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No-one's more surprised than Jared when Red Fog tells them he's bagged a hero.

He likes his team, he really does, but they're not the most competent people he's ever worked with. The raids, bank heists and kidnappings that Jared's taken part in have only been successful due to some solid planning on Jared's part, and even then, there have been way too many brushes with the superpowered arm of the law for comfort.

But no, says the message staring up from Jared's phone, now Red 'dumb as a box of rocks' Fog has actually caught himself a hero.

Jared's got to see this.

He's all embarrassed smiles as he gives his excuse to the waitress, citing family emergency as his reason for pre-emptively ditching his date that evening and sending his boyfriend an apologetic text. Jensen's running late anyway, probably caught up in knitting his latest sweatervest or watching cat videos on YouTube or whatever other definitely-not-endearing activities he gets up to in his free time, and as much as Jared would like to spend the evening eating awesome food and making out with his boyfriend, there are more pressing matters at stake.

Like how the fuck Red Fog managed to catch a hero.

+++

It's dark by the time he gets to the hideout. The sun's tucked away behind the towers of the city and as Jared climbs into the familiar elevator down to the lair, he can't help the growing buzz of anticipation at finally getting one up on the heroes.

He wonders how Red Fog's captive will like it down in the dark with the rest of them.

From the pained grunt that greets him as soon as he steps out of the elevator, he guesses they're not enjoying it too much.

The hideout stretches out under the ground, sprawling out from the central hub to include labs, bedrooms, firing ranges, gyms, and cells, and Jared follows the sound of voices to the cluster of people gathered in the conference room.

Red Fog's there, reclining at the head of the table with an infuriating smirk on his face, but his smile only grows wider when he sees Jared enter. "Silver. Nice of you to join us."

"On a date," Jared says with a shrug as he drops to a seat. "I'd say 'you know how it is' but if those rumors are anything to go by, I guess you don't."

Red sneers at him from behind his mask. "Well, while you were busy thinking with your dick, some of us were doing actual work." He looks around the table, clearly savoring his moment. Jared stifles a yawn. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have acquired our first hero."

Murmurs break out around the table. Sapphire sounds as confused as Jared feels when she says under her breath, "And how the hell did you manage that?" but everyone soon falls quiet when Red holds up his hand.

"I'm sure you're all wondering how I did it," he says, cocky and confident, "but I'm pleased to tell you it's simple." He rises to his feet, relishing the attention. "To get your very own do-gooder, all you need to do is find their weakness."

Right on cue, the door opens behind him. Cit steps out first, the unsurprising tagalong to whatever dumb idea Red's concocted, but Jared's eyes widen when he sees who's being dragged along behind him.

Of all the people Red could've caught, Mercury never even crossed Jared's mind.

The scar along his ribs throbs with the phantom ache of Mercury's blade slicing through skin but as he watches Cit haul him out in front of the burbling audience, he can't manage to summon up any vengeful feelings towards him. Mercury's bound tight, rope coiling up his legs and arms and looping around his neck, and he can't do much more than drop to his knees when Red tugs cruelly on his leash.

The rope's steeped in something Jared can't identify. The liquid runs down Mercury's arms where the bindings cut into his skin and Jared fights the urge to cringe at the burn-red marks left in its wake. Mercury's barely conscious as he kneels at Red's feet, bound and gagged and in a haze of pain thick enough that Jared can almost taste it, but when he tries to pull away from the soaked rope, he only gets a kick to the gut in return.

Jared's on his feet before he can stop himself. The movement catches the attention of the room and Jared does his best to disguise his frustration when he addresses Red, "Great endgame there, man. I mean, why waste time ransoming him back to his team when you can just keep him in pain until his heart gives out?" He claps slowly. "Nice job."

Red narrows his eyes. "I don't see you catching yourself a hero, asshole."

Looking down at the barely conscious Mercury, Jared shrugs. "And I don't see you keeping yours much longer." Mercury coughs, slumping further to the ground as the ropes hiss against his skin. "I'll pass on playing nursemaid when he ends up in a coma."

"Enough!" Amber snaps, rising to her feet and fixing them both with a stern gaze. "We're not here to listen to you bicker. Silver, sit the fuck down already and Red, if you want to keep him alive, I suggest you take him down to an interrogation room and tie him to a chair." She eyes Mercury coldly. "If that burns through his voicebox, he won't be able to tell us anything."

Scowling, Jared drops back to his chair. Red hesitates a moment longer but eventually yields to the force of Amber's stare. Cit drags Mercury away at Red's nod and Jared watches with distant sympathy as Mercury struggles weakly against the hold.

It has to suck to be him right now.

"C'mon," Sapphire says, leaning forward in her chair. "Quit holding out on us. How did you catch him?"

Red's ego kicks in quickly. "It was simple," he says, posturing in front of his audience. "All I had to do was fake an emergency which required superhuman intervention and Mercury walked right into my hands. We fought and I managed to subdue him." He smiles unpleasantly. "It turns out that our little hero isn't too fond of drain cleaner."

Jared raises his eyebrows but Sapphire speaks first. "Drain cleaner? That's his weakness?" She shakes her head. "Seriously?"

Red chuckles. "Abrasive to humans but full on toxic to a pain in the ass like him."

As stupid as it is, Jared can't help but be relieved at the explanation. Red doesn't have the smarts to figure out the chemical which presumably fucks with Mercury's genetic makeup so badly and so his discovery was no doubt an accident, caused by knocking Mercury against a dumpster or a broken drainpipe during their fight.

"What are we gonna do with him?" Ash pipes up, and Jared and Amber exchange glances.

"We'll speak to him first," Amber says, nodding to Jared, Sapphire and Red. "Depending on what he tells us, we'll proceed from there. I want everyone on alert tonight though - as soon as his team realizes he's missing, there could be trouble."

Grumbles break out around the room from the lower level members, annoyed that they won't get to sit in on the interrogation, but a raised eyebrow from Amber soon quiets them.

"If anyone has any concerns," she says pointedly, "please address them to me. Otherwise I expect to see you at your posts in five minutes."

They scatter quickly. Thumps fill the room as they filter out to the bedrooms and guard stations, leaving just the four of them in the conference room.

Red's the only one smiling.

"All right," he says, clapping his hands together with an unsettling grin. "Let's go carve up the catch of the day."

+++

The interrogation rooms are in the depths of the hideout. Down that deep, there are no windows and not even any pretense of comfortable lighting, just coldly flickering bulbs and slate gray walls. There's a chill in the air too, a reminder that there's nothing but tons of earth beyond the walls of the cells, and as Jared watches through the two-way mirror, he's almost convinced that he can see Mercury shiver.

He's conscious at least and while his wrists and ankles are still bound to the chair with soaked ropes, the angry red marks on his arms and neck are beginning to fade. His face is hidden away behind his mask, with his mouth further obscured by a gag, but his posture speaks of resigned exhaustion as he slumps in the chair, bloodied and disheveled.

"I'm taking lead," Red says, half demand and half request. "He's still mine."

Amber raises her hand in a wordless gesture of permission and Jared rolls his eyes when Red barges out of the observation room. He'd be amazed if Red's tactics actually provided any information but after being sliced open by Mercury's blades three years earlier, he's not averse to seeing the guy get knocked around a little first.

Mercury looks up at the sound of the door opening but any hope he has clearly evaporates when Red comes strutting through.

Red doesn't even bother to remove his gag before smacking him across the face.

Mercury cries out, eyes clenching shut as his head rocks back with the force of the hit, but he stays quiet and keeps his gaze forward as he rights himself.

Red hits him again, this time on the other cheek, before stepping back to smile at his captive. "Nice of you to stop by, champ."

Mercury's only response is to glower at him through the mask. Red chuckles.

"I'm sorry," he says, putting a hand to his chest. "Where are my manners? My name's Red Fog. I'm the guy who caught your sorry ass and I'll be the one cutting you open if you don't answer our questions." He leans in close. "You understand me?"

Mercury's lack of response earns him another smack across the face and Jared watches him curls his bound hands into fists. Red doesn't pull his punches in the slightest when he hits him again and Jared finds himself cringing at the violence of it. A fight is one thing but he isn't a fan of hitting people who can't hit back.

He keeps his eyes on the interrogation room when Red grabs Mercury by the mask to wrench his head back. Mercury lets out a muffled groan as his neck is bared and his eyes go wide when Red presses a knife up under his chin.

It's one of Mercury's own blades -- Red must have stolen it when he captured him. It glints in the dull light as he pushes it against his skin and Jared watches the rapid rise and fall of Mercury's chest as blood blossoms on the blade.

"Do you understand?" he asks again, low and threatening, but smiles when Mercury gives a tiny nod. "Good boy."

He tucks the blade away and shifts his grip to Mercury's jaw. "Well, now that I've done my introductions, it's only polite for you to do yours." His other hand goes to the back of Mercury's mask as he taunts, "Let's see who we've got under here."

Mercury struggles, pulling against his ropes and shaking his head to try to dislodge Red's grip but to no avail. He's weak from the substance on the ropes and can't do much more than shout through his gag as Red rips off his mask in one swift tug.

Jared freezes as soon as Mercury's face comes into view.

For a long moment, he swears that he's hallucinating, that the excitement of the day has caught up to him and is playing tricks on his mind, but when Red yanks the gag out of Mercury's mouth, there's no denying whose face he's looking at.

Jensen, his Jensen, the guy who has a cat called Walter and watches cookery shows and judges Jared's taste in shoes, is motherfucking Mercury.

It takes all he has not to react. Red's still talking about something, running his mouth like usual, but Jared tunes him out as he focuses on Jensen. He considers the possibility of a doppelganger but discards that quickly. They've been dating for a few months now but while the sight of Jensen captured and in pain is new to him, he knows him well enough to recognise the contemptuous glare he aims in Red's direction.

He wonders if anyone has any smelling salts handy in case he passes out from shock.

