Jared raced down the hallway and skidded into the back of his 10:00 English 213 lecture hall with only seconds to spare. Dr. Ferris was already organizing her notes on the lectern and the buzz in the room was starting to die off. Jared hopped down a few rows and slid into his usual seat next to Jensen. It had Jensen's coat draped over it. Saving it.
"Dude, I guess I made it just in time for the pop quiz," Jared said.
Jensen glanced up at him, startled, and looked just as quickly down to the front of the class in alarm. Ferris was prepping her Powerpoint and had just been waylaid by a keener student who was speaking to her with great seriousness and clutching an essay in his hands. It looked like it had been drenched in red pen.
Jensen looked back at Jared, scowling, and Jared grinned shamelessly back at him.
"Fuck you," Jensen said.
"Maybe after class."
"It's too early for this shit."
"It's never too early for Yeats," Jared said cheerfully, digging out his book. Ferris's preoccupation with the student at the front had led to the volume in the class rising again. From the way Ferris's eyebrows were drawn over her eyes, Jared suspected that the kid was not going to get whatever it was he wanted.
"It's always too early for Yeats," Jensen grumbled.
"Sorry, why are you in this class again?"
"Oh, fuck you."
"Covered that one already. Did you miss your coffee this morning or something?"
Jensen looked him directly in the eye. "You're a festering boil on the hairy ass of humanity."
Jared hid his grin, and shot back, "You're reptilian scum drowning in primordial ooze."
"Your face is primordial ooze," Jensen muttered.
"Anything but my face!"
Jensen moaned and thunked his head onto the desk. Jared tried to resist inserting that sound into any of the pornographic scenarios (all starring Jensen) that immediately came to mind. He was mostly unsuccessful.
Jared had signed up for English 213 because the class (Modern British Poetry) was interesting and Jared genuinely liked Ferris's blunt, no-nonsense approach to the material. He was only in his second year but he already knew he wanted to be a teacher with a concentration in English and History.
Unfortunately, from the very first day when he had sprawled into the seat next to Jared and given him a cocky grin, Jensen Ackles had been single-handedly responsible for Jared's lack of concentration and slipping GPA. Because it turned out that Jensen was smart, sarcastic and funny, as well as being mind-blowingly attractive, and Jared had rapidly developed a full-blown, head-over-heels crush.
So now they did this thing where they flirted heavily every Monday and Wednesday, 10:00 to 11:30, and Jared spent a lot of time jacking off alone in the shower. And trying to figure out how to hang out with Jensen outside class without it appearing like a total come-on.
Unless Jensen was amenable to a come-on, of course. Jared couldn't quite tell.
Which was only one of Jared's problems.
Because Jensen, it turned out, was alarmingly, frustratingly busy. At first Jared just thought Jensen was not a morning person, even though 10:00 seemed pretty late for a grumpy morning attitude problem. But when Jared mentioned grabbing lunch one day, Jensen had a thesis meeting with his adviser (he was defending it later this semester). When he asked if Jensen was interested in catching the hockey game, it turned out Jensen worked weekends (he tended bar at McCreedy's). When he casually mentioned that several of his friends were going to see the original Friday the 13th at the retro movie house, Jensen had to prep for his lab (he was in the last semester of his Honors Chemistry degree). It was obvious that Jensen was busy and stressed out and didn't have a lot of time to make friends (or boyfriends – Jared could dream), and Jared was really trying not to push it or act like some kind of crazy stalker.
It was just tough. Jared was crushing really hard.
The final blow had come two weeks ago when Jared asked if Jensen wanted to meet for coffee and go over their notes for the midterm, and Jensen couldn't because he had band practice.
Yes, it turned out that not only was Jensen Ackles a hot, intelligent, funny bartender, he was also in a band.
It was ridiculously unfair.
Jared shifted restlessly in his seat. Ferris was introducing "Easter 1916," which Jared had read last year in Intro to Poetry. Jensen, though, as usual, was taking meticulous notes. Jared watched him for a minute; there was a streak of blue ink on Jensen's index finger that made Jared's stomach flip over.
Jared distracted himself by drawing a large penis on the opposite page of Jensen's notebook. When Jensen glanced over and realized what Jared was doing, he snorted and gave Jared the finger. Then he wrote underneath: You juvenile.
You love it, Jared wrote.
What if I was planning to lend these notes to someone?
I guess you'd have some esplanin' to do, Jared wrote back, grinning.
Jensen carefully labeled the testicles "Jared" and "Padalecki" in his neat handwriting, complete with scientific-looking arrows. He even spelled Jared's last name right.
Jared knocked his hand away and pointedly labeled the cock itself "Dick."
I was gonna use them to get in someone's pants, Jensen wrote.
Jared tried to stifle the ridiculous quickening of his breath. It wasn't Jensen's fault that Jared thought about Jensen's sex life practically more than his own. Well, usually in conjunction.
No use now is it? was all Jensen wrote, before he was back to copying down Ferris's Powerpoint on allusions to Irish revolutionaries.
Jared willed his heartbeat to slow down and tried to pay attention to the lecture. Jensen bringing up sex was no reason to utterly derail his entire thought process.
When Ferris finished up discussing the poems assigned for the day (Jared did not absorb much of it), the class began getting up in a noisy shuffle of pulling on jackets and shoving books into backpacks. Jared had planned to stick around after class to ask Ferris about The Wasteland, mostly to make sure she remembered his face – especially considering the way his grade was dipping in the class. But a few other students had converged on her, essays in hand, and Jensen was standing up next to him, and honestly, there was no conceivable way Jared could walk away from him.
"You know," Jared said, tapping his finger lightly on Jensen's notes, "I bet you could still get laid with these."
Jensen made an amused snorting noise. "It's not much of an advertisement."
"To some people it might be the perfect advertisement."
Jensen shot him a look. "Right. Hey baby, look, I doodle cocks in class, wanna do the nasty?"
Jared grinned widely. "Well, I like a man who thinks about cock in class."
Jensen snorted again. "Yeah, I bet."
Jared glanced sideways at Jensen. There it was again. It seemed like they were flirting; Jared was definitely flirting. And he was certainly not being subtle about his sexual orientation. But.
But Jensen was being either deliberately and frustratingly vague or ridiculously and obliviously dense. Or he was the most self-assured straight boy Jared had ever met.
None of which were especially promising.
Jensen paused while shrugging on his jacket. "Hey, so. Remember I told you about Once a Leaf?"
Like Jared was going to forget that Jensen was in a band. "No, remind me again?"
"Douche. Anyway, listen, we're doing a gig on Saturday. Nine-thirty. At McCreedy's on 18th. You know it?"
Jared was starting to feel a little light-headed. "Uh, sure. Yeah."
"Well – it'd be cool if you wanted to come. If you're free." Jensen was looking down at his bag and rubbing his neck, his body language abruptly tense, and Jared suddenly felt fucking ecstatic.
"Yeah!" Jared managed to get out somehow, despite the fact that his mouth felt plastered into a permanently wide grin. "Yeah, I would love to. I mean. Yeah, definitely."
Jared didn't even care how uncool he was being right now. He was too busy mentally fist-pumping and whooping.
Jensen glanced up at him to flash a quick smile. "Cool. Okay. See ya."
One of the major downsides of Ferris's class was that Jensen had lab immediately afterwards, so there was no chance to extend their flirting into, say, an early lunch. Jared watched, still grinning, as Jensen swung his messenger bag over his shoulder and walked towards the exit.
He decided to forgo trying to wade through the crowd of unhappy students near Ferris. He couldn't remember a single thing about The Wasteland anyway. Jensen Ackles had invited him to hear his band. And he'd been awkward and flirty about it, and Jared was not giving up hope.
Plus, Jensen had said the word "cock."
Yeah, this was going to be the greatest weekend ever.
Jared had to wait around on campus until his afternoon class, so he bought a sandwich at the cafeteria and settled himself and his laptop down in the Student Union Building. He'd had the good intention of reading his history textbook or starting that assignment for his religion class, but he felt too wired and twitchy to attempt homework. The prospect of seeing Jensen's band was doing things to Jared's brain that were not conducive to schoolwork. Or rational thought in general.
Just as he was trying to decide whether or not he should buy another sandwich, his cell chimed Sandy's ringtone with her usual impeccable timing.
"So, did you survive your morning next to that shining beacon of gorgeousness beside which us earthly mortals can never compare?" Sandy said before he could say a word. It was a bit embarrassing how well she knew him.
"Yes, shut up," Jared said. "He invited me to see his band on Saturday."
