Summary: When Jared's released from prison, Jensen is there to help him cope. Parole officer/ex-con AU.
Warning: mute character, permanent injury (past/off-screen)
For fiercelynormal, who generously bought me over at fandomaid. I do hope this is something along the lines of what you'd pictured. Thank you again, lovely! ♥
Like a Detuned Radio
It’s four months before the inmate’s release date, and raining, the day Jensen walks into the Ramsey Ellis Penitentiary, sopping wet, hair matted to his skull. He’s been inside before - it's not his first show and tell. He's no quivering rookie.
Still, it's his first higher profile case that carries along lingering remnants of the media circus that surrounded an eighteen year old boy. And Jensen's carefully put together manila file has gone soggy.
He'd seen the live courtroom feeds, the grainy pixelated newspaper shots. Even in the bright, clear mugshots, it's a child's face staring out – high, razored cheekbones and lost eyes.
Jensen flashes his badge, routine, and goes about scribbling his info on the log sheet.
INMATE: Padalecki, J. VISIT START DATE/TIME: 07/19 15:33 LAST NAME: Ackles FIRST NAME: Jensen REASON FOR VISIT: Interview
Once he's been quietly escorted down to the steel door of Room C, a few too many eyes glance up at his entrance, surprising him, having operated under the distinct impression that this would go down as all the others had – a one-on-one discussion with the prisoner; just him and Padalecki.
The C.O. over in the corner is standing with his arms crossed, relatively obstructed by shadow, impartial but competent. There's a prim lady seated at the table and she gives only her name. Jensen's clearly supposed to know who she is. Jensen has no idea who she is.
He looks down at the seat beside her, at full white garb and shining, sturdy bracelets binding a pair of strong wrists together – the outdated photos Jensen had paperclipped into his notes were that of a kid with shaggy, stringy hair haphazardly tossed across his forehead and an innocence about him despite his rap sheet – and Jensen feels stupid for not realizing that in five years time, Padalecki would have turned into this. A man.
Today, his hair is loose and grazes the tops of wide, wide shoulders and looks like something out of a shampoo commercial. A smooth skinned babyface of the past now wears a thick layer of scruff generously spread from ear to ear. And hazel-grey, once home to youthful naivety, now houses an air of mischief. Apparently.
Padalecki eyes Jensen for a moment, torso to waist and back up again, lingers on his face seconds long enough for Jensen to feel slightly provoked and shoots a loaded look to the corner of the room. He makes some sort of outward cheek scratching motion, angle of his mouth twitching up in a half-smirk, and the stone faced C.O. breaks character and barks out a deep belly laugh.
“Easy there, Paddy,” the guard says on a little chuckle, quiet. "Nobody here likes you that much."
Jensen scans all three faces again, waiting for someone to clue him in, on everything really, and finds Padalecki still watching him with that twinkle in his eye. Jensen clears his throat, still dripping onto the floor.
“I’m ready to begin if you are,” he says, addressing the room as a whole. It’s not typical procedure to have an audience but Jensen always lands on his feet, coat smooth.
Padalecki motions with his hand, continue, and his chains clank about noisily.
“Alright, paperwork out of the way first. Then we tackle specifics.”
Padalecki takes his time filling out all of the forms Jensen’s brought in – educational accomplishments while incarcerated, therapy sessions completed, address of family member with whom offender will be staying upon release, and lots of initialing next to various and extensive requirements – while Jensen gets all of his data organized to finish putting together the Case Summary. Now that he has Padalecki right here in front of him, he can address any discrepancies or note any additional remarks before it all gets typed up and sent in for review.
Except. When Jensen gets past the simple yeses and nos, needs more than nods or shakes, and his questions delve deeper and prod harder, Padalecki’s hands go into as much a flurry of activity as his restraints allow for, and the lady in the room abruptly comes to life, starts speaking hurriedly.
“I’ve never been able to reach out to any family of the victims. I did try, when I first got here. For months, I tried," she pauses, watches Padalecki closely. "Nobody really knew anything but Meggy helped as much as she could, talked to anyone we thought could help but it was all doors slammed in her face and dial tones. After awhile, I made her stop.”
Jensen watches the scene, eyes flitting back and forth between Padalecki and the lady, and then he gets it.
And the best he can come up with is, “Meggy?”
“My baby sister,” she says clerically, precise. Padalecki makes another motion up near his mouth. “The one I’ll be staying with.”
Jensen nods, rubs at his still-damp temple, and privately tries to determine where to lay blame for the fact that this never came up in any prior discussions regarding the inmate. A sizable blip on somebody’s part; he’d very much have preferred to know going in that the guy he’d be handling for the foreseeable future couldn’t actually talk.
They call it a day an hour later, set up a tentative schedule for their upcoming meetings and Padalecki shakes his hand; no bullshit, all business. After all, Jensen’s holding his ticket out.
When a different guard comes to escort Padalecki back to gen pop, he pushes back from the table and unfolds himself out of his seat. Jensen doesn’t stare outright, busies himself with shuffling his papers back into order, but he keeps one eye on Padalecki until he’s gone from sight completely and lets out a stuttered breath that throws him a little.
Padalecki is huge.
Not fat. Not fat. Just a lean mass of muscle and height and he towers over everyone in the room — Jensen included, which doesn't happen to him all that often. Six feet when he’d gone in, according to booking, and Jensen hadn’t quite counted on the fact that maybe Padalecki hadn’t been done growing just yet.
“So hey,” Jensen says to Padalecki’s C.O. buddy when they’re leaving the tiny room. “Question.”
The guard gives him a side eye but he doesn’t protest so Jensen takes it as a green light.
“What was all, you know—“ Jensen mimics Padalecki's completely unsubtle cheek scratch, “—that about?” Not that he'd spent the second half of the interview almost morbidly curious about it.
