The front door bursts open and Jared's father storms into the house, screaming at the top of his lungs.
Jensen has his hand on the small of Jared's back, leading him inside. He can feel Jared shaking and he leans in close to whisper in his ear. "It'll be okay."
Jared's dad wasn't meant to overhear, but he rounds on them immediately, voice still overloud and spit flying from his lips.
"Like hell it'll be okay! I will not allow this!"
A woman comes rushing in from the kitchen, drying her hands on the bright red apron tied around her waist.
"Gerry? What's going on?" Then she sees her son standing in the doorway and a brilliant smile brightens her features, making her look years younger. "Jared!"
She rushes past her husband and Jared leaps forward to meet her halfway. "Mama!" She wraps her arms around Jared, hugging him close. Gerry is left glaring at Jensen over their shoulders and Jensen nervously shifts his weight from foot to foot.
Jared's mom pulls back first, holds him at arms length for moment with her eyes roaming across his face, then half turns towards her husband.
"Now what's the big problem?"
Gerry's face is blood red, the veins standing out on his forehead fit to burst and his hand shakes when he shoots his arm up to point at Jensen.
"That! That's the problem!"
Sharon's glance switches to Jensen, and she can only stare at him, too stunned to do anything more. Gerry moves closer to Jared, still pointing.
"Is this how you were raised?"
"I didn't do anything wrong!" Jared raises his voice, but looks ashamed that he did. Sharon takes off her apron, flings it across the back of the sofa.
"Gerry, what are you talking about?"
"His name is Jensen, Dad." Jared walks over to him, slips his hand into Jensen's.
"I told you! He should have stayed here, at home. They put these thoughts in his head, that fancy college. Taking advantage of impressionable young boys! Doing God knows what!" Gerry splutters as he starts waving his arms around helplessly. Meanwhile Sharon is cautiously moving towards them, eyeing Jensen a little warily.
"I'm going to school there. Learning. That's what."
Sharon's finally had enough and raises her voice to be heard over theirs.
"Will someone please tell me what's going on?"
"Your son! He says that this ... this is his boyfriend!"
Jensen feels Jared start at his mother's shocked tone and tightens his grip around his fingers, squeezing them tightly.
"You can do whatever you want!" Gerry screams at Jared again, "But not in my house. You will never be welcome here again, not for as long as I draw breath!"
"Gerry!" Sharon calls out at the same time Jared yells, "You are so unfair!"
"Me? I'm unfair? I'm the one that's come home to his family with this ... this abomination? I'm the one that's come home to rub this in their faces? This ... man?! Who we've never seen or heard of before? Must be some kind of ... gold digger! What's in this for you? What do you do, anyway?"
Jensen is so surprised to be addressed directly, it takes him a moment to realize that Gerry is talking to him.
"I .. I sell bonds." Gerry stares at him dumbly, then at Jared and then at his wife.
"Well? Aren't you going to say anything?"
Sharon takes Jensen's free hand in both of hers and says, "It's very nice meeting you", before wrapping her arms around him in a tight hug. It's a real hug, pulling him in tightly against her chest and Jensen can't help but hug her back, unexpected tears suddenly burning in the back of his throat. Gerry throws his arms up into the air and stomps off out into the yard again. Sharon makes Jensen sit on the couch and drags Jared into the kitchen with her to help finish dinner. He tries to ignore the furious whispers he can hear floating out along with the sound of pots and pans and crockery being jostled about. Then it gets quiet and after sitting alone in the silence for a while, he gets up and ventures outside. There's no sign of Gerry, or anybody else for that matter, and he starts strolling down the lane the way they had come.
What was in this for him? Gerry's question was weighing heavily on his mind. Sure, he thought of himself as a nice guy, but pretending to be some guy's gay lover so he could come out to his folks? That didn't make any sense. Neither did the overwhelming urge, that he grudgingly had to admit himself, to protect and shield this young man. He couldn't leave him like that, crying at the side of the road. He could not go on before he'd seen him smile again, before he was sure that he was alright. Jensen shakes his head in wonder at the weird thoughts and feelings that are coursing through him and he's glad when they call him back inside for dinner and he can escape from them again.
The spread laid out on the dining table takes his breath away. Fried chicken, fluffy mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots drowning in butter and a green salad make his mouth water and he realizes he can't remember the last time he ate. Gerry is already seated at the head of the table, with Jared and his mom placed on either side of him. Jared pulls back the chair next to him and smiles at Jensen when he slides into it. They bow their heads as Sharon says grace, thanking the Lord not only for the bounty of the table, but for the safe return of their son. Her voice cracks at the end and Jensen can see by the sheen of Jared's eyes that he heard it too.
He tries to eat slowly, properly, but with Jared digging in with gusto next to him makes it's extremely hard not to give in and match him bite for bite.
"It's delicious," he mumbles out around a mouthful of potato, trying to break the tense silence surrounding the dinner table.
