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Now_divider

“How do you sit in a dress like that?” Jared asks, leaning over to dip his spoon into Gen’s pint of Chunky Monkey. She half-heartedly smacks him on the back of the hand with her own spoon.

“It’s not about sitting, Jay. It’s about Balenciaga.”

“I’m going to pretend I know what that means and nod accordingly.”

Gen snorts a little and flops her pajama-clad legs over Jared’s lap where they are resting on the couch watching the Academy Awards. She digs into her ice cream, but almost spits it out when Julia Roberts comes on screen wearing what looks like a waiter’s outfit.

“Did Wolfgang Puck ask her to help cater this year?”

“Don’t insult caterers. We wouldn’t pay our rent half the time if we didn’t dress just like that on most weekends,” Jared says. Gen rolls her eyes but nods begrudgingly, digging her toes into his belly.

Life in Los Angeles isn’t the easiest, no matter what the fancy-dressed people parading across their television screen would have them believe. Gen’s an aspiring screenwriter waiting on her big break and Jared…well, Jared sells muffins and House Blend at seven in the morning five days a week. When he moved to LA from Texas, it was ostensibly to attempt a career as a comic book artist, but his crippling insecurity quickly overwhelmed that desire. He’s been floundering ever since, grateful that he found such an amazing friend and roommate in the woman who used to sit in the corner of the coffee shop and scribble long-hand in a notebook covered in purple plastic flower stickers.

“Now, that is a hot guy,” Gen says with a low whistle, her observation pulling Jared out of his reverie.

Jared’s spoon is halfway in his mouth before he sees who is on the screen and nearly chokes on his Cherry Garcia.

“And here we have Jensen Ackles and the ever lovely Danneel Harris,” Ryan Seacrest is announcing, and Jared’s heart is beating so fast and loud that he almost doesn’t hear the words.

“You’re such a charmer, Ryan,” Danneel replies, batting him flirtatiously on the forearm. She’s wearing green and blue and has what appear to be plumes shooting up from her shoulder blades.

“She looks like a peacock,” Jared says absently through his haze.

“I know. It’s fab,” Gen replies breathlessly, kicking her feet for good measure.

“Tell us what’s up for you next, Jensen,” Ryan asks. Jensen grins and Jared wonders how it’s possible to still feel exactly like this every time he sees that smile.

“Well, Ryan, as you know, Misha Collins and I have been dancing around doing a project together for a while. Luckily, there seems to be a script that he’s interested in now and we’re in talks. Stay tuned.”

Jensen’s eyes dance and for a moment you can almost believe that he is happy to be talking to Seacrest while the blazing LA sun shines down onto his immaculately-styled face.

“He always had those little crinkle things around his eyes, even when he was young. He said they gave him character.”

“Are you reading Tiger Beat again, Jay?” Gen teases, and Jared realizes he said that out loud instead of musing pathetically in his head.

Jared blushes to the roots of his messy bangs, but he still can’t tear his eyes away from where Jensen is laughing happily on the TV screen.

“Wait.” Gen pauses, slowly sitting up and putting her ice cream carton on the coffee table. “Are you saying that you knew Jensen Ackles when he was young?”

“Um,” Jared says, full of eloquence as usual.

“Jared! Tell me!” Gen near shrieks, hitting him on the shoulder. The girl is tiny but strong and Jared rubs his shoulder with an “Ow!”

Knowing his best friend is like a dog with a bone when she wants something, he just shrugs helplessly and turns to face her.

“Where do I begin?”

 

Then_divider

 

The sign-up sheet is there right next to the door to Ms. Tapping’s office attached to the school auditorium. There’s a small group milling around, mostly the usual drama crowd like Julie and Cindy and Jake, and Jared waits until they clear out before walking slowly over to it.

He doesn’t know quite what he’s doing there. It’s not like he’s going to sign up to audition – who the hell is going to cast a chubby sophomore with lame hair and a heavy drawl who can’t go more than two feet without tripping over his shoelaces?

No, Jared’s not going to sign up. But he knows even before he reaches it that he’s going to be looking for another name scribbled there.

Jensen Ackles

It’s not there, and Jared feels an inexplicable sadness. He knows Jensen – senior class president, soccer team captain, and yearbook photographer—is super busy, but he’s also been the star of the school play three years running. Last year, they had even done a musical, and seeing Jensen twirling Danay Garcia around the stage while belting out “Tonight” was the big gay epiphany of Jared’s sixteen years of life.

“Romeo and Juliet. Such a cliché, right?”

Jared gasps at the sound of that voice, and spins around just fast enough to practically land in the arms of Jensen Ackles himself.

“Whoa there, kiddo. Strong feelings about Shakespeare, huh?” Jensen says teasingly, helping Jared right himself.

Jared, embarrassed to the core of his being, and strangely aroused from whatever aftershave Jensen seems to be using, pushes himself back into the wall behind him, effectively blocking the sign-up sheet.

Jensen eyebrows go up a bit when Jared doesn’t respond, but his shoulders tilt up in a minute shrug as he points a pen at the wall. “You signing up this year?”

“What? Me? Oh god, no, what no,” Jared replies, too flabbergasted at the idea of it that he forgets he’s supposed to be too shell-shocked to speak. Not that what comes out of his mouth is anything to write home about.

“Not a R & J fan, huh? Ms. Tapping promised me leather jackets instead of tights though, so I’m going to hold her to it.”

Jared can almost feel a trickle of drool at the corner of his mouth at the sudden picture in his head.

“So…” Jensen trails off, nodding his head again.

Jared continues to stare at him.

“Um, would you mind moving so I can sign up? I have Bio in a few minutes and Beaver’s already riding my ass this semester.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I just, I’ll move,” Jared mumbles, torn between mortification at once again messing up in front of his crush and instantly filing “Jensen ass riding” into his mental spank bank for later.

Jensen just chuckles, moving in to sign his name on the sheet taped to the wall.

Jared is staring at his back, unsure whether making an escape now would be more or less painful, when the scourge that is Chad Michael Murray bodily slams into him hard enough to knock Jared to the floor.

“What the—“ Jensen says, spinning around and looking at them in confusion.

“What’cha doing?” Chad says mockingly, his face twisted. “Think they’re gonna cast you as Fats-eo? Or maybe you want to be Juliet?”

Jared, overwhelmed and attempting to keep himself from crying, shields himself so he can’t see the way Jensen is looking at him and seeing how pitiful he is. He scrambles up, stumbling once just to make his day even worse, and takes off running as fast as he can down the hallway.

 

Now_divider

Jared’s cellphone vibrates in the pocket of his apron just as he’s finishing up his shift. He ignores it as he continues wiping down the counter but when it vibrates for a third time in a row, he checks his messages.

come home now!!! stuff jared!!!! and things!!!!

“You’re going to run out of exclamation marks there, Gen,” Jared says under his breath, chuckling to himself. He drops the phone into the back pocket of his jeans and pulls off the apron. He waves to his manager Loretta and heads out to his bike to start the fifteen minute ride home.

He’s barely inside the door before Gen is literally jumping into his arms and clutching him like a tree sloth while squealing in his ear.

“Volume, woman,” he huffs, walking stiffly over to the couch, on which he unceremoniously dumps her.

She huffs and rolls off, deciding to lie on the floor and make carpet snow angels instead.

“Are you drunk? You’re drunk.”

She jumps up and starts dancing around the room. Jared goes over and grabs her before she can start doing cartwheels around their living room.

“Will you tell me what’s going on before I have the guys in white come drag you to Promises Malibu?”

She’s practically vibrating with excitement, and Jared can’t help but laugh. He’s never seen Gen like this before, and he’s hoping that it’s something good.

“I sold my script!” she finally bursts out, continuing to shimmy in his hold until he releases her and she glomps him bodily again.

He pulls her into a real hug them, jumping up and down with her for a few minutes for good measure. Finally, exhausted, she flops down onto the couch, dragging him with her.

“Now give me details,” he insists.

“Queen of Hell Productions optioned my script and is going to make it into an actual movie!”

“That name sounds ominous. “

“Hyperbole, Jared,” Gen replies, waving her hands in the air dismissively. “And even better, they already have a director interested.”

“Oh? Who?”

Gen takes in a deep breath for what Jared knows is supposed to be a dramatic pause, but he pokes her in the ribs until she blows it out and swats his hands away.

“It’s Misha Collins, goddammit. You ruined my dramatic pause!”

“You ruined your own dramatic pause when you announced it was going to be dramatic.”

She reaches over to swat him again, but he manages to duck this time.

“Misha Collins, Jay. Misha fucking Collins is going to direct my script. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.”

“I’m so happy for you, Gen. I really am,” Jared replies, meaning every word. She’s been struggling for years and is a great writer – she deserves this chance, especially with such a great creative team.

“Jared, you know what this means though, right?”

Jared stares at her blankly.

