By three a.m., Jared’s reached that special, giddy level of drunkenness normally reserved for happy events like season wraps and new pickups and weddings and births. Doesn’t help any that these are all things he associates with Jensen.
He’s still splayed out on Keegan’s couch, belly warm with whiskey and pizza, head swimming from the combination of alcohol and tiredness, but he’s too damn amped to sleep still. All night he’s been oscillating wildly between righteous outrage and morose self-pity and blank apathy and sunken despair. He counts present-moment him lucky to be currently in the giddy ‘fuck you’ peak of the cycle.
He feels like he’s on the worst roller-coaster ride of his life. Jensen had always been able to ground him in moments like these, provide some sense of stability, a lightning rod for his emotions to channel themselves through, and— nope. Jared cuts that thought right off. Any thoughts of Jensen are a surefire way to tailspin the cycle right back into rage mode.
One: Don't pick up the phone. You know he's only callin' 'cause he's drunk and alone.
Jensen’s ringtone again. Right on schedule.
“Duuude,” Keegan slurs out from the armchair on which he’s slouched so low, he’s close to sliding off completely, “this song is losing all damn meaning.”
“I got new rules, I count ’em,” Jared singsongs.
Jensen’s been calling every ten minutes or so for the past… five? six hours? Must be up to somewhere around forty missed calls by now. Jared has to give him credit for persistence, at least. That’s about all he’s willing to give him credit for at the moment.
“Dude does not let up,” Keegan continues blearily. “He have an auto-dialler or something?”
Jared snorts, rolls his eyes. “Fucker better not be auto-dialling. Even if he were punching in those digits one by one, still wouldn’t be near enough penance.”
He stretches his arms to the ceiling, arching his back off the couch as he yawns crazily before collapsing back down in a huff, lightbulb pinging suddenly through his drunken haze. “Oh! Or! Like, you know, those old-timey phones, with, you know, the shtiiick—” he mimes dialing in a circle, “and the brrrr—” circles back in the other direction, “and, like, my number would be all nines and zeros and it’d take five minutes to even dial—” He sighs happily. “Man, that’s what I should be putting him through right now.”
“Could just turn your phone off,” Keegan suggests blandly.
“No, I—” Jared shakes his head as another wave of emotion crashes through him. He’d turned off all alerts except for the actual phone part of his phone, and the precious few people in his life who actually have this number either know well enough to leave him alone right now or are so far removed from social media that they have no clue what’s even going on. So, for the past five or six hours, the only sound coming from his phone has been Jensen.
“No, if I— if I turn it off… I wouldn’t be able to leave it alone. It’d drive me crazy. Have to keep checking every two seconds. At least this way— an’ anyway, he knows that I—” Jared huffs out a tired breath. “Okay, yeah, pretty fucking ridiculous, I know.”
Keegan just hums noncommittally, his eyes still closed.
Jared wearily pushes himself upright, his feet sliding to the floor. So much for the giddy high phase, he thinks. Didn’t last long.
He snags his phone from the coffee table in front of him, spinning it idly in his hands.
“And you’re not answering because…” Keegan asks, one eye cracking open to glance at him sidelong.
“At this point?” Jared shrugs. “Who knows. Maybe I just don’t want confirmation.”
“Next ring,” he says instead, summoning up every once of determination he possesses. “I’mma— next ring. Anyway, won’t be able to sleep until I—”
He cuts himself off, staring down at the black void in his hands. Now that he’s decided, his stomach feels heavy with nausea, the aching hollow in the center of his chest twisting itself into knots.
On the flatscreen across from him, the Golden Girls continue to chirp merrily away. After cycling through the nearly infinite options available on Keegan’s subscription services, it’d been literally the only thing that didn’t remind Jared in some way, shape or form of Jensen, so it’s what he and Keegan have been marathoning for the past four hours at least. At this point though, he’s tuned it out so much it barely even registers as background noise. But he’d needed something. Couldn’t handle the silence. Can’t, still.
Funny how Jensen’s calls had seemed so all-pervasive a minute ago. Now that he’s waiting for the next one, the silent seconds stretch like hours. His leg bounces uncontrollably, jittery with anticipation.
