Jared woke up flat on his back, feeling like he'd been frozen solid and left to thaw in the sun. He groaned a wordless protest at the brightness beyond his eyelids and tried to roll over, only to discover that he was strapped down at his wrists, ankles and waist.
He came awake in a hurry.
"Good evening, darling," Sebastian's voice said from somewhere, and Jared rolled his head labouriously to the side to see Sebastian sitting in a chair at his elbow, watching him with an avid sort of anticipation on his face. "Sorry about the sedative. Well, no I'm not, but it seems appropriate to apologize in this situation, don't you think?"
Jared didn't answer, not entirely sure where his tongue was right now. Jared's head was fuzzy and the world beyond Sebastian's head was hazy and indistinct in a way that made it very clear that Jared was still under the influence of whatever drug Sebastian had injected him with. His limbs were heavy and unresponsive.
"I thought you'd be more comfortable here," Sebastian continued, and it was about then that Jared realized that he recognized the room they were in. And the chair he was strapped to.
Sebastian smiled, dimples in full force, and tapped at Jared's wrists where they were cuffed at his sides. "I have to say, I'm impressed at how little you've used these restraints considering how many people you have in and out of this chair. I always knew you were good at the technical parts, but your bedside manner really is quite exceptional. Never met a mender quite like you." He winked. "And I've known my fair share, I can tell you that."
Jared's stomach roiled. Sebastian's face was open and encouraging, as though strapping Jared to a chair and all but admitting that he was a serial killer was a perfectly normal thing to do.
"Well?" Sebastian asked. "Aren't you going to say anything? I love hearing the sound of my voice, really I do, but I wouldn't have waited for you to wake up if all I wanted to do was talk to myself. Think of it like a survey! Fifteen minutes of my time to answer a few routine questions."
Jared stared, openly discomfited by the fact that Sebastian was acting no differently now than he did when it was him in the chair, cracking jokes about anything and everything. He would have thought that Sebastian would have been more obviously serial killer-like when actually killing people.
Sebastian made an encouraging motion with one hand. "Go on then. Ask. Captive audience, and all that."
Jared thought for a moment. "Ar-"
"Wait, wait, sorry," Sebastian said, laughter in his tone. "Let me start first." He coughed and arranged his face into a bright grin. "Hello zere," he said, shifting into an unexpected and surprisingly good German accent. "My name iz Zebaztian and I collect heartz. Nice to be meetink you! You are zurprized, ya? I zought you vould be."
Jared stared at him, nonplussed.
"Just like that," Sebastian said then, switching back to his normal voice. The man was insane. "Really, darling, you're far too trusting. It's delightful. The look on your face when you saw me - brightened my entire night. Okay, your turn now!"
"How-" Jared's tongue slipped off the word and he swallowed down spit so he could try again. "How did you know?"
"That you were getting close to figuring it out? You."
Jared's face screwed up as he tried to figure out what that meant. "When-"
"He's not very good with faces, is he, your Jensen?" Sebastian said, leaving Jared struggling to keep up with the sudden shift in conversation. "You know, I really am terribly offended that he didn't remember me. After I went to all the effort to visit his lovely little bakery. Although I suppose I can't complain too much. If he'd been paying attention it wouldn't have been so easy to eavesdrop on your fascinating conversation with the overcompensating little policeman the other day. Good job figuring it out, by the way. You're the first one who ever has." He pinched Jared's cheek with a delighted grin. "Clever clogs."
"You've… done this-s-s before?" Jared slurred.
"I've always enjoyed eavesdropping," Sebastian said, as though that had been what Jared was talking about. He grinned a cheeky sort of grin. "There's something so delicious about doing things you're not supposed to, don't you think?"
"You mmmurder people."
Sebastian clutched a dramatic hand to his chest. "Murder! That's slander and blasphemy, darling! I am a connoisseur. An aficionado. The deaths are merely an… unfortunate side effect of my love of true art."
"Unfortunate!" Jared tried to rear up but only managed to jerk in his bonds and make the chair rattle.
"Very unfortunate," Sebastian agreed, with a grave little nod. "It's not as though I have anything against the poor pets; they just have things I want. You know how that is, don't you? Of course you do." Sebastian hummed thoughtfully. "Although I think we can both agree that you have a wee bit too much self-control, wouldn't you say?"
