Title: Deception - Part 2
For full Header details please see Master Post
Jensen waited until there was a soft click across the line before letting the receiver in his own hand fall back to the cradle and let the fake smile drop from his lips.
Really he should have been expecting a call from Jeffrey at some point that morning. After all he had been given this assignment, account, whatever because Jeffrey expected that the last Accountant had been filtering money out of the shelter and into his own account and from what little work Jensen had managed on Friday, he had proved Jeffrey’s suspicions true. In hindsight it was surprising that Jeffrey had waited until that morning to check in and Jensen wished he hadn’t.
It would have been better if he had called late Friday afternoon, then Jensen would have had an excuse not to go with Jared and the others to the Lobo. He never would have ran into Christian, he never would have learned that Steve was dead and that Jason was missing. He would still be living in blissful ignorance and he wouldn’t have sounded like a fish out of water flailing for examples of when and where the money had started to disappear from the shelter’s accounts.
And he wouldn’t have spent the remainder of Saturday, all of Sunday and the last three hours sitting behind his desk at the Animal Friends Humane Society obsessing over what he had found out through Christian.
The best explanation was still that Steve and Jason were just a coincidence, that what had happened to them had nothing to do with the angry letter writer from years before. It still sounded plausible to Jensen, all of Riley’s family had to hate Jensen’s, Christian’s, Jason’s and Steve’s guts, it was because of the prank that they had dreamt up that Riley had died. No, none of them had gone into it with the intention of hurting Riley but in the end he was still dead and they were still to blame and no matter how much the vividly detailed letters had scared the crap out of Jensen when he had been receiving them in Juvy, now that he had time and space to think about them, about the author he understood, he could even see himself doing the exact same thing if their places were reversed. But to take it that last step and actually start hunting someone, or several people to exact a revenge for what really did boil down to a tragic, horrible accident he just couldn’t see it.
, if he had found out about Steve dying and Jason disappearing right after he had been released then, maybe, he would be worried and jumping to wild conclusions but that was four years ago.
Four years and nothing had happened to him, not even a simple mugging or B&E since he had come to San Antonio. Nothing that would make him even consider that someone might be out there gunning for revenge.
So why was he still sitting there obsessing about it? Why had he wasted the last almost forty-eight hours obsessing about it?
Because someone found out what Juvenile Detention Center Jensen and Christian had been sent to and Jensen would bet that it wasn’t just him and Christian that had gotten those letters. And if someone found that out how hard would it be to find out their parent’s addresses? And Steve died a week after he got out of Juvy and Jason never made it home but had been released from whichever Juvy the great state of Texas had sent him to.
That was why.
Because someone out there knew those things and what if Christian was right? What if it was simply dumb luck that Jensen and obviously Christian had made it out of Richardson before it was their turn to pay for their crime?
“I’m being ridiculous.” He muttered, he pulled his glasses off and rubbed a weary hand across his eyes, “Stupidly ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous about what?”
Jensen’s head snapped up and he knew his eyes were comically wide as he stared at Jared staring back at him with one eyebrow raised.
“What?” He managed, feeling like a complete idiot for being caught muttering to himself. Like the shelter’s staff didn’t already think he was some sort of psycho after his spastic exit from the Lobo Friday night and then sneaking in about a half hour earlier than anyone else that morning so that he wouldn’t have to face anyone, hopefully for the rest of the day, and if he was really lucky, the week.
The second eyebrow joined the first as Jared shifted from foot to foot in the doorway, appearing broader with his arms behind his back. “Ridiculous about what?”
Jensen cast around for something, anything that would make him look less crazy for talking to himself. “Just work shit.” He muttered and waved a hand above the scattered and opened files littering his desk. He wasn’t even sure what files were open, only that they were the handful he had scrambled for while on the phone with Jeffrey. At least he didn’t feel the need to quickly sweep the whole mess off his desk and hide them, perhaps the shelter staff didn’t know more than that the shelter needed a new accountant and Jensen was it but Jensen doubted that Jared would know what he was looking at, how things weren’t balancing unless Jensen pointed it out to him.
“Okay.” Jared shrugged then grinned slyly. “You know though, if someone happens to come by here to say, get some paper for one of the printers or a new pen or something and hears you talking to yourself, they might think you’re a couple peas short of a pod.”
“Yeah thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” He mumbled and stared hard at Jared. “What are you doing here anyway? Need a pen?”
He could only hope that Jared wasn’t there to quiz him about what happened on Friday night and in hindsight maybe it would have been better if Jensen hadn’t come in before anyone else and hid out in his office all morning. Maybe he should have taken the risk and walked in at eight like he would at the firm and acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened on Friday. It probably would have been the better choice than hiding out in there like he was worried the rest of them had the plague.
“Your help actually.”
Before Jensen could ask help how, Jared’s face contorted into a look of pain and he hissed out a breath. “Ow! Shit you little buggar.” And little pointed black ears appeared over the top of Jared’s left shoulder, followed by a head.
“Houdini!” Jared grumbled but his voice held no malice as he reached up and carefully plucked the kitten off his back as it struggled to climb onto his shoulder. “You couldn’t sit still in my hands for one more minute could you?” He grinned into the kitten’s face as he held it before his own.
“Houdini.” Jensen muttered in confusion, “You want my help with Houdini? How?”
Jared cuddled the kitten against his chest and carefully picked his way between the boxes stacked on the floor until he was standing before Jensen’s desk. “Well it’s protocol to isolate any new pet that is surrendered to the shelter for a period of forty eight hours to ensure that it doesn’t have any communicable diseases that it could pass on to the other animals here. And even though Houdini’s brothers and sister seem completely content to be in the back in their cage, Houdini here cries and cries unless one of us is there to give him lovins.”
Jensen raised an eyebrow, “Lovins?”
“What?” Jared teased back, “It’s a word.”
He managed to swallow down a laugh; it was cute the way that Jared seemed to melt just talking about showering affection on an animal. “Sure it is.”
