Jensen was still in bed when Jared left the inn the next morning, looking loose-limbed and strangely young amid a mess of kicked-off sheets. While Jared was surprised to see Jensen sleeping so late, he couldn't help but be a little relieved that he wouldn't have to invite Jensen to come with him, and then pretend he didn't mind when Jensen said no.
The early morning air was muggy and dense as Jared stepped outside. The wispy drift of smoke down the crowded streets turned the walls and cobblestones to gold in the light of dawn. Normally, Jared would have lingered for a time, drinking in the casual beauty of the morning, but the combined incentive of needing to be somewhere on time and carrying a box full of rather heavy metal had him walking briskly to the Expo Centre instead.
The Expo Centre was one of the more famous buildings in Yousil. Long and wide, it took up a full city block not far from the main core of the city. The exterior walls had been sheathed in well-polished copper, which made the entire thing gleam like fire under the sun, and the massive glass dome above the atrium was visible even to airships approaching the city from the northern gates. The inside was a sprawling mass of seminar halls and special event rooms that spidered out around the great hall where the World Expo was always held.
Jared had spent a great deal of time in the Expo Centre over the years: attending the yearly Expos, first as a spectator and then, briefly, as a competitor; sitting in on lectures and live demonstrations; and, during his apprenticeships, actually leading some workshops of his own. There was a certain sense of coming home that followed him through the main doors - hydraulic, of course - and Jared couldn't help but feel a breath of excitement curling in him.
The lineup at the registration desk was already long even at this time of the morning, and Jared shifted uncomfortably as he inched forward, wishing he'd thought to bring something with wheels to carry his boots on. He could already feel the slow burn spreading through his muscles from the strain and he cursed himself as a fool.
The fact that he wasn't the only one in line who looked like his arms were about to fall off made him feel a little better.
When Jared finally reached the front of the line, he got handed a ridiculous amount of paperwork to fill in and a registration card with his entry number. The woman at the desk was kind and efficient and Jared gave her a grateful smile before heading through the squat, sturdy doors that led to the great hall.
The great hall was a veritable riot of colour and sound. People from all corners of the world wandered through the long, jam-packed space, carrying inventions of all shapes and sizes and talking with each other about their work. The entry booths were set up in three long rows - against both walls and down the centre of the room - creating two main thoroughfares that would not look nearly so organized by the time the day was out, and Jared had to restrain himself from stopping to look at every booth between the door and his own little square of space.
Jared's booth was two thirds of the way down against the right wall, between a long-haired guy in his late thirties and a stunning brunette only a few years older than Jared. After slumping down gratefully over his booth and rolling back his stiff shoulders a couple of times, Jared turned on his smile and introduced himself to the both of them.
Chris was a local boy, born and raised, and most of his family worked in the mining industry.
"S'why I made these," he told Jared, gesturing at a pair of heavy-looking gauntlets. "Damn sight easier for a miner when he can clear solid rock with his fists instead of lugging some fucking big machine down the tunnel to do it for him."
On the opposite end of the scale, Danneel was the daughter of the chief aeromechanist out in Lukly and she'd been showing up her classmates at the academy since she was old enough to solder wire.
"It's not entirely practical," she admitted, petting the mechanical dog sitting on her lap. "But I can't be the only who's ever wanted something to keep me company on long flights."
Both Chris and Danneel were duly impressed with Jared's boots and they all spent a pleasant half hour or so talking in detail about schematics, steam outputs and clockwork integrity. Eventually, though, Jared reached his limit of how long he could ignore his inner three-year old and excused himself from the conversation so he could go exploring.
Jared wandered around the hall for well over an hour, stopping to look at absolutely everything and talking to absolutely anyone who would stay still long enough to talk back. It was chaotic, exhilarating and so far removed from his life on his farm that Jared almost felt like he'd traveled back to a time when all this had actually been his reality. He was ruefully unsurprised to see just how much more enjoyable it all seemed after so long without.
He was in the middle of asking a short blonde girl what kind of gear system she'd used for her pressure clock when he felt someone stop right behind him rather than shifting with the flow of the crowd.
"Yes, that's m-" Jared turned and faltered at the sight of two men dressed in distressingly familiar gray liveries.
