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The (reluctant) adventures of Rockles and JPad

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A ship darts across Jensen’s view of the sunset, a blip on the radar against its glowing silver. Jensen smiles as he sips his cocktail, wondering which of his few neighbours is taking off today, looking forward to a little bit of new gossip on the tiny planet he’d made his forever home.

He’s lived on a double handful of planets, visited infinitesimally more; but something about this one had called to him when he’d stopped by to lay low years ago. Maybe it was the deep green of the sea against the silver of the beach, or the way the trees shivered in the light breeze that was the closest the planet ever came to bad weather. Or maybe it was the fact that Valnar remained completely undiscovered; its position at the edges of the system protecting its beauty from the tourist hordes and ensuring a stable, laid back community that only asked questions about his future, not his past.

Some of them probably guess at least some of it, of course; but if any of them know that he was Rockles, the most in-demand pirate in the system in his past life, they seem uninterested in bringing it up. Jensen’s a good neighbour; he contributes to Valnar’s laid back economy, takes part in their social life more than he ever thought he would, and he doesn’t bring any danger to the planet.

He made the right choice when he retired here five years ago, and he’s thankful for it every day. He sits back, drains his cocktail and closes his eyes, letting the last of the sunlight wash over him.

***

Tomorrow is market day, and Jensen heads into town as usual - although town is something of a misnomer for the tiny straggle of shops and bars that make up the planet’s centre. Still - market day is market day, and Jensen needs to fill up his cupboards.

It’s a far cry from his previous life, where stocking up had meant ensuring that there was enough compressed food in the hold to last them if they had to go on the run, or grabbing a hasty, tasty burger at a space-station drive-through. Here, he wanders aimlessly through the stalls and shop fronts, picking at fresh fruit and meat dropped in this morning, or preserves, sauces and oils sold by his neighbours. He grabs a beer from one of the bars as he walks, knowing that before long, he’ll be inveigled to sit and play a game of poker with neighbors who haven’t left the planet in longer than he’s been alive.

“Jensen, hey!” Alaric knocks into his shoulder. “How’s it going?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, barrelling on as usual. “Things are great with us, baby is growing, of course; the toddler is a menace. Jani is pulling her hair out but that’s kids for you!” He talks about his growing family, happy with Jensen’s murmured, brief responses. “Oh, and a vid arrived for you last night.”

“What?” Jensen asks, startled out of his comfortable stupor.

“Yeah, it was delivered late, too late to send it out to you. So it’s waiting for you at the customs office.”

Jensen tamps down his irritation. “Ok, thanks for telling me. I’d better get over there and find out what it is.”

Alaric doesn’t sense anything wrong, claps him on the shoulder and walks off, ready to find another victim for kid stories.

Jensen speeds up; faster than he’s walked in months. A vid message is unusual, old fashioned; holos are more common now, not least because a holo could’ve been transferred to him last night from almost anywhere in the system. His crew had often used vid messages for things they wanted to keep discreet, and he can’t think of anyone else who would be sending him one now.

By the time he’s back at home, shopping forgotten for now, he’s almost vibrating with impatience. The vid is coded, as he’d suspected; it won’t play unless he inputs the corresponding code into his system. He has all the codes for his crew memorised; he’ll have to go through them all until he finds the right one, and hope the vid doesn’t lock him out in the process.

He gets it on the third try. The vid is from Jimbo, a gruff, older shipman who’d worked the system for years before he’d thrown in with Jensen. He’d been worried, initially, that someone with Jimbo’s experience would chafe under Jensen’s young leadership, but Jimbo had been more than happy to sit back and let someone else make the decisions, and his network of contacts across the system had been invaluable.

Pressing the vid into his home console, Jensen waits as the picture flickers to life across his wall. “Jen,” Jimbo starts, barely different to when Jensen had last seen him, “I thought long and hard about this. But. This is serious shit.” There’s a pause, as Jimbo looks around; and Jensen would almost think he was worried if that was a word he associated with Jimbo at all. “I heard this on the grapevine, friend of a friend of a friend of a friend. But I’ve done a bit of digging, and with what’s going on here, it all stacks up. I wouldn’t be sending this if I didn’t believe it.”

Jensen leans forward, itching to know what’s got Jimbo’s panties in such a twist.

“Word is…” There’s a deep breath, as if Jimbo is steeling himself. “Word is, someone found the location of the Halim. And they’re out to get it - for obvious reasons. I don’t have to explain it to you. And… well… things aren’t so good here, Jen. I don’t know what you hear on that planet paradise of yours, but closer in, things are getting rough. This could tip the balance.” Jim’s talking slowly, deliberating over every word. “So the Halim would be bad, bad news.”

No shit. Jensen had never believed in the legends of the Halim, the system’s most dangerous weapon; he’d thought it was the chatter of old men who’d had a few too many drinks. But if these rumours are enough to rattle Jimbo…

“Anyway, Jen. You’re probably wondering why I’m sending this vid. It’s guarded, hidden, you know the drill. And they,” Jimbo pauses, looking around with wide eyes, “Are sending Pell to get it. And well - you’re the only person who has a chance of getting there before him.”

Jensen sucks in a breath. Pell had been Jensen’s greatest rival throughout his pirating career; an unprincipled, vicious man who’d stop at nothing to turn a profit for his investors. They’d clashed more times than Jensen cares to think about, the final record more or less even. Just hearing that would be enough to make Jensen take this seriously.

But the they Jimbo is so reluctant to name is Goocorps. Jimbo’s right; Jensen’s out of the loop on system politics, but he’s aware that Goocorps has been gaining strength, fielding candidates in elections across the system that had either worked for them or had strong connections to them. Some of those planets hadn’t had elections at all in the years since Goocorps candidates had taken office, and there have been stories about political suppression, the disappearance of key opposition members, widespread surveillance and the growth of private armies.

They’re more or less sheltered from political events on Valnar, perched as they are at the end of the system; but that won’t keep them safe forever. And an army in possession of the Halim doesn’t bear thinking about.

Jimbo’s voice wavers as he signs off. “So Jen, do with this what you will. But I think you’ll do something.” The vid ends abruptly, plunging Jensen into uncomfortable, troubling silence.

***

Jensen destroys the vid, of course. Smashes it and smashes it some more, for good measure, and burns it, just in case.

He spends a restless night tossing and turning, going to bed early and getting back up, wandering the house, prodding at the few relics of his old life that he’s kept around.

By dawn, he’s exhausted, and he makes his way to his bedroom. Before he crashes into his bed, he pulls open his closet door. It’s there, staring back at him, where it’s always been since he moved in: his leather jacket, the uniform he’d adopted as Rockles.

With a deep breath, Jensen reaches in and pulls it out. The familiar smell hits him in the gut, overwhelming his already-weak defences. He drops it onto the bed and crawls in; he’ll get started in the morning.

***

By the next evening, Jensen is ready to depart. His bags are packed, the house is closed up and he’s got enough supplies to last him for the first stage of his journey. He contemplates sending word ahead, giving people warning of his arrival; but ultimately, he doesn’t want his crew to have time to think too hard about why he might be turning up out of the blue.

It’s late as he makes his way towards his garage, but he’s always preferred nightflying. There’s always something magical about taking off in the dark, the lights of a settlement spread under him growing smaller and smaller until they mix in, indistinguishable from the stars.

He pops through the door and stands as he always does, taking in the beauty of his baby. The Impala is a sleek, black spaceship, built for speed and silence, rather than anything fancy. She’s got enough room for her standing crew of six, as well as a spacious hold for the many different cargoes Jensen had carried over the years. He’s more pleased now than ever before about the work he’s put in over the last five years to keep her in tip-top shape, partly out of love and partly because he’s always worried he might have to run one day. Now, it means that as soon as he’s run a couple of basic checks, they can be underway, no need for further delay.

She purrs under his hands as he turns her on, and he pats the dashboard. “Hey girl,” he says softly, “Missed you.” His crew had always laughed at the way he’d talked to the ship until they were grateful that she’d gotten them out of some kind of scrape. Then they’d pat her dash, too; thanking her profusely as Jensen watched, arms folded.

He whizzes through the checks and he’s done, ready to embark on what will be the most dangerous mission of his life, and doubtlessly the most important. If his hands tremble a bit as they hover over the ignition, that’s between him and the Impala, and no one else has to know.

“C’mon girl, let’s roll.”

The roof pulls back with a soundless swish, the engines gun, and they’re off, shooting into the sky with barely a rumble.

Jensen watches Valnar disappear behind him, the few lights twinkling out of view almost immediately.

He hopes he’ll see it again one day.

***

It’s a couple of day’s flight to his first stop. He sets his course, switches on the autopilot and sets his alarm to go off every few hours to remind him to check. This far out in the system, there’s so little traffic that he doesn’t have to worry about running in to any other ships.

It’s weird, being back on a ship, and weirder being the only one aboard. He’s only done a couple of trips out since he moved to Valnar, and they’ve been short hops to his few neighbours. He rattles around the ship as it rockets through the system, poking his nose into all the compartments and generally doing a much more thorough check on whether everything is still ok.

Shockingly, everything is fine, and it gives him far more time than he’d like to think about what’s going to happen in his immediate future. His plan is to reassemble his old crew, or as many of them willing to join this crazy-ass mission, and then… well… Pell has never been hard to track, his arrogance meaning that he never bothered to hide his presence. Jensen has to hope that holds true this time.

It feels like ages and no time at all before Jensen lands, the Impala touching down gently as a dream on Irriki. There should only be one person on this planet who recognises the ship, but Jensen still gets that old skittering feeling as he steps down the gangway, that feeling that all eyes are on him. He’s left the jacket inside for a reason.

Given that he has only the vaguest idea where he’s looking, it takes him a ridiculously short time to find who he’s looking for.

“Cap,” Felicia says, looking up with far less shock than Jensen had expected. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised; Felicia’s always lived in a world that made its own rules, and this is probably completely normal to her, in some way.

“Hey Flick,” he says, as if no time at all has passed. “I got a new mission. Wanna go help me save the system?”

She gives him a long look. He passes her test, because, “Sure thing, Cap. Let me grab my pack, and we’ll go kick some ass.”

She downs her beer, wipes her face and they’re off.

“So, Rockles is back?” she asks, as they make their way towards the Impala.

“One last, very important mission,” Jensen says, unwilling to go into specifics as they push through the crowd.

Felicia nods, thoughtfully. “So where’s the jacket? Hate seeing you without that thing.”

“On board.”

“Sweet.”

***

Once he’s got Felicia on board, he knows that convincing the remainder of his crew will be much easier. Sure enough, Rich and Rob need a day to shut up their own retirement paradise, but they’re on their way after with little fuss. And Kim can’t bear the thought of the rest of them roaming the system without her protection. He doesn’t bother trying to convince Jimbo - the older man had passed on responsibility to Jensen.

“So, Cap,” Felicia asks, once they’re all onboard, streaming through the system. “You gonna tell us what this super important mission is? ‘Cos you promised me I could save the system, and I’m gonna have a tantrum if it’s anything less.”

Jensen believes her. He’s witnessed a Felicia-tantrum before, and it’s a truly terrifying thing to behold.

“Yeah. I guess it’s time, now that we’re all here and somewhere we can’t be overheard…” He pauses, nervous about their reaction. He’s willing to take any one of them back if they decide against it, of course; but he hopes they’ll all stay. They’ve always worked best as unit.

“I wasn’t over-exaggerating about saving the system. Word is, the Halim has been located. Pell is out to find it for Goocorps, and if they get their hands on it, that could be the end for all of us.”

There’s an immediate explosion of noise, ranging from Rich’s disbelieving shouts that the Halim is a fairy tale to Felicia ranting about the evil of Goocorps and their suppression of civil liberties. When the ruckus has calmed, Kim asks the important questions.

“You believe this?” Jensen nods. “And you think we can stop it?”

“If we can’t, there’s no one else.”

“Well then. Where’s our first stop?”

There’s no more argument after that.

***

They make good time to Brightstar, one of the oldest stations in the system. Jensen hasn’t been there for years; he’d preferred to avoid such public places, where information was currency. But it’s that fact that makes it the best place to pick up Pell’s latest movements, so they speed towards it with only minor misgivings.

They touch down alongside tens of other ships, and Jensen hopes it’s enough to make the Impala blend in. He’s let his beard grow out these last few days as well, hoping the meagre disguise will help to keep his involvement a secret; Felicia dons a shocking blonde wig and Kim’s hair has grown out to the extent that she’s almost unrecognisable as the punky, booted pirate she used to be. Rob and Rich will stay with the ship, keeping guard and trying to make sure they go unnoticed.

“Ready Cap?” Felicia asks with a grin. She knows how much he hates it here.

Brightstar is as overwhelming as ever. The crowds in the narrow gangways are intense, creatures from different planets all mingling together. The majority are human, but Jensen sees a Pokeith struggling through, its six arms wiggling and knocking into people, and one of the small Faeen flits here and there at eye level, wings brushing against faces. It’s all complicated by the shops and bars lining the walks, jostling for business and spilling out into the gangways.

They make their way through the humid air; the station has always aimed to conserve energy and keep costs down by skimping on air filtration, and the smell of a hundred different cuisines assaults Jensen’s nose as they walk. His moonboots take a few minutes to adjust to station gravity, as ever; so his first few steps are cautious and gangling, and he almost crashes into a food stall before he gets his balance. He curses under his breath, and louder when Felicia cackles.

