Word Count: ~ 9,000
Warnings: Schmoop, snark. The usual.
Disclaimer: Look up fiction in the dictionary. You won’t find a picture of this story, but the definition of the word ‘fiction’, which this is.
Summary: Jared's a slightly jaded hot air balloon pilot, and Jensen's the guy with the fear of heights that's too cheap to let the gift certificate he won in a raffle go to waste.
Notes: This is an idea that just wouldn't leave me alone, so I had to get it out. This is for my beloved obstinatrix's birthday, which was technically last week, but better late than never! Thanks to the always wonderful kamikaze_redux for the beta. ♥
Jared’s earliest memory is of the sky, how the clouds seemed so close and the ground so far, like everything was upside down. The clouds were fluffy like cotton, puffy and white, and Jared had wanted so badly to touch them. He remembers his father’s laugh and his mother’s hands, soft but firm where they held him against her chest.
Jared remembers his first balloon ride with stunning clarity. Soon after, all he wanted was to be in the sky. Even now, years later, after everything that’s happened, he still feels more at peace up in the clouds than he ever does with his feet firmly on the ground.
But right now, in this moment? He really, really wants out of this goddamned basket.
“Coming up on our landing!”
Jared’s warning doesn’t give the entwined couple in his basket nearly enough time to break apart, and he bites down on a smug grin when their teeth click together with a painful-sounding noise.
They land with a soft thump on the hard-packed earth and Misha and the rest of the ground crew instantly swarm around them. Jared hops out of the basket and helps the young couple out. The guy hops out on his own and Jared holds out his hand for the girl to take. The diamond ring on her finger sparkles in the sun and she giggles as Jared hands her off to her newly-minted fiancé.
“Congratulations again,” Jared says through clenched teeth and a fake smile, “from all of us here at the resort.”
The couple nods and Jared gives Kristen a grateful look when she takes over. She leads them back to the golf cart that will take them back to the resort, and Jared spins on his heels to storm up to Misha. He’s directing the ground crew, getting the balloon flat down onto the ground so they can roll it up neatly. Jared grabs his shoulders and whips him around, knocking his baseball cap slightly askew.
“Another proposal!” Jared waves his arms around in the air like it’s going to perfectly convey his distress, and Misha just blinks up at him with giant blue eyes, dark and shadowed behind his sunglasses. “That’s twice. In one day. Are hot air balloon proposals the hip new thing now? Did I miss some sort of memo?”
“It’s springtime. Maybe love literally is in the air,” Misha replies blandly. He pushes his aviators up the straight bridge of his nose with the corner of his clipboard, and Jared huffs out a breath. His bangs flutter and fall into his eyes, and he blows them out of the way with another gust of air.
“Whatever, man. I’m just so glad to be done today.”
“Uh.” Misha squints down at his clipboard and then looks back up at Jared through the thick fringe of his lashes. “Ackles?”
“What? No.” Misha holds out his clipboard and Jared stares at it until Misha starts shaking it back and forth. “You have another flight. Last minute thing. Kristen said she emailed out the updated schedule before lunch.”
Jared’s eye twitches. “Sorry, I don’t get very good reception up in the sky.” He snatches the clipboard out of Misha’s hand and narrows his eyes at it. And there, marked down for six o’clock, his quitting time, is Ackles – Standard Flight. “Son of a goddamn bitch.”
“Indeed.” Misha smirks and reaches out to pat Jared’s tense shoulder. “One more flight, and then I’ll buy you a beer.”
“Shots,” Jared amends, staring at Misha with cool, narrowed eyes even though this is in no way his fault.
“Fine. I’ll buy the first round for being the messenger, and you can buy the second for shooting me.”
“You drive a hard bargain, asshole.”
By the time that they’re done bickering, the rest of the ground crew has the balloon in the truck without them having to do any work at all. They get it all strapped in, and Jared hops into the truck next to Misha to drive back to the resort and start the whole process over again.
He spots Kristen near the gate, all blonde hair and pretty smiles, and Jared scowls. He scowls so long and so hard that he doesn’t really notice the guy standing next to her until he’s nearly right in front of them.
“This is Jared Padalecki, our friendly and capable balloon pilot,” Kristen says, smiling just a little too hard as if she can make up for Jared’s face, which has gone from surly to blank in a matter of seconds.
“Hey man,” the guy says, and Jared blinks. And blinks again. This guy is hot. And not in the normal, everyday, wow I’d like to buy that guy a drink way, but in the lose all brain function sort of way, apparently, because Jared just stares.
The guy is tall. Not as tall as Jared, but then again, few people are. He’s tall, and he has dark blond hair that flicks up away from his face in these soft-looking little licks, eyes impossibly green around sun-shrunken pupils, freckles dusting his tan skin, and lips that frankly, Jared doesn’t think he could describe without being indecent. Wide shoulders tapering down into a tight waist, and Jared’s mouth opens and closes once when his eyes slip down. Fucking bowlegged. Jesus.
It takes Jared longer than he’d like to admit for him to realize that Kristen is saying something because the guy is smiling, and it’s getting wider the longer that Jared stares, and it’s only when his lightly freckled cheeks turn a delicious shade of pink that Jared gets his shit together. What the fuck, did he trip and fall back into puberty?
“Hey! Hey, sorry. Hey, I’m Jared, and I’ll be the one riding you. Uh, taking you for a ride. …In my balloon.” Jared gestures lamely to the truck where Misha and the crew are unloading the balloon, and then swallows hard before looking back at the guy. “Which is over there.”
Jensen nods, going a bit pale as they get the balloon inflated, and Jared suppresses a sigh. Just another dude being dragged on a romantic balloon ride by his girlfriend, which shit, Jared doesn’t think he has a good enough grasp on his sanity to spend an hour watching this fucking male work of art macking on some pretty girl.
