## The Outer Layer

### Work Text:

Every morning Jensen wakes to the sound of his alarm.

Every morning he goes for a run – ten city blocks and back. He showers, has breakfast, takes his vitamins, then hops a short train ride to work.

He likes routine. Repetition. Repetition lessens the chance of unexpected variables.

He doesn't like surprises. Spontaneity. Too many things - people - out there waiting to trip him up. To catch him out.

Jensen is an accountant. It's repetitive, so he likes it. Yes, all those numbers are variables, but they are the type of variables he can deal with. They're linear. They can be fixed with some focus and a little flexing of his brain muscle. Nothing strenuous. Apart from the odd shocking credit card statement he knows exactly what to expect.

It's the life variables that are the problem.

Variables upset the precarious balance he tries so desperately to maintain. Stability is his last line of defence.

~//~

Every morning he wakes to the sound of his alarm.

He runs, showers, eats, takes his vitamins, goes to work. He walks in the front door ten minutes before he's due to be on the clock – like always – and he nods at the receptionist, even though she's on the phone and not paying him one whit of attention. He enters his office, puts down his battered leather satchel, and shrugs off his grey suit jacket. He always wears grey, it fades into the background better. He must have about a dozen suits by now, all in slightly varying shades of gunmetal, concrete, slate, and so on. He pairs them with white or pale-coloured shirts and dull ties with generic patterns on them.

Jensen's a blend-into-the-wallpaper kind of guy. He has to be to maintain that 'precarious balance' he always defers to.

He keeps his hair combed into a side-part and wears outdated glasses with round wire frames. It worked for Clark Kent, right?

Not that he could ever compare himself to Superman, but he doesn't like to think about the fact that he's been working at the same place for about ten years and he's going to have to move on soon. And even doing that is going to be risky. What do you say to your boss when he checks out your employee record and makes the connection that you're supposed to be pushing fifty but still somehow look barely a day over twenty-five.

He avoids being friendly with his colleagues for a reason. He's only trying to protect himself.

~//~

Sometimes those variables send him slipping.

After lunch one day he has a client. That in itself is not wholly unusual.

He shakes the man's hand and he introduces himself as Jared. Jared is tall, straight-backed, dressed in faded denim and crumpled plaid. Jensen forces himself to look away from the man's handsome face and down at the binder on his desk instead. Jared pushes it further toward him and Jensen opens it to find a mess of receipts, statements, and various papers related to some business titled 'Jim's Shack'.

"It's a diner. Sort of," Jared fills in. "That is, it's part diner, part café, part steakhouse… whatever I want it to be, really."

"Sounds nice," he says, just to fill in the silence.

"It's pretty good so far. I've only been in charge for a couple of months, but I'm no good at keeping books. Your boss says you're great at it, though."

That takes Jensen aback. "My boss did?"

"Yeah. Richard comes to the diner all the time. He overheard me freaking out about my budget on the phone one day, told me he ran a small firm and could help me out. That you were the guy for the job."

Jensen isn't really sure what to make of it all – his boss recommending him off the cuff like that is surely a first – but it does partly explain why a guy with a business in Midtown is slumming it with an accountancy firm from Downtown. And regardless of his reasons, Jensen will do the job. Of course he will. It'll be easier than turning this guy and his handsome face away.

"Fine then."

~//~

Jared turns up again two days later with some of the other papers Jensen requested.

One of them is a copy of a will. Jared apparently inherited the diner from an uncle he barely knew. Much like Jensen, Jared doesn't appear to have much in the way of family.

He puts the papers to the side and goes about talking Jared through the basics of bookkeeping. He explains what he's already done with the mess in Jared's binder, as well as what he's going to do, and what he needs Jared to do for him. It all seems fairly straightforward until Jared asks:

That pulls Jensen up short. He quickly flips through the things he had put to the side and finds a description of the property. Above the diner is a single unit. Jared must be living there, too.

"You planning on renovating?"

"Nah," Jared shakes his head, "It's actually in pretty good condition, though I've been thinking about painting the walls… yellow isn't really my colour, y'know? But I do need to get an electrician in. There's something going on with the lights – they flicker a lot and it trips me out."

"I could-…"

The words are out before he can stop himself and Jensen hopes his own surprise at himself isn't painted all over his face. He's not one for talking as it is, and he never says more than necessary. Those two words were definitely not necessary but he said them anyway and now he's gone and gotten himself into a situation of endless unknown variables. It makes his heart flutter and not necessarily in a good way.

"You could what?"

"I, um," Jensen licks his lips, the words spilling from a place inside himself that he seems to have lost control of. "Maybe I'm being presumptuous, but my dad was an electrician of sorts… I picked up a few things as a kid. I could take a look if you want?"

Jared's eyes light up.

~//~

Sunday morning sees him in Midtown.

