The conference room is packed when Jared enters, squeezing his way through the other employees to take his place at Genevieve’s side next to the water cooler. He shakes his head as she offers him a questionable looking gingerbread cookie, but smiles all the same when she sighs and bites the head off herself.
"God, I hope I don’t get Chad from accounting again this year. That man can take any little thing and find a way to pervert it, I swear."
Skimming the table for something edible, he crinkles his nose at the selection. "What’d you get him last year?"
She sighs, "A Chia pet. Who do you have your eyes on this time? As if I have to ask, I know who you want for Christmas" she sings and nudges his side with her elbow, then polishes off the last of her cookie.
Jared can’t help but grin at the implication; it’s not like he’s kept it a secret from her that he would give just about anything for a certain Jensen Ackles to notice him. Pining doesn’t even begin to cover what he’s felt since he first saw those freckles speckled over the bridge of his nose or every time he'd seen Jensen laugh or smile. He should really be fired for as much time as he spends daydreaming about his lips alone.
He shifts, pouring himself a cup and then leans against the wall. As if on cue, he catches sight of Jensen as he walks in with the pretty redhead from HR— Danneel, he thinks.
The sweater vest Jensen’s wearing stretches tightly— but not too tight—over his chest; tan and gray argyle pattern over brown which grips tauntingly around his waist. The top button of the shirt underneath is undone, showing just enough collarbone to make Jared want to kiss it. Gen coughs, bringing him back to reality.
"Y’know, I don’t know that gift shopping for Jensen would really be a good idea. Can you just imagine my spontaneous meltdown in the middle of the mall? What the heck would I get him that would possibly say, ‘Hi, my name's Jared. Got you this because I think you are hot as hell and I wanna kiss you. Merry Christmas,’ without being creepy?"
She snorts softly, "I think Hallmark has an ornament for that. Or a card, possibly both."
"Shuddup." Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Jensen scratch his knuckle over his nose, then pushes his glasses further back up his nose-- which instantly draws Jared’s attention to those damn freckles. He has to bite back a soft moan and shift his body towards the cooler-- because, well.
"Thank you for coming, everyone," Jeff says, taking his place at the head of the table, and sets down a large fishbowl. "So, just like last year, there is a twenty-five dollar limit to all gifts. And please do your best to keep gifts confidential until all gifts have been given. It’s called a Secret Santa exchange for a reason. That goes double for you, Alona," he says with a wink. She feigns offense, drawing a laugh from the crowd. "But, most of all, have fun. It’s Christmas, people. Don’t stress and over-think too much. "
With that, Jeff reaches in to pull out a small strip of paper and pockets it without even reading it. Everyone else forms a line to grab a similar scrap before heading home for the day. Gen guides Jared to the back of the line and Jared absently watches as Jensen slides up his sleeve and dips his hand into the bowl. He grins to himself when Jensen’s face lights up and he shouts, "Yes!" Danneel rolls her eyes at him, then cuffs her hand under his arm. He continues to watch as they joke and Jensen throws his head back with a laugh when they step out into the hall.
Jared has to fight back a pang of jealousy, last he heard Danneel and Jensen weren’t dating. Rumor mill had it that Danneel was actually seeing someone from outside the office. Karl, Kade, or was it Katie? Something with a K. One of these days Jared will learn to pay closer attention, especially when Jensen’s name comes up. The best part about having a secret crush on the office’s "most eligible bachelor," is that he can always overhear interesting little tidbits of gossip about him without really trying.
And back to creepy stalker boy. Jesus, Jared, he berates himself.
"Jared, sweetie. You’re daydreaming again." Gen elbows him and he sighs and tucks a stray hair back behind his ear.
Janice hurries and grabs her slip and then it’s Gen’s turn. Stirring what’s left of the papers, she reaches in and grabs one and slaps it against Jared’s chest, harder than expected judging by her expression. "You read it. Just promise to put me out of my misery if it’s as bad as I think it’ll be."
