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Life Is... - Chapter 1
namichan89




“The name's Jensen Ackles, I'm here to see Jeffrey Morgan?” Jensen tries not to sound too much like he's panicking, even though he totally is and has been since his cell phone rang barely twenty minutes ago.

The nurse nods, then looks at her monitor, apparently searching the patients list. “ID, please,” she says without turning towards Jensen.

“I'm his emergency contact,” Jensen adds while fumbling with his wallet, as if that wasn't obvious, but he's nervous and he's blabbering and he doesn't care. “I was informed that he had an accident and was brought to your hospital?”

“I see,” the nurse says with a glance at his ID, scrolling some more down the monitor display. “Do you have a permission to get Mr. Morgan's medical details?”

“I'm family,” Jensen almost spits out, but slaps the documents he specifically brought from home onto the counter. He always hoped he'd never need the certificates Jeff signed for both him and Jared, but here he is.

The nurse is unperturbed. She probably hears these things day after day, so her voice is calm after she scans the documents. “Dr. Mayer will see you in a minute in the family waiting room. It's down the hall to the left, number 131. Mr. Padalecki is already there.”

“Thank you,” Jensen deadpans.

He calms his mind, focuses on the task at hand. Walking down the hallway, one step at a time, without breaking into a run. Ignoring the smell of hand sanitizer and cleaning detergent and hospital. Not thinking about the worst case scenario.

'He collapsed at work, they said. No one had a clue what was going on.'

Jared's scared voice, shrill through the tinny speaker of his phone, still rings in Jensen's head.

He opens the door to the family waiting room to find Jared, all six feet and change of him, hunched over, almost curled up in a ball on one of the chairs placed around a low table in the middle of the spacious room. At the click of the lock, he looks up, eyes immediately finding Jensen's.

“Hey,” Jensen chokes out at the frightened look in Jared's too-wide, too-hazel eyes, as he walks up to him.

Jared is on his feet in a second, his arms wrapping around Jensen's middle like a reflex.

“Thank god you're here,” he breathes into Jensen's neck.

Jensen curls his hand around the back of Jared's head and into the strands of his brown hair. They take a few minutes for themselves, just breathing in one another’s scent, and Jensen allows it to ground him. This is familiar territory, after all. And as soon as he's back on familiar ground, and at Jared's side, he can deal with this. They'll get through this, have gotten through enough with each other already.

With a sigh, Jared pulls away and kisses Jensen, just a quick peck on the lips. “You brought the certificates?”

“Yes, the nurse already checked them. The doctor will come in any second,” Jensen nods, then sits down on the chair beside the one Jared had waited on before. “They didn't tell you anything?”

Jared shakes his head as he takes his place beside him. “Not a word.”

“Hm.”

Jared bites his bottom lip, and Jensen notices his eyes going glassy. “Jen, what if...” Jared starts, but interrupts himself.

“No, don't think about it,” he fixes Jared with a determined look, then reaches over to squeeze his hand. “He'll be fine. He's always fine. Remember when he broke his leg at work?”

Jared huffs out a laugh. “Yeah. We were so worried.”

“And it turned out okay, didn't it? So, let's see what the doctor has to say first. Don't panic.”

Not yet, an evil little voice whispers at the back of his mind.

“You're right,” Jared sighs, a tiny smile working its way onto his lips. Then he leans sideways to rest his cheek against Jensen's shoulder. “Thank god you're here,” he repeats, fingers intertwining with Jensen's in his lap.

“I'll always be here,” Jensen says. “Just wait 'til Jeff sees you, he's gonna tell you a thing or two about--”

The door on the other side of the waiting room opens, and Jensen stops himself mid-sentence. He feels his stomach clench with nervousness. Something in the doctor's face makes him do a double take, and it isn't the salt'n'pepper hair that reminds him a lot of Jeff. The doctor isn't nearly as tall, broad or handsome as Jeff, though.

“Mr. Ackles and Mr. Padalecki?” he asks.

“Yes,” Jensen nods, getting to his feet to shake the doctor's hand, and Jared follows his example.

“Dr. Mayer,” the doctor introduces himself. “Please, have a seat.”

They all sit down, the doctor opposite of Jared and Jensen. He still doesn't even crack a smile.

“I understand that the nurse already checked your authorization, I'd just like to take a second look at it.”

Wordlessly, Jensen hands the documents with Jeff's broad signature on the bottom over.

Dr. Mayer browses through them, takes his time to read certain parts, and Jensen notices that Jared is getting jittery from waiting, bouncing his knee up and down. So he puts his hand on Jared's knee, squeezes it to calm him down.

“Gentlemen,” the doctor starts, agonizingly calm and collected. “May I ask what your personal relation to Mr. Morgan is?”

“We're his partners,” Jared answers, impatient as ever, and Jensen can't even scold him for it.

“His partners, as in... you own a business with him?” Dr. Mayer quirks an eyebrow. Other than that, his face stays impassive and unreadable.

They're used to this, but it never fails to annoy Jensen. “No. His partners. Life partners, lovers.”

The doctor blinks at them. Twice.

“We live together,” Jensen continues to explain. “We own a house, we pay the mortgage together, have done so for years.”

“The... three of you?” Dr. Mayer asks, now obviously confused but starting to get it.

“Yes, exactly.” Jensen nods.

“Oh,” Dr. Mayer's jaw drops for a second, but then he clears his throat. “Well. I'm sorry, I meant no offense.”

“None taken,” Jensen sighs. “So, how's he doing?”

“Actually,” the doctor's eyes drop down to his notepad, and he lifts a page to peek under it. Jensen only begins to understand that he's avoiding their eyes when he says, “Mr. Morgan was brought in around 12:30 today, but unfortunately, he passed away half an hour ago. He suffered from a severe heart attack. There was nothing we could do for him, and I'm very sorry for your loss.”

Jensen hears the words, but can only stare at the doctor.