"You need to come with us," the one on the left said, while Jared was still trying to get past his immediate reaction of 'oh, fuck' long enough to figure out what the hell he was going to do.
"Is there a problem?" Jared settled on, shifting onto the balls of his feet as he prepared to make a break for it.
"Just some quick questions," the same man said, while the other one not-so-casually shrugged his jacket aside and rested his hand on the handle of the aether pistol tucked into his belt. So no running, then.
Jared was apparently in a lot of trouble.
"Um," he said, trying to buy for time. "You know, I'm really not s-"
A hand closed around the back of his shirt and yanked, hard; Jared stumbled heavily and barely had time to catch the familiar glint of green-tinted glasses before he was being shoved into motion.
"Move!" Jensen ordered, and Jared's feet obeyed instantly. The rest of him was slower to get with the program, but he was already running through the crowd like Lentum's ravens were after him by the time his brain caught up so he figured it was probably a moot point, anyway.
"Jensen?" he demanded incredulously, narrowly avoiding colliding with a woman toting an inexplicably blue euphonic guitar. He could hear indignant shouts and the thud of colliding bodies behind them as the two men started shoving people out of their way to get through the crowd after them.
"Not now," Jensen said, snaking through the crowd like smoke.
"What? But, J-"
A pistol blast sizzled through the air, far too close for Jared's comfort. People started screaming and the entire aisle jammed up as people tried to figure out which way to run. Jared couldn't really blame them.
Jensen swore and veered to the left, angling them towards a tarnished, well-worn service door set into the side wall.
"We won't get in," Jared tried to tell him, pulse tripping erratically as they skidded to a stop. His eyes swung wildly around the room as he tried to figure out where the next threat might come from. "These doors literally weigh a ton and the security protoc-"
Jensen laid one shoulder against the door and shoved. The door buckled inward with a pained groan and Jensen was pulling him through before Jared had finished gaping.
"How, how did you-?"
"Not now, Jared," Jensen gritted, pausing briefly to wedge the door unevenly back into its jamb. He glanced around the maintenance office they were in and angled his head towards the catwalk on the far side. "This way."
The catwalk led them straight through the main boiler room that provided steam to this wing of the building. Fire-hot metal towered around them, the constant churning of gears shuddering through the floor hard enough to make Jared's teeth rattle.
The air was sweltering and thick. Jared was drenched in moments; sweat poured down his face like tears and his shirt clung damply to his back. A quick look at Jensen turned into a startled double take when Jared realized that Jensen didn't have so much as a sheen of sweat across his brow. A faint dusting of pink on his cheeks was the most concession Jensen's body was making to the heat and even that looked like it came more from the ruddy light around them than any suffering on Jensen's part.
A crash shuddered through the air and Jared chanced a glance back to see that the broken door had been forced open again and a crowd of gray-suited men were pushing their way through. Jared felt his stomach sink when realized that there were considerably more than two of them now.
"Jensen!" he called, and he had to fight to keep back the edge of hysteria that wanted to creep in. "Behind us!"
"I know. Follow me."
They reached the end of the catwalk and Jensen wasted no time in shoving open the closest door and hauling Jared through. The air on the other side was blessedly cool and Jared sucked in a few deep, grateful breaths while Jensen forced the door back into place.
"That won't stop them long," Jensen said. He glanced around the empty conference hall they were in and started towards the door. "We need to keep moving."
"Who are they?" Jared demanded, footsteps muffled by the thick carpet. "Why are they after you?"
"Technically, they're after you," Jensen told him, glancing back and forth down the hallway. "This way."
"What?" Jared threw an incredulous look at Jensen and nearly tripped over his own feet in the process. "Why?"
Jensen shrugged. "They're hoping you can lead them to me."
Jared blinked. "But- you're right here!"
"And they'll have figured that out by now," Jensen agreed, which didn't make any sense whatsoever. Jensen turned right at the next hallway and Jared trailed along helplessly after. "Which is why we've got to get out of here before they catch us both."
"Who are they?" Jared tried again, because he was foolishly optimistic like that. "I know they're not prison guards."
"No," Jensen agreed.
"They work for the Metallurgy Guild," Jensen said finally, which was decidedly not the answer Jared had been expecting.
