They stop and pick up a couple of pizzas and Jensen makes Chad go through a drive-through for some donuts. The kind with the cream in the middle.
"What about your complexion?" Jared asks, dragging up an old memory. The entire day has been this way. Fuck, Jensen has been this way since Jared landed. The old and the new all blended together. One superimposed over the other, and Jared can't figure out which is the real one anymore.
"Eh," Jensen says and sniffs, knocks Jared's shoulder from his spot in the back seat of the car. "Screw my complexion."
"This guest house is at least twice the size of my apartment." Steve is putting the finishing touches on Jared's hair, tamed for the time being with enough goop in it that a tornado could hit and it wouldn't budge. He rubs his thumbs under Jared's eyes and says, "Pores are looking good. Shouldn't be telling you this, but a little sun would do wonders for your skin tone."
"I don't get out much," Jared says, explaining his full course load and how every spare second he has, which isn't many, is spent sleeping or working. Not a lot of time to spend outside.
"All of this and smart, too. No wonder Jensen likes you." Steve holds out the slim-fitting suit jacket for Jared to slip into, inspects his handiwork one final time and pats his cheek, then steps back to take in the finished product. "Now get to your boy. He's waiting on you. Been pacing around the place like it's his wedding day."
Before Jared heads out the door, Steve stops him. "Here. Almost forgot." He unloops one of the three scarves he's wearing and wraps it around Jared's neck. "That's better. Knock 'em dead, kiddo."
A man is posted by the back door, his posture straight and bordering on formal. He's tall and big all over, and his conservative suit is nicely made, however after a few days of spending time around the people that spend time around Jensen, he can tell it isn't as expensive as the one he's standing in, trying not to squirm and tug at the collar.
"You're new," Jared says to him.
"So are you. Tom Welling," the guy says with an outstretched hand, and Jared doesn't need to look down to meet his eyes. Something that rarely happens. "Security," he finishes.
"My very own superman," Jensen says, pausing in the path he's been pacing down the center of the house.
The sight of him makes Jared's breath catch in his lungs. The suit he's wearing is a cut he recognizes from one Jensen tried on yesterday, but the color is a surprise. A deep maroon that pulls out the pale color of Jensen's skin. His shirt is grey, tiny pinstripe that matches the pattern of Jared's suit. The shocked expression he's got on his face makes Jared want to shrink away, run to his bedroom--the one in Texas--and change back into his cut-off cargo shorts and favorite Flogging Molly t-shirt, wash all the crap out of his hair and quite possibly crawl under his bed for the next decade or so.
"You look…" Jensen trails off.
"Like an asshole. Worse than an asshole. Like a poser asshole." Jared's finger inches up to pull at his priest-neck collar and he forces it back down again, shoves his hands into pockets that weren't actually designed to be pockets.
"I was going for amazing, but I guess asshole will do." Jensen crosses the room to him, gives him a light, skimming touch along his lapels.
"Should have gotten better shoes," Jared says. Jensen's are black-on-black wingtips, shiny and clean enough that you could eat a sandwich off of them. On the flip-side, Jared's wearing his Doc's, the black finish worn off of the leather in all of the stress spots. Steve had done a last-minute alteration on the pants for him, hemmed them a couple inches higher than the way they'd come, called it purposefully punk and had been satisfied.
"C'mere," Jensen says, and takes something out of his pocket. He holds Jared's wrist. "I got this for you. Doesn't count as much now that I know you're wearing your boots…" Jensen's doing that mumbling thing he does when he's feeling awkward. He uncoils a leather cuff, black and studded with silver rivets. "Thought you might like to have something that was more like you underneath all the rest of it."
He snaps it into place around Jared's wrist and Jared struggles to swallow past the thickness in his throat. He thinks about what Chad said before, about how Jensen gives so much.
"Here," Jared says. He slips his silver ring off of his thumb and pushes it onto Jensen's. It's somewhat loose on him, catches on his knuckle however. Well enough to keep it secure.
Jensen chews on his bottom lip and spins it around on his thumb a couple of times, the same move that Jared has done for years. Jared hopes that it'll give him the same sort of luck.
"But you've worn this forever," Jensen says.
"Whatever. I've known you forever. It counts." It doesn't make a lot of sense, but Jensen gets it. Nods and gives the ring another spin.
"Now that you two are going steady, we might wanna make dust." Chad is done up like a blues brother, skinny tie and fedora and those ever-present sunglasses. Real fancy get-up for a guy who's just gonna sit in the car and drink the complimentary champagne.
