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Making Headways

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Jensen had certainly noticed Jared Padalecki before the early bird flight out of Chicago. That tanned face accented with the bright, easy smile and large dimples was well known from the book Jensen used in his class … Jensen hated to admit that he’d admired the handsome face on the inside book jacket many times each semester.

But he had also admired many of Padalecki’s observations in the Transit for the Masses book Jensen assigned during the public transit section of his Transportation class, not to mention Jared’s presence on the internet for discussing the topic in layman’s terms. So when Jensen and Jared’s eyes met in the gate, Jensen found himself smiling brightly, buoyed by professional respect and regard. And when Jared slowly smiled back, a little reserved like he wasn’t sure why some stranger was stopping in the gate to grin at him, Jensen quickly bowed his head and sped off in the opposite direction to sit as far away as he could.

It wasn’t his greatest moment. But it also wasn’t the worst …




Fifty minutes later, Jensen was boarding the plane when he suddenly realized it was the very same Jared Padalecki settling into the window seat at the end of his assigned row.

They shared a look: Jared seeming to have a moment of recognition from Jensen’s ridiculous behavior at the gate, and Jensen trying to offer a friendly wave and hello.

Jared had a very short wave and immediately opened a book, likely to ward off any more attention from Jensen’s ridiculousness.

And it truly was ridiculous, because Jensen had never felt so foolish, least of all when talking to another professional in this industry. Jensen could talk with the best minds to debate economic geography, resource management, and one of his pet projects, geographic modeling for transit systems. It was why he was a guest speaker at the conference this weekend and he already anticipated a full house based on comments from the program chair and advance inquiries he’d received over the last two weeks.

But Jared Padalecki was different … he wasn’t a traditional academic so much as an influencer of sorts, with a very popular Instagram and YouTube channel where he spoke about transportation issues like policy, culture, and environmental justice to the common viewer and drummed up support for big-picture initiatives for urban geography systems. He was incredibly smart, well read and travelled, and had parlayed his PhD into something for the masses rather than the benefit of one single university.

In addition to his easy delivery and fun personality, Jared was also incredibly easy on the eyes, and Jensen wasn’t the only one who thought so, considering the comments Jared racked up on his social media.

Jensen had tried to ignore the face, but his first few visits to Jared’s platforms were primarily because of how he looked. Then Jensen proceeded to fall for what the man could actually say and the rest was well … a whole other department Jensen wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

So not only was Jensen now overcome with the excitement of spotting an industry celebrity in the wild, but he was also quite enamored by the face and the shoulders and legs and pretty much the whole package.

At that thought, Jensen’s eyes strayed down near Jared’s belt before he realized Jared caught him looking, and he decided to pretend Jared wasn’t even there. Even when his mind kept spinning with all sorts of questions and remarks and compliments for Jared’s book and high esteem in the industry.

He succeeded in keeping his mouth shut for most of the flight out to Buffalo, except he couldn’t control his eyes, which kept wandering to his left to check Jared out or figure out what book he was reading or simply consider how ridiculous it was to see someone as tall as Jared try to fold himself into the standard plane seat.

Jared happened to glance over a few times with an odd look until he finally asked, “Have we met before?”

“No, we haven’t,” Jensen replied with a tiny laugh. “But I know who you are.”

Jared’s eyes widened and he forced something akin to a smile. “That’s not creepy at all.”

“No, I mean, not like that, just that I know your face,” Jensen rattled off before he shut up.

With a nod, Jared made a little hmm noise and went back to reading.

Jensen figured that Jared assumed he was a fan … well, he was, yet it was more than that. And seeing Jared so quiet and withdrawn made Jensen frown, because he knew from Jared’s videos that the guy never had a problem speaking.

Or maybe Jared wasn’t a morning guy; Jensen surely wasn’t, but the first day of the conference had a late start and Jensen’s department was covering only so much in hotel charges.

He had planned to nap on the flight, but now his nerves were buzzing with the thrill of meeting Jared. “Not like from your channel. I’m in the business, too. I know where you’re going today,” Jensen offered, trying to be cheeky and ease the awkwardness. A second later he realized he definitely made it even worse.

