“How can he just be gone?” Mike mutters.
Misha presses a cool cloth to Chris’s forehead. They’ve cleaned and stitched his leg, and thankfully Chris remained unconscious through that part. Chris bats away the cloth; he’s awake now and pissed. “Quit mothering me.”
“You’re hurt. Get over it,” Danneel says flatly.
Chris raises himself off the mattress and glances at Chad, who’s resting on a cot close by. Jared is hovering next to him, checking his IV and bandages.
“You should get some rest, Jared,” Mike offers. “We can watch them.”
Jared shakes his head, rubbing at his eyes. Chris is going to pull through. He’s already spitting insults and bitching at them for being mother hens. Things look good for Chad, but Jared knows he’s not out of the woods yet. Head wounds can be tricky, and this isn’t exactly John Hopkins.
“Someone needs to find Jensen,” Chris says for the fifth time.
“How?” Danneel asks bluntly. “He took off. We looked up and he was gone. Where do you think he’d go? Because I’m all ears.” In a world that has been chewed up and spit out by a violent war, there isn’t any place to go, and they all know that.
“Jensen’s not one for grand gestures,” Chris continues. “Maybe he went back to the fields.” No one calls that for the bullshit it is. It’s the middle of the night, and as talented as Jensen might be, he can’t see in the dark. The last thing Jensen will do is draw attention to the camp.
“Or maybe he finally snapped,” Misha points out quietly.
“Then what pushed him over the edge?” Chris continues.
Jared stares down at Chad, who’s unconscious, at Chris, who’s seriously wounded, and lifts his eyebrow. He doesn’t know Jensen as well as the others, but if what they’ve always said about him is true, if anything was going to push their would-be leader over the edge, seeing two of his friends badly injured would probably do it.
“Jensen doesn’t just leave,” Chris growls. “That’s not him. Not like this.”
“He’s not coming back, is he?” Mike murmurs, finally giving voice to what they’re all thinking, but too afraid to say. “People don’t just leave. Not here. And with the machines – I mean, fuck, you guys were attacked, and if Jensen went out there –”
“Wait, do you hear that?” Jared asks, craning his head. It’s definitely an engine.
“Right, then,” Chris says with a nod as he pushes himself off the bed.
Jared nearly trips over his own legs to get to Chris. “Whoa, what the hell are you doing?”
“I’m gonna kick his ass,” Chris growls, daring Jared to tell him no.
“And if that’s not Jensen?” Misha asks.
Chris doesn’t miss a beat. “It’s Jensen.”
Jared sighs, dragging his hand through his hair. “At least take the crutches.”
Between Mike, him and Danneel, they get Chris up the ladder. It’s against all of Jared’s good judgment, but he knows there’s not a damn thing he can do to keep Chris from his pound of flesh.
There’s no question who’s approaching them, sauntering through the shadows, face hidden in shades of gray. Danneel calls his name and Mike curses under his breath. Jensen comes closer, his footsteps steady in the warmth of the night.
Chris is wobbling toward him, awkward at best, and he drops one crutch in the dirt when Jensen’s within arm’s reach. His fist connects with Jensen’s jaw with a pop, and Jared winces as Jensen’s head snaps to the side.
Jensen lifts an eyebrow as blood starts to seep from his lip. “Finished?”
“For now,” Chris spits.
Jensen nods, resigned and deserving. He holds his position as if he expects Chris to take another swing at him, and it’s apparent he’s not going to do anything if he does. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m alive, no thanks to you.”
“Good. That’s good.” Jensen swallows, and Jared wishes he’d come closer to the light so he can see his face, so he can see the secrets hidden in the depths of his eyes.
“And Chad’s okay, too. In case you were wondering,” Chris growls, using his crutch to slap Jensen’s knee. No one’s asking the one question they all want to know: where the fuck were you?
Jensen grunts, swallowing what looks an awful lot like pain, and Jared steps forward. Jensen’s leather jacket is ripped and his pants are torn. What the hell happened to him?
