“It’s the only place for visitors,” Justin explains.
Jensen and Tahmoh walk along the crowded sidewalks, dodging cabs and personal vehicles of every size and shape. Stalls selling trinkets, food, clothing, and services line the sidewalks, some spilling out into the street so that the two men have to step out into traffic just to walk around them. The business establishments in the buildings behind the stalls promise food, drink, entertainment of all kinds. Everything is open, even this early. Everyone here is looking to make a buck, however they can manage to do so.
When he feels a tug on his wrist, Jensen’s first instinct is to pull away. Then he looks down. A wizened old woman sits huddled in clothing that covers all but her eyes, nose, and mouth. Her face is turned up, but Jensen can see that her eyes are white with cataracts. She’s blind.
“I know what you found last night.” Her surprisingly clear voice rises above the din of the busy street. “Now you seek answers.”
Jensen squats down in front of her, letting her keep hold of his wrist.
“What can you tell me?” he asks. “What’s happening to me?”
“Your souls have found each other,” she says. “Your lives are entwined now.”
Jensen sucks in a breath. “But we come from different worlds,” he says. “How can we be together?”
“You must have faith,” the woman says. “Your souls are very old. They contain magic that will ensure their future.”
“Magic?” Jensen scoffs. “There’s no such thing.”
“You will believe,” the woman says solemnly. She lowers her eyes to the empty basket on the ground in front of her. She lets go of his wrist, and Jensen reaches into his pockets, finds a few tokens to drop into the basket.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Tahmoh asks as they walk toward the cab station to catch a ride back to Sheppard’s compound.
“I don’t know,” Jensen says honestly. But he knows what to do.
“Free Jared, or the deal’s off.”
Jensen’s been practicing how to phrase his request over the past hour, but when Sheppard joins him in the dining room, Jensen can’t stop himself. Jared’s freedom is too vital.
Sheppard raises an eyebrow. “Good morning to you, too, Commander.”
“We agreed on the deal yesterday,” Jensen goes on, determined. “Then you added a condition. I met your condition. Now this is mine.”
Sheppard crosses to the cocktail table, pours himself and Jensen a whiskey. He turns to hand Jensen his glass, then takes a slow sip before speaking.
Jensen puts his glass down. “I’ll pay you,” he says. “Whatever Jared’s worth to you, I’ll pay.”
“You can’t afford it,” Sheppard says with a smirk. “And I’m guessing Helios isn’t interested. They don’t buy slaves. At least, not directly.”
“Then take me,” Jensen says. His heart pounds and his palms sweat, but he puffs out his chest and takes a step forward, letting Sheppard see he’s serious. “Let me take Jared’s place. Set him free, and I’ll stay. You can have me. That’s what you wanted in the first place, isn’t it?”
“Interesting proposition,” Sheppard says, taking another sip of his drink. He lets his gaze sweep over Jensen slowly, speculatively. “Turn around.”
Jensen clenches his jaw but does as he’s asked, turning slowly so that Sheppard can appraise every inch of what’s on offer.
“Very nice,” Sheppard nods. “But no deal. You’re too old.”
“Too old?” Jensen sputters, hiding his humiliation behind indignation. “I’m 32! How is that too old?”
“We retire our love slaves at 30,” Sheppard answers smoothly. “Sorry.”
Ice water floods Jensen’s veins. “How old is Jared?”
“Twenty-eight. He’s got two more years. If you really wanted to buy him, you’d have to compensate for those two years of service, and as you are no doubt aware, he’s one of the best. His value is almost incalculable.”
“Name your price!” Jensen snaps.
Sheppard names a figure that’s more than five times what Jensen expects to make in his entire lifetime, and Jensen gasps.
“Like I said, you can’t afford him.”
“What about when he’s thirty?” Jensen can’t imagine walking away without Jared today, but he’s willing to consider any alternative to leaving him here forever. “When he retires and you don’t need him anymore, what happens to him then?”
“Retired love slaves go to work in the mines,” Sheppard smirks. “The managers and foremen ride them hard. They don’t last long.”
Jensen’s stomach churns. “How long?”
Sheppard shrugs. “A couple of years, tops.”