Jared's playing host in the diner, keeping things running on a small generator, so Jensen's free to mess with the fuse box and to get up into the not-really-an-attic without prying eyes peeking over his shoulder. Prying eyes are too much pressure, and he's more than a little out of practice when it comes to matters of the electrical kind, so he's glad he's got space to concentrate.

He's up and down from the ceiling to the fuse box at the back door. It doesn't take long to find the problem – the wiring is old and has frayed in a couple of places. It isn't beyond saving, though. Some quick work with the pliers and some electrical tape takes care of it. Along with Jensen's magic touch, of course.

Jared comes back just as he's dusting himself off, hands full with a stack of fluffy pancakes and syrup.

"Consider this your payment. Or a token of my gratitude. Whatever you prefer."

They head inside, Jensen sitting at Jared's kitchen table while Jared makes coffee. The pancakes are delicious, but before Jensen can complement the chef he finds a tissue shoved in front of his face.

"I'm amazed you can even see past the end of your nose, your glasses are so dusty."

Putting down his cutlery, Jensen takes the tissue with an awkward grin and plucks his glasses from the bridge of his nose. He breathes on the glass and wipes them clean, but Jared stops him from sliding them back on.

"Your eyes are crazy green, Jensen. They're kind of actually really pretty."

Jensen ducks his head with a half-smile and slides his glasses back on before Jared can stop him a second time.

"Thanks, I guess."

He declines Jared's offer of coffee – caffeine makes his limbs buzz just a little too much – and polishes off his pancakes, rinsing the dishes in the sink. He wanders into the living area behind Jared and it struck by all the personal touches he finds. Trinkets on the windowsill, a couple of framed posters on the walls, and then there are the photos. There's a few older ones with what must be his parents and a sibling, but the rest are Jared and his friends. The most revealing of all is sitting by the TV, eight men dressed in army fatigues, lined up in front of an armoured van. So Jared's good posture and the solid stretch of his shoulders aren't for nothing, then.

Jensen wants to look more closely but doesn't dare. And in actual fact he's feeling slightly ashamed. His own place is utterly spare by comparison. No posters, no trinkets. The few photos he has are aged and fading, kept in a box behind a false wall in his closet along with a few other items he tries to forget he even owns.

A gentle hand comes down on his shoulder, and Jensen wonders how obvious it is that he nearly jumps out of his skin. Jared doesn't comment on it, though.

"You can look if you want," he says, gesturing to the photo, "I've got nothing to hide. I wasn't there for long, anyway."

Jensen bites his lip.

~//~

Six months pass and Jensen is surprised how little his routine changes despite that there is an extra person in his life.

He still runs every morning, still takes his vitamins, still gets to work ten minutes early. It's just that sometimes he's waking up in Jared's bed rather than his own.

Jensen's still getting used to the intimacy, but Jared doesn't ever push, doesn't ever express his frustrations if Jensen has to back away when they're already halfway gone, when he feels his control slipping. Jensen wishes he could give himself over, let Jared have his body all wild and without care. But he would only hurt Jared that way, and hurting Jared is the last thing he would ever want to do, he knows that without a doubt.

In quiet moments Jensen does wonder if he's already hurting him, what with the distance he keeps. And Jared never actively prods at that invisible wall, even when Jensen thinks it must be crushing him. Jared often has little anecdotes from his childhood or crazy stories from his short-lived army days, but Jensen never responds in kind. Sometimes he almost wants Jared to get angry about it, except that he knows what effect confrontation has on his control and he knows it wouldn't end well.

Maybe they should just part ways now before they dig themselves in any deeper… It is selfish that he just can't bring himself to let go yet?

Like his job, Jensen will have to leave eventually. It's been going on two decades since Jensen last experienced anything like a long-term relationship, but Jared is definitely the long-term type, and there's only so far Jensen can conceivably stretch 'long-term' before Jared will start to seriously question things about Jensen's person.

Even if Jensen told him, even if Jared guessed, the consequences would likely be dire and unavoidable.

~//~

Every hundred days Jensen has to make a trip.

He already lives in the low income part of the city, but his trip takes him to an even seedier area where the streets smell like stale urine and the boarded-up housefronts are rotten with decay. The air itself is diseased. Jensen pulls up the hood of his sweatshirt, adjusts his backpack, and sticks his hands in his pockets, keeping to the shadows. The skin on the back of his neck prickles with the sense that someone is watching him, so he walks a little faster, takes a few precautionary detours, and lays low behind a dumpster for a few minutes before approaching his destination.

The door is little more than a sheet of corrugated iron, and he taps out a sequence with his knuckles before the metal sheet cracks open just wide enough to let him through.

This is the entrance to the Underground.

Being inside reminds him of what came before, the sacrifices made. It reminds him that he belongs, that it's the outside that's wrong, but that he lives on the way he does for a reason.

It calms his heart.

