Actions

Work Header

Decaffeinated

Work Text:

Jensen isn't an addict. He's just got a routine. Get up, get dressed, run, shower, get dressed, go to work. He stops at Starbucks on the way to work every day because it's there, right there at the light that's always green until Jensen gets close enough to think he's definitely going to make it.

Jensen never, ever makes it.

So instead: Coffee. Four days a week, it's a grande blonde roast with cream; on Fridays, it's something special. Specifically, on Fridays it's a triple venti whatever no-whip mocha, with the whatever varying weekly, depending on his mood. Some days he's in the mood for cinnamon; some days, raspberry; sometimes he likes his mocha white. It's his mocha, he can have it however he likes. But he doesn't have to have it, he doesn't crave it or anything, he doesn't need it. He's not an addict.

And when he pulls into the Starbucks parking lot at 8:45 am one lovely Friday morning and finds that the Starbucks is gone, his hands absolutely do not begin to shake. Not even a little.

...okay. Maybe just a little. But it's a tremor of rage, he tells himself, and because it's Jensen's job to be convincing, he believes it.

The sign on the door says they've moved approximately three blocks straight past the red light where Jensen always turns right. They hope their loyal customers will continue to visit them in their new location. Jensen, needless to say, will not be doing that.

He has a routine.

~

People who drink coffee that comes out of foil packets stuck into a machine are pathetic, hopeless drones who've given up on expecting more from their sad little lives. Jensen is neither pathetic nor hopeless, and under normal circumstances he wouldn't be caught dead drinking anything called a flavia. What the hell is a flavia, anyway? It's almost like flavor, but not.

He tries to muscle through it. Going downstairs to the cafeteria means talking to people, and not having to talk to people about ninety percent of the time is about ninety percent of why he took this job. Downstairs he'll be required to say hello, assuming there's anybody down there who remembers who he is. He's generally okay with hello, but after that it's a social minefield of how've you been and how are the kids and did you get a new haircut and you look great, and Jensen doesn't care. He's never mastered the art of giving a damn about other people's kids and hair and cats and whatever. That shit is hard.

But by 9 a.m., his hands have begun to shake in earnest. He's got a headache. He's got spots hovering before his eyes, right in the fucking air, where spots have no right to be. He locks his computer screen, pockets his cell phone, and steps out into the hallway. Truthfully, he so rarely visits the cafeteria, he's not even sure what floor it's on. He has to check the sign by the elevator -- just another painful stop on the road to inferior caffeination.

It gets worse. When he gets to the coffee machine, there's a line.

It's not really a straight line; more of a loose knot of people awkwardly pretending to have the barest polite minimum of interest in one another while waiting for the guy at the machine to finish up, take his coffee, and go. It's a group in the spirit of a line, though; there's clearly a hierarchy, and it only takes Jensen a few seconds and no conversation at all to figure out his place in it. In no time, he's slouched next to a woman with short dark hair and a loosely veiled expression of bored contempt, waiting his turn. She seems no more inclined to talk to him than he is to her; maybe downstairs isn't as bad as he'd thought, after all.

They wait together in silence. But the guy at the machine... doesn't leave.

"Bob, you're up!" he says, and hands another guy -- Bob, presumably -- a paper cup.

Bob accepts this offering with a wide smile of genuine gratitude and raises it like he's about to make a toast. "Jared, you're a prince," he says fervently, and takes a careful sip. His smile widens even further. "Perfect, man, just perfect. Thank you."

The guy at the machine -- Jared -- turns to Bob and draws himself up to his full height. "Any time, dude," he says, beaming. "My pleasure."

Jensen's eyebrows go up. This guy -- this Jared guy -- is big. The kind of big that has to hunch over uncomfortably to reach counters built for normal people. Jensen himself is pretty tall; Jared is ridiculous. Watching him stand up and unhunch is like watching a transformation in a werewolf movie, only without the fangs and fur. Just, suddenly, Jared the Friendly Giant -- smiling like a lunatic, a head and a half above most everybody else.

While Jensen watches, Jared turns to scan the remaining group. "Kelly," he says, "come on over, what will you have?"

