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Life Is... - Chapter 2
namichan89

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Jensen is restless, driven by a fire burning low under his skin. These kind of days happen, have happened before, but Jeff had always been there to soothe the flame and mull down Jensen's irritation. Today, it's even worse, thanks to his general anger at the world and fate itself.

Nothing, exactly nothing, could've kept Jensen that morning from yelling at the insurance guy on the phone. Probably not even Jeff.

But still, here he is, explaining to some call-center agent with a stick up his ass that yes, they should transfer Jeff's life insurance money to their joint bank account, and no, he was not the only widower, they both were Jeff's 'widowers', since that seems to be the only word the guy understands.

“We signed this, and our names are on that insurance bill, so what the hell is your problem with this?” Jensen eventually snarls into the receiver, seriously pissed now.

“I'm sorry, Mr. Ackles, I just have to check for personal relations and--”

Jensen clears his throat and interrupts him. “I just lost my partner,” he states, calm and collected. Jared would call his tone 'dangerous'. “And I've sent you all the paperwork you need to pay us the money Jeff paid for every month for decades, and you've got a problem with the way we're living our life? That it? In that case, you can connect me straight to your supervisor.”

Among the multiple apologies, Jensen hears a, “I'll get it done as soon as possible, Sir.”, so he quickly wishes him a good day and hangs up.

“Asshole?” Jared asks from the sidelines, both eyebrows high on his forehead. He looks cute in the apron he's wearing, always has, so Jensen gets up from the kitchen table and walks over to bury his face in Jared's chest.

“You should eat before we head out to the funer-- to the meeting with Misha,” Jared reminds him with a pat on his back and points the spatula in his hand at the plate of scrambled eggs and bacon on the counter.

Jensen hums noncommittally into the fabric of Jared's shirt.

Jared sighs. “Hey, I know this is bullshit. But we gotta work through it, and we're gonna get it done. Don't worry about idiots like that clerk.”

“Been there, done that, you mean?” Jensen presses a quick kiss to Jared's collarbone, then retreats.

Jared nods, then pushes the plate of food towards him again.

Jensen gives in and returns to the kitchen table to eat.

***

“How are you holding up?” Misha asks them when they arrive at the funeral home later that day.

Jared shrugs, and Jensen says, “Hanging in there.”

Misha gives them a sympathetic smile and a pat on the shoulder. “That's enough for now,” he answers, a kind smile dancing on his lips. “If you'd follow me, please?”

“We, uh, we've got his clothes in here,” Jensen adds as an afterthought and hands Misha the bag he’s carrying in his hand.

Misha takes it without looking into it. “Right. So, what did you go with, in the end?”

“The Hard Rock Café shirt, because there are so many memories to it,” Jensen explains. “A suit wouldn't have been like Jeff at all.”

“I see,” Misha nods and Jensen thinks he sees a tiny smile on his lips as he leads them to a room in the back of the building. “Now, this is where we keep the caskets. Do you have any preferences or anything you'd like to exclude right from the beginning?”

“Actually,” Jared steps forward, runs his hand over the top of a white casket displayed up front. “No idea. We didn't even do any research. What's different about these?”

Misha raises an eyebrow. He seems to think for a second, but then he answers, “Mostly, what you're willing to pay and what kind of wood you're going with. Some people also want a more chiseled and ornamented casket, lots of carved twirls and flowers. That's for you to decide.”

Jensen looks at the many, many caskets in the huge room and rubs his tired eyes. It's not even lunchtime, and his eyeballs are burning. He should've worn his glasses. “Any recommendations?”

Misha shrugs. “Not really. It all comes down to what you want. Plain and simple or...” he leaves the sentence unfinished. “What sort of wood do you want?”

Jensen and Jared stare at each other for a long moment before the both exhale deeply. “No idea,” they both say, and Jensen bets he looks as helpless as Jared right now.

“Is there a color or something that you associate with Jeff?” Misha prompts. “Did he have a specific hobby that related in one way or another to wood? Something that's meaningful to you, even if it's seemingly too little a thing to even consider.”

With his index finger tapping against his bottom lip repeatedly, Jensen ponders. Jared returns from where he was standing a few feet away, his warm presence soothing at Jensen's side. His eyes are roaming over the display, flickering, thinking.

“Dave,” he states flatly after a while, turning to Jensen.

Jensen looks up at him with wide eyes. “Yes, that's perfect.”

Misha's eyes shift from Jensen to Jared and back, both amused and curious.

“Rosewood it is,” Jensen says towards him.

“Do I want to know the story behind that?” Misha prompts.

Jensen chuckles, can't help it at the thought, the memories flooding his brain which still lives mostly in denial. “Jeff had a single rosebush in our garden, which he obsessed over. It always needed to be perfectly trimmed and watered and taken care of. It was his pride and joy, the first thing he'd inspect in the garden as soon as the snow was gone and... well, that's why it’s got a name – Dave. Jared named it, and the name kind of stuck.”

Misha smiles back at him, which is why Jensen notices at all that he's smiling, too.

“Well, then. Rosewood it is.”

Jensen nods. “And the design... Something simple.”

“Yeah, he would've scolded us for buying him a fancy casket just to bury it,” Jared laughs under his breath.

“True,” Jensen smiles at him. “Alright, let's do this.”

***

Jensen is hiding in his room and has been doing so for the past five minutes.

The reason being his loving, nice, caring, and absolutely overwhelming in-laws, plus Jared's little sister.

From the second they arrived about two hours ago, it's been nothing but “How are you, Jensen?”, “Go ahead and lay down, I'll handle this for you, Jensen,” and “I understand if you need a moment to cry, just tell me, Jensen.” They're all so damn understanding and sympathetic that Jensen just can't stand it. It makes his chest clench and his stomach twist and he barely managed to get out an excuse before retreating to his room.

It's not like he needs to cry, but the house is suddenly so noisy and full after three days without Jeff, and Jensen can hardly stand the full force of the Padaleckis on a good day – much less so now.