“I’ll leave you in Jared’s capable hands, Mr. Ackles.” Kristen nods and gives a Jared a stern look before turning to climb back into her golf cart to make the short journey back up to the resort.
“Can you call me Jensen?” The guy asks. “Mr. Ackles sort of makes me feel like I’m in trouble.”
“Sure,” Jared says with a chuckle, and then clears his throat as he looks around. “So where’s your date?”
“No date,” Jensen replies cheerily. He shoves his hands in his pockets and rocks back on his heels, shooting Jared a little smile that absolutely does not make his knees a tiny bit weak. “Just me.”
Jared blinks at that. Solo passengers at their romantic little resort are nearly unheard of, especially solo passengers hotter than the surface of the fucking sun. Jared looks over his shoulder at Misha, like he’s expecting his friend to yell ‘gotcha!’ and pull Jensen away from him.
But no, even Misha isn’t that cruel. And Jared’s a good guy. Hell, he’s a great guy. He deserves this.
“So,” Jared starts once they start to head over to the balloon. It’s completely inflated now, tethered to the ground and ready to go. It’s this red, gaudy looking thing emblazed with the resort’s logo. Jared’s balloon, the one he grew up in, is red, blue, and yellow – this patchwork design of colors that shouldn’t be beautiful but somehow is. “Why are you engaging in one of the most romantic activities our lovely couples’ resort has to offer all by yourself?”
“I won a gift certificate at work, I’m hopelessly single, and all my friends are pussies.” Jensen bumps their shoulders together and walks up to the balloon, peering into the basket before letting out a deep breath. “Besides, I’m not alone.” He hops into the basket without Jared prompting him to, and the rounded edge of the wicker basket presses into his hips as he leans over to look at Jared. “I have you.”
“Oh holy – okay, I’ll be right back.” He barely catches a glimpse of Jensen’s impressively cocked eyebrow before he spins around and runs up to Misha, who’s bent over and checking the tether on the ground. Jared scrambles to a halt but his hips still go crashing into Misha’s ass, and his friend topples forward and catches himself with his palms in the grass.
“Jesus, Jared. Buy me a drink first.”
Jared hauls Misha up by the hips and spins him around, gripping his shoulders and grinning manically. “Karma,” he says, and Misha’s brows knit together. “I’m finally being repaid for all the bullshit I’ve endured on this job.”
“What the fuck are you even talking about, man? Friends don’t let friends drink and fly.”
Jared gestures over his shoulder, eyebrows waggling. Misha’s face goes from confused to impressed and nods appreciatively.
“The universe has given me a gift,” Jared says, voice tinged with awe. “He’s single, and he smiled at me.”
“And then you ran over here, leaving him all alone, and practically molested me in front of him,” Misha points out, and Jared’s hands fall from his shoulders.
“Maybe you still can,” Misha says with a wry smirk. “Come on.”
Misha walks right up to the basket with his hand outstretched, and Jared’s lower lip juts out. It didn’t even occur to him to shake Jensen’s hand. Which isn’t surprising. When faced with a hot guy, Jared rarely manages anything beyond creepy staring.
“Hey, I’m Misha Collins, best friend and ground crew operator to our captain here.” Jensen shakes Misha’s hand, and something in his eyes seems to soften. “What Jared completely lacks in social skills, he’ll make up for by taking you on one hell of a ride. Ready to go?”
Jared hops eagerly into the basket and shoots Jensen an apologetically awkward smile before he begins fiddling with everything, lighting the burner and looking over his gauges.
“And we’re off!” Jared shouts, and he pulls the cord on the burner. Flame shoots up into the balloon, and Jensen jumps at the sound. No matter how many times he’s done this, Jared always feels a little thrill run through him when the basket lifts off the ground, like he’s lighter than air.
They climb into the sky and Jared signals to Misha before releasing the tether, and he looks up at the clear sky and pulls the cord again, shooting another blast into the balloon and making them jump upward. When he finally looks over to Jensen, he sees that the other man has an arm wrapped around one of the balloons posts. He’s trying to be casual, but the color has drained from his face and his fingers are white from where they’re clutching to the pole.
“Hey man, you alright?” Jensen’s eyes open at the sound of Jared’s voice, and he lets out a nervous chuckle. “Are you a virgin? It’s normal to be nervous your first time.”
The color comes back to Jensen’s face in the form of twin pink spots high on his cheeks, and he lets out a quiet laugh. Jared’s eyes widen as he catches the double entendre in his words, and he chokes on a gasp as he meets Jensen’s warm eyes.
“Balloon virgin!” Jared squeaks. “Not – I mean – shit.” His shoulders slump and he sort of wants to hide but they’re trapped up in the sky in a fucking basket that can fit six people at most. “Sorry.”
“So, I know we just met, but I think it’s safe to say that you’re exceptionally awkward.” Jensen sounds amused, not pissed off or embarrassed, and Jared chances looking up through his bangs.
“Born and raised,” Jared confirms solemnly, and Jensen flashes him another warm smile that makes Jared blush and pull the cord, sending them further up into the sky.
They fall into silence after that. Jensen keeps one arm in a death grip around the pole, peering cautiously over the edge as Jared sends them higher and checks the wind, peering out over the skyline and making mental notes on their route.
“So when was your first time?” Jensen asks, and it takes Jared a moment to remember that he’s the one being spoken to. “Your first balloon ride, that is. We can save other firsts for the second date.”
A noise that sounds suspiciously like a giggle bubbles up in Jared’s throat before he can help it, and Jensen looks delighted. “Now you’re just exploiting my awkwardness.”
“You’re awkward, I’m a dick.” Jensen swallows hard and looks over the edge again. “Come on, talk to me.”
