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At the End of a World

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The world below Jensen was burning. The biting heat filled his lungs and singed the tips of his dark wings. He perused the collapsing buildings, the smoke hanging dark and heavy between the remains of the skyscrapers. A twinge of regret filled him. So much beauty and greatness already destroyed. He’d hoped to find more.

He rolled the marble between his fingers, the hard material - glass, they called it - slowly warming. A soft whooshing above him announced Felicia’s arrival.

“Does it ever make you sad?” she asked, when she had landed next to him and folded her long golden-red wings.

Jensen turned his head to look at her. “Sad? We are here to save, to preserve.”

“Yes. But it’s only such a small part. Why can’t we save them?” She moved her hand towards the burning city, but Jensen knew she meant all of it. The entire planet.

“We can’t interfere. You know this,” Jensen said and watched as the tallest building collapsed into itself. He thought he heard screams in the distance, but it was unlikely that there were still humans in the city.

“Why do you have these questions now?”

Felicia looked uncomfortably onto the burning city. “I’ve never been on an assignment where there were survivors,” she said quietly.

For a while, they were silent, then Felicia sighed. “Are we the only ones here?”

“It’s a small planet,” Jensen said. “Humans haven’t lived here for long.”

“Still.” Felicia looked down into her hands. “What if I choose wrong? What if I miss something important?”

Jensen put a hand on her shoulder. “You have learned and studied for long. The instructors wouldn’t have sent you here if you weren’t ready. Besides, this is a small planet and not of great importance in the verse. They never made contact, never impacted another planet. After their seed was deposited here, they remained unchanged. This is purely for scientific purposes.”

Felicia nodded, face determined. Then she looked at the marble Jensen was holding. “Did you already collect something?”

Jensen shook his head. “This is the reason I wanted this quadrant,” he said.

He held up the marble. It was multicolored, swishes of green, blue and brown swirling in an ever changing pattern through the tiny globe.

“I don’t understand,” Felicia said.

“I found it in a traveler's collection only a few galaxies from here. It was labeled From Earth, with love.”

Felicia tilted her head to the side. “I still don’t understand.”

Jensen closed his hand around the marble. “Love is a powerful emotion, a powerful drive. It leads to great creation. And also great loss. Like all of the positive emotions, it’s reverse is just as potent in its destructiveness.”

“I talked to a human once,” Felicia said slowly. “He said that love was the most powerful good. He didn’t say it could be a bad thing too.” She hesitated. “I never asked the instructors about this,” she added quietly. “They didn’t like these questions.”

“Humans are ruled by emotions. Everything they do is fueled by them, whether positive or negative. Everything we’ve ever collected, every innovation accomplished, is a product of emotion. As is the inevitable destruction.” Jensen gave Felicia a little smile. “It is a conundrum. There is no creation without destruction. No life without death.”

“We don’t die,” Felicia said. “Does that mean we don’t live either?”

“Not like humans do. But look at this planet, remember all the planets you’ve been to. You’ve seen the beauty, but you don’t have to feel the pain. We preserve the extraordinary accomplishments, we preserve love, if you will, without the pain.” Jensen looked back to the city. It was a place of death and destruction, but Jensen knew he’d still be able to find marvels in there. “My first instructor told me our creators were so broken by the pain of losing their homes, they decided the Preserves should never feel that same pain when they go to collect a dead world’s remains.”

Felicia looked pensively to the horizon where the sun was rising, away from the city. “What if we do feel pain?”

“We don’t,” Jensen said gently. “What you feel for the first time, is regret.” Then he stood and spread his wings. “We’ll meet back here in six turns.”

The wind took him high, the simmering heat lifting him over the collapsing city. Jensen had no desire to dive down into the flames, so he flew towards the rising sun. Behind him he heard Felicia take off. He knew she’d go in the other direction.

 

When he left the city behind, he swooped lower to the ground. A transport pod glided quietly through the air behind him. They took the pods with them to transport everything they collected. Some of them were gigantic, half as big as a space ship. For Earth, Jensen had taken one that was roughly twice the size he was. That should suffice. Guided by the controller in one of Jensen’s pockets, it followed him soundlessly at a small distance. Jensen first made use of it when he reached the mountains. The trees grew tall and old here, resilient to even the hottest fire. He collected a few of their seeds. They would look beautiful in the conservatory gardens.

