On Sundays Jensen puts on his best shirt, ironed, and his neat, new, cotton khakis, and polishes his boots. His socks are matched and unholed, and his underwear is clean. The first time, he'd worn a tie, but Jared, painfully, had not laughed at him.
On Sundays, Jensen locks up his room, his own almost-bare single room with the clean walls and clean sheets and clean furniture, and goes outside. The house where he lives has a yard, walls, and a drive with gravel, and every Sunday so far Jared's truck has nosed in through the gates and stopped for Jensen. Jared tries to remember to text before he leaves his own house, which Jensen has never seen for real, but sometimes he forgets. He always apologizes. Jensen, really, doesn't care. He will be waiting for Jared on the doorstep, every Sunday, long before the noise of the truck's engine reverberates along the street.
They go for brunch. Jared wears jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, cowboy boots. Often, he hasn't shaved. He fiddles with things, when he isn't driving: cutlery, menus, his watchstrap, the absurd scarf he wore for three Sundays in a row in the heat of an LA summer. When they were filming, Jared had looked Jensen in the eyes and laughed. Now, he looks down, looks away, laughs with the waitress - although it's a loud, actor's laugh - and when he smiles at Jensen his expression is small and guarded. Jensen thinks he's lucky to have Jared's smiles at all. He has no expectations. It's easier to convince himself, every time, that this will be the Sunday Jared forgets to come.
He hadn't expected Sundays at all.
"What the hell are you going to do with him when we finish shooting?"
"Hey, Padalecki, haven't you found a good home for that puppy yet?"
"There's a couple of paps by the fence, Jay. You might wanna get Phil to drive you, yeah? Get the kid to duck."
"I don't get it," Chad says, tilting dangerously sideways, although his bottle of sour beer is religiously upright. "You and him."
Jensen doesn't get it either. His world has expanded so fast. Newspapers, television, films, cars, funfairs, parties, the internet. But Jared's is so much bigger. Every time he thinks he's got something worked out - Jared's hand holding his, walking down the street, like it's nothing, like it's normal, like it doesn't make Jensen feel small and safe and big and proud all at the same time - something else smashes him apart.
"Just look away, baby."
"But she's married," Jensen says, utterly confused.
"Yeah. I know. So's he. You never saw them. Fuck, no, just... don't say anything if you have to say anything at all, yeah?"
Jared's world is almost inconceivably strange. There's parts of it Jensen doesn't like - make up. Paps - paparezzi. Motel coffee. He's not sure about Chad, but Chad's Jared's and that has to be respected. There's parts of it he loves: moving pictures with sound. Take out. The heavy thud of Jared's heartbeat under his hand, in bed. But it's so crowded he's amazed there's room for him in it at all, and when the whispers start, he's not surprised. He's too young. Too stupid. Jared has an image, PR, fanservice - "What if the fans find out, Jay? Look, it's all very well bringing some townie onto set here -" (and Jensen does bridle at that one, because he's the one who gets Jared onto set on time, makes sure there's always coffee and candy, color codes the scripts, holds Jared's sunglasses and his water and his iPad and his iPhone - "Shit, kid, what did we do without you?")
("Thanks Jen." And Jared's smile.)
"- but what when you get home? Jay, he's... what are the fans gonna say if they find out you're boning some teenager?"
The fact is, Jensen is young and looks younger. No matter how hard he tries, he can't sound like (look like, walk like, talk like) Jared's co-stars or his friends. He's no idea how to cope in this strange, secular world with its emphasis on money and food and its over-loud, over-fast conversations.
"Baby, you don't need to change. You're perfect just the way you are," Jared tells him. He sounds slow and a little puzzled. Its night, their time. Jensen's time. Jared's curled up against him in their motel bed, Jensen's hand in his hair.
"Jared -" Jensen says, and stops. Jared's done so much for him already. It's not that he thinks ignoring the issue is going to make it go away - shooting ends in a week's time and Jared has never even mentioned Los Angeles - just that, if he said nothing, he could have these last few days for himself. When Jared's gone, then he'll think about what happens next.