"What did you expect? Mcdonalds?"
Jensen looks down, regretting the impulse to speak and feels Jared nudge his foot against his under the table. When he looks up at him, Jared sneaks him an encouraging smile. Then he switches his glance to his mother, silently begging her help. She puts down her fork and clears her throat delicately before speaking to Jensen.
"With all the commotion, we never heard the whole story of how you two met."
Jensen feels a sudden spike of panic, they didn't think far enough ahead to have a story ready. He finishes chewing slowly, trying to buy a few extra seconds.
"I was on leave in June ..."
"July," Jared quickly interrupts, "it was right after I moved to the city."
"That's right. July. At the base's administration office. We ..."
Jared stiffens next to him, and too late Jensen realizes that must have been the wrong thing to say.
"What were you doing at a military base?" Gerry asks, leaning forward menacingly.
"I was volunteering, Dad. Helping out with filing and some stuff like that. Just doing my little bit to help."
Gerry sits back again, but doesn't continue eating. He fixes his stare on Jensen again.
"So, Mr. Ackles, since we now know exactly how you got involved with my son, tell us more. Where are you from?"
"Richardson, sir. Richardson, Texas."
"That's just outside Dallas, right?" Jared asks.
"Yeah, right." Jared is smiling at him again and Jensen can't believe how much it's calming him down.
"And your parents? Are they still living in Richardson?" Sharon asks politely.
"No ... I never knew my parents. I grew up in an orphanage," Jensen replies quietly.
"Oh, God! I'm so sorry!" Sharon exclaims, but Gerry talks over her.
"Well, that begins to explain it then."
"Excuse me, sir?"
"My son is a good boy. Comes from a good family. My grandparents came to this country from Poland with nothing more than their dreams and some farming skills. They worked their hands to the bone building this place for their children and their children's children. And now he's brought this man here who has no family, worthless job, who has nothing. You're using him to try and swindle us!"
"He's not using me! You don't know anything about him!" Jared exclaims.
"Do you?" Gerry answers back, dangerously calm suddenly.
"Yes." Jared's voice shakes, breaking. He places a hand over Jensen's on the table and continues. "I know he knows how to love somebody. How to be kind and generous, even to strangers. I know he has hopes and dreams. For a family of his own, a house with ... a dog and ... a great job."
"Then why isn’t he out there getting one?"
Jared looks shocked at the low blow his father has aimed at Jensen, tries to tighten his hold on Jensen's hand, but Jensen pulls it out from under his and places the napkin that was laying in his lap on the table.
"Thank you, Ma'am, the dinner was delicious."
Pushing back his chair, he walks off without looking back. Jared throws down his fork and napkin and jumps up from his chair.
"Just because you can't accept my life choices does not give you the right to take it out on Jensen. He is a good man and he doesn't deserve this."
He runs out after Jensen and catches up with him just outside the door. He's standing with his hands shoved deep into his pockets, staring up into the night sky. Jared looks up too. He's forgotten how clearly you could see the stars out here.
"He doesn't pull any punches, does he?"
Jared goes to stand next to him and comfort Jensen with his presence.
"I'm sorry. You must think they're horrible."
Jensen shakes his head, turns to look at Jared.
"When I was a kid, every night I'd sneak outside to look up at the stars and pray I'd see a falling one so I could make a wish."
"Did you ever get to make your wish?" Jared's voice is low and quiet and Jensen can feel something stir deep inside him.
"Quite a few, actually. But they all basically boiled down to one wish."
"What was that?"
"For what you have in there."
Jared scoffs, looks back at the open door and the warm light spilling outside.
"Everyone always telling you how to live your life?"
"It's better than no one telling you."
Jared looks back at Jensen and he's looking up into the sky again.
"I don't know about that."
"I do." Jensen looks down, straight into his eyes and suddenly there is a tension in the air between them, a heat in his gaze as it locks with Jared's.
Jared looks away first, sits down on a big boulder placed as a border for his mother's little flower garden.
"Still ... it's no reason for him to treat you like that."
"No, maybe not." Jensen chuckles. "But I kind of get it. I mean, what if it were me? A strange man coming into my home and telling me he's my son's boyfriend? I'd probably react the same way."
"No," Jared says resolutely, his mouth stern and sure. "You wouldn't."
"I don't know about that."
This time it's Jared's gaze that contains something more as it captures and holds Jensen's.
Jensen gets that strange feeling in the pit of his stomach again and he finds himself unable to look away from Jared, even though a persistent voice in his head is pleading with him to do so. Jensen wonders what the hell is wrong with him when it's Jared that has to look away first again. The silence stretches and Jensen desperately tries to think of something to say.
"Well, it's only another," Jensen looks at his watch, "eight hours and I'll be back on the road."
Jared nods, his hair flopping over his eyes as he looks down again. He looks so forlorn and sad and Jensen tries to make his voice light, hopeful.
