatches his hand back as if he’d been burned.
It’s with little incident that Jensen gets him tied to the chair, knobby wrists and ankles bound carefully to the wooden arms. Once he’s secure, Jensen decides it’s time that he gets a good look at his would-be attacker and flicks on the light switch.
“Oh wow.” Jensen leans in to get a better look and is surprised to find that the intruder isn’t a man at all, but a boy barely Jensen’s own age. He’s too skinny, for one, and Jensen ignores Rigby’s admonishing squeak as he reaches forward to move the hair out of his face. He’s all angles – prominent cheekbones and a tilted nose giving way to a sharp jaw line. Guilt surges through Jensen when he sees that nose all puffy and bruised, blood clotting over lips as pink as bubblegum.
Now that Jensen has calmed down as all the adrenaline has ebbed away, Jensen’s head is clearer. This boy doesn’t feel dangerous to him, and Jensen doesn’t think he deserves what looks to be a broken nose.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Jensen tells Rigby, who is perched on the boy’s shoulder. He merely squeaks as Jensen cups the boy’s jaw, thumb brushing the broken line of his nose. His features twist even in unconsciousness, and Jensen takes a deep breath. His fingertips glow a bright blue and Jensen concentrates on just letting his power heal new, fresh wounds. He smiles as the boy’s face smoothes out, blotchy skin fading back to a rich tan and blood flecking away until it’s disappeared. The boy’s skin glows faintly, the lightest shade of blue, and Jensen pulls his fingers away.
“He’s beautiful,” Jensen whispers in wonderment, and then blushes violently as he snaps out of his trance. He looks at Rigby and nods decisively. “But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have to explain himself, right?”
Rigby huffs in agreement and Jensen holds out his hand for the hedgehog to climb onto. It’s nearly daybreak outside and Jensen yawns as he collapses onto the sofa behind his sleeping prisoner, intent on waiting for him to wake up.
The first thing that Jared does when he wakes up is brace himself for intense pain.
When it doesn’t come, he scrunches his brows in confusion. He could have sworn that he felt his nose crunch right before he passed out. And oh shit, that’s right. He got knocked the hell out.
He goes to raise his arms but finds that he can’t because he’s tied to a goddamn chair. Oh god, he walked right into a serial killer’s lair. He’s going to get taken out Hansel and Gretel style because he was tired and cold and wandered right into a strange cottage in the woods without a second thought. Stupid, Jared. Stupid.
“You’re awake.” Jared jumps at the sound of the voice and turns his head, trying to find its source. He doesn’t see anyone and squeezes his eyes shut tight. “Who are you?”
“Don’t eat me!” God, Jared. Smooth.
“What? I’m not going to eat you.” The voice sounds closer now. It’s soft and calm, and doesn’t really sound serial killerish at all. But Jared isn’t taking any chances. “I just want to know what you’re doing here.”
“Look, I’m sorry that I stumbled upon your lair, or whatever, really.” Jared curls his hands into fists and rocks the chair back and forth, testing his bonds. They’re fucking tight. “I’ve seen the way this horror movie ends, but it doesn’t have to go down that way, alright? I am like, the best at keeping secrets. Just let me go and – “
“Horror movies? I like horror movies.” That makes Jared pause. Those words in his invisible captor’s voice should be terrifying, should be getting him prepared for some Saw type shit, but Jared doesn’t feel like that at all. The voice is boyish and young, tinged with apprehension and a cautious excitement, like he was just as afraid of Jared as Jared was of him. “Like Hitchcock? Those are good. I just saw Dracula last week. Spooky stuff, right?”
“What? No.” Jared shakes his head. Dracula? “I was thinking more of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre type situation.”
“Oh.” A pause. “I haven’t heard of that one.”
One of the longest, most awkward silences that Jared has ever experienced in his long, awkward life follows, and he clears his throat just to break it.
“So, uh,” he ventures, “you’re not going to kill me?”
“I would never,” comes the reply so emphatic and sincere that Jared experiences a moment of guilt for ever having the (completely justified) thought in the first place. “I thought you were here to hurt me.”
“No,” Jared replies. He twists his wrists uncomfortably. He also kind of has to pee. “Like I said, I was lost in the woods and I found this place. I didn’t think anyone was home. Sorry I broke in.”
