Written by nyxocity
Art by essene
It’s 8 am on a Wednesday morning in July when Jared walks into Station 4 of the San Jose Fire Department, and it’s already hot as hell. Sweat trickles down his back as he walks inside the open bays of the brick building, the direct light of the sun leaving his skin with a sensation of relief. This summer has been cruel and viciously dry so far; it hasn’t rained once in the last twenty-nine days, grass and vegetation everywhere slowly turning brown and yellow as the heat’s worn on.
He slaps Tom’s hand as enters, the two of them falling into step as they move through the bay to the door to the main hallway.
“New guy starts today,” Tom comments.
C-shift—Jared’s shift at the station, and his team in particular—has been short-handed since Steve left. Jared’s been so used to Tom filling in on his team that he’d nearly forgotten they were hiring someone new.
“So what are we thinking?” Tom asks, grinning as they move to the door. “Saran wrap on the toilet? Whipped cream in his gear?”
Jared thinks for a second, mouth curling in a contemplative smirk. “Nah, he’s already experienced. He moved here from another department, right? We need to come up with something new.”
Tom squints, nodding thoughtfully, and then they move into the hallway of bustling bodies filing in, sharing hello’s and slapping hands with more than a dozen of the rest of the shift.
They all move through the corridor down to the door that opens to the dining hall. They always meet in the dining hall first, lunch and dinner sorted out before the day begins, if they have time. The room is filled with twenty-five men—a team of four for each truck, engine and rescue in the bay—all of them seated at the first three rows of long tables in the room.
“Okay,” the Captain—Jeff, or Cappy, as he’s more affectionately known—calls, clapping his hands together to get everyone’s attention in the dining hall. “So, today, it’s Chad’s turn to cook.”
Groans rise to fill the room, Chad rising up and standing amidst it all, fist pumping into the air.
“You know you love it,” he yells over the din.
“And that,” Jeff goes on, a knowing note in his voice, “means we’re all gonna be hurting tonight if we don’t pick something simple. So… turkey sandwiches for lunch?”
The group cheers, and Jared cheers right along as he and Tom slide into the bench seats of the closest table.
“Dinner, though, that’s a little bit harder,” Jeff adds. “What did you have in mind, Chad?”
“Fried chicken,” Chad answers immediately. “And mashed potatoes. I’d make carrots, too, but you fuckers don’t deserve it.”
A laugh ripples through the group.
Jeff raises his hands to the crowd, questioning without asking. “Pretty hard to screw that up,” he adds with a shrug.
It’s all for show; Chad’s cooking isn’t the greatest of them all, but he’s not terrible. Most everyone cheers and agrees to the menu, and Jeff turns to write it on the whiteboard. When he’s done, he caps the green dry-erase marker and sets it on the ledge, rubbing his hands together as he turns back to the group.
“And now that that’s settled...” he says, going more formal. “Today we welcome our newest team member.” Jeff gestures towards a guy sitting at the first table that Jared can’t quite see through the sea of heads in the way. “This is Jensen. He hails from the Dallas Fire Department, originally, so he’s got some field experience. He’s a quiet one, though, and we’re always suspicious of those types around here,” Jeff says good-naturedly, and several guys chuckle. “But he seems like a decent guy. He’ll be joining Chris’s team, working with Chad and Jared.”
Everyone claps, a few welcome’s yelled out. New guys are always a question mark; you never know how someone is going to fit in on a team. But he’s a firefighter, and that means he’s already a brother.
Jared just hopes he’s cool.
It’s 8:22 and Jared’s washing Engine 2, soapy sponge trailing up and over the rim of the back tire when he senses someone standing behind him.
He grabs the hose, prepared to turn and spray Chad or Tom—and the action dies, hand falling to his side, hose spilling against the concrete floor of the bay.
“Hey,” the guy says, lifting a hand to his forehead. “New guy, reporting for duty.” He sends a half-salute in Jared’s direction, but Jared barely notices—because this guy is gorgeous. Like, beyond-movie-star, superhumanly gorgeous. Beautiful green eyes, sharp cheekbones and angular jaw drawing down to a delicate point, full, sensuous mouth and short cropped dark-blond hair. He’s dressed in the usual station uniform blues, teeth gnawing against his own lower lip self-consciously.
The hose spurts in Jared’s hand, jagged patterns against the floor.
“I’m, um…Jared,” he says, automatically offering his free hand.
“Jensen,” the guy introduces himself as he grabs Jared’s hand in a tight, brief squeeze. “Nice to officially meet you.”
It’s a tight, firm handshake, and Jared’s other hand flexes around the hose. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“So I heard tell you could maybe use some help out here?” Jensen drawls as he pulls his hand away, arching an inquiring brow at Jared.
His accent reminds Jared instantly of being home in San Antonio. Jared’s nearly lost his own accent, living in California the last three years. His mouth is dry, tongue heavy in his mouth as he swallows.
“Yeah,” he nods, clearing his throat. He slaps the sponge into Jensen’s hand, squish and splash, their fingers touching briefly around the edges.
The sensation is warm, almost electric, and Jared feels it long after they’ve settled into a rhythm, Jensen drawing the sponge across the engine in soapy swirls, Jared rinsing behind.
The tones ring out through the station at 9:08 am exactly, high note at the end dictating that they’re being called into action. The dispatcher’s voice fills the bay, telling them the specifics; an elderly woman with chest pains at a nearby address.
Jared and Jensen are still right there beside the truck when the call comes through, sponge and hose dropped in synchronicity, gear left right there beside the vehicle, ready to be stepped into. They both jump into their boots, yanking up their bunker pants and getting their hats on in under a minute. Chad and Chris arrive, pulling on their own gear as Jared throws in the rest of his gear and slides in behind the passenger seat of the engine. Jensen does the same, sliding in right beside him, door slamming shut.
Every medical call demands a driver/engineer, an officer, and at least two privates. Chad’s their engineer, and Chris has always been their lieutenant. Jared’s a private, three years on the team. He’s an emergency medical technician, as almost all firefighters are, but he’s not the driver or the officer, and that means he’s the main medic on every scene, along with the private beside him. That person used to be Steve, but lately it’s been Tom replacing the empty space, and Tom’s been with the station for years.
Today, Jared doesn’t know the guy beside him.
“Chest pains,” Jensen comments, glancing at Jared. Sirens echo off the buildings around them, Jensen’s voice barely audible. “We got a lot of these calls in Dallas.”
Jared cranes his neck to look at Jensen.
“Hottie at two o’clock,” Chris chimes out.
Jared notes how Jensen doesn’t turn to look.
“We get a lot of them here, too,” Jared says. “Usually doesn’t turn out to be anything serious.”
“Yeah,” Jensen says, shrugging. “Most times, it turned out to be indigestion or acid reflux. But that one time out of ten… you never know.”
“Are you fucking kidding me with this shit?” Chad demands of the traffic, laying on the horn and yanking the engine hard.
Both of them fall to the left as Chad swerves, and Jared ends up falling into Jensen’s lap, eyes flashing across Jensen’s as he falls, his hands grabbing Jensen’s shoulder and outer thigh for balance. Jensen’s hand descends on his shoulder, arm wrapping around his back and catching him neatly, evenly against Jensen’s thighs, his shoulder pressed against Jensen’s stomach. He can feel everywhere Jensen’s touching him, searing hot as the day outside, and God, he can’t be doing this, can’t be thinking or feeling this when they’re on a call, for fuck’s sake.
“Sorry,” Jared says hurriedly as he tries to push away.
“You all right?” Jensen asks.
“I’m fine.” Jared rights himself on the seat, cheeks flushing. He turns his face to look out the window, forcing himself to think about the call. “Indigestion or acid reflux, nine times out of ten,” Jared agrees, clearing his throat. “But you never know.”
“It’s that ten percent,” Jensen agrees.
It’s that ten percent; Jared knows it in the first minute, and Jensen does, too. Jared can tell just by meeting his eyes across the elderly woman. The rules say EMT’s aren’t supposed to diagnose—only a doctor can do that—but they do anyway, at least internally. They have to.
Jared tells Chris to call for rescue.
Jensen talks to her for the most part, keeping her calm while he checks her vitals and Jared checks the rest of her.
It’s so smooth, that Jared doesn’t even realize how smooth it was until after the ambulance has left with the woman in tow, sirens fading into the distance.
They go out on several more calls during the morning, all of them medical, none of them too serious, and there are chores to be done around the station in the meantime. When lunch time rolls around, Jared slides into his usual place at the tables. He’s aware that Jensen was several guys behind him in line, and he watches the way Jensen moves, slow and confident, like he’s got all the time in the world, plate balanced on one hand as he threads his way through the crowd around the serving table.
Tom slides in beside Jared, slamming into his side with one shoulder, knocking Jared off-balance.
“Asshole,” Jared mutters, grinning as he shoves his shoulder back against Tom’s.
“So what do you think?” Tom asks as he settles in, nodding at Jensen.
Jared refocuses on Jensen walking towards the tables, posture easy and relaxed as any native Texan. Wide through the shoulders, tapering down to a narrow waist and hips, uniform pants slung low, clinging to his thighs when he moves. Jared’s never seen someone make a station uniform look that good.
“He’s…” Jared says after a moment. “He’s good. Fits right in with the work.”
“Uh huh,” Tom comments, picking up his sandwich and contemplating it before he turns amused, knowing blue eyes on Jared. “And?”
“And nothing,” Jared tells him.
Chad sits down on Jared’s other side, announcing his presence with another hard shoulder thrown into Jared’s. “We talking about the new guy?”
“Yep,” Tom nods, grinning. “Jared’s got a crush on him.”
“Aw, Jay,” Chad coos, sarcastic affection dripping from his voice. “That’s so cute.”
Jared throws a casual elbow into Chad’s chest, hand picking up the sandwich from his plate. “Remind me again why I hang out with you two?”
“Jensen,” Chad calls out, waving a hand to get Jensen’s attention, and Jared’s going to kill him. “Come sit with us.”
Jensen turns from the place he was about to sit, greeting Chad with a smile as he begins to walk their way.
“Ten bucks says I can make Jared blush in the first minute of conversation,” Chad challenges Tom right across Jared like Jared’s not even sitting there.
“You’re on,” Tom shoots back.
And Jared’s out, dropping his sandwich and rising from his seat.
“Aw, Jay, come on,” Chad says, twisting around to look up at him.
Jensen’s there, standing across from them as he considers the situation. “You leaving?” he asks, looking at Jared. “It wasn’t something I said, was it?” he adds with a grin that hits Jared right in the gut.
He takes a deep breath and focuses on the situation.
“No,” Jared says, glancing at Chad and Tom. “It’s the idea of trying to have a decent conversation with these two asshats around.”
“We’ve struck a nerve,” Tom says, grinning at Chad.
“Don’t worry, Jay,” Chad says, mock-reassuring. “We won’t tell him all your deepest and darkest secrets. Gotta save something for after dinner.”
Jared rolls his eyes and grabs his sandwich, on second thought. “See ya, Jensen,” he says as he steps out from the bench seat, turning away before he can see Jensen’s expression.
He has no idea what Chad and Tom have told Jensen, or what Jensen must’ve thought of Jared’s abrupt departure, so he does his best to avoid seeing Jensen for the rest of the shift. He’s got plenty of chores to keep him busy in between calls, and calls are always so busy that there’s almost no time for talking. They get a call for a little boy with a broken collarbone at a nearby school playground, two calls for injuries at car accidents, one call for a fire at an office building that turns out to be a twitchy alarm system, and couple other medical calls that turn out to be fairly routine stuff.
But even as busy as they are on a call, Jared can’t help noticing how competent Jensen is at his job, the way his hands move as he works, as confident and easy as the rest of him. How they mesh together on the job effortlessly, like Jensen’s always been there.
Jared avoids dinner in the hall, too, taking his plate out to the rec room and watching some sitcom rerun while he eats. Chad catches him afterward in the hallway, trying to get him in on pranking Jensen—something about stealing Jensen’s gear while he’s sleeping and then rigging a fake fire call—but Jared passes. Chad is obviously annoyed, asking if Jared’s still pissed about earlier. Thankfully a call comes in, then, chimes ringing out.
Jared gets to bed in one of the dorms by midnight, and he’s sleeping soundly when a call comes in for his team. Groaning, he jumps up from the bed, racing to the door, sliding down the pole at the end of the hall, feet hitting the concrete floor of the bay. He stops then, realizing he’s the only one there.
He’s still processing that when someone dumps a bucket of ice-water down the pole hole, soaking him from head to toe. He blinks water out of his eyes, one hand still resting on the pole, and looks up.
