Life rarely goes the way you plan it.
Adolescence is the era of hopes and dreams. You can be whatever you want to be and there is no doubt in your mind that you’ll accomplish your goals, no matter how increasingly unbelievable they may be. But then? Adulthood comes along, and adulthood is the land where hopes and dreams go to die.
And then real life sets in.
Jensen Ackles is intimately familiar with real life and all of its soul-sucking, heart-crushing ways. Real life is a dick.
He’s standing in his best friend’s bathroom in nothing but a towel, cataloging every imperfection. He’s pushing forty but he still looks a damn sight better than most other saggy bastards his age. He still has a flat, defined stomach and a tight ass, but he has to work hard for it. It doesn’t come easy like it did when he was twenty.
The crow’s feet around his eyes are getting deeper. Jared always said they were adorable but they’re not. Wrinkles aren’t adorable. His lips are a bit thinner than they were when he was younger and there’s a tiny cluster of grey hairs at his left temple. His back hurts in the mornings and his left knee aches when it rains.
He’s gotten old, and he’s only just realized how much of his life he’s wasted.
He rolls his neck and blatantly ignores the desperate ache in his chest telling him that something huge is missing. He ignores the voice in his head chanting fix it fix it fix it and lathers his face with shaving cream. Halfway through shaving, the bathroom door flies open and Misha stumbles in with a very naked girl slung over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.
“Oh! Shit,” Misha chuckles. He slaps his hand over his mouth and it’s pretty obvious that he hasn’t even slept yet. Misha is nearly the same age as Jensen but somehow he never grew up. He’s still young at heart and he’s completely happy with his life. Sure, he has a shitload of money but Jensen has money too. That’s not the secret. He wishes he knew what it was. “Sorry dude. We thought you would have left for work already.”
“Not quite,” Jensen replies. Misha salutes and then spins around. The girl over his shoulder is blonde, gorgeous, and barely in her twenties. Her blue eyes spark with interest when she sees Jensen and she slaps at Misha’s naked back.
“Ooh, he’s pretty!” She cries. “Can he play with us?”
“Jensen likes dick, doll face,” Misha tells her. Jensen rolls his eyes and turns back to the mirror. “Besides, he hates his life for no reason and therefore doesn’t know how to have any fun.”
“Boo,” the girl replies. She’s still flung over his shoulder like a ragdoll and doesn’t seem to mind. Jensen grits his teeth and does his best to ignore his supposed best friend.
“Exactly, boo.” Misha pats her thigh. “Did you know he had an amazing boyfriend? I mean amazing. Put up with his bullshit since high school and never complained, and then Jensen just let him slip away. Didn’t even fight for him.”
“Boo!” The girl yells again, waving a finger at Jensen. He glares and swirls his razor angrily in the water in the sink.
“Fuck off, Misha,” Jensen grits out. Misha just shrugs the shoulder the girl isn’t laying across. “Return to your orgy and give me fifteen fucking minutes to get ready for work.”
Misha just gives him a knowing smirk and leaves the bathroom. The girl grips the edge of the door to swing it shut and Jensen catches sight of her waving before it closes. He takes a deep breath, ignores the next flash of fix it fix it pain, and gets ready for another lackluster day.
Jensen had gotten together with Jared during the sweltering Texas summer of 1990. He had just graduated high school and Jared was this gangly, fifteen-year-old freshman spaz. He was a lifeguard at the local water park Jensen frequented for exercise and he was tall and tan and incredibly nice-looking. He caught Jensen’s attention and he couldn’t even really say why.
They never really spoke, not until the fateful day that Jensen slipped and nearly cracked his skull on the cement. It was a stupid mistake; he took a corner too fast in flip flops with no traction, his feet just went out from under him, and he happened to break the fall with his head.
Jared was there in an instant – too tall and too skinny and too tan, hair too long and eyes too bright. He put his hand on Jensen’s chest and the other behind his head. It came away bloody, and that’s when Jensen realized how dizzy he was. Jared talked to him, asked him questions and kept him awake and coherent until the EMTs got there and carried him off to the medical shack.
He dozed off while they called someone to come get him – which was bullshit. He was eighteen. A silly little concussion shouldn’t turn him back into a child, but there it was.
When he woke up Jared was there with his too-big feet propped up on the edge of Jensen’s cot. Jared shyly confessed that he had the biggest crush on him all through the school year and even more so over the summer. He told Jensen that seeing him fall scared him and also gave him the nerve to fess up, even though his cheeks were bright red and he couldn’t quite look Jensen in the eye.
He was adorable – so sweet and captivating that Jensen took him on a date that weekend. By the end of the summer, Jensen was in love. It was a little strange; their age difference caused its fair share of problems. But whatever they had – it was worth it.
