He's lying on his back on the bed in Dean's room, and he can still see Sam's face in his mind, can still feel Sam's hand on his shoulder, warm and impossibly real.
Then he hears noise out in the hall -- voices.
"Where is he?"
"I think he feel asleep in Dean's room again."
"Why is he always doing that?"
"I guess it's comfortable. And he's tired. These eighteen-hour days are brutal. We'll just -- "
Jensen waits till they arrive in the doorway, then he grins at them and gives a little wave.
"Hey guys," Jensen greets his PA, Lynn, and the AD for the current episode -- Jack, he thinks, peering up at them blearily.
"Hey -- " Jack waves back, looking a little stunned. He's got a crush on Jensen about a mile wide. It's pretty obvious to everybody, but Jensen's too tired to wink at him.
"They're ready for you in the library," Lynn says.
Then she seems to notice how out-of-it Jensen is and steps forward, worry creasing her already anxious face.
"Are you okay?" she asks solicitously. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, no, I'm fine."
Jensen is not fine. In fact, the ordinary moment in which he's suddenly finding himself is giving him a serious case of the shakes.
Shock, he thinks wildly. I'm going into shock.
"Just give me a minute."
He turns onto his side on the bed, pushes himself up facing away from the two crew members, puts a hand to his head to stop the sudden rush of blood, the dizziness. Spots hover in front of his eyes and there's a roaring sound in his head, just behind his eardrums. He's pushing himself up, swinging his feet over the edge of the bed, and he can sense the exact moment everything slows down, blackness washes up and over him and he's falling, the floor rushing up to meet him as he collapses.
"Oh my God!"
"Somebody call Jeremy -- "
Then he's out.
When he comes to, he hears the voices first.
"It's that crazy vegan diet," someone -- maybe Kelly, the makeup girl? -- suggests. "Not enough iron."
"He's thin," somebody else -- Jack. It's Jack this time. "He looks like he's lost weight."
"In the past hour?" That's Guy, the director. "He's only been in here for an hour or so, right? What did you do to him?"
"Me? Nothing," Lynn protests. "I left him alone. He said he needed a little rest, so I let him rest."
She sounds defensive. Jensen really ought to speak up for her. This isn't her fault.
"Did somebody call a doctor?" Guy again, demanding.
"He's on his way," another PA -- Sean -- speaks up timidly.
Then Jensen hears someone else approaching, familiar footsteps, heavy boots, stopping in the doorway --
Jensen feels his heart stop for a minute as the familiar voice speaks.
"What's going on? Why's everybody in here?"
Jensen turns instinctively toward the voice of his co-star, not even fully awake yet -- some part of his brain telling him it's Sam -- the other part, the major part, knows it's Jared.
Jensen opens his eyes, looks straight into Jared's frowning gaze, feels his lips twitch into the beginnings of a smile as the familiar warmth of being in Jared's presence rushes through his body and settles in his chest.
Jared holds his gaze for a minute, and Jensen imagines he sees something there -- some spark of concern or care or --
Then Jared flicks his eyes away, his frown deepening.
"What's wrong with him?" he demands, glaring around the room expectantly.
"He passed out," Lynn says.
"It's classic exhaustion," Jack suggests. "He's overworked."
"Yeah, join the club," Kelly huffs under her breath.
"Okay, everybody," Guy claps his hands. "Let's move out and give Jensen some space. We'll take an hour, let the doctor do his thing, then we'll see where we are. Right? Jack, you're with me."
Jensen closes his eyes, more relieved than he wants to admit as the crew reluctantly files out, Lynn patting his shoulder reassuringly as she goes.
Then he's alone. Alone until the doctor comes.
"Real smooth, asshole," Jared's voice cuts through the fog, startling Jensen into reality again. "You do realize you're pushing back the entire production schedule here with your prima-donna fuckery."
Jensen cracks one eye open, stares up at his co-star, resisting the urge to flinch. Jared is still standing in the doorway, arms crossed, leaning against the frame with that disgusted look on his face.
I know what you look like naked, Jensen thinks smugly. I know what you look like when you come.
It gives him confidence.
"It's all real, Jay," he says quietly.
Jared's frown deepens a notch, if that were possible.
"What's real?" he asks. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"The ghosts, the demons, you and me -- Sam and Dean -- everything. It's all real. I was there. I just spent over a week there."
Jared's eyes widen, he uncrosses his arms and shifts his feet, puts his hands on his waist and shakes his head a little, like a dog shaking the water of out its ears. He blinks twice and tilts his head at Jensen, so he's looking at him almost sideways.
"Come again?" he huffs, then shakes his head again. "What the fuck are you saying?"
Jensen gazes steadily at him, both eyes open now but only at half-mast.
He's so tired, so damn tired. He could sleep for a week.