“My Captain is just the smoothest, coolest, bravest, most inspiring Captain in the system,” she coos. Jensen has to remind himself that assaulting his crew is a poor strategy in the long term, however tempting it might seem now.

They struggle along, rejecting more offers and sales pitches than Jensen remembers. They’re heading for a specific spot, a bar used by space crews from across the system, both legit and illegal. If anyone knows Pell’s whereabouts, they’ll find out there.

The Roadhouse looks exactly the same as it always has. The neon signs glow a sickening orange-yellow above, and the steam of vapes and shisha curls out the doors. His feet stick to the floor as they step inside, the underlying scent of sweat and vomit not entirely covered by the vanilla spice of this season’s most fashionable flavour. It’s not as crowded inside as on the gangways, thankfully; but its busy enough that their entrance doesn’t generate attention.

Kim heads for one of the booths at the side, settling near to the pinball tables. She’s an expert player, and Jensen knows she’ll soon generate a crowd of contenders, their distraction making them easy pickings for gossip. He and Felicia weave their way towards the bar; but before they get there, Felicia’s spotted someone she knows and she’s off, disappearing out from under Jensen’s nose between blinks.

Sam is behind the bar, as he’d hoped. She freezes when she catches sight of him, eyes sweeping up and down in an old move to check he’s still got all his limbs.

“Jen,” she says, voice sending a chill down his spine. “Been a while.”

“Yeah, Sam, sorry…” Jensen scratches the back of his neck. He hasn’t been looking forward to this reunion.

“You couldn’t have called?” She pins him with a gaze that’s worse than the time he faced four heavily armed customs officers off of Waldene.

“I retired.”

It’s the best truth he has; almost no one had known his retirement plans after his last heist. It’s unfortunate that, other than his crew, Sam is one of the few people who had a right to the information.

She snorts, furious.

“I’m charging you double all night. And you’re paying for your crew, too.”

“Fair.”

She wheels away to get him his usual, and Jensen doesn’t have the heart to tell her his tastes have changed after his years on Valnar. It won’t kill him to drink bad station beer for one night, especially not at the price she’d charge him for something better.

He slides onto one of the stools, ready to settle in for the night. It’ll take a long time to get Sam to thaw enough to give him the news he needs.

***

Five weak, warm beers later, and tipsiness is tickling at the edges of Jensen’s eyes, his peripheral vision slightly blurred. But Sam has given him a bowl of pops, the complementary snack given to all Roadhouse customers, so Jensen is calling it a win. The pops buzz in his mouth with a spicy little thrill before exploding, hot sauce flooding his senses, and Jensen takes the time to enjoy them for the first time in five years.

The bar has calmed a little, although the crowd around Kim has yet to thaw out. She’s probably knee deep in winnings by now, Jensen thinks with a proud grin.

“So why’re you here, Jen?” Sam asks. “I’m sure it’s not to set my mind at rest after all these years thinking you were dead.”

Jensen sighs with relief. Sam is ready to talk.

“Don’t be so melodramatic,” he says. “Flick’s here all the time. There’s no way you thought I was dead.”

“How do you know?” she shoots back, but Jensen rolls his eyes.

“I need info,” he starts, leaning closer.

“Of course you do.”

Jensen stares until she leans close enough that they’re almost nose to nose across the bar. He doesn’t want to advertise his questions to anyone who might be listening.

“I need to know where Pell is.”

“Of course you do,” Sam says, rolling her eyes. She has no time for the other pirate, but Jensen’s intense rivalry with him had always exasperated her.

“Sam. I’ve come out of retirement for this. I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t important.”

Sam nods. She might find him annoying, but she’s always trusted him.

“I have no idea where he is, sorry. But I do know that you’re not the only one looking for him.”

Jensen raises his eyebrow, waiting.

“That kid over there, new guy, has been asking after Pell for the last couple of days. Don’t know how far he’s got.”

She jerks her chin towards a corner of the bar, and Jensen follows her gaze to a tall, slim man, messy hair covering his eyes as he talks quietly with a tiny redhead. He’s not a kid, not really; but he’s definitely younger than Jensen. He’s dressed in sensible clothes, nothing flashy; but he’s not in uniform either. Most people on Brightstar either tend to be there for their job, and wearing the appropriate marker to show their role; or they’re stopping in for a pleasure jaunt, Brightstar one of the few lively stops in this part of the system. Those people are usually dressed to the nines, ready for a rare night on the town. This guy is neither; he’s dressed more like Jensen than anything else.

“You know anything about him?”

“Nope. Never seen him before and he didn’t give a name. He’s been with the redhead, and with a beautiful blonde, but I haven’t seen him interacting much with anyone else.”

The stool next to Jensen squeaks as it’s pulled out, and Jensen jerks his head back, away from Sam. He doesn’t want anyone else listening in to this conversation. A slim blonde boy slides into the seat next to him, gesturing for a drink, and Jensen resigns himself to losing Sam’s attention again.

Another couple of beers trickle into Jensen, and he’s definitely on the way to tipsy now. He’s got his ears wide open, has chatted to a couple of other customers, but no one seems to have any information to give. He’s giving up for the night, hoping that Kim or Felicia have had more success.

Sam walks past him, across the bar, and stops. She turns on her heel, heading back to him.

“Wait, Jen, I’ve thought of something.”

Jensen’s stomach twists with excitement. Sam’s tips are always on point.

“I haven’t seen Pell, but I did see one of his crew a while back.” She leans towards him, and props his elbows up on the bar, ready to listen. It’s then that he notices that the kid from earlier, the slim blonde one, has leaned in as well, clearly listening.

“Hey!” he says sharply. “Butt out.”

The kid holds his hands up, big eyes widening. “I wasn’t doing anything,” he says, voice rising.

“The hell you weren’t!” Jensen says, voice not quite a shout, as he steps towards the kid. “You were listening in to a private conversation.”

“I was just having a drink!” The guy insists, backing up slightly. He’s smaller than Jensen, and about half his weight. If he weren’t so worried about why the kid was eavesdropping, Jensen might feel bad.

“Is something the matter here?”

The tall guy Sam had pointed out earlier appears behind the kid, towering over him. He’s slim, too, and yet he makes the kid look like a shrimp.

“This guy was eavesdropping on a private conversation,” Jensen says. “So I was telling him to mind his own business.”

The kid steps back again in the face of Jensen’s continuing anger, so that he’s pressing back against his friend. He seems to almost sink into the other man in relief, and the guys hand comes up to his shoulder, reassuring.

“This guy is on my crew, and my crew don’t eavesdrop. So if he says he wasn’t, he wasn’t.”

There’s a fierce light in the other man’s eyes, a protectiveness that Jensen can respect, much as it’s annoying him right now. He would do the same for his crew.

“Well, he definitely was, so maybe you need to have a talk with your crew about manners,” he says, huffily. He knows he’s being a dick, but he was so, so close to getting some information from Sam.

The guys eyes narrow, and he steps forward, pushing the kid to one side.

“Jay, don’t,” the kid argues. “It’s not worth it. We’ll just head back to the table.”

Jay gives Jensen a sweeping look up and down. “You’re right,” he says. “I don’t argue with old drunks.”

Jensen stares at him, incredulous. Jay is lucky that he’s more shocked than angry - Jensen’s not drunk, and he’s in the prime of his life.

“C’mon, Al,” Jay says, wrapping his arm around the kids shoulders. They walk back to the table where the redhead still sits, eyes wide.

Jensen looks back for Sam, but she’s at the other side of the bar by now, serving people. She rolls her eyes at him, unamused. Clearly, her information will have to wait.

***

It’s late when Jensen leaves the bar. He’d had to wait through a rush for Sam to fill him in, and for Kim to collect all her winnings. She’s a lot richer after tonight - not least because Jensen paid for all her drinks. Felicia had disappeared hours ago, arm around the waist of a pretty brunette.

Jensen had more or less stopped drinking after the argument with Jay, stung by the accusation and painfully self-conscious about being back in the system after years of retirement. He’d nursed one beer until Sam came back to tell him her info - that one of Pell’s on-again-off-again crewmembers had been in the Roadhouse, scouting for new recruits. He’d found one and the two had headed out on a ship to Mywn Brron, one of the planets on the edge of the system. Sam had given him a chip with the details; Mywn Brron was notoriously hard to find.

“It’s little enough,” Jensen says, filling Kim in as they walk through the now much emptier gangways. “But it’ll have to do.”

“It’s shit info, Jen,” Kim responds. “But-”

Kim’s cut off by a crash behind them. Jensen wheels around, hand falling to the phaser tucked into his waistband. He has it out in a flash, no slower than he would’ve managed five years ago.

Jay’s behind him, only a few feet away, righting the metal table outside one of the hole-in-the-wall food vendors that line the gangways.

“What the fuck,” Jensen exclaims.

Jay’s not quick enough to hide the look of guilt on his face before it sweeps into a smirk.

“Fucking hell, you were listening in as well.” The pieces click into place, Jensen now aware that he’s given Jay - and whoever he’s working for - all the information he needs to find Pell before the Impala does.

“Sorry, dude,” Jay says, shrugging. “But you’re a really fucking loud drunk.”

“Oh that is it,” Jensen says. He surges forward, ignoring Kim’s squawk of alarm. He shoves Jay up against the wall, fists clenched. Jay tries to push back, but even though he’s tall, his lean muscle is no match for Jensen’s strength and years of street fighting, and Jensen has him immobilised in seconds.

“What you gonna do, old man?” Jay taunts.

“Jen, don’t kill him,” Kim urges. She’s calmed now that it’s clear Jensen isn’t going for his gun, but she’s still poised, as ready to step in and look after him as she always has been.

“You’re a fucking brat,” Jensen hisses.

“You’re sloppy and careless,” Jay answers.

Jensen could shake him, he’s so frustrated. The problem is, Jay is also the prettiest thing he’s seen in a long time; up close, his eyes are a searing mixture of colours, locked on Jensen’s face; and his high cheekbones are highlighted by a flush of exertion. They’re pressed full body against each other, Jay still straining against Jensen’s hold, and Jensen’s abruptly reminded how long it’s been since he got laid.

“I should fuck the brat right out of you,” he mutters, before he can think it through.

“Doubt you could,” Jay mocks.

“Ok,” Kim interjects loudly from behind them. “I’m gonna head back to the ship. Jen, I repeat, don’t kill him.” She walks away ostentatiously, whistling as she goes.

Jensen takes advantage of Jay’s momentary distraction to bundle him into one of the side alleys. There’s few enough people around now that it’s unlikely anyone will pass, but best to be safe. It’s years since he’s done this, but Jensen still remembers the mortifying feeling of being discovered by a spacestation watchman.

They crash back against the wall, Jensen’s hands landing above Jay’s shoulders. There’s a long moment when anything could happen, and Jensen feels his tummy flutter, that familiar feeling before a fight, when everything hangs in the balance. But then Jay’s mouth crashes onto his, teeth clacking and tongue pressing at his lips, and it all disappears in the rush of a warm mouth, a warm body underneath his.

There’s little finesse as they bite and claw at each other, Jensen trying to keep Jay pinned to the wall while he pulls their pants down; Jay trying to flip them around so he’s in charge. He doesn’t get far; Jensen gets his hand in the front of Jay’s pants and onto his cock and Jay gasps, head thunking back hard enough to hurt. Jensen spins him so that his face is against the wall. He latches his mouth onto the back of Jay’s neck, sucking hard, wanting to leave a mark that will last past this brief encounter.

Jay’s coordination is shot, but he manages to get his hands up between him and the wall, giving him enough leverage to rock back, his ass fitting perfectly into Jensen’s groin. Dirty heat pools through him, the remembered-thrill of getting off with a stranger, in a strange place, at risk of discovery.

He shoves Jay’s pants down with one hand, the other still stroking roughly, keeping Jay’s hips moving.

“Shit,” he says, as Jay’s ass comes into view. Even with his restricted view, it’s perfect; round and pert and a beautiful handful, and he’s realised he has no lube.

The pause must be enough for Jay to work that out, because he grunts, “My back pocket.”

Jensen’s relieved enough to drop a tiny little kiss onto his nape; Jay’s mocking snort ensures that will be the last bit of tenderness between them. He fumbles in Jay’s pocket, bringing out the little sachet with triumph; a quick glance tells him it’s the protective kind as well.

“Good boy,” he murmurs, wanting to needle under Jay’s skin. It works; Jay growls and pushes back.

“Knew you were too old to do this properly,” he says; followed up by a yelp as Jensen’s hand stings the skin of his ass.

“I’m only 33. Watch your fucking mouth,” Jensen growls, slicking his fingers quickly. He doesn’t give Jay a chance to respond to that; just slides one finger into tight heat, right to the knuckle on the first go. Jay keens, going up on his toes in shock, before settling, pushing back again.

“Well, you’re still shit at this,” he complains.

“Your cock says otherwise.” Jay’s hard and almost dripping, from the little Jensen can see in the muted light; he’s hitching his hips back onto Jensen’s finger with little murmurs, trying to bite back the noises he so clearly wants to make. Jensen adds a second finger, just as fast, and this time Jay can’t hold it in; he moans, low and long, enough to bring the watch down on them if there’s anyone around.

“Shut up,” Jensen says, triumphant at provoking such a reaction.

“Make me,” is the expected response.