“Anyway,” Jared gently set Houdini down on top of Jensen’s desk, heedless of the paper spread out beneath little claws, and ran a big hand along the kitten’s back. “When I’m spending more time in my office then out in the exam rooms, I usually take the sad ones back into the office with me and let them keep me company to kind of ease them into being here. But I’m really busy today…”
“Jared, I can’t keep him in here.” Jensen shook his head and tried to keep from reaching out for the little black bundle of fur, twinning his fingers together at the edge of his desk. If he didn’t touch maybe Jared would let this go without too much of a fight, because really what the hell was he supposed to do with a cat in there and no way to keep him in the room? He could close the door but the room was little more than a glorified closet as it was and with no window and the door closed, Jensen was pretty sure he’d go stir crazy. And after his less than productive morning, he didn’t think being locked up in a closet would be helpful for getting work done in the afternoon.
“Sure you can.” Jared picked Houdini up once more and pointed him toward Jensen before letting him go on the desk again, giving him a gentle push in Jensen’s direction. “We have gates that can be set into the door frames so that you can keep your door open and yet will keep him in. And there are extra litter pans and food dishes and even a little basket for him.”
He looked down at Jensen with wide, pleading eyes. “Please Jensen do this favor for me. I don’t like it when the little ones cry for attention and no one can give it to them. Besides I think you could use some lovins too.”
Jensen’s shoulders went tight, his mind flashing back to Friday night at the Lobo. Exactly what did what happened between him and Christian look like from Jared’s point of view?
“What do you mean?” He asked carefully feeling like he was navigating a mine field.
Smiling sheepishly, Jared shook his head, “I’m not prying I swear. It’s just that after whatever happened between you and Christian and then you sneaking in here before any of us, I just figured that maybe you needed some companionship and since you made it clear that it isn’t human companionship you want…” His voice tapered off and he shrugged uncomfortably. “Can we just go back to where I’m asking you to help me out by not letting me feel guilty by leaving Houdini to cry in the back for the remainder of the day?”
Jensen was horrified, it must have looked like a lover’s spat if Jared thought he needed cuddles from something living and breathing when the truth was so far from that but he couldn’t tell him the real reason. And yet under that, he was a little flattered that Jared cared enough to come up with this scheme to check on him and make sure he was okay.
“If he pees on anything or pukes on anything or damages anything, I’m blaming you.” He muttered and finally gave in to the urge, reached out and scooped Houdini up and cuddled him against his chest.
“Not so fast.” Jensen slowly looked away from Houdini, lifting his head higher so the kitten could butt his soft head against Jensen’s chin. He watched as Jared stilled, one leg raised to step over a box before carefully stepping back and turning around. “And if I fall behind in my work because I’m kitten sitting and catch shit from the board, I’m blaming that on you too.”
Jared grinned, “Fair enough. But I should warn you, out of the three vets that work here, I’m the only one willing to do it full time for the little pay the board offered, I won’t catch shit.”
Jensen snorted out a laugh as he rubbed his chin back and forth over the kitten’s soft head, enjoying the tiny rumble of it’s purr against his chest. “Of course.”
“But I’ll make you a deal.” Jared threw over his shoulder as he picked his way back to the door, “Houdini makes a mess and I’ll help you clean it up, plus I’ll buy you dinner tonight as payment for kitten sitting for me.”
Jensen’s body went cold with fear at the idea. Jared seemed like a fun guy and he was friendly and good looking but Jensen couldn’t go there. He wasn’t looking for any kind of a relationship with anybody, especially not now, not when there could be some lunatic hell bent of revenge out to get him.There is no lunatic! Get a hold of yourself dumb ass!
Regardless, he didn’t deserve a guy like Jared and Jared sure as shit didn’t deserve a killer like him. “Jared.”
Jared waved a hand over his shoulder, “Gotta go get Houdini’s stuff and no Jensen Ackles I won’t take no for an answer.”
Jensen stared through the empty doorway where Jared had disappeared, a little awed by the vet and a whole lot nervous about just what else Jared wouldn’t take no as the answer to and what Jensen would just go along with.***
It turned out that the restaurant that Jared wanted to take him to was a little corner place halfway across town from the shelter called Kuchnia Matki that reminded Jensen a little of the diner he used to grab lunch at while at the UTSA. The food looked better and less greasy than it had been at the diner, the atmosphere more relaxed than upper scale restaurants and the staff, at least appeared, genuinely friendly. It helped to keep the fluttering in Jensen’s stomach at a minimum and even if the urge to flee was still there at the back of his head, he was managing not to jump every time someone passed by their table.
“So I can vouch for everything on the menu.” Jared smiled across the table at him.
Jensen felt his eyebrows raise, “Everything?”
He shrugged and his smile morphed into a grin, “Yup. So whatever you want, I can promise it’ll be good.”
Jensen scanned the menu again, “So if I ordered the meatloaf, it would really taste just like momma used to make?” He glanced up from reading the description off to Jared.
“Just like.” Then Jared shrugged, “More or less…probably less if your momma isn’t Polish.”
“That makes a difference?” Jensen stared down at the menu again, noticing for the first time that most of the menu was indeed what had to be Polish dishes, “Isn’t meatloaf the same everywhere?”
“More or less.”
“But it’s just like momma used to make.” A new voice piped up from beside Jensen’s shoulder. He glanced up into the smiling face of the waitress; hair and eye color suspiciously close to Jared’s and narrowed his eyes.
“Good evening my name is Megan and I’ll be your waitress for this evening.” She smiled down at him before glancing at Jared and then back to him. “If this is your first time here, may I suggest the Cucumber Salad to start and then the Potato Kielbasa for your main course.”
Jensen glanced from her to Jared, waiting to see if Jared thought it was a good idea. This restaurant was Jared’s idea so he obviously knew the place well enough to know if what the waitress was suggesting was something worth trying. But then again, if Jensen was right and the family resemblance was more than just his imagination he was pretty sure he already knew what the answer would be.
“May I also suggest not looking to my brother for guidance. He’s kinda biased.”
Jared’s twinkling eyes met his over Jared’s raised menu and Jensen shook his head. “So this is how you pay me to kitten sit? By taking me to your family’s restaurant so you won’t actually have to pay. Nice.”
“Hey!” Jared muttered indignantly and let the menu fall back to the table, but he was still grinning and for the first time Jensen really took notice that Jared had dimples and that they made him all the better looking.Don’t go there Jensen.