It was obvious Jared thought so, too, because his lips flattened in a thin line as he took a deep breath and brought his book up higher to nearly cover his whole face.

Letting out a small sigh, Jensen leaned back in his seat and didn’t turn his head towards Jared for the rest of the flight.




The first day of the conference went well enough, even if Jensen needed an extra coffee (or three) to get through the day. Especially when he was asked to sit in on a roundtable discussion for Buildings and Cities: The Built Environment as Historical Geography when one of the panelists had travel delays.

It was an honor to be recognized for his last seminar at University of California-Berkeley, where he’d expanded on the subject with resident professors and started informal discussions in his own department to consider the context in Midwest cities.

Still, he was pretty tired during a group dinner and only made it long enough to have a few drinks and contemplate an offer to co-write a book with a colleague. He was happy yet drained when he dragged his roller bag to the hotel to check in. He didn’t always sleep well in hotels, but he was sure he’d pass out soon after crawling under the covers, and he absolutely needed the rest before his big presentation in the morning.

Later, he’ll blame it on the exhaustion, and maybe also on the terrible experience on his flight that morning, but he walked right into the room and let his roller bag tip over by the desk before faceplanting on the bed without realizing someone was in the bathroom.

“What the hell?!” they yelled, and Jensen quickly flipped to his back with a startled shout. “What’re you –”

Oh no. Dear God, no. It was Jared Padalecki in just boxer briefs that clung quite tightly to his hips, thighs, and … well, that mighty package, and Jensen was left staring at Jared’s bare, sculpted chest for so long he couldn’t even speak.

Jared’s mouth immediately fell open. “You.

“Uhhh,” Jensen responded, brain still struggling to catch up to the situation beyond the half-naked man in front of him.

“Why are you – how did you –”

Nothing really came to mind to explain what had happened, so Jensen just waved his key card.

He must’ve been pretty obvious in how he continued to check Jared out because Jared quickly turned back to the bathroom and was pulling a t-shirt when he returned. “What is going on? Is this some kind of joke?” Jared’s voice dropped low. “Are you one of those fans?”

“What? No, of course not.” Jensen scrambled to sit at the edge of the bed rather than be sprawled all across a mattress that may or may not be his for the next two nights. “I just checked in and they gave me this key. Room 217, see?” He showed off the small paper folder that had held his key and where the front desk clerk had written out the room number.

Jared marched to the dresser and showed his own folder with the same three numbers written on the inside.

“Well, this is strange,” Jensen replied while rubbing his face. He needed to be far more awake for this situation.

“You think?” There was a small laugh then Jared grabbed the hotel phone and immediately launched into the story when someone answered on the other end.

Jensen sighed as the conversation dragged on in a series of long pauses followed by Jared’s disbelief at the mix-up that apparently could not be righted.

“This sucks,” Jared announced when he hung up the phone. “They’d overbooked for the conference and so they somehow put you and I …”

“Together,” Jensen finished. He’d be lying if he didn’t enjoy the thought of that, but he’d already embarrassed himself enough in front of Jared for the day. Sighing once again, Jensen got to his feet and grabbed his luggage. “I’m sorry for … everything today. I promise you I’m not this big of a moron under normal circumstances, but I’ll be out of your hair and –”

“Wait, you can’t.” Jared was the one sighing, setting his hands on his hips with a grimace. “They said the whole place is booked.”

Jensen sucked in a breath. That certainly complicated things, but he could find somewhere else and –

“And everything else in the area is, too.” Jared’s shoulders dropped as he delivered the bad news. “They’ve already transferred a couple people around.”

“This really does suck.” Jensen looked around the room, lost on what to do next.

A long silence filled the room as Jared must’ve been contemplating that, too.

“So, I should –”

“You could –”

Jensen waved at Jared. “You first.”

“I was just thinking, it’s pretty crazy and all, but it’s just one night and there aren’t many options that wouldn’t make you completely miserable, so what if you stayed here?”