~//~

The first crack appears less than a week later. Jensen's barely seen Jared since his 'trip' – apparently one of the cooks from the diner had taken off for a family emergency, leaving Jared to pick up the slack in the kitchen. Which, of course, meant he'd worked himself sick. And he turns up on Jensen's stoop after waitress-of-the-century Genevieve practically kicks him out lest he infects any of the food he's supposed to be making.

"You look like death warmed up."

A wry grin slips onto Jared's face. "I don't feel very warm, actually."

Jensen pulls him inside and puts him to bed, making sure there are painkillers, water, and a flask of soup all within reach.

Jared barely leaves the bed for the next three days, but with Jensen's apartment being a studio, even in his delirium Jared can still track his every move. It makes for some interesting commentary but it's the comment about his 'silly vitamins' and how they're 'probably just candy' that puts him on edge. It's the stupidest little thing, but Jared seems to sense something's up and he sobers immediately, rolling unsteadily out of bed and shuffling to Jensen's side. Gentle, over-warm hands come down on his shoulders and Jensen feels like Jared must see straight through him. It's frightening.

If there's one thing about Jared, it's that he's an honest son-of-a-bitch, and whenever he asks Jensen a serious question – which, granted, isn't all that common an occurrence – he feels almost compelled to answer. It's hard to ignore him, and harder again to lie to him, and Jensen just barely manages to hold back enough to not lay himself bare.

"They're not vitamins," he confesses, his throat dry, "I have them made up specially. I… You know that I'm fucked up. These keep me… from being more fucked up. Okay?"

Thankfully Jared drops it, and goes back to bed without a word.

~//~

In the months since Jared first started spending the night at Jensen's, Jensen has taken up reading the newspaper. Actual paper newspapers aren't that common anymore, but Jared gets a couple in for the morning crowd at the diner and he brings them home more to have a crack at the crossword than for any news-related reason. But Jensen doesn't mind trawling through day-old news articles, and so it becomes part of his breakfast routine, him flipping through the twenty-something pages that are left once Jared's pried out the one page he actually wants.

And that's how he sees it.

It's just any ordinary morning. And it's just any ordinary article. It's on page five, pushed towards the bottom, with a small picture of the front of an apartment block with crime scene tape across it. There's nothing special about it – in the past twenty-or-so years the crime rate has escalated significantly, and murder is pretty commonplace these days – but the name mentioned is what catches Jensen's eye. Then he thinks that maybe he does recognise that apartment block in the picture. It's been a long time, but 'Mr J. D. Morgan' isn't unknown to Jensen.

Jared must sense the change in the air, because he looks over at Jensen with a question in his eyes. Jensen tries to shrug it off and turn the page but Jared is too quick for him, pulling the paper from his grasp. Jensen waits. He's tense.

"You know this guy?"

"Once upon a time."

Jared frowns and looks back down to the article.

"Sorry, man. They say it looked like suicide, but there were some discrepancies so they've been treating it as murder just in case."

"It was murder," he says, not meaning to, yet not able to hold it in either, "There's no way Jeff would kill himself. He was a fighter. It would take…"

Jensen gets a terrible sinking feeling in his stomach. He stands from the table and heads to the bedroom area, picking up his laptop from where it's been charging. He's not a tech-savvy guy, and probably only touches the thing once a week or so, but he knows it's the quickest way to get the answers he needs. He spends a few minutes typing, clicking, reading. He shuts the lid when he's done.

So he has his answers now, but he rather wishes he didn't. He doesn't know what to do with the information. And knowing it feels like poison in his veins.

He goes back to the kitchen and finishes eating his breakfast, even though he thinks it might just come straight back up at any moment. He feels hot and clammy but tries to shake it off. His control is hanging by a thread when now, more than ever, he needs to focus and keep himself contained.

"You know," Jared says, gentle as he can, "They've scheduled the funeral for next week if you'd like to go?"

"No," he replies, just a little too forcefully. And he pointedly keeps his face turned away from Jared's too-earnest eyes. "No, that would be just about the worst thing I could possibly do."

Jensen rinses his dishes and gathers his things, hurrying out the front door. It's still early, but he's going to walk to work – being sandwiched between all those people on the train would be a very bad idea. And besides, he needs the fresh air. And time to think.

~//~//~//~

Jared feels more adrift than ever.

He loves Jensen so much it hurts. He doesn't care that Jensen doesn't really like to be touched, or that they barely have sex – if it could even be called that – he just wishes that Jensen would let him in a bit more. He's always so on edge, so anxious, and always in so much pain that Jared almost thinks he can physically feel it. But Jensen's reaction to that article? It's something he might be able to work with.

In the time it takes him to finish his coffee and toast, he makes a decision. Screw the consequences.

He moves to sit on the bed and pulls Jensen's laptop onto his lap. He brings up the search history and takes a look at all the articles Jensen had found. Each one involves a death that occurred under suspicious circumstances, but as far as he can tell the victims had nothing in common. All were in the middle-age range, but they were of both genders, different races, different income brackets and from very different walks of life. It makes no sense to him whatsoever.

