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All I Want For Christmas

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1.

 

Jared was exhausted. He just finished his finals the day before. Then he'd had to get all of the belongings he'd need for the next few weeks out of the dorm before it closed at noon. After that, he'd pulled a full shift at McCoy's Diner. Now he was just looking forward to getting settled and ordering a pizza before crashing for a good 14 hours until he had to go to work again.

He put the key into the apartment door and wiggled it until it turned in the lock. He stumbled as he pushed the door open. Jared picked up his duffle bag and took a few steps into the apartment. Next thing he knew, some crazy guy with a baseball bat appeared out of nowhere.

"Hey!" the guy yelled.

"Woah!" was Jared's response as he dropped his duffle and took a step back. This wasn't Mike's roommate. He'd seen him a couple of times in the diner.  "Dude! I have keys!"

"Yeah? Who are you?" the guy demanded.

"Who are you?" Jared disgruntledly replied.

"You first."

"Same time." Jared really thought maybe this had become a little over-the-top, but he decided to go with it.

"Okay." the guy nodded. "On three?"

Jared shook his head. "On one."

The guy rolled his eyes. "Fine."

"One," Jared said.

Together they said, "Jared." and "Jensen."

"What are you doing here?" They both said at the same time.

"Wait! Woah, dude. One at a time," Jensen said. "Tom said I could crash here over the holidays."

"Yeah? Mike said I could," Jared said.

Jensen lowered his bat. "And they probably didn't tell each other."

"Sounds about right," Jared said.

"Look, sorry about the bat thing," Jensen said. He rubbed the back of his neck.

"No problem. I get it. Do you mind? You know.  If I go ahead and dump my stuff?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry." He stepped out of the way to let Jared further into the apartment. "You know where you're going?"

"Uh, yeah, Mike gave me the tour." Jared picked up his duffle and re-situated his backpack on his shoulder.

"Okay." Jensen followed him down the hall to Mike's semi-clean room. At least Mike had picked up the piles of laundry before he'd left. Hell, he probably took it home for his mom to wash or something.  

"I was just getting ready to order some take-out. You want some?" Jensen said leaning in the doorway.

"Sounds delightful actually." He dumped his bags on the bed. There. All moved in.

"Chinese or pizza?"

"I was gonna go with pizza but you decide." Jared offered him a tentative smile as he turned around.

Now that he wasn't afraid for his personal safety, he had an opportunity to study his new temporary roommate. Jensen was definitely easy on the eyes. A little shorter than Jared, but at 6'4" most people were. Jensen had dark blond hair and the greenest eyes Jared had ever seen. And those lips… Jared pushed that thought back into the far reaches of his mind. For all he knew, this guy was straighter than an arrow.

Jensen clapped his hands together. "Okay then. Pizza it is. Meatlover's Extravaganza -- or are you a vegetarian? Please tell me I'm not rooming with a omnivore?"

Jared laughed. "I think you mean 'herbivore'. An omnivore eats both meat and plants. I'm definitely meat eating."

"Oh, a smart one, eh? I've got my eye on you," Jensen grinned. "So two Meatlovers?" He held up two fingers.

"Sounds good."

As they were moving back into the living room, Jensen added, "And Tom and Mike left a six pack in the fridge. I was thinking that might go bad before they get back. We should just take care of them so they don't go to waste.."

Jared couldn't help the smile. He was underage, but he was in no way going to argue with free beer.

They popped the first beers open while they waited for the pizza.

"So, you a student at the university too?" Jensen asked.

Jared nodded. "Education. You?"

Jensen nodded. "Biology. I'm going to be doing the P.T. program next year."

"Yeah? You're the smart one then."

Jensen waved a hand to dismiss the complement. "You gonna teach little or big kids?" Jensen asked.

Jared shrugged. "Special Needs."

"Wow. That's...impressive. You must have the patience of a saint."

Jared shrugged again. "I try."

After a semi-awkward silence, Jensen asked, "So what's keeping you here for the holidays?"

Jared shifted uncomfortably in his spot on the sofa. Questions like this always came up and they only ever made things awkward. So rather than admit he had nowhere else to go, he said, "Job. Can't afford to take off."

"You on scholarship?"

Jared nodded. "Yeah, but the scholarship only pays for tuition and dorm. I gotta pay for books and food and any other whatever."

"That's hard."

Jared didn't want to talk about how hard his life could be. He lived it. There was no need discussing it with someone who'd only pity him or worse, look down on him. "What about you?"

"Me?" Jensen shifted in his seat. "Oh, well, my parents went to Europe for their anniversary and I wasn't invited, which, thank God. Who needs to be around twitterpated old people, right?"

"Uh, yeah." Jared tried not to grimace.

The doorbell rang and Jared was grateful for the break.

As they ate pizza, Jensen continued their conversation. "So how do you know Mike?"

Jared tensed a little. Another question he didn't particularly want to answer. "We met orientation week." Mike had been at the LGBT table and tried to convince Jared to come to some meetings and he had planned to. However, the combination of school, study, and work kept his spare time to a minimum. "What about you?" Better to focus the questions on Jensen.

"Oh, well, Tom was my next door neighbor Freshman year, and you don't get Tom without Mike."

Jared smirks. "He does talk a lot about him…are they…" Damn, he hadn't meant to tread into that area.

Jensen shook his head with a chuckle. "Nah, Tom dates  Mike's sister, but I suspect there's some unrequited crushing there."

Jared nodded slowly. Yeah, he was particularly familiar with unrequited crushing.

After they finished eating, Jared begged off watching television so he could crash.

 

***

 

About an hour after Jared went to bed, Tom called Jensen's cell.

"Dude, did you know Mike lent out the apartment to someone?" Jensen asked Tom over his cell phone.

"Awww, man, I'm sorry. Did it- Is it okay?" Tom asked.

"Yeah, yeah. It's cool. Jared seems like a good guy."

"Jared? Yeah, he's okay. From what I could tell the few times I met him."

"How do y'all know him?"

"Oh, he's Mike's current pet project. You know how Mike is."

Yeah, Jensen knew. Every semester, Mike picked one or two underclassmen to "adopt". Usually from one of his many, many clubs or one of the classes he T.A.'d for.

"Hmmmm." Jensen's brow furrowed.  "How come Mike's never brought him around before?"

"I don't know. I think the kid's got a heavy load. Mike says he's super smart; tested out of a bunch of Freshman classes. But he works like 20 or 30 hours a week."

"And goes to school full time?"

"Yeah. I know, right?"

"Yeah, he said he's on scholarship but it doesn't pay for everything. That just sucks. I thought college was hard enough without having a job too."

"Yeah...so...other than the fact that he's your surprise roommate, is there some other reason you-"

"What? No! I just like to know I'm not going to be killed in my sleep and fortunately, Jared doesn't seem the type."

Truth was that he was attracted to Jared, though admittedly in a purely superficial way at the moment. Jared was tall, taller than him by a few inches which was rare at 6'1", and trim with broad shoulders leading down to a tapered waist he could see his own legs wrapped around. Plus dimples, longish brown hair, and hazel eyes. Such a shiny package. And unfortunately, even the brooding kind of ticked one of Jensen's boxes in his type list.

"Right." Tom managed to drag the word out to almost a half a minute.

"Seriously. Would you quit? I just got out of a relationship. Why would I-" Yeah, the worst relationship ever too. The sad part was he wasn't even that crushed over it so much as relieved it was over. He was more angry that he was practically homeless now until he found an apartment or someone looking for a roommate.

"Rebound, dude. You got 2 ½ weeks to have a little fun."

