It's their tenth year, so all the cast and crew from past years are invited and it's a really big deal. Some of them are working other gigs and can't make it, but Jensen's really glad to see some of his old friends who can be there, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jim Beaver in particular.
There's the obligatory speeches from Jim Michaels and Jeremy Carver, then Jensen and Jared have to pose with the big Congratulations! cake before cutting it together, Jared's big warm hand over Jensen's on the knife like it's a goddamn wedding cake. But of course they've done it before so it's just auto-pilot, nothing personal, and they don't even look at each other when they're standing so close, Jensen shivering a little as Jared's big sweaty body radiates a giant shell of heat around him as he presses up against Jensen's back.
As soon as it's done and all the photos have been snapped Jensen slips away to the bar, grabs himself a whiskey and absconds with the bottle. He nurses it in a corner, as far from Jared as he can get, trying to shake the feeling of familiarity and rightness that being pressed against Jared always gives him.
That's where he is when Genevieve Cortese finds him, and Jensen does not want to talk to her but she's insistent. She's clearly been looking for him, and she's talking to him really intensely about something, but it takes Jensen a minute to realize she's blaming him for her marriage breaking up.
"Wh -- what?" Jensen squints a little, making an extra effort to focus through the alcohol-induced haze he's inflicted on himself.
"He's obsessed with you, asshole," Gen accuses, clearly pissed off but trying to be sassy. "All he ever did was talk about you -- Jensen this and Jensen that -- until I wanted to puke. I finally told him he needed to see a shrink and talk about this -- this thing he has about you, because I was just sick of hearing it. It totally destroyed our marriage."
"That's crazy," Jensen protests. "He hates me."
"He's in love with you, you stupid jerk," Gen glares, stamping her foot for emphasis. "You two have this crazy, mixed up thing that neither of you wants to acknowledge for some god-awful reason I don't even want to understand, but there it is. Take it from an ex-wife who did her damnedest to get her husband to take his mind off his one true love and failed utterly. And you know what? I don't even care anymore. I thought I did. I thought I hated you for awhile, but now you know what I think?"
Jensen's sucking down his drink, trying not to encourage her, looking desperately around for a way to escape, but she's got him pinned. She's going to say what she has to say to him no matter what and that's just the way it is.
"I think you two deserve each other," Gen proclaims with her hands on her hips and a bob of her abundantly coiffed head. All those long dark ringlets bounce as she nods, her generous mouth twisting into a sneer.
"You and Jared are two of the most stubborn assholes the world has ever known, and if you don't end up together it's just because you're both too bull-headed and stupid to admit how perfect you are for each other. And I am done, done, done caring about either one of you. God, I wish I never auditioned for this show in the first place. Worst decision I ever made."
"You don't mean that," Jensen says with a little shake of his head. "You and Jared had a really good thing. Just because it didn't last -- "
Gen's eyes fill with tears and she shakes her head violently.
"It was always you, Jensen, you jerk. I loved him, but he never loved anyone but you. And he can't even admit it to himself. God, this is so fucked up."
She wipes the back of her hand across her cheek, smearing mascara and foundation everywhere.
Jensen hands her his glass, only half-full, then reaches down to retrieve the bottle he stashed behind a chair, takes a swig.
"He'd slip up sometimes," Genevieve says after taking a long drink. "He'd call me Jen. I knew he meant you, not me. It was a way he had of saying your name -- and our names may sound the same, but when he says yours there's this longing there -- "
She chokes out a sob and Jensen fills her glass, glances around desperately for a way out again. He so does not need Jared's ex-wife falling apart in front of him right now.
Damn it damn it damn it.
"Listen, Gen -- uh, Genevieve," Jensen stammers. "You're gonna be okay. Maybe we can find you someplace to sit down, take it easy -- "
"Don't patronize me, Jensen," Genevieve snarls at him. "I am not a child. I know what I'm talking about."
Jensen flinches, ready to duck the blow she looks ready to aim at his jaw. Or worse. Maybe she'll throw the glass at him. That would be dramatic.
But Genevieve just takes a deep breath, steadying herself, takes another quick sip of the whiskey.
"It took me over a year to get past the anger. To stop feeling sorry for myself so I could go on with my life."
She's not even looking at him now, just gazing off to the side, into the distance of her own memory.
"I could never have done this then, or even last year. But when this invitation came, I knew I had to come. I had to tell you how it was because -- "
She pauses as her eyes fill with tears again and she hands Jensen the glass so she can pull out a tissue from her little purse, dabs daintily at her eyes.
