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04 Jack of All Trades




A month in and Jared feels himself settling. It’s what he'd been afraid of, ever since he stepped into town. This feeling of home, of belonging, is so strong now that he doesn’t really know how to deal with it. That urge to flee, to get back on the road, is also strong and growing bit by bit every day.

Work’s hard and he feels it in his bones. He hasn’t been that deeply exhausted in years and mostly, it feels good. He sleeps better and doesn’t lie awake as much thinking about everything because he’s simply too exhausted. The most surprising thing, though, is that he finds that he doesn’t miss the adrenaline rush from undercover operations or skirmishes between rebels and official government troops as much as he thought he would.

Jared finds that he's getting used to a simpler life again. A glass of real milk in the morning and seeing the sun set with his own eyes instead of on a screen in his hideout under the city. He feels the fresh winter air on his skin, loves that there’s no sand in it, no toxic residues from wherever the winds come. He can breathe here. But he's also afraid of losing his focus. And the fact that he doesn’t feel bad about it.

Jensen seems to warm up to him a little, takes him along when he goes into town. Whether it’s because he doesn’t trust Jared alone on his land or actually wants Jared along is yet to be decided. But Jared likes those time outs.

It's also true that Jensen taking him along has several side effects. Such as Jared actually getting to know the locals and being able to talk to them. This way he’s learned that almost everyone around here knows about the abandoned government facility that's been there since their youth. It's visited on dares and adventure seeking hikes, but nothing of importance has been found there. Even so, Steve, the blond guy glaring at Jared on his very first day, agrees to take him along on one of his trips up there

It’s apparently the site of one of the best berry bushes in the mountains. Jared can live with getting dragged along for berry harvest if he gets a chance to take a look at the buildings.

Another perk is Jared getting invited to town activities a few weeks after he showed up. He’s not sure he feels comfortable with being trusted so easily. He’s still a stranger after all, and hasn’t even told all that much about himself but the people don’t seem to mind. Which is how he ends up in Jim’s bar, listening to music he thought dead and enjoying himself. Jared’s not sure he can remember the last time had something close to free time.

“You good?” Jensen’s been leaning against the bar, chatting with Jim for several minutes. Jared looks at him for the first time since they arrived in town for errands earlier in the day. Jensen’s wearing old jeans, frayed at the hems but fitting very well everywhere else. His white linen shirt looks like something out of an old Western movie, the kind Jared snuck peaks of when his dad was watching them. Jared’s not sure what to think about the leather vest but somehow his mind tells him he's got to stop drooling.

He blinks once, twice and then just nods. Words missing is a new think for him. He isn’t used to being tongue tied and it seems to happen a lot lately, especially when Jensen’s around. Jared knows what it is, has been there before. Usually he'd just solve it with a quick fuck and a smirk, but he's not sure that'd work. What keeps him here is sort of beyond him right now.

Jensen smiles, small and almost hidden but it’s there and Jared sees it. He tells his heart to quit being irrational and his dick to stop responding. It’s not what he’s here for. And it would give Danneel way too much teasing material if Jared ended up falling for someone on the mission that might define his life.
Jared almost rolls his eyes, he's being way too dramatic and there's way too little alcohol involved. He grunts in something close to happiness when Jensen hands him another beer. How they actually get their hands on the cellar full of alcohol, well, Jared’s not asking and doesn’t really want to know. He enjoys a good drink way too much – and the company for the matter.

The people here are growing on him and he’ll do hell to rat them out for something as stupid as beer in a bar. The government – at least the side he’s not working for – doesn’t need to know and doesn’t need to keep the small pleasures of life solely for itself.

“’M glad,” Jensen says with a smirk and pulls away from the bar. Jared watches him walk across the small dance floor toward the stage and doesn’t even realize he’s staring until Jim clears his throat in a less then subtle way.

“Smooth.”

“What? I have no idea what you are talking about,” Jared shrugs and hopes that he sounds more collected then he feels. This is definitely not on and he'll put a stop to it right now. He will.

Jim just shakes his head, mumbles something about kids today and produces a shot class filled with amber liquid out of nowhere. Jared’s too damn grateful to wonder about where it came from. It burns just the right way and he curses the government for keeping something this good from him.

“If I were you, I’d go up and stand by the stage. Chris and Steve are up. We got power and those two can play a mean song,” Sam says, having joined Jim behind the bar. She's looking directly at Jared. Then her eyes shift a little to the left and Jared knows it’s where Jensen's standing. Jared doesn't really have the energy to analyze the look so he nods, grabs his bottle and joins Jensen near the stage.

This should be a good night out and Jared’s going to enjoy it. The fact that Jensen sends him one of his rare real smiles has nothing to do with the way Jared sways a little closer when the music starts. It’s a coincidence really. Danneel will have a field day once she knows and there’s no way she won’t find out.


***



“So? How was your night out? Had fun?”

Jared wants to hide, because this? This is not fair.

How can she know when Jared isn’t even sure that there's something to know?

He's been gone for a month, they’ve only talked twice and still Dannel looks like she’s made the biggest discovery of the decade. Her eyes are gleaming and that smirk on her face never means anything good. He’s known her for most of their lives and there’s no way to lie to her when she’s looking at him like that.

Jared sighs, adjusts the comm-projector and settles against the tree trunk. It’s cold outside, his breath is visible in the air and he’s bundled up in so many layers that he feels all puffed up.

“It was nice,” he tries to deflect, looks at the blue sky and the clouds floating by instead of at Danneel.

“Nice?” He can hear the huff in her voice and smirks.

“Yep. Can we get to the important parts. You called me, any updates? News from the President? My parents?”

She knows he’s avoiding the real topic and for a second Jared thinks she’ll asked again but then she lets it slide and really looks at him.

“Oh, Jay.”

He doesn’t need to ask, knows what she sees on his face and he’s not happy that he’s that transparent. There won’t be anything the next time they talk, he’ll make sure of it.

“Your parents are fine, helping out at base camp, keeping the President occupied. Jeff’s actually happy about it. We had a few run-ins with government troops and some of CL Corps guys. Nothing major though. We’re running through the data you retrieved for us. There’s so much, Jared, and it’s getting more and more confusing.”

They talk for a while, about how Jared’s missed and needed, how they all hope things will turn out the way the want them to. Jared suddenly misses his family with a vengeance he’s not used to. It chokes him up a little and he ends the call with a wave and a flick of his wrist.

He’s out here for those talks and to check on the turbines. Jensen trusts him that much now and Jared doesn’t really know how to take it. They get along but they don’t exactly talk enough to be called friends. Basically, Jared’s just a ranch hand.