Jensen’s about ready; he grabs Jay’s hands, forcing them up above their heads and holding them tight. It makes Jay push his ass out, the rounded curve gleaming with invitation. Jensen can’t wait any longer; he takes his cock in his other hand and lines himself up, pushing forward steadily.

Jay pants, lost for words as Jensen slowly bottoms out. He waits for a moment, giving himself time to get used to the heat, the tightness, after so long without; but also to give Jay time to relax. He might be a cocky little shit, but Jensen’s not going to hurt him. Except:

“Are you making love to me?”

The tone is derisive, a chuckle building in Jay’s chest, reverberating against Jensen’s front; and Jensen’s had enough. Pulling back, he slams forward hard enough to make Jay yelp, and keeps up the rhythm, jostling them both against the wall. Jay’s having a hard time keeping his face safe, Jensen’s thrusts pushing him forward time and time again; while Jensen is slowly losing his mind, overtaken by the rush of putting Jay in his place and the thrill of fucking somewhere so public.

It takes him a moment to remember his manners, but he gets his hand back on Jay’s cock, stroking in time with his hips, bringing Jay closer and closer to the edge.

“You ready to come?” he asks, nipping Jay’s ear.

“Doubt I can,” Jay bites out. “Bored.” The retort is ruined as Jay’s voice cracks on the last word, breaking into a low moan as Jensen twists his hand.

“Sure thing, brat. So it’d be fine if I stopped now?”

It takes monumental effort, but Jensen does slow his hips as well as his hand, wanting to hear Jay ask for it.

Sure enough, it only takes a couple of seconds. “Oh fuck you,” Jay hisses. “Just fuck me, I’m ready to come.”

It’s not the gracious request Jensen might insist on in better circumstances, but it’ll do; Jensen hopes Jay remembers it for weeks to come.

“Ok, kid,” he bites out, snapping his hips forward. “Come for me.”

It only takes a few more thrusts before Jay’s keening, body tensing up as he comes all over Jensen’s hand, shaking, his head tipped back onto Jensen’s shoulder. Jensen takes advantage of that to kiss him again, delving deep as he chases his own finish. It doesn’t take long - he’s amazed he’s held out, given the circumstances. He muffles his yell in Jay’s neck, biting, as electricity shoots through him; it feels better than his memories.

They slump against the wall, panting, while Jay shivers in Jensen’s arms. But before Jensen’s brain’s halfway to working again, Jay’s pushing back, trying to pull his pants up.

“Thanks for the mediocre fuck,” he says, but before he can walk away, Jensen slams him back against the wall. Their mouths meet one last time, Jensen sweeping in and holding Jay in place, owning his mouth; when he pulls back, Jay’s eyes are dazed.

Satisfied, Jensen leans back against the wall, tucking himself back into his pants. “Off you pop, kid. Enjoy thinking about me while you jerk off for the next few months.”

Jay glares at him. He walks towards the mouth of the alley, fastening his pants and pulling his clothes back into place. It’s only when he reaches the gangway that he pauses and looks back.

“I won’t have time to jerk off. I’ll be too busy getting to Pell long before you.” He raises his hand and flashes the chip, filched from Jensen’s pocket. “Bye, Rockles!”

Jensen stares, open mouthed, as Jay starts running; by the time he reaches the gangway, Jay is nowhere to be seen.

***

“What?” Kim explodes.

Jensen can feel his face burning, not to mention the tips of his ears and the back of his neck. There’s a heavy feeling of shame coiled in his stomach; mostly that he’d been taken in by such a simple trick, but also for the fact that he now has to tell his crew the details of his sex life.

Rich and Rob are looking at him with identical horror, eyes comically widened. Rich shakes his head, furious; while Rob’s nose curls up in distress. Felicia’s long red hair is swishing from side to side in clear disappointment. In all his years of captaining this crew, Jensen has never felt like such a failure, or more judged by his crew. The tension sits heavy, curling between them all.

Felicia throws back her head, laughing uproariously. Everyone stares as her body shakes, giggles travelling from her chest to pour from her mouth. She tries to talk, but can’t manage, tears trickling down her face.

“Oh come on,” she says, once she can form words again. “It’s hilarious. I know it sucks, but really. It’s too good. Perfect Captain Rockles fucks up this bad? We can hold it over him for months.”

 

That makes the corner of Rich’s mouth turn up in a grin. “Good point,” he accedes.

“I’m sorry,” Jensen says. “I really am. And it sucks. But we’ll find our way there with or without the chip, and then I’m gonna kick that little shit’s ass.”

“Like you did last time?” Felicia asks.

That’s enough to set them all off, and Jensen stalks off in a huff.

***

The upshot is that there’s some hard work to be done in the initial phase of their voyage; Rob has always been their best navigator, so he holes himself up in the navport, poring over the interactive maps of the system. Mywn Brron is an orbital planet with an unusually large, irregular orbit, so Rob spends a whole day tracking it’s movements over the past few years, trying to estimate where it will be in it’s cycle at this time of year. Once they’ve got his best bet, they set course and hope for the best.

It’s nice, now that the ship is full again. There’s still the ache of Jimbo’s absence, his gruff good nature always the perfect antidote to the rest of Jensen’s flightier crew. But now there are people for him to talk to, news to catch up on, including the happy news that Rich and Rob had made it official a couple of years before.

“We’d have invited you, Cap. Felt wrong without you, to be honest,” Rich says, earnestly.

“But you made it pretty clear you were out,” Rob adds, blue eyes soft.

As they hurtle through the stars, dodging planets and space debris, the sparking tale of a comet lit through the portal; as he jokes and laughs with old friends; as familiar excitement curls in his stomach for the coming challenge, Jensen’s not so sure he’d made the right choice.

***

There’s a couple of false starts before they get to Mywn Brron; their first two courses are wrong. Tension grows in the ship, their old camaraderie on rocky ground after so many years apart (and Jensen knows, after such a huge mistake by their captain). But third time’s the charm and there are loud cheers when they see the planet looming in front of them.

“So Cap, what’s the plan?” Felicia asks.

Jensen wants nothing more than to rush onto Mywn Brron himself, find whichever of Pell’s nasty little crew members is hiding out there, punch them until he gets the information he needs, and stalk back to his ship. Preferably running into Jay on the way and giving him a good punch in the face as well, or stealing the little shit’s ship, just for good measure. But life doesn’t work out that way.

He and Kim set off, Jensen with a cap pulled low over his head, his distinctive jacket nowhere in sight.

Mywn Brron is far quieter than Brightstar, so it’s harder to blend in. The main town is on the water, the glint of green from the sun sparkling across the sparse buildings and lending them a romance they don’t deserve. There’s a big, half empty docking lot on the outskirts; Mywn Brron sees few enough visitors in the height of their busy season, and now there’ll be almost no one around except the locals. The rest of the planet is densely forested; the two main towns are separated by days worth of trees, a few mountains popping out of the canopy here and there, a couple of rivers hidden by the undergrowth. There aren’t that many animals living on the planet, Jensen knows; the original colonists hadn’t brought much with them and trekking through the forest can be eerily silent.

He and Kim keep relatively quiet as they meander down the port’s main strip, poking their heads into bars and shops, keeping an eye out for any familiar faces. Jensen’s gut is churning, worried that Jay had arrived days ago, stolen any intel and is long gone; but there’s nothing he can do about that other than to keep looking.

His crew have an old, familiar rhythm. He and Kim have always made a good team; her pinball skill means that’s she’s accepted anywhere, while Jensen is good at pretending (he assures himself) to be the lonely grump at the bar, listening in to conversations around him. Rich and Rob work differently; Rich attracts attention wherever he goes, creating a crowd that draws people in, makes their bar the place to be; while Rob plays the put-out partner. It’s worked for them countless times, giving them the chance to scope out bars with different clientele.

It’s late enough when they arrive that the shops in the port are closing up for the night. It doesn’t take long for Jensen and Kim to poke their noses into each, establishing that there’s no sight of anyone they recognise. If they’re unsuccessful tonight, they’ll go back to the main hubs tomorrow, offering a reward for a specific information. But Jensen hates doing that, hates tipping his hand that way; he prefers the more organic route first.

There’s a pinball bar right at the end of the strip, and they head towards that, Jensen settling at the bar. Thinking he’s in for a long night, he paces out his first drink; but it’s barely been twenty minutes before Kim’s tapping him on the shoulder.

“I’ve got something,” she hisses. “Come on.”

Startled, Jensen downs his beer and hurries out of the bar after her.

“It’s Mish,” Kim murmurs as they head along the walk. “He’s been here for a few days, with a new recruit in tow. He’s looking for something and the guy in the bar said he’d be headed out into the forest tomorrow.”

Jensen had been hoping to stay in the main town; the other hub is primarily residential, and visitors normally cluster on this side of the planet. He’s not really a big fan of roughing it.

“Can we get to him before then?”

“We can try. But we don’t know what he’s looking for.”

Jensen scrubs his hand across his face. “Ok. What do you think? Can we grab him, force him to give it up?”

“Remember that one time we tried that with Mish?”

Jensen does, vividly. They’d picked him up and held him in the boiler room of the ship for a few days, hoping that lack of food and water would convince him to give up Pell’s plans. It hadn’t; Mish had laughed hysterically whenever he saw them, unsettling the crew to such an extent that Jensen had decanted him on the first available planet.

“Right.”

“Guess we’d better head back and get our camping gear.”

Jensen curses.

***

He sets out the next morning with Rich and Rob, early enough that the sun is a narrow, burning strip above the horizon. They hike the main road out of town, treading carefully on the uneven tarmac, before settling behind an outcrop of rocks before the road turns into a rocky path. Their hope is that Mish will pass them on his own way out; but Kim and Felicia remain in town in case he heads a different way, and to keep an eye out for Jay as well.

Jensen wriggles back against the rock, patting at the phaser in his pocket for at least the tenth time. While he and Pell have always had a kind of gentleman’s agreement about not causing too much damage to each other’s crew, it hasn’t always held up well; Rich had been shot in the thigh at one point, while Pell himself had broken Felicia’s arm during one particularly acrimonious job. And with the stakes so much higher this time, as well as the increasing violence in the more civilised parts of the system, Jensen is taking no chances.

They get lucky. After a long, sticky hour’s wait, the sun beating down on them and the rocks keeping them hidden from the coastal breeze, they hear thumping footsteps and slightly unhinged laughter. Peeping through a gap in the rocks, Jensen watches as Mish passes them by, led by a local acting as a guide. He’s trailed by a young girl with waist length blonde hair, presumably the new recruit. None of them are carrying much, suggesting this will be a fairly short trip, and Jensen feels something uncoil in his stomach at the thought that he’ll get to sleep in a real bed tonight.

They follow Mish at a sensible distance. It’s a horrible hike, trying to walk as quietly as possible through the quiet of the forest, aware that one misplaced step could give away their presence. Even from a distance, Jensen can hear Mish’s chatter and booming laughter ahead, and not for the first time, he wonders how Pell’s crew put up with the man.

By the time the sun is full above them, Jensen’s more worried that the rumbling of his stomach will give them away than anything else. Mish hasn’t paused, the man’s odd, frenetic energy clearly carrying him through without need for food; while Jensen’s years of retirement have made him soft, used to regular snack time and a sedentary existence. Luckily, the persistent growls of his stomach are soon drowned out by the rushing of nearby water, the air becoming more humid as they approach what must be a fairly sizeable river. Jensen bats away insects, their iridescent wings brushing against his face; the first he’s seen all morning.

They hang back, aware that the river will force a stop. What they’re not expecting is to hear a yell, followed by a loud splash.

With a quick glance at each other, they sprint off, Jensen in the lead. Crashing through the trees, he pulls his phaser from his waistband before the trees thin out. Heart pounding, he stumbles to a stop right at the edge of a ravine, his shout of alarm almost covered by the thunder of the waterfall to his right.

To his left, Mish and Jay are locked in a struggle, teetering dangerously above a high drop. There’s no sign of the blonde girl, and the guide has backed away, clearly unwilling to intervene. Jay’s much bigger than Mish, overtopping him by more than a head, the muscles of his tensed arm bigger than Mish’s thigh; and he overpowers the other man, snatching something out of his hand.

“Fuck you!” Mish screeches, diving for it.

“No chance. Thanks for leading me right to it,” Jay says, full of that cocky confidence that makes Jensen want to strangle him.

“Actually, thank you,” Jensen says, stepping forward. His phaser is trained on Jay, and he can feel Rich at his shoulder, phaser no doubt trained on Mish. Both Jay and Mish swivel towards him, Mish with a forlorn howl and Jay with eyes narrowed in a glare. “Throw whatever that is to Robbie.”

If looks could kill, Jensen would be dead right now; but Jay has no phaser on him and Jensen has the upper hand. He tosses the item to Robbie, who catches it with ease, turning it over in his hand. “Chipmap, Jen,” he says quietly.

“Well done,” Jensen says to Jay, infusing his voice with as much condescension as he can muster. Jay bristles, taking an aborted step forward before his eyes settle back on Jensen’s phaser.

“Fuck you too, Rockles,” Mish says bitterly. “I was hoping you were dead.”

“You’re not that lucky,” Jensen responds. “Robbie, get the cuffs out of the bags.” He holds himself still as he feels Rob fumble at his pack. Within a few moments, Rob has both Mish and Jay cuffed neatly together, ensuring they’ll have to work together if they want to get free easily - something which seems unlikely, given the constant stream of profanity pouring from Mish’s mouth. With a sigh, he gestures to the guide. “You too, I’m afraid. Or you’ll just set them free straight away.”