"I want him to be happy, Jensen, I actually want that for him now, even after all he put us through. All he put you through. And I just know the bits and pieces he told me about, so I can only guess what an asshole he's been to you."
Jensen feels himself flush, looks away uncomfortably.
"Gen -- That's not -- I don't -- "
"Just shut up and listen, okay?" she interrupts before he can form a coherent protest. "I came here to say this, and I'm gonna say it. I'm almost done."
So Jensen closes his mouth, raises his eyes and tries to be polite, tries to be a good southern gentleman like his momma taught him, lets the lady speak, no matter how painful it is.
"I need you to know this stuff because I'm fine now. I've got a new husband and he's the love of my life and everything worked out for me, so -- "
She dabs at her eye again, looks up at Jensen with a little shake of her head.
"So I'm just enough of an idiot to wish my ex-husband well, now that things have worked out for me. I can't tell you what to do, obviously. I just wanted you to know. Now it's up to you. Jared already knows what I think, not that it matters. But now at least you're even. Now he can't keep pretending he couldn't care less, because you know the truth."
She shakes her head a little, looks away from him.
"I don't quite have it in me to wish you the best, Jensen, I'm sure you can see that. But at least now I've got this off my chest I can move on. Get a little closure on all this."
She opens her arms in an expansive gesture, taking in the cavernous space with its Supernatural signage and its lighted stage with the huge cake and all the holiday decorations.
"I hope I never see this place again as long as I live," she says dramatically, throwing her head back so her long dark hair bounces around her. "Goodbye, Jensen. Thanks for the drink."
Jensen watches as she whirls around, then walks deliberately away from him on her six-inch heels, like a model on a runway, each step placed perfectly in front of the other.
He watches until she meets up with a tall, dark-haired man with a kind, handsome face who greets her with a smile and an intimate dip of his head, and Jensen lets himself feel relief as the man slips his arm around Genevieve, pulling her in close as they walk away together.
He's trying not to think too hard about what she just said to him, half-way to deciding she'd been drinking and it was all in her head anyway, when he's startled by a familiar voice.
"What was that about?"
Jensen nearly jumps out of his skin.
Jared is standing behind him -- how the hell did he manage to creep up behind him anyway?! -- staring over his shoulder after his ex-wife and her new husband.
Jensen's first instinct is to lie, to just make something up that has nothing to do with anything.
But then he remembers what Sam Winchester said, and he finds he's got more courage than he thought he had.
"Oh, that?" he shrugs noncommittally. "Not much. She seems to think I broke up your marriage. Thinks you're in love with me."
"She what?" Jared's expression is priceless, flushing red with embarrassment, maximum dimpled grimace warring with stunned surprise.
"Yeah," Jensen nods, taking a sip from his glass. "So are you? In love with me?"
He says the last with a raised eyebrow, staring up at Jared with frank expectation, trying to keep the smirk from twisting his lips too obviously.
But Jared reads his expression expertly, and Jensen's reminded of how well they really know each other, how well they get each other after almost ten years of working together practically all day, every day. Jared understands every facial tic and tone of voice, every nuance in his posture and body language.
Nobody knows Jensen as well as Jared does.
And up until fairly recently, Jensen thought nobody hated him more.
"You're such an asshole," Jared breathes, shaking his head.
But he says it without real malice, almost as a reflex. In fact, if Jensen didn't know any better, he'd say Jared was emoting some exasperated brotherly affection, something at least a little akin to Sam's feelings for Dean.
Or maybe he's just relieved that Jensen didn't seem to be taking what Genevieve said too seriously.
Because Jared's stunned embarrassment can't possibly be the response of somebody whose secret obsession has suddenly been exposed, right? To the object of his obsession, no less?
"Clearly I'm not drunk enough to get through the rest of this evening," Jensen says now, holding up his nearly empty bottle. "Time to find another bottle. Wanna come?"
And, surprisingly, Jared does.
They're off the next morning to a convention in Seattle, the last one of the year. They have six weeks off before filming starts again, so Jensen plans to head down to Los Angeles to hang out with family and friends there for awhile and Jared's heading back to Texas.
They decide to ride together to the airport in the morning for the sake of convenience, nothing more. Jensen rests his head back against the seat and lets himself doze, and Jared does whatever Jared does with his phone -- probably tweeting about his and Jensen's supposed friendship and all the fun things they do together.
