“Have you finally asked Jensen out?”
“I told you, I’m working up to it,” Jared tells his best friend and coworker Danneel as he’s wiping down the counter. Their shop, Operation Cupcake, is closed for the night and Jared is almost finished cleaning and prepping for tomorrow morning. It’s a routine, one of many he’s taken comfort in throughout his life. Whenever he feels scattered, he can usually find his way back through ordered tasks.
“What’s there to work up to?” she asks, hands on her hips, pink camouflage t-shirt stretched flatteringly across her chest. Jared is convinced that Danneel’s shirts are responsible for more than one 5-star Yelp review. “You have his phone number, you text each other at least once a day, and he comments on every Instagram you post. That boy is craving something cream-filled and it’s not a cupcake.”
Jared looks away quickly, dark hair swinging across his cheek to hide his reaction. He’s still getting used to longer hair; he’d kept his short military cut for more than a year after getting out of the hospital. When everything had been falling apart around him, the high-and-tight cut had been the only thing connecting him to his former life as a Marine. It wasn’t until Jared started taking classes at a local culinary school that he decided to accept his new reality and let his hair grow out.
“He’s still a customer, Danni. It would be weird.”
Without looking over, he knows Danneel is rolling her eyes; they’ve had this discussion before. Just like he knows what she’ll say next.
“You work six days a week even though you could cut back a little,” she points out, “and you don’t hang out at bars or clubs anymore because this place takes up most of your time. How the heck are you supposed to meet someone who isn’t a customer?”
Despite how close they’ve become, Jared isn’t compelled to remind Danneel that meeting someone and, by extension, dating hasn’t been part of his plans for a long time. The bakery is his focus—not to mention his outlet as well as his means of support and structure—which hasn’t left more than a thin slice for things like pleasure or distraction.
And that’s how he preferred it. At least, that’s what he’d thought until a green-eyed, copper-scruffed stranger walked into the bakery and asked for three dozen purple-frosted cupcakes (“My sister mentioned you have gluten-free options too?”) for his niece’s final dance recital. Danneel was in the back boxing up an order for an engagement party, leaving Jared to suffer the man’s bashful yet beguiling smile alone. He didn’t even remember to charge the man for the four additional gluten-free cupcakes.
A week later, the stranger was back for a nephew’s birthday party. (“His favorite thing right now is that new dragon movie, the Disney one? Can you do anything with that? I don’t need them until next week.”) A special order meant taking down contact details, and Jared absolutely didn’t obsess over the syllables in the man’s name. Jensen Ackles.
Ex-Marines don’t obsess. They plan and strategize, although Jared was afraid to do either. Baking cupcakes for Jensen’s nephew would have to be enough, even if he spent longer than necessary getting the frosting right and ordering custom toppers.
When Jensen came to pick up that order, Danneel was working out front with Jared, boxing up daily specials like Bravo Banana Cream Pie and Ooh-Rah Red Velvet for their walk-in customers. Jared felt the weight of her clever gaze on his back as he showed Jensen what he’d created. (“That’s amazing, he’s going to flip out. Make sure you put some flyers or business cards in there too since every other parent is going to want to hire you.”)
Jared ducked his head at the compliments even though he was no stranger to good reviews. No matter what Danneel told him later, he did not blush when Jensen paid the rest of his bill. (“I think you forgot to charge me for the gluten-free cupcakes last time. I tried one, because I was curious, and that’s some serious confectionary magic you’ve got, Jared.”)
He stood in shocked silence for a few minutes after Jensen left with his two boxes. Danneel stepped slowly into his line of sight before nudging his elbow and grinning.
“He knows my name.”
“Oh sweetie,” Danneel laughed, “it’s on your nametag, remember? But don’t worry, that was still the most adorable thing I’ve seen in months.”
Every couple of weeks after that, Jensen came in for some occasion or another. Jared gathered that he either worked from home or had flexible hours as he was always ordering for family members. Jared made sure to remain behind the counter whenever Jensen stopped in, letting whoever was working in the back bring out his orders or box up cupcakes from the front cases. When Danneel was around, she gathered intelligence like a goddamn specialist, asking casual questions that had Jensen revealing more about himself than Jared knew about most of his current friends.
Jensen was from Texas, had two siblings along with five nieces and nephews, and consulted for tech firms. He preferred DC to Marvel, played soccer on the weekends, and owned part of a local micro-brewery that his best friend from college had founded. His life was full and vibrant, which showed in the way his eyes lit up when he talked about his family, no dark spots or shadows.