The experience is strange. Borders on surreal. Theoretically, Jared knows that Jensen has a fanbase, and that fanbase gets bigger and bigger with each movie release. It's one thing to know about it and another thing to see it in person. There are red-velvet ropes and hoards of camera flashes, people calling out Jensen's name, trying to get his attention, get him to turn their way for a better picture. Jared stays out of frame, watches his best friend paste a smile on his face that's as much of an act as his character in the movie. Thin spun and fragile as glass.
Tom and Jared stay on the periphery. Tom is mostly window dressing, a technicality insisted upon by Mike.
"They're like carnival hawkers, only skeevier." Jared says to Tom, who's standing close to him in bodyguard stance, arms folded behind his back and his feet spread wide.
"Your first time, I take it?" Tom asks.
"Yeah," Jared says. "I had no idea that it would be this loud."
"You get used to it."
"Not the first time you've done this?"
"I've lost count," Tom tells him. "Jensen's an easy detail, though. Doesn't make any oddball demands, sticks to the schedule pretty much." He tenses, takes a half-step forward and relaxes a moment later. "And there he goes."
Jensen's crossing to the far side of the red carpet, wading into a crowd of people yelling his name, their arms reaching out to dangle movie posters, headshots and permanent markers in Jensen's face.
A surge of protectiveness plants itself in Jared's chest, and when Jensen joins them again, Jared walks closely beside him, a hand pressed to the small of Jensen's back.
"You good?" Jared asks. After a few steps, Jared decides it's not good enough, wraps his arm around Jensen's shoulders, puts his other hand over Jensen's heart. It's a compromise. If he could figure out a way to carry him without it being too weird, he probably would, take him through some back alley route to get him into the theater and out again.
Jensen smiles at him, the first real one Jared's seen out of him since this horse and pony show started.
The movie is fun, a borderline ridiculous thing about a spy gone rogue, follows the accepted formula and happily ticks off car chases and helicopter stunts and unlikely feats of physical prowess from its forty-something lead. The stuff that makes summer blockbusters delivered a couple of months early. Jared might be biased, but the seventeen minutes that Jensen's onscreen, playing the part of a brilliant scientist who's still bitter about getting kicked out of MIT for fighting, are definitely the best part.
As the credits roll and everyone in the theater is busy applauding and patting each other on their backs, Jared leans over to Jensen and whispers, "Eh. You were alright, I guess."
"Fucker," Jensen says, completing the circuit. "And before I start to pick apart every little thing I did, let's go get drunk on the studio's dime."
"Heya," Jared says, closing the door behind him. Jensen's knocked out on the couch in the guest house, sleeping off the champagne and bourbon from the night before, twisted sideways in a position that's going to hurt whenever he wakes up. He's still wearing his suit pants and the dress shirt is crumpled over the arm of the couch, his tie still somehow around his neck. One arm is flung up over his eyes, exposing the pale underside of his arm and the dark shock of hair there. His mouth is open slightly and his lips look so soft. Jared wants to touch them, press his thumb between them.
"Hey, you," Matt says. His voice is close and intimate through the phone and Jared's never felt farther away from the guy, can't bring himself to miss him. It's not like he's attached to him in any significant way. He's aware that Matt thinks of him as a fun night out and a warm mouth after that fun night out. Still doesn't believe it's right to string him along. Matt's good-looking, funny, a body so hard you could sharpen a knife on it. He won't be lonely for long. He asks how things are going, and Jared gives him the greeting card answer.
When he asks how long Jared is going to be out there, Jared pauses. He cradles the phone between his ear and shoulder, spins the leather bracelet on his wrist the same way he used to spin the ring. The silence stretches out.
"It's okay," Matt tells him, and there's no regret in it. Just facts. "You don't have to lie to me if you don't know the truth. It really is okay."
Jared ends the call a few minutes later. He knows the truth, feels it in his gut with every unintentional brush of Jensen's skin on his, each time their gazes snag and linger.
He checks in with Sophia next, spends a few minutes talking about everything and nothing. About the premiere and how he's gonna ship her some of this exfoliant that Steve gave to him the other day.
Back in the house, Jensen is starting to wake up, rubbing his eyes and stretching, pulling the loose tie from his neck with a few irritated tugs.
"I should go," Jared says. "Jensen's getting up soon, so."
Her sigh is soft, sanded down. "It's coming back, isn't it?"
Below, the tiny lake glitters, desert hills rising sharply away from its shiny surface. Jared stares at it until spotty after images of sunlight have burned into his sight. Small, scattered holes in his vision.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he says. It's a lie and they both know it. If he could tell her the truth he would tell her that it never really went away. He can't figure out why he doesn't want to say it, and not for the first time, he curses her ability to see through the fog and straight into the heart of the matter.
"You do, babe. Just. Be careful, okay? Be safe."
By the time Jared gets inside, figures out the coffee machine and makes himself a cup, Jensen has made it into an upright position and is blinking against the light like it offends him on a molecular level.
