Word Count: 12,100
Summary: Jensen's boyfriend won't commit. Jared's heart might be broken beyond repair. Will a little nudge in the right direction by the people who love them most set them on the path to true love and happiness?
Notes: This is for aggybird for spn_j2_xmas. I was so inspired by her enthusiasm and awesome prompts that of course I immediately had to go and stalk her lj and discovered what a delightful person she is! She deserves so much better than what I have to offer. Based on the Hallmark movie Straight from the Heart, this was actually my idea for Big Bang once upon a time. ;) My undying gratitude to kee for a kick-ass beta job - you rock my world, bb! The awesome banner was made by the awesome laisy. Thank you so much, it's gorgeous!! Title and cut from Ryan Levine. Have I mentioned lately how much I suck at summaries? And grrrr, stupid lj making me split the post. Grrrr.
"I'm sorry. You're just not what we're looking for."
Jensen drops his eyes, quirks up one corner of his mouth slightly and dips his head a fraction in thanks. He walks out of the audition with his back ramrod straight, but sags against the door as soon as it closes behind him.
"Fuck," he says, running a hand through his hair. He needs the job, but more, he'd really wanted the part.
He catches the bus home. There's a wad of gum stuck to the seat next to him and a couple of teenagers noisily making out behind him. Jensen can't wait for the day to just be over.
Chris jumps on him as soon as he stumbles through the front door, snapping a party hat onto his head.
"Happy Birthday, Jenny Bean!"
"Don't call me that," Jensen says. He scowls at Chris, but it quickly dissolves into a throaty laugh when Chris flips him off and stuffs a beer into his hand.
"I'd ask how it went, but I think the someone ran over my puppy look says it all."
"Shut up. It's my birthday. You're not allowed to be mean to me today."
"Speaking of mean," Chris says, flopping down onto the couch and patting the seat next to him. "Where's that dead-beat boyfriend of yours?"
"Jeffrey's working late. He's taking me out to dinner later." Jensen sits down and takes a long drink from his beer.
"Jensen, when are you gonna realise that he's just using you and move on?"
Jensen is really not in the mood to argue with Chris about this again. His best friend makes his feelings regarding his boyfriend very clear, every chance he gets.
"He taking me to a really nice restaurant, and he said he wanted to talk about our relationship. I think he's finally gonna ask me to move in with him."
"Don't get your hopes up."
Chris cuts him off, holding his hands up in surrender. "Sorry. I just. I don't want to see you get hurt."
"I'm a big boy, Chris, I can take care of myself."
"I know, I know. It's not." Chris stops, leans over and tugs at Jensen's party hat, so it sits even more askew. His perpetual scowl loses some of its menace as he relaxes the frown between his brows and offers Jensen a lopsided grin. "Nevermind, let's open some presents, what do you say?"
Jensen slips off the ridiculous hat and throws it over his shoulder.
"Now you're talking!" he says and holds out his hands to Chris, wriggling his fingers.
Chris digs out a heap of brightly covered packages from beneath the couch.
"Your folks sent you some money. I assumed it's to cover the rent you're behind on, so I took care of that for you," Chris says, winking and patting the bulge in his shirt pocket. Jensen makes a lunge for it, but Chris evades him easily, pelting him with gifts instead. "The rest are from Mac and Josh. This one," he says, settling down and handing Jensen a plain brown paper bag, "is from me."
"Porn mags again? Really, Chris? I hope there are at least some cocks in these."
"Fuck that. I know you've still got those Penthouses I got you last year hidden under your bed. Now open it."
Jensen rolls his eyes when he tears it open and finds that it is indeed a magazine. He turns it over and squints at the title.
"Lavender Magazine? What the hell is this, Chris?"
"Turn to page 20. Look for a big red circle."
Jensen humors him, flips to the page and grabs at the plane ticket that tumbles out. Putting it aside at Chris' urging, he reads aloud from the marked ad.
"My name is Jared Padalecki, aged 27. I'm a teacher from San Antonio, Texas and I'm interested in pursuing a committed relationship with someone likewise inclined." Jensen stops reading and closes the magazine. "Why am I reading this?"
"Because I answered it. In your name. He wants to meet you."
"Jesus, Chris!" Jensen throws the magazine down and jumps up, walking towards his room. "What the hell where you thinking? I have a boyfriend!"