“I wanna see him.”
“What about you, Jensen?” Jared asks. “Are you –”
“I need to see him,” Jensen growls. It’s inhuman and low, a hiss from bloody lips, and Jared backs out of his way.
Jared shares a look of concern with Mike and Danneel as Jensen walks past them to the makeshift medical unit.
Jensen’s standing over Chad, staring down without blinking as they carefully assist Chris back into the room. Jared tries to get Chris to lie down, but he shoves him out of the way with his crutch, eyes glued to Jensen, who stares through bloodshot eyes.
Jensen raises his left hand, fingers clenched so tight his scraped knuckles are bleached white, and he sets something down on the bedside table. Jared studies the object – it’s nothing more than a small red light, about the size of a silver dollar, with wires hanging from the end.
“Holy mother of fuck,” Chris whispers, eyes wide and face devoid of color.
Danneel’s holding her hand over her mouth, eyes tracking between the object and Jensen. “Is that… Jensen, what did you do?”
In a moment of crystal clarity, Jared realizes what it is. It’s the eye of a machine.
Jensen’s hand ghosts over Chad’s hair. “I’m sorry.”
There’s blood on Jensen’s wrist. It’s dried now, but it’s there. Machines don’t go down easily. Whatever happened out there wasn’t easy and certainly wasn’t pretty. Jensen, what the fuck did you do?
“Hey, Jensen,” Jared says gently, keeping his voice low and even. “How about I take a look and make sure you’re okay?”
Jensen’s gaze slides to him, unhurried and unconcerned. “I’m fine.”
Jared swallows and doesn’t know what he’ll do if Jensen flat out refuses. “Maybe I could take a look anyway? Please?”
Jensen nods to Chad, dismissing Jared’s concern immediately. “Look after him.”
Danneel reaches out and Jensen backs away. He shakes his head like he doesn’t know why he just did that. “Honey, we’ll stay with Chad. We’ve got first aid training, too. It’ll be fine.”
“He’ll be fine,” Chris promises. “We’ll all stay.” He mouths to Jared, “He’ll be more comfortable in his room.” As shell-shocked as Jensen is right now, he needs something familiar, something safe.
“But only if you go,” Mike says aloud.
Jensen’s eyes drop, and he shuts down, shoulders tilting in. “You’re right. I should go.”
“With Jared,” Mike amends quickly. “You should go with Jared.” Mike glances at Jared, and he looks afraid, like he doesn’t know what to say. None of them knows what to say right now. They’re skating on thin ice that’s cracking all around them.
“Okay, come on, Jen,” Jared says, grasping at straws. He hopes like hell Jensen will follow him. “Let’s go, yeah?”
Jared nods. “Yeah, unless you’d rather someone else go with you?” It’s hard to get the words out. He wants what’s best for Jensen and if that’s not him, he’ll understand. He has no right to Jensen, no claim, and he’ll be the first to step aside as long as Jensen gets whatever treatment he might need.
Jensen shakes his head, forehead wrinkling at the thought. “Gotta stay with Chad.”
“We are, baby,” Danneel promises gently. “Just go with Jared. We want to make sure you’re okay, too.”
“I’m fine,” Jensen repeats, and Jared feels like they’ve fallen into the Twilight Zone. They’re familiar words falling from Jensen’s bruised lips, words he’s said a thousand times before. It doesn’t matter if they’re true or not; he just says them because that’s what he always says, a habit as familiar as breathing.
“Come on, Jen,” Jared repeats, reaching for his elbow. He gives a silent cry for joy when Jensen doesn’t immediately pull away. He guides him to the ladder, all eyes watching them closely, and when Jensen stares at it for a few seconds like it’s a complex Chinese puzzle, Jared reaches for his hands and sets them on a rung. “Up.”
It’s a small order, but Jensen starts moving and Jared follows closely. If he falls, he’s going to fall on Jared, which beats hitting concrete.
