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I.

 

“So… this is going well, isn’t it?” Cody asks coyly, biting his lower lip.

“I’d have to agree,” Jensen whispers back. He adjusts his flat top glasses, unable to look away from said lips. He got a little taste just minutes ago, and he can’t wait for more.

Cody scans the upscale Soho restaurant briefly before returning to meet his date’s eyes. “Your place or mine?”

“Let’s go to yours. Mine’s like really uptown… and I can’t wait.”

Cody looks pleased, like that’s exactly what he wanted to hear. He leans in and Jensen takes the cue, joining their mouths once again, sealing the deal.

“I’ll be right back,” Cody rises from his chair and heads to the bathroom, leaving Jensen to get the check.

 

Jensen Ackles can’t believe his luck.

Cody is everything one could ever ask for in a date, a boyfriend even, maybe. Jensen reminds himself not to get too far ahead of himself. It’s just the first date, for God’s sake. But really, this guy is like… spot-on… an unambiguously foolproof match.

 

Jensen feels his face starting to split into a wide grin.

“The dang thing actually works,” he murmurs to himself, and not for the first time, thinking of the app that had matched Cody to him. 

His phone buzzes in his jacket pocket, and he pulls it out. He's been following all the chatter about this new app - Click - on Twitter ever since its launch in NYC two weeks ago.

 

 

Jensen frowns at the little doggie pic next to the poster’s Twitter handle –  @Khaleesi_92 – yeah, one of those fangirls with fantastically unrealistic and unattainable expectations.

 

 

Jensen rolls his eyes. “Nobody in their right mind should ever date you, princess.”

 

He flips over to the app, without really thinking about it. There it is, the latest notification on top of his inbox that led him to the very gorgeous, very intelligent, very successful (and most likely very flexible,) Dr. Cody Willington.

A new alert comes through just then – a new match. Jensen smirks, who needs anyone else when he has Cody tonight? But out of curiosity, he goes ahead and clicks on it.

 

“What’re you doing?”

Jensen looks up, startled. He’d been so engrossed he didn’t notice Cody walking back to their table.

“Oh, nothing,” he chuckles as Cody sinks back into his seat. “Just work stuff.”

Cody narrows his eyes for a second, then leans back in his chair and purses his lips. The air seems suddenly chillier than when he’d left it.

“You know, I can see your phone screen reflected in your glasses.”

 

Jensen blinks. Rats.

 

“I don’t expect commitment on the first date, you know. Just some respect.”

“Uh, no, Cody, it’s not what you think…”

Cody doesn’t wait to hear the end of that sentence, nor does he seem keen on discussing it any further. “Good night, Ackles.”

“Wait, but, Co-…”

The orthopedic surgeon grabs his jacket off the back of his chair, and just as elegantly as he’d done everything else all evening, gets up and walks away.

 

Once he’s alone, Jensen takes his glasses off and looks at them through his mildly hyperopic vision. “Oh-kay, that happened.”

 

It’s been two months since he moved east. New York City is still so new, so strange to him. And he’s slowly, very slowly, starting to get used to it, smells and all. Jensen gets up and strolls towards the exit. Nice enough night to walk it back to his apartment in Lenox Hill. He flips his phone open again and goes to his Twitter app.

 

 

 

*** *** ***

 

II.

 

Jared storms into his boss’ office, waving his phone so wildly it’s at risk of reaching terminal velocity.

 

“So now we’re taking money from con artists too? Really?”

Alaina Huffman, digital media head at Quartz NY, sighs but doesn’t look up from her laptop. “Just write it, kiddo.”

“Why do I get stuck with these puff pieces promoting tech startups that have no business being in business?”

Alaina looks up at him at last. “Because someone has to. Besides, I wouldn’t have given it to you, of all people, if I didn’t want a fair and balanced analysis.”

Jared narrows his eyes. “Explain yourself.”

Alaina smirks. “You forget, I follow you on Twitter.”

 

Jared’s face fills up with color that matches his rose shirt. Without asking for permission he plonks himself on a chair facing his boss but also friend of four years.

“Okay, if you’re referring to the… Friday night rant, I admit that was not my proudest moment.”

“You ranted about your terrible, horrible no-good very bad first date on Twitter for ever.”

“I was venting, it’s supposed to be therapeutic.”

“And you blamed the app for it!”

“Well, why not? Dang thing promises the perfect match and doesn’t deliver. So like any other service, it’s my responsibility as a customer to hold it up to the highest standards, is it not?”

Alaina smirks. “Well then, you should relish another opportunity to do just that, with this article.”

 

Jared twists his swivel chair back and forth, studying his boss’ statuesque profile, wondering what else to say to get out of this assignment.

“What makes you think I can be ‘fair and balanced’?”

Alaina sighs again and looks up into his eyes. “Just think back to two weeks ago when you were so excited this app launched in NYC. Remember everything you liked about it before you abandoned all rational thought and blamed a piece of software for your heartbreak.”

 

Jared pouts. “I’m not heartbroken, not exactly…”

“No?” Alaina asks, genuinely concerned.

Jared looks away and huffs. “There was just so much potential, so much promise, you know? Like on paper the guy was just… PERFECT. Just as the app promises, and yet…”

“Real life is unpredictable, kiddo. No matter how smart this app’s predictive algorithm claims to be.”

“But that’s just it, Alaina!” Jared leans forward, his passion for all things tech breaking to the surface.

 

“This app, Click… super-imaginative name by the way… not… it matches you up based on both your real-world and online activity. So, if you’re frequenting the same bars or clubs or libraries, and if you’re googling the same interests, following the same conversations, and who knows maybe watching the same porn even… it violates your privacy pretty damn thoroughly to show you who you’re most likely to click best with.”

Alaina chuckles. “Obviously you have to accept the terms and conditions and be willing to share your data before you can use the app.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever. The point is… it’s a cerebral match more than anything else, no other app does that. And their secret-sauce AI algorithm is supposed to be so good, that in theory, it can’t possibly go wrong. I got so hopeful! I got lulled into this false sense of proven compatibility… and so when it didn’t work out…”

 

Alaina doesn’t interrupt, just watches the emotions play out on her protégé’s face.

“Of course, one can argue a perfect match has to be more than just cerebral. It’s also got to be like, I don’t know, cardiological…”

Alaina bites her lip trying hard not to chuckle.

“I guess… I might have gotten a little too ahead of myself?”

The editor smiles then, and gently taps her stylus on Jared’s right hand knuckles. “See? That’s what I mean… fair and balanced.”

 

Jared glares at her, then swiftly gets up and exits her office.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

III.

 

Jensen has been sitting in the back of an Uber for forty-six minutes. Traffic’s crawling, as is the norm here, but his driver seems to have achieved a total state of Zen about it. Jensen’s knee keeps jiggling as he deliberates his choices: Walk twelve blocks? Or stay and finish reading this article on his phone that clearly wasn’t written in a very good mood.