He reminded himself sternly but it didn’t stop him from wanting to reach over, touch one and see if they were as deep as they looked.
Megan laughed and stepped closer to Jared. “Hi, I’m Megan Padalecki.” She held out her hand for Jensen to shake, “Jared’s younger and much better looking sister. Now since Jared brought you here to us, you’re stuck getting fed what I chose for you just like you would if he brought you home to momma and daddy proper.”
“Uh…” Jensen wasn’t sure what to say. He had been kind of hoping that this wasn’t a date, it didn’t really feel like a date, after all Jared hadn’t even bothered to ask him if he was gay so really this couldn’t be a date could it? So maybe Jensen hadn’t out and out said anything when Jared had been checking him out the first time they met or objected when Jared had pressed his thigh against Jensen’s in the bar and it was pretty obvious that Jared thought that Jensen and Christian had been having some kind of lover’s spat but…well shit. What was Jensen supposed to do now?
Megan giggled as Jared hissed her name. “I’ll be back with drinks. Beer good for you Jensen?”
“Yes?” He stuttered.
With a nod she walked off still giggling as Jensen turned wide eyes to Jared.
“Listen Jensen, I…” Jared fumbled and frowned.
“Did I miss when you said we were going on a date?” Suddenly everything seemed a lot harder than it had been when he had thought they were just going out to eat because Jared wanted to get to know him as a friend. Jensen had had reservations about making friends, going out on a date seemed ten times worse, partially because he didn’t think he deserved any kind of happiness and partially because, when it was all said and done, this would be Jensen’s first date and he kind of would have liked to be privy to it before it started.
“Ignore my sister, she is after all my little sister and makes it her personal duty to make my life a living hell because she’s younger.” Jared played with the salt and pepper shakers, pushing them together then apart.
“So this isn’t a date?” Jensen said slowly, a little frightened by the sudden ache in his chest at the thought.
“Would it bother you if it was?” Jared hedged.
Jensen opened his mouth to respond but all rational thought fled. He had made a promise to the ghost of Riley living in his memories that he would keep to himself, only take what was necessary to survive a solitary life. Having any kind of substantial relationship with anyone, one of simple friendship or romance would go against that promise. But he had made that promise when he was fourteen and had had no clue just how hard it was going to be trying to go through life with only minimal contact with others or how much he would crave more than the occasional one night stand. And Jared, damn him, had managed to crawl under Jensen’s skin in such a short time and Jensen wanted to get to know him more as both a friend and a lover.God damn it!
“You’re straight aren’t you?” Jared muttered low, “I’m usually pretty good at picking out gay guys but occasionally my gaydar gets thrown off kilter.”
“No…no…” Jensen shook his head, “I’m gay. That’s not it.” He crossed his arms over his chest and smiled gently at Jared, “There’s a lot of shit going on in my life right now and you kind of threw me for a loop here.”
“If it’s Christian from the Lobo, you’re gonna break Sandy’s heart, I gotta tell you.” Jared smiled sadly.
Jensen laughed harshly, there was no way in this lifetime or the next, even if Christian had gone from chasing girls when they were fourteen to chasing guys or both for that matter, would Jensen ever consider him even as a viable one night stand. “No. No, no, no.” He shook his head, “Christian and I used to be friends back when we were kids but that friendship…it kinda…well some friendships just end.”
“So it’s just me then.”
“No!” Jensen rushed to reassure him. It was surprising how much he disliked seeing Jared questioning himself. This did not bode well for Jensen, he just knew it but he couldn’t help but try to defuse the situation. “Can we just back up a little? Just have the dinner you bribed me with to kitten sit Houdini?”
“Yeah and that seemed like such a hardship for you.” Jared muttered but the teasing lilt that Jensen had come to like was back in his voice. “If memory serves, each time I came to check on you, you were busy either playing with Houdini or cuddling him.”
“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up funny guy.” Jensen deadpanned, “Let’s see if you’ll still be doing that when Jeffrey asks me for my first report on how the financials are doing and I don’t have it for him because I was busy kitten sitting for you.”
Jared chuckled, “Told you, I won’t catch hell for distracting you. I’m the only vet willing to work full time at the shelter for what pretty much works out to minimum wage.”
That was the second time Jared had brought that up but even with what little work Jensen had managed on the shelter’s books, there still should have been enough income from the interest generated from the shelter’s bank account alone to pay him better, even with the skimming.
“Why is that?”
“Why is that what?” Jared shrugged, “That I’m working for so little? I’ve always had a soft spot for animals, I grew up with dogs and cats and one annoying Budgie and was always right there when one of them needed to go to the vet. As I got older I wanted to help and our vet, Jim Beaver didn’t mind me coming in after school and mucking out the cages, sweeping, spending time with the animals, helping to feed them and give them their pills. No one was surprised when I decided to become a vet, I even got to do my practicum in my fourth year at Jim’s clinic. By then he was considering becoming semi-retired and was looking for a younger partner for his clinic. I considered it but it didn’t feel right, then along came Jim’s new partner, Samantha Ferris, who was already one of the other two vets volunteering time there and she was the one that told me the shelter was looking for a full time vet who wouldn’t mind less than average pay. I applied to the board and with Jim’s recommendation, I got the job.”
“Huh. Well if nothing else, I’m sure the shelter keeps you busy.” Jensen managed his head spinning at the passion in Jared’s voice. He couldn’t imagine being that passionate about anything.
“Here ya go.” Megan set down a pint of beer in front of Jensen and then one in front of Jared. “What part of the date are we at?” She looked back and forth between them, her face serious but her eyes twinkling.
“Go away Meg or I’ll be forced to go into the back and tell Momma that you’re harassing the customers.” Jared pushed gently at her hip.
She glared down her nose at him, “Customers pay, Jared.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
Jared shifted in his chair and started to rise, “Two…”
“Okay, okay!” She squawked quickly and pushed down on his shoulder with one petite hand.
Jensen knew the effort would be wasted if the situation had been serious but Jared chuckled and let himself be reseated.
“Table four looks ready for their check.” Jared nodded to a couple seated somewhere behind Jensen.
