Six hours later found Jared on his knees in front of Jeff Morgan's front door, trying to pick the lock while his boyfriend acted like a douche.
"My god you are bad at this," Jensen said. "Do you have to hope that people leave their windows open when you break in?"
"Shut up," Jared muttered distractedly, probing deeper with his picks. "I might be faster if you knew how to hold a flashlight straight."
Jensen's voice was dripping with false innocence. "Oh, you wanted it straight? Why didn't you say so?" The beam of light vanished, skittering across Jared's face and half the block before swinging back. Luckily, the lock chose that moment to click open before Jared had to hit Jensen for being an ass.
He checked his watch. "Ninety two seconds. Stop your bitching or you're doing all the lock picking from now on."
"I quiver in fear." Jensen pushed the door open, his flashlight beam suddenly a whole lot more useful when he wasn't using it to fuck with Jared's concentration. "I'll take the upstairs," he said. "You check things out down here."
Jared nodded, even though Jensen probably couldn't see him in the dark, then clicked on his own flashlight and moved into the living room. Behind him, he could hear the faint creak as Jensen headed up the stairs, almost ghostlike he was so quiet.
Jared moved quickly and quietly through the first floor, eyes peeled for anything the initial search team might have missed. Despite the fact that it had been shut up for nearly a month, the house still looked decidedly lived in. The furniture in the living room was well worn and slightly shabby around the edges and there were family photos hung on the walls. There was even cereal moldering in the kitchen cupboards. Jared shook his head. It was always sad to be in a home that had lost its owner.
His search was routine and pretty much useless until he got to the back corner of the house and found a study. The police had obviously tossed the place pretty thoroughly; there were papers strewn across the floor, drawers hanging drunkenly from their runners and whole shelves of books knocked off the bookcase.
However there was also, to Jared's pleased surprise, a computer still sitting on the desk.
"God bless incompetence," he grinned to himself as he flicked on the overhead light and headed over to plug the thing in.
The computer booted up with a merry chime and it was the work of minutes for Jared to figure out Morgan's password. The background on his desktop was a photograph of the Barrier Station that had obviously taken by someone leaning over a railing a good five or six sectors up. Even in a picture, the view was enough to make him feel awed and a little dizzy; he couldn't wait to try it for himself. Rides at the fun fair just weren't going to compare, he wagered.
Jensen showed up about ten minutes later and leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed on his chest. "You're not being very stealthy right now, Sam," he said, with a significant glance at the lights.
"The blinds are down," Jared said, waving a hand in their general direction. "And we're at the back of the house. Unless the neighbours are peeking over the fence with a pair of binoculars, they're not gonna notice. Find anything?"
Jensen shook his head. "Nada. If there was anything useful here, it's long gone." He levered himself away from the wall and wandered closer. "What are you doing?"
"Vacationing in the Alps. It was a real bitch finding skis long enough."
"Okay, I deserved that one." Jensen's breath whispered over Jared's neck as he leaned in over his shoulder. It was distracting. "You really think you're gonna find anything?" he asked, more than a little skeptical. "Even if Kripke's keeping Jeff's disappearing act on the down low, the cops are bound to have given his hard drive one hell of a once-over."
"Probably," Jared said. He flashed Jensen a quick grin. "But they're not as good as I am."
Jensen hiked an eyebrow. "Oh no?"
"Nope. Watch and learn, young Padawan." Jared turned his attention back to the computer, fingers flying over the keys as he spoke. "I've already checked the backlogs and the hard drive images. And right now I'm putting a backwards trace on his email account - see if he received anything unusual before he vanished."
"Huh," said Jensen and Jared realized that Jensen probably hadn't known how much hacking Jared's job used to entail. They'd been at the bursting in and saving the world stage of the game when they'd met and they'd been retired since then. And since Jared didn't tend to have much need for hacking into his own computer, Jensen wouldn't have had much opportunity to find out. Jared supposed this probably made them even for the whole secretly multilingual thing, though he kind of hated to admit it.
"So," Jensen said then, and Jared pulled his thoughts back to the present. "I guess this means you're not completely useless after all."
Jared grinned at him. "You're totally turned on right now, aren't you?"
"Surprisingly yes," said Jensen. "It's not often I see you being competent."
"I've got all sorts of hidden skills. Wait till you see me on the dance floor. I've got moves."
"I've seen your moves," Jensen said dryly. "On your birthday. Not that you'd remember considering the number of Jägerbombs Chad fed you. It was like watching dancing spaghetti. With bad hair. You find anything yet?"
