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Hold the Whipped Cream

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art by soulmatecest

At some point between five and seven am the pen in Jensen’s hand cracked rather horrendously and began to bleed. He doesn’t notice this; the spots of indigo ink seeping out to latch on to the base of his palm and smearing off on to his notebook. The crisp white napkins along the table are welcoming, but Jensen’s in the zone now, dialogue pouring from his pen. He’s on the cusp of something big, finally sealing the deal as Inspiration comes to pass.

He’s been courting Inspiration for a long time now, has been flirting with her for weeks. It was an exhausting process, at best, waiting for Inspiration to come around, taking Inspiration out for dinner and drinks and playing all his cards just right until finally—finally—Inspiration came home with him the night before and nestled against his brain, saying, ‘I’m ready to take our relationship to the next level’.

It was a gift from God, that Inspiration. He had four months until his next deadline and it had been weeks since he’d written a word that hadn’t been complete and utter shit.  Procrastinating was half of writing a novel, after all. Inspiration was the only solution to getting any legitimate writing done these days, but Inspiration was a tricky one to pin down. Until last night, when he’d bolted upright out of a dream to find Inspiration at his doorstep, smiling.

Thankfully, after a sleepless night, Inspiration had decided to stick around long enough for awkward morning after coffee at The Grain, the prime coffee shop fit snugly along the coast in the small beach town of Carver.

There’s a Starbucks and a local diner that serve coffee early at this hour as well, but neither have as good a view of the beach and neither makes half as good a cup of coffee as this one. When it comes to writing time, to courting Inspiration, to making sure she sticks around just long enough to he can pen the words down, well, there’s no competition. The Grain is always the number one spot to go.

But even with the unparalleled brew and view, Inspiration is starting to get antsy. 

Tetchy, tetchy.

He stands straight, the muscles in his neck cracking as he realizes both the manner in which his hand is blotted dark blue and just how long he has been sitting in the same position, writing. The pen had cracked some two hours ago, but it was now nine am, which means Jensen had been there for four hours straight, and at his abrupt rising, Inspiration walks out the door without a second glance back.

Oh, well then.

He lifts his mug and walks over to the counter. There’s a few customers loitering about the jukebox and the scone display, but he doesn’t pay them much heed. People come and go in Carver, sleepy little beach town getaway that it is. He doesn’t need to look at those people, he doesn’t depend on them. Doesn’t need them.

All he needs in this moment are service with a smile and a fuller mug.

That’s all he’s needed for about two years coming.

“Can I help you?” Genevieve is chipper this morning, a brightness in her smile that isn’t usually there at this hour, usually doesn’t show up until at least ten or so, but it’s there now, bright and polite like she doesn’t have any idea what Jensen could possibly choose from the menu, and is eager to find out.

Like he hasn’t ordered the exact same thing for the past nineteen months without so much as one deviation.

He considers it now, glances curiously up at the menu and peruses the usual list of mixed coffees and lattés and frappucinos that he should have memorized by now but truth be told he can’t recognize a single one. Inspiration may have deserted him, but that’s no cause for punishment. If anything, he deserves a reward, something comfortable and same that will never let him down.

“I’ll have one cup of coffee, please. Black. No sugar. Hold the whipped cream.” He says firmly, holding out the mug and shelling out a few dollars to Genevieve.

“You know we don’t actually put whipped cream on the plain coffee, right?” She smiles.

“May as well be thorough.” Jensen says back, already fishing in his pocket for cash.

 There’s a twitch on Genevieve’s face that suggests she’s making a Herculean effort not to roll her eyes, and Jensen doesn’t miss it. She rings up his change and shouts, “One cup, black, nix everything else!” before taking Jensen’s mug from his hands and slapping it down on the counter for the Barista Boy—Jensen’s pretty sure his name is Osric, but even after two years of seeing the scrawny kid he still can’t tell—to pick up and fill.

“Keep the tip.” Jensen says, routine as always.

“Your coffee will be ready in a minute, Sir.” Genevieve does roll her eyes now, and maybe she’s a little chastising but hey—it’s been two years and maybe she’s earned the right to be, despite never once addressing Jensen by name, not once inquiring into his day or his activities. That may or may not have to do with the first time they met, cementing and locking away any hopes of a friendship they might have had, but Jensen doesn’t dwell on it, mind and feet already dragging him back over to the table.

He could leave, head home and maybe finally catch some sleep, because his eyes are burning enough for it at the least. But sitting on the table is twenty pages of scribbled dialogue and character build, six weeks of not sleeping, one or two chapters of his next novel, and a good dozen or so ink splotches that he’s sure have absolutely ruined the apricot colored tablecloth.

He’ll have to leave a bigger tip next time.

“One cup of coffee, black, no sugar, whipped withheld!” Gen shouts, like there’s an entire crowd of people waiting for their coffee order and not just Jensen. Beyond and outside The Grain, just across the street, the waves are lapping low at the shore, glittering blue green patterned by the ripples of wind that lick along the water’s surface. The sandy beach stretches on for miles, freckled with patches of dry grass and driftwood and abandoned sand toys left by little kids come to play at the water’s edge. The air smells like salt and cinnamon and Jensen can already feel his veins singing for more caffeine.

He lifts the refilled mug from the counter as Gen slides it over to him, resituates and picks up his bleeding pen. Inspiration peeks back around the door, fluttering her eyelashes and approaching him once more.

He takes a sip that scalds his tongue, and settles in for the long haul.

The long and short of it is that Jensen has no concrete justification for why he goes to The Grain. He doesn’t usually like public places period, too many voices and too many wandering eyes and too many people asking you how you are what are you doing and mind if I read your laptop over your shoulder sir for him to actually enjoy going out to write. Not to say that Jensen is paranoid, but he’s learned earlier on that trust should never come easy.

But he likes The Grain, of all places to go and write. Its quiet there, but not too quiet. There’s soft music playing in the background and the gentle clink of cups and spoons as people add their preferred amount of sugar and creamer. The bell on the door tinkles and the espresso machine hums like the finely tuned engine to a vintage car. He gets most of his writing done there, which is odd considering he has an aptly furnished apartment that he’s at leisure to occupy for writing.

Most people would probably call this behavior pathetic; a bachelor sitting every morning in a coffee shop for four to five hours on his lonesome. But to Jensen, it’s peace of mind. There’s something soothing about a small and bustling café that a master bedroom or a granite tiled kitchen lack.

For one, good coffee. For two, atmosphere. For three, well, invisibility. Anonymity.

Jensen’s house isn’t exactly good at hiding the fact or knowledge that he’s an Internationally Acclaimed Author. It’s hard to forget exactly who you are when you’ve got awards and accolades along the walls and book covers framed and articles pinned up on the kitchen fridge. Not that Jensen abhors being called this decade’s Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway wrapped in one, but something about thinking, creating, writing in the same place where his multiple literary prizes are hung, well, it’s a bit unsettling. And doesn’t really do many wonders for Inspiration, either.

It’s the reason he chose the whole secret identity thing in the first place for writing, took up a pen name instead of his own. He loves writing, he does. He lives and breathes words and wakes up with them crusted around his eyes and curled on his tongue. He loves being a writer.

He hates being an author. And his house is sort of…a reminder of that very fact that he is one.

So there. He likes The Grain, calm with dash of chaos. The occasional squawk of annoyance as Genevieve spills hot coffee down her apron or bakes the scones for too long, but for the most part, it’s quiet. No one approaches Jensen, and he’s content to work in his own little corner of the café, fingers tapping or pen scratching, working his way through a good six cups or so. The Grain is same. The Grain is peaceful. The Grain is the one dependable thing that Jensen has, which never ever changes.

That is, except for today.

Jensen is halfway through his third cup when the door to The Grain slams open with a loud crash, blinds slapping against each other as a figure trudges through the door and stumbles like a blind man to the counter.

The figure isn’t actually blind, as far as Jensen can tell, though he does have a rather conspicuous pair of sunglasses on, and with the way he moves, limbs sluggish and heavy, he might as well be a zombie. A few of the customer’s conversations titter off nervously; whoever this guy is, he’s not the usual sort. The stranger makes a beeline for the counter, announces himself to Genevieve—busy recounting cash in the register—with a very loud, very pained, practically-pornographic-it’s-so-ridiculous, groan.

Genevieve doesn’t even look up from the register. “Out.”

“But—“

“Get out.”

“I—“

“I am halfway through a double shift right now, I have already cleaned up someone’s puke off the floor, and it’s not yet nine am. If you come in here and think I have an ounce of sympathy for your plight, you are sorely mistaken.”

Gen.”

It’s now that the guy turns around, only to hop up on the counter in a very over dramatic fashion, draping himself over the surface and sending his sunglasses clattering to the floor. Jensen blinks, takes in the kid—because he is a kid, can’t be more than twenty one, twenty two tops—with the red rimmed eyes and ragged five o'clock shadow. Someone’s clearly had a rough night.

Yet despite the haggard appearance that speaks to one whopper of a hangover, the kid’s foot is tapping against the counter, small rabbit foot beat and even from this distance Jensen’s sure he’s smiling at Gen—Genevieve.

“You come in to my workplace, on my shift, hungover and still partially drunk?”

“My head is killing me, I think I fell and hurt myself--”

Gen shakes her head firmly, lips pressed thin, and the waves of her hair bounce about her shoulders, and were she any angrier Jensen would guess her hair to be moving about like snakes, The Grain’s very own Medusa, hissing with rage. “I will murder you. I will pour hot coffee in your eyes; I will make that hangover feel like a mere paper cut, if you do not get out of here right now. I refuse to deal with your ass right now. I’m working, Jay.”

Jay? It sounds like a bit of a douchebag name. Jensen makes a note of it, thinks it would make a good potential side character for later.

“Gen, I just need coffee for Christ’s sake!”

“You have a coffee maker at home!”

“Yeah, but no one makes it like you!

The two of them go back and forth like this for a while, Gen getting further pink in the face with clear annoyance and this Jay kid stretching further and further along the counter, and he’s tall. Long gangly limbs and unkempt hair that hangs, greasy and unwashed, in his eyes. A mess, to put it politely.

He’s pretty much all of the things Jensen has never been attracted to in his life.

So, naturally, Jensen is.

Jensen considers going over and politely asking if he’s bothering Genevieve, but Jensen’s not sure what threat he poses to someone who’s clearly got a good three inches or so on him (kid is built like a goddamn brick house) and from the way ‘Jay’ is now flinching as Genevieve brandishes a spatula at him; Jensen figures she’s got this.

“I just need one cup of coffee, Gen. One! My head hurts so so so bad, but coffee will do the trick! I’ll never ask you for anything ever again!”

“What you need is to get your act together and quit getting drunk off your ass with Chad and the rest of the gang.” Genevieve sniffs haughtily, but out of the corner of his eye Jensen catches her lifting a clean mug from the rack behind her, as well as a fresh pot of roast. Her fingers perform a pianist’s dance over the various pumps and flavor shots, but she doesn’t take her eyes off the intruder on her counter. “We’re not in college anymore, Jay. So quit treating every bad day you have like the world is your Frat Party, yeah? Bounce back.”

Jay does nothing of the sort, simply grumbles and snatches up his sunglasses and jamming them back on his head. He’s a figment of constant motion, Jensen can’t stop staring.

Gen hands him the steaming cup of coffee a few moments later and he downs it in a few solid gulps, and Jensen can’t tell if the kid is being cheeky or just plain stupid because that coffee should have burned his entire mouth at the rate he was downing it. Jensen also takes note of the two small aspirin Gen hands him, and Jay downs that as well.

“Thanks.” He chases the remaining bit of coffee froth with his tongue, like a messy kid finishing an ice cream cone. “I owe you one.”

“Why do I even put up with you?” Genevieve wonders aloud, shaking her head again. “You’re my own personal form of poltergeist. Go home!”

Jay finally lets out another long groan, sliding off the counter like putty and landing like a cat, oddly, considering how hungover he’s claiming to be. He looks wrecked, but he all but bounces out the door, Gen shouting as an afterthought, “Nuisance unto my life! A plague!”

“Love you too sweetheart!” The stranger smiles for the first time, dimples blinking in his cheeks, furiously bright even from this distance.

Jay opens and closes the door of the coffee shop, taking the noise with him and Gen sighs, a fond expression gracing her features as the bell tinkles on the door again.

And Jensen sits, feels like he’s been just been pumped with a defibrillator.

 

If you were to ask Jensen Ackles why he likes his coffee plain and black, he really wouldn’t be able to give you a specific answer. He’s not a boring person, he likes piping hot Tabasco sauce on his hash browns and creamy fudge syrup on his ice cream, but with coffee, it’s always been the same. He would joke that he likes his coffee like he likes his men--tall, full bodied and hot--if men were indeed an entity that existed in his life. In all honesty, men are sort of running in short stock as of late. Perks of being an award winning author with a deadline breathing down your neck and no time whatsoever for social interaction.

That’s Jensen’s excuse, at least. Really, he just hasn’t felt inclined to try and find his tall full bodied hot male friend to go along with his coffee. And by not inclined he means he has avoided it completely.  Because hookups are too messy, relationships even more so.

Besides, he has his writing. The tall full bodied men can wait.

By the time Wednesday rolls around, Jensen’s starting to realize that the universe has a truly sick sense of humor, determined to throw the very same tall full bodied hot men at him that he’d been determined to avoid in the first place.

It’s like he orders coffee, and gets the hot guy as a complimentary side dish.

One tall, full bodied, hot male coming right up.

He’s immersed in words, brain working and lips shaping around sentences as he types them out, fingers like bullets punching into the chest of his laptop.

Death was not a foreign concept to Dean, rather something he embraced. People died and that was the law of this job. But this, watching his brother’s corpse on a bed, air fetid and cold around them, this was something Dean refused to embrace, refused to even acknowledge. Yet all he could do was sit and whisper ‘Sammy’ as if the use of name alone would jostle Sam from a doze, a wayward nap in the passenger seat of the Impala—

“GOOD MORNING!” The bell doesn’t so much as ring as it does crash as the door slams open, morning sea breeze blowing in Mr. Brick House himself, disheveled in all his glory. (Jay, it’s Jay, which Jensen hadn’t forgotten, but he hated the nickname so much he didn’t like to associate it with the person the name belonged to). He looks better, more put together as he struts up to the counter, though still a shade tired, haggard looking.

 He looks like a kid who’s spent one too many late nights studying or writing papers and one too many early mornings pounding the pavement looking for work. Jensen knows the look, recognized it on himself the past few days before he got into bed sometime mid day after staying up all night.

Not that Jensen is observing all that closely. Because he isn’t. Clearly.

Genevieve does smile this time, genuinely, clearly pleased that Mr. Brick House isn’t sporting a hangover like the previous time he came. If she’s annoyed by the slam of the door or the mutterings of the startled patrons, she doesn’t show it. 

Jensen turns back to his laptop and stares hard at the screen. He was on a roll this morning, concentration locked and the chaos of Cold Oak unfurling fast for the Winchester brothers. Angst, pain tears and gut wrenching emotions, it’s what he flourished in. It was one of the only things Jensen would let himself take pride in--his ability to take a reader’s soul and crush it without an ounce of romanticism in it. This kind of writing feels good, well and truly good. He just can’t allow room for distractions, or he’ll get bucked off the horse. He can get back into the groove, he can.

He moves his fingers over the keyboard robotically, steeling himself.

“See you’ve finally cleaned your ass up.” Genevieve's (Gen’s?) voice sounds from the counter and Jensen types. Slowly, purposefully.

a-n-d--

“Just in time to truly accept the sad fact that is my unemployment.” Jensen hits the space bar, glances over to see the kid’s worn sweatpants with a huge hole in the right thigh, oversized t-shirt that’s too tiny for his massive shoulders and too massive for his tiny waist. Kid has to be an athlete, a quarterback or a swimmer, something with that kind of body. He’s too fit to even be allowed in a place like this and focus Jensen.

He shakes his head, looks back at his computer screen.

b-l-i-n-k-e-d-space bar-

“I know it’s a setback, “ Gen sympathizes, lowering her voice and Jensen thinks she actually takes the kid’s hand but then again he’s not looking at all so he can’t be sure, “But you’ve got to keep trying. Even if it’s a shitty gig at a restaurant. You need the money, Jared.”

Jared. Jensen’s half way through a sentence when the name washes over him and he nearly laughs out loud he’s so weirdly relieved because God it’s so much better sounding than Jay. The kid looks like a Jared, especially as he leans over the counter, unaware of how much space he takes up, unaware of how his hair hangs in his eyes and unaware of how his shirt is riding up in the back and unaware of the way Jensen is positively perving on him right in the middle of the fucking café.

“I think I realized that this morning when they shut my water off.” Jared winces, dimples making a guest appearance in his sheepish expression and hitting Jensen like another wave. “Oops.”

Jensen accepts right there that he won’t be getting any writing done anytime soon. Inspiration smiles flirtatiously from across the café and sticks up her middle finger. Jensen grabs his cup of coffee and glares and the swirling dark liquid, sips it as if it’s the most interesting thing in the world, instead of the guy standing at the counter.

“You idiot,” Gen shakes her head, “I told you to get a job instead of going out and getting wasted the other night. How are you going to shower? Or stay hydrated, for that matter?”

“I was hoping that you’d let me use your shower, actually.”

Gen stares him down flatly. “What will you do for me?”

“Back massage. And I’ll cook you dinner.”

“Tack on ‘balancing my checkbook’ and you’ve got yourself a deal, Padalecki.”

Jared groans loud and long, baring his throat and Jensen blinks at the sound, flush rising to his cheeks. Who the hell turned the heat up in here? It wasn’t hot ten minutes ago.

“Fine. But I get to use your coconut honey shampoo.” Jared sticks out his tongue.

“Fine, but you touch my cucumber melon scrub and all bets are off.”

“Love of my life.” Jared gushes, and he leaps forward and kisses Gen square on the lips. She swats at him as he bounds out. “Love. Of. My. Life. You’re getting the best massage of your existence tonight.”

“Get out of here, you mooch.” Gen laughs. “And quit coming in here! You’re harassing my customers.”

Jared’s halfway to the door when he turns, mock expression of hurt on his face. “Moi? Harassing? You’re not even refilling their cups, Gen. Talk about crap service, look at this guy’s cup! He’s practically parched!”

Jensen doesn’t realize Jared’s pointing at him, at his cup of coffee, at his table, at him, until Jared’s snatching the cup off the table—and on that line of thought, when had Jensen finished it and set the cup down? He swears he had just been starting to drink it—and brandishing it over at Gen. “I think I’ll have to put a word in with your manager!”

“I take it back. You’re not allowed anywhere near my shower!” Gen shouts, and Jared laughs, the sound loud and booming, hitting Jensen like a freight train. He sets the cup back down on Jensen’s table and Jensen wants to sink into the floor under his chair and never come out again.

Jared exits in as much of a racket as he did entering. And it’s not really until the sight of his ass fades into the morning sea fog down the street that Jensen can even breathe again. 

Gen comes over to refill Jensen’s coffee—which she’s never done before, always leaving Jensen to his own space bubble, always letting him approach her—but it’s a long time before he so much as moves, like any sure movements and he’ll simply explode with abject embarrassment that he can’t even explain the source for.

“Thank you, Genevieve.” He says softly, testing the name out on his tongue. She blinks at him for a solid two seconds before casting him a near blinding smile, which transforms her normally tired looking face into something rather lovely.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Ackles.”

He’s too flabbergasted by the fond tone of her voice to correct her and ask her to call him Jensen.  They’ve exchanged all but two sentences but Jensen feels like he’s just run a marathon, relearned the entire social makeup that had been ingrained into him. And Eliza Doolittle had made it look so easy.

There’s an oddly light and unstable feeling in his chest, jittery and gooey and Jensen can’t write the rest of the day. You can’t write a gruesome death and mental demise of a main character when all you can think about is the hands that snatched up your coffee cup, the smiling body those hands belonged too.

He drinks one more cup, tries to finish the scene several more times, then eventually gives it up and calls it a day.

The essential thing to know about Jensen Ackles is that Jensen Ackles doesn’t date. Jensen Ackles doesn’t sleep around, doesn’t fuck, doesn’t kiss and tell, doesn’t even do the eHarmony thing that everyone seems so hung up over.

The thing is, whatever the means and methods, whatever romantic notions or actions that exist in this day and age Jensen Ackles just…doesn’t.

So it’s baffling that suddenly there’s a cartwheeling ball of chaos in the café on a day to day basis, and all of a sudden Jensen is blindsided, can’t even remember what day it is or what direction is up and which is down because there’s a guy named Jared with no running water and no job who got drunk last Saturday and wears green converse and sweatpants with a hole in the right thigh.

There’s a guy named Jared who’s a total mess and he’s fast becoming the most interesting person Jensen has ever encountered, for no discernible reason whatsoever.

Okay, so maybe it’s not all that baffling. Jared Padalecki doesn’t really need an explanation or prelude for why he’s so interesting to Jensen, all devastating hotness aside. He just is.

But the problem is that Jensen feels undercut by it, legs swept out from under him, falling with an oomph on his ass.

Because Jared Padalecki comes in through The Grains door once. And then he comes back again.

And again. And again. And again.

It’s a working arraignment of disasters so that by the end of the second week, and Jared’s fourth visit, Jensen’s starting to get that the kid seems to be cursed with unfortunate luck. Miserably unfortunate luck. Shakespeare-meets-Sophocles tragedy amounts of luck.

Unfortunate luck that’s all kinds of endearing, much to Jensen’s horror.

On Friday Jared took shelter in the café because his apartment was being fumigated for cockroaches, spent all morning helping Gen wash dishes in the back, coming out occasionally to bus a few tables, bending over to wipe them clean right in Jensen’s line of sight. Sweatpants apparently had no hope when it came to hiding the shape of Jared’s ass, and Jensen moved tables for a better view of the street instead.

This Wednesday Jared lost his electricity in addition to the water. He had no money on him for coffee, but Gen let him stay, even offered him a free scone, which Jared politely refused. He began filling out job applications at the counter, spent hours tapping out a morse code with his fingers on the counter and chewing on the end of his pen, tonguing at the cap. Jensen spilled his second cup of coffee all over himself, almost drowned his laptop.

Thursday was marked by Jared dripping blood and seawater onto the linoleum floor after a tussle with rocks and the undertow while surfing. He was fine, just a gash on his elbow, but Jensen felt personally traumatized by the sight of Jared trekking into the Grain, water dripping from his hair and trickling over his skin, wetsuit clinging to his lithe body. Things got especially bad when Jensen’s writing about ‘sinking ships’ somehow became ‘skinny hips’. He took the rest of the day off, after that.

Every other day it’s a new catastrophe, some accident or mishap that leaves Jared with no refuge but that of his best friend (not girlfriend, Jensen was relieved to discover upon the brief exchange of: ‘I’ve already seen you naked. An incident I’d like to not repeat again, thanks.’ ‘Only because the sight of my perfect form is so blinding, right?’; they’re too teasing and familiar with one another to be a couple).