The guard doesn’t rumble off a laugh again but it looks like he wants to, traces of a sly smile slithering at the edges. He shrugs, stays looking straight ahead. They keep walking. “Kid’s birthday today,” he says, almost tender, after a minute's gone by and Jensen's given up on an answer, mentally jotting down self-reminders to check Google later. Like it matters. Like it does.
“Guess he thought you might be his gift, something.”
Jensen misses a step. “He—what?” But then yeah, okay, it makes sense - being paroled is a gift, he gets that. And then, “This means ‘gift’?” He scratches his cheek again. It's an interesting language.
That time, C.O. does grin. Just a little.
“Nah." He waves Jensen back on through, but not before giving an obvious onceover to Jensen’s crisp white button down, still a little soaked through in parts. “Prostitute.”
Rifling through pages of reports looking for any little indication he might have glossed over is a waste of time. Clicking around on the computer doesn’t prove to be much better. He does the next best thing and picks up his phone.
“Infirmary,” he says, before a quick click and he's transferred.
It’s not a long phone call. They're very helpful and confirm his suspicions. No sickness, no tumors. Just brutality. Padalecki was attacked with a homemade shiv by his old cellmate, one night when he was sleeping. Emergency surgery and thirty-seven stitches, but he pulled through. Even taught himself a new means of communication later, aided by a stack of books from the library and a mountain of patience. Smart. Persistent. Nearly died, but didn’t. Just his voice.
Padalecki was just a teenager the day he stopped speaking. For a moment, Jensen wonders what his last words might have been.
The next time he visits the prison, Padalecki gives him a polite nod, then abruptly turns to the guard and does something twirly with his fingers, shoving the sides of his hands down against the table. The guard cracks a smile. Jensen does not.
He’s wearing a perfectly respectable vest over his button down this time, on purpose, nice and covered up; knows for sure he doesn’t come across as some wet t-shirt contestant. He hates not being taken seriously, even by a guy thrown in for two counts of involuntary manslaughter. They get right down to it and Padalecki doesn’t pull any more funny shit. The meeting goes much quicker.
After, he checks Google on his phone anyway.
On the third visit, he’s wearing a tie and his old wireframes that he hates. Even his mom says they make him look like an accountant. His eyes are itchy as fuck, he’s irritable and he doesn’t have time for anyone’s shit.
So as soon as Padalecki makes to privately insult him, Jensen flaps a hand in the air viciously hard, jabs a finger at Padalecki and makes a little upward circular gesture with a thumb and index .
For a second, Padalecki just looks sincerely stunned – and confused. Then he tosses his head back and a little huff of a sound comes out, and it’s obvious he’s laughing really, really hard. Jensen can see the smooth raised line of a long, crooked scar stretching down one side of his throat, long since healed and utterly painful to look at.
“I’m not a stripper,” he says, pissy, to distract himself.
Padalecki pretends to wipe at his eyes in mirth.
“Or a hooker,” Jensen thinks to add.
Padalecki pretends to wipe at his eyes in disappointment.
Jensen makes the little circular gesture again, just because. Padalecki’s not the only one who can self-teach. He only knows a few terms so far, but Jensen thinks hey, you’re an asshole was a spectacular find. And so far, something he's sure he’ll get a lot of use out of. Little over a month and Padalecki will be out of his fishbowl.
October brings their last visit before the prisoner’s release and they spend the entire hour cramming through the last of the information together. Padalecki’s translator is still there, like always, and she helps them communicate things not easily expressed through oversimplified motions and one non-fluent party. Still, they’re needing her less and less, which is good, because she’s provided by the state and she won’t be around when Padalecki gets shoved back into civilian status.
Three months of continual correspondence and a tallied string of successful meetings, Jensen has a good feeling about this one. Padalecki doesn’t have a violent past and according to the psychologist’s evals, isn’t all that aggressive either. He doubts Padalecki will slide back and land himself here again.
“You remember everything we talked about, right? You’re not gonna forget?”
Padalecki rolls his eyes, scuffles a few words out in understanding, basic stuff – bus ticket, money, Jensen (a made up combination for uptight-pornstar that Padalecki had thought was just so funny) – and nods. He’s nonchalant, but overly so, and Jensen can tell he’s bursting with excitement.
“Just making sure you’re not gonna bounce outta here and fail to come down to the office for check in,” Jensen says, placating, but there’s a smile in his voice and it’s loud even to him. “If you forget about—“ He makes Padalecki’s ridiculous sign for ‘Jensen’, “—you’re kinda screwed, buddy.”
Jensen gathers up his things, tells him the next time they see each other he’ll be a free boy, and hey, maybe go for a different color palette, white’s kinda played out, and goes to shake the man’s hand. Padalecki gives it a firm squeeze, nods, and clasps his other hand outside, encasing Jensen’s. It’s as good a thank you as he's ever heard.
Just before Jensen leaves for good, Padalecki raps his knuckles against the table, calling his attention. He motions slowly, almost like he’s enunciating for Jensen, taking his time and being clear about it and tells Jensen with big hands, serious as anything, not going to forget about you.
Jensen starts watching tutorials on YouTube, expanding his vocabulary and practicing insults he decides will come in handy sooner or later. He has other cases to work on, and he does, but he does this too.
The morning of November 1st finds Jensen in his office ahead of schedule, set up at his desk with a Batman mug of coffee and a load of unchecked e-mails. He sets to start picking at the pile, muttering and swearing his way through most of it, and doesn’t even notice when Patrick from the office across the hall wanders in hours later to borrow a USB drive.
“Expecting a package today, aren’t you?”
Jensen glances up from his work, only mildly invested in either topic. “Maybe. Is it big?” He pokes down a slat from the blinds covering his window, rolling his desk chair over to see better, scanning for a delivery truck.
“Kinda big, yeah,” Patrick says. He’s biting his lip. “Waiting for you out front. Nothing from FedEx though.”
“Oh. Well what—“ He stops. Patrick’s busy playing charades, pretending to pet his imaginary beard.
