Word count: 4,783
Summary: It's the week before Christmas and Jared's life sucks. He doesn’t see the point of celebrating, but Jensen has other ideas.
A/N – Thanks to lotrspnfangirl for her fantastic artwork – it adds so much to the story – and to my betas firesign10 and miri_thompson for their great work.
Written for brutti_ma_buoni for the spn_j2_xmas exchange. I hope this fits your "Christmas that almost wasn't" idea.
Jared hated Christmas.
Well, not Christmas itself actually. The holiday he liked just fine. It was all the trappings surrounding it that he wasn’t too fond of.
Like decorations going up the day after Halloween, totally bypassing Thanksgiving. The commercials pushing everything from flat screen TVs to Barbie Dream Houses to deals on the newest Lexus; stridently hawking the commercialism and not the true meaning.
It’s not like he was religious or anything – he did go to midnight mass with his parents, but that was about it. It was just the 24/7 buy, buy, buy mentality. The “who can get a bigger present” and “I just have to have the newest ‘fill in the blank.’”
Of course it didn’t help that he was the assistant manager at the GameStop at the Domain mall in Austin – the one place where spoiled teens hung out with their parents' credit cards and their own bad attitudes.
Which was why he was currently whining to Jensen over dinner. They had stopped off at Flaming Pizza after work so Jared could eat away his frustration with a mushroom and onion pizza. Tinny holiday music was playing over the restaurant’s sound system, and the Christmas lights strung around the place had half their bulbs burnt out.
It fit Jared’s mood perfectly.
“I mean, my God!” He shoved a slice in his mouth and chewed quickly so he could finish his story. “We’d barely gotten the new PS4s off the truck when I got swamped by a herd of prepubescent males.” He gulped his Sam Adams. “The amount of Axe Body Spray alone was enough to make me gag.”
Jensen almost shot his beer out of his nose. “Don’t do that!”
Jared grinned. “Sorry.” He handed Jensen a couple of napkins so he could wipe his face and clean his glasses. “But seriously. They were like rabid dogs. Adrianne and I had to physically restrain two of them because we only had one gold color plate left.” He sighed despondently. “I really need to find a new job. There wouldn’t be anything open at the hotel would there?” Jensen worked the front desk at the Lonestar Court Hotel across the way from Jared’s store.
“No, sorry. We just hired a new overnight desk clerk. But I’ll let you know if something changes.”
“Thanks.” Jared finished his beer and sat back.
“At least you’ll be getting your sale bonus soon, right? That’ll help with the deposit on a new place.” Jensen finished the last piece of his pepperoni and jalapeno and pushed the plate away.
“I didn’t get it.” Jared’s face fell. He'd told Jensen earlier in December how much he was counting on it. Having to move out of his apartment because it was condemned due to mold in the walls had left him crashing on Chad’s couch for the last month. He liked Chad just fine, but his friend’s naked trips to the kitchen for a “midnight snack” were getting old.
“What the -? What do you mean you didn’t get it? You were a shoe in.” Jensen was shocked.
“Yeah, well it seems that Milo sucked up to Pellegrino and got him to credit him for that big sale from last week. Knocked me out of the running.” Suddenly Jared wasn’t hungry anymore. The thought of not getting the bonus twisted his stomach into knots.
“Oh, Jay, I’m sorry.” Jensen leaned forward. “What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know.” Jared slumped in his chair. “Originally I thought I might be able to move in with James Patrick, but…”
He grimaced at the memory. Just another crappy thing to happen during the holiday season. He and James Patrick Stuart had been seeing each other for two years, and Jared had thought everything was fine until it wasn’t. He didn’t even get the ‘it’s not you it’s me’ speech. Over dinner, James Patrick had bluntly told him that working at GameStop was a waste of his Marketing degree and that he’d expected Jared to have moved on by now; that his love of videogames and genre shows was stupid and boring, and his friends were childish. Then he'd informed Jared he was dumping him for someone more suited to his upper-class attorney lifestyle.
After graciously - yeah right - paying the dinner tab, James Patrick had left him with “You know, Jared, you really need to grow up and become an adult. No one’s going to want to be in a relationship with you if you continue to behave like a child.”