And yet despite the worsening circumstances of his situation, Jared Padalecki is anything if not all smiles and witty quips in Gen’s direction, booming laughter that washes over The Grain, an offshore tsunami that Jensen drowns in every time.

He doesn’t come near Jensen again--which is probably a good thing, because Jensen’s gone borderline stalker by this point--usually wrapped in his own personal bubble of whining and complaining and dealing with Gen’s affectionate abuse. Still, Jensen watches. Feels like a complete lech, and a creepy one at that, but he watches just the same.

His routine becomes set up, in a sense, around the inevitable distraction and interruption of Jared Tristan Padalecki (a name which Gen makes a point to holler at the top of her lungs at least twice a visit).

The kid usually comes in at around nine am or so, which gives Jensen an arranged four hours to get some writing done every morning. Inspiration is being catty as of late, wants to be taken out and courted, but Jensen sits her down and forces her to make nice as he writes. He huddles over his laptop or notebook, depending on the day, scribbles and types and chalks up his inexplicable nerves to the coffee he’s downing and not actual excitement or anticipation. Because that would just be creepy. What sad sap gets excited about simply seeing someone in a coffee shop, someone who won’t talk to them, let alone look at them?

But the excitement remains, makes Inspiration even more petulant because Jensen is distracted and not giving her enough attention. He tries to makeup up for it by feeding Inspiration coffee, even indulges on a few cranberry muffins, but usually by eight am or so Inspiration is fed up and stalking out the door, leaving Jensen to sit, floundering, as he waits for Jared-Not-Jay to bounce in through the front doors.

He can’t explain the interest or the excitement. Doesn’t even want to wonder at the complex he has been given, the way he’s written in dimples into Sam Winchester’s face, copied direct snatches of overheard dialogue into his latest chapter. It’s a disturbing level of obsession that would surely have Jensen’s publicist worrying were she to know about it.

Over the month that passes, Jensen sees Jared a large handful of times in the café, each time a different problem, each problem a catastrophe that needs to be fixed. Most of them don’t stand out: Jared stops by for a few minutes, Jensen peeks out of the corner of his eye, marks the changes in Jared’s outfit, whether he brushed his hair this morning. Jared converses with Gen, they play verbal tennis, Jared laughs loud, usually startles the customers, and then leaves.

There are some anomalies, and Jensen really tries not to think about them because he blushes without prompting, mortification locking his jaw. Times when Jared nods in his direction with a sweet smile upon entering, or just happens to enter as Jensen is standing in line for another cup, lining up behind Jensen but politely keeping his distance as Jensen orders. Not really interactions, but something similar enough that Jensen has to fight the strong urge to turn around and just start talking to Jared as if he knows him, as opposed to the fact that he’s more or less been eavesdropping on him for about two weeks.

It would be a plot twist that Jensen wouldn’t quite know how to deal with. Better to just stick to the plan.

So he keeps close to routine: write, stalk the kid, drink some more, stalk some more, leave. Routine, he’s found, is always safer.

It doesn’t really work out that way though. Jared turns out to be too damn surprising for his own good.

It’s the eight am coffee rush on Monday morning, and even for a Monday morning it’s busy. Like always, the Grain has one barista on duty, so machines are whirring and people are queuing and business is chugging along as usual, the larger tables and couches beginning to fill with customers. The door is a pendulum swinging back and forth, open and closed in a rhythm as people push in and out. Jensen, despite his aversion to chaos, likes this kind of bustle. He likes watching the lives of everyone that enters through the door, the conversations and relationships and lives that seem to unfurl. He doesn’t think it often, but he could probably sit for hours in coffee shops like these, watching people, writing endless novels about each person that walks in.

Being around people, watching people, but not having to interact, it’s the calmest he’s ever felt.

The door barely makes a sound as Jared pushes through it, loping in with his head ducked low, bundling in his hoodie despite the sunny weather outside. Even in the typical sweats and collective hobo getup, he looks good. Jared always looks good.

It’s not till he raises his head that Jensen realizes something is wrong. Simply because for the first time walking into this place, Jared isn’t smiling.

“Is Gen here?” Jared asks to the open space, craning his neck and raising his voice to Osric the Barista Boy.

“Sorry dude.” Osric shrugs. “Gen had me cover her shift. Was she not home?”

Jared shakes his head, biting his bottom lip, jittering. A customer comes in and begins to order, stepping around him, followed by another, and another, Jared looking progressively more upset before finally exiting the fray of patrons, walking over the farthest corner table, just one over from where Jensen is seated.

He stares at the table, blinking rapidly, and then furiously wiping his eyes with the hell of his hand, then shaking and taking deep breaths. It takes another forty seconds of staring for Jensen to pick up that he’s crying.

Which is immediately the most alarming thing in Jensen’s world at the moment, some internal sense of ‘WRONG’ blaring at the sight of tears on Jared’s face. Jensen sits, rigid, gripping the edges of his table a little too hard so as to keep himself from bolting.

Jensen needs to call Gen, an ambulance or the cavalry maybe even the White House; do something, anything to stop whatever pain is making Jared’s face twist into such a sad expression.

Before he can even wonder what he’s doing, Jensen stands, limbs working on autopilot as he rounds in front of Jared’s table, looking down at him. Jared’s face is buried in his hands, breathing slightly hiccupy. If it weren’t so absolutely gutting it’d almost be cute. Jared, apparently aware of Jensen’s looming, sniffs, raises his head, squints up at Jensen.

“Oh, man, I’m sorry.” He shakes his head, all self-deprecating eager-to-please smiles and casually brushed aside tears. “Gen mentioned you were some kind of writer, didn’t mean to disturb you. I’ll keep down the ruckus. Don’t mind me.”

The strained you-totally-know-I’m-crying-but-I’m-still-going-to-try-and-convince-you-I’m-not smile is the most pathetic thing Jensen has ever seen. He is so screwed.

“What’s wrong?” The question sounds like badly acted dialogue, but Jensen means it with every fiber of him when he asks.

“Um.” Jared’s face twists again, twisting Jensen’s innards with it. “Uh.”

There’s a moment of pause where it gets awkward and Jensen feels he should probably just fuck off and give the kid some privacy and forget this temporary brain aneurysm ever happened, and then Jared explodes.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry it’s just...everything is shit right now. My dog Harley ran out of the house and got hit by a car last night, all because I left the front door open while loading in groceries. The vets had to euthanize him this morning, couldn’t save him. And that’s just the icing on the cake, hardly even the proverbial fucking cherry. I’ve got no job, no social life, an ex that won’t leave me alone, no water or electricity, probably no apartment come tomorrow morning. And now, now I’ve got no dog. I’m a fresh out of school Magna Cum Laude from UT with a degree in English, and nothing to show for it. It’s shit, it’s just really, really shit and--”

This is all delivered with a gradually rising pitch of hysteria and further production of tears on Jared’s part, though it’s far less comical and much more sad than Jensen would ever care to admit. Jared breaks off to cover his face in his hands again, furthering Jensen’s panic to do something. He thinks back to being a younger kid, comforting his sister Mackenzie whenever she cried, can’t remember anyone else he’d ever had to comfort except for Misha, and all those memories were slightly bitter by this point. Drawing on examples from past relationships isn’t the best idea, because when Jensen thinks about it, Jared is a complete and total stranger, not to mention a complete and total stranger that Jensen has been crushing on like a trash compactor; he’s got no idea what he can do to make Jared feel better.

Still. He can’t just stand here like an idiot and do nothing while Jared is crying.

“I…are you—“Jensen’s attempts at comfort fall flat. Empires are falling, universes are being born in the time he stands there, frozen. Eons pass eons and Jensen’s just standing there watching Jared cry like a kicked over puppy and it’s the saddest thing he’s ever seen but for the life of him he has no idea how to help or make him feel better.

So Jensen does the only thing he can do, knows how to do without fail.

“Let me get you a coffee.” He blurts.

Jared looks up, blinking watery as he stares up at Jensen like he’s grown a second head or other grotesque appendage. “I…wait, what?”

“Coffee.” Jensen says haltingly. “You drink it. Let me get you one.”

You drink it? Well no shit you drink it! Jensen refrains from smacking himself in the forehead, rotates and marches robotically towards the counter to hide the blush that is furiously blooming across his cheeks. He pops the top button on his shirt, stifled, and glares at Osric the Barista Boy like this high level pain and humiliation is all his fault.

“Two coffees. Black, no sugar, hold the whip.”

He pays in cash and mutters for Osric to keep the change, eyeing Jared out of the corner of his eye as Osric busies himself with the coffee maker. Jared’s eyes are red and puffy, and he’s staring down at his hands and gnawing at his lip, sitting uncharacteristically still. But at least he’s not crying anymore.

Jensen walks over with the coffees, sets one down in front of Jared and hovers awkwardly, ignoring the way the heat is seeping through the mug and straight to his fingertips.

“Here.”

Jared blinks again as the cup clatters against the table. He eyes Jensen warily, like he might snatch the cup back at any second.

“Um,” Jared clears his throat, “Thank you.”

He takes the cup in his hands, waits a beat, and then looks at Jensen with swollen eyes. “Do you want to sit?”

He hadn’t even realized he was standing there so creepily, and it’s with jerky movements that he pulls out the chair and finally sits.

There’s a beat or two of silence where they stare at each other, and then Jensen clears his throat three times, feeling like he swallowed a mouthful of nuts and bolts with how incapable he is of speech in this moment.

“I’m sorry about your dog.”

Jared’s not so much drinking his coffee as he seems to be huddling himself around it for warmth, but Jensen--with no idea of what the hell he’s supposed to do next--takes a long drink.

“Thank you.” Jared says in a small voice, trying for a smile and not doing very well with it. “He was a great one.”

Silence. Jensen’s grip tightens on his mug.

“So.” He feels like he’s pulling teeth with every word he’s putting forth, the pain in the effort of choosing the words rather than saying them. “English major, huh? What’d you specialize in?”

“Contemporary lit. Last ten years or so.”

“Ah.” Jensen smiles, forced. “Good stuff.”

Further silence. Jensen gulps the rest of his coffee, Jared rotates his cup three circles in his palms. He takes a sip and cringes just slightly, and Jensen wants to go lay down in the nearest four way intersection for picking what appears to be Jared’s least favorite drink on the menu.

Least favorite or not, Jared drinks it, taking each sip as if it’s a well deserved punishment, further proving that doing any sort of social interaction today was a disaster on Jensen’s part.

They make it twenty minutes of alternating silence and sipping before Jensen’s phone begins chirping on the table over, a cheery jingle that could only be his publishing agent, Danneel.

“I’ll uh—I’ll be right back.” Jensen hops over to his phone and flicks the call up. “Hello?”

“Jensen baby.” Danneel’s clipped professional tone is somewhat of a relief to hear. “How’s my New York Times Best-Seller bigshot?”

“I’m working.” Jensen says flatly. “What do you want?”

“Tetchy.” Danneel teases, but she gets to the point. “I’m coming into town on the eleventh for a meeting to discuss the pitch for your latest book. I’m going to need a solid treatment when I come in. I assume we’ll be meeting at The Grain?”

“See you on the eleventh.” Jensen confirms, bidding Danneel a terse adieu.

“Sorry about that,” he says, turning back to Jared, determined to start an actual conversation, “Want another cup of coffee? It’s on me.”

The table is empty, and Jared’s nowhere in sight.

Chapter Text

 

 

Eight days go by. Eight Jared-less, sunshine and laughter-less days.

Jensen would have hired a private investigator for murder by this point, if it weren’t for the simple fact that Gen’s been at work every single one of those eight days, and hasn’t really seemed all too alarmed or upset, assuming Jared had indeed been murdered.

Which brings about the only other alternative; Jared must hate Jensen. Jared got one whiff of black coffee and stilted conversation and probably thought ‘no thank you’ and headed for the hills.

It’s depressing, to say the least. Jensen writes one hundred different deaths for Dean Winchester in a single chapter. Oddly enough, it doesn’t help.

And what’s worse is that no one seems aware of his complete and utter meltdown. Gen makes no mention of Jared, and why would she? Jensen’s known her for two years, and he’s hardly spoken two sentences from her apart from ordering coffee and paying for it.

Still. He could ask. But asking is creepy because last time Jensen checked he wasn’t even really on a first name basis with Jared. Better to just…sit and stir in his own juices and hope that Jared hasn’t been bludgeoned and buried in concrete by the Mob or something.

He’s just about given up on hopes of ever seeing Jared again when the bell crashes into the wall, door swinging open in a wide arc that can only mean the arrival of one person.

Jared looks amazing, maybe a little worse for wear in some aspects, but amazing all the same. Absence of tears and seeming presence of a recent shower, and he’s wearing actual clothes, khaki shorts and a striped polo. His shades are pushed back, holding his bangs with them, and Jensen thinks this kid wouldn’t have an issue with a job if he ever tried to go into modeling. Hell, Jensen feels half inclined to pay him just for standing there. There’s still puffiness around the eyes that speaks to exhaustion, but Jensen can’t really fault him for being tired, because even given that, he still looks incredible.

At least, that’s how he feels until Jared turns his blinding smile right in Jensen’s direction.

“You!” Jared exclaims.

“Um.” Jensen’s mouth goes dry. “Me?”

And then Jared is walking over, flip flops slapping like the clip clop of horses hooves, and he’s smiling down at Jensen, standing right in front of Jensen.

“I owe you a drink.”

“I. Well. I. Uh.” Immediate thought turns to trash as Jensen flounders for something to say. He’s used to Jared being cute and charming and nice, just not in his personal direction. But now Jared appears to be a compass pointed Due-Jensen, and being in the face of this attention and under the gaze of that smile makes Jensen want to grab a shovel and start digging until he can’t see the sun anymore.

“Don’t move a muscle.” Jared instructs, turning over his shoulder, “Oy! Gen! Fire up those machines! I’m gonna need your best brew.”

“The machines are already on, dumbass.” Gen replies blandly.

“Still, prepare to make your best cup yet. I have a debt to repay.” He turns back over his shoulder. “Get me two of my favorite drink.”

“Jared, that’s not technically a drink we have on the menu.”

“Rule #1: The customer is always right! Get me my joe, woman!”

Gen rolls her eyes, already going about the machines and pumps.  Jared turns his attention back on Jensen, and Jensen resists the urge to flinch.

“You don’t have to get me anything.” Jensen blurts, almost frantic in his need to express that Jared owes him nothing, really, that Jared doesn’t owe anything to anyone. Christ, he’s thirty years old. He’s dealt with scarier things than this, scarier people, people who could actually cause harm, but here he is, dissolving into a puddle like hot butter before the presence of a chipper post-grad.

“Nonsense. It’s only fair.” Jared smiles, and the chair scrapes along the floor as HE pulls it out and plops down into it. “Again, sorry about the other day, what with the crying and the snot and the general basketcase appearance. I was in a really bad place.”

“It’s not like I helped much.” Jensen shrugs in apology, tongue loosening the longer Jared looks at him, earnest gaze and gentle smile. If it weren’t so relaxing it’d probably be infuriating. “I tend to clam up in crisis situations. Sorry.”

“Nah, it was nice, having someone sit with me. Even something like a cup of coffee, it’s…” Jared’s eyes crinkle, and Jensen isn’t quite close enough to tell what color they are, is absolutely sure that the experience of being that close to Jared would actually kill him. “My Mama always said that there is nothing more important than the kindness of strangers. You could have ignored me, but you didn’t. And believe it or not, it helped.”

Gen comes over with the coffees and Jared offers one steaming mug to Jensen. “I ordered it special. This is my favorite drink. You’ll love it.”

Beneath the mountain of whipped cream that Jensen scrapes off with his spoon, the cup of coffee is murky, probably has cream and sugar in it. Not optimal, but Jensen can grin and bear it for Jared’s sake just this one time.

“I take it you’re feeling better?” Jensen finishes removing the whipped cream and stirs his spoon about, hot smooth liquid masking the silver in the mug.

“I moved out of my place, will be crashing at Gen’s for the time being.” Jared’s eyeing the small mountain of whipped cream on Jensen’s saucer, biting his lip like he’s trying to keep a straight face. “After I ran out on you—again, sorry—I kind of just needed to clear my head. So I did. And then I called Gen for help, and she asked me why I hadn’t moved in two weeks ago.” Jared smiles, takes a long drink from his cup, having already scooped all the whipped cream into his mouth in between sentences.

“Just until I can find a job, a steady place to make income. My parents are sending me money for rent and clothes, plus I’ve got a bit of graduation money that’ll pull me over for the next few months. But I wanted to apologize, and thank you. I didn’t mean to wig out, and considering how unhinged I was, you handled it pretty damn well well.”

“We all have our bad days.” Jensen shrugs. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t do more.”

Jared waves him away. “Consider this my payment. Drink up.”

Jensen takes a sip of the coffee, and promptly spits all over himself, spattering Jared in the process.

“Too hot?” Jared shoves a fistful of napkins in Jensen’s direction, concerned wrinkle on his forehead.

“No!” Jensen sputters, curling his tongue as if that will get the taste off of it. “Too sweet!”

Jared stares for a second like Jensen’s absolutely lost his mind, and then bursts out laughing. The sound of Jared’s laughter up close and personal could probably used as a weapon of mass destruction, Jensen’s sure of it. Jensen continues smacking his lips, mouth almost numb with whatever it was he just consumed.

“I’ve never heard of someone spitting out their coffee because it’s too sweet.” Jared says, laughter tapering off.

“Probably because they’ve never drunk this kind of coffee…what the hell is in this anyway? Besides pure cane sugar?”

He doesn’t really realize that he’s apparently found the key to his crippling social stigma until Jared blinks, looking almost taken aback at his reply.

You mess with Jensen’s coffee, you mess with Jensen.

Jensen doesn’t mean to be so indignant about it. But it’s coffee, one of the rare unadulterated things on this Earth that doesn’t need all the extra crap and additives to be good. Coffee is dark and rich and smooth….but this…this syrup in a mug that Jared gave him--out of the kindness of his heart, no doubt—this is not coffee. Jensen knows coffee, and this is not it. This is a poor excuse for coffee, the disowned inbred second cousin of coffee, at best.

Pink lips curve upwards as Jared smiles, looking half insulted half proud as he responds, “Caramel syrup, chocolate syrup, spritz of nutmeg, vanilla coffee, almond milk and peppermint flavoring. I call it the Kick-In-the-Ass. Enough caffeine to jump start a dead body, and the peppermint packs a punch.” He huffs at Jensen’s grimace. “I believe the correct response you’re looking for is ‘Thank you, Jared’.”

“Yeah, thank you for the tooth decay and cavities, Jared.” Jensen retorts, getting another short bark of a laugh in return.

“You cut me deep, Kill Joy.” Jared places a hand over his heart, leaning back dramatically in his chair.

“That’s Mr. Kill Joy, Esquire, to you.” Jensen responds, earning him another laugh.

“Well Mr. Kill Joy, Esquire, I’ll be damned if I don’t convert you to a coffee junkie by the end of the month.” Jared tips his chin, cocky confidence in the way he sprawls his arms about the back of his chair, leaning back and regarding Jensen coolly.

“I’m already a coffee junkie, and I hate to break it to you, but what you drink is not coffee.” Jensen says flatly.

“Correction: What you drink is not coffee. What you drink is tar. Battery acid, if you will.”

“So young and so bitter, and all because I can handle the real thing instead of the cheap knock off.”

Jared scoffs in mock annoyance. “Oh that is it. I hope you don’t mind company, because I don’t plan on leaving you alone until you agree that sweetened coffee is real coffee.”

“Guess we’ll be here awhile, then.”

“Don’t think I’m that naive. I’ve got to go strategize, discuss tactics and reconnaissance. Fun fact to know, but there’s a reason I graduated top of my class. I’m competitive. Which means you just declared a war, and I don’t plan to lose. Here we are, World War Three: Sweet versus Shitty. Right versus Wrong. Jared versus…” Jared trails off, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

“Jensen.” He responds, smiling despite himself. “Jensen Ackles, Professional Kill Joy.”

“Jensen. I’ll remember that.” Jared sticks out a hand, all politeness save for a spark in his eye that screams trouble, and if it weren’t for the boyish smile alongside it, Jensen would probably interpret that spark in an entirely different—and wholly inappropriate for a coffee shop--way. “May the best man win, Jensen.”

“You bet your broke ass I will.”

It’s like Jared’s laughter has an adhesive that attaches it to things, sticky surface that allows it to linger in the coffee shop long after Jared has laughed his way out the door.

Jensen knows he’s grinning like a complete idiot and that if he doesn’t get himself under control his face will most likely freeze this way. But he walks to the counter with the almost full mug and says, “Gen, I’m sorry, but could you get me the usual? Black, no sugar no milk? And definitely no whipped cream?”

She pushes a fresh hot mug into Jensen’s hands a second later, and adds, “This one’s on the house.”

“Any particular reason why?” Jensen asks.

Gen shrugs, picking at an invisible spec on the counter, which she just buffed clean. “That’s the first time since Harley died that Jared has laughed. I got him candy and took him shopping. We spent the weekend huddled up on my couch marathoning Disney princess movies. But this morning was the first time I heard him laugh in eight days, so,” She shrugs, like she hadn’t just delivered the greatest news of Jensen’s entire week, maybe his entire life, “this one’s on the house.”

His mouth still tastes like pure sugar, even after he downs the entire cup of black. He doesn’t totally hate it, though.

Danneel is late.

Not entirely unusual for her, but Jensen is nonetheless irritated. The last thing is he wants is business mixed with pleasure. And Jared entering the café at the same time he’s meeting with his editor, well, that would be the last thing he wants on the dot.

She walks in, Jimmy Choos tracking in beach sand, ponytail swinging, generic Starbucks already in hand.

Beautiful and put together as always, and somehow the person Jensen’s always surprised to find that he missed.

 “Hey Danni.” He embraces her warmly.

“Jensen.” Danneel pecks his cheek, tucking herself neatly into the seat across from him. “You look pale. How is that even possible?”

She gestures to the wide glass window of the front of the Grain, the full view of the shoreline where the sun is shining down with enough force that Jensen’s sure he could get a steady tan line if he actually tried. Even though the water is freezing, he probably could use the time out in the sun.

“I’ve been busy working on this damn book. No time for sun.” He says.

“Alright then. Sorry I’m late...was out with Chris till God knows when in the morning watching his band play a gig. Let’s get to business.”

Jensen pulls up his notes, clears his throat. “I’m starting a new series, sort of a horror meets detective type, except the two detectives are just two run of the mill, blue collar guys. Brothers, actually. They don’t even have real jobs, they steal credit cards and have fake IDs and listen to classic rock, and they drive around in a muscle car, and they hunt ghosts and monsters.”

“Tell me about the brothers.”

“Well, there’s Dean and he’s—“ Jensen bites off a smile, “Dean’s the older brother. A bit of a ladies man. He’s all about family, and continuing the ‘family business’ of hunting monsters. And then there’s Sam, he’s the younger brother, but he wants nothing to do with this life. At the beginning of the series, he’s off at Stanford, hasn’t seen his brother and his Dad in years and…”

“Wait, series?”

Jensen blinks. “Oh, I forgot to mention that part. It’d be a series. I’ve already outlined the first two novels, technically wrote a few scenes in both.”