Jared's voice sounds broken and shaky when he whispers, “What?” from beside Jensen.

“He'd been unresponsive when he was admitted to the hospital, and had been resuscitated already in the ambulance. He was strong, but his heart had already taken too much damage. We tried to resuscitate him again, but...”

Jensen stares blankly at the wall behind the doctor.

“He's dead?” Jared chokes out, and from the corner of his eye, Jensen sees him curl in on himself, resting his elbows on his knees as he covers his mouth with both hands. “He can't be, please tell me this isn't true,” he says flatly through his fingers.

“It is, I'm sorry,” Dr. Mayer shoots him a short, sympathetic smile.

Jensen feels like he's hovering over them, watching the scene unfold from the outside. His heart thumps painfully in his chest, again, and again, against the inside of his ribcage. He looks down at his hands, at the ring on his right ring finger. A plain, silver one that Jeff gave him about seven years ago, for his birthday. He balls his hand into a fist, thinks about last night in bed, when Jeff complained about the ring scratching over his back.

'You could at least not wear it in bed,' Jeff snorted.

'Nah,' Jensen answered with a kiss to Jeff's shoulder. 'It's from you.'


Jared's sobs are what kick Jensen out of his stupor. Not just sobs – he falls forward, shaking with a choked-off wail that he tries desperately to keep in, but fails. As a reflex, Jensen reaches out to wrap his arm around Jared's shoulders.

“Jared,” he calls out, calm and quiet.

It takes him a couple more times of saying Jared's name before Jared looks up, his eyes red-rimmed, his cheeks tear-stained and wet. Without further ado, Jensen pulls him into his arms, no matter how awkward it is for Jared to have to fold in half to bury his face in Jensen's neck. He's shivering in Jensen's arms, chest rising and falling too quickly, hot tears trailing down Jensen's neck and collarbone.

“Jared,” Jensen murmurs into Jared's hair. “I'm here.”

“I'll... leave you alone for a while. If you have any questions, feel free to let the nurses contact me, they'll help you with the further steps,” the doctor interrupts them, clutching his notepad to his chest in his obvious uncomfortable stance, his speech stilted and awkward.

Jensen is still too beside himself to do much more than nod.

Quietly, the door clicks shut as Dr. Mayer leaves.

Jensen feels empty, hollow, except for the sickening, burning pain in his stomach that only makes him pull Jared closer. Jared hangs onto him, fists clutching Jensen's work shirt which he's crying into, until Jensen just gives up and kneels down on the floor in front of him to hold him more comfortably for both of them.

For countless minutes, Jensen lets Jared soak his clothes with salty tears and shoves the cold, hard reality of life out of his mind.

“I can't believe it,” he hears himself say when he can't feel his legs any more.

“Me neither,” Jared replies, voice rough and raspy, his hair a mess from where Jensen's hands have carded through it. He stopped shaking a minute or so ago, his tears starting to dry, but he's still clutching onto Jensen.

“Do you think we can... go see him?” Jensen asks, then adds, “If you even...”

“Yes, I need... I want to see him, I can't... I can't believe it otherwise.”

When Jared sits back, his face is emotionless except for the tracks of tears over his cheekbones, the snot hanging from his nose, and his trembling lips. The look in his eyes downright scares Jensen – they're empty, wiped clean, none of their usual mirth and joy sparkling in them. It's like Jared's flame has just gone out.

Jensen pulls out a packet of tissues from his pocket and hands one to Jared, who dabs at his face and blows his nose.

He hiccups.

Jensen reaches for both of his hands, covers them with his own, feels Jared's pulse racing under his warm skin.

“How are you so calm?” Jared asks eventually.

“I don't know,” Jensen shakes his head. “It's just... I don't feel anything, everything's just gone. I feel strange because I don't feel anything, but other than that... there's only the urge to look out for you.”

That makes Jared crack a devastated, almost unnoticeable smile. “Jen,” he frowns fondly.

“I do, you're... you're all I have now,” Jensen says, although the words sound dull in his own ears.

This time, Jared pulls him into his arms. “I love you,” he whispers into Jensen's ear, his voice hoarse.

“I love you, too.”

“And whatever comes next, we'll make it through this. Together. Promise,” Jared nudges his nose against Jensen's neck, an encouragement Jensen doesn't need.

“Promise.”

“C'mon, let's go find the nurse.”

Jensen spends the next five minutes telling himself that he'll wake up any minute. He keeps pinching his own arm subtly, but it doesn't work.

His mind is a little less blank, but he still is glad that Jared somehow manages to do the talking.

Then they're led into a room with white walls and a white cabinet and a white bed with a white sheet on it. Jensen takes a deep breath and grasps for Jared's hand at his side – never mind the fact that in all the years they spent together, the times which they had held hands in public can be counted with five fingers.

The nurse folds the sheet back with care, revealing an all too familiar face. “Take all the time you need,” she says, before she slips out of the room and closes the door with a snick.

“Jeff,” Jared whispers, his voice shot to hell.

Jensen reaches out, runs his fingertips over the stubble on Jeff's cheek, over the deep lines beside his lips and his eyes. Laugh lines. Jeff was always laughing. Only now his skin is clammy and cold to the touch, and his lips are slack when Jensen trails his fingers over them, to the side of his neck. He can still feel the muscles under the pale skin, but there's no pulse.

For a moment, time stands still.

It's like a stroke of lightning, straight from Jensen's fingers, up his arms, to his brain.

Jeff is dead.

There will never be a pulse under that skin again.

And the last words Jensen will have ever said to him were, 'Have a nice day at work.' Nothing embarrassing, nothing special. Just the usual goodbye to a man he loved and expected to welcome home at the end of the day.

Jensen falls to his knees without having decided to do so. He rests his head on the thin mattress, right beside Jeff's shoulder, like he prefers – preferred – when he slept next to him.