He's grateful to Jared's family for being here and staying with them, he really is. He is happy to see them, happy to have someone else around beside Jared, who only makes it more obvious that they aren't complete.

Jensen rubs his tired eyes with the heels of his hands, then hugs his knees to his chest, curling in on himself where he's slumped against the door to his room.

It hurts, everything just hurts. His limbs, his head, his heart.

And if he's going to have to listen to the big speech about how everything has a reason and God has a plan and Jeff's in a better place now one more time, he's going to vomit.

He needs someone reasonable to talk to.

Usually, that would've been Jared or Jeff, but Jared wouldn't understand. Not when it comes to his family, who all just mean well - and Jensen knows that, too, he just can't deal with it.

Jensen pulls out his phone from his pocket and thumbs through his contacts.

It's also not a topic that he'd want to discuss with his parents, who're on their way here themselves.

So Jensen taps the first number that stands out to him.

“Austin Funeral Home, this is Misha Collins speaking. How can I help you?”

His voice is warm and a little rough around the edges, cracking with the background noise of the connection, but it does the job of calming Jensen down all the same.

“Hey, it's Jensen,” he sighs, feeling relieved. “How do I deal with overprotective in-laws?”

Misha doesn't laugh, doesn't joke about it despite the obvious opportunity and the fact that Jensen did try to keep this light. “Let them take care of you,” Misha says.

“But they're constantly dancing circles around me with their caring and their nurturing and their 'it's okay to cry' mentality and I – I just can't handle this, Misha,” Jensen admits, calm and quiet.

“No one expects you to handle it right now, Jensen,” the little smile that has somehow already imprinted itself onto Jensen's brain is clearly notable in Misha's voice. “I'm serious. No one.”

“It's just that I'm not the type to... when my granddad died, five years ago, I didn't cry. Not because I'm the manly man in this relationship and suppress my feelings or some bullshit – sorry – but I'm not the type to demand of others to spoil and pamper me until I feel better. It just makes me feel worse.”

“Then why don't you just tell them that?” Misha suggests, again in that warm, soft tone that reminds Jensen of a comfortable cushion to rest his head on.

“I don't wanna alienate them, they mean well, after all,” Jensen answers, lost in thought.

Misha sighs and stays quiet for a few seconds. “Then try to accept that it's alright to feel like that. Because it is. It's normal that you're irritated and easily angered at this stage. You're normal, Jensen. It's alright.”

Jensen huffs, but then takes a deep breath. Suddenly, he realizes the truth in Misha's words. “Thank you, Misha. I guess I really needed to hear that.”

“Anytime.”

“So, I'll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah.”

***

The night before the funeral is by far the worst yet. Jensen finds himself lying awake at 4 am, the orange glow of the numbers on his alarm clock ticking by impossibly slow. If he could, Jensen would just skip forward in time, to some time after the funeral, when he's already done and gotten it over with. The image that keeps appearing in his mind, time and time again, of a crowd standing around the casket, of them standing in front of all their friends and family, reading Jeff's eulogy, makes Jensen want to curl into a ball and never leave his room again, ever.

It's almost 5 am when Jensen decides that enough is enough, grabs his pillow and leaves his bed.

Jared doesn't even flinch or look surprised when Jensen lifts the sheets to slip into bed beside him. Wordlessly, he pulls Jensen into his arms and holds on.

Jensen rests his head against Jared's shoulder and revels in the sound of his heart, beating strong and steady, and in his familiar smell and warmth.

No matter how much he wishes for another familiar smell, another set of arms wrapped around himself, another set of soft lips pressing against his neck, this is how it's going to be now.

Him and Jared.

And it's true, it could be worse. Jared loves Jensen with all his heart, and Jensen loves Jared more than he could ever put to words. So that's good.

But life could also be indefinitely better. If Jeff was still here.

Jensen knows he should be glad to still have Jared, but he can't bring himself to feel that way right now, no matter how selfish it seems to him.

“Can't sleep, huh?” Jared murmurs, a hot puff of breath against Jensen's scalp. “Me neither.”

They're staying silent for a long moment, just looking into each other's eyes in the half-darkness of the bedroom.

He's still trying to think of something to console Jared, when Jared speaks first, derailing Jensen's train of thought.

“I'm having a hard time right now thinking further than getting through tomorrow, and then another day, and then another,” Jared pauses, swallows heavily. “But we should... I mean someday, we should... we should be alright again.”

“Someday, yeah,” Jensen huffs.

“And we should focus on that day, you know. As soon as the funeral is over. We need to get back onto our feet.”

Jensen hums against Jared's shoulder in agreement.

Jared's voice, so intimately familiar with its low timbre and comforting warmth, puts Jensen at ease, lets him close his eyes and feel his tense muscles relax.

“Hey, Jay,” Jensen says, nudging Jared's neck with his nose. “Go to sleep,” he states flatly.

“If you say so,” Jared answers, a tiny bit amused.

Jensen feels the tiredness of his body catching up with his head, feels sleep tugging him under, lulling him into comfort and blissful unconsciousness.

And because he doesn't want to have any regrets if he never woke up again – because those are the kind of thoughts that haunt him lately – he whispers a “Love you,” into Jared's neck.

“Love you, too,” Jared answers, low and mostly asleep by now. “Wouldn't know what to do without you.”

Suddenly, Jensen's heart feels to big for his ribcage, threatening to burst through his chest with all the love for Jared that hits him like a punch to the gut.

“Me neither.”

***

The funeral itself will be held after the service, but the wake with the open casket was the thing that Jensen really feared.

Under Misha's close supervision, they gathered in the huge room in the funeral home, with Jensen and Jared standing up front, accepting condolences.

The eulogy is Jensen's rock bottom.

It hits him fast and hard, and Jared takes over various times so Jensen can compose himself.

“We were lucky that we got all these years to spend with him,” Jensen finishes, right when tears are threatening to win the battle. Jensen doesn't care much at this point. “So thank you, Jeff. Rest in peace.”

