"How the fuck do I know?" he says, this stranger, and flicks a glance at Jared that's far too composed, given the poised shotgun and the two handguns dragging at the waistband of his jeans, the smoke outside the window and the shouting. "You got this fucking stupid slavery system going, you expect people to lie back and take it? Fuck you." He's not even looking at Jared. All his attention is on the courtyard, his boots braced on the smashed glass of the window and his hands steady on the shotgun.
The gunshots make Jared flinch, dig his fingernails into the wall and lock his knees against the shockwave. The noise is incomprehensible, impossible to place, a rattling smash of sound that's tearing down every reality he's ever known. Yet his own slave doesn't even acknowledge the stray bullets pattering against the outside walls. For three months the man by the window has been Jared's new toy, his plaything, naked, usable. Used. Now he's someone Jared can't recognize, this man, this man with the guns and the narrowed stare and the careless, terrifying composure. It's a splintered dissonance Jared can't understand. He's shaking. His hands are sticky with plaster dust and blood, there's a bullet hole in the ceiling above his head, he still can't catch his breath and, absurdly, he's still wearing his workout pants.
"Just keep your head down. Relax," JP.607 says, and his voice is amused. "I'd say think of England, but you won't get the reference." The shotgun's trained on something Jared can't see. He's still clinging onto the back wall as if it is solid ground. It's not, it's shaking, and the floorboards shiver with it, and somewhere beyond the walls of the courtyard there's a dull, thudding sonic boom that can only be seriously heavy duty firepower. He'd like to think it was the Guard, but the senate house went up in flames four hours ago and the tanks on the street are flying rebel colors. It's been two hours since the newsfeeds were cut.
"Just be glad they're not aiming at us," 607 says, and there's the tightest of grins pulling at the side of his mouth. Jared's seen him bite his mouth bloody, seen him scream, heard him whimper. He's never seen that smile before.
"What the fuck's so funny?" Jared snaps out. "You think there's anywhere to go? You think the cavalry's gonna come? You think I knew this was gonna happen, got some kind of safe room, some way out of here?"
"Then what the fuck? You gonna trade me in? Why - why even -"
"Ain't nothing to do with you," 607 says. "Don't flatter yourself, kid."
"What the fuck do you want?"
"Nothing," 607 says. "You reckon this is some kind of revenge? Dude, what you did was nothing. I don't care. This ain't about that. You could say I kind of owe you." He's intent on something outside, tracking. Then he says, quick and sharp, "Duck!"
"... Fuck," Jared says. He's on the floor. Where his head had been, there's nothing but shattered plasterwork, and the Meissen watercolors he'd squeezed out of his dealer's hands are tatters. His collection of East Asian pottery is nothing but gritted shards.
"Little close?" 607 quips. He's really grinning, tucked down under the windowsill. His face looks alive, in a way it's never done before, like he's actually enjoying this.
"You bastard," Jared says.
"Huh," 607 says.
Jared's never known his name. Never asked. He'd learnt long ago to take his pleasure from flesh. He'd known that body intimately, the stress and curve and flex of it under pressure. He doesn't know it now. The man inside it, focused, violent, is entirely different from the slave he's had in every way he can imagine.
He takes a deep breath. It tastes of blood: he'd been caught in the weight room, before 607. He'd been winning, but he'd known then it wouldn't be enough.
He says, "What's your name?"
"Late," Jared's slave says, crouching up to peer over the windowsill. "And lame." He glances back over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised. "Dean," he says. "Dean Winchester."
"You're not bred," Jared says, stupidly. His slave has a family name. He's probably not even legal. Draeger's screwed him over again.
"What the fuck does that even mean?" Dean Winchester says. He's standing up again, shotgun raised.
"You weren't born a slave," Jared clarifies. The rafters crack over his head, and white dust powders the air. The room smells of cordite and hot metal.