"Thought I got to assk the qu-qu-questions," Jared said, fighting for every inch of coherency he could get. The roll of drugs in his bloodstream slowed the already sluggish thump of his heart, leaving him feeling faint and wan. Sebastian had definitely overdosed him - not enough to have killed him outright, thankfully, but enough that Jared would have been calling for an ambulance if he'd had the chance.
"Right, yes, I'm sorry." Sebastian clasped his hands under his chin and leaned in close. "Go ahead."
"What are y-you," Jared growled low in his throat as he tried to force his mouth to do what he wanted, "going t' do with mme?"
"Another unfortunate situation," Sebastian said, sounding genuinely regretful. He sighed. "I don't normally do this," he confided.
"Mmmurder people?" Jared said again, because he was nothing if not a moron. "Yesh, you do."
Sebastian's hand lashed out and Jared braced himself for an attack, only for Sebastian to give him a light tap on the cheek that Jared scarcely felt.
"Naughty! I'd almost think you were trying to get yourself in trouble. It's entirely untrue, of course. Your Jensen's still alive, isn't he? Personally," Sebastian said, leaning in close and dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I'm more than a little surprised he managed it, but then again, he had you didn't he?" Sebastian pinched the cheek he'd just patted. "Oh, you have no idea how tempted I was to take the rest, just to see what you'd done to fix him. I love your work, by the way, Jared," Sebastian said, with a sincere and absolutely terrifying grin. "Which I'm sure you've figured out, but I've never really had the chance to tell you myself. I've seen a lot of mended hearts over the years but yours are… amazing. Singular. Pure artistry. You have a real gift."
Am I supposed to say thank you? Jared wanted to ask, but he probably wouldn't have been able to say it aloud even if he was that stupid.
"But that just didn't seem sporting. I really am chuffed that he survived, you know." Sebastian beamed, dropping into a Brooklyn accent to say, "Now what sort of low down murderer would be glad if his victims survived? The defense rests."
Jared narrowed his eyes at him. "No excuth."
Sebastian shrugged. "Maybe not. Now, I am sorry that it had to be a friend of yours," he said. "But how could I pass him up? Something more than flesh is much more beautiful and your Jensen was so beautifully damaged. For a while I hoped that you might have mended him in the past - I said that I'm a fan, didn't I? Because I'm a fan - but it wasn't hard to realize that he was far too emotionally withered to have any of your work inside him. You'd never do such a shoddy mending. Still, I wasn't expecting no work at all so, really, it's hardly a surprise that the silly thing broke when I made my rather hasty exit."
Sebastian spread his hands in a sheepish 'what can you do' gesture. "Although in my defense, I wasn't expecting to get interrupted either. I'd have gone somewhere more private if I'd known that that wonderfully eclectic friend of yours was sleeping nearby."
"Fr-" Jared started to ask, before realizing that he meant Misha. A flood of relief went through him, which Jared knew was ridiculous because he couldn't have had more proof that Sebastian was the killer if Sebastian had walked up juggling all the missing hearts - and he suspected that he'd be watching it happen to himself before long - and yet still it was good to hear that Misha definitely hadn't been involved in the attack. What's more, he'd saved Jensen's life, just as surely as Jared had.
"Ding, ding, ding!" Sebastian said, with a beaming grin. "And that marks the end of our customer survey today. Thank you for participating! You've been entered to win a trip to Tahiti, but you're not going to win. No one ever does."
"Wh-what now?" Jared asked.
Sebastian wagged a chiding finger at him. "Ah, ah, no more questions. Besides, you're a clever boy; I'm sure you can figure it out."
Sebastian pulled Jared's tool tray closer and Jared swallowed hard.
"You're a special case," Sebastian said, pulling on a pair of gloves. "Obviously. I'm sure you have a lovely heart, darling, but you're not really my type. No offense. There's just something lacking in normal, untroubled hearts. I'll treasure it anyway, I promise. The heart of a true mender." Sebastian smiled, never losing that calm, affable demeanor. "I've liberated a page or two from my client file," he said then. Jared's tired brain was having serious trouble keeping up with him. "Hope you don't mind. You see, it might affect my credit rating if some other clever soul follows your thought process. I'd probably lose my house too. And I am rather fond of it."
