Characters/Pairings: Jensen/Jared, Chris Kane, Chad Michael Murray, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Julian Richings, Felicia Day, Steve Carlson, Mentions of Rob Benedict and Richard Speight, April (OC)
Word Count: 16,833
Beta Credit: firesign10
Summary: Jared's latest party-life transgression sends him to a new kind of rehab: equine therapy, a melding of counseling along with horse care and riding. He doesn't really care as long as he can get it done and get back to filming his new movie. He's been to rehab before and knows what to expect. What he doesn't expect is who runs the equine center—his first love, Jensen Ackles.
Chad was sitting at the kitchen counter talking to Jeffrey Dean when Jared stormed into the house.
“Hey, dude-” was all he got out before Jared decked him. Chad went down, taking the kitchen stool with him. “What the hell!”
Chad scrambled up, narrowly missing Jared’s second attempt to punch him. He danced backwards as Jeff grabbed Jared’s arm.
“Calm down!” Jeff hollered as Jared struggled in his grip.
“What the fuck was that for?” Chad wiggled his jaw and hissed at the pain.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jared lunged at Chad, only to be hauled back by Jeff. “You knew he was here and you didn’t tell me!”
Chad’s eyes grew big and he started to stammer. “Jay-man…I had no choice, okay?”
“What do you mean you had no choice? All you had to say was ‘Hey Jared, guess what? Jensen owns the rehab center you’re going to.’” Jared shrugged off Jeff’s grip and began to pace. “I thought you were my friend.”
“C’mon, man. I am. I couldn’t tell you.”
“Why not?” Jared planted himself in front of Chad. “Why couldn’t you tell me?”
“Because I asked him not to.” Jensen was leaning against the door way, his arms folded. “I told him I wouldn’t allow you to be treated here if you knew ahead of time.”
Jensen pushed himself off the door jamb and stepped into the kitchen. “I think you need to apologize to Chad. He was just looking out for you.”
Jared whirled on him. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“As far as I can see, I’m the one keeping you out of jail. So it probably would be a good thing not to piss me off.”
Jared stared at him in shock.
Jensen just stared back, his face composed.
Jared took a deep breath to calm himself. Feeling like a child scolded by a parent, he said, “I’m sorry for punching you, Chad.”
“No worries.” Chad grinned slightly. “I’d probably have done the same thing.”
Jared looked around at the men standing in the room and knew he had to get away or he would say something he’d regret. Pushing past Jeff, he left without a word and took the steps upstairs, two at a time.
He entered his room, wanting desperately to slam the door like he’d done when he was a teenager, but closing it simply instead. He flopped on the bed, buried his face in the pillow and started cursing.
After he finished his shouting match with the pillow, Jared rolled over onto his back and stared at the ceiling, thinking of Jensen.
Who the hell did Jensen think he was? Jared wondered angrily. His rational side replied, The guy who’s gonna keep you out of jail, like he said, dumbass.
Jared sighed, the anger draining out of him. It wouldn’t do him any good to be pissed at Jensen. But it was going to be difficult to be around him with their shared history. Maybe he could just avoid him.
That idea crashed and burned with a knock on his door. “Jared?” Jensen’s voice was muffled. “Can I come in, please?”
Jared had half a mind to say no, but he knew it was fruitless. If Jensen was as stubborn now as he was when they were younger, he’d stand outside the door until Jared let him in.
“Yeah.” He sat up and scooted to the top of the bed.
The door opened slowly and Jensen peeked around it. If Jared wasn’t feeling so pissy, he would have laughed at the cautious expression on Jensen’s face.
“You can come in. I’m not going to punch you. I save that for Chad.”
Jensen chuckled as he came in. “I wasn’t sure. You’ve…grown…since I last saw you in person.”
Jared felt himself blushing. “Yeah. Not that scrawny kid that left for college.” He winced at the words, remembering the major fight they’d had when he left for UCLA. It was the last time he and Jensen had spoken.