Over the next few days he barely sees Jensen. Or rather, he does see him, they just don't have much interaction. Jensen always looks pale and spaced-out and he hardly speaks, Jared might as well be sharing a bed with a ghost.

The diner has a quiet day so he finally gets around to tackling the tiny closet-slash-storage room out the back. It's full of junk, which he happily deposits into the dumpster out back, and beneath it all he finds a desk and empty ceiling-high bookshelf, both of which are attached to the wall. He figures it must have served as his uncle's office, but Jared just wants the storage space. He'd get too claustrophobic sitting in there anyway. So he gets a mallet and a hammer gets to work.

The desk comes away easily enough, though in the process he finds a hidden compartment containing faded documents dated from as far back as the eighties. Some of the pages are redacted, and they look vaguely military-like, but nothing on them makes any sense to Jared. When he starts on the bookshelf though, he realises pretty quickly that it's not made of wood. He manages to peel away some of the vinyl on the outside to find solid metal underneath.

He runs his hands around the edges, looking for a weakness, when he hears something 'click' and then the bookshelf rolls back, exposing a ladder.

"Huh."

He turns on the torch feature on his phone and ventures down. It's damp and musty and he thinks he can hear the flow of sewer water somewhere far off. He finds a light switch and blinks confusedly at what is revealed to him.

It looks as if he's standing in a long-abandoned subway station. He can see the tracks over the edge of the platform and there's some sort of vehicle parked there, though it's covered by a large sheet of canvas. The wall at the base of the platform is embedded with three large metal doors – vaults, more like – and he tries to turn the handles but they're all sealed shut. The only other object visible is a wooden cupboard, and he lets go a breath when doors open without any trouble. There is a classic writing desk seated inside. Most of the papers on it have faded beyond legibility, but he finds a flat box in one of the drawers and is surprised to find it filled with photos.

They're old – not black-and-white old – but they're definitely dated. The colours are stark (if a bit faded) and not quite natural-looking. They all seem to be of the same group of people but in varying permutations, and they're dressed in strange clothing. One among them has a thick beard and Jared thinks it could certainly be his uncle Jim, despite the limited pictures he's actually seen of the man. He turns one of the photos over to find a few lines of cursive – five unfamiliar names and the date September 1984. Maybe Jim went by a nickname? Or maybe changed his name at some point? Jared can only guess.

He flips through the rest just to get back to the beginning of the pile, but he stops when one particular photo catches his eye.

It is of two men and a woman, arm in arm, smiling happily together. The man on the right bears a striking resemblance to Jensen. In fact, it could be his twin. He turns the paper over only to find initials rather than names, along with the year 1985. The initials referring to Jensen's doppelganger are T. L., which means nothing to Jared. Perhaps it was his father? He takes another long look at the photo and suddenly has a thought. He pulls out his phone and does a quick search for Jeff D. Morgan. It brings up a recent picture of the man who recently died, looking worn and grizzled, but he can definitely see the resemblance to the second man in the photo.

He tucks it into his jeans pocket, boxes the rest, and heads back up to the diner. There's nothing else for him down there.

~//~

Two days later Jared finds himself at the cemetery.

Jensen is still quiet and reserved and refusing to acknowledge anything about Jeff Morgan, but that doesn't mean Jared can't offer his condolences in Jensen's place.

The day is suitably cloudy and grey, and while he isn't sure what to expect, it's certainly not the cold, austere reception that he gets. There are no more than ten others there, all men, and all looking not even a little bit emotional about the scene of a shiny, wooden coffin sitting next to a six-foot hole in the ground. In fact, there are two standing at the foot of said coffin, and while they don't look sad exactly, they do look somewhere between rage and like they're about to throw up. That's when Jared catches the other group of black-clad men standing about fifty feet back, watching the two men like prison guards watch their inmates.

Jared has no idea what's going on, but maybe Jensen was right not to—

"Fancy seeing you here."

Jared glances down at the man who is sidling in close on his left.

"Richard? You knew Mr Morgan?"

"In a manner of speaking. But of more import is why are you here?"

"I… have a friend who knew him, but he couldn't be here today. So I came in his stead."

Richard looks at him shrewdly. Then leans in close as if he's whispering a secret.

"Jared, do you trust me?"

"Uh," Jared swallows, taken aback, "I suppose? I mean, you haven't yet given me reason not to."

"Good. Because I'm going to ask you to do two things and I expect you to do them without fail. One, I want you to leave here right away and never mention it again. And two, I want you to go home and have a very serious think about things. If you knew you had put a man's life in jeopardy just by being here, would it still have been worth it? Those are the kind of questions you need to ask yourself. Now scram."

Jared's head is a jumbled mess after that, but his feet do the thinking for him and carry him straight back to Jensen's place.

