Word count: ~9,600
Summary: A very loose adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. In space. Starring Jared as Beauty, Jensen as the Beast, and BAMF Danneel.
A/N: Written for poor_choices — for the snp_j2_xmas exchange 2011. I merged a couple of your wonderful prompts: “Fairy tale adaptations," and "Anything IN SPACE." I hope you enjoy it!
They reach the loose outer spiral of the Messier Galaxy before Captain Harris eases the small vessel out of warp speed. It's Jared's first long journey from home, his first time beyond the earth's singular moon, and it takes him a minute to get his bearings. It feels now like they're hovering in a void, hummingbird still, though they continue to push through at damn near the speed of light.
Jared releases a long-held breath and peers out the window for his first true look at the stars of another galaxy. First time through something other than a telescope or a distant cloudy shimmer on the horizon, anyway.
The stars shine brighter here, well away from any atmosphere, like sharp-edged jewels floating in black ink. They're distant enough that none illuminate like a sun, though there's one star near enough it penetrates the dark like a flashlight through a long tunnel.
Some people never leave earth or journey farther than an orbital bus trip, maybe a daytrip to the moon. All his life, Jared's dreamed of it, leaving his studies and his home to travel the infinite universe. But he's feared it, too. The routes have been open to people like him for only two generations, if that. There's so much that's unknown out here. Still, it's not as scary as Captain Danneel Harris is; he's almost grateful to her for that.
She flicks a switch on the control board, which seems, like her whole ship, to be fashioned of spare parts, and looks over her shoulder. "So, they told you about him, right?"
It's the first time she's spoken since she they left Lunar VI and it takes Jared a beat to catch up. "Doctor Ackles?"
She props a booted foot on the dashboard. "They told you he’s a doctor?"
She snorts. "Honorary."
"Okay. Yeah, I don’t know." Jared leans over to peer out another window. "I just know he's some guy who lives in a Glasshouse Ship and he has a stack of old Mesperyan texts to be translated and catalogued."
"That's definitely the abridged version."
This assignment from his father was sudden and unexpected and Jared's been so focused on the trip itself, he hasn't spent any time wondering about the man who hired him.
"You know him pretty well?"
"I'm the only person he'll allow to dock on that luxury liner of his," Captain Harris says. "So I guess I'd say so."
"Doesn't mean you know him, right?" Sometimes, Jared says things just to be contrary. "Just that he trusts you to dock there."
She laughs. "Doctor Ackles doesn't trust anybody. But he's more willing to put up with me than most."
"Not a people person, then?"
"Definitely not." She enters some numbers on the console before glancing back. "You know you're going to be alone with him, right? It's just him out there."
No, Jared didn't know that. He manages to shrug even as he feels his skin crawl a little at the prospect of being with a stranger for so long with no other company and no means of escape.
"Nobody's told you anything, have they?"
"Uh, I know what kind of texts I'll be looking at," Jared says. "I have all my resource materials with me, if that's what you-"
"No. That's not what I mean." She swivels around in her seat and leans forward to drop her elbows on her splayed knees.
"I’ll just give it to you straight," she tells him. "'Doctor Ackles has a bit of a face issue."
"Well, half a face issue. Basically, half of it's gorgeous and half of it's, well, pretty bad off, thanks to our good friends on Mesperya. I’ll let him tell you the rest," she says. "Or not. Guess that's up to him. Anyway, it’s scarred, not a gaping hole or anything, but one eye's like-" she shuts her left eye tight and pulls a face- "sort of not all there. He wears a medical mask; I guess it's got healing properties or something."
"We have the technology, we can fix him," Jared mutters.
She narrows her eyes. "But he's refused real reconstruction, stubborn bastard, and the effect isn't up to his former standard of beauty."
Jared worked with scholars from Okintay when they made their first trip to earth for a cultural exchange and they were, well, pretty hideous by human standards. Dry, scaly skin wasn't the half of it. But they had so much to teach and were willing to teach it to Jared. He got used to working with them and the differences didn't seem to matter. "Okay," he says.
"Also, he’s a fucking broody, tightass weirdo." She sprawls back in her chair. "Just so you know."
"This sounds better by the minute."
"You'll be safe with him." Her voice is softer. "Don't worry about that."
Jared nods. "Thanks for filling me in."
"That’s not for you, it’s for him." She glares. Hard. "You give him grief, I’ll twist your nads off, slowly but brutally. It won't feel pretty."
They dock two hours later. Jared sort of didn't realize they were so close and they enter at the underside of the ship, so he doesn't have the chance to get a good look at the luxury liner before they're inside.
The Glasshouse Ships, domed like big garden conservatories, are beautiful and expensive. Some, like this one, are so big they'd cover hundreds of acres of land back on earth. Jared's only seen one before, docked on Lunar VI. He's never seen one suspended in space like this, untethered and aglow. He hopes maybe he can convince the doctor – honorary doctor – to fly him out on the hover-craft so he can take in the full effect.
But there's plenty to see from inside, too. Danneel points him to his rooms, situated below-deck like most of the practical living quarters. "He keeps the artifacts and whatever topside, in one of the rooms off the main conservatory. Settle in. I'll let him know you're here and be back for you."
"Oh, for fuck's sake, call me Danneel."
She calls the last over her shoulder as she heads to the glass elevator. Jared smiles. His friends back home would say she's got swagger and Jared would have to agree.
"Make sure you're decent and take the elevator up, kid."
Danneel's voice ringing out over the comm startles a jump out of Jared. He's been waiting alone for nearly two hours with nothing much to do after the first fifteen minutes it took to put his things away. He figures he can be forgiven for being on edge.
