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ratherastory ([personal profile] ratherastory) wrote2012-11-27 09:30 pm

Find Your Light 1/2

Title: Find Your Light
Summary: Written for the [livejournal.com profile] spn_reversebang. Jared is the long-suffering but well-loved stage manager of the Wilmington Shakespeare festival. He's in charge of running everything behind the scenes for this year's flagship production of Macbeth, his job made only harder by the anxiety-ridden director and the eccentric cast, including theatre superstar Jeffrey Dean Morgan and newly arrived action movie sensation, Jensen Ackles, who is proving to be much more difficult to work with than anyone expected. Jared manages to juggle his responsibilities well enough… right up until the infamous curse of "The Scottish Play" takes effect, and then it's down to him and Jensen to ensure that the play must go on.
Artist: [livejournal.com profile] cybel
Characters: Jared/Jensen, and a motley crew of CW cast and OCs, because I couldn't decide on one or the other.
Rating: NC-17
Wordcount: 12,000
Warnings: Off-screen secondary character death.
Neurotic Author's Note #1: I would like to thank the Academy… no, wait. ;) Okay, seriously, a big thank you to [livejournal.com profile] cybel, whose beautiful artwork leaped off the page at me right away and had me absolutely scrambling to make sure I got it. I only hope I have done it justice in the slightest. Also to my rockstar beta [livejournal.com profile] rainylemons, who agreed to beta this on a DIME, I am not even kidding you. All remaining mistakes, naturally, are mine.
Neurotic Author's Note #2: A big thank you also to the Reverse Big Bang Mods. It takes a truly heroic kind of insanity to run a project as big as this one, to herd all the cats and hope they end up in the right place.
Neurotic Author's Note #3: This kept trying to become a Slings & Arrows AU, and although I battled the impulse heroically, I'm not sure I succeeded entirely. I have next to no knowledge of the theatre world, so if any of this stuff seems like it's entirely made up, that's because it is. Also, Jared and Jensen stubbornly refused to have sex at all for the longest time. I had to bribe them with Shakespeare. IDEK. So, yeah, this is basically the floofiest thing ever, and I hope you can forgive me and just try to enjoy the fluff for what it is. :)
Neurotic Author's Note #4: All the quotes in the text are from Shakespeare's Macbeth, for the record.





Act I, scene 1

"You know, for a publicity stunt, our Banquo's actually not bad," Jenny Wong commented from where she was leaning over Jared's shoulder, reading the notes he was scribbling in the margins of his script. "Your handwriting is terrible, Padalecki. You should be ashamed."

Jared shrugged, unconcerned. "No one has to read my notes except me. You're just being nosy. And I think Jensen's more than not bad. He's doing a good job, considering he's got almost no theatre background to speak of."

Jenny leaned further over his shoulder, which was quite the feat for a woman who stood just shy of five foot one, especially given how tall Jared himself was. Standing up she barely reached his sternum, a fact which never failed to annoy her when he pointed it out. Granted, he generally made a point of resting his elbow on top of her head, which probably had a lot to do with why it annoyed her, but he reasoned it was all in good fun. She had yet to kick him in the nuts, so he was calling it a win.

"You noted the blocking wrong," she tapped his script with the tip of her pen. "It's stage left, not right. You're the worst stage manager ever and they should fire you. And admit it, your opinion has nothing to do with whether or not Banquo can act, you just think the guy's hot. Though I will agree that he fills out that pair of tights beautifully. I bet you could bounce a nickel off that ass. I bet you double that you've got a great mental image of bouncing a nickel off his ass now. Go on, tell me I'm wrong, I dare you," she leered.

Jared snorted, letting her know exactly what he thought of her lecherous speculations, but his gaze had already wandered from his script to the aforementioned Banquo—sorry, Jensen Ackles, famous movie star—who was in the midst of working out the blocking of the banquet scene. Phil Sgriccia, the director, was pulling an elaborate now-you-see-him-now-you-don't trick with Banquo's ghost, which meant that Jensen had to duck into a specially designed trap door set up under the banquet table, and the pull himself back up again without the audience being any the wiser. It was a brilliant idea, even Jared had to concede it—and he'd put up with any number of wacky directors over the years—provided they could pull it off. It was a task that was physically demanding just by itself, let alone having to do it without showing the audience your hand and having to do it while wearing a costume with a big, flowing cape.

