Title: Two Sizes Too Small
Pairing: J2, past Jensen/Matt Cohen (mentioned)
Word Count: 4K
Prompt: To Sarah, the Manor was her beloved home and she hoped it always would be, but unfortunately the Rostyns had fallen on bad days. Otherwise they would never have had to sell the reputed Reynolds portrait and then Thorold Kerr might never have heard of Thorne Manor. But Thor came and bought the portrait and later, attracted by Sarah, bought a small property in Penfold. Sarah, however, resented him and regarded him only as an interloper. Soon after, the death of her father revealed the true extent of her troubles and made the sale of the Manor necessary. There was only one bid – from Thorold – and it had to be accepted.
Summary: Ever since his mother died when he was a teenager, Jensen has kept himself on emotional lockdown. Now his father has passed away too and Jensen finds himself back in his hometown, cleaning out the family home and getting it ready to sell. If only his gorgeous next door neighbor would leave him alone.
A/N: Written for the 2020 round of spn_meanttobe.
Read It Below the Cut or READ ON A03
Jensen looks up from the mailbox to find his Tall-Dark-and-Handsome new neighbor waving at him from his driveway. He’s got his two jumpy, hyper dogs on leashes.
The man’s overly friendly manner gets on Jensen’s nerves. Ever since he bought the place next door, he seems to be out walking his dog or watering his lawn or digging in his flower garden constantly. Jensen can’t step outside without the guy calling to him, trying to start a conversation. Being neighborly. It’s obnoxious.
Jensen nods, acknowledging the man but not encouraging him.
It doesn’t work.
“Hey, I’m Jared,” the guy says, practically tripping over his extra long legs in an effort to get to Jensen before Jensen can duck back inside the safety of his house.
Jared’s got his hand out, awkwardly holding his leashes with the other hand as his dogs sniff and trot around excitedly in front of him, forcing him to change hands.
“Jensen.” Jensen attempts to suppress his amusement as Jared struggles to control his frisky mutts.
“Yeah.” They shake hands, Jared grins, and Jensen upgrades his assessment to Tall-Dark-Handsome-and-Adorable. “I just moved in. Next door.”
Up close, Jared towers over Jensen, and Jensen takes a step back to avoid tipping his chin up too obviously.
“Yeah, I know,” he says, clearing his throat. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Thanks.” Jared looks up at Jensen’s house, the home he grew up in and to which he just returned a few weeks ago, after his father died. The place is in need of too much work and will have to be sold. “Nice place. You live here alone?”
Too close for comfort, Jensen thinks, ducking his head and shaking it slightly.
Jared frowns. “Oh. Am I being too nosy? My friends tell me I’m too nosy sometimes. I don’t mean to pry. I’m just curious, is all.”
“Nah, it’s okay.” Jensen smiles despite himself. “It’s my parents’ house. I’m just here long enough to sell it.” He doesn’t know why he spills the beans that way. Something about Jared makes Jensen want to confide in him. To trust him.
“Oh.” Jared’s eyes widen. “Are they retired?”
Jensen takes a deep breath. He can’t believe he’s talking to this complete stranger, giving him intimate details of his life. It should feel wrong. He should want to stop.
Instead, he says, “My mom died when I was in high school. Dad just passed away a little over a month ago.”
“Oh,” Jared breathes. His eyes soften with sympathy, and Jensen has to look away for fear he’ll start to cry. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, well.” Jensen shuffles the mail in his hands. Junk mail, mostly, with a bill or two thrown in. Not a single sympathy card.
Not that he expects one. The Ackles always kept to themselves, didn’t have a lot of friends. When Jensen’s mother died, there were flowers and food and the mothers of Jensesn’s high school buddies fluttering around, nervous and full of helpless concern for him and his dad.
This time, very few people even knew Jensen’s father was sick. No one but Jensen visited him in the hospital. No one but Jensen and the funeral director attended his burial, laid to rest next to the wife he’d lost along with his will to live fifteen years before.
Alan Ackles died the way he lived: lonely and alone.
“I should go,” Jensen says, still unable to look up, to meet Jared’s sympathetic gaze. “I’ve got bills to pay, closets to clean. Stuff to do.”
