When they get back to Jensen’s apartment, it’s only mid-morning. Jensen’s still on medical leave, and the day stretches out ahead of them without a plan to guide them.
Jensen’s not sure whether to give a whoop of joy or to curl up in a corner and self-flagellate while Jared mourns the loss of his former life. Either way, Jensen figures they’ll be better off doing something to relieve the nervous tension he’s just sure Jared feels as well as Jensen does. They need to do something. Fast.
Fortunately, the solution presents itself fairly obviously. Jared has no clothes, other than the suit, shoes, and overcoat he’s wearing. And he smells like he’s been wearing them for at least a week.
“You need to let me buy you some clothes, man,” Jensen says after he’s given Jared a brief tour of his apartment. Jared looks like he might cry when Jensen explains the toilet to him, which is how Jensen figures out he probably hasn’t used one before.
“Okay,” Jared agrees, almost too readily. He seems unexpectedly docile, now that he’s in Jensen’s space. His home. It’s like he expects Jensen to take control, to be in charge, now that Jared’s lost all his power and feels like a helpless baby in a new world.
Which, technically, he is.
It’s not easy finding clothes for Jared’s extra-tall frame, especially at the thrift shops and discount department stores where Jensen usually shops.
At Goodwill they get lucky. A local basketball player died recently and left his entire wardrobe to charity. They find jeans, shoes, shirts, and even a jacket that fits. As they walk back to Jensen’s apartment with the bags of clothes, Jensen can’t help wondering about Jared’s body.
Scratch that. Jensen can’t stop thinking about Jared’s body. It’s a problem.
But he’s curious, too.
“Can I ask you a question?” When Jared nods, Jensen goes for broke. “So I’m guessing angels aren’t born, right?”
Jared nods. He’s brooding again, keeping his eyes on the ground in front of them as they walk.
“So this body isn’t yours? You’re possessing some fool who agreed to be a vessel for an angel, right?”
Jared shook his head. “No. This body is the human manifestation of my angel body. Minus the wings, obviously.”
“But you have a belly button,” Jensen protests. “What’s it for?”
Jared made a face, clearly annoyed. “It’s so I look like you,” he explains. “So I can blend in with humanity.”
“But you were never a child,” Jensen goes on. “You’ve never experienced a mother’s love or a father’s discipline. You’ve never run barefoot on the beach or fallen out of an apple tree or held your big brother’s hand as you crossed a busy street.”
Jared lifts his eyes to Jensen for a moment. “These are things you have experienced?” he says.
“Well, not so much the father thing,” Jensen says. “He left when I was four. I don’t remember much about him, to be honest.”
“I’m sorry,” Jared breathes, so softly Jensen’s not sure he heard right. But when he glances sharply at Jared, the ex-angel’s beautiful face is a mask of sorrow that resembles sympathy, as if he could possibly understand how it felt to be raised without a father.
“So I guess you weren’t my guardian angel when I was a kid,” Jensen suggests.
Jared shakes his head. “You had Jim looking after you when you were young,” he says, as if Jensen should know who ‘Jim’ is. “He appointed me about six months ago.”
Six months ago. When Jensen first noticed Jared shadowing him.
“Does everybody get a new angel as an adult?”
“Nobody much gets guardian angels anymore at all,” Jared says. “It’s even more rare to have two. There aren’t nearly enough of us to go around. You must be somebody to someone upstairs, that’s all I can say.”
Jensen’s shocked. He’s never been important to anyone, ever. And now Jared’s saying he’s important to Heaven? What even?
“And yet they could afford to demote you,” he says gruffly. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Jared shakes his head. “There’s no making sense of any of it,” he says.
Jared’s got his sad face on again, and Jensen just wants to make it go away.
More than anything.
“What do you say we take a walk on the beach?”
They’re in Jensen’s kitchen, finishing the quiche Jensen baked for them to share for a late lunch. Jared’s showered and changed into his new jeans and a t-shirt, which Jensen washed for him because he’s anal that way.. His feet are bare, and Jensen can’t help glancing down at them every time he gets up to bring Jared more food or water. Jared’s feet are long and slender, like the rest of him, and Jensen can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to kiss the instep. Jared’s skin looks so soft and smooth there...
“The beach?” Jared echoes, brow wrinkling in confusion. “But it’s fifty miles to the coast from here.”
“We’ll drive,” Jensen shrugs. “I do have a car.” Jensen’s car doesn’t get used very often. It’s good living downtown, close to everything he needs, but there are times when he really needs to get away.