Jared realizes that he’s supposed to be distracting Jensen, who looks halfway to fucking terrified. He’s so used to being in a balloon that sometimes he forgets that other people might be scared.
“I was five,” Jared blurts, and Jensen looks over at him. “It was my dad’s balloon, and I still remember it. My mom made him wait until I was five, and she came along and held me while he flew. I went up all the time after that.”
“Wow,” Jensen breathes. “So you kinda grew up in the sky? That’s awesome.”
“Yeah. Got my balloon license at sixteen, before I even knew how to drive a car.” Jared smiles, but it feels a little sad on his face, so he pushes his hair back and peers up into the balloon. “It’s funny, I’m not used to talking on these rides. I usually just fly the balloon and watch couples fawn over each other.”
“That sounds awful,” Jensen says, and Jared smiles at him. “Well, I want you to talk to me.”
“Okay, well.” Jared clears his throat and tries not to get distracted by the way Jensen is squinting at him, corners of his eyes crinkling adorably as he bites down on his plush bottom lip. “Do you want to know how the balloon works?”
“Oh, I know how it works.” Jensen peers over the edge again and then up into the balloon, eyes widening as Jared gives the cord a quick tug when they sink a bit.
“Yes,” Jensen says firmly. “It’s a wicker basket propelled into the air by shooting fire into a fabric bag. So, obviously, it’s magic that keeps us up here.”
“Science, magic. It’s all the same.” The serious expression on Jensen’s face fades as he grins, and Jared laughs. He laughs hard, actually, and clutches the side of the basket to keep his balance. When he finally manages to catch his breath, Jensen looks proud of himself. But he still has one arm wrapped around a pole, and his free hand is shaking slightly.
“Hey, come on.” Jared holds his hand out, suddenly serious as he looks at Jensen. “I don’t want you to be scared. You’re safe up here with me.”
Jensen looks at his hand and bites his lip as he reaches out to take it. Jared resists the desperate urge to thread their fingers together, and curls his fingers around Jensen’s palm instead. He tugs gently, and Jensen looks from him to the pole and back.
“Let go, man. You’re not gonna fall out or anything.” Jared puts on his most trustworthy smile, and Jensen takes a breath before letting go of the pole. He steps forward into the middle of the basket, and a soft breeze pushes against the balloon. They swoop to the left, just a bit, and suddenly Jensen has his arm around Jared’s waist, fingers curled in the fabric of his shirt and face buried in his neck. Jared gasps softly, dragging his hand down the center of Jensen’s back in one long, soothing stroke before he steps away.
“Sorry,” Jensen says nervously, and Jared smiles at him.
“Hold on,” he replies, and wraps an arm around Jensen’s waist as he pulls on the cord again. They shoot up into the air and Jensen sticks to his side. The hem of his shirt rides up and Jared’s fingertips brush the thin, blood-warm skin over his hip. They both shudder, and Jared licks his lips as he lets go.
“Okay, we’re at a good altitude. We’ll just float for a bit,” Jared says, and his voice is a little shaky. “Just relax for me, alright?”
“Easy for you to say,” Jensen mumbles, but the flush on his cheeks tells Jared that he might not be talking about the height.
“Turn around,” Jared says, and mentally cringes. They just can’t escape the innuendo. “Put your arms out. You’ll feel like you’re flying.”
“There’s a Titanic joke in here somewhere, but we’re way too fucking far off of the ground for me to find it.”
Jared smiles and Jensen sits down on the bench lining one side of the basket, taking in the sky warily before looking back up at Jared’s face. He leans against the opposite side of the basket, doing a quick visual check on everything before focusing his attention on Jensen.
“So, I gotta ask,” Jared starts, and Jensen tilts his head to the side a bit. “You’re afraid of heights?”
“Kinda terrified, actually.” He lets out an embarrassed chuckle and looks over the side of the balloon again.
“So what the hell are you doing taking a hot air balloon ride?”
“Uh, because it was free,” Jensen says with a shrug and a happy smile. “And it was an opportunity to do something that I’ve never done before, which is always fun, even if it is scary. But mainly it’s the free thing.”
“You do anything that’s free?” Jared asks, crossing his arms and smiling indulgently. Jensen snorts and looks up at him.
“Pretty much.” His smile is sly, and it does something funny to Jared’s insides. “I find it very hard to say no to free shit.”
Jared gets an idea – a scary, wonderful, stupid idea – and his heart rate kicks up as he clears his throat and nibbles on his bottom lip.
“So if I asked you to have dinner with me this weekend, you’d say yes?” Jared is proud of the way that his voice wavers only a little, and he distracts himself with pulling the cord on the burner to release more hot air into the balloon. “I mean, that’d be free.”
“Well, as long as it’s free.” And then Jensen does something that Jared is entirely unprepared for. He winks. Not just any wink, not just a cutesy little wink, but a real fucking wink. It makes his whole face move, eye crinkling in the corner and lips drawing back with a click.
This wink rocks Jared’s goddamned world.
“So it’s a date,” Jared says, and his voice is a little disbelieving. Jensen’s smirk turns into a smile, a soft, happy one, and Jared laughs despite himself. They fall silent then, staring at each other like a couple of lovesick teenagers, and then the alarm on Jared’s phone goes off in his pocket. “Wow, time flies. Okay, stand up.”
“I have to start lowering us because your hour’s up, scaredy cat.” Jared takes Jensen’s hand and slowly turns him around. “And I’m not letting you out of this balloon until you really fly.”
“Okay, that might mean something to you,” Jensen says nervously, “but to me it sounds like you’re planning on tossing me out of this basket.”
“I told you that you’re safe with me,” Jared chuckles. He grabs Jensen’s wrists, bracketing them in his hands and sliding his thumbs over the delicate knobs of bone. He steps up behind Jensen, keeping his shoulders back so that he doesn’t knock Jensen forward, and spreads his arms out to press his hands against opposite poles. “Your eyes are closed, aren’t they?”
