Jared was late. Again.
Jensen checked his watch impatiently and was entirely displeased to see that Jared was now officially 37 minutes late and still hadn't called in, which was a record, even for him. The murmur of voices and the clink of cutlery was all around him and Jensen scowled at the bottle of beer he was holding as though it was responsible for him sitting alone in the restaurant.
His phone buzzed to life and Jensen glanced down to see Jared's name flashing on the display.
"Jensen," Jared said when he picked up and, oh, Jensen knew that tone of voice.
"Let me guess," Jensen said wearily. "The monkeys with typewriters have had a major breakthrough. Or is the WiFi out at the White House?"
"Jensen-" Jared said again, guilty this time, and Jensen had had enough of this bullshit.
"Save it, Jared. Just... save it. I don't want to hear it." He stood up, chair scraping across the floor, and threw a twenty down on the table. "I'm going home. Hope they deliver pizza to the moon, or wherever the fuck you are."
"Don't bother calling back," Jensen said, and snapped his phone shut. It started ringing again almost immediately so he turned it off and shoved it in his pocket. Then he lifted his chin, gathered up the remains of his dignity and strode out of the restaurant under the weight of a roomful of curious eyes.
The door smashed into the wall outside with a sharp 'crack!' that sent an indignant shout following after him into the dark. Jensen ignored it and stomped off down the street, mad enough to spit ink.
The streets were quiet and dim, and Jensen's ire only grew as he walked past brightly-lit restaurants full of people who hadn't been stood up by their infuriating, almost-ideal boyfriends so they could go play fucking caped crusaders.
He took a sharp left, not concentrating on where he was going as much as reducing the fire in his veins to a more tolerable simmer. There was no way he was going to risk driving when he felt like he was 10 seconds away from putting his fist through a wall.
There was the faintest scuff of sound behind him and Jensen froze when something that felt distressingly like the muzzle of a gun pressed against his back.
"I'd hold still, if I was you," a voice said, because Jensen's day could always get worse.
Jensen sighed. "I am so not in the mood for this." He took a steadying breath, then whirled to knock the gun away and power the guy to the floor.
Or at least, that had been the plan. Instead, Jensen found his wrist caught in a bruising grip as a solid body crowded in close and shoved him face first against the closest building. His cheek scraped hard against the brick as another hand clamped down on his other arm, forcing it up over his head at an awkward angle. Jensen hissed, struggling automatically against the hold.
"Nice try," the person holding him said, almost conversationally. The grip on Jensen's wrist tightened, twisting his arm behind his back until Jensen couldn't keep a pained whimper from forcing its way out of his throat. "Unfortunately for you, I'm not your run-of-the-mill sort of mugger."
"Oh no?" Jensen managed, fighting to get enough leverage to break the hold. Fuck, but this guy knew what he was doing.
A smooth, frighteningly urbane, chuckle answered him. "No," the guy said. "In fact, I'm not your run-of-the-mill anything."
The guy shifted his grip slightly and Jensen wrenched his arm back into an elbow throw, already twisting to bring up a knee for the follow through.
But the guy had obviously been expecting that and he evaded Jensen's attack with embarrassing ease. Jensen's breath rushed out in a sharp gasp when his back hit the wall with a bone-jarring thud, then got cut off entirely when a hand snapped vice-tight around his neck.
"You've got some nice moves," his attacker said, but Jensen was hardly listening, all of his attention caught on the blood-dark mask covering the top half of the man's face, immediately familiar even without a glance down to see the rest of his costume.
That's it, Jensen thought, too numb with shock to muster up the fear he knew he should be feeling. I'm dead.
Crisis smiled, a smugly self-satisfied sort of expression. "I'm guessing by that look that you recognize me. Want an autograph?"
Jensen swallowed, the clench of Crisis' fingers pushing hard against his throat. "N-not really. Bad f- haah- form to idolize your m-m-murderer, you know?"
The smile turned into a laugh that set Jensen's teeth on edge. "My dear boy," Crisis said, with an indulgent pat on Jensen's cheek that was mostly a slap, "If I was going to kill you, I would have done it already. I've got nothing to gain from murdering Normals in the middle of the street."
Jensen hoped to God and absolutely anybody else who might be listening that none of his shock was showing on his face. He might survive this yet. "W-what do you want me for, then?" he asked, with a tremor in his voice that wasn't nearly as much a result of the slow strangulation as he would have liked.
Crisis smirked. "You're going to be a present. For a certain dashing superhero who seems to have fondness for saving your hide."
Jensen's blood turned to ice. "What are you, t-talking about?" he tried and regretted it almost immediately when Crisis' expression turned chiding.
"No need to play dumb." Crisis' grip went ruthlessly tight and Jensen thrashed, fighting to get loose as black spots starting crowding around the edges of his vision. "Surely you've noticed that Gunner's only a hostage situation away from asking you to go steady. I didn't know there were any gay superheroes around but, hey," a philosophical shrug, "Each to his own, right?"
Jensen wheezed at him, limbs turning to lead, and Crisis finally loosened his hold enough to allow Jensen to suck in a much-needed breath of air.
Crisis watched him patiently, his head cocked to one side. "You're not even going to guess what's going to happen now?"
"I'm haa-hoping you'll tell me," Jensen rasped. His voice came out thick and ragged. "Isn't that what super villains do?"
