Tangible Schizophrenia


Modern Hoodoo Appendix: Black Cat Bone

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17.
Pairing: Jensen Ackles/Michael Ballack, Jared Padalecki/Sandy McCoy
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Every word of this is fiction. I have no idea what these people get up to in their spare time, and boy, do I know it.
Notes: I a) don’t know the exact SPN filming/Chelsea team practice timeline, so I’m basically making up one, and b) am conveniently writing certain girlfriends out of the picture (*cough* from lack of information on them). I suppose you could say this takes place in a parallel universe to ours. For hermine, in honor of her birthday, and alethialia, in honor of her LJ birthday.
Summary: Michael’s in L. A. for preseason training, so Jensen figures they can have a nice, short meet-up. Easy? Nope.


Somebody was beating the hell out of Jensen’s door. He grimaced into his pillow, shoving his arms beneath it so he could squish it harder against his face. Luckily for his lungs, the pounding still came through and he stopped trying to suffocate himself right around when he realized he was trying to suffocate himself. Jensen groaned and rolled over to squint at the clock. Oh, man. Was it even dawn yet?

Now they were yelling, too. He fuzzily recognized the voices, but he wasn’t going to be able to fine-tune his hearing any more till he got, like, stimulants. Coffee. Maybe something stronger; sometimes he bet Hollywood’s high rate of drug addiction could be put down solely to bastards dropping in at six-oh-seven in the morning.

Jensen squirmed his way out of the sheets, then swung his feet over the edge and put them down. They landed on denim, so he used his right foot to hook up the pair of jeans and sniff it. Smelled okay, so he pulled it on and stumbled towards the front door. “Coming! Coming, damn it!”

The banging and the shouting stopped, which was a wonderful, wonderful thing. So wonderful that, mind no longer battered, Jensen could vaguely remember about morning breath. He scraped his tongue over his top front teeth, then swallowed as he opened the door.

“Hey, Jensen,” a girl said in a bright voice. She started to lean forward, abruptly reversed herself—guess he needed to break out the Listerine too—and patted his cheek. Then she pushed past him into the apartment. “Sorry it’s so early, but I did make us stop for coffee to make up for it.”

Okay. She knew him, and she…his mouth didn’t taste like stale alcohol. Anyway, he hadn’t picked up a girl in—there was a guy still standing in the doorway. He knew he didn’t do threesomes. Jensen squinted.

“Dude. Are you…okay?” Jared asked, slowly waving his hand in front of Jensen’s face.

So that had to be Sandy moving around the kitchen, and Jensen could stop freaking out. Not that he’d been freaking out yet, but it’d definitely gotten onto the line-up of reactions to have once he’d woken up properly. “Great, man. Look…um…” Jensen mumbled, waving his hand around.

After a moment, Jared got it and walked inside so Jensen could close the door. “You never were this out of it when we had pre-dawn calls.”

“I’m still on vacation. Shut up.” Jensen watched his hands do up the locks like it was a kind of magic. And it was, actually, because if he’d been really paying attention to what he’d been doing, he would’ve screwed it up. “No, actually, wait. I need to ask you something—right. Why am I up now? When it’s not a call on set? And I’m not strangling either of you?”

Sandy came out of the kitchen and offered Jensen a Styrofoam cup of coffee. “Because Chelsea’s training camp is in Los Angeles and you’re gonna get to bang your soccer boyfriend in a couple hours?”

Jared hissed and sort of fell against the corner of the wall, groaning in embarrassment. He hit his head against it a few times. He was going to get some ugly vertical marks on his forehead that way. “No, no, Sandy…”

“What? That’s what you said in the car when I asked why we were up this early!” she said. Her good-girl smile just whipped off her face, and Jensen could fully sympathize.

“Look, thanks. Really. But did it ever occur to you that Michael might’ve called ahead? I’m meeting him later.” Annoyance aside, Jensen was taking the coffee even if it looked like Sandy could’ve used it, too. He wasn’t awake enough to be considerate yet.. “Jesus Christ, it’s not like I’m gonna go running to the airport and jump security so I can make out with him in front of everyone and God. And he’s not my boyfriend. He’s returning a favor.”

Both of them gave him the same eye-roll. “This is L. A., Jensen,” Sandy snorted. “We know what that really means.”

“Go away and leave me in peace. Oh, my God,” Jensen moaned. Well, okay, burbled, because he was slurping coffee as fast as possible. Nobody ever said he couldn’t do two things at once, talented kid that he was. “Shouldn’t you two be still doing the welcome-back snuggling thing?”

He could tell the exact moment when the caffeine kicked in by how his surroundings went from amorphously friendly haze to sharply-drawn, uncomfortable, tense drama scene. Sandy abruptly ducked her head so her bangs came flying over her face, then wandered back into the kitchen. “What do you eat for breakfast? I was gonna grab some bagels, too, but—”

“Ugh. No, thank you, I have to eat too many bagels when we’re filming.” Jensen flopped into an armchair and rubbed at his eyes to get all the crusts out of them. After a second, he remembered and belatedly waved for Jared to take a seat, which Jared refused. “It’s, uh, nice that you thought about it anyway.”

“You’re a terrible, terrible bullshitter, Jensen,” Jared said, laughing easily. That was a sharp contrast to the hunched, edgy pose he’d been cramming himself into before. “Really? I didn’t realize you and Michael were keeping in touch.”

The banging in the background slowly penetrated Jensen’s brain: Sandy was going to cook. He’d had her food a couple times, which had been decent-to-good, but even so, it seemed too weird to have her cooking for him just randomly like this. “I told him to keep my number in case we were wrong and the ghosts came back. Then he called me up to see if I’d flown back okay and blah, blah, I tell him about the movie industry, he explains European soccer to me, and better than you,” Jensen said, twisting around. “Hey, Sandy! Leave off my pots! I’ll just grab something in an hour when my stomach wakes up.”

“Blah blah?” Jared arched one eyebrow. The corners of his mouth were twitching. “So how often are you guys talking? And he’s interested in the movie industry?”

“Okay, not really the industry, but he likes knowing about the special effects part. He watches a lot of films—all the traveling, I guess.” Jensen slouched down and let his head rest against the top of the armchair so he could shake every last drop of coffee into his mouth. It’d been good java, but hadn’t been nearly enough. If he could talk his body into walking back into the bedroom and finding a shirt and socks, then he could pick up a triple cappuccino and a cheese Danish at the corner café.

“No, it’s okay, it’d just take a couple of minutes. Besides, I feel bad about waking you up when we didn’t have to,” Sandy said, ducking back in. “I thought it was a little rude of us.”

The temperature of the room didn’t drop to frigid, but it definitely chilled. Jared looked up past Jensen, and while he was arching his brow again, for Sandy he was doing in a totally different way. Not…friendly. “Look, I didn’t know. And anyway, Jensen doesn’t mind.”

“Maybe that’s because I thought of coffee.” Sandy sounded like she was arching right back. “Jensen seemed to appreciate that the most.”

Jensen,” Jensen said, pretty close to snapping himself, “Is gonna make himself decent so you can buy me a good breakfast. And then geek-boy can figure out how to get me on the UCLA campus without being photographed if he really wants to help me out.”

Since Jared was sitting facing him, Jensen got a good long look at the other man blushing. Embarrassed Jared was almost too puppy-cute for Jensen’s bad mood to withstand, so Jensen stood up and turned. Then he got a view of embarrassed Sandy, and God, if these two had kids, they’d be like Pokémon-adorable. At least they’d both shut up, thank everything.

He got back to the bedroom while he could.

* * *

Getting dressed took slightly longer than Jensen thought, which he blamed on the coffee. From what Jared had told him, Sandy was one for those expensive artsy upscale blends, so it must have infected him with scary neurotic fashionista vibes. Changing to a pair of pants Jensen knew was freshly washed was fine, but being undecided for nearly five minutes over whether to go with a t-shirt or a short-sleeved buttondown? The coffee, definitely. Nothing to do with the fact that he and Michael were doing dinner. Really, the only times Michael had seen him before, he’d been wearing clothes he figured he wouldn’t cry over if the airline lost his luggage, and…

Jensen got himself out of the damn apartment before he talked himself into a coma. He vaguely noticed a weird vibe when he was shooing Jared and Sandy out, but didn’t remember about their fight till they were in the coffeeshop. Mostly because they started fighting again.

Sandy picked at her croissant. “I just was wondering why you didn’t call Jensen and ask if he’d planned it already. Then you wouldn’t have had to spend that money to get into the practice field.”

“Because I was trying to surprise him. Besides, what was I supposed to say? ‘Hey, man, want help hooking up with Ballack again?’ He’s been telling me ever since we got back that they weren’t dating,” Jared muttered to his chai latte thing. It was whitish and foamy, and it hadn’t killed Jared yet, so the five ingredients listed for it that none of them could recognize were apparently harmless. “You did say you wanted to come.”

“After you’d woken me up anyway. I figured I might as well see what you were up to.” For a grown, mature woman, Sandy was starting to sound pretty damn petulant.

Then again, so was Jared. He would’ve cut the passive out of passive-aggressive and gotten them thrown out of a coffee bar if Jensen hadn’t stomped on his foot right then. Jared yelped and clenched his teeth at the same time, which got them a lot of weird looks…but none from Sandy, who’d been getting up. She flashed a strained smile over her shoulder. “Bathroom run.”

It was a small shop. Five seconds later, she’d disappeared, Jared was death-glaring Jensen, and Jensen was contemplating his half-eaten Danish. Specifically, whether he could get away with smashing it into Jared’s face while still clinging to the scraps of manhood he still had.

“Dude,” Jared said in an accusing tone.

Dude.” Jensen decided Danishes were better suited for eating and took a big chunk out of it. “Don’t start with me. You just turned me into your friggin’ abused kid in the middle of your divorce fight. You’re lucky I don’t—” he saw Jared open his mouth and raised his hand, index finger extended “—dude, really.”