Sebastian clicked on the chair lamp and Jared flinched at the glare.
"Did you want me to knock you out again?" Sebastian asked solicitously. "I'd rather you were awake - I do so enjoy your company, darling - but I'll understand if you want to be unconscious for this part. It's likely to be a wee bit stressful."
Jared glared at him as best as he could when his eyes weren't focusing properly.
Sebastian smiled. "Oh, goodie! I thought you'd say that. I brought my own tools," he continued, lifting up a scalpel so that Jared could get a good look at it. "It'd be a bit of a gaff wouldn't it, using yours. So impolite. Try to hold still please."
The scalpel sliced cleanly through Jared's skin and Jared was distantly impressed at Sebastian's proficiency with the blade. At least dying was only going to hurt the expected amount, instead of adding the pain of shoddy workmanship. The scalpel was set on the tray with a tidy little click and then it was Sebastian's fingers against the numbed skin above Jared's heart, coaxing the gap open. Jared closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable.
Jared knew the exact moment when Sebastian saw what Jared had done to himself; his hands froze and he sucked in a sharply audible breath. "Well," Sebastian said, after a lengthy pause. "You do know how to be surprising."
Jared looked down and shrugged as best as he could while strapped to his exam chair. "Do what I can."
"No, seriously, this is fantastic. How are you even alive?" Sebastian leaned in closer, tilting his head for a better view. "You did this yourself, didn't you? I'd recognize that stitching anywhere. I open myself up sometimes just to look at your stitches."
Jared fought back a shudder.
Sebastian was still examining the scabbing down the side of Jared's heart. "You've done a masterful job; you'd hardly know it had to be done in a mirror. It's healing fairly well too." One gloved finger snuck in to brush against the fragile seam where the rest of Jared's heart had been. Jared jerked at the touch and had to be momentarily grateful for the straps holding him still; if he'd been able to move that could have done some serious damage to the delicate flesh.
Sebastian hummed thoughtfully. "A couple of months ago? It's taking quite the toll, though, isn't it? You're blackening around the edges and these small tears shouldn't have taken hold so deeply. Well, except this one." He reached out to touch the vein of copper winding its way down the length of Jared's heart. "This one probably would have hurt either way. Looks like someone didn't think your heart was broken enough yet." He blinked up at Jared. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Jared turned his head away, stubbornly silent.
"The gold thread's surprisingly resilient," Sebastian noted, almost absently. He picked up the scalpel again and Jared forced himself not to hold his breath when it slipped under the bottom stitch. "It doesn't dissolve?"
The scalpel twitched and Jared felt the snap of the thread splitting. The flesh around the broken stitch sagged, dragging down on the rest of the thread and Jared gasped at the bright scrape of pain across deadened nerves.
Sebastian made an absent, interested sound. His wrist moved again and Jared couldn't contain a groan when the next stitch gave.
"Well, you can colour me impressed. Of course," Sebastian said, tracing the scalpel idly against Jared's heart and trailing stinging trails in his wake as he headed for the next stitch. "The real question is what you did with the rest of it."
"He gave it to me."
The edge of the scalpel bit in hard when Jared jerked instinctively towards that familiar voice and only Sebastian's matching surprise pulling the scalpel back kept Jared from dying right then and there.
Jensen stood calmly in the doorway, looking like he'd come straight from a night out at the bar. His hands were empty and loose at his sides. He was staring at Sebastian, steady and unblinking.
"Jensssen…" Jared said, dismayed.
"Not now, Jared," Jensen said, not looking away from Sebastian.
Who was looking absolutely delighted. "Oh," he breathed, a smile breaking across his face. "Oh, oh, oh! So that's how you did it!" Sebastian swung back to Jared. "Amazing. Did you do it yourself? What am I saying, of course you did. Working on that kind of time limit must have been wretched." The scalpel lifted and Jared breathed a shallow sigh of relief. He could feel the slow drip of blood from the newest wound and tried to convince his drugged mind to figure out how long he had before that was going to be a serious problem.
Not long enough, was the only solution he could come to.