Luckily for Phil, while Jensen might not have a theatre background, he definitely had the training for this kind of thing. Jared would never be able to live it down if word got out about just how big a fan he was of all of Jensen's movies, but he knew for a fact that Jensen had always insisted on doing as many of his own stunts as possible, except for when the scene was so complex or difficult that it really did take a professional stunt double to do it for him. It was one of the many things Jared admired about him. Say what you like about him, the man took his work seriously, and appeared to enjoy it a lot, too. It was too bad he was kind of a fussy prima donna about everything else, because Jared had been secretly looking forward to working with him when he'd first found out who the company had lined up for Banquo. Unfortunately, Jensen all but ignored everyone except for Phil and the other actors, showed the most blatant disregard for all the union rules, and generally seemed to enjoy making life difficult for the tech crews when they were trying to work, getting in their way and making ridiculous requests. Jared tried to be philosophical about it: no one was perfect, and he'd worked with worse in the past.

Still, it didn't hurt that Jenny was absolutely right when it came to Jensen's appearance. The words 'greek god' sprang to mind when describing his physique: he was well-built and almost as tall as Jared, well over six feet anyway, with sandy brown hair and beautiful blue-green eyes framed with dark lashes that had given him an almost feminine air when he was younger, together with a smattering of freckles over pale skin. It was sinful, really, how good-looking he was, Jared thought with a sigh.

Jenny nudged him in the ribs. "Earth to Jared, you're supposed to be taking notes, not ogling the talent. Besides, you don't want to tangle with movie stars trying to add street cred to their resumes by coming and consorting the hoi polloi."

He managed to tear his eyes away from where Jensen was crouched down on the stage by the trap door, even though he was wearing a pair of faded, ripped jeans that did only good things for the ass Jenny had been admiring only a moment before, and glanced over to where Phil looked like he was seconds away from having a stroke.

"Please try not to jostle the chairs, Jensen! Remember, you're a ghost, you're supposed to be appearing and disappearing without so much as a whisper! Ghostly, is what we're aiming for, ghostly!"

"Ghostly. Right. Got it," Jensen pulled himself back up onto the stage, and Jared didn't bother pretending he wasn't staring as the muscles in his arms and back flexed with the movement.

"What's his problem, anyway?" Jenny muttered, and Jared shrugged.

There was always something with actors, in his experience. Petty jealousies, or they didn't have the proper number of lemon slices in their tea, or the temperature outside was off by more than two degrees from the forecast. The whole profession was filled with sensitive snowflakes whose sensibilities were more delicate than crystal. He opened his mouth to answer, but before he'd even started to form the words there was a resounding crash from the stage, accompanied by a few startled shrieks from the wings—probably Penny and Lulu, the girls from wardrobe, who were constantly hanging around even when they weren't meant to be near the stage. Jared looked up, startled, in time to see Jensen picking himself up from amidst a pile of chairs, looking a little sheepish.

"Sorry, sorry, my bad. Uh, can we try that again?"

Jared saw Phil—never a patient man at the best of times—deliberately shove his hands into his jeans pockets. "No, no, it's fine, it's fine. I think we can move on from the blocking, yes? You got the idea, you can practice it another time. Is Bella here? I think we need to work on the sleepwalking scene a bit more, yes? Bella?" he glanced around, as though Lady Macbeth herself might spontaneously materialize on the stage.

Jared cleared his throat pointedly. "Phil, it's five o'clock. If you have blocking notes, we can go over them, but I really don't want to have to remind you about union rules…"

Phil's hands came out of his pockets and flew up to his head to tear distractedly at his hair. "Oh, fine! Doesn't matter that we're only a week away from previews, so long as everyone gets to go home on time!" he exclaimed, flinging one hand out to the side while the other kept pulling at his hair. If there was any justice in the world, Jared thought, he'd be bald by the end of the season.