 

[[[…]]] Granted the app did crazy well in Frisco and in its very first month of launch in NYC, has already exceeded all expectations in terms of new subscription. Granted the app has had some serious investment influx recently, making its multi-millionaire creators even richer. And, okay, sure, its gender- and sexual orientation-agnostic approach to connecting folks is truly one-of-a-kind. But we can’t do a fair analysis without talking about Click’s serious privacy violations and security concerns. Think about it – say you go out with someone who frequents the same bars, goes to your gym, and it ends badly. What would you do to avoid running into this ex – stop going to the places you’ve always frequented? Change your gym? I don’t know what’d be worse – losing a potential mate or losing your favorite bar. [[[…]]]

 

Jensen rolls his eyes. Good point, except how is that the app’s fault? Wouldn’t you have the same problem if you met any other way?

 

The traffic moves at last, and Jensen sits back, flipping to the app again. That new match that came in last week in the middle of his date with Cody – still sits on top of his inbox. Jensen bites his lip and clicks it again, revealing a twenty-seven-year-old writer, by the name of Jared. No last name.

Something quite… alluring about this guy, Jensen thinks, as he zooms in. Mostly, it’s the eyes. He can’t seem to stop staring into those almond-shaped pools of blue… or are they green? Jensen can’t quite tell.

 

“Stop being a wuss,” he murmurs, thumb hovering over on the message icon tentatively.

“Sir, I don’t think I can do anything here, there’s nowhere to go!” The driver seems to have lost his Zen, at last.

“What? Oh, no no, I wasn’t… I was talking to myself. Sorry…”

“Oh!” Poor guy laughs back, clearly relieved. But Jensen decides to get out and walk after all.

 

As he walks, he hits SEND before he can change his mind again. It takes until the next day for Jared to respond.

“Where would you take me, if I said yes?”

Jensen grins. “I’d take you to the moon. If that’s what you wanted.”

This time, he doesn’t have to wait long.

“Will a spacesuit be provided, or do I have to bring my own?”

“Bring nothing but your big, gorgeous smile. And an ID, you know, in the off-chance we run into a bartender who actually does their job right.”

“In New York city? Doubt it. What do you think of Oscar Wilde?”

“Sharp dresser. Cutting wit. I suspect he had a drinking problem, or maybe he was just Irish.”

“LOL! Dude I meant the bar on 27 West.”

That would have been Jensen’s first choice too. Dang, this app is good.

“Love it! See you at seven?”

 

And that’s it. The date’s set for a couple hours later. Just before he puts his phone away, a Twitter notification pops up. The GOT fangirl’s at it again.

 

 

Jensen rolls his eyes, wondering if the poster actually wants her date to go bad.

“Good luck either way, princess,” he smirks, and runs all the way back to his apartment to get ready.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

IV.

 

It’s five past seven. Jensen is saving a seat at the bar that’s rapidly filling up.

 

He thinks he’s prepared. He tests his breath for a third time and the silent mode on his phone for a seventh (not making that mistake again.) He sips his whiskey sour and licks his lips. The app promises no surprises. So yeah, he thinks he’s ready.

 

He’s wrong. He’s so not ready.

 

The tall drink of water that walks into the bar is everything -- and nothing -- like his profile pic.

Sure, he’s beautiful, but there’s a breathtaking quality to the way he moves, the way he smiles, the way he lifts a tentative hand to wave. It’s the kind of beauty that no camera ever invented can capture.

And sure, he’s tall just as his bio says… but there’s an endlessness to his slender legs, a lankiness in his torso that numbers and metrics can barely even begin to measure.

 

Jensen takes a deep, deep, breath.

 

“You made it! Howdy!” He pulls out the bar stool he’s been saving, then extends his right arm pointing to it, giving his date two options: Jared can either take his hand and shake it, or just take a seat and…

Jared walks right into his chest and closes his long arms around Jensen’s frame.

Oh-kay. Definitely wasn’t expecting that.

“Sorry, I’m late!” He says, smiling warmly, and launches into a long-ass story about the New York subway that Jensen isn’t particularly interested in, but hey, it’s as good an icebreaker as any.

“Can I get you a drink?”

“Yes, bourbon, three rocks please.”

That’s a surprise too, Jensen would have pegged him for a light beer guy, or wine maybe. And the surprises don’t stop there.

“Get out! Where in Texas?”

“San Antonio’s where I grew up.”

“Cool! I’m from Dallas. Well, Richardson mostly.”

Happy surprises.

“Totally a dog person. But am waiting to settle down a bit. What about you?”

“Two rescue pups here - Gusto and Arlo. Another two back in Texas with the folks - Sadie and Harley.”

 

And then the differences emerge, which aren’t that bad. Not at first.

 

“I prefer the West Coast, hands down. Probably because I just moved from there and New York takes a little getting used to, you know?”

“Give it time. There’s a reason this is known as the greatest city in the world.”

Jensen shrugs, not sure he’ll ever see it that way but okay.

“So, you’re a writer. Awesome. Is that fun?”

Jared grimaces for the first time in their conversation. “I don’t want to talk about work. Is that okay?”

Fair enough. Jensen loves his work but that doesn’t have to be true for everyone else. “No problem. So, what do you do for fun?”

Jared smirks again. “You read my Click bio, didn’t you? What else is there to share – the dang thing does a pretty thorough job of profiling you inside and out.”

 

Oh-kay, again. Jensen takes a swig of his beer.

 

“So how long have you been out?”

Jensen nearly chokes, then wipes the moisture off his lips. “It’s pretty recent.” Still smarts to talk about it.

“How about you?”

“Oh, I’ve been out since I was eight. And that was two years after my parents knew, or so they tell me.”

Jensen simply nods. Family is another topic he’d really rather not…

“And my brother and sister… they have to be like the most supportive siblings in the world, you know? Jeff was QB in high school. His reputation loomed large enough for me to go unscathed, for the most part. And Meg has always had my back…”

 

Jensen swigs his beer again and lightly fidgets in his seat.

 

“So how about you? Any siblings?”

“Um yeah but, hey, how about we get something to eat? I’m starving… the short rib bites here are really good if you’d like to try…”

“No, thanks! I’m vegan.”

“… Oh-kay…”

 

Jensen looks through the menu, flipping back and forth. Anything to avoid his date’s gaze who is clearly wise enough to know he’s being not-so-subtly judged.

Jared scoffs. “Really? You’re one of those, then?”

“I didn’t say nothing!”

“That’s a double negative. You just used a double negative in conversation with a writer.”

“Maybe I did it for emphasis.”

“Yeah well, you succeeded in emphasizing something all right.”

Jared’s teasing, Jensen gets that. Really, he does. But he can’t help himself.

“Hey, so long as you’re not one of those militant vegan sorts…”

“Dude, that reaction you just gave me is enough to get anyone radicalized.”

“Oh well, in that case, nice knowing ya.” Jensen smirks, and he’s only half-joking, kinda. But Jared laughs out loud.

 

It’s a magical… wondrous sound. It makes Jensen wish he had a better sense of humor.

 

There’s a gap in conversation for a few seconds. Just a few… in which both men focus on their drinks, look around the bar and indulge in some people-watching, wondering whatever the hell to say next. The longer the silence lasts, the more awkward it feels to jump back into the fray.

