Jensen was in a foul mood for the rest of the week, a state of affairs that was only worsened by the fact that every fucking person he knew wanted to ask him about the robbery. Chris, unsurprisingly, spent pretty much every minute he was in Jensen's presence alternately grilling him for details and complaining about the fact that it was Jensen, of all people, who got to meet a Super. Jensen couldn't help but agree with him on that score.
Katie practically wanted Gunner's measurements (taller than Jensen, though part of that could have been the shoes, ridiculously broad shoulders, trim waist, arms that looked like tree trunks thanks to all that damn spandex) while Jared, who'd been at the store while Jensen had provided the aforementioned measurements, asked if he had to worry about getting his boyfriend stolen by Mr. Tall, Green and Day-Saving. That, of course, started Katie off on the fact that Jensen clearly had a type and Jensen told the both of them to fuck off and proceeded to spend the rest of the day taking his frustrations out on a shipment of hapless azaleas.
Thankfully, he hadn't been nearly stupid enough talk to the media at the scene so his name hadn't been released in the news, but he'd been on TV long enough to get recognized by anyone who knew him. Which, when he was bartender, was rather more people than he would have liked. Suddenly, everyone and their dog needed to 'drop by' Kane's House while Jensen was working to ask him about the whole thing.
After the thirteenth person in a single night asked him if he'd got Gunner's autograph - or his phone number - Jensen threw up his hands and went home mid-shift. He summarily refused to show up for the next five days and to hell with Chris' complaints.
On the whole, it was a perfectly dreadful experience that thoroughly reinforced Jensen's distaste for all things Super-related. He could only hope that his life would go back to normal sooner rather than later.
"So," Chris said, slinging himself onto Jensen's couch with an expectant look.
Jensen held up a hand. "I swear to God, Chris. You say one word about superheroes and I'm throwing you the fuck out."
Chris snorted. "Like you could. But I'll let you get away with that for now."
"Whatever." Jensen passed a beer over to Chris and sat down with his own. "What do you want, then? And no, I'm not picking up an extra shift this week; I've got a wedding on Friday."
Because he was an utter ass, Chris waited until Jensen had tipped back his bottle to say, "Actually, I want to know when you're going to introduce me and Steve to Jared."
Jensen choked on a mouthful of beer. Chris cackled at him.
"Jackass," Jensen said, coughing. He swiped a hand across his wet chin. "Remind me why I'm friends with you?"
"Because nobody else likes you. And I've got low standards."
"Thanks for that," Jensen said, with a roll of his eyes. "How the hell do you know about Jared?"
"I'm secretly psychic," Chris said easily. "Also, Steve told me."
"And how does Steve-" Jensen cut himself off and shook his head. "I'm going to fire Katie."
"Please. You'd have a mental breakdown by the end of the week. So?"
"When are you dragging Jared down to the bar so we can torment him?"
"Never hopefully." Jensen said. He took another, more cautious, drink. "And since when do you want to meet my boyfriends?"
Chris raised an eyebrow at him. "Since you haven't admitted to having a boyfriend since fucking Alex Jones in college and it's our duty as your friends to make him as uncomfortable as possible at the first given opportunity." He leaned back with a nonchalant air. "Besides, I figure it'll be hilarious watching you freaking out and trying to keep us from saying embarrassing things."
"I hate you."
"Good for you. Friday?"
"Now you're pushing it," Jensen warned. "And he's away this weekend, anyway."
"Can't put us off forever, Jenny Boy."
"I can hide the bodies though," Jensen said sweetly. Chris gave him a long, uncompromising look and Jensen sighed. "I'll set something up. Can we watch some fucking sports now?"
Apparently satisfied, Chris gestured grandly at the TV. "Be my guest."
Jensen turned on the game and put up with Chris smirking loudly at him for the rest of the evening. Jensen definitely needed new friends.
"My friends want to meet you," Jensen told Jared when he called the next day. Jared had gone off to some kind of two week smart-person computer fest and Jensen was trying very hard to convince himself that talking on the phone was just as good as being face to face.
"Okay," Jared said easily.
"They're douchebags," Jensen warned.
"Still okay. I'm sure your friends haven't got anything on Chad." Jared paused. "You're going to have to meet him, eventually. I apologize in advance."
"This conversation is not actually making me feel better. So you don't mind?"
"Not even a little," Jared said. "M'looking forward to it, actually."
Jensen shook his head. "Mama always said I went for the crazy ones."
Jared laughed and fuck but Jensen wanted to be seeing it in person. "That's typecasting, that is. I- hold up a sec."
