Of course, he wasn't actually a bad guy; he didn't steal things or litter or kick Nintendogs or whatever. He was the single-player mode semi-final boss character of the arcade game Dragon Fighter. Being a Bad Guy was part of the job description.
It was a pretty good gig, really. The hours at Litwak's Arcade were reasonable and Jared's workload wasn't too heavy. He liked what he did and the players who got as far as him were usually good enough that he didn't have to pull all his punches to give them a fighting chance. He was a playable character in two-player mode, which help blur the line between Good and Bad, and he got on well with the rest of his gamemates - even Misha, who didn't really talk to anybody.
The biggest problem with being a Bad Guy, really, was the stigma that came with it. There was this idea that all Bad Guys were bad guys, even when they weren't on the clock. And yeah, some Bad Guys tended were kind of grumpy, but it wasn't like they were the only ones - anyone who'd ever talked to Pac-Man before his first cherry of the day would hardly be able to claim that Good Guys were always paragons of good cheer.
Personally, Jared thought that any character who got treated the way Bad Guys did had the right to be at least a little grumpy about it.
Jared was lucky to live in an arcade where Bad Guys weren't actually treated too poorly. It wasn't a Bad Guy utopia by any stretch of the imagination - characters still tended to scurry out of Jared's way if he surprised them and the Surge Protector stopped him for random security checks far too often for them to actually be random - but there'd been a thing a couple of years ago with the Bad Guy from one of the retro platformers which had really done a lot for Bad Guy rights. Jared had to say that he approved.
And, honestly, Jared had always had an easier time of it than most. Making friends wasn't as hard for Bad Guys in ensemble games and Jared was a sociable, easy to get along with sort of character. Over the years, he'd developed a reputation for being friendly, a little dorky and not-at-all frightening, which was pretty impressive considering he ripped off people's arms and drank their blood at his day job.
Of course, all the good press in the world didn't help much when it came to new games. All characters arrived at the arcade with their anti-Bad Guy prejudices already in place - it was a programming thing, Jared figured - and it sometimes took a while to get them to warm to him.
Which meant that Jared's less than stellar first meeting with Jensen from Demon Slayer Pro was totally not Jared's fault.
Jared first heard of Demon Slayer Pro from Chris, Dragon Fighter's quarter final boss.
"We've got a new game in the arcade," Chris told Jared while they were warming up. The arcade was due to open in a few minutes, and they'd all learned the hard way that it made for a damn long day when they didn't stretch ahead of time. "Arrived last night."
"Yeah?" Jared ducked under the sweep of Chris' leg and retaliated with a quick fire punch. "What genre?"
"First Person Shooter." Chris' next jab caught Jared on the chin and Jared stumbled back, tasting blood on his tongue.
"Again?" Jared asked. "We've already got five FPS consoles. What's it called?"
"Demon Slayer Pro. Some kind of horror slash fest." Chris shrugged. "They're probably trying to go high def for House of the Dead fans."
"Sounds like," Jared agreed, both because it sounded plausible and because it was never worth disagreeing with a character whose finishing moves included ripping off a guy's leg and beating him to death with it. "When's it getting plugged into Game Central Station?"
"Today, apparently. Litwak's probably setting it up as we speak."
"Cool." Jared knocked Chris back with a double-handed strike to his chest. "I'll have to go say hi after work."
Chris snorted, not unkindly. "Of course you will. Sissiest Bad Guy ever, man."
Jared made a rude gesture at him. "Jackass."
"Two minutes!" Danneel called from where she was watching the arcade through the console screen. "Beth and Jared, you're up!"
"Got it! Later, man," Jared said to Chris, then jogged over to join Beth for the Insert Coin demo screen.
Another day, another few dozen fights to the death.
The day passed much like any other and Jared found his thoughts idly skipping to the new game when it wasn't his turn to fight. He couldn't quite see the Dragon Slayer Pro console from their screen, but he hoped that all of its characters were doing okay. A game's first month or so on the job tended to be a trial by fire; all the players in the arcade wanted a chance to try it out and the characters were lucky if they got a few minutes to breathe between one Game Over and the next Game Start.
