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Hunger

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ONE

 

“It’s called Alexithymia.” “Yeah, I don’t know - I’m just glad I’m not actually a sociopath.” “What? No I--fuck!” “Fuck these fucking pants!” The sleek metal phone slipped from its precarious position against your shoulder and fell to the floor with an ominous clatter. Closing your eyes in frustration, you filled your lungs with several deep breaths - in through your nose, out through your mouth.

In-out, in...out.

Rolling sideways from the mattress onto the floor and reaching a cautious hand towards the new device, you prayed to whatever God would listen that the screen was still intact. Opening one eye a fraction of an inch, a deep sigh of relief flooded your body as the smooth, black screen flashed once; the tinny voice echoing from the speakers prattling on as if nothing had gone awry.

Standing from the walnut floorboards, you turned to face the floor length mirror. While it had taken almost a decade, the wide, curving hips reflected in the glass had become the favorite part of your body. Only problem was, finding jeans that fit well was nearly impossible. “I need new pants.” Whining into the receiver, the woman on the other end of the phone simply snorted in amusement.

“Well if you’d spend more than twenty-dollars on your clothes, you’d have a helluva lot easier time finding ones that you liked.” “I’ve offered to take you shopping how many times?” Your best friend had a point. Focusing again on the phone call, you relented - one outfit couldn’t possibly cost that much, could it?

Two hours later, your arms rested atop a cool wooden counter; a scowl painted across your features while numbly holding out a metallic blue credit card. The woman behind the desk smiled brightly, faltering a bit when she had to wrestle the card from your grasp. Walking from the store with what felt like an entirely too-small-bag-for-the-amount-of-money-you-spent outfit, you joked about what else you could’ve done with that money.

Shaking her head in exasperation, your friend tried again to argue her point. “These clothes will last you a long time - the photo ops you so voluntarily throw your money at last all of - what? Ten seconds?!” Pushing one hand through the hair covering your eyes, you tried again to explain why you paid large sums of money for those ten-second interactions. Violet’s expression let you know that she still didn’t understand. Funny thing was, she’d been the one to introduce you to Supernatural in the first place. “Well this weekend you’ll be at the boys’ beck and call, so I think you spending the money here is worth it. Don’t they give you a free photo op for working anyhow? While far from glamorous, you’d been thrilled when the company hosting the event had accepted you as a volunteer. Rolling your eyes, you assured her (and, okay, yourself) that you likely wouldn’t even see any of the cast. Only seasoned help got to be handlers.

The rest of the week flew by, and Thursday afternoon found you trying (unsuccessfully) to clear the sting of sweat from your eyes while simultaneously carrying an arm full of poles and light posts. They’d put you on stage duty for the first day. Afterwards, you were pretty sure if you ever saw another velvet-backed chair again, it would be too soon. Two-thousand of them sat in neat rows filling the main theater room. “Alright [Y/F/N], could you please take these and label the seats?” Suddenly conscious of the slight tick in your right eye, you nodded silently - sliding the heavy rolls of numbered stickers over your wrists before walking to the end of the front row to begin your new assignment.

 

You don’t recall falling into bed Thursday night. The melodic voices of Rob and the boys from Louden Swain cut through your dreamless sleep far too early Friday morning. “Is it cool if I come over…”

Excitement warred with irritability while dressing in the new jeans you'd purchased the day before. The dark denim clung to your hips, the waistband taut once the button was fastened. “Woah! What. Is. This?!” Turning to the left and then the right, your mouth fell open in a soft “oh” - there was no gap! You'd never been able to find pants that fit both your hips and waist simultaneously. It was a miracle. Still - you weren't about to complain. Pulling the basic black volunteer tank top over your head, you slipped on the trusty pair of Chucks that had followed you to every convention over the last decade. Some people cherished a hat or a cozy flannel, for you - these shoes filled that spot.

“WHAT!?!” “What do you mean she’s not here today? How..what am I supposed to do?!” You’d been about to duck behind the heavy black drapes dressing the stage to report for your morning assignments when a familiar voice made you stop short. Derek, a fifty-something event planner was pacing just the other side of the divide, his simple brown loafers kicking up small torrents of dust with his agitation. Startled as the man threw open the curtains and stomped across the stage, you decided it was probably a better bet to find someone else to talk to about how you could help for the day. Turning, you were nearly through the opening and had started to descend the rickety metal staircase leading to the volunteer break-room when a heavy hand landed on your shoulder.

“ ‘Scuse me. You’re working here...yes?” Unexpected tension lanced through your body at the sudden contact and some part of you froze. As if he could feel it, Derek removed his hand rather quickly, absentmindedly shoving his ring-adorned fingers into the pocket of his slacks; the other hand busily scrolling through his phone; artificial light illuminating his tired, pale blue eyes. In your silent contemplation of the man, you’d failed to answer his question. “Ms…Wilde - right?” “Have you been assigned yet today?” With a slow shake of your head, his hand shot out of his pocket as he threw an arm around your shoulders - laughing heartily at something you’d missed. The mans face was jovial, faint creases of forehead wrinkles and crows’ feet framing his watery irises allowed you focus on what he was saying, rather than the pressure of his proximity.

“You’re savin’ mah bacon Miss Wilde - I tell ya what.”

The shrill screaming of his phone was sudden and briefly you felt bad for Derek. Raising the device to his ear, his body language calmed significantly; assuring the person on the other end that he’d found a replacement. A replacement for who, you still didn't know. Not that it was really any of your business. Nodding once, Derek turned back to you, sliding the small device into the clip on his belt.

Fishing into the pinstriped fabric of his pocket, he pulled a cluster of keys out. “Okay, take my car to this address” -- procuring a pen from his jacket, the man scribbled some notes onto a slip of paper; the handwriting sharp and messy -- “Have you got a phone?” Tentatively reaching into your back pocket, you slipped the oversized Samsung into your fingers. “Good! When you get there, call this number..” --more scribbling-- and bring everyone here.” “Let me know when you’re back.” Glancing at the unfamiliar handwriting, you squinted, trying to make out the address.