"I don't make the rules, you know that," he said mildly. "Besides, you look like you could use a drink by now. Uh, Jen—Mr. Ackles, you can leave those," he added, waving at Jensen, who was trying to straighten all the chairs he'd knocked over in his latest attempt to pull himself out through the trap door, and failing a little miserably. For a guy who was coordinated enough to do his own stunts, he was surprisingly bad at trying to put a couple of chairs upright, kept knocking them into each other and letting them fall back to the stage again.

Jensen immediately stopped what he was doing and rubbed the back of his neck, cheeks flushing with embarrassment. "Oh, uh, okay. I just—I figured if I knocked them over…"

Jared wasn't given the opportunity to answer before none other than Bella Beauregard swept onstage. How she managed to sweep while wearing a black power suit over a powder blue blouse was beyond Jared, but then again he wasn't an actor, just a stage manager. Bella was teetering on the verge of being too old to be cast in any of the ingénue parts anymore, though she went to great lengths to keep herself looking as young as possible. Jared was pretty sure that if she could afford to have work done on her salary, she would, but instead she seemed to spend the equivalent of the gross national product a some small countries on cosmetics, wrinkle creams and red hair dye, not to mention all the hairspray she must go through to keep her hair looking quite that poofy. Even pushing forty, though, she was an attractive woman, and years of playing powerful queens on the stage had taken their toll. Sometimes Jared wondered if she wasn't secretly convinced that she was, in fact, a queen, and no one else had realized it yet. Now she struck a coquettish pose in front of Jensen, head tilted to one side, one bright red curl trailing artistically down the side of her face.

"Oh, Jensen, darling, no! Don't mess about with the props, that's why we have an entire props department. Well, we have Jasmine and Pete, anyway, and that's as good as an entire props department. You don't want to rob them of their livelihood, do you?" she turned, gesturing elegantly with one perfectly manicured hand, and made eye contact with Jenny, who had been trying to hide behind Jared's shoulders. "Jenny, my sweet, I'm going to need a green tea, please. No sugar, and make sure the water is scalding but not boiling before they pour it into the cup."

"A tea?" Jenny sputtered from just behind him, and Jared smothered the grin that was threatening to spread over his face.

"A large tea," Bella clarified. "Scalding, not boiling. And do hurry up, my sweet, or we'll be done before you get back!"

"God, I hate her so much," Jenny muttered, pulling a dollar out of her pocket. "If she dies, you'll know I laced her damned tea with cyanide," she added, and stomped off up the center aisle and out through the main doors toward the lobby.

Jared chuckled quietly, then immediately stopped when he caught sight of Jensen staring at him, expression shuttered. Great. He sighed inwardly, and made a show of jotting down more notes. Just what he needed, another reason for Jensen to dislike him. Actors were all too quick to jump to conclusions, they'd gotten off to a rocky start on the very first day, when they were just doing a cold read of the play. Jensen seemed to have a chip on his shoulder the size of a small tropical island, probably due to the fact that he had no theatre background to speak of and felt threatened by every other person on the set, technical personnel included. It was exhausting, to be honest.

Jared was accustomed to being universally liked. In fact, he relied on his reputation as an affable, easygoing guy in order to keep all of the productions he worked on running as smoothly as possible. He'd worked in the industry, and at the Wilmington festival in particular, long enough that he knew most of the regular players, and knew how to handle all the various prickly personalities that his job threw at him. He'd seen actors and directors come and go over the years, as well as managers and designers and technical crew, and even though he wasn't exactly old—not at just shy of thirty—he'd been here longer than a lot of these people. Bella was one of the few who'd been around for longer than him, and while Phil was appointed creative director of the whole festival four years ago he'd also been around forever. Apart from them, though, Jared was the guy everybody knew would be there year in and year out, the go-to guy if you needed a problem fixed. So it was more than a little bruising to the ego to be treated as if he was somehow public enemy number one.