“Jeff,” he, too, mutters. I'll miss you so much.

Beside him, Jared pulls up a chair and sits down, his elbows propped up against his knees, his face hidden in his hands. “What are we gonna do now?” he asks between another round of sobs wrecking his body, sounding desperate and not like he's expecting to get an answer. “How are we supposed to go on without you?”

That's when the first tear drops from the corner of Jensen's eye into the mattress, unseen by Jared. He cries in silence, without the hiccups that shake Jared.

Eventually, Jensen turns around to move in-between Jared's legs and hug him tight.

“Let's go home, Jared,” he whispers in Jared's ear. “Then we'll see.”

“Five more minutes,” Jared says, begging with tear-filled puppy dog eyes.

Jensen nods, then turns to look at Jeff.

He looks so peaceful, lying there. Like he's asleep and about to wake up any minute, grousing, 'It's creepy to watch people sleep, Jen.'

Oh how he'd love to watch Jeff sleep right now. Instead, Jensen buries his face in Jared's neck and breathes him in, tells himself that he still has more than someone in a monogamous relationship has in situations like these – he still has a partner. Singular, unfortunately, but also thankfully.

He still has Jared.

Maybe that's the universe's big Fuck You to him for being greedy and having two people who love him and whom he loves, Jensen finds himself thinking bitterly.

With a last look at Jeff, Jensen takes the white sheet and pulls it back over Jeff's face.

When the cold, harsh reality is buried under the piece of fabric, Jensen is back to feeling numb and emotionless. He's stunned, standing beside that bed, and Jared has to break him out of his stupor by tugging at his hand.

“C'mon, Jensen, let's go home.”

His voice is so small, barely audible, completely broken.

“Yeah,” says Jensen, sounding much the same.

***

Home is still home. It's still a two-story house with huge windows and a currently snowed-in garden and a mixed and matched interior that is proof of the three people living here having assembled what they had without care for design.

The worn dark brown leather couch is from Jensen's first apartment. He'd fallen down on it face-first after he broke up with his first boyfriend. He remembers his second date with Jeff, ending on the couch with Jensen straddling Jeff's hips, making out until they were two seconds away from coming in their pants. He also remembers Jared, barely in his twenties, hair still short, sprawled out as he's playing video games with Jensen, hanging out with them, not too long before Jeff cut the red tape and bent him over the back of said couch.

This time, Jensen falls down face-first and buries his head in the pile of cushions that was usually Jeff's end of the couch.

“You want something to drink?” Jared asks from the doorway, and only now does Jensen notice how dry his throat is.

“Coffee would be nice,” he answers over his shoulder.

“Alright.”

Jared comes back two minutes later with two steaming mugs in his hand that smell heavenly. Jensen sits up and accepts his – the orange mug with the chipped edge above the handle – with a grateful nod. The coffee is strong and black and with just a spoonful of sugar, just like Jensen likes it. Jared's is more of the milky-white-light-brown kind, probably consisting of more milk than actual coffee, just like Jared likes it.

Some things will never change.

Other things...

“We should probably call people,” Jared interrupts Jensen's thoughts.

Jensen nods and sips his coffee.

“Who do you think...” Jared's voice sounds muffled, and when Jensen looks over, he sees that Jared's eyes are filling with tears again.

Quietly, he rests his knee against Jared's and shifts a bit closer. “His dad.”

Jared swallows. Jeff's father is a conservative enlisted republican with a lot of resentment for their 'chosen lifestyle'. His mother died long before Jeff even met Jensen.

“We gotta,” Jensen adds around a sigh. “I can do it if you don't want to.”

“Please,” Jared nods. “The guy hates me even more than he hates you, so.”

“Think you could call your parents in the meantime?”

Jared looks at him, eyes lost and unsure, but nods. “Yeah.”

Jensen gets to his feet to fetch the cordless phone from the kitchen, thumbing through the contact list as he returns to the living room until he finds Richard Morgan. Before he presses the call button, Jensen sits down again, seeking Jared's presence, Jared's warmth, just to get through this.

To Jensen's utter dismay, Richard answers on the third ring. “Hello, Jeff,” he says, because not in this lifetime would Jensen or Jared ever call him and Richard knows that as much as Jensen does. However, the words hit Jensen where it hurts the most, like a spear of pain straight through his chest.

“It's Jensen,” he manages to say, but barely. “Hello, Richard.”

Richard's dark voice, so unlike Jeff's warmer timbre, turns cold. “Oh. Jensen.”

Jensen presses his eyes shut and rubs his index finger over the bridge of his nose, feels a headache rising up, so he decides to get this over with. “I'm calling because Jeff had a heart attack at work today.”

“Oh. How is he?” Richard asks after a second's hesitation, and for the first time since Jensen met him, he hears actual worry and concern in his voice.

“He... didn't make it,” Jensen stares down at his hand, clutched around his left knee, before Jared lays his hand on top of it for a short second. “I'm sorry.”

“I'm...” Richard starts, then breaks off mid-sentence. Eventually, he says, “I'm sorry for your loss, too. Do you need any help with, you know?”

Jensen allows himself to sigh. He knows Richard is just asking to be polite, and the last person he needs around him right now is his one father-in-law that can't stand him. “Jared and I will handle everything. We'll let you know when the funeral is.”

Beside him, Jared fumbles with his phone to blow his nose. This time, Jensen reaches over to rub his hand over his thigh, comforting him.

“You do that.”

There's an awkward silence spreading between them, so Jensen coughs. “I'll better get going. We have some more people to call.”

“Yes. Bye, Jensen,” Richard still sounds too calm, too collected. Jensen doesn't want to judge, though, since they're pretty similar on that point – Jensen has been the calm and collected one, so far, too.

He hangs up and pulls Jared into his arms, who is now on the phone with what sounds like either his mom or Megan, and crying once again.

“Yes, Mom. Okay. Yes, he's here, do you want to... alright,” he sniffles into Jensen's shirt, then holds his phone up to Jensen.