He sinks into an anxious haze then, pacing the floor, and his hands shake as he picks at all the loose floorboards he can find, then under the bed, under the drawers. He finds what he's looking for in the back of the closet.

Richard was right when he told Jared to leave. But he was wrong about the need to think things over. Jared's already done that. And he knows what - who - his priorities are.

Even so, he knows he may have just done something incredibly stupid without meaning to.

He trails his fingertips across the strange costume hanging in the back of Jensen's closet behind a false wall. It's mostly black but with blue and green panels sliced into the chest and down the arms and legs. It feels leathery but there's no way it is actual leather. It's too thin and too pliable. There are also gloves and goggles to match, both in a pleasing shade of transparent green. Next to the clothing is a shelf holding numerous papers and letters along with another photo box, and next to that is some kind of gun. Except that it doesn't look like any kind of gun Jared's seen before. It's hollow somehow, and there doesn't appear to be any place for ammunition to go in.

Heaving a breath, Jared tries not to disturb anything too much, puts it all back the way he found it, and sits back on the bed.

He tries calling Jensen's phone but gets the message bank, so he just sits and waits and hopes.

He spends a few minutes on Jensen's laptop, refreshing himself on the events of twenty years ago. He wasn't even ten by that stage, so it's hardly his fault that he doesn't remember much, and what he does remember is skewed. All he really recalls is that the superheroes he'd loved seeing in the papers and on the TV were suddenly not there anymore, and then he'd had to save his pocket money to buy comics from the corner store in order to get his fix.

They'd never taught them anything about it in school. If someone brought it up in modern history class it was never properly acknowledged. Now looking it up for himself is revealing to Jared a world he'd never really known. And although these heroes had been publicly persecuted and forced into hiding all those years ago, they clearly still existed, and there were plenty of normal people out there who were now standing up for their cause. But the heroes themselves remained silent on all fronts. It had been so long, they were probably in denial about any sort of support, probably didn't know any better anymore.

That's how Jensen's plight read to Jared. He'd carved out a secret life for himself where no one would pay too much attention to him, and anything more than that was simply too much to handle.

And then Jared had stumbled in and ruined everything.

How Jensen put up with him for this long, he has no idea.

A thud at the front door has Jared on alert. But then comes the sound of a key in the lock and Jensen shuffles in a moment later looking pale and sweaty. He moves to the edge of the bed, kneels down, takes one long, suffering look at Jared and buries his face in the quilt. It muffles his voice when he says:

"You know, don't you?"

~//~//~//~

When Jared says 'yes' Jensen can feel a few more of his foundations crumbling away from beneath him. He's on the verge of the point of desperation and he needs to start thinking damage control if he's going to avoid bringing down the entire block, let alone avoid hurting Jared. There's intense pain simmering away behind his eyes and in his chest, but as long as he stays calm he thinks he's still got some time on his hands, so he needs to make use of it.

"So, I quit my job today," he offers instead.

Jared puts the laptop down and shifts on the bed.

"Oh?"

"I've had the letter written out for a while, actually. Knew I was gonna have to leave soon anyway…"

"You, umm," Jensen can see the words hanging on the tip of Jared's tongue, "You're older than you look, aren't you?"

"Going on forty-five now."

"Wow, okay… Does it mean you live longer, or?"

"Apart from getting killed, I am supposed to live a bit longer than normal, but whether I would die still looking young or whether I would just get to a certain point and start ageing really quickly is anyone's guess. It's not an exact science, so—"

"I don't mind, y'know. That you're older."

Jensen digs his fingertips into the mattress. "Jared, I—"

"You know what? I don't care." Jared's jaw is clenched and his gaze is steeled with determination. "I don't know much about what's going on or why, and I wish I knew more. But essentially, I don't care. We haven't ever talked about it, but dammit, Jensen, I love you so fucking much. I just… want to protect you. I want to help you. Please let me."

He can feel the stinging in his eyes and Jensen blinks in effort to hold back the tears. After all he's done he really doesn't deserve Jared, but still his selfishness reigns – he couldn't possibly let him go. He needs him there, even if he must keep him at arm's length.

Perhaps Jared feels the same. Wouldn't that be novel.

"I love you, too. More than I can say. But—" Jensen scrambles back as Jared reaches out to him, "No! Don't touch me!"

He curls up in a ball in the middle of the floor and doesn't look up until he hears a dull 'crack'. He finds Jared standing, staring at the wall with his right hand cradled against his chest. There's a vaguely round hole in the plasterboard wall.

"Sorry," he says, "Not touching you is really hard sometimes."

"I know. I'm sorry, too… For everything. And I think about being close to you as well. A lot, actually."

Jared turns to him. And he looks about as desperate as Jensen feels.

"But if a normal person touches me when I'm… unstable, they can get seriously hurt. Or worse."

Jensen props himself back against the wall.

"They called me The Luminary. I can manipulate light. Project it, absorb it, focus it. It builds up inside me if I don't let it out, but those vitamins I take help me suppress that need."