Destroyed, Jared had stumbled out of the restaurant to his car, only to find out that someone had broken into it and stolen the gallery edition of Frank Miller’s Ronin that he’d bought for Jensen for Christmas. It wasn’t outrageous, but it was $200 that he didn’t have to lose. He’d gone home and finished the bottle of whiskey Chad had, then wound up drunk dialing Jensen.
His friend had come over and allowed himself to be soaked in snot and tears as Jared sobbed out the story, telling Jensen that James was right and that he needed to grow up.
He had dimly remembered Jensen putting him to bed and staying until he passed out. The next morning there was a note next to a glass of water and a bottle of Advil. In Jensen’s neat handwriting, it had said that he’d called in for Jared and to let him know when he was up. Jensen had come over, greasy food in a bag, and they’d spent the day playing Contra and Call of Duty.
Jensen hadn’t said anything about the night before - he’d just fed Jared, whipped his ass at MarioKart, and quietly boxed up the few possessions that James had left in Jared's apartment.
When Jared had thanked him, Jensen had just ducked his head, smiled and said, “It’s no problem.” His words had eased Jared’s hurt.
Jared shook the memory from his mind and took a drink of his beer. “So I guess I’m stuck on Chad’s couch until further notice.”
“That sucks, what with the holidays and all.” Jensen signaled to the server for the check.
“I’m not celebrating this year.” Jared knew that Jensen would have a fit about his decision, but after all the chaos he'd recently experienced, Jared just didn’t have it in him.
“Jay, you have to! It’s Christmas.” Jensen practically shouted the words, causing some of the other patrons to look over at them. Jared shushed him. “It’s Christmas, Jared…” Jensen repeated in a softer voice.
The look on his friend’s face made Jared’s heart hurt. Jensen was a major fan of the holiday, putting up his decorations the Saturday after Thanksgiving and playing Christmas music constantly until December 25. He even had enough holiday ties to wear one each day without repeating them. To Jensen, Jared not celebrating Christmas was like the Cowboys moving out of Dallas – unimaginable.
“I know, but I’m just not feeling it. What with everything that’s happened, no one to share it with, I just -,” Jared shrugged, feeling helpless. “I just can’t.”
Jensen was silent, his hand playing with the napkin in front of him. Jared wanted to take back everything he just said, but he knew that would make things worse. Jensen would know he was faking it.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly.
Jensen looked at him. “It’s okay, Jay.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to stop, Jen.” For some reason it was important that Jensen knew that. “Just because I’m not in the Christmas mood doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate.” He paused as the server brought their bill to the table.
“I know, but it won’t be the same.” Jensen’s eyes locked onto Jared’s like he could look into his soul and pull out the Christmas spirit. “Are you sure I can’t change your mind?”
“Not unless you can find me a job, an apartment, and a boyfriend in the next week.” Jared chuckled sourly. “Sorry, Jen. I think I’ll be sitting this one out.”
Jensen muttered something that Jared thought sounded like ‘Not if I can help it,’ but the server came back to collect their check and Jensen’s comment disappeared in the chaos of paying the check.
It was four days til Christmas. Mark Pellegrino had insisted that all the employees wear Santa hats to ‘get into the Christmas Spirit’. Jared had immediately removed his when Pellegrino left, only to have Mark call him on the store phone and tell him to put it back on. Milo’s smirk when he jammed it back on his head was a clear indication as to who had ratted him out. Grumbling, he headed back to the stock room to get more merchandise to fill the shelves.
Jared had just finished restocking the Star Wars: Battlefront display when the door chimed. Looking up, he saw an older man enter and sighed in relief. At least it wasn’t another annoying entitled kid.
The man was dressed in a pair of well-worn jeans, a t-shirt with a faded AC/DC logo on the front, and a leather jacket. He had a charming smile and his brown eyes twinkled with intelligence.
Jared stood up just as Milo swooped around the counter and cut him off from greeting the man.