A burst of voices echoed over the phone and Jensen waited as Jared put his hand over the receiver to talk to whomever it was. The sound sharpened again after a moment and Jared came back on the line.
"I've gotta go," he said regretfully and Jensen tried not to sigh.
"Go," he said. "Do computer-y stuff. Earn money and whatever. We'll talk about my moronic friends when you get back."
"Don't sound too excited there, love," Jared teased, nothing but affection in his voice. It caught Jensen up short and he actually rocked back on his feet, openly shocked.
He barely heard the rest of what Jared said, his brain full of blank surprise and the suddenly erratic thump of his heart.
"Yeah," he said when Jared stopped speaking, hardly even caring if it was an appropriate response. "Sounds good."
Jared, thankfully, appeared not to notice Jensen's sudden regression to a single digit IQ. "Take care, Jensen," he said fondly. "I'll see you next week."
"Yeah, bye," Jensen managed.
The call ended and Jensen pulled his phone away from his ear to stare at it, thoughts racing furiously.
Love, Jared had called him. Absent, like he hadn't even had to think about it.
Jensen was indescribably glad that he was alone in the store because the goofy smile on his face was not something he wanted anyone to see, ever.
Jensen took advantage of Jared's continued absence to finally man up about Jared to his family. There was absolutely no doubt in Jensen's mind that heads - mostly his own - would roll if Chris told Jensen's mama that Jensen had a boyfriend before Jensen did.
His mama was delighted by the news, though she tutted unhappily over the fact that Jensen had waited so long to tell them. She immediately started making plans to have Jared over for dinner, possibly with his own parents in tow, and Jensen did his best to put her off without actually saying anything.
His dad was more concerned with the practical side of things.
"Are you planning to tell him?" he asked, sitting in the den with Jensen's mother at his side. Jensen perched awkwardly on the couch across from them like he used to do when he brought his report cards home.
Jensen didn't need to ask what he was talking about. "No, Dad, of course I'm not."
"It's a big decision," his dad said, as though Jensen hadn't spoken a word. "We're going to have to talk to your brother as well before you do anything."
"Why would I tell Jared? We haven't even been dating that long," Jensen protested, even though half a year was certainly longer than any relationship he'd had in at least a decade. "And it's not like I even need to tell him; he could live in my pocket for the next hundred years and never realize that I've got any Super in me."
"And if you want to bring him home for Christmas? Or Josh visits you?" Jensen's dad demanded, in the same implacable tone that had made Jensen want to apologize for that C in tenth grade History. Somehow, Jensen always found himself mildly surprised at how healthy and present his father was in person, considering that his brain was tapped into a million computers across the state.
"This isn't the sort of secret we can keep hidden indefinitely, Jensen. If this Jared's as intelligent as you say, it won't take him long to realize that there's something not quite right about us."
"We just want you to start thinking about the realities of the situation," Jensen's mama added. "You're more than capable of making your own decision and we'll support you whatever you choose to do, but this isn't something you can ignore. Like it or not, there's power in this family and anyone you want to build a life with is going to have to know that."
"Yeah," Jensen grumbled. "I know."
Jensen's mama was apparently content to ignore the obvious reluctance in Jensen's voice, because she smiled at him and reached out to pat his knee.
"Good. You're staying for dinner," she said then, and it wasn't a question so much as a statement of fact. "It's been too long since we've seen you; we've got a lot to catch up on. And, of course, I want to hear all about your Jared."
Jensen darted a pleading look at his dad, who shrugged helplessly. Super or no, there was no arguing with Donna Ackles.
Jensen braced himself for a long night.
"You can tell me if you made him up," Chris said, with a wide-eyed innocence that didn't suit him in the slightest. Kane's House was the typical not-quite-busy of the early evening, though Jensen knew that the calm wasn't going to last for much longer.
Which was why Jared was supposed to have arrived by now: to give Jensen the chance to get started on the drinking early if things didn't go well.
"I won't judge you for it," Chris continued. "I mean, I'll laugh at you for fucking ever, but I won't judge you."
Jensen rolled his eyes. "I didn't make him up, jackass."
"He's telling the truth," Steve said as he walked past, toting a pair of speakers under his arms. "Have you noticed how much less of a miserable human being he's been recently? No way he isn't getting laid on the regular."
Jensen gave him the finger.
"But getting laid isn't the same as having a boyfriend," Chris argued. "He could be sleeping around. Or seeing a hooker." He rounded on Jensen. "Are you paying people for sex?"
"Or do they pay you?" Steve added, then, "What?" in response to Chris' raised eyebrow. "You don't think he's pretty enough to be selling?"