"I'm afraid I'm not a big fan of monologuing," Crisis said. He gave Jensen another of those bright, unsettling smiles. "Besides, I'd hate to spoil the surprise. I'm going to enjoy watching you squirm almost as much as I'm going to enjoy killing your boyfriend."
"Already have a boyfriend," Jensen managed, because there was no way he was giving up Jared's real identity to this bastard. "Not a fan of spandex."
Crisis shrugged dismissively. "Gunner's probably hoping that third time's the charm. We Supers are used to getting what we want, you know. It's time for you to go to sleep now," he said then and the last thing Jensen saw was that goddamn grin before pain exploded in the side of his head and the world went white.
Jensen came to bound and gagged in the trunk of a car with a splitting headache and something sticky running down the side of his face, which was quite possibly the worst wake-up call he'd ever had, up to and including that college rager when he'd ended up on the roof of the engineering building in a dress. The car wasn't moving and Jensen strained his ears, trying to get some idea of where they were.
The trunk flew abruptly open and Jensen started in surprise, banged his knee off the wheel well and swore behind his gag. Silhouetted by the faint light streaming into the trunk, Crisis looked broad, dark and sinister.
"Oh, good. You're awake," Crisis said. He reached for Jensen and Jensen struck out blindly, fighting back for all he was worth.
"I do like your spark," Crisis said, completely unaffected by Jensen's pathetic attempts to defend himself. He hoisted Jensen bodily out of the trunk and slung him over one shoulder like he didn't weigh a thing. "But I'm starting to get the impression that you're not that bright."
The sudden shift of orientation sent pain sparking through Jensen's head and he sagged in Crisis' grip as solid bone and muscle dug into Jensen's diaphragm. He panted shallowly behind his gag, thinking that he'd never really appreciated breathing the way he ought to.
"Don't bother yelling," Crisis said. He slammed the trunk shut and struck out across the street, his footfalls loud in the quiet. "I'm not sloppy enough to leave anyone around to hear you."
Laboriously, Jensen lifted his head from where it was bouncing against the small of Crisis' back, trying to get a good look at where they were.
He didn't recognize the street they were on, though Jensen suspected that the head wound and being upside-down probably weren't helping on that score. The car that he'd recently been stuffed in was parked by the curb, the engine ticking as it cooled down. There wasn't a single person in sight. The buildings were packed in closely together and, while Jensen couldn't make out specifics in the dimness, the glint of broad glass windows suggested that they were probably stores of some kind. So at least Jensen wasn't going to get killed in some abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere.
Crisis' shoulder shifted - which Jensen's gut disapproved of most strenuously - and Jensen heard the scrape of a key. An unseen door creaked open and darkness fell harder as Crisis walked them both inside, then turned to shut the door, fast enough to make Jensen dizzy.
The bolt slid across with a loud, ominous clack and Jensen swallowed hard.
"Here we are," Crisis said, sounding satisfied. "Home sweet home."
There was a brief silence and then light flooded the room. Jensen flinched and blinked rapidly, trying to adjust to the brightness. Crisis didn't give him time to adjust before striding into the room; Jensen got a fleeting impression of a very large, very cluttered space before Crisis dumped him unceremoniously on the floor.
Jensen hit the ground with a thud and a pained hiss that was muffled by the gag. His arms twisted painfully behind his back and he curled forward, trying to ease the pressure.
"Sorry," Crisis said without remorse. He reached down and worked free the wad of fabric he'd shoved in Jensen's mouth. "Better?"
Free of the damp mass - which, Jensen was irritated to notice, was the sleeve of his shirt - Jensen stretched out his jaw, trying to work out the stiffness.
"Well?" Crisis asked him, sounding for all the world like he'd invited Jensen over for tea. He gestured grandly. "You like?"
Jensen quietly thought about a dozen unkind things about the man, then lifted his head to look around.
They were in some kind of art studio. Easels stood around the room at not-quite even intervals and Jensen could see a wide washtub near a forest of paintbrushes on the far end of the room. Stacked crates and canvases turned the open space into a maze of narrow pathways. Everything was splattered liberally with wide swaths of colourful paint.
"What? Nothing to say?"
Jensen summoned up his snarkiest expression. "That's seriously your getaway vehicle? A Volvo?"
"I'm traveling incognito," Crisis said, which made Jensen snort.
"And apparently in touch with your sensitive side, if this place is anything to go by. Do you use all those different pinks?"
Crisis cocked his head. "You're remarkably mouthy considering your situation."
"S'not like freaking out will do me any good," Jensen said, with a shrug that was made awkward by the ropes. "And you're going to kill me anyway so it's not like it matters if I-"
The sound of the slap hit him before the pain did. Jensen's head rolled with the force of the blow and he tasted blood in his mouth where his teeth had caught the inside of his cheek.
"It would do you good to be afraid, you know," Crisis said, and his voice was eerie in its icy calm. "There are all sorts of long, unpleasant ways to die."
Jensen opened his mouth to respond to that and Crisis slapped him again.
"Keep your tongue in your mouth or I'm going to cut it out," he said pleasantly.
Jensen's jaw clicked shut and Crisis smirked. "Good choice. Choking on your own blood is such a messy way to go."
Jensen looked away, not wanting to face the dark malice in Crisis' eyes. A hand came down to pat his stinging cheek and Jensen flinched away.
Crisis chuckled. "There now. That's better. There's just one thing missing."