Jared remembered his own hell month as a dizzying whirl of back-to-back-to-back fights and meeting all sorts of new characters who generally didn't like him. Not all characters would be having trouble with the latter, but Jared always liked to make sure that all new characters met at least one friendly face in the off hours.
"I'm going to go meet the new neighbours," Jared told Chris after the arcade had closed for the day. "You coming with?"
Chris waved a hand. "You go ahead, boy scout. I'm off to the beach zone for some R&R."
Jared shrugged. "Suit yourself, Mr. Antisocial."
"More than you will!" Chris yelled after him.
A couple of Jared's other gamemates were also headed to Game Central Station and Jared chatted easily with them as they boarded the rail cars at their end of the power cord. Electricity hummed through the air and the cars jolted into motion, plunging into the cord with a painful screech of wheels. Sparks crackled and burned around them and Jared leaned easily out of the way of a bolt that tried to light his hair on fire; he'd had plenty of years to get used to that particular hazard.
After a short trip, the rail cars trundled up to the platform at the other end of the line. Jared walked with his gamemates as far as the gate to Dragon Fighter before waving goodbye and heading off on his own. As he went, Jared let his stride shift into a casual sort of shuffle and teamed it up with slouched shoulders and his hands in pockets to make sure he looked as nonthreatening as possible. The adjustments were instinct as much as anything these days; a Bad Guy could only get so far on a nice smile and a good personality.
Game Central Station was the hub of all activity in the arcade. It provided the electricity that powered the consoles and provided a neutral space for characters from different games to spend time together. The power cords from all the games in the arcade were hooked up to individual gates that allowed characters to access the station and also gave characters the ability to wander into each other's games, regardless of genre, bit rate or decade. That wasn't always the best idea, though. First of all, it was rude to go into someone else's game without asking. Secondly, not all games were particularly outside character friendly.
Jared died on a very regular basis at Dragon Fighter. It was a fighting game, after all; there was something wrong with the world if he wasn't getting his heart ripped out or his face eaten every hour or so. Things weren't so easy off-game. Jared could recover from literally anything while in his own console, but if he ever managed to get himself killed in someone else's game it'd be a permanent Game Over for him. Most games weren't particularly dangerous after hours, thankfully, but the last thing any character wanted was to put their whole game Out of Order by dying unexpectedly and not being on-game when the arcade opened the next day.
Game Central Station was buzzing with activity as Jared made his ambling way towards the new game's gate. He got hailed by a handful of characters along the way and had to fend off several invitations to spend the evening in one game or another. Everyone was good-natured about his refusal; his habit of greeting newcomers was pretty well known by now.
A decent number of characters were already milling about in front of Demon Slayer Pro's gate by the time Jared got there; some of them were there to greet the new characters like Jared was and the rest were obviously from the game itself. There was a large crowd of characters off to one side that Jared immediately identified as Bad Guys. All humanoid, from the looks of it, though Jared wouldn't have been surprised if the boss characters were more obviously demonic-looking - First Person Shooters weren't especially subtle with their big Bads.
Jared angled himself towards the closest ones; he was happy to greet anyone who wanted to be greeted by him, but he knew that the new Bad Guys would be getting considerably less attention than their Good gamemates and he didn't want anyone feeling left out.
He'd only managed a half dozen steps in the right direction when a triple row of Tetris blocks careered deliberately into his path, tripping him before he'd even realized what was happening. Jared yelped, arms pinwheeling in vain, and the smack when he hit the floor rang out like a gunshot. Heads swiveled towards him and Jared was entirely unsurprised when laughter burst out all around him. He pushed himself upright, rubbing at his sore nose.
"Guys!" he protested, twisting round to throw an aggrieved look at the Tetris blocks. "Was that really necessary?"
Jared had yet to figure out if Tetris blocks could actually talk, but it was surprisingly easy to read their body language, considering they were composed entirely of eight-bit cubes. Right now, they were all looking amused and very, very smug.
Jared kicked out a leg, sending the remains of the wall scattering across the floor. "Jerks. See if I ever let you win at Pong again."
The Tetris blocks skittered off, laughing only as polygons could, and Jared let his head thunk back to the floor with a heavy sigh. So much for making a good first impression.