"Like it matters." Two shots from Dean's shotgun, exact and careful, and a reload as quick and efficient as the grunts on a Guard recruitment advertisement. "For the record," Jared's slave says. "I'm not from round here. And in -" he checks the watch on his wrist which, belatedly, Jared recognizes as his overseer's "- two minutes, I'm gone. Your pick. You stay here, take your chances. Or come with. Won't be anything you recognize."
"Are you mad?"
"Probably," Dean Winchester says. He adds, "Sam's not gonna like you. Just so as you know." He's snatching glances over his shoulder at the middle of the room, and when Jared actually looks at the floor, there's a jagged design he doesn't recognize drawn out on the floorboards. In a red that gleams, darkening stickily around the edges.
"You think you're gonna make it outside?" Jared says. It's not safe where he is, but it's a hell of a lot worse out there. He's heard the screams.
Dean shrugs. "Not leaving by the door," he says, and the markings on the floor start to glow. Unreal. Impossible.
"What the fuck is that?" Jared says, and then ducks again. The floorboards by the door buckle, and there's a crack in the lintel the size of his fist. It's widening.
"Time travel?" Dean says, frowning. "Intergalactic wormhole? Fucked if I know. It's gonna get me home, that's all I care. You coming or what?" He's racked the shotgun. The wood's charring under the lines of... paint, Jared thinks. Paint. Not blood. Although as he watches one of the lines flickers into flame, and then in seconds the whole thing is ablaze. Watching it, Dean's smiling. "Three," he says. "Two, one -"
"Dean," someone says above his head, an accent he doesn't recognize. "Pick your moments, why don't you."
"Lucky I got here at all," Dean says, quick and hard. "Shotgun or handgun? Riot? And who the fuck -"
Straining his eyes, Jared looks up. Dean's standing on the mattress. There's a man facing him, taller, broader, and -
He could be looking in a mirror. The man looks like him. Crazily similar: the hair's different, the shoulders broader, but the narrow eyes and the cheekbones and the chin is the same face that looks back at him from his shaving mirror. It's impossible. He's not a twin. He'd have known, surely, he'd have had some psychic clue that part of him was missing; there'd be a sense of recognition, not this now all too familiar clench of fear in his belly.
"Who the hell is that?" Dean says, and for a moment Jared thinks he's as confused as Jared himself, and then he sees the man by the window, the man who looks like 607. Dean. Slighter, braced, uncertain in a way he's never seen Dean look in three months of sexual experimentation and two hours of entirely unexpected combat.
"Dean, Jensen," the man who looks like Jared says, dry and clipped. "Jensen, this is my brother."
"Pleasure to meet you," Jensen says, and steps forward, his hand held out. "I've heard -" He stops. His voice stops. He says, "Sam?" and his voice is entirely different, shaken. Horrified.
"I know," the man who looks like Jared says, the man called Sam. It's the name Dean called for, when Jared pushed him far enough for him not to know what he said. Dean's Sam. "Save it."
"Shapeshifter," Dean says, and the shotgun's steady in his hands and pointed at the man who could be his reflection.
"Nah, he was born that way," Sam says. "Unlucky. Trust me. You keep the shotgun, I'll take the other. Oh, and I got it," he says. "Just in case you were wondering." He pats his pocket. It's orange. All of his clothing is orange. It's the worst looking piece of material Jared's ever laid eyes on, a one-piece overall that must have been designed by a color-blind tailor with no sense of humor.
"Good work," Dean says. Slowly. He's still looking at Jensen. Frowning.
"Yeah. Right. Next time, it's your turn," Sam says. "Just saying. And while we're confessing our sins here, who the hell did you bring over?"
He can see the shiver that goes through Dean's skin, as if the man had forgotten he'd brought company with him. "Jared," he says. "Jared some long-ass name -"
Jared stands up. He's had two minutes to get used to this man who could be himself. Sam, face to face, pales. His face goes tight, in a way Jared recognizes from one too many late-sessions pounding the keyboard, the kind of anger he's always taken out on someone else's body.