"Please. Besides he's probably straight."

"Well there's an easy way to find out."

"What? Ask? Yeah, that always goes well."

"Don't ask. Just let it slip that you bat for the same team."

Jensen snorted. "Yeah, that always goes well too."

"Well, I can't help you if you're determined to humbug all my suggestions."

***

2.

Jensen shook Jared until he grumbled awake.

"Dude, you're alarm's been going off for 15 minutes," Jensen said.

Jared sat up so fast he nearly fell out of Mike's double bed. "Shit! I gotta be at work in an hour. Thanks."

Jensen backed up to the doorway. "I made some pancakes for breakfast. There's some left in the kitchen. Help yourself."

Jared shook his head and began pulling clothes out of his duffle. "Thanks. I don't want to eat up your food."

Jensen shrugged. "Don't worry about it. It's Tom and Mike's food."

Jared paused and looked surprised.

"Tom said we could eat whatever they have, especially Mike's half." Jensen grinned.

Jared rewarded him with a lopsided smile. There was just the hint of one of those dimples. "I usually just eat at the diner if I'm working."

Jensen suppressed a frown. "Well, it's up to you but they probably won't be good tomorrow."

"K'. I'll see how much time I have. Thanks."

Jensen nodded. "Okay. I'll get out of your hair." But damn, wouldn't he love to shove his hands into that thick mop of chestnut hair.

***

At the diner as Jared tied the apron around his waist, Sandy bumped into him with a big grin. "Good afternoon!" She was tiny and cute as a button with perfect looks and perky disposition.

Jared gave her a fond smile. "Hey. Looks busy. I thought it'd slow down when the campus cleared out."

Her ponytail swung back and forth when she shook her head. "Nah, we just pick up the Christmas shopper crowd when they skip town." Sandy's family owned and worked the diner for three generations. Sandy expected to take it over with her brother when her parents retired.

"Well, better to be busy than bored, right?" he said as he grabbed an order pad and pencil to shove in the apron pockets. "Back tables?"

She nodded. "Mom's got the counter and Bobby's in the kitchen."

"K."

"Hey, how's apartment life?"

He shrugged. "I've only been there one night and I was asleep for most of it."

"But it's quieter than the dorm, right? And you don't have to worry about being left in the hall while Chad screws the girl of the week, right?"

He chuckled. "Yeah, I guess. It's not as empty as I thought it was going to be, so I'll have to wait and see." He headed over to a trio of women who'd just been seated at a table.

Later, while waiting for an order to be filled, Sandy asked, "I thought Mike said he and Tom were going home."

"Yeah, it's not Tom. It's some guy who Tom said could stay there," Jared replied.

"And he didn't tell you?"

"I don't think they talked about it." Jared shook his head in dismay. Not that he was surprised. Mike was rather spontaneous most of the time. And maybe a bit on the flighty side too.

Their orders came in and they both went off in their own directions. When they met up again, she asked, "So who is he?"

"He who?" Jared looked over his customers wondering which of them Sandy had her eye on.

"The guy in the apartment."

"Oh. Him. I don't know. His name's Jensen. He's a senior, I think. He's gonna be in grad school next year he said."

"Is he cute?"

Jared blushed. He didn't hide his sexuality but he didn't flaunt it either. Sandy had weedled out of him that they both had the same taste in men -- well, mostly. Kind of. With one big difference. There was that one difference where the guys he was attracted to also liked dick. She obviously had a different qualification for the men on her wish list.

"Yeah, I guess he's kinda hot," he said. Not kinda. Drop dead gorgeous. So hot he'd gone to bed and jerked off to thoughts of the guy's mouth. Not since high school had he met anyone worth fantasizing about who he also knew in person. The few guys he'd fooled around with were one night things and easily forgettable.

"Single and gay too?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. Does it matter?"

"Come on, Jared. You've got 2 ½ weeks of freedom. You're only commitment is work. No school. You could get your-"

"Sandy," her mother interrupted. "Don't you have customers?"

With a blush, Sandy said, "Yes, Mom." As she turned to go she winked at Jared. "You should take advantage of the free time or rather let him take advantage of you," she whispered as she passed him.

Jared shook his head and chuckled lightly at her audacity. And yet, even as he tried to dismiss her encouragement, he couldn't help the rather graphic images that flitted through his head.

***

Mrs. McCoy always sent him home with a couple of boxes of leftovers from the diner when he wouldn't be working the next day. At first, Jared resisted the blatant act of charity but after awhile, he realized she was just treating him like one of her kids. He hadn't had that in so long, he was grateful.

Tonight, because she found out he was staying with some other "poor kid" alone for the holidays, she sent twice as much plus a box of sugar cookies. For "her growing boy" and his "new friend". Jared had learned long ago not to argue with her point-of-view.

It was after 11pm when he jiggled the key in the lock until it turned and pushed open the door.

Jensen stood at the kitchen table with another guy Jared didn't recognize. Both were wearing serious expressions.

The new guy was shorter than either of them and stocky. He wore his wavy, shoulder length dark brown hair in a ponytail.

They both turned to look at him and Jensen's rather serious face turned into a smile. "Hey, Jared."

"Jensen." Before he could suppress it, he smiled in return. He glanced between the two men.

"Oh, this is Chris. Chris, this is my new roomie Jared."

"Oh, hey!" Chris grinned and reached out a hand.

Jared juggled the two food bags and shook his hand. "Nice to meet you."

"Same here."

"Chris was just leaving," Jensen said.

"I -- right. I was just leaving. Gotta be up early tomorrow," Chris said. "Good t' meet you, Jared. I'm sure we'll see each other again. See ya', Jensen."

After Chris left, Jared noticed the big box on the table. He pretended to ignore it. "I brought food from the diner. You're welcome to it." He headed for the kitchen to put the food away.

"Thanks. I wouldn't want to eat all your food."

"Nah, it's okay. Mrs. McCoy sent enough for both of us."

"McCoy? Like McCoy's Diner?"

Jared nodded.

"I used to live there my Freshman year. You know, so I wouldn't have to eat in the cafeteria."

"But you don't go anymore?" Jared stacked the containers in the fridge. Apparently Jensen had been to the store while he was at work and stocked up because the near-empty fridge was now full.

Jensen frowned. "Yeah, I moved into an apartment sophomore year. After that it was all ramen and take-out."

Jared closed the fridge door. "So, if you have your own apartment, why are you crashing here?"

Jensen looked uncomfortable. "Yeah...learning a life lesson about moving in with a boyfriend too soon. By the time I realized what a colossal mistake it was, Chris already had a new roommate. I've been crashing on friends' sofas ever since. Until I can find a new place."

Jared tilted his head and considered this new information. "Is there any beer left?"

Jensen blinked in surprise.

"I mean, this sounds like a beer conversation."

"I picked some up today." Jensen looked grateful and a little relieved.

Jared opened the fridge and ferreted out the beer. He handed one to Jensen.

"Thanks, man."

"So…" Jared wasn't sure what to ask or even what was safe to ask or even if he should ask. He'd only ever had boyfriend conversations with brokenhearted or angry girls.

Jensen headed to the living room. "Yeah, so Chris was just here doing the exchange of property thing that friends in the middle get stuck with."

Jared nodded and took a seat in the lumpy recliner. "I've heard of that ritual."

"You never experienced it?" Jensen sounded surprised. When Jared shook his head, Jensen said, "It's absolutely fantastic. Everyone should try it." The bitterness dripped from his voice.

Jared winced and took a deep drink of the beer. "But it's all over now, right? You don't have to see him again?"

"That's the plan."