He outlines the finer details for her, character maps for both Sam and Dean, their arcs. She nods, seemingly impressed.

“So, what’s the catch? When do they die?”

Jensen shrugs. “Haven’t decided yet. I mean. They’re going to die. Multiple times. But I haven’t decided quite how I want it to end.”

“Well I’m sure you’ll think of something,” she fishes a piece of paper from her pocket. “And while you’re explaining the details, I need you to sign this.”

“For what?” He lifts the blank piece of paper.

“Jake Grey Authorial Essay Contest.” Danneel winks, pushing a pen into his hand. “We haven’t picked the winner yet, but lets get the signing out of the way.”

Promotional events. Because Jensen isn’t the kind of author that doesn’t book signings and meet and greets—how could he, when the entire world was supposed to have no clue who he was. Danneel had set up a series of essay contests, raffle drawings, the like, so Jensen—Jake—could give back to his adoring fans. He doesn’t mind that much, it sure beats having to interact with his fans face to face. Not that Jensen doesn’t appreciate them, appreciate that people enjoy his writing, buy his books. But interacting with people has never been his strong suit. So he keeps it simple with giveaway prizes and personalized messages, and his fanbase seems satisfied.

Jensen signs his signature thoughtlessly, looping the J on Jake in a unique way he’d chosen. Danneel’s pen scritches on the paper, and Jensen asks, “What was the essay prompt?”

“What’s your favorite sentence from Jake’s novels, and why.” Danneel answers. “We’ve narrowed it down through the top one hundred, it’s going to be a few more months before we announce the winner in particular but—

A loud and sudden slam causes both of them to jump, Danneel squeaking. Jensen looks up, startled, to see Jared, of all people, face pressed to the glass like a kid staring into a store window during Christmas shopping season. He grins, wiggling smushed eyebrows at Jensen, before waving cheerily, pulling away and leaving a full imprint of his face on the glass.

“Friend of yours?” Danneel asks.

“Something like that.” The calm ease of the morning is suddenly pumped and antsy.  

There must be some sort of giveaway expression on his face, because Danneel arches an eyebrow in Jared’s direction, grinning like a cat that caught the canary. “Ah. I see,” she says arily,  “You found a toy.”

Jensen flushes right down to his toes. “I did not find anything, I met someone. And he is not a toy.”

“Does this someone have a name?”

“Jared.” Jensen says simply, at the exact same moment that Jared crashes through the door, bell clanging, sending customers tittering at the din. He goes to stand in line, hands on hips, only turning around to wink at Jensen just once.  Jensen turns back to the piece of paper in his hands, pen trailing in doodles that serve as a needed distraction. He draws a small rectangle with a thin line touching the longside bottom. It’s the closest thing Jensen has to a personal signature for himself, someone who isn’t a famous author. Identical to the tattoo on the underside of his left wrist, his writing wrist.

“He’s cute.” Danneel remarks, giving Jared a practically invasive once over, but Jensen knows she’s doing it just to make his hackles rise. “In the jailbait kind of way. He’s what…eighteen and fresh outta high school?”

“Try twenty two, and fresh out of college.” Jensen counters, knowing that’s not much better in terms of age difference. He is thirty, after all. He pushes the paper into her hands, done signing, and frankly, done with the conversation.

“Ah, college boys.” Danneel tips her head, smiling at a distant memory. “Those were the days. Great sex. You better get on that ass before someone else does.”

Humiliation quotient beyond filled for the day, Jensen is thankfully (or not thankfully) saved by the interruption of Jared, who sets a drink down in front of Jensen that is—god help him, pink tinted.

“Cotton candy white mocha latte.” Jared says. “I’ll take personal offense if you don’t drink the whole thing.”

“I am not drinking that.” Jensen stares at the mug like it’s going to sprout legs and crawl onto his arm.

“It’s on the house, Jensen. How can you turn down free coffee?”

“Free coffee my ass!” Gen snaps from the counter. “You’ve got a running tab, Jared, and you will pay it back some day.”

Jared waves her off, attention locked on Jensen and nodding apologetically at Danneel. “Sorry to tear Jensen from you, ma’am. It’s just, we have an arrangement. A challenge, if you will.”

“I can see that.” Danneel says, but she’s smiling, looking absolutely entertained.

There’s a pause as Jensen takes a sip of the coffee, and he’s not at all surprised to discover there’s not even a hint of coffee in it.

“So?”

Jensen grimaces. “I’ll give it a D.”

“D?”

Jensen takes another sip. “D minus.”

Jared scoffs and Danneel rises, tucking her purse on her shoulder, along with her notes and the autograph. “I think our meeting is done here. Jensen, I’ll see you around. Deadline’s creeping up fast, don’t forget. And don’t,” she casts one more once over at Jared, “get distracted, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Jensen grunts, equal parts cowed and embarrassed. And Danneel leaves with another peck to his cheek. Jared nods by way of farewell, and then stares Jensen down, amazed, “You really don’t like it.”

“No one in their right mind would like that drink.” Jensen says, rising to go rinse his mouth out with actual coffee.

“Oh no you don’t.” Jared sidesteps in front of Jensen, and despite the age difference, the height difference is enough that Jensen has to look up just slightly to meet Jared’s eyes. They are a clear hazel, the kind that Jensen could spend a whole chapter describing, never quite one color at a time. The world is horribly, horribly, cruel in that Jensen doesn’t get to spend longer staring into them. “I’m not giving up just yet. That was just round one. Sit down Ackles, and prepare for round two.”

And that’s how Jensen spends the remaining two hours of his time sitting in the Grain, trying drink after drink after drink. Five total, he thinks, loses count after the absolutely atrocious option number three (something called The Exorcism that had so much sugar Jensen felt it was against FDA standards for healthy dosage levels). His mouth feels like sandpaper afterwards, from the combinations of scalding hot drinks and the searing chemicals in them, but he finds it’s a small compromise to spending two hours with Jared. Jared, who finds it absolutely necessary to finish off every drink Jensen can’t seem to stand, just to prove that he loves it and it is indeed a good drink. Jared, who seems to have no problems whatsoever with the fact that Jensen’s lips have already been on the mug, and chugs each drink anyhow. Jared, who smiles and laughs and banters with Jensen, countering every single insult Jensen lays out for the drinks. He notes the mannerisms as Jared, how he scratches his nose when he’s impatient, runs an unruly hand through his bangs. How each of those mannerisms is multiplied ten fold once Jared has had five cups of coffee. His voice is high pitched and he’s practically pinging around the café like a pinball and won’t sit down, not even when Gen threatens to blast him with the fire extinguisher.

It’s without a doubt the weirdest morning Jensen’s ever had. He can’t remember the last time he laughed this much, or smiled this hard.

He doesn’t write a single word.

The following week leaves Jensen in physical shambles as he works at breakneck pace to write his novel. With the new distraction—the new found, terrible, terrible, wonderful distraction—found in a one Jared Padalecki, the only time Jensen gets any writing done is when said distraction is not bouncing about The Grain.

And he’s been bouncing about quite a bit.

Jensen’s trying hard not to read too much into the fact that Jared comes in almost every day now, even if just for a few minutes, to say hello. But there’s something about the pull of Jared’s lip when he bites down a smile, about the swing of his gangly arms when he walks, that leaves Jensen all shades of hopeful. For what, Jensen isn’t entirely sure. That he might get to know Jared more, on a personal level (and hell, who’s he kidding, a biblical level too), at the very least.

The manuscript is pushing its way sluggishly. Jensen’s stuck on a bit of characterization that’s ticking him off, but he’s happy to procrastinate just a bit further, especially if it means more time spent in the swelling sunspots of the café with Jared sitting across from him.

When he walks in this morning, 7 am sharp, it’s to find Jared already present in the coffee shop, curled up on one of the bean bag chairs that sit in the corner near the windows on the left side of the shop. The tip of his nose is stuck firmly in a book and Jensen peeks the edges of his pink mouth shaping silently around words as he reads.

Jensen recognizes the paperback cover design all the way from the door. He picked it out himself, after all. A hum settles in his stomach as he veers from his usual path and heads over to the bean bags instead of his usual table. It almost feels like purring, how smug he feels.

“Jake Grey? Really?” He has to actively try not to smile, a symptom of being around Jared.

“Don’t tell me you dislike the greatest writer of our generation.” Jared says, not even raising his eyes from the page. “Because if that’s what you’re telling me, you may as well walk right back out that door.”

“I don’t dislike him,” Jensen bites the inside of his cheek to tamper down his expression, “I’m just surprised you’re reading him. Bit dark for you, isn’t it?”

“What, so I can’t be dark?” Jared shoves half a cranberry-orange scone in his mouth, lifting it from the napkin on his lap and polishing it off without so much as a blink. “I’ll have you know that I can be very dark when I want to be. Have you read this one?” He waves the well-worn copy of Hand in Hand in front of Jensen’s face.

It’s almost impossible for Jensen to force himself to keep a straight face. “Once. Didn’t care much for the ending.”

“Didn’t care for the—, “ Jared breaks off in incredulity, taking a moment to swallow his scone. “The ending is the best part. You spend the entire novel waiting for the two characters to just get over themselves and admit their feelings, and just when you think they’re getting there, boom, dead. And they die reaching for each other. Their whole lives, and they never even got to touch.” He flips to the final page of the book, and it looks dog eared enough that Jensen feels a warmth spring up in his chest. “Reading this book in high school after it had come out…it was like finding religion.”

Jared was in high school when Jensen had published his first book. That alone should be enough to serve as somewhat of a turn off, but the mental image of a skinnier, younger looking Jared stretching out and reading Jensen’s writing front to back is somehow just enough to get his pulse racing, and wondering if he really does need to get back into therapy after all. 

 “I wrote my senior project on this book. It’s the reason I became an English major,” Jared’s already gone back to reading, index finger stroking over the spidery cracks along the spine, “So you can just buzz off if you think the most formative novel of my entire life is simply ‘dark’.”

It’s then that Jensen realizes that Jared isn’t just a fan. He’s a passionate reader, analytical and in depth. He’s someone who dogears his favorite passages, writes note in the margins, and defiles his own personal copy until the spine cracks and the ink fades. Jensen’s never been so endeared by the destruction of print materials.

“I like Grey’s stuff alright. It’s just all,” he fishes around for one of the harsher commentaries about his novels by critics, “A bit maudlin.”

Jared barks out a laugh, “Oh, and you’re such an expert, being a writer yourself?”

Jensen shrugs, cocky, walking away to the counter. “Maybe I am. Gen? Could I get a coffee, black, please?”

Jared follows and leans back against the counter, studying Jensen, eyes narrowed, calculating. It’d be enough to make Jensen flush if Jensen didn’t feel undeniably cool right now. He doesn’t usually feel strongly affected by fan’s enthusiasm. While he appreciates it greatly, it never gets him to a state of ego. But now? The hot guy at the coffee shop loves his writing and yeah, that’s a bit of an ego trip if Jensen’s ever heard one.

“Let me guess. You’re one of those super pretentions writers, who talks about their ‘muse’ in the third person.”

Jensen thinks guiltily of Inspiration, schools his face into an expression of impassivity as Jared raises an eyebrow, “Am I right?”

“What kind of writer are you, then?”

“Oh, I’m the existentialist, I’ll spend hours thinking up metaphors for everything. I can’t write a single word unless I’ve got the right music playing to fit the mood. Everything’s about emotion and feel with me.” Jared ducks his head, humble. “I guess I’m a bit of an open book that way.”

Open book Jared may be. Jensen would probably still read him cover to cover anyways, if he could.

“Everyone’s gotta get their inspiration somewhere.” He offers. “How you go about it isn’t so important, s’long as you get the words out.”

“So what are you working on?” Jared asks. “You never really told me what you write.”

“Novels, mostly.” Jensen takes his coffee gratefully, leaving Gen a tip that she gapes at. He doesn’t worry over it, he’s far too entertained right now to care.

“What kind of novels? Are you published?” Jared trails after him all the way to his usual seat.

“More or less,” Jensen responds neutrally, careful not to glance at the worn book tucked under Jared’s arm.

“Can I read your stuff?”

“I’m afraid it’s dreadfully boring.” Jensen leans back in his seat, setting down his coffee and laptop perfunctorily.

“You say that like it’s going to surprise me; may I remind you drink your coffee black?”

“Black coffee has taste. I have taste.”

“Or a serious lack thereof,” Jared turns on his heels, “Gen, make me a latté with one of those pretty hearts in the foam?”

“You know your coffee tab here has easily reached the high hundreds of dollars.” Gen responds, hands nevertheless going about the task of making the latte.

“You can bill it to Jensen, most of the coffee’s for him anyway.” Jared grins cheekily.

“I am not drinking a drink with a foam heart in it. You may as well give up now.”

“I’ll leave you alone and let you work on whatever smut you’re writing if you take at least a sip. Otherwise, you’ll never get rid of me.”

Jared’s got his chin propped on his hands, leaning slightly forward in his seat. His hair looks damp at the ends, like he’d recently gotten out of the shower, and he’s wearing a fitted v-neck that Jensen swears he’s seen Gen donning before.

It’s too much to resist, not that Jensen ever really considers trying.

“I’ll drink. If you’ll tell me what specifically you think of Jake Grey’s writing, why he’s your favorite.”

Jared nods like that’s fair enough, and while they wait for Gen to finish the latte, Jensen opens up and taps away at his manuscript, adding a character descriptor for the breadth of Sam’s shoulders, the slant of his eyes that he tells himself has nothing to do with Jared (but really has everything to do with Jared). Jared just reopens to the page he was previously at, shoving his nose back in like he hasn’t read the book fifty times.

The drink arrives, and Jensen takes his promised sips, making all the grossed out faces and gagging noises in the world, less for his own benefit and more to watch the way Jared’s smile fucking lights, dimples flashing deep his cheeks, eyes changing from green to blue to grey to something in between all three with every silly face Jensen sends his way.

He’s halfway through his fifth sip (and tenth vow of puking) when Jared says, “What I like about Grey’s writing best is how everyone misinterprets it.”

Jensen raises an eyebrow, too busy choking down the cup full of sugar steaming in his hand.

“When ‘Hand in Hand’ first hit the stands, everyone in the literature circle flipped out. I was sixteen. The girls in my school were obsessed with it, the teachers all recommended it, even before it hit the best selling list it was this huge revelation and all everyone could talk about is how dark and pessimistic and realistic Grey’s stuff was. The imagery, the metaphors, worthy of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, with three times the fucked-up as any good Stephen King novel. But I guess I never saw it that way.”

“And how did you see it?” Jensen asks, dabbing foam from his mouth with a napkin.

“Jake Grey—despite the whole penname slash secret identity thing—is not a dark person. He’s not fucked up or tortured or pessimistic about the world. He’s not bitter. He’s a romantic, even if his endings are always unhappy.”

“Nicholas Sparks is romantic.” Jensen says doubtfully.

 “Nicholas Sparks writes sugar coated deaths that are somehow meaningful in the long run. Cheap romance, not nearly as poignant,” Jared waves the argument away, “Jake Grey doesn’t write about death. He writes about loss. I can still remember each and every time I read one of his books for the first time, because I could never sleep the night after I finished. His words haunt, and their romanticism is a love letter written about loneliness. All of Grey’s characters are lonely, searching for connection in worlds that won’t allow it.” Jared flicks back and forth through the pages of the book, watching the print rush by softly, “I think Grey has the whole secret identity penname thing for a reason; he doesn’t hide from the public because he hates people, he’s just not willing to cope with reality. He’s lonely, and he’d rather dream and write himself straight into nightmares than have to wake up to the real world.”

Jensen’s gulped down the entire latte in five seconds without stopping to breathe, and he reaches for his own cup of black to follow up, worried for a moment that Jared can actively spot his heart pushing against the skin of his chest like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

“Anyway,” Jared shrugs, “That’s what I wrote my senior paper on. It was called ‘Grey’s Anatomy: Analyzing Award Winning Author Jake Grey’s public imagery and Works’. I got extra credit for the title.”

“Clever.” Jensen rasps, feeling suddenly and inexplicably too big for his clothes, for the chair, for the entire café.

“He’s supposed to be publishing a new book soon, which I can’t wait to read.” Jared continues on, oblivious to Jensen’s silent breakdown. “Should be great.”

Jensen just starts a new paragraph, because he can’t really think of anything else to say to that. Jared watches, like he wants to ask, but eventually returns to his current page, occasionally pulling out a pencil from his jean pocket to circle or underline something in the text. It’s near excruciating for Jensen to not ask what part he’s at each and every time.

Silence settles between them like coffee grounds sinking to the bottom of the pot, and amidst the din of ocean waves from outside and coffee machines from inside, it’s completely and oddly comfortable. Jared stretches out his legs and his ankles bump lightly into Jensen’s but he doesn’t apologize, merely adjusting so he’s just out of reach. It’s the first time Jared hasn’t been talking or generally acting like a huge dork, and watching the concentration on his face, the absolute stillness with which he reads, gives Jensen a whole new awareness. Jared, always a force of motion, is now so motionless that Jensen can almost feel him as he begins to write in earnest, constantly aware of the skinny ankles, shredded flip flops, shower damp hair and all, just inches away.

Jensen can remember sharing many things in his lifetime; a drink, a kiss, a bed. But he’d never shared silence, never in a way where it didn’t feel like it was something being intruded upon. Yet here, it’s soothing, to have the space of an otherwise empty table taken up by someone who doesn’t seem perturbed by the quiet. Someone who can end a conversation just quickly as they begin one, and then pick up where they left off all over again.

They sit just so, Jensen writing the words, Jared reading them, well into the wane of the afternoon.

 “Get me a coffee. Black.”

Jensen looks up from his table and can tell immediately that something’s wrong with Jared. The lines of his body are tense, even as he leans against the counter with all his usual careless grace. He raises an eyebrow as Jared lopes over after passing over a few singles to Osric.

“’Morning.” Jared grunts miserably, practically swaying on the spot in exhaustion. They’ve spent a few dozen mornings like this, up and at ‘em early, sharing coffee and talking smack, and though Jared has had his fair share of tired mornings, it’s got nothing on how he looks now. Yet even with bags under his eyes and unwashed hair, he’s still kind of the best thing Jensen’s seen all morning. 

Jensen restrains a smile and pushes down the worry, “Black coffee? Do you feel feverish? Should I call an ambulance?”

“Rough night.” Jared drags a hand over his face, as if he can rub the bloodshot from his eyes.

“I’m sure your liver agrees,” Jensen jokes, “Beer before liquor next time, yeah?”

“I fuckin’ wish I’d been plastered last night, but alas,” the chair screeches and Jared all but drops like a dead body into it, resting his head on the table for a moment, giving Jensen a rather blatant view of the curls at the nape of his neck that’s entirely too long and too fleeting at once,  “Just didn’t sleep. Stevie showed up to Gen’s house again, wanted to ‘talk’.” He holds up his fingers in quotation signs.

“Stevie?”

“Ex,” Jared shrugs, unaware of the way Jensen can’t seem to take another sip of his coffee, “Total pain in my ass, can’t seem to ‘let us go’, or doesn’t want to. Banged on the apartment door all night.” Jared nudges his coffee to the center, quietly removing the lid and snagging one, two, three, then six sugar packets from the tin at the end of the table, “Gen would’ve called the cops, but Stevie’s not dangerous. Just…complicated.”

Jensen tries picturing her; Stevie. Probably a blonde, with curls and curvy hips. Maybe she’s a whole foot shorter than Jared in height, so she has to stand on tiptoes to kiss him, to hoist herself up on his waist when they--

He’s cut mid mental image as Jared begins idly ripping and pouring each individual sugar into his cup, a long and constant stream of white falling whisper soft into the dark liquid, and Jensen tries desperately to decide whether he’s angrily aroused or embarrassingly cockblocked. Jared’s hands leapfrog from sugar to spoon to mug as he works, the almost jumpy energy of his fingers weirdly soothing.

“Anyway, let’s talk about something that’s not my crazy ex,” Jared rolls his eyes, now sweeping a stirring stick in small circles around the liquid, “Because that drama will always be there whenever I want to return to it. What are you working on right now?”

But Jensen wants to talk about Stevie, wants to know if Jared loved her, if Jared still loves her, but doesn’t know how to make that love a working cog in his life right now. He wants to know what Jared looks for in a partner, how he loves that person, how he kisses and sighs and falls asleep against their body.

“I’m stuck.” Jensen responds, mouth running on autopilot as he mind hurries to run the opposite direction of his dick. He’s careful to choose his words. “My characters are…well, they’re different people who are essentially made of the same stuff. So it’s getting them to make up in the midst of their differences that is difficult. They’re fighting right now, and I’m unsure of how to make them burst apart, and then how to fix it.”

“How so?”

“Well, the little brother is…” Jensen’s mouth twists wryly. “Stubborn, to put it politely. And absolutely an ambitious sarcastic little shit, but so kind hearted and compassionate. And the older brother, he’s a roll with the punches kind of guy; follows their Dad’s orders, never questions anything. It’s hard to make them work together.”

“Isn’t that what would make them stronger, essentially? Opposites attract?”

“They’re brothers.” Jensen says flatly.

“But they’re still a team,” Jared iterates, “Those differences give them plenty of friction, yeah, but ultimately they stick together. You have a reason for that, so what is it?”

Jensen bites the inside of his cheek, unsure. He glances back down to the laptop, thumbing at a fleck of dust caught on the corner of the screen. Writing out Sam and Dean’s messy relationship is like pulling stitches, and it’s a complicated emotional cataclysm that Jensen isn’t sure quite why he’s trying to justify, why it’s so important to him that the Winchesters stick together.

“They’re a mess. They’re each other’s messes. But being apart, for some reason, makes everything only messier.”

“You’re not too fond of messes, are you?” Jared dumps what Jensen’s sure is at least a cup of creamer into his coffee, splashing out with a damp plop onto the table.

“No.” Jensen is careful to keep his nose from wrinkling. “I’m not.”

Jared swills the liquid about and blows at the steam, and in the end Jensen’s the one to mop up the slight spill with napkins, reaching out over the table.

“Cool tattoo.” Jared nods at where Jensen’s tattoo is peeking out from under the sleeve of his sweater.

“Yeah?” Jensen shakes his watch up and bunches the sleeve to the meat of his inner arm. “You’re the first person to ever think so.”

“It’s a hat, right? What’s it mean?”

“It’s not a hat,” Jensen rolls his eyes at Jared’s obvious cheekiness, “It’s a music theory symbol. A half rest. I play guitar, guess I picked up on it from all the lessons over the years.”

“Guitar, huh?”

Jensen nods, Jared waits for further elaboration. Jared’s unfortunately familiar enough to know that Jensen will elaborate eventually as long as he’s patient enough.

Jensen sighs long, closing his laptop and sucking in the smell of the Grain, of coffee stains on the counters and cherry almond scones sitting in the display case. This isn’t the first person he’s told this story to. But it is the first time Jensen felt ashamed of telling it.

