There was a fire fighter on the evening news.
"Turn it up!" Chris hollered, and leaned over the bar to get a better look at the television, where some diabolical moron in a red suit and a mask was attacking the police with long, whip-thin blades of molten fire.
Jensen rolled his eyes and scrubbed harder at the glass in his hands.
The flicker and blaze of fire leaped across the screen behind the unflappable on-site reporter and Chris made an interested sound. "This live?"
"Yeah," one of the bar's regulars called back.
"Any superheroes on the scene?"
"Awesome." Chris turned to Jensen with a grin. "Ten bucks it's Cipher."
Jensen made a face. "I still can't believe you play this game." He flicked a hand at the carnage on the television. "There could be people in danger, douchebag."
"Hey," Chris said. "I'm just concerned about seeing which Super is most concerned about doing their civic duty." His grin sharpened. "Taking your money's just an added bonus."
"You're insufferable," Jensen said. "And overconfident."
"It's not overconfidence if I'm right."
You're not, Jensen wanted to say. Not this time. You can't be.
He settled for rolling his eyes again. "You do realize that belonging to a superhero fanclub at your age makes you a sorry bastard, right?"
"You're just stalling because you're a pussy." Chris leaned on the bar and stared expectantly at Jensen.
Jensen did his level best to ignore him. Chris clearly took that as a challenge and kept right on staring as one minute dragged into the next.
"Jesus fuck," Jensen said finally. "If I give you the money will you go away?" Chris' expression didn't change and Jensen sighed. "Alright fine. The Seeker. Now go the fuck away."
Chris laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Whatever you say, Jenny Boy."
Someone hailed Jensen from the other end of the bar - Jensen spared an ungrateful thought that they couldn't have done so any earlier - and he made his way towards them, ignoring the smug smirk that Chris was aiming at his back. He lingered at that end of the bar even after the guy had been dealt with, preferring to stay far away from the frantic noise from the television and the rapt attention with which the rest of the room was watching it.
Chris reappeared at his elbow. "You are such a gloomy fuck," he said.
"And you're not making me feel any better."
"I don't see what your problem with Supers is," Chris continued, as though Jensen hadn't spoken at all. "I'd almost think you were trying to hide a secret identity of your own, if you weren't such a fucking downer."
Jensen snorted at that. "If I was a superhero I'd off myself," he said, which was only a hand's breadth away from being true, most days.
Chris shook his head. "You've got to be the only person on the planet who could sound even remotely convincing saying that. Everyone wants to be a Super sometimes."
"Well I don't." Jensen sighed. "Seriously, Chris, could you just lea-"
A sudden swell of ragged cheering rang through the bar. As one, Jensen and Chris glanced up at the TV to see a whole host of power cables snaking to life and surrounding Mr. Red Suit in a writhing, snapping circle of electricity. There wasn't a single superhero in sight.
Jensen saw red.
Chris crowed triumphantly. "You lose again, Ackles." He held out his hand, palm up.
"Lucky guess," Jensen muttered, hoping the sheer fury rising slowly through his veins sounded like frustration when it hit his voice. He dug roughly into the tip jar for a ten and felt a little better when it made Chris frown.
"Cheap bastard. Can't pay me with my own money."
"Your money? Who's been manning the bar while you've been drooling over the crazy people in spandex?"
Chris flipped him off. "Doesn't mean you get what's in the tip jar."
Jensen threw a dish rag at him and turned towards the gate. "You want the tips, you earn 'em. I'm going on break."
"No wanking in the bathroom!" Chris called after him, because he was a dickhead like that.
Jensen ignored him and made his way out to the dingy little back room that Chris persisted in calling an office. Very deliberately, he shut the door, locked it and pulled out his cell phone.
The phone rang out for long enough that Jensen was starting to think he wasn't going to get an answer when the line clicked and a familiar voice came on the line.
"I thought you were on vacation," Jensen gritted, the words short and clipped.
On the other end of the line, Jensen's mama sighed. "You're watching the news," she said, not a question.
"They're playing it on the TV at work, Mama."
"Jensen," his mama said, as calm and patient as ever. "You know your father can't just stop helping people just because he's on vacation. It's too suspicious."