Jensen’s plan was to go to Los Angeles after the summer to try his hand at acting, but he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Jared. He stayed in Texas, working and taking classes at the local community college, and then followed Jared to Stanford after he graduated. That’s where they really started their lives together.
They moved to San Francisco. Jared fulfilled his dream of becoming a teacher and Jensen, well, didn’t have any dreams apart from acting. Somehow he fell into investment banking, which was nice because it made him a lot of money, but he didn’t have a passion for anything.
Except for Jared, and man, it was mutual.
But over time, even that faded. Jensen found himself full of what ifs. What if he had moved to Los Angeles like he’d planned? What if he had become an actor? What if he hadn’t slipped and fell like a dumbass at the water park that day? How different would his life have been?
Jensen started blaming his shortcomings on Jared. It was Jared’s fault that he stayed in Texas. It was Jared’s fault that he wasn’t an actor. It was Jared’s fault that he was unsatisfied with his life. Everything was Jared’s fault.
And then, about six months shy of what would have been their twentieth anniversary, Jared sat him down. Jared, the only bright spot in his shitty life, told him it was over. He couldn’t shoulder the blame for Jensen’s unhappiness anymore. Jared told him that he was done not being good enough, and man, those words cut deep.
Jensen moved out of their home in Bernal Heights and into Misha’s bachelor pad in North Beach. Jensen had met Misha shortly after moving to Palo Alto to be near Jared. He was this pothead communications major at UC Berkeley and the two of them hit it off splendidly. He ended up inventing some sort of software almost by accident and now he’s stupid rich and forever young.
And that’s how Jensen’s life went from awesome to shitty, and then even shittier.
Now? Well, now he’s just completely lost.
Jensen hides in his office for most of the work day. He skips a meeting and dodges phone calls, instead choosing to look out of his window at the view of San Francisco’s compact little financial district. His gaze is focused on the tip of the Trans-American Pyramid when someone clears their throat behind him.
He spins around in his chair and his eyes widen when he sees Jared. It’s like a punch to the stomach.
He hasn’t seen Jared in almost a month, and wow, he looks good. Time has been kind to him. He’s thirty-five but he seems to have stopped aging about a decade earlier. He just gets more and more beautiful as time goes on. Jensen feels such a fierce pain in his chest in that moment, and he swallows against the sudden lump in his throat.
“Hi,” Jensen says. It’s lame but it’s all he can manage to squeeze out.
“Sorry to bother you at work,” Jared says softly. He’s trying valiantly not to look Jensen in the eye. “I, uh, somehow got saddled with being in charge of the winter play at school so I was going through some of our old theater stuff. I thought you might want these.”
He sets a box on Jensen’s desk and he leans forward to peer inside. It’s some of his stuff from high school – old yearbooks and photo albums and things of the sort. Jensen used to love to take pictures. He’d do it all the time. His eyes linger on a photo album labeled The Big Move: California or Bust! and he swallows hard. He knows that it’s full of pictures of the two of them, young and happy with their entire lives ahead of them. He blinks a few times and looks up at Jared.
“Thanks,” Jensen says thickly. “So, uh, you’re doing well?”
“I’m getting by,” Jared says tightly, and he crosses his arms as he looks around Jensen’s office. It’s all black wood and shiny chrome. Jensen hates it. “I have to say, I’m sort of surprised that you’re still working here.”
Jensen blinks and Jared raises an eyebrow at him. His expression is hard to pin down and it bothers Jensen that he can know Jared so well for so long yet he can still pull a face that baffles him.
“I thought you hated it here,” Jared continues. His voice is a quiet rumble and his eyes have gone liquid, shining feverishly under the harsh fluorescent lighting.
“I do,” Jensen says simply. Jared rolls his lips into his mouth and nods.
“Sort of thought that after me, it’d be the first thing to go.” He says it so casually that Jensen almost can’t react. He swallows hard and leans back in his black leather chair. “Thought you had all these plans that I was getting in the way of, and yet here you are. Still sitting in this office.”
“I’m still figuring things out,” Jensen finally says, and Jared takes a deep breath and nods. He pins Jensen with a broken expression, eyes darkening as he tries so hard to keep Jensen from seeing the pain in them.
“Seems to be a theme with you,” Jared replies, and Jensen swallows. “I just have to wonder if you’re just waiting for the perfect life to fall into your lap. Because if that’s the case, I have to tell you that you’ll be waiting for a hell of a long time.”
Jensen can’t think of a single possible response to that. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, staring up at Jared’s wild eyes and glossy hair, and still feels completely lost.
“Jared,” he finally says, looking up pleadingly. Jared meets his gaze for a moment and swallows hard as he takes a step backwards. His eyes look a little wet and Jensen feels it like a fist around his heart
“Goodbye, Jensen,” he says, voice nearly breaking. They look at each other for a long moment and Jensen can do little more than nod dumbly as Jared turns and walks out of the room.
