He staggers out of bed, finds his tattered pajamas, and manages to limp down the corridor to his room to find some clothes. He's sore in places he doesn't want to think about too much, so he takes a long, hot shower before getting dressed, grateful for the fact that his room isn't reeking of smoke, like the hallway. Jared's room is a wreck, door broken and gaping, contents smoke-stained and ruined. Fortunately, Jensen's room seems to have escaped smoke-damage; the clothes in his closet still smell relatively fresh and clean, and he pulls them on quickly and heads downstairs to the dining room as he does every morning.
"Had a little excitement last night, I hear," Mrs. Fairfax comments as she lays the breakfast tray on the table, just like always. Adele looks up from her drawing, smiles shyly at him as he takes his plate from the tray, sits down to eat.
"Jay – Jared almost burned the house down," Jensen nods, smiling wryly at her as he takes a sip of his coffee. "Other than that, everything was fine." He lowers his eyes and busies himself with his meal in an effort to hide the flush he can feel creeping up his chest to his ears.
"Well, Mr. Jared's gone into town to find a contractor to rebuild his room," Mrs. Fairfax notes. "They'll be back before noon. Is your room all right?"
Jensen nods. "Just a distant smell of smoke," he says. "No real damage." Jensen squirms a little on the hard chair, trying to find a way to sit that doesn't make his ass ache, but he knows it's useless. Gonna be sore for at least a week, he's pretty sure.
"I'll have Leah go up and clean the rooms today," Mrs. Fairfax says, referring to the maid who comes twice a week to launder the sheets and towels in the bedrooms. Jensen's amazed sometimes by how many people Jared employs. He must contribute to a serious part of the economy in this part of Texas, with the number of full-time farm workers and part-time ranch-hands that come and go.
Jensen and Adele work quietly in the library till lunchtime. By that time a work crew has arrived, traipsing up and down the front hall and stairs with ladders and tool boxes, dragging out the ruined furniture, curtains, and carpet. After lunch Adele takes Buck out to her swing, where she can watch the workmen as they go in and out. Jensen knows she'll sit there for at least an hour, swinging back and forth as Buck sniffs around the area, then finally settles down on the grass close by where he can keep an eye on her.
Jensen goes looking for Jared, but it seems he stayed in town, didn't come back to the ranch with the crew. When he hasn't returned by evening, Jensen starts to worry. Last night was pretty intense; maybe Jared regrets it now, wishes he hadn't said the things he did. Jensen eats supper silently with Adele, accepts her good night kiss distractedly, watches as Mrs. Fairfax leads her off to bed. He finds himself pacing the back patio, where he and Jared sat and shared their first meal, restless and unable to relax. Endless stream-of-consciousness insecurities run through his head and he's hyper aware of how sore his body is, how real things are between him and Jared all of a sudden, achingly real. He's got the bruises and the sore ass to show for what happened last night, and if Jared is just running away and pretending it didn't happen –
The first stars are starting to appear when Jensen decides to take a walk. The grounds are huge, and after half an hour he finds himself back at the stables. The smell of hay and horseflesh soothes his jangled nerves, and he speaks quietly as he enters Scoot's stall, soothing hand on her flank, picks up a brush from the shelf. She raises her head and watches him, blows out and flares her nostrils as she picks up his scent, then nuzzles him for an apple or a carrot.
"Sorry, girl," he tells her sadly. "I didn't know I was gonna end up here tonight. Didn't come prepared."
She tosses her head a little, obviously disgusted with him, and snorts some more, but otherwise tolerates his brushing, which he suddenly feels the need to do. Being with horses always soothes Jensen. It was something Christian Kane figured out right away, giving Jensen lots of chores to do with the care and feeding of the large animals when he first arrived on Chris's farm, all those years ago. Jensen spent his first three months just mucking out stalls, filling water troughs, forking hay, brushing down the horses when they came in after a ride, hanging the saddles.
"What do you think, girl? You think Jared's sick of me already?" he says idly as he brushes. "You think he wishes he'd never met me?"
"Yeah, right," Jared's voice, coming from the other side of the stall, by the door, makes Jensen jump and blush to the tips of his ears. He's lounging against the wall, arms crossed, wearing his signature jeans with a plaid work-shirt and cowboy boots and hat, and it occurs to Jensen that he's been there all along, just hanging out with the horses, as Jensen's doing. Jensen watches warily as Jared uncrosses his arms, strides over and lays a soothing hand on Scoot's flank. She shivers a little, but otherwise ignores him. He obviously doesn't bring her treats, but she knows him well, tolerates him anyway.
"Scoot was my first real horse," he says as he pets her, runs his hand along her back as he moves up to her shoulder, so that he's standing facing Jensen, the horse between them. "I'd had Shetlands, but Scoot was my first grown-up horse. I was seven, and she was only three, but I rode her bareback all over the ranch, all day, for weeks. Years."
"She's old," Jensen notes, scratching gently behind her ears before starting to brush out her long, blond mane.
"Twenty-eight," Jared agrees. "She's the grand dame of the ranch now. Adele learned to ride on her."
"She's patient and steady," Jensen nods as he brushes, not looking at Jared but feeling his heat anyway. Jensen's trying to get his pounding heart under control, his body's reaction to Jared's proximity.
"She wasn't always so steady," Jared says, keeping his hands on Scoot's neck, her back. "She was pretty skittish as a colt, right up into her early adult years. That's why we called her Scoot. Her registered name is something more formal. I can't even remember it now because Scoot suited her so well. She was always a little wild, which is why she and I hit if off so well, right from the beginning."
"You like your horses a little untamed," Jensen teases without really meaning to, and he feels Jared looking at him, eyes dark and full of heat.
"I like to tame them," Jared agrees, his voice low and a little breathless suddenly. "I like to earn their respect."
Jensen raises his eyes to Jared's. "Not their love?" he asks. "You don't need their devotion?"
Jared's eyes crinkle as a blinding, dimpled grin spreads across his face. He ducks his head, looks back up at Jensen from under a lock of hair. "We're talking about horses here, Jensen, right?"
Jensen blushes to the roots of his hair, feels his chest and his ears burning, lowers his eyes and brushes Scoot harder. "It's okay, Jay," he mutters dismissively. "We don't have to talk at all. About horses or anything else. It's fine."
"What?" Jared raises his eyebrows, then frowns, all serious suddenly. "You think I don't want to talk?"