Chad is laughing maniacally, and there are at least a half dozen of the guys hanging their heads out the doorway, whooping and yelling.
So the prank wasn’t for Jensen, after all.
“What you get for ditching,” Chad tells him, pointing.
“You are so dead,” Jared promises, before he bursts into laughter, too.
C-shift finishes at 8 am Thursday morning, and Jared goes home to get some solid sleep before he heads to his second job later tonight.
The San Jose fire department is full-time, which means Jared gets benefits and a salary, but this is still California; living isn’t cheap, and most of the privates hold down second jobs. A shift at the station is one day on for twenty-four hours, with two days off in between shifts, and Jared spends two of his days off every week working part time at the 7-11 near his apartment. Their hours are flexible enough to fit with his shift time so he can sleep in between, and it’s not the worst job he’s ever had.
He works 4 pm to midnight at the store, and everything’s going along normally until about 11:40 pm. Jared’s restocking snacks towards the back of the store when the door opens. He glances up at the security cameras behind the counter to get a look at who’s coming in.
The cameras are too far away for Jared to make out anything except the guy’s general body shape, but it’s an impressive shape. Jared finishes putting in the last of the bags and then carries the box to the front of the store as the guy makes his way down the aisle to the Hostess snack cakes. Jared gets a much better look at his body on the cameras, noting the way he walks, casual and confident, hands stuffed in the front pockets of his jeans. He realizes there’s something familiar about the guy in the split-second before he recognizes Jensen.
Jensen? What the hell is Jensen doing here? Does he live nearby?
“So you work here?” Jensen asks, walking up to the counter. He’s got a package of Twinkies in one hand, a bottle of Coke in the other. Jared wouldn’t have guessed Jensen for the junk food type, going by the muscles in Jensen’s arms, those broad, well-muscled shoulders that Jared can see through the cling of his t-shirt.
“So you eat Twinkies and drink Coke for a midnight snack?” Jared responds, words popping out before he can catch himself.
“Only when I’m nervous,” Jensen answers, smirking.
“Nervous? You?” Jared asks, because, seriously. Based on his looks alone, Jensen is a God on most people’s rating scales, and Jared already knows how incredibly competent he is. What does a guy like this get nervous about?
“Been known to happen from time to time,” Jensen tells him.
Jared is waiting for him to continue, curious as all hell and hoping Jensen’s going to share, but he doesn’t.
“This is a good part-time job,” Jared finally says, shrugging as he shoots Jensen a smile. “Healthier than Twinkies.”
But Jensen’s expression has gone serious.
“So, listen,” Jensen says, swallowing. “I’m not the world’s best talker, but I figure since we’re partnered up at the station,” he makes a vague motion with one of his hands against the counter, “we should talk.”
Jared studies Jensen’s face carefully, trepidation rising in his throat. “About what?”
Jensen tilts his head slightly to the side. “I’m not sure what happened at lunch yesterday… but I think maybe we got off on the wrong foot.”
Dammit. Jensen does think Jared left because of him. And really, what else is Jensen supposed to think after Jared avoided talking to him for the rest of the day? Of course Jensen thinks that.
“Oh, no. That wasn’t about you,” Jared blurts, and then quickly reconsiders. “Well, I mean, it was,” Jared amends, “but not like that.”
Jensen’s frown shifts slightly, eyes going puzzled. “Well… glad we cleared that up, then,” he drawls, unconvinced.
Jared opens his mouth and the chime above the door rings out as a customer walks inside. Jared bites down on his lower lip and breathes out his annoyance slowly.
“What are you doing tonight?” Jared asks.
“Nothing,” Jensen says. “Just a hot date with my junk food.”
“I’m off in fifteen—you wanna go grab a beer or something? We could, you know, talk better then. Like that,” Jared adds, wanting to bite off his own tongue and die on the spot.
Jensen doesn’t seem to notice as he nods. “Okay.”
There’s a small bar nearby that’s not nearly as populated as ones two blocks over, where the local night life likes to hang out. They get a table towards the back and order a couple bottles of Miller Lite. Jared drinks most of his in the first few minutes while he nervously explains to Jensen that Chad and Tom were taking bets to embarrass him in front of Jensen. He leaves out the part about the embarrassment stemming from the fact that Jared’s got a crush on Jensen, though. Because he doesn’t.
Jensen seems to understand, and they talk about work for a little while. Then Jensen asks Jared about his accent and they get to talking about Texas, and the Cowboys and local places. Jensen’s new in town, which Jared already knew; he moved here a few weeks ago after he got confirmation on his job at the San Jose fire station. Chad was the one who told Jensen where Jared worked and when, though he doesn’t live all that far away from Jared’s place. He seems laid back and genuinely nice, and every time he smiles, Jared forgets what he was saying for a couple of seconds. Jensen’s got a warm, dazzling smile that makes the corners of his eyes crinkle just the tiniest bit, and Jared feels like he got smacked upside the head with a stupid-stick every time Jensen turns it on him.
They sit for maybe half an hour, and then Jensen says he’s got to get home to bed. He touches Jared’s shoulder on his way out, hand warm, sending tingles rushing through Jared’s arm, and says he’ll see Jared next shift.
Jared sits there for a few minutes after he’s gone, staring down at his empty bottle. He can still feel the light pressure where Jensen touched him, and Jensen touching him is pretty much all he can think about.
So maybe Jared does have a crush. But it’s purely a physical thing. It’s not like he even knows Jensen. And it’s 99% likely that Jensen’s straight, anyway. So his new partner is a gorgeous, competent, seemingly genuine nice guy. Jared’s a professional. He can deal with this. Or, he could, if it weren’t for the way he feels when Jensen’s eyes meet his. The way his voice goes straight to Jared’s gut. The way they fell into complete synch from the very first moment on the job.
The way they fit, without even trying.
God, he has to stop thinking about this.
He doesn’t stop thinking about it, though. In fact, the more he tries not to, the more it’s all he can think about. During their next shift together, Jared’s every non-working moment is spent being incredibly aware of Jensen, his every word, every movement, and itsucks.
He manages to get some sleep between 5 am and 7 am, and then he’s up, heading through the showers early on Sunday morning. It’s near the end of the shift, and he has every intention of paying Chad back for last shift’s ice water stunt, bottle of olive oil in one hand, ready to be switched for Chad’s shampoo. He’s passing the first shower stalls when one of the opaque doors opens and Jensen emerges, wearing nothing but a towel hanging low around his waist.
Oh. My. God.
There’s still beaded water clinging to Jensen’s tanned, muscled skin, and he’s not as cut as Jared is, but he’s perfectly fit, wide, strong shoulders and lean chest muscle, narrowing at the waist, abs rippling under the skin, towel just revealing the crease where his inner thigh begins. Completely unselfconscious, his hair tousled and towel-damp, and there’s a gleam of playfulness in his eyes as he looks at Jared.
“Where you headed with that?” Jensen asks, looking down at the bottle in Jared’s hand.
“I… um…” Jared swallows hard and forces himself to look away from all that gorgeous, bare skin, following Jensen’s gaze down to the olive oil. “I was…” he lifts his hand weakly.
“Revenge, huh?” Jensen asks, and Jared can hear the grin in his voice. “Nuff said,” he adds, like he gets it, holding up his hands. “You were never here, this never happened.”
Jensen turns and walks off, bare feet padding against the tile, and God, the muscles in his calves—
“Olive oil?” Chad demands from behind Jared. “Seriously? Jay. I am offended here, buddy.”
Jared turns on Chad slowly, annoyed.
“I am worth way more than an olive oil prank.” Chad is shaking his head like he can’t believe it. “Christ, didn’t I teach you better than that?”
“And here I was gonna go easy on you,” Jared returns levelly.
“Now I know I taught you better than that,” Chad grins. “New boy’s got you going soft,” he whispers into Jared’s ear, slapping Jared lightly on the back of the head as he passes Jared by.
The gesture is asshole and affection in equal parts, and Jared smiles ruefully despite himself.
He works later that same night at the 7-11, 4 pm to midnight. Jensen doesn’t come by, and Jared doesn’t know why he thought Jensen might. They’re partnered at the fire station. It’s not like they’re best friends, or anything.
He sleeps until 8 am, and this is the day he gets things done; paying bills, running errands, making phone calls, grocery shopping and working out before cooking himself dinner. After dinner, he watches a movie and then turns on the news for an hour or so before he goes to bed at 11 pm.
It’s the same pattern he’s been living in for the last three years. Ever since he finished his first year of college and decided that his parents were wrong and he was right; firefighting was what he wanted to do with his life. He’d given them their chance; he’d taken that first year of college, and he’d even had a good grade point average by the end. But he’s known ever since he was thirteen, watching television coverage of rescue from the wreckage of the World Trade Center; this was what he wanted to be.
The day of the week assigned to each job changes accordingly with his firehouse schedule, but the pattern is always the same. It’s a familiar rhythm, an incredibly rewarding one, even if he sometimes feels like he does now, staring at the clock as it approaches midnight, wishing there was someone lying beside him.
Jensen isn’t quite like anyone else Jared’s ever known. They’ve got a good rhythm, an almost perfect exchange of jibes and stories, getting to know each other little by little. And Jared feels… like there’s something extra special to every word and glance and exchange, and he’s mostly sure that’s all his interpretation. But every now and then, Jensen meets his eyes and smiles in a way that sends Jared’s heart skidding sideways.
And well... that’s just Jensen. So gorgeous that just looking at him is like staring into the sun.
They’re starting to become friends. Jared tries hard to remember that anything else is all in his head.
The end of July is scorching and dry, still not a drop of rain in sight, but Jared’s feeling good as he begins his Thursday shift. He and Jensen are washing one of the engines together when Jared finally asks why Jensen moved to San Jose.
Jensen’s hand hesitates in mid-swirl with the sponge, soapy bubbles dripping down his wrist, rainbows catching against his skin in the sunlight.
“No pressure,” Jared says, more casually than he feels as he kneels, hose trained on the inside of one of the wheel wells, glancing up at Jensen through the edge of his bangs. “You don’t have to answer.”
Jensen looks back at the sponge in his hand, pushing trails of bubbles across the deep red. He’s silent for so long that Jared finally trains his eyes on the water spilling from the hose, licking his lips and trying to think of something else to say.
“It’s okay,” Jensen finally says. Jared’s eyes cut to him across the distance. Jensen’s gaze is fixed on the motion of his hand against the engine. “I moved here because I wanted to make a new start. My last relationship… ended badly.”
Jared takes that in, turning it over. “What happened?”
Jensen half shrugs, shaking his head. “She didn’t understand.”
It’s not like it’s a huge shock; Jared has always assumed Jensen is straight.
His heart still sinks inside his chest.
“She didn’t get the fireman lifestyle,” Jared concludes, pushing out the words against the tightness in his throat. He gets it. It’s not unusual; there are plenty of women who don’t enjoy their man being away for a full twenty-four hour stretch once every three days, putting their lives in danger every single time. Jared can’t blame them. It’s a tough way to live.
Jensen’s face tightens, hesitating, lips parting as if to speak and then closing, eyes glancing away.
Tones ring out above them, then, ending on a high note.
A man has collapsed on a nearby sidewalk. Dispatch tells them on the way that there’s a young man on the scene administering CPR. By the time they get there, someone else has clearly taken over the administration of CPR; this is no young man—the guy is forty if he’s a day.
Jared knows everything the second he sees the victim lying on the ground. The victim’s stomach is obscenely bloated, filled with air; a clear indication that CPR is being administered incorrectly.
Jared and Jensen move in to assess the situation while Chad and Chris play crowd control, moving everyone back from the area. A few moments later, Jensen is performing CPR on the victim, Jared monitoring the vitals.
The ambulance arrives in under a minute, Chet and Eric jumping down from the back. Jared tells them there’s no heartbeat or breath while Jensen continues CPR, and then they’re pulling out the paddles.
They shock the man multiple times as Jensen and Jared stand back, watching. By the time it’s all over, Chet is shaking his head, finally handing the paddles over to Eric.
The forty-something man is looking at Chet with fear-filled eyes, a split second from comprehension and completely terrified of it.
Chet breaks the news and a young man who looks about seventeen-years-old pushes into the scene. The younger guy’s face is streaked with tears, and he looks furious.
The full story comes out quickly, Chet taking the young man aside while Jensen and Jared listen in, keeping an eye on crowd control.
