An Ingenius Substitution

Categories:  Sundownverse, CW RPS

Pairing: Jensen/Jared, implied Claudia Black/Gina Torres
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Slash, prostitution, language, violence. You know, the usual.
Word Count: 18,161 (complete)

A duty dodged is like a debt unpaid; it is only deferred, and we must come back and settle the account at last. ~ Joseph F. Newton



It’s an actual squeal coming from the kitchen entrance that makes Jared look up from his breakfast. Or, rather, it’s the fact that it’s Gina squealing. Gina does many things, but—as far as Jared’s ever known—she doesn’t do squeals. He jumps out of his chair, ready to come to Gina’s rescue if someone’s hassling her. Not that Gina couldn’t probably take care of it without his help; he’s seen Serenity, after all.

“You okay, Gina?” For good measure, he glares at the delivery person who’s holding an open basket for Gina’s inspection.

Gina smiles and pets his arm without turning around. Over her shoulder, Jared sees movement in the basket and stretches his neck a little further. Gina squeaks again, causing whatever’s in the basket to let out a very high, shrill yip. A narrow wedge-shaped head half hidden by what looks like a wig pokes up and Jared takes a couple of steps back, startled himself.

“Oh, Jared. Look!” Gina takes the basket and pulls out… something. At first Jared thinks it’s a baby squirrel, like the ones he found one time when he was a kid, except in the way it’s so obviously not. Squirrels have more fur, for one thing.

He squints at it, then his gaze shifts back to the interior of the basket, which is still moving. Jared blinks. “What…what are they?”

“They’re for Claudia,” Gina says, not answering the question. Jensen moves aside for her as she puts the basket on the big butcher’s block staff table and deposits the little creature back in its nest. Soprano squeaks of protest start up almost immediately and the basket rattles. Gina’s forehead wrinkles as she fumbles for the card. “I think…they’re dogs?”

“Not like any dog I’ve ever seen,” Jared says doubtfully, holding his hand out to the wriggling, half-naked thing again peeking over the basket’s edge. It growls at him, surprisingly deep, and he pulls back his fingers before it can nip.

“I’m sure there has to be a card…” Gina ducks her head, looking around the side and the other…puppy? takes the opportunity to lunge over the top. It nearly plunges off the table’s edge, claws scrabbling frantically.

Jensen, who never got up from the table, puts his hand out and catches it neatly. Jared doesn’t know whether to be offended or amused as the thing gives Jensen a love-smitten look from under floppy bangs—and what kind of dog has bangs?—and whines in its throat.

Jared wants to laugh as Jensen holds it out as if he thinks it’s going to do something disgusting in his hand. Jared’s not convinced it won’t. Jared’s still not even convinced it’s a dog. He reaches toward Jensen’s charge while Gina makes a triumphant, “Ah-ha,” and produces a small white envelope. The puppy growls again and surprisingly large, white–and most importantly–needle-sharp teeth and huge, suspicious eyes are all he can see under the mop of fur.

“What the fuck?” Jared grouses. Jensen laughs at him, the bastard, and deposits the puppy back into its basket home. It immediately leaps up again and eyes Jensen longingly, whining and shivering.

“What’s the matter, Jay? Finally found a dog you couldn’t charm?” Jensen smirks.

“That,” Jared points and immediately they start growling. “…those are not dogs!”

“Apparently they are.”

They both look at Gina. Gina’s fingers are pressed to her full lips as she reads the note. Then she sighs. “They’re…” She looks at the card again. “Chinese Cresteds. A present for Claudia from Jean-Paul.” Jared doesn’t know the name; when he looks, Jensen seems equally unimpressed. Gina shrugs. “He’s one of the major shareholders of La Hacienda.”

Like most of the people they share the Compound with, Jared doesn’t really know Gina’s story—how she ended up here as La Hacienda’s head housekeeper, how she ended up with Claudia—but he reckons they’re about as evenly matched as he and Jensen. They both have the same knack of going from open friendliness to ‘take charge’ in nanoseconds.

She’s already dismissed them, gathering up the dogs—and basket—to take them to Claudia’s office, muttering under her breath. As she leaves the kitchen, Jared hears her sigh, “I wonder what he wants this time?”

Jared looks at Jensen with a question in his eyes, but based on his shrug, Jensen’s got nothing either. “Whatever.” Jared sits back down, his hand automatically reaching over to caress Jensen’s knee.

He doesn’t mean to exactly. It’s become their thing—though to hear Allie talk, it was always their thing. But Jared’s conscious of it now; whether in public or private, if they’re both off the clock, then they’re in each other’s space, touching, nudging, bumping. Jared’s not even sure who’s reassuring whom anymore, just that it’s instinct and he’s past the point of caring who notices.

Claudia’s noticed, Jared’s sure; he catches her looking at them sometimes. He doesn’t even know how to characterize it—half speculation, as if she’s not sure what to make of them but she’s wondering how she can profit from it; half irritation, as if the very fact of their togetherness is an offense to her. As long as she doesn’t try to split them up, though, Jared doesn’t even want to know what she’s thinking.

Michelle saunters in and Jensen’s leg goes tense and hard beneath Jared’s hand. Jared’s not sure Michelle really gets along with anyone, but there’s certainly no love lost between her and Jensen.

“What’s up, girls?” she purrs and runs a hand across the back of Jared’s shoulders. Jared ducks—too late to do any good—Jensen growls and Michelle’s smile widens as she sashays right on past to talk to one of the cooks about the afternoon meal for the guards.

“She’s going to push my buttons one too many times one day,” Jensen mutters down to his bowl, then shovels a tablespoon of cereal into his mouth. A trickle of milk runs down his chin. Before Jensen can move, Jared wipes it away with his thumb and then sucks the droplet slowly and deliberately from his skin. As he hoped, heat flares darkly in the back of Jensen’s eyes.

“Figured you’d get enough of that at work, Jay,” Michelle interrupts a second time, fucking up Jared’s distraction hopelessly. Jared throws up his hands in irritation.

Michelle knows damn well Jensen hates when anyone else calls him ‘Jay’; that’s just his.

“Don’t you have kittens to skin?” Jensen drawls. He sounds bored, but Jared can hear the humming tension underneath it. “Or wait! I know where there’s some puppies you can kick.” Jared thinks Michelle can hear it too; Jensen’s been letting it bleed through too much lately, tired and worn down from the hours they’re working, from the work itself, from this toxic hothouse environment. At least when they were working their asses off on the show, they weren’t literally working their asses off. And God knows, Jensen’s working harder than Jared is—more hours, more clients. “You’re just jealous no one wants your skanky ass.”

Uh-oh. Jared jumps up between Michelle and Jensen as Michelle scowls and takes a step forward, fists balled.

“Children.” Claudia appears in the hallway and quick-fast everyone steps in line, including Michelle. For the thousandth time Jared wonders just what Claudia has on Michelle that makes the younger woman so afraid of her. It’s not respect; that seems to be a foreign concept to Michelle.

“Why do I even allow the three of you together in the same room? It’s like a nursery school playground.” Claudia’s light accent is clipped; her annoyance comes across loud and clear.

Jared feels his face heat just like it did when his mother chastised him at home. Jensen snorts, but remains thankfully quiet. Michelle chuffs too and glares at the room at large, arms crossed defensively. “I was just going to check on something,” she mutters and moves for the door. Claudia stops her with a light hand to her shoulder.

“Wait. I want you to go down to the kennels and bring back some of the towels and pads Stryker uses for the whelping bitches. Just a couple of each will do.”

Michelle’s frown deepens but she doesn’t argue, shoving herself violently off the doorframe to exit the back door.

Jared lets a breath out, glad that whatever showdown Michelle and Jensen are working towards is so easily averted. For the moment anyway.

“Are you keeping them?” Jensen asks unexpectedly, as Claudia turns to go back down the hall.

Claudia pauses, looking surprised herself. “I don’t think I have much of a choice.” She sounds irritated, but there’s a softness to her expression that belies it. She makes a curt beckoning gesture and they trail her down the hall to her office. Jared doesn’t miss her face, either, when she kneels down beside the basket and reaches in to stroke the fluffy head of one of the puppies. She looks almost tender and he thinks maybe having puppies around won’t be a bad thing.

“They don’t like Jared,” Jensen snickers, crouching next to Claudia and lifting one of the so-called puppies out of the basket to hold it up for inspection. Jared grits his teeth when the skinny wiggle-worm in Jensen’s palm licks happily at his wrist and tries to snuggle up against his chest. Still, he likes the way Jensen’s eyes dance when he looks at Jared and says, “I think his feelings are hurt.”

“Whatever. Not my fault they don’t have good taste…like real dogs.”

There’s a quiet, polite cough from the vicinity of Jared’s elbow. He looks down and sees Ernestine, Philomenè’s—one of the chefs—youngest daughter. She’s got Claudia’s breakfast on a tray and the mirror of her mother’s reproachful look on her face. Jared shuffles aside hastily. Even at ten, it’s a pretty fearsome look.

Both he and Jensen were dismayed when they first realized there were so many children at La Hacienda. The second day they were there, Jensen had brushed Jared’s arm lightly and whispered, “Do you think…?”

Thankfully, their fears turned out to be unfounded.

The house and its grounds are truly a family compound. Everyone works. Everyone who’s old enough, anyway, like they’ve gone back in time. The really young kids play in designated safe areas during the day, and all the children mysteriously disappear at night.

Jared finally realized that Claudia was taking no chances on a client with more diverse tastes taking a shine to one of the younger members of the household. It’s one of the many reasons he can’t hate Claudia, as much as he’d sometimes like to.

“Yo. Earth to Jared.”

Jared’s attention is yanked back to Jensen, grinning crookedly up at him from the floor. “Huh?”

Jared takes a step towards him and the two puppies bristle and growl. Jensen’s smile widens. “Claudia asked if you’re ready for tonight.”

Jared watches Jensen’s smile tighten at the corners. He knows Jen is worried about the number of guests they’ve each got booked for the party tonight. Jared doesn’t blame him; if he wasn’t more worried about Jensen, he probably would be too.

So instead he gives Jensen and Claudia his best, cutest smile. “Not a problem. I’m not so old I can’t get it up for a few debutantes.”

Claudia’s expression is ironic. “That’s what I like to hear.”

It still makes him vaguely ill that they live in pretty much palatial luxury compared to ninety percent of what’s left of the world. And things like these puppies—cute, useless and expensive—and parties like the one happening tonight just rub it in deeper. How different things are now. And how much they’ve had to trade, just to stay safe and healthy.

They’re calling it the Governor’s Ball, which sounds pretty and innocuous and almost proper. If what’s left of society in Los Angeles can be said to have a cream, pretty much all of it will be here. That’s where he, Jensen and the others come in. With a lack of other, suitable escorts, they’ve been drafted to both entertain the coming-of-age teens and their elder counterparts.

“So… What’s with the puppies?” Jensen tries to sound casual, but Jared hasn’t seen him so animated since their arrival six weeks earlier. Well, except in their bed. Jensen waves his fingers in front of one of the puppies’ nose and it nips playfully at the tips, squeaking. The other is curled up next to his leg, small head resting on his thigh.

Seated on the edge of her desk, Claudia looks down at Jensen, expression hovering somewhere between amused and annoyed. “Apparently Dr. Shen was well pleased by his visit here,” she says finally, stirring creamer into her coffee and taking a slow, blissful sip. “They’re an incredible luxury; I expect I’ll have to…trot them out tonight.” She grimaces, looking sour.