Jensen takes a deep breath, lets it out slow. “What’s he worth to you when he turns thirty?”
“Not much, that’s true,” Sheppard nods. “I might be talked into letting him go for three hundred thousand at that point, compensating for the disappointment of my staff, of course. On the other hand, if you let them have him for two years, I’d give him up for next to nothing. Say, ten thousand at that point.”
Jensen clenches his jaw, fighting the urge to hit the man. He could probably hit him hard enough to kill him. Then he could walk out of here with Jared in tow. No one would dare to stop him. He and Jared would be dead before they could make it to the spaceport, of course, but at least they’d die together.
No. He’s smarter than that. The answer to all of this is right here in front of him. All he has to do is be patient.
“Okay,” he says. “It’s a deal. I can wire you a deposit tonight, after I get back to Principia. I’ll send monthly payments after that.”
“Done.” Sheppard smirks. “Now, shall we eat?”
Jensen can barely sit with the man. He chokes down his food and fights his own urge to flee, to do violence. He takes deep breaths and thinks about Jared, and it calms him. He’s almost able to ignore Sheppard’s moronic babbling, his detailed rumination on his future life in Concordia. Servants come and go, bringing food and clearing plates, and Jensen goes through the motions, anxious for the moment he can leave, go back to his room and tell Jared what he’s done.
“So what did he tell you?” Sheppard asks over coffee and dessert.
Jensen’s lost in thought, daydreaming about the day two years in the future when he can set Jared free. He’s caught off guard.
Sheppard smiles. “Did he tell you you were soulmates? He uses that line a lot.”
Jensen stares. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“He gives my clients exactly what they need,” Sheppard says. “That’s his job. Although I pegged you for a less sentimental type, I guess I can see how the soulmate thing might work for you. A little bit of magic after all the boring, humdrum, day to day pencil-pushing you must do back home.”
Stunned, Jensen can only stare. The idea that Jared was acting, that everything he told Jensen was a lie, doesn’t make sense to him. He could feel their soul bond. It was physical.
“Yeah, he uses an aphrodisiac,” Sheppard goes on, as if Jensen has answered, as if he can read Jensen’s thoughts. “It’s in his saliva. Once you’ve kissed him, it gets into your system. Makes your insides tingly. Makes your ears ring. Perfectly harmless, of course.”
When Jensen still doesn’t speak, Sheppard gives a short laugh. “Don’t tell me you actually fell for it? You did, didn’t you? You just gave up your life’s earnings for a love slave who conned you.”
“That’s not possible,” Jensen says, but he knows better.
It doesn’t matter. Nothing could matter less than being conned by Jared, if that’s what’s happened. Setting him free is still the goal. If they can’t be together, then that’s Jared’s choice. The point is, he’ll be able to make that choice as a free man, not as a victim of the con he’s pulled to gain his own freedom.
If that’s really what happened. Sheppard could be lying, which is as likely as anything.
“Oh, I’m afraid it’s true,” Sheppard assures him. “You’ve been had, Commander, and there’s no take-backs on this deal. I’ve recorded our entire conversation. I can assure you, I always make good on my deals, so don’t go getting any ideas. I know where to find you.”
Jared’s gone, of course.
When Jensen gets back to his room, there’s no sign of the man who pledged his soul and gave up his body to Jensen last night.
He considers leaving Jared a note, assuring him that he won’t go back on the deal. Letting Jared know that he can count on Jensen, even if he’s pulled a fast one. It doesn’t change a thing. Jensen’s a man of his word.
Jensen raped a slave last night. A man who couldn’t give his consent. Jensen’s a rapist. He’s complicit in the most despicable evil. He sees that now. He lied to himself last night, and he’s the only one at fault here.
How many times has Jared convinced Sheppard’s clients that he’s their soulmate? Or just the best fuck of their lives? How many fortunes has Sheppard pocketed as a result? How many times have other men promised to set Jared free in exchange for his undying love? His lifelong devotion?
How many more men will Jared fuck over the next two years?
Doesn’t matter, Jensen tells himself. Jared had every right to do what he did. Jensen has no right to judge.
He finds it hard to look Sheppard in the eye later, when it’s time to leave. He can feel Sheppard smirking at him, and he’d give anything to be able to smack that smarmy look off his smug face.
