By the time the train finally got to his stop, Jensen was alone in the car. Which felt more than a little ominous.
"End of the line!" a voice yelled and Jensen practically ran off the train. He wasn't keen on finding out what happened to anyone still on board when the train went out of service.
The platform Jensen stepped out onto was small but surprisingly well kept. The black stones were clean, neatly fitted and showed few signs of wear. A single lamppost stood beside the steps, pushing back the darkness that loomed on all sides.
Jensen nearly lost the back of his shirt when the doors snapped shut behind him. The train pulled away in a hiss of steam and was immediately swallowed up by the gloom. Which left Jensen stranded on a train platform in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on every side by ancient, otherworldly looking trees and armed for a confrontation with the god of the fucking dead with nothing but a guitar and a voice that didn't work.
When they got back to being alive, Jensen was going to tear Jared a new one for putting him through all this shit.
Not entirely sure what he was supposed to be doing now, Jensen turned his back on the train tracks and took a look around. In the faint circle of light thrown by the lamppost, he could just make out the first few feet of what looked like a dirt path wending off into the trees vaguely to his left. The rest of the path was lost to the darkness.
Hesitantly, Jensen stepped down off the platform and lingered at the edge of the lamppost's glow, goosebumps skittering up and down his arm. He glanced back at the empty space where the train had been. No going back that way.
'You can do this, Jensen,' he told himself firmly. 'Stop being such a pussy'.
His little pep talk was no help whatsoever, but Jensen knew the point of no return when he saw it and it had been the moment when Steve had asked him what he'd risk to bring Jared back. Jensen's answer was still 'everything'.
Jensen stepped boldly out into the dark.
Immediately, a string of lampposts lit up in front of him, racing ahead and illuminating the path. They were dim enough that they'd hardly have counted as lights at all if not for the immense blackness of the forest. Jensen was absolutely not about to complain.
The lights streaked out ahead of him as Jensen walked, never more than a foot or so ahead but more than enough for him to keep from straying off the path. A glance backwards revealed that the lampposts were going out again once he'd passed by them, letting the forest settle in again and leaving him with no direction to go but forwards.
The trees pressed in deep and heavy on all sides and Jensen felt himself curling inwards, shoulders hunching and chin dipping in to his chest at the oppressive atmosphere. Everything was deathly quiet: no rustling leaves, no chirping crickets, no calling birds. Jensen didn't think he'd ever experienced something so eerie.
Light gleamed abruptly through the trees, filtered and faint but still much brighter than the weak orange circles cast by the standing lampposts. Jensen quickened his pace, moving fast enough that his guitar bounced against his hip with every step and let out indignant twanging sounds in time with his stride.
Jensen wasn't expecting it when the trees opened up onto a wide clearing and he threw up a hand to shield his eyes from the painfully bright light cutting through the black. It was several long moments of wordless cursing and screwed shut eyes before Jensen's eyes adjusted to the sudden brilliance and let him get a proper look at the building he was standing in front of.
Pluto's Casino and Hotel said the massively big glowing marquis on the front of the building. And another sign just below it: Half-price Martini night!
Dumbfounded, Jensen stared at the tacky palm trees on the lawn and the rolling lights - the ceaseless flashing of which was sending shadows skittering like spiders across the leaves of the trees - and wondered if the Underworld could possibly get any weirder. He then immediately hoped that the lord of the Underworld didn't read minds and wouldn't take that as a challenge.
The stairs leading up to the main entrance were stately and imposing, glinting with the glossy sheen of well-worn marble, and the thick balustrades were intricately carved with a pattern of clinging, snaking ivy. The sound of Jensen's shoes tapping lightly against the stone steps was gunshot loud in the suffocating silence.
The door was flanked by a pair of dog-shaped statues: one sat stately and tall while the other crouched down and baring its teeth in a fearsome snarl. The sharp ridging on the teeth and the detail in the eyes reminded Jensen unpleasantly of the amour the guard defending the second train had worn.
He skirted carefully between the statues, keeping a wary eye out in case they decided to be alive and try to eat him - at this point, he wouldn't put anything past this place. The hissing of the door as it slid open made Jensen jump, not in the least because he'd never seen an automatic stone door before, and he scooted through quickly.