“Hello,” Jensen greets her, and pulls Jared closer with an arm wrapped around his neck.

“Jensen,” she says, voice already thick and wet with tears. “Honey, I'm so sorry. How are you doing?”

Jensen huffs, then runs his fingers through the hair at the back of Jared's head. “Holding on, I guess. Someone's gotta.”

Jared presses a wet kiss to his collarbone, a silent thank you.

“I'm just glad that you two are together for this. We'll come over to Austin as soon as we can, but Gerry needs to finish up at work and Megan... We'll see, we'll call you, alright? Just, we'll be there for you, promise. And if you need anything, you call me. You hear me, son?”

Jensen can't help but crack a sad smile. “Yes, mom,” he tries to joke. It comes out flat and emotionless.

Jared's arms tighten around his waist.

Jensen wraps up the call, then proceeds to call his own parents, Jeff's workplace, Megan, Jared's older brother Jeff, Josh, Mackenzie, all of it with Jared resting against his chest. By the end of his last call, Jensen is beyond exhausted.

“Thank you so much,” Jared whispers into his neck, pressing more kisses there. “I couldn't have done it.”

“It's alright,” Jensen replies, closing his eyes for just a second. Despite having said it multiple times now, part of him is still in limbo. It's 6 pm, right around the time that Jeff would usually be coming home. But the house is quiet, too quiet, and no one opens the front door.

There's no clicking of the lock, no heavy boots stomping down the hallway, no deep, cheerful “I'm home!”

Jensen can tell that Jared is thinking the same thing, watching the clock on the wall, listening, and looking more desperate and devastated by the second.

“I'm waiting, too,” Jensen says. “Although I know he won't come home. But it's... so hard to believe.”

“Yeah,” Jared agrees, nuzzling his face into Jensen's chest.

“Are you hungry?” It's also right about the time Jensen usually starts dinner.

“No. We should eat, though.”

“What do you want?”

Jared doesn't say anything for a while, before he says. “I want Jeff's grilled mackerel.”

“Will Jensen's grilled mackerel do?” Jensen asks, dull.

“Yes.”

It will have to.

The words are unspoken, but Jensen hears them clear as day as he walks to the kitchen and takes out the fish Jeff already prepared before going to work today. Not even thinking twice about being the one to have to grill it tonight.

Jensen stares into the pan too long and almost overheats the oil.

Of course the fish doesn't taste right afterwards, but it's not like either of them has much of an appetite. They pick the expensive filet apart, only eating half their portions. Of course, it's also far too much, since it was meant as a meal for three.

“Do you think the funeral home is still open?” Jared asks, pushing his plate away. “We really need to call one.”

“They have a 24/7 service hotline, I'd assume,” Jensen nods through the final effort to at least eat his mashed potatoes, but eventually gives up. “Alright, then. Shall we?”

Afterwards, Jensen packs the leftovers into the fridge in silence. They clear the table and put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Jared gets the cordless phone again while Jensen searches for the nearest funeral home on Google, and together, they sit down and stare in dread at their phones for a while.

“It's so official,” Jared eventually sums up their thoughts.

“I know,” Jensen sighs, then turns his head to not have to look at Jared, or else he'd start to cry.

“Jensen,” Jared reaches out, lays his hand on Jensen's knee. “You know you can, right? You don't have to--”

“Yes, I do,” Jensen throws back with probably more force than necessary. “I'm the older one and I... I need to hold on for the both of us.”

“Because I can't?” There's a challenge in Jared's words, and only a little hurt pride. Slowly, he shakes his head. “Let me help, Jen. We can carry this weight together, so let me.”

Jensen looks at him and meets his sad, tired eyes, takes in the lines of the frown around his lips, the tension in his forehead, his crestfallen posture. All he sees is a Jared who needs him right now, and not the other way around.

“I'm good,” he says, forcing a smile. “Don't worry about me.”

“Are you kidding?” Jared huffs. “Of course I worry about you.”

“Anyway, let's get this over with,” Jensen switches the topic and calls the funeral home. Jared tsks at him from across the table.

They get an appointment for tomorrow morning and the first official condolences for their loss, although the girl on the phone line didn't seem to grasp just what Jensen meant with 'Our partner passed away today.' Jensen didn't protest – he's too tired and too used to it.

“I'm heading to bed,” he announces after the call.

“Good idea,” Jared agrees. “Not that I expect to get much sleep, but I'm...”

He trails off, leaves the rest of the sentence to Jensen.

But I'm a wreck, I'm a mess, I'm tired down to my bones.

I'm in denial.

I'm lost.


Jensen hears it all. “Me too,” he mutters, grabs Jared's hand and leads him to the bedroom.

Except that their bedroom isn't just their bedroom. It's Jeff's bedroom, the master bedroom, and they find themselves standing in front of the closed door, undecided about what to do.

“I don't think I can sleep in there tonight,” Jared sighs. “I'm gonna be in my room. You wanna come with me?”

Jensen bites at his bottom lip, but eventually shakes his head. “No, I think it'd be better if I sleep alone, if you're okay with that.”

Jared nods after hesitating just a moment. “Alright. Good night, Jensen.” He's not troubled by Jensen's wish, and Jensen knows it.

So Jensen kisses him goodnight and heads for his own room. He's glad that they decided on this a long time ago – because no matter how much they loved each other, they were three grown men. They had stress and issues and sometimes they fought, and they all needed their own space to retreat to if need be.

Therefore, while they mostly slept in the big bed in Jeff's room, occasionally they would stay on their own, in their own rooms.

It's easier, sleeping alone. At least, it sometimes was easier than sharing a bed with Jeff's snores and the sheet-hogging glomp that is Jared. Taking the luxury to sleep alone in his own bed was something Jensen had enjoyed, then and again.