He's got stuff over there. On the counter, next to the machine. Jensen gets a glimpse of it when Jared's taking Kelly's order (because that's what this weirdo is doing; he's taking people's orders). There's a bottle of chocolate syrup, a cannister of cream, a cannister of half and half, a cannister of 2% milk. There's a cinnamon shaker and a chocolate shaker and a vanilla sugar shaker, and there's about a billion little packets of brown sugar, too. There's a bottle of vanilla syrup and one of raspberry, and there's a couple of cans of whipped cream. It's everything a guy could want to make the perfect cup of coffee -- minus the coffee.

What is this madness? Jensen thinks, and against his better judgment, he sidles a little closer.

Jared whips a coffee packet into the machine, and hits a series of buttons, his hand moving so fast it blurs. Seconds later, coffee spits out into the paper cup below the spout. More machinations with packets and buttons, and there's more coffee in the cup... and it smells... strange. It smells unexpected. It smells... good.

Jared dumps cream and chocolate syrup into the cup, tops it off with whipped cream, sprinkles on chocolate powder, and hands it to Kelly, who looks like she wants to cry or give Jared a hug or both. But she's got her hands full of coffee now and she has her priorities in order -- she smiles, and says thank you, and moves along.

"Sheila?" Jared says, and the woman next to Jensen steps forward, her sour expression dissolving in a radiant smile.

Jared works his way through the group, and then he turns to Jensen.

"Uh, hi," he says, his head tilted slightly. He's still smiling, but there's a question in it. "You're new."

Jensen frowns. "I've been working here for six years," he says.

Jared's cheeks turn pink, and his eyes -- Jesus -- actually sparkle. "I mean, new to the crowd. The lunch crowd. The coffee klatch."

Jensen nods slowly.

"Well, what can I get for you?"

Jensen runs his eyes over Jared's cache of ingredients one more time. "Something with chocolate? And... cinnamon?"

Jared says, "That I can do," and gets to work.

This isn't so bad. It's no worse than making conversation at Starbucks. Nobody behind the counter at Starbucks has ever expected Jensen to express a genuine interest in their lives. There's a minimum level of effort required to stave off awkward silence, nothing more. As Jared's hands fly, as the coffee machine starts to hiss, Jensen does his part. "So..." he says, "is this what you do? Hang out in the cafeteria and make people coffee?" It's pretty new; he doesn't remember reading anything about it in the benefits brochure, but it's been six years since he read it. "When did we get a coffee guy?"

"A barista."

"When did we get a barista?"

Jared frowns. "We didn't."

"But you just said --"

"I'm not the coffee guy. There is no coffee guy," Jared says. "But if there were a coffee guy, and if I were that guy, I'd be called a barista"

"Uh," Jensen says. "I know what a barista is."

"Now you also know I'm not one." Jared glances back over his shoulder, flips his hair out of his eyes, and grins. "I just hang out in the cafeteria sometimes, and make people coffee."

"What do you do the rest of the time?"

"A real actual job that I get paid for."

Jensen's head is beginning to pound. "Which would be...?"

"Your mocha's ready." Jared turns, and presents Jensen with a small cup that towers with whipped cream.

Jensen takes it, keeping his hand steady with a herculean effort. "I didn't ask for whipped cream," he says.

Jared slaps him on the arm -- not the one supporting his mocha. "Live a little."

~

Back in his office, Jensen takes a cautious sip, then slides half the whipped cream off the top with a plastic spoon.

Otherwise, his mocha is pretty damn good.

~

Jensen likes to work late. Or, more accurately, he likes to work intermittently, and the frequent breaks mean he's usually around pretty late. It's not a bad thing; his boss doesn't care when he works as long as he keeps their clients happy, and her boss thinks it means he's a real go-getter. Jensen figures he can dick around online from work as easily as he can from home, and delivery near the office is infinitely better than what he can get near his apartment.

At six-thirty, when most of Jensen's coworkers are either on their way home or holed up with their own projects, there's a triple-tap at the glass door to his office. He looks up, takes out his earbuds and waves his boss in.

Danny's in jeans, white sneakers with no socks, and an oversized white buttondown. Her hair, long and red, is tied up in a messy pony tail, and her makeup is nearly nonexistent. "Hey," he says, raising his eyebrows. "I thought you had a thing tonight."