Jared leans down to close the hatch, and Danneel is standing underneath, staring up at him. “Take care of him, okay?”
Jared glances across the room to Mike and Chris, and he knows they’re entrusting him with something important, something precious. “Yeah, I will.”
He closes the hatch and guides Jensen to his room.
“So he did snap,” Misha concludes after he checks Chad’s IV.
“Watch it,” Chris growls.
There are a lot of things he knows about Jensen; things he’s willing to accept and things he understands because he’s been with him for so long. Chris has seen Jensen take hit after hit, never going down, never surrendering. Always willing to go the extra mile to keep the camp alive. He’s not naïve – Jensen is far from perfect. He always wondered what it would take to make Jensen snap, and now he knows.
“Unless machines are walking around offering their eye sockets, there’s only one way that went down,” Mike says.
“What kind of machine was it?” Danneel asks. She wasn’t around when Chad, Chris, Mike and Jensen first encountered that machine, but she’s heard Chad’s stories about how he’d taken out its eye from over one hundred yards, buying them enough time to get away.
“It was a BD.”
The room falls silent at the name. A Bringer of Death – the war machine built to take down cities.
Misha whistles and shakes his head. “I thought you said he wasn’t one for grand gestures.”
Jensen drops into his room ahead of Jared. Jared hopes the familiar surroundings will settle his nerves. Even if he doesn’t want to talk, hopefully he’ll be a compliant patient.
“Let’s get your jacket off,” Jared says as he reaches for the torn leather. Jensen backs up almost immediately and Jared sighs. Shock is a powerful condition, and if Jensen is hiding something serious, Jared needs to know. “Would you rather I get Danneel or Mike?” Or anyone. He’ll wake up the whole camp if he has to.
“I said I’m fine,” Jensen grumbles. He’s swaying on his feet, eyes blinking rapidly as he tries to focus, and Jared can clearly see the dried blood on his hands.
Jared’s at a loss, and the five feet Jensen stands away from him might as well be another continent. “I don’t know what the magic word is,” Jared says quietly.
Jensen tilts his head to the side, green eyes focusing on him for the first time since he came back. “Magic word?”
Jared nods. “Whatever it takes for you to let me help. Just tell me the magic word, and I’ll say it. Please, Jen. Just let me help you.” He’s pleading now, begging for Jensen to let him get close.
Whatever nonsense just flowed out of his mouth seems to unlock something in Jensen, and he pulls off his jacket with a hiss. Jared’s eyes track the movement and his gaze lands on the frayed tee shirt underneath. It’s tattered and ripped; what was once white is now tinged coppery brown. Jared waves his hand to the material barely clinging to Jensen’s shoulders. “Your shirt.”
Jensen’s gaze slides lazily down. “What about it?”
If it wasn’t so heartbreaking, Jared might laugh. “Take it off.”
“Didn’t realize you were in such a hurry to see me naked.”
Jared’s not sure if that’s a joke, if he should laugh or deny it or rip the offending piece of cloth off Jensen’s body and be done with it. Everything he thinks he knows about Jensen just got turned on its head, and he might as well be standing across from a complete stranger.
“You gotta work with me,” Jared says. “Just take it off, okay?” Jensen clumsily pulls at the frayed hem, his fingers struggling to grip the torn material. “I can help. If you want, I can –”
“I got it,” Jensen says flatly, his fingers finally finding purchase and starting to tug.
Jared turns around to give him the illusion of privacy and searches the room for supplies. There’s a water basin that he fills with clean water from a sealed plastic bag. It’s probably meant for Jensen’s shower later. There’s a kit under the bedside table with tweezers, bandages and ointment inside. Jensen’s better prepared than Jared thought.
From the corner of his eye, he sees what used to be a tee shirt drop to the floor. He keeps his instructions simple, curt, but not harsh. Jensen doesn’t deserve callousness. “Get on the bed.” Jensen’s gaze scans the room, and Jared worries he’s going to bolt. Or worse, he’s going to tell Jared to leave. He sees cuts on Jensen’s shoulders, and from this angle most of them look superficial. “Need something?”