There’s tension between them but not in a bad way. The looks are there and the concert hasn’t been the only occasion. Jared knows what Danneel saw on his face and it worries him more than even the government agents hunting him do. The fact that Jensen is Jensen doesn’t help either.

The man’s the most beautiful Jared’s ever met in his life. The silent but strong type, maybe even a little shy but so damn gorgeous. Freckles and green eyes whose trust you have to earn, since it isn’t given freely. Jared finds himself not only drawn to the place, but to the man as well. It’s not why he’s here and he can’t afford distractions, yet he finds them around every corner.

Like watching Jensen every morning, the first few days walking barefoot into the pasture and taking Blaze for a ride, then huddled up in warm clothes and doing the same. The first snow fell a day before the gig and Jared still remembers the almost crestfallen look on Jensen’s face when he realized he couldn’t maintain his barefoot ritual anymore. The sight made Jared smile and then hide behind the curtain, feeling stupid and pathetic.

Jensen coming out of the bathroom freshly showered is a whole other level of distraction That image is burned into Jared’s brain and no matter what he does, it surfaces in the most inopportune moments.

Other than those distractions, Jared’s surprised how much he likes ranch life and taking care of everything. Much to Jensen’s amusement he’s actually named all the other animals as well, didn’t think it fair that only Blaze and Oscar got named. Jensen let him, even calls the sheep and pigs and cows and whatnot the way Jared’s decided.

It shouldn’t make his heart warm at the thought of it. It really shouldn’t.

The wind picks up, making Jared shiver. He looks up and sees the snow clouds closing in on the valley. He's been out here for so long that his toes are numb and he has to run a few miles before he feels something close to warm again. It’s peaceful and quiet out here, reminding him of the land he grew up on that his heart keeps trying to tell him that this is home.

Jared walks the rest of the way back to the Star, doesn’t regret having left the horses in the pasture. His walks always clear his head in ways his hikes down lonely highways never managed to.

He's brought back to reality by tracks in the snow. They're tire tracks and aren’t easily missed. Jared wonders if that’s stupidity or a very clever way to spread fear. He doesn’t like it either way. Stupid people never know when to stop, clever ones always think they don’t have to stop. And more importantly, both kinds are dangerous.

The house is empty, only Oscar greets him and for a moment Jared lets the spike of panic run free before he clamps down on it and looks for the note Jared knows Jensen left. He finds it on the kitchen table, breathes deep and closes his eyes. Jared jumps when the comm-link on his wrist vibrates to life. He hesitates for a second, then opens it when it vibrates again.

Oscar’s ears perk up and Jared’s kind of glad that the dog can’t go and rat him out to Jensen. The way Oscar snoops around, though, Jared wouldn’t put it past him. Especially considering the way the dog’s watching him right now. For a moment Jared thinks Oscar might be telepathic and then snorts when the dog just yawns and flops back down on his blanket in front of the fire place.

Jared settles on the window sill and looks out over snow covered pasture, Blaze is grazing with Milla right by his side. The mare never really leaving his side anymore, ever since Jared let her go out with him. Jensen had been skeptical, telling him that the horse hated being out together with Blaze. Jared took a whole two days to gloat and rub it in when Milla didn’t act up at all.

He switches the com-link open and listens to the signal connecting. Once the hologram is established, Jared waits for the audio link to join the picture.
“Agent Padalecki. It’s good to see you.”

“Hello, Jeff.” They never really bother with formalities so Jared skips it this time as well. It earns him a fatherly smile and a nod.

“Report?”

“Nothing really. Still gathering intel. I've got a hike to the lab planned. But there are tire tracks again, so I guess I should hurry up. It's old GM model, late 1990s if I had to guess. I have no proofm but it smells like Black Ops. The way Jensen looked, they’re looking for a fight.”

Jeff nods, he's taking notes as far as Jared can tell. “Nothing else?”

“No. Jeff, I don’t know yet what’s so important about the land here. What they might want with it. Any closer to decrypting the rest of the data? And who gave you the hint about this town anyway?”

“Decrypting is going slow but steady. Dani’s on it. I know she told you. And it was someone close to the Sheriff. You can trust her, she’s on our side. “

“There are sides now? That doesn’t sound too good.” Jared shifts on the windows sill and grants Jeff a look outside. He hears the slow intake of air and feels smug about the fact that he’s in the actual place and not just looking at it. He knows Jeff misses home and that remembers way more about it then Jared does.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. It really is. Seeing this, I want you to be careful, Jared. This could very well be the reason for Black Ops regrouping. Something's happening. Please don’t do anything stupid. I can only cover your ass so much,” Jeff says it all with a smile but Jared hears the warning. He instantly understands that forces within their own operation are working against them. The government isn’t what it used to be and Jared fears for the worst – fears for the President.

“Look after them”

“I promise I will. Nothing will happen to them. Not again.”

They don’t need to say names, it’s clear who’s meant. Jared’s family will always be his first priority, and consequently, Jeff’s as well, seeing as Jared’s his best agent.

“Okay, gotta end this before the power influx is discovered. Be careful, Jared.” With that, Jeff’s image folds in on itself and vanishes completely within a second. The communicator goes dark and Jared takes it off, putting it back into its hiding place. Cold metal slides against his skin when he withdraws his hand from the bag.

Jared feels good knowing that it’s still there. It’s his life insurance and probably Jensen’s now as well.


***



Milla snorts right in his face when he tries to comb through the tangles of her mane but she holds still. It’s still early, the morning sun fighting through the clouds. Jensen’s gone already.

The snow crunches under her hoofs and Jared’s glad he listened to Jeff and brought actual boots. It’s not like he doesn’t know winter, but it’s been a while since he was subjected to the real thing.

Oscar’s there at his feet, munching on a stick produced from somewhere under the thin layer of snow. Jared wonders where Jensen is. He hasn’t seen the other man much during the last few days The only thing he knows is that Jensen needs to check the wind turbines and make sure they’re equipped to weather the winter storms.

There’s something else, though. Something’s up with Jensen and Jared wants to find out what. He’s nosy by nature and he can’t leave things well enough alone when they make him wonder.

The air’s clear, sun bright and low in the sky. Winter weather's coming from the mountains lately and Jared finds himself enjoying it. It’s so different from what he’s used to and reminds him so much of home that he sometimes just stands there and takes it in. But he never dares to look at the range that signals his family’s heritage, the one that's lost to them now. He sighs. It's also the one that some powerful people couldn’t get their hands on fast enough, no matter the consequences or collateral damage.

