Jensen opts to stay awake during the procedure. Has the strange, disconnected sensation he’s about to float away being numbed from the waist down, but it would be worth it to get to see.
Before the anesthesia, it had been nine hours of labor, which he’d been told was on the shorter side of the scale. Check one more reason Josh was probably going to be an only child off the list. It wasn’t all bad—his parents came in and out to check on him, mostly Mom, but Dad put in a couple of appearances, usually under the pretext of checking for Mom. Jensen thinks he got the words of support his father wasn’t capable of spitting out.
Jared stuck close by his side, only left for a little while to get scrubbed up so he could stay in the room once a masked surgeon informed them they were about to begin. The procedure was blessedly more brief than anything yet, the lone sensations Jensen felt some occasional pressure and pulling. He kept his breathing steady, stayed relaxed, and gripped back when he felt Jared’s hand close around his fingers.
Joshua Ryan Ackles-Padalecki was born screaming and pissing, at eight pounds and two ounces.
Jensen knows they won’t get to see him much until he’s moved to Recovery, but he manages to brush his fingertips across the small tuft of hair on Josh’ head. It’s the softest thing he’s ever felt.
The doctors tell him it’ll be a few more minutes before everything’s finished up, but he barely hears it. Just sinks back into the pillows, tired smile on his lips and the grounding feel of Jared’s hand on his shoulder.
Two Months Later:
Jensen’s eyes flutter open at the all too familiar sound of shrill crying. Groaning, he aims a fist at his pillow, but ends up rapping his knuckles against the headboard. Cursing silently, he sits up and checks his phone. So much for getting in that power nap before he left.
“Jared!” he yells groggily. When he gets no response, he wipes at the crust in the corners of his eyes and pads across the hall to Josh’s room, where he is pitching one hell of a fit. Sighing, he moves the dinosaur carousel out of the way and hoists him onto his shoulder. “What’s the matter, peanut head?” he inquires, patting his back soothingly. “Where the hell is your other Daddy?” he mutters in irritation.
After a few minutes of Josh being inconsolable, Jensen checks his diaper and finding nothing there, figures it’s time for a feeding. Warming the bottle up in the kitchen, he runs into Jared coming in from outside. His expression seems caught out.
“Shit, you’re awake.”
“All thanks to you, you deaf asshole,” Jensen offers, yawning. “What were you doing outside?”
“Just making a call real quick. Didn’t want to wake the two of you. He’s hungry?”
“I think so. Got the bottle started,” he nods at the pricey warmer Jared bought.
Twenty minutes later, with Josh fed and Jensen slightly more human after making some coffee, Jared reappears, phone in hand again. He’s lingering in the doorway and Jensen has the uncanny feeling he’s not going to like what’s about to come out of his mouth.
“I know it’s short notice, but do you think you could watch him solo for the rest of the day?”
Jensen’s eyebrows raise. “You know I’m about to head to the gym. You know that.”
“And I’ll make it up to you, but I just—“
“I can’t,” Jensen argues, frustration rising. “I spent most of the summer healing up from the C-section, I can’t afford to miss any more training time if I want to have any hope of getting back on the team this year.”
School was a scant, few weeks away and between the four hour average of sleep he’s been getting and watching Josh all day with some help from Jared, he barely has it in him to drag himself to the gym as often as he needs to as is. He’s running on pure will and some days it’s just not enough.
He sighs. “I have him all night, Jared. This is the only time I can train.”
Jared’s eyes flit down, but he nods. “Go ahead, I got it.”
Grabbing his bag, he gives him a genuine, “Thanks.”
Before he heads out the door, he catches Jared checking his phone again. Does it a lot lately, when he thinks Jensen isn’t paying attention to him. He doubts there’s any grand conspiracy to it and he’s never been the paranoid type. Most likely, Jared’s just chasing tail, itching to find something uncomplicated and easy for a little while.
Something hot twists in his gut. Well, damn.
It’s not like Jensen has room to be pissed if that’s the case. He doesn’t. Jared isn’t his—anything. He is Josh’s father and the two of them are kind of friends again, okay, occasionally more than that, now that Jensen’s not planning to ever miss a suppression or birth control pill again in his natural life, but.
Thinking about it now, he has no damn clue what they are or where they stand. Everything’s had to take a backseat to Josh the last couple of months, and the two of them have just fallen into some kind of friends with benefits, holding pattern.
One more wrinkle Jensen gets tired just thinking about trying to smooth out.