“Ms. Wilde..?” The impatient snapping of his fingers focused your attention on the man before you. “Please hurry - lots to do...lots to do!” With that he turned on his heel and hurried back through the curtained wall.

Although it was still well before noon, the parking lot held hundreds of vehicles, including two beautifully restored impalas. Sunlight glinted across the deep onyx paint as you walked by. The only clue to what car you searched for was a familiar gold emblem embossed on the black key fob clutched in your hands. Anxiety prickled along the base of your neck. You should've asked where Derek had parked. As your mind filled with every possible worse-case scenario, continually jamming your thumb to the unlock button prevailed when a flash of golden light several cars down caught your eye.

 

The engine roared to life with the press of the ignition, the lumbering bear of a Tahoe easing from it's reserved parking space as you wondered why anyone needed this large of a vehicle. Twenty minutes later, the truck settled into a quiet hum in front of a downtown hotel. Derek hadn't bothered to write a name on the paper he’d hastily scribbled upon, and you really had no idea who you were supposed to be collecting.

Craning your neck to see through the windshield, the immense hotel tower rose impossibly high before you; the steady ticking of scarlett hazard lights keeping time with the ringing as you waited for someone to answer.

The tall, revolving glass door caught your attention, several people clambering into the contraption at once made you smile; a generic voicemail message kicking on after the fourth ring. The group spilled from the door in a mess of laughter and a tangle of bodies.

Why you felt the need to duck behind the steering wheel upon recognizing them, you'll never know.

 

Rob, Rich, Briana, Kim and Billy were still laughing amongst themselves. Inside, you were happy the windows were tinted, as you were fairly certain you sat there with your mouth hanging open while you watched the group of friends wander over to talk to a street performer. Eyes darting to the clock on the dash, you quickly realized it'd been nearly an hour since Derek had sent you on this assignment.

Without looking away from the group, you tried the number again. The phone clicked and a cheerful voice answered with a giggly hello. Immediately you refocused on the task at hand, “Uh, hi. I think I'm supposed to be picking you up?” The mean bitch in your head snickered at how uncool you sounded.

“Scuse me, what was that?” A blush crept across your cheeks when you realized who you were talking to. Looking from your lap to the window, Rob stood halfway between his group of friends and where you were. Twisting and looking back over his shoulder, he must’ve put two and two together because he waved before beckoning the others to follow.

You weren’t prepared for this - you’d volunteered with the direct understanding that behind-the-scenes was where volunteers stayed. Occasionally one would bring the cast bottles of water or coffee, but picking them up at their hotel? Didn’t they have drivers for that? Your thoughts were cut short as three doors opened almost simultaneously and bodies began to climb in around you.

That had been the start to a whirlwind weekend. The Creation staff kept you on your toes constantly, although somehow Derek continued assigning tasks more cast-centered than had been expected. It started with picking up the Friday guests, sure - but since then you’d done everything from coffee runs to walking the ladies’ to the bathroom and photo-op room, to helping with the sound check for the concert currently taking place on stage.

Now in the green room, crouched in front of the mini-fridge, your mind wandered while removing water bottles from their thick plastic casing, stocking the shelves for the guests.

A faint beeping and the murmur of voices caught your attention as the door opened across from you. Osric, Clif, Jensen and Jared sauntered in, lost in their own conversation. A familiar prickling sensation that often assaulted you in new situations made your shoulders tense. Luckily, the repeated exposure to the guests this weekend had given you plenty of practice to collect your emotions quickly; stuffing them into the deepest recesses of your mind.

A few breaths later, you stood from the position on the floor, a large smile plastered across your features as you approached the small group.

 

“Hey guys, anyone need a drink?” Osric smiled widely and accepted one of the chilled bottles. The others followed suit, Jared’s eyebrows furrowing slightly in concern as his fingers closed over yours.

“Hey, thanks…” “What’s your name?” Your eyes darted between his brilliant hazel irises and the long fingers wrapped around the drink; beads of condensation wetting your skin as his hand rested on yours.

Hurriedly pulling away, you scrubbed a palm against the denim of your jeans before extending it and introducing yourself.

“Hey, I’m [Y/F/N].” The others said their hellos as well, your gaze shifting between them while they chatted animatedly for a few moments. Occupied as you were, you failed to notice that Jared didn’t take his eyes off of you for even a moment.

 

She was nervous. Not that he wasn’t used to the look. But this one was different, Jared decided. He recognized the determination to hide her anxiety as something he’d gone through as well. He could see she was excited to meet them, and yet, she held back; likely protecting a small part of who she really was as she presented the version of herself she wanted everyone to see. While genuinely happy to interact with all of his fans, Jared felt intrigued by [Y/F/N]. He wanted to know more about her. About the discomfort she tried her best to disguise as nerves. Something was off.

Crossing her arms over her chest while making small talk with the others, Jared noticed how proficient she was at distributing her attention to each of them equally, pausing for only a moment before looking to the next person.

Releasing a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, Jared turned his attention to the door, having opened for a second time; watching as Rich strode in, beckoning to Jensen.

“C’mon man, your public awaits.” He bowed dramatically, waffling his hand in the space before him. Jensen huffed, shaking his head as he clasped Rich’s shoulder, following him from the room. [Y/F/N] trailed along behind them and Jared allowed himself to take a longer look at the woman. The tank top she wore clung to her body, the curve of her full breasts and thick waist led his eyes to her hips.

“Damn.”

The word of admiration was muttered under his breath, but as he focused on her face again, the pink in her cheeks made it clear she’d heard him.

“You coming Jared?” She’d stopped, holding the door open for him. Nodding, he quickened his stride and disappeared into the darkened hallway as he headed for the holding area backstage.



