Chapter 1: Chapter 1
“Admit it. You have no idea where you are going.”
At least Adrianne sounded amused and not pissed off. Jared stopped in the middle of the gray corridor that looked just like the last three hallways they’d walked through. It was his own damn fault for taking the military transport instead of flying commercial. He’d considered it a perk of being a military brat - much faster trip in exchange for the lack of comforts.
Of course, once they’d disembarked, all of the personnel had gone off, knowing exactly where they were on the military base. Jared had stridden forward, confident that he could navigate. He’d practically grown up at the Atlantic base. This could not be that different.
“It’s true.” He let their suitcases fall off from his shoulders and onto the reinforced flooring.
Adrianne dug for her comm. “Maybe I should call Jensen?”
Great. Jensen would have to come out and save his little brother again. Jared ran a hand through his hair, knowing he really should be beyond the kneejerk response he had to that kind of thing. It had been ten years since he’d last seen his brother in person. He could at least not act like an irritated twelve-year-old.
Several voices coming from around the corner drew his attention. “Hold on a sec,” Jared told Adrianne and stuck his head down that hall. Maybe they could ask for directions.
“They’re asking for volunteers. For Discord.”
“That’s not good news. I didn’t realize it was that close to completion.”
“It’s not. That’s the problem.”
Jared cleared his throat. “Um, excuse me?”
The two men turned to look at them. One had the bluest eyes Jared had ever seen. The other had dark hair to match his dark gaze. Both were dressed in what looked to be some kind of uniform, though it wasn’t like any military uniform Jared had ever seen before. They wore black pants with tall polished boots, and a dark jacket with more straps and buckles that seemed necessary and collars buttoned up to their throats.
“You must really be lost. Tourist wing is all the way on the other side of the base.” The blue-eyed man gestured.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t come off a tourist transport.” Annoyance crept into Jared’s voice. This guy didn’t know a damn thing about him. “My brother was supposed to send an escort.”
The dark haired man put a hand on the other’s shoulder. “Who is your brother?”
“Major Jensen Ackles.” Whatever title Jensen might have on this weird planet, Jared chose to use the one his brother had earned.
To his surprise, the confusion expression on the blue-eyed man’s face cleared and his expression brightened. “You’re Jensen’s little brother?” He looked Jared up and down. “Not so little. Stars, you’re huge.”
Adrianne giggled. She stepped next to Jared and put her arm around his waist. “He gets that a lot. I’m Adrianne. This is Jared.”
“I’m Hank. Well.” He rolled his eyes. “Major Henry Tappen, if you want to go all formal. This is my Dom, Advisor Ian.”
Jared stiffened. “You’re from the city?” They certainly didn’t look kinky, although perhaps those uniforms were a bit tighter than normal. Then again Jared wasn’t certain what to expect. He’d seen the advertisements on the net that billed Harmony as little more than a pleasure planet.
But he trusted Jensen. Jensen wouldn’t let him come to a place like that.
“Well, Ian is originally. I just live there.” Hank grinned. “I just couldn’t pass up all the fantastic sex.”
The other man - Ian - rubbed his forehead. “Henry.”
From the little smirk Hank gave Ian, Jared wondered if his comment had been just to tease his partner – Dom – whatever they called it here.
“Jensen sent Colin to pick up you guys. You probably zigged when you should have zagged, since I’m pretty sure he’s waiting down by the disembarking area. We can show you the way.” Hank gestured in the appropriate direction.
“Thank you.” Adrianne gave Jared a squeeze before letting go.
Jared still felt a little unsettled as he grabbed their bags and followed. He was pretty sure he’d heard these names before, but Jensen had told him so many stories about different people here in Harmony he’d need an encyclopedia to keep track of them all. At least he remembered the Queen’s name. That was probably a bad person to forget.
Hank and Ian led the way back through the corridors, taking a left where Jared and Adrianne had gone right, to reveal an opening to a courtyard. A young man waited there, half sitting on the hood of a transport car. He stood and waved when Hank called his name.
Colin looked very young, although Jared feared he was reaching the point where anyone younger than thirty looked like a baby to him. The clothes were clearly Harmony inspired. The only reason Jared was familiar with it, was because that particular fashion had been the first to hit Earth once this planet had become famous. Colin wore a one-shouldered tunic that fell to mid-thigh, leggings, and sandals.