"Worst part is over, isn't it?"
Jared nods again, looks back up at Jensen with a brave smile tugging at his lips and Jensen just wants to walk over to him, run his fingers through that shaggy head of hair and promise him that everything will be alright.
"You boys ready to call it a night?"
Sharon is standing in the doorway and Jensen has a moment of panic that they didn't hear her walking up and wonders what she may have overheard. She holds out her hand to Jared and pulls him into a hug before ushering them inside and shutting the door behind them. She leads them down the hall to the master bedroom. Jared stays rooted to the spot in the doorway as she goes inside and starts lifting the little needlepoint pillows from where they're spread all over the big king size bed.
"Mom? What's going on?"
"Come on, Jared. Help me turn down the bed."
"But ... why?"
Sharon piles the pillows onto the dressing table and regards Jared with her hands on her hips.
"You and Jensen are sleeping here."
Jared turns a bright red and for a moment Jensen thinks he might actually have swallowed his tongue.
"What? No! Mom, that's okay, we can sleep in my room, that's fine!"
"In that teeny, tiny, little bed that barely fits you? How're you ever gonna manage to ... do stuff in there?"
Jared's face is burning bright red by now and Jensen can't help but stifle a laugh behind one hand.
"I want you to know that I accept you. Both of you. Together."
Jared finally manages to step inside and Jensen steps in behind him. Sharon shifts her attention to Jensen.
"You know it's out of love that my husband reacted that way. But don't worry about him too much, he'll come around once the initial shock has worn off. Just promise me ... to love my son and take good care of him?"
Jensen rests his hand on the small of Jared's back and doesn't blink when looks her straight in the eye and promises. "Yes, ma'am."
She gives Jared another little hug and a kiss on the cheek before turning to Jensen and doing the same to him. There are unshed tears shining in her eyes as they wish each other goodnight and then she's gone and they're left alone in the bedroom, staring at the huge bed in the middle of it.
"Do you think your dad is very upset that we're taking their room?"
"Honestly?" Jared asks. When Jensen nods, he replies, "He's pissed." They both crack up laughing, maybe more from the tension than Jared's simple little joke. Jensen takes a moment to enjoy the carefree sound of Jared's laughter and imagines what it must be like to have him laugh like that all the time.
"So," Jared asks when they've calmed down again, "how do we do this?"
"Just gimme a blanket and a few pillows and I'll be fine. I'll sleep on the floor next to the bed."
"You sure?" Jared looks down at the hard, cold floor beneath his feet skeptically.
"Yeah, it'll be like I'm back in the barracks. Except for the pillows. I never had pillows this soft and fluffy over there."
He spreads out the colorfully striped blanket Jared hands him and reaches for the pillows.
"Can I ask you something?" Jared asks as he hands them over.
"Do you like selling bonds?"
"No, not really." Jensen shakes his head, smiling ruefully.
"Then why are you doing it?"
"That's actually why I'm here. On this trip. Try and figure out the answer to that question."
"But I thought you already had it all figured out?"
"It's not that simple. It's ... complicated."
"You know what you want. You just have to do it. Doesn't sound that complicated to me."
"Yeah, well, you're not married."
Jensen realizes with a start what he just said, but Jared's already looked away, a thin smile on his lips as he tugs at his shirt.
"Oh God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that."
"That's okay. It's ... thank you, man. For everything. You've been wonderful. More than wonderful."
Standing there in the soft glow of the bedside table's lamp, Jensen is struck by how beautiful Jared is. How easy it would be for someone to love him. He swallows and turns away, unbuttoning his shirt. He can hear Jared starting to undress too, the sharp jingle of his belt buckle as he undoes it. He only takes off his shoes and his shirt, decides it's better to keep his pants on for now.
"There'll be someone for you, Jared."
"You don't have to say that."
"No, I really believe that. That whole idea that there's someone for everyone, you know? Someone who'll love you, no matter what."
He waits a few more minutes, until he's sure Jared has slipped in between the covers, then goes to lie down too.
Jared switches of the light and they just lay there in silence for a while.
"Would you ... ever go through all of this? For a guy?" Jared's voice sounds small and insecure in the dark.
"If I loved him, in a heartbeat."
Before Jensen can say good night too, there's a knock on the door.
Jensen is up in a flash, kicking the blanket under the bed and throwing the cushions down next to Jared's head.
"Just a moment, Dad!"
He pulls back the covers and Jensen jumps into bed next to him. He pulls the sheets back up over them and they struggle awkwardly to try and get into a suitable pose. They settle for his arm slung across Jared's shoulders as he leans into Jensen's naked chest. Jared is breathing slightly hard as Gerry opens the door and comes inside.
"Your mother sent me to tell you goodnight."
"Good night, Daddy."
"Good night, Mr. Padalecki."