Time, unaccountable in those first few days when Jensen's world was upturned and remade as strangely as any miracle, becomes a thing of numbers. Small shining moments. Jared's smile, Jared's voice, the exact configuration of the moles on his back, the shape of his fingernails, the angled copper glint of the stubble along his jawline first thing in the morning, when the sun slants in through the gap in the stiff curtains. The last day of shooting was a Sunday. Jensen will remember that, later.
"Nothing," Jensen says.
Chad flies down for the wrap party, but Jared's last scene overruns and he ends up sitting on the trailer steps with Jensen, waiting. Three weeks before, Jensen would have slipped away into the washroom, props, or the seat behind the plastic palm tree in craft services. Now, he's too tired to move, even with Chad's shoulder butted up against his.
"So what's the story?" Chad asks. "Jay still driving back to LA?"
Jensen pulls at the label on his craft services Evian. Bottled water. It still seems absurd.
Chad asked him a question.
"He likes the truck," Jensen offers.
"Huh. You ready for a thirty hour road trip with the world's biggest walking stomach?" Chad says. "Don't let him eat burritos for breakfast - what?"
"LA?" Jensen says.
"Yeah?" says Chad.
Jensen blinks. Chad stares at him. "LA?" he says. "Big city? Bars? Girls?" He pauses. "Where Jared lives?"
There's nothing Jensen can find to say to that.
Chad looks away. He takes a drag off his cigarette, and throws it down beside the steps. Later, Jensen will deposit the butt in the trash.
"I thought you were looking at college courses."
"I am," Jensen says. Carefully, out of the corner of his eye, he'd even looked at the community college with its crowds of brightly clothed students and towering windows and busy car parks. On Jared's laptop he'd looked at courses - basic literacy. Basic numeracy. It hadn't taken long before he worked out that his schooling equated to nothing. He wasn't going to get points for knowing Leviticus by heart. He'd already realized he was almost unemployable.
He's been on his own before. He'll cope. He'll think about it after Jared.
"Jared's..." Chad says, slowly. "He's kind of excited. He's got this idea that he's gonna be the cool dude in the convertible, picking you up after class. Letter jackets. Buddy Holly stuff. He started early, you know? Never had the teenage daydream."
Jensen doesn't understand a word. It must show.
"If you're planning on cutting loose," Chad says, "Do it now. Before he gets too far in."
"Jared's..." Jensen swallows. "He's looking at colleges in Los Angeles? For me?"
"Yeah?" Chad says, as if this is not news to him at all.
"In Los Angeles?"
Chad turns around. "What the hell did you think he was going to do? Drop you back in the street? This is Jared we're talking about. Bleeding heart central. Dude, he's had his PA researching churches."
Jensen swallows. Hard. He doesn't duck his head. He lets himself have a moment to think about that - Jared. For him. Jay. And then he says, "I'm not stupid. He can't. He's - all those girls," Jensen says, because he has discovered Google and there has been picture after picture of Jared, looking happy, with girls. Small, dark haired girls with big smiles.
"Huh," Chad says, and nods. "Big gay epiphany. News to me."
"Newspapers," Jensen says. "Fans. Perez - Perez Hilton. Deadspin."
"You think he hasn't thought of that?" Chad says.
"Can't," Jensen says. "He likes. Acting."
"You're right there," Chad agrees. He lights another cigarette, thinks. "This religion thing," he says. "This cult. It's like an addiction, right? Way Jared talks about it, no phones, no internet. Scary."
"Way I see it," Chad says. "There's two things going on here. One. Jared like, likes you. I dunno, he's got the hots for your big gay smile. Whatever. And he kind of feels responsible for you, what with the dumpster thing and the church thing. But, kid, you're right about what it looks like. He's not gonna be drowning in scripts with you around."
"Let me think," Chad says.
Two days later, FedEx, he sends the brochures and the application forms. Jensen picks them up from reception - just like he's picked up Jared's scripts - and drops them on top of Jared's bags. He sits on the bed, and waits.
"Is this really what you want?" Jared says. Later. He's read through everything three times, turning the forms in his hands, and Jensen's sat so still he has pins and needles in both feet.