He frowned, feeling bad about putting Jared out for the night. “And you go where? You said yourself everything is booked up.”

Jared bit the side of his mouth, dimples appearing in the most earnest and adorable way.

Jensen had seen those dimples probably a hundred times before in Jared’s videos. He thought they couldn’t get better than when Jared earnestly smiled as he excitedly rambled about something he really geeked out on, like bus rapid transit or bike lanes. But they really were something else in person, especially when Jared was blushing and awkwardly motioning at the mattress.

“It’s a pretty big bed.”

It didn’t make sense and all Jensen could manage was a laugh. “What? After this morning?”

“No, not after this morning. Because, yeah, you were a piece of work …” Jared offered a lopsided smile in apology for that, then shrugged with a softer look. “But after this afternoon … sure.”

Jensen sucked in a breath, unsure where this was going. “This afternoon?”

“I saw you at the roundtable. That’s when I realized what you meant when you said you knew my face and that we were going to the same place.”

Jensen allowed himself to smile, relieved that Jared was clearing the air.

A bit of attitude slipped in when Jared pointed out, “You could’ve said it differently, though.”

He laughed. “Yeah, I realized that after the fact.”

“So … you wanna …”

“Stay?” Jensen sighed, unsure what options he really had. “I guess. If you don’t mind?”

“I’d feel worse if I made it harder on you.”

Jensen supposed it was just one night, in a large king bed, and at least they were over whatever mess of a person Jensen was at the airport.

It took some awkward maneuvering for them to establish their spaces in the room, switching out of the bathroom for nighttime rituals, and then getting into bed.

Jensen tried to not check out Jared as he slid under the blankets. Oh, did he try, but those long and lean tan legs were quite a sight on the bright white sheets. And when Jared bent one arm beneath his head and flipped through a book with the other, Jensen watched as the muscles bulged in all the right ways. Jensen stretched out on his back so he wouldn’t be tempted to look over, then he worried the warmth heading south would create a mound under the covers.

He turned off the light on his side and bent his legs up to avoid any accidental sightings of his thoroughly interested dick.

“Oh, sorry,” Jared said softly. “I can turn the light out.”

“Whatever you wanna do,” he replied, going for nonchalant, but immediately hearing how tense it sounded.

Making matters worse, Jensen absently glanced over a few times and quickly felt like he was back on the plane, when he couldn’t stop himself from looking at Jared. As if he didn’t believe the man was actually there. And now Jensen was in bed with him, even with a good amount of mattress between them, and the soft light from the window cast shadows over the tight shirt that was practically molded to Jared’s chest.

Jensen cleared his throat as he stared at the ceiling. He considered twiddling his thumbs to pass the time or counting sheep on the ceiling because he suddenly wasn’t tired at all, no matter how long and tiring the day had been. “Fuck,” he said under his breath.


He shook his head and rolled his eyes at himself. “Nothing.”

Jared made a thoughtful noise, then his face was lit up by the screen on his phone. “What time are you heading over in the morning?”

“By eight. I’ll get up around six-thirty.”

“Any good sessions in the morning?”

Just mine, Jensen thought, but didn’t want to pester Jared with that, given all that they’d been through already, thanks to Jensen’s poor luck and social skills.

“I’ll get up after you,” Jared said anyway. “Float in and out of the day, I guess.”

“Are you speaking?”

Jared shifted towards him. “Hmm?”

“At the conference? Do you have any time to preach to the masses?”

With an awkward laugh, Jared moved to his side to face Jensen, hand tucked under the pillow. Which made him very adorable, especially as he chewed on his lip for a moment. “No, I’m not much for talking at these things.”

“What? After all of your videos?”

“Yeah, but that’s like … it’s for regular joes. Not for the real professionals.”

“You’re a professional,” Jensen insisted, voice going soft. “In your own way.”

“Not a real one like you.”

“Well, this real professional enjoys your videos.” Jensen cleared his throat, remembering how much he fumbled through their first meeting on the plane. “You know what I mean.”

Jared laughed. “Yeah, I know now what you mean. And thank you.”

“And your book. I use it in my transit section each semester.”