The boy also wore a yellow collar. That meant he was a sub. Jared looked at Hank again, and realized the dark color of his uniform hid the black collar wrapped around his neck. Jared didn’t remember what the colors meant. He’d have to plug in later and find out.
“Of course you found them before I did.” Colin grinned. He ducked his head as Hank made to ruffle his hair.
“It’s true, not everyone can be as awesome as I am.” Hank nodded.
Colin laughed. “Need a lift back?”
Ian shook his head. “We still need to make our appointment. But we will see you all tomorrow at dinner.”
Jared hoped it would be just dinner. He’d heard all about the orgy-like parties held in the city. Of all the things he really didn’t want to see, his brother in a compromising position was very high on that list.
Colin waved. Hank and Ian returned the way they had come. He then gave Jared and Adrianne a little bow. “I am Colin, sub in the household of the Queen of Harmony, Michelle Tal. Sub Jensen sent me to escort you to the city.”
“Thank you, Colin. It’s nice to meet you.” Adrianne smiled, and then swiftly introduced herself and Jared.
Colin beamed back. He reached into the truck and pulled out two gray stripes of fabric. “If you would, please wear these on your arms. It marks you as offworlders.”
Jared took the armband. Yeah, Jensen had mentioned this. No one would approach them with any awkward sexual intentions. This place was so weird.
He helped Colin load their bags in the back, and then held the door open for Adrianne. “He hardly looks old enough to drive,” Jared murmured.
Adrianne smacked him on the arm, but she had to bite her lips, so Jared knew she was holding back laughter. When Colin slid into the driver’s seat she asked him, “How far is it to the city?”
“Not far at all.” He started the vehicle and they took off, stopping a few times for Colin to show his credentials as they made their way off of the military base.
Jared looked out the windows, and couldn’t help but be in awe in how much work had been accomplished in the past ten years. From Jensen’s descriptions, nothing but forest surrounded the mysterious alien city. Now they drove on a crowded road that wouldn’t look out of place in the UP. Of course, tourism had picked up in the past few years, although it was carefully regulated. Jensen said they wouldn’t let just anyone into Harmony.
Jared didn’t know what the criteria was.
“How do you know Jensen?” Adrianne asked.
Colin shrugged, but thankfully kept his eyes on the road. “I was a page in the queen’s household when sub Jensen first came to Harmony. He returned when I was about to enter the Schola and gave me some good advice.”
“How does that work, exactly? Being in the queen’s household? I thought you subs all had a Dom?” Jared leaned forward. He didn’t miss the way Colin’s skin flushed.
“I had a Dom after I graduated. He died. It was a stupid accident.” Colin’s voice went rough and he cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry.” Jared had no idea what can of worms he’d opened up. “I didn’t mean to...”
“It’s all right. It’s not an unreasonable question. I was born into the queen’s household, and she took me back for fostering after I lost my master. As queen, she is responsible for some two hundred of us.”
Jared tried to figure out how that worked. “So the queen...all two hundred of you?”
Colin chuckled. “Not in the way you think. Not all of us, anyway. She rules the entire city. There are many tasks for her staff to perform. Not all of them are in the bedroom.”
So that meant she at least slept with some of them. Jared squeezed Adrianne’s hand and wondered how they were going to navigate the next two weeks.
The city popped up abruptly. Jared wasn’t prepared for it, not the way everything changed from familiar to not. There were spires and bridges in the distance, and in front of them a golden gate that stretched as far as the eye could see.
There was also a line of cars and other vehicles waiting to be let through.
“I’ll take us in another entrance.” Colin bypassed the line. “The queen’s pass is fantastic.”
“You don’t get to use it much, I gather.”
“I rarely go to the base.” Colin steered them further along the rippling golden wall. “And I can’t stand the way they’ve commercialized the main square for the tourists. There are subs on the market all the time now, not just during the Choosing. They are making a mockery of something that’s supposed to be sacred.”
Colin’s voice rose as he spoke, and then he closed his mouth abruptly, his cheeks going pink. “Forgive my speaking so plainly.”
“You’re not the first native to have problems with tourists,” Adrianne said.
Colin’s rant reminded Jared of Jensen. It sounded like something his brother would say. This kid had spent more time with Jensen in the past ten years than Jared had. He probably knew Jensen better right now. “I only caught about half of that.”