The fingers on Jensen's face dug in sharply and he tossed his head, fighting to break the hold. Crisis kept squeezing and Jensen was helpless to stop him when he forced the gag back into Jensen's mouth and tightened it roughly around the back of his head.
Without saying another word, Crisis hoisted Jensen upright and shoved him against some kind of storage rack bolted into the wall. Crisis produced a set of handcuffs and Jensen hissed when Crisis wrenched his arms up and cuffed them to something behind and above him. The pressure on his shoulders forced Jensen's chest down at an angle and Jensen knew that it wouldn't be long before his muscles started to protest.
His ankles were cuffed as well, stretching his legs out into a wide inverted V that made Jensen feel like he was about to star in a bondage porn film. He couldn't straighten up with his arms bound behind him and he couldn't hold his head up for more than a handful of minutes without feeling like his brain was going to explode. The entire position left him off balance and strained, which Jensen suspected was entirely the point.
"Lovely," Crisis said, still in that darkly tranquil tone of voice. "I do appreciate a little artistry in my work." He patted Jensen condescendingly on top of his head and Jensen growled at him, glaring for all he was worth.
Crisis' eyes narrowed. The fingers in Jensen's hair gripped and yanked upwards and his eyes slammed shut when the shift wrenched his arms into an angle they weren't meant to go. The mental frame clanged with the movement, the sound echoing off the ceiling. Crisis held him there long enough for Jensen to fear his shoulders were about to get dislocated then let go.
Jensen hung limply, panting through the pain. He didn't resist when Crisis dug into his coat pocket and resurfaced with his cell phone.
"Think anyone's missed you yet?" Crisis asked conversationally. Jensen's phone chimed as soon as Crisis turned it on and Jensen forced his eyes up to watch the amused delight that scrolled across Crisis' face.
"Oh, looks like someone's very interested in getting in touch." Crisis' fingers tapped across the keys, obviously checking through Jensen's missed messages. "Eight missed texts and three phone calls from someone named Jared." He glanced over at Jensen. "The aforementioned boyfriend, I presume? Looks like he wants to talk to you." He clicked a button and Jared's voice echoed tinnily from the speakers.
"Seriously Jensen, just pick up your phone. Or call Chris or something if you don't want to talk to me. I'm getting worried."
Crisis tsked. "Sounds like I've interrupted a domestic. Shall we listen to all of them? He did take all the trouble of leaving them."
Jensen closed his eyes, fighting off nausea.
"No? Ah, well. Maybe that's the problem in the first place; communication's important in a relationship, you know."
Jensen choked back a sound that he refused to classify as a sob. Crisis chuckled and then fell blessedly silent, leaving Jensen with nothing but the pain in his limbs and the pressure on his lungs to distract him from his thoughts.
He hung there for a small eternity, concentrating on keeping his breathing even and his panic shoved firmly into the back of his head. His muscles trembled with the strain of the position Crisis had forced him into. He tried to ignore the fact that he couldn't feel his hands.
The silence stretched on interminably.
"That was quick," Crisis said suddenly and Jensen's eyes flew open despite his best intentions not to give Crisis the satisfaction. Crisis winked at him. "He must really like you."
Jensen glared back, wanting nothing more than to strangle the bastard's neck.
Crisis stood. "Show time." He dropped Jensen's phone on the floor and smoke started wreathing up his arms as fire curled in his cupped hands. It was real and terrifying in a way that hadn't quite sunk in for Jensen until now: this was Crisis, the self detonator with the hate on for Supers. And he was going to kill Jensen and anyone else who got in the way of his goal.
Which was killing Gunner. Jared.
Flames licked between Crisis' fingers and Jensen resisted the urge to sneeze when a stray tendril of smoke tickled his nose. Shadows skittered across the floor as Crisis took a few deliberate steps forward, his head swiveling back and forth like a hound scenting its prey.
Suddenly Crisis stilled and Jensen caught the corner of the vicious grin that curved his mouth before he strode off between the canvases and supplies, his every movement calculated and sure.
The smell of smoke was growing stronger and Jensen's weary brain tried to tell him that there was something wrong with that. He could almost see the rising haze in the air, which seemed excessive considering that Crisis was still moving away from him. So where was all the smoke coming from?
The thought had barely crossed Jensen's mind when a burst of fire exploded through a stack of boxes to his left; he jolted hard enough to make the frame he was tied to clang against the wall. Crisis vanished in a cloud of smoke and licking flames, and Jensen watched the walls of fire rolling thick and fast across the ground towards him, devouring everything in their path. Canvases and hanging tarps went up in moments, their deaths accompanied by the popping explosions of tubes upon tubes of oil-based paint as they gave up under the heat. The air was thick with smoke and dizzying paint fumes and Jensen choked, fighting to breathe.
A shadow appeared at Jensen's side and he jerked in surprise, the cuffs at his wrists and ankles digging in hard to his skin.
"Shh," a voice said, right in his ear.
Jensen looked over to see Jared's eyes looking at him above a wet rag held over his mouth and nose, the hazel in them drowned out in the dancing firelight.
"Jrrrm?" Jensen tried.
"Just a sec," Jared said, lowering the cloth and using both hands to untie Jensen' gag.
Jensen inhaled shakily. "Cr-" he tried before he had to give it up as a bad job when all his lungs managed to produce was a pathetic sort of wheezing sound. He sucked in a breath and tried again. "It's Crisis. Jared, it's…"
"I know. We haven't got much time." Jared shifted to standing and reached for Jensen's wrists. "I need you to stay very still for me."