Sandy's squeal almost took out Jared's eardrums. "Oh my God, his band," she said with unadulterated glee. "Jared, is this a date?"
"There's definitely potential," he said. "At least – I think." He let his forehead fall onto the tabletop and let out a groan. "I don't know! I don't have a functioning brain around him, Sandy, much less a gaydar. He's inscrutable."
"Your gaydar is more important than your brain, sweetie," Sandy said. "It is far more likely to get you laid."
"Shut up. Don't remind me."
"You shut up. You're clearly the luckiest gayboy I know," Sandy said. "I can't believe he had to ask you, you dingbat."
"Hey, I've asked him out on multiple dates," Jared pointed out.
"Did you ever say the words 'Jensen, would you like to go on a date with me?'"
Jared thought that had mostly been implied, but: "No," he admitted. "He's just so fucking busy. Like, all the time."
"You mean he has a life outside of not-dating you?"
"Have you always been this mean?"
"Yes. Anyway, listen, I'm calling because they scheduled the day of my award ceremony. It's going to be in the afternoon, sadly, so no wine and cheese soiree afterwards because they're cheapskates. You're going to be my plus one still, right?"
"What – Chad's busy?"
"Yes, of course I'm coming with you, you lunatic," Jared said. Like he was going to miss his best friend accepting a Recognition Award for her work on the school newspaper. "I'm going to bring an embarrassingly large sign."
"Good," Sandy said. "Maybe it'll disguise the size of your forehead."
"Oh, ha ha. See if I invite you to see Jensen Ackles' band."
"Whatever, dork, we both know there is no way you're going without me."
She hung up before Jared could say another word. But seeing as she was pretty much right anyway, he gave up on even the pretense of schoolwork and went to find more food.
Saturday night couldn't arrive quickly enough in Jared's opinion. On Saturday afternoon, he made a half-hearted effort to prevent his roommate Chad from coming with them, on the grounds that the longer any potential boyfriend (or friend) was kept Chad-free the likelier he was to become an actual boyfriend (or friend). But as soon as Chad got wind of Jensen's gig, he invited himself along.
"Dude. I'm your wingman!" Chad said, while they played dueling guitars on Rockband. "Of course I'm going."
"You don't even like gigs in bars," Jared said. "You told me guys in small-time bands are arrogant douchemonkeys with stringy hair who hog all the chicks."
"Still totally true."
"So? Besides, I don't need a wingman tonight. I'm not – "
"Yeah, yeah," Chad grumbled. "We all know how your precious Jenny shits jelly beans and sparkles."
Jared grinned. "I bet I can get ready faster than you," he said.
They arrived at the bar, at Jared's urging, almost an hour before the show. Chad had won the bet, but Jared didn't feel especially bad about that because Sandy had told Jared his shirt made him look smoking hot. The only thing she had said to Chad was to ask him when his hair was scheduled for take-off.
Unfortunately, despite Sandy's fag hag seal of approval, Jared was the only one who ended up with a giant conspicuous underage stamp on his hand; the guy at the door didn't even ask Sandy and accepted Chad's outrageous fake id without comment.
"This is so fucking embarrassing," Jared muttered, glaring at his hand.
"If you give me money, Ernesto will buy you booze," Chad said, waving the id. It was a pretty generous offer for him.
Jared groaned. "I'm just trying not to look like a complete dork," he said.
"Huh. Well, not much we can do there, dipshit," Chad said.
Sandy grinned brightly at him. "Should we talk up your skydiving hobby or your modeling career?"
"Screw you both," Jared said, and went to find the bathroom to see how much of the stamp he could scrub off.
When he came out, Chad had disappeared, probably into the tangle of girls by the pool tables. Sandy was, unsurprisingly, being chatted up near the stage. She met his eye and didn't give him the help signal, so Jared left her to it and went over to the bar, trying to keep an eye out for Jensen or anyone who looked like a member of a band.
Just as he managed to get his hands on a drink, someone behind him said, "Hey! You made it!" He turned to find Jensen smiling at him and couldn't help automatically grinning back.
And then Jared's mind went a bit blank because – Christ. Jensen usually looked good – like he spent time on his appearance in the morning – nice jeans, comfortable but fashionable button-downs, soft-looking sweaters. It usually made Jared want to pet him or muss him up a bit. But now he was wearing this black T-shirt that clung obscenely tight to his shoulders and – God – his biceps. It was a V-neck that cut down his chest and showed off a tantalizing flash of golden skin and a collarbone that Jared just wanted to lick.
And – and – Jesus fucking Christ, was he wearing eyeliner?
Jared recovered brain function enough to choke out, "Yeah, course," and promptly lost them again when his eyes got low enough to notice the way Jensen's dark jeans stretched across his thighs.
"Whatcha drinking?" Jensen said.
"Uh," he said, "Coke," and felt his face flush.
Jensen's eye darted down to Jared's stamped hand on the bar before Jared could stuff it in his pocket or something. And, God, was it Jared's imagination or did Jensen look a little flushed?
"Right," was all he said. "Forgot you were such a freaking baby."
Yeah, okay, this was more familiar. Jared's brain rallied; he could do this flirtatious banter thing in his sleep. "Aw, did my height fool you? You little amoebas have a hard time keeping up with me, I know."
Jensen's lips twitched and Jared wanted to grin. "Elephant-sized bulk accompanied by pea-sized brain. Sad, really."
"Hey!" Jared said and leered. "I've had no complaints about my elephant-sized bulk."
Jensen raised an eyebrow. "But you have no objection to the pea-sized brain?"
"Jensen! Are you going to help us set up or what?"
A girl appeared suddenly at Jensen's elbow. She was gorgeous – tall, red hair, great breasts, mile-long legs – and Jared would normally be appreciative (for purely aesthetic reasons, obviously) but he focused in immediately on her hand curling on Jensen's arm and tensed. Jensen turned towards her easily, confident and relaxed, and Jared could feel the history between them, the intimacy. He felt his gut twist in deep and sudden disappointment.
"Yeah, Dani, I'm coming," Jensen was saying to her. "I was just saying hi."
Dani flicked a glance at Jared. He waved a little weakly, and then felt like a complete tool for waving at someone who was standing less than a foot away. "Hey," he said, which was better, but not great.
"Hey, yourself, tall, dark and handsome," Dani said. "You gonna let me force Jensen to actually do some of the work around here?"
Jared nodded. "Yeah. I mean, sure."
"Dani," Jensen said, and there was a minute or so where they seemed to hold an entire conversation without speaking. Dani still had her hand on Jensen's arm, possessive and intimate. Jared tried to unclench his jaw.
Finally, she lifted her hand and stepped away. "Well, let us know when your schedule clears up, rockstar," she said and, with an impressive roll of her eyes, headed for the stage.
Jensen looked at Jared a little apologetically. "Sorry. Uh. I gotta go set up."
"Yeah, I gathered that," Jared said.
"Okay. Well, stick around after. I'll introduce you to the band."
Jared grinned. "Yeah, okay."
He was trying to recover his composure after staring at Jensen's ass in those jeans (which should be fucking illegal) when Sandy popped up next to him. "So?" she said excitedly. "Was that him?"
Jared nodded, smirking at her.
"Oh my God, does he look like that at school?" she demanded. "Because, shit, no wonder you're so gone for him."
"Well, there's not usually so much . . . clinginess," Jared said, waving a hand vaguely. "Or, uh, make-up."
Sandy grinned at him. "You lost control of your brain, didn't you?"
"No!" Jared protested, and then paused. "Well, only briefly."
Sandy sighed in mock exasperation. "Okay, c'mon, Romeo, I'll buy you a beer and we can stake out a table near the front for when the set starts."
Chad found them again before the band came on but after Jared had drunk half the pitcher out of sheer anxiety. Chad's shirt was wet. "Misunderstanding with a gin and tonic," he said when Jared raised an eyebrow at him.
Sandy snorted. "Oh, sure."
"So which one is Jared's boyfriend?" Chad said, pointing at the stage where the band was still plugging in cords and tuning instruments.
"Don't even – Oh fuck you, Ernesto."
Chad grinned evilly, and Sandy smirked. Jared groaned.
"He's the pretty one with the guitar," Sandy said.
Sure enough, when Jared looked up again, Jensen was standing onstage and fiddling with the pegs on his guitar. Jared swallowed, his throat suddenly dry as he watched the way that indecent T-shirt stretched tight across Jensen's arm. Dani was next to him, adjusting a microphone, looking utterly fabulous in a sparkly, cleavage-enhancing dress.