“Huh. I guess I can see that. Exotic animals as status symbols.” Jared wishes he could get closer, but every time he tries, he gets warned off by that same soprano growl of displeasure. Apparently they’ve adopted Jensen as their king.

“Jay, they’re just dogs. Exotic animals!” Jensen snorts. “So I guess that means we don’t have to worry about Flotsam and Jetsam here ending up as tomorrow night’s dinner?”

“Jensen!” Jared can’t help but sound scandalized, but he’s reminded of the stands they saw in their explorations of the city before taking La Hacienda’s offer—dog meat, cat meat, even rat.

Claudia’s grimace turns to a rueful smile. “Fortunately for all of us, no. And their names are…” She slides the card off her desk and consults it. “Yin and Yang. Good God.”

“They don’t look like any dogs I ever saw.” Jared’s aware he sounds surly—and that Jensen is enjoying it to no end—but he’s never quite seen anything like these little rat-like creatures and he’d yet to meet the dog he couldn’t charm, adding weight to his assertion that they aren’t really dogs at all, just…dog toys.

“I saw some like that at a dog show in Dallas once,” Jensen offers, like that’s proof of anything.

“Jensen, they have bangs.”

Jensen’s expression suddenly turns thoughtful and he looks from the puppies to Jared, eyes narrowed and two fingers stroking his chin. They’ve only been up a few hours and already Jared can hear the faint rasp of stubble.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” Jared demands.

“Well, once you pointed it out, it’s kind of obvious. They do sort of look like a canine version of you.” Jensen’s voice shakes; it’s clear he’s trying to hold back his laughter.

“You are so full of shit.” Jared scowls, disgusted, and Jensen breaks out in loud cackles, startling both puppies. Of course they yip at Jared; little rat-dogs.

“As amused as I am by this exchange, there is still a great deal to be done for tonight’s ball.” Claudia dips her toast disgustingly into her coffee and takes a soggy bite. “And since you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful. Find Michael and remind him that Josh still doesn’t have a tuxedo fitted for him and will need one brought down from storage. And tell him I’ll hold him personally responsible if Paul or Kevin come down in less than proper attire. I will not have any screw-ups tonight.”

Jared still isn’t used to the lightning flashes of Claudia’s mood, almost-human to company-whore.

“Whatever you say, boss,” Jensen drawls, just this side of insolent. Jared doesn’t blame him; Claudia knows how much they hate having anything to do with Michael. Jensen gets up, a puppy in each hand and shoves them at Claudia, who suddenly has to juggle two very disturbed, wriggling animals and her coffee. “Anything else, boss?”

“No, not at this time,” Claudia answers coolly and it’s as good as a dismissal.

They’re out in the hallway when Jared grabs Jensen’s arm. It’s not that Jensen forgot he was there, exactly—you can’t really ever forget about a six-foot five mountain of muscle on your heels—but he realizes on contact that Jensen’s retreated into his own headspace a little bit, gearing up for the inevitable confrontation with Michael.

And the damn thing is, he doesn’t even know why Michael’s got such a problem with him—with both of them. Dark Angel is more than a decade behind them and Michael had moved on to a lot bigger and better things than Jessica. It’s a long time to hold a grudge. A senseless grudge, at that, since Jensen’s the one that shattered on the rocks of that relationship.

“I’ll go find the ass-hat if you want to meet me upstairs,” Jared says, looking more like one of Claudia’s ridiculous dogs than ever. “I know you wanted to set up some kind of bookkeeping system for us to keep track of things.”

Jensen doesn’t expect the heated spurt of irritation that fires in his belly at Jared’s words, nor the edge in his voice when he snaps, “I can handle Michael just fine.”

Jared’s eyebrows flex and his fingers slide slowly from Jensen’s arm. “I didn’t say you couldn’t.”

Jensen grimaces, his mouth feeling tight. “You didn’t have to. It’s written all over your face.”

“I’m so sorry my face bothers you, Jen.”

The sarcasm of the words is contradicted by Jared’s lack of expression and Jensen doesn’t know which irritates him more. Just because he takes it up the ass more often than not doesn’t make him some delicate flower.

Jensen plants a finger on Jared’s chest and leans into him, ignoring that he’s got to look up slightly to do it and still meet Jared’s eyes. “For the record, we’re both full-grown men. And the last time I looked, I’m fairly able to face the world without melting into a puddle of goo on the floor. Stop. Babying. Me.” Poke. Poke. Poke. “I can take care of myself.”

He expects Jared to get angry right back; to flare up at him as quickly and senselessly as he just did. After a split second, he realizes he’s raring for it, blood buzzing through his veins like the one time he tried coke. But instead, Jared just looks puzzled. Hurt.

“Jensen, I just… ”

Jensen sighs and lets his anger drain out of him like rainwater. He’s tired and he’s not looking forward to either the discussion with Michael or the party this evening, but that’s no reason to take it out on Jared.

God, let me be a better man than this, Jensen thinks. I don’t even know if I’m your son anymore; I don’t know if I deserve to be, but please…Jared deserves better.

“No. Wait.” Jensen reaches up and brushes his fingers across Jared’s mouth. He smiles faintly when Jared’s lips pooch out to kiss his fingertips. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t've…” Jensen sighs. “I just shouldn’t've.”

“I don’t like how he looks at you,” Jared says quietly. His hand finds Jensen’s hip, fingers hooking in the belt loop. “I don’t like how he talks to you. I don’t like him.

“I know.” Jensen nods. He knows, too, how bad someone’s got to be before Jared—who even finds room in his heart for that douchebag Chad—says he doesn’t like them. Jared likes everybody. “But me and him…it was a long time ago. Michael’s not a threat to me. And he shouldn’t be a threat to you.”

Jared nods, pushes Jensen away from him and tugs at his shirt. “Some guys don’t need to act like dicks to prove they have one. Too bad Weatherly’s not one of ‘em.”

“Amen, my brother.”

“There’s my boys.” Michael’s voice drips with fake affection when they find him. “What’s up? Need help learning your parts for tonight?”

Jared’s fist clenches at his side. Jensen lightly touches the hard, tense muscle of Jared’s back. Jared pushes back, just a little: message sent-message received.

“Haven’t gotten any complaints yet.” Jensen smiles. “I did hear Claudia mention that you needed a bit more practice, though.”

Michael’s lips press thin and his chin squares. Jensen’s grin widens slightly.

“Naw,” Jared chimes in, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “You know, what I think she said was more along the lines of he needs to work on his stamina.”

Michael takes a step forward until he and Jared are bumping chests. “Look you little bitch,” Michael hisses, “you wanna test my stamina all you need to do is quit hiding behind your little boyfriend and step up.”

“I already know you got nothing to show me,” Jared answers, voice deepening, even as Jensen’s pushing between them, manhandling Jared back. “Nothing at all.”

“Claudia wants you to make sure Josh has a tux for tonight,” Jensen says hurriedly, still forcibly walking Jared back inch by inch. “And make sure that Kevin and Paul put on the right clothes.”

“You think you and your boy-cunt are something special, Jenny,” Michael calls after them, “but you’re just like every other piece of ass in this house.”

“Oh, no.” Jared had been going along more or less agreeably but he suddenly stops dead and no amount of Jensen’s pushing will budge him. “No, you got that all wrong, man. Because Jensen? Is not only the finest piece of ass here, he’s the only one in this place that’s worth a damn.”

It’s startling enough to hear Jared come out and say it. Not that Jensen doesn’t know that Jared feels that way, exactly. It’s just one thing to know and another to hear it, unasked and unsolicited. Jensen’s sense of unreality deepens when Jared tugs him around and kisses him, wet, sloppy, showy. Jensen goes with it though; he backs Jared’s plays just like Jared would back his and God knows there’s no love lost between him and Michael at this point.

It doesn’t matter; it’s only a second before the kiss turns serious. Jensen hooks his fingers in Jared’s belt and tilts his face into it. When they pull apart—without any kind of hurry to it at all—Michael’s gone.

“I think we done chased him off.” Jensen puts on his deepest, most countrified Texas twang just to watch Jared smile.

“Good,” Jared rumbles and backs Jensen into the stairs’ newel post.

Jensen rolls his eyes. “Later, Slutzilla. Michael’s not the only one who’s got stuff to do before the party.” He pats Jared on the chest and then pushes him backwards a foot or so. “You can mark me later or something.”

Jared holds up his hands like a dog’s paws, barks and pretends to hump Jensen’s leg.

They aren’t allowed to come downstairs at the same time.

The men and women of La Hacienda are there because they have something unique, something special to offer the clientele and clodding down the stairs together like a herd of elephant is common and tacky. Or so says the Word of Claudia.

And the Word of Claudia is as good as law.

Jensen already went down five minutes earlier, leaving Jared fastening the cuffs of his shirt and straightening his tie yet again.

It was all Jared could do not to strip Jensen naked and throw him on the bed when he walked out of the bathroom looking so fucking sexy in his crisp, new black tux, sparkling white shirt and forest green silk tie. But there was no time and Jensen was fidgeting and tugging at his collar so much Jared finally laughed at him and sent him off to work, ignoring the daily need he feels to lay claim to Jensen beforehand.

Jared gives himself one last look, ignores the leaden feeling in his stomach and heads out himself. At the top of the stairs, he sees Allie, pretty in pink.

“Do you hate this as much as I do?” she asks, the generous line of her mouth quirking sideways.

Jared smiles back at her. Allie and Jensen know each other from the time they were on Smallville and in the brief time they’ve been together in the house, Jared’s discovered Allie’s good people.

“Maybe more.” Jared nods in careful mock seriousness.

Allie smiles. She’s got a great smile, one that lights up her whole face and seeing it, Jared feels a little of the tightness in his stomach ease. “Well. Here I go. Wish me luck.”

The candlelight in the entryway at the foot of the grand staircase is almost blinding. The ball is just getting started, but already he can hear music and the roar of conversation. Jared really hopes he’ll have time to grab a bite from the trays being passed around by perfectly attired servants before he’s put to work.

His hunger turns sour at the sound and sight of Michael greeting the latest arrivals; a woman around his mom’s age and a younger female of about eighteen or nineteen, probably her daughter. Ah yes. The “coming out” of the debutantes.

It’s always a bit shocking to watch Michael with the clients; smiling, charming…, the person Jared imagines Jensen must have fallen in love with. Michael is being his usual captivating self with the ladies, so Jared tries to sneak around the corner and into the ballroom without Michael spotting him. He’s in no mood for more drama tonight. His luck apparently sucks, though, since he doesn’t get more than a couple feet before he hears his name.

“Here is your escort now, Lydia. I’m sure your beautiful mother won’t mind if he takes you in for the festivities while I entertain her for a few moments.” Jared’s eyes narrow at Michael’s saccharine smile, but he pastes on the pleasant facade of enthusiasm he’s been working on.

“It’d be my pleasure, ma’am.” The rich—exaggerated—drawl of Jared’s accent makes the young woman dimple prettily and Jared holds his arm out as if he’s just picking her up for the prom. That’s his job. Make it all seem normal. And God save them all from a world where this—and everything else he does tonight—is ‘normal’. “Shall we?”

He doesn’t glance back at Michael. Instead, Jared winks at his guest—Lydia, he reminds himself—and leads her into the Grande Salon, where the dancing’s already begun.

It’s six hours later and Jared’s headache just won’t die.

