Mankind has always possessed an undeniable fascination for the stars.
By 1953, this fascination had taken mankind to the farthest point of the Solar System: beyond the planets, beyond the dwarf planets, beyond the heliopause and out into interstellar space. By 1960, in contrast, the entire world had celebrated the completion of the Barrier: an interstellar wall designed to protect the Earth and its solar system from the encroachment of hostile alien species.
Clearly, mankind considered the stars rather more fascinating from afar.
The Barrier had been a preventative measure right from the start. Conspiracy theories aside, the human race had no definitive proof of extra-terrestrial life in the universe but, with the Barrier in place, it need not worry about invasion or interstellar war if aliens ever did show up. The massive bulwark of rock and steel and pure energy that was the Barrier was designed with the intention of establishing the human race as a powerful, well-defended civilization within the universe and keeping the rest of the universe out of human air space.
Which is not to say that mankind entirely ignored the existence of the universe beyond the Barrier. The Barrier Station, the massive artificial city at the edge of the Solar System that acted as the heart of the entire Barrier network, was home to scores of scientists whose fascination with the stars hadn't been diminished by proximity. Their research was of little more than idle interest to the majority of the Earth's population, but the very fact that it existed - and on the very edge of the human empire to boot - showcased the might of man's intellect and the wonders of his potential.
And so, while mankind could continue to be impressed with its own travels into space, it could also rest secure in the knowledge that, thanks to the Barrier, its Solar System was, and would forever remain, an alien free zone.
Of course, the human race was entirely mistaken in this assumption, but the truth would only have upset people.
The way Jared told it, it was perfectly normal of him to have met the love of his life at a toothpaste conference. He appeared likewise convinced that asking said love of his life to move in with him after a courtship of less than a week had been an entirely logical reaction to the whole falling in love thing.
To say that his family and friends had been unconvinced by this stunning line of reasoning would have been a gross understatement.
To begin with, Jared's friends hadn't really been sure what to make of the new love of Jared's life. Jensen 'my super hot new boyfriend' Ackles had been stiff-spined and edgy the first time Jared had introduced him, showing clear reluctance at joining in on conversation and twitching every time someone called his name.
He claimed to be from Texas, though you wouldn't have been able to tell by his accent, and had almost nothing to say about what he'd been doing with his life before he'd shacked up with Jared. He appeared to have no family or friends. He was unemployed. He'd moved into Jared's house with little enough luggage to suggest that he might actually have been homeless prior to that.
He'd also agreed to pack up his entire life and move in with Jared at a moment's notice, which was more than a little strange.
At the same time, however, he obviously cared about Jared and had made him happy enough that Jared quit his job as a traveling salesman so that he could spend more time at home. It was ultimately these last two that made Jared's friends give Jensen more or less the benefit of the doubt; someone who made Jared smile like that had to be at least a moderately decent human being.
And if nothing else, at least he was nice to look at.
Eventually, Jensen grew on them. As the weeks stretched into months, he settled in and loosened up. He got a job as a bartender, put enough money aside to buy them a new truck and took over Jared's haphazardly managed household finances. He started smiling more and stopped tensing every time he met someone new. His defensive front softened and he proved himself to be clever, wry and witty enough that Chris and Steve told Jared it was okay if he'd bought himself a boyfriend on the internet.
He was such a sterling example of what someone dating Jared Padalecki should be like, in fact, that Chad remained convinced for a good month and half that he was actually a mind reading alien smuggled through the Barrier by some bleeding heart hippie scientist. Which made everybody make fun of him for believing in little green men and usually prompted Jensen to offer Chad the chance to take a blood sample if he was really that worried about his origins. Which inevitably led to Jared complaining that no one was going to be poking his boyfriend with phallic objects except him and the whole conversation tended to degenerate from there.
By the time Jared and Jensen passed their first year anniversary, Jensen was as much a part of all their lives as anyone else in the group. And if he never really talked about his home, or what he'd been doing at a toothpaste convention in the first place well, everyone had their secrets.
Jensen had been groundbound for one year, three months and fourteen days when everything went abruptly and unexpectedly to shit.
"Morning, Jensen," Dan greeted as he drew up to the checkout desk. Jensen doubted he'd ever get used to staying in one place long enough that even the people at the grocery store recognized him. And called him by his real name. "How're things?"
"Good." Jensen dumped his groceries on the conveyor belt. "Throw into today's paper, could you?"
"No problem. Not working today?"
"Late shift," Jensen said, digging in his pocket for his wallet. "But we're down to frozen waffles and hot pockets so I figured I'd better get some food before we starved to death."
Dan grinned and the scanner beeped a steady rhythm as he ran Jensen's groceries through. "You know, most people get past that stage when they finish college."