Jenny came back, balancing a tray with three steaming cardboard Tim Horton's cups in one hand and a paper bag in the other. She dropped the bag in Jared's lap, handed him the tray and plucked out one of the cups, which she then proceeded to hand to Bella with an ironic flourish.

"There's no need for sarcasm, sweetie, I don't think a cup of tea was an unreasonable request," Bella accepted the cup nonetheless, ripped off the tab on the lid and sipped at it gingerly. "They never scald the water properly," she grimaced. "Not your fault, sweetie, no one in this country knows how to make a proper cup of tea."

Jenny managed to wait until she had her back turned to Bella before rolling her eyes. She dropped into the seat next to Jared's and took one of the two remaining cups. "Got you a hot chocolate and a Boston creme doughnut. You can thank me by taking me out for a real drink as soon as they all realize you called it about twenty minutes ago."

"You got it. Beer, or something harder?"

"Definitely something harder."

Act I, scene 2

O'Halloran's had been the place to go for years if you were involved with the Wilmington Shakespeare Festival. It had belonged to the same family for three generations, and there were years of theatre history that had been hung on its walls, spilled on its tables and scuffed into its floors. What Jared particularly appreciated, though, was that unlike other places he'd heard about, here there was no distinction drawn between actors and crew—everybody knew everybody, and no one was excluded.

Jenny was slumped against him, well into her third boilermaker. Jared wondered if Bella hadn't been driving her crazier than usual today without his noticing. He'd have to pay more attention tomorrow, just to make sure Jenny didn't end up having a nervous breakdown or, worse, stab Bella through the eye with a pen. Across the room, hunched over a table as though he was trying to fuse with the wooden bench he was sitting on, Jensen was nursing what looked like a bottle of Molson Ex, and Jared couldn't help but lose a little bit of respect for him for that. If you were going to go to an Irish pub for drinks, you may as well cough up for the good stuff. He was deep in conversation with Penny, who was playing the first witch, and whatever she was telling him, he was doing a good job of pretending to find it fascinating.

"I wonder where Jeffrey is?" Jenny slurred, listing further against him. "Thought he'd be here by now."

Just then the front door swung open and what seemed like a hundred aspiring young actors flocked in, chattering excitedly and glancing eagerly over their shoulders. They were followed by the sound of a booming voice in mid-sentence.

"—and so then Sir Henry replied, 'Madam, if that had truly been the case, I would have pushed you myself!'"

There was a burst of laughter and scattered applause, and Jared grinned and rolled his eyes. "I guess that answers your question," he said to Jenny, as none other than Jeffrey Dean Morgan swept into the bar, surrounded by his usual retinue of true admirers, starving actors and sycophants.

For all that Banquo was being played by a bona fide movie star, it was Jeffrey who was headlining the show. Jared hadn't had the opportunity to work with him in years, certainly not since he'd become famous, but the man was a titan in the Shakespearian world, even though he was still relatively young. He’d earned critical acclaim for his Henry V and his Caesar, but it had been his three spectacular runs as Macbeth that had truly made him a household name. Of course, that didn't prevent him from being a bombastic pain in Jared's ass, but there was no denying the man's talent and sheer charisma.

There wasn't much room to speak, let alone think after that. Jeffrey seemed to exist in a state of perpetual performance, and his entourage was only too happy to follow his example, taking up as much space and making as much noise as possible.

"Jensen!" Jeffrey boomed all of a sudden, so close to Jared's ear that Jared flinched away from the unexpected noise. "What are you doing, hiding by yourself in that corner! Come over here, you bastard, I won't tolerate false humility in my bar!"

Jensen's cheeks heated up visibly, but he shot Penny an apologetic and slightly sheepish look before grabbing his beer bottle and shuffling over to where Jeffrey was holding court at the head of the biggest table in the pub, which had mysteriously cleared itself for him. Jared would give a lot to know how he managed that neat little trick. It would be nice to always have an available seat at the pub whenever he walked in. Jensen obediently pulled up a chair when Jeffrey gestured him closer, and Jared was pretty sure not many people noticed when he flinched slightly as Jeffrey slung an arm around his shoulders.