He hasn’t seen Jensen in hours. He tries not to let that worry him, even thought things are finally dying down. Most of the guests have paired off with one of Jared’s co-workers and gone up to one of the bedrooms, or out to one of the cabanas. Jared’s done his duty with his ‘date’ and she scampered off, blushing and giggling, no doubt to gossip and compare notes with her friends gathered outside by the pool. She’d been a virgin. Jared’s trying real hard not to think about that either.

A scattering of guests sit at the tables or stand in small groups, talking and laughing. And if he squints, if he looks sideways, if he lets himself forget for even a moment, then it does look almost normal, an after-hours Hollywood party. No one would ever know this was just a whorehouse catering to the rich while the rest of the world starves and dies.

Jared snaps out of it when he hears his name. Or he thinks he does, at any rate. When he looks, there’s still no one around him. Across the room though…

Jared sort of recognizes the older man standing with Michael. He’s Michael’s ‘patron’; the man that sent Michael to Claudia for retraining, whatever the hell that means. A couple of weeks ago, Jared and Jensen had been feeling claustrophobic and tense and had gone outside to sit by the pool and just breathe.

He doesn’t even remember how they saw Michael. Only that they did; saw Michael and his patron, saw Michael on his knees, spiked leather collar around his neck. He and Jensen hadn’t talked about it, but they’d gotten out of there quickly and Jared, at least, was thoroughly squicked by the lack of expression on both men’s faces. He might have even felt sorry for Michael, if Michael hadn’t gone out of his way to be a total asshole to Jensen just the next morning.

In any case, Jared doesn’t like the looks he’s getting from those two. It makes his skin crawl and all he really wants is for this night to be over so he can be back upstairs in the relatively safe haven of their suite. Just being in the same room with Michael, forced to be civil and not show that all he wants to do is put his fist in Michael’s nose, makes him nauseated. He’s never really hated anyone in his life…until now.

But it’s not the nausea that causes his shoulders to tense and his jaw to clench when he sees Michael nod in his direction and speak softly in the ear of his patron. Michael’s smile is smug. Dangerous.

Jared’s gut instinct is to cut and run, even before the older man motions to Claudia as she passes. Claudia smiles, but even at this distance, Jared can tell it’s a fake. She walks toward them, glass of champagne—still full—sparkling between her bejeweled and manicured fingers.

Jared looks for Jensen again, hoping against hope he’s made an appearance in the meantime. But no, Jensen’s still nowhere to be seen. Jared hears his name from the small group of Claudia, Michael and the guest. Jared thinks he’ll probably regret this, but he sidles closer, casually lounges against the doorway a few feet from the conversation and concentrates on Claudia’s polite but firm voice.

“I’m afraid Jared is not available for those services, Matisse.” Beneath its measured tones, Claudia’s voice could cut diamond. “I’m sure we can find someone else, cheri.” Her tone warms and turns teasing. “Someone more…to your taste? Josh has only joined us this week. He would be more than happy to join you and Michael in your suite.”

Jared winces in sympathy for Josh Holloway, the newest addition to the house stable. He’s not sympathetic enough to volunteer to take his place, however, slinking quietly in the direction of the door. Jensen can find him just as easily in their room.

He doesn’t get far before Michael suddenly cuts in front of him, stiff and icier than usual. “Leaving the party so soon?” Michael’s voice drips both danger and insincerity. “Don’t tell me you’re running out of stamina, Jared, young stud like you?”

“Michael. Just fuck off, will you? I’m not in the mood.” Jared’s headache gives a sudden, gut-churning throb and he realizes he’s clenching his jaw so tight his teeth are squeaking.

“So, it seems you’re quite the little prima donna around here, ‘Jay’?” When Jared steps sideways to go around him, Michael moves with him, like a dance. Light flickers off the rocks glasses in either of Michael’s hands, stabbing into Jared’s eyes like knives. “Your sweet little ass is sacrosanct and I sure would like to know what you did for—or to—Claudia that’s got her protecting you. You’re not that good.”

Jared plants a hand in the center of Michael’s chest and pushes him back. “Look, man, I don’t know what kind of crazy shit you’re on, Mikey, but if any one around here’s being protected, I think it’s you, with your fancy owner. Arf, Arf!”

“Oh, but see…I have to get fucked just like every other poor schmuck here, Jared. Everyone but you, apparently.”

“I do my share, Weatherly.”

Jared pivots again to leave, but Michael’s parting words make him freeze in place, chest constricting tautly: “Yeah. Sure you do. Well, if Matisse and I can’t have you, I suppose your boyfriend will have to do.”

Jared swings back around, but Michael’s already far enough away that Jared would have to shout or go after him and he’s a little afraid of what he’ll do if he puts his hands on Michael.

Lying sack of shit is Jared’s immediate thought, but the truth is that he doesn’t put it past Michael to go after Jensen. Not even a little bit. His stomach clenches at the thought of Michael or Matisse anywhere near Jensen.

Yeah, and what are you going to do about it, Jared?

He looks for Claudia. The madam’s moved on to a different group of guests, flirting and laughing. And as she’d predicted this morning, the puppies are being brought out for the guests to coo over.

She doesn’t spare Jared a glance and he can imagine her reaction if he walks up to her and asks her to keep Jensen away from Michael and his beau. Michael and Matisse have disappeared, as well, and Jensen’s still nowhere to be seen.

Jared’s chest constricts tighter; he rakes a hand through his hair and wonders if he can get to Jensen first. If Jensen can avoid them, then maybe they can avoid the whole situation.

This time, at least. Sickly, Jared’s keenly aware that if Michael—through Matisse—really wants Jensen, there’s very little either of them can do about it other than leave. And they can’t leave.

A sense of helplessness, of helpless fury overwhelms him. His fists ball up tight with the urge to hit things and hurt people. He can’t protect Jensen. He can’t protect Jensen from any of this.

Jared’s thoughts circle darkly, bouncing between anger, guilt, and shame. It surges upward like bile and Jared’s throat turns tight and hot. When he closes his eyes, fighting for equilibrium, white sparks dance behind his eyelids and the world seems to tilt on its axis.

It takes a moment for him to realize that the feeling is more than emotional. The itchy-hot rush of an allergy attack wafts over his skin like a wave; Jared feels the heat of restricted blood flood his face, the panic and terror of not being able to breathe, the weak, spastic flutter of his heart and lungs.

Jensen, he thinks, groping for the wall. In a moment, his legs are going to give way. Jensen.

All he can think about is Jensen, fucking and being fucked night after night, just for him. Always for him.

Even Jensen’s hair hurts. He’s sore, bone weary and he just wants their bed. Normally, after work he likes to wash—more than the fast shower he takes between clients. But tonight, he doesn’t think he has the energy for even that. All he wants is to be able to curl around Jared, bury his face in the sweet smelling spot at the nape of his neck and sleep for a fucking week. Not that that’s anywhere near feasible; it’s three more days until either of them is off again. Apparently, business is brisk.

He scans the ballroom for Jared, knowing it’s pretty late and he might have already retired for the night. Jensen hopes so; Jared could use some rest. He gives a tired smile to Allie, seeing her wave at him from across the room, but the smile fades fast when he sees the expression that accompanies the wave. Allie hurries across the mostly empty dance floor toward him in a clatter of heels.

“Jensen, it’s Jared,” she says breathlessly, tugging him out of the room toward the hallway. “He had an attack. About an hour ago…”

That’s all Jensen sticks around to hear. He leaves Allison standing in the doorway of the ballroom and runs toward the back of the house to the staircase leading up to their rooms.

God, why didn’t they come get him? Why didn’t anybody come and get him? But of course he knows the answer. Don’t be an idiot, Ackles. Nothing disrupts the smooth operation of La Hacienda.


He’s got his hand on the doorknob of the locked pass-through to the staff quarters when Claudia’s voice stops him dead in his tracks. Jensen nearly trips over his own feet. Fuck!

“Claudia,” he says quickly, settling back on his heels, “you know…”

“I know that you’re not finished with your shift until your guest no longer requires your company.” Her tone brooks no argument. They all know The Voice.

Jensen’s teeth grind and he turns to tell Claudia he’s just finished up with his guest, Garrett, when he sees the kid who’s just fucked him ten ways from Sunday standing just behind Claudia. Hiding behind her, more like. Garrett’s smirking at him, self-satisfied and sleek, and Jensen wants to punch his shiny white teeth out more than he’s ever wanted to hurt anyone in his life.

There’s the barest hint of sympathy in Claudia’s dark eyes, but there’s also the serene expectation that Jensen will do as he’s told and perform his duty.

Because what other choice do I have?

“Yes, of course.” Jensen tugs at the hem of his jacket, adjusts his tie—the one he’s just put back on—before walking up to Garrett and placing a hand on his client’s arm. “I apologize, sir. Excuse me for taking your time for granted. Can I get you a drink?”

Apparently, the little shit only wants to make a show of who’s really boss, because he doesn’t actually have it in him to fuck Jensen again; he only manages to drag out a convoluted and tedious story about driving his car along the coastal highway at the daring speed of one hundred miles an hour. Jensen, who once spent several hours clinging to the seats while Rosenbaum drove one-forty down those same switchback curves, is less than impressed. More than that, he’s sick almost to death of these pompous, self-righteous, self-entitled vultures who now think the world belongs to them.

It’s more than an hour later before he can escape. Claudia gives him an approving nod as he beats an exit and Jensen’s hard pressed not to flip her off. Jensen jerks the tie loose and pops the buttons from his shirt left and right as he takes the stairs two at a time. By the time he reaches their suite, the door is opening and the older of the two doctors from the house clinic steps into the dimly lit hall. Jensen skids to a halt and finds his words stuck in his throat, almost afraid to ask.

“He’s resting now,” the doctor—Garner—says. His eyes are kind and heat flares in Jensen’s face at his own transparency. “It was pretty bad this time, though.” Garner pats him on the shoulder. He reminds Jensen of his family doctor from Texas, the one who’d watched over the births and deaths of two generations of Ackles and doesn’t belong here any more than he and Jared do.

“He’s going to be okay, though, right?”

Garner hesitates and Jensen wonders, distantly, if he’s going to puke. Jared’s always bounced back within a few hours, so why was the old man shaking his head?

“He needs rest for a couple of days before he’ll be back to normal,” Garner says. “He’s tired and his body’s stressed from so many attacks so close together. All of this…” The doctor waves his hands vaguely at the house around them, “is wearing on him. And that’s impairing his ability to fight back, when he gets like this. You two keep up like this…”

Jensen shakes his head. “No. I’ll take care of it.” He slides around Garner and grabs the edge of the door with one hand, needing its solidity. “I’ll take care of him.”

Garner sighs and props his glasses higher up on his nose. “Jensen…”

“I got it, doc.”

Garner shrugs and walks off down the hall, grumbling under his breath. Jensen stands on the threshold for a couple beats, trying to contain the way his insides are trembling, and get his game face on before he has to face Jared. Only the lamp on the desk is lit, wan, gold light that doesn’t go as far as the bed. Jensen strains to see Jared’s face, unsure if he’s sleeping.

“I’m awake.” Jared’s voice is quiet, raspy and thick, like his sinuses are full. “Fucking allergies.”