When the phone finally buzzes in his hands, Dua Lipa ringing out, Jared nearly jumps, his heart rate skyrocketing.
Calm the fuck down, he berates himself. Just Jensen.
Thumb shaking, he slides it over ‘accept call’ and brings the phone to his ear.
“Yeah,” he says shortly, by way of greeting.
“Jay, christ,” Jensen exhales, and the relief in his voice is so palpable that a swell of emotion surges up and lodges in Jared’s throat, and he clutches the phone like a lifeline.
He listens to Jensen clear his throat, watches Keegan struggle to sit up a bit on his chair, eyebrows raising in question as he looks over at Jared.
“Only took forty-six missed calls this time,” Jensen continues, awkward and trying for deadpan. “You goin’ soft on me?”
Jared feels an undercurrent of rage boiling up in his belly and clenches a tight fist around it before it spews up all over the phone, determined to be the bigger man here. “Caught me in a good mood, Ackles. But you got about thirty seconds ’fore I hang up. You sure you wanna be joking with me right now?”
“You want me to go?” Keegan asks, struggling to push himself upright and off the chair.
Jared glances up at him, almost surprised that he exists—at how immediately the world narrows down to just Jensen, now that he’s here. “Nah, man, I’mma—” Jared gestures towards the balcony, pushing himself to his feet.
Keegan gives him a vague thumbs-up and slumps back down in his chair.
“You with somebody?” Jensen asks flatly as Jared slides open the glass balcony door and closes it behind him.
Jared lets the question hang for a moment with some satisfaction as he takes in the sprawl of Austin below. “I’m at Keegan’s,” he says finally.
“Right,” Jensen says. “New brother, new best friend, huh?”
Jared’s hand grips tight on the metal balustrade as he chuckles darkly. “Thinking you got zero call to be jealous right now. Also thinking you got about ten seconds left, so.”
Through the tinny phone speakers, Jensen exhales heavily. “Jay,” he says, his voice thick with emotion. “Fuck, man. I’m so sorry.”
Something clenches tight in Jared’s chest and then releases, and he has to lean his full weight on the balcony railing to steady himself. Far below him, the streets are silent, pavement shiny and wet from the evening’s earlier thunderstorm. The storm had broken the absurd Texas heat, finally, and it’s actually— it’s actually a really nice night out, Jared realizes, soft breeze ruffling his hair.
He clears his throat, voice gritty as he asks, “So, you gonna explain, or…?”
There’s such a rush of relief flooding through the phone that the thousands of miles between them evaporate, and Jensen is just there, chuckling with an edge of blooming hysteria. “Man, the past twenty-four hours have been a fucking shitstorm, you’ve no idea.”
“Pretty sure I have some idea,” Jared counters flatly.
“Right, well.” Jensen clears his throat awkwardly, then continues all in a rush. “You know how this shit goes… one person overhears the wrong thing, and suddenly Deadline scoops it up and is asking you for confirmation and threatening to publish anyway even if you don’t confirm, and you’re running damage control and trying to get PR together and come up with something to tell them before they write the damn thing themselves and— fuck, Jay, it’s a fucking mess, seriously.”
Jared lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding, collapsing down onto his elbows as he leans over the railing, scrubbing a hand through the back of his hair. “Yeah, I know.”
“You know?” Jensen asks, his voice almost fragile.
Jared closes his eyes against the protectiveness that courses through him. “I mean, I didn’t know. But— yeah.” He looks out over Austin, the twinkling lights below him mirroring the stars shining faintly above, struggling to bleed through the light pollution, and suddenly the gulf between them feels stretched back to its thousands of miles.
“I mean, after, uh, you know, those first few tweets—” Jared’s voice quavers, and he swallows, regathering. “Sorry, man. Keegan came and got me and I calmed down a bit and I thought— I mean, rational part of me always thought— but then, you know, there’s that other voice that’s going…”
“What, Jay?” Jensen prods softly after Jared trails off.
Jared shakes his head, even though Jensen can’t see him. “Don’t even wanna repeat it. You know how fucked-up my brain goes sometimes.”
“Jay, man. So sorry.”