"In case you've been living under a rock for the past five years, this is Jensen Ackles, action star extraordinaire!" Jeffrey declared, waving expansively with his free arm. "Now, some of you might not know this, but Jensen and I started out in the film industry together, many years ago. I was looking for a change of scenery from the theatre—though time has, of course, since cured me of my folly," he paused for the obligatory burst of laughter from his audience, "and he was but a young pup, still wet behind the ears and hungry for glory. Isn't that right, Jensen?"

Jared didn't think it was possible for Jensen's face to get any redder, but somehow he did manage to blush harder. "Uh, right."

"I can't say I was too disappointed to come back to my first love. There's nothing like the immediacy of the theatre, the knowledge that every single performance has to be top notch," Jeffrey was warming to his subject, helped by a few generous swallows of alcohol. "Film was all very well and good, but there's something to be said for the immediacy of performing on stage, with your audience right there, expecting you to be at your best. There are no second takes in real life, so why should acting be any different? Isn't that right, Jensen?"

Jensen shrugged, but the look on his face was profoundly unhappy. "I suppose you'd know."

"Oh, come now, don't be like that!" Jeffrey clapped him on the shoulder. "We're all among friends, here. There’s nothing like the theatre to make everyone family. Come, have another drink! Not that terrible swill you've been drinking, either. You've been spending far too much time in the States, my boy!"

Jeffrey motioned imperiously toward the table, and somehow a pint materialized in front of Jensen, who stared at it as though it contained hemlock instead of Kielkenny. Still, Jared had to give him credit for how he swiftly took advantage of a moment in which Jeffrey's attention was elsewhere to creep away—taking his drink with him—in order to escape the limelight that always seemed to follow Jeffrey around. He ended up claiming one of the few remaining empty seats right by Jared, who decided now was as good a time as any to at least try to be friendly.

"He's something, isn't he?"

Jensen started as though Jared had just stabbed him in the kidney with a rusty knife rather than ask a simple question. "What? Oh, yeah."

So much for breaking the ice. "I didn't know you guys were friends from before. I mean, I knew you knew each other, but I didn't realize you knew him from his movie days."

"What few there were," Jensen said tersely.

Jared ignored the barb and took a sip of his beer. "Well, I for one am really glad he decided to stick with the theatre. I was lucky enough to see his Henry V a few years ago, and I can't imagine anyone else in the role now. He's brought a tremendous amount of talent and vision to the stage—revolutionized the way people see the characters, in some ways. As much as I like the movies, I can't help but think it would have been a loss to the theatre."

To his surprise, Jensen snorted quietly. "The theatre is pretty much the only place that would put up with him," he muttered into his beer.

It was impossible to tell if he'd intended for Jared to hear the remark or not, but it hardly seemed to matter. "Just what the hell is your problem?" he snapped. "You think maybe the theatre's beneath you, or something?"

Jensen's gaze slid to him, then away again. "I'm not discussing this with you. You're crew," he said, as though that explained everything, and maybe it did.

"Oh, I see," Jared rejoined, maybe a little more hotly than he intended. "It's not just the theatre, it's everyone involved. Don't like the theatre crew mingling with the more august company of actors? Tell me, did you learn to treat people you consider unimportant like shit after you got into the movie industry, or does that come to you naturally?"

"That's not what I said," Jensen protested, looking around a little anxiously. They had attracted the attention of more than a few people, Jenny included, and it was impossible to ignore the glares being directed at Jensen now. "I don't have to justify myself to you."

"No, you don't, but it would help if you were at least civil," Jared said. "Don't worry, though," he added with a sneer, "I won't trouble you any further by talking to you."

Jenny reached up to grab at his sleeve, but he waved her down. It was either leave now, or punch this guy in the face, and it wouldn't look good for the production if Banquo had a black eye.

Act II, scene 1

"Oh, this isn't awkward at all," Jenny commented the next day from where she was sitting behind Jared, taking notes in her ever-present notebook. "Is it me, or is everyone suddenly rooting for Macbeth to have Banquo killed?"

