He's dead on his feet by the time the door opens around eleven thirty, gust of chilled, winter air blowing in like a natural second wind. Jared doesn't mind helping his parents at the bar when they need him, but his schedule is already brutal this week. He's probably going to climb up onto the bar and just spend the night here after last call.
Handing the glass in his hand to the guy at the end of the bar, Jared looks toward the door and grins. If there is a better pick-me-up at the end of a long day, Jared doesn't know what the hell it is.
Jensen has been a regular around here for a couple of years now, dragged in for the first time by his fellow volunteer firemen after he passed his certification test. Hand on the ever-present pager against his hip, he smiles at Jared and offers him a nod before heading over to the table in the corner where the other guys are already congregated.
“You ever gonna ask him out?”
With a shake of his head, Jared turns and gives Danneel a pointed look. “When? When would either of us have the time for that?” He sighs and turns his back to the bar so that the two cougars who have been flirting with him all night aren't privy to his conversation. He doesn't exactly hide his sexuality, but he's not interested in their two cents on the subject, either “He's either working or on call, and I haven't been home more than ten hours in the last week, to sleep or do anything else.”
Danneel pats his shoulder and smirks. “Everybody should make time to get laid, Jare-Bear. It's only natural.”
“First, don't call me that,” he says, expression twisting in distaste at the nickname only his mom is allowed to use on account of her having spent twenty-eight hours in labor with him. “Also, there is more to life than getting laid.”
For a brief moment, Danneel stares at him, head tilted like a puppy trying to figure out just what she's seeing. “You're such a terrible liar,” she finally cracks, smacking his arm before she thrusts a couple of bottles into his hands. “Table three needs these.”
“Don't we have waitresses for that?”
With a quick shrug, Danneel turns on her heels. “Yes, but I'm on a break.”
Reluctantly, Jared delivers the drinks and is about to check on the fire department table when several beeps sound in an erratic rhythm from their corner. They barely manage to toss a handful of bills onto the table before rushing out the front door, Jensen leading the way without so much as a glance in Jared's direction.
It's not the first time he's missed a chance to talk to Jensen like this and it probably won't be the last. With a shake of his head in resignation, he pockets the tips from table three and heads back to the bar to finish his shift.
It's almost two thirty by the time Jared wrangles the last few customers out of the bar and heads over to flip the sign on the door. His brother showed up twenty minutes ago, offering to close out the register and clean up if Jared wanted to go home and get some sleep. He loves his family, but Jared had never wanted to throw his arms and legs around his brother quite so badly.
He's just flipped the sign when a single headlight glares through the window and then fades along with the roar of a motorcycle engine in the parking lot. Jared doesn't have to squint into the darkness to know who that bike belongs to, or that he's going to open the locked door before Jensen even knocks.
He smells like ashes and motor oil when he steps over the threshold, helmet tucked up under his arm and black leather jacket stretching tight across his shoulders. “Sorry. I know you're closing up.”
Jared just shakes his head and nods toward the bar, following Jensen's path and pointedly ignoring the look Danneel is shooting him as she flips chairs up onto the table tops. He distracts himself from staring at just how good Jensen looks in that jacket – not to mention the way his jeans fit like they were designed for his ass – by grabbing a beer out of the cooler and popping the top. When he turns back around, he realizes Jensen is wearing his glasses and he has to bite back a moan of approval.
Raising the bottle in a toast to the one Jared is holding, he takes a long drink and shakes his head. “Thanks,” he says, his smile never quite making it all the way to his eyes.
Though he doesn't really know what to say, Jared doesn't want to leave Jensen sitting here alone, either. “You hungry?”
“Nah, man, I'm fine,” he assures Jared, though his stomach grumbles loudly in protest.
Instead of calling his bluff, Jared heads back into the kitchen and plucks the plate of freshly fried chicken strips and steak fries out of his sister's hand. At nineteen, she's still too young to help out around here, but that doesn't stop her from stealing free food whenever the mood strikes her.
“Hey!” she protests, smacking Jared's arm as he reaches for a bottle of barbecue sauce. “That's mine!”
“It's for Jensen,” is his only defense. Since he's not the only one around here with a crush on the guy, it wins his argument handily. “I'll tell him you made it special, just for him,” he winks, bumping the kitchen door with his hip and disappearing before she can say anything else.
When Jared returns to the bar, Jensen is chatting with Danneel and slowly nursing his beer. He seems surprised when Jared sets the plate of hot food in front of him. “Dude, you didn't have to do this,” he says, but he's grabbing for a fry anyway.