Chris gave Jensen a thoughtful once over. "I dunno. He's not as twinky as he used to be; might lower his market value."
Jensen glared. "Fuck you both."
"Not sure I can afford a threesome," Steve said, with a completely straight face. "What's the going rate?"
Chris cracked up at that and Steve inclined his head at him in acknowledgement. Jensen hated everything.
"Shouldn't you both be working?" Jensen said sourly.
"Probably," Steve agreed, shifting his grip on the speakers. He started walking away, but paused to throw one last grin over his shoulder. "But this is more fun."
"Fucker!" Jensen called after him, then leaned over and punched Chris in the arm in the hopes that it might make him stop laughing. "Shut up. I hate you."
"And I derive endless entertainment from you. Sucker."
Jensen's phone chose that moment to beep and he dug into his pocket to see a text from Jared.
Emerngcy @wrk. :( B there asap.
Jensen very carefully did not sigh. "Jared's running late."
Chris rolled his eyes. "I had noticed that, believe it or not. He still coming?"
"Yeah," Jensen said. He tapped out a short no problem. "Or I'm going to kill him."
"Well," Chris said judiciously. "That'd be a good excuse for why we won't meet your imaginary boyfriend."
"Starting to wish my best friend was imaginary," Jensen shot back.
Chris fluttered his eyelashes at him, which was a fucking terrifying thing. "Oh, Jensen Ackles," he said, in a breathy southern twang. "You saying I'm your dream man?"
Jensen threw coasters at Chris until he fucked off and left him alone. Then he sat by himself at the table and very manfully didn't pout.
"Now that's not a happy Jensen-face," Steve noted, coming up beside him. He sat down in an empty chair and tilted his head at the phone still in Jensen's hand. "Issues with the lover boy?"
"Emergency at work," Jensen said, shoving his phone back into his jeans. "He'll get here when he can."
One of Steve's eyebrows lifted. "That happen a lot?"
"More than I would like," Jensen admitted. He huffed out a frustrated laugh. "At least if he was imaginary, I wouldn't get stood up so fucking often."
"Shit happens. And hey, the less time he's here, the less time Chris can spend terrorizing him." Steve clapped a companionable hand on Jensen's shoulder. "You want another drink?"
"Fuck yes," Jensen said.
A good hour passed, during which Jared failed to materialize and Jensen grew increasingly irritated. Finally, after most of the people in the bar were already on their second beers of the evening, Jared came bursting through the door, looking rumpled, harried and apologetic. Not keen on losing his table, Jensen settled for standing up and waving until Jared saw him. Jared gave a dorky little wave back and started wading his way through the crowd.
"I am so sorry," Jared said the moment he reached Jensen. "There was an error on the client's end that was corrupting customer data. I would've told them to pass it off to someone else, but it's one of my accounts so I'm supposed to-"
Jensen rolled his eyes, hooked a hand around the back of Jared's neck and pulled him down for a proper hello. Jared got with the program quickly and put his already open mouth to good use kissing the daylights out of Jensen.
"Kisses first, groveling later," Jensen told him when he pulled up for air, determinedly ignoring the raucous catcalls from the bar's regulars. "There's an order to these things, you know."
Jared laughed, his grin somewhere between sheepish and really fucking smug. "I'll keep that in mind," he said, and leaned in for another quick kiss before sitting down at Jensen's side.
"I really am sorry," he said. "I know this is important to you."
Jensen waved his hand. "Oh no, that's fine. I always wanted my friends thinking that my boyfriend didn't exist."
"They think you made me up?" Jared asked, amused. "What sort of nice things have you been saying about me?"
"That you're lucky you're pretty because you're irritating as fuck."
"Jensen Ackles!" Chris' voice rang suddenly over the din of the room. "Get your imaginary boyfriend's ass over here!"
Jensen made a face. "We might as well get this over with. Come on."
Chris was actually working behind the bar for once and he watched them approach with an expression that was somewhere between impressed and amused. "So," he said. "This must be Jared."
"Yes, it must." Jared smiled, stretching out a hand to shake. "And you're Chris."
"Unfortunately," Jensen said. "Ignore everything he says."
"You know, if I had anything nice to say about you I'd say it right now and make you look like an ass." Chris returned his attention to Jared. "Before I start grilling you on your intentions," - Jensen leaned over the bar and smacked him -"I've got a few questions."
"Shoot," Jared said.
Chris held up a finger. "First question: do you, or have you ever, been paid for sex?"
Jensen groaned. "Thanks for the good first impression, jackass."
"Only if you count getting more sex back in trade," Jared said gravely.
"Hmm. Next question: who's your favourite Super?"