Two weeks before school starts, they’re watching the Dark Knight on the Jared purchased Blu-Ray player in Jensen’s living room. Josh is thankfully asleep in Dad’s old den, converted to a fully stocked nursery since he came home from the hospital. The movie is one of Jensen’s favorites, never fails to draw him in once he sits down with it, which is why he’s slow on the uptake when Jared’s hand starts snaking along his thigh.
He blinks at it, taking a minute to reconcile the gesture with the idea he’d been harboring that Jared was with somebody else.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting ready to give you a hell of a blowjob if you’d loosen up.”
Jensen turns back to the screen, scoffing lightly. “Figured you were getting loosened up elsewhere these days.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nevermind,” Jensen blows off, “Forget I said anything.”
He turns the volume on the t.v. up but Jared gets up and turns it off completely. He really doesn’t want to do this right now.
“I’m not cheating on you,” Jared cuts to the chase.
“That’d be something even if you were considering we’re not a couple. Like I said, forget it.”
“Do you want us to be dating? Going to the movies and dinner and all that shit?” he asks, frustrated expression conveying that he’s not much surer of what this is than Jensen.
“I don’t know,” he admits. “But first things first, we gotta figure out where we are before we can even think about the rest of it. Straight answer,” he rises, looks Jared in the eye, “Did you mean it? What you said before, when all this started, or was it just typical, ‘I’m having great sex and I’ll say anything,’ talk?”
It’s the first time either of them have addressed it in the year since those three words fell from Jared’s lips.
The moment draws out long and tense. But Jensen’s not going anywhere, not dropping it, until he has his answer. Jared’s long silence finally ends as he starts, “I—“
Josh’s cries effectively end the conversation. Jared is rooted to the spot, looking as if he just got turned around and lost beyond belief. Jensen decides to take pity on him, shaking his head as he leaves the room and rocks Josh until he settles down and back into sleep.
He’s not surprised that Jared is gone when he comes back.
“Tell me I’m going to see that miserable face of yours at Katie’s house,” Chad demands as he stands over Jensen, spotting him as he pushes the weight off his chest and secures the bar back in place. His arms are singing, but the soreness is an old friend he’d missed more than he’d known.
Rolling his shoulders, he answers, “Nah, my Mom is on the night shift at the hospital. Got to stay home with Josh.”
Tom appears, handing Jensen a towel he wipes the sweat from his eyes with. “Nobody sees you any more since you turned into Mr. Mom.”
“Most of nobody didn’t want to see me when I had my stomach, so fuck ‘em,” Jensen says simply. Tosses the towel back at Tom’s face and grins. “But you’ll see me plenty once school starts and I’m back on the field.”
Tom crosses his arms, cocks his head, and ribs, “Look at the Sophomore, becoming a big man. You going out for Hodge’s old spot?”
“Why not? He’s not using it anymore.”
“Much luck to you then, my friend. Need your work ethic back on the team. Chad’s still dragging everything down.”
Chad flies both hands over his head, each sporting a middle finger that eventually point to Tom like magnetic North. Once that’s done, he turns back to Jensen. “Have Jared watch the rugrat tonight. I don’t feel like drinking alone, it’s depressing.”
“He’s—“ Jensen searches for something vague, “Writing some paper.”
“Right,” Chad refutes. “That bitch is probably sitting at your house, jerking off on the couch. You know how it is with him, just kick his ass into gear and make him step up.”
“It’s not like that. He’s around, enough, anyway, but he’s just—freaked. Man, I’m trying to put my existence back together, I don’t have the energy to be on him or make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. He’s got to work his shit out himself.”
Honestly, he’s not pissed at him for being lost with all of this. Not much, anyway. Got over that method of dealing with everything months ago. He’s known Jared longer than most of Jared’s other friends. Knows that he’s a giant kid and in most cases likes that about him, definitely helped Jensen get why he was always so tight with Chad. But he’s also well aware that Jared’s absentee parents and all his disposable cash make him avoid his problems and anything overly taxing or serious. That, in the end, how far Jared’s going to bend and step out of his comfort zone for Josh, for Jensen, that’s going to have to be on him and no one else.
He’d be lying, though, if it didn’t sting a little that Chad of all people seems to get the stakes better than Jared. Jared, he’s starting to realize, who is increasingly acting like the same guy he was before everything changed.
When Jensen opens the door, mood high and muscles well used from his workout, Mom is walking around the living room with Josh on her shoulder. He can see where she’d been spit up on at least once, and her face is giving off warning signals.
