"You know," said Jensen, the practice mat dipping under his bare feet as he stepped onto it. "It's really a bad sign if you're bored after less than two hours."
Jared's beaming smile threatened to outdo the overhead lights. "We have a practice room! And no neighbours to shock and or upset with our mad skills."
"Really? And or?" Jensen rolled his shoulders, working out the kinks left over from sitting through the launch.
Jared sniffed at him, the attempt at disdain completely ruined by the fact that he hadn't stopped grinning since they'd climbed aboard. "You're just jealous of my stunning intellect."
"Having a big forehead doesn't mean you have a big brain, you know. It just means you're ugly."
"It's okay, honey, I still love you even when you're in denial." Jared kicked his shoes against the wall and he glanced at Jensen. "Ready?"
"No," answered Jensen dryly. "I'm standing here waiting for your sorry ass because I'm admiring the colour they've painted the wal-"
Jared rushed at him, faster than a man built like a brick wall should have been able to, and the rest of Jensen's sentence got lost in his duck under and away from the long sweep of Jared's arm.
"You didn't even count to three, asshole," he said and threw a right hook at Jared's temple.
Jared blocked it with ease and grinned when Jensen winced at the jarring shudder the impact drove down his arm.
"Figured you'd want an excuse for when I kick your ass," Jared said cheekily, then swore when Jensen's next punch clipped his side.
Jensen smirked at him. "Oh, I'm sorry, did I interrupt your victorious posturing? My bad."
"Fucker." Jared blurred forward, whirling into a kick that would probably have sent Jensen flying into the wall if he'd been a fraction slower at getting out of the way.
"You're doing a pretty shitty job of kicking my ass there," Jensen said, voice going breathless in the middle as he whirled away from the viper strike of Jared's fist.
He wasn't quite quick enough to avoid the arm that hooked around his neck and pulled him in close, though. "Going easy on you," Jared grinned in his ear. "Wouldn't want you to feel outclassed."
"That's your, ngh, excuse?" Jensen shoved hard, wriggling free of Jared's hold and dropping immediately into a lunge. The blow hit Jared's knee hard enough to make him grunt and Jensen slipped neatly out of range before Jared had a chance to grapple him again. "Not looking really convincing, hot stuff."
"Maybe we should make this a little more interesting, then. You know," Jared was in his face in the blink of an eye and Jensen let his body roll with the motion as he wheeled away from the knee Jared threw at his gut. "Add a little bit of friendly competition. Mix things up."
"Oh yeah?" Jensen asked, his breath coming a little shorter on the other side of his somersault. He rocked back onto his feet just out of Jared's reach. "What did you have in mind?"
Jared tossed him a wicked grin. "Winner gets to top?"
Jensen's answering grin was all teeth. "Winner gets to choose," he corrected.
Then he attacked.
Their verbal sparring fell away as they both focused on the match and Jensen felt the rush of fierce adrenaline in his veins that made his movements cleaner, his reactions faster. He and Jared had sparred a handful of times before this, but there was only so much showing off they'd been able to risk while pretending to fit into Jared's cookie cutter life, so they'd never gone at it for real.
Jensen found himself regretting that even more now that he was finally seeing Jared in action. Jensen had been trained in a good half dozen martial arts over the course of his career with CE5 - several of which even he had trouble pronouncing - but Jared was keeping up with him with hardly any effort. Jared moved as instinctively as breathing, each movement seamless and smooth. His easy grin never faltered, whether he was bending nearly in half to escape the jab of Jensen's elbow or weaving round Jensen's guard to land bruises on shoulders, arms, thighs. Which wasn't to say Jensen couldn't kick his ass - because he totally could - but he couldn't deny how good it felt to be facing an opponent who could do better than just hold his own against him.
If they got their jobs back, Jensen so making Jared teach him some of his moves.
They flowed across the floor, trading blows back and forth like a fight scene in a kung fu flick. Jared was obviously having a hell of a time, duck-dodging all over the place and crowing every time he landed a hit.
"Using the dimples is cheating," Jensen said, grunting as he absorbed the shock of the elbow Jared had just thrown at him.
Jared's grin widened. "Not if they work."
Jared's fucking monkey arms snaked towards him and Jensen backpedalled hurriedly to keep out of reach. He realized his mistake a split-second too late, and cursed when Jared's ankle hooked smoothly behind his knee at the same time as his palms struck hard against Jensen's shoulder.
Jensen's whole body twisted as he fell, feet slipping out from under him too fast to let him find his balance without giving Jared the opening he was waiting for.
Luckily, Jensen was better than that.
He caught himself on one hand and pushed back, legs spinning in a wide windmill arc that slammed into the curve of Jared's jaw with enough force to crack bones. Jared managed to deflect enough of the blow to keep from breaking anything, though the impact still sent him staggering back a few steps. Which was all the distraction Jensen needed.
He had Jared flat on his back in under a second, his legs straddling Jared's chest and his hands pinning Jared's wrists to the mat at waist height, cutting down his leverage. The position made Jensen's spine bow back slightly, his weight shifted back against his braced arms, but he was more than stable enough to keep Jared right where he was.
Jensen grinned down triumphantly. "I win."
Jared's eyes took in the backward arch of Jensen's body with an appreciative hunger. "Looks like I didn't do so badly for myself either. Best two out of three?"
"Nice try. You owe me my winnings, Padalecki." He leaned back harder on Jared's wrists, careful not to overbalance himself. "Or are you trying to renege on our bet?"
Jared managed an awkward sort of not-shrug. "Not really. Just making sure you know you're not getting out of a rematch. You gonna let me up?"
Even though he didn't really need to, Jensen tightened the press of his thighs around Jared's ribcage. "Think I like you where you are."
That made Jared's smile tilt. "Might be a bit hard to fuck me from up there."
"Probably," Jensen agreed and shifted his hips forward, exaggerating the curve of his spine and leaving himself in one long, effortless arc from shoulders to pelvis. He offered Jared a smoky smile under the curve of his eyelashes. "You think you can get me off without getting your hands back?"