Jensen keeps brushing, watching his work so he doesn't have to look at Jared. "Well, since you've been gone all day, didn't call or text, after last night...I figured you'd had second thoughts."
"Second thoughts?" Jared huffs out a breath, his boots scraping the straw-covered floor irritably. "You thought I was avoiding you? Jesus, Jensen, if you think that...after last night..."
"What was I supposed to think, huh?" Jensen stops suddenly, glares at Jared because really, how could that big brain of his be so stupid? "All that talk last night about...well, all that talk, and what we did, and...I wake up this morning and you're just gone, Jay. You're gone and you don't call or text and...what the hell was I supposed to think?"
Jared opens his mouth, closes it again, multiple expressions flitting across his beautiful face as he takes in what Jensen's saying, sees his sudden unexplained absence from Jensen's point of view, after what happened between them the previous night. Finally he shakes his head, purses his lips, making his dimples show, and shifts his feet awkwardly till he's leaning on one hip, head ducked contritely.
"I'm sorry, Jen," he says softly. "I didn't think. I had to go into town to meet with my lawyer. I needed to get some things straightened out." He reaches into the front pocket of his jeans, pulls out a simple silver ring. "And I wanted to get this for you. It was my father's. It's not his wedding ring, but it's one he wore every day, according to everyone who knew him. I think it was special to him. I always thought, someday, I would find someone I could give it to. Now I have."
Jensen stares at him, then at the ring, not understanding. "You want me to...you're asking me to..."
"Well, it's Texas, so we can't get married, per se, but according to my lawyer, there's ways to join our assets so we'll get all the marital benefits, and you and Adele would inherit my estate if I died, and if you really want a wedding we can fly to Massachusetts, or California, pretty much anywhere, really..."
"You – you want me to marry you," Jensen states, clarifying in words what his heart can't seem to believe.
Jared's eyes soften and he gets that semi-pleading, helpless look that is so endearing in such a large man it's not even funny.
"If you'll have me," he nods. "I don't deserve you, Jensen, I know, but I – I'm in love with you, and I can't imagine my life without you in it. So, if you'll have me...?"
"I can't marry you. You're my boss," Jensen states flatly, citing the only objection that comes to mind, keeping his hands on Scoot's neck to keep them from trembling.
Jared's grin lights up the room, which is something that may have no basis in scientific reality but is simply the only way to describe the magic of Jared's smile, as far as Jensen can tell.
"Then I'll just have to fire you," Jared answers, ducking under Scoot's neck so he can crowd into Jensen's space, grab Jensen's left hand so he can slip the ring on. It fits. Of course it fits. "Say yes, Jensen. Say yes."
Jensen looks down at his hand and is overcome by the surreality of the situation, the heady fantasy fairy-tale atmosphere of the stable and the tall cowboy looking at him like he's everything. He stares up at Jared, feels tears stinging his eyes, and Jared's expression softens again. He slips his hand along Jensen's jaw and pushes up against him so Jensen's back is against the wall of the stall, tenderly removes Jensen's glasses and sets them aside, on the shelf beside the brush.
"Look at you," Jared breathes, gazing intently as he holds Jensen's face in his hands. "You're so, so beautiful." His eyes drop to Jensen's mouth and Jensen closes his eyes, lets Jared kiss him, lets Jared's lips trail along his jaw to his ear.
"Say yes," he whispers, and Jensen's whole body shudders with pleasure, with need. Jared kisses him again, deeper, plundering Jensen's mouth with his eager tongue, letting his hands roam down over his body, between his legs, squeezing his thickening cock through his jeans, making Jensen moan and tip his head back, freeing his mouth. Jared kisses down his neck, unbuttons his shirt so he can dip his tongue into the hollow of Jensen's throat, slips his hand around Jensen's waist to his ass, squeezes possessively.
"Say yes, Jensen," Jared pleads as he kisses back up Jensen's neck to his jaw, angles his mouth to Jensen's and suckles his lips, one at a time, before plunging his tongue between them again.
"Say it!" he orders when he releases Jensen's mouth again, squeezing his ass for emphasis, slipping his long middle finger down Jensen's crack to rub at his hole, still sore from last night, through his jeans.
"Yes!" Jensen sobs, and the admission takes him over the edge, sends his orgasm coursing through him like a volcanic eruption, hot and uncontrollable. "God, yes," Jensen gasps as he rubs against Jared's leg, milking himself through the aftershocks. His limbs feel heavy, sodden, and he lets himself be half-carried out of the stall, laid down on a blanket in a soft pile of sweet-smelling hay, lets Jared undress him slowly and tenderly. He's sleepy and content and only half-aware as Jared washes him off, pulls another blanket over him, lies down beside him and scoops Jensen into his giant arms. Jensen passes out to the low rumble of thunder outside, Jared's sweat-soaked skin against his cheek, the salty taste of it in his mouth.
The rest of the week passes in a blur. Jared getting what he wants is a force that no one seems able to resist. It takes less than twenty-four hours for the entire household to find out that Jared and Jensen are together, will be tying the knot at some undetermined date in the future. Jared takes Adele aside the next morning during lessons, quietly explains that Jensen will be part of the family from now on, and she can call him Uncle Jensen, if she ever decides to speak again. She looks back and forth between them, huge dark eyes solemn, then she runs to Jensen and hugs him tight. Jensen pets her hair gently, shares a smile with Jared over her head, letting out a sigh of relief.
"Well, that went well," he notes to Jared as they're standing aside later while Adele practices the piano. "Wasn't sure how she'd feel about sharing you, since she's had you to herself for so long."
"Her family just doubled," Jared notes, running his hand down Jensen's back, curling his fingers around Jensen's waist. "And she likes you. You're good for her."
It's strange being with Jared now that everyone knows they're together, and Jensen's natural shyness leaves Jared to initiate pretty much all public displays of affection. It takes a couple of days for Jensen to adjust to being touched in front of other people, but Jared does it so easily, so comfortably, Jensen decides he can get used to it. It's an extension of Jared's boisterous, emotional character, the casual hand on the small of Jensen's back, the shoulder and neck rubs, the arm around his waist. He grabs Jensen's hand when he wants to show him something, or get him to come with him somewhere, and Jensen lets him, lets their hands tangle together. He's only ever held hands with his college girlfriend, an endlessly patient red-head named Danni, who finally recognized his preference for tall, dark, gangly men and downgraded her romantic interest in him to mere friendship. The hand-holding seems to make Jared ridiculously happy, and Jensen just doesn't have it in him to refuse. Jared seems to need to touch him constantly, now that he's allowed, and despite how horny it makes Jensen sometimes, he allows it because he can see how much it steadies Jared, how he needs the physical connection like a drug.
