On their first date, Jared and Jensen saved the planet.
Jensen always insisted that it hadn't actually been a date, not in the least when they'd been working and there hadn't been much time for dating in between dealing with an anti-alien conspiracy and trying not to get themselves killed. And Jensen didn't date, so the whole point was moot anyway.
Jared liked to point out that any day that included meeting someone new, making things explode and having really hot sex on a sandy beach in the Caribbean totally counted as a date. Since he usually followed this argument up with a lovingly detailed reminiscence of the aforementioned hot sex, often with live demonstrations, Jensen never really managed much in the way of a counterargument.
The funniest part was that they hadn't actually been assigned to the same mission. But when CE5's best groundbound agent and the darling of the Federation division literally tripped over each other while trying to stop an intergalactic war and decided to join forces, well, the higher ups weren't about to start complaining. The fact that they made a damn good team hadn't hurt either.
After they'd saved the world (more or less) and enjoyed an evening of extremely athletic beach sex in lieu of dealing with the fallout, they'd been commended for a job well done and kindly told not to come back to work on Monday. Which was pretty upsetting, even with the substantial severance packages that early retirement earned them, because there weren't many jobs that worked the sort of skill set you developed as a secret agent. Not to mention that being a secret agent was really, really cool.
Still, Jared had always been one to look for the bright side in every situation so he'd accepted his extravagant paycheck with a smile and promptly invited the newly groundbound Jensen to come home with him. Jensen had been considerably less well-disposed to finding a bright side in this train wreck of an assignment, but he'd been sensible enough to see the value in Jared's offer.
And so, after a week-long acquaintance and a memorable night on the beach, he'd moved in with a man who'd rounded out his offer of a long-term relationship with a casual, 'oh, and I'm Jared, by the way'.
And that had pretty much been that.
It took them just over an hour to clean up the kitchen.
Jared knocked the last of the glass out of the window then hammered a massive piece of plywood across the empty frame while Jensen wielded a dustpan and garbage bag in stoic silence, his expression shuttered in a way that Jared hadn't seen in nearly a year.
The heavy quiet lingered even after the worst of the mess was cleared away and a glance at Jensen made it clear that Jared would have to be the one to start this conversation. The kitchen was distressingly dark with the window boarded up, so Jared turned and headed for the den. Jensen followed wordlessly behind him.
"So," said Jared, slumping down on the couch. "How long?"
"Since yesterday." Jensen answered, in a professional tone of voice that Jared only vaguely remembered from their final days with CE5. "No actual contact, but someone was watching me on my way home from the grocery store and again at work."
"And you didn't tell me because-?"
"We've been out of the game for a while, Jared," Jensen said, mouth curling as though the words were bitter on his tongue. "I didn't want to say anything until I knew I wasn't just being paranoid."
Jared shook his head. "Not good enough." He waved a hand at the gun tucked back into Jensen's waistband. "You wouldn't have been packing this morning unless you were sure."
Jensen's expression went cagy and Jared could see him mentally debating the merits of staying silent.
"Jensen," he warned.
"...I didn't want to get you involved," Jensen muttered finally.
Jared huffed out a sigh. "I know we were never really partners, but I hope you know you can still trust me to have your back."
Jensen's shoulder lifted in a liquid shrug. "Yeah," he said, eyes anywhere except Jared's face. "I know."
"So why didn't you tell me?"
"Fuck, Jared." Jensen scrubbed a hand across his face. "It was instinct, okay? You're not the only one who's used to taking care of himself. And it-"
"It what?" Jared prompted, when Jensen seemed to get stuck halfway.
"It seemed easier to keep you safe this way," Jensen admitted.
Jared couldn't help a tilt of a grin at that. "Much as I appreciate your protective caveman tendencies, I'm not fond of you putting yourself in danger to coddle me."
"Oh, like you can talk," Jensen shot back. "I saw you behind the barbeque, you suicidal bastard."
"I didn't get shot, did I? And you broke cover first."
Jensen opened his mouth to say something, then paused and his lips quirked into a rueful grin that went a long way towards breaking the tension in the room. "I get the feeling we could argue about this all day."
"Probably," Jared agreed. He sat back against the cushions, lacing his fingers together in his lap. "So? What do we know? Besides the fact that you've got a stalker who likes sniper rifles."
"I've got a stalker who actually knows who I am." Jensen reached into his pocket and tossed something Jared's way. "I found that outside the bar last night. S'why I was carrying."
Jared held up the solid silver pin, taking note of the Interstellar Barrier Federation insignia etched into the metal. "What is it?"
"A citizen pin. The Barrier Station and the Federation colonies use them to register the population. Every resident has one."
"Like a driver's license?" Jared asked.
Jensen shook his head. "More like a barcode. Your residency information, medical records, bank account, everything, it's all registered to your pin's ID. Losing it would be like burning your house down with your wallet and your attorney inside."
"Huh. And yet we've got this one." Jared turned the pin this way and that, taking in the smooth, slick surface. "How does it even work, anyway? It just looks like a piece of metal."
"Here." Jensen took the pin back and extended his other arm, palm up. "It attaches to the inside of the wrist like this and then you scan it whenever you or someone else needs access to your data. They don't connect properly on Earth," he added, letting his arm drop. "Which probably explains how this one got left behind. They're not supposed to come off."
"You think it was an accident?" Jared asked curiously.
Jensen pursed his lips. "Not really. It seems a little too convenient."
"Yeah," Jared agreed. "So whoever was following you wanted you to know they were from Federation territory."
Jensen shook his head. "It's more than that." He pointed at a barely legible inscription beneath the insignia. "This citizen pin is from the Barrier Station. Not one of the colonies. Which means that whoever left it-"
"Probably knows you're from the Barrier Station," Jared finished. "That's a pain."
