Don’t Let the Sun Go Down, part 4

Categories:  Sundownverse, CW RPS


Jared fucks Jensen again on their first night at Chad’s house. Whether by coincidence or plan, Chad gives them the guest room farthest from his own, so neither feels badly about the noise Jensen makes as Jared slides slow and sexy into his ass and out again.”So good,” Jared murmurs, his face right over Jensen’s as he lines up and thrusts in again, feeling Jensen tighten and shake. “Feel like I could do this forever.”"Always…” Jensen’s voice trembles uncontrollably as Jared’s cock sinks deep and then eases out. “Always knew you’d be a cocktease.” When Jared enters again, Jensen tightens around him, crosses his ankles behind Jared’s back.

“Only with you,” Jared answers, teasing, and Jensen turns his face aside.

In the morning, Jensen sucks Jared’s cock while warm water sluices over them both and Jared’s enormous hands make shadowy monsters on the frosted shower door.

Thirty minutes later, they’re both back in their dirty clothes, since Chad is smaller than either of them. They’re clean underneath, though, and the aroma of coffee wafts back to their room, so Jared figures life is as good as it’s likely to get. Chad’s at the kitchen counter, writing in what looks to be a journal, but Jared can’t tell for sure since Chad looks up quickly and slams the cover of the book when they walk in.

“Tell me that is one hundred percent real coffee I smell and I’m your slave,” Jared says, sniffing exaggeratedly as he plops beside Chad and crashes their shoulders together.

“Of course it is, man. What the hell else would it be?” Chad sounds offended and shoves back hard. Jared and Jensen exchange a look and Jared rolls his eyes.

“I think he was afraid it was ground nuts and crap,” Jensen explains as he pours them both a large mug from the glass pot.

Chad empties his own cup, puts it in the sink and picks up his pen and journal. “Nothing but the best at Casa de los Chad, babies. Lemme get some stuff together and I’ll be ready to take you guys to that place – if you still want to go.”

Just like that, the easy, relaxed feeling Jared started the day with vanishes. Just thinking about having another allergy attack now, with only the inhaler Chad’d given him, makes his pulse fire and his heart pound fast and hard. At the same time, the thought of Chad’s shady friends and what they might ask of him, makes him just as tweaked.

Strong, blunt fingers dig familiarly into the tightness bunching between his shoulders, refusing to let the muscles knot. Jared smiles back at Jensen and nods slightly. He’s still cool with talking to these friends of Chad’s.

“We’re just going to talk to them. See what they want,” Jensen reminds him in an undertone, for Jared’s ears alone. His voice deepens when he does it and Jared shivers for reasons that have nothing to do with nervousness.

“But, no promises.” Jared raises his voice and directs his comment at Chad, who raises his hands in abject innocence. Of course, Jared’s seen him make that same face and hand gesture while telling Paris no way, uh-uh, he couldn’t possibly have been the one to dye her little dog’s fur bright pink.

“Hey, I’m just making introductions. What you guys do is your business. No skin off my nose.” Chad disappears down the hall toward his room, leaving Jared and Jensen to mull over their future.

Jensen knows LA pretty well; he can think of a half-dozen better ways to get to the beach side than the route Chad’s taking. The Jeep’s top is up but Chad hands them each a baseball cap anyway before climbing in and tucking his journal safely under his seat.”What’s this for?” Jared asked, already trying to cram his thick, tousled hair into his hat.”Everybody wears something on their head when they go out now,” Chad explains. He chews on his lower lip like he’s trying to think of something he can’t quite recall. “It’s supposed to be protective. Some shit. But before the media went down, they were just telling everyone to wear a hat and if they’re going into public places, gloves. It’s a thing now. Don’t do it, you’re just looking to be pegged as a freak.”

Jensen frowns. It makes no sense to him that he’s going to somehow be protected from the plague by the magic power of the Giants (and of course a pussy like Chad would like the Giants), but he slips it on along with the sunglasses Chad also provides. He pulls the cap low and climbs in the back next to Jared. His shoulders brush Jared’s arm laid across the back of the seat and he scoots a few inches closer so they’re touching, side to side.

All things being equal, Jensen thinks he’s held up pretty well during the months it took them to make it south, but he’s feeling like his reserves of balls-out are about used up. Being back in the city — even only populated at a fraction of its previous number — makes him rabbity. For most of the trip, it had just been him and Jared and when they had run into people, he’d been focused on survival, on LA. Now that part of things is over and he doesn’t have that persona to fall back on. He’s just Jensen again, and Jensen has Issues, capital ‘I’.

As if Jared is reading his mind, his hand drops from the back of the seat to Jensen’s shoulder. Not doing much of anything but lying there, solid and reassuring.

Jared’s always been his buffer, ever since Supernatural started up. Stepping in when Jensen starts to lose it. Cutting up some joke or making one at his own expense to take the spotlight off when he sees Jensen buckling under the weight. Just being there, steady and bigger than life, anchoring Jensen like a tree.

Jensen hadn’t even realized how much he relied on his best friend until they’d been down for some red-carpet event. Supernatural’s popularity had steadily picked up momentum in the last season, till their numbers were starting to close the gap with CSI and Grey’s. Standing there, watching the blitzkrieg of strobing flashes from a safe distance, Jensen had a mini-freak out just before it was time to head in and Jared was the one to talk him down after he’d nearly bitten his publicist’s assistant, April’s, head off.

Jensen knows he’s got nowhere near that level of anxiety now — he’s too tired, for one thing — but just the reminder that he–they–are recognizable faces, in a city known for its kooks before, makes him nervous. Fame and popularity might have been the goal, but they’d never set well with him, unlike Jared, who embraced it and made it his own. It’s the only time he doesn’t actually feel like the older, more experienced one between them.