The whole household is affected by Jared's happiness. It's as if every window had been opened and the sun's shining into the house again. All traces of the sad, brooding man Jensen first met have been replaced by a joyous, constantly grinning giant with twinkling eyes, whose laughter booms out through the house at the slightest provocation. It would be a little unnerving if it wasn't so infectious. Jensen's face hurts by the end of the day from returning Jared's smiles, which is something he couldn't help doing if his life depended on it.
They discuss plans, and agree that they'll slip away to Massachusetts with Adele and Mrs. Fairfax for the wedding, then fly out to Martha's Vineyard, where Jared's parents bought a vacation home years ago. It'll be a honeymoon-slash-family vacation, and no one needs to know anything's changed when they get back to Texas except the immediate household, of course, who are sworn to secrecy because this is conservative West Texas and they really don't need the kind of attention they might attract here if word got out.
Things are working out so well that Jensen can't help worrying. It's an old habit with him, ingrained from the early days after his parents' deaths, when life seemed to dole out nothing but heart-ache and disappointment. He's learned to be suspicious of happiness, and he's reluctant to give into it now. In Jensen's experience, life rarely gave out good things without a price. Getting Jared and Adele and Padlock Ranch just seems a little too easy, too much of a happy-ending, according to the nagging little voice in the back of Jensen's head.
Which is why it doesn't surprise Jensen when the other shoe drops.
It happens about a week-and-a-half after their engagement (a word Jensen has trouble using for their promised union, even in his head). Jensen's so used to being woken in the middle of the night by Grace Waters' unearthly moans by this time that he doesn't even think much about it anymore, but this time when his eyes fly open there's someone else in the room. It takes him a moment to recall that Jared said he'd be back late, that he was meeting with the lawyer again and probably wouldn't return until after midnight. Then he sees it, a figure all in white, with long, tangled black hair framing a white face out of which huge, dark eyes stare at him with an expression so malevolent, so evil, it makes Jensen gasp. That's when he realizes she's carrying a knife, a huge, long handled blade that looks more like a small sword, really. As soon as she sees him staring at her she advances, raising the knife over her head swiftly and purposefully, so that there could be no doubt about what she's about to do with it.
Jensen rolls to the side at the last minute, managing to fling himself off the bed so fast he stumbles, still groggy from sleep, and falls hard, hitting his head on the night-table. He hears a gargling screech as the knife tears into the bed where he was just lying, then she's raising it and bringing it down again and Jensen panics, struggles to get up, bangs his head so hard he sees stars, then the world goes dark.
When he comes to he's in Jared's arms, on the floor of his room, and Jared is pressing a cool, damp cloth against his forehead and saying his name with an urgent tone in his voice that belies his gentle touch.
"Oh, thank God," Jared breathes as Jensen's eyes flutter open. He hugs Jensen against him, smashing Jensen's face into his massive chest, rocking back and forth like he's holding a baby. Jensen struggles to free himself, ignoring the pounding pain in his head as he struggles to sit up. He feels a little guilty when he sees Jared's tear-streaked face, realizes he passed out when he hit his head and Jared feared he was dead, which is just not okay.
"I'm fine, Jay, I'm fine," Jensen assures him, pressing one hand against his throbbing skull, finding a sizable lump there that's painful to touch. "What happened?"
Which is when he notices the bed. It's been ripped to shreds, the sheets hanging in strips off the edges, the pillows completely unrecognizable, feathers and stuffing everywhere. Then he remembers the apparition hovering over him with her long knife, swinging it down at him with every intention of slashing him to smithereens. He grabs Jared's sleeve, focuses as well as he can without his glasses.
"Where is she?" he demands, staring around wildly. "She attacked me. Where is she?"
"It's okay, Jensen, we got her," Jared assures him. "We heard the screams and got here just in time. John managed to wrestle the knife away from her, although he's probably gonna need stitches..."
"Jesus, Jay," Jensen stares at him. "You need to lock her up or something. She needs serious help."
"I know," Jared sighs. "We've had doctors and nurses and caregivers working with her for years. She gets better, then refuses her medications, then gets worse again. It's a vicious cycle. She needs lifelong care, and I'm doing everything I can to provide that, but it's not perfect. And now..."
"She's obviously not harmless, Jay," Jensen notes unnecessarily. "She probably needs to be somewhere they can watch her twenty-four-seven."
Jared shakes his head sharply, not meeting Jensen's eyes. "I promised," he says softly, almost sadly. "This is her home. I won't lock her up in some horrible place where they tie her down at night and stick needles in her to make her go to sleep. I can't do that."
"Jay, with your money, there must be someplace decent she can stay where she isn't a threat to people, someplace with staff who know how to handle somebody like her. It doesn't have to be like those awful places you see on t.v."
Jared shakes his head. "No," he says. "I've looked into it. Seriously, I have. There isn't."
"But you can't keep her in your home, Jared," Jensen insists, flabbergasted by Jared's strange stubbornness on this point. "She's a threat to your family. To Adele. How could you live with yourself if something happened to Adele? If Grace had broken into Adele's room tonight instead of mine?"
Jared lifts his eyes, shining with tears, full of misery. "I can't," he chokes out. "I can't, Jensen. Please don't make me explain."
"Explain what? Why can't you? What is wrong with you, Jared? This woman is a threat to your family and you're going to just ignore it? How can you do that?"
Jared shakes his head, tears sliding down his cheeks, but Jensen won't let him off the hook, this is too important. This is part and parcel of what he's getting when he joins this family, and he needs to understand it.
"Most of the time she's not violent," Jared pleads. "It's just once in awhile when she goes off the deep end..."
"Wait, what?" Jensen stares. "You mean, this has happened before?" He gets a whiff of smoke off the construction site next door and it hits him. "Oh no," he shakes his head. "She set the fire that night, didn't she? The fire that almost killed you."
Jared flinches, bites his lip, and Jensen knows he's right.
"Okay, now you listen to me," Jensen kneels in front of Jared, takes him by the shoulders, shaking him a little. "This is not okay. You've got a homicidal maniac living in your house, and just in the time I've been living here, she's tried to kill you, and tonight she tried to kill me. What part of that is okay with you?"