“It’s about yay high,” he goes on, scrambling to stand on a chair, and still placing his hand somewhere up near the ceiling. “Upwards of about two hundred pounds, scale breaking, no label or anything but I figured it was yours so..”
“Thank you for the demonstration,” Jensen says sourly, making to stand up. Patrick goes to leave and Jensen almost lets him, before something occurs to him and he thinks it can’t hurt to get a second opinion. “Hey, you can't see my nipples through this, right?” He plucks at the hem of his shirt, glancing down.
“Nothing, nevermind.” Jensen shoos him back to his own office and heads to the front desk reception area.
He expects to see Padalecki sitting on one of the leather couches, or flipping through a magazine now that they’re readily available, or secretly calling somebody something offensive while he smiles at them happily. Jensen's learning. But Padalecki isn’t actually doing any of those things.
Jensen finds him propped awkwardly against the wall, standing next to a potted plant, not nearly as inconspicuous as he’s clearly hoping. He’s chewing away at a thumbnail and when Jensen clears his throat, Padalecki looks up, unbunches his whole body when he sees him and lets off something that’s meant to be a smile; it looks a lot like relief. He rushes over, little ratty backpack tossed over his shoulder and follows Jensen back to his office.
“So,” Jensen says, drawing it out into a question, an invitation to choose a starting point.
No and white, Padalecki signs.
Padalecki points two thumbs back towards his own chest and signs again. No white. Jensen smiles.
Indeed. Padalecki’s got on a simple grey v-neck and a pair of jeans. It’s cooler out this time of year but he doesn’t seem to mind the slight chill, only a slouchy beanie tucked over his hair. "Hmm. Marginally more put together than your previous attire, give ya that." Truthfully, with thickly veined forearms and a natural tan thrown in, he looks more like he stepped right off the glossy pages of a magazine.
They spend an hour going over the outline Jensen’s come up with: a bi-weekly phone check-in, one monthly visit to the office for Padalecki, one monthly visit to the sister’s apartment for Jensen.
He’s got a stack of circled and highlighted ads from the newspaper and some printouts from craigslist that he handpicked himself. He’s not a thousand percent sure that anything he’s chosen will be up Padalecki’s alley but they’ve got decent pay and require little to no direct communication – he checked them out specifically. Multi-restaurant bike delivery service downtown, handyman, odd jobs here and there.
Padalecki speaks mostly via post-it note for the majority of the visit but when Jensen starts flipping through the ads, Padalecki tentatively reaches out and snicks one of the first sheets Jensen read through out loud, scans it over a few times. He keeps it in his lap and signs, cool. It’s the machine tinkerer one Jensen had printed out on a whim.
When Padalecki’s getting ready to leave, Jensen debates leaving it alone, staying quiet. But he’s here to help and he’s seen firsthand what the power of a more manicured look can do when it comes to job interviews, so, “You don’t have to do this today, or at all, your choice, but maybe you can think about—“ and his hand hovers back and forth around his chin area.
Padalecki’s eyes light up and he nods emphatically, grabs his pen and post-it. Cheap place?
“Got it covered,” Jensen says, ducking down to the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet. He’s got all sorts of tools of the trade in there. Extra socks, rolls of quarters for the laundromat, cheap toothbrushes and travel sized deodorant.
He places a box set of clippers and attachments on his desk and pushes them outward. “Just bring them back whenever,” he starts to say, but Padalecki’s already out of his seat with the box tucked against his chest like it’s something to treasure and uses one hand to flash a quick sign Jensen’s way. Bathroom?
Jensen lifts a brow but gets up easily. On the way down the hall to the back of the building, Patrick mumbles something inappropriate on a snicker for only Jensen to hear. Fucker.
No dicking around, the guy doesn’t waste any time.
Jensen leads him to the small, single toilet employee bathroom to the left of the janitorial closet. It’s little, but there’s more privacy, and no chance of anybody walking in on some random person grooming themselves. He has every intention of walking away, waiting back at his desk, but Padalecki holds the door open, a hopeful look on his face and Jensen scoots in, lets it fall closed behind him.
Padalecki’s got his shirt up and over his head in the time it takes Jensen to suck in a breath, tosses it onto the little shelf next to the air freshener and extra rolls of toilet paper. Jensen’s model theory gets an A+ for accuracy. The guy is cut like a goddamn diamond, his flat stomach exaggerated even more by a slim waist. Sometimes Jensen hates being right.
The hair comes off in great big chunks, falling away like tiny tumbleweeds. He gets snagged up a time or two, a few snarled pieces needing to get worked through, and mows from jawbone to cheekbone in methodic sweeps.
Jensen roots around in the medicine cabinet, produces a can of Barbasol and a new blade and proceeds to settle in on his perch on top of the toilet lid, oddly interested in the show. It’s confined, and dangerously intimate, but Padalecki doesn’t seem to mind. Why would he? He spent the last five years taking a shit with only a curtain between him and the next guy. Jensen lets himself watch.
When he’s all done, nothing but sideburns and a worried grin, Jensen can hardly give him more than a glance.
Fantastic, Jensen signs, like he’s showing off another new word he’s learned, already halfway out the door. Really, he just can’t seem to get his voice to work. He hurries back to his office, sinks into his chair, and knuckles at his eyelids. Padalecki's not supposed to be beautiful.
The first text comes five days later; just a simple got the job.
The shoddy, two-function pay-and-go phones that Jensen gives to each parolee are nothing special, just something to get them by for the time being. They’re pre-setup with a couple months worth of call minutes and texting so he knows he can get ahold of them – for awhile at least. Jensen’s not expecting to hear from Padalecki, not really. Nobody ever willingly keeps in contact with him and certainly not so soon, just to update him on their activities, but he’ll take it, counting it as a win. He texts back in kind, That’s awesome. Congrats.
He’s in the middle of dinner that night, watching the news with a bowl of chicken and dumplings on his lap, when his phone goes off. first day tomorrow, what should i wear?
Before Jensen can reply, it buzzes again in his hand. something see thru?