Turns out they booked the same flight, so they end up sitting together on the plane, and Jared tweets some more, just for PR purposes.
Jensen mostly sleeps on the two-hour flight, still trying to catch up on sleep lost the night before.
He's not trying to avoid thinking about what Genevieve said, no way.
And it's not making Jensen intensely aware of Jared's body in the seat next to his. Nuh-uh.
Jensen is really not hyper-conscious of Jared's arm brushing his a sum total of sixteen times during the flight. Nope. Not.
And when they land at SeaTac and there's a group of fans waiting to greet them Jensen does not think about the way Jared leans into him when they pose for a few quick pictures together with a fan or two, and it really doesn't affect him in the least when a fan asks them to put their arms around each other for a shot or two and Jared just happens to press his cheek to Jensen's head as he pulls him against his overheated body --
No no no.
'Cause Jensen is a professional and this is all for show. Yup. Nothing real about it at all.
Then comes the awkward moment when they get to the hotel and some idiot hotel worker has booked them into the same room, and of course the hotel is booked solid and at the moment there's nothing else available.
And Jensen tries not to let his surprise show when Jared doesn't blow a gasket at the hotel clerk over the mistake, as he usually would. In fact, Jared's weirdly calm acceptance of the situation might almost be considered suspicious if it weren't so convenient. And if Jensen didn't know better he might think Jared is kinda happy about this particular turn of events.
Because now they're actually sharing a living space for the first time in six years -- for the first time since that night Jensen never wants to think about again as long as he lives, although he recently shared it with Sam Winchester -- post-coitally, no less.
Life is definitely stranger than fiction.
Especially when fiction turns out to be real life.
Stop, Jensen scolds himself sharply as he unpacks his meager belongings and stows them in the hotel room closet. Not thinking about this.
The good thing is the room is a suite, so Jensen gallantly offers to take the sleeper-sofa in the sitting room and give Jared the king-size bed in the bedroom, so it's all good.
And the craziest thing about all of this is that Jared's continued presence isn't making Jensen all tense and uncomfortable like it usually does. In fact, if he's being completely honest with himself, he has to admit it's not miserable at all.
It's a little bit nice, actually.
They're supposed to be up early for the breakfast panel the next morning, so Jensen does his meditation and his yoga exercises, orders a salad and a glass of wine from room service, and turns in early.
He can hear Jared crashing around in the other room, doing typically noisy, physical things before slamming the door and leaving such complete silence in his wake Jensen finds himself straining to hear any lingering sound, just to give his ears something to do.
But it's no use. Jared has gone out, and Jensen can't be sure whether he should be feeling relief or disappointment.
No way. There is no way he can be wishing Jared asked him to go with him. Not a chance.
He finishes his exercises, takes a nice long shower, puts on clean shorts and a tee-shirt and climbs into the sofa bed, turning out all of the lights except the one in the bathroom, hoping Jared can find his way in the gloom.
He's almost asleep when the door slams and Jared barrels around the other room for a few minutes, then softly opens the door from the bedroom. Jensen lies as still as he can, pretending to be deeply asleep, and Jared seems to stand for a long time in the doorway -- maybe letting his eyes adjust to the dimness? Because no way is he watching Jensen sleep, right? -- before he creeps across the room to go into the bathroom, banging his shin with a loudly whispered curse on the corner of the oddly-placed coffee-table.
And Jensen falls asleep with a smile turning up his mouth and Jared's curse in his ears.
They manage to move around each other fairly gracefully in the morning -- well, gracefully isn't really a word Jensen would associate with Jared, but anyway.
They're escorted to the green room a half-hour before their morning appearance, and Jensen is on his third cup of coffee by the time they hit the stage, which is really more of a platform on one end of a bland, brown-and-beige conference room, designed for business conferences, not classic-rock-styled horror shows for denim-and-flannel-and-leather-clad t.v. fans.
It feels different now, doing their thing in front of an audience, knowing what Jensen now knows about the Supernatural world. As he looks out on the expectant, excited faces of his fans, he's wildly tempted to just tell them, imagines the looks on their faces and the collective gasp -- like Becky in that episode -- "I knew it!"
But he holds back, deciding it's probably not a good idea to go public with his experience in that other world. He's pretty sure the powers-that-be wouldn't hold it against him, would let him get away with it and chalk it up to just another of his eccentric behaviors (and he's pretty sure they're used to most of those by now).
But Jared might.
Not that he cares what Jared thinks. No, he really doesn't.