The guide seems to have been expecting it, and submits to being tied up without protest. Rob sets him down as far away as possible from the other two, and uses their final set of cuffs to secure his feet as well.

“I’m sure your family will be out looking for you soon,” he says gently to the guide, and Jensen can’t help but smile; Rob has always had the kindest heart of all of them. For his own part, he’d be happy to see Mish fall into the river, while Jay would benefit from a few days out in the woods without food.

“Right, thank you all. Mish, see you next time I have something I want from you. Jay, hopefully never see you again.” There’s a flash of something he can’t place across Jay’s face, undermined by the muttering from Mish behind him; but Jensen doesn’t have time to think about that now. They’ve got the chipmap which will hopefully lead them to the Halim; and they have no time to lose.

With a mocking salute, he heads back into the forest behind Rob and Rich.

***

By the time they get back to the ship, they’re riding high on a wave of adrenaline, preening with success. Their walk back through the town feels more like a triumphal procession, Rich proceeding them through town and acting out Jensen’s final words to rapturous laughter.

“I can’t believe it was that easy,” Rich crows.

“I can’t believe how much fun it was,” Jensen says, grin stretching so wide across his face it almost hurts. Rob bumps against his shoulder, and Jensen translates the message just fine: it’s good to be reunited.

They burst onto the ship in high spirits, ready to collect and get moving on the next part of their journey.

“Sort the chipmap, Robbie; Rich, can you head out to find the others?” Jensen asks, already flicking through his internal pre-departure checklist.

“Yessir,” Rich chirps, as Jensen checks the fuel gages. “Oh fuck.”

Jensen’s head jerks up so fast he bangs his head on the monitor above.

When the stars clear from his eyes, there’s a phaser trained on him, only a handspan away from his face. The person behind it is painfully familiar; the dirty blonde hair and smarmy smile the same after all these years.

“Pell,” he says, unable to keep the fury out of his tone.

“Rockles. You’re back.” Pell doesn’t sound thrilled. “I’d hoped you were dead.”

“That feeling seems to be common. And gloriously untrue.”

They stare at each other for a millisecond, years of dislike and competition flashing between them.

“Well, that’ll be rectified soon enough if you keep following us.”

A quick glance around the cabin shows they’re outnumbered. Robbie is bleeding slightly from his forehead, Alaina stood over him; Ty has Rich in a headlock, phaser pressed to his temple; and Seb lounges nonchalantly against the doorframe, twirling his phaser in his hand.

“The mapchip, please.” Pell extends his hand, gesturing abruptly.

“Bite me.”

“I’ll phase one of the little ones if you don’t give it to me now,” Pell says, his gaze sweeping over Rob on the floor.

Jensen rips the mapchip from its slot with a growl, shoving it towards Pell.

“Not very polite, Rockles.”

The screeching sound of a phaser fills the cabin, ricocheting from the walls, and Jensen covers his ears instinctively, eyes pressed closed against the flashes of light. There’s no pain, not yet; but he’s sure it will come; no doubt adrenalin is covering it from now.

“I’d say it was nice to see you again, but…” he hears, followed by the thud of boots on the stairs, followed by the hiss of the outside door shutting.

He extends his senses through his body, seeking for the wound he’s sure he has. But there’s nothing; no tingling, or stinging, or weird patches of numbness. Terrified, his eyes fly open, seeking out Rob and Rich; but they’re ok too, sitting forlornly on the floor.

It’s only then that he smells the smoke, sees it curling from the control panel, where the emergency manual wheel is hanging from a few sparking wires. There’s nothing left of the main monitor, or the course map, just a ragged black hole.

“Fuck!”

“Jen,” Rich says, urgently, pointing towards the window.

Mish limps past them, heading towards another ship in the lot as fast as his clearly tired legs could carry him. There’s still no sight of the blonde girl, and Jensen wonders if the splash had been her going over the cliff edge. Mish patters up the gangway of a ship Jensen doesn’t recognise - not the ship Pell had been using when they’d last met - and as soon as he’s onboard, the gangway rises, sealing with a thud. There’s barely a moment before the ship rises and speeds off, heading straight towards the sun before making a sharp turn and heading out of sight.

“Fuck.” Jensen’s more defeated this time. They’ve lost any chance they had of getting to the Halim before Pell.

“Cap.” Rob’s voice is tiny, but insistent. “I know it looks bad. But. I got the course before they stole the chipmap.”

Jensen’s so overwhelmed with affection he can’t breathe.

“You’re amazing,” he says, once his chest loosens. “But we still have to sort this shit out.”

A quick glance around the cabin reminds him of the scale of the repairs needed, and his heart sinks again.

“Guess we’d better get cracking, then,” Rob says.

***

They’re in luck; there’s a chopshop in the main town that has most of the parts they need, and cobbled together with the spares Jensen has always insisted on carrying in the hold, Rich and Felicia can start work.

“Tomorrow, Cap,” Felicia says, flicking red hair out of her eyes. “Best guess, anyway.”

Jensen hisses. Tomorrow isn’t fast enough, and they all know it - but it’s what they’ve got, and they’ve dealt with worse. He sends Kim into town with instructions to buy a small feast; none of them want to be around strangers right now, but they all deserve a treat.

“Bad news, Jen,” she says, as she climbs back onboard, a carrierpod beeping along behind her.

Jensen groans. What more could possibly go wrong.

“I saw Jay as I was coming back before. His ship took off about ten minutes after Pell; more than enough to tail him.”

Jensen scrubs his hand across his eyes.

“Ok. Well at least we know.”

And if there’s a tiny part of him that’s pleased the kid is still alive, that’s nothing to do with anyone else.

***

It’s a long painful night, and a grumpy, tetchy morning, but by the next afternoon, they’re ready to fly. Jensen despatches Rich and Felicia for a well-deserved nap, and Kim settles in next to him, ready to provide support in case something goes wrong with their hasty repairs.

“Robbie, you’re up.”

Rob shoots him a sharp little grin, and inputs the course. The ship calibrates for a moment, before beeping happily, and Jensen feels his shoulders sag in relief. He fires the engines and they’re off, the familiar rumble of ship soothing them all.

“Right. Two days flight. Maybe we’ll be able to make up some time.”

The Impala has always been one of the fastest ships in the system. Jensen can only hope she serves them well now that the fate of that system hangs in the balance.

***

Jensen spends the two days with the team poring over maps of their destination. Heeron is one of the most inhospitable planets in the system; right on the edge of what’s known. If the Halim is real, he’s not surprised that Heeron would be it’s hiding place.

“So we’re preparing for molten lava, intense rainforest and glaciers.” Felicia’s voice is flat. She’s the youngest of their crew and had joined last; Jensen had visited Heeron once before, with Rob and Rich, so they have a better idea of what to expect.

“Yes,” Rich says. “And bitey little fucking insects all the time that like eyes.”

Felicia fixes him with a glare. “I wasn’t born yesterday, you know,” she says, flipping her knife between her hands.

“He’s not lying,” Kim interjects. “I went there once when I was with the system guard. Best to wear goggles at all times, really.”

Not for the first time, Jensen is grateful for both the experience of his crew, but also their unwavering courage. Felicia simply sets her knife down and heads off to their store to add goggles to their pile of gear.

By the time the planet appears in the porthole, they’re prepared for every possible eventuality. They scout for a spot to touch down; Heeron has no real port, no official landing spot. Pell’s ship is easily visible from above, although there’s no sign of Jay’s; so Jensen simply finds a suitable flat spot nearby.

His team stand on the gangway as the door opens, Jensen in the lead. They’re carrying heavy packs and bristling with weapons; and as Jensen sets foot on Heeron, he feels a watchful calm settle over them all, as they prepare themselves for what’s to come.

***

Felicia, armed to the teeth, makes her way easily into Pell’s ship, Jensen behind her in case Pell had left someone behind. There’s no one there, the ship deserted. “Time to hack in,” Felicia says, rubbing her hands with glee. There’s nothing she likes better than the opportunity to fight her way into someone else’s system’s in a quest for information.

“Be careful,” Jensen warns. “Don’t get too involved in case someone comes back.”

“Pfft,” she hisses, waving her hands in disregard. “Not my first rodeo.”

There are two main tracks out of the clearing, so they split up, Rob and Rich taking one while Kim and Jensen head down the other. Their comcards are charged so that they can keep in contact, and Jensen can only hope they work this far out in the system, within Heeron’s odd atmosphere.

Jensen and Kim have taken the route that leads towards the volcano, and as they struggle through the overgrown path, the air gets hotter and drier, making Jensen’s lungs ache. He can feel the prickle of sweat across his body, under the protective body suits they’d all donned, and behind the goggles perched on his nose. The ubiquitous flies flutter around them, darting and diving in a quest to find skin, while they hear the occasional ominous rumble of an unknown animal in the undergrowth. They can only hope they don’t come across one of the planet’s larger predators; while Jensen has no doubts about his ability to shoot anything that tries to eat him, firing their phasers will ruin the secrecy they’re relying on.

Shoving a green frond out of his face, Jensen keeps his eyes on the ground, watching out for tree roots, snakes and other hazards. The earth is becoming blacker, more like burnt rock, and the heat is only growing as they move uphill.

“This sucks,” Kim pants.

Jensen nods fervent agreement. He’s torn between wanting to find Pell immediately, which would vindicate this stupid trek and mean Rob and Rich weren’t in danger; and the usual fear that trickles down his spine before a fight. In all his years pirating his way through the system, it’s never gone away, but he’s got better at managing it.

The path steepens, until he and Kim are almost scrambling up the rockface, the odd pebble clattering behind them. They keep a fair distance between them; the going is so treacherous that Jensen’s worried he’ll fall and knock Kim back down the hill, so he hears the voices up ahead long before Kim. Turning around, he presses his finger against his lips, and they both pause.

It’s clear there’s an argument going on, though Jensen can’t hear the exact words. He can make out Pell’s sneer and Alaina’s cold interruptions, and underneath, Seb’s laconic interjections. Underlying it all is Mish’s constant giggling. Jensen wonders if Ty is there as well; the man is often completely silent. Jensen hopes so - that means the whole crew is here, no one left behind that could be a threat to Felicia.

He gestures for Kim to follow him and continues up the path as quietly as he can. It flattens out again and Jensen can see a corner up ahead. The blast of heat that hits him suggests that they are close to the summit of the volcano, or at least to an opening; and Jensen can’t think of a less hospitable place to hide the Halim.

“It has to be here somewhere,” Seb says, placatingly, out of sight. “This is the last option he gave us.”

“We don’t even know what we’re looking for,” Mish giggles, sounding delighted.

“The Halim,” Alaina says, as Pell interrupts.

“Probably another map. The creator wanted the Halim well hidden. This would be far too easy.”

“Good to know you think this is easy,” Seb states, sounding amused.

“Just keep looking,” Pell orders, irritated.

There’s the scuffle of feet on rock; Jensen and Kim only manage to dive into the underbrush before Seb comes around the corner. Jensen grimaces at the sight of him; Seb’s laid back, casual approach to committing heinous acts has always set his teeth on edge. But he holds himself still, letting the dislike simmer through him, sharpening his senses.

He’s about to signal to Kim that they should take Seb out, even up the numbers a bit, when there’s a loud whoop from Mish, painfully high pitched.

“Found it, boss,” he giggles.

“Give it here,” Pell orders.

Seb turns back to the volcano, and the moment passes. There’s a pause, only broken by the steady hiss and pop of the volcano mouth; before Mish yells again in joy. Jensen can only assume they’ve found the Halim; fear curdles in his gut as he imagines the damage that Goocorps could do with such a weapon.

Footsteps rumble, and the whole group round the corner, boots thundering on the uneven path. Jensen holds his breath, nerves tingling at the thought they might be seen. But the group are in such high spirits that they pay little attention to their surroundings, and soon, they’re making their way cautiously back down the slope.

“Fuck,” Jensen hisses. They can’t risk a shootout on such uneven terrain, and there’s no way that he and Kim can follow them without being seen; they’ll have to wait until Pell’s group are well into the trees at the bottom of the mountain. Next to him, Kim’s mouth is pursed into a tight line, fury evident in the tension of her body.

It feels like eons before the coast is clear enough for them to risk the descent. Jensen’s heart is in his mouth as they scramble; they‘re completely exposed out on the hillside, and it would only take two easy shots to pick them off with no chance of retaliation.

Once they reach the cover of the trees, they break into a light jog; trying to make up ground without causing too much noise.

“What’s the plan, Jen?” Kim asks, panting slightly.

“Do whatever it takes to stop them escaping with the Halim,” Jensen says, heart clamouring in his chest.

By the time they near the ships, Jensen is tiring, out of shape after his years of retirement. Kim’s keeping better pace at his side, legs pumping easily as they jump across tree routes and dodge undergrowth.

They slow instinctively as they near the big clearing where Pell’s ship is docked. Ahead, Jensen can hear the sounds of Pell’s crew; Mish’s excited chatter undercut by Seb’s sharp little comments, the thump of Pell’s heavy boots against the ground. They’ve caught up in time to ambush Pell before they board - assuming Jensen and Kim are willing to take that risk, outnumbered as they are.