"Yeah well," Jensen shrugged. "Guess we liked it too much the first time to give it up." He'd never actually gone to college, but Dan didn't need to know that.
"How's Jared doing?" Dan asked then. Jensen knew he was definitely never going to get used to that: having a boyfriend whose name wasn't one of the most closely-guarded secrets he owned.
Well, that and having boyfriend in the first place. That was still pretty strange.
Dan was still waiting for a response so Jensen gave him a wry smile. "Depends on how you want to look at it," he said, handing over his credit card. "He's decided it's his calling in life to become a masseuse."
Dan laughed. "That sounds like Jared." He started bagging things up and Jensen moved to help. "Where is he now? Still at the bank?"
Jensen shook his head. "Animal shelter. Two months or so."
"I swear I've never met someone who changes jobs as often as he does. Ever since he quit that toothpaste gig it's like he just can't settle into something."
"Tell me about it," Jensen said, pocketing his receipt and trying to figure out the logistics of carrying all those bags.
"You want a hand taking all that out to your truck?" Dan asked, but Jensen shook his head.
"I'm good. Walked today anyway." He hoisted the bags into his arms and gave Dan a nod. "See you later."
"Have a good one," Dan called after him. "Say hi to Jared for me!"
The afternoon sun was bright overhead and Jensen tilted his head back to look up at it as he stepped out into the warm summer air. Even after over a year on Earth, the sunshine was a luxury that he couldn't help but want to bask in.
Some moron in an SUV nearly ran him over at the crosswalk and, if his hands hadn't been otherwise occupied, Jensen would have happily returned the finger he got through the open window. Some people.
The streets were the intermittent kind of busy that Jensen had learned was characteristic of suburbs everywhere: a handful of walkers and a continuous stream of cars. In no real hurry, Jensen made his way back to Jared's at an easy pace, grocery bags a comfortably heavy weight in his arms and his thoughts focused on nothing in particular. He'd done this walk a hundred times since he'd found himself stranded on Earth and yet he still rolled his eyes every time at how quickly he'd resigned himself to being domesticated. He wished he was still too young to be settling.
He was waiting to cross the street at Elm, thinking idly about his plans for the week, when the skin at the back of his neck tingled in sudden, knife-edged warning.
He was being watched.
The light changed and Jensen started across the street on autopilot, quelling the instinctive urge to run from the weight of eyes on his back. The sensation followed him down the street and, as he neared the corner of Jared's street, he considered his options for a scant moment before making the turn. Anyone watching him would likely know where he was living and he didn't want to risk tipping his hand by deviating from his usual routine.
Which didn't stop his steps from quickening on the way up to the front door but he figured he could pass that off as being rusty. It had been one year, three months and fourteen days since CE5 had axed his real job, after all.
He had absolutely no excuse for the way he wrenched the door open and all but slammed it behind him, but Jensen couldn't really bring himself to care. He stood in the hallway for a long, breathless moment, arms full of groceries and senses on high alert for the slightest hint of danger.
When no one knocked or smashed a window or otherwise made his life complicated, Jensen made a conscious effort to relax. Which was probably just as well because Jared's dogs chose that moment to careen round the corner in an ecstasy of delight and Jensen had to make a frantic grab at his grocery bags to keep their contents from ending up all over the floor.
"Calm down, geez. I've only been gone for an hour." Jensen made his way awkwardly into the kitchen, muttering nonsensically at Harley and Sadie as he slumped his burden down on the first flat surface he came to. "Goddamn," he sighed and rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension.
The dogs butted against his legs, even more insistent now that his hands were free. "Alright, alright already." Crouching down, he gave them both a good scritching that was as much for his benefit as theirs. They accepted his adorations happily and Jensen felt the fitful jangle of worry in his veins shifting to a more subdued wariness with each calming stroke through soft fur.
He stayed there for a long while, petting and rubbing until Sadie and Harley finally decided they'd had enough and wandered off to do something else, short nails clicking on the linoleum. Jensen watched them go, shaking his head at himself when he realized he was hunkered down on the kitchen floor instead of getting ready for work like a normal person.
Real smooth, Ackles, he snorted to himself. Look how well you've adjusted to civilian life. One moment of paranoia and you think your cover's blown.
Sound blasted sharp and sudden through the air and Jensen flattened himself instantly against the kitchen cabinets, palms spread loose and wide against the cool wood. Then he realized that the noise sounded suspiciously similar to Queen's 'Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy' and he sighed, forcing tense muscles to relax as he fumbled in his pocket for his phone. Jared's name flashed on the display (fucker had been messing with his ringtone again) and Jensen took a firm hold of his nerves before flipping it open.
"Jared?" he asked, trying to sound like he wasn't plastered to the furniture.
