what’s the problem?
I don’t know, well, maybe I’m in love
love, think about it every time
I think about it
can’t stop thinking ‘bout it
Jensen was all set for his mental meltdown; after all, not many people could claim to have a truly epic sexual identity crisis on the cusp of their thirtieth year of life, right? And here he was, with an ultra-conservative, Christian family who did not approve of his forthcoming life choices. Not that he was ready to make those choices, not by a long shot, because it just so happened that the object of his affection was very straight, very much in love with his girlfriend of four years, and currently gallivanting across Europe with her, while Jensen was alone and miserable and quite possibly beginning his slow, inevitable descent into madness.
If this was love, no wonder he’d avoided it like the plague.
What the hell were all those poets and writers thinking, waxing fantastic above love? It was all fucking bullshit. How could something meant to be so spectacular be so horribly hurtful? Because Jensen was sure he’d never felt physical pain as bad as this emotional shit he was currently trying to wade his way through, whilst still making a conscious effort to take it like a man.
But love unmanned a guy. Blindsided him, made him insane. And unrequited love? Secret, undeclared love? Possibly newly out of the closet love? Jesus, don’t even get him started.
It was too much for his puny brain to comprehend, let alone deal with. Which is probably why Jensen found himself drowning in beer on his own couch, Chad sitting right beside him, doling out drunken advice that made actual sense to Jensen’s inebriated, beleaguered brain.
“He’s been gone five days and he’s sent you twenty-two postcards,” Chad told him, as if he didn’t know. “Twenty-two,” Chad repeated, reiterating the point he’d been trying to make for the past hour. “Didn’t even know snail mail worked that fast. And that asshole sent me one. One.”
Jensen tried to spare Chad’s feelings. Because he was drunk and didn’t know any better. “I made him. Made him promise.”
Chad ignored him, instead squinting down at the bunch of cards in his hand, flicking through them as he read the captions on the front. “London, London, London, Dublin, Dublin, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Paris, Paris, Paris…”
“Jesus. Shut up. I get the picture.”
“I got one fucking card!”
“I’m sorry, okay?”
“That’s not the point!”
“What is the fucking point then?”
“He would save you!” Chad exclaimed, turning on Jensen, his eyes wild and fervent. “Hell, he’d die saving you!”
“The fuck?” Jensen looked at Chad quizzically, his face hurting from the effort of being scrunched up.
“Remember how I aksed him…asked him?” Chad nudged him, jabbing Jensen in the ribs with his pointy elbow. “If we were in a burning building…”
“…and he could only save one of us?” Jensen finished, patting Chad’s thigh soothingly. Even as drunk as they were, that kind of knowledge – that Jared would pick Jensen and let Chad burn – had to be hard to swallow.
“Asshole,” Chad muttered, then shook his head vigorously, the movement blurring Jensen’s vision of him until he blinked and refocused. “I gave it a bunch of thought. Thinking’s good for you, you know?”
“Nah, man. Thinking sucks.”
“No, no,” Chad argued, “it’s a good thing! Made me realize that I asked him the wrong question.”
“Yeah?” Jensen was confused, and he didn’t think it had to do with the beer in his hand. Or the shots they’d had earlier. Or the beers they’d had before that. “What’s the right question?”
“Picture the same burning building,” Chad said, looping an arm around Jensen’s shoulders as they both stared off into the distance, or you know, the wall in Jensen’s living room, “but trapped inside with you…is Sandy.” Jensen gasped, totally involuntarily, and Chad patted him reassuringly. “S’okay, it’s make-believe, like the shit we do for money.”
“So you and Sandy,” he continued, “who would Jared pick?”
“Sandy,” Jensen said, no hesitation at all, and the knowledge of it made him want to cry into his beer.
“Duh,” Chad agreed, “’course he’d pick her to rescue, she’s a girl. And he’s…er…”
“Manly like that?”
“So I’d die in a fire?” Jensen asked sadly.
“No, no, no!” Chad countered, then stopped to reconsider. “Well, yeah. Okay. You’d die in the fire.”
Jensen pouted. “Dude, your point sucks.”
“Was that my point?” Chad frowned. “Could’ve sworn there was more to it than that.”
“I don’t want to die in a fire,” Jensen whined, his voice cracking as he hiccupped.
