Jared was out of green thread.
"Have I got any green left?" he asked Adrianne, poking his head out into reception. "Mr. Chau has a few small tears I want to sew up, but I can't find any."
"I have no idea why you expect me to know," Adrianne said, though she clicked obligingly away from her Solitaire game to pull up the inventory records. "When did you last order some?"
Jared pursed his lips. "Two months ago, maybe?"
"Fifty skeins?" Jared paused. "Ish?"
Adrianne rolled her eyes. "I have no idea how you stay in business."
"You," Jared said promptly.
"Clearly." Adrianne navigated her way smoothly through the records, pulling up a tally sheet that made absolutely no sense to Jared; yet more proof that Adrianne was well worth the hefty salary Jared paid her. "Hmm. Have you used any this week so far?"
"Yeah, of course. 12 inches or so, at least."
"Then you're out of luck." Adrianne sat back and looked first at Jared's gloves and then at the ridiculous cap he had to use to keep his hair back while he was working. She made a face. "Did you seriously leave him in there half finished?"
Jared waved a dismissive hand at her. "The sedatives won't wear off for at least another hour. It'll be fine." It didn't actually matter one way or the other whether Jared's clients were under sedation while he worked on them, but most people tended to be more comfortable with the whole process when they weren't awake to experience it.
Which also made Jared's job easier, so he couldn't really complain.
"Jared," Adrianne said.
"What? I needed green thread! It's not like I left him spread out all over the floor!”
Adrianne sighed. “Go finish up with Mr. Chau. And no more wandering off. I'll call Jessica to see if she's got any green in stock, but you're going to go have to go without for now."
"Got it." Jared flashed her a grin. "Thanks."
"Hopeless," Adrianne said, though she was smiling even as she said it. "Now go do your job so I can do mine in peace."
"That did look like a particularly grueling game of Solitaire," Jared agreed.
Adrianne threw a pencil at his head. Jared ducked away from it with a grin and headed back to the exam room.
Mr. Chau was right where Jared had left him: out cold in Jared's exam chair, naked from the waist up and breathing in a slow, steady rhythm that drew immediate attention to the neat pair of scalpel incisions that split the skin just below his left nipple. There was just a hint of blood smeared on his chest where Jared's fingers had brushed against the skin.
Jared left Mr. Chau where he was for the moment and headed across the room to his supply cupboards. He considered his massive store of threads for a thoughtful moment before reaching for the blue. He wasn't really sure that Mr. Chau's empathy needed the boost that came from using blue thread, but blue also brought courage, which could be only to the good in Mr. Chau's situation. It wasn't as good as green, but it was the best alternative that Jared had.
Shutting the cupboard carefully behind him, Jared paused to collect a fresh needle before depositing both it and the skein of blue thread on the table at Mr. Chau's elbow. He put on a fresh pair of gloves as he sat himself back down, then reached out to peel back the skin laid open by his scalpel.
Mr. Chau's heart gleamed slickly under the overhead light, the fleshy muscle pulsing in dark, striking contrast to the gleam of pewter plating shielding the ragged hole in the right atrium. It was a tidy piece of work, if Jared did say so himself; despite how badly Mr. Chau's ex-girlfriend had worked him over, it was likely that he was going to recover with all of his emotional capacity intact and, if he followed his aftercare properly, limited scar tissue.
Jared was pleased, and not just in satisfaction of a job well done; he would have hated to see a guy so young going the rest of his life with a numbed heart because he'd been too trusting of his first serious girlfriend.
A glance at the clock told Jared that he needed to get a move on and so he left off his assessment of the work he'd already done and turned his attention to the smaller nicks and scratches that he'd noted earlier. He cut off a generous length of silky blue thread, picked up the needle, settled himself comfortably and began.
Of all the strengths and weaknesses in the human body, hearts were at once the most powerful and the most vulnerable. The heart was the seat of a person's identity, the home of their strength, their love, their very spirit. But the heart was also fragile: easily bruised and easily broken.
Which was where people like Jared came in.
Jared was a mender. It was his job to heal the physical scars left on a person's heart by the heartbreaks of life. He worked in the realm of the emotional; he couldn't prevent a heart attack or unclog a blocked artery, but he could help a person recover from lost loves, misunderstandings, betrayals. He gave people the physical help they needed to be able to come to terms with the mental and emotional struggles that had caused the damage in the first place.
And Jared was very, very good at his job.