Jared was used to the shadows. They hid what he couldn’t stand to bring into the light. So, by the time Jensen had been coming in for a few months, Jared was resigned to the idea that, despite what Danneel called their ‘gluten-free flirting’, it could never be more.
He’s startled out of his thoughts by Danneel slamming their secret bottle of tequila down on the freshly wiped counter. There are two plastic cups in her hands. Jared has a bad feeling about this and shuffles to the side to prop himself on one of the tall stools they keep behind the counter.
“Tell me the truth,” she says as she pours two shots, “you’re not actually working up to anything, are you?”
“He’s perfect for you.”
“Doesn’t matter, I—”
She cuts him off by pushing a cup into his hands. “Take the shot, puppy-eyes. You’ll start to feel better, I promise.”
The tequila is only something they pull out on very special (or very dire) occasions. Jared doesn’t like to drink too much, too tempting to use it to dull what he feels: the nagging aches and pains, phantom or otherwise.
“Now I want you to listen to me, okay?” Danneel takes the cup back and pours them each another shot. “I’ve been watching you and Jensen for months, and all I see are a tech-genius and an ex-military baker who like each other… a lot. That’s all that should matter right now. I know you think it’s impossible, because you’re you, and you sometimes want to think the worst, but come on, Jared.”
He takes the cup from her and downs his second shot without prompting. Danneel knows him better than anyone, but her truths can be hard to hear.
“You know what Jensen sees when he looks at you?” Jared cringes, but he lets Danneel continue. “He sees a guy with his own business who’s funny, charming, and seriously good-looking. Sure, a guy who’s been through some shit and has some baggage, but who doesn’t these days?”
“My baggage is over the weight limit for most people.”
Danneel rolls her eyes and groans. “That’s cute. I think you’re freaked out that he sees you and still likes you. You weren’t prepared for that to happen and now you don’t know what to do.” She sighs. “Impossibility is easier to deal with, isn’t it?”
Her words hit Jared square in the chest and he braces himself against the counter, hanging his head. It’s true; he wants Jensen in a way that’s unfamiliar and terrifying. Affection has turned into longing, but even acknowledging that he needs more makes him anxious. Heading into battle never made him this nervous, but back then he was still whole.
He takes deep breaths like his mediation app suggests until the pressure behind his sternum recedes.
“He deserves better.”
“Better than you, sweetie?” Her laugh is sweet and soft like sprinkled sugar. “I don’t think so. Remember, I know how great you really are. More importantly, I know that you deserve him.”
It’s getting dark outside and Jared is suddenly very glad he didn’t schedule himself to open tomorrow morning. He wants to crawl into bed and not come out for a while. It took years for Jared to be able to see past the haze of major trauma and loss, but he will always carry it with him.
Danneel has always seen more than most, able to scale the wall that kept others from getting too close. She was Jared’s first hire, a pastry chef who was sick of working in misogynistic kitchens; she’s still the only non-veteran on his payroll. Spunky, creative, and personable, Danneel was everything Jared was not, and he was comfortable letting her act as the face of the business whenever she wanted. As far as he’s concerned, it’s partially hers anyway. She hadn’t had the easiest life, and maybe that’s why they’d meshed so well from the beginning. One survivor recognizing another.
“I want to believe you,” he finally says, “but what if you’re wrong?”
“Jay, baby…” Danneel’s voice is low and serious, though Jared doesn’t miss the twinkle in her eyes. “I watched Jensen fellate a vanilla cupcake right in front of you last week. You remember that, right?”
Heat rises to Jared’s cheeks and it’s certainly not from the tequila. He not only remembers the moment—Jensen’s pink tongue curling around Jared’s signature cream cheese frosting, his eyes closed as the sugar hit his taste buds, the little whine Jared heard after he swallowed—the entire scene is now a permanent addition to his memory palace so he can revisit whenever he wants. Which he has, more than once.
“Trust me, I’m not wrong,” she says gleefully. Jared can’t help returning her bright smile.
“You may have a point,” he admits, feeling slightly better. The optimism might be coming from the tequila, but that’s not important. “Now can we get out of here before we drink too much and end up sleeping on the counters?”
“Ugh, that night was the worst.” She shudders. “We are never doing that again.”
Jared silently agrees. He’d been stiff and in constant pain the next day, and the hangover certainly hadn’t helped.
“Why don’t you come over and help me figure out how I’m supposed to ask Jensen on a date?”
“Can I bring the tequila?”
Jared grins. “If you think it’ll help.”
She caps the bottle and places the two cups in the sink where the morning crew will take care of them. “Grab your stuff, I’ll lock up in the back.”