"Well," Jared said, eyes darkening further. "I guess there's only one way to find out."
Jared craned his neck upwards, nuzzling his face into the crotch of Jensen's jeans and Jensen let out a shaky curse, letting more of his weight fall onto Jared's wrists as he tilted his hips into the warm press of Jared's mouth. His cock started to thicken and fill as Jared navigated the zipper with careful teeth, pressing against the worn cotton of his boxers. Jensen hummed in pleasure, his head falling back.
Jared shifted back with a breathless laugh. "God, you look hot like that. Gonna make you ride me next time."
"Big words from, oh-" Jared mouthed him straight through the fabric, lips tracing loving paths along the shape of his erection. Jared's hips tilted up to let Jensen feel the evidence of Jared's own arousal pressing against the small of his back. "From the guy who lost."
Jared smiled, mouth already spit-slick and shiny. Fuck but Jensen wasn't going to last long. "I'm lulling you into a false sense of security. And if you think you're going to be able to hold your own after I suck your brain outta your dick you've got another thing coming."
"So," Jared said, sliding into the chair on Jensen's left. "Tell me about Dean Winchester."
"Well, he married an idiot for one." Jensen shot a vaguely irritated glance Jared's way and Jared couldn't help the brief flare of satisfaction he felt when he saw the scattering of bruises trailing down the side of Jensen's neck. "Seriously Jay, you're supposed to be reading your briefing documents, not bothering me. And stop looking so fucking smug, you look as bad as I do."
It was true. By the time they'd finally staggered out of the practice room, they'd had between them one ripped shirt, a good couple dozen hickies, two heads of completely untamable sex hair, a ruined pair of boxers, three skinned knees, a nasty case of friction burn and a bowlegged walk that was even more pronounced than usual.
And a bunch of scrapes, cuts and bruises from the sparring, but they were hardly worth counting.
"I have read them," Jared said. He held up his hand, admiring the silver band on his finger. "First time I've ever got a wedding ring in a briefing package."
"Considering how well you apparently didn't get along with any of your previous partners, I can't say I'm really surprised."
"Oh, snugglebunny, you know it's cause you're the only one for me."
Jensen snorted. "I have no idea why Dean Winchester married you."
"Because Sam Winchester's great in the sack," Jared answered promptly.
Jensen's own ring was sitting on the table in front of him and Jared caught him staring at it with a moody sort of frown furrowing his brow. "You know," Jared said. "You're going to have to put it on eventually. And I'm pretty sure it won't give you gangrene."
"You're not the only one who's never been pretend married before," was Jensen's response. "Let me get used to the ugly thing first."
"You don't like it?" Jared asked, holding his hand out with his fingers spread. "I think they're kind of nice."
"And this is why you shouldn't be allowed to dress yourself." Jensen sighed a put-upon sort of sigh. "You're not going away are you?"
"Nope!" Jared answered. "So you may as well give up now before I'm forced to break out my secret weapon."
"That had better not be your dick."
"You kidding? We'd never get anything done." Jared let his face crumple, eyes going wide while his lip quivered just slightly. "Please?" he asked.
Jensen swatted at him. "Oh god, stop that."
"You gonna tell me what I want to know?"
Jared dropped the face and leaned in close, rearranging his expression into something appropriately fascinated. "So come on. Tell me about the man I married."
"He's from Kansas," Jensen surrendered. "Thirty three years old. Married an idiot three years ago."
"Bitch, you love me."
Jensen ignored him. "He's a linguist. Got moved up to the B.C. Research Facility in '05 to specialize in alien languages. Just got transferred to the Barrier Station as a translator in the Earth Embassy."
"Which means you'll be working as a translator at the T'laxian treaty signing," said Jared.
"That's the plan."
"I was wondering what our in was." Jared looked at Jensen. "You gonna be able to pull off pretending to be an alien language specialist?"
Jensen stared at him like he'd just turned purple. "I am an alien language specialist."
Jared promptly did a rather comic double take. "What?"
Jensen's eyes rolled. "Jared," he said, very patiently. "I'm CE5's best Federation division agent. How exactly did you think I'd be able to go undercover in the colonies if I wasn't good with languages?"
"I-" Jared paused. "Hadn't really thought about it, I guess. Huh. So you really speak a bunch of alien languages?"
Jensen shrugged. "Only four fluently, though I can get by in another half dozen or so. My German's not bad either."
Jared sat back in his chair. "Huh."
Jensen's eyebrow arched. "Is that a problem?"
"What? No, it's just..." Jared gave a helpless shrug. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Jensen blinked. "Why would I?" he asked, sounding completely bemused.
Because you're my boyfriend? Jared wanted to say, but something in Jensen's expression held him back. "You never thought that I might want to know?" he asked instead.
"Uh, no?" Jensen gave him a funny look. "It's not like my intimate knowledge of Frnjish is exactly a transferrable skill, Jared. Why would you care?"
"Can't I want to know this sort of stuff about you?" Jared asked, and immediately winced at the edge of hurt in his voice.
Jensen blew out a breath. "What do you want from me, Jared? It's not like I was lying to you - it just never came up, okay?"
"Yeah," Jared sighed. "I guess it wouldn't." He offered Jensen a sheepish smile he didn't completely mean. "Sorry for jumping on you like that."
"That's okay," Jensen said. "I already knew you were a great big girl. So," he said then, with a charming grin that was clearly meant to distract Jared from being an insecure angstbucket. It was a pretty effective tactic, all things considered. "You want to tell me about the great Sam Winchester?"
Jared let a laugh escape him. "Well he is definitely not an alien language savant, so I hope for his sake that there are people who speak English at the Barrier Station."
"Most of them do," Jensen confirmed. "English is the official Earth language for all communications, although some of the accents are pretty awful. It's really only on the colonies where it's harder to get by without knowing other languages."
"Well, Sam Winchester will be glad to hear it. He can't even speak French."