Jared had always had a gift for healing hearts. The way his mother told it, Jared had started mending before he'd finished learning how to walk. As a child, he'd put gentle hands and a warm smile to good use easing other people's hurts and, as he'd grown, he'd naturally gravitated towards the possibilities afforded by a mending certification.
At college, Jared had learned the art of piecing a person's flesh back together with needles and threads and cogs and metal plating. He'd been taught how to recognize the gentle pink flush of affection, the purple ache of unrequited love, the sickly yellow-green of heartache, the healthy ruby glow of a love kept and shared. He'd explored which colours and metals worked best for each kind of heartache. He'd learned how to put a broken heart back together and, perhaps more importantly, to see what had made it fall apart in the first place.
It had taken Jared six years to build up the finances and reputation to open his own clinic - hardly any time at all in the mending world. Still, the transition from public clinic to private practice had been a long time coming in Jared's case; he'd always been miles ahead of the curve when it came to mending.
These days, Jared was one of the most sought after menders in the city. He got to do a job he loved and made a very good living while he was at it. He was voluntarily overworked and his social life was more than a little dismal, but he was still just about as happy as he thought he could possibly be.
Well, except for the faint tinge of unrequited love on his own heart, but Jared had plenty of practice at working around that.
The rest of Mr. Chau’s appointment went like clockwork: Jared stitched up the small tears in short order, then traded the blue thread out for white - healing and unity - to close up the incisions. He cleaned up his supplies while he waited for Mr. Chau to come around, then put the man through a quick but thorough check-up to make sure that everything was working right.
Awake, Mr. Chau was full of enthusiastic thanks that Jared managed to accept without being too awkward about it. Jared didn't bother trying to suppress the little ball of happiness in his stomach that came from knowing that he'd made a difference in Mr. Chau's life.
“Nice work,” Adrianne said to Jared, once Mr. Chau had settled his paperwork and gone off to continue his day with a fully functional heart that probably felt lighter than it had in months. She winked in a decidedly cheeky fashion. "Major improvement over how he was at his consultation."
Jared gave her a wry look. “Asked you out, huh?”
It wasn’t surprising. Adrianne was tall, tanned and blonde in all the best ways and she lived up to all that pretty by being cheerful, kind and ridiculously easy to get along with. Sometimes, Jared thought that having her working his front desk was nearly as helpful to his patients as the mending was.
It was also normal for people who’d had heart mendings done to have a considerably more optimistic outlook on things like dating than they’d had previously. Jared and Adrianne both tended to collect more than their fair share of phone numbers, though Adrianne definitely had the bigger collection.
Adrianne laughed. "Naturally. But I was talking about the fact that he took it well when I turned him down. Not everyone can do that gracefully.”
“Maybe you’re losing your touch,” Jared suggested innocently. He received a whack on the arm for his trouble.
“Jackass. Just because you’re too gay to appreciate how hot I am, doesn’t mean the rest of the world doesn't know it.” Adrienne was bi, which she considered her own little gift to the world. Jared had to agree that she had a point. "He's a good kid, but anyone I think of as a 'good kid' is way too young for me."
Jared laughed. "Fair enough. He was too short for you, anyway."
Adrianne snorted. "Says the giant. So, I called Jessica," she said then. "She hasn't got enough green on hand to fill out an entire order, but she's agreed to put three skeins aside for you, which ought to be enough to last until our next shipment comes in. A next shipment that I've very kindly ordered for you, by the way, since you're apparently incapable of keeping track of your own inventory."
"You're my hero," Jared told her sincerely. "Am I good to go round there now?"
Adrianne nodded. "Your next appointment isn't until 4:00, which'll give you plenty of time to pick up your thread and stop for lunch on the way back. As long as you don't take too long browsing at Cog Runners for stuff you don't need, of course."
"It's for work!" Jared defended.
"Of course it is. That's why you've got a full bag of twelve gauge cogs back there that I know for a fact you've never used."
"I-" Jared started, before giving it up as a bad job. She was right, of course, which always made her harder to argue against. Damn her logic.
Adrianne patted him on the arm. "Acknowledging you have a problem is the first step, honey. Just don't take forever, okay? Oh." She leaned over the counter, providing Jared with a lovely, if unappreciated, view of the creamy swell of her breasts in her low-cut top. "And after you've finished flirting with the hot guy from the bakery, make sure to bring me back one of their cranberry macadamia cookies."
Jared felt his cheeks heat. "I do not flirt with-"
"Yes, you do," Adrianne said matter-of-factly. "Just because he hasn't noticed, it doesn't mean it's not flirting."
