The group watches as Jensen mentally retreats, pulling further away with each passing day. Attempts at conversation are met with grunts of dismissal, and offers of company are given Jensen’s bandage-covered back. Jensen spends most of his time with Chad and disappears almost immediately when someone comes to check on them.
Things still function and life goes on because it has to – the world stops for no one – but the void is there and everyone in the camp feels it.
“You gotta do something,” Danneel hisses as she passes a washed out pot to Chris to dry. Chris has been on light duty – Mike’s words, not his – while his leg heals. He’s handled it with the grace and dignity befitting his station, which means he bitched about it, no one listened, bitched some more, and the group came to a compromise involving food prep and dish duty.
“And what exactly do you think I should do? Beat him into his former self? You think that will work? The harder we push, the more he runs. He’s just not going anywhere.” If Chris thought punching Jensen in the face would actually accomplish something, he would have done it days ago.
Danneel sighs and scrubs the large cast iron pot much harder than necessary.
“It’ll get better,” Chris offers quietly. “Once Chad wakes up, things will get better.”
Danneel nods and wipes her nose on her sleeve. When Chris looks at her from the corner of his eye, she says, “It’s the soap.”
“Yeah, sure it is.”
They work together in silence, finishing up the evening’s dishes while the others sort seeds.
“I miss him,” Danneel whispers, flicking the suds off her fingers. The bubbles waft in the air before slowly sinking to the ground.
“Which one?” Chris asks, because these days, there’s no telling.
Danneel shrugs. “Take your pick.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Chad wakes up in the evening of the third day since he was carried back into the camp.
Everyone is crammed into the small makeshift medical unit, and Jared slips out after he makes sure Chad’s got everything he needs. If he doesn’t, there are at least six people that are willing to get him anything he asks for. He’s just about charmed Mike into bringing Betsy, or at least a piece of Betsy, down for a visit. He finds Jensen sitting on a folding chair next to the common area.
“Chad’s awake,” Jared says. It’s unnecessary because Jensen knows; he’s the one that screamed for Misha and Chris the second Chad showed the tiniest hint of movement.
“So I hear.”
Jared bites the inside of his cheek, fighting back harsh words that won’t help and certainly won’t make Jensen do anything but dig his heels even further into the dirt. “You could, you know, go say hello or something.” When Jensen doesn’t respond, Jared adds, “At least tell him you’re happy he’s not dead.”
Jensen sighs and rubs his forehead like he can will Jared away with the power of his mind alone. It makes him look older, wearier. “He knows, Jared.”
“Still, maybe you could –”
“He knows!” Jensen barks. The small explosion of fury saps whatever waning energy he has left. “Just… he knows.”
Jared nods and backs away, giving Jensen the space he thinks he needs. It looks like strategic retreat. It feels like failure.
Chad’s out of bed on the fifth day and demanding a hot shower. No one seems interested in risking him face-planting on the concrete floor, so the river is the next best thing.
After being surrounded by people for days and never having a second alone to pick his nose or get reacquainted with his right hand, his temper is short at best. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the attention; he’s Chad Michael Murray, he fucking loves the attention. But what he really wants is two seconds of peace to collect his thoughts and finally feel normal again. Or the closest possible thing to normal, whatever that might be.
“Easy,” Danneel says as she slides her arm around his waist. “Now, the water’s going to be cold. I don’t want you staying in for long.” Apparently when he woke up, he also regressed to twelve years old.
“I brought the towels,” Jared announces as he appears on Chad’s left side. He looks relaxed enough, but Chad can tell he’s poised for action if Chad so much as thinks about stumbling. It’s too much. They’re too close, hands on his body, expectations and whispers of encouragement that he just can’t take right now.
“Do you need help with your shirt?” Danneel asks as she slides her hands down his sides.
He must really be losing it, because he jerks away, leaving her grasping at air. “I got it.”
“Chad, honey, we just want to help,” Danneel replies gently.
“I just… five minutes. I need five minutes.” He stares at the ground, confused and wishing nothing more than to disappear. His friends have taken care of him when he was nothing but a liability, a dead weight, and he should be on his knees thanking them, not pushing them away.
On some level Jared must get it, because he places his hand on Danneel’s shoulder and pulls her away. “Call us if you need anything, yeah? We’ll be just over there.” He points to the hill, and Chad nods without lifting his head.