“When I was a kid, I had anxiety. Like, really tremendous anxiety. I’d get sweaty palms and hyperventilate, just completely burst into hysterics whenever I was under a lot of stress, or sometimes just at random times. The most inane things would stress me out for no reason; have me worrying until I was quite literally sick with it, not to mention some minor OCD at my worst. Everything caused anxiety: spelling tests at school, class presentations, being picked last for dodgeball teams in PE. No reason in particular, I just had this really loud mind, with all this brain noise that wouldn’t let me be calm, not unless I was alone.” He lays his hands in his lap, just in case they start to shake.

“Sounds rough.” Jared sympathizes.

“It was,” Jensen shrugs, offering no further elaboration than that.

There are simply some things Jared doesn’t need to know about, things that Jensen doesn’t want him to know for the complete and utter humiliation of it; the stress headaches, the ulcers, the birthday parties with classmates that had him in near tears because he didn’t want to go in the jumping castle with the other sweaty kids and the germs. It seems like a ploy for attention to bring up the other ticks that Jensen learned to live with for most of his adolescent life. Having to count things and chew food in multiples of three, hearing classmates whisper about kissing and things even dirtier that, and feeling like a defective toy because to him, kissing sounded gross, messy. It had taken years to push past that part of himself, to allow himself to enjoy a kiss, to enjoy something beyond that.

But Jared’s not really pushing for more, and that’s somehow enough to make Jensen continue forward on his own.

 “I was fourteen, just entering high school, when I passed out at a student assembly, because the principal named me for Student of the Month.  My parents made the decision to finally send me to a psychologist. I thought I’d never get better, that I just existed for the sole purpose of worrying over things that were meaningless to other people. I felt like a defective kid, barely talked aloud, but still my brain wouldn’t shut up.”

 “So what changed?” Jared’s expression is neutral, but there’s a caution in his tone that is comforting to hear. Because it means that Jared’s listening, that Jared cares.

Jensen gropes for his pen, and begins to draw and redraw the half rest on the napkin in front of him, ink spreading on the soft paper like spider veins. “We met for weeks and nothing. And then one day, the doctor handed me a notepad and pen, and told me to write down all the brain noise that was bothering me. So I did. I wrote into his next appointment and I wrote into the closing hours of the office. Next session, the same. He gave me a journal and told me to write whenever I felt the brain noise, whenever I felt anxiety. I’ve been writing ever since.”

“And the tattoo?”

“Well, a half rest means quiet, basically. Shhhh,” Jensen holds a finger to his lips dramatically, “I got it on my left wrist, my writing hand, to remind myself that I’m at my most quiet when I’m writing, and that as long as I have the ability to write stuff down, I can deal with it. The half rest is just a reminder that all will be well eventually, and to let the chips fall where they lie.”

 Jensen looks stares down at the napkin, finished speaking and drawing, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. He waits for the unease to turn the moment sour, for Jared to come to the conclusion that he’s a fucking train wreck, much more so than Jared will ever be, even with all the disasters that occur in his own life.

But Jared just stares at Jensen for a long time, and then:

“I sleep with a night light.”

Jensen reels, “I—come again?”

Jared flushes and then says in a small voice, “When I was little, I was playing hide n seek with my brother Jeff in my Aunt’s house. She had this huge house, and we weren’t ever supposed to go to the basement, she had mouse traps and other stuff stored down there. But I wanted to win hide n seek, so I went in and closed the door. Got locked in. It was pitch black in there, no working electricity,” Jared takes a small, testing sip of his coffee, before wincing with revulsion and setting it down,  “My parents eventually found me, but I had already wet my pants and cried myself to sleep so, no more dark. I’m twenty two and I still sleep with a night light,” Jared dips his head with a self-deprecating smile and shrug, “It’s a great way to get laid.” He reaches for more sugar packets.

 “You didn’t have to tell me that.” Jensen suddenly feels cornered, like Jared exposing a raw bit of himself is suddenly so intimate and endearing—especially as Jensen pictures a Jared Padalecki that isn’t six four, playing hide and seek in a basement—that Jensen can’t handle the sudden sense of exposure. It’s as if Jared’s own anecdotes are a sudden blinding spotlight on Jensen’s regard for Jared, which grows practically every time they interact.

“You shared something, so I shared something back. That’s called a conversation, Jensen.”

“Yeah but there was no obligatory statement saying you had to—“

 “Well, I wanted to, plain and simple. You’re my friend.” Jared shrugs, as if he’s apologizing for what he just said.

If a freight train derailed and crashed into the coffee shop, killing Jensen on impact right in this moment, he thinks he wouldn’t even feel it.

Jared gets up to steal more sugar packets from the next table over, and for the rest of the goddamn day Jensen walks on air.

Chapter Text

 

Jensen’s just been handed his coffee on a Tuesday morning when the tell tale opening lines of Van Halen come blasting through the speakers of the Grain, sending customers tittering like startled pigeons.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Jared is the one standing at the jukebox in the corner of the shop. What does come as a surprise—and a pleasant one at that—is the skinny jeans Jared happens to be wearing today; tight, form fitting, squeezing the thin muscles of Jared’s legs like a well fitted glove. Jared whips around, shoulders bouncing feet tapping as he struts around, hips thrusting ridiculously, head jerking sharply with each beat. Gen has the actual gall to look bored, glancing over at Jensen with a ‘can you believe this guy?’ kind of eye roll and Jensen isn’t sure what is more amusing, between her and Jared.

Or maybe he is aware which is more amusing. Perfectly aware. He just doesn’t want to admit it.

Jared grabs the imaginary microphone (a sugar shaker from the main counter), and hops up on to table seven with David Lee Roth’s first ‘JUMP!’, teetering the table back and forth. The customers look on, twisted looks of entertainment and secondhand embarrassment crossing their faces as Jared jumps down from the table and continues to dance and scoot along the floor of the cafe, legs kicking arms flailing and he looks like a baby duckling trying and failing to fly, bangs in his eyes and ass perky.

He twirls his way over to Jensen, head banging to the synthesizer and rolling his hips as he lip syncs the entire first verse and chorus, acting for all the world like he’s the king of 80s mullet rock.

If Jensen weren’t so mortified, well, he’d be kind of turned on.

“What are you doing?” He barks upwards, sounding for all the world like a grumpy old man shooing kids off his lawn. “Peace disturber. I hope Gen throws you out.”

Gen’s resounding cackle indicates that nothing of the sort will be happening any time soon. Figures.

“God I love the eighties!” Jared bites his lip, doing a little two step that looks like it could be an actual dance step until he trips over his own feet, collides sharply with a table, knocking over a tray of scones and causing the old lady lifting her cup to her lips to squawk indignantly. He rights himself, apologizing profusely to the old lady, and Jensen walks back over to his table amidst the commotion. Jared dances--if that’s what you can call it--his way back over to the jukebox to turn the volume down halfway before saying, “It’s called dancing Jensen. Fun. You know fun, right? You’ve heard of it?”

“I think I missed the lecture on that one during college.” Jensen answers blandly, looking down at his laptop because he’s supposed to be writing, goddammit. 

He doesn’t realize Jared has sashayed his way over to Jensen until the view of his laptop is skewed by a waving hand, right in his face. “Ha. I bet you’re that one kid that missed sex ed in high school too.”

Jared waltzes away, hips shaking and Jensen shifts in his seat, heart suddenly hammering. No. He definitely didn’t miss the sex education class, that’s for sure.

The door to the kitchen bangs open, revealing a man taller than even Jared, hulking in the doorframe and glaring. Jensen has only seen Jeff Morgan--sole and rightful owner of the Grain--emerge in the daylight a few times, and both of those times had involved crises with the customers so out of control that even Gen’s best efforts couldn’t tamper them down.

Jensen vaguely recalls both of those incidents having something to do with people tampering with the jukebox; Jeff’s Coup de grâce, the absolute pride and joy of the Grain, more so than all the actual coffee related business combined. He’d once heard Gen tell Osric that the jukebox was a family heirloom, and that it used to sit in a diner where Elvis ate all the time, something like that. It had been updated to accommodate iPods and more modern music, but for the most part Jeff kept it on a playlist that didn’t really go past the early nineties. The point is, people didn’t mess with the jukebox unless they were Jeff, or Gen with the pre-approved playlist choices from Jeff.

Which is probably why everyone in the Grain is suddenly sitting as if they’re about to witness an execution.

Jared shakes his ass into the center of the cafe and stops, the perfect picture of innocence as he stands at attention looks up at Jeff shyly.

“Uh. Hi.” Jared gives the patented eager to please smile. Jeff’s expression darkens.

There's a moment where Jensen’s not entirely sure that Jeff won’t kill Jared with his bare hands, and there’s certainly a moment where it looks like Jeff would like to give it a serious effort. But instead he turns to the right.

“Gen!” Jeff, roars, the timbre of his voice practically shaking the rafters of the coffee shop, “Why are their flowers on my napkins?”

“The company was having a sale on the floral prints instead of our usual coffee cup embellishments. I saved us money.” Gen replies calmly, like the terrifying man above her isn’t making pretty much everyone in the cafe nervous.

“But not my reputation,” Jeff grouses, fitting a backwards baseball cap on his head, “The Grain is my child. My manly, well established, not floral child. There’s a reason the walls are covered in old rock album covers and not paintings of naked cherubs, Cortese.”

“Hilarie called,” Gen responds by way of answer, “She says to pick up formula and tampons at the convenient store, and requests that you not grab another romantic comedy from the Redbox. She says she wants an action movie, and that any and all Nicholas Sparks movies will be vetoed from date night.”

“I married a heathen. Who doesn’t like Nicholas Sparks?” Jeff shakes his head, and Jared lets out a laugh that he glares sharply at, before sighing, “That woman’s gonna kill me. You,” He points at Jared, “If you’re gonna stand behind the counter and use the jukebox and drink my coffee without paying--yes I know about the tab--you better be ready and knowing how to make a large Lady Impala or get the hell out of my establishment. And you,” he redirects his finger at Gen, “Manly napkins. Manly. With pictures of skulls on them or something. And tell Hil I’m bringing home rom coms tonight, whether she likes it or not.”

Jeff lumbers around to head back into the office when Jared suddenly pipes up, “Half and half or whole cream?”

The doors to the kitchen swing open again as Jeff stomps back out, towering. “Come again?”

“You wanted a Lady Impala,” Jared says politely, and Jensen wonders how Jeff’s not bowled over by the genial and polite expression, the helpful smile, because he sure is,  “Dark roast with one shot of black licorice syrup and two sugars. Half and half or whole cream?”

Jeff leans against the doorway, eyes narrowed. “Say I want a Devil’s Trap instead.”

“Black or blonde, and might I suggest switching out the amaretto shots for hazelnut instead?”

They stare each other down for a solid moment, and then Jeff says. “Fine. You’re hired.” Before slamming the kitchen doors. “Work off your tab first! And then you get paychecks!”

Jared visibly sags in relief, and winks at Jensen, like he’d been planning this all along.

“You’re lucky he didn’t skin you alive.” Jensen says, sympathizing fully with Jeff’s simple acceptance of Jared.

“I wouldn’t say lucky. I have to work here, with your ugly mug every morning.” Jared says back, but it’s without venom, and he’s smiling almost fondly in Jensen’s direction as he delivers the insult. “And it’s not like we’re surprised, I mean, we all know I’ve got the world in the palm of my hand.”

Maybe not the world. But he’s got Jensen, at the very least.

Gen rolls her eyes, reaching under the counter and pulling out a cerulean apron that she tosses at Jared’s direction, hitting his face with a thwap.

“Suit up, barista boy, and turn down that music. You just assigned yourself to Operation Hell, with me as your drill sergeant. Time to start your teachings.” Gen grins.

And so, Jared goes from homeless stranger to Jensen’s barista boy in two seconds flat. All in all, it’s no change from the schedule they’d already arranged, except Jared is more than ever before bent on making Jensen’s drinks, and Jensen spends whole days, entire eight hour shifts, in the warm sunlit area of the Grain, week after week after week. Jared’s often busy, but he  makes a point to come by every half hour or so to clean tables and strike up a conversation with Jensen that never quite seems to end.

These exchanges, though superficial, and often full of insults and light hearted banter, mean more to Jensen then he is able to articulate, but he feels it change him, this easy companionship--friendship--with Jared. The usual stress of casual conversation vanishes whenever Jared is around, and Jensen feels almost loose, almost relaxed.

Jensen also finishes his first draft of his latest novel in the weeks that slip by, and despite how distracted he’s been, it’s the most effortless draft he’s ever committed to writing, practically rolls off the tongue as he writes it. Nevertheless, the completion of the draft is an exhausting event within itself, and with it comes an immense relief, and when he slips into the Grain, Jared’s waiting at the counter, wrapped in his blue apron like the perfect congratulatory present.

“Black coffee.” Jensen says.

“He’ll have the chai tea latte.” Jared tells Gen, and then slaps an envelope down on counter, “Look at this. Ain’t she beautiful? First official paycheck. I nearly cried when Gen gave it to me.” He strokes the paycheck reverently, like he’s just received the Holy Grail, before tucking it back into his pocket, eyes crinkling, “Why are you smiling at me like that?”

Jensen wasn’t even aware he had started smiling; a common side effect of being around Jared.

“I just finished my most recent assignment. Feels good,” Jensen shrugs.

“Congrats! You deserve a break, at least for a while.” Jensen perks up. “Oh my god, that means you’re coming to open mic night, right?”

Open Mic Night is a event first concocted back when Jensen first started attending the Grain; a bi-monthly event where the entire town of Carver packs themselves into the Grain like sardines and sing songs, perform karaoke, and further demonstrations of various talents. Fun, Jensen’s sure, but a social environment that still manages to make his stomach tighten imperceptibly at the thought of it. There’s no evident reason for going, and no one expects him to as is.

“Can’t. I’ve got a thing.” Jensen lies, anxiety rearing its head in his gut and sniffing the air hopefully.

“A thing?” Jared asks doubtfully.

“A very important thing.” It’s pathetically obvious that Jensen is lying, but when Jared opens his mouth to inquire further Gen interjects, “Don’t even bother. You’ll never get him to come. Jensen Ackles and Open-Mic Night are two words that just don’t go together in the same sentence.”

“Why not?” Jared squawks, stealing the Chai Tea latte from Gen’s hands to start the foam art; an artfully drawn penis.

“I don’t care much for crowds.” Jensen explains, hoping Jared will pick up on the subtext and leave well enough alone. He takes the latte from Jared and raises an eyebrow at the foam art, which Jared appears to not notice. 

“It’s barely even a crowd. And they’re not strangers, they’re the community. Your community,” Jared argues, then leans on the counter, hands clasped as he begs, “Please come? Pleeaaaaaase? I’ll never ask you for anything again. I’ll make your coffee just the way you like it for the rest of forever. Hell, I’ll drink black coffee too if it makes you happy!”

Jensen takes a sip of his penis-latte art with an unimpressed expression, ignoring the small timid part of him that kind of wants to go. He’d have fun, and the idea of spending time with Jared at a time that isn’t the earlier hours of the morning is intriguing, and Jensen’s want peaks a little higher. “I’ll think about it.”

“He’s not gonna shut up unless you promise you’ll come.” Gen inputs. “Open mic night starts at eight. For god’s sake bring enough ear plugs to share. Christ knows what we’ll do if this idiot starts singing.”

And as if he’d been cued, Jared breaks out into a song montage of all eighties songs; the Cars to Cheap Trick and Van Halen, so out of tune that Jensen can’t help but crack a smile that bursts into laughter.

“Alright, I’ll go!” He wheezes, and Jared breaks in a fit of joy that goes off like an atomic bomb, cheers and smiles that incinerate any worries Jensen had been having in the first place.

“Oh my god. I cannot wait.” Jared prattles, “You’re gonna finally meet Chad--Chad’s my best friend--we’re gonna eat, drink and be merry. Dress sharply, Ackles, and be ready to partay!”

Jensen highly doubts that any form of party in a town like Carver is going to be all that eventful, but he nods like he’ll follow Jared’s instructions, and takes his usual seat by the window, with no other intent apart from sipping his phallus decorated coffee that’s too sweet, and watching Jared stand at the counter, still babbling about Open-Mic night. Jared talks until he’s run out of steam, then picks up a whistled rendition of ‘Feels Like the First Time’ for the rest of his shift, interrupted only by the occasional smile thrown in Jensen’s direction.

Jensen falls asleep later that night with the song on repeat in his head.

By the time Open-mic  night rolls along, Jensen’s completely forgotten why he’d promised Jared he’d going the first place. Jensen’s not going. He can’t.

There are approximately six hundred and seventy two other things he’d rather be doing on a Saturday night, and sitting in The Grain with a tightly packed crowd watching townies living out their American-Idol fantasies is not one of them. Yet he finds himself strolling into the Grain anyhow--tentative, albeit a little late, but there all the same.

The Grain is absolutely packed, every stray chair and bench and beanbag taken up by occupants. He’s almost surprised to find out that Carver even has this many people living in it.

The tables have all been pushed to the edges of the café, making room for all the chairs and couches, arranged into neat little rows. There’s a small elevated platform in the left of the café near the jukebox, where a black electronic keyboard is set up with a microphone. Twinkling lights are strung up in the rafters, dangling like jungle vines above the crowd’s head, highlighting the many classic rock posters pasted along the walls. Alona Tal—the local doctor’s girl, is sitting at the piano under the soft lighting, playing what sounds like Mozart on the piano, as people mill about, grabbing coffee, sipping their friend’s drinks, munching on an assortment of cupcakes and scones that look and smell like Gen’s finest work.

He feels oddly removed from the relaxed and happy atmosphere, despite standing in the middle of it. Not to mention overdressed in his nice dark rinse jeans, his light jean button up. The gel he’d decided to put in his hair last minute was probably also overdoing it as well. But he wades through the crowd over to Gen, and she gives him a solid once over, grinning slyly, “You clean up nice, Ackles.”

She means the compliment, he knows that, and the tension in his shoulders unknots a little more. “Thanks. And I see you outdid yourself in the kitchen.”

“That was Jared’s doing.” Gen laughs. “He was so excited at the idea of you coming that he made me bake one batch of everything on our menu. I’m gonna be personally insulted if you don’t eat yourself to death tonight.”

Something fizzles out in Jensen’ brain at the notion that Jared was excited to see him, so he’s left there floundering for brain cells until someone comes up from behind him, shouting in his ear.

“You came!” A thud on his shoulder nearly knocks the wind out of Jensen and he practically stumbles, turning to find Jared grinning at him, wearing a black v-neck and jeans and looking clean and happy and warm and Jensen doesn’t realize he’s grinning back until Jared continues, “What happened to your Thing?”

Jensen waves his hand in the air. “The Thing can wait.”

Jared looks pleased at that, and opens his mouth just as someone at the end of the counter shouts, “Jay! Where’s my fuckin’ drink, what kind of jerk off customer service is this?”

“The kind that doesn’t serve alcohol.” Gen answers, pinched expression to her face as she regards the kid walking over to them. “Seriously, Murray, how many times have I told you? This is a coffee shop. We sell coffee here.”

Spiky blonde hair, a t-shirt that reads ‘Orgasm Rights Activist’ and the simple presence of sunglasses at eight thirty at night tell Jensen that the sailor mouth can only be the Infamous Chad that he’s heard Gen bemoan on multiple occasions. Jared once referred to Chad as his best friend, and Jensen can’t help but wonder at Jared’s taste in friends.

“I’ve got it.” Jared says gently, massaging Gen’s shoulders as she maneuvers around the counter. “Chad likes coffee to go with his alcohol. And don’t worry about the alcohol—he’s already miles ahead of you.”

A silver glint of flask out of the corner of Jensen’s eye pretty much says it all, and Chad bumps fists with Jared as Gen stands there, absolutely unimpressed.

“Technically speaking, you’re not on duty, Jared. So if you plan to start drinking with this…” she glances regally at Chad, “Scum, you better not come behind the counter once you do.”

“Pinky swear.” Jared says, bringing forth two mugs, half full of coffee, which Chad begins topping off with alarming amounts of amber liquid from the flask. They clink their mugs like regulars in an Irish Pub about to burst into a drinking song, sipping and whooping at the burn of alcohol.

“It’s rather archaic, isn’t it?” Gen says quietly, regarding the two of them blandly. “You think they’d learn from previous experience that Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is never a good idea at that rate, but nope. I’ll be cleaning up vomit all night with my luck.”

“Hard knock life.” Jensen replies sympathetically, tracking the motion of Jared’s throat as he throws his head back, downs his drink, banging his fist on the table like a caveman.

“Idiots. They never learn.”

“Yeah.” Jared licks stray whisky from his bottom lip.

“Puts a bit of a damper on the crush, doesn’t it?”

“I—wait, what?”

Jensen neck cricks when he jerks it in Gen’s direction, and while his expression is guilty, her smile is knowing. “The drinking. I mean, he’s not half as cute when he’s guzzling alcohol like a fish. Like I said, it puts a damper on the crush. Blame Chad. I do.”

“I don’t have a crush.” Jensen blurts, mouth twisting in a moue that feels almost childish. He feels a telltale itch underneath his skin but forces himself to stay calm, heading straight for denial and humor. “You’re crazy. We’re just friends.”

Gen raises an eyebrow but refrains from commenting further, which is a relief to Jensen above all else, as she wordlessly hands him a coffee with a resigned, “Alright Ackles, whatever you say.”

She sounds almost bored, but she gave Jensen coffee without him even having to order, so he takes up a seat at one of the extra barstools, and keeps her company.

Open-mic night is a fun and intimate event, Jensen would be an idiot to say it isn’t. He sips his coffee quietly and watches the various talent acts go up; a couple poetry readings, one really bad monologue, and multiple covers of even worse songs. He keeps one eye on the crowd and the other on Jared, who’s seemingly tipsy enough an hour later that he’s propped his feet up on the table, cheeks pink and giggly at whatever lewd joke Chad is making. When Jared’s not drinking with Chad, he’s playing emcee for the night, introducing sets and swapping banter with Chad and the crowd like he’s lived here his whole life. And the crowd, the town, adore Jared. They laugh at his jokes and catcall when he does a few of his own badly, horrifyingly out of tune karaoke renditions. Jared’s talent, evidently, is charm, and the whole town has fallen head over heels for it.

Even Jensen is not loathe to admit it; Jared is adorable.

Until he throws a wayward wink in Jensen’s direction and booms into the microphone, “Our next act is the dulcet tones of Jensen Ackles. Come on up, Jensen!”

Jensen’s jaw drops, and his coffee rolls like boiling lava in his stomach.

“I can’t sing.” Jensen says loudly. He can, however, vomit and pass out, which is what he feels like doing right this second.

“Aw, he’s shy, maybe give him some encouragement!” Jared roars towards the crowd, and they cheer and hoot in response, reaching for Jensen.

There is no way Jensen can do this. No way no how. He can deal with sitting on the outside of this, being standing at the center of attention might actually kill him. But the crowd is demanding and Jared’s looking at him hopefully, so hopefully, and before Jensen can stop himself he’s strutting over to where Chad is swaying with his alco-coffee.

