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It's not that Jared doesn't like his job, because, hey, he's pretty much living the dream, right? Or, well, maybe not everybody's dream, maybe not the rags-to-riches Great American Dream that culminates in boundless wealth, a gorgeous lover and a white picket fence – but still, a dream. A dream that involves getting to read comics and play with lightsabers at work all day. And, okay, so he also has to share a tiny apartment that has mould in the bathroom (and something that sounds suspiciously like rats scrabbling in the walls) with a troglodyte called Chad, and, okay, so sometimes he has to root around for spare change down the back of the sofa to pay the pizza delivery guy – but, still, he's living the dream. Kind of. His dream. His dream when he was ten, at least. (His dream when he was fifteen would have been much the same, but involved a lot more hot gay sex. Really, he'd much rather be living that dream, but beggars can't be choosers.)

So it's not that Jared doesn't like his work, 'cause he does. Mostly. It's just that running your own business is exhausting, even when it's not exactly a very busy kind of business, and he pretty much lives in the shop; and for some reason San Antonio's population of hot gay guys doesn't seem to spend much time buying comics from 'Plan 9'. And, okay, so he sometimes hits the clubs and the bars, but he's never been a very 'scene' kind of guy, and he'd much rather talk Tolkein or Spider-man than 'Project Runway' or 'American Idol', so – yeah. Mostly it's him and his good right hand, and wistful thoughts of Brad Pitt. Or Nightwing. Occasionally Brad Pitt as Nightwing.

He's pretty sure that there are gay geeks out there in the world, but so far he's not found any in San Antonio. Which kind of sucks.

“Fucking Twilight,” mutters Katie, apropos of nothing. Jared nods, because it's always a valid sentiment. “God, this place is dead today.” She starts fiddling absentmindedly with the reproduction sonic screw driver on the counter.

“Mind you, the werewolf guy looked quite hot, in the trailer,” Jared adds, after a moment. They'd seen the trailer when they went to see G.I. Joe the night before. They've spent most of the morning detailing all the ways in which G.I. Joe sucked, and agreeing that they still enjoyed it, even though they know better, because there is a lot to be said for hot people and things that go fast and blow up.

Katie rolls her eyes.“You are dead to me, Padalecki. Dead.”

“I'm just saying. The guy with the dreads was cute too.”

“Look, fine, okay, I'll grant you that there's some eye candy. Blah blah blah Rpatz whateverthefuck. But, seriously – sparkly vampires? Swooning Mary Sues? Did we learn nothing from Joss Whedon?”

“No, no, you're right,” he says, because she is. He heaves a sigh. They both watch their only customer, a spotty teenager with unwashed hair, drifting from shelf to shelf. He's been here for half an hour, and so far he's read three graphic novels and put them all back on the shelf.

“Frappucino?” says Katie, at last.

Jared pulls a face. “I told you about the budgeting thing, right? I told you about all the money we aren't making, and how much debt I'm in, and how we ought to start using the damn coffee maker in the back room?”

“It's shit,” Katie says, crisply. Jared sags a little, because of course they both know she's perfectly right – it is shit.

“Well, yes, okay, yes, it may not be a very good coffee machine, but the point is that we have the machine, and we have the ground coffee, so it's kind of free, at this stage. It's just a case of adding water, you know? And I'm trying to budget.”

“Screw that,” says Katie. “I'm not drinking that shit. So – frappucino?”

“Yeah,” Jared says, crumpling. He tugs his wallet out of his back pocket and glances inside, and then winces. “Er – maybe get me a small one? Like a child size one?”

“It's a coffee, Padalecki. They don't make child sized cups. Are you on drugs?”

“No! Fine! Frappucino!”

Jared reflects, as Katie strides off out the door, that he hasn't really mastered that whole bossy side of being a boss yet. He picks up the sonic screwdriver and fiddles with it idly, and tries to decide whether he'd rather sleep with The Doctor or Captain Jack.

Of course he glances up when the door opens, because it's his job to notice these things, but what he isn't expecting is to see Jensen Ackles framed in the doorway, glancing around him. Jared's fairly sure that he makes an audible sort of wheezy noise – he certainly feels like somebody just punched him in the gut. Jensen. Ackles. Jared's vision goes kind of blurry for a moment, and he's fairly sure that there are choirs of angels bursting into song. Also, his pants may be about to explode, because – Jensen Ackles! Jesus Christ! Number 5 on Vanity Fair's Top 20 World's Hottest Men, freaking 2-time Oscar-winner, for fuck's sakes! The guy's photo is plastered all over town right now, advertising some thriller thing he's starring in opposite Angelina Jolie, and Jared's been ogling it appreciatively as he travels in to work every morning.

Jensen!

Ackles!

Jared swallows hard, and tries to be nonchalant. Like unbelievably hot mega stars just wandered in to pick up a copy of Transmetropolitan every day. He jumps when the sonic screwdriver makes a loud buzzing whooshing sort of sound, and flushes when he realises that he's been fondling the buttons without even thinking about it. Nonchalant, He can do nonchalant

Jensen makes eye-contact, cool as you like, and nods politely, then goes back to looking at the comics. He's in the Marvel section, and Jared has a little flutter of disappointment, because he's still kind of a DC man at heart, (well, mostly Vertigo, but the classics are still the classics), and then he realises that he's being completely insane, because JENSEN ACKLES is in his shop, looking at comics, which is so hot that it hasn't even crossed his mind to fantasise about it, and he's feeling disappointed that the guy isn't a DC man. And it's not like Jensen Ackles hasn't featured kind of prominently in his fantasies lately, what with all the posters with his eyes greener than green and his mouth looking like something designed by the god of blowjobs...but it had never crossed his mind to imagine the guy actually showing up at his workplace.

Besides, Spider-man is cool as fuck. So it's okay to like Marvel. And – ooh! Okay, now he's wandering over towards the Vertigo line, and Jared may actually cream himself.

Nonchalant. Mustn't stare at the guy. He probably gets that all the time. Jared concentrates on breathing, and pulls his gaze over to the little video screen on the desk instead. And a moment later he doesn't have to pretend to be nonchalant, because he actually does have something else to worry about. He eels his way out from behind the counter and hurries over to the corner of the room, where his only other customer is lurking.

“Hi!” he says, smiling apologetically at the kid. The kid glares at him. “Sorry, but, see, we have security cameras,” he says, pointing up at the camera.

The kid glances up at it, swallows hard, and then sticks out his chin. “So?”

“Well, so, I know that you just stuffed a copy of Watchmen down your pants. Which is kind of ironic, in its own way, you know? 'Who watches the watchmen' and all that? Um. I do.”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” the kid says. He's going blotchily red, and he can't be more than seventeen.

Jared sighs. “Well, okay.” He flips out his cell phone. “Tell you what, I'll just call the cops, and if it turns out that I'm wrong, then, what can I say? I'll be real sorry, and you can have my Frappucino when it shows up.”

“Cops?” says the kid, swallowing again. Jared nods apologetically. “Um. Well – suppose I did have a copy of Watchmen down my pants. Hypothetically. What then?”

“Well, in that case, ideally when I walk away you'd need to take the book out of your pants and wipe it down and put it back on the shelf – or else come pay for it at the counter. Either one would work. And that way I don't need to call the cops.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah. I'll be over at the counter, okay? While you make up your mind.” says Jared, heading back to the counter. God. Kids.

He's still shaking his head while he watches on the monitor to check that the kid has put the book back on the shelf, and somehow he actually manages to forget that Jensen Freaking Ackles is right here in his shop until the guy arrives at the counter holding the latest copy of The Umbrella Academy.

Jared's face lights up. “This is an awesome book!” he says, warmly. “Unexpectedly excellent taste!” Jensen looks a little startled and then kind of amused. He ducks his head.

“Thanks,” he says, with a little glimpse of the famous smile - and he's just so damn cool and self-possessed and, and, and Jensen freaking Ackles, for God's sakes, that Jared's feeling weak at the knees. He can't believe he just talked to him like he was a regular customer or something.

“Sorry, right, obviously you know it's an awesome book or why would you be buying the latest volume? Not like you need me to tell you. It's not like you're buying 'Apocalypse Suite', right? Right. Way to sound patronising, Jared.” He's acutely conscious that he's wearing a pair of tatty jeans and a Wonder Woman t-shirt, and that he's badly in need of a haircut, and that the guy in front of him is dressed head to toe in the kind of things designed by people with ridiculous names and sold for more money than Jared makes in a month. Maybe a year. “...I guess you kind of don't need me to tell you you've got good taste,” he says, awkwardly. “Um. Right. Let me just – I'll ring this up for you, shall I?”

“That would be great,” says Jensen Ackles (Jensen Ackles!), and it looks like he's trying not to smile.

“You're Jensen Ackles!”

Oh, God. It's the kid. Jensen's face smooths over somehow, and the smile he gives is bright, but impersonal. “Yes I am,” he says. Jared has a moment to congratulate himself that at least he wasn't as pathetically fanboyish as the spotty kid.

“Can I have your autograph?”

Jensen blinks, and then looks down at the scrap of paper the kid is thrusting at him. “Sure,” he says, after a moment. He glances around for a pen and Jared hands him one of the pens from the counter. It has a little plastic dalek on the top, and Jensen's mouth twitches slightly as he accepts it. “What's your name?”

“Maurice,” says the kid.

He scribbles something on the paper and hands it to the kid, then passes Jared the pen again with a smile.

The kid squints down at the paper. “...what does it say?” he asks, plaintively.

“It says “Maurice, try to stay out of gaol. From Jensen Ackles.”

“Cool!” says the kid, beaming at them both, and then he dashes out of the shop. They both stare at the door for a moment.

“Well, that was – interesting,” says Jared.

“Nice neighbourhood,” Jensen says, pulling out his wallet and handing over some money while Jared rings up the sale and slips the book into a bag, and tries to ignore how painfully tight his jeans are feeling right now.

“It has its moments. Here you go,” Jared says, smiling in a way that hopefully is more 'cool, professional small-business-owner totally unfazed by shoplifters or hot movie stars' and less 'OMG I would so totally blow you right now'.

“Thanks,” says Jensen, accepting the bag and the change, and then he turns around and walks out of Jared's life forever. Jared watches him all the way to the door, taking in the pure perfection of his ass and the very slight bow to his legs, and reflecting that he's not as tall as he looks on the big screen, and biting his tongue to keep from blurting out something embarrassing like 'Jesus fuck, you're even prettier in real life than you were in my jerkoff fantasy this morning,' or 'Is it true that Jessica Alba's just a beard, and you're secretly into guys?' Or, you know, 'Please fuck me?' Something like that.

The door closes, and Jared stares at it for a long moment, counts to twenty in his head, and then he screams “JENSEN FUCKING ACKLES!!!” at the top of his lungs, and does a sort of spontaneous Snoopy Dance of joy. “Jesus Christ! Jensen Ackles!” he says again, just to hear it out loud, and then he leans on the counter and takes several deep breaths, doesn't pass out, and then starts to laugh and laugh and laugh in shocked delight.

“Frappucino,” says Katie, a moment later, pushing the door open and sliding on in. Jared accepts his drink numbly.

“Thanks,” he says, still staring at the door.

“So, CFM: Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Jensen Ackles,” she says, and Jared chokes on his coffee.

* * *

Later that day Jared's gazing wistfully up at one of the huge posters advertising Jensen Ackles' latest movie, 'House Rules', and wondering why the hell they airbrush his freckles out of existence, because, seriously, the freckles are adorable, when he walks smack bang into some guy and spills ice-cold orange juice down his shirt.

“Jesus!” says the guy, and Jared's blushing and stammering out an apology before he's even registered that, holy mother of God, it's Jensen Ackles. Again. He's just poured juice all over Jensen Ackles, and now his appallingly expensive white button-down shirt is soaked through, like he's in some kind of wet t-shirt contest, and his nipples are pebbling up hard and visible through the sticky, clinging fabric, and Jared wants the sidewalk to open up and swallow him because he's going to die from either embarrassment or arousal right the hell now. He brushes frantically at the sticky juice with his hand, like that's going to help, and then he realises that he's basically fondling Jensen Ackles' chest and rubbing his nipples, and then he feels kind of faint and wants to sit down.

“Sorry! Sorry! I'm so – I didn't see – Oh my God I'm so sorry!” he says, uselessly. And, yeah, Jensen Ackles isn't looking particularly impressed right now.

“It's fine. It's – just – please stop touching me,” he says, pointedly, and Jared blushes so hard he feels like he might spontaneously combust, and pulls his hands behind his back.

“Sorry! Um - I'll pay for the dry cleaning!” He says, helplessly, although he has no idea where he's planning to find the money. “Or, or – look, my house is just over there, let me – we can put it in the wash right now, and you can borrow one of my – well – I...” he stumbles to a halt at the realisation that he's actually offering to lend Jensen Ackles a t-shirt, and clearly he's the single biggest loser in the entire city of San Antonio. “I'm really sorry,” he says again.

Jensen studies him with his famous green eyes narrowed. “When you say 'just over there', what are we talking? Give it to me in yards.”

Jared raises a finger and points across the street to a blue door. “Eighteen yards,” he says. “I live there.”

Jensen looks down at his shirt front, and over at the house, and sighs. “Okay,” he says.

Jared manages not to come in his pants. But it's a close thing.

* * *

Now on the one hand, the only thing more thrilling than having Jensen Ackles show up at 'Plan 9' and buy a book (and an excellent book at that!) is having Jensen Ackles in his apartment. Possibly getting shirtless. But on the other hand, in order to have Jensen Ackles in his apartment, Jensen Ackles needs to see, well, his apartment. Which, to be perfectly honest, is not the kind of place guaranteed to stir feelings of lust in a person's heart. It's not that Jared's a slob himself – well, actually, it kind of is, because he's never been especially tidy, but he isn't epically untidy. That's all Chad. Jared scurries around frantically picking up pizza boxes and beer cans and dirty underwear (dear sweet baby Jesus, he's holding Chad's dirty underwear, which means he's going to have to get a tetanus shot asap) and pornographic magazines, and stuffing them all into the trashcan.

“Sorry, sorry, it's a bit – my roommate's kind of a pig, and we haven't – um – sorry,” he says. Jensen just watches him, with an unreadable expression.

“Bathroom?” he says, after a moment.

“Right! Sorry, yeah, it's, um – it's over there, but let me just check – heh - just give me a second, 'kay?” he ducks into the bathroom and looks at it despairingly. But at least it doesn't contain any half-naked Chad or dead rats or splatters of vomit. Could be worse.

“Okay?” says the rough, incredibly sexy voice that Jared's heard a million times before, and got hard listening to, and Jared turns around and finds that Jensen Ackles (Jensen Ackles!) is standing in the door of their tiny bathroom, casually unbuttoning his sticky shirt.

“Yeah!” says Jared, after a shocky, breathless moment where he nearly swallows his own tongue. “Um, yeah, just, er, here's the sink, and, and there's the toilet over there, and we have paper, and, um, better not use that towel, actually, because you never know what Chad's done with, er, with, um, let me just get you...I'll be right back.” Because although the guy isn't actually looking at him, and clearly isn't trying to be all seductive about it, he's briskly unfastened pretty much all the buttons on his shirt now, and he's peeling the shirt open, and there's all this beautiful skin just right there, stretched taut over muscles and dusted with freckles, and Jared could just step a little tiny bit closer and lick...

Jensen looks over at him, and his expression brings Jared crashing back to earth. “Right! Sorry! Clean towel! I'll just – I'll be back in a minute. Don't go anywhere. Ha.”

He closes the door behind him for a moment and breathes hard, like he's just won a freaking race, and then he slaps himself, and goes to get a clean towel.

* * *

“Anything else I can get you? Coffee? Tea? Coke? Beer? Orange jui- well, probably not juice. Um.”

“No,” says Jensen. He's standing there in the middle of Jared's kitchen like a wet dream come to life, wearing Jared's 'Thundercats' t-shirt, and Jared is possibly not doing a very good job of playing it cool.

“No, right, of course.” There's a pause, while he stares into eyes that really are just as green as they look on TV, and wonders what on earth to make of the expression on Jensen's face. The guy's straight, of course, kind of famously so, wishful-thinking notwithstanding, so the tension thrumming in the room is obviously all in Jared's head. “Um – goldfish? Crackers, I mean, not actual fish, because obviously I don't go around eating house pets, hahaha, that would be, um, nuts. Oh, I think I have some sugared almonds, actually, somewhere, unless Chad ate them. Would you like to try my nuts?” There's a horrified pause while both of them take in that last sentence, and Jared somehow doesn't actually have a heart attack. “Almonds, I mean! Almonds! Or a Twinkie? I think we've still got some Twinkies somewhere...”

“No.”

“Right.” Jared nods. “Right.” He swallows. “Do you ever say anything except no?”

Jensen's mouth twitches very slightly, and he leans closer, like he's about to say something vital. Jared finds himself swaying forward, kind of mesmerised and dry-mouthed.

“No,” says Jensen, very softly, but for a moment Jared could almost swear that what he was really saying was “Yes.” There's something in his eyes - but that's insane, right? Right. He's not going to embarrass himself by going for a kiss. Even though if it were anyone else he'd kind of swear that this was the go-for-the-kiss moment, and that he was in with a definite chance of some action, because the way that this guy is looking at him is all hot and intense and interested – but, seriously, Jensen Ackles? Heterosexual Jensen Ackles? Giving him the time of day? Clearly not happening. Jared's having some kind of breakdown, obviously, because of the impossible hotness of finding his favourite jerk-off fantasy guy standing in the middle of his kitchen, but he's not going to embarrass himself by assaulting the guy, like some kind of creepy gay stalker who's thrown juice on him and lured him back to his place. Nuh-uh.

“Okay then,” says Jared, breathlessly. “Well. Well, I'm really sorry about – you know, the juice thing.” He licks his lips. “It was good to meet you.” He swallows again, burningly conscious of the way that he could just step forward and feel the warm line of Jensen's body press into him, or dart forward and taste his mouth. God, his mouth! “You're even hotter in person,” he says, and then realises with horror that, yes, that was his outside voice. He closes his eyes and winces. Jensen makes a strangled sound that he rather suspects is the result of trying not to laugh. “Sorry. Sorry, not trying to be – um. Right. Sorry.”

“I should go,” Jensen says, sounding amused.

“Of course,” Jared agrees, opening his eyes and hurrying ahead to open the door. “Of course you should. Right. Sorry, didn't mean to freak you out. I know you're not – uh – yeah. Sorry.” He shakes himself, like a dog coming out of water, and gives Jensen his most apologetic look. “I'm not usually quite this much of a crazy person. Honestly.”

“Nah, you're okay,” says Jensen Ackles, shaking his head and smiling up at him with definite amusement. “Weird, but okay.”

Jared gapes, and then Jensen's out the door and out of his life. Again.

“You're even hotter in person?” Jared repeats, leaning back against the door in horror. “Oh my God, what was I thinking?

A moment later he jumps, when the buzzer goes. He stares at the door, and then opens it tentatively, and then stares at Jensen Ackles (Jensen Ackles!) who's standing on the doorstep and still looking just as shockingly beautiful as he does on the posters. Maybe more so.

“Um,” he says, gaping. “Yes?”

“Forgot my book,” Jensen says.

“Oh! Right, sorry, yeah – come in,” stammers Jared, and Jensen steps into the little entrance hall again and reaches down for the plastic 'Plan 9' bag that he'd left by the door. Unfortunately Jared's ducking down to get it at the same moment, and manages to bump into him and almost knock him down. “Shit!” Jared squeaks, reaching out to steady him, closing big hands over his shoulders and feeling like the biggest, clumsiest, stupidest oaf ever. But he realises, to his surprise, that Jensen's actually laughing at him, and after a moment he starts to laugh too.

“You're kind of a klutz, you know?” says Jensen, as they stand up. And Jared doesn't realise for a moment that he's still holding on, until he sees Jensen's eyes dart down to his arms, and he jumps back and puts his hands behind his back.

“Sorry!” he says, feeling his face go hot. “Again.”

“S'okay,” says Jensen ruefully. “It's the celebrity thing. It does that to people.”

And that's the first moment that it really strikes Jared that this isn't just a walking, talking wet dream standing in front of him – that it's also just a guy, and that his whole damn life must involve people being weird and starstruck and creepy, and he suddenly feels sorry for Jensen, and not just embarrassed at making a fool of himself.

“That must kind of suck,” Jared says, inadequately.

Jensen gives a little half-shrug. “Can't really complain, you know? Comes with the job,” he says, but he doesn't sound real happy about it. “Anyway – thanks for the shirt.”

“No! God, no problem.” Jared pulls a face. “Sorry it's not more, you know – dignified. Expensive. Sexy. You.”

Jensen's eyes crinkle a little at the corners as he looks down at it. He shrugs. “I like it,” he says simply, and Jared feels warmth rush through him. And there's that tension again, thrumming away, and Jensen's eyes are kind of dark, and fixed on him like there's something else he wants to say, and they're standing real close in the narrow little corridor, and Jared's on the very brink of losing his head and stepping forward and totally ruining this whole kind of cool moment of connection with this enormously rich and famous and heterosexual celebrity by trying to kiss the living hell out of him like some kind of creepy gay stalker after all, when suddenly there's a key in the lock and the door opens again, and Chad comes stomping past them.

“I'm home, bitch,” says Chad, paying no attention at all to the fact that Jensen Ackles is standing there wearing one of Jared's t-shirts. “And I'm gonna make some pop tarts and shit and then I'm gonna tell you a story that will make you cream your motherfucking pants.”

There is an awkward pause. Jared swallows. “That's Chad,” he says. “My roommate. You know that film about the Neanderthal guy who gets unfrozen and learns to live like normal people? He's kind of like that. Only, you know, less civilized. And with much lower standards of personal hygiene. Sorry. There's really no excuse for him. Um.”

“I should go,” says Jensen. That don't-touch-me veneer is back again, and whatever little moment they were having is gone gone gone.

“Right,” says Jared. “Thank you.” Jensen blinks. “For being, you know, cool. And not calling the police on me.”

“I'm fairly sure that there are no laws against spilling juice on somebody,” Jensen says, and his mouth's curling again in spite of himself.

“Well, there should be,” says Jared firmly, and then winces. Jensen just laughs at him.

“You're okay,” he says. “Weird, but okay.” He cocks his head. “So do you have a name, or should I just think of you as Juice Guy?”

“Oh!” For a split second Jared actually can't think of his own name. Yes, he is just that flustered. “Jared,” he says, a moment later. “Jared Padalecki.”

“Okay, well, thanks for the shirt, Jared Jared Padalecki. I'm Jensen.”

“Well, duh!” says Jared, and then wants to kick himself. Jensen gives that rueful little half-smile again.

“See you around,” he says, and then he's gone.

* * *

 

“Have you seen the goddamn posters for that new Jensen Ackles movie?” Chad asks. “The mouth on him, Jesus fucking Christ, it should be illegal! I'm telling you, no way that guy is straight.”

“You just think all hot guys are gay,” says Jared, trying to ignore the shiver that goes through him at the thought of Jensen Ackles.

“So you think he's hot?”

“Obviously I think he's hot. But he's also straight, isn't he? Him and Jessica Alba, they're like the golden couple. They're always wrapped round each other. 'Jennica', or whatever the hell the tabloids call them. He's not gay.”

“She's a beard. It's a whole TomKat thing.”

“I don't think this is very respectful,” says Jared, and Chad gapes at him. He reddens. “He's a real person, not a piece of meat.”

“Did you suddenly grow a pussy while I wasn't looking? Seriously? What the everloving hell?”

“I'm just saying,” Jared says, his voice low and embarrassed. “It's kind of rude.”

“Hey, if I was saying he was an ugly-ass talentless dickhead, that would be rude. I'm just saying he's gay, and really freaking hot, and I'd fuck him. C'mon. You saying you wouldn't?”

“Um,” says Jared. “You want another beer?”

“Hell yeah!” Jared pushes himself up off the sofa and treks into the kitchen, and has another little moment of astonishment and toe-curling arousal at the flashback to Jensen Ackles standing next to the table, saying no to offers of coffee or beer or Coke or juice. Surreal. Hot and surreal.

“Oh, hey, you need to get an answer phone,” Chad yells. “Or learn to keep your cell charged up. Loser.”

“Huh?” He returns to the sofa and hands Chad a beer.

“Yeah. I'm sick of people calling for you.”

Jared waits. “So – any messages?”

“Do I look like your secretary, bitchface?”

“Chad – who called?”

Chad shrugs, and takes a big gulp of beer. “Your mom called this morning. And some other chick. And some dude.”

“And it didn't occur to you to write down a message, or anything?”

“Fuck you. Charge up your phone.”

There's a little pause while they both sit with their eyes glued to the TV set, watching the game.

“Mind you, if you're gonna get all anal about it, some guy rang for you yesterday. Said he had your t-shirt?”

Jared sits bolt upright, and drops his beer. “Fuck!” He grabs at the bottle and tries to grind the spill into the carpet with his foot while he stares incredulously at Chad. “My t-shirt?”

“Yeah.”

“And? And what did he say?”

Chad shrugs. “Fuck, it's not like you don't have enough t-shirts, Jared. I dunno.”

“Well try to remember,” Jared says, teeth gritted.

“Said it was, uh, Jed, I think? Something like that?”

“...Jen?”

“Yeah! Which is a chick's name, but, y'know, whatthefuckever. And he said he was staying at some hotel. Offered to buy you an orange juice to say thank you for the shirt, or something.”

Jared closes his eyes and counts to ten. “Yesterday, this was?”

“Yeah.”

“And do you remember the name of the hotel? By any chance?”

“The Waterboy? Waterfall?”

“The Watermark?”

“Yeah. Oh, and he said you shouldn't ask for him by his real name.”

Jared pauses, his finger poised on his cell phone. “What?”

“Yeah, said you should ask for – er – nah, I forgot.”