“A towel,” Jensen says. “I don’t want to get anything on the bed.”
Jared tenses his jaw so he doesn’t blurt out just how bad is it? He finds a towel in the improvised shower. Jensen backs up as he approaches, and he spreads the towel across the foot of the bed. “That okay?”
Jensen looks at the towel, swallowing. “You should check on Chad.”
Jared shakes his head, not wanting to go over this again. “Chad’s with Chris, Misha, Danneel and Mike. They’re watching him.” He pats the end of the bed. “Just let me check. I’ll make it quick.”
“Fine, I know. Let me look anyway. I’ll just worry if you don’t.”
“Shouldn’t worry,” Jensen mutters as he stretches out on the bed over the towel, resting his legs off the side. He hisses, swallowing a grunt of pain. His muscles quiver as he tries to find a comfortable position.
Jared shifts the light so he can see better and leans over Jensen, eyes widening at the mess on his back. The words are out before he can stop them. “Jesus fucking Christ, Jensen!”
Jensen pulls his arms underneath him, pushing up on his elbows as he struggles to rise. He grunts in pain, trying to swallow it down as blood oozes down his back.
“No, no,” Jared says, finding the one patch of clean skin on Jensen’s shoulder and pressing his hand there. “Stay put. I just… how did this…?” Jensen grunts, studying something across the room, eyes unblinking. Jared pushes on his elbow, a gentle prod. “Lie back down.”
Jensen stays stock still, body half risen from the bed, every muscle in his back rigid. The tension has to be pulling on the cuts, stretching the abused skin tighter.
“Please, Jensen,” Jared pleads.
Finally, Jensen stretches out, pillowing his head on his arm and letting the other fall off the side of the bed.
Jared waits a few seconds to make sure Jensen’s not going to move before retrieving the basin of water and a clean cloth. There’s gravel and rocks embedded in his skin, blood caked with dirt across the scratches in his back. The enormity and responsibility of this is overwhelming, and it’s a task that should be done in a hospital or at least a doctor’s office. “Um… Jensen? This might not be quick.”
Jensen nods once, rolling his forehead against his folded arm, resigned. He’s not surprised. “Just do it.”
It takes Jared two hours to clean the marred flesh, to dig the pebbles and pieces of debris out of Jensen’s back. Old scars crisscross with fresh cuts. Jensen’s back is the storybook of his life, one hundred lifetimes written in his flesh. It’s intimate and heartbreaking, and Jared feels like he has no right to be touching Jensen like this.
Jensen never says a word, just quiet exhales of pain, shoulders quivering as Jared washes the blood away. Jared never stops talking; soft apologies and tender praise fill the room as he works. He covers Jensen’s back with ointment, keeping his touch as light as possible. He bandages the worst cuts as best he can. Jensen’s eyes are closed, eyelashes feathering his cheeks, and before Jared can think about it, he presses the tiniest kiss to Jensen’s shoulder, nothing more than a puff of air.
“I think that’s it,” Jared says as he stands. He coughs, tamping his emotions down. It’s intense and too much. It’s everything and nothing, and he feels like he’s drowning. “It’s the best I can do. I’m sorry.” His best doesn’t feel like nearly enough.
“’S fine,” Jensen mumbles, using his elbows to crawl up the bed. He swallows grunts of pain with the quiet stoicism that Jared’s come to associate with him.
Jared removes the towel, folds it and sets it aside to be washed. He scrubs his hands, watching as the water tinges red. He tells himself he can’t leave yet; if Jensen needs something during the night, he’s hardly in a position to get it himself. Jared knows the truth, though: he needs to stay more than Jensen needs him here. He can’t leave Jensen alone. Not now, not after this. Not after nearly losing an incredible person whom he hasn’t had the chance to get to know.