 

And to be fair, it’s not just him. Jared jiggles his right knee a lot, like, a lot. So much that he bumps into Jensen’s thigh a couple times, each time stopping mid-sentence to apologize before fumbling to recall what he was talking about a second ago. And he drops his fork once, and Jensen has to dive down underneath their bar stools to fetch it and get it out of the way.

 

Jensen watches the tall man’s (unintended) antics with bemusement. A part of him can’t help but think how different this man is from Cody. Cody, who was so suave and elegant and sophisticated. Cody, who was nowhere near this talkative or opinionated or… well, vegan…

 

“So, what are you doing Tuesday night?”

“What’s Tuesday night?”

“Bernie’s rally, silly. A couple friends and I are planning to go, you’re welcome to join us if you like.”

“Uh, no thanks. I’m… I’m not…”

It’s Jared’s turn to frown. “A democrat?”

Jensen grimaces. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m just not that interested in politics.”

“Huh, why not? You are a citizen, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but…”

“Don’t you think that now, more than ever, is the time to step out of our apathy and participate?”

“Are we really discussing politics on a first date?”

Jared blinks. “Not anymore, I guess.”

 

The awkwardness returns with a vengeance. Jensen takes another swig of his drink. The silence is more uncomfortable now than it was the last time.

 

“For the record, yes, I am a Democrat. I just don’t lean as left as Sanders. And I don’t think he’s right for the country right now because–“

“You’re right, bad idea to talk politics on a first date.” Jared cuts him off, which is just as well, or this might really escalate. And fast. The app makers made a conscious choice not to feature political views for a damn good reason.

 

This is not going well.

 

“So, are we getting anything to eat or what?”

Jared glares at the blond man for a second, just a second. He reaches for his glass of wine, misses by a couple inches, and ends up knocking it sideways, splashing the liquid all over Jensen’s favorite royal-blue button down.

 

“Fuck! I… I am so, so sorry!”

“It’s okay, it happens.”

“No, I… God, I didn’t do it on purpose…”

“You sure about that?”

Jensen is joking, of course. And maybe Jared is smart enough to know he’s really not, but he lets it slide.

“Let me…” he leans forward to wipe the now-wet column of Jensen’s neck with his napkin, just as Jensen bows his head to look down at himself at about the same time.

 

In that moment their mouths are so close, and Jared smells so frikkin’ good, and alcohol on an empty stomach does tend to act fast…

 

Jensen leans in and kisses Jared. But the reaction he gets is not what he intended. Like at all.

 

Jared jerks back, sends the wine glass clanking right off the table this time, glass shattering on the bar floor next to Jensen’s feet.

“Damn it!”

“Sorry! I definitely didn’t do that on purpose!”

 

Jensen bites his lip, pushes the sting of rejection down and leans away. Jared’s face is red. He steps off his bar stool and bends down to try and pick up the shards of glass with his napkin.

“Leave it, it’s not…” Jensen heaves a big sigh and gives up.

 

It’s a mess. And there seems to be no dignified way to salvage it this time. No, it’s not cute, or adorkable, or any of the things one might expect it to be if this were a movie on Lifetime. It’s just plain… awkward.

“Hey, seriously, don’t worry about it, all right?” he finally gets through to the taller man who rises to take his seat. He’s having trouble looking up at Jensen too.

“…”

“Look, I, uh…” Jensen looks down at his watch. “Wow, would you look at the time. I just remembered I had to… there’s this thing I need to take care of tonight… so… uh…”

Jared’s face falls to the floor and shatters like the wine glass did a minute ago. “Yeah… sure, a-absolutely. Me too, actually. So… yeah…”

 

“Yeah, okay.”

“Yeah. Okay.”

 

Jensen brisk-walks forty blocks to get back to his apartment that night. His calves ache and that’s all right… he’d missed workout for that doomed date. There’s also an ache in his chest that doesn’t quite make sense, considering his head is pretty damn convinced it made the right choice.

 

His phone beeps, and he looks at it as he rides the elevator up to the thirty-second floor. The fangirl’s back, whining again about how Click has the most incompetent match-making algorithm in the history of dating apps, EVER. Only two tweets tonight though, and she keeps the second one pretty short and to the point.

 

 

For a change, Jensen can’t help but agree.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

V.

 

The week rolls by fairly fast. And before he knows it, it’s Friday again. Jensen scrunches his eyes up for a second to think. Then he looks at the newest notification on his app.

Mason Meyers looks like a catch. And Jensen’s got no other plans so… why the hell not?

 

Jensen proposes the Bathtub Gin as the meeting place – a speakeasy in the grungy part of the Meatpacking District he’s been dying to try. Mason approves and thus, the date is set.

The fact that Jensen found this spot in the Favorite Haunts section on Jared’s profile, skips his mind. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe he chose it because he knows Jared is a longtime New Yorker and has good taste. Or maybe he chose it for some other innocuous reason. Who can really ever know these things, right? 

 

“I’m really glad you called…” Mason whispers into his ear, nine minutes into their date.

Jensen smiles, happily enough, hopeful that this one might actually work out. Except lady luck has other plans for him tonight. Correction: the same plan she’s had ever since Jensen moved to New York – sitting at home alone, Netflixing and chilling.

 

Jensen sits across from Mason on a cozy two-person table, facing the door. Twenty minutes after they place their orders, the door opens and Jared walks into the place.

 

He’s dressed casually – black jersey underneath a brown jacket and faded blue jeans that seem to ride a little too low on Jared’s overly long torso. And he’s not alone.

 

Jensen blinks and ducks on instinct, using his date as cover so Jared won’t spot him. It works for a while, until Jared’s date – an even taller wall of sinewy muscle – leads him towards a couple of open spots at the bar. The two men sit down, their backs toward Jensen – thank God – and immediately Jared launches into one of his long-ish stories, about the subway no doubt.

“Top you up?”

Jensen blinks, his attention drawn back to his date. Uh… Mason, yes. Mason, who’s gorgeous and intelligent, and hangs on every word that Jensen has uttered so far. Mason, who’s holding up their bottle of 2010 Château Canon, poised just over Jensen’s empty goblet. 

“Uh, yes please…”

 

He reorients his chair a bit so even if Jared turns around, he wouldn’t see Jensen. But Jared is still in Jensen’s line of sight, clear as day. He watches Jared throw his head back and laugh a couple times. Must be something his date said. Funny guy.

Jensen pouts a little. He could be funny too, you know. Not like all the time maybe. But when the occasion calls for it.

 

He watches as Jared tucks a long lock of hair behind his ear, gazing deeply and keenly into his companion’s face. Did he look at Jensen that way? At all? He just remembers Jared getting flustered every time their eyes met, and then hurriedly looking away.

 

“So anyway, how’s work?” Mason tries to restart the conversation.

“Uh, good. Getting ready for a big launch end of this month. How about you?”

“Well, the market’s been pretty finicky this week so…”

Jensen tries hard to concentrate on Mason’s words. But it’s so hard to turn off that part of his brain that’s hellbent on comparing this man to the one just behind him.