Jensen made a disgusted sound. "So he's going to end up spending the next month in bed because he's worn himself ragged trying to pretend he's here instead of halfway across the country? Great."
"Don't you take that tone with me, Jensen Ross Ackles," his mama said sharply and Jensen bit back the instinctive urge to apologize. "Your father does what he needs to do to protect us."
"You always say that." Jensen couldn't help the plaintive tone to his voice when he added, "Mama, you promised."
Her breath was a soft puff over the line. "I know it upsets you, honey, but your father does his best. You understand that, don't you?"
She was bordering on upset now and Jensen sighed. "Yes, Mama."
"I'll make sure your father doesn't overdo it," she offered, a consolation prize that did little to improve Jensen's mood. He'd learned long ago that he and his parents had vastly different opinions on what constituted 'overdoing it'.
"You go back to work now," his mama continued. "And make sure you give us a call sometime soon, okay? We don't see you nearly enough these days."
"Yes, Mama," Jensen said again.
"I love you, sweetie. Take care."
Jensen disconnected the call and tucked his phone away with a numb sort of dissatisfaction. Some things never changed.
He spent the rest of his break drawing penises all over Chris' ledger, then headed back out to the bar where everyone was watching a spandex-wearing super villain get his ass handed to them by a mechanical army directed by the superhero known as Cipher. Known to a very select few as Alan Ackles, an IT technician from Dallas.
Jensen hadn't always hated Supers.
He'd grown up just like every other kid: pressing his nose to the TV screen while he watched Timer bring the world around her to a standstill, tying one of his mama's good bed sheets around his neck whenever they played 'Wanderer versus the evil forces of the Enigma' and getting in trouble for stapling newspaper clippings to his bedroom wall after the Yellow Blaze rescued the crew of a sabotaged space shuttle.
The day his parents sat him down and told him that his dad - a reserved man who suffered from not-infrequent seizures and worked a dead-end job in the city - was actually Cipher - the cybernetic superhero who could jack into any piece of technology and bend it to his will - was the very best day of his life.
His dad was a superhero. His dad saved lives. His dad was the coolest dad in the whole wide world.
He hadn't even minded keeping the secret, to begin with. And when Jensen's older brother turned thirteen and found out that he could fly, Jensen kept his secret too. And his own, ultimately.
As he'd grown older however, the whole thing had started to lose its shine. Something that had been wondrous and exciting when he was a kid started being something to resent, every time his face flamed with embarrassment when someone looked at his dad and saw nothing more than a guy with a health problem, every time his mother had to work double shifts at the restaurant to make up for the fact that his dad's brain was too fried from commanding robot lackeys to let him go to work, every time their family took a backseat to someone else who needed his dad more than they did.
Josh, too, became less big brother and more 'superhero on TV'. He dropped out of school when he turned 17 and ran off to get a head start on his crime fighting career. Since then, Josh had lost job after job because he couldn't balance a 9-to-5 with an alter-ego in tights and, half the time, Jensen was lucky if he even knew what state his brother was in.
For Jensen, the worst part was that neither his dad nor Josh seemed to care about the mess they were making of their lives. In some ways, he figured it made sense: how was anybody supposed to live a Normal life when they could fly or stop time or talk to machines or whatever the fuck else?
They couldn't, Jensen had realized. And that, more than anything, was why he was glad that his own dubious talents didn't exactly run in the hero direction. Or the villain direction. Or in any useful direction at all, for that matter.
"Just got an order in for a wedding next March," Katie said as Jensen came out of the cooler with a double armload of flowers. The centerpiece she was mocking up for the American Heart Association's annual benefit dinner lay in half-finished disarray on the counter where she'd left it to go answer the phone. "The bride wants blue orchids."
"Of course she does." Jensen set the flowers down on his own worktop and pulled up his stool. "Guest list?"
Katie checked the order slip. "One hundred."
Jensen snorted. "There's absolutely no way someone who wants blue orchids is going to have a hundred-guest wedding. God help her husband. Stick it in the book."
"Gosh, boss," Katie said, with a wide-eyed insincerity that Jensen didn't really think he deserved. "And here I was going to leave it on the sidewalk."
