“So, what’s up with you?” Chris asks.
It’s an easy enough question, but he and Chris don’t go around asking each other deep questions that could possibly lead to even deeper emotional conversations, so he knows Chris is going somewhere with this.
“Because you woulda had Mike’s head if he pulled that shit a month ago.”
Jensen shrugs, feeling uneasy. Things change. People change. With Jared’s one-sided conversation still fresh in his mind, he wonders how much he’s changed. “He fucked up. Whatever. It happens.”
“Fuck-ups can get us all killed,” Chris replies, leveling his gaze at Jensen and willing him to react.
Jensen can hear it in his mind, can feel people watching. Come on. Get back in the saddle. We need you.
He’s not ready. “You want a pound of flesh? You take it. I’m going to bed.”
Chris grabs his shirt as he tries to pass, tugging him around until they’re standing face to face, a hint of a glare narrowing Jensen’s eyes. That’s it. Get mad. Get pissed off.
Jensen can’t hold onto it; the fight leaves him almost immediately and his shoulders sag. “I don’t know what you want from me.”
“I’m gonna take a supply run tomorrow,” Chris says, ignoring the way Danneel and Mike jerk their heads toward him, eyes wide. Jared stands up and takes a step toward them like he’s going to intervene.
Jensen’s eyes narrow farther, vein pulsing in his forehead, and Chris fights down the smirk that’s threatening to curve his lips. “Yeah? And who are you taking with you?”
Chris shrugs, all confidence. “No one. I’m fine on my own.”
“You’re gonna…? No way, Chris. No fucking way,” Jensen bites out. What the hell has gotten into Chris? He doesn’t go off half-cocked. He knows how dangerous it is, and if he expects Jensen to sit by while he does something as pigheaded and stupid as this, he’s got another thing coming.
“Yeah?” Chris challenges, stepping close to invade Jensen’s personal space. “Last time I checked, I don’t answer to you.”
Jensen curls his fist at his side and meets Chris head on, anger swirling in the depths of his eyes, and for a second everything falls silent. “You’re not going. You hear me? You’re not fucking going.” He steps back, jerking his hand through his hair. “You wanna go on a run? Fine. We’ll talk about it, plan it out, but if you think you’re going off half-cocked and alone? No. Hell no.” Jensen’s eyes travel to the group who’s standing around, trying to look away, but unable to look anywhere except at the fireworks between Jensen and Chris. “That goes for everyone here. We’re a team, all right? We do things together or not at all. That’s how we survive.” He steps toward Chris again, green eyes focused like lasers as he meets his gaze. “Do we understand each other?”
Chris nods and grabs Jensen’s shoulder, squeezing once. “Yeah, I think we’re starting to speak the same language again.”
Jensen squeezes Chris’s hand where it’s resting on his shoulder, then pulls away and walks to his room with his head held high.
“Welcome back,” Chris murmurs. He turns to Jared, who’s standing a few feet away and smiling like he just can’t stop. He nods in the direction Jensen went. “This got anything to do with you?”
“Nope,” Jared replies, still smiling. “It was a pretty stupid plan, though. If Jensen hadn’t stopped you, I would have.”
Chris chuckles. “You could have tried.”
“I call bullshit anyway. You were never planning a run.”
Chris nods. “I call bullshit, too. This has something to do with you, and you ain’t gotta tell me why. None of my business anyway.” He pats Jared on the shoulder as he walks past toward his room. “You did good, though. Whatever you did, it was good.”
“Hey,” Jensen calls from the shadows. “You coming or what?”
Chris smirks as he arches an eyebrow. “I don’t think he’s talking to me.”
“Right,” Jared says, his grin threatening to slip off the sides of his face. “I better go and see what he wants.”
“I can tell you exactly what he wants,” Chris mutters as Jared jogs off in the direction of Jensen’s voice.
It’s a subtle shift. It’s like the fog has cleared, something clicked into place, and Jensen’s with them again. There are no grand announcements or inspiring speeches. It’s like returning to a room he’s just walked out of and realizing his keys are in his pocket and he hasn’t actually forgotten anything. He spends his days in the fields with Chris, or talking to Misha about his plans for the next planting season. He listens when Mike tells him about the improvements he’s made to the security system. He picks up a blue sundress with bright flowers on it for Danneel from the remains of a strip mall: she likes it, catching his arm and kissing his cheek after he throws it at her and before he can run away. Chad likes the dress even more, and he tells her that at least ten times when she wears it the first time. Jensen touches Jared more, bumping his shoulder when he walks by or sitting close so their arms brush together. There are no lengthy discussions or deep emotional conversations about what they are to each other. To Jensen, it’s enough. It’s good, even. It’s more than he ever thought he’d have in this world. If he’s honest, it’s better than he had before the war.