It seemed like Jared’s face went soft, for all that Jensen could see in the dark. “That’s a big compliment coming from someone as distinguished as you.”

“I’m not that distinguished.” He was blushing now, honored by Jared’s high opinion after seeing him at the conference. “You said you watched the roundtable?”

“Yeah. At a lot of these events, I prefer the open format to the formal presentations because it gets people tossing all kinds of ideas out there, no matter how little or far into theory or research they are.”

Jensen nodded, smiling as he settled further against the pillow.

“I liked how you made the case for how San Francisco is … what did you call it? Botanizing on the asphalt?”

Jensen blushed further and scratched the back of his head. The Jared Padalecki not only heard Jensen speak, but he was impressed? “I mean, I’m not sure how much tourists enjoy walking all those hills, but there’s definitely a strong relationship between the built form and everyday life of its residents. Throughout the Bay area, really. Oakland has done a lot of work the last decade or two to really embrace the idea of man-made sites with industrial spaces.”

Jared made a quiet, thoughtful noise and Jensen went on.

“There’s some interesting research coming out of Berkley, especially about how San Francisco is kind of incorporating new business among urban garden settlements and suburbanizing manufacturing to —”

Any further words were cut off by Jared’s mouth on Jensen’s. His hand slid over Jensen’s cheek and back over his ear to grab at the back of Jensen’s head.

Jensen let out a squeak of surprise as Jared pressed his tongue between Jensen’s lips and decided to just go with it, falling into the kiss with his own hands going to Jared’s face and hair.

When they stopped, Jensen sucked in a deep breath. “Didn’t know you were so turned on by urban geography.”

Jared rubbed his nose against Jensen’s before murmuring, “Say suburbanizing manufacturing again.”

Jensen took a second before asking, “Suburbanizing manufactur—?” The last word didn’t even fully form before Jared was kissing him again, eventually rolling himself over Jensen.

Ohhhhkay, so Jared apparently had a very strong kink for the Bay Region, and Jensen would find it very odd, maybe even a red flag, if not for the fact that Jared was a very good kisser and his body was nice and hard against Jensen’s … along with their dicks, which were quickly rising to the occasion.

Jared pulled back just as Jensen’s hands wrapped around Jared’s back, sliding lower. Jensen watched Jared’s mouth fall open with deep breaths. His lips were shining in the moonlight and, jeez, Jensen wanted to dive right back in. But Jared spoke first. “I’m sorry, I just am …”

“Incredibly turned on by San Francisco?”

He laughed, a bright joyful noise. “By you and all your fancy transportation speak.”

Jensen’s mouth also fell open with surprise. “By me?”

“Yeah, you,” he insisted. This time, that emphasis on you sounded warm and almost dirty, rather than shocked and worried like when Jared first discovered him in the hotel room. Jared ran his thumb over Jensen’s cheek and across his lips, sliding further down his chin and neck. “Not to mention that you’re incredibly good looking.”

“Like Zoolander.”

Another bright laugh and Jensen grinned with Jared. “Even more incredibly good looking than that. Add on your brilliant mind and I couldn’t help myself.”

Jensen held his breath as Jared’s hand ran around the back of his neck, fingernails scritching at Jensen’s hair. He squeezed his hands around Jared’s waist and hummed. “So why’d you stop?”

Jared sucked his lower lip between his teeth. “Just making sure you’re okay with my jumping you?”

Tilting his hips just right, Jensen knew Jared could tell just how okay he was with it. “I dunno. Maybe you need to convince me a little more?”

They got back to kissing and in due time, Jensen’s hands were roaming over Jared’s ass to grip tight and pull their bodies together in a slow rhythm. Jared was surely into it as his hips sped up and his hand dragged down Jensen’s side to pull at Jensen’s boxers. Seconds later, they had their dicks out and they each grabbed onto the other to fist as quick and dirty as their mouths were getting.