"Are those lock picks?" Jensen asked muzzily.
The sudden release of the cuffs suggested that, yes, they were lock picks and Jensen's body crumpled without the support, his shoulders screaming in protest as his arms dropped to the small of his back.
Jared was there immediately; strong arms caught Jensen by the armpits and Jensen let his head loll against Jared's collarbone, closing his eyes in a moment of overwhelming relief.
"It's okay, Jensen," Jared said against his forehead. "I gotcha." He produced a knife from somewhere and sawed through the ropes around Jensen's wrists. "Careful now," he said, as he carefully lowered Jensen's arms to his sides. "Let's not damage the muscles any more than we have to."
Jensen nodded, then swiftly regretted it when it made the room spin. He levered himself awkwardly upright while Jared dealt with the cuffs around his ankles. The air was getting thicker and Jensen pulled the hem of his shirt up over his mouth and nose, fighting not to inhale too much smoke. There was sweat rolling down his face from the heat and Jensen could feel his clothes clinging wetly to his skin.
Jared tugged Jensen's ankles out of the cuffs and straightened up. "Let's go," he said, covering his face again.
"Wait," Jensen said and bent to scoop up his cell phone. The sudden movement made him want to throw up but he wasn't about to leave his phone at the scene of a kidnapping-arson combo.
"Stay close," Jared said, barely waiting for Jensen to shove his phone into a pocket before putting a guiding hand on Jensen's back and pushing him away from where Jensen thought the main door was.
Flames towered around them and Jensen kept his eyes glued to the ground to avoid tripping over anything. Their trek through the burning building felt like forever, but Jensen doubted it was more than a minute before they came upon an emergency door set into the far wall. It was propped open with a piece of wood and Jensen could feel a gust of fresh air creeping through the gap and stirring through the smoke.
"Come on," Jared said and pushed the door open the rest of the way, kicking out the doorstop on the way past.
The cold air was like a slap in the face after the furnace heat inside the building. Jensen inhaled sharply and promptly fell into a coughing fit that made his whole body hurt and shudder with the force of it.
"Easy," Jared said. He wrapped an arm around Jensen's waist and urged him into a walk. "I'm sorry, Jensen, but you need to keep moving. Fire won't stop a self-detonator for long."
Jensen wrestled his breathing under control with an effort. "Okay," he said, trying to ignore the insistent ache at the back of his throat. "Just… don't let go."
Jared squeezed his hip comfortingly and they half-hobbled out onto the street, carefully at first while Jensen worked out some of the tension in his muscles.
"How did you find me?" he asked as he stumbled along in Jared's wake.
Jared didn't look over at him. "Tracked your phone."
"Oh," Jensen said. He frowned. "Did you set the building on fire?"
"The building next door, technically," Jared said. "How are you doing? Okay to go a little faster?"
"What? Yeah, I'm good." Jared's arm shifted until he once again had a hand at the small of Jensen's back and Jensen gritted his teeth against the tingling hurt in his arms. "You set a building on fire? Why?"
"He can read heat signatures," Jared said, as though that was a completely logical explanation. "And I don't exactly come to dates prepared for rescuing hostages; best I could do on short notice."
Glass shattered somewhere behind them and Jensen chanced a glance back to see flames flaring through the windows and licking up the sides of the building.
"Not to mention that that'll get the fire department's attention," Jared added. "All we've got to do is survive till they get here."
They hit an intersection and Jared paused for a moment before heading down the road on their right. "This way."
"Where are we going?" Jensen asked.
"Somewhere he won't bother following, hopefully." Jared rounded another corner and Jensen felt his stomach drop when he found himself facing a wall of trees and deathly pale grass instead of another street.
There was a tug on Jensen's sleeve and he belatedly realized that he'd stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and was just staring at the resolute blackness of the city park that Jared was trying to drag him into.
"Sorry," Jensen said reflexively. He started forward again, suppressing the shudder that wanted to run through him as they crossed over the pavement and under the trees.
Jensen didn't like winter. People assumed it was because of the cold, which Jensen was more than happy to let them think since it was easier, but the fact was that he couldn't stand how quiet it was. Winter was a world asleep, waiting for the spring. It wasn't so bad in his store; his flowers were shipped in from warmer climates and, though the cold made them droop more than they should, they were still happy enough under his hands. But the rest of the world was buried under the cold and the damp and the snow, and Jensen hated it. It made him feel like putting his head down and never moving again.
The trees pulsed weakly as Jensen stumbled past, acknowledging but oh so tired, and he did his best to ignore them for fear that he'd start feeling the same. Jared, of course, felt nothing, and Jensen focused his attention on him, trying to block out the winter chill with his awareness of how very alive Jared was. Jensen reached for Jared's hand, clinging to his cold fingers like a lifeline.
Jared flicked a glance at him and squeezed his hand reassuringly. "It'll be okay, Jensen," he said, with as much of a smile as he could manage under the circumstances. His voice was warm and unwavering. "I gotcha."
Jensen saw the utter conviction in Jared's eyes, the firm core of him that said he'd go down fighting or not at all, and it was like the whole world paused for one shining crystal moment when Jensen realized what he should have known all along.
He was in love with this man. Irrevocably and irrefutably.
Jensen stopped. "Wait."
"Jensen, what are you doing?" Jared tugged on Jensen's hand, trying to get him moving again. "Crazy super villain after us, remember?"
