Intellectually, Jared had known that Jensen's parents had sent them tickets to get into the science block, but that didn't stop him from being surprised when they got there bright and early the next morning to find a lineup snaking out the door and part way down the street.
"Geez," he said to Jensen, hyperaware of the fraction of extra space between them. He kept the lightness in his voice with effort. "You'd think we were going to an amusement park, not a science lab."
Jensen shrugged in an impressive facsimile of normal. "It's more like an interactive museum than a lab. Active demonstrations, information lectures, games for the kids, stuff like that."
Jared brightened almost despite himself. "Games?"
"I think you'll exceed the height limits, sasquatch," Jensen said, with a smile that still had a spark of something genuine hiding inside. "Besides, that's not why we're here, remember?"
They joined the line and Jared looked around them at the bustling crowd. "You know, I can't really see how anyone could get any work done with all these people wandering around."
Jensen shrugged again. "This building isn't technically part of the science block. It's more like an entrance hall. You can't really get into the block itself unless you live there."
"Huh." Jared frowned. "Then how are we supposed to meet your you-know-whats?" He glanced down at the tidy white button-down he was wearing. "Don't tell me you made change out of my other shirt just to be an ass."
Jensen rolled his eyes. "Much as I enjoy being an ass, no. Though really, I'd be doing the galaxy a service if I burned that shirt - it's frigging hideous."
"It is not!" Jared protested, pouting.
"Sam, it's got giant pink and orange flowers all over it."
"So? That just means that I'm comfortable with my sexuality."
"No, it means you're colourblind and you get dressed in the dark." The line inched forward and Jensen took him by the elbow to propel him into motion. "Aren't you glad you've got me to tell you these things?"
Not sure which answer would be a lie at this point, Jared settled for staying quiet.
It took them about twenty minutes to work their way to the front of the line. Jared took note of the security presence around the building while they waited; there were green-suited soldiers stationed at regular intervals along the exterior, a camera over the door, bars over the wide windows. And that was about it.
Jared was surprised. "I thought they'd have much stiffer security," he told Jensen in an undertone.
Jensen shrugged. "I told you, it's not really part of the science block; about the only thing they're protecting is the gift shop. The block's got its own defenses."
"Oh," said Jared. "Okay." They neared the front of the line and Jared tilted his head as he realized there was a wall of faintly red light fanning out in a shallow dome around the front of the building. He looked closer, fascinated. The light shimmered every time someone walked through it, distorting around their body mass, but otherwise Jared couldn't see any indication that it was doing anything.
"X-ray scan?" he asked Jensen.
Jensen shook his head. "DNA shield," he said, which meant absolutely nothing to Jared. They reached the front of the line and Jensen stepped forward with an imperious jerk of his head. "Now come on. We're going to be late."
The light felt like nothing at all when he walked through it and Jared took a covert look at the mechanics while Jensen handed over their day passes. Or, at least he tried to. The light was emanating from somewhere well above the door; Jared thought he glimpsed the glint of a covered light near the ceiling, but he couldn't be sure. There was nothing special about the walls or the door jamb to suggest a wired system, or even a pulse system like the badge readers. Jared had never seen anything like it.
"Stop spacing out," Jensen said at his side and Jared reluctantly shifted his attention back to the matter at hand. Hopefully he and Jensen would eventually be back on good enough terms that he'd be able to ask him how it worked.
One look around them and Jared could immediately see what Jensen had meant when he'd compared this place to a museum. The room they were standing in was big enough to land a plane in. Wide, open doorways branched off in various directions, each capped by a sign indicating what lay beyond. Large, colour-coded maps decorated the walls. Smiling employees were handing out folded maps to the adults and balloons to the children and the air was full with the chatter of a hundred excited voices.
Jensen ignored the signs, the maps, the crowd, and instead made a beeline for a lonely-looking desk bearing a sign reading 'guided tours'.
Once there, he signed them both up for the next tour, a charming flash of his smile turning the girl behind the desk into a fluttery mess.
"You're such a charmer," Jared said as they left, in a poor attempt at teasing. "Should've asked for her number."
"She didn't look like the type of girl who'd be up for a threesome," Jensen shot back, apparently deciding to ignore the bitterness in Jared's voice. A man with a pennant flag waved them over to join the other visitors waiting for the tour to start. "Now shut up and try and learn something."
Jensen hesitated briefly. "You know it," he settled on.
Jared reined in a sigh. This emotional turmoil shit was absolute balls.
It didn’t take Jared long to decide that the tour was without a doubt the most boring thing they could have chosen to do today. It mainly consisted of them walking down wide corridors decorated with out-of-date signboards and listening to the tour guide tell them stuff about the history of the Barrier Station and the research that the science block did. Most of the rest of the people on the tour were sporting white hair and walking sticks (or alien equivalents) and even they looked nearly as bored as Jared felt.
The only even remotely interesting part was the handful of windows they passed that looked in onto the research labs. Some of them were actually in use, although there was a strange distortion in the window panes that made it impossible to get a clear look at what the people inside were actually doing. The tour guide explained that this was because the windows were paned with Ge metal glass, which not only caused the warping but also had the double benefit of being about three feet thick and twice as hard as diamond. Jared could have driven a tank into it without getting through.
Jared was starting to see what Jensen had meant about the science block not needing the extra security.
In the middle of the tour guide's rambling about the energy reserves that powered the Barrier, Jared felt Jensen take his hand and twine their fingers together in what probably looked like a gesture of casual affection. Two weeks ago, Jared would have thought that that was exactly what it was; now, he wasn't sure and he hated it.
The group started moving again and Jared let Jensen's grip on his hand slow his pace until they were straggling behind.
"Slower," Jensen murmured at him, and Jared obliged, dawdling while the rest of the group pulled away from them and disappeared around the next corner.
The moment they were out of sight, Jensen took two quick steps up to a security door on their right and punched in a string of numbers. The lock disengaged with a click and he dragged Jared through the door as soon as it opened.
"Very cloak and dagger," Jared noted, as the door hissed shut behind him and he took in the equally boring hallway stretching out ahead of them. At least this one didn't have any signboards in it. "I approve. Though I wonder what the rest of the tour group's going to think when they find us missing."
