For the first time in weeks, Jensen came to find Jared at the security desk at the end of his shift.
"Hey," he said. "Thanks for the coffee run. I owe you."
Jared shrugged with a poor attempt at nonchalance. "It's no problem. Guess you're lucky I'm around, since coffee fairies don't exist, apparently."
Jensen's smile flashed, warm and open. "Don't be stupid, Jared. I'm always lucky you're around."
That burgeoning hope flared up again, and Jared bit his lip, considering.
"Jared?" Jensen's head cocked to one side. "Everything okay?"
"I'm trying to make a decision," Jared answered honestly.
What the hell. He only got to live once.
"About telling you that I like you," Jared admitted. "And asking if you want to go to dinner with me sometime."
Jensen didn't answer right away. Jared held his breath.
"Jared," Jensen started finally, and Jared's heart sank at his tone of voice. "I can't."
Jared took a breath. "Can't as in 'don't want to' or can't as in 'can't'?"
"That's-" Jensen started, only to cut himself off again when the elevator dinged and one of the morning crew stepped out, still 90% asleep by the looks of it. "I'm not doing this here," he decided. "Come on."
He strode off like a man on a mission, not looking back to see if Jared was behind him.
Jared cursed himself for a fool when he followed immediately.
"Look," Jensen said, once he'd ensconced them in an empty office. Only the fact that he looked as awkward as Jared felt made it tolerable to stand there. "My life, it's complicated." A gesture at his sunglasses. "These aren't going to magically get better."
"I don't mind," Jared was quick to say.
Jensen's smile was more like a grimace. "Only because you don't know what you'd be getting into. I can manage well enough here, but interacting with people in a professional capacity is not the same as dating. I never take my sunglasses off."
"I find that a little hard to beli-"
"Never," Jensen repeated, in deadly earnest. "The consequences aren't worth it. And I may not get out much, but I doubt anyone wants to have a relationship with someone they can't even look in the eyes."
Jared tried to think of a way to say 'I'm cool with you wearing your sunglasses in bed as long as I still get to have sex with you' without sounding like a douchebag and failed utterly. "I could-"
"Jared." Jensen's voice had gone gentle, which was almost worse. "I'm not my condition, but it does have a profound impact on my life. I'm just not prepared to bring someone else into that equation right now." Jensen offered a helpless little half-shrug. "I hope you understand."
"Yeah," Jared said, because he did, not matter how much it sucked. "No hard feelings."
That earned him a grateful smile. "Thanks."
They stared at each other for an awkward moment, before Jensen coughed unsubtly. "You ready to go?"
"Yeah," Jared said, even though sitting in a car with Jensen right now was probably the very last thing he wanted to do. "As long as you don't blame a guy for trying."
Jensen shook his head. "I don't," he said, and Jared had no idea if he could believe him, but he decided to let it drop.
That was that, he supposed.
Except for how it wasn't.
After Jensen turned him down, they went back to sort of normal. Jared continued to listen to Jensen's radio show during his shifts, Jensen continued to catch a ride home with Jared every morning, they both continued turning their work acquaintance into something a little more like friendship, although it never extended anywhere beyond Muse FM and the quiet confines of Jared's car.
Despite Jensen's blatant effort to pretend that Jared had never said anything, it was obvious that it was affecting him. And not in the way it would have had Jensen genuinely not been interested in going out with him.
It started with Jensen standing closer to him, never close enough that their arms brushed, but enough for Jared to be able to feel the heat of Jensen's skin close to his. He was flirting too, deliberately or not Jared couldn't tell, but it wasn't easy to handle either way.
Jared might have thought that Jensen was teasing him on purpose, except there didn't seem to be anything malicious behind it. It felt more like Jared's confession had given Jensen some kind of fucked up permission to indulge in his desire to get closer, to smile and flirt and make sure that their bourgeoning friendship was damn well never going to be entirely platonic in flavour.
And Jared might have taken that as an invitation to jump the man and kiss him until he gave into what they both wanted, except for the way that Jensen froze up whenever Jared tried to turn the tables on him. He shied away from casual touch, turned down invitations to hang out in their off-time, fled when Jared flirted back too obviously.
It was like he was starved for companionship, even while every inch of his body screamed out that he was terrified of it.
The mixed signals were driving Jared crazy.
The part that was most irritating, in Jared's mind, was the fact that Jensen had decided that they weren't going to work out before even giving it a try. And he was trying not to be an ableist shithead, but he really didn't see what could be so bad about Jensen's eye thingy that it had apparently put him off dating entirely.
Famous last words and all that.
Jared's first glimpse at the reality of the situation that he'd fallen into happened on a Friday, not quite a month since he'd started.
He was lounging at the security desk counting down the days till the weekend started when he was surprised out of his usual mid-shift lassitude by the unexpected ding of the elevator. Jared looked up with a frown; who the hell was that?
The doors opened and two men walked in. One was a little weedy-looking and half-hidden behind the second, who was big enough to make Jared feel small.
