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Runaway Sensation

Chapter Text

December, 2008

 

"I had just about everything.

"I know people always say that, especially after all the rise and hits and where are they nows, but I really did. I had money, fame, friends... I had a career that I had once thought was only going to happen in my dreams. Number One after Number One, naked girls breaking into my hotel room.

"To this day, I still remember what it was like, getting the contracts, finding out someone wanted to sign me. God, I thought my heart had stopped, and maybe I was having one of those near-death hallucinations. Or maybe it was one of my friends, being a dick, you know? But then, once I got past that, it still took me a while to accept that it was real. That it might actually happen. The Big Time. And I'm not sure if it ever stopped being scary as all fuck, but the perks of living life as a rock star sure made it easy to forget that I always wanted to puke before going on stage.

"My mornings didn't start until noon unless I wanted to get up, and my personal assistant used to be a barista. The only things I had to do were show up for my concerts, and write a few songs, which was all I'd ever really wanted out of life. Getting paid to do it was just a bonus, you know?"

"Hang on," the reporter for Rolling Stone says, holding up her hand. She's young, but smart and determined, which the only reason she's here now, talking to this rock star that disappeared off the radar only a few short months ago, right off the stage between show and encore. It couldn't have been easy for her, tracking down friends, pulling information out of them, and it doesn't take a genius to guess that she's got to be damn good at her job.

The whole time they've been talking, she's been taking notes of his clothes, his face, his mannerisms, all while the digital read out on her voice recorder keeps right on ticking by. Her hair is dark brown and twisted up into a bun that's probably tight enough to pull back her eyes, and her clothes are neat, but comfortable; faded blue jeans and a black turtleneck sweater that's snug against her trim form and maybe a bit too designer for this dingy diner just north of the Texas-Oklahoma border.

"If you had so much, if everything was so perfect..." she says, trailing off.

He arches an eyebrow, a smirk definitely tugging at his full lips. "Yeah?"

Big rigs rumble by on the two-lane highway just outside the window, and somewhere in the kitchen, someone's listening to a tinny radio, the static-filled broadcast of an old Hank Williams song the only music in the place. She leans back in her side of the booth and crosses her arms, copying the raised eyebrow. "Why'd you give it all up? You just walked away from everything you could ever want... why?"

Jensen Ackles laughs, but it's a kind of hollow-sounding to the both of them. It probably won't even pick up on the audio, but right now she can see how the smile doesn't fill his face, and how there's more than a fair share of ghosts in Jensen's eyes. He shifts in his seat, picking at imaginary lint balls on his flannel shirt, and avoids looking at the reporter for as long as he can.

"It seemed like the thing to do," he says after a while, shrugging.

"Nuh-uh," she says, shaking her head. "No one just arbitrarily decides to walk away from a life even they admit has everything. People still want to know about you. Why do you think I'm here? Rolling Stone isn't exactly VH1, you know, and we're a little early for a run of 'I Love the Oh-Thousands.'"

That gets a snort out of Jensen, and he shakes his head, green eyes going distant for a moment. He doesn't look much like the rock star in the stock photos, not any more. Gone is the perfectly styled and expertly highlighted hair; it's naturally light brown now, and tousled like Jensen's picked up a habit of running a hand through his hair. The designer clothes that cost more that what some people make in a week are gone, too, and he's wearing worn and loved jeans, frayed through wear and tear and unraveling a bit at the cuffs from scuffing on the ground. His t-shirt, once black, is now a slightly softer shade from being washed about a dozen times too many, and he's wearing a pair of beige work boots, dirty and scuffed and looking supremely comfortable.

He's got stubble still, but instead of neat and trimmed like the style should be, it looks more like he just hadn't gotten around to shaving that morning, interview or not. Even Jensen's sprawl in the booth of the diner, all loose-limbed and leaning against the corner so he can casually watch the other people around them, is different. It's natural and relaxed despite the turn of conversation, and nothing at all like the carefully calculated poses of seduction he'd once been coached to take at any opportunity.

But his face is still the same, maybe even more intense around the eyes than before, and the reporter doesn't try to stop herself from writing all the details down, though if it's for the article, her blog, or her diary, Jensen doesn't know. Or care.

He sighs and smiles. It's not a happy smile. "You wanted to know why I walked away," he says finally, turning to face her a little more, looking at her instead of the rest of the diner, and her cheeks go a little pink at that.

"You had the perfect life, you said," she prompts. "Everything you ever wanted."

Jensen shakes his head sharply at that. "Almost everything," he corrects her, but doesn't say anything else.

"Okay," she says finally, leaning forward on the table, sleeve landing in a puddle of old pancake syrup, not that she notices. "I'll bite. What was it you wanted that fame and fortune couldn't get?"

"Now you're asking the right questions," Jensen says with a grin, and leans over to whisper a secret in her ear.

~*~*~*~

November, 2005

 

"Jensen, sweetheart, I've got fantastic news for you! Wake up!"

The pounding on his motel room door yanks Jensen out of an all-around awesome dream that he totally forgets right away, so he's more than a little cranky when he opens it up for Sera, who's disgustingly awake considering that it's not quite nine in the morning yet. Which, as far as Jensen's concerned, is still the middle of the night, and should be kept free of perky divorcees-turned-managers.

There's a big ball of fiery torment blazing behind Sera, so Jensen just grunts and walks away, leaving the door open for her. He grabs a stretched-out white t-shirt and pulls it on, more decent than just the faded green boxers he'd been sleeping in, and slants Sera a look through his lashes. If the smell of coffee is not just a morning-induced hallucination, then whatever Sera has to say might be worth listening to.

Otherwise, Jensen would just have to find a way to explain to his mom why her friend died abruptly in the middle of Nevada, an empty coffee cup jammed in her mouth.

Fortunately, Sera knows Jensen well enough to know that it's useless to try and talk business when he can't get his eyes to open the same amount on both sides. Instead, she just presses a cardboard cup of wonder into his hands. The smell is warm and rich, and Jensen's stomach perks up happily.

"You may live," he says, and sips the coffee. It's surprisingly fresh, if kind of bland, and Jensen doesn't recognize the convenience store logo on the side, but it's coffee and therefore made of win. Especially at this hour.

Sera waits until he's had a good five or six sips, and by then she's almost vibrating out of her shoes. She has her long dark hair up in a bushy ponytail and her sunglasses jammed up over her forehead, and she's wearing her usual floor-length skirt with a long-sleeved sweatshirt, the only concession to the winter really needed with the weather they've been having. A part of Jensen wants to keep her waiting, but the more the caffeine kicks in, the more he kind of wants to know what's going on. So he gives in and waves the hand not wrapped around his coffee, letting Sera know he's got enough brain cells firing now.

Instead, Sera just digs around in the giant bag that she claims is a purse, and pulls out a flat paper bag. "You wouldn't believe how hard it was to find a Staples out here," she says, and hands the bag to Jensen.

He has to put his coffee down to open the bag and pull out the papers inside, but by now even his coffee addiction is taking a backseat. Sera's watching him like his mom used to when he'd open his gifts from Santa when he was a kid, and damn if the excitement isn't contagious.

When he pulls out the papers and reads the title, Jensen's pretty sure his mouth is hanging open. He reads it again, and then starts scanning the pages, not really sure he can believe it, but there it is. In black and white fax, in his hands. "Holy shit, Sera."

"It's just a preliminary copy," she's already explaining. "They're sending the official one to your mom's house in Richardson, since we're heading back to Texas for the holidays, anyhow. But it's for real, Jensen; Rock On Records wants to sign you!"

Jensen's fingers go kind of numb as he stands there, staring at something he's been dreaming of since the first time he nailed a D chord. It seems kind of weird that he should be getting everything he's ever wanted here and now, in a Nevada hotel room at eight-thirty in the morning, his ex-babysitter the only one to share it with. But that about sums up his life until now, and Jensen just knows, he can feel it in the middle of his gut, that everything's going to change now.

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

September, 2008

 

"Jensen Ackles?" Sera Gamble pauses, her arms full of copies of To Kill A Mockingbird. "He was always a nice boy," she says finally, shelving the books with quick efficiency. "I used to baby sit him and his sister, before we all got too old for that. He was always the peacemaker of the three of Donna and Alan's kids, but then that's Middle Child Syndrome for you. Still, you could always tell there was something different about him, something special."

The reporter waits for Sera to say more, but Jensen's former manager just goes back to shelving books. The bookstore is just small enough to be the comfortable kind of cramped, with more books than can really fit on the shelves in some places, so there are carts at the end of each aisle, piled high with the random titles and authors. Right now, the two women are standing in front of a display advertising class-required readings, and Sera checks off something on the clipboard she keeps jammed over Ayn Rand before moving on to the copies of Slaughterhouse-Five.

"So, then what? Did fame change him?" the reporter finally asks. She's all buttoned up and pressed in her pantsuit made from the kind of light brown tweed that makes anyone who looks at her think about perfectly organized cupboards and self-imposed bedtimes, and she's wearing sensible pumps that probably weren't the best choice for going to a college town bookstore where the nearest off-street parking is five blocks away. But for someone as busy as Sera Gamble, this is the only way to pin her down; Gamble's Books is open seven days a week, after all.

"Not really, no," Sera laughs, shaking her head. "He was always the same underneath it all, and if he took himself a little too seriously at first, I think it was just because he was scared they'd see he didn't have a clue what he was doing. No, I don't think it's the fame that changed Jensen. I don't know if he ever changed, as much as he discovered who he was underneath it all. And that certainly didn't have anything to do with the fame; if anything, I think being famous made it take longer."

The reporter can't help the skeptical look that brings; from what little she's found so far, she's not sure Ackles was playing with a full deck by the time he split. She's only just recently managed to sniff out enough people to hopefully uncover the rock article of the decade. Otherwise, her editor might just fire her and tell her to sell the story to People, since it's not like that rag has much of a reputation to uphold.

But Sera doesn't say anything else, and it's clear she's waiting for the reporter to ask the right questions. Ackles was notorious for that very thing even during his brief stint as the hottest thing in rock. "God, you two really do go back, don't you?" the reporter mutters, shaking her head and pulling her professional face back on. "Fine, then," she says, willing to play along if it moves things forward. "What did it have to do with, and who is he then, if he's not just some temperamental musician?"

Sera smiles, and it transforms her from simply pretty to stunningly beautiful. "The first thing you have to know about Jensen," she says, "is that he's always been absolutely obsessed with doing the right thing..."

~*~*~

December 14, 2005

 

"So, Sophia and I were thinking about going to the Silk Moon tonight for some Kung Pao. You and Chad should come."

Jared looks up to see Sandy perched on the counter next to his ethics textbook, idly sucking on a candy cane. He knows it's probably supposed to be hot or something, but all he can think of is that the red dye #9 has got to be doing a number on her stomach. Animal or human, the digestive tract just wasn't meant for artificial colors and flavors.

"Sophia can't stand Chad," he says instead, leaning back in the chair he stole out of the office and stretching his legs back. "She thinks he's, and I quote, a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal." Not that Jared can blame her, because Chad was a total douche the last time they went out with the girls.

Sandy laughs, and jumps down from the counter so they're almost eye-level, straightening her scrubs. Today's set has little cartoon kittens playing with balls of yarn and toy mice, and Jared wonders why the scrub manufacturers think guys his size wouldn't want cute cartoon animals. All he can find are boring green and white, and it's not like he works in a people hospital.

"Sophia likes Chad just fine," Sandy says, still smiling. "She's just making him work for her. So, what do you say?"

She looks a bit too hopeful, and Jared's trying to decide if now's the time to tell her that he's really not interested in her like that, he's sorry, when the door opens, saving him from himself.

"Can someone please help me?" a male voice calls, kind of rough and panicked, and Jared jumps up, head and shoulders above Sandy now. The doc's in an exam right now, but hopefully there's something Jared can do in the meantime.

There's a guy standing in the middle of reception, holding a large dog in his arms. Male, about a hundred pounds and change, dark brown, short hair, mixed-breed, unconscious. There's blood around the muzzle, and his front leg is hanging badly.

Jared's around the counter as fast as he can, already heading for the emergency treatment room. He should probably take the dog from the guy, but if there's broken bones involved, the less movement the better.

"What happened?" Jared asks as he holds the door open for the guy.

"I came around the corner," the guy says, easing the dog down on the table with gentle hands. "He was just there, and I tried to stop, but there was ice." The guy closes his eyes and shakes his head, like he's trying to forget it. "God, the sound he made. I never..."

Doc Kripke comes in right then, and glares at Jared. "No parents in surgery," he snaps, and then shifts his attention to the dog. "Now, let's see what we can do for this big boy here." Doc Kripke's got an easy way with animals, even if his way with people sucks, but Jared figures that's okay, all things considered.

"He's not-" the guy starts to protest, but Sandy just grabs him by the elbow and steers him out into reception as Doc Kripke tells Jared to scrub up and dig in.

~*~*~

It's an hour before Jared comes out of surgery, but he's got a grin the size of Texas on his face, and the peaceful satisfaction of knowing he and the doc saved a life. Well, it was mostly Doc Kripke who did the saving, Jared knows, but he helped, and that totally counts. There are a few things that Jared's still worried about, including giving this guy a lecture on the right way to take care of your dog, but at least he gets to give the lecture instead of telling the guy when he can pick up the ashes. Jared really hates that particular part of his job.

The guy's sitting in the back of the waiting room, scribbling something in a notebook, drumming out a beat with the back of his pencil each time he stops. Now that the emergency's over, Jared notices that the guy he's about to lecture is pretty hot for someone who neglects their dog. He's got short, light brown hair and what can only be described as a pretty face, and he's wearing a dark green sweater and a black leather jacket, tight faded blue jeans and scuffed black combat boots.

When he sees Jared coming, the guy stands. He's only a few inches shorter than Jared, which is a nice change, and he's got these amazing green eyes that catch and hold Jared, making him stumble a little. Sandy's watching, and probably Sophia, too, so he'll have to play it off as being tired later, but damned if looking this guy face-to-face doesn't make Jared's stomach do flips.

"How'd everything go?" the guy asks, sliding the notebook and pen into an inside pocket of his jacket.

Jared smiles his professional smile, because even if this guy's hotter than sin, that's no reason to forgive the fleas, worms, and malnutrition. "Your dog will be fine, Mr..."

"Ackles. But call me Jensen," the guy says. "But he's not my dog. I just couldn't leave him lying there, though, you know?"

"Not your dog?" And just like that, Jared's professional smile goes to genuine and blinding, if the way the guy - Jensen - blinks at him is any indicator. "So you just brought a stray in?"

Jensen shrugs and scratches the back of his neck, blushing a little. "Well, I did hit him with my car," he says, kind of helpless looking. "Kind of makes him my responsibility, don't you think?" He frowns, as if he's just thinking of something. "Don't know how I'm gonna pay for this, though."

"That's okay," Jared says, clapping a hand on Jensen's shoulder. The jacket's big and bulky, but Jared's fingers still curve all the way over Jensen's shoulder when he squeezes. "We've got a charity fund for indigent patients, as it were, so I'll get our friend on that tonight."

"Oh. Oh, cool," Jensen says, relaxing. Right about then is when Jared realizes he's still got his hand on Jensen's shoulder, which is how he can fell the tension draining out of the guy. Jared drops his hand, but Jensen just sort of stays there, looking kind of lost and relieved at the same time.

"Hey, look, do you wanna see him?" Jared offers. "If it weren't for you bringing him in, he wouldn't be alive, you know."

"If it weren't for me, he wouldn't be here in the first place," Jensen says, but he nods and follows Jared back to Recovery.

"Don't be so sure," Jared says, turning to face Jensen once they're in the room full of kennels. It smells like cat and dog and kibble in here, but underneath it there's the competent smell of antiseptic that always makes Jared think of clean exam tables and bouncing puppies. "Strays are the victims of hit-and-runs all the time. If he had to get hit by a car, at least it was someone who stuck around to do the right thing."

That gets a smile out of Jensen, small but genuine, and it warms Jared almost as much as getting to tell someone their baby was going to be just fine. Jared stands there, just enjoying that smile for another second before he remembers himself and coughs, turning back to the kennels. He walks over to one on the far end, with an IV mounted on the outside and one unconscious dog inside. This time, though, it's the lingering anesthetic keeping the dog under instead of trauma.

"Here he is," Jared says, and Jensen peers around his shoulder before actually standing beside him to look in. The dog's right front and rear legs are both in plaster casts and there are bandages around his middle from when Doc Kripke had to go in to stop the internal bleeding. "Right now he looks worse than he is," Jared adds when he sees how Jensen pales at the sight of all the damage. "A couple of months and he'll be good as new."

Jensen swallows, and Jared wonders what he's thinking. Jared's used to seeing animals like this, and he's able to see the potential for health even with the stitches and antibiotics, but he doubts Jensen's got that kind of objectivity in him.

"He's gonna need a pair of wheels to be getting around until then," Jensen finally says, his voice kind of rough, but otherwise good. The rough edge does things to Jared that Jared's definitely not thinking about right now, so instead, he just turns to grin at the other guy.

"At least then he'll have a reason to be in the road?" Jared suggests gently.

Jensen snorts and rolls his eyes, but he relaxes, and Jared's actually kind of impressed. He's seen grown men get all weepy over injured animals, and while Jared's done that himself a few times too, this is definitely not a situation that calls for tears.

"Anyhow, we need to put a name on his records," Jared says. "Any ideas?"

"Hmm..." Jensen hums, chewing on his lower lip. "How about Harley? After the best two-wheeled vehicle known to man?"

Jared grins and decides then and there that this guy is completely awesome. "Perfect," he says. They turn to leave, not saying anything between them, but it's not actually awkward at all.

Jensen's mostly to the door when Jared finally gets up his nerve. "Hey, Jensen?" he calls. Jensen turns around, a half-smirk teasing at full lips, and Jared has to swallow once before he can say anything else. "Do you want to get a drink later, maybe? The hero of the day should get some kind of reward."

"I still don't know about the hero bit," Jensen says, but his smirk is definitely turning into another of those smiles that make Jared warm all over, "but I'm not gonna say no to a drink." He pauses, and laughs quietly. "What's your name, man?"

"Jared. I'm Jared." And Jared grins again, feeling like he just saved a hundred lives.

~*~*~

Jared, the guy from the animal hospital is a fucking giant. He's tall and broad and he's got way more hair than he really needs, a kind of messy brown mop that comes from being too busy and too broke to bother with real haircuts. He's also full of energy in a way that Jensen figures should have Jared breaking shit all over, but Jared carries himself carefully, ducking through doors and always being the one to turn to the side to let people through in a crowd.

Jensen also learns soon enough, that Jared is possibly the first college student he's ever heard of to actually be completely accepted by the townies. Of course, considering that he knows everyone and their dog, literally, it kind of makes sense, but Jensen knows, even from when he was growing up, that there are the students, and there are the townies. Yeah, the students keep the town going with their business, but it's the townies who've built the place and the townies who keep it running. Us and them, just like college towns all over the country.

Only Jared doesn't seem to care about that. He's got a roommate that's a townie-turned-student, and he works for Doc Kripke, whose grandfather opened the animal hospital back in the 70s. He's friends with Mike, the crazy bald bartender that Jensen went to high school with, and he's in his second year of vet school at the college. Jared's from just outside San Antonio, but if Jensen didn't know better, he'd have thought the guy grew up right here in Richardson.

Jared also doesn't shut up.

"See, the thing about animals," he says as he sits back down at their table with their third round, acting like they're in the middle of a conversation, even though the last thing they'd talked about was why Mike wouldn't serve Goldschlager (teen-aged trauma) and why Jensen wouldn't drink it even if he did (same incident, involving a bet and a bottle someone had swiped from their dad's liquor cabinet). "The thing about animals is that most people don't give them any real credit. But animals aren't just dumb animals. They feel pain, sorrow, happiness. They mourn each other and their favorite humans. When they're sick, they seek comfort from us, like we do from our friends and loved ones. It's a symbiotic relationship between us and them, but most people just don't get it."

Jensen blinks at Jared and puts down his burger, feeling kind of guilty all of a sudden. "So, you don't eat meat?" he asks, feeling like an asshole as he says it.

"In Texas? Are you fucking kidding me?" Jared asks, and then laughs. "Nah, I eat meat," he goes on, snagging Jensen's burger and taking a bite. "I got Mike to switch the place to local free range beef. They treat the cows better, don't use as many chemicals, stuff like that. Jacked the prices up a buck or two, but totally improved everyone's karma."

"Huh," Jensen says, and takes his burger back. "Well, get your own, then."

The next round is Jensen's to get, and while he's at the bar, getting shit from Mike for being in town and not calling, someone puts some classic Clapton on the jukebox. Somehow, Jensen manages to get it through to Mike that being home for five hours does not make for blowing off his friends, and then takes the drinks back to his and Jared's table, footsteps going in time to the steady, perfect beat of Derek and the Dominos.

"The thing about music," Jensen says, and then stops himself, knowing that Jared doesn't live in his head and wouldn't have been following along with his train of though. But Jared just looks up from the remains of his burger and fries and lifts his eyebrows encouragingly. For a second there, it's almost like they're just picking up a thread of conversation. Then Jensen realizes the irony in it, and laughs. "The thing about music," he says again, sitting down, "is that it's a way of expressing that part of the soul that words alone can't. Anyone can be fucking Britney Spears-"

"And I bet a lot of people have," Jared says.

Jensen snorts. "True. But the point is that making real music, music that says something about the human condition, man, that's a fucking art. It's why movies have soundtracks; they deepen our emotions, invest us in what's going on and tell a story all their own. That's what I want to do."

"Make soundtracks?" Jared asks, and even Jensen can tell he's holding back a smirk.

"No," Jensen says, grinning broadly and waving a hand like he's brushing off Jared's smart-ass comment, and maybe he's a little more drunk than he thought, but then Mike's never really been the type to water down the drinks. "Jackass. I want to make music that matters."

Jared's quiet for a while, long enough for Clapton to finish and a generic pop song to come on, like some asshole with ADD and a roll of quarters had strafed the jukebox. Jensen looks around, but no one looks guilty, so he shrugs it off and turns back to Jared.

"I think," Jared says, looking down at the table and drawing patterns in the spilled beer with a soggy French fry, "that if you mean it, if it's honest, then it'll matter." He looks up suddenly, and Jensen feels like he can't move when those eyes are fixed on him. Hell, he's not sure if he's even still breathing. "Do you know what I mean?"

It takes Jensen a few seconds to remember what they were talking about. "Yeah," he says, and smiles at Jared, because it's awesome not only that Jared gets him, but that Jensen suddenly gets that even if there's something about Jared that makes his stomach flip, it's nothing compared to the fact that this guy is going to be an amazing friend.

"You gonna eat those?" Jared asks, pointing at Jensen's last few fries with his squished one.

"Nah, I'm good," Jensen says, and nudges the basket over. "So, what're you doing tomorrow?"

~*~*~

The next night, they don't go back to the bar. Instead, they go to McDonald's, the one on Arapaho, because the one by campus is jammed pack with students who didn't go home for the break and families with kids that probably should've eaten dinner way before nine at night. Jensen knows there are places closer than this one, but this is where he came when he was growing up, and he just likes it better than the other McDs in town. Plus, Jared doesn't have a car and Jensen does. So.

"My coworker keeps trying to get me to take her out," Jared says as he flips the top off his small chocolate shake and dips a fry into it, scooping out whipped ice cream that dribbles a little on the table before he shoves the mess into his mouth.

"The cute brunette?" Jensen asks, half horrified at what Jared calls dinner and kind of curious if it's as good as it looks.

Jared nods. "Sandy," he says, eating another shake-fry before actually adding more salt to the fries.

Jensen shrugs and steals a fry, dipping just the end in Jared's shake. "She's little. You'd be cute together, I suppose. Like a couple of miss-matched socks," he says, and pops the fry in his mouth. Jared's got an obsession with French fries, Jensen thinks, but at least he knows awesome ways to eat them.

But Jared's too busy laughing to notice Jensen eating his food. "Like socks?" he gasps, his loud laugh grabbing the attention of everyone around them. When Jared laughs, that big, dimpled smile of his just gets bigger, and he throws his head back so the sound seems to bounce back down around them, echoing off the Plexiglas walls of the play room next to them. "Dude," Jared's saying, "your metaphor skills need some serious work if you're hoping to go gold."