Setting his bag down, he relieves her of duty, taking a seat on the couch and carefully positioning Josh in his lap. “How was he?”
“Fussy,” she says tiredly. “Just like you as a baby. And a teenager.”
“Sorry, I’m still trying to look for ways to cut some time off my routine. Get home faster.”
She settles next to him on the couch, arms folded. “School doesn’t start until Monday, where has Jared been the past three days I’ve been watching him?”
He wouldn’t know. Jared hasn’t called, hasn’t come over again, and Jensen hasn’t made any attempts from his end, trying to give him the time he needs to pull his head out of his ass. Maybe he did decide he loved Jensen. This is exactly the kind of thing he would do if he had come to that conclusion. Instead, he says, lamely, “Probably busy with family stuff.”
“Please, Jensen. We took that boy in enough times to spare him staying in that house alone all the time for me to know that’s a lie. His parents are in town three months out of the year.”
“I’m handling it,” he answers shortly. “And I’ll be here tomorrow to watch Josh.”
She throws her hands up in capitulation, changing the subject. “He needs diapers. Also, the nanny is starting this weekend, so we can get a feel for her before we’re all out of the house on Monday. Her references are impeccable and she doesn’t come cheap. At least Jared’s chipping in somewhere,” she ends sharply, leaving Jensen alone with the baby.
The next day, he cracks first and shoots Jared a text asking him to pick up the diapers, not wanting to go through the hassle of loading Josh into the car seat and going himself. He stretches out on the floor once it’s done, getting in a set of push-ups before his gaze is drawn back to the phone.
He sighs, climbing to his feet and taking the phone in hand again. Before he can think better of it, he types out another message telling Jared he can come over and hang if he feels like it. No idea if it’ll do anything.
The rest of the morning and into the afternoon, he utilizes what space there is in the house to exercise, but the sit-ups with the edge of his bed holding his feet down don’t go over too well. By the time he’s done, his neck is tense and stiff.
Trying to work the kinks out of it, he checks on Josh before grabbing his jump rope and heading out front. Needing something to get his blood pumping. As he steps outside, he kicks over a package on the doorstep.
The diapers. That Jared apparently dropped off, or hell, paid someone to and then ran off. Guess he’s got the answer to his second message now too.
And there goes the new calm and tranquil Jensen.
Letting the door slam behind him, he gathers Josh, grabs his car seat, and kicks the front door back open. In five minutes, Josh is secured and he’s pulling out of the driveway, the pack of diapers he’s considering having Jared choke on riding shotgun.
When he pulls into the roundabout that Jared somehow still calls a driveway, he carefully sets Josh down and digs around in the immaculately sculpted hedge for the spare key. He lets himself in and hoists the diapers in one hand and Josh in the other.
In the living room, Jared is sprawled on the couch. With Katie. Figures.
“Jensen?” his eyes go from Jensen’s face, to Josh, to the diapers, and back again in confusion. “Is something wrong with Josh?”
“Katie, you mind giving us a minute. This won’t take long.”
“I’ll take the hint,” she doesn’t argue with the barely restrained volatility on Jensen’s face. “I’ll just be upstairs.”
Once the sound of her footsteps has retreated, Jensen hurls the pack of diapers at Jared’s face and he narrowly avoids taking the hit, swatting them to the ground at the last second. “What the hell?”
“Fuck you, that’s what. This what your level of effort is now? The equivalent of the Fed-Ex guy?”
“You asked me to get the diapers, I got them,” Jared argues, still not sure what’s setting Jensen off, which is just stoking his fire.
“That’s—that’s great, Jared. Planning on paying someone to come over and spend time with your kid in your place too?”
Jared exhales heavily. “I wanted to come over. I did. But it’s—look, I’m sorry for bailing on you this week. But I’ll make it up to you. Both of you. Whatever you want.”
“You know what,” Jensen throws out his arms, “At the end of the day, you don’t owe me shit. We don’t have to be anything to each other.”
“Bullshit,” Jared ignites at that, closing the gap between them. “Nothing happened with Katie, I swear to God.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he says emphatically in Jared’s face. “She’s simple and I’m not. I’m never going to be. We’re never going to be,” he gestures to Josh, rocking gently in his carrier. “I get it. So, have at it. If it’ll make you happy to just be Josh’s wallet, then by all means. Be one more awesome parent in the Padalecki family.”
A low blow, but he doesn’t care. This time, he wants to see Jared twist on the knife. The way Jared deflates at that particular shot of venom feels like a victory to him.