"Shut it." Jensen added a few daffodils to the arrangement he'd been working on, trusting a lifetime of floristry practice and the gentle enthusiasm he could feel emanating from the flowers to find a good space for them.
Katie leaned against the counter, chin propped in her hand as she watched him work. "I still can't believe how good you are at that," she said. "Is 'must make pretty flower arrangements' part of the gay handbook or something?"
"Merit badge," Jensen shot back easily. "Have to give up a dozen man points in trade, though."
"Only a dozen?"
Jensen shrugged. "I work with my hands, I play in the dirt and women find it hot that I'm in touch with my 'sensitive side'. It sort of evens out. Are you going to finish that arrangement any time soon?"
Katie sighed. "I don't know," she said, frustration rounding out her vowels. "It's missing something, but I don't know what."
Jensen flicked a glance at the centerpiece. "Try delphiniums. Blue ones. We should have some in the cooler."
"Delphiniums he says," Katie muttered, pushing herself away from the counter. "I'll have you know that I've been agonizing over that for hours."
"Zen and the art of flower arrangement, young grasshopper," Jensen called after her. "One day you'll be as awesome as me. Probably."
That earned him a finger, so Jensen considered it a job well done.
Even if it hadn't been quite the truth.
Jensen was kind of the Disney princess equivalent of a Super. Which was exactly as stupid as it sounded.
Living things liked him. Not people, a lot of the time, since he was kind of a surly bastard, but pretty much anything else that breathed, grew or evolved wanted him to love it. They didn't want to do his bidding or anything useful like that. They just, liked him.
When Jensen was around plants grew taller and flowers bloomed brighter. Animals fell all over themselves trying to prove that he was their favourite human being in the whole wide world. Even bugs refrained from biting him, though getting trailed by infatuated clouds of them when he went camping was beyond irritating. Jensen felt like he spent most of his life one musical number away from a full-on fairy tale utopia.
Josh and Mackenzie thought it was hilarious. Jensen mostly just wished he could have set a bear or two on them.
What was more aggravating, though, was the fact that Jensen couldn't help but like living things back. It was why he'd opened Meadowlarks instead of becoming a physical therapist and why his house looked like a cross between the Amazon rainforest and the centre spread in Fine Gardening. Animals were very nearly as good as plants, though he didn't keep pets since their exuberance could be a little… trying.
Thanks to his exasperating love-love relationship with Mother Nature, Jensen was happiest in the places that liked having him there. There was something to be said for being somewhere where absolutely everything was delighted to see you. Living in the city kind of limited his options for that, but he managed pretty well between his house, his store and the not inconsiderable collection of public parks and green spaces in the city. Whenever the weather permitted it, he traveled to and from work on his bicycle so that he could stop in the park for a while and bask in the quiet peace all around him.
Of course, there were always times when peace was pretty much the last thing that the park afforded him.
Jensen slowed automatically, but he'd barely realized that, yes, that warning was aimed at him when two massively big dogs appeared out of fucking nowhere and plowed straight into him.
Jensen's breath punched painfully out of his lungs as he hit the ground, legs still tangled with his bike and leaving him completely unable to defend himself from the pair of ridiculously large dogs that swarmed all over him the moment he was at their level. Doggy breath washed over him as they panted and licked and nosed at him and Jensen 'oofed' when one big paw landed square on his stomach.
"Harley!" a voice snapped, from somewhere above and vaguely to the left of Jensen. "Sadie!"
Some of the weight vanished as one dog got pulled off and Jensen used the sudden release of his right arm to grab the other dog's face, halting the barrage of sloppy kisses. He dug his fingers into the coarse fur at the dog's ruff, scratching at the spot just under the jaw that was the weak spot of animals the world over. The dog, of course, practically melted at the touch and Jensen rolled his eyes fondly. Dogs were so easy.
A big hand wrapped around the second dog's collar and hauled backwards, leaving Jensen winded, blinded by the overhead sun and lying flat on his back in the middle of a public park on a cheery spring afternoon.
He really wished this sort of thing was an unusual end to his work day.