"Nope," Jared's voice replied cheerfully and Jensen decided not to be embarrassed by the way he relaxed instantly at the sound. It wasn't like Jared needed to know. "It's your bit on the side. Got time for a quickie?"
"I don't know," Jensen said, the pointless banter a welcome distraction from the nervous tension still rattling through his bones. "My boyfriend's a pretty big guy - you sure you want to get on his bad side?"
"Eh, I bet he's a total softie. Besides, it'd be totally worth it."
Jensen snorted. "Flattery won't get you anywhere you haven't been before."
"You know? I'm totally okay with that." Jared's voice dropped low enough to make Jensen shiver. "Come on babe, you know you want to."
He forced an eye roll into his tone. "Dude, I am not having phone sex with you while you're up to your elbows in puppies. Stop tormenting your coworkers."
"I am not up to my elbows in puppies!" Jared retorted immediately.
"...okay, maybe I am, but I'm not convinced that's a valid reason for withholding phone sex. And my coworkers are on break right now, thanks very much."
"Oh and that makes it so much better." Jensen shifted until he was sitting on the floor, leaning back against the cabinets instead of trying to melt into them. "Is this my cue to pretend I have a headache? Cause otherwise I might hurt your feelings when I refuse your request of phone sex. Again."
Jared pouted audibly. "Spoilsport."
"Moron," Jensen shot back, grinning almost despite himself. "You know, one of these days I'm going to take you up on one of your crazy offers and you're going to get fired for indecent exposure. And I don't care if you can just get a new job, Mr. I Feel Like Being A Masseuse Today; I'm not helping you get a reputation for being a pervert."
The sound of Jared's laughter, tinny and hollow through his phone, was the best thing Jensen had heard all day. "Nice to know you're looking out for me, babe. Having a good day so far?"
"Riveting," Jensen answered, hoping the dryness of his tone would hide the uneasy edge to it. "Went back to bed after you left and slept till noon, then went grocery shopping. Dan says hi. How about you? Get mauled by any kittens yet?"
"Nope, 'fraid not. We did have a family adopt one of the puppies today though. Their little girl was over the moon."
"Nice," Jensen said, sure that Jared could hear him smiling. The idea didn't bother him as much as it once would have.
"Yeah, but that's about as exciting as it gets. It's been pretty quiet round here."
"So you decided to harass me."
"Except you won't put out." Jared's petulant 'hmph' was completely undermined by the laughter lurking in his voice. "Bet you feel like an asshole now."
"I'm staggered by guilt. So why did you actually call?"
There was a brief pause that Jensen assumed was Jared shrugging. "I love you?"
Jensen rolled his eyes. "Gee, that's a relief. And all this time I thought you were just using me for my body."
"I love that too." Jared was grinning again. "S'nothing important, really. I just wanted to remind you that tonight's the opening for Sandy's play so I won't be back till late."
"Right, yeah thanks. Tell her I'm sorry I can't be there - Sera'd have my balls for skipping work on a Saturday night."
"That would be a shame. I am pretty fond of your balls."
A loud burst of incredulous noise clattered through the phone from somewhere beyond Jared and Jensen figured that Jared's coworkers had come back from break at just the wrong moment. They had a talent for that.
"Sounds like I should let you go." The moment it was out of his mouth, Jensen wished he could take it back - not the words so much as the tone: too sharp, too needy, too much of Jensen's anxiety bleeding through what should have been a casual statement.
Jared picked up on it immediately, of course. "Jensen? Everything okay?"
"Hmm?" Jensen said, doing his best to sound normal. "Yeah, yeah. It's nothing."
"You sure? I can tell Sandy something came up - I got us tickets for next week anyway so it's not like I won't be able to go see it later."
Jensen snorted in friendly derision, scrambling for a decent lie. "Don't be stupid, Jay. I'm... just not looking forward to having Chris ragging on me all night without someone to run interference."
It was pretty weak, as far as excuses went, but Jensen infused it with all the conviction he could muster; he'd spent most of his life pretending to be other people, he could handle this.
He breathed a quiet sigh of relief when Jared apparently took him at face value, an understanding hum buzzing over the line.
"Right, I'd forgotten he was playing tonight." Jared's voice went sly. "Tell him he owes me video evidence if he actually manages to get you up on stage!"
Jensen made a face. "Not happening. And if he tries to pull me over the bar again, Aldis has promised to strangle him with one of the microphone cords."
"Shame." More noise from Jared's end of the line and Jensen wasn't surprised when Jared's next words were, "I gotta go. You sure you're good?"
"Yes mom," Jensen said, deliberately long-sufferingly.
Jared was back to sounding amused. "Kinky sort of relationship to have with your mother," he remarked and Jensen made a mental note never to visit Jared at work ever again. God only knew what Jared's coworkers thought of him.
"Hang up already, Padalecki. I've got to get ready for work."