“That’s why Jensen sent us a manual.”
“I know. I read it. I still don’t understand…” Jared trailed off as they pulled up to the wall and it started to peel away.
The golden metal parted as if it were living mercury, twisting and curling away to make an entrance large enough for Colin to drive through. As they pulled through, Jared tried to find some indication of an entrance or controls, or anything that looked like machinery. There was nothing. When they came out the other side it smoothed back as if there hadn’t been an opening at all.
Colin parked the vehicle and opened the doors for them.
“It’s beautiful,” Adrianne murmured.
Jared agreed. He stepped out onto a cobblestone walkway. The buildings near them were quaint storefronts, but looking up, all he could see were spires that glinted in the sunlight. It was an incredible sight.
“Wait until you see it from above.” Colin went to a post and touched it. Almost as he spoke, a large red vehicle started to descend from the sky. It looked like something between a shuttle and a bus. Oh, these must be the trams Jared had heard of.
He gathered their bags, shaking his head when Colin offered to help. “I’m used to being the packhorse.”
Colin blinked. Jared could see confusion in his eyes, but didn’t offer to explain. He didn’t want to accidentally insult the boy.
They climbed aboard the empty tram. Jared set the bags down and took a seat, marveling at the expansive windows. The view would be amazing. Adrianne settled next to him, also pressing against the glass for a good look.
Jared looked back to see Colin kneeling in the large aisle in the center of the tram. “What are you doing?” he snapped.
“Jared.” Adrianne grasped his shoulder. “Did you even read the manual?”
“I did. He doesn’t, he doesn’t have to kneel.”
“What if he wants to?”
Colin just blushed, and didn’t reply. Jared stared out the window and didn’t see a thing.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Jensen paced the length of the room again before looking out through the curtains to the veranda outside. Still no sign of a tram. Had he gotten Jared’s arrival time wrong? Should he comm him? No, Jared would have called if there was a problem.
Maybe he shouldn’t have sent Colin by himself. But the boy had been so eager for the responsibility, and Jensen would do anything to get Colin’s spirits back up after his Dom’s death. Colin was a responsible driver. He’d taken to lessons like a duck to water. They’d be fine.
Unless the vehicle broke down. Colin didn’t know a thing about engines. Jensen turned and started for his comm unit, which lay on the bedside table.
“Jensen.” Jeff’s voice alone settled his thoughts. Jeff sat on the bed with Mila and had been watching as Jensen freaked out. “They’ll get here when they get here. I’m sure everything is fine.”
“I know.” Jensen rubbed the back of his neck, his hand catching on the leather of the collar he wore. Jeff’s collar. “I just worry.”
Jeff nodded. “Come here, boy. On your knees.”
Jensen hesitated. It was the first time in ten years that he hesitated at an order Jeff gave him. What if Jared showed up and saw? What would he think?
“Jen, sweetheart...” Jeff said softly.
He swallowed and crossed the room, kneeling at the edge of the bed, his head in Jeff’s lap. Jeff’s fingers carded through his hair, and Jensen closed his eyes and just let himself feel. The tension slowly drained from him.
“Are you going to punish me for that?”
“Only if you want me to.” Jeff chuckled. “But seriously, Jensen. You've never hesitated to kneel for me. Are you really that worried about what your brother will think?”
Jensen gave the question some consideration. Was he embarrassed of how Jared would see him? He hadn’t seen his brother in a long time, but Jensen still knew him. “I’m worried he wouldn’t understand.”
“I think if there’s anyone who could help him understand, it would be you, Jen.”
That had kind of been Jensen’s job for the past ten years. Only he’d been working with the people of Harmony and teaching them about life outside the city. Over the past ten years they’d had to deal with people immigrating both from and to Harmony. It had been a huge mess, and it was the source of his daily headaches, especially for a city that had been carefully population controlled for three hundred years.
“I hope you’re right.”
He heard a thump, and then two high pitched voices calling for “Papa!” Jensen grinned and took to his feet, throwing open the door of their bedroom to call out to the girls. “In here, loves.”
For twins, his and Jeff’s daughters could not look more different. Sammie had red curls like her mother - a sub Jensen and Jeff had contracted for the girls' early childhood - and was always smiling. Lily was much more serious and had brown hair like Jeff. Both had Jeff’s rich dark eyes and his smile.