"The-" Jared started, then yelped when Jensen grabbed him by the front of his shirt, manhandled him through an open door and shoved him up against a wall. Jared's breath left him in a whoosh and Jensen pressed in close, covering Jared's mouth with one hand.
"Quiet," he whispered and Jared managed most of a nod.
They stayed like that in silence and, as the minutes ticked by, Jared found himself growing increasingly discomfited by this new turn of events. Jensen was pressed up against him from shoulders to waist, holding him flush against the wall and positively radiating heat. His face was mere inches away from Jared's and Jared could make out the individual freckles scattered across the bridge of Jensen's nose. He felt a little thrill down his spine that could not have been more inappropriate right now and firmly told his body to stop that.
Jensen tilted his head, his breath gusting against Jared's neck in an incredibly distracting fashion, and Jared slammed his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to keep himself under control. After an interminably long time, Jensen relaxed his hold and Jared sucked in a relieved breath when Jensen's hand fell away from his mouth.
Jensen listened for a moment longer, his expression distant, then nodded and stepped away. "We've got to hurry."
"You ever going to tell me what's going on?" Jared asked. Jensen glanced out the door and beckoned Jared to follow him, moving at a cautious pace that Jared couldn't help but appreciate; all this running was wearing him out. "Why is the Metallurgy Guild chasing you? With guns?"
Jensen was silent for a moment. "They want me back," he said finally, in a subdued voice that Jared had to strain to hear.
Jared frowned. "Back? Like, you worked for them?"
Jensen shot him a withering look. "Of course not, Jared, use your head."
Jared huffed at him. "You know, you're really not doing a very good job of helping me understand here, Jensen."
"I'm trying to keep you alive," Jensen said, in a tone so matter of fact that it made Jared's skin crawl. "You can understand things later."
"Okay," Jared said slowly. "But-"
Something solid and heavy slammed Jared into the wall, hard enough to crack his head against the tiles. Lights danced in Jared's vision and he stumbled, getting the vaguest glimpse of a burly man dressed in that same dark gray before a pair of massive hands locked around his throat and bore down hard.
"Fuck!" he swore, flailing out with his fists to try and shove his attacker away. Unfortunately, the man was even bigger than Jared and Jared's hands fell just short of the mark. He could just hear the sounds of a scuffle over the roar of blood in his ears, but the wide bulk of his attacker's shoulders kept him from seeing what was happening.
"Jens-!" he wheezed, simultaneously trying not to die and to make sure that Jensen was okay. His attacker didn't let up for an instant, the muscles in his arms carved in sharp relief to match the steadily dwindling supply of air reaching Jared's lungs.
"Jared!" Jensen shouted back, then hissed out a sharp breath that make Jared's pulse spike alarmingly. Something clattered to the floor in time with another flurry of rushing feet and Jared nearly finished himself off by straining instinctively forward against the chokehold he was in, trying to get closer.
Spots danced in front of his eyes, his vision graying at the edges, and Jared realized that he was going to die like this if he didn't find some way of getting this guy off him. He flung his arm out again, this time aiming for the pistol at his attacker's waist. Not realizing what Jared was doing, the guy grinned nastily at him and leaned in closer, putting a dangerous amount of pressure on Jared's throat.
Fighting not to choke on his own tongue, Jared strained even harder and felt a surge of adrenaline run through him when his fingers snagged on the hilt of the pistol. The guy faltered, belated realization skimming across his face, and Jared pulled the pistol free with clumsy fingers, aiming to hopefully-not-kill.
The bolt caught the guy right under the ribs and Jared coughed around a mouthful of air as the grip around his throat went suddenly slack. The guy hit the floor like a sack of potatoes and Jared mouthed an apologetic 'sorry!' at him before stepping over him to go help Jensen.
There were three men facing off against Jensen and another half dozen of their colleagues splayed out across the floor. Jensen's glasses were gone and there was a jagged gash running across the top of his nose and down under one eye. One of his arms was hanging awkwardly at his side and Jared desperately hoped that it was the result of pain rather than an actual break.
One of the men lunged at Jensen and Jared reacted instinctively: he let fly a shot that clipped the guy's shoulder, then charged in and cold-cocked him to make sure he was out for the count. Jensen had the other two down almost before the first one hit the floor.
"Hey," Jared said, with a decent attempt at a grin. "No fair leaving me out."