One thing about this new world: Los Angeles doesn’t seem to be sitting in the haze of polluted sky anymore. The air is sharp and clear, the sky almost as blue as it gets in Texas. Jensen imagines that has a lot to do with the lack of three million cars spitting out carbon monoxide everywhere. In fact, now that he thinks about it, Jensen realizes they haven’t passed another vehicle since leaving Chad’s place a good half-hour ago.

Jensen straightens and looks around, then pokes Jared, who jerks, because for all his size, the silly fucker’s actually quite ticklish. Jared looks at him and shakes his head, not understanding what’s got Jensen so riled up. Jensen leans forward and raises his voice to be heard over the noise of the Wrangler and Chad’s horrible taste in music. “Hey, man, why are we going through the barrio?”

Chad casts a quick look at Jensen over his shoulder but turns back quickly to watch the road. Given Chad’s driving, Jensen’s just as grateful. “There ain’t no easy way to cross the city anymore, guys,” he answers and Jensen sees Chad’s gaze flick up to meet Jared’s eyes in the rearview mirror.

“How come?”

“Man, you thought LA was all divided up before? S’been divvied up among the money people. Mafia, movie execs, oil and big business, who the fuck ever. And then the gangs rose up and took over whatever was left, whatever anybody else didn’t want. I don’t think anyone really knows for sure who’s got what. It’s all just guessing and rumors.” Chad presses his lips tightly together, as if he’s said too much and turns his full attention back to the streets. In the backseat Jensen holds Jared’s hand and squeezes tightly, not sure if he’s reassuring his partner or himself.

Six blocks later Jensen recognizes the scene of two guys on a street corner, surreptitiously glancing about for witnesses to their deal. It looks like every sketchy drug deal ever made, except the payoff is made with what looks like a hunk of meat wrapped in butcher’s paper and this isn’t the barrio anymore. It’s what used to be a respectable neighborhood.

“Cops aren’t around anymore?” He directs his question at Chad, but it gets Jared’s attention, who also cranes his neck backwards to watch the deal go down.

Chad looks up from the road, confused. “Huh? Why you ask? See something?” Chad looks nervously out the side windows then back at Jensen, his eyes narrowed in the bright sunlight.

Jared braces his arm against the back of Chad’s seat and twists around to look out the back. “Those dudes back there? That was totally a drug deal going down!” His eyes are round and Jensen realizes Jared has probably never even seen something like this happen, except on TV. It slams home to him just how young Jared is. How inexperienced. The thought causes his gut to twist and churn.

“Yeah, ‘cept they’re probably trading for Cipro or something, ’stead of crack. Not that crack’s any less in demand.”

Jensen doesn’t ask how Chad knows that. The answer probably wouldn’t be as funny as the one in his head. “Probably more,” he says instead. “People got plenty they want to forget or at least not think about.”

Jared’s fingers tighten over his this time and Jensen realizes his words apply to them as much as to anyone else he was thinking of.

The city seems to deteriorate before their eyes. Stores and apartments have been clearly looted and/or burned to charred, gangling skeletons. Tent cities are pitched in gardens and parks and when Chad has to slow down to go through a manmade barricade — obviously not set up by anyone of authority — a gang of ten or so children, ages six to teens, crowds in on them, screaming for aspirin, the shirts off their backs — some things Jensen isn’t even sure he hears correctly.

Jensen’s free hand grips the seat tensely, remembering the kids at the California border; Jared’s thigh against his feels taut and when he glances at Jared, he can see the same flickering paranoia. Even through his nervousness, though, Jensen does notice one thing. One thing not a single kid asks for. Money.

“There’s a gun in the glovebox,” Chad says out of the side of his mouth, still patiently nudging the Jeep forward despite the press of kids. “They go for the car, JT, you go for the gun.”

“Jesus, Chad, they’re just kids,” Jared says, but it sounds half-hearted and rote.

“Kid can smash your head open for whatever’s in your pockets easy as an adult,” Chad answers and the deep, tired bitterness of his tone raises the hackles on the back of Jensen’s neck. “They go for the car, get the goddamn gun.”

“Yeah,” Jared agrees faintly and Jensen thinks he’d do almost anything to take the quiet seed of that same nauseated disillusionment out of Jared’s voice.

Yeah God? It’s me, again. I know it’s not your way to fix all our problems for us and I’m not really asking for myself, but Jared… I know he’s strong but if you could just make it so he doesn’t have to prove how strong, I’d be real grateful. Because… He’s my burning bush, Lord. He’s the thing that reminds me you’re still out there, answering prayers and making miracles.

Jared looks at him weirdly and Jensen has a crazy moment where he thinks maybe Jared inherited more from the persona of Sam Winchester than they thought. Common sense comes back a second later and Jensen realizes he’s just been staring and that’s what Jared’s reacting to. Jensen snorts a little and shakes his head. Nothing.

Jared smiles and Jensen makes himself smile back. Then, after a moment, he doesn’t have to try so hard.

“It’s called La Hacienda.” Chad grips the steering wheel of his jeep with both hands, bouncing in his seat arhythmically and squinting through the windshield like he’s expecting winged monkey soldiers to drop down from the massive trees on either side of the gate. Hell, maybe he is. They’re waiting while the guards check in a delivery truck that pulled up to the gate just ahead of them.“Wow.” Jared knows it sounds lame, but his brain is having a hard time registering an appropriately cool reaction to the opulence in front of him. He feels Jensen’s hand on his leg and lays his own hand over it, still not able to take his eyes off what little bit he can see beyond the gate and tall, golden stucco of the wall.A double row of tall, graceful trees creates a kind of corridor down the road. It’s hard to see the building Jared knows must lie at the end of it; he only gets a vague impression of lion-colored stone and palatial proportions.