The elevator carries him up and when the doors open to the conservatory, Jared feels his mouth fall open. It's more beautiful than any picture, huge enough that it seems to have its own curved horizon. The glass dome can be set to any number of different views, Jared knows. It's just a matter of selecting what you want and the computer brings it up: sunset over the Sahara, the rise of the third moon over Presodia. Whatever can be seen or imagined can be programmed. All Jared sees outside the glass bubble now is endless space and innumerable stars. He's grateful for it, the sense of place.
Danneel strides forward to greet him. "Follow me."
He's so distracted by the view, Jared couldn't say how long the walk is. The dome itself is filled with lush, green earth-gardens. He supposes it should feel incongruous in the black void of space, but there's an odd sort of harmony to it. They draw closer to the edge of the dome and walk through to an area where the glass is clouded and opaque. It takes Jared a moment to notice that the garden paths have given way to a corridor of sorts, then he's in a room. It's large and open, but it still feels somehow like heading indoors.
"Close that gaping maw of yours."
Jared does a slow turn and looks back at Danneel, realizing this is the first time she's spoken for a while. He grins.
"Don't sweat it," she says. "Even I was a little overwhelmed my first time here in Kubla Khan."
"Well, yeah, but-"
Jared shakes his head and shrugs. "No. I guess, it's just-"
"A gaudy overstatement of wealth from somebody trying to prove his self-worth through material possessions?"
That pulls a laugh. "I don't know. Is it?"
"That's probably none of your business," says a deep voice from behind him.
Jared feels his skin flush and figures his eyes must be popping out of his head, but he's not so surprised he misses the smirk on Danneel's face as he turns toward the voice.
The recess of the room is shadowed and veiled by an artful arrangement of sheer screen panels. Jared can just make out the man in the shadows; he's sitting behind a desk that has the appearance of old world furniture, some kind of natural wood carved by hand long ago and hurled into space. Jared's strangely comforted by the thought.
"I, um." Jared clears his throat. Stops himself from saying, Doctor Ackles, I presume? in an exaggerated leer only his little sister would find funny. "Sorry," he says instead. "I didn't really think it was. I mean, it's kind of-"
"Ostentatious?" Danneel supplies.
"No. That's. She's-"
"A pain in the ass?"
"I just met her."
"Well, I mean, I wouldn't say it to her face."
He gets a whop to the head as Danneel strides past him. "Never fear, Ackles. He's suitably impressed." She leans back on the desk's edge to face Jared. "Couldn't shut that gigantic mouth of his all the way over here."
Jared closes his eyes, takes a breath, and runs his palms over his loose slacks. "I'm Jared, by the way." He holds out a hand as he walks toward the desk. "And you must be Doctor Ackles."
"Stop there, Jared."
Jared stops short at Jensen's command.
He's a few feet away, but he can only see the barest outline smudge of the man behind the desk. It's all arranged pretty specifically, he thinks, everything just so. Jared can see the shadowed silhouette of a firm jaw, the barest trace of something not quite right on one side of the man's face, something plastic, unnatural.
Jared cuts his gaze to Danneel. Her arms are crossed but she's looking at him with something like pity and Jared realizes that his hand's still extended. He drops it quickly. "Sorry."
"I didn't mean to be so abrupt," Jensen says.
"Wow, that almost sounds like an apology." Danneel looks back at Jensen. "This boy might be good for you."
Jensen groans like he's been heard it all before, the put-upon sigh of somebody who secretly loves the teasing. Jared recognizes their dynamic, not unlike his own relationship with is sister.
"No, it's okay." Jared looks around. "And for the record, I do think the place is beautiful."
"You might be here a while." Jensen clears his throat and rolls his chair back, deeper into the shadows. "I recovered a lot of material from Mesperya a couple of years ago."
"Paid a hell of a price for it, too," Danneel mutters.
"You're the first reliable person I could find to come out and sort through it."
"I can't wait." Jared lets his geek-out shine through. "They have a fascinating history. There's still so much to learn. Really, I can't thank you enough for the opportunity."
"Danni tells me you've never been this far from home."
"It's true. But the work's not new to me," Jared assures him. "I'm good at what I do."
"You wouldn't be here otherwise." Jensen's words are clipped and brisk as he turns away. "Danneel will show you around before she leaves. There's a stocked kitchen downstairs, plenty of entertainment, digital pods, music, whatever you could want to keep you company."
"Which you'll definitely need." There's something sour in Danneel's tone as she leads Jared out of the office.
"Just you and me right?" Jared calls over his shoulder. He's not sure why, but it seems worth confirming.
Jensen's voice sounds distant, strained and low. There's nothing particularly notable about anything he's said, but Jared spends plenty of time thinking about it. No one could blame him, really. After all, it's nearly four weeks before Jensen bothers to speak to him again.
When Jared was five years old, his dad bought an antique car at auction. It was an ancient thing, old enough that it ran on electricity back in its day. He customized it to run solar and they all set off together on the open road.
It was the kind of thing the Padalecki family did, eccentric but not alarmingly so. Dad was a dreamer as well as a historian; he liked to say that the best way to understand the past was to live in it for a while. So they packed up the old car and they drove north out of San Antonio.
To hear Jared's mom tell it, the trip constituted the most horrific three weeks of her life. She'd rather take a shuttle bus to Mars five times on Sunday than ever go through that again. Of course, the car broke down and nobody knew how to fix the damned thing, so they spent much of their time stranded in the middle of nowhere while Jared's dad cursed and kicked and finally fixed it.
But the worst part, she says – worse than dingy old-time motels and the broke-down car, worse than empty stretches of desert for miles – was Jared and his goddamn chatter.
As long as he had company to talk to and a book to read, Jared was fine, not a fussy kid at all. But the combination of family, held captive in the car, and his first big boy book in hand, proved all but insufferable to everyone around him. While mom worried about where'd they sleep and dad acted like everything was fine, Jared read – out loud and at high volume – from a seemingly endless series of fairy tales his mom regretted downloading.