He stood up to try and balance the situation, and both men froze at the sight of him.
"Welcome to Muse FM," Jared said, in his security guard voice. "Can I help you?"
"Wrong floor," the smaller one said, dragging his friend back into the still-open elevator.
"But-" the big one managed, before the doors snapped shut behind them. The elevator dinged as it left.
Jared stood there, eyebrows arched in surprise.
"That was weird."
He watched on the elevator display as the '4' lit up for a minute before the elevator returned to the lobby. So maybe it had been the wrong floor, after all.
Except that hadn't been the reaction of people who'd come to the wrong floor. Jared sat back down, thinking over the encounter. They'd looked completely stunned to see him, as if he was a ghost or a unicorn or something and not a guy in a uniform.
Although Jared had certainly got all manner of reactions to the uniform before. He'd had to deal with more than a few people totally out of their gourds on drugs in the past, and some people were panicky enough that the presence of Jared's uniform was enough to deter them from whatever small mischief they'd had planned.
All in all, a little more exciting than usual, but still not worth paying him to warm his chair all night.
And Jared would have thought no more of it were it not for Danneel's reaction.
Jensen's habit of waiting in the lobby for Jared had been very short-lived, and Jared had quickly become used to having to range through Muse FM to find him. Most of the time, Jensen could be found in his shoebox-sized office preparing for the next day.
Today, Jared found him in the break room, chatting easily with Danneel.
"There you are!" he said, when Jared stepped through the door. "What kept you?"
"Alien invasion," Jared answered, leaning up against the door jamb. "Just a small one, though. Nothing I couldn't handle."
Jensen glanced at Danneel. "Good job delegating there, boss lady. I don't see you dealing with any alien invasions."
"Please," Danneel said, with a toss of her head. "As if aliens would dare to attack when I'm around."
"I'd agree with that," Jared offered, and earned a smile in response.
Danneel smirked. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around."
"Gee," Jared drawled. "And here I thought it was because you needed an extra security guard."
"So you can babysit an empty lobby?" Jensen asked. "Not likely."
"Hey, I defended your honour against two maybe-intruders today," Jared retorted. "So don't be so quick to dismiss me and my mad security guard skills."
"Whatever. The recording studio locks from the inside, so it's not like they could get in anyway."
Jared frowned. "Isn't that kind of a safety hazard?"
Jensen shrugged. "There's a fire axe in there, and DJs have a lot of repressed rage at the world. Besides, there's a master key in the station manager's office, in case of emergencies."
"Oh, okay. Wait, why don't I have a copy?"
"Jared," Jensen said, in a decidedly pitying tone. "Be serious."
"You had some trouble today?" Danneel asked, and something about the careful calmness in her voice caught Jared's attention.
"Not trouble exactly, just a couple of guys who weren't supposed to be here." He slanted a glance at her, trying to decide if she looked unduly concerned about the news.
If she was, she hid it well. "What did they want?"
Jared shrugged. "Said they had the wrong floor."
"Probably terrified by your ugly mug," Jensen offered, smirking.
"I have been known to scare small children," Jared agreed gravely. "Granted, these guys weren't children, but I am pretty terrifying."
"You're also big enough to be part giant," Danneel said, sounding almost normal as she teased.
Jared snorted. "Compared to Tiny downstairs at the front door? Not hardly."
"Well, whatever it was that scared them off, I thank you for defending my dubious honour." Jensen levered himself to his feet, one hand tugging absently on his hood to make sure it was on properly. "As a reward, I'll let you drive me home."
"Golly," Jared deadpanned. "What a delight."
"You'd pine without me. Come on."
Jensen strode out into the hallway without waiting, but Jared hung back.
"Um," he said to Danneel, who was still sat at the table, an unusually distant look in her eyes. "I made a notation about them in the log book, in case you want more detail."
Danneel offered him a smile. "Thanks, Jared."
"Danneel, is there something wrong?"
She hesitated, indecision and something that Jared couldn't identify warring on her face.
He held his breath.
"Any time before I die of old age would be nice, Jared!" Jensen's voice shouted.
"Oh good, that gives me tons of time!" Jared shot back. He turned back to Danneel, but her expression was back to the amused one she usually wore when he and Jensen were sniping at each other. "Danneel?"
"It's nothing to worry about."
She canted her chin towards the door. "You should probably get after Himself before he hotwires your car." Her eyes were intent as she added, "There are reasons I don't like leaving him unsupervised, you know."
"Yeah," Jared said slowly. "I'm starting to see that."
"Have a good weekend," she offered. "I'll see you on Monday."
"Yeah," Jared agreed, and beat a retreat, mind whirling with the implications of what she had and hadn't said.
And if Jared watched the shadows closely as he and Jensen walked to his car, just in case there was someone hiding in them, well, working in security had a way of making people paranoid.
"It's got something to do with Jensen!" he declared triumphantly.
