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Jensen’s first thought on waking was that a crazed fan had managed to bring her life-sized Dean mannequin into his bedroom. The resulting shock of adrenaline had him out of bed with his fists raised. He wasn’t Dean and stage-fighting might’ve trained him to miss more than to hit, but he wasn’t going to go easily.  He’d seen Misery.

“Easy, tiger,” the mannequin said and grinned at him, which was even more disconcerting. 

“What the fuck,” he said, way higher than he wanted. 

The mannequin—person—sighed.  “Okay, so, a few weeks back, some weird shit happened, right?”

Jensen blanched.  He still didn’t really know—“Misha died.” 

“Yeah.”  The guy who looked like his clone coughed and looked down at his feet.  “’m sorry.  If I could fix it, I would.”

Wait a second. The crew claimed they’d never been gone—he and Jared had shared a look of mutual incomprehension that was as close as they’d gotten to being in sync off the set as they’d been in years—“You’re him. The guy who replaced me.”

“Dean Winchester,” the guy said, as if he were agreeing. “The real Dean Winchester.”

It was one thing to spend a few days hiding in a skeezy hotel room, doing his best to take care of a Jared rendered feverish and all but incoherent by whatever had happened to them, nearly penniless because somehow nobody recognized or even remembered Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki (he wouldn’t let himself think about the talentless hacks who played Dean Forester or Alec McDowell, among others, or the fact that Young MacGyver had gone three seasons in that nightmare world).  That had been one level of unbelievable, but it could’ve been a weird reality show trick.  To be confronted with someone who claimed to be from a world where demons and angels were real, wearing his face—that was beyond anything even a major studio could pull off.  “You’re shitting me.”

Fake-Dean grinned, the panty-dropping grin Jensen had perfected in Dean’s character.  “Kinda wish I were.  Anyhow, I felt bad about how we left you, so I did some research—”

“You do research?” Jensen couldn’t help interrupting.  “Isn’t that Sam’s job?”  Not that he thought Dean was an idiot, but everyone else seemed convinced that Dean couldn’t sit still long enough to do a major part of a hunter’s work.  It annoyed him, frankly.

“Hey, I can research,” disturbingly-accurate-Dean said, with exactly the expression Jensen would’ve used to play the reaction.  Overtly offended, but deep down agreeing that he wasn’t that smart.  “And I just wanted—I wanted to say some stuff to you, ‘cause I been in your shoes, I mean literally in your shoes.”  He took a deep breath.  “I looked at the pictures of the two of you, not when you were pretending to be us, but when you were—you—and Padaleski.”

“Padalecki,” Jensen said, numbly.

“Right,” maybe-Dean said, waving his hand dismissively.  “I saw how you look at him, and maybe nobody else knows what that look means, but I do.  You had a good thing, and you fucked it up.”

Jensen’s face heated and he could feel his pulse hammering all the way through his body, making his hands tremble.  “Those rumors are just—”  He was arguing with an apparition claiming to be Dean Winchester, in the middle of the night, in his own house.  He was probably crazy.  If he was lucky, he was crazy.  Which made about as much sense as the rest of it.

“Don’t kid a kidder, Jensen.  Damn, that’s a strange name.  You’d think I’d be used to seein’ people who look like me, all the shapeshifters and shit we come across, but it’s still fuckin’ weird.”

“Try seeing your face doing the Blue Steel on a Hot Topic T-shirt,” Jensen suggested. 

Dean (?) chuckled.  “Point being, I’m not even from your reality and I’m leavin’ in a few minutes.  You don’t need to lie to me.  Let me guess: you freaked out about bein’ gay—” (Jensen would’ve interrupted to say something about bisexuality, but there was no way Dean would appreciate the niceties)—“and you ended it, and now you can’t figure out how to take it back.”

“He’s married now,” Jensen said, giving up on the pretense that he wasn’t having this conversation.  Even if it was a conversation with his own fevered psyche.

Dean nodded.  “Yeah, I saw her, and the llamas.  And maybe that stays the same even if you talk to him. There’s no guarantees. But I’ll tell you this: you’re safe, you’re rich, you make people happy just by walkin’ into a room.  You got an amazing life.  But you have to live it.”

Jensen didn’t know what to say.  He stared at Dean, noting all the little details—scars that didn’t fade when the makeup went away, faded flannel that had gone too many times through a harsh laundromat washer, the way Dean’s shoulders were tilted just a little bit so that he didn’t have his back entirely to the door.  If this was Dean, Jensen was doing a pretty good job, if he did say so himself.

Dean looked away (Jensen knew he didn’t like to be stared at, no matter how often he used his looks to get what he wanted—Jensen was familiar with how that particular love/hate thing worked).  “Gotta go—this spell won’t keep the way open long.  I just—it’d be nice if something good came out of this, not just the bad shit.”

Always the fixer, the guy who tried to make it better, even if it wouldn’t ever be the same.  Yeah, this was his Dean.  “Hey, thanks,” he said, because someone should say it to Dean, even if it was just himself.

Sure enough, Dean did the shrug-plus-wry-grin thing that meant he wasn’t hearing it. 

“Hey, when you said that you knew that look, does that mean that you—?”

Jensen wasn’t even sure which name he was going to put into the question, but Dean preempted it: “Time’s up, gotta run.”

Then he disappeared.

Or maybe he was never there.  Too late, Jensen stuck out his hand, waving it around as if he could detect Dean’s residual heat, or cold (had the writers just made up that ghosts were cold? He couldn’t remember). 

“I’m going nuts,” he said, experimentally.  It didn’t sound quite right, even in the dead of night in an empty bedroom.  “I’m dealing with trauma.”  True, but not necessarily relevant.  “I’m sorry.”  That one wasn’t directed at himself, but it felt … appropriate.  Needed.  Like a weight lifting.

Before he could second-guess himself, he grabbed his phone from the bedside table.  He’d had Jared’s number in his phone for years and never let himself use it.  He texted: ‘Can we talk?’  He wanted to type more, except that he didn’t, because everything else had to be said in person. Out loud.  He sat on the side of his bed, staring at the phone, thinking about mistakes, and what you couldn’t take back, and what you needed to say anyway so you could move forward.

The buzz of the phone in his hand nearly shocked him into falling over.  He hadn’t expected Jared to answer so fast. Maybe not at all. Steeling himself, he read the message.

 ‘I’m coming over now.’

Jensen closed his eyes.  Dean Winchester couldn’t run his own life for shit, but he’d saved a lot of other people.  Right now, Jensen really, really hoped he’d be one of them.