The Long and Winding Road (amypond45) wrote,
The Long and Winding Road

Stars in the Southern Sky - Part Two

In the dining room a fire blazes on the hearth, where Adele sits curled up with a book and a happy-looking black-and-white collie. Jared's sitting at one end of the long, formal dining table, working on his laptop. The other end of the table is set with four places, a basket of bread and a side-board of cheese. Jared looks up when Jensen appears in the doorway, hesitating awkwardly. Jared's smile is warm and makes his eyes twinkle in the firelight; he's dressed in his signature black jeans and white button-down again, and he makes Jensen think of a Byronic poet with his dark hair swept back from his strong brow, damp from his recent shower. Except that his huge, muscular frame is too active for a poet; he's more like an 18th-century pirate, Jensen decides, the partly-scandalous but good-hearted romantic hero.

"Hey," Jared greets him with a welcoming gesture. "Come on in and help yourself to a drink. I've just got a few emails I need to finish."

Jared's warmth puts Jensen at ease. Or maybe it's the whiskey. Either way, Jensen manages to cross the room to the fancy tray of glasses and decanters, pours himself a drink, and joins Adele in an armchair by the fire. The collie lifts his head, watches him for a minute, and Jensen leans forward to give him a pat.

"Who's your friend?" he asks, and Adele glances up at him, then at the dog.

"His name's Buck," Jared supplies helpfully. "Follows Adele just about everywhere, now that he's too old to work cattle."

Jensen nods, murmurs, "Hey, Buck," to the dog, who wags his tail once before putting his head back down on his paws as Jensen leans back in his chair.

"What'r'ya reading?" he asks conversationally, and Adele puts the book down and looks up at him, big dark eyes round and solemn. She considers him silently for a minute, then tips the spine of the book up so he can see it. It's a book of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales.

"Wow," Jensen nods. "Those are a little dark, aren't they? Not really for kids."

Adele frowns, pushes her lips out in a pout and lowers her head to her book again, obviously deciding Jensen's comment is unworthy of an answer.

"She likes the story of The Little Mermaid," Jared explains. "The girl who sacrifices her voice and walks on knives so she can have her heart's desire. Of course, he's only in love with her beautiful voice, so things don't go so well."

Adele shoots her uncle an impatient look, and Jared ducks his head penitently.

"Sorry," he offers. "Didn't mean to give it away."

"I liked Treasure Island when I was your age," Jensen says. "Pirates. And Tom Sawyer. Tom was kind of a rascal. You read Tom Sawyer?"

Adele shakes her head, and Jensen nods. "Maybe we can read that one together," he suggests. "It's not so...morbid."

They're saved from further discussion by Mrs. Fairfax and Mary arriving with trays of steaming food. Mary is a plump, motherly woman with soft gray hair, who welcomes Jensen with a hug after she's put down the food.

"We're so glad you're here, Mr. Ackles," she gushes. "This house is too gloomy and quiet for a little girl all by herself. She needs a young companion."

"I'll do my best, Mrs. Hunt," Jensen says. He's on his feet, helping the women unload their trays, and Mary smiles approvingly and pats his cheek.

"And a gentleman, too," she comments with a nod. "Aren't you polite. And handsome. Isn't he handsome, Adele?"

Adele glances at Jensen, shrugs, puts her book down as she joins the adults at the table.

"And you can call me Mary," she finishes as she unloads the last of her tray. "Everybody does."

"I've already explained to Mr. Ackles that we like to keep a certain level of formality around here," Mrs. Fairfax notes curtly as Jared rises to pull her chair out for her, helps her sit before taking his own seat at the head of the table. Jensen slips in beside Adele, across from Mrs. Fairfax. Mary winks at Jensen from behind Mrs. Fairfax's back, then mouths, "Mary!" and points to herself as she slips out of the room.

Mrs. Fairfax insists Jared say grace, which he does with closed eyes and folded hands, not that Jensen's watching or anything. When Jared opens his eyes he's staring straight at Jensen, like he could feel Jensen looking at him, and for a moment the dark, brooding expression in Jared's eyes sends a thrill almost like fear through Jensen's body.

"Potatoes, Mr. Ackles?" Mrs. Fairfax offers, passing him a bowl of steaming carbs. Jensen's hungrier than he realized, so he lets Mrs. Fairfax offer him plate after plate of steamed vegetables, more of the excellent beef like last night, a fresh tossed salad and fruit. By the time dessert is served Jensen is stuffed, and tired. His legs are aching from today's ride, and when Mrs. Fairfax finally gets up and takes Adele to bed, Jensen almost wishes he could go too.

But now he's alone again with Jared, and there are beginning to feel like very few things exist on this earth that could possibly draw him away from that.

"So I'm guessing you're not a believer, Jensen," Jared suggests as they settle in the armchairs on either side of the hearth, after-dinner brandies in their hands. "I'd offer you a cigar, but Mrs. Fairfax would kill me, quite literally, if we smoked in her house."

Jensen smiles, nodding. "I totally understand. And no, I'm not. Although I guess I'm not an unbeliever, either. Somewhere in between, maybe."

Jared nods, brooding. His mood during dinner seemed dark again, like it was when Jensen first met him yesterday, and it puzzles Jensen. The man seems so mercurial, prone to wild swings of temperament, and Jensen wonders if manic-depression runs in the family, if maybe Adele is suffering from something similar.

"I believe God has plans for all of us," Jared continues, his eyes on the fire. "And some of us get to be the butt of His sick jokes."

Jensen takes a deep breath, looks into the fire to avoid watching the gloomy expression on Jared's beautiful face. "I guess it seems like that sometimes," he agrees with a shrug. "But something tells me, if there is a God, he's got better things to do than to come up with ways to punish us."

Jared smiles, but it's a grim smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "You might think that, but look at the hand he's dealt you. Kills your parents, sends you to live with that crap aunt and uncle who abuse you and dump you first chance they get, then you live on the street for – how long was it? Two years? And the foster system in between couldn't have been fun. More abuse, I'm guessing. I don't know, Jensen. Sounds pretty punishing, if you ask me."