"No actually." Jared scrolled through the data, frowning. "Which is really weird. There should be something here, even if it's just a hidden folder or some deleted files or something, but I'm not coming up with anything out of the ordinary. Even his porn's disgustingly mainstream."
"Maybe someone wiped it," Jensen offered. "Hid the evidence."
Jared shook his head. "If they had I'd be able to tell. And probably restore most of it unless they really knew what they were doing. But there's nothing here to restore." He slumped back in the chair, thinking hard. "You said the upstairs was clean?"
"Normal-clean or cleared out-clean?"
Jensen shook his head. "I can't believe I understood that. And the first one."
"It was the same down here. So either Jeff Morgan's got a secret lair somewhere - which would be super awesome - or you're right about him not being involved."
"It's so nice to be validated," Jensen said. "Not that that really helps us."
Jared shrugged. "Tells us where not to look?"
"Barely. At least it tells us that we can probably get out of here; we're not going to find anything and all this larceny is cutting into my sleeping time. I've got to be up early tomorrow, you know."
"Just let me copy this over." Jared fished a data stick out of his pocket and slotted it into the computer. "I'll take a better look at it tomorrow while you're out being a contributing member of society. Make sure I haven't missed anything."
Jared had written the stick's transfer program himself and it wasn't long before he had a copy of Morgan's computer safely tucked away in his pocket while he set about clearing out the evidence of his snooping. He powered down the computer while Jensen switched off the light and retrieved Jared's flashlight. They trooped quietly out of the building and locked the door behind them.
Then they turned and ambled down the street at an easy pace, taking care not to do anything that might attract unwanted attention. Not that their efforts made much difference in the long run, unfortunately, since they promptly ran into Tom and Mike who had apparently taken up residence in front of the inter-sector port round the corner from Morgan's house. The two detectives watched them approach with distinctly suspicious frowns on their faces.
Jared waved at them. "Evening gentlemen. Out for a walk?"
Tom ignored him. "What the hell are you doing?"
"...walking?" said Jensen, as though Tom was a little slow.
"Well, right now we're standing," Jared put in. "But before that we were walking."
Tom glowered at them. "What are you doing here?"
Jared shrugged. "House hunting. What are you doing here?"
"House... are you serious?"
Jared shrugged again. "This looks like a good neighbourhood. And it's close to Dean's job."
"You did tell us to get a jump on finding a place," Jensen added innocently.
Mike snickered. "Can't argue with them there, can we Tommy?
"Shut up, Mike. I didn't tell you to start breaking into houses!" Tom growled at Jared and Jensen.
Jared blinked. "What are you talking about?"
"We got a call down at the station," Mike said, which Jared wasn't sure he believed. He wondered if it was standard practice to keep new residents under surveillance or if they were just special. "Possible break-in on Quarth Street."
Jensen sucked in a breath. "Oh shit, we were just there. Are you saying we could have been attacked or something?"
Jared wrinkled his nose. "More to the point, why were we looking for a house on a street called Quarth? I don't want to live on a street called Quarth."
"Ahem," said Tom. "Your 'house hunting' include breaking and entering?"
"Um, no?" Jared said. "Is that how people look at houses up here? Because I'm not sure I approve."
"Seems a little rude," Jensen agreed.
"So let me get this straight," said Mike. "You went to look at houses in the middle of the night-"
"Forgot to bring sunscreen," Jensen said easily. "I didn't want to go out in the sun until we'd bought some."
"He gets like a billion freckles every summer," Jared told them confidentially. "It's adorable."
"-in the middle of the night," Mike said again. "And you, what? Peeked in the windows or something?"
"Oh no," said Jensen. "We looked at the outsides. We'll make appointments to look at the insides."
"Unless the doors were unlocked," Jared added, with a cheeky grin. "Then we just walked in."
Tom looked like his head might come off, he was fuming so hard. "You did what?"
Jared gave him a patronizing look. "That was a joke, Detective. I think you could use a good's night sleep; you're awfully grumpy." He gave an overdone yawn. "And speaking of which, Dean and I have had a long day so we're going back to the hotel to fight over the bed. I'm guessing that you and Mike are going to go home eventually. Unless you're actually hobos or something." He gestured back the way they'd come. "You could probably find a house to squat in if you need one - it looks like a couple people moved out recently."
Mike shook his head. "I can't decide if you guys are crazy or what."
