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.
“So. Let’s talk about your relationships.” Jeff and Jared were sitting at the fire pit when Jeff brought the topic up. At first Jared had thought it was weird that they rarely held a counseling session in Jeff’s office, but his explanation that nature helped his clients open up had made a lot of sense.
It seemed to work well for Jared. Watching the horses lazily cropping grass, the smell of oncoming rain, seeing the barn cat’s brand new kittens – they all helped Jared focus on the tools he needed to work through his issues.
Until Jeff asked the question.
“What do you want to know?” Jared hedged a bit, feeling himself start to sweat.
“I assume you’re not seeing anyone, correct?” Jared nodded, and Jeff jotted down a note on his legal pad. “So tell me about your most serious relationship and why it didn’t work.”
Jared froze. There was no way he was going to tell Jeff about Jensen. “Umm…”
“Take your time. And remember, this is all confidential.” Jeff gave him a telling look over his half-rims. “Nothing you tell me will be shared with anyone, even if they are an employee here at the Center.”
Did everyone know he’d had a relationship with Jensen? Jared wondered. What had Jensen told them?
It was like Jeff had read his mind.
“Jensen didn’t say anything more than the two of you knew each other. I’ve just been observing your behavior around each other and drawing my own conclusions.”
Jared studied him. “What conclusions?”
“That you and Jensen were more than friends at some point in your lives, and that it didn’t end positively.” Jeff stretched out a bit on the bench he was sitting on.
“How can you tell that?” Jared protested. “We’ve barely spent any time around each other.”
“And that’s telling. You both actively don't look at each other either. When two people make it a point not to make eye contact with each other, it usually means there’s a reason behind it. It can either be attraction or anger.” Jeff set his legal pad down on the bench. “With you two, the sneaking glances when you think the other one isn’t looking and the hyperawareness of where the other is at all times is a pretty good sign it’s not anger.”
“Yeah.” Jared deflated a bit at Jeff’s analysis. “Is it that obvious?”
“To me, yes. To everyone else, probably not.”
“Except Felicia.” Jared shook his head. “She caught me staring at Jensen’s ass at lunch today.”
Jeff burst into laughter. “Well yeah, that would make it obvious.”
Jared was quiet for a moment. “Jensen was my brother’s best friend. Still is, I guess. According to Jeff, they go out for beers and hot wings about once a month to catch up on each other’s lives.”
“So when did you know you had feelings for him?” Jeff leaned back and crossed one leg over the other.
“When I figured out I was gay.” Jared remembered when he realized that what he felt for Jensen wasn’t just friendship. Fifteen and discovering that abs did it for him instead of breasts, broad shoulders instead of slim waists. And there was Jensen – all sun-lit and gorgeous and always at their house. Jared went through a bottle of Jergen’s in a week fantasizing about Jensen. “He was my first crush.”
“And?” Jeff raised an eyebrow, as if he was waiting for more.
“Okay, fine. Jensen was my first everything. First real kiss, first boyfriend, first time.” Jared paused. “First heartbreak.”
“So obviously in the beginning it was good. What changed?”
Jared didn’t want to go there – didn’t want to dredge up the memories of their arguments. Of the hurt on Jensen’s face when Jared walked away from him.
“It just didn’t work out.”
Jeff just raised his eyebrow again. Jared knew Jeff would sit there waiting until Jared told him the rest. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“I was studying political science at UCLA when a casting agent spotted me and told me I was perfect for a new series he was casting. I went in and read for it, and they cast me as Lucas.” Jared took a deep breath. “I dropped out of college to do the show. My parents and Jensen weren’t happy. We’d planned on me coming back to Austin after graduation. I’d gotten some good offers to work at some government think tanks, but that got derailed by the series.”
Jared paused—now came the hard part. “As the popularity of the series grew, I got offers for movies that I just couldn’t pass up. I kept promising Jensen that each one would be the last one; that I would go back to school and finish up my degree.” Jared ran his hand through his hair again. “But then another role would be offered, and I’d take it and make more excuses. Finally it got too much. Jensen and I’d been fighting and he gave me an ultimatum – him or Hollywood.”
“And we know which one you chose.” Jeff’s voice was firm but without censure. “What happened next?”
“I walked away because I figured Jensen would cool down and we’d simply make up and move on. He’d always been there – except this time, he wasn’t.”
“What did you do when he didn’t follow you this time?” Jeff picked up his legal pad and made another note.