"So," a female voice said above him and Jared tilted his head back to see one of the new Bad Guys standing over him. "It's not just the Good Guys who get into it round here, huh?"
Jared blinked, momentarily nonplussed, then realized what that display must have looked like to all the newbies: typical bully the Bad Guy behaviour.
"Nah," he said, wanting to get that commiserating expression off her face. "They're just getting me back for making them look bad in front of the Bust-A-Move balls last week. Happens all the time." Jared rolled to his feet and took a quick moment to brush the dirt off his jeans before holding out one gloved hand. "Hi, I'm Jared, from Dragon Fighter. Welcome to Litwak's Arcade."
"Genevieve," she said in return. Her hand practically vanished in Jared's much larger one, but her grip was firm, confident. "From Demon Hunter Pro. Nice to meet you."
Up close, Jared could see that Genevieve's eyes were pitch black from corner to corner and shone slick like oil. It was a little shocking, as far as game specifics went, mostly because she looked entirely standard in every other way.
Then again, Jared had green hair. He wasn't exactly one to talk about strange design details.
Genevieve was slim, dark-haired, dressed in denim and leather, and really high def. Jared's game wasn't exactly a slouch in the looks department, but it always gave him that little twinge of self-consciousness to see how 'real' graphics had become in the years since Dragon Fighter had been released.
Jared firmly told his bruised vanity to put a lid on it, and offered Genevieve a smile. "So how was your first day?" he asked.
"Good," Genevieve said, sounding more like she'd hadn't quite made up her mind about it than like she was trying to convince herself it was true. Which was good. "Busy."
"Nothing quite like being the new game in town to keep you on your toes," Jared agreed. "Everyone around here treating you okay so far?"
Genevieve shrugged. "As well as you'd expect. It's an FPS so we've got a big Bad Guy cast and too many Bad Guys in the room always makes the Good Guys a little nervous."
"We've got a Bad Guy support group that runs on Wednesdays if any of you guys want to join," Jared offered. "And Bowser from Super Mario Brothers hosts a poker night once a month. Everyone's pretty nice here, though, so you don't need to worry about sticking to Bad Guy only events if you don't want to."
Genevieve arched an eyebrow. "Really."
"Really," Jared promised. "Wait till you see the mixer parties the Dance Dance Revolution guys throw. Last time Cyril from House of the Dead ended up doing the waltz with Princess Daisy from Super Mario Brothers. They were actually pretty good, except for the way Cyril's one arm kept falling off."
That made Genevieve laugh. "I'll have to take your word for it."
"Usually a good idea."
An awkward sort of silence fell between them, and Jared cast about for a lighter topic of conversation.
"So hey, you're probably hungry after your first day. Fancy a trip to Burger Town? Best food this side of Pac-Man."
"You mean the only food this side of Pac-Man," Genevieve said, amused. She cocked her head curiously. "Is this you asking me to dinner?"
Jared nodded. "You and whoever else wants to come, yeah. The food's good and it's always busy at this time of night, so I can introduce you guys to some of your new neighbours while we're at it."
Genevieve's expression shifted. "Ah. So you're the Bad Guy welcoming committee, huh?" she asked, in a tone that Jared couldn't quite read.
"More like the everybody welcoming committee," Jared said. He grinned sheepishly. "It's usually only the Bad Guys who take me up on it, though."
"Fair enough. I'll go round up the gang, then?" Genevieve said after a beat.
"The more the merrier," Jared agreed.
Genevieve nodded and headed towards the closest group of Bad Guys. Jared's gaze skipped across the crowd, which had thinned considerably while they'd been talking, and he found his attention caught by a Good Guy standing by himself against the wall, watching the goings-on around him with a distant expression that Jared wasn't used to seeing on Good Guys.
The Good Guy was tall, fit and high def in all the best ways. He was wearing army pants, shit kicking boots and a battered black shirt with an under arm holster strapped on over it. Jared couldn't even begin to try and identify the type of gun he was packing - Misha fought with guns, but he was mostly a robot so it wasn't like he had standard equipment - but it looked plenty impressive regardless.
"Hope they have enough room for two dozen or so," Genevieve said as she returned. Her tone wasn't as joking as it could have been when she added, "and that the management doesn't panic and throw us out."