“Yeah, it’s probably the only place in LA you can still find fine wine, cigars, most any luxury you can think of. And then the other stuff — food, meds, drugs. They’ve got a corner, no doubt.” Chad’s fingers drum on the wheel. “Hell, they have the whole damn street, you know?”

A black uniformed guard, semi-automatic rifle slung over one shoulder, waves them forward once the delivery truck is turned away to trundle along a gravelly service road around the corner.

“Just keep quiet and let me do the talking.”

Jared feels like he’s starring in a war movie as he watches the slow turn of a camera mounted at the top of the fence and pokes Jensen in the ribs, motioning with his head to the coiled razor wire gleaming atop the sandstone and stucco walls surrounding the compound. Jared can’t bring himself to think of this place as anything else.

Chad’s talking low to the guard at his window and Jared catches words like business and just lemme talk to her.

It never occurred to Jared that they wouldn’t even be allowed to talk to whoever ran the place. He chews his bottom lip and closes his eyes for a second of silent prayer. There’s no small amount of shame and guilt gnawing at him for putting Jensen in this position, tying them together (selfishly, so selfishly), making Jensen come here to choose God only knows what or watch Jared possibly die the next time an attack takes him.

But, he doesn’t want to die.

As bad as things seem, he can’t help but believe they can make this work for them. That they’ll find a way. He’s not sure if he’s being optimistic or just naive.

Chad slams the jeep in neutral and puts on the emergency brake before huffing and turning to them. “You guys have to get out here while I go in.” Jared thinks he looks pissed, yeah, but there’s also a warning in his washed-out eyes. Don’t make waves. Do what they say.

Jensen shrugs and both he and Jared climb out and shuffle to the side while the gate slowly ratchets open on smooth, mechanized hinges. Chad drives through. Jared watches the dirty Wrangler, looking so out of place, as it winds its way up the driveway until it disappears around a curve. He tries not to take that as an omen for anything.

“Hey, man.” Jared nods at the closer of the guards and holds out his hand. “I’m Jared.”

The guard doesn’t even look at him.

“I don’t think they want to be friends, Jay.” Jensen tugs on his arm, pulling him a little away from the gate, the guard shack.

They step back, closer to the street. “This is like some kind of freaking military compound!” In the back of his throat, Jared feels a slight tickle, something that’s almost always there now—especially when he’s tense—but that could easily turn into a much bigger deal. He needs to calm down.

Jensen shushes Jared and turns his back to the gates, pulling Jared with him a couple more steps. “No shit, it is. Are you feeling this? ‘Cause I’m not feeling this, Jay. No place that doesn’t have something to hide should have this many guards. Did you see the dogs? The guard dogs?”

Jared leans in, speaking low and close to Jensen’s ear. “Jen… Of course they have something to hide. You heard what Chad said. This is where the money, or whatever, is now – or one of the places – in LA. You have important stuff, you guard it. And I got a feeling if we don’t or can’t get what I need –” Jared winces at the reminder that this is all his fault, “—we’ll have to go someplace else just like it.”

Jared doesn’t voice the thoughts he’d been having to Jensen, at least not now. As cool as it was to see Chad, to actually have a real cup of coffee and sleep—and fuck—in a clean bed… Well, he almost wishes LA had been just like San Francisco. At least when they were on the road, they knew what they had. Each other. And that was all. And that was enough.

It’s bad enough Jared’s going to wind up owing God knows what to these people for the drugs that will keep him alive. He has no right dragging Jensen into it. Except, looking at Jensen’s tense, sunburned and freckled face, he knows Jensen won’t go. Won’t leave him. And for as bad as he feels, he’s grateful. So fucking grateful

He’s about to suggest that they go try to find some of Jensen’s old friends after they’re done here when the intercom crackles and one of the guards picks up the receiver.

Two seconds later, Jared can’t help tensing up and stepping back a bit when two uniforms stride purposely toward them. Jensen edges forward a step and slightly into Jared’s line of vision, shoulders squared. Jared reaches for him, but the guard on Jensen’s side pulls his sidearm and they both freeze. Jared worries Jensen just might go apeshit.

“Hey, what the fuck is this?” Jensen demands roughly. “We didn’t do anything wrong and the only reason we came is because that –” His words cut off when the other guard yanks him around and begins patting down his sides, his legs, then back up along the inside of his thighs. Jensen looks down. “You got a good grip, there, Sparky?”
“Just checking for weapons.” The guard’s tone is dull, mechanical. “Everyone gets the same treatment. They want you inside.”

Jared double-takes and pulls his head back when Jensen is relieved of the knife he keeps in his belt at all times. Before they can even touch him, Jared says, “I’m going for mine,” and slowly pulls his blade to hold out in offering to the other guard. “We don’t want any trouble,” he assures them with a brief, encouraging smile. The kind that never fails to be reciprocated – until now.

The guard takes the knife with an inscrutable look and stuffs it in his belt with Jensen’s. Then he nods to the one holding the gun and goes back to open the gate.

There are two tricked out golf carts parked on a concrete slab just inside the wall. The guard that Jensen’s labeled Sparky gestures towards the nearest one and they take that as their cue to perch on the overstuffed rear seat. As usual, Jared’s legs are all over the place and Jensen finds himself jammed into the corner of the seat, consoling himself by wedging one elbow firmly in Jared’s side. Fucker hogs the bed too.Sparky backs up, spins the cart neatly as you please and, bypassing the driveway, takes a rutted little cart path towards the enormous house of which Jensen can just now (if he cranes neck-breakingly over his shoulder) see the roofline.They pass another squad of guards on foot—two women and a man, each holding a short leather lead to a dog. One of them, a Doberman, bares its teeth and pulls slightly on its leash until its handler jerks it back with a sharp snap. It falls back beside him, but its eyes promise violence darkly.