Chad waits until he can’t hear their retreating steps any longer, and he pulls his shirt over his head. It hurts, a sharp twinge through his body, and he bites his lip, refusing to give voice to the pain. His pants are easier, falling around his ankles the second he unsnaps the button. He’s lost weight.
The water separates as he inches into the lake, cool water sliding around his ankles as he takes another step. When the level reaches his thighs he drops to his knees, hands grasping at the small metal piece attached to a leather string around his neck. He stays like that, head bowed and eyes closed until his mind registers another presence, close but not threatening. Only the quiet murmurs of camp echo in the distance, but he feels eyes on his back. “Thought I asked for five minutes.”
“You didn’t ask me for shit.”
Chad turns his head and Jensen is stretched out on the bank, elbows resting on bent knees. For someone who always has something to say, a witty retort or a quick joke, Chad finds himself lacking. “Hey.”
Jensen nods once before his eyes drift away to the sky, giving Chad the privacy he thought he wanted. Chad shrugs and dips beneath the water, running his hands through his hair as he tries to wash away the dried blood that only total submersion could begin to remove. When he resurfaces, he swims a few dozen yards and feels the pull in his muscles, the warmth as they begin to stretch. His mind blanks out; all the things he figures he should say to Jensen disappear with long strokes of his arms through the murky water.
Eventually he stops swimming and just kicks his legs to keep his head above water. “The water’s real nice. You could swim, you know.”
“But you won’t.”
Jensen shakes his head. “Nope.”
And that’s the beauty of Jensen. He’s there because he wants to be. Jensen does what’s required to keep the camp running, to keep food on the table and keep people safe. He doesn’t offer his company unless he wants to, and Chad takes it for what it is: Jensen wanting to hang out here with him.
Chad tires quickly, his muscles protesting as he swims one more lap. His feet sink into the muddy water as he starts toward the shore. He’s shaking when he makes it to the riverbank, and if Jensen notices, he doesn’t comment on it or offer his assistance. Chad dries off, dragging the towel up his legs before wrapping it around his shoulders. His chest is exposed, and Jensen’s head cants to the left, his eyes studying the swinging charm that’s fastened around Chad’s neck. It’s the eye of the machine.
Without thinking, Chad wraps his hand around the mechanical piece that’s resting against his cool skin. He feels his heart racing, thudding against the knuckles of his fist. “A friend picked it up for me.”
Jensen nods once, but doesn’t look away. “Huh. Must be a good friend.”
Chad smiles, just the barest tilt of his lips. “Yeah, he is. They don’t just give these things away, you know.”
Jensen laughs, shaking his head as he shifts and narrows his gaze against the setting sun. “So I’m told.”
Chad wants to ask how he did it – how the hell Jensen managed to take down a BD where governments and highly trained militaries had failed. He wants to tell Jensen that he’s a stupid fuck for risking his life like that, for going off half-cocked even if it paid off in the end, and ask him what the hell he thought they were going to do without him because, even though no one is irreplaceable, Jensen’s pretty damn close.
Chad squeezes the burned-out LED a final time and drops his hand. “So, are you going to sit out here sunning yourself when there’s no sun left or are you going to come eat dinner?”
Jensen’s eyes crinkle around the corners as he gazes at the horizon. “It’s nice out.”
Chad stretches his towel out across the patchy grass a few feet away from Jensen and gingerly drops down. He follows Jensen’s line of sight into the distance and tries to recall the last time he stopped to watch a sunset. He comes up blank. “Yeah, it is.”
Jared and Danneel watch from a distance, ready to intervene if necessary, because neither Chad nor Jensen has any business being out of bed. To see someone like Chad, who’s always so full of life, buzzing from here to there and chatting up anyone who wants to listen and many people who don’t, settle down to watch the sun slowly sink into darkness, it’s actually peaceful. They look content. If Jared didn’t feel like he was intruding, like he’d somehow mess up the first real signs of progress he’s seen since Chris and Chad came back beat to hell and Jensen took off, he’d plop down right next to them.
“Should we get them? We should get them,” Danneel whispers. “They’re gonna sit out here all night.”
“They’re fine,” Jared replies as he wraps his hand around hers. “Let’s go help them finish up dinner.”
“You think we should leave them here? Are you sure that’s wise? It is Chad and Jensen. You’ve met them, right?”
“I don’t think they’re up for much trouble tonight.”
“It’s Chad and Jensen.”