“So you – you really don’t know who I am?”
“No, I really – “ Jared looks around again and huffs in frustration. “Look, now that we’ve established that we’re not here to kill each other, could we maybe have this conversation face to face?”
“Uh.” The pause is long and skeptical enough that Jared’s overactive imagination kicks into overdrive. The guy’s voice is pleasant enough, but what if he lives out here in solitude because he’s hideously deformed and sends people screaming at the very sight of him. “Um, yeah. Okay.”
There’s a slight shuffling and Jared clutches the arms of the chair, preparing himself not to react to whatever horror he’s faced with. He’s still tied up, after all, and it wouldn’t do well to piss off the only guy around that can set him free.
A lean figure steps into the shadow across the room and Jared squints, trying desperately to see. The guy that steps into the light is so drastically not deformed that Jared’s mouth falls open in shock.
“Holy shit. You’re beautiful.”
The guy, who can’t be older than Jared himself, blinks in response. Jared feels his cheeks heat up and curses himself inwardly. He prides himself on being able to smoothly charm his way in and/or out of any given situation and one look at this frankly perfect being reduces him to the blubbering preteen that stumbled across his first skin mag.
Not to mention that he’s in the middle of the woods in a no-name town in fucking Kansas, of all places, and calling some reclusive dude who lives in a remote cabin beautiful may not be his best bet.
“Thank you,” is what the guy says. That doesn’t surprise so much as what comes after. “You’re very beautiful as well, if you don’t mind me saying.”
What the fuck?
“Uh, thanks.” Jared’s never really thought of himself as much of anything. He’s too tall and skinny with teeth that aren’t quite straight and a smile that’s a touch too wide. He’s never looked in a mirror and saw someone worth sticking around for looking back at him. Maybe that’s why everyone always leaves.
“You know, I’ve seen pornos that start this way too,” Jared says, mainly to distract himself from the sneak attack of feelings currently twisting around inside his chest. He knows it was the wrong thing to say when the guy’s pretty face twists up.
“What’s a – oh.” Jared watches delightedly as his cheeks turn a delicious shade of red, eyelashes fanning demurely over his cheeks. He’ll be lewd and crude as possible if it means he’ll get to see that face again. “I doubt this will end like any movie I’ve ever seen.”
“You never know. We could end up writing our own.” Jared squirms in his bindings, desperate to get closer, to know more. “How about you untie me and tell me your name. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in that order.”
The guy chuckles and takes a step forward, running his fingers nervously through spiky golden hair as he looks Jared up and down. “You don’t have to worry,” Jared says emphatically, suddenly desperate to have this gorgeous stranger trust him. “I’m one of the good guys! Well, okay, good is sort of a loose term but I’d never hurt anyone, least of all you. I promise.”
There’s a long silence in which Jared notices that the stranger’s eyes are a brilliant green and shinier than emeralds. Jared’s never been one for sappy metaphors but damn, he could get lost in those eyes.
“Jensen,” the guy says, offering Jared a tentative smile. “My name is Jensen, and I’m very happy to meet you.”
Jensen comes over to untie the ropes and Jared catches a whiff of him – sunshine and salt, like the beach on a hot summer day and Jared sort of wants to creepily bury his nose behind Jensen’s ear and sniff him forever.
He doesn’t realize that he actually is sniffing him until Jensen chuckles self-consciously. Jared opens his eyes and for a moment it’s like he’s peering into the sun. “I, uh, like your shampoo,” Jared says lamely, but seriously, he should get the name of that stuff before he goes, because it smells like bottled sunshine and that’s awesome.
But – oh right, he has to go. Just as well, probably. Jensen’s a little too beautiful and Jared’s just a little too entranced with him. It’s creepy in that it doesn’t feel creepy, not at all. Jared wants to wrap Jensen up in hugs and never let go and that, right there, is enough to tell him that he should run far, far away because Jared Padalecki does not do hugs. He’s tough. He’s from the streets, cold and hardened and –
“What’s your name?”
“Jared,” he says instantly, dreamily even, and he’s aware of the dopey smile on his face about thirty seconds too late. Jesus. Jared’s always been a sucker for a pretty face but this is getting ridiculous. He needs to get out of here before he does something ridiculous like ask Jensen to snuggle or something.