"You sweet talker, you." Jared made kissy noises into the phone. "Later, stud."
"Have fun at Sandy's show, dear," Jensen shot back and hung up with the sound of Jared's laughter still ringing in his ear.
Sadie padded back into the kitchen, eyes curious as she nosed at Jensen's shirt.
"Your dad's an idiot," Jensen told her, cradling the phone in one hand as he scratched behind her ear with the other. Sadie didn't appear convinced but allowed the show of affection, patient while Jensen tried to sort out his muddled thoughts with remarkably little success.
Eventually, he roused himself, giving Sadie one final pat before he climbed to his feet.
The groceries were right where he'd left them, the bags sticking slightly to the counter with the condensation melting in damp puddles around them. Jensen thought about his walk home, the absolutely convinced paranoia that had sent him all but fleeing for the safety of Jared's house, and snorted at himself.
"I'm being ridiculous aren't I?" he asked. Sadie wagged her tail at him, patiently fond. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Don't tell Jared, okay?"
Sadie barked - in agreement, Jensen decided - and Jensen couldn't help a chuckle when Harley came running in to see what the fuss was about.
"Guess I should take you mutts for a run before I go to work huh? Just let me put the groceries away before they melt all over the counter."
Jensen was just reaching for the newspaper sticking out of the first bag when he happened to glance at the clock.
"Oh fuck me," he groaned. "Sorry kids," he apologized to the dogs, shoving the groceries hurriedly into the fridge, bags and all. Jared could deal with them when he got home. "I've got to be at the bar in twenty. Shit!"
The dogs scattered as Jensen launched himself upstairs to get changed, a steady mantra of 'shit, shit, fucking shit' following him through the house. Neurotic and late. This day just kept getting better.
Jensen had never planned on living on Earth.
His parents had relocated from Earth to the Barrier Station in the early seventies; Jensen and his brother and sister had all been born and raised there, same as most of the other scientists' kids. Unlike groundbounders who wouldn't believe there were aliens inside the Barrier if one bit off their noses, Jensen had grown up fully aware of both their presence and the existence of the Interstellar Barrier Federation; the alliance system that united all the alien colonies that had been established on the unused planets in the Earth's Solar System since the creation of the Barrier. His school teachers had expected him to be able to identify all member nations of the Federation by name, race, planet of origin and planet of colonization. He'd also had to memorize the ranks and roles of all the major administrators responsible for maintaining peace within the Federation.
Excluding all mention of CE5, the Barrier system's very own secret service organization, of course. Even on the Barrier Station there were some things that people just didn't need to know.
Later, as CE5 agent, Jensen had cause to be grateful for his teachers' insistence on his studies. By the time he'd hit a decade in the service, he'd been to every corner of the Federation at least once, with only one exception: Earth. The Earth division of CE5 had its own agents to depend on so they never needed much support from the Federation division and Jensen's particular skill set was much better suited to work in the colonies, anyway. He'd never felt much desire to visit either; his parents might have started out as groundbounders, but space had always been Jensen's home. Why would he want to go to Earth?
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately depending on how you looked at it), Fate apparently had different things in store for him than a life in space. Because eventually, a mission did take him planet side. And the resulting fallout got him stuck there.
It was while he was on that mission that he met Jared Padalecki. And ended up falling in love. Which was perhaps the most unexpected part of the whole thing.
Chris and Steve were already setting up by the time Jensen stumbled into The Gambling Bar, red faced and apologetic, and he had to put up with their friendly ribbing about his sleeping habits right up until their show started and gave them something more important to do with their vocal chords.
Work was always steady on a Saturday. Jensen was usually glad of it, letting himself fall into the flurried rhythm of drawing pints and mixing drinks while the crowd bustled and swirled around the bar.
Today was different. Jensen felt off-balance and wary, and intimately aware of just how many people in the bar could point him out to anyone looking. It was like he'd been thrown a year into the past, when anything and everything made him tense and reach for the gun that was no longer tucked into his waistband. Unfamiliar faces were suddenly threats and he couldn't help but feel painfully exposed with nothing between himself and the crowd but the scanty coverage provided by the bar.
What made things even more jarring was the fact that the evening kept passing pretty much like any other. Friends and acquaintances greeted him with carefree grins, Jensen kept the drinks coming and Chris made a half dozen attempts to drag Jensen up on stage with them. The only real difference was that Jared wasn't there to egg Chris on, though Jensen found himself more grateful for that than otherwise. Jared's friends hadn't noticed Jensen's sudden bout of paranoia, but Jared himself would have been quite another story. And Jensen didn't want to have to explain this.
Around about the seventh time Jensen sent Chris back up to the stage with two beers and yet another 'fuck you with the horse you rode in on', a body slid into the bar stool on his right and Jensen tensed.
