The next morning, Jared woke up hung over, heart sore, sexually frustrated and grumpy as all fuck. He spent the day schlumping around the house in a funk and failed utterly at trying not to wonder if Jensen could feel his emotions all the time or just when he was nearby.
Monday was quite nearly as miserable, although Jared was grateful that the hangover was gone at least and being at work gave him something else to focus on. He did his best not to let on, but he was apparently a failure at that too, because Adrianne started giving him worried glances within ten minutes of Jared walking though the door. Jared bore her scrutiny as graciously as possible and threw himself into getting through the day without putting any of his clients' gears in the wrong way round.
Just after twelve, Adrianne leaned into the exam room with a gentle smile. "That's it until two," she said. "So you just chill out for a bit, okay?"
"Since when are you the boss of me?" Jared asked, aiming for his normal levity and falling rather short of the mark.
Luckily, Adrianne seemed willing to cut him some slack today. "Honey, if you haven't realized yet that I've always been the boss, there's something very wrong. I'm meeting Genevieve for lunch," she said then, her grin shifting into the soft expression that always appeared on her face when she talked about her new girlfriend. "You okay with watching the desk?"
"Yeah, sure," Jared said, gathering up the client files sprawled out around him. At least in the waiting room he'd have a desk to work on.
He'd only just started going through COHEN, MATT when the door opened and he glanced up to find Jensen lingering in the doorway, wearing an expression that Jared could only describe as sheepish.
Jared's jaw dropped. "Jensen?" he asked incredulously. "What are you doing here?"
If possible, Jensen's expression went even more sheepish. He brought his arm out from behind his back to reveal one of The Cinnamon Star's carry-away boxes. "I come bearing apology cupcake?"
Jensen walked over, set the box down on the desk and opened it to reveal a beautiful chocolate cupcake that was nearly the size of Jared's hand. "I called Adrianne and told her I needed to talk to you," he said, staring fixedly at the cupcake instead of Jared. "She said now would be a good time to come in."
"That…" Jared trailed off and shook his head. "Okay, I'm confused."
"I'm here to apologize," Jensen said. "For Saturday night. I shouldn't have treated you like a regular hookup-"
There's another kind of hookup? Jared wanted ask, but Jensen was still talking.
"-and I shouldn't have freaked out on you."
"That's not your fault," Jared said automatically, and Jensen's mouth twisted.
"You shouldn't keep forgiving me, man. It's not really helping either of us." Jensen sighed. "I should have told you what was happening."
"Why didn't you?" he asked, instead of the yes, you really should have that wanted to escape.
Jensen shrugged awkwardly. "Didn't realize, to begin with. Thought it was weirdly easy to tell what you were feeling at that check-up, but I figured it was just part of the whole stronger heart thing. It wasn't until you started coming to the bakery again that I put the pieces together. Then, well I figured it was easier to keep things from getting weird if you didn't know about it. Plus-" Jensen hesitated, biting his lip in an unusual display of nervousness.
"Plus?" Jared prompted, trying not to push.
"It's… better when you're around," Jensen admitted, haltingly. "Easier to deal with all these damn emotions. Mine and yours. So I didn't want you to stay away in some boneheaded attempt to 'spare me' from your angst. And don't even try to pretend that you wouldn't have."
Jared didn't bother denying it. "But on Saturday, you said-"
"I know," Jensen interrupted. "I told you, I was mad. I overreacted. That's why I'm here with an apology cupcake."
"And I thank you for the apology cupcake." Jared paused, then added carefully, "Can I ask what it feels like? To be… experiencing my feelings?"
"Shouldn't you know?" Jensen asked, snarky and defensive in a way that seemed automatic rather than deliberate. Jensen's main line of defense against everything. "They're your feelings."
Jared gave him a look. "Jensen. Please."
Jensen huffed out a thoughtful sigh. "It's hard to explain. It's… it's like I'm watching TV and the radio's on at the same time: I can deal with both, but if I pay too much attention to the radio, it drowns out the TV. Which is irritating as fuck. But it's too quiet if the radio's not turned up, which also sucks." Jensen paused. "You're the radio, by the way."
"Wow," Jared said after a moment. "That's… wow. I've definitely never heard of anything like that ever happening. Like, ever. Period, full stop. And that's the sort of thing that someone would have written down if they found out."
"So what's so different with me?"
Jared chewed on his lip, thinking. "I'm not sure, but I think… it's because I'm still alive. People have been mending with organics for centuries, but not with organics from living people. I looked it up," he admitted, at Jensen's raised eyebrow. "And I couldn't find a single example anywhere of someone combining the hearts of two living people. Which makes that the big difference between you and everyone else, so it's probably what's causing it. Since my heart's still kind of connected to me, it means that we're connected somehow as well, I guess?"
Jensen rolled his eyes. "I'm glad you're the expert here. I feel so much better now."
"Hey," Jared said. "I can only work with what I've got. And I only found out two days ago, if you'll recall."
Jensen made a dismissive sound. "So," he said then, in a rather different tone of voice. "If we're connected, what happens to me if something happens to you? Is your heart keeping both of us alive, or what?"
Jared raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that the plot of Dragonheart?" he asked, and startled a grin out of Jensen.
"Shut up. You haven't answered my question. Will it kill me when you die?"