“I miss my dogs,” Jared says hollowly and Jensen’s hard-pressed not to whip around and stare, wondering how the vicious killers behind them can remind Jared of the easygoing and goofball Sadie and Harley.

“Just the next rung on the ladder, man,” Jensen reassures him instead, recognizing the longing in his partner’s tone. “We can try and look up Rachel later today, if you want.” He doesn’t think about how the two of them and the two dogs are going to make it all the way to Texas. One step at a time, he reminds himself, because apparently he needs it too.

They’ve been puttering along for a few minutes when a loud gunshot from way too close makes Jensen start. “Get down!” He grabs Jared by the back of his neck and his arm and pushes him down, trying to cover him with his body.

The guard snickers; Jared laughs. “Jen. Jen, get off me. Look, it’s not at us. They’re not taking potshots at the cart, man.”

In his heart, Jensen knows Jared’s right, though that doesn’t make him feel any better about it as they straighten up. His face is hot and he thinks he’s probably blushing. He hates blushing. Sparky elbows Jensen in the shoulder and then points to something like an observation deck along the north side of the house. Slouched in a lounge chair with a shade umbrella and a bright blue cooler, is another guard with a rifle.

“They’re not shooting at us,” Jared repeats as the rifleman raises his firearm again and takes aim at something not even in their direction. He sounds relieved and Jensen feels marginally better. Marginally.

A moment later, the guard fires and Jensen hears a frantic squawk. Sounds vaguely like a crow, but what the hell does he know about birds? Birds. They’re shooting birds out of the trees. Jensen curses under his breath and Jared laughs again.

“Jesus,” Jared says, sounding almost cheerful, “I swear I just about pissed myself. Especially when you grabbed me like that. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Jensen growls.

Jared punches him in the thigh, then leans close and whispers, “Should I put my hand down your pants and check?”

Jensen flushes even hotter, damn him, and shoves Jared. “Quit it, okay? I didn’t grow up in the ‘hood of San Antone like your redneck ass. I hear gunfire, I naturally get concerned for my wellbeing.”

Jared laughs harder, almost bent double and clutching his stomach. “Jensen, I do so love your crazy ass.”

A few months ago, Jared could have dropped that line and Jensen wouldn’t have thought much of it. They said shit like that to each other all the time. But a few months ago, they hadn’t been fucking and they hadn’t been…this. Whatever this is. And hearing it now, Jensen realizes how careful they’ve both been to not say anything like it lately. Not since it started meaning more than bullshit guy talk.

Jensen flushes cold and then right back to hot and suddenly his heart seems to be beating too fast. He can’t make himself look sideways at Jared, who’s stopped laughing, and they sit like that, in weird and awkward silence until Sparky pulls the cart up next to a blue painted door somewhere on the side of the house. Chad’s sitting on a stone flower planter, smoking a cigarette and chewing his thumbnail and Jensen’s never been so glad to see the skinny runt in his life.

“Yo, Chad,” Jared climbs out of the cart—kicking Jensen in the process—and Jensen follows more slowly, shoving his hands in his sorta-clean jeans. He feels sort of awkward, surly and tongue-tied like he gets with interviews after they’ve gone on too long and he’s run out of the things he’s practiced saying. “What’s the story, man?”

Chad shrugs and gets to his feet. Though Jensen has Chad pegged as the kind of guy that would leave his cigarette butts strewn behind him like confetti, Chad instead stubs the cigarette out on the rubberized sole of his girly oversized sandal and tucks it back in the pack with the others. “Bad timing,” he answers, slouching and looking at them in a way that Jensen knows Chad thinks is charming and really is just kind of sketchy. “Guess there’s some big shindig going on today.”

“So what does that mean?” Jensen’s trying to control the irritation in his voice, but he doesn’t know how successful he is, because Jared’s fingertips brush the small of his back in warning/reassurance. “Are we going to get to meet or not?”

They’ve been coasting for a long time and Jensen feels like time is running steadily out on them—until the inhaler stops working, until Jared has an attack bad enough that the inhaler can’t fix it and they need epinephrine. (Until Jared dies.) He doesn’t want to put this off anymore, waiting for something that might not even come through or might be more than they can afford.

‘Afford’, Jensen thinks, wanting to punch something so bad he can taste it in the back of his throat like the taste of tin. Like we can really afford anything.

“Yeah, Claude’s gonna be out in a sec,” Chad says finally, doing nervous tricks with his Zippo. The click-clack of the lid is starting to piss Jensen off even more. “But look…you gotta be cool, Jense, okay? These people are doing us the favor and if you go in there all badass and grouchy, they’ll feed you to the dogs.”

“You’re kidding…right?” Jared sounds less than certain.

Chad shrugs. “About the dogs, yeah. But not about the need to keep it frosty once Claude gets here, you know?”

Jensen thinks it’s more the fact that Chad Michael Murray is giving him advice on how not to look like a douche more than the advice itself that clamps a lid on his temper and starts him on the reset to zero. “Yeah, I got it,” Jensen says and for whatever else anybody thinks about him, he’s a goddamn professional. He hits just the right note of sincerity and apology and Chad’s shoulders unknot from around his ears. “Thanks, man.”

Chad gives him a nod. “Yeah, man, don’t mention it. I just… Claude!” Chad turns half away from Jensen, a note of ingratiating friendliness that’s everything Jensen hates about LA in Chad’s voice. “Hey, baby, s’up?”

