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Superheroes Suck, or, The Unfortunately Extraordinary Life of Jensen Ackles

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There was a fire fighter on the evening news.

"Turn it up!" Chris hollered, and leaned over the bar to get a better look at the television, where some diabolical moron in a red suit and a mask was attacking the police with long, whip-thin blades of molten fire.

Jensen rolled his eyes and scrubbed harder at the glass in his hands.

The flicker and blaze of fire leaped across the screen behind the unflappable on-site reporter and Chris made an interested sound. "This live?"

"Yeah," one of the bar's regulars called back.

"Any superheroes on the scene?"

"Not yet."

"Awesome." Chris turned to Jensen with a grin. "Ten bucks it's Cipher."

Jensen made a face. "I still can't believe you play this game." He flicked a hand at the carnage on the television. "There could be people in danger, douchebag."

"Hey," Chris said. "I'm just concerned about seeing which Super is most concerned about doing their civic duty." His grin sharpened. "Taking your money's just an added bonus."

"You're insufferable," Jensen said. "And overconfident."

"It's not overconfidence if I'm right."

You're not, Jensen wanted to say. Not this time. You can't be.

He settled for rolling his eyes again. "You do realize that belonging to a superhero fanclub at your age makes you a sorry bastard, right?"

"You're just stalling because you're a pussy." Chris leaned on the bar and stared expectantly at Jensen.

Jensen did his level best to ignore him. Chris clearly took that as a challenge and kept right on staring as one minute dragged into the next.

"Jesus fuck," Jensen said finally. "If I give you the money will you go away?" Chris' expression didn't change and Jensen sighed. "Alright fine. The Seeker. Now go the fuck away."

Chris laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Whatever you say, Jenny Boy."

Someone hailed Jensen from the other end of the bar - Jensen spared an ungrateful thought that they couldn't have done so any earlier - and he made his way towards them, ignoring the smug smirk that Chris was aiming at his back. He lingered at that end of the bar even after the guy had been dealt with, preferring to stay far away from the frantic noise from the television and the rapt attention with which the rest of the room was watching it.

Chris reappeared at his elbow. "You are such a gloomy fuck," he said.

"And you're not making me feel any better."

"I don't see what your problem with Supers is," Chris continued, as though Jensen hadn't spoken at all. "I'd almost think you were trying to hide a secret identity of your own, if you weren't such a fucking downer."

Jensen snorted at that. "If I was a superhero I'd off myself," he said, which was only a hand's breadth away from being true, most days.

Chris shook his head. "You've got to be the only person on the planet who could sound even remotely convincing saying that. Everyone wants to be a Super sometimes."

"Well I don't." Jensen sighed. "Seriously, Chris, could you just lea-"

A sudden swell of ragged cheering rang through the bar. As one, Jensen and Chris glanced up at the TV to see a whole host of power cables snaking to life and surrounding Mr. Red Suit in a writhing, snapping circle of electricity. There wasn't a single superhero in sight.

Jensen saw red.

Chris crowed triumphantly. "You lose again, Ackles." He held out his hand, palm up.

"Lucky guess," Jensen muttered, hoping the sheer fury rising slowly through his veins sounded like frustration when it hit his voice. He dug roughly into the tip jar for a ten and felt a little better when it made Chris frown.

"Cheap bastard. Can't pay me with my own money."

"Your money? Who's been manning the bar while you've been drooling over the crazy people in spandex?"

Chris flipped him off. "Doesn't mean you get what's in the tip jar."

Jensen threw a dish rag at him and turned towards the gate. "You want the tips, you earn 'em. I'm going on break."

"No wanking in the bathroom!" Chris called after him, because he was a dickhead like that.

Jensen ignored him and made his way out to the dingy little back room that Chris persisted in calling an office. Very deliberately, he shut the door, locked it and pulled out his cell phone.

The phone rang out for long enough that Jensen was starting to think he wasn't going to get an answer when the line clicked and a familiar voice came on the line.


"I thought you were on vacation," Jensen gritted, the words short and clipped.

On the other end of the line, Jensen's mama sighed. "You're watching the news," she said, not a question.

"They're playing it on the TV at work, Mama."

"Jensen," his mama said, as calm and patient as ever. "You know your father can't just stop helping people just because he's on vacation. It's too suspicious."

Jensen made a disgusted sound. "So he's going to end up spending the next month in bed because he's worn himself ragged trying to pretend he's here instead of halfway across the country? Great."

"Don't you take that tone with me, Jensen Ross Ackles," his mama said sharply and Jensen bit back the instinctive urge to apologize. "Your father does what he needs to do to protect us."

"You always say that." Jensen couldn't help the plaintive tone to his voice when he added, "Mama, you promised."

Her breath was a soft puff over the line. "I know it upsets you, honey, but your father does his best. You understand that, don't you?"

She was bordering on upset now and Jensen sighed. "Yes, Mama."

"I'll make sure your father doesn't overdo it," she offered, a consolation prize that did little to improve Jensen's mood. He'd learned long ago that he and his parents had vastly different opinions on what constituted 'overdoing it'.


"You go back to work now," his mama continued. "And make sure you give us a call sometime soon, okay? We don't see you nearly enough these days."

"Yes, Mama," Jensen said again.

"I love you, sweetie. Take care."

Jensen disconnected the call and tucked his phone away with a numb sort of dissatisfaction. Some things never changed.

He spent the rest of his break drawing penises all over Chris' ledger, then headed back out to the bar where everyone was watching a spandex-wearing super villain get his ass handed to them by a mechanical army directed by the superhero known as Cipher. Known to a very select few as Alan Ackles, an IT technician from Dallas.

Jensen's dad.

Jensen hadn't always hated Supers.

He'd grown up just like every other kid: pressing his nose to the TV screen while he watched Timer bring the world around her to a standstill, tying one of his mama's good bed sheets around his neck whenever they played 'Wanderer versus the evil forces of the Enigma' and getting in trouble for stapling newspaper clippings to his bedroom wall after the Yellow Blaze rescued the crew of a sabotaged space shuttle.

The day his parents sat him down and told him that his dad - a reserved man who suffered from not-infrequent seizures and worked a dead-end job in the city - was actually Cipher - the cybernetic superhero who could jack into any piece of technology and bend it to his will - was the very best day of his life.

His dad was a superhero. His dad saved lives. His dad was the coolest dad in the whole wide world.

He hadn't even minded keeping the secret, to begin with. And when Jensen's older brother turned thirteen and found out that he could fly, Jensen kept his secret too. And his own, ultimately.

As he'd grown older however, the whole thing had started to lose its shine. Something that had been wondrous and exciting when he was a kid started being something to resent, every time his face flamed with embarrassment when someone looked at his dad and saw nothing more than a guy with a health problem, every time his mother had to work double shifts at the restaurant to make up for the fact that his dad's brain was too fried from commanding robot lackeys to let him go to work, every time their family took a backseat to someone else who needed his dad more than they did.

Josh, too, became less big brother and more 'superhero on TV'. He dropped out of school when he turned 17 and ran off to get a head start on his crime fighting career. Since then, Josh had lost job after job because he couldn't balance a 9-to-5 with an alter-ego in tights and, half the time, Jensen was lucky if he even knew what state his brother was in.

For Jensen, the worst part was that neither his dad nor Josh seemed to care about the mess they were making of their lives. In some ways, he figured it made sense: how was anybody supposed to live a Normal life when they could fly or stop time or talk to machines or whatever the fuck else?

They couldn't, Jensen had realized. And that, more than anything, was why he was glad that his own dubious talents didn't exactly run in the hero direction. Or the villain direction. Or in any useful direction at all, for that matter.

"Just got an order in for a wedding next March," Katie said as Jensen came out of the cooler with a double armload of flowers. The centerpiece she was mocking up for the American Heart Association's annual benefit dinner lay in half-finished disarray on the counter where she'd left it to go answer the phone. "The bride wants blue orchids."

"Of course she does." Jensen set the flowers down on his own worktop and pulled up his stool. "Guest list?"

Katie checked the order slip. "One hundred."

Jensen snorted. "There's absolutely no way someone who wants blue orchids is going to have a hundred-guest wedding. God help her husband. Stick it in the book."

"Gosh, boss," Katie said, with a wide-eyed insincerity that Jensen didn't really think he deserved. "And here I was going to leave it on the sidewalk."

"Shut it." Jensen added a few daffodils to the arrangement he'd been working on, trusting a lifetime of floristry practice and the gentle enthusiasm he could feel emanating from the flowers to find a good space for them.

Katie leaned against the counter, chin propped in her hand as she watched him work. "I still can't believe how good you are at that," she said. "Is 'must make pretty flower arrangements' part of the gay handbook or something?"

"Merit badge," Jensen shot back easily. "Have to give up a dozen man points in trade, though."

"Only a dozen?"

Jensen shrugged. "I work with my hands, I play in the dirt and women find it hot that I'm in touch with my 'sensitive side'. It sort of evens out. Are you going to finish that arrangement any time soon?"

Katie sighed. "I don't know," she said, frustration rounding out her vowels. "It's missing something, but I don't know what."

Jensen flicked a glance at the centerpiece. "Try delphiniums. Blue ones. We should have some in the cooler."

"Delphiniums he says," Katie muttered, pushing herself away from the counter. "I'll have you know that I've been agonizing over that for hours."

"Zen and the art of flower arrangement, young grasshopper," Jensen called after her. "One day you'll be as awesome as me. Probably."

That earned him a finger, so Jensen considered it a job well done.

Even if it hadn't been quite the truth.

Jensen was kind of the Disney princess equivalent of a Super. Which was exactly as stupid as it sounded.

Living things liked him. Not people, a lot of the time, since he was kind of a surly bastard, but pretty much anything else that breathed, grew or evolved wanted him to love it. They didn't want to do his bidding or anything useful like that. They just, liked him.

When Jensen was around plants grew taller and flowers bloomed brighter. Animals fell all over themselves trying to prove that he was their favourite human being in the whole wide world. Even bugs refrained from biting him, though getting trailed by infatuated clouds of them when he went camping was beyond irritating. Jensen felt like he spent most of his life one musical number away from a full-on fairy tale utopia.

Josh and Mackenzie thought it was hilarious. Jensen mostly just wished he could have set a bear or two on them.

What was more aggravating, though, was the fact that Jensen couldn't help but like living things back. It was why he'd opened Meadowlarks instead of becoming a physical therapist and why his house looked like a cross between the Amazon rainforest and the centre spread in Fine Gardening. Animals were very nearly as good as plants, though he didn't keep pets since their exuberance could be a little… trying.

Thanks to his exasperating love-love relationship with Mother Nature, Jensen was happiest in the places that liked having him there. There was something to be said for being somewhere where absolutely everything was delighted to see you. Living in the city kind of limited his options for that, but he managed pretty well between his house, his store and the not inconsiderable collection of public parks and green spaces in the city. Whenever the weather permitted it, he traveled to and from work on his bicycle so that he could stop in the park for a while and bask in the quiet peace all around him.

Of course, there were always times when peace was pretty much the last thing that the park afforded him.

"Watch out!"

Jensen slowed automatically, but he'd barely realized that, yes, that warning was aimed at him when two massively big dogs appeared out of fucking nowhere and plowed straight into him.

Jensen's breath punched painfully out of his lungs as he hit the ground, legs still tangled with his bike and leaving him completely unable to defend himself from the pair of ridiculously large dogs that swarmed all over him the moment he was at their level. Doggy breath washed over him as they panted and licked and nosed at him and Jensen 'oofed' when one big paw landed square on his stomach.

"Harley!" a voice snapped, from somewhere above and vaguely to the left of Jensen. "Sadie!"

Some of the weight vanished as one dog got pulled off and Jensen used the sudden release of his right arm to grab the other dog's face, halting the barrage of sloppy kisses. He dug his fingers into the coarse fur at the dog's ruff, scratching at the spot just under the jaw that was the weak spot of animals the world over. The dog, of course, practically melted at the touch and Jensen rolled his eyes fondly. Dogs were so easy.

A big hand wrapped around the second dog's collar and hauled backwards, leaving Jensen winded, blinded by the overhead sun and lying flat on his back in the middle of a public park on a cheery spring afternoon.

He really wished this sort of thing was an unusual end to his work day.

"God, I'm so sorry!" the dogs' owner was saying. All Jensen could see of him from this angle was the way the muscles in his forearms bulged with the effort of keeping the dogs off Jensen. "They're not usually so...Harley, Sadie, heel! What the hell's gotten into you two? Are you okay?"

Groaning, Jensen heaved himself into a seated position and cast a sour glance at his capsized bike - back wheel still spinning slowly - and the scatter of his belongings all over the grass.

"Here, let me..." the guy said and a hand thrust itself in front of Jensen's face. Jensen took it almost absently, most of his attention on the dogs in case they decided to renew their assault. Thankfully, they seemed to have calmed down after their initial 'Jensen! We love you!' frenzy and were now sitting neatly at their master's feet, both of their leashes wrapped around the guy's other hand. Their tails wagged harder as Jensen looked at them, but they stayed where they were.

"Well trained dogs you got there," Jensen started to say, turning his eyes up to Mr. Dog Owner only to discover that he was apparently being helped to his feet by a Greek god. A tall, tanned, seriously ripped Greek god with hair that Jensen wanted to tangle his fingers in and tug and a face that Jensen could just imagine fallen slack with pleasure.

The words got lost somewhere between Jensen's brain and his mouth.

"You okay?" the guy asked again, with a wide, earnest expression that should not have looked so natural considering that the guy was the size of a small country.

"Yeah," Jensen said, after an awkwardly long pause. "I'm fine. Thanks for the rescue."

The guy looked sheepish. "Considering it's my dogs who ran you over, I'm not really sure you should be thanking me."

"Hey, you got them off me before they smothered me with affection. That counts as a rescue in my books. May I?" At a somewhat bemused nod from the guy, Jensen crouched down and gave each of the dogs a firm scrub behind the ears as a proper hello.

Even when they were half-killing him with their enthusiasm, he just couldn't dredge up a proper hate for animals.

"Nice dogs," he said, tilting his head up and Jesus, the guy looked even bigger from down here. Jensen couldn't help a quick flick of his eyes at the soft bulge of the guy's crotch and wondered how proportional he was.

"They're usually better behaved, honest," the guy said. He smiled fondly and dimples popped out on his cheeks. Jesus Christ. "But yeah, they're my babies."

Jensen gave the dogs a final pat and stood again. "Big dogs for a big guy, huh?" he said, with a teasing sort of grin.

"Absolutely," the guy said, though his grin went sheepish when he glanced past Jensen at the mess on the grass behind him. "Let me help with that."

The guy went to release the dogs and Jensen held up a hand when their ears perked up excitedly. "How about you hold the dogs and I'll pick up my stuff. I don't want to get knocked over twice in one day."

The guy nodded. "I can do that. I'm Jared by the way," he said. "You know, in case you want to tell anyone about the crazy guy with the massive dogs who attacked you in the park."

"Jensen," Jensen said as he bent down to collect his things. "Though I gotta say, 'crazy guy with massive dogs' is a way better name for story-telling."

Jared grinned broadly. "Of course, how silly of me."

Jensen made quick work of shoving everything back into his shoulder bag. Some of his notes were bent and he'd be damned if he could find his 2B pencil, but his sketch books hadn't been damaged by the damp grass and his cell phone still worked so he figured it could have been worse.

Once everything was back where it belonged, Jensen slung his bag over one shoulder and pulled his bike upright. The front wheel was tilted at a funny angle and Jensen suppressed a sigh.

Beside him, Jared winced. "I can pay for that."

Jensen waved that off. "No need. It's just the alignment; I can fix that myself. This isn't the first time I've been knocked over by enthusiastic pets, you know."

"Some animal magnetism going on there?" Jared asked and, oh, Jensen approved of the not-so subtle probing he could hear in that question.

"I'm a regular Doctor Dolittle," Jensen agreed. He threw Jared a wink. "Though it's my first time being set upon by miniature horses."

Jared threw his head back and laughed. It was a nice laugh: warm and honest. "Yeah, I'll bet that doesn't happen often. But you've got to let me make it up to you somehow or I'm going to feel bad."

Jared's head tilted in a welcome and familiar way and Jensen shifted just so, making it very clear that he wanted what Jared was selling. "Yeah?"

Jared's grin was suddenly a lot more confident. "Yeah. You think I could take you out for dinner sometime?"

Jensen smiled. "I think we could arrange that."

Jensen ended up with Jared's number and a dinner date for the following Saturday, which probably should not have made him as happy as it did. But it'd been a while since he'd last gone on a proper date and, despite the less than auspicious way they'd met, he had a good feeling about Jared.

And, if nothing else, at least he would be nice to look at even if the date was a bust.

A nagging sort of excitement jangled through his nerves throughout the week, though he took care to keep that to himself because a) he wasn't that big of a girl and b) he had no particular desire to get badgered about it by his nosey-ass friends.

Saturday found Jensen mucking about in his garden for most of the day; Katie took care of the shop on Saturdays and Jensen's garden was extensive enough that tending to it took a lot of time, even for him. Sweating in the sun and getting covered in dirt was also an excellent way to avoid thinking about Jared, which Jensen wholeheartedly approved of.

He arrived at the restaurant exactly on time and found Jared already there, wearing a blue button-down and a pair of jeans that fit in all the right places.

Jared's whole face brightened when he caught sight of Jensen. "Wow," he said, with flattering sincerity. "And here I thought I'd imagined how hot you are."

Jensen flashed his best smile in response and quietly considered the hour he'd spent deciding what to wear as time very well spent. "Funny. I thought you were taller," he teased. "Been waiting long?"

"Couple of minutes," Jared said with a shrug. Jensen got the impression that Jared would have said the same even if he'd been standing there since lunchtime. "Though all that waiting's made me hungry, so I hope you're ready to eat."

Jensen gave him an appraising look. "Somehow I feel like you're always hungry."

"It takes a lot of energy to be this awesome," Jared agreed solemnly.

"And tall."

"That too. You ready?"

Jensen smiled. "Lead the way."

The restaurant was busy but not crowded and it wasn't long before they were settled in a quiet booth near the window. The waiter arrived promptly and vanished with their drink orders and Jensen took the opportunity to scope the place out.

"Looks nice," he said. "I've never been here before."

"Me neither," Jared admitted. "A friend recommended it to me." His grin flashed. "Here's hoping she hasn't led me astray."

"Do your friends make a habit of sabotaging your dates?"

"More often than you'd think, actually," Jared said and his grin carved his dimples in deep.

Jensen propped his chin up on one hand. "Makes a boy wonder why you've decided to risk it. Unless you're trying to scare me off."

"Definitely not," Jared said, in a tone of voice that had Jensen fighting the entirely undignified urge to blush. "But I'm new in town and it seemed safer to trust her than flip randomly through the yellow pages."

A brief lull followed Jared's words and Jensen remembered why he hated first dates. They were just so damn awkward. But Jared was watching him with an easy little smile on his face so Jensen dredged up whatever social skills he had and leaned across the table with an answering smile.

"So, what brings you to the illustrious state of New York?"

And just like that, it was easy. Jensen told Jared about Meadowlarks and accepted the obligatory teasing about owning a flower shop with good grace. He learned that Jared was some kind of computer whiz who worked mostly from home and designed web interfaces for very big, very successful companies. Jared was also, Jensen discovered over the course of the meal, funny, charming and easy to talk to on top of being kind of ridiculously attractive. The fact that Jared was clearly into him only made things better and Jensen couldn't even pretend he wasn't halfway to smitten well before they got to dessert.

They argued good-naturedly over who would pay the check, which was a fight that Jared won on the caveat that Jensen got to pay next time. Jensen was pleased enough by the mention of a second date to consider it a win.

All in all, it was one of the best first dates Jensen had had in a long time. Judging by the warm regard in Jared's eyes, he figured the feeling was mutual.