"Who won't even openly admit to being gay, nevermind being in a relationship with you. He keeps you dangling on a line with empty promises and you fall for it every time! You need to stop waiting for him and get on with your life, Jen."
"By answering a stranger's singles ad?"
"Maybe this is just what he needs. If he thinks he could lose you, he'll finally step up and do the right thing."
"I don't play games, Chris."
Jensen's prevented from saying anything further by the doorbell ringing. He shoots Chris one last dirty look before opening it. Jeffrey grabs hold of him immediately, taking advantage of Jensen's lips parting in surprise to lick into his open mouth. Jensen lets out a strangled yelp, but Jeffrey only grabs hold of his ass when he tries to free himself.
Chris clears his throat and Jeffrey freezes, dropping his hands from Jensen and coming inside.
"Chris," Jeffrey says.
Chris nods in reply. Jensen closes the door and leads Jeffrey over to the couch. They spend a few minutes in uncomfortable silence, before Chris mumbles out a lame excuse and flees the apartment.
"Finally," Jeffrey says, moving closer and draping his arm over Jensen's shoulder. "I've got something special for you."
"Mmm," Jensen says as he relaxes into Jeffrey, turning to press a kiss to Jeffrey's stubbled cheek.
Jeffrey digs a hand into the hidden front pocket of his jacket and Jensen's stomach flips. He's been waiting for this moment for so long, he can hardly believe it's actually happening.
Jeffrey laughs when he holds out his hand, and Jensen opens his mouth to deliver a witty retort as he feels the rumble of it reverberating through him. Instead he's left speechless when instead of the key he was expecting, Jeffrey places a plain white envelope in his palm.
"I've booked us on a weeklong luxury cruise to the Bahamas," Jeffrey says as he squeezes Jensen tightly and presses a kiss to his temple. "Happy Birthday, baby."
Jensen doesn't say anything as he lets his hand drop down onto his lap. His numb fingers refuse to close around the envelope and it slides down to the floor. Jeffrey releases him and bends down to pick it up.
"What's the matter? Don't you like it?"
"No, it's great. It's just." Jensen pauses, not sure if he should continue. Today of all days he doesn't want to have the same old argument again. "Not what I was expecting."
"Jensen, I know you think we should move in together," Jeffrey says, rising to the bait. "But you know why we can't right now. As soon as that new play I'm set to direct gets the green light, I want to cast you in the lead. And if we're together when that happens, it'll look like, well, you know how it'll look. We'd be at risk to lose all of the financial backing for the project."
"You've been waiting for that green light for months now and we both know it's just the newest in a long line of excuses stretching back the last five years, Jeffrey. Even this," Jensen says, snatching the envelope back from Jeffrey and flinging it down onto the coffee table, "is proof of the real problem. A vacation stuck on a boat where there's almost no risk that anyone you know will see us together."
"Jensen, I spent a small fortune on that cruise. I want nothing but the best for you, and this is what I get in return? What do you want?"
"I want this," Jensen says, thrusting the magazine Chris had given him into Jeffrey's hands. "Someone who's not ashamed of who they are or what they want and isn't afraid to go out and get it."
"Someone desperate enough to take out a personal ad?" Jeffrey stands up and takes a step from Jensen. "Really, Jensen, have you sunk that low?"
"Not desperate, honest. And he wants to meet me," Jensen says, also standing. He shows Jeffrey the plane ticket Jared sent him.
"So this is your latest ploy to get me to do what you want?" Jeffrey walks over to the door and picks up his coat. "You expect me to believe you'd really go out there and meet with this guy? Well, I don't. I won't play your games, Jensen."
"Then don't," Jensen says, crossing his arms across his chest.
"Call me when you're done acting like a spoilt child," Jeffrey says and closes the door behind him with a loud bang.
Jensen sinks back onto the sofa and stares down at the ticket in his hand for a long time before going into his room to pack a suitcase.
Getting off the plane in San Antonio feels like coming home and Jensen takes a moment, just letting the sun beat down on him and breathing in the heat. At thirty he's almost spent the same amount of time living in Los Angeles as he did growing up in Dallas, but he supposes deep down Texas will always remain home to him.
Jensen collects his baggage and goes outside to wait for Jared to pick him up. There have been a few short text messages exchanged between them to make the travel arrangements, but nothing that could help Jensen get a real feel for the type of man Jared is. As he waits for Jared to arrive in the red pickup he mentioned, he keeps fidgeting with his clothes and nervously looking back at the terminal. Now that he's got a moment to stand still and think about it, he wonders what the hell possessed him.
