Fic: What About Now? - Chapter 19
Title: What About Now?
Feedback: Yes, please. I adore everyone who take a second to drop me a line.
Disclaimer: NOT TRUE, and hopefully most will never ever happen. I own nothing.
Beta: The one and only legolastariel is my shining light and she makes all the difference. Love ya, honey!
A/N: Story begins at the O2 Arena concert November 30th.
A/N 2: Dedicated in its entirety to the ever lovely and always supportive legolastariel!
A/N 3: You will all likely notice that the names of Irving A-z-o-f-f and Peter P-a-t-e-r-n-o have been pulled apart. For obvious reasons, I don't want this little story to pop up whenever a journalist is doing some research on these two guys, who are pretty high up in the hierarchy (A-z-o-f-f in particular), because that would just be all kinds of awkward ;). And seeing as fanfic technically stands on a knife’s edge legally and P-a-t-e-r-n-o is one of the big lawyers/legal counsels in the bizz I really don’t want him to end up here feeling like I’ve infringed on his name.
Summary: Jared is fighting for his life. Colin is fighting with himself. And the press is fighting for a story.
They had finished off in Ireland.
Almost 6 months of touring – stage 1 – was over and done with. They had ended with a show at Oxegen Festival. The crowd had been tough and hard to light a fire under, yet as the show progressed Tomo, Shannon and himself, as well as the rest of the crew rose to the challenge and by the end, people seemed to be having a lot of fun. It was likely not going to be a critic pleaser, but from the applause and the screams for an encore – it could have been a lot worse.
After the clean up, they headed for the airport in Dublin. They were supposed to depart just before midnight, but a forgotten piece of luggage on the newly arrived plane had made it necessary to call the police and the flight time had ended up being a lot closer to dawn instead.
Now, Jared was tired. Agitation on top of exhaustion was pumping in his veins as the plane touched down in LAX after what felt like an endless travel day. They had precious few days off at the moment and this return to Los Angeles had more to do with necessary meetings, several rehearsals and music video build ups than it had to do with time off and relaxation. If he got lucky, he might have two or three nights to himself, but he dared not get his hopes up.
As they exited the plane, Tomo had aimed for the bathrooms and Shannon for baggage claim along with the rest of the crew. When this stage of a tour was reached, a certain frame of mind enveloped everyone. They were all used to travelling and spending hours in airports, train stations and on the bus, but when it came to the final stop, tiredness and homesickness became the main talk of the crew and themselves.
When you knew that you were aiming for home and not more excitement, you just wanted it over and done with. You just wanted to go home.
Jared could see Shannon hauling a piece of their luggage onto a cart and he decided to aim for one of the small shops placed on the edge of the arrival’s lounge. He knew Shannon was in the mood for some coffee to make the car trip to their house easier and Jared himself was in the mood for some chocolate and maybe a smoothie. Calling out for his older brother, Jared pointed towards the shops to let Shannon know where he was going.
Entering the store, his eyes skimmed the various headlines on the newspapers and magazines, but he found nothing of interest. He was just about to make his way from the book stands towards the counters filled with candy when he noticed a very familiar figure out of the corner of his eye.
And just like that, Jared suddenly felt weightless. Like a single breeze would blow him away in the wind. Insubstantial. Almost frail.
He knew that he should turn around and walk away. Maybe even go and hide in a bathroom until the coast was clear. Hell, he felt rather convinced that even Shannon would implore him to get out of there and aim for a disappearing act while he still could.
The familiar figure was not alone. A young female was standing next to him and together, they were looking at a display of various sodas, waters and other cold drinks. The woman had already picked a diet coke, but the man was still perusing the shelves with great concentration.
It did not surprise him. Colin Farrell took his time when it came to the little things.
“Colin, make a decision or I will make one for you.” The woman said with annoyance, before letting out a sigh and turning around so that her back was turned to the refrigerated counter. Her eyes widened when she realized who she was now facing.
Jared was frozen. He wanted desperately to leave but he could not get his feet to obey.
“Jared.” She said quietly. Yet the uttered word was enough to make Colin turn around immediately.
It was hard to tell who was more surprised at this turn of events.
Claudine looked back and forth at Colin and Jared, obviously hesitant and uncertain. Jared was just about to leave when Colin’s sister loosely grabbed his arm. She licked her lips, before turning towards her still dumbfounded brother. “I’ll give you two a minute.”
Letting go of the singer’s arm, she placed a hand on Jared’s shoulder and squeezed it, before she brushed past him.
Silently, the former lovers took each other in. Jared was dressed in his favorite oversized hoodie and a pair of loose fitting threadbare pants, along with his untied and scuffed sneakers. Colin, on the other hand, was wearing perfectly fitted jeans, a black shirt with the two top buttons undone that showed the definition of the man’s muscled chest and an expensive looking leather jacket. They looked like total opposites.
Without saying a word, Jared wrestled his gaze away from Colin, turned around and left.
Somehow, he had expected Colin to stop him. Grab his arm and make him stay, just like he still attempted to contact Jared over the phone time and time again. But nothing happened and Jared left the shop empty handed as he aimed for his brother and the rest of their crew.
Shannon was sitting on the edge of the baggage carousel, fully ignoring the many signs telling passengers to refrain from doing just that. A cart filled with their combined suitcases was parked next to him. When his younger brother retuned without the goods he raised an eyebrow in question.
“Long line. I’ll buy you some coffee somewhere else.” Jared said flatly.
Shannon looked less than impressed with his younger brother’s lazy lie and he threw a glance over Jared’s shoulder. His eyes caught a good look of the man still standing in the small shop, recognizing Colin immediately. The Irishman was standing completely still, his eyes glued to Jared who had his back turned. It was hardly surprising that the two men ran into each other in an airport with the jobs that they had. Taking pity on his brother, Shannon nodded once and got to his feet. Not sparing Colin Farrell another glance, the two musicians made their way towards one of the many exits, picking the one where half of their crew was standing in a huddle, hugs, see-you-in-two-weeks and farewells being exchanged. Doing his part, Jared took on a pleasant expression as he interacted with the people he spent most of his days surrounded by, while he pushed down his desperation and his overwhelming desire to just run.