"I'll get better locks on the doors," Jared says lamely. "I'll double her guard. Just because I can't find people who will stay more than a month or two doesn't mean I have to stop looking. I just have to go further afield. Maybe Dallas...We can make it work..."
"No, Jared, we can't," Jensen insists, giving Jared another shake. "This is not working. This is not working at all. And I don't understand you. What is more important than your family's safety? Huh?"
Jared deflates then, breathes out a long, huffing sigh, looks down at his hands. He's still sitting on the floor, legs sprawled out like an overgrown preschooler, and Jensen almost feels sorry for him, although he can't imagine why he should.
"She is my family, Jensen," Jared says finally, his voice soft and miserable. "She's my wife."
Cold water floods Jensen's veins. He knows instantly that it's true. Just like he knows instantly that this is the source of all of Jared's pain, all his brooding unhappiness. Given how obvious it is, Jensen's just surprised he didn't see it earlier.
He rises to his feet, backing away from Jared before he realizes what he's doing, stands a couple of feet away, staring down at the man he loves, sprawled like a helpless child on the floor. Jared's not looking at him, is instead looking down at the washcloth in his hands, thumb rubbing back and forth over the seam.
"Oh God," Jensen breathes out. "Oh God." There's a roaring in Jensen's ears that has nothing to do with the bump on his head. The room is suddenly stifling, too hot and too close, the air suddenly unbreathable. Toxic.
"I met her in Haiti, when we were both there doing hurricane relief work," Jared is saying, but Jensen's breathing has slowed and he's not sure he's even alive anymore. "She was beautiful, smart, talented, full of passion for her work, passion for everything she did. For me."
"What –- what's her name?" Jensen gets the words out without even being aware that he's moved his lips.
"Genevieve," Jared raises his eyes, tear-filled and distant with memory, not looking at Jensen really; looking through him. "Genevieve Cortese."
"How – how long?" The roaring in Jensen's ears has increased and he's trembling now, stammering.
"I was eighteen," Jared says, lost in the memories. "She was twenty-two. I'd never been in love before, and she was...amazing. I was lost, searching for something, I didn't even know what, and she understood me. She got me. She made me go to college, encouraged me to get my degree, supported and encouraged me, just like my sister always had. But Gen was...she was different. There was something wild and untamed about her. She wasn't afraid of anything."
"So...you married her," Jensen gasps, swallowing thickly, almost choking on the words.
Jared nods. "Her family were good people, or at least that's what I could see. They ran an orphanage in Haiti, spoke fluent French, took me in like I was one of their own...I'd never had parents, and Gen's parents just adopted me, like I was one of their orphans. Hell, I was an orphan. It felt so good, being part of a family like that. I'd never known a mother or father, and Camille and Jeffrey were so welcoming, so happy to have me join them. Of course, they never mentioned Gen's older brother, and I only found out later that he was schizophrenic, that he was living on the streets much of the time because he wouldn't keep up with his meds, that he would come home periodically to steal and sell things to support his drug habit. Gen never mentioned him, and there were no pictures, no clue that there was another child..."
"It's genetic," Jensen says. "She had it even then. They knew."
Jared raises his eyes to Jensen's then, his expression so filled with desperation and grief it takes Jensen's breath away. Or at least what's left of it.
"Yes," he nods, tears overflowing his eyes now, sliding down his cheeks. "Yes, it's genetic. Adele..."
Jensen frowns, stares, uncomprehending. "What are you talking about? Adele's your sister's daughter. She can't have it."
Jared keeps staring, tears streaming down his cheeks, and that's when Jensen realizes.
"Oh God," he breathes, his chest constricting so he can barely get the words out. "Adele's not your sister's child. She's yours."
Jared sobs then, huge sobbing breaths tearing themselves from his chest, and he buries his face in his hands, shoulders heaving. Jensen waits, horrified, unable to move or speak as his brain processes the new information.
"Gen – Gen was already showing symptoms when we learned she was pregnant," Jared says finally, when he's got himself under control again. "By the time the baby was born, she was – she – " He swallows, wipes his eyes with the washcloth and the heels of his hands, tries again. "The doctors said it was the pregnancy that set her off. The hormones. She was never really herself again after Adele was born. For awhile she seemed to understand what had happened to her, but then, when it was obvious there was no cure, I think she just got more and more frustrated. Now – now she rarely has a lucid moment. And she hates me. She blames me, she blames Adele – she has these rages – "
Jensen takes a deep breath, lets it out slow through rounded lips, almost a whistle. "Adele doesn't know," he suggests.
Jared shakes his head sharply. "No. There's no reason for her to know. Megan and Tom adopted her shortly after she was born. She grew up with them, just visiting here once in awhile. She's never met Gen, and I intend to keep it that way."
"Jared, you can't lie to her forever," Jensen shakes his head. "Eventually, you have to tell her. She deserves to know. God, Jay, she needs to know. She thinks her father's dead. Do you know what that does to a kid's head? Thinking your parents are dead?"
Jared winces. "Yeah, I do," he answers, and Jensen huffs out a breath.
"That's right, you do," he nods. "Fuck. This is so fucked-up."
Jared looks up at him, eyes red-rimmed and swollen from crying, his expression so pleading and resigned, looking for all the world like a giant kicked puppy.
"Forgive me, Jensen," he begs. "I've been so used to keeping her a secret – no one knows – "
"No one?" Jensen repeats sharply, frowning.
"Well, Mrs. Fairfax knows, obviously," Jared recants. "John and Mary sort of know, although they've never asked directly and I've never told them anything specific. We were married in Haiti, the baby was born a year later, and by the time we moved back here Gen was already – she was already pretty sick."
"So you've been taking care of her here ever since," Jensen notes.
Jared nods. "Mrs. Fairfax supervises her care when I'm gone. It's hard to find a caregiver who will stay, given Gen's condition. She can be pretty abusive."
"Yeah, I get that," Jensen agrees. "What about her parents? Don't they care about her?"
"They both died in the one of the big aftershocks from the earthquake," Jared says. "Her brother, too."
"Jesus," Jensen breathes. "If y'all had still been there – "
Jared nods, and a tear slides down one cheek. "The orphanage collapsed," he says softly. "Gen's parents' house, too. We probably would've died. Maybe it would have been for the best."
Jensen's heart clenches in his chest and he shakes his head sharply. "No," he insists. "No way."