"How's that bourbon looking?" Jared asks and flops down on the other end of the couch.
"It looked a lot better last night than it does this morning." Jensen's voice is a rough rasp, pitched a little deeper with sleep and has no business being as sexy as it is. He shoves his feet under Jared's thigh and wriggles his toes and it hits Jared like a punch to the jaw that he didn't see coming. Jared wraps his hand around Jensen's ankle, fits his fingers to the familiar bony protrusions and Jensen hums, settles further down into the sofa cushions.
They stay that way for a while, Jensen slipping into an on-again, off-again doze and Jared silently replays the conversation with Matt, and then the conversation with Sophia, bites his thumbnail down to the quick as he does it. Eventually, Jensen extracts one of his feet and nudges Jared's shoulder with it.
"Stop it," Jensen says, cracking one eye open a sliver.
"Gross. Foot," Jared mutters, elbowing Jensen off of him.
Jensen snorts. "You love my foot." He falls over Jared's lap reaching for the cup of coffee Jared's been ignoring. Stays mostly on top of him as he takes a few lukewarm sips.
It's true. Jared does, and everything else attached to it.
"More sugar than you used to take," Jensen observes, swallowing down another gulp. Jared hardly notices, too caught up in the warmth of him pressed shoulder to thigh, the faint, worn down traces of his cologne left over from last night, the goddamn freckles that dot the shell of his ear. "You're going soft."
"You're going soft," Jared says, distracted with how his fingers are becoming numb under the weight of Jensen on his arm and even that feels good.
"My teeth feel like they're wearing sweaters," Jensen says, smacking his lips. He pats Jared's thigh, then levers up off of the couch and fuck, Jared really needs to get a handle on himself, because Jensen standing a few feet in front of him and stretching is doing some unfair things to Jared's good intentions.
Jensen pushes his arms above his head and his shirt rides up to show a toned lower stomach, just a tease of skin and a sandy trail of hair dropping down from his belly button. More of it visible as he twists into the stretch and his pants slide down just a fraction. Jared wants to wrap his hands around Jensen's middle, let his touch drop into the dip of Jensen's spine. Find out if his skin is as warm as it looks.
"Alright," Jensen says on the end of a yawn. "I'm gonna get cleaned up and then we're going out to breakfast." Jensen's busy picking up the strewn components of his clothes from the night before, looking the part of the drunken love interest in every rom-com Jared's ever had to sit through, rumpled pants and the crushed wad of his shirt, looping his tie around his wrist. He throws his shoes on top of everything, kicks the socks under the couch rather than toppling the careful balance in his arms, as if Jared wouldn't notice.
"I know a place. It's a little off the map. You'll like it."
"Please tell me you're gonna take a shower first," Jared begs. He's used to the post-alcoholic reek when the stuff starts pouring out of Jensen's pores. Still doesn't mean that anyone else should be subjected to it.
"Ten minutes," Jensen tells him, half out the door and hissing at the first touch of unfiltered sunshine, like he's going method for some vampire flick.
Jensen pauses, and there's a slight drop to his shoulders that Jared wishes he hadn't noticed. Wishes that he hadn't somehow caused, no matter how unintentional. It's the first time since Jared has been here that the shell has cracked a little, the first dark spot to block out the sunshine.
"I could wake him up if…" Jensen trails off, but Jared is already talking over him.
"Forget it. Force of habit, I guess. It's always better when I have you all to myself." It comes out before Jared can shut it down, twist it into something that's a little less true.
On the surface, the place Jensen takes him to looks like a restaurant his grandmother would like. Plain building on the outside, simple and boxy, the awning over the front door a different shade of green than the roof, and the roof a different shade of green than the vinyl siding. There's no outside seating and absolutely everywhere in this city has outside seating.
After days of Jensen taking him to a few high-class spots in town, Jared's sorta shocked by this place. The interior is almost as worn as the exterior, dated wood paneling and threadbare carpets. There are only a few tables occupied, the people there concentrating on their breakfasts.
The lady who comes up to greet them barely makes it to five feet tall, speaks with a southern twang that makes Jared miss home, stand up a little straighter and pay closer attention to his manners. Jensen introduces her as Maria, and there's true affection threaded through the way she clucks and fusses over Jensen, pinches his middle and tells him he's gotten skinny again, kindly gives him a rough time for staying away so long.
Something hits Jared then, a thing that he's probably known on an intellectual level, and is now starting to really understand. Jensen has a life out here. He has friends that Jared doesn't know, places that he likes to go that Jared has never stepped foot inside, a lady who reminds Jared of his mother who worries about him and thinks about him when he's been too long gone. There are so many things that Jared knows nothing about.