"So…" Jared wasn't sure where to go from that, but he wasn't ready to go to bed yet. Sandy's words were still banging around in his head. "I have tomorrow off."

"Yeah? We should do something," Jensen said.

"I was going to splurge on a movie -- a matinee." Matinees were much cheaper. He could afford to splurge on them once in a while.

"Ooo, I've been dying to see the new Marvel movie. I saw some popcorn in the pantry. We can bring our own. I make the best popcorn seasoning. You like spicy?"

Jared suppressed a laugh at Jensen's excitement. "Doesn't everybody?"

If it were possible, Jensen's grin grew bigger. "You and I are gonna get along like gangbusters."

"I don't think that's what you mean- You know, never mind."

***

3.

It turned out Jensen really did make excellent spicy seasoning for popcorn. It also turned out Jared had only seen a couple of the Marvel movies. Jensen couldn't believe it but that's how they ended up at U-Storage hunting through his locker for his entire collection of Marvel DVDs so they could binge the entire series...in chronological order.

"So...all your stuff's in here." Jared doesn't even make it a question.

Jensen put a box marked "sharp things" on the pile of already searched boxes. "Um. Yeah. You know, people are okay with me crashing on their sofas but not my stuff."

"So, how come he got the apartment?"

"That's lesson number two," Jensen grumbles. "His name is the only one on the lease."

"What happened anyway? You don't have to answer that."

"No, it's okay. All my friends pretty much know. Basically, one day he just said he wanted to see other people. I didn't want him to. So we broke up."

"What a dick," Jared said.

"Yeah, he really is," Jensen said.

"So how long were y'all together?"

"Officially? Four months."

"Four months!" Jared replied incredulously. "How long did you live together?"

"Two and a half."

"Don't hate me for saying so, but that seems a bit rushy."

"Ha!" Jensen pulled a bunch of DVDs out of a box marked "Watchy Stuff."

***

They were back in the car on the way to the apartment when Jensen asked, "So what about you? You got some pretty little thing coming back in the Spring?"

"Me? First, I don't think any guy I got with would be 'little' and second, I don't have time to date."

Jensen had to force his mouth shut. He forced himself to continue the conversation rather than enquire why Jared hadn't told him he was gay.

"So, you don't date at all?" Jensen said.

Jared shook his head. "Between school and work, there's no time to meet anyone and even if I did, I don't have time walk around all mooney-eyed."

"Mooney-eyed?" Jensen laughed. "I can't see you ever walking around all mooney-eyed. But haven't you heard that you are most likely to find someone when you aren't looking?"

"Isn't that what they tell people who are actively looking for 'the one'? I'm not looking for 'the one'."

"So, what? You're gonna be celibate until you finish college?"

"You know, having a boyfriend isn't a requirement for sex," Jared said.

If Jensen didn't know better, he'd think there was an underlying message in that remark. But he did know better. It was just wishful thinking by his libido thanks to Tom. It didn't help that he now knew Jared wasn't completely off limits.

"Okay, you're right. I can't deny that."

After that they slipped into a somewhat awkward conversation lull. Jensen turned up the radio to make up for it.

***

4.

They were up until 2 A.M. watching the DVDs. That led to Jared oversleeping.

His hair was still wet, dripping on his coat when he raced down the stairs to his rusty 20 year old truck. He tied a shoe before climbing in and slamming the door shut. He slipped the key in and fastened his seatbelt. Then he turned the key and…

There was just this "click click click" sound coming from the engine. Well, shit.

Fifteen minutes later Jared trudged back into the apartment.

Jensen looked up from folding his laundry. "Dude! I thought you'd left."

"Truck won't start. Can you give me a ride?"

Jensen put a folded t-shirt in the pile. "Yeah, sure. It'll give me a chance to get some more of that awesome mac & cheese."

Jared chuckled. Jensen had gone on and on about Mrs. McCoy's mac & cheese when they dug into the leftovers the night before. You'd think Jensen never had mac & cheese not from a box.

"Lemme grab my keys."

***

In the end they decided Jensen would look at Jared's truck while he was at work. Jared had been surprised to learn Jensen had worked in his uncle's auto shop in high school. Jensen was certainly full of surprises.

"So...he's cute," Sandy said as she leaned on the counter during a lull. "Is he single?" She added hopefully.

"Yeah, but you are definitely not his type," Jared said.

"Oh, really!" Her mischievous grin got impossibly wider.

"No, don't even think about it," he replied. "You know I don't have time to date."

"Who's talking about dating? You're hot. He's hot. You have that big empty apartment for the next couple of weeks. Ever heard of friends with benefits?"

"We're barely friends," he said.

"Come on, he offered to fix your truck. You're definitely friends."

Jared chewed on his bottom lip.

"Even more reason not to make things awkward."

"Oh, Jared. It's college. It's the best time for a 'no strings attached' thing."

Someone sat down at one of Jared's tables. He grabbed a menu.

"Just think about it, okay?" she said as he walked away.

That was the problem. He had actually been thinking about it. Her talking about it was only putting those fantasies into high gear. But picking up some random guy at the one gay bar near campus and broaching the subject with Jensen were two entirely different things.

***

Mrs. McCoy sent Jensen two heaping servings of her special mac & cheese.

"I think you're her new favorite," Jared said in the car on the way back to the apartment.

"She barely even knows me," Jensen replied.

"I think it's all the flirting and flattery."

"Well, it's proof then that flattery will get you everywhere or, at the very least, get you mac & cheese." Jensen smiled smugly.

Jared shook his head with a smile. "You're shameless."

"That I am. I have no problem admitting it."

After a half of "All I Want For Christmas" on the radio, Jensen turned the radio almost off and said, "I'm thinking about getting a tree and some cheap ornaments tomorrow. You think you want to help decorate the tree tomorrow?"

Jensen glanced over in time to see Jared grimace. "I don't know, Jensen. I don't really...Christmas isn't really my thing."

"What's wrong with Christmas, bah humbug?"

Jared shrugged. "It just wasn't a big deal the last few years. I was in foster care and it just felt forced, you know?"

"You were in foster care?" Well, that explained a lot.

"Uh...yeah. Since I was fourteen. It's no big deal."

"What…"

"Look. I usually don't talk about it. I don't need pity."

Jensen frowned. "I don't. I'm just curious, but I don't want you to talk about it if you don't want to. It's your business."

They're quiet for a few minutes and then Jared said softly, "My grandma raised me and when I was 14, she died."

"I'm sorry. But what about your parents?"

Jared shrugged. "Never knew my dad and my mom skipped out when I was little."

Jensen was quiet. What do you say to that so you don't sound pitying?

"It's okay," Jared said as if he can hear Jensen's thoughts. "You don't have to say anything. It happened and now I'm here. Better to focus on the future than to dwell on a past you can't change."

"That's...remarkably healthy, Dr. Phil," Jensen half-joked.

After another few minutes, Jensen said, "But Christmas with your grandma was good?"

"Yeah, sure. She always went all out. She loved Christmas."

"Okay, well, we are gonna do Christmas. The whole deal -- tree and lights, turkey, the whole chimichanga."

"Enchilada."

"What?"

"It's 'the whole enchilada'."

"Exactly. You and I are are not gonna miss out on Christmas just because it's only the two of us. You just wait and see. I'll invite Chris and his roommate Steve over to do the tree decorating and we'll have eggnog and hot chocolate." Jensen continued the planning the rest of the ride home. He was going to give Jared a Christmas to remember and Jared couldn't do a thing about it.

***

5.

When Jared got home the next evening, there was an undecorated 7ft fir tree in the living room. In addition to the tree there was Chris and a man with long blonde hair. The new guy was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts despite the fact that outside was covered in a light smattering of snow.