“Chad, you little weasel,” says an irritated—but oddly familiar—surprisingly female voice with an Australian accent. “I have told you before about calling me ‘Claude’, or baby, for that matter.”

Jensen turns. At the sight of the woman striding carefully toward then in very high gold heels and tugging irritably at her very long matching skirt, Jensen feels his jaw drop.

“Stupid thing,” ‘Claude’ curses vaguely. “I would say you have the worst timing ever, Chad, but as I was very nearly ready to chew my arm off to get out of there, we’ll call it even, shall we?”

Jared sidles up behind Jensen, his hair tickling Jensen’s skin as he bends down to Jensen’s ear. “Do you know her? She an old friend or something?”

Jensen’s head whips around. “Are you kidding?” he whispers back squeakily. “Dude. That’s Claudia Black.


“Well, come on,” Claudia says. Her stride steadies once she’s up on concrete and she opens the door to usher them inside.Jared bumps Jensen in the shoulder and gives him a questioning look as they step into a bustling kitchen. The smell of food—rich, hot food—makes Jensen’s stomach growl but doesn’t put a dent in the look he gives Jared. “Dude,” he says in an undertone as Claudia—Claudia fucking Black!—and Chad lead the way, “Claudia Black. Claudia Black.“”Yeah, I got it,” Jared hisses back. “That’s not helping, Jen. Who is Claudia Black?”

“Dude,” Jensen says again, because he can hardly believe it. “Stargate. Farscape.” Jared’s still looking blank. “Pitch Black?” He shakes his head. “Don’t you watch any sci-fi?”

Jared shrugs and Jensen rolls his eyes. “Sometimes I wonder what I see in you,” he mutters in return, mostly to ignore the fact that they are walking through a very crowded kitchen that seems filled with twice as many people as it should be, all talking and laughing and shouting…

Jensen’s shoulders ache almost instantly. So does the small of his back. Was he this bad before? It’s so hard to tell now if his…avoidance of crowds was always this intense or whether it’s just that he’s not used to it anymore. Not used to people. Not used to anything anymore, besides Jared.

As if thinking made it happen, he feels Jared’s hand touch his back lightly, fingertips pressing on either side of his spine.

“Maybe because you remember how much you like it when I suck your balls?” Jared murmurs into Jensen’s ear and his hand slides low, down to the curve of Jensen’s ass. He pulls back fast, before Jensen can dance away from him, skittish and blushing. “So she was an actor? Like us?”

“I still am an actor,” Claudia corrects as they leave the kitchen for a long and dim hallway. She looks over her shoulder at them. “It’s only the venue and audience that’s changed, I’m afraid.”

A slim and curvy girl—woman—in nothing but a tank top, panties and her long, dark hair comes out of one of the doorways, tottering unsteadily up to Claudia. “Claudia,” she says, her voice slurring and urgent, “Claudia, please…just…can I get a little more?”

They all come awkwardly to a halt in the hallway and Jensen’s seen enough strung out actresses and Hollywood girls to see how this is. Claudia puts her hands on the girl’s trembling shoulders and steadies her. “You’re already at your limit for the day, Charisma,” Claudia says, more gently than Jensen would expect for the way she spoke to Chad. Then again, it’s Chad.

Charisma, though…once Jensen hears her name, recognition snaps into place; Charisma Carpenter, another byproduct of the WB. He’s never really socialized with her, but he remembers seeing her around, possibly exchanging small talk at one of events long enough to get his drink from the bartender.

“I know.” Charisma tosses her hair back and her eyes momentarily glint across him, Jared and Chad, but they go back to Claudia right away, because Claudia’s the one with the power here, the one who can give her whatever it is she’s jonesing for. “But it’s just…it’s really bad today. I can’t think straight and I’m just… It’s really bad today.”

“Honey.” Claudia’s hand comes up to cup Charisma’s face firmly. “You can drug yourself into a stupor if that’s what you want to do, but neither I nor the Owners are going to let you kill yourself here. If that’s what you want to do, you need to make other arrangements.”

Charisma shakes her head, shifting restlessly from foot to foot. “No, I don’t want to do that,” she denies. “Just a little, Claudia. Not enough to hurt. Just a little.”

Claudia sighs and straightens, touching what looks like a Bluetooth mike in her ear. “Michelle?” she calls. “Michelle, where are you?”

“Aw, Claudia, come on…” Charisma pats Claudia’s arm placatingly. “You don’t have to be that way.”

“Charisma, I am busy.” Claudia’s tone gets harsher, she shakes the other woman off of her. “Go to your room and get right or go find and fuck Michael or whatever it is that you need to do but get out of my face right now. Do you hear me?”

“All right…” Charisma backs up unsteadily. Again, her eyes flick to Jared, Jensen and Chad, standing silent and awkward. Jensen sees a lot of things in her face, her eyes, but not shame. There’s no shame. He shivers and looks down, spooked despite himself. “Okay, I’m sorry.”

Charisma takes two steps towards them. “Nice to see you again, Jensen,” she hisses viciously, before shoving through them and walking away.

“I’m very sorry about that,” Claudia says, once she’s ushered them into what’s probably her office. An office, at any rate.”No worries,” Chad says, settling one hip on the edge of her desk as Jared and Jensen take the two chairs in front.”Get off my desk,” Claudia snaps. Chad promptly jumps up again.

“Now,” she says, settling herself in the mahogany colored leather of her own chair. “What can I do for you…?” She looks at Chad inquiringly.

“Jensen,” Jensen supplies, coming halfway out of his seat and extending his hand. He tips his head. “I’m a big fan.”