Jensen considers the fact that Jared has looked so deeply into his background, wonders if it's something he should worry about. If there's one thing he learned from those years on the streets, it's that rich men like Jared who hire poor boys like Jensen usually have something else in mind besides just giving them a warm bed to sleep in and a couple of hot meals.

Jensen's not on the street anymore, he reminds himself. He's been hired to help Adele, and he's got a college degree and real work experience that qualifies him to do that, even if it's not the top degree in the field.

Which is when he gets it. "You hired me partly because you think I'm a survivor," he suggests. "You think my background makes me uniquely qualified to help Adele."

"She's had a rough time, since her parents died," Jared agrees. "I don't know if you've heard the details of the accident, but she was trapped in the car with her dying parents after the crash. For almost twelve hours. She watched them die."

"Is that when she stopped talking?" Jensen says softly, horrified, and Jared nods.

They sit silently for a few moments, watching the fire.

"I'm starting to think you have a special gift for listening, Jensen," Jared says finally. "You have a kind of sensitivity about you that makes people want to open up. I feel like you hear me when I talk to you, like you get things about what I say to you that I'm not even aware of conveying. I feel like I can say things to you that I've never said to anyone, and you'll understand me."

Jared dips his head, grinning broadly, and Jensen can see the flush on the balls of his cheeks, the tip of his nose. He's blushing, Jensen realizes, mesmerized. It's endearing and startling at the same time; Jared comes across as such a control freak, as someone who is so used to the burden and responsibility of being the boss, that to see him lose it a little is kind of amazing. And hot, of course.

Jensen realizes he's staring when Jared finally lifts his head, meets his eyes with a look that's strangely hopeful, almost pleading.

"I hope we can do this every evening, Jensen," he says. "I like talking to you like this. It's really comforting."

"Of course," Jensen nods. "We can go over the day, I can give you updates on Adele's progress." He's not sure why he's feeling disappointed, like he was hoping Jared wanted more from him than just to be a good listener.

"You're like a balm on my tortured soul, Jensen," Jared says melodramatically, and Jensen can't help grinning, ducking his head. "I know it sounds stupid, but I mean it. It's like you're here to help me, not just Adele."

Jensen keeps his head down, hiding his blush, and that's when he feels it; Jared's fingers lightly brushing his as Jared leans forward in his chair, touches Jensen's knee where his hand rests. Jensen looks up, heart suddenly pounding desperately, and Jared is right there, inches away, pink cheeks and damp lips and expressive eyes close enough to touch. To kiss. If Jensen leaned in, he could taste that pink mouth, find out if it's as soft as it looks.

"I want us to be friends, Jensen," Jared's mouth is saying, and Jensen realizes he's been staring at it. He licks his lips, forces his eyes up to Jared's. "Is that okay with you? Can we be friends?"

"Of course," Jensen breathes automatically, realizes he was holding his breath from the moment Jared touched him. For another moment they're just gazing into each other's eyes, and Jensen is sure, just sure, that Jared wants to kiss him, that Jared is feeling this thing between them as powerfully as Jensen is.

Which is why it's beyond disappointing when Jared finally breaks the gaze, pulls his hand away and leans back in his chair.

"Good," he says, nodding, staring into the fire again. "That's really good, Jensen. Thank you."

They sit in companionable silence for another five minutes, during which Jensen feels a little shell-shocked. His mind races over all the looks and gestures of the past twenty-four – no, make it thirty – hours since he met Jared, and he's certain he's getting all the signals right. So what's holding Jared back? Why doesn't he give into the attraction the way Jensen wants him to? Is it their age difference? The difference in their incomes? Is it because Jared's his boss?

Okay, that last one's kind of a big one. It kind of tips the balance of power a little too much, makes this whole thing a little too much like those times Jensen got picked up by rich guys in their fancy cars. And that is not okay, because this is nothing like that, and Jensen wants to make that perfectly clear to Jared, if Jared would just give him half a chance –

"Good night, Jensen." Jared gets up, lays his hand on Jensen's shoulder briefly as he passes behind him to the door and leaves the room. Jensen sits alone for a few more minutes until he's sure Jared's safely closed up in his room before Jensen gets up to follow, not needing to watch Jared's perfect ass moving away from him, knowing he can't tap that.

Not yet, anyway.


A low moaning sound wakes him sometime after midnight; it goes on and on, even after Jensen is fully awake, staring blankly at the ceiling in the dark, sure he's not dreaming this time. He considers getting up, following the sound so he can determine its source, but then it stops, as abruptly as it did last night, and he drifts back to sleep instead, promising himself he'll ask about it in the morning.

"Oh, that's Grace Waters," Mrs. Fairfax explains matter-of-factly in the morning, when Jensen is seated in the dining room with Adele, finishing off yet another plate of eggs and toast and more fresh fruit. "She lives on the third floor. She's a little touched in the head, and she's up a lot at night. If she's bothering you, we could move you to a room in the other wing of the house."

"No, no, that's okay," Jensen says quickly, briefly panicking at the thought of being further away from Jared. "I just hope she's all right. She sounds pretty unhappy."

"I don't think she suffers much, really," Mrs. Fairfax says. "Sometimes she sleep-walks, though, so you might want to lock your door at night."

Jensen considers this. "Is she dangerous?"

"Oh, I don't know about dangerous," Mrs. Fairfax starts clearing plates, keeping her eyes on her work. "But in her confusion she might wander into your room and try to get into your bed, which could be a little embarrassing, I suppose."

"Okay, I'm convinced," Jensen's eyes widen and he puts his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "Locked door from now on."