That wouldn’t help Jared. He can’t do anything to jeopardize his deal.
“I’ll need proof,” he reminds Sheppard at the last moment. “Before I wire the last payment, you need to prove you’ve made good on our deal.”
“Of course,” Sheppard huffs good-naturedly. “You can come and get him that day, if you like. I’m sure he’ll be very happy to see you. Very grateful.”
The thought of seeing Jared again makes Jensen’s heart pound, makes his head spin.
But he won’t do that. If Jared wants to see him, after all’s said and done, after Jared’s free, then that’s up to Jared. When the time comes, he’ll send someone else to collect Jared. Someone he can trust.
Leaving Secundus, knowing Jared’s still enslaved there, is the hardest thing he’s ever done. He gets sick shortly after take-off, spends the entire flight puking his guts out in the shuttle’s lavatory.
Word has spread about the success of the mission, and a celebratory crowd awaits Jensen and his team when they land in New Pacifica. Jensen takes two steps down the gangway before collapsing.
He spends the next week in the company clinic, recovering from exhaustion. At least, that’s the official diagnosis. Jensen wants to die, not recover. Every moment is an excruciating reminder of his failure. He left Jared in that place. He raped him, then left him there for two more years of the same. Jensen deserves to die.
Jensen refuses to eat or drink, so one day he wakes up hooked to IV tubes, tied to the bed so he can’t remove them. Jeff Morgan stands at the foot of the bed, love and concern creasing his handsome features.
Jensen closes his eyes. He wants oblivion, not pity.
“Donna and Alan were here. They just left to get something to eat.”
His parents were here. Jensen turns his head away, toward the window. A tear squeezes out of the corner of his eye.
“Jen, I know you don’t want to hear this right now, but you did good. You succeeded. Our people go in next week for training. We’ll have a transition team ready by the end of the year.”
Jensen blinks and stares at the window as another tear slips down his cheek.
Nothing could be less important to him than the mission he just completed. The very notion that he succeeded disgusts him. His life has been a lie, lived at the expense of thousands of people who have no choice about the way they live. To succeed in this world is to perpetuate evil.
He’s known this all his life but never faced it before. It was never so personal.
And the sick thing is, he doesn’t even really care about all those people, except in the abstract way he’s always cared about the underprivileged. He used to think of himself as a good man because he cared about people whose lives were less fortunate.
He’s not a good man. He knows he can’t change the system. He can’t make a difference. He’s only one man who’s been trained to follow orders. His wild fantasies about leading a rebellion, about joining insurgents he’s never even heard of, about starting an insurrection — at heart, none of it even matters that much to him. He’s no hero.
All that matters is Jared. Jensen left him in that place. That’s his greatest crime.
Jeff clears his throat. “You know, I’ve been to the mines,” he says. He shifts his feet awkwardly. “It’s a brutal place. You didn’t need to see that. I made Sheppard promise not to take you.”
Jensen says nothing. There’s nothing to say.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have sent you,” Jeff says after a moment. “I knew Sheppard would try to corrupt you, to get back at me. He knew how much you meant to me.”
He shifts his feet, scrubs a hand over his face.
“Damn it, Jensen, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, okay? I never meant for this to happen.”
Jensen closes his eyes.
After a moment, Jeff takes a deep breath. “You have to get better, you hear me? I need you to get well again, buddy. Please.”
When Jensen still doesn’t answer, doesn’t even open his eyes, Jeff finally gives up. Jensen’s already sinking back to sleep and blessed oblivion as the door clicks shut behind him.
He wakes in the night to the sound of someone in the room, moving around quietly. It’s the night nurse, he thinks as he lets his mind wander. She takes his pulse and blood pressure, checks his vital signs. He doesn’t even bother to open his eyes until she speaks.
“It’s soul sickness,” she murmurs with conviction. “Classic soul sickness.”
He looks up as she takes his temperature. The nurse is an older woman with sagging skin and kind eyes. She nods when she sees him looking at her.
“Saw it once before, when I was just starting out, back on Secundus.”
“You lived on Secundus?” Jensen croaks. His voice hasn’t been used in a while.
