an agent of the random (riyku) wrote,
an agent of the random
riyku

Better than Moonshine: Part 2

 



 


Jensen squinted against the bright morning sunlight streaming through the curtains of his bedroom. The first thing he realized was that he’d lost a sock somewhere in the sheets during the night. The second thing he noticed was that the other side of the bed was empty.

It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. It probably wouldn’t be the last. Jensen laid there, valiantly ignoring the quick and puzzling stab of disappointment, trying to convince himself it was for the best. Few things in life were more socially awkward than sitting across the breakfast table from a guy who had screwed your brains out the night before, shoveling cereal into your mouth and trying to strike up a conversation, only to find out that the two of you didn’t really have a whole hell of a lot to talk about in the harsh light of day.

He rolled onto his stomach, burying his face in the pillow. The pillowcase still held Jared's smell. There was a long strand of brown hair stuck into the white pillowcase, and Jensen picked it up, twirled it between his fingers for a second.

Jensen yawned and stretched expansively. Water was running in the bathroom. It sounded like the shower, and damn it, he had to piss.

The floor was cold against the sole of his foot, and he dug around for his lost sock in the sheets. A few staggering steps brought him to his pile of clothes, and he fished out his boxers, just another reminder of why he enjoyed living alone.

Still groggy and mostly asleep, he knocked on the bathroom door. When there was no answer, he opened it, releasing a fog of steam into the hallway. “Marco!” he shouted when he entered.

“Polo!” the shout came back. It wasn’t Misha. Huh.

“Jared?” he asked, a mixture of surprise and dread making his heart rattle around in his chest.

Jared peeked around the shower curtain. His hair was slicked back and wet, and one eye bloodshot from soap. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said. “I still had airplane gunk on me. And you,” Jared added, raking his eyes up and down Jensen’s body in a way that made Jensen want to squirm.

“’s fine,” Jensen mumbled. “I gotta piss.”

“So you’re one of those people.” Jared ducked back behind the curtain. “I take it you’re not an early riser?”

Jensen grunted in response. “I’m going back to bed,” he said. “Feel free to join me.”

It felt like Jensen had just closed his eyes for a moment when a swift kick to his door startled him awake.

“Fuck,” Jensen muttered. There was another clamor against his door, like the godforsaken Gestapo was on the other side.

“Mornin,’ sunshine,” Misha shouted through the door.

“I’m up! Fuck,” Jensen hollered back at him, and listened to Misha’s footsteps retreating down the hall.

Jensen shuffled into the kitchen and started slamming around in the cupboard in his search for a clean coffee cup.

Misha sat at the kitchen table, steam rising up from the mug of coffee at his elbow. He was wearing the same suit he had on the night before, his hair a little rumpled and his eyes bloodshot, but not looking too much worse for wear. Without looking up from his newspaper he said, “You were right about that car, by the way. The thing drives like a dream. A wet dream.”

Jensen grunted, scraping his spoon along the bottom of his mug. He leaned against the counter and scratched absently at his chest. He hissed at the scalding temperature of his first sip, stared blankly into the middle distance until his thought processes kicked in a full minute later.

“My car?” he nearly squawked, sloshing hot coffee over his hand in his rush toward the front door.

“Relax,” Misha urged. “You were asleep. Jared needed a ride to his benefactor’s, and then to the college. Said he had to get something squared away before the workshops started.”

“Jared?” Jensen said, still unable to form a complete thought, much less engage in multisyllabic communication. He felt a little tingle on the back of his neck, and thought about the feeling of Jared’s mouth there the night before.

“Looks like you two had a fun time last night,” Misha observed.

Jensen hiked at his shorts in an attempt to cover a very obvious bite mark on his hip. He smiled, in a crooked, dazed sort of way. “Yeah.” He drank down more of his coffee, still peering at his car. “Any luck?”

“Funny you should ask. I did happen to meet up with this second year Master’s student—“

“Not that,” Jensen interrupted. “Did you have any luck cock-blocking the guy from Putnam?”

“These things take time,” Misha explained.

“Bullshit,” Jensen countered. “If people knew you were in town for the express purpose of signing half a dozen new authors, I’d have to build a moat around this place to keep them out.”

“How would you know? If memory serves, you signed our agreement before I was even finished writing the damn thing. Trust me, it takes a certain amount of finesse to lure in the right kind of young writers.”

“In other words, Putman is still breathing down your neck.”

“In other words, I’m getting there.”

 


Jensen strode down the hall, the rubber soles of his sneakers squeaking on the linoleum, the sound echoing off of the painted cinderblock walls. He was mildly irritated after an uneasy run in with none other than the honorable Professor Reedy himself, and then had to spend a full fifteen minutes zigzagging back and forth across campus in search of the right building.

He was pleasantly surprised when he entered the classroom, having expected to be faced with rows of uncomfortable desks that a person of any height had to shoehorn themselves into, maybe a lectern at the front and a milky old chalkboard. Instead there was a long conference table with comfortable, fake leather chairs, a whiteboard along one wall, and all of this hi-tech audiovisual equipment shoved into the corner. Jensen spotted a DVD player, and thought that if all else failed, he could always play a movie to help the time pass.

About a dozen people of various ages sat around the table, papers and pens spread out in front of them. A few of them were chatting quietly to each other, but mostly they were looking through pamphlets and papers, scribbling on their notepads or leafing through manuscripts.