But after another week without hearing the mournful moans in the night, Jensen forgets all about it. Life in the Padalecki household finds a new rhythm now that Jensen's joined it. He and Adele do lessons in the mornings, working from home-schooling textbooks Jared purchased before Jensen's arrival. The afternoons are spent walking, riding, playing tennis or swimming, if the heat gets too bad. Jensen's mother was a huge proponent of exercise as a cure-all for everything, and he makes sure Adele gets plenty of it. She shows off her skills as a dancer and a gymnast every chance she gets, and at Jensen's suggestion she goes into town once a week for lessons, allowing Jensen a little time off the ranch, which does both of them good. On Sundays they all go to town for church, where Jensen is introduced to the young minister, Reverend Collins, who takes Jensen's hand in both of his and looks so deeply into his eyes he feels like the man can see into his soul. After church the family goes out to brunch at a local hotel, where Jared knows all the staff and they're treated like royalty. It's a little embarrassing for Jensen, but fascinating, too. The locals are very down-to-earth, plain-spoken folk, who take Jared's regular patronage for granted and welcome Jensen like he's part of the family. Watching Jared interact with people outside his family is a revelation to Jensen; his down-home charm and loose-limbed, energetic persona seems such a stark contrast to the unhappy, brooding man Jensen sees at home too often, and he has to wonder if the ranch itself isn't the source of Jared's darkness.

Jensen tries not to think how much he looks forward to every evening, after Adele goes to bed, when he and Jared sit by the fire, usually outside on the patio as they did the first night, sipping whisky and smoking cigars and watching the stars. Jared talks, Jensen listens, and Jensen can't help hoping it's helping Jared, even just a little, to have someone to talk to. Jensen's also aware that his feelings for Jared have only intensified, deepened, as the weeks go by, until he's pretty sure he's in love with the man, probably always will be. At a certain point, maybe two or three weeks into their relationship, Jensen has to admit Jared is the wiser of the two. Jumping into bed that first day might have been incredibly good, and they might've fallen in love anyway, but Jensen is pretty sure that taking it slow has given them a chance to get to know each other without complicating their feelings for each other with sex right off the bat, and that's probably a good thing. At least Jensen's sure his feelings are real, after a couple of months, not just sex-fueled fantasies.

Not that he's stopped having those, even for a second. But getting to know Jared, the way his mind works, as dark and desperate as it is sometimes, Jensen is convinced he's a genuinely good man. There's a generosity of spirit, not just of purse, although Jared's a well-known philanthropist, just as his parents were, and he contributes extensively to social and educational causes, as well as continuing his parents' work building hospitals and schools in poverty-torn nations. He travels regularly to the places where his good works are being done, supervising and being directly involved as much as possible.

"This is the longest he's stayed home in years," Mrs. Fairfax comments over breakfast one morning, when Jensen asks about an article in the newspaper about an orphanage that Jared founded in Haiti. "Usually he's off visiting those places, and he's gone for months sometimes. I don't know why he's staying home so long this time."

Jensen thinks he does, but it's something he doesn't dare to verbalize, even to himself.

Because he understands, or thinks he does, why Jared is holding back, not giving into the powerful urges they both feel. But he also thinks he's breaking Jared down; he thinks Jared's been finding it harder and harder to keep his hands off Jensen. There are definite chinks in the armor Jared has wrapped around himself on account of their relative positions as employer and employee. At least that's what Jensen thinks it is, can't imagine another reason for Jared's little desperate glances, the pleading looks he gives Jensen sometimes, like he's barely holding himself back from ravishing the young tutor right there on the rug in front of the fire, like he needs Jensen's help to control the beast inside. The beast is barely contained lately, Jensen can feel it; it's being held by a thin rope now, no longer the strong chains of Jared's earlier determination. The little touches have become more frequent – the brushes of Jared's fingers against his, the lingering pats on his shoulder, on his back, the way Jared lets his knee rest against Jensen's when they're sitting together, just leaving it there.

Then the night comes when they've both had a little too much to drink, and Jared proposes they drive up to the observatory.

"I've got a key," he says. "The stars are brilliant here, but wait till you see them with the telescope they've got up there."

It's probably not the best idea, letting Jared get behind the wheel of a pick-up truck, and there's a few times when they're driving up the winding, barely-paved road to the observatory when Jensen is sure they'll go right over the edge and roll into the ravine. But they make it, and of course it's deserted, just happens to be a night the staff have off. They stumble into the building, giggling like schoolboys, and Jared leads them straight up the stairs to the observation deck. It feels like breaking into a school, like the kind of thing Jensen used to do when he was twelve or thirteen, when he and his pals from the hood would steal beer from home, break into their own school, drink and smoke in the gym and play a little basketball if they could find a ball, just being stupid.

When Jared gets the telescope lined up just right he turns out the lights, beckons Jensen to "Look at this. Come on."

Jensen takes his glasses off and puts his eye to the scope. What he sees takes his breath away.

"It's Andromeda," Jared explains, and his voice is close, right next to Jensen's ear. Jensen tries not to let the feel of Jared's body right there, pressed along his back, his lips practically touching Jensen's ear, get to him. Really, he does. He's been practicing for almost three months now, not letting Jared's presence affect him. Failing miserably, of course, but at least he's been trying, and at least this isn't the first time. But now Jared's pressed against his back, his arms reached around to hold the telescope in the right position, as if the thing weren't completely automated, as if there was really a need for Jared to adjust it with his hands.

Maybe it's the drinks, maybe the setting, maybe Jensen's got his timing just right. All he knows is that when he slips his hand up against Jared's warm cheek, pressed almost right against his, then leans back so he's pressed against Jared's body, Jared lets him. And when he turns his head so he can nose along Jared's jaw, then press his lips against Jared's stubble, Jared goes very still. He huffs out a shaky sigh as Jensen's tongue slips out to taste the sensitive skin just below Jared's ear, suckling there as he turns his body around, slowly, keeping his mouth on Jared's neck, replacing his left hand with his right, keeping Jared's face right there till Jensen's turned all the way around, slipping his other arm around Jared's waist, holding him in place. They stand like that for a moment, pressed as tightly together as two people can be, Jensen's mouth working its way along Jared's jaw to his chin, kissing the little mole, the corner of Jared's mouth, seeking those pink lips blindly with his own.