“Jared,” Jensen repeats, and Jared has never heard his name said so warmly before, not since –
He needs to go.
“Yeah, so, uh.” Jared gets up and shakes out his hands, feeling blood flow back into his fingers. “Thanks for not killing me, or calling the cops or whatever.” Jensen tilts his head, looking every bit the woodland creature Jared’s overactive imagination is making him out to be. “But I should really get out of your hair.”
“Get out of – oh, you mean leave.” A flurry of emotions flicker over Jensen’s face. Jared’s never met someone who displays their emotions so openly before. Jared can read Jensen like a child’s picture book and he stamps down on the irrational urge to tell Jensen to be more careful or he’ll get himself hurt.
Jensen’s face finally seems to settle on resigned, eyes a bit sad. “That would probably be best, Jared.” He nods to himself and sucks distractedly on his lower lip.
“Yeah, okay,” Jared says, heading for the door.
“It was nice to meet you, Jared, truly,” Jensen says as Jared’s pulling on his boots. They’re still a bit damp from the night before but it’s nothing that he can’t handle. “No matter how odd the circumstances.”
“You too, Jen.” He rattles the nickname off without realizing he’s done so, missing the way Jensen’s eyes soften. “So, if you could uh, point me in the direction of the nearest civilization? Somewhere I could catch a bus, maybe?”
“Oh. Um.” Jensen follows Jared out onto the porch and peers out into the distance. Jared squints against the sun but Jensen doesn’t, eyes going even greener in the light. He looks back and forth a few times, feet shuffling a bit before he finally points uncertainly toward the west. “That way.”
“Thanks.” They stare at each other for a long time, seconds ticking by faster than Jared can count. Jared can’t think of anything to say, so he reaches out to squeeze Jensen’s shoulder before nodding to himself and hopping off of the porch.
Every step he takes away from Jensen feels a little colder, and he blames it on the thick cover of the trees overhead blocking out the sun.
Jensen has absolutely no idea how to reach civilization. He almost told Jared, almost blurted out that he didn’t know because he’s never left this house, but he knows that’s a bad idea. Jared’s a stranger and Jensen should be glad to be rid of him, but he’s not.
He watches Jared walk away, ducking into the shadows at the edge of the clearing, and all he can think about is how warm and tingly Jared had felt under Jensen’s fingers as he’d used his magic on him, not thick and prickly like Jeff always is.
Jensen knows he should let Jared walk away and never think of him again, but this could be his only chance at ever having a friend. Even if it’s just for one day, just one short afternoon, Jensen wants that so badly that he can feel it in his bones.
He’s running across the grass before he even realized that he’d made the decision to do so. The bottom of his feet sting as the soft earth in front of his porch gives way to unforgiving forest floor. The skin breaks but Jensen barely notices, the small wound healing before he even reaches his goal.
“Jared.” He’s breathless, dazed and excited, ignoring how monumentally stupid this idea is. “Jared, wait.” Jensen grabs Jared’s shoulder and there it is again, warm and tingly, pleasant and comforting like a hot bath. The feeling washes over him and it’s good. Jared is good. Jensen can tell. He knows these things.
Jared turns slowly and Jensen catches something that looks like hope in his eyes before they go shuttered and dark. “You don’t have to go right now,” Jensen blurts when Jared quirks a curious brow at him. “I mean, you must be hungry, right? I could make you breakfast.” Jensen taps his lips with his fingertips, energy zinging all over the place in his excitement. He hopes Jared can’t see. “Do you like breakfast?”
“Yeah, Jen,” Jared says after a long moment in which Jensen doesn’t dare to breathe lest he ruin it. “I like breakfast.”
Jensen grins and it isn’t anything for him to reach out and take Jared’s hand. He laces their fingers together as he walks them back to the house. Jared seems stunned but then relaxes into it, fingertips digging into Jensen’s skin like he’s just as starved for physical affection as Jensen is.
He doesn’t know what’s right, what’s okay and what isn’t. He doesn’t want to do anything wrong, but touching Jared feels good, all bubby like the sodas Jeff brings him sometimes.
“Your feet,” Jared says after they walk in silence for a few yards. “You shouldn’t run around out here barefoot.”