“It's no trouble,” Jared assures him, taking a chicken strip when Jensen nods at the plate in invitation. “You look like you've had a hard night.”
“Fatalities are always hard to deal with,” Jensen explains, meeting Jared's eye with just the hint of a small smile. “No people this time, but it's no easier carrying the family dog out of the house, ya know?”
Jared's heart sinks at the thought of some defenseless animal caught in a raging house fire. He drops his chicken strip and reaches for his beer. He should probably be reaching for something stronger. “Who was it?” he forces himself to ask.
“The Coopers over on Maple.” Jensen watches Jared's face fall even further.
“Freckles.” Jared blinks back the sting of tears. “She broke her leg a couple weeks ago.” He remembers how hard it was for little Maddie Cooper to stand next to her mother, stroking the dog's head while Jared helped Dr. Rojas set Freckles' injured leg.
Jensen nods, but doesn't offer any further information. For what it's worth, Jared doesn't think he could handle any more right now.
They continue sharing food in silence, drinking from their beer bottles, until Danneel – with all of the subtlety of a flashing neon sign – slides a little jar candle next to the plate and flicks her lighter to the wick. “I'm heading home,” she announces, patting Jared's back as she flounces by to hit most of the overhead lights on her exit.
“Wow, she's really...not very smooth,” Jensen chuckles, tipping his beer to his lips.
The only silver lining Jared can find in the moment is that it's probably harder to see the way he's blushing, if the heat on the back of his neck and his ears is anything to go by. “Not her strong suit, no.” He coughs a little on the nervous laugh that bubbles in his throat and tries to cover it by staring at the floor. “Sorry about that. She's been trying to get me to make a move on you for awhile now.”
While he chews another fry, Jensen considers Jared thoughtfully. “So why haven't you?”
Luckily, Jared has a ready-made list of excuses. “How many hours a week do you lecture?”
“Between thirty and forty, depending on the week.”
“I spend up to sixty at the clinic,” Jared informs him. “How much time do you spend at the fire house?”
With a shrug, Jensen leans forward to rest his elbows on the bar. “Enough to know that you're here more than you should be. Look, I get what you're sayin'. I've been making the same excuses since the night I walked through that door for the first time. But, I mean, we're reasonably intelligent guys, right?” Jared huffs a laugh and nods in concession. “We wanna grab some dinner together,” he gestures vaguely toward the candle, “without the mood lighting, we can figure out how to do that, can't we? Somethin' more convenient than these late-night meetings we been havin' lately.”
Well, when he puts it like that. Bending to mimic Jensen's pose, Jared smiles. “Yeah, I think we can manage that.”
Six Months Later
It's almost four thirty by the time Jared pushes the door open and tries his best to walk quietly down the hall of his tiny apartment. The stench of stale beer, cigarettes, and wet cows is palpable in the air; it's quite possible he's never wanted a shower so badly in his entire life.
He strips out of his clothes on the way to the bathroom, stopping just outside the bedroom door to find his bed unmade but empty. There was a time when that would worry him, but since he started spending nights with Jensen, it's not that unusual.
Groaning into the welcome stream of hot water, Jared wars with exhaustion that threatens to knock him over. He's been up since seven o'clock, working at the animal clinic, pitching in at the bar before heading over to the Andersons' farm to deliver a calf. If tomorrow never comes, it will be far too soon for him.
He's massaging shampoo into his scalp when he hears the door sliding back. Jensen smells like sweat and grease but not smoke, so Jared turns and allows himself to open one eye without worrying about what he'll find. “Time'd you get called out?” he asks, stepping back until Jensen soaks his own hair under the spray.
At first, it was weird showering with someone else. Once they figured out it was the best place for them to stand in the same spot at the same time long enough to have an actual conversation, things got a lot easier. Now, after six months, the ritual is refined; it's a comfort instead of an inconvenience.
“'Bout an hour ago,” Jensen answers, side-stepping to let Jared rinse his hair while he lathers his own arms and chest. “Drunk driver wrapped his car around a tree,” he goes on, shaking his head when Jared opens his mouth. “Out of state plates. You don't know him.”
He should probably be bothered by the fact that Jensen can finish sentences Jared doesn't even ask, but he kind of likes it. “Everybody okay?”
“Yeah.” Jensen presses his lips to Jared's shoulder as he passes behind him, handing off the body wash in a fluid motion. “Fortunately just a few bumps and bruises. Where've you been?”
Jared smirks, stealing another kiss. “Delivering cow babies.” Jensen snorts a short laugh. “Hey, it's not bandaging drunken bumps and bruises, but somebody's gotta do it.”
