Jensen didn’t know what had hit him.
One minute he’d been getting his mail, twisting the little brass key that never quite fit the lock for his mailbox, with the papers he needed to grade tonight tucked under his arm; the next minute there’d been a huge crash and he’d found himself flat on his back with a giant on top of him.
“You’re a disaster, Padalecki.” A blond guy stood over them, snickering, as Jensen tried to breathe with a man sprawled across his chest.
“I’m so, so sorry,” the giant said. “Are you okay?”
Jensen pushed him off and sat up. “What is wrong with you?”
“Here, let me help you,” the giant said but Jensen batted his hand away. He tried to glower at the guy, but his assailant looked like a kicked puppy already. As he climbed to his feet, the sun from the outside door was blocked out by his profile. Jensen would have been impressed if he wasn’t so pissed off.
“You make a habit of running over innocent bystanders?” he said.
“He does, actually.” The blond guy behind him spoke up again.
“Shut up, Chad.”
The ground around them was a disaster area, littered with hockey skates and sticks and Jensen’s Intro to Mythology quarter-end exams.
Now that Jensen wasn’t flat on his back, he could see that the giant who had knocked him over was good-looking; dark wavy hair that was too long for Jensen’s taste and cheekbones that went on for days. Must be strong too, Jensen thought, as the two guys went about gathering up the sticks and the big guy threw the skates, tied by their laces, over his shoulder. Jensen scooped up his class papers, not even bothering to straighten out the mess. He was going to get out of there. But he couldn’t resist asking one question.
“What’s up with the hockey stuff? This is California, not Canada.”
The guy blushed as he juggled his bag and sticks, which was nice. “We play in the adult league every Thursday over where the Sharks practice. Always looking for new players if you’re interested,” he said with a bright smile. “By the way, I’m Jared. I just moved in down the hall from you. And this is Chad.”
“Hockey league? No, thanks. But if it’s co-ed, I bet Dani could kick your asses.” Jared continued to look at him, waiting, before Jensen remembered his manners. “Oh yeah, I’m Jensen.”
“Good to meet you, Jensen.” There were dimples that went along with the blushy cheeks.
Jensen moved quickly to the elevator, determined not to share it with a bunch of equipment and gross gym bags even if they came with a side of tall, dark and handsome.
“He’s perfect,” Chad whispered loudly. “Just what Misha wants to see on camera.”
“Misha didn’t say that.”
“He did so. Told me to wrangle better-looking people or I’d lose my job.”
Jared looked skeptical as he hiked the gym bag further up his shoulder. “He was kidding, right?”
As the elevator doors closed, Jensen shook his head. His gorgeous neighbor must be in the porn business. Great. Well, he thought, the cute ones had all the issues.
Jared rang the bell and stood nervously outside 12B, shifting from one foot to the other. When Jensen opened the door, he looked even more nervous than Jared as he scanned the empty hallway.
“You’re not here to recruit me, are you?”
“What? No, I’m here to say I’m sorry about earlier and to make you a peace offering.” Jared held out two tickets to Jensen who took them and inspected them, his eyes wrinkling up in confusion.
“A hockey game?”
“Yeah, I work security for the arena. Sometimes I can get my hands on spare tickets. These are good ones, and I thought it might make up for knocking you flat in the lobby.”
“Sharks tickets?” An attractive red-head popped up at Jensen’s side, her hand squeezing his forearm and pulling it back to see the tickets. “For Friday night’s game? Are you kidding?”
“Sorry about the late notice,” Jared said.
“Against the Kings?” she continued to babble, taking the tickets out of Jensen’s hands. “12th row? Where have you been all my life?” She grabbed Jared’s t-shirt and pulled him down to kiss him on the cheek.
“Dani, this is our neighbor, Jared. You can let go of him now,” Jensen said and reached out to peel her hand from Jared’s shirt. “Dani gets a little excited about hockey.”
Jared smiled wide. “You’re a fan?”
“Ever since Daddy took me to see New Orleans Brass games when I was a little girl. Might have dated a few hockey players in my time, but not so much anymore,” she said with a sly smile. She nudged Jensen in the ribs. “We’re going, right?”
