"Spider-Man, got it. Thanks, Gen!" Jared says, only half paying attention to his ex-wife, his truck fishtailing a little in the heavy slush as he pulls onto the freeway.
"No, no, Jared. WAIT!" He’d have hung up already if it weren’t for the crappy roads. He moves his thumb away from the hang-up button on the steering wheel. "It’s Spider-GWEN. That’s why I called you in the first place?”
"What? I've never even heard of –”
“God, you didn’t hear one word I said, did you? I told you – she’s new. I mean it’s kind of obscure anyway, you have to be into comics to even know about her. Here, I'll text you a picture."
He hears the ‘ping’ of his text but keeps his eyes on the road as Gen continues.
“There's no merchandise anywhere for this character, Jared, not for kids anyway. I don't even know where Tom heard about it."
"School, I assume," Jared says, playing Captain Obvious as he settles into the traffic jam he was destined to be stuck in for the next hour or so.
"Look, I was just trying to do you a favor, Jared.” Gen huffs, trying to keep her voice low, presumably so Tom wouldn’t hear her. “Tom has been wearing this black hoodie everyday pretending to be her and telling me how excited he is for Christmas. He made a big deal of asking Santa for Spider-Gwen jammies and everything. It’s the only thing he asked for."
Jared’s heart sinks. It was their second Christmas since the divorce and the first that Tom and Shep were spending Christmas morning with Jared. The idea of letting his bright, imaginative oldest son down on Christmas morning punched him in the gut.
"You're absolutely sure there's nothing online?” He pleads. “I'll pay the overnight shipping."
"I looked! I mean there’s the comic book but he can’t even read yet, Jare. Otherwise, I couldn’t find anything but pictures of girls dressed as her for Comic Con. Oh, and I found a site that had hoodies but they’re like fifty bucks and they don’t come in kids’ sizes anyway.”
"Fantastic,” Jared groans. Traffic is at a standstill and his eyes are already aching from staring at the red glare of taillights glinting in the snow, nothing but cars and exhaust stretching for miles.
"What about your mom? She’s crafty, isn’t she?" Gen offers.
"I don't think scrap booking qualifies her to make superhero Jim Jams, Gen.”
“Just an idea…” Gen says, her patience worn thin. "Anyway, you have all night to figure something out. I’ll drop the boys off around noon tomorrow. If I find anything online I'll let you know."
She hangs up before he even reaches for the Bluetooth control.
Jared sits in traffic for fifteen minutes and barely moves five miles. The snow is tapering off but because of rush hour the plows and their sand aren’t making it through. The asphalt was starting to get slick under his truck’s beefy tires.
He chews on his lip, worry eating at his empty stomach. He still had to put the tree up and wrap the boy’s gifts before the night was through and now he had this Spider-Gwen problem. He peeks down at Gen’s text and looks at the picture of Tom’s new idol.
The costume was definitely a lot like Spidey’s only it was black, white, fuchsia and teal. Gwen had a hood that she pulled up over her full face cowl that was lined in fuchsia and teal spider web print. Jared shrugs, he could see the appeal. Tom always liked Spider-Man. He grins imagining Tom saying ‘THWIP, THWIP’ and pretending to shoot webs at Jared from his wrists.
A hoodie would be perfect.
He sighs and flips on his signal, pushing the button on his phone. “Siri, find me a craft store.”
Despite the weather, everyone seems to have at least one last minute gift to buy. The area around the mall is congested and painful to navigate but Jared finally finds a parking space and pulls up the collar of his black pea coat so he can hoof it across the snowy parking lot to Michael’s.
The smell of cinnamon wafts over him in a fragrant, warm blast as the doors slide open. He’s blinded by all the glittering wreaths and twinkling lights, a veritable forest of richly decorated fake Christmas trees and festive arrangements surround the entryway. He must look like a deer in headlights, standing there, trying to get his bearings as other shoppers dart around him, each one appearing to know exactly where their desired craft supplies are tucked away in the massive store.
Jared can’t remember the last time he was in a Michael’s, maybe with his Mom when he was still young enough to be hanging from her apron strings. He takes a deep breath and grabs a shopping basket, scanning the signs at the end of each aisle for something that looks familiar.
It’s a little insane to think he can actually pull this off but it seems to be his only chance. He could get a black hoodie at the Target next door and he’d saved pictures to his phone for reference. All he needed was fabric paint, maybe a stencil. He could replicate it. Really, how hard could it be? Jared wasn’t exactly an artist but he could get it close enough for a four year old. Right?
He walks around the entire store three times before he manages to find the aisle with the fabric paints.
“How many different kinds of fabric paint do there really need to be!?”
The exasperation in the man’s voice is what catches his attention but it’s the rest of him that locks Jensen dead in his tracks on his way to the break room at the back of the store. This crazy tall, intoxicatingly gorgeous man turns his head just in time to catch Jensen staring straight at him.