"Read to yourself, dear," his mom would say.
So Jared would read to himself, finger underlining the words, lips moving silently, until somewhere along the way he'd forget about the silent part and read out loud again. For miles and miles.
Jared's mom can tell this story in all its excruciating detail, how she almost chucked his reading tablet, how she questioned her decision to bring a child of Jared's noise level and stamina into an unsuspecting world. She can tell it like a horror story of sorts, the still-beating heart in a Poe novel, because she's done well by her son over the years. He knows she loves him beyond measure and laughs when she tells the story with a rueful smile.
Twenty years later and Jared's still a talker, still happy with his books and his family, extended now to friends and colleagues. Calmed a little, tempered by good manners, sure. But by no stretch of the imagination is Jared a quiet man, by no stretch is he a loner.
Which is why it's practically a shock to his system when he finds himself so completely alone. Doctor Ackles and his damaged face stay out of sight; he communicates by text messages on the comm system that are so stilted and formal they're almost ridiculous.
Jared saves his translations to the ship's shared network so the good Doctor always has access, never requires one-on-one updates. Still, Jared would love to go over the work with him in person.
The Mesperyan texts are dense and complicated. There's a bit of drudge work early on as Jared teaches himself the proper translations, but when their world opens to him, it's fascinating – beautiful and savage. Over the years, he's learned that most civilizations, including earth's own, have much in common, the early give and take while ever-growing populations sort themselves into some sort of order. Revolution, war, peace, love. They seem to be constants. He's yet to find a civilization that started in peace and maintained it, though some older planets have found a way to impose it.
In his boredom, Jared creates tableaus of the world he's researching, hologram presentations he sends to Jensen. He goes overboard, probably puts too much of his imagination into depicting Mesperya's fantastical evolution, from rock formations and animals to the emergence of the Mesperyan people themselves. He builds them up and lets them grow.
Doctor Ackles doesn’t respond; Jared can't even find the man. He returns several times to the office where they first met but it's always empty. So Jared works, he calls home, and he wanders the ship. In his solitude, it seems to take on a life of its own.
There is life there, after all. That much isn't imagination. And it seems to speak to him, in the gentle sway of plant life that grows as if in its natural habitat, then in almost magical presentations of different worlds, different vistas that play out over the giant glass dome. Jared doesn't even know when it occurs to him that this is Doctor Ackles doing:
The red-orange glow of a sun curving over the horizon, shattering the darkness in a burst of light. The real thing, so close, would kill anyone in its path, but the vision of it is breathtaking. Jared watches it crest over and disappear then come back around again and again. Just a projection of a scene on glass, like the holograms Jared builds writ large.
A giant old oak grows in the middle of the dome, rooted in artificially fertile ground, a man-made meadow with a pond nearby. Jared goes there to swim every night then settles back in the grass to stare up at the dome.
He sees snow over mountains, sparks of light from different worlds, meteor showers; the rise of sun, moon, and stars in every possible configuration. A world built around him with such care it feels as real as driving down a battered old road in a battered old car through the desert, up to Denver and across the plains, to the tree-sheltered streets back East.
After a while, Jared starts to feel like he's not so alone after all, like someone's watching him, creating a world for him and cocooning him in it. Keeping him, safe and untouched, like a bug under glass.
Jared's only creeped out when he reminds himself of the truth – that he's hurtling alone through space in a huge made-up world with a man who watches, a man with a past Jared can't begin to know. Doctor Ackles creates a magical world, one that exists only for them; he won't talk to Jared, but maybe he'll hear him if he speaks.
"I'm just going to start talking now, out loud," Jared says one day. "It's not crazy if I know it seems crazy, right?"
He starts to talk about his work as the world of the Mesperyan forefathers begins to unfold. They have a Goddess who told them the story of themselves and Jared tells that story out loud.
"I don't think they like outsiders very much," Jared says one day, his voice echoing through the ship. "I guess you don't either."
He sends over a new hologram, a vision of the Goddess borrowed from countless texts and hand-drawn images, tending to the world, causing matter to swirl then explode in a burst of light and sound that turns to words and music.
Jared returns to the meadow that night, like every night. A spectacular fireworks display rains down on him and dissolves slowly into a beautiful, starry Texas night. He decides it's a peace offering, an understanding.
It's how Jensen talks to him.
It takes a return visit from Danneel to shake things up. She seems to have a gift for that sort of thing.
"Hey, kid." Jared's translating a tricky bit of the text when her voice rings out over the comm. "I'm downside here dropping off supplies, why don’t you use those big muscles of yours for something other than self-gratification and help a lady out."
He's halfway down the elevator when he hears her over the open line again. "And don't think you're getting out of dinner, Ackles. I expect to be wined and dined."
What Captain Danneel Harris wants, she gets. Everything's unloaded and Jared's trailing after her to the large dining table just an hour later. It's situated in an alcove under the curve of the dome, looking more like some sort of fancy, mahogany picnic table in the woods than a typical dining room. And, miracle of miracles, Doctor Ackles is there, sitting at the head of the table. The place settings for Jared and Danneel are way down on the other end, but he's there and Jared gets his first look at the guy in nearly a month. The light's low and it's hard to see, nothing unexpected there. But they're in each other's presence. That's something.
Jared decides Danneel doesn't need to know this is the first time he and Jensen have shared close quarters since she dropped him off.
"How's the old snow globe treatin' you, Ackles?" She asks, pitching her voice overloud. "Lost the other half of your mind to go along with your face yet, or is Sunshine here keeping you sane?"
"I don't think…" Jared starts the sentence but he doesn't know what to do with it, so he lets it trail off with a shrug.
"Ain't that the truth?"
"Danni," Jensen says.
"Wow." Danneel settles on the bench seat across from Jared and pours wine for both. "All your conversations so scintillating, boys, or is it the presence of pussy that's got your tongues tied?"