He spends the rest of the afternoon going through everything in the box. Flipping through yearbooks just reminds him of how convinced he was that he was going to be an actor, especially when half of the signatures end with some variation of See you in Hollywood!
He gets to his senior yearbook and opens it to the picture of himself. He’s so young and cocky looking, full of confidence and swagger. In that one picture he looks ready to take on the world. Against his better judgment he flips to the freshman section to look at Jared’s picture. He’s smiling shyly at the camera with his shoulders hunched slightly. Jensen can tell he’s blushing, even in black and white. He’s just a kid that looks like he’d be happy with whatever the world gave him.
And then Jensen came along and stole the next twenty years of his life just because he wanted them. He’s such an asshole.
Darkness has fallen by the time he finally extracts himself from the box of memories. He rubs at his eyes and shoves his senior yearbook into his briefcase. He’ll deal with the rest later.
His head is still all clouded and foggy, so he decides to walk for a bit instead of hailing a cab right outside of his office. The yearbook weighs down his briefcase, a heavy reminder of the past, and he nearly stumbles when an old woman steps right out in front of him. She looks like she might be homeless, but Jensen doesn’t have any spare change.
“You look lost, son,” she says solemnly. Jensen furrows his brow as he looks into her weathered, wrinkled face and gestures up the street with his briefcase.
“Uh, no,” he replies. “I know exactly where I’m headed.”
“I don’t mean on these streets,” she says after Jensen steps around her. “I mean in your head, boy. You’ve made a mess of things.”
“What?” Jensen asks as he spins around to face her. “Who are you?”
She gestures to a sign propped up against a spindly little chair on the curb, nestled between other street vendors selling jewelry and paintings. Jensen passes these people every day and he’s never stopped to look. Her sign simply reads fortunes told here.
“Ah,” Jensen says with a jerky nod. “Sorry, lady. I don’t buy it.”
“You thought you were gonna live amongst the stars,” she continues as if Jensen hadn’t even spoken. “Thought you were gonna see your name in lights. But you gave it all up for puppy love.”
“How do you know that?” Jensen demands. She chuckles; it’s deep and whiskey-rough. Jensen feels a little thrill of fear run from his head down to his toes.
“What part of psychic do you not get, kid?” She asks. Jensen snorts and rolls his eyes.
“Kid,” Jensen spits out. “I wish.”
“Do you now?” She replies as she steeples her fingers under her chin. “If you woke up tomorrow as the you that you’re hiding in that briefcase, what would you do?”
“First off, you’re really creeping me out,” Jensen tells her. He’s sort of terrified but far too curious to end this. “And secondly, I would do whatever I wanted to do. I’d live my life whatever way I wanted to.”
“Ah,” the woman replies, drawing it out into multiple syllables. She reaches out to touch his shoulder and smiles knowingly at him. “Well, best of luck to you, kid.”
She turns away and he blinks. He’s suddenly so very tired. It’s been a long day and all he wants to do is go home and sleep.
He hails a cab so he can do just that.
The next morning dawns bright and far too soon.
Jensen groans as he slaps his alarm and rolls out of bed. He lands on his feet and instinctively goes to stretch his back only to realize that he doesn’t need to. It doesn’t hurt.
Huh. Maybe it’s going to be a good day.
He stumbles into the bathroom and keeps his head down as he takes a piss. He goes over to the sink and grips the edges of it, yawning and smacking his lips before raising his eyes to the mirror.
What he sees makes him freeze.
It’s his reflection, but not the him of today. Jensen Ackles circa 1990 is staring back at him. His hair is golden blond and curling around his ears. His eyes are huge and bright and his lips are even poutier than he remembers. He’s tan and lithe and young.
A whole minute passes before Jensen lets out a scream.
Misha busts into the bathroom and Jensen turns to face him, nearly tripping over his pajamas. His v-neck tee looks stretched out, the collar hanging loosely around his neck. Misha spots him, blinks once, and then joins in on Jensen’s panicked cry, mouth falling open in a yell even as his eyes stay locked on Jensen’s youthful face.
“Who the fuck are you?” Misha shouts. He leans against the doorjamb and slaps his hands over his eyes. “Oh fuck. I knew I shouldn’t have taken that shit. It’s a bad trip, man. It’s just a bad trip. Deep breaths.”
“I am the master of my own reality,” Misha mumbles. “This isn’t real.”
“MISHA!” Jensen grabs Misha’s wrists and pulls his hands away from his face, only to have him whimper and close his eyes. Jensen growls and slaps him once across the face. Misha instantly sobers up and glares at him. And then Misha slaps him back. “I deserved that.”
“What in the ever-loving fucking fuck is going on?” Misha demands. He waves his hands around in front of Jensen’s face and body. “What’s all this?”