There are years and miles between them and all of these things have been wearing away at that thin thread between them. The thought is staggering, mournful, makes Jared stand a little closer to Jensen.
Maria leads them toward a table next to a large open window and Jensen sits with his back to one of those big stone walls with water continually running down it that always make Jared need to take a piss. By the time he gets back from the bathroom, Jensen's already ordered for both of them and there's a cup of coffee waiting for him.
Jared reaches for the sugar and Jensen stops him, says, "Already took care of it."
It's a little thing, the tiniest thing, but Jared feels the thread grow stronger.
Maria serves them herself, sets two heaping bowls of pasta down in front of them and Jensen's eyes roll back for a moment as he takes the first bite.
"Pasta? For breakfast?" Jared says. He picks at it with his fork, smells garlic and olive oil, comes across bits of scrambled eggs and nearly every vegetable he knows how to name.
"Not just pasta. It's pasta mama. This stuff kept me alive the first six months I was out here. Plus, it's the only surefire way to kick a hangover."
They shovel through their meal and Jared admits that it's one of the best things he's ever eaten. Full of fresh herbs and a little spicy, the vegetables in it crunchy and exactly the way that he likes them.
"How are you? Are you alright?" Jared asks. He's staring at Jensen as he says it, trying to pick up on any cues.
"I'm a lot better now," Jensen says, and it's so typical of him to hand Jared an answer that could be read in a few different ways.
"No, I mean. Are you really okay?"
"Busy today. I'll be in good shape after I've worked off this breakfast. We gotta get you some shorts for fuck's sake. Plus something else that I know I'm forgetting." He taps his finger to his mouth, waves when he realizes he's not gonna remember. "Anyway, early call time tomorrow, and I've got ten pages of dialogue to go through before I show up. It'll be pure luck if I memorize half of it before hitting the set. You're coming, by the way."
"Nah, man. I don't wanna get in the way. It's your work."
Jensen shrugs. "I don't know how long you're gonna be here, and there's no way I'm missing out on a whole day." He stands, shoves some folded money under his bowl and heads for the door, blowing a kiss in Maria's direction and a promise that he won't be such a stranger from here on out.
"Thanks, Jensen." Jared grabs his shoulder to stop him before Jensen can climb into the car.
"Don't mention it."
"No, really," Jared goes on, yanking Jensen in for a hug.
"Dude, it was just breakfast," Jensen says, muffled against Jared's shoulder.
"Not the breakfast. Thanks for that too, by the way, and yesterday, and the day before. And thanks for letting me spend the night, for handing me over a guest house that's almost the size of the one I grew up in."
"Why do you think I bought the place?" Jensen says, pulling back. "Besides. All of this. Everything I have doesn't mean anything to me unless I can give it to you."
The house is dark and Jared and Jensen muffle their giggling behind their hands as they stumble in through the back kitchen door. A creak sounds from above and that shuts them up quickly, makes them freeze and hold their breath. The last thing Jared wants is for one of his parents to come downstairs and smell them.
"We should have stopped drinking an hour ago," Jensen says. He grabs two glasses and fills them both up with water.
"We did," Jared points out. The universe is tilting to starboard and when he tries to focus on one spot it gets worse. He drains his glass and goes for a second.
"Then we should have stopped two hours ago." Jensen's face is flushed, covered with a thin layer of sweat that makes it shine. His eyes are glassy and wide and his lips are stained red from the slushy stuff they'd spent most of the night guzzling down. It had been dangerously sweet, liquor hidden under a taste like cherry lifesavers. Easy on the way down and Jared really doesn't want to find out how it might taste on the way back up again.
The staircase up to Jared's bedroom seems impossible, so they land at the kitchen table. It's dark, nothing but the dim kitchen light and they keep on chugging water until it turns into an uncomfortable slosh in Jared's stomach.
Jensen's fading some, blinks growing longer and he's swaying a bit in the chair, misses his mouth twice as he tries to drink his water and snorts laughter at himself.
They're closing in on their senior year, and tonight is the last big blowout under their belts before school starts again. The liquor has made Jared's lips numb and his tongue loose. It's really late and really early.
"What was that girl's name? Was she even from around here?"
"I dunno. Pretty sure that Chad imported some people for this one. Maybe her name was Mary. Marianne. Maribel? I think she's from state. Friend of a friend or something." Jared thinks about her, how she'd tasted like tequila and salt and how light she'd felt on his lap. The sure way she'd taken his wrist and guided his hand up under the hem her shirt. The lack of bra and the soft warmth of her skin. How none of it had felt right at all.
"Tell me you at least let her suck you off." Jensen presses his forehead to the table, rolls it around for a while.