"This I have to see." Sebastian looked down at Jared. "Sorry, darling. I know I said I was going to leave him alone, but I wouldn't be any kind of collector if I let this opportunity pass me by." He made a happy little sound. "Oh, you just spoil me, you know that? No one else ever gives me presents like this." He smoothed a gentle hand over Jared's hair.
Jensen coughed unsubtly.
Sebastian cocked his head at Jensen as if surprised he was standing there. "Oh. You don't mind, do you, darling?"
"Actually, I do," Jensen said, almost dryly.
Sebastian waved a dismissive hand. "Come now, there's no need to be difficult. I've already got the other half and it misses you. It's very pretty, you know. I keep it in a jar on my bedside table. Sometimes I sit and watch it beating for hours. It'll be a shame to give that up, but it'll be much better to get the matched set." Sebastian brightened. "I should sew the rest of your heart to his and have a lovely pair of Frankenstein hearts! I'll even give the two of you your own shelf; it'll be smashing."
"I don't think so," Jensen said. Jared had no idea how he was staying so calm. "You're going to let Jared go."
"What for?" Sebastian asked, sounding genuinely puzzled. "It's not like he's going to live much longer anyway. He doesn't need it."
Jensen went still as stone.
Sebastian blinked at him and then, abruptly, laughed. "Oh my dear, my dear. You can't really be this thick, can you? It's killing him," he said bluntly. "Or maybe I should say that you're killing him."
Jensen's eyebrow twitched.
"Oh yes," Sebastian said, with obvious relish. "The only reason our darling Jared's still kicking is that he had such a big heart that it's taking his body a while to realize that it can't survive with half a heart. I doubt he's got much more than four months left in him." Sebastian took another look at Jared's heart and hummed thoughtfully. "Though it looks like someone's been mistreating him recently, which is going to shorten that time considerably." He glanced up. "That's you, I assume? Must be, don't know why I'm asking. I can't imagine there's anyone else who'd have so much power to hurt him as the lovely boy he cut his heart apart for. I've got no idea how you didn't notice, darling. Really, it's obvious."
Jensen's expression didn't change. "Jared," he said evenly. "Is that true?"
Jared managed a nod. "Fraid s-so, yeah."
Sebastian made a consoling little sound. "Poor self-sacrificing Jared. Heart too big for this world. Really, I'm doing him a favour." Sebastian stroked a soothing hand over Jared's cheek. "Poor darling. It must have been terrible, feeling your world get grayer one day at a time. Have you been suffering in silence all this time?"
"Are you done?" Jensen asked him, in a voice that sounded like hell frozen over.
"Oh, I suppose so," Sebastian said, with a heavy sigh. "Jared's probably getting uncomfortable." He removed his hand from Jared's forehead and reached to reclaim his scalpel. "Deep breaths," he said. "You know the drill."
Jensen stepped forward. "Stop."
Sebastian rolled his eyes heavenward. "Really, darling, what's the point of all this? I appreciate that you're trying to be heroic, but this really isn't the time or place. I can slash Jared's throat before you take another step. Sorry," he said to Jared. "No hard feelings."
"Coursse not," Jared said because, really, what else could he say at this point?
"You've just made things worse by coming here, you know," Sebastian continued. "Because now I feel obliged to cut you open and Jared is going to die knowing that you're following right after."
Jared's heart sank. Well, what was left of it.
"Stop it, Jared," Jensen said, still not looking at him.
"I mean, honestly. Did you really that coming here by yourself, unarmed, while I've got a blade to darling Jared's heart was going to end well? Did you think you'd be able to appeal to my good side-" Sebastian's vowels went Texan long and languid "-cause I'm such a durn nice guy?"
"No," Jensen said simply.
Sebastian looked honestly taken aback. "I'm afraid you've lost me, darling. Why, exactly, are you here, then?"
The lights went out all at once and Jared tensed at the sound of booted feet charging through the door. He heard Sebastian swear and braced himself for a scalpel to the throat, only to have his breath escape him in a confused rush when there was a sharp concussion above him and the scalpel chimed as it hit the floor.
"Police!" a voice barked, just before the lights flickered back on to reveal an honest to God SWAT team swarming into Jared's exam room, night goggles on and guns brought to bear against Sebastian, who was apparently on the floor somewhere beyond Jared's field of vision.
"I was buying time until the police could get here and arrest your crazy ass," Jensen explained belatedly.
