Grandpa Padalecki frequently recollected the radio announcement announcing the attack on Pearl Harbor. Jared's parents sometimes recalled sitting in their classrooms the day Kennedy was shot. Jared's friends have their own lengthy stories about what they were doing on the morning the towers came down.
And everyone remembers where they were the day the first mountains around the world cracked open and the dragons crawled out and took to the sky once again.
"I don't like it," Genevieve says. "Even bonfires don't have smoke that color."
Jared slides the double-barrel shotgun into the holster on his back. He doesn't like it either, doesn't know what to think of the ominous plume, but it's been months since the last decent rain and the desert hills are dryer than normal. The last thing they need is a wildfire breaking out so close to town.
"Don't worry," Jared says as he buckles his bandoleer into place. "I'll just ride up there, see if I can extinguish it myself, and then come back. Easy."
"No buts. I'm the only outrider available right now." To prove his point, Jared swings his leg over the seat of his motorcycle and starts it, smiling as the growl of the engine fills the street. "Besides, the skies have been empty for weeks."
"Figures," he says and pulls over to the side of the road. He'll have to travel by foot the rest of the way to avoid being heard.
The dragons are young at least. Neither appear to be larger than an SUV, and their flight is unsteady, as if they're still getting used to being airborne. Jared is thankful for small miracles. They won't be good trackers nor nearly as destructive as adults. They're also not firebreathers, yet.
The air grows acrid with the stench of burning metal as Jared climbs the desert path up to a steep hilltop. He pulls the collar of his shirt over his mouth and nose in an attempt to breath better. Some of the plants around him have been scorched, and unfamiliar debris lays scattered around the path. Something crashed up there, which means any hope Jared had for putting the fire out by himself is gone. The best he can do is scope out the situation and report back to town. Chances are, he'll need a lot more people to get things under control.
At least the town slayers shouldn't have any trouble putting down a couple of dragons that just left their nest.
Jared slows to a crawl as he nears the top; young dragons may not be great trackers, but it's best not to make sudden movements that can draw their attention. Jeff, the town's outrider captain, always jokes that Jared's tall enough that even the blindest hatchling would be able to track him, but Jared's been lucky so far and doesn't want to break his streak.
The sight that greets him at the hilltop takes his breath away. It's a plane — smashed, burning, and sheared in half, but a plane nonetheless. Jared hasn't seen one in nearly seven years, not since the dragons reappeared and began attacking all aircraft. Apparently, they didn't like sharing the sky.
Looks like even younglings share that sentiment.
From Jared's vantage point, it looks like the moron who attempted the flight didn't survive the crash. Some unrecognizable limb has smashed through the cockpit windshield, and it doesn't appear to be attached to anything anymore. The surrounding flames make Jared hesitant to explore for any survivors, since he doesn't know if the fuel is kept near the nose or the missing tail. He'll ride back to town, gather the slayers and a few others, and then come back to take care of the fires.
He's about to turn and head down the hill when a faint rustling grabs his attention. Across the hilltop, there's a large rocky outcropping, and through the smoke, Jared can just make out a person's leg jutting out from behind the rocks. As he watches, the leg is pulled back until whoever is back there is completely hidden by stone.
"Holy shit," Jared whispers. Someone did survive this mess.
It takes a while for Jared to slowly make his way around the hilltop, having to duck behind rocks to avoid detection. The dragons are still circling, but it looks like they're interested in the heat of the fire rather than focused on possible prey. When he's within a few feet of the other person, he chances hissing out, "Hey," a little louder than he normally would around any dragons. There's no answer, so he grabs an handful of loose dirt and gravel and tosses it in that direction.
He hears mad scrambling from the other side of the rocks before a man peeks around the largest boulder. His face is filthy, smudged with either dirt or soot, and he looks absolutely terrified before he catches sight of Jared. Then, he breaks into a huge smile. "You scared the living shit out of me," he says, and it's way too loud.