“Fine.” She huffed but turned to Jensen, “If he gets fresh, just let me know. I know his parents.”
“Go Megan.” Jared growled but there was laughter in his voice.
Jensen watched Jared’s eyes follow his sister until she glided away from the table.
“There was this puppy.” Jared started suddenly, eyes catching on Jensen’s, “Not long before my practicum with Jim was over. A little German Sheppard, almost six months old. His owners brought him in because of seizures, after doing some tests and a night with us, we learned the little guy had a neurological disorder due to extensive inbreeding. He could have lived a good life, even with the seizures, all his owner’s had to do was keep him on a special diet and give him anti-seizure medication twice a day. Too expensive, they said. He was no longer show dog material, they said. Useless, they said. By law we had to do what they wanted and put him down. It was then I decided I wanted to work somewhere where I could fight to save animals, not put them down just because they had become an inconvenience for the people that were supposed to love them.”
“That’s terrible.” Jensen said softly, reaching out and squeezing Jared’s hand, trying to ease some of the phantom pain he could see in his eyes.
Jared managed a smile, “Where I work now, it’s still hard, sometimes animals that are brought in can’t be saved but the ones that can that the owners can’t be bothered with anymore, at least those ones I can save, neurological disorders, not so pretty, not good with other pets or kids, all of them. That helps.”
Jared’s hand felt good in his own, warm fingers curled around his, his thumb rubbing against the sensitive skin between Jensen’s thumb and finger and it had to stop. With a gentle smile, he pulled his hand free and curled it around the pint of beer in front of him.
“I’m glad for you.”
“What about you?” Jared asked before he took a sip of his own beer. “Always had a love for numbers?”
Jensen felt the flare of cold fear slice through him again but managed to tamp down the impulse to flee, after all he had started this by asking Jared about his own career choice, he may be out of practice when it came to the social niceties but he wasn’t an idiot. Tit for tat, he got it.
“Don’t know if I’d call it a love for numbers.” He allowed and took a small sip of his own beer, “I just have a head for them and learning tax law didn’t drop me into a coma so…” he shrugged, “Not so terribly exciting or noble.”
“Was your dad an Accountant or your mom?”
It was all starting to spin out of control, he could feel it. He knew the question was innocent and the answer simple but it could lead to more questions about his past and he was either going to have to clam up or lie and he didn’t want to do either. He didn’t really know Jared but he liked him well enough and he liked being out with someone instead of sitting alone at home with only the T.V. as company and he didn’t want to lose their tentative friendship, I’m sorry Riley but I need this
, by telling him lies that he would eventually get caught in. And he would get caught, he knew he would.
“No.” He finally managed to spit out after another, longer sip of beer. “Momma’s a personal shopper for people with more money than brains and dad’s a mechanic at a classic auto shop.”He used to be a Deacon of our church until the shame of having a murder as a son forced him to step down.
He could taste bile at the back of his throat and a fine sheen of clammy sweat was covering his body. It wasn’t really a lie if he didn’t mention that part was it?
“Here you are guys.” Megan set a plate full of steaming food down before Jensen and then a second in front of Jared. “Enjoy.”
She narrowed her eyes at her brother and Jared tilted his head to the side and raised an eyebrow back at her.
“Humph!” She muttered and with a furtive look around at the other patrons, stuck her tongue out at him briefly before gifting Jensen with a quick smile before moving away.
Jared shook his head with a sigh, “Little sisters, ya know?” He draped his napkin across his lap and picked up his fork and knife. “Well, taste, let me know what you think.”
Jensen followed Jared’s lead, purposely not thinking about how he had a little sister but no, he really didn’t know because he could barely remember someone seven years his junior.***
“So thanks for dinner.” Jensen smiled at Jared as they walked side by side toward Jensen’s beat up old truck and Jared’s slightly newer and in better condition one. “Though I’m not really sure that this counts as paying me back for watching Houdini for you since you didn’t have to pay for dinner.”
Jared chuckled, “Trust me, I’ll be paying for it soon enough. Eventually my momma’s gonna be on my phone wanting all the details about the nice young man I brought to their restaurant on a date and didn’t bring him to the back to meet them.”
There was that word being spoken out loud again and Jensen shivered at the sound of it. He could barely stomach the thought of allowing anyone this close to him and going against his vow to Riley’s memory, just as a friend, the thought of actively dating someone… And yet there was that selfish part of him that wanted this to be a date, that figured that this was what a first date was all about, learning about each other, gently trying to work out if the interested parties were compatible enough to even consider a second or third date or more. It was frightening and exhilarating and dragged him down in soul sucking guilt.
Jensen already had the suspicion that if he could get Jared talking that it would be easy to get him sidetracked from asking anything too deep about Jensen’s past and it had worked. He knew what it had been like for Jared growing up as a middle child with an old brother whom Jared rarely saw and didn’t seem to like to talk about, and Jensen could understand that, he had a whole past that he didn’t want to talk about, and a younger sister, Megan, he terrorized. That he had fallen out of a tree at eleven and broke his right arm and it took seven years for him to get over the fear of tree climbing and even then it had taken half a twelve of cheap beer that Chad had swiped from his dad’s stash in the garage and a drunken dare to make him do it. “Damn lucky I didn’t fall out and break my fool neck. But it cured me of my fear of tree climbing.”
He learnt that Jared had met Chad in middle school, the girls in High school and that the four of them had been inseparable ever since, even through Chad’s not so secret crush on Sophia for the last nine years and Jared’s panic attack at fifteen when he first realized he was gay and tried to deny it by dating Sandy their Sophomore year.
He was pretty sure he knew damn near everything about Jared and was absolutely certain that there wasn’t one part of Jared that made him any less attractive to Jensen. No, that wasn’t true, there was one thing, he was too good for Jensen.
“Not that it was a date.” Jared hurried to clarify as they came to a stop between the two trucks.
“Except for kinda how it feels like it was.” What the hell was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he just take the out that Jared was so clearly offering instead of opening his damn mouth and falling into it? He needed to stay away from Jared, for Jared’s own good because he could and would do so much better than Jensen and Jensen was supposed to being staying true to Riley’s memory and being happy wasn’t the way to go.