“Oh, I’ll be fine, Jared.” Jensen gives him a reassuring smile and flexes his toes. “Don’t worry about me.”
The scratches heal by the time Jensen pulls Jared past the threshold, and only a bit of dirt remains.
Jensen makes coffee, Rigby perched on his shoulder after remaining hidden through the mornings events, as Jared cleans up in the restroom. Jensen loves everything about coffee but Jeff doesn’t bring him all that much of it. Jeff says it’s hard to get but Jensen thinks it’s really because Jensen gets loud and bouncy when he drinks it and Jeff can’t get him to shut up for hours. But maybe Jared likes coffee. Maybe he’ll stick around and talk to Jensen for awhile if there’s coffee.
He’s cracking eggs into a mixing bowl when the bathroom door opens. Jared comes out in a cloud of steam and Jensen turns his head, mindful of Rigby’s quills as he calls out. “I’m making omelets!”
“Well, I’m not one to turn down a free – what the hell is that?” Jensen turns around, fully prepared to ask Jared what he means, but he finds himself monumentally distracted. Jared has his shirt tucked into the pocket of his jeans, clearly not on his body, and Jensen’s favorite towel is slung over one shoulder. `
The view is not unpleasant.
“Is that a gopher?”
Rigby squeaks angrily next to Jensen’s ear and he blinks, shaking his head a little. “What? Oh, no. This is Rigby. He’s a hedgehog.”
“You have a pet hedgehog?” Jared moves closer and closer until Jensen can smell his own soap on Jared’s bare skin. “I’ve never seen a real hedgehog before.” He reaches out, fingers nearly skimming Jensen’s cheek as he cautiously touches the soft, non-spiky part of Rigby’s head. He squeaks indecisively, unsure of how he feels about his current predicament.
Jared suddenly tousles Jensen’s hair, leaving it sticking up all over the place. “You’re much softer.” Then Jared winks and Jensen’s insides feel like mush.
“Thanks.” Jared nods and pulls his shirt on. Jensen feels vaguely relieved at that, but the weird feeling in his belly doesn’t have time to go away before Jared is stepping up next to him at the stove.
“Let me help.” Jared starts snatching up Jensen’s breakfast supplies, messing up his neat and orderly layout. “I make a mean plate of bacon.”
Jared grins over at him and Jensen gets to experience preparing a meal with someone for the first time in his life. There are so many questions that Jensen wants to ask Jared about what it’s like out there, but he doesn’t know how much information is safe to give away about himself.
Basically, Jensen is on complete overload. He’s trying to decide what to ask first when they sit down at the table with their food. Rigby scurries down Jensen’s arm and plops onto the table. Jensen gives him an apple slice and turns to see Jared smiling happily into his coffee cup before taking a sip.
“So, where’d you come from?” Jensen asks, and Jared turns to look at him skeptically. “I mean, how’d you get lost out here in the woods?”
“Oh, well.” Jared pauses to take a sip of his coffee. “I was working with that traveling circus that’s in town –“
“You work in the circus?” Jensen can’t contain his excitement. Jared has his full attention and he doesn’t even notice when Rigby steals a strawberry from his plate. “Were you a lion tamer, or a fire breather?”
“No, I – “
“Trapeze artist?” Jared chuckles at his exuberance and Jensen feels his cheeks heat up. He stuffs his mouth full of omelet just to keep from talking.
“Nah, nothing as exciting as all that.” Jared smiles bashfully and takes a bite of bacon. “I just sold hot dogs. Nothing important.”
“You gave hungry people food,” Jensen assures him. “That’s plenty important.”
Jared stares at him for a long moment and Jensen sips at his coffee, unable to look away. “Yeah, I guess. Well, anyway, I just decided that it was time to move on and ended up getting lost. Luckily, I found you.”
“Or not so luckily,” Jensen mumbles. “I punched you in the face.”
“Yeah well, I broke into your house,” Jared replies, knocking his shoulder into Jensen’s playfully. “So I guess that makes us even.”
Jensen grins widely, not in any hurry to pull away from Jared. It’s thrilling to be so close to someone like this, especially someone his own age. The sunlight spilling through the kitchen window filters through Jared’s brown hair and Jensen wants so badly to touch it all of a sudden. Out of the corner of his eye he notices a few drops of water dancing excitedly above his glass and he shakes his head, chuckling nervously as they fall.