Apparently this young man—Jeremy—had been on his way back to high school when he’d seen the victim fall down. Jeremy had ascertained that the victim’s heart was not beating, and had begun administering CPR correctly to the victim. The forty-something man had come along a few minutes later and insisted that his wife was a nurse and that he knew CPR better than Jeremy, at which point the security guard at the building they’re standing in front of had made Jeremy stop. The older man had taken over, but had failed to tilt the victim’s neck properly, filling the victim’s stomach with air rather than the lungs. Jeremy had seen what was happening, gotten frantic and screamed at everyone that the older man was killing the victim, but no one had listened to him.
Jensen’s mouth is a tight, drawn line, jaw set and eyes hard as stone by the time Jeremy has finished speaking. His eyes light on the forty-something man standing near the curb.
The security guard breaks into the conversation then, explaining that Jeremy is “a kid” and the older man said he knew what he was doing, and that there’s no way he’s going to jail over this—which is the point at which Jared stops listening and Chet demands that the man wait by the building door he’s assigned to until the police get there.
Jeremy is fraught with tension, every muscle pulled tight as a cord, whole body thrumming as Jared touches him. His eyes are dark, sad and furious, and Jared… doesn’t usually try to play the guessing game when it comes to what happened on the scene before he arrived, but he believes Jeremy. He believes Jeremy tried—really hard--to save the victim’s life, even after there was obviously no hope that anyone was going to listen to him.
Jared looks to Jensen, knowing the next step is to calm Jeremy down until the police arrive.
Jensen’s walking toward the curb, sunlight glinting off the reflectors on his bunker pants as he steps from the shade of the building. The forty-something who’d been giving CPR when they’d arrived is babbling to someone else standing nearby, and Jensen steps neatly between the two of them.
“Sir,” Jensen asks, abruptly cutting off the man’s tirade. “Did the victim have a pulse when you took over?”
“What?” the man asks blankly, blinking at Jensen.
“Did you check the victim’s pulse before you began administering CPR to the victim?” Jensen clarifies.
The man shakes his head, looking mystified. “I... no.”
“Did you observe whether or not the victim’s heart was beating before you administered CPR?”
“I… saw him cough a few times, while the other guy was…” the guy trails off for a moment and then adds, “He was alive.”
“Chad,” Jared calls, motioning, and those blue eyes snap to meet Jared’s across the radio he’s speaking into. Jared cuts his eyes toward Jeremy, and Chad nods.
“Jeremy,” Jared says, clasping Jeremy’s shoulder, “go wait for me with Chad. He’s the guy right there by the door of the engine, on the radio.” Jared points, and Chad sends Jeremy a smile, waving him over.
By the time Jeremy’s on his way, Chet’s already interceding between Jensen and the guy, edging in slowly and calmly, talking to the older man as Jared walks up, putting a hand on Jensen’s shoulder.
Jensen’s still strung tight, shoulder stiff under Jared’s hand… and then he relents, stepping back.
“Okay,” Jensen says, walking in the direction of the engine.
Jensen doesn’t say a word the whole way back to the station, and Jared glances over at him a few times, reading the tight set of his shoulders, the way his hands are clasped into a single fist across his knees.
Jared understands. He gets it. He’s only been on the job three years to Jensen’s five, but he knows how it goes. No matter what you see, no matter how hardened you get, you’re still human. And every now and then, there’s that one call that breaks the camel’s back—the one that breaks past the barriers they have to set up to survive.
To his credit, Jensen holds himself together enough that no one else seems to notice. Jared lingers in the bay as Jensen pulls out of his bunker pants, taking his time with his own. Everyone else has already moved on, gone into the hallway, and for the moment, they’re alone.
Jared clears his throat as steps back out of his bunker pants, fingers playing at the buckle of the belt on his uniform.
“Are you okay?"
“It shouldn’t have happened like that,” Jensen growls, fist hitting the engine.
“Jensen…” Jared breathes, moving up behind him, hands falling against the back of Jensen’s arms, drawing him gently from the truck.
Jensen moves with him, leaning back against Jared. He shakes his head against Jared’s shoulder. “That was a stupid reason for someone to die.”
Jared nods, taking in a quick breath as his hands slide down Jensen’s arms to his elbows, squeezing lightly. “I know.”
“If they’d just let that kid keep doing CPR…” Jensen’s body is still tense, tight as a drum in his hands.
It’s nothing Jared hasn’t thought already.
“I know,” Jared whispers again, just letting Jensen lean back against him. He can feel Jensen’s heart pounding inside his ribcage, back pressed to Jared’s chest, arms shaking lightly in Jared’s hands.
It happens to all of them, occasionally. Doing this kind of job, you know you can’t always save everyone, but some days it gets to you anyway—especially something like this, where it should have been prevented.
Jensen stands there for a maybe a minute, breathing deep, nerves leveling out. He pulls from Jared gently, leaning forward toward the engine, and Jared lets go of his hold.
“Thanks,” Jensen says, voice low.
“No problem.” For a moment, Jared isn’t sure how to disengage. He touches Jensen’s shoulder briefly, feeling awkward, and then he gives Jensen some time alone, heading out to the hallway.
Chad wants to prank Jensen that night with the scenario he’d pitched to Jared last week. Jared tells him, unequivocally, no.
“What is your problem, dude?” Chad demands, annoyed.
“Do it next shift,” Jared says. “Just… not tonight.”
Chad narrows his eyes on Jared, tilting his head to the side, looking at Jared like he’s never seen him before in his life. “You’re serious?”
“As a heart attack,” Jared replies, not backing down.
Jared can see the calculation in Chad’s eyes, and that’s never a good sign. In fact, that’s a sign that Jared should probably cut his losses right now. But he can’t. Won’t.
“Don’t.” The word is succinct, bitten off hard.
“Does he know?” Chad asks, expression shifting into intent curiosity.
“About the prank?” Jared asks, exasperated, about to push past Chad.
Chad’s hand closes on Jared’s shoulder, holding him in place.
“That you’re falling for him,” Chad clarifies, his gaze piercing.
It should be banter, their usual quid pro quo of bullshit, but it isn’t.
Jared pretends it is anyway.
“Screw you.” Jared shrugs Chad off, looking away as he brushes past.
When the shift ends without incident, Jared is relieved. He doesn’t manage to catch Jensen before he leaves, though. Jared had wanted to see how Jensen was feeling before he went home, make sure he was all right.
It’s more than that, though.
He can’t get the memory of Jensen leaning back against him out of his head. Jensen’s heart beating fast, slowing as he relaxed into Jared’s grip. It had been innocent, completely innocent; both of them caught up in the emotion of the moment, and Jared feels guilty for even noticing now how Jensen felt under his hands, pressing up against him, when all Jared should be thinking about is how Jensen was feeling.
But he is. He’s doing that too. He shakes off the memory and focuses on that.
Maybe he should get Jensen’s number off the roster sheet, give him a call. See how he’s doing. Jared would do that for any of his other team members, for most of the guys on his shift for that matter. This shouldn’t be any different. Normally it wouldn’t even be a thing—he wouldn’t even stop to think. The fact that he is right now…
He turns and walks briskly to the board in the hallway, its ancient cork covered in a rainbow of colored sheets of paper. The schedule is dull by comparison, sheets of white paper with alternating light-blue rows, shifts and names printed across each one.
There. Jensen Ackles, Shift C. Ten numbers printed in the furthest column, and all Jared has to do is punch them into his cell phone, save them so that when he gets home he can pull them up and dial them.
He gets as far as putting them in, entering Jensen’s name and saving the contact. But he knows by the time he gets halfway home, feet carrying him along the city blocks, that he isn’t going to call.
Chad’s words don’t roll off as easily as Chad’s hand left his shoulder. They echo in Jared’s head for the next couple of days, catching him at odd moments, when he’s least expecting them.
Does he know? That you’re falling for him?
No. No, Jensen doesn’t know. Because Jared isn’t falling for him. He can’t be. He’s not allowed to be, because—
My last relationship ended badly. She didn’t understand.
Because Jensen is straight. He’s never going to feel for Jared the way Jared could feel for him.
The way you could? Chad’s voice, gritty throat full of cigarette smoke floating knowingly through his head. Or the way you already do?
And fuck Chad, anyway. What the fuck is Chad doing inside his head, pulling this psychological bullshit?
This is all Chad’s fault. And he is so paying that motherfucker back. Jared still owes him for that pole-hole stunt.
Chad’s fault. Completely and totally.
It rains on Sunday morning, wetting the surface of the world, dust rising off the ground in low clouds as heavy droplets hit parched earth. Jared stands just inside one of the open bays, watching them fall.
It’s almost August, and the rain should fill him with a sense of relief; flash fires have been a threat hanging over their heads since the beginning of July. It stops too soon, though, earth barely wet before the sun peeks out from behind the clouds again.
Jared isn’t sure he knows what relief even feels like anymore, anyway.
The tension of having Jensen so near is getting to him, and it’s not going away like he’d expected it to. He’d expected that his feelings would start to ebb and slowly fade as the days went by, but they don’t. If anything, they’re getting stronger, and it’s so not acceptable, or even moderately cool.
He shoves the thoughts to the back of his mind and turns to look at Jensen with a smile before he sets his mind completely on work.
He manages to make it through most of the day without focusing on Jensen too much beyond working with him.
“Drinks tomorrow night at Paulie’s—don’t forget,” Chris says smacking Jared’s shoulders as he passes. He turns, long light-brown hair falling forward as he winks one blue eye at Jared. “Jensen’s gonna be there,” he adds before he turns away, grinning.
The whole crew tries to get together at least once a month, go out and let off some steam. It’s usually a good time, shot contests that end in really bad karaoke capping off the night.
Hmm. Getting drunk with Jensen around when Jared can’t be one-hundred percent responsible for what comes out of his mouth?
Jared thinks he’s going to sit this one out.
It’s Monday night at 10 pm when his phone rings. Again. Chad’s already called him three times since 8 pm, and Jared’s let them all go to voice mail. Chris called once, about ten minutes ago, and he almost answered that one, just because it’s Chris. But, fuck it. He can explain just as well and probably better on Thursday when he sees Chris again.
He glances away from the television and lifts the phone, looking at the screen with a modicum of interest.
Jensen Ackles, the screen declares in bright white letters.
Jared blinks at the screen for a second, not quite believing what he’s seeing. He’d almost forgotten he’d put in Jensen’s number at all... and… Jensen is calling him?
There’s no time to think about this. He has to answer now, or it’s going to voicemail.
“Hello?” he inquires breathlessly as he answers, free hand grabbing the television remote and hitting the mute button.
“Jared!” Jensen’s voice is loud—so loud that Jared has to wince away from the phone. Not that he can blame Jensen, because the background noise is impressive; music so loud that people are shouting over it, and he’s amazed that he can hear Jensen at all.
“Where are you?” Jensen demands.
None of this is really tracking. Jensen is calling him at home, from what sounds like a club, demanding to know Jared’s whereabouts.
“At… home,” Jared answers, voice ending on an up note.
“What the hell are you doing at home?” Jensen asks, his voice rough and raspy, drawling full-on Texan across the connection. “We’re at Paulie’s, waiting for you.”
Suddenly, it all makes sense.
“How many shots have they shoved into you so far?” Jared asks, sitting up in his chair.
“Enough,” Jensen says. “Five, maybe? That’s not the point, though.”
In the background, a female voice is mutilating Whitney Houston on karaoke.
“Get your ass down here,” Jensen growls across the line, and for those few seconds, the sound of his voice is all Jared can hear. “Now.”
Chills spill down Jared’s spine. God. Can Jensen possibly have any idea how hot that is?
No. Jensen can’t. Doesn’t.
“They signed me up to sing “Wind Beneath my Wings”,” Jensen tells him, in all seriousness. “And if I gotta sing that shit to a room full of people, the least you can do is be here.”
Jared can’t argue with that logic.
Jared slips into a pair of tight, faded jeans, pulling a button up shirt from his closet. It’s white, light cotton, black design embroidered across the left pocket. It’s flimsy enough that he shouldn’t be feeling the heat, but by the time he gets to Paulie’s, walking three blocks to the bar, he’s sweating his ass off.
He opens the heavy wooden door to a cacophony of voices rising in a war with the music, someone singing “The Way You Are” over the microphone in a warbling voice.
He sees Chris and Chad and the rest of the crew almost immediately, lounging against the far end of the bar. There’s a mass of people gathered around them, all of them guys Jared recognizes from the firehouse.
He needs a drink.
He detours to the bar at the closest end, leaning his elbows against the polished wood. Sweat slips, riding down the back of his neck to the arch of his spine.