Right now, he wants to get away with Jared.
Jensen plays a mixtape of classic and contemporary rock in the car, soaking up Jared’s presence in the passenger seat as he drives. Jensen points out the scenery as the car winds up the road into the coast range. It’s one of his favorite drives. Sharing it with Jared feels right. Feels good.
When they stop at a rest area to use the facilities, Jared stares at the map on the display board for a long time.
“A hundred years ago, this was just a mountain trail,” Jensen notes as he steps up next to Jared to look at the map. “No cars. We would’ve had to get here on horseback. Or walking.”
“I remember,” Jared says.
Jensen’s eyebrow goes up and he stares. “You do? Seriously? Wow.” They stare silently at the map another moment, then Jensen asks, “How old are you?”
Jared shrugs. “I don’t know. I’ve been around a long time, but I don’t have any specific memories from my time as an angel before I met you. I think my memories of Heaven have been wiped, or buried very deep.”
This makes Jensen sad. His childhood wasn’t perfect, but at least he remembers some good times. At least he remembers his home.
“But you remember this.” Jensen gestures at the map.
“I get flashes of memory,” Jared says. “Certain things seem to trigger certain memories.”
“And you knew your friend, Danneel,” Jensen goes on. “You remember me.”
“Like I said, before I met you it’s all pretty hazy.”
“I don’t get that,” Jensen shakes his head. “Why would meeting me make you forget your life as an angel?”
Jared tilts his head, considers this for a moment, then he shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s my punishment for falling.”
“But you didn’t fail, Jared,” Jensen protests. “You saved me. You did a pretty bang up job as a guardian angel, seems to me. Why would they punish you for that?”
“Not failing,” Jared corrects. “Falling. I’m a fallen angel.”
“Not in my book,” Jensen grumbles. He’s angry, hates Heaven on principle for making Jared so unhappy. Jensen would do anything to make Jared happy.
Anything short of losing him, that is. He’s only spent part of a day with the ex-angel and he’s pretty sure about that.
Jensen never wants to lose Jared again.
It takes them another twenty minutes on the coast road before they reach the Pacific Ocean. It’s blue and sparkling in the sun, brighter than Jensen’s ever seen it.
He pulls into the state park near the little town where he likes to stop for lunch, only this time they’ll be having dinner there. He leads Jared down the path from the parking lot to the beach, where the wind picks up and Jensen’s glad he brought his sweatshirt. He hands Jared the oversized hoodie he brought for him and kicks his shoes off, leaving them near some driftwood at the edge of the sandy beach.
Jared watches him after he puts the hoodie on, and Jensen helps him with the zipper, then nods at his feet.
“Go on, take your shoes off,” he coaxes. “It’ll be easier to walk.”
Jared obeys without question, never guessing how much Jensen loves the way Jared’s bare feet make him seem vulnerable, younger. As they turn to walk side by side toward the ocean, their shoulders brush. A wave of protectiveness surges through Jensen’s entire body, making his scalp tingle and his toes curl in the sand. He doesn’t dare look at Jared, so he stares straight ahead at the sea as they walk, stumbling awkwardly in the dry sand. When their hands brush, Jensen feels an overwhelming urge to take Jared’s hand, to tangle their fingers together.
Jared shoves his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, lowers his head against the wind, and the moment passes.
Jensen tries not to feel hurt, tries not to think that maybe Jared knew that Jensen was thinking about holding his hand, and Jared doesn’t want to. Jared doesn’t want anything from Jensen. Jensen’s the reason Jared lost his home. Now Jared’s helpless and alone in this world, and he may have to depend on Jensen to help him get his bearings, but he doesn’t need Jensen to take advantage of his new vulnerability.
That would be wrong.
Besides. Maybe Jared doesn’t really like Jensen at all. It was his job, after all, being a guardian angel. Nothing required him to care about his charge. He was just doing what he was made to do.
Jensen shoves his hands into his own sweatshirt pockets and takes a step to the left, just to give the ex-angel his space.
Within a couple of steps, Jared’s moved closer again, bumping his arm against Jensen’s. He keeps his eyes down, though, so Jensen doesn’t question it, lets Jared set the distance between them. He’s grateful for Jared’s nearness, but it’s a challenge for Jensen not to read too much into it. Jared needs the comfort of companionship, he tells himself. He’s stuck with Jensen, that’s all. Jensen could be anyone.