Just as he's seriously contemplating turning around and getting back on a plane, Jared pulls up slowly and stops next to him. Jensen quickly swings his luggage into the back and squeezes his hand around the door handle before his nerves can get the better of him. Taking a deep breath he slides into the seat and swings the door shut behind him.
"Jensen Ackles," he says, as he holds a hand out to Jared. Jared doesn't take it. He just sits there keeping the engine running so the cool stream of the a/c will continue blasting at their faces and looks at Jensen. Jensen takes the opportunity to assess the man sitting next to him as well. He lets his eyes briefly flit down the length of Jared's muscular body, from the waves of floppy hair that he hasn't bothered combing to the ends of his scuffed trainers and then back up.
Jared's gaze is unwavering and Jensen's arm droops a little at the sight of Jared's tightly clenched jaw and white knuckled grip on the steering wheel. There's a challenge in the hard glint of his hazel eyes and Jensen straightens his arm again, not backing down. Eventually Jared looks down at the offered hand and stiffly reaches across to shake it.
"Jared Padalecki," he says and pulls away from the curb.
Jensen sits looking out the window at the passing scenery as they drive through the city. He wishes Jared would at least turn on the radio to fill the awkward silence.
"It's a beautiful town you live in," he offers, but Jared just shrugs. "It reminds me of home," he says and continues to tell Jared about growing up in Dallas and his life back in LA. He knows he's talking too much, sharing too much personal information with a perfect stranger. Luckily Jared doesn't seem to be listening anyway.
As soon as they arrive at Jared's house, a pretty young woman comes running down the steps to greet them. Jared introduces her as his sister, Megan. She envelopes Jensen in a warm hug and leads him into the house, leaving Jared to carry Jensen's baggage in by himself. He complains under his breath until she shoots him look and then immediately escapes outside again after depositing everything in the guest room.
Jensen can't believe the difference between the two of them. Megan makes him feel right at home with her welcoming warmth and pretty soon they're chatting comfortably over steaming cups of coffee in the kitchen like old friends.
"So Jensen," she says after she's made him tell her practically his entire life story, "do you do anything besides acting?"
"Like producing, or maybe directing."
The mention of directing makes him think of Jeffrey and the mess he left back in LA.
"Not really," he says after a moment.
"Oh, that's too bad. See, St Mary's, where Jared teaches, is having their annual school play in a few days and the drama teacher just quit. Jared's been trying to help out, but if we can't find someone who really knows what they're doing, it doesn't look like we'll be able to put anything up this year."
"I'd love to help, honestly, but I don't know if I'll be here that long."
"What do you mean?" she asks, her eyes widening. "You just got here."
"I think this might all have been a big mistake."
"Nonsense. Tell me," she says leaning in, "what do you think of Jared?"
"I don't know," Jensen says with a shrug. He can't deny that Jared is a very attractive man, but other than that he remains a complete mystery. "He doesn't really say much."
Megan regards him in silence for a moment, then gets up to refill his cup. Before sitting down again she pauses to lay her hand on his shoulder.
"We're all really glad that you came, Jensen. Please?"
Jensen touches her hand and she squeezes his shoulder gently before letting go.
"Great! Our parents are coming over for dinner and I can't wait for them to meet you!"
Jensen sure didn't bargain on meeting the parents already, but he can't help but laugh at Megan's enthusiasm. Before he knows it, she's also roped him into helping prepare dinner. She won't let him stir anything, but he gets to do plenty of chopping. They're still laughing and cooking up a storm when the parents arrive. Jared's mom wraps Jensen up in a tight hug before he can even think about getting nervous and her husband enthusiastically shakes his hand while thumping him on the back. They make him call them by their first names, Gerry and Sherry, and Jensen is more perplexed than ever by Jared's stand-offish behavior when they met.
Jared joins the rest of the group just as they're sitting down and at once everyone seem to draw back into themselves to match his somber mood. Sherry still tries to make polite conversation, asking about Jensen's acting and his favourite spots in LA. Jared ignores them for the most part, methodically finishing his meal with his eyes nailed to his plate. He pushes his chair back when he's done and leaves without a word. The others don't even react, clearly used to Jared's rude behavior.