In a little house he found beautiful pictures printed on paper. Most of them showed landscapes - impressive mountains, winding rivers and majestic trees. Jensen had seen few pictures of inane things that seemed to pull at his deepest core. He thought maybe it was awe or joy, but he couldn’t be sure. He just knew that these pictures were powerful images, taken with love and passion. He collected several of them.

On the other side of the mountains, the desert began. Jensen flew over this wasteland, human presence only indicated by the occasional dysfunctional vehicle, abandoned on the straight, endless roads.

The landscape was ripped open then, deep canyons carved into the ancient rocks. Jensen saw a few settlements, but it wouldn’t make a difference. This planet had reached the end of its time and the last inhabitants would soon perish. It was a universal truth that the human race couldn’t inhabit a planet for too long without destroying it.

He descended when something caught his attention. Trapped in a building was a perfectly formed, fossilized bone. It was in excellent condition and had the inherent beauty Jensen’s mind knew to recognize. He put it in the transport pod and rose again. Following his instincts, he changed direction then, veering slightly towards the middle axis. He stopped one more time, intrigued by an object of entirely different texture.

He found a tiny tree, made out of a glasslike structure. He collected it in the pod as well. When night fell, he landed and made his quarters in an abandoned house. In the food area, he found a wondrous little object, a net in the form of a ball, attached to two long tongs. It looked graceful, even though Jensen had no idea what it could be used for.

He rested until the sun rose again and then left the house. On his second day, he collected delicately made dishes, a blanket made from woven wool, a wonderful glass light and the small, furry symbolic replica of an animal. When his wings grew tired, he was flying over the outskirts of an abandoned city and decided to take refuge in another abandoned building. His sleep was light and restless. There was something about this planet that affected him more than usual. Inexplicably, every emotion he felt seemed to be more intense. He wondered if was because for the first time he encountered humanity in its purest form, untouched by the mundaneness of the verse. Or maybe it was the conversation with Felicia, he mused before he fell back asleep.

 

Just when he was about to take off the next morning, he heard approaching footsteps. He didn’t hide, just looked to the newcomer.

It was a human man. This planet was inhabited by many different species, more than common in the verse, and the humans were at the apex of this ecological system. The human was young, but already an adult. He was tall, with broad shoulders and long brown hair that fell down to his shoulders. When he spotted Jensen, he stilled. Jensen waited.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been seen by lingerers. Not all planets were completely uninhabited when he arrived. These stragglers, living in an already dead world, all reacted differently. Some thought he was the source of their end, others thought he would save them. Some just thought they were dreaming, hallucinating, and others wanted to kill him in their rage.

This human just walked towards him, expression carefully neutral.

“You know,” he said with a deep, carrying voice, “my momma always told me that when Judgement Day came, an angel would come to take me to paradise.”

Jensen wasn’t sure what exactly that meant, but he thought the young man was asking him if Jensen was there to help.

“I’m no angel and I don’t know of paradise. I’m merely here to preserve.”

The young man’s expression hardened, but he nodded like he had expected to hear something like that. Jensen didn’t feel bad for telling him the truth. He didn’t lie. Lying led to civilizations falling and planets burning.

“Do you eat?” The young man asked.

Jensen nodded.

“I was just about to cook. I haven’t had company in a while, so you know,” he trailed off, looking at Jensen expectantly.

Jensen was just about to decline, when the young man took another step forward and Jensen could see his eyes. They were green and blue and brown, swirling in indiscernible patterns through his irises. Jensen had never seen anything more beautiful. It was the pattern of the marble, but full of energy.

The young man took another step and the pattern in his eyes changed. Impossibly, it was even more beautiful.

“Never mind,” he said suddenly. “That was-”

“I would enjoy sharing a meal with you,” Jensen said, captivated by those eyes. He didn’t know what he was doing, except that he wasn’t ready to stop looking.

The young man smiled, sudden and bright. It was an expression so filled with life, it was entirely out of place in this atmosphere of death.

“Great,” he said. “I’m Jared, by the way.”

“I am called Jensen.”

And that was how Jensen found himself eating a pot of some bland tasting grain-vegetable concoction in a rundown house with Jared Padalecki, only survivor in the city of San Antonio.

 

Jared’s chatter filled Jensen’s silence. Jensen didn’t mind. He didn’t understand most of it, Jared talking of places and people that had long perished. And yet, Jared drew a picture of a planet filled with life. It didn’t resemble what Jensen had seen at all.