Jensen bent to capture them both in his arms. He looked over their heads to see Jason watching with an unhappy expression on his face. Then again, it was far rarer for Jensen to see his son smile. Jensen supposed he wouldn’t smile much either, if he had been taken from his mother and only home he’d ever known to live with a father who hadn’t been certain of his existence.
When the call had come from Daneel, nearly a year ago now, Jensen hadn’t been prepared for her request. The Confed was a mess. There was no Confederation anymore, and war from within had turned it into a frothing mass of violence. She wanted her son safe, and had determined that was with Jensen.
Jensen had tried explaining that he didn’t live in the UP anymore, not really, no matter the agreements between Harmony and the outside world. She had snorted and said it was a whole lot safer than Meridian. She employed a few familiar mercenary pilots to drag the poor teen across the galaxy to Jensen.
Kane and Steve had ended up staying in Harmony for a month.
“How was school?” Jensen asked over the girls’ heads, dreading the answer. Jason still wore a gray armband, and the other kids didn’t quite know what to make of him. High school was bad enough on Earth, never mind on a planet where one’s sexual status was determined by birth.
“Same shit, different day.” Jason threw his slate on the table and walked over to the Dumb Waiter in the corner.
“Jason, language.” Jensen heard his own mother whenever he snapped like that, but he still somehow couldn’t stop himself.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t curse in front of the girls who live on planet sex.”
This was not the conversation Jensen wanted to be having right now. Unfortunately with Jason they didn’t really have conversations. They either had shouting matches, or tiptoed around each other in whispers.
Jeff all but growled from the bedroom doorway. “This is not the time to sass your father, boy. We’ve got guests.”
“Are they here yet?” Lily piped up.
“Oh, are they? I can’t wait to meet them!” Sammie hopped up and down and clapped her hands.
Jensen couldn’t help laughing. “Let’s check the tele and see where Colin is.” He opened up a screen in midair and called up a map of Harmony. “Where’s Colin?”
The girls reached on their tiptoes to see the red dot making its way closer to the palace. “He’s almost here!”
“We should go out on the terrace to meet them. The tram looks very close.” Jensen ushered the twins toward the large glass doors in the living area that lead outside.
“You too, Jason.” Jeff said when it looked like Jason wouldn’t follow.
“Whatever, old man.”
“Jeff. Let it go.” Jensen said in an undertone. They still hadn’t found the balance in dealing with the teen. Jeff was suddenly a stepfather, and neither he nor Jason quite knew what that meant.
It would help if Jensen had figured out how to be Jason’s father. But the kid had showed up with a chip on his shoulder that Jensen really couldn’t blame him for.
He still didn't know what Daneel had told Jason about their past, and Jensen was afraid to ask.
“There’s the tram, papa!” Sammy pointed as the red vehicle crept closer to the terrace. Jensen followed the girls outside, conscious of Jeff besides him. After a few moments, Jason eventually joined them.
Jensen’s belly twisted as it docked and he steeled himself for seeing his brother for the first time in ten years.
Jared had known that Jensen had apartments in the palace. He’d even seen the place in vids before. That hadn’t prepared him for the reality of the place as the tram descended. It was huge and like something out of an old fantasy movie with its golden spires and green gardens. But as they docked, he only had eyes for his big brother.
The last time he’d seen Jensen, his brother had been blinded and hobbled by his injuries. It had been part of the reason Jensen had come back here. Looking at him now, Jared could see no sign of that broken man he’d been ten years ago.
In fact, Jensen looked downright healthy. He’d gained weight and his skin was tan around the black collar he wore. Jared itched for the scanner in his luggage, just to be sure. Although he knew Jensen would not stand for his little brother to check him out. Maybe he could somehow sneak it when Jensen wasn’t looking.
“Jared.” Jen grinned as they disembarked from the tram.
Jared gave in to the impulse to stride over there and lift Jensen up in a bear hug. They both laughed, and Jared had to swallow down the emotion that threatened to overtake him. “Jensen.”
Adrianne followed him off the tram, and then Colin with the bags. Jared let go of Jensen long enough to help him. Colin looked like a strong wind would blow him away.