“We'll see you on the other side,” Jared adds, so low that it's clearly only meant for Jensen's ears.

Jensen squeezes his hand.

After the ceremony and the funeral, they all head back to their house, and for a few, blissful hours, it’s full to the brim with visitors that take Jensen's mind off things. Things like the fact that he just said his goodbyes to his boyfriend of fourteen years.

But the visitors excuse themselves, one after the other, until Misha is the last one still there, sitting in the kitchen with a glass of water in his hands, waiting for Jared and Jensen to join him so they can talk about the further proceedings.

The hole in the ground, the abyss that had been threatening to swallow Jensen all day, all week, opens up then, pulls him down and under as Jensen breaks down. Fortunately, he's already in the living room, so he ends up sitting on the floor with his back against the sofa, choking on his tears.

“Jensen?” he hears Misha's panicked words from the kitchen.

Jensen doesn't see. After his legs gave out and folded in on themselves, he's too dizzy to open his eyes, his head is swirling and his heart is beating too fast.

“Jensen!”

He hears the voice, the one that's definitely Misha's, louder now, and a hand that comes down on his shoulder, shaking him.

Once again, his chest feels too tight, clasped in the fangs of that ugly monster that makes Jensen want to die inside, makes him want to shut everything and everyone out just so he doesn't have to feel anymore.

“Jared!” Misha yells towards the stairs, where Jared had retreated to change out of his suit. Then his voice becomes calmer again, as he holds onto Jensen's shoulder, grounding him. “Jensen, calm down, it's okay, it's gonna be okay--”

“No, it's not,” Jensen barely manages to muffle the shout into a fierce reply. “It's not gonna be! It's unfair, is what it is. This shouldn't have happened. Why did it, then? What did we do to deserve this?” It all bursts out of him, the flow of the words unstoppable once it starts. “What should we have done to prevent this?”

“You're angry,” Misha states the obvious, but when Jensen wants to yell at him again, he tightens his hold on Jensen's shoulder.

Jensen looks up, then, and although his vision is still blurry from the tears running down his face, wetting the sleeves of his suit jacket and slipping into his mouth, he can see the sorrow in Misha's eyes, the plain and utter sympathy. Something inside of him breaks at that, but Jensen can't put his finger on it.

With a sigh, Misha shifts from the way he's crouching next to Jensen to kneeling on the floor, his legs tucked under himself. Then he splays his hand out flat right beneath Jensen's neck, warm and comforting, the shape of it unfamiliar.

“It's normal to be angry. It's one of the early stages of dealing with grief, and it's okay that you're angry,” Misha explains. “So be angry. Shout all you want. And no, it's never fair when a loved one dies. But you can never change it, no matter how much you wish you could.”

“But why him? He was such a good guy. He helped out at the shelter and he was such a... if you'd known him, you'd understand, he was such a gentle and kind person and he just... he didn't deserve it.”

“No, he didn't,” Jared's voice interrupts them, and when Jensen looks up, he finds him walking across the living room to where they're sitting on the floor, and joins them by kneeling down on Jensen's other side.

The big hand that Jensen knows settles on his neck, and Misha's shifts downwards so they don't overlap. It's smaller than Jared's huge paws, fingers more delicate, the touch firm.

They have him.

The thought is utterly confusing to Jensen, but he allows himself to wallow in it for a moment or two.

“It's... my mind is going in circles,” Jensen explains. “All of this happened so fast, and I can't stop thinking about Jeff, and it all spins faster and faster, I feel like I'm losing my mind.”

“That's why you have to calm down,” Misha says, as silent and soothing as ever. “What if he could see you like that? If you believe that Jeff is up in heaven and watching over you, he can. And he wouldn't want this for you.”

“You didn't say anything,” Jared states as a simple matter of fact. His lips are pursed and his eyes are big and worried when he continues, “You just sucked it all up like a sponge, I'm not surprised it all came down like that. You gotta share this with me, man, so we can work through it together.”

“You know I'm not good at that stuff,” Jensen retorts.

Misha gives him a tiny jostle. “You don't need to be good at it. You just need to vent sometimes, or else it's gonna eat you up inside. And you can do that, right?”

Jensen huffs, but nods. “I guess.”

They're quiet for a minute, just sitting there, staring at their laps or at each other.

“You good?” Jared asks eventually.

“I don't know,” Jensen answers, honest and to the point. He's too tired to beat around the bush.

“You will be,” Misha encourages him, and by the way he locks eyes with Jared, it's clear that the 'you' was meant to include a second person, plural.

***

The following week, both Jared and Jensen have to get back to work. They stop by Misha's office a couple times, for paperwork, for the headstone, and for some remaining bills.

He's always professional, he's always efficient, and more importantly, he doesn't mention the incident after the funeral at all.

All that's left to them is a house half-full of memories and memorabilia, and no idea of what to do with it.

“We do have to clean out the master bedroom some time, you know,” Jared reminds him over breakfast one Saturday. “We can't keep taking turns in our beds. They're too small, and your mattress is too soft. I keep getting strains in my back.”

“I know,” Jensen says and thinks of the headache-inducing pain in his neck that Jared's hard mattress gives him. “But I can't, not yet.”

“Don't you think it'll be better to get it over with as soon as possible?”

Jensen shrugs. “I don’t think I can go in there and not lose it, to be honest.”

Jared shoots him a worried look, the forkful of scrambled eggs and bacon hovering in mid-air halfway to his lips. “That's why I'm here.”

“I know,” Jensen swallows, stares down at his own plate that's still half-full. The eggs taste like stale paper to his taste buds, and the bacon is dripping with too much oil, at least for Jensen's current taste. “How about we get to it next week?”

“Yeah,” Jared agrees.

They don't do it the following week. Jared has so much work to catch up on that he can barely stay on his feet when he's home after fourteen hours at the office, and Jensen makes sure to work as many additional hours at the physical therapist's practice as he can get away with. All he knows is that he can't stay home alone without Jared. It'd break him.

