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An Audience With the Pope

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Jared gets called into Kripke's office first thing Monday morning, and he knows exactly why.

He's not self-important enough to think that he's the reason Hacker is in New York. In fact, he's fairly sure that Jensen has no idea Jared is in New York, and he's pretty much spent the weekend since the first web reports about Hacker and Bombshell moving to New York to join the Heroic Alliance wondering what, exactly, he's supposed to do.

Jared didn't really break up with Jensen. That is, they broke up, but it wasn't because one of them stopped wanting to be in a relationship or anything. In fact, all that happened was that Jared's dad got transferred again during the summer before senior year. They sort of tried the distance thing, but then Jared got a great scholarship at Brown, and it was fucking Brown, and Jensen was going to UT Dallas because he was Dallas' superhero, and there wasn't a time in the conceivable future where they could be together. So they ended it.

And now Hacker is working out of New York.

"He in there?" Jared asks Jim, Kripke's assistant. It's possible he's really, really not ready for this.

"Waiting for you," Jim confirms, and Jared squares his shoulders before he goes in.

The thing is, it's not like he has any reason to say no. Not as far as Kripke knows.

"Jared!" says Kripke. He hired Jared mostly because he was so impressed by Jared's articles about Hacker from high school; the guy's got a serious hard-on for supers. "Good to see you."

"Good morning, Mr. Kripke," says Jared.

"I'm sure you've heard by now that Hacker is now working out of New York. Jumper is grooming him to be the new head of the Heroic Alliance."

"I've heard, yes," says Jared.

"And I'm sure it's occurred to you that you have an in."

"In all honesty, sir," Jared says, lying through his fucking teeth, "I have no idea if he'll even remember me. I mean, it's been, what, five years?"

It's been seven, but who's counting.

"And I was his fanboy, he wasn't mine."

"Padalecki," says Kripke, with a warning tone, "you know why I hired you?"

"I know," says Jared. He takes a deep breath. "I'll try. I can't make any promises that he'll like me any more than he likes any other reporter."

"You got him to talk to you before. Whatever mojo you used before, get it back."

Jared sighs. "Right," he says. "Will do."

*

There's no one he can really talk to about the whole thing, especially because, if he's honest, if he got everything he wanted, he'd maybe get a date out of this. And it wouldn't exactly be hard to put together if he got back together with his ex-boyfriend right after he met up with the superhero he used to stalk. Everyone at work knows he's doing it, of course--it's not a secret assignment. Lauren offers to flash her boobs for him if he needs backup, and crazy Mike says he should use the force. Apparently everyone has tried to get superhero interviews, and they're all ready for him to fail. Like he wasn't awesome at this in high school.

Of course, in high school, he had Jake's really illegal police scanner to help him.

He used to think that if he talked to electronics, then they could give messages to Jensen, but Jensen explained that this really didn't work.

"Machines don't understand people, Jared," he said patiently. "I understand machines. If I talk to them in English, it means jack shit. I've got like--electronic telepathy. I dunno." Jensen flushed. "That's why they like me. I think they're kind of lonely."

His backup plan is lame, but it's this or stealing a police radio and trying to guess which crimes Jensen is going to pursue. So instead, he's skulking around the top of a building, searching for Hacker superhero on his iPhone so that in case Jensen's scanning electronics, he'll see someone's interested in him.

He knows, of course, that he could just look Jensen Ackles up in the phone book. But that crosses a line, somehow--then it's not work, then it's possibly stalking his ex.

Really, he hates this.

He's looking as sketchy as possible (which is not hard when one is loitering on a rooftop) and praying that Hacker won't show up and hoping just as hard that he will when he hears someone say, "Oh god, really?"

It's not Hacker. It's Bombshell.

Jared didn't really get to know Bombshell in high school, because once he started dating Jensen, he claimed that he had totally turned Hacker down. Which was true, except that Jensen was Hacker, and no one believed him anyway.

So, anyway, he knew Hacker and Bombshell were friends, and if he didn't know Jensen was gay he'd be jealous about all the rumors about them. As it is, he's just glad Jensen has a friend.

It's sad, really, how much he still loves him.

"Hi," Jared tries.

"You're the stalker," says Bombshell, but the way she says it, Jared thinks she knows he's more than that.

Maybe she even knows Jensen's real name. That would be nice.

"Yeah, um." He smiles, a little pained. It might be better seeing her first. Maybe she can tell him if Jensen wants to see him at all. "Hi."

"Let me guess, you're here for Hacker."

"I write for the Post now," says Jared. "And they wanted me to use my connections."

There's a noise from Bombshell's headset, and she says, "Negative, I'm set. No, seriously--" And then she gave him a look he couldn't read. "You're just here for your boss?"

Jared's about to respond--he doesn't know how, but he's going to say something--and then Hacker lands on the roof.

He's not taller than he used to be, Jared doesn't think, but he's broader, filled out. Jared wishes he could see more of his face--the cowl covers everything above his nose, and he can't even see Jensen's eyes.