"Yes," Jensen says.
"Fine," Jared says.
It's a half-way house. It has group meetings and life skills classes and counselors. It has Matt, who picks Jensen up from the overwhelming nightmare that's LAX with a smile and a sign with Jensen's name sharpied on it, just like the blocking signs on set. It has Amelia, who left two children behind when she got off the bus on Mulholland Drive and didn't look back, Peter, who can't raise his voice above a whisper, and Stevie, who is cheerfully acting out, which equates to smoking by the back door and keeping his beer under the bed. It has day release classes which Matt frowns over, because Jensen doesn't have a single qualification to his name and doesn't know what he wants to do. It has a room Matt says he can decorate exactly how he wants, but Jensen can't imagine what posters he might want to put up. It has the laptop and the cell phone which were waiting for Jensen when he arrived, the ones that made Charis, who does cooking and I.T., whistle and grin.
On Sundays, it has Jared.
"So, I guess," Jared says, that first Sunday, when Jensen had been shaking so hard he'd had to bury his hands between his knees and bite his lip. "How's it going? They looking after you?"
He isn't looking at Jensen. He's watching the road, but his hands are white-knuckled on the steering wheel. He looks tired. He's wearing jeans, a hoodie, sunglasses: Jensen can't see his eyes, but he's frightened to look.
"'s okay," Jensen manages.
"Matt says you're going to college," Jared says.
"Um," Jensen says, and winces. He wishes he was more like the girls who held Jared's hand on the red carpets. He wishes he was one of those girls.
Jared's mouth tightens. Then he says, "What do you want to - fuck it," he says. "We're going for pancakes."
They go for pancakes. They go to a diner on the corner of some street somewhere, busy and warm, and they have to wait for a table and there are so many options on the menu Jensen pushes it back across the table and this time Jared's kind and doesn't ask him to choose. Jared says, "Real maple syrup!" And, "Thanks, honey. Just keep it coming, will ya?" And, "That good, huh?"
Half way through the stack, Jensen says, "Thank you for the laptop. And the cell phone."
"I figured you could use them," Jared says.
Jensen says, "I don't know your number."
That's the moment when Jared looks up and smiles. It's his small tight smile, the first time Jensen sees it, and although he doesn't know then that this is as much of the old Jared as he's going to get, it makes him smile back. "Pass it over," Jared says, and does something complicated with the buttons. "There you go."
"What..." Jensen says, bemused, blinking at the screen, and then Jared spends an hour and three more cups of coffee talking him through downloads and texts and apps and mp3s and speed dials. Then he drives Jensen back to the house, and although Jensen's ma - although Jensen's been brought up to mind his manners, when he opens his mouth to say thank you nothing comes out. It's all tied up with the mess of hurt and want and I wish I could make you laugh and I wish I was good enough....
"Same time, same bat channel?" Jared says. Then he says, "Same time next week?"
Later, he manages whole conversations about essays and American history and how awesome Walt Whitman is and how Matt suggested learning to drive and - "Jared, are you paying for me?" He hadn't even thought about it until Stevie's grant ran out.
Shrugging, Jared says, "Two coffees and breakfast ain't gonna break the bank. You can take me out to dinner sometime. When you're teaching." Jared's got it into his head that Jensen's going to be some college lecturer or something, just because the college keeps bumping him up grades and he's discovered he likes tutoring. It makes him feel good, that moment when someone suddenly understands an idea they've been struggling to learn.
"At the house," Jensen says.
Jared's eyes flick away to the window. "It's tax deductible," he says.
Jensen studies harder. He looks up what people earn, teaching, and he asks Matt how much Jared's paying. Every week. Even if... even if he works harder, hard enough, it's going to be two years before he can graduate. Another year for teacher training. Matt says, "Sure. You can move out. You want Charis to start running through renting places?"
"I need a job," Jensen says. It'll take time out from his studies. He can sleep less.
Jared says, "Babe -" He pulls a face. The word slipped out. He doesn't usually say it. "I get that you're finding your feet," he says, "And I know what it's like to want to be independent. But there's nothing wrong in letting someone give you a helping hand every so often. Just... I want to," he says, and he says it quietly.