“Hi, I’m Milo, how can I help you?” The smarmy note in Milo’s voice had Jared grinding his teeth in frustration. The little shit had already stolen his bonus, you’d think he’d let Jared at least get some commission.
“Just looking, thanks.” The man turned, giving Milo a perfect rendition of the cold shoulder. It was all Jared could do not to laugh at the sour-lemon look on Milo’s face.
He grabbed the trash from the display and headed for the back of the store to get rid of it. Coming out of the back room, Jared saw the man looking at the Xbox One display. Crossing over to him, Jared said, “If you want to play online you’ll want the Xbox 360 instead. The prevailing wisdom is that the 360 platform is more stable.”
“Prevailing wisdom, huh?” The man asked with a chuckle.
“Yeah, assuming the average thirteen-year-old is wise.”
Laughing out loud, man turned to him. “Good to know.”
“So…” Jared glanced down at the man’s hand and didn’t see a ring, but you never knew who had kids these days. “Are you looking for yourself or a relative?”
“Actually, neither. It’s for my new office. And I have no clue what I’m buying.” The man held out his hand for Jared to take. “Jeff Morgan.”
“Jared Padalecki. Nice to meet you.” Jared shook Jeff’s hand. “So I gotta ask, what’s your business if you’re buying a gaming console for your office?”
Jeff laughed. “I’m actually opening a satellite location. Cloud-computing.” He waved a hand at the console. “My guys said that having a gaming area to de-stress would give me a leg up on the competition. So I’m here and totally lost. Computers I get. Gaming, not so much.”
“Well, without sounding too cheesy, you came to the right place. Now let’s figure out what you need.”
For the next hour and a half, Jared walked Jeff through each gaming system – what it did, its plusses and minuses, what games were unique to each console and approximately how much the accessories would cost. In the process he learned that Jeff was a low-tech hobbyist, preferring woodworking to gaming; that he was staying over at the Lonestar Court Hotel while he was in town; and that he was a dog lover.
When they were finally done, Jeff had bought a PS4, a Wii U, an Xbox 360 and an Xbox One, plus copies of Halo, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, The Rise of Tomb Raider, Mad Max: Fury Road, the new Star Wars, Mario Kart 8 and the Nathan Drake collection, plus all the specialized controls and accessories. Jared couldn’t help but smile at the furious expression on Milo’s face as he stacked Jeff’s purchase on the counter. It was almost worth losing the end-of-year sales bonus. Almost.
“Hey, Jared, think you could help me lug all this over to the hotel?” Jeff asked, handing over his Black American Express card. “There’s no way I can carry all of it by myself.”
Jared glanced at the clock. Five minutes to closing. Fuck it, he thought. Milo can close up. “Sure thing.”
“But Jared,” Milo whined. “The store’s still open.”
“Oh, I’m sure you can handle closing. After all, you did get the sales bonus this year.” Jared knew it was snarky, but he just couldn’t help himself. He rang up the sale, making sure it reflected his employee ID, and bagged up the consoles, games and accessories. “We’re never going to be able to carry all this. Let me grab the hand truck from the back.”
After a quick trip to the back to fetch it, they loaded the bags on the cart and headed to the hotel.
“So I have a question,” Jeff said as he unlocked his hotel room door. “That Milo kid didn’t seem to like you very much. He kept glaring at you while you were helping me.”
“Yeah, Milo is…” Jared paused, looking for the right words that wouldn’t seem too pissy to a customer.
“Out for Milo?” Jeff answered with a grin.
Jared chuckled. “Yeah, that’s a great way of putting it.” They unloaded Jeff’s purchases onto the couch. “Milo’s entire world revolves around the store. His whole goal is to become regional manager some day.”
“And what’s your goal?”
Jared looked at Jeff in confusion. Why would someone he’d just met – a customer at that – be interested in his goals?
“Well…” he began, then stopped. He really didn’t know what to say.
Jeff saved him from answering right away. “Listen, Jared. I’m sorry. That’s none of my business.” His smile was sheepish. “My wife Hilarie always says I’m like an old woman, sticking my nose into other people’s affairs.