Today, he's glad that sleeping alone only means he won't wake up tomorrow, Jared spooning his back and his arms reaching out for the other side of the bed, where Jeff won't be.

It also means he can't fall asleep, because he misses their warmth and the tiny noises they make, the small shakes of them moving on the mattress.

Jensen watches the numbers on his clock tick up to 10:36 pm, and then – three hours after going to bed – there's an almost unnoticeable knock on his door.

“Jen? You awake?” Jared sticks his head through the door, voice a shaky whisper.

“Yeah,” he says and wordlessly holds up the sheet for Jared to slip under.

“Thanks,” Jared sighs, snuggling closer. “I couldn't fall asleep.”

“Me neither.”

“I missed you.”

Jensen nods against Jared's shoulder. “And Jeff.”

“Yeah,” Jared takes a deep breath, and just like that, the tears are flowing again.

This time, Jensen cries with him in silence, salty drops dripping into Jared's wild mop of hair and onto the bed sheets. In the darkness of the night, it's somehow easier to give in.

In the end, they cry themselves to sleep that night. Jensen just loses consciousness some time later, with his arms wrapped firmly around Jared, laying face to face on their sides, bodies curled into each other, noses almost touching.

They've never slept in a position like that, in all of the years that they've been with each other.

But it allows Jensen to feel Jared's breath on his face, slow and steady. The certainty that he'd notice if something would happen to Jared is what makes Jensen let go and drift off himself.

***

It couldn't become more obvious how much Jeff is missing than it does the following morning.

As per usual, Jared wakes up first and goes for a run.

As per usual, Jensen rolls onto the warm spot left by him and sleeps another half hour.

But when Jared returns, Jensen is still in bed. Usually, it's the smell of fresh coffee and bacon sizzling in the pan that wake him and make him stagger into the kitchen, where Jeff stands in his boxers and an apron and nothing else, smile firmly in place.

Today, Jared sits down on the bed as he shakes Jensen awake.

“Jensen, wake up. We gotta start breakfast.”

And just like that, Jensen's entire world caves in completely.

“I didn't,” he curls in on himself, feels hot tears pooling in the corner of his eyes as his stomach clenches with pain and his throat closes up. “I should've.”

“Jen,” Jared lays down beside him and wraps his arms around him, presses kisses to Jensen's neck and shoulder blade. He smells of sweat and clean morning air, but it does nothing to calm Jensen down.

It doesn't lessen the pain of knowing, just knowing that Jeff is gone. Not just gone for a few days for a business trip, but gone forever. This time, it hits home, hard.

For countless minutes, Jared lets Jensen cry and holds him through it. And every time Jensen thinks he's done and the tears dry, he's circling back to the thought that it will never be the same again, and that's it, he's back to sobbing into his pillow.

Jared's hands are soft and strong, running over his sleep-warm skin, comforting, soothing, his lips a constant reminder that he's there, Jensen isn't alone with his pain.

Jensen doesn't know how much time has passed when he eventually turns around to face Jared.

“You okay?” Jared asks quietly, and it's obvious by his glazed eyes that he's been crying too.

“No,” Jensen shakes his head and picks himself up, sitting on the bed. “But we need to eat breakfast. So you go hop in the shower and I'll get to cooking.”

“If you're alright with that,” Jared shoots him a worried look and squeezes his hip.

Jensen nods and kisses him, quick and affectionate. “Baby steps, right?”

Jared's bottom lip trembles when he ducks his head, and there's a tear rolling down his cheek. “C'mon.” He tugs at Jensen's hand.

Jensen follows him into the hallway and down to the kitchen.

He's never felt so lost, without control and without a clue of what to do in all his life. It's like someone ripped out his roots, pulled the carpet out from under his feet, blew up the rock his whole existence was built on. Sure, there's Jared, and he's the only reason that Jensen even managed to get out of bed in the first place. He's what's keeping Jensen sane right now.

Really, he has no idea how people in regular relationships do this.

He makes pancakes, more or less on autopilot, makes too much batter, and subsequently too many pancakes. Jared notices, but only raises an eyebrow when he returns from the shower.

“When is our appointment?” Jensen asks from the stove.

“Half past eight. In an hour,” Jared supplies.

“We should probably pack up all the documents, you know.”

“We should do that, yes.”

“And call into work. I'll take the rest of the week off,” Jensen adds as an afterthought.

“That's probably for the best. I'll do that too.”

***

“Welcome to the Austin Funeral Home,” a girl with long brown hair bound into a ponytail and a sympathetic smile greets them. “How can I help you, gentlemen?”

“Good morning. We called yesterday,” Jensen gives her as much of a smile as he can manage right now. If it looks like the edges of his lips are barely twitching, well. “Ackles and Padalecki, we've got an appointment.”

“Ah, yes, I see,” the receptionist says with a look at her monitor. “If you would please follow me, I'll escort you to Ms. Cassidy.”

“Thank you,” Jensen replies and Jared nods.

Ms. Cassidy turns out to be a young, blonde woman with a friendly expression and overall gentle demeanor. “Good morning, nice to meet you,” she greets them with a firm handshake. “Please take a seat.”

They all sit down, she asks them about coffee, and they both decline.

“Very well. So, would you be so kind as to explain your situation to me?”

“Our partner passed away yesterday,” Jensen says, not bothering to sound anything but dull, just like he feels.

“Your partner? As in, business associate?” she asks politely.

Jared huffs so silently that it's almost unnoticeable.

Jensen sighs. “No. Our lover, life partner, the guy we share a house with.”

She stares at them for what seems like a minute before she says, “So the three of you...”

“Yes, the three of us,” Jensen confirms with a nod, maybe sounding a bit too exasperated.

She holds up a hand. “I'm not trying to be insensitive here, Mr. Ackles, Mr. Padalecki, but if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to get my colleague to take on your case.”

Jensen huffs. “Excuse me?”