"Sam's the crazy one," Jensen told him. "I'm just easily amused." He yawned then, covering his mouth with one hand. "And I'm also exhausted. Sam, you coming?"
"Where the hell are you going?" Tom demanded as Jared linked their hands together and they started again towards the inter-sector port. "You can't just leave!"
Jensen turned back, a look of mild reproval on his face. "You really shouldn't be so loud, you know. You're going to wake up the whole block."
"And then you'd have to arrest yourself for disturbing the peace." Jared tossed a grin and a wave over his shoulder. "Well, we're off. Have a good night."
And they sauntered into the port with the phantom sense of two pairs of eyes following their every move. Jared very bravely resisted the urge to laugh.
At least until they got back to the hotel, of course. Because that had been fucking fantastic and Jared felt it deserved a laugh or two at the very least.
They did, in fact, manage to fit more or less comfortably in the bed, though Jared's relief at getting a decent night's sleep for the first time in five days was somewhat diminished by the fact that Jensen kneed him in the stomach twice when climbing out of bed the next morning.
"I want a divorce," Jared groaned at him, propping himself up on one arm to watch Jensen stagger across the room towards the bathroom.
"I'll take you for everything you've got, bitch." Jensen yawned, stripping off his boxers and leaving them in a puddle on the floor. Jared took a moment to appreciate the view.
Jensen wandered into the bathroom without bothering to shut the door. "Put on a pot of yapparq, would you?" he called over the sound of water running in the sink.
"A pot of what?" Jared called back. The shower hissed on in lieu of an answer and Jared rolled his eyes. He hauled himself out of bed, scratching absently at his balls as he wandered into the kitchenette.
There was something on the counter that looked vaguely like a coffee maker and vaguely like an extra off the set of Star Wars. Jared approached it cautiously, wondering how many man points he'd lose if he looked for the instructions. And how long it would take Jensen to stop laughing at him.
Luckily, a push of the glaringly large red button on the top brought the thing to whirring, chugging life, and Jared stepped back to watch as it did something that really didn't look like making coffee.
"It's not going to eat you," Jensen said from behind him, freshly showered and still damp around the edges. He made a beeline for the whatever-it-was machine, wearing his 'coffee' face. Jared wisely kept out of the way.
Jensen unearthed a pair of mugs out of the cupboard and poured them each a cup of something that could maybe have pretended to be coffee if it hadn't been nearly thick enough to spread on a piece of toast. And orange.
"Here," Jensen said, holding out one of the mugs. "Give it a try."
Jared made a face at him and Jensen chuckled.
Jared knew his expression was more than a little skeptical as he took the proffered mug. The whatever-it-was oozing around inside was very definitely orange and the steam wafting up smelled sort of like springtime. Jared wondered if it was possible to ask for a cup of real coffee instead.
Jensen rolled his eyes at him. "Sissy," he said, then took a drink from his own mug. Ecstasy spread immediately across his face and he made a noise that made Jared suddenly very aware of Jensen's mostly-undressed state and the distance between here and the bed.
"Fuck," Jensen groaned, which was pretty much where Jared's brain was at as well. "I have missed this stuff." He lifted his mug again, more sex noises spilling around the rim.
Still wary but unable to resist the appeal of something that sounded like an orgasm in a cup, Jared took a careful sip. And immediately wondered how he'd ever thought coffee was worth drinking.
"Holy shit," he said, flavours he couldn't even begin to describe tingling across his tongue. "What is this?"
"Yapparq," Jensen said, tongue curling easily around the strange syllables. "Three times the kick of caffeine with none of the unpleasant side-effects. Was a gift from the Theen when they established their Pluto colony. Some bored engineers made the brewer."
"It's fucking awesome," Jared said, taking a huge gulp. He could actually feel the last of the sleep brushing away from his mind, leaving him wide awake and ready to take on the world. "I feel like I could run a marathon."
"Now you know why it takes five cups of coffee to get me functioning in the morning," Jensen said, tossing back the last of his drink and pouring himself another. "I grew up on this stuff."
"I am terribly, terribly jealous," Jared told him between sips. "We are so bringing, like, a transport truck's worth of this stuff home with us."
Jensen was silent for a moment, and Jared glanced up to find him staring into his mug like he could find the secrets of the universe inside it.
"Dean?" he asked, and Jensen shook himself visibly.
"Sorry," he said, and flashed a rueful smile. "Just enjoying the moment."