“No, no. That’s okay.” Jared folded up the cart. “I’m just kind of in flux goal-wise right now.”
“Tell you what. Let me buy you a beer at the hotel bar as a thank you for helping me out, and you can tell me what’s on your mind. What do you say?”
The warm smile on Jeff’s face made up Jared’s mind. “Sure, why not. Just let me stash this with my friend at the front desk and I’ll meet you there.”
Jared quickly headed to the office. Jensen was checking in a guest, Elvis’s Blue Christmas playing softly in the background. “Hey, Jen. Can I store this behind you?”
“Sure, what’s it for?” Jensen handed the guest their room key. “Have a nice stay, Mr. Fitzgerald.”
“This guy came into the store and bought a ton of stuff!” Jared could finally be excited about the big sale. “Four consoles and a ton of games and all the accessories! I helped him bring everything over to the hotel. He’s setting it up for his new office.”
“Great!” Jensen grinned. “I sent him to find you! Told him you were the expert and not to talk to anyone else. He’s outfitting a new branch of his company – he’s quite the savvy businessman, as well as being a great guy. He stays here whenever he’s in town.”
“Thanks! We’re going to get a beer at the Trough.” Jared paused and looked at Jensen in confusion. “For some reason he wants to know what my goals are.”
“Hmmmm…maybe you should tell him.” Suddenly Jensen was busy typing. “Look, gotta go, but I’ll call you when I get off work, okay?”
“Sure.” Jared headed to the bar where he found Jeff at a table with two Shiner Bocks in front of him. “Sorry about that. Jensen stopped me for a minute.”
“No problem. He’s actually the one who told me to come see you.” Jeff gestured for him to sit.
“Yeah, he said that.” Jared pulled the chair out, turned it around and straddled the seat.
“Jensen’s a good guy. He’s the reason I keep coming back here when I need a place to stay in town.” Jeff took a pull of his beer. “He’s always given me good advice. So far he’s not steered me wrong.”
“He’s fantastic. Saved my ass – sorry, butt – a bunch.” Jared blushed and picked up his beer, studying the label. “I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
Jeff leaned back and Jared felt the other man’s gaze on him. “So, Jared Padalecki, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Jared frowned. Those words echoed what James Patrick had said when they had broken up. That he needed to grow up. That he was still a child.
Jeff seemed to pick up on his discomfort. “You okay, Jared?”
“Yeah. What you said. It just…” He looked at Jeff and saw a friendly face, not a disapproving one. Jared took a deep breath and figured he had nothing to lose. “Jeff, how did you know you wanted to be doing what you’re doing?”
Jeff laughed and signaled for two more beers. “Honestly, I didn’t at first. My family wanted me to be a doctor. I was halfway through med school when I realized I hated my life.” He handed the server his empty bottle.
“I dropped out, worked at Sears for a while until I figured out what I wanted to do. I wound up working with my best friend who was a computer geek, and we started Morgan Sheppard Technologies. And here I am.” He waved his arm. “The business is going like gangbusters and I couldn’t be happier.”
He locked eyes with Jared. “But that’s because I did what was in my heart. You need to find what’s in your heart. What’s in your heart, Jared?”
Jared couldn’t help himself. “I want to use my marketing degree and management experience to be part of something that’s growing,” he blurted out. “Not some large corporation that doesn’t recognize my brains and my talent, or even know who I am.”
He mentally cursed himself for speaking so openly. How...immature.
The thought was cut off by Jeff’s bark of laughter. “That’s what I wanted to hear.” Jeff reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He signaled for a pen from the server. Taking out a business card, he turned it over and scribbled something on the back. He stood up and handed it to Jared.
“That’s my HR director’s desk line. Call her tomorrow and tell her you're the guy that her husband just hired as the new manager for the Austin office and that you’ll be starting after the holidays.” He paused. “That is, if you want the job. I can guarantee it pays more than GameStop, and you’ll be working remotely with our Marketing Department in Dallas.”
Jared stared at him in total disbelief. This was not happening.
“Uh, Earth to Jared.” Jeff snapped his fingers in front of Jared’s face. “You with me?”