Jensen shot him a terse smile. "They'll probably figure we snuck off to make out somewhere. Now come on." He released Jared's hand and started down the hall. Jared tried not to read too much into that.
Where the circuit the tour group followed had been monotonous for its strict pattern of hall, right turn, hall, window, right turn, et cetera, the area Jensen had led them into was an absolute rabbit warren of hallways and doors. Even Jared, who usually prided himself on his ability to find his way around any city, anywhere, had to admit that he was hopelessly turned around after five minutes of trailing after Jensen.
"This place is worse than Venice," he said to Jensen, and listened to his voice reverberating off the low ceiling. "How many people die of starvation in here?"
"You get used to it," Jensen said, turning left. "Most of the stuff back here is empty offices and storage space, so there's not a lot of traffic. Besides, there are plenty of doors that lead back out into the public part of the building if people get lost."
"So this still isn't part of the science block?" Jared asked.
"No. But it's about as close as you're going to get."
Jared frowned. "Then how are we going to meet your folks?"
They passed through another confounding series of twists and turns before Jensen stopped abruptly in front of a door that looked exactly the same as every other one they'd passed along the way. Hell, for all Jared knew, it could have been the same door that Jensen had led him through in the first place.
Jensen reached out for the security pad and hesitated, his hand hovering above the keys.
Jared swallowed hard. "I can wait here if you-"
"No," Jensen said, a little shaky. "It's okay. I just-" He rubbed a hand across his jaw, a nervous gesture that Jared had seen a hundred times before. "I've never done this before."
"Never done what?"
Jensen seemed suddenly fascinated by the floor. "I've never brought someone to meet them before?" he said, voice lifting at the end.
Jared's breath threatened to catch. "Never?"
Jensen shrugged uncomfortably. "Never had anybody to bring? And it's not like I get that many chances to visit."
"Are you sure you want to bring me?" Jared asked, and his voice came out small without his permission.
Jensen darted a sideways look at him. "Are you sure you want me to?"
And Jared could have screamed at the way Jensen was putting all this on him, but if there was one thing he knew about Jensen it was that giving up control was something he just didn't do. Jensen liked to be in charge of his own life, free to do things his way and make his own decisions. Giving Jared the chance to back out was Jensen's version of putting himself on the line and the blank calm on his face paid mute evidence of the struggle it was for him.
So it was only fair that Jared did the same.
"I do want you to," he said firmly and felt a pang in his chest at the flicker of surprised relief in Jensen's eyes. Jensen shouldn't have to feel that unsure. "We've got a lot of shit to work out, but that doesn't mean you're getting rid of me. I'm in this." He paused, offering Jensen an unsteady smile. "So here would be a good time to tell me if you want out."
Jensen shook his head. "No," he said and Jared let out a breath he'd hardly been aware he was holding. Apparently Jensen hadn't been the only needing some reassurance. Jensen's mouth crooked with cautious fondness. "So, you gonna come meet my parents now, or are we gonna stand in the hallway some more?"
A rush of fondness went through Jared and he felt momentarily overwhelmed by the desire to hug Jensen. And he'd never been the sort to ignore that kind of impulse.
"Sam!" Jensen flailed, trying and failing to avoid Jared's long arms. "Knock it off!"
"You're adorable," Jared told him, planting a wet noisy kiss on Jensen's cheek before letting go. "Don't worry, parents love me. Because I'm awesome."
"I'm so relieved." Jensen gave an overdone sigh that was one of the best things Jared had heard all day. "Maybe I should have let you wear that damn shirt after all."
Jensen's answering smirk was small but real. "Then they wouldn't get their hopes up about you being a mature, responsible adult."
Jared laughed and tangled his fingers with Jensen's, beyond relieved when Jensen squeezed back. "Well, I'm sure I'll think of some way to prove this shirt wrong. You ready?"
"Guess I'd better be," Jensen muttered. The code he punched into the security pad was longer this time, with enough digits that it would take even Jared a good long while to crack. The light on the security pad flipped to yellow and Jensen placed his palm flat against what Jared belatedly realized was a hand scanner. The door slid open and Jensen took a deep breath before striding in, still holding Jared's hand.
The room on the other side of the door looked like someone's living room, complete with a worn-in furniture set, bookshelves and a coffee table populated by magazines and other aimless clutter. There was a second door at the far end of the room, protected by the arching red glow of another DNA shield. Jared wandered closer, hoping for a better look this time.
"Don't touch it," Jensen warned him, his tone brooking no opposition.
"Wh-" Jared started and that was all he had time for before the door slid open and a man and woman stepped through the DNA shield.
"Dean," Jensen's mother smiled, and Jared hardly had time to be impressed by that before Jensen was letting go of his hand and stepping forward to wrap his mother in a tight hug. She hugged him back fiercely, looking delicate beneath the broad span of his hands across her back. Jensen's father watched the pair of them fondly and, when Jensen's mother finally drew back with a happy, misty smile, he stepped forward to clap Jensen on the shoulder and offer a handshake.
"Good to see you, son," he said. "It's been too long."
"I know," Jensen answered, voice rough. "It's good to be back."
They stood together for a moment longer, a little circle of smiling faces, before Jensen's mother turned to Jared.
"You must be Sam," she said, and Jared ducked his head sheepishly.
"Yes ma'am. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, none of that," she said, and her eyes crinkled up in the corners just like Jensen's when she smiled. "Call me Donna. Come here."
Jared did so, bending down dutifully to receive the kiss she placed on his cheek.
"My goodness you're tall," she said. "Dean always did have a fondness for big men." She gave Jared a conspiratorial little wink. "I think it's the hands, personally."
"Momma!" Jensen protested, cheeks flaming.
Jared laughed. "Well I hope he's decently partial to the rest of me too. God knows I'm pretty fond of all of him." He offered his hand to Jensen's father, who took it gravely. "Sir."
"Alan," Jensen's father corrected, and Jared could see where Jensen got his smile. "It's good to finally meet you."
"Sit down," Donna invited, leaving the couch for Jensen and Jared while she and Alan took the loveseat. "Much easier to talk that way."
Jensen sat, but not without a glance at the door his parents had come through. "Josh and Mac?"
Alan shook his head. "Josh couldn't leave Logan - he's got the flu. And Mackenzie's in class. They're both sorry to have missed you."