Impossibly, Sebastian began to laugh. "Oh, well done you!" he said, sounding entirely unconcerned by his own capture. "Very nicely played. I'd tip my hat if I had one and these fine gentlemen weren't cuffing my hands behind my back."
"You have the right to remain silent," one of the SWAT team members said and Jared tuned out the rest of Sebastian's Miranda Rights in favour of staring hazily at the ceiling. It was moving much faster than Jared thought was really appropriate for a ceiling.
"Jared?" Jensen asked, and Jared tilted his head to find that Jensen was right next to him, fumbling with the straps around Jared's wrists. "Jared, talk to me."
"You okay?" Jared managed, after a few false starts. The place where Sebastian had sliced through the first few stitches was starting to throb something fierce, the wound from the scalpel was bleeding more than Jared appreciated, the drugs were showing no sign of giving him a break and it was getting increasingly hard to hold onto consciousness.
Above him, Jensen looked sort of angry. "Don't you even dare," he said. "I'm fine and you're not."
"M'glad. Dun like you hurt." Jared blinked muzzily at Jensen. "Hossspital."
"There's an ambulance coming." The buckle around Jared's wrist folded under Jensen's fingers and he leaned over Jared to get to the other one. "Just stay awake."
"'ll try," Jared said. Jensen was bent over his chest, his face near Jared's right bicep as he focused on the straps. Jared found his attention caught by the look of intense concentration thinning Jensen's lips. "Heart," he said, forcing the words past his numb lips because this was important. "Yours. Ss-still, ss-still… alive. Hossspital mmmenders can fix it."
"What did I say about worrying about me?" Jensen said, but he didn't sound upset. Jared wasn't sure what he did sound like.
"Jensssen," Jared protested. "S'important."
"I'll deal with it," Jensen said shortly. "And when you wake up we're going to have a long talk about you committing delayed suicide to save my life."
"M'awake," Jared said, though it was only just barely true.
There was a commotion near the doorway and Jared looked away from Jensen to see a pair of paramedics rolling a gurney into the room.
He rolled his head back and blinked heavily up at Jensen. "C'n I pass out now?"
"Okay," Jensen said.
Jared smiled at him as he let his eyes fall closed. "Fanks."
The smell of antiseptic and starch tugged Jared into consciousness some undetermined amount of time later. He blinked up at an unfamiliar ceiling, registering the needle in his arm and the faint fog in his head that said that Sebastian's drugs were out of his system but that at least one of the bags on the IV stand was keeping him well supplied with painkillers. A roll of his head to the side revealed that he was in a public room, but that the curtains had been pulled around the bed to give him a little privacy.
There was a chair beside the bed and Jared was surprised to find Jensen asleep in it, arms crossed over his chest and head lolling to one side in a way that looked terribly uncomfortable for his neck. He was wearing a plain t-shirt that Jared didn't recognize and there was a cotton ball taped to the inside of his elbow.
As Jared sat there, Jensen twitched and stirred, wrinkling his nose up in the most adorable way, and Jared blinked as he realized that he could feel a quiet flush of affection curling in his veins, much stronger than he'd expected. In fact, Jared realized with a sudden shocked exhale, he felt better than he had since he'd given his heart to Jensen; it was as though the world had finally come back into focus after months of bad reception. Jared tried a smile on for size, feeling the way it made his heart - his entire heart - beat faster.
"What're you so happy about?"
Jared looked over to find Jensen awake and watching him with a studiously blank expression. Jared felt his good mood sour instantly at the thought that Jensen had lost all these feelings that Jared had just reclaimed.
Jensen rolled his eyes. "Knock it off, dumbass. You missed all the excitement."
"Are you okay?" Jared asked, because the fact that Jared wasn't dead yet meant that Jensen was his first priority again. "Your heart, is it okay? Did they search Mr. Roch- Sebastian's house? Did the mending go properly?"
"Yes, yes and yes," Jensen said. "I'm all sorted."
Jensen held up a stalling hand. "Hey, you were the one kidnapped by the world's most cheerful serial killer. Worry about yourself first."
"I was, wasn't I?" Jared thought about that for a minute. "Christ, that's unbelievable."
"You're telling me. You're not the one who walked in to see you tied to your own chair with a crazy person holding a scalpel to your innards."