“Friday is our Netflix and chill night,” Jensen replied. As Dani pouted and Jensen frowned back, Jared was hit by how good-looking these two were together. Perfect couple for the kiss cam—at least, Misha would be happy about that.
“All right, all right, we’ll go,” Jensen said and Dani let out a little shriek before she ran back inside the apartment.
“It’s settled then,” Jared said as he and Jensen stood in awkward silence. He’d hoped this would end with him asking Jensen for a coffee or dinner but instead, he’d made the guy’s girlfriend deliriously happy. You win some, you lose some.
“Thanks for the tickets,” Jensen said as he stepped back inside. He started to shut the door but then hesitated and gave Jared a smile. “Glad to know you’re not in porn.”
Jared smiled and nodded as he watched the door close and then took a few steps down the hallway before he stopped in his tracks. “Wait, what?”
Jensen’s morning ritual was the same most days. After two cups of coffee and half-listening to the morning news for traffic and weather, he climbed into his car at 7:30 am. He settled in quickly, tossing his folder full of half-graded papers onto the passenger seat, clicking his phone into the holder, and logging into Uber.
Driving people around Silicon Valley was not part of the dream. Rushed executives going to the airport, drunk people getting to the train station, and the elderly going to their doctors’ appointments now took up an hour before and after Jensen’s current stint as a graduate student and TA at San Jose State. His dream was to become a full-time English professor, but living in California and going to school was expensive. Sharing an apartment with Dani helped pay the bills but he didn’t want to be in debt for the rest of his life. So, he drove people. It was pretty easy work. Most people didn’t want to talk at this time of the morning, which was fine with Jensen.
His phone beeped at him with a pick-up nearby. That was quick. As he read it, he realized that nearby meant a pick-up at his apartment building. That had never happened before. His heart started to race as he looked at the passenger picture: goofy dimples and a big smile. The name underneath read JARED PADALECKI.
Jensen hesitated. He could ignore it, let someone else pick up the ride, and avoid the awkward “you drive for Uber?” conversation that was sure to follow. But his practical side kicked in when he saw that Jared was going right to the SJSU campus, which was the perfect destination.
He hit accept.
As Jensen pulled around to park in front of the building’s entrance, Jared rocketed out of the front doors with his phone in one hand, a backpack on his shoulder and a flustered look on his face. He jumped in the back seat without a second look at the car or driver.
“That was really quick. Thanks--I missed the express bus this morning.”
Jensen turned in his seat. “You know you’re supposed to check the driver and the license plate before you get in, right?”
Jared’s mouth hung open and he looked around at the surrounding street. “I… Did I just get into your car? Shit.”
Jensen laughed. “It’s okay. I’m your ride. Now, buckle up.”
He should have known that Jared wasn’t going to be one of those quiet riders.
“So, you drive for Uber?” Jared asked, leaning forward.
“A little. When I’m not in class or teaching. Helps pay off my student debt from the past seven years.”
“You’re a graduate student? What classes? Maybe we’ve run into each other on campus!”
“Pretty sure I still have the bruises from the last time you ran into me,” Jensen said.
It was a quick fifteen-minute ride - much quicker than Jensen remembered - as they talked about Jensen’s TA job, Jared’s journalism classes, rumors about the j-school dean retiring and the joys of life as an Uber driver. In what felt like no time at all, they were parked in the faculty parking lot near the front entrance.
“Hey, if you’re free, we have a league game this afternoon,” Jared said. When Jensen looked confused, he added, “Hockey? You said you wanted to learn more about it?”
He couldn’t remember saying anything of the sort but five minutes later, Jensen had agreed to stop by the practice rinks at 4 pm. It was only five minutes away from campus and given how much Dani loved hockey, he really should take more of an interest. He watched Jared run off, late for class, his long legs quickly covering the distance to Dwight Bentel Hall.
Jensen’s class didn’t start for another hour so he headed off to the cafeteria for breakfast and to plan out his day in leisure. His office hours started at 3:30 pm this afternoon and technically he was supposed to stay until 5 pm but he could hang a sign on his door and take off early. Ten to one, no one would even notice.