Jared makes no indication that he saw the bouncing water droplets, and Jensen lets out a relieved breath.
“So what’s your deal?” Jared asks, and Jensen’s stomach clenches nervously. He isn’t sure how to answer the question that he knows Jared is about to ask. “Why are you all cooped up in a cabin in the woods?”
“Uh.” Jensen takes a long sip of coffee. “Jeff – my dad, Jeff. He likes it out here. He says that I’m safe out here.” Jared gives him a long, critical look and Jensen bites his lip. “So uh, have you had many jobs?”
It takes a moment for Jared to answer, but he finally stops looking at Jensen like he’s some sort of pinned insect and runs his fingers through his hair.
“I’ve had a lot of jobs, but there was one pretty cool one,” Jared says almost wistfully. “One summer I lucked into this job at Sea World assisting the dolphin trainers.”
Jensen drops his fork and looks over at Jared like he’s seeing him through a brand new set of eyes. “Sea World?”
“Yeah, the amusement park in San Diego,” Jared tells him. “That was a great summer. I got to hang out with dolphins and ride rollercoasters until I hurled. I even learned how to surf.”
“You’ve been to the ocean?” Jensen does nothing to hide the awe from his voice. His biggest dream, and Jared’s lived it. He’s touched the waves and sunk his toes into the sand. He’s been kissed by the sun.
Jensen isn’t jealous. He just wants, fiercely, to experience it all with him as well, maybe even with Jared at his side, and isn’t that strange?
“Of course I’ve been to the ocean,” Jared replies. “You haven’t?”
Jensen nearly laughs at the question. Of course he hasn’t. “No, I’ve uh – I’ve never left here.”
“Yeesh, an eternity in rural Kansas?” Jared chuckles and rolls a grape across the table to Rigby. “I don’t envy you, man.”
“I envy you,” Jensen tells him honestly. Jared’s expression goes shuttered and dark, shocking Jensen with its coldness.
“Yeah well, I could tell you some stories.” There’s bitterness in his voice, barely masked pain, and it makes Jensen ache. He reaches out to put his hand over Jared’s, smiling softly at him.
“I’d listen,” Jensen says. “Tell me your stories.” Jared looks down at Jensen’s hand as if he’s surprised by the touch, but he doesn’t move to pull away.
“No Jensen, that’s just an expression.” Jared chuckles and takes a fortifying breath. He looks carefree when he meets Jensen’s eyes again, but he can tell it’s a mask. Jared is in pain. “But you’ve given me an idea. I’ve worn out my welcome here in the ol’ Midwest, and I’ve got friends kicking around California, so maybe I’ll head out that way. Been a long time since I’ve seen the ocean.”
Jensen’s heart starts beating triple-time and he almost breaks down and begs Jared to take him with him, to get him out of this musty old cabin and help him live his dream.
But he doesn’t, because he isn’t allowed to leave. He’s stuck here forever, cursed to never have any adventures just because he was born with magic that people would kill to have.
He doesn’t often like to think of himself as a prisoner but there are moments that he can’t help it, that the dark thought creeps into his mind, and it’s never been stronger than in this moment.
His eyes burn and his throat is tight, body thrumming with the desire to escape, but he doesn’t.
He sits, and he stays.
Jared watches as Jensen’s bright green eyes go dark with so much pain that Jared feels it like a punch to the gut. He pulls his hand away from Jared’s and he nearly snatches it back, but manages to curl his fingers into a fist on the table instead.
“Jensen, are you okay?”
“Hm?” Jensen blinks a few times and then refocuses on Jared’s face. His smile is back, albeit very dimmed. “Sorry, yes, I’m fine. I was just daydreaming. I’ve always dreamt of going to the ocean.”
That seems like an odd dream, Jared thinks. It’s something so simple, so easily accomplished, but Jensen is sitting there like he just said his biggest dream was going back in time to walk with the dinosaurs.
The feeling that there’s something strange going on comes back to Jared, but he stamps it down. It’s not his place. Jensen doesn’t seem abused and he isn’t asking Jared to save him, so he just clears his throat and offers Jensen a grin.
