Summary: After Supernatural, Jensen and Jared aren't talking. But a film's a film and Jensen could really use the money.
When Jensen gets the call from his agent, he’s indulging himself in his misery. A caramel mocha frappuccino by his side, staring out the window at some skinny kid on the pavement playing guitar for loose change, a napkin slowly shredding under his fingers. Jensen can’t play the guitar - not really, because this is LA and even the homeless have studied musical theatre. Perhaps his singing could entice the good people of LA to empty their pockets.
Hey, Jen. Good news. The Padalecki kid, yeah? His people just called me; seems he thinks there’s a part just perfect for you in his new film. Nothing on paper yet, ‘course, but the figure they mentioned sent fucking shivers up my spine, yeah? I said you were definitely interested, ‘kay. Said you might just be able to fit it into your busy schedule.
Jensen’s agent has the sort of braying laugh that gets dogs barking; loud and long and grating as hell. Jensen holds the phone away from his ear and lets it run its course. When the handset stops vibrating in his hand, he gingerly replaces it.
…put my ear to the ground and get back to you, kid. Stay smart now.
The line goes dead. Jensen carefully puts the phone back on the table and stares at it, leaning back in his seat. He idly thinks that he needs to change his agent because the guy is really beginning to piss him off. Stirring his melting frappuccino with the straw, he takes a cold swallow and goes back to staring at the kid with the guitar. Starts ripping up a new napkin, ignoring the pointed look of a female server.
On the way home, he passes three billboards pasted with Jared Padalecki’s smiling face; two for some movie about robots and one a Calvin Klein advert. He doesn’t look at them.
The script arrives in the mail; black on crisp white, with large chunks yet to be finalised and brackets explaining a whole kitchen scene which still isn’t written. Jensen signs for it without a word, his battered robe trailing down past his knees and his hair mussed with sleep. He lets the package fall to the kitchen table with a satisfyingly loud clunk and pours himself coffee. When he opens the door to Chris Kane a good couple of hours or so later, he still isn’t dressed and the script is still wrapped up in cheap brown paper on the table.
“You’re pathetic, man,” Chris offers in way of greeting, as he pulls open the fridge door and helps himself to juice. “Just open the damn thing already.”
So Jensen does, and the character list on the front has a single name highlighted in green, second from the very top. Dave Benson, it says, and Jensen has to stop himself from trying the name out, from seeing how the syllables feel on his tongue and how the two words hang in the air. He’s never seen himself as a Dave, before. Dave, to him, is a guy from high school, big and large with a dull sheen to his eyes. Dave, he remembers, was a bit of a dick.
The name above that is Tom Westbury.
He tails Chris into the lounge, and they sit next to each other on the sofa - real close, with the heat of Chris’ skin pressed against his thigh through his jeans, shoulders bumping - sharing the script between them. They’ve done this before, too many times to count, and there’s something undeniably high school girl about the tradition that neither Jensen or Chris have ever mentioned. They’ve both got their reasons, Jensen supposes.
Chris takes Tom and Jensen takes Dave, and they take it in turns to read the stage directions. The minor characters get shared between them, with an eye to having Jensen play only Dave when possible, even if Chris ends up with three or more parts and the action becomes slightly incoherent, with his smooth, low, Texas-spun voice running on without pause through pages of text. They break halfway through for chips and beer, their voices scratchy from use, and Jensen munches on dry cereal as Chris opens a packet of chocolate covered cookies. They don’t give any opinions on what they’ve read yet - they’ll save that till later - and, when they return to the lounge, Jensen gets crumbs over the pages as he starts on a Dave soliloquy.
Jensen doesn’t want to be, but he’s actually fairly impressed. His not-so-future life would be a hell of a lot easier, he knows, if he got to turn down the hefty paycheque for artistic reasons, irreconcilable differences and all that. But he likes what he’s reading is the frustrating thing, and Jensen hasn’t really liked any project he’s worked on for the last six months or so. This is good - gritty, with dry humour and a twist, a real twist, that catches him unawares. He thinks this could be the next Fight Club if it’s done right, and that’s one hell of a pull, even without the money. He hates that.