"They don't seem to be working so well, though."

"Guess not." Jensen makes a fist, feeling the twinging ache in his limbs. "It must be the stress. Even with the vitamins I still have to keep control of myself. It's a hard power to contain."

"You've been off ever since the article."

"Yeah, about that… I assume you saw the names I looked up? They're the aliases of some of the other guardians. Or they were…"

"Guardians?"

"Everyone just called us 'heroes' or whatever, but we thought of ourselves more as guardians, so it stuck. When the new legislation came into effect there were only a few of us that had established cover identities, everyone else had to run and hide. Those of us with the covers helped as much as we could, and still do, but after seeing that Jeff was murdered… Well, turns out someone's been hunting us down after all this time. I don't know how they got our names, but—"

"Oh, shit."

Jared's uninjured hand rises to his face and all the colour drains from his cheeks.

"I know it was really stupid of me but I went to the cemetery today. Richard was there and he sent me straight home, but I saw two men there that were being watched by some sort of… I don't know, a goddamn SWAT team or something. I'm pretty sure they must be heroes like you. They didn't look very well, though. Oh, and I learned a few things about my uncle, too. Turns out he was one of you guys as well. I found this—"

Jensen takes the photo that Jared hands to him and he feels his throat close up tight. His fingertip traces the edges of Danneel and Jeff's faces, and he longs for those past times, when they were free and happy and helping people. Jensen's generation and all those that had come before, they'd done so much good in the world. He doesn't know what changed, where things went wrong, but he knows that people will be people, even the super ones, and but a few mistakes had proven all too costly for society as a whole. A few 'human' mistakes had been their undoing.

"-sen? Jensen!"

"Huh?"

He looks up to find Jared looking at him worriedly.

"You spaced out. I was just saying that my uncle had some kind of headquarters underneath his diner. It's an abandoned train station, I think. There were—"

"Bobby."

"What?"

"We called your uncle 'Bobby' rather than 'Jim'. I have no idea why. And I can't believe I forgot all about that… I've been inside that station you're talking about. Only a couple of times, though. And we went in through the tunnels, rather than through the diner. Your uncle didn't have a flashy power, but he was able keep people in line like no one else. He had an awareness of people and their mindsets. And he was the one that warned us all that we'd have to hide one day. No one believed him at the time…"

Jensen looks down to find his right hand looking very slightly luminescent, and he curses his lack of control, closing his eyes and concentrating hard in effort to reign himself back in. When he opens his eyes again his hand is back to normal, but now that it's started there'll be no holding it back. He needs to get to the Underground and fast.

He figures it's probably good timing anyway. Whoever it was that got to Jeff, they would be on Jensen's tail soon enough. Unless he and Jared could get out of dodge before they got too close.

"Go pack a bag, Jared. We're leaving. I don't know for how long."

~//~

Jensen takes extra precautions as he leads Jared through the maze of alleyways surrounding the Underground's entrance.

Jared confesses that he'd tried to follow Jensen there once but lost him somewhere along the way. And while he's upset that Jared had felt the need to follow him, he's still glad that it was Jared rather than someone else with less honourable goals in mind. And Jensen realises how lucky he is. That is, he doesn't consider himself a lucky guy apart from having Jared at his side, but it has been his careful and disciplined lifestyle that's prevented him from being taken down like a rabid dog already. It's unfortunate he can't say as much for some of his old friends. But it's been twenty years. He can't blame them for getting a little careless after living a lie for such a long time.

They twist and turn and keep to the shadows as much as possible, and Jensen can feel the burning heat creeping up his spinal column, spreading through his bones. At least his old friends didn't have to contend with this.

He hasn't got long now.

They reach the entrance just on dusk, and Misha opens the door before they even get a chance to knock.

"Felicia said you might be coming. We've prepared the vault for—"

"No," he interrupts, and Misha's eyebrows quirk with interest, "It won't hold me this time. I don't know why it's different now but I can just sense that I'm going to lose it more completely than ever before. You put me in that vault and I'll kill everyone in here and then some."

"Right, then. What do you suggest?"

"Is Matt around?"

"Of course."

"Good. Send him up to the roof. I'll meet him there."

Misha hesitates a moment, then clears his throat.

"If you're thinking what I think you're thinking? Then holy fuck, Jensen. And you guys actually call me the crazy one."

He slips away and Jensen feels his knees buckle. Jared reaches out instinctively but stops himself just in time, leaving Jensen to catch himself before he collapses completely.

"What was that guy on about?" Jared asks, pointing in the direction Misha had left. "His reaction isn't really giving me a lot of confidence here. And who's Matt?"

"That was Misha. And he's right, in a way. I need to get as far from everyone as possible, and the only way I can think to do it… Well, you're probably not going to like it. It's risky. And Matt's the guy who's going to help me."