"Gee," Red says, gripping Jensen's jaw and forcing his face up to the light, "aren't you a pretty one?"

Jensen struggles but can't pull free as Red leans right up close. "I bet your team's missing you right now, huh?" he taunts. "I mean, even superheroes need a hole to fuck."

Anger flares up in Jared's chest, hot and bright on Jensen's behalf, and he barely contains his smile when Jensen spits in Red's face.

Red pulls back sharply, surprised by the defiance, but his shock soon gives way to fury as he raises his fist. "You dumb piece of shit."

Even with Jared's speed, he can't get from the observation room to the interrogation room before Red lands the punch. He can, however, get there in time to catch the toppling chair before Jensen cracks his head open on the floor.

There are only a couple of inches in it. Jared's fingers catch the metal just in time and he hauls the chair back upright to come face to face with an angry Red. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

Jensen's breathing is ragged when Jared steps between him and Red. "Stopping you from doing something even more stupid."

Grabbing him by the arm, he hauls him around to the observation room -- he has to maintain some menace in front of Jensen after all -- and slams him against the wall. "What the hell, asshole? You really think beating him to death is a good plan?"

"He can take it," Red fires back. "Why do you give a fuck about what I do to him?"

"Because unlike you, I'm not as dumb as a bag of horseshit," Jared snaps. He really hopes sheer aggression is enough to sell them on this plan. "Look at him! It's not like we caught a lower level who's going to cave as soon as you look at him sideways. This is fucking Mercury. My guess is he'll let you cave his skull in before he'll tell us his favorite color, let alone where their base is."

Red sneers. "That don't mean we can't try."

"And by 'try', you mean 'torture', right? Is that where we're at now?" He presses him harder against the wall as he tries to tamp down his rage at the thought of Jensen being subjected to Red's fucked-up interrogations any more. "There have gotta be healthier ways for you to get your rocks off than skinning people alive."

"What I do with my captive is none of your fucking business," Red growls, shoving Jared back and stepping away from the wall. "I caught him. If I want to chain him up and whip him bloody, that's no-one's call but mine, you got that?"

Despite his previous animosity towards Mercury, Jared's close to snapping Red's neck at a threat like that being directed at Jensen. He's saved by the intervention of Amber, however, and steps back to draw breath as she says firmly, "You're a member of this team. We'll give you as much leeway as you can, but we can't have you doing anything you like to our prisoners. Especially ones as valuable as him."

Red glares at them both but seems to settle in the face of Amber's authority. "Fine," he says, petulant as a child. "But what's your grand plan here? Feed him champagne and caviar until he decides to help us?"

Jared's stomach flips at the oblique reminder of their planned date earlier that evening. It's almost impossible to reconcile his sweet, dorky boyfriend with the bloodied and beaten superhero in the next room, but he pushes down the tangle of emotions in an effort to keep his voice level. "We trade him. We can question him while he's here, sure, but our best shot at getting something out of this is to trade him back to his team. We could ask for anything - Argon's power source, Cadmium's schematics, the team scanner - and I bet they'd give it to us."

Amber hesitates. "You really think they'd give any of that up?"

"For him?" He looks through the mirror to where Jensen is slumped in his chair, wrists and ankles still burning under the ropes. "In a heartbeat."

+++

The next hour is one of the most stressful of Jared's life.

They've run kidnappings before, mostly corporate bigshots who get locked in a room for a day or so and then traded back for a hefty fee, but it turns out that ransoming a superhero requires much more work.

They send a note to Mercury's team, setting out their demands and the hoops that need to be jumped through to get him back alive. They include his blood-stained mask in lieu of chopping off any ears and/or fingers along with a photograph as proof of life.

(While Jared would have liked to spare Jensen the humiliation of being photographed and mocked by Red, he knows there's only so much he can do without compromising himself and his connection to Jensen.)

Sapphire delivers the note herself at a hastily arranged meeting with Cobalt atop a city skyscraper. She has backup of course, a handful of lower levels who are clamoring for more to do than stand guard at the base, but while they wait for her safe return, there isn't much to keep them occupied.

To Jared's relief, Red seems distracted by other matters, mainly relaying the tale of Mercury's capture to an audience of anyone who'll listen. It becomes more embellished each time but Red's showing no signs of stopping when Jared slips away and makes his way down to the cells.

Cit's on watch but Jared doesn't need to do much more than raise an eyebrow to get past him. The cells are well-secured, with thick, reinforced walls, multiple locks, and secondary doors and security systems at all the exit points. Even with Mercury at full strength, Jared doubts he could even get out of the cell, let alone out of the wing, but his suggestion to free him from the toxic ropes had been voted down instantly.

Jared figures he shouldn't be so unsettled by the fact that the city's supervillains like keeping their enemies in pain.

Although the pain may be unavoidable, common courtesy is still an option, however, and he holds the bottle of water more tightly as he winds his way down to Jensen's cell.

It's still difficult to think of him as Jensen. Jensen's the guy who hums to himself in the shower and stealthily cuddles Jared tighter whenever he tries to get up to go for a run in the mornings. It's hard to reconcile that with Mercury, the uber-reclusive, uber-efficient superhero responsible for one of the scars Jared still carries.

It becomes even harder when he looks through the window of the cell.

Jensen looks awful. He's curled up in the corner of the room, his wrists and ankles fastened together with more of the drenched rope, and judging by the burns on his skin and how close he is passing out, his body's not adapting well to the chemicals. The pink swell of Red's punches have darkened into fresh bruises along his jaw and cheekbones, and the circles under his eyes are purple enough that Jared can't tell whether they're caused by Red's fists or just exhaustion.

The bottle of water seems like inadequate comfort but as he pushes the cell door open, he decides it's better than nothing.

Jensen jerks at the clunk of the lock releasing and Jared's thankful for the mask hiding his expression as he watches Jensen tense up defensively.

He's got nowhere to go and Jared holds up his hands in a weak effort to reassure him. "It's okay," he says, only just remembering to deepen his voice as a disguise. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I just thought you might be thirsty."

Jensen's eyes are icy as he looks him up and down. "I'll pass."

If the hoarseness of his voice is anything to go by, he probably isn't that eager to turn down some water and Jared holds it out as he steps forward. "You sure? Your throat sounds like it hurts."

"Occupational hazard of being dragged around like a dog on a leash."

There's no emotion in his voice. It's a front, Jared's sure of it -- there's no way he'd be that calm if someone had treated him the way Red had treated Jensen -- but that doesn't make it any easier to get through to everything Jensen's shuttered away behind Mercury's stoic facade.

Coming closer still, he unscrews the cap from the bottle of water and offers it to him. "How about something to take the edge off?"

"And what would that be?" he asks coldly. "Truth serum? Poison? Maybe something to make me more compliant when your buddy decides to fuck me?"

Jared's teasing response withers and dies. Secret identity or no secret identity, he's pretty sure he'd cut Red's dick off if he ever touched Jensen like that.

"There's nothing," he says past the lump in his throat. "It's just water, I promise." He takes a gulp in demonstration. "See? Totally safe."

From the way Jensen's tongue darts out to lick his lips, it's clear he's tempted but Jared holds back a sigh of frustration when he still doesn't take the bottle.

"What do I need to-" He dissolves into dry coughs and Jared tries to ignore the urge to rest his hand on his shoulder in reassurance.

"So what do I need to do to get this totally safe water?" he asks, sounding exhausted and resigned to the fact that Jared is taunting him with something he can't have. "Because I think I made my position on kissing your friend's feet clear last time."

Cringing at the memory of Red's session with Jensen and the camera, Jared says as gently as he can, "You don't have to do anything. It's yours, okay? It'll be here if you want it."

Jensen's hands are shaking when he reaches out to take the water. He moves like he's expecting it to be snatched away from him any second but when his fingers close around the bottle, Jared decides it counts as progress.

Once the bottle leaves his hands, he steps back to give Jensen as much space as the situation allows. Jensen gulps the first few mouthfuls down quickly before stopping to cough and Jared has to force himself to stay where he is instead of moving to Jensen's side.

The coughs soon subside, however, and Jared leans against the wall of the cell as Jensen takes smaller sips.

"It'll be over soon," he says in what he hopes is a reassuring tone of voice. "We've got people out talking to your team right now; we'll trade you back to them before the night's out."

The expression on Jensen's face is surprisingly cynical. He lowers the water and looks up at him with a dry smile. "You don't expect me to actually believe that, do you?"

Jared shrugs. "Well, since you're in here instead of being tortured for information, I'd say that's a good sign."

Jensen raises his eyebrows. "You don't call this torture?" He gestures to where the substance on the ropes is still burning red against his skin, and Jared sees the first flicker of anger in his eyes when he looks up at him. "Oh, but since you're not asking me questions, that's fine."

"It's the only way to keep you contained," Jared says. He bites back an apology -- supervillains don't usually say sorry to their captives. "We'll release you as soon as we get what we want."

Jensen shakes his head with a smile and Jared frowns. "What's so funny?"

"You." There's a stonyness to Jensen's voice which Jared hasn't ever heard in their time together. He hates the way it makes his chest tighten. "I know what's going to happen to me. We've all been around this block before with Iridium."

Despite the covering of the mask, Jared tries to keep his expression neutral. "Iridium?"

Disbelief flits across Jensen's face but he recovers quickly. "You don't know what happened the last time one of your guys caught one of us?"

Jared bristles at his tone. "Must've been before my time."

"Then let me tell you about your history," Jensen says, bitterness bleeding through into his voice. "Your people captured and tortured Iridium before ransoming him back to us. We followed every instructions to the letter and when we made the trade, we gave you everything you wanted." His jaw tightens. "We didn't even make it back to the transport before one of your snipers shot Iridium in the head."

He looks down to his burned wrists. "But hey, at least I know what's coming."

Jared's mouth goes dry. "I- We wouldn't."