She has a point. Danneel usually does, but Jared keeps walking. “We’ll get them later. I think they need this.”
“They need to stare at the dirt and not talk to each other?”
Jared shrugs. “It’s a guy thing.”
Two hours later Jared’s seriously reconsidering his initial assessment. Danneel’s glaring at him from across the camp, her eyes shadowed in the starry night. Just when he’s about to admit a lapse in judgment and go off to bodily drag Jensen and Chad back to camp, he hears a booming laugh followed by the sound of someone stumbling. There’s more laughter, and everyone turns to see Chad emerging from the shadows with his arm around Jensen, supporting his weight. They’re both soaking wet and laughing like they can’t stop. What the hell happened?
Chris beats him to it. “What the hell happened to you?” Chad and Jensen stare at each other for a second before they dissolve into laughter again. Chris narrows his eyes as he steps closer. Jared can tell he’s checking for injuries, for any signs that one or both of them are worse for wear. Right now that sounds like a pretty good idea, and Jared falls into step beside him.
“I think we’re in trouble,” Chad whispers loudly.
Jensen tilts his head back, exposing his throat, and continues to laugh. Jared can’t take it anymore. He presses his hands against the sides of Jensen’s face and pulls his fingers through his damp hair, checking for any bumps or obvious wounds. Jensen tries to nip his fingers when Jared pulls his hands away. No blood, so that’s something. It takes him a full ten seconds to realize Jensen tried to bite his fingers. Wait… what?
Chris glances at Jared. “Bleeding?”
Jared shakes his head. “Don’t think so.”
“What about me?” Chad snaps playfully. “I could be bleeding.”
Jensen composes himself long enough to say, “But you’re not. I’d have noticed. I’m pretty good at noticing stuff. Take Chrissy here: he’s about to ask what the hell you’ve done to me.”
“First off, Chrissy? Don’t ever call me that again. And second, what the hell have you done to him?”
Jensen flashes a million dollar smile that nearly makes Jared’s knees buckle. “Told ‘ya.” Seeing someone deliriously happy shouldn’t concern him so much, but this is Jensen. He doesn’t do deliriously happy. He barely does moderately satisfied.
“I haven’t done anything to him,” Chad replies.
Jensen shifts so his head is resting on Chad’s shoulder, and he mumbles softly against his ear. Jared leans forward, trying to make out the words. Chad starts sniggering and before long he can’t contain it, and he busts into the chorus of ‘You Don’t Know How It Feels’ by Tom Petty. Jensen raises his voice to join him, belting out the words of the chorus like he can’t stop himself and has no inclination to try.
Chris’s eyes widen and he points to Chad before thrusting his finger in Jensen’s direction. “He’s high! He’s fuckin’ high as a kite right now!”
Jensen stumbles forward, and Chris catches him easily, gripping his biceps to keep him from falling to the dirt. “You’re high,” Chris repeats.
Jensen winks before sing-songing, “You don’t know how it feels.”
“Oh, believe me, I know how it feels.”
Chad finishes with a booming, “To be me!”
“I don’t want to know how that feels,” Chris deadpans. He shakes his head and releases Jensen when Jared’s an arm’s length away, trusting the other man to catch Jensen before he falls. “I can’t believe you. Either of you.”
“Don’t hate,” Jensen says, patting Chris’s shoulder consolingly. “Jared!” he says gleefully as he takes a shaky step forward.
Jared opens his arms because, well, it’s Jensen, and he’s deliriously happy right now, and this might be the best thing Jared’s seen in the last two years. Jensen collapses against him, boneless and grinning against his neck. “Hey, careful,” Jared chides. “Your back.” He rests his hands low on Jensen’s hips because that’s the only place that wasn’t missing major strips of skin.
“I’d like it not to hurt tomorrow, too,” Jared replies.
Danneel joins the haphazard circle. “Well, I’d say ‘just say no,’ but we all know that’s complete bullshit.”
Jensen rolls his head so it’s against Jared’s chest and grins lazily at Danneel. “Hey, sweetheart.”
She smiles beautifully. “Hi, baby.”
“Ah, Danneel. She’s a good girl,” Chad sing-songs, a mischievous grin curving his lips.
“Good? Ha! I hardly think…”
“Loves her mama,” Jensen sings, his voice like honey.
“I hear she loves Jesus,” Chris adds.
Jared can’t help himself. “America, too.”