“C’mon,” Jared urges, voice soft against Jensen’s ear. “Open them.”
He knows Jensen’s listened to him when he hears the gasp and Jensen’s shoulders press back against Jared’s chest. He keeps his hands wrapped loosely around Jensen’s wrists, looking over his shoulder at the world below.
“Wow,” Jensen breathes, and Jared can’t fight back his smile.
“How’s it feel?”
“Like I’m king of the world,” Jensen replies in a completely serious tone. Jared barks laughter against his shoulder and lets go, fingers trailing up Jensen’s forearms before dropping away. “Ha, told you I’d work in a DiCaprio reference before you let me off this damn thing.”
“You’re a man of your word,” Jared says fondly. He looks at Jensen a little too long, and then shakes his head and takes a step back. “Now quit distracting me. Despite evidence to the contrary, I do have to put a lot of thought into flying this thing.”
“Yes, sir.” Jensen salutes and then sits on the bench again, seemingly content to watch Jared instead of the sky, which in turn makes Jared feel all warm and fuzzy because he thinks that there’s nothing more beautiful than the sky.
But Jensen, he might possibly be able to compete.
Jared pulls the radio from his back pocket once they’re low enough and confers with Misha and the ground crew, making sure he’s good to land and that they’ll be there to meet him. Then he radios Kristen so she can come pick up Jensen, and his belly does this weird little tightening thing when he thinks about watching him drive away.
“So,” Jensen says once Jared has gone still. They’re sinking slowly, the balloon growing heavier as the air cools. Jared looks over the edge of the basket for a moment before turning his attentions to Jensen. “I’m assuming this balloon isn’t yours.”
“Uh, no,” Jared says distractedly. “My dad’s – well, mine – it’s a bit smaller. I don’t get to take it out much.”
He doesn’t mention that he never takes it out anymore, that it’s gathering dust under a tarp in his garage. The thought makes him swallow hard and feel a bit guilty, so he clears his throat and looks at Jensen again.
“Oh, well then. I have a condition for our date.” Jared raises an eyebrow at that, but he doesn’t get nervous. Jensen is smiling as big as ever, green eyes big and warm.
“Haven’t even gone out yet and you’re already getting high maintenance on me?” Jared snorts and checks on their descent again. “That bodes well.”
“It’s a little request,” Jensen says, and he clears his throat before speaking again. “I want you to take me up in your balloon.”
“But you’re afraid of heights!” Jared points out. “You barely made it through this ride, and now you want to go on a smaller balloon at night?”
“It’s about time I faced my fears,” Jensen says with a shrug. “I bet the view’s even better at night. And I trust you.”
He says the words casually, but the look in his eyes is a little intense, like he really means it. He trusts Jared like they didn’t just meet an hour ago, or maybe even in spite of that. It makes Jared feel warm inside, and he stops fighting the urge to reach out and see if Jensen’s hair is as soft as it looks.
It is, and Jared runs his fingertips through the short hair behind Jensen’s ear before sliding his thumb along his chin. He clears his throat and drops his hand, reaching up to rub the back of his neck instead. Jensen’s blushing, but he looks happy.
Jared really, really wants to kiss him. He wonders if Jensen would let him.
He doesn’t get a chance to find out, because all of a sudden the radio is crackling and the ground is coming up fast. Jared scrambles for the burner and lets out a small burst of heat to slow their descent. They slow down, rocking back and forth a bit before the balloon hits the grass with a soft thump.
“We made it,” Jensen says quietly, and he tosses Jared a grin over his shoulder before hopping out of the basket. “Oh, solid ground, I missed you!”
“Pansy.” Jared smirks fondly and turns off the burners, going through his end of flight routine while Jensen leans against the side of the basket and watches.
“I had fun, Jared.” Jensen’s voice is low and a little rough, and it sends a shiver down his spine as he slowly turns around. He doesn’t know what to say, but all of a sudden Misha is there and everything gets hectic.
“You survived!” Misha says brightly. “Tom owes me five bucks.”
“Very funny.” Jared hops out of the basket, leaving the rest of the ground crew to take care of it. He snatches Misha’s beloved clipboard from him, ignoring his outraged gasp as he takes the pen and scribbles down his number on the corner of the schedule. He rips it off and holds it out to Jensen, cheeks flaming like he’s back in junior high. “Here’s my number. So, Saturday?”
“Saturday,” Jensen confirms with a nod. Instead of just taking the slip of paper, he grabs Jared’s whole hand and uses it to pull him into a hug. Jared blinks as Jensen hesitantly wraps his arms around Jared’s waist, and he slings a heavy arm around Jensen’s broad shoulders. He’s warm and he smells good, and his hair is so soft where it brushes Jared’s cheek. “Thanks for introducing me to the sky.”
The words are soft and hesitant, and Jensen’s smiling when he pulls away. Misha gives him a thumbs up from behind Jensen, and he steps away when Kristen pulls up in her golf cart and glowers at him.
“Mr. Ackles!” She says brightly, and Jensen makes a face at Jared before turning around. “Did you enjoy your flight?”
“It was amazing.” He turns back to Jared and reaches out to touch his arm. “I’ll see you soon?”
“Yes,” Jared says eagerly. He tries to wipe the grin off of his face but he can’t. It only goes wider when Jensen smiles. “I’ll see you later.”
Jensen nods and hops into the golf cart with Kristen, and Jared lifts his hand in a wave as they pull away. He stands there silently, grinning like a fool, as the cart gets smaller and smaller.