Then, in that last moment when this thing could still go either way, Jared tips his face down, tilts his mouth just right so that when their lips meet it's Jared who's in control, Jared who finally – finally! – makes the move, locks their mouths together. Then it's like a coil has been unsprung and suddenly Jared's hands are everywhere. Jared's teeth are clacking against Jensen's and it's rough and desperate and he's just holding on as Jared mauls him, gasping, grinding his hips against Jensen's, huge hands holding his ass so Jared can rut frantically. Then the hands are holding his head so Jared can plunder his mouth, parting his lips so wide his jaw hurts as Jared thrusts his tongue practically down Jensen's throat.

He's vaguely aware of things crashing to the floor – metal clipboards, lens cases, tools, Jensen's glasses – as Jared hoists him onto a narrow counter, pushing his back against the wall so Jared has the leverage he needs to grind his pelvis against Jensen's, to spread Jensen's legs and pull one of them around Jared's waist, holding it there with his big hand as he thrusts, rubbing their dicks together through their jeans. It's nowhere near perfect, it's messy and uncomfortable and rushed, but they're both too desperate to take the time to remove clothing, to find a more comfortable position, to even get their hands on much bare skin. But the angle is enough for them both to get the friction they need, and Jensen's brain provides the images of Jared's naked body that send him crashing right over the edge, tensing and digging his fingers into Jared's back, tipping his head back against the wall and punching out Jared's name as he comes.

"Jen! Fuck!" Jared sobs as his own orgasm rips through him. Jensen holds him, trembling and sweating and panting as he comes down, thrusting weakly through the aftershocks. He runs his fingers through Jared's hair, finding it just as silky and soft as he had imagined. He rubs gentle circles into Jared's back, waiting patiently for Jared to lift his face out of Jensen's neck, for his breathing to even out.

When Jared finally lifts his head, blinking dazedly at Jensen, Jensen grins tentatively at him.

"Hot," he comments. "I think I broke my glasses."

"Oh–" Jared frowns, shuffling back a little so Jensen can slide down off the counter, however awkwardly. "Oh shit, Jensen. I'm sorry. Oh shit. Where are they?"

Jensen moves gingerly once he's on his feet again, forcing himself to ignore the uncomfortable mess in his jeans, the soreness in his thighs and back where he's pretty sure he's got a good rug-burn going. He drops to his knees and feels around on the floor, finds bits and pieces of metal and glass, manages to cut himself (of course!) before finding the damn glasses. By the time he puts them on and climbs to his feet again, Jared has cleaned up most of the scattered tools and clipboards, putting them back on the counters. He doesn't look at Jensen, just stares at the floor and clears his throat awkwardly as he shifts from one foot to the other and oh hell no, he does not get to pretend this didn't just happen.

"Jared," Jensen starts toward him, determined to put a stop to Jared's obvious decision to just negate the whole thing.

Jared lifts his eyes, and they're full of warning, full of a kind of animal desperation, like Jared's feeling trapped and he's silently begging Jensen not to kill him.

"Jay," Jensen tries again, shaking his head. "Come on, man. Don't do this."

Jared's eyes darken, he clenches his jaw and shakes his head once.

"We need to get home," he says, his voice hard, like he's steeling himself. Then he turns his back on Jensen, starts down the stairs.

"Jared, don't you do this," Jensen shouts again, suddenly furious, more angry than he can ever remember feeling. "Don't pretend this didn't happen. Don't you dare!"

The door slamming down below as Jared leaves the building is the only response he gets.

"Fuck!" Jensen yells at the empty room, looks for something to throw, sees evidence of what happened here in the broken and scattered tools and clipboards on the counter, decides against it.

"Damn it!" he mutters through clenched teeth as he starts down the stars after his boss, who clearly decided this was a bad idea, who clearly can't imagine having a grown-up, consensual relationship with someone who works for him.

"Asshole," Jensen declares as he stalks out the door, slamming it behind him.

Jared is already in the truck, staring straight ahead out the windshield with the engine already running. Jensen stalks determinedly to the passenger side door, yanks it open, glares at Jared until Jared finally looks at him, his face all set until the minute he sees Jensen's anger and his features collapse into a look of abject pain so profound it takes the wind right out of Jensen's sails. Jared looks away quickly, but not before Jensen sees the tears in his eyes.

"Get out of the truck, Jared," Jensen commands, more softly than he would have a minute ago. But now that he can see the kind of anguish Jared's obviously experiencing, he's suddenly not angry anymore.

"I–I can't," Jared's voice is shaking. But his hands drop off the wheel, fall palms-up onto the seat next to him in a gesture of defeat.

"Then just–turn off the engine," Jensen tries again. "We need to talk."

"No," Jared protests, choking up. "Please, Jensen. I can't. Please don't make this worse than it is. I should never – we shouldn't have – "

"Oh no," Jensen interrupts, shaking his head. "You don't get to say that. This isn't something you can just ignore or make go away, Jared. This has been brewing since the day we met, and you know it. It's not something you get to just walk away from and pretend it never happened. Now turn off that engine and talk to me, or I'm gonna climb in there and do it myself."

Jared huffs out a breath, clenches his jaw stubbornly, but he does it. He turns off the engine, sits pouting for all the world like a two-year-old waiting to be scolded.

"Now, get out of the truck," Jensen insists.

Jared rolls his eyes and sighs, but he does that too, climbs out, shuts the door, crosses around in front of the truck so he's facing Jensen.

"There," he grouses, hands on his hips, all moody, rebellious teen-ager now. "You happy?"

"Maybe," Jensen raises an eyebrow speculatively, wondering when he started being the adult in this relationship. "If you start talking, telling me what you think we're doing here."