Jared's spent the last couple of years convincing himself that a lie isn't really a lie. That a sin of omission isn't the sticking kind. Now, with the drunk wearing thin the truth comes very close to the surface. Right there. He's terrified. He's never been so scared of anything in his life.
"No," Jared says, "I didn't."
There's something in Jared's tone that catches Jensen, makes him sit up and peer at him. "Not really your thing." It's not a question. There's no accusation in Jensen's steady look. Nothing but earnest curiosity.
"Not my thing at all."
There are a lot of things Jared could do, and he's a breath away from making a joke out of it all, say something about how he's more into sobriety and not that big on bad decisions. It jams in his throat, doesn't make it past his teeth, because Jensen's still staring at him like he's willing to wait forever for an answer. And Jared's staring back, stuck on the one person who should know the truth. The one person who deserves it.
"Then what is?" Jensen asks.
Jared wants to say you. Only you. He wants to say a lot of stuff. He wants to tell Jensen that every time he sees him it feels like the best thing that's ever happened. To anyone. Anywhere. That it's not all fireworks and rainbows, but the lazy, slurred way Jensen says his name. It's Jensen's hand on the back of his neck to let him know that he's there. Every inside joke. Each stolen bite of food. It's the warm smell of him that Jared's never been able put his finger on, and it's the soft noises Jensen makes as he falls asleep. Those half-pronounced words that don't make any sense and will keep Jared up for an hour after Jensen's out cold trying to figure them out, insert meaning into places when his mind tells him there isn't any and his gut tells him there is.
He wants to tell Jensen that he loves him. Wants to say he's in love with him and he has been forever. At some point between limping around Jensen's backyard, watching him learn how to be Tiny Tim and now, sitting at the kitchen table, staring at Jensen with his face held up in his hands and waiting for the room to stop spinning, Jared started to fall. And he hasn't stopped yet.
"Just say it. It's okay." Jensen says. It's soft and gentle and Jared doesn't know what he's done in this life to get so lucky.
"I'm." Jared draws in a huge breath, lets it out nice and slow, forces himself to keep looking Jensen in the eye. "I'm gay. I've known it for a while and it's not gonna change anything and if you wanna leave and never see me again, I totally get it." This is a scene he's played out in his head a hundred times, his least favorite daydream, like a choose your own adventure book except the ending is left up to someone else entirely.
In a perfect world, Jared would tell Jensen this and Jensen would slide into his lap and kiss him breathless. The happily ever after ending that Jared would choose for himself. The world isn't perfect.
"I know. This isn't news."
"How?" Jared asks.
"I've known you my whole life, Jared." Jensen says it so simply and plain, like it explains everything. "I'm glad you finally told me. I just….I can't figure out why it took you so long."
"You're okay with it?" All the drunk has been knocked out of him. Jensen seems like he's still in the thick of it, slurring his words. He keeps looking Jared in the eye though, so that's something.
"Fuck, man. You're still you, and you're the only one that I have."
Jared sinks his head down to the table again, perspective all skewed now, with Jensen's fingers in the foreground and his face a blurry, indistinct shape behind it. Jared pushes his hand across the table, touches their fingertips together. They stay that way for the longest time.
There are lecture notes Jared's classmates have emailed him that he needs to weed through, messages from professors, and he's still gotta keep up with his internship applications. Most of the day has been wasted nursing his nagging hangover, staying out of the way as a woman from some lifestyle magazine interviewed Jensen for a spread about his house.
The night is clear, and a cool breeze has blown off the heat of the day. The house is too close to the city for stars, but the nearby glow of it has turned the sky faintly purple, pretty in its own right. It would be criminal to stay cooped up in the guest house.
Jensen's at a high top table on the patio. His white t-shirt stretches across his chest and around his arms, and Jared recognizes the soft-looking blue jeans from back home, streaky blue paint stains on the thighs from when they'd painted his bedroom the summer before he left for college and Jensen left for here. His bare feet are propped on the rung of the chair, one crossed atop the other and he's concentrating on the pages laid out on the table, absently chewing on the cap of his pen.
The night is warm and the breeze keeps the bugs away. A strong, not-unpleasant smell of citronella comes from the smoky torches that are scattered here and there. For once, the big house is quiet, only a faint light coming from a lamp in an interior room.
Laptop held across his chest like a shield, Jared says, "I can go somewhere else if you need to be alone."
"No. It's fine," Jensen tells him, pushes the chair across from him with his foot and turns back to his script.
A line has formed in the center of Jensen's brows and he keeps mouthing the words on the paper, underlining, scribbling stuff down here and there. Jared can't concentrate. His notes aren't sinking in and he reads the same email four times and still has no idea what it's about. His attention keeps turning toward Jensen, lingering over dog-eared daydreams. Half-baked scenarios where things could be like this forever. Where Jensen would never be too far away and they could spend every night this way. Close and quiet.