A grin curved the corners of Jared's mouth. "I wasn't aware that discerning taste in Supers was a prerequisite for boyfriends."
"It's not," Jensen said, at the same time as Chris said, "Of course it is."
"Ignore him," Chris said, with a desultory wave of his hand. "He's got no soul."
Jensen rolled his eyes. "Thinking your hard on for Supers is pathetic is not a sign that I'm secretly the devil."
"Yes it is." Chris turned to Jared. "You want to convince him that everyone should like superheroes? He won't listen to us."
"He doesn't like superheroes?" Jared looked over at Jensen. "You don't like superheroes?"
"I'm generally more impressed with the boys in blue," Jensen said and was unsurprised by the baffled expression that crossed Jared's face.
"How can you not like superheroes? Everyone likes superheroes!"
"I'm secretly a super villain," Jensen said easily. "They call me the Intolerant Martyr."
"Towering Douchebag more likely," Chris muttered.
"But Gunner saved your life!" Jared protested, which was absolutely the last thing Jensen wanted to talk about. Ever, preferably.
Jensen shrugged. "And I'm grateful. That doesn't mean I need to join the Gunner fan club or start keeping pictures of him in my trapper keeper."
"But-" Jared actually looked a little disappointed. Jensen barely resisted the urge to make a face.
"You might as well give it up, son," Chris said. He laid a comforting hand on Jared's forearm. "Fuck knows I've been trying for ten years and it hasn't made a damn difference. You still haven't answered my question," he said, when it looked like Jared was going to press the point. "Favourite Super. Go."
"Only one?" Jared asked, leaving off gaping at Jensen to adopt a thoughtful expression. "That's not easy. The Silver Spark, maybe? Or Whirlwind; I've always been a big fan of Whirlwind."
Jensen quietly resolved never to introduce Jared to his brother.
"And you gotta admit that it's hard not to like Gunner." Jared threw an arch look at Jensen. "No matter what some grumpy people say."
"You do realize you're not getting laid tonight, I hope," Jensen said conversationally. "Shut up, Chris."
"Didn't say a word," Chris said. He gave Jared a long, level look. "Yeah, alright, you can stay."
Jared gave a little fist pump. "Yes!"
"It isn't actually up to you," Jensen pointed out.
Chris waved him off. "You keep right on thinking that."
"Train derailment on the news!" someone called from the other end of the bar. "Gunner's there."
Chris perked up. "Live?"
The guy shook his head. "Couple of hours ago. Got some good footage, though."
"Better'n nothing." Chris hoisted himself over the bar top. "Take over for me," he said to Jensen.
"It's my night off," Jensen protested.
"And I'm the boss. Don't forget who pays your salary, jackass."
"You do realize that I have my own company, right? I pay myself." Jensen sighed and headed behind the bar. "Fine. Far be it from me to come between you and your dream man."
"Bitch." Chris tilted an expectant look at Jared. "You coming? We'll leave Jensen to practice his crotchety old man scowl."
Jared hesitated, glancing at Jensen.
Jensen flicked a dismissive hand at him. "Go, if you're going. Get the both of you out of my hair."
"I'll make sure to get into it later," Jared promised, threading his fingers in Jensen's short hair as he ducked in for a kiss.
"Move your ass, Pada-whatever," Chris said. "We've got a superhero drinking game to play."
"Awesome," Jensen heard Jared say as he and Chris headed over towards the TV.
Jensen rolled his eyes again for good measure and went to do Chris' job for him.
Steve dropped by a handful of minutes later. "That's him, huh?" he asked, leaning up against the bar with an inscrutable expression.
"Yeah," Jensen agreed, still doing his best to ignore his boyfriend and best friend dorking out over a frigging train derailment.
"He and Chris seem to be getting on okay."
"I'm still not sure whether that's a good thing," Jensen said. He threw Steve a woeful look. "They're bonding over superheroes."
Steve smirked. "Poor you. Did you know he was a fan before this?"
Jensen shrugged. "He bugged me about the bank thing. But so did the rest of the known world, so."
"Well at least Chris will enjoy having him around."
"That's what I'm worried about."
A flicker of movement caught Jensen's eye and he glanced over to see that Jared had detached himself from the crowd and was heading their way.
"Garçon!" Jared called as he drew up. His grin was dazzling. "Beer for me and all my friends!"
"By which you mean Chris. You'd better be a damn good tipper," Jensen said as he turned to the taps. "It's your fault I'm stuck back here in the first place."
"Hey, if I take kisses in trade for work you should too." Jared leaned against the bar and turned his grin on Steve. "Hey, I'm Jared," he said, extending a hand.