Jared wants to kiss him so much. He settles for licking his suddenly dry lips.

"Hi," he manages, with a little wave. "Um."

"Jared?" asks Jensen. His voice is a little deeper. He sounds older.

"Yeah. I--heard you were in town."

"I'm gonna go?" says Bombshell, mostly to Jensen. Jensen barely looks at her, but he nods. He can't take his eyes off Jared.

"I didn't really--I wasn't expecting--" says Jensen, a little blankly. "You--hi."

Jared can't help himself--he crosses over to Jensen and gives him a hug. Jensen hugs back instantly, and Jared wishes so hard he was Jensen right now.

"Sorry," says Jared. "I was gonna call, but before I figured out what I wanted to do, my boss told me to stalk you."

"Because you're so good at that," says Jensen. He pulls back. He's grinning.

"Well, you know. I have skills."

"Tons of skills," Jensen agrees. "I missed you, man."

"I missed you too," says Jared. He bites his lip. "Um, listen. I'd really--love to catch up. But I'm not sure here is the best place?"

"Yeah," Jensen agrees. "Look at the way I'm dressed."

Jared has the feeling he can't stop grinning either. "So, um. You maybe want to grab some dessert with me?" he asks. He wants to add as friends or something, but--he doesn't really mean as friends.

"Yeah," says Jensen. "Uh, give me like twenty minutes?"

Jared beams.

*

They agree to meet up at a little place not too far from Jared's. Jensen suggested it, and Jared gets really excited that maybe Jensen lives near him.

He feels pathetic, but he doesn't really care.

At least, he doesn't until Jensen is late, and then later, and then it's been an hour and Jared has to admit--he isn't coming.

There are a lot of reasons that could have happened, he tells himself. Jensen was clearly happy to see him--probably that wasn't an act. And Jensen is a superhero. Probably tomorrow morning he'll wake up and read about some horrible crime that Hacker helped prevent.

Yeah. That's it.

*

Jared wakes up to his phone ringing.

"Wha?" he says articulately. It's, like, six-thirty.

"Sorry, is Jensen there?"

Jared blinks. "Um. Who is this?"

"It's Bombshell. I told him to call me if he was actually going to get laid, but I figure he was a little distracted."

Jared scrubs his hand over his face. "Uh, he never--he didn't show up."

There's a long pause. "What?"

"I figured something came up," says Jared. "But--no?"

"Where do you live?" asks Bombshell. She sounds so worried that Jared doesn't care it's not even seven in the morning. He just gives her his address and goes to make some coffee.

*

Ten minutes later, someone buzzes his door, and Jared lets them up without even asking who it is.

The girl he sees when he opens the door is not Bombshell, which he guesses shouldn't be a surprise. Bombshell doesn't visit random cheap apartments in the early hours of the morning. It's not really stealthy.

She doesn't exactly look like Bombshell, either--she's got the great body, yeah, but her hair is cut short and spiky, brown instead of red, and she has a nose ring, and she looks really familiar.

"Danneel," she says, as if she's reading his mind. "Harris. From high school."

"Holy crap," says Jared. "You're--"

"Yes," says Danneel.

"What happened to your hair?"

"I stopped dying it, and then I cut it because the roots were pissing me off," says Danneel, pushing past him. "When did you last see Jensen?"

"About ten? Not too long after you left. He was going to change and meet me so we could catch up."

Danneel snorts. "Catch up, right. And he didn't show?"

"No," says Jared. "I didn't have his number, so I couldn't call--I just figured something came up. How did you know my number, anyway?"

"Just because you don't tell Jensen your number doesn't mean he doesn't have it," says Danneel. "Shit. Okay. He probably got nabbed before he got home."

"Nabbed?" asks Jared. "You really think--"

"Jared," says Danneel. "He's been mooning over you for seven years. Canada could have been on fire and he wouldn't have missed meeting you."

"Oh," says Jared, feeling stupidly happy, and then remembering that Jensen is probably kidnapped by evil supervillains. "Uh. Okay. Well--shit."

"Yeah."

"Why before he got home?"

Danneel sighs. "My powers are awesome, but they're peaked. They don't get better. The more technology there is, the better Jensen gets. Not just because he's got more to work with, but--" she considers. "Apparently, all our computers and stuff, they're lonely. And Jensen talks to them, so they love him. Not just his stuff, but his stuff really, really cares. If he's in his apartment and a cockroach comes in? He knows it." She considers. "And if he'd been on ground level, something else would have tipped him off. He was probably flying, and I know he was distracted, so--" she clucks her tongue. "Someone must have known."

"Known what?" asks Jared.

"About you."

"Why me?"

"Because you distracted him," she explains, but not like she's mad. More like he's dumb. "Jensen on an average patrol is pretty impossible to get the drop on."

"Maybe they got lucky," says Jared.

"Yeah," says Danneel. She sounds tired and worried. "But we kind of have to hope not, because if it's just some random lucky villain, we're not gonna find them."

Jared takes a long sip of coffee. "Well, they must have a place set up to keep him. Somewhere with no technology."