Asshole, Jensen sends back before one comes right through again, and for the next half hour his food grows cold and the TV is just random dialogue in the background.
It becomes an unfortunate habit after that, and something Jensen’s not prepared for. He can hear Patrick’s daily tsk tsking and ignores it, the same way he ignores the kneejerk reaction he gets when his phone lights up and his face right along with it. It's not exactly normal, or all that professional, but he tells himself he's just keeping extra thorough tabs on Padalecki and continues on with their traded jabs, stabs or random observations.
Jensen snatches up his phone. That’s a bad thing? He considers asking how much Padalecki’s making an hour, he’d been sure all of the job listings he’d inquired about had been more than minimum wage to further assist in the effort of getting back on one’s feet, but then thinks it might be rude and too prying. Even though he’s paid to pry, mostly.
meggy says it’s my turn to buy groceries.
After a bit more discussion, Jensen starts to understand; the idea’s an uncomfortable one. Being immersed back into supermarkets and cereal aisles and people. The kind not carrying shanks or looking to gang-rape you if you bend over for too long — but just as scary. It’s a different sort of fear.
Jensen wonders what Jared’s been doing the past couple of weeks, while he’s been messaging Jensen. He pictures him on break at work, eating a burrito and keeping to himself, talking only to his parole officer via text. Or at home, squirreled away in his little sister’s spare bedroom, laying in bed and trying to readjust to a new life, an old life. Jensen feels a hot pang of sympathy and doesn’t like it.
So he does the only thing he can.
“Where are you off to?” Patrick says, when Jensen clocks out early and leaves for the day. Jensen doesn’t answer him but the look on Patrick’s face doesn’t show any signs of surprise.
Padalecki’s standing at the corner of the street next to Walmart, hovering near the bus stop, hands in his hoodie pockets, right where he said he’d be. It’s still sort of weird to see him decked out in something other than the jumpsuit but he’s got on a pair of track pants and running shoes and he looks amazing. Jensen’s past pretending he doesn’t notice.
They grab a cart, head in, and Jensen confiscates the grocery list. It’s in pretty, loopy handwriting that’s abundantly clear wasn’t written by anyone he knows. At the bottom, in red markered chicken scratch etchings, sour punch straws and then, cake frosting.
Padalecki sticks by his side down each aisle, grabbing things not on the list, shoving them in like Jensen won’t notice the extra boxes of Pop-Tarts or whatever.
They go down the freezer sections and about ten seconds in, Padalecki slyly looks over at Jensen’s chest. Specifically his chest. Like he’s studying it. Jensen narrows his eyes, looks down to see what the fuss is about, and squawks. He thrusts the cart to roll into Padalecki’s hip, crossing his arms indignantly and speedwalking over to the canned goods. He gives the little 'asshole' sign again.
By the time their trip is finished and the cart is heaped up with zombie apocalypse-style hoarding, Padalecki doesn't look nearly as skittish as before and actually goes up to the register to hand over the money himself. It's a good day. It's progress.
Once a month, in accordance with state law, Jensen’s required to do this one thing.
He shows up unannounced, knocks on the screen door and rotates from foot to foot until a slim girl dressed in hospital scrubs comes to answer. She’s almost as tall as Jensen, has shiny-perfect hair and wears pretty eyes like her brother. She scrutinizes him for a moment, then holds the door open. Jensen would be more disconcerted about the carelessness of it had she not immediately hollered towards the back of the apartment, “Your cop dude’s here to see you, Jare,” at full lung capacity.
Jensen nearly bristles at that, he’s not a cop, but he’s too busy schooling his features to not look as silly as he feels. There's no reason for it. It doesn't mean anything. Of course Padalecki's sister knows who he is.
When Padalecki emerges from his room, Jensen’s standing there awkwardly, holding a little plastic cup with a screw-top lid. Padalecki lifts a brow, signs something lewd and mouths kinky.
Jensen signs child and receives uptight-pornstar for his efforts, but ends up staying for dinner. He has no idea how it happens. He leaves with leftovers, a cup of pee, and an uncomfortable swoopy feeling he keeps trying to make go away.
It’s not Padalecki’s scheduled check-in date but he shows up with a bag of greasy burritos and two styrofoam cups of lemonade and Jensen can’t turn him away. He thinks he might be the closest thing Padalecki has to a friend. The thought doesn’t make him feel as uneasy as it should. Or as displeased. They sit and eat and take turns writing shit to each other on Jensen’s yellow legal pad. Jensen takes a big bite of his carne guisada and a glob of sauce drips all the way down his chin and throat.
Padalecki draws a couple of stick figures in precarious positions, filthily filled in speech bubbles and what looks like a horribly messy facial completely destroying one of the little guys. Of course, that’s the one Padalecki draws an arrow to and labels Jensen.
Jensen loftily cleans his face and seizes the pen, writes back: stop calling me a porn star. He underlines it twice.
Patrick walks by, sees Jensen’s company, their lunch spread, and goggles at them for a moment. With Padalecki’s back to the door, Patrick gives him a quick double thumbs up and scurries back across the hall. Jensen sighs. The last thing he needs is anyone jumping to conclusions.
When he turns his attention back, Padalecki’s looking out the window uncomfortably, all done with his food. Jensen looks down at the yellow pad sitting between them.
stop calling me padalecki
Jared texts him habitually – and it’s still taking some getting used to, calling him that, Jared, informal and all the more risky – about an old fashioned lawnmower he fixed, what exciting thing he had for breakfast, how he’s started riding the bus more and more. He used to walk to and from work each day, miles, just so he wouldn’t have to be too near others, and it shows how many forward steps he’s been taking, and how very few back. Jensen’s proud of him.
For an ex-con readjusting to society, Jared's got a lot of free time after work.
He doesn’t have any mandatory therapy, or recovery meetings, nothing like that. The fire he’d started that turned into a blazing monstrous thing stemmed from hanging out with the wrong crowd and letting himself be egged into the ultra-cool, always daring, game of arson. None of the other kids knew about the old RV up on cinder blocks or the elderly couple that lived in it, just beyond the abandoned shed. Jared didn’t know it either. Not until after.