"Dinner with Keppleman & Sage," she says, dropping down into the plush chair across from him and propping her feet up on the edge of his desk. "Their flight was delayed, so it's pushed back to nine. I'll change in my office. You want to come along?"

"To watch you change in your office?" he asks with a smirk. "I'm flattered."

"To dinner with Garner Sage and his smokin' hot second son, who I am told has been known to take a walk on your side of the fence from time to time."

Jensen rolls his eyes. "Thanks, but I like my work-life balance just the way it is." What he means is, he'd rather eat glass than hang out and make nice with a client, smoking hot or otherwise. He's a behind the scenes guy, and that's just the way he likes it. He's the machine behind the magic. The brains behind the beauty. The power behind the presence--

"Your work-life balance is all work, no life, Jen. I don't call that balance." Danny drops her feet to the floor and leans in, giving him the take-no-prisioners glare that put the Senior VP title on her door. "If you burn out, who am I going to send down to slave in the word mines? And don't say you're not going to burn out, because I know for a fact you've spent about fifteen hours on Metafilter this week alone."

Jensen glares at his laptop with a sense of deep-seated betrayal. "Are you keylogging me?"

Danny grins. "I don't need to," she says. "I'm like Santa Claus. I know when you've been bad or good."

"Then you know I've been good enough for one week. But I totally support you, you'll do great tonight on your own. Wear the blue dress with the sparkles," he adds, looking her over. "It's great with your hair, and matches the K&S logo."

Danny sighs and stands up. "I can't wait for your performance review."

"Me neither," Jensen says. "I need a raise to support my thrilling lifestyle."

"Awww," Danny says. "Warcraft subscription gone up again?"

"You suck. I mean that respectfully. Was there anything else?"

"You get really bitchy on venti frappe Friday," she says. "Look at your life."

"It's not a frappe. It's a mocha."

Her eyes narrow, scanning his desk. "Where is it? Don't tell me you finished a cup of coffee in less than a day. What happened to 'it takes time to savor a fine cup of coffee, you unwashed heathen?'" Her hand goes to her chest. "I think I need to sit down."

Jensen scowls. "My Starbucks moved. It's too far out of the way now."

"Oh, Jensen." She tilts her head sadly and blinks, her eyes liquid with sympathy. "I'm so sorry for your loss."

"Okay, get out."

"How are you even sitting up right now? How are we having a conversation? Oh my God, what are you using for blood?"

He presses his lips together, turns back to his laptop, and aggressively hits reload on AskMetafilter. "I got something in the caf," he says gruffly. "Apparently there's a rogue barista down there."

"Aaaaah. You've met Jared."

Jensen looks up at her. "You know him?"

"He's been working here longer than you have. Of course I know him. You'd know him, too, if you weren't such an antisocial freakazoid." She pauses, and puts on a warm smile. "I say this with love."

"What does he do here?"

"He's in HR." She smirks. "On the plus side, if you ask him out and it goes south, your harassment suit will be self-winding."

Jensen points. "You see that door, Danny?"

She raises her hands, grinning, and backs out of his office. "I'm going, I'm going. This is me going. Don't stay too late."

Jensen closes his laptop and pushes back from his desk. "I'm going, too," he says. "If you're really lucky, I might even come back on Monday."

~

On Monday, Jensen doesn't wait for the shakes to set in. He heads down to the cafeteria as soon as he starts to feel faint. The Flavia wasn't that bad, after all. Once he got over the emotional hurdle of drinking coffee out of a little packet, that is. He's a big boy, wearing big boy pants, and he can get by on his own until he finds a new coffee place. Maybe somewhere within walking distance; exercise helps keep the creative juices flowing.

It's too late for breakfast and too early for lunch; the cafeteria is deserted, just the way Jensen likes it. So he puts the little packet in the machine, and puts the cup in the little slot. Then he looks at the buttons. One says "coffee", so he pushes it.

The screen changes. Now the readout offers him iced coffee, regular coffee, or a mocha.

Regular coffee, he tells it, and the machine starts hissing, just like it did for Jared. Jensen smiles at it, and looks around for the cream.

And looks, and looks, and looks.

The hissing of the machine hits a fierce crescendo, and switches to spitting for a few seconds before falling silent. Jensen checks the cabinets, the refrigerators, the drawers: no cream. There are some little white cups of what looks like a cream-colored substitute, but... no.