“Yeah, well. Is what it is. Only thing I don’t get is, why I didn’t know, you know?” He’s scared to ask, but needs to know, mouth burbling on ahead of him to cover his nervousness. “I mean, I knew you had projects in the pipeline, but—”
Jensen cuts him off with a bitter laugh. “Jay, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you—there’s nothing to know. Only change there’s been since March is that Robbie got attached. And—” Jensen rushes on before Jared can so much as protest, “and it’s not like he’s even attached-attached. There was one damn phonecall with his agent, and suddenly Deadline picked up on it and were all over it.”
“But even Kripke knew,” Jared protests weakly.
“Eric didn’t know shit,” Jensen laughs. “He just knows how to play the game, is all. He gets word of an article about a project that, in theory, he should be attached to, and of course he’s gonna claim knowledge of it. Man wouldn’t be caught dead letting anyone think he’s ignorant. ’Bout anything.”
Something cracks open in Jared’s chest, and all at once the whiskey, the late hour, the stress of the past day floods through him, the phrase ‘bone-tired’ flitting through his mind, and he wonders briefly if there was ever a time in his life where it was more apt. But then, over the past fifteen years, there must’ve been a million times. Filming ’til three a.m. in the rain and the mud and then getting on a plane two hours later to go do press in L.A., how many times… how many fucking times—only difference being that back then, Jensen was right there beside him every single time.
There’s a cheap canvas tailgating chair in one corner of the balcony, and Jared collapses into it, exhausted to his core.
“That’s the difference between you and him,” Jensen continues quietly. “You’ll never go Hollywood.”
“Yeah, y’know, right about now, I honestly don’t even know whether you mean that as a compliment or an insult.” Jared scrubs a hand over his face tiredly and sighs. “You could’ve at least given me a heads-up, you know. Before the article. Before fucking Twitter.”
“Dammit, Jay, I’m not used to havin’ to tell you anything. ’Cause you always— you’re always just— there.”
Jared lets out a sigh, picks at a loose seam in the fabric of the chair arm.
“And you know how shit I am at staying in touch with people,” Jensen continues.
A wave of something that might be either… fury or longing or despair or… some messed-up cocktail of all three surges through him and then dies just as quickly. “People,” he echoes flatly. “Yeah, well. Guess I just thought— it’d be different. With us.”
“Man, seriously? You gonna make me quote your own words back at you? ‘Little space’ll be good for us,’ you said. ‘Codependent as the Winchesters,’ you said.”
“Fucker,” Jared chuckles grudgingly. “In my defense, those aren’t exactly my words. More like my therapist speaking through me.”
“Yeah, well, what does she know?”
“Best know something, considering what she charges.”
“She ever even watch the show?” Jensen asks. “I mean, Sam ’n Dean had a pretty good codependency thing going there, by the end. Healthy, even, you might say.”
“S’long as you don’t get yourself skewered with rebar…”
Jared sighs. “Fuck. Miss you, man.”
“Ditto,” Jensen says, his voice choked. “And Keegan…?” he asks cautiously.
“Is a good friend,” Jared says, craning his neck to look back at where Keegan is still sprawled on the chair inside. “He’s good people. Genuine. Not Hollywood. You’d like him. Anyway, kept me from tweeting more than I did, so. You should prolly be grateful to him for that alone.” He sighs, then, “Sorry ’bout that, by the way. Guess I really fucked up your launch.”
Jensen chuckles, but it sounds bitter to Jared’s ears. “Shouldn’t’a been a launch at all. Wasn’t remotely ready for it. An’ honestly? Your little… Twitter-tantrum or whatever probably helped more than it hurt. ’Cause the only other comments were about how shit the idea was.”
“Yeah, well. Don’t be. They’re not wrong.”
Jared snorts out a laugh. “Fuck man, I wasn’t even gonna say anything. Glad you said it first. I mean, ‘the epic love story of John and Mary?’ Seriously? Who’s clamouring for that?”
“Right? Like, there’s not even a love story there. You wanna tell a story of coercion by angels and make it romantic? No clue what Robbie’s gonna do with it, man, seriously. Probably won’t even get greenlit though, at this point.”
“I really am sorry, Jen. Sucks.”
“Way it goes. There’ll be other projects. Hopefully. Assuming you don’t tank them before they hit the ground.”