It stopped hurting a long time ago. Now it just brings up the anger he needs for the fight. A fight he's been preparing for ever since they reached the capitol and were accepted into the President’s inner circle.

He needs to test his guns. The thought is so sudden that Jared jerks, apologizes to Milla when the mare whickers in protest. His guns, the one and only thing Jared still holds holy among his possessions. He hasn’t thought about them in days, too busy working, too busy trying to tell himself that ogling Jensen is not a good pastime and failing.

Looking at the rising sun ,Jared decides to seize the chance. He pats Milla on the back and whistles for Oscar to follow him back to the house. His steps falter a little when he realizes how domestic that just was and how he actually felt good just acting on his instincts instead of thinking about his next step.

Usually it’s the rebellion ruling his life, keeping him in that state of constant paranoia and tension. But his new life, temporary though it may be, is so different that Jared finds himself tense at the weirdes times, only to sink back into these new feelings of relaxation, something he never knew he could possess.

Oscar’s waiting for him at the back door and Jared dutifully cleans his snowy wet paws before he lets them both inside. He doesn’t need another dressing down from Jensen for letting the dog walk through the house and leaving prints all over.

Jared finds a note pinned to the fridge this time. Gone to town, Jim needs help. Jensen. It's scrawled in blocky letters on a piece of paper that was probably once white, but now has a yellowish tinge to it.

Jared takes the stairs up to his room two at a time. They creek and groan under his weight, reminding him of how old this house really is. He appreciates the sounds. It’s so much better than the clinical cleanness of apartments in the city. No sound but the swish of electric doors or the hum of the fridge.

To him, this house represents life. The every shifting wood planks, the dust that floats in the rays of sunlight streaming through the windows. The old glass panes in the doors and the furniture well-kept and lovingly restored. All of this make Jared feel like he’s finally in a place where he can live again.

He reaches into the closet for his bag and has to push Oscar aside with a gentle pat and murmured words. “This is no place for a good dog, you know. I should leave you in the house. Don’t want get you hurt or anything.”

Oscar barks once as if confirming Jared’s thoughts and then trots out of the room. It makes Jared smile. Almost everything around here makes Jared smile these days.
Jared changes into his workout clothes and almost sighs when he put his running shoes on. Right now he’s glad he spent a shit load of money on them and that they work in snowy conditions.

The air’s crisp against his skin when he steps outside again. He leaves Oscar lying on the kitchen floor, slings his bag over his shoulder and sets off in a light run.


***



The shot hits the imaginary bulls eye again and Jared grins. He’s sweaty from the work out, feeling warm and refreshed at the same time. His muscles groan and sing from the moves he put them through. He feels alive.

His breath is visible in the air and Jared thinks it’s gotten colder over the last few hours. When he looks around, he realizes that the sun’s almost gone and that Jensen'll probably be back by now. He grabs his things, the freshly cleaned guns, and stows them carefully away.

The walk back is a little less fun than his first track into the woods was. Jared feels exhaustion making its way through his body. He curses himself for being so stupid and staying out for so long. He should've known better, he'd learned all the basics of survival during the first week in training and has survived so many situations in life that it would be really pathetic to kill himself now by losing his focus.

It’s dark by the time Jared reaches the house, lights are on inside which clearly means that, for once, the electricity hasn’t been cut off for the night. Jared lost time out in the woods. He'd never intended to stay out this long and feels a little guilty for not telling Jensen where he went.

There’s music coming from inside the house and Jared stops for a second at the door and listens. It’s nothing recorded and nothing he’s ever heard before. The sounds are clear and the voice strong. Suddenly Jared knows who's singing and freezes all over again.

It's Jensen. He's playing a real guitar and singing. It sounds like nothing Jared’s ever encountered before. The words, the music, are beautiful and entrancing. The song is a little on the rock side of things but it fits, somehow. Jensen’s voice carries it steady and strong, like the lyrics belong there and need to be sung with that exact voice.

Jared’s fascinated, awestruck even and that doesn’t happen all too often anymore. But Oscar breaks the spell, barking when he sees Jared at the door. Jensen’s voice is gone so abruptly that Jared feels himself startled at the loss. He wants to hear it again, now. But instead of saying so, he steps inside and finds Jensen at the kitchen table, face red and eyes fixed on the papers spread out on the surface.

“Um, sorry, didn’t want to interrupt.” Jared doesn’t know why he suddenly sounds shy but seeing Jensen this way is doing things to him. Things that shouldn’t be there in the first place, since they're only a distraction and he doesn’t need those.

“No, it’s okay. I was just gonna try and make sense of the mess in the papers. Singing helps me relax.” Jensen shrugs.

“It sounded great. Old song?”

“Thanks and no. I wrote it with a friend a few years back. The music itself is copied from old songs but the song’s not.”

Jensen shrugs again, then looks up and freezes. Green eyes are going wide and Jared would laugh at the sight if he suddenly wasn’t aware of how he must look like. All sweaty and muddy and leaving snow all over the floor.

“Oh damn, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make a mess. I’ll clean it up, I promise.”

Jensen’s only response is a gurgled sound and more red on his cheeks. “Uh … sure. Wasn’t about that. You look … uh … fit.” With that Jensen gathers the papers and leaves in a rush. Jared can only stand there and stare. That was unexpected and it makes Jared refrain from stomping on that little bit of hope suddenly rising up inside of his chest.

Then he looks down and grins. He forgot to put his jacked back on, he's standing in Jensen's kitchen wearing a thermal long-sleeved shirt that shows of his muscles in nice ways. Good to know that Jensen’s reacting to it. Jared plans to wear it off more often from now on.

He’s about to start cleaning up when a sheet of paper, having fallen under the table, catches his eye. Jensen must've lost it in the rush to get away. Jared grabs it and reads. Then he frowns and feels anger bubbling up inside of him.

“Jensen!” He bellows and only slightly feels remorseful when Oscar barks and hides under the table.

Jensen comes flying into the kitchen, looking wild and worried. Jared almost grins again. “What? What happened. You okay?”

Jared twitches, feels his chest grow warm at the questions and tries not to be too annoyed at himself for it. But then he destroys it all by holding up the letter. He watches Jensen grow to stone, face hard, lips pressed into a thing line. It’s not a pretty sight and Jared realizes that Jensen’s not just the nice guy all year round.

Jensen can be fierce and strong and really, it shouldn’t be this hot to Jared.

“Where did’ya get that from?” Jensen almost growls.

“You dropped it when you ran out. Found it under the table. Never thought you’d be making deals with CL Corp.”