Jared stares up at him, all wounded and sorry-looking, and Jensen scrubs a hand over his face, rubs the back of his neck.
"I'll understand if you need to leave," Jared says, his voice so small and pitiful it brings tears to Jensen's eyes.
"Jesus, Jare," Jensen breathes, shifting his feet, looking away from Jared, all sprawled out so miserably on the floor. "You could've just told me."
"I wanted to," Jared insists. "I was going to. I just did."
"But – all that talk about getting married," Jensen stares at him, frowning. "This ring. You're already married. You're still married to her. How did you think that was going to work, exactly?"
Jared huffs out a breath, closes his eyes for a moment, puts his head down. "I don't know, Jensen. I wasn't thinking clearly, I guess. All these years, cooped up in this house with a sick person, I think I was well on my way to losing my mind. Then you came, bringing light back into my world for the first time in years – I knew it couldn't last, once you found out, but I was taking what I could get. I'm selfish, I know. I'm a monster and I didn't deserve you, but I just couldn't stop myself." He raises his head, that wild, pleading look in his face again as he gazes up at Jensen. "I hope you can forgive me one day, Jensen. I don't expect you to be able to now, but maybe someday, even if I never hear from you ever again, even if you walk out that door today as I'm pretty sure you're about to do, I have to hope you can forgive me, someday."
"Jesus," Jensen breathes out, scrubbing his face with one hand again, shaking his head. "You know what gets me about this, Jared? You didn't trust me enough to tell me. Right from the start, as soon as we – the first time – right then, you should've stopped and told me. At the observatory. You do see that, right?"
"I tried to stop it," Jared says. "I tried to walk away from you that night. I didn't want you to be involved."
"No, no, no," Jensen shakes his head. "That's wrong, see. Cuz I was already involved. From the first time I met you. And you knew that! You felt it, too, that first day. You told me so. There was never a moment when you could just walk away. You should've just told me. Right from the start."
"I couldn't lose you," Jared moans. "Even if I could only have you for a short time, I was too selfish to risk losing you."
"And now you have," Jensen clenches his jaw, frustration with Jared, with the whole business, just flooding over him like a tsunami. He's suddenly so tired he can hardly stand up, just wants to sink down on the ruined bed and sleep for a week.
Jared looks up at him for another moment, so wounded and resigned to his misery, so sure he deserves to be beaten. Then he gives a short nod and lowers his chin to his chest, defeated and broken, looking for all the world like a discarded puppet whose strings have been cut.
Jensen slips the ring off his finger, crosses to the nightstand and leaves it there, picking up his glasses and slipping them on instead.
"I'll have John drive you into town," Jared says, his voice hoarse and tired-sounding. Light has been seeping around the edges of the curtains for a few minutes now, and the rooster is crowing, a sound Jensen has gotten so used to in his months here he doesn't even hear it anymore.
"Tell Adele I'll write to her," Jensen says tersely. He's clinging to his righteous indignation, his frustration at Jared's stupidity, Jared's willingness to live a lie rather than risk telling Jensen the truth. He can't live with someone who won't trust him like that. He won't.
"You should go," Jensen says finally, standing so close to Jared's prone form he could almost reach out and touch him, could put his hand on his head and run his fingers through his long, soft hair. And now he never will again.
He shoves that thought down deep inside himself as Jared climbs wearily to his feet, moves away from him to the door, stops to look back one last time.
"I love you, Jensen," he says sadly. "I always will."
"Love's a verb, Jared," Jensen snaps, angry because it's his only defense right now, the only thing keeping him from dragging Jared into his arms and never letting go. "It's what you do, not what you say." He knows he's being cruel, but suddenly he just needs to get away, to take a deep breath somewhere that doesn't smell like Jared. He needs to clear his throbbing head, and he can't do it with Jared standing there, looking like a train just backed up over him, looking like his life is over. "I'll call you," he breathes finally. "I need to get my head together first, but I'll call. That's all I can promise right now."
Jared nods, sorrow etched so deeply in his handsome face it's as if it's taken permanent residence there. Then he lowers his eyes, turns slowly and leaves, pulling the door closed quietly behind him.
Jensen goes into action immediately, taking a quick shower, shaving, pulling his clothes on, the same ones he arrived in three months before. He stuffs his few belongings into his duffel, grabs his messenger bag and heads out, down the stairs to the front door. The rest of the house is still asleep, but John is waiting for him in the truck, nods at him as he flings his duffel into the back and climbs in, trying not to look back at the house, knowing Jared's watching from his window. The air is already hot and dry with the promise of a scorching early summer day, and Jensen thinks back to the first day, when he walked down this long driveway in the spring sunshine, hopeful and excited to start his new job. Now he looks into the side mirror and watches the house grow smaller, leaving all the hopes and dreams of his new life behind him, in the dust.
John is silent all the way to town, and Jensen is grateful for that. He really doesn't need to talk about it, feels embarrassed because John knows, knew all along and helped keep the secret, is part of the reason Jensen is leaving. John's arm is wrapped in a makeshift bandage, and it's another reminder of what happened tonight, of John's devotion and loyalty, his willingness to trust Jared when Jensen obviously can't. John's injury is a brand, a badge of honor that serves as a greater indictment of Jensen's abandonment than any words.
"Mr. Jared said to take you to the airport, if you want," he says as they're pulling into Fort Davis, but Jensen shakes his head.
"I'm gonna hang out here for awhile," he announces. "Get a room in the hotel." He's not sure why he's doing it, but once the idea comes to him he knows it's the right thing to do. He doesn't want to depend on Jared's generosity for one more minute, but he's not ready to leave town yet; he's not ready to leave behind every reminder of Jared.
John nods, pulling up in front of the Harvard Hotel. As Jensen starts to get out John hands him an envelope.
"Mr. Jared said to give you this," John says.
The envelope is thick, and when Jensen looks inside he finds several one-hundred dollar bills, crisp and new, along with a folded sheet of paper. He looks up at John expectantly and John nods.
"Your wages," he says. "The whole month's worth. Mr. Jared thought you could use the cash, rather than a check."
Jensen feels his cheeks flush. It's so final, being paid all at once like this, and it feels vaguely illegal and insulting, like he's been prostituting himself all this time instead of building a life. It occurs to him that Jared never mentioned paying him, after the initial letter offering him the job, and after signing the paperwork to have his monthly paychecks deposited directly to his account in Dallas, Jensen had never thought to bring it up again. It had seemed important that no money was changing hands directly. It had felt more like being part of the family, less like being employed.