“Nice digs,” Jensen said, looking around the room. It earned him a few seconds of polite laughter.

This wasn’t going to go well.

It had taken him exactly one public book reading to fully grasp the fact that he wasn’t too hot on speaking in front of a crowd. Hell, in retrospect, even that had been easy. All he’d had to do was stand behind a podium and read a passage from his book. No one had expected eye contact or witty anecdotes. Nonetheless, the first time he’d gotten in front of a college auditorium full of people, he’d tripped over his words, lost his place a handful of times and had read so fast that both he and his audience were utterly lost by the end.

This was a thousand times worse. Sure, the audience was smaller, but he was completely off script. In fact, he didn’t actually have a script in the first place.

Jensen unloaded his arms onto the table, and shot up a silent thank you to Misha when he opened the outline his editor had provided. He begrudgingly admitted it was a good place to start. The sensation of eyes boring into his back made him quicken his step as he went back out into the hallway to fill up a bottle from the water fountain.

Jensen looked down the hall when he heard the echo of a slamming door and the pound of heavy footsteps..

Jared bounded down the hallway, again bundled up tight against the cold. He had his backpack over his shoulder and a slip of paper that looked like a receipt in his hand. “Howdy, teach. Sorry I’m late,” he said, handing over the slip of paper with a toothy smile.

Jensen peered down at it. It was a registration form, a carbon copy showing that Jared had dropped one workshop and picked up different one. Jensen’s workshop, in fact.

“Really, Jared? Really.” The fact that Jared had just signed on to become Jensen’s student, however temporary and informal the whole deal was, just made Jensen feel downright skeevy. He glanced over his shoulder into the classroom, and was relieved when no one appeared to be listening in.

“Misha told me you were teaching one this week. I had no idea. I’d skipped past it on the list, well, because I’ve never been blocked before. But when I found out it was you…” Jared gazed down at him with a heated expression, letting his eyes linger overlong on Jensen’s mouth.

Jensen nervously looked up and down the hall. Jared was looking at him in a way that screamed that they’d definitely seen each other naked in the very recent past. If anyone saw them, it would certainly take a huge chunk out of Jensen’s respectability level. Slim odds that it perhaps may add to it, but he wasn’t willing to take that bet.

Jensen took a deep breath. “Well, come on, then. You don’t want to be late for your first day, kiddo.” He turned toward the door, but Jared grabbed him by the elbow.

“What are you doing after class?” Jared’s voice dripped with innuendo.

Jensen paused for a second in consideration, fighting a small internal war between his conscience and his sex drive. Jared was a six and a half foot tall pillar of temptation, but he really needed to get his act together if he held out any hope of churning out something decent to hand over to Misha before the week was through.

“I’m writing,” he said. It wasn’t necessarily a lie. It was always a possibility.

“How about after that?” Jared said, hopeful.

“Probably writing some more.”

Jared followed him into the classroom and took a seat. Jensen couldn’t help but notice the way two of the women—one of them old enough to be his mother—stared openly at him as he produced a legal pad and a pen from his backpack. Nor could Jensen help his feeling of smug satisfaction. Jared gave the people at the table a dimpled grin, and turned his attention to the front.

After comparing a head count to his roster, Jensen cleared his throat. “I need to tell you guys something before we begin.” He looked around the room, his glance snagging on Jared for a second before moving on. “I don’t believe in writer’s block.”

Jensen was only too aware of the irony inherent in that statement. It had been almost a full year since he’d written anything other than a review or an editorial, longer than that since he’d published any fiction. There had been a few sputtering starts that had stalled out before he could even complete an outline, but those were hardly worth thinking about.

A few surprised expressions resulted from his statement, so he continued. “Either you have something to say or you don’t. And there’s no use spouting off crap if you don’t. That being said, I think it’s high time we get going on this.” He turned to the white board that took up the majority of one wall. “Whatever the fuck this is,” he muttered under his breath and began write up an outline.

 


“How did it go?” Misha was sitting on the steps leading up to the student union, sunshine glinting off of his polished shoes and his briefcase balanced between his feet.

“Smashingly,” Jensen said, the word smothered in sarcasm.

“That good.”

“I don’t think they like me very much.” Jensen joined Misha on the stairs, the cold from the marble seeping into his skin.

“Just give them a couple of days. They’re bound to get used to you.”

“Jared showed up,” Jensen said, ignoring the quip and leading the conversation into a hairpin turn.

“I kinda thought he might.”

“It’s your fault,” Jensen pointed out.

Misha frowned. “I’ve been accused of worse things.”

“He wants to see me again. It’s not very conducive to that whole one night stand thing I had going for me.”

“Maybe he likes you,” Misha shrugged. “Contrary to popular opinion, you can be a lot of fun, despite a certain lack of social etiquette and your tendency toward self imposed solitary confinement.”

“Fuck off,” Jensen grumbled.

“Like I said, a likeable lack of etiquette.” Misha knocked his knee against Jensen’s. “Where is he, anyhow?”

“I brushed him off. Work to do.”

“Work? Like putting fiction down on paper? That kind of work?” The note of hope in Misha’s voice sent Jensen’s stomach plummeting in the direction of his shoes.

“Yeah. That kind of work.” Maybe if he told enough people that he was writing, it would turn into some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. “Do you need a ride home?”