"Fuck." Jared reaches for his drink. "I think I'm going to need a lot of this."
Jensen raises his already half-empty glass. "I'll drink to that."
The alcohol helps and Jared feels the tension between them – real or imagined – begin to ease.
"Gotta get off this tugboat first thing," Danneel says after regaling them with the harrowing story of a firefight she stumbled into off of Nereus.
"You should stick around a day or two," Jensen says.
"I think you like me, Ackles."
"I think he does, too," Jared tells her.
"You bring me wine and scholars with six-pack abs that look great wet." Jensen's tone is straightforward but his words are slurred. "What's not to like?"
Jared can't believe Jensen's talking about him, wouldn't believe it but for the fact that they're well into their second bottle and Jensen probably had a head start.
Danneel points at him drunkenly. "Ha!" She pounds her fist on the table. "But I can't stay. Got a pretty little senorita waiting for me on Bellona. She's just a tiny thing but she packs a hell of a punch. Hot as fuck. Goddamn Genevieve, man." Danneel finishes off the second bottle and reaches for the third. "She might be the one."
"God help her," Jensen says, dry as timber.
"Only the devil can help her now, my friend."
Jensen laughs, really laughs, and Jared feels every bit of himself, tip to toe, inside and out, buzz with it.
"What does that even mean?" Jensen asks.
Oh, yeah, Jared thinks. Danneel. Genevieve. Gods and devils. There's a conversation going on that he may be a little too drunk to track.
"Fuck if I know," Danneel admits with a throaty laugh. Jared's gay as Christmas but he'd have to be dead not to notice she's sexy as hell. "I'm the only devil gonna be trapped between those surprisingly strong thighs of hers from now on if I have my way's all I know."
"I'll be damned," Jensen says. "Danni's in love."
"Smitten kitten," Jared says, feeling fond.
Danni and Jensen both laugh. "How gay are you?" She asks.
"All the way," Jared tells her seriously. "All the way gay. Smitten kitten's just something my mama used to say."
"Your mama, huh?" Danni teases. "You're all the way gay, all right."
"I guess you are now, too," Jensen tells her. It feels like a save so Jared smiles at him and realizes his eyes have adjusted to the light. For the first time since they met, he can see Jensen fully.
And it's not so bad, really. The half-mask is a bland, pale, plasticine mimic of a face. There are many ways Jensen could repair his injuries altogether, earth-born technologies and even more advanced science from other worlds. Hell, he could just choose to wear a more fitted, lifelike mask. He chooses this instead. It hides the wounded left side of his face but a ridged red scar seeps out from under it, winds its way down his neck and behind his ear. It extends underneath his long-sleeved shirt and comes out the other side to travel down Jensen's stiff, immobile hand.
Jensen doesn't seem to notice Jared staring; he's intent on teasing Danni. They're old friends and Jared wonders what a guy with great abs that look good wet has to do to earn that kind of attention from the honorary doctor.
"Enough," Jensen's saying. "We get it. She's a total hottie and you love going down on her."
"Seriously, Jensen, you can hear her screams back on mother earth."
"No more. You'll scar poor Jared for life."
"And scar you even more than you already are."
"Exactly." Jensen doesn't sound offended. "The last thing I need is for this ugly mug to get worse."
"You don't look so bad." Everything stops when Jared realizes he said the words out loud. And that it's the first thing he's contributed in a while.
He'd wish for the earth to swallow him whole if not for the obvious lack of an earth under his feet. Danneel's just looking at him, eyebrow arched, a subtle curl of her lips betraying some amusement at his expense. Or maybe Jensen's. Hell, maybe she thinks all of it's funny.
"Sorry," he says. "I didn't mean. I just…"
"Never mind." Jensen sounds maybe forgiving, kind even.
"It's just, you shouldn't hide away like you do." Jared says the words even as he tells himself internally to shut his goddamn mouth. "You're, you know, not bad looking in spite of the face thing, or the-" he gestures awkwardly, wine glass still gripped tight. "Well, I guess it's more than your face, right? But you're still hot. I mean, it's so lonely for you out here by yourself like this."
Danneel reaches across to pat his hand. "He's got you, kid."
"But he won't talk to m-"
Jensen cuts him off. "Don't."
"What?" Danneel says. "You don't talk? Out here, just the two of you?"
Jared knows he's said too much. It's too late to shut his mouth and reverse the damage but he goes silent anyway. There's a part of him that resents it, the last month spent in such isolation when he and Jensen could have been keeping each other company. Jensen has some real fucking issue, he thinks, to be so concerned that his scarring would bother Jared.
But that's irrelevant because Jensen didn't want Danneel involved and now Jared's involved her. And he's pretty sure he said something about Jensen being hot. He slumps back in his chair.
"I think Jared's had enough," Jensen murmurs. "You should go back to your rooms and sleep it off."
Danneel's boring holes into Jensen with her eyes, suddenly sober as a judge, or at least she seems so to Jared, who's maybe not used to so much wine.
"You're not getting out of this so easy, Ackles," Danni says.
They all sit there for a minute until Jared looks over to see Jensen watching him expectantly. That's right. He's been dismissed. Jared stands on wobbly feet, using the table for support as he tries to get his bearings.
"For fuck's sake, Ackles," Danneel says over her wine glass. "Walk him to his room."
"Fine." Jensen doesn't sound happy about the assignment but he stands up from the table and gestures for Jared to follow him. "Come on, let's go."
"Later, kid," Danneel calls after him.
"Good to see you, Captain Harris."
"Your good manners remain adorable."
They walk a little while, through the garden trails, past the meadow and the around the central console toward the elevator, before Jared starts to feel awkward . He finally has Jensen's company, but he's too drunk and embarrassed to enjoy it. Still, he feels the warmth of the man next to him, notices the hitch in his step. So, Jared thinks, he has a limp as a result of his injuries, too. Jared supposes he shouldn't be surprised by that.