Done with their goodbyes and a promise that they would call Tomo tomorrow, Shannon and Jared left the airport.
Jared had wished for blissful silence during their car ride home and for the most part he had gotten it. Shannon was humming to himself, both hands on the steering wheel as his fingers tapped along to whatever song his brain played. To Jared, it sounded a bit like From Yesterday, but with a twist. Listening to his brother providing a true and steady beat was one of the most relaxing and grounding things Jared knew. However, he was well aware that at some point Shannon would ask him about his run in with Colin.
Over these past few years, it was hardly the first time Jared and Colin had crossed paths. It was only a limited time since Colin had called him from that release party where he had suffered through cravings that had been hard to suppress. But from the way Jared’s heart skipped a beat in the shop and the way his hands became clammy, he still had a long way to go before it stopped affecting him.
“Sooo…” Shannon drawled as he stopped humming. His hands kept drumming, though.
“What are the odds of running into him at the airport,” Jared complained. He leaned his head against the car’s window as he glanced at the landscape whizzing by.
“Considering the amount of travel you both do, it was bound to happen,” Shannon offered sheepishly. The drummer tore his eyes away from the road a split second and looked at his younger sibling. Jared had his arms wrapped around himself, his hands buried in the soft folds of his hoodie.
“How was he doing?” Shannon questioned conversationally.
“We didn’t talk,” Jared answered, his eyes still focused on the world outside his window.
Shannon made a hmm sound as he turned his attention back to driving and the car’s occupants fell silent once more.
Over the years, Colin and Shannon had suffered through some ill placed small talk, often while Colin was waiting around for Jared to finish whatever it was he was doing so they could leave. Jared’s tendency to get lost in a song, a drawing or a task often made for a lot of sitting around for Colin while Jared finished up. But as far as Shannon could tell, the younger man never really minded. The Leto house was an informal and relaxed place to be and Tomo was often to be found there as well, along with a multitude of others who worked with and around the band on a daily basis. In addition, Tomo and Colin got along great from the beginning.
In Shannon’s eyes, Colin was smart, fun and dedicated to Jared. He always did his best to accommodate the singer’s wishes and odd compulsions. Despite their sometimes rude and perverse teasing of each other, Shannon could still tell that that was all it was. Colin truly respected Jared and his odd ways. He knew that Colin, while they were together, had been a very positive influence on Jared.
Tomo was often on Shannon’s case, disapproving of the drummer’s underhanded hostility. The Croat, for the life of him, could not understand why the mischievous, cheerful and usually sweet Shannon had something against a man like Colin whose kindness was obvious. Tomo could not understand why Shannon always tried to keep Jared away from Colin.
And Shannon had a hard time explaining it. For him, it made perfect sense, but in the eyes of everyone else it was absurd. The drummer admitted to himself that if Colin and Jared had merely been friends, he would quickly have developed a great relationship with Colin. He liked the actor’s sense of humor, he liked his wit and he appreciated the man’s dedication. Yes, if Colin and Jared had not fallen in love, Shannon would have seen Colin as a really, really great guy.
But they did fall in love.
Cameron Diaz was a sweet woman. Funny, too. Jared loved her to pieces and Shannon knew that his younger brother wanted to spend the rest of his life at her side. He wanted her to be the mother of his children and the one he grew old with. Jared had not seen that break up coming. All their issues and troubles were something that he believed could be fixed with time. They would adapt. Their love would carry them and together they were unstoppable. Love was all that mattered. Love was all anyone ever needed.
Shannon watched Jared get his heart shattered. He watched Jared lose the last shred of his carefully clutched innocence – an innocence that he did not even know he possessed and he saw him changing from a man with rose-colored dreams and ideals to a man who had no faith in love, relationships or happiness.
When Jared called home from Morocco and mentioned that he and Colin had kissed in a hotel hallway, Shannon had cheered his brother on, happy that the younger man was getting some and that he was having fun. He never expected things to get serious; he never imagined that they would go from being friends with benefits to being head over heels in love with one another.
And once more, Shannon could see the all encompassing love in Jared’s eyes and the energy he poured into his new found relationship. He could see the way he would gaze out the window, his eyes telling a story of passion, promises and romance.
But this time around, Shannon could see something else, something that Jared refused to acknowledge. He could see the way that Colin and Jared were pulled in different directions. He could see the way that Jared would be forced to press ‘ignore’ on his blackberry again and again whenever his boyfriend called to chat, because the singer would be too busy to pick up. He witnessed the missed appointments and the way that Jared’s heart grew weary of the unanswered questions, the never ending string of fights that lead nowhere and the way that there was nothing the two men could do to fix it – because neither of them had the time, the will and the power to do anything at all.
Cameron was strike one. She ruined Jared in ways that made Shannon want to weep.
Colin was strike two. He was supposed to give Jared his faith back, but instead, he proved to his younger brother that love was something that would never work out. Life would always get in the way.
And it made Shannon want to rage. Because he could see it coming a mile away and he was desperate to stop it. He was desperate to save his brother the pain.
He never wanted to be right about Jared and Colin. When Jared showed up at their formerly shared house with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, shaking hands, red-rimmed eyes and grief in his voice, Shannon wanted to find whatever God that might exist and punch the asshole deity in its smug face. He was tired of watching Jared lose again and again.
All he ever wanted was to see Jared happy and that seemed to be the one thing that refused to happen.
“You okay?” Shannon asked, once more tearing his eyes off the highway to look at his brother.
“I guess,” Jared answered softly.
The brothers grew silent again as the car continued along the highway, bringing the two men closer to home with every mile.