Jared shushes him, but that's when the roaring starts. He looks up just as one of the dragons begins diving in their direction, and he draws his shotgun as he rolls out of its path. Taking one brief moment to lament not grabbing a larger caliber weapon, he aims for the dragon's head and fires. The buckshot hits it in the face, and the creature screeches as it rears back. Jared ducks his head as its powerful wings kick up dirt and embers and fling it into his face, then he pumps the shotgun and fires again.
This time, some of the pellets hit the dragon right in the eye, and it's the deterrent Jared was hoping for. The dragon screeches again, tumbles over itself in mid-air and takes off in the opposite direction with the other youngling right on its tail. Jared breathes a huge sigh of relief. He was hoping the other one would learn from the first's example.
When Jared turns back around, he finds that the other guy curled into the fetal position behind a rock, his arms curled over his head protectively. Not much help, but at least he hadn't done something stupid, like running away screaming and giving the second dragon a different target. Still, Jared would have appreciated a little backup.
"Can you walk?" he asks, and the guy slowly unwinds and looks around. "Look, we need to get out of here in case they decide to come back, and I really don't want to carry you if I don't have to."
The guy is a little unsteady getting to his feet, and he instantly shifts all of his weight to the left, but he nods once he's upright. "I think so. Scraped up my leg in the crash, and my shoulder isn't feeling too good, but I think I can handle it."
"Okay, we need to head down and walk about half a mile west. I've got my bike, but I'll need you to ride watch. Keep your gun drawn, though. I don't like that they're so close."
"I don't..." the guy starts. "Um, could I borrow one of yours?"
Jared can only imagine the look on his own face as he stares at the guy for a moment. "You're telling me that you're stupid enough to get in a plane and you're unarmed. Jesus, man, how are you this clueless? You been living under a rock or something?"
"Well, that fucking explains it."
Neither of them talk on the ride back. The guy is tense at Jared's back, on high alert, and Jared can feel him shifting as he cranes his neck to keep watch. It's uneventful, though.
They speed into town, pausing only briefly for Jared to tell Genevieve the quick and ugly version of what happened. She gives the guy seated behind him a considering glance before she runs off to gather a fire crew, and then Jared steers the bike toward the doctor's office.
"You, sir, are extremely lucky," Sam says once she's gotten them both situated in her treatment room. She's cut away the pant leg on the guy's right leg and is busy finishing up her stitch job. "Walking away from a wreck and an attack with nothing more than a few troublesome lacerations and a sprained shoulder. A decent shower, and you should be good as new."
"Thank you very much, Doctor Smith," the guy says, and he gives her a smile.
"So formal," she smiles back. "Most people around here call me Sam, or Samantha when they're angry."
"Well," Jared interrupts. "He's from Dallas, so..."
Her hands still for a moment, the mood suddenly tense in the office, then she's grabbing a strip of gauze to cover up the largest patch of stitches. "Dallas, huh? How is life inside of the wall?"
"Quiet," he says, his smile now gone.
The room is silent as Sam finishes taping the gauze into place. She pats him on his good leg, signalling that he should move off the table, and says, "You're good to go. Normally, I'd give you a sling for that shoulder, but I'm guessing someone desperate enough to attempt a plane ride has places to be. And I don't like the idea of sending you back out there with some of your movement all bound up. So, try not to use that arm much if you can, only when necessary, and then go see a doc when you get where you're going, okay?"
He nods. "Do you know where I could grab that shower you mentioned before?"
"I'm sure Jared would be kind enough to loan you his," Sam says, and Jared just manages to hold back his groan. "Just keep those stitches dry."
"Will do, ma'am." He looks to Jared, who sighs and leads the way from the exam room.
"Alright, stranger who will soon be invading my home, do you at least have a name?" Jared asks, and the guy limps behind him quietly for a moment before answering.
"Heard you got yourself a house guest," she says, and there's just enough mocking in her voice that he can tell it's already town gossip.
"He's just using the shower, then I'm sending him to Misha's to get a room."
"If that were the case, you would have sent him right there. Those rooms have showers, too." She has a point, but Jared's not going to tell her that. "At least he's pretty."