A couple of hours slip past while Jared spins tires on a cover letter, stares blankly into space and a little less blankly at Jensen. The third time he catches Jensen staring into the same spot of nothing, he says, "We should go to sleep. I'm totally pointless right now, and you gotta look like a movie star in the morning."
Jensen flips the script closed, rubs at his eyes, stands and follows Jared as he heads into the guest house. Jared doesn't ask why and Jensen doesn't offer an explanation, just leaves his script on the kitchen counter and pulls his shirt off as he disappears into the other bedroom.
Jared keeps his door open, dozes off to the sounds of Jensen across the hall. The creak of bedsprings, the rustle of blankets being arranged and rearranged. Jensen's muffled sniffling and the way he keeps clearing his throat. He's nearly out when he hears a soft footfall, the unmistakable pop of Jensen cracking his knuckles.
A flash of cool air hits Jared's bare back as Jensen lifts the blankets. The bed dips and then Jared's dealing with Jensen's cold feet against his ankles, the warmth of Jensen's spine pressed into his back.
"Yeah. That mattress is well and truly fucked. Gotta remember to tell Chad to go out and get a new one," Jensen mutters. "You okay?"
Jared shifts closer to the wall, trying to give Jensen more room, and Jensen slides further into the middle of the bed, stays backed up against him.
"Yeah," Jared answers. He's immediately too hot, jammed between the wall and Jensen. The skin-on-skin feel of Jensen's body is making Jared's heartbeat sing and his dick push sticky at his boxers. If there's a way to make himself quit sweating, he needs to figure it out real quick before his clammy skin has a shot at driving Jensen away.
"You're a furnace," Jensen says, but he doesn't move, rather kicks at the covers until they're tangled around their legs.
"Good thing, since your feet are ice cubes," Jared tells him, and as Jensen pulls them out from under Jared's legs, he goes on, "I didn't say you should move them. Put 'em back."
Jensen makes a soft, happy sound, and it takes a while for Jared to fall asleep again, too busy counting Jensen's breaths, focused on the slow expansion of Jensen's ribs along his back, all those tiny sounds he makes.
Jared cracks an eye open. Something heavy is on his shoulder and his arm is dead weight from about the elbow down. He tries to wiggle the fingers of his left hand and can't.
Chad is stomping down the hallway, still hollering. "Hey, get your lazy, gay ass up. I thought maybe Jensen went for a run, but he's not answering his phone. Have you seen him? Christ, no one around here ever answers--" He stops in the doorway, does a double take. "Oh." Chad frowns, blinks, cocks his head to the side. "Oh."
"You could say that I've seen him, yeah," Jared says, trying to lever his arm out from underneath Jensen's shoulders.
Jensen growls, burrows into Jared's chest, the prickle of his stubble all scratchy and wonderful. He strengthens the grip he has on Jared's hip. His feet aren't cold anymore.
"Fuck," Jensen says, as he peels his face off of Jared's skin. "Hi. Good morning." He pats Jared's cheek before he rolls over and pushes himself into a sitting position.
Chad, who has found an interesting square foot of ceiling to examine, says, "Get up, movie star. This train leaves the station in twenty."
"Fuck," Jensen repeats, gets up and shoves past Chad. A second later, the bathroom door slams closed and the shower starts.
"You can use one of the bathrooms in the other house. There's like, four to choose from," Chad says.
"Dude. I'm gonna use your toothbrush," Jensen yells from the shower.
"Whatever," Jared yells back as he makes it to his feet and tries to shake the blood back into his hand. The pins and needles are legendary.
Chad glances between the closed bathroom door and Jared. "We're gonna have to talk about this later, aren't we?"
"What?" Jared spits out. "No."
"Goddamn it," Chad says as he shoves a hand into his hair, "we are."
"Because you said that we won't have to. It's what everyone says when they actually have something to talk about. Jesus. It's textbook. "
The sun is barely peeking out over the tops of the hills as they pass through security at the studio. They'd been quiet on the ride in, the three of them caffeinating themselves through the painfully early call time. The set is like an ant farm, everyone in a rush to get somewhere else, and Jared counts three golf carts and two Segways before Chad parks the car.
Mike is dashing over to them as they climb out, half of his face hidden behind sunglasses that aren't strictly necessary yet. He shoves a pen and some papers under Jensen's nose and Jensen signs them without bothering to read them.
"Have you seen the dailies from the end of last week?" Mike asks. He flips a couple of pages and points to another spot for Jensen to sign, then punches Jared in the arm. "Your boy is cracking it wide open. Buzz around town is saying this flick is Brokeback for the new decade."