“Dude,” Jensen replies. Even his voice has changed. The smoky growl he picked up over the years has all but vanished along with the crow’s feet, grey hairs, and aches and pains. “I think I’m eighteen again.”
“Okaaaay,” Misha drawls. “But how?”
“I don’t know!” Jensen shouts. He turns to look into the mirror again, pinching and pulling at his face. He grins at the tautness of his skin and pulls up the hem of his shirt. His six-pack abs are back and he lets out a bark of happy laughter. “Oh man, look at me!”
“Stop jizzing all over yourself and fucking tell me how this happened!” Misha demands. Jensen finally pulls himself away from the mirror to stare at his best friend. “Oh god. You’re a fucking twink. This is weird. People are going to think I’m your sugar daddy.”
“I don’t know! I just woke up and I was young again,” Jensen replies. His eyes widen as he comes to a sudden realization and he grabs Misha’s shoulders. “The homeless fortune teller.”
“There was this crazy old lady last night,” Jensen says excitedly. “She said she was psychic and that I was lost. She asked what I’d do if I was young again. She did this!”
“Fuck it, man. Whatever. So there’s only one thing we must do now,” Misha says as he reaches out to poke Jensen’s cheek. He tugs once at Jensen’s longer hair and then throws his hands up in surrender. “Let’s go find the homeless fortune teller.”
Jensen never realized how much he had filled out over the years. The tee shirt and jeans he threw on hang loosely on him and even his shoes don’t fit right. Twenty years of muscle mass and broadening shoulders are just gone in the blink of an eye. Even his dick is a little smaller.
Oh well. He’s gorgeous and he’s young.
“Hey queerbait,” Misha calls as he weaves in and out of morning traffic. “Stop fogging up the mirror, you conceited asshole. Teenagers, I swear to god.”
Jensen just grins at him and Misha rolls his eyes as he pulls up in front of Jensen’s office building. They get out and jog up the street to the place where Jensen met the fortune teller the previous night. He finds the girl with the homemade jewelry and the guy with the paintings, but no haggard old lady between them.
“Hey, where’s the fortune teller?” Jensen demands of the girl. She raises an eyebrow. “She sits right here.”
“Uh, dude. I’m here every day and I’ve never seen a fortune teller,” she says. “But I’ve got a few pieces that would go great with your skin tone.”
Jensen lets out a growl as he turns away and questions all the vendors up and down the block, but no one seems to have seen a creepy old lady telling fortunes.
“Well shit,” Jensen says when he meets back up with Misha. He’s sitting on the hood of his car drinking organic iced tea from some unknown location. “It looks like I’m stuck this way. For now, at least.”
“Hm. Well, as long as we’re here,” Misha starts, “what are you going to do about work?”
“Shit, I don’t know,” Jensen replies. “Oh, okay. I’ll stall.”
He pulls out his cell phone and dials his office number, trying as best he can to put some of his normal gravel into his teenage voice. He tells his supervisor that his appendix has to be removed immediately and that he’ll be out for at least a week, maybe more. He buys it, and Jensen lets out a triumphant whoop when he hangs up.
“That gives us some time,” Jensen says. Misha just nods as he continues to sip at his tea. Jensen paces back and forth, tapping at his pursed lips as he thinks. She had mentioned living his life over again, following his dreams. Jensen snaps his fingers and turns back to Misha. “I’m supposed to do what I never did before. Dude, we’ve gotta go to L.A. I have to act.”
“Yeah, alright,” Misha says amiably. Jensen grins. No one on the planet could have handled this better than his best friend. “But can we maybe buy you some new clothes first? You look like the sad little boy hooker I’m trying to save from the mean city streets.”
“Oh, fuck you.”
They arrive in Los Angeles late that evening. Flying was out, considering Jensen’s ID says that he’s thirty-eight, so they had to make the eight hour drive.
Jensen is excited. This is his second chance. He can do all the things he could never do before. There’s nothing holding him back now.
They check into an upscale hotel using Misha’s black card and Jensen uses his laptop to scour all the open auditions for the next day. He writes down the information for three of them while Misha hangs out of the window to smoke a joint. Jensen doesn’t even begrudge him that. Whatever it takes for Misha to support and finance take two of his teenage years is fine by him.
“Are you sure this is what you’re supposed to be doing?” Misha questions. Jensen looks up at him and nods.
“Dude, I look exactly like I did in the summer of 1990 when I was still planning on coming out here,” Jensen tells him. “Same haircut and everything.”
“Speaking of,” Misha says after taking another hit. “You should probably fix that, Joey Lawrence.”
“Fuck off,” Jensen replies. “The nineties were kind to no one.”
“Whatever man,” Misha says after blowing smoke out of the open window. “Let’s just do this. Get you on your spirit path, or whatever.”
Jensen looks at the piece of paper in his hand and grins.
This will work.
It doesn’t work. Los Angeles is a bust.