Which was total bullshit, but Jared knew enough about Jensen to know not to push. "I noticed," he said instead, leering just enough to sell it. "Although if you enjoy it much more I'm going to have to exercise my conjugal rights before you propose to the coffee maker."
Jensen smirked at him, batting his eyelashes outrageously and, god, sometimes Jared just hurt from loving this man so much. "Oh baby, you know there's no one but you."
"Good," Jared answered and gave in to the urge to back Jensen up against the counter and kiss him breathless, hands skimming the top of the towel around Jensen's waist.
Jensen let him get away with it for several heady minutes before pushing him away with a laugh and a fond 'down, boy'. "I've got to get ready for work. We can make out later."
Jared pouted at him, just because he could. "You're no fun."
"Nope." Jensen pushed away from the wall and wandered over to the closet. He pulled out a blue button-down and a pair of black slacks and let the towel fall to the floor as he started getting dressed. Jared poured himself another cup of yapparq and enjoyed the show.
"Game plan for the day?" Jensen asked as he shrugged into his shirt. "Besides me sitting through eight hours of orientation."
"I figured I'd take another look at the files off Morgan's computer," Jared said. "And probably wander around like an obnoxious tourist for most of the day. Get the whole getting hopelessly lost part out of the way now."
Jensen nodded. "Probably a good idea. The inter-sector ports can be a little tricky before you get used to them. Any ideas for what we're going to do if Jeff's computer doesn't give us a lead?"
Jared shrugged. "Hope a clue falls into our lap? Kripke said that Morgan had been in contact with some IEM sympathizers before he went missing so I'll try to run down the groups he was talking about, see if anything pops out. I've also got some mini cams for you to plant in the Embassy over the next couple of days. Even if it wasn't Morgan who was stealing armloads of paperwork, someone else in the admin could still be responsible."
"Sounds like you're right on top of things."
"You don't need to look so surprised," Jared told him, telling the truth like it was a joke. "I am more than just my stunning good looks."
"Probably a good thing considering you look like a baboon." Jensen cocked his head at him like he was figuring something out. "This is your thing, huh?"
"More or less," Jared admitted. "All the fighting and getting shot at and jumping out of burning buildings is more fun, but I'm pretty good at the planning and prep."
"Huh," said Jensen. "Guess that leaves the personal angle to me." His mouth crooked, something wry in his tone as he added, "I would've figured you for the social butterfly."
"Dean Forester usually was," Jared allowed. "But that's because there was no one else to do it. And people like the awkward, earnest types. I'm thinking Sam's more than willing to sit back and let Dean pick up the slack in the charm department."
That made Jensen grin. "Lucky for him, Dean Winchester is very charming." He glanced at the clock on the side table, hands busy looping a Windsor knot in his tie. "I've got to go. You meeting me at the Embassy after I finish work?"
Jared shrugged. "S'not like I've got anything better to do."
"Nice to know where I fall on your list of priorities," Jensen deadpanned. He toed on his shoes and tilted his head at Jared. "Is it too much to ask for you to stay out of trouble in the meantime?"
Jared let his eyes go wide. "Whatever do you mean, husband mine?"
Jensen shook his head and reached for his watch and wallet on the bedside table.
"What?" Jared called after him. "No goodbye kiss?"
Jared made a distressed noise that far too loud for the early hour. "Why don't you love me anymore, Dean? I can do better, I swear, just tell me what I-"
The pillow hit Jared square in the face and Jensen smirked triumphantly at him for all of five seconds before Jared grabbed a pillow of his own and advanced.
"Sam, don't," Jensen said, backing away. "I've got to go, I don't have time for-"
"Too late!" Jared exclaimed gleefully, and struck Jensen a resounding blow upside his head.
And then all hell broke loose, as it usually did when there were pillows involved.
Later, after a disheveled Jensen had run out the door cursing up a blue streak, Jared cleaned up all the feathers and then spent the rest of the morning checking through Morgan's computer until he was absolutely certain that it could not have been more on the level if it had belonged to the Dalai Lama. That done, he armed himself with a travel mug full of yapparq and directions to a local sandwich place and went exploring.
Despite what he'd told Jensen, Jared decided against playing the hapless tourist. It was a fun shtick, no doubt about it, but it attracted all sorts of attention that would make him far more memorable than he really wanted to be. Much better to blend in and get a feel for the place before he started being deliberately conspicuous. Luckily, Jared was very good at blending in.
