Fandom: Supernatural RPS
Pairing: Jensen Ackles/Jared Padalecki; Jensen Ackles/Tom Welling
Warnings: Some mild infidelity (Highlight for details: One kiss while engaged to someone else.)
Word Count: 10000.
Summary: Jensen Ackles' life is all sorted out, until a blast from the past shows up and makes him realize he's not as happy as he thought.
Notes: For brate7 for her generous bid in help_nz! Based on the Lifetime classic Sundays at Tiffanys, which I actually genuinely enjoy.
Disclaimer: Lies and untruths.
"You're a cop," Jensen hisses.
Danneel sounds amused. "I am? Awesome. Do I have a gun?"
"Someone is stalking me," Jensen says, voice still low. "Also, you're a cop. Of course you have a gun."
"I'm flattered I'm you're it's late and I don't want to get mugged call, but it's like two in the afternoon. You don't seriously think you're going to get jumped, do you? Are you in a bad part of town?"
"I'm tuxedo shopping," Jensen admits, sheepish.
"Oh, well, that explains it."
"No, I mean it. You've been trying to get out of planning your wedding ever since you got engaged. Of course someone is stalking you while you're getting your tux. I assume the building will catch on fire next."
Jensen looks up, and there's his stalker. He's tall, taller than Jensen, with floppy brown hair and a huge smile. His t-shirt says hug expert. It's really tight.
"Uh," says Jensen. "I better call you back."
"Remember, I have a gun," says Danneel. "You can tell the stalker I have a gun."
The guy is just standing there, bouncing on the heels of his feet, like he's so excited to be here that he can't stand still. Jensen wishes he carried pepper spray. The guy is tall and has a lot more muscle than he does. Tom could maybe take him, but it would be close. And, of course, Tom isn't here.
"It is you, right?"
"Who?" Jensen asks, warily.
"Jensen! It's you! I knew it was you!"
"Do I know you?" Jensen asks. He snaps his fingers. "You must be one of Tom's fans."
The guy's brow crinkles, apparently with genuine bafflement. "Tom? Who's Tom? No, Jensen, I'm here to see you. You don't remember me? I know you're not supposed to, but I was sure you would."
He looks so heartbroken Jensen actually finds himself feeling sorry for the stalker. "College?" he hazards. He doesn't remember a lot of people he met in college. The guy has the look of a potential one-night stand, but not really--well, Jensen doesn't feel like he's the type.
"No, no, it's me! Jared!"
"Jared," Jensen repeats. The name feels familiar, but he can't place it. "Sorry, I--"
"Jared! Your best friend from age five and three-quarters to ten!"
Jensen blinks. "I didn't have friends when I was a kid," he says, and immediately regrets it. He doesn't really like admitting he was a failure in elementary school. Every one of his report cards had doesn't play well with others on it. By the end of high school, he'd sort of recovered, figured out he liked doing tech for theater, gotten a group of friends, but still never really had a best friend. He has Danneel now, but he's never exactly been warm and fuzzy.
"I know," Jared says, a little sadly. "It was such a shame. I think it was Mr. Goodwin's fault, he was a jerk. Always picking on you, and at that age the kids just followed his lead. I know it took you a while to get the hang of math, but math is hard!"
Jensen stares, dumb with shock. "What are you--how did you--?" Mr. Goodwin had been his teacher in kindergarten, the one who had always called on him for the hardest questions, been cruel when he couldn't say all the letters correctly. According to Danneel, who will occasionally try to psychoanalyze him when they're drunk, it scarred him for life.
Jared smiles, a little sadly. "I told you, I was there." He rubs the back of his neck, an oddly familiar motion. "It happens a lot--kids who aren't good with their classmates get imaginary friends."
Jensen stares for a minute. "Imaginary," he says, slowly. Of course he had an imaginary friend as a kid--everyone did. "Jared," he says, trying it out.
"I got taller," Jared offers. "I mean, I did while I was with you too. We always grow with our kids. But I've never been a friend to someone as old as you! I mean, now you're old. Not old. You're--"
"Thirty," says Jensen. "In a month."
"Thirty, wow! You look great. Do people still call you duck lips?"
Jensen turns a dull red. "No," he says, even if sometimes, when they're having sex, Tom has a total fixation on them. It sometimes makes him feel--weird. Like when he used to get teased.
"I didn't think so," Jared covers quickly. "I mean, they're nice. I mean, your whole face is!" He laughs and gives Jensen an embarrassed smile. all dimples and white teeth. "Sorry, this is really new for me."
"New for you," says Jensen. He rubs his forehead. "I'm the one who's losing his mind." He sighs. "Seriously, did I put all this stuff up on Facebook when I was drunk? Did Danneel dare you? I wouldn't put it past her."
"Is Danneel a new friend of yours?" Jared asks, sounding excited. "Or a girlfriend?"
"No," Jensen says. "Definitely not."
"Do you have a girlfriend?" Jared asks.
Jensen looks. "You actually don't know," he says, warily. Unless Jared is a really good actor, he's genuinely clueless.
"I don't! I haven't seen you since you were ten."
There's a memory niggling at the back of his mind, but Jensen doesn't bother trying to get it, not right now. "It's all over the news," he points out. "What, you don't have a TV?"
"No, of course not," says Jared absently. He lights up. "You're on TV!" he says excitedly. "I knew you would be!"
"Uh," says Jensen.
"You had the worst stage fright, but you were so good at playing pretend. Remember when you used to be the pirate king? I was always so scared! So now you're a big star?"
"No," Jensen says swiftly. "I do lighting design. But my fiance is an actor."
"You're getting married!" says Jared. "Congratulations. What's she like?"
"Well, she's a guy," Jensen says dryly.
Jared looks surprised. "Oh!" he says. "I didn't know you could do that."
"You couldn't for a long time," says Jensen. "What, you know me so well, but you don't even know I'm gay?"
"Of course I know you're gay! You were the gayest friend I ever had. We had wonderful times together."
Jensen can't help a quiet snort of laughter. "Right. No, gay means--it means I prefer men to women."
"So do I!"
"Sexually," says Jensen.
Jensen rubs his forehead. "Why am I even having this conversation?" he asks, mostly of himself. He's really expecting someone to jump out and tell him he's being punk'd.