Without warning, Jensen grabs the back of his neck and pushes Jared back against the wall, nearly toppling them both against the slick shower tiles. His tongue sweeps against Jared's and then drags over the roof of his mouth before he bites once on Jared's bottom lip and pulls back with a sleepy smile. “And that lab coat you wear? Almost as hot as my fireman pants.”
Jared doesn't say it, but he's convinced there is nothing as hot as Jensen's yellow fireman pants. They've maybe made an appearance in Jared's room a couple of times in the last few months; Jensen wearing them and nothing else always makes Jared feel far less ridiculous about wearing only his lab coat and stethoscope.
“How tired are you?” Jensen asks against his neck.
Jared's brain does a quick inventory: Jensen in his firefighting gear, in the sweater vest and wire-rimmed specs for lecturing at the university, and fitted leather jacket and aviators for riding his bike on his rare down time. Suddenly, he's having a hard time remembering a silly little thing like sleep. The naked look Jensen is sporting right now is helping him feel pretty rejuvenated, too.
“I could stay up for a little while,” he shrugs like it's nothing.
They pile out of the shower, drying themselves off and taking a second to snap each other with their wet towels a couple of times. Sometimes it's easy to forget that Jensen is a professor at a college; he usually acts more like a frat boy at home.
When they reach the bedroom, Jensen grabs Jared's hips and presses a kiss to the side of his jaw. “I'll be right back,” he promises, slapping Jared's ass before he disappears around the corner, laughing at the squeal Jared lets out. It's a manly squeal, for the record.
He leans back on the bed, head resting against the wall and his feet crossed at his ankles. His eyelids are heavy, as are his limbs, but his heart is pounding in his chest and his brain is racing at the possibilities of where the rest of this night – or this morning, depending on the perspective – will lead. With Jensen, he never really knows what to expect, which is the best part of this relationship he sometimes kicks himself for waiting so long to start.
“You sleepin'?” Jensen calls, his footsteps slow and measured brushes through the carpet in the hall.
“Will be soon if you don't hurry your ass up,” Jared responds, smiling as he forces his head from the wall and his eyes open.
The last thing he expects to see when Jensen rounds the corner is a flickering jar candle in one of his hands, and a plate of chicken strips and steak fries in his other. “Happy Anniversary,” he offers, eyes on the flame as he hands the food off to Jared.
This candle is bigger than the one Danneel left on the bar six months ago, but it casts the same glow over Jared's bedroom when Jensen turns the overhead off and gets into the bed at Jared's side. “Shit, I forgot the beer,” Jensen exclaims, rolling to his side.
Jared grabs his wrist and pulls him back. “I assume we're takin' some liberties here,” he nods toward Jensen's bare chest and then his own legs beneath the plate. “I mean, I don't remember ending up naked in bed with you that night.” Leaning over, he gives Jensen a slow kiss. “That's a damn shame, by the way. All that time wasted.”
Jensen laughs, settling back in to take a fry from the plate. “Because those two days in between were just torture for you,” he teases.
“You have no idea.” Jared bites off the end of a chicken strip and shakes his head. “This is awesome, Jensen. Thank you.”
“Your sister made the chicken.”
With a roll of his eyes, Jared puts the plate on the table. “Wasn't really talking about the chicken,” he explains, stretching out and pulling Jensen until he falls, half-draped across Jared's chest. “Don't particularly want to talk about my sister, either.”
Jensen smiles down at him, warm and affectionate. “Just givin' credit where it's due, man,” he says before he dips his head to trail his tongue around Jared's nipple.
For a long moment, Jared lets Jensen suck and lick at his chest, forcing everything else out of his mind. To be fair, it's not that hard to think about nothing but this. Suddenly, though, he lifts his head and tugs on the back of Jensen's hair. “Should we blow that candle out?”
“Look at you, worrying about fire hazards,” Jensen quips, ruffling Jared's hair a little bit as he leans up on an elbow to glance over his shoulder. “It'll be alright for awhile. We'll get it before we fall asleep.” Raising an eyebrow, he adds, “Unless you wanna do this in the dark.”
Jared shakes his head. “Leave it,” he decides, pulling Jensen in with one hand around the back of his neck. It's cheesy in a way they don't usually get a chance to be; Jared's more grateful for that than he's comfortable expressing.
They don't always have the time to acknowledge milestones. Granted, it's only been six months, but for a couple of guys who took two years to hook up in the first place and spend more time apart than they do together, every little thing feels bigger than it would to most people. If that makes them a little sappy, Jared's okay with that.