Jensen startles as Jared breathes the word into his ear, leaning in to do it, his breath warm against Jensen’s wind-chilled skin. They’re walking easily now, on damp, packed sand, and Jensen tries not to stare. Jared’s profile seems perfectly carved against the blue sky, the wind blowing his hair back from his face as they turn together to walk into it, along the edge of the water.
Your face is beautiful, Jensen thinks. “Yes, it is,” he says out loud.
The ocean has always been Jensen’s go-to place to relax. Its vastness and timelessness are comforting. The trees overhanging the beach seem ancient and primordial. Jensen can easily imagine this beach looking the same to the first humans who ventured here, thousands of years ago.
When he glances at Jared, the ex-angel’s face wears an expression of peace, and Jensen imagines it’s much the same for him.
“Any more flashbacks?” Jensen asks.
Jared frowns, shakes his head. “Nothing specific,” he says. “This place is very old.”
Jensen nods, grateful that Jared can find the scene in any way restorative, as Jensen does.
“But it changes with every tide,” Jared goes on. “This beach used to be rockier, smaller. The cliffs were closer. Over time, wind and wave have eroded the land, pushed it back.”
Jensen nods, letting the image Jared paints replace his long-held belief in the timelessness of the place. Of course it’s changed. Everything does.
They walk along the water in silence, arms brushing every once in a while, and Jensen keeps hoping that Jared doesn’t mind. He tries moving away again, incrementally, finds Jared following a moment later. It makes him smile, makes his chest warm. He ducks his head to hide his smile, pretends the warmth comes from the sun, even though he knows better.
Better not to expect too much, he hears his mother’s voice in his head. Then you won’t be disappointed.
The tide is out, and after about an hour they find some tide pools among an outcropping of rocks from what used to be part of the land itself, eroded now into a string of barnacled surfaces that look like they’ve been thrown there by some giant hand. The men spend half an hour or so investigating, watching the sea anemones open and close their huge, sand-filled mouths as the water moves over them. Jared hunches down and pokes a long, slender finger into one, his face lighting up as the creature reacts to his touch.
Jared’s smile is the most amazing thing Jensen’s ever seen. It’s brighter than the sun itself, makes the day dimmer by comparison.
Jensen will do anything to see that smile again. Anything.
He shows Jared some starfish on another rock, watches Jared’s face light up again as he touches their rough surfaces.
Jensen watches Jared crouched over the crowded tide pools and realizes he’s happy. If Jared finds a way to get home to Heaven, Jensen will have had this, at least. This moment of pure happiness will always be his.
He tries not to think too hard about how much his happiness depends on Jared’s presence.
He only wishes he could find some way to keep Jared as happy as he looks at this moment, jeans rolled up to just below his knees, wind whipping his hair into his eyes as he reaches out to touch another star fish with his long, slender fingers, a look of childlike wonder transforming his features into something inhumanly beautiful.
Later, they eat lobster in the rough at Jensen’s favorite seafood restaurant, the one built on a dock with benches and paper plates instead of chairs and china. They watch the sun set over the water as they sip their beers, eating with gusto after their afternoon walk in the wind and sunshine. They’re silent again despite the noisy restaurant, and Jensen steals glances at Jared across the table as he eats, enjoys the view more than he should as Jared watches the sea through the window.
“Do you miss it?” As soon as he asks, Jensen wishes he could take it back, isn’t sure what perverse urge made him ask in the first place.
“Heaven.” In for a penny, in for a pound, Jensen hears his mother’s old saying in his head. Too late to stop now.
Jared drags his eyes away from the sunset with reluctance, looks blank for a moment before he blinks, lowers his eyes as they cloud over.
Jensen could climb under the table and die right now and it wouldn’t be penance enough.
“No,” Jared says quietly. “I don’t remember it.” He looks up, gaze meeting Jensen’s with a wry smile. “I think maybe that’s worse.”
Jensen clenches his jaw, nods and looks away, guilt making his eyes sting.
“I’m sorry, man,” he says.
But he’s not, really. Jensen’s Heaven is seated right here, across the table.
“Don’t be.” Jared shakes his head sharply. “I don’t remember Heaven, but you brought me here. This place is very restful. It’s a kind of Heaven, I think.”
“I’ve always thought so,” Jensen agrees. “It gives me peace. I come here when life is too chaotic and disturbing, and it helps.”
Jared nods solemnly. “I can see that.”
They sit quietly for a few moments, Jared watching the sunset, Jensen watching Jared.
“Thank you for sharing this with me, Jensen,” Jared says with his soft, husky voice and his earnest hazel gaze.
Jensen thinks he might melt into a puddle on the floor and never get up again.
