In the beginning you thought you knew everything.
You spent lots of money and drove too fast, flirted with PAs because you could. You measured your time by the wake-up calls from the desk and the pounding in your head at night when you fell asleep, each one another red X through a calendar day. It was a new place, a new life, a new project, and it didn't matter how grueling the workload was because you were happy.
You deserved it. You were at the top of your game, finally. You were hitting it big, finally. You were successful and still young enough to enjoy it.
When filming started in the spring, it was like every hour of every day was spent in Jared's shadow, under the brassy noise of his laugh. He was everywhere, all the time, hitting your arm with rolled-up scripts, stealing half your lunch off your plate, leaning against your side like personal space wasn't important. He wandered into your trailer without knocking, answered questions for you when someone asked, chatted up the stylists and told you their stories with a smile and a nudge. No one had ever made it so easy to be part of the crowd, and that's what you fell in love with first. The rest came later.
You never intended to get to know a co-star that well, because that kind of shit always ends badly. You get personal, you over-share, you have all the same friends, and suddenly he-said she-said adolescent bullshit is tearing apart your well-balanced life and career. You did that on Dark Angel; you sure never wanted to do it again.
But even if you tried to retreat, pull yourself in, keep it all professional, Jared wouldn't stand for it. It was like he could see all the way through you to the tags in your shirt, and the minute you clammed up he'd bust out with some story about a stewardess and a pickle and you'd be laughing too hard to breathe, much less stay aloof. That's how Jared functions. It's all stealth. He kissed you outside a bar one night, just beyond the glow of the streetlights, and at the end of the year you were spending more time in his suite than your own, had given up on teaching him how to use a dishwasher, and were pretty sure that a number of your socks had been lost to his in-room washing machine.
And it didn't matter that he had a girlfriend, because everyone had girlfriends. You had a girlfriend. Everything was fluid and it moved fast, and you shot all day and half the night and then showed up in dive bars for hours of drinking. You compared war stories, other projects on the WB and the actresses you fucked while you were doing them. You drank shitty beer and were more honest than you had been with anyone in recent memory, talked about the stuff you wanted to do one day and the things you rarely admitted you had done. You felt alive and energetic and like everything had a possibility.
And when autumn came and reality set in, it wasn't like it all faded. The ratings drizzled in and the world still existed, promos were shot and appearances were made, the cameras paid attention and flick-flickered at you, but there was still something there. Even if you were only a two-bit network, you were some of the best that the two-bit network had to offer. Things kept rolling and Sandy didn't go away, and you stuck your dick in some women that other men wanted, and eventually things found a status quo.
You only got resentful a little bit, and that was a long time ago.
Even now, you can't short-change Jared. He's still the person you met then, the centrifugal force that keeps you upright half the time, still makes you laugh so hard you bend over double, still pulls you into the crowd and says, hey man, c'mon, let's go. You changed and he didn't, and you have always been too sensible to blame other people for your mistakes.
Your brother got married after you moved out west. You weren't the best man at his wedding, which is just how your family is. You didn't really think that was weird until you mentioned it to a girlfriend once, and she did that thing people do when you give them awkward or unfortunate news - sucked in a breath through her teeth and raised her eyebrows a little. It's the silent way of saying, yikes.
It wasn't like that, though. He's just older than you are, was into the whole college scene, had a ton of friends. You still stood with him, suffered through all that rehearsal dinner shit and was in the receiving line, awkward and pained and Yeah, Days of Our Lives, that's probably where you've seen me, when anyone was rude enough to ask.
You're not Jared's best man, either, because his family is the other kind, and his brother gets that title. It would be a little too fucked up if it were any other way, and on some level you resent that he asks you to be a groomsman at all. It would be more fitting if you could just sit somewhere in the back, along with the other exes and people who don't really belong there.
This is the line you walk, though. This is the bog standard push-pull since things began between you, drawing and reframing the lines of friend and fuck-buddy. Tasting the edges of a relationship and never quite stepping there. Left foot to red circle, right hand to yellow. In two years, ticked off with an X for every day, you haven't asked him why you're still his best friend and he's your something else.
The details come filtering in later, after the congratulations and back-slapping, and you only half-listen.