"Platinum," Jensen says, flipping Jared the bird. "It's called platinum, jackass. And just you wait; one of these days, you'll be able to tell people you knew me back when, and then you'll be sorry you mocked my metaphors. Socks totally equal romance. They mean intimacy. Vulnerability."

"They mean something funky-smelling under my bed, Jens," Jared shoots back, still chuckling. "And a metaphor's no good if you have to explain it; makes for annoying as fuck liner notes, too."

Jensen just rolls his eyes. "Everyone's a fucking critic," he says, but he's grinning. "Fine. No more sock-love metaphors."

"You'll thank me when you're famous," Jared says, nudging his fries and shake closer to the middle of the table, their Big Macs completely forgotten.

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

September, 2008

 

"But didn't it bother you when he just up and quit?" the reporter asks Sera, and it's not the first time she's tried asking the question today.

They're sitting in Sera's office now, both in the visitor's chairs across from an antique desk that even has one of those green glass desk lamps on it. There's a huge stack of mail on the corner of the desk, looking like it's about to topple over and into the trashcan on the floor, two empty cans of diet Wild Cherry Pepsi, and a MacBook, half open and quietly spinning its fan while it waits to be noticed. The walls are lined with bookshelves, but not the new printings from out on the floor; creased and dog-eared, spines destroyed from repeated readings, these books are personal and well-loved.

Sera huffs a laugh and shakes her head. "He bought me this place before he walked," she says instead, eyes distant and fond, and the reporter makes a note in her little pad to check if Jensen was ever rumored to be sleeping with his manager.

"Why?"

"Why not?" Sera shrugs and sips her soda. "Sure you're not thirsty?"

It's the reporter's turn to shrug, but it's not as fluid as Sera's. "I'm fine, thank you," she says. "Book stores are pretty expensive, as far as thank you gifts go."

"Not when you've become the newest rock sensation in less than six months," Sera counters, eyes twinkling because she knows what the reporter's driving at. "Then it's just a drop in the bucket. Still, I suppose it's because Jensen's always been the kind to worry about the people he cares about, wants to make sure they're taken care of however he can."

"Not the kind of qualities I see every day," the reporter says, and that gets a grin out of Sera.

"No, I wouldn't think so," she says. "If you want to know about Jensen the rock star, though, you should talk to his PA. Alona spent more time with him in the months before he left. Once Jensen made it big, we figured that there was no reason for me to follow him around like a mother hen."

"Maybe you should have," the reporter says, the words slipping out even as her eyes get big with horror that she's saying it.

Sera laughs again, but this time it's flat-sounding. "Yeah," she says. “Maybe I should have."

~*~*~*~

December, 2005

 

Jared's working through his Winter break at school, and Jensen's got the better part of an album to write, so they're not exactly inseparable over the next few days, but they might as well be. Dinner, drinking, playing Madden in Jensen’s parents’ basement on someone’s beat-to-hell PS2; it’s kind of like Jared’s always known Jensen, like they’ve always been friends, like they’ve spent every Christmas like this.

The thing is, Jared’s got a ridiculous-sized crush on his new friend, and he knows it’s stupid, knows Jensen’s just another hot straight guy. Chad would just say that Jared’s stupid and ridiculous-sized himself, and that’s why his crush is, too, but Jared doesn’t talk to Chad about Jensen. In fact, Jared kind of avoids talking to Chad as much as he can about half a week after he and Jensen start hanging out.

They don’t ever actually go back to Jared’s apartment, even. Chad’s been acting weird almost since Jared’s break started, and he’s actually been kind of pissy a couple of times about how late Jared’s stayed out doing whatever with Jensen. Whatever Chad’s problem is, and Jared knows his best friend’s got plenty of those, Jared doesn’t want to make Jensen suffer. Not while there’s still a chance of chasing him away.

But Jensen likes girls, and Jared knows this because Jensen checks them out every now and then. So far, Jared’s been able to just laugh it off or nod in agreement that, yeah, that chick’s legs really are awesome, but Jared knows eventually it’s going to have to come out (or he will, depending on how you look at it). He doesn’t think Jensen’s the kind of jerk to drop him because he’s gay or anything, but Jared’s greedy for his time with Jensen, and really, who wants to make a good thing awkward?

Still, sometimes Jared barely catches himself in time before he leans in a little too close, or says something a little too crazy. Or maybe a little too flirty. Jared's not sure there's a difference anymore these days, not with him spending all this time with a guy who might be his dream guy, if it weren't for the whole obviously not digging dudes thing Jensen's got going on, but then again, no one's perfect.

Anyhow, so Jared does his best to only worry about stuff like that when Jensen’s not around, because he tends to start thinking himself into circles and then he just gets his ass handed to him in Madden, which sucks. Especially when they're betting on who gets to pay for pizza. Jared says Jensen should always pay, since he's the soon to be famous rock star, and Jared's the one who's going to be elbow deep in dog shit for the rest of his life. Jensen, of course, thinks that Jared should pay, because at least Jared's got a good career ahead of him, and Jensen's high points so far include playing gigs in places where they put you behind chicken wire.

And that's about how most days go between them, until about three days before Jensen has to go back on the road (New Year's day, and how disgusting is that?), which is also the day before Jared's classes start back up again.

Jared's working, but Jensen shows up anyhow, huddled in his leather jacket against the cold, a dark green scarf that his mom just gave him for Christmas wrapped around his neck. There's a weird look in his eyes, like Jensen's got something on his mind that won't quit, and Jared can totally understand that. While Jensen's warming up some, Jared invites him in the back to visit with Harley while Jared cleans the kennels. It's a nasty job, but it's easy and it keeps the animals happy, so Jared doesn't really mind doing it. Especially if he has Jensen for the company.

"What's up, man?" Jared asks, reaching in to Misty's kennel to pull out her litter pan. The tiny gray cat, still groggy from being spayed the day before, purrs loudly and knocks her little head hard against Jared's wrist in greeting. He spills some of the litter, but doesn't mind, because it's seriously cute.

Jensen shrugs. Harley's kennel is open, and Jensen's leaning in the scratch behind his ears, making friends as fast as he can, like he still feels guilty for the accident. It kind of makes Jared's heart trip a little to see that, but Jared ignores those things when Jensen's around, since it keeps him that much saner.

Eventually, Jared gets that Jensen's not going to give it up without at least a little bit of a fight. "Aren't you supposed to be writing about socks or something?" he asks, giving Misty one last pat before moving down the line.

"Asshole," Jensen says, laughing softly. But Jared knows he doesn't really mean it, and knows it's worked when he sees Jensen relax enough to actually take off his jacket and scarf, draping them over a nearby chair. "I already told you I wasn't going to write about socks."

"You can write about them if you want," Jared says, checking Pogo's stitches and making sure his water's full. "It's all a matter in the use and writing of the metaphor, and that's what you suck at."

"Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure I just suck at writing in general," Jensen says, and that gets Jared's attention. He whips his head around to see Jensen is concentrating really hard on petting Harley, so Jared goes back to his work, somehow way more aware of Jensen than before.

"Why would you say that?" Jared asks. True, Jared can't carry a tune in a bucket, but he can read music thanks to all those years of piano lessons, and Jensen's music is good. Deceptively simple with complicated themes tying one song to the next, variations on tried and true techniques that make them new all over again, and his lyrics always go with the instrumentation, flowing and rhyming, rising and falling with the tide of the music. Granted, Jared might be biased, but he's pretty sure he can spot talent when it's as obvious as this.

Eventually, Jared realizes it's been a while since he's asked his question, but he just lets it hang there between them. No pressure to answer that Jensen doesn't make on his own. They aren't that close yet, despite practically being conjoined twins for the past couple of weeks, so Jared's not even sure if he's allowed to push that far.

"You ever been in love, Jared?" Jensen asks, and Jared instantly thinks about Justin in English 101. Freshman year in college, and Justin asked Jared to tutor him. Turned out that Justin was already a published writer, he just didn't feel like testing out and he sucked at pick-up lines. They lasted two years before Justin gave up on wasting time in college and took a job at one of those magazines based in New York. It took Jared six months to get over him, but he still remembers now how his stomach used to do those weird little flips when he'd get near to Justin in those early days.

Kind of like how he feels right now, and fuck, he's thinking about it again.

"Once," Jared says finally. "Didn't work out."

He waits for Jensen to say something else, but the moment stretches out until it’s almost awkward, and Jared’s not having any of that. So he takes a breath and turns to face Jensen, careful to keep his face cool and casual and not half as interested in the answer as he really is.

“You?” he asks Jensen, not sure he wants to hear about it if Jensen’s found some internet slut to fall for instead of Jared. And there he goes, thinking about it again. “Have you?”

“Nah.” Jensen shakes his head quickly, a firm denial that he doesn’t have to even think about, and Jared lets a tiny breath go, ignoring the fact that he was even holding it in the first place. “Not me.”

“Aww, Jen,” Jared says, the nickname tripping easily out of his mouth. “Someday your princess will come. I promise.”

Jensen flips Jared the bird for that. “Yeah, well, that doesn’t help with now,” he says, and okay, what?

“I think you lost me somewhere,” Jared says, refilling Fifi’s kibble (who still names their dog Fifi anymore these days, anyhow?). Just because Jensen’s going a little bit crazy doesn’t mean Jared’s got an excuse to slack off.

"You remember how that night in Mike's bar?" Jensen asks, and Jared nods. Man, does he ever remember that night; Jared's not sure he ever clicked with anyone as easily as he did with Jensen over beer, free range burgers, and half-spoken conversations. "You said so long as it was honest, so long as I meant it..."

And then someone turns the light on for Jared, and he can't help but laugh a little, grinning broadly at Jensen. "You're trying to write a love song," Jared says, dragging out the words. "And you don't know what it's like to actually be in love."

Jensen actually blushes at that and runs a hand through his hair, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm this close to asking my mother about it, man," he admits, and that gets a bark of laughter out of Jared. Fifi starts yapping, wagging her cotton-ball tail, and Jared vaguely notes that this is the most energy the elderly miniature poodle has shown in a couple of days. Jensen glares at Jared and Fifi, reaches for his jacket. "Glad I amuse you."

"No, Jen, wait," Jared says, and he's across the room, hand on Jensen's shoulder. "Dude, even people who've been in love can't explain it. It's like... It's like flying. It's like coming home for Christmas. It's like," he pauses, grins broadly, "finding a matching pair in the basket of mismatched socks. It's like going hiking in the desert without a map, but at the same time it's like having a perfect, sacred sanctuary for two. And sometimes it's like none of that at all, but you still feel that comfort, that fear, that dizzy feeling in the pit of you. And there's the need. The longing. That absolute craving to be with the other person as much as you can because that's when all that jumble finally makes sense. Love songs just don't come close to saying all that, not normally."

Jared wants to say more, because there's even more than just that to being in love, but when he opens his mouth, the words just don't happen. So instead, he lets go of Jensen's shoulder and waves his arms wide, like he's giving up on trying to explain, because he kind of is. Justin was always the better one with words, anyhow.

"Huh," Jensen says, and suddenly Jared just knows what he's going to say next, knows he's going to have to make a choice now. "She sounds like a pretty awesome chick."

"He," Jared corrects firmly, outing himself without actually consciously deciding to say it. Only, he hasn't so much as intentionally mislead Jensen once since they've met, so maybe it makes sense that Jared's not going to start now. "He was amazing. We're still friends."

There's a long pause, and Jared's most definitely holding his breath now, waiting to see how Jensen's going to react. Then Jensen shrugs and plops down in the chair, stretching over to wiggle his fingers through the kennel bars at a litter of motherless kittens.

"I guess that explains why you're not into Sandy, then," he says, and then looks at Jared. "You had lunch yet? I'm fucking starved, man."

~*~*~

They’re sitting on a picnic table in Woodland Park about half an hour later, eating tacos they got from a truck in the back of the parking lot out front of the animal hospital. Jared’s pretty sure the chicken was the right choice, since the beef would’ve given them E. coli or something. They've got their feet on the bench and their backs to the afternoon sun, when Jensen finally starts talking.

“The thing is, I’m not sure I made the right choice, some days,” he says, and Jared just takes a bite of his taco, the lettuce crunching nicely. When Jared had been in his first vet tech job during undergrad, there had been a huge dog that someone had dumped at the local shelter. Probably part Great Dane, he got the name Boo-boo from how easily spooked he was, and Jared got nominated as the newbie to go and get some samples from Boo-boo. Boo-boo was terrified of strangers, but that was nothing compared to how he absolutely freaked out at having a tall man looming over him. Jared had backed off and sat down on the floor of Boo-boo’s pen, just playing with the big rope knot by himself until Boo-boo relaxed and came to Jared on his own.

Jared’s not sure how Jensen would react to being a human Boo-boo in his mind, so he doesn’t say anything, just offers over the large Coke they’re sharing and deliberately does not look to see exactly how Jensen’s lips wrap around the straw. Instead, Jared just looks at the trees across the field, most bare by now. Trees are a lot safer than thinking about kissing the daylights out of a guy that's trying to open up to you, anyhow.

“I could've gone to college,” Jensen says quietly. “Physical therapy or something, always was kind of interested in it since I blew my knee out in high school. What if I suck at this, and I've totally wasted my life so far?”

“You love music,” Jared points out. And Jensen does love music, just as much as Jared loves animals. It's one of those facts that just don't change. Like death and taxes, but way more rewarding.

“What if I should've done something else with my life?” Jensen asks, wadding up his taco wrapper and leaning back, hands braced on the table and looking up at the bright blue sky. “I was always good at acting, too. But I picked music, and do you have any idea how hard it is to make enough money for dinner when you're on the road? By the time there's gas and the hotel room and fixing equipment and all that other bullshit, you're lucky to be rocking a dollar menu once or twice a day. Just because I got signed doesn't mean I'm gonna suddenly be rich. Hell, my cell phone's still on my parents' plan.” Jensen groans, and flops back on the table, covers his face with his hand and groans. “Maybe it's just the whole New Years thing,” he finally says, not lifting his hand.

Jared shakes his head, grinning even though he knows Jensen can't see him. “Dude,” he says. “I hear you. My student loans are six figures. What if I burn out and can't stand the idea of another cat shedding all over me ever again? Or if it turns out I can't handle more than the tech jobs, or any or the million other things that could happen to prove I made a fucking huge mistake... But I mean, this is me. It's who I am and it's where I belong. Like you and music, because you wouldn't be half as happy in some boring ass day job, and you know it.”

“But...” Jensen says, and stops, because Jared is the king of perfect logic.

“But nothing, man,” Jared says back. “Only thing you can hope to do on any given day is what's best. And if you're miserable, chances are you haven't been doing that. Music makes you happy. When you're happy, the people around you are happy. Making the people around you happy is the right thing, ergo, music is the right thing.”

Jensen doesn't say anything for a while, and Jared's sure it's because he can't find holes in Jared's argument. Then Jensen lifts his head and looks at Jared, disbelief on his face.

“Dude,” Jensen says, “did you just use ergo in a sentence?”

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

October, 2008

 

“Jensen was big on learning names,” Alona says, flicking her long blond hair over her shoulder, twisting it together and stabbing a pen into it so it stays in a loose sort of bun. “When he'd meet you, he'd shake your hand and say your name a few times, and mostly he remembered. Said his mom taught him to respect people like that.” She smiles slightly, straightens the stack of text books on the table in front of her. “Never met anyone like that before. Certainly not in Nashville, but there Jensen was, big as life and twice as pretty. And he was my boss.” She laughs. “I thought I'd hit the lottery.”

The reporter's traded in the suit pants for a pair of crisp blue jeans now, and instead of the tailored jacket, she's got a generic windbreaker on, like she's trying to fit in with the students. It's not working. Alona's wearing more naturally casual clothes; frayed and faded hip-hugging jeans, a battered flannel and a snug Ackles tour shirt that's seen better days, but despite her slouch, there's a tension running through her tiny frame.

This time of night in the middle of the week, the student union at UC Berkley is almost empty except for the two of them, a freshman behind the counter and one guy with his head pillowed in his arms on a table in the corner, snoring quietly. Alona looks around, like she half expects someone to interrupt them, but the reporter just sits there patiently, making notes in her pad while the recorder keeps track of the uncomfortable silence.

“Do you know where Jensen is now?” the reporter finally asks, never once taking her eyes off Alona's face.

Alona twitches, just slightly, and the reporter leans forward, sniffing for blood in the water. But Alona just shakes her head as her expression smooths.

“It doesn't matter,” she says. “Jensen's where he needs to be right now, I'd say. That's what matters.”

The reporter stares at Alona for a few beats, clearly deciding if now is the time to push the issue. Then she sits back in her chair, deliberately relaxing into something that might be close to a slouch. Round one to the barista/personal assistant/college student.

“So is there anything you can tell me?” the reporter says finally. “Why he walked away, maybe? Otherwise, I'm not too sure why you agreed to meet with me.”

“Not much to tell,” Alona says, a half-grin on her face. “Most of Jensen's story is his to tell, and no one else's. I can tell you, though, that it wasn't all hype. He really was one of the sweetest guys in the business. If he hadn't walked, Nashville would've probably chewed him up and spit him back out again in another year. No one's that nice and survives fame for long. The guy wrote jingles for the ASPCA for free, did you know? Platinum album under his belt, and he wrote jingles. Anonymously.”

“Uh-huh,” the reporter says.

Alona laughs. “If you met him, you'd believe me.”

~*~*~*~

January, 2006

 

Jensen's been back on the road a week before he gives up and calls the animal hospital. He feels like an idiot, and possibly kind of like a 13-ear old girl, but he wants to talk to Jared, and the strange feeling he's got in his stomach won't go away. Maybe it's because when he was hanging out with Jared, everything seems so much simpler, and the ground just seems more solid, like he's holding everything in place with those giant banana boat feet of his. But it doesn't really matter, because Jensen kind of feels like how he did before the time he asked Cindy Marks to their junior high formal, and that right there is enough to make Jensen's brain go skittering off in the other direction, screaming at him to just hang up the phone before he does something stupid.

“Animal hospital,” a perky, cute female voice answers just as he's about to flip his brand new cell shut. “Sandy speaking, how may I help you?”

“Uh, hi,” Jensen says, and then stops. Jared's gone back to classes by now, and Jensen suddenly realizes that there's a good chance he's not even at the hospital right now at all. “I brought a dog in a couple of weeks ago, a stray, and, uh...”

“Jensen?” Sandy asks, and Jensen doesn't know if he's grateful or embarrassed that she knows exactly who he is when he's stuttering like a complete tool.

“Yeah,” he says, playing it cool.

“It's good to hear from you,” Sandy says. “Not many people bother to check up on the strays they bring in, and not many are as hot as you, you know.”

“Uh, thanks?” he says, blinking at the scarred fake wood of the nightstand in the motel room he and Sera are stuck sharing for this stop. Sera's gone out to make magic happen with what money they have for dinner, and Jensen's sure she'd be clucking over him if she knew he was being flirted with by a cute animal lover. “How is Harley, anyhow?”

What he wants to ask is if Jared's there, but the words are stuck, and they die off as Sandy rattles off a bunch of statistics, and then quickly follows up with, “But you really want to talk to Jared.”

“Huh?” Jensen says, and he wonders if Sandy's a mind reader, and if that's the case then she shouldn't be wasting her time asking Jared out.

“Jared's been keeping a really close eye on Harley,” she says. “If you want to know how he's doing, you'd really want to talk to Jared about that.”

“Oh, okay,” Jensen says, feeling kind of confused, but willing to go with it. “Is Jared there, then?”

Sandy sighs, and says, “Yeah.” Jensen can hear the disappointment in her voice. He almost wants to apologize to her for it, but then she brightens again. “Hang on a sec.”

Jensen listens to crappy radio commercials for a minute or so before the line clicks on again, and he hears a familiar voice.

“Jen?”

“Hey,” Jensen says, ignoring the swoop in his stomach at the nickname. He always hated being called Jen or Jenny when he was a kid, but somehow with Jared it's okay. “How you doing?”

“Okay, I guess. Busy, but then what else is new?” Jared says, and Jensen swears he can hear the smile in his voice. “Dude, why didn't you call my cell?”

“Something wrong with Sandy?” Jensen asks instead. “She seemed kind of down.”

There's a long pause before Jared finally says, strangely quiet, “I told her. About Justin.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” Jared says, and gives a flat kind of laugh. “So, now she probably thinks. You know.”

“That I'm the replacement?” Jensen asks, and okay, that was not a cue for his stomach to start with the swooping shit again.

“Uh, yeah,” Jared says, sounding kind of embarrassed. “I'll tell her later you're not.”

“Nah, it's cool,” Jensen says. “Might make it easier to accept that she's barking up the wrong tree.”

Jared goes quiet in that thinking too much kind of way, and Jensen scrambles to find something to distract the both of them from the fact that he just offered to play boyfriends with his buddy. Good old boys, indeed.

“So, don't you want to know what happened to my phone?” he asks, forcing a smirk. It really is a good story he's got.

“Something happened to your phone?” Jared asks, latching onto the new topic quickly like a good man. “What?”

Jensen laughs. “Well, I kind of dropped it in the john. And it seems you can't transfer numbers from a piss-soaked phone.”

“Huh. Go figure,” Jared says, managing to hold it together another few seconds before losing his shit and cracking up, normal restored. “In the toilet? This I have got to hear.”

~*~*~

They somehow wind up calling each other every few days after that, talking about Jensen's gigs and Jared's classes, the weird shit they've seen or done, and the people they've met. It's comfortable, fun, and Jensen looks forward to talking to Jared to hear what he'll say about the drunk club manager that thought Sera was auditioning for a job as a cage dancer. The weird swooping in his stomach finally settles down, too, and Jensen's kind of grateful his mancrush seems to have faded on its own. Would have made things awkward as hell the next time they hang out, he figures.

Jensen finishes his road dates a few days before his 28th birthday. He's supposed to be in Nashville to start recording a week later, but since he finished up in California, Texas is kind of on the way. He stays at his folks' house, but he spends most of his time with Jared.

When they say goodbye at the train station at the end of the week, Jensen lets himself hug Jared back a little longer than maybe he should, and that's when he realizes that maybe his mancrush isn't gone, and that maybe it's something more than that.

He spends the first week of meetings having a very quiet freak out, but only Sera notices that something is wrong. Jensen can only hope that she doesn't let him sign anything too stupid.

Then Jensen's recording his first album on a major label, the first time he's set foot in a studio where he didn't have to pay for the time and equipment himself. He was surprised at first that the studio is in Nashville, since his sound isn't about lost dogs and busted up trucks, but music meccas are music meccas, and he's being paid to do this now, which makes him just as sick in the stomach as thinking about Jared.

Jensen is so screwed.

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

October, 2008

 

Christian Kane is different than what the reporter's been expecting. By all accounts, he's a country musician that does session gigs on the side now and then. His music is pretty standard Nashville stuff; not bad, but not chart-topping either, and mostly he plays in local clubs and bars. The reporter knows that this is probably the only way he'll ever be interviewed by Rolling Stone, but you'd never know it by the way he's ignoring her in favor of setting up the stage.

But even aside from that, Kane is a little rougher around the edges than his country reputation even paints him as. He wears too-long jeans with destroyed cuffs at the bottom and a slim dark blue t-shirt on top of a white long-sleeved thermal, showing off his narrow waist and broad shoulders, and he has a black and white knitted cap jammed down over his head, light brown hair sticking out from under the edges. He speaks quietly to his bandmates (who are also his road crew), his raspy voice pointing out things that need to be done and equipment that has to be fetched, and when he frowns, his eyes squint and slant downward, like he's annoyed with the world in general.

The reporter has given up on looking like she's waiting patiently, since she's figured out by now that he's doing this deliberately to rattle her. Instead, she's using this time to make phone calls, schedule appointments and continue on her quest to track down another of Ackles's old friends. She still hasn't found Ackles, but she's close enough that she can sense it. Not that Kane's going to be the one to give the information up. In fact, she's pretty sure this interview is going to be a waste of time, but at this point it's a matter of principle after waiting so long.

Finally Kane comes over, pulling a chair from the table the reporter's sitting at, spinning it around and resting his arms across the back. He smirks at her, and the reporter rolls her eyes. He won the game, she gives him that, but he'd better make it worthwhile.