Jensen has worked retail long enough that he goes on autopilot, right into customer service mode without so much as blinking an eye. Truth was, if he’d encountered someone this stunning out in the real would he’d probably sink through the floor the second their eyes met but he somehow felt strengthened by his red Michael’s apron and his tinsel-trimmed nametag.
“Is there something I can help you find?”
He even manages not to stutter.
The man’s shoulders fall and he releases a big sigh, more like he’s resigned to accepting Jensen’s help instead of actually wanting it. He’s not exactly the kind of customer Jensen is used to helping find what they need. Nine times out of ten it was an elderly woman looking for a specific skein of yarn or a bride on a budget asking him to check in the back for more silver organza favor bags. Maybe if he could help desperate, hot dads more often Jensen would feel a bit better about his lame part-time job.
“Yes, please. Thank you. I’m literally drowning in a sea of choices.” Jensen chuckles, taking a step into the fabric paint aisle alongside Mister Tall and Handsome.
This guy though. He had the face of a model, the height of a basketball player, and the tired eyes of a man who definitely has kids under the age of ten. His long, deep brown hair added a soft frame to his sharp features, highlighting bright eyes that were the ever-changing color of a field at sunset. He also wore the expression of someone who didn’t like asking for directions when they were lost, like even being in this store was sucking his will to live.
“I need fabric paint. At least I think I do?” He looks up at the wall of paints, pushing his hair behind his ear. “Honestly, I’m in over my head here, man. I have to get – uh, I have to make my son something last minute and I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you’re trying to do and then I can get you the right product?” Jensen chirps, his voice going at least an octave higher. He sounds like a complete tool, just like he is being paid to.
The man sort of ineloquently vomits out the Spider-Gwen situation all over Jensen. He has to ask plenty of questions to make sure he fully understands but by the end of it Jensen is practically vibrating with how much he wants to fall to one knee and ask this guy to marry him. No big deal, he’s just being the greatest dad in the whole wide world.
Jensen can’t think of many parents who would go to this length to get their little boy the thing he asked for on Christmas. Especially something that sort of pushed the status quo on gender norms and wasn’t exactly from mainstream media. Jensen practically swoons, his fingertips brushing over the Deadpool button and Captain America shield pin next to his nametag the as he tucks his thumbs behind the straps of his apron.
“I know exactly what you need. Here, let me help.”
Jensen’s not sure what he did this year to make Santa leave this man in his stocking but he doesn’t belabor the question long. He’s got work to do. A gorgeous man to help. Fortunately, he needs help with something Jensen is practically an expert on, having been dragged to every craft store in town no less than once a week by his mom and sister his entire life.
Jensen’s hand joins Jared’s on the handle of his hand-held shopping basket. There’s practically a physical spark as their knuckles briefly touch in the moment before Jared lets go. Jensen reaches in to pull the cheap-o puff paints that would be too stiff against his little boy’s skin out of the basket so he can put them back on the shelf.
Jared had never been rescued by a superhero but the situation currently is something like what it must feel like. This beautiful, deep-eyed guy just saunters up and inserts himself in the situation, quickly and quietly erasing Jared’s missteps and guiding him to exactly what he needs, without the slightest effort or frustration. It saps the anxiety out of Jared in an instant as he’s led over to the section he had apparently been overlooking. Real heroes don’t wear capes, they apparently wear festive red aprons.
“So if you get him a black hoodie,” the man says, pivoting to face Jared. “You can literally just spray paint the pink and white on top of it. This stuff is amazing, it’s super-fast and it actually stays soft.”
Jared’s eyes slide down the guy’s lithe frame as he turns his head and reaches for the paint to show Jared. He’s a little younger than Jared is, like maybe just out of college, he’s got the body of a swimmer or maybe a runner, and features that would be better suited for a movie set than working retail at the holidays. Jared quickly reads Jensen’s nametag, smiling softly at the twee silver and navy blue tinsel garland outlining it.
“Don’t laugh,” Jensen says, totally busting Jared staring. “The manager made us each one with our favorite team colors.” He glances down at the nametag and quirks his eyebrow. “I’m a Cowboys fan so…”
Jared swallows the lump of nervous tension that’s gathered up in his throat with a loud gulp. God, next thing you know he’d turn into a cartoon wolf and have to roll his tongue back up in his head.
“Yeah? Me too,” Jared says, unable to control the smile that spreads across his face.
They stand there for a moment, not moving or speaking, just sort of locked in the crackling little space between them. Whatever there’s there is burning so clear and true that Jared feels like he could practically reach out and touch it. It’s Jensen who breaks the trance but not before wetting his bottom lip and biting on it, tipping his eyes down bashfully. It’s a move that makes Jared twitch in his pants and his cheeks flush hot and pink for it.