He is surprised when Jensen follows him into the elevator, apparently taking the 'walking him to his room' thing literally. It's kind of nice, extending their time together. Only have a few more minutes with Jensen now, Jared thinks, then Danneel will be gone and Jared will be alone again, with his dome displays and his holograms and his solitary walks. This floating man-made paradise feels suddenly oppressive.
When they approach Jared's room he says, finally and because he won't have the chance to say it again, "It's true, you know."
Jared turns to lean back against the door. "What I said. We don't talk."
Jensen scrubs his hand over his face. "We do," he says. "In our own way."
It's true, it might even be fair, but it's not what Jared means and he feels himself suppress a childish sigh.
"Maybe we should talk the real way," he says after a minute.
Jensen's closer now and Jared's a little flustered to realize that while he's been pouting, Jensen's been moving in slowly.
Feeling bold, and drunk, and lonely, Jared says, whisper-soft, "Maybe we should do more than talk."
He's not sure how to calculate who kisses who; they're already so close that the lean-in doesn’t account for much. It's almost chaste, just the press of mouths together. The edge of Jensen's is pulled and scarred but the mask is carved out around it so there's nothing between them there.
When Jared runs his tongue across Jensen's closed lips, he feels brave. When Jensen opens to it, presses in close, and backs Jared more solidly against the door, he feels lucky. Jensen brings his hand up to flutter warm fingers against Jared's neck. They kiss for a while, warm and sweet. It feels like something real.
The doorknob behind Jared turns with a quiet click and Jensen pulls back. "Go to bed."
By the time Jared opens his eyes, seconds later, Jensen's already walking away.
"We probably won't even remember this in the morning," Jensen calls back. But Jared knows that's a lie.
It's been a few years since Jared's woken up with a hangover. He remembers now why he gave them up at a relatively young age. Still, the pounding headache doesn't stop his sense of purpose.
He doesn't know Jensen like he wants to. Maybe none of it matters, but Jensen kissed him and walked away and fuck that shit, Jared thinks. He doesn't get to walk away from that.
Danneel's gone. There's a note on his pod that reads, 'Had to boogie - Fair Genevieve awaits. He needs you.'
Jared's never been able to find Jensen when Jensen doesn't want to be found. Which is always. He's not sure how he'll manage now.
As usual, the whole big ship seems empty save for Jared. There's an artificial sun shining bright overhead. As fake as he knows it is, it's energizing, too. He heads to Jensen's office, knowing full well it'll be empty. It's always felt lived-in but he never finds Jensen there. Jared figures he'll sit and wait and Jensen will show up eventually.
So he's surprised to find Jensen already there, sitting behind his desk and typing something out on his console like it's the most natural thing in the world.
Jared plops down in the seat across from him and wonders if he's still drunk, maybe with accompanying hallucinations.
"Don't look so surprised," Jensen tells him. "I figured we'd have to get this over with."
"What happened last night."
"What happened last night?"
Jensen leans back in his chair. "You don't remember?"
"Uh, yeah. I remember." Jared tries not to fidget. "I was pretty drunk. Made an ass of myself."
"Yeah, and." If Jensen's not going to mention the kiss, Jared won't either.
Jensen shifts in his seat and looks away.
"Danneel put you up to this, didn't she?" Jared asks.
"I told her to mind her own damn business."
"And then you let me find you so we could talk." Jared smiles. "Just like she told you to."
"The woman's a menace."
"Well, we can agree on that." Jared starts to swivel the chair but stops himself with an effort. "That's a start."
Jensen smiles; the motion pulls what's visible of his scar tight and pink on his skin; Jared shakes off the observation. It's hard to look someone in the eye without seeming to stare. He wishes they were over this part so it could be easy, so he could be sure Jensen's not thinking the worst of him.
"Anyway." Jensen says the word like a declaration. "About last night. We were drunk. We don't really know each other."
"You said we do."
"You said last night that we communicate in our own way." Jared finger-quotes the last words. "It's true. We've known each other, in our own way, for a month."
Jensen leans back to stare at the fake-blue sky overhead before looking at Jared. "And you got drunk and kissed a deformed man because you feel sorry for him."
Jared can't suppress a hollow laugh. "One thing I don't feel," he says, "is pity."
Jensen doesn't miss a beat. "And because you're lonely," he says.
Jared drops his head in his hands, wonders if it's even worth it, but says anyway, "Just try."
Try being with me, dating me, kissing me, more. Everything. The thoughts rush through Jared's mind, so quick and unbidden they surprise even him. But he doesn't say any of it. It's probably the stir-crazy talking.
"I don’t know," he finally answers. "Just hanging out? Like, in person."
Jensen's the one staring now and Jared tries to remain calm under the scrutiny.
It seems like a while before he says, "Okay."
"Okay?" Jared repeats.
"Yeah. But not now." Jensen turns to his console. "I've got work to do and you're still hung over. Meet me back here in a few hours to go over the latest translations."
The dismissal doesn't offend Jared, but he's more than half worried when he leaves that Jensen will think better of this and disappear again.
True to his word, Jensen's there when Jared returns later that day. Still, he's clearly not interested in anything but business. He only stands so close, only says so much, all of it academic.
"Do you have more material on the pre-Ren area for translation?" He asks.
Jared relishes the opportunity to discuss his work one-on-one. There is more material to cover but Jensen wants him to progress to modern history if he can. Jared's never thought to question Jensen's interest, though the man obviously put himself through a lot to recover the material from Mesperya.
It doesn't seem that important, really. Jared's just happy he gets to spend time with him, debating the work, the content of the translations, and the history of the big orange planet that has their complete focus.
"I wouldn't recommend it," Jensen says one day when Jared mentions that he'll likely never visit Mesperya. He gestures to his own damaged face and Jared winces.