Danneel clucks her tongue. "Or--shit, I better call Lucy."

*

Lucy, as it turns out, is actually Lucifer, who is this tiny dark-haired girl who used to be a villain and is now morally ambiguous. Jared doesn't really know the full story there, but there are a lot of editorials about whether or not she can be trusted. He isn't totally down with his apartment being ground zero for superhero meetings, except that Jensen is in danger, and needs to be saved. And Jared knows he can trust Danneel, because she's Bombshell, and apparently Jensen's roommate and best friend to boot.

"I called Bruiser too," she says, more to Lucifer than to Jared.

"Bruiser hates me," says Lucifer.

"I thought you were kind of evil," says Jared.

"I'm kind of reformed," she says, not sounding offended at all. "Did you get Zen?"

"He said he had to at least stop by work, but to let me know if he was needed."

Bruiser and Zen are both junior members in the Heroic Alliance, and Jared's not surprised they're Bombshell's go-to people.

"Who is he, anyway?" Lucifer asks, looking Jared up and down.

"Hacker's ex," says Danneel.

"And we don't think he's, I don't know, involved?"

"You haven't seen him look at Hacker."

Lucifer considers this for a minute, and then shrugs. "Oh, well, he's your BFF, not mine. What are you thinking?"

"He hasn't gotten in contact with us, so I was thinking--what about Nox?"

Nox, Jared remembers, is Lucifer's old partner. They were a matching set--complementary costumes and everything, but Jared doesn't know much about Nox's abilities. Lucifer shoots beams of light that can knock people back--whatever Nox had was less flashy.

"Hmm," says Lucifer. "Yeah. We think it works on Hacker, right?"

Danneel shrugs. "He's never really stuck around her long enough to find out. But he says he can feel the quiet in his head too, so I think so."

Jared waves. "Can I get in on this? What are you talking about?"

"Nox makes quiet," says Lucifer. "If you're around her, you can talk, but no one can hear you. It works on telepathy as well--she just kills all communication. So if Hacker's with Nox, he can't tell any cell phones or computers to call us, even if they're around."

"Who's Nox working with these days?" asks Danneel.

Lucifer shrugs. "We're not exactly sharing our team rosters anymore, you know."

"Right," says Danneel. She sighs. "We really have no leads, do we?"

"Well, if he's your best bet for how they got Hacker," says Lucifer, jerking her head at Jared, "maybe he's our lead."

"Good point," says Danneel. "Who knew you were tracking down Hacker for an interview, Jared?"

Jared considers. "Everyone at work, pretty much. It wasn't exactly a secret."

"Who sent you?"

"My boss, Eric Kripke. He's a total superhero fanboy."

"Could be a cover," says Danneel thoughtfully.

"That'd be one hell of a long con," says Jared, clucking his tongue. "I mean, seriously. He's the one who hired me, he's been there since before I even met Hacker."

"That's a good point, actually," says Lucifer. "There's no way anyone got hired since Hacker showed up, so the newspaper might be a bust."

"There's something else," says Jared, hesitantly. "D--Bombshell, you're thinking they got Hacker because he was distracted, right?"

"Yeah," says Danneel.

"But--the only thing anyone at work knows is that I wrote some articles about Hacker in high school. And--that wouldn't be a huge distraction, right?"

"I thought you dated Hacker," says Lucifer, looking confused.

"No," says Jared. "I never dated Hacker."

He sees the second Danneel gets it. "Shit."

"What?" asks Lucifer.

"He dated Jensen," says Danneel.

"Oh," says Lucifer. "Oh. Okay. So--wow. That's not good."

"You know his real name?" asks Jared, worriedly.

"I'm Genevieve," says Lucifer, with a smile. "We mostly trust each other."

"Except Bruiser," says Danneel. "Bruiser hates you."

"Bruiser's jealous I get to make out with you."

Jared blinks at that, but valiantly moves on. "Okay, guys, focus. Someone would have to know that I'd fuck Hacker up, and--no one at the paper should know that."

"Who does know that?" asks Danneel.

"I tried to tell everyone that I broke Hacker's heart when I started dating Jensen, but no one actually believed Hacker ever made a move on me."

"Because he didn't," says Danneel.

"He did!" Jared protests. Seriously, if Danneel doesn't even believe that he totally picked Jensen over Hacker, then there is no hope. "After Trauma got me, he kissed me, and I told him I was in love with someone else."

There's a pause, and Danneel finally says, "So Trauma knows."

Jared stiffens. Trauma's been a non-entity since their last encounter--Jumper had him, but he managed to hit Jumper hard before he got him into custody, and Jumper had been in out of commission for three months. And no one had heard from Trauma again.

"You think Trauma is back?"

"Well, he hates you," says Lucifer. "He hates Jensen. It would make sense."

"I think Jumper saw him," says Danneel. "I mean, he unmasked him. I know he's been looking. Can you find pictures of everyone at the Post, Jared?"

"Most of them," says Jared.