Jared kept his mouth hanging open for a little longer, which put some really inappropriate thoughts into Jensen’s mind. He winced at himself and then wondered at that, since he didn’t see why he’d be getting a guilt-trip now. It wasn’t like crushes disappeared overnight, and it’d been all of three weeks since Germany.

“Sorry,” Jared finally said. After a moment, he let out a long sigh and slumped forward to put his head in his hands, rubbing and pushing at his face with his palms.

It wasn’t really Jensen’s style to meddle in other people’s relationships, and anyway he didn’t think he’d be good for giving opinions on this one, seeing as up till a month go he’d been actively wishing for something like this to happen. Of course, this didn’t mean he hated Sandy—he liked what he’d seen of her—but yeah, he was a realist. He wasn’t going to be a completely selfless person while he still could look at Jared’s mouth like that…but he was really, really, really curious now. Damn his inner child or whatever. “Is it that thing with the—”

“Huh? No, we got that all straightened out.” Obviously Jared wasn’t going to elaborate on his own.

The Danish was really good, and so was the coffee. It was a nice, unassuming little place despite the insanely expensive coffee, and one of the waitresses was from Oklahoma, so Jensen could come down once in a while and only have to work about fifty percent at pretending he was back home. And…damn, Jensen still wanted to know what was up, even if it was bad for him. Cats had nothing on him. “So what is it?”

Jared pulled his hands down to beneath his chin, revealing an oddly wary expression. He flicked his eyes around the shop, then leaned so far forward it was amazing he didn’t fall over. “I told her about the…the ghost thing.”

Okay, freak-out from earlier was proceeding.

It must have shown in Jensen’s face because Jared hastily sat back and furiously flapped his hands. “No, no!” he hissed. “I didn’t tell her about you. Really. Look, she doesn’t know the specifics. But she wanted to know how the hell you of all people ended up screwing Michael Ballack, and then…yeah. I showed her some stuff and she doesn’t think we’re crazy, by the way. But she’s just…pissed at me now, and I can’t figure out why.”

“You couldn’t tell her we got seriously drunk and crashed a party?” On second thought, Sandy had just lost a couple of points in Jensen’s eyes. What, didn’t she think he could pick up hot international soccer stars if he wanted to?

“I’m telling you my girlfriend and I have hit the skids at over a hundred miles an hour and the best you can do is worry about your reputation? Thanks a lot, man,” Jared muttered.

Jensen winced, and not just at Jared. Sometimes he really was afraid Hollywood was getting to his ego, after all. “Sorry. Look, like…wait, she’s mad at you because you told her ghosts are real?”

At first it looked like Jared was going to bitch out Jensen with the deep breath he’d just taken, but then he frowned. He snorted and settled back in his chair. “Actually, yeah. That’s pretty much it. But it doesn’t make any sense!”

“No kid—hey, Sandy,” Jensen said, turning around with a big smile on his face. Across the table, Jared hurriedly pulled himself into a more receptive-looking position and mustered up a…well, it was a neutral expression, anyway. “Listen, thanks for the coffee and everything, and sorry I was kind of a bastard. But I have to…”

“Oh, no, it’s okay. Our mistake.” Her eyes kind of slid towards Jared right then. They didn’t make it all the way, and she dropped her voice at the end like she sort of knew she was taking it too far, but Jared still flinched. Then she pasted on a smile again. “Anyway, I have to go. See you later, and good luck.”

Sandy bent down and Jared sat stiffly upright, with just his head angled towards her. She started to put her hand on his shoulder, then stopped, then finally put it down and air-kissed him. He looked like somebody was drilling his molars. Jensen zoned himself out and pretended he was dealing with some of his older, half-senile relations.

They all did the polite smile thing again. Then Sandy left and Jared dropped the mask like a rock. “See?”

“Yeah. I have no idea, man. Sorry, but I’m not gonna be any use here,” Jensen said.

“Well, it’s not your problem anyway,” Jared mumbled, picking up his cup. He swished the chai around in it, then moodily finished that off. “Anyway. UCLA campus.”

“I’m supposed to meet him at this place on central—it’s on the map…which yeah, I did remember to bring. Yay for me. Thing is, once he’s out of uniform, most people here aren’t gonna come running to Michael with pens and cameras and all that shit, but…” Jensen made with the illustrating hand-motions. God, being well-known was such a fucking pain. Sometimes he missed Germany just because he could go around with Michael and be the one to point out the embarrassing billboards, instead of having the damned things pointed out to him.

Jared put his chin on his hand and pondered for a second. Then he grinned. “Got it. Let’s go shopping.”

“…um, you know, I was thinking more Mission: Impossible than The Skeleton Key,” Jensen started, but Jared was already halfway out the door. For a moment, Jensen sat there.

The door banged open loud enough to get a scolding from the woman manning the counter, but Jared was grinning too hard to hear her. “Come on!”

Oh, Jesus.

* * *

Okay, the push was unnecessary. Jensen had already been walking around the corner, thank you, and maybe he was doing that a little slowly, but maybe that was because he was trying get all that powdered-whatever shit off of him before it gave him a rash. It’d worked in that they’d gotten on the campus without being spotted, but man, was it itchy.

“Jensen?” Somebody moved out of a doorway into the sunny part of the sidewalk. Michael looked…really good. He was in jeans topped by a black-buttondown, and black was really determined to be Jensen’s new favorite color. His hair looked different. Good, though. “Are you okay?”

“Great! I’m great! No ghosts so far,” Jensen babbled, still trying to get his balance back. Honestly, if his sneaker-treads had been just a little more worn down, Jared would’ve shoved him right into a spiky-looking bush. “How was the flight over?”

Michael made a face. He lifted one hand and rocked it in the universal sign for ‘it was shit, but I’m gonna be polite.’ “I squeezed in a nap once we landed, so I feel fine now.”

“You sure? You look hot.” Jensen bit his tongue right after saying that. Yeah, it was true, but he could’ve worded that slightly less obviously. And he could stop fixating on the sweaty damp streaks on the sides of Michael’s face till they got inside a building, at least. “I’m parked around the corner, or did you want to go inside and get some water first?”

“No, I’m fine.” Then Michael snorted. “I’m getting used to it. And I thought it’d gotten hot in Germany…”

He fell into step next to Jensen, who was not freaking out like a teenage girl on her first date. Thank God for roomy jeans-pockets and being able to hide clammy hands in them. “This isn’t bad. Last week was the worst.”

“That’s what Jürgen said. I was trying to figure out if I’d have time to visit him—he lives in Newport Beach, I think?” Michael glanced questioningly at Jensen.

It was a good thing the car really was around the corner, because it hadn’t cooled that much. Jensen was beginning to regret not going for the t-shirt, and never mind wanting to avoid the slacker look, because big sweat-patches beneath the arms weren’t that attractive either. He really needed to stop thinking about what he looked like before he completely lost his dick. “Ehrm…I think that’s an hour away once you get out of the city. Which is, um, hard. Probably two hours driving if you’re going to him…can you get him to come halfway, or something like that?”

“He said he might come down, since I’m going to have a tight schedule. I guess I’ll just have to see what happens,” Michael said. He sounded pretty disappointed, but not depressed, and he more or less got over it in the time it took to roll his shoulders. Then he was smiling apologetically at Jensen. “Oh, I forgot to mention, because of training I can’t eat so much. I mean—”

“Oh, right. I can work around that.” Well, damn, that ruled out some of the really good Southwest and Tex-Mex places; beans and all those tortillas were way too heavy to do much running around afterward. Deep-fry was going to be out, too. Could they still hit a bar? Probably not. Damn.

Once they’d gotten around a big van blocking the view of the parking lot, Jensen pointed out his car. “Um, that’s it, but…oh, yeah. Sorry, but I had to give Jared a ride. We’re gonna drop him off along the way.”

“No, that’s okay.” A funny little hitch bisected Michael’s words, like he’d just changed his mind about something, or maybe just thought of something but didn’t want to bring it up. He certainly looked as if he didn’t mind, but his eyes were staring at Jensen a little too hard. Then he casually glanced away and across the lot. “This is such a beautiful campus.”

“Yeah. It’s better than I thought it’d be.” Jensen shrugged off Michael’s odd look. “I don’t actually get a lot of free time in L. A. to look around. When we’re filming here, they pretty much book us from sunrise to sunset.”

And then they were at the car. Jared had retreated to the shotgun seat and was sprawled all over it with the A/C running full blast, so when Jensen opened the driver’s door, his whole front nearly froze. It felt good. A little moan slipped out and for a moment, he just leaned, hunched in front of the doorway.

“Hey,” Jared mumbled, sluggishly stirring. He slowly turned to stare slit-eyed at them as comprehension gradually dawned. Then he muttered a half choked-off curse to himself and grabbed the handle above the door to haul himself up. “Hang on, I’ll move.”

There was another one of those weird little beats in the conversation; usually in scripts, they got written in as uncomfortable pauses. Then Jared was halfway out on his side, and next to Jensen, Michael had the backdoor open and was leaning against it. “No, no, it’s fine—”

“No, really, I’m getting out along the way, so this way you don’t have to switch seats again afterward—”

“I don’t mind the backseat,” Michael said, and Jensen just really wondered what was going on today. It seemed like everything was turning into the sideways looks and over-managed movements of a spy film. Which he’d always wanted to do, yeah, but not when he was trying to relax with some friends.

“Guys. If I need to take a shower, you could just say so. I’m not going to die from it,” Jensen finally snapped. Well, he tried to say it with a wry twist, but his acting game was a little rusty and he suspected that both of the other men probably heard what he really meant. And honestly, he didn’t care that much. He preferred to say stuff straight out anyway, and take whatever punches he had coming to him.

