There you go, flashing fever from your eyes
The truth – the real truth, so help him God – was that Jensen Ackles despised Jared Padalecki.
He detested him.
He loathed him.
He hated him.
And it had begun years before Supernatural even hit the air. Sure, they had never actually met, but Jensen had known of Padalecki before they had even attended that initial casting meeting prior to filming the pilot. Yeah, he knew plenty about Padalecki and he had yet to like any of it.
It all started when the idiot had beaten him out for the role of Dean Forester in Gilmore Girls. But then, Jensen had landed Dark Angel (which was easily way cooler), so it didn’t bother him.
Then there was the fact that the young punk had gotten into the business by winning a fucking contest, while Jensen had worked his ass off and paid his dues on goddamn daytime television. It annoyed him no end that Padalecki got called – no audition required – for a couple of roles that Jensen had actively coveted, only the moron went and turned them down. And one of those roles had been in a film that had gone on to win an award at Sundance. Obviously, Padalecki was a fool who didn’t know a good thing when it fell into his lap, because did the casting directors call Jensen after that? Of course not, because it was Padafuckface or someone who looked just like him. Read: giant goofball. Which Jensen was most assuredly not. Well, the giant part anyway; sometimes he could be a bit of a goofball. But only with his family and closest friends. Otherwise, he had standards for how he behaved in public and he stuck by them rigidly.
Still, that initial animosity was nothing compared to the rage elicited when Padalecki and his drunk-ass sidekick – that cretin Chad Michael Murray – had tag-teamed and hit on his baby sister at some random WB party that Jensen had taken her to as her sixteenth birthday present. Dumb and Dumber had played her and left her heartbroken, in tears, and steadfastly refusing to tell Jensen all the details so he wouldn’t go ape-shit on their asses. So both those fuckwits walked around with invisible targets on their backs and they were really, really lucky never to have crossed paths with Jensen since then.
Admittedly though, most of his hostility had somehow focused itself on Jared Padalecki. The guy just rubbed him the wrong way. So yeah, Jensen had been having a bit of a blood feud with him for the past five years. So what if it was one-sided and the overgrown imbecile was completely oblivious to it, just like he was completely oblivious to Jensen’s existence? It worked for Jensen. Some might find it hard to revile someone who didn’t even know who you were, but Jensen managed, and he had steadfastly nurtured his hale and hearty enmity towards all things Jared-Padalecki-related in those five years.
So, when he found out from his agent that the producers of Supernatural – one of whom was Kim Manners, Crown Prince of The X-Files if Chris Carter was King – liked Jared Padalecki for the role of Sam Winchester, when Jensen had been asked to read for the self-same part, Jensen’s hallmark reserve was damn near breaking point. But then he was told that the producers liked him for the other lead role on Supernatural – Dean, the badass Winchester brother – so he was somewhat mollified, but not by much.
Then, the producers had gone and given Padalecki top billing – which, had it been anyone else, Jensen would not have minded because that’s not the type of person he was, and certainly not the type of actor he was – and suddenly, what had started out as an intense dislike of the man had morphed swiftly in to outright hatred.
He was still excited, though, because the more he read the script, and the more he talked to the show’s creator Eric Kripke, the more incredible Dean sounded. The character appealed to Jensen; he felt that he shared pieces of his personality with Dean, and that he understood Dean’s psyche on an intrinsic level because sometimes – come hell or high water or things-that-go-bump-in-the-night – family came first.
He just wished that the Network had picked someone other than Jared Padalecki to play his family.
But Jensen was nothing if not the consummate professional. He was an actor, and he was a lot better at the art form than most people gave him credit for. He also had a lot of patience. Not to mention a lifetime’s worth of experience keeping his every emotion tightly, strictly in check. He could do this. He could act civil towards Padalecki, do the initial reading and film the pilot as necessitated by the powers that be. Maybe then the producers would realize that Jared Padalecki was the wrong man for the job.
Miracles happened, right?
Meeting Jared Padalecki for the first time was another story. It was... infuriating, and that was putting it mildly.