But of course Jared would pay him now, would make sure he had money so he had the freedom to do whatever he chose. And Jensen doesn't count it, but he's pretty sure Jared's given him exactly what he's owed, not a penny more, so that Jensen doesn't have to feel like he's being bought off, like the prostitute he knows Jared doesn't intend for him to be.
He pockets the envelope in his jacket pocket, nods at John and retrieves his duffel, turns toward the entrance to the hotel, and almost runs straight into Reverend Collins, who's hurrying down the sidewalk with his head down so he doesn't even see Jensen until they almost collide.
"Jensen!" Reverend Collins exclaims, clearly surprised to see him on a Saturday. He stops, glances around, sees John's truck driving away. "Are you alone?"
"Yes, sir," Jensen nods, shouldering his duffel. "I'm on my way home. Well, not home. Just into the hotel, I guess."
"Are you alright, son?" Reverend Collins peers into Jensen's face, frowning empathetically. "You look a little peaked."
Maybe it's the sympathetic expression, maybe it's the comforting hand on his shoulder, but suddenly Jensen's stoic manly thing just crumbles and it's like a dam breaking. Jensen brushes furiously at his face as the tears flow, but it's no use. The waterworks are just doing their thing and they're not about to stop anytime soon.
"Jensen! Oh my, what's wrong, son?" Revered Collins kicks into ministerial high gear, pulling tissues out of his pocket and putting his arm around Jensen's shoulders, patting his arm gently. "Okay now, it's gonna be okay. Let's get you a nice cup of tea, shall we?"
Jensen lets himself be guided down the sidewalk and around the corner to the rectory. Rev. Collins lives with his sisters, Mary and Diana, and their housekeeper, Hannah, who is the only one up at this early hour. She frowns when Rev. Collins brings Jensen in the back door, sits him down in a chair at the table.
"Our young friend here could use a cup of tea, Hannah," Rev. Collins directs, pulling a chair out for himself as Jensen takes his glasses off and wipes them with a tissue, then blows his nose and gets himself under control enough to give Rev. Collins a shaky smile. "Now, you want to tell me what this is about?"
Jensen shakes his head. "I just quit my job," he says the first thing that comes into his head because there is no way in hell he'll tell a servant of the Lord the real reason he left Padlock Ranch.
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that," Rev. Collins nods sympathetically. "Although I must say I'm not surprised. That place has a reputation for losing employees faster than anyplace I ever saw."
Jensen raises his eyebrows at that, but says nothing. After what Jared told him, he's pretty sure he understands why. It's clear that Rev. Collins doesn't know about Genevieve, though, and Jensen guesses that's because everyone who comes to work there from the outside signs a non-disclosure statement beforehand. Jensen had signed his without a second thought, imagining it was simply standard for rich people who had some celebrity status. He never would have guessed the real reason, not in a million years.
"Misha? Who are you talking to?" The voice is that of a young woman, who appears in the doorway a moment later, dressed casually in jeans and a tee-shirt, her long, dark hair falling in waves down her back. "Oh!" she exclaims when she sees Jensen. Her cheeks turn a lovely shade of pink and she puts her hand to her throat, as if she was suddenly feeling a little short of breath.
"Diana, this is Jensen," Rev. Collins introduces them. "Jensen, my sister, Diana."
Jensen guesses the girl is close to his age, maybe a year or two younger, and she reminds him a little of his old girlfriend. She's buoyant and chipper and full of life, and such a contrast to Jared and everything he represents that Jensen wonders if he's being tested, which is a thought that doesn't really make any sense, so he forgets it immediately.
"Jensen and I are having a little talk," Rev. Collins says to her, and Diana nods conspiratorially at Jensen.
"Okay, I'll just grab a banana and head out," she says as she reaches for the fruit bowl on the table. "Mary and I are going for a ride before it gets too hot. Nice to meet you, Jensen."
"You, too," Jensen answers automatically as she flounces out of the kitchen, wiggling her ass in a way that is obviously meant for his appreciation.
Rev. Collins sighs. "She's always been the wild child," he notes. "Ever since our parents died she's had a hard time finding her way."
"She's lucky she has you," Jensen comments, wondering at the coincidences life keeps throwing at him, why it is that everybody around him in this place out in the middle of nowhere has a similar family history. "And her sister."
"That's right," Rev. Collins says. "You lost your parents when you were young as well. You and Diana have that in common."
Jensen shifts uncomfortably, suddenly sure he's being tested, and not in a way he really wants to think about.
"I was an only child," Jensen says. "It would have made a huge difference if I'd had siblings, I think."
"But you turned out all right," Rev. Collins reminds him. "You're here, you've made a life for yourself. And you're young, Jensen. This job may not have been right for you, but there'll be others. You'll find your way. You've got your whole life ahead of you."
"I was sort of hoping there might be work for me here," Jensen finds himself saying without really thinking about it first. "I'm pretty handy, and I can teach. I've got a bachelor's degree in English, and I'm told I write well."
Rev. Collins raises his eyebrows, considering. "Well, a month or two ago we could've used a Sunday-school teacher, but that position's been filled. We've got a part-time church secretary, and I do the odd jobs around here myself. Actually, we're all leaving in a week or so to go down to Haiti, to help with the relief effort there. We'll be gone at least a month, maybe two."
Rev. Collins pauses, a funny expression coming into his eyes as he looks off toward the doorway where Diana disappeared. "You know, you could come with us, if you want. It's hard work, and we'll be living at the mission there, which is pretty bare-bones, nothing fancy, no electricity or running water. I know the mission is always looking for teachers, so maybe you could stay on, after we leave. Maybe..." he stops himself, glances toward the kitchen door again, and Jensen knows what he's thinking because Rev. Collins is being pretty obvious about playing matchmaker. "Well, never mind for now. What do you think?"
Jensen's feeling cold, empty, like he's been hollowed out with a sharp-edged spoon. Leaving Fort Davis, leaving Jared, probably forever, to go do the kind of work Jared was doing when he fell for Genevieve, the kind of work Jared's parents were doing when they died, feels like a kind of harsh poetic justice. It feels like penance for falling so hard for Jared in the first place.
He'll never make that mistake again, Jensen decides right then and there. If he ends up married to Diana, working in Haiti doing good works, helping people who really need it, it'll be better than he deserves, and a clear fulfillment of a kind of stoic destiny that will allow him to atone for his profligate youth, to do penance for allowing himself to imagine, even for a minute, that he could have wealth and love and a family with Jared and Adele.