"Thank you," Jared said sincerely, and Jensen shrugged, obviously keen to dismiss the whole concept. "Jensen. I mean it. You saved my life."
"Just returning the favour," Jensen said, squirming a little. "Lucky for you I was in the neighbourhood."
Jared frowned a little. "But… how did you know I was in trouble?"
"You kidding? I can feel you angsting a mile away. And I've been tapped into Radio Jared long enough to be able to tell the difference between your usual angst and you're 'oh my god, I'm going to die, help me, Jensen' angst."
Jared made a face at him. "I do not have 'help me, Jensen' angst."
"Yes, you do. I was at The Bishop and felt you totally wig out."
"I'd just exposed a serial killer and looked up to find him smiling at me," Jared said, most definitely not pouting. "You would have freaked out too."
"Then you fell completely off the radar and since your heart never shuts up, I called your cell to see what was going on. Didn't get an answer, so I figured the clinic was the next place to look. It was about then that you woke up again, I guess, and it wasn't hard to tell that you were in trouble. So I called Chris." Jensen smirked a little. "He's got words to say to you about you waiting until the middle of the night to get attacked by serial killers."
"Next time I'll wait till his lunch break. The cops came in with you, right?" Jared asked. It seemed suddenly, vitally, important to know that Jensen had been safer than he'd looked, standing unarmed in the doorway facing the man who'd tried to kill him. "Chris was in the hall with you, right?"
Jensen snorted. "How long do you think it takes to pull together a police sting? Here's a hint: the movies lie. I waited as long as I could."
"Jensen, you can't-"
"I could, I did and a whole lot of police officers have already given me this speech so you can just shut it. A rescue mission wouldn't have been worth the effort if you'd got your idiot self killed before they got there."
"But-" Jared bit back the rawness in the back of his throat. "You could have been killed."
"So could you."
"But that's not fair," Jared protested. "You heard Mr. R- Sebastian. I was involved. You weren’t. I put you in danger because-"
Jensen arched an eyebrow. "Because?"
"Which answer do you want?" Jared asked, hearing the bitterness in it. "Because I didn't figure it out sooner? Because that madman was targeting my clients on purpose because he 'liked my work'? Because I put my fucking heart in your chest because I couldn't bear to watch you die?"
Jared was breathing hard and dangerously close to yelling by the time he finished, shaking with disgust and belated terror.
"You done?" Jensen asked. "Because, last I checked, you don't get to make my decisions for me. And if you want to talk about fairness, how about we discuss the fact that you half-killed yourself in the name of saving my life? The hospital menders were amazed you were even fucking alive when I told them how long you'd been functioning at half capacity. Oh," Jensen added, starting to sound angry himself. "And let's not forget that you didn't even try to build yourself a replacement for the missing half. Even though I've got it on good authority that you're probably the best mender in the entire fucking state and if anyone could do it, it would be you. And then lied to me about it. So yes, let's talk about fair, hmm, Jared?"
Jared stared at him, dismayed. "Jensen…"
"You're a right bastard," Jensen growled. "Thinking that sacrificing yourself is the way to make things better. If it'd been me strapped to that chair, you'd have gone in guns blazing, no backup whatsoever, and gotten both of us killed."
"You'd be dead if I wasn't a self-sacrificing bastard," Jared pointed out.
"True," Jensen said. Then he shocked Jared entirely by smiling a fond, secretive sort of smile that seemed somehow familiar. "So I guess we balance each other out somehow."
Caught off guard, Jared nodded awkwardly and let the conversation clatter to a halt. The sounds of the hospital drifted through the flimsy curtain around the bed and Jared wondered how many other people were in the room, how many lives were passing in and out of the hospital doors right now.
"So," he started, only to have the word devolve into coughing as his dry throat abruptly protested all the yelling.
A cup of water appeared under his nose and Jared took it on autopilot, trying desperately not to read too much into a Jensen who cared about whether or not Jared got his fool self killed and waited at his bedside in the hospital and got him water without being asked. "Thanks," he rasped.
Jensen waved him off. "You had a question?"
Jared nodded. He took a deep swallow of water, then set the cup on the side table and stared at his hands. "Am I under arrest?"