It builds from there, and within seconds they’re belting out the chorus of ‘Free Fallin’.’ Five voices are joined by more, and soon the entire camp is screaming out the heartland rock classic. Machines be damned, because tonight is for the humans. Score one for the home team.
Chris brings out his guitar and Jensen sings every Tom Petty song he knows. It turns out his knowledge of blues-rock is pretty damn impressive. Every time Jared opens his mouth to tell Jensen it’s time for bed, Jensen starts another song and Jared lets it go. Jensen loses himself in the music, keeping his eyes closed as he taps out the beat against Jared’s thigh. Years ago he would have paid good money to hear someone like Jensen sing. Tonight he gets to hear it for free.
Everyone is crowded around, pressed in close. A few people have nodded off, but no one has returned to their rooms, like they’re just not ready to give this up.
Chris nods to Jensen, who’s on his side, resting between Jared’s legs. “I think it’s time for all the rockstars to go to bed, yeah?”
Jared brushes Jensen’s hair out of eyes. “Come on, Jen. Bed time.”
“Whose bed?” Jensen asks, barely covering a yawn, as Jared pulls him to his feet.
“Whose bed? What do you mean whose bed? Your bed, Jen.”
Jared’s just taken a wrong turn, and he knows it. Luckily Misha has a quicker recovery time. “I snore. It’s dreadful. Really, it is. You should keep Jared with you. Perhaps he’ll actually get some sleep.”
Jensen squints up at Jared. “What if I don’t want to sleep?”
“Or you can not sleep,” Misha amends, smirking. “That’s cool, too.”
“And that’s our cue,” Jared says as he steers Jensen away and chuckles echo behind them. “Good night, everyone.”
Jensen pulls away, and Jared’s ready to call him back. “Chad?”
Mike is helping Chad to his feet, talking to him quietly before he notices Jensen’s trying to walk back to them. “No worries, man. I got our resident drug dealer.”
“I prefer the term herbal apothecary.”
“Yes, that does have a nice ring to it,” Misha agrees.
“Don’t encourage him.”
Jared leans closer, breathing against the shell of Jensen’s ear. “Come on.” Jensen comes without resistance, allowing Jared to guide him to his room, their movements finally in sync.
Jensen climbs down the ladder and Jared drops behind him, sealing the hatch. When he turns around, Jensen’s already out of his shirt and pulling off his shoes. Well, that was fast.
“Jensen,” Jared starts, unsure of what he wants to say. Scratch that. He wants to tell Jensen to get on the bed, to never move, and let Jared do whatever he wants to his naked body. He also has morals and would never take advantage of someone who isn’t in control of all their faculties.
Jensen looks at him, sinking his teeth into his lower lip as he pops the button on his jeans. It’s a look that should damn well be criminal. Better men than Jared have crumbled for far less.
“Jensen,” Jared repeats, because he has to know Jensen is completely with it. The last thing he wants is regrets in the morning. There are already enough regrets to go around this camp.
“I just want to feel good, Jared,” Jensen says as he pulls down his zipper and kicks out of his jeans. Jared follows his movements, staring at the tanned skin that’s being offered by choice, not by medical necessity. “Tonight that’s what I want. That’s all I want.”
Jensen cocks his head to the side like he doesn’t understand. His cheeks are flushed, and this is the moment where Jared realizes time doesn’t matter, labels don’t matter. Tonight he just wants to feel good, too.
“C’mere,” Jared says softly.
Jensen waits a beat until he realizes what Jared’s offering, and he crosses the room in two long strides. Jared’s shirt is stripped away, and his pants follow after he nearly busts his ass trying to get his shoes off. Jensen’s hands are everywhere, touching and rubbing and Jared thinks he might explode. His knees buckle when Jensen latches onto his collarbone, nipping and sucking, and Jared thinks he deserves an award for being able to remain upright.
“Come on,” Jared encourages as he nudges them toward the bed. “Bed, Jen. Bed will be better.”
Jensen sucks at the pulse point in Jared’s neck and allows Jared to guide him to the bed. Jared takes him by the waist and twists so he’s the one that lands on his back and Jensen ends up on top without letting go of his neck.
“You… you sure about this?” Jared manages to say. Words are evading him, and this is something he probably should have asked sooner. Like when Jensen still had his clothes on.
Jensen growls, and Jared feels the tremors against his chest. “Stop thinking, Jared.”