"What do you want me to say, Jensen?" Jared raises his arms in a giant gesture of helplessness, long arms making him look like a bird about to take flight. "You want me to tell you I'm in love with you, is that it? That this is going somewhere because love conquers all? Despite the fact that I'm ten years older than you and a washed up, bitter old guy with a fucked up life I can't possibly share with you?"

"Why not?" Jensen demands, trying to focus because his mind is still caught back on the "I'm in love with you" line.

"Because you're young and beautiful and you've got your whole life ahead of you, for starters," Jared snorts, running his hand through his hair. "Because you don't need some old guy who's got more baggage than a fuckin' freight train weighing you down, holding you back."

"Why does this have to be so heavy, Jared?" Jensen blinks at him, genuinely confused. "We've only known each other for a few months, man. We've got plenty of time to figure out where we want this thing to go. We're still getting to know each other. Why does it have to be all or nothing with you?"

"Because," Jared stops pacing, stops shifting his feet, stares at Jensen with an intensity that sends shivers up Jensen's spine. "I don't want some summer romance. I don't need some spring fling. I'm thirty-two years old, Jensen. Ready to settle down. I have a child to raise. And you're not ready to give me what I really want from you. You're just not."

"How do you know that?" Jensen demands, ignoring his pounding heart, his sweating palms, the way his whole body trembles under Jared's intent gaze.

"Because you're twenty-two years old, Jensen," Jared shakes his head. "When I was twenty-two, I was a total idiot. I made stupid mistakes and I regretted the hell out of them later. I'm not going to be your biggest mistake, Jensen."

"Pretty sure I'm the one who gets to decide that," Jensen notes hotly. "And I'm pretty sure the biggest mistake I could make right now is letting you walk away from this. From us. So you can either man up right now and face this thing, let us see where it takes us, or you can fire me and send me packing right now."

Jensen pauses, letting that sink in; it shakes him to the core to say it, makes him want to take it back immediately, but he knows he's right. He knows it's the only way to get through to Jared, to force him to face the choice and to own it for himself.

"Tell me to go, Jared," he repeats. "That's the only way this ends. Otherwise, we deal with it. You got me?"

Jared shifts his feet, hands on his hips; he looks at the ground, glances up at Jensen's face, set as grimly and stubbornly as he can make it, then huffs out a bitter laugh.

"You don't know what you're saying," he shakes his head, staring at the ground again.

"Maybe," Jensen acquiesces. "I don't have a lot of relationship experience, I'll be the first to admit that. But I'm willing to take the risk, to see where this goes, where it takes us."

"I'm not a good person, Jensen," Jared shakes his head again, slowly. "You might not like what you see, when you get to know me."

"I'm willing to take that chance," Jensen insists.

"I can't," Jared shakes his head. "I'm too old to start over. I can't –" He pauses, bites his lip, looks away for a minute, and Jensen can see he's fighting back tears. He swallows hard, blinking at something in the distance, in the darkness to Jensen's left.

Jensen waits, holding his breath, not wanting to push.

"You're so good, Jen," Jared takes a deep breath, lets it out. "You're like the light that went out of my life years ago, come back to haunt me, come back to tempt me. You make me feel again when I thought I was dead inside. I want – I want you like a moth wants the flame, knowing it'll be the death of him. It's wrong and selfish and fucked up..." Jared takes another breath, lets his eyes lift to Jensen's for a moment, then flick away again, his cheeks flushed pink in the stark light of the truck's headlights. "You should leave now, Jensen, while you still can, because I'm warning you, if you don't, I can't be responsible for what happens. I mean, I'll be responsible, it'll be my own fucking fault, but I – what I want from you, if I really let myself think about it too much – "

"Okay, that's enough," Jensen cuts him off, moving instinctively and without forethought so that suddenly he's in Jared's space, his hand in Jared's hair, holding the back of his neck while his other hand cups Jared's perfect jaw, thumbs along his cheekbone to his lips, skims along them slowly, rhythmically. He tips Jared's huge head down so their foreheads are touching and holds it there, breathing deeply as he stills his own pounding heart. "That's enough for now, okay? We're gonna be okay. We're gonna get through this, and it'll be okay. Promise."

He's soothing Jared and he doesn't even know why; it just feels right, like it's what he was meant to do. And he's so in love with the man it's not even funny. Like there was ever any way he could walk away from this, now that he's found it.

Their kisses this time are slow, tentative at first, then passionate with promise, desperate and tearful on Jared's part. Jensen pulls back when he tastes Jared's tears, swipes his thumbs under his eyes, holding his face so he can kiss the tears off his cheeks as Jared smiles with his eyes closed, all teeth and dimples.

"I want this so much it scares me, Jen, that's the thing," Jared whispers. "I'm so scared right now."

"Shhh," Jensen soothes, kissing along Jared's jaw as fresh tears squeeze out under his closed lids, slide down his cheeks. "You'll be fine."

He pulls back and waits till Jared opens his eyes, blinks at him with an expression so wounded and vulnerable it hurts. "You know what I'm scared of right now?" Jensen asks. "Getting these jeans off. If we don't hit the showers pretty soon, we may have to cut them off. And that would be embarrassing."

Jared grins all over himself again, nods, pulls back reluctantly, holding onto Jensen's hand until the last possible moment, brushing a soft kiss across his knuckles before letting go, heading back to the truck.

They drive back to the ranch in silence, shooting quick glances at each other every mile or so, making each other smile shyly. As soon as they're in the house, Jared's self-control returns; he's the master of this place, and the power and responsibility just radiate off of him. The house is dark and quiet as they climb the staircase to their rooms, and in the hushed silence Jared backs Jensen up against his door, kisses him sweetly, holding him steady with his big hands, and Jensen feels young and cared for again. When Jared releases him, stares intently into his eyes and says, "I'll see you in the morning," Jensen feels only a little disappointed. Of course they need to be careful, need to ease into this cautiously and with consideration for the other members of the household, who may be a little shocked to find out the master is fucking the young tutor.