If Saturday had been busy, Sunday was borderline chaotic.

Attendance surged for the final day of the convention. Awake earlier, you were due to report in by 6:30 even though the first panel wasn’t due to begin until noon.

Shuffling through the abandoned corridors of the hotel, you could only hope there’d be caffeine waiting at the check-in station.

“Good morning Ms. Wilde.” Blinking several times in rapid succession, you focused on Derek as he sat behind the assignment table. The quiet murmur of his voice as he looked over the sheaf of papers laid out before him only partially registered in your mind.

The concert the night before had been amazing, and you’d been up until the early hours of the morning from the level of energy you’d absorbed. It didn’t help that a certain phrase kept replaying in your mind. You’d definitely heard Jared last night and you liked to imagine he’d been talking about you. The thought brought a smile to your face, regardless of how absurd the notion was. While pretty sure he likely had some gorgeous girlfriend waiting for him back home, you were content with the small amount of time you did get to spend around Jared. Silent pining was more your style anyhow.

“...order.” “Ms. Wilde?” Snapping out of your daydream, you worked harder to listen to the man in front of you.

 

“I’m sorry...what was that?” The middle-aged man smiled kindly.

“I know it’s early Ms. Wilde, but we really need you to be completely present at these briefings. Otherwise, the chaos about to descend on this place will be ten-times worse.” Shifting oversized reading glasses from where they’d fallen down the bridge of his nose, the man cleared his throat, consulting the Sunday schedule. Finished with his admonishment, Derek held a slip of paper out to you.

“As I was saying, please grab the coffee order for the cast. It’ll be ready precisely at 9:50. That should give you enough time to get back upstairs so everyone can get their daily dose of caffeine.” “Until then, make sure the green room has plenty of breakfast items and if the cast need anything, it’s on you to make them happy.”

 

Derek’s last sentence drew your attention from the list you’d been perusing. Outwardly, you nodded so he’d know you were paying attention, even though you still struggled with the personal Hell that came with sleep deprivation.

Later that morning, as you stood in line at the bustling Starbucks just outside the hotel, your mind once again turned to thoughts of the cast. Although you were tired, you wouldn’t change these experiences for the world.

As silly as it seemed, these conventions had gone a long way to helping prevent you from falling into your depression. In-between event weekends you often busied yourself with planning the next one and it got you through each day. It was refreshing to see mental health being addressed more by the media. When you’d been diagnosed several years prior, only your doctor had believed it was a real thing.

Walking up to the waist-high counter and pulling the folded paper from your back pocket, you began to list the order scribbled upon it. At one point, squinting your eyes in an attempt to read Derek’s handwriting you gave up and handed the barista the list, hoping she’d be able to help discern it.

“Maybe I can help?” Clutching the paper, you raised your eyes to the woman in front of you. She stilled as a hand reached over your shoulder and gently took the list from your grasp. Breathing deep, you turned to find Jared standing behind you, long strands of auburn hair falling across his face while he perused the handwriting.

Shifting to stand next to Jared’s tall frame, you took a moment to point at the line you were having trouble with. His body was like a heater, the intoxicating scent of his cologne made all the more apparent by the warmth of his skin.

Jared brought the paper closer to his face, squinting at a particular cluster of letters.

“I..think that says...skinny?” Glancing at the rest of the scribbled letters, he was able to make out the order for a non-fat soy latte. “Huh, I didn’t know Mark was here today.” Shrugging, his eyes flicked up to yours; an easy smile replacing the serious expression he’d worn moments before. “Did you get everything okay?” Nodding, the young woman behind the register added up the total while you handed her your credit card.

Moving to the end of the counter to await the several drinks, you turned to the man behind you. “My hero.” The smirk on your face was genuine, even if your tone erred on the side of sarcasm.

“Hey, no problem [Y/F/N].” God, the way he said your name… Clearing your throat as you settled against the far wall, you did your best to continue the conversation.  

“Why are you up so early?” “Figured you’d be sleeping while you could.” Jared shrugged his massive shoulders before answering.

 

“Went for a run. Couldn’t sleep.” You wanted to ask why. You wanted to ask a lot of things, but instead you kept to yourself. He likely had his reasons, and you’d be willing to bet - if he was anything like you, that he wasn’t keen on sharing the details of his life with a relative stranger. Nodding in understanding, you turned back to the counter, gathering the three drink trays and rearranging the cups so each carrier held the same size. Stacking the grandes atop the venti order, you slid the coffees into one hand, grabbing the third tray with your free arm.

“I can carry one if you want..” Jared was at your side again, talking to you as if he wasn’t a gorgeous, successful actor with his own security detail. Speaking of which, where was Clif?

“Uh, nah..I’m okay.” Scoffing, the man saw right through your feeble attempt to decline. Removing the top tray from where it rested under your chin and taking the second one as well, he simply smiled. “Lead the way [Y/F/N].”

There was something about her that occupied Jared’s thoughts. She was strong, sure of herself (or so it seemed) and gracious. He wanted to know more. “So, [Y/F/N] where are you from?”

 

The chill bite of a fall day in the Pacific Northwest swirled around your body when the two of you stepped from the relatively warm coffee shop. Breath fogging in the early morning air, the small-talk you made with Jared as you crossed the street to the hotel gave you a small look inside the finer points of Austin, his hobbies and the show. Back in the green room, you passed out drinks to their respective owners, everyone murmuring their appreciation to you for your efforts. Pulling the phone from your back pocket and realizing it was nearly time for the Sunday morning gold panel, you ushered Jared and Jensen out the door as politely as you could.

Grabbing two mics from the table set-up behind the stage curtains, you handed one to each of the boys and turned to leave. Jared’s hand on your shoulder made you freeze momentarily, more out of habit than anything. Apparently it didn’t matter who it was, the discomfort of being touched still prevailed.