They fall into bed beside each other each night, if they don't fall asleep on the couch in front of the news flickering over the screen. They talk about their day at work, about colleagues, about missed calls and stuff they need to do in the garden.

Jensen is very aware of where they're heading, but for now, he's okay with it. Not that he actually thinks they'll drift apart; they're Jared and Jensen, Jensen and Jared, they belong with each other. It's an admittedly very rough patch that they're going through, inevitably have to go through, but they'll make it. It's mourning and pain and stuff they need to deal with on their own terms. They'll be back to what they always were and always will be soon enough.

Or so Jensen tells himself.

He just wished that Jeff would be here, knocking their heads together and telling them to 'suck it up and start living your lives again.'

That's the point, though.

Living his life, getting through another day, is all Jensen is capable of these days.

***

“We haven't had sex in three months,” Jared remarks one evening in May, when they've retreated to bed early, both of them exhausted from a long day at work.

“That long?” Jensen asks, honestly surprised. “I wasn't counting.”

“Well, since the day before Jeff's death. You do the math,” Jared answers, wrapping himself around the curve of Jensen's back, aligning their bodies to slot together like two pieces of a puzzle, kissing his neck.

Jensen stares down at the huge hand curled around his waist and stomach, long fingers splayed out on his abs that definitely need some work these days. He can't bring himself to do anything but get up – that's the biggest feat each day – go to work, go home, sleep. Kiss his partner goodnight before that, of course, but that's about it.

“You wanna?” he asks Jared, without turning around to look at him. It comes out flat, disinterested.

“Not today,” Jared answers and buries his nose in the hair at the back of Jensen's head. “Maybe tomorrow?”

“Okay,” Jensen nods against the pillow, his stubble catching at the fabric. “Good night, Jared.”

“Night, Jensen. Sleep tight.”

It's a soft murmur, barely a whisper tickling the skin of Jensen's scalp, and then Jensen closes his eyes.

It's okay. It's normal, even, to lose one's libido after the death of a loved one. Jensen read about it online.

It's also making him feel guilty, which he guesses is also normal.


***

“Hey, Jensen!” Genevieve calls in from the reception area of Jensen's workplace, cheery and as friendly as ever. “Come here and tell me what you want for lunch. We're ordering Chinese.”

“Nothing,” Jensen sighs.

That, of course, makes his co-worker poke her head into the treatment room which he's currently cleaning up. “You sure? You could at least eat some spring rolls or whatever.”

“No, thank you. I'm not hungry.”

Genevieve's eyebrows shoot up high on her forehead, but she doesn't comment further.

However, when the order arrives, there's some leftover rice and some red salmon curry, Jensen's favorite, among the other food containers. Jensen even eats it, his appetite trickling in some time after the third spoonful. He even steals a fried pineapple slice from Tom's plate, who pretends to scold him for it, but in the end shoves the container with one slice left over towards Jensen.

Tom only smiles with a nod towards the Styrofoam container. 'Take it,' his eyes say.

Jensen sighs, too tired to put up a fight.

Danni, their boss, refuses his money when Jensen tries to pay her for it afterwards.

“My treat, Jensen. Just, take better care of yourself, okay?”

“Yeah,” Jensen nods, not caring one bit about himself if he's honest.

And that's the other thing.

All the damn pity.

Jensen can't stand it.

***

It's a week later, when they're in the bathroom, getting ready for bed, that Jared steps up behind Jensen and wraps his arms around him. He leans down to trail kisses down Jensen's neck, rolls his hips against the swell of Jensen's ass, lets him feel the bulge in his boxers.

Jensen freezes, just for a moment, but it's enough for Jared to retreat with an almost inaudible sigh.

“I'll wait for you in bed,” Jared says, pretending that nothing had happened.

“Yeah,” Jensen nods, feeling breathless.

It throws him off and it confuses him.

The mess of feelings that are wrestling for the upper hand within him are driving him insane. There's the side of him that only needs to smell Jared, to be close to him, to feel him, warm and gentle against his skin, the side that only needs to know that Jared wants him to be content.

Then of course, there's the other side. He still has needs, sexual desires, even though they are quite subdued these days. He still wants Jared.

However, there's the fact that they haven't had sex in months.

Hell, even while Jeff was still alive, they only ever had sex alone exactly twice, when Jeff was away for the weekend and they just couldn't go two days without sex.

That thought makes Jensen huff with amusement.

And back then, all they talked about during, before and after fucking each other was how much better it would be if Jeff were here and what they'd do to him once he got back.

This is completely unknown territory for both of them.

Still, Jensen is only human, and he wants this. He realizes, on an objective level, that he needs to get used to it, and that he has to start somewhere. Somewhere, somehow, someday might as well be today.

So Jensen takes a deep breath and leaves the bathroom, shuts off the lights and crawls into Jared's bed beside him. Jared turns around once he's there, wraps his arms around Jensen's waist, not pulling or pressuring, just holding him nice and easy. It's good like this, it is, however--

For a moment, Jensen has to will himself to focus and allow whatever might happen now, simply because it's between the two of them and he trusts Jared, he still wants Jared.

It's not an abstract, rational thought, either. It's physical and deeply rooted in who he is. Jared is so attractive and so hot, and as it has always been, Jensen wants him with every fiber of his being.

“Jay,” he breathes out, reaching out to stroke his thumb over Jared's cheek. It's a silent explanation, a silent question. They know each other too long to not understand it.

Jared smiles, before he asks, “You okay?” and runs his left hand up his spine, cradles his neck with it, comforting, considerate as always.

Jensen nods and shifts closer, slips his right leg between Jared's, fits himself completely into the curve of Jared's body when Jared throws his own leg over Jensen's hip, giving him space to move.

The bulge is still there, pressing against Jensen's thigh, and Jared moans under his breath when Jensen rubs over it. He knows that kind of moan, knows he has Jared right where he wants him to be.