Plus he should really learn more about hockey. To support Dani and her hobbies. He was nothing if not supportive of his friends.
Jensen didn’t know what to expect from a club sports facility affiliated with the university but it wasn’t this. Each of the four hockey rinks was busy with two teams playing, each one surrounded by a smattering of cheering fans. Jared had said to look for the red jerseys. Jensen found them in one of the back rinks and slid onto the end of a bleacher bench. The chill off the ice had him zipping up his jacket but he had to admit, the energy of the place was exhilarating. Players were running drills on the ice, lining up to take shots, seamlessly gliding in and around each other. Based on the highlights that Dani liked to watch, Jensen had thought of hockey as a rough game, players crashing together and fighting on the ice. But this was different.
One player, taller than most, caught his attention and when he saw the flash of a smile, he knew it was Jared. Skating backward while talking to another player, he was graceful in a way that Jensen wasn’t expecting. He felt his world tilt a little bit as he watched the way Jared moved his feet, skating off to join the queue to take his shot; it was effortless and smooth. Jensen’s memories of being on skates were of wobbly wipe-outs as a seven-year-old, but these players made it look like ballet as they glided and swerved and dodged between each other.
Jensen held his breath as Jared hit the puck. It slid so quickly that Jensen almost couldn’t track it with his eye as it flew between the goalie’s feet and into the net. Jensen clapped and then felt awkward and exposed, sitting alone in the stands. It didn’t help when someone shouted his name.
“Hey, Jensen!” Jared had skated over to the plexiglass wall and was waving to him. He removed his helmet and his brown hair and bangs stuck up all over his head. It shouldn’t have been as adorable as it was.
Jensen hopped off the bleachers and walked down to meet him. “Had a few extra minutes this afternoon and thought I’d stop by.”
Jared’s smile widened. “Great!”
“Gotta leave in about half an hour to meet up with Dani,” Jensen added. “But you look good out there.”
There was a loud slam and Jensen cringed as Jared’s face was smashed against the divider. “He’d be better if he flirted less and practiced more,” Chad said behind him as Jared turned around and started to chase his friend around the rink.
Flirt? Jensen thought with a smile. Maybe there was a chance.
“There’s no chance,” Jared said to Chad. He had looked back up as the first period started to find Jensen gone. “He had to go meet his girlfriend. He lives with her.”
“I don’t know,” Chad said. “That guy was making some hardcore heart eyes your direction. My gay-dar says all signs point to yes.”
“Shut up, Chad,” Jared said as he raced past on the ice.
“So,” Misha said, sneaking up behind Chad and Jared as they walked along the corridor leading up to the security office. He slung an arm around Chad’s neck, putting his cameraman in a choke-hold. “I hear you found some hotties for the crowd shots. We need something to keep the crowd interested since the team sucks this year.”
“No one calls them hotties any more, old man.” Chad grinned and pointed at Jared. “But yeah, it was this guy.”
“Maybe I should give you a job instead of this idiot.” Misha was the director of Take-A-Bite Productions, the in-house production company that covered the Sharks’ home games at the Tank and produced all the team videos. Misha looked Jared up and down intensely, making him so self-conscious of his black Security t-shirt and tight jeans that he crossed his arms to cover up his chest in embarrassment. “You look big enough to handle one of the mobile rigs,” Misha finally said. “Ever done any camera work?”
At that, Jared lost all interest in modesty. He and Chad had met in journalism classes at San Jose State freshman year. Jared had one more year but Chad jumped right from graduation into full-time work for the Sharks. Jared’s dream job. “Yeah,” he said. “Definitely. I could work the mobile camera no problem. Chad’s been teaching me the ropes—he lets me handle his camera all the time.”
“I’m sure you’re good at handling Chad’s camera,” Misha grinned back and Chad elbowed him hard in the side. “Maybe we could give it a shot next game. I got one of my freelancers moving to LA and we could use some help. Come see me after the game.”