"Just a little," Jensen answered dryly. He pocketed the pin again, then looked at Jared. "So what are we going to do?"
Jared thought about it. "Eat lunch first, probably," he decided. "I think we're a little late for breakfast."
"Always thinking with your stomach," Jensen said, though he didn't protest as Jared led the way into the kitchen and started rooting around in the cupboard.
"Those bullets broke some of the stuff inside the cupboard," Jared noted over his shoulder. "There's sugar everywhere."
"Just be glad we don't keep the plates in there. You put the groceries away last night?"
"Nope, they're all yours. Pasta okay?"
"S'fine." Jensen started hauling the grocery bags out of the fridge. "Got some ground beef in here somewhere. And a new thing of hot sauce."
Jared started on the pasta sauce, listening to the rustle of plastic and the banging of cupboard doors as Jensen restocked their kitchen. The absence of their usual banter was strange, even though the silence wasn't as heavy as it had been earlier. Rather than letting his mind stray, Jared focused instead on menial tasks involved in cooking: slicing onions, browning meat, dicing tomatoes. Jensen left a packet of spaghetti on the counter at his elbow and he dropped a kiss on his cheek in thanks.
The water for the pasta was getting close to the boiling point by the time Jensen finished putting away the groceries. Jared watched as he slumped back against the counter and shook out the newspaper that had been in one of the bags.
"So," Jensen said, attention fixed on the paper in a decent imitation of a normal day. "Are we going to tell CE5?"
"I don't know," Jared answered honestly. He raked a frustrated hand through his hair. "I rather doubt they're going to be all that thrilled to see us."
Jensen shrugged. "Hard to tell." Paper rustled as he turned the page, eyes flicking quickly over articles he wasn't reading. "The trigger happy gunman's one thing, but I can't believe they won't want to make it their business when someone's leaving citizen pins as calling cards."
"Maybe." Jared switched off the stove and reached for a sieve, some part of him laughing at the fact that they were having this conversation while playing at being domestic. "But what are they gonna do? They were pretty definitive about the whole 'congrats, we're retiring you' thing, so the odds of them giving us our jobs back aren't great. And I don't like the idea of getting put under security detail because some whack job thinks you're a really pretty princ-"
"Jay," Jensen said then, quietly intense, and Jared turned to find him holding out the newspaper with a sober expression. "I think this is a bigger problem than we thought."
Jared glanced down at the article Jensen was talking about.
"Fuck," he breathed, taking in the decades old photograph of the Barrier Station and the lip service blurb about the inauguration of a new chief of staff. "That can't be a coincidence."
"We have to go see Kripke," Jensen said, not even close to a question.
Jared nodded. "Do we ever." A sharp hiss filled the air as the pot on the stove bubbled over and he lunged for the pot handle. "After lunch."
"Great." Jensen clapped him on the shoulder, brushing up against him as he grabbed a handful of cutlery. "Food first and then I'll book a flight while you come up with an excuse for your friends to explain what happened to the window and why we're vanishing for the next god only knows how long until we get this dealt with."
"...so we're going on cruise!" Jared finished, in the tone of voice a five-year old used to say he was getting a puppy for Christmas.
"You're what?" Jared's friends demanded as one, with some bonus profanity thrown in by Chris and Chad. Jensen slumped lower in his chair and stayed quiet, more than content to let Jared handle this.
"Isn't it awesome?" Jared grinned, ignoring their lack of enthusiasm with stunning ease. "Three whole weeks in the Caribbean. Jensen's got a whole ton of vacation time saved up at work and we got a really good deal on the booking, so we figured, why not?"
"Jared honey," Sandy said, in the patient tone of voice she always used when Jared was being more ridiculous than usual. "Don't you think that's sort of an extreme reaction to having your window broken?"
Jared blinked. "No?"
"What I want to know," Chris said, leaning in with suspicion written all over his face. "Is how the fuck someone got into your backyard in the first place."
"Dunno," Jared shrugged. "Probably forgot to latch the gate."
"Or they climbed the fence," Jensen offered. "It's not exactly Mount Everest."
Chris didn't look convinced. "So a couple of punk teenagers climbed into your backyard, hucked a massive rock through your window and you didn't even notice?"
Jared shrugged. "We were in the shower."
"What, both of you?" Chris asked, and immediately grimaced. "Oh hell. I didn't need that mental image."
"I did!" Sandy said, with a wicked grin.
Jared blew her a kiss. "Love you, sweetheart."
"When are you leaving?" Steve asked, unsurprisingly the most Zen of the lot of them about the whole mess.
"Tomorrow," Jared said proudly, as though the extreme spontaneity of the whole thing was the coolest part. "The ship leaves Orlando on Friday so we figured we'd spend a couple days in Florida before it goes."
"Jared wants to go to Disneyworld," Jensen threw in.
Jared's grin flashed. "Damn straight. Gonna get you a pair of Mickey ears to wear. And then I'm going to take pictures."
"It's a good thing for you that I find your childlike naivety sort of endearing, Padalecki."
"Whoa, whoa, wait a sec." Chad squinted narrowly at the pair of them. "Where are you two getting the cash to go on a fucking cruise?"
"We've been saving up for a rainy day," Jared said, with a shrug.
"Shouldn't that be paying for your window?" Steve asked.
Jared nodded vigorously. "That's it, exactly. I mean, we've got money for broken windows but not for vacations? That's just dumb. Besides, we're totally overdue for a vacation. We've been together for like a year already-"
"A year and three months," Jensen corrected mildly.