“We need to find cover,” Jensen breathes, barely more than a whisper. Kim nods agreement; their only chance of winning this is to pick off Pell’s crew one by one. Crouching low, they manoeuvre towards the tree line.

“Jen. Jen.”

Jensen can’t work out at first where the noise is coming from; all he can see around him is green. But eventually, he recognises the voice as Rich and pinpoints the right direction. Elation pours through him as he realises that the odds are now much more balanced.

“Where are you?”

A hand extends from a large bush, waving frantically. Jensen and Kim make their way towards it as silently as possible, before pushing their way into the middle. They find a hollow space, dimly lit with green, Rich and Rob huddled together as Rob peers out towards Pell’s ship.

“Cap,” Rich says, but there’s no time for pleasantries.

“Pell found it,” Jensen says shortly. “We’ve got to stop him leaving.”

Rob’s head snaps around, matching the look of horror on Rich’s face.

“Got your phasers?”

Rich pats his side, arm nudging against Rob. “Flick’s still in there,” Rob whispers.

“Fuck.” Kim’s voice is harsh, matching the turmoil in Jensen’s stomach.

“No time to lose, then,” he says. “You know the drill.”

His crew have worked together so long that they know exactly what to do in this kind of situation, although Jensen has to admit that the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been before. They know to shoot to immobilise, rather than kill; that Rob stays back, as their backup and surprise attacker; that Jensen does the talking and to follow his every order, down to the tiniest detail. Jensen runs a democratic ship, usually; but when it comes to a shootout, the chain of command is clear.

With a sharp gesture, he bursts from the bush, Kim and Rich at his back. They’re only a few metres from the treeline and as soon as they can see clear daylight, Jensen shoots, hitting Seb in the thigh. He crumples with a yell, blood and smoke pouring from the wound.

Phasers crackle around him as Rich and Kim shoot; Rich’s shot misses Mish by a whisker but Kim’s hits Alaina in the shoulder, spinning her round until she crashes to the floor.

 

Phaser fire crackles past Jensen’s shoulder, hot enough to singe his suit, and there’s a yell from Rich. Jensen shoots again; this time, he hits Mish’s foot, and the resulting shriek is earsplitting.

Pell’s still moving, running towards the ship at speed. Jensen’s next shot flashes into the ground by his feet, while Kim’s ricochets from the rail of the ship’s stairs. Jensen swears as Pell reaches the top of the staircase, no doubt ready to throw himself inside and leave his crew to their fate; but before he can reach for the handle, the door swishes open.

Felicia steps out, phaser held up; there’s a flash and Pell topples from the staircase, smoke billowing from his shoulder. Flick yells with triumph but doesn’t let it distract her; following Pell’s trajectory, she leans over the stairwell to make sure he’s out.

Jensen’s so relieved he feels his legs are going to give way; he takes a second to himself as Kim runs past him, intent on securing Pell’s crew before they can cause further trouble.

Kim restrains Alaina and moves on to Mish. That takes a little longer; the man kicks like a mule, trying to avoid Kim’s cuffs, but Kim is determined and Mish is soon secured. Jensen collects himself and makes sure that Seb is similarly tied; out of the corner of his eye, he can see Flick doing the same for Pell.

As soon as he feels they’re safe, Jensen turns, sprinting back towards the treeline. Rich is sprawled on the floor, cradled in Rob’s arms, and Jensen thinks the worst. But as the draws near he can hear the familiar sound of Rich complaining and Rob consoling him, and his heart restarts with a kick.

“It fucking hurts,” Rich says.

“I know, babe,” Rob says, fingers trailing through Rich’s hair. “But it’s superficial. We’ll get it fixed up as soon as we’re on board.”

“It feels bad.”

“It’s barely more than a graze,” Jensen interjects, looking at the slice through Rich’s shoulder with relief. The phaser’s fire had clearly grazed his shoulder; while there’s a long, angry line along the skin, the fire hadn’t pierced Rich’s body. “C’mon, we gotta get the Halim to safety.”

He helps Rob lever Rich off the ground, holding Rich tight until Rob’s arm is securely wrapped around his partner. Leaving them to hobble slowly towards the ship, Jensen jogs back towards Felicia and Kim, who are both standing over Pell, phasers out.

“Bad news, Cap,” Kim says. “There’s no Halim.”

“What?”

“Best I can tell, it’s just another map,” Felicia says, holding out a thin leather cylinder. Pell glares up at her, face ashen as blood pours from the wound in his shoulder.

Jensen huffs, furious and relieved at the same time.

“Fuck you, Rockles,” Pell hisses. “You have no idea what’s at stake here.”

Jensen ignores him.

“Ty’s still missing,” he says, scanning the clearing, phaser raised.

“Nope,” Flick says with a grin. “He’s tied up inside. He had me at phaserpoint, but when the shooting started he got distracted.” She looks gleeful, and she has every right to be. Jensen knows they’re going to be hearing about this success for a long time.

“Right, let’s roll.”

“Cap,” Flick says, sounding slightly less confident. “There’s one more thing.”

***

Jensen follows Felicia into the bowels of Pell’s ship. “Where are we going again?” he asks, irritated with the delay to their journey.

“I’m not exactly sure,” she confesses.

“Flick,” Jensen starts, ready to complain; but then they hear a dull pounding, rattling from the level below.

That’s where we’re going,” Flick says, sounding smug; and Jensen wisely shuts up.

They take the stairs at a run, feet clanging against the metal, coming to a stop outside a thick metal door. The pounding intensifies as they get nearer, and underneath, Jensen make out a muffled yelling. Pell must be holding someone prisoner.

“How do we get it open?” he asks Felicia, in case she’d found the keycodes during her attempt to hack into Pell’s ship.

“The old fashioned way,” she says, a manic grin lighting up her face, white teeth gleaming in the murk. “Step back,” she yells, but the pounding doesn’t stop.

“STEP BACK,” Jensen shouts, bringing out his rarely-used captain’s voice. The deeper timbre carries better through the metal underbelly of spaceships, he’s always found; and it works here too, the pounding easing off and voice backing away.

“Thanks Cap,” Felicia says with a wink. They back away from the door, ducking down behind the metal staircase, and Jensen covers his ears despite knowing it won’t make any difference whatsoever. “Ready?” Felicia asks, standing back up when Jensen nods.

A moment’s careful aim and the whizz of phaserfire, and the hallway lights up, sparks flying. The noise is insane, the hissing of the phaser fire underlaid by the boom of impact with the door. Jensen squeezes his eyes tight shut, and waits for it to pass.

When it’s quiet again, he peeps out from their hiding place. The door is still in place, but the lock is busted, a smoking hole where the control panel used to be. Stepping out carefully, Jensen indicates for Flick to cover him as he approaches the door.

Taking careful aim, he raises his foot and gives the lock a solid kick with his boot. It shudders, but holds; and Jensen kicks again. This time, the lock caves and the door flies open.

The room below is almost entirely dark, and Jensen experiences a rush of fury on behalf of whoever had been kept locked up in the dark. But then a tall figure looms up in front of him, pushing through the lingering smoke of the phaser fire, and Jensen groans.

“Jay,” he says. “Of course.”

***

It takes all Jensen’s experience and professionalism, as well as the sheer fear of anyone else laying hands on the Halim before him, to keep his mind in the game and get his ship in the air without getting distracted by Jay.

There’d been far less argument than he’d anticipated. Much as he himself is loath to have Jay on his ship, he can’t fathom leaving the man behind with Pell and his crew to be taken prisoner again, and his own crew had agreed. Jay was welcomed aboard the Impala with a level of sympathy Jensen’s not sure he deserves; as well as a fair few mocking comments aimed at Jensen, which he steadfastly ignored.

Felicia had hacked into Pell’s ship easily and set a five-day lock on all their systems. “Much more effective than simply blowing everything up,” she’d said, looking smug. “There’s no way they’ll be unable to undo this.”

“Are you sure none of them can hack back in?” Jensen had made the mistake of asking.

Felicia had leveled him with the kind of glare that made his insides shrivel. “Are you questioning my skills?” she’d asked, voice icy.

Jensen had backed down immediately. “No, of course not.”

“So go fuck your boy and leave me to my job,” she’d snapped back at him. Jensen had flushed bright red and wisely decided not to argue.

So Jensen finds himself flying through the sky next to Kim while Rob unrolls the map, Rich and Felicia peering over his shoulders with unconcealed interest. Jay sits at the back of the cabin, pretending to mind his own business, but Jensen knows he’s listening to every word. He wants to chuck Jay out, banish him to another part of the ship; but at the same time, he’s unwilling to let the man out of his sight.

“Well, it’s definitely a map,” Rob says, uncertain. “But of what…”

“Lemme see,” Rich says, scooping it out of his hand and peering at it. “What the fuck?”

Jensen doesn’t like the sound of this.

“I have no idea what this shows,” Felicia says, sounding exasperated.

Twenty minutes later, they’ve all stared at the map and they’re none the wiser. Jensen wants to scream and the rest of his crew clearly feel the same, aghast at being so close and still unable to find the Halim.

“Can I have a look?”

The cabin falls silent as Jay speaks, everyone swivelling towards him. Jensen fumes, but the map is like nothing he’s ever seen before; they’ve got nothing to lose.

“Fine,” he bites out.

Jay stands, stretching with casual grace. Jensen’s eyes follow the lines of his body as he saunters towards them, dripping arrogance with every step.

“Lemme see, then,” he says, when no one moves.

Kim’s the first to move aside, making space for Jay in the crowd around the map. Jay pushes closer, leaning over so that he can see it up close.

There’s tense silence while he looks, his input feeling like a last resort even if they’ve got tons of other (albeit time-consuming) options.

“This is an old Earth-style map,” Jay says eventually. “These numbers are something called co-ordinates and the lines are latitudes and longitudes. They correspond to something specific. You’ve just gotta work out the frame of reference.”

There’s stunned silence. “How do you know that?” Felicia asks.

“Spent some time on earth a while back,” Jay says, nonchalant.

“I thought there was nothing left?”

“There isn’t really. Not much, anyway. But the ship I was on collected old earth artefacts and I saw stuff like this.”

“So how do we work out the references?”

Jay’s confidence deflates slightly. “Goocorps used to make all the earth maps. We’ll need to hack into their old systems, but I don’t know anyone who can do that.”

Felicia winks at Jay. “Hold my drink.”

***

Unfortunately, while Felicia is certain that she can hack into the system, she’s equally sure it won’t be a quick job.

“Look,” she says, irritated. “Goocorps has the strongest security in the whole system. They invented security. So while I can definitely do it, it’s gonna take a couple of days, probably. And it’s gonna take a hell of a lot longer if you keep hovering over me, asking me if I’ve done it every few seconds.”

Abashed, Jensen steps back. “Ok, well. I guess we’ll just… chill out for a while.”

“You do that,” Felicia says, turning back to her work with a swish of red hair.

Jensen wanders back towards the centre of the ship, feeling lost and without purpose. The ship is set to auto-pilot, winging its way quietly and slowly through the darker reaches on the edges of the system while they wait for a new direction, and there’s nothing to do. Rob and Rich are curled up in their cabin while Rich recuperates, while Kim is in the bowels of the ship doing an in-depth stocktake of their supplies.

With nothing better to do, Jensen makes his way back to the control room, intending to check on the autopilot and see if they’re near enough to anywhere that might be worth making a stop. He checked earlier, but it’s worth checking again.

He’s fiddling with the controls when he hears a clatter behind him. He knows who it’s going to be before he turns around.

“Jay,” he says, voice flat.

“Rockles.”

“You really need to stop calling me that,” Jensen says, irritated. “I haven’t been Rockles for five years and it was never my actual name.” He’s bitter, irritated that they have to have Jay on board at all, and even more so to have his past life thrown back in his face by someone who’d fooled him so successfully.

“You’ve never told me your real name.” Jay says softly. Jensen’s head jerks up in time to catch a flash of something indescribable in those multi-coloured eyes.

“Oh,” he says, at a loss for how to respond. “Well, you know it anyway.”

“Not the same thing,” Jay says, all dogged stubbornness. Jensen can’t help but agree, but he’ll be damned if he shows it.

“Well, it’s Jensen,” he snaps. “Call me that if you have to call me anything at all.”

“Fine, Jensen,” Jay says, heavy with sarcasm. “I was going to ask if you wanted a drink, since we’ve got fuckall else to do. But don’t put yourself out.” He turns and walks back towards the hallway, shoulders slumped.

Jensen knows it’s a bad idea, but he can’t stop himself from saying it. “Wait…”

Jay stops, back tensing infinitesimally.

“I could live with having a drink.”

Jay turns back towards him with a smile that’s complicated; a riot of emotions spanning joy to mistrust. But dimples pop out all the same as Jay sweeps a hand back through his hair.

This is definitely a bad idea, Jensen thinks as he trails Jay from the control room to their tiny breakroom. But he follows anyway.

***

Five extremely potent drinks later, and Jensen’s still sure this is a bad idea, but he’s losing control of why, exactly. Jay’s sprawled opposite him, huge hand wrapped around his drink as he takes noisy slurps. He’s flushed pink and his gestures are just this side of sloppy; expansive and open and happy in a way Jensen hasn’t seen before.

“I remember that story,” Jay says, laughing as Jensen finishes recounting his escape from the swamp-people of Penrir. “I remember my uncle telling me that.”

“You heard stories about me?”