“Hey.” Jensen settles on the edge of the bed, careful not to jostle Jared in any way. He reaches and strokes the hair behind Jared’s ear and then down his shoulder, coming to rest on Jared’s fingers, hot and dry. Jared’s palm turns so their hands fit together. “I tried to come sooner, I… Claudia. I couldn’t. Not till I was done working. I’m so sorry. I tried…”

Jared’s cracked laugh startles Jensen into silence. “I know that, retard. Nothin’ you coulda done anyway.” Jared’s breath sighs loudly in his lungs, like a strong wind through the trees.

Jensen lays two fingers across his Jared’s lips. “You’ll be up and back to normal tomorrow, just like always. Lucky for us you were here where the medicine and doctor are.”

“Yeah.” Jared closes his eyes. “Lucky.”

Jensen looks at Jared curiously, hearing the layers Jared’s put on the words without knowing what they mean. Something besides almost dying again, that’s for sure. Jared’s mouth is pinched tight and white, his jaw sharp enough for Jensen to cut himself on.

“Jay?” He doesn’t know the right question to ask. Usually, Jared’s so easy to read, transparent as window glass, but over the last several weeks, he’s gradually become more opaque. Jensen thought he was the exception, the only person to still see that sunny, open Jared but maybe he was wrong.

And maybe he’s getting tired of you, a voice that sounds a lot like Michael’s whispers from the back of Jensen’s mind.

Jared’s fingers tighten, stronger than Jensen would’ve expected he was capable of. “Did he…? Are you okay? Tell me what you did.”

Jensen blinks and looks at Jared.

“Did Michael find you?”

“Michael?” Jensen repeats. He’s too tired for this, all his earlier fatigue—briefly pushed back by panic—rushing back in to swamp him. He shakes his head. “I haven’t seen him since this afternoon; I think he…”

“Get dressed.” Michael’s clipped words startle Jensen into jumping; he’s that fixated on Jared. Michael stands boldly in the doorway, still decked out in his tux.

Jensen twists and shoots Michael a go-to-Hell look. Jared makes a quiet indecipherable sound in his throat and turns his face away.

“No, fuck that.” Jensen gets to his feet, ignoring the soft pull of Jared’s hand. “I just worked all night, covered three clients. I put in my time.” He’s shaking and he really hopes Michael doesn’t notice.

“You have a special request,” Michael explains smoothly. “You’re a very popular man.”

The thought of letting one more man gag him on his cock, letting one more man pull him apart and jam himself inside… “I did my time,” Jensen repeats.

“Ah, but Jared didn’t.” Michael crosses his arms and Jensen wishes he dared deck him. In a way, Jensen’s almost glad that this happened, that he can see Michael as he really is and wonder what the hell it was he ever saw in Michael in the first place.

“He’s sick!”

“So I see,” Michael agrees blandly. “And a great shame it is, too. Greater shame if he was unable to earn his keep or afford the medicines that keep him functioning.”

And there it is, the threat so thinly veiled it’s see-through. But it doesn’t need to be subtle. Just its existence is enough. As long as Jared’s sick, as long as Jared needs this, Jensen’s stuck and never mind the way his heart’s beating I can’t. I can’t at him.

“I have to shower first,” Jensen says through numb lips. Behind him on the bed, Jared makes a soft, whimpering noise—whether it’s protest or pain, Jensen doesn’t know—and shifts on the creaking mattress.

“Don’t. He wants you dirty.”

Jesus. Jensen scrapes a hand through his hair. “All right. Fine. I still gotta change.”

“Don’t take too long,” Michael says, because he’s the kind of petty son-of-a-bitch that can’t help grinding the boot heel a little deeper.

“Yeah. Fuck off, Michael,” Jensen says because they’ve got him and they know it and thus will give him these petty victories.

Michael bends his head mockingly and leaves.

“Don’t do it,” Jared says breathlessly the moment Michael’s gone and Jensen strips off his shirt. Jared sits up a little, the wheeze in his chest deepening. “Don’t go.”

“Lie down,” Jensen says, stepping over and pushing Jared into the mattress. Jared fights him, but he’s weak from fighting the sickness. His eyes are fierce and ugly though, and Jensen’s stomach flip-flops weakly. “Shut up. I’ll be back soon.” He steps away fast, before Jared can grab onto him.


“Jared. Shut up. I mean it, now.”

Neither one says another word and when Jensen leaves their room, a clean pair of slacks and dress shirt on, but still feeling the ache from earlier abuses, he doesn’t glance toward the bed. He can’t.

“Jared,” Allie says for the dozenth time, “you should try and sleep.”

Jensen hadn’t wanted him left alone; less than five minutes after he’d left, Allie had shown up, still in her pajamas and thick, quilted robe, scratching sleep out of her eyes. He’s told her more than once that he doesn’t need a babysitter and that he’s fine, but she just gives him a look and keeps knitting…whatever it is that she’s knitting.

“I can’t sleep,” he answers peevishly. “How’m I supposed to sleep, knowing what… Knowing?” He breathes out hard, pushing himself up in the bed. It aches deep in his chest, but he can’t keep lying there like a fainting maiden.

It’s not just Jensen, though that’s the worst of it.

But the truth is that, ever since his attack, Michael’s words have been spinning around in his head.

Your sweet little ass is sacrosanct and I sure would like to know what you did for—or to—Claudia that’s got her protecting you.

Somewhere deep inside, he knows Michael is telling the truth. God knows he hasn’t felt protected before now, but when he looks at his time here, certain inalienable facts crawl to the surface. All of his clients have been women or men who wanted to be topped. That client base means he’s been working far less than Jensen; far less than pretty much anyone else. At first, Jared had had a hard enough time getting used to the idea of whoring at all and he’d figured Claudia was just warming him up. He thought the day would come when he’d be expected to perform the same duties as everyone else and he’d been happy enough to leave that day as far in the future as possible.

But Claudia isn’t the fuzzy type. She can be decent, but it’s always eminently clear that she—and La Hacienda—are about business. And Jared can’t see any way keeping him in reserve is profiting La Hacienda in the least. Unless Michael’s right.

Is he really being protected somehow? And, more confusingly, why?

I do my share, Weatherly.

But even at the time, didn’t he know it wasn’t true? This guilt’s been building slowly for a long time. He’d have to be an idiot to not notice that Jensen’s been expected to do more than him when it comes to the whims and sometimes odd requests from La Hacienda’s clientele.

Jared has tried to put Jensen’s worn-around-the-edges look down to the simple fact that they were here, having to do things they never dreamed of just to survive. And Jensen had helped, hand over fist, diverting Jared’s attention every time he tried to bring the topic up, distracting him with everything from a secret cache of gummi worms to blow jobs that left Jared limp and too sated to even talk, let alone formulate a question.

And the kicker, as far as Jared’s concerned, is that Jensen doesn’t even have to be here. He’s healthy. He’s could keep going, make it to Texas, alone if he had to. But instead he’s here, whoring himself. Giving up everything for Jared. Always there to protect him.

Just like Jared’s failing to protect him now.

Jared flings the covers back.

“Jared!” Allie puts down her knitting. “You lay back down, right this minute!”

“Naw, Allie; I can’t just lay here like this.” It’s an effort heaving himself upright, but he grunts his way through it. “I gotta get out of here.”

“Well… I’ll come with you.”

Jared puts a hand on her shoulder, pushes her back down in the chair. “I’ll be all right. You go on to bed. You had a long night too.”


“I’ll take care of Jensen,” he promises. “Go on.”

Allie shakes her head. “Jared. It’s not just ’cause of Jensen…”

Jared smiles. “Allie. It’s cool. Just go on, okay? I promise, I’m fine.”

It takes several more minutes of wrangling. And then it takes Jared pushing Allie bodily out of the room, down the hallway and into her own room before he really wins.

Once he’s got Allie squared away, he goes downstairs, using the wall as support and marker. Initially, he wasn’t sure where he was going—would have denied having a destination in mind—but when he ends up in front of Claudia’s door, he knows this is where he was heading all the time.


When he opens the door of her office, Gina’s seated on Claudia’s desk, completely failing to look dowdy, even in her service uniform. At the sound of the door, Gina straightens, still laughing, and Claudia leans out from behind her, eyebrow lifting. Even though they weren’t doing anything more than talking, Jared feels the intimacy of the moment he’s interrupted.

“Jared.” Claudia’s voice is neutral. Gina hops up from the desk and Jared can see Claudia’s still in her sparkling black and silver gown, though she’s let her hair down from its upsweep. “I heard you weren’t feeling well.”

The embarrassed heat of his face burns a little hotter. “It was just my allergies.” He tugs at the hem of his tee shirt and wishes vaguely that he’d thought to grab a flannel. It’s much cooler outside the staff quarters. “I was hoping I could talk to you.”

Claudia’s hand slides briefly across Gina’s as Gina moves away, an extended not-quite handshake. “And that’s my cue to leave,” Gina says lightly. She pats Jared’s shoulder twice as she passes him. “Don’t keep her up too late, all right, Jared?” Gina asks, too low for Claudia to hear. “She’s tired too.”

Jared nods briefly.

Claudia lets out a sigh and gestures to one of the chairs on the other side of her desk. “You and Jensen may be the death of me,” Claudia says, but she’s smiling as she does it.

“What do you mean?”

A shake of her head, a tumble of unruly hair, and Claudia flicks her fingers at him. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter. What do you need?”

“I wanted to talk about Jensen.”

Claudia sighs again and props her face on her hand. “Of course you do.”

“You’re using him too much. Too hard.”

“You know as well as I do that Jensen only works as much as he wants to. I’m a facilitator, not a pimp.”

“Okay, but he can’t keep this up. He’s tired. He’s more than tired.” Claudia opens her mouth to speak again, but Jared holds up his hand. “Look… We both know I’m not working as hard as I could be.” He swallows past the sudden lump in his throat. “What if I was? Would that be worth it to you, to take it a little easier on Jensen?”

Claudia’s eyes narrow. “What are we talking about here, Jared?”

Now that he’s here and in front of her, his vague thoughts seem more difficult than ever to actually articulate. Jared looks down at his hands, fumbling restlessly over each other between his legs. “We’re talking about me taking on some of Jensen’s clients,” he says finally, the least raw answer he can come up with.

“Jensen has a different client base than you do.” Cheek still balanced on her palm, Claudia’s other hand traces idle shapes on her blotter.

“You gonna make me say it?”

Claudia smiles, though it’s not really a humorous expression. “How’re you going to do it if you can’t even say it, Jared?”

Jared takes a breath. “Fine. We’re talking about me catching, Claudia, bottoming, taking it up the ass, getting sodomized, getting fucked…”

Claudia holds up her hand and Jared lets the rest of his breath out, his stomach quivery and upset now that he’s here and doing this. “All right, fine.”

Jared blinks. “That’s it? All right, fine?”

Her hands spread wide and the corner of her mouth quirks. “You were expecting something else?”

“No, I guess not.” Jared considers. “Um. Thank you.”

Claudia sighs. “I would say don’t thank me, but I suspect it’s as wasted on you as your partner. Anything else?”

“Yeah.” As long as he’s asking, right? “No Michael. No Matisse. For either of us.”

Claudia leans back in her chair, her expression smoothing to something less obvious, less readable. “That could be more difficult. Matisse is an important man.”

“Matisse isn’t the one wants us. Michael is,” Jared points out.

“True enough.” Claudia’s nails tap staccato on the arms of her chair. “But I’m not important enough, in the scheme of things, to go against Matisse. Not directly.”