Jensen smiled (curtly) and nodded (briefly) and kept his anger in check (valiantly). He endured (just barely) being hugged to within an inch of his life by the giant, overzealous dimwit. Seriously, Jensen had not expected to feel so absurdly petite, for fuck’s sake, next to his new co-star. He had no clue what the hell to do in response to that unexpected warm welcome, that blazing ten-thousand-watt smile and Christ, the flash of those ridiculous dimples. Neither was he used to feeling so uncertain and insecure around another man. He was a fucking alpha male – no ifs, ands or buts about it – he just strutted his stuff in a much more dignified manner than most. And, as far as he was concerned, Jared Padalecki could kiss his ass if he had a problem with it.
A small part of him though, almost hoped the network would axe the show before the pilot ever aired, and he could return to his life pre-Padalecki.
Because there was something about Jared Padalecki that made big, strong, always-in-control Jensen Ackles want to run for the hills... and not just Beverly Hills, somewhere farther. Like hills on another continent. Like maybe the Himalayas, because those might just be big enough to hide him. There was something about Jared Padalecki that made his breath catch in his chest, his palms sweaty and his throat dry and for the life of him, Jensen couldn’t figure it the fuck out. He could feel it though, right there seeping into and settling under his skin, that sense... a sense of foreboding... of impending doom.
The feeling solidified like a rock in his belly when he was notified that the show was not only picked up by the Network but production had been moved from LA to Vancouver, because yes, Jensen was that blessed. So he did the only thing he could do to keep this job – he sheathed his sharp tongue and carefully reinforced the invisible walls of his legendary reserve; he may have had to set aside his weapon of choice, but he certainly wasn’t going into battle without any armor.
As it stood, the score remained: Universe: 1,873; Jensen Ackles: 9.
It took exactly seven weeks for him to snap.
“What the fuck, bitch?” Jensen gritted out, his teeth clenched so tightly shut that his jaw ached. And seeing as how they stood in the food tent, Jensen would kind of need to unclamp his jaw soon in order to eat. “Don’t you have any concept of personal space?” He leveled a fiery glare at his lanky co-star that would have incinerated a lesser man.
Padalecki, for goddamn once, did not look amused.
“Christ, what is your problem?” He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “We have to work together practically 24/7 for the next eight months – hopefully longer if we get renewed. Do you have to be such a goddamn jerk all the time? It’s not gonna kill you if you’re a little friendlier, okay? Because what we’ve had going on since this whole thing started? So not fun, man.”
“First, this isn’t about having fun. This is work. And second, I have friends. I don’t need any more,” Jensen countered gruffly, trying to keep a rein on his temper.
“Harsh, dude. What the hell crawled up your ass and died?” Padalecki bristled like he had a right to. Jensen’s hands fisted of their own accord and he stuffed them into Dean’s jacket.
“Look, Padalecki,” he snapped. “When we’re here, we’re here to work. All right? I don’t want to hang out with you. I don’t want to have lunch with you. I don’t want to shoot the shit with you. I just want to come here, be the best fucking Dean Winchester I can be, and then go the hell home. We...” he gestured angrily between the two of them, “we don’t need to bond.”
“Why are you so hostile? I don’t get it! Jesus, what the hell have I ever done to you?” Padalecki barked, outrage flashing in his eyes. “You’re acting like I fucked your girl while hitting on your sister!”
Jensen punched him. In the face. Very, very hard.
Padalecki fell like a pile of bricks, blood streaming from his nose.
There were gasps of shock from the few others in the tent, but Jensen ignored them as he absently examined his reddened knuckles and waited for the inevitable retaliation. Padalecki – no matter his many, many faults (and yes, Jensen had been categorically noting them all) – was a fellow Texan. Retaliation sure was a-comin’. He arched an enquiring eyebrow at the man sprawled on the ground in front of him, wordlessly urging him to get up so Jensen could kick his ass.
The idiot rose to the challenge. Jensen smirked and easily dodged the massive fist flying towards his face. Jar-head shot him a dirty look, and seeing as how Jensen so obviously meant business, changed his stance and they squared off in the middle of the food tent as if it was a boxing ring. Twice, Jensen avoided heated jabs in his direction. He bobbed and weaved, both men circling each other, and the smirk on his face grew steadily in direct correlation to the frustration on the younger man’s face.