Jensen seemed to let that slide. He gestured at the desk chair and raised an eyebrow. Jared nodded and watched as Jensen straddled it, resting his arms on the back.
They both began to speak.
“So how are-”
“It’s good to see-”
They both broke off and Jensen chuckled. “You first.”
“Um…you look good,” Jared began. “Owning the Center seems to agree with you.”
“Thanks. It’s definitely been an experience.” Jensen smiled. “I love it though.”
“When did you start this? Last I’d heard you were studying to be a physical therapist.” Jared wouldn’t admit it, but he’d weaseled information about Jensen out of his brother Jeff.
“Actually, it was the perfect storm. I needed an internship to graduate and a friend recommended this place. I came to work and haven’t left.” Jensen rubbed the back of his neck. “The Director was retiring and wanted to sell the place, so here I am.”
He caught Jared’s gaze. “But enough about me. I think the real question is, why are you here, Jared?”
Jared grimaced. “I’m sure you’ve seen the gossip mags. It’s been full of it.”
Jensen smiled. “I don’t read those things. And even if I did, they don’t tell the full story.” He paused, and Jared could tell he was waiting for him to speak.
Taking a deep breath, Jared started, “I ran my car into a guardrail after the wrap party for my last movie. The Court ordered me to attend rehab or face jail time. The producer of my next movie, the Court and Chad arranged for me to come here.” It sounded like he was reading off a cue card, and badly at that.
Jensen looked at him in silence. It made Jared cringe but he didn’t speak.
Jensen sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “Okay, Jared. That’s the public story, but why are you reallyhere?”
“Because I’m a fuckup.” Jared knew his tone was bitter. “And according to Chad I haven’t been able to get past it.” Better to get it out and over with now.
“Do you think Chad’s right?” Jensen’s voice was neutral.
‘No’ was on the tip of Jared’s tongue but what came out was “I don’t know, maybe?” He groaned at the words, blushing and feeling utterly foolish.
Jensen smiled softly. “For what it’s worth, Jared, I don’t think you’re a fuckup. Just a bit misguided.” Jensen’s smile grew wider. “And this is the perfect place to find your way.”
“I hope so.” Jared was surprised to realize he meant it.
Jensen smiled and stood. “Believe it or not, it’s good to see you, Jared.”
Jared scoffed. “I’m not sure I believe that, given the circumstances.”
“You should.” Jensen paused. “It’s really good to see you.” Pausing at the door, he said, “Okay, I need to go. Got to go back out and check a few more fences.”
“Okay.” Jared surprised himself by yawning.
Jensen looked at his watch. “Can I make a suggestion?”
“Sure,” Jared said cautiously.
“It’s 10 AM. You don’t have to see JD until 2. You should crash for a few hours; reset yourself.”
Jared considered that, and agreed when he had to stifle another yawn. “Yeah, that actually sounds like a good idea.”
“Good.” Jensen smiled. “Good. Okay, then. I’ll see you at the barbeque?”
“Get some rest.” Jensen paused at the door. “And Jared? I think you're going to do just fine here.” He left, closing the door softly.
Jared lay back and stared at the ceiling. As his eyes slipped closed, he wondered what it was going to be like with Jensen back in his life.
Jared’s first session with Jeff Morgan was not as bad as he thought it would be. He and Jeff sat out on the back porch and talked about Jared’s work, football, music, everything but why Jared was at the Center. Before he knew it, the hour was almost up.
“I thought we were going to have a counseling session?” Jared asked as Jeff told him they were done for the day.
“We did.” Jeff smiled at him and closed his folder.
“But you didn’t ask me anything serious.”
“Didn’t need to.” Jeff stood and motioned for Jared to follow him into the house. Jeff stopped in the kitchen and took two bottles of water out of the fridge.
“Okay….” Jared accepted the one Jeff held out to him. “Now I’m really confused.”