"Okay. Get as many as you can and put them together. Lucy, get in touch with Jumper and get him here so he can see if he recognizes anyone."

"If it's Trauma," says Jared carefully, "he probably wants me too."

Danneel considers him.

"Last time, he wanted Hacker around to see me suffer. So, you know."

"What's Jeff's work number again?" asks Lucifer. "Fuck, where's Jensen when you need him?"

"Calm down, google the school."

"What's the school?" asks Lucifer.

Danneel's look flits to Jared before she answers. "Henderson High, in Richardson."

"Jumper works at our school?" asks Jared.

Danneel smirks. "Jumper was our librarian."

Jared slumps forward. "I need more coffee."

*

They have a quick breakfast before Lucifer calls Mr. Morgan. Now that Jared knows Jumper is Mr. Morgan he feels like he's going to get detention if he doesn't give him proper respect. Which is ridiculous, but hey. Jared was raised right.

Bruiser shows up as they're finishing up, looking kind of put-upon and surly.

"Who's he and where are we?" she asks, giving him a calculating look. Jared likes Bruiser, in theory. She has telekinesis, which she mostly uses to throw people into walls, and she seems really snarky and badass. Which is pretty much Jared's type.

"This is Jared. He's Jensen's ex."

She raises her eyebrows. "Not Hacker's ex?"

"Hacker doesn't have exes," Lucifer points out. "Hacker thinks human contact is dangerous."

"Not all of us can get swayed to the side of good just because Danneel is really good at lesbian sex," Bruiser snaps. Jared really, really wants to hear that story sometime. Preferably when he's alone and can jerk off in peace.

"Let's focus," says Danneel. "Jared, this is Katie. Bruiser. Katie, we're thinking Trauma took Hacker for revenge."

"Revenge?"

"Remember how he went underground after Jumper caught him in Dallas?"

"Yeah."

"Hacker and Jared were there too."

"The school's not picking up," says Lucifer, sounding frustrated. "I've called like five times."

Bruiser gives her a disdainful look. "Honey, it's barely eight a.m. here. Jumper's still at home."

"Fuck you very much too," says Lucifer, but she starts dialing.

Jared is facebooking everyone he knows at the office and getting them into one convenient document for Mr. Morgan to look at. Bruiser comes over to lean on the back of his chair and watch. "What's the plan here?"

"I got sent to interview Hacker for the Post. It's not exactly a secret that I followed him around in high school, so my boss figured I had an in. Pretty much anyone at work would know I was going to try to get a hold of him, so we're hoping Jumper can identify someone there as Trauma."

"Hm," says Bruiser. "Out of curiosity, would you say that your worst nightmares still involve Hacker?"

Jared thinks about the number of times he's woken up in a cold sweat after a dream about Jensen being killed in the line of duty. "It's a pretty safe bet."

"So he'd know that you still care."

"It's--gotta be pretty obvious, yeah."

"Jeff'll be over soon," says Lucifer, coming in from the other room. "He has to call in or something."

"I got a question," says Bruiser, leaning back.

"What?" asks Danneel.

"Okay, let's say Trauma is out for revenge. One, why would he nab the super instead of the powerless ex? And two, what's his plan?"

"Trauma, generally," says Lucifer.

"Bite me," says Bruiser.

"Girls, girls," says a voice, and they all turn to see Mr. Morgan smiling at them. "Let's think this through." He turns to Jared. "Good to see you again, Padalecki."

"Hi, Mr. Morgan."

"Call me Jeff. He got Jensen, huh?"

"Maybe," says Danneel. "You saw Trauma, right? Before."

"Yeah, I saw him."

"You weren't in a coma for three months," says Jared suddenly. He's catching up slow but steady. Like the tortoise.

"No," agrees Jeff. "One month. If I'd come back to heroing the same time I came back to school, it would have been suspicious. And the story was that a relative was sick."

"Jared, stop getting distracted," says Danneel. "Do you have those pictures?"

"Yeah," says Jared. "Um, come over here Mr--Jeff."

Jeff grins. "I'm not your teacher anymore."

"This is a lot to take in, give me a break." He grabs the laptop. "Here, I got everyone I could off Facebook. I think this is most of the people who'd know about it. Alexis had a group photo up, so--see if anyone looks familiar?"

Jeff and Danneel lean over, scanning the pictures he's collected. Jared wants something to do with his hands. Strangling Trauma, maybe.

"Found him," says Jeff. "In the group photo, no where else."

Jared runs over and leans down. Jeff's pointing at--

"Jim Parsons," says Jared. "Kripke's assistant. He was there when Kripke gave me the assignment. And he helped hire me, so he knew from the beginning--shit."

"That's definitely him," Jeff confirms. "Guessing he knows where you live."

"It's not exactly a secret."

"Do you know where he lives?" asks Bruiser.

"It's never come up."

Jeff leans back. "What I want to know is when he's going to call you."

"Call me?"

"Remember last time?" says Jeff. "He wanted Jensen to see you suffer. And this time, he must have been thinking the same thing."