“So you're here about Jensen,” he says in a voice that's rougher than she's expected after listening to the CD in her rental out front.

“I don't suppose you'd tell me where I can find him?” she asks, hitting the record button.

Kane chuckles. “'Fraid not, darling,” he says. A waitress appears and hands him a beer he hadn't ordered, ignoring the reporter just like the rest of the staff has since she walked in.

The reporter is down to jeans and a t-shirt. The new, bright white shirt is tucked into the waistband of jeans that have finally lost the crease down the side. It's probably the most casual she's ever been in her life, but she'd still stand out just as much as if she were wearing an evening gown. Kane looks her over slowly, a deliberate slide of his eyes that takes in the length of her legs and the full curves of her chest in a way almost makes her squirm, and his smirk widens as he takes a swig from the brown long-necked bottle.

“Anything else you wanna know?” he asks her, beer dangling between his fingers. “Otherwise, this is gonna be a mighty short interview.”

“Well, not if you're going to tell me how absolutely perfect he is,” the reporter says, scowling.

Kane laughs, a quiet sound that has a warm smile behind it. “You've been talking to the girls, then?” he asks, and chuckles again when the reporter nods. “Yeah, Jensen's always had that effect on women. They either want to marry him or momma him, and they never can see anything but all his perfect smiles and yes ma'ams. Boy could be hell on wheels, though, if he felt like it.”

“How'd you meet him?”

“He needed a couple of session players for his album, and me and Steve-” he jerks his thumb over his shoulder to a neatly dressed man with chin-length hair almost the same color as Kane's, fiddling with a couple of keyboard stands “-we were hungry.”

The reporter grins, relaxing at the honesty. “What was he like then?”

Kane laughs again. “Still drunk as shit from the night before. Turns out he and his manager had some kind of shooter contest to celebrate signing things. We did sound work and he gave us some music, but Jensen wasn't worth recording until the next day. And he was edgier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Now, I know he's probably the coolest mother fucker you'll meet, but back then I just thought he was another high maintenance fucktard that slept with the right person to get a contract.”

“So, not instant friends, then.”

“Hell no. Nothing a night or two of drinking and the pleasure of a steady paycheck couldn't fix, though.”

The reporter scribbles a doodle in the corner of her notepad, deliberately casual. “So what was wrong with him when you met, then?”

Kane shrugs, finishes off his beer. “He'd gone and fallen for someone... difficult,” he says. “And by the time he started to grow a pair, it was even more complicated.”

“Who?” It comes out a bit sharper than she means it to, but Kane waves the question off.

“Not my story to tell, darling,” he says. “But I can tell you he fell hard. Hard enough that I'm not sure there was a chance of getting back up again. You ever meet someone like that, who knocked your world for a loop and made you stupid?”

“Not really,” the reporter says. “I've always been pretty sure that only happens in movies and country songs.”

“Heh,” Kane huffs in laughter. “Well, I reckon that's one way of looking at it. You got a first name?”

She hesitates, knowing he's got to know her name if he knew she was coming to talk to him in the first place. So he's not asking her name, so much as he's asking to call her by it.

“Danneel,” she finally says.

“Nice to meet you, Danneel,” he says back. “Folks call me Chris. Now what do you say you put that notepad away and stay for the show so I can buy you a drink after?”

~*~*~*~

May, 2006

“Album's almost done,” Jensen says in a lull in their conversation, and Jared sits upright in bed, cellphone clamped to the side of his head.

“No shit?” he asks. “Jen, that's awesome! When does it go to print?”

“Go to print?” Jensen laughs. “Print?”

“Whatever. I'm totally waving my hand at you,” Jared says, and he really is. “When is it going to be on actual CDs so I can make you sign one for me?”

Jensen's still laughing when he answers. “We've got another couple weeks left, then it should be ready about a month after that. Something about production schedules and art approval.” He pauses, takes a deep breath, and Jared gets this sudden feeling like Jensen's going to say something big, say something to mess up the careful balance Jared's been working on since Jensen said they could let Sandy think they were dating.

“So I finally found out what crawled up Chad's ass,” Jared says quickly. He can't afford to let Jensen give him another false reason to hope. He's already completely gone on the guy as it is, and the whole Jensen doesn't dig dick mantra stopped working about two months ago with Jensen's last visit.

“Yeah?” Jensen says finally, and Jared nods before he remembers that Jensen can't actually see him.

“Yeah,” he says, and pauses, not sure how to say it. “We're together now,” he blurts out finally, the words squeezing past this tight feeling in his chest, like Harley's sitting on him or something. “Dating, I mean.”

There's a long pause, probably one of the first uncomfortable pauses between them since they met. Fuck, was that only six months ago? There are days that Jared feels like he's known Jensen all his life, and those days are way more than times like this, when Jared's suddenly in the dark, and not even sure if Jensen's still on the phone.

“Jen?” he asks, hating himself for how uncertain he sounds.

“No, I'm...” Jensen says quickly, breathing deeply. “I'm here. Sorry. But hey, that's great. You and Chad, I mean. Didn't know it was like that between you two. Just... just surprised, is all.”

“Yeah, it just happened one night,” Jared says. He doesn't mention that they were drunk, or that Jared had gotten drunk because Sandy had asked him for the hundredth time about Jensen and he'd snapped and told her they'd broken up. That he'd been drunk because he'd broken up with his pretend boyfriend that was just his straight best friend. “Few weeks ago. It's good, though. Chad's-”

“Hang on a sec, Jay,” Jensen says, interrupting him. Before Jared can answer, the phone goes muffled, Jensen's voice rumbling like he has the mouthpiece pressed against his chest while he talks to a guy, the voice new and strange and Jared feels a sudden flash of hot jealousy in his gut. “Sorry about that,” Jensen says, coming back to the line. His voice sounds strained and a little too-bright, like he's forcing the casual tone. “Look, a couple of guys in the band want to go out and grab some beers, and I'm gonna go with them. Call you later?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Jared says, slow and yeah, maybe with a little bit of a stammer.

“Cool.” Jensen practically bites off the word, and then rushes on before Jared can process it. “Talk to you later. And Jared? Congrats.”

“Later,” Jared says, “and thanks.” But the line's already gone dead.

~*~*~

July 19, 2006

 

Jensen manages to weasel a day to himself out of the promotional hype the label's putting him through to get home for Jared's birthday. Jared kept telling him it was okay, that he didn't have to, but Jensen insisted, making that damn hope flare up again in Jared's stomach, even though the past few months have been shit between them.

They used to talk every few days, even if it was just for a few minutes to bitch about work, school, friends, recording. Whatever. But now, it's more like once a week, Jared pathetically clinging on to anything Jensen says and Jensen trying to dance around the fact that Jared's screwing Chad. Jared supposes he should be grateful for the subtle reminder that gay sex isn't Jensen's thing, but instead Jared just finds himself resenting how Chad's always in the middle of things now, even when he's not in the room.

Since Jensen's promo stops are in the North East this week, most of his free day gets eaten up by travel; something about changing planes in Atlanta even though he's flying from Philadelphia to Dallas. Then he has to catch a train to Richardson, and then get a ride to the party at Jared and Chad's, so he won't be there before 10:00 at night, and Jared hasn't stopped running Jensen's itinerary in his head over and over again since he woke up this morning. It's ridiculous, and Jared knows that Chad probably knows exactly what's got Jared so distracted, but Jared can't stop himself from looking at the clock, waiting on 10:00. Waiting on Jensen.

By 11:30, Jensen still hasn't shown, and Jared's working his way toward as drunk as he can get away with. Chad's gotten sick of Jared's “drunk-ass birthday moping,” and has wandered off somewhere to actually enjoy Jared's party. Jared can't really blame him, either, and makes a promise to himself to make it up to Chad later; dating or not, they're still friends and even in his drunk state, Jared knows you're supposed to treat your friends better than this.

There's a whoop and holler near the front door, and Jared swings his head around to see the lights bouncing off Mike's shaved head as he hefts a box of still more booze.

“The party can start, bitches!” Mike shouts and does a lewd tongue flicker at the nearest girl that he doesn't know. Jared snorts and is just about to relax back into the sofa again when he sees who's standing behind Mike, eyes scanning the crowd of drunk people over and over until they land on Jared and stop.

“Jensen,” Jared whispers to no one in particular. He pushes himself up and meets Jensen halfway across the room. They stop, in arm's reach but not touching, and Jared grins at Jensen, not caring that it's probably sloppy as hell. “Hey,” he says, and then stops, because he doesn't actually know what else to say. Maybe getting this drunk wasn't the best idea after all.

“Hey,” Jensen says, and runs his hand through his hair. “Sorry I'm so late. Mike had to wait for Tom to show up so we could go.”

“It's cool,” Jared says, and okay, he's pretty sure he's still grinning like a tool, but at least Jensen's grinning just as much. It's kind of awkward, but at the same time kind of awesome, because even aside from all the being head over heels crap, Jared's just plain missed Jensen.

“C'mere,” Jesen says gruffly, pulling Jared into a hug. “Happy birthday, man,” he says, patting Jared's back one more time before pulling away. “Good to see you,” he adds.

“Yeah,” Jared agrees, still grinning like an idiot. “Good.”

They make the rounds, grabbing enough drinks to get Jensen as close to caught up as he can risk it with his early flight back East. At one point, Jared slings his arm around Jensen's shoulders, and maybe it's the whole being drunk part and maybe it's not, but he can swear that he feels Jensen lean into him for a minute. And then they're suddenly wrestling in the middle of Jared's living living room, grappling and laughing until there's a loud crash and one of Chad's curbside pick-up lamps goes over the edge of the end table.

Sandy breaks them apart, surprising Jared with how strong she is even though he's seem her heft grown rottweilers like they're only puppies, and tosses them out the back door, whispering something in Jared's ear about being careful. Jared's got no idea what she's talking about, of course, so he just plops down on the back steps, right next to Jensen so their shoulders bump companionably. Jared glances blearily at his watch; it's barely four in the morning.

The backyard is empty of people and dogs, since Jared sent his kids to Doc Kripke's for the night, knowing all the noise and strangers would drive them crazy. There's a mess of toys scattered across the lawn, and in the back corner there's the shed Jared converted and insulated to turn into a dog house big enough for both his Sadie and Harley, who settled in with Sadie right away like he'd always lived with them. It's a Texas summer night, and the air is thick with heat, making Jared's shirt itch and his hair stick to his neck. All he needs now is a cold one and life would be almost damn perfect.

“Never been to your house before,” Jensen says quietly, handing Jared a bottle of beer, and that must have been what Jensen was grabbing while Sandy was talking to Jared.

“Yeah, well, Chad was being a dick,” Jared says before he can stop himself. “Got pissy as hell about you and me hanging out.”

Jensen shrugs. “Guess you know why now, huh?” he says, taking a drink.

“Guess so,” Jared mumbles, and he kind of wishes that Chad had actually had a real reason to be so jealous. No, strike that, he really wishes there was something for anyone to be jealous of when it came to Jensen.

“So how're you guys?” Jensen asks slowly, like he doesn't really want to know and sure as hell doesn't want details. “You and Chad?”

“Fan-fucking-tastic,” Jared drawls.

“Well, that's good,” Jensen says, his words careful and strange sounding. He sets his beer down on the step and slaps his hands to his thighs. “I should probably go. Early flight, gotta catch a train, all that fun shit.”

“All your fault,” Jared says suddenly, the words tumbling past numb lips as he grabs Jensen's wrist, keeping him there because a couple of hours is never enough, and because Jared doesn't think he'll be capable of drinking this much liquid courage ever again without going to the hospital, so now is clearly the perfect time to talk about this. “Me and Chad. It's all your fault, Jen.”

“Come again?” Jensen says, voice bitter. “I don't remember telling you to hook up. I don't even know him and I think he's a prick.”

Jared shakes his head, and then stops quickly because it's murder on keeping the world from spinning too far off axis. “Your fault,” he says again, trying to be clear and pretty sure he's failing. Fuck it, he's drunk anyhow. “'Cause I can't have you.”

“Jared,” Jensen says in a low voice that makes Jared's stomach clench and his pants feel uncomfortably tight. “Jared, you're drunk.”

“So?” Jared asks, determined to make Jensen understand how everything comes back to this. “Thing is, I'm so fucking crazy about you I can't think straight. I love you so damn much that I know I'm wasting my time with Chad, but at lease he wants me like you don't and I know I'm going to want to throw myself off the roof in the morning for fucking everything up and saying this now, but I can't take it anymore, Jen. Because I love you and I know it's fucked up and will you just say something already and stop me?”

There's a long pause, and Jared wonders if Jensen's going to hit him now. Part of him kind of hopes he does, because someone's going to kick Jared's ass about this, and if it's not Jensen, it'll be Jared, because, fuck. Did he really just say all that?

“Fuck this,” Jensen breathes, and Jared thinks here it comes.

But instead, Jensen grabs Jared and seals their mouths together. The kiss is almost over before Jared's brain finally processes that Jensen is kissing him. Then Jensen's licking at Jared's mouth and just starting to pull away when Jared catches up and grabs, hauling him back. Jared kisses Jensen back with interest, with as much want and need and anything else Jared can put into something this simple, tracing with his tongue against Jensen's. Jensen's hands are buried in his hair and Jared rocks up, gasping Jensen's name as his head starts spinning from too much alcohol and not enough blood in his upstairs brain.

Jensen breaks off the kiss and then starts kissing down Jared's neck, mouthing Jared's name and these amazing, hot groans that are going straight to Jared's cock. Jared tilts his head back to give Jensen more room to work, but he goes too far, and topples backwards onto the deck, hands flailing and grabbing to hold Jensen in place, taking him down with Jared. But Jensen stops, his forehead pressed to Jared's shoulder, and Jared's not sure, but Jen might be laughing at him.

“Don't stop now,” Jared says helpfully.

“Jackass,” Jensen says, and yeah, he's definitely laughing. “You really that drunk?”

Jared nods and hums as he runs his hands over Jensen's back, down to cup his ass and pulling him closer, almost on top of Jared now. “You?”

“Maybe,” Jensen says on a laugh, and then pushes up, looking at Jared from a bit too close, and Jared has to close one eye so there's only one Jensen to focus on. “I should go,” he says, slow and reluctant, and even Jared can tell Jensen's staring at his mouth.

“I'd rather you came,” Jared says with a leer and a squeeze of Jensen's amazing ass. Fuck, it's just perfect in Jared's hands, tight and round and Jared might be whimpering a little at his own thoughts.

“So smooth, Padalecki,” Jensen says, laughing and brushing a light kiss across Jared's mouth. Then he sits up, straddling Jared just long enough for Jared to think oh god yes please before Jensen's climbing up and taking the amazing pressure of his ass off of Jared's cock. Before Jared can complain, though, Jensen's hauling him up and pressing him into the deck railing, kissing him again, and Jared really wishes he wasn't this drunk, because Jensen can fucking kiss.

“See you later, birthday boy,” Jensen whispers against Jared's mouth.

“Buh?” Jared manages, which is pretty much epic considering that his brain is pickled and completely in his pants. Speaking of, Jared looks down at his hard-on, kind of whining when he realizes he's stuck with it on his own if Jensen leaves now. And that's not the only thing that's going to be unfinished, either. “But what about... you know, what I said?”

Jensen grins. “Say it to me when you're sober,” he says, patting the side of Jared's face, and there's no way Jensen's sober, since Jared's pretty sure Jensen doesn't actually pat anyone. Then Jensen kisses him again, tongue sliding up and into Jared's mouth and making Jared groan before Jensen stumbles back, licking his lips and looking like he really needs to be pushed against the outside wall and have his dick sucked. “When we're sober.”

Jared's still kind of entertaining the whole surprise cock sucking idea, but knows he's too fucking drunk to manage it. And then he realizes he just made out with his straight best friend after announcing he was in love with him, and he starts blinking hard, trying to think through the haze of drunk and horny.

“You gonna want to hear it?” he asks.

“What do you think, moron?” Jensen asks, adjusting himself but staying out of Jared's reach. “But I'll be damned if I'm having this conversation when we're both too drunk to stand and I have a train to catch in an hour.”

“Okay.” Jared can feel the stupid grin starting to stretch across his face in response to the happy light in Jensen's eyes. For the first time in months, he can totally read the other man, just like he could before. Jared can read Jensen loud and clear, and he thinks he might be able to fly or do something equally stupid because he feels just that awesome right now.

Jensen laughs. “Okay,” he says, coming back for another kiss, like he's having just as much trouble as Jared is in telling his body to keep to itself. “I really do have to go,” he murmurs, kissing Jared again.

“Sure,” Jared says, slipping one hand under Jensen's t-shirt, the both of them shaking a little at the skin-to-skin contact. Jared spreads his legs enough to make them almost the same height, leans against the railing and pulls Jensen closer, sucking on his lower lip.

“Jensen!” Mike shouts from inside the house. “Tom's here!”

Growling, Jensen pulls back. “My ride,” he explains. “I have to do this radio station thing in New York for lunch.”

“Bet you say that to all the guys,” Jared says, reluctantly letting Jensen go. Not like he's not coming back, after all. Well, okay, maybe he won't when he sobers up, and that thought broadsides Jared so hard he almost makes another grab for Jensen.

“Only the ones I'm crazy about,” Jensen says, grinning as he backs away, stumbling and tripping over thin air. “See ya, Jay.”

“Yeah,” Jared says, leaning back on the railing. There's a flash of something light around the corner of the house, but Jared's still pretty drunk and knocked for a loop, so he ignores it. “See ya, Jen.”

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

October, 2008

 

Danneel doesn't ask for it, but when Chris sees her to her car the next morning, his battered and warm flannel draped across her shoulders like some Country and Western version of a tuxedo jacket, he presses a scrap of paper into her hand as he kisses her goodbye.

“Two things,” he says as she holds it up, arching an eyebrow. “My number, and the name of the one person who could probably tell you more about Jensen than any of us.”

She unfolds the paper, memorizes Chris's number and then tries to wrap her brain around the last name of the other person. “Never heard of him,” she says finally, and Chris grins at her.

“Nah, you wouldn't have,” he says. “But Jensen has. And if you want a real story, you need the whole story, not some fairy tale version of the Jensen those women were half in love with from the beginning.”

“You know that's not why I...”

“I know.” Chris wraps a lock of her hair around one of his fingers, calloused from long hours of playing guitar, and tugs gently. “That's why.” He kisses her then, and just like last night, it makes her toes curl in her shoes and her fingers knot in the soft fabric of his thermal shirt with the achingly sweet way his lips dance over hers. This is a man she would gladly let sweep her off her feet, if he kept right on being this gentle, like he wanted to cradle her for the rest of time.

Humming tunelessly as they part, Danneel opens her purse, digging quickly for one of her business cards. Chris watches as she scribbles a number on the back, mouth twisted in a grin. She tucks the card into the front pocket of his jeans, fingers hooked on the edge for a moment before she steps back, blushing as she looks down to watch her own hands fiddling with her purse strap.

“My personal number,” she explains, suddenly uncertain even if he did give her his number only a few moments before.

Chris hooks a finger under her jaw and tilts Danneel's face up so she can see the grin on his face. “Talk to you soon, darling,” he says, and kisses her cheek before reaching around to open her car door for her. “And remember that if there weren't real romance, I wouldn't have anything to write about.”

“Yeah,” she says, sliding into the driver's seat, key in the ignition and turning the engine over as she tries and fails to keep from blushing again. “I suppose so.”

~*~*~*~

July 20, 2006

 

“How was the radio station thing?” Jared asks. There's the distant hiss of a pop bottle being opened, and Jensen can hear ice crackling and tinkling in a glass, so clear it makes his mouth water.

“Eh,” Jensen says, shrugging as he opens the mini fridge and grabs his own can of Coke, pulling the tab and taking a long, cool drink. “People are starting to kind of know me as 'that guy who I think I saw somewhere before,' so I guess it's good.”

Jared laughs, and pauses to take a drink, smacking his lips in satisfaction.

“You?” Jensen asks, and this isn't what either of them really need to talk about, but it's so much safer. Last night it had seemed like such a good idea, most likely thanks to all the alcohol, but now, hours later and with a few hours' sleep under his belt, Jensen can't help but worry he's made a monster of a mistake. “How was the hangover?”

“Fucking brutal, man,” Jared says. “I don't know how the midget marching band got in my head, but they were playing up a storm.”

It's Jensen's turn to laugh. “It's that big-ass head of yours,” he says. “They probably thought it was the Alamodome.”

“Or something,” Jared says with a snort. Jensen hears a screen door creak open and closed, footsteps on wood, and the jingle of metal before he hears a dog panting into the phone, Jared softly crooning. Finally, he takes a deep breath, and Jensen feels himself tense up, preparing to take the hit if he has to. “Chad's moving out,” he says, low and kind of defeated sounding.

“Oh?” Jensen says, and wants to kick himself. “Why?” he adds quickly, trying not to let himself hope too much.

“He saw us,” Jared says, still in that quiet voice, and Jensen's stomach sinks a little at the flat tone.

“Oh. Well, I guess I'm sorry, even if I'm kinda not, you know?” Because he's sorry that Jared's losing a friend and he's not at all sorry that maybe he might actually have a chance at being with him now.

Jared lets out a long breath. “Yeah,” he says. “Me too, I guess. I never meant to hurt him.”

He sounds so down and so very much not like Jared that it breaks Jensen's heart a little. “Look,” Jensen says, and god, he can't believe he's saying this but he is, because if it will make Jared happy again, it'll probably be worth it. “Look, if you wanna... I mean, it's not like I'm there. And he is. Maybe you can still fix things?”

“Change your mind?” Jared asks, and Jensen knows he's trying for light just like it's totally obvious he's failing.

“Fuck no,” Jensen says quickly, and yeah, he'd never really pictured himself being the one to say it sober first, but if that's what he's got to do, he'll fucking do it. “I want to do this, Jay. Or at least try, since I don't have a damn clue what I'm doing here. Unless you changed your mind, and then I probably look like a complete and total tool right now.”

Right there is a ghost of Jared's usual laugh. “Nah,” he says, and maybe it sounds like he's actually smiling as he drags out the word. “Haven't changed my mind since we started hanging out, doubt it'll happen now.”

“You know you want some,” Jensen teases. “I'm a hot property.”

“If the next words out of your mouth involve any form of Bootylicious, it's all over between us,” Jared warns. “Man's got to have standards.”

“Pfft, whatever, man,” Jensen says. “You'd still want it.”

There's a pause, charged with an energy that crackles over Jensen's skin, and when Jared talks again, his voice has dropped like it did last night.

“Yeah,” he says. “I would.”

And Jensen's grinning like an idiot, but he figures it's totally cool, all things considered.

~*~*~

November, 2006

People not only kind of sort of start recognizing Jensen about a month later, but they start buying his album, too. It's kind of awesome, this selling music other than just at his shows, but it means his life starts getting busier, crazier. The crappy motel rooms have turned to mediocre hotel rooms, though now Jensen's sharing the room with both Chris and Steve, rotating nights who gets the beds.

Jensen makes sure that he and Jared talk every few days, but other than some flirting, there's not much different between them. He knows, though, that it'll change the next time he's home. That's when this'll be real between them, when it'll be something more than long phone calls and dancing around saying that he flat out misses Jared.

But because life is so busy, Jensen doesn't get to go home for Thanksgiving. Instead, he winds up getting booked last minute to play at some half-baked festival, and that night he calls his momma first to break the news, though she takes it pretty well, since he's going to be home for Christmas at least. Then spends a good five minutes staring at his phone, trying to get up the nerve to call Jared.

“Call him already,” Chris says, standing up and grabbing Steve's pack of smokes as he heads for the hotel room door. “Fuckin' pussy.”

Steve rolls his eyes at Chris. “We'll get something to drink,” he says. “Give you a couple hours with your boy.” Then he pulls Chris out of the room, but just as the door closes, Jensen hears Chris shout a reminder that it's Jensen's night on the couch.

Flipping the bird to the closed door, Jensen gets up from the couch and flops down across the bed that Chris claimed earlier. He pulls his phone back out again, flipping it open and thumbing through his contacts list until he gets to Jared's name. Since it's not going to get any easier with the waiting, Jensen selects the house line, takes a deep breath, and hits Send.

“Jensen!” Jared says, picking up breathless on the third ring. “Sorry, man, I was letting the kids in, and you know how Sadie is about getting attention, and then Sandy's doing something weird in the kitchen, but it smells really good, so if it works, when you're here maybe we can convince her to make it again?”