Jensen came out from the kitchen with a couple mugs that smelled like hot chocolate. "Jared! Just in time for the festivities."

Jared quirked an eyebrow. "Great," he said flatly.

Jensen said, "You remember Chris and this is his roommate Steve."

Jared gave them a polite smile and went through the motions of shaking hands. He tried not to show his annoyance show. It was one thing if Jensen wanted to celebrate Christmas but an entirely different one to force it on him.

"We were just getting ready to put the lights on."

Jared looked around the living room at all the bags and boxes. "You really went all out."

"We found most of it at the thrift store," Steve said.

"And the dollar store," Chris added.

"You didn't already have some in your storage unit?" Jared said.

Jensen shook his head. "I gifted it to Chris when I moved out. I thought I was going to be buying new stuff with my-"

"Asshole," Chris growled.

"Yeah," Jensen said.

Jared nodded. "Well...uh...let me just change. I smell like fries."


"That's what that heavenly smell is," Steve grinned.

Jared gave him a weird look before Chris smacked the back of Steve's head. He headed for his - Mike's - room. He changed as slow as possible. He didn't know why he was fighting it so much. This wasn't like the home. It was just...it reminded him too much of his grandma. She really did go all out. The entire house would be covered in lights. There was a nativity and Santa and his reindeer in the front lawn. All lit up. Inside the house, it looked like The North Pole threw up. It always smelled of cookies and peppermint and hot chocolate. It was special.

Then came those sad Christmases in the home. Maybe those kids who were assigned to actual families had something close to a real Christmas but they got those kindergarten decorations on bulletin boards and a fake Christmas tree that looked like it came from the 50s. The staff played Christmas songs on actual cassette tapes. Really, he didn't know those still existed. Then on Christmas morning they each got a donated present which was usually something unisex and often something like school supplies or something otherwise practical.

Jared sighed as he pulled his t-shirt on. He reluctantly went back out like a man going to the gallows.

***

Jensen noticed Jared's discomfort when he'd come through the door, but what was done was done. Best to just move forward.

Once Jared had headed down the hall, Steve quietly said, "Maybe we should go." So, okay, it wasn't just Jensen who noticed.

"Yeah," Chris agreed setting the hot chocolate on the coffee table sans coaster.

"No," Jensen said. "During the school year, all Jared does is work and study. He needs to learn to play a little."

"And you've elected yourself his teacher?"

"Yep," Jensen grinned.

"Jensen...do you really think this is a good idea? I mean you just dumped David," Chris said, ever the pragmatist.

"That's not what this is about," Jensen said, but even he heard the slight lie in his words.

They quickly changed the subject when they heard Jared's door open.

"So, the lights go on top down," Chris said.

"No, bottom up," Steve said.

"Top down," Chris insisted.

"Bottom up." Steve was just as insistent.

"What do you think,Jared?" Jensen said when his roommate appeared.

"Uh… top down is the logical way," he said.

Chris smiled smugly and nudged Steve with his shoulder. "Jared, man, you are my bestest friend for today."

"Considering there's only an hour left in today, that's not saying much," Jensen said and handed Jared a mug of hot chocolate.

***

It was 1 A.M. when Jared finally got to bed. He had to be back at work in six hours, but he laid in bed reflecting on the evening. It had been fun. He didn't want to admit it, but just hanging out -- like when he and Jensen watched movies or tonight -- without worrying about some paper or exam was a relief, something he'd missed. The easy camaraderie was contagious and he found it easy to relax around them.  

And Chris and Steve had invited him to some concert they were playing the next night at a bar. When he pointed out he was underage, Jensen assured him they could get him in. They would pretend he was the roadie. He just had to carry one of their guitars in to make it official. He actually found himself looking forward to it.

Might as well enjoy the break from school a little.

And Jensen...Jensen was a little hard to make sense of. If he didn't know better, he'd think Jensen was flirting with him all night the way Jensen teased him and brushed against him when they were decorating the tree.

Jared replayed every touch and every word as he fell asleep.

***

6.

The bar was crowded for the concert but not as crowded as it would have been had school still been in. Jared was enjoying himself. It probably helped that Jensen had been plying him with beer and tequila. Chris and Steve were surprisingly good musicians too. They had a following, including groupies.

Between sets, he was discussing the merits of Def Leppard vs Pink Floyd with Chris when Chris' attention was caught by something happening behind Jared. Chris didn't look happy about it either. Chris started to get out of his chair but Steve put a restrictive hand on his shoulder forcing him down.

Jared turned around to spy Jensen, who had gone to the bar to fetch more drinks. There was a dark haired guy about Jensen's height leaning into him. Jensen didn't look happy. Jared frowned. "Who's that?"

"David," Steve answered.

"Jensen's Ex-dickhead," Chris grumbled. He started to get up again. "I'm just gonna go have a word with him."

"I got it," Jared stood a little unsteadily.  Jared registered in the part of his brain that wasn't a little buzzed that this was probably a bad idea. In fact he wasn't quite sure what the idea was. What was he going to do when he got there anyway? He wasn't the bar fight kind of guy. At least he didn't think he was.

He pushed his way through the crowd until he got to Jensen and this David guy at the bar. That's when he knew what to do. He wrapped an arm around Jensen's waist, ignoring Jensen's startled expression. "Hey, Jen, babe. You were gone so long, I missed you." He purposely ignored David.

"Excuse me. We were talking," David said.

"We were done." Jensen grabbed the four beers from the bar. "Let's go, Jay ."

Jared tilted his head and looked at David like he was just seeing him. "Do I know you?"

"I'm Jensen's ex and he doesn't like to be called 'Jen'."

"Huh. He never mentioned you. Maybe Jen just didn't like it when you called him that." Ignoring the lovely color of red David's face was turning, he turned to Jensen. "Let me carry those for you, Jen ." Jared let go of Jensen to grab the beers from him.

"Bye, David. Please be a stranger," Jensen said as he handed two of the beers to Jared.

Jared waited until Jensen was walking away before he gave David a smug look and winked. He quickly turned and followed Jensen quite pleased by the annoyed expression on David's face. What an asshole.

When they got to the table, Chris said, "What'd you say to him? He looks pissed."

Jensen sighed as he put the two beers he had in front of Chris and Steve. "He thinks I'm with Jared and not pining for him."

Jared smirked and handed Jensen one of the beers he was holding.

"He's still glaring," Steve mumbled.

"Yeah?" Jared said. "We should keep up the pretence until he goes away." Dumb, dumb, dumb. This could only go badly.

Jensen quirked an eyebrow at him and then looked like he made a decision about something. "Okay. Fake boyfriend."

Jared grinned. "Awesome."

As they sat down, Jared pulled his chair close to Jensen's so they were pretty much touching from shoulder to hip.

***

Running into David had just pissed Jensen off, but Jared and a little more alcohol made him forget all about that. In fact, he was having trouble separating the fake boyfriend concept from reality. For someone who didn't date, Jared was good at pretending with his casual touches and easy smiles. All of which is why Jensen lost track of David as the night went on and the bad idea of friends with benefits started to become more of a desire, a want, a need and less of a fantasy.

Which is probably how he ended up in the alley beside the bar, crowded against the brick wall, with Jared kissing him. It wasn't slow and gentle. It was breathless, desperate, wanton. Jensen's legs were so weak, the only thing holding him up was Jared's hands on his hips, pinning him to the wall. He let his fingers slide up the back of Jared's neck and pushed them into the luxurious, thick hair the way he'd been dying to practically since they'd met.