“I tried to apologize, but it was too late. He told me I’d made my choice and he wasn’t going to be second best.” Jared’s stomach lurched as he remembered that discussion. Him in tears, Jensen stoic and cold. “That was the last time I talked to him until I got here.”
“And you’ve never been in a long term relationship since? No one you’ve considered spending the rest of your life with?”
“No, not really.” Jared shook his head.
“And when did the drugs and alcohol consumption start to increase?”
Jared knew exactly when it had started, and by that leading question he was pretty sure Jeff did too. “You’re going to make me say it out loud aren’t you?”
Jeff grinned slightly. “You bet.”
“When Jensen and I broke up.”
“And why do you think that is?” There was no exultation in Jeff’s tone, just curiosity.
Trying to fill the Jensen-sized hole in my heart was the answer, but Jared wasn’t ready to say that out loud. He stood and paced, feeling Jeff’s eyes on him.
“Jared, you don’t have to tell me, but you need to be honest with yourself. Once you’re able to have that internal conversation, then you can work towards repairing the cracks that are causing you to be dependent on the drugs and alcohol.” Jeff stood and walked over to Jared, clapping him on the shoulder. “I think we’re done for today. Think about what we’ve talked about, and when you’re ready to take the next step, I’ll be here.”
He walked off, leaving Jared standing by the fire pit, his thoughts whirling. Jeff was right. He needed to be honest with himself. The drugs and alcohol were simply a means for him to forget the colossal mistake he made when he walked away from Jensen.
Jared made his way to the barn. Apollo was in his stall and neighed softly as he approached. Jared grabbed an apple from a side bin and pulled out a pocketknife to cut it into slices. “Here you go, boy.”
Apollo munched contentedly on the pieces as Jared stroked his neck. “So you got any advice for me?” The horse nudged him and nibbled at his chest. “Didn’t think so.”
Jared gave him another piece of apple. “So if I follow Jeff’s logic, when Jensen and I broke up, I started abusing the booze and drugs. Theoretically, if I get back with Jensen, then I won’t need the stuff.” Jared scoffed. “Yeah I can just see Jensen’s face when I tell him that.”
Jared sighed and buried his face in Apollo’s thick mane. “I have no idea what to do next, Apollo.” He stood there for a while, just breathing in the natural smell of horse and hay and letting his mind wander.
He relaxed, letting the ideas swirl around in his head until they coalesced into a plan. He was going to have to take the risk and talk to Jensen. Apologize and hope for the best.
With his plan in mind, he headed back to the house to get ready for dinner.
It was fire pit night, and the meal was spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, homemade garlic bread, salad, and peach cobbler. The smell of the garlic bread made Jared’s mouth water as he headed out to the gathering of chairs and tables.
Chris had set up the sound system to play some of his and Steve’s music and the sound of southern rock set a laid-back tone to the evening.
Jared was hoping to put his plan in place to apologize to Jensen after dinner, but he was out of luck. Jensen was nowhere to be found.
He sat down across from Chris. “Looks like you dried off pretty well.”
“I hate you. Just want you to know that,” Chris replied through a mouthful of garlic bread.
Jared laughed. “No, you don’t. I’m your only link to Paris Hilton.”
“Yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen.” Steve teased. “Chris’s head would explode.”
Jared made a mental note to call Paris when he was done at the Center. He’d tell Jensen in advance so he could record Chris losing his mind. Speaking of Jensen…
“So, where’s Jensen tonight?” Jared tried for nonchalant but wasn’t sure he successfully pulled it off by the look on Chris’s face.
“He had to go out.” Chris smirked. “Hot date.”
“Oh.” Jared’s guts churned. It hadn’t even occurred to him that Jensen might be dating someone. Suddenly the food didn’t taste so good.
“Yeah. His date’s a gorgeous redhead with long legs and flowing hair.” Chris took a bite of his spaghetti. “He’s been chasing after her for months and tonight he said he’s gonna put her through her paces.”
Jared was done. He stood up to clear his plate and wondered how he could get out of the sharing circle. He was not in the mood to be warm and fuzzy.
“God damn it, Kane, sometimes you are a real asshole.” Jeff came over to the table and smacked Chris on the back of the head. He turned to Jared and put a hand on his shoulder. “Jensen had to head over to the next county - he's taking a look at a mare that he wants to add to the therapy lineup. He’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Well, it’s sort of like a date.” Chris defended himself. “Closest thing Ackles has had to one since I’ve known him.”