“Yeah, of course,” Jared says, voice soft. He stands watching as Jensen turns away, heads up the walk to his house. He’s almost there when Jared calls, “Hey!”
Jensen stops, turns halfway, glancing back at Jared warily.
Jared’s struggling to control his dogs, stepping over the leashes awkwardly. It makes Jensen smile despite himself.
“I’m having a few friends over tonight to watch the game,” Jared says. “We’ll probably order pizza, drink some beer. We’d love to have you join us, if you’re free?”
Jensen hesitates. It’s on the tip of his tongue to decline, pretending he’s got something more important to do.
But there’s something about Jared’s hopeful smile, his warm voice, that melts the hard, cold place in Jensen’s chest where his heart used to be. He never realized how lonely he was until this moment. It just hadn’t occurred to him.
“Yeah, sure,” he finds himself saying, as much to his own surprise as Jared’s. “That sounds nice.”
“Really?” Jared grins ear to ear, and it’s like the sun coming out on a cloudy day. Jensen’s suddenly terrified of how much he likes that smile. “Great! About seven okay?”
Jensen nods because he doesn’t trust himself to speak. His throat closes up and his eyes sting.
“Great!” Jared gushes, still beaming. “I’ll see you then!”
Jensen nods again, managing to turn away and climb the steps to his porch. He gets himself inside his house without giving away the rush of emotions he doesn’t even understand.
Once inside, though, the tears well up in his eyes.
Jensen tosses the mail on the little table in the front hall, suddenly overcome with memories of coming home after school to an empty house after his mother died, before his dad came home from work. He’d drop his backpack right there in the corner and charge upstairs to his room, slamming the door and turning up his music so he could pretend — if only for a little while — that his mother was downstairs in the kitchen starting dinner, like she always did. Just for a few moments, things could be normal.
He shakes his head to clear it, wipes his eyes with the back of his hand, and heads to the kitchen for a glass of water to steady his nerves. He really does have closets to clean out. Years of family life, happy and normal up until his mother’s illness. He’s already cleaned out the kitchen, throwing away dozens of bottles of booze. Jensen’s dad had been a functioning alcoholic before his illness, and Jensen doesn’t blame him.
He just wishes he hadn’t been too much of a coward to help. Moving away to Houston to go to college, then pursuing his medical career, Jensen had kept himself busy as a way to avoid facing his dad’s declining health. Although he usually came home for Christmas and school breaks from college, he stayed away more and more in recent years, usually only calling his dad on holidays or his birthday.
Jensen wasn’t a good son. As a medical professional, he knew his father was depressed and he did nothing to help him.
Jensen avoided his dad because his depression reminded Jensen too much of his own grief and depression. With the help of a couple of good friends, Jensen had seen a therapist in college who had helped him face his own sense of failure and survivor guilt, but it hadn’t been enough. After college, work consumed him. He took three jobs simply to fill the hours, to avoid facing his own loneliness.
Relationships were overrated, he told himself. Who needed the emotional baggage? The entanglements? People were fickle. They couldn’t be trusted. At work, Jensen could be in control. He could achieve his goals and accomplish everything he set out to do. In his off hours, Jensen worked out at the gym, joined a running club. His relationships were always professional, never personal.
Hanging out with work buddies was easy, he told himself. It was enough. He didn’t need to get to know anyone too intimately. He could be sociable without getting emotionally involved.
And when he needed to blow off a little steam, he could head down to one of the gay clubs to pick up a one-night stand.
Not that he made a regular habit of that. In the past couple of years, Jensen hadn’t been to the clubs at all. There was a young man at the gym who had been more than willing to serve as an occasional fuck buddy when Jensen needed it, no strings attached. Jensen was grateful that Matt Cohen never tried to push for anything more permanent. He seemed satisfied with whatever Jensen would give him.
Jensen’s lucky that way. His personal life is his own, his emotions locked down and in control. No chance of suffering the loss of a loved one ever again.
There’s a blinking light on his father’s answering machine. It’s a call from the real estate agent, letting him know there’s been an offer on the house.
Jensen decides that’s a good thing. It’s time to put the past in the past, once and for all. Time to move on, back to his lonely life in Houston.
Back where he belongs.
Jensen considers canceling.