“What do you want then?”
Jensen sniffed, trying his best not to cry, as Chad shushed him and rocked him back and forth until they nearly fell off the couch. When he finally spoke, his voice was small. “I want to not die in a fire. I want to live. With Jared. I want to live with Jared and he has to love me back.” He huffed out a huge, heartfelt sigh. “He needs to love me back.”
“Oh!” Chad exclaimed. “That was my point! Burning building. You and Sandy, and only one of you can get out alive…”
“And Jared saves Sandy and I die a horrible death because nobody loves me.”
“Will you let me fucking finish? Jared saves Sandy, but he goes back for you.”
Jensen blinked. Something about that didn’t make sense. “Why would he go back?”
Chad smiled, satisfied and smug. “To get you.”
“But you said only one of us lives. The other burns. Like Dean, going to hell for his Sammich. Fucking story of my fucking life. And Dean’s fucking life.”
“Yeah.” Chad nodded in commiseration, and then, frowning, he shook his head. “No, dude. Try and understand the words that are coming out of my mouth,” he implored, breathing alcoholic fumes across Jensen’s face as he tried to make his stupid fucking point again. “Jared would save Sandy, but he’d go back in for you.”
“But then he’d die too!”
“Yeah! For you!”
“Always knew he was a good guy…”
“Jesus Christ,” Chad swore, “he’d go back in to try and save you, even though he’d know it was pointless. That’s the point!”
“The point’s pointless?”
“The point is that he does love you!” Chad vehemently declared. “The point is that he loves you and he knows it but he doesn’t know that he knows it!”
Jensen blinked at his drinking buddy. “My brain hurts.”
“Hit me, bitch.”
“I still don’t get your pointless point.”
“We’ll try again in the morning.”
just to cure it ‘cause I can’t ignore it if it’s love
love makes me wanna turn around and face me but I don’t know nothing ‘bout love
They didn’t try for coherency again until the day after their binge drinking fest; the day in between had been spent achingly hungover.
“The point is,” Chad picked up the conversation as if they hadn’t just had a day and a half of interruption, over breakfast, when they could stomach the sight and taste of food again, “that Jared would go back for you…”
“Man, are we still on this?” Jensen groaned, trying not to face-plant in his eggs. “That doesn’t make any sense. Not that this whole warped scenario made sense to begin with…”
“Shut the fuck up and listen to me,” Chad insisted, buttering his toast. “The point is, he’d die for you. He wouldn’t let you burn alone. If you go, he goes. That sort of deal.”
“Even if he knew he’d be signing his own death sentence?”
“And why would he do that exactly?”
“Because he loves you, and he knows it…”
“But he doesn’t know he knows it,” Jensen finished with a frustrated sigh. For some reason, that bit of their earlier conversation had stuck with him. “I’m sure that made more sense when we were hammered, man.”
“Dude,” Chad spoke around a mouthful of toast, “you’re a dumbass.”
Jensen stared at him in disbelief. “You’re the one who thinks Jared is in secret gay love with me, and I’m the dumbass?”
“Give the man a prize,” Chad sneered, and then leaned forward, pushing his now empty plate aside. “I have this theory, and after careful observations that I’ve made over the past few weeks that I’ve hung out with Big Jay and Sands here in LA and back in San An with his family? All of that has led me to one, inevitable conclusion.”
“It’s scary how smart you can sound sometimes,” Jensen mumbled, but he leaned in to listen anyway. “What conclusion?”
“You’re winning,” Chad imparted smugly, “and it’s got Sandy running scared.”
“Why would she…? I don’t get it.”
“Jesus. You are just a pretty face, huh?”
“Look, the whole time I was with them, Jared was always finding some excuse to talk to you,” Chad told him somewhat grumpily, “and if he isn’t talking to you, he’s talking about you. To anyone who will listen. His family – who love you, by the way, so that’s half the battle right there – to me, to Sandy. And she notices, man. She may not call him on it, but I see that pinched look on her face like she’s sucking on something sour.” That made a little unholy glee well up inside Jensen’s chest, but he squelched it down, trying to be reasonable about all this, because Jared was still pretty fucking straight. “And she’s starting to push him, you know?”
“Push him how?”