 

When the fire died down, Jared fidgeted. It seemed like there was something he wanted to ask, but instead he reached for two little packages and offered one to Jensen.

“Twinkies,” he said. “Humanity’s greatest and most terrible creation.”

“All in one?” Jensen asked, puzzled.

Jared smiled impishly. “It’s a conundrum. Eat it and you’ll understand.”

Hesitantly, Jensen unwrapped the soft little pastry and bit into it. Overwhelming sweetness covered his tongue. He was torn between reveling in the taste and spitting it out because it was too overwhelming when he reached the sticky cream filling. It was revolting. Jensen couldn’t stop eating.

His confusion must have shown on his face, because Jared dissolved into laughter, completely uninhibited, eyes shining and chest heaving. He toppled over from the force of it and had to gasp for breath. His face was flushed when he managed to sit upright again. “See? Told you so.”

Jensen just nodded. He’d never seen or heard anything as beautiful as Jared’s unrestrained laughter.

When Jared looked at him, something changed, and suddenly, his face turned sombre. “Well, I’m not gonna forget that,” he murmured. Then he stood to clean up their plates.

When he sat down again, Jared asked, “Did somebody send you to come here?”

It was an abrupt change of conversation, but Jensen had expected the question. He hadn’t talked to many survivors, but they’d all asked. The question had never made him uncomfortable before though.

Jensen nodded.

Jared stilled. “Who?”

“A council of scientists.”

“Why?”

“To preserve the valuable artifacts of this planet.”

Jared’s brows drew together. “Because the fucking apocalypse happened and humanity is dying out?”

Jensen nodded again.

“Did they know?” Jared asked. “Did they know our world would end?”

Again, Jensen inclined his head. Jared stared at him in shock.

“But why didn’t they tell us?” he exploded. “Why didn’t they warn us or try to save us?”

“They don’t interfere, they just observe. Every civilization creates their own fate.”

Jared’s eyes hardened. The wind picked up, blowing his hair into his face. “So this is our fault?”

“Fault? Yes and no.” Jensen pondered how to explain. “All of humanity’s actions have led up to this. But there were so many individuals involved, then chance and coincidence played their part. I don’t think you can put the blame on anyone.” Jensen stopped when he saw Jared’s confused and angry expression. “It is the way of the verse, Jared. Civilizations are born, they evolve, they rise. And inevitably, they fall and crumble.”

“What about your civilization?” Jared asked.

Jensen gave him a wry smile. “I don’t belong to a civilization. The council was formed by the first survivors. When they realized how much had been lost when their worlds fell, they created my race to go out into the verse and preserve. I don’t belong anywhere, Jared. I belong everywhere.”

At his explanation, Jared’s face transformed. From anger it went to pity. Jensen didn’t understand.

“So you have no home?” Jared asked.

“No.” For Jared, that seemed to be something terrible. So Jensen tried to explain. “How can I want a home when all I do is scour the destroyed ones for remnants of their lost glory?”

Jared shook his head. “But then you don’t know what it feels like. To have a home, to belong. Don’t you have a family either?”

“I was created in a lab.”

For a moment, Jared stared. “Are you a robot?”

That was so unexpected, it made Jensen laugh. “No. I was genetically engineered, but I am a completely biological life form. Half of my DNA is human.”

Jared seemed to think about this for a while. When he finally spoke again, he said, “So you do have emotions?”

“Yes.”

Jared looked sceptical. “Do you feel love?”

“No. Affection, yes.”

“What about desire?”

Jensen hesitated. “No.”

“Longing?”

“No”.

Jared was puzzled. “Then what do you feel?”

Thinking about his purpose, Jensen said, “Curiosity. Satisfaction.”

Jared scoffed. “That sounds awfully ‘Brave New World’ to me.”

“What does that mean?”

“You were genetically engineered for one purpose. To find things. And that satisfies you. So you never stray from your path.”

Jensen thought of the marble in his pocket. “I don’t understand why that is a bad thing.”

Jared's eyes scrutinized him until he seemed to come to a conclusion. He took a deep breath, leaned forwards and pressed his lips to Jensen’s. They were warm and dry and Jensen had never been touched like this. He couldn't move, his whole being focusing on where he and Jared were connected.

Jared pulled back suddenly, his cheeks slightly flushed. “Does this affect you?”

Jensen raised his fingers to his mouth. His lips were tingling.

“Yes.”