“Not right now. I could use the walk. Besides, I’ve got to go see a guy about a thing.” Misha pushed himself off of the stairs and straightened his tie.

“That’s specific.”

“I don’t want to jinx it. Now get to work. I’m banking on you, my boy. Pretty literally at this point.”

 

 

Jensen trudged up the stairs to his office like he was on his way to the gallows. He’d packed provisions, had two bottles of water and one bottle of scotch tucked into the crook of his arm, a sandwich, and a packet of those three hour energy tabs you could get at the convenience store around the corner. He was ready for anything.

His office had remained untouched since the night before. Jensen circled his desk, spotting the paperweight that had been knocked off last night, and rolled it around with his foot before picking it up. The thing was a rounded, comfortable weight in his hand. He shuffled the papers that littered the ground into a stack and shoved them onto a shelf.

He put on his bathrobe, kicked his shoes off, and resolutely shut the blinds at the windows. Opening his desk drawer, he took out a document folder, one of those accordion jobs that were divided into sections. He had tons of junk in there. Character profiles with no plot to stick them in. Protagonists and antagonists by the score, everybody with nowhere to go. Lists of potential names for characters that were long enough to drive a person to distraction. He leafed through the papers, skimming the type, hoping that something would stick.

But looking at all this old stuff had never gotten him anywhere before, and it probably wasn’t going to work now.

Turning on his computer, Jensen watched as the screen came to life, listened to the whir of the thing starting up. He fooled around with his word processing program, trying to figure out a way to hide the word count that was a constant, nagging sort of pressure at the bottom of the screen. He couldn’t make it go away, and didn’t want to plug his internet back in to ask it. That would have gotten him nowhere fast. Wrapping his bathrobe more snugly around his chest, Jensen sat back and stared at the blank screen, allowed himself a slug of scotch and pulled his lips back at the burn it left in his throat.

He didn’t get it. There had been a time, not long ago, when he couldn’t stop writing. Staying up for days, fueled by coffee and sucking on those little butterscotch candies he used to eat by the handful. Hours spent, mindless of the ache in his back from hunching over the keyboard, his typewriter sitting on one of those little TV tables, like the one his grandmother used to eat supper on. The slats of his secondhand dining room chair would leave a brand on his ass, and the downstairs neighbors would wack at their ceiling at three in the morning with broom handles as the noise of the electric typewriter clanked off of his blank walls.

Sure, back then people had thought of him as a sort of boy wonder, publishing a handful of books, working his way up to the one good novel he was actually somewhat proud of, all before the age of twenty-five. He’d enjoyed a kind of mediocre notoriety at a fairly young age. But Jensen knew the truth: it was less a matter of being some sort of child prodigy, and more a result of a complete lack of social life during his formative years.

Everything had been secondary to the push. He’d had it then.

But now nothing. Nothing but this hollow sort of ache whenever he thought about how things used to be. It was like an old friend he knew he’d never see again but thought about a thousand times a day.

He’d been doing anything not to write. Filling up the time with excuses. Scrubbing out the refrigerator, rearranging furniture, replacing every set of mini-blinds in the house. Writing review after review, because it at least kept him thinking and it stopped the electricity from getting shut off. Then there was that week where he flossed his teeth about seven times a day, convincing himself that putting out a book shadowed in comparison to the importance of clean and healthy gums. He was afraid he was on the brink of turning into a washed up hack who could only write about the stuff other people were writing about.

Publish or die was the motto in Jensen’s line of business, and he was all too aware of the number of nails in his coffin.

Jensen looked at his typewriter, his good old Brother. The cover was shoved between its scarred metal case and the wall, exactly where Jared had left it last night. The damn thing looked depressed, dejected and ignored, slumping unplugged on the table. “I know, sweetheart,” Jensen said to it, “we’ll get going one of these days.” He covered it up again.

All this introspective navel gazing wasn’t going to get him anywhere. He’d promised himself three pages. It was best to ease into these sorts of things, after all. Three pages should be a cinch, probably only about two thousand words, and that was if it was heavy on the exposition and light on the dialogue. He could do this. He pretty much didn’t have a choice.

But first, some music. Jensen crossed the room, opening his record cabinet, a Dutch style thing that looked like it belonged in an episode of the Jetson’s. He pinched some dust off of the needle, and skimmed his finger along his collection of records in his search for Ella Fitzgerald live from Berlin. He was thinking about setting a story in the Deep South and wanted to hear her sing about the summer.

The record wasn’t in the right place, and neither were a dozen more besides. Jensen dropped to the ground, crossed his legs in front of him and set to organizing. He couldn’t be expected to write knowing that his records were out of order. Nobody could expect that out of him.

It was funny, how time seemed to jump forward as Jensen organized his records, stared at his blank computer screen until his vision doubled, and opened a backlog of mail. He found a royalty check among all the junk mail, a pleasant surprise. Ten years ago, almost to the day, Jensen had gotten his first check as a published author. Two hundred bucks and at the time it had felt like a million.

He heard the kitchen door open, and was startled to find himself three hours poorer with nothing but another character profile written up.

He had a name: Frannie Windwhistler. She had long grey hair and had worked at the same factory for thirty some odd years. Didn’t love her husband but still liked him just fine, and collected those little Hummel figurines by the score. Jensen knew where she shopped, what kind of things were in her pantry and where she’d gone to high school. He knew that she did her wash on Wednesdays and that she was allergic to shellfish. He just didn’t have any idea what she did, and why it was worth a person’s time to actually read about her.