"Fucking balls," Chad said. "Who's the redhead?"
"Dani," Jared said, trying not to frown. "Possibly his girlfriend."
Sandy pulled a long-suffering face. "Possibly?" she said. "Did he say, 'Hey, Jared, meet Dani, my gorgeous hopes-and-dreams-bursting knockout of a girlfriend?'"
"He didn't introduce her as anything."
The music over the speakers died down and some cheers went up in the decent-sized crowd as Dani leaned forward and said, "Hey, y'all, we're Once a Leaf!" and then launched them into their first song.
And so, okay, they weren't platinum-worthy. To be honest, they weren't even really playing Jared's kind of music. But they were smooth and cohesive and confident, and they had this kind of energy and enthusiasm that was completely infectious. And they were clearly having fun. The crowd was totally eating them up, especially Dani's rocking vocals.
"Hey, they're not bad," Sandy said in his ear, as Chad left to get more beer and possibly have more drinks thrown at him.
"Yeah," Jared said, flashing her a grin.
She flicked him on the ear. "Groupie."
"We prefer the term band admirer."
Jared kept his eyes glued on Jensen. Jensen's hands were graceful on his guitar, his fingers deft and sure, and Jared thought he could watch them move smoothly and confidently across the strings forever. Jensen rocked his hips forward a bit with the beat in a way that made Jared want to blush. He closed his eyes sometimes when he was singing, like his whole body just felt the music and knew instinctively what it was doing. Sweat glistened on his face and throat, and just the thought of it made Jared feel heady. He wanted to lick that skin clean, map it with his tongue. And sometimes Jensen leaned up into the microphone, exposing his throat in the harsh stage lights and opening his mouth in a barely-this-side-of-obscene way, to sing along with Dani's rock-goddess voice and there was no way Jared could not think of sex. It was all just – Jared was just –
Jensen was practically magnetic up there. Jared wasn't sure if that intense look on his face was due to the make-up or if Jensen was just getting lost in the music or what, but it was insanely sexy. He looked bright and vibrant and powerful and alive, and Jared's whole body tightened and he just wanted desperately.
"The dudes are ass, but that chick is hot," was Chad's pronouncement when the set was over. Jared's ears were still holding on to the sound of Jensen's last few chords.
"Your musical critiques never fail to impress me," Sandy said drily.
There was another band on afterward – a more well-known one on the college circuit, if the crowd was anything to go by. Jensen's band was packing up their stuff and the bar had turned loud rock music back on in the interim. Jared sat nervously through Sandy and Chad's bickering, watching Jensen's band disappear into the back and wondering if he should go after them. Jensen had said he'd see Jared afterward and introduce him, but maybe that was what you said to kids in your English class after you accidentally invited them to your gig.
Their pitcher was empty again and the next band was setting up when Sandy suddenly hissed "Jared!" He looked up to see her gesturing far too obviously at Jensen, who was coming straight towards them, nodding at a few people in the crowd. "We'll be at the bar," she said and dragged Chad up with her.
"What?" Chad said. "Hey! What the fuck are – "
"Hey," Jensen said when he stopped in front of Jared's table. "Are your friends leaving?"
"No," Jared said. "More drinks." He held up his empty glass. He felt kind of awkward sitting while Jensen was standing so he stood up too. "Hey, you guys were great."
Jensen looked torn between smiling and blushing, and ended up ducking his head. "Yeah, we're – yeah, thanks."
Jared drew in his breath to soothe the butterflies in his gut, and said, "I'm not sure where a bucket of talentless sludge like you got any musical ability, but it's pretty damn awesome."
Jensen laughed and his head came up again to meet Jared's gaze. "I'll be sure to pass that along to the rest of the talentless sludge," he said.
"Oh fuck off," Jared said. "The rest of them are awesome. You're clearly the whole talentless bucket."
"Hey, you wanna come meet them?"
They found the band in the alley, standing around the back of a van packed with their gear and arguing, as far as Jared could tell, about the contributions of Lady Gaga to contemporary music. It was hard to tell who was winning.
The three guys gave Jared various nods and waves of casual acknowledgment but Dani looked at him with an uncannily piercing gaze.
"Hey again," Jared said weakly.
"This is Jared," Jensen said, after smacking the guys to get their attention. "This is Misha, Aldis, and Jake. And you met Danneel."
"Not formally," Jared said. "Hi. You guys were pretty awesome."
"Thanks, man," Jake said.
"You a fan?" said Misha, the drummer, peering at Jared a little intensely.
"No," said Jared. "Well, I mean, I am now. This was the first time I heard you guys play."
"Right. An unbiased review," Danneel said, and her gaze flicked to Jensen. Jared felt his face flush. It was pretty bad if a guy's maybe-girlfriend caught you crushing on him.
"Ah, a groupie," Misha said, grinning. Danneel smacked him on the arm. "Ow!" Misha said. "What?"
"We prefer band admirer," Jared said.
"Ignore him," Aldis, the keyboardist, said to Jared.
"Well, seriously, it was great. Do you guys all write your own stuff?"
"Misha writes most of our songs," Jensen said. "Or sometimes Dani."
"Misha thinks he's a fucking poet or something," Danneel said, grinning in Misha's direction.
"Fuck you," Misha said without anger. "Just because I have a soul."
"Okay, guys, drink up!" Aldis said, holding his empty beer bottle up. "We're on the move!"
Jared glanced at Jensen, who looked at him a little apologetically. "Ah, sorry," he said. "We kinda have post-gig plans."
"Right," Jared said, swallowing down disappointment.
"This loser's leaving us," Misha said, slapping Jake on the back.
"Grown up, moving on," Jake said, easily.
"Moving on to kindergarten, maybe," Misha said.
Jake gave him the finger and stole his beer.
"Good riddance," Danneel said, and dodged Jake's elbow with ease. "So if you know any good bassists, auditions are in a month."
"Right after this loser digs himself out of the hole that is his thesis defense," Aldis said, clapping Jensen on the shoulder. Jensen swatted back at him half-heartedly.
"Bassists?" Jared said. He looked at Jensen. "You didn't tell me you were having auditions."
"Why? You play?" Jensen said, looking surprised.
Before Jared could answer, Misha said, "Onwards, fellow devotees of Euterpe!" and pushed them towards the front of the van. Danneel rolled her eyes and waved at Jared, and Jensen shot him a grin and said, "Bye. And thanks again for coming, Jared. I mean it." There was a tangle of swearing and bickering as they piled in and then, in a cloud of diesel smoke, they roared away.
Jared stood in the back alley of McCreedy's and wondered how exactly it was possible to feel elated and dejected at the same time.
Clearly now was a good time to get completely plastered.
"I don't understand," Sandy said.
Chad squinted at Jared from over the brim of his coffee mug. "Is this a prank?"
"No," Jared said, defensively. He felt about as good as Chad looked, which was to say, not very. Getting out of bed already felt like it had been far too ambitious a step this early in the morning.
But when he'd woken up, bleary and hungover, his mouth tasting like ass, it was to find a note in what looked suspiciously like his own handwriting propped up against his clock radio. He may have been pretty drunk last night, but he had obviously been clear-headed enough to recognize a great plan when the inspiration struck.
The simple instructions had been enough to propel him a little overeagerly out of bed.
Learn bass. Join band.
It was brilliant.
"But you don't play bass," Sandy pointed out unhelpfully, slathering an obscene amount of butter on her toast. She had spent the night on their couch and, despite the fact that she was swimming in a pair of Jared's rolled-up sweatpants and the most shrunken T-shirt he could find, still looked miles better than Jared or Chad. It was completely unfair. "You don't play anything."
"I play Rockband," Jared pointed out. "I rock at Rockband."
"You think playing really sucktastically will get pretty-boy to bone you?" Chad said.
"Hey!" Jared said. "'Sucktastically' is a bit premature, don't you think?"
"Your dick is premature," Chad muttered.
"Oh my God," said Sandy, suddenly. "Jared, this is the exact plot of Love Actually!"
"What?" said Jared.
"It is. Liam Neeson's stepson wants to impress a girl so he learns the drums for the school concert. He's adorable."
Jared scowled a little. His head still hurt and he felt that they were missing the brilliance of his plan. "I'm not trying to impress a girl."
"A boy, then."
"Not that either."
"What are you doing, then?" Sandy asked. "Blindly obeying drunk messages you left yourself on your night-table?"
"Stupid-ass drunk messages," Chad said.