Because Jensen's fairly confident that's the way this is gonna go. Just not tonight.

* / / *

Jensen wakes sometime later to the smell of smoke.

He blinks awake, trying to orient himself. The smell is definitely coming from inside the house, and it's getting stronger. He reaches up and to the bed-side table and turns on the light, frowning. The house is still, quiet and hushed as it was when he went to bed; it's still the darkest part of the night, right before dawn.

Tendrils of smoke are snaking under his door.

Jensen gets up quickly, pads across the room to his door, and opens it. The hallway is hazy with smoke, and it only takes a minute to realize it's coming from under Jared's door. Then time seems to slow down as Jensen grabs Jared's doorknob, finds it locked.

"Jared!" he pounds on the door, yelling urgently but gets no answer. The smoke is getting thicker. Jensen shoves his shoulder against the door, pushes with all his strength but the door won't budge so he backs up, across the hall, takes a flying leap, flinging all of his weight against the door, managing only to shake it a little.

Adrenaline kicks in and he uses his legs this time, backing up to give himself some leverage, then lands a crushing kick on the wood, right next to the lock. It gives way with a crash, taking much of the frame with it, but Jensen only has a second to be grateful because Jared's room is full of smoke and flame and Jared is lying on the bed, unconscious or dead, Jensen doesn't take time to consider, just bursts through the door to his boss's bedside, yelling his name as he grabs his arms, hauls him up in a fireman's carry and gets him out into the hall as men come running, shouting orders. Jensen carries Jared down to the end of the hall to the head of the stairs, where the air is clearer, then lets Jared's body slide to the floor, pressing two fingers to Jared's carotid artery. Jared's eyes flutter open as Jensen finds his pulse, steady and strong. He frowns dazedly, focusing on Jensen's face, then his eyes widen as he registers where he is, taking in what's happened.

"Your room was on fire," Jensen explains. "I got you out. Looks like John and his crew already put the flames out."

Jared starts to struggle, to get up, and Jensen grabs his shoulders, holding him down, slipping one hand along his jaw to get Jared to look at him.

"Whoa, whoa, hold up a minute," Jensen protests as Jared slumps back down, staring around wildly. "What happened, Jay? Did you fall asleep with a cigar in your hand?"

Jared focuses on Jensen again, and his features relax a little, his eyes lose their wild look.

"Yeah," he looks away, and Jensen has the distinct feeling he's being lied to. "Yeah, that's what happened. I'm an idiot."

Jensen stares at him, disbelieving and more than a little horrified, indignant because he can't imagine why Jared would lie to him about something like this, although he's pretty sure that's what's happening.

Jensen drops his hand from Jared's face and sits back on his heels. "Damn right you're an idiot," he growls angrily. "You almost got yourself killed, not to mention burning the house down. Jesus."

"You alright, Mister Jared?" John steps up next to Jensen, peering down with real concern creasing his usually stoic features.

"Yeah," Jared nods, reaching up to grab Jensen's shoulder so he can pull himself up to standing, leaning half on Jensen, half on the wall behind him. "I'm fine. How bad is the damage?"

"Well, you won't be sleeping again in that room for awhile," John shakes his head. "But the fire was pretty much contained right there. A little smoke damage in the hall maybe, nothing that can't be fixed."

"Thanks, John. You and the boys go on back to bed," Jared commands. "I'll finish out the night in one of the guest rooms." He glances at Jensen, looks away again. "You too, Jensen. Get some sleep."

"Oh yeah, like that's happening after you almost burned yourself to death right next door," Jensen huffs, still feeling the sting of Jared's weird fabrication.

Jared raises his eyes to Jensen's, and they're full of such raw pain and despair it makes Jensen wince. "You're right," he nods. "Sleep with me."

"What?" Jensen is so startled he can't be sure he's heard right. Jared is propositioning him? Now?

"Life is short, Jen, you said it yourself," Jared says. "When something like this happens, I'm reminded how short it really is. We never know if we're gonna be alive tomorrow."

"Are you giving me a last-night-on-earth line?" Jensen stares. Really?

Jared huffs out a breath, rolls his head in a gesture of frustration that practically breaks Jensen's heart. "All I know is, you're important to me, Jensen, and I don't want to waste another moment pretending I should know how to live without you."

Jensen's jaw drops. "Now it sounds like you're proposing," he dips his chin, looks up at Jared with raised eyebrows, skeptical.

Jared sighs and grabs his arm, pulling him along the corridor and around the corner, into the west wing of the house until they reach what must be a guest room. Jared opens the door and pulls Jensen inside, closes the door behind them and turns the lock, then faces Jensen, and now they're alone, on neutral ground, in a room that isn't Jensen's, or Jared's, huge king-size bed an obvious beacon in the middle.

"None of us knows how long we've got on this earth, Jensen," Jared says, and if his eyes weren't full of tears Jensen might think he was joking. "I've been a fool for thinking I could resist you. I told myself I only wanted to keep you safe, not to suck you into the darkness of my life. But I'm weak, Jensen. I can't keep pretending."

He falls to his knees suddenly, literally fucking falls down on his knees in front of Jensen, and Jensen takes a startled step back because it's so insane, because he suddenly feels like he's in some kind of over-the-top romance novel or Life-Time movie. "What I feel for you...what I felt from the moment I saw you in my driveway that's like you've cast a spell on me. I feel bewitched. I don't even know if I could survive without you. You're like a special brand of oxygen made just for me."

"Okay, you can get up now," Jensen's starting to feel a little freaked out. It occurs to him that there's something not quite right about Jared, that the root of his passionate nature is a kind of mental illness, a kind of madness. He reaches out a hand, ostensibly to help Jared up, but of course the older man just grabs it, pulling it against his face and closing his eyes, nuzzling a little into the palm of Jensen's hand.