"It just means you'll have to come again before you leave," Donna said, in a tone of voice that Jared had heard his own momma use many times before. He wasn't at all surprised when Jensen ducked his head and answered with a quiet 'yes, momma'.
They chatted together for a short time, Jensen sketching out his life on Earth and his parents reminiscing about their own time planet side before they'd relocated to the Barrier Station. Jared was happy just to listen, a slightly goofy smile on his face at the sight of Jensen smiling and laughing with his parents.
"So, Sam," Alan said suddenly. "What is it you do for a living?"
Jensen groaned. "Dad."
"Hush. Well?" Alan asked and Jared had a moment of stunned incomprehension that Jensen's parents didn't already know what he and Jensen did. How did they make sense of the code names?
Then his brain registered the gleam of amusement in Alan's eyes and he grinned his cheekiest grin. "I'm a circus performer."
Alan ignored the pointed roll of Jensen's eyes and arched an eyebrow. "Trapeze?"
Jared shook his head. "Lion taming actually."
"Isn't that dangerous?" Donna asked.
He leaned forward with a sly wink. "S'not nearly as scary as dealing with Dean before he's had his coffee in the morning."
Donna chuckled. "I think I like this one, honey," she said to Jensen.
"You want him?" Jensen muttered, digging an elbow into Jared's side.
"Very kind of you to say so, ma'am," Jared said, bowing as gallantly as he could with Jensen crushing his kidney. "I think I like you too."
The conversation progressed easily from there. Donna and Alan filled Jensen in on how his siblings were doing and Jared dutifully told them all about his own family. Jensen asked his parents how their research was going and Jared didn't mind only understanding about a third of the answer they gave him. Donna subtly grilled Jared on his intentions and Jared not so subtly did his best to be absolutely charming. The approving nod Alan threw Jensen's way made Jared want to do a triumphant fist pump. And the wryly fond look Jensen threw his way in the next moment lit a quiet, warm fire in his chest.
Eventually, Alan glanced at his watch and sighed. "Much as I'd love to stay, it's about time for us to get back to work." He stood and the rest of them followed suit.
Donna gave each of them a hug. "You take care of each other, you hear me?" she ordered and Jensen bent to give her a kiss.
"Always do, momma."
"And make sure you come back to visit again before you leave." She tilted her smile at Jared. "Bring some pictures from home, if you have them."
"I'll do that," Jared promised, and shook Alan's hand when he held it out.
"Good to meet you, Sam. I hope we'll get the chance to get to know you better in the future."
"I certainly hope so," Jared agreed, then stepped back to let Jensen say his own goodbyes.
Donna and Alan left with little ceremony and Jared started forward to take a look at that DNA Shield, but Jensen dragged him away before he had the chance.
They stepped out into the hallway and Jensen slumped back against the wall. He tipped his head back and exhaled one long, slow breath.
Jared touched his shoulder. "Okay?"
Jensen's eyes cracked open and he smiled. "Yeah," he said and something told Jared he wasn't just talking about the visit. "I'm good."
"I'm glad." Jared dropped a quick kiss on Jensen's mouth and straightened before Jensen could react. "Now how the hell do we get out of here?"
With a laugh and a shake of his head, Jensen headed left. "Not such a mighty explorer now, are you? Better stick with me, then."
"Lay on, Macduff," Jared said grandly, and fell in at Jensen's heels.
"I'm willing to bet that we missed the end of the tour," he said as they walked.
Jensen shrugged at him. "So we'll join the next one. Most people don't finish the full tour anyway - it's boring as hell and there are much better things to do."
"Like make out?" Jared suggested.
"I was thinking more about the interactive gravity lab, but I bet yours is pretty popular too."
Jared immediately pulled out the puppy eyes. "Please tell me I get to go play in the gravity lab before we leave."
Jensen sighed. "I'm guessing you've reached your quota for mature, adult behaviour for one day?"
"Dude, you cannot tell me you don't want t-" Jared cut himself off. He stilled for a moment, canting his head back the way they'd come and listening to the faint thumping sound that had caught his attention.
Jensen glanced at him. "Sam?"
"Do you hear that?"
The thumping slowly resolved itself into the rhythmic tread of running feet and Jared widened his stance, hand drifting to the gun tucked at the small of his back. At his side, he could see Jensen doing the same, face set in a grim mask.
The footfalls came closer, too fast to be anything but deliberate, and Jared tensed, waiting.
"Dean!" a woman's voice called and Jensen relaxed all at once. He gestured for Jared to stand down and had barely let go of the butt of his own gun when a slim, pretty girl in her mid-twenties came barreling round the corner and flung herself into his arms.
Jensen scooped her up into a full-body hug that lifted her right off the ground, grinning a mile wide.
Jared had a pretty good idea who she was, so he waited patiently while they hugged it out.
"Hey Mac," Jensen said, confirming Jared's suspicions. He smoothed a gentle hand down her hair. "Long time no see."
"Jerk," she said, mostly into Jensen's neck. "Didn't even wait for me."
Jensen pulled back enough to quirk an eyebrow at her. "It's not my fault you decided school was more important than seeing your brother for the first time in three years."
Mackenzie's eye roll was exactly like Jensen's. "Yeah, because it's totally my fault you never come home. Put me down." She wiggled impatiently and turned to face Jared as soon as her feet hit the ground.
"So," she said, clear assessment in her eyes as she looked him up and down. Jared fought the urge to fidget. "You're Sam."
Jared tried a smile. "Guilty. You must be Mackenzie."
She nodded, still eyeing him. Jared was starting to feel slightly unnerved.
"Dude," he said to Jensen, mouth not bothering to ask his brain if it should shut the hell up. "If your little sister's this scary I'm not sure I want to meet your big brother."
Jensen laughed at that, a bright, honest sound that made Jared's heart lift. Take that, Misha Collins.
"She's like half your size, you big baby," Jensen said.
"Little sisters are vicious." Jared threw a hopeful grin at Mackenzie. "Right?"
The corner of her mouth twitched as though she was trying to suppress a smile. "At least you've got good instincts." Her head tilted thoughtfully. "And you're kind of hot, I guess."
Jared grinned. "Thank you for that ringing endorsement." He threw her a wink. "You're not so bad yourself."
"Hey," Jensen warned. "No macking on my sister."