“I can't come,” Jensen says, and all the careful words he'd been planning and had practiced on his momma are totally forgotten, so he just falls to the basic truth, babbling a little when Jared stays quiet. “Last minute booking at some Turkey Fest thing, and I don't really have much of a choice, Sera keeps telling me, and she doesn't seem all that happy about it, either, but we've got momentum, whatever that means, so I have to do it. Which sucks, and dude, I was looking forward to seeing you more than having my momma's pumpkin pie, and now I'm going to be somewhere in Southern California, trying to avoid too much sun so I don't get more freckles...”

Jared laughs quietly, and it's enough, thank god, to stop Jensen. “Dude,” Jared says, “first of all, the freckles are fucking hot.”

“Freckles are not hot, they're for kids. Or cute girls.”

“And fuckable rock stars, but that's not the point. Let me finish,” Jared says. “Second, the babbling is totally my job, and you suck at it, so just go back to being all smooth and shit, and so just leave the spazzing to the professionals.” They both know Jensen's a champion spaz when he wants to be, but it's actually kind of sweet how Jared's pretending otherwise. “And, finally, I get how important this is. I do. And so long as the next thing you say has something to do with you coming home for Christmas, it's all good. We're good. Got it?”

Jensen grins at the ceiling, because there's no one else to share in the moment of what a truly awesome boyfriend Jared is. “Got it,” he says. “Maybe I'll find you a foam turkey hat or something. That's romantic for first Christmas, right?”

He hears Jared chuckle, hears him walking up stairs, and the general background noise of his and Sandy's house is cut off when Jared closes a door. “Only if by foam turkey hat you mean kinky things with whipped cream and cherries,” he says.

“Doesn't everyone?” Jensen murmurs, relaxing now that the worst is over. He's sprawled on his back now, one hand holding onto his phone for dear life and the other resting on his stomach. “What're you doing?”

“Changing out of playtime clothes,” Jared says. “I'm a dirty boy, but something about you has me wanting to strip down.”

Jensen snorts at that. “M'on Chris's bed,” he says, and can almost hear Jared's sympathetic wince.

“Your turn, huh?”

He nods, then remembers Jared can't see him. “Yeah. Fucked if I'm not going to be comfortable while he's not around, though.”

There's a pause, and when Jared talks again, he's using what Jensen has come to think of as The Voice; kind of low and rough, just right to make Jensen think of dirty things he's never done but sure as hell wants to do with Jared.

“You're alone?” Jared asks, and Jensen's belly clenches.

“Yeah,” he says, and his voice is rough now, too. He knows this game, even if he and Jared haven't played it together before. And, really, it's about fucking time one of them upped the ante between them. “The guys went out, won't be back for a couple of hours.”

“Good,” Jared says, and Jensen's breath catches in his throat, heart hammering until Jared lets out a shaky laugh and says, “So what are you wearing?”

Jensen snorts. “King of smoothness,” he says, but the laughter totally washes away his nerves, so it's okay that the guy he's going gay for isn't exactly Don Juan.

“Hey, I'm out of practice,” Jared says.

“For talking dirty?” Jensen scoffs. “Please.”

“Oh, so you're an expert, then?”

“Compared to you I am.”

“Bullshit.”

“No shit.”

“Prove it.”

“Fine.” Crap, Jensen thinks, now what, smart ass? Then he laughs at himself, just a little, because he's been winging it for months now, anyhow. “I've been doing some research,” he says, slowly.

Jared laughs, but it's not unkind. “Nerds are hot,” he says, like he's agreeing with Jensen. “Go on.”

“I've been researching... things,” Jensen says, grinning as he idly rubs his hand over his abdomen. “Things to do to you when I come home.”

“That so?” Jared asks, and Jensen hears him suck in a breath. “Anything good?”

“Oh yeah,” Jensen purrs into the phone, figuring he might as well go for broke now, since if he messes this up, Jared might have stopped laughing at him by Christmas. “The internet is a wonderful thing. Been jerking off like crazy since I found a few sites, though. Can't stop picturing you and me doing those things.”

“What kind of things?” And Jared's voice sends a shiver through Jensen, making his cock sit up and take notice a little more. “What do you want, Jen?”

“Everything,” Jensen says, popping the top button of his fly. “Wanna get you naked, Jay. Wanna taste your skin and touch you like I've been dreaming about every night for months now. You make me hot just by being on the phone, and I don't think anyone's ever done that before.” He slides another button free, humming quietly when the pressure on his cock eases just that much. “I haven't jerked off this much since I was a fucking teenager, and it's you, Jay. It's always fucking you.”

Jesus,” Jared breathes, the word shaky and Jensen can hear him gripping the phone too tight, the plastic creaking in complaint.

“Call me Jensen,” he says. “'Jesus' is so formal.”

“Jackass,” Jared says back, laughing softly. “Don't stop now, you're doing just fine.”

Jensen huffs a laugh. “What do you want to hear about, Jay?” he asks, but doesn't give Jared a chance to answer. “How about how I've been reading about how to suck cock? How to wrap my lips around you, how to lick and tease and swallow you down, getting you to fuck my mouth? It'd be sloppy, and wet, but I want to try it. Want to see if your cock is as freakishly huge as the rest of you, and then get it in my mouth so I can taste you.”

“Jen,” Jared says, drawing it out like a caress, and Jensen opens his jeans the rest of the way, reaching into his boxers to grasp his own prick in a firm fist. “Jen, been dreaming about that mouth of yours on me. Sucking on me. Such gorgeous fucking lips, made for it.”

“You jacking off, Jay?” Jensen asks, licking his lips. He can hear how hard Jared's breathing, can hear the rustle as his hand moves, and matches his own hand to the sounds Jared's making, grunting when he rubs his thumb over the slit on his cock. “Got your dick in your hand like I got mine?”

“Fuck, you know I am,” Jared moans. “What else? Anything else you... you're looking into?”

“Yeah,” Jensen says, planting one foot flat on the bed, twisting his hand a little harder, gasping and buying time, because it's one thing to do it, and another to actually talk about it. “I've been... practicing. With my fingers in my... my...” He can't quite say it after all, but from the way Jared groans at that, he knows the message is received. “Want to be ready when you fuck me. It's so fucking tight up there, even when I've been fucking myself with two fingers, but I still feel like I need more.”

“Jesus, Jen,” Jared gasps. “So fucking hot. M'close.”

As soon as Jared says it, Jensen's right there with him, groaning and arching his back, hand moving fast and hard on his prick. “Fuck, want you here, Jay,” he says, and his voice is just as shot as Jared's.

“Yeah,” Jared moans. “Need you, Jen. Gonna make you feel so good when I get my hands on you.”

Words don't work when Jensen tries to respond. All he gets is a broken sound from deep in his chest as his balls draw up tight and he pictures all the things he's been talking about and then his body freezes as he comes, breath stopped and cock pulsing for long, amazing seconds. He sprawls out on Chris's bed, trying to get his breathing under control even as he listens to Jared's orgasm on the other end of the line.

There's a long, comfortable pause, and Jensen reaches over to wipe his hand on the edge of the cheap polyester coverlet on the bed before tucking himself away.

“Fuck, man, if I'd known you really were that good, I wouldn't have been jacking off solo for months,” Jared says, voice still rough enough that it makes Jensen's stomach tighten for a second.

“Told you. Expert,” Jensen says, pulling himself up from the bed with an effort and dragging his ass across the room. He wants to sleep, and can't where he is. “Top that.”

“Maybe later,” Jared says with a yawn. “When you're not expecting it. Makes it better that way.”

“Dude,” Jensen says as he lays down on the sofa, bending and twisting so he can fit his tall form on it, “so long as it isn't while I'm at dinner with my family or something, orgasms are always awesome.”

“True,” Jared says with a laugh, and Jensen can hear him moving, fabric rustling, and figures he's getting in bed, too. “So, tell me about this Turkey Fest. Are they gonna make you wear one of those Pilgrim hats?”

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

November, 2008

“Never much expected to see Jensen around here once he made it big,” Michael Rosenbaum, a slim man with short brown hair and a quick grin, says, sliding a large keg in to place under the bar and hooking up the tap. “I mean, who wants to remember they came from somewhere perfectly normal like the rest of us?”

“Only if they came from somewhere normal,” a blond guy over to the side of the neat and brightly-lit bar interjects as he turns a table over and starts tightening bolts. “Nothing about you or Ackles is normal, Rosey.”

“Stuff it, squint-boy,” Michael says, and rolls his eyes as he turns back to Danneel. “Don't mind Chad, Miss. He's got lousy taste in music.”

Danneel shrugs and hooks the heels of her cowgirl boots over the edge of the footrest on the stool she's claimed. It's late morning, and only one person has come in for lunch while they've been talking, a tall man with dark hair and gorgeous dimples who had picked up a small mountain of take out containers full of food before grinning at her once and then leaving. It wasn't until he was gone that Danneel had even registered that the food hadn't been packed in normal Styrofoam, but reusable plastic containers. This close to so many colleges, she probably shouldn't be surprised at something so environmentally conscious, but this is Texas, after all.

Other than the bright lights that probably get dimmed for the after work crowds, the Roswell Bar isn't much different than any other of the thousands of bars in Texas, with booths along one wall, small square tables dotting the floor that looks scuffed enough that it probably does double duty as a dance floor, and a low stage at the far end of the room. There's a jukebox in the far corner, playing, of all things, an old Stones song, and the only other person in the bar is another tall man, named Tom, that Michael says is his partner.

Chad glares at Michael for another few seconds before turning back to his work with a huff. “Whatever,” he grumbles.

Danneel looks between Chad and Michael expectantly, but Michael only shakes his head. “That isn't a story for you,” he says. “But you wanted to know about Jensen, right?”

“I'm trying to find him,” she says.

“You and about a hundred other reporters I've had come through those doors,” Michael says, shaking his head. “And I'll tell you the same thing I told them: I can't say where he is.”

“Unless...?” Danneel prompts, something about the way he says it making her suspect that he damn well knows exactly where Ackles is.

“Unless I could,” Michael says, and laughs, cracking himself up. “Tell you what, though, I'll give you an extra story I haven't told any of the others before. When me and Jensen and Tom were in high school, Jensen and me told our parents we were staying at each others' houses, and we went to Tom's for the weekend, since his parents had gone to Galveston.” He grins brightly. “It was the first time any of us got drunk.”

~*~*~*~

December, 2006

 

Jensen does come home for Christmas, just as he promised, but his cell phone rings when he's at his family's Christmas dinner, Grace barely past Jensen's dad's lips. It's Kim, Jensen's agent, and he's scored Jensen a spot on the ABC New Year's Eve New York show. He was supposed to take a day to go meet with people at Rock On anyhow, so now Jensen will just leave Richardson in a couple of days, and make his way to New York from there.

It's huge news, and it could totally be the break they've been looking for, but all Jensen can think is that he won't be where he really wants to be on New Years. With Jared.

With his visit home cut short like this, there's no way Jensen can leave his family on Christmas, so he can't get out until late that night. He tells them he's going to stay at Mike's for the night and have a boys night, but he really goes to Jared's, stomach flipping over and over again with nerves. Jensen's not all that sure why he lied to his parents about where he's going, but he does know that he's definitely not ready to tell them that he's dating another man.

He sends Mike a text to let him know he's a cover story, and then drives straight to Jared's, parking at the curb in front of the rented two-bedroom house. There's no car in the driveway, and Jensen remembers something about Sandy going home to her parents'
house for Christmas. Which means that Jensen and Jared will actually be alone. And in the same place.

Wiping his palms on his jeans and running a hand through his hair, Jensen finally opens his car door and gets out, facing Jared's house. It's warmer out this year than last, even this late at night, and Jensen's got his leather jacket unzipped as he walks up to Jared's house. The front door opens before he can even knock, and Jared's standing there, grinning at Jensen.

“Wondered if you were gonna stay out there all night,” Jared says, stepping back to let Jensen come in.

“Good song on the radio,” Jensen mumbles, and the door closes behind them, Jared's front hall dim and more narrow than Jensen remembers it being.

Jared laughs. “Okay,” he says, and he's standing close, and watching Jensen even closer.

Finally, Jensen just lets out a deep breath and rolls his eyes at the both of them. “C'mere,” he says, taking one step closer, since that's all it takes to press himself against Jared. And Jared, bless him, clues in right away, bending his neck to close those last couple of inches to meet Jensen in their first sober kiss.

It's even better than Jensen remembers. Jared's mouth slots perfectly over Jensen's, tasting faintly of Twizzlers and orange pop, and Jensen lets out a little, content sound at how absolutely like home Jared tastes to him. Jared's hands are on Jensen's narrow hips, holding him close like Jensen might do something stupid and pull away, and Jensen's got his hand around the back of Jared's neck, fingers tangling in that thick, soft hair as they stand there, kissing until they have to pull back enough to breathe.

Jared presses their foreheads together, drags in a lungful of air, and says, “Hey, Jen.”

“Hey yourself,” Jensen says back. “Missed you, Jay.”

Laughing softly, Jared cups the sides of Jensen's face in those big paws of his and kisses him lightly. “Missed you, too,” he says, and then slowly lets go, backing away when a part of Jensen wants him to stay close, to move closer, even if the thought makes his stomach do nervous cartwheels. “How about a beer? And I've got this afternoon's game taped, if you want.”

Jensen grabs Jared for one more kiss before sliding past him, into the living room. “Sounds perfect,” he says, thinking that Jared is probably the most awesome dude ever.

~*~*~

They get Chinese delivery later on, since it's the only place open, and wind up curled together on the couch, watching some Steven Seagal movie that involves a lot of preachy morals and awesome spinning high kicks. Jensen's leaning into the corner of the couch, with Jared kind of half laying on him. They made out for a while earlier, but now they're just lying there, comfortable like always, but at the same time, this feels way better to Jensen than before.

The feeling of being home reminds Jensen of something he's been wondering about, something he's been reluctant to bring up, but he figures he can ask now. Absently, Jensen cards his fingers through Jared's hair, breathes in the scent of Jared's shampoo.

“Why don't you go home for holidays or birthdays, Jay?” he asks, because in the year that's known Jared, Jared's never once gone home, much less mentioned his family. Jensen feels Jared tense next to him, and has just enough time to wonder if he should offer an out before Jared sighs and answers him.

“I can't,” he says, and the last time Jensen heard that voice was when Chad moved out. “When I came out, I knew it was going to be tough. I just... I just didn't expect it to be that bad. They won't even let me talk to my sister.”

“Jay,” Jensen says, his heart breaking more than a little, even as he wonders if his family would do the same if they found out about this. He tightens his arm around Jared, holding him close even though he's pretty sure nothing could make this better. “How long?”

“Since the summer after I finished undergrad,” Jared says. “Two and a half years. I already had UT Dallas lined up for vet school, so I just moved up here sooner. I sent a box of presents home that Christmas that year. You know to show I still loved them, even though they hate what I am?”

Jensen somehow knows what's coming, and he tries to curl more around Jared, to protect him from the bad memories he's dredged up.

“The box came back stamped Return to Sender,” Jared finally says, and Jensen flinches at how flat his voice is.

“Jay,” he says. “I'm so sorry, man.” And really, there's nothing else he can say, because there aren't any words in the world that can give Jared back what being himself cost him.

“Yeah,” Jared says quietly. “Me too.”

They sit there for a while, neither one actually watching the movie. Finally, Jared stirs a little against Jensen. “Jen?” he asks. “Do you mind if we just go to bed now? Not for anything like, you know. I just really need sleep, and god, it sucks, because I really wanted to spend more time with you before you leave Monday.”

“Sleeping together definitely qualifies as quality time,” Jensen says. “I mean, unless you want me to take the couch?”

Jared snorts, and there's a ghost of his amazing grin when he stands up and offers Jensen a hand up. “Don't be an idiot,” he says, and pulls Jensen in for a kiss when he finally does stand. “Come on, let's get some sleep.”

~*~*~

When they first started hanging out, one of the first things Jared learned about Jensen was that Jensen's never been much of a morning person. When he was in school, there were more than a few mornings that started with him soaking wet and shivering and his mom holding the bucket, smirking. It's a running joke in the Ackles family that to wake Jensen up in the morning, your best bet is to wait until afternoon.

Jared, though, is true lover of mornings. He loves waking up early and going for a run before breakfast, spending time with the dogs; just easing in to the day. It makes everything else move along smoothly, and he really looks forward to his morning routine most of the time.

This morning, though, Jared's only showered and put the coffee on before crawling back into bed next to Jensen, who's spread to the middle of Jared's King-sized bed, burrowed deep under warm covers and pillows. It's raining outside, a steady fall of winter rain from dark, low-hanging clouds, and the forecast is for it to last all day. As far as Jared's concerned, it's as close to a sign as he's going to get that they should stay in bed all day.

Last night hadn't gone nearly as well as Jared had hoped, even if it did end with them stripping down to their underwear and going to bed together, but Jared doesn't feel cheated at all. In fact, if anything, he loves Jensen more for it, because how many guys give up a chance at blowjobs to cuddle someone having an emo fit?

They haven't talked about the fact that Jared's already drunkenly confessed his undying love for Jensen, and Jared's pretty sure they won't at all for a while yet. So long as he's got Jensen, Jared figures he'll be okay waiting for the rest. He knows he's the last one Jensen talks to at night, and knows that Jensen hasn't been with anyone since they got together. And, most importantly, Jared also knows that so long as their lives are this different, it's the most he can ask for.

But Jared's not thinking about that as he slides into bed next to Jensen, digging him out of his nest and pulling a warm, sleepy body into his arms. All he's thinking about is how perfect it was to wake up to this, and how the skin at the small of Jensen's back is so soft and smooth, curving down into the top of his ass. He's thinking about how perfectly Jensen fits into his arms, and how the salt of Jensen's skin explodes over his tongue as he nibbles gently on Jensen's earlobe, trying to wake him.

Jensen grunts and curls deeper into Jared's arms, and Jared laughs quietly and pulls him up close enough to kiss. Jared licks at Jensen's lips until there's this sleepy, hazy sigh, and Jensen opens up, slowly kissing back. It's a lazy tangle of tongues, and Jared hums happily into Jensen's mouth, moving closer so that Jensen is on his back and Jared is half-sprawled over him, their legs tangling together under the comforter.

One clumsy hand reaches out of the bedding nest to tangle in Jared's hair, not quite dry yet from his shower, and Jensen starts kissing back a little more, tongue a little firmer against Jared's. With a low rumble, Jared cups the side of Jensen's face, thumb stroking over morning stubble as he shifts, deepening their kisses. Jared shifts, covering Jensen with his body and bracing himself on his forearms as he sucks on Jensen's lower lip, and starts kissing down his neck, mouth hovering over Jensen's slow and steady pulse.

“Mmm, Jared,” Jensen murmurs, and Jared feels his heart rate jump.

“Morning,” Jared says, and now that Jensen's a little more alert he starts moving down, peppering kisses over Jensen's shoulder, paying particular attention to a smattering of freckles. “This is your eight AM wake-up call, Mr. Ackles.”

“Eight in the damn morning?” Jensen groans, but it's not nearly as pained-sounding as he probably means it to be, since that is just the moment Jared licks a slow circle around one of his nipples before sucking it into his mouth. “Fuck, Jay, you're lucky I'm crazy about you. Anyone else would be dead by now.”

Jared laughs at that, nipping at Jensen's chest. “I promise to make it worth your while,” he says, sliding down lower, nuzzling the hard, rippled muscles of Jensen's stomach. Fuck, but Jared's still not sure Jensen's for real; hot, caring, talented, and his? If saving puppies generates this much good karma, Jared's got it made. He kisses down Jensen's happy trail, stopping at the top of his boxers to look up the length of Jensen's body. “Tell me if anything's too much for you?” he asks.

Jensen snorts. “As if,” he says, but Jared can see the gratitude in his eyes. While Jensen can talk a good game about gay sex, Jared knows that's all it is. Talk. And doing is so much more than that, so while he might be fucking desperate to have Jensen, Jared's not going to freak him out the first time to get it.

When Jared doesn't move, and just keeps looking up at him expectantly, Jensen's cocky grin fades into something softer and more real. Jensen cups the side of Jared's face and nods. “Yeah,” he says, “I will.”

“Awesome,” Jared says, grinning up at him. He hooks his fingers in Jensen's boxers and tugs, pleased when Jensen lifts his hips to make it easier. When the boxers are down far enough to be out of the way, Jared turns to Jensen's half-hard prick, wrapping his long fingers around the shaft and stroking him gently.

“Jay,” Jensen sighs, eyes drooping slightly as he licks his lips.

Jared can't resist that mouth all wet like that, so he crawls up beside Jensen, hand never stopping as he keeps coaxing Jensen to hardness. Leaning in, Jared sucks gently on Jensen's lower lip, sucking on it before kissing his right, tracing the sharp, even edge of Jensen's teeth with his tongue. Jensen squirms, and Jared opens his eyes in time to see boxers sailing off the bed before Jensen rolls onto his side, one hesitant hand sliding down Jared's bare chest.

The breath catches in Jared's throat and he has to remind himself to keep stroking Jensen, even though their kiss has trailed off so they're both looking at each other up close, so serious. Jared smiles, and tightens his hand around Jensen, stealing a fleeting kiss that makes Jensen grin a little. Jensen's hand moves a little faster, and then finally cups Jared through his boxers.

Jared's hard, has been since just about the second he curled up to Jensen, and he can't help the little twitch his hips give, pushing him more into Jensen's hand. Jensen shudders, but his eyes are dark, pupils blown wide, and his hand presses harder, squeezing Jared's prick. He can see the question in Jensen's eyes, and so Jared groans and nods to let him know that yes, it's good.

“Just do what you like,” Jared breathes with a weak grin, giving a twist of his wrist. “Trust me, I'll like it.”

“Sounds good,” Jensen moans, and the sound goes straight to Jared's cock, making it jump against his boxers and Jensen's hand. And then Jensen's shifting, shoving his hand down Jared's boxers, and oh god.

Jensen's hand is strong, and if there's a brief hesitation with his palm curves around the hard and desperate length of Jared, he makes up for it by wrapping his fingers securely around his shaft and stroking hard and steady. The callouses on Jensen's fingers catch and drag on Jared's sensitive skin, heightening the sensation.

“That's good, Jen,” Jared says, touching their foreheads together, jerking Jensen harder. “So good.” Grunting, Jared thrusts into Jensen's fist, mouth falling open.

“What I like,” Jensen whispers. “When you're on the phone.”

“Fuck.” Jared gasps, suddenly kicked a notch higher by that alone, and god, he wants more. “Baby, want to suck you,” he manages. “Need more, please.”

Jensen's hand stutters, but he doesn't stop, even though he shakes his head. “Where's the lube, Jay?” he asks, voice rough with want, a sound Jared knows well. It means Jensen's losing control, and if Jared thought he was wound tight before, this makes it worse.

“Drawer,” he says, gulping for air when Jensen lets go and rolls away, rummaging for the lube and condoms. When Jensen holds up the supplies, Jared jumps in to motion, yanking off his boxers and laying on his back. He's already thinking about those nimble fingers in his ass, and he starts jerking off, slowly, putting on a show because Jensen's watching.

“At the risk of sounding like a virgin,” Jensen says, lying next to Jared and lacing their fingers together, stroking Jared's cock along with him, “you sure this is gonna fit in me?”

The words slam into Jared hard, and he has to grab himself roughly about the base to keep from coming, because, christ, he wasn't expecting that. Jensen grins at him like he knows exactly what kind of effect that had on him and Jared can only laugh shakily at him.

“Smug bastard,” he says, and Jensen only grins wider.

“I've only been thinking about you fucking me for months now,” he says, low and in Jared's ear. “I know you'll make it good, Jay. I trust you.”

Jared turns his head, catching Jensen's mouth in a wet, open-mouthed kiss, groaning low in his chest as he rolls onto his side, pushing Jensen onto his back. He grabs the lube, opening the bottle and slicking his fingers quickly. The whole time, he keeps Jensen distracted with his mouth, kissing him, tasting him, drawing out those low hungry noises he knows from more than a month of regular phone sex.

