It quickly snowballed from an impulse into a habit.
Not the crack of dawn insomnia, thank God, but the coffee bringing. Which was definitely the lesser of two evils, as far as Jensen was concerned, even though the very idea tended to make him squirm if he thought about it too long.
The band was busy laying down tracks for their next album, which meant that Jensen had as close to a regular schedule as he ever did when they weren't on tour: up early-ish, back to The Insula mid-afternoon, and then he had the late afternoon and evening to do with what he wanted.
After their early morning concert and almost-conversation, Jensen added an extra step in his day between the studio and his suite. He'd stop at the Starbucks around the corner from The Insula - or, more accurately, his bodyguards would stop at the Starbucks around the corner; Jensen had no desire to get mobbed before his caffeine fix - and pick up a perfect black coffee for him and a creamy, frothy drink with a ridiculously complicated name and far too much sugar in it for Jared.
And Jared, for the first time in six years, actually seemed more than just politely pleased to see him whenever Jensen arrived in the lobby. Awkward 'heres' and 'thank yous' slowly shifted into something closer to actual conversations and Jensen got to experience firsthand several of the things on his list that he'd known about Jared without ever having had them turned on himself before.
In turn, Jensen found himself talking about his own life, sharing tidbits about his tours, the nonsense astrology crap Aldis was getting into, Beth's unnatural aversion to socks, how much he wanted to strangle his producer sometimes and how much he wanted to strangle Chris all of the time. He threw in a decent amount of flirting too, but that was par for the course for Jensen, who flirted with everyone. Just because Jared had made it clear that he was unflinchingly disinterested in hooking up that didn't mean that Jensen had to stop, after all; he just had to be content with the fact that nothing was going to come of it. And, amazingly, he was. Against all odds, Jared was becoming something of a friend and Jensen's come-ons these days were more like banter than propositions. And, surprisingly, Jensen was okay with that.
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much," Chris said, when Jensen foolishly told him about the way he was starting to look forward to coffee with Jared as one of the highlights of his day. "Still hoping for that pity fuck?"
"Fuck off," Jensen said sourly. "I got over it years ago. I wouldn't sleep with him now even if he begged."
Chris snorted. "Yes, you would. You'd sleep with him if he pulled out his cock in the middle of the street and told you to get on."
Jensen shoved him. "I hate you."
"Still with the protesting darlin'. You're just embarrassing yourself now."
About a month into their new dynamic, Jensen walked into The Insula with their coffee in hand and a cheeky greeting on his lips, only to find Jared in the process of locking his office, jacket over one arm and a pair of sunglasses perched on his head, sweeping his hair back from his face. Another member of the senior staff - Sarah? Sandy? Something with an 's' - was standing in Jared's traditional place at the concierge desk.
Jared turned and caught sight of Jensen, standing there like a moron with his two cups of coffee.
"Hi," Jared said, with a smile. "I was hoping you'd get home before I left."
"Left?" Jensen asked dumbly.
"Late lunch," Jared explained. He tipped a smile at Sarah-Sandy and walked over to meet Jensen in the middle of the floor. "Big mess with a new client earlier. Didn't have time to eat. M'starving."
"I was actually hoping you'd want to come with," Jared said.
The weirdest part was that he actually sounded like he meant it. "What?"
"Best pastries in town," Jared promised him.
"I don't know," Jensen hedged, thinking of cameras and excited fans. Jared looked a little crestfallen and Jensen felt himself waver. "What… kind of place is it?"
Jared grinned delightedly and Jensen was distracted enough that he didn't notice when Jared liberated his own cup of coffee and tucked a hand into the crook of Jensen's elbow. "Trust me," he said, tugging him towards the front door. "You'll like it."
"I've been working all day," Jensen said. It wasn't anything close to a protest.
Jared's grin flashed in the corner of Jensen's eye. "So have I. Which is why we need pastries."
Jensen surrendered with a disgruntled shrug that in no way shook Jared's hand from his arm. "You're buying."
"Because the international superstar can't afford his own desserts."
"I've been buying your coffee every day for over a month," Jensen shot back. "It's your turn."