Sandy wants the wedding at Jared's place in Texas. Sandy lives in a fashionable part of Los Angeles and wears designer jeans and perfume that costs $200 a bottle, but she wants a back-yard reception and folding chairs. Sandy, you know, doesn't have her family anymore, and the people who produced Jared have to be a pretty good replacement.
The wedding dress, as you hear it, is still going to be Vera Wang.
It's not like any of it is a surprise. You've been dodging this one for ages. It's been there near the surface every time Sandy comes to the set and sits there in Jared's chair, one shoe dangling off her painted toes. You're always seeing how much you can steal from her, seeing how much she can claim that couldn't ever be yours.
Los Angeles is a cesspool that you can't help but love. Even now, when you're technically more Canadian than anything, it's no sweat to trade your scarf for sunglasses and your Starbucks for Coffee Bean and be right back in the thick of it.
Los Angeles reminds you of the beginning, when you were working a soap for bad money, never getting enough takes to nail anything and still starry-eyed over getting a break. You were so happy back then that all the bad stuff seemed good, too. Lousy traffic meant people and posbilities, cockroaches and eviction notices meant living away from home. You were so happy back then that you didn't care if things came slowly, or if they never came at all. Texas is where you got older, but LA is where you finally grew up.
The tux fitting is at four, and you're jittery when you pull up in front of the place your GPS directs you to. It makes sense for you to get fitted together, since you're the only one of the groomsmen out here, and Jared needs all the help he can get. He's supposed to pick out the style and cut, but if you're not there to roll your eyes and shove him and talk over him, everyone will be wearing powder blue ruffles and cummerbunds. Sandy's lucky he's not walking down the aisle in flip-flops.
It's bright in the back room of the shop, Jared already standing on his little step-ladder with his legs apart enough for the clerk to get to his inseam. He's already head and shoulders over most people, and now he looks like a statue of fucking Adonis or something, arms out at either side and his hair pushed off his forehead.
His face breaks into a grin when you pass through the curtain.
"Dude, you made it!"
You raise your shoulders up around your ears and turn your palms upwards.
In a fair world none of this would have unfolded this way. You are older and more experienced; you should be the one who has called all the shots. In a fair world he would have been the rookie ingenue that you seduced, your respectable television career trumping his Paris Hilton movie.
This is how it has always been, though, since the word go. You are the person who follows after, who works for it, who plays for keeps. You are the one who wants too much, tries too hard, who is still waiting around for your heart to get broken.
Later, in your empty apartment that smells like PineSol and stale air, you let him pin you against the wall.
Your phone is blinking red with unheard messages and his t-shirt is hot to the touch, black cotton soaked with sun from the long walk between parking lot and door.
You look down and watch his fingers scrabble at the belt loops of your pants, hooking through and pulling forward, and your stomach muscles pull taut from it. It's like how seeing the word calm in print makes you nervous, like the word hungry makes you think of being stuffed. When you see Jared's hands, empty and open, you see them smothering the dissatisfaction out of you, holding you down on a mattress while he fucks you deep.
There's this spot on his jaw he usually misses when he shaves. Every three days or so he catches it, but on an off day you know just where it is, can count on it more than you can count on him. It's rough under your fingers, just a little swipe of stubble, and it's the place your hand finds now. Your thumb grinds there until the bristles of scruff feel like they're sanding down your skin.
He hisses out, inarticulate vowels, his bangs falling into his eyes.
The wall behind you shudders a little when you let your head drop back, let him push down your trousers and breathe against your cheek. It's good - it's always good - but you're not concentrating on the grind of his hand. Instead, you're trying to imagine a world that doesn't involve Jared sitting on your couch and eating Kung Pao chicken out of a carton, talking a mile a minute about this thing he saw on the Spanish-language network, which he didn't understand at all but found compelling enough to reenact for you.
His phone rings and you mutter, "Jesus Christ, leave it," but it's Sandy's tone and he answers it anyway. He turns toward the windows, hand rising to smooth down his hair, like she can see him through the phone lines, and you wonder if his eyes are brown or green right now. They change sometimes.
You wonder, too, with the idle and snoopy curiosity of a kid, how much she really knows about him. The details of their relationship are a scab you don't pick at, but sometimes you wonder how he touches her in bed.
