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The Opposite of Stereo

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The bookshop on Walnut Street, Bibliophile, opens up in May after at least a month of preparations. Jared's been watching the place for a while, walking by on his way to work in the mornings, and when he passes on a Wednesday and the door is standing open, he turns on a dime and walks in.

It's small, narrow from front to back, but it's well lit and the shelves are stocked from floor to ceiling with books. From the doorway he can see the aisles going back are all labeled by genre, and there's a selection of used books off to his left. There are a handful of comfy chairs in the front by the window, and books stacked on a table within easy reach.

The woman at the cash register gives him a brilliant smile and says, "Good morning!" like she's surprised he's walked in. She's tall and slim with a long braid of dark hair draped over her shoulder, and her name tag says Danneel. She has to be about Jared's age, give or take: in her late twenties.

"Morning," Jared says. "Good to see y'all finally open."

The woman nods. "I'm so glad you came in. Are you looking for anything specific?"

"Not right now," Jared says, lifting his briefcase for show, "but I'll come back this afternoon if I can. How late are you open?"

Danneel reaches over the register and plucks a business card from the rack. "We're open until six Wednesday and Thursday, eight on Fridays and Saturdays, four on Sundays, and we're closed Monday and Tuesday."

"Great," Jared says, palming the card, "thanks so much," and he walks out again.

He goes back at his lunch break, and pauses in the doorway with his sandwich in hand.

"It's fine," Danneel says, waving him in. "Just don't drip indiscriminately."

"Thanks." Jared wants to look at their Horror section. This is a small place, and although he can find the stuff he likes pretty easily at Barnes and Noble, he likes how on-the-way this shop is, and his mama taught him to shop local. "Are you the owner?"

"Oh, no," Danneel says, "that's Jensen; I'm just the public face."

"Good choice," Jared says, grinning. She rolls her eyes, but her smile is pleased and flirty. He waves his sandwich at the bookshelves. "I'm just gonna--"

"Go nuts," Danneel says, waving a hand at him.

Jared has to squeeze by a couple of other book-browsing enthusiasts to find the Horror section, but then he can settle in for at least half an hour of ogling while he eats his sandwich and doesn't think about work. He loves his job, and sometimes he knows how cliche he is for liking horror and working in a place like the Mütter, Philadelphia’s famous collection of Victorian medical oddities and specimens in jars, but it's not the same. Macabre history and paperback thrillers do not necessarily go hand in hand, but he can see the connection.

He's crouching near the floor to get a better look at the second-to-last shelf, licking the last of his sandwich off his fingers and crumpling up the wrapper, when he realizes there's someone else in the aisle with him. Jared starts at the pair of dusty Timberland boots and works his way upwards past snug, worn blue jeans, a gray and blue plaid flannel, to short, spiky hair, green eyes behind black-rimmed glasses, and freckles. The guy gives Jared a smile so bright and gorgeous it makes Jared’s stomach flip over, and turns his attention back to his armful of books. He's emptied a whole shelf in the time he's been in the aisle with Jared, and he's rearranging things like he works here.

Jared stands up, casual, and stretches his back. "This is a great collection," he says, waving a hand at the Horror shelf.

The guy doesn't respond. He sniffs and rubs under his glasses with his free hand, and keeps moving the books around. Jared frowns. Maybe he's an intern. Maybe Jared wasn't loud enough. He looks at his watch and decides the walk back to the museum can be done in under ten minutes.

He picks the most recent Stephen King paperback and the guy shifts out of his way when he moves to pass. Jared looks back over his shoulder at the last moment before he turns out of the aisle, and meets the guy's eyes again. The guy smiles self-consciously and ducks his head, turning his attention deliberately back to his work. Weird. Cute, but weird.

"Good choice," Danneel says, when he sets the book on the counter. She starts to ring him up. "Listen, we're going to start a used book consignment thing, if you've got anything sitting around that you wish would pull its weight in life. We'll have flyers about it soon, when Jensen gets them back from the printers, but I thought you might be one of those people who has a stash of well-loved books lying around."

"Sure," Jared says, thinking of a shelf or two at home that he could set free.

As he's pulling out his wallet to pay for the book, the cute guy from the Horror aisle comes up and slides in behind the counter, giving both Jared and Danneel a smile. So he does work here.

"This is Jensen," Danneel says, grinning. When Jensen doesn't respond, her smile slips and she narrows her eyes at him. She taps him on the shoulder, and when he looks up she hooks her right index finger over her right ear and raises her eyebrows.

Jensen's hand flies to his own ear, and he says, "Sorry, forgot," with a grimace.

"This is Jensen," Danneel says again, raising her voice. "He owns the place."

"Hi," Jared says. Jensen turns to face him fully, and Jared can see now the hearing aid tucked into the shell of his right ear. “I’m Jared."


"Jared," Jared says again, a little louder, not sure how loud is appropriate and how loud is rude. “This place is great.”

“Thanks, it’s good to meet you," Jensen says. "If I ignored you earlier, I'm... sorry about that, too. I think I turned my… thing off earlier when I got on the computer to look at the... shipments..." He trails off as Danneel rolls her eyes at him. "Sorry."

"It's okay," Jared says, grinning and feeling better about the whole thing. Jensen visibly relaxes, and his smile is just as good as before, making his eyes crinkle at the corners. He reaches out to touch the book Jared is buying before Danneel can hand it over. "This is a good one— I think I slept with the lights on for three nights."

"Awesome," Jared says, "I'm looking forward to it." He slides it off the counter and tucks it under his arm. "Well, back to work."

"Thanks for coming in," Jensen calls after him as he walks out into the afternoon sunshine, and Jared turns back to wave.

Jared spends the afternoon in his basement office poking at a lesson plan and trying to find things in the museum catalogue that would fit the "body modification" topic. They have plenty of stuff on tattoos but not that much on piercings, so he'll have to go on eBay and see if anyone is selling exotic piercing tools. He's found weirder on the internet, this should be pretty straightforward. He spends too much time looking at crazy auctions, and finally declares himself spent for the afternoon at a quarter to five. He has three weeks until the lesson plan has to be finished; he can look more later.

Jared walks past Bibliophile again on the way home. It's still open, but Danneel is occupied with a customer at the counter and Jensen is nowhere to be seen, so Jared carries on. He has to finish the book in his briefcase, and if Jensen's recommendation is anything to go by, he might do it quickly.

When he gets home, Genevieve has beat him to the mail and is probably already cooking something. The little house they share in Society Hill smells like garlic when he walks in, and he takes a deep breath and drops his briefcase on the floor.

"Honey, I'm home!" he yells.

“Missed you so much,” she hollers back, and looks up from the stove with a grin when he comes into the kitchen. Her boyfriend, Max, is slicing onions and crying by the sink.

“Hey Jared,” he says, wiping his face on the back of his wrist.

“Bad day?” Jared asks.

Gen says, “Bad joke,” and swats him with the flat end of a wooden spoon. Pasta-water residue sticks to his nice shirt, and he picks at it, pouting. “Oh, spare me. How was work?”

“Fine,” he says. “That bookstore on Walnut opened up, finally.”

“Did you go in?”

Jared sits down at the table and picks at the grapes sitting in a bowl and slowly going soft. “Yeah, it’s cool. Mostly genre stuff, good horror section.”

“You pick anything out?”

“Stephen King book,” Jared says, pulling it out. “The owner said it was a good one.”

“Cool,” Gen says, and pauses by the table to look over his shoulder. “Not my area, but if they recommended it.”

“You’d like it, y’all should stop by. It’s not big, but I think it’ll stick.”

“Gonna join a book group?” Gen teases. The water is boiling now and she dumps pasta in. She’s not an amazing cook, not very adventurous, but she keeps them fed. Max moved in a few months ago and the three of them get along better than Jared had hoped they would— he wasn’t sure how into living with a couple he was going to be, but they all have enough in common that they hang out. Max and Gen don’t have incredibly loud sex all the time too, so it’s fine. Once or twice a month they get enthusiastic, but Jared can put up with it.