"Fair enough," Jared said, with a funny little smile. "Don't forget to put your ugly sunglasses back on," he added, sparing a nod for the grinning security guards who were watching them leave.
"You're a terrible person," Jensen informed him.
And Jared laughed. "If you say so."
The little café that Jared took him to was no more than a fifteen minute walk away from The Insula, and it was tucked into a quiet side street that Jensen would never have looked at twice if he'd been the one leading. It was a relief. Jensen and busy public places didn't mix well.
The interior was somewhere between cramped and cozy, and smelled overwhelmingly of fresh-baked bread. Jensen's stomach gurgled.
Jared grinned at him. "Told you. Pastries are always the answer."
"Your priorities worry me," Jensen said. He flicked his eyes across the room with practiced ease, looking for the table farthest away from both the windows and the main traffic around the cash desk. "You order. I'm going to get a table."
Jared's grin was getting a lot of exercise on this trip, Jensen was noticing. "You trust me to know what you want?"
"You always know what I want," Jensen said, leering just enough to sell it. "You just like making me unhappy."
"I care about the happiness of all our guests," Jared said facetiously. The twinkle of humour in his eyes gave him away.
"Get out of here," Jensen grumbled, heading for the table. Behind him, Jared just laughed and did as he was told.
Jensen sat down with his back to the window, shoulders rounding instinctively. He took off his sunglasses but kept his hat, doing his best not to look incredibly shifty.
Jared didn't keep him waiting long.
"Cannoli," Jared declared, plunking a plate on the table in front of Jensen as he sat down opposite him. "I dare you to dislike it."
Jensen raised an eyebrow at him. "Amazingly, one of the weirder things I've ever been dared to do."
Jared just smirked at him, already triumphant, and Jensen found himself smiling a little as he picked up the pastry.
Of course, he'd hardly taken a bite of what was indeed a truly excellent cannoli when the guy at the table behind them jerked around in his chair and exclaimed, at a far higher volume than Jensen appreciated, "Holy shit! You're Jensen Ackles!"
Jensen did not sigh. Instead, he put down his dessert, swiped a hand across his mouth to catch up any stray smudges of cream and turned to favour the man with a practiced smile. "Why yes I am. And you are?"
The guy was practically beside himself with delight, but he still managed to stutter out both his undying love of Ascendancy and an autograph request. Jensen accepted the first graciously and responded to the second gracefully. He'd long since got into the habit of keeping a pen and pad of paper on him for just this kind of situation, so it was the work of moments to give the guy, Doug, his autograph.
By this point, of course, the rest of the customers were flocking over in hesitant clusters of two or three. Jensen spent the next twenty minutes or so signing autographs, bestowing hugs and posing for photographs. The café's staff hung back, obviously too well trained to join the crowd - or else someone in charge back there was worried about losing Jensen's business - so Jensen went up to the desk when everyone else had been seen to and gave out smiles and autographs to the ones who wanted them.
Jared was watching him when Jensen finally returned to their table, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"That'll be all over tumblr tomorrow," Jensen said as he sat down.
"Sorry," Jared offered. "I didn't realize…"
Jensen waved him off. "I'm used to it. I'm kind of a big deal."
"Is it always like that?" Jared asked. He leaned his elbows on the table and fixed Jensen with a curious look. "When you go out in public?"
"Depends on if anyone recognizes me." Jensen returned his attention to his dessert, well aware that it wasn't really an answer. "As soon as that first person yells my name, it's pretty much a done deal that I'm gonna get swamped. This wasn't so bad; if we'd been in a busier place, it would've drawn people off the street, which would have taken forever. Especially if the paparazzi decided to show up."
"Jesus. Don't you ever get sick of it?"
Jensen snorted. "Do I look like some kind of saint to you? Of course I do. But it's a part of my life and it's all worth it for the chance to be who I am on stage."
Jared raised an eyebrow at the wording. "And who's that?"