“But it wasn’t so bad was it?” Jared murmured and stepped into Jensen’s space, following him until Jensen’s back hit the cold metal of the box of his truck. “Not nearly as scary as you thought it would be.”
“Jared there’s things…” Jensen shook his head, “things in my past…”
His smile was small and sad, “I know that I can talk the ear off a dead horse Jensen and I know that you kept me talking by asking me anything and everything you could think of.” He ducked his head down when Jensen dropped his eyes, “I’m not stupid.”
His head snapped up bringing their faces almost too close together for Jensen’s eyes to focus. “I don’t think you’re stupid Jared.”
He wasn’t expecting the feel of Jared’s warm palm pressed against his jaw and cheek, “Good.”
Jensen froze at the careful brush of Jared’s lips against his. He couldn’t make his lungs work and he felt the confusing mix of feeling light headed and completely aware of his surroundings. The confusing mix of feeling light headed and completely aware of his surroundings. The cool breeze that had started up at some point while they were in the restaurant that bellied the heat during the day, the scratch of his cotton dress shirt against his back as he pressed further into the solid support of the box at his back, the sound of cars driving down the street in front of the building, Jared’s fingers searing trails of heat into his left cheek, the look of mistaken understanding in his eyes.
“Whatever it is, you’ll tell me when you’re ready, Jensen. I can wait forever so long as you don’t let it keep you from living any longer.”
And in that moment Jensen wanted to, he wanted so damn bad to tell Jared the truth and have him walk away, leaving Jensen in his carefully constructed cocoon for no one but himself. But he was too much of a coward and couldn’t face the warmth draining out of Jared’s eyes, not when he was the only one that had so much as look at Jensen as something other than a freak in years.
Jared smiled gently before brushing his lips once more against Jensen’s, “Goodnight Jense.”
Jensen watched dumbfounded as Jared backed up then with a small wave, turned and headed back toward the restaurant.
He wanted Jared to come back and make good with the promises his gentle kisses has whispered but he also wanted to jump in his truck and drive as far away from Jared as he could before he ran out of gas.
He was so screwed.***
Jensen jumped and only had time to turn and face whichever girl had just squealed his name in a pitch that was dangerously close to only dogs hearing before he had two arms full of a tiny brunette pressing kisses all over his face.
“Sandy what the hell?” He coughed out and instinctively curled his arms under her butt as she wrapped her legs around his waist. It took some of the strain from around his neck, where her arms were tightly coiled.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” She babbled in between sloppy kisses to both his cheeks.
Clearly he had picked the right name since she wasn’t demanding to be put down or slapping at him or something equally unpleasant.
It was too confusing for the discomfort to settle in yet but he could feel it start in the pit of his stomach. He wasn’t used to being hugged or touched at all, for the most part hugging was not a part of one night stands and okay, so maybe Jared’s hand on his face had felt a hell of a lot more intimate but this was boarding dangerously close to being too much intimacy for him.
“Jared just told me.” She pressed into his left temple. “Christian isn’t gay.” She was against his chin. “I haven’t been wasting the last three months pining and flirting with him.” She pulled back and grinned at him.
“O…okay.” He loosened his hold slightly and felt her weight pull her down just slightly before her legs tightened up around him again. For such a tiny thing, she had pretty strong thighs, “Sandy do you think…” he let the sentence trail off as he made a show of looking from her to the ground then back.
“Oh, sure!” She let her legs drop and he carefully lowered her back to her feet.
“What’s going on in here?” Jared chuckled from the doorway of the break room.
“Just letting Jensen know that I won’t have to poison his coffee.” She smiled sweetly up at him before turning and walking away, flapping her hands at Jared to get him to move. “Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s lunch time for our guests.”
Jared laughed as he stepped up to Jensen, “You look like a deer caught in the headlights.”
“I just came in here to get a fresh cup of coffee.” He muttered as he looked from Jared to the mug of steaming black coffee sitting dangerously close to the edge of the counter then back. “Next thing I know I’ve got an armful of a crazy woman.”
“Welcome to the family.” Jared grinned as he curled his fingers around Jensen’s biceps and pulled them flush.
“Jar…Jared.” He stuttered and glanced around him once more to the empty doorway. He wasn’t used to this kind of thing and the thought of Chad or Sophia or Sandy catching them made him flush. Hell Jensen was still trying to convince himself that he could have this so long as he kept it casual and broke it off when he was done at the shelter and was back at Morgan’s Firm where he belonged.
“So hi.” Jared said and pressed their lips together briefly. “Would have done that sooner but…” he frowned, “Guy came just before you. He had hit a stray dog on the way to work but at least he didn’t just leave the poor fella in the road.”
“Well shit.” Jensen whispered and tentatively curled his fingers low around Jared’s sides, his pinkies pressing against suit pant material as he briefly tightened his grip in a silent show of support.
Jared smiled, “The little guy made it through surgery but it will be a while before he’s in general population. His back right hip was broken.”
Jared still had Jensen pulled against him, still had his hands around Jensen’s arms and his guilt still screamed that Jensen needed to back the hell away now but he stood his ground. After a sleepless night he had decided to let himself have this, just once, just for now and then he would be fine for however long his loveless life would drag out. But it didn’t stop him from shifting from foot to foot.
Jared shook his head with fond exasperation, “We’re both consenting adults, at least at twenty four I know I am and you’re what twenty one?”
“Twenty two.” He muttered, caught off guard that it had never occurred to him to wonder or even worry about Jared’s age or his own, just more proof that he had no fucking clue when it came to any kind of a relationship that didn’t start and end in the same night.
“See, consenting adults, not gonna catch hell from anyone you know.”
“But at work?”
“I just came in here to find Sandy crawling all over you.” Jared reminded him.
“Totally different thing.”
Jared shrugged, “I guess but it didn’t stop the urge to growl at her to get off my man.”
Something warm and frightening settled in Jensen’s stomach and he felt his cheeks heat up.
“Yeah, think about that while you’re busy in your office plugging away at the books.” Jared grinned then swooped down and licked along Jensen’s lower lip.