Jared likes to spend his free time with a book, or on projects he's brought home to fiddle with, or numbing his mind through hours of QVC. Mostly though, he likes to spend it with Jensen.
Sometimes they volunteer at the local animal shelter, walking dogs a few evenings a week. It looks good on paper, getting Jared involved in the community like that and Jensen cleverly tricks himself into believing that's why he's tagging along. Jared seems to really love it though, the dogs. Animals are kinder, more tolerating than humans. Sometimes Jensen's friends call when he's out with Jared. Sometimes he lets it go to voicemail.
They start up Movie Night, something that came to fruition after a heated argument over what criteria made a 'classic' a classic. Jared wins the thumb war so he gets to choose what they watch the first night. They have a full blown Tremors marathon. Jensen spends half the night, with Jared smiling and sunny and mouthing along with the TV, reminding himself not to get too attached.
“Do you know how to drive?” he asks. They’re eating fruit cups they snagged off a guy on a bike who passes through the neighborhood Jared’s shop is in, selling pickles and corn cups and melon doused in chile.
Jared looks at Jensen like he’s a roach.
He wasn’t sure. Just a random thought he had. Jared went in kind of young, there was always a possibility. “Don’t get testy, just asking.” And then, “we should take a trip somewhere. Some time.”
The owner had a pair of coveralls made just for him, little patch with his name on it and everything — JARED, not an eight digit number — and he's wearing them now, grease stains and oil smudges and Jensen can see the dip at his throat, just above his clavicles. It's distracting. And it makes Jensen say things completely out of character, voice thoughts he’d only dimly been aware of having.
Jared’s not looking at him like he wants to squash him anymore. His face is saying something but Jensen’s carefully trying not to listen.
“If you want,” he adds lamely. He goes back to trying to stab at a wily banana slice.
where to? Jared writes on the back of a random receipt lying around.
“Well. Wherever, I guess,” Jensen says. “I mean, you’ll still have to submit a request to leave the county, but.” The rest goes unsaid. It’s not like he’d ever deny the request. Also, and more importantly, it's not like he's being serious. He can't be serious. “Anywhere.”
Jared finishes his fruit, crumples up the receipt and throws it at Jensen’s head, and grins down at his feet when he thinks Jensen’s not paying attention. Jensen’s always paying attention, it feels like. Anywhere, he thinks, wondering how he’s let himself slip this far. Anywhere at all.
A month into their tentative friendship, Jensen gets another heavy duty case and his workload nearly doubles. He’s in and out of the office constantly, visiting one of the correctional centers a few towns over and barely has time to pencil any sleep into his schedule.
where've you been? :(
New aquarium, he sends back. It's their code word for the place Jared prefers not to think or talk about. Jensen hates, and loves, that they have code words. Mostly hates though, because it's mostly love.
some guy keeps looking at me funny every time i show up and you're not here
Jensen feels a disgusting, stupid bubble of hope rise in his throat when he reads that over.
Are you at my work?
but you're not. And then, thought you forgot about me.
Jensen rationalizes it out in his head, knows he shouldn't do it, at all, really at all, but goes ahead and does it anyway. He's sitting outside a maximum security prison, about to interview a guy who murdered his three children, something Jensen's absolutely positive of but can't do anything about, and his day's been shitty so far. He shoots off a quick reply, feels his tummy go warm with moths and butterflies and other flying creatures, and heads inside the building. Not going to forget about you.
At night, alone in bed, his Jared-soaked brain helps him make good on his promise. Jensen dreams of a stick figure world, of secrets told in shadows, in patois, just them. He dreams of dimpled laughs and sweat behind his knees. When it rains, it’s red and when Jensen tries to breathe, it’s nothing but a scream, choking and gurgled, and his nice prison whites are all ruined.
He wakes up miserable, no matter the dream, and stares at the ceiling fan, imagining what Jared's voice might've sounded like.
Jensen’s leaned up against the counter in the break room, listening to the dull hum of the microwave, waiting for lunch. It’s not burritos and insults, but it’s enough. It needs to be enough. Patrick’s watching him curiously.
“Your phone,” he nods, looking to Jensen's fist, which is clutched tightly around his iPhone. He doesn’t need to look down to see it too. He’d been staring at it just fine before Patrick walked in. “It’s him, right?”
Jensen doesn’t bother with a him who, or even acknowledge the boyfriend remark. He slips his phone back into the front pocket of his slacks where it goes back to being meaningless and makes a big task out of getting his frozen entrée out of the microwave, situating it down onto a paper plate just so, checking the temperature.
“It’s okay if you like him,” Patrick says now, softer, like Jensen might spook. "You know that, don't you?"
Jensen shakes his head, as if to deny it, all of it. It’d even be the truth. It wasn’t Jared, it wasn’t anybody. It was just his wallpaper he’d been looking at, and waiting, maybe hoping. He really wishes Jared wasn’t anybody. “No, it isn’t,” he says instead, and walks back to his desk.
That, at least, is true. It really isn’t okay.
The winter holidays come in and go out, and nothing changes, not really. He goes to his parents’ house for festivities, eats honeyed ham that’s too salty to be appealing but it’s tradition and that makes it good. He catches up with his cousins, spends time peeling potatoes with his momma, and sneaks texts to Jared under the table through the whole meal.
They don’t exchange Christmas gifts or anything, that would be weird, but Jensen picks up a tacky, cheap refrigerator ornament from the seedy gas station that doesn’t give any fucks, folds the little brown paper bag again and again, tapes it closed, and plops a hot pink coiled flowing bow on top of it.
He leaves it on the welcome mat for Jared to find, a simple J written under the bow.
There’s a Batman coloring book sitting on his desk when he gets to work the next morning.
Patrick refuses to say a word about anything.