"Jesus, Gen," Jared stops to listen, but the shower is still running. "Yeah, yeah, at least he's pretty. Doesn't mean I want him here."
"Why? Not your type of pretty?"
"It's not that. Just..." And now the shower turns off. "Look, I'll call you back." He's placing the phone back in its charging cradle when the bathroom door opens with a fog of steam.
Ross steps out, wrapped in a towel, and he is definitely Jared's type of pretty. Now that the guy is clean from all of the dirt and soot, there's nothing to distract Jared from noticing broad shoulders, a trim waist and a pair of, wow, incredibly green eyes.
"I know I keep imposing," Ross says. "But is there any chance I could steal some clothes? Mine are a mess, and I'd rather not put them back on."
A little later, once Ross is decked out in an old pair of jeans with the cuffs rolled up and a ratty college t-shirt Jared found in the back of his dresser, they're back out on the street, riding to Rhodes' Diner. After Jared had explained that he wasn't exactly ready for house guests, what with the empty fridge and all, Ross had insisted on taking him out for food. "Least I could do after you let me borrow your shower," he'd said as they left the apartment. "Not to mention the whole saving my life thing."
The town's not huge, Jared tells him over the motorcycle's engine as they turn onto Main Street. Just about a thousand people, and nearly everything is within walking distance. He points out the grocery and town hall, the gym where all of the town outriders and slayers meet once a week.
"Oddly enough," Jared says, "the town population grew after the dragons appeared. A lot of refugees, especially those turned away from —" He cuts himself off, but from the way Ross tenses, it's clear he heard the unspoken Dallas at the end of the sentence.
It's true, though. Quite a few folks from the area tried to seek safety inside the wall and were denied entrance. Now that Jared's thinking about it, he's not so sure how well Ross is going to be received around town if word gets out just where he's from.
Rhodes' isn't too busy, only a few tables here and there are being used, so they grab a table near the door. Kim gives them a look as they get settled, which tells Jared that yep, word's gotten around.
"Heard you had a bit of excitement today, Jared," Kim says as she brings over their menus. "How many did you see?"
"Two. Younglings, though."
"They could have been hatchlings for all I care. You did good, kiddo. You and your friend, here."
Ross shakes his head, frowning into his menu. "Not me, ma'am. It was all Jared."
Kim smiles at him. "Ma'am. Sam was right, you do have manners. I'll give you boys a few moments to make your choices."
As she walks away, they get a few looks from the other diner patrons. The kid at the next table is staring and whispering loudly at his mother, and she's trying to keep him from squirming in his seat. Obviously a losing battle, because the next thing Jared knows, the boy is standing beside their table.
"Did you really fight dragons?" the kid asks, bouncing in place.
"Yes, I did," Jared tells him. "It was very scary."
The boy turns to Ross."Did you fight them too?"
Ross sighs but pastes on a smile. "Nope. I don't know how to fight dragons."
The kid laughs. "All adults know how to fight dragons."
"Not me," Ross says. "We don't have to learn how where I'm from. There are special people in Dallas who keep us safe."
Jared watches the kid's eyes go saucer-wide. "You're from Dallas? Really? My dad says that there's a huge wall surrounding Dallas. Have you seen the wall? Are there really guns all along the top to shoot at dragons? Oh my gosh, does that mean you're rich? My mom says only rich people can live in Dallas."
At this point, the mother is scrambling out of her own chair, and her ears are pink when she apologizes and pulls the kid back. Ross is just as flushed, and Jared is regretting this whole thing.
Kim comes back just as the family is getting settled again. "I'm guessing you want your usual, Jared." Her voice is a little too cheerful, trying to relieve some of the awkwardness. "And what about you, Mr. —"
"Like shit it is," comes a voice from the back. Jared looks over just in time to watch Jim, one of his fellow outriders, get up from the table he'd been sharing with some other guys and stomp their way over, looking angrier than Jared has ever seen him. Jim's always been one of the quieter outriders, but friendly to everyone since he moved to town after being forced to leave...