Jared eases himself off the stool, careful not to twist his hip the wrong way. His balance has never been quite the same as it was before he came home, but he manages most days to appear normal if he doesn’t take things too fast. He grabs his bag from the shelf beneath the counter, pulling it over his shoulder just as Danneel reappears with her things.
“Ready for Operation Cream Filling?”
Jared groans and considers ditching her for the night. “We are not calling it that,” he says through clenched teeth.
Danneel skips ahead of him to the door. He follows carefully, dreading whatever scheme she’s come up with. “Too late, I’ve already outlined the mission. Now come on, Corporal, it’s time to get your man.”
Jared rolls onto his side, coming face to face with a breathtaking sight that he hopes he never takes for granted. Like him, Jensen is shirtless, propped up on his pillow and watching Jared with amused fondness.
“Danneel always likes to tell me that she’s the reason you finally asked me out,” Jensen clarifies, “but I’ve never heard the full story before tonight.”
“She can take a little bit of credit,” Jared muses, “but I’d say it had more to do with the three extra tequila shots we took when we got home and playing Eye of the Tiger ten times in a row until I agreed to text you.”
Jensen laughs, and Jared shuffles closer on their bed until their knees touch. His heart soars when Jensen tucks himself against his chest.
Danneel had kindly left out certain unflattering parts of the story when she told it in dramatic fashion earlier tonight in honor of their one-year anniversary. They’d thrown a small party for friends and family at Jensen’s house—now their house—to celebrate, and Jared hasn’t felt this good since before he went overseas.
“Operation Cream Filling, though?” Jensen chuckles. “Seriously?”
“That was all Danneel, though you can’t tell me you don’t love my cr—”
Jensen shoves him playfully. “Please don’t finish that sentence!”
“I was gonna say cream cheese frosting,” Jared assures as they grapple gently. “I know for a fact you love that.”
“I do,” Jensen whispers, and Jared finds that their lips are dangerously close. He does the logical, and much-desired, thing and kisses him. Though they’ve shared thousands of kisses throughout the year they’ve been together, each one is special.
It wasn’t the easiest year, however; Jared had a hard time letting go of the fear that he was too much, emotionally, but too little, physically, to make Jensen happy. Fortunately, he’d met his match in stubbornness, and Jensen refused to let their issues divide them.
The kiss both stimulates and soothes. It’s been a long day, and Jared would be content just to stay here like this, quiet and intimate, enjoying the way Jensen is strong and calm solely for him. But Jensen’s tongue carries a sweetness from the three cupcakes he ate earlier, and Jared can feel the initial rush of a sugar high in his blood.
Jensen is breathing heavily when he pulls away, equally affected. “You know I’m not perfect, right?” he asks, leaving Jared floundering for a few seconds before he connects it to Danneel’s retelling of their tequila-fueled mission to get Jared a boyfriend.
“Could’ve fooled me,” Jared tells him, trailing his fingers along Jensen’s side. He means it lightly, though Jensen’s expression remains hesitant.
“You know how grumpy I can be. I’m sure you’ve heard my sister complaining about it.”
“You were never grumpy when you started coming into the shop,” Jared points out, his mind traveling back in time.
Jensen tucks his chin closer to his chest. “I wasn’t...not then. I mean, it always felt good coming in to see you.”
He’s blushing now, which drives Jared a little crazy because of how gorgeous it makes him look. Combined with the cinnamon dusting of freckles, it’s almost impossible to resist leaning across to lick Jensen’s cheek.
But apparently Jensen’s not finished. “I don’t want kids. I love my nieces and nephews, but I know myself well enough to leave it at that. I drink too much coffee, I’m probably a little too possessive—”
“Jensen, stop. None of this comes as a shock to me. You aren’t going to scare me away now.”
“That’s not what I’m trying to do. It’s just that everyone heard Danneel saying all this impossible stuff, and I don’t want you to ever be disappointed.”
Jared frames Jensen’s face with his hands, thumbs brushing across his cheeks. “She also left out what a complete headcase I was back then, thinking you’d take one look at me—the real me,” he adds, glancing down at their feet, “and disappear. But you accepted who I was, the good and the bad, and I will always do the same for you.”
The kiss Jensen drags Jared into is deeper, more demanding, and there’s no longer any space between them on the bed. Jared won’t be satisfied with simply holding one another, not after this. He feels Jensen hard against his hip, so they’re definitely on the same page. There’s an urgency to their movements, nothing gentle about the way Jensen’s tongue plays against Jared’s.
A second later—at least that’s what it feels like—Jared is staring up at their bedroom ceiling, Jensen rolling between his legs and wasting no time stripping Jared out of his sweatpants.