At the end, Chris and he laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. Laugh with that hint of hysteria that says so I killed a guy, right - or at least I think I did and when Chris eventually trails off, Jensen continues. And they’re sitting in his shitty lounge and Jensen has a packet of Cheerios between his thighs and he’s only following stage directions, but he can see the glistening tarmac beneath Dave’s feet, is aware of Tom crouched behind him, and he’s there, man. He’s there and the only thing he can do is laugh.
Abruptly, he stops. Flips the script shut.
“So,” Chris says, after a beat. “You’re a fucking pussy if you turn it down, y’know.”
Jensen doesn’t say anything, shakes his head.
Chris just shrugs, his eyes sharp behind lazy, half-lowered lids. “The boy owes it to you,” he says. Like that’s all that matters, and Jensen loves Chris, he really does, but sometimes the guy just really misses the point.
It’s been a while since Jensen’s experienced the film industry, but he remembers all the talk with a certain fond frustration. Hell, he was in negotiations for Devour for a fortnight, being bounced back between producers with their concerns and Dave, the director, with his vision, and Devour was never going to be anything else but a shitty film. This film - the Jared Padalecki Untitled Project, as it is so snappily being referred to - has aspirations of an Oscar-winning blockbuster, and filming is due to start in less than a month to give the required six months of production time to catch the end of December and Oscar-season. Jensen’s beginning to remember the word ‘busy’ with a fond appreciation. After giving his agent the go-ahead on the script, he’s been up at six every morning for the last week, being ferried from appointment to appointment, being asked whether he has any special dietary requirements and such like.
Currently, it’s half three on a Friday, and he’s in a board room, sitting across the mahogany expanse of table from Mark Finnburg, the executive producer. He’s a big man with a broad, unsmiling face, hair going prematurely grey about the temples, and Jensen weathers his gaze uncomfortably, feeling very much like a very little fish in a very big, very exclusive pond. His contract lies on the table, between Mark’s broad forearms, and all Jensen wants to do is sign it and escape to a cool drink in celebration of a weekend’s breather and hammering the nails firmly into his coffin.
“So,” Mark says, and spreads his fingers over the contract, pushing it towards him. “Take your time.”
Jensen leans forwards and accepts the sheets of paper, settling back to read. The traffic rush from outside is muted despite the street-facing windows spanning a whole wall and the summer sun is pleasantly warm through the tinted glass. He reads in silence, always aware of the other man’s strong presence opposite him, the rustle of paper and the slight hiss of the air conditioning strangely loud in the still room. By all accounts, the contract seems pretty standard, detailing money paid and marketing obligations and working hours, and to a great extent he’s just skimming the words because it’s all been outlined to him already. He’s on the third page, however, when he jerks out of auto-pilot and really reads the words of the clause in front of him. Then he reads them again, frowning.
He looks up and Mark’s watching him.
“It’s a precaution,” he says, before Jensen can ask.
Jensen laughs harshly in disbelief. “It’s a load of crap. ‘Antagonistic behaviour’? What exactly is that nowadays, anyway, huh? Speaking to the guy? Not wanting to go for a beer with him? What?”
“So walk away,” Mark says coolly, and Jensen wants to swear at him so fucking badly it hurts. “Jared was the one that suggested you for this project, and we liked the material we saw of you otherwise you wouldn’t be here, but I don’t mind telling you that I argued against getting you on board. The two leads hating each other can really screw with the movie-making process, you understand.”
“We don’t hate each other,” Jensen says, stiffly.
“The press seems to think differently.”
Jensen has about three million different venomous retorts to that. He struggles with himself for a long moment, swallowing down his anger.
“Does Jared have to agree to this -- this?” he asks finally, gesturing to the contract.
“What do you think?” Mark says, bluntly.
No, Jensen thinks, of course not. They wouldn’t risk losing Jared the fucking movie star. But, hey, that Ackles fellow? That guy who used to be in that series once a few years back - does adverts every now and again cause he’s still okay looking? Yeah, sure, slap him with a ‘fuck you and please shut the door behind you’ clause. Assholes.
Jensen chews agitatedly on the inside of his cheek, thinking about the script and the part and the money. Even half of what they’ll be giving him is a hell of a lot more than he usually makes for three or four months of on-and-off work, and he’ll be given that half even if he ends up antagonising Jared by breaking his damn nose.
“What if it’s his fault?” he grits out. “Jared’s fault?”