“Remember who said they were working on their next project with Misha Collins?”

Oh, God.

“Dude, Jensen Ackles is probably starring in my movie!”

Gen’s up on her feet and dancing around the living room again, and all Jared can do is sit there frozen.

After a minute, while realizing that Jared is not dancing with her, Gen turns back and drops right down in front of him on the carpet. She leans forward and puts both her palms on his knees and—uh-oh—he knows that expression.

“I’m going to get you a job working on the movie.”

“What? No, are you crazy?”

“I’m crazy all right, but you’ll thank me for it later.”

“Gen—“

“Shush! “ she says, putting her hand over his mouth. “All you have to do is think about what you’re going to say when you see him again.”

He licks her palm and she squeals and sits back.

“This is such a bad idea,” he says, with a sigh.

==

Jared rarely sketches himself.

Part of it is the fact that he has always liked to look out at the world. He’s an observer, both in the grand scheme of things and in the miniature. It’s why he likes the comics, since there is an entire universe waiting to spring from his fingertips. The pathos is in the details.

But the other part of it, the deeper part that makes Jared ashamed to admit, is that he doesn’t like to think of all the things that makes him undesirable.

He sketches himself now, in his room, in the quiet of the night. Gen had gone to bed hours before, passed out from the excitement of her impending success and the four glasses of celebratory wine that followed.

Jared’s scheduled to be at work in less than five hours, but sleep is elusive, so he does what he always does in times like this, and draws.

The figure in the sketch is a boy. Baby fat softens the planes of his cheekbones, and shaggy, dull brown hair hangs limp over his high forehead. His rounded shoulders are hunched, his posture that of someone used to hiding inside of himself.

His eyes, tilted almond above a sharp slash of nose, are wary. His expression is much too wise for his age, while at the same time aching for connection.

Jared’s hand stops abruptly, the sound of lead scratching to a halt loud in the silence. He drops the pencil and brushes a hand over the lone figure on the stark white background. His thumb smears those eyes away, taking with it that gaze and everything inside of it.

Jared knows it wasn’t just the appearance that made the boy like that. It wasn’t the bad haircut or rounded belly, the reddened skin or awkward gait.

No, beyond everything that led to the shoves into lockers was the fact that the boy – that Jared-- thought that he deserved it.

He picks up the pencil then, and opens a new page.

White. A new beginning.

He draws again, the boy now a man. The roundness melts into sharp angles, the shoulders roll back into proud determination. The hair floats in the wind as he flies, graceful and with purpose.

Jared pretends he doesn’t know what he’s flying towards, but Jensen Ackles’ smile is the only thing he sees when sleep finally takes him.

 

Then_divider

Jared tries not to get nervous when Mr. Beaver asks him to meet him in his office later that day. He’s doing well in AP Bio, or at least thinks he is. Jared knows that his parents expect him to get into a good college and work towards a “real career” like his med school-attending big brother. It’s not like drawing is going to get him anywhere in life, no matter how good he is at it.

He steadies himself before knocking on Mr. Beaver’s door, then starts inside when he hears a gruff “Come in!” Mr. Beaver is sitting at his desk, glasses balanced on the tip of his nose as he wipes a hand over his balding head.

“Hello, Mr. Beaver. You wanted to see me?” Jared says with his most polite drawl, still standing in the doorway and waiting for instruction.

“Come on in here, boy,” Mr. Beaver insists, and Jared steps forward. He notices with a start that Ms. Tapping, the drama teacher, is standing off to the side.

“Oh, hello, Ms. Tapping. How are you this afternoon?”

Ms. Tapping chuckles good-naturedly. Her long chestnut hair is pulled up into a messy bun and she’s wearing what appears to be a lemon-colored caftan. Jared’s always been a little intimidated by her, mostly because she takes up space wherever she is, and everyone adores her for it.

“Well, aren’t you just the cutest thing. I’m very well, Jared, thank you.”

Jared blushes, but just nods awkwardly. He doesn’t know exactly what this whole thing is about, since he doesn’t have a class with Ms. Tapping and both teachers are looking at him like they know something he doesn’t.

Mr. Beaver clears his throat and motions towards the side of the room. “Why don’t you take a seat next to Jensen and we’ll start.”

Jensen?

Jared spins around fast, and does indeed see Jensen Ackles sitting on a chair against the wall. Jensen, for the first time in Jared’s recollection, actually looks embarrassed.

“J-Jensen, hi,” Jared stutters out, still dumbly standing in the middle of the room.

“Hey,” Jensen replies with a little wave. He’s ducking his head and slumped down in the seat, and Jared wonders once again just why he’s here.

“Go on, sit. Jensen won’t bite you,” Mr. Beaver prompts again, and if Jared could have commanded the ground to open up and swallow him whole at that moment, he would have. Instead, he heads over and slumps down into the seat next to Jensen, clutching his messenger bag protectively to his chest.

Ms. Tapping smiles broadly, dimples popping in her cheeks. That reminds Jared of his Mama, and it releases some of the tension built up in Jared from sitting next to Jensen Ackles in front of two of their teachers for some unknown reason.

Ms. Tapping starts talking, her hands waving in that utterly theatrical way of hers. “Now, Jared, thank you so much for stopping by today. Jim here—“ Mr. Beaver coughs from behind his desk. “—I mean, Mr. Beaver has been gracious enough to suggest that you might be able to help up out with a tiny little problem we might be having.”

Jared sneaks a peek over at Jensen, whose cheeks are flushed bright pink.

“Problem, Ms. Tapping?”

“Just a tiny one, nothing really,” Ms. Tapping insists, nose scrunching up as she smiles.

“What’s she’s trying to say is that Jensen here is on the verge of failing my Biology class and I won’t let him participate in the school play unless he gets his grades up.” Mr. Beaver’s voice is as no-nonsense as usual, and Jared can practically feel the shame radiating from the chair next to him.

“But he’s my Romeo, Jimmy!” Ms. Tapping exclaims, but Mr. Beaver just rolls his eyes. Jared almost lets out a giggle, but catches himself just in time. He sneaks a glance over at Jensen, and knows it’s a good call – the boy already looks mortified.

“What she’s trying to ask, Jared, is if you would be willing to tutor Jensen here so he can get his grade up and parade around in tights—“

“Leather,” Ms. Tapping and Jensen say in unison.

“Or leather,” Mr. Beaver revises.

“You want me?” Jared asks, dumbfounded by the request, even as he’s struck by that damn Jensen-in-leather image again.

“Only if you want to, son,” Mr. Beaver amends. “You’re the best student I have in the AP class, and I’m sure Mr. Ackles here could use some of that knowledge in his noggin.”

“Oh, please, Jared. Won’t you help a poor drama teacher out?” Ms. Tapping asks, and Jared can practically see her batting her eyelashes. He feels suddenly like he’s in a Tennessee Williams play.

“Yeah, please, Jared.”

Jared can’t help a little gasp – a tiny one, he swears-- when he hears those words in that low voice. He turns and looks at Jensen, helpless. As if there is any way at all he can refuse, even if he wants to for his own self-preservation.

Jared swallows hard, already regretting the excited butterflies in his stomach.

“When do we start?”

 

Now_divider

Pre-production is scheduled to last four months. It’s not a whole lot of time, but Jared knows that dedicating himself to his plan is the only way this thing is going to work. And if this thing does not work, then he knows there is no way he’s going to be able to face the Mr. Movie Star Jensen Ackles.

“You did what?” Gen asks him, that first day he comes home sweaty and aching from the boxing gym.

“I joined a gym. With boxers. The rough-looking kind that will whip me into shape in four months.” Jared tries to leave it at that, but Gen throws her tiny shape in front of him to block his path into the bathroom.

“Four months till what…” Her expression changes as it dawns on her. “Oh, Jay. You don’t need to do this. You’re fine the way you are.”

He puts his hands on her shoulders and moves her bodily out of his way. “This was your idea in the first place, you meddling leprechaun, so you don’t get to tell me how to prepare for it.”

She doesn’t follow him, but when he looks back at her, her face is sad. It makes something twist in his stomach, but he knows this is the right thing to do. The only thing to do.

“I just want to be a better version of me, okay?” He tries to modulate his voice, but he knows there is still the echo of pleading in it.

She smiles ruefully, and Jared knows that her best friend-spidey-senses are tingling enough to know that he needs her support. “Okay. But I get to pick out new jeans. None of that baggy-assed stuff you like so much.”

“Will I be able to breathe in the ones you pick out?”

“Does it matter, if your ass looks hot?”

Jared laughs, hoping that the relief and gratitude shines through his eyes. “I suppose not.”

==

Jared can’t pretend to himself that the real reason he didn’t join Pileggi Gym was because it was the cheapest option within a five miles radius. It’s not like working at Devine Creations serving low-fat bran muffins actually pays that much, and so far the comic thing has been a huge bust. But Pileggi Gym was affordable when Jared cut out all money usually spent on his social life (consisting mainly of tickets to see various Marvel movies and anything Jensen Ackles stars in).