Jared knows it’s unfair, knows that Jensen probably has no other chance but to deal with them but seeing the logo, the letter makes something switch in Jared’s brain and he becomes slightly judgmental. Even if doesn’t want to be. But he’s fought CL Corp for so long that hating them is so ingrained into him that it’s hard not to fight anymore.

“You know who they are?” Jensen’s not backing down and Jared admires it because he knows what he looks like when he wants to come across as the fighting machine they build him up to be.

“Of course. Actively trying for a monopole on the power producing industry and so deeply involved in the government that they might as well be the government. Jensen, I grew up in the capitol. Everyone knows who CL Corp is and no one’s making deals with them voluntarily. ”

“I’m not.”

“What?”

“Making deals with them voluntarily,” Jensen says, face held so that Jared can see the tiny scar that’s there now, remembers the bruises Jensen sported when Jared showed up on the ranch.

He understands what’s going on and figures that he finally talk to Jensen about it without risking his own cover. He’s not ready to let that fall yet. “They want your land?”

“Obviously. I declined. Every single offer. Now they came up with another way. Suing me and threatening with prison. It would mean losing everything without a chance of appeal. Because apparently my turbines are illegal and CL Corp. has the final word.”

Jensen sighs, defeated and takes the letter from Jared’s hand.

“There’s nothing I can do about it, Jared. I just want to survive this last winter. It’s hard to come by as it is but knowing it will be all gone in spring ... Well, I hope I’ll get a good price for the animals. Money can do you good in prison, I hear.”

They stand there for a while, looking at each other, unsure what to say. Then Jared sits down, grabs the whiskey bottle on the far corner of the table as well as two glasses and pours them each one.

“We’ll fight it?”

“We?”

The light flickers, one, twice and then shuts off completely. The hum of the fridge stops so suddenly that the silence that follows is awkward. Jensen sets to lightening candles and then sighs. It’s when Jared realizes that he hasn’t answered yet. Why he says what he says next he can’t explain. Jensen’s not a rebel, probably doesn’t know anything about the fight that's raging within the nation’s government. But there’s something in Jensen’s eyes, the defiance and desire to find a way to fight, that compels Jared to say it.

“Yes. I’ll help you. If you want me, too.”

Jensen lights a candle on the table, then the oil lamp and finally just looks at him, before taking a sip and studying him some more. “Who are you, Jared Padalecki?”

“That's a good question. Sometimes I don’t know anymore. But maybe I can figure it out again through helping you.” It’s not the answer Jensen's been looking for, Jared can see it in the frown on his face and the uncertainty lingering in his eyes. But it’s all Jared can offer right now though.


***




“You sure that this is the right way?” Jared asks with a smirk for what must be the twentieth time. Steve just flicks him the bird.

“Shut up, dude. I’ve got no idea how Jensen deals with you. You never shut up.” It’s said in a friendly way and Jared laughs. It feels good to be outside and have company for once.

“You know, never heard of harvesting berries in the snow.” It is a little strange and Jared wonders what kind of fruit he’ll find in the end. There've been so many genetically enhanced and tempered things in the past that he’s not really sure that harvesting so close to a former government lab is a good idea.

“They’ve been ripe for a while, got that way before the first snow. We let them get iced over, makes the juice so much better. And people in town love the pie that comes out of it.” Steve carefully steps around a boulder peeking out of the snow and makes sure that Jared sees where he sets his feet.

It’s been a steep climb up. Demanding in parts and Jared feels it in every muscle but he couldn’t let the opportunity slide when Steve showed up on the ranch and invited him along. Jared has to see what’s up there in that lab. They stop so suddenly, standing in front of the entrance, that Jared stumbles and come face to face with a revolver. He raises his head slowly, carefully keeping the gun in focus and then looks at Steve.

Steve, who doesn’t much look like a cook in small town diner anymore, and who’s looking at Jared with something close to amusement in his eyes. “So. Who are you?”
“Why the hell should I tell you?” Jared says low and straightens up in a way that keeps his full size hidden from Steve’s eye. He is trained, after all.
Steve grins then, waves the gun and raises an eyebrow.

“Yeah, okay. Got me there.” Jared replies, with a slight, strained, smile.

“Go ahead then, tell me who you are, Jared.” Steve motions him to step closer to the entrance, a move that will keep them hidden from anyone that happens to walk by. Not that anyone’s up here but them. Jared’s pretty sure no one followed them, not even the guys in the cars watching Jensen’s ranch.

Jared sighs and concedes. There isn’t anything he can do now anyway but actually talk to Steve and find out what the other man wants. “Name’s Jared Padalecki.”

He’s about to go on when he sees Steve’s eyes widen a little, not much but enough to make it obvious that Jared’s words did something to him.

“Jeff’s little brother.” It’s not a question but Jared nods anyway, then shivers when snow drops on top him from the overhanging part of the rock covering the entrance to the lab.

The gun’s lowered then and Steve smiles, different now, trusting and Jared wants to shake him, tell him just because someone says something you like or know doesn't mean you should trust them so easily. It also saves Steve from getting his hand broken through one of Jared’s disarming moves. Well, Jared wasn’t keen on hurting someone anyway.

“Relax, man. Jeff’s told me you’d be around. Just couldn’t remember your name.”

“Huh?” Jared doesn’t feel all that eloquent.

“Dude, I was your brother’s best friend way back when. Got back into contact when me ‘n Sandy joined the rebellion during bootcamp. No one can say, the Army isn’t good for something.” Steve smirks again and Jared can just see why the rebellion wants someone like him on their side.

“Jeff told me to keep an eye on you, that CL’s men are after you.That CL’s got their slimy hands in the things happening around here." He pauses, then says, "sorry about the gun.”

In one fluid motion Steve turns away from Jared, reaches behind a metal panel, pulls a lever and wrenches to door open.

“Steve. I … guess I don’t remember much about you.” Jared’s not looking at the other man but at the pitch black hallway that’s open in front of him.

“That’s okay, man. It’s been years. Heard all about your heroics. Gotta say I’m impressed.”

Jared smiles when Steve switches on a flashlight and moves into the hallway. Batteries are rare, as are flashlights. Jared guesses that this little rebel cell gets equipped like every other cell as well, through smuggling and connections.

“Just fighting for what I think is right.” Jared shrugs and moves further into the mountain. His heart beats in a rhythm he hasn’t felt since his first solo mission. It’s exciting and his senses are on high alert.

“Yeah, aren't we all. Gonna fight for Jen, too?” It comes out of nowhere and makes Jared stop short. He doesn’t know why Steve would bring Jensen up now and blinks into the darkness. That his mind slips to an image of Jensen smiling down at him from Blaze’s back isn’t really helping.

“What do you mean?”