"No," Jim says. "This is Jensen Ackles. As in Ackles Industries. His family built that damn wall."
It took every last manners lesson Jared's mother ingrained into him to not throw Jensen to the wolves and leave him gawking in the middle of the diner. Now, food forgotten, they're back at Jared's apartment, and Jared is pacing, fuming. Jensen keeps going. "It's not like I personally helped build the damn thing."
"No, your family just sponsored the construction. Probably still pays to keep the entrances blocked off, too."
"Not everyone who lives within the wall supported its construction, you know."
"Doesn't stop you from taking advantage of its protection though."
"Does it look like I'm taking advantage of its protection now?"
"It looks like a spoiled little rich boy who has no clue how the world works anymore decided to take a day trip that ended up getting someone killed."
Jensen punches him, a solid right cross that knocks Jared to the ground. He cradles his jaw as Jensen looms over him, breathing heavily. "Fuck you. I was trying to get to my kid sister, okay? She's not safe, and I wanted to bring her home. I paid that pilot a small fortune because he assured me that he knew exactly how to get around the dragons, that our path there should be clear and he'd be able to get us back without any issues. He promised me."
At that, the fight seems to leech out of him, and Jensen collapses onto the sofa. Jared slowly picks himself up, still rubbing his jaw. He perches himself on the arm of the sofa on the opposite end from Jensen.
"I just wanted to bring my sister home," Jensen continues, voice softer and broken. "She hated it when our parents started talking about making a safe haven for those who could afford it. So, she ran away. To El Paso."
That knocks the wind out of Jared. "Oh shit," he says.
Jensen nods before adding, "I was on the phone with her when El Capitan cracked three weeks ago."
Jared doesn't know what to say. El Capitan was a disaster in ever sense of the word. No one had expected a mountain to crumble years after the rest of the dragons had emerged, and most communities had grown comfortable enough to move back to cities close to mountain ranges. So when El Capitan burst and the largest dragon on record crawled from the rubble, well, Jared has had some sleepless nights after seeing the aftermath images. "Jensen, look..."
"Just don't, okay? There is absolutely nothing that you can say that I haven't heard from my parents already. I know it is the stupidest fucking thing I have ever done in my life, but if there is even a chance she's still alive, then I'm going to find her." He sinks into the cushions, resting his head on the back of the sofa, and rubs his hands over his face. "You're right, though. I don't know how the world works these days. I mean, I actually chartered a damn plane. I could..." Jensen turns and looks him right in the eye. "I could use help."
It's a rough night.
By three a.m., Jared has tossed and turned his way into an inescapable cluster of bedsheets, and he still hasn't decided if he's actually going to help Jensen. On one hand, it's a bad idea. As far as Jared knows, no one has attempted to travel to that area since the El Capitan dragon showed up. Plus, hundreds of uncertain, unprotected miles on just his bike. On the other hand, it's a lot of money. Plus, he recognizes that devastated look on Jensen's face when he was talking about his sister.
Jared cranes his head to look at the framed photo on his nightstand. In the faint moonlight coming through the blinds, Jared can just make out his parents' faces. It was the last photo they took together before all of the chaos ensued, both of them with their arms around Jared's shoulders as he smiles proudly in his masters graduation robes.
The first dragon appeared six months later. They were gone within a year.
He'd give anything to be able to see them again.
Sometimes, it's hard to tell if it would be a wise decision to stay at the ones that are still open.
So, Jared collects the sleeping bags, fills bottles of water, packs up protein bars and some sandwiches. He's checking over his weapons when Jensen finally wakes up. It's not a slow drift into consciousness; Jensen jerks awake and stares at Jared as he checks the slide of his pistol. Jared pauses as he waits for the open, confused expression on Jensen's face to fade. It doesn’t, and Jared just continues to stare back because he can’t come up with anything to say.
“You mean it?” Jensen asks finally and rolls over so he’s fully facing Jared. His hair is messy, and his voice is a little rough with sleep. He slept in the clothes Jared lent him, and the shirt has rucked up to give Jared another view of Jensen's trim stomach. It's a distraction Jared doesn't need right now.