Jeff grinned and leaned against the counter. “When I get a new client, I like to spend the first session just getting to know them. It lets me know how they communicate and what tools I might need to help them get to their goals.”
“So how did I rate?” Jared took a swig of his water.
Laughing, Jeff nudged Jared’s shoulder. “Smart, eloquent but reserved. You don’t give your trust easily. You’ll talk about anything, but it’s going to be tough to get you to really open up.” Jeff tipped his bottle of water towards Jared. “But at the same time, you want to be able to share without the fear that someone will take advantage or expose you.”
“Wow. You got all that from our talk?” Jared shook his head in disbelief.
“I’m good at what I do, Jared,” Jeff said simply. “We’ll get into the nitty-gritty in further sessions, trust me. But for now, I have to ask you a serious question.”
Jeff winked at him. “How good are you at grilling?”
The BBQ was an experience. Everyone at Pegasus Rising evidently took it very seriously. Chris, Steve, and Jeff set out chairs and tables while Felicia and the other staff brought out food and drinks and hooked up the sound system. Jared tried to help, but they wouldn’t let him.
“You’re a guest,” Rich said, using the term they had for patients. “You’re just here to eat and socialize.”
Soon, the smell of beef, pork and chicken wafted through the air accompanied by the strains of George Jones and the Eagles. The guests and staff helped themselves to potato and pasta salads, roasted corn on the cob, cole slaw, three kinds of beans, and miles of desserts.
Jared sat down at one of the tables, a plate piled high with ribs and sides and a cold glass of sweet tea in front of him. Matt and Chris sat down across from him, their own plates filled with food.
“So, Jared,” Matt began, a grin on his face. “Before you officially join guest status in, oh…” he looked at his watch. “…about twenty minutes, care to share any insider Hollywood stories?”
Chris smacked Matt on the back of the head, getting an ‘Ow!’ from the other man. “Lord, son, where are your manners. You know Jared can’t tell you stuff like that! Right?” He turned to Jared and crooked his eyebrow. “I mean, you can’t really tell us the dirt on say…Paris Hilton…right?”
Jared laughed. Chris looked so eager that he couldn’t resist. Leaning in, he whispered, “What do you want to know?”
Chris’s eyes widened. “Everything.”
Laughing again, Jared thought for a moment. “Okay, let me see what I remember….” He shared just enough to make Chris happy, switching to general stories about meeting Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, and several other big name Hollywood actors, and told them about funny pranks that he’d pulled on set.
He was about to launch into a story where he dumped several hundred dollars of change into a coworker’s car when Jeff stood and motioned for someone to lower the music.
“Okay, folks, did everyone get enough to eat?” There were murmurs of assent. “Great. If ya’ll could gather round the fire pit, let’s get started.”
Jared tossed his plate into the trash as he made his way to the circle of logs surrounding the pit. He grabbed some Wet-Naps and wiped his hands clean. He took a seat next to an older man and quietly introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Jared.”
“Bruce.” Bruce held his hand out for Jared to shake. “Big fan of your movies.”
“Thanks.” Jared blushed, wondering if Bruce would stay a fan once he heard why Jared was there. He turned back to listen to what Jeff had to say.
“Now here’s where we get to meet the new folks and hear about the progress of the week.” Jeff grinned and rubbed his hands together. “Or as the Sams like to call it, the “Kumbayah” portion of the program.” The staff and a few of the guests laughed as Jeff ducked the flying bit of roll that one of the Sams threw at him. “Seriously, though. We want to introduce the new folks so you’ll have names for the faces, plus we want to hear where you are in your treatment.”
“Oh great,” Jared muttered.
Bruce leaned over to him. “It’s voluntary. You don’t have to share if you don’t want to. Tonight, the most they’ll ask you to do is introduce yourself.”
“Let’s start with the new folks.” Jeff pointed at a young man sitting next to Felicia. “Why don’t you go ahead, Jake? Just tell us what you want us to know.”