The thud it made as it closed again behind him was ominously heavy.
The inside looked like, well, like a casino. The foyer was lofty and done in marble with a strange blue tint to it. The front desk was tidy and unmanned. The lights overhead were bright and garish enough to make the palm trees outside seem like the height of good taste. There was a large fountain in the middle of the room shaped like a woman holding a jar over one shoulder. Water cascaded out of the jar and ran down her body in gleaming rivulets, leaving her looking like she'd been caught in the rain; the translucent, clinging folds of her dress only added to the effect. A plaque was set in the plinth under her feet and Jensen stepped closer, curious.
Lethe, the sign said. And a little below: Do Not Drink If You Value Your Memory
Jensen made his way carefully forward, on alert for the faintest hint of movement. The air was cool nearly to the point of being uncomfortable and Jensen hugged his arms around himself, hands tucking under his jacket for warmth.
His footsteps were loud in the cavernous silence and it was with a sense of relief that he passed into the casino proper and the marble tiles gave way to midnight blue carpet that muffled the sound. He wandered through the banks of slot machines and out towards the gaming tables, looking for the faintest hint of how one went about finding a god in the middle of a casino. The machines pinged and whistled in time with the flashing lights, throwing out a siren song to gamblers who didn't exist. Jensen shivered, weirded out despite himself.
A clattering sound cut through the racket and Jensen looked forward to see and old-fashioned grill elevator rattling to a stop just beyond the fountain. Jensen headed towards it and watched as a pair of pale, bulbous hands reached through the grill to pull it open.
"Elevator," the thing inside the elevator said, though Jensen couldn't have said for the life of him where in that mass of heavy white flesh the mouth was. It was dressed in a loincloth, an entirely ridiculous red hat and nothing else, which left an awful lot of body bare to Jensen's eyes.
Its bulk filled up most of the elevator and it was a tight fit to squeeze Jensen into the elevator with it. The door rattled shut behind him and Jensen fidgeted in the confined space.
"Top floor," the elevator operator said and it wasn't really a question. Jensen nodded anyway. At least someone knew where he was going.
The elevator lurched into motion and Jensen felt his stomach drop out as they rocketed upwards far more quickly than Jensen suspected most self-respecting elevators would dare go. The floors flashed by too quickly for Jensen to catch anything more than random swathes of colour as they traveled up and up and up.
When the elevator finally stopped, it was with an abrupt, mighty jerk that knocked Jensen right off his feet. He rebounded hard off the elevator operator's flab - its skin was harder than it looked - and ended up sprawled face down on the ground.
The operator pulled the doors open. "Top floor."
Jensen flailed an arm and managed to locate the back wall of the elevator; he dragged himself upright and caught his breath for a moment before edging his way out of the elevator. The doors clanged loudly shut behind him but Jensen didn't bother turning as the elevator rattled away again. He had better things to worry about.
The top floor was a luxurious penthouse suite artfully decorated in dark blues and vivid greens. The curtains were the colour of mint-chip ice cream, the carpet was some strange, swirly combination of navy and emerald, and there was green ivy painted along the tops of the walls and down each corner. The overall result was a little chaotic for Jensen's tastes, but the care that had been put into the design was easily apparent.
The wall to Jensen's immediate left had something running down it that was either water or fire or both. It snaked down the wall like a living thing, before vanishing down a wide grill in the floor like some kind of flat, indoor waterfall. Jensen tilted his head, looking closer, and wondered idly what sort of damage that did to the room below.
"Welcome," a voice said into the silence. Every muscle in Jensen's body snapped immediately taut. "Turn around."
Jensen rotated obediently and found himself facing a man with blue, blue eyes and vaguely untamable hair sitting in a massive plush chair in the centre of the room. He was watching Jensen with an unreadable expression that Jensen wasn't sure he wanted to understand.
"Well," the man said, in a voice like the wrath of heaven. "And who do you think you are?"
Jensen's brain immediately offered up a wide variety of responses, including 'Jensen', 'Sorry, I've got the wrong room' and 'clearly, I'm a lunatic for even considering this'. Swallowing hard, he stood there blankly for a long moment, trying to figure out how the hell he was supposed to answer when he didn't have a voice. Just as he was about to mime asking for a pen, the guy offered him a surprisingly boyish grin.