"No," Jared said, not a doubt in his mind. "That part of my heart… belongs to you now, I guess is the best way of putting it. The state of the rest of me doesn't matter - in a physical sense, anyway."
"Oh." Jensen sagged in obvious relief. "You're sure?"
"Very sure," Jared said confidently. "Menders all through history used organics. We'd never have learned to mend at all if using organics from dead things killed people."
"Good to know." Jensen tilted his head towards the carry-away box. "You going to eat that? Cause I won't consider my apology accepted until you do."
There was something brittle about the way Jensen said it that made Jared suspect that he meant it more than he wanted Jared to think. Which made sense, in a way; Jensen seemed the type to rely on actions more than words when it came to the important stuff.
And Jared was probably a colossal fool, but he didn't hesitate before picking up the cupcake and taking a large bite of rich, chocolaty bliss.
"Ngh, god," he groaned, eyes slipping closed in patent ecstasy. "I almost want to get in fights with you more often so you'll keep giving me apology cupcakes. This is fucking orgasmic."
"Don't press your luck," Jensen said gruffly. Jared slitted his eyes open to see a touch of pink tinting Jensen's cheeks. Which was kind of charming. "I don't make a habit of apologizing."
"Tragic." Jared devoured the rest of his cupcake and caught Jensen watching him with a quietly pleased expression.
"Hey," Jared said impulsively. "You know you can come here whenever you want, right?" Jensen cocked his head at him, openly skeptical, and Jared hurried on. "I mean, we've already got Misha showing up whenever Mars is in the ascendancy or whatever, and Adrianne's new girlfriend showed up twice last week. I won't always be able to say hi, but I'll be nearby, if you need to… if it makes you feel better. When I'm not at the bakery, I mean. You'll always be welcome here, Jensen."
"I'll think about it," Jensen said, in a tone of voice that totally meant yes. Jared felt a flare of triumph and refused to be repentant when it made Jensen give him a narrow look.
He couldn't help but think this was the start of something new, for both of them.
Jensen began showing up randomly at the clinic after that, often enough that Adrianne started teasing Jared about finally getting himself a Jensen-shaped boyfriend. Jared ignored her to the best of his abilities and was quietly concerned by how easy he found it.
But the blunting of his feelings weren't so severe that Jared couldn't push through it, or even that Jensen seemed to have noticed that anything was amiss. Of course, Jensen was used to having all the emotional sensitivity of a brick wall, so it wasn't like the bar was high. Terrible as it was of him, Jared couldn't help but be relieved by that. He didn't want Jensen to know. He doubted he'd take the news well.
All told, their new system of not-quite talking about it was working surprisingly well. Their days of successfully ignoring the emotional elephant in the room couldn't last, though.
One day, while Jared was chatting with Adrianne and Jensen after having finished with his last client of the morning, the door opened and Chris strode in, wearing a forbidding expression that made Jared's blood run cold.
This couldn't be good.
"Chris?" Jensen asked, obviously confused. "What're you doing here?"
"Not looking for you," Chris said, not taking his eyes off Jared. "But you can be damn sure we're gonna be having a word about your taste in friends when I'm done with Mr. Padalecki here."
"Do you have an appointment?" Adrianne asked sweetly, with a smile that meant she was more than prepared to rip Chris a new one if he gave her an excuse to do it. "Mr. Padalecki has a very busy schedule and-"
"Adrianne, it's okay," Jared said, because avoidance wasn't going to solve anything and Chris was being belligerent enough for the lot of them. "I've got some time now," he said to Chris. "Why don't we go talk in my exam room?"
Chris nodded shortly and strode off without waiting for Jared.
"The hell is going on?" Jensen demanded.
"I'll explain la-" Jared started.
"He thinks Jared's a murderer," Adrianne cut, which is not how Jared would have gone about it at all. Adrianne had always been a fan of the shock factor.
Jensen looked even more stunned. "What?!"
"Ask Adrianne," Jared said over his shoulder as he followed after Chris, heart pounding.
Chris was stood in the middle of the room when Jared got there, arms crossed over his chest and a decided air of menace around him.
"We've found something that the victims have in common," he said, the moment that Jared walked into the room.
"Oh?" Jared said, glad for once that his emotions were underperforming; he doubted that he'd able to keep himself calm for this conversation if his heart was in one piece. "What's that?"
Chris looked Jared square in the eye. "You."
"What?" Jared asked, sure he had to have heard wrong.
"Oh yeah," Chris said, with something between accusation and relish. "We looked into it. All of our vics had had mending work done on their hearts within two months of getting murdered. Care to guess where they got it done?" he asked, ironic innocence dripping off every word.
Jared changed his mind: half heart or no, there was no way he was going to manage to stay calm for this conversation.
"At your clinic," Chris said, without waiting for Jared to provide the obvious answer. Apparently Jared's input wasn't particularly required in this conversation. "Every. Single. One. Now what do you suppose that makes us think down at the station?"
"That's nothing but conjecture," Jared protested, too loudly. He dropped his voice with a will. "What kind of serial killer would be stupid enough to attack his own customers, anyway?"
"I don't know," Chris said. The you tell me was so obvious that he might as well have said it aloud. "You about to tell me that it's a coincidence?"