"Jensen Ackles," Jensen said. He stuffed the last of the cannoli in his mouth and licked the excess powder off his fingers. "Lead singer of the best damn band in the world. A fucking rock god when you get me under those lights. A musician. A guy with a voice and a guitar and a whole lot of luck. Take your pick."
"What's it like?" Jared asked, and Jensen had never heard him sound like that: hushed, curious and a little reverent. "Being on stage."
Jensen smiled. "Best feeling in the world, man. Nothing but the music and the way it changes the life of every single person who hears it. When we're on stage it's like, for that one shining moment, everything in the world makes sense and it's a big tangled mess of adrenaline and love and urgency and it's…" he paused, groping for a word. "It's beautiful," he said finally, knowing it wasn't enough.
"Wow," Jared said, after a long, breathless moment. The sound of his voice made Jensen colour; he'd almost forgotten that he wasn't talking to himself.
"Yeah, well." Jensen shrugged uncomfortably. "You asked."
"No it's…" Apparently Jensen wasn't the only one struggling for words. "Thank you," he said, with a sincerity that surprised Jensen. "For sharing that with me."
Not knowing what else to do, Jensen settled for shrugging again. "Don't mention it. Can we change the subject now?"
Jared nodded. "So," he said smoothly. "Where have you been going every day? Your schedule isn't usually so consistent."
Jensen firmly told every part of himself not to read too much into that. No doubt Jared knew everyone's schedules like the back of his hand thanks to the way he practically lived at the concierge desk. "Laying down tracks for our new album," he said.
"Yeah?" Jared said, looking interested. "S'it coming out any time soon?"
"Couple of months, I think. By Christmas for sure."
Jared grinned and toasted him with his own pastry - a chocolate drizzled Danish that Jensen was tempted to steal a bite of. "I think I approve of that even more than blasphemy coffee and pastries. And I love my pastries."
Jensen tilted his head curiously. "You really are a fan."
"Yeah," Jared said, sounding a little bemused. "I said so, didn't I?"
"Wasn't really expecting it," Jensen said, because understatement was definitely the way to go right now. "Trying to rearrange my world view to factor that in."
"Didn't know I was that integral to the world of Jensen Ackles," Jared said, with a cheeky grin that didn't match at all with the suddenly hollow thud of Jensen's heart.
"Dream on, princess," Jensen said, mostly on autopilot.
"No, no, this is great. I've got to write this in my diary."
Jensen snagged a cream puff off Jared's plate and smirked at his indignant 'hey!'. "What's that?" he asked, around a mouthful of cream. "You're a crazy stalker who has an entire diary dedicated to how wonderful I am? If you wanted to know what colour panties I wear, all you had to do was ask."
"Oh yes," Jared said, with a roll of his eyes. "That's exactly what I meant. Because I clearly don't have access to the hotel's cleaning staff who could just steal your underwear for me."
"Kinky," Jensen deadpanned. "Now I'm wondering about how good that security of yours is that I'm paying so much for."
"Brat," Jared said, laughing. "Shut up and eat your cream puff."
And Jensen did, with great gusto, even though there were good odds that a picture of him with chocolate and cream all over his face was going to show up on the Internet tomorrow. But this, sitting like an ordinary person in a hole-in-the-wall bakery with a grinning, happy Jared across the table from him, this was worth it.
"Right, guys, that was good, but I'm thinking we can bring the drums to the forefront six beats earlier so that when the bass picks up it isn't - what?" Jensen looked up from where he was scribbling notations on his sheet music to find all of his band mates staring at him. "Am I speaking in tongues or something?"
"Jensen," Chris said, sounding like he was about to stage an intervention. "You do know that we didn't need any more songs for this album, right?"
"So?" Jensen said, a little belligerently. "Nothing wrong with a bonus track."
"Uh huh. And is there any reason why it's this song in particular that you want to include?"
"The hell kind of question is that? Because it's a damn good song! I know you like it too so what's the problem?"
"Do you want to tell him or should I?" Beth asked idly.
Jensen glared at the lot of them. "Anyone feel like telling me what the hell is going on?"
"You wrote this song for Jared," Chris said, which was about the last thing Jensen had expected him to say. "That's why you want it on the CD."