Jared didn't miss a beat. "See what I mean? Totally should have gone on at least one vacation by now. We need to make up for lost time. Oh, and since we're gonna be away, we need someone to go over the house next Monday to let the window guys in."
Chris stared at him. "Did you seriously have a life-changing experience because some jackass threw a rock through your kitchen window?"
"Yes," Jared replied earnestly. "I kind of did. So we're going to Florida."
Jensen bit the inside of his cheek to hide a grin.
Fourteen hours later, they were in New York, watching the baggage carousel at JFK International.
"Fuck," Jensen was complaining, arching into a full-bodied stretch that made joints pop in his back and neck. His shirt rode up with the motion, showing off a strip of pale, toned skin. Jared approved. "I'd forgotten how much I hate airplanes."
Jared glanced at him. "How many planes have you ever even been on before?"
"Enough to know I hate them." Jensen's suitcase inched past them on the carousel and Jensen's shirt slipped again as he stretched out to grab it. Jared continued to approve.
Jensen thumped his suitcase on the floor and tilted a glance at Jared. "You texted Chris yet?"
"Right, thanks." Jared fished out his phone and started thumbing through the contacts. "You think we've had enough time to get out of Orlando International and find a cab to the hotel by now?"
Jensen shrugged. "More or less. Better to do it before Chris decides we're taking too long - the flight to Florida landed an hour before we did and he's not exactly a patient guy."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean." Jared tapped out a quick message, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth. The text departed with a ping and he looked up to find Jensen watching him with a quiet little half-smile on his face.
The smile melted away. "Nothing," Jensen said. And then, "Oh hey, there's your suitcase."
Jared glanced over to where Jensen was pointing and made a stunning lunge that nearly took out the family of four waiting beside them. Jensen very helpfully stood there and did absolutely fuck all.
"Got it!" Jared exclaimed as he hauled it over the lip of the carousel, wobbling slightly as he tried not to fall on anybody.
Jensen yawned into his hand. "Brilliant. Fantastic. Can we go now?" He hoisted his duffle over one shoulder, suitcase trailing along behind. "I still can't believe you made us bring luggage."
"Hey, it's not my fault Chris offered to give us a lift to the airport," Jared defended. "It's not like it's a big deal. We can just have Kripke hold onto to it until we get back."
"That's assuming we get the job."
Jared shrugged. "If not, I guess we can go on that cruise after all. I hope you packed your Speedo."
"Figured I'd go commando," Jensen said. "Avoid all those nasty tan lines."
"And then spend the rest of the cruise whining because you sunburned your junk? That sounds like a real good idea."
Jensen gave him the finger. "Yeah, well fuck you anyway. It's your fault I'm not caffeinated right now."
"Aww," Jared cooed at him. "Is someone a little cranky after the flight?"
"I'm fucking exhausted and I hate you." Jensen peered blearily around the terminal. "Which way?"
"Come on." Jared led the way towards the Arrivals gate, doing his best not to grin at the rumpled, grumpy Jensen trailing along after him.
"Shut up," Jensen said, making a growly face that Jared thought was mostly adorable. And really not very threatening considering that Jensen still had crease-marks on his face from sleeping on Jared's shoulder most of the way.
Jared put on an innocent face. "I didn't say anything."
"I can hear you thinking."
"I am now deeply hurt that you never told me you were secretly a psychic."
Jensen smacked him for that one, but Jared figured it was totally worth it.
They joined the crowd of people trickling out of Customs and Jared didn't bother trying to untangle the complicated mix of déjà vu and excitement that always hit him when he was in this airport. It was a lot like coming home, except for the fact that he always knew he wouldn't be staying for long.
"So," he said, as they passed through the doors into the terminal proper and were met by a forest of people bearing smiles and tidy placards. "You think Kripke knows we're here yet?"
Jensen snorted. "You kidding? He knew the minute we booked the damn tickets. Probably sooner. I'd be more surprised if he didn't have a car waiting for-" He stopped dead, gaze catching on something near the end of the ramp. "Oh, that motherfucker."
"What?" Jared followed Jensen's scowl to a bland-faced man holding a sign for 'Eric Brady and Dean Forester'. He glanced at Jensen. "Eric?"
Jensen made a face. "...yes."
"When we met you said your name was Jason."
"It was," Jensen said absently, still glaring at the placard. "Typical. I've got more names than fucking socks and he still picks Eric fucking Brady."
Jared cocked his head curiously. "What's wrong with Eric Brady?"
"He's an idiot. Hi," Jensen said to the man waiting for them, with a bashful little smile that made Jared want to do a double take. "Thanks for coming to meet us."
"Mr. Forester, Mr. Brady," the man greeted them. He offered them a quick flash of the CE5 insignia on the band of his watch but no name. Never a name. "Welcome to New York. May I take your bags?"
"No, we're fine thank you." Jared smiled, complete with dimples and Dean Forester's characteristically painful good cheer. He liked the guy well enough, but being Dean always made him feel so damn young. "Helps work out the kinks from the flight."
The agent - Jared thought he kind of looked like a Ted - nodded. "Of course sir. If you'll just follow me; Mr. Kripke is expecting you."
Jared nodded absently, busy scoping out the terminal. "Right, right. Ooh, Starbucks!" He veered off in that direction, paused, and swung a cheery smile over one shoulder. "Hey Ted - you don't mind if you call you Ted, do you? - I'm gonna grab a coffee before we go, okay?" He didn't wait for a response before striding away and joining the line.
"Sorry," he heard Jensen say behind him. "He's tired after the flight."
Now-Ted made some unintelligible reply and Jared wasn't surprised when Jensen came up behind him a moment later.
"Do you think I should get a scone?" Jared asked him. "They've got blueberry."