"He probably thinks you're alone," says Danneel. "Or, at least, doesn't know you have any superheroes helping you out."

"That might be why he took Jensen instead of me," Jared says. "I mean--last time he got caught because there were too many superheroes around."

"Wow, he does have a brain," says Bruiser.

"Don't be a jerk," says Jeff. Jared has to admit, it's kind of funny how he's totally the dad. If Bruiser and Lucifer snark at each other too much more, he's fully expecting Jeff to threaten to turn this apartment around. "All right. Jared, I'm betting he's going to get in touch with you. So you stay here and wait on that. Everyone else, use whatever resources you've got that you trust," he says, with a significant look at Lucifer, "and see if anyone's got any info on Nox. Don't ask about Trauma yet--Nox makes trouble all the time, it's not going to raise many eyebrows."

"No mentioning Hacker, right?" says Bruiser.

"Business as usual," Jeff confirms.

"I'll stay with Jared," says Danneel. "He looks like he might bite his own arm off from nervousness if I leave him alone, and Jensen would be pissed."

Jared appreciates that no one is saying that Jensen might be dead. Because--Trauma doesn't want Jensen dead. Scarred for life, yeah. But not dead.

"That'd be good," Jared mutters, and Danneel pats his shoulder.

*

They play X-Box for a couple hours--Danneel is really, really happy to be able to play with someone who doesn't have an unfair advantage due to superpowers--and Jared's making lunch when someone buzzes his door.

"That can't be him, right?" asks Jared.

Danneel shrugs. "Act natural," she says, but she looks tense too, and she hides in his bedroom when he buzzes the person up.

The guy at the door is rumpled and looks like he might be stoned. But he's not Trauma.

"Jeff sent me," he says. "Is Danneel here?"

"Is that you, Misha?" asks Danneel, coming out into the living room.

"That is me," the guy agrees. "Jeff felt you could use my calming influence."

"This is Misha," says Danneel. "Better known to some as Zen."

"Mind control," says Jared.

"I prefer to think of myself as Jasper from Twilight."

"Which works when you're introducing yourself to tweenage girls," says Danneel, rolling her eyes. "He can manipulate emotions."

"You do seem tense," says Misha. "I also give excellent backrubs."

"Just the mind control, please," says Danneel.

The effect is instantaneous; Misha smiles serenely and Jared feels tension leaking out of his body through his fingers. He doesn't have to worry. Everything is going to be fine. He lets out a breath, and hears Danneel do the same.

"I want to be creeped out by that, but I'm not," says Jared. He feels--not happy, exactly, but easy and content.

"You can't be," says Misha. "It would be very unfortunate if I wanted to use my powers for evil."

"We're all thankful you don't," says Danneel. She settles in on the couch. "Have a seat. Are you staying?"

"I don't have anywhere else to go. No call yet?"

"No call," says Jared. He is not capable of worrying about it. Which is kind of cool.

"Well, I'm sure we'll find something useful soon," says Misha. "Would you like to do some breathing exercises?"

Jared and Danneel exchange a look; Danneel shrugs.

"Sure," says Jared. "Why not."

*

The call comes at six, which makes Jared wonder if Jim went to work as usual, and left Jensen alone somewhere, and the thought would make him angry, but Misha is still around keeping emotions at a rational place.

"Hello?" he says.

"Hello," says the voice. It sounds like Trauma, not like Jim. "Remember me, Jared?"

"Trauma," he says.

"Well, that makes it easier. I have your boyfriend."

"My boyfriend?" Jared asks, playing dumb.

"Please. Don't pretend you don't know who I mean. I'm sure you've been wondering why he didn't show up last night."

"You took Hacker," says Jared, doing his best to sound like it's a revelation.

"I took Hacker. Would you like to rescue him?"

"I'm not really the type," says Jared.

"Fine, then I'll kill him."

"No!" says Jared, shocked by the strength of his emotion. Misha must have relaxed his influence.

"I thought not," says Trauma. "You're going to meet me. You're going to be alone, and if you're not, I won't take you to Hacker. And believe me, I'll know if you're not alone."

"Where do you want me?" asks Jared.

*

The address Trauma gives him is a seemingly random crossroad. It's odd, because it's not a hotspot or anything, but it's certainly not deserted.

"He's Trauma," Danneel points out. "He has to know what most hero's nightmares look like. Police too. All he'd have to is check the crowd."

"So I'm going alone," says Jared.

"Not until we talk to Jeff, you're not," says Misha mildly. Jared wonders if he ever shows strong emotions. He can't imagine it.

They get Jeff there in no time, because Jeff can teleport, and call Bruiser and Lucifer to join up too.

"He wants you to meet him?"

"Yep."

"Probably he's gonna tie you up, take you wherever Jensen is, and torture the both of you," says Jeff.

"Sounds pleasant," says Misha.

"What are my other options? He finds out any of you followed me and I'll probably get zapped in a coma."

"Exactly," says Jeff brightly. "You're not going to know the plan."

Jared considers this. "What?"