The next Sunday, in the parking lot at the diner and with Jared's hand already on the door, Jensen, dry mouthed, says, "Wait." He can't even look Jared in the face. He reaches out his hand. There had been a time when this had been easy: he can hardly believe it, now. He puts his hand, flat, on Jared's thigh. Under denim, Jared's warm, and his muscles are tense. Jensen licks his lips and says. "You could. If you wanted." This used to be easy. He can remember this being easy. He can remembering getting on his knees for Jared - with Jared - and both of them laughing so much he'd got hiccups.
Jared says, "Are you saying what I think you're saying?" His voice is high, but he hasn't moved.
"Probably?" Jensen says, and tightens his hand.
"No," Jared says.
That day, neither of them find much to say. Jensen doesn't expect him next Sunday, although he waits in the driveway, the way he does every Sunday. He hasn't got anything else to offer. Matt comes out to find him raking the gravel in his best chinos.
"Jared's PA called," Matt says. "The flight was delayed."
Jensen nods, and rakes gravel.
Next Sunday, Jared's PA says he's in New York. Next Sunday, it's a charity fundraiser for a non-kill shelter. The comparison's so ironic it hurts.
Jensen checks his phone so often he sleeps with it under his pillow.
Then, Chad comes. Chad comes on a Tuesday. Jensen's at college, arrives back flustered with a backpack full of books and papers and two sets of notes to do and an essay on American responses to the Irish Famine - he's upped his course load again. Matt says, "You've got a visitor," and there's a moment - "No!" Matt says, and then, "I'm sorry." Later he'll say, "He waited two hours for you."
"Oh thank fuck, at last."
He'd sit down, but he's got his backpack and his phone and two books and -
"If you really wanted to screw him up -"
He must go pale. His legs are definitely wobbling: he has to hang onto the door, and Chad has to realize there's something wrong because quite suddenly Jensen's sitting down on the couch with his head between his knees and he can't remember how he got there.
"Honest, no, I didn't mean it like that, he's okay," Chad says, and pats Jensen clumsily on the head. Then he says, "Jen. I think... I think I made a mistake. So did you," he adds, "Just to be fair."
"What's wrong?" Jensen says to his knees.
Chad sighs. "I can't believe I'm doing this," he says. He's not doing anything.
"He's not sleeping, he's not eating, and he's definitely not dating," Chad says. "It's been four months. I think you should move back. In. Whatever. Because he's sure as hell not happy without you."
Jensen says, miserably aware of three absent Sundays, "He doesn't want me."
"Balls," Chad says. "Have you seen him? You know he's got fourteen different pictures of you on his fridge? You know he turned down a role with Donovan - Donovan! - because they were filming in Canada? You know he actually owns that damn diner, now? There's diversifying your portfolio and then there's sheer sentimentality - oh Christ. I'm not explaining the stock market. Ask my broker. Point is, he wants you back, and I think you should go, and seeing as how it was down to me you're here in the first place, I guess I'm stepping up."
When he'd got out of the truck, that last Sunday, Jared had slammed the door so hard Jensen's ears had hurt. For the first time, Jared hadn't waited, he'd walked straight into the diner, his shoulders tense and his stride short and tight. He hadn't even smiled at their waitress.
"I tried to blow him," Jensen says, beyond shame. "He wouldn't let me."
"Oh you are fucking kidding," Chad says, and sighs. Then he says, "Are you sure you were doing it right?"
"Do you have Wi-Fi?" Chad asks.
Later, as Jensen watches wide-eyed three naked bodies on the screen of his own laptop, Chad will have a hand over his face. "I can't believe I'm doing this," he'll say. "You know I'm all about the girls, right?"
"That has to be photoshopped," Jensen says doubtfully.
"I don't think it is," Chad says, peeking, and groans.
"But it's not..." Jensen says. He can't explain. It's not the twisted poses or the intrusive eye of the camera that bothers him, it's the way people don't really look at each other. He and Jared... they hadn't... "Baby, just give me your hand. Oh fuck, sorry, yeah, that's right... " They hadn't done anything close to the contortions on screen, but what they had done felt so very much more intimate.