He looks at the black coffee steaming in his paper cup and thinks, ugh. He yanks it out of the slot so hard it splashes over his knuckles, steaming hot, and he says, "God damn it. Ugh!"

Behind him, a deep, amused voice says, "Need a hand with that?"

Jensen turns -- carefully -- and looks up into Jared's smiling face. His cheeks go hot, and he instantly looks away. "No," he says, "thanks, I got this."

"Really." Jared folds his arms across the not inconsiderable acreage of his chest. "Last week you wanted a mocha."

"Yes," Jensen says, risking a look up. Jared's eyes are warm and crinkled at the corners; he's not smiling, but the dimples in his cheeks are so deep he might as well be. "That was Friday."

Jared raises an eyebrow. "You have a different coffee order for every day of the week?"

"Fridays." Jensen swallows, and forces more words out around the wall of social interaction, abort, abort! that's sprung between them. On Friday, he'd been a little too decaffeinated and desperate to fully appreciate Jared's height and width and eyes and his whole face thing. Now there's all of that, plus Jared clearly thinks he's funny. Maybe Jared is funny; Jensen's currently too freaked out to tell.

And Jared is waiting for something. Waiting... for Jensen. To make sense. Right. "I splurge a little on Fridays?"

"And the rest of the time you punish yourself with this swill?"

Jensen looks down at his coffee cup. Then, reluctantly, back at Jared. "It tasted fine on Friday."

"Taste it now," Jared suggests. "Go on. I'll wait."

Jensen frowns. Carefully -- suspiciously -- he raises the cup to his mouth. For a second, he only registers heat and caffeine. And then --

He rears back, glaring at the cup in horror. "Oh, my god," he says. "How. What. Ugh."

"Yeah," Jared says, "that's why they keep me around." He takes the cup away from Jensen gently, and claps him on the shoulder. His hand is warm and... giant. Jensen's cheeks get even hotter, and yet the universe refuses to manifest a small black hole to swallow him up.

"What are you going to do?" Jensen asks.

"My job," Jared says, flexing his hands at the machine. "What can I get you?"

~

Back at his desk with a new cup of coffee (with cream that Jared produced by means of some esoteric magic, and cinnamon, and a sprinkle of sugar Jensen hadn't asked for but which Jared added with a knowing grin Jensen couldn't say no to), Jensen opens his laptop and his browser.

First, he checks the company intranet. The directory informs him that Jared is a Senior Employee Engagement Specialist, and helpfully spits out a floor map pinpointing his office. It's directly across from the cafeteria, which explains his ability to appear like a giant coffee fairy whenever someone requires caffeination. It also spits out a picture of Jared from four years ago -- the last time he had his ID card replaced, most likely. Unfortunately, even in that picture Jared is ridiculously attractive. His hair is shorter and curlier, and he looks bored, but he's still got that mouth, and.

He looks at his cup -- half-empty -- and sighs. He's going to have to find a new coffee shop, stat.

"How much of a pay cut would I have to take, to get you to agree to some sort of coffee delivery service?" he asks Danny at their next one-on-one.

She turns away from her screen, where she's been rudely answering emails for most of their weekly half-hour touchbase. "How did you get the way you are?"

"Alternately, I could just start working from home. Telecommuting saves employers space and overhead."

"Since your entire business case for it rests on Starbucks being out of your way now," she says, "I'm gonna have to go with no. Have you thought about just getting up earlier?"

Jensen slouches against the back of his chair and sighs. "I tried. I failed. Let's move on."

"Have you thought about growing a set and just asking Jared out?"

He glares at her. He's worked for a lot of people in his career, and Danny is by far his favorite. She's also the worst human being he's ever met. "I'm not doing that."

"In that case," she says, "think about getting out of my office."

"I'm thinking about quitting," he says. "What do you think about that?"

"I think that's great," she says, beaming. "I also think I might know a cute guy in Human Resources who could help you start the paperwork."

~

"You're back," Jared says the next day. He smiles, and Jensen starts to find breathing difficult. "Cool. What can I get you?"

"Coffee," Jensen says, sounding incredibly stupid. "Uh, with cream, please. Thanks."