The only problem is that it is full of tattooed convict types whose main source of exercise seems to be punching each other in the face. Fully protected, of course, but the first time he walks in and sees a burly guy named Ty knock some poor schmuck on his ass, Jared almost runs for the Hollywood Hills and never comes back.

Thankfully—or scarily, depending on how one looks at it—the owner Mitch takes a shine to Jared and his quest for bodily revision. Or, as Mitch calls it “turning this hen into a cock.” Jared is terrified at first that this would involve some sort of sordid tattooed gang-bang, but Mitch and Ty just chuckle and pat Jared on his admittedly-scrawny wannabe-bicep. If the pat is strong enough to knock Jared three steps forward, well, no one needs to mention it.

Jared starts going religiously, heading to the gym every day at three after getting off his shift. Mitch, Ty, and Matt – who turn out to be employees of the gym – are almost always there, and between the three of them, they start whipping Jared into literal shape.

The first time he spars with Matt is embarrassing. He’s smaller – and prettier – than the other guys at the gym, but his arms are bigger than Jared’s head and he’s quick and graceful on his feet. He knocks Jared down in about forty-five seconds, and Jared just lays there on the mat as half the gym laughs hysterically at him.

Normally, Jared would be so embarrassed by a spectacle like that, but the fact that the setting and company is so different manages to turn the humiliation into determination. Jared’s not sure who he’s proving wrong any more – the guys, Jensen, himself -- but every day that he comes and gets knocked down makes it a little easier to get back up the next.

It’s three months and ten days into his new regimen that he pulls back his fist and knocks Matt flat on his ass in the ring. Gasps rise up in the air, followed by a tense silence that almost immediately turns into shocked but thrilled hoots.

Ty is jumping over the ropes and pulling Jared’s gear off, laughing heartily and patting him on his sweaty back.

“Did I do that?” Jared asks, still shocked, even as he feels adrenaline and a strange pride coursing through him.

“You sure did, big fella,” Ty replies, face full of mirth as he leaves Jared to go pull a stunned Matt off the floor.

Later that night, Jared stands in his bathroom, fresh out of the shower, and stares at his newly-formed body in the mirror. He hasn’t really looked for changes over the past months, his brain trying to focus solely on the process so he couldn’t be discouraged by the results.

Those results though, are startling. His arms and chest, usually flat and scrawny, now have the curve of definition that he’s never seen on himself before. His stomach, usually rounded from the last stubborn remainder of his teenage baby fat, is flatter with the shadow of what could one day become a six-pack.

He stands up to his full height, something he usually never does as he hunches his way through the world attempting to not be noticed. His shoulders appear stronger now, weight-bearing, and they roll back in a way that reminds Jared of the late-night sketch that started this whole thing off.

Jared smiles, and there is nothing in it but relief.

==

The first day of production finally comes and Jared doesn’t know who is more nervous, him or Gen. He knows this is a big deal for her, and that past the sheer excitement level, she is terrified. Unfortunately for him, she channels that nervous energy by forcing him to give her a fashion show with all the way-too-tight clothing she harassed him into buying the weekend prior.

“Stop! That’s it. Wear those,” Gen says, pointing at the dark denim squeezing his thighs like sausage casing. “Your ass looks phenomenal.”

Jared spins around a few times and does a shimmy for her benefit before rolling his eyes. “Yeah, right.”

“Have you looked in a mirror lately? You are totally hot,” Gen insists.

Jared shrugs awkwardly. Sure, he’s filled out a bit, which makes sense with all the hard work he’s put in. But he knows that he still has a long way to go before he could be called in any way hot.

Gen pulls another face, but it softens immediately when he doesn’t respond. “Whatever, hot is overrated anyway. Our sparkling personalities make up for it every time.”

Jared snorts and throws the seventh t-shirt he’s tried on at her head. “Don’t you think you should go put your own clothes on now?”

“Shit,” Gen mutters, looking down at her pajama bottoms sheepishly, before jumping up to give him a smacking kiss on the cheek and running down the hall to her own bedroom.

==

Stepping into the studio for the first time is surreal, the atmosphere already alive with people scurrying about. Gen squeezes his arm and tells him to “find Felicia”, before being whisked off my two burly security types to be led to Misha Collins himself.

“Felicia,” Jared repeats, standing there in the middle of the walkway. A woman hurries past and he says “Felicia?” again, hoping that maybe she can lead him in the right direction.

The woman just looks back at him quickly and shakes her head, before heading off in the same direction Gen did.

“Oh, god, what have I done?” Jared mumbles under his breath, already feeling his cheeks starting to burn with embarrassment. Nobody is even around him, and he’s already managed to humiliate himself.

“Jared!” An unfamiliar female voice barks out his name, and he automatically jumps to attention.

“Felicia?” Jared tries one more time, looking hopefully at the petite redhead with the pixie cut, a stern expression and a headset.

“That’s me, but you can call me Boss Lady,” Felicia replies, holding up her hand when Jared starts stuttering out an apology. “Dude, that was a joke. Gen said you were literal, but jeez.”

“Gen’s been talking about me?” Jared asks. He knew that Gen and Felicia were friends, and that his job was totally a pity favor for him.

“You’re all she talks about. No wonder she doesn’t have a boyfriend,” Felicia replies with a snort.

“Oh, we’re not –“

“That’s obvious,” Felicia says, looking him up and down with barely concealed amusement. Jared attempts to look indignant, but can’t really manage more than a “what can you do?” type shrug.

“Anyway!” Felicia begins again, suddenly all business. “Welcome to the production. I’ll be your boss for the length of filming, which means that I tell you where to stand, where to eat, when to pee. You’re not union, so don’t touch anything that I don’t tell you to touch. Capisce?”

“Capisce,” Jared agrees, pausing slightly. “We get to eat?”

Felicia chuckles. “Just stay away from Richard.”

“Richard?”

“Yeah, Richard. Head of craft services. He’ll eat you with a spoon the minute he sees you in that t-shirt.”

Jared’s flushes all the way up to the ends of his bangs. “Me? Why?”

She looks at him incredulously for a minute, before shaking her head. “Oh, god, you really are adorable. Gen warned me.”

“You two are totally going to embarrass me for the next five weeks, right?”

Felicia grins, and Jared can’t help but return it. “I’m pleading the fifth. Now let’s get to work, slacker.”

Jared spends the next hour following Felicia around like a puppy, doing whatever setup she deigns necessary. He meets Liane and DJ, the two way more experienced members of Felicia’s crew, and is pleased to find that they are welcoming to the newbie.

He has no real idea what he is doing, and the tension in the back of his mind about seeing Jensen again after so many years is gnawing at him. Every time he meets a new person, he peeks over their shoulder to make sure that Jensen’s ridiculous face isn’t peering back at him.

A bit of commotion starts up, and Jared looks up from the equipment he’s struggling with to see Misha Collins himself walking towards them, an ecstatic looking Gen following close at his heels.

“Hey, Leesh,” Misha says to Felicia, who salutes him.

“Aye-aye, Captain,” she replies.

“You must be Jared, Genevieve’s best friend. Nice to meet you,” Misha says, turning to Jared and putting out his hand to shake. Jared does, slightly flabbergasted that an Oscar-nominated director is greeting him like they are old buddies.

Misha turns around then, and Jared mouths Genevieve? over his shoulder at Gen, who just flushes a little bit but rolls her eyes.

“So!” Misha says, clapping his hands, and suddenly everyone within the vicinity—the number of which which magically increased two-fold as Misha appeared-- is at attention. “Welcome to another adventure. This film is a bit more intimate than we are used to, but I think that’s the best part. I want to introduce you all to our lovely screenwriter, Genevieve Cortese, who has written us such an amazing story. Let’s try to do it justice, shall we?”

Jared can’t help smiling proudly at Gen, who is bright red but openly thrilled at the applause from the crew and Misha’s obvious appreciation. She gives a short wave to everyone and then covers her eyes with one hand until everyone laughs good-naturedly.

“He’s nice,” Jared remarks to Felicia a few minutes later, as everyone disperses to get back to setup for filming.

Felicia nods in agreement. “Yup, he’s a good egg. Unlike the Red Dragon. That’s the one you need to avoid.”

“Red Dragon?”

“Alaina Huffman, head of Queen of Hell Productions. She’s a great producer, and Misha loves her for some reason, but she’ll eat your spleen for breakfast and then regurgitate it so she can eat it again for lunch.”

Jared swallows hard. “Well, that’s appetizing.”

A loud yelp from down the hallway suddenly draws their attention, and all the color drains out of Felicia’s face. “Speak of the devil. Literally.”