"Padalecki," Sam says. He's angry. He's not surprised. The expression on his face is a furious recognition, but the only time Jared's ever seen Sam's face before is in his own mirror.
"Yup," Dean says, and for a moment he and Sam share a look that promises later retribution.
"Guys?" the other man says, Jensen, the one who looks like Dean and doesn't, Dean with all his physical confidence stripped away. This one wouldn't take everything Jared has as Dean did, stoic and frustrating. This one would squirm and shiver and yowl. "I think -"
"We'll talk about it when we get out of here," Sam says. "I'm assuming yours doesn't keep alpacas. Does he bite?"
"You bet your ass we're talking," Dean says, and he's glaring at Jensen. When his eyes drop to Jared's, he's still frowning, and it's a look that judges Jared and finds him wanting. "Dunno. He's got a fair right hook, when you push him."
There's a tilt to Sam's head as he looks Dean over, as if he's cataloging the bruises and the blood and the torn linen shirt and the hitched up jeans, and when he glances down his eyes are narrowed. It's then that Jared knows, of the two of them, it's Sam he needs to fear. It's just a second, that interchange, but in it Jared sees every single time he laid hands on this man's brother from the other side. He's never thought, before, of the men he's fucked out of context, outside the walls of his playroom. Beyond the touch of his hands and his signature on their papers, they had no existence. Dean's smashed that wall. Sam's going to judge him.
"Sam," Jensen says.
Sam says, "Yeah." But he's looking at Jared, not Jensen. "Later," he says, and it's a promise Jared recognizes. Then he goes for the door.
Dean says, "You two. Follow him. Keep close. Yell if you have to."
Leaving's a nightmare. There's a few seconds, when they get out the door, to catalog the walkways, the cells, the barred doors, the loudspeakers, and then a folding chair splinters into the railings beside them. Men are screaming. Dean says, "Sam, seriously? A riot?" and Sam turns around and grins, dangerously toothy. Then he runs, and Dean pushes Jared after him with a fist between the shoulder blades.
The only thing that gets them out of there are the guns and a terrifying, casual, bloody violence. Sam and Dean are a coordinated, lethal team: for the first time in his life, Jared's dead weight. Even Jensen - even Jensen, the one man Jared thought he might have outranked, Jensen's the person Sam turns to when they reach the first keypad. Jared's skills don't serve him here. On the web, in the financial markets, he knows exactly what he's doing. In this mess of blood and smoke and violence, he's lost, and it's only Dean's hard grip on his shoulder and Sam's broad shoulders in front of him that keep him running.
Outside's almost worse. It's a blank, terrifying emptiness of desert and sky, the only building the great concrete mass of the prison behind them, the only thing in front of them nothing. Jared freezes two steps outside the laundry door. It's only Jensen's push that sends him running to the pickup Dean's already hotwired, and he can't seem to stop staring at the sky. Stiff, bruised, bloodied, he's still staring at it when he falls asleep, back seat cramped, and it's still there when he wakes up. Jensen's asleep in the opposite corner. Dean's snoring against the front passenger window. Sam's driving, hard eyes in the rearview mirror.
"You wanna tell me where the bruises came from?" Sam says to him, quiet and vicious. "And the tattoo?"
It's another man he fucked, far ago and long away. This Dean is someone else. So's Jared, stripped of everything that made him who he was. He says, "He brought me over. He could have left me there."
"I got that," Sam says. He flicks a glance at the road, looks back. "Don't kid yourself that was for you," he says, this man with Jared's face, this man who is infinitely more dangerous than Jared will ever be.
Jared can't match those eyes. He watches the desert roll by. Sam drives. Jensen wakes up, uncurls himself stiffly and stretches. He watches Sam, the same way people Jared owned used to watch Jared, aware of every movement. Those two fucked, Jared thinks, unsurprised. He'd have thought the thing circumstantial, the way the field hands were, but Jensen's not taking his chances back at the prison and his jawline and his mouth are exactly the same as Dean's. He wonders if the law code, here, allows incest. If it matters. He wonders if this Dean has ever cried out his brother's name under his brother's hands the way he had done under Jared's.