“Thanks for the chat [Y/F/N], we’ll talk more later?” Searching his face for any hint of what was going through his mind, you nodded numbly. A wide smile spread across his face as he squeezed your shoulder before turning and taking the stairs two at a time. Wild cheers assaulted your ears as the gold members screamed for their first panel of the day.

The voices of Rob and Rich joking with Jensen buzzed in Jared’s ear, but his thoughts were still on [Y/F/N]. She’d flinched when he had touched her shoulder. Whatever made her react that way, he hoped it was something she’d be willing to talk to him about. For the hundreds of people who thanked him on a daily basis for noticing their struggles and standing in solidarity with them, he knew there were many others who couldn’t bring themselves to share.

Before you realized it, the afternoon autograph sessions were scheduled to start. Walking through the main theater hall, your most recent task was simple enough: Provide each of the guests with a handful of colorful sharpies at their table. The headphones connected to the phone in your pocket piped Swain music into your ears and you danced happily while completing the mundane task. You’d do this job full-time if you could.

 

“Oh, there you are!” Turning abruptly, you pulled the cords from your ears, effectively silencing the indie rock as Derek strode up to you.

“Ms. Wilde, did you receive my text message? You’re wanted in Adam’s office as soon as possible!” His blue eyes searching yours frantically, even while you became acutely aware of your quickening heartbeat.

“Oh, uhm..do you know why?” The man shook his head as he hurried away, staring intently at the clipboard clutched in his hands. A million scenarios chased themselves through your mind; the least of which involved the numerous bottles of tums you were sure Derek consumed regularly. Walking through the side doors and turning down the long hallway where the convention offices were set up, you busied yourself with the pattern beneath your feet. There were fifty-two blue diamonds set into the grey carpet between the main theater and Adam’s office. After several deep breaths, you squared your shoulders and rose your fist to knock on the oak door. The sound of a chair tracking across the floor echoed from behind the barrier and when the door opened, you were surprised to see the man still sitting.

 

“Ah, Ms. Wilde, do come in.” Following him inside, you paused to close the door at Adam’s insistence.

“Ms. Wilde, it appears we need to have a chat.” Shifting uneasily just inside the door, you tried to still the worried thoughts still cavorting in your subconscious.

“Is something wrong sir?” Adam barked out a laugh and you were disappointed when you jumped at his tone.

 

“Quite, the opposite actually.” The man still sat in the office chair, his head thrown back as it swirled in lazy circles. “We’ve had a request to add you to our permanent staff.” He said it as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Furrowing your brows, you tried to think of a reason why, or, for that matter who’d sent such a request. Sure, you had thought about talking to Adam about the possibility, but you hadn’t made any solid plans to do so.

“Can I ask by who?” Maybe Derek? I mean, he’s really the only staff member I’ve interacted with on a regular basis this weekend. Stephanie perhaps? Adam chuckled to himself and shook his head, his eyes bright.

“Mr. Padalecki has asked for you personally.” Of all the people you thought might’ve suggested it, Jared certainly hadn’t even come close to making the list. You were quiet as you absorbed the information. Looking up at Adam as his chair lazily swayed behind the card-table turned makeshift desk, you cleared your throat.

“Did he...did he say...why?” The little conversation you’d had with Jared this weekend had been pleasant enough, but you couldn’t think of a single reason why he’d make such a request.

“We discussed it.” “Suffice it to say he is impressed with your dedication to the job.” “This opportunity doesn’t present itself often Ms. [Y/F/N], strictly because exactly zero personal requests have occured. Like, ever. I’ve been doing this a long, long time...and this is a first.” “Usually we staff the more experienced volunteers as handlers, it just so happened that our senior team member bowed out with the flu this weekend and you were the first person Derek saw upon finding out.” “Simply a ‘right place at the right time’ kind of scenario.” “Jared came to me earlier today after his gold panel and asked about you.” Shrugging, the black suit jacket he’d pulled on over his  grey t-shirt bunched at the seams. “That’s all I know.” “Think about it Ms. Wilde.” Nodding slowly, you turned, grabbing the overly shiny brass door handle to let yourself out.

“Oh, and [Y/F/N]?” Looking back over your shoulder at Adam as he started gathering papers together, you paused; “Jared’s about to start his autographing sessions, I suggest you make haste.”

Chapter Text

TWO

Jared's Empathy

In through your nose…out through your mouth.

A skin-numbing tingle spread through your limbs, your mind swimming with the implications of Jared’s request as you shuffled down the hallway stretching through the quiet hotel. New knots twisted themselves into a worrisome frenzy the closer you came to the large theater room where autographs were scheduled to take place. Your hands trembled just slightly. Clenching your cold fingers into fists and with the aid of several more deep breaths you found yourself pushing through the anxiety threatening to debilitate you.

Familiar black curtains were erected in each of the four corners of the ballroom. Low-hanging chandeliers cast a warm glow over each station. You knew Jared sat behind one of those panels. You knew you’d have to join him - acting as if everything was normal. As if you did this all the time.

But then again, maybe you were overthinking the situation. It’s not like he’d confessed his undying love for you. Maybe he just appreciated that you were a hard worker? His compliment from the previous day floated back through your subconscious and your cheeks flushed with a sudden warmth.

Steeling your nerves, you quietly slipped through the crowds of people all chatting amongst themselves, their faces lit with excitement as they waited for their time in front of the guests.

With a final deep breath, straightening your posture to appear as tall and confident as possible, you proceeded to walk through the last few bodies as you approached Clif, knowing well enough that if he was around, Jared and Jensen weren’t far away.

As luck would have it, you had chosen the correct table and the smile you plastered across your face was mostly genuine as Jared came into view.

He’d begun signing moments before; a young girl with wide eyes clutching a cardboard poster tube with white knuckles-stood before him, her breathing quick and shallow.