"None of us will be there for the pickup, and whatever we're planning, we don't tell you. Because I don't want you having nightmares about him finding out."

"What about nightmares about us getting fucked?"

"You're supposed to have those," says Misha.

Jared rubs his forehead. "I hate this plan."

"You don't know the plan. It could be an awesome plan," says Danneel. "Don't be prejudiced."

"I'll take him out for dinner and calm him down," says Misha, slinging his arm around Jared's shoulder. "You can fill me in later."

"I can't believe you're kicking me out of my own apartment," says Jared.

"Trust us," says Danneel. "We're superheroes."

*

Jared pretty much has to trust the superheroes, because he has absolutely no skills of his own. He's pretty strong, but not super strong.

He thinks, deep down, he's still most scared of what will happen to Jensen, though. So that's the important thing, because--that's what Trauma will find, and that means the plan will work.

Maybe.

"Falling in love with superheroes sucks," Jared says.

"Yes," says Misha. "I try to avoid it."

"Aren't you supposed to be keeping me calm?" Jared asks, with a glare.

"Yes," says Misha. "But this is hilarious."

Jared takes the train over to his meeting with Trauma. He feels kind of--well, zen. He's powerless here. He's putting his faith in Jensen's friends, because Jensen's friends love him, and want him to be safe.

And Jensen is apparently still pretty fond of Jared, so they'll want Jared safe too.

There is clearly nothing to worry about.

The last time Jared met Trauma--that he knew of, he reminds himself, because he saw Jim every day for years--he didn't know anything was coming, so he didn't have time to think about if it would hurt or if he was going to die or anything. Pretty much, Trauma knocked him out, and then there was Hacker, some trauma, and more Hacker.

And then kissing, so. Jared generally considers it to have been a positive experience.

It's not exactly crowded when he gets out of the station, but it's ten o'clock on a Tuesday night, so it's not really a peak time. He doesn't see anyone who looks suspicious, but it's not like Trauma is going to be there with a sign and an arrow.

He looks around, craning his neck and feeling stupid. Clearly, Trauma will find him. Trauma wants to find him and, well, traumatize him.

That's about his last thought before the pain and the unconsciousness.

*

"You know who I am," Trauma says, when Jared comes to. He sounds interested, and much more like Jim. It's eerie. "That's very interesting."

"Where am I?" asks Jared. "Where's Hacker?" He's pretty sure Jensen can't be here, because Jensen must be with Nox, and no one can speak around Nox.

"Soon enough," says Trauma. "I thought we'd talk a little first."

"Sounds swell."

"You and Hacker both have a disposition toward sarcasm," says Trauma. "No wonder the two of you are so pathetically devoted to each other."

It shouldn't make Jared feel better, but it does. They're devoted.

"So is this the part where you take me to Hacker and torture us while the other one cries?" asks Jared. "That's the plan, right?"

"Not entirely," says Trauma. "Hacker is in--solitary confinement. Luckily, he is live via satellite."

The blindfold comes off his eyes, and Jared sees Jensen--no mask, but still wearing his Hacker costume aside from that--in a chair. He looks alone, and tired, and defiant. When he sees Jared, his eyes widen, and he struggles against his bonds, but it doesn't work. He looks scared.

As far as Jensen knows, there is no plan.

Jared doesn't know any more than he does.

"Unfortunately," says Trauma, "he won't be able to hear you. But this is much safer for everyone. Or at least for me."

"I was really worried about your welfare."

"It's Jensen, isn't it?" says Trauma, like Jared hadn't spoken. "His name. Your worst fears don't seem to care much which one of them is dying horribly. And you haven't even seen him in seven years."

"I haven't seen you in seven years either," says Jared. "Still hate you."

"I assume that means you're done with the banter portion of the evening and ready to move on to the main event. Jensen looks ready, doesn't he?"

Jensen looks about ready to kill someone, which is one kind of ready.

"Does it bother you when I call him--" Trauma starts, and then whirls. "You!"

Trauma flies past Jared, blown back by a beam of light, unfortunately right into the TV link-up to Jensen. It breaks with a crack.

"You better be the cavalry," says Jared.

"Can I kill him?" asks Bruiser.

"No," says Jeff. Jared feels hands on the ropes tying his arms, loosing his bonds. "We'll bring him with us. As long as he's near Nox, he's powerless. We keep him unconscious until then."

"Does that mean I need to periodically beat him?" asks Bruiser. "I am all over that."

"Good to have you on the team," says Danneel, helping Jared up.

"Where are we going, anyway?" Jared asks. He feels calm and focused; Misha must be around.

"Good question," says Danneel. "Our lead for Jim Parsons' property lead us here, not to Jensen. You get anything about where he is?"

"Nondescript room," says Jared. "Tied up."

"You saw him?" asks Jumper.

"That TV was doing a live feed, until it got busted. Trauma wanted him to watch."

"Gross," says Bruiser.

"Jackpot," says Lucifer, ignoring her. She goes over to the TV and roots around. "Not everyone always had a tech savant on their team," she explains. "Some of us had to learn a few things about this stuff for ourselves."