“Like this trip to Europe, dude. It’s a guilt trip. Straight up, pun intended and all that jazz,” Chad explained. “She keeps complaining that they don’t spend enough time together and that they should make the most of the strike, and so he finally gave in. Which means you’re winning.”
“She gets him all to herself and I’m winning? Dude, your logic is messed up.”
“The one thing you should never do with Jared is push him into doing something he doesn’t want to do. Worse is to guilt him into it. ‘Cause he’ll crumble under pressure like that, ‘cause he’s a nice guy, not ‘cause he really wants to do it. And he’s getting pushed from all angles.”
“What angles?” Jensen asked, alarmed, wondering if he’d been one of those angles, however unwittingly.
“Sandy, for sure, but also his family. His mom keeps reminding him that it’s been four years now and there’s still no ring on Sandy’s finger. She wants grandbabies. Meg wants a sister. Man, you should’ve heard them railing at him over Christmas,” Chad told him, shaking his head as if he still couldn’t believe it. “My dad and I spent a couple of days down there with them, remember?” Jensen nodded, and tried to recall if Jared had sounded stressed when he’d spoken to him over the holidays, but Chad distracted him. “Man, what is it with you Texans, anyway?”
“The hell do you mean?” Jensen asked indignantly.
“It’s like you give the term ‘Momma’s boy’ new meaning, you know?” Jensen’s jaw locked tight; he did know. “He’s being a good son, and a good boyfriend, and he’s gonna be real good at it all until they push him right off the edge.” Chad squinted shrewdly at Jensen from across the table. “And when they do, Jensen, you’re gonna have to be there to catch him when he falls.”
“How do you know he doesn’t need a little nudge to make him realize that this is what he wants?”
“Because I’ve seen it happen before, remember? That shit with Alexis? You know about it, right?” Chad continued at Jensen’s nod. “It crashed and burned because she wanted too much and he didn’t want it enough. Pattern’s repeating itself with Sandy.”
“So I’m winning?” Jensen mused aloud as Chad’s logic finally made a little more sense, and the tiniest flame of hope flickered in his chest.
“Now you’re getting it,” Chad retorted smugly, “and there’s, like – what is it, twenty-six, now? – postcards to prove it. He’s out there in Europe with Sandy and he’s thinking about you every step of the way.”
And in the most surreal moment of Jensen’s life, he looked to Chad for guidance. “What should I do?”
“You make him love you. Out loud and proud.”
turn a little faster
come on, come on
the world will follow after
come on, come on
‘cause everybody's after love
Even Jensen, as hesitant as he was to find his footing in this brave new world where he could love another guy and maybe that guy would love him back, couldn’t ignore the huge, glaring, neon signs that were his postcards from Jared. With three days still left on his European adventure, Jared had now sent Jensen close to forty postcards, multiple ones touting sights from every city he’d visited, each one of them special and sweet in their own right.
Now, Jensen had never had such a girlish inclination before in his life, but apparently loving Jared – because he could say that now, if only in the seclusion of his own psyche – made him all sentimental and shit.
He had the postcards arranged in a tidy pile on his dresser – not spread out or anything, ‘cause he wasn’t that far gone yet – all in chronological order, and though it shamed him to admit it, he could have recited their two- or three-line greetings from memory, Jared’s messy scrawl taking up all the blank space on one half of the card, whereas Jensen’s address was carefully block-lettered on the lined half; all of them signed with a large, looped ‘J.’
running down into the spring that's coming, all this love
melting under blue skies
belting out sunlight
Jensen stood on Jared’s doorstep in Vancouver and cursed himself for being every kind of fool he could think of. Christ. Could he be more of a girl? The fuck was it about Jared that got him so tied up in knots, apart from the unrequited lovey-dovey shit? And it’s not like he was going to be alone with Jared (and Sandy, the still rational part of his brain reminded him); in fact, Jensen could hear the din of voices and strains of music filter through the front door of Jared’s house, sounds of the party in full swing inside, welcoming everyone back to work.
Maybe that was the problem. Seeing Jared after all this time apart – now that he’d finally manned up and admitted to his own feelings, now that he’d decided that he was going to try and get Jared to love him back, now that he had a plan (no matter that it had come from Chad of all people), now that he was ready – it just figured that they were going to be surrounded by a roomful of people.