"So," Jared said as they pulled on their jackets. "Any chance you feel like slumming with me for a little longer?"

"I could be convinced," Jensen said, well aware that he didn’t sound the least bit reluctant about it. "What did you have in mind?"

Jared reached for the door. "I'm glad you as-…ked…"

The door opened on a veritable torrent of rain; water pounded down on the earth and slanted in wide, pooling waves in the street. The awning above the door was protecting them from the worst of it, though Jensen could already feel cold seeping into his right sleeve where rain was soaking through the fabric.

"Well," Jared said, after a moment. "I guess a walk through the park is off the menu."

Jensen laughed at Jared's perfectly deadpan delivery. "Oh, I dunno. I'm kind of a fan of the waterlogged look." He looked out at the rain and sighed. "Though I'm not sure I want to go anywhere in that."

"We can go back to my place if you want? Just until the rain stops," Jared added hurriedly, when Jensen arched an eyebrow at him. "I live right round the corner. I swear I'm more of a gentleman than that."

"Good, because I am definitely not that cheap a date." Jensen glanced out at the rain, which seemed to have actually worsened in the handful of minutes they'd been blocking the door to the restaurant. Probably someone was going to get upset at them for that soon.

"I have an Xbox," Jared offered.

"Oh, well in that case. Sure," Jensen decided finally. "Why not?"

The grin Jared gave him was staggering. "Ready to run?"

So Jensen grinned back. "Bring it."

They dashed out into the rain and Jensen was soaked in moments, clothes plastering to his back and eyelashes heavy with water. They pelted down the street, shoes splashing and skidding through the puddles. Jared was a long-legged shadow at his side and Jensen could hear him giggling like a little kid as he led the way down the rain-soaked streets.

As promised, Jared's apartment building was only about a two minute dash away from the restaurant. Jensen dripped and shivered in the hallway as Jared dealt with the arduous task of fishing his keys out of his sopping wet jeans.

"Um, you might want to stand back a bit," Jared warned him.

"Wha-" Jensen started, but anything else he might have said got drowned out by the sudden explosion of excited barking on the other side of the door as Jared's key scraped in the lock. "Ah. Gotcha."

Jared grinned and cracked the door open far enough to squeeze through - though he may as well not have bothered considering how wide his frigging shoulders were - using his legs to block the path of two dogs that Jensen definitely remembered.

They obviously remembered Jensen as well, if the way they barked even louder when they saw him sneaking through the door behind Jared was anything to go by.

"Down!" Jared tried to tell them both, doing a completely shit job at sounding stern. The dogs ignored him completely and Jensen found himself in the middle of a swarm of barks and wagging tails, his whole side brushing up against Jared as they both fought to keep their feet amidst the onslaught.

Jared gave in first, grinning broadly as he crouched down and put himself at the mercy of his overexcited dogs. "Yes, I'm home! I missed you too, you big sucks."

The dogs preened under Jared's big hands - Jensen could understand the impulse - obviously well used to the adulation of their owner. It didn't stop them from butting insistently against Jensen's legs every other second, of course, so he joined Jared in making sure the dogs knew they were loved. It wasn't like it was much of a hardship, anyway. They were nice dogs.

The way it made Jared's grin widen certainly didn't hurt, either.

"You know," Jared said, once the dogs had calmed down and wandered off to do something more interesting. "Sadie and Harley are pretty good judges of character."

"I am very loveable," Jensen agreed easily. He straightened, brushing the worst of the dog hair off while he took a look around.

Jensen's first impression of Jared's apartment was that it kind of reminded him of the place he'd had right out of college: cramped, cheap and really fucking tiny.

A glance at Jared's face made it clear that he man was just waiting for him to ask, so Jensen obliged with a raised eyebrow and the driest tone he could muster up on short notice. "You live in this shoebox."

"Yes, I do."

"With your ridiculously large dogs."

"They're perfectly sized dogs. And it's temporary." Jared kicked off his shoes and they hit the mat with a soggy thump. "Best I could find on short notice. The building's got a big backyard, though, and it's not far from the park, so the dogs and me get a lot of exercise."

"I'll bet." Jensen toed off his own shoes, grimacing at the way his wet socks skidded on the floor. "Short notice, huh? What was the big rush?"

Jared shrugged. "Felt like a change." His grin flashed. "I've always been on the slightly idiotic side of spontaneous."

Jared's tone was easy but Jensen had lived with the need to keep secrets for more than long enough to know that he was lying. Or, not lying, exactly, but making a connection between two things that had little, if anything, to do with each other. But Jensen had also been an adult long enough to know that people lied for all sorts of reasons and that most of them were none of his business. Also, a first date was not exactly the most appropriate time for being a nosy ass.

So he made an amused, understanding sort of noise and adopted an expectant expression. "Well then. You gonna give me the grand tour of your tiny temporary apartment?"

"Where are my manners?" Jared turned away from Jensen and his arm swung out to point as he rhymed off, "Front hall, closet, kitchen, most of a living room which is basically just a couch and a TV, balcony, bathroom, bedroom, other bedroom which might once have been a closet and is currently pretending to be an office."

"I am starting to feel overwhelmed by this opulence."

Jared winked at him. "Mi casa es su casa."

"I'm thrilling as we speak. You want I should drip on your floor some more or are you going to invite me in?"

"Eh, it could probably use a wash anyway," Jared said, stepping back to let Jensen move away from the front door. "I'll go get you a towel. You can go drip in the kitchen in the meantime if you like."

"Works for me." Jensen squelched his way to the square of linoleum masquerading as a kitchen and set about wringing out his jacket over the sink. It was not an especially successful endeavour.

Jared appeared in the hallway bearing a fluffy-looking towel that Jensen took gratefully. "Here. I can lend you some dry clothes if you like." Jared held up his hands in mock surrender. "And I promise almost no pervy thoughts about you in my clothes."

"This date gets classier by the minute. That'd be good, thanks."

"One sec." Jared vanished into the bedroom. Jensen set about scrubbing the worst of the water out of his hair while he waited, hoping he didn't end up looking too much like a hedgehog as a result.

"These ought to fit," Jared said, returning with a pair of cotton sweatpants and a plain shirt. He handed them over, his fingertips leaving wet prints on the fabric. "Bathroom's over there. You can hang up your wet stuff over the bath so it can dry some while you're here."

"Thanks." Armed with towel and clothes, Jensen did his best not to get in Jared's way as they both tried to navigate in the narrow confines of the kitchen. Jensen took a quick, curious peek into Jared's office as he edged past, and had to rein in an appreciative whistle for the seriously high-tech workstation Jared had set up in there. Jensen's dad would have approved.

Like the rest of the apartment, the bathroom was tiny but functional, and Jensen gratefully shucked his wet clothes in favour of the shirt and sweats Jared had given him. They were soft, warm and patently too big; the collar of the shirt sagged around his neck and the waistband of the sweats hung dangerously low on his hips. He wrung out his own clothes one last time, then slung them over the shower railing to drip to their hearts' content.

"I feel like I'm wearing my big brother's clothes," he said to Jared as he walked out of the bathroom, the hems of Jared's pants dragging over his feet.

Jared grinned at him. "Awesome. All we need now are some sleeping bags and a scary movie and this'll be the best slumber party ever." He'd changed as well and was now dressed casually in a pair of basketball shorts and a white t-shirt that was damp around the collar thanks to the faintly curled ends of his still-wet hair.

"Don't forget the popcorn and talking about boys," Jensen said. "You said something about a TV?"

"Right thisaway," Jared said, with an extravagant bow. "Watch your step on your way in though - it's a little tight."

He wasn't kidding about that. The couch was a massive piece of furniture, far too large for the space it was trying to occupy, and Jensen suspected that watching Jared's enthusiastically large flatscreen was going to be similar to sitting in the front row at the movie theatre. The fact that the dogs had already staked their own claim on the space only made it all the more crowded.

"Seriously, Jared," Jensen said, once they were both safely ensconced on the couch with the dogs sacked out at their feet. "How are you even living here?"

Jared shrugged. "Don't know how long I'm staying so it didn't seem worth it to go apartment hunting until I knew I wasn't moving again. It's not that bad, once you get used to it."

"You move around a lot?" Jensen said, doing his best to sound casual.

"Sort of," Jared said, in about the same tone. The grin he gave Jensen was somewhere between wicked and shy, which Jensen wouldn't have thought was even possible. Apparently Jared Padalecki was just special like that. "I've got a pretty feeling about this place, though."

"Oh," Jensen said, because he was an idiot. "That's good."

They fell silent for a moment and Jensen could hear the rain rattling the windows. Sandwiched between the arm of the couch and Jared's warm bulk, he couldn't help but feel awfully cozy.

"Sounds like that's going to be a while," Jared said finally. "You want to watch that scary movie and braid each other's hair or should I kick your ass at Call of Duty instead?"

"Oh you are on, fucker," Jensen said, and this date wasn't like any date he'd ever gone on before and it was fantastic. "I'm going to make you cry."

Jared grinned at him, cheeky and fond. "No you're not. But if you ask really nicely I'll let you come back next week for a rematch if you want to try and reclaim your lost glory. Maybe over pizza?"

"Gotta beat me first," Jensen said, which only made Jared grin wider. No matter how this game went, Jensen didn't think Jared was going to have to try too hard to convince him to go on another date.

Jensen was still totally going to win though.

One date turned into two turned into random texts turned into getting together to watch a basketball game and make fun of each other's teams until Jensen realized that, somewhere between taking the dogs to the park together and going for pizza at ass o'clock in the morning, he'd gone and got himself a boyfriend.

It had been a long time since Jensen'd had an actual boyfriend and he found himself enjoying the novelty nearly as much as he enjoyed the actual act of dating. It was nice to have someone around who'd be just as happy to lounge around on the couch watching bad TV with him as he was to shove him up against a wall and kiss him silly. The fact that Jensen himself was equally happy with both options also seemed like a pretty good sign that he was onto something with this whole dating thing. Or at least this dating Jared thing. Jared was definitely an important variable in this whole situation.

For about a month, Jensen managed to avoid having to tell anybody about his newly boyfriended status. Things with Jared were going well, really well if he was being honest, but that didn't mean he wanted to open himself up to either ridicule or well-intentioned pestering until he was a little more sure that Jared was going to be a long term thing.

Unfortunately, Katie was rather more observant than Jensen's other friends.

"So," she said, leaning across Jensen's worktop one morning with a smile that Jensen was absolutely not awake enough to handle. "You ever going to tell me his name?"

"Whose name?" Jensen asked, though it was pretty painfully obvious what she was talking about. He gave her a piteous smile. "Coffee?"

Katie gave him a look. "No changing the subject. I'm talking about your new boyfriend who you forgot to introduce me to."

Jensen yawned at her. "Coffee is always the subject. Especially before noon. And it's none of your business."

"I am more than willing to steal your phone and start calling every contact in it to find out," Katie threatened, completely ignoring Jensen's vital need to caffeinate himself. "And since I'm guessing you don't want everybody you've ever met finding out about him, you might want to save yourself the embarrassment and just tell me."

"Fine," Jensen sighed, much sooner than he probably would have if he'd been awake. "His name's Jared. Happy?"

"Oh, you can do so much better than that, sweetie. Where'd you meet him? Is he hot? What does he do? How's the sex?"

"God," Jensen groaned and dropped his head onto the table. "I absolutely do not want to talk with you about boys. And you ever call me sweetie again, I'm going to fire you."

Katie's grin sharpened, completely undaunted. "No, you won't. Spill, Ackles."

They had a brief staring contest during which Jensen absolutely failed at thinking of something he could give Katie to do that would keep her busy and out of his hair for the next six years or so.

"I'll buy you a coffee from that pretentious café round the corner you like," Katie offered. Her gentle tone made it sound like Jensen was the one being unreasonable about this whole thing.

Jensen sighed. "You're such a pest. Fine. Met him at the park. Yes, he's hot. Taller than me, tanned, longish hair, looks like an ad for a body building gym. Works in computers doing God knows what. And I am never telling you anything about my sex life. Ever."

"Spoilsport. Tall, dark and handsome, huh? What's he doing with your sorry ass?"

Jensen shrugged. "I'm really hot."

Katie pursed her lips thoughtfully. "True. I tentatively approve of your taste in men, though I'm going to have to know more than that to make a decision."

"That's a real shame," Jensen said. "Cause that's all you're getting." He yawned again. "You owe me a coffee."

That earned him an exaggerated salute. "One ridiculously expensive cup of coffee coming right up. But I'd better see his Facebook account on the computer when I get back," Katie warned as she headed towards the office to grab her purse.

"Fat chance," Jensen told her and ignored the smirk she threw at him on her way out of the room.

"I need new friends," Jensen said to no one in particular.

It wasn't long after his showdown with Katie that Jensen dragged himself home after a long, miserable day to find that his brother had dropped in while he was at work.


"I watered your plants for you," Josh said, from where he was hovering near the ceiling. He had his arms folded behind his head and his eyes closed in a picture of perfect nonchalance. In midair. "It took forever and one of them tried to eat me. You ever considered just moving into a gardening centre? Or the jungle?"

"You know," Jensen said mildly. "Normal people use the front door. And call ahead."

Josh shrugged, which always looked ridiculous when he floating. "And they're boring and hate themselves." He shifted, twisting to look at Jensen over the back of the couch he wasn't lying on. "Besides - you want me to stop visiting, you gotta start locking your bedroom window."

"Right, because getting Whirlwind busted for breaking and entering is absolutely on my list of things to do this month." Jensen let his bag thud to the floor and toed off his shoes.

Josh flipped him off. "Like anyone would catch me even if I did. Oh," he said, as Jensen started for the den. "Grab me a beer, would ya?"

"Fucking moocher," Jensen shot back, detouring towards the kitchen anyway.

Two steps in and it was immediately obvious that Josh had been taking liberties with the contents of Jensen's fridge: dirty dishes were stacked high in the sink, there was flour scattered all over the counter and a wide smear of pasta sauce streaked across the stovetop and, incredibly, part way up the wall. An empty glass was sitting by itself on the kitchen table, looking incongruously tidy amidst the chaos.

Jensen sighed. "How long you been here, anyway?"

"Few hours," Josh's voice answered. "Left a plate for you in the microwave."

"You're too kind." Jensen ducked into the fridge to grab a beer for each of them, then headed back into the den. "Should've called the store," he told Josh as he sat. "Katie could have told you I was going to be home late."

Josh's grin was wicked and unfortunately familiar. "Who needs a phone when I can just find out for myself?"

Jensen made a face at him. "You didn't."

"Of course I did. You can find things out so much faster from the sky."

Jensen groaned. "Jesus, Josh, what would have happened if someone saw you?"

"Gee, Jensen," Josh said dryly. "Maybe some variation of 'oh my god, it's Whirlwind! Quick, take a picture!'. It's like being a movie star, just with more saving people's lives and less showing up on the cover of Us Weekly: people are always excited to see superheroes."

Josh stretched one hand down to grab a beer but Jensen pulled it out of reach.

"Not in my house, fucker. You want it, you sit the hell down like a normal human being."

"Picky, picky," Josh said, and abruptly dropped down onto the couch hard enough to jostle Jensen and nearly get them both covered in beer. "Any particular reason you're so pissy today?"

"Besides the fact that I hate you?" Jensen surrendered Josh's beer and took a long pull from his own. "Just did the flowers for the fucking wedding from hell."

"Did the groom forget to show up?"

"He's probably going to wish he had in a year or two. The bride had the decorations for the entire hall changed around three times and then complained that the flowers weren't exactly the same colour blue as the bridesmaids' dresses."

"Sounds charming."

"Oh, it gets better," Jensen said. "Get to the ceremony to give out the bouquets and find out that apparently the groom's mother is allergic to gardenias and can't even get into the chapel without sneezing. So we had to do an emergency rearrangement at the last damn minute, the bride and the mother-in-law got into a screaming fight in front of the church and now I've got a hundred damn gardenias in my cooler that I don't know what the fuck to do with. It was a fucking disaster."

Josh shook his head. "Remind me again why, out of all the jobs in the world, you picked florist? Best I can come up with is that you liked perpetuating gay stereotypes and smelling like a perfume counter all the time."

Jensen punched him in the arm. "And you clearly never matured past the age of seven seeing as you ran away to join the circus."

"Hey," Josh said. "My job is awesome. Everybody wishes they were me."

"The tightrope walker part or the wearing spandex in public part? Oh, wait."

Josh gave him a cuff upside the head. "Just for that, I'm not getting you tickets."

Jensen snorted. "Believe me, I got enough of you walking in midair when we were kids." He took another drink, finally starting to feel the stress of the day draining off. "Can't even hope you're going to fall off and die, you fucking cheater."

"I fall off sometimes," Josh protested.

"On purpose."

"Of course. Got to maintain that alter ego and all that." Josh grinned. "And it's kind of fun."

"What, falling?" Jensen asked and Josh nodded.

"Well, it can't happen unless I let it." Josh paused thoughtfully. "Or unless I was unconscious, I guess. It's refreshing, anyway. Hard to explain."

"The fact that you're not going to die from it probably helps." Jensen propped one elbow up on the arm of the couch and tilted his head into his hand. "How long are you in town?"

"Just the weekend," Josh said.

Jensen frowned at him. "You're not doing a show?"

"Oh, I am," Josh said. "But I'm just filling in. The Big Apple Circus' in town and one of their walkers is out with the flu so I said I'd help out. My troupe's heading out to Ohio next week."

"You ever think of joining a stationary circus instead of wandering all over the country?" Jensen asked him. "Settle down?"

Josh's smile was at once wry and weary. They'd had this argument before. "You know why that's not a good idea, Jensen."

"Other Supers have homes," Jensen argued.

"And I have my troupe. It's not so different."

"Is being a Super really so important that you're willing to be paranoid about settling down for the rest of your-"

"It's what I want," Josh cut in sharply. "Besides," he added in a lighter tone. "The last thing this town needs is another Super right now."

"Why?" Jensen asked, confused.

"Are you serious?" Josh shook his head. "What am I saying, of course you are. There's a new guy on the scene. Calls himself Gunner. Showed up a couple of months ago in a big way."

A vague memory of Chris babbling about something similar rose up in the back of Jensen's mind. "Oh, right. He's a... telekinetic?"

Josh nodded. "That's the one. Apparently he's one hell of a Super. His powers are crazy strong."

"Goodie," Jensen said dryly. "Nothing like a half-cocked greenhorn who can throw tractor trailers with his brain to make me feel safe."

"Don't sugarcoat it, Jensen. Let me know what you really think."

"I think I ought to kick your sorry superhero ass out of my house," Jensen said without rancor.

"I'd like to see you try, nature boy." Josh tipped back his head to drain the last of his bottle. "But, barring that, I'd like to see you be a good host and get me another beer."

"Not a chance. Get it your damn self."

Josh shoved him right off the couch with a well aimed blast of wind. Jensen's not-quite-empty bottle went flying.

Jensen stared at the beer soaking into his carpet. "Fucker."

Josh grinned widely at the mayhem on Jensen's face. "Missed you too, little brother."

Jensen looked down at the mess, sighed and resigned himself to cleaning up later. Right after he'd kicked his brother's ass.

Josh crashed on Jensen's couch for the rest of the weekend. He spent most of his time floating around the house, watching the news at unnecessarily high volumes whenever they were reporting superhero antics and generally doing his best to drive Jensen up the wall. Jensen retaliated by slamming doors at inopportune moments, cranking the volume on his stereo and buying some new hanging baskets for Josh to crash into as he drifted around corners.

Business as usual with the Ackles brothers.

Jensen allowed himself a quiet sigh of relief when Josh zoomed off without dramatically righting any wrongs in Jensen's neighbourhood or taking any news of the 'Jensen has a boyfriend' variety away with him to tell their parents. Jensen felt torn between throwing a fucking party and feeling like the house was suddenly two sizes too big. He generally ignored both feelings and returned to his regularly scheduled work week, hoping that he'd filled his family interaction quota for the month.

