It's fucking cold outside in Vancouver. This is not a fact that Jensen forgot. You spend 10 years in one city freezing your dick off, you're not going to forget it right away. But…maybe after three years of nonstop L.A. sun, he didn't quite remember just how bad it was, either.
He pulls off his gloves and shoves them into the pocket of his coat, bringing his hands up to his mouth, then breathes on to them and rubs them together and waits for them to stop feeling like icicles. It's not long. The club is dark and muggy and within just a couple of seconds, Jensen sees his cheeks in the mirrored walls as they go from red and frost-nipped to flushed from the thick, smoky air.
"Hello, sugar," says a dark-skinned man by the entrance. He's wearing a peach-colored tank top and a skirt and dark pink lipstick. His head is shaved close, but there's a giant blonde wig sitting on the cushion of the chair the man is hovering over. Jensen figures he must be getting ready for the show between checking IDs and collecting cover charge. "I hope you're here to perform. Ladies drink free. Or, you know, might as well at the rate they have pretty boys paying for them."
The guy gives Jensen a wink, and Jensen ducks his head, stammering out, "No, just here to watch."
"That's a shame," the guy says, pouting his lips and cocking his hip to the right. "Baby, you'd look killer with some color on that mouth of yours."
"Thanks, I guess." Jensen gives him a tight smile and hands over his money, hurrying past once he's gotten his hand stamped. It's not like he wasn't expecting to get hit on coming here—he just wasn't ready for it to happen before he was properly through the door.
His instinct tells him it's only going to be worse inside, but Jensen pushes on. Let no one accuse him of not being an awesome friend.
He spots Carlos sitting by the stage with a drink in his hand and an empty seat next to him. Jensen walks straight toward him, ignoring any obscenities that are shouted after him, and drops his things onto the table.
"Jensen Ackles," Carlos says, standing. Carlos is a good head shorter than Jensen, with a loud enough voice to make up for his slight build. He rises to his toes to throw one arm around Jensen's shoulder and pat him on the back.
"Carlos," Jensen replies, grinning at his friend. "It's nice to see you, man."
"Carla tonight, if you don't mind," his friend tells him with a dismissive smile. He's not dressed up any differently than he used to be on set when they were still doing Supernatural, but Jensen won't argue. "You know, I almost didn't buy it when I heard you were coming back here."
Jensen laughs as he and Carlos both take their seats. "Just a short visit."
"Still a total baby about the winter, huh?"
"I'm not a—" Jensen begins, and Carlos raises one perfectly plucked eyebrow at him. Jensen relents a little. "Alright, I still don't like it. But it's not my fault."
"Oh, no, no, no," Carlos says, shaking his head. "Don't start that 'I'm from Texas' bullshit with me, sweetheart. You think we had blizzards in Puerto Rico?"
Jensen shrugs, holding up a hand to get the waitress' attention. "And as ever, I'm willing to give you full credit. I don't know how you put up with it."
"Steady work. I do miss the tropical sun on occasion," he admits. He gives Jensen a sly smile. "And I wouldn't mind seeing some Speedos again."
"I've got a place in L.A.," Jensen reminds. "Mi casa es tu—"
Carlos covers his ears dramatically. "Please, bitch, your Spanish is painful to me."
"Tequila," Jensen says as the waitress stops in front of them. "A round for us. On me." He turns to Carlos. "That sound okay to you?"
"I don’t know if saying 'Tequila' makes you a native speaker, but I will take the alcohol."
The waitress smiles as she writes their order down and then walks off toward the bar, built hips swaying in a skirt so short Jensen is briefly worried he'll see something he didn't bargain on.
He clears his throat and looks to his friend. "So, drag queens, huh?"
"You're going to have fun tonight, Jennifer." Carlos grins at whatever face Jensen makes on instinct. "If you loosen up un poquito."
Jensen just shakes his head and thanks the waitress when she sets their shots down. He likes Carlos, always did, and the gay thing never bothered him. But this—this is a lot out of Jensen's comfort zone, and he's still having a hard time imagining why his friend was so adamant they meet up here. It's not just a gay club, it's a full on drag show. Talk about not easing Jensen into it.
"Well," he says boldly, "starting with tequila is a good way to do that, right?"
"Si," Carlos says, throwing his shot back and sucking on the lime. "Just don't get too loose. You need to be able to appreciate Anita."
"Anita?" Jensen asks. "That your girlfriend or something?"
Carlos heaves a great sigh, full of ancient sorrow and an impressive flair for the dramatic. Jensen briefly wonders why he never tried going into acting. Guy is theatrical, to say the least. "If the man is out there who can tie Anita Mann down, I fear he is a hell of a lot more to write home about than I am."