“Um, it's not like it sounds,” Ms. Cassidy says, gesturing to calm Jensen down. “It's really not. It's just... I think he has... different experiences than I have. And I think he's better suited to understand the situation you're in.”

Jensen raises an eyebrow, frowns without trying to hide it.

“Sure,” Jared gestures with his hand, encouraging her.

Ms. Cassidy gets up and rounds the corner into a hallway. They don't see her for the following few minutes and wait in silence.

When she returns, it's with a guy in tow. He's tall, but Jensen guesses that Jared and he are still taller, with chocolate brown hair and bright blue eyes that shine with too much sympathy.

“Good morning,” he greets them. “I'm Misha Collins.”

“Morning, Mr. Collins,” Jared greets him, Jensen echoes it.

“You can call me Misha,” he offers with a small smile as they shake hands. “Don't worry about it, we'll get to know each other pretty soon and pretty elaborately. I don't bite. Usually.”

“Okay, then, Misha,” Jensen nods, still busy sizing the guy up. “I'm Jensen, this is Jared.”

“So let me say right off the bat,” Misha reaches for one of the brochures stacked at the end of the table, flips through it as he sits down behind the desk, then returns it to its former place. “We will take care of everything you want us to or the deceased would've wanted us to. So if he wants to be buried in a rainbow urn, I'll get you one.”

That makes Jared huff out a short, humorless laugh. “He'd roll over twice before letting us do something like that.”

“Yeah,” Jensen agrees, but can't help the edge of his lip twitching upwards at the mental image of Jeff reacting to being buried in a rainbow urn.

“So tell me about him,” Misha looks at them, waits with an excited and open expression. “What was he like?”

“He was.. strong-willed, stubborn sometimes. Gruff. The kind of man who you'd never think of as gay,” Jensen answers, then sighs. “Tall and handsome, scruffy with an incredible smile. And he was kind, and gentle, more so than people expected him to be when they first met him. Jeff was a good guy, and he--”

Jensen breaks off as he feels tears welling up in his eyes. Damn, he can't cry, not here, not now.

“How did he die?” Misha asks carefully.

“Two heart attacks. He survived the first one with reanimation, but the second one...” Jared hangs his head and bites his lip.

“I see. So no 'strong at heart' expressions at the service,” Misha makes some notes onto the funeral home's stationary, which looks like it was made in the 80s and got recycled for notes.

And that sentence, as insensitive as it seemed at a second look – now that Jensen thought about it – came out so innocent, so without any maliciousness or snide backhanded second meaning that Jensen can't really mind.

A look at Jared tells him that he shares his opinion.

“Please refrain from such phrases, that would be nice,” Jensen says to Misha, not in an unfriendly way.

“Got it. And you three shared a house together?”

“Yes, a house,” this time, Jared takes over answering, until Jensen composes himself.

“With a mortgage and a dog and a white picket fence...?”

“Pretty much. No dog, though.”

“Unfortunately,” Jared adds. “Remember how Jeff always wanted a puppy?”

Jensen huffs. “And we never got around to adopting one.”

“Can we now?” Jared looks at him with huge, begging eyes.

“No,” Jensen returns with a sigh. “We really have to focus on other things right now.”

“It might help in the long run, though,” Misha throws in. “A lot of people appreciate the comfort a pet grants them while they go through their mourning process.”

“I already have him, I don't need a pet,” Jensen says, teasing Jared and patting his arm. Jared knows how Jensen means it, so it's fine.

Misha smiles at them, although the nature of the smile is unreadable.

“We digress,” Jensen states.

“Well, then.” Misha looks back at his notes to scribble something down. “As for the formalities, he died in a hospital, right?”

Jensen confirms with a nod.

“So they will have his death certificate. That's good. Now, do you know if Jeff left you a last will?”

“Yes, we handled all of that shortly after signing the mortgage,” Jensen pulls out a stack of papers that are still brand-new and shining white.

A paper they signed hoping to never have to use it.

It's a contract of inheritance.

“I see,” says Misha, scanning the documents. “I see there are no requirements concerning the funeral being requested. It's always necessary to respect the deceased's wishes.”

“Just as he would've if something would've happened to one of us,” Jared throws in defensively, head ducked, not meeting Misha's eyes.

“Um.” Misha replies, his voice calm and neutral, sounding way too easy about this whole ordeal as he leans forward on his elbows and gives them a comforting smile. “Just to clear this up, I've lived in a polyamorous relationship before. Which is the reason Katie came to fetch me to handle your case, and not one of the guys who wouldn't know how to deal with this.”

Jensen swallows.

Jared too.

“Okay,” Jensen nods. “I see.”

“I like that you're so straight forward,” Jared states.

“Well, let's just say I'm as sick of the way queer and polyamorous couples are treated as you are. So, feel free to talk to me about anything you want.”

They both nod.

“The doctor at the hospital handled it pretty well, I have to give him that,” Jared sighs.

“Yeah,” Jensen agrees.

Misha seems surprised. “He didn't give some kind of backhanded comment?”

“Not at all,” Jensen shakes his head. “I guess the situation was too serious.”

“Right. Can I ask if you have people to support you? Your parents, Jeffrey's parents?”

Jensen nods quickly.

“My parents will drive up from San Antonio as soon as they can,” Jared explains. “Jensen's are supportive, too. We talked to Jeff's dad yesterday, but we'd rather not involve him in the ceremony or any of the preparations. He doesn't particularly like us, if you know what I mean.”

Misha raises an eyebrow. “Don't tell me he's one of those homophobic--”

Jensen interrupts him. “Let's say he wasn't very happy when Jeff and I started dating, but when Jared became part of the picture, he stopped talking to us. Yesterday was the first time in three years that I've talked to him at all.”

“I see,” Misha sighs, then browses through the documents in front of him again. “The way you've handled all of this beforehand though makes it easy to arrange everything without involving him. By law, he's the deceased’s only direct family member, since the three of you aren't married.”