"Whatever, Jared. If it wasn't, you wouldn't be blushing. Now go." Adrianne made a shooing motion towards the door. "The more time you stand around here, the less time you're going to have to fail completely at asking the bakery guy to pity-date you."
"You're really lucky you're good at your job," Jared told her as he headed for the door. "Or I would so totally fire you."
"Remember: four o'clock!" Adrianne called after him, and Jared shook his head as he ventured out into the sunshine. Sometimes, he really wasn't sure who was the boss and who was the employee.
Cog Runners was Jared's favourite metal and thread shop in the city. He'd learned about the place from his Metallurgy Fundamentals prof in college and had been buying his supplies there ever since, initially for personal use and then in bulk for his clinic. It was an independent supplier, which meant that Jared's purchases cost him more than they would have from one of the big bulk distributors, but Jared preferred spending the extra on materials he could be sure were top quality.
About the only problem with the place was the fact that he invariably acted like a kid in a candy store every time he walked in. Adrianne despaired of him, Jared knew, but he didn't figure anyone could blame him for being prone to impulse shopping in a store that sold all of his favourite things. If nothing else, it meant that his clinic was always very well stocked. Unexpected shortages of green, notwithstanding, of course.
Despite his best intentions which, admittedly, weren't all that great to begin with, Jared spent a good half hour browsing at Cog Runners and ultimately left with a very nice set of silver needles, some pre-oxidized copper plating and a box of bolts in addition to the promised three skeins of green thread. Adrianne was going to laugh at him.
A quick glance at his watch revealed that Jared still had time to grab something to eat before heading back to work, so he hung a left instead of a right when he was two-thirds of the way back to the clinic, heading for one of the best not-kept secrets in the city.
The Cinnamon Star Bakery was unusually quiet when Jared got there, probably because it was the middle of the afternoon; it wasn't unusual to see a line to the door during peak times. The bell chimed Jared's arrival and Jared breathed deeply as he was wrapped in the warm, curling smells of freshly baked bread, sugar and rich, heady chocolate.
The person behind the counter looked up as Jared walked in and offered Jared a bright, million dollar smile that made Jared's stupid heart jump. Partly because it was a very, very pretty smile and partly because Jared had a very, very pathetic crush on the guy it belonged to.
Jensen Ackles was the owner of The Cinnamon Star Bakery. Jared had known him for three years and, in that time, had found him to be friendly, quick-witted and thoroughly enjoyable to be around, if a little aloof sometimes and a lot wary of personal questions. This, coupled with the fact that Jensen was the kind of good looking that Jared had always figured had to be airbrushed to exist, was Jared's excuse for both why he was so gone over the guy and why he hadn't done anything about it.
The fact that Jensen hadn't even noticed had something to do with that second bit too.
"Hey, Jared," Jensen said easily. "Skipping work again?"
Jared firmly told his inner teenage girl not to embarrass him and gave Jensen a smile of his own. "It's one of the perks of being self employed," he said breezily. "You get to make your own hours."
"Maybe you do," Jensen said, gesturing to his own position behind the counter. "Some of us take our businesses more seriously than that."
Jared looked pointedly at the half-finished crossword sitting on the counter at Jensen's elbow. "Yeah, I can see you're working real hard."
"Oh, screw you," Jensen said, without heat. "Should'a been here two hours ago. Freaking mad house."
"That's what you get for being successful," Jared said, which made Jensen laugh. Jared enjoyed making Jensen laugh.
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't be nearly as successful if you didn't spend so much money here," Jensen said. "Seriously, if I had kids, your sugar habit would be putting them through college."
Jared put his hands on his hips, . "You saying I'm fat?" he asked.
"I'm saying that you can skip all the work you want as long as you spend the time buying my desserts."
"Hey, I'll have you know that I've been out on important mender-type business," Jared said.
"Ah," Jensen deadpanned. "And what kind of important mender-type business has you running out on your clinic in the middle of the afternoon, dare I ask?"
Jared held up his shopping bag. "Emergency supply run. I ran out of green thread."
"And that's bad, I'm guessing."
Jared nodded. "S'the best colour on the market for minor damage repair."
"Yeah?" Jensen asked, with mostly absent interest. "What's it do?"
"Hope and rebirth."
Jensen's smirk was just the tiniest bit biting. "Bet you get a lot people looking for that."
Jared shrugged awkwardly. "I use a lot of it, yeah," was all he said. Jensen never tended to be very interested in Jared's job. Jared coughed and clumsily changed the subject. "So, what is it that smells so fantastic?"