"It's actually amazing it's even legible," Sandy added, pointing her knife at Jared's receipt.
"I'm just trying to spend time with him. I'm not – " He stopped. "What happens in the movie?"
"Jared!" Sandy snapped. "Your life is not a quirky British romcom!"
"Well, obviously," Jared muttered. If it were there would be a lot more James McAvoy and a lot less Chad.
"The kid ended up getting kissed in the airport," Chad said. "Not a bad result for a six year old."
"He wasn't six," Sandy protested.
"You've seen that movie?" Jared said to Chad.
"What? Keira Knightley's hot. Also, there were porn scenes."
"Porn scenes?" Jared said, and turned to Sandy. "I thought it was a quirky British romcom." If there was porn, it was just one more reason why he needed to get his life more in line with the genre.
Sandy glared at Chad and took a bite of her toast. "I refuse to debate such a stupid topic with you," she said. "Also," she added to Jared, "I think this whole idea is idiotic."
"Noted," Jared said. "Who wants more coffee?"
Convincing Katie Cassidy to teach him the basics of bass guitar in a month was actually easier than Jared had thought it would be. Unfortunately, it was also more expensive.
"My expertise isn't free, Padalecki," she said. "I'm even giving you a deal on the rate. Don't complain."
"No complaints here!" he promised, holding up his hands in surrender.
Katie caught one of his hands, made a quick inspection, and pulled a face. "First thing?" she said. "Cut your damned nails. They're a disgrace."
Katie was a music major from a family of musicians who collectively owned enough instruments to start their own orchestra. She had reluctantly agreed to loan Jared her bass on the condition that if anything happened to it, he owed her the full cost of a replacement plus his kidney.
"That means no holding it above your head and smashing it after you rock out," she said.
"I'm not stupid," Jared said, struggling with the nail clippers.
Katie gave him a look that clearly indicated otherwise.
She also didn't believe Jared when he told her he had natural rhythm, even when he told her it was gleaned from playing Rockband on the expert setting. For the first lesson, she didn't even let him touch the bass but made him keep time to all kinds of songs in different tempos without losing the beat. By the end of the exhausting hour, his palms were tingling and Katie had deemed him "acceptable."
"Gee thanks," Jared said.
"If you can still do that tomorrow, I'll teach you how to fret," Katie said.
In class, Jared didn't say a word to Jensen about the auditions. He just continued to grin at him and banter with him, and tried not to get completely distracted by the scent of Jensen's aftershave. He also tried once again to get Jensen to have lunch with him, but Jensen had lab one day and a study group the next.
Which was probably for the best, really, because what with becoming a musical virtuoso and all, Jared didn't have a lot of time left for a social life.
Jared did, however, have time to inquire subtly about Danneel and her presence in Jensen's life.
Although it turned out that Jared did not do subtle well.
"You mean, are we dating?" Jensen said, looking amused.
"Oh," said Jared, feigning surprise. "Right, yeah?"
"No. Just roommates."
Jared tried to restrain the utter glee that threatened to burst out of his body in a barrage of rainbows and puppies and glitter.
"Are you okay?" Jensen said.
"Yeah," Jared said. "Yep, fine." After all, not dating Danneel did not mean gay. It was a pretty good sign though. He grinned. "Sorry, I lost my train of thought there. I must have been struck dumb by your inhuman prettiness."
Jensen flushed a little. It made Jared's stomach quiver. "Did your head connect with any heavy blunt objects recently?"
"I can connect my foot to your ass."
"Maybe I'm into that kind of thing."
Before Jared could even contemplate a proper retort to that one, Ferris said loudly, "If you're finished up there, boys, maybe we could talk about some poetry?"
Jensen shot him a grimace but Jared couldn't wipe the grin off his face.
"Isn't there an easier way to get your mouth on that guy's dick?" Chad yelled from his room over the sound of Jared practicing scales for the eleventy-billionth time.
"Fuck. You," Jared called in time to the beat.
"You're fucking up my ears, assmunch," Chad hollered.
"Invest in earplugs!" Jared shouted back, and flexed his hand. Practicing every day was hell on his fingers and he felt like the muscles in his palm were about ready to atrophy in rebellion.
Speed-learning a musical instrument was also hell on his schoolwork. Jared had an essay due in the second week of his musical marathon, but that was something on the journey in Moby Dick that he could dash off in his sleep. He had a quiz in his Ancient Chinese History class the following week that would require some heavy cramming, but it turned out he could memorize the names of Dynasties to the bass-line of "Seven Nation Army" which was pretty awesome. As long as he kept on top of his readings, he was pretty much in the clear.
And obviously, cutting back on his Rockband time left lots of time to, you know, actually rock.
Well, rock might be overselling it. Mostly it felt like a lot of plinging. And scales, of course. Katie was unrepentantly mean about that part.
"Jared, honey," Sandy said to him when she found out about the bass guitar and the lessons and the kidney. "You're going to an awful lot of trouble here."
"I know," Jared said, scowling down at the tabs Katie was making him memorize.
"Are you – I mean, are you sure this is what you want to do?"
Jared looked up at her. She looked uncharacteristically worried.
But it wasn't hard to answer. The answer was the same as it was when he'd woken up, hungover and with only a vague memory of why he'd decided to learn an instrument. He wanted Jensen, and he wanted to spend time with Jensen, and Jensen didn't have time except for band practice. Plus Jensen was finishing up his thesis and at the end of the semester he would graduate and maybe even move away. Jared might never see him again; this might be Jared's one and only chance to get to know him.
"Besides," he said, when his speech didn't seem to have fully convinced Sandy, "I kind of want to try it. To see what it's like."
"What – sex?" Sandy said.
Jared flushed. "What? No! Well, yes, obviously, I want to have sex, but what I meant was I want to try being onstage. It just – it looks amazing up there. Magnetic."
"You mean Jensen looks magnetic up there."
Jared couldn't exactly deny that. "He looked alive up there," he said. "And I just want to – see what that's like."
And if he completely bombed? Well, at the very least, hopefully a horrible audition would cheer Jensen up a bit. Of course, a blowjob would have been Jared's preferred method of cheering up, but if he only had "botching up an audition" to work with, well, he'd take it.
By week three, Jared was almost ready to give up. He had blisters on the pads of his fingers, his palm was sore from being scrunched into fucking unnatural fret positions, and he still sounded terrible.
"You're such a fucking baby," Chad said dismissively, coming into the kitchen to collect pickles and Cheez Whiz. Jared had long ago given up trying to understand Chad's eating habits.
"Fuck you," Jared replied automatically, wrapping his aching hand around the mercifully cool beer bottle.
"Well, if you're giving up, at least I won't have to listen to that shit you call music," Chad added. "Tequila?"
Chad got him drunk on shots, then made him play "Should I Stay or Should I Go" which for once sounded awesome, even Chad said so. It sounded so awesome Jared called Katie to play it for her.
"'Lo," Katie muttered into the phone after Jared strummed his way through ten rings.
"Katie, listen!" he burbled.
". . . Jared?"
"Yeah, listen – " Jared tried to get his hands into position but got caught up because he was still holding the cell phone. He fumbled with it a bit more before managing to pass the phone off to Chad.
He was only partway through the opening when Chad hung up the phone and said, "Katie says that even though she fully supports your fucked-in-the-head campaign for ass-sex and gay love, she wants you to know the following: you're an asshole, don't call her after midnight, and you better not be fucking around on her guitar while drunk."
Jared frowned, thought about his kidney, and then slid the guitar strap over his head, unplugged the bass from the amp, and carefully placed the bass on its stand. "She called it my fucked-in-the-head campaign for ass-sex and gay love?"
"I may have taken liberties with the phrasing," Chad said. "And now that you have effectively regained your musical mojo, will you stop crying into the tequila?"
"When have I ever cried into – "
"Glad to hear it. Night."
The date of Jensen's thesis defense was two days before the auditions for Once a Leaf. Jared knew this because Jensen told him there was going to be a thesis after-party. "It will either be celebratory or depressing," Jensen said. "But either way, it'll be at the bar, so there'll be lots of alcohol."
"Man, how are you even going to be awake for your band auditions?" Jared said. "You're still going to be in a hangover coma."
Jensen looked surprised that Jared remembered when the band auditions were, and Jared tried to look innocent and not like someone who was planning to blow Jensen away with his surprise musical talent in the near future. "Yeah, I will probably not be my best and brightest that day," Jensen said.
"As opposed to today?" Jared said sweetly.
"Oh fuck you, douche," Jensen said. Even his insults were losing their edge.