“Did you finally get a little balloon nookie?” Misha’s voice interrupts his thoughts, and he turns to roll his eyes at his friend. But he can’t help the blush on his cheeks, or the way he bites his lip when he thinks about how the stubble on Jensen’s chin felt under his thumb. “Oh,” Misha’s voice is softer now. “It’s like that?”
“Yeah, I think it’s like that.”
In retrospect, Misha is about the worst person to call for moral support.
Sure, he’s a good friend. A great friend, even. But if there’s an opportunity for ridicule, Misha will take it every single time. If Jared ever needed to dispose of a body, Misha would be at the top of his list of people to call. But for this? Not even close.
“These shirts all look the same.”
“Misha, they do not.” Jared looks down at the button down shirts scattered over his bed, and yeah, they’re pretty similar. But this is his first real date in a very long time and he’s a bit nervous.
“Okay, I like the black one,” Misha says. His mouth is full of apple, and he rolls the fruit in his hand. “Or the slightly darker black one.”
“Fuck you. Why did I even call you?”
“That’s a good question.” Misha swallows his apple and raises an eyebrow as Jared paces back and forth. “Why didn’t you call Gen? She’d be good at this shit.”
“I’m not calling my ex-girlfriend to help me get ready for a date.”
“Oh my god, what?” Misha snorts and tosses his apple from one hand to the other. “You and Gen went out for like two months back in high school. Five years ago.”
“Jesus, Misha, you cock. If friendship was an Olympic sport, your ass wouldn’t even place.”
“That’s harsh, man.” Misha takes another bite of his apple, and Jared wrinkles his nose at the sweet, crisp smell of it as he looks down at the scattered pieces of his wardrobe. “I’d be taking home the bronze, at the very least. Wait, is this the winter or summer games?”
“What? You know I don’t like the cold!” Jared’s growl cuts itself off when the doorbell rings, and Jared whips around to face the general direction of the living room. “Ah, there’s your humble pie, asshole.”
“What’d you do?” Jared rushes out of his bedroom and pulls open his front door, shoulders relaxing when he sees Genevieve in the doorway. He scoops her up in his arms, grocery bags and all, and she squeaks against his chest. “You’re here.”
“Misha called me,” she replies, butting her forehead against Jared’s chest until he releases her. “Told me you were going on a date and to come help him circumvent your mental breakdown.”
“That’s right, bitch.” Misha tosses his apple core into the trashcan in the kitchen and winks at Jared. “Takin’ home the gold. Suck it.”
“Why didn’t you just call me yourself?” Gen asks as Jared steps away to let her inside. He takes the grocery bags from her and shrugs awkwardly.
“He didn’t want to ask his ex-girlfriend to help him get ready for a date,” Misha cuts in, and Jared narrows his eyes.
“Are you referring to that time we went out for five minutes until you stuck your hand down my pants and cried because you realized that you hated vaginas?” Gen smirks evilly and Jared makes some sort of outraged scoffing sound.
“Judases.” But it’s true. Jared dated Genevieve in high school, but there was never any spark. It all ended one night when they were making out in the back of her dad’s car and he snuck his hand down her pants. It was just so… wet.
He’d broken down and confessed what deep down he had always known, that he was gay, and Gen rallied against her embarrassment to be very supportive. She’s been his best friend, second to only Misha, ever since.
“Are you really taking a boy on a date in your balloon?” She sounds serious now, pushing up on her toes to press her little hand to the side of his neck. She knows how much it means, and his belly clenches when she draws attention to it. He’s suddenly very grateful to Misha for being so flippant about it all.
“Yeah.” Jared clears his throat like it’s no big deal and peeks into the grocery bags. “It’s about time the thing touched the sky again. What’s all this crap?”
“Food,” Gen replies like he’s slow, trotting into the kitchen while he follows. “What did you plan on bringing for your date to eat?”
“I was just gonna swing by Popeye’s,” Jared responds easily. “They’re having this ten piece special – “
“Oh my god, Jared!” She slaps her hands down onto the counter hard enough that he jumps a little. “You can’t bring a bucket of chicken to a first date!”
“It’s a box of chicken,” Jared mumbles, and Misha snorts. “Look, whatever. I’m not good at this, okay? You obviously know that, which is why you’re about to save my ass.”
“You’re lucky you’re so pretty, Padalecki, I swear to god.” Gen is a very take charge sort of girl, and Jared likes that. Especially when it means that he won’t really have to think. She crooks her finger at Misha and then starts unloading the bags. “Are you going to help, Collins? Or are you just going to stand there and look homeless?”
“Shot through the heart and you’re to blame,” Misha replies, pressing his fist in against his chest. “Actually, tiny devil, Tom is on his way over and we’re going to get the balloon ready, so kiss my sweet ass.”
“Jesus, you two, get a room.” Jared grins and Gen makes a face at him. “Okay, so we’re doing a picnic? That’s sufficiently gay, right? C’mon, Gen. Make me look like a catch.”
“I’m a caterer, not a fucking wizard,” she says, but she smiles warmly at him and gestures for him to come into the kitchen. Jared walks around to stand next to her, eyes widening as she unloads various dishes, containers, and bags.
“You do know that my balloon has a weight limit, right?” Jared wrinkles his nose as she pops the lid off of a small container. “Is that bruschetta?”
“Oh, you fancy, huh?”
“Misha, go outside!” Gen points menacingly at him with a wooden spoon, and Misha glares at her.
“Fucking kicking me out of someone else’s house,” he mumbles, shuffling into his shoes by the door. “We’re taking the balloon, and we’ll make sure it’s ready to go.”
“Thanks, Misha.” Jared nods gratefully as his friend leaves, and then turns back to Gen. “I don’t know if Jensen is a bruschetta person.”
“Everyone is a bruschetta person,” she says decisively. “You’re not allowed to date him if he’s not a bruschetta person.”