Jensen shrugs. Carlos isn't an unattractive guy, shortness aside. He's got a good, full head of black hair and skin the color of a great tan without ever having to work for it. "What's so special about Anita?" Jensen asks. He pauses, making a face. "Anita Mann is a ridiculous name by the way."
"I think it's clever," Carlos defends. Jensen thinks he might have actually offended his friend, but then Carlos unpuffs his chest and leans in to confess, "Okay, I helped her make it up."
Jensen laughs. "So you guys are friends?"
Carlos's eyebrows draw together. "Yeah, of course. Everyone's friends with Anita." How Jensen's supposed to know that is a mystery, but then Carlos's eyes widen with shock and he sits up. "Oh my god, you don't know Anita. Holy shit, Jensen, this is going to be glorious."
He honest-to-God claps then, and the lights begin to dim. All the patrons hush their conversations as bright pink and purple spotlights fix on the center of the stage.
A man dressed as the queen of France walks out. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to The Cobalt's weekly Apocalypstik! Drag Show! I'm your hostess, Marie Mantoinette, and I'll be giving you my head before the night is up."
The audience begins applauding, so Jensen does too, and Marie gives a dainty bow. "Yes, yes. Thank you, thank you." She holds one hand up, signaling for silence. "Bonjour, mes amis," she begins again, smiling through what seems to Jensen like 80 pounds of make-up. "Voulez-vous choucher avec moi ce soir?"
Everyone around Jensen erupts into catcalls and inappropriate comments, and the host covers her mouth. "Pardonnez moi," she says. "That was a little forward of me. I just couldn't resist. This costume has a mind of its own. Always makes me hungry for something. What is it? Starts with a C…"
"Cock!" a thousand voices cry out in unison.
"Ah, yes, that's exactly it," she says, nodding. "Cake, right. How could I forget?"
Everyone in the room, Jensen included, laughs, and the hostess skips down the long stage, closer to the audience, passing right by Jensen and Carlos's table as she does so. "I see we have a lot of familiar faces here tonight." She looks down and Jensen almost thinks she's staring right at him for a few seconds before she adds, "And some new ones, as well."
Jensen feels himself tensing. He really wasn't banking on being spotted here—it's been years since he was on TV, so he figured even in Vancouver he wouldn't be that recognizable any more. Not that it would be the end of the world; Jensen is here with a friend, that's it. But, true or not, that won't hold up as an excuse in the media, and Jensen would really rather not have to deal with more gay rumors. He's been dodging them since he started in the business, and it would be one thing if they were at least true. As is, they're just confusing.
Not that Jensen gets why anyone would care if he was gay. Maybe they wouldn't. It's not like he's trying to play the leading man anymore. A gay director with Jensen's credentials probably wouldn't have a hard time finding work. Still. Jensen just doesn't want to deal with it.
Marie's eyes continue on down the stage, and she doesn't point Jensen out. He lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding, then tunes back into what she's saying and realizes he missed the end of her opening monologue.
"Our first performer," she's saying now, her voice dropping several octaves, "is named Albert." She pulls back and winks, continuing in her usual falsetto. "But you can call her Victoria. All rise for the queen, and if you're really good, maybe we can talk her into showing you her crown jewels."
While the audience is hooting and hollering, the lights go out before switching to green, moving across the stage, and drawing attention to a swing Jensen hadn't noticed before. Sitting on it, a blonde in a long dress is perched, waving at the audience like a beauty queen. She gets down shortly after and begins to do her number.
Jensen orders another drink and he and Carlos begin to talk, tuning in and out of the show. Carlos seems to come here pretty often, often enough that he can stop the conversation and point out the better acts, the ones Jensen apparently wouldn't want to miss. It's fun enough, Jensen will admit, even if he's not sure he'll ever want to hear another dirty joke after he makes it out of here tonight.
"Alright, everyone shut the fuck up," Marie yells.
Jensen, along with pretty much everyone else judging from the way the club goes from loud to silent in seconds, turns his attention back to the stage. She's standing right in the center, now dressed as Dorothy. Jensen has had way too many drinks to keep track of all her costume changes thus far.
She clicks her heels together and then gives the audience a shy smile. "Now, I'm supposed to wish for Kansas, but I don't think I'd fit in there very well. Anyway, I know there’s something I'd rather see right now, aside from all of you naked…" She looks around like she's lost. "Can you all maybe remind me what I should wish for?"
"Anita!" someone behind Jensen yells, and before long there are voices scattered all over crying for Anita.