"I'm sorry," says Jared, softly. "I mean, I know it's a lot. But I'm so happy to see you again! I always wanted to know how you turned out. We're not supposed to have favorites, but you were always mine."
"What's your game here?" Jensen asks, finally. "You think if I trust you, what? You'll get to meet Tom? Get on TV?"
"I want to hear about Tom!" says Jared, bouncing a little. "He must be wonderful, if you're marrying him. I remember you always said you never wanted to get married unless you knew you'd be together forever. You said that marriage was supposed to mean something, and no one ever took it seriously anymore. That people just threw it away." He smiles a little. "I know your dad did. I'm glad you can trust someone enough to marry him after that."
"Don't talk about my dad," Jensen says, voice cold. "Just--don't."
"I'm sorry," says Jared. "You used to--I know how much it hurt."
"No, you don't," Jensen snaps. "Look, I have to go."
"Okay," says Jared, agreeably. "Where are we going?"
"Not us. Me. I have to go. You can go back--wherever you came from. Thanks for the visit. Glad you checked in. We should do it again sometime."
Jared blinks. "But--I'm here for you. To be your friend again!"
"You don't believe me," Jared says, as if he's just realizing it.
"No, not really."
Jared sighs, looking up at the sky. "Okay. Okay. I guess--it's probably weird. It would be weird, right? We're never supposed to come back. Once you turn ten, we're gone." He pauses. "When you were eight, you got a new stuffed toy," he says, slowly. "It was a pig. You took him everywhere, wouldn't let go of him. But one of the kids in your class started making fun of you, um, Peter Holland. And he beat you up and took your pig, and you cried for days. I didn't know how to make you feel better. I wanted to beat the kid up or go and buy you a new one, but--" he smiles, more than a little sad. "Imaginary." He shakes his head. "Anyway, we had a service for him. We made a memorial and gave speeches and sang Taps."
Jensen stares. He did all that--with his imaginary friend, yeah. And he never told anyone, not about the service, or even about the toy.
"You told your mom you just lost him, and she offered to get you a new one. But you were too embarrassed."
Jensen licks his lips. "Jared," he repeats.
"Jared," he agrees.
"And you were my imaginary friend."
"Yeah." He bounces again. "But I'm not imaginary anymore! It's so cool! I nearly got hit by a car."
"You got hit by a car?" Jensen asks, incredulous.
"Nearly. Usually they go right through me!"
Jensen rubs his forehead. "Maybe you should come with me."
Jared perks up. "Really?"
"Really. Come on, you can help me pick out flowers."
"I'm planning the wedding."
"Oh," says Jared. He frowns. "Why isn't your fiance helping plan it?"
"He's busy," says Jensen, shrugging. "He's in a play right now, he doesn't have much time. Besides, he's talking to every TV station in town about his sexuality."
Jensen sighs. "It's not very common for men to marry other men," he explains. "Tom is famous, so we're getting a lot of press coverage. I think the wedding is going to make prime time."
Jared frowns. "That's not how a wedding is supposed to be."
"I'm marrying a celebrity," Jensen says, shrugging. "There are certain things I have to accept."
"Well, he should still help you with the planning," Jared says firmly. He grins. "But I totally can! I've never planned a wedding, but we used to have parties all the time. Remember your seventh birthday? We bought cupcakes and had a Disney movie marathon in a tent in the back yard."
Jensen does remember, but no one else was there.
Except his imaginary friend, apparently.
"A wedding's a little more complicated," he says, sighing. "Come on."
"I'm losing my mind," Jensen tells Danneel.
She doesn't even look up. "Hi, Ian. You sure got tall. And you look uncannily like my friend Jensen. You know he pays for his appointments, right?"
"He was happy to wait."
"That's because he hates coming here. What do you want?"
"Remember my stalker?"
"He says he's my imaginary friend."
"That's it? Okay?"
"Well, obviously you believe him," she says, with maddening calm. "Or you wouldn't think you were losing your mind."
"Thanks," says Jensen. He groans. "He knows stuff about me no one else would know. Stuff you don't know."
"About your ridiculously sad and lonely childhood?"
"About a funeral I had for a stuffed pig in second grade," says Jensen. "I never told anyone that. My mom didn't know that."
"That's adorable," says Danneel. "Where is he?"
"I left him at the flower store."
"What's his name?"
"Was that your imaginary friend's name?" Danneel asks.
"I think so. I don't really remember that well."
"Okay," says Danneel. "What do you want me to do?"
"I don't know! Fix me!"
"You're not broken." Danneel holds her hand up before Jensen can object. "You're not. Either you're nervous about your future and your brain has decided you need something familiar--your imaginary friend back--or he's actually back. In which case magic is real, and I owe Ian five bucks."
"The kid whose appointment you stole," says Danneel. "His imaginary friend is a giant rabbit." She finally looks up at Jensen. "What's yours?"
Jensen shrugs. "Just a guy."
"Is he cute?"
"He's imaginary," says Jensen.
"That's totally a yes," says Danneel, smirking. "That probably still counts as masturbation, you know."
"I'm leaving," says Jensen.
"I was hoping you would," says Danneel. "I do have a real job. I do not actually exist to deal with your life crises. Get out, and send Ian in instead. Deal?"
"Deal," says Jensen. "And I hate you."
"So, what, you're telling me you're human now?" asks Aldis.
Jared sighs. "I don't know! People can see me."
"I know people can see you," says Aldis, looking around pointedly. Jared looks around too and sees the kids are staring at him. He waves. "Seriously," Aldis continues. "Blend, man."
"I'm trying. What am I supposed to do? Jensen is scared of me."
"Of course he is. You're twenty feet tall."
"I know!" says Jared, grinning. "It's awesome. I am giant and kickass."
"Dude, language," says Aldis. "They can hear you."
Jared flushes. "Sorry, sorry." He sighs. "Seriously, I don't know what I'm doing here. I need your help."
"No, he needs your help. If you're back with Jensen, he needs a friend again. So you just stick around til his birthday, help him with whatever he needs helping with, and then get back where you belong."
"He doesn't want anything to do with me."
"Man, of course he does," says Aldis. "You're still his friend. This is a chance most of us will never get. Enjoy it."
Jared grins. "You're right! I'm gonna go find him, and we're gonna be friends again. Just like before." He pauses. "Hey, did you know boys can marry boys now? Jensen's marrying a boy!"
"Good for him. Maybe that's what he needs your help with."