At the first audition Jensen goes to, the casting director calls him pretty and tries to get Jensen to suck his dick. At the second, the casting director tries to suck Jensen’s dick. At the third, the casting director tries to get him to fuck her in a storage closet.
Fuck Los Angeles.
“Well, you are very pretty and young and sort of naïve looking,” is all Misha says when Jensen rehashes the day’s events. “They think you’re fresh off the bus from the Midwest and eager to please. They have no idea that you’re actually forty and a complete cynic.”
“Fuck you,” Jensen replies. “I’m thirty-eight.”
“Splitting hairs,” Misha replies with a shrug. “So, what are we doing? Can we go home now?”
Jensen thinks about it. It’d be stupid to quit after one day, but he feels dirty and seedy just from being around those people all afternoon. He just wants to feel good. He wants to take a shower in his shower that’s big enough that Jared doesn’t have to stoop. He wants to sleep in his bed that’s always too hot because Jared radiates heat like a furnace.
He wants to be home.
His cell phone starts to ring on the nightstand and Jensen eyes it warily. The number on the display isn’t one he recognizes and he clears his throat before answering cautiously.
“Yes, hello.” The voice on the other end belongs to a woman. She sounds warm and polite. “Mr. Padalecki?”
“Uh, no. This is his – “ Jensen swallows. His ex. He can’t quite bring himself to say the word. “This isn’t his phone. Can I help you?”
“I apologize. This is Margaret Wilkerson from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. I need to speak with him about arranging one of our scholarship scouts to come up for the winter play that he’s putting together. I was given this number.”
Jensen blinks and furrows his brow in confusion as she rattles off his own cell phone number. This happens all the time.
“Uh, no, that’s my number,” Jensen replies. “He must have put down the wrong one again. I’m 3482 and he’s 3483. It’s a joint plan.”
“I’ll give him a call at that number then,” she replies politely. “Thank you for your help.”
Jensen mumbles out a goodbye and hangs up the phone. Shit just keeps getting weirder and weirder. He looks over at Misha’s curious gaze and scrubs his hand down his face.
Then he gets an idea. It’s stupid, but it might just solve all of his problems in one fell swoop.
“Let’s go home,” Jensen says excitedly. Misha throws his fists in the air and nods.
“Awesome, let’s do it,” he replies. Jensen grins at him.
“And then you can enroll me in high school.”
Jensen doesn’t talk to his sister very often.
It’s not like they don’t get along. They’ve just grown apart. Mackenzie moved to D.C. for work and got married and started a family. Jensen is on the opposite side of the country and he doesn’t go home to visit much. His parents didn’t really take too kindly to finding out that their (barely, they always left out the barely) adult son was fucking around with a fifteen-year-old, let alone one that was male. They don’t hate each other, but they get along just fine without each other.
The upside to all of this is that Jensen and Jared haven’t seen Mac’s son, Jason, since he was five. He’s seventeen now, and that’s close enough.
Misha and Jensen dummy up some school records in the name of Jason Mitchell, and through some combination of awesome skills and sheer luck, they actually get Jensen enrolled in school under his nephew’s name, but with Misha listed as his father.
“This is never going to work,” Misha calls out. Jensen rolls his eyes and buttons his jeans before emerging from the dressing room. “You know that, right?”
“Stop being negative.” Jensen puts his hands on his hips and poses in front of Misha. “What do you think?”
“I think you should stop modeling your stupid outfits for me,” Misha tells him. “I feel like I’m in a scene from Pretty Woman. People are looking at us.”
“Oh, come on,” Jensen responds. “We’re in San Francisco. An old queen taking his boy toy out for a shopping spree isn’t anything new.”
“You did not just call me an old queen,” Misha replies scathingly. “Need I remind you that you’re two years older than me, pretty boy.”
“The mirror proves otherwise,” Jensen says smugly as he drops down next to Misha and points at the large mirror in front of them. Misha is scowling but Jensen doesn’t notice; he’s too busy staring at his own reflection.
“Good to know that magically de-aging twenty years didn’t change the fact that you’re an arrogant prick,” Misha tells him before getting up to exit the store. It takes a lot to ruffle Misha’s feathers and Jensen knows that he should follow him, tell him how thankful he is that Misha is there to help him get through this. But then he catches his reflection in the mirror and gets distracted by his smooth, unmarred skin.
He stands there grinning at himself until Misha comes back and drags him forcibly to the cash register.
Jensen wakes up early the following morning and tries to tell himself that he isn’t nervous as he showers, shaves, and gets dressed for the first day of his second round of high school.
“You know that I still think that this is a horrible idea, right?” The sound of Misha’s voice startles Jensen and he whips his head around to face him. He’s leaning against the bathroom doorjamb in what appears to be a red silk kimono and bunny slippers. Jensen rolls his eyes and grabs Misha’s coffee mug to take a sip.