Jensen shook his head. "Not us. You." He met Jared's panicked gaze steadily. "And I won't let him have you."
"You what? What are you talking about?"
"I'm in bad shape, Jared," Jensen said, rueful but honest. "I'm just slowing you down-"
"You think I care?" Jared demanded.
"-so you need to go on without me."
"Not a chance!" Jared pulled on Jensen's arm again. "So help me, Jensen, you're coming with me even if I have to drag you."
"I'm not letting him kill you!" Jensen shouted, yanking his hand out of Jared's grip. "Goddammit, Jared, will you stop being a self-sacrificing ass for one minute?"
"That's rich, considering you want me to leave you here to get burnt alive." Jared huffed out a sound that was more like a growl than a laugh. "Why the hell should I?"
"Because I love you, you fucker!" Jensen shouted and was gratified when Jared actually stumbled back, shock scrawled baldly across his face. "It doesn't matter if you're a techie or a superhero or a… a fucking alien, I'm not going to be responsible for Crisis getting his exploding hands on you!"
Jared's face was doing something very strange. "Jensen, what-"
Jensen took a slow, shuddering breath. "I know," he admitted, looking at his hands. "That you're Gunner." He heard Jared's sudden sharp inhale and did his best to inject some levity into his voice when he added, "So, you know, next time try not to be so obvious about missing dates every time there's a train derailment or whatever."
"I'll distract Crisis," Jensen said, almost frantic for Jared to just go already. "Seriously, it'll be fine."
"Jensen," Jared said slowly. "I'm not a Super."
Jensen's blood froze. "What?"
"I'm not Gunner," Jared said.
"But you have to be," Jensen said blankly. "It all adds up. You-"
"I'm not Gunner," Jared repeated. "Really."
"No. You don't get to do this to me," Jensen said and was distantly horrified at how broken his voice sounded. "You don't get to fucking lie to me about this, Jared Pada-"
"I work for the government," Jared said in a rush. "In the Preternatural Law Enforcement Division."
"Never heard of you," Jensen said flatly.
"I know. We're a little Area 51 that way." Jared squared his shoulders. "We deal with situations that the Normal divisions aren't equipped to handle. Super-related, mostly, but other stuff has been known to crop up."
Jensen clenched his fists when he realized that his hands were shaking. "So you are a Super."
"No, that's-" Jared scrubbed a frustrated hand through his hair. "I'm Normal. Most of the division's Normal. But we work with Supers. I'm Gunner's… handler, more or less. That's why I'm not around when he's rescuing people from doomsday devices or whatever."
"You can't honestly expect me to believe that every superhero in the country has a government babysitter," Jensen said. He would know, after all.
"They don't," Jared said. A touch of wryness slipped into his tone. "Supers aren't the easiest people in the world to get on the payroll."
Jensen snorted, struggling to find some anger, some distrust to throw at Jared. "And I'm just supposed to, what? Take your w-"
"Yes," Jared snapped. "Christ, Jensen, do you have any idea how many rules I'm breaking right now?" His voice gentled. "You know me; you really think I'm lying to you about this?"
That brought Jensen up short because, no, he didn't. Despite any and all evidence to the contrary. "I- I don't believe this. This whole situation, it's just… impossible. You!" he exclaimed, jabbing a finger at Jared. "I was going to… for you, I was willing to, to-"
"Sorry to interrupt," a voice said and Jensen's whole body went cold.
He and Jared whirled as one to find Crisis striding out from under the slumbering trees and onto the path. He walked slowly and calmly, looking no worse for wear despite having been set on fire in the very recent past. Jensen could sense the edge of barely contained menace leaking out around the edges of that blank façade.
Jared shoved his way between Jensen and Crisis, and leveled a seriously hardcore handgun at Crisis. Jensen had no idea where the fuck he'd been hiding it. "Stay back," Jared ordered.
"That's a bit embarrassing, isn't it?" Crisis said to Jensen, ignoring the gun entirely. "Thinking your Normal little boyfriend's a superhero. Were you hoping he'd do you in the spandex?"
"I already told you I don't go for Supers," Jensen said, fighting to keep his voice steady.
"Mm, and clearly that's not true. Don't worry though-" Crisis' teeth flashed in the dim as he grinned. "There's always role play. Although maybe this is the incentive you need to trade in for a better model."
"Fuck you," Jensen said.
"Not my thing. You may as well put that down, you know," Crisis said casually to Jared. "I think we both know how unlikely it is that you're going to able to kill me with it."
"I can still make you bleed," Jared said, with steel in his voice. "Go," he told Jensen, never looking away from Crisis.
"Fuck you too," Jensen told him and stayed right where he was. Though he wished to hell and back that he had something to back up his bravado with. At this point he'd take a pointy stick and a feather duster.
"That's sweet," Crisis said. "But terribly tedious. And I'm rapidly losing interest in waiting for the real cavalry to arrive, so if you don't mind holding still, I'm going to put the both of you out of my misery."
"Awful big waste of your time," Jared said, sounding calm and remarkably collected. "All this effort to reel in Gunner and you're just giving it up as a bad job?"
"Oh, I wouldn't say it's been a complete loss. After all, I'm terribly excited about your day job… Jared, was it? Can't wait to learn more. So thanks for that."
Jared smiled thinly. "Good luck trying," he said, then pulled the trigger.
Crisis staggered back as the bullet caught him high in the chest, but Jared had hardly got as far as shoving Jensen in the opposite direction when Crisis straightened and smiled an indulgent sort of smile.