"Don't take so long next time," Jensen shot back, eyes flicking down and away before Jared could catch a good look at his expression.
"You okay?" Jared asked him.
"Fine," Jensen said, swiping at the blood on his face and leaving red smears on the back of his hand. Jared took a moment to be horrified by how close Jensen had come to losing an eye. "Let's go."
"You know," Jared said, as Jensen upped their speed to a quick jog without bothering to check if Jared was keeping up. "That's not exactly the look I picture when I hear the word 'fine'."
"It's nothing serious."
Jared shook his head in mock despair. "And after I spent so much time putting you back together."
The corner of Jensen's mouth twitched slightly. "Maybe if you hadn't done such a good job, I wouldn't be here to get attacked in the first place."
"Why did you come here?" Jared couldn't help but ask. "If you knew they were waiting for you in the cities, shouldn't you have-"
Jared would have thought it would be difficult to sigh impatiently while running around through hostile territory, but Jensen managed it just fine. "They're not here on the off chance that I might fancy a wander around the World Expo. They came because they knew you were going to be here."
"You keep saying that," Jared said. "Why are you so convinced they're following me?"
"Because they don't know what I look like right now," Jensen said, as though that explained everything. "And you were suspicious enough to catch their attention."
"I was? How?"
Jensen tugged open another door, poked his head through, then beckoned Jared to follow. "Trescid. The Guild must have put out a reward for information about anyone who'd taken a sudden, conspicuous leave of absence from their daily routine. You don't go into the village for the better part of a season then show up again out of the blue? Not exactly subtle if you know what to look for." He shrugged. "After they realized you'd come here for the Expo, all they had to do was follow you."
"Wait," Jared said, a sick feeling rising up in his gut. "You think someone from town sold me out? Seriously?"
Jensen nodded. He veered down another hallway nearly identical to the last and Jared heard the faintest strands of voices somewhere in the distance; they were circling back around to the great hall. "I'm told that people will do a lot of things for money." Jensen hesitated for a moment and, when he continued, his tone was sober. "They've probably ransacked the farm already. I'm sorry."
"The-" Jared's head was spinning. Those men had been at his farm. Someone he knew had told them where to find him and they had come looking and-
"Wait," Jared said, realization sitting heavy in his gut. "That's why you decided to come with me to the Expo. You knew they'd be after me."
Jensen was damningly silent and Jared felt fury rise high and fast in his veins.
He seized Jensen by the arm and dragged him to a halt, practically vibrating with anger. "You should have left!" he shouted at Jensen's back, the words coming out harsh and far too loud. "I told you to leave! They're, Vente, Jensen, they're going to catch you, and it's all my... why the hell didn't you run?"
"Run?" Jensen asked, in a deadly flat voice. He kept his eyes fixed somewhere on the far wall, refusing to turn and face Jared. "And leave you for them to find? Let you get tortured for information you couldn't give? Let you die for no good reason besides being too good a man to let someone else suffer?" Jensen's voice dropped to a whisper. "I couldn't do that."
Something like hope fought through the rage burning in Jared's brain. "Why not?" he asked.
Jensen said nothing.
"Jensen." Jared tightened his grip on Jensen's arm. "Why. Not?"
Jensen whirled to face him and Jared had less than a moment to realize what was happening before Jensen was arching up and kissing him like he'd never get another chance. Jared's body got with the program immediately, for which his brain was profusely thankful, and he cupped Jensen's cheek with one hand and kissed back, pouring everything he had into it. Jensen's kiss was artless and honest, more enthusiastic than talented and filled with so much emotion it sent Jared's head swirling. His thumb brushed absently through the blood drying on Jensen's face, the touch as gentle as Jared knew how to make it.
"Stupid, stubborn man," Jensen breathed against Jared's lips, just as much of an endearment as it'd been the last time he'd said it. He shifted back and Jared found himself staring into eyes that were as green as the forest even without the protective shield of his tinted glasses. "You have no idea how worth coveting you are."
Jensen's body snapped abruptly taut while Jared was trying to figure out what to say to that and those amazing, impossible eyes cut to something over Jared's shoulder.
"We've got to go," Jensen said, and grabbed Jared by the wrist. Jared stumbled along after him with his emotions skittering all over the map.