"That still doesn't mean that I killed them! You've already searched my whole damn practice for illegal materials. Which you didn't find, because I don't fucking have any! What's next? A tax audit? Cavity search? You gonna start knocking down the walls?"
"If that's what it takes," Chris said evenly.
"Are you even listening to yourself?" Jared demanded, waving his arms in short, angry jerks. "This is crazy!"
Chris' expression didn't change. "You really want to get into this with me, Jared? Because I guarantee you'll lose. Someone is murdering people and using their hearts as mending supplies and you're our prime suspect. So if I was you, I might think twice about being so quite to den-"
"It's not him."
Jared and Chris both whirled around to see Jensen leaning against the wall beside the door, as calm as could be. Jared hadn't even heard him come in.
Chris recovered first. "You sure about that, Jensen?" he demanded, in a tone that was a bizarre mix of derision and concern. "Because I'm sure as hell not about to take your word for it."
"I'm sure," Jensen said, not flinching. "Because he's the one who saved my life when this murderer of yours tried to kill me."
It was the first time in his life Jared had ever seen someone literally be shocked speechless. Chris' jaw dropped and his eyes looked like they were ready to fall right out of his head. Jensen stared back coolly, waiting him out.
Jared watched Chris' expression swing from stunned to concerned and finally settle on blood boiling furious.
"I'm sorry," Chris said, with a precarious sort of calm. "Would you care to repeat that?"
"I got attacked by the 'heart stealer' on my way home six weeks ago," Jensen said, with as much inflection as a weather report. "Jared found me and repaired the damage before it killed me."
Another heartbeat of silence. Jared held his breath.
"You fucking what?!" Chris exploded, loud enough to make Jared's ears ring. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Jensen? Why didn't you tell me? And you!" He rounded on Jared and Jared fought the urge to back away from a guy a good eight inches shorter than he was. "You're under suspicion of aiding and abetting and murder one," Jared winced, "and here I find out that you're under the table mending for a guy who apparently got attacked by a serial killer. And neither of you jackasses thought to tell anyone?!"
Jensen shrugged. Jared had to admire his cool. "What for? I didn't see anything, so I'm no good as a witness, and I didn't want to deal with the police or the press."
"You di- Jensen, it doesn't fucking matter what you did or didn't see. You're telling me that you're the only victim who's survived but it's too much of a hassle to tell anybody? I know you're a bastard but are you really that selfish?"
Jensen inclined his head, neither confirming nor denying.
"Fucking- look. You've officially got thirty seconds to tell me how the hell you're still alive. And don't you dare tell me it's because you've got a mender on call," Chris said, before Jensen could do much more than open his mouth. "Because it doesn't matter how fucking magic he-" a finger jab at Jared "-is, those people were all fucking dead the moment that bastard pulled their hearts out and unless he-" another jab at Jared "-is Jesus fucking Christ himself, there's nothing you can do about that."
Chris' glare was loud in the awkward silence that followed. "Well?" he demanded, looking back and forth between them. "I can drag you both in for obstructing justice if you like."
Jared hesitated; he had no particular desire to go to prison, but this wasn't his secret to give. Torn, he glanced at Jensen.
Jensen sighed. "I always knew that badge was going to turn into a power trip. Go ahead, Jared," he said, with a put-upon wave. "He won't stop bitching until he hears the whole story."
"Right." Jared squared his shoulders and met Chris' narrow-eyed look dead on. "Jensen was still alive when I found him because the person who attacked him only took half of his heart."
Chris' brow furrowed darkly. "The killer's changed their M.O.?"
"What? No, that's not- no. Jensen's heart is a little-" Jared paused, groping for a word, "-brittle, so it broke when the killer tried to remove it and part got left behind."
"Jensen's been awfully cheery lately for a guy with half a heart," Chris said, apparently unbothered - unsurprised? - by the fact that Jensen's heart was in such shitty condition that it physically fell apart when someone touched it. "I wouldn't have thought half a heart was enough to keep someone alive."
"It isn't," Jared said without thinking, and immediately regretted it when Jensen's eyes snapped towards him with sudden, sharp focus. "Not on its own, I mean," he added hurriedly. "Reconstructive mending can pick up the slack."
Chris hummed thoughtfully. "And what kind of 'reconstruction' techniques are we talking about?"
"Clockwork, mostly," Jared said, thinking fast. "Metal plating sometimes, depending on the problem. I do it all the time for people who've lost bits of their hearts to other people."
"And this is the same thing on a bigger scale," Jensen said, in a voice that was just daring Jared to contradict him.
"Pretty much," Jared agreed, which was only a little bit like lying. Stretching the truth didn't count. "The more that needs replacing, the less likely it is that the heart will recover properly, but it's not completely unheard of." He caught Jensen's eyes, willing him to buy this. "As long as the heart's strong enough, it can recover."
"But it isn't," Chris said, and Jared jolted out of his staring contest with Jensen to find the man looking at the both of them with clear suspicion.
Jared blinked and did his best not to look overly untrustworthy. "If you don't believe me, I can get you some reports about the use of gears in men-"
"Cut the crap," Chris said irritably. "We all know that Jensen's heart isn't strong enough to power a light bulb. Fuck, I'm impressed it's kept him running this long, the way he treats it."