He probably wouldn’t even get a patented Padalecki hug before Jared had to go and play host to the rest of the crowd. It almost made Jensen turn around and walk away, but instead he stepped up and rang the doorbell, three staccato sharp rings, three long, three short again: SOS, his signature.
Seconds later, Jared threw open the door, a little out of breath like he’d run all the way there, and Jensen just…looked, falling, tumbling, head over feet in love with the big lug. Christ, he was so fucking screwed, and yet here he was getting accosted by Jared, both of them grinning like idiots as they hugged hard, not a lick of breathing space between their bodies as Jared wrapped his arms around Jensen, holding on like he was never letting go, and goddamn, it felt really, spectacularly good.
“Hi,” Jared whispered in his ear, humming contentedly.
“Hey,” Jensen whispered right back, completely unable to control his manic grin, especially considering how much self-control it was taking not to bury his face in the soft skin of Jared’s bare neck and just breathe. How long they stood there, Jensen wasn’t sure, but several people from the crew had passed them by, laughing and shaking their heads as they waved and greeted him. “Rude, dude,” Jensen said finally, making no move to release Jared. “At least offer me a beer, asshole.”
Jared passed him the bottle in his hand in an over-the-shoulder move. “What’s mine is yours, man.”
“Including your backwash?” Jensen asked, grabbing the bottle and taking a long sip anyway.
“You love my backwash.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“You just gonna let me hold on to you like this for as long as I want?”
“Got nothing better to do at the moment.”
“You totally missed me.”
“No maybe about it,” Jared declared smugly, squishing him tighter, practically lifting his feet off the ground in his enthusiasm as Jensen laughed, thrilled to be truly back where he belonged. “I missed you so much, Jensen.”
“Me too,” Jensen responded, hugging Jared a little harder, happier than he’d been in a really long time, and he totally blamed his next lapse in judgment on the giddy rush of endorphins running through his veins: He kissed Jared. Just on the cheek, though, thank God for small mercies.
Still, the action was out of character for him, so much so that Jared pulled back in surprise, even if he didn’t completely relinquish his hold on Jensen. “You kissed me.”
“You’re delusional,” Jensen teased him, soaking up Jared’s big, dimpled grin like it was succor for his soul.
“You kissed me.”
“Stark, raving mad…”
“Jensen Ackles kissed me.”
“I hear the air gets thinner at higher altitudes; that would explain a lot.”
Jared, still grinning like the loon he was, goddamn nuzzled him. “Jensen Ackles loves me.”
“My momma’s an English teacher, Jen; you don’t think she taught me a few big words?”
“So you’re not just a pretty face?”
“Brains and beauty, asshole.”
“I guess I’ll just have to bring the brawn then.”
“You do that.” Jared smiled down at him happily, making him feel more whole than he’d felt maybe ever. “I’m gonna have to hug you again. Fair warning.”
Jensen sighed long-sufferingly and held his arms open. “Knock yourself out.”
“Welcome home, Jen.”
“Good to be back, Jay. So damn good to be back.”
to the strawberry ice cream
never ever end, all this love
well, I didn't mean to do it but
there's no escaping your love
He let it go, he allowed himself to regain his equilibrium, talking to the people he would be working with again in about three days' time. Still, he never did well with crowds, and it didn’t make a difference that he knew most of the people milling about around him; even now, it was a bit much, and when he saw an opportunity to escape, he took it, heading down to the unfinished basement where he knew the mutts would be.
He wasn’t disappointed; Harley and Sadie nearly knocked him flat in their enthusiasm to greet him, and rolling around on the plush rug where their doggy cushions lay, he let them slobber all over him as they made it very clear how glad they were to see him again.
“I love that my babies love you so much.”
Jensen startled at the sound of Jared’s voice and when he looked up at him from where he was currently sacked out on Sadie’s big, poufy pillow, he blushed a little. “Just getting reacquainted.”
“They missed you.”
“I missed them,” Jensen admitted as Jared settled down next to him, holding the big bowl in his hands away from his two curious canines. “Is that for me?”
“It’s for us,” he replied with a small smile, handing Jensen one of the spoons in his hand. “Dunno why you can’t like chocolate like everyone else, though.”