 

Mason is the exact opposite of Jared in every sense. As an investment banker, he’s as far from being even remotely socialist as possible, and he’s already made it clear he has no interest in politics.

That’s a good thing, right?

Jensen looks down at his menu. According to Mason’s profile, he’s also a foodie, a sushi connoisseur to be exact.

“Hey, do you mind if we get another brisket?”

“Be my guest. I’m going to let you finish most of it though, watching my weight…” Mason replies, smiling a little sheepishly.

“Hey, I’m just glad you’re not vegan,” Jensen chuckles, and goes back to reading the menu.

“God no, vegans are the absolute worst!”

 

Jensen is taken aback by the sheer vitriol in Mason’s voice.

 

“Like I’ve got no beef with what anyone else eats, pun totally intended. But why are they so fucking angry all the time? I’ll tell you why, ‘cause they’re depriving themselves of something they clearly want and resent the fact that the rest of us won’t! Like seriously?”

And he goes on and on, and on for a while. Guess there were militants on both sides of the aisle. Jensen resorts to swigging his wine and steals another surreptitious look at his date from last week. He feels a little guilty, and he’s not sure why.

Eventually he succeeds in changing the subject and they talk about music instead. According to Click they’ve got very similar tastes. But nothing Mason says seems to hold Jensen’s attention. The guy is so handsome, so suave and sorted… not an ounce of nerve or awkwardness. So like Cody in a lot of ways – just the type of guy Jensen is usually attracted to.

 

Jared’s a total clutz in comparison, honestly.

 

Damn it, why can’t he stop thinking about Jared? Maybe Jensen should just move so Jared's not in his line of sight anymore. Better still, maybe they should leave, go find another bar somewhere in a nicer part of town…

“I love this place, Jensen. Good choice, I must say.”

“Yeah? Okay, thanks, it was a recommendation from a-a friend.”

This time he doesn’t even try to hide the fact that he’s quietly ogling said ‘friend.’ But what he sees makes his hackles rise.

 

It’s obvious Jared is out on another first date, and he’s clearly enjoyed himself so far. Then Jared stands up to reach for something, maybe napkins or a coaster, farther down the counter. He stretches and leans forward. And his date uses the opportunity to fondle Jared’s butt.

Jensen looks away at first, only to be drawn back when Jared jumps quite violently and turns to glare at his date. His face is red, and even though he’s still smiling, it’s obvious he isn’t too happy right now.

 

“Jensen?” Mason snaps his fingers right in his face. “Is everything all right?” 

“Hmm?” Jensen blinks, “Yeah, sorry, I…” he trails off, eyes dragging themselves right back over to the scene unfolding just ahead.

 

Jared’s telling his date off now. A brisk back-and-forth ensues, and as it stretches on and on, the smile on Jared’s face gets dimmer and dimmer.

Jensen frowns harder and harder.

He watches as Jared lowers his eyes at last, signaling an end to the conversation. And possibly the date.

Mr. Muscles looks around, clearly embarrassed. He swipes at his face and leans in, whispers something in Jared’s ear. Whatever he says, makes Jared practically snarl up at the other man with disgust. They stare each other down. Then the asshole gets up, throws another barb at Jared, and walks away.

 

“I’m sorry, do you know those guys?” Mason asks, twisting to follow Jensen’s gaze.

Jensen doesn’t bother to reply. He’s too engrossed watching Jared… watching as those blue-green-whatever eyes tear up, even as his jaw tightens with a controlled fury that seems so… so wrong on his angelic face.

As his damn luck would have it, that’s the moment Jared chooses to look up and around… and spots Jensen sitting at the other end of the bar.

 

Rats.

 

The angelic face crumbles then. Like Jensen’s presence alone is the final straw that breaks the grip he had on his brittle emotions. Jared throws some cash on the counter and dashes out the door without looking back at Jensen again.

 

Jensen should have let him go. Really, he should have, and focused on his own date. Instead, he runs out without a word to Mason, desperate to not let the tall man leave without… without…

He doesn’t know exactly what he thinks he can do. All he knows is, he wants to try.

 

It’s a chilly night and the streets are deserted for the most part, what you’d expect for this part of town. Jensen looks around, hoping to find a tall silhouette sprinting away in some direction, but he sees no one. He breaks into a run, circling the joint to check in the back. That’s where he comes to a halt and pants in relief.

Jared is sitting on the sidewalk – a place Jensen would never, of his own volition ever, touch with anything but the soles of his shoes. Jared sits with his legs crossed under himself, his jacket flung to one side. He turns his head briefly as he hears Jensen approach. Then without a word, turns right back and resumes smoking a cigarette.

 

Jensen can’t help but snigger a little.

“At least have the decency to not laugh in my face, dude.”

“No, I wasn’t! I’m…” Jensen sighs. “I’m laughing at myself. I don’t know what I was thinking, running after you, like… trying to be your knight in shining armor or something. As if you’d need that. I mean, look at you. You’re… you’re good. Aren’t you?”

Jared blows smoke in Jensen’s direction. “Peachy.”

Jensen digs his hands in his pockets defensively. He shakes his head but goes for it anyway. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Like what? Take me to the moon?”

Jensen rolls his eyes. “Or maybe just take you home instead?”

“…”

“YOURS. Your home.”

“…”

“Just so we’re clear. I’m not coming on to you or anything.”

“Why are you explaining yourself to me? You think I’m a prude too? An uptight bitch?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“But you were thinking it.”

“You don’t know me, dude.” Jensen rasps, starting to lose his cool as well.

 

Jared stubs his cigarette and rises to his feet. It’s quite a sight – watching the man who’d sat folded thrice over himself, suddenly unfurl into his full, impressive height of six-four. “I got an Uber coming.”

 

Jensen nods, his gaze pulled away momentarily by a couple exiting the bar, hand in hand.

“Mighty kind of you though,” Jensen hears the sarcasm in those words loud and clear. “Thank you so very much.”

Jensen turns back around. “You know, just because that guy was an asshole to you doesn’t mean you should pay it forward to everyone else.”

Jared crosses his arms, hugging himself. “Well, maybe you should just leave me alone, then.”

“Maybe I should.”

“Fine! Why don’t you?”

 

Jensen doesn’t budge. No words are spoken. And no one looks away either. A couple minutes pass before a black Camry pulls up by the curb. Jared must surely see his ride in the periphery of his eye, but he still doesn’t move.

 

Jensen sighs and blinks first, metaphorically speaking. He walks towards the other man but instead of approaching Jared, he swerves lightly to his side and picks up the jacket Jared had obviously forgotten all about.  Jensen hands it over, waits for Jared to hold it. Then he reaches towards the sedan and holds the back door open, taking Jared by even more surprise.

Jared gets into the car and watches quietly as Jensen closes the door behind him. The window is ajar, and Jensen hears a soft “thanks” whispered into the air, not necessarily directed at anyone. It could be for the driver for all Jensen knows.

“You’re very welcome,” he whispers anyway, but only after the car is out of sight. Then he turns to head back inside.