"Oh, that's the special: blueberry sugar Danishes. Sold out over lunch so I figured I'd make another batch for the after work crowd."
Jared perked up. Jensen's daily specials were one of the many things about The Cinnamon Star Bakery that made it stand out among all the other bakeries and coffee shops in the city. The specials were usually whatever Jensen felt like experimenting with when he got up that day, which meant that they didn't go on the regular menu - to the great dismay of pretty much anyone who'd ever walked in the door - and they sold fast. In all the time that he'd been coming here, Jared had never known Jensen to repeat a daily special wholesale, which made customers even keener on trying everything.
"Please tell me that they're nearly done," Jared said, not at all too proud to beg. Jensen's desserts were worth it. "It would be incredibly irresponsible of me to cancel my afternoon appointment to await baked goods."
Jensen looked amused. "Yes, it would." He tilted his head to glance at the timer on the stove, easily visible from his spot next to the cash register.
It would never have occurred to Jared to put a bakery's kitchen behind the main counter instead of in the back somewhere, but there was no denying that it worked surprisingly well. The benefits were two-fold: Jensen and his staff could serve customers and prepare desserts at the same time, and most customers - Jared included - enjoyed watching them whip up beautiful cakes, cookies, truffles, whatever, right before their eyes. Most of the daily bake got done before the bakery opened, of course, but it was rare to walk into Cinnamon Star and not see Jensen or one of his staff members up to their elbows in baking supplies.
"Looks like you've only got about ten minutes to wait, oh impatient one," Jensen said, and Jared let go of a relieved breath. Which made Jensen laugh at him again, but Jared was okay with that.
Jared grinned at him. "I'll wait, in that case. They're bound to be gone again by the time I finish this evening. And there's nothing better than baked goods right out of the oven."
"You've got time to get yourself a coffee while you're waiting," Jensen suggested. "Percolate's got a dark blend that'll go nicely with these."
Percolate was the trendy little coffee shop just down the street; Jensen had worked out a deal with the owner so that they kept tabs on each other's menus and recommended dessert/coffee-tea combos to their customers.
"My brownies are on three for two with a receipt for their coffee," Jensen added.
"You are such a businessman," Jared said, with a teasing grin.
"Easier than opening my own coffee shop," Jensen said, a little sharply. Jared blinked, surprised at the tone.
"Well I think I'll pass today," Jared said, after a beat. "Adrianne will gut me if I get a coffee for me and not her and I can't carry two drinks in addition to everything else."
"Excuses, excuses. Hey," Jensen said then, his smile back in place as though it had never left. Jared wondered what had upset him in the first place. "You gonna be at The Bishop tonight?"
They'd found out that they drank at the same bar by accident, not long after Jared had first wandered into The Cinnamon Star. They never made plans to meet there or anything - they weren't exactly friends, no matter how well they got on at the bakery - but they'd always make time for a few words and maybe a drink or two if they were there on the same nights.
"Bulls are playing the Miami Heat," Jensen said. "Should be a good game."
Jared hadn't intended on going out tonight. He didn't care much about either team and he was seriously short on sleep this week. He'd been distinctly looking forward to an early night and a good long sleep.
Which did nothing whatsoever to explain why what came out of Jared's mouth was, "Of course, yeah."
Jensen looked pleased. "Guess I'll see you tonight, then."
"Guess so. I'll look forward to it. Princess," Jared tacked on at the end, to keep from sounding too much like a lovesick puppy.
"Of course you will." Jensen paused for a moment. "So, since we've got the time, I've got an important question for you."
Jared did not swallow hard, mostly because he was too dry-mouthed to need to. "Yeah?"
Jensen looked at him, perfectly straight-faced, and waved a hand towards his unfinished crossword puzzle. "Do you know a five-letter word for 'humble'?"
Jared very carefully didn't sigh. He should have known. "Got any letters?"
Jensen was never going to ask him the kind of questions Jared wanted to hear, after all. It was stupid to hope otherwise.
"You are the most useless candy-ass motherfucker I have ever met," Chad said, rather more loudly than Jared appreciated. The Bishop was busy, but not that busy. "You lose your balls when you joined the rainbow brigade?"
"Chad," Jared groaned. "Could we maybe not do this for once?"
Chad, being Chad, ignored him.
"Look. You wanna tap that?" Chad nodded at the far end of the bar where Jensen was sat watching the game with a couple of friends. Jared fought the urge to bang his head against the table until he passed out. "Then man the fuck up and do something about it. All this pining bullshit's making it very hard for me to enjoy being drunk."