Chad's answering sigh was more longsuffering than Jared thought he really deserved. "Whoop de fucking no one gives a shit. Why are you still talking about your fucking job, anyway?"
"It makes sense. Why do they only need third shift coverage? Because that's when Jensen's working. If the problem was with the radio station, they'd need coverage all day." Jared sighed. "I just wish they'd trust me enough to tell me what's going on."
"Look." Chad leaned across the table with the grave sincerity that only appeared when he was halfway to being drunk off his ass. "I'm glad you're taking this shit seriously. But I don't want to hear another fucking word about this radio guy unless you start banging him or someone tries to kill him. Okay?"
Jared sighed. "Fair enough."
Chad clapped him on the shoulder. "Good man. Now let's get some shots!"
On Monday, Jared came into work on high alert. Or, well, on as high alert as he could manage while still slightly hungover from a Saturday night spend with Chad. The combination of hyper-vigilance and hangover mostly ensured that he was a twitchy, neurotic mess all night.
Which only made it even worse that his shift was every bit as boring as usual.
"What was up with you today?" Jensen asked, as he climbed into Jared's car at the end of the night. "You've been jumpier than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs all night."
"It's nothing," Jared said, feeling wrung out physically and emotionally. He'd noticed some increased diligence from Danneel tonight as well, though she'd ignored his every effort to try and get her to explain what it was that was bothering her so much.
Jensen, unsurprisingly, had been completely normal.
"Ri-ight," Jensen drawled. "Because that was totally convincing."
Jared sighed. "Sorry if I've spent enough time getting the runaround from you guys not to want to go out of my way to encourage more of it."
"What do you mean?" Jensen asked, perfectly innocuous.
Jared couldn't believe it was an honest reaction. He knew all too well how good Jensen was at using his voice to express anything he wanted to say. "Are we really going to have this conversation?"
Jensen shrugged carelessly. "Since I don't know what conversation you're talking about, I'd say go for it."
"Are you in danger?" Jared asked bluntly, and heard the audible click of Jensen's mouth closing. "Because that's the most logical explanation for all this paranoia. And I'd be a lot more useful as a security guard if I knew what the hell I was supposed to be watching out for."
Silence followed his words. Jared worried at his lower lip as he waited for Jensen to speak.
"It's nothing," Jensen said finally, and Jared felt vaguely like he'd been punched in the chest.
"Sure," he said, not trying to hide the bitterness. "Keep your secrets, then."
"Jared-" Jensen started.
"It's fine," Jared interrupted. "It's no more than what I expected. We hardly know each other after all. It's not like I've been hired t-"
"I can't talk to you about this."
Jared chanced a glance over. Jensen was watching him instead of the window, for once, but the gloom and those damn sunglasses made it impossible to gauge his expression. "But there is something that you can't tell me," he intuited.
He got a frown in response. "Don't go getting yourself into trouble, Jared."
"By asking questions or by trying to help?"
No further conversation seemed to be forthcoming. Biting back his frustration, Jared reached over to turn up the radio to fill the silence. Jensen let him get away with it, and neither of them said another word until Jared pulled up in front of Jensen's house.
Jensen climbed out of the car, pausing with one hand curled around the top of the door. "I'm sorry," he said, quiet and serious. He was gone before Jared could figure out how to respond to that, slipping away behind the trees with his usual careless grace.
Heaving a heavy sigh, Jared shook his head and put the car back in gear, not sure whether he felt more or less in the dark now than he had half an hour ago.
Only one thing was certain: no matter what Jensen wanted, Jared was definitely going to get himself in trouble before this was all over.
Everything went to hell in a handbasket on Wednesday.
"The problem with tricksters," Jensen was saying, a broad grin clearly audible in his voice. "Is that they hate to get outdone. Do not get into a prank war with a trickster; it's not worth it. And I know what I'm talking about listeners, trust me. My roommate in college was a coyote."
"Sure it was," Jared muttered to himself, between bites of his sandwich. "You'd better hope no one from the ASPCA is listening to this."
Normally, Jared didn't bother listening to Jensen's show on his break; he'd bring a book or fool around on his computer or catch a quick catnap. Radio was for when he was on shift.
But Jensen had been on sparkling form all night, and Jared hadn't wanted to miss out on the end of the story he'd been telling when Gabe had shown up to cover Jared's break. So here he was, camped out in the break room with his headphones in and his feet propped up on a nearby chair, listening to Jensen spin impossible stories about his misspent youth.
"Now us mere mortals can't be expected to go toe-to-toe with a trickster and hope to accomplish much. Rooming with a coyote will teach you that in about three seconds. it's a whole new ballgame when a tengu moves into the room across the hall."
Jared huffed out a disbelieving little laugh. "'A tengu', he says. Where does he come up with this stuff?"
He understood a reasonable number of the monster references that Jensen made. Fairies, werewolves, dragons, stuff like that. But every now and then, the stuff Jensen talked about was seriously bizarre. One of these days, he'd have to ask Jensen if he had a reference book he could borrow or something.