"Alright, alright, don't get so pushy," the hostess tells them. She clicks her heels together three times and disappears in a puff of red smoke, and Jensen sits up, watching with interest to see what the big deal is.
The queen who walks out is not what Jensen's expecting. She's not themed as far as he can tell, not like most of the other girls were, and her outfit is a splash of a hundred bright colors. She's tall, though maybe that's just a trick the platform heels are playing. Her hair is long, fire engine red and her body—was not made to be stuffed into a dress. Jensen nearly laughs at the sight of her. She's built like a damn Greek god, the kind of muscles that Jensen could workout for years and still not have, though she's surprisingly thin as her body tapers down into hips. In pants and a t shirt, she would probably be burly, and even the bright pink boa snaking around her shoulders doesn't do enough to disguise that.
She walks out, slightly wobbly on her terrifyingly tall heels, and as soon as she starts dancing, Jensen is pretty sure it isn't her grace that's made her such a favorite. There’s music pumping loudly through speakers all around the club, the rhythm completely different from whatever she's trying to keep time with.
But her whole body rocks without the slightest hint that she's self-conscious about her inability to dance, and when she throws her head back, laughing deeply, her body shakes with the force of it. Jensen sees just enough of her face to catch the dimples that are cutting into her cheeks, and he couldn't name it, but he feels it right then. Whatever it is that makes her such a hit, it's pure charisma and she hasn't even started talking yet. For no apparent reason, she's enthralling.
Once she does start talking, it makes a little more sense. Anita speaks in a stage southern belle accent, leaning so much toward Scarlett O'Hara that Jensen knows it's affected, but with enough genuine twang underneath that he wouldn't be surprised if she's really from the south, or at least had spent a lot of time there.
She's a riot. Jensen finds himself laughing through her entire set, so hard that his sides hurt. Harder than he thinks he's laughed in at least three years. He's so caught up in her act that it's not until she's walking off the stage that Jensen spares a look over at his friend and sees the way Carlos is watching him, a mix of expectation and amusement. Jensen must have scooted forward throughout Anita's performance without even noticing, because he's pressed up to the edge of his seat now.
He feels his cheeks flush hot and looks away, not even sure what he's embarrassed about. It's almost like Carlos intruded on something he shouldn't have seen, when all that really happened is Jensen got a little hypnotized by a drag queen. He's not the first straight guy to be pulled into a gay club and find himself enjoying it.
"What do you think of our girl?" Carlos finally asks.
Jensen clears his throat and watches Marie—now dressed as Wonder Woman—as she takes the stage to begin the closing ceremonies. Which apparently involve throwing a whole lot of rainbow glitter into the audience.
"Very amusing," Jensen says, trying to play it cool.
His friend gives him an unconvinced look, but before he can call Jensen's bluff, a blond boy in a midriff shirt and jean shorts walks up behind them and puts a hand on Carlos's shoulder. Carlos smiles at him, then gives Jensen an apologetic look. "Hey, uh, so. Show's over. You're probably heading home pretty soon, right?"
Jensen laughs. "Get on with your bad self," he says, giving the blond a nod of acknowledgement.
Carlos grins and smacks Jensen on the back, saying something about how it was nice seeing him as he walks off. Jensen sits for a few minutes longer, nursing the rest of his drink, then leaves a few bills on the table for tip and gathers his stuff, figuring he might as well go back to his hotel.
"You just gonna leave us?" someone asks from uncomfortably close behind Jensen.
Jensen turns very quickly. "Uh, yeah. Early morning tomorrow." He sees that it's the hostess, still dressed as Wonder Woman, and grins. "Great show though. I had a wonderful time."
"Mmmhmm," she says, looking Jensen up and down. "I'm scaring you all the way back into the closet, huh?"
Jensen raises his hand. "I'm not, uh, no closets," he says, then figures there's no point arguing this with a drag queen in the middle of a gay bar. "Thanks for the show."
"Aren't you going to offer to buy me a drink?" she asks, batting her long, false eyelashes. "After I worked so hard up there to make you happy?"
"Uh," Jensen says. "Sure, I can buy you a drink, but I should tell you—"
He forgets what he's saying as soon as he spots a big red wig cutting through the crowd toward the bar. Jensen was right about her being tall; Anita's head is visible high above the other patrons she passes.
The hostess raises a jewel-encrusted eyebrow, looking back to see what's caught Jensen's attention before turning to him, nodding. "Yeah, I figured that would be your flavor." She gives Jensen a look that is surprisingly cool and crosses her arms over her chest as she says, "You better be careful where you step here, honey. We take care of our own."