“Once you see him, you won’t care if all he eats is Ritz crackers and spray cheese.”
“No one’s that good-looking,” she replies, and Jared only nods as she unscrews a jar of something indefinable.
“Jensen is that good-looking,” he insists, and she raises a brow at him. “No, seriously, Gen. Like, there aren’t words.” He sighs happily just picturing Jensen’s smile, and he misses the way Gen’s gaze goes soft.
“I’ll take your word for it.” She smacks at his arm and then points to the counter. “Okay, so. I thought we’d go simple – “
“This is your idea of simple? I don’t even know what half of this shit is.”
Genevieve goes on what can only be called a spiel, describing pasta salad, some sort of fancy little sandwich, fruit, nuts, cheeses, crackers, her famous bruschetta, and honestly, Jared’s eyes sort of glaze over by the time she’s done.
“There’s only going to be two of us,” Jared says, slightly horrified, and Gen rolls her eyes as she starts wielding utensils. “Mother of god.”
“You’re welcome.” Gen slaps at his hip and licks some sauce from her thumb. “Now go shave, and put on that black shirt with the embroidery. And those jeans I bought you, not the ones with the pocket flaps that hide your cute ass.”
Jared blinks a few times, chest swelling with affection as he scoops Gen up in his arms. She squeals and giggles, sighing happily when he kisses the top of her head. She holds up a piece of cheese and he leans in to snag it with his teeth before letting her go.
“I love you!” He calls, and ducks into his bedroom with a grin.
“I’m gonna tell Gen.”
“Fuck you, Misha. Don’t.” Jared pulls out of the Popeye’s parking lot after putting the chicken into the picnic basket Genevieve packed. “The chicken is just a back-up in case Jensen isn’t into the fancy food.”
“Whatever, man..” Jared switches his phone to his other ear and takes a deep breath as he heads towards Jensen’s house. “The balloon is all ready to go. Me and Tom will take off once you get here.”
“Thanks, man. I owe you one.”
“Oh, by now it’s way more than one.” Jared rolls his eyes and hangs up, slumping down in his seat as he follows the instructions on his GPS. He and Jensen have been texting off and on ever since his balloon ride, but they haven’t sent any messages since Jensen’s quick see you at seven! text that morning.
Jared’s knee is bouncing by the time that he pulls up in front of Jensen’s house. It’s a modest little one-story, tan with blue trim and short-cropped lush grass out front. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly as he slides out of his truck and walks up to the porch.
He raps his knuckles against the door, and squeezes his eyes shut when he only spots the doorbell afterwards. He doesn’t have long to fidget, because Jensen is suddenly there and looking so gorgeous that all the breath leaves Jared’s lungs in a quick rush.
“Hey,” Jared says softly. “You look – wow.” Jensen smiles, eyes bright and green, enhanced by the dark purple button-down that he’s wearing over dark, form-fitting jeans. Jensen smiles and pulls Jared into a hug, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek before pulling away.
His skin tingles where Jensen’s lips brushed it, and his cheeks hurt from how hard he’s grinning.
“I look half as good as you, I hope.” Jensen winks at him and steps out onto the porch, and Jared’s eyes catch on the subtle shift and pull of the muscles in Jensen’s shoulders when he turns to pull his door shut. “Ready to go?”
“Like you don’t even know.”
Even though he knew it was coming, Jared wasn’t really prepared to see his dad’s balloon all inflated and ready to fly.
It makes his throat tight and his chest ache, and his breathing has picked up in speed by the time he parks his truck next to Misha’s. Jensen seems to notice his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, because he turns slightly in his seat to face him.
“Hey, I’m supposed to be the nervous one,” Jensen says with a hesitant chuckle. “Are you okay?”
“What? Oh, yeah.” Jared runs his fingers through his hair and tosses Jensen a tight smile. “I’m okay. Just been awhile since I was up in this balloon, is all.”
Jensen looks a little surprised at that, but Jared doesn’t give him time to question it. He grabs the picnic basket, slips out of the truck and waits for Jensen to follow, elbows brushing as they approach the balloon. Misha waves at them and Tom hops out of the basket, greeting Jared with a nod.
“Hey Jensen,” Misha says warmly. “Don’t worry, me and Tom here aren’t crashing your date. Just helping out with the set up.”
“I guess it didn’t occur to me how much work goes into a hot air balloon ride,” Jensen replies sheepishly, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck. “Sorry for causing a fuss.”
“Jared assures us that you’re worth it.” Misha winks and Jared feels his cheeks heat up, but when he looks over at Jensen, he’s smiling softly. “You sure you can handle packing it up by yourself?”
“Done it plenty of times,” Jared replies, finding it difficult to tear his eyes away from Jensen’s face. “We can take it from here, guys.”
They nod and Misha slaps him on the back as they pass, and Jared approaches the balloon as they hop into Misha’s truck and leave. He leans over the side and sets the picnic basket down, eyes tightening as he sweeps his gaze over the small basket where he spent so much of his childhood.
“I seriously didn’t think about how much work this was.” Jensen says, tone a bit regretful, and Jared spins around to face him. “Is it, uh, safe to do this alone?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jared assures him, reaching out to curl his fingers around Jensen’s wrist. “We’re going to stay tethered. We’ll be up in the air, but not too high, and we won’t float away. It’s easy.”
“Oh, okay.” Jensen brightens a bit, reaching out to place his hand low on Jared’s back. “I won’t make you work so hard next time.”
“You sound pretty confident that I’m not gonna mess this up,” Jared replies, and Jensen slings an arm around his waist for a moment. He just smiles and lets him go before hopping into the basket. “Well, alright then.”