Jared ducked his head and coughed into the top of the car, like usual when he was feeling a little ridiculous, while Michael paused, then pushed away from the door and ambled around the back-end of the car. “You smell fine!” he called back. “Much better than the airplane.”

He was grinning, and Jensen just had to slouch against the car and grin back. “Whatever. I’m surprised any German guy still can smell anything after eating sauerkraut all the time.”

“That’s because you don’t get the good kind here.” Michael looked strangely young when he wrinkled his nose like that. Young and really fuckable. “I should’ve made you eat more of the real stuff before you left.”

“Uh, can I get dropped off before you two start?” Jared plaintively said. He swung himself into the backseat like he was diving into a hole. “It’s only fifteen minutes, okay?”

Jensen rolled his eyes as he got behind the wheel. “Like it wasn’t a pain for me to drive us back from the airport with you and Sandy saying hi in the back. And that was a lot longer than fifteen minutes.”

Aw, fuck, Jensen had forgot. For a second, the car was cold and it wasn’t the amazing turbo-charged air-con.

“Yeah, true,” Jared finally replied, a little clipped. He was going to have Jensen buying the drinks for a month to make up for that boneheaded moment.

Well, nothing Jensen could do about it right now, so he just got out his sunglasses. He glanced over and saw Michael stopped in the act of pulling out his own because he was staring at Jensen’s. Thankfully, it was so warm Jensen’s blood was too tired to flood into his cheeks. “These are just for L. A. It…gets annoying to have people recognize you.”

Michael’s lips were straight and pressed tight that way because he was obviously laughing inside, though it was impossible to tell whether that was at or in sympathy with Jensen. He finished putting on his own, then slid down a little in the seat so the flow of cold air went right over his face. He hummed contentedly. “So where are we going?”

“Well…how do you feel about seafood? Is that okay?” Fortunately, Michael nodded or else Jensen would’ve been at a complete loss. He’d been trying not to think too hard about planning, since that would’ve made it all seem too calculated, but…maybe he’d overdone that. “Cool. I think I know a place.”

* * *

Dropping Jared off ended up being a production. A couple offhand questions along the way had revealed the fact that Jensen didn’t exactly remember where the restaurant was, so Jared had volunteered to google directions really quick, and that was why Jensen and Michael were still parked in the underground lot. It was kind of awkward. When Michael had called to set up the meeting, he and Jensen had ended up talking for a while, so it wasn’t like the half-day since then gave them much new stuff to go over. And for some reason, Michael kept twisting around to look through the back windshield.

“Jared’s usually pretty fast about this kind of thing,” Jensen eventually said, just to see what kind of reaction he’d get.

Michael twitched, then looked embarrassed. “I believe you. I’m just…the flight was long, and I hate sitting around.”

“Oh, okay. ‘cause for a moment there, you were looking like you wanted to go back to campus.” Jensen’s gut tensed up in anticipation of a bad reaction to that. A tiny voice in his head was chanting something at high speed, and after a moment, he figured out that it was asking for Michael not to say ‘yeah’ or give any impression of a ‘yeah’ response. Apparently he’d managed to get himself worked up over this visit anyway; so much for playing it cool. “Look, if you’re thinking this is a bad idea—”

“Are you?” Michael abruptly asked, turning around to fully face Jensen. His shoulder was touching the seat for support, not leaning against it because he was way, way too tense for that.

“…then wouldn’t I have told you I was too busy to meet up, or something like that?” Jensen said after a moment. He really had no clue what was going on with anybody now. “I mean, I know, I didn’t mention Jared was gonna come, but that was a last-minute change.”

That had been a total, total stab in the dark, and nobody was more surprised than Jensen when it turned out to have an effect: Michael loosened up and let his weight fall against the seat. “Oh. I thought—he might be along to chaperone. Because this is L. A., and you’re known here so this could be a problem.”

Jensen blinked a lot. Because he was relieved, but confused again. “Man, I am completely willing to skip dinner and just jump you right here if that’d convince you that I’m still interested.”

Damn it, there went his fucking mouth again. But Michael seemed not to mind too much, given that he was tipping forward again and smiling. “That wouldn’t be necessary, but it’s definitely attractive.”

“I thought you were hungry?” Jensen said, trying to sound innocent. He probably was ruining it with that chuckle rippling through his voice.

Michael rolled his eyes and reached for Jensen’s shoulders. Jensen tried to meet him at least part of the way, but rammed up a knee against the stupid stickshift. He cursed and glanced down, only to have Michael’s mouth close over his upper lip, sucking gently at it, then pulling so Jensen tipped up his head. Oh, fuck, yes, he’d missed this.

“Hey, guys,” Jared called.

Fuck, damn, and a couple other choice words sprang to the tip of Jensen’s tongue. He and Michael hurriedly pushed themselves apart; Jensen did a quick mirror-check before he rolled down the window and stuck out his head. He did his best not to look like he wanted to kill Jared, which he really, really did. “Got the directions?”

Jared triumphantly held up a piece of paper. He was lucky he gave off the same vibes as a happy toddler when he smiled like that, or else Jensen’s frustration might’ve gotten the better of him. “Don’t do anything that’d get you in jail,” he said as he handed it over. “I can’t make bail for both of—”

“Shut up and die.” Jensen grabbed the paper, glanced over the directions and then wedged the sheet in by the gear-shift. He’d basically remembered how to get there; it was only the last couple of turns that he’d messed up.

“Isn’t that what thirteen-year-old girls say?” Jared snarked back. Not that Jensen really heard him, seeing as the wind caused by peeling the car out of the space really fast did an excellent job of drowning him out.

Road rage? Nah, just good application of driving skills. Anyway, once they hit the street, Jensen slowed down. He heard a weird noise from beside him and glanced over to see Michael looking a bit pale. “Sorry,” Jensen muttered, mentally whacking himself.

Michael just stared out at the traffic for so long that Jensen thought he’d seriously upset the other man. But then Michael shrugged and hooked his hand into the strap above the window, still watching the road with a bemused expression. “This is so weird. You people drive on the wrong side of the road.”

“It gets worse when we hit the freeway. You might wanna use the—” Michael grabbed his seatbelt and Jensen stopped himself before he turned redundant “—and hey, you don’t think I was freaked out the whole time you were shooting us around?”

“I’m a perfectly safe driver.” Was Michael actually sticking out his lower lip? Yeah…yeah, and that was really distracting when Jensen needed to be paying attention elsewhere. “That guy just swiped in front of you.”

Jensen slightly relaxed his death-grip on the wheel. “I know. People are such assholes. You know, ever since I got back, I’ve been wishing I could let Schweini and Poldi at idiots like that.”

Another funny sound from Michael, though this time when Jensen checked on him, his expression was a cross between pained and amused. Which was normal where those two were concerned. “Sorry. It’s just you reminded me…you know, the day we went out? I think they did something to Jens.”

“Well, they didn’t make him die of a heart attack, because he was around to sneer at me when…wait.” That weird tone when Michael said ‘something’ was one that Jensen recognized. It came up whenever one of the crew was passing along gossip about who got caught groping who after the last bar outing, and ew. Ew. Bad mental images. “I think you just killed my dick, man. Nothing against your teammates, but…yeah. So not my thing. Especially Lehmann.”

“Oops. I’ll have to wake it back up for you,” Michael said, and goddamn it, Jensen had been making a left right then.

They did get into the lane without any damage; Michael had to throw out his hand to keep his head from cracking against the window, but the sneaky bastard was snickering to himself. Jensen’s death-grip on the wheel had returned, but for a completely different reason. Jesus. On second thought, maybe he should avoid the freeway right now…except then it’d take even longer to get to the restaurant. Damn. Talk about your dilemmas.

* * *

The restaurant was lowkey and free of anyone Jensen knew, knew of, or possibly could come to know in a professional way in the next month. Everyone else seemed too busy with their dinner or conversation to pay much attention to anyone else.

Jensen supposed that the food was good, mostly because he remembered it being good the last time he’d eaten here. He sure as hell hadn’t been paying attention to what he’d been sticking into his mouth in between replying to Michael and drinking his water. Yeah, water. He’d felt kind of bad ordering a beer when the other man couldn’t.

It’d been a good dinner. They’d had a lot of fun talking. And none of that really made a difference with how very goddamned badly he wanted to ask if they could leave now and find a room. He just couldn’t figure out how to put it in a way that didn’t make him look like some jackass who just really wanted to fuck Michael Ballack. Because while he did really want to get Michael on a bed, that wasn’t the only thing he wanted to do with Michael, and what the hell had he just said?

“Um. I wasn’t thinking right then,” Jensen sheepishly said. God, he hoped it hadn’t been anything offensive.

“I was wondering what zombies had to do with anything.” Michael tapped his fingers along the side of his dish, looking a bit wary.

Jensen awkwardly smiled. “Rumor about what’s going to be in next season’s episodes. I was reading some stuff from the scriptwriters yesterday.”

“Ah.” Relaxed now, Michael pushed himself back from his seat. He looked a little embarrassed himself. “I’ve got to use the…the toilet, but after that, would you mind if we go? I’ve got an early day tomorrow.”

“No, sure,” Jensen slowly said. “My place is about fifteen minutes from here.”

“I’ve been wondering what kind of place you have, with all the ghost things.” After flashing another smile, Michael got up and wandered towards the side.

Well. That’d been a lot more painless than Jensen had figured, and why he kept making this so damn complicated in his head, he didn’t really understand. No, actually he did understand—Sandy and Jared’s fault for spooking him with the ‘d-word.’ That’d be way too messy and overwrought right now, witness their relationship, and they filmed just far enough away for the flight back to rate a meal service and a movie. Anyway, Jensen was about to get laid. Yeah, he was smirking at his water-glass. One-track mind, big deal, easy fix—and besides, it was easier to talk about crap in his bedroom, where he wasn’t constantly scanning for paparazzi.