With an easy, familiar move of his hand, Jensen pulls both their boxers down, slides their cocks together with practiced motion. He's only half-hard, but as soon as he wraps his hand around them both, feels the velvety smooth hardness of Jared's dick against his, he feels his blood rush through his veins, down to where it matters.

Jensen starts to pump them slowly, stroking them with his right hand, adding a twist at the tip because he knows how Jared gets off on that. Sure enough, Jared groans and seals his lips over Jensen's, making aborted little thrusts into Jensen's hand, gasps into his mouth on occasion.

It's hot, it's what Jensen liked about him from the very first day – how receptive and sensitive Jared is, how much he feels and manages to express with as little as a sigh, how he writhes in Jensen's arms, tiny whimpers escaping him. It's exhilarating.

Jensen allows himself to get caught up in the stream and just go along with it, lets himself get swept away by Jared's presence, his patience and passion, by the love shining in his eyes.

Jared comes before him, and he doesn't need to warn Jensen in filthy words. Jensen knows how Jared sounds when he comes. The short breaths, the shaking under his hands, the focused look in his eyes, right before he breaks down and buries his head in Jensen's neck.

“Jen,” Jared moans afterwards, the blissed-out expression on his face looking as good as ever. “Oh, you--” Jared states surprised and obviously realizing that Jensen hasn't come with him. Then he slips his hand between them and wraps his long fingers around Jensen's dick from the other side, stroking him with firm, sure strokes.

Jensen gasps, and doesn't try to hold anything back any more.

The first orgasm after multiple months of an involuntary dry-streak is overwhelming and entirely surprising for a simple hand-job, but when he's done shouting out his pleasure and curling in on himself, Jensen looks over at Jared.

“Thank you,” he says, grabbing Jared's hand. Then, after quite some moments of catching his breath, “Love you.”

Jared chuckles. “You too.”

***

Over the course of the following months, and sooner than Jensen feared, they settle back into a familiar routine.

Jensen can't sleep in any longer, since he's in charge of breakfast now, while Jared is still out running in the morning. He refuses to do the eggs sunny side up, because that's how Jeff used to make them; scrambled eggs it is, from here on out. As far as Jensen is concerned, an egg is an egg is an egg, and the one day Jared demanded his sunny side up and almost cried over his breakfast plate subsequently was an example neither of them needed a repeat performance of.

Jeff's mug, the white one that once had some kind of witty, coffee-related sentence printed on its side before it was put through the dishwasher one too many times, had wandered into the box of personal items belonging to Jeff. They didn't look into it, just picked up stuff around the house when they noticed it and dumped it in the box that lived in the corner of the master bedroom.

They started going to work together in Jensen's car. The old, beat-up Volkswagen that Jeff left them had been sold weeks ago, money they dearly needed for the funeral anyway. Dying is pricey, after all.

When Jensen drops Jared off at the his workplace, an engineering company, he kisses him on his lips, just a harmless little peck, and wishes him a good day.

Jared takes the bus home after work and Jensen is home long after him, anyway, especially when an appointment runs late. It only means that Jared is the one in charge of preparing dinner. Afterwards, they talk about their day, watch some TV, and after a few weeks of trial-and-error-ing their way back to having an active sex life, there's also sex. Frequent, if not nearly as often as before. It's different, now. More bland, if Jensen were forced to say so. Not that he ever would.

It's just – the thrill of someone else watching, of giving husky orders and encouragements, of guiding them, is missing.

Jensen one day catches himself at the thought that while Jeff tore a huge hole into their life when he died, they sewed it shut to some extent. It's not like they don't reminiscence, not at all. There are still gaps in the yarn they used to stuff the hole, and it's still painful, but not unbearable to look back, to sneak a glance at what had been. It had been good times, after all.

And he's good.

They will be okay, eventually. One day. Just like Misha said.

That's what Jensen tells himself, day after day.

And it's true. Mostly.

He's honestly, truly, absolutely good with where they are. Five months after Jeff died, things are looking up. Jared can laugh again, and goddamn, Jensen has missed that laughter that could shake the entire house with how powerful it was.

However, it doesn't happen nearly as often as Jensen would like it to.

Jared seems depressed, melancholic, subdued, even now, even though he laughs again. It's more subtle now, he hides his true feelings under his usual smile. However, Jensen knows him better than that, and mostly, he knows exactly how Jared feels. So he's worried, really worried about Jared, until – after probably the fifth time he asked that day – Jared explodes.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Jensen,” he snaps. “I said I'm good, so you don't need to question my sanity every two seconds!”

“Well, excuse me for worrying about you!” Jensen shouts back, with the dirty plates from dinner still in his hands.

“I'm telling you, you don't need to!” Jared glares and throws the used cutlery in the dishwasher. “So stop it. Please.”

Jensen huffs. “Jay, c'mon. You're not fooling anybody.”

Jared spins around, his expression furious. “First,” he ticks off with his fingers, “I know. Second, so what, and third, look who's talking. I'm just trying to get better, Jensen. I'm not pretending like nothing happened, but I'm trying to get over it.”

“So am I,” Jensen splutters, taken by surprise.

“Maybe, but honestly, it doesn't seem that way to me,” Jared sighs. “You often look like you're just wallowing in the grief and remembering better times, like it's--” he cuts himself off, avoids Jensen's eyes.

“Like what?” Jensen prompts, frowning at him.

“Like, I don't know how to say it without it sounding more hurtful than I intend it to.”

“Just tell me. I don't mind.”

Jared takes a deep breath. “Then let me just say that I loved Jeff, too, alright? And I love you, and I fell in love with you two for a reason. I know that he was everything to you. But seeing you like this, now, it almost seems to me like this, what we have, is worth less than what you had with Jeff. I know you've--”

“Jared, that's not true and you know it,” Jensen intercepts, because he can't let that statement get between them.