Just as the Hollywood sign came into full view, Jared pulled his head away from the window to look at Shannon.
“Would you be mad at him?”
“I am mad at him.”
“I mean if you were me.”
“Look Jay, the guy gets a chick knocked up within a year after he gets out of a long term relationship with someone he claims to have wanted to grow old with. That is sleazy!” Shannon answered, his voice picking up more and more anger with every word he uttered. There were a lot of things that bothered Shannon about Colin moving on, when in the drummer’s eyes, it was his younger brother who deserved to move on and find happiness.
“Don’t start that Shannon, it’s not his fault. He’s always loved kids,” Jared replied. Turning away, he let his eyes linger on the world outside the moving vehicle. With a soft voice he continued, “It not his fault, okay.”
“Well, if it isn’t his, it’s definitely not yours either,” Shannon seethed, still staring straight ahead as his hands tensed on the steering wheel.
“I guess it’s pretty obvious now, who needed the other more. I should have done more to keep him and now I’ve lost him,” Jared said without even the smallest hint of anger. Only disappointment and frustration was to be found in the sky blue eyes.
Shannon did not know what would be wise to say. He wanted to rage about Colin and he wanted Jared to join him. He wanted so badly for his younger brother to embrace a feeling other than pain and regret, he wanted him to spend his time meeting new people and have fun – maybe even embrace being single and find a new lease on life. Anything other than what he was doing to himself these days.
Hell, he would accept Colin back into their life with open arms if it meant that Jared would smile again. Properly. And not just those fleeting glimpses that showed up on stage some nights.
Jared pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked at the last few photos he had taken on this tour, including the ones from the stage in Ireland. He had expected to find himself thinking about Colin a lot while there, but to his surprise, he had brushed it off and just enveloped himself in Mars.
He was so very grateful for the opportunities they had been given. He loved playing with his brother and performing songs that meant the world to him. He knew he was blessed when it came to his job and to fulfilling his dreams.
And as his house came into view and they entered the driveway, Jared could not help but think to himself that he might not have love, but at least he had 30 Seconds To Mars – no one could take that away from him.
Colin stuck around at the Leto residence. And not just for one night.
In fact, every time he had the chance he would borrow the guest room. And if he got lucky, sometimes, Jared would spend the night with him. No touching below the belt, though. A goodnight kiss was okay, but only if it was as reigned in as possible. But Colin still stuck around. And he was not going anywhere – even if Jared would not be intimate with him. He would stick around and keep it PG with a smile on his face.
He never thought that he and Jared would ever be the kind of couple able to keep things reserved. When they were together those years ago, sex was their language, it was their hello and goodbye and it was most definitely their sweetest I love you. But now, there was no sex and no making out. A few years ago, it would have driven Colin mad. And to be completely honest, it still did a little. But he would be patient this time. And he would grant Jared as long as he needed, because at this point, sex was not going to fix them. There was no taking the easy way out and pulling off their clothes and falling into bed – just to save themselves a fight. This time, they would do things the hard way and maybe, just maybe, they would last longer because of it.
“I just don’t understand what the hell it is you’re waiting for!”
I never thought that I’d be the one asking you to work more. Hell, in all our time together I was trying to make you work less and have more time off. And I’m not trying to push you back into the business because I want you away from me; it is just that you were a lot happier then than you seem now.
“But who the fuck says that going back there is going to make everything good again? That it’ll fix me?” Jared shouted back. He was sitting on the couch, his arms crossed and his feet resting on the coffee table. Colin, on the other hand, was pacing the floors of the living room. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Again and again. It was driving Jared nuts to watch it, but he knew that it was not something Colin could stop doing. Jared had tried to make him before, back in the beginning of their relationship all those years ago. But it only made their fights escalate, as the younger man would push all his restlessness into the arguing instead, which usually ended in a major blow-out.
“It might not! It might not be what it once was to you. It might not fix anything at all, but at least, you’ll know!” Colin tried again. It was not the first time they had discussed this. In fact, it was something that had come up at least ten times by now. But it was the first time it had ended in an actual shouting match.
Jared and Shannon had an appointment with their record company at noon. It was a meeting that would determine quite a few things regarding the future of 30 Seconds To Mars and the two Leto brothers could not hide their nervousness and anticipation. Ever since the band was removed from the Leto’s grasp back in London and thrust into Emma and Tomo’s devoted care, there had been a build up to this day. A plan needed to be made, decisions should be finalized and many old ideals restored. There was still a lot at stake.
Shannon had left an hour ago on his motorcycle and though Colin was nowhere near familiar with everything the older man did, Jared had told him years ago that Shannon would often use his beloved bike to go for a ride and clear his head. Jared, on the other hand, had a hard time finding something that would focus him and give him some peace of mind. He could not go for a run, he could not go for a ride on his own bike and at the moment, he found no true solace in music. Before all this, he would have placed himself behind the piano or on the lounge chair, acoustic guitar in hand.
But that was not who he was anymore.
“And what if I already know now!?” Jared said, his voice colored with disdain and more than a little exasperation. His career had gone from being the highlight of his life to being the chains that kept him from moving on. At least, that was how he felt about it. But there was no convincing anyone. Shannon sat quietly and swallowed every word Jared uttered about this, but the singer could tell that his brother was not really listening. He could tell that Shannon was just appeasing him. Shannon truly expected Jared to return to Mars after a short break. Everyone did.
“Why do you have to be so fucking stubborn?!” Colin yelled. He had promised himself, before they had gotten to this point, that he would not let things escalate and get out of hand. But that was before he realized how much all this bothered him. In the beginning, whenever the topic had fallen on Jared’s career, Colin had watched and listened with a certain amount of delight to Jared’s professed apathy. The fact that the singer had no desire to return had thrilled him. He could not wait to have Jared around more, to have him close enough to touch and close enough to talk to without having to dial first. But the more time passed and the more he thought about it, the less thrilled he became. Jared seemed miserable. Colin was not sure that getting back in the game would fix it, but even a fool could see that the way things were right now would eventually kill Jared’s spirit. And that was a truly horrifying thought.