“Maybe,” Jared says, turning the book over in his hands and smiling. He thinks about Danneel and Jensen, how excited they were to have him in there, about Jensen’s embarrassed smile when he got caught ignoring people, and about Danneel’s fond exasperation. Old friends, he decides, possibly a couple, but definitely long-term either way. She’s used to him turning the hearing aid off, and he’s used to being scolded for it. “The owner was cute.”

Gen sets the pot of pasta down on the table in front of him and hands him a fork. “Nice. I’ve got class in an hour, so I’ve gotta scram, but if you want to enjoy this meal you’re welcome to get a plate.” She’s getting her PhD in Physics at Penn, and Max and Jared have to put up with a lot of Physics talk when she gets back from her classes. They know more about Quantum than Jared ever managed to glean from college, and for that at least he feels clever. Max listens more attentively than Jared does, which is a point in his favor.

When Gen is gone, after she promises to listen to Jared’s story about the hot book nerd, Jared beats Max at Jeopardy! and then sets about reading his new book.

Jensen was right— it’s creepy as shit. Jared has to stop every so often and check Facebook just to keep from totally flipping out. Also he’s losing at Words With Friends to Misha Collins, the librarian at the Mütter. They’re neck and neck, but Misha keeps getting slightly better words. Jared thinks maybe he’s cheating. But he’s also a librarian.

It's less than a week until he's back in the shop, this time on Saturday morning with a paper bag full of used books. It's Jensen behind the counter this time, and when Jared comes in he grins broadly and raises his hand in greeting.

"Hi," he says, a beat late, like it's an afterthought, and his cheeks go pink.

Jared sets the bag on the counter and starts unloading them. “Danneel said you were looking for consignment books.”

“Yeah, she’s right,” Jensen says, picking them up one by one and looking at the covers. “These are great— why get rid of them?”

“Making room for new stuff,” Jared says, leafing through an old copy of Charnel House. The pages are familiar under his fingers, warm and worn, and Jensen smiles. He holds out his hand, and Jared puts the book into it. “And, you know, little extra cash doesn’t hurt.”

“Yeah,” Jensen says again. “So we can do this two ways: either I can give you cash when a book sells— I mean, you can let that accumulate also— or you can get store credit.”

“Store credit,” Jared says, “definitely.”

“Awesome. You can change your mind, too, but I’ll put you down for store credit.” Jensen turns to the computer and starts typing at an astonishing speed. “What’s your last name?” He looks at Jared.

“Padalecki,” Jared says.

“Christ,” Jensen says, “spell it for me.” His gaze is fixed on Jared’s mouth as Jared spells it, and he types without looking at the keyboard. “Okay. So we’ll have a shelf up here in the front, and they’ll be less expensive than the new ones, but it’ll build up.” He smiles again, and Jared’s heart skips a beat. “You wanna look around while I put these away, or—?”

“I wanted to ask you, actually,” Jared says, on an impulse driven by the smile, “if you’d be interested in getting coffee with me some time.”

Jensen blinks. His green eyes are wide behind his glasses. He bites his lower lip, and looks away. “That’s sweet of you,” he says, “but I don’t really date—“

“Guys?” Jared asks, disappointed. He gestures vaguely to the friendship bracelet on Jensen’s left wrist, which is definitely a rainbow pride bracelet. “I thought—“

“At all,” Jensen corrects. “I’m not good at it.”

Jared tips his head, back to being intrigued. “Not good at it?”

Jensen shrugs, awkward, and his hand goes up unconsciously to touch the hearing aid in his ear. Jared knows a nervous habit when he sees one. “I mean, I just. I haven’t been on a lot of dates— Christ, look at me, too much information. Sorry.”

“It’s just coffee,” Jared says, smiling. He reaches out slowly, feeling a little like he’s reaching for a skittish cat, and touches the back of Jensen’s hand. “I think you’re cute, I wanna get to know you.”

Jensen’s blushing now, and he rolls his eyes. “Okay,” he says, “enough. If I agree, will you not call me cute again?”

“If that’s the price,” Jared says, “then yes.”

“Fine.” Jensen gathers up the books on the counter, and Jared withdraws his hand. “Danneel’s in tomorrow morning, but I’ve got to work at noon.”

“Ten okay?” Jared asks. “There’s a Starbucks at Walnut and 16th.”

“Starbucks is okay,” Jensen says. “Think it’ll be quiet?” He grimaces, shrugging with his one shoulder closer to the hearing aid. “I don’t like turning this thing up very loud, but I like the sound of your voice. I want to be able to hear you.”

“If it’s not,” Jared says, “we can walk.”

“Worse,” Jensen says. “I lipread a lot.”

“Okay.” Jared fishes out his wallet and finds a business card. He takes the pen from beside the register and writes down his cell phone number on the back. “We’ll make it work.”

“And I only text,” Jensen says, but he takes the card and tucks it in his back pocket. He’s smiling, too, which is a good sign.

“I can live with that. Mind if I stay and browse a bit?”

“Not at all. If you need anything, come find me.”

“I will,” Jared promises. He winks, because it feels right, and because Jensen is still looking at his face. Jensen blushes again and dips his head, and Jared takes that as his cue to walk into the shelves.

He doesn’t actually need anything, because the book he bought Monday is still sitting on his bedside table mocking him, but it’s better than just leaving. He can bother Jensen at least twice more before he goes home, and maybe even see that blush again if he’s lucky. He’s not usually into shy guys— he’s a pretty rambunctious person, he knows it, and he prefers the type that can keep the energy going— but something about Jensen makes him want to slow down a little, sweet talk, coax him out.

Jared browses the Sci-Fi section absently, not really absorbing the titles, as he lets himself imagine what the coffee date will be like. Jared will find them a quiet corner, and Jensen will grin and fiddle with his coffee cup sleeve. Jared will tell him about his job, about the kids he gets to work with, and Jensen will tell him what it’s like to own his own business. They’ll compare colleges and best friends, and they’ll be so engrossed in the conversation Jensen will realize he’s late getting to work. He’ll be in a hurry, trying to get out the door, and Jared will stop him on the street corner and kiss him, just once, before he sends him on his way.

Jared catches himself wetting his lips and looks around in embarrassment, just in case anyone was watching him fantasize. He’s being creepy. He should save the date for reality, tomorrow, and not stand around in Jensen’s bookstore imagining kissing him, even if imaginary-Jensen is a pretty good imaginary-kisser.

Jensen’s at the front again when Jared leaves, and he goes pink instantly when Jared waves and says, “So I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah, see you,” Jensen says, waving, and Jared walks out into the May sunshine with a spring in his step.

Jared’s late to his own very important date, and he blames the bus system, also his alarm, also waffles. He’s used to sleeping in on Sundays and so he ignored it until he remembered he had a date, and then Gen was making waffles even though she knew about the date and he’s a sucker for waffles, and then he’d missed the bus on Walnut and had to walk/jog eight whole blocks instead of riding in style on public transit. Point is, he’s late, and he’s sweaty, and Jensen is sitting at a table by the window, cup of coffee in hand, looking nervous and cute. Jared bursts into Starbucks and hurries to the table, and Jensen looks up at his approach. His whole face brightens, and Jared sinks into the seat across from him, winded.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, “this is totally not the way to impress a guy.”

Jensen shrugs, hiding behind the edge of his coffee lid. He takes a careful sip and sets it down again. “Not really,” he says.

“How long have you been waiting?”

“Six minutes,” Jensen says, checking his watch. “Was starting to get nervous.” It sounds like a joke, but his smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Jared says again. “I meant to buy you that coffee.”