He signaled for the waiter and got the check paid for while he was waiting, which was a little weird since Michael was a guy. Jensen looked around as he put away his credit card, double-checking that it didn’t have anything to do with somebody recognizing them, then got up. Michael hadn’t left anything, so Jensen…shuffled his feet and wondered if standing in the lobby would seem too nympho-desperate. Man, was he getting paranoid.

He scanned the place again, but everyone was still pretty much ignoring this corner; a curvy redhead flashed him a smile, but that was about it. They couldn’t possibly be hiding the tiny spy cameras and dialing up every tabloid in town like his imagination was screaming.

Goddamn it, he was putting his foot down right now. Getting up after paying and waiting in the front was perfectly normal, and if he stood there for a couple minutes and then walked back to see what was up with Michael, that wasn’t going to look suspicious. Ghosts hadn’t driven him insane, and a stupid little meet-up wasn’t going to, either.

So Jensen did that. He chatted/flirted with the hostess for a little bit, then glanced at his watch. “Weird. You mind if I check on my friend—he’s in the bathroom?”

“Oh, no. Go on ahead.” She beamed at him and leaned over the lectern so her breasts pushed up more cleavage. “It’s over to the side…do you need me to show you where?”

“No, that’s okay. I can see it from here.” Jensen smiled back, showing less teeth, and headed off. His ass tingled in a way that said she was staring and she wanted to eat that and he was kind of glad when he had to turn a corner. Definitely wasn’t a great time for that.

“Hey!” hissed somebody behind him, and he’d just turned around when Jared rushed him and damn near made them both fall over in the entrance to the restrooms.

The door led into a short hall that forked at the end, and it took Jensen stumbling pretty much to the end of it to regain his balance. As soon as he did, he grabbed Jared’s shoulder. “Jesus Christ, you wanna kill me? What are you doing here?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s just—look, we had to do that preliminary spell to make sure there weren’t crosscurrents on the UCLA campus before we did the stuff to sneak in, right? Well, I got home finally—”

“What, somebody kidnapped you off your doorstep?” Jensen asked. He heard a door swinging behind him and glanced over his shoulder: Michael had propped open the door with his foot and was busy having an intense conversation on his cell, so he apparently hadn’t seen them yet.

Jared made a face. “Sandy came by right after and we had a two-hour fight in the fucking garage, all right? But like I was saying, I went back up after and I looked at the set-up because I was going to take it down, and there’s something happening on campus.”

“When you say ‘something,’ you mean like a student protest, right?” Jensen weakly said. Inside himself, he was squeezing his guts together with the force of his mental pleading. If somebody believed something hard enough…

“Thanks,” Michael said. He stepped completely out of the bathroom as he closed his phone, then glanced up with a frown on his face. And promptly startled when he saw Jensen and Jared; his reflexes were pretty awesome so he just went back a step, eyes widening. “Jensen. There’s been an—an accident at the training camp. Maybe.”

…obviously that saying was a bunch of bullshit, too. “Huh?”

“There’s a big black dog running around scaring people, sort of like in the third Harry Potter film. It’s not—normal. I don’t…would you know anything about this?” Michael helplessly said, spreading his hands.

He really, really looked confused and worried and beneath that, pissed off that something freaky would happen, and Jensen could totally sympathize. Totally. It was just that—

“Harry Potter?” Jared slowly repeated. Thank God. Now Jensen didn’t have to look like a dumbass.

Michael flushed a little. “Torsten’s kids love those movies. But anyway, it knocked one of the coaches over and he almost smacked his head on a sharp corner. Everyone seems calm so far, but…”

“A black hound? In California? That’s so weird…except maybe it could, um…” Jared did that thing where he shoved his hands deep into his pockets and hunched up his shoulders while staring at the floor, muttering. “Probably not you, but…huh…”

“You need to go home and grab your laptop?” Jensen wearily said. Fuck, fuck and fuck. At least he hadn’t been asked to let some ghost borrow his body yet.

“Yep. Also, we probably have to go shopping.” Said in a matter-of-fact tone while Jared started purposefully for the exit, as if he didn’t know that ‘shopping’ was rapidly changing from a word to be dreaded to a sign of the coming apocalypse. Or at the very least, the complete ruin of Jensen’s day.

Okay, he was being selfish. Even last time, Michael had definitely gotten fucked around worse than he had, and Michael still seemed to be holding it together fine. It was just…frustrating.

“I’m sorry. I know this sort of thing isn’t pleasant for you.” It was also funny how Michael could send Jensen into a guilt-trip about as fast as Jensen’s mom could.

“I can deal. As long as I don’t get concussed so much this time, I’m good,” Jensen said. He aimed for nobly self-sacrificing, ended up sounding vaguely airheaded, but at least got a small smile out of Michael. “Man, I’m just sorry you have to deal with this right at the start of training.”

Michael shrugged. He started to say something, then ducked his head and thought the better of it. Jensen wondered whether they could really quick—

--“Hey. Can we like, go?” Jared irritably said, popping his head back in.

“Right,” Jensen and Michael said. Jared rolled his eyes and swung back out, leaving Jensen to pinch the bridge of his nose and Michael to sigh under his breath. Yeah, right.

* * *

“What kind of pattern is it? Like, is everything all happening around one person, or one place?” Jared asked, flipping open another cabinet. This one was spices…and after he’d shoved away the normal-looking bottles in front, also jars and jars of weird-ass dried things. Maybe some of them were just freaky Asian food.

Jensen just held out the backpack wide open so he didn’t have to touch anything to help Jared put things in the bag. Beside him, Michael relayed on the question, then listened moodily, drumming his fingers on the counter. “John Terry. The coach who fell happened to just step in front of him.”

“John Terry? But he hasn’t made the tabloids in forever.” After rummaging around in a drawer, Jared came up with a handful of nails and tossed them in the bag. Then he paused. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that I think, from what you’ve said, that somebody’s trying to do a hex—a curse—on one of your teammates, but why Terry? He doesn’t have anybody that hates him that much, does he?”

Michael snorted but still did a pretty good job of editing himself. “Professional football can get very intense. On the other hand—”

“He’s pushing for captain of England, isn’t he? Maybe somebody’s trying to fuck that up?” Jensen absently suggested, more interested in a piece of paper lying on the counter. More specifically, the shopping list on it, which was headed by ‘sheep’s heart.’ The hell?

It got very quiet. When Jensen glanced up, Michael was looking at him with a weirdly proud half-smile on his face, while Jared just looked like he’d gotten hit with a cattle prod.

Jensen rolled his eyes. “What? I said I was gonna learn about soccer—” Michael twitched and Jensen shot him a quick apologetic look “—so I did. You know what the Vegas odds on who’s going to end up English captain are like?”

“…why are you looking up gambling odds?” Jared asked after a moment. “Though that’s a good point.”

“Why are we gonna buy a sheep’s heart?” Jensen countered. He hadn’t been, and Jared could just shove that mock-concerned stare up his ass. He’d just been surfing the net and had come across that. Really, damn it.

“We’re making a witch bottle. We bury it near his room and then when whoever it is tries to fuck with him again, it’ll bounce off back to them and fuck them up. And then when you guys get back to England, that should make it easy to tell who it was.” Jared picked up the list, folded it and stuck it in his back-pocket. He zipped up the bookbag. “It’ll make the dog go away, too. Okay, I need to get the cooler, and then we can get the heart. There’s this butcher I know about.”

Jensen shot a look at Michael, who stared back with a half-quizzical, half-disgusted expression. Whereupon Jensen did his best to convey ‘he seemed normal when I first met him’ with facial expressions. “Dude, should I be worried that you know where to shop for voodoo body parts?”

“It’s not voodoo, it’s standard English folk-magic. And anyway, it’s research for next season. Haven’t you read that far yet?” Jared said, annoyed. He got so pissy over the geekiest things.

Somebody knocked at the door. All of them jumped to various degrees; Jensen wasn’t the one who got spooked the most, but he happened to be holding a bag filled with irregularly-shaped objects that nearly spilled out of his arms. Grabbing for it only made him look like he’d jumped the highest.

“Jared?” Sandy called. “Jared, we need to talk.”

For a moment, Jared did a nice impression of deer in bright headlights. Then he winced, scrunching up his eyes, and mouthed what looked like ‘oh, God, not now.’

“Girlfriend,” Jensen muttered to Michael.

“When I open the door, go on and get down to the car. I’ll see what I can do,” Jared said.

* * *

Seven minutes later, Jensen and Michael had stuffed themselves into the backseat of Jared’s car and Michael was anxiously checking his watch. “I told John—that’s who called—to put salt down, but I don’t know if he believes me. I don’t want my new captain to think I’m crazy.”

“Yeah, wouldn’t be a great first impression. If Jared’s not down in another minute, I’ll go and get him. Sandy’s not my girlfriend, so it’s okay if she hates me.” Jensen lifted the backpack and moved his legs around, trying to get his knees somewhere where they weren’t wedged into the front seat or having to take on the weight of a zillion jars or pushing into Michael’s thigh. He already had enough on his mind without getting distracted by that. “Uh…is everything with the get-to-know-people okay so far?”

Michael thought a moment, briefly taking his lower lip into his mouth, and God, Jensen wished he hadn’t done that. Then he shrugged. “If you’re asking because of the dog, I haven’t been here enough to see much, and I don’t want to repeat rumors. Everyone seems very nice so far.” He snorted. “It’s a bit weird, getting used to a new team. Especially right after the World Cup.”

“Is it kind of weird not being captain now?” Jensen asked. Something rattled at the far end of the parking garage and he started to push himself up for a look, only to have the bag slip between his legs, banging up his shins and falling heavily on his foot. He swore and hauled it back up, only to have nowhere to put it down.

“Not so much—I wasn’t captain at Bayern either, and I respect Chelsea’s team very much. I’ve got no problem with John Terry. I…” Michael grabbed at the bag, his right hand landing on Jensen’s wrist “…no, I think we can put it over here…ow…”

“Shit, sorry.” Jensen levered the bag off of Michael’s knee and finally managed to stuff it between the two front seats and just behind the gearshift. He got leg-room that way, but he had to sit on a kind of diagonal so he angled towards Michael.