“I’m not being stubborn, I’m being realistic!” Jared called back.
“Jared, I know you’re scared…”
“I am NOT scared!” The angry shout made Colin freeze in his tracks. Sure, things were getting heated, but this yell had made his eardrums hurt. Jared was pissed, that was for sure. Now, Colin felt sorry that he had brought fear into this discussion. He knew that when the singer felt angry, he protected his weak spots with a zealousness that would make most people back off immediately and accusing Jared of fear, while relevant, was not something the fiery American would just accept, no matter how valid Colin’s point was. But that did not mean that the Irishman backed off – he was not most people.
“Fine, then I’m not either…” Colin said and crossed his arms, staring Jared down.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Jared whined, not at all interested in the path Colin was forcing this argument down. He just wanted the younger man to drop it and leave him be.
“Oh, I thought we were practicing our lies to each other,” Colin answered, making no attempts to hide his frustration.
“Fuck you, Colin.” Jared seethed before shaking his head condescendingly and narrowing his eyes.
“What? You think I’m not scared too?” Colin shouted back. He was not trying to match Jared in volume but he was definitely going to match him in fervor. “Or that Shannon isn’t dreading the moment you get back on a stage as much – if not more – than he is looking forward to it?”
This time around, Jared did not say anything.
“I know you’re scared, Jared, and by all means, you have every fucking right to be! And if I had… If it were up to me, you would never enter a stage without a helmet, a bulletproof vest and a ballistic shield erected along the stage edge!”
Jared’s sour expression softened a bit and he let out an involuntary laugh as Colin’s words caught up to him.
“The ballistic shield might be overkill…”
“Maybe, but when you think about it, it would mean a lot fewer bras’s, panties, rubber chickens, flags, sex toys, glow sticks, Mars bars, balloons, shoes, water bottles…”
“I get it…” Jared called, holding up his hands in an attempt to make Colin shut up.
The room fell into a moment of silence as they both absorbed the words that had been spoken, looking for a new way to approach without stepping on what little ground they had managed to cover without killing each other. Eventually, Colin took a deep breath and spoke from the heart once more.
“Jared, you getting hurt again is my worst nightmare. And it’s your brother’s worst nightmare. Hell, I could name about a hundred people who would gladly do anything to keep you from getting hurt again. But the fear… I will not let it take you down. I will not see you break,” Colin said and this time, there was no anger as he implored Jared to accept his words and not take them as an attack on his pride.
“Maybe I’ve already…”
“Face it, Colin.”
“You’re not broken, Jared!” Colin pushed. For the first time during their fight, he stopped in his tracks. He took a step closer to Jared, but as he neared the coffee table, he slowed down again. He wanted to walk over to Jared and touch him, take the man into his arms, but this was not the time. And besides, Colin wanting to touch did not mean that the singer wanted it too.
Jared turned his face away and stared out the window. As Colin turned too, he could see Jared’s reflection in the clear glass. A now frighteningly familiar expression of unbridled grief was marring the features of the man he loved. Every time he saw that expression, Colin felt like he had been kicked in the gut.
Suddenly, without warning, he was brought back to the first time he had ever seen that expression on Jared’s face. Their last night and their last fight. Before it was all over. It was not doing the shouting. It was not doing the screaming. And it was not doing the breaking of their shared memories and trinkets. It was just a shadow on Jared’s face, in the last second before he turned around and left through the front door. In that last second before he was gone, he had turned and looked over his shoulder and straight into Colin’s eyes.
Back then, Colin had not known what it was. And back then, he had brushed it off. He was angry. He was furious. And the rage was the only emotion that had mattered to him in that moment. The last expression he saw on Jared’s face was not one he had recognized for what it was. It was only now, now that he had seen it in Jared’s eyes that day in the hospital, after he had woken up from his coma and he was trying to make Colin leave. As he had leant against his ex, Colin had seen the grief and agony for what it was. And it stuck with him. Again and again, he had seen that face. Just like now.
The singer kept his gaze on the window and the world surrounding him, not saying a word as he shut Colin out.
This time, the younger man had no idea what to say. No words would make this any better. Colin did not know how to fix all this and that was one of the worst things he had ever been forced to live with. He had always considered himself a man of action and whenever someone he cared about was in trouble, he would gladly drop everything, sweep in and come up with a solution. The man he considered the love of his life was up against demons that made Colin feel breathless just to think about. He could not imagine how tough they were to live with.
He just wanted to fix things. He just wanted to help.
Noon the same day
“Jared and Shannon! Come in, come in. Great to see you both!”
Shaking Irving’s hand, the two brothers took a seat on the left side of the enormous mahogany table. Across from them, their manager of quite a few years now, Irving A-z-o-f-f, sat down. Next to him was their legal counsel Peter P-a-t-e-r-n-o. Also in the room was a young woman whom neither of the brothers had met before. She had a notepad resting in front of her and she appeared well and ready to jot down every word uttered on the crisp white pages. During the past few years, Irving had been their partner in crime and their hypothetical parent at the same time. During the lawsuit in particular, quite a few meetings were had and hours were spent trying to come out of it alive.
It was odd being back. Everything felt different.
Back in the day, whenever he took a seat in Irving’s office, anticipation and eagerness were pumping in his veins as he tried to sell his newest idea to their manager. With Shannon by his side, he had been here over a hundred times throughout the years. And often enough, he would be carrying an exciting new plan for more conquest in the world of music and in the name of 30 Seconds To Mars. But this time around, he had no idea how this meeting was going to end. He had no plans and nothing to ask from these guys, nothing to sell them.
And from the look in their eyes, they knew. It should have been a comfort, but it was not. In fact, it was the most devastating thing he had seen in a while.