"Thank you for the lovely meal, Megan," Jensen says, raising his voice just a little. From the corner of his eye he sees Jared pausing in the doorway for a moment before continuing upstairs.
"Jensen, I'm sor-" Sherry starts and Jensen stops her with a tight smile. He doesn't need another apology.
"If you'll excuse me, I need to make a call," he says and makes his way out through the kitchen out onto the back porch.
He hits Chris's number on speed dial and leans against the wall as he waits for the call to connect.
"Shit, I knew it. He's ugly, isn't he? I should have known something was up when they didn't include his picture."
"Conversations usually start with hello, Chris. And no, he's actually ... not entirely unattractive."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Who says there's a problem."
"You called me."
"Jensen, cut the crap and tell my why you've got your panties in a knot."
"Because clearly he doesn't want me here," Jensen says. Mindless of splinters, he sits down on the wooden steps, rubbing at the contacts scratching in his eyes. "Guess he took one look and decided I wasn't worth the effort. Seems to be a theme these days."
"Fuck that. You're too good for him, Jenny Bean. Just make up some story and come home."
"Don't call me that. And God, I'm tempted. But his family ... they're really good people. I don't want to lie to them."
"In that case, stop moaning and suck it up. Enjoy the vacation and see you in a few days."
"Chris?" Jensen says, but it's no use. Chris has already hung up on him. Jensen tucks the phone into his back pocket with a sigh. He has to admit that not wanting to lie to Jared's family is a pretty lame excuse. But he's nowhere near ready to delve into the real reason why he wants to stay, so he distracts himself by watching the fireflies flitting across the lawn. He stays outside breathing in the calm night air and listening to the crickets chirping in the underbrush until his ass is numb.
The house is dark when Jensen goes back inside. He's about to tiptoe up the stairs to his room when he sees a faint light still on in the living room. He knows he should ignore it. Someone probably just forgot to turn off a lamp. Curiosity gets the better of him though and he's halfway across the room before he knows it.
Jared is sitting at a little desk in the corner, the desk lamp casting a rich chocolate halo around his head. He's biting down at his bottom lip as he scribbles furiously, rapidly transferring papers from a massive pile on his right to a much smaller one on his left. There it is again, that strange twist in Jensen's gut that has him stepping closer against his better judgement.
"Writing something?" he asks softly.
He still startles Jared who looks over at him quickly before turning his full attention back to the task at hand.
"What's it look like I'm doing? God, are you slow or something?"
Vaguely Jensen's aware that it's the most words Jared's spoken to him yet, but that's just it. Jensen's had enough.
"Maybe. But you're an ass!"
Jensen is gearing himself up for a fight, one that he's got a feeling Jared's been spoiling for from the beginning. He's thrown for a loop when Jared throws his head back and laughs out loud.
"An ass? Seriously?"
Jared's face is transformed by the laughter. The hard lines around his mouth and eyes melt away and there are dimples in his cheeks so deep they make Jensen want to dig his fingers into them. Or maybe his tongue. He might have thought Jared was attractive before, but like this he's beautiful. After a while he realises that he's been staring and Jared's patiently waiting for his comeback.
"Well, you are," Jensen says, smiling back at Jared.
"Sorry. I'm grading papers and these kids are driving me nuts. I shouldn't have taken it out on you."
Jensen can't believe that Jared's actually apologizing for once, that he's still smiling up at him. It makes him feel kinda stupid.
"You should laugh more. It suits you."
As the words leave Jensen's mouth, he realises it was the wrong thing to say. Too much, too soon. He watches as Jared presses his lips back into a thin line, dipping his head to hide his eyes behind the curtain of his too long hair.
"Don't tell me what I should do. You don't know me."
No, Jensen thinks as he walks away. He really doesn't. And if Jared doesn't stop hiding behind all that anger, he never will.
Much to his surprise, Jensen falls asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow. He's roused much too early the next morning by the swipe of a broad tongue across his face, followed by a blast of dog breath foul enough to make his eyes water. He bats the dog away without opening his eyes. The next moment he's forced upright when a second heavy weight lands on the bed, squarely on his crotch. The two huge dogs looking back at him don't seem to take any offense at his undignified yelp as one leans in to lick at him again.
"I see you've met Harley and Sadie," Megan says from the doorway.
"They've introduced themselves, yes," Jensen says, his voice only half an octave off.