Claudia takes his hand, but her smile is sour at the edges. Too late, Jensen realizes that reminding her of the life she’s lost might not have been the smartest move he’s ever made. “This is my partner, Jared,” he says to cover the momentary awkwardness and Jared comes up to shake hands as well.

Once they’re settled again, Jensen looks at Jared, not sure how to proceed. He’s not comfortable bringing up Jared’s allergies, even in front of the woman that can—theoretically—help them with the problem. Too many bad connotations to being marked as ’sick’, as ‘dangerous’. Too many consequences. He’s not comfortable talking with anyone else about their desire to get to Texas, afraid of how those fragile plans might be derailed. And if he can’t bring himself to talk about those things, he doesn’t know what else he can say to the beautiful, impatient woman on the other side of the desk.

“I have these allergies,” Jared says finally, taking up the slack with his usual effortless skill.


“And me and Jensen, we’re trying to get home. And medicine…” Jared laughs a little and scratches the back of his neck. “Well. That’s gettin’ kind of hard to come by.”

“Hmmm,” Claudia agrees. “I can imagine. And this is what brings you to our door.”


“And can you pay for these medicines you need so bad?”

Jared spreads his hands. “I don’t even know what they’re going to cost,” he says easily, like it’s not his life they’re talking about. “But…probably not. We pretty much walked here from Vancouver. All we’ve got is the gear on our back.”

“Vancouver? That’s a long way.” She sounds surprised.

Jensen shrugs. “Not much choice. Got stuck Canada-side when the borders closed up, had to get home somehow.”

“Of course.” One of Claudia’s nails, painted as golden as her gown, traces an idle shape on the desk. “What do you know about La Hacienda, gentlemen?”

Jensen glances at Chad, who’s busily tapping his foot, arms folded. “Nothing, really. Chad here said he had some friends who could maybe help us out.”

“Hmmm.” Claudia taps against the wood. “Friends.”

“Well…” Chad says hastily, spreading his arms, “associates.”

Claudia sighs. “Don’t worry, Chad; you’ll still get your commission. You can stop fawning.” She eyes Jensen in a not-unfamiliar but still completely uncomfortable way. “In fact, I suspect there might even be a bonus in it for you.”

Jensen’s head whips around. He might have his problems stringing words together, but not a damn thing is wrong with his brain and the implication of Claudia’s words is clear.

I might be able to help you, Chad had said.

Or help yourself, Jensen thinks, chest tight and his palms starting to sweat. You little fucking bitch. Jared trusted you.

“You can go, Chad,” Claudia says, sounding bored and looking at Chad from under her lashes. “Go talk to Michael; I have some meetings I want you to handle. He has the details.”

“Yeah, sure thing.”

When Chad is gone, Claudia turns back to them. “Well. I suppose it’s time for the spiel then, yes? Okay. Like everything else, La Hacienda has changed a lot since the epidemic. We can provide you with the medication you require…as well as other things. But obviously there’s a price.”

“And from what you tell me, you have no means to pay.” Claudia opens a drawer in her desk and starts rifling through what sounds like paper. “First and foremost, La Hacienda is a place of hospitality. We provide entertainment and companionship for the Owners, their clients, friends and allies.”

Jared makes a noise that Jensen can’t classify. “A whorehouse.”

Claudia inclines her head a little. “If you like. The point is, gentlemen, that we have something you want. And as far as I can tell, you have nothing that we want. Except maybe a measure of your time and labor.”

“If you can call that labor,” Jensen mutters. He doesn’t know what he feels. On the one hand, he feels cold, iced to the bone by the suggestion. On the other hand, he feels completely unsurprised. His brain’s been working up to this for a while now.

“I have to admit, I’m not really familiar with either of you, but you’re friends with Chad and I have at least seen your faces before. I believe you have some affiliation with what is now the CW network?”

“Had,” Jared corrects and there’s a stubborn set to his jaw. “We had an affiliation. We’re not – affiliated with anyone now.” Jensen thinks he sounds like he’d like to keep it that way, but it’s not looking good for free-lancing.

Claudia inclines her head in acknowledgment. “All right. In any case, we do quite a lot of business with them, as well as a number of others that enjoy a certain level of success. On both sides of the books, you might say.”

You might say. I would definitely say, thinks Jensen, thinking of Chad and Charisma downstairs. The lines are filling in and Jensen’s getting the full picture now.

“So, I’m guessing our only option is to accept your offer to provide what we need if we – if we provide what you need.”

Her brown eyes are intensely serious and piercing when Jensen gets her full attention. “There is always more than one option. This just happens to be the one I’m offering. If you think you can do better elsewhere, you’re free to do whatever you like.”

Claudia closes the drawer she’d rifled through earlier and turns in her chair as if she’s about to stand.

Jared holds up his hand. “Wait. Ms. Black.” She arches a well-shaped brow, not rising, but not settling back in the chair, either. “Please, wait.” Jared’s voice is soft, entreating. “I mean, you can see we need a minute to get used to the idea of what you’re offering, right? Much less consider accepting it.” Jensen can tell Jared’s trying to calm things down by the tenor of his voice and the bright smile on his boyish face. It’s what he does best. “It’s a long way from anything either of us has ever even thought about, let alone done.”

Claudia’s smile is both tight-lipped and amused as she reseats herself, arranging her lightly clasped hands daintily in front of her on the desk. “I do understand the dilemma,” she agrees, tone drier than Death Valley.

This is for Jared, Jensen reminds himself, trying to override his kneejerk anger. The least Jensen can do to help Jared is listen to her. Find out exactly what’s expected of them if they do this. “So, how’s this work? I take it there’s no standing on a street corner on Sunset Blvd.” He means it as a joke, but Claudia looks practically scandalized.