"I don't care if you believe me," Jensen swallows, focuses on getting the words out, making Jared hear him. "It's true."
"Oh my god," Jared breathes softly. "You're -- you're really losing it. It's finally gotten to you."
He stares at Jensen blankly for another minute, then shakes his head, lifts one hand in a gesture of disbelief and dismissal.
"I can't deal with this right now."
"Jared -- "
Jensen lifts a hand toward his co-star, but it's so heavy, his arm feels like it's buried in concrete.
"What do we have here?"
It's the doctor, crowding past Jared to move into the room, brisk and professional as he sits down on the bed and takes Jensen's wrist, checking for his pulse, pulls his sleeve up so he can take his blood pressure. He sticks a thermometer under his tongue.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Ackles?" he asks as he listens to Jensen's heart with his stethoscope, pushing his over-shirt out of the way.
Jensen winces as the man pushes down on his skin, still a little tender where his new tattoo is still healing.
The doctor notices.
"Huh," he mutters, pulling on Jensen's tee-shirt. "What do we have here? Mind if I take a look?"
Jensen lifts his arms, lets the man push up his tee-shirt so he can see the tattoo.
Jared sucks in a breath.
"Oh my god, is that real?" he gasps.
Jensen looks up at him, hovering over the doctor's shoulder, sudden anxiety rushing through him as he realizes how naked and vulnerable he is right now, his bare chest exposed to Jared's scrutiny as the doctor pokes the skin over his heart.
Jensen closes his eyes, whimpers just a little.
"Does that hurt?" the doctor asks.
Jensen shakes his head, turns away from Jared's intense gaze, burrowing his face against his own up-stretched arm.
"Well, it's fresh, and looks like it's healing all right, but I'll give you a three-day dose of antibiotics just in case," the doctor says matter-of-factly, pulling Jensen's tee-shirt back down, covering him up again.
The doctor pulls the thermometer from Jensen's mouth, checks it.
"Your pulse is pretty fast, heart-beat's a little irregular, blood pressure unusually low, skin seems a little cold and clammy -- Mr. Ackles, did something unusual just happen to you? Because I'd swear you're exhibiting all the symptoms of shock," he stands. "And I'm diagnosing general exhaustion right now, unless you have something specific you can pin this on."
He lifts his eyebrows expectantly, but Jensen just shakes his head a little, closes his eyes against Jared's unflinching stare.
The doctor nods.
"Alright then, I'm recommending bed rest and observation for the next twenty-four hours."
He turns to Jared.
"Somebody should keep an eye on him, make sure he drinks plenty of clear fluids. He should eat something, especially when he takes these pills."
He hands the bottle to Jared like it's the most natural thing in the world, Jared being Jensen's nurse.
"Oh no," Jared tries to hand the bottle back, steps away like he's been punched. "I'm not -- "
That's when Lynn and Jack and Guy come back, crowding into the little room and looking concerned and asking questions.
Jared hands the bottle to Lynn and hightails it out of the room, casting one more hard look at Jensen before he goes.
Jensen imagines something in his eyes that almost looks like panic, like he's been caught having feelings he didn't know he had, or at least didn't want anybody to see.
But of course it's just Jensen's imagination.
Production halts for the rest of that day, then the next day the schedule's changed so they're filming scenes without Jensen, which means rescheduling everybody who normally had that day off, including a disgruntled Misha Collins, who was spending time with his family and seems less than happy to be called in earlier than expected.
Jensen huddles in his trailer, sipping tea and meditating, trying to get his equilibrium back.
Jared actually has the nerve to stop in and check on him, which is so completely weird for him that all they can do is stare awkwardly at each other until Jared gets mad and storms off again, muttering.
"Just be ready for tomorrow. I need my weekend off."
Lynn tries to talk him into going home, but Jensen is terrified of the thought of going back to his lonely little apartment, forced to face this thing all by himself there, away from work with all its normalcy and natural distractions.
Away from Jared.
Jensen knows he needs to talk to somebody, but when Jeremy sends a counseling psychologist "just to listen, if you need it," (and it makes Jensen furious because he's just sure Jared told Jeremy about his "delusion," the bastard) Jensen surprises himself by pulling a Dean Winchester and going all stoic and tough and insisting he's fine. He's just a little tired, is all. Just needs a day to recoup. He'll be back in business tomorrow, good as new.
And he must be better than he thinks because the woman totally buys what he's selling and leaves him alone.
But of course, what else can she do? He's goddamn Dean Winchester, damn it. If he says he's good, he's good.
But of course he's not Dean. So obviously not Dean. Sam could see that, even when he was fooling himself so he could get a little comfort, even when he was using Jensen so he could pretend he had his brother back.