Well, basically he was snuggling up to Michael’s shoulder. Your friend’s car was kind of off-limits, so before Jensen embarrassed himself, he got an arm up on the back and pushed himself up, aiming to get himself turned the other way; he couldn’t just slide because the seat in front of him was too far back. And then he got stuck with his ass waving in Michael’s face. Oh, dignity.

“Are you trying to get out?” Michael asked.

“Um…well, that’d be a good idea, actually. Has it been a minute?” Jensen grabbed the driver’s headrest and wrenched at his feet and something finally gave. Not any of his body parts, thank God. He twisted around and stepped on a slippery thing that did what it did—probably a potato chip bag—so his ass then met Michael’s knee. Ow was an understatement. “Shit! Sorry. Okay, need to tell Jared to get a fucking bigger car already…”

Michael grabbed Jensen’s waist, which was just about all that kept Jensen’s chin from painfully introducing itself to Michael’s shoulder. Jensen stuck out his arm and got himself braced on the back of the seat, but then tripped over the stupid backpack, and fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Maybe get out on your side?” It was really, really amazing how Michael could be so patient without sounding particularly long-suffering or snarky.

“Uh, yeah.” Jensen was flaming red in the face now, but that was okay because it was dark. This time, he made sure his feet were firmly planted before he started to move.

And then he slipped anyway. He caught himself on Michael’s shoulder and knee, cursing; the other man grunted and yanked at Jensen, hands sliding up from Jensen’s waist towards his arms, and Jensen sort of tipped and Michael maybe was trying to say something but Jensen was kissing him by that point. And Michael was kissing back, hard and hungry, his fingers kneading Jensen’s sides like Jensen was putty. Which was going to be literally true in a couple of…well, they went over sideways, so right now. Michael shoved out with his knee or something and got them more horizontally-oriented, and then…Jared wasn’t going to like this, but Jensen actually couldn’t care too much now. Not even that he was a little over six-foot and Michael was almost six-three, while the backseat...well, it was cramped. They kept bumping knees and elbows into awkward places, but Michael grabbed at Jensen’s thigh and groaned, and—

The sound of an annoying click slowly penetrated Jensen’s consciousness. The sound of Jared yelling stabbed right through. “What’s your problem, anyway?”

“What’s my problem? Oh, I don’t even know where to start answering that question, Jared,” Sandy riposted, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Oh, hell no. Not again. Not—shit, the two of them were slamming themselves into the front. What Michael said as he hurriedly disentangled himself from Jensen was a pretty potent lesson in German cursing. Likewise, Jensen sourly thought as he grabbed the back of Sandy's seat. “Jesus—”

“Omigod!” Sandy shrieked, whipping around. Her hand came up, and Jensen saw the little cylinder in it just in time.

“No, it’s—” Jared said. He was a little late.

Luckily, Jensen's reflexes had improved and he yanked both himself and Michael back down so the Mace went harmlessly above their heads. Jensen started to warn Michael, but the other man had already gotten it and squeezed himself to the side to avoid the spray as it floated down.

Jared slung one arm over the seat and stared incredulously down. “Guys? What the fuck are you doing down there?”

“Well, we decided to be immature assholes and hide here to try and scare you,” Jensen sarcastically said. He waited, but Jared didn't appear to be getting the joke, while Sandy had settled back into a sulk even Jensen could feel. “Oh, forget it. Look, can we hurry up here? Is she—”

“Jared filled me in. I’m coming to help,” Sandy answered. Then she saw Michael and her eyes widened. She had the good grace to look embarrassed, tucking her chin down. “Um, if you don’t mind.”

Being a smart guy, Michael didn’t poke at other people’s relationships. He just nodded, doing a pretty good job of hiding his exasperation. “I told John we’d be there in a half-hour because of traffic.”

“Good excuse,” Jared muttered, turning on the engine. Then he twisted back around, slinging one arm over the top of his seat so he could see where the pillars were as he backed out. His face twitched and he glanced down again, then suspiciously at Jensen. “Hey…you weren’t just—in my car? My car?”

“Let’s go.” Fuck. Jensen’s face never was going to stop burning at this rate. Maybe they could say the demon had left its fiery mark on Dean, or…maybe they’d just get a lot of fanmail offering sunblock. Jesus Christ, today sucked.

* * *

As it turned out, they didn’t have to shop anywhere really creepy. Even the place that sold the sheep’s heart looked like any other small butcher’s shop, though if you rubbed the condensation away from the display glass, there was some scary-ass shit in the trays.

“They eat that up in Scotland,” Michael said, shifting the cooler beneath his arm. Once the shopping was done, he’d directed them to the back of the Beverly Hills Hotel. “I always thought it’d be fun to try, but for eating, not…whatever we’re doing.”

Since Jensen knew the place a lot better, he’d taken over then and had sneaked them up to the right floor since they needed a kitchen, or at least a bathroom. He’d tried to sneak them, anyway; Jared and Sandy had started up their arguing again as soon as they’d pulled into the parking lot. They were whispering, but it didn’t make that much of a difference. “That weird haggis stuff? Well, I’ll eat most parts of a pig or a steer, but sheep aren’t really my thing. Which side’s your room on?”

“There.” The hallway was empty, so Michael walked on ahead and got out his keys.

Jensen turned around, then only refrained from dropping his head in his hands because he was still lugging around the backpack. “Jared. Sandy. You can get out of the stairwell now.”

He went inside Michael’s room before the confusion wore off those two and they started yelling at him. Jesus—over the past thirty minutes, they’d covered just about every annoying tic and habit either of them had. Twice. If he’d had to, Jensen couldn’t have written a book on them; he could’ve written a fucking encyclopedia set.

The room was a double, Jensen absently noted. He heaved himself and the bag into the bathroom, where Michael had the cooler up on the counter and was cautiously peering into it. “Roommate?”

“Everyone’s temporarily evacuated the floor. John’s room is nearby and that’s where a lot of it was happening,” Michael said. He slowly lifted the lid all the way, then resumed staring down at the sheep’s heart.

It was really gross, all dull purple-red and deflated-looking in its bloody plastic bag. The ice melting beneath it occasionally shifted so it’d move, which was kind of creepy.

“Bet you never thought your intro to the team would be messing around with something like this.” Jensen put the bag on the other side of the sink and moved to beside Michael to get a better look.

“No, I just thought I’d have to sing while everyone threw food at me.” After a beat, Michael coughed into his hand. “It’s a tradition. All new players have to do it.”

“You always sounded fine to me. Though okay, that wasn’t really singing,” Jensen thoughtfully said. He grinned when Michael had to cough again—sounded more like the other man was choking, actually.

Then they both turned around as a harassed-looking Jared came in, waving that list of his. “Okay. We’re gonna use this big jar for the witch bottle—”

Jensen unzipped the bag and dug it out, then frowned. “Dill pickles?”

“If it bothers you that much, you can peel off the label,” Jared snapped. He leaned over and wedged the paper into the window frame. “See how they’re numbered? That’s the order you need to put the stuff into the jar.”

“Okay. Hair, nail clippings…urine?” Jensen incredulously read off.

“Preferably from John Terry.” Like that was going to be so easy Jared didn’t even need to be looking at Jensen when he said it. Then again, Sandy had just walked into view of the doorway and was waving at him. Jared pointedly sighed, which definitely didn’t improve Sandy’s mood, and walked back out.

Well, Jensen was going to at least do Michael the decency of looking at him. Even if it was really more of an ‘I’m-sorry-but-can-you-please” puppy stare.

Michael grimaced, but nodded. “Go ahead and start. It shouldn’t take me too long to find John.” He made another face as he turned away. “Getting him back here, though…” he muttered, mostly to himself.

Jensen made a face himself as he went back to the jar and the heart. According to Jared’s instructions—Jensen tilted his head and briefly crossed his eyes so he could read it—first the sheep’s heart had to be stuck with nine nails or needles while he muttered some charm written in ye Olde English. He sighed and reached into the cooler for the heart.

That part wasn’t too hard, though he basically butchered the pronunciation of half the spell. “Hey, Jared?” he called, shoving in another pin. “Is it okay if I didn’t say it right?”

“…all I want to know is how long you’ve been hiding this from me!” Sandy’s voice, which had been an angry incoherent murmur, suddenly rose into strident clarity. “I think I have a right to know what’s been going on!”

“I told you! What’s the big deal, anyway? You’re acting like you’re the one who’s been hexed!”

Long, long pause. Oh, hell, no, Jensen thought. He willed Jared to jump back in there and fix things right now. For that matter, Sandy should be speaking up and taking that right back, because she knew better.

“Oh, my God. You think—you actually think I’ve done something to you?”

“No! No, God, no. But I’m—I’m worried, all right? Do you really know what you’re doing? Maybe…you might be playing God a little, and how would you know--”

Jared exhaled a loud, sharp, nasty laugh. “In other words, you do think I did. Jesus, Sandy. Thanks for showing how much trust you have in me. You know, I’m not so pathetic that I’d resort to magic to keep you around.”

Sandy sucked in her breath hard. “Thanks a lot. I can’t believe—”

All right, that was it. There was only so much soap-opera missed-signals bullshit Jensen could put up with, and that amount shrank a lot when he wasn’t even getting paid for it. He leaned over to yell out into the next room. “Jared, you’re being an asshole. You’re right, but you could’ve said that better. Sandy, stop being the victim for a second and listen to the dumbass? He didn’t mean it that way—he meant he respects you too much to do that to you just to make himself happy. And also? Magic’s not a free ride; you can’t do shit without taking shit. And since Jared looks fine and hasn’t prematurely aged, or gotten anemia or anything…oh, hi, Michael.”