"Whatever. Megan totally has a crush on you. If my sister thinks you're hot it's only fair that your sister thinks I'm hot too."
"Do the things you say even make sense to you?"
Jared shrugged. "Every once in a while." He glanced around. "Should we really be doing this in the hallway?"
"We shouldn't be doing it at all," Jensen said, though the look he turned at his sister was anything but stern. "You know you're not supposed to be out here, Mac."
She made a pissed-off little sister face at him. "Like I could let you leave without at least saying hi."
Jensen sighed. "I'll be visiting again, you know. You think momma would let me get away with just taking off?"
"You've done it before," she pointed out, because little sisters had memories like elephants when it came to getting their siblings in trouble.
The comment earned her a gentle cuff upside the head. "Thanks for the reminder, brat. But I promise I'll be back. You want us to walk you back?"
Her tongue clucked irritably. "I'm not five anymore, Dean. You don't need to hold my hand."
"You sure? I'm a pretty good hand holder."
"Considering it was usually you and Josh who got me lost when we were kids, yeah. I think I'm good."
Jensen grinned. "Fair enough."
Mackenzie hugged him again, fierce and swift. "Be careful."
"I will," Jensen promised.
She turned to Jared. "Nice to meet you," she said, in a tone that was only about half grudging.
"Likewise I think," Jared said, grinning to show he didn't mean it. He tilted an imaginary hat at her. "I hope we'll get a better chance to know each other soon."
Mackenzie nodded. "That'd be good. Need to make sure you're looking after my brother."
"I'm an adult now, you know," Jensen put in mildly. "I can feed myself and everything. I even do dishes."
"It's really sad that you consider that an accomplishment." Mackenzie turned then, flashing a smile over her shoulder. "Next time make sure you come visit for real, okay?"
She rounded the corner out of sight and Jared let out a shaky curse, his knees feeling suddenly weak.
"Jesus. That was a million times worse than meeting your parents."
Jensen rolled his eyes. "You are such a pansy."
"Shut up," Jared shot back. "You were an absolute mess when you met my family."
"That's because you've got like four hundred relatives and they're all built like trees." Jensen shifted, gesturing ahead. "Come on. We're nearly back to the public area."
Jared nodded but they hadn't got more than a handful of steps in that direction when a scream shattered the air.
"Mackenzie!" Jensen was running immediately, gun jumping into his hand as he bolted round the corner in the direction of Mackenzie's screams.
Jared swore and charged after him, listening for the echo of Jensen's footsteps to keep him from getting lost around the mess of corridors.
The screaming cut off abruptly before they'd gone far but that only made Jensen run faster. Jared followed close on his heels, frowning when he realized they were going back the way they'd come.
"We're going in circles!" he called.
"I know!" Jensen shouted back, careening around another corner. "We were heading for the closest exit. They can't risk the time it would take to get to another one! They'll be counting on us to have left that one unguarded while we went after them!"
"But we did!"
"Yeah, but we can outflank 'em - no one knows these hallways like I do."
Jared bit back any number of questions that sprang to his lips and saved his breath for running.
The sound of their footsteps echoed off the walls loudly enough to make any attempt at stealth absolutely impossible. Luckily, the same held true for the bad guys; Jared heard swearing and flurried movement a good thirty seconds before they rounded into another hallway to see three men fleeing in the opposite direction. Mackenzie was slung over one man's shoulder, bound and gagged but still squirming fiercely.
Jensen skidded to a halt and lifted his gun. "Mac!" he shouted and Jared watched her go immediately limp. Jensen's gun retorted and the bullet struck the man holding her through the thigh.
The man buckled and Jared matched Jensen step for step down the hall, dropping down on his knees to pull Mackenzie out of the downed man's grip before Jensen took him out with a heel to the throat. The other men didn't so much as look back, just kept running like the hounds of hell were after them.
Jensen spat out a curse. "Get her out of here," he ordered, and spun off in hot pursuit.
Jared untied Mackenzie quickly, relieved to find that she didn't appear to be hurt. "Come on," he said, pulling her to his feet. "Let's get you back home."
"But Je-" she started and cut herself off just as quickly.
"Dean will be fine," Jared promised her. "He's good at this stuff, trust me. But we've gotta get you somewhere safe or he's going to kick my ass once he's done with those two."
Mackenzie took a deep breath. "Right," she said, shaky but composed. Jared was impressed with how quickly she'd pulled herself together.
"Good." He firmed his grip on his gun and offered her a smile. "Now no one's getting to you without going through me first, but I need you to stay close, okay?"
Mackenzie swallowed audibly. "Right."
"I know it sucks, but we'll get you out of this. Can you get us back to the room I met your parents in?"
She nodded. "It's this way."
Jared walked down the halls beside her, senses primed for the slightest hint of trouble. Mackenzie was doing a remarkable job of staying calm; her movements were quick but measured and she kept her head held high. Her entire bearing reminded Jared so much of Jensen that he couldn't help but grin.
Mackenzie's eyes flicked towards him. "What?"
"Sorry," Jared apologized. "It's just, you're reminding me a lot of Dean right now. Stubborn runs in the family, huh?"
Mackenzie chuckled, which further raised Jared's estimation of her. She would probably get on fantastically with his own sister. "Something like that," she agreed. "Though Dean was always stubborn enough for two people. Once he'd made up his mind about something there was no talking him out of it."
"So I've noticed," Jared said wryly.
Mackenzie darted a thoughtful glance his way but said nothing more until they'd reached the door to the room. Jared watched the hallway while she keyed in the security code and palmed open the door.
"Are you going to be okay from here?" he asked, eyes darting around the room like attackers were going to appear out of the walls. Which would have been really cool, but ultimately a bad thing. Also, really unlikely. "Can I take you the rest of the way home?"
"It's fine," Mackenzie told him, hair swishing as she shook her head. "The DNA shield won't let anyone in unless they're registered."
Jared blinked. "But they have one of those at the main entrance - doesn't that mean everyone's been registered?"
"No, it doesn't." Mackenzie's smile was shaded with a weary sort of acceptance. She pointed a finger at the red dome around the other door. "That one keeps Barrier Station citizens out. The one at the front keeps science block citizens in."