Really, he should have known better.

Jensen was in the middle of going through wedding flower options with an excited bride and groom - well, the bride was excited, at least - when his phone beeped with an incoming call. Which was a pretty clever trick considering that Jensen had turned it off before his clients arrived.

A quick glance showed that his phone was, in fact, still off. And still ringing. Jensen reined in a sigh.

"I'm sorry," he said to the couple. "I have to take this. Why don't you start looking through the catalogues without me and I'll be right back. Won't take a moment."

He left the pair of them debating over the photos and took his ringing phone out of the office and down to the bathroom at the end of the hall. Jensen locked the door carefully behind him and thumbed the 'accept' button.

"Hi, Dad," he said.

"Jensen," his dad's voice said on the other end, tinny like it always was when he was using his powers to ignore all the basic rules of how a telephone was supposed to work.

"I'm at work," Jensen said, though it wasn't as much of a protest as it might once have been. It had taken a lot of arguing on both their parts - and on Jensen's mama's part - but they'd finally found a way to compromise on this issue: Jensen's dad promised to call only when he had something important to say and Jensen promised to answer when it rang.

"This won't take long."

"Good." Jensen glanced idly at his watch, wondering if he'd have time to grab lunch at the café down the street before his afternoon meeting. "What is it?"

"Crisis is in town," his dad said.

Jensen froze.

"You're sure?" Jensen demanded, only absently aware of the fact that he was squeezing his phone tightly enough to make his fingers ache.


Jensen sucked in a breath. "Josh. Jesus, he was just here, you have to -"

"Your brother's already two states over," his dad told him, in the tone of voice that meant and he's going to stay there too. "Your mother and I are far enough away to stay off the radar, but I want you to promise me that you'll be on your guard. I know you don't think of yourself as a Super-," his voice rose over Jensen's derisive snort, "-but if Crisis finds you it won't matter how mild your powers are."

"I know, Dad." Jensen ran a hand through his hair, trying to process all of this. "What's he doing here?"

"Hunting," his dad said. "You've got a good number of Supers in the area-"

"The joys of urban living," Jensen muttered.

"-and I wouldn't be surprised if he had his sights set on Gunner."

"Oh, Josh mentioned him. Is he really that good?"

"Maybe better," his dad said, which was quite the thing, coming from him. "Took out Razor Jade his first month on the scene."

"Jesus," Jensen said, because even he knew that was impressive. "Guess Crisis is looking for a challenge, huh?"

"That doesn't mean he won't take out any Super he finds in the meantime," his dad reminded him, sounding like a mix between a concerned father and a drill sergeant. "So keep your head down and if you run into any trouble, you let me know, y'hear?"

"Sure," Jensen said faintly and then, as an afterthought, "Thanks."

"No need for that." His dad disconnected the call without bothering with a goodbye.

Jensen stood there for a long moment, wondering how long it was going to take for the news to hit the mainstream and how many Supers were going to go to ground the moment they found out. Christ, Jensen couldn't so much as make a dog growl at someone and even he wanted to find somewhere to hide.

Which was paranoia talking, he told himself firmly. He pocketed his phone and headed back out to deal with the future Mr. and Mrs. Zadkovic, shoving all thoughts of homicidal super villains out of his head. He had flowers to sell.

Crisis was quite possibly the most infamous super villain in the country. He was a self-detonator: a walking bomb. The slightest touch could send a person sky high and coming to the ground in a million charred pieces.

But unlike other super villains, who got their names splashed all over the evening news because of bloody body counts and nearly successful attempts at taking over the world, Crisis was feared for his extremely good track record when it came to killing Supers.

Lots of super villains were more than keen on killing superheroes, unsurprisingly, but Crisis would take out any Super who crossed his path, hero or otherwise. He'd taken more than one high powered super villain out of the game and for a while there'd been a serious shortage of sidekicks thanks to his efforts. Using his own super powers to kill other Supers seemed more than a little hypocritical, in Jensen's opinion, but that clearly didn't bother Crisis any.

Jensen just hoped that being so far below useless would keep him out of the firing line.

Despite Jensen's best efforts to put the whole mess out of his head, he was distracted and edgy for the rest of the day. He was good enough at shamming normality that none of his clients noticed but he didn't have quite as much success fooling Jared.

"Jensen?" Jared said and Jensen jolted out of his thoughts for the fifth time in as many minutes. He glanced over to find Jared watching him with a faint frown. "You okay?"

"Sorry, busy day," Jensen lied. He offered Jared a tired grin. "When I get married, remind me to make someone else do all the work. Weddings are a pain in the ass."

Jared's expression didn't change. "You want to head out?" he asked, unusually serious. "We can do the movies another day."

Jensen gave him a scandalized look. "And miss the year's most unfortunately memorable zombie movie? Bite your tongue."

Jared kept right on looking concerned at him, apparently in no mood to let the subject drop.

Jensen gave an internal sigh and reached for Jared's hand. "I'm fine," he said. He gave Jared's hand a squeeze. "Honest."

Jared opened his mouth to say something else but the lights thankfully chose that moment to dim.

"Movie," Jensen said firmly, before Jared could ask again. Jensen leaned back in his chair, letting his voice drop low in tandem with the lights. "Shut up."

Out of the corner of his eye, Jensen saw Jared sit back as well, leaving his left hand in Jensen's right while he reached for their tub of popcorn with the other. Jensen left him to it for the time being; he didn't much feel like eating right now.

Normally, a terribly cheesy horror movie full of gratuitous violence would be just what Jensen needed to take his mind off anything even marginally relevant, but tonight he just wasn't feeling it. The movie passed without Jensen really seeing any of it, to the point that he was actually caught off guard when the lights came back on at the end.

He turned his surprised start into a stretch with what he thought was remarkable alacrity, then turned to Jared with an easy smile. "Now was that or was that not the best date movie ever?" he asked.

This time Jared seemed more inclined to let the matter drop, judging by the overdone frown he gave Jensen in return. "I dunno," he said. "Didn't make you jump into my arms once."

"Maybe you should have been jumping into my arms," Jensen said, rising to his feet. "You ever think of that?"

Jared scoffed. "As if, short stack. Have you seen my biceps?" He flexed one arm as they headed out of the theatre and it should have looked ridiculous but Jared absolutely wasn't kidding about those muscles so it ended up being really kind of hot instead. "Those zombies wouldn't know what hit 'em."

"Whatever you say, hot stuff." Jensen hesitated briefly, trying to think of something normal to do that would keep his stupid brain busy. "You wanna grab a burger? Or we could go to th- what?"

"Jensen," Jared said, sounding unusually tentative. "Are you upset with me? For canceling our date last week?"

Really, Jared couldn't have been more wrong; that had been the night Jensen had gone to see Josh's performance at the circus and Jared canceling their date had meant that Jensen could go without either feeling guilty about blowing Jared off or having to put up with Josh tormenting him for bringing a date with him. Jensen could honestly say that he'd never been quite so happy to be stood up in his life.

Still, he recognized a convenient excuse when he heard one.

"Don't worry about it," Jensen said, in a tone of voice that meant anything but. Which probably made him a jerk but, whatever. He'd make it up to Jared later.

Jared bit his lip. "Jensen," he said, sounding sincerely repentant and Jensen abruptly decided that he'd make it up to him right now. "I didn't-"

"Shh," Jensen hushed, tilting his head up to brush a kiss against Jared's lips. "Was planning on taking you home with me afterwards, is all." He looked up at Jared through his eyelashes, hopefully hitting seductive rather than cheesy. "Feel like making up for lost time?"

Jared sucked in a sharp breath. "Hell yes."

"Good," Jensen said, and he could feel his own pulse rising in response to Jared's obvious interest. "I hope you drove here. I'd rather not get kicked out of a cab for indecent behaviour."

"I did," Jared said. "Though after that mental image I'm now kind of sad that I didn't take the bus instead. Come on."

The drive back to Jensen's house was heavy with intention and Jensen could feel his heart hammering in his chest every time Jared glanced over at him and smiled a distinctly predatory smile. When Jared pulled into Jensen's driveway and killed the engine, the sudden silence was nearly suffocating.

"You're coming in," Jensen said. It wasn't anything close to a question. He'd never had Jared in his house, in his bed, before and, fuck, but he was sick of waiting. This hadn't been the plan for the evening, but he and Jared never seemed to be very good at following plans.

Jared leaned in for a kiss that was sharp and teasing: a precursor for what was to come. "Don't need to tell me twice," he said, in a tone that went straight to Jensen's groin.

"Fuck, come on." They scrambled out of the car and Jensen found himself in the highly enjoyable position of being trapped between the front door and Jared's broad chest. He fumbled his keys like he was a nervous teenager all over again and hissed a relieved 'finally!' when he managed to get the damn lock open.

Jared chuckled and the feeling of it rumbled against Jensen's back. "Eager much?"

"What's that?" Jensen asked, pushing the door open with Jared hot on his heels. "You want I should send you home and go jerk off in the bathroom? Why didn't you say so?"

"Mm, too late for that." Jared bent down and sucked a kiss onto Jensen's neck; Jensen shivered and let his head loll to one side, giving Jared more room to work. "Gonna have my wicked way with you now."

"Promises, promises." Jensen chucked his keys in the general direction of the side table and flicked on the light so they wouldn't trip on anything on the way upstairs.

"Wow," Jared said, pausing a moment to take in Jensen's wide array of plant life. "Anyone ever tell you not to take your work home with you?"

"Screw you," Jensen said automatically and most definitely did not yelp when a big, long-fingered hand snaked down and pressed firmly against the bulge in his jeans.

"I can work with that." Jared paused and when he spoke again the timbre of his voice sent a shudder up Jensen's spine. "Or do you prefer it the other way around?"

Jensen swallowed hard and somehow managed to convince his voice to come out almost evenly when he said, "Depends on what kind of equipment you're packing."

Jared smiled. "Well, then."

His hand shifted up to Jensen's belly and pressed him backwards, slotting Jensen back into the cradle of his hips. Jensen couldn't help a small, needy sound when he felt the hard, hot length of Jared's very proportional cock snug against his ass. It suddenly seemed a lot bigger than it had the few times he'd had it in his hands.

"Jesus," he breathed. "Yeah, okay. I need you to fuck me with that."

Jared's wicked smile rolled down Jensen's spine like a caress. "Good." His other hand cupped Jensen's cheek and drew him up into a kiss that was wet and filthy perfect. Jensen gave back just as eagerly and it wasn't long before they were really going at it, tongues tangling and lips kissed swollen and sore, and Jensen dimly realized that they were going to end up fucking on the stairs if they didn't relocate now.

"Move," he said to Jared, pushing him away just far enough to let the words get out. "This is more fun in a bed."

Jared eyes' were nearly black in the dim light. "Oh, me and the wall are going to enjoy proving you wrong next time," he purred. Jensen led the way upstairs and had to be glad his feet knew where the bedroom was because there was no way his brain was up to the task of figuring it out when his lips were kiss-swollen and slick, and Jared's hand was stroking lightly against his hip.

They tumbled to the bed in a flurry of kisses and hurried stripping and Jensen found himself flat on his back and staring up at Jared without any clear idea of how he'd got there.

"Get down here," he growled, and hooked a hand behind Jared's neck to reel him in. Jared came easily and Jensen slid his fingers round to fist in Jared's hair, which proved to be as useful for kissing as Jensen had always suspected.

"So," Jensen gasped between kisses. His hips were rocking up against Jared's and the electric brush of their cocks together was sending sparks of pure pleasure rolling up and down his spine. "You gonna, ah, fuck me or what?"

Jared pulled back and Jensen whined at the loss. Jared hissed out a breath. "Fuck, that's hot. Hold on."

"Top drawer," Jensen said, flicking a hand towards the dresser.

Jared quickly retrieved the lube and a condom, then rejoined Jensen on the bed.

"Here," Jensen said, sitting up far enough to grab the condom out of Jared's hand. He grinned up at him wickedly. "Together?"

"Works for m-ngh!"

"What was that?" Jensen asked innocently, feathering teasing touches up and down the length of Jared's cock. It was hot and heavy in his hand and Jensen ghosted his fingers through the drops of precome beading at the head, grinning when it made Jared shudder.

Then he had to fight a squeal of his own when cold, slick fingers nudged between his ass cheeks in a startlingly intimate manner.

"Easy," Jared said. The dark grin on his face made it hard for Jensen to think of anything but that tortuously light caress. "We'll get there."

One of Jared's fucking massive fingers pressed in and Jensen hissed against the stretch as long unused muscles tried to adjust to the intrusion. His own hands continued their worship of Jared's cock while Jared added another finger, though his rhythm faltered when Jared started stretching him out properly.

"Fuck," he muttered, letting his head drop to Jared's shoulder as Jared manipulated him with clever fingers.

When the burn had subsided into the not-unpleasant sensation of being full, Jensen rolled the condom onto Jared's cock with shaking hands and let himself sink back against the mattress, spreading his legs to give Jared more room to work. Jared hummed, a pleased, hungry sort of sound.

"'M good," Jensen said. "Do it."

"Mm, no," Jared said, and Jensen gritted his teeth in frustration.

"Jared," he started, then lost the plot entirely when Jared's fingers brushed deliberately against his prostate and sent sparks bursting in his brain.

Jared leaned in close, his weight pressing Jensen deeper into the mattress. Jared's teeth nipped at Jensen's earlobe, then he whispered, "I want to hear you beg first."

Somehow, Jensen found the wherewithal for a cocky smile. "Good luck with that," he said, knowing full well that Jared wasn't going to back down from the challenge.

Jared's answering chuckle was a dark, hungry thing. "Oh, trust me, Jensen, you'll want to do so much more than beg by the time I'm done with you."

And Jared made good on his threat; he fingered Jensen until he was writhing on the sheets and scrabbling at Jared's shoulders because it felt like he'd fly to pieces without something to hold onto. Then he did it some more. Two fingers graduated to three when Jensen wasn't paying attention and Jared's thumbnail scratched intermittently against Jensen's rim where he was stretched and taut around Jared's fingers.

"Jesus Christ, fuck me already, you perfect bastard!" Jensen growled finally in a voice that didn't even sound like his.

Jared pressed against Jensen's prostrate and Jensen practically screamed. Jared's answering smile was dark and hungry. "You can do better than that."

"Please!" Jensen begged, feeling jittery and so turned on it hurt. "Fucking please, Jared, fuck me, fuck me, oh god, please-"

"Yes," Jared hissed. His fingers pulled out and Jensen whimpered at the empty feeling they left behind, only to shudder in anticipation when the head of Jared's cock pressed against him. Jared pushed in and it hurt, fuck did it hurt; Jared was fucking monstrous, stretching Jensen ruthlessly despite the lengthy fingering he'd just been tortured with, but it was so exactly what Jensen wanted that all he could do was moan and gasp like he was dying for it. Jared kept up the slow, steady press of his hips, not stopping until he was balls-deep in Jensen's ass and Jensen felt like he was being split in two by that massive cock.

"Okay?" Jared asked, brushing a hand down Jensen's sweaty flank.

"Nngh," Jensen managed, feeling enveloped by Jared inside and out and absolutely loving it. "Gimme a minute."

Jared nodded and waited with remarkable patience while Jensen consciously relaxed his tight-locked muscles, allowing the intrusion.

"Okay," he panted. "M'good."

"Mm," Jared said. Jensen wasn't sure if he was starting to hate or love that sound. "Got a better idea."

Jared's spine curled abruptly and Jensen's whole body jerked when Jared took one of his nipples in his teeth and tugged, hard. Jensen yowled and clamped down instinctively around Jared's cock and they both groaned at the sensation. Jared kept worrying at the flesh with teeth and tongue until Jensen was sobbing with the dual sensation of almost-pain radiating from his chest and the inescapable, unmoving heat of Jared inside him.

Jensen felt half mad with arousal by the time Jared drew back, his lips curling into a satisfied smirk, and Jesus fuck, but who would have guessed Jared was such a toppy bastard in bed?

"Jared," he panted, ignoring how close it was to a whine.

"Doing so good, Jensen," he purred and Jensen dug his fingers into the meat of Jared's shoulders in retaliation because he did not need a fucking pep talk, "But I'm not done with you yet."

Jensen had a half second to see the truly wicked glint in Jared's eyes before Jared bent again and, slowly, methodically, started the whole thing over again with Jensen's other nipple.

Reality dissolved into an endless swirl of sharp, sparking pain and unbearable pleasure and Jensen was only faintly aware of moaning loud enough to wake the dead, his hands scrabbling against Jared's back and his hips trying to find enough leverage to buck up on Jared's cock and end this delicious torment. Every involuntary shock of his body had him clamping down hard on Jared's cock and Jensen couldn't even remember what it felt like without Jared there, as deep inside him as he could possibly get. He teetered right on the precipice of what promised to be an absolutely amazing orgasm, fighting for that last spark needed to push him over.

Dimly, Jensen was aware that he was begging, words tumbling out in a brainless spill of noise that was more desperation than speech. He could feel Jared's stomach quivering where it was brushing against Jensen's, could hear the frantic staccato of Jared's breath, and he felt a little better knowing that all this teasing was affecting Jared just as badly.

An eternity later, Jared seemed to reach his limit of how long he wanted this torture to go on, because he lifted himself away from Jensen's chest and slid up to catch Jensen's lips in a kiss. Jensen kissed back, sloppy and distracted and finally, finally, Jared started to fuck him properly.

A single, sharp thrust of Jared's hips and Jensen was gone, coming without a hand on him. He threw back his head and howled, jackknifing off the bed in one long, arching line. Jared fucked him through it, hammering in hard enough to make the bed rock and hitting the perfect tempo to keep Jensen riding the crest of his orgasm long after his voice had given out and he'd collapsed back to the mattress in a boneless, fucked out sprawl.

"So hot, Jensen," Jared gasped, finally losing his grip on that iron control. It wasn't long before his thrusts grew erratic, his grip on Jensen's hips turning punishing as he pumped out his own orgasm, face twisting in naked ecstasy.

Jared slumped forward, getting one hand against the mattress in time to keep himself from landing on Jensen. They panted together for a small eternity, eyes locked and chests brushing against each other with every heaving breath. Finally, Jensen pried one of his hands away from Jared's shoulder and brought it, shaking, to the side of Jared's face.

"Jensen," Jared said, something soft and awed in his voice, and Jensen pulled him into a kiss that was lazy and shockingly sweet in the wake of the sex they'd just had.

The kiss fell apart after only a few moments and Jensen could feel exhaustion soaking through his limbs, reminding him that sleep was definitely next on the schedule.

"Hope you're n-" Jensen's breath hitched as Jared drew free, leaving him feeling open and empty down there, "-not hungry. Not gonna feed you."

The mattress shifted and Jensen let his eyes slip closed as he heard the sound of Jared disposing of the condom.

"I'll live," Jared said, a moment before the bedside lamp clicked off and sent the world beyond Jensen's eyelids darkly black.

"When I find my legs I am absolutely kicking your ass," Jensen mumbled, tugging the covers up without care for the come drying on his stomach. He'd deal with it in the morning.

The bed dipped and Jared settled behind him, broad chest solid against Jensen's back. He slung an arm around Jensen's waist and Jensen didn't stop him, too caught up in lethargy and bone deep satisfaction to take exception to much of anything.

"If you can move in the morning, you're welcome to it," Jared said, sounding smugly self-satisfied. Jackass. "And if not, I'll make you breakfast."

"Holding you to that," Jensen managed, and snuggled back into the cradle of Jared's body before succumbing to blissful, oh so welcome sleep.

Spring fell into summer and Jensen found himself in the unenviable position of being too busy to fit boyfriend time into his schedule. Their jobs were hard enough to work around at the best of times - Jensen had his store during the day and bartending at Kane's House on the weekends and Jared's job seemed to require him to be permanently on call on top of working a forty hour work week - but the excess of weddings and outdoor events that the summer inevitably brought with it left Jensen with barely enough time to sleep, let alone spend time with Jared.