“Ummm…I’m Jake,” the young man’s voice was soft. “I’m here because my best friend was killed in a drunk driving accident. We were out partying and ran headlong into the guardrail. I made it…Tyler didn’t.” Jake’s breath hitched and Jared saw Felicia put a hand on his shoulder. “My parents and, and me…we thought the Center would be a good place for me to get help. Um, that’s it.”
The group clapped quietly and several of the younger members gave Jake the thumbs up.
A few other people introduced themselves before it was Jared’s turn. They all had different reasons for being there – depression, physical therapy, drug dependency – but they all had one thing in common. The look of hope that the Center would help them.
When it was Jared’s turn, he took a deep breath. He wasn’t sure how to begin. Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement.
Jensen had been standing in the shadows, but now he walked into the glow of the fire pit. Arms crossed, he looked at Jared with a small smile and nodded.
“Hi there, I’m Jared.” The words were halting because they were his, not just ones written for him to say. “If you go to the movies, then most of you know who I am. I’m here because I’ve made some less than stellar choices in my life, and I want to stop before I completely fall down the rabbit hole.”
Jared looked around the ring, expecting to see doubt or disapproval at his words, but all he saw was were smiles and encouragement. It gave him a warm feeling – maybe this would really work.
He sneaked a look at Jensen, who gave him a small thumbs up. That expanded the warmth inside his chest and gave him hope that he and Jensen would get a chance to work through their issues as well.
Jeff went around the fire again and those who had already been at the Center shared their progress. Some stories were positive, others were still struggling, but they all sounded confident that they would walk out of their treatment successfully.
They had just about finished with the stories when there was a slight commotion. One of the guests – a little girl about six, dressed neatly in a pink jumper, her hair in pigtails, squirmed away from her mother and came to stand in front of Jared.
“April!” Her mother called, following her.
“Lucas,” April said in a monotone. “Lucas.” She crawled up into Jared’s lap and nestled under his chin, her thumb in her mouth.
Confused, Jared looked up at April’s mother.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Padalecki, let me take her.” April’s mother tried to pick up her daughter but the little girl whined and clung to Jared like a limpet.
“Lucas,” she said, slurring the word around the thumb in her mouth.
“It’s Jared, and it’s okay.” Jared wrapped his arms around April to make sure she wouldn’t fall. He looked down at her as he felt her other hand touch his cheek, stroking it repeatedly.
“Lucas,” she sighed and closed her eyes.
“April’s autistic,” her mother told him, after introducing herself as Mary. “She’s here for the equine therapy, which has really been helping.”
“That’s great.” Jared could feel that April was starting to fall asleep, her hand moving more slowly on his face. “But why is she calling me ‘Lucas’?”
“Because you’re her favorite actor,” Mary said with a smile. “Lucas Woodward.”
Jared was flabbergasted. His breakout role had been Lucas Woodward, bus boy at the Dragonfly Inn. It had been so long ago, though, that he didn’t think people remembered.
“I had ‘The Dragonfly Inn’ playing on Netflix a while back,” she continued. “And when you came on, April walked up to the television and kept touching it.” Mary stretched out and stroked April’s hair. “When your scenes were done, she pitched a fit. We had to buy every episode you were in and dub them to a DVD so she could watch. It helps soothe her.”
April’s thumb slipped out of her mouth and she was limp against Jared’s chest. She smelled sweet – kids shampoo and chocolate. She reminded Jared of his little sister Megan at that age.
“I can take her if you want now that she’s sleeping.”
“No, she’s fine.” Jared smiled up at Mary. “But I’d like to hear her progress. I think it’s your turn.”
Mary shared that April’s therapy had encouraged her to be more communicative and more responsive in social settings. “She wouldn’t have done this six months ago,” she said, pointing to Jared. “We are thrilled. So, yeah. Things are good.”
Jared smiled down at the sleeping child. She looked so innocent curled up against him.
April, he thought. If you can do this, so can I.