"I am really awesome at planning parties," says Jared, grinning. "Okay! I'll see you later, man."
Aldis shakes his head. "Good luck."
Jensen is going to a really fancy restaurant, the kind he used to hate when his mother dragged him to them. Jared's not sure how he knows where Jensen is going to be--he thinks it's friend magic, but it's different than it used to be, not as strong. It used to be he couldn't be away from Jensen at all, but now he can, even if he's got an ache in the pit of his stomach, like he misses Jensen all the time.
Jensen's outside with a tall, dark-haired man in an expensive suit. The man keeps his hand on Jensen's back, guiding him with a light touch that raises Jared's hackles. It's like the guy doesn't trust Jensen to go the right places without help.
Jared hates him on sight. He can't help running over.
"I'm not giving autographs right now," says the man. Jared notices smugly that he's a little taller than the stranger is.
Jensen looks over and pales. Jared beams at him. "Hey, Jensen! How was your friend?"
"Do you know him?" asks the man.
"Of course he does!" says Jared. "We were only best friends."
"Best friends?" asks the man, looking to Jensen.
Jensen clears his throat. "Yeah, we were--when I was a kid. We went to elementary school together."
"Yeah!" says Jared. "We were inseparable."
The man smiles, but it seems kind of fake. "Well, any friend of Jenny's is a friend of mine."
"Jenny?" asks Jared, making a face and noticing Jensen doing the same. "He hates being called Jenny."
"No he doesn't," says the guy, laughing like Jared doesn't know a thing about Jensen. "But I'm being rude," he says, with false cheer. "You should join us for dinner. I love meeting Jenny's friends."
"I don't--" Jensen starts, but Jared smiles.
"I'd love to," he says. "I didn't catch your name."
"Tom," says the guy, extending his hand with a look like he doesn't believe Jared doesn't know this. So this is Jensen's fiance. "Tom Welling."
"Jared," says Jared, shaking Tom's hand. "No last name."
Jensen chokes a little. "He has a last name," he says, quickly. "Obviously. It's, um--Friend. Jared Friend."
"Hey, that's perfect!" says Jared, beaming at Jensen. "I love it."
Jensen smiles back, like he can't quite help it. Tom just looks confused.
Jared knows he's supposed to be happy for Jensen, no matter what he does, but as he follows the two of them into the restaurant, Tom's hand still low on Jensen's back, like Jensen doesn't know the way, he thinks--he doesn't like the man Jensen is going to marry. Not one bit.
Dinner is a disaster. Jensen half expected Tom to whip his dick out and demand that Jared do a size comparison. Something about Jared just apparently gets to Tom, like he thinks Jared is a threat.
Which is pretty much confirmed in the taxi on the way home.
"So," says Tom. "Old friend."
"Yeah," says Jensen. "From--" what had Jared said? "Kindergarten to fourth grade," he says. "He transferred halfway through the year. I was crushed."
"Kind of impressive, him finding you again."
Jensen licks his lips. "Yeah, you know, Facebook! It's like magic."
Tom makes a noncommittal noise. "But it's weird."
"No, dummy, him finding you again."
"Why? We're friends."
"I mean, you're famous now. Marrying a big, high-profile actor--he might want something from you. Or me."
"He's never even heard of you."
Tom snorts. "Please. Everyone's heard of me."
Jensen rolls his eyes. "He doesn't have a TV."
"But he has a computer? With Facebook?"
"Tom, what the hell," says Jensen. "What do you want me to say? My childhood friend obviously doesn't care at all about spending time with me because we're friends, it's some elaborate grab for fame. Everything is about you. I don't have a life of my own."
"Come on, baby," Tom protests. "Don't be like that."
"Like what?" Jensen asks. He leans forward to talk to the driver. "You know what, take this left. I'm going home." He gives his address, and Tom starts to protest. "No," says Jensen. "Look, I don't care if you don't like my friends. That's fine. That's up to you. But don't act like everything is about you. I'm allowed to have my own friends."
"That's not what this is about! I just don't want you to get played."
"He's not playing me," Jensen says, and wonders where all this conviction suddenly came from. At what point during this completely fucked up day did he start trusting Jared? "And I can take care of myself."
"I'm gonna be your husband," says Tom. "It's my job to take care of you."
Jensen thinks it's supposed to be romantic. Somehow, it doesn't come across like that at all.
"Oh god," Jensen mutters, "the nightmare never ends."
Jared runs over, waving. His smile is so big it seems like it takes up his whole face. Jensen finds himself smiling back without meaning to. It's hard to keep from smiling at Jared.
"Hi," Jensen says, warily. "What are you doing here?"
"Where else would I be?" Jared asks.
"I don't have a place," Jared says. "My place is with you."
Jensen considers. "You don't have an apartment."
"How did you--get here?"
"I was assigned," says Jared, shrugging. "I wasn't told I was going back to you, but as soon as I opened my eyes, I knew."
"You can't go back to the land of imagination to sleep?" Jensen grumbles.
"It doesn't really work like that." He looks around. "There's a bench! I can sleep there!"
"Uh, no, you can't."
"It's not very cold--"
"One, there's already a homeless guy who sleeps on that bench. Two, I'm not going to let you sleep on a bench." He sighs. "Okay, you can sleep in my apartment. Come on."
"You have your own apartment?" Jared asks, excited.
"Dude, I'm twenty-nine," says Jensen dryly. "It would be sad if I still lived with my mom."
"So does that mean you can stay up all night eating candy?" Jared asks.
Jensen laughs. "That actually stops being appealing after twenty-five or so."
"Really?" asks Jared. He sounds dubious.
"I guess it's actually after twenty-one. Or whenever you start drinking."
"We drank when you were a kid," says Jared, confused.
"No, not drinking. Having alcohol." He looks at Jared. "You haven't ever had alcohol?"
Jared shakes his head.
"Well, I guess we've got a plan for the evening," Jensen says brightly, and smiles when Jared follows him upstairs.
Jared wakes up with Jensen's foot nearly up his nose. His head feels fuzzy and his mouth tastes like cotton. He doesn't know if he can move. He tries a little, and Jensen's foot hits his eye.
"Tom?" Jensen asks, muzzy and clearly confused.
Jared wonders why the name makes him feel a stab of unhappiness. "No, Jared," he says, and struggles to sit up. Jensen ends up kind of in his lap. It's very different from being close to Jensen when they were kids. He doesn't know why.