“Jensen, the entire system has heard stories about you,” Jay says, with a loud laugh. “But if you want to know if I actively sought them out, then yes, I did. Why do you think I became JPad?”

“Who’s JPad?” Jensen’s confused, brain unable to make the link.

“Oh, that hurts,” Jay says, ruefully. He physically withdraws into himself, and like a puppet on a string, Jensen leans forward to coax him back out.

“Seriously, I’ve been living on a tiny backwater planet at the ass end of the universe for the last five years.” Jay snorts. “Who’s JPad?”

Jay looks up at him, eyes shining bright through his hair. “Me, you idiot. That’s my super cool space pirate name. I’m JPad.”

Jensen blinks, his brain a little too muddled for this. “You have a special space pirate name?” Despite everything, Jensen hadn’t understood what Jay was; he’d seen him more as an annoying pest who happened to be everywhere he shouldn’t be.

“You’re one to talk, Rockles,” Jay shoots back.

“I started that so people wouldn’t know who I really was, it was too dangerous for people to be able to track the real me,” Jensen says.

Jay spreads his hands. “Well, duh.”

“Oh.”

There’s silence for a moment, as Jensen processes this new information. He’d seen Jay as so young, so inexperienced; his determination not to think about the fact that Jay had tricked him so successfully had led him to disregard the fact that the man was experienced and competent.

“Someone had to step into your shoes, you know,” Jay says, twirling his cup between his hands. “You disappeared, and the only big names in the system were people like Pell; people who have no issues about doing whatever it takes to make money. People who would take contracts like this one from Goocorps, even though they know the consequences.”

“So you stepped up?” Jensen asks, voice tight.

“Yeah. I did.” There’s a fierceness to Jay that Jensen tries his best to ignore.

“But you’re after the Halim, too. You’re on a contract to bring it to someone who’s going to use it for as much evil as Goocorps.”

“I’m on a contract for the resistance,” Jay counters, eyes bright. “I’m bringing it to a planet that’ll use it for good, to end Goocorps forever and restore democracy in the system.”

Jensen’s too drunk for this conversation. “There’s no such thing as using the Halim for good,” he argues. “It’s power would destroy half the system.”

“You don’t know that,” Jay insists.

Jensen’s pretty sure he does, given the legends surrounding the Halim. But he doesn’t want to argue about it now, so he lets it slide.

“Look, lets just have another drink,” he says, reaching for the bottle. “Let’s drink to the end of Goocorps.”

“I can drink to that,” Jay says, raising his cup. Only a little sloshes over the edge. Jay giggles, and Jensen feels his mouth stretch into a smile in response, no matter how he tries to tell himself a grown man giggling shouldn’t be as entrancing as it is.

***

Two hours later, Jensen finds himself hoisting Jay to his feet, propping him against the wall as he fumbles with the release pad for the door.

“C’mon, you giant,” he says, hefting Jay in his arms. “How’s your alcohol tolerance so shit, the size you are?”

“Don’t drink much,” Jay confides into the warmth of Jensen’s neck. “I’m the Cap’n. Don’t drink much with my crew. Gotta be in charge.”

His breath tickles over Jensen’s skin, bleeding through Jensen’s shirt. Wrangling the door open, Jensen propels them through the door and into the hallway, his hands slipping down onto the bare, soft skin of Jay’s waist as he does so.

“C’mon,” he repeats. “Let’s get you to your bunk so you can pass out in peace.”

“We c’n definitely go to my bunk,” Jay agrees, arms loose around Jensen’s shoulders. Jensen might be drunk, but he’s not so drunk he can’t read the meaning behind that, and his body flushes hot. Definitely not, he insists internally. Anything like that would be monumentally foolish.

They stagger through the hallways, ricocheting off the metal walls with dull clanks as they head towards the tiny cabin they’d given Jay.

“Can’t believe I met Rockles,” Jay sighs.

Jensen can’t resist. “I bet you were a massive fanboy,” he teases.

“I was. Desperate for any story of you. Wanted to know if you were as hot as the stories said.”

As they make the last turn towards Jay’s cabin, his hand slides under Jensen’s shirt, rubbing gently across the soft skin of his stomach and up to the space above his heart. Jensen’s heart rate kicks up, blood thundering through his veins as they crash into the wall beside Jay’s door. Jay slumps against it, pulling Jensen flush against him, his other hand hooking into Jensen’s belt.

“And?” he demands.

Jay’s eyes flicker up to him as his tongue licks over pink lips. “Even hotter,” he whispers, hoarsely.

Jensen’s own eyes slam shut as a wave of lust runs through him. He slams his hands onto the wall on either side of Jay’s head, fighting to gain control.

The battle is lost when Jay reaches up, mouth crashing onto Jensen’s, sloppy and wet and insistent. He pulls on Jensen’s belt, bringing them so close Jensen’s molded against him, the crash of their heartbeats pounding together.

Jensen allows the uncoordinated kiss before bringing his hand to cup Jay’s face, angling his head so that they line up right. It’s immediately a hundred times better, Jay’s mouth open beneath his, Jay’s body pushing against his.

Jensen lets it continue for longer than he should before he musters the will to pull back.

“We shouldn’t,” he pants, trying to keep his eyes from straying back down to Jay’s mouth. “You’re drunk.”

“So? You know I want you,” Jay answers, trying to pull Jensen back towards him.

He’s right; Jay may be drunk, but he’s not so drunk he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

“Ok fine. We shouldn’t; we can’t; I can’t.” Jensen bites the words out, trying to pull back. He knows how stupid it would be to sleep with Jay; they’ve got to stay focused on this mission, and besides, Jay’s already used sex to fool him once. There’s no leeway for it to happen again.

“Why not?” Jay whines. His eyes go puppy-wide as he bites his lip, and Jensen groans.

“Because I said so.” Jensen feels like an ass, but he pulls back further. “Go to bed, Jay,” he says, pulling the cabin door open. Jay glares at him, hand sliding down his own chest towards his belt, flicking the button open before pushing his hand inside. He’s so ridiculously attractive, mussed and flushed and wanton, that Jensen almost can’t breathe.

With more willpower than he’s ever had to exert in his life before, Jensen turns and hurries away, boots thumping on the walkway as he tries not to break into a run.

He tries to ignore Jay’s shout of frustration, the sound of Jay’s fist slamming against the metal wall, but it worms into his brain, and he knows he’ll be replaying it all night.

***

To say things are awkward the next morning would be one of the biggest understatements the system has ever seen. Jensen’s up bright and early, determined not to let his hangover affect his job, checking in on Flick and on the autopilot before stewing over a cup of coffee. He’s in the breakroom with Kim, in blessed, comfortable silence, when Jay stumbles in late; the silence immediately turns icy and painful. Kim shoots a look between them, her sharp eyes taking in everything, before ostentatiously turning away. Jensen braces himself for a talking to later.

Jay doesn’t say anything, just grabs a coffee and a rationpack and heads back out again, his displeasure a palpable presence.

Jensen waits for Kim to say something, but the look of disappointment he gets is far worse.

***

It goes downhill from there. Jay’s been on board for little more than two days, and he has Jensen’s crew wrapped around his little finger. Jensen can barely move on his own ship without running into Jay bringing Flick a snack, or having a deep intense discussion about system politics with Rob, or telling Rich endless stupid jokes to help take his mind off his recovery. Jay’s everywhere he goes, sprawled out in Jensen’s ship like he belongs there, his long legs and longer hair taking up space that he’s not entitled to. Jensen wants to scream, sometimes, at his lack of space, his inability to escape; this is exactly why it’s bad to start something with a crewmember.

It takes a full day for Jay to corner him, sneaking into the galley while Jensen’s monitoring their little oven. There’s barely space for both of them in the tiny space, and Jensen’s immediately on guard, hyper-aware of Jay just out of reach.

“I want you to land and let me off the ship so I can find my crew again,” Jay says, without preamble. His hand taps restlessly on the side, body unusually tight.

“No,” Jensen replies without pause.

“What? Why?” Jay asks, clearly thrown.

“Why do you think?” Jensen asks, before he can stop himself; then curses internally. He’s not sure he wants Jay to answer that. Hurriedly, he adds, “Because I know you want to find the Halim and give it to the resistance to use. I can’t allow that. It needs to be destroyed.”

“And that would be so bad?” Jay demands, little tips of red appearing on his cheeks.

“Yes,” Jensen answers fiercely. “It could cause huge amounts of damage. We have no idea what the consequences would be.”

“Exactly,” Jay insists. “We have no idea. It could be completely controllable.”

“I’m not willing to take the risk. “

Jay scowls. “Well, I want off this ship. Let me off and I promise not to go after the Halim.”

“Yeah, right,” Jensen scoffs. “And why should I trust you? You’d find some kind of loophole, like saying your crew did it.”

The look on Jay’s face shows that was exactly his plan.

“Exactly,” Jensen says. “Believe me, I want you off this ship just as much, but I can’t risk it.”

Jensen would almost swear that Jay looks hurt; but he ruthlessly dismisses the thought.

“If you want me gone, fucking let me go.” Jay’s fists are clenched at his side, chest heaving. Jensen’s eyes catch there, before he drags them north.

“No. I’m the captain on this ship, and I say you stay.” Jensen can feel his hands twitch, wanting to move towards Jay, to give Jay a reason to stay. But he clings on to his control by a thread while Jay stares at him, prismatic eyes boring into Jensen’s.

“Fuck you, Jensen,” Jay says.

The door bounces off its frame when Jay slams it on his way out.

***

“Captain,” Kim says from behind Jensen in the control room. Jensen knows that tone, and his shoulders instinctively rise to his ears. “We need to talk.”

“Sure,” he says, going for casual and failing by a mile.

“You need to let Jay go.” Kim’s never been one to beat around the bush and clearly now is no different.

“I do not,” Jensen says, reaching for his captain voice and falling a mile short. Kim simply rolls her eyes and settles on the control panel in front of him. He looks up at her, almost unable to meet her eye.

“He told me why you refused, Jen, and I I understand that. It makes sense.” Kim pauses for the tiniest second and Jensen readies himself to interrupt, but Kim starts talking again before he can muster the words. “And if that was all it was, then sure, we’d keep him. But the reality is he’s going to cost us the Halim anyway if we keep him here, because you’re so distracted by him you’re going to fuck up big time.”

Jensen can feel his face heat, traitorous skin flushing red with shame.

“That’s… I wouldn’t…”

“You wouldn’t mean to,” Kim says, kindly. “We all know that, we know you’d try. But you can’t hide from people who know you as well as we do. You watch him all the time, and when he’s not around, you’re looking for him. Half the time, when he’s in the room you don’t hear anything anyone else says.”

Jensen’s mortified. He’s supposed to be their captain, but his entire crew have witnessed him lose his head over a man.

“The point still stands, though,” he says through gritted teeth, palms sweating. “What happens if he makes it to the Halim before us?”

“You don’t think you’re better than some upstart space pirate who’s only been doing the job a couple of years?” Kim asks, a glint in her eye. “I guess we’ll just have to hope you’re wrong.”

***

They only land for long enough to let Jay off the Impala and pick up a few essentials before speeding away again. They’ve managed to keep it from Jay, but Flick estimates that she’s hours from hacking into to Goocorps, and they want to be ready to speed off as soon as they have the right directions.

Jensen watches as Jay hugs the rest of his crew; even Flick emerges from her cabin to say goodbye. He laughs with Rich and Rob, slapping Rob on the shoulder; and presses a soft kiss to Kim’s cheek. Jensen’s struck again by how easily Jay’s wormed his way into the affections of his normally insular crew.

There’s a long pause after Flick unwinds her hands from Jay’s shirt; Jay staring towards where Jensen hovers uncertainty in the doorway, Jensen scratching the back of his neck as he tries to look anywhere but at Jay.

Jay’s presses the door release and strides down the stairs without so much as a look back. Jensen watches him from the window until he’s out of sight, before turning away without a word and heading back to his cabin.

***

A loud whoop echoing through the hallways announces Flick’s success, and the entire crew crowds around her.

“Jay was right,” she says, voice awed. “We’re headed back to Earth.”

Earth’s far at the other end of the system from where they’re currently spinning their heels, so Jensen puts the ship into drive immediately, setting them to their fastest speed through this less-populated part of space. They’ll have to slow again when they get closer to the centre, he knows; it’ll take some clever flying to keep them at a reasonable speed without drawing the attention of Goocorps forces. He’s keen to make the best time he can; he knows they’re well past the five day lock Flick put on Pell’s ship, and though there should be no way for Pell to know where they’re headed, worry makes his stomach squirm.

Jensen’s never been to earth. He’s heard the stories, all the old myths and legends of how humankind had spilled forth from the dying planet, creating the first space stations and colonizing much of the system before their own planet imploded. But there’s little enough reason for anyone to visit earth these days; no one can survive there for more than a few days, even with supplies, and the planet has been deserted for hundreds of years. They’ll need to be careful when they’re retrieving the Halim; more so than they have already.

The crew is focused as they make their plans and Jensen is prouder than he’s ever been. He tries to focus too; occupying his mind with finding out as much about the part of earth they’re headed to as he can, planning their supplies for the trip and making decisions about how they’re going to destroy the Halim once they find it. There’s always the possibility, too, that this is another step on the path, that the coordinates will lead them to a another clue; but in his heart, Jensen knows this is the end. Where better to store a weapon so deadly it could take out half the system if used at full power than a planet that’s already dead.