Jared stares at him numbly for a long time, and then punches in the numbers anyway. “This is going to be fun,” he mutters.

* * *

“This is the Watermark Hotel and Spa, Anthony speaking, how may I help you?”

Jared bites his lip, and wishes that there was some way to have this conversation without sounding like a total lunatic. “Um. Hi. Okay, this is going to sound kind of, um, weird and unlikely, but Jensen Ackles asked me to call? To speak to him?”

“There is nobody registered with us by that name, sir.” The man's voice is smooth, polite, professional and completely discouraging.

“Right, no. See, the thing is he left a message with my roommate, and my roommate makes a retarded goat on acid look like a MENSA member.” Chad shoots him a wounded look, and Jared thwaps him upside the head. “He's only just given me the message. And he said that Jensen told me to ask for him by another name? Only, because he can't remember his own mother's birthday or how to flush the damn toilet, he obviously can't remember what that name was.”

“I'm afraid I can't help you, sir.”

“Try Wayne,” says Chad, unexpectedly. Jared blinks at him.

“Um – would you have a Wayne?”

“Bruce Wayne, sir?” asks the receptionist, and Jared feels a little curl of geekly delight.

“Yeah. Yeah, that'd be it.”

“Let me put you through.”

* * *

“Jensen? Hi, it's Jared. Jared Padalecki.”

“Jared Jared Padalecki?” He can hear the smile in Jensen's voice, and it's doing very distracting things to his stomach.

“Sorry – Chad is, well, he's Chad, and he only just gave me your message.”

“Huh. Well, I just thought – I had your t-shirt dry cleaned.” There's a little pause, and Jared could almost believe that Jensen Ackles was nervous – but that is very clearly insane. “I thought – maybe I could buy you a drink? To say thanks?”

Jared stares at the wall in front of him, blankly, and reminds himself that Jensen Ackles is straight. Straight straight straight. “Like, hang out, you mean?” he says, thickly, because this is sounding almost like a date, but that can't be right. “Like, as friends, kind of thing?”

Jensen gives a small huff of laughter. “Well, yeah. Don't worry, if you're busy. I just – it was nice, actually, hanging out with you. Different. I just thought - I mean, I don't know San Antonio, and you seem like a good guy, and I thought maybe you could be, like, my local guide, or something?”

“Okay,” says Jared, very fast. “Yeah. Yeah, that would be awesome. Um. When?”

“Tomorrow? Swing by around six?”

“Six. Cool.” Apparently Jared's not at his most articulate right now. “See you then?”

“See you then.” He hangs up, and stares at the cell phone until Chad punches him in the arm.

“Oh my God, you are banging Jensen fucking Ackles. You dog!”

“I'm really not,” says Jared, wistfully.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” There's a pause. “D'you think he'd go for a threeway?” asks Chad.

“Okay, first? I'm not banging Jensen Ackles, because he's straight. He's just – he's a cool guy, is all, and we got on okay. Or something. And, second? There is no way that I'm ever going to be in the same room where you're naked of my own free will. Nuh-uh. Threeways that include you and me are totally off the menu now and in any other circumstances.”

“Bitch.”

“Hey, I'm just saying – soap is your friend.”

“I'd wash. I'd wash, if it meant I could have that mouth wrapped round my cock,” Chad says, with deep sincerity. “Oh, Jesus, you dog, you can have that pretty pretty cocksucking mouth, and that tight little ass, and – I cannot believe you were holding out on me!”

Jared reminds himself that this is just Chad being Chad, and that punching him in the face would probably constitute abuse of one of God's dumb animals, but he still feels his arm tightening up for the blow. He doesn't like hearing Jensen talked about like that. He really doesn't. Even if it's exactly the same thoughts he's been getting off on. “Chad?”

“Yeah?”

“Don't make me hurt you,” he says evenly.

Chad blows him a kiss. “I might like it, baby,” he says, and Jared feels the tension seep out of him.

“You're a dick, you know that?”

“You're hurting my feelings, bro.”

“A dick.”

“It's like you don't even know me!”

* * *

Jared's trying very hard to convince himself not to jump around and squeal like a thirteen year old girl as he walks through the main entrance of the Watermark. Not a date. Not a date. Not a date. Thing is, though, that even if it's not a date, it's still Jensen freaking Ackles wanting to hang out with him, which is pure Bizarro World right there. But Jared's not insane enough to turn it down.

When he gets to the suite, though, it isn't Jensen who answers the door. It's some hot brunette in her late thirties or early forties, all businesslike and efficient and very much not a hot male filmstar. He blinks at her in bafflement, and feels his breathless high start to fade.

“Hi there! I'm Sam Ferris – sorry, we're running a bit late, I'm afraid. Which magazine are you with?” Jared blinks, and he's about to apologise, and say that he must have come to the wrong room, when he catches a glimpse of a life-size cut out of Jensen in his role in the new movie. Huh. “Um - Star Trek Magazine,” he says, for absolutely no good reason, and the woman's mouth falls open slightly.

“Star Trek? That's – well, that's, um, nice. Unexpected. I thought that was just about Sci Fi?”

Jared plasters the biggest shit-eating grin he can find onto his face and tries not to look too desperate. “We're branching out?” he says. “Into, um, other genres?” He has absolutely no idea what the hell The House Rules is about – which is pretty embarrassing, considering how much he's ogled the posters. Not Sci Fi, though. Evidently. Damn.

“Right, well, you just sit here next to the folks from Empire and Total Film and you should be able to see Jensen in a minute or two,” she says, smiling and ushering him to a seat.

Jared considers bolting, but figures that since he's here now he might as well stay for the ride. It'll always make a good story to tell later.

* * *

“Hi,” says Jared, grinning awkwardly and taking a seat.

“Thanks, Sam,” says Jensen, smiling up at the publicity lady.

“He's from Star Trek Magazine,” she says, and Jared can almost hear her eyes rolling. He expects her to leave, and is more than a little bit appalled when she stands right there, waiting.

“Um,” he says, looking from Jensen to Sam and back again. Jensen's mouth twitches. “Right. Well, I'll just start, then, shall I? Right. Um. So – congratulations on the new movie, Jensen.”

“Thanks,” says Jensen, and his eyes are dancing now, and although Jared feels like a complete idiot, he also feels like laughing out loud. Like this is a game the two of them are playing.

“Wonderful performance, stunning cinematography – do you think we can hope for a sequel?”

“I think that would be difficult, seeing as how all the main characters die in the fire at the end,” says Jensen in a level voice.

“Right. Right. But of course, that didn't stop Spock from coming back for a sequel. Haha. Um. They might come back as, er, robots,” says Jared, with an edge of desperation in his voice. “Our readers are very fond of robots. Or indeed they could have been robots all along. Like in 'Terminator' or 'BSG'. Or there's always cloning. Cloning's great for sequels.”

“I don't think they did a lot of cloning in the Victorian period,” Jensen says, and his voice is perfectly steady but there are creases at the corner of his eyes.

“Steampunk!” says Jared triumphantly. “You could totally go with steampunk!”

“There is that possibility,” says Jensen. “You're right, it's more open-ended than I realised.”

Sam leaves, and Jared collapses like a deflated balloon. “Oh my fucking God!” he hisses. “This is insane! What am I doing here? Why am I pretending to be a journalist? I thought we were going to go and get a beer!”

Jensen is shaking with laughter. “Shit, man, I'm sorry. I thought for sure we'd have all this wrapped up by five. My bad.”

“No, it's fine,” says Jared – and it's impossible not to beam at the guy, because, damn, Jensen Ackles! And the thing is that he's not just prettier in person – he's nice. There's this unexpected sweetness to the way his face lit up when he recognised Jared, and to the warmth in his face right now. “Wow. So this is all very, um,” he starts, waving his hand vaguely in the direction of Sam, and Jensen nods.

“I know. This is my life.” He glances away for a moment, and then gives Jared a sort of sidelong smile that's almost shy. “Hey, can you blame me for wanting to go grab a beer with a normal person? But I'm sorry – I wasn't thinking. It was dumb of me. These things always run on. It was a stupid idea.”

They're looking right at each other, and Jared's aware that this is a lot of eye contact – this is definitely a lot more eye contact than you usually get from a straight guy. And there's nothing wrong with Jared's gaydar under ordinary circumstances, damn it – there are definitely some vibes going on in here, surely? He can't be making this up? But at the same time he's not exactly used to hanging out with jetsetting movie stars, and he's kind of worried that the mixture of starstruck horniness and bemusement at the pure surreality of it all is messing with his judgment, and that there might be some serious wishful thinking at work. But Jensen's still looking at him, and looking at him like that - and, oh, damn now Jensen's licking his lips, and there are signals going on here, damn it, Jared's not making this up. He's almost positive that he could just lean across the little coffee table and grab Jensen Ackles by the nape of his neck and kiss the life out of him right now, and that Jensen would kiss him right back. And he's half a heartbeat away from doing exactly that when Sam sticks her head back in, and they both jump.

“Don't forget that Mr Ackles is also very keen to talk about his next project, JJ Abrams' Hamlet.”

Jared can feel himself gaping at her, and then he swings his head round to Jensen, and then looks back at her, and, damn it, she's watching.

“So - Hamlet!” he says, brightly. “Any, uh, robots in that one?”

“Not as such, no,” says Jensen.

“Right. Right. Of course our readers are big fans of JJ Abrams – do you think there's any possibility we might see some crossover with his other works? Perhaps Spock appearing at, er, Elsinore? Or unexpected polar bears, perhaps?”

“I'm afraid not.”

“Right. Right.”

“Okay, Sparky, time's up,” says Sam, smiling at him. “Did you get what you wanted?”

He darts a helpless look over at Jensen, and has no idea what to make of his bland expression. “Um. Yes, I guess so,” he says, helplessly. “Or, well, no, actually, to be perfectly honest - but it's okay.” He shrugs. “Thank you, Mr Ackles,” he says. “It was a pleasure to meet you.” And it was. He stands up with all the dignity he can muster, conscious of the fact that he's the only person in the suite – hell, probably the only person in the whole swanky hotel – who's wearing a t-shirt with a comic book logo on the front. (The Flash, this time.) He has no idea what he's doing here. He reaches out and takes Jensen's hand in his, and it's warm and dry against his skin. “You have a good life,” he says, softly, and then becomes aware of Sam's eyes on him. “Or, as our readers would prefer to put it, Live Long and Prosper.” He makes the Vulcan hand sign rather sheepishly, and sidles out of the room.

“I am the dorkiest dork that ever dorked,” he mutters to himself as he strides out of the suite. “I am the gayest dorkiest gay dork that ever dorked gaily. I am an idiot. Live Long and Prosper? Seriously? I mean – seriously?

He's standing outside the elevator when Sam catches up with him. “Mr Padalecki?” she says, and he can tell by the expression on her fact that she's kind of baffled about why the hell she's had to chase after him. “Mr Ackles says you left this behind?” He looks down, and it's the plastic 'Plan 9' bag, and it's got his t-shirt inside, neatly folded up. He feels an unexpected twinge of sadness when he accepts it from her.

“Thanks,” he says, wondering why the hell he feels so disappointed. This was why the guy had invited him over, after all. The elevator arrives, and he steps inside, and tells himself he's being an absolute idiot to feel oddly hollow and bereft. On an impulse, because he is a total fucking loser, he pulls the t-shirt out of the bag and presses it to his face, even though all it smells of is detergent now. He doesn't notice the little slip of paper until he hears it hit the floor, and then he stares down at it blankly for a moment before ducking to pick it up.

“Meet me in the lobby, 7pm. JA.”

Jared has to read it four times to believe it. Then he looks at his watch. It's half past six. Okay then.

* * *

“So – beer?” Jared asks, and his voice is only trembling very slightly. Jensen beams at him, and Jared knows that people are staring – maybe discreetly, because this is a pretty classy hotel, but they're still staring, because this is Jensen Ackles after all.

“God, yes,” says Jensen, with feeling. He grins at Jared in a way that pretty much destroys Jared's ability to think straight (ha!) or walk properly, and Jared is very nearly sure that there's chemistry and sparkage and mutual feelings of lust. Nearly. And then out of nowhere a stray thought saunters across his mind and he freezes.

“Fuck! Fuck fuck fuckity fuck!”

Jensen lifts an eyebrow. “So not beer then? Tequila?”

“No, I mean – sorry, I just – it's my sister's birthday. And, yeah, I actually am that much of a loser, I wasn't thinking about – but it's the sixth today, isn't it?” Jensen nods. “Crap. We're – there's a dinner party, kind of thing, and I – damn. Sorry.” Because obviously God hates him.

Jensen shrugs. “Can I come?”

Jared's jaw drops. “Can you - you want to come to my sister's birthday party?”

“Well, if that's okay. Yeah. Why not?”

Jared pinches the back of his hand hard, and doesn't wake up. Or feel no pain. Or whatever the hell that's supposed to prove. “Seriously?”

Jensen's blushing very slightly now, high on his cheekbones. He ducks his head. “Not if it's weird. Is it weird? It is kind of weird, isn't it?” He glances back towards the elevator. “Just – I've really had enough of all that shit. It's been a pretty intense eight months, and I am so so ready to just escape, you know? Find somewhere quiet? But it's all publicity publicity publicity now - and that's part of the job, I mean, I know that's the deal. It's just – it's not the part I love, you know? This whole being-product part of it is – it's not the best part.” He shrugs, and glances up at Jared through his eyelashes. “I though we could talk comics, drink some beer, not mention the damn movie. Just for one evening, yeah?”

“Hey, if you want to come to my sister's birthday and make me THE best big brother ever, and make every present I ever give her for the rest of her life pale in comparison – that's fine by me. Liza will be over the moon.”

“Okay then,” says Jensen, and Jared still really, really wants to kiss him. Damn.

* * *

It's kind of awkward at first; there's this whole prickly tension thing that might be sexual (well, okay, on Jared's side it's very definitely sexual, but he's still not sure whether Jensen wants to jump his bones, or is just having some kind of Hollywood star breakdown thing where he goes and hangs out with the little people in an effort to keep things real) and there's the whole only-known-each-other-for-five-minutes thing, but then Jensen asks him what he thinks about The Blackest Night crossover storyline, and then it's comics comics comics with a couple of detours into TV shows and books and movies, but mostly comics. And, holy crap, Jensen Ackles is actually a bona fide comic book geek. Which is like all Jared's birthdays coming at once. Not that they agree on everything – but then, that would get boring, and Jared can't remember the last time he got to have a spirited discussion (or, well, okay, argument) about Crisis on Infinite Earths with somebody he really, really wanted to fuck. It's intoxicating, and it's the best of all possible ice-breakers, and by the time they get to Tom and Kristin's place Jared feels like he's known this guy for years, and is even managing to forget for whole minutes at a time that the hot guy he's arguing with is more famous than God.

And straight. Yeah. He keeps forgetting about the straight thing. Because, dear God in heaven, if there's ever been anyone he could fall for faster or harder, Jared can't imagine them.

Jared's getting maybe a little ranty about how The Green Lantern is a total ripoff of Edward E Smith's 'Lensmen' stories, and then Jensen chimes in to point out that the character 'Arisia' was an homage to Smith's Arisians, and Jared has never wanted to fuck another person more in his entire life. And Jensen's laughing at him, eyes sparkling and smile open and relaxed and just totally irresistible as they stand on the doorstep, and Jared can feel himself starting to sway down towards that beautiful, beautiful mouth like it's the most natural thing in the world – when the door opens, and the voice in the back of his head starts yelling “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger” and he remembers that his new found friend is straight.

Probably straight.

Officially, straight.

Right. Straight. Okay then.

* * *

 

Alexis answers the door, dainty and perfect and beautiful as ever, but she's glancing back in the direction of the kitchen with a nervous expression as she does so. “Come in, come in – bit of a cooking crisis going on – think we might have to get pizza delivered,” she says, barely glancing at Jared as she hurries back to the kitchen. There's a definite smell of burning. Jensen's mouth twitches again, and it's these little half-suppressed grins that kill Jared even more than the bright, wide, iconic, million-dollar smile he's seen so often on the silver screen. This one feels real, and private, and it makes Jared want to kiss the corner of his mouth and then try to kiss all of his freckles, and then...

Oh, dear God, he is in so much trouble. He really is in so much trouble.

They follow Alexis into the kitchen, and find Milo peering worriedly at a pot on the stove just as the smoke alarm goes off.

“Shit shit shit shit shit!” exclaims Alexis, flapping at the pot and then waving a towel uselessly up at the smoke alarm.

Jared grins. “Why didn't you stick with barbecue? You're awesome at barbecue!”

Milo pulls a face. “Liza wanted Thai food. It's her birthday, so – but it's the first time we've made it, and, er, we got a bit distracted.” His mouth is smeared with the rich cherry colour of Alexis's lipstick, which does a pretty clear job of explaining what he means by distracted. Jared smacks the back of his head and then pulls a chair over, stands on top of it and pokes the smoke alarm into submission while Alexis opens the window. Milo starts pouring more glasses of wine.

“Sorry,” says Alexis, dimpling beautifully, and then she sets eyes on Jensen properly and her eyes widen. “My God, you look just like...”

“Alexis, this is Jensen,” says Jared, quickly, trying to will everybody to be cool.

“Oh!” says Alexis, her eyes still huge. She tucks a stray strand of glossy black hair behind her ear and folds her small hand over Milo's large one, and seems at a loss for anything to say.

“Jensen?” repeats Milo, his eyes on the glass in front of him. “Ha! What kind of name is that? Like Jensen Ack...” Milo's still pouring the wine, but his mouth has fallen open and he's staring at Jensen like he's Captain Kirk. The glass fills up to the brim and the wine keeps on pouring.

“Milo,” says Jared, pointedly, and Milo jumps, and puts the bottle down again.

“Shit! Sorry, I just – ha – sorry. Um. Hi, Jensen. Ackles. In my kitchen. Obviously.” He nods. “Okay. Cool.” There's a flaily, speechless little moment while Milo and Alexis exchange huge-eyed looks and then look from Jared to Jensen again. Milo finally drags his gaze back to Jared. “So, what, Brad Pitt turned you down?”

“Yeah, he was busy with your momma, you jerk,” says Jared, affectionately. “Can we have some of that wine, or are you just pouring it on the table?”

And that's the ice broken, and then they're passing out glasses and Jared feels like he's glowing.

When Liza arrives, she takes one look at Jensen and screams. Jared watches Jensen flinch back a little, and watches his face go all shuttered and defensive, like he thinks she's maybe going to jump on him right there in the kitchen – and, in fairness, knowing Liza, this does remain a possibility. But it makes Jared suddenly remember again how different their lives are, and how totally weird it must be to have people screaming at you and touching you and invading your personal space when you're just picking stuff up in Trader Joe's, or trying to walk your dog or whatever.

“Oh my fucking God, Jensen fucking Ackles!” yells Liza, when she's finished screaming.

“My middle name's Ross, actually,” Jensen says, mildly, and Liza screams again.

“Jensen Motherfucking Ackles!” She flails at him for a moment, and then pinches his cheek, and then screams again, and then jumps on Jared and hugs him like she's climbing a tree. “You are the best brother in the entire history of the planet Earth!

“You do realise that you don't get to unwrap him, right? Or keep him?” says Jared, looking at her sternly, and she laughs.

“Jay – you brought Jensen Ackles to my birthday party. You win at life.” She looks back at Jensen with the same look that she got when their Mom bought her a pink Barbie Cadillac for her eighth birthday. “No, I win at life. Oh my God, you're so pretty! Are you on Facebook? Will you be my Facebook friend? Go on, say yes. Oh my God. Jensen Ackles!

“Okay, now you're being scary,” says Jared, fondly, and he pulls her over towards the wine. “Sorry, she was actually raised by howler monkeys,” he says over his shoulder, apologetically. “We've tried to teach her our human ways and give her social skills, but it's a losing battle.”

“Shut it, Sasquatch,” Liza says, happily, grabbing an empty glass and pouring herself a slug of Merlot. “Jensen and I are clearly destined to be together. This is kismet.” She beams at them both, and Jensen swallows. “Destiny! Do you believe in destiny?”

“I believe in wine,” says Jensen, earnestly, holding out his empty glass and glancing pointedly at the bottle in her hand.

“Oh my God, he's funny too! Please can I keep him? Please? It's my birthday!”

“No, you cannot keep him,” says Jared, trying not to laugh. “Also, right now the poor guy's trying to figure out if you're charmingly eccentric or a crazy bunny boiler. Breathe.”

“Oh, I'd never boil a bunny,” Liza says, looking rather appalled. Her eyes narrow. “I'd boil a lobster, though. Even though it's kind of evil, cooking them while they're alive, and they make that screaming noise. They're so delicious!”

“Um,” says Jensen. “Seriously - more wine? Please?”

Jared takes pity on him, and pulls the bottle out of Liza's hand and tops up Jensen's glass. “You okay?” he asks, quietly, his eyes fixed on Jensen's, and Jensen flashes that bright movie star smile, which is lovely as all get out, and tells you absolutely nothing except that the guy's a good actor.

“Sure,” he says, lifting his glass.

“Because we can leave, if you're not comfortable. Liza's just being Liza, and I'm almost certain she won't try to pin you to the wall or grope your ass. Probably. But if you're feeling weird, honest, you don't have to stay.”

“Shut the fuck up, Jared!” exclaims Liza, punching his arm. “I have social skills! I don't go groping strangers' asses! Usually!” She beams at Jensen. “Not that you're a stranger, really.”

Jensen looks apologetic. “Well, I kind of am, you know,” he says, and she waves her hand.

“Oh, please – I've seen all your movies! And that TV show, what was it called - All Hell Breaks Loose, where you were the werewolf bounty hunter in love with a reluctant succubus – God, I loved that show! With whatshername, that English chick...”

“Caroline Chikezie,” Jared and Jensen say simultaneously, and their eyes meet. Jensen grins properly.

“I can't believe Fox cancelled it before the end of the first season,” Liza adds. “Idiots. Bet they're kicking themselves now.”

“Well, it was sort of a blessing in disguise, really,” says Jensen, politely, and Jared gets the feeling that he's had this conversation before, an awful lot of times, and feels a sort of tightening in his chest.

“Yeah – 'cause that was when you got offered the part in the Tarantino movie, right?”

'Guts'. Yeah,” says Jensen. “I was very lucky.”

“Lucky schmucky – you rocked in that movie! I've seen it, like, a zillion times! And Good Omens - oh my God, your British accent was just to die for! To die for! You were so cute in that, with the glasses, and the little cardigans and the cups of tea, and then the bit when you got your wings out - God I nearly died! That's totally Jared's favourite, you know – he watched it so many times the DVD broke and he had to buy a new one.”

Jensen shoots a glance over at him that's half-amused, half-something else. “Shut up,” Jared says, grinning through gritted teeth and trying not to think about how painfully hot Jensen had been as Aziraphale. Jensen's eyes are definitely twinkling as he looks over at Jared, and Jared thinks it's probably a good thing that he doesn't know how many times Jared's jerked off to that movie. Which is pathetic, 'cause it's not even like there's any skin shown, not even any shirtlessness! But the accent, and the glasses, and awkwardness, and the sheer wide-eyed ravishable adorability – God. In some ways Jared likes it even more than the Almodovar film where Jensen plays a Jesuit priest having a spiritual crisis and becoming a gigolo. In some ways. In other ways, of course, that whole oiled-up-naked-skin thing that Jensen had going on in Love for Sale was pretty fucking difficult to top...

...Damn. Really not the best train of thought if a person wants to avoid really obvious erections. Damn.

“See, we're totally not strangers,” says Liza, beaming at him. “I know all about you!”

Jensen bites his bottom lip in a way that does nothing to help quell Jared's hard-on, and then looks apologetically over at Liza through his eyelashes. “Hmmm. But, you know, we still are kind of strangers, really. Because that's not really me, at work – that's just my job. And I don't know anything about you at all, except that you're Jared's sister, and he loves you, and he left your birthday present in his apartment because he's a gigantic dork.”

Liza's eyes widen, and she turns to gape at Jared. “You got me a present? Other than bringing Jensen Fucking Ackles to my birthday party?”

Jared nods. “It's going to be kind of a let-down, I think. After the whole 'Jensen Fucking Ackles' thing.”

“Honestly, my middle name really is Ross,” Jensen says, mildly, and Jared punches him in the arm, and then wonders what the hell he's thinking. But the smile Jensen gives him makes his breath catch in his throat. And that's when the doorbell goes again.

“That'll be Keiko,” says Alexis, darting off to answer the door. “I hope she remembered to bring the cake.”

“Cake! Yay!” says Liza, gleefully, bounding after her.

Jared's finding it really hard not to think of Jensen as an oiled-up former Jesuit priest right now. God. He's seen the guy's ass on TV. And it's a really fantastic ass. He hit pause and appreciated it at length, in the privacy of his room.

God. He's blushing, and Jensen's watching him with one eyebrow raised, and this is just wildly inappropriate, isn't it? But - God.

“Sorry, sorry – traffic like you wouldn't believe, and I was stuck in the office for ages because the system crashed and my spreadsheets were all to hell. Happy birthday, Liza! Careful! Don't crush the cake, Birthday Girl!”

Keiko's still wearing her suit, and she looks rumpled and distracted as ever. She kind of hates her job, Jared knows, which is pretty depressing, especially since she seems to spend all the hours God sends over at Gilmore Industries, frantically trying to do whatever it is she does.

“Aw, Keiko, you're the best! You're my very favourite girl!” says Liza, hugging her tightly while Keiko holds the cake out of the way and tries not to look delighted. Jared feels a familiar little twinge of sympathy for the girl: she's been carrying a torch for Jared's little sister for years and years and years now, and Liza's still just as oblivious as ever.

“Umph – that's – careful of the cake, Liza! I mean it! It's cupcakes, and – oh!” Liza kisses her on the lips, once, quick and affectionate and meaningless, and then lets go and steps back, and doesn't see Keiko nearly drop the cake box.