"Oh, don't worry, Jensen, I know who you are." He winked. "I just wanted to make sure that you did."
Jensen was getting really fucking sick of smart-ass gods.
"You can call me Misha," the guy continued offhandedly, because apparently gods never introduced themselves with 'my name is'. "Come in, sit down. Coffee?"
Feeling more than a little lost, Jensen shook his head and stepped forward. The only piece of furniture near the chair was a low bench that was at once elegant enough to match the décor and austere enough to make Jensen feel like a schoolboy waiting to talk to the principal.
"So," Misha said. His eyes really were very blue, Jensen noticed. The intensity in them made all the hair on Jensen's arms stand up on end. "It's been a long time since a live human wandered into my realm. The Messenger always did have a tendency to meddle."
Jensen bit his lip, hoping that he wan't getting Steve-Chris in trouble just by being here.
Misha waved a dismissive hand. "Oh, don't worry about that. I'm very used to my nephew's proclivities. This is far from the most outrageous thing he's ever done. You wouldn't believe the stories I could tell." He grinned unexpectedly. "And if you're even half as talented as he says, I'm not going to object to the use of my time."
Which sounded like a good thing, but Jensen wasn't sure he even knew how to relax at this point.
"And, of course, you've already earned the favour of my wife," Misha continued. He nodded at the flower still pinned to Jensen's shirt. "Which certainly stands you in good stead."
'Wife?' Jensen asked before he could help himself.
"Wife," Misha agreed, reading Jensen's lips with ease. "I'd warn you off, but unrequited love makes it easier to resist her charms. All that pining, you know."
Without the faintest idea of how he was meant to respond to that, Jensen settled for fisting his hands tighter in the fabric of his jeans. It was strange. Misha was being nothing but pleasant but Jensen still felt his flesh crawling. There was something implacable about him that set him apart even from the other gods Jensen had met. It was quietly but inescapably terrifying.
"Well." Misha sighed after a moment, when Jensen did nothing more engaging than stare at him. "I suppose we'd better get this over with. Come along then." He stood and walked away, leaving Jensen scrambling to follow after. Misha moved like smoke and his silver-black clothes flitted wraithlike in and out of the shadows in the room.
Misha led the way to a doorway not far from the indoor waterfall. "Don't touch that," he said offhandedly. Jensen wasn't about to protest.
The room beyond the doorway was high vaulted and broad. The walls, floors and ceiling were all sheathed in dark, inky marble that was contrasted by bright swathes of fabric draped at even intervals along the wall. There was soft, white light filtering in from somewhere, but Jensen was damned if he could tell where.
"Here we go," Misha said, stepping aside to let Jensen enter. Jensen nodded his thanks and let his eyes skim around the room as he walked in to see-
He stumbled to a startled stop.
'Jared?' he demanded incredulously. And it really was, standing on the other side of a row of marble columns that looked like they'd been stolen off the side of a Greek temple. Jensen was moving again instantly, hurrying across the floor with his arms outstretched and his mouth tripping uselessly over Jared's name again and again.
"Wouldn't do that if I was you," Misha called mildly, just as Jensen's fingers breached the gap between two of the columns.
A feeling like ice in shadow shocked through Jensen's arm, inexorable and deadly as it prowled through his veins and left numbing pain in its wake. Panicked, he yanking his arm away and stumbled back, gritting his teeth as his body shuddered with the aftershocks.
"That's not a place for living souls," Misha said, belated and unhelpful. He came to stand beside Jensen and gave him a critical once-over. "Give it a minute and the darkness should recede. Good reflexes, by the way. Much longer and you might have lost that arm. Or the rest of you."
Well, that was ever so encouraging. Jensen did his best to ignore the slow, tingling return of life to his arm and focused his attention instead on Jared.
Jared was still stood in the same spot, placid and right there even though he might as well have been on the moon for all Jensen that could reach him. He wasn't acting like he'd noticed Jensen's most recent brush with death and Jensen looked closer, trying to tell if Jared could see them through the columns.
It was about then that Jensen realized he could see through Jared. The sudden coldness sweeping through his veins had nothing at all to do with the Underworld.