"Dean," Jensen growled in an undertone, sounding distinctly unamused. "We're wasting time."
"And you're a pain in the ass when you're half-asleep," Jared shot back, affable smile firmly in place. "I don't know about you, but I'd rather we were both firing all cylinders when we get there. Hi there," he said to the barista. "I'll have a grande Caramel Macchiato for me and grande Americano for my caffeine-deprived friend. Hey Ted?" he called, twisting round. "You want anything?"
The tolerant smile that answered him wasn't particularly convincing. "Not on the clock, I'm afraid."
"Fair enough. Just those two," Jared told the barista, flashing a grin that made her blush. "Oh, and a blueberry scone, please. Gotta keep my energy up."
"Is Dean Forester always this much of an idiot?" Jensen mumured, as Jared paid for his order and shuffled them both around the counter.
"You should know; you've worked with him before. Coffee."
Jensen huffed at him, but readily accepted his cup when Jared handed it over, so Jared figured that counted as a win. Coffees in hand, they wandered back over to where Now-Ted was waiting and Jared took it upon himself to keep up a steady stream of pointless chatter as they headed for the parking garage. It was the sort of thing Dean Forester did, after all, and Jensen didn't seem like he was going to be any help.
Jared had been through CE5's welcome wagon gauntlet enough times that he didn't hesitate before sliding into the back of the shiny black Buick Now-Ted unlocked for them. He watched Jensen falter for a single heartbeat before he climbed in as well, the unnatural stillness of his limbs broadcasting his unease.
Now-Ted started the car and Jared took the opportunity to give Jensen a little nudge. "It's a waste of breath to tell you to chill, huh?" he said and was rewarded with the faintest quirk of Jensen's mouth in his direction.
"Pretty much," Jensen agreed, though he didn't protest when Jared pressed their knees together despite the ample leg room.
"So," Jared said, as they left the parking garage and Now-Ted pulled into traffic. "Eric."
Jensen arched an eyebrow as if to say 'Here? Really?'.
Jared tapped on the glass between them and the front seat. "It's soundproof. No need to be shy."
"Eric was the first face they gave me," Jensen admitted after a moment. "I don't like him. He's irritating as hell."
Jared cocked his head. "How so?"
"You'll see," Jensen said, with a sour twist to his mouth. "Why couldn't Kripke have picked Teague? I mean, he's kind of a tool but at least he's willing to get his hands dirty."
"How many aliases do you have?" Jared asked.
Jensen's nose wrinkled. "A dozen or so? I don't really keep track."
"Really? Why so many?"
Jensen shrugged. "There isn't a lot of open travel between the colonies. It'd raise flags if the same guy started showing up all over Federation territory. So I need more faces." He raised an eyebrow at Jared. "I'm guessing the Earth division doesn't roll the same way?"
Jared shook his head. "Unless there's some reason why they can't, they usually give you the same alias for everything."
"Oh god, please don't tell me you've been Dean Forester all your life. Cause that'd just be depressing."
"He's not that bad," Jared protested.
Jensen raised an eyebrow at him. "The kid's got enough pep to make a varsity cheerleading squad look bad. It's exhausting. And I'm guessing that's a yes to the question of whether or not you're a career prom king?"
"You're a jerk. But yeah, pretty much."
"You seriously don't have anyone else on your resume?"
Jared thought for a minute. "Well, I was Clay Miller for like three weeks for that thing in Barcelona and the Chinese don't really like Dean so they always send Trey Lipton out there, but other th-"
"Wait," Jensen interrupted, a shit-eating grin spreading across his face. "Clay and Trey, seriously? Didn't anyone ever tell your handler that it's probably a bad idea to choose porn star names for undercover work?"
"Shut up," Jared shot back, grinning too. "You're just jealous because you're not pretty enough to get porn star alter egos."
"Right," said Jensen, deadpan. "That's exactly the problem with this entire scenario."
"I could give you one if you want. Just to make you feel better." Jared pursed his lips thoughtfully. "You think you could pull off being an Ace? I think you could pull off being an Ace."
"Fuck off," Jensen laughed and they spent the rest of the trip making up increasingly silly porn star names for each other and speculating on the sorts of operations they'd need them for. The conversation broke off when Now-Ted pulled into an underground parking garage and put the car in park. They both piled out and grabbed their suitcases, then Now-Ted offered them another politely professional smile and directed them to a delivery door labeled Bob's Pizzeria.
"I've always loved this part," Jared said, as they headed off across the quiet parking lot. "If I was going to use a business as a front for a super secret spy organization, I would totally pick a pizza place too."
"You just want an excuse for free pizza." Jensen's eyes traced the length of the parking garage as they walked and his right thumb was hooked neatly through one of his belt loops. Jared knew from experience just how fast he could have his gun drawn from that casual-looking position.
Considerably more familiar with their surroundings, Jared settled for taking a single, careful look around them before pushing the door open with a careless grin. "Wouldn't you?"
The air was thick with the warm smell of baking dough and tomato sauce in the back room of the pizzeria. Jared, whose scone hadn't been nearly enough to make up for the fact that he'd missed breakfast, felt his mouth start to water.
"Later," Jensen told him, without turning. His chin jerked at the walk-in freezer on the other side of the room. "We've got company."
"Doesn't mean there isn't time for pizza," Jared muttered, though the attempt was half-hearted at best. No matter how many times he saw it, he didn’t think he'd ever not be amused by the sight of a group of soberly dressed men walking out of an industrial freezer.
The agents stopped a careful distance away and Jared waved at the closest one. "Hey Jess. Long time no see. How're tricks?"
"Sorry, Dean," said Jess, whose real name was Milo. He gave Jared a longsuffering look. "You've got me mixed up with someone else again. It's Peter, remember?"