Jared nodded. "He's pretty much a miserable example of a human being. It's embarrassing."
"So, now that we've established that you're completely uncultured, is there anything positive you can tell me about Sam?"
"Well he grew up in California so he's usually got a wicked tan-"
"I don't think those two things are synonymous."
"Well your pasty white ass is from Kansas, so your opinion doesn't count. He's also stunningly attractive, epically tall and has a monster cock."
"And they chose you for the part? Harsh."
Jared smacked him. "Bitch, I'm gorgeous. Totally out of your league."
"Whatever, Mr. Greek God. So what does Sam Winchester do for a living?"
"Actually," Jared lowered his voice and leaned in with a conspiratorial smirk. "He's coming to the Barrier Station because he's a supportive husband who loves his Dean and was willing to leave his whole planet behind to let him pursue his dreams."
"So basically you're my trophy wife."
"Pretty much," Jared agreed. "Luckily, I make awesome arm candy."
"Because that's exactly what every entry-level Embassy translator needs: a date who looks good in a bikini."
"I can totally rock evening gowns too." Jared clapped his hands together. "Right! So now that we've got all the first date stuff out of the way, you wanna have sex?"
Jensen levelled a decidedly unimpressed look his way. "We've done nothing but have sex since we left Earth."
"Not true," Jared protested. "We spent some time kicking the shit out of each other. And we had a shower."
Jared sighed. "You're such a cocktease. Lunch then? I bet I can find the stuff in the kitchen-y thing to make grilled cheese."
"We do have work to do," Jensen said pointedly.
"Eh," Jared said. "We've got plenty of time before we get to Mars."
"Why do I get the feeling that that's going to be your excuse right up until we're docking?"
"Guess you just know me that well," Jared said, ignoring the little voice that asked how true that was of either of them. He pulled on a careless grin. "So, lunch?"
Jensen rolled his eyes. "Fine, you big baby. Lunch." He levered himself to his feet and fixed Jared with a warning look that wasn't particularly convincing. "But we're working after that, you hear me?"
"Loud and clear, Major Tom," Jared teased, firmly putting his insecurities aside. This was not the time for Jared's inner twelve-year old girl to be writing shitty emo poetry; it pretty much went without saying that Jensen the CE5 agent would be different from Jensen the civilian.
He was just selfish enough to want both versions for himself.
True to Jensen's prediction, Jared did his level best to ensure that they spent the majority of their trip to Mars either eating, sparring or having sex, with the occasional pause for sleep thrown in here and there. It was immature and unprofessional and Jensen figured he would have been more irritated about it if a) Jared hadn't been so damnably good at being distracting and b) they'd actually had any real amount of prep work to do.
Despite Kripke's conviction that there was a mission waiting for them at the Barrier Station, their dossiers were so thin as to be nearly non-existent. Jensen had already been through his own a dozen times and Jared's nearly as many. Aside from their new identities, the official details of the treaty ceremony and some information about the Independent Earth Movement's presence at the Barrier Station, they had essentially nothing to work with besides what Kripke'd already told them. Which meant that they were going into this essentially blind and Jensen would have hated that more than enough even without the fact that he had a friend's reputation on the line for this one.
"You're brooding again," Jared said and Jensen felt rather than saw Jared slump down in the chair next to him.
"I'm not brooding" Jensen denied, not looking up from the files spread across the table. "I'm thinking in a deep and manly fashion,"
Jared's snort aptly conveyed what he thought of that. "Seriously dude, you're starting to look like a Klingon with all these furrows."
Jared poked a finger at his forehead and Jensen flailed at him.
"What the hell, Jared?" he demanded, sharper than he'd intended.
Not that it deterred Jared in the least. "Jensen. You're not going to learn anything new from reading those things again. And if you set them on fire with your eyes you're going to be really pissed when you need them later." Jared fixed him with a look that Jensen couldn't quite read. "This mission is getting to you already, huh?"
Jensen sighed and slumped back in his chair. "I just hate feeling like we're fighting a losing battle before we even begin." He slapped a frustrated hand down on the papers in front of him. "The only thing these damn things tell me is that I'm well equipped to start my pretend job at the Embassy and you're a mooch."
"I prefer the term lady of leisure. And okay, so it's a bit thin on the ground, but I'm sure we've both gone into a mission with less."
"Doesn't mean I have to like it," Jensen grumbled.
"Well at least we've got like two and a half weeks to figure things out."
"Sixteen days," Jensen reminded him.
Jared waved a careless hand. "That's still more than two weeks. We'll be fine."
Jensen snorted. "You know, your groundless confidence is not making me feel better."
"That's because you're a grump." Jared's head tilted. "You wanna tell me the real reason you're upset?"
"Because that isn't enough? Fuck, Jared, we've got sixteen days to find a conspiracy that may or may not exist with absolutely fucking nothing to go on besides Kripke's hunch about Jeff."
"You still don't believe this Jeff guy did it," Jared said. It wasn't really a question.
"No," Jensen admitted.
"Can I ask why?"
Jensen sighed, looked down at his hands. The ring on his finger was a jarring anomaly. "Jeff's the one who got me into CE5," he admitted.
Jared nodded. "I wondered. Is that why you don't think Kripke's got the right guy?"
"Not completely." Jensen sighed again and scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I mean, yeah, I admire Jeff and he was there for me when I needed him, but I also know just how dedicated he is to the Barrier system and how hard he's always worked to make sure that the colonies were properly cared for within the Federation." Jensen shrugged helplessly. "I just can't imagine anything that could make him go against that."
There was a moment of silence before Jared shrugged and sat back. "Okay."
Jensen raised an eyebrow at him. "Okay?"
"Okay," Jared repeated firmly. "If you trust him, then I trust him. Which means we should probably start by finding out what actually happened to him."
Jensen stared. "You're serious, aren't you?"
"Sure." Jared cocked his head to the side. "Unless you had another lead you wanted to run down first?"
"You're ready to trust him despite all the evidence Kripke gave us just because I say so."