Jensen rests his hand on Jared’s inner thigh, callused fingers stroking the sensitive flesh. “Always gotta be so contrary.”
Jared’s eyes widen when he feels Jensen’s straining erection pressing into his hip. “Me? I just want you to –”
Jensen shakes his head. “There you go with the thinking again.” His eyes glitter through the soft shadows cast by the warm light of the oil lamp. “Guess I’ll have to make it so you can’t think at all.”
Jensen shifts, his breath ghosting over Jared’s chest and stomach as he slides down. His fingers explore, rubbing the taut skin of Jared’s side, and when Jared feels a puff of warm air against his cock, his brain nearly short circuits.
Jared grips the back of Jensen’s neck until Jensen turns, teeth nipping at his wrist. He takes the hint and moves so his hand is resting on Jensen’s head, fingers stroking through his soft hair. He feels Jensen’s breath hot and heavy against him, and he groans when Jensen strokes his inner thigh. Strong fingers brush against him, and finally he feels warm lips press against him, and before he can open his mouth to encourage Jensen along, he’s swallowed by moist heat.
Jared makes an inhuman sound somewhere between a choked off shout and a swallowed moan. This is going to be over in less than a minute, because an orgasm is already building as pleasure rockets through Jared’s body and curls his toes. “Jensen,” he moans. He pushes his hand against Jensen’s shoulder. When Jensen doesn’t stop, doesn’t even slow down, Jared grabs the back of his neck and tries to push him away. “Jensen,” he repeats loudly.
Jensen releases him and drags his arm over his mouth before he glares at Jared. “Kinda busy here.”
The sinful sight of Jensen derails Jared’s train of thought, and it takes him half a minute to gather up enough brain cells to tell Jensen why he just interrupted the best blowjob of his life. “Thought we were supposed to be making each other feel good.”
Jensen grins like a predator and licks his spit-shining lips. “This does make me feel good.”
“I bet I can make you feel better,” Jared replies. He doesn’t give Jensen the chance to respond, just slides his hands under Jensen’s armpits and tugs until Jensen lands in a heap on his side. “That’s better,” Jared says before he kisses Jensen’s open mouth, the rebuttal swallowed in a twist of tongues.
Jared releases him long enough to lick his palm. Jensen’s fingers have already found their way back to Jared’s cock like it’s some kind of homing beacon. It was worth interrupting the best blowjob of his existence to hear Jensen’s sigh of pleasure and watch his eyes flutter closed when Jared wraps his fingers around him. It’s quick and messy, nothing more than a few sharp tugs, and Jared’s eating the moans of pure bliss that are escaping from Jensen’s mouth. It’s like skydiving. He knows what’s coming – it pricks at the backs of his eyes and dances down his spine. It’s too soon and not long enough. It’s white, hot, and beautiful.
If Jared thought the greatest handjob of his life would suddenly change things, he was sorely mistaken. Jensen treats him the same way, with a distance that Jared’s come to recognize as purely Jensen. What occurred between them is the worst kept secret in all the camp, and if anything changes, it’s how people perceive him. No one has flat out asked what it was like to ‘tap that,’ but it’s come pretty close. People politely point out where Jensen is when he approaches, like Jared now has some right to know. People ask him how Jensen is doing, if he needs anything, if he’s feeling all right.
Jensen has returned to his former self when it comes to camp duties. He’s taking on more than his fair share, keeping odd hours and sleeping when the issue is forced, usually by Jared, or when he can’t keep his eyes open any longer and his body finally yells enough already. It’s the spark that’s missing. It’s cliché and stupid, but it’s just not there.
Brock pulled some epically stupid shit the other day, and Jensen didn’t bat an eye. Chris nearly took Brock’s head off, yelling and throwing things, making Brock swear on everything he holds dear that he’ll never pull anything like that again. Jensen just watched the fireworks for a few minutes before sauntering off to count the corn harvest.
Jensen’s adrift and everyone else is drifting because Jensen can’t seem to come back, not completely. He’s there and pulling his weight, but he won’t make a decision. He won’t lead, and it’s not the kind of thing he can be called on, because as far as Jensen is concerned, he was never the leader to begin with. The status is quo even if it’s anything but.