"You can find where that's linked to?" asks Danneel, going over to kneel next to her.

"I am awesome," Lucifer confirms. Danneel leans in and kisses her.

Bruiser punches Trauma in the face. "Just to be sure," she says, with a sunny smile.

*

Lucifer manages to find an address, and Jared wants Jeff to go right in and start kicking ass.

"They might not even be there anymore!" Jared argues.

"I'm going to go in and see what's going on. I'm not going to go in there, guns blazing, and get my ass kicked. That's not going to help."

"Can't you just jump Jensen out?"

Jeff sighs. "I can't take anyone with me. Believe me, life would be much easier if I could."

"Okay, Jeff, do some recon. We'll work on strategy here. On the bright side, they can't communicate any better than we can. On the other hand--once we get close enough, we won't be able to talk or plan," says Danneel. "So we have to know exactly what we're doing."

*

The drive over is mostly silent, but it's amazing how Jared still notices when they get close enough to start feeling Nox's influence. The sound of the car gets quieter, the sound of breathing is muffled.

It's eerie, knowing he should be hearing things, and he has to stop himself from opening his mouth to see what his voice doesn't sound like.

They stop outside a warehouse, a big, ugly building that looks like nothing in particular. Jared wonders, wildly, if Lucifer is lying to them, if she's still on the other side.

Genevieve, he reminds himself. He knows her name. That's something.

Jeff is outside; he gives Jared a reassuring smile. Jared mostly feels like someone has removed his stomach and replaced it with fire ants.

There's no sound when Bruiser blows the door away, and it's really incredibly creepy. Silence pushes against him from all sides, and he hates it. It's amazing how many sounds there are in the world that aren't noticeable until they're gone.

They go through the corridors without having to worry about being heard, and not caring about being seen. Jeff reported that they weren't very well staffed, just Nox and someone called Heretic, whose powers are sketchy to Jared. According to Genevieve, the name Heretic is actually because his power sucks, and he hates God for not giving him something cool. Jared figures he can talk to fish or something.

They've got some random guards too, but Jeff said they weren't supers, in this dismissive way that made Jared feel all of three-feet tall. He forgets, sometimes, that he's not like them. That he's always going to be other.

There's no banter when they get to the room where Jensen is, which, after Trauma, Jared appreciates. His orders were to stay in the back, try to be inconspicuous, and get to Jensen if he could.

Mostly, there's just a lot of movement. Reactions as they come in, the sight of bullets but not the sound of shots, Heretic starting to fly, Nox dropping into attack position. It's like watching a kung-fu movie on mute, or something, and Jared tries to ignore the flashes of light from Genevieve and Bruiser--Katie--throwing people into walls to focus on Jensen, who looks very small and very defiant in his chair.

It strikes Jared then that Jensen has no idea they're here--he can't hear the fight any better than anyone else can, and he's blindfolded again too. He has no senses at all; he's totally in the dark.

Jared's creeping over, trying to move slowly, not draw attention, when suddenly there's a riot of sound--not just fighting, but the ambient noise he always hears is suddenly so loud, and he reels for a minute, trying to regain his balance. He hears Jensen say, "Bombshell?" and sees him looking around. Then, suddenly, sound is gone again, and Nox must have recovered from whatever hit threw her off.

Jared's head kind of hurts, but he figures--Jensen is the goal here. He has to get Jensen, who's now looking confused and worried and--this probably sucks even more.

Around when he gets to the chair, Nox goes down again, but this time, she stays down. He feels himself getting calmer, and any desire to fight leaves him. Not that he wanted to fight in the first place--he wanted to save Jensen.

"Hi, Zen," says Jensen. "Care to untie me?"

"I'm cleaning up," says Zen. "Since I'm the only one with any will to fight right now. But don't worry, your boyfriend is saving you."

"My--Jared?" says Jensen. He's not struggling anymore, but he looks very interested.

"Hey," says Jared. "Just about to work on it."

"Cops are on their way," Danneel adds.

"I'll get them all wrapped up nicely before anyone gets here," says Misha.

Jared starts untying Jensen's hands, proud of the way he's not shaking. Jensen manages to twitch his hand up to give Jared a bit of a squeeze, simple reassurance, and Jared smiles.

"I want my brain back so I can punch Trauma a few more times. Just to be safe."

"Wow, you're here too, Bruiser?" says Jensen. "You really got the whole gang."

Jared belatedly remembers the blindfold, and gets it off before returning to the ropes on his hands.

"We kind of like you," says Katie. "Deal."

The rope slips off, and Jensen leans forward to get the ties on his feet. "Didn't expect you," he says, quietly, just for the two of them.

Jared goes around to help, but as soon as he sees Jensen's face, this kind of amazed, happy little smile, he breaks out in a grin. "Well, you missed our date, so."

Jensen laughs, a little weak, but real. "Oh, it was a date. I wasn't sure. You were all smooth about it."

Jared leans up and kisses him, very fast, because--well, this isn't exactly the time. But they do have a history of it.