"Don’t you think you’re being a bit over-dramatic?" he asks, but doesn’t press the issue when she glares up at him. "Fine." Rolling his eyes, he grabs the paper from beneath her hand and unfolds it. "You have Jeff. Happy now?"
"Oh thank god. Wait, what do I get the boss?"
The bowl only has a handful or two of names remaining in it and Jared ignores Genevieve’s sudden panic attack to quickly snatch one of the names. He brings it up, and unfolds it to read the name, "Chad." He can’t help but feel just a bit disappointed about not getting Jensen, and apparently it shows more than he intends.
"Aw. Sorry, Jare. Maybe next year? Who’d you get?" She’s pulling him out of the way as the remaining people scramble to draw their own slips.
The paper crumples in his hand and he shoves it deep in his pocket, then says dryly, "Chad. From accounting."
"Oh. Wow. Well, think of it this way: you won’t have to worry about him objectifying whatever you get him? And if he does, every woman in the building will be grateful for you. Sorry, but better you getting objectified than any of us." She wraps her hands around his elbow reassuringly and follows him out to the elevator.
"Gee, thanks," he laughs, trying to brush off the negative. It’s just a silly little gift exchange, anyway.
The drive to work the next day is uneventful, mostly Gen bouncing gift ideas off of him; like somehow he has some sort of hidden insight on what to get Mr. Morgan. Jared’s really only had one conversation with the guy, and it was about copy machines. He suggests a new copier buffer, to which he gets a resounding, "Are you fucking kidding me? I’m being serious, Jared," followed by a backhand to his chest.
He laughs and scoots as far into the driver’s seat as he can. "I was just joking," he pauses before continuing, "Maybe. C’mon, Gen. You heard him, don’t stress. Relax already, it’s just Christmas."
"Easy for you to say, you could buy yours a couple boxes of condoms and he’d be your best friend for life. I'd risk being fired." She flips back open the catalog and rifles through it to no avail.
"Oh, for gods sake, you aren’t gonna get fired if you buy a sucky gift." He’s more than regretful for suggesting that, especially when he gets assaulted by the now rolled up catalog just as he pulls into the parking lot.
They head their separate ways after the short elevator ride; Jared removes his coat, hangs it inside his cubicle, and then sits down. He does a quick spin in his chair, air drumming like he does every morning; his feet hook on the underside to stop him, he turns and goes to grab his headset. Instead his hand brushes over a box that he hadn’t noticed before.
Gold wrapping paper tied liberally with metallic green ribbon reflects the soft neon light from above. It’s tall, maybe a foot or so high, and at its base, there’s a card with his name on it. Jared picks it up; the writing is elegant, like whoever wrote it took their time. He expects a typical, generically bland Christmas message, but his interest is definitely piqued when all it says is, "I’m thirsty."
For a second he thinks maybe Chad got him and is re-gifting last year’s Chia pet, but he’s had to try and decipher Chad’s chicken scratch on more than one occasion, and this is definitely not it. He sets the card aside and begins to unwrap the gift. He carefully opens the box to discover a tree-- a small one, but still a living, fragrant, honest to god pine tree.
Another note is dangling from its tip. "I like it here. Can I stay?," is written in the same flowing penmanship.
Jared chuckles softly to himself, and touches a branch, squeezing a needle between two fingers before sliding the tree to the side of his computer. "Okay?" he says to no one in particular and then gets up from his chair to go get some water-- just as directed.
Jared doesn’t really think much more about his gift throughout the day, except of course when he gets the occasional whiff of pine.
The tiny lights twinkle in a bright rainbow of LED as they wind around the tree. Jared sits there mesmerized as he tinkers with the speed settings and then flips back open the new card, "Make me shine."
Someone clears their throat behind him and when he turns around, he sees his supervisor, Julie, leaning over his cubicle wall, leering disapprovingly. "If you spent nearly as much time working as you did decorating your little Charlie Brown tree, maybe I would have that report I was supposed to have an hour ago, Padalecki."