Then Padalecki’s fist clipped Jensen on the shoulder. It hurt, but he shrugged it off and hunkered down, tired of playing. Less than ten seconds later, his co-star was once more sprawled on the ground, this time having had the wind knocked out of him with a well-placed left hook to the ribs and right jab to the abdomen followed by Jensen kicking his feet out from under him. Padalecki landed heavily on all fours.
Jensen grinned nastily down at him and then gracefully leapt up and over the taller man’s body as he tried to lunge for Jensen’s legs, looking to take him down.
Jensen’s booted foot set down a satisfying kick at Padalecki’s back – sending him face first into the floor – while he landed deftly on his feet, his eyes never once leaving his enemy.
Seriously, child’s play.
“Gentlemen, what seems to be the problem?” The voice was eerily calm and controlled and yet livid.
Well, hell. Kim Manners, Jensen realized with a grimace. Still keeping Padalecki in his sight, Jensen saw that Manners was flanked by Eric Kripke and Bob Singer.
Terrific. Figures he would pick this day to kick the shit out of his co-star.
Oh well, all good things must come to an end, right? In his mind, his sister’s honor was totally worth it.
“Yeah, Padalecki’s my problem.” His co-star sputtered at that. The sneer on Jensen’s face grew malicious as he stared the other man down. “So, you guys can keep him. I quit,” he informed them almost off-handedly. Just then Padalecki, who had angrily gotten to his feet, looked at him in shock, jaw falling stupidly open. “I’ll have my lawyer contact you to sort through the legalities. It was awesome while it lasted. Thanks for the ride,” he said to his producers. Sure, this may be the end of his career as he knew it but at that second, he couldn’t bring himself to give a flying fuck.
He didn’t spare a glance for his ex-co-star, but he did get the last word in: “And fuck you very much, Padalecki. Let’s never meet again, ‘kay?”
He strode to his trailer feeling strangely liberated, his score against the Universe going into double digits for the first time in twenty-seven years.
“What do you mean, the contract is locked tight?” Jensen growled at Matt Hayden, his lawyer and friend. Well, as friendly as someone could be with those of the legal persuasion. His agent, Diana Lassiter, sighed and slouched further down the couch in Matt’s cramped office.
“There’s no way out, Jensen,” Matt stated, sounding really pissed off that the network’s legal team was slowly getting the better of him. “If you pull out of this contract, they’ll sue. You’ll be screwed financially.”
“Define ‘screwed’. And leave out the legalese.”
“You won’t be out on the streets, but it will be bad. Really, really bad. You have an excellent rep in the business and Diana and I were discussing this: we can spin it so it comes out that you were provoked by Padalecki. Only problem is, he’s got a good rep too – as in stellar. Even if we bring in a fancy PR team, it’ll be a hard spin. If we can’t do it, Jensen, maybe you can get over what this will do to your career eventually, but you won’t be able to get through that time in any manner that couldn’t be described as destitute.”
“Great,” Jensen muttered under his breath, thinking how this would take him back to the ranks of starving actor. He could practically feel the Universe flipping him the bird as his score dipped down to single digits again.
“You can always take Kripke up on his offer, Jensen,” Diana piped up. “They’ll welcome you back with open arms. You are Dean Winchester in their eyes – it’s the only thing in your favor right now. All you have to do is apologize to Padalecki, and agree to the new provisos in the contract.”
“So, I get to pick between that fucker and financial ruin. Awesome.”
Matt and Diana exchanged a look. Jensen closed his eyes and rubbed at his throbbing temples. Mackenzie was headed to medical school in the fall and he had promised to fund all of it. And he and his brother Josh had just bought an oceanfront holiday home in Mexico for the family to share, starting with the celebration of their parents’ anniversary in the summer. He knew he had only one option here, but it was a bitter pill.
“Call their lawyers.”
“I already did,” Matt informed him. “And Diana’s booked our tickets back to Vancouver. We leave later tonight.” Matt visibly cringed at Jensen’s hard look. “Think positive, Ackles. Maybe the network will pull the plug on the show and the contract will be nullified in a few months.”
“Can’t believe we’re actually hoping the show won’t get picked up for a second season. Jeez, that is so fucked,” Diana smothered her face in her hands. “Can I just ask you one little favor, Jensen? Could you maybe keep the testosterone in check this time around? I honestly have no idea what got into you! You’re really lucky Padalecki didn’t press charges.”