Looking up from where he’d scribbled his signature in the lower left of the glossy print on the table, he’d started to slide the picture back across to her when he paused, bending over the print of the impala before furiously scribbling a message that personalized his signature. A breathless nod of thanks was uttered as the girls’ eyes shone with un-shed tears. You could see how hard she was trying to hold back her emotions as she slipped away.

“[Y/F/N]! Standing suddenly, the giant man skirted the table and wrapped his arms around you. Instantly, you froze. Eyes wide, back stiff, your haphazard pat to the back didn’t go unnoticed and Jared pulled away suddenly, realizing how uncomfortable you obviously were.

“Oh, I’m so sorry - I..I was just happy to see you.” Hurriedly you waved off the unease you’d felt. Sure, it was Jared Padalecki that had just crushed you against his very solid chest, but it had still been unexpected and you’d yet to find a way to convince yourself that hugs were okay.

Truth was, you craved them. You needed to be touched almost as much as you needed to eat, or sleep. It’d been so long since you’d experienced any kind of real affection however, and you weren’t sure how to react.

To most people, a simple hug was nothing…merely a greeting perhaps. But your conscience went into overdrive at a moments’ notice. How long were you supposed to hold on? Was this a genuine hug or simply an awkward, superficial gesture of a typical human hello? Your reaction was always delayed, and most people would’ve stepped back and moved on to conversation by the time you’d had the opportunity to return the embrace. What you wouldn’t give to have someone really hold you. To take a full minute and just envelope you in a blanket of comfort. No agenda, no awkwardness - just comfort. As you began to focus, you noticed Jared had returned to his seat, the next few people in line curiously looking between you and him - likely trying to figure out if there was some new story worthy of a late-night Twitter discussion.

“Be normal. Just move to your chair and smile. Just smile. Smiling is what they expect. Ask how they’re doing. This is fine.”

The narration played in a loop through your mind as you quietly took your seat. Turning to the next person in line, you forced yourself to do just that, the more agreeable expression replacing the lost look of moments before.

“Hi!” Reaching forward, you carefully took an electric guitar from a middle-aged blonde that stood before you. Gingerly, you set it on the deep red linens covering the table and handed Jared a gold sharpie, captivated as the metallic ink flowed over the polished black body of the instrument. Taking a moment to admire the other signatures she’d collected, Jared spoke for a few moments about how it was a really neat item to have signed, asking the woman why she’d picked a guitar.

While you’d never worked with or near anyone of even remote celebrity status, you were pleased with how engaged Jared was with his fans. He seemed to genuinely care about the people patiently waiting to speak with him and, for a moment you forgot that he was an actor. Thinking, you realized you’d like to know what he was like everyday. There were stories on the internet about his generosity and seemingly real interest in the people who looked up to him. But to witness it in person was a completely different thing.

The following two hours passed in a similar fashion. At one point, you took a moment to look around the edge of the draped wall. A lot of people still waited in line, their expressions varying from excitement to exhaustion and everything in-between. What surprised you most however, was that Jared was the last guest still in the room. Volunteers were chatting with each other as curtains were folded and stacked in totes and the frames surrounding the folding tables were disassembled. Jensen and Misha must’ve been long gone.

Eventually, Jared came to his last autograph of the evening.

“Hey there, thank you so much for waiting this long for me!” As tired as he had to be, Jared didn’t even think about letting his exhaustion show. Speaking the longest to this particular young man seemed important. Technically, as his handler it was your job to move things along as efficiently as possible, but it was the end of the night. You were tired, no one was waiting and this interaction seemed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for most people. Who were you to rush it?

A short time later, you rose from your seat, fully intending on calling it a night. While it hadn’t seemed much like a fourteen-hour day, your body was sternly reminding you that you were, in fact, no longer a teenager that could run on two hours of sleep.

Stacking the cold plastic chair atop the others lined against one wall, you turned to head for the doors, removing the thin black lanyard from around your neck. You wanted nothing more than to blend back into the crowd, to become just another person, to not explain that the bathroom was, in fact, twenty feet back in the opposite direction for the five hundredth time.

Just as you reached for the lock-bar stretching across the double wooden doors of the theater, you turned to find Jared saying his own goodbyes to the crew.

“Hey, [Y/F/N], wait up!”

Had it been -anyone else- you might’ve pretended you couldn’t hear them. Ignoring Jared wasn’t an option however. You’d never forgive yourself. So, instead of pretending, you turned to see the man literally jogging up to you. “How did he have so much energy after such a long day?” Briefly wondering, you realized you could actually ask him that very question.

“Ha, uh..I dunno. Guess I’m still running on adrenaline?”

“Ahunh, well, you’ll hafta tell me how you do that sometime.” A tired smirk accompanied your reply and you realized that you’d missed what he’d said afterwards.

“What was that?” “Sorry, guess I’m a little slow tonight.” Nervous laughter took the edge off of your words.

“I asked if you wanted to maybe get a drink?”

“Mr. Padalecki, you realize it’s like..oh.” Pulling the phone from your pocket to check the time, you had the decency to blush when you realized it was still fairly early.

“What?” Wow, his smile really was infectious. “Crap, stop staring [Y/F/N], focus!” Clearing your throat, you took a moment to gather some sort of order to your scattered thoughts.

“I was gonna scold you for wanting to go out so late..but then I realized it’s only nine o’clock.”

“Sooo…?” It was then that you were made blatantly aware of why the Supernatural Family referred to him as an overgrown puppy.

How often would this situation come up? After this weekend, you’d go back to your normal nine to five in your hometown. Back to the office. Back to traffic. Back to complacency.

“Uh, sure. I guess one drink can’t hurt.” Grinning, you pushed your weight against the door leading into the corridor connecting the theater to the green room. Grabbing your bag from the carpet next to one of the overstuffed armchairs, you promised to meet Jared back here after changing into something a little less work and a little more appropriate for a night out.