Relaxing almost immediately, Jensen answered with a smooth, "Call me that again and I'm never serving you another drink, Chad."
"Whatever homo," Chad said, with a wide, careless grin. "Your fault for being all girly looking."
Very casually, Jensen thwapped Chad upside the head with the dishrag he was holding. Chad was undeterred. Probably because Jensen was already reaching overhead for a clean glass. And Chad had the survival instincts of a lemming.
Chad glanced around. "Where's the Jay-bird?"
"Sandy's show." Jensen slid Chad's beer neatly across the counter. "It opened tonight, remember?"
"Doesn't that bother you?"
Jensen glanced at him. "Should it?"
Chad snorted. "It's disgusting how Zen you are about that. Jared and Sandy?" he elaborated, when Jensen raised an eyebrow. "Fuck, if my boyfriend was chumming around with his ex all the damn time, I'd be pretty fucking suspicious."
"You don't have a boyfriend. You don't even want a boyfriend. And you know that Jared and Sandy aren't like that."
"Girlfriend then. And yeah, everyone knows that, but it should piss you off anyway."
Jensen rolled his eyes. "Sure Chad, whatever you say. Why are you bothering me?"
Chad launched into a rambling mishmash of narrative, explanation and dirty jokes that detoured every time his attention got caught by a pretty girl and required very little participation on Jensen's part. Chad was sort of like Jared that way; just point him at a topic and he'd talk all night. Which, for once, suited Jensen just fine. He kept half an ear on Chad, interjecting the odd agreeing hum every now and then, the rest of his attention split between doing his job and keeping his guard up.
It was edging towards midnight and Jensen had just finished pouring a round of cosmos for a trio of giggling girls when that same feeling of being watched was abruptly all around him. He stilled, the girls' tentative flirting and Chad's bald appreciation of their low-cut shirts falling away as he tried to pinpoint the source of that unfriendly gaze. The crowd shifted and swirled unchangingly, nothing the least bit out of place.
"-ng unbelievable, Ackles," Chad was saying when Jensen tuned back in. "How the hell can you be satisfied banging the Jay-man when you've got hotties like that throwing themselves at you?"
Jensen ignored the question, eyes skinning across the room. "You see anyone you don't know in here tonight?" he asked.
"What?" Chad squinted at him like Jensen had just asked him whether he had two heads.
"In the crowd." Jensen kept his voice light and his body language casual. "Any unfamiliar faces?"
Chad's squint deepened. "What in the ever-loving fuck, man? You high or something?"
"Just answer the question, Chad."
Chad hauled himself around with pointed displeasure. "You are such a crazy motherfucker. Let's see, nope, nope, nooope, hot chick, nope..."
A flash of motion near the kitchen caught Jensen's eye and he straightened at the sight of someone's back disappearing down the hallway that led to the rear door.
"That's great, thanks," Jensen said absently, vaulting neatly over the bar. "Take over here for me, could you?"
Chad spluttered at him. "The fuck?"
"I'll be right back." Jensen crossed the length of the room quickly, responding to the various shouted greetings with a wave and an easy smile. Chris made a beckoning gesture that Jensen rewarded with a raised finger, his every movement measured and carefully controlled. His heart started thumping as he strode down the back hallway, adrenaline mixing with nerves and leaving him calm. Just like always.
The door to the alley was just swinging closed as Jensen got there and he paused warily. There weren't many places someone waiting outside could attack from: no windows on the facing wall, the traffic on the street too frequent to make the mouth of the alley a viable sniper spot and the cover provided by the dumpsters only useful if Jensen physically walked past them.
Of course, anyone with an ounce of skill or training would be waiting right outside the door with a gun cocked.
Still, these weren't even close to the worst odds Jensen had ever faced. He snagged a broom out of the corner as he walked towards the door, reaching with his off hand for the door handle. It opened with a neat click and Jensen darted out broom first, letting the door cover him on the right as he whirled against the left.
The alley was empty.
Jensen proceeded cautiously into the relatively more open space beyond the swing of the door, alert for the slightest sound. A quick flick of his eyes towards the street revealed nothing but the intermittent traffic of a late Saturday night and the shadows in and around the dumpster hid no threats.
"Well shit," Jensen said because, as nice as it was not to be shot at, he was now faced with the very real possibility that he was completely off his game. And possibly insane.
Taking one last helpless look around, Jensen paused as his attention snagged on a glint of metal on the ground in front of the door. He crouched and reached out to pick up the small silver pin. The insignia etched into the dull metal was intimately familiar to him and Jensen felt his heart sink.
Good news? He definitely wasn't imagining things.
Bad news? Anyone who'd left this behind probably knew exactly who Jensen was and where he'd come from. And that worried him more than a little.