He sits on the chair in the corner of the room, hoping Jensen won’t notice. If he stays real quiet, there’s a chance…
Green eyes open and land on him like pinpoint lasers. “What’re you doing?”
“I thought I’d, you know, just hang around in case you need something.” He needs to be close to Jensen right now like he needs oxygen. He can’t explain or justify it. He just needs… Please let me stay.
“You need to rest, Jared.”
Exhaustion pricks at the backs of his eyes, so Jared doesn’t deny it. He feels strung out, worn down, and so fucking tired he could stretch out on Jensen’s concrete floor and sleep for a week. “Yeah, I know.” But some things are more important than sleep.
Jensen nods as he slides an arm under his body and shuffles to one side of the bed. “Come on, then.”
Jared’s leg falls off his knee and he sits up abruptly. Is Jensen actually offering what Jared thinks – and can’t dare to hope – he’s offering? “I’m not sure I understand.”
Jensen’s eyes drift closed, and Jared wills him to answer. “Only if you want.”
Jensen’s no wilting flower. He’ll tell Jared if he’s misinterpreted. Jared walks to the bed slowly; it’s like being a trance. He kicks off his shoes and stretches out on the bed, trying to jostle Jensen as little as possible.
Jensen rolls his head and rests his chin on his right shoulder. Jared can’t think, can’t breathe, and he bites his lower lip and turns so he’s resting on his side.
“I’m sorry,” Jared murmurs. He thought he wouldn’t be able to pull his gaze from Jensen’s injuries, but when he’s this close, Jared can’t look at anything but his eyes. It’s one of the most intimate moments in his life.
“’S not your fault, Jared,” Jensen says softly. “You didn’t do this.”
Jared shakes his head. If something had happened to Jensen today, Jared wouldn’t have been able to forgive himself. The shit he said to him the other day, the accusations and assumptions he spit from his lips. He was wrong, so terribly wrong. “The other day, in the field, what I said to you. I had no right…”
Jensen’s eyes narrow, a frown marring his face. “Don’t, okay? This doesn’t change anything.”
Huh? “What? Jensen, what you did today, although stupid – don’t ever do that again, okay?” He has a feeling he’s not going to be the only one saying that.
“I didn’t do anything, Jared. I wasn’t thinking. After I saw Chris, and then Chad...” He shivers, burying his face in his arms. “I wanted blood. I wanted revenge. That machine was gonna fuckin’ die for what it did. If it was the last thing I did.” Jared bites his lip and risks skimming his fingers over Jensen’s shoulder. It nearly was the last thing Jensen did. “I’m not a hero; never was and never will be. Don’t let this change your mind about me. It was never about that.”
Words slip past Jared’s lips before his mind has time to filter them. “I think you’re amazing.” Even if he didn’t think the words through, that doesn’t make them any less true. Jensen huffs, and Jared knows Jensen doesn’t believe him. He’s not surprised; he went from calling him an asshole to calling him amazing.
“Please don’t,” Jensen murmurs as he squeezes his eyes closed.
“Okay, I’ll stop.” One day Jared will tell him all the reasons why, but today he’ll savor this and be thankful he’s been given the opportunity to be here, to be with Jensen. Jared presses his lips to Jensen’s shoulder and settles against the pillow. Jensen’s eyes don’t open, and Jared watches him as his body finally relaxes, his features smoothing out.
Sometime during the night, callused fingers wrap around his and Jared smiles as Jensen follows him into his dreams.
Jensen wakes with a groan, body protesting as he shifts position. Jared lifts his head, instantly awake, with his hair sticking in all directions. “You okay?”
Jensen was hoping he’d be able to adjust positions without waking Jared. It’s been a long time since he’s shared his bed with anyone; lying here next to Jared, despite the throbbing pain in his back, feels nice.
Jensen nods, pressing Jared back down with the flat of his hand. “Just trying to get comfortable.” Jared takes his hand and holds it close, lowering his gaze. Jensen squeezes once, it’s okay.