It’s a hot day, and the temperature has to be pushing one hundred degrees. Jared returns with Chad on the ATV from the eastern fields in the late afternoon. He’s covered in dirt and drenched in sweat. Jensen takes a few seconds to appreciate the view.
Jared must catch him looking, because he stretches his arms over his head and gives Jensen a playful leer. “Like what you see?” he teases.
Jensen looks away, blushing. “Um… yeah. How’d it go?”
“It’s hotter than a whore house on nickel night,” Chad complains as he tugs his shirt over his head. “I’m going to throw myself in the river and stay there until winter.”
“It went fine,” Jared replies after he stops laughing. “Did you finish the room you were working on?”
“Misha and I got the concrete poured. We should have another room by the end of the week.”
Jared smiles, and Jensen can’t help but smile back.
“Ugh… river now. You two are making me ill,” Chad grumbles.
“Hang on. I’ll join you,” Jared says. He makes a grab for Jensen and manages to slide two fingers through a belt loop, tugging Jensen close. “Wanna come?”
Jensen acts like he’s trying to get away, which is nothing more than bumping Jared with his hip which allows Jared to pull him closer. Jared smells like sweat and earth, and Jensen takes a deep breath, barely resisting the urge to take a swipe at Jared’s neck with his tongue. “Nah, I gotta finish up with Misha. We’ll catch up later.”
Jared frowns and Jensen feels his resolve crumbling.
“Go on,” Jensen insists as he playfully shoves Jared away. “Chad’s already in the lake enjoying the refreshing water while you’re sitting here pouting at me.”
“Brick walls have more give than you do,” Jared mutters as he hip checks Jensen before walking away.
“That’s not what you said last night!” Jensen calls after him.
They crowd around the small room, trying to inch out enough space to sit down. The group is huddled together as Chris turns on the radio and slides down the wall to join Jensen on the floor.
Jensen considered waking Jared for the fireside chat, but after his long day under the unforgiving desert sun, he was out like a light and Jensen left him to sleep. He could catch him up tomorrow. Chad had managed to make it down to the war room, but he’s passed out on Danneel, snoring softly against her shoulder.
“Whaddya think it’ll be tonight?” Mike asks.
“Who knows?” Chris replies. “Another novel chapter, maybe?”
“I’m hoping for a historical piece tonight. The reading of Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech a few weeks ago was incredible,” Misha comments.
There’s no set order to the speeches. Whoever feels like talking or has something to share gets on the radio and their voice is broadcast to whoever might be listening. Chris is the only one at their camp who has shared, singing four of his own songs. To Jensen, who has seen Chris perform for thousands, it was the best he’d ever played.
“Isn’t it time?” Danneel asks when the silence drags on.
Jensen grinds his knuckles against his jeans as he repeats a familiar mantra in his head: they’re not alone. Someone will be there.
“I guess I’ll share a story,” a soft feminine voice offers. “This silence… I hate it, so I’ll share tonight.”
Jensen releases a sharp breath and his head sags between his shoulders as he leans forward, letting the lilting voice wash over him.
“My brother, well, he’s a dumbass. Was a dumbass, I guess. That’s not important –” She stutters, stalls and takes a few deep breaths.
“You’re okay,” Chris mumbles to the unknown speaker, even though she can’t hear him. “Keep going ‘cause we’re all listening.”
When she speaks again, her voice is clearer, stronger. “It was the start of summer right after school let out, and we were all ready to stretch our wings and do our own thing for a while. My brother gets the bright idea to hijack our parents’ brand new pickup.”
Mike snickers as Danneel shakes her head. “This isn’t going to end well.”
Jensen leans closer, listening intently. There’s no way…
“He takes their truck and drives to his buddy’s house who’s about as bright as he is…”
The story ends exactly how Jensen expected it would, with Jared driving into his friend’s porch, nearly taking the whole thing down in the process. This is Jared’s sister. Holy shit.