“Jared, I know Jensen has problems. I’ve seen the tire tracks, seen him with the bruises. It’s been happening to others and I guess it’s one of the reasons Jeff sent you. Not just because you needed to get away.”

There’s no need to deny anything now so Jared just starts moving again and lets his hands slide along the walls to feel the way. “Yes, to all of it. Something’s going on here and I intend to find out what. And yes, we think that CL is connected to it. I found data suggesting they have something set up around here. I can only guess what it is, but with the recent land acquisitions it’s becoming clear that the area here plays a crucial part.”

Steve huffs out a laugh and shines the flashlight carefully around a corner, then motions Jared to follow. “You sound like an agent. Like a cop.”

“Because I am. President’s Guard. Officially anyway.”

“Huh … figured it must be something with military but this means you actually know what you're doing. Fine by me.” Steve sounds casual but Jared can hear the appreciation on his voice and smiles to himself.

“Thanks. As for Jensen, I’ll do my damnest to let him keep his land and life.” It’s all Jared can say about that anyway. Steve just nods in the shadows of the flashlight and doesn’t say anything.

They make their way slowly but steadily through the hallway, only lead by the dim light of the flashlight. The silence that settles between them isn’t uncomfortable though it is tense.

“I’ll kill you if you break his heart.”

Jared actually starts, blinking in surprise and then gapes into the darkness. Because, what the actual hell?

“Don’t play dumb, Padalecki. See the way you watch him when you guys are in town. He’s watching right back. Just so you know.”

It’s more info then Jared can process right now and it’s really not the right moment or place for it anyway. So he just grunts, pushes Steve forward and scowls when the other man outright laughs at him.

Jared’s pretty sure he’s not that obvious. Thinking back on how he answered Steve’s question about helping Jensen, Jared wants to facepalm, very hard. Maybe he is obvious after all.

The tunnel seems to be endless and Jared’s close to losing his patience when there’s a loud clang echoing from the walls.

“Shit,” is all Steve says before he grabs Jared and drags him backwards, backs pressed against the wall and Jared realizes that sometime along the way, the rocky surface turned into a smooth metallic one. Jared curses when the clanging sound continues and then the lights come on. One by one and it won’t be long before they’re in the middle of a brightly lit hallway.

Then Jared feels himself flail and losing the floor under his feet, but only for an instant. Then darkness again as Steve pulls him through a door.
“Be quiet,” Steve whispers in his ear, keeps a hand pressed against Jared’s back and Jared pressed against the wall.

Jared can only assume where they are, but judging from the shelf digging into his shoulder he thinks it might be a supply room or something similar. Footsteps outside and Jared tenses, this reminds him a little too much of his last mission. Only this time there’s not rescue team waiting outside.

The air’s surprisingly warm inside the room and less moldy than he suspected. Air ventilation that seem to both work and actually still be in use. Then voices join the footsteps but it’s too muffled to make out what’s being said. It frustrates Jared a little but there’s nothing he can do about it. Right now he only hopes that he and Steve will be able to get out of there undetected and alive.

They stay silent for long time after the voices have faded into nothing, staying pressed close to the wall and don’t make a sound at all.

Finally Steve speaks. “Was afraid they’d be back but hope they wouldn’t.”

“CL Corp?”

“And Black Ops. Saw them here months ago, when I was up for strawberries. Sandy and me saw them go in here. We followed, barely made it out again. Sent word to Jeff.” Steve’s still whispering, Jared can feel his breath against his ear.

“So, gotta thank you guys for the intel then? Nice. You know what’s in here?”

“Not for sure. But you wanting to go up here, asking around about this place. It made me suspicious. I know why now. I just saw the lab through a door panel, never went inside.”

Jared shifts against the wall, gets the door knob under his hand and twists, blinks against the harsh light out in the hallway and risks a glance. He can see cameras now but is pretty sure they’re offline. It'd take up too many resources even for Black Ops and CL Corp to sustain those.

“Lights are still on. Think we can risk it? You know the way?”

“To the office, yeah. Dunno about risking it but how long do you want to stay in here?”

Steve’s right. They can’t stay in here for too much longer. Neither of them know if or when the lights will be turned off again. But Jared won’t risk sneaking a peek when this operation is totally unplanned and way out of his control.

“Let’s get out of here. Gotta try another day.”

Steve pats him on the shoulder, nods in approval and sneaks out first.

They make it out and down the mountain without getting caught and without saying another word. Jared’s breathing only slows down when the gates of the Star come into view and he can actually relax a little. No one followed them, but Jared’s still not sure about the cameras being offline. He’ll tell Jeff about it as soon as he can.
“Shit,” Steve grumps for the fourth time and Jared can only agree.

They also decide not to tell Jensen about their little excursion into the lab.




05 Death to My Hometown



Winter is in full swing when Jensen decides that Jared has to be even more social or otherwise he’ll be a depressed mess halfway through. The fact that Jared seems to hang out with Steve more and more and seems to loves to hike up the mountain doesn’t really count in Jensen’s opinion. Steve’s just one person anyway.

Why Jensen thinks this a good idea he doesn’t know. After all, Jared’s still just a ranch hand and though the more Jensen repeats it to himself the less he believes it.

He’s not so behind in the world that he doesn’t recognize how things are changing between them. There’s something about the way Jared has settled in with ease and the way he never looks at that one mountain range that Jensen knows has to mean something. He just never asks for reasons he can’t explain.

It also surprises him how fast he's gotten used to having another person around. Jensen’s pretty sure that the fact that it’s Jared has helped a lot.

The snow has been coming down heavy these last few days and they both long for being anywhere else but scooped up on the house. Jared pacing the grounds whenever he dares to step outside and Jensen has caught him more than once doing strange looking exercises Jensen’s pretty sure are some kind of martial arts.

And Jared has been acting a little weird lately, ever since he came back from the first trip with Steve and Jensen doesn’t know if he wants to find out what it’s all about or not. He sometimes thinks he hears Jared talking to someone but then the phones never get used and the electricity is turned off most of the times now, so Jensen not sure what he hears. He never asks about that, either.

Jensen’s sister coming back home for Thanksgiving and her annual barbecue is a good opportunity for both of them to get out of the house and have a reason to brave the way into town through the wall-high piles of snow.

Jared’s busy fixing something in Jensen’s bathroom when Jensen decides to just ask. Oscar’s there at his side and Jensen grins because it’s his dog’s special sign of support. Jensen thinks he doesn’t need it, he’s only asking Jared along for a barbecue after all.

“Jared?” Jensen asks through the closed bathroom door.