A grumble rises from the knot of coffee supplicants nearest Jared and the machine, but he ignores it and steps closer to Jensen. "I thought I'd lost you after the black coffee debacle. Nice to see you back in the saddle. You sure you don't want to try something a little more adventurous? I've got raspberry syrup today..."

He says it like a crack dealer on a street corner might say, first one's free, little girl. Jensen ducks his head and laughs; he just can't help himself. "Yeah, okay," he says. "If it's good, sure."

Jared grins wickedly. "Oh, I make it pretty good," he says. "I've had no complaints."

For a second, all Jensen can do is stare at him. His face is just -- his face. Jared looks excited to be alive, totally in his element. The last time Jensen felt like that, he was probably twelve. The last time before right now, that is. Right now, Jared is catching; he's like Patient Zero of having a ridiculously awesome time. Even dumbstruck with his foot hovering perilously close to his mouth, Jensen can't help but be glad he came down.

"So," Jared says softly. "Is there anything else you want, Jensen?"

Jensen thinks he can handle a little extra chocolate syrup and keep his cool. He's just about to say that when instead, he says, "...wait, you know my name?"

Jared's smile widens. "I might have asked around."

He knows my name, Jensen thinks, stunned. Get a grip, for Christ's sake, how old are you, anyway? So he knows your name, so what, it doesn't mean anything, he's just flirting. Chill.

"Jensen?" Jared's smile falters. "Is that not--"

Jensen takes a deep breath, smiles widely, and says, "I forgot. I have a meeting. I have to go."

~

On Tuesday, he uses the storefinder app on his phone to track down the nearest Starbucks. It's a fairly short walk, and though the weather's kind of nasty, he can make it most of the way under awnings or indoors. Problem solved, he thinks as he waits in line for his coffee, already anticipating the warmth of the paper cup, the roughness of the cardboard sleeve.

For a moment, Jared's face floats in front of his inner eye, looking both annoyed and disappointed. But Jensen's projecting, and he knows it. Jared probably won't give Jensen a second thought -- Jensen's inability to flirt like a normal human being probably ensured that -- but Jensen, he's already on his third and fourth thoughts. Mostly, he thinks he's a moron in need of extensive therapy.

The coffee is crap. It's lukewarm, and he's pretty sure the cream has gone off. He doesn't realize it until he's back in the office, though, so he has to march out to the men's room and pour it down the sink and then sit through the rest of the day with his blinding headache and his regrets.

"Relationships are weird," he tells Chris on the phone, later. He went out of his way to pick up a black coffee at a Mickey D's drive thru on the way home; he wasn't ready to put his trust in cream again, not yet. He'll be awake till three a.m., and probably miserable tomorrow, and it's all Jared's fault, somehow.

Jared's, and Starbucks'.

"Maybe I'm over relationships all together. Everybody I know is either dying to be in one or dying to get out of one. Maybe single is a naturally happier state. There's nobody to fight over the shower with you, nobody to argue with over where to call for takeout, nobody wanting to watch Big Brother when all you want is to settle in for the weekend with three seasons of Doctor Who. When you're single, you can sleep on a different side of the bed every night, if you want. You never have to worry about what brand of ice cream to get at the grocery store because you always just know. If you want to fast forward through most of Glee because you like Britney Spears less than most straight guys, there's nobody there to give you crap for it. I like being single, Chris. I'm good at being single. What's wrong with that?"

There's silence from the other end of the line. Jensen presses his ear closer to the phone and listens hard; somewhere, in the distance, he thinks he can hear the rising and falling drone of a television. "Chris?" he says again; waits; and then -- "Chris!"

"Oh, hey," Chris says. "Sorry, man, my mind wandered. Could you say that last thing again?"

Jensen glares at his own muted television and says evenly, "Which part?"

"The bullshit part," Chris says. "Pretty sure that means the whole thing."

~

AskMetafilter says:

Wait, so you like this person and he likes you, but you're scared of... what exactly? The possibility of a decent relationship disrupting your Tivo schedule? Man up.
posted by southerly at 12:24 PM on December 29 [13 favorites +] [!]

If you really like him, you could bring him some coffee for a change. I think most people would respond really poorly to having to do all the work all the time. I definitely would not be impressed.
posted by kazer at 12:34 PM on December 29 [3 favorites +] [!]