Jared shrugged again. "Of course."
Jensen shook his head, laughing softly. "How are you for real?"
"I'm actually a robot." Jared grinned at him. "I'm programmed to be awesome."
"Is that so?"
"Completely. So, are you done being manfully moody now? Cause I know just the thing to distract you if you're not."
"No," Jensen said immediately. "We're docking at the Mars Base in less than an hour; I am not going to let you embarrass both of us because you feel like having a quickie."
"Oh don't worry," Jared said, with a smarmy wink. "I won't be embarrassed at all. And that wasn't actually what I was going to say, pervert."
"Colour me unconvinced."
"Well then," said Jared, ignoring the sarcasm entirely. "Since we ate like an hour ago and you've ruled out sex and presumably sparring seeing as you don't want to get all sweaty-"
"And covered in spunk," Jensen pointed out. "Which seems to happen a lot when I spar with you."
"What can I say? I'm a giver." Jared made the damn puppy eyes at him again. "You sure you don't want to hear my cunning plan?"
Jensen heaved a sigh. "Alright, what is it?"
Jared's grin boded absolutely no good for anyone in a hundred mile radius. "You think you know all the words to the Final Countdown?"
"You are not serious."
"I am completely serious."
Jensen made a face. "Okay, first off, you're never completely serious. And second, listening to you sing is never on my list of fun things to do. You sound like a cat being hit with a brick."
Jared made kissy faces at him. "You always say the nicest things. Although you do realize that if you don't join in, I'm just gonna have to sing on my own. And I’m gonna pick show tunes."
Jared's grin told him that yes, yes he would.
Jensen made a face at him. "You are such a massive prick."
"No, I have a massive prick. Though I can see how you could get confused." Jared threw a manic grin his way. "Last chance."
"Ooooooooklahoma!" Jared belted, even more painfully off-key than usual. The bastard. "Where the wind blows sweetly down the-"
Jensen groaned. "You are the bane of my existence."
"And you love it." Jared leaned in close, equal parts beseeching and mischievous. "Come on Jen, live a little."
"I think I'd live a lot better if I killed you first. Fine," he surrendered, when Jared opened his mouth to start singing again. "I'll drown you out before you make both of us deaf. But no fucking show tunes."
Jared's answering grin was wide and dimpled and Jensen couldn't even muster a decent amount of indignation at being manipulated so easily when Jared smiled at him like that. "Works for me."
If the Barrier Station was the brains of the extraterrestrial human effort, the Mars Base was the brawn.
Completed in the 1940s, the Mars Base was the end result of a terraforming project that hadn't proved as viable for human migration as had been initially hoped. It covered just over a sixth of the planet's surface and was first and foremost a military settlement. The soldiers of the Mars Base were well trained, well equipped and well suited to the task of policing the colonies and maintaining good order throughout the Federation. The ranks were mostly filled by humans, though the ratio of alien to human troops was increasing with every year.
According to the official Earth press release, the Mars Base's main purposes were to act as a relay point between the Earth and the Barrier Station and to provide the first line of defense in the event of a hostile alien force breaking through the Barrier.
Which shouldn't have been a particularly convincing argument considering just how much of a waste of manpower a setup like that would have been, but it was amazing the things people would believe. And apparently the idea of an interplanetary police force seemed even less believable in the long run.
There were more than a few raised eyebrows among the assembled soldiers when they arrived at the Mars Base in the middle of butchering Styx's Come Sail Away, but Jensen decided that Dean Winchester wasn't the type to get flustered by something like that and refused to flush.
"Better than scandalizing them with your sex hair," Jared murmured in his ear.
"My sex hair?" Jensen muttered back, and flashed a cocky smile at the assembled troops as a pretty blonde girl with corporal bars on her green uniform stepped forward. She was about Jared's age, Jensen guessed, which made her rather young for that kind of authority. Someone up in the ranks must have taken a shine to her.
She stopped an exactly proper five feet away and executed a sharp salute. "Sam and Dean Winchester?" she asked and, so help him, if Jared didn't stop looking so fucking smug about that every time, Jensen was going to strangle him.
"That's us," Jared said, and immediately risked life and limb by draping a proprietary arm around Jensen's shoulders. "I'm Sam and this is my Dean."
Jensen elbowed him in the side. "Stop being an ass." He turned and offered a smile to the woman. "Sorry about him. He's an idiot."
"Hey, you're the one who married me," Jared said.
"Well, clearly it's lucky for you that I'm shallow."
"Really? I thought it was because you were easy."
"I hate to interrupt," the woman said, with obvious amusement. "But your teleport clearance has already been authorized and we need to get this show on the road."
Jared flashed her a charmingly sheepish grin. "Right, sorry. Let's start again." He held out a hand. "Hi, I'm Sam Winchester. And you are?"
"Alona Tal," she told him, returning the handshake. "Interim Commander of the Mars Base."
"Interim Commander?" Jensen repeated, shaking Alona's hand in turn. Her grip was firm and competent. "That's impressive at your age. Shouldn't you be too important to be babysitting us?"
"No, actually. Access to the teleports is very carefully regulated; only senior level officers have the necessary clearance. And speaking of clearance, I'll need to see your registration documents, please."
"Of course, Corporal."
"As long as you call us Dean and Sam." Jensen handed over the information in question and waited while Alona looked through it.
Jared nudged him. "You know, after the grief we went through to get on the shuttle in the first place, I'd be pretty impressed if we'd turned into people who weren't us somewhere en route."
"Hush," Jensen said. He slanted a wry grin Alona's way as she handed back the paperwork. "I'd apologize again, but I think it's going to get redundant fast. Are we good to go?"
Alona nodded. "Everything checks out."
Jared grinned at her and slung his arm around Jensen's shoulders again. "Well in that case, you'd better lead the way before I say something else that Dean has to apologize for."
Alona was back to looking amused. "I'm getting the impression that might be hard to prevent." She turned to go and her men fell in behind them with ingrained precision. "This way."