Mackenzie pursed her lips. "You should probably talk to Dean about that," she said, almost apologetically. "It's not really my place."
"Dean," Jared realized abruptly. "Shit. I'm sorry," he said, already heading towards the door. "I have to go."
"Wait! I just wanted to say thank you," Mackenzie said, when Jared turned back. "You're maybe not what I would have expected of someone Dean fell in love with -"
"Too good looking?" Jared asked, with a grin.
"Something like that," Mackenzie smiled, though she sobered quickly. "You fit with him," she said simply. "I'm glad he met you. And I'm glad you love him."
Jared inclined his head gravely. "I'm glad I met him too. Are you sure you're going to be okay?"
"Yes." Mackenzie's answering nod was firm. "Now go! I'm not going to like you anymore if you let my brother get hurt."
"Understood," Jared said, though he waited until Mackenzie was safely on the other side of the door before taking off, trusting his sense of direction and a whole lot of luck to get him back to Jensen.
Which, amazingly enough, actually paid off. He wandered in what seemed like generally the right direction for a time, eyes peeled for blood spatters or anything else that would suggest he was on the right track. He didn't find any blood, but he did find an unlocked door, which didn't exactly seem like standard operating procedure round here.
"I sure hope that means you're out there," he muttered to an absent Jensen, and went through.
The hallway on the other side of the door didn't look appreciably different from the one he'd just left. Jared had no idea whether he was in a public area of the building or not.
"Hell," he said, chewing on his lower lip as he tried to decide what to do. He couldn't keep wandering around forever. If they completed this mission without dying or killing each other, he was totally putting a tracer in that damn wedding ring.
While he was standing there contemplating the merits of yelling 'Marco!' really loud and hoping for a response, the dull thud of fist hitting flesh echoed faintly from somewhere to his right. He headed towards the sound immediately, hoping that whoever was doing the hitting had the decency to keep doing it until he caught up.
He didn't quite make it before the sound slacked off, but by then he was close enough that he figured he could wing the rest. He was standing at a T-intersection, with a door ahead of him and one to the left. The lock on the door on the side was flashing yellow, which Jared figured was about as good a sign as he was going to get. Bringing his gun to bear, he edged forward until he was within lunging distance, then opened the door and surged into the room.
Jensen glanced up from the thug he was hogtying. "About frigging time, Sam," he said. The other attacker was slumped bonelessly against the wall a few feet away, head lolling and hands and feet already bound. "Where the hell have you been?"
Jared let the door slide shut behind him, adrenaline still speeding his heartbeat. "Just making sure the little lady got home safely," he answered, and was impressed at how calm he sounded. "And it's not like you left me a trail to follow." He gestured with his gun at the pair of would-be-kidnappers. "What are we doing with these guys?"
Jensen gave the rope a final jerk and straightened. He was tousled and vibrant from the chase: his cheeks were flushed, his hair was sticking damply to his temples and his eyes were bright with scarcely contained violence. His lip was split, there was a bruise forming high on his temple and his shirt was sporting a few new holes, but he appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
He looked, Jared thought, absolutely amazing.
"Lab security just received an anonymous tip that three suspicious-looking characters were spotted skulking around in the west quadrant," Jensen said and flashed him a bloody grin. "The caller said he'd heard gunshots too."
"Sneaky," Jared approved. "You get any info out of them before you beat them up?"
Jensen looked sheepish. "Not really. Might have been able to get more but I, uh, got a little carried away."
Jared waved that off. "Dude, if someone laid hands on my sister I'd land a plane on the fucker. I'll get us a copy of the police report. Although first I'm guessing we should probably get the hell out of here before security thinks we look suspicious."
"Got it in one. Come on."
Jared tucked his gun away and allowed Jensen to herd him back into the confusing network of hallways. They were obviously back in the public part of the building, because it wasn't long before they came to a halt in a familiar-looking hallway lined with familiar-looking signboards. The only thing missing was a tour group.
"We'll join up with the next group that comes through," Jensen said. "Tell 'em we got lost."
"Hm," Jared said absently, looking around. "How long have we got before that happens?"
Jensen glanced at his watch. "Twenty minutes?" he guessed. "Maybe half an hour. They don't run a whole lot of tours."
"Gee, I wonder why. And we're just going to wait here?"
"Yeah," Jensen said. "Why?"
"Because I've got a better idea." Jared flipped Jensen's grip so that he was the one holding onto Jensen's arm and inclined his head. "What's behind that door?"
"Wha- nothing, really. Storeroom, I think."
"Do you need a security code to open it?"
"Shouldn't. What are y-"
Jared didn't give Jensen a chance to finish, just opened the door and manhandled him through. The door snicked shut behind them and Jared had Jensen slammed up against the wall in an instant, pressing in hot and heavy.
"God," he breathed, still riding the high of all that energy pumping through him. He curled his arm around Jensen's waist and pulled him in tight, letting Jensen feel the firm length of Jared's cock hot and hard against his own. "Do you know how hot it gets me when you beat people up? So fucking sexy."
"I always - Jesus," Jensen hissed as Jared's mouth fastened on the juncture of his neck and sucked hard. "Always knew you were a twisted bastard."
"You love it," Jared countered, and Jensen hauled him in for a kiss that didn't even try to deny it. Their tongues tangled hungrily, Jared doing his best to swallow the insistent growl rumbling at the back of Jensen's throat while Jensen's hands fisted hard and almost painful in the hair at Jared's neck.
Jared pulled back with a sharp gasp and smirked at the black lust swallowing the green of Jensen's eyes. "You get fucked, babe?" he purred, nipping teasingly at Jensen's ear.
Jensen arched into the bite. "Fuck yes." He tilted his head as Jared's mouth mapped back down his neck, his teeth worrying the skin hard enough to leave marks. "You'd better haah-have something."
"You telling me you're not prepared?" Jared's hands went to Jensen's thighs and heaved, hoisting him up the wall like he weighed nothing at all. Jensen immediately wrapped his legs around Jared's waist and they both groaned as he ground their cocks together.
"Hey, this is your idea." Jensen slid his hands down Jared's chest in a swift tease, trusting Jared to keep him pinned against the wall as he fumbled at their belts. "You want sex while we're on assignment - oh fuck, do that again - you provide the lube."