“Speaking of which, you want to maybe clue us in as to why you beat his ass? You?”
Jensen looked at the other occupants of the room with cool indifference.
“Chalk it down to character bleed and leave it at that,” he snarled, rising to his feet, his entire body tense. “Now, if you’ll both excuse me, it appears I have a freakin’ flight to catch.”
Jensen sat immobile and silent, resentment pulsing through his body as he listened to the lawyers hash out the new provisos to his contract. Diana kept touching his arm at intervals, as if instinctively knowing when to hold him back, wordlessly reminding him of the big picture.
He was flanked by Diana and Matt at the boardroom table. Sitting across from them, were the lawyers and paralegal aides from the network and three executives in charge of some shit. Jensen vaguely remembered them from the reading of the pilot, and debated between christening them the Three Stooges or Satan’s Minions, although he was leaning towards the latter. Actually, they looked like the three agents from The Matrix, right down to the matching black suits. He couldn’t even remember their names, and he really didn’t give a damn, so he dubbed them One, Two and Three in his head. Kripke and Manners were also present, but they had largely remained quiet, only occasionally darting worried glances in his direction.
He really owed them an apology for his stupidity. His abhorrence of Jared Padalecki, on the other hand, may have increased exponentially.
“Some of these stipulations are ridiculous!” Matt objected heatedly, and Jensen tuned back in to the conversation. Matt was not easily ruffled, so whatever had gotten his gander up must have been a real ball-buster.
“Like what?” Jensen asked, speaking for the first time since they began this charade.
Matt ignored him and directed his frustration at the opposing legal team. “You can’t force people on set to just get along! Both on and off-set! Come on! The WB is an established network! When have you ever had a conflict-free set?”
“Force?” Jensen prodded his lawyer.
“Essentially,” Matt turned to face him, “they want you to ‘play nice’ with Padalecki. Both on and off-set.” Jensen’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“Can they do that?”
“They want to! It’s one of the provisos in your revised contract.”
“No fu...,” Jensen reeled in his tongue and took a calming breath. “No way. I will respect it on-set but not otherwise.”
“When we say off-set, we mean at network or show-related events such as conventions and interviews, Mr. Ackles,” Minion Number Two informed him. “Your personal time and hiatus are your own of course.”
“Magnanimous of you,” Jensen muttered acerbically.
“You understand that we cannot have negative publicity over this. We believe in Eric’s vision. This show is going to be huge, we can feel it. We’re never wrong about these things,” Minion Number One, the Network spokesperson it seemed, told him. “If we can project the right image for Supernatural and its two stars, we can propel the show to ratings gold, and you and Mr. Padalecki will become household names. And that can only bode well for other aspects of your career.”
“Ratings gold? Household names? Are you delusional? We’re up against the ratings behemoth that is Grey’s Anatomy.”
“Grey’s Anatomy has viewers, Mr. Ackles. Supernatural will have fans. There’s a difference,” he specified shrewdly. “Fans translate into merchandising and conventions and eventually... syndication.” There was a sudden hush in the room when that word was reverently spoken. Jensen just barely refrained from rolling his eyes. “Supernatural will be the new X-Files. It’s inevitable.”
“You’re forgetting the little fact that X-Files had the incredible chemistry between its two leads to work with. Chemistry that grew into unresolved sexual tension and that classic ‘will-they, won’t-they’ yo-yoing between the battles with the monsters-and-aliens-of-the-week!”
“I agree, Mr. Ackles. You and Mr. Padalecki have that same incredible on-screen chemistry. It’s why you were the chosen ones. It’s tangible... all sparks and crackles.” Jensen gritted his teeth at that – because seriously, what the fuck? – and took a deep breath before pointing out the obvious.
“Yes, but while Mulder and Scully were unrelated, heterosexual, consenting, unrelated adults, Dean and Sam Winchester are brothers. Their chemistry has nowhere to go but fizzle and die.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” came the cryptic response. Jensen’s eyebrows jumped to his hairline in surprise, but Number One chose not to elaborate any further.
“Fine,” Jensen rubbed a hand over his tired face. “You want me to play nice with Padalecki on-set and when we’re in public. Done. What else?”