Jared’s days fell into a routine. He got up early and met Chris in the barn. Together they groomed Apollo until Chris felt that Jared could handle the horse on his own. Then they took him out into the corral and Jared put Apollo through his paces.
Some days Apollo was cooperative and exercising him was a breeze. Other days? It was all Jared could do to keep the horse under control.
“C’mon, Jared! Make him listen to you!” Chris’s voice rang through the corral. “You’re letting him be in charge.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Jared shouted back in frustration as Apollo stood stock still in the middle of the corral. “He’s too damn stubborn!”
“Then what are you going to do about it, boy?” Chris hoisted himself up onto the fence.
“I’m gonna deck you if you call me boy again!” Jared threatened, but Chris just laughed.
“You gotta get Apollo to come over this way first before you have any chance of decking me.”
“Hear that, Apollo?” Jared leaned over and spoke near the horse’s ear. “Chris said I could deck him if we walk over there. What’dya say?” Apollo’s ears swiveled and he bumped his head up and down while snorting. “That sounds like a ‘yes’ to me.”
Jared clicked his tongue and squeezed his thighs. Apollo stepped forward slowly, then a bit faster, until they were crowding Chris against the fence.
“Gotcha,” Jared crowed. “Now lean forward so I can have a good shot.”
“Oh hell no!” Laughing, Chris scrambled off the other side of the fence. “Okay, I think that’s enough for now. It’s April’s turn. Meet you in the barn.”
Jared looked over at the corral gate. There was April sitting on Snowflake, a Shetland pony. Felicia and Matt were on either side of her. She grinned at Jared. “Lucas!”
“Hey, April.” Jared slid off Apollo’s back and flipped the reins over the horse’s head. He stopped at April’s side. “You taking a ride?”
“Snowflake,” she said, patting the pony’s side and giggling. “Riding.”
“Good for you!” Jared leaned over and gave her a hug, which had her giggling even more. “I’ve got to go get this guy cleaned up. You have fun.”
“Bye, Lucas.” She waved as the two therapists guided her into the corral.
Jared led Apollo to the barn. Chris was filling up the water trough outside and had his back to them. Jared walked quietly up behind him and stepped to the side. Apollo sidled up behind Chris and knocked his cowboy hat off his head with his nose.
Chris bent over to pick it up and Apollo pushed him, making him lose his balance and fall into the trough. He came up spitting and swearing. “Goddamnit, Jared!”
Jared practically fell to the ground laughing. He’d taught Apollo that trick the first week they were there and it never got old.
“I swear, Padalecki, I’m gonna kick your butt!” Chris struggled to get out of the trough.
“Plenty of time to do that after you change, Kane. Go dry off.” Jensen’s voice was dry and amused. “And Jared? Please don’t antagonize Chris any more, okay? He’s here to help.”
“I know, I know.” Jared huffed out the last of his laughter. “But I can’t help it. Besides, Apollo thinks it funny, too. Don’t you, boy?” He rubbed Apollo’s neck as the horse nickered in what Jared took to be agreement. “See?”
“Apollo thinks you’re going to feed him. Of course he’s gonna agree.” Jensen took the reins and tied them to the hook next to Apollo’s stall. With deft movements he unbuckled the saddle and lifted it off Apollo’s back. “C’mon, I’ll help you rub him down so we can grab some food.”
Getting Apollo clean and stabled went quickly with Jensen’s help. They headed to the main building of the Center where the cafeteria was located. Several of the guests had already gotten their food and were spread out around the room.
“You gonna come and eat with us?” Jared nudged Jensen as they walked into the room.
“Actually, I can’t. Got paperwork I need to catch up on.” Jared wasn’t sure, but it sounded like Jensen had a bit of regret in his voice. “Boss’s work is never done.”
“I can imagine.” Jared picked up a tray and got in line for the entrée. “Guess I’ll see you later then.”
“Yeah. I’ll be around.”