The thing that Jared liked about Jensen's stories was that, no matter how fantastical and ridiculous they were, it was impressively hard to tell just how much was made up and how much was actually based in fact. It was enthralling to listen to him weave the truth and the lie together.
Of course, Jared thought that Jensen was enthralling mostly all of the time, but he didn't like to think about how much of a sad bastard he was if he didn't have to.
Jensen was still talking about this tengu-whatever, sounding about three seconds away from bursting out laughing.
"Japanese exchange student. Spoke better English than I do, the overachiever. Well, Chris decides that the best way to welcome him is to sew up all the wing holes in his shirts. And then glue them to the ceiling. Which was apparently a call to arms because this guy put a live ca-"
Jensen's words cut off sharply, and it took Jared a confused moment to realize that it was because of a loud banging in the background.
"What the-?" Jensen said.
The pounding grew louder, resolving into a sound that Jared recognized: heavy fists trying to break down a door.
His blood ran cold.
"We'll be right back," Jensen said, hurried but calm, and the last thing Jared heard before the feed cut to commercials was the horrifying crack of wood splintering and a triumphant roar that was more animal than human.
Jared lurched to his feet, nearly strangling himself with his headphones as he raced out the door. He didn't know who it was or how they'd got in, and he didn't care.
He had to get to Jensen.
The empty hallways flashed by as Jared ran, heart pounding with worry and adrenaline. He skidded round the corner and his breath caught when he saw the door to the recording studio hanging off its hinges, the metal shutters twisted and misshapen.
Not even stopping to consider what might greet him on the other side, Jared hurtled down the hall and through the doorway, one hand gripping the doorjamb to keep him from ending up on the carpet.
His voice caught in his throat, his brain stumbling along with his feet as it tried to understand what it was seeing.
Jensen whirled towards the sound of his voice, his hood falling back as his hair reared and whirled with him, brilliantly green and hissing and… Jesus, were those teeth?
A hand clapped down over Jared's eyes, blocking his view before Jensen had even finished spinning towards him.
"Fuck," Jensen's voice said, tight and panicked. "Jared?"
"He's fine," Danneel said over Jared's shoulder, her voice hoarse like she'd been yelling. The small part of Jared's brain that wasn't jibbering in confused horror wondered how she'd got here so fast. "I've got him."
"Oh, gods." Jensen let out an explosive gasp. "Fuck, Danny, I thought he'd…"
"He's fine," Danneel repeated calmly, which was about when Jared realized that Jensen hadn't been talking to him, but about him. "I got here in time."
Jensen let out a laugh that sounded more frantic than amused. "What would I do without you?"
"You're welcome. Can you put your glasses back on?"
"I-" Jensen stammered, still sounding like he was freaking the fuck out. "No, fuck, they broke when he hit me, that's why-"
"It's okay," Danneel said, cutting through Jensen's rising hysteria with impressive ease. "There's another pair in your office. Can you wait here while I go get them?"
Jared heard the sound of Jensen drawing in a shuddering breath. "Yeah, just-" There was a shuffling sound, the shush of fabric brushing against fabric, and then Jensen's voice saying, "Okay. It's safe."
"He needs your support right now. Please don't freak out too much until I get back," Danneel murmured in Jared's ear, and then her hand pulled away from his face.
Jared half-turned to ask her what the hell was going on, only to come face to chest with the most grotesque statue he'd ever seen. It was half again as tall as he was, with clawed fingers and massive teeth exposed by a lip-curling snarl.
He let out a sound that was definitely not a shriek, stumbled backwards a startled step and nearly fell into a second statue that rose up behind him, its arms raised like it was about to strike.
"What the fuck?" he demanded, about ready to start freaking out when his eyes landed on Jensen, half-hidden behind another statue.
Jensen was huddled on the floor with his back against the desk, his knees pulled up to his chest and his face buried in the fabric of his jeans. His hands were pressed tightly to the faint slivers of skin visible on either side of his face, hiding it almost completely. His hood was still down, and his hair…
"Snakes," Jared managed dumbly, and Jensen's body stiffened, though he didn't move.
"Yeah," his voice said, muffled and rough.
The snakes that covered Jensen's head peered at Jared with their beady eyes, some of them swaying back and forth under his scrutiny like it made them nervous. They were emerald green and patterned with striations of black that seemed to shimmer as they moved, like an oil slick. Jared had no idea what kind of snake they were, which seemed like such a minor thing on the list of Shit He Didn't Know right now that he wasn't even sure why he cared.
Jared couldn't see much of Jensen's scalp because of the way they were writhing around, but they seemed to be growing straight out of his head, pale skin melting into green scales in a way that almost, almost looked natural.
Jesus Christ, Jensen had snakes instead of hair.
And Jared really wanted to ask, but Jensen's whole body was trembling, his huddled posture making him look small and terribly afraid. The words caught in Jared's throat.