The outfit he chose for the day was deliberately low-key: jeans and a t-shirt-jacket combo that he paired with a worn shoulder bag in a classic grad student ensemble. He stuck a pair of sunglasses on top of his head to hold his deliberately disheveled hair away from his face and slipped his feet into a pair of well-loved flip flops.
From the moment he stepped out of the hotel his gait was light and easy, an ambling sort of walk that suggested that he knew exactly where he was going and was in no particular hurry to get there. He meandered from sector to sector with a coffee cup in hand and no map in sight, doing an excellent job at looking like he'd lived at the Barrier Station all his life. He peered over the many balconies that broke the sectors into city blocks, making himself dizzy trying to read the signs on the buildings three and four sectors away. The inter-sector ports kept him entertained for hours and he zipped back and forth from one end of the Station to the other until he was certain that he could navigate his way through them without getting himself too terribly muddled up. He didn't think he'd ever be able to use them without grinning like a fool, but that was obviously something he was just going to have to live with.
Unsurprisingly, the layout of the sectors didn't take much getting used to. The outside edges of every sector were reserved for residential blocks, while businesses, shops and public buildings took up the inner space. There was a school on every other sector and colleges on the third and seventh. The hospital was in sector one, as was the main police station. The Embassies for the earliest members of the Federation were in sector three along with the Earth Embassy, while the others were higher up. The blocks that didn't include government buildings or schools filled in those empty spaces with parks, youth centres, libraries and pretty much anything else the city planners had decided to stick in. Personally, Jared hoped he and Jensen would have time to go to the massive video arcade in sector five before they went home.
By the time he headed over to the Embassy to meet Jensen, Jared didn't need to fake the nonchalant confidence in his walk; he might not be up to the level of an actual citizen, but he figured he'd be able to get them most anywhere with a minimum of difficulty. Not bad for a day's work.
The Earth Embassy was a large, solid looking mass of brick and glass. One of the taller buildings Jared had seen, it was a good dozen floors high, though it still fell well short of butting against the base of the sector above. A pair of green-suited officers were stationed at the door and they smiled back at Jared when he nodded at them on his way in. The main foyer was tastefully dull and full of people heading home at the end of the work day.
The blond man working the main desk gave Jared directions and a smile when he asked about Jensen and Jared nodded in all the right places while the guy explained how far his security clearance would get him. Kripke had already taken the liberty of beefing up their clearance, of course, but it was good to know where he was supposed to be able to go.
He followed the directions and a series of amusingly illustrated signs up to the second floor and into what looked like a cross between a coffee shop and a break room. Jensen was sitting at a table near the far windows, talking animatedly with a dark-haired guy in a carelessly worn suit. They were seated close together, arms nearly brushing on the small tabletop. Suit Guy was nodding about something Jensen was saying, his blue, blue eyes fixed on Jensen's face with what Jared thought was a little too much interest.
Jared realized he was acting a little bit like a Neanderthal. He should probably stop that.
Jensen glanced up while Jared was bristling in the doorway and smiled brightly.
"Sam!" he called, breaking off mid-sentence to beckon Jared over. "Over here!"
Jared's answering smile was completely genuine as he walked up to their table; it was hard not to grin at Jensen. Not that that stopped him from looming a little as he stepped up behind Jensen's chair, but he wasn't a saint.
Jensen's head tilted up and back. "Hey you," he said warmly. "You're late."
"I got lost," Jared told him, with a mournful little pout. "I think there's something wrong with my map."
"Were you holding it upside-down?"
"Only about half the time. How was your first day?"
"Good," Jensen said, fatigue and enthusiasm mingling beautifully in his tone. Jared could see why Jensen had been the Federation division's best undercover agent. "Though I think I'm probably going to collapse the minute we get back to the hotel."
"Well I hope you can resist passing out for another half hour or so 'cause we've got to go to the grocery store first."
Jensen groaned. "You're a cruel bastard, you know that?"
"Hey, you want to eat air for dinner, you go right ahead." Jared glanced across the table to where Suit Guy was watching them with a vague half-smile. He offered the man a smile of his own. "Hi, Sam Winchester."
"Misha Collins," Suit Guy answered in turn, and Jared resisted the urge to squeeze too hard when he accepted Jared's handshake. "You're Dean's brother?"
"Husband, actually," Jared corrected and didn't let his smile drop. "No way is this guy pretty enough to be related to me."