"Delusions of grandeur, Mike," Jensen corrects him. "Right now it feels more like soft-core porn. Soft-core firefighter porn."
"And when you're accepting an Oscar for it, don't forget who got you there," Mike says as he walks away with a wave.
Jensen's carted off to wardrobe and makeup. Chad holds back so Jared does as well, not sure how any of this is supposed to work, what's off-limits, where he's allowed to go.
"So. This morning." Chad props himself up against the car, crosses his ankles and lights up a cigarette, like he's settling in for the long haul.
"That was nothing," Jared says. He messes with the leather bracelet, spins it twice. The dent on his thumb from his silver ring is still there, a band of skin more pale than the rest of his hand from years and years of never taking it off.
"Oh, yeah, sure it was." Chad takes a drag like punctuation, exhales through what he says next. "Because it really looked like a big pile of nothing, and like nothing spent the whole night drooling on you."
Jared doesn't reply, hoping that Chad will get bored and drop it. Last night is already beginning to take on an unreal quality in his head. A one hit wonder. A memory that he'll dig up and pick apart when he's back home again, shuttered away in a room that doesn't have Jensen in it, when the day or night gets too long or when a very particular brand of homesickness takes over.
"It's just...you're so gone for him. Always have been," Chad says, and Jared doesn't like the sympathetic tone in his voice, the gentle way he says it.
"No I'm not," Jared says. It's a reflex, a well-aimed hammer-tap to a knee.
"You're also a shit actor. Can't tell a lie, not if your skinny ass depended on it. You're crazy about him." Chad shrugs. "I can see it. Jensen can see it. Might as well hang a sign around your neck, all lit up with one of those little battery pack things you can keep hidden in your pocket."
"Wait a minute," Jared says, a shock of ice water in his veins. "Has he said anything?"
"Naw, dude. He doesn't have to. Y'know how acting coaches are always going on about how actors are students of the human condition?" Chad makes a stabbing motion toward Jared with his cigarette. "Well, Jensen's a damn good actor, and you're his favorite human, so."
"That doesn't mean…" Jared starts before he realizes he doesn't know how to finish. There are question marks stamped all over this one. He likes concrete facts, problems with definite solutions. If he was into the hypothetical, he would have studied particle physics or something.
"It means that the nothing from last night probably isn't nothing." Chad's eyes lose their focus, and he breathes in deep through his nose. "Wait a second. Is that bacon?"
"Um, I think so?"
"Since we're getting nowhere, we might as well not do it on an empty stomach."
Chad pulls him along, follows his nose to the craft services tent, and that's where Jensen finds them a while later, each plowing past their second plate of food. He looks like he's actually walked through a fire. His face is filthy, his hair is tousled and the white undershirt he's wearing looks like it's been painted on him like a second skin. It's singed black in spots, has burn holes along the bottom hem. The lines of his toned chest are obvious and so are the muscles in his stomach.
"Glad I didn't have that extra donut the other day," Jensen says, a mild embarrassment coloring his cheeks under all the soot and manufactured sweat. The muck covering his face makes his lips that much more pink, his bright eyes even more green, and Jared's mouth dries up so fast he has trouble swallowing his last bite.
"Don't breathe too deep. That shirt might split wide open," Jared warns him.
Jensen pulls up a chair, turns it around to straddle it backward, picks through the fruit salad on Jared's plate and steals all of the citrus. Around them, conversations have turned quieter, people obviously not looking at them. Jensen doesn't seem to notice.
"The filming schedule got switched. Found out when I went in for wardrobe. It explains this." Jensen makes an all-encompassing motion.
"So those lines you memorized last night..." Jared says, leaving it open.
"I'll probably forget every single one of them before I actually have to use them. No big deal. Happens all the time."
"How about the stuff for today?" Jared asks.
Jensen pulls out some folded papers from his back pocket, touches them to his temple and won't quite meet Jared's eyes. "This scene isn't much of a speakie." He starts to dig his fingers into his hair, stops when he remembers how much work someone has put into it. "Talk about awkward."
Before Jared can ask why, a young man comes up to them, a headset looped around his neck. He clears his throat, has a distinct deer in the headlights look about him. Jared recognizes starstruck when he sees it. "Uh, Mr. Ackles?"
"Reggie," Jensen says as he stands. "Call me Jensen. Please. Mr. Ackles is my grandpa." He takes a few steps then spins around, slipping the silver ring from his thumb. "Almost forgot. I couldn't figure out a way to keep it on without the continuity department having my hide. This doesn't mean you're keeping it," he goes on, then quieter, "Funny how quickly you get used to something."