"Yes," he says now, setting his jaw and raising his eyes to Rev. Collins, trying to put conviction behind his commitment. "Yes, that's sounds perfect."
Rev. Collins smiles and nods, patting Jensen's arm gently. "I think it does too, Jensen. I think God delivered you to us this day so that you could answer this calling. It feels very providential indeed."
"Yes," Jensen agrees, feeling so dead inside he can barely nod his head. "Yes, it does. Thank you."
"Don't thank me," Rev. Collins smiles. "All praise to the Lord, Jensen. These things have a way of working out in the most mysterious ways.
Yes, they do, Jensen agrees silently. Yes, they do.
Jensen spends the day helping in any way he can around the rectory and the church. Turns out, there are a lot of things that need repairing, and Jensen's always been good with his hands, has the patience and perseverance to figure things out that need fixing, so he's able to offer more handy-man wise than Rev. Collins had expected. He repairs the piano bench in the music room as well as the sliding door on the keyboard, which both need screws tightened. Doors to most of the classrooms have hinges that squeak, nothing a little WD-40 couldn't fix, but Rev. Collins seems to think Jensen has worked a miracle once the squeaking stops. The good reverend's thirty-year-old Honda needs new spark-plugs and an oil-change, plus a new carburetor, and getting the thing up and running again takes most of the afternoon, but Rev. Collins is so grateful, Jensen's afraid he'll pop a gasket.
Diana and Mary stop by in the afternoon while he's leaning in over the engine, and after introducing herself, Mary goes off to find them some cold drinks, leaving her sister to flirt shamelessly with Jensen. Diana's changed into shorts and a sleeveless top that rides up her belly, and she really knows how to work it, so that if Jensen hadn't been grieving, if every reminder of his libido didn't remind him of Jared, Diana might've had a chance. As it is, Jensen barely glances at her, keeping his eyes on his work, his mind so far away from sex Diana finally gets the hint and stomps away, exasperated.
That night over supper, Rev. Collins is effusive in his praise and appreciation for all that Jensen can do.
"I had no idea how much we could use another man around here," he says as he chews his steak. "You have many talents, Jensen. God clearly meant for you to join our little family."
"Yes, I'm sure He did," Jensen agrees with an absent smile.
"Me, too," Diana winks at him from across the table, obviously enjoying the view.
"We're so glad you'll be joining us on the mission to Haiti," Mary says warmly. She's a sweet, kind-hearted girl a few years older than her sister, but still younger than their brother, who Jensen decides can't be more than thirty. It's a little like being back in college, to be surrounded by so many young people again, and it should make Jensen feel alive, excited with promise, not dead and empty and hollow. Instead of looking forward to the future, it seems strangely gray and flat when Jensen thinks about it, like all the color has gone out of the world.
Diana gives up her room and moves in with her sister so Jensen can have his own room to sleep. "Just for the week," she assures Jensen. "It's practice for how we'll be roughing it in Haiti."
The family turns in early, even though it's Saturday night. Rev. Collins always gets up early on Sunday mornings to prepare his sermon, and the sisters teach Sunday-school, so lights are out in the Collins home by 10:00 p.m. Jensen tries to read for awhile, tries to get comfortable in Diana's narrow little bed, finally gives up and goes for a walk. The streets of Fort Davis are quiet on a Saturday night, the only activity going on in the hotel's bar, where a band is playing and a few unfamiliar couples are dancing. Jensen settles at the bar, orders a whiskey, lets the warm liquid soothe the dull ache in his chest. After the second or third glass he's relaxed enough to sleep, so he starts back to the rectory, only stumbling a little as he leaves the bar, opening the door to utter chaos. The scene outside is a cacophony of sound, lights, and wailing sirens. When Jensen steps onto the sidewalk someone rushes past him, yelling, "Fire!" and Jensen practically falls back into the bar. Lights flash as a fire-truck jangles past, followed by a rescue truck, horns blaring. A tornado siren is making its slow-winding alarm, and more people run past, all headed south.
"What's happening?" he grabs the arm of a man who's jogging up the sidewalk, and the man turns and stares at him like he's some kind of ghost, like Jensen doesn't even exist.
"It's Padlock Ranch," the man says. "It's on fire." He pulls free and resumes his urgent jog.
For the second time in twenty-four hours, Jensen's veins flood with ice. He's instantly sober, wide awake with terror. He runs blindly toward the rectory, runs smack into Rev. Collins as he's coming out of the kitchen door, shrugging his shirt on over his tee-shirt.
"Jensen!" Rev. Collins stops short, fumbling with his buttons, reading Jensen's confusion and terror instantly. "That's the call for all hands on deck," he explains as he leads Jensen to the Honda, slips into the driver's seat. "They need as much manpower as they can get. When there's a major fire like this we're basically on our own; the nearest fire station is almost thirty miles away in Alpine – that's an hour from Padlock Ranch – and although they'll come as fast as they can, our little volunteer company is closer. I've got buckets in the trunk."
Jensen gets into the passenger seat with his heart pounding so hard he's afraid he's having a heart attack. Rev. Collins watches the road as they pull out, following several vehicles – mostly pick-up trucks – out of town and south on Route 118, then west on 166 toward the ranch. Those who can drive faster, passing the slower vehicles; Rev. Collins keeps a steady pace, both hands on the wheel, and Jensen clutches his seat so hard he thinks he might punch holes in it.
After a couple of minutes, Rev. Collins glance over at him, frowning. "You okay, Jensen?" he asks. "You're not gonna pass out on me, are you?"
Jensen shakes his head sharply, sucking in a deep breath through his nose, clenching his jaw so tight it aches. "Nah, I'm okay," he lies, trying to keep his mind off the night he dragged Jared out of his burning bedroom, but it's a losing battle. All he sees is Jared's face, slack and unconscious, soft pink mouth loose and parted, sharp, angular features relaxed in sleep too deep to be natural.
"I'm sure they're all fine," Rev. Collins assures him, reaching over to pat Jensen's knee, the gesture at once fraternal and just a little too familiar, like Jensen's already part of the family.
Jensen turns his head, stares at Rev. Collins' profile for a moment, steadying himself.
"Did they – did you hear how it started?" he asks. and Rev. Collins shakes his head.