The clacking of stilettos announces the arrival of their executive producer even before the image of her appears in view. She comes striding down the walkway, all tight red bun and crimson lipstick, long body encased in an immaculate black jumpsuit. A tiny, harried-looking guy follows close behind, nearly running to keep up with her long stride. Jared assumes he’s her assistant by how petrified he looks.

She stops suddenly, and the assistant almost crashes spectacularly into her before catching himself at the last moment. She speaks without bothering to turn around and look at him.

“Osric.”

“Yes, Ms. Huffman?”

“Do you enjoy having your testicles attached to your body?”

“Very much so, Ms. Huffman.”

“Good. Then get me a reservation for 18 at Nobu Malibu for Saturday night at 8 o’clock.”

“Um, I don’t think they have tables that big, Ms. Huffman.”

“Did I tell you to talk, Osric?”

“No, Ms. Huffman.”

She sees Felicia and Jared standing off to the side, trying very hard to become one with the wall. Her eyes narrow and it looks like she’s about to say something to them before deciding against it.

“Misha!” she calls out instead, hands on her hips and legs set firmly.

A buzz of activity starts immediately, as Felicia jumps into action to go run and find Misha for her. It leaves Jared standing there alone, and he realizes that trying to scrunch 6’5” of gangly man into an invisible ball isn’t exactly easy.

“You,” she says.

“Me?”

“You.”

They stare at each other silently for a moment before Jared’s eyes start watering and he blinks furiously. Her fire-red mouth curls up into a triumphant smirk, and Jared doesn’t quite know what just happened, but he knows that whatever it was, he lost.

Luckily, Misha chooses just that moment to come bounding into the space. Jared can hear the entire room pull in a tight breath as he curls himself around her in what can only be described as a bear hug. Osric the assistant looks ready to grab a fire extinguisher to get Misha off of his boss, but after a mere second, Alaina is cooing and stroking Misha’s hair.

The room lets out a relieved sigh in unison, and Osric appears to have resisted peeing his pants in fear.

Jared uses the opportunity to slip free. With all the excitement, he’s suddenly starving, and against his own better judgment, he heads over to the craft services area. The guy behind the counter, a short fellow with muttonchops and a sweater vest, perks up exponentially when he sees Jared coming his way.

“Well, hello there, soldier,” the man says, eyebrows wagging lasciviously.

Jared looks behind himself, unsure whether that was directed at him or not. “Me?”

The man takes a long, lingering look up and down Jared’s body, and Jared can practically feel it. “Yes, you. Aren’t you a tall glass of water.”

“I am tall,” Jared agrees and the man grins like a shark.

“I could climb you like a chimney, boy,” the man insists, and Jared yelps and starts walking backwards.

All that does, of course, because Jared’s luck is about as good as one would expect, is walk him directly into what turns out to be Danneel freaking Harris herself.

“Richard, are you sexually harassing the crew again?” Danneel says, recovering quickly from almost being knocked over.

Jared glances back at the little man. Richard, of course it’s Richard. He’s definitely following Felicia’s advice a little better next time.

“Crew? Look at the kid, he’s gotta be an actor with that body and that face,” Richard insists, and if Jared could open a crater in the ground and sink into it, he would be doing it now.

Danneel, who somehow is managing to look movie star beautiful even with a freshly-scrubbed face and an old leather jacket – maybe because she’s a movie star, Jared you moron – looks him up and down contemplatively before her mouth twists up into a smile.

“Definitely gorgeous enough to be an actor, but I’m thinking the headset gives the crew thing away.”

Jared nearly sputters at the word ‘gorgeous’ coming out of Danneel Harris’ mouth about him of all people, and thinks for a minute that Gen must have been right about these tight jeans having magical powers.

“Close your mouth, honey. Don’t give Richard any ideas,” Danneel leans in and stage whispers, as Jared just stands there gaping at her.

Jared’s mouth snaps shut and he spins around to run away and hide, contemplating how much a plane ticket to Greenland would cost this time of year so he and his humiliation could hopefully never be heard from again.

Of course, it’s just that moment when Jensen Ackles chooses to appear in the distance, perfect face and perfect hair and perfect bowlegged gait every single thing that Jared remembers, and more.

So much fucking more.

Jared’s eyes are pulled down to the ratty t-shirt Jensen is wearing, and when he sees the logo on it, he pulls in a breath.

Octo-boy.

Surely, Jensen couldn’t remember. Could he?

 

Then_divider

“Do you actually like this stuff?” Jensen asks, gesturing down at the open Bio textbook in his lap. He’s sitting on Jared’s bed, right there on Jared’s utterly embarrassing Spiderman sheets, and Jared can’t help the way the sight of him there is doing things to certain parts of his anatomy.

Jared shifts his own book over his lap from his more proper seat at the desk and coughs. “Um, kind of? I mean, it’s easy for me, so I don’t think too hard about why.”

Jensen lets out a long-suffering sigh and tosses the book to the side. He lets out a long yawn and stretches, the action pulling his shirt up so that a sliver of belly peeks out. Jared tries not to look, but fails miserably.

“I wish it was so easy for me.”

“I didn’t mean—“ Jared replies quickly, not wanting to imply that Jensen was stupid or anything for not getting it. Jensen cuts him off with a wave of his hand, though.

“Nah, I get it. It’s okay.” Jensen smiles at him and then jumps up, making a slow circle around the corner of Jared’s room.

“Did you want something to drink?” Jared blurts out, nervous with Jensen in his room, and even more nervous at the thought of him poking around his stuff.

“I’m good, thanks,” Jensen replies, hand reaching out to Jared’s bookcase, and pulling out a battered comic book from the middle of a stack on the middle shelf. He takes a quick glance at the cover and starts leafing through it. He holds it up to Jared with a smirk. “Octo-boy, huh? That’s some kinky shit, Jay.”

Jared doesn’t know whether to be preening at the nickname, or mortified at the implication that he’s hiding tentacle porn on his book shelf.

“It’s nothing like that.”

Jensen hums and keeps flipping. “No? What’s it about then?”

Jared opens his mouth to speak and then shuts it again to think about what he’s going to say. “It’s about a school for special kids who have been bullied at their regular school. One of them, Chris, gets tentacles bursting out of him when he’s agitated. He learns how to control it, how to help people with them. Him and his boyfr—um, his best friend Steve.”

Jensen looks up then, eyebrows raising a tiny bit at Jared’s slip of the tongue. Chris and Steve aren’t technically involved in the comic series, but Jared has hopes that one day soon the series will head in that direction.

When Jared doesn’t say anything else, Jensen smiles and puts the comic back on the shelf. “Sounds pretty cool, if you ask me. Maybe I can borrow a few copies from you.”

Jared’s eyes almost bulge out of his head, and he looks at Jensen incredulously. “You want to borrow a comic?”

“Hey, I read!” Jensen protests, but his voice is teasing, so Jared doesn’t think he’s really offended.

Jensen turns around and grabs something else, and Jared is too late to snatch it from him once he realizes what it is.

Jared’s sketchbook. Jared’s sketchbook full of comic characters that look suspiciously like one gorgeous freckled senior.

“Jensen, I…” Jared starts, but doesn’t know what else to say.

Jensen pauses a few times as he flips through the sketchbook, face placid but contemplative. After a few silent minutes, he closes the book and puts it back on the shelf, turning to look at Jared.

“Did you draw all those?” he asks, and Jared is rooted to the spot, waiting for Jensen to punch him or run out of the house at least.

Jensen doesn’t do either, just ducks his head and smiles. “You’re a really good artist, Jay. I wish I was that talented.”

Jared has no idea how he’s supposed to respond to that, so he retreats right back to the reason they are here in the first place. The only reason Jensen Ackles would be interested in spending time with him.

“We should get back to bio.”

Jared swears he’s sees disappointment in Jensen’s eyes, but it flashes by too fast.

Jensen just doesn’t want to study, he tells himself. That’s all it is.

 

Now_divider

It’s a week into filming and Jared has managed to avoid Jensen the entire time. It hasn’t been too hard – there are a lot of people milling about on a movie set, and every time Jensen’s needed to be called, Jared manages to convince Liane or DJ to do it.

Gen asks him every day if today is going to be the day that Jared collects his balls and talks to the man, but he knows she’s not mean enough to flat out trick him into talking to Jensen. He knows she’s disappointed, but also that she just wants the best for him, whatever that may be.

The movie itself is going great so far, with Misha and his usual director of photography Sebastian running a tight ship. Like Misha said on that first day, the movie is more intimate than the blockbusters that he’s used to running, and is closer to the first few indie films that made his name in the business.