He's about to leave when he turns back and squints at the foot of the bed, almost like he saw something. Jensen feels Jared tensing up even more against him, but then he leaves and shuts the door behind him, once more plunging them into darkness.
"Does the door have a lock?" Jensen whispers.
"No," Jared whispers back.
"Think he suspects anything?"
"I don't know."
"Better not take the chance. I better stay in case he comes back."
Jensen suddenly becomes aware that they haven't moved, that he's still sitting with his arm around Jared, holding him close. Jared turns his head towards him, leaning in a little bit more, his lips mere inches from Jensen's, but at the last moment Jensen pulls away.
"Good night," he mumbles, carefully lifting his arm and scooting over to furthest edge of the bed. He's already turned on his side away from Jared when Jared whispers the same words back to him.
It takes a long time for sleep to come, he keeps listening to Jared's breathing, even long after it's steadied and evened out. He doesn't realize he's fallen asleep, even after ...
... he's back, walking towards the destroyed building, his uniform stiff with blood and dirt chafing against his skin and his gun sure and heavy in his hands.
He can hear bullets flying everywhere, an explosion goes off close enough to make his ears ring and the sign above the orphanage is peeling and almost illegible.
The remains of the door is laying broken on the steps and Jensen can see the total destruction that's waiting for him inside. He sees the trembling body before he hears the sobs this time and steps forward without hesitation.
With each step forward he seems to be further away and he can hear it coming, the high pitched screech of the approaching bomb and he needs to get to him, needs to protect him and he's not going to make it.
"Jared! Jared! Ja-"
"It's okay, it's okay. You're okay."
He's sitting upright, Jared's holding his hand in his lap and stroking over his back and whispering softly in his ear.
"It's just a dream. It's nothing."
Jensen jumps out of bed, reaches for his shirt. He stands with his back towards Jared as he pulls it on and buttons it up. The emotion is raw and naked on his face, but he keeps his tone light.
"Must be the strange house and still not used to be being back and ... everything."
When he turns back Jared has already pulled on his pants and is rubbing at his sleep filled eyes.
"Come on, lets go to the kitchen. I'll make you something warm to drink, chase all the nightmares away."
Jensen lets him lead the way, tiptoeing down the quiet hallway and past the closed bedroom door of Jared's parents. He sits down at the heavy oak table and Jared puts an ancient saucepan on the stove and takes the milk out of the fridge. Jensen eyes the coffee maker in the corner longingly, but knows that's a pretty bad idea if he wants to get any more sleep tonight. Jensen watches him move, the stretch and ripple of his muscles under his skin as he reaches up into the cupboard for two mugs, as he scoops equal amounts of cocoa powder into them and stirs the milk as it begins to boil. He wraps a dish towel around the warm handle and pours the hot liquid carefully, trying not to spill, but getting foamy milk all over the counter anyway. After he's cleaned up the mess with some paper towels, he dumps in some small marshmallows, stuffing another handful into his mouth before carrying the mugs over to the table. Sliding into his seat opposite Jensen, he brings his mug up to his mouth, blowing softly at the surface to cool it down and peers at Jensen over the rim.
"See? All better now."
Jensen smiles and lifts his own mug.
"Yes. All better."
After they finish drinking, Jared takes their mugs to the sink and rinses them out before putting them into the dishwasher. We he heads towards the door he notices that Jensen hasn't moved yet and holds out his hand. Jensen looks at it for a second, his heart beating a little faster, but then he gets up, takes it and together they trudge back to the bedroom. He falls asleep as soon as he pulls up the soft and cozy covers and can't believe it's morning already when his cellphone's alarm goes off.
He grabs at it to quickly shut it off and then stares at it lying in his hand. He hasn't thought about phoning or texting Danneel to tell her where he is or even to let her know that he was okay and she hasn't bothered to contact him either. He knows that if he lets it, it may mean something, but he shies away from the thought.
Jensen stands in front of the window, the drapes pulled back so he can see the sky start to color as the day dawns. He's so caught up in the view, hands automatically doing up his shirt's buttons that he's startled when Jared speaks behind him.
"Thought the bus doesn't leave until eleven?"
Jensen turns around, just finishing with the last button and Jared is sitting on the edge of the bed, running a hand over his mussed hair and the stubble on his chin, his skin still glowing with the bed's warmth.
"Then it'll be daylight and everyone will be up. It's better this way. Less questions."
Jared nods, and doesn't look back up again.
"I ... good luck. With everything, you know."
"Yeah. You too."
There's something in Jared's voice that makes Jensen want to walk over and sit down next to him, but instead he picks up his suitcase and purposefully walks out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.
The house is quiet around him as he walks towards the little laundry room just past the kitchen to look for his jacket. Sharon had scooped it up as she was leaving their bedroom last night to throw into the wash.
"Jensen! You're up early!" Sharon exclaims, looking up just as she's stuffing his jacket into the washing machine.