But he decides not to say anything anyway. Just because.
Jared's doing that flirty, handsy thing he does at convention appearances, and it's such a natural thing, their convention act, and Jensen's so used to doing it in public he lets his mind wander, doesn't even worry about it anymore the way he used to.
Except Jared seems to be touching him more than usual today, and when he looks over at his co-star, who's talking a blue streak as usual but has his hand on Jensen's arm like he's forgotten it's there, Jensen waits till Jared returns his gaze before dropping his eyes rather pointedly to the offending hand.
The audience titters as Jared looks down, seems to notice he's been touching Jensen non-stop for the past ten minutes, and actually looks surprised.
"Oh, sorry," he improvises -- and Jensen can tell he's really surprised, but the audience probably figures it's part of the show. "You looked like you needed a little contact."
He pulls his hand away, but a moment later he's got it back on Jensen's shoulder as he starts telling another story.
Jensen looks out at the audience and blinks. They laugh, of course, going along with what must seem natural and ordinary -- Jared and Jensen being such good friends in public, deliberately feeding into their fantasies that J2 is a thing. It's all part of the act Jensen and Jared have done a million times before over the years, vaguely suggestive but always family-friendly, never crossing that all-important line.
But this time Jensen is acutely aware of the weight and heat of Jared's hand, and he's pretty sure that it's intentional.
When they finally leave the stage, Jared leaves his hand on Jensen's back longer than necessary, after the doors close behind them and there's no one to see them anymore except the convention employees who couldn't care less.
There's a meet-and-greet after, followed by lunch with somebody from a media outlet who asks endless questions about Dean's motivations in the first half of the season and what the plans are for the second half of Season Ten. Jensen does his usual media thing through both meetings, ignoring his instinct to glance around the room until he can catch Jared's eye. He doesn't have to, cuz he can hear Jared loud and clear -- like he's right there under his nose, in fact, and yeah. Jensen's pretty sure he can smell him too. Guy sweats and huffs like a freakin' bull.
The afternoon photo-ops and panel go pretty much as expected. Jensen does more of his thing of pretending Jared's not being a little more solicitous than usual. Jared touches him way more than usual. But otherwise they get through it just fine -- the fans seem entertained and satisfied. Someone even comments that they seem so much closer than their characters this season, and it's nice to see.
Jared and Jensen exchange a look, and Jensen swears there's something real behind the smirk on his co-star's face for once, but he doesn't let him see that he sees.
Jared gets up, steps over and lays a big ol' hug on him, made awkward because of the angle; he has to practically bend in half to lean down far enough to do it. Jensen accepts the contact, sits absolutely still and stares all resigned at the audience, not quite rolling his eyes as he does, and they get the chorus of "awwwws" Jared was clearly going for while Jensen tries hard not to take a deep breath, not to pull too much of Jared's sweaty male scent into his system.
When they leave Jensen waits for Jared to say something nasty or cutting, to negate the display of fraternal affection as he so often does. Jensen's so used to Jared doing this that he's learned to prepare for it, to harden himself into a tight little shield against the snark he's used to getting from Jared.
But this time, Jared is silent. This time, there's none of that.
And instead of protecting himself, Jensen's thinking about what Sam told him. Then he thinks about Genevieve's weird accusations and Jared's behavior over the past week.
"What?" Jared demands as they make their way back to their room for showers.
Jensen shakes his head, but he leaves the little smile on his lips and in his eyes. He can feel it.
"Nothing," he says, and Jared frowns. "You're just -- different, is all."
Jared huffs out a breath as they pile into the elevator, just them and a couple of Creation bodyguard types, silent and bored.
"No more different than you," Jared returns. "You're like somebody else entirely."
"Yeah?" Jensen thinks about that. Did that other universe really affect him that much? Is he a changed man after that experience?
Is it so obvious to Jared?
"Yeah," Jared confirms. "Like somebody took down the big sign on your forehead that screamed 'kick me' all the time."
Jensen's eyebrows shoot up. Really? Everybody saw him as some kind of victim?
"Well, you're not so angry all the time," Jensen counters, because it's true. He hasn't witnessed one of Jared's usual temper tantrums all week.
"Huh," Jared thinks about that, then nods. "Maybe I am getting better dealing with my anger issues. I've been seeing someone."
Jensen looks at him in surprise. That he was not expecting, and it shouldn't make him feel a stab of jealousy, no sir.
Jared reads his look and shakes his head quickly.