"Whoops, my bad." Jared slanted a cheeky grin at him. "Guess you just look like someone who should have a girl's name."
Milo rolled his eyes. "And here I thought a leave of absence would have made you less of an ass."
Jared shot a careful look at Jensen and judged from the raised eyebrow he got in return that Jensen had also noticed the difference between leave and retirement. Maybe this trip was going to be worth the effort, after all.
He stifled his own sudden hope and offered Milo a shrug. "What can I say? You can't repress charm like this. Oh, have you met Eric?"
"Fucker," Jensen muttered under his breath as Jared nudged him forwards.
"Not in person," said Milo. He extended a hand. "Peter Petrelli. I've heard a lot about you."
"Eric Brady," Jensen answered in kind. His smile was strangely timid as he added, "I'm sort of afraid to ask what you've heard."
"Definitely good things," Milo promised. He glanced between him and Jared. "I didn't know you'd stopped doing solo assignments."
Jensen shrugged, ducking his head to hide a flush. "The higher ups thought we'd do well together. And I couldn't ask for a better partner." He darted a pathetically grateful smile at Jared and Jared politely refrained from swallowing his tongue. "I've never been much of a fighter so it's nice to have someone to watch my back."
Milo grinned at Jared. "Well Dean's certainly got enough muscle to spare."
Jared regained enough control over his brain to flex a bicep in a typically Dean display of not entirely unmerited bravado. "You know it."
Something clipped to Milo's belt beeped and his stance shifted, friendliness taking a back seat to professionalism for the moment. "Kripke's waiting for you." He stepped back, gestured towards the freezer. "Follow me."
Milo slid his ID through a cleverly concealed security scanner near the anchovies and led them through the hidden door just inside the freezer. The other two agents fell in behind them and Jared resisted the urge to tense up. At his side, he felt Jensen twitch with the same impulse.
They went down a short hallway that dead-ended at an elevator. Milo waved them through first and Jensen threw him a look so grateful you'd think Milo had just saved a bunch of orphans from a burning building. They all crammed into the elevator and Jared leaned down to whisper a quiet 'seriously?' in Jensen's ear when Milo turned to punch in his security code.
"Told you he was an idiot," Jensen murmured back, still wearing that soft, tentative look that made Jared want to give him a hug and maybe a cookie. A touch of more Jensen-like exasperation coloured his voice as he added, "Right sissy little twink."
Jared grinned broadly. He was totally going to torment Jensen about this for the rest of his life.
Jensen looked disgruntled. "Oh, like Dean Forester is fucking James Bond," he muttered.
The elevator doors chose that moment to bing open onto the twelfth floor of CE5 headquarters and Jensen took advantage of the momentary confusion of disembarking to jab an elbow sharply into Jared's side.
Jared kept right on grinning.
Every time Jared came to the HQ, he was always disappointed by how terribly normal it looked. The walls were a nondescript shade of beige, the floors were tiled in an uninspiring dull brown and the majority of the space was taken up by legions of cubicles full of vaguely harried-looking employees in business casual clothing. Jared knew that the surface details had been designed that way deliberately and that the more interesting stuff was kept somewhere out of sight, but just once he'd like to come here and see a holo map in the middle of the hallway or something.
Milo led the way towards Kripke's office and Jared fell in step obediently despite the fact that he'd made the trip a good few dozen times in the past and really didn't need the help.
"You between jobs right now, Peter?" he asked as they walked.
"Nah. Got promoted," Milo said over his shoulder, dodging easily around a frazzled-looking man carrying a double armload of files. "No more fieldwork for me."
"A desk job?" Jared demanded, aghast. "What happened to your sense of adventure?"
Milo's grin flashed. "Now I get my thrills by sending guys like you into highly dangerous situations. Here you go," he said then, stopping in front of a unremarkable door that looked the same as every other one lining the hallway. "I'm working on the fourth floor. Come say hi before you leave if you get a chance." He nodded Jensen's way. "Nice to meet you, Eric."
"Likewise," Jensen smiled. Milo and his silent friends strode off down the hallway and Jensen rapped lightly on Kripke's door.
Jared rolled his eyes. "Christ, even your knock sounds limp wristed."
"Killing you later," Jensen promised in an undertone sing-song, then pushed the door open at the sound of a 'come in, already!' from the other side.
The slight, unassuming man sitting behind the office's imposing-looking desk shot them a narrow look. "Are you in or out?"
"Well that's the shortest job interview I've ever had," Jensen said. He pulled the door shut behind them and Jared watched as Eric Brady rolled off Jensen's shoulders like water. "Good to see you too, Eric. We're fine, thanks for asking."
Eric Kripke rolled his eyes. "Shut it, Ackles. I can still kick your asses to the curb."
Jared grinned. "But you won't because you loooove us." He bounded over and slumped into the closest chair. "How've you been? Galaxy still in one piece?"
"Obviously not if I'm bringing you two chuckleheads back on board."
"Hey," Jared protested. "Don’t lump me in with this guy."
"He's afraid I'm going to make him look bad." Jensen settled down in the other chair with considerably more decorum and gave Kripke a sober look. "I'm guessing we don't need to fill you in on what happened on our end?"
"I'm aware," Kripke said. He held out his hand. "I need the citizen pin you recovered."
Jensen dug into his pocket and passed it over. "You have access to the Station's citizen registry from here?"
"Of course." Kripke pressed the pin into a little plastic cube on his desk and flicked a switch. The thing whirred to life and Kripke left it to its quiet chugging as he turned back to them. "Now. What part of the story do you want first?"
"Are we un-retired?" Jared asked, wanting to get that issue addressed as soon as possible.