“I should say not! This is not a street corner operation, gentlemen. And there is considerably more to the offer than simple allergy medication. As you can see, we’re quite well guarded; that protection extends to employees as well as our clients. All of our employees live here, play here, work here. We have electricity, ample supplies of food, medical supplies and a great deal of luxury for the world we find ourselves in. Not everyone who works here is under the same kind of…restrictions as you two; many find that the security of living here is worth the cost. And its far less sordid than you’re probably thinking.” She reaches in and pulls out a sheaf of papers. “I can assure you this is a business. A very profitable, sometimes enjoyable business. But we’re all professionals here.”

Jensen remembers Charisma again. Somehow he doubts the same “professional” attitude is shared by all the employees.

“What’s that?” Jared asks, pointing to the papers in Claudia’s hand.

“It’s a contract, just like any other contract. Here’s a breakdown of what it costs us to house you, including all the amenities.” She puts one sheet of paper on the desk between them. “This is a price list for any ‘extras’, including the medication Jared here will need. Prices are subject to change, obviously.” The second document is much thicker, several pages printed on pale green paper and held together with a binder clip.

“Obviously,” Jensen replies sourly.

“We understand that this is…difficult, and so you’ll see your pay rate for ’services rendered’ is quite generous.” She taps one golden fingernail on a figure. “Even with the added expense of Jared’s medication, you’ll be clearing ten percent of your income.” Jensen opens his mouth and Claudia holds up a hand to halt him. “Look, I know that seems low, but you have to think about it this way—that ten percent? Is pure profit. All your other needs—housing, clothing, etcetera—are all provided by the House. Now even before everything turned to shit, were you honestly pulling ten percent free and clear after you paid for rent, clothes, cars, your agent, your credit cards? It’s a less than ideal situation, but we aren’t in an ideal situation.”

“How is our ‘profit’ accrued?” Jared asks, looking up from studying the price list and cost breakdown. His hair is falling into his eyes again, making him look absurdly young but his voice is anything but. People tend to forget Jared has a brain beneath all his puppyish enthusiasm. “Paper money’s not worth anything these days and really, neither is gold or jewels. Not for day to day living.”

Claudia nods as if she expected this question. And maybe she did. “It’s accrued in the form of credit, which is held in a House account.”

Jensen chuffs softly, leaning back in his chair.

“The account is accessible from any terminal in the house, any time you want to check what’s going in, what’s going out. At the end of every month, you’ll get a statement with a cost analysis breakdown of what you earned versus what the house debited for costs incurred. The contract is purely ‘at will’; any time you want to cash out, the house will turn your credit into whatever kind of portable value you like—food, supplies, medicines, drugs—and you’re free to go. It’s not slavery.” Claudia folds her hands on the blotter and Jensen sees the back of one is marked with a newish scar, jagged and ugly. “In fact, you might find that living here, safe and with some small remnant of normalcy and a fair amount of luxury, is preferable to whatever might happen to you out there.” Her lips press thin and Jensen wonders if that’s because of them or her own recollection of whatever brought her to this position. “We’re in the long, slow fall; things are falling apart and getting more desperate, more dangerous by the day.”

Jensen thinks about what it felt like, being held down by all those boys at the California border, unable to stop them from hurting Jared, hurting him. Knowing that they were probably going to die there like that and not sure how bad it would get before it even happened. His throat feels very dry as he swallows and looks at Jared. It’s hard to make out Jared’s expression through all the hair, but he thinks Jared’s remembering—that, or maybe the lynching in Canada—too.

“I don’t think we can decide this now,” Jensen says finally, slowly. The inequality of their position, the desperation of it, is hitting him again in new, different ways. To save Jared, they’re going to have to negotiate. If not with Claudia Black and her mysterious handlers then with someone else. And they have nothing. Nothing of any value to anyone except maybe that they’re young and good-looking.

“No, of course not,” Claudia agrees. “You’re free to take the breakdown, the price list and the contracts with you. Have your lawyer look at them.” She smiles and the corners of her eyes crinkle in amusement. “Look, I think what you need to understand here is that the House doesn’t need you. It just needs someone pretty and willing enough to do what needs to be done. This isn’t personal. And what you get in return—”

“In return for whoring ourselves,” Jared points out. “For fucking strangers.”

“All right,” Claudia says equably. “What you get for fucking strangers is a place that can protect you, provide for you, that lets you lounge around a pool while most other folks are scrambling to find enough food to get them through that day. There’s a limit on how many clients you have to service, free medical care, days off…it’s a good deal. It may just be the best deal you’re ever going to find. You can make me—the House—the monsters in your mind if that’s what gets you through the night, but think about it. Think about it. And then decide.”

To say the ride back to Chad’s house is subdued would be the most absurd of understatements. Chad is hiding behind his sunglasses and utter fascination with the road in front of him. Jensen looks like he’s about to go into oral surgery without anesthesia and Jared. God, Jared feels beat. Not beat up. Beat down.He drinks down half the bottle of icy-cold water provided by Claudia as they left the compound. What Jared had imagined didn’t even come close to how hard things were to come by, probably because all he and Jensen had needed for the last few months were each other and enough food not to starve. But when pressed, Chad confirms what Claudia told them and Jared starts to see just how unrealistic any kind of life for him and Jensen—at least the way he’d envisioned it—is: About as much of a fantasy as either of them making a living as actors anymore.Jensen shifts in his seat, turning his back further on Jared to stare out the window. Jared can’t read him at all and that probably scares him as much as what Claudia has offered. His first guilty thoughts are that Jensen is probably regretting ever meeting Jared. Wishing they’d never gotten to be such good friends—lovers—so he wouldn’t feel obligated to watch out for him. Probably trying to figure out a way to dump him as soon as possible so he can go on and find his family in Texas and forget the nightmare of their months on the road and days in LA.