Every time Jared gets a chance to watch one of the actors live out Gen’s words, he’s bursting with pride for his best friend. The script itself is a gritty family cop drama about an officer (played by Jensen) and his partner (TV star Aldis Hodge moving into features), who discover that the officer’s father, a decorated retired police chief (action star Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a dramatic turn) spent most of his career as a crooked cop. The officer not only has to deal with the moral implications of that, but also how it affects his drug-addicted sister (Danneel, in a role sure to have huge Oscar buzz), and his pregnant girlfriend (model-turned-actress Adrianne Palicki).

The atmosphere on set is buzzing, and Jared is glad be able to experience the entire thing with Gen, even as she drives herself crazy with on-the-fly rewrites and head-down pow-wows with Misha.

Jared is shocked by how much attention he keeps getting. He guesses that it’s just because he’s the new guy, and a bumbling one at that. The majority of the crew seem to have worked on several of Misha’s projects, and Jared is hopeful that loyalty like that-- which he knows is rare in this town--will benefit Gen in the long run.

The one person he can’t seem to figure out is Danneel Harris, who seems to have taken a shine to him. Every time he sees her, she’s coming over to him and smiling that famous smile, cute little dimple popping out in one cheek. He’s seen that face so many times in the checkout counter of the supermarket that it’s surreal to have it right in front of him.

“Jared, darling!”

Jared looks up from where he is scarfing down a cheeseburger during his lunch break. He knows that voice and the tone of voice after just a week.

“Hi, Danneel,” he says, giving her a little wave as she strides over to him with her usual flair and hops up on bench he’s sitting on to sit next to him.

She beams at him and launches into one of her usual monologues. “Mmmm, that looks delish. I would kill for a burger right now. Or anything more than a celery stick, actually. Playing a skinny crackhead sucks when all you want is some red meat, you know? Next time I’m Oscar-baiting, I’m finding a role that requires twenty extra pounds and no waxing.”

Jared laughs, because his life is so ridiculous right now, and Danneel joins in easily. She still has her costume on, and between the streaky mascara and the ripped lace bustier, she’s the most gorgeous hot mess that Jared’s ever seen.

It somehow makes it easier to talk to her, like she’s a real person and not a movie star. Or, you know, a fake crackhead real person and not the movie star playing her to win award nominations.

Maybe it’s that ease that distracts Jared enough that he lets his guard down just long enough for Jensen Ackles to walk right back into his life.

“Danni, there you are. Going to introduce me to your new friend?”

The voice is bemused, calm, and way too familiar, and Jared’s first instincts are to duck his head and attempt to hide behind his bangs. Unfortunately, that damn haircut that Gen insisted he get while they were out tight-jean-shopping limited the scope of said hiding place.

Danneel hops up and holds her arms out to Jensen, who walks right into them like he belongs there.

Of course he belongs there, Jared reprimands himself silently behind his bangs.

“Jen, honey, this is—“

“Jared,” Jensen says, word released on a long breath.

Jared can’t help but look up at that, shock mixed with something far more embarrassing tinging his cheeks as he meets Jensen Ackles’ eyes for the first time in a decade.

“You look…” Jensen trails off as he looks Jared up and down. “Grown up.”

“Jensen.” That’s about the only word Jared manages to get out of his mouth, because at the same moment, Jensen’s smile bursts across his face like the fucking sun.

“You still blush the same way. Good to know some things never change.”

“You two know each other?” Danneel asks. She’s clearly surprised, but her voice says she’s also intrigued.

“No,” Jared says at the exact same moment Jensen says, “Yes.”

A flash of hurt streaks across Jensen’s face, and Jared ducks his head again to hide himself away from the jumble of feelings that are suddenly coursing through him.

“I have to go, Felicia is going to get mad if I’m gone too long,” Jared mumbles, running off even as he hears Jensen softly repeat his name.

==

“You can’t avoid me forever.”

Jared looks up from his attempt to untangle a pile of wiring that does not want to be untangled.

“What?” Jared made it three days without seeing Jensen after that first time, mainly by hiding behind those potted plants used in the police station set.

Jensen grins at him, and Jared doesn’t know whether he wants to wrap them both up in the wires or strangle himself with them to put him out of his misery.

“I’m the star of the movie,” Jensen continues, voice too light for how fast Jared’s stomach is churning. “You can’t avoid the star of the movie.”

“Jeff’s the star of the movie,” Jared replies, throwing down the wires and putting his hands on his hips.

“Did Jeff tell you that? Never trust a man with a beard, didn’t your Mama tell you that?”

“My Mama also told me not to trust men who wear sunglasses indoors, but I swear I saw you doing that very thing yesterday morning.”

Jensen grins again, this time wider and slightly more victorious. “You see this right here? This is banter. We are bantering. People who avoid each other don’t banter.”

“Who said I was avoiding you?” Jared asks, holding his head up and marching on to the next task on his checklist.

“Hiding behind the plant was a nice touch, but you’re at least a foot too tall to pull it off.”

Jared swears he only blushes a little bit, so as to not give Jensen the satisfaction of noticing.

“It’s not my fault that I’m tall. Can’t help your genetics.”

“Definitely nothing wrong with your genetics,” Jensen says, but the words are just soft enough that Jared’s not sure he heard him right.

“What did you say?” Jared asks, to be sure, and this time it’s Jensen’s turn for pink cheeks.

“I said go out with us tonight after we wrap. A few drinks, maybe something bloody to taunt Danni with. It’ll be a blast.” He’s continuing before Jared can even get his mouth open. “Gen’s already coming, Felicia, too. Even Misha. Come on out and network a little.”

Jared sighs. “I’m not here to network, Jensen.”

“Then why are you here, Jared?”

Jensen’s response is so quick that Jared is sure he’s been just waiting to ask it.

“To support Gen.”

“You live with Gen, you don’t have to work on set to do that.”

“For extra money, then.”

“This isn’t exactly the job to get rich on.”

Jared turns to face him, suddenly pissed off at Jensen Ackles and his stupid, rich, movie star face for trying to tell him how he’s supposed to pay his bills or spend his time. It doesn’t even matter that Jensen himself is the real reason for Jared being here at all, because Jared’s never going to let that ridiculous, ill-fated fact slip.

“You’re mad,” Jensen says, pre-empting Jared’s righteous indignation before he even gets a chance at it.

Jared deflates. “I’m not mad, Jensen.”

For the first time since they’ve seen each other again, Jensen looks flustered.

“I’m sorry, Jared, I’m messing this all up. I was just surprised to see you after all these years, and then when you started hiding behind plants to avoid me, I couldn’t help trying to figure out why.

Jared wants to tell him the truth. That seeing Jensen’s face, the face that he’s dreamed about for years, is too overwhelming. That having Jensen smile at him, like that seventeen year-old Jensen smiled at him, brought back all the pain of being ignored and forgotten. That having Jensen remember him now gave him hope that shouldn’t exist because it’s sure to bring nothing but heartache.

Jared doesn’t say any of those things, though, and just nods instead.

“Okay, I’ll come out with you guys tonight.”

Jensen looks like he wants to say something more, but then changes his mind at the last second. Instead, he just nods and smiles a small, pleased smile. “See you later, Jared.”

Jared watches Jensen walk away, one more time.

==

The bar is seedier than Jared expected from a movie star hang-out, but it turns out to be owned by a firecracker friend of Misha named Samantha (“call me Sam, sugar”) from film school who took a right turn and left the movie business to go into the bar industry.

They crowd into a corner of the bar that Sam helpfully clears out for their group. The sheer amount of star power involved gains them some glances, but the clientele is jaded enough from living in Hollywood that they quickly turn back to their own drinks and conversation.

Gen and Misha end up at a more private table, and Jared gives her a thumbs-up before getting pushed into a booth and squished in between Jensen and Danneel. He sips his beer and tries to absorb it all, trying to follow the ping-pong conversation of old colleagues.

“How can anyone think I can play his father? He has wrinkles, for fuck’s sake,” Jeff grumbles.

“The internet calls them ‘eye crinkles’ and assures me they are adorable,” Jensen insists, as the others snicker.

“They are wrinkles and I am not old enough for this.”

“Dude, you’re old,” Aldis throws in, laughing.

“Fine, I’m old. But still hot. I’m hot, right Danni?”

“Like fire, honey. I fucked you, didn’t I?”

“Best thirteen minutes of my life, sweetheart.”

“Damn right, old man.”

Jared laughs along with them, even if Jeff’s mock scowl does make him shiver a bit. The beard is very intimidating, after all.

“What’s your story, Jared?” Adrianne asks suddenly, bringing the attention around to him in a way that he is so not ready for.

“Who, me?” Jared asks, almost choking on the mouthful he just took in.

“Yeah, what do you do when you’re not letting Felicia slave-drive you?” Aldis adds on.

“I’m guessing modeling,” Adrianne says, and Danneel pats Jared on the back as he starts coughing in shock.

“You think I’m a model? “ Jared stutters out, checking his drink to make sure that no one spiked it and this isn’t a hallucination.

Adrianne is looking at him strangely. “I mean…yeah? When I was walking for Givenchy, Tisci would have been all over you.”