"Thanks for that," Jensen said dryly.
"So I'll ask again." Chris leaned in close, somehow contriving to be looking down at the pair of them despite being the shortest person in the room by a good margin. "Why didn't you come to me when this happened? Cause all I'm hearing, Jensen, is that you should be fucking dead right now since there's no way that your heart could handle this shit, and here you are in the best shape you've been in since that colossal jacka-"
"Chris," Jensen said, whip-crack sharp. "Spit it out or fuck off."
"Things like that," Chris said, not missing a beat. "Didn't think you even knew how to get mad anymore. So you'd both better start talking before I haul you down to the hospital to get a second opinion on Jensen's recovery. Just to make sure that he's okay."
Jared felt the blood drain from his face.
"Now, what do you suppose is gonna happen if it turns out that it's not a whole ton of metal keeping Jensen's blood pumping, after all?" Chris asked, in an idle tone that was anything but. "Seems like someone could be in a whole lot of trouble. Especially a mender who's got a very good reputation and swears up and down that he doesn't use organics in his mending. Right, Jared?"
Jared stared at him, his mind gone completely blank.
"I told him to do it," Jensen said suddenly.
Jared whipped around to look at Jensen, sure that disbelief must have been written all over his face.
"What?" Chris said.
"I told him to do it," Jensen said and he was clearly a much better liar than Jared was. His tone was firm and quietly confident, completely believable.
Chris seemed to be having a hard time processing this. "You- you told him to put someone else's heart in your chest."
"Only half a heart," Jensen said, as though that made any sort of difference. "And not explicitly, no."
"Oh?" Chris threw a glance at Jared, who stared back, helpless to stop where this conversation was going. "Then what did you tell him to do?"
Jensen shrugged. "Whatever it took to keep me alive."
Chris stared at him, shocked speechless for a second time, and the corner of Jensen's mouth quirked into something that was far too bitter to be a grin.
"Come on, Chris. You know as well as I do that half of a heart wasn't going to cut it in my situation." Jensen lifted his hands in a 'what can you do' sort of gesture. "There wasn't exactly a lot of time, so it's not Jared's fault that his solution was a little unorthodox."
"A little…" Chris bit the word off with a curse. "Jensen, you are talking about using a stolen heart to-"
"No, I'm not," Jensen said, cutting Chris' tirade off cold. "Nothing Jared used wasn't freely given." His eyes cut to Jared. "Right?"
Jared swallowed hard. "Right," he said. No matter what other lies Jensen was telling through his teeth, this was the one thing that had never been in doubt.
"Oh really? And just where did this 'freely given' organic material come from?"
Sucking in a fortifying breath, Jared reached up at tapped his chest, right over his heart. The incisions had long since healed but the phantom memory of them sparked a touch of pain against his fingers. "Me. It, I mean… it was mine. My heart."
Chris' eyebrows climbed up nearly to his hairline. "You did what now?'
"There you go. Organ exchange between two consenting adults," Jensen said, and Jared had to fight to keep his mouth from twisting at the phrase. He and Jensen had been in situations that required consent twice - with Jensen on Jared's exam chair, and with Jared pressed up against the wall of his apartment - and neither one could really qualify as consensual. "It's not illegal if it's freely given and freely accepted."
Jared wasn't entirely sure that was true, but Chris didn't seem to be paying attention to that part right now.
"You gave Jensen your heart," he said, sounding as though he wasn't sure if it ought to be a question or not.
"Half of it," Jared corrected.
"So what's holding you together, then?"
Jared shrugged. "Gears," he lied. "Like I said."
"Why in God's name would you do that to yourself?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Jensen said. His tone was absent, as though the question was hardly worth asking. "Because he's in love with me."
Jared's world stopped.
"Come on, Chris," Jensen continued, careless of the way Jared's poor diminished heart stuttered in his hollow chest. "You must have noticed. He's not exactly subtle."
To make matters worse, all Chris did was nod. "Yeah. Didn't think you'd noticed, though."
Jensen shrugged. "Haven't you heard? My heart works better these days. It's easier to pick up on this sort of thing."
Jared's face felt frozen in a rictus of heartbreak as the numbness in his chest reared up, worse than ever, turning his vision gray at the edges. Chris and Jensen were still talking, probably about just what kind of idiot Jared was to give his heart away like that to someone who didn't care, but it was impossible to muster up the strength to pay attention. Jared found himself concentrating on the pinpricks of cold spreading through his chest and the idle curiosity of whether he was going to pass out.
Jared came back to himself to find Jensen and Chris both looking at him.
"Fine," Jared said automatically. "It's all… everything's fine. Do you still want to arrest me?" he asked Chris.
The muted pity in Chris' expression wasn't something that Jared ever wanted to see again. "No. But that doesn't mean you-"
"Great, fine, wonderful. Then if you don't mind, I need my clinic back. I've got," he took a deep breath, "clients. To help. Jensen has my number if you need me."
Jared then proceeded to stare very hard at the wall until they got the hint and left, terrified of what he'd see in Jensen's eyes if he looked. He waited another five minutes, then ten, and finally made his slow way to the waiting room.
Adrianne was full of questions Jared didn't have the wherewithal to answer. He managed to tell her that the police didn't consider them suspects any more, and then asked her to cancel the rest of his appointments for the day. He had a headache. He hadn't got enough sleep this week. He thought he might be coming down with something.