Jared finally looks at him again, tears shimmering in the corners of his slanted, beautiful eyes. “I try to tell myself that I know, Jensen, but I can't help but wonder. I mean, you’ve been spending more time at work, recently, as if you're avoiding coming home--”

“Now you're just interpreting things incorrectly,” Jensen shakes his head, puts the plates aside and crosses his arms in front of his chest. It's not true. Well, not entirely.

“I'm sorry, but then what? What am I supposed to believe?” Jared asks, desperation in his voice as he slumps against the counter of the kitchen beside Jensen.

“I--” Jensen cuts himself off, unsure of how to answer.

“I know you guys got together before me,” Jared states, quickly. “You two were happy without me for a long time, you've worked without me. But you and I, we never got that chance. And now that we have it, of course it's not the same, but...” he trails off, bites his lip as he stares into space.

Jensen closes his eyes and sighs, then allows himself to slide down the kitchen cabinet until his ass hits the floor.

Wordlessly, Jared follows him, and they end up sitting there in silence, on the floor of the kitchen, for a long time.

“I love you,” Jensen says with emphasis, interrupting the quiet. “Never doubt that.”

“I love you, too,” Jared answers, sincerity shining in his eyes when he looks over. “And I never doubted it. But I guess we're at the point where we need to figure out how to live without him. How to live together, as the two of us. Because this – what's been going on for the past months, I can't live like that. I just can't, Jensen, I'm sorry.”

“I thought we were getting better,” Jensen sighs and hides his face in his hands, rubbing the heels of his hand over his tired eyes, then hissing when he notices the soap still clinging to his skin. “I thought we were on our way to getting over it.”

“No,” Jared replies, plain and simple. “We were pretending.”

“But we were trying, and that's what matters, right?”

“No.”

Jensen shrugs. “Then what?” he prompts, dropping his hands to find Jared looking at him with a deeply worried expression, eyebrows drawn tight, a crease between them, his lips flat and pressed together.

“You gotta talk to me, man. You always sit, like, in the living room when we're watching some game, and you stare into space instead of at the TV, and I know, I just know, what you're thinking about. You're thinking about Jeff, and what he'd say, and what he'd do, and how you remember that one time where he did god-knows-what, but you're not sharing, you're hiding it and you think it’s making it better. No, it isn't, Jensen,” Jared rants, passionate and agitated. “I hope you know what I mean.”

Jensen tilts his head to the right, away from Jared, and avoids his look. “I know what you mean, but I didn't want to bring the atmosphere down with comments like that.”

“Jen, it's been almost six months. We both know what happened. We know he's no longer with us. But we should never forget or gloss over him or what he meant to us, to our lives, so let's just... don't. We can do that, right?”

Jensen nods.

“Good. And I also believe we can do that thing where we go back to being a real couple. Let's go out some time, have dinner or go see a movie, something classic, you know? I'd love to,” Jared reaches over, then, to lay his hand on Jensen's thigh, a light squeeze.

“Yeah, okay,” Jensen agrees.

“And let's use that occasion to remember who we are to each other and not think about the notion that we can't be anything without Jeff,” Jared states.

“Okay,” Jensen intones, cradling Jared's cheek and stroking his thumb over his cheekbone.

Jared has a point, and it's not like Jensen doesn't see it. But it's complicated, and he has no idea where to begin. The smile Jared shoots him, then, all open and hopeful, is all he needs for now.

It's not like they just had a fight or a discussion about whether or not to stay with each other. That's a given. If anything, it makes Jensen feel more confident about where they stand with each other.

So he returns the smile, then pulls Jared in by the back of his neck and kisses him, slow and gentle, savoring the experience, trailing his lips over Jared's slightly chapped ones. Jared wraps his arm around his shoulders and with that, the world is a bit more back to like it should be.

However, they've still got a long way to go. Jensen dares to acknowledge that now.

***

If fate is a thing that actually exists in this world, then Jensen has never believed in it and never had any reason to. Sure, he sometimes finds himself thinking that it had to have been fate that had him and Jeff meet each other back in the day, and that brought Jared to them.

So to have Jeff taken away from them like that – so abruptly, so quickly, so uncalled for – only furthered his disbelief in fate. If fate existed, then fate was a bitch.

It's not fate, it's coincidence.

That's his point and he'd defend it to anyone who'd argue with him.

Jensen never believed in things happening for a reason; Jeff's death is the best example for that.

Nowadays, he's convinced that bad things happen to good people.

He tried to explain this to Jared one evening, over a Cowboys game of all things, and Jared just looked at him, his eyes sad and his posture fallen in on itself. “Don't they always,” he sighed. “Bad things happening to good people, I mean.”

“Yeah,” Jensen agreed and leaned closer, into the curve of Jared's arm curling around his shoulders.

Jensen felt himself even more vindicated when his eyes fell on the framed picture beside the TV, of Jared, Jeff and him in Berlin, some two years ago.

***

It's a day like any other.

Jensen works his way through his patients – the kid who suffered multiple bone fractures because of a motorcycle accident, the nice old grandpa with the replaced hip, the ex-pro baseball player with the busted knee, all of them his current regulars – until the day is over. His job is one of the things that keeps him sane these days, keeps him in the real world, keeps him grounded. So Jensen puts on his best smile, pretends to be his usual, perfectly faked friendly safe, and sometimes, he even forgets his personal life while showing exercises to one of his patients. As a physical therapist, he's able to help people, and that's what mattered when he chose this line of work, and it still matters now.

“Your last one for today,” Osric says, that one sunny afternoon in late July, shortly after Jared's birthday, and hands him a patient file.

“I thought I was done for today?” Jensen asks, surprised, as he takes the file and opens it, instinctively focusing in on the diagnosis. Broken hip and tailbone, posterior cruciate ligament rupture, severe concussion after a camber during a bike ride. As he does whenever he sees these kind of diagnoses, Jensen flinches inwardly. Just, ouch.

“Came in last minute, but his hospital put in a good word to start his treatment immediately,” Osric explains with a shrug. “And since Sommers is done with his treatment as of last week...”