 

He’s pretty sure Mason won’t be there and he’s not disappointed. Nor is he particularly cut up about it. Jared on the other hand… Jensen doubts he’ll ever see him either. And that one stings a little.

More than a little.

He pays the tab and calls an Uber for himself. While he waits, he twiddles on his phone. Just then, the anti-Click fangirl tweets again. Except she sounds different this time. More… muted. Resigned.

 

 

“Oh, princess…” Jensen feels his heart going out to her.

And then he looks at the GPS tag on the tweet – it was sent no more than a block away from the Bathtub Gin.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

VI.

 

Jared taps a pencil on a notepad as he waits for the phone line to connect.

“Meg! How are you, my most-est favorite-est sister in the world?”

He can literally hear Megan roll her eyes on the other end. It’s an old joke that’s stuck ever since Megan was six and first uttered those broken, lovely words.

“I’m busy, Jay. Make it quick, what d'you want?”

Jared clasps his chest dramatically. “Wow, that’s not heartless and dismissive at all.”

“I’m serious, Jay. Got a meeting in three minutes. And I still haven’t had lunch and there’s a crisis at the 3D printer’s and – “

“All right! I’ll make it quick. I have two free tickets to Daniel Sloss for Friday night. Interested?”

“Daniel Sloss, are you kidding me? How’d you land these?”

 

Jared grins smugly, enough to make his boss, Alaina, squint at him suspiciously from across the room. “I finally got a response back from @ClickMaker on Twitter. Fuckers must be sick of my whining on social media about how much their stupid app sucks.”

“They gave you standup tickets as compensation?”

Jared shrugs, “Don’t know. They just DM’d me, saying they hope ‘some dark Scottish humor can bring a smile to my face!’ Something cheesy like that.”

“Wow. So why're you asking me? Thought you were seeing that big guy from your gym, Tahmoh?”

“Nah, that’s history. Tell you all about it if you join me tomorrow? Unless, of course you have other plans…”

Meg chuckles, “You’re kidding, of course I’ll be there! Where? Your usual?”

“Yep! Starts at seven.”

“Done. I’ll see you there at six-thirty.”

“Great, go get some work done.” Jared starts to hang up.

“Wait, Jay?”

“Yes?”

 

There’s a second-long pause, like Meg is wondering what to say. Eventually she just sighs. “Take care of yourself, okay, brother?”

“Your most-est favorite-est brother in the world?”

“Shut up.” And she hangs up.

 

***

 

Jared walks six blocks in the rain to get to the New York Comedy Club in East Village. By the time he meets Meg, his hair is sticking to the sides of his face, the ends of his baggy jeans are soaked, and his boots are full of rainwater.

“Oh no, you’re not touching me like… damn it, dorkface!!” Megan protests to no avail as her big brother lifts her off her feet into a bear hug.

 

They wait at the bar until the show starts.

“Okay, so, Tahmoh’s an ass.” she concludes, after hearing the whole speakeasy incident last week. “But you didn’t meet him on Click. So, why tag them on your rant again?”

Jared rolls his eyes, feeling a little guilty, but… eh, not so much. “My fundamental disagreement with Click still stands. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver, that’s all.”

But Meg isn’t relenting yet. “I’m just saying online dating is as much a gamble as dating in general. And you haven’t even tried it long enough to already be so disheartened by it. You’re a millennial, bro! You’re supposed to live and die and date and procreate online! Get with the program already.”

“Yeah, whatever, I’m a disgrace to my generation.”

Meg snorts and reaches up to grab her brother’s chin, pulling him towards herself. She looks straight into his eyes. “You’re okay, aren’t you?”

Jared scoffs and pulls away. “I’m fine!”

“This is not about Tahmoh, I can see that much.” Meg narrows her eyes. “You met someone else.”

“…”

Then she gasps. “You met someone online!”

“I think the show’s about to start, maybe we should…”

“No, no, no… what’s going on, Jay? Who is he? Tell me!”

“You’re such a brat.”

“Tell me tell me tell me!”

Jared just stalks off towards the theater, leaving his sister behind to settle their drinks tab.

 

He hasn’t been able to stop thinking of Jensen ever since that disastrous date two weeks ago. God, he was so smitten by the older man. The moment he laid eyes on Jensen… the very notion of hand-eye coordination went out the window. Jared was fumbling and stuttering and breathless for no reason, and that’s never happened to him before, ever. It was like his body was sensing some sort of… imminent danger or crisis, and was struggling to get both far away from, and as close as possible to, Jensen all at once. God, Jensen must have thought he was a spaz or something.

And the second encounter was even more embarrassing. Jensen had obviously seen everything that went down with Tahmoh. He probably felt sorry for Jared, enough to not leave him standing alone on the street.

 

Such a frikkin’ gentleman.

 

“Wait up, dorkface!” Meg yells at him like only siblings can as she runs to catch up. Jared just smirks and keeps walking. Anything to avoid her questions about his ‘non-existent love life.’

They find two random seats in the very back and make themselves comfortable. Or at least try to – they’ve both been blessed with splendid height which isn’t always such a boon in cramped places like the NYCC.

 

“So, what’s his name?”

Jared huffs, exasperated. “Meg, come on! It doesn’t matter, okay?”

“Why not?”

“Because it didn’t go well! Fact it was horrible, everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong! And it was utterly humiliating and I’m never, ever going to see him again so-”

 

“Hi!”

 

Jared is cut off mid-rant as he spins to his right. Towards the intruding gentleman towering just above him.

 

This is a coincidence,” Jensen says, smiling so widely like… he’s seeing an old friend after a very long time.

“Uhh…” Jared’s mind goes blank.

Jensen waits but when no response is forthcoming, he plows through. “Yeah, that dang app, man. Really should plug their privacy holes. I mean – I know all of your hangouts and you know all of mine. Chances are we’ll keep running into each other unless we find new places to hang, right?”

And he chuckles, loudly.

Jared gulps, he doesn’t think it’s funny at all. It’d be torture, running into this perfection of a man over and over again, a constant and painful reminder of his unattainability.

 

“I’m Megan, hi! I’m Jared’s little sister.”

Jared exhales in relief as Meg stands up and takes control of the hitherto one-sided conversation.

“Jensen. Ackles. Pleasure,” the dark blond says, shaking her hand.

“Hey, you’re tall enough to be a backbencher. Care to join us?”

Jensen grins wider than Jared thought possible. “If you don’t mind?” He looks down at Jared and waits.

Jared clears his throat. This time he has to respond. “Yeah, yeah, please.”

Jensen folds his six-feet-one frame into a seat next to his, and a second later, the lights dim and the first comic comes up on stage. Jared doesn’t catch a word of their bit, but judging by the loud roars around the room, they must be good.

 

All he can think about is the fact that their thighs are touching. His and Jensen’s. There’s a sliver of heat emanating from the point of contact, growing, spreading outward, until it’s climbing all the way up to Jared’s neck and face. Quietly, he thanks the dark theater for running cover for his illicit bodily reactions.