“Give me that.” Jensen snaps, grabbing the flask of Fireball from Chad and taking two heavy swigs. He bites back the burn and uses it to bolster him forwards, walking over to the stage where Jared is holding out an old six string, seemingly conjured from out of nowhere.

“They’re gonna boo me off the stage.” He whispers to Jared.

Jared just winks, the little shit. “Then you better give it your all, Ackles.” He shoves the guitar into Jensen’s hands and dashes off with a cackle.

Jensen takes the guitar, the shape of the neck familiar against his palm, strings scrapping old calluses as he slides his fingers over them. He sits on the chair, feeling just a bit faint.

Christ, Gen really did put a spotlight up.

“Uh.” He looks out at the crowd, recognizing the majority of faces, people he’s seen in The Grain, maybe talked to on the street. “This was so unexpected and I am so so sorry for what’s about to happen.”

Appreciative laughter greets him back.

“What song are you singing?” Jared shouts from the back.

The handful of songs Jensen knows how to play are all rough, basic chords at best. He only knows all the words to a few of them. He decides on the first one that pops into his head.

“Um. Most of my repertoire is music from the 1980s. So uh, shout out to the power ballads, yeah?”

Jared catcalls from the back, and Jensen can feel his face going tomato red.

He inhales and exhales several times, and then plucks a few notes experimentally, before setting into the opening stanza of the song, trying not to look out into the audience at all. His voice wavers at first, and his fingers stumble on the first few chords, and it’s hard to keep his frame from shaking. He stops and restarts the song a few times, but he gets into the swing of things quick enough, chances a few glances at the audience, who at least don’t appear to be rioting in the midst of his singing. So there’s that.

I gotta take a little time
A little time to think things over
I better read between the lines
In case I need it when I'm older

It’s a cheesy song, but one Jensen has always enjoyed despite previously expressed abhorrence for most corny 80s music. He tries to focus less on how he sounds compared to the original, and instead sneaks a few more glances at the café, keeping his voice in the lower octaves, focusing on not wavering too much in pitch.

He bites back a smile at the sight of Jared holding his arm up, lit cellphone in hand, swaying back and forth to the music like it’s the goddamn Halftime show at the Superbowl and Jensen’s belting out for ESPN. Chad joins in with his own pocket lighter, and before Jensen knows it, the entire town is swaying with him, back and forth, holding cell phones out just like Jared.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like a world upon my shoulders
I through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

He pushes through the second verse and into the second chorus, listening to the lyrics and trying to sound as genuine as possible. And despite this being possibly the most cliché song in the universe, Jensen kind of gets it. Gets the idea of having been hurt before, but being willing to let someone else in after so long.  He sings to a couple of old biddies in the front row, the mother of three standing off to the left, the high school valedictorian front and center. People he’s known for years now, but for the first time in forever, it feels like he’s actually connecting to them.

In my life there's been heartache and pain
I don't know if I can face it again
Can't stop now, I've traveled so far
To change this lonely life

Last chorus, he sings in the general direction area of the back of The Grain, where he guesses more than knows Jared is standing, conveying in song what he’s never been good at in words.  His voice is slightly raspy as he pulls through on the final lines, plucking away at the guitar strings. Self consciousness is still there, but it resides dormant under the comfortable and supportive atmosphere, the unseen weight of Jared’s gaze on him.

I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me

He wraps up the song with a final strummed chord, and the Grain goes ballistic, cheering and stomping and cat calls raining down on him. Jensen sets the guitar and lets himself be swallowed by the population of Carver, all embracing him and telling him what a great voice he has. He blushes them off, exchanges heartfelt thanks with people he’d never really talked to before. And at the end of the line of fans is Jared, bleary eyed and beaming, arms open wide.

“‘I can’t sing’, he said.” Jared’s flushed and perspiring, dimples gouging his cheeks, literal face caves that Jensen can’t even begin to fathom the physics of. “‘They’ll boo me off the stage’, he said.”

Now it’s Jensen’s turn to flush, pleased. “Shaddup.”

“Liked the song choice.” Jared sways, gripping the counter and leaning into Jensen’s immediate vicinity. Which isn’t weird by any standards, Jared is frequently leaning and moving about in Jensen’s space. It’s just not very often that he lingers.

Or at least, lingers until he falls straight off his stool and into a heap on the tile. Chad cackles, doesn’t even offer to help him up.

“I’m a bit inebriated.” Jared says matter of factly from the floor.

“You’re a bit of an idiot.” Jensen responds. “C’mon big boy, I think we need to get you some air.”

He bends down, high off his own adrenaline, and loops an arm around Jared’s waist, placing a hand over his chest to keep him from keeling over as they both stand. He tries not to think about the fact that this is the first time he and Jared have been in such close proximity, concentrating on making a beeline for cool air and open space. He signals Gen, who holds the door open for them and lets it swing shut, cutting off the long drawn out boos as Chad clambers onto the stage and begins his rendition of some god-awful Gavin DeGraw song from the early two thousands.

The moon is high, a blob of whipped cream floating amidst a cup of black, and the air smells like sea salt and fog. It’s enough to clear Jensen’s head so he can release Jared, trying hard not to feel as if he’s tearing stitches off.

Jared sags against the side post of the shop porch, smiling and giggling at some inside joke Jensen hasn’t caught on to. “You’re funny.”

“And you’re drunk.”

“You are correct, sir.” Jared’s legs slide out and he falls to the top step, cackling as his rag doll limbs sprawl out over the porch.

Spiked coffee, Jensen’s ass. Chad probably just poured the whole flask into Jared’s cup, coffee be damned.

“I noticed you didn’t bring a date tonight.” Jared says after a moment.

“I was unaware that the occasion required one.”

“It didn’t. Just thought you had somebody to loooooooovvvvveeeee.” Jared croons, channeling a rather frightening Freddie Mercury impression, crackling pitchy voice making Jensen the one to cackle now.

“For your information, I don’t have somebody to love.” Jensen answers honestly a moment later, the alcohol working something loose in the back of his throat, even more so than Jared’s presence does by proxy. “I did once. But not anymore.”

Whatever cautious tone has seeped into Jensen’s voice, Jared has picked up on it, the smile fading from his face. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to—“

“No, it’s okay. Not a big deal, it ended years ago. It just—“ He fishes for the right words to describe his relationship with Misha: crazy and enigmatic and constantly pushing Jensen to think about things in different lights and perspectives would be a few. Misha challenged Jensen, sometimes ruthlessly so, and from the time he’d left college, Jensen was hopelessly smitten. It was impossible not to be, with Misha’s charisma and humor and constant tendency for adventure. Misha was the person he’d assumed was the love of his life, until he realized that Misha loved Jensen’s words more than he loved Jensen.

“It didn’t end well.” Jensen shrugs, leaving it at that.

‘Didn’t end well’ is the understatement of the year, though. After plagiarizing Jensen’s upcoming novel and dragging into a bloody lawsuit that left hardly any survivors, Misha had threatened to reveal Jensen’s real identity to the public, which would have exposed Jake Grey, and all of Jensen’s privacy with it. And suddenly years of a relationship meant nothing, because all Misha had needed was an opening and the right manuscript and he was gone. It had been ugly, the entire plagiarism debacle. The end to their relationship, even uglier.

He remembers the last fight. Remembers Misha packing up his things and shrugging off Jensen’s attempts to understand why he was doing what he was doing. ‘If you love me, then you’ll admit that the idea for this book was mine’, Misha had argued, ‘And you’ll quit this whole thing and stop being a child’.

Jensen hadn’t. Because at that time, with every other aspect of his life uprooted, the only thing he was absolutely stone cold sure of was that his words were his own, and no one else’s.

 “Why didn’t it end well?” Jared asks, the open curiosity fresh and uninhibited.

Jensen’s fingers feel very cold. “I suppose it was because we defined being in a relationship as two different things. To me, it meant trust, and understanding, and openness. I guess he didn’t see it that way it.”

Being in a relationship, to Misha, had meant sharing everything. Sharing beds, sharing food, and apparently, sharing the rights to your novel manuscripts. Misha left with the settlement money to keep his mouth shut, and Jensen left feeling numb, like he’d never be able to trust anyone ever again.

“Sorry it had to go down like that.” Jared says softly, and Jensen doesn’t know how to feel about any of this. About how he’d openly confessed his sexuality, his relationship history, his emotional baggage, to Jared and how Jared is taking it all calmly, like he’d almost been expecting it, “But I know what you mean about the whole defining a relationship in different ways,” Jared presses his palms to the porch steps and leans back, “Stephen, my ex, he was great, and we had fun but—“

“Stephen?” Jensen’s stomach lurches. “I thought you said her name was Stevie? As in Nicks?”

“Close, but no cigar.” Jared responds. “His nickname is Stevie, which is short for Stephen, as in King.”

“You’re gay.” It’s not a question.

“Yeah, I’m gay. How much Fireball did you drink?” Jared snickers, nudging Jensen’s shoulder.

Jensen feels like a raw nerve, every inch of him suddenly taught and hyper aware of Jared next to him; tipsy, touchy, happy, giggly, gay Jared.

He can’t help but hear the imaginary stadium of screaming fans like he’s just scored a touchdown.

“Way less than you, you lush.” Jensen shoves Jared and he slips down to the second step, laughing. “Tell me about Stephen.”

Jared reclines back on his elbows to stare up at the stars in the evening sky, out at the waves down by the shore.The edge of his too small t-shirt lifts, and Jensen can just make out the dip of his stomach, the protrusion of his hipbones, along a sliver of skin. “Not much to tell. We had fun. But we never connected. I woke up one morning and I realized that I’d been with someone who didn’t know me, and really didn’t care to, so long as it was easy and convenient for us to be together. We never disagreed, never fought or clashed. We essentially liked the same things. And still, it was like dating a stranger.”

“And you didn’t want that?”

Jared purses his lips in thought, tips his head back a bit. “I want someone who knows me, and that’s not necessarily the same thing as being someone who has a lot in common with me, which Stephen and I did. Bottom line: I want to be happy. I’d like to think that I deserve a happy ending. Everyone does.”

“I don’t know about that.” Jensen stares at the waves kissing along the cheek of the shore, the moon that can push and pull them but never quite embrace them. “I don’t think happy endings are for everyone. You? Sure. But not everyone.”

“Are you saying that you don’t deserve a happy ending?”

“Not that I don’t deserve one, per say. Just that some people don’t get them, is all.”

“Well, don’t you want a happy ending?”

Jensen chews at the inner meat of his lip, mulling the question over and wondering if he can twist and perceive it in a way that doesn’t entail directly answering it. He wants a happy ending, but happy endings to Jensen always seem bittersweet if you don’t have someone to share them with.  Jensen’s lonely, without a doubt. Most of his friends—the few he has, at least—are with someone, married or shacking up with a lover or adopting kids. Danni’s got her guy Chris and from what he’s heard, Misha’s off gallivanting with some French model in Morocco. For the most part it’s never bothered him, he likes keeping to himself, sticking to words and Inspiration and people who he understands without effort because they’re inside of his head.

But now, with Jared looking at him with lazily unfocused eyes, drunk and tired and hoarse from belting incredibly out of tune karaoke, Jensen is wholly perturbed by that loneliness. And he finds that he desperately wants his own happy ending; he’s just not sure if he’s ever going to get it.

“Why do you ask?”

Jared tilts his chin upward, body swaying in the general direction of ground until he changes course in a split second and drops his head against the jean clad material of Jensen’s thigh. The tip of his nose brushes against the side of Jensen’s knee and Jensen very nearly jumps out of his skin at the contact.

Jensen’s knuckles lift and if he turned his wrist slightly to the left, he’d be able to touch the fine softness of Jared’s hair.

“You look sad sometimes.” Jared answers simply. “When you think no one’s watching. Sometimes when you write too. I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not, but you do this thing. Bite your lip, stare off. You look like someone who could use a happy ending, is all I’m saying. Someone who wants one, and knows they’ve earned one.”

Jensen stares. It’s one thing that he’s known Jared a little under six months and the kid has him down to a T. It’s another thing entirely that he can make these observations while drunk and tired. It both terrifies and enthralls Jensen,  that Jared seems to know him so well, yet never hints at it, never uses that fact as leverage, never shows it off.

“Am I that transparent?” Jensen asks wryly, doesn’t bother denying or affirming Jared’s statement.

“Nah, I just,” Jared’s bottom lip wrinkles as he screws up his mouth and thinks, “Don’t laugh at me, but it’s easy for me to get a read on you. I think some people are just that way from the start; familiar to you. You never really have to get to know them because it’s like you’ve known them your whole life. Sort of like when you read a certain book after years of not reading it and get the same feeling from it every time; you know what to expect, and you can predict when the words are going to make you laugh or cry. And those feelings never get boring, they’re just familiar. Comfortable, safe,” Jared huffs a laugh, warm against Jensen’s jeans, “And now I’m blathering. Sorry. It tends to happen under the influence of alcohol. But, do you get what I’m saying? You’re not transparent, Jensen, you’re just…you’re something I’m somehow familiar with right off the bat. Someone I understand without trying too hard. Does that make sense?” He cranes his head back, looks up at Jensen through bleary and slanted and beautiful eyes.

Jensen doesn’t believe in cupid but he can’t help but feel the sudden urge to check for a protruding arrow from his chest. His heart hurts in his rib cage.

“Yeah.” He admits with a whisper. “Yeah that makes perfect sense.”

And they’re easily a foot apart but then Jensen’s leaning and Jared’s craning and the porch is bathed in yellow light and Jared smells like cinnamon whisky and coffee. Jared’s eyelashes cast a shadow when he glances down at Jensen’s mouth, catching his own bottom lip between his teeth and biting, nervous, but still not breaking his earnest and fond gaze.

It’s as if even in the throes of the moment Jared still feels the need to be as genuine as possible.

Jensen hates him. Jensen’s terrified of him.

Jensen wants to climb him like a fucking tree. 

The door bangs open as customers come spilling out, all laughing good naturedly, bundling into sweaters and scarves as they head home, and Jared and Jensen scoot apart to make room for them as they exit, the two of them pink cheeked and avoiding eye contact.

Gen pops her head out and says, “Jay, I’m either going to need you on cleanup or Chad-removal. Asshole won’t put the goddamn karaoke mic down.”

If there weren’t people around, Jensen would be shaking his middle finger at the sky.

“I’m on it.” Jared swings up to follow her back in, surprisingly deft for someone who claimed to be drunkenly rambling just a minute ago.  Gen disappears and Jared turns, hanging off the door, smiling at Jensen.

And it’s a whole new kind of smile, something private and fond that makes Jensen want to bolt, or maybe combust, or maybe drag Jared right back down and never let him leave.

“You’re a good guy, Jensen,” Jared says softly, “Terrible taste in beverages, but hey, nobody’s perfect.”

“Gee, thanks.” Jensen drawls, standing up himself, as the last of the patrons clear out of the coffee shop.

“Nah, I mean it. I—“ Jared stops, sort of a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face for a moment. Then he ducks forward and pecks Jensen’s cheek, lips scraping Jensen’s five o'clock shadow too fast to even really be considered a sensation.

And just like that, he’s gone, leaving Jensen alone and grinning like a fucking idiot. It takes all his strength to resist breaking into song and dance on the front porch of The Grain.

Chapter Text

“Absolutely not.” Jensen declares, as soon as Jared sets his drink down in front of him.

Jared squawks. “What? What could possibly be wrong with this one? It’s black coffee!”

“You put whipped cream on it.”

“Fine,” Jared grabs a spoon from the counter and scoops Jensen’s whipped cream off the top and into his mouth.

“Well now it’s definitely no dice.” Jensen remarks. “Your cooties are all over the cup.”

Jared laughs at that, the greasy sheen of his hair catching in the morning sky light of the Grain. He had tumbled into work just on time for his shift, looking slightly hungover from last night, but happy. Really really happy.

He sighs, now, grabbing what is now Jensen’s fifth drink in fifteen minutes. Jared claims to be determined to find one that Jensen likes, and has been throwing in all different flavor and syrup combinations for Jensen test out, but to no avail.

Maybe Jensen’s being a little shit about it, but who cares? Jared’s stubborn pout when Jensen turns down a drink is easily the most adorable thing to ever grace the planet.

“Fine. One black cup of tar coming right up.” Jared rolls his eyes and smiling.

“And turn the music down!” Jensen snaps after him. “Can’t hear myself think over this racket.”

“That so-called racket is the greatest hits of the eighties, be nice.” Jared tuts.

“You know what else was a hit of the eighties? Mullets and leather pants. Not much to judge by.”

“Excuse you, Wake me Up Before You Go Go is the perfect morning jam, and unless you want to be charged extra for the sass, I’d suggest you keep it down.”

A guitar solo kicks in as Jensen takes his sixth and final cup of coffee with silence, making no comment but to raise an eyebrow at the electronic drums and happy singing.

Jared’s shift ends mid-afternoon and much to Jensen’s pleasure, he hops straight over the counter, bee lining for Jensen’s table. Never mind that Jensen should probably start working on his final draft. Never mind that he should have left for home and quieter writing space hours ago. Never mind that there’s probably more coffee in his veins than water. Jared makes a beeline him and that’s all the reason Jensen needs to stay rooted to the spot.

He picks the conversation right where they left off, and the familiarity and ease of it makes Jensen want to sing all over again.

“The problem with you,” Jared pulls out a chair and sits, a cake-pop from the counter in one hand and a Caramel Iced Mocha with extra Caramel and Chocolate syrup and whipped cream on top in the other, “Is that you’re just not willing to open your eyes to the possibility of it.”

“The possibility of what?” Jensen raises an eyebrow. “Horribly corny eighties music assaulting my ear drums or sickeningly sweet chemicals topped with whipped cream going into my bloodstream?”

“Both.” Jared concedes. “Your problem is, you lack culture.”

Jensen laughs at that, because only Jared would find culture in such silly and frivolous things as Frappucinos and Wham! That logic and reasoning is something that Jensen will never fall in line with, never agree with, yet he’s starting to see the appeal of it more and more every day.

“I don’t get it…” He pulls out some extra notebook paper, absentmindedly drawing and redrawing his tattoo along the blue and pink lines, a numbing task that allows him to look at something other than Jared, “You read Jake Grey novels. You have taste, but you listen to such crap. Why is that?”

“Because you need to enjoy the stupid things as much as the intelligent things. Pop culture is culture, and appreciating it is not a flaw,” Jared shrugs, “I could be an elitist douche bag who listens only to Mahler and Arcade fire, or I can rock out to Britney Spears and the best of the eighties as well. Sometimes it’s good to just let go of all things meaningful and weighted and just…jump around and act like an idiot. It does wonders for your complexion, fun. You should try it, you look awful.”

“Oh yeah?” Jensen draws the half rest slowly, traces the outer dark edge with his pen, thickening the line.

“Nah, I’m just messing. You couldn’t look awful in a million years. Not even if you tried.”

Jensen feels heat rise in his face as he looks up, but Jared doesn’t so much as blink, completely and disgustingly sincere, just like he is with every other stupid thing that comes out of his mouth. Jared takes another loud slurp of his coffee, the picture of casual. The rim of his cup lowers to reveal whipped cream sticking to the snowdrop tip of his nose and as he puts the cup down.

“You’ve got—, “Jensen laughs, making an inane gesture towards his face.

“What?” Jared puts the cup down. He crosses his eyes, swipes at his lip, helpless as he tries to get it off, a puppy chasing his tail.

“Alright, calm down, hold still.” Jensen grouses, rising slightly and reaching out to smudge at the cream with his thumb, fingers brushing along Jared’s chin and mouth by accident.

Jared looks up through eyelashes that are so long they’re pretty, and Jensen feels something like heated caffeine rush through his bloodstream that’s got nothing to do with the coffee, because he’s barely had a sip.

“So uh,” Jared does look down now, and Jensen may or may not be hallucinating the sudden color in his cheeks, “Last night was fun, huh?”

“It was something.” Jensen concedes, leaning back in his chair, giving a self deprecating shrug. “I don’t think I’ve been so embarrassed in my life.”

“Well, you shouldn’t. You were good. Even if you totally sang a corny love ballad.”

“I told you I—“

“Yeah yeah, only knew a few songs but let’s not lie Jensen, you may claim culture but you’re just a pop junkie like the rest of us,” Jared grins cockily, “It won’t be long now.”

“Won’t be long till what?”

“Till I win the war. You’ll give in to sweetened coffee. To eighties music. To fun. It’s only a matter of time.” Jared downs the rest of his drink, licking his lips till they’re shiny with saliva and popping the entire cake ball in his mouth so his cheeks bulge like a chipmunk. It’s simultaneously one of the most attractive and unattractive images Jensen’s ever seen, and he’s got to give credit to Jared for accomplishing both at once.

“And what happens when you win?”

Jared shrugs, speaking around a mouthful of cake ball. “Enslavement. Coercion. You let me read whatever you write on that little laptop of yours.”

“Nice try. Any other bright ideas?”

Jared flushes again, pressing his mug between his hands. “A few. Still working out the details, testing some theories as to whether they’re a good idea.”

He glances upwards at Jensen through his bangs, all at once shy again, and there it is again, just like it had been last night, and the morning for that, and all the other mornings before that. Opportunity, balanced and wavering like a cup of tea just about to spill over.

But tipping too much will spill, and spills make messes. Jensen’s not ready for messes. Not yet.

“Well, keep hoping and dreaming on those theories.” Jensen jokes, sliding his laptop into his bag and suddenly needing to get out of there. He tears the doodles from his notebook and crumples it on the table next to his used mug. “But you haven’t won yet, Padalecki.”

There’s a second where Jared blinks, and a shadow flickers in his eyes that almost looks like hurt, but it’s masked by a confident smile when he scoffs and says. “Do your worst, Ackles, I’m ready for a fight.”

That’s exactly what scares Jensen the most. 

 

He considers asking Jared out, weighs the options like elements to a plot he’s sketching out.

Asking Jared out isn’t really something that has the ‘will he won’t he’ clause in it, because as nervous as Jensen is around Jared, as much as Jensen likes Jared, maybe more-than-likes Jared, most of the time he’s pretty sure that Jared—if the incident on Karaoke night was anything to go by—is at least a smidge interested. But other times, doubt creeps in and allows Jensen to rationalize that on karaoke night, Jared had been drunk. And the other times from that Jared was friendly, sure, but Jared’s friendly with everyone. Jared’s even friendly with Jeff, who rarely comes into the store but to snap about scrubbed counters and put more classic rock posters up on the wall.

A month goes by, and Jensen does nothing but sit on the idea. Preps for his book release and picks his cover design, finishes the last minute details pre-publication, and allows the idea of dating Jared to fester in the back of his mind like a sore, the idea once planted, now impossible to begin with. 

The outlook is bleak. But Jensen is feeling a new kind of runner’s high every time he looks at Jared, some kind of lift in his chest that makes him think ‘maybe this time’ as opposed to the ‘never again’ that looking at potential love interests used to make him feel.

Still, he’s going to try. He has to try. He gets off a Skype meeting with the publishers one morning and, at their enthusiastic reception of the book, feels himself as happy and ready as he’ll ever be.

This is the resolve he holds close as he walks into the Grain early the on the twenty sixth morning since the thought of asking Jared out first popped into his head.