In fact, as the date of the defense loomed, Jensen was looking increasingly exhausted. There was a kind of glazed-over deadness to his eyes some mornings (worse than his only-one-cup-of-coffee cranky-mornings), and he had a tendency to move a little sluggishly. His whole posture screamed exhaustion. Jared wanted to snuggle him into bed and feed him hot chocolate and give him massages.
For totally selfless reasons, obviously.
Also, his penmanship was suffering.
"What is this, man?" Jared said, poking at Jensen's notebook. Jensen's usually meticulous notes were scrawled messily across the page, and he'd barely left any margin space for Jared to doodle obscene pictures. "These are worse than mine!"
"Oh please," Jensen scoffed and, to Jared's delight, the crinkles around his eyes made the purple smudges underneath them lessen a little. "Like I could ever sink that low."
"Yeah, watch me lend you my notes for that class you skipped last week, you fucker."
"As if anyone could even read them, asswipe."
Jensen had skipped that one class and, from the way he was muttering over the WWI war poets this week, he didn't look happy about it.
Also, he had showed up to this class without having done the readings. Jensen always did the readings.
"Are you okay, dude?" Jared said.
"Yeah," Jensen said. "Just doing the major edits on my thesis. I can't wait till I'm finished the fucker."
He smiled, but it came out a little forced and brittle. Jared had never wanted to hug someone so badly in his life.
"This is a hell of a lot of effort for a prank," Katie said on their second-to-last lesson, once she had praised Jared's progress on Radiohead's "Creep." She had brought her electric guitar to the last several lessons and Jared was getting pretty decent at not screwing up when someone else was playing along with him. Katie sounded almost as if she hadn't expected him to last this long.
"And money," he reminded her. "Unless you're willing to reduce your fees a little." He gave her a charming smile. She raised her eyebrows at him. "And it's not a prank," he added.
"Okay, a stunt. A crush or whatever."
"It's – it's a bit more complicated than that. But, yeah it is a lot of effort."
"I hope it's worth it."
Jared grinned at her. "It is."
When Jared checked his phone after getting out of his night class on Thursday evening, he had two texts from Jensen. Jared had stolen Jensen's phone out of his bag two and a half weeks previously, while Jensen had been distracted by actually paying attention to Ferris's lecture, and had programmed his number in.
And two minutes later:
Jared grinned, wide and hard, and sent back <dude! congrats i knew youd do it>
He was almost home when his phone beeped at him.
<started early. come to mccreedys?>
Like Jared needed to be asked, God. He had to write his essay for Ferris's class that was due next week, and it was only two days before the audition and he had planned to spend the night practicing, but.
He could definitely spend all day Friday practicing bass lines.
The first person he saw when he walked into McCreedy's was Misha, who was talking to a blonde and writing song lyrics on a napkin at the same time. The blonde turned out to be his wife. "This is our groupie," is how he introduced Jared to Vicky, and Jared didn't even have time to say, "We prefer – " before Vicky was snorting and threatening to douse the napkin with her vodka tonic.
"Sorry, I'm sorry!" Misha yelped. "Jared's not a groupie!"
"Thanks," Jared said to her, grinning, and slipped away to see if he could find Jensen.
Jensen, it turned out, was already giddy-drunk, happily spouting off about chemistry and organic compounds that no one else at the table seemed to be following. Jared could still see the signs of exhaustion on him – purple smudges under the eyes, slightly sallow cheeks – but he looked miles better than he had in class on Wednesday. He was flail-talking rapidly and with enthusiasm, his eyes sparkling and his hands moving and his mouth grinning. It was a good look on him.
Danneel noticed Jared first, and she nudged Jensen with a little smirk. The grin that lit up Jensen's face when he turned to see Jared sent a flood of warmth and a tingle of awareness through Jared's whole body. He felt his breath stutter in his chest.
The whole band was there, even the old bassist Jake, along with a bunch of Jensen's other friends, most of whom Jared didn't know. But Jensen stayed close by him the whole night, warm and drunk and smiling. He touched a lot more when he was drunk, warm and casual, and it was messing with Jared's brain. Jared drank more beer and kept his eyes on the way Jensen threw back his head to laugh and the way the edge of his collar was awkwardly bent out of shape.
"So, dude, tell me," Jared said to Jensen when they were by themselves at the table for a few minutes. He was feeling drunk and happy and sloppy and high on Jensen-contact, and he could hear his words slurring a bit. "What's it like?"
"How d'you just – put yourself out there on the stage like that. It looks so fucking scary, but. I mean, it looks like a fucking high, y'know?"
Jensen flashed him a grin. Jared watched his eyes crinkle.
"It's just – you can't not," Jensen said.
"Yeah," Jared said. Because, yeah. Jared could see it - that intensity and rush of adrenaline like an addiction or a need or something.
When he looked up, Jensen was grinning at him again, wide and bright, and he barely looked exhausted anymore, and Jared didn't even care that he was going to be hungover tomorrow because the day after that he was going to play bass with Jensen and Jensen's band and he was going to experience that intensity.
"You know," Danneel said when some people from Chemistry dragged Jensen off to play pool and Jared was left alone with a hard-on and most of a pitcher. "Jensen's been really stressed lately."
"Yeah, I noticed," Jared said.
"I mean, so I get it," Danneel said. "I think it's stupid as fuck, but I get why he's not doing anything about" – she waved her hand vaguely – "you."
Jared's mouth went dry. "Me?"
"Yeah. You and this gaze-at-him-adoringly, banter-and-bicker, make-a-fool-of-yourself-trying-to-cheer-him-up thing you've got going on."
Jared felt a little like he'd been punched in the gut. Danneel didn't even know about his audition plans. He swallowed past the ominous feeling clogging his throat. "What – what exactly do you think he should do about me?"
Let me down easy, he thought. Put me out of my misery.
Danneel gave him a look. "Well, I think he should fuck you, for one."
Jared choked on air.
"I'm just saying," she went on blithely. "It may be up to you to make the moves here."
"I've been making the moves," Jared said. His mind was still trying to catch up to the part where Danneel thought Jensen should fuck him.
Danneel grinned. "Keep on making 'em, partner," she said. "If all else fails, wear him down."
When she got up to whip everyone at pool, Aldis grinned sympathetically at Jared and pushed the pitcher over to him. "It's better to just follow her instructions, man," he said. "Believe me."
When Jared came out of the bathroom into the poky little hallway, he bumped into Jensen. Literally. They crashed together and careened off-balance; Jared was a little too drunk to maintain his footing, so he grasped at Jensen to try to stay upright and managed to stumble them both sideways into the wall.
Well, they were still on their feet, that was something. Jared didn't think he could handle tumbling to the floor with Jensen Ackles.
"Ow," Jensen said, but he was laughing. "You're a fucking menace, Padalecki."
"Aw, you love it," Jared said. He felt warm and a little sloshy, and his hand was loose and easy on Jensen's hip, and he didn't feel in the least inclined to move.
They leaned against the wall, staring at one another. Jared became intensely aware that Jensen wasn't moving either. One of his hands was tangled a little in Jared's shirt, where he'd grabbed it to try and control their fall, and Jared could feel the heat of Jensen's hand so close to his skin, just the thin cotton between him and Jensen's deft fingers. In fact, Jensen's whole body was radiating heat, and Jared could feel want and awareness and need curl desperately in his stomach and spill dizzyingly out all over his skin.
"Your nostrils are fucking huge," Jensen said finally, staring up at him distractedly.
Jared let out a choked laugh. "That's not the only part of me that's huge," he said, attempting a leer.
"Yeah, your ego's certainly growing by the second."
They still hadn't moved from the wall. Jared's skin felt hot and prickly all over, like his whole body was about to burst from the pressure. This was everything, right here, right now; he could feel it. Jensen's face was flushed, and there was a slight smile on his lips and a faint glimmer of sweat on his neck, and he didn't stop looking at Jared. Just looking at him, and Jared kept looking back, couldn't quite make himself break eye contact, lose this moment –
"Not the only thing that's growing by the second," he managed to say, but he couldn't quite make his face form a jokey leer this time.
"Jesus fuck," said Jensen, and leaned up to kiss him.
Jared opened his mouth on a gasp, and Jensen's lip caught against his, and sparks lit through Jared's entire body. His pulse was hammering a rapid beat, and his head was suddenly overwhelmed by the scent of Jensen's soap or shampoo or something, and he could barely feel his legs for the adrenaline chasing through him. God, Jensen was kissing him. Jensen was kissing him.