"Steve," Steve returned. "Good to finally meet you. Jensen's hardly talked about you at all."
Jared chuckled. "Sounds about right. It's hard finding words to describe how amazing I am, you know."
"You do seem pretty indescribable," Steve said, completely deadpan.
Jared's grin widened. "Oh, I like you."
A swell of excited cheering came from the group around the TV, which Jensen gathered had something to do with no doubt daring footage of the illustrious Gunner being awesome with trains. He caught Chris giving Jared an imperious wave and had to smirk.
"Apparently your presence is required," he said to Jared, with a significant tilt of his head in Chris' direction.
"Nothing like being wanted. Thanks," he said to Jensen as he slid the full glasses towards him. He leaned in for a quick, smacking kiss and threw Jensen a cheeky wink before nodding at Steve. "Good to meet you."
"Likewise," Steve said, although he didn't sound as amused as Jensen would have expected given the situation. His expression was unusually pensive as he watched Jared make his way back to Chris' side and he stayed against the bar while Jensen poured drinks for the other customers who'd wandered up for more.
"Alright," Jensen said, once he'd cleared the bar and Steve was still there. "Spit it out. What's got you thinking so hard?"
"Big guy, isn't he?" Steve said, with a nod in Jared's direction. "You said he works in computers?"
"Yeah," Jensen said warily. "Why?"
"Seems to be pretty fighting fit for someone who sits in a chair for a living. How long did you say he'd been in town?"
"Since February, I think. What the fuck, Steve?"
"Nothing," Steve said, not sounding even the slightest bit believable. "But you know, that's about when a certain green-suited superhero came to town. Jared cancels on you a lot, huh?"
Goosebumps skittered up Jensen's arms. "Steve, you're not-"
"No," Steve said, but his expression was serious as his eyes met Jensen's. "But it wouldn't be that much of a stretch, either."
"He isn't," Jensen said blankly. "He can't be."
Steve hummed noncommittally. "Probably not. But you have to admit, it's something of a strange coincidence."
There was a heavy, leaden feeling in the pit of Jensen's stomach. "Jesus, Steve, I ca-"
"Steve!" Chris' voice rang out across the bar and Jensen realized that the TV had switched over to sports. "Get your sorry ass over here so I can beat it at pool!"
"Screw yourself sideways!" Steve called back amiably. He put a comforting hand on Jensen's arm. "Just watch yourself, okay Jensen?"
He walked off without waiting for a response, which was probably a good thing since Jensen didn't have a damn clue what to say.
Jensen watched him go. And wondered.
Of course, now that Steve had mentioned it, it was impossible to ignore.
The thing was, Jensen knew what to look for when it came to alter egos. Having grown up with not one, but two, Supers in residence, he was better equipped than most to spot someone with something to hide.
And on the surface, it certainly looked suspicious. Steve had been quite right in saying that Jared was seriously ripped for a desk monkey, maybe even more than a gym membership could explain, and Katie had already teased Jensen about having a type. Jared's job afforded him irregular hours, which would give him plenty of opportunity to run off and do hero things without raising alarm bells.
Jared also had the rather infuriating tendency of vanishing at odd moments, often with very little notice. Jensen hadn't exactly kept track of Jared's late arrivals and last-minute cancellations, but a quick comparison of the time stamps on some 'sorry!' texts in his phone with mentions of Gunner in the news revealed that more than a few of them matched up. Which was entirely disheartening. The fact that they didn't all coincide gave him hope though, even while a little voice in the back of his head reminded him that not every superhero escapade had reporters on the scene.
And, fuck, for all Jensen knew, Jared actually was on call sometimes; Supers still had day jobs, even if they weren't always great about fitting them into their busy world-saving, kitten-in-tree-rescuing schedules. But Supers trended towards hobbies and jobs that had at least something to do with their abilities, which didn't fit if Jared was a telekinetic. And the whole tech thing could have been a front but Jensen knew enough about computers to know that Jared seriously knew his stuff. And tech work really did call for clocking all sorts of crazy hours.
Jensen even found himself scrutinizing Jared's behaviour as if, by the very virtue of Jensen considering the possibility, it would suddenly have changed to match the 'secretly a superhero' theory. Which was ridiculous on so many levels, not in the least because Jared continued to be the hot, funny, seriously dorky guy he'd always been. If he had any superhero-esque tendencies or time management issues, Jensen sure wasn't seeing them.