"I have to go ... sell some bonds," Jensen replies, stepping closer quickly to try and save it before the machine starts washing.
"Leaving already? But you just got here! Surely you can stay a little longer before you have to go?
"I really can't. I have commitments."
"And what about your commitment to Jared?" she asks harshly.
"You heard what Mr. Padalecki thinks of me last night. I have to prove to him that I can take care of Jared. I'm doing this for him."
"He said you wouldn't stay," Sharon says as she turns away, drying her hands on her apron.
"What?" Jensen asks, even though he knows he should let it go and walk away, right now.
"Gerry. He said first chance you get, you'll leave him."
"I'm not leaving him. I ... don't want to go. But I'll ..."
"No, I understand," she interrupts him, "It's just. My husband can be a real bastard sometimes. He's going to rub Jared's nose in this every chance he gets. His so-called boyfriend bailing after just one night? He'll use it to try and convince Jared that he was just being played, that he's not really gay. And Jared ... my boy will go back to pretending to be someone he's not, just to make him happy. Go back to living a lie and it's going to kill him. I know it."
There are tears shining brightly in Sharon's eyes as she looks at Jensen and it feels like his heart is breaking too. He feels for Jared, he really does, but what can he do?
"But what can I do? I have to go back to work sometime."
"Can't you just put it off for one more day?"
"What difference would a day make?"
"Maybe a lot. See, today isn't just any day. It's special. Today is the first day of the harvest."
She looks at him beseechingly, like he should get it. When he doesn't give any reaction to what she's said, she sighs and moves towards the kitchen. Her shoulders sag, a heavy weight pressing down onto her and for a moment Jensen can imagine Jared having to go through the day with the same heavy heart.
She turns back, hopeful.
"You're right. It's only one more day. I'll stay."
"That's good, Jensen. Real good." Sharon smiles at him as Jared breezes into the kitchen, dressed in work clothes. Surprised, he stops at the sight of Jensen.
"I thought you were leaving?"
Jensen smiles, stepping closer to Jared to answer him softly.
"I thought it'd be better for you if I stay. At least till the harvest is under way."
Jared's grin almost splits his face in half and he steps closer to Jensen too, opening his mouth to say something more. Before he can say a word, the door leading outside bangs open and Gerry strides in, also dressed in work clothes and already covered in a thin layer of dust. He stops in surprise when he sees Jensen.
"Don't you have bonds to sell?"
"Not today. Family comes first today."
Gerry scoffs and walks right out the door again, whatever he came into the house for forgotten. Sharon laughs and takes Jensen's suitcase from him. She sends him off to the spare room in the back where she'd lain out some clothes for him while she brews them all some coffee.
Jensen steps from the house, still tying his belt over the almost too big pants Sharon had picked out for him and stops at the sight waiting for him outside. A guy that Jensen assumes must be Jared's older brother Jeff, has pulled up in an old blue Ford truck, his wife and two young children spilling from it as soon as it comes to a stop. His little sister's Volkswagen is parked under the tree and she's hanging onto Jared's neck as he's swinging her around. Jared's loud booming laugh is ringing out over the yard and Jensen's amazed at his transformation. He looks so happy and loved, surrounded by his closest family and for a moment Jensen is acutely aware that he's a stranger and intruding.
Megan catches sight of him and untangles herself from Jared's arms, walking over towards him. He steels himself, waiting for the onslaught. Instead she throws her arms around him, hugging him close.
"Jensen, it's so good to meet you! I'm so happy for Jared!"
She reminds Jensen of Jared's mom and he hugs her back hard. Letting go, she grabs his hand and drags him over to where the others are standing together.
She introduces him to Jeff and his wife, both shaking his hand politely, before dropping him off next to Jared, catching him on the shoulder with a playful fist as she moves away.
"Well done, bro! He's such a cutie!"
Jensen blushes and Jared gives her an exasperated look.
"No, seriously, I'm so glad you finally found someone. You don't deserve to be alone."
They share a weighted look and then Jared looks over at him pleadingly.
"Alone? This handsome guy? I don't believe you!" Jensen jokes, lifting the mood.
"Yeah. He's so shy and never had a girl ... or boyfriend before. You must really be something."
Gerry picks that moment to emerge from the barn, tossing Jensen a scythe and a wide brimmed hat.
"Jared, show him what to do. Don't want his blood getting on the grains and ruining it all."
Jensen turns the implement over in his hands as everyone starts moving away.
"We have to harvest it all by hand?" he asks Jared quietly.
Not quietly enough, apparently, as everyone bursts out laughing.
"No, we use those shiny big ass harvesters for that," Jared explains, pointing to the machines still parked in the barn. "It's just tradition around here to do the first bit by hand."
"Oh," Jensen says sheepishly and Jared laughs again.
"Come on, over here looks like a good spot. I'll show you."