Jared tilted his head a little more, coaxing Jensen's lips further apart. He explored Jensen's mouth the way Jensen explored his -- intensely thorough. He tasted of beer and tequila and mint toothpaste. The more they kissed, the more Jensen wanted him, was desperate to touch and taste.

Then Jared pulled back. He bent so their foreheads were touching. His speech was slightly slurred. "I've been wanting to do that."

"You're not the only one," Jensen replied breathless.

Jared sighed wistfully against Jensen's lips. "We...shouldn't."

"We should," Jensen pushed his hips forward against Jareds, letting him feel exactly why they should.

They both groaned.

Jared was definitely wearing too many clothes. They both were.

Jared kissed him desperately again until they were both breathing raggedly. Then he stepped back, leaving Jensen feeling cold and lost.

"Jen, we can't...it would be...great, I know that, but after, it'd be...awkward."

"It doesn't have to be," Jensen implored.

"But, Jensen, I don't want to date."

"I know. Neither do I." When Jensen saw Jared's confusion. "I just got out of a relationship I rushed into. The last thing I want is to rush into another one."

"I've never slept with a friend," Jared said. "I don't sleep with people I know."

"It doesn't have to mean anything, right? It's just sex. Something else we like to do together."

Jared studied him. "So like instead of binging Netflix…" Jared said with a lopsided smirk.

"It burns more calories," Jensen offered. "And look, if it works out, then neither of us has to worry about finding hook-ups when we have that itch to scratch, right?"

"Friends with benefits?" Jared said sounding hesitant.

"Exactly."

Jared chewed on his bottom lip looking thoughtful. Finally he nodded. "Okay."

"Okay?" Jensen said with surprise.

"Okay."

***

7.

For Jared, it was awkward. He'd never stayed the night with a hook-up before, but it wasn't like he could just get up after and go back to his room. He figured that would be a bad idea. Rude even. Especially after such amazing sex. Definitely the best he'd had. Ever.

Well, it was awesome after they got the kinks worked out. When they first got back to the apartment, there had been a kind of awkwardness that didn't seem to exist between two strangers, as far as Jared could tell. With strangers, it's all about getting both of them off. Neither had to worry about seeing each other again so all they had to worry about was the sex. Wham-bam-thank-you-man.

With Jensen, there had been...a certain shyness. But they'd both gotten over that quickly, especially once the clothes were off.

And damn, Jensen was gorgeous with clothes on but he was spectacular without them. Better than his fantasy.

But in the morning, a hung-over Jared wasn't sure what to do. He needed to get up and go to work, headache and all, but he wasn't sure what the etiquette was. Was he supposed to wake Jensen before or leave a note or just assume Jensen would understand? He didn't tell Jensen when he was going to work before and that's when they were just friends. Did the friend-sex change that? That seemed suspiciously like boyfriend etiquette.

"I can hear you thinking too loud," Jensen mumbled very, very quietly.

Jared winced both at the sound and the sentiment. "I'm working my way up to getting up to go to work."

"Mmm-hmmmm. Do it quieter," Jensen whispered.

Jared's lips turned up slightly. He climbed out of Tom's bed as slowly and quietly as possible. He gathered his scattered clothes and was on his way out the door when Jensen say, "Looking good."

Jared snorted and then instantly regretted it. Still he sashayed a little for Jensen's benefit as he left.

***

By the time he got out of the shower and was dressed, a sleep-mussed Jensen was waiting in the kitchen. He silently offered painkillers and coffee. Glorious painkillers and magnificent coffee, elixir of the hangover god.

"I was going to make eggs, but the thought made my stomach roll," Jensen said with a rough voice.

"S'okay. I'll grab something at the diner when my own stomach stops," Jared replied. He grabbed his coat after finishing the coffee.

Again Jared was mystified by what the appropriate etiquette was for leaving someone you just had sex with and planned to see again. And hopefully do it again. And again.

Finally, he settled on "See ya later" and hoped to be forgiven for any faux pas.

"Yeah, have fun storming the castle," Jensen replied.

Jared gave him a smile, thankful Jensen at least was keeping things casual so far.

***

Jared was tying his apron on in the office when Sandy appeared. "Morning," She said perkily as she went over to the safe to exchange ones for larger bills.

"Morning," Jared said a little less perkily.

She turned around and studied him. Then she gasped, "You had sex!"

Jared's attention snapped to her. "Would you- not so loud, please."

She grinned like the cat who ate the canary. "You did!"

"I'm hungover is what I am. Why? Why would you say that?"

"Because you did." She seemed sure of herself.

"How do you even know that?"

She shrugged. "It's a gift." The fact is that she had made the same proclamation the morning after every time he's gotten laid since coming to college. She had some built-in sensor or something.  "Oooo, was it your hot roommate?"

Jared couldn't help the blush creeping up his cheeks so he ducked his head, hoping to hide behind his bangs.

"It was," she grinned. "Yes! I knew it! So was it just as hot as your roommate? Or can't you remember any of it."

Jared glared at her. "I was drunk. I didn't black out."

"So? You remember?"

Jared allowed a small secretive smile. "Every scorching second."

"Oooo, scorching. I want details!"

"No!" He scrunched up his face. That would be just...no.

Just then Mrs. McCoy ducked in and wanted to know why they were dilly-dallying instead of waiting tables.

Jared just had to dodge Sandy the rest of his shift to avoid the interrogation. Somehow he thought the odds of that were very, very low.

***

Jensen was helping Chris sort books in the used bookstore he worked at.

"Jensen, what are you doing?" Chris asked as he stared at a shelf of Civil War books completely out of order.

"Sorting the fantasy section," Jensen replied like that was the dumbest question ever.

"No, I'm talking about with Jared."

"What'd you mean? We're roommates. For now."

"I mean, you were all over each other last night."

"That was to scare David away," Jensen said because that's how it started.

"Yeah, but the two of you went way overboard. I thought they were going to have to arrest you for indecency. And then you left together."

"We arrived together."

"You know what I'm talking about, Jensen." Chris was using his best mother scolding voice.

Jensen shrugged. "Okay. Okay. Maybe we're just having a little fun."

"A little fun? Do you remember the last time you were just having a little fun?"

Jensen blinked at him over the shelves.

"You ended up moving in with the asshole who then made you homeless," Chris grumbled.

"That's not going to happen with Jared."

"Right."

"Neither of us want a relationship. We're just doing the friends with benefits thing."

"Dude, don't you watch movies? Those no strings attached movies ended with them in relationships."

"Those are chick flicks, aren't they? How do you even know that stuff?"

Chris shrugged. "Girls think I'm sensitive when I take them to chick flicks."

"You use those girly movies to get in their pants, don't you?"

"Don't try to change the subject."

"The subject is closed, Chris. Jared and I are just-"

"Having fun. I heard you. I don't believe you. You aren't the type."

"I can be the type."

"Uh-huh…Just...don't get hurt, okay?"

And right then a couple of teenage girls looking for Twilight books came in and that was in fact the end of the conversation.

***

Jared and Jensen were having a dinner made of diner leftovers, extra mac & cheese for Jensen.

Jared asked, "Have you ever done this before?"

"What?" Jensen said before taking a sip from his glass of water.

"This friends with benefits thing." Jared took a bite of a fry.

Jensen cleared his throat. "No. But it can't be that complicated, right? I mean, that's the whole point. No complications."

"Right." Jared looked hesitant. "But...what exactly are the rules here? I mean, where's the line between dating and friends with benefits?"

Considering, Jensen tilted his head. "Well...there's no hand-holding."

