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just one breath (just in case there's just one left)

Chapter Text

The sun is shining, Jensen is laughing, and all is right with Jared Padalecki’s world.

+ || + || +

Jared is stupidly happy to be back at work, despite having to get up at the ass-crack of dawn for an early call. He’s so happy; he’s downright giddy. Jensen’s caffeine hasn’t kicked in yet. So far, all Jared’s gotten from him are grunts and begrudging half-smiles, but he knows that Jensen’s just as glad to be back at it as he is. This is what they do. This is where they belong.

The strike had been long, both a blessing and a curse. Initially, Jared had relished the unexpected time off, the forced vacation. For the first time in a long time, he didn’t have to work. He couldn’t work even if he’d wanted to. He’d spent a few weeks sleeping in, catching up with friends, and visiting his family in Texas. It felt nice not to have to rush, to know that he didn’t have to be anywhere doing anything. He enjoyed being lazy for a while.

That had lasted a little less than a month. Then the anxiety set in. It blindsided him at random intervals, the creeping fear of uncertainty. What if the strike kills the show? What will I do if I can’t do this?

Supernatural is the best job Jared’s ever had. The best job he could ever imagine having: Eric’s enthusiasm, Kim’s guiding hand, the unparalleled talent and camaraderie of the entire crew. Jared loves it all. He loves the early mornings and the late nights, the hours spent in the make-up trailer with Jensen, the two of them being fussed over by Jeannie and Shannon. He loves playing Sam and he loves acting with Jensen. Being Sam and Dean can be difficult. The work is physically demanding and the character bleed is a bitch, but through it all, they always have each other to lean on. Supernatural is the experience of a lifetime and Jared is smart enough to realize that, even as he’s living it. Smart enough to be absolutely terrified by the thought of losing it.

Who will I be if I can’t be Sam? What will I do without Jensen at my back?

All the questions drove Jared crazy, so he’d grabbed Sandy and headed off to Europe. They’d done the tourist thing and the young lovers in Paris thing. One night, swept away by the ambiance of the city, and possibly pressed by long-standing, yet unspoken expectations, Jared had dropped to one knee and done the clichéd proposal thing. Sandy had been so happy she cried. Jared was relieved that there seemed to be at least one thing in his life that he had control over.

When the call had come from Eric, the “Hey, we’re back for four more episodes and by the way, we’ve been renewed for next year” call, Jared had released the breath he hadn’t even known he was holding since he’d said goodbye to Jensen in Chicago. Then he packed up his things and his dogs and headed home to Vancouver.

Now he’s back where he belongs, waiting with Jensen while the crew sets up the first shot of the day. They’re shooting an exterior scene at a local park. Winter hasn’t quite fully given way to spring yet, but the sun is shining even though the morning air has a bite. Jensen is nursing a cup of coffee and Jared’s grinning at the absolute perfect normalcy of the moment.

When the P.A. comes over to let them know everything’s ready, Jensen arches an eyebrow at Jared who nods sharply in return. Like synchronized swimmers, they both reach out to bump fists and Jensen speaks his first complete sentence of the day.

“Let’s do this thing.”

Jared laughs out loud. It must be contagious because Jensen is joining in as they move toward the cameras.

+ || + || +

When twelve o’clock rolls around, Kim calls a break for lunch. They haven’t quite bagged the scene yet. It’s been Murphy’s Law in full force, a boom mike dropping too low, a bird flying by, that sort of thing. Honestly, everyone is a little bit rusty, including Jared. It’s like working out after weeks away. The muscles don’t really want to stretch as they should, resistant to the routine. It pulls and aches a bit, but it’s a good hurt. Jared’s joyful mood hasn’t wavered. Actually, it’s improved since Jensen’s fully awake now and they’re falling back into the rhythm of the work and just being them. It’s not like Jared didn’t know he missed it, but man, to have it back.

Jensen makes a beeline to the catering table, but Jared grabs him by the elbow.

“Jared. What?”

Jared tilts his head to the group of people that’s been gathering off to one side all morning watching them work. “We should go say “hi.”

Jensen makes a face. “We do that, we’ll never get to eat.”

“C’mon, Jen. It’ll be fun. We haven’t spent any time with fans since the convention in Chicago.” Jared adopts a serious mask. “We owe it to our adoring public, Jensen. They’ve been deprived of the awesomeness that is us for months now.”