"Have you two ever been to the Mars Base before?" she asked as they walked, their heavily-armed escort clinking behind them.
"Never," Jensen lied smoothly. "First time spacers."
Alona nodded. "Well then I'm sorry you won't have time to look around the Base. We're very proud of it and it's usually quite the experience for groundbounders."
"Maybe next time," Jared said, hitting just the right combination of regretful and endearing to make her blush. It looked like Sam Winchester was a bit of a charmer.
They walked out the doors onto the front steps of the shuttle port and Jensen bit back a smile at the absolutely crestfallen expression that spread across Jared's face when he saw the plain, completely ordinary black Buick waiting for them at the curb.
Alona obviously caught the look as well. "Sorry to disappoint, Sam," she said. "But we've got to get around somehow. The Mars Base was designed as an artificial Earth dome, so it's not all that different sometimes."
"But!" Jared protested, and Jensen rolled his eyes.
"Come on, Sammy," he said, hooking an arm around Jared's elbow and tugging him towards the car. "I'm sure they'll be all sorts of cool, space age stuff for you to geek out over at the Barrier Station."
Jared grumbled at him, but didn't resist when Jensen folded him into the not-as-spacious-as-he-would-have-liked backseat and got in after him. Alona said a few quick words to her troops and three stepped forward out of the front line and climbed into the car as well. The rest remained standing in front of the shuttle port while Alona got in the car and they pulled out into traffic.
Jensen ended up squashed against Jared's chest in the crowded space and Jared wrapped an absent arm around his waist to keep him steady. Jensen figured that Dean was man enough to be okay with gay PDAs, even if they did involve snuggling.
"You're very comfortable with each other," Alona noted, echoing his thoughts. "How long have you been married?"
"Three years," Jensen answered easily, Dean's fictitious life slotting neatly over top of Jensen's reality. "Though we've been together for close to five."
"Congratulations," Alona said. She smiled. "You make really a lovely couple."
"That's just because Dean's pretending not to be a jerk," Jared said. He leaned in and dropped his voice into a conspiratorial whisper. "He beats me up, you know."
Jensen elbowed him. "I think small nations would have trouble beating you up, Sam. Can you believe I took his name?" he said to Alona, who was looking highly amused by their antics. Which was good. Meant that this cover might actually work out for them after all.
"Whatever," Jared dismissed. "I know you love it." He glanced at Alona then, face arranged into artfully guileless smile. "Let's talk about you for awhile, okay Alona? I'm sick of hearing about my love life."
"Wait, I'm supposed to love you?" Jensen asked. "No wonder this marriage sucks so hard."
Jared responded by pulling him into a hug that was tight enough to make him squeak and Alona laughed. "About me, huh?" she said. "What did you want to know?"
"Oh, I dunno," Jared shrugged, and okay, Jensen had to admit he was damn good at this. Made him wonder how he could be such a shitty liar the rest of the time. "You're the Interim Commander, right? What does that mean? Is the Commander Commander on vacation?"
Alona shook her head. "She got promoted actually."
"Really? I thought Commander was the highest rank on the Mars Base."
"It is. She's the new governor of the Barrier Station."
Jared looked suitably impressed. "Wow, good for her! And you're getting promoted into her job?"
"Not exactly. I'm just filling the position until the higher ups appoint a new commander."
"Huh. If you're capable of filling in, seems to me like they should have just given the position to you."
Alona shrugged. "I'm kind of young for it. But I worked directly under Commander Ferris for two years, so I'm capable of doing the job in the meantime."
Jensen let a mild frown furrow his brow, nothing but casual curiosity in his tone. "Shouldn't they already have picked a new commander before they promoted Commander Ferris?"
Alona shrugged again, and the move wasn't as casual as she'd probably intended it to be. "It was kind of an emergency. Governor Morgan took a leave of absence and it's more important to have the Barrier Station running at full capacity than the Mars Base since we doesn't have as much contact with extrabarrier races." Her rueful smile didn't fit quite right, either. "Really, the situation should have been resolved by now, but you know how long it takes the brass to accomplish anything."
Jared made an agreeing noise. "No kidding. You wouldn't believe how long it took to get the paperwork for Dean to transfer up here. So what happened to Governor Morgan?" he asked then. The impeccably polite interest in his voice wasn't enough to keep Alona's eyes from narrowing, just slightly. "He go AWOL often?"
"Commander Ferris has always spoken highly of him," Alona said shortly, and then, "Here we are, " as the car rolled to a stop and another green-suited soldier stepped forward to pull open the door. The smile she flashed them wasn't quite as warm as her earlier ones, but neither was it cool enough to suggest that they'd pushed her far enough to seem suspicious.
Jensen returned her smile with one of his own. "After you."
They climbed out of the car and approached a building that Jensen only vaguely remembered from his trip through here the year before. The exterior defenses were solid, extensive and borderline excessive which wasn't much of a surprise; the Mars Base's teleport was the only real connection Earth had with the wider Federation.
Which is why he couldn't help but raise his eyebrows when the entire process of getting into the building, traveling through the security gates and reaching the teleport room took them less than ten minutes.
Alona obviously noticed his surprise. "Something wrong, Dean?"
He shrugged. "After the three-ring circus we went through back on Earth, I would've expected more... thorough security."
Alona smiled. "That's why you've got me as your 'babysitter'. The security clearance to get into the building is high enough that extra hoops once you're inside would just be overkill. Come on."
A swipe of her credentials had the door hissing open and Jensen was careful to match Jared's look of surprised awe as they walked in.
The Mars Base's teleport looked to be the same model as the one at the new Clomnian colony: wide, pulsing bright curves of brown and green and blue collected under a gunmetal grey framework. Jensen figured they'd probably upgraded recently.
"Oh don't worry," Alona said from somewhere on his left, obviously misinterpreting curiosity for concern. "It's perfectly safe."
"Oh, I'm not scared of it," Jensen said and the slight widening of his eyes was just enough to make it look like a lie. "Just wondering how it works."