He turns from Jared and heads towards the stairwell that will lead them to the roof. He has to get up there before he runs out of strength. He's at a point now where even having a guardian touch him would probably be damaging to them. Matt is just going to have to deal with it, though. He'll likely end up with a pretty serious case of sunburn, but at least he's a fast healer, so it shouldn't slow him up too much.

When they reach the roof they find themselves all alone. And Jared faces him head on, looking scared as hell.

"What are you going to do? Will you be okay?"

Jared's voice is whisper-soft and filled to the brim with emotion. For Jensen it's the second-to-last straw. It very nearly breaks him.

"If I explode here on the ground I'm just going to hurt a whole lot of people. So I intend to not be on the ground when it happens. It's risky, like I said. But I should be alright eventually… There are others here that can—"

"Kiss me."

Jensen looks at Jared. He means it.

It takes every ounce of strength he has left to control himself enough to press his lips to Jared's without fear. Jared's hands are fisted at his sides and Jensen's are clenched behind his back, but he manages to hold out for five whole seconds – five whole seconds of Jared's lips pouring so much love into Jensen that he can barely stand it.

And then he has to tear himself away.

He sees Jared's eyes pop wide open as he feels his body lighting up like a light bulb. A second later there are people swarming out from the stairwell. Dozens of them, led by Felicia and Misha, spreading out across the rooftop, ready to watch Jensen light up the night sky. Somehow it's only occurring to him in that moment that a man exploding in the sky might just tip off the human authorities in a way he's been trying to avoid for the last two decades.

"You're too pretty to be worrying about that stuff," Felicia says as she approaches. "But seriously, the aftermath? It's been a long time coming, let me just say that. So don't worry about it, alright?"

He trusts her implicitly, so he tries to take her words to heart.

"Everything happens for a reason," Misha pipes in, "And this is no exception. We can explain it all when you come back down to earth."

Matt edges his way through the crowd and Jensen tries not to worry too much about Jared, standing there wringing his hands and looking like he's about to pass out. He takes a deep breath and throws his glasses off – he never needed them anyway – pulls off his suit jacket and tie, loosens his shirt, and musses his hair up. He must look every inch his twenty-five-year-old appearance.

Matt's limbs start to expand, his arms growing long and swelling up like tree trunks, thick with muscle. He's even bigger than Jensen remembers.

"Pretty much," Jensen acknowledges, feeling himself getting brighter by the moment, "And I apologise in advance for any third-degree burns you end up with."

Matt shrugs. "And I forgive you in advance."

Jensen is getting so bright some of the nocturnal types have to start shielding their eyes. He takes one last look at Jared, who gives him a faint wave from amid his stupor, and then giant hands are wrapping around his middle, whirling him around through the air and then catapulting him through the night sky.

For a split second the air of the upper atmosphere feels cool on his face. Then everything goes white.

~//~//~//~

Watching Jensen explode like a supernova is one of the most beautiful things Jared's ever seen.

It's also the most painful thing he's ever felt.

White-blue light streaks across the sky like some kind of ultimate firework, set off so far above the earth's surface it might as well be in space. It takes a good sixty seconds for the light to burn itself out, and then the woman – Felicia – calls out, and a short man with curly brown hair leaps up into the air and takes off at great speed. The past day has been by far the craziest Jared's ever experienced, but seeing Jensen and all these guardians with all their powers… is like something out of his wildest childhood fantasies. He's feeling more than a little out of his depth. And it doesn't feel real to begin with.

"He'll be fine."

He turns to find Felicia at his side.

"Rob can travel at high speeds. He'll catch Jensen and bring him back here. He might be out of it for a few days, but he'll recover. He always does."

"He's the strongest left. That we know of, at least."

Misha approaches him and puts a hand on his shoulder.

"But I think we need to worry about you."

"What? But I'm fine." At least, Jared thinks he is.

"My what now?"

Felicia laughs. "Misha can see those things which cannot be seen. He might sound like a crackpot, but he does know what he's talking about. Most of the time."

"Right."

~//~//~//~

Jensen wakes to a pounding headache an almost unbearable need for water.

He doesn't even have to open his eyes before there's a cup being held to his lips, and he drinks deeply, letting go a contented sigh when he's done. He pries open his eyelids finally, and the first thing he sees is Jared. It's a more than welcome sight, and he smiles when he feels the pressure around his fingers, realising that their hands are clasped together.

"About time," Jared grumbles, though his happiness to too transparent for Jensen to take it any other way.

"How long?"

"Five days. Longer than we thought, but Felicia wasn't worried. She said you probably needed the rest."

And Felicia would know. She was right about most things, and Jensen had to admit she was probably right about this too. He'd been chronically tired for the past decade and a half, that was the truth. But now, even laid up in bed after being passed out for five days, he feels… energised. And in complete control of himself and his faculties. It had been a long time since he'd last felt this good.

"So what did I miss?"

"Shit, where do I start?"

"How about you? You're fine, right?"