Jensen printed out the pages, stuffed them back into the folder and opened his desk drawer. Spotting the corner of a wooden frame, he shimmied it out from beneath some paperwork. It was his first rejection letter, framed archivally for posterity. Jensen wiped some dust off of the glass and set it on his desk. Maybe he’d give it to Jared. The guy might like to have it, and that would be one less thing to pack when it was time to move again.

He was feeling a move coming on. A change in location might be just the thing to knock him out of this rut. Never mind that it didn’t work the last time he’d tried it.

Misha was digging around a kitchen drawer when Jensen joined him, a bottle of wine in one hand. Jensen opened the one at his hip and tossed the corkscrew in Misha’s direction. Misha gave him a long look, pointedly taking in Jensen’s bathrobe and rumpled hair. “How’s it looking up there?”

“I’d say so-so,” Jensen lied, joining him at the kitchen table.

“You want to talk about it?”

“Not yet, maybe later.”

“You’ll get there. Talent like yours doesn’t just go away over night.”

“You’re right,” Jensen said. “In my case it’s more like a slow, steady leak.”

Misha made a show of rolling his eyes. He reached across the table and tapped a finger on Jensen’s temple. “No, it’s still all in there. I can smell a good book from a mile away. You stink like one right now.”

Intellectually, Jensen knew he had at least one more story inside of him that he was meant to tell. He just had no idea what it was about.

“There’s a reading at the college tonight,” Misha told him. “Sort of an open mic night. Bunch of new writers are going to be there. Reedy’s headlining the thing, of course. You in?”

“Not if Reedy’s gonna be there,” Jensen said. He knew he sounded petulant, and couldn’t help himself. His wasted afternoon had put him in a mood.

“You should go. Keep an eye on the competition. You know the whole ‘keep your enemies closer’ thing? Besides, we can make fun of the inevitably purple prose that all those newbies are pumping out. You love that kind of thing.”

“Alright, I’ll go. But only if I don’t have to wear dress shoes.”

“Hell, you can wear your goddamn bathrobe for all I care.”

 

 

There was a decent turnout in the college auditorium for the book reading. The entire front row was occupied by the victims for this evening, every single one of them flipping through manuscripts and full of nervous tics. Jensen could relate.

A podium stood in the center of the stage with a single spotlight trained on it. The very sight of the set-up made Jensen’s skin crawl. Jensen spotted one of his students from the workshop in the front row of seats. He couldn’t remember her name, but she was young, very early twenties. Sort of an emo-looking kid, the type you would expect to see sitting at Jack Kerouac’s grave in the gloom and fog, writing bad poetry at midnight.

He told Misha to save him a spot and went over to her, squatting down in front of her seat. She was trying to pick apart the hem of her skirt with anxious fingers, and Jensen took her hand for a second to stop her fidgeting. Her palm felt damp, clammy, a slight tremor in her fingers.

“Mr. Ackles?” she said, confused.

“Jensen,” he corrected her with an easy smile. He tried to speak in a calm, soothing tone. “Everything’s gonna be fine, okay? You’ll do well. Just talk slowly, keep your finger on the line that you’re reading and remember to breathe. It’ll all be over before you know it.”

“I’ve never done this before.” Her voice shook with nerves. She looked around at the people gathered in the room, then at the folks who were still streaming through the doors. “There are a lot of people here.”

Jensen scanned the room, picking Misha out of the crowd. His stomach dropped a little when he saw Jared standing next to him. He pointed in their direction. “You see that guy? With the dark hair, and that god-awful trench coat? Standing next to Jared from our workshop?”

She followed his line of sight and nodded, her hand finding the hem of her skirt again.

“I’ll be sitting right there, so if you have to look up when you read, look at us. And remember that there are three of us on your side here tonight. It’s a lot more than most of these people have. Sound good?”

She gave him a relieved smile. “Thanks.”

Jensen stood up, briefly squeezing her shoulder. “And for fuck’s sake, stop twisting at your skirt. If you tear it up, it’ll only make a bad situation even worse.”

The girl laughed, an unexpectedly bright sound. She flattened her hand on top of her manuscript. “Got it.”

Jared hugged him when Jensen joined the two of them. Hugged him like it was the most natural thing in the world, his arms wound tight around Jensen’s shoulders, burrowing his cold nose into his neck. Jensen wasn’t too sure what to think about that.

They settled into their seats, Jensen sandwiched between Misha and Jared. “How’s Annie doing?” Jared asked, leaning in close.

Of course Jared would have taken the time to learn her name. He’d probably taken the time to memorize the name, rank, and serial number of everyone in his class once Jensen had hastily ducked out of the room.

“If she looks over here, just give her a smile and a thumbs up or something,” Jensen replied.

Jared leaned across Jensen’s lap and tapped Misha’s shoulder. “See? I told you he was a good guy.”

“You just haven’t known him long enough,” Misha shot back.

Jared continued, “I don’t know, he made a pretty good first impression.”

“Are we talking about the same person?” Misha asked.

“Guys, I’m right here,” Jensen piped up, earning grins from either side of him.