Jensen laughs. "Right. I remember your excuses last time -- you pinned it on some rogue flunky to avoid an all-out war." He rests his head back against the wall. "We both know that's bullshit."

"It's different now," Jared says firmly. "We'll get what we want and trade you back to your team. Simple business transaction."

"You keep telling yourself that." His eyes are bruised purple with exhaustion but there's a terrifying confidence there when he says, "I'd bet my life there's already a bullet with my name on it."

His gaze narrows to a glare as he nods to Jared and the water. "So whatever this is, whatever game you're playing, you can go fuck yourself. I'll be dead by sunrise and I'm not telling you shit."

Jared's response clings to his tongue. His instinctive flare of anger is muted by the shock of hearing all this from his soft-spoken boyfriend, but as he fumbles for a reply, he can't ignore the creeping horror that what Jensen's saying is true, that Red has no intention of letting him get out alive.

It's too much to process but as he grapples with the consequences of it all, he almost misses Jensen flipping the water bottle upside-down in his hands.

"Hey!"

The water pours out before Jared can stop it, spilling over the burns on Jensen's wrists and the ropes that are keeping him restrained. "No!"

He's across the room in a split-second to snatch the water out of Jensen's hands and hold it away from him. He doesn't know if he's more angry at Jensen for trying to escape or himself for being stupid enough to think that he wouldn't, but before he can say anything else, the door comes crashing open.

"I heard..."

Cit trails off as he takes in the scene in front of him, gaze jumping between the water bottle held in Jared's hand and the water dripping from Jensen's wrists. Any accusations of treachery thankfully don't materialize but Jared can't do any more than watch, still shocked, as Cit stomps angrily across the room to Jensen. "Son of a bitch."

Jensen doesn't get time to brace himself before Cit's fist slams into his jaw.

The punch knocks him sideways. Cit follows it up with a couple of brutal kicks to his stomach which leave Jensen gasping for air but he's on the move again before Jared can intervene. Hauling Jensen's bound wrists out away from his body, Cit plants his foot on Jensen's arm to hold him in place as he uncaps a bottle from his belt.

His lips curl in an ugly smile and Jared darts forward as Cit spits, "This'll teach you, you piece of shit."

He doesn't get there before Cit up-ends the bottle over his wrists.

Jensen cries out at the first splash of the liquid against his skin.

It hisses when it meets flesh, soaking the ropes and burning like acid as Jensen writhes helplessly at Cit's feet. His eyes are screwed shut and his jaw is clenched tight and when Jared drags Cit bodily across the cell, Jensen's only response is to curl in on himself as he taking shuddering breaths to deal with the pain.

Cit hits the wall with a thud and Jared crowds in close, giving free rein to his rage as he snatches the bottle from Cit's hands. "What the hell is this?"

"Insurance," Cit says with a smirk. "In case he gets out of line."

It takes all Jared has not to throttle him right there.

"Get out," he orders. "There's no way he's getting out of here -- you don't need to douse him in any more of that crap just to keep him under control." He steps back and gives Cit a shove to the exit. "Now get back to your post and stay there."

The dressing down isn't enough to erase Cit's smug sense of triumph as he saunters back out of the cell and Jared runs a hand through his hair with a frustrated sigh. His middle ground between helping Jensen and staying loyal to his team is getting smaller by the minute.

As tempting as it is to just walk out of the cell and clear his head, he can't bring himself to leave Jensen to suffer on his own. Retrieving the half empty water bottle from across the room, he approaches cautiously, uncertain of the reaction he'll get.

Clinging onto consciousness, Jensen tries and fails to sit up when Jared gets closer. While he doesn't ask for mercy or help, the lack of open defiance tells Jared enough about how much he's hurting.

"It's just water," he says quietly, coaxing Jensen's arms out from where he has them tucked against his chest. "It'll help."

The skin around the ropes is red and angry and as he pours water over the burns, he finds himself hoping it won't leave a scar. He's careful and steady as he works, washing the chemicals off Jensen's wrists and hands yet avoiding the corrosive ropes, but when he looks back to Jensen's face, he sees he's already passed out.

His expression is lax in sleep, all that stoic defensiveness falling away to leave the same guy Jared's woken up next to dozens of times over the past few months. There's a fresh cut on his lip from where Cit punched him and Jared wipes away the trickle of blood with a wince.

Guilt isn't so much eating at him as ripping him to shreds with its teeth. His head pounds with the stress of it, of wanting Jensen safe and home and with him, of wanting his team to be victorous, of wanting the two halves of his life to have never collided like this, and it doesn't take it him long to realize that he can't deal with a situation like this when his superhero boyfriend is unconscious at his feet.

Jensen doesn't stir when Jared cups his cheek and Jared's thankful for the lack of an audience as he whispers into the silence of the cell, "I'm so sorry."

+++

In the absence of a better destination, Jared goes to feed Jensen's cat.

After threatening Cit with a messy, painful death if he goes into Jensen's cell again, Jared leaves the hideout and makes his way across the city to Jensen's apartment. He hasn't been there unaccompanied before but from the easily-bypassed security system, it's clear that Jensen is confident in his anonymity.

(Or at least he was before this evening.)

Walter stares at Jared with suspicion from the arm of the couch but soon makes a beeline for the kitchen to wait expectantly next to his food bowl. As cats go, he's not exactly slim, but guilt leads Jared to fill his dish up with an extra-generous portion of food anyway.

Stroking along Walter's back, Jared rests against the kitchen cabinets as he says, "Jensen'll be back soon, okay? He's having a really rough night right now but I'm going to have him back here by morning."

Walter mrows his approval, although Jared isn't sure whether that's directed at the food, the petting or Jensen's return.

"It's going to be fine," he says, more to himself than to the cat. "We'll make the trade and Jensen will go straight back to his team. He'll heal up, we'll go out for dinner and you can go back to scratching at the bedroom door every time we try to have sex. Everybody wins."

Walter doesn't look up from where he's chomping through his food and Jared thunks his head against the cupboard with a sigh.

It's not going to be fine. As much as he tries to tell himself otherwise, it's never going to be fine again, not between him and Jensen or between him and the rest of his team. He fit in well there during heists and run-of-the-mill kidnappings but after seeing what the rest of them are willing to do to one of their enemies, he finds himself less eager to have their backs.

Running his thumb over the curl of Walter's ear, he looks up at the cluster of papers stuck to Jensen's fridge. There's a knitting pattern, takeout menus, shopping lists, but not the slightest hint of Jensen's double life.

His gaze lingers on a picture of the two of them together, taken a month earlier at some show they went to. Jensen's leaning in to him, tipsy but smiling wide for the camera, and Jared closes his eyes as he tells himself yet again that Jensen will be okay, that whatever happened with Iridium was a mistake and not their modus operandi.

Walter bumps up against him, rubbing his cheek against Jared's leg before clambering up to settle on his lap, and Jared raises his eyebrows as he pets him. "Oh, so now you like me?"

Walter flops down on his lap with a happy purr and Jared feels guilt and shame claw through his insides as he scritches behind the cat's ears.

"You're a really shitty judge of character, you know that?"

+++

By the time he makes it back to the hideout, he has something close to a plan. He's going to check Jensen's okay, check with Amber that Jensen's going to stay okay, and then go along on the trade himself for further reassurance of Jensen's okayness. Only when he's safely back with his team will Jared think about what he's going to do about their relationship.

It's a good plan, with clear, easy-to-follow steps, but as soon as Jared gets down deep enough into the lair to hear a shout from Jensen's cell, he finds his plan disintegrating before it's even begun.

The door's half-open and Cit is standing in the doorway with a smile on his face, which is enough to make Jared want to follow through with his earlier threat. The sounds from inside are more of a concern than Cit, however, and Jared picks up speed when he hears Jensen cry out.

"Get the hell off-" He's muffled by the sounds of a struggle but his shout gets louder and more desperate as he pleads, "No! No, no-"

Shoving Cit aside, Jared comes to a screeching halt when he steps inside the cell.

Jensen's flat on his back, his wrists now bound to a bracket on the wall, and he's struggling with all he has as Red kneels between his spread legs. One of Red's hands is locked tight around his throat, cutting off Jensen's air and his pleas for help, and his lips curve in a twisted smile as he uses his other hand to work Jensen's pants open.

"Well, now," Red taunts, "looks like I'm gonna get some use out of you after all."

Jensen shakes his head, fighting uselessly against the corrosive ropes, and Jared snaps.

He doesn't remember grabbing Red, doesn't remember punching Cit hard enough to break his nose when he tries to intervene, doesn't remember the whirl of activity that follows until he finds himself holding Red up against the wall.

His fingers dig into Red's throat as he chokes and splutters, and as Jared stares into his wide eyes, he wonders if he's strong enough to rip Red's throat out right there.

"You son of a bitch," he growls, squeezing his neck tighter and watching Red's face darken to match his name. "I always knew you were a piece of shit but now you're a rapist too?"

Red sneers at him, struggling just enough to pull in a breath. "You jealous I got to him first?" he asks, eyes blazing. "Not so quick now, huh, Silver?"

The clench of power at the nape of his neck is the only thing that keeps him from taking Red's head off.

It grips him tight and hauls him backwards, and Jared braces himself for the impact of slamming into the wall as Amber strides into the room, arms raised. "Enough!"

She lets them both drop a moment later, eyebrows arched in challenge as she looks between the two of them. "Either of you move and I will have you locked up down here for the next twenty-four hours. Do you understand me?"

Holding his throat, Red nods. Painfully aware of Jensen huddled against the wall between them, Jared steps forward, still boiling with rage. "Did you let him come down here? Did you give him permission for this?"

Amber purses her lips. "No."

"Then why aren't you doing something?" he asks, furious. "You'll get involved when I'm here but you won't stop this asshole from raping a prisoner?"

Amber's face is stony. "I don't condone his behavior," she says, "and I fully intend to discuss this with him later but we have more pressing concerns right now than the virtue of some hero."

Jared's eyebrows shoot up. "Virtue?!"