He wonders what the fuck he's going to do. He's wearing everything he owns.
It's a long day.
Evening sees them camped out in a single hired room. The carpet's sticky with dirt and the bed sheets smell musty: there are two beds between the four of them. Dean drags his brother into the bathroom. Jensen rolls over on the coverlet and either sleeps or pretends to sleep while Jared, gingerly, insects the clothes Sam had thrust into his hands. There's enough cash in paper notes to pay for the room, winnings from some strange table-based game Jensen had tried to explain. One night. After that, Jared's on his own, he knows it by the look in Sam's eyes.
It's not the first time. He left his father's House at sixteen, and he's never been back. He hadn't taken much then, either. A few coins. Some clothes. A little less than he has now, with the sum of fourteen years' hard experience under his belt. This world has the web. It has money markets and exchange rates and a whole new set of terminologies he's already picking up and translating. He needs a month, enough money for the kind of clothes that make bankers take him seriously, internet access and a bank account. He can get all of these things. He will. A laptop. A desk. A house. A pretty boy, nothing like the man he hasn't been able to look away from for the last three months.
Something thuds, hard, against the bathroom wall. Something else clatters, and, muffled, two voices tangle and over-ride each other. On the bed, Jensen opens his eyes and looks up, frowning. "You wanna bet they both come out of there alive?" he says.
Jared's betting Dean's only coming out of there with his brother's fingerprints on his hips and his brother's come slicking his ass. He thinks it'll be the first time, but he's not sure. "What's it feel like, to know you were second best?" he says.
"You tell me," Jensen says. He's not surprised. It's not surprising. Sam's barely taken his eyes off Dean. "You think I didn't know I was only keeping the mattress warm? Don't tell me it was any different for you. You'd be lying."
For the first time, Jared wonders what the odds were, Dean and him. Draegar. The portfolio, the sale, the way Dean had known exactly where he was going in the compound. He'd thought he'd chosen Dean. What, exactly, was the probability it was the other way around? For a moment, he wonders if there's an infinite variety of himself - himselves - an infinite variety of Deans, an infinite number of worlds spinning from each equation. Padalecki, Sam had said, as if he wasn't the first. The thought's dizzying.
He's misread this situation often enough already. It is what it is, enough.
The bathroom door rattles. Someone yelps. If it's Dean, it's a sound Jared's never forced out of him, but Jensen snorts in recognition. "Fucked if I'm gonna listen to those two get off," he says, sharp, pissed. He's reaching for his stolen jacket, running through the pockets for cash, a keycard, dropping a note on the bedside table. When he glances up, he says, "Stay or go, your pick. But I wouldn't want to be you, once Sam's done."
Jared's fingerprints are all over Dean. His House tattoo lies over Draeger's. There's no way Sam's not going to notice, and by the raised voices behind the door, it'll be sooner rather than later. The only time Dean's ever been compliant is when he's a fucked out mess, but Jared's not betting on Sam having the same characteristics. He goes.
There's a gun on the bedside table, and Sam's staring at him over Dean's head. Dean's asleep. Deeply asleep, curved into Sam's body, relaxed in a way Jared has never seen him before. One of his hands is tucked into the back of Sam's neck. On his shoulder, where the tattoo had been, there's a new dressing.
Jared's never had a slave as frustrating as 607. He's had prettier, younger, more responsive, eager to please, far better trained. Lot 607 had given him nothing but the grudging acknowledgement of pain. Whatever he'd done, it hadn't been enough.
Now he knows why. Quietly, Jared tips his head to Dean's brother, picks up the bag that's been waiting for him by the door, and leaves.
He's lucky, he thinks, to be alive.
wonders what that says about Dean.