Sunday started out pretty much the same as usual for Jared. He slept until the leisurely hour of half past eight before hauling himself upright and dragging on his jogging sweats. He left Jensen conked out in bed while he took Harley and Sadie for a run, enjoying the warm summer air and the quiet curl of the breeze against his face.
Jared and the dogs ran for nearly an hour before heading back home, all of them sweaty, tired and happy. Jared was idly debating between taking a shower and waking Jensen up with a good morning blowjob as he pushed open the door, only to hear the familiar sound of water in the pipes already echoing down the stairs. Which, in a perfect world, would have been his cue to join Jensen in the shower and do both at once, but he'd learned the hard way that startling a half-awake Jensen was more than a little hazardous to his health.
So Jared simply sighed over the lost opportunity and herded Sadie and Harley into the kitchen for breakfast. They fell on the kibble and water he set out like they hadn't been fed in a year and Jared shook his head. "Dummies," he said fondly, giving them both a pat.
The coffee pot was his next stop since Jared knew as easily as breathing that that would be Jensen's first priority once he'd stumbled down the stairs. The phone rang just as Jared finished pouring in the water and he flicked the 'on' switch before skidding across the floor in his stocking feet to answer it.
"Jay-rod!" Chad's voice boomed down the line. "What's new, motherfucker?"
Jared grinned, tucking the phone against his cheek. "Nothing since yesterday."
"Your boytoy up?"
"You really want me to answer that?" Jared asked, with a leer in his voice for added effect.
Chad made a disgusted sound. "Fucker. I don't want to think about that shit."
"Shouldn't have asked then. He's in the shower. Did you need him for something?"
"Fuck no. I don't want him overhearing this."
Jared grimaced. "Please don't tell me you're planning some kind of surprise party," he said. That would not go well.
"Wrong again, Triple G. Your-"
"Triple G?" Jared interrupted. "Do I even want to know?"
Chad huffed. "Jolly Green Giant, bitch. Now will you-"
"You do realize that jolly starts with a 'j', right?"
"Oh what the fuck ever, shut up. I'm trying to tell you there's something wrong with your boyfriend."
Jared sighed. "Chad, I've already told you, there's no such things as steroids that make you pretty."
Chad huffed again. "Not what I mean, asshat." His voice dropped into an over exaggerated whisper. "I think he's going off the deep end."
"Yeah?" Jared pulled open the fridge, biting back a grin at the sight of the half dozen shopping bags crammed haphazardly onto the shelves. Looked like someone had been running late for work yesterday. "How's that?"
"He totally bailed at work yesterday."
That gave Jared pause. "He didn't go in?"
"Yeah, but he wigged out on shift. Fucked off for like... 10 minutes without so much as an explanation. Asked me to cover the bar for him."
"10 minutes isn't exactly a long..." Jared paused as his brain caught up to the rest of what Chad had said. "He left you in charge of the bar? Was he high?"
"You're a jackass. And no, it didn't seem like it."
He was gripping the phone with more force than was probably necessary, Jared realized. He made an effort towards calming down. "Where did he go?"
He could almost hear Chad shrugging. "Who the fuck knows, man. Acted like nothing had happened when he came back, the weird bastard."
Jared didn't like the sound of that. At all. "Huh," was what he eventually said to Chad. "That's kinda weird."
There was a pause that Jared assumed was Chad flailing his arms around. "Weird? It's goddamn crazy is what it is! If he's having psychotic episodes I'm not gonna sugar coat it."
The sound of feet came from down the hall. "Well at least he'll be able to get the good drugs," Jared said, grin ready for when Jensen rounded the corner into the kitchen looking sleepy, damp and all over gorgeous. "You want me to hook you up once we get a prescription?"
"Sure sure, laugh it up, Chuckles." Chad sounded distinctly disgruntled. All in all, not an especially unusual occurrence. "Don't come crying to me when he kills you in your sleep."
"I promise not to haunt you after I'm dead," Jared told him, watching Jensen shuffle over to the bubbling coffee maker. "You coming out tonight?"
Chad snorted at him. "Of course. Who do you think I am?"
Jared chuckled and turned the conversation to safer things, taking care not to say anything that might percolate through the morning haze in Jensen's brain. Jensen was into his third coffee and looking marginally more awake by the time Jared finally hung up. Jared took a moment to appreciate the sight he made.
Jensen was slumped against the edge of the kitchen table with his mug of coffee huddled close to his chest, legs stretched out to forever in perfectly worn blue jeans and hair still spiky and damp from the shower. The fact that he was smiling fuzzily at Jared, the warm appreciation in his eyes suggesting that he was enjoying his own view despite the fact that Jared was still a sweaty mess, only made things better.
Jensen's grin tilted as he caught Jared watching. "What are you still doing over there?" he asked, voice morning rough and perfect.