He leads Jensen into the nearest field and Jensen bends to try and cut off a handful of stalks right away. He almost cuts his hand off instead and Jared steps in quickly.
"No, look. Like this."
Jared comes to stand behind him, draping his chest over Jensen's back as he leans over him and with one hand covering Jensen's, shows him the right way to do it. Jensen is acutely aware of Jared's heat seeping into his skin through the thin covering of their shirts and of Jared's hand engulfing his. He catches himself leaning back into the other man, feeling Jared's breath ghosting hotly against his neck.
"We don't have all day!" Gerry's voice cruelly cuts through the moment and Jared steps away. They share a heated glance before Jared bends down and starts working.
Jensen is left breathless and stunned for a moment, not sure of what just happened, then also bends down and spends the rest of the day endlessly cutting off handful after handful.
The sun is threatening to slip under the horizon when they call it a day, the wheat neatly tied into bundles and loaded onto the backs of several small trucks. They're the last to leave and Jared is already behind the wheel of one, gunning the engine when Jensen hefts his last bundle onto it, his back creaking painfully as he straightens.
"Hurry up, slowpoke! There's a couple beers back at the house with my name on them."
Jensen quickly walks over and slides into the passenger seat, slamming the heavy door closed and leaning an arm out of it. The cab's stuffy and overheated by a day standing in the sun and they both smell of sweat, wheat and dust. Still, Jensen can only grin over at Jared as they pull away, tires throwing up a puff of even more dust and he's happier than he can ever remember being.
There's already a party atmosphere at the house when they pull up, the women having come home earlier to get everything ready. There are long tables set up all over, laden with food and drink and dozens of small lanterns giving off a warm and inviting light. Jared stops the truck and side by side they slowly walk up to the big group of people assembled around the biggest of the tables. When Jensen sees them looking over at them, he reaches out and takes Jared's hand. Jared whips his head around to look at him in surprise, but tightens his fingers around Jensen's all the same. Jensen can see how the sun has burnt Jared's nose, cheeks and forehead a nasty shade of red and reaches out to trail a finger along one cheekbone before he can help himself.
Jared lets go of his hand when they reach the table and an old lady steps forward to lay a bundle of the freshly cut wheat hauled from one of the trucks at his feet. Jensen recognizes her as one of the workers he'd seen in the fields and gives her a little smile. There are already similar bundles lying in front of Gerry and Jeff. Jared explains when Jensen looks at him questioningly.
"The men of the family weave a garland for their loved ones, that their union might be as fertile and blessed as the harvest."
"Fertile?" Jensen snickers.
"Shut up. It's tradition."
Jensen watches as Jared bends down, undoing the bundle and quickly weaving several stalks into a rough circle. His long fingers work gracefully and expertly and Jensen can only stare in wonder. Finished, Jared straightens.
"The circle has always been a very powerful symbol for my father's ancestors. They used to worship in natural circles and groves and even drew circles around the crops before they could be harvested."
Jensen watches as Jeff places his garland on his wife's head and kissed the top of the baby's head in her arms. Gerry places his on Sharon and then pulls her into his arms to share an intimate kiss. He becomes aware of Jared standing in front of him again, garland raised over his own head. Their eyes lock as Jared slowly lowers it and then leans forward and kisses him. His lips are slightly parted and Jensen wants to open his mouth under Jared's, feel his tongue sliding over his lips and into his mouth. Jared pulls back when Megan lets loose a loud wolf whistle and walks away to wrap his arm around her head in a fierce-looking headlock, pulling on her hair with a laugh that sounds faintly forced to Jensen.
Gerry catches Jensen's eye when he pulls back from kissing his wife, seeing the way he's looking at his son. When Sharon goes to lift the baby out of Jeff's wife's arms, he comes over to stand next to Jensen.
"Isn't she beautiful?" he asks Jensen, looking over at where Sharon is cooing at the child in her arms.
"Yes, sir. Beautiful."
Gerry looks at Jensen sideways and sees he's not looking at Sharon at all. He's staring at Jared, a wide smile that he doesn't even seem aware of on his face. Gerry claps him on the shoulder, drags him over to Jared's side. He motions to someone on the side and suddenly a stereo comes on, loudly playing upbeat country music. Everyone grabs hold of their partners and start dancing in the little clearing between the tables. The two men are left standing awkwardly to one side, looking on at everyone cutting loose.
"So ... you want to dance?" Jared asks finally.