“Born and raised.” The woman nods. “My daddy bought my freedom, got me transported here when I was younger than you.”
“Your daddy was a slave?”
“Oh no,” the woman shakes her head. “My mama was, though. Daddy worked for ConPort.” The transportation system that operates between Secundus and Principia. “He visited her regular for years before and after I was born. Spent his life savings, getting me out.”
“She passed away. Long time, now. She was a nurse’s aide, too. Treated Daddy’s injuries in an accident when they was both just kids. I helped her out, later. That’s when I saw a case just like yours.”
She pats his shoulder. In the dim light, Jensen reads her name tag: Faith.
“I don’t believe...”
“In soulmates?” Faith smiles. “You should. Believing in the magic is what keeps a lot of folks going. Hoping it’ll come for you, fighting for it when it finds you. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
“It’s not real,” Jensen whispers, closing his eyes. “It’s just a fantasy.”
“You think your soulmate agrees with you?” She huffs a breath. “You think it’s not real for him? Because I’m willing to bet you’re his reason for living. Holding out hope he’ll see you again is what keeps him alive.”
“No, no, no.” Jensen shakes his head. “It was all a lie. A con job.”
“You believe that?” Faith shakes her head. “You willing to stake his life on that? Because he’s not giving up. He’s not wasting away with soul-sickness, you mark my words. He’s living for the day you two can be together again. And he’s counting on you to do the same.”
Jensen shakes his head. It’s useless to argue any more. Superstition can be a powerful drug for many people. It isn’t his place to take that away from her.
She’s a better person than he, for all her belief in things he knows to be untrue.
Nevertheless, after that night, Jensen makes an effort to get well again. He owes that to Jared. He needs to get back to work, earn the money to pay Sheppard what he owes. Jared’s freedom is the only goal now.
He takes Tahmoh Penikett, Chris Kane, and Chuck Whitfield into his confidence, explaining his plan to leave Helios once his debt is paid. They agree to transport Jared to Principia and help set him up with a home and a job.
Jensen plans to be out of the city by then. He researches possibilities and learns that a colony ship will be leaving for deep space at about the same time. Its destination is light-years away, so the journey is expected to take several lifetimes. Colonists will be put in stasis for the duration, to be awakened automatically shortly before arrival, hundreds of years in the future.
By then everyone he knows here on Principia will be long dead.
It’s a dangerous mission with a lower-than-average expectation of success, but Jensen signs up without hesitation. He lets his three best friends into his confidence, but makes them promise not to tell anyone else until after Jensen’s gone.
“You’re insane,” Tahmoh tells him. They’re having their Friday night beers in a local tavern, sitting at the bar together as usual.
Jensen, Tahmoh, Chris, and Chuck have spent a lot of time together since returning from Secundus. Jensen’s grateful to have had such reliable companions on the trip. Calling them all good friends six months later feels like a privilege.
“Probably,” Jensen agrees as they raise their glasses. “But it’s too much of an adventure to pass up.”
“Once you get on that ship, there’s no turning back,” Chuck says. “I’m not sure I could do that.”
Jensen smiles. “For me, it’s the only way,” he says. “Starting over, leaving all my mistakes behind, all the bad things I did... It’s more than I deserve.”
“And Jared?” Chris’s tone is gentle, but persistent. “Are you sure it’s the best thing for him?”
Jensen clenches his jaw, stares at himself in the mirror over the bar, and takes a long swallow of his beer. “I’m sure.”
After his illness, Jensen was benched from the fast track at Helios. His office was given to Misha Collins, while Jensen was downgraded to a cubicle on the second floor. He now spends his days filing reports at a desk instead of in board meetings on the top floor. It suits him.
Morgan kept his salary where it was before, though, and Jensen’s quietly grateful for that. He sends regular payments to Sheppard, and he doesn’t care if Morgan knows it. It’s his money. He’s got the right to spend it as he chooses.
He’s living cheap these days, trying to send every penny off-world. He shares an apartment with his three friends now, and they drink beer instead of whiskey, but it’s not a bad way to live, all things considered. It reminds him of his days in the military. Sometimes it even makes him miss those days.