“Jeff ruled his father out as an heir pretty much from the day he and I decided that we'd be together for the long haul,” Jensen explains, not without pride. “That first will he wrote back then doesn't exist anymore. We updated it together with Jared.”

Misha nods approvingly. “Well done. That makes my work a lot easier. So, do you think he'd prefer to be cremated?”

“No, he didn't,” Jensen answers quick as a shot, aware of Jared turning towards him.

“Then we'll bury him in a casket.”

Jared looks at him, surprised. “Really? He told you that?”

Jensen nods. “Way before your time, though.”

“May I ask how the three of you met?” Misha asks. “I'm gonna need some info about him from you for the service, but I can't lie that I'm also curious as hell.” He smiles to reassure them, and Jensen can't help but feel its soothing effect on him.

His lips curl into a small smile at the memory. “Jeff and I met about twelve years ago. I was still in college and lived in a shared apartment off campus, and Jeff lived across the hall. We hit it off from the moment we met. He's… he was a history and literature professor at UT Austin, which impressed me to no end back then.” Jensen huffs. “We dated and it was all well, we got a house after I started working. And before we know it, there's this guy,” he points at Jared, then reaches over to squeeze his thigh, “worming his way into our life.”

Jared ducks his head, a fond smile on his face. “I was an engineering student and I only took history for a semester as general credit, you know? And the prof was just incredibly funny and hot. By the end of the semester, I had found out that he was gay and had a smoking hot boyfriend, which was kinda disheartening. And then I found out they would sometimes go to a certain place and... take someone home. That's how that happened.”

“He just never left afterwards,” Jensen chuckles a bit. “Thank god for that,” he adds, squeezing Jared's hand.

Jared promptly bursts into tears.

“I'm sorry,” Jensen pulls him into his arms and pats his back. “I didn't meant to...”

“No, it's okay. It's just... It hit me just now.”

Jared doesn't need to say anything more, and Jensen understands. He sighs.

“I know it sounds presumptuous right now, but it'll be alright. Time is your friend, here,” Misha says, his voice a soothing rumble that settles deep in Jensen's hurting soul. “It's only been a day. Take all the time you need. Grief is good, mourning is good. You've got each other to work through this, but never forget that you've got each other. So take care of each other.”

The look in his eyes is firm and has a depth that is unexpected.

“You sound like you're speaking from experience,” Jared states through his tears, the question clear in his tone.

“I am,” Misha says. “Our partner didn't die, though. He left. And we forgot to look out for each other, and forgot to make the best out of the situation as it was. We couldn't change it, after all, but we got resentful against one another, tried to make it one or the other's fault. In the end, we broke up, despite the fact that we loved each other. All I'm saying is, don't make the same mistake she and I made.”

Jensen looks at Jared's tear-filled eyes and nods, a silent promise that he sees reflected back at him.

Misha's handshake is firm and sure when they say goodbye an hour later, having sorted out most of the paperwork. They leave with a stack of papers to work through – life insurance, the inheritance paper for their lawyers, bank account documents. It's a lot to do, a lot of people to call, but Jensen figures that keeping themselves busy will help them get through the worst of it.

But Misha also sent them home to fetch clothes for Jeff, the ones he should wear for the public viewing and open casket funeral.

Which means they will have to go into the master bedroom.

Which is easier said than done.

“What if we just go in, grab that one suit he has, and leave?” Jared suggests, looking desperate.

Jensen hums, lost in thought. “Do you want to pick the suit? He's got a lot of clothes that fit him way better.”

“I don't know,” Jared shrugs and sighs. “I thought it would be the elegant thing to choose, you know, since the casket will be open. We can't... bury him in his threadbare Hard Rock Café t-shirt, can we?”

Jensen hums again. “Why not?”

“What will they think if they see him like that?”

“That he looks like he always did?” Jensen replies.

They stand still in front of the closed bedroom door, just looking at each other.

Eventually, Jensen reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. “I'm gonna call Misha and ask.”

He selects the recently saved contact and waits for the call to connect, then puts it on speaker as soon as the waiting tune comes through. Jared stares into space.

“Austin Funeral Home, this is Katie Cassidy, how can I help you?”

“Um, hello, this is Jensen Ackles speaking. I just had an appointment with you, er, with Mr. Collins to be precise. Is he available at the moment?” Jensen says.

“Hold on a second, please,” she answers. “I'll get him.”

After a minute, Jensen hears footsteps approaching the phone, then a rustle at the other end of the line. “Jensen?”

“Hey, Misha,” Jensen says, allows himself to get soothed by the warm rumble of Misha's voice. “We're currently picking clothes for Jeff, so. Just wondering, does it have to be a suit? Because the suit doesn't really suit him, you know.”

“People usually pick a suit, but it doesn't have to be. If you want, you can just dress him the way he would've dressed. Is this the whole point of this call? Or what gives?” Misha inquires.

Jared huffs and explains, “Jensen brought up dressing him in his favorite Hard Rock Café t-shirt, which is like, old and not really elegant.”

“I see,” Misha says and pauses for a second. “Well, what do you think he would've preferred?”

“The t-shirt,” they both say in unison, then look at each other.

“And what would he have said if he saw you questioning his fashion choices?” Misha prompts, the smile evident in his voice.

Jensen can't help but feel a smile tugging at the edges of his lips. “He'd act all insulted and would accuse Jared of being worse than him where bad fashion choices are involved.”

“Yeah,” Jared agrees.

“There you've got your answer,” Misha sounds amused now. “Now. Pick whatever you feel like suits him best. I know this is hard, and it's hard for everyone who has to go through this. That's why so many people pick a suit, it's an easy choice. However, I have always believed that if you actively think about what he'd want to wear, it's easier to deal with. Do you understand what I mean?”

“Yes,” Jensen confirms after a look at Jared, who nods slowly. “We do.”