"You know this is just sex, right?" Chad says, and Jensen thinks he understands, but then Chad says, "Everything comes down to dick in the end." It seems to be his whole strategy, but Chad's known Jared a lot longer than Jensen has. And Jensen's got to believe in something.
"Like, he... " Chad frowns. "He pays for this place, right? And whatever it is you guys do on Sundays? And, dude, I spent a day trawling around every computer store in LA for this baby. It's this transaction, right? He pays up and you put out and everyone's happy." Chad waves his hand at the screen, where someone is doing something unspeakable to some very pink plastic.
thinks of Jared slamming the door to the truck and stalking into the
diner, the braced lines of his back and his bowed head. He thinks Chad's
wrong. But that doesn't mean that Jared really wants... more.
Still, he makes Chad take everything. "It's like Ruth and Naomi," Jensen says, as Chad frowns down at him. Jensen's sitting on the kitbag Jared bought him when they were filming. His laptop's leaning against his knees. They've had to borrow a box from Matt to put his books into, and altogether that's more belongings than he's ever owned in his life before. The lights are on - "Motion sensitive," Chad says - but beyond the porch the driveway is in darkness. There are other houses, Jensen had seen them once they'd got through the gate, but he can't see them from here. He's on his own.
Jared's house is whitewashed, and big. Bigger than Jensen.
"Are you sure you're going to be all right?" Chad says. "Because this wasn't the plan. And he'll kill me if anything happens to you."
"I'm fine," Jensen says. There's a guard at the gate, and he can run. Fast.
Chad thumbs his phone. "Call me," he says. He's put his number in Jensen's phone, right next to Jared's and Matt's and Stevie's... there are twenty eight people who want Jensen to have their phone numbers. He's never called one of them, although he keeps thinking about how it would work. "He won't be long."
Jared's not. It's less than an hour later, when Jensen hears the truck turn into the drive. He knows the tone of every gear shift. He's nervous enough to press his hands together between his knees, but he keeps his head up and his eyes open as the truck's headlights angle across the porch. There's a moment when he thinks the truck's not going to stop, and then it does. The door slams, but Jensen's still squinting against the headlights.
Against the lights, Jared's a silhouette, just as he was when he was an angel.
"Chad," Jensen says. "Chad brought me. He said. I can be. I can be good," Jensen says. "I'm learning. I can do bills on the internet, Charis showed me. College isn't going to be long. Then I can get a job. And Chad showed me porn. I can be," Jensen says, and takes a deep breath, still looking up. "I can be anything you want me to be. And I'm sorry -"
Jared's on his knees. The laptop crashes down onto the steps. He's reaching out: his hands are warm and strong on Jensen's back, his chest big and warm, his hair ticklish, and he's holding on tight. "Babe," he says, and clears his throat. "Babe, you don't have to be anyone else." He's dropped his head into Jensen's shoulder, the way they used to sleep. "I thought you wanted -"
"I do want," Jensen says. His fists are tight in Jared's jacket. They can't get any closer. "I want you," he says fiercely. "Like Ruth, I want. Don't ask me to leave you," he says.
"Never," Jared says. One of his hands is fastened in Jensen's hair, the other wrapped around the waistband of his jeans. "Never." Then he snorts into Jensen's shoulder. "Well, you got the bit about my people being your people right," he says. "Chad. Really?"
"He was kind," Jensen says. Then he says, "I don't mind. About the newspapers. I can pretend. I can be your secretary. I don't want to... red carpets," he says. "Interviews. You don't have to be out for me," he says, it's a new word, he learned it in college.
Jared laughs. He says, "Babe, the whole damn world's gonna know you're mine. You got me?" When he stands up, he pulls Jensen up with him. He says, "Forever. Whatever. Ruth. You promised." He could be making a vow, he's so emphatic. But when he kisses Jensen he's not reverent, he's starving, and Jensen's right there, just as hungry.
But he'll never think of Jared as anything other than sacred.