Jensen never wishes he’d stayed there, though. The idea of never having met Jared haunts him. He has purpose now. A goal with meaning. Back then, he was just going through the motions, living in a dream world without any real substance. Now he knows what he wants, and he’s going after it with everything he can muster.
He doesn’t think about afterwards. The future doesn’t factor into his plans anymore. It’s enough that he’s not trying to kill himself. He’s not doing that to his parents, or to Morgan. He’s found an alternative that makes sense to him, and that’s all that matters.
The future will take care of itself.
On the day before departure, Jensen goes over his affairs one last time. He’s transferred his accounts into Tahmoh’s name, given all three roommates access to all of his assets. He arranged to have his personal belongings shipped to his parents, with the exception of a couple of sentimental items he designated for Jeff Morgan. Tahmoh gets his car, Chris gets his guitar. Chuck gets his exercise equipment.
Everyone at work thinks he’s taking a cushy early retirement out west, in the sparsely-populated part of the continent, where retirement is cheap.
Colonists are allowed one small bag with personal items. Everything else will be provided. Jensen selects a printed photograph of himself with his parents and a token from his time on Secundus. He doesn’t upload the portrait of Jared from Sheppard’s gallery. It’s the only photograph of Jared in existence, as far as he knows, but he doesn’t want to remember him that way.
Tahmoh offers to upload a livestream of the day they bring Jared to Principia, but Jensen refuses. It’s true that they’ll still be within range at that time, but Jensen can’t stand the thought of seeing Jared again. Jared deserves privacy and a chance to make his own choices. He doesn’t need to be forced to thank Jensen via livestream from three billion miles away.
When they arrive at the launch site, there’s a crowd waiting. Most are curious onlookers, fascinated by the idea of such an ambitious, death-defying mission. Others are from media outlets, looking for a good story. A scout ship containing twenty-two mission specialists launched last week. Another colony ship is expected to launch next week, and one more a week after that. Six months into the mission, they’ll rendezvous with the mother ship which will be their home for the rest of the mission. A little over two years from now, when the mother ship reaches the outer reaches of the solar system, they’ll join freighter and supply ships which were launched four years previously. The colonists will enter their stasis pods at that point. Then the entire fleet will head into the expanse of deep space, on an automated course for Futura, a habitable planet in the next system.
The mother ship has been under construction in space for well over a decade. It holds enough space, food, and water for 200 colonists for the two-year journey to the edge of the solar system. Given the inevitable mortality rate as a result of accident or malfunction of the stasis equipment over time, the mother ship is expected to provide a comfortable home for at least 175 survivors for another six months after the ships reach their destination. Barely enough to start a new colony, but adequate.
Saying goodbye to his friends isn’t as emotional as Jensen had thought it would be. All of the colonists will be allowed to communicate weekly with those they left behind on Principia, and Jensen promises to keep in touch over the next two years. The separation feels more gradual this way, the increasing isolation of space travel less claustrophobic and final.
After the shock of the initial launch, Jensen and the others on his ship quickly settle into a routine. For the first few days, they watch Principia growing smaller and bluer out the portholes, until the planet finally becomes a tiny pinpoint of light. Secundus is behind Principia when they launch, which is a good thing, Jensen decides. Out of sight, out of mind, just as Secundus was always meant to be.
Jensen thinks about Jared every day.
Most of the other colonists are former military, like himself, so the discipline of ship life comes easy to them. He makes friends with a couple of petite gingers, Felicia and Ruthie, and a big guy named Ty Olsson. They form a friendly card game that meets regularly after the work day is done.
Nobody asks Jensen why he’s here. Everybody has a reason for leaving Principia. Most, like Jensen, don’t want to talk about it. He stays clear of the ones that do. They’re the ones with chips on their shoulders, who think they’re sticking it to somebody back home by leaving.
People like that can be a liability on a mission like this. They’re too attached to things they’ve left behind. Too invested.
Jensen’s not like that.
Six months into the mission, they rendezvous with the mother ship. She’s huge, overwhelming. She comes into view as a tiny spot over a week before they actually get to her. It takes all day just to travel along her outer hull to the docking station.