And John Terry…Michael Essien?…and some other guy who Jensen couldn’t see enough of it identify. They were all crowded into the doorway, their heads swiveling back and forth like this was Wimbledon.

“Hey, don’t talk to her like that,” Jared snapped.

Sandy sneered at him, then at Jensen. “I don’t need to be defended, okay? I’m a big girl. And yo, Jensen, since when were you an expert on this?”

Jensen stared at the sink and all the stuff in it for one incredulous second. Then he turned around and faced her, and when she flinched, he just shoved his bloody hands out at her. “Are you seriously asking me that right when I’m sticking pins in a sheep’s heart to stop a fucking witch?”

To give her credit, she did see the sense in that and visibly deflated. He just wished she could’ve gotten over her temper tantrum a little bit sooner.

“Oh,” Sandy said. She glanced over to the hallway door and flushed from her hairline to her neckline. Then she ducked and pressed her hands to the sides of her face, looking very small and pitiful. “God, I’m sorry. I’m being such a bitch…but Jared said you didn’t really know…”

“Uh, look, can we talk for a second? In private?” Jared was scratching uncomfortably at the back of his head, doing that thing where he tried to cut three feet off his height by stooping. Looked like he’d finally gotten a clue, too.

After a moment, she reluctantly nodded and walked over to the balcony door, pushing it open while Jared trailed after her like a wary but desperately hopeful puppy, and okay, Jensen was not allowed to make with the metaphorical language till he was rested enough to come up with something…not so bad.

“Jesus Christ. I need—” Jensen sighed.

A pair of red and yellow gelcaps suddenly appeared before him. They happened to be pinched between Michael’s fingers, and in Michael’s other hand was a glass of water. Jensen heaved a sigh of relief and grinned. “Man, I love you,” he said, opening his mouth.

Michael tossed the Tylenol in, then held up the water-glass for Jensen. “You’re welcome.” He snickered and added in a very low voice, “If we were in a bar and I had to choose between her and you for sending over a drink, it’d be you.”

Jensen forcibly willed down his blush. If he could’ve sat on it, he would have. He didn’t look at the others to see if they’d heard—one sure way to let everyone know something was up—but he did turn hurriedly back to the sink. “You know, you don’t really have to flatter me at this point. Back in the car if they hadn’t…” this probably was a bad time to go into details about that. He cleared his throat and spoke more loudly. “So, did you like, explain things to John?”

“I tried,” Michael said, looking uncertainly over his shoulder.

John Terry stepped forward. He didn’t exactly look comfortable, but he also didn’t look like he was about to call for them to be put in an insane asylum. “I’m having a hard time believing it, but the dog that’s been running around has been doing things I wouldn’t have believed either if I hadn’t seen it for myself. Anyway, I figure it can’t hurt anyone, and that dog is coming pretty close to doing that.”

“Yeah, I get you. Believe me, I’d rather not believe in this stuff either, but…ugh.” Jensen dropped the heart into the jar and then stuck his hands in the sink, nudging on the water with his wrist. “Gross. Okay, so we need hair and nail clippings first.”

“I got the clippers,” said the guy Jensen didn’t recognize. He looked scarily enthusiastic as he held up the tiny silver thing, and both Michael and John slowly edged away from him. “Shaun went to grab scissors for the hair. We’ll make you match Ballack and José.”

John snorted and ran his fingers over his head. “It’s not like I’m far from that anyway. And I’m thinking I’m a grown man and I can clip my own hair and nails, thanks. Your grandfather was a mad barber or something, Joe?”

“Everyone else still clueless?” Jensen asked Michael. The water was running clear off his hands, but just in case, he went over them with soap one last time. He didn’t know where that heart had been.

Michael had taken up a place in the bathroom doorway and was bemusedly watching John and the others get the hair and nails taken care of. “I think they’re still trying to find the dog. We should be fine.”

“Damn thing jumped through a wall. They’ll be busy for a while,” John said, coming over. He held out his cupped hands, which held several tufts of hair and some grungy-looking bits of nail. “Who are you again? Michael shorted us a bit on introductions—I’m John.”

“Jensen Ackles,” Jensen said, putting out the jar so John could drop that stuff in. He checked the list and cringed inside. “Er. Now you need to take a piss in the jar. I know, it sounds weird, but…hey, Jared? Explain this part?”

Out on the balcony, Jared’s and Sandy’s silhouettes had just hugged. Which made Jensen feel a tiny, tiny bit bad for interrupting, but that wasn’t anything compared to how exasperated he still was at the guy.

Jared stuck his head back in long enough to look happily absentminded. “What? Oh, it’s to strengthen the spell. More personal stuff you put in there, the better it can tell the different between you and all the other people around.”

“All right…” John slowly said. He took the jar from Jensen and peered inside, looking pretty revolted. Then he straightened himself up and pushed by Jensen and Michael into the bathroom, shaking his head. “Of all the dodgy things…Ballack, you mind?”

“Sorry.” Michael moved so John could shut the door all the way.

Everyone just stood around and fidgeted a little. Jensen hooked his hands into his jeans pockets and glanced over at the balcony. Then he looked quickly up at the ceiling. “God. Look, when I met Jared, he was a mature, non-embarrassing adult. I swear.”

“I guess they’ve made up? What was it about?” Michael asked. “Never mind, I probably don’t want to know.”

“Yeah, we could hear them all the way down the hall. Nearly called security,” Joe commented—right, Joe Cole. He whistled a little, then turned towards the bathroom door. “Got a performance problem, John?”

His reply was the unmistakable sound of a guy pissing. Loud, steady, and forceful in a way that induced queasy admiration. Joe laughed and muttered something under his breath about actor tendencies. Then he nodded towards Jensen. “No offense, of course.” He shrugged, so Jensen must’ve looked confused. “I went into town the other day and saw you blown up on a—”

“—billboard, right? I hate those. Makes me feel like a Ken doll.” Jensen went a couple steps over to the balcony, then a few more when it became clear that Jared wasn’t going to notice the discreet approach. “Hey, Jared, Sandy? This, um, isn’t your hotel room.”

“What?” Sandy said. “Oh!”

They broke apart just as the bathroom door opened; Jensen of course turned back to John Terry, who gingerly held up the jar. He’d found the lid and put it on, and luckily, the glass was tinted to a dark color as well. Though everyone automatically backed up a foot anyway. “So what do we do with this now?”

“Bury it outside,” Jared said, coming back in. He sounded a little breathless, and the top two buttons of his shirt had come unbuttoned. He and Sandy were holding hands like it was a grade-school fire drill. “Really deep, where it’s not going to get dug up. At least while you’re here.”

“You mean I’ve got to do this again everywhere I go?” John looked slightly panicky.

Jared hastily shook his head. “Oh, no, no. This one’ll trap the dog here, and it should hurt whoever sent that here enough so they can’t do it again for a long while.”

“It won’t kill them, will it?” Sandy asked.

“No!” Jared said, shocked and indignant. “I wouldn’t touch that kind of crap with a twenty-foot pole.”

“Sorry, I just wanted…” And the rest wasn’t audible because Sandy had swung around to cuddle up to Jared’s front, and they were grinning stupidly at each other.

Jensen felt his headache struggling to get through the Tylenol. “Hey, guys.”

“Aw, they’re lovely,” Joe said, with apparently sincere admiration. He blocked a mock punch from John, but didn’t stop chuckling.

“All right, all right, let’s get this thing—” John grimaced at the jar “—buried, and then we can all get to what we really want to do.”

* * *

There was some debate about whether the UCLA campus might be better, but in the end, everyone settled on the hotel gardens as the best place for the jar. Essien and Shaun got sent off to keep anyone else from wandering into the area, while Jensen got posted on the side to watch out for the dog or any other weird events, thanks to his stupid ghost-sight.

Somebody walked up behind him and he jumped, then turned to see Sandy. After she and Jared had made up, she’d been amazingly useful in translating Jared’s geek mumblings into understandable information, like why they had to dig a hole this deep and orient it to these directions. She really seemed like a pretty nice person most of the time.

“Hey, did I scare you?” she said.

“Nope. You just startled me.” Okay, that wasn’t quite true. Jensen had spotted a ghostly figure collapsing when they’d passed the lobby, and they’d gone through a couple spots that had made his skin briefly prickle, but it hadn’t been anything worse than the pranks Jared had put him through.

She arched an eyebrow at him. “Are you sure? You look tense.”

“I’m not tense,” Jensen snapped. He let that sit in the air a moment, then decided he was faking too badly to bother keeping it up. “Okay, fine, I’m tense.”

“Why? Are you worried about—”

“Because I’m trying to have sex with Michael and everyone keeps interrupting!” Jensen’s mouth hissed. He really, really needed to do something about that body part’s delusions of independence.

Sandy tried to look sympathetic, but barely two seconds later she was muffling giggles behind her hand. “You don’t deal with blue balls well, do you?”

“I’m a guy.” Jensen glanced over his shoulder. The foliage was pretty thick so he couldn’t see the others, but he could still hear the shovel going.

“You two are so dating,” Sandy said.

Oh, for God’s sake. “We are not dating, damn it. And if you’re gonna act like Seventeen’s target demographic, then just…take Jared home and leave me alone.”

Yeah, that was lame. But Jensen had a little class, so he wasn’t about to go with his first impulse and tell her to go screw Jared somewhere where it wasn’t going to taunt Jensen with what he wasn’t getting.

“I’m sorry. About getting you involved like that,” Sandy quietly told him after a moment. She watched her feet. “I just…I don’t get to see him much anyway, and you’re going to start filming in a couple weeks. It’s stupid, I know, but I know he doesn’t tell me about everything you guys do. And he can’t, because that’s not humanly possible anyway, and I understand that.” She smiled wryly. “Most of the time.”