Thankfully, Jared was pretty creative when it came to figuring out alternate solutions. He switched round his schedule and started spending his off time at Meadowlarks, keeping Jensen company while he worked. It meant that Jared worked nights and Jensen rarely got the pleasure of waking up next to him, but Jensen could live with the trade-off.

Jared spending time at the store also meant that Katie got to meet him, which made her very happy. The not-at-all discreet thumbs up she gave Jensen the first time they met made Jared laugh so Jensen figured it was almost worth the embarrassment.

"How did you get into this anyway?" Jared asked him one day. He had his chin pillowed on Jensen's shoulder and his arms wrapped around Jensen's waist as he watched him thread ribbon through an elaborately done up vase of flowers. "Doesn't seem like a popular career choice, florist."

Jensen shrugged, most of his focus on what his hands were doing. He didn't do a lot of personal orders - big events paid better and were too time consuming for him to bother doing off the street business as well - but it never hurt to do a couple of extra bits for his big contract clients when they wanted them. "I've always had a green thumb," he said easily.

"Huh." Jared digested that for a moment. "So you decided to play with flowers for a living?"

Jensen elbowed him in the ribs. "Shut it, jackass. I like plants. And floristry seemed easier than horticulture. And more profitable than botany."

"You never wanted to do anything else?"

"Thought about being a doctor," Jensen said, which was true as long as you counted life plans made under the age of ten. "But plants complain a lot less. And I don't have to apologize to anyone if they die."

"Way to be morbidly practical there, Jensen."

"That's me, bitter and cynical to the core. What about you?"

Jared's chin dug into Jensen's collarbone as he gave Jensen a sideways look. "What about me?"

"You and your computery stuff." Jensen tilted his head at the arrangement with a faint frown and twitched a cluster of hydrangeas to one side. "Did you grow up with great hopes of being a glorified tech guy for the rich and successful?"

Jared laughed. "The job kind of found me actually. Personally, I always wanted to be an astronaut."

"Of course you did."

The bell on the front door chose just that moment to chime, announcing the arrival of a customer. Jensen looked at where his hands were buried in the arrangement, then at Jared. "Could you deal with that?"

It was getting to be a common request these days; Jared gave him a simple 'sure', then unfolded himself from around Jensen and headed out of the studio to the front desk.

Jensen listened idly to the easy murmur of voices drifting through the door, his hands moving through the bouquet almost without conscious thought. The flowers trilled happily under his fingertips, standing straight and full in an effort to make him happy.

The door binged again as the customer left and Jared reappeared a moment later with an order pad in one hand. "Looks nice," he said, with a nod towards the mess on Jensen's worktop, but paused as he caught sight of Jensen's discontented frown. "You don't think so?"

Jensen shook his head. "It needs something to fill it out."

"What about some of those little pinky ones you've got in your living room?" Jared suggested. Jensen gave him a blank look. "The ones on the table near that ugly green lamp?"

"There's nothing wrong with that lamp," Jensen said. "And I can't use those; they're opium poppies."

Jared blinked at him. "You're growing opium in your house? And you haven't been arrested yet? Or shared with me?"

Jensen rolled his eyes. "They're decorative, Jared. Which means they're not illegal. But it's still less grief to keep them in my house and out of my store."

"Man," Jared shook his head. "You think you know a guy."

"Shut it." Jensen considered the arrangement for a moment longer, then pushed his chair back and headed for the cooler. He reappeared a moment later with a fistful of dahlias and Jared nodded his approval.

"I like those," he said. "Very yellow."

"They're dahlias," Jensen told him. He sat himself back down and started adding them to the bouquet. "What did the customer want?"

"A Mr. James Anderson wants to hire you for a..." Jared glanced at the order pad, "Charity golf tournament in August. 1200 square foot venue. I booked him in for a meeting on Tuesday."

"Thanks. I'm going to have to start paying you at this rate," Jensen said and Jared smiled.

"That's okay. I take kisses in trade." Jared leaned in to demonstrate and Jensen abandoned his work in favour of fisting a hand in Jared's collar and humming in wordless contentment.

"I take it back," Jensen said when they finally parted, sounding only slightly breathless. Trading slow, drugging kisses with Jared was quickly becoming one of his favourite things to do at work. "You should be paying me because you're taking up my time; it's impossible to get anything done when you're around."

"I am irresistible," Jared agreed. "You think y-"

The cheery beep of Jared's phone cut off the rest of that sentence and Jensen propped himself up on one elbow with an indulgent sort of sigh. He knew what that sound meant. It happened often enough.

Sure enough, Jared glanced at the display, fired off a quick text and flashed Jensen an apologetic smile. "Looks like I've got to go be irresistible somewhere else. I'll call you tonight?"

Jensen shook his head. "Working." He had yet to introduce Jared to the boys down at the bar and he knew he couldn't put it off forever, but that didn't mean he was looking forward to the eventual meeting. Chris was going to be fucking impossible.

"Ah well," Jared said, with a wistful little smile. "You'll have to text me the next time you're free."

On impulse, Jensen plucked one of the dahlias off the table and held it out. "Here."

"Why, Jensen!" Jared exclaimed, in a falsetto that did absolutely no one any favours. "Are you courting me?"

Jensen shoved the flower right into his face and smirked when Jared spluttered. "Smart ass. Take the damn flower already."

"You're such a charmer," Jared said, with a grin. He tucked the flower carefully into the side pocket of his shoulder bag and leaned in for another quick kiss. "Try not to write too much sad poetry while I'm gone."

"Oh god, just go already. Loiterer."

"Love you, snugglemuffin!" Jared cried as he vanished out into the store front and Jensen briefly wished for something to throw at him that was more aerodynamic and dense than a bundle of carnations. The door bell jangled and Jensen was left alone in the shop. He sighed and the whole shop sighed with him, which he did not like the idea of at all. If the flowers were pining for Jared, Jensen had to be pretty far gone himself.

Jensen was having a shit day.

He'd been woken up at five fucking thirty in the morning by a congregation of birds singing their hearts out - loudly and dissonantly - outside his bedroom window. The noise had set off his neighbour's dog, who'd joined in with a truly bloodcurdling howl that attracted the attention of what sounded like every dog on the goddamn block. Jensen had resisted throwing his alarm clock at the lot of them through dint of sheer will.

He missed his first bus, then someone knocked into him on the second and wasted a perfectly good cup of coffee - though, small blessings, at least it ended up on her shirt instead of Jensen's.

He was groggy, late and grumpy by the time he got to work, a state of affairs that was only made worse by the discovery that there had been some error in processing the fees for his rental agreement and the bank had put a freeze on his business account. Which meant that Jensen had to call Katie in on her day off so that he could schlep his way to the bank and find somebody to yell at.

Jensen was rather looking forward to the yelling, truth be told - he was hoping it would be therapeutic - but that didn't mean he particularly appreciated having to wait in line for half a frigging hour for the privilege to do so. The bank only had two tellers working, one of whom was a newbie while the other was an octogenarian who could not have gone slower if he'd been moving backwards. The woman in line ahead of Jensen was on her phone having an absolutely riveting conversation about shoes that made him want to weep with boredom, or possibly throw her cell phone across the room. Jensen stifled a sigh and rocked irritably on the balls of his feet. He wished he'd just stayed in bed.

"Grace?" the woman in front of him said suddenly. "You still there, Grace? Hello? Piece of shit phone," she muttered, pulling it away from her ear to check the display. "I am so switching to Roge-"

Gunfire roared through the air and Jensen ducked automatically behind the bulk of the person lined up behind him, heart pounding.

"Hands in the air!" a voice ordered, and Jensen peeked round to see a guy in a black ski mask hoisting a gun, while a crew of similarly-dressed men fanned out to cover the room and all the exits. The tread of their heavy boots echoed off the floors. "Now!"

Oh, Jesus Christ, Jensen realized in the sudden shocked panic that rippled through the room, I'm in the middle of a bank robbery.

The guy gestured with his gun again and Jensen obediently put his hands behind his head, determinedly ignoring the stupid, raised-by-a-superhero part of him that was busy cataloguing the makes of their rifles, locating the bank's entry and exit points and calculating the weak points in the robbers' setup. Not that he could do anything with this information, of course, since he was neither superhuman nor clinically insane. Which meant he was stuck here.

Sometimes Jensen's life was bullshit.

"Against the wall!" the guy in charge yelled. "All of you!"

Keeping his face carefully blank, Jensen joined the rest of the hostages in their jerky, frightened shuffle to the wall. A handful of the robbers veered off from the main group and headed towards the management offices. Jensen hadn't counted more than seven heartbeats before they were coming back, prodding a handful of shaken-looking men and women in suits ahead of them.

"You won't get away with this," a big man who was presumably the branch manager was blustering. "The police are already on their way."

The woman driving him along laughed and jabbed him harder with the butt of her rifle. "Your alarm system is having… technical difficulties. We'll be gone long before anyone gets here."

Jensen remembered the woman's cell phone dropping her call. He glanced upwards at the closest security camera; the blinking lights were dark.

Please don't let one of them be a Super, he thought desperately. He hadn't heard of any other technokinetics in this area but he knew from years of having his dad disabling his TV when he got grounded that even a moderately talented one would have little trouble cutting the bank's systems off from the rest of the city's network.

The robber gave the branch manager a shove. "Get over there and shut your mouth." Her head jerked towards the rest of the new hostages. "You too."

They came gingerly forward and Jensen could see a few of them visibly trembling. They weren't the only ones, either. There was a mother to his right who looked frightfully pale; she had her little boy clutched close to her chest and was reassuring him quietly. An older couple next to her were clasping hands tightly enough to turn their fingers white and the man on Jensen's left was sweating right through his tidy dress shirt.

For his part, Jensen was mostly irritated with a reasonable dose of wary thrown in; this was such a waste of his time.

A half dozen guys with guns kept a close eye on Jensen and the other hostages while the rest of the robbers set about taking the bank for everything it was worth. The shuffle of fabric and the clinking of guns was loud in the cavernous silence and Jensen could feel the tension mounting as one minute stretched endlessly into the next.

There was a dull thump from somewhere in the rear of the bank and the manager made a poorly stifled sound of indignation; Jensen figured that was probably the sound of the vault door going. A detachment of robbers trooped off towards the sound, loaded with duffle bags and rope. To Jensen's disappointment, the ones covering the hostages stayed right where they were.

A woman not far from Jensen started to cry. Jensen wished he had something comforting to say to her.

Jensen's particular skill-set was not well suited to bank robberies. His parents had taught him, Josh and Mackenzie exactly how to behave in a hostage situation at an early age, but their lessons had always been based on the expectation that they'd be being used as leverage against his dad by a megalomaniacal Super or two. Having thirty other hostages and a not inconsiderable number of people with guns standing around in a large, poorly defensible room was not something Jensen could handle on his own.

So he stayed where he was, keeping an eye on the clock while the robbers emptied out the bank's vault. There was no way of knowing whether his dad had noticed the hole the robbers had put in the power grid and, even on the off chance that someone outside the bank had called it in, Jensen doubted the police would be getting their act together soon enough to catch these guys. Their best bet was probably going to be hoping that they robbed the place blind and then left without killing anyone in the process.

The first robbers started returning with heavy-looking sacks over their shoulders and the bank manager went red.

"You bastards!" he shouted, practically vibrating with righteous fury. "You're going to rot in jail, see if I don't-"

He was screaming on the floor before Jensen had even registered the gunshot, his right hand clapped over his left shoulder where blood was already soaking through the expensive weave of his shirt. His eyes were wide with pain and Jensen could see the fear in his face.

The ringleader lowered his rifle. "Shut up or it's going to be your head next time. Don't move!" he barked at one of the other hostages who'd been edging towards the manager, hands stretched out to help. The man froze like a deer in the headlights.

"Now," the robber said calmly. "Maybe if you all behave yourself we'll be gone before he bleeds to death. Back to work!" he ordered the other robbers, who'd stopped to watch the show.

They hurried into motion again and Jensen looked again at the clock, calculating how long it would take them to clear out compared to how long it would take the bank manager to pass out from blood loss. The numbers were very definitely not in the bank manager's favour.

The robbers had a small pile of sacks on the floor in relatively short order and their trigger-happy head man was directing them with a series of short, sharp gestures. One of the men hesitated and the ringleader's attention zeroed on him immediately.

"What?" he snapped.

"Um," the robber said, in a young man's voice. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?" the ringleader said, then paused. Following his lead, Jensen could just make out a strange sort of tapping sound, coming from the other end of the room.

The next sixty seconds happened very quickly.

"Someone find out wh-" the ringleader started.

The rear wall of the bank blew in like someone had just driven a semi through it and everyone in the building jumped about half a foot.

The robbers brought their guns to bear immediately against the hole in the wall, though a few clever souls had the presence of mind to keep their attentions - and their weapons - focused on Jensen and the other hostages. Just his luck.

A figure wearing a classic superhero unitard done up in shades of green walked out of the billowing dust, as calmly as if he was taking an evening stroll. Two dozen rifles cocked as one and the guy in charge stepped forward warningly.

"Hold it right th-"

The ringleader's words trailed off into a startled curse when his rifle flew out of his hands like someone had yanked on it. Every other gun followed suit, despite their owners' best efforts to hold onto them, and the robbers all froze when their rifles hung in midair instead of skittering across the floor. Then, in a move so precise it would have had the world's toughest drill sergeant weeping with joy, the guns pivoted a smart 180 degrees and brought themselves to bear against the robbers, rock solid and still.

The click of the safeties coming off was loud in the sudden, shocked silence.

Impressed despite himself, Jensen glanced at the green-suited superhero; he had both hands raised and spread wide and the fine tension running through his arms highlighted a very impressive set of muscles.

Telekinetic, Jensen realized. And a powerful one at that.

This, he supposed, was the infamous Gunner.

"Is everyone okay?" Gunner asked, in a gruff voice that was almost certainly at least an octave lower than the man's regular speaking voice. Jensen remembered Josh practicing that particular skill: shifting his tone until any trace of his regular accent and syntax had been stripped out of his words. It had taken him months to get it right. Jensen and Mackenzie had tormented him about it the entire time.

There were hesitant nods and relieved smiles from the hostages, though Jensen noted that none of them quite dared to move yet. He couldn't really say he blamed them, in a room full of floating guns.

"They've done something to the cameras," someone said and Gunner nodded.

"I'll take care of it."

A scrape of noise caught Jensen's attention and he half-turned towards it. There was another robber standing there, just past the curve of the wall, gun still in hand and shock written all over his face. He had a half-full duffle slung over one shoulder and Jensen cursed internally; it just figured that one of them had gone back for more at exactly the wrong time.

The guy's attention flicked from Gunner to the guns and Jensen watched split-second resolution tighten the lines around his mouth. The bag hit the floor, two quick strides brought the guy up beside the woman who'd been crying earlier, he grabbed her roughly by the upper arm and she screamed.

"Don't move," the robber ordered, when everyone whipped round to look. "Or I shoot." The muzzle of his gun snugged up against the woman's side and she froze, tears welling up again.

Jensen chanced a glance back over his shoulder to find Gunner's attention locked on the robber, his jaw clenching visibly beneath his mask. The stalemate dragged out for a handful of heartbeats and Jensen realized that Gunner couldn't do anything to stop him, not without risking losing the precision control he had over the rifles already in the air. Jensen could see faint tremors skittering across Gunner's still-raised arms and he'd bet everything he owned that sweat was pooling thick and fast under every inch of that costume.

Obviously sensing his advantage, the robber took a step forward, pulling the weeping woman with him. The move brought them closer to Jensen and Jensen stilled, shifting his weight onto the balls of his feet.

"We're leaving," the guy was saying to Gunner as he walked forward, ignoring the woman's attempts to struggle free. "You or the cops try to stop me and I'll kill her."

"Wait," Gunner started, but the robber was finally within striking distance of Jensen's position and Jensen wasn't that interested in what Gunner had to say.

Jensen darted forward, came up under the guy's pathetic excuse for a guard and slapped the gun out of his hand before he'd managed to do much more than gape in startled surprise. A slice of his hand onto the guy's elbow made him let go of the woman and Jensen shoved her out of the way as he dealt the guy a wicked blow to neck that would have crushed his windpipe if Jensen hadn't pulled the punch. The guy gagged and staggered; Jensen swept his feet neatly out from under him and shoved him down, pinning him to the hard tiles with his legs straddling his hips and one arm shoved up against his throat.

The guy's gun clattered to the ground somewhere behind them.

The whole thing had taken maybe forty five seconds. Because Jensen might not have been a fucking superhero, but that didn't mean he wasn't more than capable of holding his own in a fight.

The guy flailed weakly in his hold, which Jensen put an end to by the simple expedient of pressing up harder against the guy's throat and cutting off his airflow. The guy went limp and Jensen waited a couple of heartbeats to make sure he was really out, before he eased his grip and sat back on his heels.

"You okay?" he asked the woman, who was staring at him in wide-eyed shock. There were broad tear tracks on her cheeks, smudged dark and ugly where her mascara had run.

She nodded dumbly. Then her face crumpled and her legs buckled and Jensen just barely managed to get to his feet in time to catch her before she joined the robber on the floor.

"It's okay," Jensen told her and patted an awkward hand down her back as she sobbed into his shirt. He cast a desperate glance around at the cluster of gaping hostages until a middle-aged woman with a kind face took pity on him and came over to take care of her.

Relieved of that particular discomfort, Jensen glanced around the room and found, to his utter chagrin, that every eye in the room was on him. He suppressed a groan.

"Nice moves," Gunner said and Jensen looked over to see the Super facing him with his head cocked to the side in obvious interest.

"Thanks," Jensen said shortly.

"You want to give me a hand?" Gunner asked then. "Mine are a little full right now."

And no, Jensen really didn't, but there wasn't any way he could say that without drawing even more unwanted attention to himself.

He bit back a sigh. "What do you need?"

Jensen and a couple of the other hostages spent the next few minutes herding all the robbers together into a surly, subdued group so that Gunner could ease up on the telekinetic brain-strain without giving any of them the chance to make a break for it.

"So," Gunner said to Jensen once they'd been appropriately corralled. "Where'd you learn to fight like that?"

"Karate class," Jensen answered, which was true enough.

"Among other things," Gunner said, sounding amused, though he didn't pursue the issue. Jensen got the impression through the heavy fabric of his mask that he was grinning. "Well, colour me impressed."

"Glad to hear it," Jensen said, not bothering to curb his sarcasm. Luckily, Gunner didn't bother calling him on that either, just nodded and went back to putting the fear of him into the thoroughly demoralized robbers.

Thankfully, the robbers' magic computer jamming weapon turned out to be some fancy machiney-thing rather than a Super. As soon as Gunner force-smashed the thing, the whole bank burst immediately into alarm blaring, video recording, phone call receiving life. Jensen took advantage of his cell phone's resurrection to pretend to be very busy with it for the rest of the interminable time it took for the emergency services to show up, get the manager to an ambulance, cart off all the robbers and take everybody's statements; the less opportunity Gunner had to talk to him, the better.

Jensen gave his statement in the smallest number of words possible and very reluctantly agreed to be available for contact in the future if they needed a witness for the trial. Mostly, Jensen just hoped that there would be enough other people willing to deal with it that he wouldn't have to.

Eventually, everything was signed, sealed and recorded in triplicate and Jensen was thanked for his cooperation and told he could go home. Except he still needed to talk to a bank teller about his damn account. Which, of course, he couldn't, because they were all either giving statements of their own or going home early on account of stress. Which meant that he was going to have to come back tomorrow, sorry for the inconvenience.

Jensen was starting to think that this day could be seriously improved by throwing himself off a bridge.

When he got back to the store, Jensen told Katie exactly nothing about what had happened, thanked her for coming in and sent her home. Then he locked the door, flipped the 'closed' sign and called his brother.