The lights dimmed, and Professor Reedy strode on stage, the spotlight gleaming on his thinning hair. He was the very picture of a purposefully hip college professor. His hair intentionally bird nested, a sports coat worn over top of an old concert t-shirt, Chuck Taylor tennis shoes, the whole nine. After a dramatic pause, he gripped the sides of the podium and intoned, “I am Mark Reedy, and I am an author.”

Jensen hunched down in his chair, propped his knees up on the back of the seat in front of him and muttered, “You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

Reedy launched into a diatribe about the voices of the new generation, and Jensen did his best to ignore him. Luckily, Jared was there to help him along.

He kept running his knuckles against Jensen’s thigh, a slow, seemingly subconscious need for contact. He would reach out and squeeze Jensen’s hand if he liked a line or a particular turn of phrase, make the occasional low comment, leaning in close, his breath tickling Jensen’s ear. Jensen felt like his skin was too tight, kept fighting the ridiculous urge to touch Jared right back, maybe start making out with him like two hormone soaked teenagers in the back of a movie theater.

Misha kept himself occupied on Jensen’s other side, a writing pad propped on his thigh and a pen in his hand, scribbling down names and notes. He reminded Jensen of a talent scout at a high school football game. In a way, he was probably exactly that.

Annie finally took the stage, looking like she was about to cry, or pass out, or perhaps both at the same time. Jensen sat up to his full height, an encouraging smile frozen on his face on the off chance that she could see past the spotlight and into the audience. Jensen was glad to see that all of her clothes were still in one piece.

She read a bit too fast, but didn’t lose her place once. When she was done, Jared let out an inappropriate whoop, and the girl grinned in their direction, relief flooding off of her in a wave so big Jensen could feel it from his seat in the middle of the room.

As Reedy was announcing the next writer, Jensen whispered to Jared. “Why aren’t you doing this?”

Jared averted his eyes, started picking at his thumbnail. “Stage fright,” he said.

“I don’t believe that,” Jensen chided.

“I had been signed on, actually. But then I found out that you might be here, and…I don’t know. Nothing I have is good enough for you to hear.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard all day,” Jensen said dismissively.

“Then you need to get out more,” Jared replied.

Reedy finally took the stage to close out the night, and Misha reached across Jensen, plucking at Jared’s shirt to get his attention. “Prepare to Mystery Science Theater this bitch.”

Jared chewed on his lip to stop from laughing. “This is gonna be good.”

 

 
Jensen was surprised to find that he still had a full house for the second day of his workshop. Annie was waiting for him outside of the classroom. “Shoot straight with me,” she said to him. “How awful was it?”

“Actually, you did surprisingly well. My agent said you had potential, and he rarely has anything good to say about anybody.”

“Potential?” she said, looking like she’d just seen the Holy Grail. With a wide smile, she headed into the classroom.

Jared was already seated at the table, a hangdog expression on his face and every acre of his back in an uncharacteristic slouch. He was hunched over a manuscript that was held together by three small brass brads, flipping through it, his lips moving silently. The pages were riddled with red, like they’d come out of the wrong end of a slasher movie, nasty stripes of color crossing out whole paragraphs and crowded notes in the margins.

Ouch.

Jensen cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “I think I might have skipped ahead a little in yesterday’s discussion,” he began. “Bear with me while we work backward for a second. I’d like you guys to tell me the first thing you learned in your intro to writing classes.”

“Write what you know,” a man sitting near Jensen said.

“Always a good idea,” Jensen replied. “Besides, it’s not always possible to fake it ‘til you make it. People are too smart nowadays.”

A woman on the other side of the table raised her hand, “Show, don’t tell.”

“Crucial,” Jensen nodded, “and sometimes not as easy as it sounds.”

Jared tore himself away from his manuscript and squinted toward Jensen. “Begin as close to the ending as possible.”

“From the Vonnegut school of how to respect your reader,” Jensen said. “Now if he’d been around in Tolstoy’s day, we would all have a lot more time on our hands at this point.”

That earned him a few chuckles, to Jensen’s great relief.

“I suppose there’s just one thing I’d like you guys to walk away with after our time together.” Jensen leveled a direct look at Jared when he spoke. “No one can actually teach a writer how to write. Anyone who says he has the key to good writing is full of crap. He needs to check his ego and his bullshit at the door. I can only tell you what I know, and how I do it. What works for me. What you take from it is up to you.”

Jared smiled at that, closed his manuscript and pushed it away from himself. Jensen suddenly felt like the room had gotten a few watts brighter.

 

 
 
Jared joined him as soon as they were done for the day. “Thanks for that,” he said.

Jensen shrugged it off. “You weren’t looking that good there.” The way that Jared set his teeth into his bottom lip made Jensen want to kiss him. If he was honest, every time Jared did anything, anything at all, Jensen wanted to kiss him.

“Fun morning,” Jared’s chest expanded with a long sigh. “I had Reedy look over a couple of short stories. He basically handed my ass back to me in ribbons. Couldn’t even be bothered with a silver platter.”

“You want a second opinion?” Jensen offered.

“Hell no. The first time around was bad enough.”

Jensen waved to the last person leaving the room. He took a step closer to Jared, “I’ll be gentle, I promise.” He felt like he was not in control of his hand when it somehow wrapped around Jared’s hip. Damnit, he was flirting with him. Pretty heavy too.