It was one thing to feel like you were done. But it was quite another, when everyone around you could see it too.
These two men had been part of the journey. Most of his harebrained schemes had been concocted and brought to life in this very office. And usually, Irving would be sighing as he listened to Jared’s ideas while he tried to figure out how he could help them without spending too much of the hard earned dough and losing objective.
They knew Jared well. Many years of working side by side, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, would do that to people.
“And Jared, it’s great to see you so well. Last time we saw each other in London, you had me worried. You have a lot more color in your cheeks now, it’s nice to see,” Irving said kindly.
It only made this meeting even more surreal. Irving worked with some of the biggest names in the business, he was a man of steel and a man who could smell blood a mile away. To hear him being so, well, kind was a bit odd. It only served to fuel his nerves and it felt like a confirmation that he was no longer a force to be reckoned with. In fact, he was suddenly a fragile little thing who should be approached with kind phrases and a pat on the head.
“Thanks, Irving. I never had a chance to express my gratitude regarding your visit in London. I really appreciate everything you’ve done for us these past few months,” Jared said honestly. And he meant it. Few people in this business would have shown this amount of patience.
But Jared suspected that they knew that there was nothing to be had anymore, and that was why they were not pushing.
“So gentlemen, what are you plans? I figured we might as well get things started.” Irving said, as he leaned back in his comfortable leather chair.
Or apparently not, Jared thought surprised. That would definitely be considered pushing and that was not at all what he had expected Irving to say or ask. Jared looked over at Shannon who was gazing back at him with calm hazel eyes and the singer opened his mouth, intending to start explaining why they were quitting when the words caught up with him. It struck him, was he projecting again? Ruling himself out of the official game before his boss had even begun talking?
“Yeah…” Jared started, before stopping. He was confused and uncertain how to approach but Irving made the choice for him.
“Well, tell me, what are your plans for the future? What do you have in mind?” The record boss asked, looking at the two musicians in front of him with an expectant stare.
“I… I haven’t really looked at our options, I guess.” Jared said softly before he halted. Looking over at Shannon again, he tried to figure out what he was supposed to say at this point.
“Okay. How about the press? I mean, how do you want to play all this?” Irving pushed, seemingly confused at the lack of plotting and proposing coming from one of his most ambitious clients.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what you think I mean. I understand and respect that these past few months have been tough on you, Jared, but let’s be honest here. There’s another side to this and whether you want it or not, it doesn’t change the fact that if you play this right, you can be set for life.”
“Set for life?” Jared whispered, his stomach sinking in a way he could not really identify right now.
“You’ve struck gold. I won’t get into your personal life here, because frankly, that is your business alone. You are one of the few clients I let run their own show. But regarding your professional life, you can cement your place in this business in a big, big way,” Irving explained. Reaching out with his hands, he grabbed hold of a huge stack of files that was lying on the table. Picking it up, he placed the massive heap in front of Jared and Shannon. “This is just the top of the pile. In there, you have 60 Minutes, Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper… and ABC, Oprah’s new network and MSNBC want to do a feature on you. Hell, ABC wants to make it into a two hour special during prime time. Everybody is gunning for the first interviews and you have free range to pick whoever you want.”
Jared fell backwards on the chair and he hid his face with his hands as he breathed in deeply, forcing more air than usual into his lungs. He could feel a slight twinge in his side as his lung expanded and hit tender scar tissue.
“I don’t know what to say.” Jared ventured softly. Suddenly, he felt a hand on his thigh, as Shannon offered him some support. Jared knew without asking what the gesture meant. I’m behind you, no matter what you choose.
He felt so tired all of a sudden.
So many years in the spotlight. So much energy spent on trying to keep things separate and to make sure that his private life stayed private. He had always been dedicated to his job, to the people he worked with and to the dreams that his mind pushed forward when he closed his eyes. But when he left the stage and the cameras were turned off, many things changed. He would show sides of him that the rest of the world would never see and say words that the rest of the world would never hear.
Irving and Peter were still talking but Jared had long stopped listening.
Thought after thought sprung into his head and he could feel his mind clouding as worries and doubts forced their entrance into his heart. There was so much at stake and so many ways for this to go all wrong. He did not know what to do; he did not know how to play this in any way.
And what about Colin? How would their still fragile bond fit into all this? How was their story going to be played out? He did not even know what their current romantic status would be counted as, let alone how they were to establish themselves as free men in a free relationship, without ending up losing their privacy and peace to the glare of the spotlight and the mercy of Hollywood’s gossiping vultures. He knew that he needed to be careful not to lose what little control he still had over his life behind the scenes, and he hoped that the two gentlemen sitting in this office would do their best not to endanger that.
If you play this right, you can be set for life. Those were the words. This was Hollywood. This was all a game and all a beautiful lie. He had always known that, but never had he felt it more acutely. He had been shot. He had almost lost his life. His loved ones had been put through hell along with him. He had almost lost everything.
And yet, the world still wanted more.
There was no way to play this right, he thought to himself. His health was in the gutter, his heart was barely hanging on and his mind, despite all these months, was still reeling. There was no way for him to play this in a way that he would feel comfortable with.
Sure, he could accept an interview. But he was not dumb. He was well aware that it would not end there. Back in the day, he had been thick skinned when it came to the inner workings of this business. He had never let it drag him down. But now, things had changed. He was not ready for this yet, he was not ready to deal with the awkward fall out and the weird questions and pushy reporters.
But the problem did not only consist of his newfound vulnerability. He also had to accept that a return to 30 Seconds To Mars was not going to just happen out of the blue. He could not return until he had anything to offer his band mates. He had no songs playing in his mind and no rhythm beating in his heart. He was no musician anymore, no lyricist and no performer.
“I’m sorry,” Jared said forcefully as he finally looked up. The room grew silent and the singer realized that everyone had been talking and he had just interrupted their conversation. He had been so lost in his thoughts that he had not been listening at all.