Jared hasn’t slept in Jensen’s bed since they shared that mind-blowing handjob, or as Jared likes to call it: the best fucking night of his life. Jared watches as Jensen ambles through the camp in the late evening hours. He’d spent the day with Misha and Chris in the fields working on the irrigation system. Jared watches until Jensen disappears into his room, and when the hatch is closed, Jared finally allows his shoulders to slump under the weight of frustration and fatigue. It shouldn’t be this hard.
Misha is reading when Jared drops into their shared room. He acknowledges Jared with a smile and closes the book, leaving his finger between the pages to mark his place.
“How’d it go in the fields?” Jared asks, his voice muffled by the fabric of his shirt as he pulls it over his head.
“Good, actually. We’re making progress. I think we’ll be able to cover the west crops by end of the season.”
“That’s great, Misha. It’s awesome you know so much about irrigation systems. Speaking of which, where the hell did you learn that?”
Misha shrugs. “I wanted to be a farmer for awhile.”
Jared shakes his head because he’s not surprised. Misha is one of those people that could have been anything he wanted if the war never started and the world hadn’t gone to shit.
“You’re wearing your thinking face,” Misha comments.
It’s Jared’s turn to shrug. “It’s just… you could have done anything, you know? Been anything, and here you are.”
“Making a difference and doing something that matters,” Misha finishes like he has no regrets, like being here is exactly where he’d want to be even if things were different. “I’m happy here.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jared agrees because he doesn’t want to sound ungrateful. He knows just how lucky they were to stumble across this place. If they hadn’t nearly run Chad off the road, they’d have kept driving, and who knows where they would have ended up? Chances are they wouldn’t even be alive. This place is the mecca they were both looking for. “It’s great.”
Misha falls silent. Eventually he sets his book aside, place forgotten as he folds his hands in his lap. “But it’s different for you. There’s a layer of complexity that I don’t have.”
Jared drops down on his bed after he toes his shoes off. “Jensen.”
“You’re in love with him.”
Jared shakes his head because he’s not. He can’t be. He is. Completely. “I don’t know how it happened.”
Misha laughs, his baritone voice echoing through the small concrete room. “It happens, Jared. There are worse things. Trust me.”
“He’s not the same,” Jared says quietly. His soft voice is a staunch contrast to Misha’s booming laughter moments ago. “I don’t know how to help him.”
“Not to sound flippant, but have you tried talking to him?”
Jared glares across the room. “You’ve met Jensen, right?”
Misha makes a sound of acknowledgment and steeples his fingers in front of his chest. “So a covert approach then.”
“I just don’t know what he needs.” He’s helpless, and it’s not something he can verbalize because Jensen has done nothing wrong. He’s performing his duties and more, it’s just not the same, and the camp is drifting without him. It’s like watching someone you know performing at half capacity, and Jared knows he can do better. He’s seen it, lived it and wants Jensen to be everything everyone knows he can be. He wants Jensen to know he’s got his back. He’ll take care of him when it’s too much, and be there when it’s not enough.
“He needs to feel like he’s in control,” Misha says.
Jared pauses, because Misha gave him an answer. An honest to God answer and Jared didn’t see that coming from the man who speaks in riddles. “But he is in control.” Jensen’s many things, and a man of control is definitely one of them. Even now, after everything that’s happened, nothing happens without Jensen at least knowing about it.
“I said he needs to feel like it,” Misha repeats. “First everything with Chad and you doubting him. That’s not a dig at you, so don’t say anything yet.” Jared closes his mouth and lets Misha spin whatever tale he’s telling. “Then Chad and Chris nearly die on his watch. And, yeah, he might say he’s not running things, but he damn sure assumed responsibility for every person here. This was personal.” Jared finds himself nodding as Misha continues, “He took out the BD, the machine that brought cities to their knees, and no one has a clue how that went down, but it went, and he somehow crawled back here beat to hell and back. He lost himself then. Expectations were high and he couldn’t meet them. In his mind, he didn’t measure up. He floundered, and we gave him space. He yelled, we gave him more space. Chad gets him high, you sleep with him, and now he’s more confused than when he started. And guess what: he still doesn’t measure up.”
Jared’s staring now, gaping at Misha, who’s found words for everything Jared’s been thinking. Maybe Misha wanted to be a psychologist for awhile, too. “But that’s complete bullshit. He should know that no one expects him –”
“Don’t we, though?” Misha quietly interjects. “We all expect him to, and despite his outspoken disagreement, he knows what he was. On some level, he knows. And once he figures that out, makes peace with it, he’ll be better than he was before. He’ll be what he was meant to be.”