"Oh right," says Jensen, struggling to sit on his own. "I got drunk with my imaginary friend. Good decisions, Jensen. Really mature."
"Why do you drink that stuff?" Jared asks.
"You usually drink less," says Jensen. "We got carried away."
"It was fun for a while," Jared says. "But now everything hurts."
"It gets easier."
Jared groans. "We don't have to do anything today, do we? We can just--lie here."
Jensen laughs a little. "Tempting. But I have a job."
"Oh, right!" says Jared. "Can I help with that?"
Jensen laughs. "I appreciate the offer. But no, not really." He sighs, rubbing his hand over his face. "I guess you can just stay here. Hang out. Surf the internet, find out about the world. Whatever."
"Internet?" Jared asks, confused.
"My point exactly. You've got a lot to learn."
Jared smiles. "But you're gonna teach me, right?"
Jensen smiles back, that same smile like he can't help it. "Yeah, I'm gonna teach you."
Jensen gets to work only a few minutes late. Jared seems happy to check out the computer and the TV and explore the apartment, and Jensen feels fairly confident he won't injure himself or others. Which is about all he can hope for.
He checks in at the booth, but everyone is in fine shape without him, so he heads into the theater to find his mother.
"Oh, Jensen," she says, looking him up and down. "Tom said you had a fight."
Jensen groans. He hadn't even been thinking about that.
"Glad you're so up to date on my love-life," he says. "Listen, I have a weird question."
"Don't you always."
"Do you remember when I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend?"
"Unfortunately, yes," she says, shaking her head. "I understand you were an imaginative child, and of course I wanted to encourage that, but having complete conversations with someone who wasn't there was more than a little--odd."
"Do you remember what happened to him?"
"You said he went away. I assumed you outgrew him. You were ten."
"I said he went away?"
His mother pauses, clucking her tongue. "Yes, it was your tenth birthday. We'd been having a lovely day, and we went to the toy store to finish off--you remember how I always bought you one special present you chose at the end of the day." She shrugs. "You hadn't even picked and you just started crying. You were inconsolable. You cried for weeks."
Jensen feels gut-punched. He can't remember Jared leaving, but he suddenly remembers the pain, the heartbreak of his only friend disappearing.
"Did I say why?"
"Why he left?"
"You said he had to go. Jensen, what is wrong with you? First, you fight with Tom, now you're asking me about a childhood delusion?"
"It's been a weird day," says Jensen.
"Well, did you at least pick a tux?"
"No," says Jensen.
"Jensen!" his mother says crossly. "You're getting married in less than a month. And as it stands right now, you're going to do it naked in an empty church."
"I think I've seen a porno like that," Jensen says, absently, before he can think better of it. His mother glares. "Okay, okay. I'm going to get it done. I'm taking tomorrow afternoon off."
"Do you know how many afternoons you've taken to try to figure this out, Jensen?"
"Too many," Jensen says. "I know. I'm just--I'll figure it out. I have work to do."
"And call Tom," his mother says. "I hate to see the two of you fighting."
Jensen doesn't bother responding.
"Video games have gotten so much better!" Jared says, when Jensen gets back home. "They look real!"
Jensen laughs, flopping down next to Jared on the couch. "And you can actually play now, you don't have to just watch me."
Jared grins. "It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I think I'm getting the hang of it." His smile dims a little. "It was weird being away from you all day."
Jensen hadn't really thought about that from Jared's perspective--of course, he'd always been with Jensen non-stop when he was a kid. And he's probably always with the kids he's assigned to. Jensen wonders if he's ever really been alone before.
"Hey, I have a question," Jensen says, suddenly remembering.
Jensen licks his lips. "Why did you leave?" he asks. "You did, right? I didn't stop believing in you."
Jared frowns, looking down at the controller in his hands. "I--we have to," he says. "Sometimes kids stop believing in us, or stop needing us, but if they don't, we still have to leave on the tenth birthday. That's just the rule."
"Did you want to?" Jensen asks.
"No!" says Jared. "No, of course not." He sighs, leaning back on the couch and closing his eyes. "Sometimes, you know. It's over, the kid is ten, you go home, it's fine. But--I never wanted to leave you."
Jensen feels a warm flush, because Jared's not a great liar, and he looks so sad and earnest. "Have you ever come back to anyone before?" he asks.
"No," says Jared. "Never." He grins. "But I'm so glad I have! I always wondered how you'd be when you grew up. I wanted you to be so happy."
Jensen finds himself not sure if Jared thinks he is, and it bothers him.
"Hey, can you teach me how to use the white one?" Jared asks, gesturing at the Wii. "I couldn't figure it out."
Jensen laughs. "Yeah, sure," he says. "Come on, it's totally awesome."
Jared cooks breakfast the next morning, and Jensen looks bleary and confused by it.
"Breakfast!" says Jared. "You love french toast."
Jensen blinks rapidly. "Did you make coffee?"
"You're not allowed to drink coffee," says Jared, frowning.
Jensen just looks more exhausted. "Jared. I'm almost thirty. I am allowed to eat and drink whatever I want. I will die without coffee. Coffee is vital."
"How do I make it?" asks Jared.
"Oh god," Jensen moans. "I am not mentally prepared for this." He rubs his face and gets up, walking Jared through coffee. It smells great, like it always did, but the taste is not what Jared expected. Jensen doesn't seem to notice or care, though.
"Does it always taste like this?" Jared asks.
"Put in some milk and sugar," Jensen says, already seeming more awake. "Hey, this is really good."
"It's gross," Jared says, pouring sugar into his coffee.
Jensen laughs. "I meant the french toast." He looks at Jared. "I forget, you look all big and buff, but deep down, you're kind of still a little kid."
Jared bristles. "I'm not," he says. "I just mostly hang out with kids. You're the first adult I've ever spent time with. But if you go by how many children I've been a friend to, I'm actually a lot older than you."
"That's just kind of creepy," Jensen says, making a face. He pauses, considering. "How are you liking being an adult, anyway?"
Jared considers. "It's--interesting," he says.
"I guess you aren't really an adult, though," says Jensen, absently, and Jared feels himself bristle again. Some part of him wants Jensen to think of him as a grown-up.
Jensen looks up, surprised. "I didn't mean it in a bad way," he says. "Just, you know. You don't really have a lot of the adult stuff."