You forgot to supply the crayons, he sends, flipping through the pages absentmindedly.
nope, didn’t forget. you just have to come over after work to get them. and i like my present! thank you :D
It was just a dorky purple star magnet that said PORN in the middle, in pseudo-classy, cursive font. Thought you might. I know how you love your porn stars, he sends back, still holding onto his book like he’s five years old. A flash of color and Jensen stops, thumbs back a couple of pages until he finds it again.
It’s Batman and Robin, side by side, running into action. They’re fully colored in, neat and everything in the lines, even the blank background has been decorated with scenery: a poorly drawn farmhouse that makes no sense, a wandering chicken, a black and white dog-thing that Jensen thinks might actually just be a sad excuse for a cow. Jensen wonders what the fuck sort of heroic adventuring the guys are getting up to on a farm. They have speech bubbles drawn in too, because of course they do, and Jared’s messy handwriting making jokes about Robin wanting to try the stick. In the Batmobile, duh. What did you think I meant, Bruce? There’s a big pink heart added in between them.
Jensen’s phone buzzes against his thigh. i do love my porn stars, it says, and Jensen presses his inanely smiley mouth against the palm of his hand so he doesn’t make any embarrassing noises.
So maybe they did exchange gifts. Sorta. So what?
It’s late when Jensen gets out of work that night but he still ends up going over anyway. One, because he said he would. And two, because it’s movie night – and it’s his turn. No way he’s passing that shit up.
Jared ruins everything by wearing soft fleece pajama pants and an old Radiohead t-shirt when he answers the door. It's fucking awful. Jensen’s heart gives a wild shake just seeing him. He's too hard to look at. He's perfect.
The whole place reeks of butter and popcorn and warmth and Jensen’s about to make some joke about superheroes when Jared reaches out, pulls him in, and hugs him. Just like that, no warning; hugs him like he’s done it a hundred different times, like it’s not the very first, and Jensen can feel it everywhere, from his fingertips to his trembling guts, staggering in its intensity, painful in the way Jensen wants to keep holding on. He tucks his face into the little space under Jared’s jaw, stubbled and soapy smelling, and Jensen knows then, with sudden clarity, that he isn’t there for the stupid crayons.
Jared pulls away still smiling and Jensen feels nauseous, wobbly and a little like he might be sick. Because he thinks he knows what this is, what's happening to him. And he really could have used a warning.
“Pick anything you want,” Meggy had said, hollering from the kitchen where she was making mugs of hot chocolate. “Extra marshmallows in yours if it’s made anytime after 1990.”
Jared had made a little whine, and pasted on big sorrowful eyes like he was pleading, cheesy 80s films were his favorite, and Jensen had laughed, thought to himself right then, you can do this.
He’d gone over to the little shelf area of movies and started sifting through it, Jared pretending to remain in his own bubble of space while secretly peeking right over his shoulder. There were rows and rows to choose from and he lingered over an especially appealing area for a bit, the straight-to-DVD goldmine, before another section caught his eye. VHS tapes.
“In Jared’s room, yup."
After much decision, he emerged victorious with something labeled AstroWorld and handed it over.
Jared looked bitchy. Meggy cackled. Jensen was confident in his choosing.
They gathered up their bowls of popcorn and cups of chocolate and single file marched to Jared’s room at the back, Jensen taking extra special care in ensuring they sat a careful distance apart on Jared’s bed while Meggy fiddled and fussed with an old grey RCA from the stone age.
Now, with the volume up high and the realization of what this is, Jensen wants desperately to turn it off, rewind it all; the tape, the time, his life. Smash the TV in two and crush a guy named Nelson’s windpipe with his bare hands for what he's done, all he's stolen. He wants go back to a world in which he’d never had to hear seventeen year old Jared talking, and joking, and see him dancing the Carlton with somebody in a giant Porky Pig costume at an amusement park, and saying things like swear to god! and i call shotgun!, if only because knowing that he'll never hear them again is hurting him in such an unexpected way.
Meggy makes a few quips here and there, hey remember right after that how we…. and Jared smiles fondly and indulgent the whole time. Jensen endures the rest of the home video with a rigid spine and clammy hands, absorbing a family’s sweet memories like potassium chloride, a death sentence.
When it’s over, there’s a little spat over what to watch next. Jared’s signing something, Meggy’s insisting it’s still Jensen’s turn, but he barely sees or hears any of it.
He’s staring at Jared’s throat. Can see the tendon go taut, give a quiver to show he’s laughing, then relax again, over and over. He watches it almost hypnotically, trying to learn it, the way the scar starts out wider, near the top, then makes a quick turn and tapers off. Maybe that’s the moment Jared woke up. Jensen bets the muscle quivered then too, bathed in deep red and vulnerability.
Jensen blinks – and realizes Jared’s watching him.
Meggy’s gone now, somewhere. He wonders when she left. He wonders how long he's been lost in Jared. Weeks, he figures, maybe. The tape’s been stopped and Jensen’s just sitting there completely cut in half. His eyes fall back to Jared’s scar.
Jared doesn’t reach up to cover his neck, never has before, and Jensen doesn’t look away, like he always has before.
It doesn’t hurt, Jared signs, suddenly right next to him, right in front.
Yes, Jensen thinks, it does. It really really does.
What’s wrong? Jared tries again, tilting his head. He’s adorable. He’s always been adorable. Since the day Jensen walked in and Jared outright leered at him, even then. Adorable and sexy and an entire list of things Jensen hadn’t even realized he’d been counting and labeling and shoving into hidden places where he wouldn’t have to look at them too hard, or at all.
Jensen, Jared says, taking the time to flash each letter, mouthing it. His lips look incredible around Jensen’s name. It makes him ache. It’s alright.
And Jensen could just laugh, fall over slapping his knees and crying into the carpet because Jared – Jared is babying a grown man, trying to comfort him from the big bad harsh realities of the world, like Jensen’s the one who was hurt, who had a blade sunk deep into his neck, lost a piece of himself in a stale room of bars and cement.