“Gin and tonic,” he tells the bartender.
“I would’ve guessed you for the beer type,” a voice says to his right. Gritty, low and full of humor, and Jared recognizes it instantly. God, Jared can feel him, heat and electricity so close, not quite touching Jared.
“Sometimes,” Jared agrees, nodding. “But tonight’s a “Wind Beneath My Wings” night, which means hard liquor is required.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Jensen nods back. “Besides, you got some catching up to do.”
Jared cranes his neck, finally meeting Jensen’s eyes. He’s blindingly gorgeous. Jared thinks he gets more gorgeous with every single passing day, which really just isn’t fair or human.
“Shots?” Jensen asks with a wicked grin, and seriously, how can Jared say no to that?
Jared’s had at least three shots by now, and Jensen’s had even more, counting the ones before Jared got here.
“I can’t believe they signed you up for that song on your first night,” Jared commiserates.
Jensen shrugs one shoulder, letting it loll against the sharp line of his jaw as he looks down at his drink. “It’s all good. Rite of passage; haze the newbie. I know how it works.”
Jared hesitates, about to say something when Jensen shoots him a sidelong grin.
“And besides… I can maybe sing a little,” Jensen adds, winking. “I did three years of madrigals in high school.”
Jared doesn’t have a chance to form a response before Jensen’s called up to the stage.
Chad and Tom and Chris are all standing front row in front of the stage, swaying drunkenly against each other, alternately screaming and whistling between bouts of laughter. Chad fishes his lighter out of his pants pocket holds it aloft, tiny flame flickering in the air for a couple of passes before he fumbles his grip on it and it tumbles to the hard wood floor. Jared’s standing just behind them, shaking his head and occasionally letting out a loud whistle.
Jensen stands there, relaxed, one hand resting on the length of the mic fitted into the stand as the opening piano notes play. When he opens his mouth, all the guys stop moving for a second, surprised, and Jared can’t help but smile. Jensen’s clearly had voice training, and his voice is resonant and clear, pitch perfect. But it isn’t that that impresses Jared as much as Jensen’s offhandedness about the whole thing. It should be embarrassing, but isn’t, because Jensen’s delivering the song with a subtle, confident wink and nod; “yeah, my buddies set me up, but watch me own this anyway”.
The guys have recovered by the second verse, going back to half-teasing and half playing along, whistling and heckling in equal parts.
And then Jensen comes up on the chorus, grabbing the mic from the stand and walking to the edge of the stage and…
Jensen slides, falling down on one knee in front of the guys, clasping one hand over his heart as his voice rises, sharp and clear on the air.
“Did I ever tell you… you’re my hero,” he sings to all of them, and Jesus, he’s completely hamming it up; lifting his hand from his heart to rise above his head as he practically serenades the group, clearly overplaying it. The crowd in the bar is screaming, whistling and applauding and laughing, and Jared couldn’t be more floored if Jensen had stripped naked.
He blinks, eyes surveying Jensen’s body in his t-shirt and just-tight-enough jeans.
Okay, scratch that last part. He’d be way more floored if Jensen stripped naked. But still… this is…
Is this what Jensen’s like when he’s drunk?
Chad’s actually going so far as to yank out his wallet, leaning heavily against Tom as he manages to pull out a few bucks, waving them at Jensen like Jensen’s some kind of stripper while he whistles loudly through his teeth.
“Yeah! Do it, Jensen!”
Jensen rises to his feet and plucks the dollar bills from Chad’s fingers, holding them up dramatically as he sings the bridge. He’s being a complete and total goof at this point, and Jared can’t do anything but laugh when Jensen throws the money into the air, letting it flutter down around him as he belts out the ending choruses of the song.
When the music finally dies down, Jensen grins and settles the mic back into the stand, walking off the stage. The guys greet Jensen with a series of claps on the back mixed with laughter and high fives, and Chris pulls them all towards the bar, ordering another round of shots.
Jared’s just staring at Jensen while Jensen wipes a hand across his cheek. “Where the hell did that come from?”
“I maybe did a few plays, too,” Jensen answers, grinning, jostling against Jared’s hip as they hit the bar.
“Seriously?” Jared asks, squinting sideways at him. His hip feels warm, good nestled up alongside Jared’s, and Jared knows it’s just the alcohol killing personal space barriers and the crowd shoving up against them that’s keeping Jensen there, but Jared’s okay with that.
“Seriously,” Jensen affirms, nodding a little too emphatically, and Jared wonders exactly how many shots Jensen’s had at this point.
He stops wondering immediately when Jensen slings an arm around Jared’s shoulders, leaning up against Jared’s side like he’s getting comfortable. Chris and Chad are yelling and gesturing back and forth at each other, their movements jostling Jensen’s body against him, and Jared’s got nowhere to go except the bar, wood digging sharply into his hipbone.
One drunken buddy leaning heavily against another; it’s nothing out of the ordinary, but—
“You don’t believe me?” Jensen’s staring at him sideways with narrowed eyes, and it’s almost adorable, his face screwed up into an exaggerated, drunkenly curious expression.
He’s got freckles, Jared notices for the millionth time, but Jared’s never seen them quite this close before. They’re even more enthralling at this distance, and his eyes… they’re flecked with tiny specks of gold mixed into the green.
“It’s a little hard to believe,” Jared manages.
Jensen thinks about that for a moment, mouth pulling to the side. “I’ll buy off on that,” he says, face scrunching as he nods. “You want another shot?” he adds.
And yeah, Jared really does, because he’s not letting Jensen get away that easily this time—not like Jensen wants to get away, the way he’s pressed up alongside Jared, and Jared has… questions. Questions that are best fueled by high octane alcohol.
“At least,” he nods.
Jensen tells him all about being a madrigal, and being a drama student. How his drama teacher had wanted him to try going into acting professionally after high school, but how firefighting runs in his blood. His father, his grandfather, had been firefighters, and he can’t ever remember thinking about being anything else.
“My dad’s my hero,” Jensen shrugs, muscles in his arm rippling along Jared’s shoulder. “So how ‘bout you?” Jensen asks, drawling out the words.
Jensen’s lips are even more tempting when they move across his teeth, soft pink swell catching against brilliant white before they close, pursing slightly—and no, that’s even more tempting.
“Nine eleven,” Jared says, beginning hesitantly. “I was thirteen.”
Jensen meets his eyes with rapt attention, and Jared has to glance downward before he can continue.
They spend the whole night shoved up against the bar together, hemmed in by Chad and Chris and the rest of the gang, and Jared thinks he’s lost all feeling in his right leg forever—the only thing holding him up is Jensen’s weight pushing him against the bar, and even if he wasn’t so drunk that he’s practically seeing double, he’d fall down if he tried to take a single step.
He couldn’t really care less. Because Jensen is warm and muscular, pressing against him, talking a mile a minute like Jared’s never seen him do until tonight, filling in the pieces of his past.
“Am I boring you?” Jensen asks, pausing as he tilts his head back. The line of his throat is gorgeous, tantalizing. Jared wants, more than anything, to lean in and kiss it, seeking out the heartbeat beneath with his tongue. He wants to feel it, just once; taste it.
God. He’s so fucking drunk.
Okay. Okay. Think. He needs to follow the conversation, not just the gorgeous arch of that neck.
“Not at all,” Jared responds, smile flowing to his lips.
“I like you,” Jensen says, apropos of nothing as he tugs Jared closer. “You listen.”
Friends. They’re just friends, Jared reminds himself as Jensen’s cheek brushes against his, because Jensen has made it abundantly clear that he’s straight.
Straight. Straight. Straight.
Drawn into the magnetism of Jensen’s mouth, so close, and it would be easy… so easy…
“I… need to… go home now,” Jared tells him. Before I do something amazingly, incredibly stupid.
“No,” Jensen says, like he’s saying “really?”, sounding disappointed.
“Oh, yes,” Jared nods.
Jensen hesitates a moment, holding his gaze, and then he grips Jared’s shoulder tight, pulling Jared in one last time as he sips from his beer.
“When do you work tomorrow?”
Jared isn’t sure if he can breathe hard enough to answer. “Four til midnight.”
“You wanna go for a beer after?”
Friends, Jared reminds himself.
Jared’s memories of getting home are hazy, but he’s fine by the time he wakes up, tiniest of headaches reminding him that he’d overdone it last night. Work seems to drag along before it finally ends and Jared realizes he’s not sure about this whole thing at all. He almost wishes he had time for a drink before he meets Jensen, because he doesn’t have any idea what he’s going to say to Jensen when he walks inside.
He could leave. He could walk away from the warm street lights highlighting the block, from the glowing neon sign proclaiming “open”.
Until he sees Jensen on their next shift, anyway.
Sitting across the table from each other, talking and drinking down their beers, everything feels like it somehow slots into place.
Yeah, he’s got inappropriate feelings for Jensen, but that’s okay, so long as he keeps them in the background. And he can, because he genuinely likes Jensen, loves the way Jensen’s opening up to him, amusing Jared with stories of his youth while he slowly, methodically, peels the label from his beer bottle. He’s funny, and charming and…
“I thought you said you weren’t much of a talker?” Jared asks, smiling.
“I’m not, usually,” Jensen shrugs. “Til I get to know you,” he adds with a quick wink. “Then, you get a few beers and me and it’s hard to shut me up.”
Jared grins. “It’s cool. I like listening to you.”
Those green eyes stare at him intently, and Jensen doesn’t say anything for a second, just nods once, taking a sip from his beer.
“Cool,” Jensen echoes as he sets the bottle down.
It’s a little odd, considering how Jensen was going on just a few minutes before.
Jared clears his throat and fills the silence between them, and things go right back to being relaxed. Jared forgets all about the pause a few minutes later.
Wednesday is slow, and they have plenty of time to relax, eating lunch in the rec room together; hunkering down on the carpet in front of the Xbox with their sandwiches and playing Call of Duty: Black Ops, sniping each other out onscreen while they talk total trash.
Jared’s far too aware of how close Jensen is to him the whole time; their shoulders almost touching while they play, and once, Jensen yanks into a shot, shoulder shoving into Jared’s and breaking his concentration completely. He’s so hyper aware of every move Jensen’s making, and it’s as much torture as it is bliss. He loves this time they spend together almost as much as it drives him crazy.
Jensen seems completely unselfconscious about how close he’s sitting to Jared, their shoulders just barely touching, and every now and then, Jensen playfully nudges Jared with his elbow, trying to distract Jared.
This is new, Jared thinks, pulling down into a crouch behind a tank onscreen.
“Don’t tell me you’re hiding,” Jensen taunts, grinning.
“Don’t tell me you fell for that,” Jared deadpans, pushing up and firing off a round of shots at Jensen. “I win.”
“Cheater.” Jensen shoves his shoulder into Jared’s and Jared tips sideways, chuckling.
“Again, again,” Jensen prompts, shoving Jared harder.
“Who are you? Tinky Winky?” Jared grins, dodging away.
“You better hope not,” Jensen tells him, mock-seriously. “’Cause then you’ll have to tell everyone how Tinky Winky creamed your ass.”
Jared freezes, staring at Jensen in disbelief. “You did not just use “creamed” and “ass” in the same sentence as “Tinky Winky”.”
Jensen stares at him, straight-faced, eyes narrowing a fraction. And then the corner of his mouth twitches, eyes crinkling as his expression dissolves in full-blown laughter. Jared tumbles over into laughter right behind him, almost hitting the floor as Jensen shoves into him again.
“Pervert,” Jensen condemns, snatching the controller from Jared’s hands.
On Saturday, Chad cooks. Dinner is fajitas, and Jared’s near the front of the line, plate in hand as he builds his from the steaming piles of meat and peppers, cheese slathered on top. He’s on to the next table, glopping a spoonful of sour cream onto each one when he hears a commotion behind him.
Jensen is on the floor, contents of his plate scattered across the gray tile in a riot of color. He’s hitching in harsh, almost desperate breaths, face flushing a deep, alarming red.
“Oh, my God.” Jared drops his plate, skidding across the floor on his knees. He’s the first one there, fingers feeling out Jensen’s throat, checking his pulse.
“Chad!” Jared yells, loud and desperate.
“What the fuck?” Chad yells, shoving to the front of the crowd gathering around them.
“Did you put cayenne pepper in the fajitas?” Jared demands.
“I—well, yeah, a little--”
“He’s allergic to cayenne pepper,” Jared snarls.
Underneath him, Jensen seizes and begins to convulse violently, strangled choking sounds issuing from his throat.