“Hey. Assuming I at least get the courtesy of a damn heads-up before they drop.”
Jensen chuckles. “Don’t ever change, Jay. Seriously. Countin’ on you to be the one person in this whole damn industry who doesn’t have their head up their own ass.”
Something clenches and swells in Jared’s chest, and when he speaks again, his voice is gruff. “So, what, got no one up there in Toronto holdin’ you accountable?” He continues before he can stop himself, jealously-fueled words pouring out of him with a twinge of bitterness. “Looks like you guys’ve been havin’ fun up there at least.”
Jensen laughs, either not hearing the jealousy or choosing to ignore it. “Man, s’all I can do to keep up with those kids. Feelin’ my age all of a sudden, that’s for sure. Urban’s cool though, think you guys would get on.”
Jared just hums noncommittally.
There’s a moment of silence before Jensen continues, voice forcibly light. “How ’bout you, man? Runnin’ a solo show all you dreamed of and more?”
“Cast is great,” he says immediately, genuinely meaning it, but the words spring up half out of obligation. It’s not like he’s alone, but— “It’s not the same,” he admits with a sigh.
“Never will be,” Jensen says after a moment, and Jared hums in acknowledgement.
“Hey, so, uh,” Jensen continues, clearing his throat, “random fact I found out today, when I maybe sorta deliberately looked it up online…”
“Go on then,” Jared prods, lips quirking up helplessly.
“Right, well, turns out, starting July fifth, fully vaxxed people can enter Canada without quarantine.” At Jared’s silence, Jensen rushes on, “I know Walker’s just wrapped… Thought maybe, y’know— think you could get away for a few weeks? Maybe over your birthday?”
The landscape’s suddenly swimming in front of him as his heart swells in his chest, and Jared has to wipe the tears out of his eyes before he can continue, giddy with happiness, manic laughter burbling up as something suddenly occurs to him— “Oh man, Gen’s about ready to murder me for the Twitter fiasco earlier though. What was it she said…? Something about, quote, ‘not reflecting well on us’ or some shit.”
Jensen hums consideringly. “Well,” he says slowly, “maybe—an’ I’m just spitballing here—but maybe, if someone were to, say, accidentally spot you at Toronto airport, and maybe speculate that you were on some kind of reconciliation trip…”
“Damn your machinations, Ackles,” Jared says, but he’s grinning, can’t help it. “Could be I could spin it that way. She’d prolly be on board.”
“So you’ll come?” Jensen asks, and the hope and expectation and love in his voice is so palpable that Jared feels like he’s burning up from it.
“Yeah, man. Absolutely.” The giddiness is thrumming through his limbs, and he nearly springs out of his chair, needing to shake the energy out somehow. The bleak misery of earlier that evening seems far away and forgotten.
“Man, can’t wait to show you ’round the Boys’ sets,” Jensen rushes on. “It’s insane, Jay, seriously. Next-level shit. You’re gonna love it.”
“Can’t wait.” Jared can’t stop grinning, wishes he could teleport up there now. Then slaps his palm to his forehead as something occurs to him—
“What?” Jensen asks.
“Nothing, just—” Jared sighs. “Just realized we’re gonna have to do the whole public apology thing on Twitter tomorrow, aren’t we.”
“’Fraid so,” Jensen confirms. “I mean, don’t have to if you don’t wanna…”
“Nah, man,” Jared cuts him off, “You know our fans. I’m sure we’ve both gotten death threats by now. S’just… I hate these things, you know? Never know what to say.”
“Just… whatever. Just say something about brothers, family, bumps in the road, yada yada yada. They’ll eat it up. Ask Gen, she’s good at that PR b.s.”
“An’ what are you gonna say?”
Jensen hums, and when he speaks again his voice is thick with emotion. “The truth. That I love you and I miss you.”
There’s a smile blooming on Jared’s face that he’s finding impossible to tamp down, and his eyes are swimming again as he blinks up at the stars. He doesn’t know what he’s done to deserve this—to have someone in his life who he can fight with and reconcile with, all in the space of one evening; someone who, after not talking for ages, can pick the conversation back up as if they’ve never paused; someone who knows him, knows every flaw and still— someone who—
“Yeah, man. I love you, too.”