“It’ll be fine,” Jensen replies in what he hopes is a confident, casual tone as he hands the mug back over. “I’m going to go back to school, do this play, and score that scholarship.”
“And you’re sure that this plan has nothing at all to do with the fact that Jared is in charge of the play, huh?” Misha asks. Jensen tenses up and meets Misha’s knowing gaze.
“No,” Jensen says a little too quickly. “How did you know that?”
“Just because Jared dumped you doesn’t mean that he dumped me,” Misha tells him. “We had lunch last week.”
He isn’t quite sure how to feel in that moment. Sure, Jared and Misha are good friends. The three of them were damn near inseparable and it would be selfish of him to expect Misha to terminate that friendship because he and Jared are no longer together. But still, knowing that Misha spent time with Jared, got to see the tilt of his smile and the way that his glossy hair curves around his ears hurts a little, makes something that feels a lot like jealousy and longing swirl around in his stomach.
“…Oh,” is what he finally says. “Um. How is he?”
“Ask him yourself,” Misha says simply. “You’ll be seeing him in a few hours if you’re seriously determined to go through with this stupid plan.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Jensen says sarcastically. He turns to face the mirror again and do a final assessment. His unfortunate nineties haircut has been replaced with one closer to the cut he wears normally, if a bit longer. He went with a simple, form-fitting black v-neck tee and new jeans. He looks good, really good, and yet he finds it hard to smile. “But no, this doesn’t have anything to do with Jared.”
“Huh.” Misha looks down into his coffee cup as he swirls the liquid around a bit. “I guess you are a pretty good actor.”
John Adams High School isn’t unfamiliar to Jensen. Jared has taught English there for the past nine years. Jensen has been here his fair share of times – he’s seen the teacher’s lounge, wandered the halls, attended football and basketball games, and has even been known to show up with pasta and a bottle of wine when Jared stayed too late grading papers.
But he’s never been here as a student.
High school in downtown San Francisco in 2010 is a whole hell of a lot different than high school in suburban San Antonio in 1989. Jensen tries to keep the bewilderment off of his face as he maneuvers his way through the crowds to the main office. He gets his schedule with little incident and his eyes widen comically when he skims it.
Period 8: English IV – Room R34 – Mr. Padalecki
“What are the fucking odds?” Jensen mutters to himself. He’s still looking down at his schedule when he bumps into someone. The guy drops the book he was carrying and Jensen stoops down to grab it.
“Sorry,” he says as he hands the book back to a tall, wiry blond kid. “It’s my first day. I’m sort of out of my element.” What an understatement.
“No problem, man,” he replies as he takes his book and shoves it under his arm. He holds out his hand and smiles warmly. “I’m Jake Abel.”
“Jason Mitchell,” Jensen says with only the slightest bit of hesitation. He shakes Jake’s hand and then adjusts the strap of his messenger bag. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. Hey, let me see your schedule.” Jensen hands over the piece of paper and watches as Jake skims it. “Oh cool, man. We have Government and English together, and you have Math with my friend Kyle.”
“Awesome,” Jensen says awkwardly. He didn’t really think about how he would have to recreate the entire high school experience, right down to making friends and chitchatting in the halls between classes. “Well, uh. Lead the way.”
“You’re gonna love it here, man,” Jake tells him as they work their way down the hall. “Just stick with me.”
After a few more moments Jensen stops feeling awkward and instead drinks in the curious and impressed glances that keep getting shot his way. He squares his shoulders and lifts his chin, pasting on a winning smile.
Maybe this will be fun.
Jensen fully enjoys his day.
Everyone fawns over him, the hot new guy, and he smiles and charms his way through it all. He sits with Jake and the popular kids at lunch and expertly shrugs off the advances of numerous girls. He even gets some longing looks from a few boys, which is more than he ever got from his gender when he was in school.
He laughs and jokes around and feels on top of the world – just like the last time he was in high school. But still, after everything, he finds himself stumbling to a halt outside of Jared’s classroom.
“What’s wrong, Jason?” Jake says as he sidles up next to him and claps a hand down onto his shoulder. “Mr. P won’t bite.”
Jensen chuckles nervously and keeps his head down as he follows Jake into the classroom. Jared is standing behind his desk, looking down at a stack of papers with a thoughtful expression. He’s dressed casually in a dark purple button down with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a pair of jeans. His hair is falling into his face and Jensen gets a flash of tucking it behind his ear as they kiss, all naked and sweaty. He swallows hard and closes his eyes, ignoring the sudden pounding of his heart.
“Yo, teach!” Jake calls out. “I brought you some fresh meat.”
Jared seems a bit distracted and he picks up his travel mug to take a sip as he turns to face them. His eyes land hard on Jensen and he freezes for just a moment before spitting out his coffee. He slaps his hand over his mouth and wipes his chin as Jensen bites down on a nervous laugh.