Jensen was on stage alongside Peter Flannigan, who was playing Fleance, holding aloft a prop torch, while the two unnamed murderers lurked behind imaginary scenery. "It will be rain tonight," he said, just as one of his would be assailants sprang to his feet.

"Let it come down," the murderer cried, and he and his partner both fell on Jensen with a great deal more gusto than even Jared would have thought possible.

Jensen fell back hard, landing on his elbow with a crack that made even Jared wince when he heard it, but he soldiered on gamely, letting the torch drop from his hand. "O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! Thou mayst revenge. O slave!"

The murderers conferred for a moment, then exited amidst applause from everyone present, while Jensen picked himself up and dusted himself off, flexing his elbow gingerly. His cheeks were flushed bright red, as though he knew full well that people weren't applauding his performance. Served him right, Jared thought acidly, and joined in with a few claps of his own before jotting down a few more notes on the lighting they'd need to make sure the murderers were properly cloaked in darkness.

"Jesus Christ," Phil sputtered, pulling at his hair. "You okay, Jensen?"

"Fine," Jensen was prodding gently at his elbow, though, looking pained.

"Go see if there's any ice left somewhere. I need you in shape for this! And next time, Bill, go easier than that! When I said 'make it good,' I didn't mean for you to actually murder him!"

"Yeah, that was kind of bloodthirsty," Jenny opined, and Jared couldn't help but agree with her.

"It would be just our luck if he actually got injured during his death scene," he muttered.

"Ooh," Jenny waggled the fingers of both hands in a gesture meant, Jared assumed, to indicate how 'woo-woo' she found his statement. "You're not referring to… the curse, are you?"

Jared snorted, just as Jensen turned on his heel and stalked offstage, presumably in search of ice. "Uh, no. There's no such thing."

"I wouldn't be too sure, dear boy," Jeffrey Dean Morgan strode onto the stage, Macbeth's cloak hanging regally from his soldiers. "This will be my fourth time performing The Scottish Play," he proclaimed, and Jared could hear him capitalizing all the words and italicizing them for effect as surely as if he was reading them on paper, "and it never failed that some form of tragedy plagued our run. In the first the director's wife fell gravely ill. The second time there was a terrible fire in one of the company's buildings, and the third time, well… Lady Macbeth and Banquo carried on a torrid love affair behind the scenes until the lady's jealous husband found out and attempted to murder poor Banquo prematurely, right at the beginning of the first act. Leapt onstage with a loaded forty-five, which was positively anachronistic in terms of the production. Almost ruined everything. I do believe he's been committed, now," he concluded thoughtfully.

Jared rolled his eyes. "I don't doubt that, but this is the theatre, Jeffrey. There's constantly drama happening everywhere—onstage as well as off," he added with a grin, and was rewarded with a guffaw from Jeffrey. "It's just coincidence that people then ascribe to the curse."

"Oh, I realize there may be a certain amount of post hoc ergo propter hoc," Jeffrey waved a hand dismissively, "but you can't deny the timing. So many more accidents and tragedies seem to befall our poor theatre companies whenever this play is being performed."

"You mean Macbeth?" Jared asked innocently, and watched as Jeffrey's expression turned suddenly thunderous.

"It might be a joke to you, Jared," he snapped, "but I will kindly thank you to respect the wishes of those who take the curse seriously."

It was pretty easy to figure out he'd overstepped his bounds. Actors were a finicky, highly-strung bunch, he reminded himself, and they were liable to work themselves into a frenzy over what he'd just said and end up causing another 'tragedy' to confirm that there really was a curse. He held up both hands in surrender.

"Okay, sorry. I promise I won't do it again."

"Can we please get back to business?" Phil yelled, though mercifully he refrained from yanking his hair out by the roots this time. "We can't do the banquet scene until Jensen's back, so… Jared? What've we got?"

Jared obediently flipped through his script. "You had some notes on the blocking for the fight with Macduff," he suggested, and Phil nodded, while Jeffrey beamed.