Liza winks at Jensen. “But you're definitely my favourite boy,” she says, blowing him a kiss. Keiko blinks, and looks puzzled, then indignant, and then just sad.

“Where should I put the cake box, then?” she asks Alexis.

* * *

“So what is it that you do?” Keiko asks Jensen. Jared's helping carry plates into the dining room, and he nearly trips over the rug when he overhears this opening gambit. He glances back, and Jensen looks kind of amused, and a little less defensive.

“I'm an actor,” he says, in that unbelievably sexy tone.

“An actor?” says Keiko, with an indulgent smile in her voice. “That's great. My cousin's an actor, or, well, you know, trying to be. She moved out to LA a few years ago, and she's gotten some pretty good parts – been in several TV ads, and gotten a couple of recurring roles on things. She was in one episode of Grey's Anatomy, apparently, although her scene got cut in the end, which was a shame. She does a lot of waiting tables in between gigs. It's a hard life. And the pay's shocking!” she adds, indignantly.

Jared returns to the kitchen for more plates, and Jensen catches his eye and his mouth twitches in that little half-smile again.

“Well, yes,” says Jensen. “It can be, definitely.”

“I'm an accountant, myself,” says Keiko, with a modest little shrug, like she feels bad for lording it over Jensen. “I keep telling Erika that she's a bright girl, and she shouldn't have to subsist on a pittance. It's shameful.” She takes another sip of her wine. “So, is it, what, is it TV that you work in, or theatre? I did a little community theatre when I was younger, actually. Played Lady Macbeth!”

“Mostly movies,” says Jensen seriously, but Jared thinks he's biting his cheek. “I'm going to be in a production of Hamlet later this year.”

“Oh, that's brilliant! Who are you playing?”

“Well. Hamlet, actually.”

“The Dane himself! That's terrific! And you're managing to live on what you make, then?”

“I get by okay,” agrees Jensen. “I've been very lucky.”

“Damn straight. God, when I heard what my cousin Erika was making – well, it's criminal, that's what it is. Television is, anyway. I don't know about movies. What did you get paid for your last movie?”

“Um. Well, thirty million dollars, actually,” says Jensen, looking apologetic.

Keiko chokes on her wine, and there's a brief interval where Jensen has to pound her on the back. “Thirty - well – well that's, yes. That's really quite good, isn't it?” Keiko says, weakly.

“I've been very lucky,” Jensen says again, modestly.

* * *

“Oh my God, are you fucking Jensen Ackles?” Milo demands, after Jensen has asked where the bathroom is and Liza has grabbed his hand and danced off to show him the way.

“No!” says Jared, flushing hotly. “He's straight. And I've only just met him. And he's straight.”

“Jensen Ackles?” asks Keiko, blinking. “Is that – that wasn't – oh my God.”

“You brought him to your sister's birthday party,” says Alexis, and Milo nods. “That's – I mean, it's awesome, and he's lovely, quite apart from being insanely hot, and insanely famous, but, seriously, Jay – how is this not a date?”

“Oh my God,” says Keiko again, smacking her forehead. “I am an idiot. He's Jensen Ackles.”

“It's a platonic local guide kind of thing,” says Jared. “He wanted to – it was just – okay, actually, I have no idea. But I think he's straight, right? That's the official line? And we're not – I mean, nothing's happened.”

“Megastars do not decide to become BFFs with comic book geeks just because they like their personalities, Jay,” says Milo. “He's hot for you. Must be.”

“Can we – can we not do this?” Jared's torn, because he kind of does want to have exactly this conversation, and wants someone to tell him whether he would be completely inappropriate and insane to shove Jensen up against a wall and start sucking on that plump bottom lip like his life depended on it. But at the same time, he feels a little like he's letting Jensen down. Letting them both down. Because he's trying not to be one of the idiots who stares and asks for autographs and is generally intrusive and dick-like. 'Cause Jensen gets enough of that. And he really, really likes Jensen.

Milo and Alexis look at him, and then at each other, and then they kind of shrug helplessly.

“Okay,” says Milo, looking dubious. “But – it's just, y'know – I'm happy for you, Jay. I think. 'Cause he seems to really dig you, and it's been – well, it's been kind of a while, you know?”

“Yes, fine, shut up, we're not talking about my love life, thank you.”

“It's just that we love you, Jay,” says Alexis, reaching up and ruffling his hair. “We want to see you with somebody. Somebody awesome.”

“And hot,” says Milo.

“And hot,” agrees Alexis.

“Yes, fine, I am a loser. I suck at one night stands...”

“That just means you're doing it right – badoom doom ching,” interrupts Milo, waving his hands in an invisible drum roll.

“Shut up, with your shitty puns! I'm having a moment! Anyway - I guess I've got a sort of once-bitten-twice-shy thing going on. Although it's maybe more once-bitten-twice-invested-in-a-concrete-bunker-with-electric-fences-and-razor-wire-and-scud-missiles.”

Milo shakes his head. “Seriously – you're never going to get laid with that attitude.”

Jared sighs. “Tell me about it.” He pulls a face. “The thing is, getting laid is easy enough, it's just – I mean, sex is great, obviously, but it gets kind of shitty when you're fucking people you don't even like, you know? Picking up guys in bars - I mean, I'd actually rather jerk off.”

“T M of the I, my friend,” says Keiko.

“More wine?” asks Milo.

“God, yes.”

* * *

It's after midnight when they leave, and Jared feels like he's walking on air. Jensen kisses Alexis on the cheek, and she blushes crimson.

“Thank you,” he says simply, smiling at her – and, okay, yes, he's an actor, but you can understand why he made 30 million on his last movie, because the charm is almost a physical presence in the room.

“Not at all,” says Alexis, flustered.

Milo grins up at him, and Jensen reaches down to shake his hand. “You have a lovely home and a beautiful wife. You're a very lucky man,” he says, and Milo tugs him down a little closer.

“I'll wait until you've gone to tell her you're a vegetarian,” Milo whispers.

“What?” exclaims Alexis, horrified. “Oh, God!”

“The curry was lovely,” Jensen assures her, and Jared has to physically prevent himself from hugging the guy.

“Oh, God!” she says again, faintly.

“Thank you for coming to my birthday party,” says Liza, looking at Jensen with huge, sad, dewy eyes, like he's a magical unicorn about to trot out of her life forever. “Can I hug you? Please? In a nonstalkery way? Now that we're going to be Facebook friends? And if I promise not to grope your ass?”

Jensen makes a helpless little snort of laughter, and pulls her into a hug, and then kisses her on the mouth. “Happy birthday, Liza,” he says, and then leaves her speechless.

“I really admire your work,” says Keiko, with dignity, shaking Jensen's hand. “I thought 'The Matrix' was brilliant.”

“Me too,” says Jensen. “Although that was, you know, Keanu. Not me. But it was a great movie.”

“Oh,” says Keiko, faintly. “Right. Yes. Sorry. I meant that other one. That you were in. With the guns.”

“Okay,” says Jensen, smiling. “It was nice meeting you, Keiko. Great cupcakes.”

“G'night, y'all,” says Jared, cheerily. Milo and Alexis and Keiko all wave. Liza appears to have been turned to stone, but Jared's fairly sure she'll get over it.

A moment after the door closes behind them, they hear the sound of four loud screams coming through the door. Jensen's mouth twitches, and he glances sideways up at Jared.

“They do that every time I leave the house,” he says. “It's a ritual.” Jensen nods, his mouth still twitching. “God, sorry – this wasn't what you wanted to do at all, was it? God. Sorry. I am a really shitty local guide. We should have gone and done the Riverwalk, and visited some of the galleries and clubs and things, really. Sorry.”

“Jay,” says Jensen, his mouth quirking and his eyes shadowed. “Shut up.”

“Oh. Okay,” says Jared.

“They're nice. I had a good time.”

“Oh. You did? Clearly you're a freak.” Jared replays that sentence. “In a good way. That came out – not so complimentary. Um.”

“And you said Liza was the one with poor social skills.”

“Indeed. I taught her everything she knows.”

“Including that trick with the cherry stem?”

“Hell yes,” says Jared, before he can think better of it. “I can kick her ass at that game. I have mad skills.” And then he flushes hotly, and wishes that people would wear badges that explained their sexual preferences, and whether or not they really were interested in dating you. Or having hot, meaningless sex with you, if dating wasn't on the cards. “Um,” he says, and darts a nervous glance sideways. Jensen's studying him with an expression that he has no idea how to interpret, but really hopes might mean 'Let's have sex'.

“Why was he in a wheelchair?” Jensen says, instead.

“Car accident, eighteen months ago,” says Jared, feeling that horrified little twist in his guts again.

“That sucks.”

“It does. It really, really does.” There's a little pause. “I suppose you need to go back to the hotel?” he asks, uncertainly. “Early morning, yeah? Busy busy busy with all the promotion stuff?”

Jensen just looks at him for a long moment. “Screw that,” he says, cheerfully. “What about this Riverwalk. Can we go now?”

Jared blinks at him. “It's midnight.”

“Do you turn into a pumpkin at midnight?” asks Jensen, and his voice is rough and smoky and pretty damned flirtatious. “Or into some other interesting root vegetable?”

Jared gapes. “I – no – I - okay. Riverwalk. Cool.”

* * *

“It's beautiful here,” says Jensen, and Jared can't disagree. Although maybe he's mostly been looking at the guy next to him, rather than out over the river.

“Course, people do get robbed down here late at night,” Jared adds. “Just so you know.”

“I know Muay Thai, and you're built like Superman's hotter younger brother,” says Jensen, sounding distinctly amused. “I think we'll be okay.”

They walk on in silence for several moments, while Jared's brain runs around and around like a mouse on a wheel, frantically replaying that bit about him being hot.

“Um,” he says, and tries to think how to ask about the gay thing without actually asking about the gay thing. They keep walking. He shoots sidelong glances at Jensen, and cannot believe how perfect his profile is. Dear God. Like a marble statue. Like a freaking superhero. “So,” he says, his voice a little scratchy. “Chuck, Fuck or Marry: Catwoman, Wonder Woman, and Nightwing.”

There's a very prickly silence. “Chuck Wonder Woman; fuck Cat Woman; marry Nightwing,” Jensen says, at last, and his voice is low and tentative.

“Oh, thank you Jesus,” breathes Jared, and he yanks Jensen into a kiss. He's kind of terrified that he's going to get punched, and that this weirdly perfect night is going to go crashing down into farce, but instead he finds himself with six feet of hot, muscular movie star wrapped around him, and a hand gripping his ass, and a tongue in his mouth, and apparently God does love him after all, because this is perfect.

It's just a kiss. It's not like they're going to break down and start having sex in public. But, holy mother of God, it's one hell of a kiss, and Jared's rock hard in his pants, and he can feel Jensen's erection rocking against his hip, and he's got both his hands on Jensen's ass, cupping it, fingers curling underneath the perfect curve and digging in, and Jensen's sucking on his tongue and then licking into his mouth all hot and hungry and urgent, and making these extraordinarily sexy little noises as he grinds up close. “Come back to the hotel?” Jensen says, his voice rough and urgent.

“Hell yes,” says Jared, and kisses him some more.

* * *

 

It's not exactly romantic, having to let Jensen go into the hotel and then wait ten minutes before striding purposefully (but in a clearly-nothing-to-do-with-that-completely-heterosexual-film-star-who-came-in-ten-minutes-ago-no-siree-bob kind of way) into the lobby himself. But Jared gets it, and he can't blame the guy. The movie industry is pretty damn harsh, and being openly gay – or bi – in Hollywood is taking one hell of a risk. There's a sense of hilarity bubbling up inside him as he rides the elevator up to Jensen's floor, like he's pulling off some kind of Ocean's Eleven style con, and when he knocks on Jensen's door he's grinning like an idiot.

This time it's Jensen that answers the door, not Samantha – and, damn, he's beautiful. Which seems like kind of an emasculating thing to say about a guy, but, seriously – beautiful. And hot, and fuckable, and built, and every inch a guy – but still, beautiful. It really is the only word.

“Hi,” says Jared, going suddenly half-way shy, and seeing Jensen as the out-of-reach freaking movie star that he is. Jesus. This is crazy, is what it is. But then Jensen's eyes meet his, and there's that amazing expression in them, and that spark of electricity that makes his pulse race and his toes curl and his dick stand up and take notice, and Jared forgets about the celebrity thing altogether. Jensen's eyes go dark, and he reaches forward, grabs a fistful of Jared's shirt, jerks him into the room and slams the door behind him, and then they're making out like teenagers, rutting together up against the door, breath coming in ragged gasps, half-laughing, wild for the touch and taste of one another.

“Do you have – any – idea – how long I've been – wanting – to do this?” Jensen breathes into the skin of his throat, between kisses. Jared shudders. “Came so close to kissing you in your apartment – fuck, even right here in the damn suite, with Sam and all the goddamn media vultures just a few feet away, and all I could think of was how much I wanted to get you naked.”

“Umph,” says Jared, articulately, and Jensen laughs. It's a bright, clear, unguarded sound, and it makes Jared grab the collar of his shirt and haul him in closer, tighter, and kiss him right back, thinking about the number of times he's ogled Jensen Ackles' ass on his TV screen, and feeling the urge to laugh or shout or something right now, like he's on the very edge of something extraordinary. Like he's somehow inside a movie himself, now, caught up in Jensen's glamour. Like he's something pretty spectacular himself. Mild mannered Clark Kent shedding his glasses and turning into Superman.

“Bedroom?” he mutters, his voice hoarse against Jensen's skin.

“Bedroom,” agrees Jensen, twining his fingers with Jared's. “Right the hell now.”

* * *

And, okay, obviously he's thought about this before, in quite a lot of detail, but when he's fantasised about fucking Jensen Ackles it's always been – different. In Jared's jerkoff fantasies, everything is always smooth and suave and filthily perfect, and Jensen is a total stud, and it's all sharp-edged pleasure and beads of sweat glistening on flushed skin, and no consequences, and no messy emotions. It's pure lust, guilt-free, consequence-free, and it's awesome, no question.

But the reality isn't like that, because Jared's having sex with an actual guy, not a flawless sexbot avatar of sensitive, butt-kicking masculinity. 'Cause that guy, the one on the screen, doesn't actually exist. He's this gorgeous fiction made by the script writers and the directors and the camera guys and the lighting guys, and by the PR people and the journalists – and by one Jensen Ross Ackles, sure. Mostly him. But it's still not real. 'Cause that guy, the one Jared's fantasised about before, that guy doesn't get morning breath, or fumble over unfastening his buttons, or stub his toe, or fart, or burn the toast, or stay up late at night worrying about stuff, or do all the stupid embarrassing human things that regular people actually do. That guy's an escape from reality, and he doesn't actually exist. And Jared's good with that, Jared's thrilled about that, because the real guy? The guy he's going to bed with right now? Who looked kind of scared and flinchy for a split second when Liza came bounding towards him like an amorous puppy, and who quietly ate his green chicken curry rather than making Alexis feel awkward about having an unexpected vegetarian showing up, and who inexplicably likes Scott Summers more than Logan, and who got hiccups after downing a whole glass of wine in one go?

That guy?

Jared doesn't just want to fuck that guy's brains out. Jared wants to fuck his brains out, and then wake up with him, and have breakfast with him, and hang out with him. And that's kind of terrifying, actually, but there isn't a damned thing that Jared can do about it, because he's never been great at half-measures, and right now he's falling for Jensen Ross Ackles - the real one, the imperfect one, the difficult one, the one who's got a career and a load of emotional baggage and a secret life and a highly inconvenient girlfriend, damn it, and who absolutely isn't going to stay in Jared's life - harder than he's fallen for anyone pretty much ever. He knows that this is basically a one-night stand that might, if he's lucky, spread over a couple of nights. Absolutely no point at all in wanting anything more. So he's pretty sure that this is going to end up with him feeling like shit, eventually – but there's no way on earth that he can just walk out the door and not do this. Even though he knows that, as good ideas go, it's right up there with the Trojans saying: “Hey, let's bring that mysterious wooden horse inside our fortified city! What could go wrong?”

So it isn't like the fantasies, because he knows that there will be consequences. Their clothes don't just melt away magically: there's fumble-fingered fiddling with buttons and zippers and shoelaces, all while trying desperately to keep hold of each other, and to keep on kissing. There's warmth and pressure and the huff of startled laughter, and there are little touches, featherlight and scrabbly-urgent, while they're tugging at jeans and pulling off socks, like they're both afraid that the other one will vanish into thin air, somehow, if they're not touching.

And the kissing – damn. Damn. Jared could do this all day. This is just perfect, this hot, urgent slide of tongues, this warmth and wetness, the sharp sting of teeth tugging at his bottom lip and the warm press of a mouth curving into a smile against his skin. All this while they're getting undressed, clumsy and eager and intoxicated by desire.

And then they're both blessedly naked, and Jared's on top of this painfully beautiful, smart, fascinating guy who's the spitting image of that hotass movie star Jensen Ackles, and they're belly to belly, thighs tangled, Jared's hands locked tight around Jensen's wrists, clamping them down into the pillow while he fucks his tongue deep into Jensen's mouth and thinks about how Jensen's going to look when he comes. And the stifled moans that Jensen makes as Jared kisses him, the little sounds that vibrate through Jared's tongue, make him feel wild. God, he wants to bite down hard, wants to draw blood and leave bruises, wants to mark Jensen so that he'll remember Jared's mouth and his hands for days afterwards, whenever he gets dressed, whenever he looks in a mirror...

“Gonna fuck you, Jen,” he says, his voice rough and husky. And of course it's possible that Jensen's a pitcher, not a catcher – but Jared doesn't think so. Or not exclusively so, at least. He's pretty sure that Jensen wants to get ridden hard and fast and put away wet. He'd put money on it. “That what you want?” he murmurs, trailing biting kisses down over Jensen's chest and sucking one small, flat nipple into his mouth, tugging on it with his teeth and then sucking on it so hard that his cheeks hollow out and Jensen squirms and gasps and makes these desperate hitching noises under him.

“Yeah!” he says, brokenly, his hips bucking up off the bed, his cock sliding hot and sticky against Jared's belly. “Fuck, yeah, Jay. Do it."

“Thought so,” Jared says, smiling, teeth grazing Jensen's skin as he slides over to the other nipple and goes to work over there, making Jensen writhe and moan some more. “God, you're lovely,” he murmurs into Jensen's skin. “You're really, really lovely.” He can taste the salt on Jensen's skin, can smell the ghost of cologne and a hint of the sourness of sweat, and the musk of arousal. He keeps on licking, scribbling patterns with the point of his tongue, scraping his teeth across Jensen's chest and pausing occasionally to suck at the skin almost hard enough to mark it, (but only almost, because he hasn't forgotten that there are photo shoots to worry about, and God knows what else, and that this little slice of time is a shared secret. That Jensen is trusting Jared not to hurt him, in a whole array of ways) until he feels his chin bump into the slick head of Jensen's cock, and gives a little gust of laughter low in his chest at the sound Jensen makes then.

“More,” Jensen mutters, desperate, grinding up against him, and Jared releases his hold on the guy's wrists and slides his body down the bed until he's perching in the splayed V of Jensen's thighs. Jared waits for a long moment, just watching, looking up at the stretch of smooth skin reddened by the pressure of his lips and teeth and tongue, looking further up at the line of Jensen's neck and the full red swell of his bitten lower lip, and then down again at the sweet hot curve of his cock pressing urgently into his belly, close enough to lick. Instead of licking, though, Jared tilts his head, and then blows very gently across Jensen's balls. “Stop fucking around, damn it!” Jensen gasps again. “Don't be such a fucking tease! Just – do it, already!”

“You're real pretty when you're begging, you know that?” Jared says, and licks a stripe across the muscle of Jensen's thigh – almost, but not quite, reaching his ass. Jensen squirms some more, irritably, and Jared gets a grip on his hips and pulls him closer. “Beg me,” he says, darting his tongue down to brush wetly, and with tantalising brevity, over the underside of Jensen's cock. “Ask me real nicely, Jen. Make it sweet.”

“Fuck, please, okay? Pretty please! Just – God, please, Jared! I need this. I really – uh – I – God, yeah! Like that!”

Jared's good at this, he knows. He's had a lot of practice, and this, right now, is like the culmination of all his previous forays into the joys of gay sex. He's going to take Jensen Ackles apart with his tongue. He's going to make him forget how to speak English. He brushes his closed mouth over the head of Jensen's cock and feels it twitching against him, feels it press against the seal of his lips, but for a little while Jared doesn't let them part. Instead he just brushes his mouth against the hot, silky skin, letting Jensen feel the solidity of his teeth pressing up behind his lips, loving the stifled whimpers that Jensen makes above him. And then he darts his tongue out again, quick and slick and flexible, and tongues at the slit, tasting the pre-come that's welling up.

“Please!” Jensen gasps, and Jared smiles, and starts to go to work licking and sucking in earnest along the shaft, before lifting his head up and sealing his mouth firmly and wetly around the crown. He's looking up through his bangs, and he can see Jensen looking down at him. Kind of an ungainly position, with his head bent up like that, but Jensen's face is flushed and his eyes are the darkest possible green, and he's biting his lip so hard it looks like he's on the brink of drawing blood. And that's when Jared opens his throat up and glides down in a practised move, swallowing Jensen's cock whole, feeling it push into his throat moving down and down until his nose bumps into Jensen's belly, and Jensen gives a shocked, wordless yell of pleasure, his eyes bulging and then fluttering closed, dark lashes curving down over the swell of his flushed cheeks.

It doesn't take all that long then, Jared's head bobbing frantically between the spread thighs, saliva and precome dribbling down over his chin, wet sliding and slurping noises mingling with Jensen's ragged breathing and his stifled groans. Jared keeps working his tongue over Jensen's cock and hollows out his cheeks and sucks for all he's worth, not letting up the pressure for a moment, stroking and licking and sliding, with his fingers wrapped around the base of the shaft, holding on, Jensen's hair bristling prickly-soft against his skin; and when he can feel Jensen finally starting to lose it, he swipes his fingers through the mess of spit and precome on his chin and pushes two of them inside Jensen, swift and hard, feeling the tight ring of muscle trying to resist and then shoving on in, deep, fingers crooked, until he finds the sweet spot hidden inside.

Jensen comes down his throat, gasping out Jared's name, and Jared keeps on sucking and licking while Jensen shudders and spends and shudders some more. He only moves when he can feel Jensen's oversensitized cock start to soften in his mouth, and then he lets himself eel up over Jensen's body, feeling the skin sliding against him, slick with sweat, and kisses Jensen hard, pushing the salty, bitter ejaculate back into Jensen's mouth. Jensen makes a startled noise underneath him and then their tongues are twining and Jensen's sucking on his tongue, chasing all the taste of himself out of Jared's mouth and swallowing it down.

“Holy – fucking hell, dude,” Jensen gasps, raggedly, voice wrecked. “Where did you learn – my God...”

Jared grins. “Told you I had mad skills,” he says, feeling forgivably smug.

Jensen flops back onto the pillow and closes his eyes, still shaking. “Fuck,” he says, hoarsely, and Jared has to kiss him again, because he's sprawling there all fucked-out and sticky and flushed, with his hair damp and sticking up in sweaty points, and he's just breathtaking.

“My turn,” Jared says, and he loves the look on Jensen's face then. Loves the way his breath hitches, and he bites his lip again, looking up at Jared through his damp eyelashes. “You got lube? Condoms?” Jared has some in his pocket, but his pocket's all the way over on the other side of the room with the rest of his clothes, so he figures it's worth asking. He kind of resents having to step away from Jensen's body for more than a second or two.

Astonishingly, Jensen actually looks kind of shy, and Jared has a disorienting and thoroughly filthy flash of Jensen Ackles on the silver screen, bespectacled and buttoned up, playing a prim little angel of the lord in a bookshop, and he has to close his eyes for a minute and remember how to breathe. Jesus. He's fucking Jensen Ackles. Somehow he'd kind of lost sight of that. But when he opens his eyes and looks down, it's not Jensen Ackles the movie star lying under him, looking flushed and used and unexpectedly sheepish. It's just Jensen. Jen. Who looks a lot like that guy on the silver screen, but is someone else entirely.

“Um,” he says, looking up at Jared. “Yeah, actually. In the drawer.” He nods at the bedside table, and Jared leans over and fishes out the appropriate supplies, and studies Jensen for a moment, feeling his mouth quirking into a smile.

“Jen, you lunatic – why are you looking at me like that? Be prepared – isn't that the boy scout motto, or something? Why are you blushing?”

“It's not – I just...” Jensen closes his eyes and then laughs at himself. “I don't do this. Normally. I never – I wouldn't normally have lube and condoms in my bedside drawer. I'm not that good a boyscout. I don't do this kind of thing. Normally. But I, um. Picked them up this morning. Just in case.”

Jared thinks about this. “Oh,” he says, after a moment, feeling his eyes go soft as he looks down at Jensen. Jensen looks away. “Jesus,” Jared breathes, and then he has to lean down and wrap his arms around the guy and just kiss the breath out of him for a bit. “You like me,” he says, after a while, half-way to giggling. “You really like me! You total girl!”

“Shut up. I just thought – I really wanted – oh, shut up,” mutters Jensen, so Jared kisses him some more.

“I'm going to do better than that, Jen,” he says, kissing one of the freckles on Jensen's cheek, and then another, and then five more. “C'mere.”

Half a minute later, after Jared's successfully manhandled Jensen into place, he leans back and appreciates the sight of Jensen laid out on the covers with his knees tucked under his chest and his ass sticking up in the air.

“If you're just waiting to take a photo, I will kill you,” says Jensen, after a pause.

“Well, I think it's your best side.”

“Bite me,” Jensen says, rather foolishly.