“I had a spot open, I know,” Jensen nods. “I know. It's not like I mind, I was just surprised, is all.”

“Sure thing. Shall I?” Osric gestures towards the waiting area.

Jensen raises an eyebrow, more to himself, as he skims the progress of rehabilitation so far. “Please.”

He takes note of the few important data points he'll need – 40 years old, male, good health condition, hobby athlete, no other diseases, under constant medical supervision, donates blood every couple months.

The name is the last thing Jensen looks at, right when he hears the clicking of crutches in front of his treatment room, followed by the subsequent trademark sound of his door opening.

Collins, Misha

Jensen knows that he'd never come across a name like that twice, not that out of context.

So when he looks up, he finds the exact same blue eyes he expected staring at him in bewilderment and wonder. Misha is just short of gaping at him, his lips slightly parted, his eyes wide.

“Welcome, Mr. Collins,” Jensen smiles at him, all business-like, but having a hard time containing his smile at Misha's downright adorable expression, “Please take a seat so we can discuss your treatment schedule.”

Misha blinks. “Jensen?”

There's only so much Jensen can take, so he breaks and grins at Misha. “So we meet again.”

Misha huffs, amused, and shakes his head. “How have you been?”

Jensen shrugs. “I'm okay.”

“That's good to hear. How's Jared?” Misha asks as he sits down in the chair opposite Jensen's desk.

“He's doing fine, thanks for asking,” Jensen answers, plain and simple, before he changes the subject. “So I hear you kissed the street like the pope at forty-four miles an hour? How did that happen?”

Misha winces, searches for something to say for a moment, long enough for Jensen to feel like an absolute jerk.

“Hey, man, sorry, that came out wrong. I didn't mean to--”

“No, it's okay,” Misha interrupts him, one edge of his lips twitching upwards into a lopsided smile. “Fun story, actually. My bicycle fork broke, which leaves you about point two seconds to react, so, you really don't know what's happening until you’ve already vaulted over the handlebar and faceplanted on the street.”

“Ouch,” Jensen frowns.

“Yeah, the doctors said I was actually lucky to have worn a helmet, or else I could've broken my spine or cracked my skull altogether, which, you know, doesn't end so well usually,” Misha adds with a sarcastic undertone.

“Well, lucky or not, you got a knee and a hip we need to focus on fixing,” Jensen nods, more to himself, then looks up to find Misha watching him expectantly. “Would you please lie down on the treatment couch for me?”

Misha hobbles over, and Jensen takes the time to explain the exercises for his knee and hip to him, demonstrating and supporting each body part as he goes along. As per usual, it's all in close proximity – Jensen has his hand around Misha's ankle more or less for the whole time. It's not awkward, at least not more so than it is with other patients, and Misha manages to crack a joke or two to lighten the mood.

After an hour, they're done, and Misha moans when he straightens and gets to his feet.

“It'll get better,” Jensen smiles at him and hands him his crutches.

Misha accepts them with a grateful nod, and Jensen can't help but stare after him as he takes his leave with a warm smile, a short wave and a “I'll see you on Thursday.”

Jensen feels a warm tingle in the pit of his stomach, like the first spark of a fire, like a single star visible on the night sky before the moon appears and gives way to the rest of the stars. He's not stupid, nor does he try to ignore it.

He likes Misha, possibly more than he should.

It's the simple fact that Misha looks at him like none of his other acquaintances, patients, or friends – or hell, his own boyfriend – does these days. There's no pity in his eyes, no attempt to walk on eggshells around him. Misha is no one but who he is towards Jensen, genuine, honest. It's so refreshing that Jensen's treacherous body makes him want to believe that Misha is special.

Which he isn't, they just ran into each other by accident. It's coincidence.

***

Jensen is still lost in thought when he returns home to find Jared at the stove, shirtless with an apron tied around his middle.

“Hey, I'm home,” he greets Jared with a grin, wraps an arm around him and toys with the knot at the small of Jared's back.

“Hey,” Jared turns towards him and kisses him hello. “How was your day?”

“Good, good, everything's alright,” Jensen heads over to the fridge and grabs two beers, opening them and handing one to Jared. “Got a new patient today.”

Jared raises an eyebrow and him and smirks. “You get new patients all the time. Anyone special?”

With a hum, Jensen shrugs and looks at the floor. “Misha.”

“From the funeral home?” Jared asks, although it's pretty clear he already knows who Jensen is talking about.

“That one. He got into a bike accident and now he has problems with his hip and knee,” Jensen explains, trying to sound casual as he sips his beer.

“I see,” Jared answers. “Well, you always meet twice in life, right? It's kinda funny.”

“Kinda, yeah,” Jensen snorts.

Jared shoots him a worried look, feeling exactly what's going on with Jensen. “You alright?”

“Yeah, I think so. I mean, he's alright. A bit weird, good sense of humor. We get along,” Jensen avoids the question.

“Not what I meant and you know it,” Jared scolds him playfully, pointing the stirring spoon at him.

With an amused sigh, Jensen turns towards him and pulls him into another kiss. “I'm good,” he repeats to reassure Jared. “Honestly.”

“Okay,” Jared smirks, then captures Jensen's lips with his, nipping at his bottom lip until Jensen relaxes in his arms. When the chili in the pot starts to bubble and sizzle, Jared breaks the kiss to stir it a couple times.

“Smells good,” Jensen comments, his fingers once again entangled in the strap of the apron.

Jared's eyes are twinkling when he reaches for a clean spoon, heaps some of the chili onto it and holds it towards Jensen to taste. “Do you think it needs some more kick?”

Jensen blows on the steaming contents of the spoon and carefully tastes it. He still manages to burn his tongue and splutters. Despite its temperature, the chili is just this side of too spicy, just the way Jensen loves it, but damn, it's hot. Jensen gasps for air.

Jared cackles.

“It's delicious,” Jensen eventually manages to cough. “Perfect.”