“I look forward to it, [Y/F/N] - meet me here in..say…thirty?” Glancing at his watch, the man sank into the deep blue cushions of a long couch, slouching and raising his feet to rest upon the solid wood coffee table arranged in front of it. With another wide smile, he pulled his phone from his pocket, quickly becoming lost in what you assumed to be his social media feed as you made a hasty retreat to your room, not realizing just how much everything was about to change.

As you stepped from the elevator, after casting a cursory glance over both shoulders to make sure no one was around, the sprint to your room at the end of the hall left you breathless with excitement.

Checking the time and setting yourself an alarm, you quickly began to rummage through the mess of a suitcase that sat haphazardly at the end of your bed. Today was the last day of the convention and you’d had no plans on doing anything remotely exciting, least of all spending the night having drinks with Jared Padalecki.

Throwing off the stiff, black t-shirt you’d worn all day, you stood there in little more than your underwear, trying to decide what to wear.

The fifteen-minute warning sounded from your phone and panic tried to set in. Muttering to yourself, you hastily grabbed an over-sized, cream-colored, off-shoulder sweater and a pair of black leggings. There was no time for anything fancy and this wasn’t a date. For some reason you had to keep reminding yourself of that little detail.

Freshening up your smeared eyeliner and swiping on some new deodorant was the best you could do as the five-minute warning sounded.

This time, you couldn’t care less if people saw you sprinting through the halls of the hotel - you weren’t about to make Jared wait.

With ten seconds to spare, you arrived back at the green room, taking a moment to collect your senses before calmly pushing open the door to where Jared sat waiting.

Looking up from his phone at the sound of the metal latch clicking open, Jared could only smile. [Y/F/N] looked beautiful. The stretchy black material of her leggings clung to every curve of her hips; small triangles of mesh strategically lining the length of the pants hinted at the beauty laying hidden beneath. [Y/F/N]’s hair framed her face perfectly; the fluffy sweater she’d chosen artfully draped across her bare shoulders was meant to be comforting, he was willing to bet. He was intimately familiar with anxiety, seeking comfort from inanimate objects helped ground him when he was struggling too.

He wanted to tell her she was beautiful. He wanted to show her she was beautiful. But instead, he smiled, hoping she’d realize how genuine it was.

“Hey, [Y/F/N].” His voice was soft in its greeting. “Ready for that drink?”

With a deep breath, you nodded, a bright smile lighting up your [Y/E/C] eyes.

Watching Jared haul himself up from the low couch would have been amusing if he weren’t so graceful. But, he pulled it off with an elegance you weren’t used to seeing in most men.

The hotel bar was bustling with groups of people winding down from a busy weekend. How the two of you managed to snag a booth in the back corner was a bit of a mystery, though you weren’t about to question his methods. Approaching the dimly lit table, you felt Jared slow, stepping aside and gesturing for you to go ahead. Silently grateful, you slid into the wide cushioned bench, instantly more comfortable with your back pressed to the wall.

Flicking his eyes between the open seat next to you and the one across the table, he carefully slid his large frame into the opposite seat. Glancing back over his shoulder, he took a deep breath before turning to face you; his broad shoulders angling to slot themselves into the very corner of his booth.

An hour into the night, you were finally beginning to relax. The double whiskey you sipped likely helping you feel more comfortable, though it too, could have just been Jared. He didn’t seem to have an agenda, and he listened to you with as much focus as he gave anyone else. The conversation flowed easily and you sat perched on the edge of your seat, enraptured with one of his stories from set.

Once again, you noticed him glancing around the room before trying to sit deeper into the corner of his seat. Twenty minutes prior, he’d turned, reclining his legs in front of him on the bench, twisting his upper body to still face you.

Scrunching your face into a concerned arrangement of apprehension, the mean-girl living in the recesses of your mind sprang to life. “He just feels sorry for you, why else would he have asked you to drinks? He’s way out of your league, just look, he’s clearly not having a very good time…”

Clearing your throat, you spoke up, surprised at how even your tone was despite the disappointment and embarrassment you felt.

“Hey, Jared. Are you okay? I mean, you really don’t have to hang out with me…you just..I mean..you seem pretty uncomfortable.”

His gaze landed back on you and his heart ached at the thought that you thought he pitied you.

“Wha-? No! I…”

Leaning forward he reached out, intent on grasping the fingers of your hand that wasn’t cradling your glass tumbler. At the last moment, he hesitated, pulling back to put his hand in his lap. Looking down at where he fidgeted with a loose string on his shirt, you marveled at his beautiful coppery hair as it fell around his face.

“Heh, you’re probably going to think I’m silly, it’s just…”

Another deep breath escaped with a huff before he glanced back up to meet your concerned face.

“I’m really anxious about sitting with my back to people.” The words came out in a rush, and he was back to looking everywhere but at you, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he struggled to maintain his composure.

You sat there for a minute, stunned by his confession. You knew he struggled with his own inner demons, but to see him fully able to tell you about his discomfort with a situation when he barely knew you was kind of inspiring. If Jared Padalecki could talk (mostly) confidently about his struggles, maybe you could too.

For a moment, you considered what to say next. While your mind still weighed your options, your mouth clearly had other ideas and you were surprised as the words tumbled forth, “you could come sit on this side with me..uh..if you want.”

“Shit. Uh. Well, guess that’s out there. Be cool. It’s fine if he says no. Just breathe…”

Letting out a slow breath, you put your smile back on and hoped it reached your eyes.

Jared was surprised. “Oh. Uh, are you sure? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I think I’ve done that enough for one day, ha..” Fidgeting, he clapped a large hand to the back of his neck, his gaze averted as he remembered quite nearly knocking you over in his exuberance earlier.

Were you sure? Yes. Yes, you were sure.