"Most of the scars are burns," Jensen says.
"Not all, though."
It may sound like a personal revelation but Jensen's voice is tight and he's looking away. Jared knows he's leaving a lot out.
"I guess you lost that battle," he says.
"Yes and no. Danni got me out of there before I got killed and I ended up with most of what I went there for."
"But why? Wouldn't they just give it over on a cultural exchange eventually?"
"They're not the exchanging types," Jensen says. "And I'm not the cultural type." He rubs his hand over his nape in a now-familiar gesture. "But if I had to do it again," he admits. "I wouldn't."
That's all Jared gets out of him on the subject and he's frankly too pleased by the company to mind a little mystery. Jensen seems content to leave the past in the past, and Jared doesn't have the right to dig it up.
Shared meals and walks through the gardens become a regular occurrence and Jared doesn't feel lonely anymore. He can see that his company wears on Jensen sometimes, when Jensen's mind wanders, millions of miles away. It's hard to say if it's the result of constant company after so much time – Jared can't imagine spending two years alone – or if, just as likely, he's as worn out by Jared's chatter as his mom was all those years ago.
For the most part, Jensen seems content. Jared thinks he may even be happy, though he can't be sure. The research goes a lot faster with both of them working off of each other. "We make a hell of a team," Jared says one day.
Jensen smiles and doesn't disagree. That night, the dome glimmers with a shower of falling stars and when they walk through the garden to the elevator, Jared sways just enough to bump shoulders. It sets precedence, like he hoped it would. Progress that's measured in the smallest movements, casual touch and sideways glances.
One night, soon after, Jared musters the courage to stand from the dinner table. He's not drunk, but he acts like he is; he's piped in some Mesperyan music. The instruments are different than anything on earth, but the rhythm is universal, dragging slow. It glides through the ship as Jared makes his move.
"Dance with me."
Jensen laughs and pushes his plate away as he relaxes back in the chair to rub his palm over his left thigh.
"Bum leg, remember?"
The man limps a little, but he's not incapacitated. "Coward," Jared says.
"Maybe I just like to watch."
"Come on." Jared smiles. "I'm not taking no for an answer."
"We don't do this, Jared."
Jared's response sounds wistful, even to his own ears. "What if we did?"
Time seems to stop. Jared's sort of sick of making a fool of himself, but he does want this to be something they do. Touch. Dance. Play. And a whole hell of a lot more if he's being honest.
When Jensen finishes off his drink in one long swallow and pushes himself from his chair to hold his arms out wide, it shocks Jared into a stupor.
"Well, come on." Jensen steps closer. "I won't be winning dance competitions anytime soon, but I can handle some synchronized swaying."
"That's about all I can do, anyway," Jared admits.
He wraps an arm around Jensen's waist, tentative like he expects retreat. Jensen steps in closer and puts his injured hand on Jared's shoulder, brings him in tight with the other until they're pretty much hugging.
The music itself is an afterthought. Jared couldn't even say if the beat's fast or slow. There was no false modesty in their claims they can't dance – they really can't. But Jensen's warm against him and without thinking about it, Jared's pulled him in so close there's no chance he'll lose his footing.
He looks down at the man in his arms, the man who fills his thoughts, and realizes that he doesn't really see the mask anymore, or the scars. Jensen's just Jensen – smart and beautiful, maddening.
Jared's had boyfriends, not many. He's been around some, but he's never wanted anyone like he wants Jensen now, with a kind of heat that feels worth fighting for.
"Where do you sleep?"
Jensen laughs and Jared squeezes his eyes shut. Yeah, he asked that out loud.
"Sorry," he says. "I didn't mean to-"
"It's okay." Jensen presses his good cheek against Jared's. The heat of his breath, the vibration of his voice, make Jared lose his train of thought.
"I guess I always wondered," Jared finally manages. "I've never seen your room down there, near mine."
"I sleep up here."
Jared pulls back and shakes his head. It's disconcerting to think the ship's big enough that there are places in it Jared hasn't yet found.
"Are you sure?"
Jared wants to say he's never been more sure of anything, though that may be a lie. But he's pretty damn sure. And he's sick of second-guessing. "Of course."
Jensen nods, pauses, but not for long, and steps back; he reaches for Jared's hand to pull him along, through the conservatory, back behind the office, and around a line of sheer panels to the bedroom. It's big and plain, the dome a canopy of stars over a big bed, and Jared couldn't care less. All he sees is Jensen, whose limp has become more pronounced, and who falters maybe, a little, before he reaches the bed and drops Jared's hand.
"So, this is it."
Scared to lose the moment, scared that Jensen will let go, Jared surges forward and pulls him in, kisses him hard. He's not sure how it comes across – demanding or begging. Both feel true to him. But he doesn't back off, pushes Jensen down to the mattress and falls over him, barely holding himself up enough to pull off his shirt and kiss Jensen some more – the tip of his nose, the hollow of his cheek, licks and nips along his neck where Jensen's pulse races across Jared's tongue.
Jensen's on board with all of it; he pulls at the button on Jared's pants, bucks up against him and runs fingernails across Jared's shoulders, saying, "God, so gorgeous, Jared. Look at you."
Jared pulls at the fabric of his Jensen's shirt and suddenly Jensen stills. Jared looks up, questioning, to find Jensen's head turned away.
"I don't want you to see."
It's an effort for Jared to deal with Jensen's self-conscious worry when what he really wants is to move against him. But he manages to grit out some words that make sense. "When I look at you," he says, "I don't even see the scars or the mask."
Jensen looks at him, brings his hands up, one soft and elegant, the other hard and damaged, to cradle Jared's face between them, and says, "I know. You're wonderful."
"I'm not trying to do you any favors," Jared tells him. "I'm trying to get in your pants."