"A job, rent, taxes--" he smiles. "Most adults wish they didn't have those things either," he notes. "You're not really missing out."
Jared feels like he is anyway. He sits down heavily across from Jensen. "Are you going to work again today?" he asks.
"And every day," Jensen agrees. "But I'm off this afternoon, I'm going to go look at more wedding stuff." He smiles. "I figured I'd swing by here, pick you up."
Jared brightens. He doesn't know why, but every time Jensen reaches out, wants to spend time with him, it makes him feel warm all over. "You really want me to come?" he asks, beaming.
Jensen laughs. "Yeah, man, of course. We've planned some epic parties together, right?"
Jared just grins.
Planning a wedding is not nearly as fun as planning a birthday party, as it turns out. The guest list is larger, and other people actually have to be taken into consideration.
"This doesn't really seem like you," Jared says, looking around the flower shop.
"It's a wedding," Jensen says, making a face at a bunch of orchids. "Weddings are this giant, scary--shit fest. They don't feel like anyone."
"They don't have to be," says Jared. "I googled some stuff this morning. People have all kinds of weddings! There are video game weddings."
Jensen laughs. "So you think I should have a video game wedding?"
"I think that I finally saw the news about you and Tom getting married, and it's all about him, or how it's the first high-profile gay wedding, and not much about it being, well, your wedding." Jared shrugs and pokes at a flower.
"You and Danneel should get together and bitch about my life choices," Jensen says, but his voice is a little odd. It's not the joke he wants it to be.
"I'm not bitching," says Jared, honestly. "I just--I want you to be happy, Jensen. And I don't think doing this is making you happy right now." He sighs. "And I think you should get yellow roses," he adds.
"I was a friend to a kid whose mom was a florist," says Jared, shrugging. "They're--not actually romantic flowers," he admits. "They're about joy and friendship. And you always said that you wanted the person you married to be your best friend." He looks away, suddenly aching. "And best friends are forever."
Jensen doesn't respond for a long time, and when Jared finally looks up, he's looking at the yellow roses with an expression Jared can't name.
"They're beautiful," Jensen says, softly. He looks around for the woman. "We'll take the yellow roses."
The woman from the shop looks completely shocked. She gives Jared a big smile. "I've been telling him from the first day that he'd have a much easier time making up his mind if he had his fiance with him."
Jared's stomach does a weird flip. "I'm not--I'm just his friend," says Jared.
Jensen smiles, a little brittle. "I've told you before, Marge, my fiance is very busy. I'm lucky my friend had time to help me out."
The woman--Marge--looks Jared up and down. "Straight?" she asks, critically.
"No, I bend," Jared says, confused.
Jensen snorts. "Come on, Jared. We've got more stops to make."
"I need your help," says Jensen.
Danneel looks up. "Do you and Ian coordinate this stuff? You always burst in unannounced during his sessions."
Jensen groans and rubs his face. "He's outside, talking to Jared and his imaginary friend. Who, of course, Jared can see. Ian says you owe him five bucks."
Danneel leans back. "What do you need my help with."
Jensen rubs his face again. "I--" he licks his lips. He doesn't quite know where to start. "I picked my flowers, and my tux, and finalized pretty much everything about my wedding."
"Isn't that the opposite of needing my help?"
"I kissed Jared," Jensen blurts out. He tries not to flush. It had just--it was an accident. Jared had been smiling, and laughing, and he looked so happy, and Jensen had been happy too, and suddenly their eyes met, and--yeah. It happened. "Or I guess we kissed. It was mutual." He sighs. "Fuck. Why did I do that?"
"Wild guess? Because you like Jared."
"I'm marrying Tom."
"Don't get me wrong, Jensen," says Danneel. "I was as happy as anybody when you and Tom started going out. You guys seemed great. Happy together. But I told you when you got engaged I wasn't sure he was right for you, and I still think he's not. And I think if you're kissing some other guy, I think that might be a sign you're not so sure either."
Jensen sighs. "I know," he says. "But--wedding jitters are normal, right?"
"They are," Danneel agrees, shrugging. "What did Jared say about it?"
Jensen licks his lips. Jared had kept his eyes closed for a long minute after they were done, like he was savoring the sensation. And Jensen had wanted, fiercely, to lean in and do it again, and not stop. Instead, he'd said it was a mistake, and he'd watched Jared's face fall.
"He liked it," Jensen said. "But he doesn't really get it."
"Relationships," says Jensen, waving his hand. "He's always been a kid before. He probably just thought it was fun. He doesn't know what it means."
Danneel considers, and then gets up and opens the door. Jensen sees her eyes widen, and he can tell she's giving Jared a completely unsubtle once over. "Hey, you, Jared, come in here for a second," she says. "Ian, sorry. My friends are very needy."
"You owe me five bucks!" Jensen hears, and Danneel smiles as Jared comes in.
"You are really tall," Danneel says, closing the door.
Jared grins. "I know, right? It's awesome! I never knew what I was gonna look like when I grew up. I usually just start at four or five and get to go to ten, and then I start over!" He bounces a little. "And I get to see Jensen, which is even better."
Danneel raises her eyebrows at Jensen, and Jensen glares. "Seeing Jensen is better than growing up?"
"I mean," says Jared, flushing. "I always wondered how he'd turn out. I used to hope that maybe one of my new friends would live near him so maybe I could just--see him. Even though they try to make sure that won't happen."
Jensen finds himself blushing too, embarrassed by how fond of him Jared was.
How fond both of them still are, if he's honest.
And isn't that the weirdest part? Twenty years later, and Jared is somehow, despite logic and Jensen's lingering belief that he's going to wake up and realize none of this is real--well, Jared is still his best friend.
"Okay!" says Danneel, brightly, startling Jensen out of his thoughts. "Well, that's great. Go tell Ian I'll see him in a minute, okay?"
"Don't even say it," Jensen says. "Just--don't."
"God forbid I ever say you look happy with someone," Danneel says.
"I know. Just--" she sighs. "Think about it, okay?"
Jared can tell Jensen thinks that kissing was a mistake.
Jared doesn't think so. Jared's kissed a few people, but never like that. Never even so he could feel it. Just friends who were curious about kissing and wanted to know what it was like. They just went right through him.
He can't stop thinking about kissing Jensen, though. A real kiss, like in the movies, and it was amazing, and Jared kind of just wants to do it over and over again.