"We leave in an hour. We'll get coffee before we go."
Jensen smiles gratefully, and then he's hopping off the sofa and heading for the bathroom. Jared shakes his head, grinning himself, then he goes back to his guns.
"Don't you 'Gen' me. You just met this guy, and now you're going on a suicide mission with him."
"It's not a suici—" Jared sighs and runs his free hand through his hair. He's glad he sent Jensen to load up the bike, because Gen's yelling loud enough to be heard though the whole room. "There is no question that he is going to get himself killed if I let him go alone. At least he has a chance if I go with him, and I won't take stupid risks."
"Fuck you and your bleeding heart, Padalecki," she says. "You'd better make it back, otherwise I'm getting all of the town hunters and coming after your ass. You know Morgan will love mocking you forever for needing the rescue mission."
"I know," he says, and Jensen walks back in. "Look, we need to get going. I'll call you when I get back, okay?"
"Be careful," she whispers, and the line goes dead. He should have known better than to expect a proper goodbye. He hopes he doesn't give her a reason to regret that.
Already, the skies are not being kind. He's caught sight of too many troubling silhouettes up there, and one of their stops was caused by a dragon flying just a little too close for comfort. Jared had killed the engine, and they hid in the overgrowth on the side of the highway for nearly an hour, waiting for it to move on.
The other problem: Jensen. It's clear that the guy isn't as ready for traveling as he'd let on. It's difficult to hear much over his bike's engine, but every once in a while, Jared catches a grunt of pain coming from Jensen, reminding him over and over again that he's traveling with an injured man. The other stop was because Jensen's leg was cramping up and he'd asked Jared to pull over so he could stretch it out. It's made things slow going, trying to dodge rough patches of road and avoiding anything that would cause Jensen to tense up his hold on Jared and strain that arm more.
And yeah, that's another thing: distraction. Despite the fact that there's actually quite a bit of room on the bike's seat, Jensen has practically plastered himself to Jared's back. His arms are constantly wrapped around Jared's waist, cheek against his shoulder. The rifle Jared managed to trade for his shotgun digs into Jared's back, a constant reminder of the only barrier between them.
Maybe he should have borrowed on of the other outriders' car instead.
At least the interstate is empty. Jared can't imagine what it would have been like trying to make this trip during the first initial panic, when everyone tried to escape to somewhere safe, before they realized that safe was staying put and trying not to attract the dragons' attention.
At the next rest stop, Jared pulls up and cuts the engine. Jensen's limping as he makes his way to one of the dilapidated picnic tables, and Jared watches him briefly before reaching into a saddlebag and grabbing two of the protein bars and a bottle of water.
"This," Jensen says, catching one of the bars when Jared tosses it to him, "has got to be the worst roadtrip of my life."
"And we have about another 450 miles to go," Jared tells him, smilig wryly as he twists off the bottle's cap and takes a swig.
"Seriously?" Jensen groans, pushing both hands against the base of his spine and arching backwards. The crack is loud in the silence surrounding them. "I almost want to attempt the plane ride again."
"That's me, Mr. Hilarity." Jensen swipes the bottle from Jared's hand and takes a few gulps of his own. "So, tell me something about yourself."
"What? You already know a ton about me. Rich, sheltered, reviled by an entire town because my parents are classist assholes. If I'm going to be traveling with you for days, I should probably learn more about you other than you suck at keeping your fridge stocked and you look like a biker chick's wet dream when you're straddling that thing."
Jared can't help it; he laughs. "Wet dream, huh? Well, um, last name's Padalecki. I majored in engineering before the world went to hell, bought this bike as a graduation gift to myself, and I hate lasagna."
"How can you... who the hell hates lasagna?" Jensen looks outraged, but there's a small quirk to the corner of his lips. "Just, leave me to the dragons. I can't even look at you anymore."
Jared takes the bottle back, takes a few more sips. "Something else I now know about Jensen Ackles. Drama queen."