When Jared presses a finger against Jensen's ass, he feels Jensen tense for a second. Slowly, Jared just traces Jensen's opening until Jensen's gasping and grabbing at his wrist, trying to push him in. Jared obliges, and crooks his finger, tugging at the taut muscle, stretching him.

“Mmm,” Jensen purrs against Jared's mouth, spreading his legs a little wider, opening more under Jared's touch. “This I know,” he adds, curving his back and pushing down onto Jared's hand. It's probably one of the hottest things Jared's ever seen; all that strong, pale flesh, twisting and moving under his hands, and all for him.

Jared slips a second finger in, and starts pumping them slowly in and out. He curves them, rubs them over Jensen's prostate, and the firm touch yanking a strangled noise out of Jensen, his muscles fluttering around Jared's fingers. Jensen grabs at Jared's shoulder and uses it for leverage as he starts riding Jared's hand in earnest.

“Holy fuck,” he mutters, and Jared agrees. “Fuck, Jay. More.”

He's tight, and Jared has to wiggle the third finger in. Jensen's breath catches, but when Jared stops, Jensen nods, letting Jared know it's okay. Jared's almost shaking with wanting to be inside of Jensen, wanting to have him, but he just rests his head on Jensen's shoulder and concentrates. He moves slowly, curling and stretching and pressing against that sweet spot again and again, making Jensen make the most gorgeous, breathy sounds Jared's ever heard.

“Jen, baby,” Jared croons as Jensen gasps again and grinds down onto Jared's fingers. He can tell Jensen's as stretched as he's going to get like this, and knows now he has to wait for Jensen to be ready. Somehow, that makes it easier for Jared to ignore the hot, hard throb of his own cock, thick and heavy between his legs. “Want you so much. Gonna make you feel so good, baby. I promise. So good.”

“You already are,” Jensen says, grabbing at Jared's hair and pulling him up for a kiss. He keeps riding Jared's fingers a while longer, flushed and panting and so fucking amazing that Jared just has to lean in and lick his skin, tasting the salt and sex on him. Then Jared hits his prostate again, and Jensen almost snarls, “Fuck me, Jay. Now.”

“Yes,” Jared agrees. He manages to get the condom on, even though his hands are shaking, and he kneels between Jensen's legs, lifting his hips to slide a pillow under them. Then, finally, he's in place and pressing forward, leaning in, and remembering only when Jensen isn't to remind him to breathe.

Jared's about halfway in and slowly sinking deeper when he hears Jensen gasp, “Wait, Jay. Wait.” And it nearly kills him, but he does, he stops right where he is and looks at Jensen's face trying to judge if he should pull out.

“All right?” he asks Jensen, rubbing soothing circles across Jensen's stomach. Jensen's hard-on has gone down some, too, but that's nothing to worry about, especially when Jensen looks at him with a shaky smile.

“Yeah, it's just,” he swallows, “you're fucking huge, man.”

“Yeah, well,” Jared says, laughing as best as he can when every cell in his body is screaming at him to move, “you know what they say. Everything's bigger in Texas.”

Jensen snorts at that, accidentally bearing down a little on Jared, drawing him a little deeper. Jared groans at that, but holds as still as he can, looking at Jensen and waiting. “Okay?” he asks, hand sliding down to stroke Jensen's cock back to life. “Ready?”

“Yes,” Jensen says, giving another squeeze of Jared's cock, and it makes the both of them moan. “Fuck yes. Please.”

And then, finally, Jared's all the way inside of Jensen, balls pressed to his ass, cock being squeezed for all Jensen's worth. Jensen's gasping and shaking and, oh god, Jared wants to move because as stupid as it sounds, no one's ever felt this good before and he doesn't think he's going to last long. Not with dreaming and talking and thinking about just this exact moment for months.

“Move, Jay,” Jensen manages, voice strangled.

Jared doesn't have to be told twice, and he pulls back slowly, thrusting back in all nice and easy. He picks up a gentle rhythm that is nothing like the hard pounding he wants to give, letting Jensen get used to the feeling of being filled like this. One of Jared's hands is curled over Jensen's hip, holding him up and pulling him into the movements, and the other is still jacking Jensen's cock in a steady up and down to match Jared's hips.

“God,” Jensen says, arching and pushing into Jared's next stroke. It makes it harder, changes their angle, and Jensen cries out sharply when Jared pushes against his prostate.

The flutter of muscles around his cock almost undoes Jared completely, and he speeds up, lifting Jensen higher. Jared hooks one of Jensen's strong legs over his shoulder and works harder, deeper. Being inside Jensen is probably the most perfect sensation Jared's ever felt, and even that is close to taking a backseat to how Jensen looks.

He's flushed, hands fisted in the sheets as he twists under Jared, finding and matching his rhythm. Grinding and moaning, Jensen's muscles are flexed and veins standing out from the strain. Jared's hand is moving hard and fast over Jensen's cock, the purple head peaking out over the top of Jared's fist with each down stroke, and he wants to wait for Jensen, wants to make this as perfect as he can. At the same time, Jared needs to come. Needs to feel Jensen shatter under him.

“Jen,” Jared moans, dragging out Jensen's name as he twists his wrist, making Jensen shout wordlessly. “So fucking gorgeous. Come for me. Wanna see you break, baby.”

Almost as if he's been waiting for just that, Jensen shouts again and his body clenches again and again over Jared's length. Jensen comes, splattering white fluid all over Jared's hand and both their stomachs.

If the sight hadn't already killed him completely, the muscle spasms would have done him in. Jared grunts, guttural and rough, as he slams once more into Jensen, coming so hard he sees stars as he slumps forward, sprawling loose and boneless across Jensen's sweaty body.

“Jesus Christ,” Jared breathes.

“Yeah,” Jensen says, sounding just as amazingly fucked-out as Jared feels. He shoves at Jared's shoulder after a long pause. “But you really have to move your heavy ass, dude. I can't breathe.”

Jared laughs and rolls away, the both of them hissing when he slips out of Jensen. He ties off the condom and drops it in the trash, and then turns to face Jensen again, pulling him in for a long, lazy kiss.

“All right?” Jared asks nervously.

“I'm fucking fantastic,” Jensen says back with a grin. “So when do I get to return the favor?”

Jared laughs. “After breakfast. I even made you coffee.”

Jensen flutters his eyelashes at Jared and smirks. “And they say romance is dead.”

Right there, Jared realizes that he's going to love this guy for the rest of his life. And he couldn't be happier about it.

~*~*~

The thing about New Year's Eve, is that the good parties don't really get started until after the ball drops and Leno's already on, cracking the same tired year in review jokes to the previous year's tune. Jensen and the guys do well, the crowd was great, and as an added bonus they get put on one of the indoor stages, so no one has to freeze their nuts off in the name of music. He doesn't realize how well they did until a guy in a seriously pimped-out suit in a color that could only be described as ice cream blue, invites Jensen, Steve, and Chris to a small, private affair, and offers them a ride.

In Justin Timberlake's limo.

It turns out to be a huge fucking party in one of those two-storey penthouse suites in a swanky hotel. They don't even see Timberlake himself, although he's in some of the pictures that surface a couple of days later, obviously having a good time. Jensen's in one of the clearer pictures, standing there with none other than Heath Ledger. They're just having a beer and shooting the shit because Heath's feeling retrospective and Jensen doesn't feel like cutting loose with a room full of people ranging from obscure to ridiculously famous. It's a pretty boring picture, except for the fact that it's Heath-fucking-Ledger, which is enough to have people all over the country just dying to know who Jensen is.

Jared laughs his ass off about Jensen having a thing for gay cowboys.

Billboard starts listing Jensen Ackles - The Long Road under album sales, and it moves up the list every week, picking up speed as it goes.

In a sidewalk-side interview with a reporter from Us Weekly, Paris Hilton says that the CD she can't stop listening to is Jensen's, because it's awesome and Jensen's just so damn hot. That's about the time that Jensen finds out he already has a fan club.

The week that the title track hits the Top Ten, Kim calls to tell Jensen he'll be in L.A. to go to some movie premier for his birthday. Jensen's momma sighs, but then asks what address she should send his presents to. Jared's bummed, since they'd talked about maybe going somewhere for a night or two, but he understands. Jensen promises to be home for Jared's birthday (their anniversary, not that they call it anything so damn girly), and then distracts him by talking about how he's been practicing sucking cock on a banana, even though he knows it sounds fucking pathetic.

From the way Jared moans on the other end of the line, Jensen's pretty sure Jared doesn't care how lame he is.

Still, Jensen makes a pain in the ass out of himself to Kim and Sera for the chance to sneak a night home about a week later, even though they're both so tired they can only fuck once and pass out until morning when Jensen has to leave again.

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

November, 2008

 

Mackenzie Ackles rolls her eyes and hefts her backpack higher up on her shoulder when Danneel asks about Jensen. Mackenzie, a senior at Stanford, looks like a typical college student; frayed jeans, battered Converse All-Stars, and a faded Fleetwood Mac tour shirt that is probably older than she is. Danneel is still wearing the too-new jeans, but her t-shirt is red and untucked now, the baby doll shape a more flattering cut to her curved body. She digs in her purse and pulls out her digital recorder, waving it before hitting record.

“He's my brother,” Mackenzie says, clearly exasperated. “What makes you think I'm going to tell you where he is?” She shakes her head and starts walking away. “Clearly, you're an only child.”

“It's my job to track the story any way I can,” Danneel says, trotting after her and keeping pace easily. “Trust me, I'd rather talk to him.”

“Just make something up,” Mackenzie snorts. “Put a disclaimer on it and call it fan fiction. The fangirls will eat it up like fucking candy.”

“I want to know where he's been, what's so important he walked away from the career of a lifetime,” Danneel says, ignoring Mackenzie's sarcasm.

“You and half of the rest of the press corp,” Mackenzie shoots back. “Isn't it enough that you all hounded him so much before that he could hardly risk a trip home?”

“If someone pursues a career in the public eye, it's a given they'll be sought out,” Danneel says.

“Bullshit,” Mackenzie says succinctly. “If someone pursues a career in the public eye, the only thing that should concern anyone is what makes them so fucking special. My mother had trouble going to the grocery store in peace. How is that a given? Do you really call that acceptable? It's not like he's the fucking President of the United States. You and your cohorts don't need to telegraph his every fucking move. God. It's no wonder Jensen pulled a Garbo.”

“It's not like he was another Britney Spears,” Danneel says, and it sounds way more defensive than she meant.

“That's because he left before it came to that,” Mackenzie says. “I barely saw him for a year and a half before that because he was being pulled all over and suddenly under this bug glass with everyone watching him. My brother is a gifted man, Miss Harris, and always has been, but he's always been a private person, too. It's categorically unfair that he was forced to pick one above the other.”

They reach Mackenzie's dorm, and Mackenzie stops on the bottom step, blocking Danneel. Her eyes are flat and hard, practiced at heading off nosy reporters, and Danneel's not stupid enough to push her again. Danneel can't help but try saving the interview, though.

“Was it really that bad?” she asks. “For your family, I mean?”

Mackenzie snorts. “We were always close, growing up,” she says, “but my brother gets famous and suddenly it's nothing but e-mails and text messages and canceled visits. I found out later that his life was changing in more ways than those pea-brained reporters could begin to fathom, but there was this wall between us and him, and it was wearing a press pass.”

Danneel can't deny it, because it's a fact that Jensen and his crew were magnets for reporters during his tour. But her colleagues weren't the only culprits.

“Or a Jensen Ackles shirt,” she points out, and that gets an actual laugh out of Jensen's baby sister.

~*~*~*~

July 19, 2007

 

Jared decides not to have a big birthday party this year. Instead, he just gets a group of his friends to Mike's bar, and Jensen manages to get in early enough to sing along with everyone else when Mike brings out the largest cupcake any of them have ever seen, with a giant candle stuck in the top. It's crazy and fun, and Jensen takes advantage of the commotion to keep his hand on Jared's thigh most of the evening.

Jensen still hasn't told Jared that he's getting a real tour to go with the new album. The tour means no Thanksgiving or New Year's again, but it's a huge deal. Real venues, even one in fucking Vegas, and that's just a trip and a half. The idea that he'll be playing the same town that Old Blue Eyes ruled just knocks Jensen for a loop every time he tries to wrap his brain around it.

But the tour also means that he's going to be even more busy than before, and it kills Jensen that he can't just say he wants time to be with the guy he's seeing, because he's not allowed. There was a huge fight in Kim's office just the week before, with Jensen shouting that he should be allowed to go home when he wants to; his family's there, his friends are there, his fucking boyfriend is there...

Kim hadn't been impressed in the least, even though Sera had gaped at Jensen like a fish for the better part of a day after, almost as surprised as Jensen at what he'd said. Jensen could be as gay as he wanted to be, Kim said, so long as it was far away from prying eyes of the fans and press. Nothing killed sex symbol status faster than telling the girls you were batting for the other team.

Remembering that argument now, sitting in a booth at the back of the Roswell (recently renamed since Tom bought in, and really, who do Mike and Tom think they're fooling? They could totally take pointers from Jared and Jensen), Jensen can't help but frown. Kim's right, he knows it, and right now his career is resting on the fact that so many girls want to screw him blind. And maybe Jensen's a little bit in love with Jared, but he's not sure if telling him now only to follow it up with the news that he'll be MIA again is a good idea.

“Hey,” Jared says, looking at Jensen with a worried look. “You okay, man?”

Jensen clears his face with a shake of his head. “Yeah,” he says, squeezing Jared's leg. “Million miles away.”

“Nuh-uh,” Jared says, and he throws an arm across the back of the booth, forcing Jensen to sit closer as Jared's voice drops to something just low enough for only Jensen to hear. “No traveling when you're here. You're mine tonight, baby.”

“God, I hope so,” Jensen says, sliding his hand a little higher. They're among friends, most of whom know about them, and Jensen's a little buzzed on alcohol and Jared, so maybe he's not thinking straight. “I swear, I'm getting fucking Indian Burn from jacking off so much.”

Jared groans quietly and spreads his legs a bit more so that it's easier for Jensen to move his hand closer to his goal, teasing the hell out of the both of them. Jensen's about thirty seconds away from suggesting they get the hell out of there, when Jared straightens suddenly, cursing. A couple of girls are coming up to their table, giggling and staring at Jensen, who is still having a little bit of trouble shifting gears from about to get fucked to dealing with fans.

The girls are cute, Jensen'll give them that, with their tiny tight tees and painted-on jeans, but he only notices them abstractly. Instead, Jensen's hyper-aware of the press of Jared's thigh against his, the smell of Jared's cologne, the rumble of Jared's voice when Jensen introduces him as his best friend.

Their names are Dorothy and Tammy, both students at UT Dallas, and they've been fans of Jensen's for a couple of years. They're excited about the new album, and they hadn't thought they'd get this lucky to actually meet him, since they know how busy he must be. Especially with the tour they heard about on the internet.

“Word travels fast,” Jensen says, still smiling even though he feels Jared tense beside him. “When the dates are set, I'll make sure there's one near here so you girls can go.”

From the way the girls are looking at them, Jensen can tell they're trying to think of a way to wrangle an invite to join the table. And if it had been any other evening with anyone else, Jensen might have let it ride, if only for a little more conversation before another lonely night by himself. But he's here, now, with Jared, and Jensen's shared about as much of that time as he cares to.

“Well, ladies,” he finally says, letting a bit more of the Texas slip into his voice, “nice as it's been to meet you, it's my boy Jared's birthday, and I did come out just to see him. And we were just about to leave.”

“We can stay a while longer, I suppose,” Jared says, always the gentleman despite the thread of reluctance Jensen can hear in his voice.

The girls light up, but Jensen just shakes his head. “Not with my morning flight,” he says, using his poor me face, the one that always gets him out of trouble with his momma. “Need to get some rest tonight.”

Jared's leg presses harder against his for a moment, and Jensen feels him relax some. “It was nice meeting you girls,” Jared says, smiling that bright, dimpled smile of his, and Jensen can see the girls' disappointment melt a little. Tammy's even eying Jared with a look that clearly says she'll be back in the Roswell looking for him later, and Jensen barely manages to keep the smug look off his face at knowing she won't have a chance.

The girls leave, and Jared and Jensen call for a cab before starting their rounds saying goodbye to everyone, finally stumbling outside, the muggy summer air like a punch to the gut after the cool air conditioning inside. The cab won't be there for another few minutes at least, not this close to last call, so Jensen's not surprised when Jared drags him around the corner and presses him against the rough brickwork for a hard kiss. He is surprised, though at just how rough it is, how Jared almost seems to growl as he mouths wet and dirty along Jensen's neck.

“Mine,” Jared says, and the possessive tone sends a shiver down Jensen's spine. “Not sharing you any more tonight, Jen. Not with anyone.” He reaches between them, grinds the heel of his hand against Jensen's cock. Jensen gasps, eyes rolling back in his head because, fuck, it's been forever, and he pushes his hips back, letting Jared know he can take it all. “No one else gets to see this,” Jared's saying, using that voice that drives Jensen up the fucking wall. “No one else gets to see you desperate for cock like I do.”

“No one,” Jensen gasps, grabbing Jared through his jeans, just as desperate as Jared said he was. He's flashing hot and needy, all but begging already. “Just you, Jay.”

“Oh, baby,” Jared croons, his hand moving slow over Jensen's cock. “Baby, I'm gonna fuck you so good and hard.”

“Yes,” Jensen hisses, and he's about to pull his cock out in the air so Jared can touch him better when there's a burst of noise around the corner as someone leaves the bar, shattering the spell around them.

Jared's hand stills on Jensen, drawing a needy whimper that Jensen's totally going to deny later. “Fuck. Sorry,” Jared breathes into Jensen's mouth, kissing him softer as he pulls Jensen's hand away, lacing their fingers together. “I'm sorry, Jen.”

It takes Jensen a couple of tries to speak. When he does, he curls his free hand around the back of Jared's neck, pulling him in until their foreheads touch. “If you hadn't done it,” he confesses, pausing to kiss Jared's swollen lips. “I would have. Need you so much, Jay.”

“Need you too, Jen,” Jared groans, but keeps their kisses light, nipping gently at Jensen's mouth, cupping the side of his face so tenderly Jensen thinks his heart might break from it.

They stay there in the alley, making out slow and careful. Each time their kisses get too heated, they force themselves to stop. The last thing either of them needs is to get caught rutting outside of a bar, no matter how liberal college towns are supposed to be, and the last thing Jensen needs is to get caught fooling around with another man anywhere. Careful, but still so tense and eager they can hardly stand it, they keep on kissing until they hear the beep of a car horn and see the yellow cab out front.

“Thank God,” Jensen says with a wrecked sort of laugh and one more lingering kiss. “Take me home.”

“With pleasure,” Jared says. He leers at Jensen, kind of waggling his eyebrows like a cross between a pervert and a mustache-twirling villain.

“Jackass.” Jensen grins fondly even as he rolls his eyes and drags Jared out of their hiding place as the cab honks again, longer and annoyed. It's almost physically painful to make himself let go of Jared's hand once they step out of the shadows, but Jared makes up for it by sitting as close as he can in the cab without actually pulling Jensen into his lap.

They get back to Jared's house and barely make it in the door before Jared's pushing Jensen against the wall, kissing him again, hard and desperate once more. Jensen has enough time to be glad that Sandy's still back at the bar before Jared steps back and yanks off his t-shirt, making Jensen forget everything else as he swallows hard as he reaches for all that solid body. Jared's a big guy, and Jensen had noticed the very damn second he saw him again that he's bulked up some more, but this is something else altogether.

“If I can't see you, I can at least spend quality time with my weight bench,” Jared says smugly. And Jensen's gotta give it to him; Jared deserves to be as smug as he wants.

Spinning them around, Jensen attacks Jared's mouth, hands moving over his rock-solid torso, mapping out the new lines and ridges. Time was that Jensen's idea of hot was a small, curvy little thing that he could tuck up against his body. But that was a time before Jared. Before that deep voice and those large hands could make Jensen hard in ten seconds flat, and before now that Jensen doesn't notice anyone unless they remind him of Jared.

Jared kisses back, giving as good as he gets, and maybe it's a little violent, but Jensen doesn't back down and neither does Jared. Neither of them is small or fragile, and they're not going to break. Jensen yanks at Jared's fly, the buttons a pain to wrestle with, but he still gets to his goal, shoving a hand down Jared's boxers and grabbing him hard.

“Jen,” Jared groans, head knocking back against the wall. Street light is filtering in through the high window on the door, lighting Jared in a kind of golden glow as he licks his lips and tugs at Jensen's clothes. He's fucking gorgeous, and he's all Jensen's.

Something dark and primal surges up at that, and Jensen licks down Jared's neck, biting and sucking a vicious bruise halfway down. Jared spreads his legs and groans encouragingly - Yes, fuck, bite me harder, baby - and Jensen jams his forearm against Jared's chest, pinning him to the wall.

“This is about those girls, isn't it?” he asks in a low voice, not sure where the words are coming from.

Jared's eyes flash and Jensen knows he was right. “Drop it,” he says, something almost dangerous in his tone.

“Coming over to our table,” Jensen says, putting more of his weight behind his arm. “Trying to get me to fuck them.” Jared growls and pushes at Jensen's arm, but Jensen's no weakling himself, and he's got a solid stance. “Did you really think I would, Jared? That I'd be able to think of anything at all when I had my hand so close to your dick?”'

Jensen strokes Jared's dick then, reminding them both where this game is going. “They'd have both been in your pants in a second,” Jared grits out, big hands gripping Jensen's hips until he's sure he's going to be bruised in the morning, and the thought just makes Jensen harder. “They'd have been happy to be your little fuck toys.”

“You're the only one I'm interested in fucking, Jared,” Jensen says, squeezing Jared just to this side of pain. “They could have begged me to do it and I wouldn't have cared. You're the one who has me jerking off, dreaming about you. No one else makes me want like you do. No one. Do you get it, Jared?”

“Wanted to show them you were mine. And they knew things about you I didn't,” Jared finally grinds out. He pushes one hand up the back of Jensen's shirt, palm hot against Jensen's sweat-slicked skin. “Mine,” he repeats, voice thick.

Jensen lets go of Jared's cock. “Mine,” he echoes against Jared's mouth, kissing him once before dropping to his knees at Jared's feet, licking at the head of Jared's cock. His stomach is fluttering like crazy, but Jensen still goes for it. He opens his mouth and sucks Jared in, and groans at how the taste of him is so damn hot like this.

“Jen,” Jared gasps, his fingers in Jensen's short hair. Jensen could feel Jared's legs shaking and hips twitching under his hands. “Oh, fuck, Jen.”

Jared's told him before, in their late-night phone calls, how much he's wanted Jensen's mouth on him. How he's been dreaming about it since the night they met. And Jensen gives it to him now, all sloppy and teeth scraping a little as he screws his hand up and down Jared's long, wide cock.

He can't go too far down with worrying he's going to choke, so Jensen brings his other hand in, yanking Jared's pants out of the way, fondling his balls. It's rough and it's dirty and Jensen's too-aware that no practice in the world could have prepared him for this. But from the noises Jared's making, he doesn't think Jared minds.

“God, like that,” Jared says, and hisses, his hips pushing forward just a little. “Just like that, Jensen. So good, baby. Feel so good. Missed you so much. Come on, suck me. Make me come for you, Jen. Just for you.”

Jensen pulls off, an obscene slurping sound smacking through the hallway. “When you come,” Jensen says, and almost doesn't recognize his own voice, rough with want and the rubbing of Jared's cock in his mouth. “When you come, I'm gonna take you upstairs and fuck you so hard, Jared. I'm gonna fuck you until you're begging me to let you come again.”

“Yes,” Jared pants, trying to pull Jensen back to his dick, so dark and leaking and needy. Jensen resists, though, and licks a long, slow path up the length of Jared's gorgeous cock. Later on, he might be embarrassed that he's become a size queen, but right now Jensen's just loving the taste and feel of Jared, big and fucking perfect against his lips.

“Come for me, Jay,” Jensen says, tongue snaking out to taste a couple of pearly drops. “I want it so bad.”

And then he sucks Jared in again, hollowing his cheeks as Jared cries out hoarsely above him, banging his fist against the wall as he comes, Jensen's name like a fucking prayer. Jensen swallows and licks, and still some escapes, but he figures he's done a damn good job for a first time when Jared crumples to the floor across from him, chest heaving and eyes still glassy. It's a while before either of them say anything, with Jared trying to catch his breath and Jensen trying not to just jump him and fuck him bare and dry right there.