Adrianne expressed her concern with a combination of exasperation and chiding for running himself down like this, didn't Jared know better than to treat his body this way?
Jared manfully refrained from crying and promised to get some rest, thanks mom. Then he walked out of the clinic and right into the first taxi that would stop for him. He gave the address and stared at his hands until the taxi pulled up in front of his house.
Once he was inside, Jared locked the door, dropped his keys somewhere and headed straight for his bedroom. He laid down on the bed, shoes and all, and stared at the ceiling with a pillow clutched to his chest as though he could block the ache.
That night, Jared calmly melted down some copper plating - endurance and protection - and used it to fill the deep gash now running from his pulmonary artery right down into the ventricle.
He tried not to look too closely at the other hurts he'd gathered over the last six weeks: the puffy, swollen flesh; the ever-growing swathe of sickly green heartbreak; the splinters of black radiating out from the place where he'd cut himself in two; the nicks and scratches where he'd ached for his clients. Instead, Jared focused on the gleam of gold thread supporting his poor, crippled heart - purity, miracles and divine intervention, he reminded himself - and didn't regret it.
Jared didn't go into work the next day. He passed the time alternately staring at the ceiling and rubbing the phantom ache in his chest, careless of the new stitches holding his incisions closed. He didn't generally have much trouble recovering from a mending, but he wasn't holding particularly high hopes that he'd bounce back quickly this time.
Thursday passed in essentially the same way, although Jared managed to eat something, at least. He ignored the ever-encroaching gray with a will borne of desperation.
He'd have missed the Friday as well, but he couldn't do that to his clients, not when he didn't have another mender lined up to send them to. Besides, Adrianne would probably come to his house and either kill him or drag him into work by his ear.
"You look like shit," she said when he dragged himself in. Her tartness didn't do a good job of hiding the worry in her voice. "Everything okay, boss?"
Jared waved her off. "S'fine," he said, weaving his way up to the desk. "Some kind of bug. I'll get over it."
Adrianne frowned. "You sure? You've gone all gray."
"M'fine. Should have seen me yesterday, if you think this is bad." Jared peered at the neat stack of files on the desk and tried to pretend that he didn't feel like passing out on top of them. "Who's first?"
The day passed about as well as Jared could have hoped. Being at work gave Jared something to focus on, thankfully, but he was slowly drowning in the realization that he couldn't keep up with the demands of his job. He earned well wishes and advice from essentially all of his clients, which Jared found at once touching and shameful. Still, it made him feel lighter and he found it easier to cope once he got properly into the rhythm.
Of course, that equanimity vanished like smoke when he looked up from making notes after Mr. Fuller's appointment and found Jensen standing in the doorway, watching him with an expression that said nothing at all.
"Jared," Jensen said, in a tone of voice that gave away just as little. "You got a minute?"
"One or two," Jared forced himself to say. "My next client's due at five, though."
"Adrianne told me. This won't take long."
"Right, okay. So what's up?" Jared asked, with what he thought was a decent attempt at equanimity. He put down his pen and turned to face Jensen properly, leaning back against the counter. "Please don't say Chris has decided to arrest me, after all."
Jensen shook his head. "Actually, he wants your help."
Jared felt his eyebrows lift. "He what?"
"The victims are definitely all connected to you somehow," Jensen said. He sounded completely at ease, but Jared could see the way his eyes kept trying to drift away from him to stare at the floor. Jared felt a vicious twist of satisfaction that Jensen was just as uncomfortable as he was. "And if you're not the murderer-"
"Chris' words," Jensen said. "If you're not, then the killer's probably using your records to find victims."
Jared blanched. "Oh god."
"So Chris thinks that you might be able to help figure out why these people are being targeted and, maybe, who the killer might go after next."
"Oh," Jared said. "Well, I guess I can, ah… do my best? Don't know how much help I'll be."
Jensen shrugged. "Right now, I think Chris'd be happy with anything."
"Since me being innocent means he hasn't got a suspect anymore," Jared said, too flatly to pass it off as a joke.
"Right." Jensen stood there awkwardly for a moment and Jared found himself wishing he'd just leave already and save Jared's heart the unwanted stress.
Of course, nothing had really been going Jared's way recently.
"I'm sorry," Jensen said.
Jared sighed. "No, you're not."
"I needed a reason that Chris would believe," Jensen continued, in a coaxing sort of tone. Jared couldn't help but think that it sounded a lot like his 'it's cheaper per truffle if you buy a box of ten instead of the singles' voice.
Jared chuckled without mirth. "The truth's handy that way, I guess."
Jensen went absolutely still. "What?"
"Just," Jared sighed again. "Just leave it, okay? I always knew where I stood. The important part is that you're still alive to turn me down. It's fine."
"I don't-" Jensen looked stunned. "You're actually in… love? With me?"
"I'm pretty sure you're the one who brought it up," Jared said, trying and failing at not sounding bitter.
"But I. I didn't really think." Jensen swiped a hand over his mouth. "Shit, Jared. How could you possibly believe that?"
Jared laughed. It was quite possibly the ugliest sound he had ever made. "It's not a matter of belief, Jensen. It's the way things are. And I'm very well qualified to diagnose love, believe me."