"No, I mean I'm seeing a therapist," he clarifies, and Jensen does not breathe a sigh of relief, no way in hell.
"Oh," he says instead, and an awkward silence descends for the duration of the elevator ride.
And Jensen is really not thinking about his own reaction to the notion that Jared is dating someone. He really does not care, he tells himself repeatedly as they enter their rooms and he lets Jared have first dibs on the shower because Jared is a huge sweaty mess and Jensen isn't thinking about that. Or about how much washing Jared's gonna have to do to clean himself up.
No no no.
Jensen stayed in the night before because this is the night his friend's band is in town and he's promised himself he would go see them before he flies out in the morning.
He fully expects Jared to leave tonight, so he's surprised when Jared hovers around, orders food, turns on the t.v. It feels a little awkward -- no, a lot awkward -- to feel Jared's eyes on him every time he goes back and forth from the closet to the bathroom, dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt under his flannel, not deliberately but just because it feels comfortable. He's pumped and excited to get out, to see Steve and Chris and the band, to get that high that only live music gives him. Maybe he'll get to sing with them a little. They'll have an extra guitar and they'll go back to Steve's hotel after to jam, and he's really looking forward to getting lost in the music.
Jared's staring at him with an expression that's dark and brooding and hungry, and Jensen can't stand it.
"What?" he demands finally, stopping in front of Jared with a questioning gesture. "Aren't you flying out tonight?"
Jared lowers his eyes, shakes his head.
"Damn airline fucked up again," he says miserably. "I'm stuck here till morning."
Oh. Damn. Jared does have the worst luck with airlines, that's something Jensen cannot deny.
"So -- " he cannot believe what he's about to say. "Come out with me. I'm going to see KANE."
Jared shakes his head.
"I'll just be a nuisance," he protests. "They're your friends. They don't like me."
Actually, he has a point there. Steve and Chris are good friends, and they've been pretty protective of Jensen over the years, especially where Jared is concerned.
But this is Jensen's life. He gets to call the shots.
"Yeah, well, they're just being good buddies," Jensen says. "Watching out for me."
"They think I'm a jerk," Jared says.
"Well, you are," he says. "Or at least, you were. Not such a jerk right now, so come on out and have some fun. No sense being stuck here alone all night."
And damn it if Jared doesn't look so grateful it almost melts Jensen's heart.
And that's how Jared and Jensen end up out on the town together in Seattle, crowding into the sweaty, noisy club where bodies are pressed wall-to-wall and they can't help being pressed up against each other, jostling their drinks and making their way to the stage, dancing together side-by-side as they move to the music.
Steve sees them right away, lifts his eyebrows in a smile, mouths "Jenny! My man!" then darts a worried look at Jared, frowns a little.
Jensen raises his glass in a mock salute, shrugs as he tips his head toward Jared, big grin plastered ear-to-ear because damn! This feels good!
Chris sees them too, glares pointedly at Jared, changes the set list so that the next song is about an abusive relationship.
Not subtle, that Christian Kane, Jensen thinks with a little smirk and a glance at Jared, who obviously gets it and actually has the decency to look a little chagrined.
Well. That's different.
Two or three drinks later, Jensen's more than ready when Chris welcomes him up onto the stage to sing, offers him his guitar. When the band launches into "The Weight," Jensen feels Jared's eyes on him, feels him standing still among all the moving bodies, just watching.
Half-way through the song, Jensen looks up at his co-star, makes eye contact just long enough to acknowledge Jared's offer of a truce, if not an apology. And in the moment, as Jared looks back his gratitude, Jensen lets the warmth of real connection flood his chest for the first time in years.
And just like that, without exchanging a single word, he knows they're gonna be okay.
Not best friends, maybe, but no longer sworn enemies.
Later, when they tumble into taxis for the ride back to the hotel, Jared's plastered to his side, and Jensen realizes he's not anxious or nervous around Jared anymore. Hasn't been for the whole week since he got back, actually. The past is finally in the past, and he and Jared have really moved on.
It's almost like that night all those years ago never even happened.
Because before that, they were real buddies. They hit it off. They enjoyed each other's company and spent every waking minute together, those first three years or so. Lived together and everything.
Until Jensen had to go and spoil it all by getting drunk and hitting on Jared too hard one night and Jared freaked out and --
Not thinking about that now.
Because now it's good again for the first time in over six years, and Jensen definitely doesn't want to spoil it again.
CHAPTER THREE - BACK TO MASTERPOST