He does this thing with you sometimes where he leans in and drags his face down your stomach, breathing in deep like there's some smell on your skin he wants to keep. He doesn't stop until he's at the waist of your boxers, until you're arched up off the bed, and that's what you want to know. Is that about you? Is that about everyone he's fucked? Is that something the first guy to get his hands on him did, that story he's told you more than once?
He turns back around and gives you a small smile, tongue against his upper lip, one finger raised: he'll be back to you in a minute.
And you wonder, not for the first time, if maybe you're more in love with the person you want him to be than the person he is.
It doesn't really matter, since you can't have either.
Another thing about the beginning: Jared was the first person you met out here that you called home to talk about. You couldn't shut up about him, and even though you didn't think of it that way at the time, it was sort of a crush.
You sat on the couch in your LA apartment with your mom on the phone, happy in a way that seemed to burst right out of your chest. And it wasn't all about him, of course, because most of that was the buzz of success, of the show getting off the ground, but there was a part of it that was just Jared. You were glad to have a co-star that down to earth, and you said, "Yeah, Ma, I like him. He's cool. He's hilarious. I like him," and meant it.
One of the first nights you two ever spent hanging out, you were having beers in this Vancouver bar you haven't been to since. Everything felt fresh and new then, and there was a sliver of loneliness under your skin, missing working on a show with lots of people. That tells you how long ago this was - before you two dug into each other and became JaredandJensen.
You were screwing around, drinking Sam Adams, and somehow you wound up telling him dirty jokes - and he did that laugh where he throws his head back and belts it out, so bright and sunny that other people in the room look around and wish they were in on the joke. He slapped his knee and wiped at his eyes, and it didn't matter that you were still a little tense and shy around him, that your delivery wasn't the best and you mumbled some of the punchlines - because to him, you were funny. To him, you were the person people never see you as, the person you've always wanted to be.
And just like that, you were hooked. Welcome to the downslide.
Jared's family lives in a sprawling place that's just on the far side of Texan tacky. It's sort of a farmhouse, sort of not, with a lot of space. You grew up in one of those housing developments that are taking over every decent town in America, the layout of your front porch and patio just like everyone else's on your block.
They put you up in Jared's old room.
You'd have preferred the cool beiges of an anonymous hotel - anything to get you the fuck out of this situation for awhile - but they insist. You're part of the wedding party, you're like family, and you lay on his old twin bed and stare at the row of sports trophies on his bookcase, wondering if he played basketball because he actually liked it or if it was just some kind of requirement because of his height. They're just a couple shelves above his copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon, and it sort of gives you the creeps to be here, to touch the spines of those books and look at the framed pictures of him and people you don't know. It's like you're touching some part of Jared that he's never willingly handed over, even though he's the one who asked you to be a part of all of this.
The house has a constant stream of visitors. Friends, neighbors, everyone who didn't make it out of the city after high school graduation.
You shake a lot of hands and nod a lot, smile a lot. Sometimes you miss living here in the Bible Belt, where no one is bisexual and lines don't get blurred. No one suspects anything, no one looks at you with a glimmer of understanding. It's not like Genesis 13:13 means a lot to you, but out here it's easier to pretend to be the straight best friend who's just happy as can be.
Jared's mother tells you, laughing a little, that they had to make him swear to stop inviting people to the wedding, because the back yard is only so big.
He's their hometown hero, their good luck charm. Everyone looks at him with that light in their eyes, and everyone falls in love with him a little, even the ones who have never met him. You get it, you really do. There's a part of you - a part that's always been there - that wants to look at him and say, yes, I know, he's so handsome and talented and smart, he's funny and such a charmer, and I've fucked him. I still fuck him. Did you know? Isn't that nice?
Isn't that nice?
It's two nights before the service when you show up at his bedroom door. It's late - quarter to one or so, and your feet are bare on the hardwood floor, boxers the only thing keeping you modest and a white dress shirt over that. The bottle of champagne in your hand is half-full.
His mouth is pink, pink like they can't ever get right on cameras, and his hair is messed up, but he opens the door wide for you and then pushes you up against it once it's shut. You don't know if he can taste the champagne or not, but you can taste him - spit and tongue and sleep in his mouth that in six hours will be morning breath.
The fact of the matter is, you can't remember how to be his best friend without this.