The pull of gravity gets stronger as they race towards Earth a couple of days later, having come through the busiest part of the system without any trouble. Jensen can feel it, tugging at his feet, flattening his hair and making him feel slower, heavier. His moon boots mitigate the most of it, of course; but the pull of Earth is legendary, and it will take time to adjust. They circle the planet a few times, looking for a suitable place to land near their final destination.

“Never thought I’d get to do this,” Kim says quietly, next to Jensen at the controls. “It’s going to be weird to see where it all began.”

“Where it all ended, too,” Jensen replies.

“Hardly anyone in the system has been here, Cap.” Kim pauses for a moment and Jensen braces himself for worry or anger. But as always, Kim amazes him. “Flying with you always widens my horizons. My life would be so much more boring without all the adventures we’ve been on. It’s been good to have you back, Cap.”

Jensen’s eyes prickle slightly, but he ruthlessly pushes the feeling down. No time for that now.

“Been good to be back,” he says gruffly. “But let’s concentrate on finding somewhere to land.”

Jensen peers into their long-range telescope with extreme concentration, but it doesn’t stop him seeing Kim’s approving smile.

***

Jensen almost stumbles as he leads the way down the Impala’s stairs, gravity hitting him with a force he’s never felt before. He’d known that the last inhabitants of Earth had fucked it up, but this is beyond anything he expected.

Crouching low, he stares around at the barren yellow wasteland, gaping at the crumbling brick of old towers nestled beside enormous craters. They’ve landed in what was clearly once a major city; the remains of buildings stretch out as far as the eye can see, while the buckled tarmac weaving between them is dotted with the melted remains of old vehicles. Mounds of detritus have piled in all the corners, and with a shudder, Jensen recognises human bones among the rubble.

The silence is eerie; there’s no animal noise, no power hum and the air is stultifying, unmoving. There’s no sign of life, no plants or trees, and there are animal bones scattered around as well. Pulling his comcard from his pocket, Jensen checks the coordinates against their landing spot.

“About a mile that way,” he says to his crew as they come down the stairs behind him. “Let’s go. Rich, stay safe.”

Rich salutes with his phaser from the top of the steps. “Aye aye, Captain. I won’t let anyone steal your ship.”

“You better not,” Jensen growls, trying to mask his anxiety at leaving Rich alone. He’d argued, hard, for Rob to stay with him; but Rob had fought back, pointing out that the ship was far safer than the most notorious planet in the system, and that they’d need all hands on deck to destroy the Halim.

It’s a long, hard walk. In addition to the simple difficulty of raising their boots with each step, they have to take two detours around ruined sites, picking their way through piles of rubble to avoid craters. Jensen’s still out of shape and by the time they make it, he’s panting and covered in sweat. He’s half pleased to see the rest of his crew faring little better and half worried that it might cause trouble later on.

The coordinates lead them to the remains of an imposing building, stretching low and wide across the landscape. There’s a huge hole in one wing, while another is blackened from fire; but despite that, Jensen can see what must once have been a sweeping colonnade, with elegant pillars propping up a marble balcony. The doorway still exists, although the door is long gone; a defaced sign hanging drunkenly from the wall outside.

“Looks like this is it,” he says, taking a deep, calming breath.

He stands shoulder to shoulder with his crew, Kim on one side and Flick on the other; close enough that if there was any hint of a breeze, Felicia’s hair would be blowing into his face. Jensen can tell they feel exactly the same way that he does: intense dread at having to go into any structure left on this derelict, defeated planet. He stares at the doorway, peering into the murky gloom; but the only way to find out what they’re up against is to go inside.

“Come on then,” he says, feeling the weight of his captaincy more than he ever had in years of pirating. “Stay close, keep your phasers out and we’ll get this over with as soon as possible.”

“Yes, Cap,” his crew murmur and Jensen takes that as his cue.

He forces himself to take the first step forward, and they come easier after that. He marches as briskly as he can towards the doorway and with only a second’s hesitation, pushes across the threshold.

The change in light is immediate. It hadn’t been overly light outside, but in here, it’s almost completely dark, the few windows covered with centuries of grime. Jensen clicks his torch on immediately, setting it to follow his shoulder as he hears his crew do the same. The bright lights barely seem to make a difference, creating a puddle of light around them that only highlights the darkness beyond, but it’s the best they can do.

“Right. Let’s explore.”

Jensen knows it would be quicker, more efficient, to split up to search the building; but that’s an absolute last resort. If it were massively bigger, maybe; but for now, there’s safety in numbers. They search the ground floor systematically, barely aware of what they’re looking for; but it’s clear there’s little of value hidden within the rubble.

“Look,” Felicia says wistfully, pointing towards one of the few interior walls left standing.

Jensen follows her gaze as Flick sends her torch on ahead. It takes Jensen a moment to understand what Flick’s seen, the incongruity making it hard to comprehend. Somehow, against all the odds, a painting has survived; still visible in its original wooden frame. Women in long, uncomfortable skirts crowd around a seated, formal man, their hair covered in bonnets as they look modestly away from the painter. The man, in contrast, stares almost aggressively out at the viewer, his hand clasped firmly around a cane. It’s a striking image, the talent of the artist evident in the way the figures seem almost lifelike, and Jensen can well understand why it would have been hanging here, in what might have been a gallery in another lifetime.

“And here,” Rob says, voice awed. He points to a gleam in the rubble, the barest outline of a golden helmet visible under the rubbish, swirling lines engraved across its surface. Its beautiful, grubby and battered as it is, and Jensen wonders at its history.

But there’s no time for them to gawp at ancient treasures; neither the helmet or the painting match the few descriptions of the Halim that have survived in legend, so they need to look elsewhere.

“Upstairs or downstairs?” Jensen asks.

“Down,” is the unanimous vote, as everyone casts apprehensive looks at the ceiling. Jensen has to agree; underground makes a far more sensible hiding place than on a higher storey.

They find a wide staircase that’s still mostly intact, only a few cracks in the marble here and there. “Go slowly,” Jensen instructs, taking the lead. The darkness below is more intense, and he sends his torch ahead so they can at least see the bottom of the stairwell.

It leads them far deeper than Jensen had anticipated, the heat and humidity increasing with each step. Jensen feels like the ceiling is pressing in on him, as if it will give way and bury him alive, and he has to work hard to control the panic that evokes. The building has stood in this state for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, he reminds himself; the chance of today being the day it collapses is miniscule.

The footsteps of his crew patter behind him, falling dully into the silence without the hint of an echo. Jensen reaches the bottom of the stairs to find himself in a low tunnel, the ceiling barely reaching above his head, the walls crowding in. There are doors on each side as he proceeds, or more accurately, doorways; the doors themselves sometimes hanging from the hinges, more often missing entirely. The rooms are almost universally empty, clearly ransacked. There are a few odd items left incongruously alone: a filing cabinet, sheaf of rotting papers sticking out; a huge engraved stone; a mummified corpse that has Jensen shivering.

To Jensen’s dismay, there’s a further set of stairs at the end of the corridor, leading them ever further down. They share a look, but there’s barely a pause this time before Jensen forges ahead, determined to get this over with as soon as possible.

As they descend, the air changes. The humidity disappears, leaving a crisp coldness entirely out of sync with the rest of their time on earth and Jensen finds himself shivering in his thin shirt. A faint thrum echoes through the corridor, making the hairs on Jensen’s arms and neck stand up, bringing a flush to his fair skin.

“My hair’s fucking standing on end,” Felicia hisses behind him. A quick glance backwards shows Jensen that’s no exaggeration; Flick’s hair is forming a golden-red halo around her head, literally standing on end. They’re getting close.

By the time Jensen reaches the bottom of the stairs, there’s a fine vibration in the ground below him, enough to make his feet tingle. His breath fogs out before him and there’s a sheen of ice on the walls. There’s no rubble in this hallway; it’s completely clear, the floor smooth and devoid of dust. The weight in his legs has grown, his moonboots unable to cope with the added gravity, and each step feels like a battle.

He pushes forwards nevertheless, this time proceeding along a bleak hallway with no openings at all. It feels never ending, but eventually he becomes aware of a golden glow that’s not from his torch; but is seeping around the edges of a doorway.

There’s a round orb on the front of the door that Jensen assumes is used to open it; he can’t see any kind of entry pad anywhere, and a quick shove does nothing. With a last look at his team, who have their phasers up and pointed over his shoulders, he reaches out his hand to touch the sphere.

Hissing, he jerks his hand back, his palm almost burnt by the freezing sphere.

“Here,” Kim says, shrugging out of her top layer. Jensen takes it from her with a small smile and wraps his hand securely. Steeling himself, he makes contact again and this time, the cold is manageable, muted by the layers. With a deep breath, he fiddles with the orb until he realises that he has to turn it, and the door swings open.

They’re immediately hit by a wave of cold unlike anything Jensen has ever felt before, even on the ice-planet Pinguun. It almost knocks Jensen over, his knees buckling and his eyes feeling like they’re going to freeze in place. Terror pounds through him, the certain knowledge that this is how he’s going to die, his organs frozen solid, his crew dead behind him.

It passes; the cold still present, but bearable. Jensen’s eyes unstick, his ability to blink returns, his lungs loosening with a rattling ache. It takes him a moment to recover, for his limbs to regain motion to return, for his throat to stop burning. Once everything seems to be working again, Jensen raises his head, hand shielding his eyes from the glow that hasn’t diminished with the cold. It’s impossible to see, and he knows he’s going to have to go into the room to find out more.

“Thanks!”

Pell’s voice rings through the hallway, filled with triumph.

Jensen whirls around immediately, phaser up, but it’s too late. Pell’s got his arm around Rob’s neck, his phaser tickling Rob’s temple, the hitch of Rob’s erratic breathing causing the mouth of the phaser to move infinitesimally with every breath.

“Lower your weapons,” Pell orders.

Jensen sees no other choice; with a curt nod to Felicia and Kim, he drops his phaser down. From behind Pell, he can hear Mish giggle, the sound setting his teeth on edge.

“Now, put them on the floor and slide them towards me.”

Jensen’s hands are trembling with fury as he follows the instructions, his mind racing with possible escape plans, ways to kill Pell, the knowledge that they might have just doomed the system. But there’s nothing; no alternative presents itself as his phaser slides across the floor.

“Thanks, Jenny,” Pell says, voice dripping venom. Jensen’s head snaps up at the use of a version of his real name; he’d worked so hard to keep that secret.

“That’s right, Jenny. I know everything about you. Seb, Alaina, go bring the Halim out.”

Seb gives Jensen a little slap to the back of his head as he passes, insolence radiating from every bone of his body. Alaina stops in front of him, fisting her hands in his shirt.

“So obedient,” she says, “So pretty.”

Jensen’s stomach turns. Beside him, Felicia hisses in fury.

“Ah, the inferior redhead,” Seb says from behind them. “Cute. Come on, darling. I want to get off this shithole planet and get our money.”

Alaina lets go of Jensen’s shirt with a force that almost makes him stumble. “Next time, pretty,” she murmurs, pushing past him.

“There won’t be a next time if Jenny doesn’t behave. Eyes on me, Jenny,” Pell orders.

Glaring is the only option Jensen has, so he gives it his all. Pell notices, his thin, pale lips widening into a sneer, the golden light casting his thin face into bony shadows.

“How did you find us?” he asks, voice thick with fury.

“Simple tracking chip on your ship. You really should be more careful.”

“Got it, boss,” Seb shouts from within the room.

Shots ring out and for the second time in as many weeks, Jensen thinks he’s dead, frantically searching his body for pain.

There’s nothing though, and his attention refocuses on Rob in time to see the smaller man twist away from Pell, diving sideways. More shots ring, and Mish screams, high and vicious.

Seizing his chance, Jensen propels himself forwards towards his discarded gun. Pell moves at the same time, their hands closing over the phaser in parallel. They struggle, pushing and grunting against each other, the mouth of the phaser moving towards Jensen’s face before he pushes it back with all his strength. Taking the biggest risk of his life, he lets go with one hand, just long enough to wrap it around the lower half of the phaser, over the trigger. With a yell, he forces it towards Pell and shoots.

This close, the sound is deafening, the boom followed by the hiss of burnt flesh. The shot goes right through Pell’s forehead, smoke pouring from the wound to choke Jensen before Pell’s body drops across his with a thud.

Jensen drops backwards, his body going limp with relief. With a shove, he pushes Pell’s body sideways until he can sit.

He can see Mish in front of him, damaged leg stuck out in front of his, smoke pouring from a second wound in his shoulder. Beyond him, Ty’s body is an indistinct lump on the floor, motionless and clearly dead. Jensen’s eyes peer upwards, trying to make sense of the scene as he hears Felicia and Kim taking Seb and Alaina prisoner behind him.

The smoke dissipates slightly, but Jensen already knows what he’s going to see before it clears entirely.

“Jay. Of course,” Jensen says.

Phaser still held high, crew fanned out behind him, Jay gives him a blinding grin. Jensen’s heart stops and then starts, and he knows it will never work the same again.

***

They drop the Halim into one of Earth’s still-active volcanoes. Hovering above while they open the hatch and let it go is one of the most nerve-wracking moments of Jensen’s life. Everyone else on board is strapped down in a way that’s completely unusual, ready for the speediest exit of Jensen’s life, as he and Jay pull the door open and let go. Kim puts the ship into drive immediately, speeding away before the door is closed, and Jensen finds himself with a lap full of Jay as they’re thrown backwards from the force of it.