Jared got with the program fast and kissed back. Sucked on Jensen's lower lip and tilted his head to avoid bumping noses. Somehow his right hand managed to move up to stroke Jensen's sweat-damp neck, right where the short soft hairs tickled the tips of his fingers. Jensen made a noise into his mouth and shifted, and suddenly that was his tongue, deep and wet and dirty in Jared's mouth. Jesus. Jared clenched his other hand fiercely into Jensen's side and tried to haul him closer, get their bodies touching. He couldn't wait to get his hands on every part of Jensen's body, get Jensen's hands all over him. He could feel the hot, hard shape of Jensen's erection pressed insistently against his thigh, burning through denim, and he shuddered, his own dick, which had been half-hard since he walked into the bar, throbbing desperately in response.
He was seconds away from splaying Jensen on the wall and rutting desperately against him until they both came, when three giggling girls suddenly pushed past them to get to the bathroom. "Excuse me," one said loudly. Jensen broke away, flushed and gorgeous and panting. Jared tried to regain control of his breathing. The only thought in his head was finding out what he had to do to get more of that, because Jesus. But Jensen just kind of tilted his head into Jared's shoulder and leaned against him, heavy and solid, his breath ghosting against Jared's neck. Jared held on.
"I think I'm drunk," Jensen said eventually, mostly into Jared's shirt.
"Yeah," Jared agreed.
"I think I need to go home."
Jared's hand clenched a little reflexively into Jensen's side, as if his whole body was jumping in to vote No! but he forced himself to relax his grip and disentangle himself. "No, yeah," he said, swallowing back his frustration. They were drunk, it was true. And as much as Jared's dick might argue otherwise, Jared really did not want, of all things, to be Jensen's celebratory drunken hookup. "Yeah, home is good."
They went back to the table where most of the band was sitting around a pitcher. Jared tried to school his expression into one that did not read I've been humping by the bathroom for the last ten minutes. Judging by the way Danneel's eyes suddenly lit up in glee, he may have missed the mark.
"There you two are," she said. "Get lost?" The down each other's throats was implied by the wicked grin on her face.
Jared flushed and Jensen said "Dani," and they proceeded to conduct one of their conversations during which they both looked at one another meaningfully and didn't say a word.
"Am I drunker than I thought or is this weird again?" Jared muttered.
"It's always weird," Misha confirmed.
"It's a regular state of affairs, unfortunately," Aldis said into his pint glass. "Those two have, like, extrasensory perception or something."
"What?" Jared said.
"They're on an elevated plane of existence," Misha said, waving his hand erratically.
"Jensen and I are gonna head home," Danneel announced suddenly.
"You're leaving?" Aldis said. "I was just gonna order more shots!"
"I'll drink 'em," Misha announced.
"Me too," Jared said mournfully. If he wasn't getting an orgasm out of the evening, he could at least muster up a hangover for tomorrow. Or – whatever. He knew what he meant.
Danneel caught Jared's eye and stared at him meaningfully. Jared thought she might be trying to beam some information into his brain with the power of her mind or something – and if that was what she and Jensen did, that would be awesome – but Jared's brain was far to drunk to receive it or decode it or whatever. He nodded anyway, but he didn't think he'd actually fooled her if the glare she gave him was any indication. In any case, Jensen was shrugging into his jacket and Jared's gaze had snagged on the whorl of Jensen's ear.
It was totally unfair that Jared was not kissing that right now.
"I'll see you on Monday," Jensen said, meeting Jared's eyes, and Jared wondered if he was trying to beam information into Jared's brain too.
"Yeah, see you, definitely," he said and manfully refrained from adding, "And also on Sunday where I will embarrass myself musically! And possibly in other ways as well!"
"Have more beer," Aldis said, refilling Jared's glass.
Jared watched Danneel and Jensen make it to the door and then raised the beer. "To not getting laid!" he said, and gulped down half of it.
When he looked up, Misha was writing on a napkin again and Aldis was staring at him distastefully.
"Man, are you high?" Aldis said. "There is no way I'm drinking to that."
Jared woke up the next morning to the sound of Sandy playing Rockband at high volume in the living room.
"How did you get in?" he scowled at her.
"Chad," she said cheerfully. "Are you really going to waste your last full day of practice before your audition by sleeping?"
"Hungover," he said pointedly.
"Potential for sex," she returned.
Which reminded him that he had made out with Jensen last night, so he told her about it while he made coffee and scrambled eggs. Chad emerged from the bathroom to join them, lured by the smell of food.
"Well, there you go," Sandy said in satisfaction.
"Wasn't the point of this stupid audition thing so you could get to know him well enough to get to make out with him? Penetrate his inscrutability, if you will?"
"No, the point was to penetrate his – "
"Chad, do not even go there."
"But I don't just wanna make out with him," Jared said. "I want to date him."
"And pene – "
"Yes, and have sex with him," Jared said to Chad.
"Ass-sex," Chad agreed.
"Well?" Sandy demanded. "Nothing's stopping you, you dork."
Except for the fact that Jensen had just defended his thesis and was graduating soon and going who knew where.
"No, yeah, you're right," Jared said out loud. "Tomorrow I'm going to amaze him with my awesome bass skills and get him to go on a date with me."
"And then penetrate his –"
"Couldn't you let him have just one?" Jared asked, as Chad scowled and stomped away. Sandy just shrugged and sipped her coffee.
The thing was, Jared didn't expect to make the band, exactly. He'd only been playing for a month; actually making the band would be ridiculous, even given the context of mediocre college bands. Sandy and Chad and Katie had all made that point. Repeatedly.
But standing on the makeshift stage of McCreedy's that Sunday afternoon, with the last few notes of "Creep" dying away and all the members of Once a Leaf focused on him, Jared didn't care. This was exactly what it would feel like; the exhilaration and excitement pumping through his veins – his heart racing and his palms sweating – like being drunk and wired and high all at the same time.
"Wow," said Aldis. "That's – wow."
Jared had played the whole song with his eyes closed, in part so he could concentrate, but also because once they started playing, all the instruments kicking in to Jared's thumping bass line, Jared had to close his eyes so he wouldn't get lost. It was amazing. He wanted it to be real like an ache inside him; wanted the bright lights and the audience and the way the band came together for a few minutes of synchronicity. He could taste it just this side of visceral.
He opened his eyes carefully and let out a slow breath.
"I didn't even know you played the bass," Danneel said.
Jared grinned at her a little lopsidedly and risked a glance in Jensen's direction. He was looking right at Jared and Jared couldn't quite read the expression on his face. As usual.
"You know," Misha said carefully, "there are some people who can just play, you know? When they play, you can feel their heart and soul, no matter what their technical ability – "
"Dude," Jensen interrupted. "That was brutally, brutally awful."
Jared laughed suddenly, a weight lifting inside him, feeling light and happy and half-drunk. "I know, right?" he said.
Jensen stared at him for a minute and then started laughing too, open and honest and more relaxed than Jared had ever seen him. Jared thought it was the best sound ever.
"Are you, like, certifiably deranged, or something?" Aldis said.
"Did you just purposefully waste our incredibly valuable time?" Danneel demanded.
"I was trying to be tactful," Misha said grumpily.
"Sorry," Jared said, unable to stop grinning or tear his eyes away from Jensen who was doubled over in hysterics.
It was completely, totally, absolutely worth it.
The band made him stick around throughout the rest of their auditions. A few people were really, really good. Jared vaguely thought that he should probably feel more embarrassed than he actually did about his own audition, but he was still riding so high it didn't even really register.
"When did you learn bass, anyway?" Jensen said, sitting next to him at the bar while they waited for the next bassist to set up.
"Uh," said Jared, and ducked his head. His brain was rather unhelpfully stuck on a loop of You kissed me last night, and that was not something he should be bringing up right that second. "I started a month ago."
He could feel Jensen staring at him. "A month ago," he repeated.
"Yep," Jared said, and forced a grin. "I saw this band play and the lead guitarist was this totally talentless hack, and I thought, man if this douche can manage it . . ."
"Huh," Jensen said and watched him silently for another minute.
"Plus," he babbled. "I have this friend who is completely brilliant and talented and who was willing to teach me how to play for the low, low price of my first unborn child."
Jensen's mouth quirked. "Yeah?"
"It works out well for me, cause the odds of me reproducing are pretty low, so. You know. Free guitar lessons."
"Huh," Jensen said again.