“You don’t need to go gentle on me, Jensen,” Jared said with a throaty laugh. “Maybe later? Even though the idea of you, of all people, reading anything I’ve written scares the hell out of me.” Jared seemed to shake himself out of it. “I should go. I’ve got a meeting with a possible agent across campus. You don’t happen to have something genius in your bag of tricks that you would want to let me plagiarize real quick? Just to get my foot in the door?”

“I would if I could,” Jensen told him. “Don’t let it shake you, alright? It’s one man’s two cents, that’s all. I take it you have a clean copy of your work? You shouldn’t give the agent something that’s been hacked apart. It’s bad form.”

Jared nodded. “You’ll be around later? Working?”

“Come on over when you’re done. I’ll be home.” On impulse, Jensen pulled Jared down by his neck and gave him a dry, soft kiss, right on the lips. “Knock ‘em dead, kiddo. Good luck.”

The classroom had large, paned windows reaching up to the high ceiling. Jensen leaned against the sill, watching Jared dash across the quad through the wavy, distorted glass. This one night stand was turning into a week-long stint. Jensen’s thoughts skittered around Jared, but couldn’t find a safe place to land. “What am I doing?” Jensen asked the empty room.

 

 
 
The early evening sun snuck in through the slats of the blinds, slicing shadows across the computer screen.

Jensen’s head was resting on his desk. He was stuck hard on a way to describe the smell of wisteria without sounding like he was trying to go for some hack impression of Anne Rice.

A knock on the front door sounded like salvation. Jensen stepped out of his bathrobe, and all but flew down the stairs, thankful for the excuse to call it quits for the day.

“Did you land an agent?” Jensen asked when he opened the door for Jared.

“The jury’s still out on that,” Jared answered, digging a draft out of his backpack before dropping his bag inside the door and piling his coat on top of it. “Did you get somewhere today?”

Jensen avoided a direct answer. “Do you think a smell could be described as purple?” Twenty minutes of constant consideration, and all he could come up with was purple. He was such a goner.

“It depends on what kind of purple you’re talking about. Are you referring to grape soda? Or that one kind of bubble gum? I’d say that smells purple,” Jared mused. “Or maybe something majestic?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever smelled something majestic before.”

“You’re probably lucky. It sounds old. Musty.”

“Never mind.”

“Does the offer still stand?” Jared asked, holding his draft out to Jensen.

“Feeling brave, huh?” Jensen said, settling in on the couch with Jared beside him. He skimmed the first paragraph.

“More like hopeless,” Jared explained. “Something good has to come out of this week.”

Jensen tore his eyes away from his reading, and gave Jared a sidelong, weighted glance. “If memory serves, something good kinda already has.”

Jared shifted a little closer to him, “Jesus, Jensen. Don’t do that.”

Jensen turned his attention back to the paper. “Do what?” he said, feigning innocence.

“Don’t look at me like that.” Jared tore the pages out of Jensen’s hands and let them fall to the floor, shoving Jensen backward with one hand on the center of his chest.

“Don’t you want me to—“ Jensen started, but cut off when Jared slotted his long body between Jensen’s legs and slowly rocked down.

“Later,” Jared said, almost growling out the word. He kissed Jensen, slicking his tongue into Jensen’s mouth. His hands moved urgently along Jensen’s ribs, rucking his shirt up.

“Later’s good,” Jensen said breathlessly. “Later’s really good.”

Jared pressed him into the couch, shoved one hand down his pants and started sucking on his neck, his tongue an insistent hot press against Jensen’s skin.

Jared circled his fist loosely around Jensen’s cock, teasing him into an aching hardness. Jensen needed more, thrusting in jerky, stilted movements, fighting against Jared’s weight as he fucked into his hand. He had his fists caught in Jared’s hair, his head thrown back against the arm of the couch, and a leg wrapped around Jared’s thigh.

He fought to yank Jared’s shirt up, splayed his hands on the warm skin of his back, fingernails digging into Jared’s flesh. Jared’s hips shot forward, cocks rubbing together through their jeans. “Harder, fuck,” Jared panted. “Harder.”

Jensen dug in, let his nails scrape up and down Jared’s back. Jared’s lips snagged on Jensen’s jaw, teeth grazing the skin as Jared rutted against him, air whistling from his lungs with small whining noises. Pressure was building in Jensen, way down low, intensifying when Jared looked down at him with dark eyes. He dove forward and licked at Jensen’s bottom lip, flicked his thumb over the head of Jensen’s cock just so, and Jensen came, sticky and hot inside of his shorts.

Jensen latched onto his neck, hard enough to bruise, and Jared’s rhythm faltered, became more forceful and erratic, rubbing off on Jensen with frantic movements. Jared threw his head back and came with a jolt and a bit off curse, collapsing on top of Jensen, still jerking him through Jensen’s own aftershocks in a sluggish kind of way.

Jared’s hand trailed wetly up the center of Jensen’s stomach, and Jensen couldn’t look away, he could only watch as Jared sucked his messy fingers into his mouth, licking the traces of Jensen’s come off them one at a time. Jensen wanted to laugh. It was almost prissy, dainty in its deliberateness.

He sealed their mouths together, a lazy twist of tongues and teeth, and then tucked his head under Jensen’s chin as he caught his breath. They were sticky, still fully clothed, their shirts clinging to their backs. The buckle of Jared’s loosened belt dug uncomfortably into Jensen’s thigh, but he was too lethargic to do a damn thing about it.