“Your humility never ceases to amaze me, Padalecki.”

“It’s all part of the awesomeness, Jen.”

Jensen caves, just like Jared knew he would. “Whatever. Let’s get this over with so I can get some food.”

Jared starts walking over to the small crowd. “It’s not like you’ll starve to death, Jensen. You could stand to miss a meal every once in a while.”

“Dude. Did you just call me fat?”

Jared throws a smirk over his shoulder, even as he’s extending a hand to a waiting girl whose eyes have gone as big as saucers. “Hi, I’m Jared.”

She looks to be about fifteen or sixteen. She’s flushed an alarming shade of red and stuttering so much Jared can barely make out her name.

He’s used to this by now, and to tell the truth, it gives him a little thrill knowing he has this effect on people. It’s one of the many perks of his job. He's thankful for it and he never takes it for granted. He wouldn’t be where he is today without the fans, so he tries to give a little back whenever he can. He keeps hold of the girl’s hand and maintains eye contact. His tone is warm. “Thanks for coming, Claire.”

She sputters. He smiles.

Jensen is at his shoulder, talking to the person next to Claire and after a few moments, Jared says goodbye to her and steps around Jensen to the next person.

They continue like that for about half an hour, leap-frogging over each other, shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for the occasional picture. It’s all in a day’s work, and when Jared hears the distinct sound of Jensen’s stomach growling, he doesn’t even laugh. He doesn’t say a word.

+ || + || +

The small group disperses as the boys work their way through it. The novelty of seeing a TV crew in action wears off after you’ve watched the same scene twenty times and gotten actual face time with the actors. The opportunity for the impromptu meet and greet was the actual point of coming out and standing in the cold anyway. Jared and Jensen make sure that each fan leaves with a smile on their face and that’s a job well done right there.

There are four people left as Jensen says goodbye to a mother and daughter who came up from Seattle. Three of the girls are clearly here together. One of them is clearly here alone. She’s standing apart from the others and looks a bit skittish. Jared takes a step towards her. She takes three rapid steps back. Her sudden motion catches everyone’s attention and Jensen steps up behind Jared rather than moving on to the others.

Something is pinging on Jared’s radar, but this is a fan and he’s Jared, so he flashes her his brightest smile. “Hello, I’m Jared.”

She stares at him blankly. “Hello, Sam.”

Jared hears Jensen mumble something behind him, something like what the hell. Jared shakes his head at both Jensen and the girl. It’s not the first time a flustered fan has called him by his character’s name and it probably won’t be the last. She’s just nervous. He knows he can get her to relax. He’s done it before.

“No, sweetheart. I’m Jared. Jared Padalecki.” He smiles again, expecting her to shrug or laugh off her mistake, waits for her to stammer out the usual apology that comes with the flub. She isn’t laughing, though. She’s not even smiling. She’s just staring at Jared with a strange sort of intensity that’s confusing the hell out of him.

Jensen has gone whipcord tense beside him. Jared starts to take a step forward, only to be yanked back by Jensen’s grip fisted in his jacket and Jensen’s voice at his ear. “We’re leaving now.”

The lone girl is standing stock still, clutching the strap of her shoulder bag, still staring at Jared. He looks to the other three. “But…”

Jensen tugs again. “Now, Jared.”

Jared mouths “sorry” to the disappointed girls and turns to leave, stumbling a bit as Jensen shoves him from behind to get him moving faster. They’re about twenty feet away, Jared in front of Jensen, when she calls out. “Wait.”

Jared slows, but Jensen pushes into him, refusing to let him stop. “Keep moving, Jay. We need to find security.”

“No. Jen, she’s just…”

“Crazy, Jared. She’s just fucking crazy. Did you see the look in her eyes?”

Jared knows that Jensen has had a couple of disturbing experiences with his fans. So, as much as he’d like to argue, he decides discretion is probably the better part of valor and defers to Jen’s superior knowledge of the crazy fangirl.

They make it another five or ten feet before her voice rings out again, full of command. “I said wait!”

They stop on a dime. The implied threat in her tone has Jared going cold all over. Jared and Jensen turn in concert until they’re both facing the girl. Only now Jensen is in front of Jared, between Jared and the girl, and Jared’s not liking that one bit. “Jen.”