Chris nudges his knee. “You okay, man?”
Jensen nods and shakes his head at the same time as everyone in the room starts laughing when the story is finished with the recalcitrant young man spending his summer rebuilding his friend’s porch and the better part of his high school years grounded.
She finishes the way same they all finish: “So, yeah. Stay safe out there, okay?”
People filter out of the room, still smiling and laughing at the carefree story that was shared tonight, a throwback to the lives they had once lived.
Jensen is back at the radio, adjusting buttons before clutching the old box between his shaking hands. “You still there? Hey, are you still there?”
Chris is at his shoulder, staring down at him. “Jensen, what are you doing?”
“Come on,” Jensen mutters. “You wouldn’t share that and walk away.”
“You’re starting to freak me out,” Chris says.
Jensen shakes the radio like he can will the woman back, like he can make some kind of connection through the power of his need alone. This isn’t how it works. They don’t try to make contact. They don’t try to talk to one another because there are too many risks.
“Yeah, I’m here,” the woman responds.
Chris groans. “What are you doing, Jensen? You know this isn’t how it –”
“I know your brother.”
Chris’s mouth falls open as silence fills the room. Jensen can hear himself breathing as he waits. It’s her choice.
It’s nothing more than a breath of air when she whispers, “You know Jared?”
Jensen closes his eyes. “Hi, Megan.”
Chris responds with what they’re all thinking. “Holy shit.”
They talk for over an hour; it’s evasive and coded in riddles, slang that only someone from Texas would understand. It’s doable, though, what they’re planning, even if it’s never done. As it turns out, Megan was roughly five hours from their camp this whole time.
“Where the hell have you been?” Jared snaps before Jensen has a chance to close the door to the Jeep.
“I had to –”
“Had to what? Run some errands? Pick up your dry cleaning? Swing by the bank? I thought we were past this. What the fuck were you –”
“Jared?” a hesitant voice asks.
It’s like watching a car accident in slow motion. All the color drains from Jared’s face, and he closes his eyes, swallowing hard. He knows that voice. Without a doubt, Jared knows that voice. Jensen steps back to give him room.
“Jared?” she asks again, walking toward him slowly.
“Megan,” Jared murmurs, trying to fight back tears and failing as he gathers his sister in his arms.
Jensen watches the reunion for a minute until he feels like he’s intruding on something private. After words are whispered that are only meant for a long lost brother and sister meeting again for the first time, he follows Chris toward the camp, clapping him on the shoulder and simply saying, “Thank you.”
“Ouch!” Jensen yells, sitting up as he flings his arm to the right. He hears the smack of flesh on flesh, and he blinks in the darkness, recognizing Jared standing over his bed. He rubs tiredly at his face and collapses back on the bed. “What the hell, man?”
“You’re not real,” Jared says quietly.
Jensen turns over, tugging the blanket as he goes. “Pretty sure I’m real. You just pinched me, and it fucking hurt.”
Jared’s hand is on his shoulder, pulling him back. “You can’t be real.”
“Jared, it’s too late for this. I’m real. You’re real. Can I please get some sleep now?”
“What you did…” Jared’s voice falters as he struggles to find the words. “Why didn’t you tell me? You should have told me. She’s my sister.”
“And if it didn’t work?” Jensen asks. “If we couldn’t find her, or we got attacked along the way? Were you going to make good decisions when there was a chance to get your sister back?”
There’s truth in Jensen’s words, because there’s not a damn thing Jared wouldn’t sacrifice to have Megan back again.
“Look, I get it, I should have told you. I didn’t, but I’m not entirely sorry. You have every right to be pissed off, and if you want to hate –”
Jared’s arms wrap around him, pulling him upright, and pretty soon he’s eating the soft cotton of Jared’s shirt. “Just shut up, okay? Shut up. You gave me my sister back. My sister, Jen. You did that for me.” He lets Jared hold him, tilts his head slightly when Jared presses his face against his neck.
“It’s okay, Jared,” Jensen whispers quietly when Jared doesn’t let him go. “Megan’s okay. You’re okay. We’re all okay.” Jared presses against his side, and Jensen moves over. Somehow Jared’s arms stay around him when he climbs into bed. He pulls Jensen on top of him, tangling his legs around Jensen’s ankles and holding him close. “Um…”
All Jared says is, “I’m not letting you go. Not for a long time.”