"God, I'm so sorry!" the dogs' owner was saying. All Jensen could see of him from this angle was the way the muscles in his forearms bulged with the effort of keeping the dogs off Jensen. "They're not usually so...Harley, Sadie, heel! What the hell's gotten into you two? Are you okay?"
Groaning, Jensen heaved himself into a seated position and cast a sour glance at his capsized bike - back wheel still spinning slowly - and the scatter of his belongings all over the grass.
"Here, let me..." the guy said and a hand thrust itself in front of Jensen's face. Jensen took it almost absently, most of his attention on the dogs in case they decided to renew their assault. Thankfully, they seemed to have calmed down after their initial 'Jensen! We love you!' frenzy and were now sitting neatly at their master's feet, both of their leashes wrapped around the guy's other hand. Their tails wagged harder as Jensen looked at them, but they stayed where they were.
"Well trained dogs you got there," Jensen started to say, turning his eyes up to Mr. Dog Owner only to discover that he was apparently being helped to his feet by a Greek god. A tall, tanned, seriously ripped Greek god with hair that Jensen wanted to tangle his fingers in and tug and a face that Jensen could just imagine fallen slack with pleasure.
The words got lost somewhere between Jensen's brain and his mouth.
"You okay?" the guy asked again, with a wide, earnest expression that should not have looked so natural considering that the guy was the size of a small country.
"Yeah," Jensen said, after an awkwardly long pause. "I'm fine. Thanks for the rescue."
The guy looked sheepish. "Considering it's my dogs who ran you over, I'm not really sure you should be thanking me."
"Hey, you got them off me before they smothered me with affection. That counts as a rescue in my books. May I?" At a somewhat bemused nod from the guy, Jensen crouched down and gave each of the dogs a firm scrub behind the ears as a proper hello.
Even when they were half-killing him with their enthusiasm, he just couldn't dredge up a proper hate for animals.
"Nice dogs," he said, tilting his head up and Jesus, the guy looked even bigger from down here. Jensen couldn't help a quick flick of his eyes at the soft bulge of the guy's crotch and wondered how proportional he was.
"They're usually better behaved, honest," the guy said. He smiled fondly and dimples popped out on his cheeks. Jesus Christ. "But yeah, they're my babies."
Jensen gave the dogs a final pat and stood again. "Big dogs for a big guy, huh?" he said, with a teasing sort of grin.
"Absolutely," the guy said, though his grin went sheepish when he glanced past Jensen at the mess on the grass behind him. "Let me help with that."
The guy went to release the dogs and Jensen held up a hand when their ears perked up excitedly. "How about you hold the dogs and I'll pick up my stuff. I don't want to get knocked over twice in one day."
The guy nodded. "I can do that. I'm Jared by the way," he said. "You know, in case you want to tell anyone about the crazy guy with the massive dogs who attacked you in the park."
"Jensen," Jensen said as he bent down to collect his things. "Though I gotta say, 'crazy guy with massive dogs' is a way better name for story-telling."
Jared grinned broadly. "Of course, how silly of me."
Jensen made quick work of shoving everything back into his shoulder bag. Some of his notes were bent and he'd be damned if he could find his 2B pencil, but his sketch books hadn't been damaged by the damp grass and his cell phone still worked so he figured it could have been worse.
Once everything was back where it belonged, Jensen slung his bag over one shoulder and pulled his bike upright. The front wheel was tilted at a funny angle and Jensen suppressed a sigh.
Beside him, Jared winced. "I can pay for that."
Jensen waved that off. "No need. It's just the alignment; I can fix that myself. This isn't the first time I've been knocked over by enthusiastic pets, you know."
"Some animal magnetism going on there?" Jared asked and, oh, Jensen approved of the not-so subtle probing he could hear in that question.
"I'm a regular Doctor Dolittle," Jensen agreed. He threw Jared a wink. "Though it's my first time being set upon by miniature horses."
Jared threw his head back and laughed. It was a nice laugh: warm and honest. "Yeah, I'll bet that doesn't happen often. But you've got to let me make it up to you somehow or I'm going to feel bad."
Jared's head tilted in a welcome and familiar way and Jensen shifted just so, making it very clear that he wanted what Jared was selling. "Yeah?"
Jared's grin was suddenly a lot more confident. "Yeah. You think I could take you out for dinner sometime?"