"That is enough, Silver!" Her power ripples through the room, making Jared stumble back a step. "We don't have time for your squabbles."

"Squabbles? He was trying to-"

Amber ignores him. "Mercury's team have agreed to our terms. The trade happens in an hour. Cit, get yourself to the infirmary, and Red and Silver, get your shit together. Sapphire will get the prisoner ready for transport -- I just need you two to control yourselves until then. In an hour, we'll have their scanner and Mercury won't be a problem anymore."

She looks between the two of them, daring them to defy her. "Now go."

Cit and Red shuffle out first, both muttering under their breaths as Jared turns to look at Jensen. The blood and the bruises are still unsettling, especially in comparison to the picture he'd seen on Jensen's fridge earlier, but while his physical injuries don't seem to have worsened since the last time Jared saw him, he looks even more shaken and exhausted as he tucks himself up against the wall.

There are rips in his costume and his pants are still unbuttoned from where Red attacked him, but Jared resists the urge to go to him when Amber clears her throat. "Don't make me repeat myself."

Jared swallows. "I'm going."

With one final glance back at Jensen, he exits the cell but pauses in the hallway as Amber follows him out. The door clunks into place behind them and Jared keeps his voice low as he says, "Can I ask you a question?"

Adjusting her gauntlets, Amber nods. "Go ahead."

"Before, Mercury was saying some stuff. About Iridium and what happened when he was kidnapped." He gulps, trying to sound as casual as he can when he asks, "Are we really giving him back to his team? There's no other part to this plan?"

Amber's smile is as cool as ever. "We're making the trade," she says diplomatically. "We fully intend to uphold our end of the bargain."

"And after that?" Jared pushes, hating the sinking feeling in his stomach. "After he's released?"

Her gaze is impenetrable. "We'll make the trade," she says again, cold and political and so goddamn far from the leader Jared thought he was following. "That's all you need to worry about."

+++

The ride to the drop point is tense and silent.

The transport's not the most comfortable vehicle at the best of times but the discomfort's ratcheted up a long way by the glare Red keeps fixed on him and the pained breaths Jensen lets out every time they hit a patch of rough road. He's caged and bound, locked up in a cramped container built into the inside of the transport, but even as the low-level team members jostle in their seats to get a better look at the captive hero, Jared doesn't budge from his position by Jensen's cage.

Unfortunately, Red doesn't either.

The drop point isn't far -- an abandoned gas station a few miles outside the city limits -- but the journey feels like a lifetime. When he's not watching Jensen, Jared's eyes stray to the lower levels, looking over each of them in turn and trying to decide which one's been given the orders to murder Jensen in cold blood.

His conclusion that it could be any one of them is not reassuring.

It's an eternity before the transport finally judders to a halt. The rumble of the engine cuts out into silence and the rustle of the team next to him is the only thing that fills the quietness while they wait for the order.

"File out," Amber calls from the front seat. "Everyone take your positions. Their guys just showed up."

Almost everyone leaves at that, trooping out of the transport quickly, efficiently and loaded with weapons. They're mostly quiet but Jared can feel the buzz of excitement between them as they head out to flank the sides of the drop site, all geared up for their face-to-face interaction with the heroes.

Jared doesn't think he could be any further away from excited right now.

He and Red are the last ones left inside. Red leans back as they wait for the order from Amber and lands a lazy kick to Jensen's cage while his eyes stay fixed on Jared. "Y'know, I'm kind of sad to see him go."

Jared doesn't offer more of a response than a roll of his eyes but Red continues, undeterred, "I mean, it's a good outcome. They're gonna be down a scanner because this moron let himself get caught but I wish playtime had been a little longer." He smiles darkly. "I wanted to see him squeal."

"Can't always get what you want," Jensen murmurs and Jared laughs.

"Good job striking fear into the heart of your enemy," he says sarcastically. "He sounds real terrified."

"He should be," Red says. Glancing down at Jensen, he pulls a flask from his pocket and moves as though he's going to splash him with the contents. He stops at the last second, sealing up the cap with a grin when just the threat of it is enough to make Jensen shrink back in an effort to avoid the liquid.

"Looks pretty terrified to me." He flashes Jensen a cocky smirk. "As for the squealing, we were getting damn close to that before my colleague here decided to break up the party."

He kicks back, resting his feet on the cage as he ponders, "Maybe I should've just shoved a funnel in your mouth. I bet the threat of having a bottle of drain cleaner tipped down your throat would be enough to make you play along."

Jared shakes his head, feeling queasy at the idea of it. "You're a sick fuck, you know that?"

Red spreads his hands with a grin. "What can I say, I was recruited for a reason."

"Alright," Amber cuts in, appearing at the rear door to the transport before the argument can devolve into a full-blown fight. "Red, let's go make contact. Silver, get him ready. We make the trade on my signal."

Red's out of the transport like a shot, more than willing to brag and preen in front of a new audience, and Jared smoothes down the sleeves of his costume before inching forward to free Jensen from his cage. The ropes stay on, unfortunately, and he tries to ignore way Jensen grits his teeth against the pain as Jared coaxes him out of the cage.

Keeping him on his knees, Jared slips the blindfold over his eyes and ties the gag around his mouth. They're partly for show, partly to prevent Jensen signaling to his team once they're outside, but Jared can't ignore the nagging voice at the back of his head which tells him that if they were really going to let Jensen live, they would've kept him blindfolded the entire time.

There's stoic pride in the set of Jensen's shoulders, showing far more bravery than Jared suspects he'd be able to summon up if he was facing his own death. It's enough to make Jared feel even lower when he loops the last rope around Jensen's neck to lead him outside. It's dry, thankfully -- he managed to talk Amber and Red down to that compromise -- but that doesn't cancel out his guilt at effectively handing Jensen back to his team on a leash.

"I'm sorry," he whispers, curling his hand around Jensen's arm and helping him towards the door of the transport. "I didn't want it to go like this but it's all gonna be over soon. Your team'll keep you safe."

If Jensen has any reaction, Jared can't read it beneath the gag and the blindfold. He's still in his costume, as bloody and ripped as it is, and Jared makes an internal promise that he's going to make Jensen all the comforting bowls of soup he could possibly want once they're out of this and back in their civilian disguises.

"Silver!" Amber calls from outside. "Bring him out."

"We're up," Jared says, more to himself than to Jensen. "Let's get you home."

He's always in charge of the hostages in these situations -- in case of any last minute escape attempts, it's good to have the fastest guy in the room on hand -- but as he steps out of the transport and holds Jensen close, the surge of protectiveness is new. He's pretty sure that his arm hooked around Jensen's waist is the only thing keeping him upright and he tucks him tighter in against his body as they take tentative steps across the concrete.

The gas station is swarming with people, spread out on either side of the forecourt as they flank their leaders. Where they don't have guns in their hands, there's power crackling between their fingers and Jared holds Jensen tight as he leads him out into the moonlight.

Amber and Red are at the front and Jared makes his way forward as he scans the heroes for familiar faces. Cobalt and Cadmium are clearly taking point, both of them standing a few metres away from Amber and Red with a box at their feet, and Jared doesn't miss the expressions of shock and fury which cross their faces when they catch sight of Jensen.

He's grateful for the mask when he feels his cheeks heat with shame in response.

However, there's no trace of shame in Red's voice when he gestures to Jensen with a smile. "What did I tell you. Alive and well."

Cobalt narrows her eyes. "I'd hate to see what you call unwell."

"Yes, you would," Red agrees, grinning wider.

"The scanner?" Amber interrupts. "Show us."

Cobalt obliges, opening the box beside her enough for Jared to see the crackling orb that makes up their scanner. It alerts them to danger, gives them a heads-up as soon as Jared's team start to pull a job, and judging by the torrent of scarlet sparks it's throwing off, it's been running on red alert for hours.

"Good," Amber says, looking to Cadmium. "Looks like you're smarter than I gave you credit for."

Cadmium's lips tighten but he holds back whatever retort was on his tongue as he says, "We brought what you wanted. Now make the trade and get the fuck out of here."

"Gladly." Amber nods to Jared as Cobalt picks up the box. "Silver, return our guest to his friends."

"I hope you have as much fun with him as we did," Red adds, cruel as ever, and Jared cringes when Jensen flinches sharply in his arms.

They inch forward, keeping pace with Cobalt as she brings the box over to Amber and Red. With his ankles tied, Jensen can't do more than shuffle gingerly forward and Jared keeps one arm around his body and one hand wrapped loosely in his leash as they head towards Cadmium.

They pass Cobalt at the halfway point and Jared keeps his eyes forward as they cross the last section of concrete. Jensen is tense against his chest, almost trembling in anticipation of the bullet he thinks is coming, and Jared can't stop himself from straining his ears for any kind of indication that the shot has been fired.

He hears nothing but the rush of the wind and the muffled noise of Jensen's breathing, and when he gets close enough to shove Jensen forward into Cadmium's arms, he starts to give in to the tempting suspicion that he was wrong about his team plotting Jensen's death.

Cadmium catches Jensen as he stumbles into him and Jared lingers for a moment to watch him pull the rope from around Jensen's neck. The blindfold's next and as he tugs the gag out of his mouth, Jared hears Jensen's desperate whisper beneath the wind, "Get the ropes off. God, please, get them off."

He's already showing more vulnerability in the way he leans into Cadmium's shoulder than he has done for the last few hours in the custody of Jared and his team. Torn between being relieved at Jensen's safety and guilty that he's not the one providing the comfort that Jensen so clearly needs, Jared turns to head back to his team.

He passes Cobalt again on the way back. The disgust on her face as she looks between him and Jensen is clear, even behind the mask, and Jared can't help but agree with the sentiment.

By the time he makes it back to Amber and Red, he's more than ready to head home. His skin crawls at the thought of everything his team has done to Jensen that night and he doubts that even his steam shower can wash away the dirt that feels inked onto him.