A smile was pulling at Jared’s lips. “So you do have sex?”

Jensen shook his head. “We can’t procreate.”

Jared snorted. “Neither could the two of us. But we can have fun. You know what fun is, right, Jensen?”

Something about how Jared leaned forward, about the glint in his eyes and the widening of his pupils made a foreign heat spread through Jensen’s body.

“I know, yes. But I have never-”

Jared’s mouth pressing against his own cut him off.

“Then it’s no wonder you don’t know,” Jared said.

“Know what?”

Jared scooted closer until he was sitting directly in front of Jensen. “Desire. Passion. Home. To belong somewhere. That all the pain and loss are worth it.”

What Jared said didn’t make sense. Impassion was paramount. Objectivity. Civilizations crumbled because their creators were ruled by emotions and desires. And yet, here was Jensen, unable to tear his gaze away from Jared. He stared into Jared’s eyes, following the patterns of all the different colors. They didn’t move and yet, everytime he blinked they looked entirely different.

Jared put a hand on his cheek, his thumb slowly stroking Jensen’s cheekbone. “Let me show you, okay?”

Spellbound, Jensen couldn’t say no. Not when Jared kissed him again, not when he pushed him back onto the blanket they had been sitting on. Reflexively he spread his wings so he wouldn’t lie on them and Jared carefully reached out, stopping just before his fingertips touched the feathers.

“Can I?”

Jensen nodded, not trusting his ability to speak.

Jared’s touch was electric. Jensen had always enjoyed the wind in his wings, sitting close to Felicia and letting their feathers brush together in companionship. This was different. This was nothing he’d ever felt before.

Jared was touching him with intent, slowly trailing his fingers along the soft edges of the feathers. It sent tiny vibrations up the shaft and into Jensen’s wings. Jensen didn’t know what to do with these feelings, they filled him with a sense of unknown urgency, making his muscles tense and relax, because for some reason he needed to move. His hands clenched and unclenched and he couldn't suppress the desire to raise his hips.

“Amazing,” Jared whispered, voice reverent. “Do you even know how beautiful you are?”

“Beautiful?” Jensen asked. Yes, he’d heard the term directed at him before but he’d never considered what it could mean. He had always assumed it meant aesthetically pleasing, but the way Jared said it, it sounded like he meant something else. Something more.

Shaking his head, Jared leaned in to kiss him again, lips slowly moving against Jensen’s, pressing down until Jensen parted his lips and Jared’s slotted in between. It felt different, so much more intimate and when Jared’s tongue traced the seams of his lips, he let him in. Their tongues touched, tangled, and Jensen wanted more.

He wasn't sure, didn't understand exactly what he was feeling, despite knowing the theory of copulation. But procreation, sex - it wasn't for him. Except, it seemed that it was. Emotions, feelings; it wasn’t that Jensen didn’t have them, but never as strong or exuberant as this. Jensen looked into Jared’s eyes and wondered if this was why he’d been so drawn to the marble.

When Jared pulled back, his eyes were filled with concentration as his hands worked to undo the buckles holding Jensen’s harness together.

“Why are you doing this?” Jensen asked. Jared already knew all those emotions, didn’t he?

The last buckle in the center, holding all the backstraps together, opened and Jared pushed the crisscrossed material away from Jensen’s chest.

“I told you, you’re very, very beautiful.” Jared leaned down to press a kiss into the hollow of Jensen’s throat. It made Jensen’s pulse speed up. “And I’m alone. Four months since I saw another living soul. What if I’m all alone?” Jared’s voice broke. “What if I’m the last?”

Sorrow, Jensen understood. He’d felt traces of it, from time to time. A broken toy, a lone plant growing, prevailing in a pile of rubble, creatures clutching each other even in death. Yet etched into Jared’s face, eyes shining with unshed tears, it hit him harder than it ever had. He wanted to comfort Jared, but he wasn't sure what to do. Before he could decide, Jared had already leaned down again, buried his face in Jensen’s neck and his hot tears fell on Jensen’s skin, while his hot mouth trailed up and down Jensen’s neck.

“So really, I don’t want to think.” Jared’s voice was quiet, and Jensen only nodded.

Slowly, Jared drew back again. He pulled off his ratty t-shirt and then worked on Jensen’s belt. Jensen watched the setting sun playing on Jared’s skin, moving smoothly over his strong muscles. He’d been so captivated by his eyes, Jensen hadn’t realized how beautiful the rest of him was.