“I have a confession,” Jared said, still a bit breathless.

Jensen felt a stirring in his chest, a small amount of apprehension. “Go ahead,” he said carefully. He brushed his fingertips through Jared’s hair. It was sappy, but screw it, he liked the way it slipped between his fingers, the texture of it, coarse and soft all at once.

“I have no idea what you talked about in the workshop today,” Jared admitted.

Jensen breathed a relieved chuckle. “Awesome. That makes two of us.”

“It’s not like I don’t try to pay attention. It’s just your fucking mouth. You have this habit of touching your bottom lip when you’re thinking or listening to somebody. And you’re always licking your lips.”

“Do I?” Jensen asked. “Well, I really wish that you would stop chewing on your pen caps so damn much. It’s distracting.”

“How are you so sure I’m not doing it on purpose?”

“Are you?”

“Maybe,” Jared answered, shifting and settling himself more comfortably between Jensen’s legs.

“Do you think that the others are on to us?” Jensen asked, an indistinct sort of concern starting to form in the back of his mind.

“Would you care if they were?”

Jensen considered the question. Understanding socially acceptable forms of morality had never been his strong suit, and besides, he didn’t think that he was breaking any of the rules. They were sort of fast and loose in the first place. “Not particularly,” he mused. “Should we take a look at your writing sample?” Jensen gestured toward the manuscript on the floor. “Is it later now?”

“Hmmm. Not later enough. Party at Reedy’s tomorrow,” Jared said, his voice taking on a groggy, sleepy quality.

“You don’t say.”

“You wanna be my date?”

Jensen shifted a little awkwardly. “That’s a loaded question,” he said.

“Would it make you feel any better if I called you my wingman instead?”

“Not particularly.” He didn’t want to go. The very thought of spending any amount of time in the clutches of that man made his skin crawl. Even if the food was good, and the booze was free and plentiful. He’d probably have to wear something dressy, and what’s worse, a fucking tie. What he said next actually surprised him. “Sure, I’ll go.”

Jared smiled up at him, a crooked little thing, his chin propped on the center of Jensen’s chest. His eyes were hazy and unfocused, like they couldn’t find a clear spot to settle. “Pushover.”

“Fuck you,” Jensen said. .

“Maybe after a nap.”

Jensen laid there, one hand tangled in Jared’s hair, the other spread across his back as Jared’s breathing took on the deep, consistent rhythm of sleep. He had a cramp in his neck from the awkward angle, his left foot was slowly going numb, and he couldn’t catch a deep breath because of Jared’s heavy weight pushing down on his chest. He had an editor breathing down his neck, an advance on a novel that he had no plot for, his bank account was starting to get frighteningly low, and he hadn’t been this happy in a very, very long time.
 

 

 
The kitchen counter held everything he needed: a tub of peanut butter and two spoons, a bottle of red wine and another of white, his stash of good bourbon and a couple of glasses, three packs of gum, a bag of potato chips and his copy of Bartlett’s Book of Familiar Quotations.

Jared and Misha sat at the table, caffeinating their way through the early morning hour and trading weighty glances.

“That’s a fully stocked bar for seven in the morning,” Jared eyed the array of bottles.

“Don’t you have something you need to be doing?” Jensen grumbled.

“Not until this afternoon. I was hoping to bum a ride to class, teach.”

Jensen ignored him in favor of strategically stacking his provisions in an attempt to make one trip up the stairs. He bundled everything in his arms, awkwardly grabbed a box of cereal and tucked it under his chin, turning to face his audience. “What?” he said.

“Maybe a picnic basket would help,” Jared suggested.

“It’s part of his process,” Misha told Jared. “The peanut butter is crucial.”

Jensen marched up the stairs and laid his provisions out on his desk, poured two fingers of bourbon into a glass, and rolled up his sleeves. He went to the door, thumbed the lock, and effectively began his self-imposed exile.

He emerged two hours later with the first ten pages. Jared was at the counter, making himself some food.  It didn’t look like Misha had moved once from the table, as if he was a posted sentinel on some sort of deathwatch.

“Need more peanut butter?” Jared asked.

With a flick of his wrist, Jensen tossed the pages across the table to Misha. “Sock it to me,” he said.

“I’ll go,” Jared said, ready to abandon his meal.

“No, stay,” Jensen urged. “Call it a learning experience.”

A silence that was heavier than a truckload of cinderblocks descended upon the room as Misha started to read. Jensen watched him closely, trying to gauge even the smallest reaction, but Misha had his poker face pulled down snug. After a tense few minutes, he finished the last page, flipped them over and started again at the beginning.

Jared crossed over to Jensen, put a reassuring hand on his back and waited.

Misha finished the second read through and looked up to Jensen. There was a long pause, and Jensen’s mind brought up an image of standing before the judge waiting for his pronouncement of sentence. He had the distinct feeling that it was going to be twenty years to life.

Misha took a deep breath before speaking. “It’s good. It’s really fucking good.”

Jensen leaned back against his chair, a long-held breath rushing out of his lungs. Jared gave his shoulder an encouraging squeeze and went back to making them breakfast.

Misha tented his fingers on the draft, pushing it back across the table toward Jensen. “Now make it better.”

The clang of Jared dropping something in the sink behind him made Jensen jump. “What?” Jensen said.