He really doesn’t need to get to know his next-door neighbor better. He doesn’t need the hassle. Jared’s dimples and warm smile are sure to get under his skin, and he doesn’t need the distraction.
But of course it would only be a short-term distraction. He’s here only long enough to clean out the house and get it sold, after all. Another month, tops. Then he’ll head back to Houston and his workaholic life there.
A little fling might be just the thing to take his mind off his grief. Just what the doctor ordered.
That is, if he’s reading Jared’s signals correctly.
And even if he isn’t, Jensen has a feeling that Jared’s friendship would be a warm and soothing tonic for his mournful soul.
At seven sharp Jensen shows up at Jared’s door, a six-pack of beer in his hand.
“Jensen!” Jared’s big, happy smile is just as bright and adorable as Jensen remembers, making Jensen relax and smile despite himself. “Come on in!”
Jared takes the beer and leads him into the TV room at the back of the house, where three men and a red-haired woman are already gathered.
“Hey everybody, Jensen’s here! Jensen, this is Chad, Jason, Tom and Danneel.”
“Dani.” The red-head scoots over on the couch, patting the seat next to her, and Jensen plants himself beside her while Jared opens a beer for him. “So you’re the next-door neighbor.”
Her smile is inviting and mischievous at the same time, and Jensen decides he likes her. The men are all extremely attractive, and Jensen feels shy. He’s always been more comfortable with women. He suspects that may have something to do with the fact that he doesn’t have to take their flirtatious teasing too seriously. Hot guys, on the other hand, make Jensen blush, and Jared Padalecki is just about the hottest guy Jensen has ever seen.
“You know he likes you, right?”
Dani’s been watching him watch Jared, and Jensen starts, blinking as he tears his gaze away from Jared and turns to her.
Dani winks. “He thinks you’re hot. He told me so last week.”
“Last week?” Jensen feels stupid. Last week, he couldn’t have been bothered to notice Jared. He was too focused on carrying boxes of junk out to the portable dumpster parked temporarily in the driveway. Last week, all he can remember feeling was a vague annoyance that his neighbor seemed to be outside all the time.
“He kept trying to work up the nerve to talk to you,” Dani goes on.
“Score!” The men on the other side of the room shout as something happens on the TV.
Dani and Jensen watch them for a moment, and Jensen tries to concentrate on the screen as the commentator shows the replay before the game cuts away to commercials.
“Strong start, strong start,” Jared declares as he gets up to fetch more beer. The doorbell rings and Jared yells, “Got it!” from the kitchen.
“Jared’s got a lot of friends for a guy who just moved to town,” Jensen notes.
Dani chuckles. “Oh honey, you have no idea,” she says. “Jared makes friends wherever he goes. Some of them are just hangers-on, though.”
Dani gives him a funny look, half-amused, half-confused, like she’s not sure if he’s pulling her leg.
“Well yeah,” she says finally. “He’s probably the most eligible bachelor in the country right now.”
When Jensen frowns, Dani laughs out loud.
“Oh my god, you really don’t know,” she says.
Jensen shakes his head. “Know what?”
“Jared’s father owns Padalecki Technologies,” she says, naming the company that Jensen knows to be one of the five wealthiest in the country, if not the world. Padalecki Technologies is literally a household name, like Microsoft or Google.
In fact, Jensen’s pretty sure PT owns both of those. Maybe Apple, too.
“No way,” he breathes, watching as Jared saunters back into the room, carrying pizza boxes and a six-pack of beer.
“Pizza’s here!” Jared announces unnecessarily, turning a bright grin on Jensen as he sets the boxes down on the coffee table and offers Jensen another beer.
Jensen flushes to the tips of his ears as his fingers brush Jared’s.
Jared grins wider, dimples impossibly deep in his angular face. His teeth gleam white but aren’t quite perfect, and Jensen wonders how that could be, coming from such a wealthy family. It makes him like Jared more, finding out that he’s got at least one imperfection that was a deliberate choice.
“Is Dani giving away all my secrets?” Jared teases with a wink as he half-sits, half-leans on the arm of the couch next to Jensen. “She tends to do that.”
“Damn straight.” Dani snorts. “I was just about to explain exactly why you bought this house, since I’m sure Jensen’s dying to know, and it’s only fair to warn him about his stalker.”