"They're after my scales," Jensen said as they ran, throwing open doors and charging through hallways without the slightest regard for the amount of noise they were making. He careered around a corner without slowing and Jared had to slap his free hand against the wall to keep from slamming face first into it.
"Your what?" he asked, breath coming in uneven pants. "I don't understa-"
"They make drakis out of them," Jensen said. "If they don't have me-"
A handful of men burst through a door just ahead of them and Jensen skidded to a halt fast enough that Jared crashed right into him. They turned to go back the other way only to find it already blocked.
Jared twisted his wrist and grabbed tightly onto Jensen's hand. "Jensen..."
"It's okay," Jensen said, sounding bizarrely calm. "It's only me they want." He untangled his fingers from Jared's and turned to face him, apparently unconcerned by the men fanning out around them. "That door will take you back to the great hall."
"Jensen," Jared said helplessly. "I don't-"
Jensen smiled. "I'm going to remember you, my Jared. Thank you." He stepped back a handful of steps and looked at Jared with those green, green eyes. "Run," he whispered, and then he changed.
Jared ended up flat on his ass, eyes and mouth round as saucers when a pair of leathery wings exploded out of Jensen's back with an almighty tearing of fabric. Jensen's hands and knees hit the floor and his whole body shuddered, shifted, altered, growing larger and longer until the room could barely contain him. Skin gave way to a sea of scales, emerald green and glossy with a metallic copper sheen that seemed somehow terribly familiar. Then Jensen lifted his massive, horned head with a sinuous twist of his neck and Jared found himself looking into familiar eyes in an entirely unfamiliar body. The whole process hadn't taken more than a handful of seconds.
And, impossibly, Jared knew exactly what he was looking at.
"Dragon," Jared breathed, and Jensen looked down at him from a good ten feet above him as if to say 'about time you figured it out'.
Jared was absently aware of the sounds of people yelling somewhere nearby, but he couldn't take his eyes away from Jensen long enough to care. None of Jared's paintings had even come close to capturing the sheer majesty of Jensen's dragon form, or the sense of vaguely terrified awe that those wise eyes inspired in him.
Jared's eyes traced Jensen's body from snout to tail, drinking in the sight. There was something not quite right about some of his scales, Jared realized and he frowned, trying to make sense of the smattering of lighter, vulnerable-looking scales dotting Jensen's flanks. They reminded him of the patchwork spread of still-healing wounds that were the last remnants of the state Jared had found him in, all those months ago.
They're after my scales, Jared's mind echoed and suddenly Jared couldn't breathe for the horror rising up in his throat.
A shot rang out across the room and Jensen launched himself into the air with a powerful thrust of his massive wings. He let out an almighty roar and flew away, vanishing through an open door with a defiant little flick of his tail. The men charged immediately after him, leaving Jared alone on the floor in the middle of an empty room.
Jared sat there for a long moment, trying to convince his brain that all that had actually happened. Jensen had kissed him. Jensen was a dragon. Jensen...
Jensen was basically letting himself get caught so that Jared would have a chance to escape.
"Oh, no you fucking don't," Jared growled, and took off for the great hall at a dead run.
The place was in a panic when he got there. Between gunshots and dragons, Jared would have been considerably shocked if it hadn't been.
He dove into the crush of bodies, ignoring the confused babbling and open demands to know who was responsible for this as he fought his way over to his booth. Danneel was nowhere to be seen but Chris was still there, staring around him with an expression that was mostly confused excitement with a dash of alarm thrown into the mix.
"Where have you been?" he demanded as Jared skidded up. "It's been chaos around here!"
Jared ignored him and started unbuckling the harnesses on his boots with shaking fingers.
"A bunch of guys came in waving guns around," Chris told him, undeterred by Jared's inattention. "Started yelling and shooting people if they got in the way. Power bolted the doors from the outside too, so we're all stuck in here."
Jared toed out of his shoes and stepped into the boots, glad that he'd made them Jared-sized rather than scaling them down for someone smaller. Haste made his hands clumsy on the thick leather as he buckled them closed.
"Then there was all this crazy yelling and banging around and I think there must be so- fuck!"