When the band actually made their decision, it wasn't very difficult. The best fit was far and away a girl called Genevieve, who grinned widely when they told her they wanted her to join the band and said, "Fantastic. Who wants to go eat?"
They made Jared come with them. Well, actually, Danneel insisted he come and pay for all their alcohol in order to make up for wasting their time.
"I, uh, I'm not actually twenty-one yet," Jared said, flushing and very firmly not looking in Jensen's direction.
"Oh, I know," Danneel said. "And there is no way on God's green earth that is getting you out of this."
They ended up in a nearby pub and ordered nachos and an obscene number of chicken wings. Jared willingly forked over the cash for the beer, but he was careful to restrict himself to only one.
You know. Just in case.
"Listen, Jared," Misha said. "We may have given you a bit of a hard time, but that was some major progress for someone who couldn't play to save his life four weeks ago."
"Agreed," Aldis said.
Jared grinned at them. "Thanks, guys."
"I mean, for a groupie and all," Misha added.
"Band admirer," Jared corrected.
"You gonna keep playing, dude?" Aldis asked.
"Well I gotta give Katie her bass back or she'll hunt me down for my kidney," Jared said. "And possibly any other organs she thinks she can salvage. So I'm not sure about the immediate future."
"But you liked it?" Jensen said, grinning.
"Well – yeah," Jared said. "Well, I mean, the music stuff is pretty hard for me and I think we can all agree that it doesn't sound all that great, but I loved playing with you guys. And fucking being on stage, man – there wasn't even an audience, and I felt – "
Everyone at the table was grinning at him.
"It felt great," he said.
"Agreed," Aldis said again.
"Welcome to the dark side," Danneel added.
"You know," Genevieve said, "I know some kids in the drama department. If you're not sure about pursuing music, you could always give acting a try."
"Yeah?" Jared said. It did sound – cool. That same kind of audience-high, the intensity of a collective project, and (best of all) no blisters on his fingers. "Maybe," he said.
Genevieve grinned. "Well, let me know," she said. "Also, I want you to introduce me to your friend the organ collector. She sounds hot."
"She is," Jared agreed. "Though you should probably call her Katie."
"This is already sounding like a dangerous combination," Aldis said. "We need more beer."
Jared sat back in his chair, still feeling that thrill of exhilaration running through him. He texted Sandy about the audition and got back <:( better luck with the make outs. c u tomorrow.>
As if on cue, Jensen slid down next to him. Most of the band had departed to the pool tables and were bickering over who got to play with Danneel. Danneel herself was looking on smugly.
"So," Jensen said. "I was thinking. Our band is gonna need a few groupies to put the word out next year and get some actual people at our gigs. Want the job?"
"We prefer the term band admirers," Jared said automatically. And then his brain caught up and he said, "Next year?"
"Yeah," Jensen said. "Well, I mean, we might get a few gigs over the summer, but we won't get a crowd again until the fall when the students pile back into town."
"Does that mean – " Jared said, and his mouth felt dry all of a sudden. "I mean, you're staying here? After you graduate?"
"Well, yeah. I'm starting in the graduate program."
Jensen was looking at Jared like he thought Jared had lost his brain or something, but Jared didn't even care because Jensen was staying and that was the best news ever.
"Yeah," Jensen said. "Of course I'm staying. Why else would we be holding auditions for our band?"
Jared laughed, possibly a little hysterically. "You're staying," he repeated.
"Jared," Jensen said quietly, and he was using a tone of voice that sounded Serious and Important, but Jared couldn't quite make himself wipe what he suspected was a ridiculously goofy grin off his face.
"Jensen," he mimicked.
"Jared, do you want to come back to my place?"
Jensen and Danneel's apartment was small and a little messy. There were shoes blocking the front hallway, textbooks and pages of notes piled on the coffee table, and video game controls sprawled in front of the tv. In the corner were several empty guitar stands and amps surrounded by cds and sheet music. Mugs and cereal bowls littered many of the flat surfaces. It felt warm and untidy and lived-in. Jared loved it.
"Sorry," Jensen said awkwardly, picking up a half-full coffee mug and emptying it down the sink. "End of semester."
"Don't worry," Jared said. "I live with Chad."
It wasn't until he looked over and saw the look on Jensen's face that he realized that, despite Jared's ramblings about his roommate in class, Jensen hadn't even met Chad. It was kind of ridiculous that he felt like he knew Jensen this well and Jensen hadn't met any of the important people in his life. He laughed. "Apologies in advance," he said, "but you're gonna have to meet Chad."
"Yeah?" Jensen said, and his mouth quirked upwards a little. "I guess you have already met most of my friends."
Jared's heart sped up a little. That definitely sounded like the beginning of – of something. Something more than a hookup or a one-night stand. Not that he really thought that was what this was, but. It was nice to be right.
"Yeah," he said, a little unsteadily. "Don't know what they all see in you, really."
"Well, we angsty guitarist types tend to be giant assholes, but we're really good in bed."
Jared opened his mouth but no sound came out.
Jensen reached out to grasp Jared's hand gently and turned it palm-up. He let his fingertips trail gently over the pads of Jared's fingers, right where the blisters had formed into brand-new calluses. Jared couldn't even breathe under that light pressure; it sent shivers throughout his whole body. Jensen looked up and met Jared's gaze, his eyes bright and sincere and utterly gorgeous.
"I didn't want you to get the wrong idea about the other night," Jensen said seriously.
"No," Jared said nonsensically, because Jensen was scraping his nail gently over the tip of Jared's index finger, and Jesus fuck his hands had never been so sensitive to anything before.
"I mean, I really – I think this could, you know," Jensen said, and Jared wanted to say No, I don't know – what do you mean? but Jensen went on: "You're just so. And Ferris's class was such a bust because every time you sat next to me, I just. And if I'd – there was no way I'd've finished my thesis."
Jared wondered how it was possible to feel so warm and flushed when Jensen hadn't even managed to complete a sentence. "But you're finished now," he said.
"Yeah," Jensen said. "I am."
"And you're not drunk," Jared added.
"No. Not drunk."
"Neither am I."
Jensen kept his eyes fixed on Jared's, and brought Jared's fingers to his mouth. He kissed them softly, a gentle press of lips against Jared's skin that made heat shudder down Jared's spine. And then Jensen opened his mouth and licked Jared's fingertip, the rasp of his tongue dragging across the guitar-roughened skin, and Jared's cock was suddenly rock-hard and the low moan he could hear was coming unfiltered out of his own mouth.
"Yeah?" Jensen whispered, warm air of his breath huffing across Jared's fingers.
"Fuck yeah," Jared said, not sure what he was agreeing to exactly, but not bothering to care. He wanted it all. Anything. Everything.
"Bedroom," Jensen said, breathless, and Jared nodded jerkily and let Jensen pull him down the hall and into his room. It was messy in here too; dirty clothes on the floor, more cds everywhere, notebooks covered in Jensen's neat handwriting sprawling over the desk. Jensen halted in front of the bed a little awkwardly. The comforter was rucked-up and falling half-off the bed. It made something inside Jared burst with happiness, like he was seeing part of Jensen that no one else was seeing.
Jensen turned, dropping Jared's hand, and stripped off his shirt.
Jared sucked in his breath. "Jesus Christ, I've been wanting this forever," he said, letting his eyes follow the lines of Jensen's shoulders, the cut of his abs, the bones of his hip.
Jensen flushed and ducked his head. "English majors," he muttered. "So fucking melodramatic."
"Oh fuck you," Jared said, and threw off his own shirt. "I've been fucking flirting with you this whole semester, and you couldn't even be bothered to let me know if I was barking up the wrong tree."
Jensen's eyes were caught on Jared's torso, which made Jared feel a mild sense of triumph, but then Jensen said, "Jesus, Jared, I would've wanted to spend all my time with you. I couldn't afford – "
He broke off, and then said, gruffly, "Take off your pants."
"Romantic, dude," Jared said, but since Jensen's hands were already undoing his own fly, he hurried to follow suit. "I could recite some poetry if that would help set the mood," Jared added, and was trying to decide which Yeats poem would be the most hilarious in this situation when Jensen stepped forward – naked, how was he so fucking fast? – and placed his hand firmly on Jared's chest, right where his heart was beating strong and fast.
"Jared," Jensen said seriously, and Jared felt suddenly dizzy and weak-kneed at the heat of the skin-to-skin contact. "Jared, I beg you, whatever happens, do not read me any poetry."
Jared choked on his laughter and reached out to push Jensen onto the bed. "Douche," he said.