Jensen nods against Jared’s shoulder. “Okay.” And for now, Jensen’s okay, too.
Jensen wakes slowly, stretching his body carefully, and when his hand lands on warm skin, his eyes fly open. What the hell?
Jared is lying on his side, watching Jensen through hooded eyes. “Morning, Impossible.”
“Morning impossible?” Jensen mutters as he yawns and stretches his arms above his head. “Is that like Mission Impossible?”
“No, it’s morning and you’re impossible.”
Jensen grunts and pulls the covers over his head. “We’re back to that, are we?” Jared follows him below the covers, pressing his forehead to Jensen’s before he can move away. Jared crowds against him, long arms wrapping tightly around his body. He doesn’t squeeze, just fits Jensen against him until their bodies are one.
Jared slides his hand down Jensen’s side, fingers spanned wide across his rib cage. His movements are deliberate but still gentle, like he’s learning each inch of skin, as though Jensen’s some amazing work of art that should be studied and treasured.
“Jared,” Jensen whispers through sleep-dried lips. He means to warn him, to say no or don’t do this if you don’t mean it, or maybe he means don’t stop. Please, whatever you do, don’t stop touching me. Don’t stop making me yours.
“Do you want words?” Jared asks. “’Cause I can give you words. I can tell you how amazing I think you are. How beautiful. I can tell you how you’ve saved me when I didn’t realize I needed to be saved, and I can tell you all the ways I think we could be incredible together.” Jensen buries his face in Jared’s neck, mouth open and pleading as Jared skims his hand over Jensen’s inner thigh. “Yeah, I don’t think we need words either.”
Jared pushes Jensen flat on his back and rolls on top of him, forearms bracketing his head. Jensen stares up at him, eyes unblinking. “I’m gonna kiss you,” Jared murmurs as he dips his head. “I can’t not kiss you right now.”
Whatever response is on Jensen’s lips is swallowed by Jared’s bruising kiss. Jared explores his mouth, holding nothing back as the need to breathe becomes a very real concern. Jensen pushes at Jared’s chest, fighting for leverage when he finds none.
“Jared… mmph… Jared,” Jensen groans as he tries to push the other man away.
“If the next words out of your mouth aren’t ‘kiss me more’ or ‘touch me there,’ I don’t want to hear it.”
Jensen turns his head when Jared dips for another kiss. Jared sighs and drops to one bent arm, keeping his other stretched across Jensen’s chest. “Yes?”
He scrambles to collect his thoughts, something, anything that might make sense, because nothing right now makes any sense. “Don’t.”
“Don’t kiss you? Jensen, I’m gonna kiss you. I plan on doing a whole lot more to you, in case you were wondering.”
Jensen closes his eyes, forcing himself to keep his mouth from seeking purchase on Jared’s lips. This is about his sister and whatever fucked up debt Jared’s trying to pay. “You don’t owe me anything.”
Jared coughs above him, and when Jensen peels his eyes open, Jared’s gazing at him through wide eyes. “Is that what you think this is?”
Could it be anything else? Jensen brings Megan back and Jared finds his way to Jensen’s bed. Jensen doesn’t believe in coincidence. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Have to? Have to? Is that why you think I’m here? Because of Megan?” Jensen bites his lip. Jared groans and presses his forehead against Jensen’s shoulder. “Okay, let’s start with something simple. Jensen, what exactly do you think we are?”
Jensen rests his hand on the coiled muscles of Jared’s back. “Does that matter?” Attraction means nothing. Jensen got used to telling himself no a long time ago, and now, what he wants has little or no merit on what he actually gets.
“It matters. Right now, it fucking matters,” Jared growls before he nips at Jensen’s ear.
Jensen swallows, his cock twitching in interest as Jared hovers just above his body. “We’re…” He has a feeling if he says they’re two guys scratching an itch, Jared’s going to throw him out of his own bed. He knows better than that, anyway. He knows what they are, and he figured Jared got the memo when Jensen called him to bed weeks ago.
“What are we, Jensen?”
“Jesus, Jared. Why the hell does it –” Jared bites his shoulder, and Jensen winces before a warm tongue soothes away the sting. “We’re whatever you want us to be.”
“Wrong answer.” Jared sinks his teeth into the cords of Jensen’s neck, and Jensen’s mouth falls open, panting. “I want you,” Jared murmurs before running his tongue along the indentations left by his teeth.