"Before my body I throw my warlike shield: lay on, Macduff; and damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'" he declaimed, and Jared barely refrained from rolling his eyes.

"Yeah, okay, great," Phil flapped a hand at him. "Now how about we actually wait for Macduff to get here and we go from a logical starting point?"

"Death waits for no man," Jeffrey said self-importantly, "but I am happy to do so."

"Spare me," Jenny muttered under her breath, and Jared couldn't help but agree.



Act II, scene 2

The week before previews was always a mad rush. Jared was used to going on about three or four hours of sleep a night, sometimes less. There were sets to finish up, the costuming department to shepherd, and the usual last-minute panic about lighting that was impossible to manage. As much as it was a pain in the ass, Jared always thrived on the craziness that came with solving all the problems that people came running to him with.

Still, that didn't mean that it wasn't a frustrating, maddening experience, too. Jenny was looking increasingly frazzled as time went by, muttering barely veiled death threats against Bella Beauregard under her breath as she scurried to and fro with cups of tea and endless bags of biscotti. Bella and Jeffrey were, as far as Jared could tell, having an unofficial contest to see who could chew up the most scenery between them, and right now they were neck and neck. The crew had a betting pool going for how long it would take one of them to try strangling the other on stage, and another betting pool on whether Jensen would have a nervous breakdown before or after previews, or whether he'd wait for opening night to melt down and thus ruin the whole production. It was a bit mean-spirited, and Jared had done his best to discourage it, but even he couldn't help but agree that the closer they got to actually having to be on stage, the more Jensen was screwing things up. He'd forget his lines, miss his cues, and his blocking was a disaster, to the point where Phil spent most of their time together yelling at him, which probably didn't help.

In light of that, it probably shouldn't have come as much of a surprise to Jared to find Jensen by himself on the stage long after everyone else had gone home, carefully setting up the table and chair for the banquet scene above the trap door on the stage. He paced around the table, lips moving as though he was reciting something under his breath, and Jared realized he must be rehearsing his lines, even if he didn't actually say anything in this scene. It was Banquo's last scene, though, and the most difficult one from a physical standpoint that Jensen would have to do. For a few minutes Jared just stood there, watching as Jensen went through the whole scene, clearly reciting the lines in his head in order to get his cues right.

He pulled himself up and out of the trapdoor, sliding into his chair at the table seemingly effortlessly, the muscles in his arms and back rippling under the white t-shirt he was wearing. He paused, eyes closed, then pushed off from the chair and slid back down, all but disappearing from view. When the tablecloth was actually on the table, he'd be completely invisible, Jared thought admiringly. So long as he didn't actually get tangled up in it the way he had before. Jensen went through the motions again, but this time his foot caught against the leg of one of the chairs, making it scrape against the floor.

"Shit!" Jensen dropped to the floor and let his head drop into his hands, elbows resting on his knees.

Stepping onto the stage behind him, Jared cleared his throat. "Everyone's been dismissed for the day, you know. You don't get extra credit for staying late."

Jensen started as though Jared had just jabbed him with a cattle prod. "Oh my God," he let out a nervous laugh, shoulders relaxing slightly. "I didn't think anyone was still here."

"Stage manager, here," Jared shrugged. "First on the field, last off. You should go home, get some sleep. You won't do anyone any good if you're exhausted."

Jensen snorted. "I won't do anyone any good if I can't get my scenes right," he said, and there was no mistaking the bitterness in his tone. "I know about the betting pool," he added, in a sudden burst of candour. "Everyone's just waiting for me to fail, and I'm beginning to think they're right."

Jared shrugged at that. There was no reason to deny it at this point. "I don't know what you want me to say."

"I don't want you to say anything!" Jensen snapped, scrambling to his feet. "I'm not some delicate wilting fucking flower, here. I know what I'm doing, even if none of you seem to think so."

Jared sighed, and looked longingly toward the door. There was no reason for him to stay here, beyond that it always seemed to fall to him to talk actors off of various ledges. He was glad he hadn't had to do it with Jeffrey or Bella, but he'd already had more than enough heart to hearts to last him a lifetime this season, and the idea of trying to hold the hand of someone who, as far as he could tell, despised everything about the theatre, was pretty far down on the list of things he'd rather be doing this evening.