The reaction was automatic, Jensen’s mouth opened on a gasp as something akin to an electric shock swept through him. Jared took advantage and thrust inside Jensen’s mouth, tangling their tongues together for a quick but dirty kiss. “Gotta give my final okay to release Houdini’s siblings into general population and you should really get back to your office before the little escape artist figures out how to climb that pet gate.”
“Uh-huh.” Jensen managed and leaned his hip against the counter as Jared released him and started out of the room.
“I’ll stop in and say hi later when I get some time.”
Oh yeah, so very, very screwed. What the hell had Jensen gotten himself into?***
Carefully setting down the mug of coffee on the only paper free corner of his desk, Jensen gingerly sat back in his chair and scrubbed his hands across his face and down around his neck to lace his fingers together behind his head.
What the hell was he doing?
It had seemed to make some kind of sense the night before, Jared had been more than clear that he was interested in Jensen, had even managed to convince him to go on a date with Jared without Jensen realizing what was happening until it was too late. And truth be told, Jensen liked the attention, he had gone so long without so much as a close friend that the thought of affording himself the creature comfort of a companion for however long he was stuck there at the shelter made him giddy. But Jared Padalecki was a force of nature that Jensen really wasn’t prepared to deal with.
It was clear that given an inch, Jared would push for the mile and Jensen seemed unable not to let himself be bowled over. He should know better, did know better, this couldn’t end any other way but badly because Jensen was pretty sure Jared wasn’t going to take a simple “it’s over” when it was time for Jensen to move back to the safety of his little office tucked into the back corridor at Morgan and Associates. But Jensen had no intention of letting this, whatever it was between them, move past an office fling while they were trapped in the same building together. Jared deserved better than Jensen and Jensen deserved nothing more than he had when Jeffrey had first thrust this mess into his lap to begin with.
Four needle sharp pin pricks of pain blossomed in the thin skin just above his ankle, followed by a plaintive meow.
“Damn it, Houdini.” He muttered, reaching down to carefully pull the kitten’s nails from his dress pants before curling his hand under the small furry body and lifted the cat into his lap. Houdini paced unsteadily across his thighs before settling on Jensen’s left thigh, sat back and pushed his two front paws against Jensen’s stomach, opening his tiny mouth and crying softly.
Jensen grinned lopsidedly and ran a gentle hand over the top of the kitten’s head and down his back, catching the little tail between his index and middle fingers, and giving it a soft squeeze before releasing it. The kitten started to purr, more of a feeling high on Jensen’s thigh rattling through the small body and into his own then a sound, little front paws kneading and sharp nails poking through his dress shirt.
He sighed but didn’t reach down and try to dissuade the kitten, instead running his hand over Houdini’s head and along his back, again and again. “Don’t have a lot of good shirts buddy.” Even with the scholarship he had won, between paying for necessities and gas and insurance for a truck that was running on fumes and good luck, a closet full of stupidly expensive clothes didn’t seem important. He had made do with off the rack dress shirts and pants, enough to last two weeks if he didn’t do laundry but if the kitten didn’t quit using him as a scratching post, he’d have to decide what was more important, food that wasn’t Mac and Cheese or new clothes. And he didn’t particularly like Mac and Cheese anymore. “Wish you would stop pulling at the threads with your nails.”
The kitten chirped at him as it butted its head against the palm of his hand before dropping down on his thigh, turning to curl up on Jensen’s lap and rumbled himself quietly to sleep.
“Stupid cat.” He muttered affectionately and curled his left hand over its small back. It was ridiculous just how attached he had become to the stupid thing in under twenty four hours and the cat was just another thing he would be leaving behind just as soon as he was done here. Maybe Jared could convince the others that Houdini should be the shelter’s mascot, maybe even convince the board members or they could all work together to hide Houdini from Jeffrey and the other members when they came in for the checkups he was sure the board did occasionally at the shelter.
Jensen shook his head ruefully before picking up a discarded pen from his desk and tapped it against a print out of row upon row of numbers. He never should have let his hind brain convince him of anything the night before but Jared’s warm lips pressed against him outside of his parents’ restaurant had been overwhelming and the resulting tingling that kept him awake and fantasizing what else Jared could do to him to make him tingle in other places besides his lips had woken his lizard brain and overrode his common sense. He should have pushed Jared away this morning, he should be collecting Houdini’s things and the cat and taking the whole lot back to Jared and telling him that this whole situation couldn’t continue. He should close himself off, get his fucking work done and get the hell out of there before he got more invested than he already was.
His eyes ran down the first row of numbers, mind absently noting dates and amounts of donations before they flickered to the stack of receipts that he needed to compare to them.
He should be doing his fucking job before Jeffrey called him on his lack of results and he lost his job. That was what he should be focusing on, not the damn cat in his lap or the attractive vet with the stupidly adorable floppy hair lurking somewhere in the building.
“Exactly.” He mumbled and nodded once, lifting his hand from the warm bundle in his lap and carefully pulling the receipts closer. Glancing at the number at the top corner of the receipt, Jensen sighed as he started looking down the first row of numbers on the donations print out, looking for the matching series of numbers for the first receipt.
The problem was that this was the tedious part of this job, matching donation receipts and their monetary value to computer printout list, seeing if what some generous soul had donated was the same amount that had been recorded. There was nothing more challenging about it than matching numbers and amounts and it left too much of his mind free to wander, to dwell on the idea of what could happen with Jared if Jensen let it.
And the fact that he secretly wanted it.
But Jensen already had his life planned out, he knew that he needed to make reparations for his part in Riley’s death, and was set in his course. Just because there was an attractive vet who seemed to take Jensen’s hesitance as a challenge rather than a stumbling block should not be making Jensen waver. Really Jensen should just tell Jared that he wasn’t interested in much of anything that the vet was offering, explain to Jared that all Jensen wanted was to do his job and get the hell out of the shelter and move on with his life. Tell him that Jensen wasn’t interested in him, in Jared
Only he kind of was.
The phone on Jensen’s desk rang, startling him out of his thoughts, the pen in his hand went skidding across the print out on his desk and Jensen growled softly even as his heart beat picked up speed. There was only one person that had the number, that even knew where Jensen worked that would bother to call him, Jeffrey Dean Morgan.Shit.