"Sorry about that. They must have slipped in when Jared went on his run."
Jared probably let them in on purpose to maim him, Jensen thinks, but doesn't say anything as he pets their heads carefully. Hopefully Megan will take them with her and he can get back to sleep.
"Anyway, breakfast is ready whenever you are."
"But it's still dark outside!"
Megan's lips twitch as she fights a laugh.
"The sun's been up for over an hour. And school starts at seven, so things happen pretty early around here. See you in the kitchen?"
"Is there coffee?"
"I'll be right down."
Jensen moves with a speed he didn't know he was capable of before at least noon, showering and dressing in record time. Megan wasn't lying about the coffee and presses a steaming cup into his grateful hands as soon as he sits down.
"Any plans for today?" Megan asks as she fills his plate with bacon and eggs.
"Not yet. Thought I'd just take it easy, you know?"
"Well, you could always swing by the school later and check out the rehearsals if you want to."
"I'm sure he's not interested in wasting his time with something as banal as a school play," Jared says as he walks in from outside, hot and sweaty from his run.
"I'd love to," Jensen tells Megan, definitely not noticing the way Jared's sweat soaked t-shirt is clinging to his chest.
Jared huffs then steals a piece of Megan's buttery toast and goes upstairs to shower.
"You sure?" Megan asks.
It's time Jensen shows Jared that he doesn't scare him.
Jared leaves about fifteen minutes later, hair still wet and shirt only half-buttoned. Jensen catches a ride with Megan, whose job in the school office allows her to run a few errands in town before she has to report for duty. He's happy to tag along and carry the bags Megan keeps loading into his arms. By the time they make it to the school, it's after first recess and Jared's assembling all the kids that've been released from their regular classes for the rehearsal.
Jensen finds a spot just inside the backstage door where he's pretty well hidden behind stacks of empty boxes and broken electronics. He watches as Jared leads the kids to their places with a gentle hand against their backs and a few softly whispered words in their ears.
"Are you scared too?" a small voice asks next to him. Jensen starts, nearly knocking over his cover with flailing limbs. He was so busy watching Jared that he didn't notice the kid sneaking up on him.
"Scared?" Jensen asks the boy practically clinging to his leg.
"Of being on the stage," he says, chin wibbling dangerously.
"Hey," Jensen says, squatting down, "what's your name?"
"Well, Ben, I'm Jensen. I'm an actor, which means I have to go on stage all the time."
"Uh huh. And it's okay to get a little nervous, it just means you want to do your best. There's nothing to be afraid of."
"Promise. Now, are you ready to have some fun?"
Ben nods, but still won't stop trying to hide behind Jensen.
"Would it help if I held your hand?" Jensen asks, straightening and holding out the offered hand.
Ben slips his sweaty little hand into Jensen's much bigger one and he squeezes it tightly, an unfamiliar warmth blooming across his chest. He looks up, right into Jared's eyes and Jared quickly looks away. Jensen leads Ben over to the other kids who run up to them excitedly to meet the stranger Ben's bringing into their midst. Jared throws his hands up in the air in exasperation.
"Sorry. I'll help get them all into place again," Jensen says over the kids' clamour.
"It's okay," Jared says softly and then loudly claps his hands together twice. "Come on, everybody, back into place!"
Everyone except Ben scrambles back to their spots.
"Hi Ben, we're all so happy you're joining us. You wanna say goodbye to Jensen and take your place?"
Ben nods and tugs at Jensen's hand until he bends down again and then wraps his little arms tightly around Jensen's neck. Jensen's caught by surprise for a moment and then brings up his arms to hug him back. He looks up at Jared, smiling. Jared's got a smile of his own tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Jensen lets go and Ben takes half a step back before bending over and throwing up all down Jensen's shirt and pants. Jensen falls over, landing on his ass as Jared bursts out laughing.
"M'sorry," Ben says, wiping his mouth his shirt sleeve. "Guess I'm still feeling a little nervous." Some of the other boys lead him away, clapping him on the back and making whooping noises. Apparently puking on a grown-up gives you celebrity status. Jared finally stops laughing long enough to help Jensen up and send someone to get Megan to take him home.