Misha slapped Chad hard on the back before he walked away. “Dick!” Chad yelled after him and Misha flipped him off over his shoulder and yelled back, “Asshole”.
“Is he really a dick to work with?” Jared whispered.
“Nah, he’s cool,” Chad said. “And that would be awesome. You and me working side by side as a team. Like Bonnie and Clyde. Butch and Sundance. Thelma and Louise.” He offered Jared a high five and Jared left him hanging.
“All those people died horrible deaths. Misha’s right—you are an idiot.” Jared glanced at his phone and took off at a jog. “Gotta punch in for my shift.”
“This is AMAZING,” Dani said as they stood at the top of the stairs leading into Section 23 of the Tank. The Sharks’ arena was enormous, holding almost 15,000 fans according to what Dani had told him on the ride over. They expected the game to be sold out, and with thirty minutes left until game time, almost half the seats were already full with fans decked out in teal and black. Jensen had caught glimpses of games on TV but nothing prepared him for the size of the rink. At one end was a giant shark’s mouth. Hanging above the ice, the jumbotron was flashing through sponsored ads, player pics, and team trivia, while underneath the screens, a Zamboni was putting the final smooth finish on the ice.
“It’s cold,” Jensen said, zipping up his jacket against the chill.
“Man up, Ackles, it’s a hockey game,” Dani replied. “Stop yucking my yum here and get on board.” She took in the view again and her eyes sparkled. “Since I moved here last year, I wanted to see a game in person. Thanks, Jensen, for making it happen.”
“Not me. You can thank Jared for that.”
Stepping back into the main thoroughfare, Dani elbowed their way through the crowd to one of the concession lines. “He’s cute. Just your type.”
“Maybe.” Jensen shrugged and looked around the arena, trying to spot security guys dressed in black. “I stopped by his practice rink yesterday afternoon. Got to see him skate.”
Dani’s eyebrow went up at that. “And?”
“And I think he was flirting with me. But I can’t tell. I mean, he seems friendly with everyone.”
“Uh-huh. You say that like it’s a bad thing.” She yanked on the wool scarf she had made him wear and smiled. “Alcohol. That’s what you need.”
It turned out half of the crowd was standing in the beer line. As they waited, Jensen spied some broad shoulders and unruly brown hair on a security guard who stood half a head taller than the crowd around him.
“Jared!” he yelled and waved.
Jared waved back. He leaned down to talk to an older couple, pointing them over to another set of stairs, before heading towards Jensen and Dani. He looked intimidating, Jensen thought, in his tight black t-shirt with the word Security stretched across the front.
“Hey, you made it,” Jared said with another sunny smile that didn’t match his muscle-bound tough-guy look.
“Jared,” Dani said. “I owe you my first-born son for these seats.”
Jared blushed and shook his head. “No, no babies, please. Just glad Jensen could come. And you, of course,” he added.
“So, how many drunk fans do you have to throw out every night?” she asked with enthusiasm, looking around as if hoping to spot some violators on which to unleash Jared.
“Not a lot. Mostly I help people who are lost or stop the ones who try to move down into better seats,” Jared said. His brow wrinkled. “And pot. We confiscate a lot of pot.”
“Good to know,” Dani replied. She nudged Jensen in the ribs with her elbow. “Say thank you, Jensen.”
“Thanks. For this and for inviting me yesterday afternoon—”
Jared started to respond and then narrowed his eyes at a group of guys harassing another guard at one of the entrances. “Gotta go. Have fun tonight.” He pushed his way through the crowd which parted like a respectful Red Sea as they caught sight of his uniform. Jensen took one lingering glance at Jared’s ass in those jeans and turned back to Dani, who had moved up in the line to the front. She shot him a look and Jensen shrugged.
“See? I’m still not sure.”
“He seemed happy to see you,” she said. She scooped two beers off the concession counter and handed them to Jensen before picking up a second pair. Jensen looked down confused at the four cups.
“What?” she said. “I’m not coming back here for a second round.”
Even Jensen stood up and cheered when the players skated out through the big Shark head to Seek and Destroy by Metallica before the start of the game. The lights, the music, the crowd and thinking about Jared at the concession stand - it all made him more excited then he had felt in a long time.