“Sorry about what, Jared?” Irving asked confused. He had been in the middle of a conversation with Shannon regarding the possibility of making a documentary.
“About it all, Irv. All of this… I can’t do it,” Jared said with a calmness that he did not know where came from.
Shannon looked at his brother and Jared could see that the drummer was surprised at his words and more than a little bit worried – but he was not the slightest bit angry. Nodding his head, Shannon folded his hands and looked expectantly at Peter and Irving, ready to back Jared all the way.
In front of him, the singer watched Irving and Peter exchange a meaningful glance. Picking up the many files, their manager placed them in a neat stack in the corner of the table, right in front of notepad-girl. Looking at the young woman, Irving said: “See when Ellen DeGeneres has an opening and get in touch with ABC, I want to know who they’re offering as a director, who will helm the project and who they are offering as an interviewer. Also, give MSNBC a call and ask them about their expected ratings. Have it on my desk by tomorrow morning.” Immediately, the girl got to her feet and without as much as a glance at Shannon and Jared, she left the room.
Jared felt more than a little stunned. And the sinking feeling in his stomach was back with full force.
Leaning back on his leather chair once more, Irving gave the younger Leto his full attention, “Look Jared, I have a helluva lot of respect for you and your work. But I have a boss, too. And there is quite a lot of money on the table. They want a decision. They want something they can show, publish, print, play… whatever. They need something that will keep the interest going, because as things are right now, you need to jump at the chance or the world will see you fall and disappear into obscurity. I’m sorry, but you can’t expect people to care forever. That is not how the world works,” Irving explained, his voice still kind and his façade still intact.
Jared recognized this side of their manager immediately. This was the Irving Jared had gotten to know many years ago. The man with the plan – the man who was not afraid of getting his hands dirty or stepping on a few toes.
With a sigh, Irving moved forward on the office chair and rested his folded hands on the mahogany table, “I hate to be the guy saying this, but you and I both know that someone has to. I need action. I need something. Anything.”
“I don’t know if I have what you’re looking for,” Jared answered honestly, doing nothing to hide his frustration.
He was filled to the brim with ambivalence and doubt. He felt like he had very little left to give, yet at the same time, he could not deny the way his heart still had an investment in everything that was Mars. It was an odd tug of war between the past and the present. The old 30 Seconds To Mars, the way that he had lived his life before the shooting, still owned a large piece of his soul, but at the same time he could not linger on that attachment as he knew that there was no return. The old Mars was gone for good – it died on a cold December night in London.
“I’m not going to force you to do anything right away. But whether you like it or not, you still have quite a few contractual requirements left. It does not have to be right now. Not today, not tomorrow and not next week. But you can’t push it away forever.” Irving added.
Before Jared and Shannon had a chance to respond, Peter spoke up, “Listen, why don’t you and Shannon go home and let all this simmer for a while and then we’ll talk again next Friday, a week from now. How’s that?”
Shannon pushed the door to EMI’s headquarters open and along with his brother he stepped into the private parking lot reserved for artists and the higher ups of the music business. Jared moved forward at a comfortable speed, his crutches helping him along. The younger Leto moved with ease and fluidity, his steps controlled and measured. He held his head high as he left the office building with a new burden on his shoulders, but also a sense of time and place that he had not had for a while.
Though nothing was planned and nothing was certain, Jared suddenly felt like he was at work. The pressure, the deadlines, the meetings, the choices and the plans – it was work as he knew it.
The sun was out and the bright light of day bathed the small lot in a clear and beautiful light. Jared breathed in and tried to allow himself and his body to soak in the good weather he was enveloped by.
This outcome, the new appointments and plans for a future that was still littered with uncertainty, was not something he had expected. But he would do his best to work with what he had and he counted himself lucky that he at least had support on his side.
This could all go very wrong. This could destroy everything. This could very well be the end. But as Irving said, he could not push it away forever. Whether for better or for worse, something needed to happen.
Shannon activated the unlock mechanism on the car with his key and Jared opened the door to the passenger seat and got in, while his brother took the driver’s seat. Pulling the doors closed, the two siblings sat in silence for a second, before Jared turned towards the drummer with a pensive and small – but still genuine – smile on his face.
It surprised Shannon more than a little that Jared was not altogether destroyed by this, as he had not dared hope for anything. The older brother had feared the worst and he had expected carnage, shouting and at worst, a heart broken Jared.
But the more he considered it, Jared accepting this challenge was not really all that shocking. Jared, whether he wanted it or not, had always done extraordinary work under pressure. It was one of his greatest strengths.
There might actually be some potential in all this.
Turning on the ignition, Jared and Shannon aimed for home.
The explosive argument between Jared and Colin this morning had created tension long into the evening. Despite the not-too-terrible meeting at EMI, and Jared and Shannon’s okay mood, dinner had still been an awkward affair. And from the way Jared was glaring daggers across the table, Colin had not been all that welcome. But he stayed where he was – even though his fight or flight instincts were telling him to get the hell out.
As the food disappeared and Jared left for his room, Colin offered to do the dishes and Shannon had happily left him to it. A second later, the house was filled with the muted sound of drumming coming from the nearly sound proof studio. Turning on the radio, Colin started packing what little remaining food left over from dinner into plastic containers. Enjoying the music, the younger man swayed and moved on the spot as he began rinsing the plates one by one.
Enveloped in his task, the Irishman took no notice of the fact that he had company and he happily moved onto cleaning the cutlery while dancing, not seeing that Jared had joined him.
Leaning against the doorframe, Jared watched Colin mouth along to the words of some eighties ballads the radio was spewing, as feelings of mirth and affection stirred in his chest.
When Colin started toweling off the last of the cutlery, Jared made his entrance and he sat down on one of the kitchen chairs. Finally noticing the other man, Colin reached for the radio and turned it down so that the kitchen was bathed in stillness, except for the miniscule sounds of eatery being put back in place.