"So I hear you've been moonlighting as a hapless bystander," Josh said, in lieu of hello. "Bet you made a real pretty damsel in distress."

"I'm fine, thanks for asking," Jensen said, with a roll of his eyes. "Also, screw you."

Josh chuckled. "Seriously, little bro. You've got so many other reasons for getting taken hostage, and you manage to get caught in a bank robbery?"

"Tell me about it. Do I even want to know how you found out?"

"You really have to ask?" Josh asked and Jensen reluctantly conceded the point. Being anywhere near a working security camera when your dad was a technokinetic made it kind of hard to keep unexpected bank robberies slash hostage situations under the radar.

"So?" Josh said then. "You gonna tell me what happened or am I gonna have to make Mama call and force it out of you?"

"I hate you so much," Jensen said, then proceeded to give him a much abbreviated version of what had happened at the bank.

"Dude," Josh said when he'd finished. He sounded far too amused for Jensen's liking. "Were you flirting with Gunner?"

"Oh fuck off," Jensen said, pulling a disgusted face. "Like I'd be interested in a Super."

Josh sighed. "You know, Jensen, it's not like we're lepers or anything. Most people would be thrilled to meet a Super."

"Well I'm not most people," Jensen snapped. "And I'm not stupid enough to believe that being a superhero is a good enough excuse for not knowing how to act like a real human being the rest of the time!"

The silence on the other end of the line was immense and Jensen belatedly realized what he'd just said. And to whom he'd said it.

"Shit, Josh, I-"

"I gotta go," Josh cut in and his voice was flat. "Need to go pretend I'm a human being for a while."

"Josh, that's not what I-" Jensen started, only to be cut off by the click of the call being disconnected. He stared at the phone. "Fuck."

Jensen ended up on the evening news that night, standing just too close to Gunner to avoid the cameras while the police bundled the robbers into police vans. Which was a perfect ending to a miserable fucking day.

Jensen was in a foul mood for the rest of the week, a state of affairs that was only worsened by the fact that every fucking person he knew wanted to ask him about the robbery. Chris, unsurprisingly, spent pretty much every minute he was in Jensen's presence alternately grilling him for details and complaining about the fact that it was Jensen, of all people, who got to meet a Super. Jensen couldn't help but agree with him on that score.

Katie practically wanted Gunner's measurements (taller than Jensen, though part of that could have been the shoes, ridiculously broad shoulders, trim waist, arms that looked like tree trunks thanks to all that damn spandex) while Jared, who'd been at the store while Jensen had provided the aforementioned measurements, asked if he had to worry about getting his boyfriend stolen by Mr. Tall, Green and Day-Saving. That, of course, started Katie off on the fact that Jensen clearly had a type and Jensen told the both of them to fuck off and proceeded to spend the rest of the day taking his frustrations out on a shipment of hapless azaleas.

Thankfully, he hadn't been nearly stupid enough to talk to the media at the scene so his name hadn't been released in the news, but he'd been on TV long enough to get recognized by anyone who knew him. Which, when he was bartender, was rather more people than he would have liked. Suddenly, everyone and their dog needed to 'drop by' Kane's House while Jensen was working to ask him about the whole thing.

After the thirteenth person in a single night asked him if he'd got Gunner's autograph - or his phone number - Jensen threw up his hands and went home mid-shift. He summarily refused to show up for the next five days and to hell with Chris' complaints.

On the whole, it was a perfectly dreadful experience that thoroughly reinforced Jensen's distaste for all things Super-related. He could only hope that his life would go back to normal sooner rather than later.

"So," Chris said, slinging himself onto Jensen's couch with an expectant look.

Jensen held up a hand. "I swear to God, Chris. You say one word about superheroes and I'm throwing you the fuck out."

Chris snorted. "Like you could. But I'll let you get away with that for now."

"Whatever." Jensen passed a beer over to Chris and sat down with his own. "What do you want, then? And no, I'm not picking up an extra shift this week; I've got a wedding on Friday."

Because he was an utter ass, Chris waited until Jensen had tipped back his bottle to say, "Actually, I want to know when you're going to introduce me and Steve to Jared."

Jensen choked on a mouthful of beer. Chris cackled at him.

"Jackass," Jensen said, coughing. He swiped a hand across his wet chin. "Remind me why I'm friends with you?"

"Because nobody else likes you. And I've got low standards."

"Thanks for that," Jensen said, with a roll of his eyes. "How the hell do you know about Jared?"

"I'm secretly psychic," Chris said easily. "Also, Steve told me."

"And how does Steve-" Jensen cut himself off and shook his head. "I'm going to fire Katie."

"Please. You'd have a mental breakdown by the end of the week. So?"

"So what?"

"When are you dragging Jared down to the bar so we can torment him?"

"Never hopefully." Jensen said. He took another, more cautious, drink. "And since when do you want to meet my boyfriends?"

Chris raised an eyebrow at him. "Since you haven't admitted to having a boyfriend since fucking Alex Jones in college and it's our duty as your friends to make him as uncomfortable as possible at the first given opportunity." He leaned back with a nonchalant air. "Besides, I figure it'll be hilarious watching you freaking out and trying to keep us from saying embarrassing things."

"I hate you."

"Good for you. Friday?"

"Now you're pushing it," Jensen warned. "And he's away this weekend, anyway."

"Can't put us off forever, Jenny Boy."

"I can hide the bodies though," Jensen said sweetly. Chris gave him a long, uncompromising look and Jensen sighed. "I'll set something up. Can we watch some fucking sports now?"

Apparently satisfied, Chris gestured grandly at the TV. "Be my guest."

Jensen turned on the game and put up with Chris smirking loudly at him for the rest of the evening. Jensen definitely needed new friends.

"My friends want to meet you," Jensen told Jared when he called the next day. Jared had gone off to some kind of two week smart-person computer fest and Jensen was trying very hard to convince himself that talking on the phone was just as good as being face to face.

"Okay," Jared said easily.

"They're douchebags," Jensen warned.

"Still okay. I'm sure your friends haven't got anything on Chad." Jared paused. "You're going to have to meet him, eventually. I apologize in advance."

"This conversation is not actually making me feel better. So you don't mind?"

"Not even a little," Jared said. "M'looking forward to it, actually."

Jensen shook his head. "Mama always said I went for the crazy ones."

Jared laughed and fuck but Jensen wanted to be seeing it in person. "That's typecasting, that is. I- hold up a sec."

A burst of voices echoed over the phone and Jensen waited as Jared put his hand over the receiver to talk to whomever it was. The sound sharpened again after a moment and Jared came back on the line.

"I've gotta go," he said regretfully and Jensen tried not to sigh.

"Go," he said. "Do computer-y stuff. Earn money and whatever. We'll talk about my moronic friends when you get back."

"Don't sound too excited there, love," Jared teased, nothing but affection in his voice. It caught Jensen up short and he actually rocked back on his feet, openly shocked.

He barely heard the rest of what Jared said, his brain full of blank surprise and the suddenly erratic thump of his heart.

"Yeah," he said when Jared stopped speaking, hardly even caring if it was an appropriate response. "Sounds good."

Jared, thankfully, appeared not to notice Jensen's sudden regression to a single digit IQ. "Take care, Jensen," he said fondly. "I'll see you next week."

"Yeah, bye," Jensen managed.

The call ended and Jensen pulled his phone away from his ear to stare at it, thoughts racing furiously.

Love, Jared had called him. Absent, like he hadn't even had to think about it.

Jensen was indescribably glad that he was alone in the store because the goofy smile on his face was not something he wanted anyone to see, ever.

Jensen took advantage of Jared's continued absence to finally man up about Jared to his family. There was absolutely no doubt in Jensen's mind that heads - mostly his own - would roll if Chris told Jensen's mama that Jensen had a boyfriend before Jensen did.

His mama was delighted by the news, though she tutted unhappily over the fact that Jensen had waited so long to tell them. She immediately started making plans to have Jared over for dinner, possibly with his own parents in tow, and Jensen did his best to put her off without actually saying anything.

His dad was more concerned with the practical side of things.

"Are you planning to tell him?" he asked, sitting in the den with Jensen's mother at his side. Jensen perched awkwardly on the couch across from them like he used to do when he brought his report cards home.

Jensen didn't need to ask what he was talking about. "No, Dad, of course I'm not."

"It's a big decision," his dad said, as though Jensen hadn't spoken a word. "We're going to have to talk to your brother as well before you do anything."

"Why would I tell Jared? We haven't even been dating that long," Jensen protested, even though half a year was certainly longer than any relationship he'd had in at least a decade. "And it's not like I even need to tell him; he could live in my pocket for the next hundred years and never realize that I've got any Super in me."

"And if you want to bring him home for Christmas? Or Josh visits you?" Jensen's dad demanded, in the same implacable tone that had made Jensen want to apologize for that C in tenth grade History. Somehow, Jensen always found himself mildly surprised at how healthy and present his father was in person, considering that his brain was tapped into a million computers across the state.

"This isn't the sort of secret we can keep hidden indefinitely, Jensen. If this Jared's as intelligent as you say, it won't take him long to realize that there's something not quite right about us."

"We just want you to start thinking about the realities of the situation," Jensen's mama added. "You're more than capable of making your own decision and we'll support you whatever you choose to do, but this isn't something you can ignore. Like it or not, there's power in this family and anyone you want to build a life with is going to have to know that."

"Yeah," Jensen grumbled. "I know."

Jensen's mama was apparently content to ignore the obvious reluctance in Jensen's voice, because she smiled at him and reached out to pat his knee.

"Good. You're staying for dinner," she said then, and it wasn't a question so much as a statement of fact. "It's been too long since we've seen you; we've got a lot to catch up on. And, of course, I want to hear all about your Jared."

Jensen darted a pleading look at his dad, who shrugged helplessly. Super or no, there was no arguing with Donna Ackles.

Jensen braced himself for a long night.

"You can tell me if you made him up," Chris said, with a wide-eyed innocence that didn't suit him in the slightest. Kane's House was the typical not-quite-busy of the early evening, though Jensen knew that the calm wasn't going to last for much longer.

Which was why Jared was supposed to have arrived by now: to give Jensen the chance to get started on the drinking early if things didn't go well.

"I won't judge you for it," Chris continued. "I mean, I'll laugh at you for fucking ever, but I won't judge you."

Jensen rolled his eyes. "I didn't make him up, jackass."

"He's telling the truth," Steve said as he walked past, toting a pair of speakers under his arms. "Have you noticed how much less of a miserable human being he's been recently? No way he isn't getting laid on the regular."

Jensen gave him the finger.

"But getting laid isn't the same as having a boyfriend," Chris argued. "He could be sleeping around. Or seeing a hooker." He rounded on Jensen. "Are you paying people for sex?"

"Or do they pay you?" Steve added, then, "What?" in response to Chris' raised eyebrow. "You don't think he's pretty enough to be selling?"

Chris gave Jensen a thoughtful once over. "I dunno. He's not as twinky as he used to be; might lower his market value."

Jensen glared. "Fuck you both."

"Not sure I can afford a threesome," Steve said, with a completely straight face. "What's the going rate?"

Chris cracked up at that and Steve inclined his head at him in acknowledgement. Jensen hated everything.

"Shouldn't you both be working?" Jensen said sourly.

"Probably," Steve agreed, shifting his grip on the speakers. He started walking away, but paused to throw one last grin over his shoulder. "But this is more fun."

"Fucker!" Jensen called after him, then leaned over and punched Chris in the arm in the hopes that it might make him stop laughing. "Shut up. I hate you."

"And I derive endless entertainment from you. Sucker."

Jensen's phone chose that moment to beep and he dug into his pocket to see a text from Jared.

Emerngcy @wrk. :( B there asap.

Jensen very carefully did not sigh. "Jared's running late."

Chris rolled his eyes. "I had noticed that, believe it or not. He still coming?"

"Yeah," Jensen said. He tapped out a short no problem. "Or I'm going to kill him."

"Well," Chris said judiciously. "That'd be a good excuse for why we won't meet your imaginary boyfriend."

"Starting to wish my best friend was imaginary," Jensen shot back.

Chris fluttered his eyelashes at him, which was a fucking terrifying thing. "Oh, Jensen Ackles," he said, in a breathy southern twang. "You saying I'm your dream man?"

Jensen threw coasters at Chris until he fucked off and left him alone. Then he sat by himself at the table and very manfully didn't pout.

"Now that's not a happy Jensen-face," Steve noted, coming up beside him. He sat down in an empty chair and tilted his head at the phone still in Jensen's hand. "Issues with the lover boy?"

"Emergency at work," Jensen said, shoving his phone back into his jeans. "He'll get here when he can."

One of Steve's eyebrows lifted. "That happen a lot?"

"More than I would like," Jensen admitted. He huffed out a frustrated laugh. "At least if he was imaginary, I wouldn't get stood up so fucking often."

"Shit happens. And hey, the less time he's here, the less time Chris can spend terrorizing him." Steve clapped a companionable hand on Jensen's shoulder. "You want another drink?"

"Fuck yes," Jensen said.

A good hour passed, during which Jared failed to materialize and Jensen grew increasingly irritated. Finally, after most of the people in the bar were already on their second beers of the evening, Jared came bursting through the door, looking rumpled, harried and apologetic. Not keen on losing his table, Jensen settled for standing up and waving until Jared saw him. Jared gave a dorky little wave back and started wading his way through the crowd.

"I am so sorry," Jared said the moment he reached Jensen. "There was an error on the client's end that was corrupting customer data. I would've told them to pass it off to someone else, but it's one of my accounts so I'm supposed to-"

Jensen rolled his eyes, hooked a hand around the back of Jared's neck and pulled him down for a proper hello. Jared got with the program quickly and put his already open mouth to good use kissing the daylights out of Jensen.

"Kisses first, groveling later," Jensen told him when he pulled up for air, determinedly ignoring the raucous catcalls from the bar's regulars. "There's an order to these things, you know."

Jared laughed, his grin somewhere between sheepish and really fucking smug. "I'll keep that in mind," he said, and leaned in for another quick kiss before sitting down at Jensen's side.

"I really am sorry," he said. "I know this is important to you."

Jensen waved his hand. "Oh no, that's fine. I always wanted my friends thinking that my boyfriend didn't exist."

"They think you made me up?" Jared asked, amused. "What sort of nice things have you been saying about me?"

"That you're lucky you're pretty because you're irritating as fuck."

"Jensen Ackles!" Chris' voice rang suddenly over the din of the room. "Get your imaginary boyfriend's ass over here!"

Jensen made a face. "We might as well get this over with. Come on."

Chris was actually working behind the bar for once and he watched them approach with an expression that was somewhere between impressed and amused. "So," he said. "This must be Jared."

"Yes, it must." Jared smiled, stretching out a hand to shake. "And you're Chris."

"Unfortunately," Jensen said. "Ignore everything he says."

"You know, if I had anything nice to say about you I'd say it right now and make you look like an ass." Chris returned his attention to Jared. "Before I start grilling you on your intentions," - Jensen leaned over the bar and smacked him -"I've got a few questions."

"Shoot," Jared said.

Chris held up a finger. "First question: do you, or have you ever, been paid for sex?"

Jensen groaned. "Thanks for the good first impression, jackass."

"Only if you count getting more sex back in trade," Jared said gravely.

"Hmm. Next question: who's your favourite Super?"

A grin curved the corners of Jared's mouth. "I wasn't aware that discerning taste in Supers was a prerequisite for boyfriends."

"It's not," Jensen said, at the same time as Chris said, "Of course it is."

Jared blinked.

"Ignore him," Chris said, with a desultory wave of his hand. "He's got no soul."

Jensen rolled his eyes. "Thinking your hard on for Supers is pathetic is not a sign that I'm secretly the devil."

"Yes it is." Chris turned to Jared. "You want to convince him that everyone should like superheroes? He won't listen to us."

"He doesn't like superheroes?" Jared looked over at Jensen. "You don't like superheroes?"

"I'm generally more impressed with the boys in blue," Jensen said and was unsurprised by the baffled expression that crossed Jared's face.

"How can you not like superheroes? Everyone likes superheroes!"

"I'm secretly a super villain," Jensen said easily. "They call me the Intolerant Martyr."

"Towering Douchebag more likely," Chris muttered.

"But Gunner saved your life!" Jared protested, which was absolutely the last thing Jensen wanted to talk about. Ever, preferably.

Jensen shrugged. "And I'm grateful. That doesn't mean I need to join the Gunner fan club or start keeping pictures of him in my trapper keeper."

"But-" Jared actually looked a little disappointed. Jensen barely resisted the urge to make a face.

"You might as well give it up, son," Chris said. He laid a comforting hand on Jared's forearm. "Fuck knows I've been trying for ten years and it hasn't made a damn difference. You still haven't answered my question," he said, when it looked like Jared was going to press the point. "Favourite Super. Go."

"Only one?" Jared asked, leaving off gaping at Jensen to adopt a thoughtful expression. "That's not easy. The Silver Spark, maybe? Or Whirlwind; I've always been a big fan of Whirlwind."

Jensen quietly resolved never to introduce Jared to his brother.

"And you gotta admit that it's hard not to like Gunner." Jared threw an arch look at Jensen. "No matter what some grumpy people say."

"You do realize you're not getting laid tonight, I hope," Jensen said conversationally. "Shut up, Chris."

"Didn't say a word," Chris said. He gave Jared a long, level look. "Yeah, alright, you can stay."

Jared gave a little fist pump. "Yes!"

"It isn't actually up to you," Jensen pointed out.

Chris waved him off. "You keep right on thinking that."

"Train derailment on the news!" someone called from the other end of the bar. "Gunner's there."

Chris perked up. "Live?"

The guy shook his head. "Couple of hours ago. Got some good footage, though."

"Better'n nothing." Chris hoisted himself over the bar top. "Take over for me," he said to Jensen.

"It's my night off," Jensen protested.

"And I'm the boss. Don't forget who pays your salary, jackass."

"You do realize that I have my own company, right? I pay myself." Jensen sighed and headed behind the bar. "Fine. Far be it from me to come between you and your dream man."

"Bitch." Chris tilted an expectant look at Jared. "You coming? We'll leave Jensen to practice his crotchety old man scowl."

Jared hesitated, glancing at Jensen.

Jensen flicked a dismissive hand at him. "Go, if you're going. Get the both of you out of my hair."

"I'll make sure to get into it later," Jared promised, threading his fingers in Jensen's short hair as he ducked in for a kiss.

"Move your ass, Pada-whatever," Chris said. "We've got a superhero drinking game to play."

"Awesome," Jensen heard Jared say as he and Chris headed over towards the TV.

Jensen rolled his eyes again for good measure and went to do Chris' job for him.

Steve dropped by a handful of minutes later. "That's him, huh?" he asked, leaning up against the bar with an inscrutable expression.

"Yeah," Jensen agreed, still doing his best to ignore his boyfriend and best friend dorking out over a frigging train derailment.

"He and Chris seem to be getting on okay."

"I'm still not sure whether that's a good thing," Jensen said. He threw Steve a woeful look. "They're bonding over superheroes."

Steve smirked. "Poor you. Did you know he was a fan before this?"

Jensen shrugged. "He bugged me about the bank thing. But so did the rest of the known world, so."

"Well at least Chris will enjoy having him around."

"That's what I'm worried about."

A flicker of movement caught Jensen's eye and he glanced over to see that Jared had detached himself from the crowd and was heading their way.

"Garçon!" Jared called as he drew up. His grin was dazzling. "Beer for me and all my friends!"

"By which you mean Chris. You'd better be a damn good tipper," Jensen said as he turned to the taps. "It's your fault I'm stuck back here in the first place."

"Hey, if I take kisses in trade for work you should too." Jared leaned against the bar and turned his grin on Steve. "Hey, I'm Jared," he said, extending a hand.

"Steve," Steve returned. "Good to finally meet you. Jensen's hardly talked about you at all."