Jensen, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be affected at all. He doesn’t even care that Jared’s jeans are damp from the rain. He’s laughing unabashedly, slapping the arm of his chair at the occasional joke he finds particularly insane. Yep, no point denying it, Jared’s in love… in love with the sound of that laughter.

 

After the show, the trio walk out together and pause at the exit to open their umbrellas, say their goodbyes, then go their separate ways...

“So, what’re you doing for dinner, Jensen?”

Damn it, Megan!

 Jensen smiles like a goof again, what’s with this guy tonight? “Um, open to all options. Did you two have any plans?”

Megan chirps in before Jared can speak. “I do! My roommate and I have this monthly ritual you see – pasta and wine, and a cheesy romantic comedy on our portable projector. So, I’m gonna go get to that. But Jared has no plans! He’s wide open. Aren’t you, bro?”

Jared glares at her, wordlessly promising sweet retribution later. But then his attention flips to the other man who’s looking at him with such hope in his eyes…

“Yeah, um, no plans. Wide open.”

“Awesome! I found this great Tibetan place and it’s good for vegan too. I checked.”

Jared’s heart thumps hard against his rib cage so happily it hurts.

“Okay then, lead the way, good sir.”

 

***

 

Dinner’s at a quaint little hole in the wall on 1st and 1st. That’s where Jensen discovers the other man’s enormous love for food. Volumes and volumes of food.

“Boy am I glad this ain’t the Ritz,” Jensen quips and Jared throws his napkin at him. Only to lean forward and retrieve it a second later, bringing Jared closer to Jensen for a split-second. It takes every ounce of his strength not to grab the younger man by the neck and pull him into a ravenous kiss.

 

Then there’s the talking. Except this time, there’s less floundering about for things to say and more straight-up monologuing about this, that and the other. Boy the boy can talk. But then again, Jensen can listen.

 

“So anyway, that’s my take on Miranda’s take on Chernow’s take on Hamilton and it’s not a popular one, I get it. But hey, I’mma speak my truth, you know?”

“Yeah, you do that.”

Jared smirks at Jensen. “That sounded curiously condescending.”

Jensen laughs and puts both hands up in placation. “Not at all. I meant it. It’s what I like about you so much.”

 

Jared licks his lips. Jensen can tell he’s trying really hard not to smile.

“All right, here’s another piece of truth for you, if you’re open to it.”

“By all means.”

Jared exhales cautiously. “I never thought we’d ever get here, you know? You and me, like this… heck I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“What changed?”

Jensen shrugs and shakes his head. “I guess I…” he thinks about it, wondering how to explain something he doesn’t understand himself. Or how to act nonchalant while confessing that he's spent every hour, every minute of the past two weeks thinking about Jared.

“Um, I got new contact lenses?”

 

Jared stares at him for a couple seconds, then bursts out laughing. Jensen joins in, his heart thumping in his chest with so much happiness it hurts.

 

Later that night when Jensen’s sleepless in bed, replaying the events of the evening in his mind… his phone beeps. Jared aka @khaleesi_92 hasn’t been online since last weekend. But here she – he – is now, tweeting again.

 

 

Jensen bounces around in his king-sized bed before reminding himself he was thirty-two, not two. He settles back down with a big grin on his face, making plans for the next time he gets to see Jared. Which is precisely in… nineteen hours and a few minutes.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

VII.

 

Next evening at seven, the doorbell rings and Jensen buzzes Jared up.

 

“This. Is. Fancy…” Jared whistles in awe, looking around the minimalist but elegant two-bedroom apartment. “What do you do again?”

Jensen chuckles, not looking up from the bottle of Yellowtail (the only vegan wine he could find at short notice) that he’s in the middle of uncorking.

“Oh, so now you want to talk about work?”

Jared squints, pretending to think about it. “Nah, you’re right, never mind.”

But he continues to look around with curiosity and wonder. “You’ve got a balcony? WTF!?!”

Jensen chuckles and follows him around, patiently answering his questions.

 

“So… are you really planning to cook yourself?”

“I am. Don’t look so skeptical. I’m all right if I say so myself. Let me prove it to you.”

“Okay, on one condition. I get to help.”

“Sure, do you cook?”

Jared makes a sheepish face. “I can toss a salad, does that count?”

Jensen responds by handing over his best salad bowl.

 

They work together, side by side, in comfortable camaraderie. Almost like they were an old married couple that’s been cooking meals together forever. Jared is all smiles, sharp-witted and hilarious, talking a mile a minute like it’s going out of style. But that also means he’s easily distracted.

“Oww!”

Jensen spins around and finds Jared jerking his left hand, spraying blood from his sliced thumb all over the kitchen floor.

“Aww, princess…” the words leave Jensen’s mouth before he can censure himself. He takes advantage of Jared’s startled speechlessness to pull the bleeding thumb into his mouth.

 

“Je-Jensen…”

Jensen looks up into Jared’s face, watches it turn a bright shade of scarlet, and it makes him want to keep sucking on the boy’s thumb.

“Did you just…? You called me princess.”

“Did I?”

“You did.”

“Hmm. Let me get you a band-aid for that.”

He strides away towards his bedroom, trying his best not to snicker.

“Not very PC, Mr. Ackles!” Jared calls out from the kitchen.

“What can I say, Biden’s my man!”

 

Jensen winces, wondering if he’s about to regret bringing politics back into their midst. A second later, a loud but good-humored jibe echoes through his apartment.

“Why, that explains a lot!”

Jensen heaves a sigh of relief.

 

Over dinner that comprises of spaghetti, vegan meatballs and the scrumptious salad Jared tossed, the conversation continues. They actually manage to debate the pros and cons of various presidential candidates with more civility than the candidates do themselves.

“This is the best homecooked meal I’ve had in years, Jensen. Not even my mom gets the vegan recipes right.”

“Maybe she does it on purpose. Just to wean you off this ‘phase’ or something,” Jensen quips.

“Oh, she’s so capable of that! Why didn’t I think of it before? Mothers, man.” Jared shakes his head, but he’s snickering too. “I miss her so much. I barely see her twice a year, never feels enough.”

 

Jensen nods but looks away. He wonders if Jared would hold it against him… this inability to talk about his dysfunctional relationship with his family.

“Hey,” Jared whispers, putting a hand over one of Jensen’s, squeezing it lightly. “Whenever you’re ready.”

And that’s all he says.

Yep, Jensen is falling in love all right. He clears his throat, trying to shrug off the heaviness of the moment.

 

“Hey, uh… save room for dessert, will ya? I found this tub at Trader Joe’s of… sea salt caramel coconut ice cream?”

Jared’s eyes and smile could light up a pitch-dark room on a moonless night.

 

Later on, they stand in Jensen’s balcony where Jared smokes a cigarette, and Jensen gives him company.

Jared whistles as he blows smoke rings into the chilly night air, “Thirty-two floors above street level – it’s a whole new city from this vantage point, isn’t it?”

Jensen shrugs, “All I see is you.”

Jared turns to him, his eyes drooping under the weight of wine but still speaking volumes. “You don’t mind that I smoke?”

"I’ll admit if it said 'smoker' on your profile, I probably wouldn't have messaged you. But I suppose that would have been my loss.”