"Stop," says Aldis, holding up his hand. His kid is reading, apparently content to ignore them. "I don't wanna hear about this, man. What are you even doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're a friend, Jared. You're here to support him, make sure he's okay, and leave on his birthday."
"But maybe I'm not," Jared protests. "I mean, he's almost thirty. Grown ups don't get friends. Why would he?"
"Because he needs you," Aldis says. "He needs you to help him. Not come in and fuck up his life."
"But Tom's all wrong for him. I saw him on TV the other day. He talked about the wedding like it was--some publicity stunt! Like all he cared about was the attention. Jensen doesn't deserve someone like that."
"So what does he deserve, Jared? You? You're not real."
"I am, though. I can talk to people. They can see me! I'm--"
"You're an imaginary friend, and if you don't go back where you came from, you're done. Those are the rules."
Jared sighs. "But--we're supposed to make them happy."
"And you don't think you might be a little bit biased against his boyfriend, Jared?" asks Aldis. "Look, I get that you care about him, but--"
"No," Jared says, softly. "You don't get it," he says. "You don't."
Jensen hasn't exactly been avoiding Tom, he just doesn't quite know what to say. He figures that having finally picked most of the stuff for the wedding is as good an excuse as any. They agree to meet up for lunch, once Jensen has apologized (not that he thinks he should have to), and it isn't until he finishes explaining the tuxes he bought that he realizes something isn't quite right.
"What?" he asks.
"Jared went with you to pick the tuxes?"
"Yeah," says Jensen, shrugging. "I can't exactly leave him home alone all the time."
He realizes a second after he says it that it's the absolute worst thing he could possibly say, and Tom's expression confirms it.
"He's living with you," Tom says, flatly. It's not a question.
"He travels a lot," Jensen says. "For work. He doesn't live here."
"He just came to visit, weeks before your high-profile wedding to a famous actor," says Tom. "Coincidentally. Is that what you're telling me?"
"Yes," Jensen says flatly. "That's what I'm telling you."
"You can't expect me to be okay with this," says Tom. And Jensen wants to fight him on it, but--Tom is his fiance. If Tom had a random hot guy living in his apartment, and was being as shifty about it as Jensen has been, well--Jensen would be pretty suspicious himself.
He sighs. "No, you're right," he admits. "I apologize. I was so happy to see him again after all these years, I didn't think about your feelings. I apologize."
Tom smiles, reaching over to squeeze Jensen's hand. "I just don't want him taking advantage of you."
"He's not," Jensen says, honestly. "But I'll tell him he needs to go to a hotel, okay?"
Tom still doesn't exactly look pleased, but he smiles. "Okay."
Kicking Jared out is easier said than done.
For one thing, when Jensen gets home, Jared has cooked, and it's grilled cheese and tomato soup, which was only Jensen's favorite comfort food of all time when he was a kid. And it's all awesome--grown up, too, not just wonderbread and American cheese. Jensen is honestly impressed.
Jared just shrugs off the praise with a smile and a slight flush. "I was friend to a kid whose mom was a chef," he says. "I got to read a lot of cook books."
"Well, this is amazing, thank you," says Jensen. "It's exactly what I needed."
Jared frowns, looking concerned. "Did you have a bad day?"
"Kind of," Jensen admits. He sighs. "I talked to Tom." He doesn't miss Jared's frown at that. "Look, he's--it's hard. He's my fiance. And he doesn't feel comfortable with me living with another guy."
"That's stupid," Jared says.
"It's not like he doesn't have a good reason to be jealous," Jensen points out. "Not that he knows it."
Jared frowns. "So--what are you saying?"
Jensen sighs and rubs his face. "It's not like I'm not happy to see you. I'm really glad you're back. But--we can't be like we were before. When you're a kid, and your imaginary friend is around all the time, it's one thing. But when you're grown up, living with someone means something else." He licks his lips. "You can't just share my life anymore, Jared. You need to get one of your own."
Jared looks like he's going to cry, and Jensen doesn't feel much better.
"You don't want to hang out with me anymore?" he asks, blankly.
"No," Jensen protests, too quickly. "Not that. I just--you need to have your own life. Your own place. That's what grown-ups do, Jared."
"Grown-ups live together all the time," Jared protests, sounding every bit the petulant child.
"It's different," says Jensen.
"Fine," says Jared. He stands. "Fine. I understand. I'll go."
Jensen wants to stop him, wants to tell him he doesn't get it, but--this is what he wanted. Jared needs to leave.
Never mind how it makes him feel. It's for the best. It has to be.
It's not as hard as Jared thought it would be.
Being away from Jensen, that is hard. It hurts like a dull ache in his side, like he's never really complete. Like even when he's happy, he's not. He's never been away from any of his friends like this, and he already knows Jensen is different from any other friend he's had.
But everything else, that's okay. He finds a job, starting as a dishwasher, which is easy, if not particularly enjoyable, and moving up to chef when the other guy quits in a fit, and Jared demonstrates his considerable abilities. He's good, he's been told. Successful.
He's cooking all of Jensen's favorite foods, living in an apartment that feels less like his than Jensen's did, and his heart feels like an open wound.
"This can't be what I'm supposed to do," he tells Genevieve. She's one of his coworkers, and he likes her a lot. She's small and has a pretty smile, and the other dishwasher, Chad, tells him he could totally hit that if he wanted. He'd explained he didn't hit girls (another lesson from Jensen, from when they were little), and Chad told him it was fine, as long as he didn't want Chad.
The entire conversation had been confusing, and Jared always has to spend a few minutes wondering what about Genevieve makes Chad want to hit her.
Genevieve waves her hand at the bartender for another round. Jared gets alcohol a little better now. "Babe, you're awesome," she says. "You were definitely meant to cook. You have a gift."
"No, not that," says Jared. "I mean--that's not what I was made for, you know? I'm supposed to help people. I'm supposed to help Jensen. His birthday's in a week. And after that, I can't--I can't do anything for him."
Genevieve pats his hand. "Look, Jared--I know you're hurting, and you're jealous. We've all been in love with unavailable guys before, and it sucks. But you're not making yourself happier not talking to him, okay? You can't just cut people out of your life, even if you want to."
"I don't want to," Jared says miserably. "I want to be with him forever. But I can't." He'll be gone in a week, to some new kid, and this amazing, fantastic trip will be just another memory.