"Bullshit," Jared coughed, and Jensen decided that Sam Winchester might be charming but he was definitely an ass.
"Now Sam," Alona chided. The smile she turned on Jensen was only about half as indulgent as he'd been expecting. "You'd have to ask the engineers about that, but I'm sure they'd be happy to explain."
"Probably wouldn't understand half of it anyway," Jensen said. He squared his shoulders. "Let's get this over with."
Jared put a comforting hand on his arm. "You want me to go first?"
"Fuck you, no," Jensen said, because Dean Winchester was not a pussy and there was no way he was going to miss Jared's reaction at the other end. He shrugged off Jared's hand and offered Alona a smile. "Thanks for taking care of us, Alona. We really appreciate it."
"My pleasure," Alona said, shaking his and Jared's hands in turn. "Good luck."
"Thanks," said Jared. He tossed her a wink. "You want us to say hi to Governor Ferris for you?"
Alona laughed. "Sure, why not?"
One of the technicians cleared his throat unsubtly and Alona nodded.
"I'm aware, thank you. Time to go, gentlemen. Dean, come with me."
Jensen followed Alona up the steps to the platform and listened attentively while she walked him through a process he'd done a hundred times before. His duffel went on the inanimate object transport and Jensen waited while they configured the teleporter to suit his dimensions.
"It's just like going down a waterslide," Alona reassured him. "Just let yourself fall."
Jensen had never been on a waterslide in his life. He'd have to ask Jared later if it was an accurate comparison.
"Sounds good." He tossed off a jaunty salute. "Thanks again," he said and then, to Jared, "See you in a few."
"I'll miss you!" Jared hollered, the last word cutting off halfway as Jensen stepped forward and the room vanished in a whirlwind of stars and fire and heartbeats.
It was over in a single, deep breath. Eternity resolved itself into a room with white walls and blue overhead lights that mirrored the steady pulse of the Barrier Station's teleport. Jensen stumbled deliberately on his way out, faking a dizziness he didn't feel. A quick glance from under his eyelashes showed a half dozen or so people in the room with him, mostly technicians. A pair of plainclothes police officers stood waiting near the platform. Jensen ignored them for the time being, turning instead to watch for Jared's arrival.
It was even better than he'd been hoping.
Jared blasted into the room like he'd been shot out of a sling, eyes wide and arms pin-wheeling, the tail end of a yell rattling out of his throat. His instinctive attempt to halt his forward momentum sent him staggering almost immediately and he nearly fell down the stairs before he caught himself.
Jensen smirked. "Y'alright there, Sammy?"
"Holy shit that was awesome," Jared gasped, exhilarated laughter threading through the words. "Can we do it again?"
"Maybe later," a voice said behind them, and Jensen turned to see that the cops had stepped forward, both wearing welcoming smiles.
Jared blinked. "Oh, hello. I didn't see you there. Are you the welcoming committee?"
"We are," said the first one, who was broad, dark-haired and nearly as tall as Jared. His suit looked like it had been deliberately tailored to downplay the muscle hiding underneath. He stuck out a hand. "Detective Tom Welling, with the Barrier Station Criminal Investigations Department. And this is my partner-"
"Mike Rosenbaum," the other said, with a beaming wide grin that had far too much mischief in it for Jensen's continued well-being. He looked to be a few years older than Jensen, though his shaved head made him look younger. He wore his jacket and tie like they'd look better on the floor. "Detective with the Barrier Station blah, blah, whatever. And must be the Winchesters."
"Must we?" Jared asked, already grinning as he accepted handshakes from both of them. "I wanted to be the Smiths for once."
"I'm Dean, he's Sam," Jensen filled in smoothly. "Good to meet you." He shook each of their hands in turn, noting the gun calluses on their palms with professionally detached interest. "You don't have more security to send us through, do you?"
Tom shook his head. "No. We're here to welcome you to the Barrier Station and get you settled."
"First an Interim Commander and now two of the Barrier Station's best and brightest?" Jared shook his head. "I'm going to start feeling special if you keep it up with the honour guards."
"Don't worry," Mike said, grinning. "It's your husband who's the special one. You're just part of the package."
Jared laughed. "Touché," he said and oh, Jensen could not see a friendship between him and Mike going anywhere good.
The resigned look in Tom's eyes suggested he was thinking the same thing.
The pressure sensor on the inanimate object transport beeped a reminder and Jensen went to collect their waiting duffels while Mike and Jared continued their grin-off.
"Oh," said Tom, stepping forward. "Let me help with that."
Jensen shifted the bag neatly out of Tom's reach without making it look like he'd done so. "Don't trouble yourself," he said, with an easy grin. "That's what he's here for. Right honey?"
Jared oofed when Jensen slung his bag at him, knees buckling faintly with the same false effort that had shaken Jensen's underhand toss. "Whatever you say, pumpkin."
"You didn't bring much," Mike noted, glancing at their duffels.
Jared shrugged. "They told us to pack light. And I didn't figure my cable package worked up here so it wasn't really worth bringing the T.V."
"Well yeah," Mike said, sounding amused. "But normally people at least bring a suitcase or two."
It was Jensen's turn to shrug. "We've been meaning to de-clutter for a while. Sam still owned the same furniture he'd had as a freshman," he confided, hoping that Jared's back story had room for a college degree. "I'm just as glad to be rid of it."
"It had character!" Jared protested and Jensen scoffed at him.
"It had beer stains."
Jared shrugged that one off. "At least it wasn't not made of cardboard. My friend Paul used cardboard boxes for furniture for like, three years."
"I'm not entirely sure this is helping your case." Jensen glanced at Mike and Tom, noting that Mike found them openly amusing while Tom seemed mostly bemused. He could work with that.
"So," Jared said. "You said something about getting settled? Because I don't know about you, but I've traveled over three billion miles today and I'm beat."
Tom looked apologetic. "I'm afraid we've got a few things to go over first."
He produced a pair of coded envelopes that Jensen recognized as citizen information packages and handed them over.