“Great. Also, would you mind coming in tomorrow so we can pick out a casket? I forgot to ask you, Katie had to remind me,” Misha grumbles. “I'm sorry.”

“It's fine. When should we be there?” Jensen asks.

“Around ten. Bring the clothes, please.”

“Okay. We'll see you tomorrow, then,” Jensen nods to himself.

“Yeah. See you tomorrow, Misha,” Jared throws in.

“Bye, you two. Hang in there.”

With that, Jensen ends the call.

“I like him,” Jensen admits. “He's a nice guy.”

“Yeah, he is,” Jared agrees.

Then they're back to staring at the door for a solid five minutes.

“This is stupid,” Jensen grumbles and reaches for the door handle. “It's just a room, and we used it every day.”

But when he opens the door and the stuffy air hits him, Jensen flinches. The bed is unmade, sheets tangled and the three pillows in disarray. There's the framed picture of the three of them on Jeff's bedside table, smiling into the camera in front of the Sydney opera house, taken by a stranger they asked on the street.

Jensen walks over and picks it up, studies it further.

They're still so young in the picture; Jared was barely out of college, back then, and Jeff's beard was notably less gray, just like the hair around his temples.

“Our first holiday together,” Jared wraps his arms around Jensen's waist from behind and rests his head on Jensen's shoulder.

Jensen tilts his head sideways, rests it against Jared's. “He's wearing the shirt,” Jensen's voice breaks mid-sentence, but he doesn't care.

Jared nods against his shoulder. “Do you think we shouldn't pick it, after all?”

Jensen sighs. “No. I think I wouldn't be able to throw it out, but I couldn't stand keeping it after everything.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I'm thinking the pair of Wrangler jeans to go with it? The dark blue ones?”

“Alright,” Jensen nods and heads for the closet, picking out the shirt and jeans in question. “Some kind of jacket?”

Jared looks at him and opens his mouth to answer, but Jensen knows what he is going to say.

“The leather jacket, why do I even ask,” Jensen rolls his eyes at himself.

Jared nods.

Then they just stand there, in the room that used to be the central point of their life together, looking at the pile of clothes in Jensen's arms, then at each other, then around the room. Jensen takes in all the pictures, the laundry basket, the disorder of items all around him, and can't help but smile. This was... home, the place he felt most comfortable, his preferred place to sit back and recharge, ideally with his head against Jeff's shoulder and Jared wrapped around his back, little particles of dust dancing in the sunlight dipping the room into warm reds and oranges.

“Think we can sleep in here ever again?” Jared asks wistfully as he drapes his arm across Jensen's shoulders.

“I dunno,” Jensen shrugs. “Maybe. But not any time soon.”

“I know what you mean,” Jared sighs. “I still... never mind.”

“No, tell me,” Jensen nudges his side.

“I can still see him, you know. Like he'll walk through the door any second now. Or like he’s lying in that bed and waiting for us. It's like his presence never left and it's just-- I can't deal with it,” Jared admits, heat in his voice, his hands starting to shake. “I can't believe it, and when I convince myself that I have to believe it 'cause it's the truth, it hurts so much.”

Jensen swallows around the lump in his throat.

“I'm so angry,” Jared continues. “At the world and stupid karma and at myself for not having made the most of the time we had, because I was so stupid to believe that we still had decades together.”

“Jared, hey,” Jensen tries to reason. He wants to tell him that it's alright, it's normal, different stages of grief and all that stupid reasonable bullshit Misha explained to them. He wants to tell him that he shouldn't be angry at himself because there's nothing he can do now. He wants to tell him that all of this isn't anything they can change, so he'd rather not get caught up in the useless effort.

Except that as soon as the thoughts hit home, Jensen balls his hands into fists on reflex and clenches his teeth instead of holding onto Jared the way he intended to in the first place. On the inside, his chest burns with hot, white rage.

“Jensen?”

“Me too,” Jensen presses out between his lips. “Why did he have to go? What'd he do? And why him, why now, why are we the ones who have to suffer? And I know I won't get answers to this, and I'm having a really hard time not punching a wall or something.”

“We still got the boxing sack in the basement,” Jared says, eyes downcast, filled with anger and despair.

“It's not even attached to the ceiling. And it's ancient, I'm afraid I might punch through to the sand if I hit it too hard,” Jensen feels himself deflate at the tease.

Jared rolls his eyes. “Just because it was mine and Chad's couch in college.”

“Exactly because of that,” Jensen clicks his tongue and eventually looks up at Jared, then at the clothes in his hands. “We shouldn't need to do this,” he states with emphasis, pushing the pile of fabrics to his chest. “Jeff should be here.”

“He'd tell us to man up and get through it, though,” Jared adds for consideration.

“Yeah, he would, and I'd really need him to do that right now,” Jensen feels the lump in his throat expanding, making it hard to breathe, constricting his lungs and shortening his breath. In the end, he gives in, bursts into hot tears, and sobs into Jeff's old t-shirt that they both love so much.

Jared embraces him in that kind of big bear hug of his that means he'll protect Jensen from whatever might come at them now, but his chest, firm and warm against Jensen's cheek, just isn't Jeff's. It's too hard, too high up, doesn't smell like Jensen is used to. Well, it smells of Jared in all the right ways, but not of Jeff, like he needs it to right now.

“I need him,” Jensen sobs, fisting his hand into Jared's shirt. “I can't do this without him.”

“Me too,” Jared says, and they break down to sit on the bed, leaning against and clutching at each other and at the clothes covering the sheets between them.

That night, they each sleep in their own bed. They both have dark shadows underlining their eyes the next morning, but Jared puts to words what Jensen is thinking while they're sitting at the breakfast table.

“It's easier, somehow,” he says.

Jensen agrees. It's easier to forget the hole in their midst that Jeff left if he just pretends that it's okay if Jared isn't in his arms, either.

<< Masterpost | Chapter 2 >>

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