Jared is offended. It may be tiny as far as trees go, but it is definitely not a Charlie Brown tree. It’s kind of adorable, and thoughtful, in fact. And at this point he has to admit, whoever his Santa is, they’re pretty damned creative. The whole idea is remarkably special, it’s like his own personal advent Christmas tree. And he can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring. Sure beats the cheese log he got last year, anyway.
He puts on his fakest smile and turns back to his computer, letting his fingers fly over the keys and in a matter of a few clicks, he snatches the paper from the printer and hands it to Julie. He holds back a snicker as he imagines her in full on Scrooge attire when she spins and heads back to her office, without so much as saying a word. "And a bah humbug to you too," he mutters and then goes back to playing with the lights.
It’s bitterly cold this morning and Jared figured Starbucks would work just as good as a hand warmer as it would it would wake his tired ass up. Totally worth the extra twenty minute drive to midtown.
"So, who do you think it is?" Gen asks him in between sips at her latte.
Lost in the heaven that is his caramel mocha, he doesn’t quite understand what she’s talking about. "Who do I think who is?" He reaches down to open the door, the warmth from the lobby rushing over them in a blast of welcome heat.
"America’s Next Top Model. Who do you think I mean, boy genius?" She takes one last gulp of coffee and throws her cup into a nearby trash can.
Jared hands her the last of his, letting her finish it off as he pockets his gloves and presses the button for them. "I’m not really sure, haven’t really thought about it, to be honest."
The doors slide open and they enter, Gen reaching forward to hit their floor when someone shouts, "Hold the elevator!" A guy’s hand stops the doors just in time, and they slowly open back up to reveal Jensen. He smiles at them and steps in, making it a bit tense and claustrophobic. "Uh, hi. Fourth floor, right?" he asks to which Jared nervously nods. Jensen’s smile is tentative but still sends a shiver through him, and Jared can barely hold back his excitement when Jensen pushes the button and wedges himself between them.
None of them says a word, Jensen just turns and gives him a smile and then folds his arms over his chest. Jared thinks it’s a little more than odd that he’s not wearing a coat or gloves and he can feel his body heat through what little contact they have. No way he’s gonna complain about that part. He can make out Gen’s foot tapping, something she always does when she’s uncomfortable, and he can’t blame her for that either. If he could, Jared would be jumping out of his skin right now.
Jensen silently exits, and Jared is finally able to breathe. "Well that was awkward," says Gen. She pulls at his coat, tugging him down to kiss him on the cheek before heading off to her department.
"Tell me about it," he sighs and makes his way to his cubicle. His heart melts just a little when he sees his tree decorated in tiny black, sliver, and white ornaments. At the base of the tree there is one of those rubber bouncy balls from a vending machine painted to look like a basketball with the San Antonio Spurs logo displayed in minute detail.
"A little taste of home, just for you," reads the card.
After lunch, Jared’s finishing his yogurt and rounding the corner when he sees his office chair pushed out into the aisle; someone’s shoe is sticking out just past the partition. Well that’s weird. He takes one more mouthful and approaches apprehensively, trying to think of who it could be in his workspace, and on the floor no less.
The guy shifts on the floor and Jared recognizes the sweater vest instantly, that same pattern he had been admiring just a few days before in the conference room. "No fucking way," he whispers as he pulls the spoon from his mouth. He rests his elbows on the partition, and admires the view from up close. He feels a little bit guilty, but how often is he gonna get the chance to see Jensen’s ass this close up, and from this angle it’s begging to be gawked at.
He waits a few beats before finally breaking his silence. "There something I can help you with?" he asks.
Jensen startles, banging his head on the underside of the desk. "Son of a bitch," he grumbles. Reaching up to rub his head, he turns and sits on the floor, his back against Jared’s file cabinet. He cracks one eye open and stares back to Jared and it’s clear he wasn’t expecting Jared to return anytime soon. "Oh, hey. Jared, right?"
"Mhm. And you would be?" Jared plays oblivious. They’ve never really talked outside the elevator this morning, and his heart is racing faster than he can think anyway, so he’s just gonna go on the fly.