Jared grinned around a mouthful of Jensen, breath gusting hot and erratic across damp skin. "So when it's your idea to have sex on the job..."
"Oh trust me, I'll be ready." Jared's zipper purred open and Jensen wasted no time shoving a hand into the gap he'd created. His fingers found Jared hot and leaking under his briefs and Jensen hissed in pleasure. "Fuck, you're a slut for danger aren't you?"
"Babe, you've got no idea." One of Jared's hands slipped under the waist of Jensen's pants and down, flirting with his crack. "You found that lube yet?"
"Busy," Jensen grunted, the calluses on his hand making Jared's cock twitch as he fisted it. His other hand was working awkwardly at the button on his own pants, his efforts hampered by the tight press of their hips.
Jared caught Jensen's mouth for another kiss, fucking his tongue between swollen lips with single-minded intensity. "God you're a lot of work," he panted between kisses, the curl of his hand around Jensen's ass turning into a grab as he went for his pocket with his other hand.
Jensen swore and arched, wrapping one arm around Jared's shoulders and groaning when his other wrist bumped against his own cock on the upstroke, now only loosely contained by his underwear. "That's gonna bruise, you asshole."
Jared's long fingers gripped Jensen's ass tighter, digging into smooth flesh. "Your fault for not doing what you're told." A crow of triumph echoed between them as Jared extricated the lube from his pocket and twisted the cap off one-handed. "Sometimes I don't know why I put up with you."
His hand joined the other down the back of Jensen's pants, fingers slick, and Jensen left off his teasing to wrap his other arm around Jared's broad shoulders, plastering their chests together to give Jared the space he needed to prep him. Jensen groaned, guttural and low, as one long finger pressed up into him and his tongue darted out to lave hungrily at the sweat beading on Jared's neck. "Fucking please!"
"Oh yeah," Jared murmured, his smug amusement undercut somewhat by the near reverence he could hear in his voice as he pressed in deep. "Now I remember."
"Fucker," Jensen growled, rocking his hips back into Jared's hand. "M'not gonna break. Hurry it up."
Jared chuckled darkly. "Gee, when you put it that way..." Another finger nudged in alongside the first and Jensen panted out a heartfelt curse. "God Jensen, always so tight." His fingers twisted and curled, searching, and when Jensen's short nails dug hard into his shoulders, his entire body a sudden heavy, heaving weight against Jared's front, Jared couldn't help a grin.
"There?" he asked solicitously, not waiting for Jensen's response before he started teasing that spot, groaning as Jensen bucked and shuddered against him.
"Fuck, that’s good - s'fine, just, c'mon - come on, do it, now, fuck..."
"Hmm?" Jared asked, as if the sight of Jensen fucking himself on Jared's hand didn't make him want to pound into him so deep he'd be dripping for a week.
Jensen's head lolled back as he panted out an irritated huff. "Fucking toppy bastard - stop fucking around and fuck me before I do it myself."
Jared's cock jerked at the thought of Jensen muscling him to the floor and just taking what he wanted, all slick heat and powerful thighs, but he shelved that idea for another day when they weren't fucking against the wall. "Fucking pushy bottom," he fired back, ignoring Jensen's unhappy moan when he pulled his fingers free. He smoothed his hands down the curve of Jensen's ass, dragging his jeans as far down his thighs as he could manage with Jensen's legs wrapped around his waist.
"Condom," Jensen managed to say, eyes blown-wide but coherent. "Not walking out of here with your spunk dripping down my legs."
"That'd be fucking hot," Jared said, though he let go of Jensen with one hand to fumble the foil square out of his pocket.
"It'd be fucking disgusting," Jensen corrected, bringing one hand down to help Jared roll the condom down on his achingly hard cock.
"What if I want you to?" Jared asked.
"Tough luck, Hugh Hefn-oh Christ," Jensen keened aloud as the wet head of Jared's cock pressed against his hole, not quite hard enough to sink in. "Oh, you goddamn tease. Fuck me already!"
Jared leaned in and bit at Jensen's earlobe, feeling Jensen shiver. "You gonna make me do all the work here?"
Jensen roused himself enough to glare at him, then took a deep breath and pushed, mouth falling slack and pretty eyes going half-mast as he impaled himself on Jared's cock in one long, smooth glide.
"Fuck," Jared bit out, holding on tightly to his control at the feel of Jensen hot and wet and sofuckingtight all around him. "Fucking love you like this - all stretched out and needy on my cock." He rocked his hips up into Jensen's next downward thrust and panted around a grin when Jensen's eyes slammed shut, head falling back and leaving plenty of space for Jared to bury his face in the tempting curve of Jensen's neck.
Jensen hissed wordlessly at the scrape of Jared's teeth along his skin, profanity all but forgotten now that they'd got to the main event. His hips were rolling in tight, shallow circles, his body taking Jared's cock in deep and keeping it there until Jared couldn't feel anything but that perfect blood-hot crush all around him. He tilted Jensen' hips to adjust the angle until Jensen howled and Jared's own breath grew ragged as he started pounding against Jensen's prostate with every thrust.
Jensen was panting now, breath escaping in a steady 'uh, uh, uh' that made Jared's blood burn. He let go of Jensen's ass and wrapped an arm around his waist instead, yanking him in close as his other hand wriggled between their heaving chests to fist Jensen's cock.
"Fuck!" Jensen groaned, the back of his head cracking against the wall as his entire body bowed backwards, the steel clench of his fingers on Jared's shoulders the only thing keeping him from toppling right over. He lasted through a half dozen pulls of Jared's hand before he shuddered and gave it up, body shaking apart against Jared's and inner walls clenching so tightly that Jared's eyes crossed.
The moment he'd caught his breath, Jensen crashed their mouths together. His tongue licked hot and hungry into Jared's mouth and Jared only managed a few more thrusts before he was coming, hips snapping up into Jensen and his cock pulsing hard. He groaned into Jensen's mouth, arm crushingly tight around Jensen's waist and his hips still rocking absently into the warm press of Jensen's thighs.
"Fuck," Jared breathed when they finally pulled apart, grinning at the sight of Jensen's face, flushed, gorgeous and only inches from his own.
"We just did," Jensen pointed out, tone impressively arch considering the way Jared could still feel him trembling with the aftershocks. "Move your cock."