Megan makes him ride in the backseat, sitting on old newspapers, with all the windows open. She makes them coffee while Jensen goes upstairs to change. He tries to rinse off the worst of it in the bathroom, but when he keeps dry heaving at just the smell, decides it's not worth it. He carries the ruined garments downstairs to dump in the trash, but Megan leads him to the washing machine instead. She adds a scoop of detergent and then another half just for good measure.
"Thanks, you're a lifesaver. I can't really afford to buy new clothes right now."
"No big parts lined up?"
"Nope. And it's not even about the money, you know? It's about not getting to do what I love."
"Yeah, I totally get that," Megan says, her teaspoon scraping against the bottom of her cup as she stirs it over and over.
"How's that?" Jensen asks, pushing his own cup aside. "Don't you like working at the school?"
"Oh no, it's fine. It's just. I thought I'd be finishing law school by now."
"So why aren't you?"
"I came back a few years ago when Genevieve died."
"Jared's wife. Didn't he tell you?"
"No," Jensen says, caught in that helpless feeling of sympathy where there's no way you could possibly say or do anything right. "How did she die?"
Megan gets up suddenly and takes their cups over to the sink. She stands leaning against it for a minute before turning back to Jensen.
"Jared's probably going to kill me for telling you this."
"It's okay, you don't have to tell me. I shouldn't have asked."
"No, I think you have a right to know," Megan says and sits back down opposite Jensen. "Genevieve was a teacher, taught third grade, just like Jared. We always knew Jared was bi, and most of his serious relationships had been with guys, so we were a little surprised when they started dating. A few months later Jared proposed and then Genevieve was expecting. They both loved children, badly wanted some of their own. We figured that was why they got married. It was a difficult pregnancy and Genevieve went into labour early. She died in childbirth."
"He must have been devastated."
"I never knew how much he loved her until I saw how hard her death hit him. The way we were raised, he didn't show it though. He just got quiet, closed himself off from everything and everyone. He'd disappear for days on end and then when he finally got back, he would hole himself up this house, not let anyone in. My parents called me at school, asked me if I would put my studies on hold for a while, move back to keep an eye on him. They were afraid he'd do something. To himself. That's how bad it was. They're getting on in years and Jeff, my eldest brother, had his own family to take care of. Besides, we were always close and we hoped he'd talk to me."
"And did he?"
"A little. Not enough to really do much good."
"I don't understand. Jared's obviously still dealing with his wife's death and he doesn't want me here. Why did he send me the ticket to come down here?"
"Jensen, I have to come clean. It was me that placed the ad and sent you the ticket. Jared was furious when he found out."
"But he still went along with it?"
"Yeah. Jared's been insisting that I go back to school, but I told him I couldn't until I was sure that he moving on with his life too. So, we made a deal that he'd start seeing people and I'd go. But he kept welching, making dates and then breaking them at the last minute. With you already on the way, he couldn't back out this time."
"Even if I wasn't exactly what he had in mind," Jensen says. "I'm pretty much the exact opposite from Genevieve," he clarifies when Megan looks at his questioningly.
"Actually, you have a lot in common. You stand up to Jared, just like Genevieve did. And you make him laugh. It's been years since he's done that."
"I don't know about that."
"Jensen, I feel terrible, knowing we brought you out here under false pretenses, but I'm so glad that we did. You're good for him."
Jensen's response is cut off by the front door opening and then closing with a bang.
"Jared?" Megan calls out, glancing at her watch with a frown.
"Yeah," Jared calls back and they follow his voice out into the living room.
"What're you doing home so early?" Megan asks.
"The rehearsal was pretty much a bust after, well, you know. I sent the kids home. Thought I'd get some work done on the decor," Jared says, only stepping away from his search through the hall closet long enough to answer her. "Just came by to pick up some supplies."
"What do you need?" Megan asks.
"A couple of nails and a hammer. We still have some paint left over from when we repainted the bedrooms upstairs, right?"
"Lots, yeah. It's in the garage, I think. You go and get that and I'll look for your toolbox."
"I'll help," Jensen offers, but Jared's already shaking his head.
"You'll just get in the way."
"Come on, man. I just want it to be nice for the kids. Despite the puke, I kinda like them. Let me help."
Jared still doesn't look convinced, but doesn't try and stop him when Jensen follows him outside. When they leave a little later with everything loaded in the bed of the pick-up and Jensen in the front seat, Megan sends them off with a wave and two big thumbs up for Jensen behind Jared's back.