"I what?! Are you fucking high?" Jensen glared at him, starting to get angry. "God dammit, Chris, since when did being friends with someone mean that I automatically-"
"Oh, for fuck's sake." Chris let his hands drop from his guitar strings and glared right back at him. "You've been dating the guy for three months. Man up and ask him out already."
Jensen blinked at him. "Did that sentence make sense in your head? Because I'm pretty sure it lost something in translation."
"He means that you're doing all the boyfriend stuff without actually getting laid for it," Beth said. "Which is really kind of stupid."
"I am not doing 'boyfriend stuff' with Jared. We're friends. You may have heard the term before. It's what I wish I had in this band."
Chris snorted. "Oh suck it up, you whiner. Denial is not attractive."
"He's right," Beth agreed.
"This is crazy." Jensen looked around for some support. "Aldis?"
Aldis shrugged. "Guy's got a point. We're totally bros and I love ya, but I'd still think it was really weird if you talked about me all the time like you do with Jared."
"All the time, seriously," Beth said, leaning over her drum kit at an angle that made Jensen worry she was going to knock the whole thing over. "I've never met him and I still know more about him than I do about Aldis' sister."
"Really?" Aldis asked. "Because I am not going to be the one to tell her that."
Beth ignored him, still focused on Jensen. "It's kind of cute. Just, you know, the embarrassing, sort of pathetic kind of cute. Like a retarded puppy."
Sometimes, Jensen wondered how they'd lasted so long as a band considering the fact that talking to his bandmates about anything except music always seemed to give him the urge to commit homicide.
"Course," Chris said. "You're going to have your work cut out for you convincing him that you really do want him for more than his body - way to sabotage yourself there, moron - but I'm sure he'll get on board quickly enough."
They were all insane. "…right. So let's say for argument's sake that I do want to date him-"
"You really kind of do," Aldis said. "Sorry."
"Fuck off," Jensen snapped, without looking away from Chris. "There's still one problem with your master plan there, Hannibal. Jared doesn't want to fuck me."
Chris rolled his eyes so hard that Jensen was amazed that he didn't strain something. "I really wish you'd done more drugs when we first got famous. At least then you'd have an excuse for being terminally stupid."
"Of course Jared doesn't want to fuck you, moron," Chris said. "He wants to freaking marry you. Or did you miss the part where he's all about commitment?"
Jensen would deny on pain of death that he did a proper jaw drop when the meaning of Chris' words sank in. "I- you… what?"
"Guy totally wants you," Chris said, as though it was obvious. "Always has, but he's got different standards than you do."
"He's got standards, period," Beth chimed in, which Jensen thought was a little uncalled for.
"And," Chris continued. "For some reason, spending time with you has actually made him like you more, which you would have noticed forever ago if you didn't have your head so far up your own ass when it comes to relationships. S'not as embarrassingly obvious as your crush on him has always been-"
"I do not have a crush on-"
"-but he'd definitely say yes if you asked him to turn your pathetically platonic dating into actual dating. Better be prepared for a long engagement, though. He seems like the kind of guy who wants to be wooed properly."
Jensen shook his head. "I don't believe this. Chris, you can't seriously-"
"Jensen," Chris said, in a tone of voice that cut Jensen off immediately. "You're not doing anyone any favours by pretending you're not in love with him."
The words hit Jensen like a machinegun volley to the chest.
"I'm not," he started, but the rest of the words stuck in his throat.
Chris favoured him with a surprisingly sympathetic look. "Do you even realize how many songs you've written about the guy?" He waved a hand at the music in front of him. "None of them are quite as sappily lovesick as this one, but-"
The thought settled into his brain like it had always been there, true and heartbreakingly simple, and Jensen promptly forgot how to breathe. "Oh, Christ. Oh, Christ. Fucking hell, I'm… I'm actually-"
"Yep!" Beth said brightly. "Can I be a bridesmaid at your wedding?"
"Jesus Christ," Jensen said again and slumped down onto the closest flat surface. In this case, the floor.
"Don't worry," Chris said, patting him on the back. "We got your back. You'll be blissfully engaged before you know it."