The box containing the scanner -- still sparking scarlet -- is tucked under Red's arm and Jared takes his place on Amber's left as she says, "Thank you for your cooperation." She smiles, peaceful and pleased. "It was a pleasure doing business with you."

She only gets glares in response.

Ignoring them, she and Red depart back to the transport and with one final glance back at Jensen, Jared falls into step beside them.

He can feel everyone's eyes on them as they walk, accompanied by ripples of movement in the shadowy ranks around the forecourt of the gas station, but there's no sound beyond the thump of their feet on the concrete. Cobalt and Cadmium retreat too, taking slower steps as Jensen limps along beside them, and Jared lets himself breathe a tentative sigh of relief that the trade took place successfully.

That relief vanishes in a heartbeat when he sees the unmistakeable spark of a muzzle-flash in the darkness.

+++

Back when Jared was in college, he tested out the 'faster than a speeding bullet' theory a couple of times. It was partly down to wanting an accurate superbeing résumé and partly down to wanting to win that bet with his roommate, but despite a handful of good attempts, Jared never managed to reach the target before the bullet did.

On the other hand, the target had never been his boyfriend.

The muzzle-flash disappears as quickly as it flared but Jared's on the move before he can figure out where it came from. His power floods through him, igniting every nerve in his body, and he keeps putting boot to concrete as the familiar wave of it sweeps him along.

It almost feels like jumping through time, like stepping across a line between normalcy and his own private universe. The world moves in slow motion around him, trapped by the standard laws of physics which Jared's power lets him bypass, but even slowed down, the bullet's still moving faster than Jared can run.

He sees the expressions of his team as he turns -- judging by the surprise on Red's face, he wasn't in on the plan -- but he doesn't have time to stop for them as he tears across the forecourt to Jensen. Cadmium's arm slips from around Jensen's shoulders as the three of them start to spin around but as Jared dashes forward, he knows the bullet's going to hit before Jensen can even see it coming.

The world bleeds around him, blurring into streaks of darkness and light as Jared sprints as fast as his legs and his power will carry him. Jensen's right there in front of him, close enough to reach out and grab, but Jared keeps running, trying to put as much of himself between Jensen and the bullet before it hits.

He's never been faster than a speeding bullet, not yet, but as the bullet slams into his back, he figures there's a first time for everything.

He goes down hard, yelling out in pain at the searing heat of the bullet tearing through skin and muscle and flesh. The force of the impact and the sudden rush of pain is enough to send him tumbling back into synch with the rest of the world as he collapses against Jensen to knock them both to the ground.

It's a fight not to black out from the pain. Agony sings through his body, flickering white under his eyelids and shooting down his spine, and he blinks his eyes open to see Jensen staring up at him, stunned and confused. "What-"

Beneath the pounding of the blood in his ears, Jared hears shouts and shots ring out around them.

"Bullet," he gasps, gritting his teeth against the pain. His limbs feel heavier and heavier, like he's sinking down into quicksand, and it takes all he has to keep himself up on his elbows as he blankets Jensen from any further shots. "They- You were right."

Jensen's eyes are wide when they dart to Jared's shoulder and Jared looks down to see a steady trickle of blood drip from his wound to Jensen's clothes.

Jensen blinks up at him in shock and Jared fights to muster a smile as the heaviness spreads further through his body.

"I'm sorry," he mumbles, almost glad that he won't be there to see it when they unmask his body. "I'm so sorry, Jensen."

Jensen's lips part in surprise but cold numbness fills Jared's head before he can say anything in response. It weighs his eyelids down, dragging him under as blood pours from his wound with every heartbeat, and Jared lets himself drop to the concrete ground before he finally surrenders to it.

All things considered, he decides, taking a bullet meant for your boyfriend is a pretty respectable way to die.

+++

Jared comes to in a hospital bed.

Waking up is enough of a surprise in itself. The last things he remembers are the pain of the bullet, the blood spilling from his body and the certainty that he was dying, and as such, his current location is of secondary importance to the fact that he's still alive.

It's bright when he blinks his eyes open, all white walls and sterile furnishings, but as he lifts his hand to his face, he frowns when it doesn't move more than a couple of inches. The fear of paralysis vanishes as quickly as it arose when he blinks again and looks down to see the handcuffs holding his wrists to the sides of the bed.

He's still dressed in his costume, albeit with a large section cut away from his heavily bandaged shoulder, and as he lowers his eyebrows, he feels his mask still in place on his face. It's a surprising courtesy, and one he doesn't totally think he deserves, but it helps to ground him as he looks around to assess his current situation.

He's hooked up to various monitors and there's a needle in his arm which he guesses is providing some much needed morphine. His shoulder aches from the bullet he took, a dull, bone-deep pain which serves to remind him just how bad his injury was, but the standard white bandages offer no clue as to who stitched him up and saved his life.

"Hey!"

His call comes out as a croak and he coughs weakly to clear his dry throat. "Hello?"

There's a rustle behind the curtain to his right and Jared gets his answer about where he is when Antimony peers through the drapes. He'd been half-convinced that he'd been taken to a regular hospital but he's quickly forced to revaluate his situation at the knowledge that he's in the custody of Jensen's team.

"You're awake," she says, with less hostility than Jared was expecting. "I'll let them know."

She disappears before Jared can ask who 'them' is. Slumping back on his pillow, he stares up at the ceiling as he tries to brace himself for every eventuality. As much as he'd like to think that his next visitor would be Jensen running in to thank Jared for saving his life, realism gets in the way of fantasy. He's spent too long on the wrong side of Jensen's team to have much hope of survival.

His suspicions aren't proved far wrong when the curtains are pulled aside as Astatine and Cadmium take up positions either side of his bed.

He doesn't have high expectations of their bedside manner.

"Good morning to you too," he says, already bristling at the authority which fills the room in their presence. "You wanna tell me what the hell I'm doing here?"

There's anger in Cadmium's dark eyes but his voice is steady when he speaks. "You really think you're in a position to be asking us for anything right now?"

"I don't know," Jared says, "I think I'm entitled to know just what my current life expectancy is."

Astatine smiles, more amused than Jared would like. "We're not going to kill you," she says. "Not unless you give us a reason."

"Kidnapping your buddy wasn't enough of a reason?"

Astatine's smile doesn't falter. "Not for us."

"You see, normally," Cadmium begins, "if we capture an injured enemy, we treat their wounds, keep them on lockdown and either trade them back to their team or hand them over to the police."

"So what are you waiting for?" Jared asks. "You must be dying to get that shiny little scanner back in your hands."

"We are," Astatine says, impossibly calm. "You've been unconscious for a while, Quicksilver. As soon as you made it out of surgery alive, we contacted your team with our ransom demands."

"Turns out that they're not all that eager to have you back," Cadmium says.

Jared blinks. "What?"

"Apparently they needed some time to think about whether keeping us off their asses is more important than you." There's a smugness in Cadmium's tone. "Guess they don't care as much about you as you thought."

"At first we thought it might be a trick," Astatine says, leaning against the side of the bed. "Y'know, convince us that your loyalty is wavering in the hopes that we'll welcome you into the fold."

"But I saw their faces when you took that bullet," Cadmium says. "They were as surprised as we were. And I know you can move fast but you were cutting it way too close for that to have been part of the plan all along."

"You caught me," Jared says, plastering on as much confidence as he can. "I went off-script. I'm not hearing a lot of thanks for saving your guy's life, by the way."

Cadmium's smile is dark. "Boy, after what you all did to Mercury, you should count yourself lucky you're still breathing." He shares a glance with Astatine. "Not all of us were in favor of healing you up."

"Yeah? So why did you?" Jared asks, rattling the cuffs. "Why not just leave me to bleed out?"

"Because we're the good guys," Astatine says simply. "Look, you took a bullet for our friend out there. We just want to understand why."

Jared can feel their eyes on him when he looks down to the blankets. Even after sleeping for god-knows-how-long, he's still exhausted from the stress of the night and the pain that's still throbbing in his shoulder, and he's grateful for the shield of his mask as he admits, "I didn't like what we were doing to Mercury. I mean, the guy sliced me up a couple of years back so I'm not his biggest fan, but what happened to him, it was torture. He didn't deserve that."

He swallows down the lump in his throat. "I know what we did to Iridium. I didn't want that to happen to Mercury too."

Cadmium regards him with suspicion. "Why the sudden change of heart?"

"Because I'm not a fucking psychopath," Jared snaps. "I know our moral stances don't exactly match up but that doesn't mean I'm into torturing and murdering people."

The tension in his body makes pain flare up in his wound and he breathes out through gritted teeth in an effort to calm himself down.

"Look, I'm done with them," he promises, skin crawling at the idea of fighting side by side again with someone like Red. "Even if you trade me back, I'm gonna quit the next day."

"And if we hand you over to the cops?"

Jared looks at Astatine flatly. "You really think they can hold someone like me?"

Cadmium and Astatine exchange glances.

"We need to have a discussion," she says eventually. "Get some rest and give your shoulder chance to heal up. We'll inform you when we've reached a decision."

Tiredness tugs at Jared's brain at the first mention of rest but he pulls again on the handcuffs holding him to the bed. "You wanna uncuff me first? I'm not in much shape to run."

Cadmium smirks. "No."

They head out of the room before Jared can muster any more protests and he slumps back against the bed with a sigh. The pain in his shoulder is building, exacerbated by the stress of the situation, but he closes his eyes in relief when he sees more morphine start to run down the tube into his arm.

He's asleep before he can manage to open his eyes back up again.

+++

When he wakes up to find Mercury standing at the foot of his bed, he immediately assumes that they've changed their position on not killing him.

He's suited up again, dressed in a clean, blood-free version of his usual mask and costume and looking so much like the guy Jared's spent the last few years hating that it takes his sleep-fuzzed brain a moment to remember that he's looking at Jensen.