Being Jensen's guest on set earns Jared a lot of perks. The chair he's sitting in has Jensen's name on it, and so far assistants have asked him a half a dozen times if he needs anything to drink or eat, if he's comfortable, whether or not he needs a jacket. It's fascinating, watching everything that goes into shooting a scene that will take up maybe five or ten minutes onscreen. Electricians and cameramen are dodging each other and it would appear that there's someone whose job is to hold onto the director's binder and his coffee. To top it off, there's a whole hell of a lot of waiting around.
Everything's a lot smaller than Jared thought it would be, the soundstage designed to be built and broken down, turned into something else quickly and efficiently. Right now, it's two walls constructed to look like interior of a firehouse, a fire truck sitting in the center of it.
Jensen's standing on the stage near his co-star, a brick house of a man with a familiar face even though Jared can't put a finger on his name. It's not unusual. He doesn't have time to watch a lot of television, can't remember seeing a movie recently unless Jensen was in it. The two of them are talking with the director, and there is a swarm of lighting engineers and people doing last-minute touch-ups on makeup, photographers everywhere taking pictures of everything.
"Hey." Another assistant comes up to him. "You wanna plug in to the audio? They're miked, so you'll be able to hear better."
Jared follows the guy to the soundboard, accepts the headphones. A jumble of voices is piped into his ears, and he picks out Jensen's from the jump, even though it's only a low sound of agreement.
Jensen glances toward his chair, frowns slightly when he finds it empty, starts to scan the crew and Jared resists the impulse to wave his arms like some sorta proud soccer mom. The moment he sees Jared, the worried shape of his mouth melts into a grin.
"There you are," Jensen whispers, and it's transmitted directly into Jared's ears, strangely close for all the distance between them.
Do good, Jared mouths, since the connection only works one way, and Jensen offers up a small shrug before turning back to his castmate.
This isn't the first time Jensen's played a gay character. He went through a pretty-boy phase that was very well-documented at the time, and a couple of years ago, he played the flamboyant friend to the rom-com's heroine. The comic relief. His character had been flirty, egomaniacal, and Jared had gone to see the movie three times for Jensen's eyeliner and blue painted fingernails alone, but his sexuality had been a theoretical thing, something that happened off screen.
There's nothing theoretical about what's happening onstage right now. The dialogue is bitten-off, snappy, and Jared can't pay attention to what's being said, is too wrapped up in how Jensen's saying it. Every trace of the lazy Texas accent is gone, replaced by something more Southie, deeper vowels and non-existent r-sounds. His voice is quietly intense, full of regret and anger in equal doses.
He's aged ten years in seconds. It starts with the makeup but doesn't end there. It's in the exhausted slump of his shoulders and the drawn down shape of his mouth, the way every step he takes toward his co-star is like walking through quicksand. It's in the split-second hesitation when he reaches out to wrap his fingers in his costar's shirt that says he's been through this before and it's never ended well.
Jared realizes he's grinding his teeth, has to forcibly relax his jaw as Jensen pulls the guy in and the tension ratchets up to the breaking point. Jensen's trapped against the firetruck and the guy is between his legs, face buried in his neck. The sounds Jensen is making are so real, just like the clutch of his fingers into the meat of the guy's shoulders, the slow roll of their hips together. Jared's chest is burning and it sorta seems like he's been swallowing down battery acid, and his jealousy is as real and unfounded as the monster he was sure was living under his bed when he was five.
A camera slides in on silent tracks, blocks Jared's view and gives him the disconnect he needs to get his head on straight. Jensen is still panting in his ears, dialogue broken and stilted, but now Jared has to look at a nearby monitor to see what's happening. Only then can he appreciate what Jensen's really doing, his awareness of the cameras surrounding him, his decision to angle his head in a very specific direction so that his face is mostly hidden in shadows. Turns himself featureless, an anonymous body to rub up against, a dirty little secret.
The director hollers the cut and calls for a reset, dashes over to his actors and claps them both on the back. "You didn't go in for the kiss," he says, flipping through his binder, "good decision. Better if it happens later. You got ten minutes then we'll hit it from the other side."
Jensen rifles around in a basket of candy beside a light stand, pops a piece of gum in his mouth and approaches Jared in a cloud of spearmint.
"That was--" Jared starts, looping the headset around his neck.
"Awkward as fuck," Jensen finishes for him.
"I was gonna go for hot, but if you wanna go with awkward, then okay." Jared's face feels flushed, all the way to the tips of his ears. "Still hot, though."
"We'll see if you're still saying that after watching it all go down a dozen more times," Jensen points out.
Self-deprecation is one of Jensen's defense mechanisms. Willfully ignoring the fact that he wants to yank Jensen out of here and get him horizontal on the nearest available surface is one of Jared's. He lets them both slide.