Jared snorted. "No hand-holding. Is that it?" His tone was filled with amusement.

"Yeah, and no sipping from the same straw." Jensen exchanged the mac & cheese for some fried zucchini.

"Sipping from the same straw? Who does that?" Jared ate another fry.

"Overly cute romantic couples."

"In the 50s," Jared teased.

"Okay, smart guy, what rules do you think there should be?" Jensen replied.

"Ummm...So, no PDA, like you said. That definitely implies a dating relationship."

"Right...though making out in the alley behind the bar-" Jensen started.

"Was totally hot," Jared finished. "But technically that wasn't public."

"The stuff before was," Jensen said before taking another drink of water. So hot. He had really enjoyed the flirting parts even if they were fake. At first, it had been all in good fun, the pretending, but then the actual attraction got in the way. However, there had to be a line somewhere, didn't there?

Jared was biting his bottom lip in this particularly distracting way. "No romantic dinners or, you know, dates."

"Right. Just regular hanging out," Jensen replied.

"No jealousy," Jared said.

"No jealousy?"

"Yeah, say you meet someone you might be interested in, no jealousy. This-" Jared gestured between them "-is casual. If you find someone, I'll get it."

Jensen frowned at him. He hadn't thought that far ahead. "Or if you find someone."

Jared shook his head with a small smile. "I'm not gonna meet a someone, Jensen. I don't have time for that stuff, remember? That's the whole point."

"Yeah. Yeah, I remember...Okay, so, no PDA. No dates. No jealousy. What else?" Jensen asked.

Jared shrugged. "I guess we have to play it by ear. Set boundaries as needed."

Jensen nodded slowly. "Yeah, okay."

Jensen hadn't put much thought into this whole thing. Not past the let's-have-lots-of-sex part of it. Jared had obviously put a lot of thought into it. And worse, he began to realize, he didn't really like the boundaries being set. He couldn't argue with them because Jared was being so damned reasonable and practical.

Jensen realized it wasn't all just having fun for him after all. He liked Jared. Really liked him.

He wanted all of those things on the Don't list. He wanted PDA. He wanted dates. He didn't want to meet someone else.

Despite the fact that he realized this was part of a bad pattern for him, Jensen wanted the whole package. He was already over his head and they'd only slept together once. He knew for a fact that he wanted more, especially more than these few December weeks. He wondered if it was too late to write Santa a letter asking for Jared for Christmas. All of Jared.

***

8.

Sober sex with Jared was exceptionally better and drunk sex had been pretty damned spectacular. Jensen hadn't asked Jared but from the sounds of things while they were in the middle of it, Jared felt the same.

With a mug of coffee, Jensen leaned against the door jam of Tom's bedroom, watching Jared sleep with his hair stuck out all over and the sheet barely covering his perfect, biteable ass. He really was over his head and he knew it made things worse that they spent the whole night together. He knew that was one of the supposed rules and he purposely failed to mention it. He wanted to wake up to Jared. Even if it was for a few weeks. Or, if they continued this friends with benefit thing after school started, once in a while.

He could hear Jared's alarm going off in Mike's room.

"Hey." Jensen nudged Jared. "Hey!"

"Five more minutes," Jared mumbled.

Jensen smiled to himself.

"Jay, your alarm is going off."

Jared made a reluctant noise and pulled himself into a sitting position. "Two more days till I'm off," he mumbled.

Jensen chuckled. "Okay, sleepyhead, the sooner you get going, the sooner work will be over today."

Grumbling, Jared got up, giving Jensen an excellent show, and started gathering his clothes. Jensen suppressed a sigh. He got to touch that, taste that. Even if it's temporary.

***

After his shower, Jared was eating eggs and bacon Jensen made and ignoring the fact that it was very domestic and stretching into the relationship zone.

"I know it's a horrible idea, but I gotta go to the mall to get some presents," Jensen said, sitting across the table from Jared. "Want me to wait until you can go too?"

Jared hesitated. Going to the mall five days before Christmas was a tremendously bad idea. "Yeah, might as well take one car. I gotta get a gift for this White Elephant game at the McCoy's Christmas party."

"What's a White Elephant?"

Jared shrugged. "I didn't really get the whole point, but it's some weird game where they steal each other's presents."

"Steal presents? That just sounds mean."

"Right?" Jared shrugged. "Anyway, I have to get some novelty gift under $20."

"Okay, well, we'll go when you get home."

***

After they walked half a mile from their parking space to the packed mall, they began shopping in earnest. Jared quickly learned that Jensen had to touch and play with everything. Seriously, his eyes were getting tired from all the eye rolling. But he couldn't help but smile at Jensen's antics too, making it hard not to encourage the behavior. However, Jared made plans for later that night to help expend some of Jensen's abundance of energy.

Since Jensen had also been invited to the McCoy's Christmas party.. So they needed two gifts. One unisex fun gift under $20 was hard enough to find. Two was practically impossible. They finally ended up in Barnes & Noble where Jared settled on a 365 Days of Strange Facts calendar but Jensen was still undecided. So Jared browsed the clearance tables while Jensen ran up to him with an idea and then disappeared back into the shelves. Jared was starting to suspect Jensen was just a giant kid. Granted, a giant kid with a cute ass and sexy bowlegs. At least he was entertained with eye candy everytime Jensen retreated.

Just as Jared picked up a James Patterson book, a shadow fell across the table he was at. Jared glanced up and immediately schooled his expression before returning his attention to the book jacket.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't Jensen's little friend," David said with a smirk.

Without looking up, Jared replied, "I doubt Jensen would use the word 'little'."

"Oh, yeah? Care to put your money where your mouth is?" David taunted.

"Jay, what about this Lego mug?" Jensen said as he came around a set of bookshelves. He pulled to a stop. "David." From the way he said it that one word could have been a death curse if this was Hogwarts.

"Jensen," David grinned.

"What are you doing here?" Jensen asked, stepping closer to Jared.

"He's trying to get in my pants," Jared replied with disinterest.

Jensen glared at David.

David pretended to look sheepish. "What can I say? A little threesome between three hot guys is appealing."

"Wow, Jen, your ex-douche is a real sleaze," Jared said, setting the book down.

"I know, I was stupid," Jensen said with a hint of self-loathing.

"Nah, just misled, I suspect," Jared replied.

"Hey, just because I like a party doesn't make me a sleaze," David defended.

Jared snorted. "Maybe, but hitting on your ex and his boyfriend is a big hint. Come on, Jen, let's check out and get some food before we head back to our place." He put his arm around Jensen and turned him toward the counters. He took great pleasure on the jealous expression on David's face.

As they walked to the counter, Jared leaned in and whispered, "Hey, ignore him, right?"

Jensen nodded. "I still can't believe I was so stupid."

Jared shook his head. "You weren't stupid. From what you told me, he was like an entirely different person. He was probably hiding his real self from you. Guys like that get off on some sort of mental game only they know the rules to. I met a lot of people like that in foster care. It's not on you that he's an asshole in a pretty package."

Jensen still frowned but he nudged Jared. "Thanks. I like to think it won't happen again."

"Now that you're watching for it, probably won't. Too bad we can't brand him as a sleaze to warn others though," Jared smirked.

"Yeah, with a hot poker. That'd be good."

Jared chuckled. "Put it on your Christmas list. Maybe Santa will grant it."

***

9.

When they pulled up in front of the McCoy's house with it's 40,000 lights, giant blow-up Santa, and nativity scene, Jensen stared out of the window and said, "Wow, it looks like Christmas threw up."

Jared cracked up. "Dude, be nice. I need this job."