Kripke had obviously been expecting the question. "That depends. If I send you on this mission and if you manage to work together despite your respective inability to keep a partner," a nod at Jared, "and refusal to give up solo work," a second nod Jensen's way, "and if you see this mission through to a satisfactory conclusion, well." He shrugged, sitting back in his chair wearing what Jared had come to recognize as his evil mastermind smile. "Then we can talk about me giving your jobs back. Right now? It's all theoretical."
Jensen raised an eyebrow at that. Kripke kept smiling.
"Okay," Jared said, meeting Kripke's smirk with a reckless, devil-may-care grin of his own. "So what's this job you're maybe sending us on? Theoretically speaking, of course."
Kripke dropped the manic expression and leaned forward, hands folded on the desk in front of him. "I'm assuming you read the press release about the Barrier Station in the Earth papers?"
It was Jensen who nodded. "The one about the new chief of staff, yeah. It's why we came to see you - figured it couldn't be a coincidence."
"It's not. It's a cover up for the fact that Governor Morgan appears to have defected."
Shock flashed across Jensen's face. "Jeff Morgan?" he demanded. "You can't be serious."
Jared tilted his head at Jensen. "You knew him?"
Jensen nodded. "He's been the governor the Barrier Station for the last fifteen years. He was the one who-" Jensen cut himself off abruptly and it was Jared's turn to raise an eyebrow at the sight of Jensen fighting to regain his calm.
"I can't believe he'd join the anti-alien movement," Jensen said after a moment, each word carefully chosen. "He's always been such a strong supporter of the Federation system."
Kripke shrugged. "That doesn't change the fact that he vanished from the Barrier Station three weeks ago with a collection of highly classified documents that CE5 can't afford to have fall into the wrong hands."
"How is that even possible?" Jared wanted to know. "I thought all the teleports in and out of the Barrier Station had to be authorized by, like, four different people."
"They do," Kripke confirmed. "By all rights it should have been impossible."
"Why are you so sure he's gone then?" Jensen asked, something like challenge sparking in his eyes.
"Oh I don't know," Kripke said, sarcasm dripping off the words. "Maybe because he can't be located by DNA sweep, he took his suitcase and a third of his wardrobe with him when he vanished, we have evidence of him communicating with suspected members of the IEM in the weeks prior to his disappearance-"
The machine on Kripke's desk binged and he tilted in his chair to look at the readout, "-and you found his citizen pin outside the bar you work in."
The expression on Jensen's face could only be described as shell-shocked. "You think he was looking for me," he said. It wasn't really a question.
Jared hummed thoughtfully. "So he's the one who tried to kill us?"
"No," Jensen said immediately. "I know Jeff. Whatever reason he had for coming to Earth, he wouldn't have done that." He glanced over at Kripke. "Have you found him?"
"Not yet," Kripke admitted, clear dissatisfaction in his tone. "Our men are working on it."
Jensen bit his lip in an unconscious gesture that Jared recognized from watching him try to do laundry for the first time. "So where do we come in? Search crew? Bait?"
"Neither," Kripke said. "I need you two to go to the Barrier Station and keep Morgan's plan from succeeding."
"And what plan was that again?" Jared asked. "I assume it has something to do with the missing documents you mentioned."
Kripke nodded. "The queen of the T'lak is arriving at the Barrier Station in three weeks to sign a formal treaty joining the T'laxians with the Federation and authorizing the development of a T'laxian colony on Jupiter. All the documents Morgan took are related to the security for the treaty signing ceremony. I'm sure you can understand why the men upstairs doubt Morgan's loyalty."
Jared saw Jensen bristle out of the corner of his eye. "You really think he's working with the Independent Earth Movement?" he asked, before Jensen could say anything.
"It's possible. They've been rather vocal in protesting the establishment of new colonies in the past. If they're hoping to make a statement, an incident at a treaty signing of this scale would certainly be high profile enough to suit their purposes." Kripke fixed Jensen with a look. "You don't agree?"
Jensen sighed. "I don't know. I can't imagine Jeff ever siding with the IEM, but I don't have a better explanation for you."
"Well," Kripke said, and thumped a thick folder on the desk. "I guess you're just going to have to take this assignment and find one. Now that you're up to speed, I'll ask again: in or out?"
Jensen glanced at Jared, who offered him a shrug and a smile. Whatever you want.
Jensen's shoulders squared. "In."
Kripke looked entirely unsurprised. Jared couldn't really say he blamed him.
"You'll be leaving for the spaceport as soon as we've got the final details locked in," he told them. "We'll ensure that your friends and family get kept up to date about your cruise while you're away and there are storage boxes prepared for your luggage. I've also taken the liberty of having your identities established and enrolling you as new citizens of the Barrier Station."
"Goody." Jensen breathed out a long-suffering sigh. "So who am I this time? And if you say Eric Brady I'm going to punch you."
"Sadly, Mr. Brady is a bit too... delicate to be dealing with a possible assassination attempt."
Kripke said it with a completely straight face and Jared couldn't help an entirely inappropriate grin of his own. He tried without success to hide it in his sleeve when Jensen's scowl swung his way.
"Laugh it up, chuckles," Jensen said. "At least my alter egos don't headline at the local strip club."
Jared took a moment to appreciate the mental image that inspired, only jerking out of it when Kripke pointedly cleared his throat.
"Clearly, you two are going to make a fabulous team," Kripke said dryly. "If we could get back on track? You're going undercover as Sam and Dean W-"
"What?" Jared protested, dismayed. "Why does Jensen get to be not-Eric if I'm stuck being Dean again?"
"Because I'm awesomer than you," Jensen answered easily. "Also, Eric Brady sucks."