Jensen's eyebrows were getting quite the workout today. "For?"
"For preferring pink to green," Jared said irritably. "For putting half of my heart in your chest, obviously! Illegal human organic mending, remember?"
"Actually," Jensen said, sounding suddenly amused. Jared couldn't keep up with all these abrupt emotional switches. "There's precedent for it in federal law. Sharing of hearts between two adult, consenting bodies is 100% legal."
"I'm going to shut you up right there," Jensen said pleasantly. "My choice, remember? And I'm choosing to say that I asked you to do it. Also, there is no world in which pink is better than green. I'd lock you up for that shit if I could."
"Jensen," Jared said, injecting as much irritation into his voice as he could. It was an impressive amount, even if he said so himself. "I didn't give you a choice."
"And it worked out for the best. Which means that, regretfully, I should probably start listening to you more often."
Jensen's expression was bland but not blank and Jared found himself feeling strangely off-balance with the entire conversation, like Jensen was reading off a script that Jared had only seen the rough notes for.
"I live my own life," Jensen said. "And that means deciding that I'm wrong sometimes. You want proof that I'm fine with this? Here."
Jensen sat up straighter and grabbed the hem of his shirt. He pulled it off with stiff, careful movements and Jared watched as the fabric peeled away to reveal the fresh incisions above Jensen's heart. The skin was pink and red around the edges, though not inflamed, and held together only by a desultory series of stitches - plain black and too widely spaced to offer any real support for knitting the skin back together.
Jared frowned, hands itching for a needle and thread to put him to rights. "Who did that? It's never going to heal right like-"
"I told him to," Jensen interrupted, and Jared felt a brief pang as he remembered the last time Jensen had said that.
Jensen caught the look and his mouth quirked in acknowledgement. "I actually did, this time."
Jared's frown deepened. "Why?"
The shrug Jensen gave him wasn't nearly as casual as Jared thought Jensen had intended for it to be. "Figured you'd want to see."
Jensen leaned over and picked up a pair of small scissors that Jared hadn't noticed off the small table beside the bed. Scissors in hand, Jensen cut carefully through the knot holding the threads in place and, with a series of minute winces, tugged the stitches through and out.
"Gloves," Jared said automatically, when Jensen went to peel the skin back.
Jensen's answering sigh was surprisingly tolerant. "Jared, I have been disinfected to within an inch of my life in this place. I've had more people's hands in my chest than I ever want to again and let's not forget that I survived being scalpeled in a dark alley by a serial killer. I'm not going to get heart sickness from the tips of my fingers."
"Fine. But don't touch anything," Jared warned.
Jensen firmed his grip on the skin and, with a strangely hesitant look, pulled it free.
Jared had expected something similar to what Jensen's heart must have looked like before Sebastian had torn it apart: thin, weary and blackened, with a new line of stitches - white, maybe? - trailing down the break. In his more optimistic moments, Jared had imagined that there would be a little extra rigour in the half of Jensen's heart that had been sewn to his, though he hadn't been holding out much hope.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
The first thing that Jared noticed, oddly, was the familiar glint of gold thread, shining solid and strong down the centre of Jensen's heart. Then the surprisingly steady rhythm of Jensen's heartbeat, far healthier than Jared would have expected.
Then the fact that Jensen still had half of Jared's heart.
Jared stared, dumbfounded. That was absolutely his heart, still beating in tandem with the remaining half of Jensen's, but the result looked as much unlike the wretched mess Jared had cobbled together as night to day. The flesh beneath the gold thread had knitted together tight and smooth, the warm reds of Jared's half swamping over and through the brittle green marring Jensen's. Jared's side had shriveled a little, not really a surprise given the handicap it was dealing with, but somehow looked like it had breathed that lost vitality into Jensen's side. Jensen's side had grown, still smaller than the average, but so much stronger, so much bolder than it had been.
They looked strangely right together, those two mismatched halves.
The gray in Jensen's side was all but gone, replaced by a muted rose that spoke of steady recovery and acceptance of his emotional pain. The black had thinned, still there but no longer swallowing Jensen whole. And, around the edges, Jared could catch the rosy blush of new love, deepening to a healthy crimson that was threaded through with white streaks that looked like nothing so much as hope.