Jensen tried to look serious but a smile kept breaking his stoic expression. "Fine, fine, but if it looks worse inside, I'm gonna run screaming from the house."

Jared shook his head. "No, you're not."

"Oh, yeah? What makes you think I won't?"

"Mrs. McCoy's mac & cheese."

Jensen sighed happily. "Okay, yeah, I can ignore the decorations with dreams of mac & cheese firmly planted in my head."

Jared smiled, showing those dimples Jensen wanted to lick.

***

The door was answered by someone neither of them knew in a very ugly Christmas sweater. They were ushered in and they never found out his name. The party wasn't as raucous as a college party, but things were definitely in full swing. Chatter, eggnog, ugly sweaters, and Christmas music everywhere.

"Oh, boys! I'm so glad you could make it!" Mrs. McCoy appeared out of nowhere. "Did you find the place okay?"

"Yes, ma'am," both said.

"Great! Now put your presents under the tree. Then there's food in the dining room  and kitchen, mingling in the living room. Oh, and, Jensen, when you get a chance, I want to introduce you to my nephew."

Jared didn't like the sudden, surprising spike of jealousy that surged through him. He fought to keep his expression neutral.

"Oh?" Jensen asked.

"Yes, he's a physical therapist and I thought you'd like to talk business," she said.

"Cool," Jensen said with a grin. "Can't wait."

Jared slowly let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. He hoped no one noticed. He refused to explore that little spurt of unwelcome feelings.

"Now, you two go enjoy yourselves," she patted both of them on the cheek before she wandered off.

Jensen nudged Jared. "C'mon, I bet they have the best party food."

Jared chuckled. "Is that the only reason you came?"

"Dude, Mrs. McCoy's party food. What's not to love?"

"You don't even know if it's any good."

"Of course it's good. It's Mrs. McCoy."

Jared rolled his eyes. "Alright, lead on, PacMan."

"Oooh, good 80's reference," Jensen said as he headed for the tree.

***

Jensen was playing an intense game of Christmas bingo with a pair of formidable opponents, Sandy's twin nieces.  Watching from across the room, Jared was fascinated by the candy cane Jensen was sucking on. It was giving him very naughty ideas.

"I'm so glad you found someone," Mrs. McCoy said appearing at his side.

Jared blinked at her. "What? No. Jensen and I aren't- We aren't like that. Why do you think that?" He said very quickly.

She smirked at him. "That hickey you're trying to hide." She tugged on his collar.

"Could be from anyone," Jared said, blushing.

She laughed. "I'd believe that if he didn't have a matching one."

Well, damn. "We're not like...it's not anything serious," he said in a hushed tone.

"Okay," she said, but her teasing tone suggested she didn't believe him.

Jared frowned and looked back at Jensen. Jensen looked up and caught his eye before winking with a smirk. Jared offered a weak smile.

"The eyes don't lie, sweetheart. That's all I'm saying," she said before patting his cheek and wandering off again.

***

Jensen had just stuffed two mini-weiners in his mouth when Mrs. McCoy pinched his butt.

"I take it the party food meets your approval?" she said, amusement evident in her voice and smile.

He nodded and tried to chew and swallow politely. "It's delicious. You know you're my favorite cook."

"Awww, you're a sweet kid."

"Not a kid," he grumbled.

"No, I guess not." She looked around. "Where's your partner in crime?"

Jensen nodded his head in Jared's direction. "Cornered by Aunt Matilda."

"Oh, someone should rescue him," she said.

"What and get caught in the same trap? Uh-uh."

She laughed. "Jensen, go rescue your boy," she insisted.

He looked at her with surprise. "He's not my-"

"Sure, sure. Whatever you say. Just go rescue him." She pushed him in the right direction.

Jensen grabbed a mini-quiche on his way.

***

10.

Jared hadn't known what woke him, only that it was too early. Especially for him. Especially since they hadn't gotten to sleep until 2 or 3am. It was then he realized what had woken him.

They were cuddling . Seriously. They were spooning.

And he was pretty sure that was on the list of don'ts. In fact, he didn't think he'd ever cuddled. Of course, he had never stuck around after the itch had been scratched. So, this whole cuddling thing was foreign and a little disconcerting and just a touch nice.

And that's how he found himself standing at the window overlooking the parking lot trying to sort himself out. The snow was just starting to fall again, covering the cars in a fine dust of white. He was dressed in a t-shirt, blue jeans, and the red and green striped Christmas socks he'd won in the White Elephant game the night before. He wrapped his hands around the mug of coffee. It wasn't as good as when Jensen made it.

And didn't that thought nag at him?

Jensen's coffee was certainly better than the instant stuff he made in his dorm room.

Maybe it was just that Jensen always had a mug ready for him when he got out of the shower. Plus, Jensen had learned how Jared like it. When Jensen handed it to him, it always had just the right amount of milk and sugar.

He shook his head, dismissing the nagging feeling that that bordered on domesticity. Okay, it might have slipped right over the edge. But...this was all just temporary. The twinge of sadness he felt at that thought bothered him. In fact, that morning, everything bothered him.

He ran one hand through his semi-combed hair and frowned at the snow.

"Mornin'," Jensen said as he appeared from the hall.

"Morning," Jared grumbled in response. He didn't think Jensen would notice the difference between his usual grumpy morning self and this particular grouchy mood.

Jensen looked like he was going to join him but then switched direction toward the kitchen. "You made coffee?"

"Heh. You might want to make a new batch," Jared warned.

"Ah, I'm sure it's fine…" There was quiet from the kitchen and then, "I'm just going to put a fresh pot on."

Jared smiled and shook his head. "The snow is really starting to come down. Doesn't look like we're going anywhere today."

"Yeah?" Jensen came out of the kitchen to join him at the window. "Cool! Snow day!"

"Snow day?" Jared made a face. Sounded cold. He grew up in the South and had picked this college because it was practically as far away as he could get without leaving the contiguous 48.

"Yeah, snowmen, snowball fights, and then warming up." Jensen waggled his eyebrows with a little leer.

Jared snorted. "I see. You're just trying to get into my pants."

Jensen shrugged. "What can I say? They're just the wrapping on a very sexy package."

"Oh, God," Jared groaned. "That was bad. You know that, right?"

Jensen shrugged. He clapped his hands together. "Alright, first coffee. Then warm clothes and snow fun. Top it off with some unwrapping of the clothes."

Jared watched him hurry back to the kitchen, laughing quietly to himself.

***

Somehow they ended up in a snowball fight with some kids from the next apartment building. At first Jared had suggested they let the kids win but took it all back when the kids turned out to be a lot like those cute, vicious little green aliens in Galaxy Quest .

So, there they were, pinned down behind someone's beat up old Impala. Jared was making a stockpile of snowballs while Jensen was zinging them at the kids. Turned out Jensen had played baseball in high school. Something about Jensen being an athlete was particularly hot. Like it fulfilled a kink Jared didn't know he had.

Jared had a little pile of snowballs when Jensen ducked down next to him.

"Okay, here's the situation," Jensen said.

Jared quirked an eyebrow.

"We're not gonna come out of this alive," Jensen said.

Jared suppressed a laugh. "No?"

Jensen nodded in mock sincerity. "I say we go out like Butch and Sundance."

"Didn't they go over a cliff?"

"That was Thelma and Louise ."

"No, I'm sure Butch and Sundance did it first."

Jensen gave him a frustrated look. "Look, I'm trying to be heroic here."

"Okay," Jared said forcing a serious face.

"Okay, so I say we grab as many snowballs as we can and come around the car on either side and take out as many as we can before we go down."