“It’s the cheekbones,” Danneel muses, and the whole table nods in agreement. Jared just looks at them all like they just turned into purple dinosaurs and started smoking crack in front of him.

“Okay, that’s enough, stop embarrassing the boy,” Jensen interrupts, and Jared swears he can feel a hand pat lightly on his upper thigh. Jared’s head snaps to Jensen, but Jensen’s face gives nothing away.

“You’re just mad because we aren’t talking about how hot you are, Ackles,” Adrianne says, with the most delicate of snorts.

“I was on GQ, bitches, you need to respect,” Jensen insists, throwing a balled up napkin at her.

“But you still have wrinkles,” Jeff growls, and the whole table laughs again, letting Jared forget for the moment how weird this whole situation has become.

Four drinks later, and a tipsy Felicia helpfully comes over to remind them all of their call times in the morning. They all groan and start dispersing, phoning their drivers to pull their cars around just in case any paparazzi are hanging outside the front waiting for them to leave. All except Jeff, of course, who lights a cigarette, throws his jacket over his shoulder, and heads right out the front already waving.

Jared realizes through his buzzed mental state that Gen left an hour ago with Misha in tow. Which – go, Gen! But also – fuck, no ride.

“I’ll take you home,” Danneel offers, and Jared knows she’s the only sober one among them because “beer makes a crackhead fat.”

Jared is just about to agree, when Jensen is throwing an arm around his shoulders and pulling him close enough to his body that Jared can smell the combination of leather, whiskey, and mint chewing gum that feels strangely like home.

“I’ll take Jared home,” Jensen insists, words slurring a tiny bit as he leans into Jared.

“You’re drunk,” Danneel points out, face amused.

“Don’t worry, Clif’s here. Not gonna end up on TMZ,” Jensen replies, and apparently finds that funny because he starts giggling. That sets Jared off and he starts giggling as well, until they are both crackling up so much that they are practically vibrating and Danneel makes a face and heads home without them.

After a few more minutes, they stop laughing and take deep breaths. Jared looks down and suddenly is face-to-face with freckles and liquor-swollen lips.

“Who is Clif?” he blurts out, not knowing what else to say that isn’t “Holy fuck, kiss me now before I literally die on the spot.”

Jensen blinks a few times, like he’s trying to focus himself. “My driver. He’s mean.”

“Why did you hire a mean driver?”

“Dunno.”

“Okay.”

They start giggling again, but not before a burly bald guy covered in tattoos comes stomping in and looks at Jensen with surly disdain.

“You must be Clif,” Jared says, waving at the man, who merely cocks an eyebrow.

“And you must be Jensen’s Thursday night,” Clif responds, and Jared can feels Jensen physically stiffen next to him.

“Let’s go,” Jensen says, suddenly all business as he grabs Jared by the forearm and marches him towards the back exit.

Jared takes the moment to remember yet again that he knows nothing about who Jensen really is.

Then_divider

“Whatcha got there, Fat-a-lecki? Writing in your diary?” Chad spits out, forearm squeezing Jared’s throat against the locker.

Jared wheezes, but doesn’t even try to get his arm off since he’s too busy using both his limbs to hold his sketchbook close to his chest. If Chad got a hold of his sketches of Jensen, Jared would never live it down and he might as well quit high school then and there.

“C’mon, you little bitch, give it to me.”

“Let…me…” Jared coughs, feeling light-headed. Just as real panic is about to set in, Jared feels Chad being ripped off of him, and Jared sinks to the ground and starts panting in deep breathes of air.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” someone growls out, and Jared’s eyes clear just enough to realize that it’s Jensen leaning over Chad and ready to punch his face in.

“Jensen, no,” Jared calls out, voice strained and throat bruised. “He’s not worth it.”

Jensen’s fist is pulled back and his teeth are bared, but he stops just in time. With a kick to Chad’s shin, he yells at him. “Get the fuck out of here, Murray. Touch Jared one more time and you’ll have to answer to me.”

Chad goes to spit at Jensen, who jumps back just in time. “Fuck you, Ackles. You won’t be around to protect your boyfriend forever.”

“You got one more second or I’ll bash your fucking skull in,” Jensen growls, and Chad grins smugly before taking off running down the hallway.

“Oh, god, are you okay?” Jensen’s voice is suddenly soft and concerned as he crouches down and runs his hands over Jared like he’s checking for injuries.

As if almost getting murdered in the school hallway and being mortifyingly embarrassed wasn’t bad enough, the feel of Jensen’s hands on him is doing terrible things to his hormone-induced dick. Jared pushes Jensen off him and curls up into a ball to hide the fact that he’s chubbing up.

“I’m fine, it’s okay,” Jared insists, shaking out his too-long bangs so they cover as much of his face as possible.

Jensen sits down next to him, and his body heat is almost as disorienting as nearly being choked to death. “We should tell someone. Nobody has the right to do that to someone.”

“No, please,” Jared says quickly, knowing from experience that ratting out Chad is only likely to bring even worse retaliation. And as much as Chad is a dick, he’s also right – Jensen isn’t going to be around to protect him much longer.

Jensen’s quiet for a minute, before shrugging and staring out at the few students starting to mill out into the hallway. He looks upset, and Jared isn’t quite sure why it’s affecting him so much.

“Thank you, though. I really appreciate you standing up for me like that,” Jared says softly, and Jensen’s face finally relaxes enough for a small smile to peek out.

He nudges Jared’s shoulder lightly. “Can’t have my smarty-pants tutor going AWOL on me right when I just got my first ‘A’ on a bio exam.”

It stings, of course it does. Jared knows that Jensen’s just hanging out with him because he needs to get his grades up, but there was part of him that was hoping that Jensen and he might actually become friends. Still, tutoring Jensen was what brought them together and he’s proud of the good grade.
“An ‘A’, huh? You aren’t going to need me much longer.”

It’s not what Jared meant to say because it was too close to the truth not to be painful. But Jensen’s face softens for a moment, and Jared lets himself imagine that for even one day that there’s more.

“Who am I going to steal comic books off of without you? The Adventures of Octo-Boy aren’t going to read themselves,” Jensen says, and Jared smiles because it’s the only thing left to do.

 

Now_divider

“So, when are you going to ask the guy out already?” Gen asks nonchalantly as she pulls the car into the designated parking spot the studio set aside for her on the lot.

Jared does a double take as he unbuckles his seatbelt. “What are you talking about? Ask out who?”

She starts checking her makeup one last time in the rear view mirror before smacking her lips together with satisfaction. Afterwards, she turns to him and rolls her eyes.

“Jensen, of course. You are so obviously head over heels for the man, and now that you’ve finally stopped hiding from him, you should make your move.”

Jared makes a rude sound that only earns another eyeroll. “Jensen’s not interested in me, are you nuts? He’s not even gay, for God’s sake. Didn’t he date Alona Tal for, like, two years?”

“First of all, bisexuals exist, you know. Second of all, the man has never once stared at Danneel Harris’ boobs in the entire time we’ve known him. Even I have stared at Danneel Harris’ boobs, so that is saying something.”

“Danneel does have great boobs.”

“Point and match.”

Jared just scoffs and pulls his long body out of the car, stretching as he does it.

Gen follows suit and looks at him over the car. “Just think about it, okay? The movie’s almost done filming, so now is your chance.”

Jared just waves her off, and starts heading towards the studio to start another work day.

==

“Jared, go give Jensen his five minute call,” Felicia calls out to him, before saying something into her headset and rushing off.

“Yes, ma’am,” he mumbles and puts down the equipment he was loading. Now well into the fourth week of filming and past the point of avoiding Jensen in general, Jared’s used to being the one to go give Jensen his time. Part of him thinks it’s a ploy between Gen and Felicia, but the other part of him doesn’t think Boss Lady would be that sneaky.

However, the minute Jared walks into Jensen’s trailer and sees a half-naked and dripping wet Jensen walking out of the shower, Jared rethinks that “no sneakiness” thing.

“Um, five minutes?” Jared croaks out, completely frozen in place even though he knows he should be apologizing for barging in and running somewhere far, far away. He hears Antarctica is nice this time of year.

“Liane just gave me a twenty minute warning,” Jensen replies, shrugging those broad, wet shoulders.

“Fucking Felicia, I knew it,” Jared mutters under his breath.

“I’m glad you’re here, actually. I wanted to ask you something,” Jensen says, completely oblivious to the fact that he’s half-naked. Of course, why would he not be comfortable, considering he’s a famous beautiful movie star and all.

“Did you need something? I can get Richard to get you food if you are hungry.”

Jensen shakes his head, and droplets of water fly around him like he’s a Sports Illustrated model. “No, nothing like that. It’s about you actually, about us.”

“Us?” Jared repeats. “There’s an us?”