"Shut up," Jared muttered, mostly into his glass.
Chad was drawing in a breath - probably to deliver another stunning example of what he considered a pep talk - when a tall blond guy who looked like he'd been transplanted right out of an episode of Baywatch appeared at Jensen's side. Jared watched as he leaned in and said something that Jared couldn't make out at this distance. Not that he needed to; the sharp, flirty grin that Jensen offered the guy in response was pretty hard to mistake.
Chad snorted derisively. "That's what I'm fucking talking about. Dude practically gives it away. He's not gonna say no."
"I know," Jared said morosely. Because Jensen clearly had standards - he didn't go home with just anybody - but, well. If Jared was feeling uncharitable, he could have described Jensen as easy. If was feeling really uncharitable, he could have described Jensen as kind of a man whore. It was hard to disagree with either statement.
"So what the fuck are you waiting for?" Chad demanded.
Jared glared at him. "You know what."
"Oh right," Chad said, the irony in his voice thick enough to spread on toast. "I forgot. You're looking for an emotional connection. Fuck, it's no wonder you never get laid."
"I'm just not interested in a one-night stand, okay?" Jared said. And since Jensen was pretty much the king of the one-night stand, it was pretty safe to say that Jared wasn't going to get very far there. Jared didn't fancy sleeping with the guy just to have Jensen never give him the time of day afterwards.
It wasn't just Jared being paranoid, either; he'd watched it happen. Jensen could go from blatant, eye fucking interest to shutting guys down cold as soon as the possibility of an actual date - or a second night in Jensen's bed - got put on the table.
And Jared wasn't about to put himself through that. No matter how much he wanted to see Jensen spread out on his sheets (or on the table, or against the wall, or…).
As Jared sat there, alternating between staring creepily at Jensen and trailing a despondent finger through the rings of condensation on the table, Jensen climbed to his feet, amid backslapping and razzing from his friends, and headed for the door with Baywatch close at his heels.
Their path took them past Jared and Chad's table, and Jensen threw Jared a jaunty salute that Jared returned with considerably less jaunt. "Let me know who wins, okay?" Jensen said.
"Sure," Jared managed, and then Jensen was gone, off to sleep in someone else's bed. As usual.
Jared let his head thunk onto the table with a groan. "Fuck my life."
Chad patted his shoulder. "Next round's on me."
Jared was very proud of his waiting room.
One of the things that Jared had never understood about hospitals and doctor's offices and the like was why everyone seemed to think that waiting rooms needed to be clinical, uncomfortable and boring beyond belief. Personally, if he was going to be stuck waiting somewhere for God only knew how long, Jared would rather not spend the entire time staring at the cracks in the ceiling and wondering why they always insisted on painting the walls beige.
It was especially important for a mending clinic's waiting room to be welcoming, Jared thought, because the last thing someone with a heart condition needed was to sit around feeling unhappy and uncomfortable in the very place that was supposed to be helping them get better.
Which was why Jared had worked hard to make his waiting room feel about as non-clinical as possible. He'd done a pretty darn good job on it too, even if he did say so himself.
The ubiquitous padded metal chairs characteristic of waiting rooms the world over had been traded in for massive plush couches and armchairs that were big enough to allow even a guy like Jared to sit comfortably. They were cheerily red and ridiculously comfy; more than one overstressed client had actually fallen asleep in them. Jared had a steam cleaner in the back that he used once a week because it was pretty horrifying how much mess they could accumulate.
The walls were painted in a sweeping gradient of vertical stripes that swung through the rainbow from blue on one end all the way to green on the other. Jared had procured a collection of wall crayons to let people draw while they waited; he checked periodically for bad language and inappropriate drawings, but let most everything else stand until he ran out of space and had to wash it all off so people could start again.
The requisite informational posters about heart health hung on the walls, alongside all manner of random pictures that he'd picked up here and there over the years. The reception desk was made of the same rich oak as the coffee tables strewn randomly about the room and Adrianne had a bright collection of potted flowers spilling across the far side of it.
So yeah, Jared loved his waiting room. He spent pretty much all of the time he wasn't actively working hanging out there with Adrianne and anyone else who happened to be around. Which was maybe not the most professional way to conduct himself, but Jared figured that 'professional' didn't really fit in with the rest of the décor. And he could be capable without being professional.
Adrianne didn't always agree with him on that score.
"You do have an office you know," she said, which was true.
"It's more storage space than office," Jared said, which was also true.