Jared wasted no time and jumped straight to the point.
“This morning… I know you meant well,” the singer said softly, his blue gaze showing no anger and no accusations as he stared at the younger man.
There was a brief hesitation then Colin turned away. Opening the cabinet, he started stabling the newly cleaned dinner plates one by one; his movements slow and deliberate as he kept his focus on the task. Thinking hard, he carefully arranged words in his head.
“I don’t know how to help you,” he confessed, before closing the cabinet. He rested his hands against the edge of the kitchen counter and leaned forward, looking out the window absentmindedly as he avoided Jared’s eyes. Outside, the wind was teasing the leaves on Jared’s beloved pomegranate tree. “It frustrates me. A lot,” he continued, still looking away.
“You’re not the only one,” Jared snorted. “I don’t know how to help me either.”
Colin still did not turn around. Instead, he began cleaning the glasses from the night’s dinner all over again, as he evaded Jared.
The room descended into a new bout of silence, save for the sounds of Colin washing up.
“If it helps,” Jared began again, “you make me feel better. Even when we are arguing. Because I can tell that you care. Back when… when we were together, your love always made me feel better. It still does.”
For a second, Jared wondered if he had said too much. Not because the words were untrue, it was more of an intimacy thing. Their new relationship still confused him. He too, had no idea if they were together or not and it felt like an awfully intimate thing to say to someone you were not with.
“It does, Jared,” Colin assured and he turned around, finally looking at his former lover properly. He could see that Jared was chewing on his lower lip and his shoulders were raised and tense, making it obvious that the other man was feeling stressed and out of sorts. Considering the day’s events, it was hardly a surprise and Colin immediately felt a need to rectify it. But he was not sure how to do that. Walking towards Jared, he sat down on the chair across from him.
“We are both on entirely new ground here, aren’t we?” Colin asked, the words sounding more like a voiced thought than an actual question. “I’ve known you for so many years now. Through the ups and downs of most of my adult life. My career. Hell, neither of them are yours and yet I’ll always think of you as James’ third parent. We have shared so much and I’ve always felt like… I know you. But now, you confuse me. All the words you say make sense, yet it’s like you’re a new person.”
Of all the words Colin could have said to him, these were among the ones he least expected. For a second, he was convinced that he had heard wrong. He had to have heard wrong. The words were forcing a startling realization to the forefront of his mind and it made him feel a bit lightheaded. Was he a new person? Was the old Jared dead and gone? Could Colin love this one? Could anyone?
The words of Dr. Stahl suddenly rang in his mind and he was brought back to their last session were the good doctor had asked the damning words. If he could have anything in this world, what would it be?
It was not fair, Goddamnit. Not fair at all. What had he done to deserve this? His career was hanging by a thread, no matter what Irving thought. He did not have the spark that would light a fire under his gift and as their manager said it, people are not going to care forever.
Not even Colin.
Because he was not the man that Colin fell in love with.
He had always felt bad for people who lived in the past. He had never thought that one day, he would want to live in the past as well.
If he could have anything in this world? It would not be this life.
“I’m feeling tired,” Jared said softly. Not giving Colin another glance, he got to his feet and made no attempts to stop, even when Colin called his name.
He needed to be alone.
It took every ounce of self-control that Colin possessed for him to not follow Jared. He wanted to talk to him, hear his thoughts and connect. Dig a little deeper and maybe have a proper heart to heart. But he knew Jared well enough to recognize the single minded timbre and the look in the vivid blue eyes that spelled out Jared’s need for space. And Colin would respect that this time.
So many things were odd about their new relationship. Had this been the old days, he would not have hesitated to get up and follow Jared wherever he was going and force him to talk. Even though it usually ended in Jared getting so mad that the Irishman needed to duck to avoid whatever Jared decided to throw at him. To be honest, when he thought about it now, following Jared rarely made a situation better, it usually just escalated things to the point where it got nasty, dirty and quite hurtful.
This time around, he would leave the man be. When Jared wanted to share, Colin would be ready to listen, but he would leave him be until then.
Feeling confident that he had made the right call, Colin walked to the fridge and grabbed a soda. Making his way into the living room, he made himself comfortable on the couch before turning on the TV. Hopefully, Jared would come back.
An hour passed. Then another. Then one more. As the clock struck midnight, he regretfully accepted defeat. Jared did not want to talk. He had been loath to leave, as he still hoped against hope that Jared would want to sleep next to him tonight, but from the man’s actions, it was rather apparent that the standing offer held no interest to the tired singer.
Getting to his feet, Colin walked into the kitchen. The bowl next to the fridge contained his car keys and he grabbed them as he headed for the hallway. He was just about to put on his jacket and leave when he remembered that he had left the book he was currently reading on the nightstand in the guestroom. Walking up the stairs he reached the landing. Once there, he looked down the hallway towards Jared’s room by the end of it. The door was closed. With a barely suppressed sigh he walked to the guestroom with a certain sense of sadness as he hoped that he had not slept next to Jared for the last time in this life.
Opening the door and turning on the light, Colin was shocked to find his bed occupied by none other than the source of his thoughts, worries and desires. Jared was curled in on himself, one arm underneath his pillow – the other resting on Colin’s side of the bed.
He had not seen this coming. In the past, their arguments would often escalate to the point where someone would end up sleeping on the couch, in the guest bedroom or in Jared’s case – at Shannon’s. Despite their fight this morning, despite their awkward talk in the kitchen and despite Jared having lived through a rough day, the man he loved could still be found wanting to sleep next to Colin. It astounded him.
Maybe, maybe Jared having lived through a rough day was the keyword in all of this. A thought struck Colin and it made him feel warm inside – maybe, after his rough day, Jared felt better sleeping next to Colin. Safe and sound and close and together.
A sense of contentment and tenderness blossomed in his heart as he took a step closer to the beautiful sight in front of him.