Well, if there was ever a time to admit he’d had a massive crush on Jared…what, was Jensen an idiot now? It was tempting, but he knew what temptation really meant most of the time. “You know, just because I’m really, really annoyed at you for keeping me from getting laid by a guy doesn’t turn me into the gay best friend.” He said it lightly, but with some of his frustration coming through. “But in spite of that, I still can tell you that Jared doesn’t mess around. He’s really into you.”

At first Sandy looked irritated, but then she softened and she finally ended up smiling at him like he was Oprah or something. She leaned over before Jensen could react and pecked him on the cheek. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Just don’t…well, fuck, it’s probably too late anyway for that to matter,” Jensen muttered, checking his watch. He started to get up, then felt something twist funny in his gut.

Sandy looked over his shoulder, then gasped and grabbed at him. They went off the path just as something black whooshed past at an unbelievably high speed. “Jared!” Sandy shouted.

Jensen yanked himself from her, then grabbed her arm and gave it a sharp pull as he started running down the path. That was all she needed to follow along, so he could concentrate on hopping a flower border and shoving through some bushes.

They burst through just as the black thing came to heel in front of a big tree trunk. It was a black hound, big enough to take on a car, but something was grotesquely wrong about its proportions. Sometimes its back would shrink to normal while its front would tower over the shocked soccer players, and then that would switch in the blink of an eye.

After the first stunned second, Jensen realized it wasn’t moving and grabbed for Sandy’s shoulders, holding her back. He watched the dog whine and dribble drool that faded away before it ever hit the ground, always snuffling towards John Terry. The guy was remarkably calm, considering that, and just kept his distance along with the others. Jared seemed to be telling them to stay on that side till…

The dog finally took a step forward, then suddenly stiffened. Then it…sort of wisped down into the ground, while a thin, distant howl rang out in the background. Hopefully any passersby took it for a really, really lost coyote.

The prickle on the back of Jensen’s neck went away. He let go of Sandy, then slowly turned in place. “Jared? I think it’s clear.”

Jared warily walked out a few feet. When nothing happened, he went all the way up to the base of that tree and poked around at the dirt, which looked freshly dug out, with his foot. Still nothing. “Okay, cool. We got it. Just gotta straighten things up now, make it look like it was.”

He jumped as Joe and Shaun whooped and high-fived each other behind him. Then he grinned and held out his arms for Sandy, who’d come running over as soon as she could. Yeah, they were cute.

Jensen stretched his arms and rolled his shoulders a couple times to work out the beginnings of a cramp. Then he turned to go, only to hear somebody coming up.

Michael was smiling with relief and with a little regret. He started to raise his wrist, check the time, but Jensen shook his head. “Yeah, I probably need to go. You’ve got early training tomorrow, you said.”

“Unlucky day, I suppose.” For a second, Michael just stood there, looking incredibly wistful. Then he sighed and shrugged. “What can you do?”

“I guess you won’t have any more free time for a while…” Jensen started. He sounded pathetically hopeful, and yeah, it was really disappointing when Michael nodded. But…that was how it was, and they just had to swallow it down.

He put out his hand, and Michael shook it, then stepped back. “Thanks for dinner. And for…that, back there.”

“Hey, no problem. If nothing else, at least I can do the Ghostbusters thing. Let me know how everyone’s doing tomorrow.” Better than ‘call me,’ anyway. Jensen did his best to smile without looking like it was strained. He walked backwards a bit, then turned. He half-turned back and flipped a wave at Michael, who returned it, and then he kept on going down to the car. Hopefully he didn’t have to drag Jared and Sandy along this time.


* * *

This time when somebody tried to beat down Jensen’s door, he was ready for them. He was shaven, dressed, and had a plate of eggs in his hand when he yanked open the door. “Sandy, you know, if Jared hauls you out of bed at an obscenely early time, you can tell him to fuck off. It won’t kill him. Believe me, I know.”

“No, I woke him up this time. C’mon! You’re gonna be late!” she burbled, bouncing inside. Somehow she managed to rob him of his eggs, shove him out the door and all the way out of his building into a car. “Look, we felt really, really bad about messing up your night, so—”

“Oh, hell n—aaargh! Lane markers! Lane markers! Get back in our lane!” Jensen grabbed onto the door handle and hung on for dear life as they went rocketing through the jammed streets. Jesus Christ. There was no way anybody was ever, ever complaining about his driving again because it had fucking nothing on her kamikaze weavings and turnings. “Oh, my God! What are you doing? Where are we going? Where’s Jared?”

Sandy flashed a smile at him. “He’ll meet us at the hotel. He’s scoping out the back entrance.”

“What?” The next time the momentum threw him away from the door, Jensen fumbled in his pocket for his cell phone. He didn’t have it on him. Shit.

“Michael’s got a free morning. We checked, so don’t bitch.” She hit the freeway.

God in fucking heaven. Jensen closed his eyes and tried not to listen too hard to the shouted obscenities trailing after them. “Hey, I’m not free. I’ve got promo shit for the DVD.”

“No, you don’t. Jared’s handling it. Geez, Jensen, it’s like you want me to turn around—”

On the freeway? And when Jensen couldn’t tell whether she meant take an off-ramp or do a u-turn right here and now? “No no no no no!”

“Oh, good. You know, you two—”

“We’re not dating!” Jensen shouted. He didn’t scream. His voice didn’t do that shrill thing, so no points off his manhood score. “Are you trying to get us killed?”

Sandy sniffed and gunned the engine again, changing lanes. Then she zoomed back a second later. “I’m just trying to get there faster so you have more time, and so Jared doesn’t have to risk so much helping you out.”

“Since when have you been so supportive of that? He’s got enough bad habits without adding this to them! And you’re encouraging him now?” Jensen slammed his heels into the corners beneath the glovebox and did his best not to get slammed through the windshield the next time Sandy braked. He scrambled for the seatbelt as soon as he could and twisted his arm through it, since he sure as hell wasn’t getting the time to put it on. “I don’t approve of this!”

“That’s just because we haven’t gotten there yet. Anyway, Jared and I talked about it for a long time, and we worked out that it’s a healthy outlet for him. He’s got a natural deep connection to the collective unconsciousness, so once in a while his ego has to let his id to…Jensen? Sorry, did I start getting all Psych major on you?”

At first Jensen heard ‘psycho major,’ and he nearly replied with a fervent ‘yes’ before he realized what she’d actually said. He made some kind of noise because she did another crazy lane-switch right then, which she apparently took as a demurral, because then she went on and on about the nice talk she and Jared had had. Which was great for them, since they’d be happy lovebirds again, and great on one level for Jensen since that meant he wouldn’t have to spend another day stuck in the middle of their bickering, but…God. He just didn’t need to know in this much detail.

Jensen knew they were at the Beverly Hills Hotel because Sandy suddenly slowed down and he didn’t quite manage to keep himself from cracking his head on the window. It really, really fucking hurt, and the world spun for a second, and when it stopped spinning, he was getting shoved again. “Jesus goddamn Christ!”

He lost his balance and did the windmilling thing, which never actually kept a fall from happening, and then somebody grabbed his wrists. They pushed him back while a door slammed in the background.

“Thanks—” finally on two feet, Jensen looked up and…into Michael’s surprised face “—oh. God, I’m gonna kill them. I’m really, really going to kill them. And I’m sorry. I’m not interrupting, am I?”

Michael slowly blinked. His hands loosened on Jensen’s wrists and dropped a little, but didn’t completely let go. “I was on the speakerphone with Bastian and Lukas. They had their first game of the season a few days ago.”

*Heeeeey, Jensen! We’ll get off now so you and Micha can--* That was Bastian, sounding like he’d been in the middle of a good snicker when somebody tackled him. There was a bunch of wrestling noises, with Lukas shouting something in the background that made Michael suddenly flush and lunge for the bedside phone. *Make fun of Micha’s hair for us! And don’t wear him out too much, because he’s got his first game with Chelsea and—*

Right about there, Michael found the right button and jabbed it so the call was cut off. Then he sat down on the bed and made a helpless gesture with his hands. “They just called me up to wish me luck, since we’re leaving for Chicago in the morning. I was packing…” he waved at a half-full suitcase on the table “…but nothing important. I thought you had something today.”

“Sandy said that Jared was taking care of it for me. I don’t really want to ask how; I just hope he isn’t doing anything too stupid,” Jensen sighed. He reached behind himself and tried the door-knob. It turned all the way, but…he looked closer and spotted a bit of brownish powder trailing into the room from under the door. He squatted down so he could sniff it: yeah, dried herbs. He really needed to talk to Jared about not using the magicky stuff at the drop of a goddamned hat. “It was just a promo session for our show’s DVD. Important, but boring.”

“What are you looking at?” Michael asked.

Jensen got back up and went over to the bedside table for a tissue to clean off his hands. He’d have to remember to sponge that shit up when he left so they didn’t accidentally start a ghost story. “Jared put down an herb-line so nobody’ll disturb us, I think. Man, he overdoes it sometimes. He practically had Sandy kidnap me this morning.”

“I need to remember to wipe that up later. Everyone’s pretty much back to normal, but they were a little spooked by the dog—Terry’s mad as hell at whoever did that, and the others…well, footballers tend to be superstitious,” Michael said.

“No, I’ll get it. Don’t worry about it,” Jensen replied. He looked around for the trashcan, then spotted it on the other side of the bed. So he crawled onto the mattress beside Michael and pitched the tissue: bull’s eye.

He waited a couple seconds, then shifted to sit on the edge. “Well, since I’m here—”

Michael already had his hands up and was cupping them around Jensen’s face, pulling him forward. The moment their lips touched, one of his hands slid up to knot in Jensen’s hair, while the other one dove down Jensen’s back and yeah, he always was grabbing Jensen’s ass. But it felt good, and it helped shove Jensen right into him so he could fist his hands in Michael’s shirt as they went over. They were at the tonguing stage by the next second, and then Jensen lost track because God, kissing Michael was like trying to wrap his mouth around pure fire, flickering and hot and everywhere at once.