Jared chuckled. "Sounds about right. It's hard finding words to describe how amazing I am, you know."

"You do seem pretty indescribable," Steve said, completely deadpan.

Jared's grin widened. "Oh, I like you."

A swell of excited cheering came from the group around the TV, which Jensen gathered had something to do with no doubt daring footage of the illustrious Gunner being awesome with trains. He caught Chris giving Jared an imperious wave and had to smirk.

"Apparently your presence is required," he said to Jared, with a significant tilt of his head in Chris' direction.

"Nothing like being wanted. Thanks," he said to Jensen as he slid the full glasses towards him. He leaned in for a quick, smacking kiss and threw Jensen a cheeky wink before nodding at Steve. "Good to meet you."

"Likewise," Steve said, although he didn't sound as amused as Jensen would have expected given the situation. His expression was unusually pensive as he watched Jared make his way back to Chris' side and he stayed against the bar while Jensen poured drinks for the other customers who'd wandered up for more.

"Alright," Jensen said, once he'd cleared the bar and Steve was still there. "Spit it out. What's got you thinking so hard?"

"Big guy, isn't he?" Steve said, with a nod in Jared's direction. "You said he works in computers?"

"Yeah," Jensen said warily. "Why?"

"Seems to be pretty fighting fit for someone who sits in a chair for a living. How long did you say he'd been in town?"

"Since February, I think. What the fuck, Steve?"

"Nothing," Steve said, not sounding even the slightest bit believable. "But you know, that's about when a certain green-suited superhero came to town. Jared cancels on you a lot, huh?"

Goosebumps skittered up Jensen's arms. "Steve, you're not-"

"No," Steve said, but his expression was serious as his eyes met Jensen's. "But it wouldn't be that much of a stretch, either."

"He isn't," Jensen said blankly. "He can't be."

Steve hummed noncommittally. "Probably not. But you have to admit, it's something of a strange coincidence."

There was a heavy, leaden feeling in the pit of Jensen's stomach. "Jesus, Steve, I ca-"

"Steve!" Chris' voice rang out across the bar and Jensen realized that the TV had switched over to sports. "Get your sorry ass over here so I can beat it at pool!"

"Screw yourself sideways!" Steve called back amiably. He put a comforting hand on Jensen's arm. "Just watch yourself, okay Jensen?"

He walked off without waiting for a response, which was probably a good thing since Jensen didn't have a damn clue what to say.

Jensen watched him go. And wondered.

Of course, now that Steve had mentioned it, it was impossible to ignore.

The thing was, Jensen knew what to look for when it came to alter egos. Having grown up with not one, but two, Supers in residence, he was better equipped than most to spot someone with something to hide.

And on the surface, it certainly looked suspicious. Steve had been quite right in saying that Jared was seriously ripped for a desk monkey, maybe even more than a gym membership could explain, and Katie had already teased Jensen about having a type. Jared's job afforded him irregular hours, which would give him plenty of opportunity to run off and do hero things without raising alarm bells.

Jared also had the rather infuriating tendency of vanishing at odd moments, often with very little notice. Jensen hadn't exactly kept track of Jared's late arrivals and last-minute cancellations, but a quick comparison of the time stamps on some 'sorry!' texts in his phone with mentions of Gunner in the news revealed that more than a few of them matched up. Which was entirely disheartening. The fact that they didn't all coincide gave him hope though, even while a little voice in the back of his head reminded him that not every superhero escapade had reporters on the scene.

And, fuck, for all Jensen knew, Jared actually was on call sometimes; Supers still had day jobs, even if they weren't always great about fitting them into their busy world-saving, kitten-in-tree-rescuing schedules. But Supers trended towards hobbies and jobs that had at least something to do with their abilities, which didn't fit if Jared was a telekinetic. And the whole tech thing could have been a front but Jensen knew enough about computers to know that Jared seriously knew his stuff. And tech work really did call for clocking all sorts of crazy hours.

Jensen even found himself scrutinizing Jared's behaviour as if, by the very virtue of Jensen considering the possibility, it would suddenly have changed to match the 'secretly a superhero' theory. Which was ridiculous on so many levels, not in the least because Jared continued to be the hot, funny, seriously dorky guy he'd always been. If he had any superhero-esque tendencies or time management issues, Jensen sure wasn't seeing them.

In the end, all Jensen had was vague suspicions that made him feel like a paranoid bastard and a less than vague desire to punch Steve in the face for getting him all wound up in the first place. He dismissed the idea of confronting Jared out of hand. Best case scenario: Jared wasn't a Super and he would think, quite rightly, that Jensen was a neurotic crazy person and probably break up with him. Worst case scenario: Jared was a Super and he'd either admit it and Jensen would break up with him or he'd lie and Jensen would still break up with him because that wasn't the sort of shit you could lie to a Super's kid about without getting called out.

The idea of breaking up with Jared didn't sit at all well with Jensen, but he knew he'd do it in a heartbeat if it meant avoiding getting caught up with another goddamn Super. He had no intention of living with the same shit his mama had always had to deal with. Not even for Jared.

All of which meant that paranoia was really the more appealing and, frankly, plausible explanation. So Jensen shoved it all into the back of his mind and got on with things. It wasn't as easy to suppress the odd twinge of suspicion when Jared skipped out on him or cancelled plans, but Jensen figured he could live with that. There were certainly worse ways he could have been reacting.

And if it turned out that he got that proof he wasn't looking for, well, he'd just have to deal with it.

Jensen's next encounter with Gunner involved 100% fewer semi-automatic weapons but a considerably greater threat to Jensen's continued well-being.

The hectic rush of the summer wedding circuit had given way to the just as hectic planning of weddings and events for the next summer, as well as the preparing of Christmas charity balls and end-of-year company conferences. The business side of his job never failed to give Jensen a monstrous headache - which lasted pretty much from Labour Day to Thanksgiving - but long years of experience had taught him just to suck it up, get on with things and look forward to January.

Jensen had spent the better part of the morning at the head office of the Granada Corp, one of his bigger clients, hammering out the details for a company conference that would be bringing in shareholders and employees from branches around the world. It was an exhaustive undertaking and Jensen was nothing but relieved when he got out of there just after 12 with his sanity mostly intact and a bag full of notes and contracts to take back to Meadowlarks.

It was decently warm for late September - the overhead sun and the lack of wind were teaming up to make it almost tolerable - and Jensen paused to one side of the doors as he fished for his sunglasses, idly contemplating stopping to grab a sandwich on his way back to the store.

Then the building next door exploded.

Jensen stumbled heavily, fighting to keep his feet as the ground shuddered beneath him. The air was full of shrieks and raised voices and Jensen gaped at the flames curling around the damaged building. One whole edge of the roof was folded in on itself, crumpled up like tinfoil.

Something green, familiar and very, very fast flashed through his peripheral vision and Jensen turned towards it automatically. A sizzle of lightning streaked after it and Jensen's brain managed a quiet little 'oh' when he saw the flare of a yellow cape on the figure following in hot pursuit.

Windstorm, Jensen's unfortunately comprehensive mental library of Supers informed him, electrical manipulator.

Gunner zipped and darted through the air, avoiding Windstorm's attacks with what looked like remarkable ease. The back of Jensen's head reminded him that he shouldn't be standing under a superhero drag match, but he'd hardly had the thought when one of Windstorm's bolts went wide and slammed into the building Jensen was still standing in front of.

The ground groaned with the impact and Jensen went down hard, cursing when he skidded one knee off the pavement.

"Look out!" someone called, which Jensen thought was more than a little belated until he looked up and saw a massive tumble of brick and masonry falling down right on top of him.

"Oh, fu-"

All the air snapped away in a thunderclap rush and Jensen flung his arms up in an instinctive and completely useless attempt to protect himself from the imminent death hurtling towards him. His eyes squeezed shut without any conscious input from his brain.

A heartbeat passed. Then another.

Jensen lowered his arms carefully and blinked his eyes open.

"Careful," Gunner said, from where he was hovering about fifteen feet overhead. He had one hand outstretched towards the masonry which was thankfully listening to him instead of gravity.

Jensen made a strangled noise that was meant to convey 'what the ever loving fuck just happened?'.

"You need to get out of here," Gunner said to Jensen and the rest of the civilians sprawled out across the floor. "It's not safe here."

A sweep of Gunner's arm dumped the pile of rubble on an empty patch of sidewalk and then the Super zoomed off, veering sharply around the corner of the building just in time to avoid getting himself shot by a rapidly approaching Windstorm.

Jensen wasted no time in scrambling to his feet and putting as much distance between himself and the two crazies in spandex as possible. Another explosion went off and Jensen dashed across the street with only the faintest regard for the traffic because, seriously, anyone who was still driving with all that going on deserved to get sued for running him over.

There was a modest-looking office building on the other side of the street and Jensen shoved through the idiots rubbernecking on the sidewalk to get inside. The lobby was full of wide-eyed, suit-wearing men and women; Jensen ignored the lot of them as he looked for somewhere safer to stand than in front of a wall of floor to ceiling windows. An 'Emergency Exit' sign sent him veering to the left and he slammed into the stairwell. He put his back up against the concrete wall, then settled down to wait, pulling his legs in close.

The excited murmur of the people in the lobby was faint but audible through the heavy door and Jensen kept half an ear out for news as he fished out his phone. He scrolled down to Jared's number and looked at it for a long moment. Then he steeled himself, hit the 'call' button and brought the phone up to his ear.

The call went straight to voicemail.

Jensen's stomach decided to take residence somewhere near his shoes and he stared dully at the floor, trying desperately not to read too much into it. Maybe Jared's battery had run out.

A cheer came from the lobby another handful of minutes later, which Jensen assumed meant that the side of good had won out yet again, but he waited an additional quarter hour for the fervour to ease before slipping out and checking the damage for himself.

All things considered, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. There was rubble and scorch marks everywhere and a fleet of emergency vehicles were standing by, but it didn't look like anyone had been seriously injured. There was a heavily-guarded Super Containment Van idling against the curb, which was a clear sign that there was going to be one less bad guy on the streets for as long as it took Windstorm to break out of prison again. What a relief.

Gunner was immediately visible, talking to a pair of police officers not far from the spot where he'd kept Jensen from getting pancaked by half an office level. He stood half a head taller than the bigger of the two men and, even from across the street, Jensen could clearly see that way that green spandex clung to well-defined muscles.

Jensen hated the way his brain immediately overlaid Jared's tall, broad silhouette on top of Gunner's and the comparison didn't come up lacking.

Gunner shifted away from the police officers, obviously anticipating the end of the conversation, and Jensen shook himself out of his reverie. He angled himself towards Granada Corp's building, taking care to give Gunner a wide berth. He would have dearly loved to go back to the shop and pretend none of this had happened but he still had a job to do. And right now, Jensen had to find out how his client's quote was going to change when part of the building was missing.

It took Jensen the better part of an hour to find someone he could schedule a meeting with. His stomach had begun rumbling about twenty minutes into the endeavour and he huffed impatiently when he came out of the building to find the police still cordoning off the scene and talking to eye witnesses. A crowd of curious onlookers were fanned out across the street and Jensen was abruptly too hungry and worn out to deal with this shit.

He headed off at an oblique angle, ducking into one of the quieter side streets while the police's attention was elsewhere. The steady murmur of activity dimmed somewhat the further he went and it made some of the tension in Jensen's shoulders ease.

"You know," a familiar voice said. Jensen resisted the urge to scream. "I'm starting to think you're a glutton for punishment."

Jensen gathered his self-control tightly around him and glanced up to find Gunner perched on the edge of the roof above him, kicking his legs like a little kid.

Gunner gave him a little wave. "Hello."

"Hi," Jensen responded, wary and trying not to sound like it.

"You sure know how to keep a guy waiting," Gunner continued. It was hard for Jensen to say whether he sounded like Jared or not but the clear grin in his voice felt dangerously familiar. "I was starting to think you were never coming out."

"I had work to do," Jensen said. "Would've been done earlier if someone hadn't been destroying public property."

"Oh come on," Gunner said. "It wasn't me shooting holes in the buildings."

"It was you playing tag with Windstorm in the middle of the city," Jensen pointed out.

"You recognized him, huh? Not bad from that distance. That mean you're a fan?" The last was said with a teasing sort of lilt that made Jensen feel vaguely sick to his stomach.

"Not exactly," Jensen evaded, since anything closer to the truth seemed unkind after Gunner had saved his life. Again. And if it was Jared under all that fucking spandex well, he'd know how Jensen really felt. "The cape was kind of a giveaway. And the lightning bolts."

Gunner made a low, quietly amused sound. Jensen hoped like hell the man didn't laugh; a laugh was nearly impossible to disguise and he didn't think he could bear hearing Jared's laugh come from behind that mask.

"That cape does stand out, doesn't it?" Gunner looked down at his brightly coloured suit. "Though I guess I'm not really one to talk."

"Look," Jensen said, feeling wearier by the minute. "Was there a point to this? Because thanks for the rescue, but all I really want right now is a very large cup of coffee. And a vacation. Not necessarily in that order."

"I wanted to make sure you're okay," Gunner said.

"How very civic minded of you." Jensen gestured elaborately up and down the length of his body. "As you can see, I'm all in one piece. Bye."

"I'm serious." Gunner dropped off the edge of the roof and stood in front of Jensen, not close enough to feel like a threat but more than obvious about his intention to keep Jensen here until he'd said his piece. "I'm not gonna let you get hurt on my watch, but I can't always be around to make sure you're not getting into trouble."

Jensen thought about how many lates and no-shows Jared had pulled on him. "No," he agreed. "You can't."

"So you've gotta be more careful," Gunner said in a tone that brooked no opposition. It reminded Jensen more than a little of his mother. "Keep yourself safe."

"Yeah," Jensen agreed, almost absently. "I'll handle it."

Jared showed up at Meadowlarks that afternoon, bearing a very large, hideously indulgent coffee-type drink and an innocent smile that Jensen couldn't find it in himself to trust.

"Thought you could use a pick-me up," Jared said. His grin turned teasing. "It's not a trip to the Bahamas, but I figure I've gotta save something for Christmas or I'll never be able to top myself."

Jensen thanked him with a kiss and very quietly freaked the fuck out.

Jensen had a problem.

Now that he was actually faced with the reality of Jared's Super status, Jensen found his earlier conviction faltering under the heavy awareness of what he'd be giving up if he ended things.

Jensen didn't want to break up with Jared. Jared was pretty much the best boyfriend he could have asked for. But Jensen also had no intention of being in a relationship with Gunner. He was not going to put up with always coming second and third place to every other person in the fucking city and never knowing if his boyfriend was going to come home in one piece.

And yet.

Jensen needed someone to talk to. And he knew that there was only one person in the world who would understand what he was dealing with.

Jensen's mama opened the door and blinked at him. "Jensen?"

"Hi, Mama," Jensen said, with a truly pathetic attempt at a smile.

His mama took command of the situation immediately; she bustled Jensen inside and got him settled at the kitchen table with a mug of cocoa on the table in front of him, like when he was 10 years old and in tears because Billy Taylor had stolen his bike. Or when he was 17 and practically sick with the fear of telling his parents that he might be gay.

His mama always had known just what he needed.

They sat in silence while Jensen drank his cocoa, the warmth from the liquid rolling down his throat and easing the heavy lump that had been sitting there all afternoon. His mama waited patiently, content to let him explain in his own time.

Finally, Jensen set his mug down on the table with a click and stared down at his hands. "Jared's a superhero," he said before he could lose his nerve. "Gunner. He's," he swallowed hard, "Jared is Gunner."

"Oh, honey," his mama said. Jensen didn't dare look up, not wanting to see the sympathetic little frown he knew she was wearing. "You're sure?"

Jensen made a sound that was a little too hysterical to pass for a laugh. "Pretty darn sure. I know what to look for, remember?"

They fell silent, letting the weight of Jensen's words sink in. The clock near the fridge ticked loudly in the quiet.

"What are you going to do?" his mama asked eventually.

"I don't know," Jensen admitted. "I don't want-" he waved an aimless hand at his mama, the kitchen, everything, "-this. Any of it. But I can't just... it's Jared and I didn't expect, I don't have-"

His mama reached out and settled her hand on top of his. "It's okay to be confused. You know there's no right answer to this, Jensen."

"There should be," Jensen muttered. He sunk lower in his chair. "I wouldn't be having this problem if Jared was a Normal."

Jensen heard his mother sigh. "I know how you feel about Supers," she said, with a lack of censure that Jensen would probably have appreciated if he hadn't been so off balance. "And I understand why you don't want to get involved with one. But it's not that easy to give up somebody you care about, no matter what reason you might have for leaving."

"How did you choose?" Jensen asked, finally looking up and letting his mama see the misery written all over his face. "How could you choose this life? "

"I didn't grow up into it," she reminded him. "I didn't know what I was getting into in quite the same way you do."

"Would you have chosen differently? If you'd known; would you have said no?"

"No," his mama said, without a hint of hesitation. "I wouldn't trade your father or you and your brother and sister for anything."


"Jensen." His mama squeezed his hand comfortingly and her expression was soft, sympathetic and a little bit sad. "I love your father very much. And that's the most important thing. This isn't about you having a relationship with a Super. It's about you having a relationship with Jared. And that's a different question entirely."

Jensen nodded at his lap.

"Do you love him?" his mama asked.

"I don't know," Jensen admitted, his voice breaking on the words. "I just… don't know."

"Just give it time." His mama smiled. "He's a good man, your Jared."

Jensen frowned. "You haven't even met him."

"I don't need to have met him to know he makes you happy," she said simply. "It's up to you to decide if that's enough."

"I don't know what to do, Mama," Jensen said, feeling small and lost.

His mama squeezed his hand again. "I know, honey. I know."

The conversation drifted off and they sat together in silence while the sun wound its way across the sky and bathed the kitchen in the vibrant copper-gold of sunset.

Jared was late. Again.

Jensen checked his watch impatiently and was entirely displeased to see that Jared was now officially 37 minutes late and still hadn't called in, which was a record, even for him. The murmur of voices and the clink of cutlery was all around him and Jensen scowled at the bottle of beer he was holding as though it was responsible for him sitting alone in the restaurant.

His phone buzzed to life and Jensen glanced down to see Jared's name flashing on the display.

"Jensen," Jared said when he picked up and, oh, Jensen knew that tone of voice.

"Let me guess," Jensen said wearily. "The monkeys with typewriters have had a major breakthrough. Or is the WiFi out at the White House?"

"Jensen-" Jared said again, guilty this time, and Jensen had had enough of this bullshit.

"Save it, Jared. Just... save it. I don't want to hear it." He stood up, chair scraping across the floor, and threw a twenty down on the table. "I'm going home. Hope they deliver pizza to the moon, or wherever the fuck you are."

"Wait, J-"

"Don't bother calling back," Jensen said, and snapped his phone shut. It started ringing again almost immediately so he turned it off and shoved it in his pocket. Then he lifted his chin, gathered up the remains of his dignity and strode out of the restaurant under the weight of a roomful of curious eyes.

The door smashed into the wall outside with a sharp 'crack!' that sent an indignant shout following after him into the dark. Jensen ignored it and stomped off down the street, mad enough to spit ink.

The streets were quiet and dim, and Jensen's ire only grew as he walked past brightly-lit restaurants full of people who hadn't been stood up by their infuriating, almost-ideal boyfriends so they could go play fucking caped crusaders.

He took a sharp left, not concentrating on where he was going as much as reducing the fire in his veins to a more tolerable simmer. There was no way he was going to risk driving when he felt like he was 10 seconds away from putting his fist through a wall.

There was the faintest scuff of sound behind him and Jensen froze when something that felt distressingly like the muzzle of a gun pressed against his back.

"I'd hold still, if I was you," a voice said, because Jensen's day could always get worse.

Jensen sighed. "I am so not in the mood for this." He took a steadying breath, then whirled to knock the gun away and power the guy to the floor.