A broad shadow fell across Jared's face and he looked up to see Jensen soaring through the air, scales flashing in the light and smoke wreathing around his snout. Shots rang out from Jared's right and he was grimly unsurprised to see a gang of gray-suited men standing at the door and firing at Jensen without any regard for the room or its occupants. Stray bolts scored black marks across the walls and Jared could tell that some of the screams filling the air were from pain instead of panic. He wrenched the last belt tight and stood.
"Sweet Vente," Chris swore, head tilted back to watch Jensen zip and dart around the room, trying to avoid the energy blasts. "What the fuck is that?"
"It's a dragon," Jared said. "The Metallurgy Guild harvests their scales to make drakis." He reached across Chris' table to heft one of his gauntlets. "Do these really work?"
"What? 'Course," Chris said, distracted. "Dragons fucking exist? Since when? I don't believe, wait, what are you doing?"
"Sorry," Jared said, clenching hands and feeling the twisting whir of a myriad of tiny gears all the way down the length of the gauntlets. "I'll return them later. Right now, I've got to stop those guys before they enslave my dragon." He flicked the starter switches on the boots and started running, heading straight for the biggest group of gray-suited men.
"The fuck?!" Chris' voice rang out after him but Jared didn't have time to listen. His boots zipped across the polished floor at an alarming speed; at any other time, Jared would have been delighted by just how effective they were. Right now, he could only pray to Vente that they'd be enough to help Jensen.
The guild men didn't even notice Jared's approach until he was practically on top of them. He collided with the closest one fist first, and immediately made a mental note to start pulling his punches when he felt the sick crunch of bone under his hand. Chris' gloves definitely worked.
Jared managed to knock out a second guy before the rest brought their guns to bear against him instead of Jensen. Jared had never dodged energy bolts before but his boots made it almost too easy. He skimmed across the floor like friction didn't exist, picking up speed with every push until it felt like he was the one standing still and it was the rest of the room that was moving.
One of them aimed a shot at his left foot and Jared veered instinctively to one side, moving perilously fast. His momentum carried him right up onto the wall, leaving him defying gravity for a handful of fantastic, startled heartbeats.
Jared couldn't help a slightly hysterical laugh as he slid across the wall and came down right next to the man who'd just shot at him. A quick right cross sent the guy collapsing to the floor and then pain flashed through Jared's brain as a bolt caught him in the thigh, less than an inch above the top of his boot.
Jared's leg buckled and he dropped down into a lower gear to cut his speed before he smeared himself all over the floor. His arms pinwheeled as he fought to keep his balance but the weight of the gauntlets made the movement heavy and awkward. Another shot slammed into the floor less than a foot away and Jared had a split-second realization that he was probably about to die.
A thunderous roar split the air and Jared resisted the automatic urge to recoil when an intense blast of heat skittered past his face. The men who'd been firing at him screamed and collapsed, clutching at their faces, and Jared watched in horror as their skin literally started melting, rolling off in greasy wet globs while they convulsed on the floor.
It was sickening, but Jared couldn't help but admit that it was a fitting end for people who'd mutilated a dragon to make steam run hotter.
A strong gust of much gentler air buffeted against Jared's back and he turned to find Jensen hovering in the air behind him, far too close to the men with guns for Jared's liking.
"Do you want to get shot?" he demanded of Jensen, channeling his swirling emotions into righteous indignation. "Get out of here! Shoo!"
Jensen's ridged head cocked to one side as if to say 'do you want to get shot?'. Jared had seen human Jensen do the same thing so many times that it was easy to see the man in the creature in front of him.
Jared cocked his head right back. "Don't even start with me, Jensen. We are gonna have words later."
The whine of an engine flared to life somewhere to his left and Jared decided that later was going to have to wait.
A quick test proved that putting pressure on his leg hurt like hell but the shot hadn't hit anything especially vital. Glad to know he wasn't going to be bleeding to death anytime soon, Jared pulled off his vest and wrapped it tightly around the wound, looking around the room all the while for a way out of this mess. The doors leading out into the atrium would have been too small for Jensen to get through even if they hadn't been locked and, even though Chris' gloves seemed perfectly capable of making an alternate exit, Jared wasn't too keen on knocking holes in load-bearing walls. He tilted his gaze a little higher and grinned a slightly deranged grin when his attention snagged on the stained glass window set above the doors.
"I've got an idea," he said to Jensen. He flexed his hands in Chris' gauntlets and threw Jensen a grin. "Follow me."