"It'll be fine," Jared told her. "I promise. Who's that over there?"
"Hmm?" Genevieve turned to look. "Oh, that's Jensen."
"What's he all by himself for?"
Genevieve shrugged. "He's like that."
Jared blinked at her. "But he's not a Bad Guy."
"Side quest character," Genevieve said. "He doesn't get out much."
"Huh." Jared looked at Jensen, all alone in a crowd of characters. "I'll go see if he wants to come."
"He's not going to talk to you," Genevieve predicted. "Characters round here might be sort of okay with Bad Guys, but demons and demon slayers really don't get along."
Jared shrugged. "Never hurts to try."
Genevieve's expression suggested that it might, actually, but she made no effort to stop him as Jared headed over.
Jensen's eyes snapped towards him before Jared had crossed even half the distance and Jared watched as Jensen's hand strayed instinctively to the butt of his gun. It was a thoughtless gesture rather than an intentional threat, though, so Jared didn't bother to do more than keep an absent eye on it. The odds of someone trying to hurt another character off-game without a seriously good reason were practically nil.
And even if Jensen did turn out to be dangerously homicidal, well, Jared was the semi-final boss in a fighting game; he could hold his own more than well enough.
Jensen didn't say a word as Jared walked right up to him, so Jared took it upon himself to get the ball rolling. "Hi," he said.
Jensen gave him a narrow look. "You're a Bad Guy."
"Only in single-player mode." Jared stuck out a hand and smiled his best smile. "I'm Jared, from Dragon Fighter. Welcome to Litwak's Arcade."
Jensen looked at Jared's hand like there was something growing out of it. "I don't talk to Bad Guys."
"I hate to point out the obvious, but I'm pretty sure you do."
Jensen's expression didn't change. "Not for long." He pushed himself off the wall and Jared shifted to keep him from walking off, close enough to get in his way but not so close that Jensen would see it as a threat. Probably. He seemed a little touchy.
"Sorry," Jared said, before Jensen could decide to go through him. "I didn't mean to get off on the wrong foot. I just saw you here on your own and I thought you might like to join us for some food at Burger Time." Jared grinned hopefully. "You're even free to ditch us for someone else when we get there. I can introduce you to some of the Good Guys from Street Fighter if you like; they're usually there about this time."
"No," Jensen said.
"No, you don't want to come or no, you don't want to meet the Street Fighter characters? They're really nice, I swear." Jared paused. "Well, maybe except for Blanka but he's mostly just grouchy."
"No, to all of it. You gonna get out of my way?"
"Okay," Jared said, stepping aside. "I feel kind of bad leaving you here all by yourself though. You sure you don't want me t-"
"I'm leaving," Jensen interrupted and proceeded to do just that.
"Have a good game tomorrow!" Jared called after him.
"Told you," Genevieve said, coming up behind Jared. "The job always comes first with characters like him."
"Not always," Jared said, still watching as Jensen headed back up the tunnel to Demon Slayer Pro. His movements were easy and economical, a sign of good programming. His ass looked pretty awesome in those pants, too.
There was a long silence behind him and Jared turned to find Genevieve looking at him with a thoughtful expression on her face.
"What?" he asked.
"There's no point in even trying, is there?" Genevieve asked.
Jared had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. "Huh?"
"Oh, well," Genevieve sighed. "At least I found out early. You really should be more specific when inviting a girl to dinner, by the way," she said. "Don't want to get anybody's hopes up."
"Oh. Oh! That's, no, you're right sorry, I didn't mean to, uh… that is, I don't…"
"Like girls?" Genevieve suggested, thankfully sounding more amused than put out. "Or is it Good Guys you go for?"
"Neither," Jared admitted as he felt his cheeks heat. Jared was not meant for blushing: it didn't suit his complexion at all. "I just… don't, really."
That earned him a raised eyebrow. "You sure?" Genevieve tipped her head in the direction Jensen had gone. "Because it looks to me like you do."
"Yeah," Jared sighed. "It does, doesn't it? Damn."
The next day, Jared was maybe a little distracted at work.
"-hell are you doing?" Jared heard as he sprang back to life, back in one piece and his neck aching just a little from having been ripped apart a few moments prior. "That's the fourth match today you've blown."