And Jensen will be married to Tom.
"I know," says Genevieve, putting her arm around his shoulders and leaning against his shoulder. "You should just call him. Say hi. Even if he doesn't feel the same way you do, I bet he misses you. You're his best friend, right?"
"I thought so," says Jared, glumly.
"So call," Genevieve says, voice gentle but insistent. "Just to say hi."
Jensen thought he'd feel better after kicking Jared out. Or at least--different. More righteous, maybe. Like he'd done the right thing, at least.
Instead, he just feels tired.
Tom doesn't notice. He tells Jensen he made the right choice, and Jensen can't help feeling like he didn't choose at all.
"Anyway," says Tom, pointedly, pulling Jensen from his thoughts. "I switched the roses."
Jensen blinks. "What?"
"My publicist said they sent a bad message," says Tom. "Did you know yellow roses mean friendship? The last message we want to send is that we're just friends."
"I knew," says Jensen. "I like that meaning. When I was a kid, I always wanted to marry someone who was my best friend."
"Huh," says Tom. "I wanted to marry a rich celebrity. So I guess you're getting my wish, huh?" he asks, grinning.
"Are you getting mine?" asks Jensen, a little harsher than he planned.
Tom blinks. "I dunno, I think Mikey would be pissed if I said you'd ousted him as my best friend. You know how touchy he gets." He smiles, all movie star. "But you know I love you, Jenny."
"Yeah, but--do you like me?" he asks. "I mean, do you even know me that well?"
"Of course I do."
"What's my favorite color?" asks Jensen.
"Blue," says Tom, instantly.
"That's pretty much process of elimination," says Jensen, rolling his eyes. "Tom--why did you propose to me?"
"Because I love you."
"What do you see our lives together being like? How do I fit in? You're in and out of Hollywood and Vancouver and--where do I fit in to what you want?"
"You'll be my husband," says Tom, sounding baffled. "You'll support me every step of the way. You'll be by my side."
Jensen pauses for a minute. There are a million questions he could ask, a million things he could say. But he feels tired, wrung out, just--wrong in his own skin.
He wanted to marry this guy.
"What's wrong, Jenny? Why are you asking me all this now? Cold feet?"
"Ice," says Jensen. He rubs his face. "I can't marry you, Tom."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I can't marry you."
"Because I don't want to be an accessory, or a statement, or your pet you bring out when you want someone to write a story about you. I can't just be some guy who supports you." He licks his lips. "Because I don't love you. And I hate when you call me Jenny."
"This is about Jared, isn't it?" Tom spits. "I knew it! I knew he was--"
"No, Tom," Jensen says, and it's true. "This is about me."
He pays for his own meal, and takes a separate cab home from Tom. He'll have calls to make in the morning, people to notify, things to cancel, a thousand real life consequences of this choice. But for tonight, he feels elated. He feels honest for the first time in a long time.
The light on his answering machine is flashing when he gets home, and he pushes it as he starts undoing his tie.
"Hey, Jensen," he hears, and it's Jared, voice soft and a little slurred. It makes him smile, instantly. "Hi. It's Jared. I just wanted to say hi. I miss you. I mean--seeing you. It's been a crazy week. I got a job! I work at a restaurant, Morgan's, downtown. It's been fun. I got an apartment with another dishwasher, Chad. He's weird, but I have a bed of my own, no couch! I still liked your couch better." Jensen hears a girl in the background, saying something, and then Jared clearing his throat. "Anyway! Just wanted to say hi. Let you know how I was doing. Okay. Bye."
Jensen smiles until he falls asleep.
The next day is full of his mother's disapproval, and Tom's passive aggressive texts about his parents' disapproval, and Danneel's loving support and clear joy that he is not marrying Tom.
She manages to not ask about Jared until the afternoon, and Jensen is actually genuinely impressed. He knows she was bursting with it.
"He got a job, apparently."
"A job? I thought his job was friend to children everywhere."
"Yeah, me too. But apparently he's working at some restaurant downtown, Morgan's?"
"Seriously, Morgan's?" asks Danneel, eyes widening. "They just got a new chef. Riley said it's awesome. I can't believe Jared works there. Do you think he can get us a table?"
"He said he was rooming with a busboy, I think he works in the kitchen or something," he says. "I doubt he has that kind of influence."
"But we could stop by and check, right?" Danneel wheedles, with a big smile. "Come on. I know you want to see him. Tell him you're now completely available."
"It's not like that. I didn't break up with Tom for Jared."
"No," Danneel agrees. "You broke up with Tom. You're also in love with Jared. They don't have to be related for both of them to be true."
"I miss him," Jensen finally settles on.
Danneel smiles, sweet and easy. "So let's go see him."
"There's a two-hour wait," says the frazzled looking hostess at Morgan's. "I can put you on the list, but we're slammed if you don't have a reservation."
"I didn't really want to eat," Jensen says. "I'm looking for Jared? He said he worked here?"
The girl looks him up and down. "Let me guess, Jensen."
"Uh, yeah," Jensen says. "Do I know you?"
"No, Jared just talks about you all the time," says the girl. "He's great, we love him."
Jensen feels a completely irrational flare of jealousy that this girl gets Jared and he doesn't. Like he wasn't the one who made Jared leave in the first place.
The girl bites her lip. "Well, he's in the kitchen right now, but I can let him know you're here. And I think I can find you a table."
"Hey, don't worry about it. I know you're busy, you can't spare anyone. You can just tell him I stopped by."
The girl laughs. "He's our miracle worker. We like to keep him happy."
"Miracle worker?" Jensen asks, following the hostess as she leads them into the restaurant.
The girl looks behind her shoulder. "Yeah, he's our new chef. You didn't know?"
Jensen stares. "He's the chef? I thought he worked in the kitchen or something."
"Nope. He's got great timing, our old guy was a total good-for-nothing. Jared's really turned this place around. I don't know what we'd do without him."
Jensen smiles a little, feeling proud. "Yeah," he says. "I know the feeling."
"Your lover boy is here," says Genevieve.
Jared looks up. "What?"
"Jensen. The one and only. He's here. With a hot redhead. You said he was gay, right?"
"Yeah," says Jared. "That's his friend Danneel. He's just here with her?"
"Just her," Genevieve confirms. "So when you get a minute, you can go see them. Say hi."