“Hello?” Jensen watched the pen he had dropped roll across a pile of papers before it dropped off the edge and became trapped between the pile and a stack of file folders sitting beside them.“Jensen.”
Jensen shut his eyes and shook his head, of course it was Jeffrey, of course it was. “Mr. Morgan, how may I help you?”“How many times do I have to tell you Jensen, It’s Jeffrey or Jeff, please.”
Jeffrey chuckled, “Maybe I should make it a rule or something to work here.”
Jensen dug the pen out of the crevice between the papers and the folders, tightening his fingers around it as he pressed the end of it into his thigh while absently stroking Houdini with the other hand, unconsciously taking comfort from the small purring bundle. “R…right, sorry. So, how can I help you Jeff…rey?”
A put upon sigh echoed down the line at him, “Look, I know that I just threw the whole shelter mess at you and you’ve only been there since Friday, but have you had a chance to muddle through any of it yet? Any idea if my concerns are founded regarding Sheppard? It’s just that the next board members meeting is this Friday and I would like to present them with a prelim of your findings, even if you tell me that there’s nothing as of yet, just something.”
Jensen glanced from the stacks of files and papers on his desk to the floor on his right, the cardboard file boxes with the year noted in a masculine hand waiting to be gone through. Jensen wasn’t stupid, he knew that he had been offered this assignment for two reasons, the first, no one in their right mind wanted to be saddled with this kind of job, having to work backwards through years and years worth of bookkeeping, scrutinizing every little thing, looking for discrepancies and the second, Jensen had already proven his worth. Thanks to not having a life of any sort outside of his job, Jensen didn’t mind working overtime and not worried about getting paid, it didn’t bother him to double and triple check every column, every number, every receipt until he was satisfied that every small detail was in order.
But that attention to detail had been sorely lacking since about eleven o’clock Friday morning when Jared had set his sights on Jensen starting with the kitten currently kneading his little sharp claws into Jensen’s thigh and purring for all he was worth as Jensen gently stroked down his back.
“I’m not one hundred percent sure yet.” He finally managed, at first run down he had already uncovered almost a couple thousand in discrepancies but he wasn’t ready to jump up and accuse anyone of theft. Not when the differences could be data entry errors, there was always the chance when the differences between the shelter’s pink copy of the donations tax receipts and the amount entered into the system only showed a difference of, what amounted to pennies, fifteen cents here, forty-five there and once seventy but without going through everything, it was only a suspicion and nothing more. “It could all just be data entry errors.”
Jeffrey grunted, “Do you believe that?”
Jensen gnawed on his bottom lip briefly considering his options. On one hand, no he didn’t believe that whoever did the data entry and since Jensen hadn’t been told of an assistant of any kind, he had to believe that it had been Sheppard inputting the data into the system, was so terrible that they would be so terrible as to key in this many errors. But on the other hand, did Jensen really want to go out on a limb and say that yes, he was sure that Sheppard had been stealing from the shelter, only to start in on the bank account records and realize that no, the money all balanced out and Sheppard really was that bad in data entry? What would Jeffrey, laid back or not, think of his skills then?
“I’m not sure what to believe yet.”“Okay.”
Jeffrey hummed, “I understand where you are coming from Jensen. It’s too soon for me to ask you to go out on a limb I suppose. But I am going to need a more definite answer by Thursday evening. I need to know what I’m going to be showing the board before I meet with them.”
Jensen rubbed back and forth across his forehead trying to ease the ache that suddenly started up, the proverbial axe hadn’t fallen today but it was still pressing against his neck. Jensen could feel the phantom pressure against the back of his neck.
“Not a problem sir…Jeffrey. I’ll have my initial evaluation to you by Wednesday evening.”“Wonderful. Just ensure that the paperwork is on my desk before five.”
There was a smile in Jeffrey’s voice but it did nothing to warm Jensen. “I’ll let you get at it then. Goodbye Jensen.”
“Bye.” Jensen muttered to the dial tone before replacing the receiver on the cradle.
“Fuck.” He groaned and shook his head. He needed to get the last year’s files in order and hope that if Sheppard had been funneling money out of the shelter and into his personal account that he hadn’t suddenly gotten a conscience and stopped before the last year because Jensen was pretty sure that his initial evaluation was only going to encompass the last year, even working overtime.Should have come in during the weekend. Not dwelled on Jared and Christian and his paranoid delusions.
There was no point in giving himself hell for it now. All Jensen could do was buckle down and get through it. ***
“You know we’ve been closed for almost an hour?”
Jensen’s gaze flickered from his watch to Jared standing in the doorway as he sat back in his chair and tentatively raised his arms above his head, attempting to loosen the knots that had slowly formed in his lower back thanks to hours hunched over his desk. “And?” He raised an eyebrow as he laced his fingers together and rested his hands on top of his head.
“And,” Jared grinned, “I don’t know what it’s like where you come from but around here that means that the work day is over.”
Jensen’s mind flashed to his dad coming through the front door in the evenings, the scent of dinner newly placed on the dining room table by Jensen and his brother while their little sister danced in and out of the way and his mother’s smiling face as she greeted his dad in the doorway. Talking the day out over dinner then sitting together in the family room, homework spread out around jean clad legs on the floor while their dad sat in the big arm chair watching the evening news or sitcoms and their mother was curled up on one corner of the couch reading.
Nobody came home late back then, when Jensen still had a family that wanted to acknowledge his existence and the work day promptly ended at five thirty.
It was different now that Jensen had no one to go home to or share his day with but the dust bunnies that collected along the baseboards and the shadows in the corners. Working late made life simpler, made it easy for him to ignore the fact that he had no one and nothing to prove that he even existed except for an impression on his second hand mattress.
“For you.” He mumbled and scrubbed his hands over his face, “I have to have a report ready for my boss by Thursday and it’s not gonna be done in time if I don’t put in a couple extra hours.”
Jared crossed his arms over his chest and leaned heavier against the doorframe. “What’s going on here Jensen?”