The drive back to the city is dark and quiet. When Jensen starts to put in a mixtape, Jared stops him with a hand on his, sending tingles up Jensen’s arm and up the back of his neck.
“We need to talk.” Jared’s eyes are dark and luminous in the light from a passing car.
Jensen nods, keeps his eyes on the road. “Okay.”
Jared removes his hand and Jensen cries a little on the inside. “I can’t accept your charity,” he says. “And I can’t repay you.”
Jensen frowns. “Okay,” he says. “We’ll find you a job. Then you can repay me, if you really want to. In the meantime, consider it a loan, not charity. We’ve already talked about this. You saved my life enough times, now you should let me do something for you.”
“A job,” Jared repeats. “But I can’t do anything. I don’t have any skills.”
“There are plenty of jobs for unskilled workers,” Jensen shrugs. “It might not be easy, but we’ll find you something, if that’s what you want.”
Jensen had been half-hoping that Jared would just hang around the apartment with him for a while, at least until Jensen goes back to work. He’s not sure he likes the idea of Jared being out working somewhere while Jensen stays home alone, waiting for him.
“It is,” Jared nods. “It’s what I want.”
“Okay then.” Jensen takes a deep breath. “First thing tomorrow, we’ll find you a job.”
By the time they get back to Jensen’s apartment, Jared’s asleep. He looks adorable, his gangly oversized body awkwardly scrunched down in the seat, knees tucked against the dashboard, long legs bent up under the seat. His face in sleep is relaxed and youthful, and Jensen’s tempted to let him sleep.
Jensen’s pretty sure Jared won’t thank him in the morning, if he does that.
“Hey buddy, wake up.” When Jensen gently shakes him, Jared’s eyes fly open. He gasps, flinging an arm out, and hits Jensen flat in the chest. “Hey!”
“Jensen!” Jared blinks, sits up as he gets his bearings, runs a hand through his hair. “I thought you were hurt. Are you okay?”
Jensen understands. “You were dreaming,” he tells Jared. “I’m fine. Really. I’m okay.”
Jared frowns, dazedly reaches a hand out and lays it flat on Jensen’s chest. “I couldn’t stop the bullet,” he says. “It went straight through your heart.”
Jensen shakes his head. Jared’s big hand is warm and solid. Jensen wishes he would leave it there. “It missed,” he assures Jared. “Went right through me right here, on the other side. Right through my right shoulder.” He pats the spot, his hand brushing Jared’s. “I’m good. You saved me, remember?”
“Not that time,” Jared shakes his head. He still looks spooked. “That was just dumb luck.”
“It’s in the past now,” Jensen reminds him. “I’m fine and you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re not responsible for whether I live or die anymore. You’re free.” Jensen rolls his eyes. “Can’t have been an easy job. I’m a little bit of a daredevil.”
“A little bit,” Jared echoes, then he grins. “They could put you on that reality TV show, the one about all the crazy, dangerous stunts? You’re like that. You could probably make a lot of money.”
Jensen leans toward Jared, basking in the sunshine of his dimpled smile in the light from the street. He licks his lips, smiling a little in response to Jared’s smile. He can’t help it.
Jared’s eyes widen. He seems to remember that his hand is still on Jensen’s chest and pulls it back, his gaze dropping along with his smile. It’s suddenly darker in the car.
“Do all those stunt guys have guardian angels, too?” Jensen asks with a smirk.
Jared shakes his head. “Only you. I told you that.” He lifts his eyes and holds Jensen’s gaze for a moment. “You’re special.”
“To somebody upstairs.” Jensen rolls his eyes. “Yeah, you said.”
“To me,” Jared breathes, but it’s so soft Jensen’s not sure he heard right. He’s suddenly shy, afraid to meet Jared’s eyes. He clears his throat nervously.
“Come on. I’ll help you turn down the sofa bed so you can get some real sleep. Your feet will probably hang over the end, but that’s normal for you, am I right?”
Jensen can’t seem to stop babbling as he leads the way into his apartment. He’s aware of Jared looming over his shoulder as he pulls towels and sheets from his linen closet, pulls out the sofa bed, finds Jared a couple of blankets and a pillow. He gives Jared a new toothbrush, keeps himself busy teaching Jared how to use it, then leaves him in the bathroom with a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt to change into for bed.
When Jared emerges from the bathroom, freshly showered and changed, Jensen tries not to stare. He’s too tired to let anything happen tonight, but he wants to. He wants to pull Jared down on the sofa bed and kiss him from his ankles to his temples.