Blinking the haze from his eyes, he sits up against the pillows as much as the handcuffs will allow. He's gotten so used to thinking of him as Jensen that he fumbles to remember how Quicksilver would talk to Mercury in this situation, not Jared to Jensen.

"Just for the record," he says, "I wouldn't recommend getting shot."

Jensen's tone gives nothing away. "Is that right?"

Jared groans at the fresh twinge of pain in his shoulder. "Not the most pleasant experience I've ever had."

"Yeah," Jensen says, pacing around to the side of Jared's bed, "I think I know a little something about that."

The thick white bandages around his wrists peek out from under the sleeves of his costume. From the way he's limping, Jared's willing to bet he's got them around his ankles too and as he gets closer, he winces at the marks that are visible on Jensen's neck and face outside the cover of the mask. The cut on his lip is still red and angry, and he can see the lingering purple of the bruises around his eyes.

"How're you feeling?"

The question rolls off his tongue before he can stop it and he clamps his mouth shut as Jensen looks at him in surprise.

"I'm great," he says sarcastically. "You and your buddies took real good care of me."

Jared looks down but Jensen continues, "They finally came back to us on our offer of a trade, by the way. They said we could keep you."

Jared's head snaps back up at that. He can't say he's surprised -- he did just defy his own team in front of a whole city's worth of superbeings -- but it's still difficult to deal with the fact that he's no longer got a team to back him up.

"So what happens now?" he asks. "Are you guys really going to keep me here?" He gives him a modest smile. "Well, try to keep me here."

Jensen shakes his head. "No. We talked about it and the consensus was to let you go."

Jared raises his eyebrows. "Wait, what? You're seriously just going to let me walk out of here?"

It's clear Jensen's choosing his words carefully when he says, "The council considered your past actions, your behavior tonight and your relationship with your team, and they decided that setting you free would be the best option."

"My behavior," he repeats, thinking back to his not-entirely-successful efforts to protect Jensen while he was in custody. "Did you put in a good word for me, Mercury?"

Jensen rolls his eyes but Jared's buoyed by the hint of a smile that plays on his lips. "I gave them as much information as I could to help them make their decision."

He rests his hand on the side of the bed, right by Jared's handcuff, and Jared can't help but notice that he has a new set of blades in his sheathes.

"The council reached their decision," Jensen says. There's a coldness in his voice and for the first time, Jared starts to worry about being handcuffed to a bed while an armed, super-powered guy who just spent hours being tortured is standing next to him. "But as the injured party, I've been given the power of veto."

Jared swallows hard. "Veto?"

"You heard me."

He slides one of his blades out of its sheath and Jared's smartass retort gets stuck in his throat when he sees it gleam under the bright lights of the medical wing.

"I was out of it for most of the night," Jensen says, fixing him with a dark stare. "I mean, getting doused with poison and left to burn is pretty distracting."

"Mercury-"

"But I remember what you said to me before you passed out," Jensen says, anger and fear bleeding through into his voice. "How the fuck do you know my name?"

"Your name?" Jared tries for a smile. "I don't know your n-"

Jensen's blade is against his neck before he can finish his sentence.

"You lie to me any more," he promises, "and I will cut your throat right here. No-one knows who I am. No-one." He pushes the flat of the blade in harder as Jared presses himself back against the pillows. "So start talking."

"Okay, okay!" Jared says, holding his hands out as much as the cuffs allow. "Look, it's not what you think. I didn't know it was you. Not until the mask came off."

Jensen's eyes narrow. "Who the hell are you?"

"I-" His adam's apple bob against the blade as he swallows. "Look, just put down the weapon and take off my mask. I'll tell you everything you want to know."

He takes a grateful breath when Jensen lowers the knife but that doesn't stop the panic thrumming through him as Jensen reaches over to move his mask. His fingers edge underneath the material, brushing over Jared's cheeks as he works it up over his nose and brow, and Jared allows himself a second to mourn for the blissful ignorance of their relationship.

Things were so much simpler when secret identities weren't involved.

Jensen's fingers stutter against his skin when his face comes into view and he pulls away sharply as Jared opens his eyes.

"Jared?"

Jared musters a weak smile. "Hi, Jensen."

There have been a lot of things in the past twenty-four hours that Jared's not proud of being involved in, but the look of shocked devastation on Jensen's face goes straight in at number one. Even behind his mask, the hurt is obvious and Jared can't really blame him when he holds the blade to his throat again, this time with shaking hands.

"What-" Jensen swallows. "Who are you?"

"I'm me, man," Jared says, as gently as he can. "Jared Padalecki, 25, Texas born and raised."

"Then who do you work for?" Jensen demands. "How did you find out about me?"

"I don't work for anyone," he says. "Well, except Ray's Coffee, I guess, but that's not exactly a hotbed of supervillain activity." Jensen doesn't look convinced and Jared meets his eyes as he says honestly, "I swear, I didn't know about you before today. You should've seen the look on my face when Red took your mask off."

"You expect me to believe that?" Jensen asks, adjusting his grip on the blade. "That this whole thing is just some fucked up coincidence?"

"Honestly? Yeah," he says. "I was freaked out too, okay, but I promise, I didn't plan any of this. I was never trying to trick you or screw you over -- I just thought you were a normal guy."

Jensen nods, not lowering the knife, and Jared can almost see his mind going back over the night's events as he says, "That's why you brought me that water. And why you stopped Red Fog from…"

He trails off but Jared nods. "Yeah. I mean, I would've tried to stop Red if he did that to anybody but I- I was trying to help. I know I did a shitty job of it but I couldn't risk blowing our covers. If they knew we were dating-"

"I get it," Jensen says, lowering the blade a fraction. "I'm not going to pretend I'm happy about it but I get it." He hesitates. "So you really didn't know about me?"

"No," Jared stresses. "And no-one else does either. They might've seen your face but they're never going to figure out who you are." His eyes dart to the knife as he asks, "So, are you still going to kill me or…"

"No." Sheathing his blade, Jensen reaches over to roll Jared's mask back into position but then steps away from the bed, still unsteady on his injured ankles. "You can go. I'm not going to use the veto."

Jared breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Jensen. I-"

"Don't," he cuts in. "You don't use my name and you don't tell anyone who I am."

"I wouldn't," Jared says, surprised that he'd even think that. "I promise."

"Your promises aren't worth a lot any more." Jensen straightens up, voice icy as he says, "I don't ever want to see you again. You saved my life and so I'm not going to stand in the way of you living yours, but this whole damn charade is over. We're done."

"Jen-" He stops himself. "Mercury. Come on, man. We can talk about this."

"No, we can't." His tone is resolute and he changes the subject as he looks down at Jared's cuffed hands. "Someone will be along to release you soon."

Turning to leave, he pauses in the doorway to glance back at Jared one last night. A jumble of words sit on Jared's tongue -- a plea for Jensen to just stay and talk to him, a promise that he'd never hurt him, an ashamed admission that he's in love with him -- but he can't bring himself to say any of them when Jensen just gives him a colorless smile.

"Have a nice life, Quicksilver."

+++

Three weeks later

If he's honest, Jared's decision to take the job at Ray's Coffee was not without ulterior motives. It's in the heart of the business district, full of suits and secretaries, and back when he was with his team, it was the ideal place for scoping out possible kidnapping targets.

However, while he does have the option of switching careers now that he's out of that particular game, he's found that he's actually come to like his coworkers. Sure, Emily is terrible at spelling customers' names right on their orders and Osric is way too fond of hooking up with his girlfriends in the stockroom but they're decent people, and after years of working with supervillains, Jared figures that a little decency is exactly what he needs right now.

It's close to 8pm when Osric heads out for the evening with a blushing Julia in tow, and Jared helps himself to a mug of coffee as he stifles a yawn. They're closing soon and the store is all but empty, save for a couple of people heading out with a fix of caffeine to help them work into the night.

The door swings shut behind them and Jared hums to himself as he adds a generous shot of cinnamon syrup to his drink.

"Paint It Black?"

Jared jumps at the voice behind him. Narrowly avoiding knocking the syrup to the floor, he sets the bottle back on the shelf and turns around to congratulate his latest customer on their song-guessing ability.

He comes to an abrupt halt when he sees who that customer is.

Jensen curls his fingers around the strap of his bag as he gives Jared a nervous smile. "Hi."

"Hi," Jared says, trying to tamp down the rush of excitement in his chest. For all he knows, Jensen's just returning one of his shirts. "I didn't expect to see you."

"I can go if you want," Jensen says. "I know it's not fair of me to tell you to stay away and then for me to show up at your work…"

"No, no, it's fine," he says hastily. "I'm glad you came. You want a drink?"

"You don't have any liquor back there, do you?" Jensen asks, only half-joking. "Black coffee's great."

"Sure." Busying himself with the coffee, Jared nods to the empty store. "Have a seat. I'll be right there."

Jensen hesitates. "I don't want to interrupt."

"You're not. I'm closing up in a few minutes anyway." With his hands full, he points his elbow in the direction of the door. "Just flip the sign around."

It doesn't take him long to finish up the coffees. Jensen's sitting at a small table by the wall when he's done and he walks over to deposit the drinks and to take the seat opposite him.

"How've you been?"

Jensen gives a tiny shrug. "Could be worse."

The cuts and bruises on his face have gone but as he reaches for his coffee, Jared sees the angry red scar tissue of the still-healing burns.

"How about you?" Jensen asks. "How's your shoulder?"

"Getting better," he says, instinctively resting a hand over the bullet wound. "I think benchpressing is still off the table for a while but it's doing well." Taking a gulp of coffee, he presses on with the small talk. "Is work going okay? Have you been out on any jobs since everything that happened?"

"A few," Jensen says, sipping his own drink. "It doesn't make it easier when all of your enemies know your weakness."

Jared winces. "They've been using that stuff?"

"Sometimes," Jensen says. "It's not the most practical thing to bring to a firefight but I've seen a couple of laced darts, a drain cleaner grenade, that kind of thing. Antimony's working on an antidote for me but I don't know if it's even something that can be cured."