"Such a sweet talker," Jared told him, muscles in his arms bunching as he hoisted Jensen up high enough to slip free. His condom-wrapped cock thumped wetly against his leg and he made a face. "Man, now I'm going to have to wash my jeans."
"And I'm going to be walking funny. Get over yourself." Jensen's legs flexed around Jared's waist. "Put me down."
Jared sighed. "Ever heard of afterglow?"
"It's that ring that's left in your vision after you turn off a light bulb, right?" Jensen wobbled slightly as his feet hit the floor and a wince flashed across his face as sore muscles protested the shift in position. Jared had no problem feeling smug about that.
Jensen yanked his pants up roughly and buttoned his shirt as high as it could go, not that it did much to hide the bruises already tracking up the side of his neck. His colour was still high, sated pleasure riding in his eyes, and Jared couldn't help but think that he looked really, really well-fucked.
"You can stop looking smug any time now, you jackass." Jensen ran his hands through his hair in some misguided attempt at making it behave, then helped Jared put his pants back where they belonged. "Let's go," he said, already heading towards the door while Jared pitched the used condom into what he sincerely hoped was a garbage can.
"Bossy," Jared muttered as Jensen let them out and they stepped into the brightly lit hallway.
And this time Jensen turned a gorgeous smile on him, amused and fond and kiss-swollen. "Responsible," he corrected and Jared just had to kiss him again, deep and hot and perfect.
And if the next tour group nearly caught them in flagrante delicto five minutes later, well at least no one was likely to ask them why they'd wandered off earlier.
"So that was weird," Jared said, as soon as the hotel room door thumped shut behind them.
Jensen arched an eyebrow as he flicked the lock closed. "Meeting my family or getting caught having sex in public?"
"We didn't actually get caught having sex," Jared countered, because he was pathologically incapable of passing up the opportunity to have a pointless argument. "That was like, PG material at best."
"Your tongue was halfway down my throat. I think that counts for a little more than PG," Jensen answered, joining Jared on the edge of the bed instead of going for a chair. The move made Jared smile and Jensen couldn't help smiling back. Baby steps.
"We were encouraging parents to talk to their kids about gay people," Jared said. "And making out. It was educational."
"It was inappropriate. And you're an idiot."
Jared shrugged. "Sometimes. But I was actually talking about those guys trying to steal your sister."
Jensen's muscles tensed despite the fact that the danger had long since passed. "What about it?"
"I just don't get why they did it."
"Because they're suicidal morons?"
"You know that's almost never the reason." Jared looked at him evenly. "Mackenzie said that the DNA shield in that room where we met your parents keeps people who don't belong there out of the science block."
"That's right," Jensen said. "It doesn't matter what kind of clearance you've got; if you're not a registered science block citizen your ID won't get you through the DNA shield. It's possible to get visitor's passes, but the process takes for frigging ever." He smiled and the expression felt strained. "S'why we couldn't go visit my folks inside the science block. Not enough notice to get a pass."
He'd said it on purpose and Jensen was completely unsurprised when Jared's attention snagged immediately on that detail. "A pass?" he asked, laying the emphasis on thick. "Wouldn't we need two?"
"No," Jensen said, pushing down the faint edge of unease that always came from talking about this. "Because science block citizens can go in and out of the block whenever they want."
"Wait." Jared's eyes narrowed. "Mackenzie said that the DNA shield at the front of the building was designed to keep people in, but now you're saying that people from the science block can leave if they want to? If that's true, why couldn't your family just have visited us? Were you worried about our cover?"
And Jensen could have lied, could have bullshitted the first question and taken the out Jared had given him for the second, but something in Jared's expression stopped him. "What did Mackenzie tell you?" he asked instead, trying to sort himself out.
"To talk to you," Jared said, and there it was again: the fierce desire to know, tempered by the struggle not to pry and the hurt of not being trusted enough to be told the truth. He shrugged. "If you want to tell me, I guess."
Jensen abruptly felt like a moron. And a jerk.
"Most of the research results produced by the science block is pretty easily accessible," he explained, playing with a loose thread on the bedspread. He could feel Jared watching him, attentive and patient. "Or easily accessible in scientific circles, anyway. But sometimes projects come up that could be a threat to Earth, or another member of the Federation, if people learned about them."
"So they're classified."
"Yeah. They get handled by the Specialized Science division. And because all its work is confidential, it's sectioned off from the rest of the science block. You need an additional level of clearance just to get in, let alone look at the work that's being done there. It's pretty hush hush; there aren't many people outside the science block who even know it exists."
"Like a science version of MI6," Jared supplied with a grin and Jensen rolled his eyes.
"Or even like CE5. All the researchers in the Specialized Science division sign confidentiality agreements that last for however long they're working on a project. They live in the Specialized Science division and are absolutely forbidden from leaving the science block. That's what the extra DNA shielding is for: to keep specialized researchers inside the science block." He took a deep breath and met Jared's eyes. "People like my parents."
Jared nodded, unsurprised. He always was cleverer than he wanted people to realize. "Josh and Mackenzie?"
"Any kid whose parents are specialized researchers automatically get added to the division citizen list because they live with their parents in the Specialized Science division," Jensen said, parroting the explanation he'd learned as a child. "Once they grow up, they have the choice of becoming specialized researchers too, or of moving out of the division, losing their special access but also being allowed to leave the science block. It's the same for researchers who've finished their projects and don't want to take on another. Josh and his wife are both specialized researchers. Mac's in school so she's still living at home right now, but she's probably going the same route as long as she keeps her grades up." He shrugged. "I always was the odd one out."
Jared looked like he wasn't sure whether or not to be upset on Jensen's behalf. "So your family can't visit you and you can't even go to your parents' house for Christmas dinner?"
And here Jensen had to hesitate, because this was something he'd never told anyone. It wasn't safe, letting people know. He'd probably get reprimanded for even considering it. But...
"Dean?" Jared asked, catching the pause. "You want I should shut up?"
But this was Jared. And that was what mattered.
Jensen shook his head. "No. You deserve to know. And I- I trust you. Don’t you dare try to hug me."
"I wasn't going to," Jared said, which was a bald-faced lie if Jensen had ever heard one, but Jared was looking so fucking elated that Jensen couldn't really bring himself to care. "Carry on then, grumps."