“It’s okay,” Jensen says. “Promise. Go get something for yourself.”

Jared has to stand in line for his coffee, and he keeps looking back over his shoulder to find Jensen watching him, unashamed. When Jared meets his eyes he smiles, and Jared feels a little shiver of pleasure run down his spine. Jensen is sexy like that, leaning back in his chair, his knees apart, one hand on his thigh. His body language is wide open, and even though he’s chewing on his lower lip and tapping his fingers against his coffee cup, he’s still game to be on a date.

Jared pays and picks up the hot cup in careful hands. He slides back into the seat across from Jensen and takes the lid off to let it cool. Jensen takes another sip of his drink and clears his throat.

“So,” Jared says.

Jensen gives him an amused smile and pushes his glasses an unnecessary millimeter up his nose. Then he touches the hearing aid surreptitiously and drops his hand back into his lap. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I told you I wasn’t good at this.”

“No,” Jared says, “you showed up on time, that makes you automatically better at this date than I am.”

That gets a little laugh, and Jared grins.

“So tell me about yourself,” he says. “Did you always want to own a bookstore?”

Jensen nods and leans forwards, putting one elbow on the table. “I’ve always been into books,” he says. “I was born hard of hearing— I’m totally deaf on the right and not good for much on the left— but I learned to read fast and things made sense. We signed, when I was growing up, and I went to a school for the Deaf, but my parents and my brother and sister are all Hearing. Books just—“ He blushes. “They get me, they talk to me without my having to try so hard.” Jensen bites his lip and shrugs, like it’s not a big deal. “So I almost went into Library Science, but they didn’t offer it at Penn, so I took a lot of Writing instead.”

“Are you a writer?” Jared asks, impressed.

Jensen snorts. “I write,” he says, “but I’m not a Writer.” Jared can hear the capitalization.

“Bullshit,” Jared says, “I bet you’re great.”

“You haven’t read anything I’ve written,” Jensen says, but he’s ducking his head and smiling, embarrassed and pleased.

“I’d like to, but only if you wanted to share. I bet you’ve got, like…” Jared pauses, and then decides to plow forwards: Jensen shared the story, so he’s not awkward about it. “Like a different perspective on things. Life. What do you write? Fiction?”

“Poetry, mostly,” Jensen mumbles, bright red.

“That’s awesome,” Jared says instantly. He doesn’t read a lot of poetry, to be perfectly fair, but Jensen looks so pleased and embarrassed and earnest that he’d shoot himself in the foot before he admitted it. He’s just not familiar with poetry, that’s all. He’s dated an artist or two in his time, and he knows that sometimes it’s all right to not be all over your partner’s interests.

“Some fiction,” Jensen goes on, “short stories, I guess, because they’re a similar kind of tell-everything-in-a-small-space format, but. I’d like to try novels some day.”

“What was the first book you read that made you want to write?”

The Iliad,” Jensen says, thumbing his coffee cup. “It’s poetry and prose at the same time, you know? I read the Odyssey first in school, obviously, but the Iliad was so different.”

“Have you heard—“ Jared stops. Jensen raises an eyebrow, and Jared blushes. “I was going to ask if you’d heard the recording by Ian McKellan.”

Jensen laughs. “Oh, yeah, I have. It’s great, right? His voice is so rich, and the repetition is so beautiful.” He smirks at Jared. “The hard of hearing thing isn’t as big of a deal as it seems.”

“No, I never—“

“It’s okay,” Jensen says, splaying his hands, “really. You know how the Beatles got all that kind of weird, stereo music, where the sound goes from one side of the speakers to the other?”

“Yeah,” Jared says, not sure how that relates.

“I don’t,” Jensen says, “but that’s probably the worst that’s ever happened. I can’t hear the shift. Sometimes I can’t tell what direction an ambulance is coming from, so I just stop walking until I see it. I listen to music, but Danneel picks it at the shop because she’s got a better sense of what’s appropriate. Mostly I like stuff with a really heavy beat that I can feel in the bass, and that’s not really bookshop material. She likes gentle indie stuff that’s all guitars and no drums, and I like that all right, but I like it better when I can feel it.” He pauses to take a sip from his cup again.

“Do you go to clubs much, then?” Jared asks.

“Oh yeah,” Jensen says, “my friends and I go and dance and come home as deaf as anyone else.” He grins. “Only we tend to show up already like that.”

It makes Jared laugh, the nonchalance of it, and he sweeps a hand through his hair to dispel the last of the lingering awkwardness.

“So,” Jensen says, “enough of that. What do you do?”

How was your date? Kristen asks Jensen after dinner that night. They tend to eat quickly and silently and save the talking for afterwards, since it’s so hard to sign and eat at the same time. Now they’re in the living room, dishes washed and dried, pots soaking in the sink, and Jensen pushes up his sleeves.

Fine, he signs, little awkward but not bad. Cute boy.

First date awkward, Kristen asks, or no more dates awkward?

First date, Jensen says, grinning. He comes into my store a lot; that would be the worst.

Kristen laughs, her mirth silent and all visual now that Jensen’s gotten rid of the hearing aid for the night. It’s so much more comfortable this way: Jensen can give his brain a rest from the din of the default world, and using his hands and body to talk is faster, more expressive, more casual. Switching between English and ASL is like switching between any other languages, and coming home to sign is like being an ex-pat in a foreign country.

Kristen and Jensen and Matt have been roommates since senior year, and it was probably laziness that kept them all in Philadelphia after graduation. Matt is Hearing, but worked for the SDS as an interpreter for students as a side job, and he and Jensen got to know each other well Jensen’s freshman year. He had Hearing friends in school, and his family, but it wasn’t quite enough preparation for an entire University full of students who did a double take when Jensen started talking with his hands as well as his voice, and lecturers whose mouths he couldn’t see from the middle rows. He started sitting in front, and talking more and signing less, giving in to the pressure to use the hearing aid even thought it filled his head with noise until it ached, but Matt had been invaluable sitting beside him and interpreting. After that first semester Jensen got himself figured out, but signing with Matt at the end of the day was like coming home. Matt introduced Jensen to Kristen, and a dozen other Deaf or Hard of Hearing students, and Jensen knew then that going so far from his parents, stepping so damn far outside his comfort zone, was going to be okay.

Matt slams the door when he gets home from work, and the concussion rattles the windows and vibrates the floor. Kristen and Jensen both turn to greet him, fingers flying, and he puts his bag down in the corner and shucks off his coat, nodding and smiling.

Good day? Jensen asks.

Why so late? Kristen asks.

Dinner function, Matt signs, had to keep up with this lecturer who kept changing his mind about what he was going to say. He had slides and everything, just wasn’t sure how he wanted to show them. Three people in the audience laughing at me, trying to interpret. He shakes his head, wry smile in place. They understand, I think; not my fault.

Food in the fridge, Jensen says, sinking back into his chair.

Thanks, Matt says, winking at Kristen, and he disappears into the kitchen.

Kristen taps Jensen on the knee to get his attention again, and signs, So, boy?

Jensen blushes. She’s like a dog with a bone. It’s not his fault he hasn’t gone on a successful date in something uncomfortably close to four years. He’s busy, he’s been working a lot to get the start-up money for the shop and doing all the planning, and after the disaster with Ryan in junior year, he hasn’t been really all that excited about the whole scene. Jared’s different, Jensen hopes.

Name? Kristen prods.

Jensen fingerspells, J-A-R-E-D, and shrugs. A teacher, I think, at a museum.

Kristen looks impressed. Which?

M-U-T-T-E-R, Jensen spells. You know?

Love, Kristen says, grinning. Very weird. You might like.

I have heard of it, Jensen says. But yeah, he was nice, I had a good time. He was late.

Kristen makes a face. Awkward, she signs. How late?

Couple of minutes, not much. Think he took the bus.

Real Philly man, then, she says. Surprised he doesn’t ride his bike.