“Oh my God,” Chad whispers. “Oh my God.” And then he’s in motion, running so fast he’s almost falling, fumbling for the first aid kit. “Where the fuck are the epi-pens?” Chad yanks open of the first aid kit, shaking out the contents onto the floor. His face is flushed red, veins standing out in his forehead. “Jesus fuck! I need epinephrine, people! Now!”
On the floor, Jensen sputters, choking—
And then Jensen bursts into laughter, rolling over on his side. Jared can’t hold back anymore as he clutches his stomach, howling at the look on Chad’s face as he falls down next to Jensen.
“You… oh my God, you’re not gonna die?” Chad whispers, dumbstruck as he stumbles back toward them. And then it all seems to click, because then Chad’s yelling at them—
“What the fucking fuck? You were fucking with me?”
But by then Jared’s writhing with laughter, crying, tears streaming down his face while Chad vows vengeance against both of them through gasps of his own relieved, hysterical laughter.
Jensen reaches up from the floor, high fiving Jared.
It’s a good day.
Tuesday is… not a good day. It’s what Chad calls an adventure and what Jared thinks of as a complete clusterfuck. It’s a day of crazy calls like they get every now and then, when everything in the universe seems to collide and explode. It pretty much sucks the whole way through, culminating in a fire that claims four homes and two lives. One old woman and one young child that they’d done their best to rescue but couldn’t reach through the flames.
When it’s done, black husks of houses crouched low and soaking wet, still smoking, Jensen pushes up his face mask, turning to catch Jared’s eyes as he rubs a sooty glove across his chin.
It’s not their first fire together, but it’s the first one they’ve been partners on where someone died.
“We did the best we could,” Chris says, patting each of them on the shoulder briefly as he moves past.
Jared knows it’s true, and he can see that Jensen does too.
It’s still a moment; something shared between them that can’t quite be expressed in words. Several more heartbeats pass before Jensen finally turns away, breaking the look between them.
Another week passes, and Jared can feel the friendship between them deepening, growing stronger. They do pretty much everything together when they’re working and even spend some of their time off together.
Jared shows Jensen around the city on his day off—the day before their next shift—and they hit a couple of the high points, spending the latter half of the afternoon in Guadalupe River Park, walking along the shaded paths beside the water and taking in the view. They have dinner at one of the riverfront restaurants, and the view is spectacular.
They’re just winding up, heading back to Jared’s place when Chad calls, not inviting the two of them to go clubbing with him so much as demanding.
Jared shoots Jensen a sideways glance, brows rising in question, and Jared’s only the slightest bit disappointed when Jensen shrugs and nods.
It’s been such a nice day, and Jared’s really been enjoying Jensen’s company—had been looking forward to spending the evening with him. But it doesn’t matter all that much. They’re just friends.
Chad proceeds to start ordering them rounds of shots the second they get to the bar. Jared’s been here with Chad a couple times before and it’s not really his scene. The place is crowded, noisy, music thumping so loud that it’s reverberating through the concrete pillars. There are a hundred or so bodies writhing on the dance floor, skin of all different hues glistening with sweat, painted with flashes of rainbow lights from above.
Chad’s bent across the bar, elbows planted firmly against it as he leans in, having some kind of intense conversation with Jensen that Jared has no hope in hell of hearing. He gives up trying after a few minutes, realizing that he needs to use the bathroom anyway.
It’s quite a feat, winding through the crowd to the bathrooms and back again, and it takes him probably a good fifteen minutes. By the time he gets back to the bar, Jensen and Chad are talking to two women, one blonde, the other brunette, faces made up prettily. The blonde, clad in a tight, tiny red dress seems to have taken a shine to Chad, one hand resting on Chad’s forearm as she leans in to talk to him. The brunette—who’s wearing a strapless, black micro-mini dress—seems to have her sights set on Jensen, laughing delightedly as he says something to her.
Jared stands there for a moment, people pushing by him and blocking his view here and there, until the brunette lays her fingertips on Jensen’s cheek for a brief instant, like he’s just too cute for her to resist.
Jared turns around and walks to the bar on the other side of the room. Maybe they’re just friends, but that doesn’t mean Jared has to stick around and watch Jensen flirt with someone.
Jared finds a seat at the bar on the other side and settles in, nursing a drink. It shouldn’t bother him, he knows it shouldn’t. But it doesn’t seem to matter what his head knows.
He sits at the bar for an hour, maybe, before he decides to go back and tell them he’s leaving for the night.
He’s almost back to the place where he’d seen them last, and he catches sight of Chad’s red shirt through the crowd before there’s a pause in traffic, and he can fully see what’s happening at the bar. Chad and the blonde girl have their arms wrapped around each other, mouths so close as they talk that they might as well be kissing. The brunette is sitting on a stool next to Jensen, and as Jared watches, she leans in, ruby red mouth pressing against Jensen’s.
Jared’s stomach plummets to his feet like stone, bottom dropping out.
He turns on his heel so fast that he almost falls down. Screw saying good night; he’s going to leave Jensen and Chad to… whatever they’re going to do with their nights. He’d call them, but it’s not like they’d be able to hear a word he said, anyway. He pulls out his phone, sends Chad a quick text, and then hesitates a moment before he types a similar message to Jensen, hitting the send button.
He’s heading to the door, making his way along the relatively empty space next to the far wall when his phone vibrates in his pocket. He stops, pulling the phone from his pocket. It’s a text from Jensen.
Wait 4 me. Where r u?
Jared squints at the screen for a second, surprised, and then types in his location underneath the huge, lighted Budweiser sign, and then adds for Jensen to meet him in the bathroom hallway. The hallway to the bathroom is right there, and Jared ducks into it to get out of the way of people walking back and forth.
It’s a few minutes before Jensen appears through the crowd, stepping into the hall.
“There you are.” Jensen’s smile is so wide and bright when he sees Jared that Jared’s heart almost stops. “Was wondering where you ran off to.”
“You seemed like you were busy,” Jared shrugs, trying to keep his voice casual. He swallows against the taste of bitterness in his mouth. “Didn’t want to get in the way of your good time.”
Jensen’s walking closer to Jared, frowning slightly. “Good time?” he asks, swaying a little as he stops directly in front of Jared.
“The petite brunette with the liplock on you?” Jared clarifies, not quite able to keep the edge from his voice. This is bad. Shit. He needs to leave. Tomorrow, he’ll be fine, but right now, he’s upset and he’s had a couple drinks, which aren’t helping the situation.
“Sheila,” Jensen says, eyes lighting with recognition, slurring the word slightly. Chad obviously kept the shots flowing in Jared’s absence.
“Right,” Jared says.
“Hey,” Jensen says, touching Jared’s wrist, fingers slipping around it and holding.
Jared instantly goes motionless, all thoughts of leaving flying out of his head. Jensen’s looking at him like… like…
“C’mere,” Jensen whispers, alcohol sharp on the edge of his breathy voice.
Those strong fingers tighten around Jared’s wrist, dragging him towards Jensen.
Hands hot, almost burning through Jared’s skin. That mouth, so close… plush lips breathing out quick and hard against Jared’s and all he wants is to tilt his head, slot into the fit of that mouth, taste it, test it, feel it out and know it every single way possible.
What the actual fuck is happening here?
“You’re drunk,” Jared whispers desperately. He wants this; he wants this so fucking bad.
“And?” Jensen whispers back, word hot against Jared’s mouth.
Jared can’t help it; head tipping back, throat bared, lips parted. Heart beating fast and hard, hammering inside him, pulse filing his brain until he can’t think past it.
Face tilting forward, lips just brushing Jensen’s, and it feels like a fucking revelation; like a man dying of thirst taking his first sip of water in days.
It’s too much. Too real. He’s too desperate, and God, he needs to—
“I have to go,” Jared breathes, pushing Jensen away.
Jensen’s drunk—drunk as fuck so far as Jared can tell, and straight and that doesn’t mean anything, except that... Jensen’s drunk and straight and maybe one of those people who kisses everybody when he’s drunk and this is so not fucking cool.
They’re going to have to look each other in the eye come Sunday. They’re going to have to work together. And tomorrow, Jensen’s going to wake up and remember this and it’s going to be awkward enough as it is. The last thing Jared needs is to let Jensen kiss him like that—to know what he tastes like, feels like—only to have Jensen explain awkwardly to him how it was all a big, drunken mistake.
Jared so needs to get the fuck out of here, right now, before he realizes that he’s actually insane for walking away.
Jared doesn’t look back as he pushes his way through the crowd to the door.
Jared pulls into his pajamas and falls into bed as soon as he gets home. Sleep eludes him though, and he lies there, tossing and turning for what feels like hours.
God, he can’t get the thought of Jensen out of his head; how goddamned sexy he’d been, staring up at Jared through those half-lidded green eyes, the way he’d felt, how hot his mouth had been, barely touching Jared’s. The way he would have tasted, strong curl of his tongue circling Jared’s, hands settling on Jared’s hips and pulling him in until their bodies were molded together—
Dammit. Jared sits up in bed, sighing as he runs his hands over his face. He’s got to stop thinking about this.
His cock is a half-hard, insistent throb against his thigh, and it’s definitely interested in the direction Jared’s mind has been going all night. He’s practically aching with the need to touch it, to get the slightest bit of relief. But that would be crossing a line he’s never coming back from. If he goes there once, he’s never going to be able to jerk off again without thinking about Jensen, and that’s bound to make Jared feel even more conflicted about their friendship than he already does.
“Hey, dude. Sorry about trying to kiss you last night. Nothing personal; I was just drunk.”
“No problem, dude. Sorry I jerked off fantasizing about you last night. Friends?”
Yeah, that wouldn’t be awkward at all.
Jared palms against his dick and rolls over on his side, shutting his eyes tight and praying for sleep.
Jared makes his way to the station in the morning still tired from the night before, heart as heavy as his eyelids and his footsteps.
Jensen’s waiting for him just inside the entrance to the bays, and Jared stops beside him, shuffling his feet before he can bring himself to look directly at Jensen.
Jensen, for his part, is still looking somewhere in the vicinity of Jared’s feet. It’s a long moment before he pulls his gaze up to meet Jared’s. Jensen looks just as tired as Jared feels, but it doesn’t do a damned thing to detract from how gorgeous he is.
“I’m sorry,” Jensen says.
Sorry is the last thing Jared wants Jensen to say. But he knew this was coming. Jared steels himself, folding his arms over his chest, and prepares to lie about how it’s okay.
But then Jensen keeps talking.
“I’m not very good at this.” Jensen lifts a hand, scratching almost absently along his jaw as he hesitates. “I was drunk and I thought you were… giving me signals.” Jensen makes a vague motion, hand moving from his jaw to gesture at the air.
“Signals?” Jared asks, confused.
“I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”
“What are you saying?” Jared’s beyond confused, because he’d expected the apology, maybe a few other words exchanged, and then maybe a joke and a shake of hands before they moved on with their lives. This… this was not part of his mental movie.
Jensen lets out a slow sigh, glancing away. “Remember when you asked me why I moved here, and I told you it was because my last relationship didn’t work out?”
“It wasn’t because she didn’t get the fireman lifestyle…” Jensen takes a quick, deep breath, meeting Jared’s eyes. “It was because I told her I was gay.”
Jared freezes. Wait. What?
“She took it badly. I can’t blame her for that,” Jensen adds. “I didn’t know either, for the longest time. I know it was a shock to her.”
No, really. WHAT?
“It’s not something I advertise, working in an all-male field. I know I should have told you, but by the time I felt comfortable speaking up, we were already friends. I didn’t want to mess that up.”
Jensen stops, shoulders shifting uncomfortably back and forth. “Say something.”
“You…” the word emerges jaggedly from Jared’s throat and he swallows hard, struggling to understand. “You’re gay?”
Jensen glances at him, and then his beautiful face closes up tight, eyes shuttering, mouth firming in a straight line. “Is that an issue here?”
“God, no,” Jared breathes. His brain is still turning Jensen’s words over and over, trying to make sense of them, but his autopilot is clearly working.
His brain catches and clicks, finally, butI’m gay, too lands in first place as the most lame response ever. The result doesn’t stop his mouth from spitting something out anyway.
“So am I,” he says.
Jensen’s chin tilts upward, eyes narrowing on Jared. “‘So are you’, what?”
“Gay,” Jared explains, and then, just to clarify, “I’m also gay.” God, he sounds like an idiot. He so needs a three second delay on his brain to mouth function.
Jensen’s face is thoughtful, surprised for a moment.