And Jensen let himself be used because who was he kidding? Getting to fuck Sam Winchester was the most amazing goddamn thing he'd ever done. Hands down. Getting to touch all that warm, hard, scarred flesh, having those sharp hazel eyes looking at him with so much heat and affection, watching his mouth move as he spoke those perfect Sam lines -- only they weren't lines because they were really Sam's words -- getting to run his hands through all that long, soft hair.
Living to tell the story.
Jensen huffs out a laugh as he realizes he's probably the only person in the universe (besides Dean, of course) who has survived after fucking Sam Winchester.
But then, this isn't Sam's universe. Maybe if Jensen had stayed there, he'd be dead.
Of course he'd be dead. He was ridiculously out of his element there. Anybody would be. That place simply should not exist.
But now Jensen knows it does. And that's just about the trippiest thing ever.
And Jensen was there, and those things happened; he has the tattoo and a week of weight-loss to prove it, along with a sore ass and some pretty intense hickeys.
Weird how time moves differently here. How in this world only an hour passed for a whole week in that one.
Of course, the timelines weren't even matched up. There it's still the middle of last summer, while here it's almost Christmas.
Jensen spares an hour or so speculating about how things are going over there in Sam's world. He wonders how Sam will find his brother now that Jensen gave away all the story and changed things so drastically over there.
He's sure of one thing: Sam won't stop looking. And he'll eventually find Dean and they'll be together again, the way they're meant to be.
While back over here, in reality, Jensen and Jared are still sworn enemies.
Damn it all to hell.
It's stupidly embarrassing, the way the entire crew bursts into spontaneous applause the next morning when Jensen shows up for his call, bright and early and ready to go. Everyone seems so relieved he's okay, so glad to be back on a normal schedule, and so grateful that one of the show's leads isn't having a total and complete nervous breakdown which would bring production to a grinding halt -- possibly forever -- that by the end of the day Jensen is feeling more than a little guilty.
But also pretty good about being able to keep it together, get through the day, and reclaim some normalcy.
Because really, normal never felt so good. Jensen promises himself he will never, ever, take normal for granted again.
He catches Jared staring at him more than once that first day back, but he doesn't take the bait.
After what Jensen's been through, Jared Padalecki and his bullying assholishness just doesn't scare him anymore. The fact is, he's learned first hand that there are a lot scarier things out there than a pissed-off co-star who thinks he's God's gift to mankind. A co-star who's jealous and pissed-off because he's not the only star of this thing. Because there is no Sam without Dean.
Jensen knows that now with such confidence he can feel it radiate off him even when he's not in character.
Jared senses it too.
"What's up with you?" Jared asks when they're on set later that day, blocking yet another scene in a bar.
Jensen raises one eyebrow and gives a small shrug.
"You seem -- different," Jared hisses.
Jensen shrugs again.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he says, keeping his voice low so the crew can't hear what they're saying.
Jared shakes his head.
"You seem -- more relaxed," Jared tries again. "Mellow. Not so skittish and jumpy."
Jensen looks down at his mark, shakes his head once, doesn't answer.
"Oh my God," Jared sucks in a breath, suddenly all animated and excited. "Did you get laid? Is that what happened?"
Jensen looks up at him sharply. Was it that obvious?
"Oh my God, you did!" Jared exclaims excitedly. "Wow! Mr. Tight-ass Ackles finally gets some action! Am I right? Oh my God! Who was it? Was it that kid in the lighting department? I knew it! Oh wow."
Jensen waits for a pause in Jared's run-on sentences, then he holds Jared's gaze with a steely stare, daring him to look away.
"I fucked Sam Winchester," he says when he feels he's got Jared's full attention, "in the ass."
He watches Jared's eyes widen for a minute, gets the satisfaction of seeing the effect his words have on the man's equilibrium, sees the doubt flicker in those hazel orbs for a second before the familiar look of irritation and frustration returns.
"Asshole," Jared mutters.
"Takes one to know one," Jensen shoots back.
But the thing is, Jared's right. Jensen isn't so nervous all the time anymore.
Mostly, he thinks, it's because he's not afraid of Jared now. After the things he's seen, that other world, and Sam telling him things he never would have thought of on his own -- things about Jared that Jensen would never have dared to think about because he was so busy feeling like a creep and a jerk for messing everything up between them all those years ago. Permanently, he thought.
But that was before.
Sam said Jared had feelings for Jensen, and Sam's words just would not leave Jensen's mind.
Maybe Sam was right. Maybe Jensen was still carrying a torch for Jared, even after that colossal rejection and all of Jared's taunts and bullying ever since.
But maybe -- just maybe -- Jared felt something too.
And if that was even the tiniest bit possible, well, Jensen might just have the tiniest bit of an upper hand.
NEXT CHAPTER - BACK TO MASTERPOST