“You okay?” Gen raises an eyebrow, watchful as she pours Jensen’s coffee.

“Um. Yeah.” Jensen didn’t realize he was so twitchy, forces his hands to be still at his sides. “I just…do you know what time Jared’s coming in?”

“You could just ask for his number, you know, it would make this whole thing a lot easier for you.” Gen says casually, but Jensen just stares her down with an alarmed and completely shut off expression until she sighs, pushing Jensen’s mug over the counter to him. “He’ll be here by eleven.”

Eleven indeed hails in Jared like a tornado, dashing in and banging the door, looking way more enthused than usual, running over to the counter, yelling excitedly, gesturing for him to come over.  Jensen, who did absolutely nothing but sit for a solid two hours, is so so relieved he’s damn near catatonic by the time Jared enters.

“Hey Jared, I wanted to ask you—“ Jensen starts as soon as he approaches the counter, feeling that if he doesn’t push the words out now, they’ll never come.

“Wait wait wait--” Jared holds up his hand. “You’re not going to believe this. Hell, I might actually pee my pants.”

“What is it?” Gen swings around to peer over his shoulder as Jared fishes through his messenger bag, pulling out a crumpled letter and something covered in bubble wrap.

“I won the Jake Grey essay contest!” Jared beams.

Jensen’s stomach drops.

“The what contest?” Gen snatches the letter from Jared’s hand.

“Jake Gray, world famous award winning author? His publishers, they held this writing contest thing, and I won! I got an autographed copy of a novel of my choice. God, he never does book signings. This is incredible, I can’t believe—“ His hands scramble for a loose edge of bubble wrap and he rips into it, shredding the plastic covering to the floor.

The cover page Danneel had slipped into Jensen’s hands literal months ago, the careless signature he’d put on the page, the compliments to writing he hadn’t read, the small symbol he’d included right under his name, a doodle he’d drawn in the midst of talking to Danneel, absentmindedly staring at Jared from across the café.  Jared flips to the cover page and it’s all right there, like Jensen had just finished inscribing it, half rest, signature and all.

Jared goes very still, eyes wide.

When he raises them to Jensen, it’s like his worst nightmare come to fruition.

“What’s going on?” Gen asks, hands cocked on her hips.

“You—“ Jared’s fist dives back into bag, pulls out a sheaf of what look like random papers, bills and receipts, doctors notices, his life in paper shoved into one shoulder bag. Jensen knows the second he finds what he’s looking for, sees it in the way Jared’s frame seizes, eyes tracking from Jake Grey’s novel to the torn notebook paper he holds in his left hand, the paper Jensen had been doodling on weeks ago when they’d been sitting together.

He’d be touched that Jared thought to keep it, if this whole situation weren’t so horrifying to begin with. Another patron approaches the counter and orders something from Gen, who pulls away from the whole exchange reluctantly, but doing her job in the end, which just leaves Jared and Jensen, staring at each other, lost for words.

“Don’t freak out.” Jensen pleads, watching Jared go from amazement to excitement to near explosion in three seconds flat. He can see the smile bursting on the surface, the dimples, bearing down like the wrath of God out to smite him. “Just, whatever you do, be calm.”

“Calm.” Jared’s got a smile rising on his face like the second coming, and Jesus Christ, he’s actually excited about this, he’s actually—

He grabs Jensen and pulls him behind the counter, shouting “Gen, I need cover for just ten minutes!” before dragging Jensen back into the kitchen, with sterile stoves and homey looking cupboards where they store the mugs after closing hours. He releases Jensen’s wrist, absolutely vibrating with excitement, a little kid on twelve shots of espresso.

“You’re Jake Gray.”

“I—yes.”

“Pulitzer Prize winner, New York Times Best Seller.”

“Sounds about right.”

“Who else knows?”

“My publishers, my agent. My family. Close friends, my ex. That’s about it.”

Jared stares at him, like he’s not quite sure what to do with that information. Jensen has no clue exactly what is going through Jared’s head because as far as Jensen’s concerned his entire plan for how this was supposed to go was just derailed a thousand times over.

And then Jared shakes his head, a bit of the excitement oozing from him.

“God,” he says quietly, suddenly embarrassed,  “I am so out of your league.”

The stultifying realization falls in the space between them and Jensen physically steps backwards, he’s reeling so hard. “That’s not—“

“Am I wrong?” Jared asks, a harder edge to his tone this time. “I mean, you can’t blame me for hoping you’d finally pluck up the courage to ask me out, but had I known that you were Jake Grey,” Jared gestures to Jensen’s whole, as if that’s somehow superior to himself, “I wouldn’t have set myself up for that disappointment.”

“I wanted to,” Jensen blurts, mentally beating himself into submission so he can say those words, “I did, Jared, I do, but—“

“I get it, Jensen, you don’t have to explain anything to me. I’m a nobody, I get it.”

“You’re not.” It’s the first thing that Jensen says forcefully, boring his eyes into Jared’s amidst the glare of the kitchen lights. “It’s not like that, hell, I didn’t even know you were interested and—“

“Was the blatant flirting and kiss on the cheek not indicative enough?” Jared sounds a little ticked off right about now. “Hell, it’s not like you were exactly innocent yourself. You flirted back.”

Jensen flushes, thinking of all the times he’d teased Jared, let Jared sit across from him, brushed their ankles under the coffee table, wiped whipped cream from Jared’s lip. They’d gotten along from the start of this whole thing, Jensen was absolutely sure of that. But had he known for sure, had any inclination whatsoever, that his own casual flirting and crush had been reciprocated, Jensen would have said something. Jensen would have made a move sooner. Would have made a move immediately.

Right?

For someone who’s published multiple best selling novels, he really is an idiot.

“Let me ask you this, then,” Jared continues, looking uneasy as he chews the words over, “Whether we ever got around to the dating thing, or whether we just stayed friends…were you ever going to tell me? About who you are? About what you do?”

Jared looks so absolutely hopeful, so eager to share something--share anything--with Jensen, carry that secret too, that Jensen’s bravery flees for the hills, packing up all his other emotions with it.

“Honestly? I wasn’t ever going to share that part of myself with you, Jared.”

Jared visibly deflates, like a hot air balloon with a big gash on the side, quiet. “Why not?”

“Because I don’t share that kind of stuff. That’s not me, hasn’t been for a long time.” Jensen had tried sharing his life, his work, with someone before. It had only ended in heart break.

“So you’d never have told me? Ever?”

“Not if I could avoid it, no.” Jensen shakes his head firmly.

“Why not? Because you had a shitty breakup? Trust issues up the wazoo? Because you think you’re broken and fucked up and at some point along the line stopped thinking you’re deserving of your happy ending?” Jared crosses his arms over his chest and though he is slim, he’s also strong, stubborn and not budging an inch, vehemently insisting that Jensen is something worthwhile.

Jensen crosses his arms too, bristling, defensive. “I am fucked up, in case you didn’t notice, Jared. The critics got it right, I am a bitter, pessimistic person. I don’t believe in romance or sharing secrets or happy endings. I’ve learned all too well from previous experience how that doesn’t work out.”

“That’s not fair,” even in his official looking blue apron Jared looks intimidating. Not in the menacing sense, but in the sense that he’s everything Jensen’s not ready to confront, “You can’t just completely throw out the chance to have something great, just because you got hurt once before!”

“Hurt?” Jensen actively laughs, the sound swinging out of his lungs like a punch. Jared’s got no clue, not a fucking clue, what that ordeal was like. There was a reason Jensen wrote under a secret penname, created a whole other enigma so his readers, so the world, wouldn’t know exactly who it is. There’s a reason his words were given another face, another name, another identity behind them. And when Misha had threatened to destroy that, it had damn near destroyed Jensen in the process. “Hurt doesn’t even begin to cover it. My last boyfriend didn’t just hurt me, alright? He plagiarized my my writing, threatened to tell the entire world exactly who Jake Grey was. And he didn’t stop until I payed him enough to leave me. I wasn’t hurt, Jared. I was terrified.”

Just like now.

The tendons of Jared’s shoulders slump, and he edges his foot forward, stepping just a few inches closer, but it feels like he’s right in front of Jensen, instead of a whole kitchen away. “And I am sorry that that happened to you. But don’t...don’t put that on me. I’m not him. I could---I could be good, for you. We could be good, together,” Jared’s eyes are shining, whole and expressive and too much. He rakes a hand through his hair, exhaling, “Dammit, Jensen, can’t you see that I’m twelve types of crazy about you? That I care about you? What the hell am I even doing, if you haven’t realized that by now?”

“It’s more complicated than that—“ Jensen takes a step backwards, cowering.

“Except for how it isn’t. We’re two responsible consenting adults that get along. I like you, Jensen. I really really like you.

Jensen’s throat is closing up, his vision is getting blurry. Jared continues backing him up until Jensen’s pressed against the fridge doors, acting for all the world as if Jared’s pinning him, and not standing five feet away.

“I don’t—“ He can’t breathe.

“When are you going to realize that I’m not just—“

“You don’t—“ He can’t speak.

“---another asshole coming to string you along until—“

“--understand—“

“I want to be with you, you idiot, in whatever ways you’re willing to allow and—“

 “Shut up!” Jensen snaps, restraint and panic snapping like a rubber band. He hasn’t been this riled up in years, chest tight and heaving, every breath an anvil that he tries to suck down.

Jared stills.

“Look,” Jensen says hotly, nostrils flaring, a nerve pinching in his forehead, voice almost breathy with near hysteria, “You’re not my friend, and you’re certainly not my boyfriend. You’re the kid who makes the coffee, and I don’t owe you shit.”

He regrets it the second he’s said it, lashing out like a defenseless and cornered animal. But there’s no taking the words back now. Even so, Jared doesn’t even seem willing to receive them, rallying back, hackles raised.

“That’s it, Jensen? I’m the barista boy; that’s really all I am to you?”

It’s not, Jensen wants to shout, it’s not, but you mean so much that I’m too scared to even acknowledge it.

“Relationships are messy,” he says quietly, “I don’t do messes.”

“You did them before, why not now? What’s holding you back this time?” Jared takes another step forward, and Jensen explodes, frantic.

“What’s holding me back is you! I’m holding back because you’re a mess, Jared! You’re all over the place, your entire life is disorganized and you can’t be bothered to care and I just can’t deal with that. I don’t like messes.”

He may as well have just screamed ‘I don’t like you’.

Jared’s face drops, and for the first time since entering the Grain, he can’t even raise his eyes to Jensen’s face. “Well then. I wasn’t aware I bothered you that much. Thanks Jensen.”

He steps back, straightening his apron, shaking his bangs over his eyes and obscuring his face. Jensen scrambles to steal the words back from Jared, but it’s too late, they’re out there—piping hot, burning Jensen’s tongue.

He’s tries to move forward, get Jared close again, but he’s rooted to the spot. A lighthouse calling out to the drifting ship in a dark ocean.

“Jared, I—“

“This is the kitchen, Mr. Ackles,” Jared pushes the double doors open with his foot, “Employees only. If you want your coffee, you’ll have to wait in line like the rest of the customers.”

He pauses, back to Jensen, like he’s waiting for just one more moment to see if Jensen will say something, say anything.

Jensen doesn’t.

The trashbin wobbles when Jared drops the book into it as he walks out of the kitchen, author signature and congratulatory letter tucked inside.

Jensen still goes to the Grain. It’s not really like he’s got anywhere else.

The other two coffee shops he tries to frequent are packed and uncomfortable, the employees not nearly as cheery, and even if they are the epitome of customer service, they’ve got the wrong eyes, the wrong smile. So after three days of trying other places, he gives up and turns tail for where he knows he’d have ended up eventually, despite his best efforts.

As it is, stepping through the door nearly kills him in the process.

“Good morning sir, how may I assist you today?” Jared smiles cordially, the picture of politeness, but Jensen can tell Jared’s looking straight through him, and his smile fails to reach to the dimples of his cheeks. “Would you like to try our new Mocha White Chocolate twist?”

“No, thank you.” Jensen says to his feet, unable to even look up, “Just a black coffee, please. Hold the cream and sugar.”

Jared nods mechanically, and like that, the worst of it is over. Jensen pays and says ‘thank you’ to his feet and sits in the front of the coffeeshop for two hours like he’s waiting for something, yet every time Jared walks by to restock napkins or wipe down a table, Jensen doesn’t say a word, hardly moves where he’s cemented to his chair.

It goes like this for two weeks. That’s apparently a long enough time before Genevieve decides to take pity on him.

He’s staring at a blank document that is supposed to be his dedication for the novel. Every other part is decided on; the cover, the title, the summary, all of it. But Jensen hasn’t got a clue who or what to dedicate this to. The chair across from him scrapes, but he can’t even hope to wonder if it’s Jared, because he can hear Jared over by the register, talking animatedly with Matthew Cohen about football.

She pushes a cup of fresh roast into his hands, hangs her apron up on the back of her chair. It’s her break time, her singular half hour of freedom before heading back to her shift. He’s got no clue why she’s spending it sitting across from him.

“You could apologize, you know.” Genevieve speaks after several seconds of silence, somehow managing to make the words sound unharsh. “He’d forgive you.”

“He won’t even look at me.” Jensen mutters, just as Jared exits from the kitchen with a steaming tray of croissants. He’s whistling brightly and listening as Cohen rants about the Longhorns on the other end of the counter, and Jensen curls into himself, accepting his cup of coffee with a wince.

“Look, I don’t know exactly what’s going on with you two. But I do know Jared, and I know that he’s only been legitimately angry maybe twice in his life. This is not one of those times. You should talk to him. I think he’d appreciate the effort alone.” Gen undoes her hair from it’s ponytail and begins to braid it over her shoulder as she talks quietly.

“Has he said anything?” Jensen stares at Jared out of the corner of his eye, flicking his eyes back to Gen when her expression changes, going from confidential to gentle, lips twisting in a sad smile.

“He stopped singing in the shower.” She says simply, and if that is supposed to have relevance to Jensen’s disaster of a love life in this moment, it’s certainly lost on him.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Oh, you poor, poor, sweet, obtuse blockhead.” Gen reaches back into her apron pocket and shoves a sesame seed bagel into Jensen’s hand that he most certainly does not remember ordering, along with three cream cheese packets, “Eat this. You look peckish. I’ll consult my fellows on the Jared Situation.”

They spend the rest of the break sitting across from each other, Gen watching Jensen like a hawk as he eats every last bite of that bagle.

She was right, he’d been starving.

He decides, if it comes to that, that he will shamelessly and proudly dedicate the novel to Genevieve. She’s deserving of it, at the very least.

‘The fellows’ that Gen had promised to consult on the Jared Situation turns out to be one Mr. Chad Michael Murray, who swaggers into the Grain and marches towards Jensen like he woke up five minutes ago, despite the fact that it’s three in the afternoon. Jared got off his shift all of ten minutes prior, and Gen doesn’t look at all alarmed by Chad’s entrance, which, considering her previously expressed revolt, should have tipped Jensen off immediately.

“Alright, Fuckface, listen up.” Chad’s sunglasses slip down his nose as he throws himself into the chair across from Jensen, who’s suddenly assaulted by the very intense smell of vomit and last night’s liquor. He’s pretty sure Chad’s a stringbean who couldn’t really be threatening if he tried, but his eyes are squinty enough and his voice is deadly enough that Jensen raises his head, pays attention, coolly takes a sip of coffee as Chad folds his hands in a formal manner, steepling his fingers, serious.

“It has been brought to my attention that you wish to stick your dick into my best friend’s asshole.”

Jensen inhales his coffee and Gen openly groans from the counter.

“This is fine with me,” Chad continues, solemn, over the sound of Jensen hacking up the contents of his lungs, eyes watering, “Because as far as I’m concerned, Jay would happily take your dick, no matter how fucked up you are. Dude is bent, and he’s sure not budging. So, as the best friend and sole sane witness, this dick to ass union has my blessing.”

He’s not entirely sure what’s more surprising, that Jared is best friends with someone like Chad, or that Chad gave his approval so easily.

“Thanks?” Jensen rasps, and Chad nods sagely.

“That being said, you need to apologize, asshole. Or we’re gonna have some serious shit to duke out.”

“I told Gen, and I’m telling you, he won’t even look at me.” Jensen says miserably.

“Jay often needs the alternative approach, okay? You’ve gotta romance him, surprise him. He’s too smart to go the conventional route. You have to do the extraordinary to deserve the extraordinary. And Jay? He’s pretty motherfucking extraordinary.”

At least they agree on one thing.

“The thing about my best friend, Ackles,” Chad kicks his legs up on the table, unabashedly, “Is that he’s kind of a sap. It’s the reason he stayed with that prick Stephen for so long. They’d have a tiff, or Jared would get doubts, Stephen would bring a bouquet of roses, read some kind of stupid love poem, and that was it, that was all Jared needed. I’m not saying you should just expect to get out of the apology, because you need to fuckin’ apologize. But just know that the way to Jay’s heart is a lot simpler than you think. Plus,” Chad raises an inquisitive eyebrow, “It helps that he’s got a mile long boner for you. He’s into the whole ‘sugar daddy’ thing, or whatever the fuck you are.”

“I am not a sugar--”

“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger!” Chad holds his hands up in defense. “Whatever Grandpa angle you’re working with your brooding and your singing and your basic bitch coffee, he’s into it, he wants you to love him long time, all that shit. But you’ve got to tell him, make the grand gesture, and apologize, or you’ll never get anywhere. And Jay will have blue balls for the rest of his goddamn life and I don’t want my dumbass friend to have blue balls for the rest of his life. Got it?”

“You couldn’t have just said ‘my friend likes you, be nice to him’?” Gen asks from the counter, watching as a few customers walk out the door, looking absolutely scandalized at Chad’s speech, “You had to go and make it that much worse?”

“I’m Chad Michael Motherfuckin’ Murray, Cortese.” Chad swings himself from his chair, walks over to the counter, takes a cookie off the tray, pecks Gen’s cheek, ducks her responding swat, and heads for the door, “That should be answer enough.”

He stops at the door, rounding on Jensen once more and pointing a finger. “Apologize. Make the grand gesture. Then bang his brains out Ackles, for the love of Christ. I may be his best friend, I may be the world’s greatest friend, but there’s only so many leaps and bounds I will take to make that kid happy. And I tend to draw the line at platonic ass fucking.”

The door crashes shut and Jensen stares, with no idea what just happened.

“He’s a lot more affectionate when he’s drunk, believe it or not.” Gen sighs, coming over to wipe off the dirt that Chad’s sneakers had sprinkled onto Jensen’s table. “But trust me, as far as introductions go, Chad likes you.”

“Really?” Jensen says uneasily, watching as Chad climbs into the absolute douchiest car and drives off at ninety miles an hour in a pedestrian zone.

“Compared to how he acted around Stephen,” Gen shrugs, “That was tame. You’re like the second coming. But, be aware, that’ll only last so long as you follow through.”

“What’s he gonna do, kill me and hide the body?”

“Probably try to drunkenly hit you, miss, and then puke on your shirt. I’m the one who does the dirty work.” Gen says casually, before walking back to the kitchen and beginning to grind a fresh batch of roast.

Funnily enough, Jensen gets the sense that she wasn’t even lying.

The worst part of it is that he misses Jared, despite the fact that he sees Jared practically every day in this goddamn coffee shop that’s too small to avoid run-ins in. But the Jared that smiles politely and speaks in clipped phrases isn’t his Jared. His Jared dances around and bounces and forces him to try ten types of coffee. His Jared sits in comfortable silence and flashes his dimples in Jensen’s direction every time he smiles.

But, like Chad said, Jensen’s got to earn the right to have that version of Jared back.

And Jensen has crap, he knows he has crap. He has baggage and emotional trauma and childhood anxieties that still threaten to cut his windpipe off when things get really tough. But admitting that, acknowledging that, does absolutely nothing for Jensen’s present state of mind.

Acknowledging his crap certainly isn’t the same as dealing with it. 

So he can sit here, drink his coffee, go home, and repeat the same cycle of silence with Jared until either Jared gets another job or Jensen moves away.

Or he can do something about it. Right the fuck now.

He gets a text from Danneel, pulling him out of his reverie with a sharp chirp from his cell phone.

Got that dedication we talked about?

He types it in, fingers just barely hesitating over the keypad. Jake Grey doesn’t often make dedications. Usually leaves cryptic author’s notes in the form of sad poetry. Jake Grey doesn’t have sentimental messages.

But Jake Grey didn’t write this story, Jake Grey isn’t even a real person. Jensen wrote this story, felt the words spill from his fingertips like a bag full of marbles, clattering and rolling around until they finally settled in the correct pattern.  And Jensen is a person with thoughts and feelings and sentimental things that he’s always hid behind someone else’s name. But he’s finding that he’s getting just the slightest bit tired of hiding from everyone in his life.

He hits send and hopes to God he doesn’t regret it, that the dedication he chose--sweet, and to the point--is enough to get the job done.

You’ve got it bad, don’t you? Danneel texts back a few minutes later, I like it. I’ll put it in and send you the preliminary copy ASAP.

Jensen scrolls back up to stare at the text he’d sent, heart pounding in his chest.

Dedicated to Jared—

For adding sugar to my cup.

It’s not nearly enough to fix everything he’s managed to muck up.

But it’s a start.

Jensen wrote a speech.

He spent forty minutes practicing it in the mirror, staring at his own wide green eyes and wishing his hair wasn’t so dull and that his freckles weren’t so copious and that his voice wasn’t so rough every time he opened his mouth to speak.

He wrote a speech has it memorized and written on the inside of his palm in case he needs it for reference, but it still takes Jensen a whole hour and a half of staring at the coffee counter before he can approach it.

He’s been aware of Jared like a metal detector dragging over a sandy beach, body wired to pick up on every gesture or sound Jared makes, even from this distance away.

It’s pathetic, to say the least. But Jensen’s long abandoned his pride at this stage in the game.

He approaches the counter on tenterhooks, and the second Jared raises his eyes from where he was counting cash at the register, Jensen forgets the speech he wrote, forgets the rehearsal he did, forgets everything that he’d been planning to say and how to speak English on top of all that.

“Can I help you, sir?” Jared’s tone is perfectly polite, but he also stares at Jensen with a gaze like he doesn’t even recognize him, like they’d never even met.

“Um. I.” Jensen gives up all previous plans and settles for abruptly shoving the gift wrapped book. There are people behind him waiting to place their orders. He’d had a speech. He had. But now he’s here and Jared’s looking at him like he’s a stranger and Jensen just can’t.

“The official first printed copy.” Jensen blurts. “Release date won’t be for another month or so. But. I figured you could keep this between us. And I’m sorry.”

Jared’s eyes look down, almost robotically, from the book, then back up to Jensen.

“Will that be all, sir?” Jared asks.

No. No that will not be all, Jensen wants to say. How about we go out on a date and you read this stupid book and dog ear the corners and tell me all about your favorite parts and I’ll tell you which sentences I wrote with you in mind. Or we don’t have to talk about the book at all. We don’t even have to talk, period. Let’s just go back.