When he looked up to Jared’s face, he looked straight into his multicolored eyes.

“You can touch, you know,” Jared offered. “If you want.”

Hesitantly, Jensen reached out. He rarely touched a living thing. Jared’s skin was warm and soft, unblemished except for the occasional mole or scar. It was a revelation to run his hands over Jared’s body, feeling him move, breathe, be alive. A completely alien feeling spread through Jensen’s body, one he wasn’t sure how to catalogue.

Jared pulled Jensen’s pants and boots off, mumbling something about going commando, but Jensen was too distracted to ask when Jared stood to shed his own pants and shoes. He was lean and strong and Jensen hadn’t known what desire was before. But when Jared crawled into his lap again, pressing skin to skin and mouth to mouth, Jensen knew.

It was the building need inside of him, making him feel impatient and incomplete, an almost painful longing for something he’d only ever heard of. It was the heat burning through his whole body, the hitch in his breath and the stutter in his heart. Jensen desired.

The feeling had been awaked long ago by a small, unassuming marble and now, faced with Jared, full of life in the ruins of his planet, it roared to life.

His whole body was thrumming and his dick was filling with blood. It wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar feeling, but it had never occurred while he desired, only as a biological reaction while he grew into his adult body. Now, it was different. He could feel the blood pulsing urgently through his dick and his skin was so sensitive, making him twitch from every touch.

He clutched Jared’s hips, tried to push his body closer and Jared understood. He rolled them around, pulled Jensen between his legs and on top of his body. They continued to kiss, fast and hungry, and Jensen couldn’t get enough. He didn’t know how anyone could ever get enough. He needed to touch every part of Jared’s body, kiss him, taste him and breathe in his scent.

Then Jared twisted his hips and their erections were aligned. The friction sent a new wave of heat and want through Jensen and he couldn’t help mindlessly rutting against Jared’s body, looking for more.

“Wait, we need-”

Jensen didn’t know what they needed, but he agreed, it wasn’t enough.

Underneath him, Jared twisted, trying to reach for his pants. “There should be-” he panted and then let out a sound of triumph when he fumbled a metallic tin out of his pants.

He opened the small tin, pushing white cream into his hand. Then he reached between them, past Jensen. Following Jared’s hand down with his eyes, Jensen saw Jared’s fingers disappearing into his own body.

“What-” but his brain couldn’t form a sentence. It was there, hovering right at the edge of his mind, what was happening, but he couldn’t make sense of it.

“Well,” Jared said, letting out a groan that sounded like a mix of pleasure and pain. “It’s your first time, so I figured-”

And then Jared’s hand was there again, gripping Jensen’s cock and Jensen almost collapsed onto Jared from the shock of it. He missed that Jared moved, because when he was aware again, the tip of his dick was lined up between Jared’s cheeks, and Jared was digging his fingers into the meat of Jensen’s ass, pulling him closer.

“C’mon, Jensen.”

Some deeply buried instinct took control and Jensen’s hips moved forward on their own accord, sinking deep into the warmth of Jared’s body.

Jensen had to close his eyes at the overwhelming sensation. It was exactly what he needed, pressure and heat and the knowledge that he was connected as closely to another living being as he could be. Then Jared moved his hips and the movement sent sparks of pleasure up Jensen’s spine and he had to press back, chasing that delicious feeling.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Jared said and his hands came up to wrap around Jensen’s neck. “Don’t think now.”

Jensen didn’t. He couldn’t. There was only Jared, beneath him and around him, his panting breath in Jensen’s ear, the strands of his hair tickling Jensen’s nose when he leaned down to taste a line of sweat running down Jared’s neck.

They never stopped moving, a choppy quick rhythm that wasn’t enough, made Jensen move harder and faster, spurred on by Jared telling him more, and more. His wings started moving in time with his thrust, giving him more momentum and Jared threw his head back, neck forming a beautiful long line that Jensen had to lean down to and kiss.

“Fucking beautiful,” Jared panted out and reached up to graze the tips of Jensen’s wings.

The effect was devastating. The vibrations traveled up his wings and made his whole body sing. He lowered his wings, folded them forward and Jared sunk his fingers between the long feathers, scratching his nails along the soft down underneath. The feeling was too much and Jensen felt his hips stutter. He couldn’t keep up his rhythm, but Jared was pushing his hips upward and Jensen felt the pressure low in his belly tightening, his whole body tensing before everything exploded in a rush of pure pleasure.