Jared grins, and leans closer. “Okay,” he says, licking a stripe down Jensen's spine with the flat of his tongue, sliding down into the crack of his ass and then abruptly changing focus and biting the warm curve of his buttock. When Jensen makes a protesting grunt into the pillow, he slaps his ass once, hard, and then bites him again. Jensen mutters curses into the bedclothes, muffled and hoarse, and Jared can't stop grinning as he spreads Jensen's cheeks and slides his tongue around his hole, teasing and flexing against it. The curses turn into something less coherent, and Jared makes his tongue into a hard point, and pushes inside.

“Fuck!” Jensen gasps, bucking up against him, but Jared's driving right now, hands firm around Jensen's hips, and he's licking and flicking and flexing and darting around inside with his wet tongue, making himself at home while Jensen quivers underneath him. “You – I - God!.”

Jared licks his way up over the curve of his ass again, pressing kisses into the dip at the base of his spine and up, higher, into the small of Jensen's back and beyond, to lick and kiss and bite at the nape of his neck for a moment, pinning him down and just holding him still like that, covering Jensen with his larger body like a heavy blanket and sliding his erection against the slippery crack of Jensen's ass. He can feel the guy shuddering underneath him, and wonders whether his cock's anywhere close to getting hard again yet. After a moment he leans around, rubbing his cheek against Jensen's and pressing his chin down on Jensen's shoulder, and whispers: “I'm going to fuck you now.” Then he pushes his fingers into Jensen's mouth. “Suck on these for me. Get them good and wet.” And Jensen makes a soft, choking sound, and does as he's told. “Good boy,” Jared says, and kisses the shell of his ear, and then he slides back down the bed and pushes one long finger into Jensen's ass. “You're so tight, Jen! Jesus. So hot and tight around me. Yeah. Like that,” he adds, as Jensen cants his hips and starts to push back. “Perfect. God, you're perfect.” He drops a meditative kiss on the warm skin of Jensen's back, tasting salt, and smiles. “I said this was your best side.” He tears open a sachet of lube clumsily with his teeth, and some drips down onto Jensen's spine. Jared squeezes it all there, and then slides his finger free again and rubs it through the little puddle, pushing it down slick and slippery over the curve of Jensen's ass and around his hole and then inside, two fingers this time, sliding in more easily with the lube. “So tight,” he murmurs again, imagining the pressure of that ring of muscle on his cock and shivering himself as he works on loosening Jensen up enough to let him inside. “Come on, baby. Work with me.”

“Don't – call – me – baby,” protests Jensen, breathlessly, twisting his head and trying to glare over his shoulder. “I'm not your – fucking - girlfriend!”

Jared laughs. “Yeah, you really are dude. Right now, you're totally my girlfriend. And you love it.” He pushes in again and twists his fingers just right, and Jensen gasps and bucks underneath him. “Yeah, baby,” he says, pointedly, grinning, and he kisses Jensen's shoulder. Jensen makes a helpless sound and flails blindly around with one hand, trying to hit him, and instead Jared tangles the fingers of his left hand with the fingers of Jensen's hand; weirdly this contact, fingers laced together, holding hands, feels almost more intimate at this moment than the press of muscle around the slippery fingers of Jared's other hand. “I've got you,” he murmurs, feeling something twist in his belly as Jensen's hand tightens around his own. He rubs the thin skin of Jensen's wrist with his thumb. “You're all right, Jen. I've got you.”

Only a few moments later his fingers smell of latex and he's got Jensen's ass spread open in front of him, slippery and pink, the opening looking impossibly tiny next to the head of his cock. Jared's breath hitches in his throat, and then he pushes forward. “Relax. Relax, Jen. I've got you, buddy. Gonna make it real good,” he promises, urgently, and Jensen's fingers squeeze his hand tighter. “God, you look so beautiful like this, stretching out around my cock. Jesus. Perfect. Just – perfect.” Okay, so maybe he's not master of the most lyrical of pillow talk, but what he lacks in originality he definitely makes up in sincerity, pressing urgent kisses onto Jensen's skin as he breaches his ass and thrusts on inside.

He tries to go slow at first, tries to give Jensen the chance to adjust, to get used to the burn and stretch of penetration; Jared knows he's not exactly under endowed, and it sounds like maybe Jensen doesn't do this very often. He's certainly tight enough for Jared to believe it. So – he tries to be careful and considerate. Until Jensen shoves back, impaling himself all the way, and makes the most filthily perfect half-pained, half-ecstatic kind of sound, and Jared groans and just goes for it. And then it's all stuttering hips and groans and gasps, thrusting deep and hard, trying to get the angle perfect so he hits Jensen's prostate every damn time and loving the helpless, fucked-out noises Jensen's making as Jared shoves him around, hands wrapped around Jensen's hip and thigh, riding him hard, his thick cock sliding against the slippery press of Jensen's tight muscles, making Jensen his.

“You are so totally my girlfriend. My pretty, pretty girlfriend,” he gasps, and Jensen just shudders and moans underneath him, scrabbling for his own cock. “Don't you dare,” Jared says, once he understands, and he slaps Jensen's hand away and reaches around. “Ready for another go? All right then.” And he starts to pump his slippery right hand on Jensen's erection as he thrusts with his hips. “Come for me, Jenny, while I'm fucking your sweet little ass. Come for me now.”

And Jensen does, half-sobbing his name into the pillow, the muscles of his ass fluttering tight around Jared's cock and bringing him off a moment later.

* * *

Watching a Jensen Ackles movie with Jensen Ackles is kind of a novelty, and as they line up for tickets, it takes all Jared's self control not to laugh out loud. Jensen's dressed in his own clothes, which are not at all like those of his character, and he's got a baseball cap pulled down over his face and dark glasses to boot, but as disguises go it's still pretty flimsy. Once they're in the theatre, though, none of that matters. Jared can't remember the last time he went to the movies as a date – normally he goes with Katie, or with one or other of his friends, and they share popcorn and snark quietly or explode into laughter and grab each other's hands in the dark. But this experience, of sitting in the dark next to somebody he likes, somebody he's had sex with and plans to have sex with again – this is a whole different kind of experience, and it reminds him of being a kid. It's kind of prickly-sweet, and hot, with all this tension and heightened awareness of one another's bodies, and it makes Jared want to giggle. And that's without the whole weirdness of having Jensen Ackles up on the screen in front of him, and Jensen Ackles here in the seat next to him – 'cause that, right there, is quite the headfuck. In a good way. In a thrilling way.

On the screen, Jensen is shirtlessly making out with Angelina Jolie, who has been very slowly unlaced from her great big Victorian dress and unwrapped from layer after layer of fabric, and is now wearing nothing but a creamy corset and stockings, and, no two ways about it, they look hot as hell together. Damn. Jared doesn't realise for the longest time that Jensen's watching him rather than the movie; it's only when Jensen leans in and licks his the shell of his ear with the pointed tip of his tongue, and whispers: “I could go down on you right now, you know. I could get down on my knees in front of you and swallow your big, beautiful cock. I could blow your fucking mind, Jay,” that Jared's attention is dragged right away from the movie. And, wow, hello, that would be his erection trying to fight its way out of his pants already.

“Jesus, Jen,” he gasps, his eyes fluttering shut for a moment. “You can't – you can't do that here.”

“No?” murmurs Jensen. They're in the back row, and the cinema is half-empty, but still... 'What about this, then? Can I do this?” And he licks his own palm sloppily, and then he's deftly unfastening Jared's fly and taking him in hand, and Jared has to bite down hard on his own knuckles to stifle the noises that are being wrung out of him. He comes, very soon after, with Jensen's mouth on his, swallowing his moans, and Jensen's hand on his cock, and somewhere along the way the bucket of popcorn gets knocked to the floor.

“Jesus!” Jared gasps, shakily, afterwards. “Jesus, are you trying to break me?”

“Yes,” says Jensen, watching his face. “Yeah, I guess I kind of am.”

Jared looks back at him, and makes a choked noise. “Okay, we're going to the john, because I need to suck your cock right now, and I'm sorry, I don't care if that means I miss the end of the film.”

“It's a shitty movie anyway,” says Jensen, his voice hoarse. “Needs more robots.”

* * *

This is about as indiscreet as it gets, but if Jensen doesn't care then Jared definitely doesn't either. They've got the door jammed shut, and Jensen's leaning back against it with his jeans and his boxer briefs puddled around his ankles while Jared grips hold of his hips and writes his name wetly on the underside of Jensen's cock using the tip of his tongue, and Jensen gasps and hisses and whimpers up above him like the sexiest soundtrack imaginable. And Jared kind of wishes he could film all this, and keep it just for him, so that when he's an old man he can watch this and know that once upon a time he had the most beautiful man in the world writhing and desperate under his tongue.

“You going to come for me, Jen?” he asks, sucking at the side of Jensen's erection and sliding his tongue over the hot skin. “You going to fuck my mouth with this beautiful dick and come down my throat?”

“Jesus,” Jensen gasps, squirming as he sucks the crown wetly into his mouth with a slurping noise and hollows out his cheeks. “Yes. Yes, fuck, yes.”

And he does.

* * *

 

“So who left who?”

They're sitting at a corner table in Le Reve. Jensen's got his back to the room, and Jared has the feeling that this is what he normally does, trying to keep a low profile, although it could very well just be that he doesn't want to be seen wining and dining another guy. Jared doesn't really mind so much either way.

He takes another mouthful of his coconut and banana cream pie and moans very softly at the creamy sweetness on his tongue. “She left me,” he says, without looking up.

“Why?”

“She saw through me.”

“That's not good.”

“No. Well, to be fair, she had a point. I truly did believe that I was in love with her, but – yeah. Maybe not so much, actually, in hindsight. I mean I loved her, because she's just perfect – beautiful, and smart, and funny, and talented, and – but – well.”

“No penis?” Jensen says, chasing a spoonful of raspberry and lemon curd roulade around the plate.

“No penis,” agrees Jared, grinning. “Which apparently matters more than I realised. I figured I was bi, and I am, I guess, to some extent, but – mostly not.”

“And that was a year ago?” says Jensen, watching him narrowly. Jared nods. “So why – I don't mean to be rude, but, seriously, why the hell are you still single? I mean, you're – Christ, Jay, you're...” he waves his hands around, gesturing with his spoon. “I mean, I wasn't kidding about looking like Superman's younger, hotter brother, you know? And you're nice with it, for God's sakes! And funny! And smart! And you run your own business! How the hell are you still single?”

Jared hunches his shoulders a little, feeling embarrassed. “Well,” he says, fiddling with his spoon. “It's not like I've been a monk. But I'm not – I mean, I've not met anybody I really like like. Until – well. Um.” He feels himself flushing, and reminds himself that Jensen Ackles is a multimillionaire on first-name terms with Will Smith and Julia Roberts, and that he's going to be flying out of Jared's life again any day now, and that if he goes around using words like “love” or “crush” or “relationship” then they're both going to be very embarrassed indeed. He's just the local guide. He doesn't let himself wonder whether Jensen always picks up a 'local guide' when he goes places, because the possibility makes his guts twist up inside. “D'you want a coffee?” he says instead, hurriedly, and glances up to find Jensen watching him with an unreadable expression that makes his mouth go kind of dry. Neither of them says anything for a long moment, and Jared can feel the weight of the words he carefully didn't say pressing down on them both. God. He's going to ruin it, and it's been so shockingly perfect, it really has. He doesn't want to ruin it.

“What, Ackles? You've got to be kidding me! He couldn't act his way out of a paper bag!” The conversation at the other table must have been going on for a while, but it's only now, as this tubby guy in his three piece suit raises his voice and laughs, that Jared registers what they're saying. He jumps a little, and sees Jensen's eyes go vulnerable for just a split second before he pulls on a mask of jaded amusement. God. Money's great, but this fame thing really really sucks, Jared thinks. He wants to say something reassuring, because, damn it, quite apart from the breathtaking hotness (and, yeah, okay, the breathtaking hotness is pretty difficult not to notice), Jensen is a good actor. An exceptionally good actor.

“Don't worry about it,” Jensen breathes, shaking his head. “I'm used to it. Comes with the territory.”

“No, no, that's not fair – he was good in that, what was it, that Spanish one,” says one of the tubby guy's friends. “'Sex for Sale', or whatever it was. I liked that.”

“That Thorn Birds porno shit? Didn't watch it. Hate things with subtitles.”

“It had Penelope Cruz in it. That's good enough for me. God, she's a hot little piece of ass. I'd tap that.”

“I thought he was supposed to be the hot little piece of ass in that movie?”

There's a burst of laughter, and Jensen winces. Jared feels his hand tightening into a fist under the table – because, okay, yes, sure, the movie was hot as hell, and he'd loved it for shallow and obvious reasons, because, hello, gay guy here – but it was also really brilliant, and truthful, and Jensen had totally deserved the Oscar it earned him. God, Jared had fucking wept the first time he saw that movie. And the second. It was a fantastic performance – a really brave, honest, moving, harrowing performance. Which, okay, yes, did deal with sex, and desire, as well as with faith and family – but it wasn't cheap. It wasn't trashy. It was beautiful.

“Ha! Well he was all oiled up like an emo rent boy, yeah, and he was butt naked a few times, so, yeah. Fair point. That's Almodovar for you.”

Jared blinks, and tries to tell Jensen with just his eyes that these people are full of shit, and that what he does means something. That he isn't just a glorified underwear model. He tells stories that really move people. Hell, Jensen's got to know that, right? But his eyes are kind of dull and his shoulders are hunched as he spoons another mouthful of desert off the plate, and Jared's pretty sure that it does hurt. He doesn't know how it could not.

“It's okay,” Jensen says quietly, glancing up and seeing his expression. He gives him that bright, brave movie star smile that Jared doesn't actually believe. “It's fine. I get this all the time. It's my job.”

“Okay, you know what? Nobody's job should include this,” says Jared, fiercely.

Jensen ducks his head. “Hey, I'm not going to start whining that my diamond-studded shoes are too tight. We're in a recession, and most actors are earning a pittance. I've been very, very lucky, and I know it. If I wasn't, these bozos wouldn't have ever heard of me. It's fine. Chill.”

“Fucking homo – see, that's what I'm talking about. Harrison Ford would not pull that Brokeback shit. Harrison Ford is a movie star.”

“Harrison Ford is a movie star.”

“Not like that talentless faggot douchebag Ackles. Jesus – have you seen him? He looks like a fucking woman!”

“No, I wouldn't go that far.”

“Like a woman, all pouty lips and fluttery eyelashes and perfect skin. Fucking fag. Jesus, these Hollywood stars, they don't know the meaning of real work. And he's supposed to be a hard man? Doing his own stunts? Don't make me laugh. I could kick his ass with both hands tied behind my back.”

“Oh, they're all faggots in Hollywood. I heard he slept his way to the top – used those cocksucking lips to get himself cast in the big roles. It's a disgrace, is what it is.”

“But isn't he with that hot girl – what's her name? Thingy?”

“Jessica Alba? Beard.”

“Holy shit, she's hot, though.”

“I'd totally hit that.”

“And she must be desperate for it by now, with her man running around sucking cock all day. If he touches her at all, I bet he fucks her up the ass. And I bet she'd take it, too – she's a dirty girl, you can tell. God. I bet she'd beg for it like a whore.”

“Hell, I bet he'd beg for it like a whore. Have you seen that mouth? I wouldn't mind. He must be pretty good at it by now, all the practice he's had. Actors are all whores.”

Jared doesn't have any idea that he's going to cause a scene until he's already on his feet, but he's been watching the light go out of Jensen's eyes, and watching his mouth settle into a calm little smile that gets tighter and tighter by the moment, and right now he pretty much wants to throw somebody out of a window.

“Where do you get off talking about somebody like that?” Jared snaps, glaring down at the four guys tucking into steaks and salads. “I mean, seriously, what the hell kind of person talks shit like this about a total stranger?”

“I'm sorry, who the fuck are you?”

“I'm – I'm the guy who's telling you to stop being such ignorant dicks,” says Jared. And, okay, he knows that this is the kind of conversation that people have all the time, and that he's had conversations just this unflattering with Chad, but right now he feels bitterly ashamed of himself. “The guy's an excellent actor, and you shouldn't be trash talking him like this. He didn't sleep his way to being worth thirty million a movie - nobody's that good a lay. He got there by working hard and being really awesome at his job, and you're just being jealous. It's – it's crass, and it's not fair.”

“Jesus, what are you, his boyfriend?” laughs the tubby guy, and Jared's stomach flips.

“No,” he says, suddenly breathless, because, really what the hell is he doing? Not only is he very much not Jensen's boyfriend, but Jensen probably wouldn't appreciate having any more scandal connected with him, and playing the jealous boyfriend is a sure-fire way to get the gossip flying. God, he's an idiot. “No, I'm not his boyfriend,” says Jared, and his voice cracks a little. “Although from the way that you keep going on and on about his mouth, I get the impression that you wish you were. Something you want to share with the class pal?”

“Fuck you!” snaps the tubby guy, looking furious. “I'm not a goddamn faggot!”

“I'm sorry,” says Jensen, abruptly stepping up behind him and treating the table to his megawatt smile. “You'll have to forgive my buddy here – he's kind of protective when people disparage his friends. How's everybody doing tonight?” They all gape at him. He waves at the waiter. “Hi there! I have to say, that was a truly delicious meal – the mushroom risotto really was to die for. Could I get the bill, please? For our table, and for everyone else's too? I'm feeling kind of generous.” He hands her his card, and glances down. “Except this one. I'd like to buy everyone dinner except these gentlemen here.” He glances up again and smiles. “And actually, add on a bottle of champagne for you guys in the kitchen – you're doing a great job, and I appreciate it. Used to be a waiter myself.” There's a stunned pause as he buttons up his jacket. Jared has to remind himself quite forcibly that this would not be a good moment to kiss him. It really wouldn't.

“Can I have your autograph?” asks the tubby guy in a small voice, blinking up at Jensen like he's never seen anything quite so beautiful in his entire life.

Jensen looks down at him and smiles, politely. “No. I really don't think so,” he says. “You know, my Momma always told me that if I didn't have anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all. So I'm going to bite my tongue.” He glances over at the rest of the table. “Still, I can't say I particularly appreciate the way you're talking about Jessica. She's a lady, and if she were here, she'd kick your asses herself. Since she isn't, I think I'll let you all reflect upon how completely beneath her notice you gentlemen would be, and how the closest you will ever get to hearing her, what was it you said?” He turns to look down at the tubby guy and leans down so close that his breath stirs the hair on the side of the guy's head, and says in a rough, low, appallingly sexy voice: “Beg for it like a whore? Wasn't that your phrase? The only time you'll get to hear that will be in your dreams, while you jerk off. Alone.”

And then he stands up, and the guy makes a pitiful little moaning sound and presses down on the telltale bulge in his crotch. “Wow, are you going to cream your pants?” Jensen asks, curiously, in a voice that sounds like something from a phone sex line. “Are you going to come in your pants just from the sound of my voice and the sight of my, what did you call them? My cocksucking lips? Really?” He licks his lips almost absent-mindedly, and glances down at the guy's crotch again, and then back at the guy's face. The tubby guy whimpers and clutches at himself, his eyes bulging wide as he looks from Jensen's mouth to his eyes and back to his mouth again, and then he makes a low choking noise, and Jensen takes a step back, his face and his whole body telegraphing surprise. “Wow. You're not gay, but just juiced your shorts over another guy in the middle of this lovely restaurant and in front of your three buddies. Interesting. You have issues, my friend. You have a lot of issues. Are you familiar with the phrase 'internalised homophobia'?”

The waiter appears with the check, and Jensen beams at her, and signs the receipt.

* * *

“I need you to fuck me into the mattress right now,” Jared gasps, raggedly, as they leave the restaurant. “Jesus fucking Christ that was hot. I'm so hard my dick feels like it might actually snap off. Jesus.”

Jensen laughs, and he looks almost embarrassed. “I shouldn't have done that,” he says. “That was showy and inappropriate and indiscreet.”

“Are you kidding me? It was awesome! And, Jesus, I don't know about that guy, but I have never been so close to coming in my pants in a public place. My God, you're hot. I mean, surface-of-the-sun hot. Nuclear reactor hot. My God. I really really need you to fuck me, Jensen Ackles.”

Jensen, incredibly, is looking really quite sheepish. “It was just acting,” he says, shrugging. “I was playing a character, you know? It's easier to do that, sometimes.”

Jared blinks. “You were playing a...who? Who were you playing?”

Jensen ducks his head. “Crowley. I was channelling Misha's Crowley. Asking myself 'What Would Crowley Do' can be a pretty useful exercise, sometimes. But I don't normally do it! It normally just cheers me up. And, okay, often involves people being turned into cockroaches, or suddenly getting syphilis, but, you know, my powers don't extend that far. I don't normally do anything – but you were being all – fuck, Jared, you were trying to protect my honour. It was really, really sweet. Pointless, but sweet.” He looks at Jared, and his face is suddenly uncertain. “What?”

“Oh my God, just don't – don't talk, okay? Because if you say anything else, I'm going to have to touch you, and if I touch you, I'm going to have to start humping your leg in the middle of the street or something, because you're just – you – oh my God. Can we go back to your place? Please?”

“Yeah,” says Jensen, flushing. “Yeah, okay.”

* * *

Jared almost forgets, and goes in at the same time, but Jensen squeezes his hand and stops him before they reach the hotel entrance. “Give me five minutes?” he says, his voice low and smoky with the promise of sex. Jared nods, and watches him leave, and starts counting, frantically.

* * *

He knows there's something wrong as soon as Jensen opens the door, with this stricken expression on his face. And Jared's tipsy, and appallingly horny, but that expression still cuts through the fog of lust and hormones like a knife through warm butter. “Jen?” he says, and watches Jensen's Adam's apple bob. “Are you okay?”

“It's – I – I didn't know,” Jensen murmurs, and his green eyes are almost frantic. “I swear, I had no idea...”

And that's when Jessica Alba walks in, dressed in nothing but a fluffy white bath towel. “C'mon, Jenny,” she says. “I can't start without you!” She looks Jared up and down with frank curiosity. “Who's this?”

“Room service,” says Jensen, quickly, his eyes pleading with Jared's, and Jared tells himself very firmly that there is absolutely no point in feeling like he's being dumped. Because, really, it's not like he didn't know about the whole 'Jennica' thing. It's definitely not like Jensen's lied to him, or promised him anything. But he still feels like shit, for some reason.

“Yes,” he croaks, trying for a smile. “That's right. Room service. Can I, ah, can I get you anything, ma'am?”

“Some more Pelegrino would be great, and actually – do you have M&Ms? I could really go for some M&Ms right now. Peanut M&Ms.”

“Absolutely, ma'am,” says Jared, woodenly, feeling like a complete and utter loser. Jensen's eyes are fixed on his, and he looks miserable, but then, he is an actor. It's kind of nice of him to be making an effort to look upset, Jared supposes.

“Hey, what are you wearing?” she asks, belatedly, staring at Jared's Yoda t-shirt with an amused expression. “That's not exactly regulation, is it?”

“Um,” says Jared, swallowing hard. “No. No, you're right, ma'am. I was actually just going off-duty for the night, but Mr Ackles has been such a – generous - guest I wanted to check that he had everything he needed. Happy to be of use.”

“Hey, can you clear away these plates? I had dinner earlier, while I was waiting for Jenny to come back from roaming the streets of San Antonio with his cellphone switched off.” She pouts at Jensen, and she hasn't really looked at Jared at all.

“That's not – no, hon, that's not his job,” says Jensen, looking mortified.

“Sure it is! It's no trouble is it?” she asks, coming further into the room and hooking her arm through Jensen's. She flashes a dazzling smile in Jared's direction.

“No trouble,” Jared says stiffly. He can't look at Jensen's face. “Let me get those for you, ma'am. Right. And the – okay. Thank you. Pellegrino and peanut M&Ms, you said? I'll pass that along.”

“You're adorable! What's your name?”

Jared blinks. “Clark,” he says, after a moment.

“Well, Clark, we really appreciate how attentive you've been.” She elbows Jensen in the ribs, and he looks down at her blankly. “Tip him, you loser!” she says, giggling. She grins over at Jared and looks down at the towel. “Sorry – my money's in my other, well, you see how it is! And Jenny here has trouble using the upstairs brain when the downstairs one's engaged.”

Jensen's still staring at him, and he still looks stricken. “No, I...” he begins, and then seems to realise that there is no possible way out of this. He swallows hard, and fishes his wallet out of his back pocket and fumbles blankly inside. Jared watches him, feeling vaguely numb. He knows that this isn't Jensen's idea. He knows that Jensen isn't treating him like a prostitute here – this is just an unfortunate little sequence of events that's culminating in the rich guy who fucked him giving him money to go away.

“Really, sir, there's no need,” he says, feeling himself flushing crimson. “It was a pleasure.”

Jensen's fingers grow still, and Jessica snorts. “Cheapskate! Sheesh. C'mere,” she says, and plucks a twenty dollar bill from the billfold and drops it on the tray. “Here you go, Clark. You take care now!” she says.

“Thank you ma'am,” Jared says, because that's obviously the only thing to say. He stares blankly at the note, and then up at Jensen, and then turns around with the tray in his hands. When he gets to the door he realises this is going to involve a bit of rejiggling, but Jensen's already there, opening it for him, still staring at him like a guy who's just seen his puppy run over by a juggernaut.

“You've been – great,” says Jensen, rather thickly. “I really appreciated – I appreciated everything you did. A lot.”

Jared manages to pull a smile from somewhere. “No problem, sir. All part of the service,” he says, and his voice doesn't break, which is good, and then he's in the corridor again, and Jensen's staring at him like he desperately wants to say something but has no idea where to begin – and that's stupid, because they're both on the same page. It's not like Jared doesn't get it. He totally gets it. Openly gay movie stars don't make thirty million dollars per movie, and Jensen never made any promises, or told him any lies. So it's just completely ridiculous that Jared feels like he's just been punched in the gut, and wants to find a corner where he can just curl up and cry.