He wants to shove all those words into some sort of gesture or perfect speech, like he’d planned. Like he’d practiced. But with the way Jared’s looking at him, he shrivels, a coward. A nervous wreck.

He places the book on the counter, because Jared isn’t reaching forward to take it.

“That’ll be all.” He whispers, bolting out the coffee shop, listening as Jared moves on to the next customer with no hesitation at all.

It feels like being kicked in the gut.

Chapter Text

Jensen avoids The Grain for the entire following week, because in all honesty he doesn’t really want to know if Jared liked the book or hated the book or lit the book on fire before he so much as opened to the cover page. Any thoughts on the possibilities have Jensen clenching his fists and trying really really hard not to freak out.

Not that he’s just sitting at home twiddling his thumbs. Jensen gives several over the phone interviews with reporters about his new book, answers mail, pays off a few more bills, checks in with Danneel to see how pre-sales for the novel are going. He drives upstate to visit his family, and for a few hundred miles, leaves all anxieties and stress behind him as he pushes down the open road.He rests, or gets as much rest as he can in the current circumstances. He takes all the necessary steps to give off the impression that he isn’t mooning over someone the entire time.

That’s a lie though. Jensen does things, he does lots of things, but he does it all with Jared at the back of his mind, the ever present afterthought.

He rolls back into town on a Saturday morning, just as the sun rises above the shoreline, turning the water from black to pink to deep blue-green.

It’s good to be home.

It’s even better to be in the Grain.

“Hey Stranger!” Gen smiles from behind the register, hands on her hips, “Have a good vacation?”

“More or less,” Jensen replies, and he means it. Reconnecting with his family had felt like a douse of fresh water, not so much fixing everything in Jensen’s life as reminding him that it was okay to not be fixed. Arriving back in Carver had definitely ratcheted his stress level back up, but more of the mentality that whatever was gonna happen, was something that Jensen couldn’t control. 

He’s grateful that he only has Gen in the coffee shop this morning. She’s a presence that Jensen finds he’s actively pleased to be around, and he conveys that with a large tip, which she pockets with a huge smile.

The coffee tastes like heaven, black and pure and Jensen resigns himself to sitting in his usual spot and drinking at least two more cups, when he hears a familiar voice coming from the kitchen, and stills.

“---garlic cheese biscuits are done, but the cherry ones caught fire again. I’ll tell Jeff so he doesn’t chop your head off.” Jared pushes through the door, pink oven mitts on his hands, carrying a large tray of steaming biscuits. He stops at the sight of Jensen in his usual spot, but shakes it off like a wet dog and continues conversing with Genevieve about the flammability of cherries.

Jensen buries himself in his coffee, scent, taste and texture, and tries to remind himself that running out of the place would be counterintuitive to all his pre-established goals. Instead he politely tunes out of Jared’s conversation, stares out the window, through the window pane and over the rooftops of this small sleepy town, watching the shadows shrink in the midst of the sunrise, the choppy and churning waves turning salt water to foam and back again.

“So Gen.” Jared says, breaking through the tranquility, voice suddenly stilted and loud as he asks, “Read any good books lately?”

Jensen’s gaze snaps over to the counter so quickly he thinks he strains something.

Gen leans against the counter. “None worth recommending. Why, you got a suggestion for me?”

“To Hell and Back.” Jared says, and Jensen freezes, looking back down at his coffee, staring at the small bubbles floating against the side of the cup. If Jared’s watching him, he doesn’t even want to be aware of it, “It’s the newest Jake Grey novel, about two brothers who hunt ghosts and demons together, and die for each other. Like, a lot.”

“Sounds depressing. And kind of gay, don’t you think?”

“It wouldn’t be Jake Grey without a bit of homoerotic subtext.” Jared laughs, hanging up the oven mitts on the kitchen door. “Uh. Anyhow, it was a good read.”

A good read. Jared read it. Jared liked it. Jensen’s hands shake. Now would be the time. Now is the time. Jared’s offering it, the olive branch for Jensen to take and still he can’t, he can’t. Because the last time he did this, the last time he opened up, took the plunge--

“A good read? That’s all you have to say about it? You’re practically in love with that guy, whoever the hell he is. Tell me how you really feel.” Gen jokes. 

Jared’s responding smile is full blown, turned like a spotlight and Jensen can’t see it but god he can feel as if it’s a hot summer day in the Grain and he forgot the sunscreen, “It read like an apology. Emotional, succinct. And effective by the end.”

“Did it have a miserable ending like the rest of his goddamn books?” Gen asks.

“Surprisingly no.” Jared answers, and Jensen tells himself that he should take a sip of his coffee, or do something that isn’t just sitting there and actively listening, but not a thing comes to mind, “It’s a series, as far as I can tell, so he kind of left it open ended. You don’t really know what’s gonna happen next.”

“Do you think it’ll have a happy ending in the end?”

Jensen looks up, can’t help himself, and though Gen’s back is turned as she fiddles with the espresso machines and changes filters, Jared’s standing there, eyes on Jensen, smiling softly. Fondly.

“Guess that ball’s in Mr. Grey’s court at the end of the day. Either way, I think I’m along for the ride for wherever he decides to take the story next.”

Gen jumps when Jensen bolts out of his chair, staring at Jared, who’s looking at Jensen like...like Jensen doesn’t even know anymore. He’s got the permission, he’s got the green light. All he has to do is make a move, climb the lasting mountain of anxiety that’s been chaining him to the secluded corner of this fucking coffee shop for far too long.

He steps forward, prepared to plunge in head first, say ‘fuck you’ to every single concern he’s had about opening up to that beautiful boy standing behind the counter with the gangly arms and the golden smile.

The door bell tinkles as someone pushes their way in through the door and then, “Jare?”

Jared pales, and Gen glares towards the figure in the doorway, waspish. “The fuck do you want, Amell?”

“None of your business, Cortese.” The guy leers, and swaggers into the Grain with all the confidence of Chad but not of the finesse. The guy’s drunk. Appallingly so.

“Stephen…” Jared, who was practically glowing mere seconds ago, has never looked more meek, tiny in his large frame. “What are you doing here?”

Stephen. Jensen freezes where he’s standing, eyes tracking over the stranger. Baby blue eyes, absolutely ripped, backwards baseball cap and a face that is most definitely handsome. So this is Stephen. This is the guy that Jared used to be in love with, this is the guy come to re-proclaim his emotions at the climax of Jensen’s own emotional arc.

“Wanted to see you,” Stephen--Stevie--slurs, stumbling over to the counter and slumping against it. “Miss you Jare. Miss you so fuckin’ much.”

He makes a wild grab over the counter for Jared and Jared sidesteps, watching as Stephen falls against the counter with a thwap.

“You’re drunk,” Gen says distastefully, “It’s eight in the fucking morning, Stephen.”

“Bitch.” Stephen snaps, and Jared bristles instantly.

“Don’t call her that.” He snaps.

“She’s being mean!” Stephen whines.

“You’re being rude! I told you not to come here, Stephen, I fucking--” Jared fists a hand in his hair, coming out from behind the counter, lowering his voice, “We broke up. I don’t want to see you anymore.”

“But Jare, I miss you. I love you.” Stephen croons loudly.

“Yeah well, could’ve fooled me, asshole. Shoving your boyfriend over a coffee table isn’t exactly how you communicate that you love someone.”

Gen’s sharp intake of breath has got nothing on Jensen’s.

“He what?”

Jensen’s question whips so loudly about the shop that it’s only now that Jared seems to remember that Jensen was even there to begin with. It’s the first thing Jensen’s said to Jared in a week. Jared pales even further, and Jensen vision goes red.

“He was drunk, we’d been out all night partying and then we were fighting, and when it got heated, he shoved me.” Jared says tersely, looking uncomfortable as Stephen wraps his arms around Jared like a drunken sloth, a comical image in any other situation, but Jared looks so wholly uncomfortable that Jensen clenches his fist, “I was fine, just a minor concussion after smacking my head on the tile.”

“A concussion.” Jensen says flatly, his plan of romance pretty much shot to hell with the way he can feel his temper flaring up.

“A minor concussion,” Jared says weakly, curling inwards, “Just minor.”

And Jensen pictures, with the utmost clarity; Jared’s first day in the coffee shop, hungover, complaining to Gen about a headache.

“You came in to the Grain the next day, didn’t you.” Jensen says quietly. “This slimebag hurt you and you came in here to talk to Gen about it. I thought you said he couldn’t harm a fly.”

Jared doesn’t respond, but his guilty expression gives Jensen all he needs to hear.

“What business is it of yours, anyhow?” Stephen suddenly bellows, swinging upright and poking Jensen in the sternum. “Who’s this old prick, anyhow, Jay? Is he your sugar daddy? Did you go out and grab a sugar daddy because you needed someone to take care of you like a little baby?”

Stephen jabs at Jensen’s sternum again, hard.

Jensen has always considered a man of words. Time Magazine recently quoted him as ‘the poet of prose, never a line of dialogue too cliché or out of place’. Words have always come easily to Jensen, even when he didn’t quite know how to say them.

Now, however, he doesn’t particularly have the time nor the patience to deal with words.

So he lets his fist do the talking, and he breaks Stephen Amell’s nose instead.

“What the fuck?!” Gen yells, at the same time Jared pole vaults over the counter and rushes at the two of them, catching Stephen as he crumples to the floor, screaming and bleeding. The kitchen door slams open as Jeff comes storming out, looking like he’d really appreciate having a shotgun right about now.

“Padalecki, what the hell is going on?” Jeff rumbles, watching the gore in front of him with an almost blase expression.

“My ex showed up. He’s drunk. Jensen punched him.” Jared says in a rush, grabbing napkins and holding them to Stephen’s nose, whimpering and leaning against Jared like he doesn’t have two legs to stand on.

Jeff turns on Jensen and for a second it look like he’s gonna call the cops and bar him from the establishment forever. But Jeff sighs, mutters to Gen, “Grab the first aid kit from the back,” and walks over to the door, motioning for Jensen to follow him.

“Between you and me, the kid had it coming,” Jeff whispers conspiratorially, and Jensen blinks, stunned. “But I’m supposed to be the stern lawmaker here so, do yourself a favor; go take a walk, cool off, rest and then come back tomorrow when you’ve settled. You’re a loyal customer, Jensen, I’d hate for that to change.”

Jensen nods, adrenaline pistons no longer running, feeling drained, exhausted. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I didn’t mean to make a scene.”

“There are worse things than beating up a drunken asshole.” Jeff rationalizes, “Jensen, please just go. He’ll be fine.”

“I’ve got him,” Gen whispers,  appearing on Jensen’s other side, “Come back later and talk to him. I’ll look after him for now.”

The last thing Jensen sees before exiting the coffeeshop is Jared pressing an ice pack to Stephen’s nose, an expression of tenderness and care so real on his face that Jensen isn’t entirely sure he still has that one final chance to make everything right.

For all he knows, he may have just lost it.

9:55 pm at the Grain. Five minutes till closing time. Usually Gen’s shift, or Osric’s. Jensen never comes at night. But tonight he’d been suffocating in his bed and house, and spending a night wandering the town seemed bleak unless he has a stomach full of caffeine to help him through it. His knuckles are bruised from where he punched Stephen three days ago, and although he’s avoided the Grain like the plague, he’s also checked his text messages every five seconds for the past seventy two hours, like he’s expecting certain people to already have his number.

He doesn’t try and wonder what the chances are that Jared will be working, refuses to even fantasize about it.

The street glows orange from the light inside the coffee shop, the open sign is up, and Jensen has five minutes to grab his drink and go…somewhere. Somewhere that isn’t his empty house full of books and awards, anxiety dripping off the decadent wallpaper. He’ll probably walk the beach until sunrise, coffee in hand. Sleep doesn’t seem to be on the list of companions tonight.

He’s about ten feet from the Grain when he notices a flurry of movement, accompanied by the blasting of a song. Simple Minds, that one song they did for the Breakfast Club.

Shoes squeal on the tile as Jared does a crappy moonwalk into view, singing into the mop clutched in his hands. His eyes are closed, and he’s tossing his head about like he’s being jerked around in a tornado, limbs akimbo, elbows flying, bobbing his head to what Jensen is positive is not synchronous with the actual beat of the song.

The chorus strikes up with a roll of drums and Jared kicks his left foot high into the air, like he’s some kind of black belt ninja warrior, only his eyes are closed blissfully and he’s shaking his ass and hips at the same damn time, tongue caught in between in his teeth and, well, that pretty much about does it for Jensen.

The door clatters open and Jensen doesn’t realize that he’s shouldered through it until Jared has jumped a mile high, staring and looking absolutely humiliated.

Having read and written his fair share of books, Jensen would like to think he has some idea as to what romance is, what epiphany goes where and in what moment, the specific timing required for when exactly you realize just how completely in love you are with someone and how you decide to act on it.

And really, it shouldn’t be now, of all times. It shouldn’t. Because Jared had just been dancing with the mop and bobbing his head like a complete idiot. There’s foam spatter on his apron and a smudge of flour on his cheek and that stupid Breakfast Club song is blasting throughout the café.

“Uh.” Jared holds the mop in front of him almost as if he’s trying to hide behind it, like a little kid hides behind their parents’ legs.

You’re supposed to realize you’re in love with someone when piano is playing, when lighting is low and mood is romantic. This is not how it’s supposed to go, Jensen thinks absent-mindedly. Because as far as romantic epiphanies go, he’s almost positive that the fluorescent lighting of a closed coffee shop at ten p.m. is not the right atmosphere. He’s also pretty sure that you’re not supposed to fall for someone when they’re shaking their ass like there’s no tomorrow to the greatest hits of the eighties.

“Where’s Stephen?” Jensen asks, heart slamming in his chest.

“Gone.” Jared says in a rush. “For good.”

“And you?”

“Me?” Jared shifts on his feet. “I--I’m staying.”

“Oh.”

“Oh?”

“I mean, good.”

“Okay.”

“Right.”

This is not a romantic moment in the slightest but Jensen knows—knows as sure as he knows that he fucking hates sugar and cream in his coffee—that if he doesn’t tell Jared how he feels right now, that he’ll never get another chance. He’ll never get another dizzying rush of opportunity like this, with no one around and Jared looking at him so…hopefully. Like he was waiting for Jensen to show up, expected Jensen to show up, all along.

The moment is all wrong--bad lighting and corny music and no epic speech--but it’s not wrong enough to stop Jensen from walking forward and pulling Jared down into a kiss. 

The mop falls with a sharp smack against the tile and Jared makes a surprised ‘oomph!’ noise against Jensen’s mouth, but it is a sensation unlike Jensen can remember having experienced before. Utter stillness, mind a blank slate and entirely zeroed in on this, right here.

Jared lips are unspeakably soft and it may be their first kiss but Jensen gives it his best, gentle in a way that he hopes isn’t timid, pressing his lips to Jared’s in one, two, three brief kisses.

No response.

Jensen pulls back just slightly, and then pulls back entirely, feeling rejection and anxiety hit him like a bullet train. He fucked up, he miscalculated, and he can’t even look at Jared because good lord he fucked up

“Thank God,” Jared exhales against Jensen’s mouth and before Jensen can even question it Jared’s fingers are scrabbling for the flaps of his collar, the silk of his tie, “Oh thank fucking God Jensen.”

Jensen’s relief is blissful but short lived, cut off by the reattachment of Jared’s mouth to his, pulling him upward, quite literally stealing the breath from his lungs; eager, unapologetic. Jared kisses him like he’s never been less sorry about anything in his life, and Jensen’s own apologies—Jensen’s own long winded explanations and mentally composed letters of apology for taking so damn long to get here—evaporate with that simple realization.

And now that the talking part appears done with, giving in to what he’s wanted to do for ages seems almost natural.

Jensen’s never really been a jump-into-bed kinda guy. Even with Misha it had been slow going, cautious and marked. So he’s more than aware of how this might be pushing Jared’s boundaries, of how they might just happily stand here kissing for the rest of the night, maybe the rest of the year, and how Jensen’s so totally okay with that.

Then Jared’s mouth opens over Jensen’s, and so Jensen responds in kind by worrying at Jared’s bottom lip with his teeth and Jared moans, the sound startling both of them apart briefly. Pink clouds Jared’s cheeks but he doesn’t stutter out an apology and if anything he pulls Jensen closer, pressing their chests together. Jensen licks across the bottom lip he’d just bitten and now Jared shudders, eyes hooded and pupils blown, like he’s actually physically high.

It is—more so than every single accolade he’s got stacked in his house—the biggest ego trip Jensen Ackles has ever received.

They get a little bit carried away after that.

It’s a well known fact to both of them that Jensen is a control freak; this has been established. But Jensen surprises even himself as he backs Jared straight up against the counter, crowding Jared’s body and kicking the bucket of mop water all over the floor. Having Jared, feeling Jared, hits Jensen like no amount of coffee ever could, and he’s gripping at Jared’s face and licking into Jared’s mouth like it’s all he’s capable of. And Jared’s taking back everything Jensen’s giving, wrapping his arms around Jensen’s neck, fingers pushing at the back of Jensen’s scalp, urging Jensen on like having Jensen’s tongue down his throat isn’t nearly enough.

And it’s not, Jensen gets that inkling the second Jared’s hands slip down to grope at his ass. Jensen groans and their kissing becomes positively heated, sweet suction and pull, hit shared between their lips, their tongues.

“Wait,” Jared unlatches his mouth from where it had been venturing near Jensen’s pulse point, breathing hard, flushed and bright eyed, “Wait.”

He shimmies out from between Jensen and the counter and—fishing keys out of his apron pocket—locks the café door and closes all the shades. “Safety first,” he grins cheekily at Jensen, and walks over to flick the café lights off, so it’s just the two of them lit by only the backlights from the kitchen.  Dark though it may be, Jensen can still make out every glitter of Jared’s eyes as he returns and brushes their lips together, teasing and tender, “Alright then, feel free to ravish me at your will.”

Jensen vows to do better than that.

The two of them nearly brain themselves on the many cupboards as they tumble and tussle their way along to the behind of the counter, groping blindly in the near dark, knocking into espresso machines and stacks of coffee filters.  And it’s a mess. They’re a mess; eager and pawing at each other like horny teenagers trying not to come in their pants. It’s all a really really great big mess

Jared laughs against Jensen’s lips and Jensen pulls back, growling, “What, Jared?”

“You have the worst timing.” Jared murmurs.

Story of Jensen’s life, really.

“The thing is, I just got off an eight hour shift, cowboy, and I may be in the mood. But after being on my feet all day, I’m not that in the mood.” Jared says coolly, lips curving against Jensen’s as he shakes his head back and forth slowly.

“Let’s rectify that, then.” Jensen says, snaking his hands down to cup at Jared’s ass before lifting him up off the floor.

“What are you—oh Jesus.” Jared cuts off with a shuddering breath as he grinds his hips downwards and clings to Jensen, wrapping his legs around Jensen’s waist as Jensen hoists him onto the counter.

In the effort to scramble for balance, Jared knocks over and sends caramel sauce drizzling along the counter. Impatient with Jared’s typical haphazard way of doing things, Jensen just maneuvers his willowy frame farther up, sending the rest of the flavor pumps clattering and spilling along with the caramel, a few mugs going down with them. Jared slips in the substances, absolutely saturating his apron, his jeans.

“It’s all over me.” He whines, holding up a syrupy palm between their faces, nose crinkling at the sludge. “This had better not stain.”

Jensen snatches Jared’s hand out of the air and sucks Jared’s stickiest carameliest fingers into his mouth by way of response, making sure to get each remnant of flavor from Jared’s skin, licking all the way down to his knuckles.

The visual is probably half comical, but Jared makes a noise that’s the bastard child of a shuddering gasp and a choked off groan, the kind of sound Jensen makes a solemn oath on to produce from Jared again. He’ll try all night, for the rest of his life, if he has to.

 “And here I thought you were going to chicken out halfway through.” Jared gasps, like he’s trying to remember the proper procedures of inhale and exhale.

Jensen lunges forward, latching on Jared’s bared throat with a long lick and scraping teeth. “Does it feel like I’m chickening out, Jared?”

“Bwuh,” comes Jared’s incoherent response, lost among their lips as he drags their mouths back together, tongues curling in a way that makes Jensen want to crawl out of his skin.

Good thing he has clothes for that, and good thing that Jared seems way ahead of the curve.

Jared’s fingers, despite being as tired as he’d claimed, make no waste of time in unbuttoning Jensen’s shirt, ripping his tie and tossing it aside like its presence is practically offensive. Jensen’s got hardly any time to consider his own rapid nudity before short blunt nails and long fingers make their way down Jensen’s chest, circling the peaks of his nipples, scraping at his belly, the curvature of his abs. It’s the first time in a long time that someone has touched him like this, and the sensation of blood rushing straight to his fattening cock is only permeated by Jared’s amazed muttering.

“Jesus H. Christ.” He swears, eyes wide as he tugs Jensen closer, marveling. “Fucking Abercrombie model, this shit is unfair.”

Like Jared’s completely unaware of the way he looks right now, bangs mussed mouth pink and shiny, color in his cheeks prettier than a sunrise on the beach. Like he’s got no fucking clue just how badly Jensen wants him, needs him, so bad he can’t even wait to walk Jared home to the bedroom like a decent gentlemen.

“If anyone has the ridiculous body here, it’s you.” Jensen points out, shucking off Jared’s apron and shoving up his polo until it bunches under Jared’s armpits, looking his fill. There’s definitely muscle along Jared’s stomach, but it’s streamlined, like he’s still got some years to grow into his own skin. Jensen skims his fingers down the smooth bumps of Jared’s ribcage, fixating as Jared tips his head back with a soft sigh of assent, and then Jensen slots his thumbs right into the notch of Jared’s hipbones, taking a covetous hold of Jared’s swimmer’s hips. Jared grapples for Jensen’s wrists at the sensation, smearing chocolate and peppermint on himself in the process, and it’s all too easy to duck down and lave at the skin stretched tight over the cut of Jared’s hip, grinning at the sound of Jared’s keening whine.

“Thought you didn’t like the sweet stuff.” Jared’s eyes are screwed shut, and the casual tone of voice does nothing to fool Jensen.

“Let’s just say that I’m warming up to it.” Jensen murmurs, enjoying the twist of favor on Jared’s nut brown skin. He noses along the cut of Jared’s hipbone some more, positive that he could cut himself if he pressed hard enough, when he catches another scent on Jared’s skin, sharp amidst the tang of sweat and cologne and—

Jared’s skin smells like coffee, the simplest and purest of blends. A whole day in a place like this, it was bound to be on him, sunk into his skin the way cigarette smoke or sunburn lingers. Jensen’s nostrils flare at the scent, and he pauses for a beat, just nuzzling at Jared’s hip and taking it all in, like a hit of a drug. And then it hits his bloodstream like wildfire, and if Jared was about to come up with a witty retort, it’s lost as Jensen begins to violently tug at the y-front of his jeans, toggle the zipper. He’s half out of his mind, but Jared lifts his hips just the same, curling his arms around Jensen’s shoulders, to help him swifter remove the clothing.