“You could’ve just gotten two bowls. You know that, right?” Jensen asked, moaning a little as he let a spoonful of the creamy, sweet strawberry ice cream – the kind that came without the bits of fruit swirled within it, just the way Jensen liked it – melt in his mouth.
“Nah. Too much work,” Jared teased, this cute little smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he snuggled into Jensen’s side.
“Surprised you got two spoons,” Jensen taunted right back, laughing when Jared tossed his spoon over his shoulder and opened his mouth instead, patiently waiting for Jensen to feed him, which Jensen did, the sweet treat-laden spoon flying a zig-zagging path to its final destination, sound effects and all; Jensen had had plenty of flight practice feeding his nephew, Logan. “We take co-dependency to soaring new heights, man.”
“I’m cool with it if you are, mon capitan.”
“I’m cool, period. Dork.”
Jared grabbed Jensen’s hand and spooned himself another mouthful of ice cream, sighing in contentment. “How was Australia?” he asked of Jensen’s recent CW promo trip.
“Awesome. Really beautiful, you should come next time.” Jensen smiled at the random memories that popped into his head. “We had a blast.”
“You and Danni?”
“Yeah,” Jensen breathed. “We’re better as friends.”
“And you’re good now?”
“Don’t I look good?” Jensen teased, a little taken aback when Jared’s hazel-eyed gaze pierced him with their intensity as he looked, silently studying him even as he reached out with that big hand of his and rubbed his palm slowly over Jensen’s head, from his forehead and over his crown until it came to rest at his nape, squeezing gently.
Finally satisfied with whatever he’d seen in Jensen’s own eyes, he nodded as if to himself and said, “Better than good. Great.”
mean we're never alone,
never alone, no, no
come on, come on
move a little closer
come on, come on
I want to hear you whisper
come on, come on
settle down inside my love
They couldn’t stay hidden away in the basement forever, even though it was obvious how reluctant they both were to leave, so they soon returned to the party and went back to mingling with their colleagues. But every now and again they met up with each other, Jared giving his shoulders a friendly squeeze, Jensen tossing him a secret smile in return, and whether their eyes met across the room or over his shoulder, something sparked in the air between them, something white-hot and electric, something that fired up all his nerve endings, something that sent his blood singing through his veins.
He could hardly breathe when Jared came up to him later, his big hand possessive at the nape of Jensen’s neck as he leaned down and whispered in his ear, “Stay the night. I made up the guestroom upstairs for you.”
“Got you some stuff from Europe,” Jared said by way of explanation, “wanted to be alone to give it to you.”
“Oh,” was all Jensen managed in response. “I got you something from Sydney, too. It’s at the hotel. I’ll give it to you later.”
“Awesome!” Jared shot him a sly look. “Is it a watch?”
“Way to ruin my surprise, jerk,” Jensen groused, keeping the knowledge of the hand-painted mini-didgeridoo, the stuffed kangaroo and koala, both with little red boxing gloves on their paws that he knew Jared would love, and the doggie toys for the kids, to himself.
“So predictable,” Jared laughed. “But I love watches, so I’m not complaining.”
“Hey, remember the last time we went to London, you wanted to get that little red phone booth to go with your little Black Cab?”
“Yeah, but we were late for our flight and didn’t get a chance to shop at Heathrow.” Jared pulled out a perfect miniature replica of an English phone booth, and Jensen grinned. “Thanks, man. I can’t believe you remembered!”
“And when I was in Dublin, I found this – look, it’s got a real four-leaf clover inside.” Jensen leaned in close as Jared showed it to him, their heads touching as he smiled at the tiny clover leaf encased in the glass key tag. “So you’ll always have good luck, and…” Jared grinned as Jensen bumped his shoulder in thanks, “because you’re always cold, I got you a fluffy Aran sweater.”
“Jared,” Jensen gently admonished, “you shouldn’t have.”
“I wanted to,” Jared told him with a smile, tapping a finger against Jensen’s nose, “’cause I knew it would put that look on your face.”
“That one,” he said, smiling as if he was in on a secret that Jensen wasn’t privy to, “that happy, little boy smile that no one else hardly ever gets to see.”
Jensen stared at his best friend and then shook his head, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment. “You’re such a sap.”