"It's only to be expected," Misha said. "Do you know how long you've left him here? He's actually doing pretty well, considering."
No, actually, Jensen didn't know how long it had been. As if he didn't have enough things to feel guilty about.
Misha's forehead creased in time with the faint frown on his face. "What are you blaming yourself for? You're here now. It's not like he knows any different. All you've done is made things more challenging for yourself."
Jensen tore his eyes away from Jared to raise a questioning eyebrow at Misha.
Misha shrugged. "What? You think I'm going to give you a soul that doesn't remember being alive? I'm not the only one you need to convince with this little plea." He glanced at Jensen and there was death in his gaze. "And I hope for your sake that you're very convincing. You're here to beg for something that belongs to me, after all, and I have a tendency to be possessive."
Jensen stared at him, mouth suddenly dry.
This time, Misha's smile seemed the exact opposite of comforting. "You know, that's a good look for you. It's the eyes, I think. Green always shows fear so nicely. Go ahead," he said then, in a perfectly pleasant tone of voice. Whether he survived this or not, Jensen knew he was never going to be able to forget that voice. "Unless you'd rather stay here and work the poker table instead. Honestly, I'm fine with either option. May end up doing both if you're no good."
Jensen gave his arm a shake to rid it of the last tingles and started tuning his guitar on autopilot. His gaze drifted inexorably back to Jared, who looked as vacant as every other shade Jensen had met in the Underworld. Panicked, Jensen tried to focus on the familiar, loved shape and not the horrifically faded quality to it.
Jensen's fingers started pulling thoughtless warm ups out of the strings and Jared's attention focused on them immediately. Music always touches the soul, Chris had said. Jensen reminded himself that this was Jared, who'd been listening to Jensen make music for practically their whole lives. This would work. There was no other alternative.
"I may be immortal but I do have other things to do," Misha said.
Jensen nodded. He took a deep breath, looked straight into Jared's blank eyes and played.
It might have been beautiful. Jensen didn't know. All he knew was that it was every shred of joy and fear and love inside him, poured out into the only voice he had and probably the only that would ever have been capable of expressing the messy tangle of emotions he'd wrapped himself in.
Jensen scraped his nerves rawer with every dancing shift of his fingers along the frets and he dropped his eyes out of sheer self-preservation. He couldn't cope if he was constantly watching Jared, scanning that familiar face for the slightest trace of recognition. This wasn't the Jared he needed to say these things to.
The song swirled through him like a living thing, filling the dead silence of the room with a heartbeat that thrummed down to Jensen's very soul. He couldn't have said how long he stood there, playing the song of Jared and his Jensen with all its imperfections and confusions and delights. All Jensen knew was that his chest was heaving and his fingertips were burning by the time he let the last achingly hopeful note fade into nothing.
The absence of sound afterwards was like a punch in the gut.
Wrung out and trembling, Jensen stared down at his hands and managed several deep, heaving breaths before his need to know overwhelmed his fear and he looked up to seek out Jared's face.
The smile that he found there was fond and not the slightest bit transparent and Jensen felt his legs buckle.
Jared's mouth opened, shaping around a word, but he'd hardly voiced the first syllable when the air rippled between them and Jensen abruptly found himself facing a blank wall.
And then he remembered the other member of his audience.
Fear was riding high in Jensen's throat as he turned to see if he'd earned the approval of the lord of the Underworld.
Misha was smiling. The sight of crystalline tears frozen in the corners of Misha's eyes nearly made Jensen cry relieved tears of his own.
"Masterful," Misha said simply, and the sincerity in his voice turned the word rich and dark.
Jensen managed a nod.
Misha fished around in his pocket and pulled out a scrap of black paper. "Here," he said, holding out the ticket. "This will take you to the platform where you started your journey. You'll be able to get Above from there."
Jensen took it tentatively, still not quite sure what he was being told.
"Of course you pass," Misha said. "Even if you weren't beloved by the Muses, a love so deep deserves transcendence." Unexpectedly, Misha winked. "Just this once, though."
Jensen smiled broadly, trying to convey even a fraction of his gratitude.