“Yeah…YEAH!!!” Jared looked at the card and back at Jeff. “You’re serious?”
“As a heart attack.”
“But I don’t know anything about cloud computing.” Jared realized he might be talking himself out of a job but he didn’t want Jeff to be disappointed.
“Neither did I when I first started. But Jensen told me that I’d be an idiot if I didn’t hire you and I’d hate to have to find another place to stay in town.” Chuckling, Jeff squeezed Jared’s shoulder. “Look Jared, you’re smart, you know your product, and you have great people skills. That’s the kind of person that I want working for me. You can learn what you need to once you start work. Job’s yours if you want it.”
“Shit, yes!” Jared stood and grabbed Jeff’s hand, shaking it. Then he wrapped him in a hug. “Oh my God, thank you!” Realizing what he was doing, he pulled away with a blush. “Sorry…sorry.”
“Oh, Hilarie’s gonna love you! She’s a hugger too.” Jeff dug out some bills from his wallet and tossed them on the table. “Welcome aboard. Now I need to go call my wife.”
He turned and headed to his room, leaving Jared standing in shock. He looked down at the card. Embossed in deep metallic blue was the name Morgan Sheppard Technologies.
His new place of work. That Jensen found for him.
A smile split his face and he practically ran to the hotel office. There was someone he needed to talk to.
The next night they celebrated Jared’s new employment. Jared insisted that they go to the Saltgrass since he knew that it was Jensen’s favorite restaurant. Over the Cattleman’s Prime Rib with all the trimmings, he gleefully told Jensen about turning in his resignation.
“Oh my God, Pellegrino didn’t know what to do with himself! He turned white, then purple, and had to go sit down in the back for a bit.” Jared laughed as he cut a piece of beef and popped it into his mouth. “He’s gonna be so screwed, especially since I gave him my two weeks AND my vacation request.”
“It’s not like you haven’t been doing his job for months anyway,” Jensen replied, scooping up a forkful of the garlic-mashed potatoes. “Damn, this is good!”
“I know, right?” Jared ate some of his and moaned in appreciation. “Well, Milo can have that headache now.” He finished off the grilled asparagus. “Do you know he had the nerve to tell me that I stole the job from him? That Jeff would have hired him?” He shook his head. “I am so glad to be getting out of that place. Thank you.”
In the restaurant light, he saw a blush steal over Jensen’s face. It highlighted his cheeks and made him even more handsome than usual. Jared hadn’t really noticed that before – how good-looking Jensen was. Oh, he’d known his friend was handsome, he'd never had that tickling sensation low in his belly before.
“You’re welcome, Jay. You deserve it.” Jensen was looking at him with what Jared could swear was a shy expression.
“Yeah, but you didn’t need to go and talk me up like you did. I really appreciate it.”
“I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true. I just told him that you were a great guy, that you knew your stuff, and that he would be hard-pressed to find a better employee than you. You did the rest.” Jensen raised his beer in a toast.
Jared blushed at the praise. “Well, thanks.” He leaned back and sighed. “Now hopefully I can save enough for a new place. I woke up to Chad’s ass in my face as he bent over to look for his shoe. His naked ass, Jen. I can’t ever unsee that.”
“Ugh!” Jensen winced. “Yeah…” Jared watched curiously as he turned and fiddled with something in his jacket. “Here.” Jensen pushed a small box across the table towards Jared.
“What’s this for?” Jared picked it up. The box was textured gold – the kind that you’d get at a mall boutique store, with a red ribbon.
“It’s…it’s an early Christmas present.” Jensen’s voice was low and Jared barely heard it under the bustle of the restaurant’s patrons.
“Jen, you know I said I wasn’t celebrating,” Jared protested.
“I know, but you also said that I still could. And this is me ‘still could-ing’.” Jensen cleared his throat. “Just open it, dork.”
Jared pulled off the ribbon and lifted the lid. Nestled on the cotton inside was a silver key. “Jen?” Confused, he looked at Jensen. “What’s this?”
“It’s a key to my apartment.” Jensen grabbed his water glass and took a long drink.