“Thank god for the internet,” Jared finally says with a fucked out grin as he stands, fastening his pants. Jensen stands, too, wincing at the pressure on his eager prick. He's half-surprised he didn't come himself, since sucking Jared off might be one of the single most hottest experiences of his life so far. “Bed?” Jared asks, looking pointedly at Jensen's crotch and smirking.

“Thought you'd never ask,” Jensen says, pulling his t-shirt off and following Jared up the stairs.

~*~*~

After, Jensen walks naked across the hall to the bathroom, wets a washcloth, and comes back to clean them both off. Jared's gorgeous, naked, and completely fucked out, and Jensen takes his time wiping him down, lovingly tracing places they sure as hell didn't get spunk on.

“I think I'm clean, Jen,” Jared laughs, snatching the washcloth and dropping it on the floor before pulling Jensen into a cuddle.

“Just trying to be thorough,” Jensen says with a grin, sprawling across Jared's chest.

The only light in the room is the dim night light from the small fish tank bubbling away in the corner. There's a couple of bright orange fish with long, wispy fins swimming lazily around like they're waiting for the stupid humans to shut up and settle down.

“That's new,” Jensen says, indicating the tank. It wasn't there in March.

“Hmm?” Jared says, and sees where Jensen's looking. “Oh, got 'em about three months ago. The little one's called Jenny.”

“Fuck you, man,” Jensen says, grinning as he settles back against Jared.

“You already did, baby,” Jared says smugly, kissing Jensen's sweaty hairline.

They lie there like that for a while, breathing in tandem and just being together, the air conditioning on full blast and humming away under the window, and Jensen wishes he didn't have to leave in the morning. Wishes Jared could come with him. They've hardly spent any time actually together over the past year and a half, but Jensen still feels like something's just not right when he wakes up on the road and Jared's not there. It's this empty sort of ache, and Jensen's pretty sure this is a sign that he probably really is in love with Jared.

“I miss you like crazy, on the road,” Jensen says quietly, because missing Jared isn't even half as scary as love, so he can own that.

“God yes,” Jared agrees, one hand splayed out across Jensen's back. The sheets are kind of draped over their waists and the cold air is making Jensen's skin rise up in goose bumps except for everywhere he's touching Jared. That's where he feels like he's burning.

Eventually, the hot and cold even each other out, and Jensen relaxes into Jared with a sigh. This, just as much as the sex, is something Jensen had been starving for; simple relaxation and comfort. He wants this, wants the quiet ease that they have here, like this, just breathing and being together. Wants it always.

“You didn't tell me about a new tour,” Jared says, breaking the calm air. He sounds unhappy, and definitely annoyed, and Jensen can't help but tense against him.

“I didn't get a chance,” he says. “I was going to.”

“When?” Jared asks, and he's tense now, too. “Before you left in the morning, or when you called to break more plans?”

Jensen sighs and rolls off Jared, careful not to touch him now. “Now?” he asks, looking at Jared and pointing to them, to the bed. Jared just looks at him expectantly, and Jensen wonders just how long this has been coming. He knows he's been running on borrowed time for all the cancellations and missed weekends, the broken promises, but that doesn't mean he wants to deal with it now. “Fine,” he says, blowing out a breath and lying on his back. He runs a hand through his hair. “I was looking for the right time. It's not like it gets any easier having good news for me be bad for us, you know.”

“There's no time like the present,” Jared says bitterly. “And I gotta tell you, finding out from your fucking groupies tonight was just awesome. Really.” He gets out of bed and digs through his jeans to grab his boxers and pull them on. Jensen does the same, because this is clearly not a 'naked' conversation.

“You want to know about the tour?” Jensen asks, crossing his arms and glaring at Jared from across the room. “Fine. The label's announcing dates next week. People are already saying shit like my name and fucking 'Grammy' in the same breath, and it'd be fucking career suicide not to go for the gold - platinum now when I've got everything in reach. I won't be home at Thanksgiving, won't have more than two days for Christmas, and I'll be all over the fucking country until next year, and don't know when I can come home between because my agent says my getting fucked by you might just possibly fuck up everything I've worked most of my goddamn life to have.”

There's a long quiet, and then: “There was a lot of fucking in that statement,” Jared says, trying to break the tension, but it doesn't really work. His shoulders sag, and he somehow looks smaller, and it makes Jensen feel like a complete dick for cramming all that down his throat at once. “Just tell me these things, Jen. That's what I want.”

“I will. I do,” Jensen says. “I suck at it, but I tell you. And you know I never lie to you.” He feels kind of like he's going to puke, but he still crosses the dim room and puts a hand on Jared's waist, forcing the both of them to look at each other. “What else is it? I know you're bummed about it, but there's got to be more than that.”

When Jared meets his eyes, Jensen kind of wants to run away from the look there. Or maybe kiss him stupid, if only to make that desperate, lonely look go away. But Jensen's not sure which one Jared even wants right now, so he just stays there, half holding his breath.

“I just...” Jared says and laughs nervously, running a hand through his messy hair. “I just want you to act like we're actually together, Jensen.”

Jensen's about to point out that they're acting very together right now, fighting over shit that's completely out of their control like an old married couple, but stops himself before he says anything too stupid. Instead, he just leans in and rests his forehead on Jared's bare shoulder and takes a deep, shaking breath. Jared is so still and so distant under his touch, it scares Jensen more than anything else, more than what he's feeling and what he keeps reminding himself that he can't have.

“I want that, too,” Jensen says, soft and broken, and God, he means it so much he fucking aches with it. “Want to put your name in my liner notes. Sing songs to you on stage. Hold your goddamn hand in the bar and kiss you in the fucking taxi, Jay. Want to come home to you between shows and take you on the road with me when you're on break because those damn phone calls just make me miss you more.”

Jared shakes a little, and it's weird to think of Jared as trembling, all his strength nothing compared to what's happening now, because Jensen knows there's no going back from here. “I still think about your last birthday,” Jensen whispers, the hand on Jared's waist going around behind his back.

“Almost every day,” Jared agrees, and the hint of bitterness there kicks down the last barrier of resistance Jensen might have had. He straightens, catches Jared's gaze and refuses to flinch away from the hurt.

“I love you,” Jensen says, the words firmer than he thinks they should be, considering he can barely breathe right now. But it's worth it, oh is it ever, because as soon as he says it, he can see the clouds leaving Jared's face, running from the absolutely stunning force of that perfect smile.

“Yeah?” Jared asks, and Jensen might think he was being casual if it weren't for the fact that Jared looks like he's been given Christmas for his birthday.

“Yeah, Jay,” Jensen says, grinning back because there is no way he can resist smiling in the face of so much pure happiness. “Been writing music for you for months,” he adds, because it wasn't all that long ago he was telling Jared how he couldn't write a love song if he'd never been in love.

Jared's still smiling as he leans in to kiss Jensen, wrapping his arms tight around him and pulling him in as close as he can. Then it's Jensen shoving at Jared back to the bed, kissing and wrestling and laughing like idiots, stripping back down and crawling into bed again. Jensen flips Jared onto his back and straddles him, leaning over him and bracing his hands on the bed.

“Anytime you want to say anything else would be great, dickhead,” Jensen says, still laughing.

“What, and deprive you of the joy of waiting a year to hear it back?” Jared asks, smirking because he's got Jensen there and they both know it.

“Fucker,” Jensen mutters, rolling his eyes.

“Right back at you,” Jared says, pulling him down for a kiss.

This time, it's more like their first time. Gentler than earlier tonight, they take their time kissing and touching, and when Jensen slides down onto Jared's cock, riding him slow and steady, Jared links his right hand with Jensen's left, fingers tangling together tightly. It's an easy rocking of their bodies, and Jensen can't look away from Jared the whole time until his own orgasm washes over him, a surprise wave of pure pleasure that has him closing his eyes and tilting his head back, mouth open and Jared's name on his lips.

Once they're clean again, legs twisted together under the sheets, Jared reaches over and brushes his thumb across Jensen's lower lip. There's still something fragile behind Jared's eyes, and maybe Jensen can't fault him for not saying it back just yet. Jensen gives Jared a crooked grin and just enjoys this, here and now.

“Really?” Jared asks.

“Yeah.” Jensen nods. “And you should know: your name's not in there, but that whole album's for you.”

Something loosens in Jared, a breath that Jensen hadn't even noticed he was still holding coming free, and Jared leans in, kissing him softly.

“I love you, too,” Jared says, and Jensen grins against his mouth.

“I know.” He says, letting his eyes close as he drifts off to sleep. “Jackass.”

~*~*~

Jared rides with Jensen in the cab to the station in the morning, waving off Jensen's offer to pay for the double fare. They're both tired, wiped out after a long night with not all that much rest for either of them, and Jensen's pale in the sun, freckles standing out in sharp relief as they put his bag in the cab trunk. But Jared does his best to keep smiling at least a little, because he knows this can't be any easier on Jensen than it is on him.

The ride doesn't take nearly long enough, no one saying anything, the stillness broken by the crackle of the cab company radio and the whir of an enthusiastic fan pumping sharp, frigid air. They sit on their own sides of the car, with just their fingertips barely touching in the empty stretch of cracked vinyl between them. It's a blur of stucco and adobe houses, stop lights and tight corners until they reach the station, inching up to the drop-off point inexorably.

“Hey,” Jensen says, breaking the silence and drawing Jared's attention instantly. Jensen's got this strained smile on his face that Jared's sure matches the one on his, but they can do this. It's not like they have much of a choice, anyhow. “Here.”

Jensen hands Jared something; a single black jelly bracelet. It's just a piece of junk, something that comes in a pack of ten for a couple of bucks at the drug store, but when Jared frowns at it in confusion, Jensen pulls up the cuff on his over shirt (a button-down that he stole from Jared's closet this morning, and fuck if it didn't make Jared's stomach flip when he saw how it sat perfectly across Jensen's shoulders). Jensen's wearing a bracelet just like it, a little innocuous piece of jewelry that suddenly means the world to Jared.

“Jen,” Jared breathes, and slips the bracelet on as the cab pulls to a final stop. The driver pops the trunk and gets out, leaving Jared and Jensen alone for a few seconds. “Baby.”

“Love you,” Jensen says, and before either of them can say anything else, the door's being held open.

“Yeah,” Jared says. He follows Jensen out of the cab, and they hug right there by the curb. It's awkward and stilted and not at all what they need, but Jared manages to brush his lips against Jensen's neck as they pull apart.

“Talk to you later,” Jensen says, and Jared knows he means I'll call you tonight.

Instead of making idiots out of themselves, that's all they say. Jared just climbs back into the cab, swallowing heavily because he can't shake this feeling like Jensen won't come back again once the rest of the world finds out how amazing he is. It's almost as if this is it for them, and it takes the whole ride home to fight off the urge to cry like a girl.

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

November, 2008

 

“You look up that lead I gave you, darling?”

Danneel rolls her eyes as she braces her cell phone between ear and shoulder and unlocks her apartment door. “If I was doing a bio piece for Vanity Fair,” she says, “I'd look up his third grade teacher. You could just save me the trouble, you know.”

Chris laughs, and it's a low sound that makes Danneel's stomach dip happily. “That would be telling, pretty girl,” he says, and there's a rasp-and-click right before Chris inhales deeply. “No fun in that.”

She kind of wants to call him a bastard for holding out on her. “Smoking's bad for you,” she says instead. He could solve all this for her, but at the same time she's sure he's taking way too much joy in watching her hit roadblocks.

There are old grinds in the coffee filter, but it's easy enough to rinse them down the drain, set up another half pot for a fun-filled evening of research. She's not getting anywhere with this damn Ackles story, and her editor is starting to make noises about Danneel needing to find a real story. Tonight's going to be spent browsing for back up stories in case she needs to save her job – a possibility that's getting more and more real the longer she takes to dig up nothing.

“So's driving and flying back and forth across the country looking for a fellow that doesn't want to be found,” Chris says, dragging her back to the now.

“It has its perks,” she says, rinsing out the coffee pot. “How's Nashville?”

“Dunno,” Chris says, and she can almost hear the shrug in his voice. “I'm not home tonight.”

“Oh. Thought you were home for a couple of weeks,” Danneel says, feeling strange and awkward, like a jealous girlfriend when they've never talked about there being anything like that between them.

Chris hums softly in her ear, almost crooning. “Had some business to take care of,” he says. “It's all good.”

Somehow, that changes things, and it doesn't bother Danneel as much. She knows how it is when the job drags you out on the road even when you're supposed to be home. Opening the freezer, she pulls out the bag of cheap coffee. Only company gets the expensive beans in the back. Not that she gets much company here in her over-priced Manhattan apartment, and certainly not the kind of company she's itching for even after only a few minutes on the phone with Chris. Danneel sets the bag on the counter, sighing.

“What's the matter, darling?” Chris asks her.

“Long day,” she says, leaning on her refrigerator, head back and eyes closed. She laughs, but it's not because anything is funny. “Long couple of months.” There's a knock at the door, and she considers ignoring it. She's not even supposed to be home.

“Wanna tell me about it?” Chris asks, just as the doorbell chimes.

“Sure,” she says. “Hang on. Someone's at the door, and if it's a Jehovah's Witness, there's gonna be a blood bath.”

Chris laughs, and it's so rich and full, Danneel could almost swear he's right there. The doorbell rings again just as she gets there, and Danneel's muttering some pretty nasty words as she swings the door open, already glaring.

She stops dead at who's standing there, though.

“I could talk about Jesus if it makes you feel better,” Chris says, closing his phone just before Danneel launches herself at him, legs around his waist and mouth seeking his.

~*~*~*~

September, 2007

 

“Chad says hi.”

Jensen snorts into the phone and bends over to pull off his boots. “Does he now?”

“Not really,” Jared says, and Jensen can hear him grinning. “But I did see him today. He's staying in the apartment over Mike and Tom's garage. He seems to be doing pretty good.”

“Sounds like he's talking to you again,” Jensen says, and figures he can afford to be charitable, being as he's still got Jared, even if Chad did get there first.

“Yeah,” Jared says. “I've really missed him, you know?”

He sounds so happy and excited that Jensen manages to ignore the way his gut twists with a little bit of jealousy at that. “You guys did live together for two years,” he says. “I'm just glad he finally got his panties out of that bunch. Took him long enough.”

“Yeah, well, he kinda had a reason,” Jared says, and Jensen feels a little guilty, but only because he can hear the note in Jared's voice that means he's feeling guilty again. Jensen doesn't honestly give a shit about Chad's feelings. Hell, he's never even met the guy.

“Hey,” Jensen says softly. “Love you.”

“Guess that kinda does make it worth it,” Jared says. “Love you too.”

They sit there for a while, just listening to each other breathe like they do a lot of nights when there's either too much or too little to say. For some reason, Jensen feels awkward, though, and he reaches for the first thing he can think of that isn't asking Jared how much time he spent hanging out with his ex. Who is staying with Jensen's friends, and Jensen really needs to have a talk with Mike and Tom about that.

“So,” Jensen says finally, “what're you wearing?”

There's a pause, and then Jared laughs, though it's still a little bit too quiet. “Smooth, Ackles,” he says. “Real smooth.”

~*~

October, 2007

Early fall in Northern Michigan is kind of like late winter in Texas, and Jensen's still kind of shivering in his light jacket as he pushes into the Starbucks, mind firmly stuck on the idea of coffee being the key to eternal happiness. It's early, and he's kind of annoyed that he had to get off the bus and away from his nest of warm blankets, but Jim had insisted, and when your head of security says he thinks he smells an exhaust leak, you get off the damn bus. At least they're near civilization and Jensen can get his elixir of life from whatever pseudo-emo kid is playing coffee jockey.

He was up later than usual last night, talking to Jared. It's Jared's last year of school, and the pressure is already getting to him. Their phone calls have dropped off to every few days, and it's totally understandable that Jared's been distracted lately. But last night, Jensen hadn't been able to just let it go; Jared had been too quiet, almost subdued, and that is so completely not like Jensen's Jared that Jensen kept him on the phone late into the night, trying to make things good.

Jensen shuffles a few steps forward in line and jams sunglasses on his face to make himself a little less recognizable. He's tired, cranky, and has another 300 miles to go before he has to rush in through the back door of the next venue and do a half-assed sound check, and he's not in the mood to be noticed. His iPhone buzzes in his pocket, and he pulls it out to see a text from Jared.

My eyeballs feel like I've been rinsing with sandpaper. Not enough sleep.

Grinning, Jensen responds with, should try sleeping later, babe.

Fucker, the reply comes. Some of us have be places in the morning. Why you awake?

my boyfriend keeps txting me while I'm trying to get coffee, Jensen sends back. also, bus broken. found starbucks, though. get to class ok?

There's a long pause, and Jensen looks at his watch, realizes it's after ten here, which means it's after nine there, so Jared should already be in lecture right now. His phone vibrates again, and Jensen pulls up his inbox right away.

Chad gave me a ride.

There it is again, that bitter twist in his gut at the mention of Chad. Jensen can't do a damn thing about it, either, and he punches out a quick reply as the line shuffles forward.

cool. love you.

This time, the reply is almost instantaneous, like Jared's got it saved as a quick message or something.

Love you, too. Talk to you tonight?

Jensen's still grinning when he orders his coffee from a girl who looks barely old enough to be out of school. She recognizes him, though, and holds up the whole line as she and the barista – a guy with bright green tips in his spiky hair and gauged holes in his ears – beg a picture with him. Feeling good, loved even, Jensen doesn't even complain when they take a second picture with the kids each kissing one of his cheeks. He just grins his way through it.

As an added bonus, he gets a stack of Starbucks comp coupons when they refuse to take his money. Being almost famous has its advantages, Jensen thinks.

When the picture hits the internet a couple of days later, though, Jared doesn't answer when Jensen calls. He just sends a text suggesting Jensen go find more coffee house employees to flirt with, since Jared's got a huge exam in the morning and can't talk to anyone. Jensen's pretty sure the test is a lie, but things are weird enough between them that he doesn't push it, doesn't push Jared.

~*~*~

November, 2007

 

Jensen's in rehearsal for his bit on Leno when his phone starts ringing. It's Jared's ring tone, so Jensen just promises himself he'll call Jared back right away, as soon as they're finished. He hits the ignore button on his phone and sets it to vibrate, giving his band an apologetic shrug. The new guys aren't as cool as Chris and Steve were, but they're still awesome enough that Jensen feels bad about wasting their time.

His phone goes off twice more before they're done, and when Jensen checks it later, he sees a text from a number he doesn't recognize.

Asshole. Call your boy ASAP. - Chad

Jensen isn't really sure he wants to know how Chad got his number, but he still ducks into a quiet hallway to call Jared back. Someone's PA is having a panic attack about brands of bottled water about ten feet away, but all Jensen can concentrate on is how it takes Jared four rings to answer, and when he does, he sounds horrible.

“Hey,” Jared says, and something turns horribly sour in Jensen's stomach. “I forgot you were busy. Sorry I kept calling. I just...”

“Jay, what's wrong?” Jensen asks quietly, walking further away from the water bottle drama. “You sound like shit, baby. Are the dogs okay?”

Jared laughs, and it sounds hollow. Jensen grips his phone tightly, ready to open a can of whup-ass on whoever has Jared this messed up. “Jay,” he says, soft and helpless, “Jay, talk to me.”

“Dogs are fine,” Jared finally says.

“What is it?” Jensen asks, opening the nearest door and slipping into an empty make-up room.

“It's my dad,” Jared says, and Jensen doesn't know what to say about that, so he just grips his phone tighter. “Megan called. He's in the hospital. Heart attack.”

Jensen sits in a make-up chair, looks blindly around at the pictures of famous people that have been right where he is right now. He can hear the stress in Jared's voice, knows there's more, but all he can manage is a softly breathed, “Jay.”

“She says he wants to see me, Jen,” Jared says, and there's another long pause, broken when Jared sighs, laughs ruefully, “I wish you were here to go with me.”

It's such a simple request, and if Jensen were just about anyone else in the world, he'd be able to drop everything and fly home right now. Be there for Jared the one time he's really and truly needed.

Sagging in his seat, Jensen closes his eyes and listens to Jared breathing, hears rustle of cloth and the sound of a long zipper pulling shut. Jensen's own bags are back at the hotel, already unpacked by Alona. He's got Leno tonight, and local venues the next two days after; this is one of the few stops where bothering to unpack makes sense.

“Jay, I...” he says, and stops, because there's no excuse good enough for him not being there, and he knows it. “I'm sorry, Jared.”

“I know,” Jared says, and there's the sound of Jared's doorbell, followed by a knocking sound. “Look, Chad's here. It's a long drive to San Antonio, so...”

“Yeah,” Jensen says, and he hates Chad for being able to do what he can't. “Yeah, I understand. It's good, man. He's cool.”

“Yeah,” Jared says. “I'll talk to you later.”

“Don't let Chad drive too much,” Jensen says, kicking up a corner of his mouth so Jared can hear the grin. “Love you.”

The pause is long enough that Jensen's grin fades. “Love you, too,” Jared finally says. “Break a leg tonight.”

“You too,” he says, but he's not sure if Jared hears him before the line goes dead in Jensen's hand.

That night, after Leno and the after party that he knows better than to try to get out of, Jensen stays up, writing. It's a song about Jared, and that empty place inside Jensen's chest where Jared belongs. It's good, Jensen realizes, even if it probably won't make it on to a real album. It's just too obvious that he's not singing about a girl.

He's just finished it when Sera comes to get him in the morning for some radio interview. When she sees Jensen's rumpled clothes and the bags under his eyes, all she says is, “Now that's a face for radio.”

Jensen kind of loves her for that. He's only in the bathroom for a few minutes, getting ready, but when he comes out, Sera's been flipping through his notes, and her face is a perfect picture of pity.

“Sweetheart,” she says, voice gentle like he might spook. “Jensen, something's got to give.”

“It's fine,” he says, taking the papers from her hand. “Everything's fine. Just a long night, that's all.”

Jensen doesn't need the look on Sera's face to know she doesn't buy it either.

~*~*~

Two weeks later, Jensen's tour brings him close enough to Richardson that he can sneak away for a night.

The sex is hot and hard and just as mind-blowing as before. And just like before, Jensen's walk is a little more bow-legged than usual the next day. What's different is that this time, Jared doesn't invade his side of the bed after or offer to give him a ride in the morning, even though he's finally got a car.

Jensen tells himself it's okay. He knows how busy Jared's been with school, and he needs all the rest he can get.

~*~*~

was thinking about trying to get extra day or two at christmas. wanna go somewhere?

Jensen's finger hovers over the Send button for a few seconds. Things with them have been off, almost brittle since Jared's family reappeared, and this might be a really bad idea - especially considering how Jensen's notorious for breaking plans with Jared. But all the same, Jensen misses Jared with a physical ache, and he'll feed his momma whatever line he can think of about a boys weekend with Mike if it means he gets Jared to himself. Grinning at the thought of how all that alone time can be spent, he sends the text.

It's almost half an hour before Jared responds, but he was telling Jensen just the other day how crazy this week was going to be.

Going to San Antonio for Christmas/New Years. Near death makes old bigots rethink, I guess. Thought I told you?

And no, Jared definitely did not mention that, but they haven't exactly been able to talk much for a while now, so Jensen swallows down a sudden childish urge to ask if maybe Jared just told Chad about it, and shrugs it off.

nah, he sends back, as someone knocks at his hotel room door, it's cool, though. might be easier to get free time early in the month.

The knocking turns to pounding and drunken shouting, and Jensen opens it to see Chris and Steve, both in town and looking to party. It's about an hour later before Jensen remembers to check his phone. There's two messages.

Yeah, sure. Lemme know.

And then, ten minutes later,

Love you.

Quickly, before Steve's drunk ass can dump half a beer on him and his phone, Jensen shoots back, you too.

It's not until the next afternoon, when the hangover's finally faded enough for Jensen to stop planning new and unusual ways to destroy the entire planet, does he think that maybe he didn't handle that as well as he could.

That night, after he's gone to bed, a couple of girls try to break into Jensen's hotel room. Jim stops them and puts them in a cab home, but Jensen can't get back to sleep, isn't even sure he wants to try. They sit up together, half-watching some documentary with lots of black and white footage of explosions, drinking and playing a crappy game of poker that Jim wins because Jensen can't tell if he's smirking behind that beard of his.