“Shut up, Jared.” Jared has never heard Jensen sound so hard, so implacable. Jared tries to shift from behind Jensen, but every time he moves, Jensen moves in counterpoint leaving them back where they started. Jared growls in frustration but Jensen isn’t even looking at him. Jensen’s eyes are focused on the girl who is now moving closer to them instead of away.

Jared hits Jensen lightly on the back. “Move, asshole. I can’t see.”

There’s nothing funny about the choked laugh Jensen gives. “You don’t want to see this. Trust me.”

Okay, Jared thinks, enough of this shit. He’s bigger than Jensen. He’ll just make him move. So, that’s what he does, using both hands and bodily moving Jensen to the left. His view of the girl is finally clear and he can’t help but suck in a breath at what he sees.

She’s standing about ten feet away. Still staring at Jared. The purse she’d been clutching is gone. Her arms are at her sides, but she’s holding something in her right hand. Something dark and metal, something that looks like – Jared’s mind stutter-stops – she’s got a gun, ohmyfuckinggod she’s got a gun.

Hazel eyes find green. “Jensen.”

Jensen’s voice is steady. “Stay calm, Jared. It’s gonna be okay.”

“She’s got a gun, Jensen.” Jared knows he sounds like an idiot. Of course, Jensen knows she has a gun, but Jared feels like reality has been ripped right out from under him and stating the obvious is about all he can manage right now.

“You need to stay calm.” Jensen looks from Jared to the girl. “We all just need to stay calm.”

She cocks her head slightly, finally breaking her stare to meet Jensen’s gaze. “I don’t want to hurt you, Dean. I didn’t come here to hurt you. I came here to save you.” She sounds sincere, crazy as a bed bug, but sincere. The blankness is gone now, replaced with something frenzied, something manic. She raises her arm, waving the gun in Jared’s direction. “I came here to save the world. From him.”

Jensen’s voice is soft and surprisingly calm, as if he’s talking to a frightened child, and maybe he is. “What’s your name?”

“Laurie.”

“Laurie, my name is Jensen Ackles. This is Jared Padalecki. We’re actors. Sam and Dean Winchester are characters that we play on television. It isn’t real, Laurie. None of it’s real.”

“I know you want to protect your brother, Dean. I know you think it’s your job. But he has to be stopped. Can’t you see that? Sam’s evil. And it doesn’t matter that you love him, or you want to save him. You can’t.”

Jensen simply repeats himself. “I’m Jensen. This is Jared. Sam and Dean are not real, Laurie. Please, put the gun away.”

Her eyes narrow. “You’re trying to trick me.”

Jensen raises his hands in either supplication or surrender; Jared’s not sure which. “I’m not, Laurie. I swear I’m not. I just don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Not you. Not me. Not Jared. Please, Laurie, just put down the gun.”

Jared is in awe of Jensen. How calm he’s being, how smart. It’s genius to keep repeating their names, to keep repeating her name. Jensen is trying to pull her back to reality with the strength and conviction of his voice. Jared resists any urge to chime in. He knows instinctively that bringing her attention back to him would be a very bad move. He’d been stunned stupid before, but now he’s back in the game. He says a quick prayer and does what he’s done so many times before. He puts his faith in his best friend.

In his peripheral vision, Jared can see the other girls moving away and he hopes like hell they’re going for help. Jensen is still talking to Laurie, still using that same soft tone and Jared lets himself get wrapped up in the steady, familiar cadence. C’mon, Jen. You can do this. I know you can.

The girls must have reached someone, because suddenly there’s shouting in the distance and people are rushing toward them. Time is running out. Laurie swings the gun around until it’s pointing at Jensen.

“This is your fault. You were supposed to kill him. You promised your father, Dean. He’d be so ashamed of you right now.”

Jared feels reality tear once more when he sees the gun aimed at Jensen.

And it makes no sense, because Jensen’s not shying away. He’s just standing there waiting for her to shoot. That’s when it dawns on Jared that this entire time Jensen’s been keeping all of the attention focused on himself. Away from Jared. He’s been protecting Jared, and Jared hadn’t even noticed because it was the one natural, normal thing in this whole surreal nightmare. When the implications of that thought sink in, Jared moves reflexively forward, because there’s just no fucking way Jensen is taking a bullet for Jared. No fucking way.

It happens in freeze frame after that.

Jared lurches forward.

The gun swings his direction.

Jensen takes a single step to the right.

There’s the initial crack of the gunshot and the ring of the reverb.

Jared is screaming –

and Jensen is falling.