"Don't mention it. Seriously, don't. It's bad for my reputation and I don't want more heroes knocking on my door. I'm gonna have to ask you to head out now though. My family's heading in for our monthly casino night and you're just the kind of pretty that my sisters love." Misha paused, looking Jensen over with a thoughtful purse to his lips. "My brothers too, come to think of it. You might end up as a cup bearer for the rest of eternity."
That sounded like a perfectly terrible idea and Jensen hurriedly stuffed the ticket into his pocket and slung his guitar over his shoulder.
Misha put one hand on Jensen's shoulder to guide him out of the room and back to the elevator. Jensen could feel the icy chill of Misha's skin even through the fabric of his jacket.
"It doesn't matter which train you get on," Misha said as they walked. "The conductor will tell you where to get off."
Jensen kept nodding all the way to the elevator, where Misha stopped and turned towards him.
"From this point you return to being a stranger in my realm," Misha warned. "You must go straight to the platform and stay on the train until you reach your stop. No side trips. No attempts to backtrack or return. No searching through the train. Jared will follow after, but only if you obey these rules. Understood?"
Jensen nodded hastily and a boyish grin spread across Misha's face.
"This has been a delight for me," he said. "Well worth the return of a soul. I trust you will play for me again when it is your time to return permanently."
Figuring that a handshake wasn't quite formal enough for the situation, Jensen went instead for a deep bow that made Misha's mouth twitch in what looked like a combination of amusement and approval.
The elevator binged at Jensen's back and Misha gave him a careless wave. "Go on, then, Jensen Ackles. Enjoy your life and I shall look forward to our next meeting."
Which was creepy as hell, and it was something of a struggle for Jensen to keep his expression neutral as he edged his way into the elevator and watched the doors rattle shut behind him. The elevator operator didn't bother saying anything to Jensen this time; the elevator dropped as soon as the doors closed, leaving Misha watching through the grill until they'd passed down to the floor below.
Once they were out of sight, Jensen slumped one shoulder back against the elevator operator's excessive bulk and took a brief moment to fall apart. He'd done it. He'd actually fucking done it. And apparently been kind of advance scouted by the god of the Underworld in the process, but Jensen couldn't even bring himself to care right now.
He was getting Jared back.
Their arrival on the first floor was very nearly as violent as the one at the penthouse had been, though this time Jensen managed to brace himself between the wall and the operator well enough to keep from falling over. The elevator doors rattled open onto the casino floor.
"First floor," the operator said, and Jensen gave it an absent wave as he headed off.
The casino was just as empty and generally ghost town-y as it had been on the way in. Jensen didn't bother with subtlety this time: he dashed through the blinking lights and marble walls at a dead run, not because he feared that something was going to come after him, but because he was so beyond ready to get out of the Underworld.
The world outside was still dark and ominous but the air was significantly warmer than it had been in the casino, which Jensen appreciated. He headed for the lone gleaming lamppost that marked the path back to the train platform. Everything inside of him was urging him to move faster, to get there as soon as possible, but Jensen had no desire to get lost in the black if he outpaced the lampposts so he forced himself to walk.
It felt like an eternity before the platform came into view and Jensen permitted himself a pleased smile when he was finally stood at the edge of the train tracks. His fingers sought out the ticket still in pocket and Jensen fisted his hand around it, taking comfort in the solid presence of it while he settled in to wait.
By the time the train finally rolled up to the platform, Jensen was half-mad from impatience. It didn't even matter that he didn't know how long he'd actually been standing there; all he knew was that it had felt like forever and it was torturous.
The train car was empty save for the ticket-taker, who took Jensen's black ticket and disappeared towards the front of the train. Jensen sat in the seat closest to the door, watching his reflection in the window as the train rolled into motion.
The black landscape rolled past at what felt like a snail's pace and it was only by dint of will that Jensen refrained from pacing back and forth and wearing an impatient hole in the floor.
When the scenery finally did change, it was with a suddenness that had Jensen wondering if he'd done the impossible and fallen asleep while he hadn't been paying attention. The black forest turned into familiar green fields between one heartbeat and the next and, though Jensen craned his neck back in the direction they'd come from, there was no sign that the forest had ever existed at all.