“Again…asshole!” Jeff turned back to Jared. “Ignore him. It’s time to head to the fire pit.”
“Can I pass, Jeff? Kind of not feeling it tonight.” Jared used his patented puppy dog eyes that usually got him out of things he didn’t want to do.
“Nope. Part of the program. Attendance is mandatory. Talking is not. C’mon.” Jeff gently pushed Jared towards the fire pit, then turned and glared at Chris when he got up. “You’re not going.”
“Why not?” Chris was indignant. “Steve and I have a new song we want to try out.”
“Too bad. You were mean to Jared, which means kitchen duty tonight.”
“I wasn’t mean!”
Jeff waved his hand. “Get crackin, Kane. Those dishes won’t wash themselves.”
“Sonofabitch,” Jared heard Chris mutter as he headed for the kitchen.
“You really didn’t have to do that,” Jared said to Jeff as they walked over to an empty bench.
“I love Chris like a brother, but sometimes he’s better with horses than he is with people.” They sat down. “I saw your face and figured he was running his mouth. I felt I needed to clear up that little misunderstanding.”
“Thanks for that.” Jared shifted on the bench, feeling a bit uncomfortable under Jeff’s watchful eye.
Suddenly Jeff smiled. “You figured it out, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I think I did.” Jared ducked his head, feeling like a kid who’d been praised by the teacher.
“That’s great. Feel like you want to share?”
Jared thought about it. “Actually, no, if that’s okay. I kind of want to do this on my own.”
“Good.” Jeff leaned back against the bench. “Let me know if you want to run anything past me.”
“And now it’s time for Kumbayah!” Jeff stood up and clapped his hands.
Jared sat back and let the voices wash over him. When it was his turn, he stood and introduced himself. “I kind of had an epiphany today. I don’t really want to share the details because I’m still processing it, but it’s a pretty big step towards helping me with the reason why I’m here.”
He smiled at the positive comments and clapping. Things were looking up. He knew that making amends with Jensen was the first step to getting him back and fixing their lives.
Now if he could only convince Jensen of that.
he house was quiet as Jared got ready for bed. He was the only one in the building which made all the unfamiliar creaks and groans a bit unsettling.
He lay down and pulled the covers over himself, but was nowhere near ready to sleep. All his pent up emotions and the need to talk to Jensen were keeping him awake. Usually when that happened, he watched some Netflix on his computer, but since computers and cell phones weren’t allowed, he was at a loss.
Tossing the covers aside, Jared padded downstairs to see what was on television. Technically he wasn’t allowed to watch after hours, but since Jensen wasn’t there he figured no one would know. Stretching out onto the couch, he grabbed the remote and flipped through the channels. Settling on a NCIS marathon, he tossed the remote back onto the coffee table and tucked his hands behind his head.
The adventures of Gibbs and crew only grabbed his attention halfway. His mind was still on Jensen. He tried to figure out what to say that would make Jensen believe he was sincere, but nothing seemed to fit.
The more Jared thought, the more confused he got, so he turned off his brain and focused on the show. Soon his eyes got heavy and he drifted off to thoughts of Jensen.
Jared was startled awake by a thud and a curse. Looking up over the back of the couch, he saw Jensen sprawled out on the floor in front of the door.
“Are you okay?” Jared hurried over to help him up.
“Yeah, yeah.” Jensen sounded disgusted with himself. “Tripped over my own damn feet.”
Jared chuckled. “Some things never change.”
Jensen looked up at him. “If I recall correctly, you were the one who was the klutzy one.” He took Jared’s hand and hauled himself up.
“Hey now,” Jared protested. “That’s because I was a growing boy!”
“Yeah, you were.” Jared swore he heard a soft tone in Jensen’s voice but Jensen continued. “What are you doing up so late?”
“You know TV’s off limits after hours,” Jensen chided.
Jared grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, I know. But I figured since you were gone I wouldn’t get busted.”
“How’d that work out for you?” Jensen chuckled as he hung his coat up on the hooks next to the door and headed towards the kitchen.
“Not so good.” Jared followed him, accepting a bottle of water that Jensen pulled out of the fridge. “By the way, why are you home? I thought you were staying overnight at the other ranch?”
Jensen unscrewed the cap and took a drink. “Had planned on it, but the deal fell through.”