He gets Jared’s jeans as far down as his ankles before he feels it at the back of his throat, the almost tickling gag response that he’d learned to recognize as soon as it had started at five years old; the tell tale sign of an oncoming anxiety attack.

Body absolutely ready and willing, mind a hundred thousand miles behind.

The fact of the matter is that it’s been far too long since Jensen’s done this, literal years since sharing this kind of intimacy with anyone, semi-public and unplanned as it may be. Whereas Jared? Jared is fresh out of college, and therefore, is probably used to heaps and heaps of casual mind blowing sex. Jared’s probably been fucked six ways till Sunday, has probably been there and done all that in the ways that Jensen hardly ever allows himself to even consider.

He stares at the stitched waistband of Jared’s underwear until the letters in ‘Saxx’ blur together because the simple fact is that there’s nothing Jensen can’t give Jared that he probably hasn’t already had. Jensen’s throat constricts because this, the simple presence of them, harried and eager, might not be enough. That the sex might not be good enough because Jensen might not be good enough, the sum of his parts not enough to appease whatever needs Jared is looking to fill.

Jensen only has so much to offer, but he’s got no clue what Jared is willing to take.

And that fear shows right now, in the way he kisses Jared too fierce, teeth clicking. He sucks in air as he pulls away, not meeting Jared’s eyes as he kneels on the sticky tile, face level with Jared’s crotch. He can feel the heat of Jared’s thighs, the way they tremble involuntarily as he spreads them, wills himself not to think about the gravity of the moment. Tells his brain to shut the fuck up and stop worrying about what Jared is expecting and if Jensen can even live up to it.

He doesn’t realize that he’s shaking and holding his breath until Jared’s hands are settling on his once again, thumbs rubbing in small circles around his wrist bones. Jensen slumps against Jared’s knee for a second, watching guardedly as Jared raises Jensen’s left wrist up to his face, staring openly at Jensen’s tattoo, like he’s thinking something over. Jensen doesn’t breathe.

Jared glances down at him, the expression so open and earnest that Jensen feels like he’s fractured, cracked and breaking open further, with the intensity of that gaze. It makes his heart thunder and his skin go clammy, the undividedness of that attention and care.

But I’m nothing, Jensen thinks absentmindedly, I’m nothing and I have nothing that you deserve.

“Just so we’re clear,” Jared says in a low voice, like he’s reading Jensen’s mind, “Stephen is not in the picture. Hasn’t been for months. And I have wanted you ever since you ordered me shitty coffee to comfort me the day Harley died. Coffeeshop slut though I may be,” he nods down at his naked chest, the drink additives spilled around them, “This is not just a fuck and run for me. I’m not here for the fuck. I’m here for you.”

Jensen would like nothing more than to say ‘Likewise’, but he’s scared stiff as a board, tottering on the edge of this huge cliff. Christ, now that he’s here, on the precipice of this huge leap, he’s not even sure he can do it. He can’t take the plunge, it’s too steep, too risky.

But Jared seems sure. Jared, like all the times before, seems already way ahead of the curve.

He kisses the inked half rest just above the bluish veins on Jensen’s pale wrist, the gesture within itself simple, but so intimate that Jensen feels bowled over. Just a press of lips, but the sensation of the pressure zips straight from his wrist to his chest, wonderful and aching. Jared, the undeniable tide, washing over him, smoothing out his rockier and sharper edges.

It’s as if he’s saying, it’s okay, we’re okay, and it’s crazy that Jensen gets that, that he feels that, even as his thoughts race and his anxiety threatens to wreck his shore with the force of its gales.

“Sh.” Jared says, brushing his lips along Jensen’s tattoo. “Sh. It’s just me. Just me.”

And just like that, Jensen’s mind quiets, and he’s suddenly not so worried anymore. They remain like that for a frozen moment in time, and then Jared slowly releases his wrist and Jensen leans forward, kissing along the expanse of Jared’s thighs, edging down the waistband of his underwear, lower, lower, until—

Fuck.” Jared exhales softly, head thumping back against the wall as his cock springs free and Jensen seals his mouth around the tip, sliding his underwear down the rest of the way.

It’s immediately vastly different from anything Jensen’s ever experienced. Jared’s large, for one, Jensen can feel the weight and size of him on his tongue before he’s properly looked his fill. It’s a bit overwhelming, the heat and softness of Jared, the scent of coffee on his skin, but Jensen takes to it like riding a bike, and sucks down Jared’s dick with a vigor that is surprisingly easy to get back into, after all this time.

There’s no comparing Jared to Misha or other previous relationships because Jared is—without a singular doubt in Jensen’s mind—the most surreal experience of them all. Blowjobs, as far as Jensen’s concerned, have always been about subservience, getting your mouth fucked as opposed to fucking with your mouth. It was never a particularly enjoyable experience for Jensen; he never got off on it, but doing that sort of favor for his partner always outweighed the soreness of his mouth afterwards, the bitter aftertaste.

Jensen never particularly cared for going down on guys before. But he decides quickly that he fucking loves going down on Jared.

Jared, who just hands the reins right over to Jensen and dissolves, a puddle of whimpers and gripping at the edge of the counter. His breathing becomes a series of bitten off moans, interspersed with a wet gasp and a soft ‘Jensen’ and there are no words to describe the power trip that comes directly from that. Jared surrenders any and all control to Jensen, gives himself over and loses himself in such a trusting way that Jensen would be just the slightest bit choked up if he didn’t already have a dick in his mouth.

That being said, it’s the most effort Jensen’s ever put into a blowjob. And the payoff is totally worth it.

All it takes is a few experimental bobs of his head, a few licks up the side of the shaft, tongue curling against the slit and the pre-come gathered there, and Jared’s wrecked, voice broken as he blinks up at the ceiling, eyed limned by his pupils. Jensen gets the sense that he could do anything, literally anything, to Jared in this moment, and Jared would take it with a please and thank you and can I have some more. Jared smells like coffee and tastes like sea salt and the only thing Jensen can do to cope with the near pain in his dick is to press with the heel of his palm on his erection, moaning around Jared’s cock at the temporary relief. Jared likes that, twitches at the vibrations of Jensen’s mouth, fingers spasming and leaping from the counter to tangle in Jensen’s hair; not demanding, but urging, pleading.

For the first time in a long time, Jensen’s mind is working forwards in a way that isn’t totally freaking him out. He inches a hand up Jared’s chest and positions two fingers at Jared’s open and gasping mouth and Jared, without explanation, takes the fingers into his mouth, sucking fervently as Jensen continues to slide his own mouth up and down Jared’s dick.

It’s almost like Jared’s reading every thought in Jensen’s head, scoots his ass forward when Jensen brings his fingers down to his entrance, spreads his legs further as Jensen can push a finger tentatively in, rolls his head back along the cupboards just to be extra clear Jensen knows that he likes it. Sucking on Jared’s dick and being inside Jared are two completely different concepts and sensations, and between the two of them Jensen isn’t sure which he likes more, so he attempts both. Mouth and tongue working, cheeks hollowing, fingers crooking, reading the cues of Jared’s body as if they were a new draft to edit, something he’d been familiar with before, but only now was just beginning to get to the hot and sweet center of.

When he manages to hit Jared’s prostate, Jared lets out a strangled yell and bucks his hips so hard that Jensen does gag this time, reeling. He is, however, eager to get back to the task at hand, but Jared is pulling him up, hands sticky and insistent, saying, “Not like this, not like this.”

“Be more specific there, why don’t you?” Jensen smirks, and Jared responds with a searing kiss, one that both of them moan at because they know Jared can taste himself on Jensen’s tongue.

“Told you before, I’m here for you,” Jared breaks off and mewls as Jensen’s fingers fiddle idly at the head of his cock, “So if I’m coming at all, I’m coming with you.”

And then he demonstrates that resolve by shoving his hand down Jensen’s pants.

“Fucking—“ Jensen can’t find the words so he simply unbuttons and unzips and undresses from those jeans as fast as humanly possible, leisurely jerking Jared’s cock with one hand as he does so, just to be sure he’s keeping Jared busy.

There’s a solid moment where they both take in each other, openly acknowledging the nakedness without letting the hormones completely override. Jensen might be smirking, but that has everything to do with the way Jared’s eyes darkened at the sight of his cock, wetting his lips, with the way Jared panted as Jensen scraped the edge of his thumbnail against the pre-come bubbling out Jared’s slit.

Jensen really can’t be blamed for being unbearably smug, he’s feeling absolutely fantastic right now.

That smugness pretty much shorts out when Jared lunges forward and pulls their hips flush against each other, cocks rubbing hot and raw but hey, he’s only human. And Jared is definitely the devil incarnate with the way he smiles, all coy and self-assured, as if Jensen pinning him with his hips and cock against the counter of the Grain is what he’s wanted all along.

“That’s more like it,” he grins, and then rolls his hips against Jensen’s, sudden and fast.

Jensen nearly falls forward and crashes their skulls together he’s so taken by surprise. Bracing his palms on either side of Jared’s head, he inhales sharply, their foreheads pressed together, and looks down at the sight of his hard cock alongside Jared’s.

Jared rolls his hips again, slower, eyebrows raised in a question that shutters off in a sigh of satisfaction, humming, in fact.

‘Don’t You Forget about Me’ is repeating for the twelfth millionth time, and they’re grinding on a counter covered in caramel and chocolate sauce. Jensen just goes with it, won’t even be bothered to worry about the decency or the hurriedness of it all. Want--thick and cloudy, like cream--spurs him onwards, and he straightens, taking Jared’s hips once more, and rolls back.

It starts off a bit dry, but Jared’s already so wet from Jensen’s mouth and Jensen’s so turned on out of his mind that it doesn’t take long to get on the same page, thrusting in a pace that starts slow and grows rapidly, a wave about to spin out of control and crash into sea foam. Jared feels, there is no other word for it, good, wrapping his legs around Jensen’s waist as Jensen grinds their cocks together, keeping their faces close like it’s the only thing he can control, and the rest is all up to Jensen. Jensen’s body is a chemical fire, impossible to put out, alive with every sensation that Jared is giving him, muscles pulling tight as his body gives over to instinct. And he doesn’t have to think anymore, not with Jared centering him, grounding him, keeping him afloat for the time being.

Jared’s fingernails rake blunt tracks over Jensen’s shoulder blades, mouth plush and pink, urging Jensen on with the sweetest noises, mangled by desire. The bony knobs of his knees knock against Jensen’s hips as he tries to pull Jensen impossibly closer with his legs, hips rocking in a fluid motion, a lithe and singular movement, throat bared in offering.

The punctuation of their breath mixing together is intoxicating, and with the way he’s rutting, Jensen can’t even stay still long enough to kiss Jared, so he settles for the next best thing and locks his mouth on the pulse point of Jared’s neck, tasting sweat and espresso, listening to the staccato gasps of response against his ear.

Jared’s straining and hot against him, fingers sticky as they thread in Jensen’s hair with caramel and coffee scent as he whispers, urgent, “Fuck, Jensen, please,” and it’s that ‘please’, needy and desperate and wanting, that spurs Jensen into a bit of maddened frenzy. He’s not just fucking to take the edge off anymore; he fucks the edge out of existence, their hips snapping sharply together, the head of his cock smearing pearl liquid against the taut skin beneath Jared’s navel, gripping Jared’s hips hard enough to bruise. He listens with an almost gleeful sense of possessiveness as Jared’s breathing ratchets upwards in pitch and speed, reduced to no longer words, but rather incoherent ‘Ah’s’ whispered against the shell of Jensen’s ear, private, but so fucking sexy Jensen’s worried he’s gonna actually pass out. He preoccupies himself with leaving sharp and biting and tender kisses along the slope of Jared’s clavicle, marking him, darkening the skin and sucking like he can get the coffee flavor straight out of Jared’s pores.

Jensen doesn’t realize Jared’s pulling him off his neck until sticky fingertips are pressing at Jensen’s cheekbones, pulling him by his ears for a haphazard kiss that’s all teeth and tongue and Jensen barely has enough mind about him to reach down and take both his and Jared’s cocks in hand. He grips tight, jacks hard, feels his lungs push out all the air when their cocks touch, first lightly, then not lightly at all. Pink skin, heads wet, shining with their mixed pre-come; Jensen’s got all of two seconds before he comes.

The dizzying combination of Jared breathing erratic into Jensen’s mouth and Jared’s heels digging into the meat of Jensen’s ass, urging him harder, closer, is what does it in the end. Jensen pumps his hips impossibly faster, and the cupboards rattle slightly when Jared throws his head back against the wall, mouth locked in a silent exclamation as he comes all over Jensen’s hand and his stomach. Then he lets out the longest, breathiest moan, hand fisted and pulling at his own hair, like he’s just died and he’s totally okay with that, twitching as Jensen milks him for all he’s worth.

They’re still moving too quickly to meet in a kiss, but Jared rains them down Jensen’s neck anyway, hot chocolate warming the surface of Jensen’s skin.

Jensen goes rigid, coffee and cream swirls bursting behind his eyes, lost to a fierce undertow of want and need and all other things he’s learned to associate with Jared.  He gives into the current, tumbles in as wave after wave of orgasm hits him, rendering him senseless, adrift, drowning.

He doesn’t realize he hasn’t moved until Jared begins brushing butterfly kisses against his eyelids, hands settled lightly at the small of his back. Jared’s lips rove over the freckles on Jensen’s cheeks, the curve of his nose, so it only feels natural that Jensen lift his chin for their mouths to meet, exchanging kisses that are slow and languid, sweeter than sugar itself. They kiss until the sweat on the back of Jensen’s neck begins to cool, until Jared’s grip on his shoulders has become lethargic, worn out. Jensen slowly releases their cocks, grinning at Jared’s shudder, reaching for the paper towel roll and glancing around them. 

The shop is more or less a disaster. The counter is covered with an array of different flavorings and toppings, there is whipped cream on the floor—things Jensen doesn’t even remember making a mess of. A tray of knocked over biscotti and a few smashed mugs here and there. The mop and bucket are spilled, once shiny linoleum floor now grey from mop water.

“Jeff is going to kill me.” Jared laments, not really sounding all that upset about it.

“You and me both. I wasn’t even aware we’d made such a mess.” Jensen shakes his head.

“Yeah, well, that’s because you were distracted.”Jared teases, smiling, kissing the corner of Jensen’s jaw.

“This is your fault, you know.” He pulls his pants up from where they were pooled around his ankles, tucks himself back into his pants, cleaning himself up with a paper towel as he moves along.

“My fault?” Jared squawks indignantly, yanking up his underwear.

“You were dancing with a mop. And singing. And doing that thing you do. How was I supposed to resist?”

“Thing? What thing?” Jared hops off the counter and begins fishing for his jeans on the floor.

Jensen shrugs, feeling sheepish. “You know, your thing.”

“Mind speaking English for a second there?”

He sighs, feeling his face flood with embarrassment. “You do this…thing, when you get really excited or happy. This bizarre Chuck Norris karate kick thing, with your freakishly long legs, and it makes you look like a dork. Every time. Without fail. Who could resist that, I ask you?”

Jared’s face is comical, bordering somewhere between blissed out post coital high and abject horror, wearing nothing but his t-shirt and underwear. He covers his face with one hand, slumps forward and hides against Jensen’s shoulder.

“Oh my god. Here I was, thinking I’d seduced you with my very adult and intellectual traits. I thought I’d finally gotten you to come around because you saw me as this suave Mr. Cool. I thought you’d kissed me because you’d realized I was mature enough for you. And all along you knew I was a complete and utter spaz. Oh my actual god.” He shakes his head against Jensen’s shirt, voice muffled and morbidly humiliated. “You’ve probably thought I was a goddamn idiot this entire time, didn’t you.”

“Not thought as much as knew.” Jensen presses his lips to Jared’s temple, the gesture soothing to him.

“Shut up. God, no wonder it took so long for this to happen.”

“Probably would have saved a lot of time if I’d just up and kissed you the first day you came in here, all hung-over and grimy.”

Jared lifts his head, eyes bright. “You’ve wanted to kiss me since the day you met me?”

“Took me long enough, don’t you think?”

“Well,” Jared steps closer, tone casual, “You took the scenic route, but I’d like to think we got to the same destination by the end, and that’s what most important here.”

Jensen grins, leaning in, “I couldn’t agree more.”

Their lips are sticky and their bodies even more so when they collide and they are, so to put, a mess, maneuvering to adjust clothes soaked in various amounts of coffee mix-ins, sweat and come. They clean up the café together, stealing kisses over shards of broken mugs and wet sudsy puddles.

Lock-up and exit happens hours later, along with Jensen’s polite suggestion that they head to his house for a nightcap and a shower.

They make a point to skip the scenic route this time.

art credit to soulmatecest

Chapter Text

EPILOGUE

Jared’s late for work the next morning.

Jensen’s already set up camp, but he’s been holding off on getting his caffeine supplement.

When Jared bursts through the door, it’s totally worth the wait.

“I’m not a slut! I fell asleep!” Jared announces to the entirety of The Grain. His shirt is on inside out (after pulling it out from Jensen’s dryer) and his hair is mussed (from where it pressed against Jensen’s pillow) and there’s an allotted amount of bruises around the base of his throat (also Jensen’s doing—what can he say, he likes to sign off on his own work).

“Yeah, sure, if that’s your story.” Chad says, nursing his own cup of post-binge drinking espresso.

Jared vaults himself over the counter, landing in a sprawl of limbs as he straightens on his freshly clean apron. If he glances at Jensen a few dozen times on the way there, well, at least he tries to be discreet about it. Jensen waits, lets a few customers come and go, lets Jared get into the swing of things, before walking up to the counter, mug in hand.

“Good morning.” He says, lips pressing together so as to keep from outright smirking.

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” Jared leans over the counter now, with a hopelessly dazed grin that Jensen wants to lord over, did lord over this morning, sometime after the shower and sometime before falling asleep with Jared in his arms. “Though I’ve got to say, I’m a bit sore from the cleanup last night of the shop.”

Before Jensen can respond, he’s cut off by the loud groans from both Gen and Chad at the end of the counter, the latter of which rounds and says, “Dude. I get it that your big gay love is super exciting and I’m happy for you. But I am far too fucked up right now to deal with the visuals. So can it.”

“Who said anything about big gay love?” Jared asks, flushing.

“The security footage from last night said.” Gen says, casually wiping down the counter. At Jensen and Jared’s horrified expressions, she merely rolls her eyes, “No, I did not watch the porno entitled Coffee Cocks, give me a break Jay. I deleted the footage as soon as I could tell that things were getting…steamy,” she glances sidelong at Jensen, and when he returns it she blushes just slightly, “But if you hadn’t cleaned up I would have left the tape on Jeff’s desk as a present, so thanks for that.”

Gen heads to the kitchen, only turning once to say, “Oh, and Jensen? If you ever fuck another employee on the counter again, don’t expect your coffee to taste so stellar.”

Chad spits out his espresso just as Jensen bursts out laughing. “They fucked on this counter? The one I’m sitting at?”

Gen nods. “There was caramel everywhere, and they were breaking shit, and ripping each other’s clothes off like horny teens. You would have been proud.”

Chad’s demonstrates his pride by vacating to the farthest table and sulking behind his espresso, wiping down the surface of his table, looking traumatized.

“Well,” Jensen turns back to Jared, wiping a hysterical tear from his eye, “Guess we really started off with a bang, didn’t we?”

Jared’s cheeks are a brilliant shade of rouge, rouge that is crawling down his neck to send fresh blood to the hickies. “How are you not embarrassed?” He chokes off, mortified. “We fucked on the counter and my best friend saw us. I’m dead. Too much sex wore me out, I must be dead.”

Jensen shrugs. “There are worse ways to go.”

Shaking his head in amazement, Jared snatches Jensen’s mug from his hands. “You’re taking this terrifyingly well.”

“Let’s just say that last night really helped me relax.” Jensen says. “Come to think of it, earlier this morning probably helped too. And before that in the shower…”

Jared’s such a fine shade of pink that Jensen cackles, “Okay. Sorry. Being serious now.”

“What’ll it be?” Jared asks.

Jensen hesitates, considering a good clean cup of coffee for a brief second, but wavers. He considers other things to; the way Jared felt against him, the way their bodies fit, the way Jensen had woken for the first time in years and hadn’t felt the need to bolt from his award filled home, the way that sex had flowed straight into aimless pillow talk, as natural as the perfect complete sentence, all punctuation and grammar intact.

He thinks about the note he’d left Jared before he’d left the house (“Meet me for coffee? I happen to know a great place”) and he thinks about how he didn’t hesitate one second before signing Love, Jensen. He thinks about the sound of waves coupled with Jared’s puffs of air against his neck, about the childish and throaty noise Jared had made in his sleep when Jensen had let go of him to get dressed. He thinks how he’s already making room for more Jared in his life, in all the ways that should feel like sacrifices but really feel like compromises, gifts Jensen is giving to himself.

“Surprise me.” Jensen says. Jared smiles.

“Gen, can I get the House Special?”

“Roger that.” Gen says, setting about the machines.

Jensen raises an eyebrow. “House Special?”

“I’ve been experimenting some with the ingredients on the menu.” Jared says by way of explanation. “You free tomorrow? Because I was thinking we could get some takeout, rent a movie. Catch some rest in preparation for round two.”

“You’re assuming there’s going to be a round two?”

Jared hops up onto the counter, balancing on his palms until he’s nose to nose with Jensen, eyes dark and smirking. “Baby, I’m counting on it.”

And though they’re bantering with all the playful innocence of two strangers who just happened to sleep together, Jensen’s heart feels like it might burst.

“House Special.” Gen announces a few minutes later, offering the steaming mug in Jensen’s direction. “You’re the first sap to try one. My condolences.”

Jared shoos her off as Jensen eyes the drink suspiciously. There’s definitely sweetener and cream in it. But there’s no whipped cream, just a simple heart shape drawn into the foam, and apart from the murky texture it looks…not half bad.

“It’s our newest drink on the menu. Jeff said I could make a different one every two weeks, just to see how they do by customer census.” Jared explains slowly, looking just a bit nervous. “Don’t just stand there. It’s not poisoned, I promise!”

Jensen rationalizes that if Jared’s goal was to kill him, he would have accomplished that quite some time ago, and with that thought, takes a sip.

And it’s surprisingly delicious. Subtle enough that he can still taste the Brazilian roast underneath the coat of cinnamon and…was that…amaretto?

“Not bad.” Jensen smacks his lips, takes another sip, “Not bad at all. What’s it called?”

“The Happy Ending.” Gen says, and when Jensen stares at her, she shrugs. “Don’t ask me, he’s the one who came up with the name.”

It takes a second for the last piece to click into place, but then Jensen gets it and rounds on Jared, who’s standing there, hazel eyes wide and innocent, almost shy.

His hand is warm when it reaches over the counter to squeeze Jensen’s, one twice three times: three syllables, three words. The same syllables they whispered to each other among the sheets as the sun was rising a few hours ago. The same words that Jensen feels buzzing on his skin, filling his belly up like he chugged them down, rushing through his veins so he’s not running on just coffee and fumes anymore.

“Looks like you got your Happy Ending after all, Jensen.” Jared says, softly.

He really, really did.