Jensen was laughing too when Jared kissed him. And Jared finally – finally – had his tongue in Jensen's mouth and his hands on Jensen's body. And it was better than anything he'd imagined, because it was Jensen tugging him down, smiling wide and open underneath him. Miles of tantalizing skin were spread out for him, heat was flooding his body, and everything was getting hot and desperate really fast. Jensen mouthed along his jawline and bit at his earlobe, slivers of sensation that had Jared shivering and pushing his boxers out of the way so he could tangle their legs together until he could feel every inch of Jensen's flushed skin against his.
"I'm sorry," Jensen murmured into his skin. "I'm sorry I made you wait."
"Fuck," Jared muttered back, and mouthed across Jensen's shoulder and slid his hand down the smooth planes of Jensen's back. He could feel everything, everywhere they were pressed together, every point of contact between their hands and mouths and bodies. He thought he might be burning up from the inside, feeling so full of light and heat and still wanting so much.
"I'm sorry I made you guess," Jensen said, and licked Jared's ear, his breath whispering across Jared's neck, making him shudder. "I shouldn't've made you guess."
"Fucking tortured me," Jared said, and was that his voice, practically growling? He slid his palm under the smooth curve Jensen's ass, thrilling at the way Jensen just leaned into the touch.
When his hand flirted with the crease of Jensen's ass, Jensen let out a half-gasp half-moan that went straight to Jared's dick and said, "Though I'd like to point out that I asked you out on two dates – "
"Those weren't – " Jared started and then saw the flicker of Jensen's grin. "You also turned me down for, like, a million dates," Jared said and ground his thigh down into Jensen's hard cock.
Jensen's hips stuttered at the contact, and his hand jerked where it was wrapped in Jared's hair. Jared grinned into his shoulder. This was better than a high, better than being on stage, better than anything.
"You're a cretinous fucker," Jensen gasped, his mouth slack and wet on Jared's neck. He rocked up into Jared's thigh, desperately seeking friction. "Fucking touch me."
"Three syllables is far too many," Jared said. He let his fingers play lightly over Jensen's ass and dug his other hand into Jensen's hip to keep him tight against Jared's body. "Especially for someone who has such loathing for English majors."
Jensen arched under him and slid his leg around Jared's waist. Which was amazing, because Jared settled right between Jensen's spread legs, and they both groaned at the sudden delicious friction. While Jared was busy being completely distracted by this maneuver, Jensen managed to wrap his hand around Jared's dick.
Jared could feel the guitar calluses on Jensen's fingers, the slight roughness dragging against the oversensitive skin of his cock. It felt incredible: hot and deep and intense. Jensen laughed breathily against his neck, so Jared twisted to rub his finger against Jensen's tight little hole, just a bit of pressure to let Jensen know not now but soon. Jensen made a noise that should be illegal, broken and raspy and desperate, but somehow managed to get them both in his hand, and the slick-rough push-glide of his dick against Jensen's cock in Jensen's hot palm shorted out any of Jared's remaining brain function. He thrust up into the blindingly hot pressure, Jensen's whole body moving with his in a fast and frantic rhythm, and turned his head blindly to find Jensen's mouth, licking desperately into it and swallowing Jensen's moans.
And Jesus Christ, it was too much. When he managed to force his eyes open, Jensen had that look on his face, the same one he'd had playing guitar onstage. Except it was better because all that intensity and focus and desire was turned on Jared. Jensen vibrated against him, and fucking hummed into his mouth, and his hand moved hard and fast, and Jared's whole body sang in response, a goddamn hallelujah chorus.
When Jensen came, shaking and trembling against him, he was saying "Jared, Jared, Jared," on repeat, and his hand faltered in its rhythm. But it didn't matter anyway, because the sound of his name on Jensen's lips and the feel of the hot wet spurts of come slicking his cock had Jared coming too, pulsing thick and wet and desperate onto their hands and stomachs.
Jensen lay panting underneath him and Jared didn't think he could summon the energy to move. Every bone in his body felt liquid, like his whole body had melted.
"I think you'll have some new fodder for your sexually explicit drawings on Monday," Jensen said finally, and his voice sounded hoarse and raspy and amazing.
Jared grinned a little and rolled, just far enough to take his weight off Jensen but close enough to keep their bodies pressed against one another. "Are you saying my explicit drawings were getting repetitive?"
"Let's just say it was one way of making your attentions clear," Jensen said drily.
"Were they?" Jared said. "Clear?" He leaned over to kiss Jensen, warm and lazy and deep, his hand stroking Jensen's cheek. When he pulled back, Jensen looked a little dazed so he couldn't help leaning in to do it again.
"Yeah, very clear," Jensen said softly just before they fell asleep.
It wasn't that unusual for Jared's cell to wake him up, but what was unusual was the heavy weight half on top of him that grunted awake, flailed suddenly and alarmingly, and elbowed him viciously in the ribs.
"What the fucking fuck," said the weight, who turned out to be Jensen.
"Sorry, sorry!" Jared said, and scrambled out of the warm tangle of blankets and Jensen to find his cell in the pocket of his jeans and turn it off. "Sorry," he said again.
Jensen was sitting almost upright and squinting at him. His hair was a mess, and there were pillow creases on his face. Jared couldn't help finding the whole thing adorable.
"What the fuck time is it," Jensen scowled, which wasn't quite as adorable, but also wasn't nearly as off-putting as Jared might previously have imagined.
"Uh, nine," he said. He glanced at his phone. It had been Sandy calling him. "I have a – thing."
"It's Sunday," Jensen said.
"Yeah, I know. My friend Sandy is getting this award this afternoon, very prestigious and everything, and I promised her I was going to take her and bring obnoxious signs – "
He stopped, suddenly very aware of the fact that he was standing naked in Jensen's bedroom and blabbering.
Jensen blinked at him.
"So, uh, I mean, I have to go," Jared said. "I'm sorry," he added.
"Right now?" Jensen said. Like – like he wanted Jared to get back in bed or something. Christ.
"Yeah," Jared said, and reached for his underwear before he could be tempted. "I have to meet her in, like, half an hour."
Jensen groaned and scrubbed at his face. "You are a better friend than me."
"Believe me, seeing you naked in bed right now is making me wish I was not this good of a friend," Jared said.
"Jesus," said Jensen. "Okay. If we're up this early, we at least need coffee."
When Jared got out of the bathroom, Jensen was sitting blearily at the kitchen table with his hands wrapped around a mug of coffee. He was also wearing glasses, which made Jared think of things that were not conducive to leaving anytime soon. Like kissing him.
"So, Jensen," Jared said when he disentangled his tongue from Jensen's mouth and managed to get to the front door where he shoved his arms into his jacket.
"So, Jared," Jensen mimicked.
"Theoretically, if someone was to ask you to dinner next weekend, would you be free?"
Jensen didn't look up from his coffee, but said, "Theoretically, your hypothesis doesn't contain enough parameters."
Jensen waved a hand. "You didn't specify a day or time, dumbass."
"Theoretically? No. Working."
There was a pause.
"Are you asking me out on a date on Friday, Padalecki?" Jensen said finally, flicking his gaze up to Jared's face.
Jared grinned at him, slow and easy. "Wasn't planning on it. Are you planning on asking me?"
"Well, I can see we both have exciting weekends planned, then."
Jensen slanted him another glance, his eyes gleaming just a little. "Yeah, well, as exhilarating as this conversation has been, seeing as I'm up at asscrack o'clock, I'm gonna kick you out and write this paper for Ferris. Since school doesn't actually end once you defend your thesis."
"It's nine, you layabout," Jared said.
"It's Sunday," Jensen shot back.
Jared was almost at the front door when Jensen came up behind him and wrapped his arms tight around him, his mouth at the back of Jared's neck. Jared turned around to kiss him again, his hand cupping Jensen's jaw. He could feel Jensen's pulse beating a steady rhythm against his fingertips.
"Okay, yeah," Jared said breathlessly. "This is unfair. I gotta go."
He was actually outside the door of Jensen's apartment before he turned and said, "So, Friday night, right? We can be unsocial losers together."
Jensen flipped him off and closed the door in his face, but Jared saw the grin tugging at the corner of his lips.
He had a paper to write too and a ton of schoolwork to catch up on, but he was spending the afternoon cheering on his brilliant best friend, and on Monday he was going to flirt with Jensen and draw gay Kama Sutra positions on his notebook in the hopes of getting Jensen to try them out. On Friday. When they had a not-date.
He grinned widely. His life may not be a quirky British romcom, but it was still pretty damn sweet.