“You always want to do this?” Jim asks at one point. They're both pretty close to shit-faced and sprawled on the sofa and chair, and Jensen sort of rolls his head to look at the guy whose job it is to keep him safe from the crazies. It's kind of funny, since Jim's shorter than Jensen, and looks like some kid's grandad, but Jensen knows that Jim can be one tough mother, so it's all good.

“Pretty much,” he says with a shrug. “Wanted to be a fireman when I was five, but otherwise... yeah.”

“Huh.” Jim kicks his feet out, rests them on the glass top of the coffee table, sending an empty bottle rolling off the edge.

Jensen sits up and reaches to pour them a couple more drinks, hands Jim his glass. “How 'bout you, man? You always want to do this?”

“Shit no,” Jim says. “Wanted to be an actor. Was doing it, too. Local stuff, rehearsals that didn't get in the way of my day job in a guard booth way out in the middle of nowhere, watching some lumber yard. Still, it was pretty damn cool, you know?”

Jensen blinks at Jim, having trouble seeing him as anything other than security, except maybe as a trucker, but that's just because of the beard and the way he can swear better than half of the road crew. “So...?” he prompts.

“So one day this guy comes around and says they need muscle for a show, all I needed to do was take a day off work and I'd get paid three times as much,” Jim says. “And it turns out I fucking loved it. Love the details and the schedules and making sure stubborn fucking rock stars don't get themselves set on fire or jumped by a mob of fans. I keep people like you safe, and that's something I'm sure as shit gonna be proud of.”

“You just up and changed everything like that?” Jensen asks. “Bet your wife was pissed.”

Jim snorts. “Pissed doesn't begin to cover it. But I set her down, you know? Explained to her what this was. Told her that I had something calling me.” He leans back, a sloppy grin on his face. “She came around eventually. Got my boy to prove that.”

“Huh,” Jensen says. “Learn something new every day.”

“Something like that,” Jim says. “Hey, you need the john? I gotta puke.”

~*~*~

December, 2007

Jared walks into the beauty salon and waves to Sandy across the way. She's still under the dryer, hair up in these giant curlers that look a little less ridiculous considering she's sitting in the middle of a pink and chrome wonderland. Trust Sandy to find the most retro salon in town, Jared thinks, grinning at her as he wedges himself into a slightly too-small vinyl chair to wait.

Flipping through old magazines, Jared stops when he sees Jensen's face on the cover of People. Granted, it's one of those little boxes on the side, not the full cover, but it still... it still just feels weird. Jensen looks different that Jared always thinks of him; he's put together instead of comfortably rumpled, with funny little blond highlights in his hair (and, okay, how can anyone not know he's gay? His hair is perfect), and his smile is just as perfect, but empty. Kind of like a lot of things in Jared's life these days.

Jared's brushing his fingers over Jensen's picture and wondering if anyone will notice if he steals the issue when he hears the bells over the door chime and some calls out, “Hi there, Donna!”

A vaguely familiar voice murmurs a greeting, and Jared looks up in time to see Jensen's mom taking the seat across from him. He smiles at her, not sure what to say. It's not like she knows he's dating her son, Jared knows, but he still has this sudden need to connect with someone who probably misses Jensen just as much. Besides, everyone knows he and Jensen are friends.

“So,” he says, drawing Mrs. Ackles's attention, “Jensen missed Thanksgiving again this year, huh?”

She blinks at him, face shuttering like Jensen's does when he's angry. “I'm sorry,” she says, cool and distant, “do I know you?”

“I'm Jared, ma'am,” he says, holding up his hands innocently. Jensen's mentioned that reporters have been showing up, trying to find dirt on him. “It's been a few years since you and I've seen each other, but your son's a very good friend of mine.”

The tension around her mouth – just like Jensen's – eases, and Mrs. Ackles's face warms with a casual smile, if not actual recognition. “Yes, well, I haven't seen much of any of Jensen's friends in the past couple of years,” she says. “He seems to spend all of his visits home with Mike, but then I suppose that's what happens when one of you boys owns a bar, now doesn't it?”

“I suppose so,” Jared says. Jensen's barely talked to Mike, and Jared knows it because Mike was just bitching about it last night. But Jensen's mother thinks otherwise, and the only way she's get an idea like that would be if Jensen gave it her. There's a pit opening up in Jared's stomach, and he just can't stop himself when he fakes a smile and says, “So should my feelings be hurt that Jensen hasn't mentioned me at all?”

Mrs. Ackles shrugs, nonchalant. “You know Jensen,” she says. “Getting that boy to switch gears is impossible when he doesn't want to. And he and Mike have always been best friends, you know. Of course that's who he'd spend all his free time with.”

“Yeah,” Jared says weakly. He wants to set her straight, wants to out Jensen from sheer spite, but he doesn't. Just then, Sandy comes up, fluffing her hair and smiling brightly. “I'll see you around, Mrs. Ackles,” he says, not waiting for her to answer as he stands abruptly and hooks his arm around Sandy. She looks up at him with concern, but leans into him anyhow, comforting despite her tiny size.

Halfway back to the car, Jared realizes he's still clutching the issue of People. He drops it in the nearest trashcan and keeps going.

~*~*~

Jensen's in Dallas when the Grammy nominees are announced at the end of the first week in December, and it knocks the wind out of him to see his name right there over Amy-fucking-Winehouse. The first person he calls is his momma, because she always believed in him. He keeps the call short, though, because there's one other person he wants to tell before the rest of the world.

The first time he calls, it goes to Jared's voicemail, and Jensen leaves a cryptic, breathless message. Almost as soon as he hangs up, the phone rings. It's Sera; the label wants to expand the tour.

Jensen manages to wait until that evening before calling Jared again, and this time he gets lucky. Jared answers, sounding tired and out of it, and a quick glance at the clock shows Jensen that it's after ten.

“Jay, I know you're sleeping,” he says.

“Not any more,” Jared says, yawning. “Everything alright, Jensen? I have an early final in the morning.”

“Everything's awesome, man,” Jensen says, flopping back on his bed. “I'm up for a fucking Grammy. Best New Artist.”

“That's fantastic, Jen,” Jared says, and the warmth in his voice curls in Jensen's belly.

“Yeah,” Jensen says, giddy and half drunk on sheer happiness. “They're expanding the tour. And not just clubs, either; actual halls and shit. I think this is it, Jay. That moment, you know?”

There's a long pause, and then Jared says, “You're in Dallas, right?”

“Yeah,” Jensen says, grinning ear to ear. “I still have tomorrow afternoon free to come up. I can totally blow off those interviews for you.”

“Can you come up now?”

Jared doesn't have to ask him twice. It only takes a few minutes to convince someone to lend him a car and he's on I-75, driving too fast and pushing faster and drumming on the steering wheel. This is perfect, Jensen thinks. He's making it, he's someone, and he's gonna share it with Jared. God, he misses Jared.

It's not quite eleven when Jensen pulls up in front of Jared's house, jumps out of the car. He's just about ready to run up the sidewalk when he sees Jared, sitting on the front steps. There's a strange kind of slump to Jared's shoulders, and Jensen stumbles, Jared's name freezing on his lips and his mind suddenly replaying the flat way Jared asked him out.

Jared stands, brushes off his jeans. He's wearing a faded UT Dallas sweatshirt, old sneakers that aren't laced, and a look on his face that makes Jensen stop in his tracks completely.

“Thanks for coming,” Jared says, and runs a hand through his hair. “I... I didn't want to do this over the phone.”

Jensen might be a little oblivious some times, especially when it comes to anything in the real world these days, but this is a song and dance he can recognize. He just never thought he'd get it from Jared. Not tonight, when his life is supposed to be perfect. But denying it won't change the fact that Jared's clearly struggling to meet his eyes, and he looks more miserable than Jensen's ever seen him.

“Why?” Jensen finally asks. His voice is rough, and he barely recognizes it himself.

“Because we're fooling ourselves,” Jared says. “I'm fooling myself. Hell, Jensen, your mom doesn't even know we're friends. She thinks you've been hanging out with Mike all this time, and wasn't that just an awkward conversation the other day. You're never here and I can't just put my fucking life on hold any more. I can't.”

Jensen crosses his arms, but holds his ground when he wants to back away. “What do you want now, Jared? Do you want me to tell the world to fuck off and start playing gigs in Mike's bar again? I've worked my entire life to get here. Don't ask me to give it up and I won't ask you to give up what you love, either.”

For a long while, Jared just looks at him, and Jensen lets himself hope that maybe this is really about them setting better boundaries. Hashing shit out, or something. But then Jared closes his eyes and shakes his head.

“I'm giving it up on my own,” he says. “Because I can't ask you to. Because you're not ready, and I can't say I blame you. This-” he waves his hand, encompassing the world outside of Richardson “-is too big, too important to you, and I won't take it away. But at the same time... I just can't do this anymore, Jensen. I can't. I need to live my life, even if that means you're not in it, just like you need to live yours, whatever that means to you.”

“Jared.” Jensen doesn't know what to say, doesn't know if even could say it if he did, because he can't breathe. There's this huge weight of his crushed hopes and expectations sitting on his chest, and Jensen doesn't know what to do to make it go away. To change Jared's mind, because he knows all he has to do is make the right choice, say the right thing and this will be fixed. But Jensen just... “I don't know what you want me to say.”

Jared shakes his head. “I don't want you to say anything,” he says gently. “I want you to do what's right for you. And if that means this, then so be it.” He takes a deep breath, steps back, away from Jensen.

“I love you,” Jensen tries, but Jared just takes another step away.

“I know,” he says. “Take care, Jen. Goodbye.”

He might be saying something else, but Jensen's not sure; he's cursing, storming back to the car, trying not to cry like a fucking girl, trying to remember how to get back to the hotel without crashing, doing everything and anything he can to keep moving, keep going, keep it from setting in.

Still, when he gets back to his room, Jensen finds himself sitting on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, bottle of scotch in his hand and the broken hearted blues on his face. He cries, he pukes, and maybe he cries some more, but the next day he pulls his shit together and smiles like hearing everyone sing his praises is everything he ever wanted.

And if it isn't after all, well, then it's just going to have to do.

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

November, 2008

 

The Furry Friends Clinic in Pleasant Valley, Texas, is all-new construction with lots of big windows and a cute mural by the front doors, the paint bright and fresh despite the constant drizzle of the past few days. There's a black hybrid SUV and a baby pink Prius in the lot, and Danneel sits there in her brown rented Camry, organizing her gear to go in and talk to a guy that, as far as any of her researching tells her, has probably never even met Jensen Ackles. She's pretty sure this is a waste of time, but when she called Chris last night, he'd insisted again that she really needed to come here.

Getting out of the car, Danneel wonders if this is some sort of screwed up test. Still, it might not be, and her best bet is to just go with it and see what happens.

Inside the animal clinic and behind the counter, there is a small, dark-haired woman with a bright smile. She's wearing a pale pink top with cartoon bunnies playing among cartoon flowers, and she's pretty in the pocket-sized and comfortable with herself kind of way that Danneel never managed when she was younger, with her own too-long legs and striking features, and for a minute Danneel has instant dislike for this stranger. But the woman just smiles and greets her, and it's so genuine and warm that Danneel decides to let go of her jealousy.

“Hi!” the woman says, her name tag reading Sandy. “How can I help you?”

“I'm looking for Dr. Pada...” Danneel trails off, because it's a doozy of a last name and Chris has terrible handwriting.

“Dr. Padalecki's busy at the moment,” Sandy says, her smile never wavering. “Can I help you?”

Danneel shrugs and lets herself relax, knowing that if she's uptight now it's all her posture and nothing else. Her briefcase has been replaced by a canvas bag and her ironed t-shirt by a warm, curve-hugging sweater that's just enough that she doesn't need a jacket down here in Texas most days. “I was hoping to see him,” she says, giving her best, most harmless smile. If this vet knows Ackles, it wouldn't do to scare off the gatekeeper. “I'm a friend of Chris Kane's?”

“Ah, Chris,” Sandy says, nodding sagely, and the way she smiles makes Danneel nervous in a territorial sort of way. “Such a talented man,” she goes on. “Been trying to get him to notice me for ages. I don't suppose you have any pointers?”

“Afraid not,” Danneel says, keeping her smile as neutral as possible. “Chris only notices who he wants to, it seems.”

Sandy shrugs. “Oh well, can't blame a girl for trying. Lord knows I won't get anywhere with the other men in my life.” Before Danneel can ask what she means, Sandy's heading to the back, calling out. “Jared! Someone here to see you!”

Danneel barely has a chance to collect her thoughts before a tall, gorgeous guy comes out of the back. He's wearing green scrubs and a long white jacket that has Dr. Jared embroidered over the pocket on his left. He's tan, with dark hair and an engaging smile, and Danneel kicks herself when she recognizes him as the take-out guy from the Roswell.

“Hi,” he says, giving her this expectant sort of look. “Can I help you?”

“Hi,” Danneel says back, smiling and offering her hand. “Chris Kane told me to drop by and see you.”

Dr. Padalecki's smile warms a bit, though it's still a little confused. “Are you looking for a vet, Miss...?”

“Harris. Danneel Harris,” Danneel says, and then shakes her head. “And no. I kill Sea Monkeys by looking at them,” she admits, and he laughs.

“Well, then I'll have to keep you away from my tank,” he says, and his smile is wide and a bit blinding, and yeah, she really did remember the dimples right. Wow. “So what can I do for you?”

“I'm a reporter,” she says, pulling the digital recorder out of pocket and hitting the record button. “For Rolling Stone. I'm trying to locate Jensen Ackles, and Chris insists you're the man to talk to.”

She only looks away for a couple of seconds to make sure the recorder's running properly, but when she looks back, Dr. Padalecki's face is flat and closed off. His lips are flat and pressed, and there's a muscle twitching on the side of his jaw as he points to the recorder.

“Turn it off,” he says, and when Danneel doesn't move fast enough, he plucks it from her fingers with one large, gentle hand, and presses the power button before handing it back. “I have no comment about the rock star Jensen Ackles.”

“Mr. Kane made it sound otherwise,” Danneel pushes.

Mr. Kane makes things sound however they suit him,” Dr. Padalecki says, and it's almost a growl. He takes her by the elbow and escorts her to the door, holding it open for her. “I think you should go. I have nothing to do with the man you're looking for.”

“Doctor Pada... Jared,” Danneel says, trying to dig in her heels, but it's no use when he's twice as big as her and that much more determined to make her leave. At least he's being gentle about it. “Why would Christian Kane think you'd know where Jensen Ackles is?”

“Padalecki,” he corrects her firmly. “Goodbye, Miss Harris.”

Danneel stumbles, and the door closes behind her. The rain's coming down harder now, and there's just the shallow awning keeping her out of it. Turning around, Danneel sees Dr. Padalecki pull a cell phone out of his jacket pocket, face like thunder as he punches a couple of buttons and makes a very animated, very angry-looking phone call.

She waits another few seconds, watching through the glass, but when even Sandy starts glaring at her, Danneel knows it's time to leave. The tiny travel umbrella from the bottom of her bag doesn't do much against a giant gust of wind as Danneel makes a mad dash for her car. Her hair is wet and hanging in limp clumps around her face, the ends already starting to curl stubbornly, and the bottoms of her jeans are soaked through by the time she throws herself into the driver's seat and yanks the door shut, but Danneel's more focused on the scene still unfolding inside the animal clinic.

Dr. Padalecki is still on the phone, waving his hand in the air like whoever he's talking to can actually see him. He points to the parking lot, a jabbing motion that tells Danneel more than anything that she should have listened to Chris a long time ago, since there's clearly a story here. And then he storms out of sight, into the back. Almost as soon as he's gone, Danneel's phone rings.

“Hello?” she says, not looking at the caller ID since that would mean looking away from the clinic.

“Sure know how to win friends and influence people, don't you, darling?” Chris drawls in her ear.

“Yeah, well you didn't exactly tell me he'd pull a Mr. Hyde on me when I mentioned Ackles,” Danneel grumbles. She's been spoiled, these past few months, with people who will talk to her even though she's a reporter, even if they don't tell her anything of much use. But she knows better, knows she should have been more delicate, especially given that this man's relationship with Ackles would have been personal, not business. She sighs. “How badly have I screwed myself?”

Chris laughs. “Only time will tell,” he says. “You got time to come by Nashville? I got you a meeting with someone who can't help you find my boy, but he can give you some good back story.”

What she really needs to do is take some time to get her head on straight and find another story to follow before she loses her job.

“You're there?” she asks, and doesn't cringe too much at the needy sound in her voice.

“Yeah,” Chris says. “Me and Steve have to move by the end of the year, so we're looking at new apartments. Want to help?

Probably, if Danneel goes back to Sera's bookstore, she might be able to get something from Ackles's former manager. Anything is better than what she's got right now, and the trail is just going to get colder the longer she takes. Running off to spend time with her sort-of boyfriend will not help with that.

“I'll be there tomorrow,” she says, and she can almost hear the smile in his voice when he answers.

“Cool.”

~*~*~*~

February, 2008

 

Jensen doesn't win the Grammy. Amy Winehouse sweeps through with five wins, including Best New Artist, not that the crackhead could even make it into the country to claim the statues. Half of the awards ceremony is a blur for Jensen, since he's raging drunk by the time the limo pulls up to the Staples Center.

But he manages to give a good performance on stage despite that, and the pinched look his handlers have been wearing since he started drinking before noon smooths out. It's all good, and Jensen's dodged the curse of the Best New Artist. Not many other ways to make the evening perfect, except for maybe a blow job from his date, and he doesn't even have to mention it before she's crawling across the limo, offering to help him relax.

His date is a Playboy Bunny he's never heard of before, even though he's been acting like he knows exactly what issue she was in. It's either that or risk explaining that he spent the past year taking it up the ass, Kim explains. It doesn't actually make any sense to Jensen, since lots of people go stag, but he just shrugs and agrees to take the bimbo, a part of him perversely hoping Jared's watching when they make out for a bit on the red carpet, bulbs flashing like lightning for the shitstorm. In a way, it's actually kind of awesome, as far as Jensen can remember.

The phone call from Chris the next morning, though, that Jensen could definitely live without.

“I saw you last night. The hell is the matter with you?” Chris demands as soon as Jensen picks up the phone, groggy and half asleep, Joanna the Bunny sprawled across his chest. “You think that's the way to make things better?”

“Feels pretty fucking good from here,” Jensen grumbles back. Carefully, he pulls himself free, grabs his jeans from the night before and heads down to Joanna's kitchen to see if she's got coffee. “Don't hate 'cause I'm living the dream, dude.”

Chris snorts. “Goin' Hollywood on us, Tex?” he asks, the Oklahoma coming out full force.

“When in Rome,” Jensen says. Joanna's place is all smooth surfaces and big windows, hard floors and expertly-placed paintings. It's nothing at all like Jared's house, which is, of course, why Jensen can't stop thinking about Jared's stained carpets and the door that Harley cracked when he ran into it. “Besides, you should see her naked... well, you probably have. But damn, Chris. You know?”

“Yeah, I know,” Chris says, huffing. “But there's that whole reason why you hadn't seen her naked before last night, and you can pretend all you want, but not with me, son. Even before you got all twisted up you weren't that much of a ladies' man, and you and I both know it. Why don't you just call him?”

Joanna doesn't even have a coffee pot. She's got a cabinet full of energy shots, though, so Jensen opens a couple of those, pours them into a mug and snags a couple of multi-vitamins from the bottle on the counter. The shots swirl dangerously dark at the bottom of the mug, and Jensen gets himself a glass of water, first. Last time he tried those things, he didn't sleep for two days.

“Jensen?” Chris sounds half worried, half annoyed.

“I'm here,” Jensen says, takes a drink of the water. It's cool and sweet, and he feels a little more human already. “Damn models don't drink shit that'll stain their teeth, and I've got to get conscious at some point today, even if it's just for round three with Joanna.”

“Good luck getting it up when you're sober enough to let your brain remind your dick what you like,” Chris says.

“Hater,” Jensen says, still eying the mug. He's got a shoot for some promotional thing or another this afternoon, and the photographer will fucking kill him if he's asleep for it.

“Whatever,” Chris says. “You know I'm right. Just like you know that what you like is big, male, with floppy hair and into animals.”

“Yeah, well, no good dwelling on what I ain't got,” Jensen grumbles. There's a bottle of vodka in the back of the freezer. “Especially when I've got so much as it is.”

“Call him.”

“Fuck you.”

“No thanks. Call him, tell him you miss him, and fucking fix it with him. You're a miserable fucking bastard when you're broken-hearted, Jensen, and I like you a lot better when you're happy.”

“I'm doing just fine, Chris,” Jensen snarls. “Jesusfuck, let it be, would you? Not everyone gets a happy fucking ending.”

“Bullshit,” Chris says. “You get it if you're willing to fucking work for it.”

“Fuck off,” Jensen says, and hangs up. He really hates it when Chris is so clearly wrong.

He dumps the energy shots down the drain and goes to find his clothes and ask Joanna where they are so he can call a cab or something. She gives him her number when he leaves, and he leaves it in his jeans when Alona sends them out to the cleaners.

~*~*~

April, 2008

 

“Jensen,” Sera says while they're having dinner in a swanky restaurant in Chicago, “are you happy?”

Jensen just arches an eyebrow at her as he cuts into his steak. It's not Texas grilled, but it's still damn good. Maybe even a little better, not that he'd willingly admit that to anyone.

“I'm serious,” she says. “Are you? You're not sleeping enough, you work too hard, and I know you haven't called Chris in almost two months.” He shoots her a look, and she shrugs. “I pulled your phone bill,” she explains, but doesn't look like she regrets it. It is kind of her job to worry about him, though, so Jensen's willing to let it slide.

“I'm good, Sera,” he says. “Just been busy, is all. Especially now that we're gonna be doing this through July. You know how hard it's been to adjust the act for bigger venues.”

“But are you happy?” she pushes, totally not distracted like he'd hoped.

Jensen shrugs. “Yeah,” he says. “Sure. I'm happy.” Sera arches a doubtful eyebrow at him. “I am,” Jensen insists. “I have almost everything I've ever wanted. Why wouldn't I be happy?”

“Almost everything?” Sera says.

“Well, I'm still waiting on that rocket ship I wanted when I was six, but other than that... yeah,” Jensen says. “Almost. Just about. Good enough for me... and why are you asking?”

Sera sets her fork down and sighs. “Because you're miserable, sweetheart,” she says, and right then Jensen kind of wishes she didn't think she was his momma. “Everyone else around you is over the moon about how things are going, and you're having dinner with your old babysitter instead of calling Chris or getting some people together for a party. The reviews of your concerts are fantastic, but you won't talk about what you want to do for the new album.”

“I've been working on things,” Jensen says defensively. “Just trying to get my head on straight for what direction I want to take it.”

“You can't do a whole record about how much you miss Jared,” Sera says softly.

With a shove that's really harder than it needs to be, Jensen pushes his plate away, face twisted bitterly. “We're not talking about this.”

“Yes, we are. It's plain as the nose on your face that you made the wrong choice, Jensen, and it's eating you up inside.”

“Choice?” Jensen scoffs. “There was no choice making on this end. Trust me.” He stands abruptly. “I'm not hungry. There's got to be a party somewhere.”

“Jensen-”

But Jensen doesn't stop to listen to her. Storming out of the restaurant, he hails a cab and goes to the first club they find. He parties and laughs and has the time of his life, but doesn't take anyone up on offers for company back at his room, and he wakes up in the morning, hung over, lonely, and so very empty inside.

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

November, 2008

 

Chris's truck is a noisy brown and beige pickup with rust spots along the bottom that made Danneel laugh out loud when she first saw it, because she can't picture him driving anything else. The fabric on the bench seat is worn shiny and smooth in places, but it's still comfortable enough as they rumble along slowly, making the occasional turn left or right while the radio plays a generic Country song. Through the bandanna blindfold Chris had insisted she wear, Danneel can see dappling light, and she figures they must be somewhere with a lot of trees. Not that she would know where they were even if she could see, since most of her experiences in Nashville so far have been in skyscrapers and recording studios, and they've got to be long out of city limits by now.

“Are you planning on telling me anything at all about this surprise?” she asks, grinning as she sticks a hand out into the cool wind, playing with the breeze.

