It's a sad day when Jared Padalecki arrives in Florida for Spring Training. The first thing they make him do after he signs in is walk down the street to the barber shop and chop off his hair. His dad will be pleased, but Alexis (his girlfriend of two years this April) will not. But they're offering him a million-dollar signing bonus, and if he doesn't get it cut short enough to meet regulation, they might send him away and take away the check that's going to buy his mom a new house.
So he goes to the barber. He's surprised to find he's not alone; there are a couple other guys that he saw around the complex, waiting their turn. The burly black man currently shaving - oh god - Jensen Ackles' head takes one look at him, grins widely, and nods at an empty chair. "Be with you in a little while."
Forty minutes later, Jared leaves the barber shop with the shortest hair he's had since elementary school.
Turns out Spring Training is a whole new world. He thought that he and the other new guys would be isolated - after all, they're all gonna be in the GCL or the Rookie League this season - but they're mixed in with everyone from Jensen fucking Ackles to the seventeen-year-old outfielder from Australia. This means not only does he work with the catchers he's actually going to be working with in the system, but also Jensen fucking Ackles, who seems about as pleased to see the rookies as hens are to see a fox. Or something. Jared never was any good with metaphors.
It's stupid, because really, Jensen Ackles isn't that much older than him, but the guy had his major league debut last season as part of the 40-man roster, and they're already plotting to make him MVP and All-Star and Golden Glove winner and probably Team Captain, too. The guy's not played a full month of major league ball and he's already a legend. So yeah. Jared's pretty sure the GM and scouts and whoever are just wanting to see which of their new pitchers pisses his pants in fear first.
He refuses to let that be him. So when he sees the lineup for the first scrimmage game he has to take a couple deep breaths and remind himself that Jensen is just a guy who plays baseball. Really well. The other rookies in the locker room give him the sort of sympathetic looks that mean they're praising God or Satchel Paige or Tom Cruise or Whoever that they're not the one going to his death today.
Jared suits up, walks out with only a slight shake and heads to where Jensen Ackles looks impatient, tossing a ball from hand to glove to hand to glove again. Jared stops in front of him and smiles. "Hi, I'm Jared," he says in a rush.
"I know," says Jensen.
He's part of the September call-ups, which is pretty damn exciting, considering that he's only been in the system for a couple years. He's the youngest guy on the squad by two years, barely twenty-one and skinny as a reed. He's gotten no small amount of ribbing for being the baby, jokes just this side of jealous sniping from the rest of the bullpen.
They're playing the Mariners when the call comes into the pen: "Padalecki's going out next inning."
He starts warming up with Chuck, the bullpen catcher, trying not to think too hard that this is it, his first appearance in the Show. Chuck's a veteran, reminds Jared of Crash Davis a little (though he'd never say it out loud), and a calming force against the nerves that threaten to overtake him.
He comes out to start the top of the seventh, and he's good, he's okay at first, but then it hits him that this is the Show, and his next two pitches go wild. Ackles calls time and trots out to the mound.
"You okay, kid?" he asks as he lifts up his mask, and Jared's too panicky to even think about pointing out that he's only four years younger than Ackles.
"Yeah," he starts to say, only to change his mind to, "No. Not really."
Ackles rolls his eyes and says, "You were doin' fine just a moment ago. Come on, Hurley's got a two and two count, you're one pitch away from your first strike-out." He gives Jared a sideways grin. "Of course, if you really wanna psyche him out, you'll throw another wide pitch and follow it up with that wicked slider I've seen you toss around."
That makes Jared return the smile even as he blushes a little. "Okay. Yeah."
Ackles slaps his shoulder and heads back to the plate.
It's not a love at first sight sort of thing with them. It's more like Jensen shows up on the first day pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training and he's assigned to work with the new kid, the one who's been getting buzz for Rookie-of-the-Year. In Jensen's experience (four years in the minor leagues, three in the majors), that can only mean one thing: the kid's an asshole.
Of course, then he actually meets the kid. Jared Padalecki is a gangly boy of a pitcher, all arms and legs that look like sticks now but will probably be solid muscle within a year. He's young, younger than Jensen was when he made his debut - the boy's not yet twenty-two - and it shows in his laugh and his smile and his wide-eyed wonder at the other names on the lockers in the clubhouse. They fast-tracked him out of the minors, probably saving him from becoming an asshole simply by virtue of moving him through the system so quickly.
They bond, partly out of necessity (after all, Jensen has to get along with all of the pitchers, whether he wants to or not), but mostly out of genuine mutual affection. Jared is attractive, there's no denying that, but Jensen is carefully guarded, fearful that anything untoward could be the death sentence for his career. No one wants to work with a gay catcher, no matter how good he might be at his job.
It comes as kind of a shock, then, the night after their first Grapefruit League game, after the requisite post-game celebration, when Jared and Jensen are securely back in their hotel room in Fort Lauderdale, and Jared announces, "I love you, Jen."
Jensen blinks at him for a moment, then quips back, "Love you too, Jay," sure that the kid will collapse on the bed and pass out.
Jared just shakes his head. "No. I love you." And then, as if he has something to prove, he pushes Jensen up against the door and tries to stick his tongue down Jensen's throat.
It's terrifying and exhiliarating and Jensen starts choking. He pushes Jared away and gags a little, trying to catch his breath. "Dude, your mouth tastes like shit. What did you eat tonight?"
Jared looks sheepish. "Pretzels? With garlic?"
"Dear God, no wonder." He wrinkles his nose in disgust. "Please, go brush your teeth."