“Look, Jared…I like you and Jensen. I do.” Claudia rolls her head on her neck as if easing an ache. “But the best I can do is put you in a position to take care of it yourself.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean Michael has power because his patron has power. But Matisse isn’t the only mogul that visits here. You’re good at making friends, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Jared agrees slowly. “I guess I am.”

The shower’s on when Jared gets back to their room. Jared’s kind of surprised; he half-expected—if Jensen had come back and found him missing—that Jensen would’ve torn down the house looking for him, given the way he’d looked when he had to leave.

It’s surprise he feels. Not hurt.

“Hey Jensen?” Jared taps twice on the door and then opens it up. Steam blows out at him like a cloud, thick and heavy, blinding him. He feels sweat break out across his skin instantaneously and his lungs close up a little in shock. He coughs sharply and tries to fan the worst of it away. “Jen?”

“Be out in a minute,” Jensen says and his voice sounds rough, shredded.

“Y’all right?”

“Yeah. Fine.” This is the voice of Jensen closed up and closed off; the smooth, edgeless voice that Jared can’t quite grab onto. He doesn’t know what to make of it, what to do with it. He stands there awkwardly, trying to decide if he should go or stay when Jensen says—mutters, really, “…just can’t get clean.”

The steam’s starting to clear out; Jared can at least make out Jensen’s body through the frosted glass of the stall door. “Jen?” Jared says again, peeking over the door.

Jensen’s head is tilted away from him; the first thing Jared sees is the abrasion on Jensen’s throat, raw and starting to purple. The collar. It’s all he needs to see, opening the shower stall and a tide of ugly thoughts and images floods his brain like sewage. “Jensen.”

“Don’t say it.” Jensen ducks away from him, still scrubbing busily at his skin. “Jus’… You should be laying down, man. I’ll be out in a minute.”

Sometimes, after a particularly bad night, Jensen’s skittish about being touched. Jared’s pretty sure this qualifies. He brushes Jensen’s shoulder and feels him flinch slightly before he pushes into the touch, unspoken signal for It’s okay. I missed you.

There are other bruises on Jensen’s skin—on his shoulder, on his wrists—and the water is only lukewarm, heading towards cold. Jared reaches and shuts it off, then makes Jensen—resisting all the way—turn into his body, wrapping both arms around him.

The moment Jared’s arms close around him, Jensen starts shaking. He tries to pull away, but it’s half-hearted and Jared’s not about to put up with Jensen’s stubborn bullshit. “I’m sorry,” Jared murmurs. Jensen still won’t let him see his face, tilted down on Jared’s collar bone. “I’m sorry. Jen.”

“I just…I can’t, Jay. He… They…”

“Shhhh.” Jared tugs him backwards, reaches for one of the towels on the rack. “Let’s get you dried off,” he says, draping the towel around Jensen and rubbing briskly. “Let’s go to bed.”

Jensen’s face comes up; his lip is split and swollen, his eyes are huge and drugged, the lashes clumped together with wet. “It’s like we’re those fucking dogs, man.”

“Jesus,” Jared breathes, “Jensen.”

Jensen shakes his head, dismissing his hurts. “‘M…I’m okay.”

“You’re not.”

Jensen shakes harder and Jared tightens his arms when he feels Jensen’s legs start to give. Jared’s as strong as he’s ever been; neither of them wants to get soft. He half carries Jensen to their bed, lays him down, curls around him.

“‘S all we are to them,” Jensen whispers. “Fuckin’ ornamental dogs t’yap on command n’ look pretty and fuck whoever they want us to, whenever they want it.”

“It’ll get better.” Jared presses his lips against the back of Jensen’s neck, careful to avoid the scraped places. Never again, he swears, even though he’s not quite sure how he’s going to follow through on that promise. Doesn’t matter; he knows that he will.

“M’sorry, Jay.”

Jared’s arms tighten around Jensen, palm flattening out over his chest. “The hell are you sorry for?”

“I just… I’ll be okay tomorrow. M’just…I’m just kinda fucked up tonight.” Jensen’s slur-twang is getting worse, his shivering fading into occasional tremors.

“I know. It’s okay.” Their combined body heat is warming the bed but Jared fits himself as close as he can against Jensen anyway. Jensen makes a soft noise and snuggles back. “You don’t have to be sorry, baby. We’ll fix it. It’ll get better. I promise things will get better. And then we’ll leave.”

A soft snore answers him, but Jared doesn’t mind. Asleep or awake, he knows Jensen hears him, responds to the sound of his voice. He’ll take Jared’s promise down into his dreams. And no matter what, Jared always keeps his promises. “I promise,” he repeats.
“You’re acting weird tonight—weirder than usual, I mean,” Jensen half-jokes, trying to bring Jared out of the funky mood he’s been in since the Governor’s Ball a week ago.

Barring a mild attack that morning, Jared’s pretty much healthy again, but he’s been…different. Moody. Jensen feels more than a little to blame for the change; Jared’s hardly been able to look at him since Michael and Matisse got their hands on him. Jensen can’t even blame him.

Jared’s in the bathroom of the shabby suite they share and Jensen can barely hear him mumbling over the running water.


Jared’s head pokes out of the open doorway. “I said,” the rest of his very naked body follows and Jensen sees the tube of lube in his hand, “I want you to fuck me.”

Jensen knows he’s standing open-mouthed like a fucking idiot when he should be down on his knees thanking the gods that something right has come out of the all this wrongness, but he just. can’t. move.



Jared’s brow creases in confusion, Jensen corrects himself. “I mean…why now? Why all of a sudden, Jay?”

Jensen has to confess, he’s a bit confused himself. He’s never had a problem bottoming for Jared and they’ve established sort of a rhythm with things. At least until Michael. And now this.

Jared sits on the bed’s edge and coughs, the lube clasped loosely in both hands as he spins it around between his fingers, nervous habit.

“I gotta work tonight.” It’s not really an answer, since they’ve both been working practically every fucking minute since they came to this godforsaken place, but Jensen waits, letting Jared get to it in his own time. Jared clears his throat, another habit, this one new—and hated. “I’m… I’ve gotta…” Jared sighs. “I’m with Gary tonight.”

The surge of molten heat that sears through Jensen doesn’t have a damn thing to do with lust. “No fucking way!” he grits out.

What about our deal? he wonders. What the hell have I been working my ass off for?

Jared just nods, eyes still on the slowly twirling tube in his fingers. “Yeah. And I want… I want you to be the first, Jen.” He sniffles, his cheeks still flushed and feverish looking from this morning’s attack. “Not him. You.”

Jensen glances at the clock and Jared follows his gaze. They’ve got about half an hour before they need to be on the floor. It’s not very long. Not nearly long enough to make it as good, as mind blowing as he wants. But like Jared said to him months ago, there’s no time left to waste.

Jared’s color’s getting deeper and he looks like he’s having second thoughts, but Jensen grabs him and says gruffly, “Yeah. Yeah, okay. It’s gotta be fast, but yeah.”

Jensen kisses Jared one time, slow and sweet and hot enough to make Jared’s cock twitch and take interest and then he arranges Jared on his hands and knees, smoothing his hands over Jared’s shivering skin. This is wrong. God, this is so wrong, nothing like what it should be. What he wanted it to be.

“I’m sorry,” Jensen murmurs. “It…for a first time, it’ll be easier like this.” He reaches for the lube.

Jared reaches back and brushes his fingers down the taut line of Jensen’s thigh, light, ticklish. “Jen, it’s okay. It’s good. I just…” His words crumple and die when Jensen touches him with one slick-warm finger, teasing briefly across before sliding in. Though Jensen’s fingered him a little before; his hips move as if trying to escape the pressure. Jensen uses his other hand to hold him in place. Jared grunts and pants.

“Shhh.” Jensen’s mouth brushes Jared’s spine, just to the side of his vertebra. “It’s just me, Jay. I won’t hurt you; let me in.”

Jared nods. He closes his eyes and Jensen knows he’s trying to relax around that invading finger. Out. The quiet, liquid sound of more lube spurting from the tube and then in again, slicker this time, a little easier.

“Wanted to do this so much,” Jensen murmurs against Jared’s skin alternating between sharp nips. “God, Jay, since I first saw you, your beautiful body. Could hardly remember my lines I was so busy talking to my dick, trying not to embarrass myself over you. I’d think about you all the time. What you’d feel like. Your hair. Your cock. What you’d look like when you come. I wanted you so much.”

As he hoped, the quiet, hypnotic rhythm of his voice—steady, persuasive, rough with want—softens Jared, makes it easier for him to take Jensen’s finger (and then fingers), makes him moan softly when Jensen finds his prostate. Jared braces himself better on his knees and one hand and slips his fingers around his cock, moving his hand in time to Jensen’s thrusts.

“‘Now look at us. I got you. I got you. And even with everything else, Jay… I don’t regret that. I’m glad there’s an us.”

“Now,” Jared says thickly. “Jen…. Fuck me now, please.”

Jensen laughs against his skin. “Always such a polite Texan boy.”

“Mean it.” He pushes back against Jensen’s hands. “There’s not much time.”

Jensen gets still at the reminder. Then he ducks around Jared’s shoulder and turns Jared’s face toward him with his unlubed hand. He looks at Jared a long time, the words stuck on his tongue and in his throat. I love you. I love you so much. Then, finally, Jensen leans in and opens Jared’s lips with his own, pressing his tongue deep and urgently into Jared’s mouth.

The kiss deepens fast and he feels Jared humming against his mouth, feels the movement of Jared’s arm as he jacks himself in time with Jensen’s fingers still easing in and out, spreading him wide.

When he thinks Jared’s had enough time—or at least all the time they have tonight—Jensen pulls back and takes his cock in hand. He closes his eyes as he feels his way between Jared’s legs, brushing the swollen head over Jared’s opening. Jared gasps a little, shivers.

Jensen knows that slower isn’t always easier, but along with the desire to not cause Jared any pain, he wants to savor as much of this as he can. They’ll never have this moment again. There’s really nothing to do for it, though, so Jensen opens his eyes and holds himself as still as he can manage while easing Jared back onto him. Jared’s moan turns pained and Jensen has to blink the sudden, prickling heat from his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he whispers.

“I’m sorry,” he says again as Jared shifts and huffs, quivering around Jensen’s cock buried in him. “I’m sorry, Jay, if we had more time…”

“No,” Jared grits. “No, it’s good.”

“Liar.” Jensen’s voice is shaky; between the quivering tightness of Jared’s body the general fucked-upedness of the situation, he’s barely holding it together.

Jared laughs, an unfunny, wheezing exhalation. “Don’t know how you make this look so good.”

“Because I make everything look good.” Jensen works his hips gently, sliding his cock back and forth, opening Jared as carefully as he can.

He doesn’t expect it when Jared inhales and shoves back sharply, taking Jensen all the way into him. His half-surprised cry blends with Jensen’s. Jensen freezes and just holds them together, fingers taut on Jared’s hips.

“Oh, God, oh, fuck,” Jared swears weakly.

“S’okay, Jay. I got you. Always got you.” A shiver runs down the length of Jared’s spine when Jensen leans over and licks up his back, mouthing at each vertebra until he’s reached the damp warmth at Jared’s neck. He whispers into Jared’s hair. “You feel amazing. I love you so much.”

Jensen says the words because he means them; he doesn’t expect the way they make Jared relax around him the way his fingers and hands could not. Jensen eases infinitesimally deeper and they both groan in tandem.

“Jay. Jared…” Jensen runs a hand up the damp, shuddering length of Jared’s spine. “Touch yourself.” Jared groans. “Do it, baby. Stroke yourself.”