“You going to ask me about Jensen or the fellow I've got lined up for you?” Chris asks.

Danneel shakes her head. “This isn't about that,” she says. “We both know that's not really why I'm here. Besides,” she adds with a grin, “you're fucking stubborn as hell, baby, and pushing you won't get me anywhere.”

Chris laughs and Danneel feels him tug on her hair. “Fellow might think you meant that,” he cautions, but she can hear the smile in his voice. “Sounds almost like you could believe in romance after all.”

“Wouldn't want that,” she says, moving quick to catch Chris's hand, tangling their fingers together.

They hold hands like that for a while until Chris needs to let go to shift gears. Then the truck turns off the paved road, gravel kicking up against the undercarriage. Finally, they stop, and the radio clicks off before the noisy hinge on the driver's door groans in complaint and Chris says, “Wait here.'”

“Not going anywhere,” she says, and doesn't bothering rolling her eyes since it would be wasted, anyhow.

Her door is opened, and Chris helps her out of the truck, hands touching her way more than she really needs, even if she is temporarily blind. Danneel doesn't mind. They walk, Chris murmuring for her to watch her step, and then Danneel feels a hard, smooth surface under her feet, like flagstones or a sidewalk.

“Now can I look?” she asks, and Chris chuckles, standing behind her.

“Yeah,” he says, untying the bandanna and wrapping his arms around her from behind. “Well?”

Blinking in the sunlight, Danneel isn't sure what she expects to see, but it certainly isn't a run-down three-storey house with a sagging front porch and peeling blue paint. The grass is long past due a mowing, and there are straggling bushes out front that look like someone had gone crashing through them during a particularly wild party. But in the front yard there's a huge oak tree filled with red and gold leaves, and a small lake complete with a weeping willow off to the side and back a bit, and someone's propped a FOR RENT sign against the porch steps, dirt and grass still clinging to the post.

“It's... nice?” Danneel asks, trying to be polite, and Chris laughs.

“It needs a lot of work,” Chris agrees. “But the owner's agreed to cut the rent if we fix it up, and if we want, he's willing to talk selling in a year or so.”

“Huh.” Danneel leans back into the warmth of Chris's arms. “Can you and Steve afford it, though? It might be beat to hell, but this place has got to be pricey.”

“It would be pretty tight for me and Steve,” Chris agrees, and squeezes her a little closer. “Not too bad if there were three of us, though.”

For once in her life, Danneel doesn't know what to say. They haven't known each other all that long, but she already has trouble imagining her life in terms of after Chris. It should scare her, and maybe it does, and she's never done spur of the moment well, not until she met Chris, so she still can't quite make herself answer.

“Think about it,” he says, kissing the nape of her neck.

“Okay,” Danneel says, even though she's pretty sure she knows what she's going to say in the end.

~*~*~*~

July 18, 2008

 

The roar of the crowd is deafening as Jensen waves to them and runs off stage, handing his electric guitar to a roadie. Tonight was perfect; completely sold out. The band is laughing and slapping each other on their backs as they wait for the stage to get re-set for their final encore. It's not part of the normal show, but since tonight's the last night of the extended tour, they'd decided to do a little something extra.

Jensen's sweating and breathing hard when someone hands him a phone. “Hello?” he shouts over the noise.

“JENSEN!” Kim shouts back. “Fucking amazing, kid! You're going to be so rich!”

“I already am!” Jensen yells, rolling his eyes.

“Nothing compared to what the label's offering for your new album!” Kim says. “Come by my office tomorrow and we can get started right away! Don't want to lose momentum now when we're so close to having everything! Rock on, kid!”

Kim hangs up before Jensen can respond, but it's just as well, because Jensen's brain has suddenly decided to stop working. He's been putting off talks on the new album, been putting off everything beyond the tour, and now he can't and the reality of it makes him stagger back a couple steps. Tomorrow, in Kim's office, they'll plan how to have everything. It'll probably take all weekend and part of next week, but tomorrow's the first day of the rest of his life.

Jensen! Jensen! Jensen! The crowd's chanting his name, stomping and clapping and his heart skips a beat when he realizes what's wrong.

Tomorrow's Jared's birthday.

And suddenly, it's just so clear. Handing the phone to the nearest person, Jensen turns his back on the stage and walks away. He understands now.

“Where the hell do you think you're going, son?” Jim asks, clapping a hand on Jensen's shoulder. Jensen freezes, caught, but he turns around anyhow, trying to look innocent.

“Just for some fresh air,” he says, shrugging.

Jim looks suspicious and crosses his arms. “You can get air after the encore.”

“I...” Jensen tries to think of how to explain why he has to go now, but can't really find the words. “I got something calling me, man,” he says instead, knowing Jim of all people will understand.

Then, with the crowd still chanting his name, Jensen pushes open the stage door and slips out into the night.

~*~*~*

December, 2008

 

The air in the blues bar is ripe with stale cigarette smoke even though it's the middle of the day and there's hardly anyone in it but Danneel and the man Chris sent her to meet. She blinks at him, sitting so calmly across the table from her. “That's it?” she asks. “What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

Jim Beaver, an average-looking man who carries himself with a kind of smooth and dangerous confidence that's more about back alleys than the casual drape of the flannel shirt concealing his shoulder gun holster, shrugs at her. “Fucked if I know. 'Got something calling me,' is all he said. Damned cryptic if you ask me, but that boy was always a bit weird, if you ask me.”

“Why haven't you told anyone this before?” Danneel asks him, because even if Chris has vouched for him, that doesn't mean Jim's telling the truth.

“No one bothered to ask me shit,” he says. And yeah, Danneel can get that; Jim looks like a teamster, not like a man who heads his own fledgling security company. It wouldn't have occurred to her to talk to him if Chris hadn't suggested it, if only because interviewing road crews is usually, in her experience, a waste of time.

“Guess they should have,” she says, letting him know with her rueful look that she's putting herself in that category, too.

Jim snorts and stands. “Anyhow, I don't have much else to tell you. My job was always behind the scenes, so I didn't exactly spend much time with him, you know?”

“Yeah,” Danneel says, standing to extend her hand. “Thank you, though, for your time.”

“My pleasure, miss,” he says, his meaty hand making her small one almost disappear. “If you find him, tell him I said fuck you.” He winks. “And hi.”

Danneel laughs. “I'll keep that in mind,” she says, and leaves the bar, pulling designer shades on as she walks the few blocks back to her hotel. She's almost there when her personal phone rings, the number blocked.

For a moment, Danneel considers not answering it, but then it might be Chris calling from wherever in Georgia he's at today. She flips open the phone, eye on the pedestrian crossing signal.

“Danneel Harris,” she says.

“Miss Harris,” a smooth, vaguely familiar masculine voice says. “I hear you've been looking for me.”

~*~*~*~

July 19, 2008

“Are you sure, Jared?” Doc Kripke says, looking at Jared over the edge of his reading glasses, the overhead lighting reflecting off his small bald spot. “I'd love to have you join the practice.”

Jared sighs. “I'm sure, Doc,” he says. “It's just... I need to get out of Richardson. Too many memories, and too many that hurt. I was planning on going back down to San Antonio, maybe see if anywhere out there is interested in me.”

“With your grades, they'd be idiots not to,” Doc Kripke says, taking off his glasses. “I'll write you a letter of recommendation,” he offers, standing behind his desk to shake Jared's hand. “I'll miss you, son.”

Jared smiles. “I'll miss you, too, Doc,” he says.

“Jared?” Sophia calls from out front. “Can you come out here for a sec?”

“Could be a client,” Doc Kripke says, grinning.

“Half an hour after closing?” Jared says, grinning back because they both know better. Rolling his eyes, because he knows that even though he told the girls he didn't want a birthday party, they've probably got something up their cartoon puppy-covered sleeves, Jared shrugs at Doc Kripke. “Better go see what they want,” he says, and walks out of the office. He feels lighter than he's felt in months, which isn't saying much. But Sandy's right; he can't stay here and think about Jensen everywhere he goes.

“What's up Soph...” Jared trails off as he steps out front, half expecting some sort of surprise party like the one Chad threw him at Mike and Tom's bar when he graduated last month.

It's an entirely different sort of surprise.

It's Jensen.

“Hey,” Jensen says, standing on the other side of the waiting area, hands jammed into his jeans pockets, looking like he's not sure he wants to be here. “I went by the house, in case you were having a party.” He shrugs and pulls his hands out of his pockets, letting them hang helplessly at his sides. “Stopped at Mike's and he said you were working.”

“Hey,” Jared says back dumbly. “You, uh, you look good.” And god, does he. Jensen's hair is messy, his jeans and t-shirt faded and comfortable, though the shirt is stretching across his chest and shoulders, like he hasn't worn it in a long time. Distantly, Jared's aware of Sophia and Sandy standing off to the side, watching them like some sort of tennis match, but he's only got eyes for Jensen. Even if he doesn't have a clue what to say. “No show tonight?”

Jensen shakes his head. “Tour finished last night,” he says. “I'm supposed to be in Nashville all weekend, working on my new contract. Didn't go, though.”

Hope desperately floods Jared's chest. “Why?” he asks, trying to tell his heart to shut up, because they don't need a repeat performance of the last time he let Jensen in.

“Because it's not as important as I thought,” Jensen says. He runs a hand through his hair. “You said I had to live my life, whatever that meant to me, remember?”

Jared nods. Hell yes, he does. On the really bad days, he still can't totally believe that he did anything as stupid as dump the most amazing guy he's ever met, but he knew at the time and he still knows now that it was the best for the both of them. Especially considering how Jensen's career seemed to take off almost right after, Jared thinks bitterly. What he says, though, is, “Yeah. Did you figure it out?”

It's Jensen's turn to nod. “Yeah,” he says. “I tried the life I thought I wanted, Jay. It's not the one I wanted. It... because it's not the one with you in it. The thing is, it doesn't mean much at all without you, and you still mean so much even without it, which means that I have to start living with you instead of the rest. Because like you said, I've got to mean it.” He waves his arms, kind of helpless and flapping and spazzing out like only Jensen can.

“I'll take you to meet my family, Jay,” he offers suddenly. “I'll come home when you need me, just please... tell me I didn't take too long. Tell me to fuck off. Tell me something, because I love you so goddamn much that I probably screwed over my chances at a new contract to be here and I don't care because here is where I need to be. Right here, right now. And would you please make me shut up already?”

Jared feels rooted to the spot. He's reeling, not really sure this is happening, that Jensen's saying almost everything he's ever needed to hear. But it's still not right, still not what he really needs, what they both need.

Sighing, Jensen lets his shoulders sag. “Look, I can't promise you I won't miss important things,” he says. “And I can't promise you I won't screw up, or hurt you again. But what I can promise you is that you're what makes it worthwhile, so you're my main priority, not the music. You're where my music comes from, Jared, and I'm a fucking idiot if I think I can live without that.”

Before Jensen can even finish the last sentence, before Jared can even make the conscious decision, he's across the room, reaching for Jensen. And then they're kissing, Jared's hands on Jensen's face, Jensen's hands fisting in the pale green of his scrubs, their teeth clicking as they shift and remember to just let it flow between them like always. One of Jared's hands sinks into Jensen's hair, the other sliding down the length of Jensen's back, pressing hard at the dip of his spine.

“Jen,” Jared breathes, tasting him again and again, and they're both clinging to each other like a pair of drowning swimmers, but it's okay if they drown together. Jensen groans into Jared's mouth, a low sound that Jared answers with one of his own because nothing in his life has ever felt as perfect as this man in his arms. “Love you so much,” he says between kisses. “About damn time you wised up.”

Jensen laughs into Jared's mouth. “Just for that, I'm writing a song about socks and dedicating it to you,” he says, grabbing a handful of Jared's hair and then he kisses Jared hard, and there's everything that Jared's been feeling in it, too. Jensen takes control of the kiss now, leaning into Jared and coaxing a soft sound out of him that Jared is totally cool with making so long as it's for Jensen.

“Damn,” Sandy says, her soft voice barely cutting into the haze around them. She coughs, trying to get their attention. “Hey, guys?” Jared tries to shut her out, but Sandy's a champion at being persistent. And logical. “Maybe you might want to do that somewhere without so many windows?”

Cursing quietly, Jared pulls back, pressing his forehead to Jensen's. “She has a point,” he says, his voice shot to hell. Jensen nods in shaky agreement. “Especially considering I'm about thirty seconds away from bending you over the counter.”

Jensen groans, hand clenching tighter in Jared's hair. “You always have the best ideas, Jay.”

“And you stopped them,” Sophia hisses at Sandy, and Jared has to laugh as he brushes a thumb across Jensen's kiss-swollen mouth.

“Come home with me?” he asks, and god, the smile that lights up Jensen's face is so beautiful and intimate that Jared just knows no one else has ever seen it. That alone almost makes the past seven months worthwhile. “Most of my stuff's in boxes, but the bed's still there.”

“Going somewhere?” Jensen asks, lacing their fingers together.

Jared shrugs. “My lease is up at the end of the month,” he explains. “I was thinking about moving home for a while.”

“Home?” Jensen asks with an arched eyebrow.

“I'm flexible with where that is?” Jared offers, rubbing his free hand across the back of his neck.

Jensen laughs softly, but doesn't let go of his hand. “Yeah,” he says, looking right at Jared in a way that makes Jared feel like there isn't anyone but the two of them in the whole world. “It's good to finally be home.”

And right there, Jared feels like he's flying. Feels like he's home for Christmas, like he can do anything and everything in the world, just because Jensen's here, and they're actually going to work at this thing between them this time.

“Let's go,” Jared says, grinning like a complete idiot. “I have socks to pair up at home.”

“Yeah, okay,” Jensen says, throwing his head back and laughing. They're mostly out the door when Jensen stops, and turns back to the girls. “Uhm, there might be some people looking for me,” he says, grinning at them in a way that makes Jared weak at the knees even though he's not on the receiving end of it.”Do you mind...?”

“Haven't seen you,” Sandy says, crosses her arms over her chest. “Not so long as you keep this up, anyhow.”

Jensen grins again and blows her a kiss before Jared tugs him out the door. Just before the door swings shut behind them, Jared swears he can hear Sophia ask in a weak and kind of stunned voice,

“Was Jared just making out with Jensen Ackles?”

~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

RUNAWAY SENSATION - A ROLLING STONE EXCLUSIVE

Six months ago, Jensen Ackles was on top of the world. Attractive, talented, successful, he was on magazine covers and topping charts all over. From determined suburban Southern boy to rock sensation, he was the musical American dream.

But on July 18, 2008, just before the final encore of the last show in his dizzyingly successful tour, he disappeared.

He was gone, leaving behind a baffled hall full of fans and endless questions. No one was talking, and the only thing that kept a full-scale search from being mounted was a terse statement from his agent, Kim Manners of Manners and Co, the Nashville-based representation agency, that Jensen was fine, just taking a break from the public eye.

And then there was radio silence. So to speak.

While it might be just another story of spoiled musician gone bad, the amazing thoroughness with which Ackles disappeared so completely has been more than enough to keep the mystery alive until now, where he has agreed for the first time since his departure to be interviewed exclusively by Rolling Stone. While I initially set out to find what happened to him, what I stumbled on was not the path of your typical self-centered rocker, but instead that of a man with fiercely loyal and loving friends, someone who did what he promised he would and hated going back on his word. How someone like this survived even such a short career in the cutthroat music business is beyond me, to be honest.

He's agreed to meet me in a small truck stop diner far out enough that even my trusty GPS doesn't know it's there. I find cracked vinyl seats in the booths and tired old grandmothers pouring the coffee when I arrive early, only to see him already in the back booth, sprawled in comfortable clothes that make him seem at home among the wind-burnt faces of the farmers at the counter.

Sliding in across from a man who became a musical legend in less than two years, I suddenly wonder if the time is right for this article, if the world is ready to know that Jensen Ackles has become a regional trucker, since that's what he looks like now to my New York Girl eyes.

He grins at me as I pull out my gear, determined not to lose this opportunity I know I've scored mostly out of sheer luck.

“New career?” I ask him, and he laughs, a warm sound that makes me believe a little more in those who said that anyone lucky enough to get to know Jensen Ackles was doomed to fall for him, too.

“Nah,” he says. “Just relaxing over breakfast.”

Something about him puts me at ease, which is funny considering that one of the first things you learn in journalism is that it's your job to relax them. Maybe it's the flannel shirt and the leather jacket, or maybe it's the set of silver wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose as he scans the morning paper, letting me settle myself. Either way, this interview already feels different than any other I've ever taken.

I had no idea how right I was.

At first, it seems like Jensen's just going to give me enough for a fluff piece as he puts away his glasses and settles in to tell me all about the life that he gave up, with details that could have come straight out of the Joe Walsh song. He had almost everything (emphasis his – more on that soon) he could have possibly ever wanted. So why, I want to know, did he pull a Houdini on us all?

Even I couldn't have begun to guess the answer to that.


“I fell in love,” he says simply. A few months ago I might have scoffed at that, but I've been interviewing Jensen's friends for a while now in my quest to find him, and nearly every last one of them has a healthy dose of romance in his or her soul, so maybe it's rubbed off on me a little.

“So why not go for it?” I ask. “It's not like you're unfortunately-looking. Any girl would have been happy to swoon into your arms.”

“Probably,” he agrees with a quiet laugh and what can only be described as a shy smile. “But that wasn't the point. The point was that I was in love with someone who needed me to be myself and to know what I wanted. What we had wasn't your usual celebrity romance. It was real, it was everything, it was what I poured into my music. And even that wasn't enough when I couldn't be enough of a man to admit the truth.”

Several people had hinted to me along the way that the real story was in the story of Jensen and his lover, so I lean forward, eager now for my story.

“What truth?” I ask, disappointed when he shakes his head and sits back in his seat, closing off.

Before I can try again, Jensen's phone beeps with a text message from his buddy “Chris.” Christian Kane, one of the original session musicians that followed Jensen in his early months, zig-zagging across the country, is one of the few who have been in regular contact with this reclusive singer. We met a couple of months earlier in a smoky bar in Tennessee, and talked about Jensen for a while before his show. I'm pretty sure he's why Jensen suddenly got in touch with me now.

There is a brief exchange of text messages, Jensen's thumbs moving quickly and expertly across his Blackberry keys. Eventually, he finishes when I'm about halfway through my second cup of coffee. I figure two can play at this game, and drain my cup before asking anything else.

When I do, it's not about the mystery lover or why he ran out of the spotlight so abruptly. Instead, I just lean back in my seat and ask him the burning question that set me out on tracking him down in the first place. I want to know where he's been.

It turns out that Jensen's been living on a farm in Texas. “Horses and chickens and cows, oh my,” he says with a grin. The look on his face is warm and happy as he tells me about the joys of a quiet life on a snug piece of land, and I know that this is more than just where he's been staying; it's where his heart is. It's his home.

“I'm having trouble picturing you as a farmer,” I admit.

“Yeah, me too,” he says with a laugh. “To be honest, we have people to do that for us. I spend most of my days working on music and playing with the dogs. My manager was fantastic with investments, so I can afford to do that now.”

“You've been working on music?” I ask.

“Yeah.” He shrugs, a kind of self-depreciating gesture I wouldn't have pegged for a man as attractive and successful as he is. “I've been working on a new album lately, but I've also written some songs for other people. One of them should be on Keith Urban's new album, which is fantastic. He's a very talented man, and very gracious. Working with him was a true pleasure.”

“Tell me about your new album.”

“It's different,” he says, leaning forward. “A different edge than before, because I'm not the same guy. I've grown and changed as a person and an artist since The Long Road.” He laughs. “Or at least I like to think so. But I've spent a lot of time working on it, blending a little more country to my rock, and I've been up a lot late at night working on songs. I'm getting some good feedback though, so I think it's coming together well.” He pauses, and shrugs again. “In a way, a lot of it was therapy for me. I wasn't sure I'd be able to come back to playing and keep this new life I've got, but the love and support I'm getting is phenomenal, and even if I wind up writing music for other people and singing it to the chickens in the end, I think it'll be worth it for what I got out of the deal.”

The waitress comes back then to top our cups off, chatting amiably with Jensen for a few moments. Jensen is gracious and warm, and I can't help but compare him again to other interviewees I've had, who would have quickly found some way to free themselves. Oddly enough, it doesn't make me feel neglected, not when Jensen smiles at me and includes me in mindless chatter about the merits of Key Lime versus Mud Pie.

By the time the waitress leaves us with a wrapped slice of each for the both of us, Jensen seems more at ease again, and I decide now is the time to take my chance.

“So what did you get out of it?” I ask. “You left fame and fortune behind and found the truth, but you never said what it was.”

Jensen smiles, and I know that look. It's the same look my brother got before introducing me to my future sister-in-law.

“Love,” he says, proving me right. “I got love and happiness. Waking up to two dogs on the floor at the foot of the bed and the most amazing person I've ever met beside me. I got understanding and patience, someone who doesn't care when I leave my socks in the bathroom so long as I don't mind wet towels on the bed. I got everything I thought I couldn't let myself want because I was so afraid before, and I got warm arms and absolute acceptance once I stripped away the stage make-up and leather pants and the stupid ideas that kept us apart.”

I sit there silently, maybe a little longer than I should have, but it's a lot to take in. The look of absolute contentment and bliss on his face is so beautiful a part of me aches for it, and I forget that I'm here to talk about music and careers, and just bask in the second-hand glow of true love. I'm not the kind of woman who reads romance novels and thinks about heaving bosoms, but my heart is certainly swelling with the moment, and I say the only thing I can think of.

“Wow.” I challenge anyone to do better.

“Yeah,” Jensen says. His smile is beatific, and I'm a big enough person to admit I'm a little jealous.

“Why did you ever even consider giving that up?” I ask.

“Stubbornness and stupidity, I guess,” Jensen says. “I guarantee you wouldn't have heard of me if I'd taken it when it was offered in the first place. Lucky for me, when I finally realized that I was a fucking idiot, Jared was willing to take me back. Not that I really deserve him, but then that's life when you're lucky like me.”

Now, I pride myself in being a woman of the world, but sitting there in that crappy diner with hick music playing in the kitchen and guys with names like Jim-Bob sitting ten feet away, I kind of gape a little. It doesn't take me long to recover, but I can tell by the smirk on Jensen's face that he knows he's thrown me.

“So,” I finally say, “you're...”

“Torpedoing my career by coming out of the closet? Probably,” he says with a shrug that's kind of a nod at the same time. “Acknowledging the one person who keeps me sane, keeps me real, makes me happy even when I'm at my worst? Absolutely. I couldn't go home to see him before, not when the world saw us as friends, couldn't be there when he needed me, and couldn't admit that I needed him. That's a sure way to kill any relationship, and it's no way to live.”

He glances at his watch, and looks out into the gravel parking lot. “So I left. And maybe this isn't the best way to find a balance between us and my music, but I know Jared'll help me find it, and he'll forgive me when I screw up. Because that's what it's all about, what's really important, and what we all really want. That chance at real happiness, the kind money can't touch.”

“So it was worth it, then?” I ask, mostly because I have to.

Jensen snorts. “What do you think?” He stands up, leaving more than enough money for our check. I fumble to shake his hand and give him my card, but he just smiles and grabs his take-out box and leaves.

Through the dingy diner window, I watch Jensen walk across the parking lot with that distinctive bow-legged gait of his. Right outside, there's a gleaming black Chevy Impala, a beautiful specimen of a well-loved classic car, and in front of it is Jared Padalecki, a small-town vet with a reputation for answering his own emergency contact line, even late at night. He's six-and-a-half feet of tan and muscle, and built like a brick house, but when he peers into the box of pie slices that Jensen offers him, he grins like a kid on Christmas.

They get in the car, Jensen in the driver's seat and Jared sprawled on the passenger side, just a couple of buddies until the doors close. Then Jensen looks over at Jared, puts his arm across the back of the bench seat and cups the back of Jared's neck. When Jared looks back at him with a smile that's so intimate it makes my stomach flop, I find that I have to look away just to catch my breath.

Yeah, I think it was worth it, too.

«««««

Daneel Harris is a new addition to the writing staff at Rolling Stone, and has written several times for Vanity Fair, SPIN, as well as several smaller publications. She has recently relocated to Nashville, TN, where she spends much of her free time working on an original novel.

 

~fin~