Jared powered up his boots and took off without waiting for an answer, figuring it was about his turn to do the leading.
It was much easier to get through the crowd with Jensen at his back, largely because most people seemed more than happy to stay the hell out of their way. Jensen was flying higher again, thankfully, though Jared had no doubt that he'd be back down in an instant if Jared got himself into trouble.
Which meant that Jared had better as hell not screw this up or they'd both wind up caught.
Jared clicked the boots into a higher gear, ignoring the pulsing throb in his leg. People scattered left and right which was good because Jared sincerely doubted his ability to veer around anything at this speed. Shots started sounding behind him again as more guild members burst into the room but Jared ignored them, all of his attention focused on getting this exactly right.
The doors loomed in front of him, growing swiftly closer, and Jared waited until he was nearly on top of them before he dug in his heels and pushed, driving himself into a jump that sent him hurtling right at the window with his arms outstretched and his shoulders braced.
The noise the window made as it shattered was thunderous, a thousand chiming bells echoing in Jared's ears. Bits of glass bit into his skin as he crashed through the window, though the gloves kept his hands and forearms from getting too badly cut up.
He hit the floor on the other side with the force of a cannon ball and ended up in a terribly undignified sprawl in the middle of a forest of coloured glass. A sudden whoosh of air heralded Jensen's own trip through the shattered window and his passage sent another, smaller, rain of glass showering down on Jared's head.
Jared pushed himself shakily to his feet, glad of the protection of the boots and gauntlets as glass crunched beneath him. He skimmed over to the wall and wrenched one of the flag poles out of its cement base, then wrapped it around the handles of the doors.
"That won't stop them for long," he said, and turned to find Jensen watching him with an expression so inscrutable that made human Jensen seem like an open book. This dragon thing was going to take some getting used to.
The doors rattled loudly and Jared could hear cursing coming from the other side. Shots rang out, thudding hollowly into the doors, and Jared figured that was their cue to get out of here.
"Ready to go home?" he asked, stripping off Chris' gauntlets and storing them carefully behind the registration desk. He hoped Chris got them back okay. "I hope you've got room for a passenger, because I'm not sure taking the aerial lift is the best idea right now."
Jensen's head tilted even further. Jared decided to take it as a question.
He pointed up. "Figured I'd let you break some windows too," he said, and Jensen's neck swiveled up as he looked at the elaborate glass dome above them. Jared hated the idea of breaking it, but he decided to feel regretful about that later.
Jensen shifted back onto his haunches and extended his forelegs towards Jared. Jared approached with only a little trepidation; it was rather difficult not to cringe away from the foot long claws tipping each of those green-scaled toes.
The pounding on the doors took on a frightening intensity and Jared swallowed hard as Jensen folded his claws carefully around him. Jared ran a curious hand across Jensen's scales and found them to be as smooth and slick as polished glass.
Jensen shifted, pulling Jared in close like he was something fragile and precious. A single, powerful beat of his wings launched them into the air and all the breath got punched out of Jared's lungs with the force as they streaked upwards.
The doors burst open and Jared barely had time for a cheeky wave before he was bracing himself against the shuddering impact of Jensen rocketing through one of the glass panes. Jensen's wings protected Jared from the flying glass shards and he let out a triumphant whoop as soon as he caught enough breath to voice it. The city stretched out below them, a chugging patchwork of glinting metal and sober brick and the practical elegance of it left Jared speechless.
Jensen checked their rapid ascent and banked to the left, wings spread wide. Jared could hear the shouts of people on the ground below as Jensen flew towards the city wall at a speed that was definitely faster than any airship could ever hope to be. The air blew sharp and cold against Jared's face, sending his eyes to watering and his hair to tumbling. Jensen's grip was firm and careful, his claws sliding around Jared in a razor sharp cage. Jared's legs were dangling free and he could feel the weight of his boots wanting to pull him down and reclaim gravity's hold on him until he hit the ground far, far below.
Jared had never felt safer in his life.
"Come on, Jensen," he hollered, the wind snatching the words away almost before he'd voiced them. "Get us out of here!"
Jensen bellowed out a massive roar and flew faster, leaving Yousil and their pursuers far, far behind.