“What do you mean?” Jensen hedged, fiddling with the spread of paperwork across his desk. He had no idea what the board had told the employees of the shelter or if they had told them anything and Jensen didn’t know if or what he should tell Jared. Hell he didn’t even know what the board was considering doing with the information Jensen was compiling for them. Chances were they would definitely be going after Mark Sheppard for theft if Jeffrey’s suspicions proved to be true but if enough money had gone missing there was always the chance that the board wouldn’t carry the shelter any longer, might consider closing it and Jensen didn’t want to be the one to share that news.
The shelter was non-profit and the fact that Jeffrey, and who knew how many others on the board, suspected that money had been funneled out of it must have meant that the shelter wasn’t doing well. When a non-profit started to flounder, generally it was better to shut it down then try to keep it going with copious amounts of cash that would never be recouped.
“I know you and I are just starting to get to know each other Jensen but do you think I’m stupid?” Jared smiled to ease the sting of his words, “I know that something’s up. I doubt that it’s normal for the new accountant to be going through years and years worth of record keeping when he or she starts at a new place of business. Something’s going on and I’d kinda like to know what it is. After all, it won’t just affect me or Chad or Sandy or Sophia or the weekend relief workers, it affects our wards.”
Sighing, Jensen leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desktop. Jeffrey hadn’t told him what he could or couldn’t tell the employees of the shelter and Jensen was pretty sure his boss already wasn’t pleased with his lack of opinion when they had spoken that afternoon so he really didn’t want to make things worse. But didn’t Jared and the others deserve to know the truth about why Jensen was there?
“Look,” Jensen huffed out a breath, “I was assigned by my boss to review the books here.”
“Because there are some irregularities in the bookkeeping.” Jensen hedged though he wasn’t sure why he didn’t just come clean with Jared. It had to be pretty obvious what he was getting at and as Jared’s eyes widened, Jensen knew that the vet got it.
“Fucking Mark.” He growled, “How much did he steal?”
“I don’t know yet.” Jensen admitted and felt like shit for making Jared look like he was torn between wanting to murder someone and grief. “I haven’t really worked my way through much of it yet.”
“This is my doing.” Jared hissed, standing up straight and scratching his fingers through his hair, tugging on the ends. “I was the one that reported to the board about the lack of supplies. I was the one that bitched about it. I just thought they were being stingy with the shelter’s account. And now they’re probably gonna shut us down.”
“Hey,” Jensen stood up and picked his way across the floor until he was standing on the opposite side of the pet gate, close enough to feel the heat coming from Jared’s body but far enough away that Jared could make the decision to take comfort from Jensen’s closeness or ignore it. “It’s not your fault. And they may not close the shelter. My boss, Jeffrey, I don’t know a lot about him but I do know he’s got a soft spot for dogs. He’s got three pictures of his Rottweiler mix in his office. Do you think a man like that would close down a no kill shelter without giving it some serious thought first?”
He shrugged before slowly nodding, “Yeah I guess.”
“They would have figured it out sooner or later.” Jensen pressed, “Pretty sure the board isn’t a bunch of idiots.”
“Maybe but that doesn’t mean…”
Jared’s cell phone started to merrily chirp “Who Let the Dogs Out” and he slapped at his hip until he could slip it out of the protector clipped on his hip. “Fucking Chad.” He hissed as he shot an apologetic look at Jensen before answering.
At first Jensen thought Jared had meant that it was Chad on the other end but as shock settled over his features it became obvious that Chad had messed with Jared’s phone, setting the ring tone as some kind of a joke.
“H…hey. Long time no hear from you.” The words were slow, a mix of surprise and nerves coloring Jared’s voice as his eyes flashed to meet Jensen’s. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
It was clear that Jared wasn’t comfortable with either Jensen being so close or with whoever was on the phone, either way, Jensen backed off, returning to settle behind his desk and forcing himself to concentrate on his work. It wasn’t that he was bothered that maybe it was him that was making Jared uncomfortable, he understood the need for privacy, even before everything that had happened, he knew it was rude to stand there when he wasn’t part of the whole conversation but the slow, careful way that Jared was responding to whomever he was speaking to made something in Jensen go stiff. Though it was true that he knew very little of the man but it didn’t seem possible that Jared would be so happy and outgoing with him and completely closed off when speaking to someone else. It just didn’t fit with the image of Jared that was slowly gelling in Jensen’s mind.
But then again, who was he to question any of Jared’s habits or idiosyncrasies? It wasn’t like anyone looking at him would know that once upon a time, Jensen used to enjoy the company of others, liked to go out and spend time with friends and family, used to laugh freely and enjoy life.
“Yeah, yeah of course.”
Jensen glanced up as Jared’s voice raised and caught him watching Jensen.
“No, tonight is fine.” Jared was nodding along to something the person on the other end of the phone was saying, “I’m leaving work now so give me a half hour, hour tops. I’ll call when I’m leaving my place.”
Jared smiled tightly at Jensen before shrugging and miming talking with his free hand as he rolled his eyes. “Yeah, see you then. Bye.”
Sliding his cell back into the holder on his hip, Jared rubbed at the top of his head with the other, “So I gotta head out.”
Nodding, Jensen shrugged, trying to ignore the annoyance he felt knowing that Jared wasn’t staying to keep him company. It was ridiculous, if Jared stayed chances were that Jensen wasn’t going to get nearly enough done. Plus he’d rather not have Jared standing over his shoulder looking over what he was doing, it was one thing to admit that there were suspicions that Mark Sheppard had been ripping off the shelter but it was an entirely different thing letting Jared see the evidence before the board did and came to some kind of decision about the future of the shelter. There was also the glaring fact that he was feeling jealous that Jared was leaving him to go meet someone else and he should not feel that way, it meant that he was getting invested in whatever it was between them and that would not do.
“Have fun.” He managed and waved a hand at him absently as he settled in to try to concentrate on the work before him.
For a minute there was no answer but then the sounds of Jared moving around sounded loud in the room. “See you tomorrow Jense.”
Jensen snorted pretending not to notice the warmth that curled through him at Jared shortening his name and glanced up into Jared leaning over the desk. “I’ll be here.”
“Yeah well make sure that’s not because you’ve stayed all night.” He said low before leaning down and pressing their lips together.
“Hardly.” Jensen murmured as Jared pulled up and away. “I’m committed but not obsessed.”***Part 3