"Forgive me, Jensen," Jared breathes, opening his eyes to stare up at Jensen, eyes still full of tears, pleading. "I know I'm not being fair to you. I know I'm springing this on you, and from your point of view, from the point of view of someone so young, this probably seems crazy. But I've lived long enough to know when I've found what I've been looking for. And I'm too selfish and weak to let it go."

Jensen stares down, trying to get control of his pounding heart, his conflicting emotions. He thinks he probably should be trying to convince Jared to sleep it off, to reassure him that things will look different in the morning, once they've both had a good night's sleep and the shock and adrenaline rush of their brush with tragedy has worn off a little. But part of him is convinced that Jared is being more honest than he's ever been at this moment, that Jensen's earlier quip about being proposed to isn't far off from what's actually happening here. And the wild and crazy thing of it is, Jensen doesn't mind as much as he probably should. The rational part of his brain is screaming, "Run away! This guy is out of his fucking mind! This is crazy!"

But Jensen's heart is screaming something entirely different.

"You can be a really scary bastard sometimes, Jay," Jensen says, sliding his hand along Jared's smooth cheek, freshly shaved after his recent shower. "But I don't want to lose you, either."

He drops to his knees in front of Jared, watching his beautiful face as his expression softens, as all the desperation and pain slides away, replaced by a gaze of such abject adoration it takes Jensen's breath away.

"Stop," he growls, leaning in to touch Jared's lips with his. "Just stop, okay? God."

Jared surges forward then, capturing Jensen's mouth in a searing kiss, taking Jensen's head in one huge, long-fingered hand, slipping the other arm around Jensen's body to pull their chests flush together, thrusting his hips against Jensen's, languidly at first, then more urgently as the kiss deepens. Jared tastes and smells like smoke, and the idea of losing him tonight, just after they finally found each other, finally admitted how they feel about each other – it overwhelms Jensen and he gets it, he really does, why Jared was behaving so emotionally before. The fact that Jared feels things so intensely, his ability to convey those feelings with such conviction, makes Jensen love him even more. It's never been something Jensen was very good at, expressing his feelings, but he's suddenly certain that his feelings are every bit as wild and untamed as Jared's. The thought of losing Jared tonight sears him with anguish, makes him crazy with need.

They're out of their clothes in record time, hands and mouths all over each other, everywhere. Neither of them were wearing much to begin with, so it doesn't take long. Jensen wants to take time to sit back and really look at Jared, just take in all those miles of tan skin and taut muscle, but Jared's naked skin rubbing against his has got him all revved up and he barely takes time to remove his glasses. He knows he won't last long, especially when Jared slips his hand down between their bodies and wraps his long fingers around Jensen's cock. Jensen flings his head back as his dick shivers, his balls pull tight. He comes hard with Jared's hand jerking him through it, with Jared's mouth on his arched throat, nipping and sucking, licking over the bruises he's making on Jensen's skin.

In the haze of his afterglow Jensen lets Jared guide him to the bed, pull back the covers and lets Jensen fall into the huge bed while Jared disappears into the bathroom for a washcloth. Jensen's almost asleep when he returns, lays a condom and a tube of lubricant on the bed. Jensen lies still with his eyes closed while Jared washes him off, then rolls him onto his stomach with a pillow under his hips, spreading Jensen's legs and ass for round two.

"Not done with you yet," Jared whispers as he climbs onto the bed and leans down over Jensen's back, nuzzles into his neck and tongues behind Jensen's ear. Jensen's so relaxed all he can do is lie there with his eyes closed, arms hugging the pillow, face buried and ass raised. Jared massages his shoulders, his back muscles, kisses down his spine, letting his tongue dip between each vertebrae to the small of his back, then into the crack between his ass-cheeks. Jared spreads Jensen wide, tonguing down his crack to his hole, making Jensen gasp and clench his hands in the sheets as Jared's tongue pushes inside. Jensen feels his spent cock start to twitch, trapped under him against the sheets, heat pooling in his belly as Jared works him open. He lifts his hips instinctively, pushes back against Jared's tongue, spreads his legs to give Jared more room to work. Jared's careful, but he's not a patient man, and his eagerness to get to the main event is obvious as he pushes first one, then two lubed fingers into Jensen alongside his thrusting tongue, ripping a long low moan from Jensen's throat as he hits his sweet spot.

Jared kneels between Jensen's legs, his fingers thrusting and scissoring as he slides one huge hand over Jensen's hip, holding him still when Jensen tries to push back. When Jared's fingers pull out Jensen whines, and it would be embarrassing if he wasn't so relaxed, if everything didn't feel so good. He can hear the sound of a condom being opened, hears Jared grunt a little as he rolls the thing onto his dick, and it makes Jensen hard just thinking about Jared's cock, about how huge and angry-looking it must be right now. Jensen keeps his eyes closed and his face buried in the pillow he's hugging as the sounds of Jared lubing his cock sends shivers of lust up his spine. Then comes the feel of Jared's huge hand on his hip again, this time sticky with lube, and Jensen hisses involuntarily.

"Shhhh," Jared purrs softly as something – Jared's dick – presses against Jensen's entrance. "Gonna take care of you, sweet boy. Gonna do it right."

The bed shakes as Jared pushes, and the sensation is strange and verging on painful and then it is painful as Jared's cock breaches the tight muscle, making Jensen's insides cramp and his hole feel like it's being ripped open. Searing pain rips up his spine; he cries out and tries to scramble away, but Jared's got him pinned, one huge hand holding his hip as he guides himself in, kneading the tight muscle reassuringly.

"It's gonna be okay," Jared murmurs. "I've gotcha. Hang in there, just one more little inch..."

"Fuck! Oh God!" Jensen sobs as the sensation of being split apart continues, relentless and steady as Jared slides inside him. Just when he thinks he can't stand it, that he'll have to beg Jared to stop, something breaks, or Jared hits something, and warm sparks of pleasure shoot through Jensen's insides, ripple up his spine. He lets out a moan and pushes back, chasing after the sensation, and it happens again.