He grabs the handle of Josh’s carrier and gives a beaten Jared one last look. Jared’s eyes are wide and glassy as Jensen delivers the final blow. “Just do me a favor and don’t jerk my chain about the possibility of you ever being anything else.”
Jensen has his hand on the door knob when Jared says softly, “Wait.”
“I want you. I want this,” he directs wounded eyes to Josh and then back to Jensen, blinking quickly. “But I don’t know how. I don’t know how to take care of him.”
With his free shoulder, Jensen shrugs coldly. “I had to take a hell of a crash course in it. You act like I’m some kind of expert on the subject. I’m the farthest thing from it, and I don’t need you to be one either. But if you’re so afraid of fucking it up that you don’t even try then I got nothing else to say to you.”
Jared moves forward, arm slightly outstretched to touch Jensen’s shoulder but he shuts it down with a brief, “Don’t.”
Josh starts crying when he slams the door shut behind them.
The floorboard creaks under his feet as he makes his way to the nursery in the dark. Josh wasn’t making much of a peep tonight, but it always granted Jensen a bit of reassurance to look in on him. Especially when he couldn’t sleep.
The earlier conversation with Jared was playing on a loop between his ears. Now that the red haze had disappeared from his vision, his conscience was gnawing away at his insides. Some of that Jared needed to hear, other parts—Jensen had just being fighting dirty and going for the jugular.
“Guess it’s just you and me then,” he tells Josh quietly, not wanting to stir him. “Grandma and Grandpa sometimes too, but you’ll always have me in your corner, kiddo.”
Reflecting on it as he watches the rise and fall of Josh’s chest, he acknowledges that Jared’s contributions will make so many things possible for him as he grows up. Keep a huge amount of strain off Jensen’s parents. Hell, it’s what’s allowing Jensen to stay in school, to keep playing ball. To hold onto the things he dreams the way he’s going to make damn sure Josh will when he gets older.
Money isn’t everything. It doesn’t make up for all the other things, the intangibles that Jared is sorely lacking in when it comes to being a parent, but it’s far from nothing. And Jensen threw it in his face in the worst way possible.
One thing he could never say about the guy is that his heart wasn’t in the right place, but it’s not enough if he can’t follow through when it counts. He meant what he said at the end, if Jared is throwing in the towel before he ever makes a play, then this has to be the end of the line for the two of them.
In his sleep, Josh squirms when Jensen runs a finger along his chubby, little cheek. It’s the most random thing when his own cheeks go hot and wetness abruptly streaks down them in salty lines. He didn’t come in here to do this, and he’s glad no one is around to see him crying over nothing in the dark.
Not nothing. It’s—Jared, school, the future. He remembers not long after he made the team last year, when they came up with that nickname for him: Sarge. The work horse, the responsible one, the serious guy. He misses the luxury of teenage-exclusive issues. Keeping his GPA respectable and his parents happy, deciding on a girlfriend, busting his hump to earn respect on the team as an underclassman. Now it’s all those things and raising Josh, providing for him, figuring being a father into all the concerns that were already racking up.
Fuck Jared for leaving this all on him. When he was no more equipped to handle it than he was and some days it just felt like he was on a collision course with disappointing everyone around him.
He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand when he senses a presence at the door. Mom checking up on Josh, no doubt. She means well, but the last thing he needs is for her to try to force him to talk about it. The hand that lands on his shoulder, however, is too broad and grips him too roughly.
When he turns around, his father is standing there, prompting him to wipe hurriedly at his face, thankful for the dark concealing his reddened eyes. He doesn’t know how to respond when Dad just gives him an inscrutable look and pulls him into a hug, calmly telling him to let it out.
Damned if Jensen doesn’t spend the next ten minutes doing just that. Neither of them say anything else, but it’s the best conversation he’s had with his father in months.
“See that?” Jensen points, adjusting Josh’s stroller so that it’s facing the goalpost. “That’s where I made my name. Fourth quarter and Hodge goes out with a busted ankle. Suddenly, I’m up, called off the bench. Less than half a minute left on the clock and we need to score and get the conversion to pull it out.”
A half-grin quirks the side of his mouth as he looks up at the field in remembrance. “Tom blocked his ass off for me and I ran it in from the thirty. The stands, they went off, and I’m sprawled out on the field, in a daze. Couldn’t believe it. It was the best day of my life. Until you,” he reassures Josh, running his fingers through his light hair.