"He came?" Jared asks, hardly able to believe it.
"He came. Just to see you." Genevieve laughs. "Please don't have sex with him until after the dinner rush. We need you."
Jared flushes. "I'm not going to have sex with him."
"Uh huh," says Genevieve. "I would."
"You can't have sex with him either!" Jared protests.
Genevieve laughs. "Just cook, lover boy."
By the time Jared gets out into the restaurant, it's late, but Jensen and Danneel are still there. She gives him a smile and a hug and says she was just leaving, and it's an obvious lie, but Jared doesn't mind. Because that means he gets Jensen all to himself.
He's missed him like crazy, feels stupid for missing him so much. "Hi," he says, feeling like there should be a more enthusiastic word.
"Hi," says Jensen, and he's grinning right back. "I, um--this is amazing," he says, gesturing around to the restaurant. "The food was great. And I can't believe they hired you."
"I know, it's lucky, right?" Jared laughs. "I thought I'd have to go to school or something, but right place, right time, I guess. I really like it."
Jensen smiles. "I'm so glad. I--listen, I should apologize."
"No," Jared says, and finds he means it. "You were right. I mean--I like this better. I mean, obviously, I wish I still saw you every day, but--I like having my own life. My own things to do. It makes me feel--real."
"You are real," says Jensen, with such easy surety that it makes Jared ache.
He's got a week.
Jensen clears his throat. "I broke up with Tom," he admits. "Canceled the wedding."
Jared stares, shocked. "You did?" he asks.
"I did," Jensen agrees. He shrugs a little, looks up at Jared with a small smile. "I didn't love him," he says, and Jared feels his whole heart explode with happiness.
The next morning comes far too soon, in Jared's opinion. Jensen is still asleep when he wakes up, curled up into Jared's side, looking content and relaxed and gorgeous. Jared kisses his hair, wishing he never had to move.
It's almost incomprehensible to him, this thing he has with Jensen. It's outside of anything he's ever thought of. He loves Jensen like he didn't know was possible, not like any of his other friends. How did he not realize love could be like this?
Probably because he'd never been older than ten before.
Jensen stretches, snuggling in a little closer to Jared and looking up with a smile. "Morning," he says, and leans up for a kiss. His mouth tastes stale, but Jared doesn't even care. He wants this every day, for--
The next six days.
He disentangles, running his hand through his hair as he rolls out of bed. "I--oh shit, Jensen."
"What?" asks Jensen. His hair is sticking every direction, and he looks adorably confused.
"I shouldn't have done this," Jared admits. "I mean--I want to, God, I really want to, but--" he licks his lips. "I have to go back, Jensen."
Jensen struggles to sit, rubbing his face. "Jared, what are you talking about?"
"I'm an imaginary friend, Jensen. I leave on your birthday. That's how it works. In six days, I have to--"
"Jared," Jensen says, gently. "You're not an imaginary friend."
"Yes I am!"
"You have a job. You have an apartment. You're thirty. You have friends who aren't me. Everyone can see you. Jared, you're real."
Jared frowns. "No, I'm not. I'm--" he pauses. "I have to be an imaginary friend!"
Jensen scrubs his face. "No, you don't. You aren't allowed to be imaginary, for one thing. I'd kick your ass. Also, everyone can see you. That makes you not imaginary."
Jared sits down, heavily, on the bed. "Really? You think?"
Jensen climbs over. "I mean--this is unprecedented, right?"
"Yeah," Jared admits.
"So--you're real," Jensen says, like he thinks saying it enough will make it true. "You have to be real."
"I want to be," says Jared, softly. "I love you."
Jensen leans in against his side, resting his cheek on Jared's shoulder. "Yeah," he says. "I love you too."
Jared's jumpy for the next week, and Jensen wants to pretend he isn't, but he can't help it. Jared can't just leave after all this.
Aside from the lingering worry, it's--good. Good enough that Jensen feels like he doesn't have the word for it. Jared's still a little odd sometimes, but he's funny and charming and wins over all of Jensen's friends in no time. The Tom thing is--bad. Tom does all kinds of interviews about how Jensen was cheating on him and how his heart is broken, and Jensen declines to comment to anyone. He just doesn't care. Everyone he loves knows that he made the right choice, and the over-invested public can fuck off.
But then, it's his birthday.
It starts off well--Jared wakes him up with a blowjob, which he's getting better at every time, and they make out in the shower before Jensen has to go to work. They both mostly work nights--Jensen at the theater, and Jared at the restaurant, so it usually works out well, but today Jensen has official theater business. Which turns out to be his mother yelling at him (again) for dumping his actor boyfriend, and then cake.
Jared's gone by the time he gets back, and Jensen tries not to panic. After all, Jared always goes to work. It's not like it's a sign he's suddenly ceased to exist or anything.
"Jensen, breathe," Danneel says, when he calls her. "Your boyfriend is real. He is not going to suddenly cease to exist."
"He did before," Jensen points out.
"Yeah, but no one else could see him before. So he's upgraded from delusion to love interest. If you're really that worried, call the restaurant."
"No, I'm just being stupid."
"Well, as long as you realize it."
By midnight, when Jared still isn't back, Jensen's getting kind of panicky. He tells himself they were just busy, Jared's just got stuff going on, but when his phone goes right to voicemail, he can't help getting actually concerned.
It's probably too late to call Danneel again. To say nothing of the mocking.
He's dozing on the couch when he finally hears the door opening, and he's not ashamed to admit that when he sees Jared, he pretty much jumps into his arms.
"Whoa," says Jared, laughing softly. "Hi."
"I might have been worried," Jensen admits. "I know I said I was sure you were real and all, but--apparently I wasn't as sure as I said I was."
"We were busy," says Jared. "And my phone died. And I had to get you your present." He gives Jensen a lopsided smile. "Sorry. I didn't know you were so worried."
"Hey, you always said I was an awesome actor." He pokes the bag Jared is carrying. "You got me a present?"
"It's your birthday," Jared says, shrugging, but he looks proud of himself. "Here."
Jensen opens up the bag, and thinks he shouldn't be surprised to find it's a stuffed pig, but it still makes him smile.
"You used to always get one toy for your birthday," Jared says. "I figured you probably outgrew it, but--"
Jensen leans up to kiss him. "Nah," he says, with a smile. "There's some things you're never too old for."