 

Jared stares at him for a long while, then stubs his barely smoked cigarette in the ashtray and walks over to where the older man stands. “Now would be the time to put your money where your sexy little mouth is, Mr. Ackles.”

Jensen doesn’t need any more encouragement. He closes the distance and takes Jared’s mouth with his, pulling Jared into his arms and holding him tight. He’s wanted this, wanted Jared for so long… has been resisting the temptation for what feels like years. But he’s afraid that once he gives in, there’ll be no holding him back.

 

He pulls apart a little abruptly, making Jared look at him with concern. “What’s wrong?”

“Shh, nothing’s wrong.” he smoothens the hair back from Jared’s face. “I-I just want you to know that I’m just as happy to call you a cab now and get you home safe. Then see you again tomorrow, if that’s what you’d prefer…”

Jared snorts. “You’re kidding me, right? Do you have any idea how long I’ve waited for this?”

“Oh-kay…”

“Just shut up and kiss me, and then take me to bed.”

Jensen laughs out loud, then does as he’s commanded.

 

***

 

The lovemaking is just as Jensen would have expected.

A little awkwardness because Jared never pretends to be something he’s not. A little tenderness because despite all his assertions and bluster, Jared’s a big softie who just wants to be taken care of. And a whole lot of passion that drives both men to soaring heights of mind-melting bliss not once, not twice, but four times that night.   

 

The first time is against the bedroom wall with most of their clothes on. It is fast and furious and utterly rampageous, as if the men couldn’t wait to stake their claim on each other. Afterwards, they collapse in bed, naked, wrapped up in each other’s arms, ready to crash for the night.

 

Two hours later, Jensen feels something tugging on his shaft and wriggling insistently against him. He smiles without opening his eyes, reaches down and pushes himself back inside Jared’s eager orifice. It’s a snug but easy fit, having already stretched it generously earlier that night. Jensen kisses the nape of Jared’s neck over and over as the other man casually undulates himself around Jensen for several minutes.

“God, I wish I could stay inside you forever,” Jensen whispers, barely awake.

“And I wish forever could start tonight…”

 

It’s in the third round that Jensen discovers Jared has really sensitive nipples.

They’re sitting up in bed, with Jared astride the older man’s lap, facing each other. Jared pushes Jensen back against the headboard.

“You just relax, Mr. Ackles. Let me do the work this time.”

Jensen cranes up to kiss the boy’s luscious lips, but Jared keeps pulling away, giggling in that husky voice of his that can get surprisingly high-pitched when he wants it to.

“Oh, is that how it’s gonna be?” Jensen whines after trying in vain for a fourth time.

When all he gets is more giggling in response, he pincer-grasps the dark red nubs on Jared’s chest, making Jared throw his head back in shocked ecstasy. Every twist, every pinch, ever flick of Jensen’s long digits, send visible tremors up and down Jared’s spine. His moans get louder and louder as the crescendo rises. And when he comes, he screams so loud, the neighbors’ dogs start howling in response.

 

The last time is when Jensen puts his gorgeous and, for once, fully sated companion on all fours. Jared rests his head and forearms on the bed, surrendering his bottom to Jensen who holds him steady and pounds into him thoroughly, making every thrust count. Every pass against Jared’s sweet spot elicits another languorous mewl from the younger man.

“Hey man,” Jared drawls sleepily. “I’m done for. You go ahead, this one’s all yours…”

“And what if I can make you come again?”

Jared buries his face in a pillow, muffling a sound that could just as easily be a “God, yes!” as a “God, no!” – who can ever really tell these things, right?

“Challenge accepted,” Jensen chuckles and picks up the pace, as he simultaneously reaches for Jared’s half-erect dick.

 

Almost a half hour later, the two men are flat on their backs side by side on the bed, neither in any position to come, or move, or talk, ever again. All they can do is listen... listen to the blood pounding in their veins and the breathless wheezing from the other guy in the room. A couple minutes later though, someone does talk. Shockingly, it's Jared.

“Jensen?”

“Hmm…”

“Full disclosure… there’s one thing I didn’t mention that I think you should probably know…”

Jensen's eyes fly open. Now, of all times? “What’s that?”

“I snore.”

 

Jensen blinks. The words 'I love you' ride the tip of his tongue as he turns to look at his… his Jared. But the younger man is already fast asleep (and snoring) by then.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

VIII.

 

Jared wakes up smiling the next morning. It’s Sunday, and he has nowhere else to be. Nowhere he’d rather be but here… in Jensen’s bed, in Jensen’s arms… wrapped up so tight he’s starting to bruise around his alabaster chest.

But Jared doesn’t mind, really. It’s been ages since anyone expressed so much interest in keeping him around. Usually, he’d be afraid to somehow fuck it up, and that fear would make him do stupid, clutzy, things. And like a self-fulfilling prophecy, he’d end up ruining relationships himself. But things feel different this time. For the first time since he started dating and putting his heart out on the line, Jared feels… safe.

 

He burrows his head further back into Jensen’s neck. Like he’s a piece of a jigsaw puzzle longing to fit with this other piece in the shape of Jensen. Longing to just… stay, and belong, forever.

 

Outside, the sun’s poised to rise, casting an orange and purple streak across the East river. Jared feels content. And at peace. But more than anything, he feels immense gratitude.

“Thank you,” he whispers ever so softly, right into Jensen’s forearm wrapped around his chest.

“For what?”

Jared starts, and looks back up at Jensen. The sea-green eyes are open, and the brows are furrowing in question.

“When did you wake up?”

“Right about the time you contorted yourself just to tickle my nose with your hair. Care to share?”

Jared licks his lips, wondering how honest he should be on date number three, “I was thinking maybe… I should thank the @ClickMaker guys on Twitter, you know, for sending me those free tickets?”

“…”

“We wouldn’t have reconnected if it weren’t for them, after all.”

 

Jensen adjusts their positions until Jared is flat on his back, and Jensen is leaning over him.

“You know what I think?”

Jared starts to giggle.

“I think I should be thanking you, quite profusely.”

“What for?”

Jensen strokes the bridge of Jared’s nose with his index finger. “For giving me a second chance after the way I behaved on our first date…”

“But the way I behaved at the speakeasy after that… you gave me a second chance too.”

 

Jensen smiles, and Jared thinks it’s the most beautiful thing in the whole wide world.

 

“Hmm, okay, but I get to thank you first.” Jensen winks, then sexily starts to slither down the taller man's body until his mouth hovers just over Jared’s groin.

Jared chuckles and closes his eyes, letting Jensen do as he pleases, knowing fully well he’ll have his turn soon enough.

 

It’s nearly noon when the men finally get out of bed and into the shower. Afterwards, they get dressed and sit around the kitchen island while the coffee brews, making plans for rest of the day.

“Movie?”

Jared pouts. “I don’t know, I can’t really sit still for that long.”

“Okay, what do you want to do?”

“Have you been to the Tenement Museum?”

Jensen pretends to yawn. “Twice. It’s a popular dating choice these days.”