Which was about when he noticed the blood, seeping sluggishly between Jensen's fingers where they were pressed to the side of his face.
"Jensen! You're hurt!" He lurched forward, hands outstretched to check the damage.
"Don't touch me!" Jensen shouted, almost a shriek. His entire body shrank away from Jared's reaching fingers, the knotted tangle of his, Jesus, snake-hair, writhing in panic.
Jared stumbled to a startled halt, fingers still pointlessly outstretched. "Jensen..."
"Okay," Danneel said, stepping through the doorway with a pair of sunglasses in her hand. She glanced at Jared. "You can freak out now if you have to, although I'd appreciate it if you didn't."
"I-" Jared started, then realized that he had absolutely no idea how to continue that sentence. He spread his hands helplessly and remained silent.
Danneel picked her way across the room and sank into a graceful crouch at Jensen's side. "Hand," she said, and waited until Jensen had pulled one shaking hand away from his face and extended it palm out before placing his sunglasses gently into it. She murmured something too low for Jared to hear, then turned back to Jared. "Close your eyes."
"Just do it," she snapped, in a voice that expected to be obeyed. "Or leave. Those are your options."
Jared shut his eyes.
"Okay," Jensen said a moment later, still shaky but somehow calmer than before. "It's safe to look."
Biting his lip to hold back all the questions that wanted to burst out, Jared did so and found that Danneel was attending to the cut on Jensen's face, working around the sunglasses once again perched on his nose.
He still had snakes for hair.
Jensen's hands darted to his hood when he caught Jared staring, but they stopped short of actually pulling it up.
"Oh, what's the use?" he sighed, more to himself than anything, then flinched. "Ow!"
"You're going to be fine," Danneel told him, pulling her hands away. "But you're going to have to be careful with that if you don't want it to scar."
"Right," Jensen said, disgusted and choked. "Because that's what I'm worried about right now."
"Stop it." Danneel's voice was whip-sharp but still, somehow, sympathetic. "Things could have gone so much worse than this-"
Jensen choked out a sound that was almost a sob. "What? This isn't bad enough for you?" He raised his hands to gesture at… the room in general, as far as Jared could tell. "Danny, I… I…"
"It wasn't your fault," Danneel soothed. "And for the record, yes, it would have been worse if you hadn't."
"But I didn't want to," Jensen said in a small voice.
Danneel pulled him into a one-armed hug. Jensen collapsed into her like he couldn't manage to keep himself upright on his own, his face twisted with a grief that Jared couldn't hope to understand. "I know," she murmured, face pressed fearlessly into the tangle of Jensen's hair. "I know."
And the last thing Jared wanted to do was interrupt, but he doubted that the flashing light on the computer was a good thing. He had no idea how long it had been since he'd left the break room, but Jensen had definitely been off the air long enough to run out of commercials. "Um, I think Jensen's listeners might all be having panic attacks right now. Can I… help?"
That roused Jensen, who started struggling to his feet, but it was Danneel who answered.
"Yes, actually, you can." She seized Jensen by the wrist before he could go over to the computer and shoved him in Jared's direction. "Take him somewhere and keep him calm. I'll take care of things in here."
"Danny-" Jensen protested weakly.
"You're in no state to be dealing with your job right now, Jensen. You've officially been overruled."
"For what it's worth," Jared offered. "I agree with Danneel."
"That's because I'm right. Please, Jensen," she said, which turned out to be the magic words to make Jensen's resistance crumble.
"Fine." He turned abruptly towards Jared, his snake-hair flaring and hissing at the sudden movement. Jared jolted back instinctively, and regretted it when Jensen's mouth flattened into short, unhappy line.
Jensen pushed past him into the hallway, head ducked and shoulders hunched.
Helplessly, Jared turned to Danneel. "I didn't mean-"
Her eyes were kind. "I know. It's a lot to take in. Just don't forget that this is Jensen, okay? He cares about your opinion. Give him a chance. Off you go now."
Jared nodded dumbly and followed after Jensen, leaving the chaos of the recording booth behind him.
The ticking of the wall clock was painfully loud.
Jensen and Jared were sitting across from each other at the lunch table, as they had been for some time now. Jensen's eyes were on his lap, while Jared's were helplessly caught by Jensen's hair. The snakes seemed to have calmed down from their earlier agitation, and sat mostly quietly as they stared back at Jared.
"Ask," Jensen said suddenly, sounding like he'd been gargling with rocks.
Jared blinked at him. "What?"
"You have questions," Jensen said, and Jared was abruptly reminded of that first car ride together. Had it really only been a month ago? "Ask."
"I don't want to…" Jared groped in vain for a way to explain that didn't sound like an insult.
"Jared," Jensen said, with a raw undercurrent to words that compelled Jared to listen. "Right now I need something to think about that's not the clusterfuck that's awaiting me as soon as I leave this building. Ask."
And, well, it wasn't like Jared didn't have a million questions. His eyes skipped back up to Jensen's head. "You have snakes for hair," he said, a little helplessly.