Jared arches his back then balances on his knees and hand to reach and pull experimentally at his half-hard dick. Jensen keeps pumping slow and easy for several moments, letting Jared set a rhythm, before he slowly pulls out and eases back in, just like he did with his fingers a few moments ago. Then he twists his hips and dips down before the next push inside. The reaction is instantaneous.

“Oh god! God, Jensen.” Jared’s thighs spread wider; he pushes back into Jensen urgently.

“‘Good?” Jensen drags his mouth up the path his hand has traced, scraping his teeth across sensitive nerve endings. Jensen’s not a natural top, but he knows what feels good and he knows the right moves. “You like me in you, Jay?”

“S’good,” Jared agrees, slurring. “God, Jen…is this what it’s like for you?”

“Yeah. It’s always like that with you.” Jensen watches the tension in Jared’s shoulders increase, sees the way he’s arching his back into Jensen with each thrust. “Come for me now, Jay. Wanna watch you coming while I fuck you.”

Jared reacts to Jensen’s dirty talk the same way Jensen always reacts to Jared’s hands touching him. Usually, it’s just fun to get Jared all worked up with just words, but tonight Jensen thanks God he has that edge. He rocks into Jared, pulls almost all the way out, then drives back in, jarring Jared’s arm so that he scrabbles for purchase in the sheets.

“Harder,” Jared gasps. “I’m almost… Need it harder. Please?”

“Yeah, baby. Okay.” As first times go, this could have been so much better. If they’d only had time, if Jensen could only lavish the time and attention on it that he wanted. But at least he can be satisfied that at least Jared’s first time isn’t with a stranger who doesn’t know him, doesn’t care about him.

Thank you, God. Thank you for giving me—us—this. Next time—if there is a next time—I swear I’ll make him scream, it’ll be so good. I’ll make it as good for him as he always makes it for me.

Sweat trickles down Jensen’s face, between his shoulders, down his spine. He hadn’t realized he was so close, but imagining how good he’s going to make it next time…in a split second his balls ache, he’s so close. “Jay. Jay, fuck, I’m gonna…”

“Come inside me, Jen. Wanna feel you come. Want you first.”

That does it. Jensen grits his teeth so hard his jaw aches so as not to scream the rafters down. He pulls—yanks—Jared in, one last time and lets his orgasm roll through him.

Jared’s still working toward his; as soon as Jensen can think and breathe, he wraps his hand around Jared’s. Rather than help, though, he stops the frantic movements. Jared makes a breathless, protesting noise.

“Let me,” he says and pulls out as gently as he can before pushing Jared back over on his back. Before Jared can do more than blink at him, Jensen leans over and takes Jared in his mouth.

“Jen…Jensen…” Jared arches up and Jensen hums around him.

Still blissed out from his climax, it isn’t the best blow job Jensen’s ever given, but it doesn’t have to be, close as Jared is. Jared bucks again, grabs Jensen by the hair. It’s less than a minute before Jared twists, cries out and spills. Jensen licks down every drop he can before straightening up and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

Jensen’s voice fails him; he really can’t scrape it together to speak, but it seems okay. Jared’s happy-lazy smile, the look of gratitude and love on his face says everything they need.

Jared closes the door behind them and turns to the bar, as he’s been trained to. “Can I get you a drink, sir?”

Gary sits on the edge of the bed and puts his hands on his knees, looking oddly fatherly and Jared can definitely not be thinking that if he’s going to go through with this. “Yeah, sure.” Gary waves one hand. “Whiskey. Rocks.”

Jared feels just a little proud at how steady his hands are. As he brings the drink, Gary says, “So Claudia tells me you haven’t done this before.”

Jared feels his foot drag on the carpet like he’s going to trip and corrects himself hastily. “Yes, that’s right.”

Gary takes the rocks glass and sips the whiskey, eyeing Jared over the lip. Then, licking his upper lip, he says, “So let me see.”

You’ve done this before, Jared reminds himself, hands floating to the buttons of his closefitting black shirt. He hates the clothes they make him wear for work, however expensive they are; somber, dark things that fit too tight. Even under the circumstances, he’s glad to take the shirt off, letting it whisper gracefully to the floor. He holds Gary’s gaze without really seeing him, something Allie taught him to do, while Gary slowly sips his whiskey. Jared lets his slacks slither down his legs before he steps out of them and kicks them aside.

Gary takes a deep breath, loud in the quiet, as he looks Jared over; Jared feels the habitual flush heat his skin, but his tricks seem to like it. He tries not to think about that too much. His cock is still soft between his legs, but Jensen had said that would be okay.

Don’t worry about getting hard; he likes it better if you don’t. Jared really doesn’t want to think about that a lot, either.

“Turn around,” Gary tells him, sounding stifled and thick-voiced. “Show me what I paid for.”

Jared’s teeth bite the inside of his lip, but he does it. He hears Gary set the clinking glass down on the carpet and steels himself for when hands—one warm and the other cool-damp—touch his ass. He bends to the slight pressure on his lower back and lets Gary spread him wide.

Jensen had helped him clean up…there, afterwards and then helped him lube up for this; so much lube, Jared could practically feel it squish as he walked. He didn’t complain. But now, he hopes Gary can’t see any evidence that Jensen was here before him; he suspects Claudia is making a lot of money off his “virgin” ass, and he needs his cut of it.

Gary’s forefinger, thick and still cool, brushes across Jared’s hole and makes him shiver involuntarily from head to toe. Gary’s breathing is heavier, almost panting, and Jared feels it against his skin, dragging up goose bumps as Gary traces Jared’s rim around and around.

Suddenly, that finger jabs into him, without warning, and Jared can’t help the noise that rips from his throat, high-pitched and startled. His hips start to buck forward, to get away from the invasion and it’s only with effort that he makes himself be still, thighs trembling. He’s acting just like he’s supposed to. Except it’s no act.

“Tight.” Gary sounds deeply satisfied; his free hand slips around the spur of Jared’s hip, holds him in place. Jared doesn’t know what to do with his hands; he rests them on his knees and concentrates on his breath, tries not to think about the stranger with a finger up his ass, which is not really easy, even after all this time. He knows some of the others pretend that it’s someone they like, someone they’re interested in, attracted to, but the thought of superimposing Jensen’s face and body over one of these people makes Jared feel sick and he just can’t do it. Maybe he’s just not a good enough actor.

In any case, without the pressure to get aroused, it’s a little easier to think about nothing as Gary works that one finger in and out of him; to take his mind and put it somewhere else. He used to try and think about Texas, the freedom of the sky there, but that got to be too depressing after a while, making it seem too much like a pipe dream than someplace he and Jensen will really end up and he’s not ready for that. They will get to Texas and then he won’t have to dream about anything. Most of the time now, he thinks about the ocean instead, the steady roar of the waves like white noise. Gary bumps across Jared’s prostate and he jumps, feeling it tingle down in his dick, but it seems accidental more than design.

“Get on the bed,” Gary tells him, finally withdrawing. Jensen had done a lot more fingering; Jared wonders how much this is going to hurt and how much of that is what gets Gary off.

“How do you want me?” he asks, straightening. His back hurts a little from being hunched for so long.

“Hands and knees.” Gary’s unbuttoning his shirt. Underneath he has on a white undershirt that strains over his middle-aged paunch, iron gray chest hair curling over the neck and dotting his shoulders. “It’ll be easier for your first time.”

The unconscious echo of Jensen’s words makes Jared’s blood run cold, but he doesn’t let it show as gets the bottle of lube and a strip of condoms from the nightstand and places them on the bed. He climbs onto the mattress after them and arranges himself. His fingertips dig into the coverlet as he listens to the rasp of Gary’s breath and the soft rustle and clank of his clothes as he undresses. Then Gary’s hands are on Jared’s thighs, pushing them apart and Jared can’t help the way he tenses up.

Gary’s thumbs soothe along the tendons, brisk but not unkind. “Are you scared?”

His voice isn’t unkind either, and Jared’s head dips almost to his chest, a shiver running through him. “Yes, sir.”

He doesn’t expect the kiss Gary presses into the skin of his back, searing and oddly gentle. “I won’t hurt you, Jared.”

Jared doesn’t really believe him, but he nods jerkily, glad of even the lie of kindness. Tardily, he remembers to come down off his knees and help Gary with the condom and the lube, rolling the latex sheath onto Gary’s wide, thick cock and slick it up. It’s weird, unfamiliar; usually he’s tending himself this way, not the client. It’s not so weird he can’t do it, though his hands are clumsier than usual, spotting the blanket with spilled lube. He wonders cynically if Claudia will add dry cleaning to his charges.

Gary holds Jared’s hand on his cock, fucking loosely into Jared’s grip. With the other hand, he pushes Jared’s hair back from his forehead, flirts his thumb across Jared’s cheek. Gary looks hungry and at the same time, forlorn, like Jared has something he wants, something more than just his tight ass. “You’re so pretty,” Gary says in a soft voice that matches the half-broken look on his face. Jared’s face heats up. Jensen’s the pretty one; Jared’s heard himself called lots of things—to his face and by the press—but pretty’s never been one of them. “So fucking pretty.” Gary’s thumb slopes down, traces across Jared’s bottom lip before it forces its way inside. It’s almost instinct to suck.

“Turn over,” Gary says finally, and Jared goes back to his knees, hands pressed flat to the mattress. Gary pushes Jared’s thighs wide again and it’s way too soon before he’s pressing the head of his cock between Jared’s cheeks. Not even trying to mount him yet, just stroking back and forth, making Jared feel him.

Gary’s cock thrusting into him is like the intrusion of his finger; sudden, shocking, and Jared makes the same skittish noise, rocking forward until Gary’s hands tug him back. Please, Jared wants to say, Please, don’t but he asked for this, asked Claudia to let him do this and so he bites his lip instead, tasting blood.

“God,” Gary groans. “So fucking tight.”

Jared breathes through his nose and tries to concentrate on anything but the feel of Gary working himself in. He doesn’t know how Jensen can do this; not just with clients, but even with him. For all the pleasure Jensen brought him, it feels like there’s so much pain and awkwardness. He wonders if he’ll get used to it. He wonders if he wants to.

Gary’s hand slithers from Jared’s hip to his belly and then down, into his (ridiculously) aesthetically trimmed pubic hair. Jared’s still soft, dangling limp, and Gary makes a pleased grunt when he cups Jared’s cock in his fingers.

…he likes it better if you don’t…

“Good boy,” Gary whispers. “Now come on, make some noise for me.”

Jared doesn’t mean to, but he can’t help it when Gary fucks him. It’s not that Gary’s particularly rough, even, but the pointed and mechanical rhythm of his cock pounding—somehow missing that pleasurable spot inside Jared on every damned thrust—and the possessive cup of his hand around Jared’s flaccid cock is unnerving in a way that Jared doesn’t really have the words for, only these quiet, hurting noises that sound too much like sobs to him. He digs his fingers and toes into the soft yield of the mattress and hangs on until it’s over.

Gary kisses him afterwards, messy and sated, but he doesn’t linger long and Claudia, with her devious, intuitive brain, scheduled him as Jared’s only client of the evening. When Gary’s gone, Jared closes the door behind him and sinks slowly into one of the straight backed chairs nearby. He stares at the rumpled, mussed bed, empty and sore. I’ll get dressed and leave in a moment, he thinks. I just…need a minute. Jared puts his head in his hands. Just one minute.