It was a very good question and Jared took it upon himself to rectify the situation. He walked over and pecked Jensen's lightly on the mouth, then pulled back with a smile. "Good morning."
Jensen made a face at him. "Oh hell no, that wasn't a kiss. Shut up and try again."
Jared chuckled and leaned back in. "Always so grumpy in the mornings."
Jensen met him halfway, tasting of toothpaste and coffee and Jensen. They stayed like that for several long, lazy moments, enjoying the unhurried glide of lips and tongues in the quiet of the kitchen.
"There," Jensen said when they finally broke apart. "That's a good morning. Now get me some more coffee, bitch."
Jared shook his head. "You know, I didn't even own a coffee maker before you came along." He let his hands slide away from where they'd gravitated to Jensen's hips and headed towards the counter. "Didn't expect you to be up so early," he said over one shoulder, holding out his hand for Jensen's mug. "Isn't it your day off?"
Jensen shrugged, draining the last of his coffee with a quick tilt of his wrist and passing it over. "It's not that early anymore." He batted his eyes outrageously. "And you know how I hate sleeping in an empty bed, sweetheart."
"Aw, muffin," Jared cooed at him. "Should I start leaving one of the dogs behind?"
"And have them bark my head off because they don't get to go running with Dad? No thanks." Jensen took a gulp from his freshly filled mug, then gestured with it towards the phone. "Chad?" he asked and Jared nodded. "What'd he want?"
Jared thought for about half a second before deciding to go for the honest approach. "He wanted to warn me that you're going insane."
Something in Jensen's posture shifted slightly, there and gone in an instant.
"Well," he said after a moment, his voice holding just the right mix of amusement and exasperation for a conversation about Chad. "I guess that's a load off my mind."
"You ever make that joke again and I'm breaking up with you," Jared warned him.
Jensen smirked, temptation and affection all rolled up in one, and Jared smiled at him briefly before sobering.
"Word on the grapevine is you took off at work last night."
Jensen shrugged easily. "I needed some air."
Jared shot him a look. "You left Chad in charge of the bar."
That earned him a wince. "Yeah, okay, that was maybe not the cleverest thing I've ever done."
"Why'd you do it?" Jared stepped to the edge of Jensen's space, doing his best to radiate concern and understanding. He was pretty good at it, if he did say so himself. "Jensen, is something going on?"
Jensen scowled at him. "Stop it with the kicked puppy face already, Jesus."
Jared did the exact opposite, widening his eyes even further as he waited Jensen out.
"It's nothing for you to worry about," Jensen said finally, after a silence so long Jared had feared he'd have to start hugging to get some answers. "Just some stuff for me to figure out."
"Hmm," Jared said, unconvinced.
Jensen's sigh was heavy, dark. "It's no big deal, Jared, really. Just drop it okay?"
Jared was even less convinced now than he had been to begin with, but the look on Jensen's face was enough to tell him that pushing would only wind him up with an unhappy Jensen and a bad mood of his own to match. "Alright," he said, with a small sigh. "You can keep your secret clandestine life. But really Jensen," he leaned in, letting his grin turn sly. "Your new twink boyfriend can't be worth much if the best he can offer you is a blowjob in a back alley."
Jensen laughed, apology quirking at the corner of his smile. "You kidding?" he asked, free hand fisting in the collar of Jared's shirt. "No twinks round here. I like my men big." He tugged Jared closer, spreading his legs to let Jared settle between them.
Jared did so quite happily. "Lucky me," he purred, grinning when the low rumble of his voice made Jensen shudder.
Jensen's mug settled on the table with a clink and Jared felt heat coil low in his belly when Jensen fingers skimmed down the front of Jared's shorts and traced the shape of him, not hard yet but definitely getting interested.
"M'all sweaty," Jared murmured, his own hands skating down Jensen's chest and pushing up under his shirt. The way Jensen arched into the touch would have driven a saint to sin, Jared was sure.
"Mm," Jensen hummed, the sound thrumming through Jared's veins. Jensen's other hand slid from the front of Jared's shirt to tangle in his hair and his breath was hot and hungry as he tilted his head to graze a kiss along Jared's jaw. "I'll help you shower later."
Jared caught Jensen's chin and pulled him up so he could make better use of that mouth. The slick twine of Jensen's tongue against his was positively obscene and Jared growled as he plundered that wet heat, taking everything Jensen had to give and demanding more.
Jensen met him with equal fervor and Jared could feel the length of him hot and hard against his hip as Jensen ate at his mouth, one calloused hand still rubbing relentlessly at the bulge in Jared's shorts.
The fingers in his hair tightened, tugging downwards as Jensen shifted, and Jared pulled back far enough to gust a breathless laugh across Jensen's cheek.