Jared gets into the basket, shooting Jensen a smile before checking all his gauges and reaching for the cord on the burner. Jensen nods and Jared grins as he pulls it, reveling in the familiar lurch in his stomach as they start to climb upward. He lets the balloon heat up in small bursts, careful to lift them slowly so they don’t strain the tether. It pulls tight when they’re about a hundred feet in the air, and Jared looks over at Jensen.
He’s leaning over the side a bit, eyes scanning the horizon. The sun is setting, perfect timing, and the sky is painted with purple and gold.
“You seem to be doing better this time,” Jared muses softly, and Jensen’s answering smile rivals the soft beauty of the sunset.
“I could get used to this,” he replies, and Jared’s heart does a happy little thump-thump in his chest. “So, don’t keep me in suspense. What’s in the basket? I smell chicken.”
Jared barks out a laugh and sinks down to sit on the floor of the balloon, gesturing for Jensen to do the same. They’re leaning against either side of the basket, legs slotting together as Jared unloads the picnic basket between them.
“My friend Genevieve is a caterer, and she wanted to help,” Jared explains, shrugging awkwardly at the huge amount of fancy food, looking comical next to the bright orange Popeye’s boxes. “So, yeah, I cheated a bit.”
“If that’s bruschetta, I’ll forgive you.” Jensen reaches for the container and Jared grins, shaking his head a bit as Jensen digs in. There’s got to be a limit on how perfect Jensen can get, right? Because this is ridiculous. “Mm, compliments to the chef.”
“She’ll be happy to hear that,” Jared says as he pulls two beers out of the basket. He cracks the top off of them and hands one to Jensen, who nods gratefully and takes a sip.
They fall into a comfortable little lull as they dish their food onto plates, chuckling and shifting in the tiny space. Jared is pleased as Jensen digs into the Popeye’s, and his belly clenches when Jensen’s pink tongue flashes out to lick the grease from his thumb.
“So, this is definitely the coolest date I’ve ever been on,” Jensen says suddenly. “A picnic in a hot air balloon? I feel like I’m in a romantic comedy, but in a good way.”
Jared chuckles and takes another sip of his beer before resting it in the bend of his knee. The toe of his shoe brushes Jensen’s thigh, and he reaches down to curl his fingers around Jared’s ankle through the denim of his jeans.
“Thank you,” he says, and squeezes Jared’s ankle briefly before letting go. “For asking me, I mean. This is awesome.”
“Thanks for saying yes even though you’re incredibly out of my league.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Jensen replies. “And you’re cute and all, but I think I’m gonna need Genevieve’s number.” Jensen winks as he pops another piece of bruschetta into his mouth.
“Ouch.” Jared laughs and finishes off his beer before wiping his fingers on a napkin. Jensen does the same and they pack the food and dishes back into the picnic basket. Jared grabs two more beers and gets up, dusting off his thighs before holding his hand out to help Jensen up.
Jensen doesn’t let go of Jared’s hand once he’s standing, instead twining their fingers together and squeezing. Jared feels his cheeks heat up, and he gestures towards the burner with the bottles in his hand.
“We’re sinking,” he points out, and pulls Jensen towards him. “Wanna do the honors?”
“Yeah, go ahead. Pull it.” Jared nods towards the cord on the burner. “Just a little, though. We’re tied to the ground.”
Jensen looks at him and then up at the cord, biting his lip as he reaches up and curls his free hand around it. Jared nods and Jensen pulls it, jumping a little as flame shoots up into the balloon. The basket lifts higher into the air and Jensen laughs happily. Jared thinks that he’s instantly addicted to the sound.
“That was awesome.” He squeezes Jared’s hand again, and he regretfully lets go to pop the lids off of their beers before handing one over. “So,” Jensen starts, and Jared is momentarily distracted by the way he traces the opening of the bottle with one blunt fingertip. “Why haven’t you flown this balloon in awhile?”
The question takes Jared by surprise and he stiffens a little, swallowing hard as he looks over at Jensen. He looks genuinely curious, and Jared’s heart is fluttering for reasons other than the way Jensen’s lips look pursed against the rim of his beer bottle.
“It was my dad’s,” Jared starts, shifting awkwardly. It’s weird to have to explain everything; he’s used to everyone just knowing. “And uh, he died about a year ago.”
“Oh, Jared. I’m sorry.” Jensen’s hand is on his arm, sliding up to his shoulder, and Jared turns to give him a sad smile. Jensen’s eyes are jade in the burgeoning moonlight, bright with concern, and Jared reaches up to take his hand again. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No, it’s fine.” Jared squeezes his hand and looks out over the horizon. “He was sick for awhile. He left the balloon to me, but it just didn’t feel right flying it without him. He taught me and he was always there, and then he just… wasn’t. It was too hard.”
“I can’t imagine,” Jensen replies softly, Jared’s hand tight in his. “I’m sorry that you lost him, Jared.”
“I miss him a lot.” Jared swallows hard and pats the edge of the basket. “But being up here helps me feel closer to him.”
“Is that why you ended up giving balloon rides at the hotel?”
“That was Misha’s fault, actually.” Jared chuckles and runs his fingers through his hair. “I had my commercial pilot’s license already. My dad took me to get it because he would give flights at fairs and stuff, you know? So I had one too.”
Jared pauses as they sink a bit, and reaches up to tug on the cord to lift them higher. “Misha heard about the resort’s plans to offer hot air balloon rides, and he knows the manager, so he got me an interview. I mean, not that there was tons of competition. Not too many people in the area that already have a commercial license and years of experience.”
“So you were a shoe-in.”
“Pretty much,” Jared confirms. “It benefited Misha as much as it did me. He needed a job too, so I hired him to be my ground crew operator. He knew how to do all that stuff already, just because he’s been my friend since we were kids.”
Jensen nods and shuffles a bit closer to Jared as a cool breeze whips past them. The balloon rocks a bit, held firm by the tether, and Jared has his arm around Jensen’s shoulders before he’s even really thinking about it.