There had to have been a time when it came easily, but now it all comes from the same place. You can't imagine not telling him you're there for him with your mouth and your fingers. You don't want to hear it from him in any way other than the noise he makes, somewhere between a laugh and a groan, when you're doing it right.
He takes a swig from the bottle, and there in the darkness of the guest room you can see his throat working around gulps. His mouth is cold when it finds yours again, fingers hot as they push up under your shirt. He fists the cotton until the buttons are pulling harshly, ready to snap off, and then his mouth is there at the gap between the hem and the edge of your pants.
For a moment it's just his breath, hot and damp against the hair that trails down from your belly-button. You can feel each one, each bad decision being made, and then he's planting a sloppy kiss there, yanking down your boxers fast, like he's afraid you're going to tell him no.
"Fuck." Your fingers curl in the bedsheets automatically. They've dark blue and plain, but they smell like him, as much as his own bed in Vancouver does, and the mouth that lingers at your hipbone feels as familiar as a smile.
When he rolls you over, hands insistent and hot, the champagne bottle tips to the side. It's sopping wet and sticky, trickling the last of its contents over your knuckles, until all you can smell is it - rich alcohol and fizz, the bubbles popping one by fucking one.
You wake up stuck together, the rasp of his stubble against your mouth. You hadn't noticed it last night - you willed yourself to get trashed on that champagne, like a kid headed to prom, and it took the edges off of everything. It's there, though, six am shadow that forms a visible grit on his upper lip and chin.
If you went looking for that one spot, that one you know so well, you probably wouldn't be able to find it at all. It's that thought that gets you out of bed and back to your room.
Your head's a little thick still, but you can remember the moments when you were both still awake, too sticky and tired to care about danger of falling asleep. You had counted his ribs through his skin, touched his sensitive side and moved your mouth around one, two, three, four, while he watched your fingers.
You're old hat at not leaving marks, not making imprints in the heat of the fucking moment, but for a second there you just wanted to dig your fingers in. Wits about you, not even half-hard, you wanted to scrape your fingernails over the pale, sensitive skin at his hip and leave something behind. Jensen Ackles was here, as stated in teeth marks and scratches.
You didn't, obviously. You just touched him there, your thumb in the hollow of bone and skin, and thought that, for some people, that would be enough.
You meet him in the kitchen, beating the rest of the house downstairs. You're both still wired for five o'clock wake-up calls, nervous system tuned to the rising sun.
He's got a mug in his hand as he stands over the sink, one of those ones with a photograph printed right onto it. You can't make the picture out from where you lean in the doorway.
"I had to," he finally says. "She's my girl."
"And what am I." It's idle, the way it comes out, and you step up next to the sink.
Jared's mouth is on your shoulder then, the union a little sloppy and a little sunburnt.
"You're my Jensen."
His hair curls around his ears a little when he looks at you. The women in the wedding party made him get it cut yesterday, and his neck looks bare and a little unfamiliar. His smile is the same, though, when he sets the glass down and walks away, clapping you on the shoulder with one huge hand.
These are the things you think about as you stand there: his bare feet on your kitchen floor. His hair on your pillow. His fingers on your shoulder after a shower. The smell of aftershave and sex and coffee in the mornings, waking up in bed with a man. His wide, dry palm on you mouth when you fuck on set. The casual familiar way he steals food off your plate, sits in your chair if it's closer, uses your phone to make calls. The smile that feels like it will break your face sometimes, automatic when he comes in a room.
You can taste his mouth on the rim of the cup when you finish the orange juice, your fresh pajama bottoms slouching low on your hips. In another half-hour or so the house will be loud with people, but for now you're alone with the hum of the air conditioner. You lean against the counter and look out at the back-yard, with its shaded pavilion and lawn chairs, and your reflection moves in the silver lid of a catering tray.
The ceremony will be at an old church nearby, nice and traditional, and then everyone will file back here for the waltzing and food and toasts. You will sit at the head table and you will dance with one of Sandy's friends; you will lead the applause when they cut the cake and you will help decorate the get-away car with shaving cream and shoes. You will cheer with everyone else when they drive off into the sunset, you will let your girlfriend hold you tightly, and you will go home and sleep it off.
It's not so much that anything's over; the ending has always been here, waiting in the wings. The best you can do, the best you ever could do, is take it like a man.