“You can have me,” Jensen replies as he chases Jared’s mouth. “You already have me. Thought we covered that.”
“All of you, Jensen,” Jared murmurs. “All the time.”
“All the time?” Jensen breathes, his back arching on the bed when Jared’s hand ghosts over the bulge in his boxers. “I don’t know. Might get on your nerves.”
“You already get on my nerves,” Jared says, fingers skimming Jensen’s inner thigh and dancing away when Jensen tries to shift so Jared’s hand lands where he needs it the most. “And know what? That’s okay – it happens, and guess what? I still want you. Besides, I get on your nerves, too.”
Jensen’s about to tell him that he doesn’t, not really. To Jensen, Jared is just about perfect. He’s open and kind. He’s strong and gorgeous, and he knows what Jensen needs without having to ask. Jared’s hand brushes against his cock, and Jensen groans. “Jared, please.”
“Yeah, I’ve got you.” Jared kisses him, open and sloppy, before he slides down his body and demonstrates exactly how he gives Jensen what he needs without him having to ask.
Jensen pulls himself out of the war room and turns to slide the hatch closed. He sees movement out of the corner of his eye, and Megan is weaving her way toward him. He lifts his eyebrow even though she can’t see it through the darkness.
“It’s late,” he says as he pushes himself to his feet.
She doesn’t miss a beat. “Which begs the question: why are you still up?”
He chuckles, conceding her point. Megan’s so much like her brother, all spirit and little tact. It works for them. “Wanted to run through the raid plans one more time.”
She nods. “Yeah, Jared said that about you. You don’t leave much to chance. He also said something about brick walls and being impossible that I won’t mention.”
“Your brother talks a lot,” Jensen mutters. “Anyway, that’s my excuse. Why are you prowling around like some kind of creeper?”
She shrugs. “Couldn’t sleep.”
“Come on,” Jensen says suddenly. He starts walking, and she falls into step beside him.
They end up on the hood of the Jeep, staring up at the bright stars.
“Wow,” Megan murmurs, blinking up at the endless sky.
Jensen nods, his head rocking against the cool glass of the windshield. It’s beautiful out here, even if they rarely take the time to appreciate it. They stare at the sky and Megan points out the names of the constellations she knows, having taken astronomy and actually passed, where Jensen had used the class time to catch up on his sleep.
“So, you and Jared, huh?” she says after awhile.
“I guess, yeah.”
She gives him a sideways look. “You guess?”
“If you’re asking what my intentions are, you could just –”
“Hey, relax, Jensen. It’s all good. You’re the last person I’d demand any answers from. I just wasn’t expecting…” She sighs and reverts her gaze back to the stars. “I guess I don’t know what I was expecting. It’s been years.”
“It works,” Jensen replies even though she hasn’t pressed him for more. “We work. Your brother, he’s a force to be reckoned with.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
Jensen chuckles. “Sorry, I’m not very good at meeting the family.”
She smiles, a bright grin that rivals the stars in the sky. “I wouldn’t say that. I think you’re doing just fine.”
He ducks his head, smiling at her soft praise. When he lifts his gaze, he points to the stars above. “What did you say that one was called?”
The raid was successful, and they brought new tools, gasoline, and a couple of new mattresses and linens back to the camp. There was recent machine activity in the area, more than what they’re used to seeing, and the city had been freshly picked over by mechanical soldiers. They were looking for survivors. The machines are looking for them.
Jensen knows there’s going to come a day soon when they’re not going to be able to hide anymore. There’s going to come a time when they’ll to have to wage war against the machines that took their world from them if they want to continue to survive.
Jensen hears a cough and the sound of someone tripping in the darkness. He winces when he hears Jared’s soft curse. “Jensen?”
“Yeah, over here,” Jensen calls.
Jared pads over to him, wearing unbuttoned jeans and flip flops, with a blanket tossed over his shoulders. “It’s late.”
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Jensen says, pawning it off like he just got out of bed.
Jared doesn’t miss a beat. “How long have you been up?”
Busted. “Um… two hours?”
Jared rolls his eyes and takes Jensen’s elbow. “Come on, Impossible. Back to bed.”
Luckily that day isn’t today, and Jensen allows himself to be led.
Thank you for reading.