The silence is a little more comfortable as they both unwrap their protein bars and enjoy the snack. "So," Jensen asks, mid-chew. "Brunette girl, back in town. Gave me the stink eye as we drove out. Girlfriend?"
"Who, Genevieve? No, best friend since high school. Sorry about that, she wasn't too happy that I agreed to ride out here with you."
"So, you two have never...?"
"Never even thought about it. We're a bit... incompatible that way." Jared balls up the wrapper and tosses it into a wayward trash can that's guaranteed to never be emptied ever again. "Why, you interested?"
"In her? Nope."
Suddenly, Jared feels warm all over. It's been a long time since, well, anything. And if Jensen's implying what Jared thinks he is... Well, his timing could be a little better, but still.
Jensen clears his throat with a grin, like he knows he just triggered about a thousand day dreams that are going to be plaguing Jared for next couple hundred miles. "What about your folks? We already know mine are a blight on the earth. Tell me yours are at least a bit better."
And, good feeling gone. "You should finish that up," Jared says. "We need to hit the road again." Something must show on Jared's face, because Jensen's good humor vanishes too, looking more confused than anything.
"Yeah, sure. All done." Jensen takes the water from Jared, finishes off that bottle, and walks back over to the bike, putting the empty back in the saddle bag. Jared should be happy to notice that he's not limping as much as when they first stopped, but he's wrapped up in other thoughts now.
Damn it, why did Jensen have to ask that question?
Now they're through, and the road is quickly darkening. Jared slows to a crawl, makes sure the road around them is clear of debris, and then pops down the kickstand.
"Why are we stopping?" It's one of the few things Jensen has said to him since the rest stop. He seems to know that he touched on a loaded subject with Jared, but he's yet to say anything about it. "The bike has a headlamp. We can just keep going."
"The headlamp? Oh, you mean the giant light on the front of the bike that any dragon within ten miles will be able to see in the dark and track down? That headlamp? Man, you really don't know anything about dragons, do you?" It's harsh; Jared knows it is, but he's been stewing for hours and feels like lashing out.
"You know I really don't," Jensen bites back. He's off the bike in an instant, tension rolling off him in waves.
Jared sighs, slides off the bike himself and grabs the sleeping bags. "Look," he says as he holds one of them out to Jensen, who snaps it out of his hand. And yeah, Jared deserved that. "Okay, lesson one. Adult dragons have pretty good eyesight during the day, rivaling most birds of prey. At night, though, there's nothing they can't see. So much as lighting a match right now would be like ringing the dinner bell."
Jensen's silent to a moment, then his shoulders droop. "So, I'm guessing a campfire is out of the question."
"Thank goodness for Texas' summer nights."
Together, they roll out the sleeping bags, and Jared shows Jensen how to pull plants around them and use them as camouflage. "They won't help if one of those bastards flies right over us," Jared says, tossing some sand over the bags for good measure. "But it'll be hard to pick us out from the rest of the terrain from a distance. You're not a snorer, are you?"
"Not that I know of."
"Good. Sound travels too well out here."
They each eat a protein bar for dinner, sharing another bottle of water, before settling in. Jared takes some comfort in the fact that he can hear small critters rustling in bushes not too far off. They tend to scatter when larger predators are nearby.
"Hey Jared?" Jensen says, and his voice has a tone that tells Jared he's not going to like what's about to be said. He just hums in acknowledgement.
"Your parents," and yep, Jared hates where this is going. "They died, right?"
Jared swallows around the lump in his throat. "About five years ago."
"Was it... was it dragons?"
Jared shifts onto his side, his back to Jensen, because there's no way he's even chancing looking Jensen in the eye if they're going to talk about this. "They were attacked on their way back from asking the Dallas city council for aid for the town. The ones who made it back alive said that no one would even open the gates for them."
There's nothing but the soft buzz of insects around them, before Jensen whispers, "God fucking damn it," and rolls away.
It takes a while for Jared to get to sleep.
Once they pack up and get going again, Jared immediately notices the distance Jensen is consciously putting between them. He's not even touching Jared, if he can help it. Jared can only imagine the white knuckle grip Jensen must have on the backrest of the seat.