“That sucks. What happened?” Jared leaned against the counter. “Horse not up to snuff?”
“Oh no. She was fine. Perfect, actually. Her owner…not so much.” Jensen finished his water and tossed the bottle into the recycle bin. “We’d shaken on an amount, but when I got there, he claimed we hadn’t set a cost and wanted more money. Found out from my buddy who works there that he got a higher offer and wanted me to up my bid.”
“Wow. Not cool. So what’d you do?”
“Told him that I don’t deal with liars and greedy sons-of-bitches and left.” Jensen motioned for Jared’s empty bottle and tossed it in the recycle bin after his. “Shame, though. I really liked the horse.” He shrugged. “But win some, lose some.”
Jensen looked at Jared. “So, tell me why you’re downstairs on the couch at 3 AM.”
“Too much on my mind, I guess.”
“Care to share?”
Jared realized this was his chance to make things right with Jensen. Praying that he would find the right words, he took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry, Jen.” And waited as Jensen considered his words.
Jensen had the decency not to pretend he didn’t know what Jared was apologizing for. “I know you are. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.
When you walked away…it almost killed me, Jay.”
Jared could see the pain written on his face. Jensen continued. “Did your brother ever tell you what happened after you left?”
“No. Jeff just yelled at me and told me I was an idiot.” Jared winced at the memory of his brother reading him the riot act. It had taken them several months to get back to their normal banter.
“When Jeff found me in my apartment, I’d drunk practically every bottle of liquor I had. He took me to the hospital where they treated me for alcohol poisoning and put me on a 72-hour suicide watch.”
Jared stared at Jensen. He’d had no idea.
“I almost failed out of school, but my counselor pulled some strings and I was able to finish. The internship here was as much for my mental state as it was for my college credit.”
“God, Jensen. I’m so sorry! I -.” Jared stopped. What could he say that would make anything better? Jensen had almost died because of him. There was no way that anything Jared could come up with would change that.
“I’m sorry.” He said again. “I didn’t know.”
“I know you didn’t. Because I asked Jeff not to tell you.”
That simple statement took the breath out of Jared’s lungs.
“Why?” Why would Jensen not want him to know?
“Because I didn’t want you to ruin your chance at becoming a star in Hollywood by rushing home to me.”
“Jensen…” Jared began, but Jensen cut him off with a shake of his head.
“Just listen, okay?” Jared nodded and Jensen continued. “One of the factors of me finishing school was mandatory counseling. It made me see that I’d been selfish and didn’t take your thoughts and feelings into consideration.”
“But I was wrong in breaking my promises to you.” Jared broke in.
“True, but I was at fault too. I was hell bent on our ‘plan’,” Jensen air-quoted, “and I didn’t see you. That you’d changed – blossomed actually. That you’d found your calling. I was jealous. I was afraid if you stayed out in California, you’d leave me for some hot Hollywood type. So I forced the issue.” Jensen paused. “I’m the one who's sorry, Jared, for everything.”
Jared was floored. He’d had no idea that Jensen had felt that way. “God, I was so stupid!”
“We both were.” Jensen’s voice was soft with regret.
“I haven’t been in a serious relationship since you.” Jared wanted him to know that. “No one ever felt right.”
“Wait, how?” Curious, Jared looked at Jensen. “How would you know?”
“I…might have lied when I said I didn’t read the celebrity magazines…”
Jared started laughing. “So you’re the one responsible for the US Weekly magazines in the common room.”
Jensen raised his hand slightly. “Guilty. I just didn’t feel right asking Jeff about you after I told him not to tell you what happened to me. But you know how your brother is – he’d share stuff anyway. I think he’s always hoped we would get back together.”
“Yeah, that’s Jeff. Mom used to call him her little Yenta.” Jared waited a beat. “So…do you?”
“Do I what?” Jensen looked puzzled.
“Want to get back together?”
“Oh.” Jared tried not to show he was crushed. “That’s okay. I understand.”
He turned to go, but Jensen grabbed his arm. “I didn’t say I didn’t want to. I said we can’t. You’re a patient here, Jared, and even though I’m not directly involved with your care, I’m still in charge and that would be a breach of patient ethics.”
“So…you want to?”
“God, more than anything in the world.” Jensen pulled Jared into a fierce hug. “I have missed you like a limb. You have two weeks until you’re discharged. Think you can wait for me that much longer?”