“Stalker?” Jensen frowns, glancing from Dani to Jared and back again.
“What, you thought it was just a coincidence that he moved in next door?” Dani arches an eyebrow.
“I never thought about it,” Jensen says honestly. He watches Tom, Chad, and Jason grab slices from the pizza box, then retreat to their seats in front of the screen.
Dani smirks. “Tell him, Jared.”
Now it’s Jared’s turn to blush, and Jensen thinks it’s adorable. His pink cheeks and nose make him seem younger, more vulnerable.
“I bought your dad’s painting,” he says softly, fiddling with the label on his beer with his long, slender fingers. “At the auction.”
Jensen thinks back to the day two months ago when he’d turned over his dad’s prized Gibson to be auctioned. The painting had been in Jensen’s family for generations, but the need for funds to pay his dad’s medical bills had become too great.
Jensen had attended the auction just long enough to see the painting sold before he got back to his father’s bedside.
“That was the first time he saw you,” Dani explains. “He’s been trying to figure out a way to get to know you ever since. Believe me, you’re all he talks about. And now, here you are.”
“Thanks, Dani,” Jared murmurs, shaking his head. He doesn’t seem angry, though, just embarrassed. After the exuberance and energy he usually conveys, Jared’s bashfulness is particularly adorable. Jensen can’t help being charmed.
Although he should probably feel a little miffed, too. The idea that this rich kid had possession of the Ackles family’s most treasured heirloom — that he had paid for it at auction like it was just another collectible that had no real meaning for him — Yeah, Jensen should be pissed.
And now that same rich kid has moved in next door to Jensen, into the house next to Jensen’s family home.
Creepy. No doubt about it.
“So — are you planning to buy our house, too?” Jensen blurts.
Jared hangs his head. “If it would help you,” he says, still fiddling with his beer label.
Jensen blinks. Jared’s honesty is refreshing, if totally weird.
“Why?” he demands. “I mean, thank you, I guess, but — why?”
Jared shakes his head. “Can’t help it,” he admits. “I just want to help you.”
“But why?” Jensen insists.
“I like you.” Jared shrugs.
Jensen huffs out a breath. “You don’t even know me,” he sputters incredulously.
“I’d like to,” Jared says. “I’d like to be your friend, if you’ll let me.”
“By buying my house?” Jensen’s shocked. “Are you that used to buying whatever you want?”
Jared shrugs. “Well, yeah, pretty much.”
“You know you can’t buy friendship, right?”
Jared blushes, dimpling adorably as he grins, and Jensen realizes he doesn’t need to be bought. He’s already gone for this kid. It’s already a done deal.
“I’m kinda hoping I don’t have to,” Jared admits, peering up at Jensen shyly.
Danneel rolls her eyes. “Oh my god, out come the puppy eyes.” She shifts in her seat, bumping Jensen’s shoulder. “Can you believe that? He thinks he can make up for being a creepy stalker with just that one look!”
And the truth is, it kinda works.
“More beer!” One of the men shouts from the other side of the room. Chad, Jensen thinks. The blond one. “This calls for more beer!”
“Coming up,” Jared promises, giving Jensen a little apologetic look as he swings his long legs off the edge of the couch and heads back into the kitchen.
Jensen does not notice Jared’s perfect ass, any more than he did earlier when the kid left the room for the pizza.
He does not spend the rest of the evening watching Jared’s long fingers as he holds his beer, watching his long arms as he pumps the air after his team scores a point, or watching the way his hair swings across his chiseled cheekbone when he bends his head.
Jensen does not spend the evening thinking about how good it would feel to run his fingers through Jared’s long hair, imagining how soft and silky it would feel sliding through his hands.
He doesn’t admire Jared’s throat or his lips when he sips his beer, nor the way his biceps and pecs move in his fitted black Henley. And he definitely doesn’t watch Jared’s rear view every time he leaves the room for more beer.
Dani notices, of course. She snuggles next to him and gives him little knowing winks and Jensen doesn’t mind. He’s feeling alive again for the first time in over a month. Maybe a year.
When the other guests leave, Jensen stays where he is, nursing his fourth beer. Dani gives him a funny look as she gets up to go.
“Wow,” she breathes as she realizes his intent. “I pegged you for the shy type. Way to surprise me.”