Or at least, that had been the plan. Instead, Jensen found his wrist caught in a bruising grip as a solid body crowded in close and shoved him face first against the closest building. His cheek scraped hard against the brick as another hand clamped down on his other arm, forcing it up over his head at an awkward angle. Jensen hissed, struggling automatically against the hold.

"Nice try," the person holding him said, almost conversationally. The grip on Jensen's wrist tightened, twisting his arm behind his back until Jensen couldn't keep a pained whimper from forcing its way out of his throat. "Unfortunately for you, I'm not your run-of-the-mill sort of mugger."

"Oh no?" Jensen managed, fighting to get enough leverage to break the hold. Fuck, but this guy knew what he was doing.

A smooth, frighteningly urbane, chuckle answered him. "No," the guy said. "In fact, I'm not your run-of-the-mill anything."

The guy shifted his grip slightly and Jensen wrenched his arm back into an elbow throw, already twisting to bring up a knee for the follow through.

But the guy had obviously been expecting that and he evaded Jensen's attack with embarrassing ease. Jensen's breath rushed out in a sharp gasp when his back hit the wall with a bone-jarring thud, then got cut off entirely when a hand snapped vice-tight around his neck.

"You've got some nice moves," his attacker said, but Jensen was hardly listening, all of his attention caught on the blood-dark mask covering the top half of the man's face, immediately familiar even without a glance down to see the rest of his costume.


That's it, Jensen thought, too numb with shock to muster up the fear he knew he should be feeling. I'm dead.

Crisis smiled, a smugly self-satisfied sort of expression. "I'm guessing by that look that you recognize me. Want an autograph?"

Jensen swallowed, the clench of Crisis' fingers pushing hard against his throat. "N-not really. Bad f- haah- form to idolize your m-m-murderer, you know?"

The smile turned into a laugh that set Jensen's teeth on edge. "My dear boy," Crisis said, with an indulgent pat on Jensen's cheek that was mostly a slap, "If I was going to kill you, I would have done it already. I've got nothing to gain from murdering Normals in the middle of the street."

Jensen hoped to God and absolutely anybody else who might be listening that none of his shock was showing on his face. He might survive this yet. "W-what do you want me for, then?" he asked, with a tremor in his voice that wasn't nearly as much a result of the slow strangulation as he would have liked.

Crisis smirked. "You're going to be a present. For a certain dashing superhero who seems to have fondness for saving your hide."

Jensen's blood turned to ice. "What are you, t-talking about?" he tried and regretted it almost immediately when Crisis' expression turned chiding.

"No need to play dumb." Crisis' grip went ruthlessly tight and Jensen thrashed, fighting to get loose as black spots starting crowding around the edges of his vision. "Surely you've noticed that Gunner's only a hostage situation away from asking you to go steady. I didn't know there were any gay superheroes around but, hey," a philosophical shrug, "Each to his own, right?"

Jensen wheezed at him, limbs turning to lead, and Crisis finally loosened his hold enough to allow Jensen to suck in a much-needed breath of air.

Crisis watched him patiently, his head cocked to one side. "You're not even going to guess what's going to happen now?"

"I'm haa-hoping you'll tell me," Jensen rasped. His voice came out thick and ragged. "Isn't that what super villains do?"

"I'm afraid I'm not a big fan of monologuing," Crisis said. He gave Jensen another of those bright, unsettling smiles. "Besides, I'd hate to spoil the surprise. I'm going to enjoy watching you squirm almost as much as I'm going to enjoy killing your boyfriend."

"Already have a boyfriend," Jensen managed, because there was no way he was giving up Jared's real identity to this bastard. "Not a fan of spandex."

Crisis shrugged dismissively. "Gunner's probably hoping that third time's the charm. We Supers are used to getting what we want, you know. It's time for you to go to sleep now," he said then and the last thing Jensen saw was that goddamn grin before pain exploded in the side of his head and the world went white.

Jensen came to bound and gagged in the trunk of a car with a splitting headache and something sticky running down the side of his face, which was quite possibly the worst wake-up call he'd ever had, up to and including that college rager when he'd ended up on the roof of the engineering building in a dress. The car wasn't moving and Jensen strained his ears, trying to get some idea of where they were.

The trunk flew abruptly open and Jensen started in surprise, banged his knee off the wheel well and swore behind his gag. Silhouetted by the faint light streaming into the trunk, Crisis looked broad, dark and sinister.

"Oh, good. You're awake," Crisis said. He reached for Jensen and Jensen struck out blindly, fighting back for all he was worth.

"I do like your spark," Crisis said, completely unaffected by Jensen's pathetic attempts to defend himself. He hoisted Jensen bodily out of the trunk and slung him over one shoulder like he didn't weigh a thing. "But I'm starting to get the impression that you're not that bright."

The sudden shift of orientation sent pain sparking through Jensen's head and he sagged in Crisis' grip as solid bone and muscle dug into Jensen's diaphragm. He panted shallowly behind his gag, thinking that he'd never really appreciated breathing the way he ought to.

"Don't bother yelling," Crisis said. He slammed the trunk shut and struck out across the street, his footfalls loud in the quiet. "I'm not sloppy enough to leave anyone around to hear you."

Laboriously, Jensen lifted his head from where it was bouncing against the small of Crisis' back, trying to get a good look at where they were.

He didn't recognize the street they were on, though Jensen suspected that the head wound and being upside-down probably weren't helping on that score. The car that he'd recently been stuffed in was parked by the curb, the engine ticking as it cooled down. There wasn't a single person in sight. The buildings were packed in closely together and, while Jensen couldn't make out specifics in the dimness, the glint of broad glass windows suggested that they were probably stores of some kind. So at least Jensen wasn't going to get killed in some abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere.

Crisis' shoulder shifted - which Jensen's gut disapproved of most strenuously - and Jensen heard the scrape of a key. An unseen door creaked open and darkness fell harder as Crisis walked them both inside, then turned to shut the door, fast enough to make Jensen dizzy.

The bolt slid across with a loud, ominous clack and Jensen swallowed hard.

"Here we are," Crisis said, sounding satisfied. "Home sweet home."

There was a brief silence and then light flooded the room. Jensen flinched and blinked rapidly, trying to adjust to the brightness. Crisis didn't give him time to adjust before striding into the room; Jensen got a fleeting impression of a very large, very cluttered space before Crisis dumped him unceremoniously on the floor.

Jensen hit the ground with a thud and a pained hiss that was muffled by the gag. His arms twisted painfully behind his back and he curled forward, trying to ease the pressure.

"Sorry," Crisis said without remorse. He reached down and worked free the wad of fabric he'd shoved in Jensen's mouth. "Better?"

Free of the damp mass - which, Jensen was irritated to notice, was the sleeve of his shirt - Jensen stretched out his jaw, trying to work out the stiffness.

"Well?" Crisis asked him, sounding for all the world like he'd invited Jensen over for tea. He gestured grandly. "You like?"

Jensen quietly thought about a dozen unkind things about the man, then lifted his head to look around.

They were in some kind of art studio. Easels stood around the room at not-quite even intervals and Jensen could see a wide washtub near a forest of paintbrushes on the far end of the room. Stacked crates and canvases turned the open space into a maze of narrow pathways. Everything was splattered liberally with wide swaths of colourful paint.

"What? Nothing to say?"

Jensen summoned up his snarkiest expression. "That's seriously your getaway vehicle? A Volvo?"

"I'm traveling incognito," Crisis said, which made Jensen snort.

"And apparently in touch with your sensitive side, if this place is anything to go by. Do you use all those different pinks?"

Crisis cocked his head. "You're remarkably mouthy considering your situation."

"S'not like freaking out will do me any good," Jensen said, with a shrug that was made awkward by the ropes. "And you're going to kill me anyway so it's not like it matters if I-"

The sound of the slap hit him before the pain did. Jensen's head rolled with the force of the blow and he tasted blood in his mouth where his teeth had caught the inside of his cheek.

"It would do you good to be afraid, you know," Crisis said, and his voice was eerie in its icy calm. "There are all sorts of long, unpleasant ways to die."

Jensen opened his mouth to respond to that and Crisis slapped him again.

"Keep your tongue in your mouth or I'm going to cut it out," he said pleasantly.

Jensen's jaw clicked shut and Crisis smirked. "Good choice. Choking on your own blood is such a messy way to go."

Jensen looked away, not wanting to face the dark malice in Crisis' eyes. A hand came down to pat his stinging cheek and Jensen flinched away.

Crisis chuckled. "There now. That's better. There's just one thing missing."

The fingers on Jensen's face dug in sharply and he tossed his head, fighting to break the hold. Crisis kept squeezing and Jensen was helpless to stop him when he forced the gag back into Jensen's mouth and tightened it roughly around the back of his head.

Without saying another word, Crisis hoisted Jensen upright and shoved him against some kind of storage rack bolted into the wall. Crisis produced a set of handcuffs and Jensen hissed when Crisis wrenched his arms up and cuffed them to something behind and above him. The pressure on his shoulders forced Jensen's chest down at an angle and Jensen knew that it wouldn't be long before his muscles started to protest.

His ankles were cuffed as well, stretching his legs out into a wide inverted V that made Jensen feel like he was about to star in a bondage porn film. He couldn't straighten up with his arms bound behind him and he couldn't hold his head up for more than a handful of minutes without feeling like his brain was going to explode. The entire position left him off balance and strained, which Jensen suspected was entirely the point.

"Lovely," Crisis said, still in that darkly tranquil tone of voice. "I do appreciate a little artistry in my work." He patted Jensen condescendingly on top of his head and Jensen growled at him, glaring for all he was worth.

Crisis' eyes narrowed. The fingers in Jensen's hair gripped and yanked upwards and his eyes slammed shut when the shift wrenched his arms into an angle they weren't meant to go. The mental frame clanged with the movement, the sound echoing off the ceiling. Crisis held him there long enough for Jensen to fear his shoulders were about to get dislocated then let go.

Jensen hung limply, panting through the pain. He didn't resist when Crisis dug into his coat pocket and resurfaced with his cell phone.

"Think anyone's missed you yet?" Crisis asked conversationally. Jensen's phone chimed as soon as Crisis turned it on and Jensen forced his eyes up to watch the amused delight that scrolled across Crisis' face.

"Oh, looks like someone's very interested in getting in touch." Crisis' fingers tapped across the keys, obviously checking through Jensen's missed messages. "Eight missed texts and three phone calls from someone named Jared." He glanced over at Jensen. "The aforementioned boyfriend, I presume? Looks like he wants to talk to you." He clicked a button and Jared's voice echoed tinnily from the speakers.

"Seriously Jensen, just pick up your phone. Or call Chris or something if you don't want to talk to me. I'm getting worried."

Crisis tsked. "Sounds like I've interrupted a domestic. Shall we listen to all of them? He did take all the trouble of leaving them."

Jensen closed his eyes, fighting off nausea.

"No? Ah, well. Maybe that's the problem in the first place; communication's important in a relationship, you know."

Jensen choked back a sound that he refused to classify as a sob. Crisis chuckled and then fell blessedly silent, leaving Jensen with nothing but the pain in his limbs and the pressure on his lungs to distract him from his thoughts.

He hung there for a small eternity, concentrating on keeping his breathing even and his panic shoved firmly into the back of his head. His muscles trembled with the strain of the position Crisis had forced him into. He tried to ignore the fact that he couldn't feel his hands.

The silence stretched on interminably.

"That was quick," Crisis said suddenly and Jensen's eyes flew open despite his best intentions not to give Crisis the satisfaction. Crisis winked at him. "He must really like you."

Jensen glared back, wanting nothing more than to strangle the bastard's neck.

Crisis stood. "Show time." He dropped Jensen's phone on the floor and smoke started wreathing up his arms as fire curled in his cupped hands. It was real and terrifying in a way that hadn't quite sunk in for Jensen until now: this was Crisis, the self detonator with the hate on for Supers. And he was going to kill Jensen and anyone else who got in the way of his goal.

Which was killing Gunner. Jared.

Flames licked between Crisis' fingers and Jensen resisted the urge to sneeze when a stray tendril of smoke tickled his nose. Shadows skittered across the floor as Crisis took a few deliberate steps forward, his head swiveling back and forth like a hound scenting its prey.

Suddenly Crisis stilled and Jensen caught the corner of the vicious grin that curved his mouth before he strode off between the canvases and supplies, his every movement calculated and sure.

The smell of smoke was growing stronger and Jensen's weary brain tried to tell him that there was something wrong with that. He could almost see the rising haze in the air, which seemed excessive considering that Crisis was still moving away from him. So where was all the smoke coming from?

The thought had barely crossed Jensen's mind when a burst of fire exploded through a stack of boxes to his left; he jolted hard enough to make the frame he was tied to clang against the wall. Crisis vanished in a cloud of smoke and licking flames, and Jensen watched the walls of fire rolling thick and fast across the ground towards him, devouring everything in their path. Canvases and hanging tarps went up in moments, their deaths accompanied by the popping explosions of tubes upon tubes of oil-based paint as they gave up under the heat. The air was thick with smoke and dizzying paint fumes and Jensen choked, fighting to breathe.

A shadow appeared at Jensen's side and he jerked in surprise, the cuffs at his wrists and ankles digging in hard to his skin.

"Shh," a voice said, right in his ear.

Jensen looked over to see Jared's eyes looking at him above a wet rag held over his mouth and nose, the hazel in them drowned out in the dancing firelight.

"Jrrrm?" Jensen tried.

"Just a sec," Jared said, lowering the cloth and using both hands to untie Jensen' gag.

Jensen inhaled shakily. "Cr-" he tried before he had to give it up as a bad job when all his lungs managed to produce was a pathetic sort of wheezing sound. He sucked in a breath and tried again. "It's Crisis. Jared, it's…"

"I know. We haven't got much time." Jared shifted to standing and reached for Jensen's wrists. "I need you to stay very still for me."

"Are those lock picks?" Jensen asked muzzily.

The sudden release of the cuffs suggested that, yes, they were lock picks and Jensen's body crumpled without the support, his shoulders screaming in protest as his arms dropped to the small of his back.

Jared was there immediately; strong arms caught Jensen by the armpits and Jensen let his head loll against Jared's collarbone, closing his eyes in a moment of overwhelming relief.

"It's okay, Jensen," Jared said against his forehead. "I gotcha." He produced a knife from somewhere and sawed through the ropes around Jensen's wrists. "Careful now," he said, as he carefully lowered Jensen's arms to his sides. "Let's not damage the muscles any more than we have to."

Jensen nodded, then swiftly regretted it when it made the room spin. He levered himself awkwardly upright while Jared dealt with the cuffs around his ankles. The air was getting thicker and Jensen pulled the hem of his shirt up over his mouth and nose, fighting not to inhale too much smoke. There was sweat rolling down his face from the heat and Jensen could feel his clothes clinging wetly to his skin.

Jared tugged Jensen's ankles out of the cuffs and straightened up. "Let's go," he said, covering his face again.

"Wait," Jensen said and bent to scoop up his cell phone. The sudden movement made him want to throw up but he wasn't about to leave his phone at the scene of a kidnapping-arson combo.

"Stay close," Jared said, barely waiting for Jensen to shove his phone into a pocket before putting a guiding hand on Jensen's back and pushing him away from where Jensen thought the main door was.

Flames towered around them and Jensen kept his eyes glued to the ground to avoid tripping over anything. Their trek through the burning building felt like forever, but Jensen doubted it was more than a minute before they came upon an emergency door set into the far wall. It was propped open with a piece of wood and Jensen could feel a gust of fresh air creeping through the gap and stirring through the smoke.

"Come on," Jared said and pushed the door open the rest of the way, kicking out the doorstop on the way past.

The cold air was like a slap in the face after the furnace heat inside the building. Jensen inhaled sharply and promptly fell into a coughing fit that made his whole body hurt and shudder with the force of it.

"Easy," Jared said. He wrapped an arm around Jensen's waist and urged him into a walk. "I'm sorry, Jensen, but you need to keep moving. Fire won't stop a self-detonator for long."

Jensen wrestled his breathing under control with an effort. "Okay," he said, trying to ignore the insistent ache at the back of his throat. "Just… don't let go."

Jared squeezed his hip comfortingly and they half-hobbled out onto the street, carefully at first while Jensen worked out some of the tension in his muscles.

"How did you find me?" he asked as he stumbled along in Jared's wake.

Jared didn't look over at him. "Tracked your phone."

"Oh," Jensen said. He frowned. "Did you set the building on fire?"

"The building next door, technically," Jared said. "How are you doing? Okay to go a little faster?"

"What? Yeah, I'm good." Jared's arm shifted until he once again had a hand at the small of Jensen's back and Jensen gritted his teeth against the tingling hurt in his arms. "You set a building on fire? Why?"

"He can read heat signatures," Jared said, as though that was a completely logical explanation. "And I don't exactly come to dates prepared for rescuing hostages; best I could do on short notice."

Glass shattered somewhere behind them and Jensen chanced a glance back to see flames flaring through the windows and licking up the sides of the building.

"Not to mention that that'll get the fire department's attention," Jared added. "All we've got to do is survive till they get here."

They hit an intersection and Jared paused for a moment before heading down the road on their right. "This way."

"Where are we going?" Jensen asked.

"Somewhere he won't bother following, hopefully." Jared rounded another corner and Jensen felt his stomach drop when he found himself facing a wall of trees and deathly pale grass instead of another street.


There was a tug on Jensen's sleeve and he belatedly realized that he'd stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and was just staring at the resolute blackness of the city park that Jared was trying to drag him into.

"Sorry," Jensen said reflexively. He started forward again, suppressing the shudder that wanted to run through him as they crossed over the pavement and under the trees.

Jensen didn't like winter. People assumed it was because of the cold, which Jensen was more than happy to let them think since it was easier, but the fact was that he couldn't stand how quiet it was. Winter was a world asleep, waiting for the spring. It wasn't so bad in his store; his flowers were shipped in from warmer climates and, though the cold made them droop more than they should, they were still happy enough under his hands. But the rest of the world was buried under the cold and the damp and the snow, and Jensen hated it. It made him feel like putting his head down and never moving again.

The trees pulsed weakly as Jensen stumbled past, acknowledging but oh so tired, and he did his best to ignore them for fear that he'd start feeling the same. Jared, of course, felt nothing, and Jensen focused his attention on him, trying to block out the winter chill with his awareness of how very alive Jared was. Jensen reached for Jared's hand, clinging to his cold fingers like a lifeline.

Jared flicked a glance at him and squeezed his hand reassuringly. "It'll be okay, Jensen," he said, with as much of a smile as he could manage under the circumstances. His voice was warm and unwavering. "I gotcha."

Jensen saw the utter conviction in Jared's eyes, the firm core of him that said he'd go down fighting or not at all, and it was like the whole world paused for one shining crystal moment when Jensen realized what he should have known all along.

He was in love with this man. Irrevocably and irrefutably.

Jensen stopped. "Wait."

"Jensen, what are you doing?" Jared tugged on Jensen's hand, trying to get him moving again. "Crazy super villain after us, remember?"

Jensen shook his head. "Not us. You." He met Jared's panicked gaze steadily. "And I won't let him have you."

"You what? What are you talking about?"

"I'm in bad shape, Jared," Jensen said, rueful but honest. "I'm just slowing you down-"

"You think I care?" Jared demanded.

"-so you need to go on without me."

"Not a chance!" Jared pulled on Jensen's arm again. "So help me, Jensen, you're coming with me even if I have to drag you."

"I'm not letting him kill you!" Jensen shouted, yanking his hand out of Jared's grip. "Goddammit, Jared, will you stop being a self-sacrificing ass for one minute?"

"That's rich, considering you want me to leave you here to get burnt alive." Jared huffed out a sound that was more like a growl than a laugh. "Why the hell should I?"