It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon and Jared was lounging on the longest couch with his feet kicked up over the arm and a ring puzzle in his lap. He had a bunch of puzzles thrown in with the magazines and Lego sets in the bins under the coffee tables, though he never had much luck with any of them. "It's lonely back there, anyway."
Adrianne's expression was disapproving. "What is Mr. Olsson going to say if he comes in and finds you sprawled all over the furniture?"
"Probably he'll complain that I took the big couch." Jared abandoned the puzzle - honestly, he was questioning the 'novice' rating - and levered himself into a seated position so he could look at Adrianne over the back of the couch. "Don't worry so much, Adrianne. Our clients aren't going to run for the hills if they catch me acting like a human being instead of a heart-mending automaton."
"You can act like a human being without literally lying around on the job."
"My mama would agree with you completely," Jared said, and kept grinning at Adrianne until her expression softened. "Look, I promise I'll get up as soon as someone shows u-"
The door swung open and what appeared to be a bundle of clothes masquerading as a person wandered in.
Jared waved. "Hi, Misha."
"Jared," said Misha, who was indeed a person despite all sartorial evidence to the contrary. He pushed a pair of ridiculously large aviator glasses up into his hair and flicked his attention over to Adrianne. "Mademoiselle."
"Your Grace," Adrianne answered with a tidy little curtsy. She cast Jared a significant look and waited until he sighed and hauled himself off the couch, then turned her smile on Misha. "What brings you to our establishment on this fine day?"
"My feet," Misha said, with perfect gravity. Which probably meant that he was high; Misha was always impressively quick-witted, but he only got particularly literal when he'd just smoked a joint.
Jared had met Misha a couple of years ago when the man had wandered into Jared's clinic and, for no apparent reason, started talking to him about the merits of muffins versus cupcakes. Since then, Jared had grown very used to Misha's habit of dropping in whenever the mood struck him; Jared suspected that he enjoyed the company.
A single look at Misha was usually enough to convince people that he was homeless. Privately, Jared thought that it was highly unlikely that someone with such a perfectly maintained five o'clock shadow was actually living rough, but Misha seemed to enjoy being not quite homeless so Jared mostly left him to it.
He had forced Misha to go clean himself up in the bathroom more than once, though. There was very little that was restful about bad smells, after all.
Jared rather liked him, truth be told. Misha was friendly, sociable and mad as a March hare. He had an outlandish story for every occasion, several of which were all the more terrifying for the fact that Jared thought they were actually true. According to Misha, he had been a White House intern, a jazz musician, a pre-law student, a successful surrealist painter and a small aircraft pilot. He'd also apparently experimented with pretty much every drug in existence while he was in college - which might have had something to do with the whole crazy factor - but mostly went for more recreational drugs these days. Not that it was always easy to tell.
"You're looking very rhomboid today, Jared," Misha said. His tone of voice made it clear that, whatever the hell it meant, it was intended to be a compliment.
Adrianne looked at Jared thoughtfully. "Are you sure?" she asked Misha, because the two of them had always got on like a house on fire. "He seems more octagonal to me."
Misha's eyes raked across Jared's face. "Ah yes," he said. "I could see my way through to agreeing with octagonal."
Really, Jared was glad that they liked each other, but they often made it very hard to tell if they were being serious.
"Well, I'm happy to be a polygon, anyway," Jared said, because he was nothing if not capable of rolling with the punches. It was a necessary skill when one was friends with Chad.
"You're welcome," Misha said gravely.
"You want something to drink, Misha?" Adrianne asked then, pointing towards the side bar. "You've got your choice of water, coffee and pink lemonade today."
"Is all of the above an option?" Misha asked, drifting across the floor towards the offered beverages.
"Only if it doesn't bother you when Adrianne and I stand here and make horrified faces," Jared answered.
"I accept your terms." Misha proceeded to pour himself a concoction that made Jared glad they didn't use clear cups; he didn't think he'd be able to stomach seeing Misha actually drink that particular combination of flamingo pink and dun brown.
Misha took a sip, smacking his lips thoughtfully.
"What's the verdict?" Adrianne asked.
"Fruity but deep. A good combination. The bouquet could do with some improvement though."
Adrianne shook her head in mock despair. "You sure you'd rather be out here than in the office, boss?"
Jared grinned at her. "Heck yeah." Mindful of the fact that he'd been banned from sprawling on the furniture, Jared settled for leaning back against the reception desk and crossing his legs at the ankles. "All the fun stuff happens out here. Also, I don't want to do my paperwork."