"That's it," Jared slides his hand up over Jensen's back, drags the tips of his fingers down Jensen's vertebrae. "Feels good, doesn't it? That's it, Jensen."

And just when Jensen thought he couldn't take anymore, that he must have two baseball bats shoved up his ass already, Jared gives a quick thrust and slams his hips against Jensen's ass, punching a deep, rough scream from Jensen's throat. It's too much, he's too big, Jensen's mind screams, I can't take this! But he knows Jared has bottomed out, he can tell by the way Jared's panting and trembling, massaging his back with one hand, soothing.

"So good, Jensen, you're so good for me," Jared murmurs, his voice sounding a little choked, a little breathless.

The pillow is wet, and Jensen realizes he's crying, has been for awhile, his body's natural response to the shock of this new experience. And just when he thinks his body is beginning to adjust, Jared starts moving.

"Oh God!" Jensen sobs as Jared's shallow thrusting hits that spot again, sending more sparks up his spine, all the way to the backs of his eyes, making him feel like he might black out. He grabs fistfuls of the pillow, kneading it as he rubs his face against his own arm. It feels like his back is being realigned, his insides are being permanently rearranged, as Jared thrusts a little harder, pulling out and going deep again, a little faster each time. Jensen holds on and sobs, his body trembling with painful pleasure, or pleasurable pain, he can't decide and really doesn't give a fuck. He tries to push back a couple of times, to try to participate in the coupling a little, but his legs are trembling and he can't hold himself up, and then Jared's hitting that spot over and over, punching little gasping cries out of Jensen's throat, making his dick so hard it's painful. He tries to get a hand on himself but Jared's right there too, jerking him off with one huge, lubed hand as he fucks into his ass.

"Come on, Jensen, that's it," he breathes, leaning down to kiss Jensen's neck, and that's just it. The feel of Jared's lips against his ear sends him over, crying out loudly as he comes, all pain giving way to the most intense pleasure Jensen's ever known, wave after wave just cresting and crashing till his head is swimming in dark, spine-tingling release that goes on and on and on.

As he starts to come back to himself he's aware of Jared withdrawing, turning him carefully over onto his back, then spreading Jensen's legs again, folding one leg back over his arm as he slips back inside Jensen's loose, fucked-out hole.

"Wanna see you," Jared breathes as he starts to thrust again. "Want to see your face when I come."

It's a different angle, and Jensen feels even fuller this way, and he's sure it would be painful if he wasn't already so well-stretched out, his body loose and relaxed after his orgasm. He blinks up at Jared, finds his face just inches away, sweat dripping off his brow, jaw clenched in concentration as he thrusts. He reaches up to cup Jared's cheek, runs his thumb along his cheekbone, then puts his thumb in his mouth and sucks, keeping his eyes on Jared's as he licks Jared's sweat off his own thumb.

"Oh fuck," Jared gasps, closing his eyes and going still, neck muscles clenched and gorgeous, face almost purple with strain. Jensen can feel Jared's dick swell, then twitch as he comes, and it's almost unbearably hot, watching the older man come undone, watching his beautiful face as the muscles begin working again.

"Jensen," Jared breathes as he opens his eyes, blinks blearily. His features soften, eyes glassy with tears as he comes down from his orgasm, pumping shallowly into Jensen's body for another minute. He leans down, captures Jensen's mouth, kisses him slowly and languidly as he wraps his arms around him, holding him against his chest with one hand holding the back of Jensen's head as he kisses him. The squelching sound as Jared's spent cock slips out of Jensen's body makes them both groan, and Jared lets out a low chuckle against Jensen's mouth as he releases him, planting soft, tender kisses along his jaw, nuzzling into his neck.

Jensen dozes, is only vaguely aware of Jared getting up, disposing of the condom, cleaning them up before climbing back into bed, scooping him into his long-armed embrace, holding him so Jensen's cheek rests against Jared's chest as Jared cards his fingers through Jensen's hair.

"That – that was your first time, wasn't it?" Jared suggests softly, his voice full of wonder.

Jensen nods against his chest and lets out a long contented sigh. Jared's skin is warm, almost hot, against Jensen's cheek, chest hair damp with sweat.

"But you – you were on the streets – "

"Never," Jensen growls curtly, then lifts his head to look up at Jared, meeting his eyes with what he hopes is a teasing smirk. "Learned to give pretty good head, though, in case you're interested."

"Jesus, Jen," Jared's face breaks out in a pink-cheeked blush, and it's adorable, that this should embarrass Jared, given what they've just done.

Jensen grins broader, places a smacking kiss on Jared's firm pec, then lets his tongue wander lazily over the pert brown nipple, making Jared gasp and arch his back, close his eyes. His pink lips part and Jensen reaches up to touch them, letting his finger slide along the bottom one, watching Jared's wanton expression with lazy fascination.

"I could teach you," Jensen suggests thoughtfully, and Jared's eyes fly open. He captures Jensen's finger with his lips, sucks it into the wet warmth of his mouth, suckles it a minute as he looks down at Jensen, heavy-lidded with lust and sheer exhaustion.

Which is when Jensen remembers what happened tonight. Before the thing that just happened.

"Hey," Jensen pulls his finger free, palms Jared's jaw and scoots up so he can plant a soft, almost chaste kiss on Jared's pink mouth. "Sleep now. Lots of time to figure this out later, okay?"

Jared nods, seeming suddenly younger again, less sure of himself, and Jensen reaches up to turn out the bedside table light, can't even remember who turned it on in the first place but figures it was probably him so he could have a place to lay his glasses. He snuggles down against Jared's ample chest, one leg tangled between Jared's, his arm low across Jared's torso, at his waist, gets comfortable right away because it just feels right somehow, and he knows instinctively that Jared's feeling the same way.

NEXT CHAPTER - Back to Masterpost

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