In the end, all Jensen had was vague suspicions that made him feel like a paranoid bastard and a less than vague desire to punch Steve in the face for getting him all wound up in the first place. He dismissed the idea of confronting Jared out of hand. Best case scenario: Jared wasn't a Super and he would think, quite rightly, that Jensen was a neurotic crazy person and probably break up with him. Worst case scenario: Jared was a Super and he'd either admit it and Jensen would break up with him or he'd lie and Jensen would still break up with him because that wasn't the sort of shit you could lie to a Super's kid about without getting called out.
The idea of breaking up with Jared didn't sit at all well with Jensen, but he knew he'd do it in a heartbeat if it meant avoiding getting caught up with another goddamn Super. He had no intention of living with the same shit his mama had always had to deal with. Not even for Jared.
All of which meant that paranoia was really the more appealing and, frankly, plausible explanation. So Jensen shoved it all into the back of his mind and got on with things. It wasn't as easy to suppress the odd twinge of suspicion when Jared skipped out on him or cancelled plans, but Jensen figured he could live with that. There were certainly worse ways he could have been reacting.
And if it turned out that he got that proof he wasn't looking for, well, he'd just have to deal with it.
Jensen's next encounter with Gunner involved 100% fewer semi-automatic weapons but a considerably greater threat to Jensen's continued well-being.
The hectic rush of the summer wedding circuit had given way to the just as hectic planning of weddings and events for the next summer, as well as the preparing of Christmas charity balls and end-of-year company conferences. The business side of his job never failed to give Jensen a monstrous headache - which lasted pretty much from Labour Day to Thanksgiving - but long years of experience had taught him just to suck it up, get on with things and look forward to January.
Jensen had spent the better part of the morning at the head office of the Granada Corp, one of his bigger clients, hammering out the details for a company conference that would be bringing in shareholders and employees from branches around the world. It was an exhaustive undertaking and Jensen was nothing but relieved when he got out of there just after 12 with his sanity mostly intact and a bag full of notes and contracts to take back to Meadowlarks.
It was decently warm for late September - the overhead sun and the lack of wind were teaming up to make it almost tolerable - and Jensen paused to one side of the doors as he fished for his sunglasses, idly contemplating stopping to grab a sandwich on his way back to the store.
Then the building next door exploded.
Jensen stumbled heavily, fighting to keep his feet as the ground shuddered beneath him. The air was full of shrieks and raised voices and Jensen gaped at the flames curling around the damaged building. One whole edge of the roof was folded in on itself, crumpled up like tinfoil.
Something green, familiar and very, very fast flashed through his peripheral vision and Jensen turned towards it automatically. A sizzle of lightning streaked after it and Jensen's brain managed a quiet little 'oh' when he saw the flare of a yellow cape on the figure following in hot pursuit.
Windstorm, Jensen's unfortunately comprehensive mental library of Supers informed him, electrical manipulator.
Gunner zipped and darted through the air, avoiding Windstorm's attacks with what looked like remarkable ease. The back of Jensen's head reminded him that he shouldn't be standing under a superhero drag match, but he'd hardly had the thought when one of Windstorm's bolts went wide and slammed into the building Jensen was still standing in front of.
The ground groaned with the impact and Jensen went down hard, cursing when he skidded one knee off the pavement.
"Look out!" someone called, which Jensen thought was more than a little belated until he looked up and saw a massive tumble of brick and masonry falling down right on top of him.
All the air snapped away in a thunderclap rush and Jensen flung his arms up in an instinctive and completely useless attempt to protect himself from the imminent death hurtling towards him. His eyes squeezed shut without any conscious input from his brain.
A heartbeat passed. Then another.
Jensen lowered his arms carefully and blinked his eyes open.
"Careful," Gunner said, from where he was hovering about fifteen feet overhead. He had one hand outstretched towards the masonry which was thankfully listening to him instead of gravity.
Jensen made a strangled noise that was meant to convey 'what the ever loving fuck just happened?'.
"You need to get out of here," Gunner said to Jensen and the rest of the civilians sprawled out across the floor. "It's not safe here."
A sweep of Gunner's arm dumped the pile of rubble on an empty patch of sidewalk and then the Super zoomed off, veering sharply around the corner of the building just in time to avoid getting himself shot by a rapidly approaching Windstorm.
Jensen wasted no time in scrambling to his feet and putting as much distance between himself and the two crazies in spandex as possible. Another explosion went off and Jensen dashed across the street with only the faintest regard for the traffic because, seriously, anyone who was still driving with all that going on deserved to get sued for running him over.
There was a modest-looking office building on the other side of the street and Jensen shoved through the idiots rubbernecking on the sidewalk to get inside. The lobby was full of wide-eyed, suit-wearing men and women; Jensen ignored the lot of them as he looked for somewhere safer to stand than in front of a wall of floor to ceiling windows. An 'Emergency Exit' sign sent him veering to the left and he slammed into the stairwell. He put his back up against the concrete wall, then settled down to wait, pulling his legs in close.