He doesn't mean it as a joke but Jensen laughs. "Let's just do this with the lights off for now, okay?"
Jared would like to argue the point – tell Jensen how much he likes to look at him, but it's not too much to ask and his hard-on is willing to agree to any condition, so Jared nods and Jensen dims the lights with a quick, crisp, "Lights off."
They're in darkness, though Jensen lets the starlight shimmer through, and then his inhibitions are gone. He takes off his shirt and works Jared's fly then his own, pushing their pants off and pulling Jared's naked body close while he writhes against him and wraps his legs around, quick and desperate.
Jared can feel it, not just Jensen's naked body against him, the ridge of the scars that work their way down his entire left side, but the hunger and the drive that Jensen has to take Jared into himself, to give himself up, and to demand everything in return. Jared's awed by it. As Jensen prepares himself and pulls Jared down over him, and as Jared sinks into him, rolling his hips and pulling Jensen's leg over his shoulder to push in deeper, as he bows his forehead to touch it to Jensen's, Jared feels it all.
He's gone. He knows it in one perfect, breathless moment, in the friction of their skin, shaky and sweaty. Jared's truly gone for this strange, lonely, bitter, resilient man.
Jared wakes up to the light of an artificial dawn rising over the glass dome. The bed next to him is still warm but Jensen's not in it. He stretches and turns onto his back to look over and find Jensen standing nearby, stopped stock still, like an animal who doesn't want to be seen. Jared thinks for a minute that he's trying to leave and avoid an awkward morning after.
"Hi." Jared's morning voice is low and rusty.
Jensen's half-turned away and Jared realizes he's still naked, save a pair of briefs, and the light doesn't allow him to hide like he would given the chance. Feeling a flash of pained empathy, Jared turns his head into the pillow and shuts his eyes.
"I'm not lookin'."
There's a shuffle of sound and a low, wry laugh, then Jensen says, "It's okay."
"Just let me know when," Jared tells him. "Or I might fall back to sleep. You wore me out."
"I mean you can look." Jensen doesn't sound sure, but it's an offer Jared would be hard-pressed to refuse.
What he really wants isn't to see Jensen as much as to convince Jensen that it doesn't matter. So he's careful when he opens his eyes and blinks against the light, takes a minute to sit up and swing his feet over the side of the bed. Jensen stands close to face Jared without his mask or anything else between them. The truth is, the burns and the cuts, the eyelid that's scarred over so much his eye can't be seen behind it – they're pretty bad. Anyone taken off-guard would either stare or look away too quickly.
Jared decides to give them their full measure of attention; he looks closely at the mangled skin he only felt last night. And he realizes that those aren't mostly burn marks, like Jensen said, but he's not going to ask for the truth of how they came about.
Jensen holds himself ramrod straight, not allowing even a flutter of movement, but he's looking at his feet until Jared reaches out to raise his chin with his fingers.
Jared thinks of saying, "You're gorgeous," or beautiful, or whatever else is running through his head, because it's true. But Jensen won't buy it and Jared doesn't want that fight.
"I already knew it was bad," he says instead.
"Yeah." Jensen moves in a little closer to stand between Jared's thighs. "I could get it fixed."
"If you want."
"Maybe. Maybe I'll be ready soon."
"Not for me."
"No," Jensen says. "Not for you, but maybe to be seen again."
It feels important, but Jared doesn't know what to say so he simply leans forward and pulls Jensen to him, wraps his arms around Jensen's waist and presses his face to Jensen's stomach, breathes in deep, the smell of morning and sex and of them. Jensen leans over him and holds on tight.
The passage of time is an odd, artificial thing on the ship. Normally, it's programmed to mimic earth's rhythms. The light is like the sun's light. It rises and it descends and the moon rises after it, all on a twenty-four hour cycle, days bleed into weeks until Jared feels like he is on earth, on a large deserted island surrounded by sea, not space.
Time moves faster with company and even faster when mind-blowing sex is involved. Jared's half afraid after that first morning that Jensen will back off and shut him out, but it doesn't happen. Instead, he becomes more comfortable with Jared, more like he is with Danneel, more himself. They still share their interest in Mesperya, but now they share so much more and Jared gets to see him completely, share in his life like no one else. The artificial days and artificial nights feel like the most real thing Jared's ever had.
But it's not real, or it's not all real, a point that's brought home when his mom signals on the comm in the study and Jared realizes he hasn't spoken to his family in days.
"Your dad's sick," she says without preamble.
Jared sits down with a thump and hears Jensen walk up behind him, staying just out of the camera's view.
Jared can tell from his mother's tone and the worried line between her eyes that it's serious but he tries to pretend that's not true. "He'll be okay, right?"
She looks and sounds worn down. "I thought so at first. We figured it was some kind of flu but there's an infection and they're running tests. They don't know."
"I mean, with medicine –"
"You have to come home." Her tone sharp.
"Okay, well, you never call." She sounds agitated. "I thought you'd at least have made a trip home by now and you haven't."
"Mom," Jared stops her. "I'll be there in a couple of days. I just need to make arrangements."
She immediately looks apologetic, and on the verge of tears, which is unusual enough that Jared fears they may really be losing his dad. It seems impossible to him. He was fine when Jared left, and now he's sick and Jared should have been there.
"Sorry," she says. "I'm just worried."
When they disconnect, Jared sits with it for a minute, the knowledge that his dad's sick, maybe dying.
"There are a million cures for a million diseases," Jensen says. It's the first time he's spoken since the call came through and Jared holds onto his words, turns them over in his head until he understands and believes them. It's true, after all.
"I need to get home." Jared stands to walk the room in an agitated loop. "How will I get home?"
"I'll call Danneel, she can be here by morning and you'll be there this time tomorrow."
"What about you?"
"The ship can't travel as fast as Danneel's little rust-bucket."
"That's not what I mean."