“I see you, remember?” Jensen presses a line of kisses along Jared’s hip and lower. “And I love every part of you.”
Even what isn’t there, remains unspoken.
Partners had been few and far between after Jared finished his last round of physical therapy and started getting back to being a regular civilian. He supposed he ought to feel lucky; he could hide his injury most of the time, only needing a cane or crutches on really bad days or when he couldn’t stomach fitting his prosthesis after a rough night. When he did hook up, he never went further than mutual oral or, every once in a while, topping some guy he’d just met, never taking his pants off all the way and keeping his boots on.
And then Jensen walked into Operation Cupcake and made Jared want things he’d assumed were impossible. After Danneel’s encouragement, Jared and Jensen dated casually for a month before things became more intimate and Jared knew he’d have to share everything. There was never even a hint of pity in Jensen’s eyes when Jared first removed his prosthetic in front of him, only understanding.
Jensen has seen him bare; he patiently learned the best ways to move with Jared, with or without his prosthetic foot. Practice made perfect, and Jared had never had so much fun practicing.
He lets Jensen go wild on him now, knowing that he’s in the most capable hands. Hands that are currently pushing Jared’s thighs apart so that Jensen can go down on him. His mouth is wet and unbelievably hot, surrounding Jared’s cock with steady suction. Between their earlier celebrations, his heightened emotions, and Jensen’s God-given talents, Jared has next to no control over how quickly he’s approaching the edge.
Jensen is relentless as if he’s got something to prove. Perhaps, in his own mind, he thinks he does. Jared can’t have that. He rakes his fingers through Jensen’s hair in gentle counterpoint to the rougher attention between his legs. His cock hits deep; Jensen is eager and soft around him, and Jared comes with a guttural sound. There’s a faint whine when Jensen swallows; Jared shudders as a second pulse rocks through him. It’s the same sound he’d fantasized about for months after seeing Jensen enjoy his frosting for the first time.
As soon as his cock begins to soften, Jared turns the tables. He shifts and rolls until they’re on their sides, Jensen pulled against his chest. They’re each broad, bodies well-matched thanks to competitive sessions at the gym (and steamy rendezvous later on to work off any excess energy), and Jared loves being behind Jensen like this. His throat is exposed for Jared’s mouth, creamy flesh ripe and begging for a new mark.
“So good to me, Jensen,” he pants, endorphins making his blood sing with desire. He reaches around with his right hand, shoving Jensen’s pajama pants down to his knees. Jensen then promptly kicks them the rest of the way off. “I want you to feel just as good.”
Getting Jensen off is always a thrill, whether Jared’s using his hands, mouth, ass, or his entire body. This way, he’s able to watch every response flicker across Jensen’s expression, kissing along his neck as Jensen bucks forward into his hand that’s slick with the lube that is conveniently always under one of their pillows. Jensen’s legs are constantly moving, unlike Jared who is a wall at his back, yet even when he brushes against where Jared’s lower left leg abruptly ends, there’s no reaction. Jensen truly doesn’t notice or care.
And that’s when the truth strikes like a bolt of electricity from the sky.
Jensen has only ever known Jared as he is now. To Jensen, Jared is whole.
He muffles his half-sob against the back of Jensen’s neck and strokes him faster, impatient to feel Jensen come apart in his arms. Jared holds him through his orgasm, pressing their bodies together because he can never get enough of this man.
Their sheets are a tangled mess, Jensen’s pants are sacrificed to the clean-up process, and they’re both out of breath. Neither of them are perfect, but they have their fair share of moments that live up to the ideal.
“Have we always been this ridiculous?” Jensen asks as the rush fades and exhaustion slips into the spaces left behind. He sounds fucked-out in the best way, both of them sharing Jared’s pillow because Jensen claims it feels cooler.
“If we have, I’m glad,” Jared says, reaching over Jensen to turn off the bedside lamp. “I don’t want to be any other way.”
“Neither do I.”
Jensen falls asleep first. Jared watches him in the peaceful darkness, in awe of where the last twelve months have taken him. There are days when depression gets the better of him and he lets Danneel run the bakery; days when he needs to rely on his cane just to make it from the kitchen to the front counter. It’s because of Jensen that he doesn’t hide completely anymore.
Every once in a while, he’ll catch a soft, pitying expression on a customer’s face, or have to recount a sanitized version of how he lost his foot, but he no longer lets those moments force him back into the shadows. Business is good, and he has Jensen to come home to every night.
Theirs is no ordinary fairy tale, but Jared has a feeling they’ll bake happily ever after.