There’s so much Jensen wants to say, wants to ask. Never in a million years did he expect Jared to follow him back to his room last night. He knew he’d fucked up his back; that machine dragged him for a half mile before he was able to finally cut the cable and bring it down. He figured he’d come back, keep vigil over Chris and Chad, then lick his wounds in private and beg forgiveness in the morning. And then Jared happened, and Jensen allowed it. It’s more than that – Jensen relished it, treasured feeling cared for. After all the shit he’s done, he knows he doesn’t deserve this. Jensen is many things – amazing is certainly not one of them. It’s not even the same ballpark.
Fingertips ghost over his brow. “You’re thinking too much.” Jensen bites down on his lower lip, torn skin stinging from the pressure. “Hey, stop,” Jared chides, rubbing at his mouth until he releases his lip. “I wish you’d talk to me.”
Talking is not his thing. Even before the war, he wasn’t much for conversation, and most of what he did say was complete bullshit anyway. Now he just doesn’t bother. Actions speak louder than words, and what he can’t find the words for, he hopes he somehow manages to convey.
Jared sighs and traces invisible patterns on his face. “But I know you won’t, and that’s okay, too. I might never understand you, Jensen, but I want to try. God, I want to try.” Jared’s fingers curl over his jaw and rest against his throat gently. “So this is what we’re gonna do: I won’t push, and you won’t throw me out, okay?”
Jensen pauses, trying to piece together his thoughts. Does Jared actually think Jensen’s going to throw him out? Now? After what he’s done for him? What he’s doing? Jensen made every effort to shut Jared down at each pass, opting to remain distant and single-minded, and Jared still remained, and he’s here now. If anyone has been throwing mixed signals, it’s Jensen.
Jared coughs, fingers loosening. “Unless you want to throw me out. Then I get it. It’s cool, really.” Jensen nudges Jared’s hand, catching his ringer finger in his mouth and biting down, just hard enough to leave the imprints of his teeth. Jared’s eyes widen for a fraction of a second, then his eyelids lower. “Good; wasn’t going to go anyway.”
Jensen releases Jared’s finger, tongue dancing along the pad as Jared slowly pulls his hand away.
“Sleep,” Jared rumbles, resting his hand on the top of Jensen’s head. He rubs Jensen’s scalp, and Jensen fights as long as he can, but he’s only human, and Jared’s skilled fingers send him off on the wings of slumber.
Jared strides through the camp, savoring the warmth of the sun as it beats down on his back. Chris is sitting at the table with his bandaged leg stretched out in front of him as Mike fills his plate with food.
“Morning, Sunshine,” Mike says.
“Hey, guys,” Jared replies as he plops down across from them. He’s slightly disappointed to find Jensen’s not with them, but he’s not completely shocked. He just hopes Jensen’s taking it easy. If he finds out he’s gone to the fields, Jared swears he’s going to kick his ass. More likely he’ll get Danneel to it for him, because despite the night he and Jensen shared, he doubts they’re on ass-kicking terms yet.
“How’d it go?” Chris asks. There’s no question as to whom or what Chris is talking about.
Jared shrugs and rubs the back of his neck. “It went.” He can’t get the image of Jensen stretched out, swallowing grunts of pain as his back was painstakingly cleaned and wrapped, out of his head. “He was pretty banged up.”
Mike nods. “It was a BD. Not like the machine stood around while Jensen plucked out its eye.” Mike leans forward, folding his hands and trying to look disinterested when he asks, “Did Jensen tell you how that all went down?”
Jared shakes his head. “Not a word.”
“I’m not surprised,” Chris says, shrugging.
“A BD, Chris. He’s gonna have to tell us,” Mike says. “We need to know.”
Chris tips back his drink, wincing as he swallows, and Jared realizes that’s probably not water he’s drinking. The admonishment dies on his tongue when Chris says, “Not today. Today I just want to be happy we’re all alive.” Jared will drink to that, and he ladles some water from the bucket and takes several long swallows.