"I don't get you," Jensen said, sounding frustrated. "Why would you want t-"
"Because it's not something you choose!" Jared all but shouted at him. His feet carried him across the room towards Jensen, who backed away hurriedly from whatever expression was on Jared's face. "It's not something you control and it's definitely not something you can turn off!"
Jensen's back hit the wall and Jared boxed him in, looming close enough that he could see the individual freckles scattered across the bridge of Jensen's nose. He lifted one hand and Jensen flinched when it landed firmly, but mindfully, on the centre of his chest and pinned him in place.
"Jared…" Jensen said, in a tone that was meant to be warning but came out more nervous than anything else.
"You feel this?" Jared demanded, pressing down hard enough that he could feel the suddenly racing beat of Jensen's heart. "That messy tangle of happiness and fear and sadness and hope? That's love. That's what I feel about you. No," he corrected himself. "That's part of what I feel. An echo. Imagine how much more wonderful and terrifying the real thing is."
Jensen stared at him, wide-eyed and breathing hard, and Jared abruptly found his anger draining away, leaving weariness in its wake.
"Love is the most wonderful thing, Jensen," Jared said softly. "Which is why it's you I don't get; why don't you want it? Not from me, not from anyone?"
Jensen said nothing for a long moment. "So are you going to help?" he asked finally, blank-faced dispassion mantling him like a cloak.
Jared sighed and let his hand drop. "Yeah. Of course. Tell Chris to contact me."
"Right." Jensen waited for Jared to step back, then turned towards the door. "I am sorry," he said over his shoulder as he went.
He didn't, Jared noticed, say what he was apologizing for.
Faintly, Jared could hear the sound of Jensen talking to Adrianne at the front desk, and a flare of hot, consuming rage boiled up inside of him. With an inarticulate growl, he drove his fist at the wall, punching it hard enough to make his hand hurt.
The pain didn't make him feel better. He hadn't expected it to.
"This doesn't make sense," Jared said, frowning at the file in his hands. He and Chris were camped out in Jared's office, going through the masses of paperwork they each had about the victims. Normally, Jared knew, this sort of thing would have happened at the police station, but they had good reason to keep his involvement on the down low: Chris because consulting a possible murder suspect wouldn't look very good on his record and Jared because he had no particular desire to be arrested for possibly illegal use of organics.
Jared didn't know if Jensen was being forced to deal with the police thanks to his status as the sole living victim of a serial killer, but Jared was glad that he, at least, was able to stay out of it.
"If it made sense we'd have caught the bastard already," Chris said from where he was sprawled out on the couch. He'd firmly staked it out as his territory as soon as they'd started, on the grounds that it was the only piece of furniture that didn't look like it secretly wished it was a bookshelf. Jared had to concede that he had a point.
"I mean it," Jared said.
Chris glanced up from the file he was reading. "What's your problem?"
"These people." Jared waved a hand at the papers he had spread all over his desk. "I thought you said the killer was selling their hearts."
"That's the theory." Chris put down the file and gave Jared his full attention. "You disagree?"
"It just doesn't add up. See here." Jared picked up the file on his left and tried to think of them as names rather than people he'd known, hearts he'd known. "Emily Perkins hardened her heart after she had a miscarriage, and it got so bad that parts literally stopped working. There's a dozen cogs in her heart." He put down the file and picked up the next. "DJ Qualls lost part of his heart to his high school crush, then got it broken by his girlfriend in college and, since he hadn't had the first one dealt with, the damage compounded. There are full sections of his heart that I had to mend with fillings and plating. Samantha Smith got badly burned during her divorce. The yellow stain has improved, but there will always be," he faltered, swallowed, "-would always have been scarring."
Chris' brow furrowed. "So?"
"So they're all like this," Jared said. "These people are - were - some of my most damaged patients. Their hearts would be completely unsuitable as organic material."
"For the synthetics then?" Chris guessed.
Jared shook his head. "Better to just steal them from a clinic. I mean, some back alley menders might be willing to mend with used materials, but no one I've ever worked with would dare. Too much risk involved. And I can't imagine that there's a big profit margin in that."
Chris frowned. "You're sure?"
"Completely," Jared said. "Whatever the killer is doing with their hearts, it sure as hell isn't selling them."
"Which means we're looking at a fetishist," Chris said. He slumped back in his chair. "Fuck."
It was Jared's turn to frown. "What do you mean? Fetishist how?"
"Any fucking way you want," Chris said sourly. "He could be eating 'em or putting 'em on a shelf or turning 'em into fucking shoes for all it matters. Which means we're stuck with a criminal whose motives are halfway impossible to predict which means he's gonna be halfway impossible to catch."
A thought struck Jared. "But, doesn't that also means that Jensen's heart might still be okay?"
Chris gave him a look. "I think you need to redefine your idea of 'okay', son."
"The heart can survive outside the chest," Jared said, feeling a muted sort of excitement rise up inside him. "Or, well, not all of it, that would kill you, but pieces can. If they're small enough, your heart can keep going on without them, more or less. As long as the majority of your heart is still inside your chest, any bits of it that aren't attached will keep beating right along with it."