Jensen chuckles, his hand tightening on the towel and drawing Jared’s eyes down to his lower half for just a second. “I’m hoping there’s an us, or at least will be when you agree to go out with me tomorrow night.”

Even though Gen had suggested that Jared do this exact same thing this very morning, Jared is unprepared for the words coming out of Jensen’s mouth. Disbelief courses through him, mixed with exhilaration and the tiniest bit of awe.

“You want to take me out on a date? Me?” Jared asks, and Jensen nods his head encouragingly. “But, why?”

Jensen laughs incredulously, eyebrows raising. “Why? I mean, why not? You’re funny, you’re smart, and, well just look at you. You’re gorgeous, Jared.”

“I’m gorgeous,” Jared repeats, the words sticking in his mouth.

“You’ve grown up so nicely,” Jensen replies, and for the first time Jared sees it there in Jensen’s eyes – lust.

Jared’s heart sinks to the bottoms of his feet, and the moment he knows he should be the happiest is the moment that he feels like he wants to burst into tears. All he can see is the boy before, the boy from the sketches with the hunched shoulders and the baby fat and the ruddy cheeks. The boy who would never be able to fly because there was nobody that ever wanted to help him spread his wings.

That boy wasn’t gorgeous. That boy wasn’t the one that Jensen Ackles wanted.

But that boy is still inside Jared, and no matter how many weights he lifts or haircuts he gets, Jared will never be able to kill him for good.

“You don’t know me at all,” Jared says, quiet now. He takes off his headset, places it on the table, and starts the long walk off the set and far away from Jensen Ackles and the man Jared tried to become.

 

Then_divider

You’re supposed to bring flowers to opening night, Jared thinks. Or maybe that’s just for girls. Either way, this isn’t a date. It’s just, well, Jensen being nice, that’s all. Surely there will be tons of people at the after party. Just because Jensen asked him personally and said that he didn’t want to “go alone”, doesn’t mean that Jensen needs Jared to be there.

Jared sits in his seat, fourth row, close enough to the stage to see well, but on the far side, so far enough away to not draw attention to himself.

Jensen is beautiful. Jared’s always thought so, of course. From those big green eyes and the spiky dark gold hair, to the length of his torso and the bow of his legs. Jared could draw him forever, sketch after sketch until the tips of his fingers turned calloused and black.

Jensen got his leather, true to Ms. Tapping’s word. He flutters on stage, Romeo to the core, pouting and dancing and holding Juliet in his arms like she’s the only bit of oxygen left in the world and he needs every bit of her just to be able to breathe.

The play ends, and Jared realizes that he’s crying. Another reason to be happy that he’s off to the side, farther into the dark.

He wipes his eyes and fixes his shirt, the blue button-down one that he wears to Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house. He runs a hand through his hair, and then laughs at himself.

It’s not a date.

He sees a flash of leather being whisked offstage. And it’s okay, he’ll wait. Jensen must have lots of people coming to see him after a performance like that.

Jensen said to meet him outside the auditorium. That they would go to the after party together.

Jared waits, clutching the brand new copy of Octo-Boy’s greatest adventure to his chest. It’s not flowers, but it’s something even better. This is the issue where Jared’s dreams came true, and Chris finally asks Steve to the dance. Jared cried when he read it, but no one was there to see it that time.

Jared waits and waits. Jensen doesn’t come.

No one sees Jared crying later that night either, curled up on his Spiderman sheets with the ripped up pieces of comic book clutched in his fists.

Now_divider

Jared spends the next twenty-four hours in his room, not even opening up when Gen threatens to sit outside of the door until he comes out. He doesn’t reply, and after a few hours, she gives up with a sigh and Jared can hear her bedroom door click shut.

It’s only sheer hunger that draws him out of his room late on Saturday afternoon. Gen’s sitting on the couch waiting for him, arms crossed over her chest and eyebrows raised expectantly.

“So?” she says flat-out, not even bothering with formalities.

“He asked me out,” Jared replies simply.

Gen makes a face that implies she doesn’t understand the problem. “And?”

Jared scoffs and waves a hand up and town his torso. “He asked this out.”

She looks confused for a moment, before realization crosses her face and she drops her arms to her lap. “Isn’t all that part of you, Jay?”

Jared shrugs, but heads over to the couch to drop down next to her. She tilts her head down on his shoulder, and reaches over to curl her hand into his, before she continues softly.

“When you were boxing at Mitch’s gym, you had a good time, right?”

Jared tips his head to the back of the couch and closes his eyes. “Yeah.”

“And cutting those damn bangs helped you not run into things so much, right?”

Jared can’t help barking a laugh. “Harder to hide, though.”

Gen squeezes his hand. “And what’s wrong with that, Jay? Think of how much fun you’ve had over the last month, all the awesome people we’ve met. Even Jeff’s beard doesn’t scare you anymore.”

“No, I’m still terrified.”

“Baby steps.”

They laugh in unison and he leans down to kiss her on the forehead. “I’m just not used to the attention,” he admits. “I’m not used to having people focus on me, at least not in a positive way, and part of me can’t seem to shake the feeling that they are only paying attention because I changed myself.”

She pulls back so she can look him straight in the eye, but doesn’t let go of his hand. “Have you considered the idea that they are paying attention to you now because you are letting them? That maybe some of the outward changes just helped you break out of the shell and allowed you to show people a bit more of who you are inside?

“I feel like we’re on Oprah, but without the free car.”

Gen guffaws and hits him on the shoulder. “I’m being supportive, you fucking dick!”

Jared laughs along softly, and pushes a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “I know. I wish I didn’t like dick so much so we could get married and have babies with great hair.”

Gen flips her hair over one shoulder dramatically as he laughs again, but then gets serious. “I love you, Jared Padalecki. You are the best friend I’ve ever had, and I’m positive that there is an awesome guy out there that will adopt babies with great hair with you.”

“Who will love me for all of me?” he says, voice teasing.

Gen grins, eyebrows waggling. “Every last inch of you.”

“Gen!” he says, laughing as he hits her with a couch pillow.

==

The first thing Jared does the next morning, bright on a Sunday, is head to the closest park, sit on a bench in the Los Angeles sunlight, and just sketch.

He doesn’t sketch Jensen or himself. Not the boys they were or the men they are now.

Instead he sketches the trees that line the pathway. The toddler with pigtails and overalls who trips off the slide but gets back up and tries again. The golden shine of a Labrador catching a hot pink Frisbee in his mouth and bringing it back to the teenager in the denim cut-offs laughing as she throws it.

He spends a few hours just like that, seeing the world the best way he knows how, a world that he knows now he wants to belong to.
His fingertips are his guide, but his eyes are open now, for the very first time.

After the park, he heads over to Pileggi Gym. Ty greets him at the entrance, a vaguely surprised look on his face. Jared hasn’t really been there since the movie started filming, but he discovers with his own measure of surprise that he missed it.

“Well, well, Slim’n’Sassy, long time no see,” Ty says, patting Jared on the shoulder good-naturedly.

“Been busy on Gen’s film,” Jared replies, shrugging.

Ty puffs out his chest. “Going all Hollywood on us, are we? What brings you back around here to these humble parts?”

Jared gestures over at the ring. “I’m here to punch something. Preferably Matt because he’s the best looking among you ugly mugs.”

Ty snorts and pats him a little harder. “I reckon punching a pretty boy is the perfect Sunday afternoon.”

Jared just grins in response.

==

It’s late Monday morning and Jared pulls himself out of bed and prepares to get ready for the last week of filming. Luckily, when he talked to Felicia the night before, she told him to come in a little later than his usual call time. It’s a nice cushion, even though he’s ready to face what’s before him.

He’s not a kid any more, not that scared teenager cowering from squinty-eyed bullies in the corner of the locker while waiting for handsome seniors to come save him. Jared’s a man, his own man, and he’s not going to let the world scare him anymore.

He’s just pulling on a t-shirt and about to attempt some sort of triage to the mess that is his just-out-of-bed hair, when he hears it. A loud “Jared! Jared Padalecki!” coming from somewhere outside his window.

“What the…” Jared mumbles, heading into the living room, and out onto the balcony to see what all the commotion is.

Stunned isn’t quite the word for it, as Jared realizes that the commotion is actually Jensen standing on the hood of Clif’s car, holding up a posterboard covered in what looks like the markings of a hyperactive kindergartner who got into a box of colored Sharpies.

“Jensen, what are you doing?” Jared hisses, looking around to make sure that Ashton Kutcher isn’t about to pop out of the bushes around his apartment building.

Jensen just holds up the sign higher. “This is how I see you, Jared Padalecki. The real you.”

“Deformed?”

Jensen’s takes a quick glance at the board. “Hey, it’s not that bad! I think my usage of color is great.”

Jared can’t help but laugh, and that earns a grin from Jensen. “So a colorful deformed…what is that? A squid?”