“At least he’s sleeping off the worst of it,” Chris muses. “I’m guessing those Vicodin took the edge off. I was hoping they still had a little punch left in them.”
“Vicodin?” Jared asks dumbly.
Chris stares at him, blinking. “Yeah, the old Vicodin bottle he’s got stashed in his dresser for emergencies. He took some, right?”
Jared bites his lip and barely resists slapping himself for not searching all of Jensen’s cabinets and drawers or asking him if he had anything to take for the pain. Considering the state Jensen was in, chances are he didn’t even remember having the bottle of stowed away medication.
“That stoic, stupid mother fucker,” Chris growls, his hand curling into a fist where it rests on his thigh. “I swear to God, my leg’s gonna heal, and I’m going to pound his pretty face in.”
Misha wanders toward them, rubbing his eyes as he fights off the last remnants of sleep. “Who are we fighting, and isn’t it a little early for pounding someone’s face in?”
Mike jerks his head up, eyeing Misha carefully. “Aren’t you supposed to be with Chad?”
“Jensen kicked me out a couple of hours ago. Said I needed to sleep. And Chad is still unconscious so I figured I’d give Jensen some privacy.”
“So you just left?” Chris asks, his voice hard.
“He basically told me to get lost,” Misha amends. “He was just trying to be polite.”
Chris drops his head on the table. “I don’t have the energy for this. I swear, if he didn’t sleep…”
“He did,” Jared says quickly. “Some, anyway.”
“Don’t believe anything Jensen tells you,” Mike says flatly. “He won’t outright lie, but he damn sure will lead you to believe whatever it is that he thinks will get you off his back.”
“No, he did. I know he did because –” Jared pauses and rubs his thumb across the grain in the old wooden table. “I know because I was with him.”
Three heads turn and all eyes are on him. Jared holds his head up, waiting for someone to say something. What, he has no idea. God, he’s suddenly seeing that scene from Dirty Dancing in his head, when Baby announces she was with Johnny when the wallets were stolen, and how is this happening to him? When did his life become a sappy chick flick from the eighties?
Chris recovers first and simply says, “Huh.”
Mike and Chris pick at their food, but Misha holds Jared’s gaze, eyes bright and assessing.
Jared rubs his face. He could lay his head on the table and sleep for another four hours if he had some peace and quiet. He has no idea what the fallout to all this is going to be. Chris’s leg is going to need time to heal, Chad is still unconscious, and Jensen is faking it until he makes it or whatever.
“So what happens now?”
“Life,” Mike says flatly. Chris flicks a piece of fruit at him which Mike catches and stuffs in his mouth. “What? I’m not Jensen, okay?”
“We’re gonna have to get back to the fields. Crops need to be watered and the corn needs to be harvested soon,” Chris says.
“You’re not going to be doing shit,” Mike says bluntly. “Unless you want to sit on your fat ass on the four-wheeler and bark out orders. You can do that if you want.”
“I’m not dead, Mike. I can still –”
“I’m going to have to agree with Mr. Rosenbaum here,” Misha interjects. “You need to rest your leg.”
“You can keep Jensen company,” Jared says. “He needs to stay off his feet. At least no bending for awhile.”
Chris drops his head on the table again. “This is going to be a disaster,” he moans as Mike pats his shoulder consolingly.
Jensen spends most of his day with Chad. He reads him two of the graphic novels Chad keeps secretly stashed under his bed. He regales him with stories of his youth, some true and some not so much. He makes up a story about a dragon, a prince and a well endowed princess because he thinks Chad would like a story like that. In the end, he simply tells him to wake up soon because they all miss him.
Misha drops into the room later with Danneel close on his heels. “Shift change,” Danneel says with so much forced cheer that Jensen’s teeth grate.
“It’s not a shift,” Jensen says, his voice hard. Is that why they think he’s doing this? He’s just taking his turn like everyone else? “I’m not here because I have to be.”