"I do," Jensen agreed. The aforementioned snakes hissed and undulated from their perch on top of Jensen's head, some of them pressing against Jensen's cheeks like they were trying to comfort him. "That's not a question."
"Okay fine. Why you have snakes for hair?"
Jensen faltered at that, licking his lips nervously. "Ah, well, that's because I'm-"
Jared leaned forward. "What?"
Jensen's voice was scarcely above a whisper. "A gorgon."
Jared was silent for a moment as he digested that. Jensen's shoulders hunched.
"I... don't know what that is," Jared admitted.
"Like Medusa?" Jensen tried. Jared gave him a blank look in response. "Seriously? Gorgons are monsters from Greek myth with snakes for hair who can turn people to stone with a look. How can you not know this?"
"Okay, in my defense, Greek myth isn't exactly taught in schools these d- what do you mean you can turn people to stone?!"
"Oh," Jensen said, in a small voice, and Jared belatedly realized that he'd been yelling. "This is going to be so much worse than I thought."
"What?" Jared asked, modulating his volume with an effort.
There was something heart-wrenching about the defeated slump to Jensen's shoulders. "You don't understand what I've done."
"Okay," Jared said, trying desperately to put his muddled thoughts in order. "I think we need a new approach. I'm assuming that… whatever happened today has something to do with why I was hired?"
Jensen nodded. "The radio station has been receiving threats."
Jared eyed him narrowly. "And by 'radio station' you mean 'you'."
"Why? Does it have something to do with you being a…" What was that word Jensen had used? "A gorgone?"
"Gorgon," Jensen corrected. "And no, ironically enough. If they'd realized what I am, they'd never have dared to attack me head on."
Jensen shrugged. "Monster politics. Not really worth getting into."
Which was a bullshit answer if Jared had ever heard one, but something else about Jensen's words demanded his attention first. If there were monster politics, then that meant... "So, you're not, um, unique?"
A faint echo of Jensen's usual smirk flashed across his face. "Oh, I'm plenty unique. But if you mean monsters in general? We've been cohabitating with humans since before your ancestors figured out how to make fire."
Jared's jaw dropped. "What? How is that even possible?"
"We have our ways. Misdirection and magic, mostly. Wait, I can show you." Jensen flipped his hood up with a practiced flick of his wrists, and Jared blinked when the fabric settled smoothly over the curve of his skull. There wasn't the slightest hint that Jensen had an entire nest of snakes tucked up under there with him.
"How did you do that?" Jared asked, almost reaching over to touch before he thought better of it.
"There's a protective charm woven into the fabric," Jensen explained, flipping the hood back down and letting the snakes spill out again. Jared didn't dare ask him to hide them again. "It makes people see what they expect to see. Some species, like the fae, can hide themselves, but most of us stick with charmed objects and spells. Like the ones on this building. Until you had the address written down, you'd probably never even seen it."
"That's-" Exactly right, actually. He'd talked to Chad about how weird it was. "If you're about to tell me Harry Potter is real, I'm going to have to go breathe into a bag for a while," Jared warned, with a shaky but honest attempt at humour.
A touch of amusement lifted the corner of Jensen's mouth. "No, he's still imaginary."
"Thank god." A thought occurred. "Holy shit. Your radio show is real. Like, all of it."
"Every word," Jensen agreed.
"So, when you said your best friend is a coyote…?"
Jensen huffed out something that was almost a laugh. "He's only got four legs when he feels like it, if that's what you're confused about. His name's Chris and, for your sake, it's probably better if you never meet."
"Shit." Jared's hands, he realized, were shaking. He clasped them together in his lap, trying to will them still.
"Okay?" Jensen asked, sounding unexpectedly sympathetic.
Jared managed an awkward facsimile of a smile for him. "S'a lot to take in, is all. Gimme a minute."
Jensen said nothing in response, waiting patiently while Jared puzzled through all the impossible things he'd just been told.
"There's one thing I don't understand," Jared said finally.
"Just one? I'm impressed."
Jared ignored him. "What am I doing here? If you were getting threats, why not get Danneel to have one of her people staff the desk? Or call the police?" He paused, considering. "The monster police? Is there such a thing?"
"There is," Jensen said. "The SPD."
His tone spoke volumes about what he thought of them.
"And they're not helping because…?"
"Because apparently they can't do anything about threats." Jensen huffed and added, "Not until someone follows through on them, anyway."
"So basically, they wouldn't get involved unless you got hurt? Jesus, Jensen!"
Jensen shrugged. "That's police work for you. And as for you..." He paused, tongue darting out to wet his lower lip. "Well, the people in charge thought you'd be a better deterrent to anyone looking to cause trouble than one of Danneel's guys would be."
Well, that made no sense. "But, why? I'm just a rent-a-cop. A human rent-a-cop, even!"