They eventually stopped on a small outcropping of trees halfway up a mountain a good forty miles away from Yousil. Jared's legs gave under him the moment Jensen set him down and he let himself fall, hitting the ground with a quiet 'oomph!'. He felt exhilarated, exhausted, light-headed and cold all the way through.
Jensen settled down beside him and Jared watched as he folded in on himself, wings and scales and claws giving way to the familiar shape Jared had fallen in love with probably the first time he'd seen it.
Jensen looked like he'd been through the wars. His face was drawn and gray and there were fine lacerations on his skin from when he'd torn through the skylight. He was also stark naked which, while something that Jared wasn't opposed to in general, probably wasn't the best idea on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Without the shield of his glasses, Jensen's eyes shone green and glittering in the late afternoon sun.
"Jared," he said, and there was something wary in his tone that Jared didn't care for at all.
"Jensen," Jared said back, smiling. He extended an arm in open entreaty. "I'm not sure I can get up, so you're going to have to come over here because I don't think I can go one more minute without kissing you."
Jensen's steps were slow and cautious as he approached; his expression made it clear that he half-expected Jared to bolt if he came too close. Jared rolled his eyes and yanked Jensen down by one arm as soon as he came into range. Jensen hit the ground awkwardly and Jared wasted no time in pulling him close and kissing him, sharp and fierce.
He pulled back after only a few moments and pressed his cheek to the hot skin of Jensen's shoulder. "Vente, Jensen, don't scare me like that," he whispered. "Thought I was gonna lose you."
Slowly, Jensen's arms came up around Jared's back. Jared made an approving sound and Jensen clenched his fingers in the fabric of Jared's shirt, tightly enough that Jared heard a seam pop. "Same goes for you."
"Seriously, Jensen." Jared pulled back enough to give Jensen an unamused look. "What were you thinking, putting yourself in danger like that?"
"Jared," Jensen said patiently and Jared could happily do nothing besides watch Jensen smile like that for the rest of his life. "If you haven't figured it out by now, you're an even bigger idiot than I thought."
Jared responded to that by kissing Jensen like he wanted to move in permanently, which wasn't all that far from the truth. Jensen was clumsy but eager as he returned the kiss and Jared discovered that the inside of Jensen's mouth was even hotter than the rest of him.
Jared lost track of how long they spent just kissing, getting to know each other with slow, gentle explorations. Eventually Jared drew back, sure his smile was more than a little goofy. "Hi."
"Hi," Jensen smiled back. Then he sobered. "What now?"
"Now," Jared said, after a moment's thought. "I think we should probably get off this mountain and find somewhere to stay for the night. I guess it's not safe to go home anymore, but I'm sure we can find a cave or something."
"I'm sorry," Jensen said, in a quiet, guilty voice.
Jared shrugged, doing his best to ignore the pang that filled him at the realization that he'd probably never see his beloved farm again. "I'll live with it. And I don't think I'd ever have been happy there if you left, anyway, so it's the same thing."
"It's not," Jensen said, but Jared waved him off.
"It's close enough. Besides," he gave Jensen a smile. "We can always build a new one if we want."
"We can." Jensen squared his shoulders. "But there's something I need to do first."
"I can't have been their only dragon," Jensen said. It was going to take Jared a while to get used to using that particular word so casually. "I want to find the others. Get them out."
Jared nodded. "Our stunt at the Expo is going to cause a whole lot of crazy. We can use that to start getting the word out about what the Metallurgy Guild's been up to. Get the mechanists involved."
Jensen's mouth twisted ruefully. "Never thought I'd think that that was a good thing."
Jared shrugged. "Guess I'm a good influence."
"Not quite the word I was thinking." Jensen leaned in for another soft little kiss then levered himself to his feet. "Ready to go?"
"You going to be okay?" Jared asked, letting Jensen pull him to his feet and only wobbling a little in the process.
"Of course," Jensen sniffed, and gave him a haughty little look that was so reminiscent of the first day Jared had seen him that Jared couldn't help laughing.
Jensen cocked an eyebrow. "What?"
"You're fantastic," Jared said honestly. "You would not believe how much I love you."
"Oh," Jensen said, his smile clear in his voice even as his body started to shift. "I think I just might."
Timestamp: Two Steps Back
Timestamp: Here There Be (Dragons)