Distantly he heard Jared moan, felt Jared’s finger dig almost painfully into his wings, but it was lost in the turmoil of emotion coursing through Jensen. Was this what it was like to feel the whole spectrum of emotions? Elated, but worn out, sated, yet sad?

He pushed himself up on his arms to looked into Jared’s face. The human was giving him a tiny smile.

“What do you think?”

“I’m confused,” Jensen admitted. “I never felt as much pleasure or joy, but now I feel sad. Lost. Why?”

Gently, Jared’s fingers stroked over his face. “Because you found something special but you think you have to leave it.”

The reverse. A negative to every positive. Jensen considered that. Leaving this planet when his assignment was complete. Leaving Jared and knowing that he’d perish. He’d never felt so much sadness over a dying planet. It was the way of the verse, he knew that, and nothing to mourn. Other planets were born, other civilizations rose. Did it matter where life flourished as long as it did?

Jensen knew about the Golden Rule of Impartiality. No one knew or understood the verse, so no one could judge. Everything happened because it happened. They only observed. And yet, Jensen knew he had found something on this planet, something the marble had been a harbinger of.

Slowly, Jensen disentangled himself from Jared and started gathering his clothes. He had an assignment to complete. He couldn’t linger. He didn’t even really understand why this was so hard. It was one encounter. Jensen had seen hundreds of planets, had lived to see suns be born, burn out and perish.

He’d never questioned, never doubted, never desired.

The marble was a heavy weight in his pocket. He reached for it, letting it warm in his hand. A most curious effect. He pulled it out.

“A marble?” Jared asked. “But they’re worthless.”

“I wasn’t planning to archive it,” Jensen said. “I came across it a while ago. It… there was something about it. I wanted to find the source of its creation.”

Jared’s eyes widened when he realized what that meant. “So there were aliens on earth before.”

Jensen looked at the marble again. “Yes.” Then he held it out to Jared. “Keep it.”

“Why?”

“Because it led me here.”

Jared’s face hardened and he shook his head. “No. You keep it. As a reminder. Of Earth.”

“I won’t need it.” Jensen didn’t want it. He could still feel the ghosts of Jared’s hands on his skin. That was enough.

Something in Jared’s eyes softened and he stepped forward. When he took the marble, their fingers brushed for a short moment. Then Jensen spread his wings.

“Safe flights,” Jared said with a sad smile.

Jensen just inclined his head. He didn’t know what to say. With two powerful strokes of his wings he was in the air. He couldn’t fathom ever thinking of this as pleasant when it paled in comparison to the touch of Jared’s fingers.

“Hey,” Jared shouted up at him. “Get some Twinkies. Can’t let the universe not know we created those!”

Jensen beat his wings faster. He couldn’t think of Twinkies.

When he arrived at the ship five turns later, Felicia was already waiting for him. Silently, she watched him load the transport pod into the cargo area.

“What happened to you?” she asked after he’d closed the hatch.

“I don’t know.”

Felicia looked at him, then out over the land. The fires had died, but smoke was hanging heavy in the air. “I think I found great things. But then I was in this one house. There was a little child with its dog. It made me sad.”

“Maybe you’re not ready then,” Jensen said.

“But why should we not feel, Jensen? I never understood. It can’t be too bad, the pain, can it? If you feel good things, too? Everybody else does.”

Jensen walked into the cockpit of the ship. “And everybody’s world dies, sooner or later. Have you learned nothing from the history of the verse? Only if we are impartial, unmoved, can we preserve.” Jensen thought back to the marble, to Jared, and he finally understood.

“Love, desire, passion, anger, grief. They are powerful and they lead humans to create beautiful things.”

Jensen thought of the sadness he felt for leaving Jared, and of that moment of pure exuberation. “To preserve this beauty for all eternity, we cannot feel. I never thought about it as a loss - until now. So it is our duty to give it all up.” He looked at Felicia. “A small sacrifice in the grand scheme of the verse, don’t you think?”

Felicia sat down in the co-control chair. “I never thought of it like that.”

The ship around them came to life when Jensen sat down and put his hand on the initiator panel.

“Still,” Felicia said, “why are we the ones who have to sacrifice?”

Jensen started the take off sequence in silence. He didn’t have an answer for her.

When they took off, he chanced one look back to Earth. He should have kept the marble.