Jensen slips his hand into the one that Jared is holding out without hesitation and lets Jared lead him onto the makeshift dancefloor. He's very aware of the other couples making way for them at first, but when he sees they're too wrapped up in each other to pay any attention to them, he lets himself relax into Jared's waiting arms. The song changes and a slow waltz comes on. He starts to move away, but Jared just grips his hand tighter, holding him close. He starts to gently sway to the music, patiently waiting for Jensen to relax again and then they're moving together, arms tightly wound around each other, the music and the balmy air spilling over them. Jared starts humming along to the song, deep and off-key, burying his mouth against Jensen's ear. Jensen leans into it and feels Jared tightening his grip on his lower back, grinding his hard-on against Jensen's hip. Jensen's very aware that he's hard as well, and drops his hands to Jared's ass, pulling him in tighter. The song ends and the next one comes on and the next after that, but all Jensen can pay attention to is the feel of their bodies moving against each other.
The dancefloor empties steadily until it's only them left, the music faded to silence and replaced by shrill crickets and the breeze riffling through the grass.
Jared pulls back, takes his hand and leads him into the house, stopping every few steps to pull him in and nuzzle at Jensen's neck, his ear, the corner of his mouth. When the door to Jared's parent's room finally close behind them, Jensen turns and presses Jared's back against the door, lips capturing his. It's a desperate, deep kiss, lips sliding against each other, tongues plunging deep, teeth knocking and scraping. Jared's hands come up to grip Jensen's head, his thumbs digging into the hollows of Jensen's cheeks. When he pulls away, it's with a string of spit still connecting them and Jensen stares at it, fascinated. He thinks it should gross him out, but instead it's the most erotic thing he's ever seen in his life. Jared drops his hands to grip Jensen's arms, moving backwards until they stumble onto the bed in a tangled mess of limbs.
Jared pokes him in the stomach with an elbow and he narrowly misses kicking Jared in the shins. Jared relaxes onto the pillows, throws back his head and laughs. Jensen can't help it, he dissolves into laughter too and when it's over, he can only stare at Jared in wonder; the strong line of his jaw, the flat curve of his nose, the playful twinkle in his eyes. Suddenly he jumps up, scrambling to get off the bed. Jared sits up, confused, reaching out a hand to catch him.
"Jensen?" Jared whispers. "What's wrong?"
"No, I can't," Jensen whispers back, shaking his head.
"Why?" Jared asks, sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
"I want you. God help me, more than anything, Jared. You ... can't imagine how much I want you. But I'm not free. And I can't. I won't hurt you like that. I'm sorry."
Jensen steps back, hand reaching for the door.
The door closes behind him and he leans against it for a moment, imagines he can hear a strangled sob and moves away quickly. He's afraid that if he lingers any longer, he'll go back inside, no matter what his better judgment is telling him. The whole house is quiet, everyone gone home or to bed. He sits down on the couch in the dark living room, the only illumination coming from the faint clock display of the VCR machine standing on top of the television. Morning will come soon enough and then he'd go back. Back home.
The light switch suddenly flips on and Jensen wipes a hand over his eyes, finding tears that he didn't even realize were flowing over his cheeks.
"Sharon," she admonishes automatically.
"Sharon, I ..."
"What are you doing sitting here in the dark? Is something wrong?" she interrupts.
"Yes. No. I mean ... sort of."
"Shouldn't you be in there with my son then, sorting it out?"
"I'm not sure he wants me in there right now," Jensen admits, hanging his head.
"Tough shit. You get your ass in that bedroom right now and fix it. I haven't seen Jared this happy in years. And it's because of you, Jensen. Because of you."
"Really?" Jensen asks sheepishly.
"Yeah," she answers, rolling her eyes at him. "Now off with you."
Jensen squeezes past her, floorboard creaking under each careful step. He tries the door, but it's stuck and he realizes Jared must have wedged a chair under the knob to keep it from being opened.
"Jared?" he whispers. "If you can hear me, please, let me in?"
Jensen listens, but there's no sound or movement from the other side.
"No. We had a plan. We should stick to the plan."
Jared's voice is close, like he's standing just on the other side of the barricaded door and Jensen lays a hand on it, feeling the smooth surface under his palm.
"But I can't just leave you like this."
"And tomorrow? Or the day after that? Will you stay for those too?" Jared's steady voice is cold, pushing Jensen away with icy fingers along his spine. "Go home, Jensen. To your wife. This isn't your problem anymore."
"Jared ..." Jensen pleads.
"Just go!" Jared exclaims, his voice cracking.
Jensen stays standing there with his hand against the door for a while and then silently turns away, walking through the kitchen to pick up his bags and then out the back door. He doesn't hear the bedroom door open as the door swings shut behind him.
The plane back to LA is packed and Jensen is squished in between a grumpy old guy and his punk teenage grandson. They spend most of the trip trading insults over his head and blankly ignore him when he offers to trade places so they can sit next to each other. Halfway through the flight he somehow manages to doze off and ...
... he's back in front of that orphanage door. He sees the door opening and he wants to turn and run away, he doesn't want to go in there again. He can't move, but when the door swings completely open, it leads into Jared's house and Jared is there, smiling, reaching out to him and he steps into Jared's arms, enfolding him.
Jensen is shaken awake by the stewardess, a hard hand touching his shoulder.