"I remember paperwork," Misha said. He'd wandered back over while Jared was talking and Jared was at once grossed out and reluctantly intrigued by the fact that Misha's cup was already half empty. Jared was resigned to the fact that he was probably going to try that combination out for himself before the end of the day. Because he was an idiot like that.
"It's a plot," Misha continued, in a hushed tone of voice.
"Paperwork?" Jared asked, amused. "What kind of plot?"
"The sneaky kind?" Adrianne suggested. "Forces you to do work."
"The evil kind," Misha said. "Makes you hate work that you like doing."
"I dunno about that," Jared said. "I still really like my job. And I've got a lot of paperwork."
"He does," Adrianne agreed. She dropped into a stage whisper to add, "But I do most of it."
Jared waved an absent hand. "You get paid to do most of it."
"Doesn't make it any less true, boss."
"I got paid to do the Ambassador of Kazakhstan's paperwork once," Misha said, sounding thoughtful. "Of course, it was in Russian, which made things a little complicated."
Jared and Adrianne raised a collective pair of eyebrows. Jared went to get them each a cup of coffee - sans lemonade - while Misha launched into a colourful account of his adventures with the Kazakh ambassador and, for some reason, a traveling Romani tribe and a pair of donkeys.
Mr. Olsson arrived for his appointment right about the time where Misha was telling them about his daring escape out the embassy window with a folder of important paperwork in his mouth, and he insisted on joining them to hear the end of the story before his appointment. It pushed Jared's schedule back a good half hour, but Jared couldn't say he minded much. When the opportunity arose, it was always worth the effort of slowing down to enjoy the madness of life.
And, really, that's what Jared's waiting room was all about.
Later that same week, Jared's regularly scheduled program got thrown out of whack in a very unexpected way.
"Jared?" Adrianne said, and Jared glanced up from the needles he was cleaning to find her lingering in the doorway to the exam room with a strangely hesitant expression on her face.
"What's up?" Jared frowned, puzzled. "Is Mr. Tigerman really early? Because I know he's not good with keeping track of time, but he's not supposed to be here for an hour and a half."
Adrianne bit her lip. "There are two police officers here."
Jared gaped at her. "What? Why?"
"They wouldn't tell me anything," Adrianne said, with a shake of her head. "Just that they want to talk to you."
"Because that's not ominous," Jared muttered. He put down his polishing cloth and got up. "Guess we'd better find out what's going on."
There were indeed two police officers waiting at the reception desk, their crisp, dark uniforms standing out starkly against the cheery tones of the room.
"Jared Padalecki?" asked the first, a slim woman about Jared's age with blond hair pulled back into a severe queue at the back of her neck.
"That's me," Jared agreed. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm Lieutenant Alona Tal," she said. She gestured to the other officer. "And this is-"
"Chris?" Jared interrupted, surprised. Chris was a friend of Jensen's who played guitar in a local band; Jared had met him at The Bishop on a handful of occasions. He was a good half foot shorter than Jared but more than capable of being absolutely terrifying when he wanted to be. "I didn't know you were a police officer."
"Yeah, well," Chris said, more gruffly than usual. "Every man's gotta have a day job."
There wasn't a whole lot Jared could say to that, so he nodded and coughed awkwardly. "So what can I help you with?"
"We have some questions for you, Mr. Padalecki," Lieutenant Tal said smoothly. "Is there somewhere more private would could speak?"
"Oh, yes, sure. Um, follow me."
Avoiding Adrianne's anxious glance - it wasn't as though Jared knew any more than she did, after all - Jared led the way back to his office.
Jared's office was an office only in the strictest sense of the word. Since he rarely used it for its intended purpose, the room had gradually transformed into a strange cross between an office, a records room and a storage closet.
There was a desk, at least, complete with a Jared-sized chair that was more often that not piled high with boxes when Jared had nowhere else to put them. The back wall was entirely taken up by the alphabetically labeled filing cabinets that ostensibly held the files on all of Jared's clients; the ones that weren't sprawled all over the desk, at least. The couch against the far wall was very difficult to use for its intended purpose because of the stuff all over it, most of which was the spillover of mending supplies that couldn't fit in the cupboards in the exam room. Still, it was a handy place for a nap if Jared stayed too late at work, as long as he cleaned it off first.
"Sorry," Jared said as he led the way through the forest of banker's boxes and paperwork. "I don't really use this room much. Here let me-"
"It's fine," Lieutenant Tal said, when Jared went to move the boxes of thread off the two chairs he had in front of the desk. "I'd rather stand anyway."