“Then…” Jensen says slowly, like he’s thinking really hard about what Jared’s just said. There’s a long moment where Jared can almost see how much Jensen wants to say, mouth opening and closing.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jensen finally says, brisk as he straightens his shoulders, voice firming. “I still shouldn’t have done it. I had too much to drink and I made a mistake.”
A mistake? It’s all happening so fast that Jared feels dizzy, but his mind grabs hold of the words. A mistake. So that means… even though Jensen is gay, he hadn’t meant to kiss Jared after all?
“I wouldn’t have done it if I’d been sober,” Jensen adds, and Jared feels the words like a stake through the heart.
So Jensen was just drunk. All this time, Jared’s been crushing on Jensen, thinking he didn’t stand a chance, content with their friendship, and now it turns out he could stand a chance… he just doesn’t.
That’s more than Jared can take.
“I get it.” The words come, quick and sharp, and they’re all he’s got.
Jensen tilts his face, brows drawing together like he’s seeing something in Jared’s expression he can’t quite puzzle out. “So… we’re okay then?”
There’s something so fragile in the hopeful set of Jensen’s face. Jensen really doesn’t mean to be hurting him.
That hurts even more.
It’s all right there on the verge, words curling on the tip of his tongue, poised to pour out.
That’s when the call comes through.
It’s bad—worse than bad; a gas main explosion in a housing development toward the south side of town. By the time they get there, there are five houses blazing, and Jared can feel the heat through his suit, baking hot as an oven. The dry conditions of the summer aren’t helping a bit, and the grass is burning so quickly that he can barely track it as it spreads the flames to the houses in every direction.
There are more engines pulling in behind them, several ladders and more ambulances following, but Jared’s eyes are already on the buildings, looking for signs of smoke in any of the other houses, scoping out the windows for stairwells, marking entrances and exits.
Fire Chief Mitch Pileggi is on the scene, and Jared can count the number of times he’s seen the man on two fingers—both of them at award ceremonies. There’s frenetic motion behind them as firefighters from every nearby department scramble, hooking their engines up to every available hydrant.
A car parked near one of the houses explodes in a flash of light, combustion of gold and red throwing the metal frame up into the air; blackened, ragged frame, jagged shards still clinging to it as it tumbles end over end down the street, bouncing until it comes to rest halfway on the sidewalk.
Chris speaks into the radio he’s holding in one hand, wide blue eyes surveying the scene behind his face shield.
This is nothing like any of them have ever seen.
“We’ve got a live one in number 8134,” Chris yells, pointing at the house before motioning at Jensen and Jared.
They’re in motion by the time Chris finishes speaking, Jared leading the way with his fire ax, Jensen following behind. All the hoses are focused on the center of the blaze, for all the good they’re doing, and they’re the last thing Jared sees before he hacks his way through the front door of the house, kicking it open.
They’re not alone as they rush inside; Tom and Chad and another pair of firefighters from another unit on their heels. Jared doesn’t waste a second, running to the right side of the house where he’d noted the uneven windows indicating the stairway to the second floor. Flames lick up the outside wall of the stairwell, caressing the wood before they consume it, and Jared takes the rest of the stairs two at a time, yelling back at Jensen to hurry, follow.
They make it to the landing, two men from another department just behind, and Jared takes the first door on the left, Jensen backing him, knowing the men from the other team will take the door on the opposite side of the hall. He and Jensen do a quick surveillance of the tiny bedroom, opening the closet before they move on.
“We’ve got nothing,” one of the guys across the hall calls out over the radio.
“Nothing here either,” Jared calls back, and then switches channels, radioing Chris outside.
“On second floor of 8134, attempting rescue. Fire has reached the stairway. Need a ladder escape, second story, south side. Over.”
He finishes the words as he kicks in the next door on the left side of the hall.
“Copy that,” Chris’s voice crackles over the connection. “Sending a ladder now, southwest.”
Jared switches channels again. “We got nothing up here so far. Chad, you got a body down there?”
“Nada. First level is empty, sweeping basement now. Over.”
“Hurry. We’ve got fire in the stairwell. This whole place is coming down.”
“Copy that,” Chad shoots back, and then there’s only one door left for Jared to check. He can feel the heat building slowly against his back, fire devouring the hallway behind him as he slams the door open.
“Nothing down here. Stairway to first floor compromised. Exiting through basement window.”
Jared doesn’t have time to think about how harried Chad sounds. “Copy that.”
Jensen’s ahead of him in the room, shaking his head inside his fire helmet. “Nothing.”
“Anybody else got anything?”
“Nothing,” comes the report from the opposite side of the upper floor. “The ladder’s here.”
Jared exchanges a glance with Jensen, vision warped by the heat rising on the air.
“We missed them,” Jared says. “We have to go.”
Jensen nods and they both step out into the hallway. The flames are flickering, lapping yellow and almost-white they’re so hot, eating up the hallway in ravenous gulps.
Jensen grabs Jared by the shoulder, stopping them before they step into the room across the hall, pointing up.
There’s a crawlspace in the ceiling at the end of the hall, thin, white, wooden door set slightly off-kilter to the square opening, blackness gaping in odd triangular shapes around the edges.
Jared can see the smoke rising up, curling wickedly along the edges, filling the open triangles before it vanishes, feel the heat on his right side like the doorway to Hell itself, hot enough to bake the whole world. It’s almost game over, so close that Jared wants to call it.
“If there’s a chance…” Jensen’s voice is low, thick with static across the radio connection.
He should call it.
“Go,” Jared yells, falling to his knees against the floor, bending and supporting his weight on all fours. Jensen’s foot ricochets off Jared’s shoulder as he propels himself upward, and Jared cranes his neck, head turning to the side until he can see Jensen’s hands grabbing the edges of the crawlspace doorway. Jared pushes off the ground, giving Jensen’s feet a steady plane to rest on as he shoves the wooden door out of the way, and then he’s pushing off Jared again, twisting and hooking his body up through the small opening.
It’s so hot that Jared feels like his suit is going to melt, air warping like a mirage, distorting the world around him.
“Jensen,” he calls across the radio. Nothing but silence in response, and Jared can only imagine the guys in the other room have already taken the ladder down to the ground, escaping the blaze.
“God dammit. Jensen.”
“Got her,” Jensen radios back. “Sending her through… now.”
Jared reaches up, catching the slight weight of the girl’s body in his hands, letting her roll down his arms against his chest.
Flames are licking at Jared’s feet, and his oxygen tank is beeping, on the verge of running out.
He’s protected, for now, but the little girl isn’t.
“Go,” Jensen yells across the connection, shielded face appearing in the dark square. “I’m right behind you.”
Jared shoulders his way into the room to the right, heading for the window at the far left side of the room. It’s thrown open wide, ladder leading down from it, and Jared repositions the girl’s weight, catching her in the crook of his right arm before he steps out and descends, holding to the ladder with his left.
He can hear the house groaning, weight shifting uneasily beneath the crackle of flames.
Jensen. Where the fuck are you?
Heavy sound of his own breath inside his helmet, low, insistent beeping of his oxygen monitor, and all he can hear is how the house is about to collapse.
Jensen’s still in there. God dammit. He knew it was a bad call to—
He hands the girl off to the firefighter that meets him on the ground, already scaling back up the ladder when someone grabs him by the boot.
“My partner’s still in there,” Jared yells, furious, kicking to shake off the weight holding him back.
He reaches for his radio, calling Chris. “Jensen’s trapped on the second floor. Need rescue teamnow. Collapse is--”
There’s a rending sound like the world tearing itself apart, and the upper level of the house implodes, ladder flying backward, Jared hitting the ground hard.
It’s the only thought he has time for before darkness claims him.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The world is a white blur as Jared blinks awake. He sucks in a hard breath, and pain sinks claws deep into his chest, raw and searing. He coughs against the sensation, and that hurts worse, setting off a chain reaction.
“Take it easy,” a voice says from somewhere outside, slow pressure of a hand descending on his arm.
“Chad?” he half-coughs.
Chad (he thinks) presses a cup into his hand, and Jared drinks the water inside it down greedily.
“Dude.” Hands tugging back the cup before Jared gets his fill. “Slow down.”
“Where’s Jensen?” Jared demands, awareness sharpening. He can feel blind panic rising quick inside him. “Did they get him out?”
“Jensen’s gonna be okay,” Chad assures him. “But you need to rest. You’re fucking lucky you didn’t get more than bruised ribs, getting flattened like that.”
“Where is he?” Jared demands, focusing on Chad’s face.
“Upstairs,” Chad sighs, giving up. “He’s not in intensive care anymore. He’s got a broken foot, a broken shin on one side, mildly sprained ankle on the other, and he suffered smoke inhalation, but he’s going to be fine. No permanent damage. He fell through both floors when the house went down, but the speed of the collapse helped break his fall. He was trapped in there for a while after his tank ran out, but we got him out before he suffered anything too severe. He’s goddamned lucky he’s alive.”
“Take me to him.”
“Jay…” Chad shakes his head solemnly. “No. You have to rest.”
Jared’s pushing up from the bed before Chad can finish speaking. The muscles in his chest are screaming with pain, but he doesn’t care. He’s got to see for himself.
“At least let me get you a wheelchair, dumbass,” Chad sighs.
Jensen looks pale and fragile against the crisp white sheets of the hospital bed. There are purple rings under his eyes, a long white tube snaking across his body before it disappears between his parted lips. There are tubes and wires attached to him everywhere. His eyelashes are a thick dark fringe resting against his cheeks, but he doesn’t look peaceful in the slightest, brow furrowed in a frown that speaks of discomfort even in rest.
This is all my fault, Jared thinks, guilt rising in a sick climb from his stomach. I should have ordered him out. Never should have pushed it like that. I could have gotten her myself.
The steady beep of the machine monitoring Jensen’s heartbeat drones on in the background, and everything else is silent. It sounds strong, which is something for Jared to hold onto.
“You’re sure he’s going to be okay?” Jared half-whispers, craning his neck to glance back and up at Chad.
“It’s smoke inhalation and some broken bones, Jay. Not like he’s in a coma.”
“This is all my fault,” Jared whispers. “I took point. I should’ve made him leave. Gotten the girl out myself.”
“And then it’d be him sitting here kicking himself and you on the bed. Come on, Jay. You know you can’t play that stupid game.”
Jared understands the sense in Chad’s words—he knows it’s ridiculous to play the blame game and guilt trip himself over this—but he can’t help it.
“Is it because it’s him?” Chad asks, lowering his voice.
Jared thinks back to the last conversation he’d had with Jensen.
“We’re just friends,” Jared says, shaking his head.
“Don’t give me that crap. Maybe Jensen thinks you’re just friends, but I know you.”
Maybe he does care about Jensen as more than a friend, or a brother, but Jared’s sure he’d feel just as guilty if it was Chad or Chris or anyone else lying there.
“It doesn’t matter.” Jared starts to shrug and then aborts the movement, rib muscles twitching with the movement, sending pain lancing through his back. “Fuck. I need more painkillers.”
“I told you to stay in bed,” Chad chides, backing the wheelchair from the room, “but no, don’t listen to me…”
There’s time to find out everything else after he gets back to his room. How the fire spread through several more houses before they got it under control, how the little girl they rescued is fine except for some smoke inhalation, and how Jensen was the only person injured besides Jared.
Jared lies there for a long time after Chad leaves. Him and Jensen, the only two injured.
He should have prevented it from happening.
They keep Jared overnight for observation and in the morning, ribs wrapped tight with fresh bandages, he makes a trip to the drug store down the street and returns to Jensen’s room, coffee in one hand, bag dangling from the other.
Jensen’s awake, blinking in the morning sunlight drifting in through the window. Jensen turns his head when Jared enters, and Jared can see a smile flit briefly across his features.
“I hear you’re having trouble talking,” Jared asks, sinking down into the chair beside the bed.
Jensen nods once.
“I know you don’t usually talk much anyway, but I brought you something.” Jared pulls the small white board out of the drug store bag, fishing out a package of dry erase markers. “You know, in case you feel like saying something,” Jared adds, handing them over.
Jensen smiles back unmistakably this time, taking the gifts. He opens the package and uncaps one of the markers, scribbling out a message across his lap.
How are you feeling?
“Good,” Jared lies, handing Jensen a handful of napkins to erase with. “You?”
Too drugged out to tell.
Jared feels a fresh shard of guilt slice through him.
How’d you get in here so early?
“Made a deal with one of the doctors. You’re going to be seeing a lot of me.”
Jensen hesitates for a moment, looking at Jared and then he erases the last message, writing a single word on the board.