"Here are your credentials, citizen pins and residency files," he told them.
"Citizen pins?" Jared asked, disengaging the seal on his envelope with a swipe of his ID and poking his nose inside.
"Sort of like an ID badge. Here." Tom showed Jared how to attach his pin and went through the same spiel Jensen had run off to him back on Earth.
"Cool," said Jared, once Tom was done. "So it's like my house keys and my entire personal file attached to my arm?"
Mike grinned. "Not far off, really. You'll still need your credentials to get into limited access areas-"
"Like the Earth Embassy," Tom put in, with a nod in Jensen's direction.
"-but pretty much everything else is regulated through the pin system."
"So I need special clearance to go to work?" Jensen asked, tilting his new ID badge this way and that. "Does that mean Sam won't be dropping by for lunch?"
"Depends on where in the Embassy you are." Jensen cocked an eyebrow at him and Tom hurried to explain. "The first floors of all the Federation Embassies are open to the general public. It's only when you start going higher that your clearance comes into play." He pointed at a raised '3' in the corner of Jensen's ID badge. "This number tells you your security clearance level. The Embassy staff will be able tell you exactly what parts of the Embassy you have access to."
"I'm a two," Jared noted. "So does that mean I can go into some parts of the Embassy but not as many as Dean?"
Tom nodded. "You'll have to ask about the specifics, but yeah. You can also put in requests for temporary clearance in emergency cases."
"Good to know." Jared tucked his envelope into his jacket pocket. "You got any other goodies for us?"
"Not right now," Mike said. "There's some maps and guide books and stuff in there, but you can look at 'em on your own time. Let's get you guys somewhere you can pass out in peace."
"Best idea I've heard all day," Jensen said. He slung his duffel over one shoulder. "Lead on."
"Where are we headed anyway?" Jared asked, as they followed Mike and Tom out of the teleport room and into the mess of hallways and security gates that was the Barrier Station's Teleport Hub. Jensen could have navigated the place in his sleep - he very nearly had, on more than one occasion - but he kept his stride in line with Jared's. "It's not like we've had a chance to look at the real estate listings up till now."
"You've been set up in a suite at the Moonrise Hotel until you move into a more permanent residence," Tom answered.
Jensen arched an eyebrow. "Are we paying for that?"
"Nah," said Mike. "The Embassy's footing the bill. Though you might not want to wait too long before you find a place or they'll start taking it out of your paycheck."
"Duly noted. I'm guessing I'll hear all about deadlines and whatever when I go to the Embassy tomorrow?"
Mike shrugged. "Who knows? Not our department. Probably a safe bet, though."
"Way to be helpful, Mike," Tom said, with a roll of his eyes.
In a matter of minutes they'd reached the building's main lobby and Mike paused with one hand on the door. "Try not to get too excited," he cautioned.
Jared made a face at him. "Are you allowed to tease us when you're on the clock?"
"Just making sure you're getting the welcome you deserve." Mike pushed open the door and gestured grandly. "Welcome to the Barrier Station."
They stepped out onto the building's front steps and Jensen grinned inwardly at the sheer delight that scrawled across Jared's face.
"Now this is a space station," Jared said, craning his neck far enough back that his hair brushed his shoulders. "Holy shit."
Jensen let his own gaze follow Jared's upwards, taking in the sight of the Barrier Station in all its glory.
Now that he'd been to Earth, Jensen could see how the Station had been modeled to look like it. There were paved streets, houses, boulevards with real grass and tidy little trees, shops, all the earmarks of a groundbound city. But that was where the similarities ended.
The light was too white, for one thing; it shone down from overhead lamps that were regulated by position and time of day, not nature. The roads were full of pedestrians, not cars. Most of the foot traffic was human, though at least one in every ten was alien. Jensen could see three inter-sector ports from where he was standing as well as an access gate to the Station's mechanical sector.
And then, just to diminish the resemblance further, he looked up.
Where Earth cities spread out, the Barrier Station built up, stacking city blocks on top of each other in perfect symmetrical order, layer by layer by layer. The rectangular holes cut at regular intervals into every layer helped open up the space, giving the overall Station the airy feeling of the atrium of a high-rise hotel rather than the closed-in corridors of an office building. When he tilted his head back, Jensen could look up through the gaps to see people walking on the suspension bridges that crisscrossed each of them; they all looked supremely unconcerned about the many floors worth of empty space under their feet. The details started getting fuzzy about six layers up, but if he squinted he could see that they'd added at least one new layer since he'd last bothered to look.
"Holy shit," Jared said again, after a long moment of awed silence. "That is crazy cool."
Jensen made an appropriately impressed noise in response. "No kidding."
They kept looking up for a few heartbeats more before Jensen finally shifted, rolling his neck to each side with a wince.
"Okay, not a big fan of the neck strain."
Tom shrugged. "You get used to it. Ready to go?"
"Yeah," Jensen said, then, over his shoulder. "Sam?"
"Coming." Jared jogged over to Jensen's side, then glanced around. "I'm guessing we're walking?"
"Yep," said Mike, grinning. "Not much call for things on wheels round here."
Jared pursed his lips. "How do you get from one... floor, I guess, to another?"
"Please don't say stairs," Jensen threw in. "I'm going home if you say stairs."
"They're called sectors," Tom said to Jared. "We're on sector one right now. The current top sector is eleven, though they're working on a twelfth."
"And you don't have to take the stairs, Dean," Mike said.
"Elevator?" Jared guessed.
Mike grinned. "Better." He gestured ahead of them. "Meet the inter-sector port."
Jared and Jensen both looked at the clear rectangular tube Mike was pointing at.
"It looks like a phone booth," Jensen said. "But taller."
"Yes it does," Mike agreed.
"It's a short-range teleporter," Tom explained. "It's how we get around."
Jared brightened. "Like on the Jetsons?"
"I think they mean it more literally than that." Jensen glanced at Tom. "Am I right?"