Jared grins brightly. "I'm more than fine. In fact… How do I say this… I found out I'm like you?"

Confused, Jensen pushes himself upright, so they're on the same level. "Like me how?"

"I have power." Jared bites his lips awkwardly, looking a little embarrassed. "I had no idea, y'know? My dad was normal. His brother – that's Bobby – he got the power and I think my dad must have hated him for it… But, yeah. It skipped a generation or something."

Jensen takes a moment to process, then takes Jared's hands back between his own. It had to be a mental or internal ability of some kind. Jensen had been around heroes for so long it was usually fairly easy for him to spot them. They had a 'vibe' about them – that was the best way for him to describe it, anyway. But Jared… Maybe the fact that he hadn't known had something to do with it? Or maybe love was just as blind as the saying said it was.

"What can you do?"

"Ain't that the question of the day?"

Misha and Felicia are standing in the doorway, and they let themselves in without invitation, Misha sitting himself on the end of the bed and Felicia pulling up a chair.

"Jared, here," Misha begins, ignoring the fact that Jared could probably speak for himself, "He provokes truth."

"He what now?"

Felicia preens. "It's so cute how alike you two are, even when you're so different."

"He means that by being near people or talking to them, I inspire them into honesty, so they say or do things that they might have been trying to hide, or face things they've been in denial about."

"That's… very you, actually," Jensen admits, and Jared squeezes his hand in response.

"But wait, there's more," Felicia butts in. "You'd think it couldn't get any crazier, but oh, man, does it ever! So Jared's power is actually really powerful, right? And him being near you all the time is what caused your pills to stop working and all those other little slip-ups you had."

"You don't need to apologise."

"Actually, Jensen," Misha says, posing thoughtfully, "It's a testament to your strength that you lasted as long as you did. A lesser man would have exploded months sooner."

And Misha's words suddenly hit home.

"Wait. What's going on outside? Have the authorities been hunting us down after my great gig in the sky?"

"Actually…"

Felicia pulls out a tablet computer and hands it to him. It's a TV news channel. There's footage of the explosion, followed by hundreds of people gathering in the streets. Then it switches to shots of numerous world leaders standing behind podiums, and now there's thousands of people standing in the streets, and some of them… are not exactly standing. His pulse quickens as another scene pops up. Two familiar faces standing next to the President.

"What have I…?"

Jensen's heart is in his throat. He thinks he's surely started a war.

"No, Jensen! This is good, I promise!" Misha pats his leg under the bed covers. "After your explosion - which half the world was able to see, by the way - heroes all over the world have been coming out of the woodwork. There's even more of them than there was before. They can't ignore us anymore. We're in talks to repeal all anti-hero legislations. Oh, and they've arrested the rogue team who were trying to exterminate you. Us. So that's good, too."

So much change in so little time. And all because of his light explosion which Jared caused completely by accident? It was almost too much to take in.

"Wait… You sent Sebastian as our representative? To the President?"

"We thought he'd be the most… appealing. Personable. Or something."

"But what about Richard? He's not—"

"No, he's not a hero, although apparently his parents were. He's just a friendly, and he's good at communicating with people."

"Wow, this is—"

"Almost too much, right?"

Jensen looks up at Jared, all smiley and finishing his sentences and such. Jensen had always just wanted to do good, but to provoke the world into changing itself? That was a big deal. And it was all due to Jared and his oblivious self – the big lug had been using his power the entire time. It was crazy, just as Felicia had said.

Maybe Jensen could retire now.

"Alright you two," Jared says with a smirk, "You can piss off now."

They both do as they're told, Misha giving him two thumbs up as he disappears out the door. He's glad he's amongst his own right now, but having Jared all to himself feels like everything he'll ever need. Jared kicks his shoes off and climbs up onto the bed, worming an arm under Jensen's back and wrapping his limbs around him like an octopus. Having Jared close like this – truly close – feels like he's able to breathe for the first time in two decades. He feels clear-headed and strong and so, so in love.

He reaches up and pulls gently, catching the light from the lamp hanging from the ceiling, a ball of it hovering just above his hand. Jared laughs against his shoulder and Jensen goes a step further, splitting the ball into ten smaller ones and sending them floating freely around the room, like fireflies dancing through the air.

"I bet you've got some pretty neat party tricks."

"I've got plenty of tricks, period. And I can't wait to show you them all."

Jared goes quiet for a moment.

"You know, I used to read lots of comic books when I was a kid."

"Yeah, well, now you're part of it for real. I'm pretty sure that helping to jumpstart the world into saving itself kind of makes it official, don't you?"

"I guess. I just… all I wanted was to love you."

His power has already exploded once this week, but Jensen thinks his heart might be next on the list.

"You're an amazing person Jared, and now you get all the rewards. Love included."

"Well, hey, you're pretty amazing, too."

"You're more amazing, though."

"No, you are."

"No, you."

"Dammit, Jensen. Just kiss me already."