“Goodnight,” he says instead.
Taking advantage of Jared right now would be wrong, he tells himself. Jared’s lonely and lost and grieving his home, and Jensen would be a real bastard to let anything happen between them.
At least for now.
The next morning Jensen sleeps late, and by the time he gets up and stumbles into the kitchen, Jared’s already made coffee.
“I love you,” Jensen says without thinking, taking the cup from Jared’s hand.
Their fingers brush and Jared’s face reddens. His dimples come out in full force as he smiles broadly.
“I Googled how to make coffee,” he says proudly. “I know how much you need it first thing in the morning.”
“Marry me,” Jensen deadpans, not even worried if Jared misunderstands. Caffeine is essential.
They agree to walk the neighborhood to find Jared a job as close to the apartment as possible. After striking out at the local auto body shop and the library, they decide to stop for lunch at the diner.
“We could use a dishwasher,” Sam Ferris, the owner, tells them. She sizes Jared up and adds, “And a bouncer for the after-dinner crowd on the weekends. It can get a little rowdy in here some nights.”
Just like that, Jared’s got a job.
Jensen tries not to feel lost and lonely the first time he gets back to the apartment to find Jared gone. He’s still got another week of medical leave, and suddenly the days stretch out like so much empty space. Jensen feels like crying.
He doesn’t, though. Instead, he mans up and calls his boss.
“I’m going stir crazy here,” he says. He doesn’t care if he sounds plaintive. “I need to come back to work, man. Even a desk job’s better than sitting around here watching the plants grow.”
“I hear you adopted a homeless man,” Jeff Morgan says.
Jensen wonders briefly which one of the regulars at Sam’s let that cat out of the bag. Then Jensen remembers he’s not the only cop to frequent the diner-bar. It’s a local favorite, at least partly because so much information gets exchanged there.
Of course Jensen’s new roommate would be a source of gossip.
“Yeah, well, he needed my help,” Jensen says.
“You want me to run a background check? Find out who he really is?”
Jensen’s heartbeat goes up just thinking about it. “Nah, that’s okay. I’ve got it covered. Besides. He’s just staying with me long enough to get on his feet. He’s already found a job, so it won’t be long now.”
“He’s working at Sam’s, I hear,” Jeff says, and Jensen rolls his eyes.
“Well, just don’t leave him alone in your apartment. You know the drill.” Drug addicts steal anything they can sell. Jensen knows that’s what Jeff’s thinking, and he doesn’t fault him for it. Jeff’s just looking out for Jensen, like he’s always done.
“Yeah. I’ll be all right.”
“So, we’ll see you tomorrow,” Jeff says. “Just come on in whenever you can.”
“I’m going back to work tomorrow,” Jensen tells Jared when they’re eating supper together later.
Jared’s got the swing shift at Sam’s on Friday and Saturday nights, on account of the bouncing part of the job. Most other days, he works the early shift as a dishwasher so that he can be home in time for dinner.
Today is one of those days. Jensen doesn’t tell Jared how happy he is to see him. He just puts a plate of spaghetti and meatballs on the table in front of him and pulls up a chair for himself.
“Are you sure you’re ready?” Jared looks worried. “Your shoulder’s okay?”
“It’s fine,” Jensen insists, stretching the offending joint to demonstrate. “I’m still seeing the physical therapist once a week, doing my exercises. It’s almost back to normal. Besides. It’s just desk duty. Nothing physically demanding yet.”
Jared doesn’t look happy, but he doesn’t say anything. When he takes a tentative bite of his meatball, his eyes widen.
“This is good!”
“Don’t look so surprised.” Jensen huffs indignantly. “I can cook.”
“You should stop being a cop and get a job as a chef,” Jared says with enthusiasm. “I can ask Sam to hire you. Their cook can’t do this, or that quiche you made yesterday.”
Jensen lowers his head to hide the wide smile threatening to split his face open. Feeding Jared is deeply satisfying. Basking in his praise is making Jensen ridiculously happy.
“Nah, I like my job,” Jensen says as he takes a bite off his own plate. “You’ll just have to enjoy my cooking all by yourself.”
“Okay.” Jared nods, distracted by another bite of meatball. “Maybe that’s better anyway. I don’t think I could share you.”
Jensen looks up, catches the heat in Jared’s eyes before he drops his gaze to his plate again. It makes a shiver go up his spine.
You won’t have to, he thinks. I’m yours.
When he looks up again, Jared’s expression is soft, fond.
Yep, Jensen could definitely get used to this.