They converse that way for the first several days of Jensen’s stay in the hospital, and Jared’s there every moment that he can be. Sometimes, when Jensen’s not resting, Jared reads Moby Dick to Jensen—one of his favorites from childhood that Jensen has never read before. Sometimes he takes Jensen for “walks” through the halls of the hospital, Jensen in a wheelchair, Jared pushing him along, and they go down to the courtyard at the center of the building, sitting in the sunshine together.
Everyone from the department comes by to visit at some point or another, some of them in groups. There are flowers and balloons and cards everywhere, and in an especially inspired gesture, Chad and Chris show up with a male-stripper “Get Well” telegram, with the stripper dressed like a fireman all the way down to his teeny, tiny red g-string underwear with a generic firefighter department logo stamped on them. Chad and Chris think it’s hysterical, of course, until Jensen writes Thanks, guys. I’m gay, BTW on the board. Jared knows it’s got to be the painkillers making Jensen so blasé, but he can’t stop laughing for the next fifteen minutes at the looks on Chris and Chad’s faces.
As the first week winds down Jensen’s questions about why Jared isn’t working his shifts at the firehouse start to intensify to the point where Jared can’t put them off anymore. But he can’t quite summon answers, either.
There’s a long silence between them, Jensen staring at him steadily until Jared drops his eyes, unable to find the words to express how responsible he feels for the situation. He can hear the marker scribble against the board.
Stop feeling guilty. Jensen holds up the message with a pointed look. He erases it quickly with the hand towel he keeps on-hand, scribbling another message that he brandishes in Jared’s direction even more emphatically.
It’s not your fault.
“Yes it is,” Jared replies quietly, glad to be able to focus on the board instead of Jensen’s eyes.
Jensen impatiently erases the message, writing out another, longer message.
No. It isn’t. I made my own choice. We can argue about this when I get my voice back. For now…
Jensen holds out the message until Jared nods that he’s read the whole thing. Jensen erases and then continues briefly:
Go have a life.
“Getting tired of my company?” Jared asks with a weak smile.
Jensen tilts his head to one side, narrowing an eye on Jared, mouth falling into a flat line that clearly says You know better.
Jensen has been getting his vitality back, color returning to his skin, eyes brighter and more aware, the personality that’s uniquely his shining through little by little. He’s slowly getting stronger, and Jared knows there’s no use arguing with him. Besides… they’re just friends, no matter how guilty Jared feels about what happened.
“Fine. Throw me out, why don’t you?” Jared asks, only half-kidding. But he rises from the chair, picking up the bag next to him. He stops then, digging inside it and pulling out the hardback copy of Moby Dick, and hands it to Jensen on his way out.
It feels final, somehow, leaving like this.
Jared stops in the doorway, turning back to look at Jensen. “I just… if anything had happened to you…” Jared stumbles over the last words, not quite sure how to finish them. He breaks off, staring down at his fingers, rubbing them together.
Maybe Chad had a point. What he’s feeling for Jensen, it’s a hell of a lot more than friendship.
Jared takes a deep, slow breath that hurts like a bitch and nods once, letting go of the doorframe.
Jensen’s eyes are intent on his in the moment before he turns, walking away.
Jensen kicking him out doesn’t stop Jared from visiting the next afternoon, or the next. By the third time Jared visits, the doctor has finally relented and allowed Jensen to start talking again. The second Jared hears that raspy voice it hits him right in the gut, sending shivers all through him. Jensen’s voice is even rougher than usual because of the smoke inhalation damage, and Jared feels guilty, because it’s his fault that Jensen sounds like that, but it’s also incredibly hot, which he can’t keep himself from noticing no matter how hard he tries, which makes him feel even guiltier for noticing when he should be feeling bad about the whole thing.
By the time Jared’s next shift at the firehouse ends, Jensen’s been released to go home. Jared’s not as confident about stopping by to see Jensen at home, and he hesitates as he’s leaving the firehouse, looking down at Jensen’s name on his cell phone screen.
He’s almost home when his phone buzzes in his pocket, and he pulls it out.
If ur not home sleeping, I’m going 2 kick ur ass
Jared smiles at the screen and types back his response.
Dead asleep. Right now
It’s only a minute or so before another message comes through.
Good. C u after work tonight?
Count on it, Jared sends back.
The next message comes through even quicker.
Jared bites his lower lip, pushing his phone back into his pants pocket.
Jared pops a couple of painkillers and heads to Jensen’s right after his evening shift at 7-11 finishes. The bruised muscles around his ribs still ache; week two pain isn’t all that different from week one, and he’s gotten used to taking shallow breaths, not exerting himself too much physically. He stops in front of Jensen’s apartment door on the second floor. Jensen answers the door on his crutches, clad in nothing except a pair of cut-off sweat pants.
It takes Jared a few long seconds to drag his eyes from all that gorgeous, exposed skin, the delicate contour of muscle beneath, and when he can finally breathe again, he notices the scattered bruises along Jensen’s side, the fist-sized bruise on his upper arm, so dark that it’s just starting to fade from pure black to purple.
“Come in,” Jensen says, backing out of the doorway.
Jensen’s lower left leg is wrapped in a cast, bandages circling his left foot, all of his weight balanced across the crutches and his right foot.
Guilt hits Jared all over again like a crushing wave.
“You should have given me the key,” Jared says before he can stop himself.
Jensen regards him curiously for a second.
“So you wouldn’t have to get up,” Jared adds, awkwardly.
Jensen’s already turned on his crutches, throwing a backward smile at Jared before he moves forward. Jared follows behind him, and he’s never been past the door of Jensen’s apartment before, the living room caught only in brief glimpses as Jensen stepped through the doorway. He manages to tear his eyes away from the musculature of Jensen’s back, the way it ripples as he moves, using his arms to support his weight on the crutches.
Jared doesn’t have the first bit of business enjoying seeing Jensen like this.
It’s not a big living room; it’s cozy, clean, beige carpet, brown couch and matching love seat, low, square, oak coffee table settled between the two. There are a veritable armada of pillows strewn across the back of both the couch and the love seat, all in varying shapes, sizes and shades of mustard yellow through rich brown. There’s a huge case filled with movies next to the 32” flat screen TV sitting on a low media center that matches the oak coffee table. The room has a comfortable, lived-in feel, honey-colored blanket kicked into a ball at the end of the couch.
Jensen moves through it without slowing, past the doorway that leads to a darkened kitchen to the hall and turns right, hobbling through the opened doorway spilling a rectangle of light across the carpet.
Okay. So they’re… going to Jensen’s bedroom. That makes sense, since Jensen’s been ordered to stay off his leg as much as possible for the next couple of weeks.
Jensen’s bedroom is even cozier, double bed made up with a thick, chocolate-colored comforter, pulled back to expose the tan sheets beneath. Pillow upon pillow is piled up against the wooden headboard, sheathed in varying matching earth tones, forming a pile that Jensen settles back against comfortably, sitting propped up against them. On the night stand next to his bed, there’s a bottle of pills and a glass of water, Moby Dick sitting beneath the glow of the lamp, bookmark ribbon spilling out from midway between the closed pages.
There’s a wooden chair sitting next to the bed that looks like it probably belongs in the kitchen at the dining table. Which more than likely means Jensen’s had other visitors already.
“Who else came to see you?” Jared asks, settling into the chair.
“Just you, so far,” Jensen says, shrugging.
“You mean you were up moving around furniture? Jesus, Jensen. I could’ve gotten my own chair. You need to rest.”
“Not dead, yet,” Jensen replies, shrugging again. “Not gonna live like I am.”
Jared curls his tongue against the inside of his cheek, smirking as he shakes his head. “So I guess you’re feeling pretty good, then?”
“Not too bad. The pills help.”
“Your voice sounds a lot better.” It does, though it’s still deeper and raspier than usual.
“It is.” Jensen pauses and cuts Jared a sideways look, eyes catching the gleam of the lamp light. “Which means we can argue about that thing we discussed last time I couldn’t talk.”
“Hmm…” Jared says, pretending to think. “Isn’t there anything else we could talk about? Because I can think of about a million other things I’d rather discuss.”
“Such as?” Jensen asks, brow arching, corner of his mouth quirking.
“Chad’s waxing habits?” Jared throws out on a whim. The look of disgust on Jensen’s face is rewarding.
“Okay. Fine. We can save that argument for later,” Jensen says, amicably. “There is one other thing I wanna talk about.”
“Anything you want,” Jared says, leaning his elbows against his knees as he bows his upper body forward toward Jensen.
Jensen hesitates, tongue flickering out along the line of his upper lip, and then he nods.
“Why’d you walk away from me at the club that night?”
God. He stepped right into that. He stares at Jensen for a moment, realizing how neatly he’s been trapped, and he has to wonder if it was intentional on Jensen’s part.
Fine. Just… be quick and honest and get through it, Jared thinks.
“Because I thought you were straight and just really drunk.”
Jensen considers, still nodding slowly. “Well, I was really drunk.”
Jared’s jaw hardens and sets, locking into place, but his heart feels raw, vulnerable. “Yeah. You said that already.”
“If I hadn’t been, I’d never have tried,” Jensen goes on.
“Jesus Christ,” Jared swears, shaking his head. He knows he’s overreacting, that he’s losing control of his mouth, but it hurts, dammit, and he can’t take another round of this. “Rub it in, why don’t you?”
“What do you mean?” Jensen asks, frowning lightly.
“I mean, I get that you’re so not into me that if you hadn’t been wasted, you’d never have tried making out with me. Message received, thanks,” Jared replies, stiffly.
“Wait,” Jensen says, frown etching deeper between his brows. “That’s what you think?”
“You made it pretty clear.” Jared keeps his voice as level as he can.
Jensen laughs, sound erupting into a rough cough, hand coming up to cover his mouth. And seriously, what the fuck? He’s laughing at Jared? Like this wasn’t bad enough already?
“So,” Jensen says, pausing to cough again. “You think I wouldn’t have thought about kissing you if I hadn’t been drunk?”
“That is what you said.”
“No,” Jensen corrects him mildly. “What I said was if I wasn’t wasted, I wouldn’t have tried. Because we’re friends, because we work together.”
“So what are you saying?” Jared asks, infuriated by this whole conversation, because seriously, being rejected over and over like this?
“I’m saying…” Jensen leans up from the mass of pillows piled behind him, upper body angling into Jared’s space. His eyes are intense green, golden flecks in them like sparks. “I thought you walked away from me that night because you were straight.” Jensen’s leaning even closer, and Jared’s having a hard time listening over how close Jensen is to him, can barely do anything but see him, smell him. “And then the next day,” Jensen’s voice drops almost to a whisper, “you told me you were gay… and I thought you walked away because you weren’t interested.”
“I’m saying…” Jensen tilts his face forward, hand rising to grip Jared’s jaw, closing along the point of his chin as he tugs Jared closer. “This,” Jensen whispers, lips brushing Jared’s, barely there, searing hot.
Jared’s frozen, trembling, stomach fluttering up into his chest.
“Did you want me to kiss you that night, Jared?” Jensen breathes, breath shivering over Jared’s mouth. “Because I’ve been dying to kiss you for weeks now.”
Jensen’s words melt on Jared’s lips, driving out all semblance of thought, and Jared can’t hold back anymore, tiny sound escaping him as he surges, meeting Jensen’s mouth with his own. Sweet, slick slide, lips parting, tongues circling, Jensen’s hand curling at the base of his skull, tangling in the hair there, tugging Jared deeper into the kiss.
It’s more amazing than Jared ever imagined it could be, Jensen breathing out hard, hands strong against Jared’s skin, the taste of him so sweet, tongue insistent and slowly, sinfully wicked. Hands pulling him in tight, dragging him out of the chair onto the bed, Jensen’s arms winding around him, body pressing up tight against Jared’s . They don’t stop kissing through any of it, electricity buzzing under Jared’s skin until Jared feels high on it, almost dizzy.
“I’m…” Jensen’s voice is breathy, gritty as he kisses away, tongue sliding along the ridge of Jared’s lower lip. “Going to take that… as a yes.” The words are a thick, satisfied purr.
“So much yes,” Jared gasps.
Jensen kisses him thoroughly, like he’s got all the time in the world to do it, their hands feeling out each other’s bodies, and fuck, the way Jensen feels, firm muscles under Jared’s palms, smooth skin against Jared’s fingers, the way his breath hitches when Jared’s fingers skate over his stomach. It’s a lazy, slow burn, building like the heat on a summer day, Jensen’s fingertips gliding up underneath Jared’s shirt, tracing out the lines between his abs, thumb curving against the jut of bone along Jared’s hip, and Jared’s shivering, breathless, tongue caressing the ridges on the roof of Jensen’s mouth.