Jensen was so captivated by Jared’s whiny moans and the tight grip of his large hand around Jensen’s dick that he lost his own grip a few times, until he gave up and let Jared work him over until he came with a shout. His body was still rumbling with heat and shocks when he took hold of Jared’s dick and started lazily stroking him again. Then Jared wrapped his own hand around Jensen’s and set the pace as he fucked Jensen’s fist.

Jared let out a chorus of dirty groans and curses as he rushed into his orgasm and shook against Jensen’s body. Moments later, he fell away to the mattress with harsh breathing filling up the quiet of the room.

“Dear God,” Jared whispered.

“Yeah,” Jensen replied quietly, unsure what would happen next. Also afraid to say too much, given his history with Jared up until that point.

“That was, uh …”

“A surprise,” he offered, hoping it was innocent enough.

“Especially after …”

“Our epic mix-ups?” Jensen looked at Jared to get a read on the mood and he was happy to see Jared grinning at him.

Then he was nodding with an eyebrow arching up. “You definitely made up for this morning.”

Jensen laughed and nodded proudly. “Gotta love a good comeback story.”

Jared laughed with him until the room fell quiet and stuffy with that elephant in the room asking what next?

One thing was for sure, Jensen had to clean himself up so he went to the bathroom to take care of business. When he got back to the bedroom, Jared was wiping himself down with his shirt then tossing it towards his luggage in the corner. They shared a smile as Jensen slipped back into bed, and suddenly there was all too much room between them, even if it was less than how they’d started the night.

Jensen wasn’t any closer to knowing what to do or say, so he asked, “How long are you at the conference?”

Jared made a noise and Jensen swore he heard a gulp echo in the room. “Just for tomorrow. I’m heading up to Providence for some work at Brown for the rest of the week. That reminds me, I should check in for that flight …”

As Jared busied himself with his phone, Jensen nodded, getting the point. Not that he should expect more than the hasty hand jobs they’d just exchanged, but there was a pang in his chest that nothing more was in the cards for them. Especially if Jared was sweeping it under the table now and ignoring Jensen in favor of his phone.

Jensen grabbed his own phone to set his alarm even earlier than planned so he could get on with the day without worrying about the morning-after unease.

One thing he could appreciate was that the escapade wore him out and it was easy to fall asleep soon after.




Jensen fielded the last question of his session with a smile. “That’s a great point. Surely in a town with this deep of economic disparity, there needs to be a push for affordable mobility. The city is going to simplify its fare structure, increase locations to purchase passes, and offer free transit passes for residents in public housing. The county is also partnering to subsidize ten of the fifty new bus shelters, which will expand the connectivity of the system and elevate mobility of the overall transportation network …”

He clicked through slides that illustrated the greater network then zoomed into specific transit lines as he talked. The audience was at his command, watching the images change and listening to him, nodding along when he made a point about his work.

At the end of his time, the moderator joined him on stage and patted Jensen’s back as he smiled at the room. “There we have it ladies and gentlemen!” the woman announced. “Another stunning session with Northwestern University’s Jensen Ackles. We’re always glad to have this bright mind with us and we thank you all for your time this morning.”

Jensen nodded his thanks and waved to the audience, happy to be done with another bout of stressful interaction.

Around five, he’d woken up in the dark silence of the hotel room and crept around to shower, dress, and escape to breakfast without waking Jared. There was no chance he wanted to experience a stilted morning as they headed off to the same conference after what happened in that very large bed. Which had felt surprisingly small when Jensen tossed and turned throughout the night trying to avoid getting too close to Jared.

He was staring down another full day with less than stellar sleep. He desperately needed another coffee, stat, and wanted to leave before anyone got between him and more caffeine to ask follow-up questions. Sure, he loved presenting and discussing his life’s work, but he also liked some downtime after standing in front of so many colleagues like he was on the other end of a firing squad that was trying to trip him up on his research or fawn over his presentation.

“If you’d like to keep stick around,” the moderator went on, “Our next session is on the micromobility of the Scooter City, Santa Monica. Feel free to stick around or venture out to any number of other speakers down this corridor.”

Jensen parted with a handshake and tried to hurry out the side exit without giving the appearance that he was rushing. He was just about there when he was stopped in his tracks by a familiar face.