"Because I love you, you fucker!" Jensen shouted and was gratified when Jared actually stumbled back, shock scrawled baldly across his face. "It doesn't matter if you're a techie or a superhero or a… a fucking alien, I'm not going to be responsible for Crisis getting his exploding hands on you!"

Jared's face was doing something very strange. "Jensen, what-"

Jensen took a slow, shuddering breath. "I know," he admitted, looking at his hands. "That you're Gunner." He heard Jared's sudden sharp inhale and did his best to inject some levity into his voice when he added, "So, you know, next time try not to be so obvious about missing dates every time there's a train derailment or whatever."


"I'll distract Crisis," Jensen said, almost frantic for Jared to just go already. "Seriously, it'll be fine."

"Jensen," Jared said slowly. "I'm not a Super."

Jensen's blood froze. "What?"

"I'm not Gunner," Jared said.

"But you have to be," Jensen said blankly. "It all adds up. You-"

"I'm not Gunner," Jared repeated. "Really."

"No. You don't get to do this to me," Jensen said and was distantly horrified at how broken his voice sounded. "You don't get to fucking lie to me about this, Jared Pada-"

"I work for the government," Jared said in a rush. "In the Preternatural Law Enforcement Division."

"Never heard of you," Jensen said flatly.

"I know. We're a little Area 51 that way." Jared squared his shoulders. "We deal with situations that the Normal divisions aren't equipped to handle. Super-related, mostly, but other stuff has been known to crop up."

Jensen clenched his fists when he realized that his hands were shaking. "So you are a Super."

"No, that's-" Jared scrubbed a frustrated hand through his hair. "I'm Normal. Most of the division's Normal. But we work with Supers. I'm Gunner's… handler, more or less. That's why I'm not around when he's rescuing people from doomsday devices or whatever."

"You can't honestly expect me to believe that every superhero in the country has a government babysitter," Jensen said. He would know, after all.

"They don't," Jared said. A touch of wryness slipped into his tone. "Supers aren't the easiest people in the world to get on the payroll."

Jensen snorted, struggling to find some anger, some distrust to throw at Jared. "And I'm just supposed to, what? Take your w-"

"Yes," Jared snapped. "Christ, Jensen, do you have any idea how many rules I'm breaking right now?" His voice gentled. "You know me; you really think I'm lying to you about this?"

That brought Jensen up short because, no, he didn't. Despite any and all evidence to the contrary. "I- I don't believe this. This whole situation, it's just… impossible. You!" he exclaimed, jabbing a finger at Jared. "I was going to… for you, I was willing to, to-"

"Sorry to interrupt," a voice said and Jensen's whole body went cold.

He and Jared whirled as one to find Crisis striding out from under the slumbering trees and onto the path. He walked slowly and calmly, looking no worse for wear despite having been set on fire in the very recent past. Jensen could sense the edge of barely contained menace leaking out around the edges of that blank façade.

Jared shoved his way between Jensen and Crisis, and leveled a seriously hardcore handgun at Crisis. Jensen had no idea where the fuck he'd been hiding it. "Stay back," Jared ordered.

"That's a bit embarrassing, isn't it?" Crisis said to Jensen, ignoring the gun entirely. "Thinking your Normal little boyfriend's a superhero. Were you hoping he'd do you in the spandex?"

"I already told you I don't go for Supers," Jensen said, fighting to keep his voice steady.

"Mm, and clearly that's not true. Don't worry though-" Crisis' teeth flashed in the dim as he grinned. "There's always role play. Although maybe this is the incentive you need to trade in for a better model."

"Fuck you," Jensen said.

"Not my thing. You may as well put that down, you know," Crisis said casually to Jared. "I think we both know how unlikely it is that you're going to able to kill me with it."

"I can still make you bleed," Jared said, with steel in his voice. "Go," he told Jensen, never looking away from Crisis.

"Fuck you too," Jensen told him and stayed right where he was. Though he wished to hell and back that he had something to back up his bravado with. At this point he'd take a pointy stick and a feather duster.

"That's sweet," Crisis said. "But terribly tedious. And I'm rapidly losing interest in waiting for the real cavalry to arrive, so if you don't mind holding still, I'm going to put the both of you out of my misery."

"Awful big waste of your time," Jared said, sounding calm and remarkably collected. "All this effort to reel in Gunner and you're just giving it up as a bad job?"

"Oh, I wouldn't say it's been a complete loss. After all, I'm terribly excited about your day job… Jared, was it? Can't wait to learn more. So thanks for that."

Jared smiled thinly. "Good luck trying," he said, then pulled the trigger.

Crisis staggered back as the bullet caught him high in the chest, but Jared had hardly got as far as shoving Jensen in the opposite direction when Crisis straightened and smiled an indulgent sort of smile.

"Oh, don't go y-"

Another bullet slammed into him, right below the first one and Jensen snuck a glance to his side to see Jared's picture perfect stance, the grim concentration on his face as he fired shot after shot.

Crisis laughed, dark, cruel and fucking terrifying, and made absolutely no attempt to avoid the barrage. Jared put an entire clip into him without effect and, as the echo of the last gunshot faded away, the only thing left in Jensen's head was wondering how much being burnt alive was going to hurt. It seemed to be a pretty foregone conclusion at this point.

"Finished?" Crisis asked Jared.

Jared coolly shifted his gun into his off hand and pulled a fresh clip out of his pocket. He reloaded the gun without changing expression and brought it up to bear again.

Crisis laughed, delighted. "You're a fun little wind-up soldier, aren't you? I can see why you two like each other. But it's a waste of time." He crouched low to the ground and Jensen tensed, but Jared caught his elbow with a warning shake of his head.

"You should listen to him," Crisis said, rising to his feet with a handful of pebbles taken from the path. "He's better at this than you are. My powers rearrange molecules," he said to Jared. "Anything that touches my skin is mine." He held up a single pebble and offered them another smile. "Want to see?"

Fire flared up from Crisis' hand, blindingly orange in the darkness, and Jensen had to bring up one arm to shield his eyes from the glare. Through the black afterimages in his vision, Jensen just barely saw Crisis' arm move and he couldn't react nearly fast enough to dodge the now-flaming pebble as it streaked towards him.

Pain struck Jensen's leg and Jensen collapsed when it buckled. His wrist twinged sharply as he hit the ground, but Jensen was too busy writhing in agony and trying to put out his flaming pants to give much of a care.

"Jensen!" Jared was on the ground at his side in an instant, tearing at Jensen's pant leg to check out the damage. "Are you okay?"

"He would be able to make fucking fireballs," Jensen gritted, feeling sweat break out across his face. He panted shallowly. "I don't want to look, do I?"

"Probably not," Jared said, so Jensen glanced down and felt his stomach twist at the mess of blackened, slickly red skin peeking out from the hole in his pants.

"Not really worth the effort of trying to wrap," Crisis pointed out, when Jared made to rip some strips of fabric from the bottom of Jensen's shirt. "Not when you're both going to be dead in about 10 minutes. So! Which one of you doesn't want to watch the other die?"

Jared stood and rounded on Crisis, menace written in every line of his body. "Don't you fucking touch him," he growled, in a voice that would have made Jensen run the other fucking way if it had been aimed at him.

"Why thank you for volunteering," Crisis said. He smiled. "Any last heart-felt confessions for your darling boyfriend?"

"He already knows," Jared said, and Jensen's heart shuddered when Jared threw him a wryly fond smile over one shoulder. "And if he doesn't, he damn well should."

"Jared-" Jensen said helplessly.

Time slowed down and all Jensen could do was watch as Jared turned to face Crisis with shoulders squared and head held high, as a smirk curled Crisis' mouth, as Crisis lit up another pebble, as Crisis' arm snapped forward and the fireball left his hand, streaked straight towards Jared and-

"No!" Jensen cried.

-something exploded out of the ground at Jared's feet, writhing and curling upwards at a frightening pace. The fireball slammed into the thing instead of Jared's chest and Jared threw himself to the side as it caught fire. The resulting flare of light illuminated a twisting lattice of vines and roots arching up like a wall of living flame, growing ever taller with single-minded intensity.

Jared was on his knees in front of Jensen in a heartbeat, pulling him close and putting his own broad back between Jensen and the fire. Over Jared's shoulder, Jensen watched with wide eyes as the burning plants twisted away from the sky and towards Crisis, reaching.

"What the-?" Crisis took an instinctive step backwards, then another, hands raised in warning. The thudding impact of more fireballs against the plants filled the air but that creeping advance didn't falter. The earth cracked and buckled as more plants joined the assault, taking the place of the ones that were too burnt and shriveled to continue. Jensen felt a weird, almost hysterical laugh bubble up in his throat when he saw a group of pansies creeping out of one of the slumbering flower beds to take part.

Crisis' barrage of fireballs stopped abruptly when he ran out of stones and Jensen wasn't surprised when he turned and fled, angling for the copse of trees he'd emerged from earlier.

A great groaning sound filled the air and Jensen bit off a surprised curse when the trees nearest the path bent suddenly over, stretching out with creaking, skittering branches to cut off Crisis' escape. Jared twisted his head round to see what was going on, not letting go of Jensen. His breath was hot on Jensen's cheek and his gun was pressed heavily against the space between Jensen's shoulder blades.

Crisis set fire to everything he could lay his hands on, fighting to get through, but the branches held him fast, locking him in place long enough to let the rest of the plants catch up. Roots surged up out of the ground to grip his legs and Crisis yelled when the rest of the plants followed suit, curling up his limbs and lashing tight around his torso. The trees pressed in closer, caging Crisis' body while a pair of thick, slippery-looking plants that Jensen didn't even recognize forced his arms wide and held them there, giving his deadly hands absolutely nothing to grab onto.

Crisis struggled ineffectually against his bonds, blistering the air blue when all his efforts did was make the plants twine tighter. And tighter. And tighter until he was gasping open-mouthed for air and his hands were clenching spasmodically in time with his increasingly erratic breath. The plants gave one final squeeze and Crisis went limp, sagging in their hold like so much dead weight.

Everything stopped.

Jared turned to Jensen with wide eyes. "I swear that was absolutely not me."

"I know," Jensen said faintly. Crisis still wasn't moving and, for a heart-stopping moment, Jensen thought they'd actually killed the psycho. A closer look revealed that Crisis was still breathing, chest rising shallowly with each slow inhale, but Jensen doubted he'd stay that way for long if they left him like this. "Um," he said to the plants. "You guys round the middle mind easing up a little? I'd rather you didn't kill him, even if he kind of deserves it."

There was no reaction for a long moment, which made Jensen go from feeling silly to fearing quite honestly for his sanity. Then a few of the plants slipped free with a quiet shushing sound and Jensen had a whole truckload of other things to worry about. He let out a shaky breath. "Great, thanks," he said, then looked back at Jared.

Jared's eyes looked like they were going to fall right out of his head. "You-" he started, then seemed at a total loss about where to go from there.

"Apparently," Jensen agreed. He tipped his head back to stare up at the stars and sighed. "Fuck."

In the wake of the revenge of the plants, Jared wrapped the burn on Jensen's leg, sent a text message to his boss about the passed out super villain in the middle of the park, then sat down next to Jensen and stared at him until Jensen started talking just to make him knock it off.

He gave Jared an extremely pared down account of his (no longer) completely useless powers, very carefully leaving out any and all mention of his dad and Josh; that was definitely a conversation best left to another day. Preferably after Jensen had talked to his parents, who'd definitely be interested in hearing about this Preternatural Law Enforcement thingy.

Jared listened raptly to every word and Jensen sincerely hoped this wasn't going to become a thing because he was not going to put up with being idolized for being a Super.

Jensen made a desultory attempt at convincing the plants to be a little more on the down low since it was fucking November and the park looked like a scene from the Secret Garden, but it seemed like they were just as unlikely to listen to him as they ever had been. Some of the little fuckers even had the nerve to burst into bloom. Jensen could literally feel the smugness.

"Here we go," Jared said eventually and Jensen followed his gaze to see a familiar green silhouette zooming towards them.

Jared waved. Jensen made a face.

Gunner landed not far from where they were still sprawled out on the grass and Jensen was somewhat mollified to see that, even with Jared present for comparison, Gunner still looked a lot like his boyfriend.

Gunner glanced around, taking in Crisis' boneless form, the excess of faintly frost-tinged plants and Jensen's general state of disrepair. "Wow," he said to Jensen, in a tone of voice that really made Jensen want to flip him off. "You really are good at getting into trouble."

"Didn't see you catching any super villains tonight," Jensen shot back.

"True." Gunner turned his attention to Jared. "Somehow I feel like you should have called this in earlier."

"Yeah," Jared said, with a shamefaced little shrug. "But I didn't really have the time to go through the proper channels."

"And it nearly got both of you killed."

"I had it under control!" Jared protested, then swore when Jensen punched him. "Ow! What was that for?"

"I am not even going to answer that." Jensen looked at Gunner. "So what now? With all the-" he made a helpless gesture at the plants draped all over Crisis.

"I'll take care of it," Gunner said. "Since I suspect you don't really want to be-"

"God no," Jensen agreed quickly. "Not even a little."

Jensen could feel Jared watching him and refused to make eye contact. He wasn't having this conversation.

"So, you think you can take over for us here?" Jared asked Gunner, when it became clear that Jensen wasn't going to say anything. "I want to get Jensen looked at."

"In a hospital?" Jensen asked skeptically. Somehow, he didn't think they could pass this off as a mugging.

Jared shook his head. "Not quite. Don't worry about it."

"Cause that makes me feel better," Jensen muttered, though he couldn't deny that getting patched up sounded like a wonderful idea. His leg was hurting like a motherfucker.

"There's a car waiting for you at the main gate," Gunner said. "They'll take care of you."

"Thanks," Jared said. He climbed to his feet and reached down to help Jensen up. Jensen hissed as he put pressure on his leg and Jared's face creased in worry. "You gonna be okay?"

"Fine." Jensen accepted the support of Jared's arm and refused to wince when the state of being upright made every muscle in his body hurt. "You even try to carry me and I will kill you."

Gunner did his head-cock smile at Jared. "I can see why you like him."

"He's a keeper," Jared agreed cheerfully. "Have fun talking to the police - I didn't call them but I set a couple of buildings on fire a couple streets over so they'll probably be here sooner or later."

"Although I really can't see why you like him," Gunner said to Jensen, in a gently teasing tone of voice.

Jensen made an attempt at a shrug. "He has his moments."

Gunner shook his head. "Get out of here," he told the both of them. "We'll talk later, Jared."

"Gotcha." Jared started to lead Jensen away but Jensen hung back.

"Thanks," he said awkwardly to Gunner. "For-" he gestured aimlessly. "Y'know."

Gunner nodded in acknowledgment. "I know what it's like. Take some time to figure things out, for yourself," Gunner gestured at Jared, "And for him."

Jensen nodded. "Okay."

Jensen spent the rest of the night in a medical facility that was most definitely not a hospital but was nonetheless sterile, discreet and frighteningly well-equipped to deal with super villain related injuries. Jared needed an ID badge and a keycard to get them in and Jensen had no doubt that he was going to have to sign approximately four billion confidentiality wavers before they'd let him out again.

The final tally of 'bad shit that happened to Jensen Ackles tonight' included a bruised windpipe, a nasty gash on his head, some muscle damage in his shoulders and upper arms, abrasions on his wrists, mild smoke inhalation, a sprained wrist and a gaping great burn on his leg. Also, his clothes were a write-off.

Jared, the bastard, got away with mild smoke inhalation and a first degree burn on his left arm.

They gave Jensen a private room, an IV drip and some really excellent drugs that left him feeling considerably more Zen about the whole situation. Even if there was a potted cactus by the window that was busy being very worried in his general direction.

Jared stayed with him the entire time and was blessedly quiet while Jensen was being tended to. He dealt with the niceties of thanking the not-hospital staff and waited until they'd been left properly alone before dragging a chair over to sit next to the bed.

"So," he said and Jensen would probably have groaned if he hadn't been so happily drugged up. "What are you going to do now?"

"Sleep," Jensen mumbled at him.


"No thinking. Fuck off." He blinked wearily at Jared. "That was the worst fucking date ever."

"Try not to get kidnapped next time," Jared said and Jensen was not nearly awake enough to parse all the layers of meaning in that sentence.

"S'good I did," Jensen said around a yawn. He loved morphine. "Else there w-would'na been a next time."

"What?" Jared said, sounding shocked enough that Jensen forced his eyes open to check that he was okay.

"S'okay," Jensen said. He lifted one massively heavy arm - the one without the needles in it - and patted at Jared's hand where it was lying on the bedspread. "Love you anyway. And y're not a Super, so we dun have to break up." He blinked. "Do I get a goodnight kiss?"

There was something wrong with the twist of Jared's mouth, but Jensen was too fuzzy to figure it out. "Of course," Jared said quietly.

He leaned in for a chaste, gentle kiss that had Jensen humming in relaxed pleasure and trying to sink straight through the mattress. Jared's expression still wasn't right when he pulled back, but Jensen could hear the tenderness in his voice when he said, "Try to get some rest, okay Jensen? We'll talk tomorrow."

Jensen yawned again. "You'll be here?" he asked, his eyes slipping shut.

"Yes," Jared's voice said, and Jensen couldn't think of a better last thing to hear before sleeping. "As long as you'll let me, always yes."

Jensen had been awake for the better part of two hours when Jared finally stirred.

"Morning," Jared said, in a sleep-graveled voice that Jensen approved of wholeheartedly. He shifted, looking up at Jensen from the pillow of his arms. "You're up early."

"Mmm," Jensen agreed absently.

Jared frowned and pushed himself upright and Jensen had to fight back the urge to brush his hand across the fabric creases imprinted on his cheek. "Jensen?" Jared asked. "Everything okay?"

"I'm not becoming a Super," Jensen told him. A morning spent staring at the ceiling without the happy haze of painkillers to get in the way had made that very clear.

"Babe, you already kind of are," Jared said gently. He covered one of Jensen's hands with his own.

"I'm not joining the spandex brigade," Jensen clarified.

Jared was watching him closely. "You going to tell me why not?"

"Not today," Jensen said. He managed to choke back the maybe never hiding at the back of his throat.

"Okay," Jared said, after a long moment.

Jensen tried to smile. It didn't go well. "Sorry to disappoint."

"You're not," Jared said firmly. "God, you're not."

Jensen snorted. "You sure about that? Seems like you're all for superheroes. Pays your bills, right?"

Jared was silent for a moment. "You don't want to be in a relationship with a Super," he said, slowly like he was testing something out.

"No," Jensen admitted.

"So you were going to break up with me? When you thought I was Gunner?"

"I was," Jensen admitted and Jared flinched like he'd been struck. "But then I wasn't."

"Can I ask why not?" Jared asked, in an aching little voice that made Jensen's heart hurt.

"I…" Jensen trailed off and dropped his eyes down to where Jared's hand was lying on top of his own. He threaded their fingers carefully together, feeling the strength and the gentleness in Jared's grip. Which really was Jared all over. "I realized that you were worth it. That's why I wasn't."

"Then you already know why you can't possibly disappoint me." Jared tipped Jensen's chin up with two fingers so he could look him in the eye. "You, Jensen Ackles, are extraordinary in spite of super powers, not because of them."

Heat prickled Jensen's cheeks. "You're not so bad yourself," he said, wanting this conversation over already. "But I'm glad you're not a Super."

"Probably for the best." Jared grinned at him. "I'd be a shit superhero."

Jensen barked out a surprised laugh. "That must be why I like you so much," he said, though he privately doubted that Jared was right on that score. And he never in a million years would have suspected that he'd be able to laugh less than 24 hours after discovering that he was more Super than he'd thought, but he supposed that being in love could make up for all sorts of superhero bullshit in his life.

Even if Josh was never, ever going to let him live this down. Plant minions. What the fuck.


Timestamp: My Dress Code Encourages Spandex (775 words) Jared, a laundry room and a lot of green spandex. Prequel