“Yes.” That same smile still in place, you patted the seat next to you and watched as the man slid across the seat, rose and cautiously lowered himself into the space next to you. Not realizing the breath you held until your lungs started to scream for air, inch by inch you relaxed. The scent of vanilla and sandalwood settled over you as Jared got comfortable, one knee pressing against your left thigh. A light twist of summery pineapple and pear rounded out what would become a very intoxicating scent.

Turning to lean against the corner of the booth, you were careful to maintain the light touch between your bodies - this time, the smile on your face - though hesitant - was one-hundred percent real.

As the clock approached midnight, you began to dread the end of your conversation. Nothing could last forever, and this had been one of the best nights you’d had in a very long time. Trying your best to stifle a yawn - and failing miserably, you might add - Jared chuckled under his breath “I guess I should let you get to sleep, don’t want you turning into a pumpkin.”

“Aha, yes, very funny Mr. Padaleski.” Jared rolled his eyes when you drug the syllables of his incorrectly-pronounced name out in jest. “Just because I like pumpkin flavored liqueur, doesn’t mean I’m gonna turn into one!”

“At any rate, I should get going. My plane leaves in a few hours and I’ve gotta be ready to start filming very shortly afterwards.” The exhaustion was evident in his features, but his tired smile was comforting, nonetheless.

When he made no move to let you out of the booth, you almost didn’t say anything. But, he was right. Besides, who were you to keep him here? He’d already lost out on a full nights’ sleep because of you.

“Here, let me walk you back to your room?” Sliding from his side of the booth, he turned and reached a hand out to help you. There was no hesitation when you grasped his warm fingers and allowed him to pull you from your seat.

“You really don’t have to walk me back, I’m sure you’ve much better things to do - like sleep!”

“Well, maybe I want to walk you back. Hurriedly, he added “If you’d like… besides, I can sleep when I’m dead.” A quiet huff of laughter softened the statement. Relenting, you fell into step next to the taller man as the last minutes of your night out ticked away.

Too soon you stood in front of the door to your hotel room. In a few minutes, you’d have to say goodbye - unlikely to ever have this moment again. Sure, Jared had asked specifically for you to be his assigned handler for conventions, but Adam hadn’t officially offered you the position. You had a lot to think about. While the answer seemed easy enough, it would likely be anything but. You were a creature of habit, often shying away from change and the unknown.

“So..I guess this is goodnight…goodbye even.” Jared’s words trailed off and you picked up on the distinct impression that he wanted to say something else.

“So, rather than tackling you head-on, I’d very much like a hug goodnight. Would that be okay?”

Jared’s eyes widened in surprise, but rather than answering, he simply opened his arms - allowing you to come to him.

Reminding yourself to breathe, you stepped forward into his embrace, wrapping your arms around his waist and turning your head to press your ear to his chest. The warmth of his scent washed over you as he held you to him, his chin resting atop your head. The sure, thick, beating of his heart had just started to help loosen the tension singing through your veins when your brain started screaming at you to back away. “That’s enough [Y/F/N], let the poor guy go! Why are you still hugging him?!”

Hurriedly, you removed your arms, intent on listening to that voice and stepping back from Jared. Intent on escaping through the thick barrier of a door and back into the comfort of your own world. With a resigned sigh, he loosened his grip and let you go. Instantly, your body temperature seemed to drop, even though it certainly wasn’t cold in the hallway where the two of you stood.

“Well…goodnight [Y/F/N], I had an amazing time and I hope you have a wonderful night. Sleep well..” With a final flash of his bright smile, Jared turned, his long legs carrying him down the hallway and to the elevator.

Disappearing behind the heavy door of your hotel room, you slumped against the wood - sliding down to rest on the floor and allow yourself to breathe again. A flood of emotions from the previous several hours assaulted you all at once.

Wrapping arms around your knees, forehead resting against your chilled skin, a heavy sigh slid between your lips as you began to decompress.

The quiet sound of knuckles against the door behind you went unnoticed at first. Only when the sound became more insistent did you get to your feet. Bracing yourself against the door and peering through the peep-hole you couldn’t see anything. Turning the brushed-nickel handle as quietly as possible, you pulled open the door to see Jared sauntering away for a second time.

“Jared?!” Your tone might have been incredulous but you were in disbelief that he’d come back. Slowing, the man turned to face you, hesitating before his approach.

When he had reached your side, one hand slid back into his hair as he nervously avoided looking directly at you. Crossing your arms over your chest, you waited, expectant.

“Hey, uh, sorry to bother you.” “I was wondering…-reaching into his pocket, he pulled an iPhone out and handed it to you - a shy smile hesitant on his face.

“…would you maybe…want to exchange phone numbers?”

Chapter Text

THREE

 

Relief and terror fought their way through your chest. When he’d left moments before, you’d assumed it would be the last time you’d see him. Sure, he seemed genuine in the time you’d spent together, and yeah, Adam had summoned you to his office, all but offering you a permanent position with the company - but still. Some part of you had decided that the entire thing had only existed in your mind. You’d actually half expected to wake up in your bed to the screeching of the alarm - chalking it up to simply a nice dream.

But he was there. Really there. The hand holding his phone starting to droop, the expression on his face conflicted. Did you want to exchange phone numbers? What could it hurt? These thoughts swirled around in your consciousness, and while it had seemed as if an eternity had passed, in reality it had been only seconds.

“Oh, uh, su-sure Jared.” A hesitant smile lit up your eyes and you retreated further into the room, holding the door open in invitation.

After a moment’s hesitation, he followed you - choosing to lean his lanky frame against the door. Half in, half out. Like he wasn’t fully sure if you were inviting him in or not. Hair fell over your eyes as you bent double, grabbing a thin black cord from the floor beside your bed. Following it up the side of the mattress to disappear under one haphazardly strewn pillow you found your phone; a small green charging light illuminating the darkness.