"That's exactly why. Look," he said, when Jared continued to look confused. "We monsters have no interest in making mankind aware of our existence. And our laws reflect that. The punishments for letting a human in on the secret, or killing one, are beyond severe. S'why those two last week left as soon as they got a look at you. And probably why they attacked during your break. They must have been staking out the building or something, to know when you wouldn't be at the desk."
Jared felt a pang at that; in all the chaos, he hadn't even thought about- "Gabe," he breathed. "Gabe was filling in for me at the desk. Is he-"
Jensen's expression was grim. "Gabe might be sturdier than a human, but not even a werecat stands much chance against a surprise attack from a half dozen trolls. They're not known for their mercy."
"Werecat?" Jared asked. And then, "Wait, trolls? What trolls?"
"You saw them, remember?" Jensen said, in a voice that quavered just a little. "In the recording studio. Nothing else that comes quite that big and ugly."
"But you were the only one in th-" Jared sucked in a harsh breath. "The statues?"
"You mean they, and you-" He stared at Jensen, aghast. "You turned them to stone?!"
"Yeah." It was gruffly said, and Jensen's eyes were once again riveted on his lap. His shoulders hunched like he was trying to make himself smaller, and Jared was reminded vividly of the way he'd looked in the recording studio, cowering behind the desk.
Jared abruptly felt like a heel. "I'm sorry. That was-"
"The truth," Jensen bit off. "No point mincing words. I k-killed every single one of them."
"But you didn't mean to," Jared said, trying not to wince when it came out sounding more like a question than he had intended. Jensen hunched even further, and Jared wished that there wasn't a table between them right now. He leaned across it, trying to get closer. "Jensen. What happened wasn't your fault."
The sound Jensen made couldn't really be called a laugh. "Of course it was. I let them get too close, didn't move in time to avoid that punch. The first rule is to keep the glasses on and I couldn't even - shit!" Jensen's hand pounded against his thigh with a crack, his face twisted with self-loathing.
"How do they work?" Jared blurted, desperate for anything else to talk about.
"How do what work?" Jensen muttered dully.
"Your sunglasses. I'm, uh, guessing you don't have photophobia after all."
"No," Jensen said. He took a deep, shuddering breath. "Custom dwarfish craftsmanship. The lenses nullify my gaze so I can look at people without, without…."
"Like Cyclops' visor thingy on the X-Men?" Jared interrupted. "That keeps him from blasting people with his laser eyes?"
Jensen snorted. "I'm not a hero, Jared."
And Jared suspected that they could have quite the argument about that, but now was not the time. "So you travel around with sunglasses on at night and you don't need to? How do you ever see anything?"
"With difficulty," Jensen said, with a faint touch of his usual dryness. "I mean, my eyes are better at seeing in low lighting than a human's, so it's not that bad, but, yeah. It takes some getting used to. I, ah," Jensen wet his lips. "I usually take them off when I'm sure that there's no chance of anyone seeing me. When I'm at home or-"
"In the recording booth," Jared finished. "Suddenly, those shutters make a lot more sense. Late night radio's a pretty ideal job for you, huh?"
Instead of helping, the question just made Jensen hunch down further. "It was."
This was intolerable. "Is your hair venomous?" Jared demanded, which was unexpected enough to startle Jensen into looking up.
"What? No. Why?"
In answer, Jared stood up and walked around to Jensen's side of the table. Jensen stiffened at his approach, tension limning his body.
Jared crouched down in front of him and, not trying to be even a little bit subtle, lifted a hand until it was level with the top of Jensen's head.
"Can I-?" he asked, his fingers hovering, not about to cross those last few inches without permission.
Jensen's face did something complicated, and Jared wished that he could see his eyes for a better clue of what that twist of Jensen's mouth actually meant. Except not, because that would end with him turning into a very tall lawn ornament and, holy fuck, Jared was so lucky Danneel had been there to save him from his own foolhardiness earlier.
Jared could hear the sound of his own heartbeat loudly in the stillness.
"Yeah," Jensen finally said, roughly. "If you want."
Jared, who didn't think he could explain just how much he wanted, nor why, settled for offering Jensen an encouraging smile and lowering his hand.
He couldn't help cringing a little as his fingertips bumped against the first blunt, smooth body. The snake hissed something that was more like a croon than a warning, and Jared cautiously traced the deceptively fragile curve of that round head. The scales were dry and cool to the touch, and Jared could feel the firm muscles underneath. Another snake nudged against his knuckles, demanding attention, and Jared did his best to provide it. He had to smile a little when a small, forked tongue darted out to lick the salt off his skin. He brought his other hand up as well and buried them both in the wending mass.
Jensen made a small noise, choked and quiet, and Jared managed to look away from where his fingers were twining through green and black-striped scales down to his face. Jensen's lips were parted, looking wet and inviting even in the harsh florescent lighting, and there was a blush riding high on his cheeks.
"S-sorry," Jensen managed, when he caught Jared staring. "It's- I'm not used to anyone touching them."
Jared considered. "Does it hurt?"