"Look, if you don't want to fail, then don't. You know your lines, you know your blocking, and Phil's given you enough notes to fill your own encyclopedia."

"So what date are you down for?"

"Excuse me?"

"In the pool. What date are you down for? I'm curious if you think I'm going to lose my shit before or after performances start," Jensen said nastily, and Jared felt the last thread of his temper snap.

"Oh, fuck you," he snapped, deliberately stepping into Jensen's personal space and relishing the way Jensen instinctively took a step back. "Maybe if you didn't make it obvious that you think the theatre is beneath you, people wouldn't be rooting for you to fail!"

Jensen was staring at him open-mouthed. "Where the hell do you people get this stuff?" he threw up his hands in a gesture of incomprehension. "I've done nothing but work my ass off for this production, and all I get is grief. The way I see it, if you have an inferiority complex about the movies, it shouldn't be my problem."

"Not your—look," Jared floundered for a moment, because this wasn't the way he'd envisioned this conversation going, "you can't expect anyone in this company to put up with your comments about the theatre being a refuge for failed actors, or with the way you treat the crew like they're second-class citizens. Maybe that's how it works in the movies, but around here the crew are part of the family. You can't shit on us and then expect everyone to fall all over themselves for you just because you make more money in one year than the rest of us put together!"

To his surprise, Jensen visibly deflated at that. "Is that what you all really think?" he asked. He looked hurt, of all unlikely things, and damned if it didn't make Jared spontaneously want to drop everything and maybe give him a hug, in spite of everything he'd said. "Because it's not true."

"If you don't think the theatre is second-rate, you're doing a shitty job of showing it," Jared managed, with an effort, to make his tone gentler. "First off, maybe you should try avoiding statements about how the theatre is the only place that will 'put up' with certain kinds of actors. Or telling people you won't talk to them because they're just crew. People are liable to take it the wrong way. You follow me?"

Jensen scrubbed at his face with both hands in a gesture of frustration. "This is why I like having scripts," he complained. "At least then if I'm putting my foot in my mouth, I can argue that I'm just acting."

He looked so sheepish at that, that it actually startled a laugh out of Jared. "It can't possibly be that bad."

"You have no idea." Jensen admitted. "I suck at this, but at least in California no one expected me to talk to anyone except the director and maybe whoever I shared a scene with. Here… I don't know. Maybe it would be easier if I didn't have to deal with Jeffrey and his fucking insinuations all the time, because fuck knows he loves baiting me—and, wow, I am just dumping all this on you, and you totally didn't ask for that and you probably have shit to do, and I am really sorry—" Jensen backed up hurriedly, clearly looking for an escape route, until Jared put out a hand to stop him.

"Hey, no, it's fine. What are you talking about?"

Jensen flushed bright red. "I wasn't trying to advertise it, because frankly it's no one's business, but Jeff and I were, uh, involved, back in the day. When we were both trying to get into the movies. And I made it and he didn't, or at least that's how he sees it. I mean, sure, I keep getting picked for stuff, but he got to play these really interesting parts and mostly I get to run in and out of exploding buildings. Or sometimes an exploding boat, just to change things up," he shrugged, as though trying to brush off his own self-deprecating tone. "Except, I don't know, he keeps bringing it up, and I should have a thicker skin by now, but I don't, and I keep wanting to punch his lights out, which isn't exactly helping. And now I've over-shared even more," he winced. "Can I please go before I find new ways of humiliating myself?"

"And here you were doing such a good job of making me feel like an asshole for judging you based on appearances and preconceptions," Jared tried to keep his tone light, but Jensen flinched anyway. He took a deep breath, and forged ahead. "Let me buy you a drink? We can try to start over. Please?"

For a second Jensen hesitated, and Jared steeled himself for the rejection he knew was probably going to follow. But then Jensen ducked his head, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Yeah, okay," he said softly. "I'd like that."

Part 2

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