With that, she continues on, leaving Jensen to wonder if that was supposed to sound like as much of a threat as it did. Maybe she was telling him to just leave, but he can't shake his own random fascination, so he chases it to the bar.
"Let me buy you a drink," he says, sliding into the tight spot next to Anita.
She startles a little, then opens a fan as she turns to acknowledge him. He can't see anything of her face except for a cat-like hazel eye and the dark, sparkling green eye shadow reaching all the way to her eyebrow, but the action draws his attention to her hands, and Jensen swallows hard. She's wearing long white gloves that run all the way to her elbows, though where she found anything to fit her, Jensen can't imagine. He's never seen bigger hands before, but her wrists are so elegant that Jensen gets the urge to bend low and press his lips to them, satin and all.
He shakes his head and reminds himself that this is not a real woman. Christ, she's not even convincing.
"Thank you," she says in her sweet southern drawl, "but no thank you. I can get my own drinks if it comes to that."
Jensen blinks. There is no way he just got shot down offering free alcohol at a gay bar. "Seriously? I'm not that old."
Anita laughs behind the fan, her head tipping back just a bit. "Oh, believe me, it's nothing personal. But there's a whole lot of boys here tonight who'll buy me drinks and make it worth my while. I'm not gonna stick around and dead end it with a straight guy."
"How do you know I'm straight?" Jensen asks, which is the stupidest fucking question he's ever asked because he is straight.
She lowers the fan just a bit, but not enough for Jensen to see if she's smiling or frowning. "I've been doing this a long time. I've learned the difference between a genuine offer and a guy who just wants to stare at the freaks."
"That's not—" Jensen says, reaching out to touch her hand and then pulling back when she bats him away with the fan. "I'm sorry. I am straight. But I swear I'm not like that. I just want to talk."
"Talk about what?" she asks. Jensen can finally hear the laugh in her voice. "This is prime hunting time for me!"
"Please," Jensen says, stepping closer. "I insist. One free drink. Just talk to me for a few minutes and then you can find someone better worth your time."
She closes the fan but still keeps it over the corner of her mouth so Jensen can't see all of her. She bites her lip, some of the color coming off on her teeth, then shakes her head. "Talk to one of the other girls if you want to experiment so badly."
"No, I only want to talk to you." Jensen holds his hand out to get the bartender's attention, and the guy comes, though he's watching Anita for his cue, not Jensen. "One drink."
She sighs. "I'll have the usual," she tells the bartender. "Thanks, doll."
The bartender apparently assumed this would be the case and already has the drink ready for her. "No problem," he says, sliding it across the counter. "Anything for your charming friend?"
Jensen smiles, his eyes still fixed on Anita. "I'm good, thanks."
The guy behind the bar gives Anita a thumbs up, which Jensen manages not to laugh at, and then moves down to the next customer.
"Well, what do you want to talk about then?" she asks, leaning on the bar and taking a sip from her drink. "Politics? The weather? Molecular biology?"
"You," Jensen says. "Tell me about you."
Anita turns her face away from Jensen, and he sees beads of sweat on her cheek and neck, make-up running where it's heaviest. He thinks briefly of Jared, of when he used to carry tissues to wipe his co-star clean between takes, and his chest aches. He shakes his head, determined not to think of Jared until tomorrow when it's absolutely unavoidable. He's buzzed and he's having a good time and the last thing he needs is to end up melancholy.
"Come now, really," she says, still not looking at Jensen. She puts her drink down on the countertop and starts shoving it around idly. "Hit on one of the others. You're just Misty's type. She'll eat you up in a second."
"I told you," Jensen insists. "I only want to talk to you."
"There's no reason for it," she replies harshly. "I'm not exactly the prettiest thing here. A guy like you can spend your money better."
"Why do you say that?"
She laughs, turning so Jensen can see her big white teeth and the dimples are there this time, though something in her eyes is not registering the good cheer she's trying to project. "Come on, you have eyes," she says, gesturing at her body with her closed fan. "They like me here so they let me indulge myself, but let's not pretend I'm a particularly good drag queen."
"You're beautiful." He blurts it out without thinking, but as soon as he's said it, he realizes it's true. She's not terribly feminine and her body is the opposite of most of the other girls who performed and she can't sing or dance to save her life. But nonetheless, and despite the fact that Jensen was 100% straight until he walked into this bar, she's so fucking bizarrely gorgeous that it's baffling to him.
Her eyes widen when he says that, almost like she's about to tear up. She looks down at her hands, then shrugs her shoulders a bit and leans in, giving Jensen a momentary peck on the lips. He tastes her lipstick when she pulls away, too soon for Jensen to respond, which is for the best because God only knows what he would have done.