Jared goes into the bathroom, head down like a dejected puppy. Jensen sits on his bed and tries not to freak out.
He likes Jared, he does, and that's exactly why they shouldn't. He didn't even know Jared swung that way, was certain the guy liked girls, with the way he flirts with the girls in the front office and the Spring Training groupies who're at the parks day in and day out. It could be a conspiracy - maybe someone's found out, and they're using Jared as a spy. Yeah, that's it. Jared's probably got a hidden camera that they'll use as evidence against him, get him kicked off the team, and then it's bye-bye baseball, hello physical therapist.
He's ready to go turn in his resignation when Jared steps out of the bathroom. "You want to do a breath-check?" he asks, grinning brightly as if to prove that he actually brushed.
Jared sits next to him, and Jensen scoots away, only to have him move closer.
"Jensen." His name makes him look at Jared's face, close enough that he can smell the lingering mint from his toothpaste. Jared places a hand on his knee. "Is this - I'm not wrong, am I? Because if I'm wrong, and you don't - just say so, and we can forget all about. I'll never. Bring it up again."
It's the first time he's ever seen Jared completely unsure, all confidence gone. He was unwavering in the face of Derek fucking Jeter, and now he's in a panic, his eyes darting crazily back and forth across Jensen's face.
Jensen doesn't know what to say, so he does the only thing he can think of. He shuts his eyes and leans in and kisses him. And this time, he doesn't even notice the garlic.
Jensen signals to Jared for a slider, but the ass shakes his head in a silent "No," even though a slider would be perfect against Giambi. So he signals for a curve and gets a second headshake. A fastball. No. Sighing inwardly, he asks for time and trots out to the mound.
"Okay, hotstuff, what do you want, since you're not taking any of my suggestions?"
Jared smirks and hides his face behind his glove. "Right now, I want to shove you to the ground and have my way with you. You don't know how hot you look in that gear, Jen, and I wanna just strip it off you piece by piece. Lay you out right here in front of God and everyone, suck you down and mark you up so everyone knows you're mine."
Jensen's glad for his gear, and hopes the cameras haven't zoomed in on them, lest they show the blush that flushes his face. "Motherfucker," he says.
"You know you love--"
"You guys done with your little pow-wow?" calls Malik. "I gotta piss!"
"Throw the fucking slider, Jay."
They're in Chicago the week before the All-Star game, and it's the luckiest they've ever been. The Indians are three games ahead in the Wild Card race, Jensen's been named to the All-Star team, and the second game of their three-game series against the Sox has been rained out, giving them an evening to themselves.
Jared has dragged Jensen all across the city, chattering away about this building and that statue, explaining the city's history with more words than necessary. Jensen takes it all in stride, rolling his eyes when it's expected of him, but secretly enjoying Jared's enthusiasm.
It's been raining steadily all day, but the deluge really hits just as they're heading for the Art Institute (Jared insists they cannot skip that particular monument to art and architecture even though Jensen really would like to go back to the hotel, drink some beer, and go to sleep - "But what about the Edward Weston exhibit?" Jared pouts, and Jensen relents). They duck inside a musty bookshop somewhere between the University and the museum, shaking the rain out of their hair. Jensen's still cursing the weather when he realizes Jared has disappeared into the stacks of used books.
It's one of those bookshops that never seems to have anyone in it but is ever-present, even when you're certain it should have gone out of business twenty years ago. The shelves are a maze of books stacked precariously on top of each other. It's the sort of place a person comes when they don't wish to be found. The kind of place where a person finds a book they love and a cozy chair in a hidden corner and settles in for several hours. There are probably lost tribes of people who sat down to read Lord of the Rings only to forget how to get out of the store.
Jensen is sure he will never see Jared Padalecki ever again. There will be headlines tomorrow about how he lost their star pitcher in a maze of books that led to another dimension (as he is convinced all bookshops of this ilk do). Jensen can't deal with that sort of pressure, so he goes in search of his wayward pitcher.
He's wandering among the stacks of presidential autobiographies and first-person accounts of various wars, already lost himself, when a hand shoots out from a narrow aisle and pulls him into it. "Took you long enough," says a voice in his ear, and Jensen whirls to see Jared's white grin in the dim light.
"Only coming to make sure you could find your way out again," he mutters, trying to sound more annoyed than he is. "Guy like you could get lost in this sort of place and never be heard from again."
"It's true. And there's no one else here, which means nobody else would know where you'd gone. They'd never find you, and you'd die of starvation."
"There's no one else here?" Jared asks. Jensen shakes his head solemnly, thinking Jared's going for a joke. "Good, then I can do this and not worry about getting caught."
He leans down and kisses Jensen, licking at his lips. Jensen freezes for a moment, waiting, terrified, for the flash and click of a camera, before relaxing and returning the kiss. Jared didn't bother to wipe away the rain from his face, and it's there, mixed with sweat that Jensen licks from his skin.
They don't allow themselves this usually - professional ballplayers making out in public is generally frowned upon by the league, not to mention the fans - but here, in the dark anonymity of the nonfiction section of a bookshop in Chicago, it's safe. They can just be.
Eventually, Jared pulls away with a light little laugh. "Don't look now, Jen, but we've got an audience." Jensen turns around quickly, expecting a horrified family of fans, their teammates, or perhaps Bud Selig, but the only thing watching them is a disinterested grey tabby. Jensen doesn't know whether to smack Jared or just kiss him again.
He chooses the latter.