Jared watched as Jensen walked around the room, stopping to say hello to everyone before he grabbed an apple from one of the tables. Jensen grinned at Jared, took a bite, and sauntered out of the room.
Jared couldn’t help but stare at him as he left. It was like that saying, - ‘hate to see you go, but love to watch you leave.’ The sight of Jensen’s ass encased in faded denim was like a magnet that Jared couldn’t keep his eyes off of.
“Enjoying the view?” Felicia sidled up to Jared with a grin. “If you’re not careful, your eyes will fall out.”
Jared felt himself blushing. “Don’t you have a horse to groom?”
“Nope, Matt’s wrapping up with April so I got to go to lunch early.” She picked up a tray. “And you’re blocking the line.”
Jared quickly moved so Felicia could get a plate. He grabbed his own plate – chicken and veggies – and moved down towards the drinks and desserts, adding a bottle of water and two pieces of pie to his tray.
“Let’s sit by the window.” Felicia nodded her head at an empty table.
“I thought you weren’t allowed to fraternize with the guests.” Jared headed that way. “Isn’t that policy?”
“As long as we don’t talk about anything confidential, we can sit at the same table.”
“Sounds good.” Jared sat and took everything off his tray, putting it with Felicia’s when she cleared hers.
“So, how long have you known Jensen?” Felicia cut a piece of her chicken and popped it into her mouth.
Jared almost choked on his water. “Wow, subtle much?”
“Nope, not when it’s good gossip. And you,” she pointed her fork at him. “Are good gossip. Especially since it involves Jensen.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jared tasted his vegetables, made a face, and added some salt and pepper.
“Our dear JR is an enigma. Very secretive…” She grinned at Jared. “And since you obviously know him, you can dish the dirt.”
“What makes you think I know him that well?” Jared tensed, wondering just what had been said.
“It’s written all over your face.”
Jared must have looked shocked because Felicia almost fell out of her chair with laughter. “Kidding!!! Actually Chris told us when he started bitching at Jensen about ‘not using his Hollywood contacts to get him a date with Paris Hilton’.” She air quoted the words.
Jared relaxed. “She’d eat him for breakfast.”
“Yeah, but he probably would enjoy that. Laid out on the table…”
“Ew, stop! That’s just so….wrong.” Jared shuddered. “I will never get that out of my head now.”
“So seriously, how well do you know Jensen?” Felicia cocked her head. “He’s never mentioned you.”
“We grew up together.” Jared thought that was safe to tell her. “He and my brother Jeff ran around together when they were in college.”
He thought back on all the times Jeff and Jensen took over the house; playing Call of Duty and ragging on each other, fighting for the basketball while they played one-on-one in the driveway, chowing down on his mom’s chili and cornbread.
He remembered following them around, blushing every time Jensen smiled at him. Trying so hard not to be jealous when Jensen would tell Jeff about his newest boyfriend. Wishing it was him.
He smiled, thinking about that wish coming true when Jensen found him curled up in their basement rec room, tears running down his face because he’d been stood up by yet another guy.
Jensen had wiped his face, told him he was better than all of them, kissed him and asked him if he minded dating an older man.
“Now that’s an interesting smile,” Felicia said softly, breaking into his reverie. “One with a story behind it.”
“One I’m not going to hear I take it.” Her tone was wistful.
“Probably not. Sorry.”
“Bummer.” Felicia patted his hand. “It’s okay. I’ll find a way to weasel some other story out of you.”
“Nope. My lips are sealed.” Jared mimed locking his lips.
“Aww…not even a little one?” Felicia wheedled.
“Nope.” Finished with his lunch, Jared collected their plates and stood to take them to the return window.
“You know I’m gonna find a way to get you to tell me one.” Felicia wagged a finger at him.
“Challenge accepted.” Jared checked his watch. “I’ve got to go or I’ll be late for my session with Jeff.”
“Scaredy-cat! You just don’t want to face my powers of persuasion!”
Laughing, Jared waved a hand at her as he left the cafeteria.