“I’m sure you’ll make it someday,” he offers, and Jensen gives him a tight smile. They finish the rest of their breakfast in silence, but it isn’t uncomfortable. It’s peaceful even, and Jared smiles as he watches Rigby nibble on a piece of egg held in Jensen’s fingers.
“Hey, do you have a computer I could use?” Jared asks once he’s helped clean the dishes. “ My phone’s dead I need to email my friend Misha and see where he’s at.”
Misha would be Jared’s best friend, if he were the type of person to label people like that. After his job at Sea World ended, he wandered up to Los Angeles for the winter. It was there he met Misha, part-time hacker and full-time weird asshole, and the two fell into a comfortable camaraderie.
Jared probably wouldn’t even be alive today if it weren’t for Misha, but the guy would clock Jared upside the head if he ever heard him say that.
“I have a computer,” Jensen says slowly. He bites his bottom lip and wrings his hands as he looks up at Jared’s face. “But, uh, email. You need internet for that, right?”
“No internet here,” Jensen says regretfully. “Dad says we’re out of range or something. I’m sorry.”
“Oh.” Jared furrows his brow. “That’s okay. I can just use your landline, if that’s alright.” At Jensen’s bashful, slightly guilty look, Jared boggles incredulously. “No phone, either?”
“No,” Jensen replies. “I’m guessing that isn’t normal?”
“Not in this day and age,” Jared mumbles, trying valiantly to ignore the uneasy feeling deep in his gut that’s only growing bigger by the minute. “Okay, well. I know you have electricity. So I can charge up my phone before I go. Maybe I’ll get reception.”
“Of course.” Jensen points to a lamp next to the sofa, and Jared nods before grabbing his bag from where he dropped it near the door. He rifles through it until he finds his iPhone and charger. It’s the fancy new model, or so Jared was told. Misha badgered him into taking it, citing that he was sick of waiting for Jared’s occasional email to confirm he’s still alive, or for Jared to call him collect from a payphone.
I swear to god, Jared, I didn’t even think payphones existed anymore. Take the fuckin’ gift before I bash your abnormally large head in, asshole.
Jared smiles fondly as he hears Misha’s brash voice in his head and busies himself with plugging in the phone. He sets it on the small table and Jensen eyes it curiously, eyebrow sweeping up into an elegant arch when the screen comes to life.
Jared looks around to take in the small television in the corner and the ancient looking computer under the window. Apparently he’s not really up to speed on the latest technology.
The phone chirps with voicemail and text notifications, all from Katie telling him that he’s fired and not to bring his scrawny ass back around if he wants to live. No problem there.
“That’s a phone?” Jensen asks cautiously. “It’s so small. And shiny.”
“Yep,” Jared replies absently. He’s too busy staring at the three bars up in the corner of his phone. Surely if he can get decent reception out here on his cell, they should be able to get a land line and internet set up.
The pit in his stomach gets even bigger and starts clawing at him, unable to be ignored. It no longer matters that Jensen hasn’t asked Jared to save him.
He’s about to get rescued anyway.
There’s no way that’s a phone.
Jensen sort of really wants to grab the shiny little box from Jared’s hand and look at it more closely. Jared seems to notice him staring and hands the phone over with a shrug. Jensen’s eyes widen and he takes it carefully.
The tiny screen is crisp and clear, cheerily telling him to ‘slide to unlock’. Jensen pokes at the screen and moves the bar over to the side, laughing amazedly when a whole new screen pops up.
“This is incredible!” Jared chuckles from somewhere near his shoulder, suddenly reaching around Jensen to poke at a little orange box at the screen. Music starts coming from the phone. Music! Right from the palm of Jensen’s hand! It’s something soft and almost sad, a boy and a guitar, and Jensen wants to listen to it forever. He closes his eyes and leans back against Jared’s broad chest, trusting him to hold him up.
Jared sucks in a breath and puts his hand on Jensen’s hip. It’s big and warm and Jensen had no idea how much he craved physical contact until he suddenly has it at his disposal.
“Hey Jensen?” It takes a moment for him to open his eyes, popping his little content bubble of soft music and Jared’s warmth. “Where is your dad?”