The first period of the game started fast, with the Sharks scoring a goal in the first five minutes. Jensen was impressed. He had thought Jared’s teammates looked graceful and powerful but these pro players were at another level altogether. During the second period, the Kings came back and scored two points. Thanks to a sticking penalty, things got hot between the players.
It was ten seconds to the period end when two players slammed into the plexiglass in front of them. Dani squealed and Jensen cringed as he could hear the exchange of what sounded like vicious blows landing on the players’ helmet and pads. One of them grabbed the other by the jersey and swung him around to land face down on the ice.
“Not the face, ya cretin!” she yelled. She added in an aside, “That’s Evander Kane. The most beautiful man in hockey.” Jensen looked doubtful, so while the refs restored order on the ice, she pulled out her phone and opened Instagram to an ESPN photoshoot picture of a glistening, naked, and very muscular man on skates lined up to take a shot.
“Wait, that’s ESPN?” he squinted at the screen.
“Now you know why I follow their account,” she grinned. “You have no idea what you’re missing.”
A figure dressed in black leaned over their seats and Dani clutched the almost-porn picture to her chest to hide it. “That’s one of my favorites, too,” Jared said with a smirk.
“What are you doing here?” Jensen said, not unhappily.
“I get a break between the second and third periods. Thought I’d see how you’re doing.” Jared flopped down into the empty seat next to Jensen.
The buzzer went off and all of the players skated off to the sidelines. Suddenly, the arena music cranked up to a familiar sound of synthesizer feedback and laser beams shooting. The singer on the speaker system boomed out, “Y’ALL READY FOR THIS?” Around them, the crowd went berserk.
“Oh god, I hate this song,” Jensen groaned.
“I LOVE THIS SONG," Dani shouted, clapping along as 2 UnLimited pounded out a thumping electronic backbeat. Jensen couldn’t help but smile at Dani’s smile as she bopped enthusiastically next to him.
The jumbotron overhead burst into a fireworks display of red hearts and a flashing sign announcing the KISS CAM. The first couple came onscreen and it took Jensen a split second to realize that the smiling people looking back were him and Dani.
“Oh, shit,” he said.
“KISS, KISS,” the crowd chanted around him.
Dani threw her head back but her laugh was drowned out by the cheers, which turned into boos as Jensen shook his head no.
“Oh my god,” Jensen muttered and then made a motion to cut it off. “I’m gay!” he yelled and the crowd broke into laughter.
“Wait, what?” Next to him, Jared shouted and grabbed the sleeve of Jensen’s jacket. The camera swiveled away from Dani and Jensen to fill the screen with a shot of Jared and Jensen instead. “You’re gay?”
“KISS, KISS.” The chanting and cheers were back but this time it was for him and Jared. It was a rush. Jensen glanced down at Jared’s hand on his forearm and couldn’t resist leaning over his armrest, bringing their faces closer together. He raised his eyebrow, questioning, and responded, “Oh, yeah.”
Jared didn’t wait to hear more and jumped right into a kiss. Warm, soft, and sweet. Just what a kiss should be. Jared wrapped his hand around the side of Jensen’s neck to pull him closer. After a moment, Jared started to pull back and break the kiss but Jensen chased after his lips to keep it going.
Jensen wasn’t normally the swooning type but the kiss had left him in desperate need of oxygen.
Around them, the laughter and applause in the arena were deafening. Jensen didn’t turn to look at the crowd; nor did he look at Dani, who was howling behind him and slapping him on the back enthusiastically. He was too busy looking up at Jared’s face.
“Well, you can’t top that for a first kiss,” Jensen said. He looked down at Jared’s black t-shirt and jeans and winced, remembering he was on the job. “Oh, shit, are you going to get in trouble with your boss? I’m sure they don’t want the security guards making out with people in the crowd.”
Jared laughed. “Doesn’t matter. I think I just got myself a new job with that kiss.”
“Not porn, right?” Jensen said, taking hold of Jared’s hand.
“Definitely not porn,” he replied. “Unless you’re into that.”