Jared nodded. "There's historical precedence, too. The ancient Greeks considered it a sign of highest affection for someone to give pieces of their heart to their lover. The Romans actually dedicated parts of their hearts to Venus, the goddess of love. They kept them in her temples."
"Huh," Chris said, sounding thoughtful. "So you think that the rest of Jensen's heart, wherever it is, could still be working?"
"It's hard to say for sure but, the theory's sound. So yeah. Probably. As long as Jensen's alive, his heart should be too."
"As long as some psycho hasn't eaten it," Chris said dryly. "And you could put it back in him? If we found it?"
"I think so," Jared said. The thought made him feel slightly nauseous, but he pushed it aside, focusing on the problem at hand. "As long as it's in decent condition, it should be possible to use it like any other organic material. Jensen's strong enough now to survive me removing my piece of heart and sewing the original piece back in place."
"And then you'd put yourself back together?" Chris said, making it sound more like an order than a question.
Jared managed a wan smile. "That'd be the plan, yeah."
"So now we get to hope that this psycho doesn't make shoes out of Jensen's heart before we catch him. This sounds so encouraging."
Chris' tone was positively dripping with sarcasm and Jared's smile became a little more genuine. Despite himself, he was starting to like Chris.
"You gonna tell Jensen?" Chris asked. His tone was idle, but the sharp assessment in his eyes told a different story entirely.
"Yeah," Jared said immediately. "He deserves to know. Give him some hope." And an incentive to keep putting up with me, he didn't add. Chris didn't need to know that part.
The rest of the week passed in a blur of questions that didn't have answers, client issues that Jared couldn't solve and staying up until his eyes burned trying to prepare for the next day. Adrianne's worried looks were growing increasingly frequent and Jared tried very hard not to think about how much longer he'd last before he couldn't work at all. He wasn't about to quit until he had absolutely no more choice in the matter, even if was half-killing him.
Which was probably why Jared had never looked forward to a day off as much in his life as he did that Sunday. He was tired of being tired.
He spent the majority of the day doing absolutely nothing, trying to give his heart a little time to recover. Eventually, though, he had to resign himself to the fact that he'd starve to death before anything else happened if he put off his grocery shopping any longer. When even the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese supply was running low, it was time to admit defeat.
While Jared was in the produce aisle, debating the various merits of green versus red peppers, his phone started ringing. Which earned him a few sideways glances, because apparently people weren't expecting a guy who looked like Jared to have Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On as a ringtone, but Jared was pretty used to that. He thought it was hilarious, which was all that mattered.
Still focusing most of his attention on the peppers, Jared fumbled his phone free one-handed and thumbed the accept button. "Hello?"
Jared blinked. "Danneel?" he asked, surprised. Danneel was Jensen's second in command at The Cinnamon Star and she was the kind of badass, whip smart lady Jared would absolutely have fallen in love with if he'd been straight. "I didn't know you had my number."
"Stole it off Jensen's phone." Danneel sounded tense, enough unlike her normal self that Jared frowned.
"Is everything okay?" he asked.
"There's something wrong with Jensen," Danneel said, the words tripping out all over themselves in their rush to get loose.
Jared's blood ran cold.
"Did he- what's, shit, I'm at the grocery store - I'll have to go home and get my kit." Jared abandoned his shopping cart and started striding for the entrance. "Is he still conscious?"
"Jared, Jared, stop. That's not why I called."
"Then… what's wrong?"
"I don't know! A customer came in and Jensen went to help her and I don't know what she said to him, but now he's hiding in the back and he won't say anything to me and I thought-" Danneel took a deep, audible breath, "I thought you could help."
"Danneel," Jared began uneasily. "I don't think Jensen's going to want to talk to me any more than you."
"Yes, he will," Danneel said, with a steel in her voice that was more than a little terrifying. Jared loved Danneel, but fear was very much a part of that love. "Right now, you're probably the only person he'll talk to."
Jared didn't dare ask what she meant by that; whatever the answer would be, he wasn't sure his heart was ready for it. "I'll be there in twenty," he promised and hung up with her gratitude echoing in his ear.
It actually took him closer to fifteen minutes, mostly because he promised the cab driver an extra $20 if they got there with as little attention paid to speed limits as possible. He nearly knocked the bell right off the door when he charged in, which he would have wished he could feel poorly about except the tight, worried expression on Danneel's face made it clear that the haste was well deserved. She was helping a customer when he walked in and she gestured to the 'Employees Only' door without a word. Jared nodded and headed through.
He found Jensen in the office, which was worrying in and of itself. Jensen didn't avoid his office the way Jared did, but he usually preferred to be in the staff kitchen, especially when he was upset. Jensen was slumped over in one of the guest chairs with his head in his hands, unmoving. Jared was by his side in an instant, though he resisted his instinctive urge to gather him up in a massive hug and squeeze him until he squeaked.
"Jensen?" he asked instead. "You in there?"
Jensen didn't answer, didn't so much as twitch, so Jared laid a tentative hand on his shoulder, contact without pressure. This sort of thing, at least, he knew how to deal with.
"Danneel called me," he said, using the same gentle, easy tone he'd used when Jensen had first woken up with part of Jared's heart in his chest. "Said you were upset."
"Shouldn't," Jensen mumbled, the word garbled by his hands.
"Shouldn't have called you."