This is all rather prophetic for Jared’s taste, but despite all that, he’d like to meet that Jensen. The Jensen who knows who he is, embraces it, and fulfills his destiny. Yeah, this is becoming a bit too John Connor for his tastes.
“He’s lost his way, Jared, and I don’t think he knows how to find it again.”
“Um, you know what? You should talk to him.”
“I want Jensen back as much as everyone else, but I don’t think I have the same vested interest in it as you do,” Misha says.
“I’m not sure I can…”
“If you can fuck him, you can talk to him.”
Jared rubs his thumb across his knuckles, biting his lower lip and wondering why he’s about to share this little tidbit of information. “I didn’t fuck him.”
“Oh?” Misha says as he slides out of bed and pads over to turn off the oil lamp. “Your loss.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Jared groans as he stretches out on the bed.
He listens as Misha resettles himself, plumping his pillow and rolling onto his side. “It’s okay, Jared. I happen to know this is a world of second chances.”
Jared smiles at that and thinks about his second chance with Jensen before sleep pulls him under.
It’s the next evening when Jared corners Jensen in the underground supply storage. Jensen’s hefting the last bag of corn through the hatch when Jared approaches. His footsteps are measured, and he doesn’t stop until he’s standing within arm’s reach of Jensen.
“Hey, Jensen,” Jared says.
“Hey.” Jensen wipes his hands on his jeans after he slides the hatch closed. It’s obvious Jared’s got something on his mind, and Jensen decides to let it play out. He’s surprised Jared hasn’t taken the opportunity to call him an asshole before this. Jensen isn’t an idiot – he knows what he and Jared did meant something, and could mean something more, if he wasn’t such a chicken shit. He was the one that had thrown himself at Jared, and he knew exactly what he was doing the entire time.
He squares his jaw and meets Jared’s gaze. Jared deserves this, has a right to say his piece and be heard, and Jensen will take it. Hell, he’ll probably agree with everything Jared has to say.
“I get it.” Jensen tilts his head and tries to put that in context before realizing there is no context, because that’s all Jared has said. “I stand by what I said to you before. You’re fucked up, and far from perfect, but you’re also pretty amazing.”
What the hell? This is not the speech Jensen had been expecting. This isn’t even on the same planet. If Jared has any sense, he’ll take a swing at Jensen’s far from perfect head. Jared keeps right on talking, barreling through Jensen’s inner demons as he goes.
“There’s no pressure, Jen. You’re over-thinking this. Over-thinking a lot of things, actually.”
Now Jensen requires clarification, because what exactly has he been over-thinking? “You want to explain that?”
“You think too much. You can’t figure out where you belong, but I gotta tell you, Jen: you belong here. Whatever you want, you can have. Right now. You just have to stop fighting it.”
Jensen backs up a step, because this is too much, too close to home, and he doesn’t know where Jared is getting this shit. It’s like the affirmation he never knew he needed and doesn’t know how to take.
“Be yourself. It’s not about titles or authority or responsibility. You have to let yourself be you, and damn whatever you think might be the consequences. I know you can do that. You fight yourself more than anyone else around here. And you gotta stop now. You just have to stop.” Jared takes a step forward to counter Jensen’s step back. “I’m going to spare you the suspense: you’re going to fuck up. Right now you’re probably thinking of one hundred ways you’re going to get this wrong.” Well, yeah, he is, but – “You have to stop thinking like that. No one is perfect, Jensen. And what you’re forgetting is that I’m going to be there with you every step of the way. Even if you think you can’t do it, I’m going to be there to tell you that you can, and if you don’t believe me, we’ve got a whole camp filled with competent people who will back me up on this.”
Jared has no idea what he’s offering, because right now Jensen is a barely hanging on, and it’s all he can do not to leg it the second someone asks him what he thinks about planting more apricot trees this year.
Thoughts are zinging through his head a mile a minute and Jensen gives voice to the first thing he can grab onto. “Jared, I –”
“And you don’t have to worry about us, because you already have me. If you want me, that is, and I have a feeling you do.” Jared leans forward and presses a dry kiss to Jensen’s temple. “Everything’s going to be okay, Jen.” With that bit of life altering information, Jared spins on his heel and walks away, leaving Jensen with his mouth hanging open, collecting desert sand.
Jensen doesn’t pursue him, just watches as he goes. “Huh.” He’s got a lot to think about.