And for some reason, Jensen just couldn’t get completely into it. He grabbed at Michael’s waist, hauling him further onto the bed, then skated his hands up beneath the other man’s shirt so Michael groaned into his mouth, and he should’ve been fucking melting at that. But instead he was…fuck, no. He couldn’t be distracted now. No way. No fucking way, not after they were finally…and definitely not over that.

After a moment, Michael propped himself up and stared curiously down at Jensen. “What?”

“Why’d you stop?” Jensen quickly said. He pushed up Michael’s shirt and flicked at Michael’s right nipple, which earned him a glazed look and a stifled moan.

But then Michael bit down on his lip and refused to move. “What?”

“It’s—nothing, damn it, we’ve gotten interrupted so many damn times that…” Arching prettily, however, didn’t make Michael move the least bit, so Jensen let his head fall back and called himself an idiot a lot. “Look, it’s stupid and I don’t really mean it, so don’t take it seriously. Are we dating? Okay, I said it, now ignore that and…”

Michael shifted. His weight came down on Jensen, which was reassuring, but he still wasn’t moving. In fact, he appeared to be thinking, which was great in any situation except this.

“I like you,” he finally said. Straightforward enough and without hesitation, even if he was a little pink in the face. But that might just have been the nice groping they’d been doing a second ago. “But it’s about eleven hours to fly from London to Los Angeles, and then on top of that, we’ve both got busy careers.” A rueful smile pulled at half of his mouth. “Sorry if this is too serious and it’s another interruption, but I see a lot of players torn up by getting tied down by problems off the pitch. And I bet there’s a lot of actors with the same problem.”

“Yeah…” Jensen wriggled a little. He was just trying to get his knee out from under Michael so that wasn’t digging the other man in the belly, but Michael started to get off completely. So Jensen pulled him back, then twisted to put his knees on either side of Michael. “I know, and there are. It’s just…I don’t really want to say this is it just because it might turn into a problem later. But I can’t promise you it wouldn’t get messy. I’d try really hard not to make it one, though.”

“So…this isn’t it. I like new challenges,” Michael replied.

After a second—which was appropriate, because this wasn’t really jumping in like a daredevil anymore—Jensen grinned. “Okay. So now that we’ve got that all cleared up, can you fuck me already?”

Michael’s answer to that was to dive for Jensen’s throat; Jensen hissed and jerked himself up just in time to get Michael’s mouth hungrily working just beneath his shirt-collar. It was like having a hot coal touch him again and again, making him hiss and clutch at Michael’s shoulders. “Jesus! Not the neck! I’ve got photo-shoots and last time you mauled me so Jared was laughing all the—ooooh, God, that’s good.”

Mumble mumble deliciously ticklish mumble over Jensen’s collarbone, while Michael’s hands efficiently stripped off Jensen’s jeans.

“Yeah, right there’s fine…” Jensen didn’t drawl; the words just sort of strung themselves out along his long exhale like that. He shoved his hands into Michael’s pockets and discovered that they were pretty damn deep, and the pocket-fabric was thin so the heat of Michael’s prick came right through when he grabbed it. It thickened and stiffened in his hand as Michael cursed, twisted and flailed up so his thigh ground right over Jensen’s cock.

But he kept crawling, going right over Jensen to the other side of the bed, where he frantically dug at something. So Jensen rolled over and elbowed his way after Michael, and once he got back behind the other man, he grabbed at Michael’s waistband and pulled it down so he could bite just where the waist flowed into hips. Michael jerked, but Jensen managed to get the curse-phrase out before Michael did. “You say that all the time. You bitch out the German team like that?”

“No, just you,” Michael said, voice guttural and growling. He finally got himself back up, holding something, but Jensen pushed him over before they came into view and licked a long, twisting streak up the center of Michael’s chest. Michael let his head and arms fall back, groaning.

Condoms and lube, that was what he’d been getting. Oh, good, because Sandy hadn’t exactly given Jensen time to grab anything. He took the lube now and fumbled off the cap to squirt himself a good dollop, awkward because he was trying to pin Michael down with just his mouth over Michael’s and his thigh sliding up between Michael’s legs, rubbing that long cock longer and harder.

It worked just as long as Michael wanted it to work, but eventually he got tired of it and pushed Jensen over, hand dropping down to work over Jensen’s cock, taking slow frustrating pulls at it. Jensen had two fingers in himself at that point, so he found himself in the odd, amazing, exasperatingly good position of helping to fuck himself stupid. He wanted to grab Michael’s hips and just slam himself on right then, but it’d been a few weeks and he definitely needed to be able to walk out of here. Sadly.

There was a ripping sound and Michael’s hand left Jensen’s dick, so presumably Michael was dealing with the condom. Then his fingers were spreading over the front of Jensen’s hips again, only Jensen was thinking shove, and Michael rolled nicely. Maybe he looked a little annoyed about it, but that went away as soon as Jensen straddled him and then fucked himself on Michael’s prick. Michael’s eyes snapped wide and his hands flew to Jensen’s thighs, clenched down and Jensen hissed because that made him shift and okay, okay, three weeks was a while, but the hurt was already burning away to white-hot pleasure.

“You know,” Jensen gasped, idly playing with Michael’s nipples, “I was in London a couple days ago. Prom—promo stuff. It’s a very nice city.”

Michael suddenly narrowed his eyes, which was about all the warning Jensen got before the other man flipped them again. One second to get braced, and then Michael had drawn back only to plow deep and hard and fast into Jensen, just about shutting down all higher functions in Jensen’s brain. Anything that didn’t appreciate the pressure of Michael’s hands, the rough scrape of his legs just went…elsewhere.

“L. A.’s not bad either. It’s nice, being able to go almost anywhere like you’re a normal person,” Michael murmured, tongue flicking around Jensen’s ear. He arched, then drove into Jensen again, and while Jensen was spasming and whining, he gently pulled at Jensen’s earlobe with his teeth. “Still have to visit Jürgen’s home. Promised him, and I…keep my promises.”

“Get a good driver. L. A. driving’s tricky.” Jensen bent up and ran his tongue along the underside of Michael’s jaw, collecting hot stinging sweat drops.

Snorting, Michael drew back and tucked his head down and just fucked the hell out of Jensen. No let-up, no time to even breathe in between assaults, nothing but a hard mouth pressing the blood up into the point of Jensen’s shoulder and a harder crescendo of thrusts, till it felt like Michael was trying to ram his way through Jensen and all the way out the other side. And Jensen was, somewhere way beneath the eye-rolling, boneless, near-screaming euphoria, perfectly happy to let that happen. He dug in with nails and knees and let Michael take him way, way out there into a complete, blissful white-out.

He had no idea how long it was before he could talk again, but it was a good while. “I’m…a great driver,” he finally said. His stab at an indignant tone didn’t even fool him.

“Okay,” Michael indulgently replied, petting Jensen’s cheek. ‘If you say so’ was very clearly on the tip of his tongue.

Jensen shoved at the other man till he got out and off, then rolled on top of him. He fuzzed Michael’s buzz-cut with his hand. “We do not drive on the wrong side of the road. It’s just all of you who’re wrong about it.”

Michael rolled his eyes and put his hand on the back of Jensen’s head, pulling him down. Obviously Michael was just trying to shut him up, but…Michael was good at that. Really good. So good that when he pulled back, Jensen tried to follow and forgot to feel embarrassed about that.

“Need to go to lunch at eleven-thirty,” Michael mumbled, nuzzling Jensen’s throat.

“Two hours,” Jensen calculated, and was pretty proud of himself for already being able to manage simple math again. “I can work with that. Hell, maybe we can actually get all the clothes off this time.”

Michael rolled his eyes again, but Jensen got in with the kiss first because he didn’t want to hear it. Waste of time.

* * *

“We’re gonna get banged up good this season,” Jared proclaimed, flopping back in his seat. The papers in his lap went sliding all over, with a few even falling to the floor. “Man. Did you get to the—”

“Dude, yeah.” Jensen swigged his beer and stared at the TV screen, willing the cameras to head backwards. And for the stupid-ass ESPN commentator to shut the fuck up; if Fox Soccer’s people were even a little better, he was switching subscriptions in a heartbeat. He didn’t really like ESPN’s baseball game coverage either, anyway.

“And the—”

Dude, I know.”

Jared snorted. “Yeah, really? Or are you just saying ‘dude’ because you’re busy watching for Michael to pop up?”

“No, I really think it’s gonna be a hell of a scene. Probably break our necks, but if we don’t, it’s a great showcase for Sam’s issues and it’s got all that obscure Catholic mysticism shit the diehards like so much,” Jensen said. He leaned forward for another piece of pizza, then waved it at the screen. “Hey, All-Stars are doing pretty well.”

Weird vibes from Jared’s direction, like he was surprised and maybe a tiny bit nervous about Jensen now.

“I told you I was paying attention. What, like girls are the only ones who can multitask?” Jensen bit off a big hunk of pizza, then shot Jared a grin. He didn’t miss anything, thanks to ESPN’s stupid-ass cutting so interviews that should’ve been post-game played right over the action.

Jared looked heavenward in an exaggerated mime for patience. Then he got that look in his eye and opened his mouth.

“For the last time, we’re not fucking dating,” Jensen snarled.

“Man, I just wanted to know if you wanted to catch something to eat with me and Sandy after the game’s over.” Then Jared paused. “Though now that you bring it up, Sandy’s told me some really interesting stuff about violent denial—”

Jensen sighed. “Jared, game.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Jared said, defensively raising his hands. He was so smirking at Jensen behind that. “Hey…you and Michael weren’t actually going to screw in my car? You know, back when—”

“Jesus, Jared.”

“—because that’s so not cool. I’m supportive, okay, but not that—oh, my God!”

“Holy shit! Did you see that?”

Saved by the game. Whew.