The drive to school is quiet as always, but the silence feels less hostile to Jensen than their first trip. Jared's leaning back in his seat as he taps out the rhythm to some song in his head on the steering wheel and he doesn't snap at Jensen when he asks about the production. He actually becomes quite animated as he tells Jensen about what they've got planned and by the time they arrive, they seem to have worked out some kind of truce.
Jared asks him to sort through the costumes after he's helped him offload the truck. "I've only got one hammer," Jared explains, holding it up.
Jensen pulls out arms full of ratty outfits, trying to distinguish between the bad and the utterly useless as Jared pounds away at the dilapidated props.
"This is terrible," Jensen complains when the backdrop Jared is preparing collapses with a loud crash. "Why can't you get any new ones?"
"The principal won't allow us any funds," Jared answers simply and starts again.
By the time they get home, they're too exhausted for anything but a quick sandwich and a hot shower to wash away the dust and sweat.
The next morning Jensen's even up before Megan, though Jared's already left for his run, taking the dogs with him this time. He corners her as soon as she walks into the kitchen.
"I want to talk to the principal this morning. Can you set that up for me?"
"Talk to the principal?" Megan asks warily. "Why?"
"To ask for money for a new set and costumes. We can't let the kids perform with that shit they've got. They deserve better."
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Jensen, the principal was Genevieve's father."
"He hasn't spoken to Jared since Genevieve's funeral. He blames Jared for not getting Genevieve to the hospital in time. The doctors said she was one of those poor woman whose bodies just weren't meant to bear children, that she should never have gotten pregnant to start with. There wasn't much they could have done for her anyway, but he refuses to believe differently."
"And now innocent children have to suffer for it? That's crap. You have to help me. Please, Megan."
"I'll try my best, but don't say I didn't warn you."
"I won't," Jensen says, sweeping her up in a big hug. "You're the best! When do think you'll be able to get me in?"
"Well, he usually goes in a little early on Wednesdays to catch up on paperwork, so if you're ready we can go right now."
"I was born ready," Jensen deadpans and Megan rolls her eyes at him as she snatches up her keys.
Jared's not back yet, so they leave him a note on the refrigerator saying Megan had to go in to work early. Jensen hopes it's not something unusual. They may have buried the hatchet for the time being, but Jensen's not sure how Jared would react if he knew what Jensen was planning.
Mr. Cortese's a little perplexed at Jensen's request to meet, but agrees readily enough. He shakes Jensen's hand and directs him to take a seat in front of his heavy oak desk.
"Mr. Ackles. What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to talk to you about the third graders' play, Mr. Cortese."
"What about it?"
"The play is on Saturday, sir, and they desperately need new sets and new costumes."
"I don't know how you got involved with this, Mr. Ackles, but whoever dragged you into it should have told you that the school doesn't have any funds available to allocate to that project."
"Respectfully, sir, I believe it's your personal feelings towards Mr. Padalecki that are the issue here."
"How dare you!"
"I dare for the children's sake, sir. Isn't it time for you let go of the hurt and the hate? Jared's a good man, and he's good with the kids."
"I see. Did he ask you to come begging for him?"
"You know he'd never ask anyone to do that. And I told you, I'm doing this for the kids."
The principal sits back in his chair, sternly regarding Jensen for so long he feels like he's back in school again, wanting to confess to whatever petty offense they're accusing him of, as long as he can get away from that knowing stare.
"I'll see to it that the funds are made available immediately. The matter of Mr. Padalecki however, is not open for discussion."
"That's all I came for. Thank you, sir."
"You can collect the check on your way out. Good day, Mr. Ackles."
"Good day, sir," Jensen says, but it falls on deaf ears as Mr. Cortese picks up his pen and returns to his reports.
Jensen walks out on shaky legs and sags against the door as it clicks shut behind him. Megan's waiting at the end of the passage, nervously biting at her bottom lip. Jensen plays it up a little, letting his shoulders drop ever further with a heavy sigh. Then he looks up and smiles at her and she lets out a loud whoop before clamping her hands over her mouth and disappearing into her office with a stifled giggle.
He collects the check from the old lady at reception and gapes at the size of the amount written on it. Then he rushes off to find Jared.
Jared's reaction is, while not entirely unexpected, not what Jensen was hoping for. He gets right up into Jensen's face, waving the check under his nose.
"What did you do?"