Jared blinked up at Aldis, who was looking at him with an expression somewhere between irritated and worried. He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Sorry. Wasn't paying enough attention."
Aldis snorted. "Tell me something I don't know, sunshine."
"Yo, Aldis!" Zach, the final boss, called as they shifted into the throne room zone. "Get a move on! We're on the clock, here!"
"We are not done," Aldis warned Jared, sticking one finger in Jared's face for emphasis. "I will be back to finish this conversation and don't even think that I won't resort to Extreme Measures to make you talk. Capiche?"
"Capiche," Jared said, holding both hands up in surrender. "Now get going. You know how much the players hate long loading times."
"I'll show them loading times," Aldis muttered, more out of reflex, Jared thought, than any real irritation. He loped over to the next stage to start the match, his movements turning jerky as the player took over. Jared dragged himself further off-screen and collapsed in the first open space of dirt he could find. He then proceeded to stare blankly at the sky, thinking about nothing at all.
True to his word, Aldis was back as soon as his player ran out of quarters - Jared might have been shirking his Bad Guy duties today, but Zach certainly wasn't - and the next player started with Danneel instead. His shadow loomed over Jared's prone form and Jared sat up reluctantly.
"So," Aldis said, somehow managing to turn the one word into a sentence all of its own. "You gonna tell me what's going on?"
"I was kind of hoping not to," Jared answered honestly. "I've got my head in the game now, promise."
"Man, I don't care if you've decided to marry a koopa trooper and go pick flowers outside Peach's palace. I wanna know what's up with you. You're kind of a spaz, but it's never affected your game before." Aldis' voice went darkly threatening. "Don't make me tickle it out of you."
Jared thought it was incredibly unfair that Bad Guys were as ticklish as anyone else. Not exactly dignified.
"You know I'll do it," Aldis warned, wiggling his fingers for emphasis.
"Fine, geez!" Jared scrubbed a hand through his hair, staring at the floor as though Aldis might miraculously cease to exist if Jared wasn't looking at him. "So yesterday I went to meet the characters from that new game, Demon Slayer Pro?"
Aldis nodded. "Yeah? They seem cool?"
Jared shrugged. "Yeah, more or less. Didn't really get to meet the Good Guys yet but-"
"That's pretty normal," Aldis finished. "Explain to me again why this is an issue?"
"Oh, look at that," Jared said, with patently false brightness. "The player's getting close to my zone. Guess I'd better-"
"Oh, hell no." Aldis started towards him, hands raised warningly. "You really want to do this, Jared? Cause you know I'll fuck your shit up."
Jared sighed, deflating all at once. "It's nothing. Just… there's this guy."
"Am I hearing things?" a voice interrupted and Jared groaned.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded as Danneel walked over to join them.
"I work here, remember?" Danneel brushed the damp strands of her hair away from her face and the move put her impressive cleavage and equally impressive lack of clothing on lurid display. Jared would never understand how she and the other girls could fight in the outfits they wore without falling out. Some character designs were just silly. "My player lost to Milo. Misha's up right now. So," she said. "Who's this guy?"
"I was dealing with it," Aldis protested.
Danneel waved him off. "And now I'm helping. Well?" she demanded of Jared.
"His name's Jensen," Jared said, just a little sulkily. "He's a side quest character from Demon Slayer Pro."
"Good Guy or Bad Guy?" Aldis asked.
Danneel looked at him thoughtfully. "And what does he think about Bad Guys?"
"Wouldn't give me the time of day," Jared admitted.
"Since when has that ever stopped you?" Chris asked, leaning over Aldis' shoulder.
Jared stared. "When the hell did you get here?" he demanded. "And why are you all so interested in my love life?"
"Because you've never had one," Chris said. He grinned. "Also, you just called it your love life, which automatically makes this so much more interesting."
Jared groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "I hate all of you."
"You can't hate me," Aldis said, with what Jared thought was an unnecessary amount of confidence. "I'm awesome."
"You're also up," Chris said, gesturing up at the selection screen where Aldis' picture was flashing. "That player must have been awful."
"Draw your matches out," Danneel said as Aldis turned to go. "I want some time with Jared. And tell Beth to come over, if you see her."