Jensen smiled. "I think we could arrange that."
Jensen ended up with Jared's number and a dinner date for the following Saturday, which probably should not have made him as happy as it did. But it'd been a while since he'd last gone on a proper date and, despite the less than auspicious way they'd met, he had a good feeling about Jared.
And, if nothing else, at least he would be nice to look at even if the date was a bust.
A nagging sort of excitement jangled through his nerves throughout the week, though he took care to keep that to himself because a) he wasn't that big of a girl and b) he had no particular desire to get badgered about it by his nosey-ass friends.
Saturday found Jensen mucking about in his garden for most of the day; Katie took care of the shop on Saturdays and Jensen's garden was extensive enough that tending to it took a lot of time, even for him. Sweating in the sun and getting covered in dirt was also an excellent way to avoid thinking about Jared, which Jensen wholeheartedly approved of.
He arrived at the restaurant exactly on time and found Jared already there, wearing a blue button-down and a pair of jeans that fit in all the right places.
Jared's whole face brightened when he caught sight of Jensen. "Wow," he said, with flattering sincerity. "And here I thought I'd imagined how hot you are."
Jensen flashed his best smile in response and quietly considered the hour he'd spent deciding what to wear as time very well spent. "Funny. I thought you were taller," he teased. "Been waiting long?"
"Couple of minutes," Jared said with a shrug. Jensen got the impression that Jared would have said the same even if he'd been standing there since lunchtime. "Though all that waiting's made me hungry, so I hope you're ready to eat."
Jensen gave him an appraising look. "Somehow I feel like you're always hungry."
"It takes a lot of energy to be this awesome," Jared agreed solemnly.
"That too. You ready?"
Jensen smiled. "Lead the way."
The restaurant was busy but not crowded and it wasn't long before they were settled in a quiet booth near the window. The waiter arrived promptly and vanished with their drink orders and Jensen took the opportunity to scope the place out.
"Looks nice," he said. "I've never been here before."
"Me neither," Jared admitted. "A friend recommended it to me." His grin flashed. "Here's hoping she hasn't led me astray."
"Do your friends make a habit of sabotaging your dates?"
"More often than you'd think, actually," Jared said and his grin carved his dimples in deep.
Jensen propped his chin up on one hand. "Makes a boy wonder why you've decided to risk it. Unless you're trying to scare me off."
"Definitely not," Jared said, in a tone of voice that had Jensen fighting the entirely undignified urge to blush. "But I'm new in town and it seemed safer to trust her than flip randomly through the yellow pages."
A brief lull followed Jared's words and Jensen remembered why he hated first dates. They were just so damn awkward. But Jared was watching him with an easy little smile on his face so Jensen dredged up whatever social skills he had and leaned across the table with an answering smile.
"So, what brings you to the illustrious state of New York?"
And just like that, it was easy. Jensen told Jared about Meadowlarks and accepted the obligatory teasing about owning a flower shop with good grace. He learned that Jared was some kind of computer whiz who worked mostly from home and designed web interfaces for very big, very successful companies. Jared was also, Jensen discovered over the course of the meal, funny, charming and easy to talk to on top of being kind of ridiculously attractive. The fact that Jared was clearly into him only made things better and Jensen couldn't even pretend he wasn't halfway to smitten well before they got to dessert.
They argued good-naturedly over who would pay the check, which was a fight that Jared won on the caveat that Jensen got to pay next time. Jensen was pleased enough by the mention of a second date to consider it a win.
All in all, it was one of the best first dates Jensen had had in a long time. Judging by the warm regard in Jared's eyes, he figured the feeling was mutual.
"So," Jared said as they pulled on their jackets. "Any chance you feel like slumming with me for a little longer?"
"I could be convinced," Jensen said, well aware that he didn’t sound the least bit reluctant about it. "What did you have in mind?"
Jared reached for the door. "I'm glad you as-…ked…"
The door opened on a veritable torrent of rain; water pounded down on the earth and slanted in wide, pooling waves in the street. The awning above the door was protecting them from the worst of it, though Jensen could already feel cold seeping into his right sleeve where rain was soaking through the fabric.