Jensen grins, picturing it. Too tall, he signs, exaggerating how tall Jared is. He’d probably need an enormous bike, too big for the streets of Philadelphia.

Kristen’s eyebrows go up. Proportional?

Stop, Jensen signs firmly, blushing. Not going there.

She shrugs. Okay, okay. She puts her fist to her chest and signs, Sorry, but doesn’t look very genuine. Jensen rolls his eyes. Too soon, Kristen adds at the last moment.

Matt comes back into the room, holding a plate of microwaved food. Jensen can hear his footsteps faintly, but he could never tell what direction the sound was coming from if he didn’t already know. Matt sinks into the couch beside Kristen, and she switches her attention from Jensen to him. Jensen shakes his head, embarrassed and pleased, and watches them talk.

His phone vibrates in his pocket, and he shifts to pull it out. It took him a long time for him to explain to the guy at the store that he wanted the fewest possible minutes on the phone that they could sell him and the most data, because him talking about being Deaf was clearly baffling. Jensen thinks sometimes that he’s got the best of both worlds, being able to straddle the divide, but it’s moments like that that leave him frustrated and briefly wishing he were one or the other, not both.

1 New Message the phone says, and Jensen’s heart is suddenly and unnecessarily in his throat. He opens it, recognizes the number as Jared’s even though he hasn’t added it to his address book yet, and bites his lip.

Had a great time, Jared has written, really enjoyed talking to you. Can I tempt you to dinner some time?

Dinner is a real date, Jensen thinks, if coffee is a pre-date. Coffee is casual, and potentially meaningless, but dinner is serious.

The floor vibrates, and Jensen looks up. Kristen has stomped to get his attention again, and she’s signing, Who? J-A-R-E-D?

Jensen sticks out his tongue at her and signs, one-handed, None of your business! It’s not convincing, though, because he knows he’s blushing again. Damn it, he doesn’t need to be this readable. Kristen is grinning and making give it to me motions, and Jensen clutches his phone to his chest.

He wants to go to dinner, he signs.

Date from today? Matt asks. Was it good?

Yes, Jensen admits.

So go, Matt says. Might get you laid.

Stop, Jensen signs again, my sex life is none of your business.

Then don’t complain about it so much, Kristen signs, and go on this date.

Can we talk about anything else? Jensen asks. If I promise to go?

Matt and Kristen both nod enthusiastically, and Jensen rolls his eyes. He agonizes for a minute or two over the return text, and finally just writes Love to. Friday?

Kristen turns on the TV and leaves the sound on for Matt, and Jensen has barely put the phone away before it vibrates again with a new message from Jared.

Perfect. :)

Jensen spends the rest of the week at the shop, torn between nervously excited and hopefully terrified that Jared would come in. Danneel yells at him from the back on Tuesday morning that she’d just seen Jared go past, but by the time Jensen finishes warring with himself over running up and actually doing it, Jared is long gone.

“You are ridiculous,” she tells him fondly, patting his cheek. “He waved, if that’s any consolation.”

It’s not, because now Jensen is just disappointed he missed Jared’s awkward on-the-move wave, and then he feels silly that he’s so riled up about something so ridiculous. It’s just a guy, he tells himself, but a voice in the back of his head reminds him that it’s been a damn long time since there was a guy as interested in Jensen as Jensen is starting to feel in return.

On Wednesday, Jensen gets another text from Jared, asking, Are we still on for Friday?

Jensen finds himself replying Absolutely before he checks himself and realizes how kind of vaguely desperate that sounds, but Danneel looks at the message and shakes her head.

“It’s fine,” she says. “No harm in a little enthusiasm.”

They set it up for seven p.m. on Friday, and Jared offers to pick the place. He has somewhere in mind, he says, and wants to show Jensen part of the city he probably doesn’t get to much. He’s not wrong. Old City is a bus ride or two away from Jensen’s apartment in West Philly, and he got the historical sight-seeing out of his system in college. He looks up National Mechanics after Jared suggests it, and figures it’s as good a place as any.

The rest of the week is thankfully busy, with a load of orders coming in that Jensen spends all of Thursday unpacking and organizing while Danneel runs the shop. He scored big time when he met her, two years out of college when he worked as a copyeditor for a local magazine. She was a writer who kept challenging his editorial decisions, and when he finally met her in person to talk about it he discovered she had learned to sign as a child because of a kid in her neighborhood, and their constant emails back and forth about word choice had been a ruse of hers to meet him. She was disappointed to find he was gay, but decided they needed to be friends anyway. He admitted his desire to open a bookstore a few months later, and she’d been on board from the start.

Friday he collects all of the consignment information and spends a couple of hours setting up the store credit system, and after lunch he allows himself to agonize again about the date. Danneel offers to come over and help him dress.

“I’m meeting Kristen anyway,” she says, “we might as well bother you for an hour first.”

“No,” he says, “I’d much rather the two of you be as far from the house as possible when he shows up. I’m going on a date, not inviting him over for an interrogation.”

“Your fashion funeral,” she says.

“Shut up, I can dress myself.”

Jared pulls up right at 6:45 and parallel parks like a pro. Jensen can see him from the living room, watches him pause at the top of the steps and tug the sleeves of his sweater down, smooth his hair, and take a breath before he presses the buzzer. Inside the house there are lights in every room that blink when the doorbell is rung, but Jensen is already halfway to the door by the time they start. He can feel the excitement twisting up his insides, and he tamps it down as he opens the door.

“Hey,” he says aloud.

“Hi,” Jared says, “how are you?”

“Great,” Jensen says, and he means it. Jared looks really sharp: he’s wearing a blazer over a button-down, dark slacks, and polished shoes. Jensen, in his good jeans and sweater, feels a little under dressed, but Jared gives him a less-than-subtle once-over and grins.

“You look great,” he says. “You ready?”

Jensen nods, checks his pockets for his keys, and closes the door behind them. Kristen and Matt are out for the evening, Kristen is hanging out with Danneel and Matt working a dinner function again, so he doesn’t have to think about nosy roommates. They make everything a big deal. He follows Jared down sidewalk to the car.

Jared says something Jensen only hears the tail end of, and he thinks bitterly, Good start to the evening, but says, “Sorry, didn’t catch that. Say again?”

“My roommate’s,” Jared says again, turning towards him, “the car, I mean.”

“Oh,” Jensen says, “it’s nice.”

“It’s old,” Jared says, smiling sheepishly. “I’m making excuses. Anyway.”

Jensen is glad for the passenger seat. His good ear is towards Jared, and even with the radio on low he can hear him talking about the restaurant. It’s kind of near Jared’s place he says, and apparently awesome. Housed in an old bank, Jared says, and really beautiful inside. Jensen ‘hmm’s along and says, “I’m looking forward to it,” but his hands are shaking. Fuck, why? He’s not good at this dating thing, let alone with someone who doesn’t sign. He hasn’t had a smart, attractive man interested in him seriously since college, and even that ended in a fiery blaze of accusations and some choice words that still make Jensen grimace. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Jared is sweet, so far, and hasn’t made a big fuss about Jensen’s hearing, but that could change in a single misunderstanding, an inconvenience, one too many repeated comments. Jensen hates having to ask people to repeat themselves because it makes him stand out.

The spring night is still light but Jared’s attention is fixed on the road, which is good because Jared can’t see Jensen quietly freaking out. He’s still talking, now about his roommates and their house on 4th Street, how he had dogs as a kid and wants them again and is trying to convince Gen and Max a rescue mutt would be a good idea.

“It’s like trying to talk my mom into getting a dog,” Jared says. “I promise I’ll walk it and feed it, but they’re worried if I’m at work all day the dog will get restless or something, which, okay, valid point, but I still kind of feel like I’m in middle school asking if I can keep a pet turtle.”