“I think Misha knew that I needed to be back in the sky,” he adds, feeling a surge of gratitude for his friend. “But he knew that I wasn’t ready to be in this balloon, so it worked out.”
“I’m glad it did.” Jensen loops an arm around Jared’s waist, sighing happily as he looks out at the sky. He’s so easy to talk to, such a good listener. Jared already feels like he could tell him anything. He smiles and pulls Jensen a bit tighter up against him. “Man, I am so glad I bought a ticket for that raffle at work. At first I was pissed that I didn’t win the flat screen, but this is way better.”
Jared laughs and presses a soft kiss to Jensen’s temple, cheeks heating up when he realizes what he’s doing. It’s easy to forget that this is their first date, that he hasn’t known Jensen forever. Jensen sighs happily, hand curling around Jared’s hip as they lean against each other.
“Man, when I saw you standing there.” Jared trails off with a sigh. “I couldn’t believe it when you didn’t have a date. I get so sick of taking happy couples up into the sky.”
Jensen makes a questioning noise at that, and Jared squirms a little.
“It’s just – I was jealous, I guess?” He sighs and looks out across the sky again. “I’ve been going up in balloons for my entire life and I’ve never even been kissed in one.”
“Oh.” Jensen pulls away a bit and Jared turns to face him. His cheeks are pink, lips red and shiny, and he reaches up to wrap his hand around the back of Jared’s neck. “I just can’t let that stand.”
Jared’s eyes widen when Jensen tugs him down, and suddenly they’re kissing. Jensen’s lips are soft and firm against his, and Jared sags against him. His arms go around Jensen’s waist as his eyes slip shut, and Jensen grins against his lips before kissing him again.
Jensen’s fingers tangle in his hair, his other hand resting at the small of Jared’s back. He coaxes Jared’s lips open with his tongue, deepening the kiss with a soft moan. Jared grunts and pulls Jensen tighter against him, heat rushing through him as he sucks at Jensen’s bottom lip.
They kiss until Jared’s lungs burn and he pulls away with a soft gasp. Jensen chuckles softly against Jared’s jaw, kissing the bolt of it before pulling away to look up into his eyes.
“There,” he says proudly. “Fixed it.”
Jensen’s lips look puffy and red from their kisses, shiny and slick, and Jared can’t help himself. He dives in for another kiss and Jensen hums against his lips, nipping at Jared’s upper lip before opening his mouth for Jared’s questing tongue.
“This is even better than the cheesecake Gen packed for dessert,” Jared mumbles against Jensen’s lips, and he pulls away to look down at the picnic basket.
“Wait, there’s cheesecake?” Jared scoffs and Jensen grins playfully at him. Jared rolls his eyes and drops down to sit on the floor of the basket, back pressed up against the side. Jensen raises an eyebrow and Jared grabs his hand, tugging him down to land in his lap. “Mm, you’re right. This is better.”
Jensen straddles Jared’s lap, knees tucked in against his hips as he leans in to kiss him again, little suckling kisses at the corner of Jared’s mouth and across his jaw. Jared tips his head back, fingers curling around Jensen's hips as soft lips fix to his throat, tongue tracing his jugular down to the hollow between his collarbones and pressing a kiss there.
"So why did you decide to take this balloon out now?" Jensen asks softly, words warm against Jared's throat. Jensen kisses Jared's throat as he swallows, and pulls back to look at him.
"Because you asked me to," he says truthfully. Jensen's lips part on a silent gasp and Jared blushes.
"Good answer." Jensen grins and catches Jared's lips again, moaning softly into their kiss as Jared's hand slips under the back of his shirt to find bare skin. It's soft and smooth, like silk under Jared's fingertips, and Jensen shivers as he traces the sloping line of his spine.
Jared's lips travel hungrily from Jensen's plush mouth and down his chin, teeth scraping lightly across stubble, tongue traveling down to the open collar of Jensen's shirt. He bites down gently on Jensen's collarbone, soothing the hurt with the flat of his tongue as Jensen moans. Their mouths meet again, hungrier this time, and Jensen reaches above him to wrap his hands around the edge of the basket.
"God, you're a good kisser," Jensen breathes, lips wet and soft against Jared's temple as he rocks his hips downward. Jared gasps and arches up, hand sliding up Jensen’s back to press in between his shoulder blades. Jensen wraps one arm around Jared's shoulders, pressing their foreheads together as he rocks down against Jared again. He squeezes his eyes shut and bites his lip as heat pools in his belly, knees drawing up to cradle Jensen closer to him. "You're really making me regret my whole not putting out on the first date policy."
"Mm, what are you doing tomorrow then?" Jared grits out, and Jensen laughs happily against Jared's mouth. Both Jensen's arms go around his shoulders and he kisses Jared softly, lips curving upwards before he pulls away to look at him. The softness in his eyes makes Jared go warm all over, makes his heart beat fast and his mouth go dry.
"Being with you." Jensen traces his fingertips down the side of Jared's face, tucking an errant strand of hair behind his ear before tracing the curve of his bottom lip. "Having a date on the ground."
"I like that plan," Jared says with a grin, and Jensen kisses him again. The balloon starts to sink, and a chill whips through the air, but Jensen merely reaches up and pulls on the cord again. Warmth from the flame blankets them and they surge upward, lurching a bit when the tether reaches its limit. "And I like you."
"How serendipitous," Jensen replies, fingers curling under Jared's chin as he presses a kiss to the dip under his lower lip. Jared sighs happily and pulls Jensen into a hug, fingers curled around the back of his neck as he looks out at the horizon, the moon hanging low and bright in the sky.
He decides then and there, with Jensen's lips pressed against his neck, that he's going to teach him how to fly.