"Nice to know you didn’t marry me for my looks," Jensen said, with a roll of his eyes. "Misha's the Embassy's head translator," he told Jared. "Which means he's my new boss."
"I prefer the term overlord, actually."
"Sure Misha," Jensen said, with startling dryness. It had taken him weeks to get that comfortable with Jared's friends. "Whatever you say."
Misha shrugged. "You're never going to get ahead in life if you don't dream big."
"Li thai'k uivo se," Jensen said, and Jared didn't even know what language that was.
Clearly Misha didn't have the same problem. "Tyuivis le ll'iki gui peot," he answered. "Uiklo se."
"Bat'oiu," Jensen said pleasantly, with an accompanying hand gesture that got the meaning across pretty clearly.
"You charmer," Misha said, switching back into English. He tilted his head at Jared. "You any good with languages, Sam? I can always use more minions."
"Afraid not," Jared said, pulling back his regret until it was more wistful than real. "I usually leave that stuff to Dean."
"Well, you lucked out there." Misha flashed him a wicked grin. "Dean's got quite the talented tongue."
"Aaand on that incredibly inappropriate note," Jensen said, rising to his feet while Jared reminded himself that punching his boyfriend's coworkers wasn't a very good way to make friends. "We're going to go find a grocery store." He smiled across the table. "Thanks for all your help today, Misha."
Misha waved him off. "I'm the one who has to get irritated with you later if you don't learn the job right. This was completely self-serving."
"Well, then I'm glad your egocentric worldview worked out in my favour. You good to go, Sam?"
"Born ready," Jared said, and hooked a proprietary arm around Jensen's waist as they turned to go. "Nice to meet you, Misha," he said over his shoulder, ignoring the eyebrow Jensen was raising in his direction.
"Likewise," Misha said, in a tone of voice that made it sound like he was laughing at him. Or maybe that was Jared's fervent desire to dislike the man talking. "See you tomorrow, Jensen."
"You too," Jensen returned and didn't resist when Jared tugged him in the direction of the door.
"Everything alright there, Sam?" he asked once they were on their way downstairs. "You're acting like someone pissed in your Cheerios."
"It's fine," Jared said and didn't care that Jensen's expression made it clear he knew that was bullshit. "So there's a grocery store about two blocks from the hotel. You think you can carry the bags that far, old man?"
"Don't need to," Jensen said, after a pause that was just long enough to make it clear that he was letting Jared get away with dropping the subject. "That's what I've got you for, remember?"
Jared firmly told the kernel of insecurity in his gut that it was being an idiot. "Oh yeah," he said, with strained lightness. "I guess it is."
It came as no surprise to Jensen to discover that they couldn't even go to the grocery store like normal people.
"It looks like someone tried to make lunch meat out of yoghurt," Jared was saying, head cocked to the side like a curious bird as he stared at the packages of grrnk on display. "And then painted it blue."
"You're not allowed to use metaphors anymore," Jensen said, shoving Jared ahead of him down the aisle. "Grab some roast beef, would you?"
"Technically, it was a simile." Jared scooped up two packages and gave them a dubious look. "Is this even real roast beef? I don't think cows like outer space."
Jensen rolled his eyes. "Because you talk to so many cows." He took the packages and threw them in the shopping cart. "It's replicated, Sam. Just like most of the stuff you eat on Earth. Stop being such a sissy."
Jared sniffed disdainfully. "I'm not being a sissy, I'm being discerning. There's a difference."
"Yeah, yeah. I thought you liked foreign food."
"Earth foreign! Not, like, Gallifrey foreign!"
"You watch too much Doctor Who," Jensen said, with a shake of his head. "You think you're brave enough to get some milk from the dairy aisle?"
Jared puffed up his chest. "I ain't afraid of no dairy aisle!" He paused thoughtfully. "I'm also not afraid of any ghosts, though I'm not sure how relevant that is to the present situation."
"I changed my mind. You watch too much everything."
"Trouble in paradise boys?" a voice asked behind them and they both turned to see Mike and Tom walking towards them.
Jensen shook his head. "This is pretty normal, actually."
"It's a loving form of abuse," Jared agreed.
"Doesn't sound very healthy," Tom said and Jensen shrugged again.
"It works for us." He started them down the aisle again, and was completely unsurprised when Mike and Tom followed along. "Is there anything we can help you guys with? Or do you usually avoid your job by hanging out at the grocery store?"
"Ouch," Mike grinned. "Someone's in a prickly mood."
"S'my fault," Jared said in. "He's been at work all day but I needed his help to do the grocery shopping."