Most of the crew on board the mother ship has been there over a month already. They assign quarters to each of the colonists, and Jensen thanks his lucky stars because his former military rank qualifies him for a private bunk.
He dreams of Jared and wakes up crying most nights.
Discipline was important on their small transport ship, but on the mother ship it’s everything. The primary crew who were here first include the specialists, the scientists who will ensure the colony’s survival. They’ll put the colonists to sleep in their stasis pods when the time comes. A skeleton crew of three will guide the fleet into deep space before they activate their own pods. They’ll be the first to waken when the time comes, on the other side of oblivion.
After a week, another ship arrives. The colonists gather in the docking bay to welcome their new shipmates, each one assigned to an incoming crew member as a mentor. One more ship is still on its way, scheduled to be here by the end of the week, but Jensen’s too busy to notice by that time. It’s the job of the latest arrivals to welcome each new ship, and Jensen’s already had his turn.
Besides, he’s got something more important to do.
Chris Kane’s face shimmers into view on the screen, and Jensen fights down his emotions. Just seeing his friend over the livestream from a billion miles away makes his chest hurt.
“How’s it going?” Jensen tries to smile, but he knows his face is doing something else.
“Same old, same old,” Chris answers. “How’s space?”
“Cold and dark,” Jensen answers. “Hey. Uh.”
He can’t get the words out, can’t ask the question he’s been dying to ask all day. He couldn’t sleep last night in anticipation.
It’s the day after Jared’s liberation. Chris and the others were supposed to bring him home yesterday. Jensen spent the day on pins and needles, forcing himself not to beg the communications officer to patch him through to Principia. He’d received the message last week that things were fine. Sheppard had received his final payment.
Today was July 20, a day after Jared’s 30th birthday.
“He’s fine, Jensen,” Chris says. “We got him. He’s free.”
“Can I...?” Jensen’s voice catches and he can’t finish the sentence.
“You want to speak with him after all, don’t you?” Chris shakes his head. “I knew it. I knew you wouldn’t be able to hold out.”
“I just need...” Jensen’s voice catches again. He shakes his head sharply to clear it, pressing the heel of his hand against his eye. “Aw, shit.”
“Yeah, Morgan said that’s how it’d be,” Chris says.
“Jeff? What’s he got to do with it?” Jensen blinks, wipes his cheek with trembling fingers. “Did you tell him?”
“He found out, Jen,” Chris says. “You knew he would. You were transferring all that money right under his nose. Liquidating everything. Your retirement fund.”
“It’s none of his business,” Jensen growls. “He wouldn’t help me. He didn’t need to know.”
“What can I say? The guy cares about you. When he figured out what was happening, he got in there and made his own deal with Sheppard. That swindling bastard probably planned it that way all along. He really took you both to the cleaners.”
Jensen frowns, confused. “What are you talking about? What did Jeff do?”
“Got your boy off Secundus ahead of schedule,” Chris says.
“What?” Jensen stares. His blood runs cold and his chest tightens. “Where is he, Chris?”
They both know Jensen’s not asking about Jeff Morgan.
The soft voice sounds just as melodious as Jensen remembers, but it’s not coming from the communications screen.
Jensen’s ears are ringing. They’ve been ringing for a while. His hands tremble as he turns slowly, unable to process what his senses are telling him.
Jared stands in the doorway, his lean frame dressed in the soft, comfortable clothing issued to each colonist just before boarding. His hair falls around his face, slightly longer than Jensen remembers, and his hands hang loose at his sides, long, slender fingers trembling, just like Jensen’s.
“Jared.” The word whispers past Jensen’s lips before he can stop it.
Jared smiles, hesitant, dimples on full display. “Hi, Jensen.”
“So, you guys are good?” Chris’s voice interrupts. They start simultaneously, having forgotten that Chris was still on an open communications screen in the room. “I’ll just sign off, then. Good luck, you two.”
The screen goes dark, but Jensen can’t tear his eyes away from the apparition in the doorway. He can’t believe what he’s seeing. It doesn’t make sense.
“How are you here?” The question slips out, unbidden.
“I took the last transport,” Jared says. “We just docked a few minutes ago.”
Jensen stares. “Why?”