Even with Kim’s best flying, they barely make it. A flume of fire rises from the volcano, chasing them away from Earth as the flames spread, consuming the planet. It spreads faster than Jensen’s ever seen, covering the whole surface within minutes, changing from red to a white so intense it’s impossible to look at.

“Hold on,” Kim yells, as she guns the ship faster; Jensen and Jay crack into the back wall, almost upended as the ship speeds further out into space. They watch, horrified, as the white glare turns blue; Earth obscured by smoke. With a force Jensen feels rather than hears, the entire planet explodes.

Even with the distance they’ve reached, the ship rocks, bobbing about in the current and throwing Jensen and Jay forwards once again. Jensen’s hip hits the console with a crack, exacerbated by Jay landing against his back and there’s utter chaos before everything settles.

Jensen’s ears are ringing, his chest heaving, a fine tremble running through his bones. He’s comforted, almost, by the warm weight crushed against him, the proof of life in Jay’s heartbeat against his own. When he can open his eyes again, his sees Kim and Briana, the only other people on board, are fine; a little bruised, maybe, but all still safe in their seats. Bits of wreckage sail past their portholes; chucks of rock and solidified lava that will cause chaos across the system for the next few months.

“Okay, fine,” Jay mutters, voice rusty. “Maybe you were right about destroying it.”

***

It takes a few hours for their nerves to settle after that. But eventually, Kim is happy to set the autopilot overnight, while they fly back towards the centre of the system at a much slower pace than they’d hurtled towards Earth.

They’re headed back towards Pha’ln, one of the last few democracies in the system. Their government had commissioned Jay’s mission and he’s adamant about reporting back to them. Jensen had tried to argue against it, in the few hurried, furious conversations they’d had back on Earth.

“You don’t have to face them,” he’d said. “They’re not exactly going to be pleased.”

“No, they’re not,” Jay had agreed. “But if we bring them Pell’s crew, that’ll go some way towards it. They’re all wanted for multiple crimes; and besides, they know a fair bit about how Goocorps operates.”

“Fine.” Jensen had capitulated, unhappy but unable to argue. Jay was a grown man and he could make his own decisions. That’s how they’d ended up on the Impala with Kim and Briana - a representative of each crew to see the Halim destroyed - while the rest of both crews took Jay’s ship and escorted Pell’s imprisoned crew to Pha’ln.

Kim and Briana had hit it off immediately, with a ferocity that half terrified Jensen. As soon as the initial trauma wears off, Jensen finds himself haunted by constant cackles of laughter echoing through the ship as the two women share their life stories (and sex stories, Jensen never wants to hear that again) over at least half the alcohol left in their stores.

He takes refuge in Rob and Rich’s old cabin, slightly bigger than his own and with a tiny table. It’s far enough away from both the breakroom and the control room that he can’t hear any more stories about the time Kim hooked up with triplets on one of the stations. Kim’s always been like the older sister he never had; he doesn’t need those images in his life.

He’s halfway down his second drink when the door creaks open and, as is his new habit, he knows exactly who it’s going to be be.

“Jay,” he says.

“Can I join you?” Jay asks, holding out a bottle of amber liquid as an offering. “I can’t take it anymore. Bri is like my sister.”

It’s a bad idea. Jensen forms the words in his head, practices them, opens his mouth to say them, but what comes out is, “Sure”.

Jay beams. His face lights up, the slightly haunted look receding to be replaced by dimples and sunshine. Jensen can only stare.

Jay settles himself into the spare chair, taking up more space than should be possible. His legs spread out so that they’re almost touching Jensen’s, his arms extending almost the entire way across the table as he sets the bottle down. Jensen’s hard pressed not to physically retreat; not because he doesn’t want Jay to touch him, but because he wants it too much.

He should stop drinking immediately.

Instead, he lets Jay pour him a glass of this new liquor, watching as it swirls into the glass with a sheen.

“What is this?” he asks, trying to break the silence.

“You don’t get this on your paradise planet?” Jay asks, gently mocking. “It’s the newest thing, has it not made it that far out?”

Jensen barely resists the urge to stick his tongue out. Instead, he takes a healthy swig of the new drink.

“Oh my god,” he says, once it’s slid down his throat. “What is that?” It’s so good he can barely refrain from moaning, his eyes slipped shut. When he opens them, gesturing urgently for more, Jay’s staring, eyes dark and mouth wet.

He knows exactly where this is going tonight, and he gives up trying to fight it. Whether it’s the alcohol, or the rush of relief from having destroyed the Halim, he’s happy to let this play out now; to have this in the knowledge that he’ll be dropping Jay off soon and then he’ll go back to his quiet retirement.

“More,” he demands.

Jay pours, eyes locked on Jensen, their fingers barely touching on the glass. Jensen drinks again, making sure to lick his lips in appreciation.

This time, when Jensen holds out his hand for more, Jay slides his hand so that it’s covering Jensen’s, the slightly sticky warmth of his huge hand enveloping Jensen’s. There’s a moment, brief and barely observed, when Jensen could put a stop to this; before Jay slides his hand along Jensen’s wrist to his elbow. Jensen shivers as Jay’s hand brushes against the tiny hairs on his arm, before Jay pulls him in, their mouths meeting in a messy, desperate kiss. It’s bliss. Jay’s mouth opens up under his, Jay letting Jensen take the lead again, demanding more; before Jensen leans even further forward and almost loses his manhood to the table edge.

“Wait,” he growls, pulling back. There’s a quick shove and the table is against the wall; Jensen strides past it and fists his hands in Jay’s shirt, pulling him to his feet. Sliding a hand up, he cups Jay’s jaw and pulls them together again until Jay starts making tiny, addictive noises.

“C’mon,” Jensen grunts, walking them backwards. Jay’s thighs hit the cabin’s extended bunk and they topple backwards, Jensen landing on top of Jay with a thud.

“Perfect,” he murmurs.

“Fucking finally,” Jay manages, before he reaches up to fist his hands in Jensen’s short hair. There’s more kissing after that, hot and urgent at first, but Jensen makes a conscious effort to slow it down, thinking back to that first fuck on Bright Star and wanting this to be different. He takes the time to strip Jay, removing each piece of clothing slowly, his hands and mouth trailing over each bit of skin as it’s exposed.

By the time he’s got Jay naked, he’s a panting mess, hair sweaty and wild, flushed right down to his chest. “You too,” Jay demands, gesturing at Jensen’s clothes. “Been imagining this since I was a teenager.”

With a moment of complete abandon, Jensen sits up and slides off the bed, standing up. He removes each item of clothing slowly, methodically, eyes on Jay the whole time. Jay stares right back, his hands twitching on the mattress beside him but not touching, waiting for Jensen to come back.

Jensen does, eventually, when he’s completely naked and he thinks he’s teased enough. He settles on top of Jay, skin making contact from neck to toe, and kisses him again, slow and deep with an intensity that says things he can’t voice out loud.

“Can I?” he asks. The only response is a frantic nod. With a grimace, Jensen opens the bedside drawer and roots about, trying not to think about when the protective lube might have been used before. He’s not going to stop now to go back to his cabin and get his own.

Jay opens quickly underneath him, like before; it doesn’t take long until he’s writhing under Jensen, pushing down and demanding more.

“Soon,” Jensen growls, a little bit of his captain’s voice seeping through as he slides another finger into Jay. The voice works, apparently, because while Jay full body shivers, he goes still, waiting for Jensen to thrust. “Good,” Jensen praises, eliciting a high whine from Jay.

Not long after that, Jensen lines himself up and pushes inside. Jay’s hands grip onto his forearms, hard enough Jensen hopes he’ll have bruises in the morning, while Jay’s heels dig into his ass. He takes it slow, still determined to make this time different; but by the time he bottoms out Jay’s babbling, desperate for more.

“Move, please,” Jay asks. Jensen’s only too happy to oblige, setting a smooth, slow rhythm that has them both panting into each other’s mouths, too distracted to connect for a real kiss. He hitches Jay’s legs higher, hands cupping Jay’s ass, so that he rakes across Jay’s prostate with each thrust; Jay’s soon keening under him.

Jay sneaks his hand down, trying to wrap it around his cock. Jensen has no interest in that; they’ll be on this ship a few more days, that’s plenty of time for him to watch Jay get himself off. For now, this is Jensen’s show.

“No,” he says, knocking Jay’s hand away and replacing it with his own, stroking with a rhythm that matches his hips. They’re into the endgame after that; even Jensen’s resolution to hold out, take this slow, can’t compete with the sight and sound of Jay under him. Jay’s flushed and beautiful, his eyes dilated and a vivid bite mark on his collarbone, arms and legs cocooned around Jensen. It feels like they’re in their own little world, a space made just for the two of them.

“Gonna come,” Jay whines, eventually, his whole body tightening around Jensen.

“Good, come for me,” Jensen mutters, and that’s enough. Jay comes with a shout, shooting over his own stomach as Jensen holds him tight. The feeling is exquisite, pleasure curling in Jensen’s cock as warmth spreads through his chest, and before he knows it, Jensen’s coming too, filling Jay up.

He collapses onto the bed, Jay immediately moving into his arms. With Jay’s head pillowed on his chest, legs tangled together, Jay’s hair tickling his nose, Jensen can’t fathom how he’s going to let go of this.

***

When they land on Pha’ln a few days later, both of them are walking a little funny. The hickies on Jay’s neck can’t be hidden and he gets a wolf whistle from the young man Jensen had seen him with on Brightstar.

“Shut up Al,” Jay grumbles, but he can’t keep the smile off his face.

“Yeah, shut up Al,” Briana adds. “You haven’t had to listen to it for the past few days. Kim and I are traumatised.”

Al snickers and Jay flushes deep red.

“Don’t knock free porn,” Jensen says to a collective groan, unable to keep the satisfied smirk off his face.

Things settle quickly after that, the gravity of the situation sinking in. Jensen can see Mish, Alaina and Seb at the portholes of Jay’s ship, waiting to be led off once security arrive, and he can sense the nervousness in Jay.

“Don’t worry,” he murmurs to Jay. “You’re giving them a good trade. Seb and Mish used to work for Goocorps. It’ll be fine.”

“Yeah,” Jay says, biting his lip. “But still. I promised my crew a win, I promised them income. What do I do now?”

“There’s always pirating to be done.”

Jay’s speculative look is interrupted by the arrival of security, and Jensen thinks no more of it.

***

“We’re waiting for Bri,” Kim insists.

“We should leave,” Jensen says.

“We’re waiting for Bri.” Kim has her own captain’s voice; she’s the true authority on his ship. Jensen ignores it at his peril.

“Ok, fine,” he concedes.

“Don’t pretend like you don’t want to wait,” Rich says with a wink, before he and Rob dissolve into giggles.

Jensen ignores them.

***

It’s hours before Jay comes back; hours of waiting with sweaty palms, fidgeting around the Impala and taking care of needless repairs.

Jensen’s alerted to Jay’s return by the silence on his ship. He looks up to find his crew gone, Jay looming in the doorway.

“How did it go?” he asks, needlessly; the soft grin on Jay’s face enough to show nothing bad had happened.

“Fine. We didn’t get paid; but equally, we’re not in jail or blacklisted, so I’m taking it as a win.”

“I’m sorry about the money,” Jensen says, sincere because he remembers what it had been like when he’d been establishing himself as Rockles and jobs had been few and far in between. “But you’ll pick something up soon enough.”

“Well, that’s just it,” Jay says. “We kind’ve have. But there are conditions.”

“Yeah?” Jensen asks, unsure where this is going.

“Yeah. They weren’t keen to give me the work again, seeing as how I fucked it up this time. But when I said I could partner up with someone who had more experience…” Jay tails off, a hopeful look in his eyes.

Jensen stares. “I’m retired,” he says shortly.

“You’ve loved being back,” Jay interjects. “You’ve loved being Rockles again. Don’t deny it.”

Jensen can’t. He’d forgotten the thrill of the chase, of pitting his wits against someone else, of solving clues and hunting treasures. His life on Valnar has been good. He’s been content. But he’d forgotten the adrenaline rush of stealing something right out from under someone’s nose as well as the joy of being good at his job. Nothing on Valnar could compare.

“So I have a proposal,” Jay says, moving forwards slowly, as if towards a spooked animal. “Losing the Halim cost my crew a lot of money. You work with us until we make it back.”

“Absolutely not,” Jensen returns. His heart almost stops when Jay’s face falls, but he pushes on. “I work with my own crew.”

Jay’s face lights up as he realises Jensen’s not turning him down. “We combine the crews. I’ll captain.”

Jensen snorts before he can restrain himself. “We combine the crews, and I’m the captain,” he retorts.

Jay’s grin is blinding. “Perfect. Rob and Rich want to go back to retirement anyway, so we’ll be the perfect size.”

Jensen realises he’s been played, but he can’t bring himself to care. “And we take the Impala.”

“Fine. My ship’s a piece of shit, anyway.”

Jay’s in front of him now, close enough to touch.

“And only until we make the money back,” Jensen insists.

“Sure, Rockles,” Jay says, a hint of mockery underlying the words, before he reels Jensen in for a kiss. Jensen means to argue, but Jay’s tongue tangles with his own, and it’s no longer important.

He’ll have to get the jacket out again.