Jensen sobers a little at the mention of Jeff. He would absolutely flip if he came home to find Jared here. He’d be furious at Jensen for breaking his rules, and Jensen shudders a little at the thought. Jeff can be scary when he’s angry.
“Gone,” Jensen replies, biting on his bottom lip. “For a week or so. I don’t know where he is. Just not here.”
“He just left you out here with no way to contact anyone?” Jared asks incredulously, and Jensen knits his brow at the thinly concealed anger in his voice. He doesn’t want Jared to be angry. “What if something happens to you?”
“Nothing ever happens to me,” Jensen says truthfully, smirking softly at the loaded statement. “I don’t get hurt.”
That’s true, at least. Once he sliced his hand open while cutting up a pepper. There was blood everywhere, thick and bright red, and Jensen just breathed through the pain as his skin glowed a soft blue and the wound closed up. He’s broken bones falling out of trees, cut his feet running through the woods, and they all just heal up within seconds. Jensen’s magic protects him.
“But what if you did get hurt?” Jared’s grip tightens on Jensen’s hip and soon he nearly has an arm around Jensen’s stomach. It’s nice.
“I don’t, Jared.” Jensen pats his wrist reassuringly as he traces a prominent vein in his forearm with his thumb. “I’m here by myself all the time. It’s fine. Don’t worry.”
Jared lets out a noise that sounds suspiciously like a growl and Jensen feels a quick puff of hot air against the back of his ear. After a moment Jared brings his other arm around and takes the phone from Jensen’s hand. The music stops and Jensen watches the screen delightedly as Jared brings up photos. Pictures right there in his hand! Jensen may be magic, but this little box is giving him a run for his money.
“This is my friend Misha.” Jared pauses on a photo and Jensen focuses on the man with the bright blue eyes smiling back at him. His jaw is covered with stubble and Jensen cocks his head a bit. “And this,” Jared says as he flicks through a few more pictures, “is us in Santa Monica.”
Jensen sucks in a breath at the image. Jared has his arms thrown around Misha and it looks like both of them were in the middle of laughing, but an even more appealing sight is the ocean behind them. It’s endless and blue and Jensen clutches Jared’s hands around the phone. He’s shaking with want and it’s like he’s there.
In the photo, Jared’s feet are bare and Jensen imagines what it would feel like to have sand between his toes. He can almost feel it, almost smell the salt spray and feel the wind in his hair.
“This is beautiful,” Jensen says, voice raw with emotion. He swallows hard and reaches out to cautiously touch the picture with his fingertip. Another one slides into view and it nearly makes Jensen sob with how stunning it is.
It’s the sunset. The sky is streaked with pink and gold, purple as it stretches towards the top of the photo, orange where it touches the sea. He’s breathing hard, surprised to find that his hands are shaking.
“I could take you there,” Jared says suddenly, softly. “I could show you the ocean.”
Jensen realizes what he’s said and jumps out of Jared’s grasp as if he’s been shocked. Jared fumbles with the phone, managing to get a grip on it before it crashes to the floor. “No, Jared,” Jensen says, and there are tears in his eyes. “I can’t leave. My dad –“
“Isn’t here,” Jared cuts in. “C’mon, Jensen. I know he says that he makes you stay here to keep you safe, but that’s not a life. You have to live, at least once.”
“Jared, I can’t.”
“Your dad’s not here, and I am.” Jensen looks up into Jared’s hazel eyes and is momentarily shocked by their intensity. “Come with me, Jensen. See the ocean.” He pauses and meets Jensen’s gaze helplessly. “And I’ll have you back here by the end of the week.”
Jensen can hardly breathe, he’s feeling so much. He can’t leave this cabin. He’s never left. He isn’t allowed to leave. It’s too dangerous, going out into the world. That’s what his father always told him. People would kill for Jensen’s magic.
“It’s your dream, Jensen.” He looks up and Jared shrugs one shoulder, smile small but hopeful. “Let me give it to you.”
“Yes,” Jensen replies, and this time he means it. It doesn’t matter what rules have been placed on Jensen. He’ll break them all if it means that he gets go to the ocean with this marvelous boy. It’s almost as if he can taste the salt on his tongue, feel the sand between his toes, and he laughs breathlessly. “I’ll go with you.”
Jared’s answering grin is almost as thrilling as the thought of stepping into the sea.