"Okay." Jared nodded. As fun as he was having, he was ready to get out of the cold.

"Okay." Jensen started to gather snowballs in the crook of one elbow.

Jared leaned in, grabbed his face and kissed him. "For luck." He did it all before he realized what he was doing. They didn't kiss outside of foreplay and sex itself. Not that he didn't enjoy it. In fact, kissing Jensen was as much a turn on as anything else. But he was pretty sure he had stepped over the Friends with Benefits line.

There was an awkward pause and then Jensen nodded and smiled, making Jared relax. "Okay," he said.

Jared quickly started gathering snowballs. "Okay," he said, hoping the red coloring his face could be mistaken for being cold.

Once they were ready, they each stood and ran around the car. They managed to take out three of the seven kids before they went down in a hail of snow.

At least they went down on their own terms, together, and laughing.

***

They were still laughing when they closed the door to the apartment.

"Jesus, I'm freezing," Jared said as he yanked his gloves off. He didn't realize just how cold he was until he was in the heated apartment. His fingers tingled as he rubbed his hands together.

"Yeah, we need to get out of these wet clothes, APP," Jensen said.

Jared scrunched his forehead as he tried to figure out what Jensen meant. "Do you mean PDQ?"

Jensen shrugged. "Whatever. Let's get naked and in the shower." He pulled Jared by his scarf toward the bathroom.

Jared snorted. "You're just trying to get me naked again." But he didn't resist.

"I'm trying to get you warm and if seeing you naked is a perk, I'm not complaining," Jensen leered.

They shed their winter-wear on their way and began to peel each other out of their soaked clothes. If Jared, used the opportunity to sneak in kisses, well Jensen didn't act like it was awkward or off limits. He couldn't wait to get his hands on Jensen in the shower. This was definitely better than fantasy, better than any one night stand.

***

11.

T'was the day before Christmas and all through the town, not a parking place was empty at the malls, at big box stores, at eateries downtown. To save Jared the hassle of trying to find a parking place at the diner, Jensen drove him and picked him up when the diner closed early at 4pm.

 

They were stuck in traffic half a mile from the apartment and Jared had just finished telling Jensen about a customer who always orders the most expensive things on the menu and then complains about every little thing and never tips.

"Oh! I got some good news today," Jensen said, smiling wide.

"Yeah?" Jared grinned.

"Yeah, that guy I talked to a couple days ago about the studio apartment called. The dude he'd promised it to flaked out. So, it's mine. How cool is that?" Jensen said excitedly.

Jared was quiet a few extra seconds and said less enthusiastically, "Yeah, that's great. Congratulations."

Jensen studied him in the traffic and street lights, but Jared was staring out the passenger side window. He frowned at the sudden mood change.

"I thought you'd be happy for me," Jensen said.

"I am," Jared said in the same unenthusiastic tone. "Really.  I think that's great."

"You don't sound like you do."

Jared shrugged and glanced at Jensen. "I think it's great you won't have to sleep on people's sofas anymore. You'll have your own place too. That's pretty nice."

"Yeah, a place all my own where I can have anyone I want over anytime for any reason."

"Great," Jared said.

Jensen elbowed him. "Dude, you're the anyone I want over."

Jared looked surprised when he looked over at Jensen. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, of course. I've kind of gotten used to your ugly mug," Jensen grinned.

Jared huffed a laugh and shoved Jensen lightly into the driver's side door.

Jensen laughed and shoved him back.

"Was that what you were upset about?"

Jared shrugged. "I kinda got used to your ugly mug."

"Dork."

Jared shrugged with a grin.

The car behind them honked and Jensen realized the road ahead had been cleared. He put the truck into drive. As he drove, he said, "Yeah, and you can come by whenever you want somewhere quiet to study so you don't have to put up with your asshole roommate. It's close to the diner so you could crash there when you get off late."

Jensen realized Jared was watching him quietly.

"I mean, if you want…"

"That sounds an awful lot like dating," Jared said softly.

And Jensen's heart sank. He'd pushed it too far. He knew while it was spilling out of his mouth that he should shut up, but it just kept coming.

"Nothing has to change. It's not dating if we don't want to be dating," Jensen said trying to keep the hurt out of his voice.

"What if I want it to be?" Jared said.

Jensen nearly slammed on the breaks, but caught himself. He managed to look calm and collected. "What? Really?"

Jared rubbed the back of his neck. "Maybe...yeah."

"Maybe or yes?" He had to be clear on this because Jensen had been burned before.

Jared sighed, "Yeah, okay? But...I don't want to be sharing straws, alright?"

Jensen laughed. "Right, no straw sharing. But PDA?"

Jared nodded. "Yeah. The whole nine yards if you want."

"Date nights?" Jensen said.

Jared nodded, "As long as it doesn't interfere with school, I'm there. But Jen, I've never done the boyfriend thing before. I might not be any good at it."

"Well, practice makes perfect. Look how good we're getting at sex," Jensen waggled his eyebrows and leered at Jared before turning back to the road just as they turned onto their street.

Jared shook his head with a smile. "You are incorrigible."

"Course I am."

When Jensen turned off the truck, he pulled Jared over to him and kissed him. Not one of those hurried, hungry, wanton kisses they usually shared, but a slow, languid, teasing kiss that promised more to come. Jared seemed to melt into it, into him.

***

12.

Christmas morning dawned and Jared woke all tangled up in Jensen and he was more than happy about it.

The night before without the feeling they were quickly running out of time, they spent the evening and night just getting to know each other. They'd made out like tweens, they'd talked, they'd cuddled, they'd made love. Jared tried not to laugh at himself for thinking about it that way, but he had no other way to describe it. It wasn't just about getting off. It was about getting closer, getting to know each other.

Jensen woke slowly and leaned over to kiss him. "I've been wanting to do that for days," he said.

"We made out for like hours last night," Jared laughed at him.

"Yeah, but you just look so cute in the morning, I've been wanting to kiss you since the first time we, you know."

Jared chuckled, but shoved him lightly. "Dude, I am not 'cute'."

"How 'bout sexy then," Jensen said.

Jared gave him a skeptical look. "If you say so. You're the one who's all 'I'm too sexy' all the time."

Jensen grinned at him. "Awww, you think I'm sexy."

Jared laughed and kissed him to shut him up.

***

After they had fresh cups of coffee, Jensen nervously said, "I kinda got you a gift, I hope that's okay."

Jared looked surprised. "Free stuff? From you?...Yeah, I guess I can live with that." Jensen looked relieved, but didn't really feel it until Jared added, "I got you something too, you dork."

"Yeah?" He smiled. "Really?"

"Of course," Jared said. He hadn't been sure exactly what the gift giving etiquette was for friends with benefits, but now he was glad he'd erred on the side of caution.

They rushed off to find their hidden gifts and met back in front of the tree. They nervously handed each other similarly sized wrapped boxes.

"You want to open yours first?" Jensen asked.

Jared shook his head. "Same time."

"On three?"

"On one."

"Okay."

"Okay."

"One," they said together and began opening their presents. Jensen tore the wrapping off of his while Jared carefully detached the tape and folded the paper away. Beneath the wrapping paper, they both found...a Lego coffee mug including detachable pieces.

They both started laughing.

"Dork," Jared said with fondness.

"Hey, you're a dork too," Jensen said.

Jared shrugged. "Didn't say I wasn't, but I'm definitely the cooler dork."

"Anyway, Merry Christmas," Jensen said.

"Merry Christmas, Jensen." Jared leaned in to give him a kiss. "I hope you got what you wanted for Christmas."

"I did and it didn't come in a box," Jensen whispered against his lips.