"Oh right, sorry." Jensen pulls himself up off the floor, brushes his hands off on his pants and then extends one. His eyes are warm and inviting, crinkling just at the corners when he smiles. " Hi, I'm Jensen. We met in the elevator earlier, or well, not met- met. But, yeah."
Jared’s brain freezes for a second, caught up somewhere between the million and one freckles and the way his name sounds rolling of Jensen’s tongue. Finally, he comes back to himself long enough to take Jensen’s hand in his. It's soft but firm, and maybe a little clammy but that could be his for all he knows. Jared secretly hopes that it's Jensen being just as nervous as he is.
"So, what can I help you with, J...?" He holds on longer than he probably should and he knows Jensen’s name, he does. It just won’t come out right now-- and god this is embarrassing-- and Jared finally lets his hand go.
"Jensen," Jensen repeats. "I, um, was just. Okay, you caught me. I meant to have this all done this morning, but I got called away and I was on my way back up when I ran into you and your friend in the elevator. And then I had to wait until you went on your lunch so I could sneak in to put on the star, but then I knocked off some of the ornaments. I think I might have broken one. And then surprise, here you are, and I’m like creepy stalker guy down under your desk. And I’m rambling, I’m rambling aren’t I? I ramble a lot when I’m nervous. And unprepared. Or nervous and unprepared. And I’m gonna shut up now."
Sitting back against the desk, Jensen’s cheeks flush, making him even more adorable than Jared’s ever seen. Jared grins as he finally calms down, realizing that Jensen is just as anxious as he is. "Wait, so you did all this for me?"
Raising his hand to rub at his neck, Jensen’s expression goes sheepish. "Well, my friend Danneel helped. Don’t be mad, but she was the one who found out where you were from and whatnot. Trying to find out anything about you is nearly impossible. You’re quite the mystery, Jared."
Jared cocks his head, surprised that someone would even bother trying to dig up something on someone as boring and altogether uninteresting as himself, especially just to find him a Christmas gift. "I am? Huh, never thought I was. Same could be said for you, though. You are like this unapproachable guy that wanders the halls with that laugh and those freckles. Or whatever," he adds, and Jared has to hold back his own embarrassment as soon as he says it.
Jared grabs his chair and wheels it back into the cubicle and takes a seat. It’s impossibly crowded now with Jensen here, but somehow neither of them seems to mind. And Jared thinks he could get used to seeing Jensen’s smile up this close, especially when he’s blushing again.
"Unapproachable, huh?" he laughs and meets Jared’s eyes. His are soft and kind, and greener than they have any right to be.
It’s Jared’s turn to laugh this time. He lowers his gaze, letting his bangs fall forward to dangle inches from his face. "Yeah, well, that’s the impression I got from you.
"I don’t mean to be, and I would like to. Let you get to know me better, that is. Like maybe over dinner?" Jensen asks, adjusting his glasses on his nose. Jared’s head snaps up, he’s sure he heard that wrong, but still hoping he didn’t. "Sorry. Too forward, I know."
Before Jared realizes what he’s doing, his hand is on Jensen’s knee and he decides to just go with it. After all Jensen just kind of asked him out on an honest to god date, so. "No, I’d love to," he says, meeting Jensen’s eyes again.
"Really? Awesome, um, I’ll stop by after work and we can, well, yeah." Jensen says, his entire face lighting up. And yeah, Jared’s definitely sure he could get used to seeing him like this. Jensen stands and brushes past Jared.
"Hey, Jensen." Jared turns and catches hold of his wrist before he leaves. "Thanks for the tree, I love it."
"You’re welcome. I’m glad you do. I've got to get back to work, but I will see ya later, k?"
Jensen smiles one last time before he heads back to work. Jared’s head is swimming and he can’t believe what just happened. His phone starts to ring, and he wheels over to the desk and reaches to grab it, unable to stop smiling when his eyes catch sight of the tree.