"We are not having sex on the kitchen table," he said, any attempt at sounding firm completely ruined by the moan that escaped him when Jensen's teeth latched onto his lower lip.
"We are totally having sex on the kitchen table," Jensen corrected, and this time Jared surrendered to the insistent pressure of Jensen's hand at the back of his neck, blood thrilling at the needy way Jensen pulled him down on top of him, colour high and cock straining against the fly of his jeans.
And then the kitchen window shattered as something thudded into the cabinet directly behind the spot where Jared's head had just been and suddenly sex was the furthest thing from his mind imaginable.
They were both on the floor under the table in an instant, heads close together and limbs pulled in tight as another round of bullets buried themselves in the cabinet. Glass bit into Jared's hands and knees, stinging and sharp. He heard Sadie and Harley bounding down the hall to investigate and nearly had a heart attack, his instinctive whistle shrill enough to stop both of them in their tracks a scant foot from the glass-strewn tiles.
"Bedroom," he ordered them, tone brooking no opposition, and thanked god for the training he'd put them through when they reluctantly obeyed. Jared waited until he heard the soft thump of their paws on the stairs, then breathed a quietly relieved sigh and turned to look at Jensen.
Who had a gun in his hand.
There was a moment of profound silence.
"Well," Jensen said. "This is awkward."
"I'll say," Jared agreed. "I can't believe you let me bend you over the table with a gun shoved down the back of your pants."
Jensen flushed. Jared thought it was terribly charming. "Not what I meant, actually, but thanks for the reminder."
"Don't mention it. So this why you went AWOL at work yesterday? Crazy sharp shooting gunmen?"
Jensen winced. "This is the first time I've been shot at?" he offered.
Jared sighed. "I thought we were retired."
"Try telling them that." Jensen looked to the hole in the wall that had recently been a window, neck craning carefully around the table leg. "No follow-up shots. Which means they're either long gone or they're waiting for us to think they are." He looked at Jared. "Game plan?"
Jared was squinting at the close cluster of holes dotting the back of the cabinet. "Well, we're definitely going to need to replace the cupboards. Those were point five caliber rounds."
"I never really liked those cupboards anyway." Jensen shifted slowly, grimacing at the crunch of glass. "Right, so unless they've got a helicopter--"
"Which might have been kind of conspicuous."
"--they'd need to have been on the roof of the house behind us to get that kind of angle on the shots. And I assume they can't see us now, considering that we're both still free of extra holes."
Jared made a face. "Speak for yourself - I'm gonna be picking glass out of my knees for hours. You want me to take the door? It's gotta be you at the window," he pointed out, when Jensen hesitated. "Since my gun's upstairs collecting dust."
"Liar. I saw you polishing it last week." Jensen considered Jared for a moment, then squared his shoulders. "You get yourself shot and I'm going to be seriously unhappy with you."
"Took the words right out of my mouth." Jared eased himself onto the balls of his feet, still crouched low enough that his thighs would probably be protesting in an hour or two. Christ, he was so out of practice. "On three?"
"Three," Jensen said and they flung themselves apart, Jensen slamming his back up against the wall beside the empty window frame while Jared darted towards the sliding door.
No shots rang out and Jared glanced at Jensen, catching his nod. He firmed his grip on the door latch and shoved, not needing the flicker of movement in the corner of his eye to know that Jensen was being an absolute idiot and breaking cover to give Jared a chance to get out the door and onto the deck without getting shot. A quick roll had him behind the barbeque, which made for absolutely shit cover, but Jared was a little short on options at the moment.
"Yatzee!" he called to Jensen anyway, since he figured if Jensen could be a potentially self-sacrificing idiot then he could too. A quick scan revealed a distinct lack of people with rifles in the backyard or on the roofline beyond. A longer look returned the same result.
Jared let out a quiet breath.
"Jay?" Jensen called, which was enough like a reference to the Men in Black that Jared decided to let him get away with not using one of his aliases.
"Clear." Jared eased himself slowly upright, ready to move fast at the slightest hint of danger. When he didn't immediately get shot at, he figured it was pretty much a done deal. He turned back to the house with a shrug. "Looks like they're gone, whoever they were."
Jensen's head popped through the window. "I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing."
"Both probably." Jared let himself back in and frowned at the broken glass strewn across the kitchen floor. "Man, this is gonna take forever to clean up."
Jensen nodded. "Probably. So." He squared his body towards Jared. "You gonna read me the riot act?"
Jared waved a careless hand. "I wanna take care of this mess first. The kids won't stay put for long."
Right, of course." Jensen blew out an expansive breath. "Why don't you go see to the mutts while I go get the brooms? I'll call that window place on King too - see how soon they can come replace the glass."
"Sounds good. Oh." Jared tilted his head over his shoulder. "You wanna put on another pot of coffee? I get the feeling we're gonna need it."
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