“I know I can.” Jared squeezed Jensen until he swore he could hear his ribs creak. He snuck a kiss onto Jensen’s temple and felt him smile. “I know, I know, doctor patient stuff. I won’t do it again.” He let Jensen go.
“We can do it.”
Two weeks – 14 days. Piece of cake.
The last two weeks of Jared’s time at the Center were the longest days of his life.
He kept to his regular schedule – working with Chris and Apollo in the mornings, and his sessions with Jeff in the afternoons – but it seemed as though Jensen was everywhere now.
Jared was helping Chris train Apollo to respond to voice commands when Jensen came over and leaned against the railing. That, of course, ended the session, because as soon as Apollo saw Jensen, he headed over to him and rested his head on Jensen’s shoulder.
“Damn it, JR, how the hell are we supposed to get him trained if you keep showing up,” Chris grumbled. “You know he’s useless when you’re around.”
Jared mentally commiserated with Apollo. The sight of Jensen in jeans and a tight army green t-shirt made his brain go totally off-line.
“Sorry, Chris. Just wanted to borrow Jared for a minute.”
“Yeah. We’re done for the day anyway. You guys can take Apollo in and get him cooled down.”
“Great.” Jensen pushed off the fence and headed to the gate to open it.
Jared rode out and then dismounted. Making sure the reins were looped around Apollo’s neck, he made a clucking sound and walked toward the barn, Apollo following docilely behind him.
“Wow. That’s impressive. He’s only done that for me before.”
“Yeah, well Apollo and I have an understanding. Don’t we, boy,” Jared crooned to the horse. Apollo nickered and bumped his head against Jared’s back.
Jensen laughed. “And what’s that?”
“To dump Chris into the water trough.” Jared grinned. “It never gets old.”
“You’re lucky Chris likes you or you’d have been flat on your ass the first time it happened.” Jensen picked up a brush and began currying Apollo.
“I’m not worried. I’ve got Paris Hilton on speed dial. I’m safe.” Jared unbuckled the saddle, pulling it and the blanket off and putting them on the rack. He grabbed a pick and tapped Apollo’s leg so he would lift it up. “So what did you want to talk to me about?”
“I ran into Jeff this morning and he said you had something to ask me?”
“Yeah.” Jared had been waiting for a moment alone with Jensen. “I want you to come to the rest of my counseling sessions.”
Jensen stilled, the brush paused against Apollo’s neck. “May I ask why?”
“If we’re going to do this, I want to do it right. I’ve talked to Jeff and he agrees that we’ve probably got some unfinished baggage still between us and we need to get it settled.” Jared lowered Apollo’s foot and put the pick away. “I want us to have a clean start and I trust Jeff.”
“Okay.” Jensen smiled and it was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. “Do we start today?”
“If you want to.”
They finished caring for Apollo, occasionally sharing words, but mostly working in a comfortable silence. It felt good.
The first session with Jeff however, was not so good. The questions he asked dredged up long repressed emotions in both Jared and Jensen, and they wound up shouting at each other in anger.
Jeff calmed them both down and explained that they had needed that catharsis in order to move forward. Then he gave them homework.
Later that night they settled in the living room.
“Okay, so we are supposed to share three good things that we missed about the other person while we weren’t together.” Jared picked up his cup of coffee and took a sip. “I’ll go first. I missed the way you laughed, how grumpy you are in the mornings, and your bowlegs.”
“My what?” Jensen stared at him.
“Your bowlegs. Because they always made your ass look good.” Jared grinned a cheesy grin.
Jensen laughed so hard that he fell over on the couch. “Oh my god. Stop.”
“What. They do! And I missed that.”
“I refuse to discuss my ass. My turn.” Jensen sat back up. “I missed your dimples, the way your hair fell in front of your face when you were embarrassed, and how smart you are.” He took Jared’s hand and squeezed it. “I’m glad you didn’t go into government. You would have been miserable.”
“Even though it caused us to lose 10 years?”
“Yeah. I kind of like us better where we are now.”
“So would it be against doctor-fvpatient ethics if we cuddled?”
“Well…I think I remember Jeff saying something about reestablishing communications and cuddling definitely falls under that.” Jensen scooted closer and pulled Jared under his arm. “Yeah. Communications.”
Jared smiled and got comfortable. “Love you, Jensen,” he said, closing his eyes.
He felt Jensen place a kiss on his temple. “Love you too, Jared.”
They spent the rest of the evening in silence and it was good.