"Dude, before you say it wasn't any of my business, I know. You're right and you can even beat me up if it'll make you feel better. But take the money. Make this the best damn play St Mary's has ever seen."
Jared switches his gaze from Jensen to the piece of paper in his hand and back again. He steps back and slips it into his pocket.
"Thanks," Jared says simply and walks away.
Jensen does a little leap of joy and pumps his fist in the air. He sobers quickly when Jared stops at the door.
"You know," Jared says, not turning back, "we have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time before Saturday. You got any more surprises up your sleeve?"
"Just wait and see," Jensen says and follows Jared out.
His first stop is Megan's office where he has to endure her delighted squeals and neverending hugs before he can get a word in. She sobers quickly when he asks about her sewing skills. She's roped into helping with the costumes before she knows it and when Jensen leaves a few minutes later, it's armed with her car keys and the rest of the info he needs to work some magic.
By the time school is over and Jared and Megan join them, he's got Jeff and Gerry sawing and sanding outside, Sherry carefully cutting out patterns and half the backdrop painted in brilliant colors. After Megan's stops giggling, she helps him clean the broad blue stroke he'd managed to get over his left cheek before she runs over to hug her parents.
Jared's expression is unreadable as he watches Jensen try to scrub away the last traces of paint from his face.
"Surprise?" Jensen says hesitantly when Jared doesn't anything.
Jared's lip twitches a little before he can school his features back to indifference, but Jensen saw it and feels a smile erupt on his face so wide it hurts.
"I suppose I better try and salvage something from your horrendous paint job before it strikes everyone blind. Got another brush?"
Jensen gladly hands one over. Jared sticks it in his back pocket while he goes over to greet his family. He kisses his mom on the cheek and Jensen feels his own throat constrict painfully when he sees her trying to inconspicuously wipe away a tear as he moves over to the other men. Jared squeezes his father's hand and claps a hand on his brother's shoulder as they share a joke. It's only the second time he's exposed to the power of Jared's dimples and it strikes him just as hard as the first.
Jared's still joking and laughing as he backs away from them and when he turns suddenly, catches Jensen staring at him and his smile freezes. Jensen quickly looks away, kneeling next to the paint cans and pretending to read the labels.
"Find what you're looking for?" Jared asks a moment later, his voice husky in Jensen's ear as he kneels down next to him.
"Uhm, ah, yes!" Jensen exclaims, triumphantly holding up a random can as he feels his cheeks burning.
"Good," Jared says, their fingers brushing as he takes the can from him.
Jensen breaths a little easier as Jared leans back a little, tilting it to check the color.
"Grey?" Jared says, quirking an eyebrow at him.
"For the rocks," Jensen says, vaguely pointing at some round shapes on the brightly colored canvas.
"Uh huh," Jared says, and hands it back.
He picks up the blue Jensen was using earlier and gets to work as Jensen pries the top off his new selection. If he notices Jensen's sneaky glances every now and again, he doesn't show it.
They've made quite a bit of progress by the time Jeff's wife shows up at seven with bags of takeaways and a large cooler box. They decide to call it a day and settle on the edge of the stage to enjoy their well deserved dinner. They plan the next day's work as they eat, then settle back with a couple of ice cold beers while Jared regales them with the hilarious things the kids have gotten up to during rehearsals. It's past midnight before they pack up to go home, everyone starving for the easy companionship that they've been missing for so long.
"You did good, kid," Gerry says as he pulls Jensen in for a quick hug.
Jensen ducks his head and backs away with a shy smile. Jeff is still deep in conversation with Jared, his arm around his brother's shoulder when Megan jingles her keys at him.
"Ready to go?"
"I could sleep for a week," Jensen says, nodding.
Megan asks him to drive and dozes curled up in the passenger seat on the way home. He shakes her awake when they arrive and has to convince her that he really can't carry her up to bed, no matter how much she begs him to. He does let her rest her head on his shoulder though, keeping her upright with an arm around her waist as they make their way up the stairs.
Jensen takes a quick shower and ends up staring at himself in the mirror as he brushes his teeth. Helping Jared out, not only with the play, but also with his family, makes him feel so good, but he has to wonder why he goes to all the trouble after the way Jared's been treating him. The skin on his hands tingles in the places where their fingers touched earlier as if in answer. He quickly rinses his mouth before snapping of the light and getting into bed. Jensen lies awake for a long time, but doesn't hear Jared come in.