“Takes one to know one.”
“Whatever,” Jensen groused, cuddling his new sweater. “What else did you get me?”
“Here, asshole.” Jared pulled out a wooden box, and Jensen ripped into the cellophane wrapping around it to open it; this box, judging by the tartan pattern it was covered in, was a souvenir from Scotland. “Because you have this strange addiction to jam.”
“Dude, you bought me a boxful of jam?” Jensen asked gleefully, eagerly opening the box and perusing the flavors in the tiny little bottles inside. “Mmm. Orange and brandy. Strawberry and champagne, pineapple and cognac – I’m sensing a theme here – lemon curd, plum preserve, brambleberry – the fuck is brambleberry? – spicy apple chutney, mmm, and…banoffee curd? Dude. I love you!”
“It’s a sample box,” Jared said, his smile just shy of smug. “I figure we could try them all and choose our favorites and then order the bigger jars online.” Jensen nodded in agreement and didn’t think anything else could top that but the pewter beer stein from Germany came pretty close. “I got one for me too,” Jared told him, “and one each for our dads and brothers.” And then there was the mango and cayenne dark chocolate slab and the little pink Swiss Army knife he’d picked up on a stopover in Zurich, a little toy windmill from Amsterdam, and a few cans of Guinness from Ireland.
Jensen stared at the tiny pen-knife in his palm, and had to work to hide his smile. “Pink’s your favorite color, Jay, not mine.”
Jared chuckled, his hand finding the back of Jensen’s neck again and squeezing. “What’s mine is yours.”
“Thanks, Jared.” Jensen looked at him, smiling, leaning in close enough to nuzzle Jared’s cheek with his nose – yes, nuzzle, because he couldn’t help himself, and there was no one there to judge him and call him a goddamn sissy – “I love everything,” he breathed, his heart beating faster as Jared nuzzled him back, his nose finding that sensitive spot behind Jensen’s ear, the absent brush of his lips right there sending tremors through his body.
“You’re welcome,” Jared said. “I really missed you…”
They pulled back just far enough to look each other in the eye, but still close enough to be breathing the same air, and to be quite honest, Jensen didn’t know what would have happened if Sandy hadn’t walked into the dimly lit kitchen just then, turning on the overhead lights as she did, unsettling them and disturbing the magic of the moment with a flick of a switch.
“You guys are still up?” she asked drowsily, walking over until she perched on Jared’s thigh, as Jensen surreptitiously leaned away. She looked at the souvenirs littering the table. “What’s all this?”
“The stuff I got for Jensen.”
Sandy blinked, her eyes not wavering from the table for a long, quiet moment. “This was all for Jensen? I thought it was for a few of your friends…”
“No,” Jared smiled, his arms winding around her tiny body as Jensen averted his eyes, “the stuff I got for the family and everyone else, I sent in the mail from London. This, I saved to give Jen myself.”
“Huh,” Sandy said, her jaw a little tight as she looked at the table again before finding Jensen’s gaze and holding it. “Did you tell him yet?”
“Tell me what?” Jensen asked, not liking the look in her eyes, a little catty and a lot calculating. Then she blinked and that look was gone and even as Jensen wondered if he’d imagined it, she smiled at him.
“Jared proposed to me in Paris,” she declared, triumph in her tone as Jensen's heart stopped. Jared sputtered indignantly.
“Sandy!” he exclaimed huffily. “I wanted to tell him!”
“You had all night!”
“That’s beside the point! He’s my best friend, and I wanted to tell him!”
“I’m sorry, baby,” she whined, as if only then realizing how annoyed Jared was, “I’m just as excited to tell everyone as you are, you know?” The fight seeped right out of Jared at that, and Jensen just barely managed to breathe and find his voice.
“Wow,” he said, almost choking on the words. “That’s…that’s amazing!”
“Yeah?” Jared asked, a shy smile on his face as he looked at Jensen. “We were in Paris. It just felt like the thing to do.” Sandy smacked him, and he hastened to add, “You know, because of all the romance and shit.”
“No ring yet,” Sandy told Jensen with an exasperated but fond look in Jared’s direction. “Jared’s letting me pick my own ring.”