Or more accurately, a very familiar and bright smile.

Jared held the conference program up and gave Jensen an impressed look. “Multimodal Ambitions in the Motor City.”

“I like Motown,” Jensen shrugged with a slight smile.

Then he read from the abstract. “From 5 to 37 Mile Road and all the paths in between. How Detroit is building on a century-old backbone to expand the city’s partnership between the community and its transportation systems.”

Jensen stifled a smile. “And I always like a good comeback story.”

Jared’s eyebrows flitted up, and Jensen swore his cheeks started to turn pink. “Yeah, I know you do.”

Jensen looked away, hiding his own blush.

Stepping up to Jensen, Jared lowered his voice. “I’d really love to hear your thoughts on Detroit’s plans for street beautification.”

He took a deep breath and tried to keep his voice quiet yet deep, more to play with Jared than to worry about anyone overhearing them. This was serious work talk after all … “They’re adopting the NACTO Urban Street and Urban Bikeway Design Guides.”

It did the trick, because Jared bit his lower lip and nodded a little, inching closer. “Urban bikeway, you say?”

“I know you’re quite the biker,” Jensen replied, looking up at Jared from beneath his eyelashes. He tried not to beam when he saw the effect it had on Jared, how Jared was losing his resolve and turning red while bringing a hand up to graze Jensen’s forearm. “I’d like to hear what your thoughts are on restoring alleyways into bike paths.”

“Oh really?”

“How about I buy you a coffee and we really dig into that and anything else that comes up?”

Jensen smirked and gestured towards the door. “I’d like that.”

Jared nodded as he fell in step with Jensen. “And maybe I can pick your brain on contra-flow bike lanes.”

He knew this was the most absurd way of flirting, but he was all in to keep going with it. “I’d be happy to discuss contra-flow with you.”

Those bright eyes widened then softened as Jared seemed to purse his lips to stop from grinning. His dimples appeared and endeared Jensen even more to Jared’s smile.

As they waited in line at the coffee stand, Jared kept looking at Jensen, and somehow Jensen felt like their positions had swapped from this time yesterday. Now Jared seemed to be the one who couldn’t stop checking Jensen out and was terribly awkward ...

“You know,” Jared started when they were just a few steps away from placing their order. “Maybe I should get your card so we can talk more in the future.”

Jensen gave him an impressed smile, more than happy the tides had turned from last night. “Maybe you should.”

“I’m planning a series of videos on bus rapid transit and would love to talk about headways, if you had any opinions on that.”

He could read between the lines, thankful Jared was extending … whatever this was … beyond just this trip. Still, he had to tease Jared with a more professional answer, considering the company they were in. “There’s a lot to be said for the maximum throughput in passengers per hour per direction.”

They were next to place their orders, but Jared pulled them out of line with his hand at Jensen’s back. Leaning in, he asked, “You still have the room, right?”

“Yeah, I do,” he said, though he pointed behind them. “But the rest of the conference …”

“I’d really like you to consider the throughput of headways.” His eyes were intense as he tried to persuade Jensen to play hooky. “For an hour or so. In either direction.”

Jensen’s lungs suddenly felt too full to breathe and his fingers itched to grab hold of Jared right there and kiss the daylights out of him.

“If you’re picking up on what I’m putting down.”

He moved closer so they were sharing the same air, and surely it looked absurd in the crowd roaming the lobby. For a moment, Jensen didn’t care; he was more concerned with what was happening right here in front of him. “Oh I’m picking it up. I’m gonna pick it real good.”

Jared pulled back and eyed him, which made Jensen shake his head.

“That didn’t work that time.”

“No, it didn’t.”

Quickly, Jensen recovered and suggested, “How about rear loading passengers?”

With a sly smile, Jared nodded. “You truly are a professional.”

“In due time, I can get you there.”

Jared didn’t reply, didn’t need to, because the heat in his eyes said more than enough. Coffee could wait … for now. Jensen would definitely look into room service after they settled the debate about headways and rear loading.

And maybe they’d also have sex at some point.

Damn, Jensen really loved his job.