"I'm sorry, man."

Jensen waves it away. "Everyone's got something, right? Just bad luck I found mine when I did." He sips his coffee again and asks, curious, "I know you're not working with your team anymore but have you been back in the game at all?"

Jared smiles. "Maybe one or two jobs."

His optimism kicks up a couple of notches when Jensen returns the smile. "I don't know if you heard but we got our scanner back last week. There was some anonymous package mailed to the police department."

"Huh," Jared says, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck. "That's convenient."

There's a knowing glint in Jensen's eyes. "I also heard Red Fog got wounded in a fight a few nights ago. The assailant's still unknown but the word is that he shot him in the junk."

"The thigh," Jared says with a smirk. "Or so I heard."

Jensen smiles into his coffee. "Well, thank you," he says. "For both of them."

"Hey, the scanner was totally selfish," Jared says. "They chose a shiny magic ball over me." He looks down into his coffee. "As for Red, he deserved worse than what he got."

"Here's hoping I get to deliver that someday," Jensen says, raising his mug. Jared meets it with a clink and silence descends as they both take a drink.

They both try to break it at the same time.

"I-"

"You-"

Wiping his damp palms on his jeans, Jared gestures to Jensen. "After you."

Nodding, Jensen taps his finger nervously against his mug, apparently gathering the courage to speak. "I owe you a thank you," he says eventually. "And an apology."

Jared frowns. "You don't have to apologize to me for anything."

"No, I do," he says firmly. "I shouldn't have said all that to you in the medical wing. I just-" He looks down, rubbing his thumb over the burn on his wrist. "When I was in that cell, I was so sure I was going to die. I knew about Iridium, I knew what you guys were capable of, and so I was just trying to keep going until they put a bullet in my head. I thought about a lot of things in there -- my team, my family, Walter, y'know, all the usual stuff you think about when you're about to die -- but the thing that made the pain easiest to deal with was thinking about you."

Jared stares at him. "Me?"

"Well, Jared you," Jensen says with a weak smile. "Not Quicksilver you. But that was pretty much the only way I was holding it together in there. And then I got out alive and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed with you and sleep for a week." His smile fades. "Then I found out who you were, that you'd seen me like that, that you'd been there the whole damn time, and I- I couldn't deal with it."

Familiar guilt comes racing back and Jared reaches out to rest his hand on Jensen's wrist.

"I was so angry when I found out," Jensen says, eyes dull. "I kept thinking that if you were really the guy I was in love with, you wouldn't have let them do that to me."

"Jensen, I couldn't risk-"

"I know," he says. "I lied before when I said I got it. I didn't, not at the time. It took me a couple of days to start thinking about it from your perspective." He looks up, finally meeting Jared's gaze. "You did the best you could, didn't you?"

"Yeah," Jared says, "I did. But it wasn't enough to stop you getting hurt."

"I was being held captive by vengeful supervillains who'd just discovered my key weakness," Jensen says dryly. "I don't think any power on this earth could've stopped me getting hurt." He swallows. "I shouldn't have blamed you for it. I'm sorry."

"Am I allowed to not accept your apology on the grounds that you shouldn't be saying sorry in the first place?" Jared asks with a smile. Jensen looks down again and Jared gives his hand a squeeze. "Okay, I'll accept yours if you accept mine. Deal?"

Jensen looks exhausted when he smiles. "Deal."

Wary of pushing his luck, Jared ventures the question, "Does this mean 'I don't ever want to see you again' doesn't apply anymore? 'Cause I gotta say, I really miss seeing you."

Jensen smiles wider and Jared teases, "Hey, I'm not kidding. Do you know how excellent you are to look at?"

Rolling his eyes, Jensen squeezes Jared's hand in return. "I guess we could start seeing each other again. But slowly," he says, fixing Jared with a firm look. "I don't think I'm ready to jump straight back to where we were before."

"Well, we've already got the first date coffee down," Jared says, letting his optimism blossom into actual happiness. "What was date two? Lunch?"

"The terrible circus," Jensen says. "You nearly got in a fight with a clown and one of the jugglers made a pass at me."

"You never told me that," Jared says. "If we go back, I'm definitely getting in a fight with that juggler."

"Or we could skip that one and go straight to dinner?" Jensen says, smiling, and Jared leans in instinctively.

"You're so smart," he teases. "What would I do without you?"

"Go on terrible circus dates, apparently." Jensen's gaze flickers to Jared's mouth as he catches his lower lip between his teeth, and Jared lets his hand rest on Jensen's thigh beneath the table. "Jared…"

Jared freezes. "Too fast?"

Jensen's headshake provides much-needed reassurance but Jared doesn't make another move, instead allowing Jensen to close the space between them at his own pace.

The brush of Jensen's lips against his is instantly familiar. After spending the last three weeks convincing himself that he was okay with never having this again, it's clear just how bad he is at lying to himself as he sinks happily into the kiss. Jensen's hand slides through his hair, cupping the back of his neck as he pulls him in to deepen the kiss, and their tongues slide easily together as Jared parts his lips to let him inside.

The tug of want in his chest is almost painful. He rests his hand against Jensen's cheek, feeling the scratch of stubble against his palm, and he almost slides off his chair in an effort to get closer when he curls his tongue against Jensen's.

Jensen's eyes are bright when they finally pull apart and a blush creeps beneath his freckles as he wipes the corner of his mouth with his thumb. "I, uh- I should go."

"Right." Jared nods. "Taking things slow. I'm on board with this plan." He rises to his feet as Jensen settles the strap of his bag across his body. "Dinner? Friday at 8?"

"Friday at 8." The smile he gives him is more hopeful than nervous. "I'll meet you at your place."

"See you then." He heads back around the shop counter as Jensen walks to the exit but calls after him, "Take care of yourself, man."

Jensen's eyes flicker to his shoulder before he returns the smile. "Right back at you."

+++

Three weeks later

They make it through ten dates before going slow loses its appeal.

Technically, it was more like seven dates but an urgent call came through from Jensen's team when they were rounding second base and they had to cut in short. (In retrospect, Jared probably should've been more suspicious that Jensen had so many late night family emergencies to deal with.)

Dates eight and nine were a breakfast and a mid-afternoon movie, and so it's only on date ten that they finally make it back to Jensen's apartment after dinner.

Walter comes padding across Jared's feet when Jensen pushes him back up against the front door and kisses him hungrily, and Jared pulls away to scowl down at the cat. "C'mon, dude, not now."

Jensen's lips are hot and soft as he kisses along Jared's jaw. "Ignore him."

Jared really, really wants to, especially when he has Jensen's body pressed up against his and Jensen's hands roaming over his chest, but Walter is not making things easy for him. "I know, I know," he says, groaning as Jensen bites down on his earlobe, "but does he really need to be using my toes as chewtoys? Don't you have cables he can gnaw through like normal cats?"

Jensen laughs against his neck as he slips his hand under Jared's t-shirt. "Okay, fine," he says. "Get in the bedroom already. I'll deal with Walt."

He scoops Walter easily off the floor and as Jared heads through to Jensen's bedroom, he hears him whisper to the cat, "I promise I'll buy you a squeaky mouse tomorrow if you stay in here while me and Jared have some alone time. We both know how much you love squeaky mouses."

It's evidently a good deal since Jensen comes back into the bedroom before Jared's even got his socks the whole way off. "No more cat distractions," he says, hooking his fingers through the belt loops of Jared's jeans. "You're all mine."

He pulls him into a deep, lazy kiss and Jared reaches down to give Jensen's ass an equally lazy squeeze. They're both still buzzed from the good wine and good food at dinner and it only builds with the eager roll of Jensen's body against his.

"I'm glad squeaky mouses were a good bribe," he says, nuzzling Jensen's neck as he laughs.

"Shut up and take your pants off."

Jared throws him a mock salute. "Sir, yes, sir."

He kicks his jeans off while Jensen tugs his sweatervest and t-shirt off over his head. His hair sticks up in a disarray of tufts and Jared steps in to smooth it down in between dropping light kisses on Jensen's lips. Jensen's fingers go to his shirt, unfastening the buttons and easing it off over Jared's wounded shoulder, and Jared does the same with Jensen's jeans to let them pool around his ankles.

When they next break away from the kiss, it's to inspect each other's injuries. Jensen's burns are healing slowly but thoroughly, the scarred skin gradually smoothing out, and while the bullet left an ugly tear in Jared's skin, it's on the mend.

That doesn't stop Jensen from hmming in unhappiness as he strokes his fingers over the shiny scar tissue. "This still looks bad."

Jared waves it away. "It's fine. I can barely feel it anymore."

Jensen purses his lips. "It was meant for me," he says, planting a soft kiss on the scar. "I'm allowed to feel guilty."

"Hey, there's always this one," he says, tapping the long scar on the side of his ribs. "You gave me that a couple of years back in a fight."

Jensen smacks him on the side. "You told me you got that falling out of a treehouse."

"What was I going to say?" he asks, shoving Jensen's boxers down his legs and walking him back to the bed. "Oh, yeah, I got this in a fight with the city's most attractive superhero. No big deal." Jensen drops back to the mattress with a chuckle and Jared crawls onto the bed to kiss his way up his torso. "That's exactly what I want to tell my totally normal boyfriend."

"Okay, one, that was a fair fight and two, you were a bad guy," Jensen says, skimming his fingers over the scar. "No guilt here."

His knees fall apart on the bed as Jared settles between them to wrap a hand around his cock. Jensen's half-hard already and he tips his head back with a sigh when Jared slicks up his hand and strokes him fast and hard. He's bare and open beneath him, and Jared switches hands to nudge at the dip of Jensen's hole with the fingers of his right hand while jerking him off with his left.

"The city's most attractive superhero, huh?" Jensen's voice is breathless as he bears down to meet the press of Jared's fingers inside his ass, but there's still a smile on his lips as he looks up at him. "Is that an official title?"