Spinning to face him once more, your phone held out in exchange for his, you dialed your number into his contacts list.

After reclaiming your device, the two of you just kind of stood there - neither sure what to say. The silence became nearly palpable. Clearing his throat, Jared’s brow furrowed for a moment before smiling down at you.

“I’ll uh..I’ll text you. Kay?”

Nodding mutely, you couldn’t quite understand what was happening here.

“Sure. Well, uhm, goodnight Jared.” Moving back towards the door, you watched as he turned, grabbing the solid wood barrier as he stepped back into the hallway.

“Night [Y/F/N]”

*****

The following week was back to business as usual. And, as expected, the grey walls surrounding your cubicle matched too well with the grey weather outside. Glancing out the window across the room, rain pounded the glass, the trees bending against the onslaught of  the wind.

Usually, you loved this weather. You loved living here, but for some reason, something felt off tonight.

With a resigned sigh, you rolled the desk chair back into your work space and pulled up your email.

The refreshed inbox now held a single composition. It was from Adam.

Eyes widening, you glanced furtively around, on the lookout for anyone’s prying eyes. Personal business on company time was greatly frowned upon.

Maneuvering the non-descript grey mouse to hover over the message, you took a deep breath and clicked. Closing your eyes for a few moments, you steeled yourself for rejection. He’d probably changed his mind. After all, he’d said it himself, not many people had been brought in by special request.

Lifting your eyes to the screen, you scanned the document - searching for the words of regret. Searching for your dismissal.

It wasn’t there.

It was, instead, a formal offer.

The contract detailed everything from your anticipated responsibilities to your travel schedule and their proposed salary. While the offer was generous - there was also the stipulation that you’d have to relocate. To California, where Creation held it’s offices.

Perusing the remainder of the email, you noted fine print at the very bottom:

“Applicant has three business days to respond to first offer. If no contact is made – company has full power to revoke the proposal at any point.”

Three days?! The thudding in your chest picked up speed. A sideways glance to the corner of the monitor gave you pause. It was Tuesday. They expected your response by Friday. Did that mean, if you were to accept the terms that you’d be out of this miserable place by then?

Being a creature of habit, you really weren’t sure you could decide that quickly. Only an hour ago, you’d been convinced the offer wasn’t going to come. Three days ago, you hadn’t even met Jared in person. Now you were faced with one of the biggest decisions of your life. On a very tight deadline. Sweat dotted your forehead even though your skin was cool to the touch. Folding your arms across the top of the formica desktop, you lowered your forehead to rest upon them.

In. Out. In….out.

“What are you doing Ms. Wilde?”

Startled out of your position, you spun around in the mesh chair, coming face to face with the sour-expression of Mr. Blaine – department supervisor. Flanking him, a stern-looking woman in a boxy polyester three-piece grimaced. To her right, Ted, the loveable bear of a security guard for your building stood quietly; hands clasped over each other. He wouldn’t even look at you.

“Wha..what’s going on?” Fear boiled in your gut. While you’d never been in trouble at work, nor had you ever been approached by anyone in this fashion. There was a current of tension in the small space. Coworkers surreptitiously peered around the corners of their own workspace; ears open for any tidbits of gossip that might make their day more interesting.

“Ms. Wilde, if you would please follow us?”

Standing from your chair, the squeak of the plastic frame was thunderous in your mind, prickling dots of adrenaline present in your extremities as you followed along after Mr. Blaine, the remainder of the small troupe hovered around you and all you could see were sharks circling a potential meal.

The walk down the hallway to the elevator was awkward. The ride down the lift silent; a monotone buzz of the single light inside the only disturbance.

Hinges protested with a squeal as the heavy steel doors slid open, your procession filing out silently around you. Approaching the HR department, your mind kicked into overdrive. Had you done something wrong? To your knowledge, nothing was amiss – hell, you’d never even called in sick.

Leaning over her desk and selecting a large manila envelope from a stack inside her inbox, she turned to face you. A heavy slipped from her pursed lips, replaced quickly by a ridged flat line. She was un-amused.

“Ms. Wilde, we regret to inform you, that effective immediately, your services are no longer required at this agency.” “Please accept this severance package with our sincerest apologies.”

Trailing off, her eyes were wide – her breath now held in her chest. Waiting for the backlash. Waiting for you to react. You could almost see the fear in her expression. You almost felt sorry for the woman, it wasn’t her fault that firing people was part of her job description, although you had the very distinct impression that she had no idea about it either. Eyes darting back to the considerable stack of identical packages that she’d selected yours from, the realization that you weren’t the only one this would happen to was immediate.

“Ca-can I ask why?” While not timid, your tone was still just above a whisper – confusion laced through the words you uttered.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Wilde – the company was sold last week. They’re moving the headquarters to another location…” Glancing across the room to Mr. Blaine, currently slumped against the wall, hands buried deep in the pockets of his dress pants – you noticed, for the first time his unkempt hair and loose tie. He’d been putting on a show in front of your co-workers. This was affecting him too, so it seemed.

Scrubbing his hands over his face, the exhaustion and worry were evident in his expression.

“So, this isn’t because I did something wrong?” You were careful how you worded the question. While you hadn’t been able to place why they might be letting you go, neither did you want them to think you had a reason.

“No, unfortunately. You haven’t been the first this week, and…you’re not likely to be the last.” “I’m really, very sorry. I do wish you the best of luck Ms. Wilde.” Holding his hand out, Mr. Blaine fixed you with a look that was, quite likely, the closest thing to you’d ever seen to sincerity.

And so, for the first time in several years, you found yourself home in the middle of the afternoon – with nothing to do but wonder where your life was about to go. At least you had options.

So, with a deep breath, you pulled your laptop from the couch, opened the email you had received earlier from Adam and accepted the offer – proposing a meeting over lunch to discuss details and to hopefully convince him that you didn’t -need- to live in California to fulfill this role.