“Yeah?” It comes muffled through the wood, followed by clang and a low curse. Jensen grins even more.

“There’ll be a barbecue tonight. Down in town. My sister always hosts one when she comes home during the holidays. It won’t be much, not at this time of the year but it’ll be a nice evening,” Jensen says, hoping he didn’t just sound like a complete tool.

The door opens and Jared sticks his head through, amused look in his face. “Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Maybe?” Jensen doesn’t know where it’s coming from but every time Jared starts to flirt with him Jensen can’t resist answering the same way. It’s been going on for a while, weeks probably and Jensen hadn’t realized when it switched from the playful getting to know each other kind of flirting that'd been there from the beginning to something more.

“Okay. A barbecue in the middle of winter in the snow? Classy.”

“Are you complaining about grilled meat, alcohol and pies?”

“Never,” Jared grins. “Okay. Let’s go. We can both use some time away from the house. And I get to meet your family.”

“Yeah, you will. We’ll take the horses, no use in freezing to death before the party. “

“It’s a date.” With that Jared vanishes behind the door again but not before giving Jensen a smile that reaches his eyes and shows off his dimples.

“It’s a date,” Jensen says to Oscar. He gets a bark in return and blushes when he hears Jared’s laugh through the door. Jensen’s not so sure that Jared meeting his family is such a good idea, though.


***


“He’s interesting. And hot. Like, very hot.” Jensen doesn’t jump or choke on his burger but Mac suddenly appearing at his side surprises him nonetheless. He looks over to where Jared’s involved in a lively discussion with Jensen’s dad, brother and Steve.

“Tall, dark and handsome. Oh and not to forget, mysterious. Just your type.” His sister smirks but there’s something in her eyes that tells him she’s just as cautious about Jared as he is. He still doesn’t know much about the other man.

And he thinks his baby sister shouldn’t be talking this way. “Yeah. You just basically described him.”

“What do you know about him?”

“He’s from the East. He's lived on the road for several years and does odd jobs wherever he ends up after another journey across the country. He’s good with the animals. They love him. And he’s been a great help. That’s about it.” Jensen shrugs and knows that there should be more by now.

Mac just nods though and continues watching Jared. “He seems to fit in, though. Glad you have someone out there. Especially now.”

That makes Jensen’s head snap up and frown. Mac shouldn’t know about the problems he’s having. She shouldn’t know about anything concerning the ranch or the fact that no one’s taking the produced power off his hands anymore and that money’s running lower than it ever has before. She doesn't need to know know that someone powerful is threatening him.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, rumor has it that several farmers and ranchers have been presented with offers. And that the persuasions haven’t been all that nice. Some have sold already, fleeing as soon as the contracts were signed. Jensen, Dad and Josh think you’ll be the next.” Mac looks at him, concern all over her face.

Jensen doesn’t really know how to answer that. He doesn’t want to worry his family and nor does he want to get them involved. Their lives haven’t been easy but Jensen doesn’t need to make them harder. He’s about to answer when he feels a strong presences at his side and almost sighs in relief.

“We have it covered, Mac,” Jared says all cheerful and honest. No one would expect he's the same strong, hard man Jensen's witnessed when Jared came back from his workouts in the woods. There’s always something fierce and feral about him then. And yet right now he’s just a charming young man with dimples.

And it’s working on Mac. She seems smitten and smiles back. “Yeah? Because if anyone’s going to hurt Jensen, our family will ask for revenge.” It’s clear that she’s not just speaking about the threats to the landowners and Jensen fights hard not to blush. He doesn’t know why he’s suddenly prone to do so.

“Oh, I can imagine, Ms. Mackenzie,” Jared answers with a smirk and Jensen thinks Jared will fit right into his family. “No one will hurt Jensen.”

It sounds like a promise and for a moment Jensen’s speechless. But the moment's broken when Jared presses a beer into his hand before going off again to be social. Jared’s turned out to be quite a social butterfly once they made it to the barbecue. He’s seeing a side of Jared that's been hidden so far and Jensen likes what he sees.

Jared’s open, laid back and friendly. It makes Jensen wonder what kind of life the man let to make him the serious guy Jensen saw in his kitchen the day Jared offered his help. As he watches Jared, he thinks that there’s something about him that Jensen can’t quite pinpoint.



***




They're stumbling through the snow, horses lead by their reins, both of them a little too drunk to be safe on a horse back. The night’s clear, no snow, no clouds. The moon’s bright enough to let them safely walk the narrow path up to the Silver Star. The snow on the ground's just manageable enough and they make their way slowly, talking about random things and nothing at all, just enjoying each other’s company.

“I like this town,” Jared says, patting Milla while he looks at his feet, trying not to stumble over roots hidden under the snow. “Nice people. I like your family, too.”
“Thanks. I think they liked you, too.” Jensen’s pretty sure they did but he’s not in the right mind to actually discuss this now. He just feels all warm and fuzzy that Jared likes it here. He hopes Jared will stay around once they survive winter and the thing with the ranch.

But where would Jared stay if there’s no ranch anymore? Where would Jensen stay? He’s dizzy now, sadness is starting to overwhelm him as well as fear and he doesn’t know how to suppress it. Turns out, though, that Jared’s voice is the right thing to keep those dark thoughts away.

“Why are there so few young people around?”

“It’s a hard life, here. Not much to do if you don’t have a job. They leave for the bigger towns, the cities or the military. It’s like a slow death to my hometown and no one’s doing anything about it. Can’t stop it, though. Money’s important, as is surviving. If ya can’t do it here, you have to find another place.”

“That’s sad.”

“It is. And now with the threats and people selling their land, things'll be even worse. Can’t afford to keep paying for supplies for much longer. No one’s buying power from me anymore.” Jensen didn’t plan to spill that, not tonight but for some reason talking to Jared makes him open up. Though it might just be the alcohol.

“Jensen. Why didn’t you say?”

Jared's stopped them both in the middle of the path, hands on Jensen shoulders and eyes strangely focused on Jensen.

Jared’s face is half in the shadows, hidden from the moonlight and from Jensen’s view. He looks like a ghost, like a promise of things to come. Mysterious and strong, dark and hard. It makes Jensen’s knees go weak.

“There’s nothing I can do about it. Doubt there’s anything you can do either.”

Jared laughs then, dark and not all that happy. It makes Jensen shiver, eyes focused on the man in front of him, watching. When Jared speaks, it’s low, almost too quiet for Jensen to hear it.

“Be glad you don’t know my connections. You’d be shocked and probably hate me.”