"Jensen?" Jared asked. He didn't look up to meet Jensen's eyes. He couldn't.
"It was like this when they opened me up," Jensen said quietly. "The hospital menders said that they'd be doing more harm than good cutting it apart. Because, somehow, I've got a single, whole, completely functional heart." Jensen smiled and Jared caught it in his peripheral vision. He was sorry to have missed it. "S'been years since I had one of those. So I'm keeping it. Hope you don't mind."
"But you'll be stuck with them," Jared said, staring at the wealth of emotions - real, brave, gritty emotions - inked into that surprisingly beautiful merging of flesh. "All my feelings. You said you didn't-"
"How about you listen to what I'm telling you now, hey? Besides," Jensen sniffed. "You gave it to me. No take-backs."
Jensen smoothed his skin carefully back into place and wiped his fingers on the hem of his abandoned shirt. Then he sat back in his chair, apparently oblivious to the fact that he needed sewing back together. "I'll get someone to take care of it later," he said, anticipating Jared's instinctive protest. "We need to deal with some other stuff, first."
Jared had already opened his mouth to ask what Jensen meant when he realized what was wrong with the fact that half of his heart was now part of Jensen.
He pressed a shocked hand against his own chest, and his eyes flashed up to Jensen's face. "But, if you've still got it, what's…?"
"Funny thing that," Jensen said. "Our friendly neighbourhood serial killer came up with the idea."
"Wha-?" Jared blinked at him, sure he'd misheard.
Jensen shrugged. He kept his eyes fixed on Jared's but Jared could tell that he was managing it with an effort. "Well, it worked pretty well for me, so I figured the other way around might be good too."
Dawning comprehension widened Jared's eyes. "Jensen, did you-"
"It's a poor trade for the one you gave me," Jensen said and Jared was abruptly aware that he could feel the faint tremor in Jensen's voice echoing tenfold in his own chest. "But it's the best I've got."
Jared stared and his hand pressed harder against his chest, counting out the heartbeats. "I've got the other half of your heart… in me?"
"Yeah. They found it in Sebastian's house," Jensen's mouth twisted, "right where he said it was, which is fucking creepy. So don't you dare tell me that you're the only idiot who gets to make decisions about giving away bits of his heart," he said, something fierce in his voice that Jared did not want to argue with. "Because you're going to be able to feel how much that pisses me off and that's going to make it really unpleasant for both of us when I punch you in the face on top of that."
Jared was speechless. "Jensen, I-"
"Worked out better for me in the long run anyway," Jensen said. He stretched and Jared fought the urge to page the nurse and demand some damn thread when the motion made his incisions gape. "You've got to deal with my emotionally stunted pile of flesh pulling the rest of you down. As if it wasn't already going to take you a while to recover your strength. But the menders say that I'd never have got back this range of emotions if not for your heart. No amount of mending could have really fixed the damage I've done to myself. "
Jared forced a thin laugh. "Guess organic mendings are useful, after all. The traditionalists are going to have a field day."
"You think?" Jensen sounded thoughtful. "Cause I think it's got more to do with the guy who gave it to me. And probably the fact that I've apparently fallen in love with his stupid, emotional ass which means that our hearts are pretty compatible."
Jared's breath caught in his throat. "Jens-"
"Hey," Jensen said. His tone was light, almost conversational, and he was smiling a crooked, hopeful sort of smile. "If I try to kiss you, are you going to freak out again?"
Jared smiled back, feeling hope and love swell in both sides of his newly mended heart. "Depends. Why do you want to kiss me?"
"You'd better not need to hear it again," Jensen said. "It's been a hell of a long time since I gave this love shit a try and I've got no reason to think of it fondly. I'm planning to work into it slowly."
"You willing to put up with me for the rest of your life?" Jared pressed. "Because I'm in this, in anything with you, for the long haul. And if you don't want that, then… I can't-"
Jensen rolled his eyes. "Jared, we've literally given our hearts to each other. I think it's pretty safe to say that I'm not going anywhere." He paused for a beat, then grinned and added, "Even though you are a lot of work."
"Oh god, come here and kiss me already." Jared reached up as Jensen bent down and they were both smiling as they met in the middle for a kiss that felt so much more like a beginning than a happy ending.
And in their chests, his and Jensen's hearts beat in steady time.