"Aw, isn't that sweet?" Mike cooed, clutching his hands together under his chin. "So domestic. Which one of you wears the apron?"
Tom smacked him upside the head. "Stop it. Sorry," he said to Jensen and Jared. "He's kind of an ass."
"No worries," Jensen told him. He jerked a thumb at Jared. "I've got one of those myself."
Jared huffed. "Just for that I'm going to buy this jumbo bag of Twizzlers with your hard-earned money. And I'm not going to share."
"Go right ahead, sunshine. Seriously detectives, did you need something?"
Tom shrugged with suspect nonchalance. "Just wanted to see how you were settling in. You done any more house hunting?"
"No time," Jensen said easily. "Not with starting my job and needing to stock the fridge so we don't starve. I think Sam did some exploring though."
"Yeah?" Tom glanced at Jared. "How are you liking it so far?"
Jared pulled a doleful face. "I miss hot dogs. The street meat here just isn't the same. And I got lost a lot. Do we need a loaf of bread?"
"Yeah," Jensen decided. "And throw in a couple packs of tortillas. We can make fajitas tonight."
"Cool. Anything else?"
Jensen put a bag of milk in the cart. "That should about do it. You heading to the check-out with us, detectives?"
"Will you buy me a candy bar?" Mike asked. "I'll go if you buy me a candy bar."
"That never works," Jared said to him. "Trust me."
"Damn," Mike sighed, following along anyway. "Tommy?"
"No," said Tom. "Buy your own candy bar."
Mike pouted. "You suck."
Tom shared a long-suffering look with Jensen.
Jensen clapped him on the shoulder. "Tough gig, man." He grinned wickedly. "At least I can cut Sam off if he's being an ass."
Jensen had expected Jared to come back to that with a comment about how Jensen was too much of a cockslut to give up sex and was surprised when he didn't earn so much as snort in response.
He twisted his head round to look at Jared. "Sam?"
"Hmm?" Jared asked distractedly. His attention was fixed on something at the far end of the check-out counters and Jensen glanced over to see a woman handing over a handful of cash to the cashier at the second till. The man in line behind her was shifting impatiently from side to side, hand lingering near his pocket, and Jensen realized immediately what had caught Jared's notice.
"I've got something to take care of," Jared said, not taking his eyes away from the scene in front of them. "Check out without me, okay?"
He was heading across the floor before Jensen had finished nodding, bee-lining toward the second till. The woman at the front of the line accepted her change and started gathering up her shopping bags.
"Hey," said Mike. "Where's Sam going?"
The cashier waved the woman off as she left, then turned a smile on the man behind her.
"Nowhere," Jensen said.
Jared reached the cash line just as the man lunged across the scanner for the girl's wrist, the glint of a gun barrel appearing from within the folds of his jacket. The girl's mouth opened on the beginning of a startled scream and the man's expression tightened in brutal warning.
Jared walked right up and tapped the man on the shoulder. The guy turned with a startled jerk, instinctively bringing the gun to bear against a potential threat.
"Sorry," Jared said, his voice audible even where Jensen was standing. "I can't let you do that." And then his hand snapped forward to slap the gun away and he took the guy to the ground with a right hook and a sweep of his leg.
The whole thing hadn't taken much more than thirty seconds and Jensen suppressed a snort at the roll of delayed concern that rippled through the store as people realized something was going on. Tom and Mike hadn't even managed to draw their guns before the guy hit the floor. The girl at the cash was wide-eyed and breathing hard with belated fear and Jared paused in wrestling the would-be-robber's arms behind his back to flash her a reassuring smile.
"Don't worry miss," he said, all easy, down home charm. "You're safe now." His pitch changed slightly, angling across the room. "The police will take care of it from here."
His words jolted Mike and Tom out of their comically stunned silence and they hurried across the floor, Tom fumbling a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket.
Jensen chuckled and went to check out at a different till.
It took half of forever to check out thanks to the distraction afforded by Jared's daring act of bravery, but Jensen eventually managed to get all their groceries checked through and paid for. Jared reappeared just as he was bagging everything up.
"Hi," he said, grinning easily and Jensen couldn't help the way his own mouth crooked up in response. Jared always managed to do that to him, somehow.
"Hey," Jensen said. He nodded in thanks when Jared started helping with the groceries. "Good eye."
"Amateurs," Jared said, with a 'what can you do?' sort of shrug. "They're always easy to spot."