“Then don’t tell me.” Jensen means it, he doesn’t want to know who Jared’s connected with. He wants to stay ignorant and not be involved in in anything. Because right now he thinks Jared’s mysterious history is a bigger danger than his own problems . He’s not saying it out loud, of course, because this intense Jared frightens him a little.

It also turns him on as nothing else, but that gets instantly buried deep inside his mind.

“Okay. I won’t. Come on, let’s go home. We’re not in the right mind to discuss this.”

Before Jensen has the chance to answer and agree, Jared’s turned and is leading the way. Those five minutes just now must have been some of the weirdest in Jensen’s life.



***




Jensen wakes up to coffee and pancakes.

It’s such a delicious smell, spreading through the house, that he forgoes his morning routine and stumbles down into the kitchen. He half expects his momma to be there, but he's only slightly startled when it’s Jared at the counter.

Jensen stops in the door way, watching him for a minute. It’s a sight to behold and he wants to keep it for a while longer. Jared’s swinging his hips and singing under his breath while he creates stacks of pancakes on two plates.

“Morning.”

Jensen’s a little disappointed when Jared just turns and grins. He’d hoped for some embarrassing scene but then again, he’s never managed to surprise Jared before.
“Morning.”

“How did I earn the pleasure?” Jensen asks nodding towards the pancakes.

“Oh, just thought after last night I could try and prevent a hangover as soon as possible. We need to get the hay stacked today. Need all the nutrients we can get,” Jared says smirking as he hands over a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, Jensen didn’t know they had the ingredients for.

“And I never really thanked you. Seeing as it's Thanksgiving and all, I thought I should. I mean, I’m glad you gave me a chance here, let me work for my stay. I appreciate it.”

Jensen never heard Jared ramble and he thinks it’s cute in ways it shouldn’t be. He smirks and actually likes when Jared ducks his head to hide his face. It makes Jared suddenly seem more human, the fact that the big strong man can be embarrassed about something.

“No worries. Needed a ranch hand. And well … thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

They have breakfast with little words but Jensen likes it. It feels comfortable and Jensen wonders when Jared started to fit into his life. He’s tempted to think that with Jared’s offer to help things are actually looking up.

But he’s too much a realist to give in to that urge. Things look dire and there aren’t many ways out of it. He could sell, could accept the offer that’s not even a real one, taking the land from him with barely enough money to leave town.

He could wait it out, see what might happen and risks his, Jared’s and his family’s lives. He’s not sure he’s willing to let it come to that. He could fight as well but the lack of ideas how to isn’t making that the likely way to react.

It’s kind of hopeless.

Looking into Jared’s eyes though is telling a whole different story and Jensen wonders what Jared will be able to do to help him.






06 This Depression



Things are okay for a while.

Jared checks in with Jeff every week. The lab turned out to be a bust after all. Which is more than just a little disappointing after risking a lot during their first trip into the mountain.

Nothing to find but some fuel and car supplies, no papers and no data to retrieve. He and Steve have been back several times, never encountering anybody else and never getting anywhere either.

They did find mining supplies in one of the many underground hangars, wondering about the ancient technology but being too disappointed about not finding more. Jeff, though, marked that information down with a nod and not much else. The distinct lack of reaction, told Jared that there’s more to it.

There isn’t much else he can do.

He's stuck on the ranch due to the masses of snow. Jeff reminds him to lay low, telling him that no one knows where he is and they want to keep it that way.

But Jared feels something brewing. He know this because he’s getting restless, even snapping at Jeff. He’s trying to avoid Jensen, too. He doesn’t want to subject him to his mood swings. Jared’s feeling like being settled down somewhere suddenly isn’t all that great anymore. He feels caged in, the wall closing in around him and the air stifling and choking.

Danneel seems to be the only one getting him to calm down these days. “Jay … Jay, shut up.”

Jared growls when Danneel laughs at his pout. He’s really not feeling all that friendly towards his best friend.

“So?” She asks.

He snaps back at her, unable to control himself. “What?”

“How’s it going with Jensen?”

“It’s not. It feels more like a psychotic break right now than anything remotely romantic or friendly even. God, Dani. I feel like someone’s trying to stretch me as far as possible. I feel like there’s something coming. I feel it.”

He’s pacing up and down in his room, straightening things here and there, folds his clothes with military precision and finally ends up on the window sill again. He can see Jensen outside, hacking fire wood, smiles and then reins it in, remembering Danneel in the last second.

“I saw that.”

“Shut up. Not now, Dani, please. I can’t." He stops, then starts again. "Tell me about how things are."

She doesn’t call him on it, just nods and Jared loves his best friend a little more.

“It’s getting rougher, Jay. There are fights all over the place and the government troops seem to be less inclined than ever to protect the common citizen. They see threats everywhere. The President’s word isn’t worth much anymore and companies who're close to the other part of government are offering more money than anyone should possess to ensure their own safety.”

Jared’s listens worriedly, frowns when Danneel tells him that Jeff’s trying to get their parents out of the capitol. It’s getting too close to a civil war. Then she tells him that they might have something on CL Corp, saved from the data he stole and pointing toward bribery, genetic manipulations and a dizzying amount of broken laws.

Jared hopes it’ll help them in their fight. Other than Jared’s caged tiger act and feelings of impending doom, things seem to be okay.



***



Then the phone calls start. Calls to the house. Electricity doesn't shut off anymore and the phone rings at random times – no one on the other line.
They barely make it through one night anymore without being awoken by the phone and Jared knows, just knows, who’s behind it.

CL is powerful enough to circumvent government regulations and making it seem they’re working as the government. It’s one of the disadvantages of having people running the nation who are corrupt, weak or undecided about which side to take. It’s a mess and people are suffering. It makes Jared so angry sometimes that he takes off into the woods to hit the next best tree.

He never hurts himself, knows how to hit to protect his hands, but he knows he worries Jensen when he does it. But it’s the only way to vent of his frustrations without actually hurting anyone.

Jensen takes the calls with stoic dignity, never even tries to deny that they worry him. Jared’s glad that Jensen’s not hiding that anymore. Ever since the talk they had, and when Jared offered his help, Jensen seems glad, almost relieved, to not be alone in this mess anymore.

Jared thinks that whoever is making the calls suspects Jensen to be alone and frightened on the ranch, easily scared and thus pushed toward selling. He has to grin at those thoughts as he looks at Jensen, stoic face hard and determined, and thinks they have no idea who Jensen Ackles really is.

Jared’s out behind the barn, hacking firewood when he feels something in the air. It’s the same feeling he always gets right before a dangerous mission. There’s so much tension in the air that it makes his skin prickle despite the cold. He almost drops the axe but then remembers that he’s not carrying a gun on the ranch. So he grips it tighter and moves slowly around the barn, back pressed against the wooden slats of the wall. He’s glad fresh snow fell overnight, this way it’s not crunching under his shoes so much and he can try to be silent while he moves.