"You're welcome to stay," Danneel said to Chris. "But we're mostly going to be talking about boys."
"I really don't want to talk about boys with you," Jared said.
Danneel's answering grin was ruthless. "Tough. You're not going anywhere."
Some days, Jared thought that Danneel would make a much better Bad Guy than he did.
Despite his best efforts, Jared did in fact spend the entire night talking about boys. Well, boy. It was frankly astonishing how much Danneel and the other girls found to say about Jensen considering that Jared only had five minutes worth of interaction to tell them about.
It was early in the evening when someone came up with the horrific plan of ambushing Jensen en masse, but Jared refused point blank to go off-game when they were all being so ridiculous. After telling him off for being such a pussy, a couple of the girls took it upon themselves to do some reconnaissance. They didn't find Jensen - which Jared considered the greatest relief known to arcade-kind - so instead they introduced themselves to some of the Good Guys from Demon Slayer Pro and started gossiping, which was very nearly as bad.
Jensen, they learned, was a great NPC but more than a little antisocial. Alona, Demon Slayer Pro's lead character, said that he was mostly just shy and that, once he warmed up to characters, he was a really good guy. Most everyone else agreed that, while that might be the case, it was pretty much impossible to get him to that stage. Jensen had actually shot a few of the characters in their game - only temporarily fatal, of course - to make them leave him alone. It had worked, unsurprisingly, and now Jensen spent most of his time by himself.
Pathetic though it was, Jared couldn't help but soak up every tidbit. Of course, the girls - and Aldis, though who knew where the fuck he'd come from - immediately started concocting plans and schemes for getting him and Jensen together. The plans ranged from subtle to outright evil, which was pretty much par for the course when Good Guys and Bad Guys worked together. Some of these plans even included maps, and Jared didn't even want to know how Beth had come up with level plans for Demon Slayer Pro so quickly.
Jared gently but firmly vetoed all of their ideas, evil or otherwise. As much as he appreciated the support, this was one situation where Jared needed to do things his own way. He wanted Jensen to get to know him, with all his quirks and faults, which required a personal touch.
Besides, Jared wasn't particularly keen on kidnapping as a dating technique. It had never worked out for Bowser, anyway.
Of course, doing things his own way would have been a lot easier if Jared had the faintest idea of what that way was.
Jared hadn't been lying when he'd told Genevieve that he didn't do this. Sure, he'd been on dates before - set up by well-meaning friends for the most part - but they'd never amounted to much. He just… wasn't interested.
Which was apparently a crying shame since Jared, to his own eternal surprise, had long been considered as something of a hot item in the arcade. By Good and Bad Guys alike, even, which Jared appreciated on a social equality level if not a personal one. Some of the Good Guys probably liked the illicit thrill of dating a Bad Guy without the worry of dating a bad guy, Jared figured, but that didn't really explain the rest of them, or any of the Bad Guys. He suspected it was probably some kind of extension of the moderate popularity he had in the arcade; did characters look for the same qualities in a boyfriend as they did in a friend? Of course, it wasn't like it had ever mattered, anyway, since Jared had never met any character who made him want to go to the effort of dating.
Of course, now this thing with Jensen had come right out of left field and Jared didn't have any experience about how to go about this. He couldn't help but find it entirely typical that the first character he'd ever been interested in couldn't care less about him. Not that he was about to let that deter him.
Jared was just going to do what he did best: bumble through as best as he could and hope that things turned out okay. If he was lucky, Jensen went for that kind of thing.
It was another three days after Jared's impromptu 'girls' night in' before he ran into Jensen again. Jensen was sitting a bench near one of the information kiosks in Grand Central Station, watching the goings-on around him with a bland expression that was already becoming familiar. His entire countenance threatened extreme pain to any character stupid enough to bother him.
So Jared put on a sunny grin and went over to say hello.
Jared was distantly amazed that Jensen didn't immediately leave when he saw him heading his way; he figured that Jensen was one of those Good Guys who didn't approve of tactical retreats. Jensen didn't go quite so far as to say 'you again?' when Jared reached him, but the sentiment was pretty clear all the same.