Jensen shook his head, not hard enough to dislodge Jared's fingers, but enough that they slid through the mass of leathery bodies in an unintentional caress. Jared watched as Jensen's Adam's apple jumped.
"Jared," Jensen breathed, overwhelmed and wanting and hurting.
And Jared couldn't resist.
He let one hand slide out of Jensen's hair to curve around his cheek and pressed a chaste kiss to Jensen's lips.
He wasn't prepared for the way Jensen's whole body shuddered in response, the way Jensen chased after him when he made to shift back, crushing their mouths together almost desperately.
Jared wasn't a strong enough man to do anything but accept Jensen's wordless request.
They traded slow, careful kisses to begin with, but Jared wasn't surprised when they quickly grew heated. He pressed in close as his tongue delved into the slick warmth of Jensen's mouth, being careful not to grip the snakes too tightly. Jensen's tongue twined around his, unexpectedly awkward, but no less eager for it, and Jared felt a groan rumbling its way out of his chest.
"Wait, wait," Jensen's hands were at Jared's chest, pushing him away. Jared went obligingly, but left his own hands right where they were.
Jensen's face was a lovely shade of pink that made his freckles stand out in sharp relief, and it was all Jared could do not to dive right back in again for another taste of that gorgeous mouth.
"W-we can't," Jensen panted, chest heaving and mouth swollen. "It's not safe."
"We can be careful," Jared tried, but Jensen shook his head, hands still keeping Jared very literally at arm's length. He was a lot stronger than he looked.
"I'm not willing to risk it," Jensen said. "There's no way to protect you if I make a mistake, or my glasses fall off or, no. I won't be responsible for hurting you."
Reluctantly, Jared nodded. "I understand. I'm not giving up on this, though," he warned, rubbing his thumb across the line of Jensen's cheekbone just to make Jensen's breath hitch. "We'll figure something out."
"Jared," Jensen protested, but it was a weak thing, willing to be convinced.
"We will," Jared said firmly, and never mind that he had no idea how. "I don't care that you're a gorgon. All I care about is that you're Jensen."
"Oh, gods," Jensen groaned. "I should have known you'd be a sap."
"They do say opposites attract," Jared said, with a grin. He leaned back in for another quick, chaste peck. "Next time I ask you out, will you agree?"
"I-" Jensen started, and Jared just knew it was going to be a 'yes'.
"Ahem," a voice said, and Jared had the pleasure of watching Jensen turn scarlet as he whipped his hands away from Jared's chest like he'd been burned.
Jared could feel his own ears burning as he looked over to see Danneel standing in the doorway, her expression so complicated that he couldn't even begin to unravel it. "Uh, hi, Danneel," he said, belatedly letting his own hands drop. The snakes seemed sorry that he was going.
"I really hate to interrupt," Danneel said, which went a long way towards calming Jared's rabbiting pulse. "Because Clíodhna knows that Jensen really needs to get laid."
"But we've got some more pressing issues to deal with first."
"The show?" Jensen asked immediately, still blushing.
"You really should finish off the night," Danneel said, sounding apologetic. "The phones have been ringing off the hook. Even with six arms Sana's having a hard time keeping up."
"Right." Jensen coughed, still pink. "Where, uh…?"
Danneel smiled at him. "You're all set up to start broadcasting from the news studio."
"Thanks," Jensen said, gratitude clear in his voice. He glanced at Jared, who shifted belatedly to his feet to let Jensen stand up. "Both of you. Thanks."
"Don't mention it," Danneel said gently. "Now get going. I'll meet you there. You might as well head home," she said to Jared then, surprising him utterly. "I'll be with Jensen for the rest of the night and it's only about an hour before your shift ends, anyway."
"What?" Jared asked, nonplussed. "But what about his ride home?"
"I'll take care of it. He and I need to have a talk about how to proceed from here. Not much point in you hanging around."
"But-" Jared started, before thinking better of it. He wasn't sure of Danneel's reasons for sending him away, but he doubted that arguing was going to help his case.
She shook her head. "I'm not trying to punish you, Jared. I've been telling Jensen to get his head out of his ass for weeks. I think you'll be good for him, if he lets you. But this part doesn't concern humans. You shouldn't be involved."
"Right," Jared said, stung and trying not to show it. It all made sense, after all. He drew himself up stiffly. "Can I say goodbye to Jensen before I go?"
Danneel's smile was gently sympathetic. "If you can catch him in time."
But the light was already on over the door by the time he got there, and Jared felt like a total loser standing outside waiting for God only knew how long. So he leaned up against the door and whispered a quiet, "Bye, Jensen," to the wood before taking his dragging footsteps away.
Muse FM's lobby smelled very strongly of industrial-strength cleaner - Pat's doing, presumably.
Jared very carefully didn't look at the dark patch of recently-cleaned carpet beside the security desk as he walked through.
He didn't listen to the radio on the way home.
Needless to say, he didn't sleep well either.