Ask him out for coffee and get to know him. Trust me. I've had sex and I've played Warcraft, and sex is better.
posted by under_a_new_leaf at 12:43 PM on December 29 [33 favorites +] [!]

~

He tries making coffee himself for a few days, but it just reminds him that he's a failure as a person and after a while, detox seems the easier path. It takes three days of ten-megaton headaches for the caffeine to clear his system. When he comes out the other side, he feels like he's been born again.

Mostly because he sleeps all the damn time now, and spends his precious few waking hours crying inside.

~

He comes in late every day the next week, exhausted from constant repayment of a decade's sleep debt. On Friday, when he stumbles in at 10:30, he finds Jared sitting in his office, a mug of coffee in his hand and its twin steaming pleasantly on the desk in front of Jensen's chair.

Jensen looks from Jared, to the coffee, and back again. His mouth starts to water, and he's honestly not sure which view is causing it.

"Hey," Jared says, and takes a sip of his coffee. Jensen's coffee, actually; it's Jensen's stash that's been rifled, Jensen's mugs that have been co-opted, Jensen's whipped cream currently decorating Jared's upper lip. Jensen is irrationally miffed about the theft, and even more miffed about how much he wants to take care of Jared's whipped cream problem with his tongue.

"What are you doing here?"

"You never got your coffee last week," Jared says easily. His eyes twinkle at Jensen, and it's completely unnecessary, completely out of line. He props his long, long, long legs up on the edge of Jensen's desk and leans back in his chair. "I just thought I'd come help out." He rakes his gaze down the length of Jensen's body, taking his time; when his eyes come back up to Jensen's, there's a warm blaze of appreciation in the look.

A shiver of awareness spreads over Jensen, a tingle of sensation that rushes over him like his skin is waking up from a long sleep. He steps around his desk and sits down, grateful for the barrier of the desk between them for oh, so many reasons.

"I think this is trespassing," he says gruffly. "I have... stuff to do. Work. It's been a little crazy lately--"

"Really? Your boss said it would be fine for me to wait for you. She didn't seem to think you'd be busy."

Jensen blinks. "She said that?"

Jared takes another sip of his coffee. His eyes close, and he smiles blissfully, like he's drinking pure porn. Jensen looks involuntarily at the mug in front of him. His hand inches toward it.

"I think she thinks you want to ask me out."

Jensen's hand freezes. He looks up at Jared and says, softly, "She said that?"

"Not in those words," Jared says. He pulls his feet down, puts his mug down, and puts his elbows on Jensen's desk. "It was just an impression I got. Is she wrong?"

Jensen sighs. "I need a promotion, so I can someday fire her."

"So, she isn't wrong." Jared beams. "Okay, so, go on, ask me."

Jensen shakes his head and laughs, his cheeks going warm. "Sorry," he says, but he's starting to be not sorry. He's starting to feel pretty good. "I'm not really all that good with," Jensen gestures at the space between them.

"Desks?"

Jensen glares. "People."

"Who told you that?" Jared demands. "You're doing great! You've just got to get to the punchline a little faster."

"You're pushy," Jensen observes.

"Yeah," Jared admits. "But you like it."

He does like it. He likes it a lot. He likes Jared a lot. And metafilter thinks he needs to man up, so.

"Okay," he says. He stands up, and walks around to Jared's side of the desk.

Jared swivels the chair to face him. "Okay."

"I haven't had coffee this week, so bear with me."

"You'll do fine," Jared says, gazing up at him fondly. "If it helps, I'm gonna say yes."

Jensen can feel himself blushing, but at this point he's past worrying about it. "Yeah," he says, "thanks. That does take some of the pressure off. Do you... maybe want to get some coffee together, sometime?"

Jared tilts his head, like he's thinking about it, and even though Jensen's one hundred percent sure this is going his way, he finds himself holding his breath.

"I think," Jared says, standing up, "I really, really do. When?"

Jensen lets out the breath he's been holding and grins at Jared helplessly. "Now?"

"Now sounds perfect," Jared says. He smiles, reaches for Jensen's hand, and pulls him in. "See?" he says, so close Jensen can almost taste him. "I told you this was going to end well."

~