Jensen snorts. Some of the tension is draining out of him. “I’ve always wanted a dog,” he says. “My parents are cat people, but I’ve always wanted a dog.”

“They’re great,” Jared agrees, “and they’re like the ultimate motivator for exercise. Feeling too lazy for a run? Too bad, gotta take the dog out.” He makes a few right-hand turns then, looking for a parking spot, and pulls up to a space beside Carpenter’s Hall. He laughs self-consciously, checking the mirrors, and then glances at Jensen. “I could just park at my place,” he says, “but I don’t… that’s a little presumptuous.”

“Not if it saves you parking money,” Jensen says.

“Okay,” Jared says, and pulls away again. They park behind a line of Old City historic houses and Jared hurries around the car to open Jensen’s door. It’s a little much, but he’s kind of cute in his earnestness. “Two blocks,” Jared promises, and offers Jensen his hand.

Jensen takes it. Jared’s palm is warm and his fingers are strong, and Jensen hand fits perfectly. Jensen’s tall but Jared’s taller, and somehow it doesn’t make him feel all that weird. He’s used to being the taller one, but Jared’s personality suits his size. Jensen feels like he fits there beside him, being led a little bit, taking bigger steps to keep up. Jared slows a fraction, making an apologetic face, and Jensen finds himself smiling.

“This is a great part of town,” he says, “I don’t spend nearly enough time at this end.”

“Isn’t it?” Jared says. “When Gen told me she’d found a place over here that was for rent a few years back, I almost couldn’t believe it. It’s a really cool neighborhood.”

The restaurant is on 3rd Street, and they have to climb a wide set of marble steps to get to the front door. Jared holds it open and Jensen steps inside, and the elation about the date being a potential success fades rapidly as his heart sinks. It’s noisy in here, too many people talking and laughing, the music playing, and it’s dark too. It’s not totally impossible to see, but Jensen’s going to have to work to keep up with the conversation. If he’d picked the place, it would be small and well lit, and noise would be no issue. Maybe next time, if this date doesn’t melt into a pile of awkwardness and half-formed thoughts.

Jared gives the host his name and they’re led past the bar into a corner. The table is small and the setting is intimate, and Jared offers Jensen the chair so he can have his back to the room. It’s calculated, Jensen can tell with the way Jared turns his head back and forth, trying to figure out which will be easier, and he appreciates it. He sits down, swallowing his anxiety, and Jared slides into the booth seat.

“Okay,” Jensen says, placing his hand on top of Jared’s menu before he can lift it, “I need to— Jared, this place is loud and kind of dark, and I really like you, and I really want this to work, so I have to lay down a few ground rules.”

“I’m ready,” Jared says, letting go of the menu and looking at him intently.

Jensen bites his lip. “Thanks,” he says. “First, you have to always face me when you talk.” Jared nods. “And you can’t do it with food in your mouth.” Jared laughs, and nods again, grinning now. “And if I ask you to say something again, just—“ He trails off.

“Hey,” Jared says, sliding his fingers under and around Jensen’s on the menu, “it’s all good. I know what you need is a little different from, like, other people I’ve gone out with, but I’m up for it. Just keep telling me what to do, seriously.” He looks around at the restaurant, sheepish, and says, “I didn’t think about the lighting in here; I should have known. If it’s not cool, we can find another place. I’m not married to it. Although their beer is great.”

Jensen grins and squeezes his hand. “It’ll be fine, it’ll just be the opposite of a speed date.”

“Fair enough,” Jared says.

The waitress comes up and introduces herself, and Jensen is too busy watching Jared’s smile to catch her name. She’s asking if they want drinks, and Jared makes an approximation of the sign drink with his right hand. He might have been studying, Jensen’s not sure. He finds the first IPA on tap and asks for that, and Jared orders some local beer Jensen’s not familiar with. When the waitress is gone, Jared says, “Their burgers are awesome,” and turns his attention deliberately towards the food section.

This is okay, Jensen thinks. Jared wants to be here, with him, and he needs to stop getting down on himself. It’s a challenge that’s worth it, and he’s used to the Hearing world. Enough bullshit.

The waitress comes back for their food order— National Burger for Jared and salmon for Jensen— and Jared talks Jensen into nachos to share. Jensen’s still grinning when she leaves again, and Jared’s watching him with a sort of fondness that makes Jensen’s stomach feel like it’s stuffed full of butterflies.

“So,” he says, taking a quick sip of his beer, “tell me more about being a museum educator. Do you need an education degree for that kind of thing?”

“No,” Jared says, “but I have one.”

They manage to pause in their conversation long enough to accept their food, and Jared is really good about not talking while he’s eating. He slips a few times, and Jensen must make a face because he covers his mouth immediately and looks embarrassed. Jensen lets it go, reminding himself that they’re both trying. The restaurant isn’t so loud that he can’t hear anything Jared says, but with one hearing aid and that only turned up so loud that Jensen can keep his brain intact, he catches maybe three quarters and relies on lipreading for the rest.

He gets a rescue text midway through the nachos, and fishes it out of his pocket, confused. “Sorry,” he says, when he remembers and grins, “lemme just—“

Jared waits, eating all the nachos with olives on them that Jensen doesn’t want, and raises his eyebrows when Jensen puts the phone away again.

“I do not need to pretend there’s an emergency,” Jensen says.

“Oh!” Jared says, and covers his mouth again to finish the nacho he’s chewing. “That’s good,” he says finally.

Dinner goes well, all things considered. Jensen relaxes into the atmosphere of the restaurant and he tunes out the rest of the din so that he can focus on Jared. Jared keeps reaching over to touch his hand, almost unconsciously, and obviously doesn’t mind leading the conversation. Jensen likes the sound of his voice, likes watching him talk with his hands, his face expressive, and his laughter infectious. He finds himself wiping tears out of his eyes at one moment, caught by surprise by Jared’s snark, and Jared is beaming at him across the table, pleased with himself at Jensen’s reaction. Jensen returns the smile, and Jared’s grows bigger.

Jensen allows himself a second beer, and Jared accepts his offer to try it. Jensen takes a sip of Jared’s, and then they start sharing food across the plates. It feels more intimate than a second date should be, and at the same time lower pressure than other dates Jensen’s been on in the past. Granted, it’s been a while since he had a second date, but something about Jared is different. It’s easier to talk to him, easier to connect, and the couple of times Jensen has to ask him to speak up or say something again he just does it, easy as you please, without a sidelong look or a tensing in his jaw that Jensen’s seen before. Jensen’s difference doesn’t seem to make him uncomfortable— and why should it? the more cynical part of him asks— and that goes a long way to making Jensen more comfortable as well.

Jared’s talking again, and Jensen catches check and unless you want, but the rest is lost in the angle of Jared’s face and the pass of his fingers unconsciously over his mouth. On an impulse, Jensen reaches across the table and takes gentle hold of Jared’s chin, turning Jared towards him again. Jared stops, mid-word, and stares at Jensen with his mouth half-open in surprise. Jensen should apologize, should take his hand off Jared’s face, but instead he just stares back, caught by the look in Jared’s eyes. It’s not any of the negative things Jensen was expecting: no irritation, no displeasure. Just confusion melting into comprehension and amusement.

“Sorry,” Jared murmurs, and Jensen really should take his hand back. But instead he’s leaning, pushing out of his chair to lean right across the table, over the packets of sugar, to kiss Jared. As first kisses go it’s not the smoothest, but Jared takes it in stride and actually looks pleased once Jensen sits his ass down like a normal person.

“What was that for?” Jared asks, and before Jensen can take his hand away he catches it in his own and curls his fingers around it. He rubs his thumb over Jensen’s knuckles.

Jensen can feel himself blushing. Maybe the low lighting isn’t so bad after all. “Just. Felt like it.” He shrugs, awkward again. In the moment it was the right move, maybe, and Jared reacted well, but he’s not moving to return the kiss. Probably because it was over the table, Jensen reminds himself, and Jared has some self control.