"Right," Jensen said faintly, and proceeded to be utterly useless for the rest of the day.
Over the next few days, Jensen considered and discarded several plans for how to convince Jared to date and/or marry him. Or, more accurately, Jensen's idiot friends considered several plans and Jensen vetoed all of them. He knew that - terrifyingly - they actually had his best interests at heart, but they had absolutely no sense between them of how to woo the love of a person's life.
("Hey!" Aldis protested. "Some of us are married you know!"
Jensen snorted. "That's Beth's fault. Like hell you were going to say no to her."
Aldis conceded the point.)
Eventually, Jensen told them all to fuck off and holed himself up in his penthouse to make his own plans. The process mostly consisted of keeping up a steady supply of beer and surfing the Internet looking for advice on how to confess his undying love to a guy who thought Jensen only wanted to get into his pants. It didn't help much. Jensen finally gave it up as a bad job when he found himself on Youtube watching videos of flash mob marriage proposals.
It took Jensen four days to come up with a) a plan that wasn't completely lame and b) the nerve to put it into action. Confidence was not something that Jensen had ever been particularly lacking in - with a face like his, who would be? - which Jensen took to be another sign of just how bullshit love was. Jared had better as hell be worth all this effort.
The worst part of Jensen's plan, aside from the very real potential of failure, was that it required him getting up ridiculously early on a day when he should have been sleeping till noon. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Jensen's insides were so twisted up around his nerves that night that sleep wasn't really in the cards for him anyway. And so stupid o'clock in the morning on a completely uneventful Thursday found him dragging himself down to the rec room in his pajamas, guitar held carefully in one hand and his mind jumbled with a mix of exhaustion and shaky adrenaline.
The room was abandoned and silent when Jensen walked in and he swore as he bashed his leg into a chair on his way to the couch under the window. He dithered for a long time tuning the strings, nerves jangling like they used to before performing big concerts stopped scaring the crap out of him. There was no point in having come all the way down here just to chicken out, though, so Jensen eventually stopped dicking around with the tuning and lifted his guitar and voice to the task at hand.
It was strange to sing like this: alone in a large, achingly quiet room, with nothing to accompany him but the tenor of his guitar and the slow creep of light through the window. Jensen focused his attentions inwards to block out the self-conscious awkwardness. It worked well enough to let him play the song through without butchering it completely, even though he'd have died before he let such a poor performance show up on an album.
As he brought the final chorus to a close, Jensen chanced a glance towards the door. It was still empty. Jensen took a single, deep breath and started the song over again.
He lost track of the number of times he played the song through; with each repetition, his playing grew smoother while his voice hoarsened. He kept going.
At some point, Jensen became aware that he wasn't alone in the room anymore, and he brought his current repetition of the song to an end so that he could look up at the familiar figure standing in front of him. "Hi."
Jared smiled back. "Hi. I've never heard that one before."
Jensen didn't have the faintest idea what to do with his hands, so he decided to keep them safely resting on the guitar. "Skyward Soul. It's off our new album."
"It's beautiful," Jared said. The corner of his mouth quirked. "But you already know that."
It was an easy line to work with; Jensen could have spun it in any number of ways to let them fall into their normal rhythm, to ease slowly into what Jensen was actually trying to say here.
But Jensen apparently had no game when he actually cared about the outcome, so instead he answered with a quiet, "I wrote it for you."
To say that Jared looked shocked was an understatement. "What-"
"Well, not for you exactly," Jensen said, and dear God, he was a babbler. So uncool. "More like about you. Not that I realized when I was writing it but, looking back now, I can see where I-"
"This song is about me?" Jared asked, shell-shocked.
Jensen bit his lip hard to keep from saying anything else and nodded.
And Jensen didn't really know how to answer that, so he summoned up a charming smile. "I would have thought that would be obvious."
It was the wrong move.
Jared's expression slammed closed. "Jensen, you can't-"
"I don't want to sleep with you," Jensen blurted, brain catching up only belatedly and making his face flush scarlet. Jared arched an eyebrow. "Fuck, I mean, I don't just want to sleep with you. I definitely want to sleep with you. Just with ah, other stuff as well."