Even though he had thus far not been tired at all, Colin now wanted nothing more than to climb in next to Jared and just relax. Sleep or no sleep.
Pushing the switch, he turned off the lights and pulled off his clothes, leaving nothing on but his boxers as he climbed in next to the snoozing American. Colin was careful not to disturb the other man’s peace, yet, he could not help himself and he lay down as close as he could get before pulling Jared closer while doing his very best not to wake him.
And before he knew it, sweet oblivion beckoned.
But that was hours ago now. Colin felt sleep slipping from his grasp and he awoke with a sense that something was off. Not opening his eyes, he reached out next to him and found nothing. The sheets and pillows were cool to the touch, informing him that he had been sleeping alone longer than he had ever intended.
The side where Jared had slept was empty now and the crutches that had been leaning against the bedside table were gone as well.
Throwing off the nice and warm covers, he got to his feet and pulled on the t-shirt he had discarded earlier and the sweat pants he had scored the first night he slept over.
The first place he looked was Shannon’s room and he was more than a little glad to find it empty – except of course for the deeply asleep drummer who was snoring away into a pillow. He had feared that Jared had been awoken by a nightmare and had gone looking for his brother in search of comfort. It was not that he did not want Jared to rely on Shannon, it was just that he would feel horrible for having slept through Jared’s distress. Continuing down the hall, he reached Jared’s own room, which too, was empty. A trip down the stairs, through the kitchen and into the lounge yielded no results and neither did the living room.
He was just about to start checking bathrooms when he realized that he had missed a once obvious locale. Pushing open the soundproofed door, Colin entered the main studio. Hidden under a heavy blanket, he found Jared asleep on the huge futon that was pushed against the far wall, the crutches leaning nonchalantly against the armrest within easy reach.
Sitting down next to his sleeping beauty, he was surprised when Jared did not stir. He had expected for Jared to only have been down here for a short while and therefore not too deeply asleep. Colin reached out with his hand and brushed a strand of dark hair away from the other man’s face, making the blue eyes slide open.
“How long have you been down here?” Colin asked, worry in his eyes as he took in the sight in front of him.
Jared moved his gaze to the clock on the wall and saw that it was nearing dawn.
“I don’t have any words in my head. Not anymore. They’re gone,” Jared said, well aware that was not answering the Irishman’s question.
During the years Colin had known the singer, there had been few periods of silence in the other man’s mind. He was usually always creating. Even under pressure, at times of peace or on movie sets, it did not matter, the busy mind could usually create something beautiful and obscure from nothing, from everything.
Sure, he heard Jared complain about feeling uninspired on a few occasions, but that rarely lasted more than a few hours – and never more than a day or two.
Colin leaned over and placed a soft kiss on Jared’s lips, at no point breaking their shared eye contact, neither blinking. Offering no apology, Colin pulled away and got to his feet again. Agilely he climbed over the American and settled next to him on the broad piece of furniture, Jared’s slight frame not taking up a lot of room. Placing his arm on Jared’s chest, he molded his body against the other man, his arms around him as he buried his head against Jared's nape, mouth on his neck, nose in the longish strands and breathing in his familiar scent.
Colin knew he was being a lot more daring than usual, but somehow, the setting provoked it. Yet, he was surprised when Jared made no struggle whatsoever and instead even went as far as to place his own arm on the one that Colin had resting on his chest, his fingers rubbing gentle circles on the Irishman’s skin.
There was something in the air and it felt like pieces of a puzzle had shifted. Maybe not into place yet, but closer than before.
“Maybe you should use the peace, for once?”
Jared turned his head towards Colin, confused.
“You have always reveled in chaos and you have always been up for a challenge. This time you are up against a lot of things, both physically and mentally, and we both know how much you fear silence,” Colin paused for a second. “Use that reluctance, that distaste for stillness to do something you normally wouldn’t have been able to do.”
“I don’t think it is that simple” Jared cut in.
“I highly doubt that it is,” he replied. “I have seen you lose your words for short amounts of time before and they have all had a high price and a bad influence. I’ve seen the depression, the frustration and the anger that sweeps over you when you feel like you can’t create anymore. I’ve seen you turn into an ass and alienate people who were just trying to understand. Myself included.”
Jared said nothing as he allowed Colin the freedom to say what was on his mind. The younger man’s words made more sense than he had expected and he could not argue, he knew he was no good at handling the disconcertion that silence brought with it.
“It can be scary to watch, as I guess you have a tendency to seem unshakeable to the rest of us.” Colin spoke softly into Jared’s ear, his voice melodic. “I don’t want you to tear yourself apart and spiral into hopelessness, because you fear this. The words will come back, they are a part of you and they are just blocked. You can work through that, Jared. I believe that you can. I believe in you. I just don’t want you to hurt yourself trying to force the process. Believe in your mind, like the rest of us do.”
It could be called a spark. It could be called creativity. It could be called whatever you wanted it to. The point was that Jared once had it in spades, but now it was gone. He had hit roadblocks before. About a million times – to be honest. It was a part of the process. It was annoying for sure and it could send him into one hell of a hissy fit, as Shannon called them. But he never doubted that the words would be back. And so would the notes. And the colorful images. They always came back.
But this time, something was very wrong. They did not just feel blocked like Colin said, they felt like they had abandoned him.
He wanted so badly to believe in Colin and believe that things would get better, that the future was waiting to be conquered and that there would be something left for him.
30 Seconds To Mars had at times been the love of his life. But so had the man lying next to him. He sometimes wondered if this was fate or karma playing some nasty trick on him. All these years, he had spoken of Sophie’s choice in regards to his career, yet at the end, it seemed that the real choice for him would end up being Mars versus Colin.
Back when he thought he would always have Mars, he did not have Colin. Back when he had Colin, he felt like he was running the risk of losing Mars. He had never known what to choose, but now it seemed like the world was intent on making the choice for him.