“I'm sorry,” Jensen breathes, watching him helplessly. “I don't know what to say.”

“Live Long and Prosper?” suggests Jared, trying to smile and not quite managing it. He looks down at the tray in his hands, marvelling at how surreal this whole thing is, and when he glances back up Jensen's still staring at him, and for a moment Jared almost thinks that he's going to say something else – and then Jessica bounds up behind him and pushes the door closed.

“He totally had the hots for you!” she says, laughing. Jared can hear her voice carrying clearly through the door. “He came up to see you on his way home! He's a total fanboy with a fanboy crush on my man! He loves you! He wants your autograph! He thinks you're awesome! He wants to hug you and pet you and squeeze you and call you George!”

Jared takes a deep breath, and then another, and then he puts the tray down in the corridor and walks away, leaving the twenty dollar bill on the napkin where it fell.

* * *

 

“So your sexy rich motherfucker's gone, then?” asks Chad, swinging a chair around and straddling it.

“Yes,” says Jared, staring blankly at the glass of orange juice in front of him. “He's gone.”

“So no chance of a threeway, then?”

“Not really, no,” agrees Jared.

“Crap.”

“Yeah.”

* * *

“Okay, seriously, who pissed in your cornflakes, boss?” Katie demands, on the third day after Jessicagate. “Because this emo shit is getting old. Seriously. I'm gonna to start calling you Edward.”

“It's fine,” he says, as he slots new editions onto their racks. “Everything's fine.”

“Garbage.” She looks at him narrowly, and he doesn't meet her gaze. “You start sparkling, I'm gonna stake your ass. Just so we're clear on that.”

“Sounds fair.”

* * *

“Oh, you loser. You fell in love with him, didn't you?” says Alexis, staring at him over her Chianti.

“No,” says Jared, not looking at her. “That would be stupid.”

“And you would never do anything stupid,” she says.

“Point.”

Alexis throws her hands up in the air. “I don't believe you! Jared, you're young, you're smoking hot, you're personable, you've got your own business and all your own hair and teeth - why are you single?”

“We've had this conversation. I'm just – It's not actually all that easy, finding someone to fall in love with.”

“Yes it is! Millions of people do it all around the world every single day!”

“Right. Yes. Well, I tried it, and you know what they say about 'third time lucky'? Well, they lie like dogs. Like lying dogs that lie. Or sleeping dogs that lie. Or – I don't know. But what they really mean is 'third time shit out of luck.'”

“You are in love with him.”

“I am in love with him. Which, I realise, makes me into a total girl. I am a gay man, and hookups happen, and you do not then spend months pining over Mr Right Now when he walks out of your life, because that makes you into the saddest bastard in Sad Town.”

“You are the saddest bastard in Sad Town,” says Keiko, topping up Jared's glass.

“I am,” Jared agrees, dejectedly, poking at the barbecued chicken on his plate. “I really really am.”

“But you did hook up with him? There was the hot gay sexing?” asks Alexis.

Liza punches her in the arm. “That's my future husband you're talking about! He was my birthday present, and he's straight, and Jessica Alba is keeping him warm for me.”

Alexis's watching Jared with a very knowing look. “Sorry, Liza, but I know my boy. He totally hooked up with the movie star. You did, didn't you?”

Jared blushes. “No comment.”

“No comment totally means yes,” Milo calls from his place by the grill, stabbing sausages and burgers in a manly fashion.

“No it doesn't,” says Jared. “It means 'No Comment'.”

“Have you ever thought of Milo while jerking off?” asks Alexis.

Definitely no comment!”

“See! It means yes.”

Liza screams. “Oh my fucking God, you totally screwed my fiance! You bitch!” She bites him, and he thwaps her over the head, and then this degenerates into a ticklefight from which Jared emerges victorious by virtue of being taller than Godzilla.

“I hate you,” says Liza. “I even showed him the cherry stem trick. He was impressed, I could tell.”

“I bet he'll still be your Facebook friend, though,” says Jared, and she perks up.

“True.” There's a little pause, while Keiko carries over the burgers that Milo's just finished grilling, and they start messing around with bread and cheese and fixings. “So he broke your heart then?”

Jared tries to grin, but it really doesn't work very well. “No,” he says. “Of course not. I mean, I knew he wasn't – I knew he was going back to LA. Obviously. And that he was with Jessica Alba, for God's sakes – and, really, under normal circumstances I wouldn't be playing at being The Other Woman, because that's just lousy for your karma. But I really – um.” He shrugs, and starts tearing up a piece of lettuce into tiny pieces. “You know. He has excellent taste in comics,” he says quietly.

Liza watches him for a long moment, and her bottom lip trembles. “Oh, honey,” she says, sadly. “He really did a number on you, didn't he?” She ruffles his hair. “Fuck him. He's dead to me. I'm defriending him on Facebook.”

* * *

“You need to get laid,” says Katie, watching him over the top of her Frappucino. “That's what this is. This is because your dick's in danger of dropping off.”

“Shut up!” says Jared. There are customers around, for God's sakes, and he does still have at least a little bit of pride. He fiddles with a pair of plastic Spock ears, and tries to look busy and efficient and not in need of a pity fuck. After a moment he puts the plastic ears on over his own.

Katie studies him with her head tilted to one side, chewing the corner of her mouth. “Yeah, you really need to get laid.”

“Look,” Jared says, leaning in close and dropping his voice, “It's not as simple as that. I belong to several different subcultures, and there really isn't enough overlap between them.”

“You mean you can't find any hot gay geeks?”

“I mean I can't find any hot gay geeks.”

Katie sucks on her Frappucino, her cheeks hollowing out pornographically. “Okay,” she says. “Granted, my life is sweet, because there are a metric shitload of geekboys, and in my job I get to meet lots of them, and most of them are straight, and they think I am a goddess because I am a hot chick who has her own multi-sided dice and high-heeled pleather thigh-boots. And they're not wrong. But, seriously, boss – you could just go get laid. You've got an awesome bod, and you've got dimples, and you don't smell bad. Seriously. You just need to go into a gay bar for, like, five minutes and stand still, and you'll be fighting men off with a stick.”

Jared winces. “Yeah, okay, I know. Which makes me sound like the King of the Ego People. But – it's true. But maybe I want more than that.” He sighs, and takes the plastic Spock ears off again. “I just – I feel like a teenager with a crush on the hottest quarterback in town, you know? Only – only it's worse than that, because, actually, he's clever, and funny, and sweet, and he has good taste in comics, and, and, and basically he's just my absolute ideal man. Like a made-to-order Buffybot, only, you know, human. And I can't stop being in love with him. Even though I know that makes me a total loser. It's like I accidentally injected myself with love heroin, and now I just – I can't stop wanting more.”

“Or sex pollen,” says Katie.

“Or sex pollen,” says Jared. “Only – no. Because the sex was absolutely fantastic, but so were the conversations. I mean, yes, I did want to jump his bones pretty much 24/7, but I also wanted to, you know...” He squirms. “Snuggle. And bicker about Crisis on Infinite Earths. And make him happy.” His rueful half-smile crumbles. “I really wanted to make him happy. Because I don't think he is happy, right now. I really don't.”

“Oh my God, you turned into a girl,” says Katie, staring at him in horror. “You totally turned into an actual girl.” She grabs at his chest. “Where are your boobs?”

“Shut up.”

“No, really, it's sweet. In an Oh-man-you're-totally-screwed kind of way.”

“Yes. Yes, I really am,” Jared agrees, glumly. “I am absolutely, totally, utterly, truly, madly, deeply screwed.”

“So who is this mystery guy, then?” she asks, tapping the dalek-topped pen against her bottom lip. “And where did you meet him? And why aren't you floating around on a happy cloud of I'm-banging-Mr-Perfect right now? Why all the emo crap? Who is he?”

Jared draws a breath, and then lets it out again. “Nobody,” he says. “Just – just some tourist. And he was here, and now he's gone.”

“Huh. Well, you could still...”

“Also, he has a girlfriend. And he's so far back in the closet he must be on first name terms with Aslan and Mr Tumnus.”

Oh,” says Katie, disapprovingly. “One of those.”

“Yeah,” agrees Jared sadly. “I know. I'm an idiot.”

“You really are an idiot,” she says. “Which takes me back to my earlier point – you need to get laid. Take your mind of Mr Unavailable.”

“I guess,” sighs Jared, fiddling with the collection of Nightmare Before Christmas keyrings. “Yeah, I guess you're right.”

* * *

“Gonna fuck you till you scream,” says Call-me-Nathan, biting Jared's neck. And, okay, Call-me-Nathan is pretty impressively hot, and Jared's dick is starting to perk up a little, but on the whole, Jared's still not feeling it. “Gonna bend you up like a pretzel and fuck the shit out of you,” Call-me-Nathan adds, fervently, disregarding the fact that Jared is big enough to snap him like a twig.

“That's romantic,” says Jared, and then gives himself a mental slap, because, really, he's not even trying here. This is pathetic. Jensen Ackles isn't going to come running back to him to escape his fucking perfect, blissful, wealthy life and his hot girlfriend. He really needs to move on. Get with the program, Jared. “Okay, this isn't working for me,” he says. “Let's try something different, 'kay?”

So he grabs Call-me-Nathan and shoves him up against the wall and takes control of the kiss, making it into something harder and faster and more fierce, biting down on the guy's bottom lip and raking down his sides, gripping onto him hard enough to cause bruises, and the guy's making these broken-off groans into his mouth, and humping his leg, and, actually, it's starting to be kind of hot now, and Jared's dick is definitely getting on board now. Except that when he opens his eyes, it's still not Jensen that he's got pinned to the wall. it's just some guy, with too-blue eyes and too-dark hair, and Jared lets go and steps away and feels like punching something.

“Sorry,” he says, awkwardly. “I thought – I thought you were someone else.”

* * *

“I need help,” says Jared to Alexis. “Seriously. Please. I can't stop thinking about him. And normally, when you've had your heart broken – well, okay, granted sometimes it works out kind of okayish, when the person you were in love with ends up with your best friend, and when their reason for rejecting you was due to the fact that you didn't have a vagina, which they consider a deal-breaker, and so you all stay best friends. Sometimes.”

Alexis pulls a face. “Sorry about stealing your boy, babe.”

“Well, you know, he would insist on being all in love with you, and everything. Which is annoying, because I can't even accuse him of having poor taste – just, you know, not liking dick.”

“Guilty as charged,” admits Milo, sheepishly. “I do love you, buddy, but I just can't get past that whole no-vagina thing. And Alexis is just so much prettier than you. And she smells better.”

“Aw, honey,” Alexis says, leaning in and kissing his nose. “You do say the sweetest things.”

“You both suck. And not in that good way.” He sighs. “But mostly, when you've had your heart broken, then the breakee pretty much doesn't want to see the breaker around. For, you know, at least a bit. While they get over it, and try to grow a scab over the gaping hole in their chest where their heart got torn out. I just – look, it's not my fault if I go around falling in love with people I can't have, now, is it? I've been in love with exactly two people in my entire life. One married my best friend, and I went and married the other one – and we know how well that worked out.”

Alexis winces. “How is Lauren?”

“Damned if I know. You know those amicable divorces? Ours was kind of the anti-that. Last time I saw her she threw a toaster at my head.”

Keiko, who has just walked in with a bottle of whiskey, walks out again. “I think we need a bigger bottle,” she tells Liza.

“And the thing is, right, the really shitty shitty thing, is that his picture is everywhere. There isn't a single day that goes by where I manage to escape seeing his photo or hearing his name. It's like he's haunting me! Or, well, no, 'cause he's not dead. But you know what I mean? It's like there's no escape. And it really, really sucks.”

“You need to get laid,” says Liza, bringing in a bottle of tequila. “We need to get you back on the damn horse.”

“I tried that,” says Jared, his voice slurring, his tongue growing a little numb now from all the shots he's already drunk. “It was no good. It kept not being him.”

“But, honey, it's going to keep right on not being him,” points out Alexis. “So that's something you need to get used to.”

“We need to find you a man,” says Milo, nodding purposefully. “Okay, team, we have a mission. I call it: Operation Yenta. We must go forth, my children, and we must find hot gay men willing to fuck our boy here up the ass, and then cuddle him afterwards and talk about The Incredible Hulk.”

“Batman. I'd rather talk about the goddamn Batman,” says Jared, peering into the bottom of his shot glass and wondering where all the alcohol went. “Or The Umbrella Academy. Or Hellblazer.

“And that? Right there? That fussiness? Is why your ass is not getting laid.”

* * *

“Everybody? This is Justin. He's a colleague of mine -works in the PR department.” Alexis is smiling a little rigidly, but there's a determined light in her eyes, and Justin isn't bad looking. He's not Jensen Ackles, but he's still pretty hot. “Justin, this is Keiko, and Liza, and Jared, and my husband Milo.”

“Hey guys,” says Justin, waving. He looks at Milo thoughtfully. “Hey, you're in a wheelchair!”

“Well spotted,” says Milo, evenly.

Jared rolls his eyes.

* * *

“...so since you're both so interested in baseball, I thought you guys had to meet,” finishes Keiko, beaming from Jared to Jeffrey.

“Um,” says Jared. “I'm – I'm not actually into baseball.”

Keiko's face falls. “Sure you are! You collected baseball cards all through school!”

“Nope. I collected Pokemon cards and Magic the Gathering cards. I'm kind of a geek.” He grins at Jeffrey Dean Morgan apologetically. “Sorry – baseball isn't so much my game. But you play, yeah?”

Jeffrey nods. His eyes are bright with a fervour that Jared recognises all too well. “I live for baseball,” he says. “Banking is how I pay the bills, but baseball is my life.”

“Okay. Well, that's cool. It's good to have passions, and I can see it keeps you really fit.” Jared can't deny that the guy is hot. Really, very hot. Kind of older than he'd had in mind by, well, ten years, but still – hot.

Jeffrey nods. “I model my training on 'Bull Durham',” he says. “Have you seen that movie?”

“Um,” says Jared. “No. Should I?”

Jeffrey looks shocked. “It is the single best movie of all time,” he tells them, sincerely. “Everything I know about the world, I learned from that movie.”

“Okay,” says Jared. It's not his thing, but he can probably respect that. He's felt like that about Star Wars a time or two. “Such as?”

“Wearing women's underwear, and not fucking before a game,” says Jeffrey.

“I see,” says Jared. Not his kink, but okay. He can be flexible. And the guy is very hot. “Well, whatever floats your boat. So, how do you feel about Batman?”

Jeffrey laughs. “Comics are for losers!”

“You know, I've just remembered that I have a Dental appointment,” says Jared, glaring at Keiko.

* * *

“You're never going to let me live this one down, are you?” says Liza, glumly.

“No,” says Jared, still shaking with laughter. “Never. Never ever ever.”

“But I got most of it right! Chris is gay, hot, clever, funny, geeky, and into comics. I mean, that's most of the checklist.”

“But she's a woman,” Milo and Alexis chorus at the same moment, and Liza slumps in her seat.

“Well, yeah, okay. But, seriously, she is the butchest woman I've ever seen. She's a damn sight more manly than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Seriously – did you see the shoulders on her? And that nose? I thought she was a guy. I didn't know. She has a deep enough voice, damn it.”

Jared tries to say something, but he's laughing too damn hard.

“She thought she was your date, Liza. It was all very awkward.”

“Well I know that now,” Liza snaps. “But I didn't know it then, okay? I thought she was a guy, and I knew she was gay, because Sean told me. Apparently my gaydar was broken at birth. I didn't even guess Jared was gay until he told me – total surprise, and I'd seen him making out with guys. I fail at recognising the gay. So sue me.”

Keiko comes back into the room with a dreamy expression, kiss-reddened lips, and a very visible hickey on her neck, and everyone turns to stare.

“Oh, God, isn't she lovely?” she says, happily.

Liza's jaw drops. “Are you – Keiko, are you a lesbian?”

“Oh, honey, you're just special, aren't you?” says Alexis, fondly, ruffling Liza's hair. “Have another vodka.”

* * *

“So, Matt, what do you like to do at the weekend?” asks Jared, feeling vaguely hopeful. The guy's cute, and he seems to have pretty good social skills, and he knows the difference between the Batman and the Man Bat.

“I'm in the KKK, and we have some great events that maybe...”

“Wow, just look at time! I guess you really must be going.”

“No, I'm okay, I just...”

“No, no, really, I've just remembered that I'm flying to Hawaii forever tomorrow morning and changing my name. Great to meet you.”

* * *

“I think I'm going to try being straight. I think that's the only solution. Or else become a monk. One or the other. Because I think I'm broken now, for men,” says Jared, gloomily. “I have already met the one guy I can ever love in all the world, and his photo is on every billboard and every magazine cover, wherever I look. He's it. He's the one. What we had was just – I know it was just a fling, just a few days, and I realise I sound like a thirteen year old girl, but honest to God – it was special. Not just the sex, which was awesome, but just – I felt a real connection with him. He's one of the hottest men on the planet Earth, and he could hold down an intelligent discussion about Watchmen and Powers and Astro City and Top Ten. It was great, really fucking great, but it just – it raised the bar too damn high, and now everyone else just looks shit.”

Alexis pats his back soothingly. “Well, in all honesty, honey, some of them looked shit because they were, well, shit. Or awesome and suitable in all ways apart from the penis-having.”

“Shut up,” says Liza, sprawling on the floor and leafing through a magazine.

“Mind you, that worked out really well for Keiko,” says Jared.

“Exactly! And that should be an inspiration, Jay! Because Keiko was pining away carrying a torch for years and years and years, and feeling all hopeless and loserish like you are now, and then she finally met somebody else!” points out Alexis. “Somebody who loved her back! Maybe it just takes time, honey.”

“Hang on – Keiko was in love with someone before she got together with Chris?” says Liza, looking up at them through her tumble of blonde hair. “Really?”

“Really,” chorus Alexis and Milo and Jared.

“Huh. Anyone I know?”

* * *

 

Jared's staring at the magazine kind of blankly, even though it's gotten too dark to read the print or look at the pictures. He's not really looking at the pictures or the words, anyway – more looking through them, like they're a little window into the past. He hasn't actually realised how dark it's gotten until Chad comes bounding up the stairs and slaps the lightswitch, and then jumps three feet in the air when he realises the room isn't empty.

“What the fuck?” he says.

“Love is shit, Chad,” says Jared, looking at the photograph of Jensen sitting in his motel suite.

“Aw, dude, you're not reading the Total Film article again, are you? Enough with this scab-picking bullshit already! Move on, bro! Guy's a douche!”

“But he's not, though,” says Jared, sadly. “He's just stuck in a life he doesn't really want. I mean, sure, he's richer than Oprah, and I think he loves the acting side of it, but most of his life? He doesn't love. And he's got to live a lie. He's a good guy, really. He's just in a crappy situation, and he doesn't know how to get out of it.”

“Oh, boo fucking hoo,” snaps Chad. “I'm gonna cry me a river for the poor little rich boy who fucked my buddy over. I don't think so! Guy's a chickenshit douchenozzle supreme.”

Jared snorts. “You make him sound like a pizza.”

“Jesus, where the hell are you going to order pizzas? Freak.”

“Seriously, though – he's not a bad guy,” says Jared, looking at the photo. He's smiling that megawatt smile, and it looks genuine and spontaneous and open as hell, and Jared knows it's none of those things. It's protective colouring.

“Seriously, though – he's a jackass, and you need to forget about him. He'll get his. C'mon, come look at porn on the Internet instead. It'll cheer you up.”

“Nah,” says Jared, staring down at the magazine. “That's – that's really more of an alone-time thing, Chad. You knock yourself out. I think I'll just – I'm going to hit the hay.”

“You hit the hay, I'm gonna spank the monkey, choke the chicken, beat the meat and rub one out.”

Jared blinks. “That's...that's really more information than I needed, Chad,” he says, getting to his feet and stretching. “But, uh, thanks for sharing. I guess.”

* * *

Jared's brushing his teeth half an hour or so later, when Chad bursts into the bathroom unannounced.

“FUCKING HELL, JAY!” he yells, and Jared almost chokes on his own toothbrush. “GET YOUR ASS IN HERE NOW!”

* * *

“No way.”

“Way.”

“No fucking way,” repeats Jared, staring at the screen.

“Man, this is gonna make that Pamela and Tommy Lee sex tape look like nothing,” says Chad. He sounds pretty satisfied about it. “This is fucking karma, my man. Let's see him try to stay in the fucking closet now. Douchenozzle.”

“Shut up,” says Jared, staring at the screen. The quality of the video is pretty spectacularly shit, but there's no doubt at all that the kid on the screen is Jensen Ackles. Jensen Ackles in jailbait twink form, that is – barely scraping eighteen, if that. He looks like he's never shaved a day in his life, and he's not so much lean as he is slender. Narrow hips and broad shoulders, but still kind of soft and half-finished looking, very much not a man yet – and too damn pretty by half. Almost painfully so, in fact. He looks vulnerable and uncertain in a way that Jared has never seen him look before, his eyes huge, his lips swollen and bruised looking, and he's going down on some guy twice his age who's pulling his surprisingly blond hair as he fucks into his mouth, and calling him “Baby” and “Prettyboy” and “Slut.”

Jared pretty much wants to beat the guy to a pulp, whoever the hell he is. “Switch it off,” he says, even though he's hard as hell, and a part of him really really wants to see how it ends. But it's breaking his heart. “For God's sake, switch it off.”

“No way, man! This isn't the best bit! There's, like, another twenty minutes! It's called 'Casting Couch', and he doesn't know he's being filmed, and after a bit the big guy stops pumping Jenny's mouth and bends him over the table and fucks him in the ass instead, and he's squirming and crying and making these fucking sexy, helpless noises like you wouldn't bel...”

And that's the point when Jared punches Chad in the face, and then runs back to the bathroom and pukes in the sink, and then bursts into tears for the first time since he hit puberty.

* * *

It's Jared's day off, and he's in the middle of doing the laundry when the doorbell goes. Chad is off – well, wherever the hell Chad gets to during the day, doing whatever the hell it is that Chad does. They're sort of not talking at the moment, because of the face punching thing. Jared has apologised, stiffly, because on reflection he thinks he probably shouldn't really have punched Chad in the face – but he feels like justice was on his side, damn it. Even though, really, it was mostly the guy on the screen he wanted to punch, and whatever dickwad had put the video on the internet, just to make Jensen Ackles' messed up life that much shittier. It was them he was really mad at. So Jared knows he's kind of punishing Chad for something that's not entirely his fault – 'cause, hey, it's not like he's never looked at porn before, and it's not like Jared disagrees, objectively, about how shockingly hot twinky little Jensen looked. He did look unspeakably hot, and all the more so because the teenage version looked so much more fragile than the grown man Jared knows. Like Bambi, or something, for fuck's sakes – all enormous eyes and slender limbs and sharp angles. Breakable in a way that Jensen Ackles never looks. Defenceless. So, yeah, okay, sure, it was hot. But it was also pretty fucking horrible.

And he is (not that this is news to anyone) still head over heels in love with the guy, and right now that's making him want to punch pretty much everyone involved in producing newspapers, magazines, TV reports and the stuff on the Internet. Because it seem that Jensen's little sex tape is the only thing anyone's talking about. Apparently there are no wars or diseases or kidnappings or crimes of any description happening anywhere in the world right now, because all anyone is interested in is the tape. Every time Jared walks past a news stand and sees the headlines he finds himself grinding his teeth: “Too bi or not too bi?” “Love for Sale” “Jennica Breakup: Alba says she feels betrayed.” “Brokeback Hamlet!”

He doesn't really give much thought to who might be at the door, and so he's still just wearing boxer briefs and his Thundercats t-shirt (which has become his favourite comfort shirt, for reasons he has no intention of analysing) when he opens the door and finds Jensen Ackles standing there with a baseball cap pulled down over his face and dark glasses perched on his nose and a rucksack at his feet, wringing his hands. Jared's jaw drops, and he just stands there, staring, for a long moment.

“Can I...” Jensen stops, and swallows, pulls off his shades and looks miserably up at Jared, and tries again. “Please can I come in?”

Jared's heart feels like it's trying to beat out a samba, or some damn thing, and he realises abruptly that he's still gaping like an idiot.

“Fuck, yes!” he says, grabbing the bag in one hand and Jensen's shoulder with the other and yanking them both inside. He slams the door and stands there for a moment, taking in the fact that Jensen Ackles, multimillionaire, 2-time Oscar winner, Number 5 on Vanity Fair's Top 20 World's Hottest Men, looks like absolute shit. He hasn't shaved, and there are dark circles under his eyes, and the eyes themselves are kind of pink and bloodshot in a way that emphasises the green and strongly suggests that there may have been crying at some point in the not too distant past. His hair , sticking out under the hat, is way beyond bedhead and into hobo territory. His clothes look like he slept in them.

And he is still, unquestionably, the most beautiful thing that Jared has ever seen.

“Sorry,” says Jensen, squirming under the attention. “This is – shit, this is pretty awkward, huh? After how we – after – shit, I'm really sorry about that.” His voice cracks, and he looks away for a moment, and Jared doesn't just want to punch the guys who did this, he wants to get a fucking chainsaw and carve them into sausage meat. “I didn't know what to do when Jessica showed up. Ha. I was terrified of getting found out. Which, you know – kind of ironic, as it turns out.” He swallows, and darts a skittish sideways glance at Jared. “Look, I don't mean to be – I'm really not here to cause you any grief, man, I just – the hotel's surrounded, and they've got my family's home staked out, and my house, and all my friends, and, and – I just didn't know where to go. I thought maybe – I mean, I know that you hardly know me, really, and that I was kind of a dick – I realise it's a lot to ask, especially after...”