"Just that it's too much for the farm-hands to handle alone," he says. "There's an emergency phone tree, and I got the call not ten minutes ago. The tornado siren alerts the whole town so we're wasting as little time as possible. Ranches around here are pretty isolated places, and every minute counts."
Jensen nods, stares out the windshield at the road ahead, and after a few more minutes of riding in silence, he sees a glow on the horizon, like the sun is starting to rise. Except as they get closer, he can see smoke billowing into the night sky, obscuring the stars. That's when he realizes that the glow is flickering. The landscape is so flat out here it makes distance deceptive, and it actually takes another ten minutes before they reach the long driveway to Padlock Ranch. By that time Jensen is sweating, barely holding himself in place as the enormity of the blaze grows and grows with proximity, until it seems to engulf the entire horizon, then the sky itself. The flames shooting high into the night sky cast an eerie glow on the landscape for miles around, flickering and changing color from yellow to orange to deep, dark red, like blood. It looks as if the entire ranch is burning, outbuildings and stables and pastures, and there are men and women running back and forth, dozens of others swinging their arms in bucket lines in front of the flames like miniature cartoon silhouettes. The town's sole fire engine is parked dead center in front of the main conflagration, a huge ball of flame and smoke that only faintly resembles a house anymore. Huge flat-bed trucks holding pumping machines are parked alongside the fire-truck, manned by several ranch-hands wielding long hoses, all aiming water at the fire in what seem like pitiful attempts to quell the leaping flames.
Jensen can barely wait for Rev. Collins to drive down the long gravel driveway, and as soon as they've come as close as they dare Jensen is out of the car, running down the rest of the driveway toward the fire, eyes sweeping the clusters of people wildly, looking for the tall man who should be easy to see towering above the crowd.
Which is why he almost stumbles right over Jared, sprawled in the dirt with John and one of the farm holds holding him down, bellowing at them to let him go.
"No, Mr. Jared, it's too late!" John insists for what must be the tenth time, all but sitting on Jared to keep him from leaping up. "You'll get yourself killed!"
"Let me go!" Jared bellows again, struggling so hard he manages to throw John and the other man off, lurches to his feet.
Which is when Jensen throws himself against Jared as hard as he can, pushing him back with the force of his momentum, knowing he's no match for Jared if he's truly pumped with adrenaline and stubborn will-power, but Jensen's just as determined to try.
"No, Jay, it's too late!" Jensen grabs Jared's collar in both hands, shaking him, trying not to notice that his face and clothes are streaked with soot, his hair dripping and hanging down at odd angles, so that it's obvious it was on fire at one point, that somebody had to throw water on him to put it out.
"Damn it, that's enough! Stop! Stop, Jared!" Jensen shakes him, ignoring the tears streaming down his face because he can see Jared's injured, needs medical attention, and the only thing keeping him on his feet is his frantic need to get back into the burning building, to save something that can no longer possibly be saved.
Jensen registers the moment Jared finally realizes he's there. His wild gaze focuses and he frowns, staring down into Jensen's face, and his body stops moving as he relaxes a little into Jensen's hold.
"She wouldn't stop," Jared says, his voice wrecked and hoarse from shouting. "She laughed at me and ran back up the stairs."
"Who?" Jensen's hands are clutching Jared's collar so hard his knuckles are white. "Who ran back up the stairs, Jared? Adele? Is Adele still in there?"
"Adele's right here, Mr. Jensen." Jensen jumps at the sound of Mrs. Fairfax's voice, notices her for the first time, standing to one side with Adele standing silently beside her, staring at the chaos and destruction with her huge dark eyes round as saucers. She meets Jensen's gaze with a look at once somber and wise and so much older than her eight years it's a little disturbing.
Relief floods Jensen's system like warm bath water, soothing and comforting, and he's so grateful he almost lets go of Jared so he can sweep Adele into his arms and hold her tight. But the minute he starts to let up his hold Jared tries to wrench loose, and Jensen reacts out of desperation and fear, barely hesitating as he pulls back and takes a swing at Jared, clocking him good on the jaw and sending him sprawling in the dirt and gravel.
Adele screams, and Jensen's immediately sorry because Jared is out, knocked unconscious or maybe he'd been barely conscious in the first place and the punch sent him over the edge. Either way, Jensen's knocked him out, and he's a little freaked because it felt right when he did it, like he was meting out justice while trying to save Jared's life. But the joke's on Jensen, because if Jared killed himself tonight it would be Jensen's life that would really be over, and Jensen knows it. He threw that punch as much to save himself as to save Jared.
There's the whine of an airplane engine overhead, a crop-duster temporarily converted into a fire-plane, which sweeps low over the flames and dumps its load, then sweeps back up into the smoky night sky. Jensen falls to his knees next to Jared, feels for a pulse, finds it weak but steady.
"Sorry, Jay," he murmurs as he pushes the hair off Jared's face. "I shouldn't have left you, man. I'm sorry." There's commotion behind him; the ambulance has arrived from Alpine. The EMTs push Jensen aside gently, take his place next to Jared so they can check his vitals, roll his big body onto a stretcher. His feet hang over the end, but he manages to look so small with the EMTs working him over, that it raises all of Jensen's protective instincts, so that when they load him into the ambulance and start hooking him up to an i.v. and oxygen mask Jensen climbs in after him.
"Are you family?" the EMT asks, and Jensen nods.
"I'm his brother," he lies smoothly, stubborn determination in every word, and the EMT just nods, allows him to sit next to Jared and hold his hand as the doors are closed and the ambulance starts its hour-long journey back to Alpine. Jensen is aware of the chaos of the fire scene receding into the distance through the back windows, but his eyes are on Jared's face, willing him to be all right, to heal in body and soul, willing him to hear Jensen's silent promise never to leave him, ever again.
Jared's eyes flicker open a couple of times during the long ride, long enough to see Jensen sitting there, holding his hand. Jensen imagines the look in Jared's eyes is relief; when he feels Jared's fingers squeeze his, just a little, Jensen has to believe it's comforting to Jared, knowing he's there. At any rate, his eyes close again right away and he's out again. The EMT explains that Jared's suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, has burns over a significant percentage of his body, will probably need to be hospitalized for at least a week. When Jensen tells him Jared was on his feet, fighting to get back into the burning house just before the ambulance arrived, the guy shakes his head in disbelief.
"That's good, though," the EMT says. "Sounds like he's got a powerful will to live. He'll need it."
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