“I was asking,” Jared says, “about whether you wanted to get the check, or have some dessert.”

“What do you think?” Jensen could go either way; he doesn’t need cake, but he wouldn’t turn it down. Either way, he’s not sure he wants the evening to end yet.

“I’d be happy with the check, but I don’t want to have to take you home just yet.” Jared’s thumb hasn’t stopped moving over Jensen’s hand, and the touch is starting to do things to him. It’s like a promise. Jensen knows the gay dating scene, even if he’s not all that active in it: first dates are usually the prime time to take a guy to bed, and although the coffee date was officially first, this is the one that counts.

“Yeah,” Jensen agrees, turning his hand over in Jared’s grip to press their palms together. “I’m not ready to go home yet either.”

He watches Jared take a little breath, his eyes darkening, and lets himself smirk. Jared knows the game, too. He’s been polite up until now, testing the waters, and Jensen has to give him the right signals. He wants it. He wants Jared. He doesn’t want to go to a club and let Jared grind up on his ass for an hour before they can get anywhere, so he has to do this just so.

He lets Jared pay, since Jared promised him that cup of coffee and then showed up late. He can get the next one, when he picks the brightly lit restaurant that he likes best. Jared tips generously, whether for show or because he’s a nice guy Jensen can’t decide, and decides that is a good sign.

Jared pauses on the stairs outside the restaurant, and turns to Jensen. “Do you want to get a drink, or something?” His hands are shoved in his pockets and his hair is falling in his eyes. Jensen can read uncertainty when he sees it.

“No,” he says, stepping close and tucking two fingers into the curl of Jared’s hand, “but I could use a cup of coffee.”

“Now?” Jared asks, looking around in surprise. “It’s like nine at— oh.” Jensen shrugs, looking away from him. He would have missed Jared’s next words, if Jared didn’t put his lips to Jensen’s good ear and ask, “So do you want to come back to my place?”

Jensen nods. “If you—“

“Oh,” Jared says, “I do.”

The living room is lit when Jared unlocks the front door, and he just knows Max and Gen will be sitting there, probably watching a movie, ready to see him walk in with his date. He’ll have to introduce them, and chat, and maybe even make actual coffee, instead of hustling Jensen straight to his bedroom. Then again, maybe it’s better that way so he doesn’t come across as a total horn-dog and instead convinces Jensen he has manners.

“Hey you,” Gen says when he opens the door all the way, “how was it?” She’s paused the movie and Max is sitting up from his position no doubt with his head in her lap.

“Uh,” Jared says as Jensen comes in behind him, “great, actually.”

She raises both eyebrows, and Jensen stops short.

“Oh,” he says, “these must be your roommates.”

Jared grimaces, but turns it into what he hopes is a convincing grin.

“Jensen, this is Gen and Max; guys, Jensen.”

Jensen’s look of awkward hesitation smooths into polite interest, and he steps into the living room to shake hands. Gen glances at Jared over Max’s shoulder, winking hugely, and Jared rolls his eyes. No way Jensen didn’t see that.

“I’m gonna make some coffee,” he says, “you guys want any?”

Max and Gen decline, and Jensen follows Jared into the kitchen.

“Your place is beautiful,” he says.

“I’m sorry,” Jared says, “I didn’t think about them being here.”

“Hey, no,” Jensen says, reaching for his shoulder, “it’s fine. They seem like nice people. And they live here too, so you can’t fault them.” He grins, and Jared relaxes.

“Okay,” he says, “fair enough. Do you want any coffee, for real?”

“I’d take decaf,” Jensen says, “if you’ve got it.”

While Jared is filling the pot, Jensen takes his time looking at the magnets and pictures on the fridge, smiling to himself. He glances at Jared a few times, as if he’s checking to see if that really is him in photos from college, mostly drunk and looking like an idiot. Jared grins back, embarrassed, and says, “I mean, dumb kid stuff.”

“Nah,” Jensen says, “looks like fun.” He gives up on the fridge and comes to stand by Jared, close and warm, and Jared can smell his shampoo or his aftershave or something, faint and slightly floral, but not girly. Jared wants to kiss him again, and when he meets Jensen’s eyes and finds the look in them faintly shy but intent, he decides he’s probably allowed.

He reaches up, touching Jensen’s jaw, and Jensen licks his lips and lets out a breath. Jared leans in, slowly; Jensen’s not skittish, exactly, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself all the time. Jared likes the idea of showing him. He presses their lips together and Jensen’s hand slips up to rest on his waist, palm warm through Jared’s shirt. He opens his mouth when Jared licks his lower lip, and he tastes faintly like the two beers he had during dinner. Jared steps closer, cupping his face and sliding his fingers into Jensen’s short hair, and Jensen murmurs and pulls him in, fisting the fabric of his shirt. Jared fits right against Jensen’s hip and side, half-pinning him to the counter as the coffee pot starts to bubble and hiss, and Jensen kisses like he’s aching for it, like he’s forgotten how to be coy and wants Jared as close as he can get him.

Jared lifts his other hand to Jensen’s left cheek and holds him there as he slows the kiss down, drawing it out and letting his tongue linger against Jensen’s, teasing him. Jensen makes a little unconscious noise, acquiescing. Jared lets their lips part for a moment, breathing, and then kisses him again more chastely. Jensen’s eyes flutter open, and they’re dark and sparkling behind his glasses.

“Um,” Jensen says, “Maybe just a small cup.”

Jared doesn’t pull away until the coffee pot stops making noise, spending the four or five minutes that it takes slowly exploring Jensen’s mouth and finding places on his body that make him sigh. He rubs his fingers down the nape of Jensen’s neck as he kisses him, and Jensen outright moans. He skims one hand down the length of Jensen’s back, pausing for permission at his belt, and then cupping his ass when Jensen nods, which makes Jensen’s breath hitch. Jensen is also ticklish along the ribs, and he squirms away from Jared’s fingers with a muffled snort of laughter.

When Jared finally manages to untangle himself from Jensen’s arms, he’s more than a little ready to ditch the coffee completely and take things straight to his bedroom, but Jensen runs a hand through his hair, looking equally flustered, and says, “Milk?” as he makes a small motion with his right hand, clenching his fist.

“Is that ‘milk’?” Jared asks, pointing.

Jensen looks at his hand, surprised. “Yes,” he says, “sorry. Little distracted.”

Jared grins. “Don’t be sorry. What’s ‘coffee’?”

Jensen puts one fist on top of the other and makes a motion like a bean grinder. “Coffee.”


Rolling his eyes and smiling, Jensen puts two fingers to his chin and sweeps them down and to the right.

“Want any?”

“No,” Jensen says, shaking his head, “thank you, just a little bit of milk.”

Jared pulls the milk out of the fridge and Jensen takes it from him so he can pour two mugs half-full of coffee. It’s hot, and he’s not convinced he wants a whole lot at this time of night, not with how slow he’ll have to drink it. He has a gorgeous man in his kitchen who invited himself over for coffee and not-coffee, and he’d like to delay the true enjoyment as little as possible.

It’s good that they managed to pull themselves apart, though, because Gen wanders in for a snack and gives them a cursory glance. “Not interrupting, am I?” she asks, smirking as she rummages through the cupboard.

“No,” Jared says, glancing at Jensen, who is hiding a smile behind the rim of his mug. “Not in the slightest.”

“Max and I are thinking about going to bed,” she says, “but we can wait if you prefer.”

Jared blinks. “Actually, yes,” he says. “Y’all have a couple more episodes of Doctor Who to watch, don’t you?” It’s not like they don’t all know what he and Jensen will go upstairs and do, but if he can keep Gen and Max in front of the television rather than next door listening in, so much the better.