"Well," Jared said, after a moment. "I guess a walk through the park is off the menu."
Jensen laughed at Jared's perfectly deadpan delivery. "Oh, I dunno. I'm kind of a fan of the waterlogged look." He looked out at the rain and sighed. "Though I'm not sure I want to go anywhere in that."
"We can go back to my place if you want? Just until the rain stops," Jared added hurriedly, when Jensen arched an eyebrow at him. "I live right round the corner. I swear I'm more of a gentleman than that."
"Good, because I am definitely not that cheap a date." Jensen glanced out at the rain, which seemed to have actually worsened in the handful of minutes they'd been blocking the door to the restaurant. Probably someone was going to get upset at them for that soon.
"I have an Xbox," Jared offered.
"Oh, well in that case. Sure," Jensen decided finally. "Why not?"
The grin Jared gave him was staggering. "Ready to run?"
So Jensen grinned back. "Bring it."
They dashed out into the rain and Jensen was soaked in moments, clothes plastering to his back and eyelashes heavy with water. They pelted down the street, shoes splashing and skidding through the puddles. Jared was a long-legged shadow at his side and Jensen could hear him giggling like a little kid as he led the way down the rain-soaked streets.
As promised, Jared's apartment building was only about a two minute dash away from the restaurant. Jensen dripped and shivered in the hallway as Jared dealt with the arduous task of fishing his keys out of his sopping wet jeans.
"Um, you might want to stand back a bit," Jared warned him.
"Wha-" Jensen started, but anything else he might have said got drowned out by the sudden explosion of excited barking on the other side of the door as Jared's key scraped in the lock. "Ah. Gotcha."
Jared grinned and cracked the door open far enough to squeeze through - though he may as well not have bothered considering how wide his frigging shoulders were - using his legs to block the path of two dogs that Jensen definitely remembered.
They obviously remembered Jensen as well, if the way they barked even louder when they saw him sneaking through the door behind Jared was anything to go by.
"Down!" Jared tried to tell them both, doing a completely shit job at sounding stern. The dogs ignored him completely and Jensen found himself in the middle of a swarm of barks and wagging tails, his whole side brushing up against Jared as they both fought to keep their feet amidst the onslaught.
Jared gave in first, grinning broadly as he crouched down and put himself at the mercy of his overexcited dogs. "Yes, I'm home! I missed you too, you big sucks."
The dogs preened under Jared's big hands - Jensen could understand the impulse - obviously well used to the adulation of their owner. It didn't stop them from butting insistently against Jensen's legs every other second, of course, so he joined Jared in making sure the dogs knew they were loved. It wasn't like it was much of a hardship, anyway. They were nice dogs.
The way it made Jared's grin widen certainly didn't hurt, either.
"You know," Jared said, once the dogs had calmed down and wandered off to do something more interesting. "Sadie and Harley are pretty good judges of character."
"I am very loveable," Jensen agreed easily. He straightened, brushing the worst of the dog hair off while he took a look around.
Jensen's first impression of Jared's apartment was that it kind of reminded him of the place he'd had right out of college: cramped, cheap and really fucking tiny.
A glance at Jared's face made it clear that he man was just waiting for him to ask, so Jensen obliged with a raised eyebrow and the driest tone he could muster up on short notice. "You live in this shoebox."
"Yes, I do."
"With your ridiculously large dogs."
"They're perfectly sized dogs. And it's temporary." Jared kicked off his shoes and they hit the mat with a soggy thump. "Best I could find on short notice. The building's got a big backyard, though, and it's not far from the park, so the dogs and me get a lot of exercise."
"I'll bet." Jensen toed off his own shoes, grimacing at the way his wet socks skidded on the floor. "Short notice, huh? What was the big rush?"
Jared shrugged. "Felt like a change." His grin flashed. "I've always been on the slightly idiotic side of spontaneous."
Jared's tone was easy but Jensen had lived with the need to keep secrets for more than long enough to know that he was lying. Or, not lying, exactly, but making a connection between two things that had little, if anything, to do with each other. But Jensen had also been an adult long enough to know that people lied for all sorts of reasons and that most of them were none of his business. Also, a first date was not exactly the most appropriate time for being a nosy ass.