“Uh… okay,” Jake says with a shake of his head. “Anyway, this is Jason Mitchell.”
“You – what? I…” Jared takes a moment to set his coffee cup down and pinch the bridge of his nose as he beckons Jensen forward with his other hand. Jake goes to sit down and Jensen shuffles forward. He pastes an innocent look on his face as he hands over his schedule, and clears his throat when Jared won’t stop staring at him long enough to take it. “I’m sorry, just – you’re Jason Mitchell?
“That’s me,” Jensen replies. He wasn’t anticipating how hard that this would be for him, to be so close to Jared and have to pretend that he’s a stranger. Jared takes his schedule and wipes the last of the coffee from his chin.
“Yep,” Jensen replies. “I’m staying with my uncle. He told me that I might run into you.”
“Wow, um. I didn’t – I mean, he didn’t tell me,” Jared gets out. “But I guess he wouldn’t. Well, anyway. Small world. Welcome aboard.”
Jared turns to the class and lets out a whistle, a strong powerful sound that Jensen remembers him practicing when he first became a teacher. He does his best to wipe the nostalgic look off of his face as the students all look up at them.
“Guys, this is Jason Mitchell,” Jared tells them. “He’s new here and me and him go way back, so treat him right.”
Jensen turns to Jared, who grimaces when their eyes meet. Jensen’s lower lip juts out all on own its own as he goes to take the empty desk next to Jake, Kyle, and their friend Katie.
“Okay guys,” Jared says as he leans up against his desk. He holds up a book and glances around the room. “How do you all feel about Hamlet? Do you like it?”
There’s a chorus of groans and sighs around the room, even a few boos, and Jensen is surprised to see Jared’s lips curve into a smile.
“Yeah,” he says, and the students laugh as Jared throws the book over his shoulder. It lands on the floor with a clatter and he crosses his arms over his chest. “Me neither. How do we feel about Romeo and Juliet? Love, murder, intrigue, death. And that Leonardo DiCaprio – he’s dreamy, right?”
Jake lets out a loud whoop and Katie joins in. Jared smirks at them and picks another book up off of his desk.
“I’m not going to lie to you guys,” Jared continues. “As most of you know, Ms. Berry – the drama teacher, for those of you that are new to the school – had a, um, little breakdown and is no longer teaching here. And some way, somehow, I’m now in charge of the school play. We’re doing Romeo and Juliet, and I’m feeling a bit lazy, so I’m piggybacking on the play and we’re doing it in class too. That’s just how I roll.”
Jared picks a box up from the floor and sets it onto his desk. From out of it he pulls paperback copies of Romeo and Juliet and sets stacks of them on the first desk in each row of the classroom. When Jensen gets his copy he stares down at it and runs his fingers across the cover.
He’s already intimately familiar with the story of two star-crossed lovers. Jared was obsessed with it when he was in high school; he used to ironically call Jensen his Romeo because everyone was so against them being together. But Jared didn’t care, because he loved Jensen so much.
Jensen closes his eyes against the onslaught of emotion and when he opens them again, Jared has taken a seat at his desk. The book he’s holding is his own personal leather-bound copy of the story that Jensen has seen hundreds of times – the one that he’s read passages from just to watch Jared tremble with delight.
But now Jared is looking at the book forlornly, eyes dark and mouth pulled down at the corners. It hurts Jensen deeply to see him look so miserable in the face of something that he once loved so dearly, and he tries not to see any parallels to his own life.
“So, your first assignment,” Jared starts suddenly. He’s cleared the fog from his expression and is back to looking at the class. “I want you to write five-hundred words about what you already know about Romeo and Juliet.” There’s a chorus of groans around the room and Jared playfully tosses a dry-erase marker at a dark-haired boy in the front row. “Oh, boo-hoo, the mean old teacher is making us write a whole page about a classic, timeless piece of literature. The horror.”
A few students chuckle at him and Jensen quickly comes to understand that these kids adore Jared. It’s not hard to see. Jensen isn’t surprised – it’s not hard to like Jared. He has personal experience in getting caught under Jared’s spell.
“Seriously, you guys,” Jared tells them. “I’m not even asking you to start reading it yet. I just want to get an understanding of what you already know about the story – how you feel about the theme and the message, about love and if it’s worth dying for.”
Jared looks around the room and his eyes stop on Jensen and he rolls his lips into his mouth, staring for a long moment before pulling his gaze away.
“And if anyone is interested in taking part in my first, and hopefully last, directorial effort tryouts are going to be held in the theater after school on Thursday,” Jared informs them. “Come wow me with your talents.”
“You’re looking at your Juliet!” Katie cries out. Jared smiles affectionately, but it slips a little when he catches sight of Jensen behind her. He grins at Jared, warm and bright, but it seems to do more harm than good.