Without his own consent, his hand reaches out to touch. He fingers the length of the wound and Jared lets him. Jared lets him.
The full impact of what he’s doing doesn’t hit him until Jared’s mirrored up against him, huge hand on Jensen’s throat too, face to face, mouth to mouth, and Jared tucks in close and ducks in. And Jensen feels it crush him, obliterating and immediate.
His base instinct is to kiss back, hard, like a retaliation. He sinks his hands wrist-deep into Jared’s hair, curls his fingers so they tangle, and opens up to feel a tongue slide against his bottom lip and then right on in, soft like a question. His belly clenches and his face goes hot and Jared kisses him so good for those ten perfect seconds that his bones crack and then float away.
Then he remembers himself.
“I’m sorry,” Jensen says, raw and scattered and panting a little, holding Jared away. “I can’t.”
Jared’s lips are shiny, and Jensen thinks, I did that, and Jared’s eyes are shiny, and Jensen thinks, I did that too, and Jared looks every bit as horrified as Jensen feels. With the new knowledge of what it's like to have Jared in his arms, Jensen gets up and leaves the apartment understanding what’s taken him weeks to learn. It’s him. He’s the broken thing. It wasn't Jared. It was never Jared.
“Need anything?” Patrick asks, poking his head in. It’s the third question he’s tried. The other two garnered silence. This one’s no different. He knows something’s wrong. Jensen doesn’t even have the words to explain it to himself, let alone Patrick. He stares at the blank monitor and watches the minutes change.
The day ticks on. His phone doesn't light up. Nothing gets done.
He has a fresh yellow legal pad out on his desk. There’s no scribble scrawls to be found in the margins. No stupid doodles decorating the pages. This is the way it’s supposed to be. How it’s meant to be. Jensen wonders if his job was always this hollow. It feels incredibly empty.
It’s a Thursday, three days since – since Jared, and Thursday afternoons are spent at the park with the dogs. Jensen doesn’t think he can go, is fairly sure he won’t be able to handle it, so after work he gets in his car and heads directly over, for that reason alone. He needs the pain that comes with pressing a bruise.
When he gets there, it’s exactly as bad as he’d feared, and maybe a little worse.
Jared isn’t there, of course he isn’t. But his sister is. She takes one good, hard look at Jensen and Jensen just knows. He fucked up. Hugely. He takes a hard swallow and it goes down like shards of glass.
They don’t talk. Meggy doesn’t say a word to him, just grabs a leash and makes for the cages, and they end up heading to the park together anyway. Jensen feels entirely disconnected from the whole thing, surreal in a way that makes his skin itch. It’s all wrong, somehow, without Jared’s giant shadow dwarfing him along the trail, and Jared’s constant elbowing because he just takes up too much space but still insists on walking so close he’s practically on top of Jensen, and Jared’s never-silent silence and his affectionate insults and his face and his little smiles and his everything. It’s daylight and he’s in public and Jensen wants to cry.
It wouldn't be the worst thing he's ever done.
Jensen truly hates surprises, always has, and finding out he might be a little bit in love with a person he's not even really supposed to like, is shocking.
“Where is he?” Jensen finally says when they're back at the shelter and he can’t stand it any longer, lingering halfway between his car and the middle of the parking lot.
For a horrible, truly scary moment Meggy looks like she might not answer him. Which he’d deserve. She shrugs, and doesn’t look at him, but says, “Not sure. He just sent a text asking if I could walk his dog for him. Said it needed its yard time.” Or it would go mad, Jensen finishes in his head. He smiles at the ground, heart cracking further. Jared said that every time.
“My guess is he had to stay late,” she adds. Jensen looks up at that, at her stony face that stays watching for a reaction for just a beat too long.
“Thanks,” he says, and really fucking means it, getting into his car. He tries jamming his house key into the ignition three times before he gets a grip and remembers to breathe.
The shop is closed when he gets there, doors locked and lights off but close to 8 o’clock, it’s not unexpected.
What is unexpected though, is when he walks around the side of the office to get to the garage area where Jared spends most of his time and finds the gate partway open and the staticy hum of music turned up. Jared’s sitting at the high rolling chair he keeps near his work table, the one that looks like it was two steps out the thrift shop door on its way to the junkyard, with his back hunched over in concentration, messing with some pipe looking thing, serious as shit, and jamming out to power ballads.
Jensen absolutely doesn’t mean to laugh. It isn’t even all that funny. He gets moronic when he’s nervous and this is just the start. His stomach already feels like it’s eating itself when Jared startles and spins quick in his chair.
“Hey. Hi,” he says, and waves, like an idiot.
All Jensen gets for his efforts is a nod. It’s actually a lot more than he’d been expecting, in truth.
“I saw your sister,” Jensen says, because he has to say something. He has to say enough for the both of them. “We took the guys out. I don’t think she likes me very much right now.”
He’s expecting Jared to snort, or roll his eyes, help him out here a little. He could really do with some sort of indication, some coded sign that he’s not about to make the biggest ass out of himself. Jared gives him nothing.
“I don’t think you like me very much right now,” Jensen says, when it becomes obvious.
Jared does flinch at that, but he doesn’t make to deny it, and something in Jensen just sinks. Jared's never like this with him. He's not being rude, he's not, but he's indifferent, and Jensen thinks that might actually be worse. Because it means he doesn't care. His Jared is forever doing things in search of a smile, trying to get a laugh, or maybe just looking to hold Jensen's attention. Jensen feels shitty then, for never letting Jared know before that he always had it. This Jared is hardened and cold, guarded, and isn't looking for anything from him. Jensen thinks he's getting a good glimpse of how Jared probably had to be for all those other years.
“Do you need help with that?” he says, jutting his chin.
Jared looks at the table, then at Jensen again, and gives him a flat stare. They both know Jensen doesn’t know shit about shit when it comes to machinery. He’s just not ready to leave, even if Jared wants him to. This is clinger territory here, but Jensen’s just desperate enough to hang on.