"Sir? Are you alright?"
Jensen honestly doesn’t know how to answer that, so he just nods his head.
"Please put on your seatbelt, sir. We're about to touch down."
Jensen fumbles with it, gets it on, and waits staring down at his folded hands, longing to be back in his dream. He knows he has to let it go, all of it, if he wants to make it work with Danneel. He just wished he knew if he wanted to make it work with her.
He's standing in front of their apartment much sooner than he thought he would be, everything from departing the plane to getting there a blur. His hands don't shake this time when he unlocks the door and he steps inside, setting his bags down. The place is a mess, take-out boxes and empty juice cartons strewn everywhere and Danneel's laptop open on the coffee table in the middle of it all.
"Who's there?" Danneel's uncertain voice comes from the bedroom.
"It's me," Jensen answers as he walks over and peers down at the screen. It's one of the e-mails that he sent her. He takes another look around and it hits him. She's been camped out in the living room, reading the e-mails he sent her.
Danneel comes walking out of the bedroom, hair mussed and tying the sash of her bathrobe around her middle.
"You read them." He says, turning to her in wonder.
"Yes, Jensen, I ..."
"Danneel?" Another voice interrupts from the bedroom and Jensen starts towards it. Danneel's hand shoots out, gripping his arm and stopping him.
"Jensen, listen, it was never going to work, for either of us. If I'd only read the letters sooner, I'd ... We hardly even know each other. We want different things. Different lives."
"Who is it, Danneel?" The voice from the bedroom comes again, sounding angry that she hasn't answered him.
"I don't even like dogs!" she yells after him as he steps around her and yanks open the bedroom door. The naked man on the bed jumps up, grabbing a pillow to cover himself up.
"It's not what it looks like, man," he says, voice wavering. Jensen turns back to Danneel in shock.
"It looks a lot like your ex-boyfriend Riley. Naked in our bed."
"Jensen, listen to me," Danneel tries again. "What we want is so opposite, it never would have worked for me. I'd be miserable and so would ... you," she ends weakly.
"I came all the way back," Jensen says. "I was ready to try."
Riley's been scrambling for his clothes and tries to slip out behind him. Jensen moves away so he can pass, but instead he drops everything and raises his hands, trying to fend off the blow he's expecting to come.
"Don't hit him!" Danneel yells.
"I'm not going to," Jensen answers softly. "Danneel ..."
"We could still be friends?" she offers with a slight shrug of her shoulder.
She walks over to the dressing table, picking up a stack of papers.
"I though an annulment would be the easiest." She holds the papers out to him. "You just have to sign it."
Jensen takes them from her, tries to read it, but his vision is suddenly too blurry, his eyes swimming in tears.
"I'm sorry, Jensen," Danneel says as she lays a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. He sweeps his hand over the cluttered surface of the dresser, clearing a space to put the papers and hastily scribbles his signature everywhere she tagged them. He leaves them there when he walks out to gather up his suitcases again.
"Jensen? Are you alright?" she asks.
Jensen looks back at her, so beautiful bathed in the sunlight streaming in from the window behind her and nods, certain.
"Yeah. I'm perfect." He starts laughing and runs down the stairs. He's still smiling when a few hours later he's back on the plane. The same stewardess from his earlier flight passes by and stops.
"Going again so soon? Were are you off to this time?"
"To where dreams come true," Jensen answers, smiling even bigger.
When the taxi drops him off, the house is quiet and dark, except for a faint light coming from the back of the house. Jensen leaves his stuff on the porch and walks towards the light. He finds Jared sitting there on a rickety lawn chair, a blanket covering his shoulders against the night's chill.
"Jensen!" Jared jumps up, the blanket dropping to the ground. "What are you doing here?"
"I had to come back."
"But what about your wife?"
"It's over, Jared. Annulled. It was a mistake ... such a big mistake."
"And now?" Jared asks, not moving.
"Now I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I want to take care of you, love you. If you'll have me."
Jared looks away, doesn't answer.
"I thought you were gone forever. I told my parents the truth, you know. And they still accept it. Accept me." he says instead.
"I told you they would. They're your family."
"Yeah, and it's because of you that I have them back. Jensen, will you ... can you be a part of our family too?"
"Oh, Jared." Jensen can't stand it any more, he takes the two steps separating them and wraps his arms around Jared, feeling Jared's arms encircling him too. He wants to kiss Jared, his lips, his face, touch every part of him, but he can't make himself let go and they just stand there hugging each other tightly enough that it's almost hard to breathe.
A noise at the back door finally gets them to move apart and when they look back, it's Gerry standing in the open door.
"Sharon!" He thunders, almost exactly like the first time Jensen met him.
Jensen takes hold of Jared's hand, squeezing it tightly and steps forward to begin to explain.
"Put the kettle on, honey," Gerry continues. "Jensen's home."