“A lot easier than getting one I think you might like and then trying to exchange it later,” Jared grumbled, and the sheer domesticity of their exchange grated on Jensen’s nerves, and if he didn’t get out of this goddamn kitchen soon, he was going to lose his shit.
“Well, congratulations,” he said, forcing the words past the lump in his throat, standing up to pull Sandy, and then Jared into a hug, even though it was just about the last thing he wanted to do. “I’m so happy for you both. Congratulations.”
He held himself together by sheer force of will, corralling every instinct to cry or lash out or scream or curl up into a ball and die, and he pushed it down deep, hid it from himself and whoever else might be watching. He made himself breathe – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale – until the first slivers of light snuck into the room through the closed curtains, and then he jumped off the bed like it was on fire, but even in his haste to get the hell away, he had the sense not to make any noise, making good on his escape so stealthily that he didn’t even rouse the dogs.
He called a cab from the corner and waited for it well out of sight of Jared’s house, and thirty minutes later, he was sitting on the bed in his hotel suite, staring blankly at the striped wallpaper, his brain resolutely refusing to process any further thoughts. How long he sat there, he couldn’t be sure, but it was probably the closest he’d ever gotten to lapsing into catatonic shock.
It was the alarm on his phone that finally snapped him out of it, at least marginally, and turning it off, he kept staring at his phone; before he knew it, he was scrolling through his contacts, anger and bile rising in his throat.
“’Lo?” Jensen breathed hard, the words he wanted to scream out somehow lodging themselves in his throat. The groggy voice on the phone stopped mid-greeting and then asked, “Jensen? You better not be drunk dialing me, bitch. Unlike you, some of us need our beauty sleep! Jensen? I can hear you breathing, moron, and it’s creeping me out – the fuck do you want?”
“They’re engaged,” Jensen finally said.
“Jared and Sandy, Chad!” Jensen growled, his grip on the phone tightening to the point of pain. “They got fucking engaged in Paris!”
“Yeah,” Jensen snapped, forcing the air in and out of his lungs because even breathing had become involuntary all of a sudden.
“Jensen…” The soft, apologetic tone of Chad’s voice broke something inside him, and no matter how hard he tried, all his self-control went flying out the window as he shouted into his phone.
“Still think I’m winning, asshole?”
He broke his phone that morning, shattering it as he threw it against the wall, unable to listen to anything Chad had to say after Jensen went practically hoarse from yelling so loud. Everything he did after that, he did by rote, shedding his clothes and letting them land wherever they fell from his body as he stumbled into the shower and turned the spray on as hot as it he could stand it without scalding, the pressure as punishing as he could bear it without being bruised.
He stayed in there until even he couldn’t tell the difference between the hot water and his tears.
He fell into bed clad only in his towel, and slept from sheer exhaustion alone. When he woke and got a better grip of himself a few hours later, he rolled out of bed and got dressed, staring at his reflection and marveling at how normal it looked for a good long while before he left the room, car keys in hand, ready to spend the day outside in the cold air, hoping it would clear his head.
He drove to Morton’s Steakhouse first, and from there it was a short trip to the Sweet Factory in Burnaby. Next, he made a quick run to a nearby Rogers Wireless store to get a replacement phone, making sure to drop by the florist just down the street from there, and making his final stop at the butcher shop a couple of blocks away.
He drove to Jared’s house once his errands were done and, keeping what he hoped looked like a real smile pasted on his face, he presented the newly engaged couple with a gift certificate for a romantic dinner for two, forcing himself not to flinch when he gave Sandy the flowers he’d bought and she hugged him, ignoring the pang he felt when Jared playfully pouted and demanded his own gift, standing there and taking it when his best friend – because that’s all he would ever be now – gleefully hugged him after getting his gift basket of assorted candy, and his watch and didgeridoo from Australia.
He was pretty sure his only genuine emotion was when Harley and Sadie jumped him in thanks for their big, meaty treats and their doggie toys from the land down under.
Jensen left well before he could lose it again, and he spent the next few nights staring at the ceilings and walls all over his hotel suite while he avoided calls from Jared and Chad, his friends, and his family, and he didn’t see Jared until filming resumed, and when he couldn’t find an excuse not to spend any time alone with Jared, he didn’t allow himself to feel anything.