The excited murmur of the people in the lobby was faint but audible through the heavy door and Jensen kept half an ear out for news as he fished out his phone. He scrolled down to Jared's number and looked at it for a long moment. Then he steeled himself, hit the 'call' button and brought the phone up to his ear.
The call went straight to voicemail.
Jensen's stomach decided to take residence somewhere near his shoes and he stared dully at the floor, trying desperately not to read too much into it. Maybe Jared's battery had run out.
A cheer came from the lobby another handful of minutes later, which Jensen assumed meant that the side of good had won out yet again, but he waited an additional quarter hour for the fervour to ease before slipping out and checking the damage for himself.
All things considered, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. There was rubble and scorch marks everywhere and a fleet of emergency vehicles were standing by, but it didn't look like anyone had been seriously injured. There was a heavily-guarded Super Containment Van idling against the curb, which was a clear sign that there was going to be one less bad guy on the streets for as long as it took Windstorm to break out of prison again. What a relief.
Gunner was immediately visible, talking to a pair of police officers not far from the spot where he'd kept Jensen from getting pancaked by half an office level. He stood half a head taller than the bigger of the two men and, even from across the street, Jensen could clearly see that way that green spandex clung to well-defined muscles.
Jensen hated the way his brain immediately overlaid Jared's tall, broad silhouette on top of Gunner's and the comparison didn't come up lacking.
Gunner shifted away from the police officers, obviously anticipating the end of the conversation, and Jensen shook himself out of his reverie. He angled himself towards Granada Corp's building, taking care to give Gunner a wide berth. He would have dearly loved to go back to the shop and pretend none of this had happened but he still had a job to do. And right now, Jensen had to find out how his client's quote was going to change when part of the building was missing.
It took Jensen the better part of an hour to find someone he could schedule a meeting with. His stomach had begun rumbling about twenty minutes into the endeavour and he huffed impatiently when he came out of the building to find the police still cordoning off the scene and talking to eye witnesses. A crowd of curious onlookers were fanned out across the street and Jensen was abruptly too hungry and worn out to deal with this shit.
He headed off at an oblique angle, ducking into one of the quieter side streets while the police's attention was elsewhere. The steady murmur of activity dimmed somewhat the further he went and it made some of the tension in Jensen's shoulders ease.
"You know," a familiar voice said. Jensen resisted the urge to scream. "I'm starting to think you're a glutton for punishment."
Jensen gathered his self-control tightly around him and glanced up to find Gunner perched on the edge of the roof above him, kicking his legs like a little kid.
Gunner gave him a little wave. "Hello."
"Hi," Jensen responded, wary and trying not to sound like it.
"You sure know how to keep a guy waiting," Gunner continued. It was hard for Jensen to say whether he sounded like Jared or not but the clear grin in his voice felt dangerously familiar. "I was starting to think you were never coming out."
"I had work to do," Jensen said. "Would've been done earlier if someone hadn't been destroying public property."
"Oh come on," Gunner said. "It wasn't me shooting holes in the buildings."
"It was you playing tag with Windstorm in the middle of the city," Jensen pointed out.
"You recognized him, huh? Not bad from that distance. That mean you're a fan?" The last was said with a teasing sort of lilt that made Jensen feel vaguely sick to his stomach.
"Not exactly," Jensen evaded, since anything closer to the truth seemed unkind after Gunner had saved his life. Again. And if it was Jared under all that fucking spandex well, he'd know how Jensen really felt. "The cape was kind of a giveaway. And the lightning bolts."
Gunner made a low, quietly amused sound. Jensen hoped like hell the man didn't laugh; a laugh was nearly impossible to disguise and he didn't think he could bear hearing Jared's laugh come from behind that mask.
"That cape does stand out, doesn't it?" Gunner looked down at his brightly coloured suit. "Though I guess I'm not really one to talk."
"Look," Jensen said, feeling wearier by the minute. "Was there a point to this? Because thanks for the rescue, but all I really want right now is a very large cup of coffee. And a vacation. Not necessarily in that order."
"I wanted to make sure you're okay," Gunner said.
"How very civic minded of you." Jensen gestured elaborately up and down the length of his body. "As you can see, I'm all in one piece. Bye."
"I'm serious." Gunner dropped off the edge of the roof and stood in front of Jensen, not close enough to feel like a threat but more than obvious about his intention to keep Jensen here until he'd said his piece. "I'm not gonna let you get hurt on my watch, but I can't always be around to make sure you're not getting into trouble."