"Yep," Jared says, twisting his hand on the upstroke as he works Jensen's dick. "There were opinion polls, a public vote, the whole nine yards." He ducks his head to kiss the crease of Jensen's thigh, just to make him squirm at the tickling sensation. "You won by a landslide."

Jensen laughs, relaxing against the pillows. "I dispute this result. Did they get the option to pick you? Because that would be my vote."

"Ah," Jared says, easing another figure inside him, "but I'm not a superhero. I don't count."

"Well, you're not a supervillain anymore," Jensen says, tugging impatiently on Jared's hair to coax him up for a kiss. "What does that leave?"'

"I'm a maverick," Jared says, sliding his fingers out of Jensen's ass and giving his lube-slick hole a playful tap. He crawls up his body, scraping his teeth over each of his nipples in turn to make Jensen arch and moan beneath him. "Technically, I'm a superbeing who occasionally does good deeds." He grins at him as he moves in for a kiss. "Of course, occasionally I'm also a very bad man."

He rolls his hips against Jensen's in illustration, letting their dicks slide together, but pulls back sharply when Jensen's lips stay slack beneath his. "Jensen? You okay?"

Jensen's cheeks are pale when he nods. "Yeah, yeah, I'm good, I just-"

The realization hits Jared too late and he backs away like he's been scalded. "Fuck, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"

"I know." A shiver goes through him when he sits up but some color comes back into his cheeks as he asks, "How about you go on your back this time? It's gotta be easier on your shoulder."

He remembers the sight of Red on top of Jensen, straddling his legs and choking him to keep him quiet, and he can't agree fast enough if it means getting to a position Jensen's happier with. "Sure," he says, dropping down to lie on his back in the middle of Jensen's bed. "You know, we can wait if you want. Or we could do something different -- people always say I've got a big mouth."

He flashes Jensen what he hopes is a winning smile but just gets a chuckle in response.

"You have an awesome mouth," Jensen says, sitting astride his hips and letting Jared's dick ride the curve of his ass, "and I will take full advantage of that later but right now I really want your dick."

Jared decides he is definitely not going to argue with that statement.

"Help yourself," he says with a grin but winces when Jensen pinches the skin just above his belly button. "What was that for?"

"Be less of a dick," Jensen says, reaching back to wrap his hand around Jared's cock. "You're not a supervillain anymore, remember? The whole cocky charm thing only goes so far."

Jared chuckles. "How about 'thoughtful, loving boyfriend' charm?"

Jensen lifts up and Jared groans at the sudden tightness of his ass around his dick as Jensen lowers himself down inch by inch. "Acceptable."

His voice is strained and Jared runs his thumbs over the ridge of his hipbones in steady circles as he lets Jensen take it at his own speed. He's breathing hard, chest rising and falling in stutters as he adjusts to the stretch of Jared's dick filling him up, but Jared smiles when he starts to move.

"You good?"

Catching his lip between his teeth, Jensen gives a jerky nod. "Yeah. I just- It's been a while."

"We can take it slow," Jared says, smoothing his hands down Jensen's thighs, but Jensen just raises his eyebrows. "Or not?"

Planting his knees wider on the bed, he cants his hips forward to let Jared's dick slide in and out of his hole without having to lift up too high. His cock bounces between his legs before Jensen fits his hand around it and begins to stroke, and Jared watches, transfixed, at the roll of his body and the pump of his fist as he fucks himself open on his dick.

"You just gonna sit there and watch?" Jensen says with a stifled groan. "This isn't exactly a spectator sport, man."

"Hey, you can't blame me for admiring the view," Jared says. He bucks his hips up a little anyway, making Jensen jolt with the thrust, and props himself up on his elbow. "C'mere."

It's a stretch for Jensen to bend down to kiss him but from the enthusiastic crush of his mouth against Jared's, he's pretty sure Jensen's okay with that. Jared licks in past his lips, tickling along the roof of his mouth and letting his tongue glide along Jensen's as he settles his hand at the base of his skull. Jensen's hair is damp with sweat as he gasps into the kiss, still riding Jared's dick at a steady pace, and Jared nips lightly at his lip as the heated pressure begins to build inside him.

Jensen's tight, slick with lube but still tense around him as he pushes down to let Jared's dick sink in deep. It feels so much longer than a few weeks since they last did this, since they were here together in Jensen's bed, and while the familiarity of it ignites sparks of remembered pleasure, he can't help but think it's better this way, without any deep dark secrets in the background.

He decides he could do without the injuries though when a twinge of pain goes through his shoulder, and he shifts his weight to his other arm as he reaches down to close his hand around Jensen's dick.

Their fingers brush as he does so and Jensen looks up at him with a glint in his eyes. His cheeks are pink from exertion, the blush spreading down over his chest and shoulders, but he thrusts helplessly into Jared's waiting hand as he murmurs, "God, I missed your hands."

Swiping the thumb over the head of Jensen's dick, Jared dips down to tickle along behind his balls. "They missed you too."

Jensen shivers at the touch, grinding back down onto his cock with a moan, and Jared curls his toes in the sheets in an effort to slow the rush of excitement. Judging by the smirk that plays on Jensen's lips, he's not subtle enough about it.

"Should I be making a Quicksilver joke right now?" he teases.

Jared laughs. "Like you can talk," he says, reaching down to grope Jensen's ass. "You're not winning any stamina awards either, man."

Jensen smiles as he pushes back down onto Jared's dick. His hips move in a languid roll as he slides into Jared's hand and fucks back onto his cock, and he lets out a pleased sigh. "I think I'm okay with that."

He moans when Jared strips his dick faster, working himself up and down on his cock, and Jared grips his thigh harder as he fights to hold himself on the edge of his release.

"Come," Jensen says. From the tension in his voice, he's close as well but that doesn't stop him from taunting him with another slow slide down the length of his cock. "Don't hold out for my benefit, dude."

He's gorgeous, thighs spread wide and ass fucked open on Jared's dick as he looks down at him with a satisfied glimmer in his eyes, and Jared can't resist drawing him down for another kiss. It's clumsy and hot and desperate but Jared kisses him with all he has as the force of his release finally thunders through him.

He comes hard, spilling deep into his ass when Jensen takes the whole thick length of his cock. His orgasm rushes through him, snatching his breath from his lungs and making his body buzz with the heat of it, but he manages a weak smile when Jensen breaks away from the kiss with a cry. Come splatters over his fingers and stomach as Jensen's release hits a few seconds after his, and Jared slumps back against the pillow with a breathless whimper.

Jensen follows a moment later, rolling off Jared and dropping onto the mattress with a bounce. He rests his head against Jared's shoulder and Jared stares dumbly up at the ceiling as the sound of their labored breathing fills the room.

"Mmm," Jensen mumbles into his shoulder. "S'good."

"Good?" He tries to sound offended but he's tired enough after the dinner and the orgasm that it mostly comes out as confused. "Loving the enthusiasm."

Jensen elbows him in the side. "Fine," he says around a yawn. "More than good."

"That's me," Jared says, stifling his own yawn. "Jared 'more than good' Padalecki." He wipes his come-sticky hand on a tissue from the nightstand and reconsiders. "And sometimes Quick 'more than good' Silver, I guess."

He feels a warm weight against his calf and looks down to see Walter trundle across the bed before flopping down on Jared's ankles and falling straight to sleep.

"Nice to see you too," he mutters, wiggling his toes to see whether the cat will budge.

(He doesn't.)

"He just really likes you," Jensen says, giving the sheets a half-hearted tug until they're mostly covered up. "I keep trying to teach him about boundaries but I don't think he's getting it."

Shrugging, Jared leans over to kiss Jensen's cheek. "Hey, I get you," he says sleepily. "If an intrusive cat comes as part of that package deal, I think I can live with that."

"You're such a gentleman."

"I know."

Jensen smiles against his arm and his finger traces the bullet wound in his shoulder as he says, "While we're on the subject of being a gentleman, I was talking to Cadmium about you a couple of days ago." Jared raises his eyebrows and Jensen clarifies, "Not the me-and-you part of things, but just about what you've been doing. Y'know, helping people and all."

He looks up at him with that pleased expression on his face and Jared's cheeks heat with the unique combination of pride and shame he only gets in these situations.

He's still getting the hang of actually doing good deeds; he's not quite ready to talk about them yet.

"What did he say?" he asks. "Did he think it was all part of some wicked scheme? Save a basket full of puppies then boom, steal the declaration of independence."

Jensen laughs. "Slow your roll, Nicolas Cage. He didn't think you were planning anything." He looks up at him hopefully. "He said he'll maybe get in touch with you soon about coming in to help us out."

"Help you out? What, like join your team?"

"No, no," Jensen says quickly. "Just on a contractor basis at first. See how you like it, check how well we all work together, that kind of thing."

"Oh." It's a lot to process but Jared's surprised by how sincere he is when he says, "That sounds awesome."

His positive feelings double in strength when Jensen beams at him. "Really?"

"Really," he says, kissing him again. "It would be cool working with you." He pulls him into a loose hug and relaxes back on the pillow when Jensen curls happily against him. "Fighting crime, having each other's back, maybe punching Red in the neck a couple of times. It'll be great." He perks up as another idea occurs to him. "Hey, we could-"

"No."

He frowns. "You didn't even know what I was going to say."

Jensen eyes him knowingly. "We could have sex in the hologram room at the base?"

"Lucky guess." He fits his arm more snugly around his shoulders as he says, "But on a more serious note, I am definitely good with having sex wherever you want."

"Go to sleep, Jared." He yawns, snuggling in close as he shuts his eyes and says, "We can talk about places to have sex over breakfast."

Drifting off to sleep too, Jared figures he might as well give his luck one final push. "And maybe whether we should have sex in costume sometime?"

"C'mon, dude," Jensen murmurs, burying his face in Jared's shoulder. "That's a given."