It’s Jensen’s turn to wink. Dani smirk, shaking her head as she leaves the room.
“Hey.” Jared sticks his head in, gives Jensen a big grin. He doesn’t seem surprised to find Jensen still there. “I gotta walk the dogs and clean up after. Wanna come?”
Jensen watches as Jared’s two dogs are let loose from the confines of the basement where they were kept while the guests were in the house.
“Chad’s allergic,” Jared explains with a roll of his pretty eyes.
Jared gets down on the floor with them as they roll around excitedly, tongues lolling, tails wagging. He gives them both a good belly rub, then another, before he puts leashes on them and leads them to the door.
Jensen follows, smiling despite himself.
The night is warm and fragrant, early summer flowers in full bloom, stars visible despite the street lamps and city lights. Doors slam, voices call out, a dog barks as the neighborhood settles down for the evening. Jensen had almost forgotten what a friendly place Richardson was. As a kid, he’d ridden his bike all over these streets, stayed out late with his buddies until their mothers had shouted for them to come home. It had been a great place to grow up.
“Are you really gonna buy my house?” Jensen asks after a few moments of companionable silence. The dogs have done their business; now they’re just walking, arms brushing once in a while, stopping when one of the dogs needs to sniff something.
“Well, yeah, if you still wanna sell,” Jared says. “I put in my offer yesterday. Didn’t the realtor call you?”
“I think she did, yeah,” Jensen says, remembering the message on his dad’s answering machine. “But it’ll still be another week or two before I can get it ready.”
Jared nods. “I can help, if you want. I know a really crack cleaning crew.”
“I’m still working on clearing out Dad’s personal stuff. It’ll be a while before I’m ready for a cleaning crew.” Jensen hesitates, then adds, “But thank you.”
“Sure, no problem,” Jared shrugs, throwing him another spectacular smile, and Jensen’s heart soars. He’s more smitten than he wants to be. It’s a good thing he’ll be out of here in a couple of weeks. He could fall in love with this guy.
The minute that thought crosses his mind, he’s terrified. That’s not how this was supposed to go.
When they return to Jared’s house, Jared sets out clean water for the dogs, who slurp noisily and happily after their brief burst of exercise. As he watches Jared takes care of his dogs, Jensen fights the urge to flee. On the one hand, he knows he can do this. He can have sex with this man without getting emotionally involved. It should happen tonight, though. He needs to get Jared out of his system, get himself under control again.
Jensen helps Jared clean up, impressed that a man of his wealth doesn’t employ a maid.
Or a cook.
Jared laughs when Jensen suggests cooking. “I’m not very good at it,” he admits. “I do a lot of take-out. It’s easier.”
When Jared pulls out a bottle of fine single-malt whiskey and suggests they head out to the porch for a nightcap, Jensen makes his move. He crowds Jared against the kitchen doorframe, reaches up with both hands to pull Jared’s head down, goes up on tiptoe to reach Jared’s lips and kisses him.
Jared gives a little grunt of surprise, then melts into him, kissing back with more tenderness than Jensen would have expected. When Jensen lets him go, he realizes he can’t do this. It’s too late.
He’s head over heels for this man.
“Figured we should get that out of the way,” he says by way of explanation. “Figured we were both angling for it.”
Jared blushes, lifts the bottle and glasses he’s still holding. “You’d be right about that,” he notes. “Guess we didn’t need this after all.”
“Oh, we need it,” Jensen says, surprising himself. “Just not tonight.” He reaches up, palms Jared’s cheek, and Jared closes his eyes for a moment, leans into the touch.
Too late, for sure.
“Tomorrow, then?” Jared asks hopefully as Jensen pulls his hand away, letting his fingers caress Jared’s warm, stubbled skin.
“I don’t seem to have a choice,” Jensen notes, and Jared gives him another beaming, dimpled grin.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, Jensen thinks as he makes his way out the door, down the steps, and across the lawn. He looks back as he steps up onto his own porch, sees Jared watching him, the bottle of whiskey still dangling from his long fingers.
Jensen can still taste Jared’s lips.
Something has shifted in Jensen’s chest. The hard, cold heart that melted earlier has started to beat again. It’s a new feeling for Jensen, something he hasn’t felt for a very long time.
It feels like hope.