“It’s better than at least ninety percent of the stuff that’s come out this year, that much is obvious. But you’re faking it, Jensen. I’ve read enough of your stuff to know that you can do better.”

Jensen fell forward, letting his forehead sink to the hard surface of the wooden table.

“You look like you’re expecting to be beaten,” Misha observed.

“Maybe I already have been.”

“Jared?” Misha said, not looking away from Jensen, “would you mind giving us a minute?”

It was with no small amount of relief that Jared dashed toward the front door, closing it quietly behind himself.

“It’s high time you come clean with me, because this is ridiculous. And worse, maudlin. Don’t get so damn down on yourself. It’ll all work out in the end.”

Jensen tried to school his voice, to punch back a wave of panic. “How much of a choice do I have, really?” he asked. “I could lose everything. The car…” There were only two reasons that his editor would travel all the way up here to meet with him in person, WriterWorks notwithstanding. Jensen didn’t like the sound of either of them. “Am I gonna have to sell the car?” He swallowed, his tongue suddenly feeling swollen and too big for his mouth.

Misha stood up and started pacing the length of the room. He sighed, tried to hide a grimace with very little success. He turned half away from Jensen, his shoulders in a defeated slump as he jammed his hands into his pants pockets. “You tell me, Jensen. The car is most likely the least of your problems right now and we both know it.”

Jensen threw his hands in the air, and let them fall to the table with a slap. “It’s the only collateral I have at this point. The advance is almost gone. I’m only six months into the mortgage on the house, so that still belongs to the bank. No one’s buying the books much anymore, at least not until I put something else out to renew interest in them. I can’t ride along on Limited Break forever.”

“You’re real busy focusing on the problems here. It’s time to turn it around.”

“The rub is that I have a very specific set of skills in my arsenal, and not one of them is even the least bit remotely useful in the real world.”

“It should be obvious to you, then. Write, for fuck’s sake. Just write. It’s what you do.”

“How much time can you give me? Give me a deadline.”

“Your deadline was about two months ago.”

“Then give me a new one,” Jensen said. “How long can you hold them off?”

Misha was pensive for a few moments, his mouth set in a thin line. Jensen could almost hear him ticking days off of the calendar in his head. “This is how it works,” Misha started, “you string me along, and then I string the editor-in-chief along, who then dangles some sort of carrot in front of the publisher. It turns into this complex system of weights and pulleys and no one knows who’s plucking whose strings.”

Jensen covered his mouth to hide his smile. “I’m pretty sure you’re mixing your metaphors.”

Misha held up a finger, eyebrows raised. “Yes, but at least I mix them masterfully.”

“And you may have had a short foray into musical theory for a second back there, but I sorta lost track.”

Misha grinned at him, but then turned serious again a second later. “Give me another twenty pages before I leave. Even if they’re crap by your standards. It should be enough to keep the wolves from banging down the door for another month. But that’s it. One month. It’s all I can give you. I’ve got expectations to live up to as well, you know.”

“What do they expect from you?”

“Competency for one. It’s a real bitch.”

“Well, HarperCollins knew who you were and how you worked, and decided to hire you anyway,” Jensen pointed out.

“It was probably quite stupid on their part. But back then I had you.”

“You still do have me.”

Misha squinted at him, his head quirked at an angle. “Do I? Are you sure of that?”

“I haven’t let you down yet, have I?” Jensen paused. “On second thought, don’t answer that,” he said, scraping back his chair and heading for the front door.

Jared was sitting on the porch swing, arms crossed tightly over his chest against the cold. Jensen could hear the chatter of his teeth when he sat down next to him.  He leaned into Jared, resting his temple against his shoulder.

“Any chance you have twenty pages of something awesome on hand? Something that sounds enough like my writing style to fool Misha?”

Jared gave him a piercing look. “Are you gonna have to sell the car?” he asked, as if he was listening in on their conversation.

“God, I hope not.”

Jared put an arm around him. “Good. It’s a fucking awesome car.”

They stayed silent for a long time, listening to the creak of the metal chain as the swing swayed slowly back and forth. Jared finally spoke. “Are you stuck?” he asked, hesitant, like he didn’t want to say it out loud, like breathing air into the idea might miraculously bring it to life.

“I don’t know.”

“It should be pretty clear,” Jared told him. “You said so yourself. A writer has something worthwhile to say, or not. Either you’re stuck or you aren’t.”

Jensen took his time putting his thoughts together. “You wake up one morning, and you do the same thing that you've done every single day. You drink your coffee and put orange marmalade on your toast and put on your favorite sweatshirt and you call your mother. And then you sit down in your writing spot and something amazing happens. You know it's amazing as it hits the page, and other people think it's amazing and let you know it. So here we are, six months down the line and it's time to do it all over again. Same coffee, same goddamn orange marmalade, and your mom's still happy to hear from you. It's time to write and there's nothing but a blank page staring you down and not a single word comes to mind to fill it up. And you ask yourself what's the difference? What's the difference between now and then?"

Jared seemed to consider this for a while. “You’ve gotten yourself in a hole, and spending day after day up in your little attic isn’t helping. You’re still you. You still have all the words up there,” he touched his cold fingers to Jensen’s temple. “We just have to give you something to write about.”

“How do you propose we do that?”

Jared gave him a soft smile and knocked their feet together. “We’ll figure something out.”



Part 3
  
Tags: bigbang2011, fic: j2, rated: nc-17
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