Jared pouted at him. "I could be a Sam. Don't you think I look like a Sam?"
Jensen rolled his eyes. "I think you look like a Jared."
"Guys..." Kripke tried.
Jared ignored him. "Trade with me," he said to Jensen.
Jensen's eyebrow arched. "Christ, what are you, five? And stop making that face. You're not a puppy."
"Do you idiots think you could..."
"Come on Jensen, please?" Jared shuffled his chair closer to Jensen's and dropped into a bedroom voice. "I'll make it worth your while."
Jensen blinked. "Are you seriously offering me sexual favours in return for trading names?"
Jared leered. "Admit it, you think it's genius."
"I think you're a moron."
Jared latched onto Jensen's arm, pulling out his most hopeful expression. "Jenseeeennnnnnnn...."
"Oh, for god's sakes." Jensen heaved a put-upon sigh. "Alright fine, you oversized infant," he said, to the accompaniment of Jared's triumphant whoop. "You can be Sam. But you owe me like ten blowjobs for this."
"Just let me know when you want 'em." Jared glanced Kripke's way. "That's okay, right? The switching names part I mean, not the sexual favours."
"Actually," Kripke said, with a precarious sort of calm. "You're already Sam. Jensen's Dean."
Jared blinked. "Really? Sweet!" He shot a smug look at Jensen. "Looks like you can forget about those blowjobs, pal."
Jensen shrugged. "Whatever. I know you're easy."
Kripke glared at them. "I'm going to change both your names to Nancy if you don't shut up."
Jared paused mid celebratory chair-dance. "You really think it would suit me?"
Casually, Jensen whacked him upside the head. "Knock it off, Jay. Right, so we're Dean and Sam--"
"Sam and Dean!" Jared corrected cheerfully.
Jensen cuffed him again. "-we got any last names to go with that?"
Jared blinked. "What? Both of us?" Kripke nodded and Jared shared a glance with Jensen. "So we're a... gay married couple or something?"
Kripke looked pained. "We'd been planning on brothers, actually. But I guess we can work with that."
Jensen nodded. "Might be a good idea." He jerked a thumb at Jared. "There's no way this idiot is going to be able to pull off being brothers."
"Hey!" Jared objected. "You'd be just as bad at it as me." He pursed his lips thoughtfully, eyes glinting with mischief. "You think we could get arrested for being married gay brothers?"
Jared's day was completely made when Kripke buried his face in his hands with a helpless groan. "Oh god, I should fire you both. Again. Get the hell out of my office and go bother someone else. We'll let you know when your flight's been booked."
A remarkably unmemorable young woman in a suit escorted them to a small sitting room with a couch, a T.V. and a very generous lunch buffet. Jared loved working for an organization that catered to his needs.
Their guide took her leave and Jensen immediately made a beeline for the coffee pot. Jared piled a plate with enough lunch to feed an army, then fixed a second plate for Jensen. Those sandwiches weren't going to eat themselves, after all.
They retreated to the couch with their spoils and sat there in silence for a while, Jensen communing with his coffee and Jared alternating between grinning at his caffeine-addict boyfriend and enjoying his breakfast-lunch.
"So," he said eventually, after Jensen had inhaled his first cup and returned with a second. "The Barrier Station."
"Sounds like," Jensen agreed, sounding impressively blasé about the whole thing.
Not that Jared was going to let that deter him. "You're not excited about going home?"
Jensen shrugged. "I guess. Though it's not really like I'm going home. Not the way you're thinking, anyway."
Jared cocked his head at him. "Why not?"
"My whole family lives in the science block. It's a separate part of the Station from where we're going to be."
"You're still going to see them though, right?" Jared asked, leaning forward. "I mean, you can't go all that way and not take the time to visit."
"My momma would kill me if I didn't," Jensen agreed.
"I know that feeling." Jared looked at Jensen, doing a bad job at faking casual as he added, "Does this mean I finally get to meet your parents?"
"You want to?" Jensen asked, with a startled glance Jared's way.
Jared shrugged, feeling suddenly sheepish. "You've met mine. It's only fair." He offered Jensen a bashful smile. "And I kind of want to keep you, so."
"Who says I'm not the one keeping you?" Jensen asked, with a faint little smile. "Okay," he said after a moment.
"Okay?" Jared asked.
"Okay, you can come with me when I go to visit them. But don't blame me if you wind up emotionally scarred."
"Hey, if you could handle the Padalecki clan, I can handle the Ackles family." He paused. "So what do you think of this mission?"
"You are a master of the subtle conversation shift, I just want you to know that." Jensen ran a hand through his hair with a sigh. "I don't know what to think. I mean, I can't believe Jeff would join the IEM, but Kripke makes a pretty good case."
"You and he were close?" Jared couldn't help but ask. It came out sharper than intended.
"You could say that." Jensen slanted a look at him. "Don't tell me you're jealous."
"I'm not!" Jared protested, and it was even mostly true. "I'm just trying to get a feel for the situation."
"Sure you are." Jensen patted him on the knee. "Don't worry, Sammy. I was apparently dumb enough to marry you so you're not getting rid of me anytime soon."
"Well, that's a relief. I'd really miss having blowjobs on tap otherwise."
"I can already tell this is going to be a really loving relationship."
Jared made calf eyes at him. "You know it, babe. I guess that only leaves one question."
Jensen arched an eyebrow. "Which is?"
"Did you take my name or did I take yours?" Jared grinned at him. "Because I think Sam Winchester totally wears the pants in this relationship."
Jensen punched him for that one. Jared had no regrets.
They were on a private flight up to Vancouver that same day.
"Remind me again why the spaceport for the Mars Base is in Canada?" Jared asked as they boarded the plane.