Jensen frowned. “So you decided on not bringing the kids then?”
The last time he’d commed Jensen - before they’d gotten on ship and into the newly built wormhole which made communication impossible - Jared had still been waffling over the decision. He shook his head. “It’s a long trip for them. This way they don’t miss any school.”
“They are staying with my parents.” Adrianne moved forward to take Jensen’s hand. “It’s good to see you, Jensen.”
“You know, it’s really good to see you, too.” Jensen’s smile twisted a bit.
When had been the last time Jensen had seen Adrianne with his own eyes? It had been years before Jared had married her. He made a mental note to share some of the vids from his wedding with Jensen, now that he could see the event he’d attended.
“So, who’s all this?” Adrianne grinned at the two little girls hiding behind Jeff. “Hello, Jeff.”
Jeff Morgan grinned. The older man hadn’t changed much since the last time Jared had seen him. They’d come to a sort of mutual understanding. Both of them cared for Jensen. “These are our girls, Sammie and Lily. Come on, darlings, meet your Aunt Dri.”
Jared turned to the teenage boy standing off to the side. “And you must be Jason. Jensen has told me a lot about you.” Well, as much as Jensen knew at the time.
To be honest, Jared hadn’t been expecting Jensen’s past to come bite them like this. He’d known that all Scuts were temporarily sterilized during their tours of duty. Jensen had been no different. Yet somehow one of his assignments had produced this child.
“He has?” Jason seemed doubtful. He had Jensen’s eyes, such a clear green, and a shock of red hair that looked more vivid in person than on the video clips Jensen had sent to Earth.
“Of course I have,” Jensen said.
Jared knelt and made cooing noises at Mila, who had been standing up against Jason’s legs, as if supporting him. The dog trotted over and licked Jared on the chin. She was apparently doing well, despite not really being needed as Jensen’s service animal anymore.
“Come on inside. We’ve got the guest room prepared, and then we can all have dinner together.” Jensen waved to Colin. “You’re welcome to stay, too.”
“Actually, Colin and I were going out, Dad.” Jason strode across the terrace. “We’ve got plans.”
“Oh, really?” Jensen didn’t look convinced.
Colin shrugged. “Just down to the shops in the square. Jason is supposed to observe the tourists for an assignment.”
“So you’re willingly doing homework now?” Jeff let out a laugh.
“Jeff.” Jensen fixed his husband with a gaze, the kind of look Dri shot at Jared when he undermined her with the kids. “Be back before bedtime, Jason.”
“Sure, Dad,” Jason said in a singsong voice.
“And you WILL be here for dinner tomorrow. Queen’s orders.”
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Hank juggled three bowls as he made his way down the patterned steps of the palace gardens. The darkening sky was filled with pink streaks and swirls of lavender. They’d lose the daylight soon enough. Already Hank could hear the sounds of night time, the chirping of something that could be a cricket or a frog, he was never quite sure.
“Here you go. Ice cream fresh from the, um, wherever the Dumb Waiter finds food.” He handed out bowls to Colin and Jason, who had sat on opposite ends of a step. Hank himself settled down a few steps above them and started in on his own treat.
He and Colin had gotten close during Colin’s disastrous year at school, when Hank ended up teaching the kid self-defense. That had gone as well as could be expected. Hank was lucky the punishment for both of them had been reduced to cleaning the floors of the palace.
This was his first time meeting Jensen’s son. Hank had been living in Alonan since he and Ian had gotten back from their whirlwind tour of the galaxy. They were only at the queen’s palace to attend the dinner being thrown for Jensen’s visiting family tomorrow. He and Ian had taken their usual rooms.
Jason looked enough like Jensen to be problematic. Hank didn’t even have to be told the kid was having problems at the Schola. It wasn’t surprising that he’d hooked up with Colin. Despite the age difference, they had a lot in common. Then again, he was pretty sure Colin was the sub in the castle closest to Jason's age. All the rest were still kids.
“Thanks, sub Henry.” Colin gave him a shy grin.
“Yeah, thanks.” Jason looked down at his bowl. “I should get back. Don’t want my dad to get too pissed at me.”
“Jason, you should spend some time with your family.” Colin’s voice was very gentle. “Enjoy this visit for the rarity it is.”
When the hell did the kid get to be so wise? Well, at 25, