Jensen's heard the cardinal rule a lot of different ways.
When his grandfather told him, it was "Trust no one." When his mother told him, it was, "You have to be careful--just because you have powers doesn't mean you're invincible." When his dad told him, it was, "No one can ever know."
His brother said, "Never fall for a normal, man. It'll fuck you over." That was after Josh had gotten dumped for the first time because he kept canceling dates, and he couldn't just say I had to save Dallas from mutant rodents.
Jensen thinks of it as kind of a scale--equivalent exchange. You can't trust normals because normals don't have as much to lose as you do.
So Jensen is kind of quiet, kind of a loner--keeps his head down, doesn't attract attention. He knows it's not the only way to be, and probably not the best way to be, but it's the way that works for him.
Mild-mannered dweeb, that's him.
"Jensen Ackles?" asks Jared, glancing over the paper Katie gave him. He's a junior, like Jared, apparently pretty much runs tech for all the plays and events. Jared's never even heard the name, which is weird considering he dated Alona for a few weeks during the fall play, which she was really, really invested in. Then again, she never talked about the technical aspects at all, and they mostly made out, so, whatever. "Why's he getting Student Spotlight?"
Student Spotlight is a regular feature in the paper, and this is Jared's first time covering it. It's pretty much an interview with a "random" student who's done something interesting recently, like winning a race or writing an award-winning essay or saving kittens from trees or whatever.
"He's been selected for some really prestigious summer arts program," says Katie. She shrugs. "Mrs. O'Toole thinks we have too much of a sports focus in the Student Spotlight and wants us to branch out some. She thought he'd be good."
"So, what, I just stalk him and ask for an interview?"
Katie rolls her eyes. "Don't be so dramatic. You guys have the same free period, you should be able to find him."
"Do you have a picture or something?"
Katie looks surprised. "You really don't know him at all?"
"Why, do you?"
"No, but you guys are both juniors, I figured you might have at least seen him around."
Jared shrugs. "I've only been here for a semester," he reminds her. His family moved over the summer, and he wasn't psyched about starting a whole new life so far through high school, but so far it hasn't been bad. He likes working on the paper, and it's a built-in peer group. He has friends and a place to sit at lunch and something to do after school that isn't just going home and watching cartoons with his little sister. If he hasn't found anyone he really connects with, it's not a huge deal.
Katie sighs. "Okay, well, e-mail him. Something. I have faith in your abilities."
"So you're saying this is all on me now, right?"
Katie grins. "Enjoy."
Jensen's phone beeps while he's chasing down a random thug, which is always really embarrassing.
"You couldn't have put it on vibrate?" asks Bombshell. She's Jensen's favorite patrol partner--about his age, with useful powers and a killer tongue. She's more well-known than him, and if they're spotted, most people look at her instead of him.
"Maybe it's urgent," Jensen shoots back.
"Right," says Bombshell, sounding amused, "because clearly you're not doing anything important right now."
The thug is coming up on an automatic door that opens outward, and Jensen concentrates hard, telling the door to go--now.
It opens up and hits the guy right in the face, and he staggers. Bombshell jumps down to grab him.
"Nice work," she tells him, grinning over her shoulder. "You're a little useful, iHero."
Jensen's real codename is Hacker, but Bombshell always calls him iHero, which is kind of nice. It makes him feel like they're friends.
"Gee, thanks," he says. "Sorry I can't blow shit up with my brain."
"Not everyone can be as cool as me," she agrees. "It's a curse. Was your call an emergency?"
Jensen closes his eyes, focuses on talking to the phone. As powers go, being best friends with electronics is pretty useful. Someday, he's hoping to get good enough to get e-mail with his brain. That would be awesome.
Hi, Jensen! My name's Jared, I work for the Henderson Monthly--that's the school paper, in case you're not a reader ;) I hear you're into the Dallas Theater Arts summer program, which is seriously cool, and I wanted to interview you for our Student Spotlight feature. We both have third block free, so if you want to meet up sometime then, that'd probably be easiest. Let me know! Looking forward to meeting you, Jared.
"Uh," says Jensen, almost involuntarily. "Yeah, big emergency. Huge deal."
"Busy life, huh?" she asks. It's curious, a little hopeful, and Jensen has been thinking about talking to her about his life, the real one. It's safe, if they exchange secrets. They're both as vulnerable.
"Mile a minute," he says, with a smile cockier than he feels. Sometimes he wishes his mask covered his mouth; maybe that would be better. "You got this covered?"
"I'm taking all the credit if you leave," says Bombshell. "Fair warning."
"Because hitting a guy in the face with a door is so glamorous," says Jensen, rolling his eyes. "Same time tomorrow?"
"Looking forward to it."
Hey, I'm not really sure I have time to be interviewed. I've got a lot of homework. Could you maybe get someone else?
Jared frowns at the e-mail and glances around the library. Third block is free for all juniors with at least one AP class or at least three honors classes, so it's pretty crowded. Most of his friends are in the corner, laughing and joking around, and he knows Jensen isn't among them. But there are at least thirty other guys in the room, and Jared only knows about half of them. He sighs. Katie didn't sound like no was really an acceptable answer, although it might not have occurred to her. Jared certainly hadn't thought Jensen Ackles would turn him down flat.
Mr. Morgan is at the desk, checking in returned books, and Jared leans his arms on the wood and waits.
"What do you want, Padalecki?" Mr. Morgan asks.
"You know Jensen Ackles?"
"I'm the teacher, it's my job to know everyone. Why?"
"I'm supposed to interview him for the paper, but I don't actually know what he looks like."
Mr. Morgan glances around. "He's probably in the computer lab in the back."
Jared blinks. "There's a computer lab in the back?"
"It's more a dump for old machines," says Mr. Morgan. "Jensen likes tooling around with them. He's trying to fix them, I think. Real whiz with technology."
"Thanks, Mr. Morgan, you're the best!"
"Don't distract him too much. If he can fix any of them, I'm actually getting a replacement computer in here."
Jared smiles. "Who, me?"
It says "Computer lab" on the door, but about half the letters are gone, and Jared doubts anyone really uses it anymore. Except for Jensen, apparently. Jared didn't even realize it was back here.
He knocks, mostly out of politeness, and then pushes the door open.
There's a guy sitting in the middle of a pile of very old computers. He looks completely surprised to see anyone in the room at all. The computer is glowing blue, and it reflects against his glasses. It looks a little eerie, Jared thinks.
"Uh," the guy says.
"Are you Jensen?" Jared asks, with his most reassuring smile.
"Yes?" he says, sounding a little confused.
"You sure about that?"
"Yes, I'm--who are you?"
"I'm Jared. I e-mailed you about doing an interview?"
"Oh, yeah," says Jensen. "Uh. Sorry, I'm just--"
"Busy, I know. Listen, this is my first time doing the Student Spotlight and I really don't want to screw it up, so--I could just sit here and ask you a few questions while you work? Maybe?"
Jensen pushes his glasses up. "Look, Jared--"
Jared gives him his most winning smile. "Please?"
Jensen checks the student records for all new students at the beginning of each year. There usually aren't too many transfers, and he likes to keep up.
Jared Padalecki is from San Antonio. He's a straight-A student, spotless record, by all accounts a great kid.
On the other hand, he's abnormally tall and showed up around the same time as Trauma, who is just about Jensen's least favorite supervillain right now.
All supers have some of the same skills--speed, strength, flight, a certain quickness of mind and ability to reason beyond that of normals. Most supers also have a more unique skill--Jensen's knack with technology, Bombshell's pyrotechnics.
Trauma is a telepath, and he specializes in finding people's fears and repressed nightmares and using them to incapacitate his enemies and victims. He doesn't have any particular goals in his M.O., not that Jensen has found yet. He just likes fucking people up.
Jensen has no proof that Jared is Trauma. He just thinks there's a possibility.
Besides, he doesn't like people.
"Please?" says Jared.
Jensen sighs. "Can we make it fast?"
"Faster than a speeding bullet," says Jared. He grabs the rolling chair out of the corner and sits on in backward, leaning against the back and smiling. "So, name, age, favorite food?"
Jensen raises his eyebrows. "Seriously?"
"Seriously! We like to start off easy."
Jensen rolls his eyes. "Jensen Ackles, 17, um, burgers."
"Yeah? What do you have on your burgers?"
"Is this for the interview?"
"Just curious. Man, you're really eager to get this over with, huh?"
"Yeah, this is really cool. You're really into computers, huh?" At Jensen's look, he adds, "This is for the interview. Since the interview is about how you're doing tech and all."
"Yeah, I think computers are fun," says Jensen. "And it's a pretty useful skill to have."
"Yeah, man, I wish I could make a hunk of junk into something useful. My old computer died and now it's pretty much a paperweight."
Jensen raises his eyebrows at that. It's--strange. Jared is very relaxing. He makes Jensen feel at ease, in a way that Jensen rarely does. He wants to be nice, and that's also weird.
Of course, if he were Trauma, his telepathic abilities might also allow him to put people at ease.
"Yeah, it's a good skill to have."
"So how did you get into tech? I hear you pretty much run the whole thing."
"My dad's an actor," says Jensen. He doesn't see any reason to lie about this. It's not hard to figure out. "I was interested in theater, but I'm not really the actor type."
"It doesn't seem like you like the spotlight much," says Jared, not unkindly. "What can you tell me about the program you're doing? I did a little googling, but I'd rather hear what you like about it."
"Um," Jensen flushes. "Ms. Smith actually recommended it for me without telling me. She thought I'd be good for it."
"Apparently so do they," Jared says with a smile. "What's your favorite thing about doing tech?"
Jensen is taken aback. He got into tech because it was logical--his powers give him a natural advantage when it comes to the lighting, but it doesn't actually help as much as he thought it would. "I like," he starts, uncertainly, "I like seeing the show come together. I like how everything I do becomes invisible, but it's still so important, I guess." He rubs the back of his neck. "Sorry, it's kind of hard to explain."
"No," says Jared. He's smiling, this kind of small, nice smile that makes Jensen's stomach flip a little. "No, that's good. It sounds really cool."
"Yeah, well," says Jensen, with an awkward shrug. "I like it."
"So," says Jared, clearing his throat, and Jensen can feel the moment ending, "tell me more about the program."
"There's a robbery two blocks over, we are going," says Jake.
"You realize," says Jared, looking up from his article, "how pathetic you are, right? Like, seriously."
"Have you seen Bombshell, man?"
"No," says Jared. "And neither have you, because she's in costume."
"In spandex. She's smoking hot in spandex."
"Is Hacker gonna be there? I'm sold if Hacker's gonna be there."
Jake rolls his eyes. "Dude, I do not know what you see in him."
"Um, have you seen his ass? Plus he's really cool."
"Technically I'm a biphobe," says Jake. "Come on. They're like a team now. You can ogle his ass. I won't stop it. Just let me have Bombshell."
"This is sick and wrong," says Jared, grabbing his shoes. "I should not be enabling your obsession."
"And yet you are," says Jake. "You are a good friend."
Jared flips him the bird.
Bombshell is working the crowd, for which Jensen is grateful. She's signing autographs and flirting with fanboys, and Jensen can hang out in the back tying up the perps.
It's a bank that has bad luck, for whatever reason--they get robbed a lot. He thinks that maybe they got a reputation for being an easy mark, and now it gets hit hard. He and Bombshell make it a point to stop by on every patrol.
He's getting pretty familiar with the security cameras, and he perks up when one of them tugs against his awareness, a kind of strange, look at me, look at me! when something unexpected happens.
"Bombshell," he says carefully, and she looks back instantly. She really is the best partner.
"What is it?"
"Something on the roof," he says.
"Both of us, you think?"
Jensen concentrates and swears suddenly. "It's Trauma."
"Shit," says Bombshell. "Get these people out of here?"
"Me?" asks Jensen.
"I have more firepower," she says reasonably. "We don't want a crowd with PTSD. Call it in with your crazy powers and I'll hold him off."
Jensen nods and tells his work phone to send out a distress signal for the bank. "Be careful," he tells her, and she smiles.
"You're a good partner, Hacker."
She takes off and Jensen calls, "Everyone, listen up! We need to evacuate this area immediately!"
"Where's Bombshell?" asks a guy, and Jensen finds him in the crowd, and then--next to him, taller than anyone else in the crowd, is Jared Padalecki.
"Bombshell is saving all our asses, so let's not waste it, huh?" says Jensen, trying not to--he's not sure what he wants to do, knowing that Trauma is on the roof and Jared is here, on the ground. But he doesn't have time to do it now. "Come with me."
Jensen takes off, hovering high enough to be visible to everyone, and leads them away from the bank.
Jumper, one of the older heroes, flies by him as he leads them away. "Hey, kid, where am I going?"
"Top of the First National," says Jensen. "Bombshell's up there with Trauma."
"You coming once you get the civilians clear?"
"That's the plan."
Jumper nods. "See you up there."
"Hey!" Jared calls. He feels--dumb, but. He's really, really curious.
Hacker turns, looks surprised. "Yes?"
"I heard you talking to Jumper," he says. "Is Trauma at the Bank?"
"We believe so."
"Can you--talk to the cameras?"
Hacker looks surprised. "Um," he says. "How'd you know?"
"I've read a bit about you," Jared admits. He doesn't add that he has a poster on his wall; that's the kind of thing Hacker really doesn't need to know. "Is that how you knew he was on the roof?"
"Yes," says Hacker. "Listen, I've got to--"
"Yeah," says Jared. "Go get bad guys."
Hacker shoots him one last look, unreadable behind the mask, and takes off.
Jensen's surprised to hear a knock on the door during third block, and he looks up to see Jared again, smiling.
"Um," says Jensen. He really has no idea how to react to Jared when he wasn't possibly a supervillain. "Did you need more for the interview?"
Jared smiles sheepishly. "Nah, but--it's kind of nice back here. Quiet. I was wondering if I could sit with you?"
Jensen blinks. "I guess, yeah."
Jared's smile turns into a grin, and Jensen looks away.
"I'm trying to write an article about Hacker," Jared continues, not noticing Jensen's discomfort.
Jensen doesn't react. "Hacker? The superhero?"
"Yeah," says Jared. "Well," he looks down, "I mean, not just Hacker, but Hacker's my favorite."
"I didn't know the school paper did articles on crimefighting."
"I happened to be an eyewitness of Trauma hitting First National last night," says Jared. "I saw some of the fight."
Jensen tries to mask his surprise. "I thought they evacuate when Trauma is involved."
"They do," Jared grants. "It was risky."
It was stupid, Jensen thinks. If he'd known--the problem with civilians isn't just that they're at risk themselves, they're distractions. If Jensen had known Jared was there--he doesn't even want to think about it.
"Anyway, I got a pretty good view of the whole thing, snapped a couple pictures. Figure maybe I can get something in a real paper, if I'm lucky."
"Wow," says Jensen.
"You into superheroes?" Jared asks.
"Uh," says Jensen. "I dunno. They're cool and all, but I wouldn't say I'm a fan or anything."
Jared laughs. "According to my friend Chad, my epic crush on Hacker is pathetic, so, you know. I've been trying to keep it to a minimum, but now that I have actually seen him, it's gonna be hard. But I accept not everyone is as crazy as I am."
Jensen chokes a little, and it comes out sounding like a weird cough.
Jared flashes him a smile. "Also, I'm bisexual. I think this level of personal confession probably means we're friends. Or you're my therapist, maybe."
"That's--okay," says Jensen. "I mean. I'm more into Hacker than Bombshell myself," he adds, because the polite thing to do when someone comes out to you is to come out back, even if it is kind of narcissistic to say he's into himself.
Jared grins and sits down. "So you want to come to my next stakeout?"
"You're doing this again?"
"Depends on how this article goes," says Jared. "If they want more, yeah."
"That's really dangerous," says Jensen.
Jared grins. "I'm pretty buff."
Jensen looks away.
"How are you holding up?" asks Jensen.
Bombshell leans back. She looks wrung out. "What's your name?" she asks.
"You saw me living out my worst nightmares," says Bombshell. "I think I could get your name."
Jensen bites his lip. "Jensen," he says. "Ackles."
She looks over at him, surprise all over her face. "The tech guy."
"Um," he says. "I guess, yeah."
Bombshell laughs. She looks happy. "No shit! I'm Danneel. I was Viola in Twelfth Night."
Jensen finds himself smiling back at her. "Small world."
"No wonder you're such a tech whiz," she says. "Cheater."
"You're just jealous blowing shit up has no real-world applications."
Bombshell--Danneel--shoves his shoulder. "Don't brag, iHero," she says. "It's really unflattering."
Jensen can't stop grinning. It's an unfamiliar feeling.
Jared is skulking. Which he knows is bad and wrong, but the local paper accepted his story, which is awesome, and he wants to give them some more articles. It would look great on college applications, for one thing, and it's also the kind of thing he can be proud of.
And it really is kind of addictive, seeing Hacker. The guy is hot--tall and broad and the spandex really shows off his ass and his junk.
Okay, he's getting distracted.
He has no desire to rumble with Trauma--he's read about Trauma, and he's scary. Jared doesn't want anyone reading his mind, prying out his secrets, and torturing him with them. That sounds so not fun.
"You know," says a conversational voice, "generally when we tell civilians to not hang around, we mean it."
Jared looks over to see Hacker hovering in the air next to him, looking somewhere between amused and exasperated.
"Hi," says Jared. "Slow night?"
"You were at the bank the other day."
"Yeah," says Jared.
"And now you're just hanging around like a creepy stalker?"
"I prefer the term journalist."
"You're, what, twelve?"
Jared's never gotten the impression that Hacker is particularly old. He always pegged them as about the same age, although he knows a lot of that was just--he feels weirdly connected to Hacker.
It's the kind of thing that makes him feel like a crazy fanboy.
"Eleven and a half," says Jared, sticking his tongue out, and Hacker laughs.
"You're hilarious," he says, but there's warmth in his voice. "Seriously, you need to get out of here, man."
"Okay, you need to get out of here, Jared."
"Looking for an autograph?"
"She's your partner, right?"
"I guess, yeah," says Hacker, like he's just thinking about it.
"Your partner?" Jared asks.
"She's a little too much woman for me," says Hacker. "If you know what I mean."
"Oh," says Jared. His heart flutters a little.
"Seriously," Hacker says, sobering. "You're a little too big to be a damsel in distress, dude. I don't want to have to be saving your ass.
"Gonna carry me to safety?" Jared asks, batting his eyelashes.
"Go home, Jared."
Jared grins. "Tomorrow night. Same bat time, same bat channel."
Jared waves as he leaves.
Jensen is sitting under his favorite tree, having lunch, when Jared flops down next to him. Jared has been coming to the computer lab regularly, mostly just to sit in the dark and type quietly.
And, of course, they've been seeing each other at night, during patrols, but Jared doesn't know that.
"Hi," says Jensen, a little confused.
"Hi," says Jared. His shirt rides up as he stretches his arms over his head on the grass. He's in good shape. "I'm tired."
"You could stop stalking superheroes at night. Sleep instead."
"Is hitting on Hacker a bad idea? Because he definitely told me he's into guys. And I'm not bad-looking, right? Help me out here."
"You're fine," says Jensen. "I mean, you know, if giants are your thing."
Jared snorts. "Thanks. You're so good for my self-esteem, man."
"Oh Jared, you're so dreamy," he deadpans. "He's probably not--interested in dating," he adds carefully. "I mean, he's not really--him."
"Huh?" asks Jared.
Jensen clears his throat. "I mean, he's got to be someone other than Hacker, right?"
"His secret identity."
"Yeah," says Jensen. "He can't date you with his mask on."
Jared snickers. "Bet we'd get into a nice restaurant, though."
A shadow falls across them and Jensen looks up to see Danneel there. It's odd, knowing Danneel in the real world. It was already odd having Jared around, and two friends is more than he's ever had at once. His family has made him a little paranoid, maybe.
"Hey, Jensen," she says. "I don't think I know your friend."
She does, of course, sort of, and Jensen doesn't miss her significant look.
"Danneel, Jared. Jared, Danneel from theater."
"Oh, yeah, I've heard about you. I dated Alona for a few weeks, she--mentioned you."
Danneel snorts. "Mostly that I beat her out for the role she so richly deserved."
"Something along those lines," Jared agrees cheerfully.
"What's up, Danneel?" Jensen asks pointedly. They don't really hang out a whole lot during school--he's a loner, she's popular. It's suspicious. Jared would be, except there is nothing actually to discover about them. He and Jared are not secretly going out every night and fighting crime. They're just--friends.
"Ms. Smith wanted me to make sure you're coming to the auditions today."
"Auditions?" Jared asks, sounding kind of curious.
"For the musical," says Danneel. "If Jensen isn't around to run lights, we'll pretty much be auditioning in pitch black."
"Of course I'm coming," says Jensen dismissively. "Ms. Smith worries too much," he adds with a significant look, because he's sure that Danneel is just worried about him hanging out with their resident fanboy. Which is really a lot safer, because Jared likes bitching to him about Hacker, so he stays up-to-date with what the guy is thinking. It's safer.
"Can I come?" asks Jared, and Jensen blinks, nonplussed.
"What?" he asks.
"The tech stuff sounds cool!" says Jared, grinning at Jensen from the ground. His hair is mixed in with the grass and he looks light and happy and--Jensen looks away.
"Um, I guess, if you want to, yeah."
"I know you're the king or whatever, but I can totally be your slave."
Danneel gives Jensen another look. Jensen does not look back.
The lighting booth is small and cramped and Jensen is so familiar with it that it's actually vaguely creepy. At first he gave Jared a sort of tour--given it's a tiny room full of random machines, it's not really a tour so much as "that's the lighting board" and "that's the sound board" and "this is my chair"--but now he's in the zone, working so fast that Jared is actually kind of impressed.
Jensen in the lighting booth is different from Jensen in the real world, and that's disconcerting too. Jensen is usually--well, it's not quite that he's shy, Jared has learned. He's just unused to dealing with people. Jared thinks Jensen is a loner by choice, not by necessity, and seeing him in the booth is like seeing the Jensen he should be--confident and efficient and relaxed despite the pressure.
"Sorry," says Jensen, once everything is apparently set up to his liking and running on automatic. "I guess I kind of ignored you there."
"You are totally the king of tech," says Jared, grinning at him, and Jensen flushes.
"So, Jensen's like your boyfriend, right?" asks Chad.
Chad is his best friend from San Antonio, and Jared misses him. Not terribly, because Chad's main characteristic is being a douche, and Jake is pretty much a douche too so he's a worthy replacement (with a superhero-stalking police radio, as a bonus), but a good deal. He does love Chad, despite his many faults.
"Uh," says Jared, confused. "No?"
Chad snorts. "Dude, you should totally hit that."
"I call you to ask you for advice about hitting on my favorite superhero and you tell me to go for my techie friend?"
"Uh, yes?" says Chad. Jared can hear him rolling his eyes. "Let's see, famous superhero with tons of groupies, totally out of your league. Tech theater dork with no friends? That's on your level."
"He has friends," Jared objects, even though it's not really true. "And Hacker is talking to me. It is not totally hopeless, you asshole. He knows my name."
Chad snorts, and Jared does his best to steer the conversation away from Hacker and Jensen, feeling mildly perturbed when he realizes how much he talks about the both of them.
"Since when do you hang out with our stalker?" asks Danneel.
Jensen sighs, scanning the ground for signs of criminal activity. Or Jared trying to get some photos. "Since before he was our stalker," says Jensen. "He interviewed me for the paper."
"So he really is interested in you? Not just Hacker?"
"He doesn't know I'm Hacker. No one knows I'm Hacker but you and my family."
She looks impressed. "So he just stalks you all the time?"
"Well, we're friends at school."
He hears a crackle in his head--the police radio. The police radio loves him. He closes his eyes. "Stolen car, no police in the neighborhood."
Danneel immediately snaps to attention. "Where?"
"Your articles are getting better," says Jensen, without looking up.
"Huh?" asks Jared, slinging his backpack on the rolling chair and sitting down crosslegged next to Jensen on the floor. The computer lab is cool and dim, and it's strange to realize it's pretty much his favorite place in the school now.
"Breathe away from me," Jensen says, slanting a gaze at him before returning to his tinkering. "This is delicate." Jared obligingly turns. "The ones about the superheroes. Your Hacker-bias is getting way less noticeable."
"Shut up," says Jared. "You think he'd give me an interview?"
"An interview?" asks Jensen, sounding surprised. "What would he say?"
"I dunno, how he got into crime-fighting, what average citizens can do to help--"
"Other than not stalking him, you mean?" Jensen teases.
"Shut up," says Jared, grinning.
"Given that he's your friend, not mine, I'd say you know better what he will and won't do," Jensen notes thoughtfully.
"He's not really my friend."
"More than he is mine."
"You could always come stalk him with me," says Jared. "You know, if you're bored."
Jensen laughs. "Sorry, man. You're on your own for this one."
"Thought he was your type."
"He's the right gender," says Jensen, his voice strangely off. "But not so much my type."
"Oh," says Jared, unsure how to respond to that.
"Got an article to write about the car chase last night?" asks Jensen.
"Yeah," Jared says absently. He blinks. "How'd you know about that?"
"TV is faster than newspapers. You thought about trying to get in there?" says Jensen.
Jared sighs. He doesn't really feel like writing right now anyway. "Tell me about the computer," he says, leaning over Jensen's shoulder.
Jensen snorts, but he starts pointing stuff out, explaining what he's doing, and doesn't object to Jared resting his chin on his shoulder.
Jensen is small fry, as heroes go. He's not like Captain Thunder or Vertigo--they're the ones that people think of when they think of heroes. Jensen is a local interest piece--he stays in the Dallas area, unless there's a real emergency, and his powers are getting more useful every day (his personal favorite is blowing up perp's blackberries), but he's not a star.
He's a little surprised by the fact that Jared's articles--with their focus on him, not Jumper or Hydra or any of the other adult heroes--do so well. But he kind of likes having Jared around, even if he's a dumbass, so he doesn't mind.
The first time Jared isn't at one of his crime scenes, it's really pretty upsetting.
He wants to ask Jared what happened, but, of course, there's no reason he'd know Jared wasn't stalking Hacker last night. He already tripped up and asked about the stolen car, and he really doesn't need to make Jared any more suspicious.
Jared slumps down in the chair in the corner of the computer lab, looking exhausted.
"Hi," says Jensen, concerned. "What's up?"
"I was up all night."
"The paper wants me to upgrade. I mean, Hacker and Bombshell are fine, but they're not really the heroes everyone's interested in. They like my style and apparently I'm a good stalker, so they had me following Jumper last night."
"Jumper? Shit, Jared, he's--what was he doing last night?"
"Dude, that's not--that's not a few car jackers and robbers, that's a fucking supervillain. You could get hurt!"
"I didn't. I'm fine. I just stayed up too late."
"You're in high school, Jared. You're not supposed to be fucking--risking your life!"
"You didn't care when I was stalking Hacker!"
That's because I could take care of you, Jensen thinks, but he can't say that. "Hacker doesn't do shit, Jared! He gets lowlifes, not villains!"
"I'm not stopping," says Jared. He sounds pissed. "Maybe you're happy just--being tech guy, but I don't have anything like that! This could really go places, Jensen."
He storms out before Jensen can respond.
"Dude, you're such a fucking downer now," says Jake.
"I mean, man. I figured you'd be heartbroken cuz you don't have an excuse to stalk Hacker anymore, but you seem way more broken up about fighting with your techie."
"I just don't get why he's so pissed."
"Because he has a big gay crush on you and doesn't want you getting hurt," says Jake.
"He does not."
"You sure?" asks Jake. "Because, man, he's never exactly happy, but he's been pretty mopey."
"He's an asshole. He could come with me."
"Because having more people possibly getting killed is awesome."
Jared rolls his eyes. "I'm not getting killed."
"Trauma is bad fucking news, man. I'm sticking to stalking Bombshell. Can I tell your boyfriend you miss him?"
Jared is confused. "Who, Jensen?"
Jared sighs. "Yeah. I miss him."
Jensen and Jumper aren't exactly friends. Jumper is a big deal--he's strong and smart, and he can teleport, which is really, really useful. He comes to Dallas as needed, but Jensen doesn't know where he actually lives.
But Jumper has always been nice to him, and he knows how to get in touch, and he's not so mad at Jared that he wants him dead.
"Hacker, what's up?"
"Listen--you've got a civilian tail."
"Kid, I've got a lot of civilian tails."
"There's a guy--seventeen or so. He's been following me and Bombshell around, getting stories for the paper. Doesn't listen, total idiot. Risks his life. Apparently whoever he was working for thinks we're small fry, wanted him to get into the real action."
"Look, Hacker, I get you're worried, and I don't like it, but--I don't have time to babysit."
"I know," says Jensen. "I know. But--I do."
There's a pause. "You do?"
Jensen runs his hand through his hair. "Just--tell me where you're going, and I'll make sure he's okay. I can take care of two people."
There's a pause. "Friend of yours, huh?"
Jensen leans back, closes his eyes, breathes slow and steady. "Yeah. Wouldn't want anything happening to him."
"You never call," says a dry voice, "you never write..."
Jared startles and stares. "Hacker?"
"Hey," says Hacker, with an awkward little wave. "This is monumentally dumb."
"What are you doing here?" he asks.
"I saw your new articles," says Hacker, "and I wanted to tell you--I'm a little hurt."
He says it like it's a joke, but it doesn't really sound like one. Jared swallows. "I go where the story is."
"You gotta be careful, Jared," says Hacker.
"I don't need to be protected."
"Yes," says Hacker. "You do. That's why we're here."
"Thanks. I'm flattered," Jared spits irritably.
"Jumper can't care if you live or die," says Hacker. "It's not him being a bastard, it's not him being indifferent. If you're an idiot, he can't care, because he is about the greater good."
"So are you."
"I don't have to be as good as he is," says Hacker. "I can be selfish."
Jared swallows. "Selfish is saving me?"
Hacker doesn't look at him. "Yeah. Selfish is saving you."
Jensen wonders if it's possible to apologize to Jared. He's never really had a friend, so he doesn't know how to talk to him. Jared's friends with Hacker again--not that they were ever not friends, exactly--but Jensen still misses him.
"You could tell him the truth," says Danneel.
"No, I can't."
"Because--he's not a super."
"He doesn't have anything to offer."
"Hacker," says Danneel, gently. "He's your best friend."
"It wouldn't change anything," says Jensen. "He'd still be an idiot."
"I bet he doesn't want you getting hurt either," she points out.
Jensen sighs. "I miss not having friends."
"Cry more," says Danneel.
It happens fast.
Jared thought he was used to superheroes, but he never realized--Hacker was nice to him. He never flew too quickly, never left Jared behind, watched out for him.
When Trauma gets him, it's in the blink of an eye. He's heading for a crime scene and then he's flying. He's never flown before, and it's exciting until he squirms around and sees Trauma.
"Hacker's toy," says Trauma. "I'm going to enjoy this."
There's a bright flash of pain, and then Jared sees nothing.
Jensen's running late when his comm buzzes.
"Hacker," he says, speeding up absently.
"Trauma's got your boy," says Jumper.
Jensen's blood runs cold. "Trauma took Jared?"
"I'm sorry," says Jumper.
"First National Bank. Where are you?"
Jensen makes himself concentrate. "Fourth and Main."
"I'm coming to you."
Jumper appears fifty feet away, and it's all Jensen can do not to throttle him.
"Why are you here?"
"Trauma took your boy, Hacker. He's looking to get to you, not me."
"So--we can use this, Hacker. He wants to fuck with you, for whatever reason. And if he's using his powers, he's vulnerable. Weak. He'll be distracted."
Jensen stares. He's having trouble processing what Jumper is suggesting. "You want to use us as bait. You want to let Trauma mindfuck Jared--"
"Trauma has Jared, kid. If you don't want this to happen again, we have to lock Trauma up, and the best way to do that is to get him off-guard."
"What do you want me to do?"
"You go," says Jumper, "and when he's torturing Jared, I'll take him out."
"As soon as he starts," says Jensen. "Or I will fucking kick your ass myself. Every computer you ever have will combust, your car will hate you--"
"I get it," says Jumper, and he sounds serious. "I don't want him getting hurt any more than you do."
Jensen swallows. "I don't like it."
"I know," says Jumper. "But it's what we've got."
When Jared comes to, he's tied up, wrists up against a wall and legs roped together.
Trauma, he remembers. Trauma has him, and he was stupid. Jensen was right. He's going to get killed.
"Oh good," says Trauma. "This is much more exciting when you're awake."
"What?" asks Jared muzzily.
"Most superheroes, they don't bring their friends with them. And they aren't nearly as fun when they don't care about the person being hurt."
"Well," says Hacker, "that's just fucked up."
"I see you got my message."
"You're subtle and charming."
"Where's your backup?"
"This seems kind of personal," says Hacker. "I figured you wanted me."
Hacker sounds confident, but he's giving Jared this look, almost--pleading.
Jared takes a deep breath. This is going to be bad, but he trusts Hacker.
Hacker is going to save him.
The first is his mother--she just looks like she's asleep, but Jared can feel it in the pit of his stomach, the knowledge that something is wrong. That she isn't okay.
"Mom?" he says quietly, and when he reaches out, she's cold. "Mom!" he says, more insistent, but she doesn't move, she doesn't react.
"She's dead," says a voice, and he turns. It's Jensen. "She's dead and it's your fault, Jared. You shouldn't have followed those superheroes, you made yourself a target. That's why heroes have secret identities. To protect the people they love."
"Jensen," he starts. "Jensen, I didn't--"
"I wanted to protect you," says Jensen.
A dark shape grows behind Jensen, and Jared tries to open his mouth, but nothing comes out. Jensen doesn't turn around and there are hands, white gloved hands reaching out and snapping Jensen's neck and Jensen is dead, Jensen is--
There's a sharp pain across his cheek, and Jared's eyes focus on Hacker.
"It wasn't real," says Hacker. "Come on, Jared, wake up."
"God, you're okay," says Hacker. "I was so worried, fuck--"
Jared's dimly aware of his hands being untied, and he slumps forward onto Hacker.
"Jared, talk to me," says Hacker. "Come on--God, I'm gonna kill Jumper."
"Trauma was the one who actually took me," says Jared weakly.
Hacker pulls him close, hugging him tightly. "Yeah, but me coming in alone was Jumper's stupid plan."
"Did it work? Did you get him?"
"Jumper did, yeah. I was kind of distracted worrying. Can you sit?"
Hacker eases him down. "I want to get your legs untied."
"Thanks," says Jared.
"Are you okay?" asks Hacker, pulling out the knot on the rope.
"That sucked," says Jared.
Hacker looks up at him, and it's--intense. "I was so worried," he says.
And then Hacker leans up and kisses him.
It's weird, because it should be just what he wants, but all he can think is that he needs to see Jensen, to know that Trauma didn't hurt him, even though Jensen wasn't there.
Because even though the amazing, hot superhero is kissing him, right here on the roof, it turns out Jared is in love with the theater dork after all.
He pushes Hacker back slowly. "Um--I--it's not that I don't," he exhales. "I think I'm in love with someone else. And he might hate me for following you around and putting myself in danger, so I probably shouldn't tell him about this, because he'd just say he told me so--"
"Jared," says Hacker, carefully.
"God. Why am I so dumb? Everyone was like, Jared, you should date Jensen! and I didn't even realize--"
"Jared!" says Hacker, but his voice is--different. Not as deep or as rough and Jared blinks at him.
"You're really, really dumb," says Hacker, but he doesn't sound like Hacker, he sounds like--
"We should get out of here," says Hacker.
And then, kind of embarrassingly, Hacker scoops him up like a girl and takes off.
Jensen is not supposed to tell Jared who he is, but--Jared is in love with him, with him, and Trauma had him, and Jensen can't wait.
He stops at the park down the street where he usually changes, and Jared is still staring.
"Hey," says Jensen, and it feels terrifying to pull of his cowl, but he does it anyway.
"Oh my god," says Jared. "You're--oh god this is so fucking embarrassing."
Jensen lets out a laugh, even though he feels a little bad. "No, it--don't be embarrassed, man."
"But I was telling you about how I pathetically stalked you!"
"Yeah, I liked it better when you told me about how you're in love with me."
Jared groans. "Oh god I told you I'm in love with you."
"I'm in love with you too," says Jensen, carefully. He is, of course he is, but he's never really thought about saying it before.
Jared looks down at him, surprised. "You are?"
Jensen thinks about responding, but instead he pulls Jared's face to him and kisses him again.
Jared responds immediately this time, now that he knows he's kissing Jensen instead of Hacker. He tries to get a grip on Jensen's uniform, but it's designed to keep people from holding on to him, and Jared makes a frustrated noise.
"Does this come off?" asks Jared.
"We're in a park," says Jensen, sort of trying to push him away, but not trying that hard.
Jared makes an impatient noise. "You're a superhero. That's really hot. God, no wonder you're so good with computers."
"They like me," Jensen agrees. Jared kisses his neck, and Jensen laughs. "Dude. We really can't here. I'm already giving away too much secret identity."
Jared sobers, looks very serious suddenly. "You know I'd never tell, right? I mean, about you."
It's the first rule Jensen ever learned--never tell anyone--and it's strange how happy he feels, breaking it. "I know."
The next day at school, Jared comes into the computer lab, leans down and kisses Jensen.
"Careful of the computer," says Jensen.
"Hey," says Jared.
"Hi," Jensen says, grin a mile wide.
"So I'm thinking this Trauma article might be my last one."
Jensen looks surprised. "Really? I mean--"
"I saw you," says Jared. "When you found me on the roof. I don't want to ever make you look like that again."
"Yeah," says Jensen. "That pretty much sucked."
Jared sits down next to him on the floor, leans his chin on Jensen's shoulder. "So, tell me about the computer."
Jensen turns around to kiss him. "It can wait."