Tom nodded. "It's a smaller, less advanced version of the teleport system you used to get here from the Mars Base. See the number marked here? That tells you what sector and block this port connects to. Right now we're on sector one block two; you can get back here later by taking any port that connects to this one. Depending on where you're trying to get to, it's sometimes faster to link through several sectors rather than walking to a port that goes where you're trying to get."
"This is going to get confusing," Jared said.
"To begin with, yes. Hopefully that will improve."
Mike leaned in. "This particular port dumps you out at sector three block one: right next to the Earth Embassy. And since your hotel's not far from there, we only need to make one jump." He grinned. "Who wants to go first?"
Jared volunteered immediately, of course. Jensen followed a few moments after and found him grinning like a maniac in the middle of the street.
"We have got to get one of these," Jared declared, practically vibrating with glee as Tom and Mike came through after them.
"And do what with it?" Jensen demanded, falling into step as Tom led the way down the street.
"Ride it around the house," Jared answered, as though it was obvious.
"You know, if I'd wanted a three-year old I would have adopted."
"I'm a two-in-one package. Bigger bang for your buck."
"Well considering we're both living on my buck right now, I guess that makes you twice the nuisance."
Jared sighed. "This is the thanks I get for being a supportive husband."
"Bullshit," Jensen said. "You just want to be a kept man."
Jared shrugged. "Yeah, probably. It's better than working, anyway."
"What is it that you do, Sam?" asked Tom.
"Oh, I'm an airline pilot," Jared said airily.
Tom's forehead creased with a frown. "That's-"
"Not very useful on a space station," Jared agreed, not missing a beat. "That's okay. I like to think of my employment status as a work in progress. Oh hey, is that our hotel?"
He gestured down the street towards a multi-story building with Moonlight Hotel scrawled on the marquis outside.
"Gee, what gave it away?" Mike asked.
Jared's grin sparkled. "I'm a psychic on my off days."
"Then I bet you can guess my reaction to that load of horseshit."
Jared laughed. "I might have an inkling, yes."
"Anyway," Tom said. "If you two think you can handle things from here?"
"I'm sure we'll manage," Jensen agreed. "Thanks for all your help."
There was another round of handshakes and then Jared and Jensen went into the hotel to check in while Tom and Mike headed back down the street.
"I like them," Jared decided, in between charming the woman at the front desk and walking towards the elevator bay with their room key. "They seem like good people."
"I'm glad for you," Jensen deadpanned. "Now get in the damn elevator before I leave you here."
Their suite was pretty standard fare: bed, kitchenette, bathroom, window, T.V., coffee table, couch. Jensen hardly noticed; after half a lifetime of living out of hotels, the bland utilitarian order of the place was more familiar to him than the comfortable chaos of Jared's house.
By unspoken agreement they spent fifteen minutes sweeping the place for bugs, all the while talking about the trip in, the wonders of the Barrier Station, the daunting task of finding a restaurant in a brand new city.
Once the room turned up clean, Jensen started unpacking his duffel while Jared draped his lazy ass across the bed.
"You know, you could help," Jensen told him.
"This bed is totally not big enough," Jared said, ignoring him entirely. "I've got no idea where we're going to put you."
Jensen pegged a pair of rolled up socks at his head. "Bet I'll have plenty of space after I throw you out the window," he said sweetly.
Jared threw the socks back at him. "You, Dean Winchester, are the worst wife ever. I hope you know that."
"Guess you should have thought twice about proposing," Jensen said, glad they'd agreed not to slip character when they were alone. It made the job a whole lot more difficult when you had to remember to play yourself as well as your persona.
"Maybe." Jared levered himself upright and stretched, his shirt riding up to expose a thin sliver of tanned skin at his waist. "But I'm sure I can still find a use or two for you."
Jensen arched an eyebrow at him. "I thought the bed was too small."
Jared scoffed. "Please. Have you seen how much wall space we've got? And don't get me started on the bathroom."
"As long as you leave the kitchen out of it. The last time put me off oatmeal for a month."
"Spoilsport. But in the meantime, how do you feel about breaking and entering?"
Jensen considered. "On principle or as a recreational activity?"
"The second one."
"Depends." He tilted his head at Jared. "What am I getting out of it?"
"Rimjob?" Jared offered and Jensen snorted.
"Please, you enjoy them as much as I do. Try again."
"The visceral thrill that comes from doing illegal stuff?"
"That is pretty thrilling," Jensen mused. "Remind me again why we're doing illegal stuff?"
Jared's shrug was a little too casual to be really convincing. He'd been thinking about this. "Thought we might want to check out Morgan's house. See if we can find anything to help rule him out as a suspect."
"Well, maybe not right now, but yeah. Soonish." Jared looked up at him through his bangs, which Jensen did not think should look as adorable as it did coming from a guy who was built like a Yeti.
"The Station's Criminal Investigations people will have already searched it," Jensen reminded him.
Jared waved a careless hand. "Yeah, but you don't really trust them to have done it right."
"I'm also not sure I trust you to do this without half the Station showing up and asking for your autograph."
"One time!" Jared protested. "How was I supposed to know that I looked exactly like one of the contestants on American Idol?"
"You watch American Idol."
"Yeah, now! Why do you think I started?" Jared was grinning brightly, those stupidly attractive dimples standing out in sharp relief, and Jensen forewent the rest of this discussion by the simple expedient of tackling Jared to the bed.
"We'll go tonight," he decided, lining up their hips and grinning at the way it made Jared's breath stutter but failed to dim his smile. "You can get your illicit thrills and I can do illegal things without worrying about ending up on the six o'clock news next to your conspicuous ass."
"There's a tonight on a space station?" Jared asked and Jensen shrugged.
"They turn down the lights and reduce the temperature. It counts. Now," he leaned in close, planting his hands on the bedspread to either side of Jared's head. "In the meantime, why don't you get started on figuring out how to reward me?"
"I can do that," Jared said, hands settling warm and proprietary on Jensen's hips. "But I demand cuddling after."
"You're such a girl," Jensen said fondly. "Now shut up and kiss me."
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