Jensen wants to look casual when Jared comes back, wants to make this not weird. But it is weird, it’s really fucking weird when less than a year ago he was an actor working his way up to some moderate fame with a costar he really liked and now he’s nothing but a whore and Jared is too.

No, he thinks and rakes a hand through his hair. Don’t think like that. That’s how they’ll beat us, buying into what they want us to believe. You’re still you. Jared’s still Jay. And all this will be over soon and we can put it behind us forever.

It’s harder to believe that after watching Jared go downstairs to sell the one thing he hasn’t shared with anyone else besides Jensen. Hard to hide the burn of his jealousy, the edged spikes of his rage. Hard to smile and suck and fuck and know that everyone’s had a piece of him anyway and what does it matter if Jared’s down there peddling his ass?

Turns out it matters a whole helluva fucking lot.

He’s been sitting here on the edge of their bed since Jared left, just staring down at his locked hands and aching like they just went twenty rounds with the stunt coordinator, Lou. Every set of footsteps down the uncarpeted hall tightens his shoulders like they’re on a crank and he doesn’t know if he’s more worried that it’s another ’special request’ for his services or that it’s Jared.

Is it going to be different now? Is he even going to want me to touch him anymore? Or worse, not want me to touch him?

He can live with it if Jared doesn’t want to have sex with him. Sex is just…he can live with it if Jared doesn’t want to have sex. But what if Jared can’t stand for Jensen to touch him at all anymore? What if he can’t stand for anyone to touch him?

Jensen’s hands squeeze a little tighter, flesh and bone creaking in protest.

In some weird way, this has brought it all home to him, how things are, what they’re doing. It’s one thing to fuck some guy or chick you don’t give a damn about; he’s done his fair share of that even when he was giving it away for free. It’s different when you’re forced into trading something you thought was yours, something more than you were really willing to give.

The door opens and Jensen curses himself for losing track of his surroundings, of time. He looks at the old battery powered clock on the nightstand. It’s late. He looks at Jared and his tongue thickens and sticks to the roof of his mouth. He doesn’t know what to say.

Jared looks tired—Jesus, so tired—and kind of red-eyed like he’s got another attack coming on. He smiles, though, and in it, Jensen can see his relief, his pleasure in seeing Jensen here waiting for him. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Jensen finds it in him to smile back at Jared, because he can’t not. He’s not sure what else to do, though, until Jared toes off his house slippers and comes across to the bed, towering above Jensen even more than he usually does. This close, Jensen can see Jared’s starting to shake, tiny trembles that hardly show unless you’re looking for them. Jensen’s looking. It makes his fingers unlock for what feels like the first time in hours—and it might be—rising to bracelet Jared’s arms, not too far above the wrist, and tug him down.

Jared goes to his knees with a loud thunk, gracelessly and with a speed that has to hurt, even through the rug they put down next to the bed to shield them from the morning’s cold. Jensen threads his hand through the sides of Jared’s hair, pushing the bangs back with his thumbs so he can look at Jared unobstructed. He wants to say that Jared’s too young to be here—that they both are—but Jared’s not even the youngest whore here and in any case, you do what you have to do. Survival isn’t a question of age.

“Are you okay?” he asks finally. And Jared’s a dude, so he knows what Jared’s going to say because it’s what he’d say if the positions were reversed. What he does say, every fucking night when he comes back to what little sanctuary he finds in this room, with Jay. But because Jared keeps asking, he’s learned there’s a certain comfort in just being asked the question.

Jared’s shaking gets worse, rumbling through Jensen’s body where they touch. Jared’s forehead dips to rest alongside Jensen’s and he nods, bones rubbing. “I’m fine.” His arms go around Jensen tight, crushing, his breath ragged. “I’m fine, now.”

Jensen feels the wet heat of Jared’s breath against his ear and wraps Jared in his arms. They stay like that for a while, long enough for Jared’s ragged breathing to smooth, and then Jensen tugs him up onto the bed. They jockey and push, tangling together.

“Love you so much.” It’s still not easy to say the words. Jensen feels like he’s just begging for a jinx, but the words mean something to Jared. And Jared means everything to Jensen.

He’s not expecting the muffled sob from Jared, or the way Jared’s arms tighten so hard around him he can’t breathe. Then, slowly—tardily—he gets it. He gets it in the pit of his stomach and the core of his heart. “Jay. It’s true, baby. No matter what. Forever. I love you.”

It’s so difficult to think of their future. To think more than a few minutes, a few hours ahead. But Jensen needs Jared to believe him. Because it’s true and he knows…he understands how much Jared needs to know that now. He pets and strokes Jared’s hair and murmurs nonsense and reassurances until the shaking subsides.

It’s not until Jensen feels the deep, steady rise and fall of Jared’s chest that indicates sleep that he allows himself to relax. Well, no. Not relax, but at least he feels his muscles ease, feels the beat of his heart steady to its normal pace.

This can’t happen again. Claudia had given her word—no bottoming for Jared—and he really thought her word was as good as a signed contract. He’d been so fucking stupid.

He lies there a few more moments, (feeling Jared breathe) just to make sure Jared’s out, before he eases himself from beneath his warm body. He tucks the blankets around Jared so he won’t miss Jensen’s body heat. A minute later and Jensen’s pulling their suite door shut, slowly and quietly until he hears the latch click into place.

He’s got some business with Claudia that won’t wait until the morning.

The light is still on in her office, a knife of incandescence beneath her door slicing through the darkened hallway. Jensen doesn’t hesitate for a second. Raps sharply twice, his hand already turning the doorknob. Claudia looks up from her eternal books, eyebrows arching above her beady, coal black eyes. Jensen doesn’t even try to hide his rank fury.

“You lying bitch. We had a deal. I sat right fucking there and thanked you. I guess you’re not the honorable businesswoman you’d have us believe.”

One eyebrow lifts even higher and she purses her lips for a split second before arranging her features in a noncommittal expression that only infuriates him more. “Why have a seat Jensen. To what do I owe the pleasure of this…visit?”

He’d like to say he’s surprised by her, by her nonchalant attitude, but he isn’t. More and more he wonders if he can be surprised by anything anymore. “We had a deal,” he repeats. “I would do all the bottoming—for myself and Jared’s clients. You promised me!”

He hates how much he sounds like a kid having a tantrum, hates that he’s powerless to do more than this—rant and rave and stomp his feet about how unfair it all is.

Claudia lays her pencil carefully down across the open ledger and clasps her hands together loosely. “You’re right. We had a deal, Jensen.” She raises a finger for silence when Jensen opens his mouth. “Now I have a new deal. With Jared. He is a grown man, Jensen. Perfectly capable of making his own decisions. And his own arrangements.”

Now Jensen is speechless, letting her words sink in. Letting the realization of what they mean soak through the haze of anger he’s been riding.

“Jared came to me. And Jared has agreed, among other things, to lift all restrictions on his—activities. I’m not his mother; I see no reason not to grant his request, especially when it results in greater profitability for the two of you in the long run.”

Jensen finally finds his voice. “That’s bullshit, Claudia.” He leans over her desk, in her face, hands fisted and knuckles down. “I’m the one with experience. I don’t want him… I don’t want him having to do that!”

Claudia stands, almost of a height with Jensen in her heels.

“It is not up to you,” she says slowly, over enunciating each word. “As I said to you the first time this matter came up, I have a business to run. Jared made this request. Jared did. If you have a problem with this, I suggest you take it up with your partner and stop bringing your domestic squabbles to me at all hours of the night.”

Jensen growls so deep he feels it in his chest, his stomach, his balls. He’s been playing avoidance games with his rage all this time, feeling it creep up to poison everything around him and then tamping it back down deep because there’s nothing he can do about it anyway. But at Claudia’s smug, overconfident, patronizing, infuriating words, he can feel the moorings holding it down tear free.

When Jensen becomes aware once more, his fist is pounding at the paneling of the office wall. The thin wood paneling has a hole in it and the plaster beneath; his hand is buried to the wrist, splinters gouging and scraping the skin. Dazed, he pulls it back. The knuckles are scored and bleeding freely. He can’t quite uncurl it, a deep sense of wrongness in the bones.

The pain is a relief , draining him of more than a few cc’s of blood. He sags to his knees, holding the offending wrist in his good hand and watching the gore twine down his bent fingers and patter on the wood.

“Are you quite done?”

Jensen’s back stiffens, but there’s not enough left in him for real anger. “I don’t know.”

“Well, before you decide to have another go at it, you might want to consider that whatever extra credits your boyfriend earned tonight for his special services have just been eaten up in repair costs for your foolishness.”

“What?” His back twangs and twinges when he turns to look at her. Claudia’s expression hasn’t changed, though her eyes look a little more hooded than when all this began. If anything, she looks bored.

“Costs for damages and repair will, of course, be debited from your account, as per your contract,” Claudia reminds him. “The House cannot be held responsible for your ill temper.”


“Now, go to the clinic and get your hand bandaged.” She grimaces, reaching across the blotter for her pen. “As your wounds are, again, self-inflicted, the cost for your medical care will be drawn from your accounts as well. Further, I will be unable to assign you to any clients until your hand is healed.”

“You’re not serious.”

“I am completely serious. La Hacienda has a reputation to maintain. Only the best. And you, Jensen, are not at your best. You need to go get your hand fixed and then get right, because this cannot happen again.” Claudia pauses, obviously waiting for Jensen to make some kind of response. When he returns only silence and the heat of his glare, she nods. “You may go.”

He gets up clumsily, still cradling his hurt hand. The initial knife stab of pain is turning into a dull and nauseating throb. He’s on the threshold when her voice catches him again:

“Oh, and Jensen. I sincerely hope you realize I could have had your profitable ass kicked out of here tonight. Not just my office, but from the house. La Hacienda would be closed to you forever. Think of that next time you decide to take your frustrations over your personal life out on me.” She pauses again, but—even not facing her—Jensen knows better than to think she’s done: “Or my property.”

Jensen’s nod is so stiff it feels like the bones of his neck grate together.

“What’s that?”

Jensen’s hand tries to fist more tightly, sending razor shards of pain all the way to his shoulder. “Yes,” he says through his teeth. “I understand.”


“Goddamn it to hell.” It’s really rare that he’ll swear like that, though he does his share of cussing. Still, looking at the glowworm of light coming from underneath his and Jared’s door—a light he knows damn well wasn’t on when he left—Jensen feels pretty justified.

He almost turns around to go back downstairs; maybe hit the good stuff in the liquor cabinet, maybe just sleep on one of the salon couches. So what if he has to pay for it out of his next week’s worth of wages. But that thought brings him back to exactly how much of their money he’s lost today, how much of their freedom.

Instead, he squares his shoulders and flexes his hands—hand—bracing himself for the coming scene. Jensen’s resolute expression is ruined by a wince and indrawn breath when he remembers that right hand isn’t going to be doing any flexing, or anything else, for awhile.

He’s not at all surprised to see Jared sitting up in bed and thumbing tiredly through a dog-eared, year-old issue of People magazine. He looks almost worse than when he came up from his shift and Jensen wonders uneasily if anything else disastrous happened while he was gone. Jared could have had another allergy episode and Jensen wouldn’t have been there to help.

“What happened to your hand?” Jared asked, his voice hovering somewhere between outraged and appalled. The question was followed immediately by “Are you okay?”