There's another abandoned car ahead, this one with its hood propped up, and Jared drifts to a stop beside it. When he drops the kickstand and slides off the bike, Jensen gives him a look but doesn't say anything.
"I'm going to see if there's any gas to siphon," Jared says, grabbing a small length of hose from one of the saddlebags. "We should have enough for the trip back in the gas can, but I'd rather be safe than sorry, ya know?"
Jensen grunts in acknowledgement. It's the most either of them have said to each other since last night.
The door to the car's gas tank is closed, which Jared feels is a good sign. It takes just a moment to smash the car's window open with a rock and reach inside to hit the release button. He has the hose fed into the tank and is about to start siphoning when the sunlight dims for an instant. It's brief, just a shadow over the sun, but Jensen's cursing and pulling the rifle from Jared's holster.
It's hard to tell what's louder: the gunshot or the roar above them.
Later, Jared will try to figure out how something that big snuck up on them, how they missed that they were being tracked like prey. But now, Jared's flattening himself to the ground, pulling Jensen down with him, and there's the rush of wings above them and teeth and claws and scales and oh god it's an adult and they're so totally fucked.
"The eyes!" he screams, drawing his sidearms. "Shoot it in the eye!" He starts firing, hoping Jensen heard him over the roaring, because they need to take it down or drive it off now, before the dragon remembers that it's capable of roasting them alive.
It's swooping down again, claws the length of Jared's bike fully extended and prepared to snatch one of them up. The rifle goes off again, so close to Jared's ear that he's going to hear ringing for days, but the shot is dead on. He can see the burst of red as the high-powered round hits the vulnerable tissue below the dragon's brow, and its roar turns to a shriek as it practically cartwheels over itself in the air.
Jensen's hand is on his shoulder, tugging, and they both take advantage of the distraction and crawl under the car. Jared holds his breath as he listens to the shrieks and growls coming from above them, but thankfully, feet never hit the ground. It seems like forever before the sounds get fainter, fainter, and then nothing.
By silent agreement, they wait another fifteen minutes before coming out from under the car.
There are gouge marks in the pavement, maybe seven feet away from the bike, and they definitely weren't there before. Jensen's first shot must have set the dragon off course from its initial attack. Jared can't look away from the marks and how deeply they're set into the road, even when Jensen says, "Oh fuck," very faintly, followed by the sound of retching.
Jared doesn't know how long he stands there before Jensen's hand is back on his shoulder, not tugging this time, but just resting there. At some point, Jensen had gotten one of the water bottles from the pack and is now taking a slow sip as he looks at Jared with concern bleeding through his wide eyes and haggard breathing. "Hey, are you..." Jensen starts. "Are you okay?"
"No, yeah, I'm just... holy fuck, that was..."
He doesn't know which one of them moves first; he blinks and suddenly he has Jensen pinned against the side of the car, both hands cradling Jensen's face and kissing him desperately. Jensen's giving it back just as fiercely, arms wrapped around the small of Jared's back, pulling him in tighter until Jensen has to spread his legs for Jared to fit between. It's harsh, sloppy, purely adrenaline-fueled, but Jensen's opening so prettily for Jared to lick into his mouth that he doesn't care.
Jensen's hands drift down, grabbing Jared's ass, pulling him in rhythm as he grinds against Jared. Jared pumps back, the friction just shy of painful. It's not enough.
Jared reaches between them, makes quick work of Jensen's fly before unzipping his own, and then he slides his hand into the slit on Jensen's boxers. Jensen moans as Jared's hand closes around his cock, and Jared can feel him growing harder in his grip. He gives a few tugs, and their kiss is broken as Jensen throws his head back against the car, gasping. Jared lets go only briefly to pull himself out, then he has them both in his fist, reclaiming Jensen's lips as he begins jerking them off.