“Two,” Gen says. She points a finger at him. “Eleven o’clock.”

“Fine,” he says. “Enjoy.”

“You too.” She throws Jensen a cheeky wink, and walks out with a bag of Doritos in her hand.

Jensen checks his watch. “I hate to be unromantic,” he says.

“Right.” Jared puts down the cup of coffee, hardly touched, and offers Jensen his hand. “Shall we?”

Jared’s bedroom is at the top of the stairs, the first one of the two rooms. There’s a bathroom at the end of the hall, which Jensen slips into with a murmured apology. Jared turns on the light in his room and takes the minute or two’s reprieve to pick up a little, throwing dirty socks where they belong and tidying his desk a little bit. When Jensen reappears in the doorway, wiping his hands on his jeans and looking around, Jared has taken off his jacket and is standing somewhat awkwardly by the bed. There’s no fumbling passion here, just deliberate desire. They’re not drunk or frantic, not tearing each other’s clothes off in desperation, and Jared lets the warm burn of want build in his gut as he reaches for Jensen.

“I, um,” Jensen says, easing the door closed behind him and stepping inside Jared’s reach, “remember how I said I didn’t really date?”

Jared nods, sliding his palms up Jensen’s warm, trim sides, and breathing in his clean, sweet smell.

“It’s been a really long time,” Jensen says, “since I— Christ— since I did anything, with anyone. I don’t want to admit—“

“It’s okay,” Jared interrupts, because he feels like he has to before Jensen explodes with how red his face is and how embarrassed he looks. “You don’t have to. I gotcha.” He presses a quick kiss to Jensen’s parted lips. “Listen, I like you. I really like you. I just want to make you feel good. I wanna do what you want, whatever you want,” and he means it, too; he’ll settle for anything from hand jobs to wacky bondage stunts, just so long as he gets to watch Jensen lose it, “just let me know, okay?”

Jensen nods jerkily. “Got it.”

Jared kisses him again, more slowly, and Jensen opens his mouth and draws him in, sliding his arms around Jared’s neck. Jared slots their bodies together, pressing his hips to Jensen’s. Jensen reaches up and takes off his glasses carefully, and Jared breaks the kiss to work his way down Jensen’s jaw and the column of his throat.

“Tell me,” he says, pausing at the juncture of Jensen’s neck and shoulder, “what you like.”

“Mm,” Jensen says, distracted, carding his hands through Jared’s hair, “I like this a lot.”

Jared smiles and kisses him again, then pauses to suck a little mark into Jensen’s skin— not so big as to be obvious or unsightly, just enough to remind Jensen it’s there. Jensen moans, fingers tightening briefly.

“I bottom,” Jensen say suddenly, “mostly, but I’m not a stickler. I don’t like being on my knees because I like being able to see, you know. It’s just easier. Better.” He swallows hard, and Jared slips his hands underneath his shirt, finding skin. He makes a noise of encouragement, and kisses Jensen’s neck again. “And, I’ve been told I’m loud. I don’t think I can help it. Comes with the hard of hearing thing.”

Jared stifles a moan of his own and turns them around, nudging Jensen to sit down on the bed. Jensen sits, grinning, and leans over to put his glasses down on Jared’s bedside table. Then he reaches for the collar of his sweater and yanks it over his head, and leans back on his elbows.

“You’re so fucking sexy,” Jared tells him, crawling up between his thighs and planting a kiss on his newly exposed collarbone. He’s wearing a button-down under the sweater, and Jared wants to tear it off of him.

He settles for sliding his hands up Jensen’s thighs and cupping the bulge between his legs, which makes Jensen drop his head back and sigh. His fingers are scrunching in the blanket, and he rocks his hips up into Jared’s hand. Jared settles beside him, one thigh draped over Jensen’s knee, and works him through his pants while he goes back to kissing his sweet mouth. Jensen rolls onto one elbow to slide his hand into Jared’s hair and kisses him back warmly. His cock twitches under Jared’s palm and he moans into Jared’s mouth, and Jared wants them naked now.

“Can I—?” he asks, removing his hand from Jensen’s crotch and sliding it up under his shirt.

“Yes,” Jensen says, looking amused.

“What?” Jared asks. “Is it weird that I keep asking? I feel like it’s polite.”

“It’s polite,” Jensen says, covering Jared’s hand with his own, “I’m just— Deaf people are really touchy-feely, and I forget that most Hearing people… aren’t.”

“Huh,” Jared says.

“It’s the best way to get someone’s attention,” Jensen says, “touching them.”

Jared smirks. “How am I doing?”

“You’ve got mine.” Jensen grins at him, and then leans in for another kiss. “Keep asking,” he whispers, “and I’ll keep saying yes.”

Jared starts to unbutton his shirt from the bottom up, and pushes Jensen onto his back so he can kneel over him, kissing from his navel to his sternum on the way up, up his chest to underneath his chin, ending with a kiss to his lips. Jensen reaches up to return the favor, and Jared shucks his shirt off his shoulders onto the floor. Jensen runs an appreciative hand down the middle of his chest, and then leans forwards to lick tentatively at Jared’s peaked nipple. He glances up at Jared as he does it, coy and shy, and Jared’s cock jumps. He cups Jensen’s head, encouraging him, and Jensen makes a soft noise in his throat.

He slides his hand around the side of Jared’s hip and pushes, rolling Jared onto his back so he can lean over him and lick at the other nipple. Jared’s hips rise, helpless, and Jensen finds the buckle of his belt, flicks it open, and unzips his jeans, all one-handed.

Jared’s cock is hard enough to tent his boxers, and Jensen’s warm hand curls around it perfectly. Jensen’s blushing again, the color rising in his cheeks. Jared pulls him up for a kiss, licking into his mouth while Jensen jerks him off through the fabric.

“Fuck,” Jensen finally mutters, breaking away, “need to suck you.”

Jared groans, chasing him for another kiss, and pushes his hips into Jensen’s hand in agreement. Jensen grins, bites Jared’s lower lip, and crawls backwards off the bed to strip him of his slacks, boxers, and socks.

“You too,” Jared says, sitting up. He opens Jensen’s jeans and Jensen shimmies out of them, cock bobbing against his flat stomach. Jared cups it in his hand, pressing it to Jensen’s abdomen and feeling the weight of it. It’s already wet at the tip, and Jensen’s pubic hair is trimmed short against his skin; not shaved, but obviously meticulous. Jared wonders at his protestations that he doesn’t get laid a lot. Clearly this is a man who takes care of himself.

Jensen presses him back to the bed again and climbs straight into his lap, pressing their cocks together and spreading his knees wide across Jared’s hips. Jared slides his hands up Jensen’s thighs and rocks against him, feeling the glide of his cock, the soft prickle of his short hair. Jensen moans against his throat, hips hitching, and pulls away to move down Jared’s body again, intent on his goal.

“Wait,” Jared says, catching him by the shoulder and repositioning them on the bed. His head ends up on the pillows and Jensen ends up between his knees, on his belly with his feet in the air, mouthing at the cut of Jared’s hip.

Jensen frames Jared’s cock with his hands, pointing it towards his mouth and looking at it with an intensity that makes Jared flush with heat and embarrassment. After a long moment, Jensen finally pokes out his tongue and runs it slowly around Jared’s slick crown, and Jared bites back a groan. His cock feels huge, so stiff and swollen, and he actually whimpers when Jensen fits his mouth around the head, lips soft and wet. Jensen swallows him down halfway, and Jared can feel it when the head of his cock touches the soft place at the back of Jensen’s throat. Jensen makes up for the difference with his hand, letting saliva slip from his mouth to wet his grip.

Jared risks putting his hand on the back of Jensen’s head, and Jensen’s moan of encouragement lets him put a little pressure on, pressing until Jensen comes to a stop, his breath blocked up by Jared’s cock. Jensen stays for a moment, throat fluttering, and then pulls back slowly. Jared hears him inhale through his nose, feels the soft flick of his tongue when he reaches the top, and then he drops down again, sliding Jared’s cock into his mouth like he was fucking born for it.