“We will remove the other two provisos that you and your lawyer have an issue with if you agree that the Network has final say in what constitutes playing nice.” The evil bastard smirked at him, and Matt huffed. Jensen silenced him with a look.
“Agreed,” Jensen assented, quite sure that he would live to regret his quick acquiescence, beginning of course with his unavoidable apology to Padalecki. But he had a feeling this was one of those ‘fucked if you do and fucked if you don’t’ kind of situations, and the fight just went right out of him; he wanted out of this boardroom in a hurry. “What about my proviso?”
“The abode in Vancouver?” Number Two addressed him this time. Jensen’s eyes flicked over to Minion Number Three, a little startled to find the man watching him with a calculating, almost sinister, expression. Jensen blinked and quickly turned back to Two.
“Yeah. I don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a place to live right now. Especially since no one can really say whether we’ll be picked up for a second season or not. It’s bad enough that production was moved to Canada. I don’t want to have to sell my home here in LA just to find out we’ve been cancelled. So far, I’ve been living with a friend but he’s moving back to the States.”
“Mr. Hayden gave us advance notice of your concerns. It’s already taken care of. In fact, the Network has very generously agreed to fund your residence.”
“We will also provide your transport to and from the set, as well as full-time security detail as the situation warrants,” Two elaborated. “Only the best for our two brightest stars.”
Jensen, rendered temporarily speechless, shared a perplexed look with Matt and Diana.
Oh yeah, something somewhere in that damn contract of his was gonna come up and bite him in the ass in the near future. And he would only have himself to blame.
The Apology – yes, capitals – quite obviously, did not go well.
“Well, well. Look who’s back with his tail between his legs.”
“Wow. Your humble sincerity quite unmans me.”
“What the hell do you want, Padalecki? A pound of flesh?”
“I’ll settle for a punch to that smug face of yours.”
“Done. It’s the only way you’ll ever land a punch anyway. You know, unless it was scripted that Sam punch Dean. Knock yourself out. Or knock me out. Whatever.”
“And they say I talk too much.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to shut up once in a while. And even if it did – no big loss there.”
“You’re a jackass, you know that?”
“Are you gonna hit me or what?”
“Aww, baby, don’t take all the fun out of it.”
“Jesus, Padalecki, grow a set. I’m not even a moving target here.”
“What are we? In high school now? Sammy?”
“If we were, you’d be the prettiest girl there, Jennybean.”
“Do you have a death wish or something?”
“Did you just growl at me? How very Dean of you, Ackles.”
“Don’t play with me, son. You call me that again and I will knock your teeth right out of your skull.”
“I don’t think the Network would consider that ‘playing nice’, Smeckles.”
“So you heard about that, did you?”
“Dude, everyone on set heard about that! This is going to be so much fun.”
“Whatever. I thought I would enjoy making you grovel. But I think I’ve just found a better way to pay you back for that shit you pulled.”
“Bring it. Name the time and place off-set. I’ll be there. And all my punches will be carefully directed to places the camera can’t see.”
“Ooh, kinky. Tempting as that sounds, I’m a lover, not a fighter. Payback’s gonna be a real bitch in sheep’s clothing.”
“What the hell does that even mean? Fuck it. There is nothing you can do to me that I cannot counter right back at you only ten times worse.”
“A challenge? Well, hell – way to up the stakes, baby! Now you’ve got me all excited and shit. When’s our next public appearance again? Well?”
“The Critic’s Choice Awards. Next month.”
“Oh. Right. Huh. An Awards show, no less. We’ll have to be especially good boys. You’ll have to be extra nice to me. Hot damn, I can’t wait.”
“I’m an actor, douchebag. And a way better one than you could ever hope to be. I got this, son.”
“While that may be true, son, nice comes naturally to me. I’m gonna own you on that red carpet, dude. Like you said, I have no concept of personal space.”
“I hate you.”
“Aww, shoot, don’t be like that, sugar. You’ll see. We’re so gonna be BFFs in public. It’ll be our own little love fest and no one will be the wiser.”
“Two can play at this game, Padalecki.”
“I’m counting on it, Ackles. Oh, almost forgot. Here’s a little something to tide you over until then.”