Jensen hates the look on Jared’s face; the expression he never had until the world fell apart: suspicion, wariness, and his strange, dogged protectiveness. It’s the look he sends every stranger they meet, in or outside of La Hacienda. Jensen thinks he hates more that Jared feels it necessary to turn the look on him, like Jensen’s planning to hurt him.

It’s clear to him that they need to talk this out. The fact is, Jared shouldn’t be bottoming. He doesn’t have the experience, and moreover, he’s not nearly as jaded as Jensen. It’ll destroy him, destroy the bright, brilliant person Jensen fell in love with four years ago and that is simply unacceptable. Completely unacceptable. Surely Jared has to see that. So Jensen will be sober and reasonable and Jared will see the light. And then tomorrow, they’ll talk to Claudia again. Simple.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Jensen meant to be reasonable. He had a plan, for fuck’s sake. But it would seem his mouth has other plans, all the frustration of his interview with Claudia still seething inside him like boiled poison. And despite the Vicodin the doc gave him in the clinic, his hand is throbbing like a mother fucker. And…and he had a plan.

Jared is gaping at him. Fucking gaping, open-mouthed, like he doesn’t even fucking know what Jensen’s talking about.

“I had it covered. You were fucking safe.” Jensen throws his hands up and hisses as gravity just makes the pain pulse through his wounded hand worse. “You didn’t have to do this. I was handling the damn situation. But you just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? You had to go and fuck it up. Why, Jay?”

“Are you kidding me?” Jared asks, and his face is slowly shifting—like tectonic plates shifting before an earthquake—from shocked to something else. Something a lot like anger. “Are you kidding me? You’re not seriously telling me that you’re the reason Claudia’s had me on the sidelines all this time?”

“What else was I supposed to do?” Jensen demands. Someone bangs on the wall next to theirs and Jensen lowers his voice hastily, not wanting Claudia—or Michelle or Michael, for that matter—to get involved. “You’d never been fucked before, Jared. That’s not who you are.”

“Oh, but that’s who you are?” Jared makes a disgusted noise in his throat. “You know, baby, if you wanted it up the ass so badly, all you had to do was ask.”

It hurts, like a kick to the sac. Jensen makes a sick sort of sound that seems to be some horrible cross between sob and laughter.

“You don’t get to decide for both of us, Jensen. You don’t get to…go behind my back and make deals that fuck both of us up.”

“Fuck both of us up how?” Jensen asks, eyes widening. “We were doing fine, Jared; I had it all under control…”

“It was killing you!” It’s not a shout, not even close, but it might as well have been for the way it hits Jensen, actually rocking him a step back on his feet. Jared gets up from the bed, almost tripping over the sheet in his haste to cross the room and jab Jensen in the chest with one long finger. “You think I didn’t notice? You think I didn’t see? God, Jen…do you think I like watching you working yourself to death on my behalf? What kind of monster do you think I am?”

It’s the word ‘monster’ that gets him, throwing him from his towering fury into a kind of blind, black panic. His mouth open and closes weakly without being able to bring any sound out of it; he feels sweat spring out of his skin and his eyes burn.

“You had me safe?” Jared jabs him again and for such a large man, he’s really got quite pointy fingers. “You had it covered? What about me, Jensen? What am I, four? Jesus, listen to yourself.”

I did it for you, Jensen thinks, still stubbornly, horribly mute.

“What happened to the whole ‘you don’t have to baby me’ speech? What? You think that only applies to you? Last time I looked I’m a grown man, just like you. Okay, so I’m not as worldly as you. Does that mean I don’t get a say? In my own life? Huh?”

Jensen shakes his head. He’s not even sure which of Jared’s accusations he’s responding to.

“You don’t get to baby me, either, asshole! You think you’re so smart. You think I’m so stupid? I see how tired—how exhausted—you are. I see the way you tighten up every night when you’re getting dressed to go downstairs.” Jared’s eyes are welling up, too bright and too large; tears are tracking down his cheek now. “You think I want you fucking Michael and fucking Matisse, to make up the money and time I couldn’t because I was sick. God, Jensen!”

Jensen just falls back against the door and slides down it to the floor, too tired to keep holding himself up like this. He rubs his face—or tries to—before he grimaces and drops his bandaged hand to repeat the gesture with his left. And then he closes his eyes because he can’t stand for Jared to keep looking at him like that. Wishes he could close his ears as easily.

“Jensen?” Jared sounds confused again and Jensen doesn’t know if that’s an improvement or not.

Jensen just breathes, not at all certain they’re not both going to wind up with smashed up hands tonight. But it wouldn’t be the first time he’s been hit. He knows how to take a punch. And maybe—ah, hell, more than maybe—he deserves it.

But instead, there’s only a dull thud as Jared drops to his knees in front of Jensen. Jensen opens his eyes and sees Jared looking at him with that same combination of incomprehension and love. He hates that the love is the harder of the two to deal with. Especially when Jared reaches to cup his face in both ginormous hands. “Jen. We’re partners, yeah?”

Slowly, Jensen nods.

“Yeah. Well, that’s a two-way street. We protect each other. Right?”

Jensen is frozen, his gaze locked with Jared’s and can’t find the words to…what? apologize? explain? Jared repeats, “Right?”

And Jensen feels it slipping. Feels himself moving past any hope of self control now. All the anger, the pain, both mental and physical, the confrontation with Claudia… It’s too much and he’s tired. God Almighty, he’s so fucking tired and Jared is right there trying to be fucking nice to him after Jensen went and fucked things up and it’s too much, you know? It’s too fucking much.

“I’m so sorry, Jay.” He pushes Jared’s hands away so he can replace them with his own, hiding his face as deep, racking sobs scald their way out of him, shaking his shoulders and making his hand hurt. Making his whole body ache like a dull and rotten tooth. “Fuck. I’m so sorry. I just wanted…just wanted to keep you safe. And all I did was make it worse. I just fucked it up.” He puts his head down, ripped and gouged wide open and sobbing like an insane person and he keeps trying to clamp down on it, but it’s like his hand; the muscles won’t work and he can’t close himself back up.

Jared’s shushing him, one hand bracing his shoulder and the other stubbornly finding its way to his face. “You didn’t fuck it up, baby,” Jared whispers.

Jensen lets his hands fall, blinking. “I did. I lost it in Claudia’s office. I lost it and busted up my hand.” He wipes his sleeve across his nose, leaving a messy wake of snot and tears. “I busted up her wall and my hand. And she’s going to take it out of our accounts, Jay. All that extra you made tonight for offering up your supposedly virgin ass? I blew in less than a minute because I was just… I was just…” His head ducks. “I don’t even know. Fuck. What are you even doing with me?”

Jensen pulls loose and scrabbles away to sit on the bed. Jared lets him go, but then a moment later, he’s coming over to crowd next to him. “I’m so sorry,” Jensen repeats. It feels like he could burn the whole house down with the heat of his shame.

Jared’s arm circles Jensen’s waist and he feels himself being tugged into the curve of Jared’s side. He’s too tired to even make his customary fight. “Listen to me,” Jared says, “’cause I’m not going to repeat myself. The money? Big fucking deal. I’m not worried about the money. Christ. This isn’t about the money, Jen. Even if I don’t have the extra from being a “virgin” I’ll still draw more for bottoming now. We’ll still get out of here.”

“I don’t want you doing that,” Jensen insists. And now he’s trying to pull away and, as usual, Jared’s not letting go. “I don’t want you to have to do that. Jared…”

Jared leans over and kisses him, soft, wet and open-mouthed. Jensen’s lips open from the pressure and rub of Jared’s against him and then Jared’s tongue is mixing around his, not exactly possession, certainly not surrender. After everything they’ve been through, Jensen didn’t know he could be more scared of all of this, more hungry, but the kiss brings it all up in him, this horrible, yearning desperation. He grabs onto Jared’s tee-shirt with his good and bad fingers, ignoring the pain.

“Neither one of us likes this,” Jared says, when finally they slip apart. Jared’s pushed him down into the mattress, braced over him on one arm. “And that’s just something we’re going to have to deal with. This sucks, Jensen. Anyway you look at it. But you’re not the only one who’ll do whatever it takes. Anything for us. You don’t get to be a hero by yourself.” Jared smiles crookedly and Jensen has to look away again. “You don’t have to be the strong one all the time. We do it together and we share. Everything.”

“I know that,” Jensen grumbles.

“Then fucking act like it,” Jared replies, without heat.

Jensen reaches up and tugs Jared down to him again. Jared’s hair is soft and still smells like sleep as Jensen rubs his face into the side of Jared’s neck, nipping and licking at the tender flesh in places that only he knows drive Jared wild.

Jared bracelets Jensen’s wrists, being careful of his bandaged hand, and raises Jensen’s arms over his head, pinning them to the mattress. The look in his eyes is darker than Jensen’s used to, troubled, and Jensen feels taut with the awareness that Jared’s been through his own version of hell tonight too. Jensen isn’t the only one that needs this, needs to ground himself in them.

“Please, Jay?” Jensen doesn’t mind begging, if that’s what it takes. “Please? Can we…? I just want you. I just want you.”

“Shhh.” Jared’s hands tighten on Jensen’s wrists, warning and reassurance both. Jared’s eyes search his, flickering and uneasy. It’s been a bad night for them both; leave it to Jensen to make it worse. “Jensen, I…” Jared’s tongue wets his lips while his body grinds a more insistent message against Jensen’s. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

A dozen responses run through Jensen’s mind: it’s okay, you won’t, I don’t mind, please… but in the end, he settles for simple and spreads his legs wider, canting his hips so he can wrap them around Jared.

Jared exhales sharply and his head drops onto Jensen’s shoulder, teeth scraping rough across the bone before he sucks Jensen’s skin hard enough to bruise. They’ve never been…delicate with each other, but Jensen feels the difference in Jared, a wildness just below the surface. “Jensen,” Jared murmurs again, voice splintering.

“It’s okay.” There’s not much he can do, pinned under Jared’s weight, but Jensen pitches everything he can into his voice. “Jay…it’s okay.”

Jared holds him down while he strips Jensen and himself naked. He doesn’t prep Jensen either; after lubing up, it’s just one long, burning thrust, burying himself in Jensen to the root. Jensen gasps for air, wrists flexing helplessly in Jared’s iron grip. It’s not pain, exactly. He’s got the Vicodin in his system and he’s been used enough tonight that the pain is manageable, even that in his wrist. It has everything to do with the fact that it’s Jared; Jared who’s knocked his world so completely off its axis and reordered the world around him. Jared, who just righteously cussed him out and can still find it in his heart to touch Jensen, to be touched by him.

A few weeks ago Jensen had told Jared he was bad at relationships and it’s true. It’s so true. Even at his best effort, he’s screwing things up left and right. But Jared… Jared smiled at him and said he was good at it. And that’s true too. Even when he’s angry, even when he’s hurt…Jared just can’t help but be good at this. So good he makes Jensen want to be better. He makes Jensen want to learn.

And maybe he is.

When they come together, Jared buried balls-deep and moaning inside Jensen, it’s a mating kind of fuck. It’s a claim. It’s a promise. And Jensen thinks he’s finally starting to believe what Jared’s been hammering into his head all this time; they’re in it together – or they’re not in it at all.

“I’m sorry, Jay,” Jensen whispers over and over. “I’m sorry.”

Jared shakes his head, face still hidden against Jensen’s throat. “It’s okay, Jen.”

And because it’s Jared, he knows it really is.


On to Luck, Don’t Fail Me Now

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