Something inside Jared snaps. Jensen’s not a virgin, he’s sucked a dick before, that much is obvious. He doesn’t need to be quite so careful; if Jensen doesn’t like it, he’ll say so. Jared starts to lift his hips in time to Jensen’s long, sucking pulls, and Jensen meets him halfway, letting Jared fuck his mouth. He cups Jared’s balls and rolls them gently between his fingers, and Jared’s hands clench in Jensen’s short hair and in the blanket.

Jensen pulls away, his lips wet, and tongues the head of Jared’s cock again briefly before dipping down to press his nose to the base and tongue at his balls. Jared pulls his knee up, gasping, and Jensen hooks his hand under the crook of Jared’s knee and pushes, opening him up. Jared hisses, “Fuck,” and Jensen squeezes his thigh. Jared can feel his smile against the tender skin of his groin.

But he doesn’t get much farther than that, because then Jensen is kissing his way from the crease of Jared’s thigh to his knee and sitting up, his cock standing out from his body. Jared stretches, reaching, and traces the line of hair that leads from Jensen’s navel downwards.

“C’mere,” he says. Jensen drops his knee and slinks up his body, settling himself on either side of Jared’s hips and sitting back on his lap. His cock sits alongside Jared’s, hard and flushed, and Jared wraps them both in his hand, unable to close his fingers all the way around. Jensen’s eyes flutter shut, and he starts rocking in Jared’s lap, pushing his dick into the circle of Jared’s hand and rubbing against Jared’s own cock. He’s gorgeous like this, flushed from his cheekbones to his nipples, sweat gleaming on his neck, the muscles in his abdomen flexing as he thrusts into Jared’s grip. Pleasure is rumbling through Jared’s body, lighting up his fingers and toes, and building warm and inexorable in his gut.

Jared touches Jensen’s knee to get his attention, and Jensen opens his eyes, smiling. He raises his eyebrows in question, and Jared asks, “Can I fuck you now?”

Jensen nods, puts his palm to his chest and moves it in a little circle, and says, “Please.”

Jared gives him a little push, making him rise up on his knees, and squirms back enough that he can reach the bedside table. There are more condoms than he cares to admit to in the drawer, and a half-empty tube of lube on top. Jensen smirks, runs his hands up Jared’s chest and rubs his pecs while Jared fumbles, and then he’s planting his hands on either side of Jared’s head and spreading his knees for Jared’s wandering fingers. He bites his lip at the first touch to his hole, and Jared watches his face intently as he rubs the lube in and works him open. He can see every flinch, every twitch of pleasure mirrored in Jensen’s expression, and the heat in his own body rises, watching him. He watches Jensen wince at the stretch of two fingers, and then his lips part appreciatively as Jared slows down.

“Oh, god,” he says, “that’s good. Fuck, that’s so good.”

Jared smooths his other hand up Jensen’s side, thumbs his nipple to make him jump, and curls his fingers around the meat of Jensen’s shoulder. “You want another?”

“Say again?” Jensen asks, opening his eyes.

“Another?” Jared asks.

Jensen nods, swallowing hard. His back arches slightly when Jared eases the third finger into him, and Jared finds his prostate with his middle finger, rubbing slowly up and down across the spot until Jensen is trembling all over.

“I think I’m good,” Jensen says, his breath coming short. “Christ, you’re getting me close.”

“Fuck,” Jared mutters, and eases his fingers out. Jensen’s body is so tight and hot, Jared’s not sure he’s going to last. He tears open a condom and rolls it on, his cock twitching as he guides it to bump against the back of Jensen’s thigh, press against his hole.

Jensen’s eyes are dark with lust and his lips are red and shining. Jared tips his chin up to kiss him again, slowly, and eases Jensen’s hips down. Jensen’s body opens up around him and Jensen groans loudly. Jared freezes, surprised, and Jensen shuts his mouth and covers it with one hand.

“God,” he mumbles, “sorry.”

“No,” Jared says, jolting his hips up and thrusting in another inch, making Jensen yelp behind his hand, “I wanna hear you.”

Jensen snorts and lowers his hand reluctantly. “Yeah, but does everyone else?”

Jared pushes Jensen’s hips down firmly until his ass is flush against Jared’s groin and Jensen is gasping again. “Next time I want to fuck at your house, so I can make you scream and no one will care.”

“Matt is Hearing,” Jensen pants, fingers clenching and unclenching in the bedclothes beside Jared’s head. “Fuck, you’re huge.”

Jared’s cock jerks, and Jensen makes a little surprised noise. He’s squirming, working Jared’s cock inside him, rocking up and down like he can’t stay still. Jared yanks him down again to kiss him, biting at his mouth, and starts to fuck him like that, shallow and fast, hips lifting Jensen right off the bed. Jensen lets go and moans into his mouth, pushing back into his thrusts.

“Gonna roll you over,” Jared warns, planting his hand on the middle of Jensen’s back, and Jensen holds onto his shoulders as Jared tips him sideways and rolls on top. He slips his cock back inside Jensen’s ass and rises up on his knees, holding onto Jensen’s hips. Jensen hooks his feet together behind Jared’s back and slides his arms above his head, fingers finding the top edge of Jared’s headboard and gripping tight. He looks fantastic, spread out and on display, his cock thick and dripping on his stomach, his chest heaving as Jared fucks him. Every thrust pushes a noise out of Jensen’s throat, sharp and uninhibited, and Jared doesn’t give a shit if Gen and Max can hear them. Jensen is gorgeous, and enthusiastic, and Jared can’t believe his luck.

“I’m close,” Jensen gasps, letting go of the headboard to palm his cock. Jared’s thrusts push it right through his grip and Jensen lets him, just holding loosely and letting his cock slip in and out. His eyes are open, fixed on Jared’s face, and Jared wants to kiss him more than anything. Instead, he hitches his hips up and fucks him as hard and fast as he can, hips slapping against Jensen’s ass noisily and shaking the bed until it squeaks in protest. Jensen’s moaning through his teeth, tightening his fist, and then he grabs for Jared’s shoulder with his other hand and says, “Ah, fuck,” as he starts to come.

His ass clenches mercilessly around Jared’s cock, and Jared can’t hold out. He manages two more deep, firm thrusts, and then he’s coming too, cock twitching as he spurts into the condom. He rolls his hips slowly, drawing it out and making Jensen whimper, until he’s drained dry. Jensen’s grip on his shoulder eases, Jensen sliding his fingers up into Jared’s sweat-damp hair, and Jared folds himself down slowly to kiss his open mouth.

They kiss lazily, Jared still rocking his hips gently as his cock softens, and then he has to pull out and get rid of the condom before it spills. Jensen splays, loose-limbed and beautiful, on the bed. He closes his eyes and stretches luxuriously, muscles in his arms and legs rippling under his skin.

Jared climbs back into bed with him and Jensen rolls onto his side to give him room. He pokes a gentle finger into the middle of Jared’s chest, and then draws a circle around his own face and sweeps one palm across the other.

“What was that?”

“Handsome,” Jensen says, blushing.

“What’s ‘gorgeous’?”

Jensen snorts, but he makes the sign, loose fingers in the same circle around his face, his lips parted reverently. Jared copies him, and he grins. He signs something else, hands moving slowly so Jared can watch, and his eyebrows lift as if he’s asking a question. He pauses a moment, and then laughs, embarrassed.

“What?” Jared asks. He plucks Jensen’s hand out of the air and kisses it, the knuckles and then the palm. “Tell me.”

“Can I stay the night?” Jensen asks aloud.

“How do I say ‘absolutely, and I’ll make you breakfast in the morning’?”

Jensen shows him.


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