"You sure?" Jared asked. "Sorry."
Lieutenant Tal waved a dismissive hand. "Now then, Mr. Padalecki, we want to talk to you about your mending supplies."
"O-kay," Jared said, confused. "What about them?"
"Where do you get them?" Chris asked.
"Cog Runners," Jared said. "It's just round the corner on-"
"We're familiar with it," Chris cut in. "Anywhere else?"
"I- no, that's it."
"Would you be willing to swear to this?" Lieutenant Tal asked.
"Of course. I've been buying from Jessica ever since I opened my own clinic." Jared crossed his arms over his chest, more than a little discomfited. "Am I going to need to?"
"You might," was all Lieutenant Tal said.
Jared fought the urge to huff. Getting belligerent at the police wasn't likely to be a good idea. "Look, can I ask what this is about?"
"We have reason to believe that someone in the area is selling illegally acquired mending goods," Lieutenant Tal said.
"Illegal goods?" Jared frowned. "What kind?"
"Organics," Chris said shortly.
Jared's frown deepened. It wasn't a particularly popular practice to use animal organics for mending these days, largely because synthetics and metals were more reliable and the animal rights activists tended to complain, but it wasn't illegal. About the only type of organic that was illegal was…
Jared's jaw dropped. "Human organics? You think there are menders working with human organics?" His brain belatedly caught up with the implications of their presence here and he felt his face pale. "You think I'm using human organics? You can't be serious!"
"Do I look like I'm joking?" Chris said. He did not, in fact, look like he was joking.
"That's… the only time I've ever used any kind of organics was when we did animal materials in college! What possible evidence could you have to accuse me of anything?!"
"You have an unusually high success and recovery rate with your mendings," Lieutenant Tal said, with an icy calm. "One of the best in the country, actually."
"That's because I'm damn good at my job!" Jared burst out. "And I invest in top quality supplies. Not organics," he added, with heavy emphasis. "Ask any of my clients. Hell, you can consult my school references if you like. Or any of the menders I apprenticed under. I don't use organics."
"None at all?" Chris asked. There was more than a hint of challenge in his voice and Jared wondered if it was because he knew Jared and felt it was okay to push harder or if he was always like that. "I would have thought a mender with your reputation would want to use all the resources he had access to."
Jared shook his head. "It's too easy for the body to resist organics if they're not compatible. Synthetics, woods and metals last a lot longer. They're more effective in the long run, too. Organics aren't practical to keep, either."
Lieutenant Tal made a noncommittal sound. "I'm going to have to insist that we see where you store your materials."
"You can search the whole damn place," Jared said. "Most of my supplies are in the exam room so they're easy to hand, but I've got stuff in here, as you can see," Jared waved at the boxes, "and there's a storage closet near the restroom. I can get you the inventory records if you need them."
"That would be appreciated. We'll want to see your accounts and shipping manifests as well."
"Right, yeah, of course," Jared said, with all the calm he could muster. "Adrianne, my receptionist, deals with most of that. If you give me a minute, I'll have her pull up my ledgers and financials for you."
God, Jared hoped that everything was properly up-to-date. If he didn't get wrongly arrested for illegal mending, he was so going to pay more attention to keeping his books updated in the future.
He firmly put that thought aside and managed a smile. "If you don't mind, I'll show you the exam room first; I've got a client coming at two thirty and I don't want to disrupt his appointment if possible."
Lieutenant Tal nodded. "That's fair. After you."
Jared nodded and led them to the exam room. "You can go on in," he said, gesturing. "I'll just go talk to my receptionist about getting those files."
Lieutenant Tal and Chris nodded and filed past Jared into the room.
"Chris," Jared said as Chris passed him, and Chris paused to level him with a neutral look. "You don't really think I'm some kind of criminal, do you? I'm Jensen's friend!" Which was a bit of an exaggeration, but Jensen wasn't good at letting people get close, from what Jared had noticed, so Jared probably still counted. "You really think Jensen would keep talking to me if I was some kind of- of evil person?"
"What I think is that I'm not a fan of trusting Jensen's judgment," Chris said brusquely. "So if you don't mind, I've got a job to do."
Chris brushed by him without waiting for a response and Jared stared after him, caught entirely off guard. The sound of opening cupboards came from inside the room and Jared gave himself a shake before heading into reception to talk to Adrianne. The sooner he got Chris and Lieutenant Tal what they wanted, the sooner they'd be out of his clinic.
And, hopefully, the less likely it was that Jared was going to get arrested.
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