"Oh, don't go y-"
Another bullet slammed into him, right below the first one and Jensen snuck a glance to his side to see Jared's picture perfect stance, the grim concentration on his face as he fired shot after shot.
Crisis laughed, dark, cruel and fucking terrifying, and made absolutely no attempt to avoid the barrage. Jared put an entire clip into him without effect and, as the echo of the last gunshot faded away, the only thing left in Jensen's head was wondering how much being burnt alive was going to hurt. It seemed to be a pretty foregone conclusion at this point.
"Finished?" Crisis asked Jared.
Jared coolly shifted his gun into his off hand and pulled a fresh clip out of his pocket. He reloaded the gun without changing expression and brought it up to bear again.
Crisis laughed, delighted. "You're a fun little wind-up soldier, aren't you? I can see why you two like each other. But it's a waste of time." He crouched low to the ground and Jensen tensed, but Jared caught his elbow with a warning shake of his head.
"You should listen to him," Crisis said, rising to his feet with a handful of pebbles taken from the path. "He's better at this than you are. My powers rearrange molecules," he said to Jared. "Anything that touches my skin is mine." He held up a single pebble and offered them another smile. "Want to see?"
Fire flared up from Crisis' hand, blindingly orange in the darkness, and Jensen had to bring up one arm to shield his eyes from the glare. Through the black afterimages in his vision, Jensen just barely saw Crisis' arm move and he couldn't react nearly fast enough to dodge the now-flaming pebble as it streaked towards him.
Pain struck Jensen's leg and Jensen collapsed when it buckled. His wrist twinged sharply as he hit the ground, but Jensen was too busy writhing in agony and trying to put out his flaming pants to give much of a care.
"Jensen!" Jared was on the ground at his side in an instant, tearing at Jensen's pant leg to check out the damage. "Are you okay?"
"He would be able to make fucking fireballs," Jensen gritted, feeling sweat break out across his face. He panted shallowly. "I don't want to look, do I?"
"Probably not," Jared said, so Jensen glanced down and felt his stomach twist at the mess of blackened, slickly red skin peeking out from the hole in his pants.
"Not really worth the effort of trying to wrap," Crisis pointed out, when Jared made to rip some strips of fabric from the bottom of Jensen's shirt. "Not when you're both going to be dead in about 10 minutes. So! Which one of you doesn't want to watch the other die?"
Jared stood and rounded on Crisis, menace written in every line of his body. "Don't you fucking touch him," he growled, in a voice that would have made Jensen run the other fucking way if it had been aimed at him.
"Why thank you for volunteering," Crisis said. He smiled. "Any last heart-felt confessions for your darling boyfriend?"
"He already knows," Jared said, and Jensen's heart shuddered when Jared threw him a wryly fond smile over one shoulder. "And if he doesn't, he damn well should."
"Jared-" Jensen said helplessly.
Time slowed down and all Jensen could do was watch as Jared turned to face Crisis with shoulders squared and head held high, as a smirk curled Crisis' mouth, as Crisis lit up another pebble, as Crisis' arm snapped forward and the fireball left his hand, streaked straight towards Jared and-
"No!" Jensen cried.
-something exploded out of the ground at Jared's feet, writhing and curling upwards at a frightening pace. The fireball slammed into the thing instead of Jared's chest and Jared threw himself to the side as it caught fire. The resulting flare of light illuminated a twisting lattice of vines and roots arching up like a wall of living flame, growing ever taller with single-minded intensity.
Jared was on his knees in front of Jensen in a heartbeat, pulling him close and putting his own broad back between Jensen and the fire. Over Jared's shoulder, Jensen watched with wide eyes as the burning plants twisted away from the sky and towards Crisis, reaching.
"What the-?" Crisis took an instinctive step backwards, then another, hands raised in warning. The thudding impact of more fireballs against the plants filled the air but that creeping advance didn't falter. The earth cracked and buckled as more plants joined the assault, taking the place of the ones that were too burnt and shriveled to continue. Jensen felt a weird, almost hysterical laugh bubble up in his throat when he saw a group of pansies creeping out of one of the slumbering flower beds to take part.
Crisis' barrage of fireballs stopped abruptly when he ran out of stones and Jensen wasn't surprised when he turned and fled, angling for the copse of trees he'd emerged from earlier.
A great groaning sound filled the air and Jensen bit off a surprised curse when the trees nearest the path bent suddenly over, stretching out with creaking, skittering branches to cut off Crisis' escape. Jared twisted his head round to see what was going on, not letting go of Jensen. His breath was hot on Jensen's cheek and his gun was pressed heavily against the space between Jensen's shoulder blades.
Crisis set fire to everything he could lay his hands on, fighting to get through, but the branches held him fast, locking him in place long enough to let the rest of the plants catch up. Roots surged up out of the ground to grip his legs and Crisis yelled when the rest of the plants followed suit, curling up his limbs and lashing tight around his torso. The trees pressed in closer, caging Crisis' body while a pair of thick, slippery-looking plants that Jensen didn't even recognize forced his arms wide and held them there, giving his deadly hands absolutely nothing to grab onto.
Crisis struggled ineffectually against his bonds, blistering the air blue when all his efforts did was make the plants twine tighter. And tighter. And tighter until he was gasping open-mouthed for air and his hands were clenching spasmodically in time with his increasingly erratic breath. The plants gave one final squeeze and Crisis went limp, sagging in their hold like so much dead weight.