Jared screws up his eyes. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. What about Guggenheim?”

Jensen huffs but relents. “All right, museum it is.”

“Awesome! You won’t regret it, I promise.”

Jensen lightly pecks at Jared’s lips and starts to pull some stuff out of the refrigerator.

 

“What are you doing?”

“Uh, making breakfast?”

“Hey, you made dinner last night. Why don’t I make us breakfast today?”

“You sure? It’s no problem…”

“I want to,” Jared replies, beaming brightly. 

“All right. Do you mind if I quickly check my email? Only take a few minutes.”

“It’s your apartment, dude. Do what you want.”

Jensen pretends to smack his butt on his way to the second bedroom that’s been converted to an office.

 

Jared gawks at the fridge stocked full of vegan-friendly options and can’t help but feel pampered. Yep, he’s falling in love with this man all right. But maybe he should be equally considerate and fry up some eggs and bacon for Jensen – that seems like the kind of thing he’d enjoy. Or maybe he should ask Jensen first and not make any assumptions?

“Any excuse to see his pretty, pretty face again. God, I miss him already!” Jared grins and ambles towards where Jensen just exited stage left.

 

***

 

Jensen flips through his inbox at sonic speed.

There are a couple messages from his investors that need urgent responding. And one from his business partner asking for his opinion on a new design element for their website. Jensen clicks it open, intending to spend no more than a couple minutes on it. Not when he has Jared waiting for him just outside the door, with breakfast.

 

He is smiling when he fires a print to take a closer look at the new design. Always does better with pen and paper than with digital tools. He bends down to reach his printer on the floor beside his chair. When he surfaces back up, Jared is standing right beside his desk, staring blankly at his three monitor screens.

 

Click – the newest online dating app on the block that’s taken NYC by storm – is open on all three screens. Profiles of three different men. And none of them happen to be Jared.

 

The smile on Jensen’s face dies a slow death when he catches the look on Jared’s face. It’s the same look Cody gave him when he caught Jensen on the app, except in this case the hurt and the dismay seems a thousand times worse.

 

“Jared?”

“…”

Jensen climbs up to his feet in slow motion. “Hey, let me explain…”

 

But those are apparently the wrong words, because before he can take a step forward, Jared spins around and is out of the office in three long strides. Jensen follows, practically sprinting after him. But Jared’s already pulling his jacket and boots out of the entryway closet.

“I…I just… remembered there’s s-some stuff I have to do.”

He evades eye contact with Jensen even as he searches for his phone and shoulder bag. Jensen still can’t believe this is happening, again. And a part of him just wants to laugh.

“Jared, come on, talk to me, man. It’s not what you think.”

 

But Jared doesn’t stop. He rushes out the door of Jensen’s apartment, slamming it shut behind him.

 

 

*** *** *** 

 

IX.

 

Jared keeps walking, not looking back, not stopping, until he’s at the elevator bank.

 

He presses the Down button furiously, crosses his arms tight as he waits. His anxiety grows with every second that he’s standing in Jensen’s corridor, in his direct line of sight should he choose to open his door and come chasing after Jared.

Jared doesn’t know how he’d handle it if Jensen did. What would he even say?

 

How can he possibly explain what he’s feeling right now? Disappointment is such a weak word. These feelings of complete and utter betrayal, and heartbreak… feelings that probably aren’t even warranted because it’s not like they’d committed to each other overnight. It’s not like they’d used the L-word or anything, right?

 

The elevator comes at last, and Jared glances back at the door that remains closed. The fact that it never opened, not even an inch, is far more crushing than he could have ever expected.

Tears rush to his eyes and an angry sob escapes all his attempts to squash it down. He breathes deeply to get himself under control, then steps into the elevator and waits for it to carry him back down to the ground. Back to reality, because clearly the illusion was over long ago. Jared was just too stupid to see it until now.

 

His phone beeps but he doesn’t pay heed to it. Except it’s quite a long ride down and he’s still a millennial, after all. If for nothing else but to distract himself, he unlocks his phone and opens his new notifications on Twitter.

It’s another DM from @ClickMaker – the official handle for the Click app.

 

~ Don’t tell me – I snore too, don’t I?

 

Jared frowns, not understanding. He’s still pondering the first one when another message arrives…

 

~ How loud exactly? Louder than you? Maybe next time we should make a recording and compare decibels. What say?

 

Jared blinks… once, twice, a couple times more as it starts to dawn on him. A whole minute later, he smacks his forehead with his right hand, hard.

 

***

 

When Jared walks back into the apartment – the door was wide open when he returned to the 32nd floor – he finds Jensen sitting once again at his desk in his office. He is leaning back and trying really hard, but failing, to not look as smug as he probably feels.

Jared bites his lip and blushes. He’s also trying really hard not to give in to the combination of relieved sobs and embarrassed laughter bubbling up his throat.

“I thought you would have googled me by now, princess,” says Jensen, swiveling calmly in his chair. “Must say I’m sorta disappointed.”

Jared drops his bag to the floor and shrugs. “What can I say? I’m a disgrace to my generation.”

 

Jensen doesn’t laugh. He simply gets up and steps away from his desk, opens his arms and waits.

Jared doesn’t hesitate.

Silently, he steps into the offered embrace, letting his entire deadweight slowly sag against Jensen, trusting the older man to hold them both up. He buries his face in Jensen’s shoulder, grips the back of his Motorhead t-shirt with both fists and just… holds on tight.

 

“I suppose I can understand why you, of all people, wouldn’t lead with a – ‘Hi, I’m a Silicon Valley multimillionaire who owns this app you just used to set up this date.'”

“Doesn’t go down as well as you’d think, no.”

“I really am sorry, Jensen…”

“Shh, please don’t. I’m sorry too, I can totally imagine what it must look like.” Jensen pushes a wild lock of hair away from Jared’s face, tucking them gently behind his right ear.

“But I’m just constantly tweaking the app, trying to make it better...”

“Shh, I get it now.” Jared kisses Jensen, cutting him off. “How can I make it up to you?”

 

Jensen looks at him with such… affection but also something akin to mischief twinkling in his eyes. Jared swallows lightly, shivering in anticipation of what this beautiful perfection of a man might ask him to do, just to let Jared stay in his life.

 

“Anything?”

Jared holds his breath. “Anything.”

“Well…” Jensen pulls him closer, adjusting his hold around the brunet’s narrow waist.

“Someone did promise to make me breakfast this morning.”

Jared exhales.  

“And after that, I was hoping to go meet your dogs, maybe? Take them for a walk in Central Park?”

 

Jared smiles at that, his eyes glittering brighter than the East River in sunlight. The jigsaw pieces of this complex but ambitious puzzle he calls life are starting to come together and finally, finally, clicking into place.

 

"Oh, by the way, since we're sharing and all..."

Jensen narrows his eyes. "What is it?"

"Um, I..." Jared starts to slide backwards out of the office and into the kitchen. "IwrotethatarticleinQZtrashingyourupcomingIPO."

"WHAT THE- that was you too!?!"

"So how do you like your eggs again?"

 

 

 

 

*** THE END ***