Jensen hummed an affirmative and hoisted his share of the bags into his arms. "Ready to go before someone asks for a statement?"
"Already done. But I think someone wants us for something else." Jared nodded towards Tom, who was heading their way with a disgruntled look on his face.
Jensen sighed. "You get me in so much trouble."
"What the hell was that?" Tom demanded. He stopped in front of them and fixed Jared with a glare. "What were you thinking, getting into a situation like that?"
Jared blinked. "What situation?" Tom's glare intensified and comprehension dawned on Jared's face. "Oh, the robber. Yeah, my bad. But hey, at least we caught the bad guy, right?"
Tom looked like he was counting backwards from ten. "Did you consider leaving 'catching the bad guy' to the professionals?"
"Not really. It wasn't like I was in any danger." He grinned with obvious pride. "I used to run a dojo, you know."
Tom's eyes narrowed. "I thought you said you were an airline pilot."
Jared shrugged. "I'm a chronic liar."
"It's true," Jensen agreed. "Never ask him if he loves you."
"Oh," said Jared, before Tom could burst into a first-class diatribe. "I think your partner's looking for you."
Tom glanced over to where Mike was indeed waving his arms and making expansive beckoning gestures at him. He looked to be having a great time.
"Well," said Jensen, hefting his armload of groceries higher. "We'll leave you to your work, Detective. Thanks for keeping us company."
Left without a leg to stand on, Tom settled for levelling a warning finger at Jared. "I'm going to be keeping an eye on you."
"Okay," Jared said. "Have a good evening."
They left the store with Tom's glare burning into their backs and Jensen waited until they were a good block away before he threw a look at Jared.
"I take it you enjoyed that?"
Jared shrugged. "Didn't you?"
"Fair enough," Jensen allowed. Jared flashed him a quietly amused grin and kept walking.
Which wasn't the reaction Jensen had been expecting at all.
The Jared Jensen knew would have been practically vibrating with glee by this point, eyes bright and gestures wide as he recounted the whole escapade in lurid Technicolor. God knew Jensen was well aware that the characters they played weren't really them - Dean Forester was so earnest he made Jensen's teeth ache and he'd never been as much of a pussy as Eric Brady was - but Jared's calm satisfaction didn't feel like it was part of his Sam mask. Quite the opposite in fact; this Jared felt... settled, and comfortable in his skin in a way that the Jared he'd lived with for the past year just hadn't. Jensen wondered how much of that was an effect of being back on the job and how much was him dropping a front that he put up for his friends.
Either way, he rather thought that he liked this Jared better.
Jensen was starting to feel the fatigue of a long day in someone else's shoes by the time he fumbled the door open, which was just embarrassing. A year off shouldn't have made so much difference.
"You do realize that Tom and Mike are going to be watching you like a hawk, right?" he asked, as Jared kicked the door closed behind them.
"Yeah," Jared said. He deposited his shopping bags on the kitchen counter and offered Jensen a smile. "Which means that I can keep them busy while you scope out the Embassy."
"You really think someone in the Embassy's responsible?" Jensen asked, joining him in stocking the cupboards.
Jared shrugged. "It makes sense. The news feeds up here didn't release any information about the Treaty Signing until last week, so whoever put this in motion must have had access to the Embassy's servers."
"A hacker?" Jensen offered.
"Possible. But I don't see why a hacker would bother framing Morgan for it; hacking's usually an in-out-done kind of job. Would probably make the job more complicated, not less. And don't forget about the hard copies that went missing. An inside job makes more sense."
"Okay," Jensen said. "We'll check out that angle first. I met about a third of the regular staff today; I'll start putting profiles together."
"Good. I'll run through their official files from here. See if anything pops out."
"Assuming that we even realize it's a clue." Jensen sighed. "We still don't know what we're supposed to be preventing, let alone who's responsible for it."
"We'll figure it out," Jared promised. "How about you start profiling while I make dinner and later I'll show you how the cameras work. The clearance Kripke gave us should get you pretty much anywhere in the Embassy without any trouble."
"Aside from the cameras and the masses of people, you mean."
Jared waved him off. "You're a secret agent. That's the fun part."
"You are disgustingly optimistic," Jensen told him, though he didn't protest the point.
"And you're distressingly irritable. It'll get better," Jared said then, with a certainty that Jensen knew was built on nothing but smoke and determination. "Between you working the charm and me playing tech wizard, we'll find something. You'll see."
go to next