"Normally I would have given up my Specialized Science division access when I decided not to become a researcher," Jensen said. "But I got special permission to keep it."
"Because I was the solution to a problem." Jensen shrugged and felt a wry smile cross his face. "I knew my way through all the ins and outs of research in the Specialized Science division and, even as a teenager, I was really fucking good at my job. Jeff and Mark Pellegrino - he's the governor for the science block - let me keep my specialized access so that I could do jobs for the science block as well as for CE5. I don't get a whole lot of 'em, but it's helpful for Mark to have someone he can send out to gather information without causing a security breach."
"Huh," said Jared. "That can't have been easy to do."
"God no. You wouldn't believe how much red tape I had to wade through, even with both governors on my side." Jensen shrugged awkwardly. "But yeah. I don't attend too many family dinners, but I could if I wanted to."
"Thanks," said Jared. "For telling me."
Jensen fought the urge to duck away from the look in Jared's eyes. "You get to explain things to Kripke if I get in trouble for it."
"You got it. So, now that we've got the fact that you're an uber-secret secret agent out of the way, can I ask a question?"
"What happens if you go through a DNA shield that you're not supposed to?"
"Depends," Jensen said, feeling the words come out flat. "If you're really lucky, you'll end up in traction. Usually you wind up dead."
Jared hummed thoughtfully. "So if someone from the Barrier Station wanted to kidnap someone from the science block, they'd have to wait until they came onto this side of the DNA shield because they'd end up smooshed if they tried to go in and get them."
"Yeah, aside from the fact that I don't think smoosh is a real verb."
"Pedant. So that means that our friendly kidnapping trio were probably ready and waiting for Mackenzie to show up." Jared pursed his lips. "Do you think they wanted her because of you?"
"Like as a threat?" Jensen wrinkled his nose. "I doubt it. If they wanted us out of the way they could have just blown up the damn hotel."
"A distraction then?"
"Maybe. Though considering how much headway we're not making on this mission, I've got no idea what they'd be trying to distract us from."
"Hey, we're not completely in the dark," Jared said. "We're like 99% certain that Jeff Morgan's not planning an insurrection."
Jensen made a face. "But we still don't know where he is. Or why he left."
"Well, if he's as dedicated to his job as you say, we can probably rule out running for his life; he'd have tried to stop whoever's behind whatever's going on."
"Which means someone got rid of him." Jensen's gut twisted at the thought.
"They could just have needed him out of the picture for a while," Jared pointed out, obviously trying to make him feel better. "Maybe we'll find him locked in a cupboard somewhere."
"Because that makes things so much better," Jensen said dryly.
Jared shrugged. "S'all I got, sorry. But he's probably not the bad guy, which is something. And at least we know the IEM's not involved."
Jensen shot him a sharp look. "Since when?"
"I checked out that stuff you-" Jared coughed, "-found yesterday. It backs up what the members told you; they haven't got any connection to Morgan's disappearance. And the plans you took photos of were nowhere near detailed enough to be the missing ones. The IEM's probably planning some sort of protest-riot thing, which is a pain in the ass, but not really worth our hourly rate."
"Great." Jensen leaned back on his elbows. "So all that tells us is that we'd probably have just as much success finding our guys if we started picking people out of a crowd. And that still doesn't explain what anybody would want with my sister."
"Okay," said Jared. "Let's look at it another way. If they didn't try to kidnap Mackenzie because of us, why else would they have done it?"
Jensen huffed and flopped back on the bed. "Fucked if I know. She's only 24. And it's not like she's ever had a chance to make friends and influence people outside the science bl- oh, motherfucker."
"They're after information." Jensen swore again. "She's got access to the Specialized Science division; they probably want to know about one of the projects."
"It's possible," Jared said slowly.
"But?" Jensen prompted, because he could hear Jared's skepticism as loud as day.
"But what good would it do them?" Jensen blinked at him, confused, and Jared explained, "If they know the Specialized Science division exists, then wouldn't they have known that they couldn't take Mackenzie out of the building without getting her zapped? It isn't like they could have just put her in an empty office and hope no one bothered them; security would have caught 'em for sure."
Jensen's blood went cold as the reality of Jared's statement hit home. He'd been so focused on the need to get to Mackenzie as fast as he could that he hadn't even realized...
"Hey." Jared leaned over him, his hand pressing into the mattress next to Jensen's head and his expression soft. "She's okay. You got her back."
"Yeah," Jensen managed. "I guess I just never thought my job would be putting her in danger. They're supposed to be safe here. No matter where I am; the DNA shield's supposed to keep them out of harm's way."
"They still are," Jared said simply and Jensen couldn't believe that he'd been stupid enough to come so close to driving this man away.
"Yeah," he said again.
Eventually Jensen tilted his head to look up at Jared. Jared's eyes were distant and Jensen doubted he was seeing the section of carpet he was staring at. "Penny for your thoughts?" he asked.
"Hmm?" Jared asked, rousing himself with a head shake. He blinked down at Jensen. "Sorry, what?"
Jensen bit back a smile and repeated himself.
"They're worth at least a dollar," Jared said, that same thoughtful expression still on his face. "Because I think I might know what's going on here."
Jensen arched an eyebrow. "Don't sound so sure of yourself there, Sammy."
Jared waved one hand. "I mean, I don't know who we're looking for. Or what they're after. But I think I know how they're planning on doing whatever it is they're planning to do."
"Well look at you go, Encyclopedia Brown. Ever considered a career as a private investigator?"
"Shut up. I don't see you coming up with the plans. And besides, I've got an idea for figuring out the rest."
"A good idea or a crazy idea?" Jensen asked.
Jared shrugged. "Both, probably. You gonna hear me out anyway?"
"You're not making me like this teamwork thing any better," Jensen grumbled, though he didn't sound convincing even to his own ears. "Alright, let's hear it."
Jensen stared at him.
"Well?" Jared asked.
"You're right," Jensen said, though mildly. "I'm not sure what kind of idea that is either."
Jared's answering grin was at once enthusiastic and determined. Jensen realized he wouldn't mind seeing it more often. "But it makes sense, right?"
"You think you can pull it off?"
"Babe," Jensen said, pulling him down close enough to kiss. Jared came easily and it made them both smile. "Just watch me."
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