It wasn't long after that that the train slowed and Jensen's heart rate spiked as he jumped to his feet. But instead of the quiet little platform Jensen had started from, the train opened on another, unfamiliar, platform that had a handful of shades waiting on it. The ticket taker reappeared and Jensen slumped back down as the shades filed onto the train, their green tickets and the fact that they looked nearly solid making it clear that they were new arrivals. More evidence that the Underworld had a thing for ignoring the rules of physics.
The doors slid shut again and Jensen jittered silently as the train pulled away to continue its journey. The next time the train stopped, Jensen was standing immediately, only to be disappointed again as more shades got on and the train went on its merry way. The third through fifth times, Jensen had to talk himself out of heading up to the engine room and beating the driver to second death with his guitar. After that he kind of lost count and slumped in his seat kicking disconsolately at the floorboards every time the train pulled in to a platform and left again without anyone telling him it was okay to get off.
"Last stop for living souls!" a voice called unexpectedly and Jensen jolted upright in surprise; he'd hardly even noticed the train slowing down. A quick glance out the window let Jensen see a familiar platform; he lurched awkwardly to his feet, heart pounding double time, and practically ran for the door. No one cared enough to watch him go.
There was a brief commotion on the platform as Jensen tried to get off the train while a handful of shades tried to get on and Jensen was feeling mussed and harried by the time he fought himself free from the crowd and staked out an empty patch of platform. He panted in a combination of adrenaline and anticipation, watching as shades shuffled forward to hand their passes over one-by-one to the ticket taker. The crowd thinned at an agonizingly slow place, until finally the last shades climbed onto the train.
Jared wasn't on the platform.
Jensen swallowed hard, fighting to ignore the feeling of his heart dropping into his boots. He turned his attention to the train, sure that Jared was just being a slow ass and keeping him waiting to irritate him. He was always doing stuff like that.
No one got off the train.
Jensen bit his lip, his whole body inclining forwards as though getting closer would make Jared get off the damn train already.
The doors slid shut.
Jensen watched helplessly as the train pulled away, leaving him standing there. Alone.
Numbly, Jensen stared down the tracks until the train disappeared over the horizon. Then he stood there a while longer, wondering how long he could stay before someone showed up to make him leave. Not that he would let them. He wasn't leaving, not without-
Jensen's heart stopped. He sucked in a sharp breath and then, so slowly that he wasn't sure he was actually moving, he turned around.
Jared still had the faint translucence of every shade Jensen had met in the Underworld, but whereas before Jensen had hardly been able to recognize the faded planes of his face, now Jared looked nearly whole. His mouth was curled up into a quiet, content little smile that Jensen didn't think he'd ever seen before.
"Jared," Jensen said before he'd thought about it, and was startled when his voice obeyed him. The name came out whisper soft like a confession. Or a promise.
"Hi," Jared said, and Jensen stumbled down off the platform, missing a step and nearly ending up on his face before coming to a stop in front of Jared, so close that he had to crane his neck to look up into familiar hazel eyes.
He wrapped a hand around Jared's neck and hauled him down, burying his head in the juncture of Jared's collarbone like he never wanted to move again. Jared hugged him back just as hard, arms tightening around Jensen's shoulders and waist hard enough to make Jensen's bones creak. Jensen was vaguely appalled to feel tears pricking at his eyes but he figured he damn well deserved them. Jared held him silently and made no comment on the way Jensen's shoulders were shaking.
They stood there for a long time while Jensen got a grip on himself, but it still felt like tearing off one of his own limbs when he finally loosened his grip enough to step back.
"God dammit, Jared," he said, thickly. "You ever do that to me again and I'll never forgive you."
"I'm sorry," Jared said, and Jensen could hear the sincerity in his voice. "I never meant to hurt you. Before I died, I mean. I didn't mean to do that either, obviously, but I should never hav-"
"So I'm in love with you," Jensen blurted, with all the confidence he could muster. It still came out tentative and embarrassingly shy. "I mean, you probably figured that out already and I know I'm an idiot for not noticing sooner, but now that I do I'm not going to be able to pretend I don't feel that way. Not that I expect it to change anything. But I…" Jensen faltered, ducking his head. "I don't know why you've been avoiding me or if there's anything I did wrong that I can… apologize for or something, but you have to tell me because I hated not having you around and you dying half fucking destroyed me and don't know how I'll manage if you drop me like that ag…"
Jensen's voice cracked and he trailed off into awkward silence. He could feel Jared watching him. Jensen stared at his scuffed shoes because this was even worse than fearing he'd see nothing of his Jared in the shade standing in front of him. Because this was his Jared and Jensen didn't think he could survive it if he still didn't want Jensen around.