Jared turned to Jensen with wide eyes. "I swear that was absolutely not me."
"I know," Jensen said faintly. Crisis still wasn't moving and, for a heart-stopping moment, Jensen thought they'd actually killed the psycho. A closer look revealed that Crisis was still breathing, chest rising shallowly with each slow inhale, but Jensen doubted he'd stay that way for long if they left him like this. "Um," he said to the plants. "You guys round the middle mind easing up a little? I'd rather you didn't kill him, even if he kind of deserves it."
There was no reaction for a long moment, which made Jensen go from feeling silly to fearing quite honestly for his sanity. Then a few of the plants slipped free with a quiet shushing sound and Jensen had a whole truckload of other things to worry about. He let out a shaky breath. "Great, thanks," he said, then looked back at Jared.
Jared's eyes looked like they were going to fall right out of his head. "You-" he started, then seemed at a total loss about where to go from there.
"Apparently," Jensen agreed. He tipped his head back to stare up at the stars and sighed. "Fuck."
In the wake of the revenge of the plants, Jared wrapped the burn on Jensen's leg, sent a text message to his boss about the passed out super villain in the middle of the park, then sat down next to Jensen and stared at him until Jensen started talking just to make him knock it off.
He gave Jared an extremely pared down account of his (no longer) completely useless powers, very carefully leaving out any and all mention of his dad and Josh; that was definitely a conversation best left to another day. Preferably after Jensen had talked to his parents, who'd definitely be interested in hearing about this Preternatural Law Enforcement thingy.
Jared listened raptly to every word and Jensen sincerely hoped this wasn't going to become a thing because he was not going to put up with being idolized for being a Super.
Jensen made a desultory attempt at convincing the plants to be a little more on the down low since it was fucking November and the park looked like a scene from the Secret Garden, but it seemed like they were just as unlikely to listen to him as they ever had been. Some of the little fuckers even had the nerve to burst into bloom. Jensen could literally feel the smugness.
"Here we go," Jared said eventually and Jensen followed his gaze to see a familiar green silhouette zooming towards them.
Jared waved. Jensen made a face.
Gunner landed not far from where they were still sprawled out on the grass and Jensen was somewhat mollified to see that, even with Jared present for comparison, Gunner still looked a lot like his boyfriend.
Gunner glanced around, taking in Crisis' boneless form, the excess of faintly frost-tinged plants and Jensen's general state of disrepair. "Wow," he said to Jensen, in a tone of voice that really made Jensen want to flip him off. "You really are good at getting into trouble."
"Didn't see you catching any super villains tonight," Jensen shot back.
"True." Gunner turned his attention to Jared. "Somehow I feel like you should have called this in earlier."
"Yeah," Jared said, with a shamefaced little shrug. "But I didn't really have the time to go through the proper channels."
"And it nearly got both of you killed."
"I had it under control!" Jared protested, then swore when Jensen punched him. "Ow! What was that for?"
"I am not even going to answer that." Jensen looked at Gunner. "So what now? With all the-" he made a helpless gesture at the plants draped all over Crisis.
"I'll take care of it," Gunner said. "Since I suspect you don't really want to be-"
"God no," Jensen agreed quickly. "Not even a little."
Jensen could feel Jared watching him and refused to make eye contact. He wasn't having this conversation.
"So, you think you can take over for us here?" Jared asked Gunner, when it became clear that Jensen wasn't going to say anything. "I want to get Jensen looked at."
"In a hospital?" Jensen asked skeptically. Somehow, he didn't think they could pass this off as a mugging.
Jared shook his head. "Not quite. Don't worry about it."
"Cause that makes me feel better," Jensen muttered, though he couldn't deny that getting patched up sounded like a wonderful idea. His leg was hurting like a motherfucker.
"There's a car waiting for you at the main gate," Gunner said. "They'll take care of you."
"Thanks," Jared said. He climbed to his feet and reached down to help Jensen up. Jensen hissed as he put pressure on his leg and Jared's face creased in worry. "You gonna be okay?"
"Fine." Jensen accepted the support of Jared's arm and refused to wince when the state of being upright made every muscle in his body hurt. "You even try to carry me and I will kill you."
Gunner did his head-cock smile at Jared. "I can see why you like him."
"He's a keeper," Jared agreed cheerfully. "Have fun talking to the police - I didn't call them but I set a couple of buildings on fire a couple streets over so they'll probably be here sooner or later."
"Although I really can't see why you like him," Gunner said to Jensen, in a gently teasing tone of voice.
Jensen made an attempt at a shrug. "He has his moments."
Gunner shook his head. "Get out of here," he told the both of them. "We'll talk later, Jared."
"Gotcha." Jared started to lead Jensen away but Jensen hung back.
"Thanks," he said awkwardly to Gunner. "For-" he gestured aimlessly. "Y'know."
Gunner nodded in acknowledgment. "I know what it's like. Take some time to figure things out, for yourself," Gunner gestured at Jared, "And for him."
Jensen nodded. "Okay."
Jensen spent the rest of the night in a medical facility that was most definitely not a hospital but was nonetheless sterile, discreet and frighteningly well-equipped to deal with super villain related injuries. Jared needed an ID badge and a keycard to get them in and Jensen had no doubt that he was going to have to sign approximately four billion confidentiality wavers before they'd let him out again.