"Hi," Jared said, settling himself uninvited on the bench beside Jensen. The seat was far too low to be entirely comfortable for someone Jared's size and his knees jutted up at sharp angles, but Jared was used to that. "How was your day?"
A moment passed wherein Jared didn't think Jensen was going to answer at all, then the man huffed and uttered an impatient, "Why are you here?"
"I was looking for you," Jared said, resisting the urge to use his 'duh' voice.
"Well, you've found me. Well done. Now go away."
Jared failed utterly at trying not to find the way Jensen bristled under his attention sort of adorable. "Well, that kind of defeats the purpose of trying to find you in the first place."
"And why is that?" Jensen demanded, more than a little scathing. "Still trying to do your civic duty and make sure all us new characters feel appropriately welcome?"
"Actually," Jared said, unfazed. "I wanted to ask you out on a date."
Jensen stared at him.
"With me," Jared added, in case Jensen hadn't quite got that part.
"A date," Jensen said, after several moments during which he'd apparently been shocked speechless.
"A date," Jared agreed.
"Are you insane?"
"Should I take that as a yes?" Jared asked.
"Should y- no! Of course you shouldn't! What possible could reason could honestly make you think I'd-"
Jared saw the exact moment when Jensen realized that his… vocal response was attracting sideways looks. He was entirely unsurprised when Jensen's voice dropped into a hiss to finish, "go on a date with a Bad Guy?"
"I'm not so sure you'd go on a date with anybody, to be honest," Jared said. "But I was hoping you'd make an exception for me."
"Why?" Jensen demanded.
"Because I like you." Jared smiled at him. "And because I think you might like me too if you gave me a chance."
Jensen snorted. "Not happening."
"Okay." Jared climbed to his feet, feeling a little bad for the way it made him fairly tower over Jensen. Granted, he tended to tower over everyone, but Jensen didn't strike him as the sort that would appreciate it overmuch.
"Why don't I let you think about it," he said. "No need to make a rash decision. Let me know if you change your mind." He lifted one hand in a wave. "I'll talk to you later, okay?"
Jensen was looking a little shell shocked, but roused himself enough to respond with a curt, "I hope not."
Jared willed his smile even wider. "Whatever you say, Jensen. Have a good game tomorrow."
It doesn't sound good, kid," Chris said, when he heard the story from Jared later. "Seems like he's too stubborn to think he might be wrong about you."
"That's okay," Jared said calmly. "I'm more stubborn than he is."
"Hey, Jensen," Jared called, jogging over to where Jensen was leaning against the wall and looking as though he thought that the whole place would fall down if he wasn't propping it up. "How's it going?"
"Go bother someone else," Jensen said, barely sparing him a glance.
"Okay," Jared said easily and turned to go.
"Wait, what?" Jensen asked, sounding thoroughly bewildered.
Jared stopped and glanced at Jensen. "What, what?"
"You're actually leaving?" Jensen asked. "Just like that?"
"Yeah," Jared said. "Why, don't you want me to?"
"No. I mean, yes, I mean, that's not what I…"
Flustered Jensen was surprisingly endearing, Jared was learning.
"Aren't you giving up too easily?" Jensen managed finally.
"Who said I'm giving up? I don't want to be rude, though. Besides," Jared added, with a grin. "There's a Taiko Drumming competition on tonight that isn't going to win itself. I don't want to be late. I was going to invite you to come but," Jared shrugged. "Another day, I guess."
Jensen stared at him, brow furrowed.
Jared raised an eyebrow. "Jensen? Something wrong?"
"Nothing," Jensen said after a moment, in a tone that didn't sound convincing in the slightest.
"Right then." Jared lifted one hand in a wave. "Let me know if you change your mind. Have a good game tomorrow."
He could feel Jensen's eyes on his back as he walked away, which Jared decided to take as a good sign. And if he was grinning to himself, well, it wasn't as though Jensen could see.
So Jared pretty much decided to woo Jensen with a combination of persistence and enthusiastic charm. It seemed as good a plan as any.
But it didn't take long for him to learn that Jensen wasn't exactly the easiest character in the arcade to woo.
First there was the fact that Jensen always, always turned Jared down, no matter what Jared suggested they do.
The second issue was that, half the time, Jared couldn't even find him.
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