So he made an amused, understanding sort of noise and adopted an expectant expression. "Well then. You gonna give me the grand tour of your tiny temporary apartment?"
"Where are my manners?" Jared turned away from Jensen and his arm swung out to point as he rhymed off, "Front hall, closet, kitchen, most of a living room which is basically just a couch and a TV, balcony, bathroom, bedroom, other bedroom which might once have been a closet and is currently pretending to be an office."
"I am starting to feel overwhelmed by this opulence."
Jared winked at him. "Mi casa es su casa."
"I'm thrilling as we speak. You want I should drip on your floor some more or are you going to invite me in?"
"Eh, it could probably use a wash anyway," Jared said, stepping back to let Jensen move away from the front door. "I'll go get you a towel. You can go drip in the kitchen in the meantime if you like."
"Works for me." Jensen squelched his way to the square of linoleum masquerading as a kitchen and set about wringing out his jacket over the sink. It was not an especially successful endeavour.
Jared appeared in the hallway bearing a fluffy-looking towel that Jensen took gratefully. "Here. I can lend you some dry clothes if you like." Jared held up his hands in mock surrender. "And I promise almost no pervy thoughts about you in my clothes."
"This date gets classier by the minute. That'd be good, thanks."
"One sec." Jared vanished into the bedroom. Jensen set about scrubbing the worst of the water out of his hair while he waited, hoping he didn't end up looking too much like a hedgehog as a result.
"These ought to fit," Jared said, returning with a pair of cotton sweatpants and a plain shirt. He handed them over, his fingertips leaving wet prints on the fabric. "Bathroom's over there. You can hang up your wet stuff over the bath so it can dry some while you're here."
"Thanks." Armed with towel and clothes, Jensen did his best not to get in Jared's way as they both tried to navigate in the narrow confines of the kitchen. Jensen took a quick, curious peek into Jared's office as he edged past, and had to rein in an appreciative whistle for the seriously high-tech workstation Jared had set up in there. Jensen's dad would have approved.
Like the rest of the apartment, the bathroom was tiny but functional, and Jensen gratefully shucked his wet clothes in favour of the shirt and sweats Jared had given him. They were soft, warm and patently too big; the collar of the shirt sagged around his neck and the waistband of the sweats hung dangerously low on his hips. He wrung out his own clothes one last time, then slung them over the shower railing to drip to their hearts' content.
"I feel like I'm wearing my big brother's clothes," he said to Jared as he walked out of the bathroom, the hems of Jared's pants dragging over his feet.
Jared grinned at him. "Awesome. All we need now are some sleeping bags and a scary movie and this'll be the best slumber party ever." He'd changed as well and was now dressed casually in a pair of basketball shorts and a white t-shirt that was damp around the collar thanks to the faintly curled ends of his still-wet hair.
"Don't forget the popcorn and talking about boys," Jensen said. "You said something about a TV?"
"Right thisaway," Jared said, with an extravagant bow. "Watch your step on your way in though - it's a little tight."
He wasn't kidding about that. The couch was a massive piece of furniture, far too large for the space it was trying to occupy, and Jensen suspected that watching Jared's enthusiastically large flatscreen was going to be similar to sitting in the front row at the movie theatre. The fact that the dogs had already staked their own claim on the space only made it all the more crowded.
"Seriously, Jared," Jensen said, once they were both safely ensconced on the couch with the dogs sacked out at their feet. "How are you even living here?"
Jared shrugged. "Don't know how long I'm staying so it didn't seem worth it to go apartment hunting until I knew I wasn't moving again. It's not that bad, once you get used to it."
"You move around a lot?" Jensen said, doing his best to sound casual.
"Sort of," Jared said, in about the same tone. The grin he gave Jensen was somewhere between wicked and shy, which Jensen wouldn't have thought was even possible. Apparently Jared Padalecki was just special like that. "I've got a pretty feeling about this place, though."
"Oh," Jensen said, because he was an idiot. "That's good."
They fell silent for a moment and Jensen could hear the rain rattling the windows. Sandwiched between the arm of the couch and Jared's warm bulk, he couldn't help but feel awfully cozy.