She's not bothering to cover her face anymore, and she gives Jensen a very sad smile. "It was really nice to see you, Jen," she says softly, not putting on the girlish accent. Then she turns her back on him and disappears into the crowd.
Jensen is so dazed that it's minutes before it all connects, before he remembers the only person who ever said his name like that and brings his fingers up to his lips where he can still taste Jared's kiss.
Jensen's phone goes off way too fucking early the next morning, and the blaring from the speakers kicks him awake. He's got a dull ache in the back of his skull, a nice little reminder that he's not as young as he used to be. Can't drink the way he did the last time he was in Vancouver.
He sits up, rubbing a hand over his face, and looks to see who the hell is calling him at seven in the morning when, for all intents and purposes, Jensen is supposed to be on vacation. The caller ID says Carlos, so Jensen dives for it just before it runs over to voicemail. He's got a few questions for the guy, top of them being if he actually got so trashed off one shot of tequila and a few beers that he imagined some drag queen was Jared. Some drag queen who kissed him, and Jensen is hoping it was just a really fucking weird, oddly arousing dream, because it's bringing up enough awkward questions without being real.
"Hello," Jensen says, the one simple word hard to force out with his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth.
"You don't sound too good, chico," Carlos says, irritatingly chirpy considering the hour and that Jensen knows for a fact he had a much wilder night than Jensen did.
"I'm not feeling great either," Jensen replies, cold as anything. "What do you want?"
He does Jensen the kindness of skipping right to the point. "What the hell happened after I left last night?"
Jensen groans, letting himself fall back onto the bed. He knew, really, the night before was too vivid and too implausible to be made up. But it's still not great to hear confirmation. "So that was for real, huh?"
Carlos chuckles a little on the other end. "Yeah, that was for real. Man, I never in a million years thought you didn't know, or I wouldn't have taken you."
"Yeah, well, I didn't," Jensen replies, not really sure what the hell else he's supposed to say.
"I just assumed he'd told you. I thought you guys were super close. Best friends."
"Something like that," Jensen answers, sounding a little more bitter than he intends to. It's not Carlos's fault, but reminding himself of that isn't making the crushing weight on Jensen's chest lighten any.
There's a long silence over the phone, and finally Carlos says, "Wow. So you really are pissed. Didn't take you for such an asshole, Jensen. What the hell did you do to Jared?"
"What the hell did I do?" Jensen asks, his voice rising so loud he flinches. He's actually managing to make his own headache worse. "What did he tell you I did?"
"Nothing," Carlos answers. "He wouldn't say a damn thing. He just called and told me I had no right to bring you and hung up, and now you're sounding like something's stuck up your ass, and not in a good way. I'm guessing you didn't take it well. But whatever you said or did to him, you had no fucking ri—"
"I didn't do anything, okay?" Jensen interrupts. "I didn't even know it was him."
"Ah," Carlos says slowly, and Jensen can hear his tongue cluck over the phone line. "Yeah, I guess that'll do it."
"Nothing," Carlos says, his voice softer now. "Nothing. Look, I'm sorry the night didn't work out. I thought you knew. I thought he'd be thrilled you came to see him. I didn't realize how things were."
Jensen wants to ask what that cryptic shit is supposed to mean, but he shakes his head instead, letting the fight drain out of him. It's not Carlos he's mad at, not really. If he'd known Jared was some kind of drag diva, he would have insisted on seeing the show. It's Jared he's mad at. It's the fact that he didn't know. It's himself, and that stupid part of him that still lets itself get wounded every time he remembers he hasn't existed as far as Jared Padalecki is concerned since they wrapped the last episode of Supernatural.
He hangs up with Carlos shortly after that and rolls out of bed, thankful that the hotel he's staying at had the good sense to put the bathroom just a few feet from the edge of his mattress. He pisses, tries to brush the grime out of his mouth, and slaps himself a few times with cold water.
The face that greets him when he looks up at the mirror is something out of a horror movie, eyes red and hair sticking out in every direction, and Jensen knows he's imagining it, but he reaches up to wipe the red smudge of lipstick off his bottom lip.
Jensen takes a long and very hot shower, lets his skin burn red under the spray as the bathroom fills with steam. It makes him think of the club last night—as if he had any chance of thinking of something else—and he closes his eyes, remembering the thick air it was nearly impossible to breathe, the sweat beading on the side of Jared's neck. His skin burns even hotter, shame and embarrassment now, as his dick begins to swell, but there's no one here to see or judge, so he reaches down to stroke himself, trying not to obsess over the way those long, white gloves made Jared's wrists stand out.