Jared looked skeptical. "What other kind of stuff are we talking about here?"
Jensen shrugged helplessly. "I was hoping you'd know, honestly. I've never done this before."
"Wrote a song to seduce someone?" Jared asked, the words jagged and stiff. Jensen just about growled.
"No," he said, with enough vehemence to make Jared startle. "You don't get it."
"Don't get what?" Jared demanded. He was starting to look irritated, which was not how Jensen had pictured this going at all.
"I don't write songs about people," Jensen tried. "Not ever. Not as a fuck you to my parents for being useless, not as a thank you to my friends for sticking with me and definitely aot as some kind of… of seduction technique for getting people into my bed."
Jared sighed heavily. "Jensen, what are you trying to say?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you," Jensen said, and watched Jared's face crack on a slew of emotions that flicked by too quickly for Jensen to identify them. "But I haven't got any experience with this kind of thing, which is pretty fucking ridiculous considering I write about it for a living, so I was hoping that you would-" Jensen faltered, running out of steam between one word and the next, "-hoping you would…"
"That I would what?" Jared's voice was hushed and insistent. Jensen looked up to find Jared watching him with an expression that made his heart pound. "What do you want?"
Jensen swallowed hard. "I want you to go out with me. On a date. On a lot of dates. I want you to come with me on tour so I can show you all the places I've always thought you'd like. I want to meet your family and I want you to meet my bandmates. I want you to fuck me into the mattress and fall asleep next to me and still be there in the morning. I want to keep bringing you coffee. And one day I want to be able to come home to you in my house in Texas and know that it's our home. So, I guess I kind of want forever. If you want it."
Jared was silent for a long, long moment. Dread crawled up Jensen's spine. Only the fact that Jared was standing between him and the door kept him from bolting.
"You always did have a way with words," Jared said finally.
"Part of the job description," Jensen said.
"Guess so. Well," Jared said then, and Jensen braced himself. "That actually sounds pretty fantastic to me."
"Really?" Jensen asked before he could help himself.
"Really, really," Jared said, and Jensen didn't know how he'd gone through so much of his life without seeing that particular expression on Jared's face. He wanted to fall into it and never come out again. A spark of humour glinted in Jared's eyes as he added, "Provided that you make a good impression on our first date, of course. I'm not that easy."
"Oh, I know. Believe me. I was, uh, thinking maybe dinner and a show?" Jensen said, letting hope lift his voice.
Jared's smile was a slow, pleased thing. "You were, huh? Any show in particular?"
Jensen shrugged, smiling as well. "Depends on what you want. I know a guy who can get you a backstage pass to the next Ascendancy concert, though."
"Cheapskate," Jared said fondly. "Couldn't take me to a U2 concert."
"Hey, do you know how much tickets to my shows cost? Fuck U2."
Jared chuckled fondly. "I do know. Lining up all night at the ticket booths, remember?" He stepped closer, bringing himself right between Jensen's spread thighs. The front of his pants brushed Jensen's fingers where they were still spread across the guitar strings.
"Right, because you're a fan. Guess I'm going to be saving you a lot of money."
"Works for me," Jared said. He bent down at the same time as Jensen arched up and they met in the middle in a kiss that was slow and careful and just a little awkward but still somehow exactly what Jensen had been hoping for. It didn't last long, only a few moments, but it held the promise of so much more.
So," Jensen said, when they parted, with all the nonchalance he could muster. The look on Jared's face suggested he wasn't making a particularly good show of it. "Is that a yes?"
Jared laughed, and it was a happy, awestruck sound. "I think it might be, yeah."
"Good," Jensen said. "Because I fucking refuse to write an emo heartbreak song."
"Don't worry," Jared said, as Jensen hooked his strumming hand around Jared's neck to pull him in for another kiss. "I've been waiting on you for years. You're definitely stuck with me now."
TIMESTAMP: Split Decisions Jared's first meeting with Jensen Ackles didn't quite go as he'd expected.