“Oh, dude, shut up,” says Jared, and yanks him into a bone-crushing hug. Jensen feels stiff and awkward in his arms for a long moment, and then he just sort of melts, and wraps his arms around Jared like Jared's the last hope he has on earth, and buries his face in Jared's neck.

* * *

They're eating cheese and crackers and small seedless grapes, and drinking orange juice. The orange juice was the only thing to make Jensen crack a smile so far. Jared has been telling himself for a while now that if he ever should happen to see Jensen Ackles again in person, obviously he won't still hve this flip-flop feeling in his stomach, and obviously he's going to have gotten past this pathetic urge to cheer the guy up, because the guy is a jerk.

Except that, of course, in person Jared absolutely cannot convince himself that Jensen is a jerk. A mess, yeah, but not a jerk.

“I was seventeen,” Jensen says, keeping his eyes fixed on the lump of cheddar that he's slicing up. “And it wasn't a fucking casting couch.”

“Okay.”

Jensen glances up at him for just a split second through his tangled lashes, and then looks back down at the cheese and crackers. He sighs, and his shoulders slump a little. “I was – I hadn't come out yet.” He chokes on a laugh. “Well, obviously, seeing as how this, now, is me coming out.” He winces. “I still haven't talked to my parents. But what I mean is – I knew I was gay, and I'd even – I had this friend, Steve, and we'd done a little bit of, you know – we'd made out, basically. A bit of groping. Nothing major. But this other guy – he was a friend of my Dad's, a guy we knew from church – well, he'd seen us. And he threatened to tell my Dad. So – well.” He shrugs. “So that was that, really. I did what he told me to, 'cause I was too much of a pussy to tell him no, and I was scared to face my family with the truth. So - it happened a few times. I let it happen because I knew there were just a couple of weeks to go 'til graduation, then I'd be out of there.” He bites down on one of the crackers and chews for a moment or two, then shrugs again. “It seemed like the easiest way out. It was a crappy decision, but it was still my decision.”

He looks up from the plate and meets Jared's eyes. “I've been realising, since all this kicked off, that I'm pretty much a gigantic coward. Which is funny, 'cause, you know, I play some pretty kick-ass heroes, and I do do lots of stupid stunts, and a lot of my own fight sequences. Physical threats I'm good with. Jumping out of 'planes, swimming with sharks, getting my ass handed to me by Jet Li, all that. But I'm still really chickenshit about - other stuff.” He looks away, suddenly reddening again. “Which I guess you know already. Sorry again. About the thing. With Jessica.”

And, yeah, okay, he may have a point – but Jared's still too much in a Hulk Smash place just thinking about the fucker who did this to Jensen to start feeling indignant about the whole tip-the-waiter awkwardness from the last time he saw the guy. (And, hey, it wasn't like he hadn't known Jensen had a girlfriend. Which just made them both dicks.) “Jesus, Jen,” he says instead, and his voice is thick with all the things he isn't saying. “You were seventeen. Of course you were scared. Jesus! That's not – that really isn't being chickenshit, dude. That's a kid being taken advantage of by an adult in a position of trust.”

Jensen shakes his head. “I could have said no,” he says. “And it wasn't – I mean, I did get off, you know? And when you're a teenager, that's pretty much your number one goal in life, right? He didn't hurt me, or whatever. So it was okay, I guess. Not – not what I'd have chosen for my first time with a guy. But still – I was a teenager and I was getting regular sex. Which is pretty much all any teenage boy wants, when you get right down to it. Can't complain, really.”

Jared stares at him. “Can't – you – Jensen, you fucking idiot, yes you fucking can complain. None of this was okay. What you're describing was not okay.”

Jensen's mouth tightens. “Don't try to make me hug it all out, or get all – really, I'm good. I've made my peace with it. It's in the past. Long time in the past. I thought it was over and done with. I've moved on, you know? Everybody does dumb shit when they're young, and he didn't actually force me. I just...” His voice breaks a little. “I had no idea that he'd taped any of it.” And he's trembling, Jared can see. Trembling just very slightly, the knife shaking in his hand as he slices a piece of brie and lays it on top of a cracker.

“I'm going to kill him,” says Jared, and at this moment he is absolutely in earnest. He wants to rip the guy's liver out with his bare hands and feed it to him on one of the crackers. “I will fucking kill him for you. Who is he? Where is he?”

Jensen looks shocked by the intensity of his anger. He raises his hands in startled soothing movements, his brows crumpling. “He's dead, Jay. A few months ago. He's dead. That's how come the shit hit the fan – because he'd made a tape of me – and, God, maybe other people, what do I know, if he'd do it once maybe he did it a dozen times. But after he died, somebody must've found it when they were going through his stuff. And now it's everwhere.” He takes a deep breath. “That's the only good thing that came out of all this. Once this tape – once everyone knew, I figured, really, there was no point in lying to Jessica about who I am. What I am. So I bought her some really big diamonds, and a bottle of tequila, and I came clean, and apologised.” He pulls a face. “She beat the crap out of me. Which seemed fair enough. But she kept the diamonds.” He glances over at Jared again. “I really am sorry about that night. I should have told her the truth then. But I just – I kind of froze up. I was a dick. You both deserved better.” He sighs. “I am king of the chickenshits.”

“Well, kind of,” agrees Jared, apologetically. “Not when you were a kid, but now? Kind of. A little bit. 'Cause it isn't the 1950s anymore.”

“True,” says Jensen. “Only – how many A list actors can you name who are openly gay?” He sighs. “There ARE A list actors who are gay, and everyone knows it – but they're still married, because that's what you have to do if you want a career. You have to play the straight card. I hadn't ever proposed to Jess, but - I thought about it a few times. She's pretty awesome. We were good together.” He shakes his head. “God, I'm so glad I never went there.”

“Well, yeah,” says Jared, inadequately. “Duh.”

“And it's not just being outed, although, wow, that's plenty bad enough – that's been my nightmare ever since – well, ever since I knew I was gay, really. Because, hello, my church? Growing up? Really, not one of the happy clappy God-loves-fags kinds of churches. So I tried just not being gay. And when I got into showbusiness it was even worse, because even though there are so damn many gay actors, it's still box office death to be outed, nine times out of ten. It really limits your career options.”

“Ian McKellen. Rupert Everet,” says Jared.

“Right. So – gay best friends, and king of the fairies,” Jensen says, pushing the slices of cheese around his plate. “And villains, and Gandalf. Also, did you notice how they're both British? And not good old boys from Texas?”

“Well...”

“Look, there's a reason why Kelly McGillis didn't come out until now. And David Ogden Stiers. There's a reason why – well, I'm not gonna name names, but there are people everybody knows about, who are still officially straight. It's a hell of a lot better than it was in the 1950s, especially if you're working in television rather than movies, but it still matters, Jay. Don't fool yourself.”

“I guess.”

“But it's not just that – it's the fucking label on the video. I don't know if he did that, or the scumbag who found the video, or some other bright spark – I have no idea. But 'Casting Couch'? That – that really isn't helpful, careerwise. Mud sticks. And I've never – I mean, sometimes you'd find yourself in situations where it's obvious that's what they're angling for. When you're a kid, just starting out in the business. When you're kind of vulnerable, and you don't know who to trust. But I never did that. Never. I worked for this, damn it. And now everybody thinks – ah, fuck.” His looks down at the smiley face he's made on the plate, out of crackers and grapes and slices of cheese. “It sucks, is all. It really sucks.”

It's taking all of Jared's self-control to keep from hugging him. He really, really wants to grab him and hug him and keep on hugging him pretty much indefinitely.

“Hey,” he says softly. “Hey, it's okay. I know that. I never doubted that for a minute, Jen.” His mouth quirks. “Don't get me wrong – I wouldn't kick you out of bed for eating crackers, but your ass is not worth thirty million dollars.”

“Screw you!” protests Jensen, half-laughing. “My ass is priceless!”

“Your ass is fucking gorgeous, my friend. I could write sonnets to your ass. But nobody's ass is worth thirty million bucks. Dude – they pay you that because you're worth it.”

“Okay, now you're making me sound like a shampoo ad.”

“Oh, fuck off. I'm just saying. It's your talent that allows you to rake in that kind of money. Your acting talent. Because you're a phenomenal actor, Jen – I mean, you're breathtaking. Seriously. Your comic timing is awesome, but, Jesus, you can break my heart when you've got a role with a bit of meat to it. Seriously. I cried my eyes out watching Love for Sale. You were outstanding.”

“Almodovar's brilliant.”

“Yeah, he's great – but you were outstanding. However great your director might be, he wasn't the guy on the screen spilling his damn guts. There were people sobbing in the theatre, Jen. I mean, seriously – not just eyes getting a bit damp. Noisy, broken sobs. You knocked it out the ballpark. It was epic. You were epic. Nobody thinks you coasted by on your looks, dude. That's not why you make the big bucks.”

Jensen blinks at him uncertainly, and his smile is lopsided and unlovely, a tentative little twist. Very much not the megawatt smile from the movies. Jared really wants to kiss it. “You're just saying that because you're hoping that I'll sleep with you,” he says – and it's a joke, but it's also not a joke.

Jared reaches out one long arm and thwaps him over the head, knocking his stupid baseball cap onto the table. “No, I'm really not,” he says seriously. “You're a crap lay.” And that startles a laugh out of Jensen. He throws a grape at Jared's head, and Jared ducks and grins. “Come on – you don't need to be all modest with me. You've got to know how fucking good you are at your job, Jen. You're a smart guy. They don't give out Oscars for looking cute in a tux.”

Jensen shrugs. He looks uncomfortable. “It's like – I do and I don't. I mean, when I'm doing it, when I nail a scene – yeah. That's awesome. But when I watch stuff afterwards – it's never quite how it was in my head. Or hardly ever. I can always see the stuff that could have been better, the bum notes, the places where I got the emphasis wrong, or made the wrong gesture...”

“Okay, seriously, I'm going to have to hurt you if you keep this shit up.”

Jensen laughs. “Dude. I could so totally kick your ass. You may be big like Galactus, but I got the moves.”

“Oh, dream on,” says Jared, rolling his eyes. “You couldn't take me, Mr Movie Star. Not on your best day ever.”

Jensen lifts an eyebrow. “Is that a challenge? Are you seriously challenging me to open a can of whoopass? Because I will turn you over and spank your ass good, geek boy.” He looks and sounds more at ease than Jared's seen him since he found the guy standing on the doorstep. He's actually smiling, and it's a real smile, and it's unknotting the tension in Jared's shoulders and making his tightly balled-up fists start to relax a little.

He sticks his tongue out at Jensen, because apparently he is five years old. “You and what army?”

“Oh, I do not need an army for this,” says Jensen, and a moment later he's pushing up from the table and circling around, and Jared's on his feet, heart racing, trying not to laugh, feeling himself getting turned on already by the sleek, predatory way Jensen moves.

“Bring it,” says Jared, his pulse fluttering in his throat. And, honestly, he thinks he stands a pretty decent chance if they get into it, because he's got muscles in places where most people don't have places, and he's no slouch, and he's held this guy down and fucked him speechless, damn it – but on the other hand, Jared's never learned any actual martial arts. Just wrestling, and the stuff you do at school. Not actual karate or whatever.

Jensen has him pinned to the floor within five seconds, and he has no fucking idea how he got there.

“Jesus fuck!” he says, disoriented, facedown on the linoleum with a knee in the small of his back and his arm twisted up behind him almost painfully. “You didn't tell me you were Jackie Freaking Chan!”

“Yes I did,” says Jensen, sounding rather smug. “Baby.”

Jared stiffens, and tries to twist out from under him, and he can't, because the fucker's got him pinned and helpless. “You did not just call me baby,” he says, with mock wrath, and when Jensen laughs again Jared wants to jump up and hug him. “I'm not your fucking girlfriend,” he adds, for good measure. Jensen leans down, and his warm breath tickles Jared's ear.

“But you would be, wouldn't you? Baby? If I asked you?”

Jared blinks, and knows he's an idiot, because this is sex talk, not relationship talk. The subtitles are very clear here: 'you'd take it up the ass', not 'you'd like to go out with me'. Obviously. But he's only got one answer, whatever the subtitles are.

“Yeah,” he says, feeling that tight twist in his guts that tells him he's going to regret this, eventually. “Yeah, Jen. I really would.”

* * *

It's the first time he's had Jensen in his bedroom. Jared looks around and realises that this is the first time he's actually brought somebody back since moving into this place after his divorce. He's had sex plenty of times, but generally in bathrooms, or back at the other guy's place. A couple of times in hotels. Not here. Not in his own space. And that's pretty fucking obvious, because anyone who thinks they might be bringing somebody back must surely make an effort to be a leetle bit tidier than Jared generally is.

Also? His bedroom really really is the bedroom of an enormous geek. Jensen evidently has the very same thought, because he pauses on the threshold and looks around, taking in the wall of bookshelves for books, and the wall of bookshelves for comics, both of them cluttered with random World of Warcraft figures and lightsabers and daleks and cylons and God knows what else; at the framed Alex Ross prints (one of the cover art for Kingdom Come, two of Batman, and one of Wonderwoman) ; at the Star Wars Lego set; at the DeLorean alarm clock; at the Nightmare Before Christmas rug. He doesn't think Jensen's realised that the fluffy little furballs next to the computer are battery-powered tribbles, but even without that, it's still pretty much a room that makes a statement. Jensen turns to look at him, his eyebrows darting up towards his hairline, and Jared really doesn't need to ask to know that Jensen's bedroom back in Jensen's palatial millionaire moviestar home does not look like this.

“I'm a geek,” he says, defensively. “I run a frigging Comic Store, okay?”

Jensen just looks at him for a very long moment, and then grabs his face and pulls him down into an unexpectedly urgent kiss. “That is so. Fucking. Hot,” he says, breathlessly, and bites Jared's lip. “You're just – you're totally fucking adorable. You do realise that, right? How totally adorable you are? With your frigging Lego and your little model spaceships? God.”

“Dude. I am six feet five and solid muscle. I am not adorable,” says Jared, crossly, and Jensen laughs in his face.

“Do you have ewoks? I bet you have ewoks, somewhere in all this. And a model of Serenity. I'm right, aren't I? God, I bet you wrote in to complain when they cancelled Firefly.”

“Shut up.”

Jensen throws his head back and really, really laughs. “Oh my God, you did. Come here and kiss me again, you ginormous dork. We need to have lots of orgasms, right away, if not sooner. I think I'm going into Pon Farr.”

* * *

 

“I don't do this, you know.”

They're spooning in the bed, Jared wrapped around Jensen like he can keep the rest of the world away with his bare flesh. The sheets are rucked down at the foot of the bed. The room smells kind of like a gym locker, and they're both pretty gross and sticky, but Jared's decided that he's going to spend the rest of his life right here anyway.

“Sure feels like you do this,” Jared says into the nape of his neck, and he hears the little huff of laughter.

“No, I mean – this. What you and I – that whole thing. I don't do this. I don't usually – I mean, this isn't a normal thing for me, is what I'm saying. I never actually cheated on Jess before you,” he says, in a quiet voice. “I mean – I'm gay, I know I'm gay, but I can have sex with women. It doesn't do a whole lot for me, but it's just so much simpler to play the role, you know? I'm all about playing roles. It makes stuff easier.”

“So – what are you telling me? That you never go with guys? 'Cause, wow – quick study.”

Jensen laughs properly this time, and Jared locks his arm around the guy's chest and pulls him back closer so they're tucked together tightly, Jared's chest pressing into Jensen's spine. “No! No, I just – since I got into the movies, I've mostly stuck to girls. It's not really what I want – like you and your ex, I guess? But in this life – I mean, I have people going through my garbage, and paparazzi stalking my local 'Starbucks' to find out how I take my coffee, and if I smile at somebody too often then the gossip pages are speculating that I want to get into their pants. I've had makeup girls and school friends and the goddamn dog-sitter trying to get me into compromising positions so they could do the whole kiss and tell thing – it's kind of fucked up. So I'm – well. I'm usually kind of – reserved. Defensive. Because you really do have to be, if you're going to survive.”

There's a little pause, while Jared thinks about this. “That – okay, that sucks. A lot,” he says eventually, and feels Jensen's body vibrate with laughter.

“Ah, your powers of understatement are such a turn-on.”

“But you – I mean, you have been with other guys?”

“I've been with four guys in the past ten years,” says Jensen, after a long pause. He sounds wildly embarrassed.

“Holy shit! Four? I've been with more guys than that in the past six months, and I'm not getting any!” Jared blurts out, and then realises that he's just made himself sound like kind of a slut.

“Yes, well – you're not a deeply closeted celebrity,” says Jensen. “Also? Stop boasting.”

“Right,” says Jared, and kisses the back of his neck again. “Sorry.”

“I figure that if I'm fantasising about someone else when I'm with a girl – well, it doesn't hurt anybody. Getting outed is just the last thing you want to have happen – it's like instant box office death. So I don't normally take any stupid chances. But then – well, I bumped into you, literally bumped into you, and you were all big and geeky and bouncy, like an overgrown puppy, and smoking hot - and - look, I thought – honestly, I thought we could just hang out a bit. You and me. That was the plan. Platonic, heterosexual, hanging out.” His breath catches in his throat. “I mean, I thought about sex – wow, did I ever think about it. I was like a freaking teenager, thinking about it – kept getting hard at totally inappropriate times, in the middle of interviews with serious journalists and – but – and, okay, I bought lube.” Jared can practically hear him blushing. “But, honest, I was just enjoying being with you, and I wasn't going to make any moves, I swear. I was being sensible. Only then there was that CFM thing, and I just – I really – I was going to lie, but then I saw your face, and I just – I sort of lost it.” He gives another shaky laugh. “I think you might be my kryptonite. I really – I like you, Jay. I like you a lot.

There's a tremulous little silence in the room, charged with another four-letter word that starts with L but isn't 'Like'. And then Jared blows a noisy raspberry into the nape of Jensen's neck, and holds him tight while he squirms and wriggles and tries to scramble free, and they're both shaking with laughter, the coiled tension unwinding quick as a flash.

“You freak!” Jensen says, his voice hitching with laughter. “You humongous freak! I was having a moment!”

“So was I,” says Jared, and does it again. And this degenerates into a tickle fight, which Jared does not win, despite being Godzilla-huge. “Mercy!” he's eventually yelling, as he writhes on the bed, choking with helpless laughter. “Uncle!”

“Wimp,” sniffs Jensen, kissing him.

“Bully,” says Jared, letting him. “Using your Jackie Chan skills on me.”

“Damn straight. You think I'm gonna play fair with you? That head-ducking Clark Kent act might fool people who haven't seen you take your shirt off, but I know I need all the help I can get, Kal-El.”

“Dork.”

“Right back at you.”

A little later they're tangled up again, but this time both lying on their backs, arms and legs and fingers interlaced.

“I trust you,” Jensen says, very softly. “That's not normal, for me. People have a habit of fucking you over, if you trust them. So I mostly – don't. But I do trust you, did right from the moment I met you, although God alone knows why. Maybe because you were kind to that stupid kid.”

“Maurice the inept shoplifter.”

“Maurice the inept shoplifter. Yeah. And you were – sweet. To him, and to me too, babbling on about Apocalypse Suite, and blushing like a girl, with your goddamn dimples and everything... you got to me. Got under my skin. I'm kind of reckless and stupid around you – you just – I don't know. You make me feel safe. You make me do stupid things, because I feel like I must be safe, if you're there. Which – I mean, I do know how stupid that sounds. I know we've hardly known each other for five minutes, really. I just – I feel like you're seeing me. Not all the other stuff.”

“You are safe,” says Jared, kissing his throat. “I'm not gonna let anything hurt you, Jen. You're safe with me. Promise.”

* * *

They're playing Guitar Hero on the Wii when Chad gets back from wherever Chad has been all day, and they've drunk half a dozen beers by this point, and Jared's laughing so hard he's almost in tears because of the ridiculous Spinal Tap poses Jensen keeps striking, and the deadpan Zoolander pout.

“You would not believe how many journalist motherfuckers are scouring the town for your rich douchenozzle ex, dude,” Chad says, glancing at the two of them and clomping past over to the cupboard and pulling out a box of Cheerios. And then there's a beat, and then he turns around and looks back at the both of them again. His eyes bug out. “Your rich...your...fuck me sideways with a two-person canoe! He's here!” says Chad, with all the subtlety for which is is so justly famous. “Jensen Fucking Ackles! Fuck me! He's right here!”

He stands there with the cereal box in one hand, gaping, and there's a very awkward silence. Jensen's smile is getting smaller and smaller by the second, and Jared's on the brink of punching Chad in the face again, just on general principles.

“Hi,” Jensen says, after a moment, pulling out the megawatt smile from somewhere. “You must be Chad.”

“Jensen Motherfucking Ackles knows my NAME!” Chad yells, flailing both hands wildly in the air and sending cereal exploding across the room. “Jesus Christ, I think I just came in my shorts!”

* * *

“So Hamlet's still on, then?” They're in the bedroom again, and Jared's sitting with his back to the headboard and his legs spread into a wide V with Jensen pulled up close between them, leaning back against Jared's chest like it's a chairback. Jared's arms are wrapped around Jensen's chest, and he's pressing kisses into the skin beneath Jensen's ear, licking along his jawline and kissing the back of his neck, just lazy sweet and purposeless. Because he can.

Hamlet's still on, as far as I know,” says Jensen. “Nobody's called to say otherwise.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, it is.”

“I mean, obviously a movie about Nightwing would be cooler, but Hamlet's okay to be going on with.”

“Philistine.”

“Who-istein?”

“You heard me, geek boy.”

“C'mon, seriously – can you imagine what a crappy superhero Hamlet would make? I mean, what, he's facing off against the Joker, and instead of kicking the guy's ass he's going to angst about it for twenty minutes, and talk to his dead father, and then go be inappropriate with his mom?”

“You – he – it's Hamlet! He doesn't fight crime or wear lycra!”

“He wears a cape, though. And tights. He's half way to having a costume already. And black's cool.”

“He doesn't fight crime!”

“Oh, he totally fights crime! That's his whole shtick! He's the original vigilante hero, fighting for truth, justice and the Danish way! By...being incredibly emo and chickenshit, losing the girl that loves him and managing to fuck just about everything up. But he does kick Claudius's ass in the end. Almost by accident.”

“I can't believe you just compared Hamlet to Superman.”

“Yeah, Supes would totally kick his lugubrious ass.”

“Lugubrious?”

“It's what he is.”

“Okay. What, did you eat a dictionary while I wasn't looking?”

Jared bites the back of Jensen's neck again, gently. “I have a Word of the Day thing on Facebook,” he says, cheerfully. “Also, I am very clever, and know lots of things. Including the word lugubrious.”

“Huh. Anyway, Hamlet is nothing like Superman. He's more like Batman.”

Jared is appalled at this travesty, and makes this clear by pinching one of Jensen's nipples and hunching in around him, squeezing him like a teddybear. “Are you on crack? Batman totally kicks ass! Hamlet runs around whining! Batman knows why he's pissed at the world, and he will beat your ass down if you give him any crap. Hamlet fucks everything up because he lies to himself about why he's mad at the world, instead of being honest with himself about what matters to him. He ought to take decisive action and do something, but instead he just takes the path of least resistance at every turn. He loses the girl because he lies to her and drives her literally crazy, and then he has the gall to stand around whining about how much he loved her, when it's his fault she's dead! He's a total screwup! Hamlet needs to man up and grow a pair, damn it. He's nothing like the goddamn Batman!”

Jensen wriggles around in his grasp until they're sitting face to face, legs tangled together. His eyes are dancing, and Jared guesses that maybe he did just get kind of ranty just there, but, seriously, it was totally justified, and if Jensen laughs at him for caring about the Batman, he might just have to kick the guy's ass to the curb.

'O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!,” Jensen says instead, smiling at him. “The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword; The expectancy and rose of the fair state; The glass of fashion and the mould of form' ; it goes for both of them. They're both very wealthy, talented, brilliant and capable men, they're both kick-ass fighters, and they're both nuttier than monkey shit; they both lose their fathers to murder; they both seek vengeance outside the law; they both pretend to be something they're not, so they can get on with being vigilantes – Hamlet pretends to be crazy, or, well, crazier, while Batman pretends to be Bruce Wayne.”

Jared thwaps him over the head. “Bruce Wayne pretends to be Batman, braintrust.”

“No, it's the other way round,” says Jensen, seriously. “Bruce Wayne is the mask; Bats is always Bats.”

There's a little pause, and Jared has to hug him a bit tighter and concentrate pretty hard on not asking Jensen Motherfucking Ackles to marry him. “Okay,” he says instead, breathlessly. “Point.”

“Plus there's all that hanging around late at night on high battlements, wearing cloaks and being crazy. And neither of them like actually killing people. But, yeah, Hamlet is crap at being a vigilante. He's just not crazy enough. Still – he's a lot more like Batman than he is like Supes. Othello, on the other hand? Othello's got kind of a Superman vibe.”

“Okay, you're allowed to play Hamlet,” says Jared softly, and his heart's swelling in his chest like it might be in danger of exploding, or something. He presses his face into the hollow of Jensen's throat and drops a kiss there, tasting salt.

“Thank you, Mr Padalecki,” Jensen says, twining his fingers in Jared's hair and pulling him closer. “Anything else you want to tell me about my career?”

“Yeah,” says Jared, as their noses brush. His breath puffs warm against Jensen's lip. “You should play a comic book hero next,” he murmurs. “Just – don't let Schumacher direct it, okay?”

“You saying I couldn't rock a PVC suit of armour with built-in nipples?” Jensen asks, a ripple of laughter in his voice. “Because I think I could, you know.” And then they're kissing like they just invented it, and he's got a lapful of impossibly gorgeous, impossibly perfect guy, and life is pretty fucking sweet.

* * *

When the doorbell goes, he feels Jensen tensing up against him automatically, and starts to knead at his shoulder. “It's okay. Chill. Nobody knows you're here. You didn't tell anyone about me, did you?”