He finishes with a low grunt, come washing down the drain and leaving Jensen feeling unsatisfied and angry and confused. This is all Jared's fault. Jensen wants to hate him, wants so badly to hate him for that kiss, for never telling Jensen about such a huge part of himself, for ever pretending to be his friend in the first place. It's nothing new and it's no use, either. Jensen's been wishing he could hate Jared for three years.
Thanks to the needlessly early wake-up call, Jensen can take his sweet ass time getting ready. Good thing, too. He's not in prime condition at the moment. He pulls a towel off the rack by the tub, burying his face in it and thanking God or fate or whatever the fuck deity is in charge of travel arrangements that he sprung for a slightly more expensive hotel, one where the towels are clean and soft instead of glorified sandpaper.
He tries to make use of his morning after that. He reads over maybe 10 pages of script before he gives up, orders room service just to prove to himself that he can keep it down, and spends the majority of the next few hours slumped in front of the TV, not really hearing a word it says. He has lunch with Jared at 1:30, and it was going to be stressful enough before this whole secret-drag-queen-life thing came into the picture.
His stomach is tangled into a thousand knots by the time he gets to the restaurant, and he's half an hour early with nothing but a script he's read several times to try and keep himself busy. He takes the seat facing the door so he can be ready for Jared as soon as he arrives and gives the waiter a nervous laugh when he asks Jensen if his girlfriend will be joining him.
It's just a working lunch. Just an hour or so to talk Jared into agreeing to accept this role and then he can get back to L.A. where everything is safe and sterilized and void of any messy emotions. They don't even have to bring last night up as far as Jensen is concerned.
Jared is ten minutes late. He comes in, wearing a gray suit and a guarded expression, and Jensen watches as he approaches, wondering if the slightly feminine sway of his hips is new or if Jensen just failed to notice it the way he apparently failed to notice everything else.
Jensen stands to shake his hand, an impressively awkward greeting when he considers the way Jared would be wrapping him in a tight hug five years ago. He's willing to bet Jared is thinking the same thing, because instead of taking the handshake, he stares down at Jensen's outstretched palm and back up at Jensen with a slightly sick expression on his face. He doesn't say what Jensen wants to hear, though, doesn't laugh at him and tell him he's crazy and no way is he getting out of his hug that easily. There's no contact, no affectionate teasing. Jensen was at least ready for this part.
"You know," Jared begins, still blinking at Jensen like he's not really sure he's talking to the right person, "I just spent the last five minutes walking back and forth outside, trying to decide whether to come in or not."
"I didn’t think you would show," Jensen replies, though he never intended to admit that to Jared.
He knows how hard it was for his agent to arrange this; Jared tried to say no. The only thing that got him here was Jared’s own agent, asking him if he's crazy trying to pass on a lunch with someone whose publicity he could really use.
Everyone else involved with the project laughed off the insult. If some has-been doesn't see what a chance this is, to hell with him, they told Jensen. Jensen could get anyone he wanted—Chris Evans or Leonardo DiCaprio or that kid from the new James Bond movie, Jimmy something or other—to take this role without even having to work for it. Why the hell bother chasing Jared Padalecki?
Jensen insisted. Pathetically enough, knowing all of this, he put his foot down. It has to be Jared. All he could think as he read the script was of Jared and how perfect he would be for the role. Like it was written just for him. Jensen only took the damn movie for that exact reason. Not that it's bad, he just knows he could have gotten a better offer, especially now that he's officially in the run for an Oscar.
But the pull was too strong to refuse. The off chance that Jared would say yes, purely out of desperation, and Jensen would have him trapped. He doesn’t care about being used, all he cares about are those two, maybe three, months they would be working together, just like before. Two or three months where Jared has to see him, has to be around him constantly, and Jensen can pretend, for however brief a period, that he has a best friend again.
"Well, I'm here," Jared says, taking his seat. "Didn't really have much of a choice about it, to be perfectly honest."
Jensen frowns. "I'll try not to waste too much of your time. I'm sure you've got better things to get to."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jared's eyes narrow, and Jensen can't help remembering the way that hazel stood out against the make-up he was wearing the night before. It's remarkable now, seeing him up close the way Jensen used to be accustomed to, how little resemblance he bears to Anita.
It's not until Jared coughs pointedly that Jensen realizes he's staring, completely lost in his thoughts. "Nothing," he finally says. "I didn't mean anything, Jared."
Jared looks away, picking up a menu and holding it so his face isn't visible. Jensen thinks of the fan he'd hidden behind last night, how damn transparent Jared is even now, and laughs.