Mark nods to the contract. “It’s in there. All of it.” He leans casually back in his chair. “This isn’t about you two not talking, or anything equally as petty. Your pay will only be cut if either of you is unable to work naturally with the other on camera. If it gets in the way of the film,” he says, sincerely, with a small, tight smile, “you’re going to fucking regret it, believe me.”
Jensen believes him. He reads the clause again, weighing it mentally.
“I need to talk to my agent,” he says finally, thinking lawyer.
Mark nods at him, and his secretary shows him out.
His lawyer pronounces the contract fit, assures Jensen he won’t be swindled out of half his money if he calls Jared something colourful, says sign.
His agent, hearing through his lawyer, says sign, you jackass.
Jensen signs. Then buys a twelve pack of Budweiser from the service station down the end of his road and drinks himself silly.
The second to last time Jensen had seen Jared, Jensen had cut the flesh over his knuckles open on Jared’s teeth when he’d punched him across the mouth. Then he blacked both his eyes, his own blood smudging down across Jared’s cheek from where it vividly welled from his fist.
The first hit and Jared had still been trying to make everything alright between them, spitting and swearing and saying, “Wait, goddamn you, wait.” After Jensen had hit him again, Jared had stumbled backwards a couple of steps, shaking his head as if to clear it, and when he looked back up his eyes were hard and his mouth silent. When Jensen swung at him again, Jared had stepped into it and hit back, hard.
Jared and his un-fucking-fair height advantage had left Jensen lying on the ground, panting raggedly for breath, his eyebrow split, his right cheek throbbing with his heartbeat and his solar plexus aching with a vengeance that said it would never entirely forgive him. Jared had pushed his sweaty hair out of his face and leant over him, hands braced on his knees, his white t-shirt blotchy red with the imprint of bloody knuckles, and said, “Grow up, Jensen. I said I was sorry.”
The guy had had the balls to look hurt about it, too, Jensen remembers, on the drive over from the poorer end of the city to LA’s very centre. He thinks about every punch thrown, about every dull, three-day-ache inflicted, about Jared’s stupid bleeding face, hovering over his, his expression crumpled slightly. He doesn’t think it’s particularly healthy but he needs the slow, righteous burn of anger right now. Needs to review exactly why he stopped talking to Jared in the first place.
When Jensen walks into the room set up by the studio for the first meeting, he pauses before nodding across at Jared who’s already awkwardly risen to his feet, smiling that shy, half-grin he gives strangers. Jensen doesn’t smile back, just sits in the chair indicated to him and nods at the offer of a drink, not looking at Jared as he hesitates for an uncertain moment and then sits back down.
“Hi, Jensen,” he says. “How’ve you been?”
“Surviving,” Jensen says shortly. He’ll be damned if he’s going to help here. The whole thing is fucking ridiculous, and he’s sure Jared knows that just as well as he does. He’s still wearing his shades, a more carefully considered move than he’d ever admit to and something he only does inside when hungover or meeting fans, and Jared can make what he likes out of that. He slouches casually back in his chair, suppressing the urge to kick his feet up, and wanting far far away.
Jared rolls his bottle of water between his fingers, still looking earnestly at him from across the table. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while. You know. Clear the air between us.”
Jensen thanks the blonde girl as she passes him a misty-cold bottle, breaking the seal and swallowing three large gulps - long enough to pass right on over that remark. He looks at Jared, meets his eyes, then shrugs noncommittally and spreads his lips into something which isn’t quite a smile.
“So,” Jared says stiffly, after a beat, placing his bottle carefully back on the table. “What do you think of the script?”
The very last time Jensen had seen Jared, it had pretty much been a non-event. It had been at a party, one of those loud ones, with too much beer and too much making out, and Jared hadn’t been hard to spot through the throngs of pretty, drunk things because he was about a head taller than most of them. Jensen, after beating a rather undignified retreat, had waited outside on the porch for fifteen minutes before his taxi had shown up, drumming his fingers against his leg with impatience, and he was half way home when his cell had beeped at him that he had a message.
Where r u? J wants to talk.
Jensen had turned his phone off, mentally berating himself because he had known that Mike was Jared’s friend too, and of course he was going to be there, of course.
When he had finally deemed it safe to turn his cell back on the following afternoon, there was a single text waiting for him in his inbox. Mikey again.