Jensen's hands slide up the back of Jared's shirt, the car moving behind him as he rocks up into Jared's grip. Jared swallows down all of Jensen's punched out grunts, tightens his hold around their dicks, thrusting faster and faster against Jensen until he's coming all over his fist and Jensen's cock. Jensen's nails dig into his back as he follows Jared over, his own come adding to the mess now between them. Jared keeps stroking them through until they're both done twitching with aftershocks, then he drops his hand.
They stand there, foreheads resting together, breathing each other's air.
Jared moves first, taking a few steps back and wiping his hand on the leg of his jeans. He tucks himself back in, zips up, and takes a moment to watch Jensen, practically debauched, rest against the car with his eyes closed. "We should get going again," Jared says.
"Yeah," Jensen answers, slowly meeting Jared's gaze. He rights himself, grabs the water bottle from where he must have dropped it, and finishes off what's left. "Let's go."
Later, when they're fucked out, panting and sweaty, Jared wraps an arm around Jensen's shoulders, and Jensen hooks his leg over Jared's. The fresh bandage scratches against Jared's skin, newly wrapped because Jensen almost tore his stitches when they were fighting off the dragon.
"How'd you get so good with guns?" Jared whispers to him. "Your aim saved our lives."
"Skeet shooting," Jensen answers. When Jared turns and gives him an incredulous stare, Jensen smirks. "Son of a rich guy, remember?"
Jensen's sister is working there when they pull up.
When the hugging and crying starts, Jared is tempted to make himself scarce. But then Jensen's pulling him over and introducing him as "the guy who saved my life," so she starts hugging Jared too.
It's all well and good until Jensen says, "I've come to take you home." His sister, Mackenzie, looks at the bike, then back to him and asks, "How?"
They find someone in town that's willing to trade his Toyota for Mackenzie's apartment, which apparently avoided being torched. Jared donates one of his pistols to barter for their gasoline. She tells them that she's going to need a couple of days to get everything in order, gather supplies and pack.
But Jared needs to get home. He finishes refilling his water bottles, checks his own supplies, slowly as he can to delay leaving.
"Come with us," Jensen blurts out, quick, like he never intended to say it. But he stands tall, sets his jaw, and says it again, deliberately. "You should come with us. To Dallas."
"I can't," Jared says, throat tight. "The town needs me there. Besides, they'd never let me beyond the wall." Jensen looks like he's going to say something to that, but he stops and sighs instead. They both know Jared's right. "You'll be fine. You know what you're doing now."
"Learned from the best."
In the end, they do kiss goodbye. They're in the middle of the road, probably making a spectacle of themselves, but Jensen can't seem to let Jared go, and Jared really doesn't have a problem with that.
When they finally part, Jensen's eyes look a little wet, and Jared suspects his do as well. "Goodbye, Jensen."
"'Bye. Be safe, okay?"
Jared nods, enough words said. He gets on his motorcycle, kicks over the engine, and rides home.
The next week, wind from the east brings in the smoke from Dallas burning.
"That must be one hell of a fire," Gen says. She, Jared, and some of the other outriders are standing at the edge of town, staring through the haze in the direction of the big city. Someone mentions sending out a group to see if they could find any survivors, but they all know — there's no surviving that.
Jared spends the rest of the week in his apartment, alone and numb.
Some time later, there's a knock on his door. When Jared answers it, ragged and just so very tired, there's a stranger, holding an envelope. "The lady at the gate told me I could find Jared here." Jared snatches the paper from the courier's grip and slams the door in his face.
He rips open the envelope, squints in order to read the neat handwriting in the dim light. Electricity went out three days ago, and he can't be bothered to open the window blinds.
I'm safe, the note says. We're living in the retail tunnels under the city. The fires haven't reached us here. There's talk about digging deeper, escaping it all completely.
You should come I want you here, where it's safe. Please, Jared. I miss you. Please. -Jensen
When Gen comes to check on him later, he has a duffle bag stuffed with his clothes and the photo of his folks. There's a pack full of food stuff sitting on the counter, and his weapons laid out beside it. When she walks in the door, he's buckling the last of his holders into place.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?" she asks.
Jared slides the rifle into the holster on his back and then looks at her, smiling for the first time in months. "Dallas."