There’s someone at the front door, looking through the glass and then walking around. They're clearly searching for someone and Jared’s gripping the axe even tighter. The person’s hidden behind a hoodie and a black thick winter coat. They don’t look tall but Jared’s learned the bad way that things can be hidden under clothes.

He slowly makes his way toward the front porch and the person still looking inside. He’s about to announce his presence and maybe swing the axe when a shout sounds from the other side of the house.

It’s Jensen.

“Jared, stop it!”

The person turns around and shrieks at the side of Jared standing there, body drawn to its full height and an axe gripped tight in his hand. His face must look furious because he sees green eyes pop open wide with surprise and no certain amount of fear.

“Holy hell, Mrs. A.” Jared sighs and drops the axe into the snow, taking a deep breath. He almost sinks to his knees in relief and coughs when Jensen throws him a murderous look.

“What? She was sneaking around. Didn’t know your momma could look like a ninja in her winter coat,” Jared mumbles and then turns to Jensen mother again who know looks less frightened and more impressed.

“I’m sorry, Sherry. With the rumors floating around we’ve been a little bit paranoid.” And Jared can see that it’s the right thing to say. Jensen relaxes, looks grateful all of a sudden and Sherry smiles knowingly.

“I get it, Jared. Should have made my presence known. It was a spontaneous idea to come up her and look after you guys. Jim’s up there with the carriage to get some wood and I just joined him. He’ll be here in an hour to get me back to town. It makes me feel so much better that Jensen has someone around here looking out for him. You gave me quite a scare, but I appreciate the notion behind it.”

They don’t tell her about the calls, invite her in for tea and actually have a good afternoon until Jim shows up. Jim leaves them with some more wood and a promise to look out and be careful. And they learn that yet another rancher was threatened and will sell his land.



***




Things take a turn for the worse after Sherry’s unannounced visit and the news it brought. They become more paranoid, disconnecting the phone at the night because they need their sleep now, more than ever.

A few days later, Jared finds tire tracks on the path into the woods. Fresh tracks. Again. He feels watched and he doesn’t like it. Now they know he’s here and he hopes they haven’t figured out who he is. It would endanger Jensen even more and Jared’s far from wanting that. On the contrary, he wants to protect Jensen with all he has, even with his life.

He can’t say when it happened, just somehow along the way. But Jared thinks that maybe it's been there since that first day. It’s the reason why he offered his help instead of just doing his job and then disappearing again.

The heavy snow's not helping with their mood and Jared knows he’s too on edge to be good company. He barely gets to talk to Jeff due to Jensen always being around and it makes him even more cranky. He needs news from home, needs to know that he can call in back up if he needs to.

Of course, Jared's not the only one suffering. Jensen’s caught in his own dark thoughts and they barely talk anymore. There’s no flirting anymore and Jared’s missing it, even though he has no business to. He tries to distract himself with cleaning his guns behind locked doors and ignoring Jensen going on a house cleaning rampage. But it never quite works.

Thoughts of Jensen always enter his mind, making him pause in his automatic movements checking over his guns. He’s worried about Jensen, though he never planned for the other man to get under his skin. He knows it’s mutual but now's not the right time to pursue it. Not with the threats hanging over them. Jared hiding from one part of the government and Jensen preparing to lose what makes up his life.

Jared sometimes feels like he's preparing the battle of the Alamo. He feels trapped, with only a few men against an unknown power. It sends adrenaline through his body and makes him tense beyond any mission has ever managed to. And still, he feels himself drawn toward Jensen when they are not busy hiding from each other or being moody bitches.

The calls never cease but finally Jensen’s tired enough to unhook the phone almost all day.

Jared told Jeff, who got the message to the Sheriff, that the phone line on the ranch seems to be unstable to do problems on the net. Jared’s grateful for Jeff covering for them. He doesn’t need anyone to know how much those calls have gotten to them both.

Jensen sings most nights again, slow and sometimes sad songs.

It fits the mood but Jared still joins him in the living room and listens. It gives them both the time to unwind and ignore everything else. It lets Jared forget for a while, not completely but just so much that he can close his eyes and enjoy the music and Jensen’s voice.

Jared wishes he had Danneel around.

She’d know how to dissolve this tension. She'd know how to make them talk. She’s gotten him to spill his innermost secrets since they were twelve and fifteen respectively. She uses the three years of life experience she has over him well most times. Well, mostly to rub it in when she gets the better assignments due to seniority. But she also knows how to read people and Jared could really use her around these days. He’d love to know how to take the edge, the worry, away from around Jensen’s eyes.

It’s never been Jared’s thing to sit around and wait for something to happen. He’s always been a man of action, even craves it. So when all hell breaks loose, he curses himself for even thinking he needed more action.



***




The black cars show up around mid-day, two weeks before Christmas.

Snow chains announcing them miles before they've reached the hill. Jared’s ready when they round the corner and drive through the gate onto the ranch. He has been ready ever since his com-link vibrated and announced that someone has crossed the radio controlled sensors he’s set up weeks ago.

Jensen watched him, stunned, but without saying a word, when Jared came down the stairs with guns fully loaded and his body armor on. He blinked once, twice and then nods and herded Oscar into the laundry room.

There’s a second when Jared thinks Jensen should join the dog and hide but then he looks into Jensen’s eyes and knows he’d be hit for even thinking it. Jensen’s a strong man, almost as fearless as is Jared when he has to be. Jensen's known a rough life. He's had to struggle for a long time and he’ll fight for what’s his. Jared’s actually glad for that kind of mindset because he needs Jensen focused and willing to do things.

“You can shoot, right?”

When Jared actually looks at Jensen, he catches the eye roll and grins.

“Yeah, okay stupid question. I know. Cowboy on an isolated ranch in the wild, wild west. Got it. Now take this,” Jared says and hands over one of the rifles that remind him of the one Jensen pointed at him that first day. Well, there's no way to know if Jensen could shoot, only hold it. He’s never seen Jensen shoot, after all.

“Also, Army,” Jensen deadpans and walks to the kitchen window. Jared blinks and realizes how little he actually knows about Jensen life.

“Right. Great. You’ll need that knowledge right now.”

“I know. But when this is done, we gonna talk. I want to know why you’ve been hiding a whole arsenal in my house.” Jensen doesn’t sound ticked off, instead just resigned and it makes Jared wish he’d told Jensen so much more. But it's too late now. Now it’s time to fight.



PART II A

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