“As for the rest of today,” Jared tells them distractedly. “Have some free time. Start your homework, talk amongst yourselves. Consider it my gift to you on this fine Tuesday afternoon.”
The classroom immediately becomes filled with noise; people start turning their desks, talking and laughing. Out of the corner of his eye Jensen can sense Jake, Kyle, and Katie forming a little circle around him, but his eyes are still locked on Jared’s face. He looks almost inhumanly beautiful and Jensen’s heart starts racing, fresh teenage hormones hard at work. Jared catches him looking and pastes on a fake smile before turning away to immerse himself in whatever is on his computer.
“You’re lucky to have gotten into Mr. P’s class,” Jake says, and Jensen realizes that he’s talking to him. “He’s like, the best teacher.”
“And so goddamn gorgeous,” Katie says, and Jensen fights against the irrational urge to glare at her. “Mm, mm.”
“Too bad he’s been a bit off lately,” Kyle says, and Jake and Katie nod sadly. Jensen sits forward at that, turns to face them and tries not to look too interested.
“What do you mean by off?” Jensen asks in what he hopes is a casual tone.
“I don’t know,” Katie answers wistfully. “Just like, about a month ago he was gone for a few days and he came back, like, different. He doesn’t seem to really get excited about things like he used to.”
“It’s like someone died,” Kyle adds, and Jake rolls his eyes. Jensen swallows hard. He and Jared broke up a month ago.
“No way, dude. He totally got dumped,” Jake says, and Jensen’s eyes snap over to him. “Like, he always used to say ‘we’. We did this and we did that. We love this book, we hated that movie. Stuff like that. Now he just says ‘I’ and mopes a lot. He totally got dumped.”
“Nuh-uh. No way,” Katie replies with a shake of her head. “No one’s dumping Mr. Padalecki. I mean, come on. He’s smart, funny, and like, the nicest guy ever. Not to mention that he looks like that. Anyone that would let him go would have to be the biggest idiot on the planet.”
Jensen’s eyes widen and then he chuckles nervously, gaze drifting past Jared as a heavy weight drops to the pit of his stomach.
Class ends with Jensen accomplishing little more than listening to his new friends babble on about school gossip and surreptitiously glancing at Jared out of the corner of his eye, only to continuously catch Jared doing the same.
When the bell rings Jared barely says a goodbye to his students before fleeing the classroom, and as everyone shares baffled glances with each other Jensen knows that it’s his fault. He looks down at his scratched up desk with his brows furrowed and it takes Jake saying his fake name three times before he finally looks up.
“Hey man. We’re going to get some food,” Jake tells him. “Wanna come with?”
“Uh, thanks, but no,” Jensen replies. “It’s been sort of a long day, you know? I just kind of want to go home and take it all in. Can I get a rain check?”
“Sure thing,” Jake says amiably, and he and Kyle get up to leave the room. Jensen follows Katie out the door and she turns around to give him a hug and a peck on the cheek. It startles Jensen and he looks at her warily.
“Welcome to John Adams High,” she says cheerily, and pats his shoulder once before turning to catch up with Jake and Kyle. Jensen lets out a harsh sigh and starts the arduous task of maneuvering his way through the crowded school.
He feels mentally exhausted by the time he finally stumbles back into Misha’s apartment. His best friend is lounging on the sofa in a pair of blue flannel pajama bottoms and a black v-neck tee shirt and Jensen tosses his backpack onto the ground as he leans heavily against the door.
“Hey there, Jump Street,” Misha greets him. “How’d your first day go?”
“It was great,” Jensen says flatly. “Everybody loved me and tryouts for the play are the day after tomorrow.”
“Then why do you look like someone just punted your puppy off a bridge?”
“My last class – it’s, well. Jared is my teacher,” Jensen tells him, unable to keep his voice from shaking. Misha lets out a soft sigh and sits up, patting the spot next to him.
“I know. He already called to grill me all about your doppelganger, wondering why I didn’t warn him,” Misha says, and Jensen feels a stab of guilt for making Misha lie to Jared. “I came up with a fascinating back story. Remind me to tell you all about it sometime.”
“Will do.” Jensen sits down and rests his elbows on his knees, staring at the television without having any idea what’s playing. “He’s a good teacher.”
“And?” Misha asks gently. Jensen looks over at him, at his sympathetic expression, and isn’t even all that surprised when he lets out a hitched little breath.
“And… I miss him,” Jensen confesses. Misha nods like he was waiting for it and puts a hand on his shoulder. Jensen’s heart feels heavy and his stomach turns. He thinks about Jared, about his smile and his laugh, and leans back against the sofa.
And then, for the first time since Jared told him that it was over, a tear slips out of Jensen’s eye to roll down his flushed, youthful cheek.
“I miss him.”