“Are you kidding?” And, okay, that clearly shouldn't feel like a dis, because it's just common sense.

“Okay then. Nothing to worry about.”

“Right,” says Jensen, uncertainly. “Right.” He sounds shaken.

“I'll just go check,” Jared says, starting to untangle his legs from the sheets and from Jensen, and glancing around for his clothes.

“No,” says Jensen, unexpectedly, closing his fingers around Jared's arm and pulling him back. “Don't go. Leave it. Please? I've got a bad feeling about this.”

“But...” begins Jared, and then there's a knock on the bedroom door and he's suddenly yanking the sheets up to cover his lap, and moving in front of Jensen. But it's just Chad, talking on the phone and carrying two boxes of pizza.

“Just a minute, I gotta – yeah – shut the fuck up,” he says into the phone, and then covers the mouthpiece. “Yo! Lovebirds – peace offering,” he says, nodding at the pizza box on top. Jared blinks at him, and then reaches forward and accepts it. “Super meat feast, to go with your, ha, super meat feast,” he says, sniggering.

“Um. Jensen's a vegetarian, but I'm happy,” says Jared, because pizza is pizza. “You didn't need to, though, Chad. Sorry. I shouldn't have - er, I shouldn't have punched you, dude. Sorry.”

But Chad's got the phone to his ear again, and he's nodding away and ignoring Jared's clumsy apology. “Yeah. Yeah, with a loofah! Can you believe that shit? That shit is fucked up, bro,” he says into the phone, and pulls the door shut with his foot.

They both look at the pizza box. Jensen's still looking kind of freaked, and Jared pulls him so close that their foreheads bump together.

“It's okay,” he says, soothingly, willing Jensen to believe it. “I've got you, Jen. You're safe here.” He presses a kiss onto Jensen's cheekbone almost chastely. “And you can stay here as long as you want, dude – hell, you can move into my bedroom and be my own personal hot water bottle, if you want to. But – sooner or later you're going to have to go out there and face the music.”

Jensen looks down at the bedsheets unhappily for a long moment. “Yeah,” he says.

“And you can do it! You're not Hamlet, Jen – you're the goddamn Batman! You're, like, the epitome of awesome. Batman probably has your picture on his wall. Painted by Alex Ross.”

That surprises a huff of laughter out of him. “Not so much, really.”

“Are you calling me a liar, Ackles?”

“I'm calling you an incurable optimist. Who doesn't have to face the vultures of the press with his tail between his legs and beg for the chance to have a career, even though he's a fag. Or try to come up with some kind of lie to spin it all – but, really, I think we're past that now.”

Jared looks at him sadly. “Jen – you shouldn't have to lie. You're brilliant at what you do.”

“Look, Pollyanna, 'should' is all very well, but this is the real world. And in the real world I'm fucked because I was caught on camera getting fucked. In the ass. Damn it. And you know what? If I'd been caught nailing a chick? It would have probably done my career good. How fucked up is that?” His voice is hoarse and miserable, and Jared feels impotently furious with the world.

“I'm sorry,” Jared says, helplessly, and Jensen ruffles his hair.

“Not your fault, dude.” He sighs. “Can I stay here a bit longer?”

“Stay forever.”

* * *

 

They have sex again in the bed that afternoon, and then share a bottle of gatorade and a bag of cornchips while they build the Death Star out of Lego, and trade stories about High School and their families and what they wanted to be when they grew up. (Comic Book Store Owner and Actor, funnily enough, so they both agreed that they'd done pretty well there, and that this is a lot less common than one might hope.) Later on they have kind-of-sex in the shower; the shower's too small for two large guys to get up to anything very athletic, really, and it's kind of grotty, but there's a lot of satisfying touching and soaping and creative uses of conditioner, and orgasms are had, so that's good. Jensen borrows Jared's toothbrush; initially he's squicked by the idea, but Jared points out all the various parts of Jared that have already gone in Jensen's mouth, and after that the toothbrush doesn't seem like such a big deal.

Jared is happier than he can ever remember being in his life.

So obviously, it all has to turn to shit.

* * *

“Can I borrow your computer?” Jensen asks, out of the blue. They're curled up together on top of the covers, and Jensen's wearing a pair of Jared's underwear and a Green Lantern t-shirt that brings out the colour of his eyes beautifully, and up until this moment they'd been sitting in contented silence, re-reading comics. “I really ought to check in with my agent, make sure everything's still okay for Hamlet. I'm supposed to be up in LA and on set by Friday.”

“Sure,” says Jared, trying to ignore the pang that goes through him at the thought of Jensen being in LA on Friday, and he goes back to reading about the trials and tribulations of John Constantine. For about five minutes.

“FUCK!”

“What? What happened?” He's off the bed and at Jensen's side in seconds, but of course it doesn't make any difference how fast he reacts now. He's already way, way, way too late to be any use. Because there on the screen is an article with a headline screaming “ACKLES EXPOSED!” over a photo of the two of them, right here, in this bed, clearly naked under the tangled sheets, all bedhead and sweat and hickeys, Jensen's mouth curling in that private little half-smile that Jared loves so much as their eyes meet, and basically doing everything short of holding up a sign saying “We can haz hot gay sexy tiems!” to convey that they have, indeed, been having hot gay sexy times.

Jared stares at the screen, and doesn't understand what he's looking at. Or at least – he understands what he's looking at, but how the hell – it's like 'Enemy of the State' or one of those spy movies, for fuck's sakes. How have they planted cameras in his bedroom? Who has planted cameras in his bedroom? Nobody knows that Jensen is here, damn it!

“How?” he says, bug-eyed, staring from the screen to Jensen's face. And all the ease and relaxation and trust has gone now, like it was never there; now Jensen's face is grey and shuttered and sick-looking, hard as nails. A mask.

“How do you think? Fucking Chad is how, pretending to talk on his cell phone while he was snapping away and wrecking my fucking life.” He sounds frantic, and he's staring at the screen like it's some kind of ticking bomb that he doesn't know how to defuse. And then something else comes over his face, and he turns very slowly to look at Jared, his eyes widening. “Were you in on it?” he asks, slowly, with horror in his voice, and Jared is suddenly speechless. “Oh my God. Wow. Was I ever – wow.” He rakes a hand through his hair, looking completely at a loss. “Well, I hope you made a lot of money,” he says at last, tightly. “I hope it was worth it.” And then he's ripping off the borrowed clothes and striding naked and furious around Jared's room, picking up his own discarded things from where they fell a lifetime or so ago.

“No,” says Jared, barely more than a whisper, watching with shocked eyes. “No, I wasn't in on it.”

“Says you.”

Jared wonders if this is what it feels like to get shot or stabbed; he's never led a very eventful kind of life, never had occasion to learn the sensation of your blood pouring out onto the floor. It's probably not like this, he thinks, numbly. He's just being emo. Like Hamlet. It's not like this was ever going to be a relationship, after all. And he still hardly knows the guy. So obviously he can't actually be in love with him. Not really. This is something else. Heartburn, maybe, or indigestion.

“Jensen, I would never do that,” he says, when he can speak, although his voice sounds wrong in his ears, rough and thready. “I had no idea. I'm so sorry.”

“You know what?” Jensen's pulling up his zipper, and he's got this wild, furious gleam in his eyes now, reckless and gladiatorial. “Fuck you. I came here because I thought – I trusted you, for some insane reason, and I thought I would be safe, and you've just made it all even worse.”

Jared watches him pulling on his shirt with swift, jerky movements. “This is – I know this is really shit, but maybe a little perspective might...”

“Oh my God, if you tell me that there are people starving in Africa, or that worse things happen at sea, I will cut you,” Jensen snarls. “You've ruined my life!”

“No,” says Jared, frowning. “No, I really haven't. This is – Jen, it's just a job. And shitty things do happen, and we don't see them coming. I mean, damn, Milo, my best friend – one minute everything's fine, and then the next minute, bam, wheelchair for life, all because some other idiot driver wasn't paying attention to the road. For life, Jen. This, all this, with the video and the photo – it's really shitty, I get that, but it's not ruining your life. Not really.”

Jensen is staring at him like he's speaking Russian or something. “What planet are you on?” he demands. “You know nothing about my life. Nothing!” He sits down rather abruptly, and puts his head in his hands, and takes a deep breath, and then another. And then he laughs, and looks up at Jared, and his expression is pure self-mockery. “And, seriously – this is all win-win for you, isn't it? You're already out, so it's not like your momma's going to be weeping into her cornflakes and hiding her head from the neighbours when she goes to church.” He makes an ugly choking noise that isn't quite a sob, and tries to turn it into another laugh, then he shakes his head, like he can somehow unmake this reality just by refusing to believe it's true. His eyes slide over to look at the screen in the corner of the room and then flutter closed for a moment, and he bites his lip. “Might even give your business a boost too – people coming in to buy The Amazing Spiderman from the guy who fucked Jensen Ackles. You're gonna have a great time. Just think - the papers will offer you crazy money to tell your side of the story, stud.” He open his eyes again, and looks across at Jared. “Just make sure you share with Chad – after all, he's the photographic genius who shot you into stardom.”

“Okay, that really really isn't fair,” Jared says, stiffly, and for a moment he thinks Jensen's going to apologise, because for a moment – just a moment – it looks like the rigid touch-me-not facade is cracking, and he gets a glimpse of the guy he'd been in bed with, and he looks wrecked behind his cold little mask. Absolutely wrecked. “It's just – Jen, it's just gossip,” he says, very gently. “It's nothing. People will have forgotten it in a few weeks. Can't we get past this?”

But he's misjudged, and that hint of vulnerability has gone again. “Nothing gets forgotten,” Jensen snaps. He's shaking as he pulls on his shoes, and Jared thinks he might be on the brink of crying. Which would be horrendous. “It's the fucking Internet, Jared. Every time somebody types my name into Google, it's going to come up on the first goddamn page. It'll be on my Wikipedia entry already. It's – this stuff lasts forever.” He gives a ragged sniff, sounding like a snot-nosed kid, furious and forlorn. “I'm going to regret this forever.”

“Oh,” says Jared, feeling like he's just been punched. “Okay then.” And his expression must be telegraphing how wretched he feels right now pretty damn clearly, because Jensen's breath hitches, and his brows draw together, and he wrings his hands and makes an abortive move towards him, as if he wants to take the words back, and then crosses his arms tightly in front of his chest, hugging himself. And, shit, he is crying now, face pink and blotchy, freckles standing out starkly on his skin, eyes startlingly green, and he just looks so hurt and betrayed and freaking miserable that Jared pretty much wants to die. He swallows again. “That's – yeah. Okay. But – I'm gonna do the opposite, if that's okay with you,” Jared says, hoarsely. “I mean, I really really wish Chad hadn't done what he did, and I'll be cutting his heart out with a rusty knife after you've gone – but I'll always be glad you walked into my shop.” He nods, looking at nothing in particular and trying to control his breathing. “You're the best thing that ever happened to me.” He looks up and blinks several times, quite hard. “And not because you're 'Jensen Fucking Ackles', dude. Because you're you. And you're awesome.”

Jensen stares at him, and swallows hard; and for a moment Jared can feel the next moment, can see Jensen on the brink of taking that short step towards him, and letting Jared pull him into a hug, and just calming the fuck down, already. For a moment he can see it, and he's sure that Jensen can too. They just stand there, frozen, staring at one another like rabbits in the headlight of an oncoming car, until Jensen blinks, and looks away.

“I can't – I can't do this,” he says, in a strangled tone, his voice in tatters, and he stands up and turns on his heel. “I don't know how to do this.”

* * *

“That showed him. Told you he'd get his. Do I look out for my homeboy or what?”

It takes Jared a very long time to process this sentence, and when he lifts his head it wobbles on the stem of his neck. Tequila, he suspects, is not actually doing an awful lot for his brain cells.

“Chad, right now I am too drunk to kick your ass. But when I am not, I'm going to beat you like a dog.” He stares at Chad. “You need to leave. Seriously. I'm kind of numb at the moment, but when that wears off and the crippling pain and misery comes crashing back down, and when I can actually stand up, I'm going to break all your fingers and toes. And punch you in the cock so hard your balls will end up in your mouth. In fact, I'm pretty much going to fuck you up. In a major way. Because you have just ruined my entire fucking life.”

Chad stares at him, dumbfounded. “Are you shitting me? Douchenozzle totally had it coming!”

Jared draws a deep breath, and then another. The room revolves around him. “Chad, I was blissfully happy, hanging out with the guy I love. The only guy I will ever love. The Spiderman to my Mary Jane. The Lois Lane to my Superman. I just – fucking hell, Chad. How could you?”

Chad scratches his thigh. “Okay, dude: one, he dumped your ass, and broke your idiot heart, and didn't give a shit; two, he came here to use you as a hideout when he got busted for being a slutty faggot, just 'cause it was convenient for him, planning to take your broken heart, fix it up and make it shiny and then smash it into powder all over again when he walked out that door.” He gives a little shrug. “And, three, they offered me more money than I have ever seen in my life. I didn't know there were numbers that big.”

“Chad,” says Jared. “I love him. And you hurt him. And now he hates me. And you hurt him! And you – what – this was just for some fucking money>? Seriously?”

“Be fair, dude. Of course it wasn't just for some money.” He sounds deeply offended, and Jared squints at him blearily, trying to read his expression. “It was for an enormous mountain of fucking money. Like, Mothra-huge piles of money.” He tucks his hands in his pockets. “'Sides – the guy's a dick, Jay. A dick.”

“He's just messed up,” says Jared. “He thinks he's Hamlet. And he has trust issues. Kind of enormous trust issues.” He stares at the tequila bottle, which is almost empty. “Can't say you really helped much there.”

* * *

“Okay, stud, guess what I got for you?”

Jared eyes Katie dubiously. “Frappuccino?”

“No, jackass. Something better than that.”

“A date with John Barrowman?”

“Okay, not that good. If I had a date with John Barrowman, I'd be keeping it all for myself. Also, he's married.”

“To a guy.”

“Hey, he's never met me. I could turn him.”

“In your dreams, Katie.”

“And they are awesome dreams, bossman. Awesome, filthy, sticky, sweet dreams. Involving leather. And handcuffs. And chocolate mousse.”

“Please – really, stop oversharing.”

“Go on, you're not guessing. What did I get you?”

“Wash's dinosaurs? From e-bay? With a certificate of authenticity?”

She snorts. “No, numbnuts. I got you the phone number for Jensen The-one-that-got-away Ackles' bigshot agent. So now you can call him up and fix things. Because if I have to put up with any more of this moping, I'm going to start dressing you up as a goth. At least then it'll be, like, a fashion statement.”

Jared stares at her. “Oh,” he says, blankly, and accepts the little post-it-note she hands him.

“C'mon, Edward. Or do I mean Morpheus? Mr Mopeypants, anyway. Cheer up!”

“That's – um. Thanks,” he says, and manages to dig out a smile from somewhere. “That's great, Katie. Um. So - d'you want a Frappuccino?”

“Nah. But I could go for a Chai latte with a shot of sugar free vanilla. If you're buying.”

* * *

“I'd like to make a toast,” says Milo, lifting his glass. “Eighteen months ago, Sean here opened the finest Japanese-Ethiopian restaurant in San Antonio.”

“The only Japanese-Ethiopian restaurant in San Antonio,” interrupts Keiko.

“The only Japanese-Ethiopian restaurant in the world,” says Chris.

“Shut up, interrupters! I'm speaking! Where was I? Right – so, Sean opened this fine, fine restaurant, and we have been coming here to eat delicious wasabi injera, and kitfo sushi, and other daring dishes.”

“And to ogle his gorgeous waitresses,” says Keiko, winking at Liza, who's still wearing her uniform.

“Oi! You'll only be ogling one waitress, thank you very much,” says Chris, tugging her closer with an arm around the waist. “And I prefer waitperson.”

“Go Sean!” yells Jared, lifting his fourth bottle of Asahi to his lips.

Milo gamely ignores them all, and carries on. “But alas, he could not keep going indefinitely with only four customers, no matter how gluttonous we might be. Especially you, Jay – you, more than anyone, tried your very best to eat enough food to feed five or six people, out of the kindness of your heart. But it was not to be. And so, alas, the dream has come to an end. Because the people of San Antonio did not appreciate Sean's culinary vision.”

“Bastards,” says Sean, taking a swig of saki straight from the bottle.

“Bastards,” agrees Milo. He pulls a face. “So ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a toast: To Sean! Innovator! Dreamer! Chef! And, as of next week, job hunter!”

“To Sean!” everyone choruses.

“Bad luck, dude,” says Jared, slapping Sean on the shoulder a little harder than he'd intended. “But you tried. You stuck your neck out, and you took a chance, and that's what counts.”

Sean looks around at his restaurant. The door's locked, and there's a 'Closed' sign hanging in the window, but it's actually busier now than it's been all day. He sighs. “Taking chances can be a really stupid idea,” he says, glumly.

“But if you don't, then you never know,” says Jared.

“Aw, Sean, buddy – I know it sucks,” says Milo, ruffling his hair. “Life – life just happens. And it's not like in the movies. The good guys don't always win, and the brave choices aren't always rewarded. Random shit just happens to good people.” He rolls his eyes. “I am the poster child for this sentiment. I'd like to say that I'm zen about it all, but mostly I find that throwing plates at the wall or blowing up zombies is the best kind of catharsis. And yelling “cocksucker!” at politicians. And having lots of hot sex with my wife. That helps too. Also, alcohol.”

“Hey, if it's got your seal of approval, I'm willing to try having lots of hot sex with your wife,” says Sean. “I mean, it's a dirty job, but...”

“I may not have the use of my legs, but I can still run over your feet, dipshit,” says Milo. “Also, you are not hot enough to sleep with my wife.”

“Point.”

Chris taps on the side of her beer bottle with a fork, and everyone quietens down. “People – since we're making announcements, I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you all that the lovely Keiko and I are engaged.”

“Holy crap!” exclaims Jared, amidst the ensuing cheers. “Go Keiko!”

Keiko beams around at the rest of the table. “I know it's been kind of a whirlwind romance,” she says, sheepishly. “But, you know what they say about lesbians taking a U Haul on the second date? Kind of true, in this case.” There are gales of laughter. “So, yeah – we moved in together after a month, and now we've been together a year, and we thought, what the hell. Why wait? So we're getting married.” She shrugs, and glances up at Chris. “We're just – I've never been so happy in my life.”

“Me too, cupcake,” says Chris, squeezing her closer. “Yeah – for someone who's going to be jobless as of next week, I'm feeling pretty damned happy right now. We haven't set a date yet, but y'all are all invited to our big gay Canadian wedding, when it happens.”

“Goddamn Canadians,” grumbles Milo. “Coming down here and stealing our women! With your politeness, and your socialised medicine, and your gay marriage laws!”

“I thought you Mounties always got your man!” Liza says, poking Chris in the shoulder.

“Sweetheart, do I look like Benton Fraser to you?” Chris demands. Her eyes narrow. “Don't answer that.”

Jared's delighted for them, he really is. And not jealous at all.

“Any more announcements?” asks Alexis, laughing.

Jared draws a deep breath. “Yes,” he says. “Yes. I'd like to apologise for being a miserable bastard ever since – since, you know. The thing. With He Who Must Not Be Named. And I'd like to announce that I have decided to cheer the fuck up, and stop moping over people who are clearly never going to walk back into my life. So – New Year's Resolution - not that it's the New Year, but you know what I mean – from this day forth, I am going to be disgustingly happy, and grateful for all the good things in my life, and stop being a pain in the ass.”

“I'll drink to that!” says Milo, and Alexis squeezes Jared's arm.

* * *

Several hours later, after they have all done their very best to drink Sean's entire stock of beer and saki dry, Liza has cranked up the music and they've moved tables and chairs out of the way and Jared is trying to dance with a giggling Alexis like he thinks he's Fred Astaire. This involves a lot of standing on her toes, and swinging her around, and so far he has managed not to break anything or anyone, but it's kind of a miracle. Then the music changes, and he reels her in and they start to slowdance, and he can feel Alexis's whole body quivering with laughter.

“You are a total dork, you know,” she says, fondly.

“I have been told so,” he admits. He's feeling relaxed, and hopeful, for the first time in months. He thinks he's starting to get a sense of perspective.

“And you're over the famous boy?”

“I am over the famous boy,” he agrees. It isn't true yet, but Katie assures him that The Secret says something about how you can make things be true just by saying them, if you say them often enough. Which sounds like a crock of shit, but he's ready to try anything at this point.

* * *

 

“You may now kiss the bride!” says the minister, smiling, and there are cheers and hoots and catcalls as Keiko, resplendent in her flouncy cupcake-pink gothic Lolita meringue of a dress, grabs her tuxedo-clad bride and bends her right back like a Fred'n'Ginger dance move in reverse. The cheers and hoots and catcalls triple in volume. Jared can't stop grinning.

* * *

The gardens of the Villa Marco Polo have been decorated with hundreds and hundreds of flickering candles in little glass jars, and there are strings of white fairy lights wrapped around the ballustrades. Some of Chris's friends are musicians, and they've formed up into a little band for the evening, playing jazz standards with occasional forays into unlikely covers of hits by The Bare Naked Ladies, The Rolling Stones, My Chemical Romance and The Goo Goo Dolls. Jared is drinking champagne cocktails and munching on canapes and having a truly lovely evening. When Keiko walks by, positively glowing in her pink fairytale dress, he grabs her by the waist, his hands spanning all the way, thumbs touching over her navel, and spins her around in a dizzying circle, watching her feet fly out behind her and listening to her laugh.

“Put me down, you big idiot,” she giggles, and he pulls her into a hug before complying.

“Aw, 'cake. I'm so happy for you,” he says, feeling choked. “I'm really, truly happy for you. Chris is a lovely girl.”

“Isn't she?” Keiko beams up at him. “I can't believe I get to keep her.”

“Well, she's a damn lucky woman too,” he says.

“Yes,” says Keiko, with a private little smirk. “She really is.” She looks up at Jared, and something she sees in his face makes her frown just a little. “But, Jay – there's someone out there for you too. I swear it. You're far too awesome to be alone.”

Jared feels his smile slip a little, and ducks his head. “Hey, this isn't my night – this is your night, cupcake! I'm good, sweetheart. Don't worry about me.”

She looks at him narrowly. “I think you need to come meet some of Chris's friends,” she says, nodding. “Chris's hot, gay, male Canadian friends. Let's see if we can find you a Mountie.”

He's laughing as she drags him over to the buffet table, but as it turns out she's not exaggerating. The little cluster of guys around Chris are pretty damn cute. Of course, everyone looks cute in formal wear, but still – there's a lot of cute to go around.

“Wife!” says Keiko, dimpling. “I need you to come over here and kiss me breathless. Boys, can you look after Jay for me for a minute?”

And then she's gone, and Jared is left laughing at the sight of his tiny friend in her frilly pink skirt dragging big, strapping 6 ft tall Chris over to the shadow of the trees. “That's my girl,” he says fondly, and then turns to do the introduction thing.

“I'm Jared,” he says, smiling. There are three guys arrayed before him, clutching glasses of champagne and little paper plates of nibbles. “I'm a friend of Keiko's from way back.”

“Cool,” says the tallest of the three, giving him a quick onceover and evidently liking what he sees. “I'm Tom, this is Mike and this is Aldis. We were at college with Chris.”

“Good to meet you.”

Aldis is looking at him oddly, and Jared's stomach does a little flip. He's had this conversation an awful lot of times in the past year. “Don't I know you?” says Aldis, his brow furrowed.

“I don't think so,” Jared replies, keeping his smile fixed in place. “Say, any of you tried the shrimp puffs?”

“I'm sure I know you,” Aldis says again. “Have you been on TV? Extra work, or anything like that?”

“What? No, not me,” Jared says, trying to laugh. “You must be thinking of some other tall, devilishly handsome Texan. I run a Comic Book Store. Don't know the first thing about acting.” Aldis is still staring at him. “You know what, I think I'll just get a top up of champagne. See you around, guys,” he says, hurriedly, and bolts for the drinks table.

He's necked one glass of champagne and is just pouring himself another, when Aldis pops up behind him. “You're him, aren't you?” he says, knowingly, and Jared winces. At least he isn't yelling it to the whole party, he supposes. “You're the guy, the one from that photo.”

“Don't know what you're talking about, buddy,” Jared says, forcing himself to turn and smile at Aldis.

Aldis is not even remotely fooled. “The infamous Ackles photo. That photo.”

“Nope, not me. Must be thinking of somebody else,” says Jared, determinedly. “Hey, can I top up your glass for you?”

Aldis studies him for a long moment. “Not you, huh? So you never met Jensen Ackles?”

“Wow, I wish! Not a lot of hot multimillionaire movie stars showing up in comic stores in San Antonio, though.”

“Huh,” says Aldis. “So you're not here in BC to see him, then?”

Jared chokes on his champagne. “Sorry?”

Aldis's mouth quirks up at the corner. “You're not interested in the fact that he's filming over in Vancouver right now?”

“He is?”

“He is.” Aldis is grinning, but it's not an unkind expression. “But you wouldn't be interested in that.”

Jared swallows. “He – I – um.” It would, obviously, be truly, truly sad to go and hang around some film studio in the hopes of bumping into Jensen. Like some kind of sad, bunny boiling stalker ex. “Really?” is all he manages. “How do you know this stuff?”

Aldis shrugs. “I'm a sound technician. I'm working on the movie.”

“Oh. Right.” Jared takes another slug from his glass, and then realises that it's empty. He puts it down on the counter, blinks, and picks up an open bottle instead. “So, um – right,” he says, staring at the bottle. “What movie?”

“It's called 'Lucifer' – sounds kinda dark, hey? But it's not actually a horror film. It's pretty cool. Based on some comic book. Guillermo del Toro's directing. ”

Jared feels his knees go out from under him, and sits his ass down on the counter rather abruptly. “Mike Carey's Lucifer?” he says, staring at Aldis. “He's – is he playing Lucifer?”