Jared looks up at him. "Is something funny?"
"You are," Jensen tells him. "You're funny."
Jared winces and makes a pinched face. "If you didn't get the mocking out of your system last night, I'm leaving."
"When did I mock you?" Jensen asks, a little hurt. "You're the one who made an idiot out of me."
"I did not," Jared says, taking a pouting sip from his water. It's childish, but it's not new. Jared's always done this when he's upset, but now Jensen's eyes catch on his mouth, and his stomach swoops remembering how big and bright those lips had been just a few hours ago.
"You talked to me that whole time without telling me who you were. You kissed me just to really mess with me. And, oh yeah, you forgot to mention a few things I would have liked to have known as a friend."
"I thought this was a working lunch?" Jared asks. "Are we talking business or am I leaving?"
Jensen stops with his mouth open, swallowing down what he was about to say and feeling like Jared just reached across the table and slapped him. He blinks a few times, then forces his mouth shut and swallows. "I'm starting a new project," he says, too stunned to argue. "It's a movie for Warner Brothers and I want you to be the lead."
Finally Jensen's the one who caught Jared off guard. He stares ahead, raising an eyebrow at the script Jensen pushes toward him. "You're joking, right?"
"Wouldn't be in Vancouver if I wasn't serious," Jensen tells him. "Character's name is Logan Wheeler. He's a school teacher whose—"
"No," Jared says. "Sorry, I can't take it. But thanks for the offer."
Jensen stops mid-sentence. "What? You haven't even let me try to sell it to you, man." He laughs, scratching his eyebrow with his thumb. "Come on, I've got a whole speech prepared. At least let me rant it at you once before you turn me down."
"I've got obligations," he says. "Nice that you thought of me, though."
"My show," Jared replies weakly.
Jensen shrugs. "We'll shoot while you're on hiatus. We can film it right here in Vancouver. You're not a regular, anyway, it's not like they'll need you there every day."
"How nice of you to remind me," Jared snaps. "If this is going to be an hour of you throwing your career in my face, I'm not sticking around long enough to order."
He shakes his head. It would be easy to buy that sour tone Jared's giving him and convince himself Jared is just jealous of his success. But Jensen's not that stupid, as much as he would like to be. Whatever went wrong between them, it's not because Jared is resentful of his career—he stopped talking to Jensen when he was still starring in blockbusters and Jensen was lucky if he could get a TV role or a few episodes of something to direct. Jared wants him to believe that's the problem, give up and let him leave, but Jensen is apparently a masochist.
"I need you to help me make this film," Jensen says, stressing the first few words. "I'm asking for a favor. I'm not trying to bully you."
Jared stares at him with an expression Jensen can't read. The waiter interrupts them, takes their orders cheerfully, his easy smiles only making the tension between Jared and Jensen more pronounced, and leaves them to try and pick up the conversation.
"You don't even want me in your movie anymore," Jared says after a long spell of silence. "I'm a liability."
Jensen laughs bitterly. "You should know me better than that, Jared. Unlike you, I never lied to you about who I was. You know I don't give a shit if you're gay and like to dress up like a chick, so stop trying to make me look like the bad guy. If you want to say no, don't be a fucking coward about it."
"I'm a coward?" Jared asks.
Jensen hesitates for a moment before replying. This is not what this lunch was supposed to be. He was supposed to keep this all in, keep Jared good and happy so he'd accept. But it feels nice at the same time, finally letting out just a few of the things he's been choking down for three years. "Yes," he answers. "Yes, Jared. You're a coward."
It's about last night and it isn't. Jensen can't imagine why Jared never told him he was gay, why he hid the drag queen thing, but that's not even scratching the surface. Jared ran away from him, dropped their friendship like a hot potato and never even bothered to tell Jensen what he did wrong.
"You don't know anything about me," Jared says.
Two days ago, Jensen would have laughed at the assertion. Now he knows it's true. "Maybe I don't know much," he tells Jared. "But whose fault is that?"
The waiter interrupts them again, setting down Jared's salad and Jensen's sandwich and backing off quickly, not stopping to chitchat this time. They must not be giving off the friendliest of vibes.
"I know it's my fault," Jared mumbles, his face pointed down, like he's saying it to his lunch and not to Jensen. Then he picks up a fork and stabs his lettuce so hard Jensen thinks Jared must be imagining his face on the plate.
They eat quickly, silence stretching on for miles between them. Finally Jared finishes, wiping his mouth with his napkin and throwing it on the table next to his plate. "I'm not a coward," he says, as if this fight has been going strong since Jensen said it. Maybe in his head it has.