Jared looks down. “I think you know why.” His shyness and hesitation break Jensen’s heart.
As if Jensen could reject him. As if Jensen could ever refuse Jared anything.
“But you’re free! You could do anything with your life now. You could...you could...I don’t know, get a job! Start a family! Have a nice life on Principia!”
Jared lifts his eyes again. They’re clear and bright, softened with emotion. Beautiful.
“I chose you, Jensen,” he says. “Since the first day I saw you.”
Jensen stares. “This is suicide. This is...You could...”
Jensen’s overwhelmed by the magnitude of Jared’s decision, by the significance of his presence here. It means Jared could die. It means Jared’s future isn’t assured at all. It means, when they both close their eyes in their respective stasis pods eighteen months from now, one or both of them might never wake up.
“So we enjoy the time we have,” Jared says. He smiles again, wry and bashful. “Seeing you again is enough, so if you want me to leave you alone...”
Jensen doesn’t hesitate. It’s not even an option. He crosses the room in two long strides, arms open. Jared collapses against him, bending his knees as Jensen goes up on tiptoe to pull Jared’s big body into his arms. Jared tucks his face into Jensen’s shoulder, into the crook of his neck, and Jensen holds him there, one hand in Jared’s soft, thick hair. Tears slip out of the corners of his eyes as Jared clings to him, shaking with emotion.
“Oh my God, Jared. Oh my God.”
It’s still early in the day, and they’ve both got work to do.
Jensen asks to be assigned as Jared’s mentor, so they spend the day together. Jensen gets Jared assigned to the quarters next to his, although by the end of the day it’s obvious they’ll be sharing Jensen’s. All day long, Jensen’s ears ring. His lips and fingertips tingle. He finds himself constantly touching Jared, as if he needs to reassure himself he’s really here. Being near Jared effects his body chemistry. He’s hyper-aware of Jared and adjusts the space between them to keep Jared always by his side, as close as physically possible. Their bodies move in sync without either of them consciously realizing it. They brush shoulders as they walk, press knees and arms together when they sit. Jensen’s hands keep reaching for Jared without his even being aware of it. He looks up to meet Jared’s gaze over and over during the day, finds their fingers tangled together unexpectedly.
Being near Jared is the strongest drug he can imagine, and at the same time Jensen’s never been so alert. He’s never felt so alive.
Not since that night on Secundus, two years ago.
When their duties are complete, they don’t hesitate. The moment the door of Jensen’s chamber slides shut behind them, they’re all over each other, touching and kissing and shedding clothing in record time. Jensen shakes loose from Jared all the little gasps and cries he remembers, falls apart in the process of opening him up and spreading him out on the bunk. He looks into Jared’s eyes just before pushing into him, sees all the consent and willingness he couldn’t trust the last time.
“Always wanted this,” Jared moans, as if he can read Jensen’s mind. “With you, it was always real.”
Jensen believes him, not to assuage his ego, but because he can never doubt anything Jared tells him ever again.
They lie tangled together afterwards, their hands entwined, and Jensen can’t stop examining Jared’s long fingers. Each knuckle and cuticle are endlessly fascinating, the delicate bones underneath the skin a kind of miracle.
“So I have Jeff to thank for this,” Jensen muses. “Not sure how I feel about that.”
Jared huffs out a breath. “He’s a good guy,” he says softly. “Loves you.”
Jensen frowns, turns his face up to meet Jared’s eyes. “You knew him. Before.”
Jared nods. “We spent time together, over the years, whenever he visited the General.”
Jensen takes that in. Other than a hot flash of jealousy, which he knows he should let go, he’s okay with the idea that Jeff slept with both of them. There’s a kind of symmetry to it.
He’ll never ask about Jared’s other customers — Sheppard’s clients. It’s none of his business. It’s up to Jared to share or not to share anything about his life. It’s all so much more than he deserves, having Jared here with him.
Out here, at the edge of the known world.
Maybe they’ll change things. If they make it to Futura, maybe they won’t make the same mistakes. Maybe they can start fresh, shedding the burdens and sins of the past to create a new society, one where all people are free and equal.
For now, Jared’s here, in his arms, and Jensen’s grateful.
He’d be a fool not to be.