"I know." Jensen looks sad. "I'll be here waiting."
"It could be a while."
What goes unsaid is that it has to be this way because Jared can't stay and maybe that was always going to be true. This is just the first thing, the big thing, that's pulling him away. He has a family and work and a life that's important to him. And Jensen's not ready to face that much attention, might never be.
Jensen pulls him in for a tight embrace. It's for comfort and Jared falls into it. All he can think of is getting home, back to family, and that it won't feel right without Jensen.
When Danneel barges into Jared's room below deck not twenty-four hours later, she's not alone. As advertised, Genevieve is a hot piece of ass, so much so that Jared feels his skin flush when she smiles at him.
It doesn't go unnoticed. "If you had any place in your heart for vag," Danneel tells him, "I'd have to put you down for that."
"What happened to sharing is caring?" Genevieve's all pure, wide-eyed innocence. "There's nothing in the rulebook that says we can't all join in."
Danneel might have something to say to that, Jared's a little afraid that it involves him as an appetizer in a Danneel/Genevieve buffet, but Jensen shows up for the save, saying, "Jared's got other long term plans," as he walks through the door.
Jared busies himself packing the last of his things but he doesn't miss Danneel's triumphant smirk. "Have I mentioned how happy I am you've finally given Jared here something worthwhile to do with that mouth?"
"Took him long enough," Jared agrees.
"I'm a slow learner," Jensen says as he shakes Genevieve's hand.
She gives him the once-over and declares, "The mask is hot."
Danneel plops down on the bed to poke around in Jared's duffel bag. "Told you she was something else."
"I never doubted your judgment in that area," Jensen assures her.
Danneel looks to Jared. "Any word on your dad?"
Worry drops back down on Jared like dead weight. "Just that they're running tests. I'll have to get there and find out."
The room goes quiet. It's clear none of them know what to say. They're good people – he considers Danneel a friend now and Genevieve's probably a future friend. Jared hates that his family drama is making them uncomfortable. He wonders if that's how Jensen felt all the time before he exiled himself, like he owed an apology for making people ill at ease. What a horrible, soul-crushing thing that must be.
But Jensen's not the issue now. Jared feels guilt over any stray thought that distracts him from worrying about his dad. It's stupid, really. Jared's doing all he can, it just isn't much. His dad's always been so full of life. It's impossible to believe he's so sick he might not make it.
Jared fastens the clamp on his bag and Danneel stands up from the bed. "Looks like you're ready or take-off, kid. Just give us twenty to rev up the engines and we'll be good to go."
"Yeah? Okay." Jared nods. "Thanks."
"Meet us down in the bay when you're ready."
Danneel and Jensen share a look as she heads out the door with Genevieve, something that seems secret and significant. They're like that sometimes. Jared's glad for it, glad that Jensen has her, has always had her and will always have her, with her loyalty and her irreverence, her larger-than-life fuck-all attitude.
"Swagger," Jared says out loud.
Danneel turns back to him. "Huh?"
"You. You've got swagger. I like it."
"Don't hit on my woman." Genevieve points at him. "I may be little but I pack a punch."
"Wouldn't dream of it, ma'am."
"Whenever you're ready," Danneel tells him. "This floating mid-life crisis of Jensen's will be here waiting when you get back."
It's just Jared and Jensen now and a world of goodbyes between them that Jared's scared to face. He figures they said their real goodbyes before Danneel and Genevieve showed up anyway, in lingering touches, their gazes locked as Jensen rocked into him, trembling and hot, murmuring his name.
Jared was so exhausted with worry that he drifted off to sleep almost immediately afterward. But he could feel Jensen, alert and awake, keeping watch.
"Let's go up top for a few minutes," Jensen says. "We'll pick your stuff up on our way back to the bay."
Jensen walks them through the garden to an open place near the curve of the glass dome. The thing's so massive, Jared's not even sure he's stood on this spot before. He moves willingly when Jensen turns him and pulls Jared to him so they're both facing the glass, his good arm around Jared's waist. He props his chin on Jared's shoulder.
The dome's not set to display; there's just the big, real universe out there and it goes on forever; distant stars, glimmering clouds of matter. It feels like a gift, something Jared never wants to take for granted. This glass ship in the middle of it all, so very much its own thing, so much a reflection of Jensen.
Jensen nods and presses a kiss to Jared's nape. "Mmm. Yeah. Kind of a prison, too."
Jared turns his head. "I'm surprised to hear you say that."
"I'm going to tell you all sorts of things, Jared."
"I'm going to tell you about how they captured me and how I really got these scars. I'm going to tell you when I'm ready to heal and how much I'm willing to fix. Anything you want to know, probably some things you don't. I won't keep anything from you."
Jared dips his head. "I'll always come back," he says. "That's a promise. I'm actually going to miss this place when I'm gone."
Jensen backs away and turns Jared toward him, drawing his head down to look at him close. He smiles and it pulls at his scar. Some people might find it a little off-putting. Jared loves it.
"It'll be here when we get back," Jensen says.
"We?" Jared's voice is hushed.
"Yep. We. I'll admit I'm pretty worried about leaving, though."
Jared didn't realize until just this moment how desperate he is for Jensen to come with him. "You can do this, Jensen. It'll be okay."
"No, I mean, I told Danni she and Genevieve can come back here and housesit while we're gone. This place might never be the same once they're done with it."
Danneel lets her small craft hover outside Jensen's ship for a few minutes after takeoff. It's Jared's first time seeing the big dome from any kind of distance. It hangs in the void like a beautiful hallucination, green grass and sparkling lights under a shimmering glass dome. Massive by human standards, it's tiny in the big, vast universe that surrounds it.
Jared doesn't know what the future holds, not for himself or for his father, not for anyone. But as he grips Jensen's hand and they start to pull away for the journey back to earth, he feels better knowing they'll face it together.