"Totally smooth," says Jensen, smiling wider. "Can you help me up?"

"Yeah," says Jared. He gets his shoulder under Jensen's arm and hoists him up. All the bad guys look to be tied up, and Katie is absently tapping Trauma's head against the floor with her telekinesis, so Misha's powers are probably off. Jared's mostly feeling relieved and like justice has been served, so it's kind of hard to tell.

"Thanks for coming, guys," says Jensen. "Means the world to me."

"Put your mask up," says Jeff. "Secret identity, dumbfuck."

Jensen laughs weakly and pulls his mask over his face. He's leaning heavily on Jared, and Jared gives him a squeeze.

"You guys can get gone," says Genevieve. "We can take it from here when the cops arrive."

"They might want a statement," Jensen protests weakly.

"So you can give one tomorrow," says Jeff. "You're falling over on your sleep. Go to the van, change out of your costume, and let your boy take care of you. Doctor's orders."

"No one here is a doctor," Jensen grumbles.

"I thought about using Dr. Rainbows for my codename," says Misha thoughtfully.

"Definitely strikes fear into the hearts of the masses," Danneel says. "Seriously, Hacker. Go. We'll fly home, no big."

Jared can feel the fight go out of Jensen. "Yeah," he says. "Okay."

*

Someone had enough foresight to bring Jensen some clothes, and he changes in the back while Jared starts driving. It's quiet, but not like it was on the way over--Jared's coming off of adrenaline and worry, and Jensen's been tied to a chair for a day, so it's not like either of them has that much energy.

Jensen climbs into shotgun and leans back, looking over at Jared.

"How'd you find me?"

"Danneel called, wanted to know if you slept over. Then we spent a day freaking out. Then Trauma--who is my boss's assistant, by the way--called me and told me to meet him alone."

"And then they found where he took you?"

"Yeah. And Lu--Genevieve found a way to trace the satellite hookup."

"Impressive."

"You have a good team," says Jared. "But--dude, I can't believe Jumper is Mr. Morgan."

Jensen snorts. "Yeah, I know. I nearly had a heart attack."

They lapse into silence again, and Jensen clears his throat. "Um--I knew you lived in New York."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. That's not why I came--I mean, a little, but, uh, yeah. I wasn't stalking you or anything, but--most of my stuff knew I liked you."

Jared smiles. "Your phone stalked me."

"A little."

"Well, turnabout is fair play, or whatever." He bites his lip. "You still want to have dessert with me?"

"Yes," says Jensen instantly. "Or," he adds hesitantly, "uh." He laughs. "I'm trying to figure out the least douchey way to say this."

"Say what?"

"I'm exhausted. I just want to go home and sleep."

"Dude, that's not douchey. I'm not going anywhere. We can go out tomorrow. Or the next day. Whenever."

"Or I could--come over?" says Jensen. "Not that I'm really, uh. Up for anything tonight. I just--missed you."

Jared smiles. He reaches over and squeezes Jensen's hand. "Yeah. no. I missed you too."

*

A phone wakes Jared up the next morning too. He hopes this isn't a pattern.

"It's Danneel," says Jensen, vaguely, from his side of the bed. He's wrapped around Jared, like Jared is the best teddy bear ever, which he is.

"What does she want?"

"The phone doesn't know. You have to get it."

"It's your phone."

"I think she knows where I am," says Jensen, burrowing closer to Jared and going back to sleep.

"Hello," says Jared vaguely.

"That is not the happy voice of someone who got laid."

"This is the unhappy voice of someone who thinks it's early."

"I have early classes, deal with it. Where's my roommate?"

Jared looks over. "Passed out again."

"How's he doing?"

Jared smiles, petting Jensen's hair. Jensen's hair is really soft; it's one of his favorite parts of Jensen that is not involved in sex. "Okay, I think. We pretty much just went to sleep last night."

"You got that he missed you, right?"

"I got that, yeah."

"Okay, well, the cops got everyone, and they got a super who could keep down Trauma's abilities, so I think they're actually gonna get him in custody this time. So that the day off, get some rest, get laid. Celebrate good times, et cetera."

"Is that what you're going to do?"

"Well, Genevieve had to go in for a few hours, and I have a test. But after that? Hell yeah."

Jared laughs. "Bye, Danneel."

He settles back in next to Jensen, kisses right behind his chin.

"Sleep," says Jensen.

"I was thinking we could reschedule to, like, breakfast."

"After sleep," says Jensen.

"Okay," Jared agrees. "After sleep."

*

"So you call out for two days, and now you're telling me my assistant missed yesterday because he's secretly a supervillain," says Kripke. He sounds more excited than surprised.

"Pretty much," says Jared.

Kripke clucks his tongue. "You better have one hell of an article for this. I want interviews, eyewitness reports, the whole nine yards. If we get scooped on this, you're fired."

"Yes, sir."

"And I still want an exclusive interview with Hacker. You think you can handle that?"

Jared grins broadly. "I think I can work something out."