“It’s Octo-boy. Well, not Octo-boy really, but Chris. The real Chris. Or the real boy. Or man. But really you. I mean, real Jared, not fake Jared.” Jensen pauses, gritting his teeth in frustration that shouldn’t be as ridiculously adorable as it is. “Dammit, Jared, I have markers all over my fingers and Caroline in makeup is going to kill me and I’m trying for romance here, you jerk!”

“You are totally trying to John Cusack me!” Jared realizes, starting to shake with laughter as he holds on to the railing.

“John Cusack is an asshole,” Jensen hollers back, which only makes Jared laugh harder.

“And apparently a bad tipper, according to Gen.”

Jensen makes a pitiful face. “Are you charmed yet? Can I put this down now? My arms are getting tired and I’m just a weak actor-man.”

“You had me at Octo-boy, moron.”

“Now who is abusing rom-com clichés?”

They share a grin for a moment before Jensen throws the poster board to the side.

The mood is broken, however, by a gruff Clif.

“Can you get off my fucking car now?” he grumbles.

Jensen happily complies, jumping off the hood and practically running over to the balcony. He studies it for a moment and then jumps up as if he’s about to climb up, before grunting and falling back to the ground.

“Um, Jensen?”

“What?”

“Why don’t you try coming in the front door?”

“Good plan!”

Jared opens the door to a smiling Jensen, stepping back to let him into the living room. They stare at each other for a moment, the buzz suddenly turning awkward.

“Why didn’t you meet me?” Jared blurts out, not able to hold in the words any longer after a decade of keeping them inside.
Jensen stares at him, obviously confused. “Meet you? When?”

Jared feels his damn cheeks heating up again, and even though part of him feels ridiculous, he pushes on. “Opening night of Romeo and Juliet. You asked me to the party and told me to wait for you and I did but you never showed up. I waited for you, Jensen, why didn’t you come?”

Jensen must be able to read the hurt all over Jared’s face, because it’s almost as if a light bulb goes off over his head. His entire face softens, awash with understanding.

“I did come, Jared, but you were already gone. That’s the night I first met my agent, Mark. Ms. Tapping brought him around and surprised me and my parents with an introduction. I was backstage for almost two hours talking to him and when I finally managed to get out of there to come meet you, you had already left.”

“Why didn’t you talk to me later?” Jared asks, voice soft as he processes this new information, ten years in the making.

“I tried to find you in school, but when you didn’t show up, I called your house and your mom told me you had mono. I called a few more times and you never responded, so I figured you were blowing me off. There was so much going on with the play and graduation and deciding to move to LA, that I got caught up in all of that and before I knew it, I was gone.”

Jared bites his lip, remembering telling his mother that he was sick and didn’t want to talk to anyone. She never told him who exactly had called, and Jared had been so hurt and insecure that he didn’t even stop to think that Jensen could possibly want to still talk to him.

Jensen’s beautiful face is so sincere and open that it pains Jared to think that he’s been thinking so badly about him all these years over a silly bit of miscommunication.

“Jared, say something,” Jensen pleads.

Jared can’t think of anything else to do but put the man out of his misery, so he marches over to him, grabs him around the waist and pulls him into the kiss that is forever in the making.

Jensen, startled, gets with the program quickly, throwing his arms around Jared’s neck and moaning as he licks into Jared’s mouth.

Things heat up immediately, years of pent-up desire exploding between them as they stumble their way over to the couch and start rubbing their bodies together just to get some sort of friction on their dicks. Their teeth are clacking, and it’s suddenly frantic, Jensen’s hands roaming under Jared’s shirt and over the thin material covering his ass as Jared bites down on Jensen’s bottom lip and tugs them closer together.

“Oh, god, Jensen, I’m gonna,” Jared whines, everything happening much too fast and fierce for him to be able to resist any longer.

“Do it, fuck, Jay,” Jensen growls into Jared’s neck. It’s the nickname dripping off of Jensen’s tongue that does it, as Jared comes with a shout all over his boxer shorts.

Jensen thrusts up into Jared’s body once, twice, before he’s moaning low with lips pressed against Jared’s skin, and coming in his own pants They lie there like that for a little while, pressed up together on Jared’s couch with jizz-filled boxers.

“Gen’s going to kill me for fucking on the couch,” Jared says, and it shouldn’t be the first thing that pops into his mind after a mind-blowing orgasm with Jensen freaking Ackles, but it totally is.

Luckily, Jensen sees the humor in the situation, and laughs softly. His face is pressed so close to the damn heat of Jared’s neck that Jared can feel the vibration of it all the way down to the tips of his toes.

“That wasn’t fucking, Jared. You’ll know when we’re fucking,” Jensen murmurs, biting down lightly on Jared’s jaw until Jared just has to turn enough so that they are devouring each other’s mouths again.

After a few minutes of kissing, this time gentle and lazy and oh-so-perfect, Jensen pulls back with a sad little whine. “I have to go. If I miss my call time, Felicia will kill me.”

“Mind if I hitch a ride? I was just on my way in when I got accosted by a weak actor-man,” Jared says teasingly, and Jensen looks at him in surprise.

“You were on your way in?”

“Duh. We have one more week to film.”

“Huh,” Jensen says, brushing a hand over his mussed-up hair.

“What?”

Jensen’s face heats up a bit and he looks embarrassed. “I might have totally thought that after your dramatic flounce on Friday, you quit the production and weren’t coming back.”

Jared laughs, although secretly he was thisclose to doing that very thing. Jensen doesn’t need to know that, though. “Who are you calling dramatic, John Cusack?”

“It was romantic, dammit!”

Jared laughs so hard that he thinks Jensen kisses him just to shut him up.

Epilogue_divider

“There they are!” Jared practically squeals as he hits Jensen with his spoon and then points it at the television to where Gen and Misha are coming onto the red carpet and approaching Seacrest.

“She looks like a pin cushion,” Jensen points out around a mouthful of Cherry Garcia.

“It’s Balenciaga,Ryan,” Gen purrs on-screen, before turning right into the camera and mouthing “oh, my god” with a double thumbs-up that Jared is positive is just for him.

“She’s such a dork,” Jared says gleefully, clanging the side of his ice cream bowl with the metal utensil.

“She’s an Academy Award-nominated dork with a famous director boyfriend now, so I think she’s allowed her moment,” Jensen replies, amused.

“Yeah, yeah, you famous people have all the luck,” Jared replies, knocking Jensen with his shoulder.

Jensen swallows one more spoonful and then clears his throat. “Speaking of famous people, guess who I talked to today?”

“Who?” Jared curls up to face him on the couch with an interested expression. He knows that Jensen was talking to someone today in regards to the production company that he and Misha decided to start together.

Jensen grins widely, and he has bits of cherry in his teeth and he’s just ridiculous. “Tahmoh Penikett.”

Jared nearly falls off the couch. “Tahmoh Penikett? The Tahmoh Penikett? The Tahmoh Penikett that created Octo-Boy?”

Jensen’s smile gets even wider, if that’s possible. “Yeah, that’s the one. I’m optioning the film rights from him as hopefully our first project."

“Jensen.”

“Surprise?”

“Oh my god!” Jared shrieks, barely getting his ice cream on the coffee table before he’s throwing himself at his boyfriend and squeezing the life out of him.

“And there’s something else,” Jensen says, after he manages to peel his boyfriend off of him. “Tahmoh told me that he’s getting ready to start the series back up but his lead artist decided to retire to Maine to grow leeks or something. I might have showed him a certain someone’s portfolio, and he was very interested in meeting them.”

Jared stares at Jensen, dumbfounded. “Are you talking about me?”

Jensen chuckles, leaning forward to brush Jared’s bangs off his forehead. “Who else would I be talking about, silly man? You have a meeting with Tahmoh about an artist job, if you want it.”

Jared refuses to cry. Absolutely refuses to…ah, fuck it.

“I love you, Jensen,” he manages to wibble.

Jensen laughs again, but his eyes are conspicuously shiny. “I love you, too, idiot. Now, eat your ice cream.”

Jared takes a deep breath, and picks up his bowl again. He turns back to the television, where Chris Evans is chatting up Seacrest.

Jensen scowls, and Jared looks down with raised eyebrows at the Captain America pajamas that Jensen is currently sporting.

“So I guess the rumors that you were in the running for that role are true, huh?”

“Chris Evans gave Stan Lee a blowjob.”

“No, he didn’t!”

“He totally did.”

“Really?”

“No, of course not,” Jensen says, laughing as Jared punches him in the shoulder. “He was just prettier than me.”

Jared pauses, mouth twisting upwards. “Not possible.”

Jensen’s expression is suddenly fond, and Jared can’t help but lean over and press a soft kiss to his mouth.

“You’ll always be my Captain America,” Jared whispers against his lips.

With that, Jared kisses Jensen again, just because he can.

PFY_clinch_small