He pushes the stroller onto the track, taking it slow, enjoying the air and for now, just keeping his head above water. “Don’t worry though,” he tells Josh. “They’ll be more stories like that and I’ll tell you all about them way my Dad told me. Maybe not the ones about the particularly friendly fans I end up meeting. Those ones, I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
His smile falters when looks up from Josh’s enraptured expression as he sucks on his pacifier to find Jared standing in front of them on the track. He heaves a great, internal sigh and pushes over to him.
“Your Dad said you were here with Jay.”
“Thought I’d show him the field. Get the bug in him good and early.”
Jared smiles, crouching down to inspect Josh and hold his hand for a minute. “Might end up surprising you and taking to soccer like me.”
“What do you want?” Jensen lobs harshly and instantly regrets it. Jared is keeping his distance, like Jensen might pick up that old habit of using his fists to get his point across. He rises, shrugging uncertainly.
“Chad’s been talking about some brutal clinic you guys have coming up. Thought I could pick up the slack and watch Jay when class lets out.”
He shakes his head, lingering hostility fading, replaced by weariness. “Jared, I’m real tired of doing this dance with you, man. I already told you don’t have to—“
“I’m his Dad,” Jared interrupts. “That means being there for him for more than when he needs a pair of shoes or a video game. I’m just asking for one more chance.”
“I don’t want to have to say no to you, but how do I trust this?” Jensen asks, gesturing vaguely. “Is the offer only good until the next time it’s too much and you bail? I can’t go to practice or an away game and be wondering if you’re looking for some way to get him off your hands.”
“Okay,” Jared concedes. “But do you’d honestly think I’d leave my own kid alone? Put him in danger or let anything happen to him?”
That isn’t even a question. “Of course not.”
“Then what’s the risk in giving me another shot?”
“Look, you’re dead if you laugh, but thing is, when you flake on Josh, you’re not just flaking on him.”
You’re screwing with my head six ways to Sunday, remains unsaid.
Realizing the implication, Jared nods, blowing out a heavy gust of air. “Do you, uh—remember last year when Katie kneed Chad in the junk and the three of us spent the weekend at my house playing games, you and me cracking on him every chance we got?”
Jensen’s brow furrows at the non-sequitur. “Yeah.”
“We were friends a long time. You were a tight ass and I was an idiot,” he sighs, “But I made you laugh. I miss that.”
“You and me both,” Jensen admits.
The wan grin on his face fades. “Anyway, I just wanted to say that I heard you the other day. The last thing I want is to be my parents. Don’t want him to end up like me.”
“Yeah, well,” Jensen clears his throat. “I can think of a few ways he could end up like you that wouldn’t be that bad.”
“A human tripod?”
“Give me a break,” Jensen rolls his eyes, laughing. Glancing up to find Jared leaning in, eyes on his mouth.
“Whoa,” he puts a hand up between them. “Look, I’m glad you want to make it work with Josh but we’re not married. We were never even really together, and you know, there’s plenty of girls around. More now that I’m otherwise preoccupied,” he jokes half-heartedly. Then adds, sincerely, “We’re good.”
Jared just shakes his head at him like he’s crazy and licks his lips before crushing their mouths together in a kiss Jensen just might have deepened next by pulling him closer with a hand curled firmly around his neck.
There are things Jensen wishes he’d done differently. Been more careful with his body, been more appreciative of his parents, and less affected by the hackneyed stereotypes and ignorance of others. He wishes he’d spent less time angry and more remembering the things he still had.
He can’t go back and do everything right, but he can decide how he moves forward.
Josh is going to have what he needs and every opportunity. Going to watch Jensen from the stands on Jared’s knee and who knows, maybe pick up a ball himself one day. Through this, he’s learned not to lie down and die when the world throws up a few hurdles. That there’s a light at the end of every tunnel but sometimes you’ve got to struggle for it, earn it.
Life isn’t easy for a lot of people. His is a long way from a horror story, (although he didn’t make it any easier on himself or his parents), but he is where he is and what matters is that he’s not going it alone.
Looking for an opening, he jukes right, cocks his arm back and lets the ball sail through the air. At the other end of the yard, Dad catches it right in the bread basket, spiking it on the ground and raising his arms in celebration. Jensen trots over and slaps him a high five, beaming brightly.
“Nice catch, old man,” Mom comments from the balcony, where Jared is helping Josh clap his little hands together, completely unaware of what the hell is even happening. Jensen chuckles warmly at the sight, catching Jared’s eye. When Jared flashes a smile back, another thought occurs to Jensen.
That loveable idiot is exactly the person he was meant to go through this with, and vice versa.