The final tally of 'bad shit that happened to Jensen Ackles tonight' included a bruised windpipe, a nasty gash on his head, some muscle damage in his shoulders and upper arms, abrasions on his wrists, mild smoke inhalation, a sprained wrist and a gaping great burn on his leg. Also, his clothes were a write-off.
Jared, the bastard, got away with mild smoke inhalation and a first degree burn on his left arm.
They gave Jensen a private room, an IV drip and some really excellent drugs that left him feeling considerably more Zen about the whole situation. Even if there was a potted cactus by the window that was busy being very worried in his general direction.
Jared stayed with him the entire time and was blessedly quiet while Jensen was being tended to. He dealt with the niceties of thanking the not-hospital staff and waited until they'd been left properly alone before dragging a chair over to sit next to the bed.
"So," he said and Jensen would probably have groaned if he hadn't been so happily drugged up. "What are you going to do now?"
"Sleep," Jensen mumbled at him.
"No thinking. Fuck off." He blinked wearily at Jared. "That was the worst fucking date ever."
"Try not to get kidnapped next time," Jared said and Jensen was not nearly awake enough to parse all the layers of meaning in that sentence.
"S'good I did," Jensen said around a yawn. He loved morphine. "Else there w-would'na been a next time."
"What?" Jared said, sounding shocked enough that Jensen forced his eyes open to check that he was okay.
"S'okay," Jensen said. He lifted one massively heavy arm - the one without the needles in it - and patted at Jared's hand where it was lying on the bedspread. "Love you anyway. And y're not a Super, so we dun have to break up." He blinked. "Do I get a goodnight kiss?"
There was something wrong with the twist of Jared's mouth, but Jensen was too fuzzy to figure it out. "Of course," Jared said quietly.
He leaned in for a chaste, gentle kiss that had Jensen humming in relaxed pleasure and trying to sink straight through the mattress. Jared's expression still wasn't right when he pulled back, but Jensen could hear the tenderness in his voice when he said, "Try to get some rest, okay Jensen? We'll talk tomorrow."
Jensen yawned again. "You'll be here?" he asked, his eyes slipping shut.
"Yes," Jared's voice said, and Jensen couldn't think of a better last thing to hear before sleeping. "As long as you'll let me, always yes."
Jensen had been awake for the better part of two hours when Jared finally stirred.
"Morning," Jared said, in a sleep-graveled voice that Jensen approved of wholeheartedly. He shifted, looking up at Jensen from the pillow of his arms. "You're up early."
"Mmm," Jensen agreed absently.
Jared frowned and pushed himself upright and Jensen had to fight back the urge to brush his hand across the fabric creases imprinted on his cheek. "Jensen?" Jared asked. "Everything okay?"
"I'm not becoming a Super," Jensen told him. A morning spent staring at the ceiling without the happy haze of painkillers to get in the way had made that very clear.
"Babe, you already kind of are," Jared said gently. He covered one of Jensen's hands with his own.
"I'm not joining the spandex brigade," Jensen clarified.
Jared was watching him closely. "You going to tell me why not?"
"Not today," Jensen said. He managed to choke back the maybe never hiding at the back of his throat.
"Okay," Jared said, after a long moment.
Jensen tried to smile. It didn't go well. "Sorry to disappoint."
"You're not," Jared said firmly. "God, you're not."
Jensen snorted. "You sure about that? Seems like you're all for superheroes. Pays your bills, right?"
Jared was silent for a moment. "You don't want to be in a relationship with a Super," he said, slowly like he was testing something out.
"No," Jensen admitted.
"So you were going to break up with me? When you thought I was Gunner?"
"I was," Jensen admitted and Jared flinched like he'd been struck. "But then I wasn't."
"Can I ask why not?" Jared asked, in an aching little voice that made Jensen's heart hurt.
"I…" Jensen trailed off and dropped his eyes down to where Jared's hand was lying on top of his own. He threaded their fingers carefully together, feeling the strength and the gentleness in Jared's grip. Which really was Jared all over. "I realized that you were worth it. That's why I wasn't."
"Then you already know why you can't possibly disappoint me." Jared tipped Jensen's chin up with two fingers so he could look him in the eye. "You, Jensen Ackles, are extraordinary in spite of super powers, not because of them."
Heat prickled Jensen's cheeks. "You're not so bad yourself," he said, wanting this conversation over already. "But I'm glad you're not a Super."
"Probably for the best." Jared grinned at him. "I'd be a shit superhero."
Jensen barked out a surprised laugh. "That must be why I like you so much," he said, though he privately doubted that Jared was right on that score. And he never in a million years would have suspected that he'd be able to laugh less than 24 hours after discovering that he was more Super than he'd thought, but he supposed that being in love could make up for all sorts of superhero bullshit in his life.
Even if Josh was never, ever going to let him live this down. Plant minions. What the fuck.
Timestamp: My Dress Code Encourages Spandex
A big thank you to mithborien for her interest in my story and her fantastic art! I can only hope that this story lives up to the great works she created, which really are just that snazzy. Visit her Art Post to see all the art that was included with the text here and much more! Go, now! Mith, I had great fun collaborating with you, and we so clearly rocked the house with this one. ^_^
Hearts also to peppervl for putting up with my procrastinating ass and helping me get this bad boy ready to post. You're a star!
A million thanks to wendy and thehighwaywoman for hosting this wonderful comm!
And finally, thanks to all of you for reading! I sincerely hope you enjoyed! Cheers!