"Then tell me why you won't even look at the script," Jensen challenges.
Jared rubs a hand over his mouth, dodges his eyes away as if he's looking to someone for confirmation. Finally he turns back, his eyes meeting Jensen's dead on, and says, "Fine. I won't work with you because I don't want to work with you. That direct enough?"
"Well, it's honest at least." Jensen shoves his plate away, sitting up as he does it. "So that's it. You're not going to tell me what I did? You won't even give my movie a chance? You're just washing me right off your hands?"
"That's not—" Jared sighs. "If it helps you to think of it like that, Jensen. Sure. I washed my hands of you three years ago, and I'm not going to get them dirty again."
"What the fuck did I do to you?" Jensen asks. "I don't remember doing anything. If I was drunk or something just tell me—"
"You didn't do anything," Jared answers heatedly. "We had fun with the show, the show ended. We moved on—it happens."
"Were we ever really friends?" Jensen asks, the question coming to his lips unbidden and definitely unwelcome. Jared freezes, his furious expression melting, and Jensen thinks for a flash of a second he sees regret on Jared's face. "I thought it was more than just co-workers. I thought I knew everything about you, and I didn't know anything. So did you ever like me, or was I just convenient? Because you were my best friend, Jared. You were the best friend I've ever had."
Jared reaches halfway across the table. For a brief moment, Jensen thinks he's going to offer some kind of comfort, but his expression is blank again when Jensen looks up and he pulls his hand back before standing to go. "You're not this stupid, Jensen," he says, his voice gone very quiet.
Jensen gives a stilted nod and looks down at the polished wooden floor. It's pretty impossible to misinterpret this time, and as much as it hurts, it's almost nice to have the confirmation. Three years he's been waiting for Jared to tell him straight that he imagined everything there was between them.
"Fine," Jensen manages to choke out. "Fair enough."
"Jensen," Jared says, stepping forward.
Jensen shakes his head, not really wanting to hear whatever Jared is about to tell him. "Lunch is my treat," he says, voice placid and businesslike as he can manage. "The movie offer stands if you change your mind. You know how to reach me."
Jared doesn't move, and Jensen gets irrationally angry, almost wants to lash out at him and tell him to fuck off already. But when he looks up to say it, Jared is hovering above him, his expression blown wide-open.
"I can't do your movie," he says, as if Jensen hasn't gotten the point yet. Jensen opens his mouth to reply and Jared kneels in front of him, putting his fingers just over Jensen's lips to silence him. His voice is hushed when he begins again, so only Jensen can hear him. "I can't do your movie and I can't be your friend, because I have spent the last three years trying to get over you."
Jensen feels his eyes widen and his eyebrows drawing together, and Jared gives him a watery smile. "I know what I did to you was terrible. I can't tell you how sorry I've been or how hard it was not to return your calls. But I couldn't go on living like I did when we were on the show together. I wanted to die every single day, Jen. Falling in love with you is the worst thing that ever happened to me."
Jared removes his fingers, but Jensen is still too shocked to say anything. Jared shudders out a laugh. "So you understand now. Why I kissed you last night. And why I can't work with you. And why I've been waiting three years for you to stop calling and sending Christmas cards and just give up on me already."
Jensen shakes his head. "But you never—"
Jared laughs dully and draws closer, close enough to rest his forehead against Jensen's. He puts one hand firm against the back of Jensen's neck, and, for a split second, Jensen thinks he's about to kiss him. Right here in public, in front of all these strangers, and Jensen is surprised to find his own hand lifting up, resting on Jared's wrist. Telling him it's okay, that he's welcome to do it if it'll wipe that broken look off his face.
"Be kind to me, Jensen," Jared begs, his hand slipping from Jensen's neck down, until he's got Jensen's hand wrapped in his own. He gives it a tight squeeze and then drops it. "I know I wasn't to you. But be kind to me. Just let me forget already."
And then he leaves Jensen, sitting alone with his hands in his lap. Just like he left three years ago. Just like Danneel last August. Just like everyone has done, so that Jensen is stuck at a table with nothing but an unfinished salad and a script that—
Jensen doesn't see the thick pack of bound pages anywhere, so he lifts his menu to check under it and stands to look around at the floor. His head snaps up sharply, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jared walking out, but he's disappeared and taken the script he supposedly had no interest in with him. Jensen doesn't know if he should take hope from that, or if this was supposed to be the last thing Jared had to remember him by.
One thing's for damn sure: if Jared's walking off with souvenirs, there's no way Jensen's about to be the one to give up. Maybe he'll never agree to see Jensen again, but Jensen is more than a little sick and tired of asking for permission anyway.
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