The agent escorting them shrugged. "Who's going to look for anything important up there?"
It had been a good half dozen years since Jared's last, and only, trip to the spaceport so he was surprised at how familiar the whole check-in process was. Aside from the whole 'going to space' thing, it was pretty much the same as regular airport security.
Times a billion.
They passed through the fifth security door in as many minutes and Jared leaned in close to Jensen's ear. "If they so much as mention a cavity search I'm going to Florida to catch that cruise we're not going on."
Jensen patted his chest placidly. "I'll protect your virtue, hot stuff. Besides, you're the one who thought that saving the galaxy sounded like more fun than three weeks in the Caribbean."
"That was before I knew I'd have to promise someone my first born child to get on the shuttle. Which is going to be really difficult considering I didn't marry you for your birthing hips. Is it always this bad?"
"As far as I know," Jensen answered, pulling them both to a halt when they approached yet another checkpoint. "They're not gonna let just anybody in. You ever been to the Mars Base?" he asked, rotating obediently while a grey-suited guard ran some unidentifiable scanner up and down the length of him. Jared stared at Jensen's feet, pale and soft-looking against the dark carpet.
"Once," Jared answered, losing momentary track of Jensen as he endured his own scan. "About seven years ago. Neat place, though I didn't exactly get to do much sightseeing."
"I doubt you're gonna have much better luck this time round." Jensen slung his bag over one shoulder and waited for Jared to collect his own things. "They try to keep traffic to the Barrier Station moving pretty steadily and, knowing Krip, he'll want us to spend as little time in transit as possible."
"Aside from the five day shuttle to Mars."
"Yes Sam," Jensen said, the new name sitting on Jared's shoulders like an ill-fitted suit. He'd grow into it. "Aside from that."
"Oh well." Another cadre of guards scanned their shuttle permit and shiny new IDs before letting them into a room that finally looked like it might be a boarding area. "At least it'll give us time to get all our prep work done, eh Dean?"
Jensen quirked an eyebrow at him. "I am officially concerned if you think it's going to take you five days to do that."
"Is it really inappropriate to say that I'm actually mostly planning on doing you with some work thrown in on the side?" Jared asked.
"Yes it is."
A pair of guards who looked like bouncers at a particularly rowdy night club met them at the next door.
"Sam and Dean Winchester?" the first asked, and Jared didn't even bother trying to resist the urge to nudge Jensen in the side and mouth 'totally wearing the pants' at him.
Even the resulting heel to his shin couldn't dim his satisfaction.
"That's us," Jensen said. He passed over their IDs, again, and the pair nodded.
"Right this way." The second man punched a code into the security lock set beside the door and they filed through after him. Jensen looked far too smug when Jared's walk was more like a hobble thanks to the ache in his leg.
The door opened into a jet bridge that looked exactly like the ones Jared was used to seeing at airports and he couldn't help quickening his step in anticipation. They'd finally come to the end of the security gauntlet.
And he was about to get on a spaceship. His life was awesome.
Jensen's hand settled lightly on his arm. "Easy there, tiger."
Jared turned to him with an excessively wide grin. "Spaceship!"
"I know," said Jensen. "But you'll have plenty of time to explore once we take off so can you pretend to be an adult for now?"
"Well that's no fun." One of the guards grinned at him and Jared grinned back as they stepped aboard the apartment-sized shuttle that would be their home for the next five days.
"Have a safe trip," the guard said, then stepped back as the door slid shut behind them with a hiss of hydraulics.
"Here," Jensen said and tossed his duffel at Jared's head. Being the awesome, highly trained interplanetary spy that he was, Jared squawked and nearly dropped it on the floor.
Jensen rolled his eyes at him. "If you're quite done. Go stick those in the bedroom and then come up to the front."
"We have a bedroom?" Jared called after Jensen's retreating back and Jensen gave him the finger over one shoulder.
A quick check revealed that they did, in fact, have a bedroom. It wasn't particularly spacious, but the bed looked big enough that they'd probably almost fit on it. Good thing they weren't particularly fussed about personal space.
"We're going to have fun sharing that bed," he told Jensen when he found his way up to the cockpit several minutes later. He slid into the padded seat on Jensen's right. "Might have to string you from the ceiling."
"Or I could make you sleep in the training room. Strap in."
Jared blinked. "We have a training room?" He started buckling himself into the ridiculously complicated harness, half of his attention on watching Jensen's hands doing arcane things across the control panel in front of them.
"I thought these things were automatic."
"They are," Jensen said. "But you need to turn it on first. You ready?"
Jared tightened the last strap. "Yeah."
Jensen nodded and sat back, pulling on his own harness while the ground crew dealt with the last minute launch details. Jared watched them absently, a familiar eagerness rising fast and thick in his blood.
Jensen glanced him. "What are you so happy about?"
"I've missed this," he admitted.
"Space travel? The hell were you working on Earth for?"
"Doing my job," Jared corrected him. "The thrill, the adventure, the kicking ass." He hunched his shoulders a little sheepishly. "I mean, it was nice to actually get to live in my house and spend so much time with you and our friends but it's just... not enough, y'know?"
"I know the feeling," Jensen said, something wry and wistful in his voice. Jared remembered abruptly that, for Jensen, space was more like home than Earth would ever be.
The intercom crackled, clearing them for takeoff, and Jensen turned a grin at him. "You ready?"
Jared grinned back. "Abso-fucking-lutely."
"Then let's do this thing." Jensen hit the throttle on the left side of the console, the engines roared and Jared laughed in breathless delight as the g-force pressed him hard into his chair and sent their little shuttle rocketing into the sky, heading for the stars.
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