“Hey. Jay. What’s the matter?” Jensen’s touch on his leg and the soft, roughness of his voice grabs Jared’s attention and he almost cries when he looks into Jensen’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” is all he can manage.

Chad stops at what passes for a store these days and doesn’t say a word as he hops out of the Wrangler and slams the door so hard the whole thing sways.

“Don’t know what’s crawled up his ass,” Jensen mumbles and slides down in the seat to lay his head back, pinching the bridge of his nose tightly.

“Maybe he’s sorry he took us there,” Jared guesses and shoves the sleeves of his long-sleeved t-shirt up. He finishes the bottle of water and starts to tap the empty plastic against his knee, nervously.

“That makes two of us,” Jensen says, eyes still closed.

Jared feels like his fears and suspicions have just been confirmed and he just can’t stand it anymore. Unclasping the seat belt, he shoves the passenger seat forward and unfolds his tree-length legs out of the jeep and just starts walking away. He’s not going to make himself Jensen’s responsibility.

“What the fuck, dude?” Jared hears Chad’s voice yelling at him across the parking lot and turns to see him carrying two plastic bags to the car, probably containing their dinner.


Walking backwards he salutes Chad with unmistakable irony. “Thanks for the ride, man. And thanks…” he flaps his hand in the air, “for trying to help.” He feels a hysterical laugh bubbling up and knows if he doesn’t just get out of here, he’s going to lose it in front of both Jensen and Chad.

Then Jared hears the jeep door slamming and just walks faster at the sound of boots jogging up behind him. “Jay, wait up. Jared!” Jensen sounds genuinely confused. Genuinely hurt.

Jared freezes, standing still, his shoulders and back forming a straight line of stubborn refusal to listen to Jensen if he’s gonna try to talk him into going back.

“Where you going?” Jensen draws even with him now, then darts in front of him, searching Jared’s face for the answer to his question when Jared doesn’t say anything.

“I’m not going to make you do that, Jen. Don’t ask me to. I don’t care what happens to me.” Jared’s shaking his head so hard his hair swings around into his mouth and he spits it out, frustrated and angry. “I. don’t. care. anymore. I’m not going to let you whore yourself out for me.” God, it sounds so–so dirtybadwrong when he says it out loud. Even more than it does in his head.

Jensen steps back, obviously trying to catch up to Jared’s words. Jared sees Jensen’s gaze shift just over his shoulder before he raises a hand in the ’stop’ position. Chad must be getting close. “I got it, man. Just give us a minute.”

Jared’s about to tell Jensen he doesn’t have any plans to change his mind in the next minute, but Jensen is crowding in on him until they’re chest to chest and Jensen’s head tilts back slightly to stare into Jared’s face.

“Last time I looked, son, I was a grown man and get to say what I do with my life,” Jensen’s accent coats his words like honey and Jared thinks he may not have ever seen him looking quite so—Texas. “So, you don’t get to tell me what you’re gonna let me and not let me do.” A fine mist sprays from Jensen’s mouth; Jared doesn’t even bother to wipe it away. He just stares right back, as stubborn in his own way as Jensen.

“That might be, but if I’m not around, there ain’t no reason you gotta go back to that place.” There. Jared didn’t see any way Jensen could argue with that logic.

“Without you, I got no reason. Period.”

Jared always thought he was pretty bright, but Jensen’s words hang in the early evening air and Jared—he’s just got nothing. Finally, it begins to dawn on him exactly what Jen is saying. He shuffles his feet a little and frowns, letting his brain parse the sentence.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jared finally spits back. “You can still get to Texas, find your family. You can still…live. There’s nothing for you here in LA.”

Jared’s surprised when Jensen looks like he’s about to punch his lights out.

“You, you fucking moron! What do you think this has all been about, all this time? You are my life now! You’re my family.” Jensen opens his hands. “Jay…come on! I love you.”

Jensen’s words hang in the air between them and Jared thinks Jensen looks as shocked at saying them as Jared is at hearing them. He decides to take the high road.

“Jensen, I love you too, man, and being my best friend means I don’t put you in—positions…” Jared almost chokes on the word, “like this.” He’s starting to think he should have waited until they got back to Chad’s to have this discussion because there’s a group of people glaring at them from across the parking lot and Chad’s leaning on the horn.

“No, you idiot. You still don’t get it!” Jensen’s voice is rising and Jared puts a hand on his arm, then sort of drops it back to his side at what comes next. “I. Love. You.” Jared blinks. “Yeah, like that.” And before Jared can blink again, Jensen pulls Jared’s head down and kisses him, with lips and teeth and tongue and Jensen’s hands are holding Jared in place like he’s afraid he’ll disappear into a puff of smoke before his eyes.

“Come on, you goddamn fairies!” Chad shouts impatiently from behind them, shattering the moment. “You can suck face in the car! My dinner’s getting cold.” Chad pauses. “Wait. Scratch that. Save it ’til you’re behind closed doors and I don’t have to watch your pansy asses.”

Jensen sighs and Jared chuffs a breathless laugh. A moment later, Jensen’s thumbs caress Jared’s cheek as he pulls him down again until their foreheads touch. “Come on. Let’s go back to Chad’s and do this. Just get over it, Padalecki. You’re stuck with me.”

The hint of a wry smile on Jensen’s face makes Jared’s heart melt because he knows—he just knows—he has no defenses against Jensen now and he’s half pissed at himself for being so weak and half elated beyond words that he won’t have to do this alone.

continued/concluded in part 5

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