On their sides, bodies slotted together, and Jared can feel Jensen between his thighs, hot, hard length of him pressing against Jared through their clothes, and he wants this so fucking bad that he feels like he’s going to lose his mind, hands flexing against Jensen’s skin, desperate and needy.
“Been waiting so long,” Jensen breathes the words into Jared’s mouth, his fingers winding down the center of Jared’s stomach, playing at the button on Jared’s jeans, and Jared isn’t sure if Jensen’s talking about himself or Jared, and fuck it, maybe they’ve both been waiting so long for this.
Button popping, zipper gliding open, and Jensen’s hand slips inside, fingertips caressing the seam of Jared’s inner thigh.
Jared stops then, and just breathes, letting it all wash over him, run through him. Feels those light, teasing fingertips stroking up the underside of his cock, tracing out the beat of Jared's pulse in the center vein, and he can feel the staccato throb of his heartbeat there, the light skid of skin on skin, the texture of Jensen's fingerprints dragging against him. The way his balls tighten, drawing up against his body, dick rock-hard and over-sensitized with desperate, aching need. Slow spirals of heat through his belly, shattering into jagged bursts of pleasure when Jensen grips the curve of his cock, stroking upward, squeezing lightly.
“Oh my God, yes,” Jared moans, body shuddering, twisting into the grip of Jensen’s hand.
“Want you, Jared. Want you so bad.” Hips and hand moving sinuously against him, and Jared’s never felt anything like this, so complete, every nerve in his body standing on end.
“Wanna fuck you,” Jensen’s mouth is molten heat, smearing words against Jared’s skin.
Jared’s head is spinning, swimming in sensation, in the feel of Jensen all over him, all around him. God, he’s on fire, climbing out of his skin with want, going crazy with the feel of Jensen against him… but… god dammit…
“You’re hurt. Your leg,” Jared gasps.
“Don’t need my leg to watch you ride me,” Jensen growls.
Jared groans, eyes rolling back in his head. Jesus, just the idea. “But if I hurt you…” he whispers.
“You won’t,” Jensen whispers back. “You’d never hurt me, Jared.”
The trust implicit in those words… Jared can barely think as it is, can’t find another reason to resist. He wants this so fucking bad. And Jensen trusts him.
Jared pulls back as Jensen releases him, shrugging and kicking out of his clothes until he’s naked, bare skin sliding up alongside Jensen’s as he hooks his thumbs under the waistline of Jensen’s shorts, sliding deeper, gripping the edge of Jensen’s briefs before he peels them away slowly, mouth kissing a trail down Jensen’s stomach to the crease of his thigh, lips just brushing against the fullness of Jensen’s cock. Down his thigh, all the way to his knee before Jared finally pulls them gently free. Sliding back up Jensen’s body, hands riding the outside edges of his thighs, tongue dragging wet up the center, and Jensen hisses, stiffening as Jared tongues a slow line up his dick.
He’s dying to get his mouth around Jensen’s cock and suck Jensen off, but he wants to feel Jensen inside him even more.
“Lube,” Jared breathes, kissing his way up to Jensen’s mouth. “Condoms.”
“In the nightstand drawer,” Jensen tells him.
“You entertain like this often?” Jared can’t help asking.
“Just you, so far,” Jensen grins back.
And that… Jared’s working on autopilot, yanking the drawer open and fishing out what he needs… but he wonders…
“Is this your first time… with a guy?”
“Second,” Jensen tells him, sweeping the hair back from Jared’s face. “But the other time…” Jensen shakes his head, eyes fixed on Jared’s, “wasn’t like this.”
“None of my other times have been like this,” Jared confesses breathlessly, leaning to kiss Jensen’s mouth.
Jensen’s hand moves with Jared’s, skin gliding, Jared’s fingers slick with lube as he spreads his legs, teasing at the edge of the opening. Jensen’s fingertip follows Jared’s feeling out what he’s doing, and Jensen makes a muffled sound, devouring Jared’s mouth as their fingers touch the rim, tracing out slow, wet circles.
Jared goes slow, teasing with one fingertip before he pushes inside, sucking in a breath at how good it feels. It’s been way too fucking long, and Jensen is watching him, taking in every last expression Jared’s making, eyes burning like he’s hungry for it, fingertip running along the plumped rim sealed around Jared’s finger.
“You are so hot.” Jensen whispers the words like they’re a secret, teeth nipping against Jared’s chin.
Jared shudders, stiffening as he works a second finger inside himself. Jensen moans against Jared’s cheek, fingertips brushing the width of both of Jared’s fingers, and Jared rocks his hips against his hand, arching against his palm, Jensen’s hand cupping his.
“Christ.” Jensen sounds like he’s strangling, feeling out every single thing Jared’s doing.
Jared strokes inside himself once, twice more, fingers pumping in and out, and then he drags them free, can’t wait anymore. He loses his patience getting the condom on Jensen’s dick, and Jensen reaches down, helping him, completely unselfconsciousness, all efficiency before he drags Jared into a kiss, rolling over, pulling Jared half on top of him. Jared lifts his right leg, throwing it across Jensen’s body as he rises up, arms braced on each of Jensen’s shoulders.
God. This is really happening.
Yeah. He’ll think about it later.
Jared wriggles his hips, feeling the wet tip of Jensen’s cock pushing against him, pushing down slowly, devouring Jensen an inch at a time, and fuck. Fuck.
Jensen’s teeth fastened in his throat, groaning as his fingers flex against Jared’s ass.
“Do you know…” Jensen asks, tongue flickering over Jared’s pulse, “how many times I laid here at night… touching myself… thinking about… this?” Jensen grabs Jared by the waist, slamming Jared against him as he corkscrews his hips.
Jared arches, going rigid, feeling Jensen rush to fill him, and it’s incredible, too much—God, so much, so goddamned perfect.
Hips moving in perfect counterpoint, leaning down to kiss Jensen, that sweet mouth claiming his, chests sliding together, slick with sweat. He can feel everything, the curve of Jensen’s cock inside him, the slight grate of the gold charm on the chain around Jensen’s neck rubbing sharp against him. Those hands buried in his hair, clinging to him, keeping him close, kissing him deep. He grinds down with his hips, feeling Jensen shudder with the motion, the way he thrusts, pushing just a little deeper, Jared’s cock trapped between their bellies, catching against the friction of their skin.
Like a key to a lock, they fit perfectly here, just like they do everywhere else. It feels like more than Jared can hold, hips rocking into Jensen’s, those eyes staring up into his, steady and unflinching, fingernails digging into Jared’s hips, taking everything, giving everything back.
Slow, long slide, and Jared loses himself in it, skin to skin, Jensen buried so deep inside him, and he’s exactly everything Jared’s ever wanted—hardly even ever dared imagine. So far beyond the total, unadulterated gorgeousness, the unmatched hotness—Jensen fits.
There’s nothing about him Jared doesn’t want, that Jared doesn’t—
“Love,” Jared breathes, undulating against Jensen. It hits him then, like it never has before.
“I love you.”
Jensen’s hands leave Jared’s hips, closing around his face. “Jared.”
“I don’t care if you love me back,” Jared gasps, thrusting. “I don’t care. I just… God… ungh,” he moans, sliding up the length of Jensen’s cock. Grinding down, giving over to the moment. “Want… you… to know.”
“Damn you,” Jensen mutters, driving up into Jared, eyes locked on his. “For the first time in my life… I wanted to say it first.”
Jensen rolls him over against the bed, mouth descending on Jared’s, fucking into him so hard that Jared could cry with how good it feels. Grind and twist, and Jensen’s only got one good leg, but it doesn’t make a bit of difference, hips thrusting so deep that it drives the breath from Jared’s body. Fingers closing around his cock, stroking him as slow as Jensen’s kissing him.
“Show me,” Jensen breathes, biting gently into Jared’s lower lip, wrist tugging up the length of Jared’s dick.
Jared comes, convulsing around Jensen’s cock, spilling wet across his belly, slicking Jensen’s fist, and that just makes it even better, long, wet squeezes up the length until he’s twisting helplessly against the bed.
“I love you, Jared,” Jensen whispers into his ear, surging to fill Jared completely, hips bucking as he comes, fist working Jared until Jared collapses, limp against the bed.
Jensen falls in after him, weight settling solidly against Jared’s body.
It’s a long, few minutes before Jared can speak words resembling the English language.
“You…” Jared gasps. “Never… told anyone… you loved them… first?”
“Nope,” Jensen whispers, kissing Jared’s cheek.
Jared nods slowly, taking that in. He turns it over and over inside his mind until he can breathe normally again. His ribs are aching, pain bleeding through the painkillers, but he doesn’t want to pay attention to that right now.
There’s one more thing he needs to know.
“Why did you kiss Sheila that night?”
“She kissed me,” Jensen replies. “If you saw that, then you had to see me push her away.”
“Didn’t stick around that long.”
“I’m starting to really get why you walked away when I tried to kiss you,” Jensen nods.
“Never walking away again,” Jared confesses.
A slow smile blooms over Jensen’s face, and his eyes are warm, glimmering in the low light. “You’d better not. I waited long enough as it is. Thought I was gonna lose it.”
“Really?” Jared tilts his head to the side, smiling back. “It never showed.”
Jensen purses his lips, like he’s hesitating over telling Jared something. “When I came into the 7-11 that first night? I wasn’t nervous just because I thought we got off on the wrong foot. I was nervous because I already liked you.”
Jared shakes his head in disbelief, and his brain still hasn’t quite caught up to all of this, is still stuck on processing that Jensen likes—no, Jensen loves him. “And here I thought I was the only one losing my mind.”
“So now that we’re both being honest… does that mean we can talk about the guilt you’re carrying around? Because it’s the only thing about you that isn’t amazing.”
Jared feels said guilt rise up again at the very mention, reminding him of the cast on Jensen’s leg, the strain he must be putting on himself just lying here like this. “You should roll over, rest your leg,” Jared tells him.
“Okay,” Jensen says, easily enough, and he moves, extracting himself carefully from Jared. He doesn’t go far, just onto his back beside Jared, their sides pressed skin to skin. “But don’t think that’s getting you out of this conversation.”
“Are there towels somewhere? We should clean up.”
Jensen directs him and Jared returns, clean, with a warm wash cloth which he hands off to Jensen. When they’re both clean, wet washcloth deposited into the laundry basket, Jared slides under the sheets beside Jensen, lying on his side, one hand pressed against Jensen’s bare chest.
“We both know I would’ve done the same thing, if I’d been in your place,” Jensen says after a moment, voice rumbling through his chest. “You didn’t have another choice.”
“I know,” Jared says after a moment, taking a breath. “But I… I think I’m still going to feel guilty for a while.”
Jensen’s silent for a long moment, and then he leans over, clicking off the lamp by the bedside. Jensen slides an arm under Jared’s shoulders, pulling him closer.
“I would, too.”
It’s another five weeks before Jensen can return to work, and on his first shift back the team throws a party of sorts at dinner time, a real welcome home type deal complete with a feast and a silly string battle.
Jeff hasn’t decided what to do about them since Jared broke the news that he and Jensen are ‘together’. They haven’t had any previous experiences dealing with this kind of situation. For now, they’re still partners, still on the same team, and Jared hopes it stays that way. He can’t think of anyone he’d rather have watching out for him, or vice versa.
When their shift ends, Jared walks home with Jensen, and Jensen pulls him into bed, fucks him until he’s lying sprawled and boneless against the bed, Jensen’s arms wrapped around him as they both linger on the verge of sleep. Working with Jensen, coming home with Jensen, falling asleep with Jensen… he can’t imagine a better way to spend the rest of his life.
He shifts under the sheets, tugging Jensen a little closer.
“Everything good?” Jensen asks, voice drowsy.
“Yeah,” Jared smiles, kissing him. “Perfect.”
NOTES: HUGE thanks go out to cee_m for hooking me up with her brother via email so that he could answer my eleventy billion questions about being a firefighter. It really is a whole world unto its own. Her brother was BEYOND fabulously helpful, above and beyond, seriously, I couldn't have asked for someone more helpful and patient. ETERNAL thanks to her brother, for his help, and for doing the job that he does. I homaged him slightly here with Jared's reasons for wanting to become a firefighter.
As always, heartfelt thank you's go to juice817 for her excellent beta work.
And last but absolutely not least, thanks to essene for all her hard and wonderful work on the art, not to mention her fantastic prompt, which I could not resist the second I saw it :)
Thanks for reading, all!