"Sounds like that's going to be a while," Jared said finally. "You want to watch that scary movie and braid each other's hair or should I kick your ass at Call of Duty instead?"
"Oh you are on, fucker," Jensen said, and this date wasn't like any date he'd ever gone on before and it was fantastic. "I'm going to make you cry."
Jared grinned at him, cheeky and fond. "No you're not. But if you ask really nicely I'll let you come back next week for a rematch if you want to try and reclaim your lost glory. Maybe over pizza?"
"Gotta beat me first," Jensen said, which only made Jared grin wider. No matter how this game went, Jensen didn't think Jared was going to have to try too hard to convince him to go on another date.
Jensen was still totally going to win though.
One date turned into two turned into random texts turned into getting together to watch a basketball game and make fun of each other's teams until Jensen realized that, somewhere between taking the dogs to the park together and going for pizza at ass o'clock in the morning, he'd gone and got himself a boyfriend.
It had been a long time since Jensen'd had an actual boyfriend and he found himself enjoying the novelty nearly as much as he enjoyed the actual act of dating. It was nice to have someone around who'd be just as happy to lounge around on the couch watching bad TV with him as he was to shove him up against a wall and kiss him silly. The fact that Jensen himself was equally happy with both options also seemed like a pretty good sign that he was onto something with this whole dating thing. Or at least this dating Jared thing. Jared was definitely an important variable in this whole situation.
For about a month, Jensen managed to avoid having to tell anybody about his newly boyfriended status. Things with Jared were going well, really well if he was being honest, but that didn't mean he wanted to open himself up to either ridicule or well-intentioned pestering until he was a little more sure that Jared was going to be a long term thing.
Unfortunately, Katie was rather more observant than Jensen's other friends.
"So," she said, leaning across Jensen's worktop one morning with a smile that Jensen was absolutely not awake enough to handle. "You ever going to tell me his name?"
"Whose name?" Jensen asked, though it was pretty painfully obvious what she was talking about. He gave her a piteous smile. "Coffee?"
Katie gave him a look. "No changing the subject. I'm talking about your new boyfriend who you forgot to introduce me to."
Jensen yawned at her. "Coffee is always the subject. Especially before noon. And it's none of your business."
"I am more than willing to steal your phone and start calling every contact in it to find out," Katie threatened, completely ignoring Jensen's vital need to caffeinate himself. "And since I'm guessing you don't want everybody you've ever met finding out about him, you might want to save yourself the embarrassment and just tell me."
"Fine," Jensen sighed, much sooner than he probably would have if he'd been awake. "His name's Jared. Happy?"
"Oh, you can do so much better than that, sweetie. Where'd you meet him? Is he hot? What does he do? How's the sex?"
"God," Jensen groaned and dropped his head onto the table. "I absolutely do not want to talk with you about boys. And you ever call me sweetie again, I'm going to fire you."
Katie's grin sharpened, completely undaunted. "No, you won't. Spill, Ackles."
They had a brief staring contest during which Jensen absolutely failed at thinking of something he could give Katie to do that would keep her busy and out of his hair for the next six years or so.
"I'll buy you a coffee from that pretentious café round the corner you like," Katie offered. Her gentle tone made it sound like Jensen was the one being unreasonable about this whole thing.
Jensen sighed. "You're such a pest. Fine. Met him at the park. Yes, he's hot. Taller than me, tanned, longish hair, looks like an ad for a body building gym. Works in computers doing God knows what. And I am never telling you anything about my sex life. Ever."
"Spoilsport. Tall, dark and handsome, huh? What's he doing with your sorry ass?"
Jensen shrugged. "I'm really hot."
Katie pursed her lips thoughtfully. "True. I tentatively approve of your taste in men, though I'm going to have to know more than that to make a decision."
"That's a real shame," Jensen said. "Cause that's all you're getting." He yawned again. "You owe me a coffee."
That earned him an exaggerated salute. "One ridiculously expensive cup of coffee coming right up. But I'd better see his Facebook account on the computer when I get back," Katie warned as she headed towards the office to grab her purse.
"Fat chance," Jensen told her and ignored the smirk she threw at him on her way out of the room.
"I need new friends," Jensen said to no one in particular.
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