“So, that’s totally cool. You getting your son into comics so young,” Jensen says, his voice soft and low, a voice meant just for Jared, one Jared can tell doesn’t get used much.
“I – uh, I wish I could take credit for it,” Jared stumbles as he looks down at Jensen’s chosen flair.
Jared was pretty pop culture savvy, he’d seen all the Marvel films and read a few graphic novels. His sister even used to joke that Jared would have made a way better Thor than that Australian guy.
“I mean, he likes all the normal kid stuff. Captain America. Ironman. The Hulk. Thor. Spidey. His best friend was Black Widow for Halloween. He likes Batman and Superman too even though I’m not really that much of a DC fan.”
Jared doesn’t miss the light that fills Jensen’s eyes, like he’s about to burst at the seams with glee.
“But yeah, he just came home from school one day obsessed with Spider-Gwen I guess. My ex isn’t sure where he picked it up from but it’s his current obsession.”
Maybe he’s imagining it but Jared’s pretty sure Jensen’s eyelashes flutter a little when he puts a little emphasis on the fact that there’s an ex.
“It’s my first time doing Christmas morning with them since the divorce so I really just need this to be good for Tom. And Shep too.”
“What about you? Shouldn’t Christmas be good for you, too?” Jensen says quick and emphatic. The level of investment in his tone is as effective as if Jensen had shaken Jared’s shoulders.
“Yeah, I suppose…” Jared can hear the heat in his voice, knows he’s leaning in a little more than he should be, and knows they would be standing even closer if it weren’t for the shopping basket in Jensen’s arms. “If Tom’s happy I’m happy.”
Jensen’s smile is infectious. One spreads across Jared’s face mirroring the sweet, plush curve of Jensen’s full lips.
“I’m still not really sure if I can pull this off, though. Not that your help has been anything less than amazing. I’m just a total noob at this stuff.”
“Well, I’m pretty good at it,” Jensen says quietly, his eyes firmly on Jared’s like he’s trying to see through Jared’s soul. “If you wanted to drop the hoodie back here on your way home, I can do it at home tonight. You could come grab it tomorrow. I’m opening so I’ll be here at nine.”
“I have a better idea,” Jared breathes, sliding his hand over Jensen’s where they’re gripping the plastic handles of the basket. “Why don’t you come over to my place once you’re off tonight? Help me with it? I’ll make dinner. It’s the least I could do. For your help I mean…”
There’s that little moment where Jared isn’t sure if he’s made a huge mistake or not. He can’t breathe and it’s either because he’s caught up in staring at Jensen’s lips waiting for an answer, or because all the air has been sucked out of the store. Maybe both.
“We close at ten. Are you sure that isn’t too late?”
“I’ll have the tree put up and the boys’ presents under it by the time you get there,” Jared says, without hesitation. “I’ll even come pick you up if you need me to,” he adds, glancing toward the front of the store. “It’s still snowing I think.”
“I have all-wheel drive. I’ll make it.” Jensen’s Adam’s apple bobs and they’re both a little breathless at the fast, reckless trajectory they’re on.
Jensen finally lets go of the basket and it’s Jared’s turn to look away bashfully. The intensity of those olive green eyes framed by those gorgeous cheekbones and rosy pink mouth are nearly making Jared dizzy.
“Wait, um,” Jensen says, reaching out to grab the sleeve of Jared’s coat. He laughs, corners of his eyes crinkling up adorably. “You should probably tell me your name, you know, before you give me your address.”
Jared loses it right along with him, their laughter weaving together in a harmony that Jared is certain he will never get tired of.
“Jesus Christ,” Jared finally gasps, raking his hand through his hair. He’s never been in such an utterly rom-com situation. “I mean, fuck, that’s not my name. I’m Jared.”
“Hi, Jared.” Jensen says, sliding his hand into Jared’s and giving it a warm, firm shake. “I’m Jensen but you already knew that.”
“God, I’m so sorry,” Jared sighs, rubbing over the back of his neck with his clammy palm. “I swear I don’t usually pick up random people at craft stores, I just got a little ahead of myself I think.”
“Jared,” Jensen says, grinning a little as it rolls off his tongue – like he likes the feel of it, like it feels right. “Let’s get you rung up and you can write down your address and phone number for me.”
Jensen turns to leave the aisle and lead Jared up to the cash registers but he gives Jared a little look back over his shoulder first, like maybe he’s just checking to make Jared’s still there, that he’s really real. Jared smiles back and wonders how he’s going to last the next four hours anticipating Jensen’s arrival. He was glad he had plenty to keep him busy.
For the first time in a long time Jared really believes what his mom always liked to say about Christmas. “It’s not as much about opening presents as it is about opening our hearts.”