“Um…why are you giving me a key to your apartment?”
“Because you need a place to live and Chris got a travelling gig and moved out and I thought that since we were friends and we get along that you would, maybe, like to move in?” Jensen’s voice curved up into a question on his last words and Jared saw him flush again. “But only if you want to, I mean, I’m just asking-”
“-and you wouldn’t have to contribute until you got your first paycheck from Jeff because Chris paid up through January just in case I couldn’t find anyone-.”
Jared grabbed Jensen’s hand. “I said okay.”
“Really?” Jensen broke out into a grin so wide that Jared swore his face would freeze that way. “Great! Fantastic!”
“So when do you want to do this?”
How about tomorrow?” Jensen looked hopeful. “That way you can be moved in before Christmas eve?”
Jared had to smile at his friend’s enthusiasm. “Sounds like a plan.” And if there was a warm feeling spreading throughout his body at the thought of moving in with Jensen, well, no one needed to know.
Moving day came and went without a hitch. Chad helped - fully dressed, thank goodness – and they were able to load Jared’s stuff into Jensen’s place in a couple of hours.
Jared had always loved Jensen’s apartment. The Residence at the Domain was classy yet comfortable, and Jared had always wanted to live there. Chris had left his furniture with Jensen, telling him that he’d buy new when he eventually needed it, so there wasn’t much for Jared to unpack. His books, videos and game consoles shared space with Jensen’s stuff, and he’d left Chad his kitchen gear because Jensen’s were much better quality.
Popping the cap off a beer, he Jared sprawled out on the couch and looked around. The holiday was tucked in spaces throughout the apartment. A Christmas tree – only white lights, thank you – stood in the corner. A crèche was on one shelf with the three wise men making their journey towards it from a higher shelf. A Santa Claus figurine reading a nice/naughty list nestled among the hardback books. Pine scented potpourri filled a ceramic holly dish on the kitchen counter. Stockings with Jensen’s and Jared’s name on them were hanging from the entertainment center.
Jared had to laugh about that. Jensen had shyly asked if it would be okay if he got a stocking for Jared and hung it up, seeing as he wasn’t celebrating. The look on his face was the same hopeful one he’d worn when he asked Jared to move in. Jared couldn’t say no. He’d even gotten that curious warm feeling again when Jensen hung up Jared’s stocking next to his.
“You done unpacking?” Jensen came down the stairs, towel-drying his hair.
“Yeah, for now. Got a few things left, but they can wait.”
“Awesome. So, what do you want to do now?” Jensen sat down next to Jared.
“Relax.” Jared huffed a laugh. “I think this is the first time in a week that I’ve been able to just be.” He looked at Jensen with a grin. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind, you know?”
“Yeah, I can imagine.” They were silent for a moment. “So, can I ask you a question?” Jensen’s voice was tentative.
“Sure.” Jared turned to face him. “What’s up?”
“Do you remember what you told me a week ago? About not celebrating Christmas?”
Jared recalled his comment and realized that Jensen had managed to make two out of the three things he’d mentioned happen. That was followed by further realizing how only someone who cared about him as more than a friend would go to all that trouble.
Like Jensen had.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do all three things, but would you be willing to celebrate Christmas with me anyway?”
He looked at Jensen – really looked at him. Jensen was blushing, his hand rubbing his neck like he did when he was nervous. His t-shirt, a picture of Santa with the words ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ on the front, stretched across his broad shoulders, his hair was mussed from the towel.
But it was his eyes that drew Jared in. Eyes that gazed at him with hope and want and love. Jensen loved him. And with a warm surge, Jared realized that he loved Jensen back.
He smiled. “I’d love to, but you’re wrong, you know.”
Jensen tilted his head, a puzzled expression flitting across his features. “What do you mean I’m wrong?”
“That you were only able to make two things happen.” He leaned in and captured Jensen’s lips with his. They were soft and tasted like the peppermints that Jensen popped this time of year. Jared felt Jensen stiffen, then relax against him as Jensen fell into the kiss. Softly he whispered against Jensen’s mouth.
“Merry Christmas, Jensen.”