“Sure is.”

“He's playing Lucifer. Oh my God,” says Jared, blankly. “He's playing a comic book hero. Without a PVC suit of armour. With nipples.” He lifts up the bottle and takes a long swig from it. “And without Schumacher to fuck it up. Del Toro. Excellent.”

Aldis looks slightly thrown. “Er – yeah. Yeah, I guess.” He looks at the champagne, and then at Jared's face. “Dude, you are so totally and utterly the guy from the photo,” he says, not unkindly. “You have any idea how many times I jerked off to that photo? No freakiness intended – just – fucking hell, that was one hot photo. I think about it every time I see the guy on set, all composed and neat and tidy in his buttoned down suits and cufflinks. Kind of hard not to, you know?”

Jared considers the advisability of hitting him over the head with the champagne bottle, then takes a deep breath and counts to ten in his head. “I don't – sorry, Aldis, but this – I don't think I can talk about this without punching you. And we've only just met, and I don't want to wreck Keiko's big day, so, you know, maybe you could not talk about this? Please?”

Aldis's eyes widen. “Wow. Okay. Wow. You're really – huh.” He bites his lip. “You want to come in to work with me tomorrow? I can sneak you in, if you want to – if, you know, you've got some unfinished business, or something?”

This would be a really astonishingly bad idea, obviously. Jared realises that. He lifts the champagne bottle to his lips again and takes a massive gulp. “Yeah,” he says hoarsely. “Yeah, let's do that.”

* * *

Jared's never been on a film set before. It's weird. Not how he'd have imagined. When he watches TV or movies, there's almost always that sense of suspension of disbelief, and the conviction that the world he's watching does extend beyond the frame, that the characters have lives of their own. It's what he loves about storytelling. So it's weird, seeing things that look so perfectly real, and knowing that they're facades; that this is just a corner of a room after all, not a whole room – not even any ceiling to it. That the crumbling brickwork over there is flimsy as cardboard, and the lawn in front of it only a few yards of plastic grass. It's all weird and disorienting, and it occurs to him then that this is Jensen's life, this weird world of lies and hollow glamour, of bright and brittle things that are not what they seem.

“There he is,” says Aldis, softly, pointing, and Jared doesn't know where to put himself. “Lucifer himself.”

Jensen hasn't seen him. Jared shrinks back behind the thin pretend wall and watches him walking along, impeccable in his suit. His hair's been coloured for the role, and it's several shades lighter now, and longer than it was the last time Jared saw him – although not as light or as long as it was in the infamous video. It suits him. He looks relaxed, centred. He looks good. He's talking to one of his co-stars; Jared can't make out who the actress is, but from the costume it must be Mazikeen. She looks perfect for the part. They both do. And - and he doesn't know this Jensen, he realises; this is Jensen the professional, at work, doing his job. He's nodding attentively, his face serious, following her hand as she points at different places on the set and replying, sketching something out in the air with his hands. It's a nightclub interior, and Jared finds himself wondering, half-absently, whether this is the set for Lux. Probably. And then he tells himself to stop being a geek and start figuring out what the hell he's going to do. Maybe he ought to just turn right around and leave. Probably, in fact. Oh, fuck.

“You okay, dude?” asks Aldis, sympathetically.

Jared turns and stares at him, kind of wild-eyed. “Am I – I'm being totally inappropriate here, right? I'm being all 'Basic Instinct'. This is a really bad idea.”

Aldis pulls a face. “Well – yeah, actually, quite likely a bad idea. Um.” His frown deepens. “Could you – whatever you do, could you try not to get me fired, eh? Please? I mean, just call me a hopeless romantic, but I couldn't resist, you know – I mean, you are so clearly still hung up on the guy, and the way he was looking at you in that photo – well, I can tell you now, he doesn't look at anyone else like that. Nuh-uh. For someone who's such hot property in Hollywood, and recently outed, basically Mr Posterboy for Faggotry – those are some serious touch-me-not vibes he gives off. So – yeah, okay, maybe I've gotten a bit carried away here, trying to play the good fairy. But if you don't try, you'll never know, right?”

“Right,” says Jared, uncertainly. “I guess so. Yeah. Um.” He watches the Mazikeen girl walk away to talk to somebody else, and this is it, this is his chance, Jensen's standing there alone rubbing the back of his head meditatively, looking out at the set.

“Good luck,” says Aldis, patting him on the arm. “I'm rooting for you. I'll be over there, doing important tech things totally unrelated to sneaking people's exes onto the set. If you need me.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“And, dude - I'm serious about the not-getting-fired thing.”

“Yeah, I know,” says Jared, as Aldis melts away.

And he goes for it.

He takes a circuitous route, so that Jensen has the chance to see him coming and can walk off if he wants to. And if he does, then Jared's going to let him go. He's promising himself that he's not going to be any creepier than he is already, turning up at the guy's workplace. If Jensen doesn't want to talk to him, he'll go.

It's very clear, the moment when Jensen catches sight of him. He doesn't exactly recoil, but it's a full-body gesture along those lines. Not exactly the most positive response, and Jared has no idea how to read his expression. He doesn't look horrified, which is something, or furious, which is also something, and he's not yelling for security, but Jared still moves real slowly, with his hands unconsciously raised, palm out, to try to make it clear that he's not trying to be threatening.

And then they're standing in front of each other, and Jensen's blinking at him, looking almost scared.

“Um,” says Jared, awkwardly, and lifts his hand to make the Vulcan greeting sign. “I – er – I come in peace?”

It's the right thing to say. Jensen's mouth quirks a tiny bit, like it's almost unwilling. “You really are the biggest geek in the entire world, aren't you?” he says, ruefully.

Jared nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I probably am. Um. So - 'Lucifer'! That's – that's brilliant.”

"Turns out that openly gay Hollywood stars are allowed to play the Fairy King, the Gay Best Friend, Gandalf, Magneto - or the Devil," Jensen says. "I'm creating a new niche."

He's got his arms folded in front of his chest. Not exactly subtle. Jared swallows, and looks away, and tries not to feel disappointed.

“Sorry. This is weird and stalkery, isn't it? I didn't mean to – I just – I'm up here for a wedding, Keiko's wedding – you remember Keiko? She thought you were great in The Matrix?” Jensen's mouth twitches again. “She's just married this lovely woman, Chris – great girl. Makes me look feminine. Um. Anyway, I met somebody at the wedding reception – who, er, shall remain nameless, because they're scared they might get fired for sneaking me onto the set – and they told me you were, um, here. Now. Filming Mike Carey's Lucifer. And apparently I then had a mental breakdown and thought it would be a great idea to come and see you. Because here we both are. In Canada. Strangers in a strange land. Um. Hi.” He bites his lip. “I should just – I should go, right? You're freaking out. It's weird. Also, you hate me. Um. Right. Sorry. I don't know what possessed me.” He can't take his eyes off Jensen's, though, and he isn't walking away just yet. But he's going to. He's going to walk away any second now. “Hamlet' was brilliant, by the way. Really brilliant. I mean, not Nightwing, obviously, but still – you kicked ass. Polysyllabically. As expected. And with minimum emo. I liked the cape. 'Course, I've always had a thing for guys in capes.”

There are crinkles at the corners of Jensen's eyes, and he's swaying forward just a little, moving into Jared's personal space like he's being pulled there by a magnet, and stuffing his hands into the pockets of his pants instead of crossing his arms in front of him. It's funny, because, really, he's a better actor than this, but right now his body language is wildly unsubtle, all forced-casualness and want. But – he isn't saying anything. And, really, when did Jared become an expert on body language?

Jared licks his lips. “I'll – I'll go. Sorry. Thanks for not calling security on me. Or the cops, or whatever they have up here. Mounties. Mounties would be embarrassing, horses trampling the set – glad we avoided that.” He swallows. “Sorry. I'm rambling.”

Jensen looks down at his highly polished shoes and then looks up through his eyelashes at Jared and his sudden grin is irresistible. “Well, it's not like you threw a glass of juice over me, or anything,” he says. “This time. Mounties would probably be excessive.”

“I'm lulling you into a false sense of security,” says Jared, seriously. “There's a large guy in a gorilla suit standing around the corner with a bucket of orange juice, ready to jump out when you least expect it. Like the Spanish Inquisition.”

“Right,” says Jensen, nodding. “So I'd better stay away from that corner, then.”

“I think it's probably for the best, yeah.”

“Thanks for the heads-up,” he says. And there's a light flush high up on his cheekbones, and he's smiling now, smiling Jared's smile, not that bright, impersonal movie star smile, and, God, Jared feels like his heart is full of helium.

“You're welcome,” Jared says, knowing he's beaming like an idiot and vaguely aware that he might as well be wearing a t-shirt that reads “I love you” rather than one with a Fruity Oaty Bar logo.

“Look – don't go. We should talk. There's – there's stuff that I need to say. Only not right now.” There's a little knot of people scurrying towards them, Mazikeen and a couple of actors followed by a harassed-looking guy with a clipboard. Jensen looks from them to Jared and back again and bites his lip. “Can you stick around?” He waves his hand in the direction of the catering truck. “Drink some juice? Eat some chips? Hang out with the person whose identity I must never learn so I don't have to get them fired? Something?”

“Yeah,” says Jared, a little breathlessly. “Yeah, I can do that.”

* * *

“Well, that looked like it went well,” says Aldis, grinning. “Fistbump moment, I'm thinking.” Jared feels dazed, and wildly happy, and he knows he's grinning like an idiot when he bumps his knuckles against Aldis's fist. “See, that smile? We peons don't get that smile from the gorgeous Mr Ackles. I am all about the envy right now.”

Jared ducks his head. “We're not – he just said we needed to talk, is all. Um.”

“Talk. Yeah. I'll bet.”

“Shut up,” says Jared.

“Oh, God, just look at you, boy. You've got it bad, bad bad. Hey, d'you wanna listen in?”

Jared blinks. “What?”

“My job – they're all wearing mics – d'you wanna listen to your boy's filthy hot voice while you're waiting?”

Jared flushes. “Is that okay?”

“I offered, didn't I? 'Course it's okay. Just put this to your ear like – yeah – like that. 'Kay? We've got a good half hour before things get started - I'm gonna go grab a coffee – d'you want anything?”

Jared watches him walk away, and peers down at the actors from his position in the booth. He can't stop smiling. Damn.

“So Gina does her thing on the stage, and everyone's all oohing and aahing at the pretty CGI shiny things, and then I go for my dagger, and you say...” It's the girl speaking, Jared thinks. The Mazikeen girl in the mask.

“I say 'Not yet, Mazikeen! Let her spend the coin of their power as prodigally as she likes. When she's down to small change, then we'll move.'”

“Ooh, sexy!”

Jensen snorts.“Don't start that up again, Genevieve.”

“What, am I not man enough for you?”

“Gen.”

“Go on, baby. Just because Jessica didn't do it for you don't mean you need to give up on all of us.” Her voice is dropping down all low and smouldery, pure Jessica Rabbit.

“Gen, cut it out,” says Jensen. He sounds amused.

“Hey, I'm not judging! Bi-curious is the new black. I'd totally screw Scarlett Johansson.”

“Well I'll get my agent to give her a call and see if we can hook you up with a date.”

Jared smiles. That's his boy.

“Tease.”

“Just trying to be supportive.”

“Huh.” There's a little pause, and Jared watches them watch the director. “So who was that big guy you were with?” she asks, with a prurient note in her voice. “He was pretty hot. I'd tap that.” Jared has frozen perfectly still, waiting to hear what Jensen will say, not knowing quite what he want to hear. Or at least – well, yes, there is some small, ridiculous part of him that would love to hear Jensen say something wonderful, something cheesy and stupid and disarming, something like “He's the man I love,” or “He's the guy I want to spend the rest of my life with.”

“Just some guy,” says Jensen, sounding bored.

“Oh my God – is he your boyfriend? Is this a conjugal visit?” She's bouncing on her toes as Jared watches them, and Jensen throws his head back and laughs out loud.

“Good God, no. Please, grant me some taste, will you?” He sounds sincerely appalled at the suggestion. “He's just a fan. A friend of my cousin's. He's a total loser – no social skills at all. Not your type, darling, believe me. It's kind of awkward, having him show up on the set like some sad-sack stalker, but, whatever. You know how it is – gotta make nice with the little people, right?”

“Oh, man, do I ever. I had this one fan, he sent me...” But Jared doesn't wait to hear the rest of her story. He's carefully removing the headset and laying it down.

* * *

 

Jared really, really hates doing the accounts. When Keiko was here he used to rope her in to help, but now that she and Chris have made their move to Canada permanent, he's stuck doing it himself. At present, he seems to have worked out that his gross income exceeded his expenditure by 6000%, which suggests that he should be retiring to a desert island any day now with a harem of oiled-up rugby players. Either that, or his calculator is broken. Or possibly he's shit at math. One or the other.

He glares at the spreadsheet in front of him, feeling cross and helpless, and considers writing the number 42 into every box, just for the hell of it. It is, after all, supposed to be the answer to everything.

Katie sticks her head around the door of his tiny little office, and blinks at the tottering piles of receipts and scraps of paper. “You got a minute, bossman?” she asks.

“Why yes, Katie. I'm not doing anything important. Just trying to figure out if I can afford to pay your wages, that's all. Nothing that won't keep.”

She rolls her eyes. “Look, Mopeypants, you know I hate to interrupt you when you're communing with the god of High Finance, but there's a delivery out front.”

“Yes? And?”

“It's for you.”

Jared stares at her. “Katie, remind me what I pay you for again?”

“For putting up with your bullshit, boss. Now get your perky ass out here and deal with this. My signature ain't good enough.”

He gets to his feet, glowering at her. “Seriously – I have to do everything myself? Seriously?”

“Well – yeah,” she says, tonguing the strawberry chupachup noisily. “Pretty much. Although I'll take a look at the math, if you want me to. I'm pretty awesome at math.”

His face assumes a hopeful expression at that. “Oh, God, would you, KC? Please? Because I haven't a fucking clue what I'm doing.”

She grins at him. “Aww, look at those big puppy eyes! Sure I will, Mopey. You go deal with your delivery.”

He's actually pretty relieved to have an excuse to walk away from the terrible horrible no good very bad numbers, to be honest, so he's smiling as he steps out into the shop.

And then he sees who's waiting for him at the desk.

“Hi,” Jensen says. He's wearing jeans and a black v-neck sweater made of cashmere, or something like that. Something soft and touchable, that makes Jared's fingers itch to run over it. His hair is still Lucifer hair, blonder than Jared's used to, and it's styled to within an inch of its life, all artful waxy disorder. He looks as hot as Jared's ever seen him, on screen or off, and he's tapping a staccato rhythm onto the counter rather frantically with two fingers that freeze when he catches sight of Jared.

“Um,” says Jared, articulately. “Hi.”

“You left.” Jensen's face is very open, his eyes uncertain. He looks hurt and raw, which is massively unfair, in Jared's opinion.

“Well,” he says. “Yes. You were – busy.”

“Oh.” There's an awkward little pause, while Jensen's eyes dart to his feet, and then to Jared, and then to the package on the counter, and then to his feet again. “I – um. I brought you something.”

Jared looks down at the package blankly. “Oh. Yes?” He looks up at Jensen, and doesn't know what to say to that urgent, hopeful expression. Because it isn't true, is it? That's not how Jensen feels. Jensen laughed at the idea of finding him attractive. Jensen thinks he's a sad-sack stalker. Jensen scooped out his heart with a few dismissive words, and it hurt like hell, but at least Jared knew where he stood. And now there's – this. Whatever this is. Other than salt in the wound.

“Don't open it now,” says Jensen, hurriedly, looking at Jared and then looking away and then looking back again, like he can't stand to meet his gaze but can't stand not to look at him either. “It's just – I thought you might like it. Stupid. Probably stupid. It made me think of you.”

“Oh,” says Jared. He knows he's not being very helpful at keeping the conversation going, but apparently he doesn't have very good social skills. And he'd been rather sort of hoping to never see Jensen Ackles' picture or hear his name mentioned ever again for the rest of his life. So having him here, all bright eyes and scattered freckles and firm swell of muscles under black cashmere is – well. It's not very easy to deal with, to be honest.

“You left,” Jensen says again, reproachfully. “I told you – I said – there were things I wanted to say. Important things. But – you left.” He tries to smile, but it doesn't work very well.

“Yes,” says Jared. “Well. I was listening. I had one of those headsets, and I heard what you said, to that girl. The Mazikeen girl. About me.” Jensen's face whitens. “About how awkward it was having a, what was it, a total loser chasing after you. So – I left.” He swallows, surprised that something can hurt quite this much. He can't actually remember a single conversation with Lauren making him feel this wretched, and they were married for two tempestuous years and had an acrimonious divorce.

“You heard that?” Jensen's voice is a strangled little shadow of itself. “And you thought – oh, fuck.”

Jared shrugs. “It was kind of you not to give me the brush off, or call for security, or whatever. But I can take a hint. You know. Eventually. After a big enough anvil to the head.”

“No, but – no, you, you idiot,” says Jensen, sounding thoroughly upset. “But that wasn't the truth, damn it. You think I want the bitchiest, most indiscreet woman in North America to know a blessed thing about my personal life? She's a harpy, and a terrible, terrible gossip. Of course I didn't want her to get her claws into you.”

“Oh,” says Jared, blankly. He thinks back, and tries to see the conversation from that point of view, but it still feels like walking on broken glass just thinking about it. “Right.”

“I have – I have thought about you,” Jensen says, clumsily, plucking at the cuff of his sweater. “And I wanted to apologise. For what I said, I mean, about you being in on the whole photo thing. About you selling me out. I know you wouldn't do that. I was – I guess I wasn't really thinking very clearly, just then. But I should have known that, even so. I know you better than that.”

Jared swallows. “Right,” he says.

Jensen breathes in sharply. “I'm really sorry,” he says again, and it's little more than a whisper.

“Okay,” says Jared, trying to smile. “Well, that's very – that's nice of you. Thanks. Apology accepted.” He swallows again. “Oh, I kicked Chad out, by the way. Didn't murder him, in the end – thought that my mother would be upset if I ended up in prison. But I smashed up all his CDs and set his clothes on fire. And broke his jaw. There may also have been some undignified screaming and hurling of crockery, once I'd got past the hangover.”

“Oh,” says Jensen. He looks rather taken aback. “I – oh.”

“The thing is - I think – I do believe he thought, in some twisted, fucked-up Chaddish way, that he was actually helping me. Because I was sort of a wreck, after Jessicagate. For quite a while. So he didn't like you much, and seemed to think that vengeance was due. But it was still totally unforgivable, what he did. Which is why I haven't forgiven him. And why I broke his jaw.”

Jensen blinks quite hard, like he's just got a gust of sand in his eye.“Jessicagate,” he says. “I – yes. Wow. I really have been a complete dick, haven't I?”

“No! Well. Yes. But it's not – I mean, I do get it.” Jared chews his bottom lip for a moment, and explains: “I'm not angry.” Because he isn't. He's just one big bruise. But he isn't mad about it.

“Right,” says Jensen, shakily. “Well, look, I understand if you don't much want to see me, because I have acted like a douche, and hurt you. Several times. Well, pretty much every time we've met, really. Um. But I still – I really like you, Jay. A lot. And – I miss you. And I was wondering if maybe you might give me a second chance? Or a third chance? Or whatever number I'm on now?” His voice breaks a little, and he squares his shoulders. “Just - a chance? To do better?”

And, God, this is just so, so, so not fair. Because this feels like everything Jared's ever wanted, being served up on a silver platter, and every molecule of his being is yearning to reach out and seize it, and hold it, and keep it.

“Can I – um. Can I just have a moment?” Jared asks, and Jensen nods wordlessly, eyes fixed upon him like he's the most important thing in the world. “Thanks. Just – stay there,” he says. “I'll be – I just need to – just, you stay here.” And then he buries his hands in his hair and walks off blindly through the familiar labyrinth of bookshelves until he gets to a wall, and bangs his head on it gently a few times, and presses his fingers against the cool paintwork,and tries to think properly. And then he comes back. Jensen's looking at him with trepidation, but also with this pathetic, flutterly little hopefulness in his eyes, and that pretty much feels like getting his heart ripped out all over again, because obviously it isn't going to work between the two of them.

“Look,” Jared says, thickly. “Can I just say no?” And then he has to look away rather quickly, because the naked, shocky expression on Jensen's face is excruciating to behold. “It's just – I can't think of anything I want more than this. That's the problem. But I can't – I don't think I'll be able to cope, the next time you dump me. Which, you know – obviously there will be a next time. We've established this pattern.” He rakes one hand through his hair and tries to laugh. “And I know that you said you were King of the chickenshits, but actually, I think I might have to steal that crown from you. Because it – it really hurts, you see. It hurts so much, when I've gotten my hopes up, and when I let myself believe it's going to work out between us. And then it doesn't. It's like I'm walking along, thinking the ground's solid, and then I'm suddenly falling through the air like Wile E Coyote with my legs windmilling around, all shocked and breathless, and there's just enough time to think: 'Well, really, should've seen that coming' before I hit the ground and shatter into a million pieces. Again.”

“Right. Wow. That – that really is a no, isn't it?” says Jensen, hoarsely. And then he just stands there for a moment, like he's trying to pull himself together. “Okay. Fine. Well. Good decision, probably. Sensible. Logical.” He pokes the plastic Spock ears on the counter half-heartedly. “I'm sure Spock would approve.”

“Yes,” says Jared, miserably. “It's not that I don't want to. But – I can't keep playing this game. Especially when your face is on every magazine stand, and every billboard, and every TV channel, so that when you have, you know, broken my heart, again, there's really no escape.” He gives a helpless little shrug. “You're this fabulously talented, beautiful, brilliant star, and I'm just – well, I'm just some geeky guy who sells comic books. Obviously you're going to leave me. And then I'm going to be wrecked all over again, and no way to get over it.” He shakes his head. “It's like volunteering to drink acid, or jump into molten lava. Can't do it.”

Jensen swallows. “Right. Right. Okay then. Just thought I'd ask. Because – all that stuff isn't real. That's like, that's just the Bruce Wayne stuff. That's just what everyone else sees. And it's bullshit. But you know me. The real me. Not the face on the magazine stands. Not 'Jensen Fucking Ackles'. Just – me.” He lifts his chin. “And I was hoping that maybe you could love me.”

There's a long pause, and Jared watches the brave light go out of Jensen's eyes, and the tentative little curl of his smile falter and fade away, and he has no idea what to say.

“Right,” says Jensen. “Okay then. Guess not. Well – I said once that I'd always regret this, and that was just one of several million shitty things I've said to you. And it wasn't true. I'll always be glad that I walked through that door, and that I met you. Always.” And he leans into Jared and kisses the corner of his mouth softly, chastely - and then turns and walks away.

* * *

“So what do you think? Good move?” Jared says, hearing Katie emerge from the little office behind him a few seconds later.“That was the right thing to do, right?”

She stares at him. “You just turned down Jensen Ackles.”

“Yes.”

“Right. Because – he isn't hot enough?”

“No!” he snorts, rolling his eyes. “Hardly that. God. He's the hottest man I've ever seen in my life.” He starts to pick at the brown paper of Jensen's parcel.

“Right,” says Katie. “So – because he's got a shitty personality?”

“Are you kidding?” The paper starts to come loose under his fingers. “He's smart, and funny, and kind, and he has excellent taste in comics. He's got serious trust issues, and he can be pretty stunningly defensive, but underneath it all he's just – he's really - sweet.”

Katie nods slowly. “Okay. So – lousy lay?”

Christ, no!” says Jared, with feeling, shimmying the layers of paper back from the parcel to reveal its contents. They both look at the framed painting for a while. “He's a fanfuckingtastic lay.”

“So, he's rich, he's hot, he's got a great personality, he's awesome in bed, and he loves you. And he's just given you an original Alex Ross watercolour of Nightwing. Because he knows you love Nightwing like burning.”

“Yes,” says Jared, a little breathlessly. “That about sums it up.”

Katie looks at him speechlessly for a long moment, and then smacks him over the head with a copy of Watchmen. “GO AFTER HIM, YOU IDIOT!” she yells, and he blinks at her stupidly.

“Right,” he says, looking back down at the picture of Nightwing. “Yes. Good point. Fuck.” And then he turns on his heel and bolts out of the door.

Jensen's just rounding the corner, but Jared's legs are ridiculously long, and running is one of the things he does well. A few seconds later he's screeching to a halt in front of Jensen, panting, and Jensen's scrubbing his eyes roughly with the back of his hand and looking at him like he's half way expecting to get punched.

“Okay, so when I said 'can't do it', I think what I meant to say was 'I love you.' Actually,” he says, breathing hard and half raising his hands to grab Jensen, and then not quite daring to after all. “I love you. Did I mention that part? I felt like I had, but looking back I maybe spent too long whining about how devastated I'd be to lose you. I would. Be devastated, that is. Because I love you. Only you. In a forever kind of way. Thus the whole chickenshit terror of losing you again. But if I lose you because I pushed you away, then that's still losing you, isn't it?”

Jensen's mouth twitches, and he's looking up at Jared cautiously, like he's not entirely sure that he's hearing what he thinks he's hearing. “Is this a yes?”

“Yes. Yes, this is a yes. This is a great big fat enormous fucking yes. YES! Yes, Jensen Ross Ackles, I love you, just you, only and always you. You're the first thing I think of when I wake up, and the last thing I think of when I go to sleep, and I have missed you every fucking day. I love you like Mary Jane loves Peter Parker, and Superman loves Lois Lane, and Batman loves Robin. I love you, not the guy on the billboards. You. Just you.”

“Kiss me, you fool,” says Jensen, laughing.

So he does.

FINIS