“Thank you,” Jared grins, lips stretched wide. “It still needs to cook for another thirty minutes or so, then we can dig in.”

“Awesome,” Jensen eyes him, then, and finally remembers what he's been meaning to say since he stepped into the kitchen. “By the way, you’re not trying to seduce me with the hot househusband schtick, are you? What happened to your shirt? Not that the hot househusband schtick doesn't work, for the record.”

Jared throws his head back and laughs, a full, unabashed laugh, the one that Jensen fell in love with all those years ago. He can't help but grin in response, feeling warm fondness curl up in his stomach, slowly spreading through his veins.

“Actually,” Jared begins, smirking at him, “I spilled tomato juice on my shirt, but I was too lazy to fetch myself a clean one. I'm glad you like it, though.”

“Oh, I like it a lot,” Jensen admits, stepping behind Jared so he can stare at the defined muscles of his back, the elegant slope of his spine. He runs his fingers up the vertebrae, traces the strings of muscle, the valleys and bulges where Jared tenses up at his touch.

It's always been a major turn-on for Jensen. Jared's back, that is. It was the reason why they picked Jared back at that club, to be exact. Jensen can still hear himself say, 'How about the kid over there? I'm wondering what he'd look like on all fours with your dick buried inside of him,' and he can still remember Jeff's pearly, rough laughter, right before Jeff walked over, placed one hand between Jared's shoulder blades, and whispered something into his ear that had Jared blushing up to the tips of his ears. Really, it was adorable.

Now, eight years later, Jensen can still remember what he saw, back then.

With his hands running up the wide expanse of Jared's back, fingers spread out, caressing each available square inch of tan skin, Jensen leans up to kiss the back of Jared's neck.

“Are you trying to seduce me, Mr. Ackles?” Jared teases, looking over his shoulder with a grin.

“Maybe,” Jensen smiles against Jared's warm skin and slips his hands under the apron and around him. It's easy to reach for his belt buckle and open it, a practiced and perfected move just like snapping the button open and pulling down Jared's zipper.

Jared moans. “I still need to keep an eye on the chili,” he protests.

“Oh, don't mind me,” Jensen chuckles, trails his lips from Jared's earlobe down the curve of his neck and bare shoulder. “I'm just doing my thing here, you focus on the cooking.” He nibbles at the skin of Jared's shoulder, barely grazing it with his teeth as he moves down, sinking to his knees. Taking down Jared's jeans at the same time is easy enough, as is palming his ass while he does it. Above him, Jared sighs, angling his hips sideways so Jensen can shift around and to his front, sticking his head under the apron.

Jared's boxers are already sporting an obvious wet patch where his cock is leaking pre-come, so Jensen moves in to lick over the moist cotton, his senses overwhelmed by Jared's taste and smell, blood rushing down to his own dick at the sensation of Jared's hand coming down to the back of his head, holding him in place. Jensen gasps and slips his fingers under the waistband of Jared's boxers, pulling them down under Jared's balls and swallowing his cock straight down.

With a loud groan, Jared tightens his grip, not quite managing to get a good hold of Jensen's head because of the apron between them, but enough to make Jensen moan around his cock. Jensen always enjoys blowing Jared, he's so responsive and eager when it comes to receiving head. Jeff and Jensen had a running competition going on how quick they could make Jared come with just blowing him, and Jeff regularly won – Jensen reasoned that it was because Jeff rarely opted for oral sex.

Jeff had been something else entirely in bed. He'd loved to give them orders, sit back and enjoy with a hand around his dick, the other buried in Jared's or Jensen's hair as one of them fucked the other. He liked to say that 'you youngsters get it out of your system first, then we'll pick up from there'. Sloppy seconds were never sloppy seconds, not for Jeff. He thoroughly enjoyed letting Jared fuck Jensen within an inch of his orgasm, before pulling him into his lap after Jared had already come and finishing Jensen off, in every sense of the word. Jensen can't remember how often he ended up exhausted, wrecked in Jeff's lap, completely satisfied and happy.

Jared has always been a pliant one. Not that he didn't take the initiative from time to time, but he mostly went along with his partners, trusted them to do all the things he wanted and didn't need to ask for.

When Jeff gave oral, it was always a rare pleasure. He was stellar at it, too, absolutely gorgeous to look at, and the way his beard rasped over Jensen's inner thigh is, to this day, one of the memories that can get him hard within seconds. Jensen had had a hard time understanding why he didn't do it more often, since he did very obviously get off on it.

But now that he's more or less blindfolded, in the dark under Jared's apron, Jensen gets it. Jeff had liked to watch, was very much a visual type of guy. Jensen himself is more about feeling, tasting, smelling, and this right here is his pleasure zone. He likes to feel Jared like this, zeroing in on his pleasure alone, and when Jared's hand starts to push, when he starts fucking his mouth, Jensen lets him.

After barely a few thrusts, Jared groans low in his throat and comes down Jensen's throat. The smell, the taste of it, is so familiar, so addictive that Jensen knows he could come just from this. Well, if he were a few years younger.

As it is, he swallows before he gets back to his feet.

Jared is a sweaty mess, leaning slumped against the kitchen counter, the spoon long forgotten where it drips tomato juice and chili sauce onto the floor.

“Jen,” he gasps, then takes a lungful of air before moving closer, wrapping his arms around Jensen and lifting him up onto the kitchen counter. Jared doesn't even give him the time to catch his breath before he undoes his pants and leans down to return the favor. He doesn't take his time, either, sucks Jensen hard and fast until he's convinced that he just had his brain sucked out through his dick.

The chili turns out perfect, especially with the salty-sweet flavor of Jared's come still on the back of Jensen's tongue. He tangles his feet with Jared's under the table and grins at him.

It feels like they're, at least in some ways, back to normal.

If Jeff were still here, he'd give them knowing looks that promised more, later. Jensen smiles at the thought, and Jared mirrors it.

<< Chapter 1 | Masterpost | Chapter 3 >>

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