“No, baby,” she says, her voice gentling in an instant, and that just makes it worse. It’s like they’re all on eggshells around him, and he’s biting their heads off for no good reason. What makes it worse is he can’t seem to make himself stop. “We know that."
Jensen knows he’s given a lot of free rein to do whatever he wants, and his behavior often goes unchallenged, but now he just wants to feel like part of the group, to feel like he can be with them and no one’s going to wonder about an ulterior motive. It’s true what they say: he’s built this bed and now he has to lie down and die in it.
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?” Misha asks.
The question throws Jensen off guard. “Huh? I don’t – why?”
Misha gives him a patient smile. “’Cause it’s time for dinner, and you need to eat.” Jensen’s gaze falls to Chad. “We’ll get you if there’s any change.”
Jensen lifts his eyebrow, and Danneel adds, “I promise.”
Jensen nods and feels himself relent. He’s not a complete moron – he knows he should eat something. Considering the circumstances, he wouldn’t put it past Chris to have another go at him with his crutches if he doesn’t.
He pulls himself up the ladder, skin stretching across his back, and he bites his lip until he tastes the coppery tang of blood. He refuses to give voice to the pain. The last thing the group needs is someone else to worry about.
He doesn’t realize they’re already worried.
People are still milling around after the meal, and Jared knows it’s because they want to see Jensen, want to make sure he’s still in one piece. News travels fast, and the whole camp probably knew what Jensen did before he dragged himself out of bed this morning.
They’re talking about better camp defenses when Jensen ambles up. He’s walking slow, choosing his steps carefully as he studies the ground in front of him, and Jared notices immediately. Chris is tracking the sluggish movements as well. Jensen gets a plate and fills it with enough food for a person about half his size.
The camp is eerily quiet, and Jared wonders how that makes Jensen feel, when everything falls silent the second he approaches. The hush becomes unbearable, and Jared greets him because he doesn’t know what else to do. “Hey, Jensen.”
Jensen nods once, a mute greeting, and sets his plate on the table.
“So, we’re talking about a new early detection system,” Mike says, trying to steer the conversation to someplace other than awkward silence. “Solar lights. We could use them in our rooms if the guide wires are tripped. If we could get a hold of some more batteries, we could keep the alarms charged, and there’s a chance we could have more than three minutes before the machines got here.”
Jensen’s building a fortress out of his apricots and blackberries so the kale doesn’t invade. He looks up when he realizes the conversation has died around him.
Mike bites his lip and nods in Jensen’s direction. “So what do you think?”
Jensen looks as if he doesn’t have any idea why Mike’s asking for his approval, as if the entire conversation just passed him by. “Sounds good?”
Mike looks to Chris, who gives him a reassuring smile. The conversation stumbles, restarts and picks up again.
Jensen looks down and James is standing next to him, eyes wide. Jensen passes him the blackberry that’s marking the top of his makeshift fortress. James pops it in his mouth and bites down, grinning as juice drips down his chin. Jensen gives him another just to watch him smile. He ends up feeding him all the berries he has on his plate.
When he turns, Chris is watching Jared, who’s watching Jensen’s exchange with James with keen interest. Jensen opts to study his kale. It’s simpler than trying to navigate the unspoken conversation.
“I’ll do field duty with Mike tomorrow,” Jared offers. He holds out an apricot to Jensen as he keeps talking to Chris. Jensen shrugs one shoulder, wincing as the skin pulls tight across his back, and takes it, popping the small piece of fruit into his mouth. Without giving it any thought, he eats three more pieces that Jared hands him.
Jared continues to pass him bits of fruit and a broken piece of a loaf of bread. He keeps talking, and Jensen wonders if Jared even realizes he’s giving away all his food. He ends up taking whatever Jared offers him, too tired to think up a logical argument to refuse.
Some of the tension seems to fade, and the conversation moves on, topics drifting around him, and Jensen lets them all slide by. He’s exhausted, hurting and ready to wake up tomorrow and get back to his life.
When he wakes in the morning, his life still isn’t ready to get back to him.