Jensen thought about how many lates and no-shows Jared had pulled on him. "No," he agreed. "You can't."
"So you've gotta be more careful," Gunner said in a tone that brooked no opposition. It reminded Jensen more than a little of his mother. "Keep yourself safe."
"Yeah," Jensen agreed, almost absently. "I'll handle it."
Jared showed up at Meadowlarks that afternoon, bearing a very large, hideously indulgent coffee-type drink and an innocent smile that Jensen couldn't find it in himself to trust.
"Thought you could use a pick-me up," Jared said. His grin turned teasing. "It's not a trip to the Bahamas, but I figure I've gotta save something for Christmas or I'll never be able to top myself."
Jensen thanked him with a kiss and very quietly freaked the fuck out.
Jensen had a problem.
Now that he was actually faced with the reality of Jared's Super status, Jensen found his earlier conviction faltering under the heavy awareness of what he'd be giving up if he ended things.
Jensen didn't want to break up with Jared. Jared was pretty much the best boyfriend he could have asked for. But Jensen also had no intention of being in a relationship with Gunner. He was not going to put up with always coming second and third place to every other person in the fucking city and never knowing if his boyfriend was going to come home in one piece.
Jensen needed someone to talk to. And he knew that there was only one person in the world who would understand what he was dealing with.
Jensen's mama opened the door and blinked at him. "Jensen?"
"Hi, Mama," Jensen said, with a truly pathetic attempt at a smile.
His mama took command of the situation immediately; she bustled Jensen inside and got him settled at the kitchen table with a mug of cocoa on the table in front of him, like when he was 10 years old and in tears because Billy Taylor had stolen his bike. Or when he was 17 and practically sick with the fear of telling his parents that he might be gay.
His mama always had known just what he needed.
They sat in silence while Jensen drank his cocoa, the warmth from the liquid rolling down his throat and easing the heavy lump that had been sitting there all afternoon. His mama waited patiently, content to let him explain in his own time.
Finally, Jensen set his mug down on the table with a click and stared down at his hands. "Jared's a superhero," he said before he could lose his nerve. "Gunner. He's," he swallowed hard, "Jared is Gunner."
"Oh, honey," his mama said. Jensen didn't dare look up, not wanting to see the sympathetic little frown he knew she was wearing. "You're sure?"
Jensen made a sound that was a little too hysterical to pass for a laugh. "Pretty darn sure. I know what to look for, remember?"
They fell silent, letting the weight of Jensen's words sink in. The clock near the fridge ticked loudly in the quiet.
"What are you going to do?" his mama asked eventually.
"I don't know," Jensen admitted. "I don't want-" he waved an aimless hand at his mama, the kitchen, everything, "-this. Any of it. But I can't just... it's Jared and I didn't expect, I don't have-"
His mama reached out and settled her hand on top of his. "It's okay to be confused. You know there's no right answer to this, Jensen."
"There should be," Jensen muttered. He sunk lower in his chair. "I wouldn't be having this problem if Jared was a Normal."
Jensen heard his mother sigh. "I know how you feel about Supers," she said, with a lack of censure that Jensen would probably have appreciated if he hadn't been so off balance. "And I understand why you don't want to get involved with one. But it's not that easy to give up somebody you care about, no matter what reason you might have for leaving."
"How did you choose?" Jensen asked, finally looking up and letting his mama see the misery written all over his face. "How could you choose this life? "
"I didn't grow up into it," she reminded him. "I didn't know what I was getting into in quite the same way you do."
"Would you have chosen differently? If you'd known; would you have said no?"
"No," his mama said, without a hint of hesitation. "I wouldn't trade your father or you and your brother and sister for anything."
"Jensen." His mama squeezed his hand comfortingly and her expression was soft, sympathetic and a little bit sad. "I love your father very much. And that's the most important thing. This isn't about you having a relationship with a Super. It's about you having a relationship with Jared. And that's a different question entirely."
Jensen nodded at his lap.
"Do you love him?" his mama asked.
"I don't know," Jensen admitted, his voice breaking on the words. "I just… don't know."
"Just give it time." His mama smiled. "He's a good man, your Jared."
Jensen frowned. "You haven't even met him."
"I don't need to have met him to know he makes you happy," she said simply. "It's up to you to decide if that's enough."
"I don't know what to do, Mama," Jensen said, feeling small and lost.
His mama squeezed his hand again. "I know, honey. I know."
The conversation drifted off and they sat together in silence while the sun wound its way across the sky and bathed the kitchen in the vibrant copper-gold of sunset.
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