Jared bit his lip against the instinctive sting of the words and firmly pushed those thoughts aside. That wasn't what Jensen needed right now.
"Well, you've got me anyway. Now, I can sit here quietly and keep you company, if that's what you want, or you can talk to me and we can work together to figure this out."
There was silence for a long moment, then, "S'your fault," Jensen muttered, so low that Jared could hardly hear him.
Jared fought back a bigger twinge. "What?"
"This is all your fucking fault!" Jensen yelled, head coming up to reveal red-rimmed eyes and a face twisted in furious pain. "You and your stupid love and your stupid martyr complex! None of this would have happened if you hadn't… if you hadn't…"
"Jensen…" Jared cast a frantic look at the closed door, hoping that none of this was filtering out to the store.
"There was a reason I wanted a heart that didn't work," Jensen said, his voice thick with misery. "But now I'm stuck with half of yours and it seems like all it knows how to do is make me fucking miserable."
Jensen's chair clattered to the floor and he got right up in Jared's face. "Now I've got to deal with all this…" his lip curled up in a wicked snarl, "-this baggage that you've saddled me with and I can't even hate you right because all I can feel is how fucking sad it makes you to see me unhappy. And now this happens and I can't even think and I hate it!"
Jensen seized the front of Jared's shirt in both hands and hauled him in until they were practically nose-to-nose. "I don't want to care, Jared. I don't want to care about you or myself or any other fucking thing on this planet so why the hell couldn't you just leave me alone?!"
His voice echoed like a gunshot, fading slowly into stillness.
"I'm sorry I've hurt you," Jared said quietly. He looked into the face of Jensen's anger and willed everything he was feeling to show in his face as well as his heart. "I'm so, so sorry. You know it's the last thing I'd ever want to do. But don't ask me to be sorry that I saved your life. I can't ever be sorry that the world has you in it."
Jensen was trembling. "Don't-"
"Jensen," Jared said. Ever so slowly, he brought up his hands to clasp Jensen's arms, not holding but holding on. "You can survive this."
Abruptly, all the fight went out of Jensen's spine and he curled down into himself, his hands still fisted tightly in Jared's collar as though his grip was the only thing holding him up. His head thumped against Jared's chest, over the beat of his heart.
"It's like being drunk," he said, so close that Jared could feel the heat of his breath brushing his collarbone. Jensen's voice was choked, raw. "Everything's too sharp but fuzzy on the edges. Sometimes it hurts so fucking much I can't breathe."
"Okay," Jared said, making a quick decision. "I'm going to take you home, okay? No more work today."
Jensen didn't answer, staring at the buttons on Jared's shirt while his hands clenched rhythmically in the fabric, and Jared decided that he didn't need Jensen's permission for this. "I'll be right back, okay?" he said. "Sit down for a bit; I've just got to go talk to Danneel."
Jared prised Jensen's gently hands loose, righted his fallen chair and then manhandled him into it. Once he had Jensen settled, Jared hurried out of the office and headed back to the bakery proper.
Danneel was still neck deep in customers, but she turned away from the chocolate-covered pretzels she was packaging to give Jared a hopeful look.
"I'm taking him home," Jared said and watched the tension in her spine ease. "Do you know his address?"
Danneel nodded. "Sorry, Jim," she said to the man she was helping. Jared would continually be impressed by how many of their repeat customers Jensen and Danneel knew by name. "Jensen's coming down with something, so Jared's come down to sort him out. Do you mind hanging tight for a minute?"
Jim waved her off. "You go right ahead. That boy works too hard. Needs to learn how to stop running every once in a while."
"Thanks, Jim," Danneel said, with a grateful smile. "I'll be right back. Come on, Jared."
Danneel led the way into the staff kitchen, where she grabbed an order pad and scribbled down Jensen's address. "You want me to call a taxi?"
"That'd be great," Jared said, distractedly. He gaze drifted towards the office without his permission.
"How is he?" Danneel asked, following Jared's look. "I thought I heard yelling."
Jared winced. "Sorry," he tried, only to have Danneel wave that off.
"Don't be. Just take care of him."
"I will," Jared promised. "Do you know what happened?"
Danneel spread her hands helplessly. "All I know is that a woman came in looking for him. Jensen sent me to take some brownies out of the oven while he talked to her. She left before I got a chance to come over, but it didn't look like they were fighting or anything. Then Jensen totally shut down: wouldn't say a word about who she was or what she wanted. Just came back here and refused to come back out."
"Well shit," Jared said and Danneel nodded feelingly. "Sounds like I'm going to have a hell of a night. You get back to work," he said, gently. "I'll get Jensen home safe."
"Thank you," Danneel said. "Really."
Jared shrugged awkwardly. "Don't mention it," he said, before going to get Jensen.
Jensen was still right where Jared had left him, which was unsettling. Jared plucked up his courage and headed over, laying his hands on Jensen's arm. "Come on, Jensen," he said. "Let's get you home."
"Hate you," Jensen said mildly.
He was docile enough as Jared got him out of his chair and led him out the back door and around to where Danneel's promised taxi was waiting for them. Jared bundled Jensen into the cab, read out Jensen's address to the driver, then slumped back in the seat and tried not to worry too obviously.
Clearly that was going to go well.
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