Jared said nothing for a long moment and Jensen held his breath, bracing himself for whatever was coming.
"It's because you're so talented," Jared said finally, which was quite possibly the last thing Jensen had expected him to say.
Jensen looked up sharply and found Jared looking soft and sorrowful. "What?"
"Your music is more than just music," Jared said. A touch of wistful awe curved the edge of Jared's words. "It has life and power and it changes people, listening to you. Hell," Jared laughed, a little disbelieving, "from what I can tell, you just used a song to convince the devil to let me come back to life again."
"He's not the devil," Jensen said automatically, because he couldn't gather up enough of his brain to address the important parts of what Jared was saying. "He's the god of the afterlife."
"Doesn't change my point. Jensen, it's impossible for people not to love you when you've got an instrument in hand. And I…"
"And you what?" Jensen demanded. He stepped back into Jared's space and tilted his head to look up into Jared's face. "Jared."
Jared's eyes cut to the side for a moment before swinging resolutely back. "And I already loved you," he said and Jensen's heart caught in his chest. "With or without the music. Have, for a while. So it just got to be… too much to watch you play." Jared smiled a helpless, tender sort of smile. "You're something amazing, Jensen. But I didn't want you to know, since I didn't think you… and I didn't want to ruin our friendship, only then I ended up making things worse."
Jensen was having trouble breathing. "You're in love with me?"
"I am," Jared said. "And I'm so sorry I hurt you."
"Me too," Jensen said, meaning it. He smiled shyly. "I should have knocked some sense into you sooner."
Jared smiled back. "Or into yourself," he suggested.
Jensen took a deep breath. "That song I played was about you," Jensen said, and it was surprisingly easy to say even with the way his insides were squirming. "All of it."
"It was beautiful," Jared said, solemn and honest.
"Yeah, well," Jensen tried a shrug and did a shit job at making it look casual. "Apparently true love makes for quality entertainment. Guess I should have been writing songs about you all along, huh?"
Jared's expression went suddenly bashful. "I kind of like being the only one who got to hear it," he admitted. "Besides the god of the afterlife, I guess."
"Jesus Christ," Jensen said. "Why the hell aren't we kissing yet?"
Jared lifted a hand to Jensen's cheek and leaned in with a smile. "Good question."
Jensen met him halfway, hooking his arm again around Jared's neck to keep him right where he wanted him. Their lips brushed lightly once, twice and then Jared's fingers tilted Jensen's chin to the side and they were kissing properly, fitting together so neatly that Jensen couldn't bring himself to object to the strain in his neck. The kiss was gentle, curious and just a little hesitant and it was absolutely perfect. Jensen sighed contentedly into Jared's mouth and felt Jared's answering chuckle buzz against his lips.
"I've wanted to do that for so long," he murmured, and the expression on his face made Jensen flush.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I didn't mean to keep you waiting."
"It was worth it." Jared leaned back in, his mouth whispering right against Jensen cheek. "But next time I expect you to write me a song with words in it."
Jensen smiled. "I can do that."
Jared's answering smile warmed Jensen right down to the ground. "I'll look forward to it." He gave Jensen another quick peck before straightening and looking around at the scenery like he'd never seen it before. For all Jensen knew, he hadn't; it was hard to tell how much of anything shades actually saw. He'd have to ask, later. "You have the faintest idea how to get out of here?"
Jensen laughed. "More or less. I'm sure we'll figure it out. Now come on," he said, hooking his fingers in Jared's belt loop. Jared's arm draped warm and solid over his shoulders as they fell into step. It felt good, right, and Jensen firmly told himself not to be such a fucking girl. "I haven't eaten or slept in Misha only knows how long. I want a hamburger and a good night's sleep like you wouldn't fucking believe."