But Jared shrugs, and turns back to what he was doing, not looking at Jensen anymore and Jensen’s heart goes soaring, because it’s not a no. It’s not love notes and fluttery eyes but it’s not a no. And if friendship is all that’s left on the table, Jensen’s damn well prepared to take what he can get. Some Jared is better than no Jared.
“Look, I have some stuff I should say,” Jensen says, picking up a thick pipe wrench and hefting it up like he’s about to display some serious elbow grease. He fiddles with the little adjuster. “You can just listen, I guess.” His eyes go right to the plastic radio where the tinny voice of the DJ goes on. “Or, you know, you don’t have to. But I’m gonna talk anyway, so.”
“I guess I sort of feel like – like I was keeping you hostage, in a way.” He sees Jared’s sharp look but goes on anyway, because he has to. “No man, just hear me out. Like, you spent all this time with me, and you never hung out with anybody else, right? And it's selfish, but. I liked it. Shit. I more than liked it. It was the highlight of my day.”
The wrench is heavy in his palm, warm, like Jared might’ve been using it before he showed up.
“But this whole time, you were my friend, and I didn’t actually realize that until I realized I wanted more, which was like, right when you answered the door that night. But I’d been wanting it, even though I didn’t know it.” He’s not making any sense. He can’t be held responsible, not when Jared stops messing with the pipe and he goes tense and Jensen can tell he’s really hearing him.
“So when you, you know, I kind of freaked, thinking hey, did I do this, was I projecting all of my weirdness onto him and now he’s—“ Jensen stops, because it sounds wrong, and he doesn’t think it’s nice to compare your first kiss to having Stockholm Syndrome. All he's trying to say is that he's sorry. He flounders.
“But you gotta know, when you kissed me…” Jensen clamps down on his lip where it’s starting to tremble.
Jared’s jaw goes tight, still staring at the screws and washers on his workstation.
“How it felt when you. When we. I don’t know, it just. You make me fucking crazy, Jared–"
Jared surges up out of his chair so hard it flips backwards and he fits a hand around Jensen's chin and kisses him like he fucking hates him.
Jensen’s mind stutters down and he lets go of the wrench, hears it fall to the floor with a clang and his arms go up to loop around Jared’s neck, clutching the back of his head and dragging him in even closer.
There’s a small gasp, just enough for Jensen to barely catch it, and then he’s got big hands grabbing at his hips, sliding up his shirt and around back, up between his shoulder blades and Jensen’s mouth falls open wider, greedy, ready for it, and his whole body is thrumming and alive. Jared backs him up against the empty wall between the power drills and the fan belts and looms over him threateningly. Jensen makes a grab for his face again, reckless, but Jared shakes him off and his hands go right to Jensen's zipper.
"Jared," he says, because this is a side of him Jensen never would have dreamed of and he's so hopelessly turned on he can barely think. Jared's hands go still and he cuts a quick look, like he might be doing something wrong. "No, don't stop. Don't stop please."
He’s already wet by the time Jared gets his hand all the way inside and he should be really fucking embarrassed about the fact that he’s leaked all over himself over a kiss but he’s not at all. Jared fists him, rough and quick, and bites at his neck like an animal and Jensen is a weak, weak thing.
“Oh,” he says, again and again, feeling Jared’s hand go sloppy. Jensen can’t help that he’s this excited. Jared’s the best thing that's ever happened to him.
And just when he thinks he's got a handle on the situation, Jared goes and proves him wrong by pushing Jensen's pants and underwear down to his ankles, no grace or romance, what. His hand slides down the middle of Jensen's ass, trying to get in there in a hurry, way too soon, like there's only ten minutes before someone comes looking with their flashlight, and when Jared spits on his fingers, it's not enough, but Jensen opens for him anyway. His thighs go wide and he holds Jared's face in both hands and kisses him sweetly as if to say, this isn't that. This isn't that, but it's okay.
It will be.
He thinks about the face in the mugshot, and the boy in the video, all limbs and feet and a scrawny, coltish body and he wonders what it took to turn Jared into what he is today. Jared is powerful, and imposing, but Jensen knows it wasn't always so. His eyes squeeze shut like maybe he can force the images away, not have to picture what sort of things were waiting on the inside, and what made him turn to lifting weights and growing big and strong.
Jared had been really anxious to shave his beard. Jensen wonders now if that wasn’t just another defense mechanism, growing it out, hiding the pretty to fend off all the ugly.
He cries out, shaking against the wall, mouth open and panting against Jared's shoulder and when Jared tugs his fingers free, Jensen hugs him tight to his chest, where it's safe, where Jared will always be safe, and Jensen doesn't care that his orgasm's busy dripping all down the inside of his thigh.
“This isn’t exactly what I expected to happen when I came here tonight,” Jensen says, a little delirious.
Jared’s mouthing riddles into his flesh, things Jensen will never know, nuzzling his neck and chin and jaw and he looks up from where he’s just started sucking a mark high up on Jensen’s throat, and his eyes are wild and blurry, but they’re happy too.
Jensen’s sitting bare-assed in Jared’s lap on the concrete floor of a mechanic's shop, mostly hidden by toolboxes and spare tires, and they’ve spent the last half hour making out, and apologizing, and forgiving, and communicating in their own special way.
On January 1st, Jensen puts in a request for Jared to have his P.O. switched over to Patrick. He doubts the state would understand his internal issue so he leaves the Reason section mostly blank, just writes in personal problems and calls it good.
Patrick sees the asshole hipster scarf on his neck, something he's rarely ever worn, and the too-wide smile on his face, something he's never ever worn, and doesn’t say a single word, just gives Jensen a quick thumbs up when their boss isn’t looking.
Of course, Jensen sends back, drawing his own stupid doodles onto his legal pad. They might or might not just be Jared’s name over and over again. He could just barf. It's so sad. He needs glittery pens for this shit. Where to?
The next text says anywhere :)
They get burritos.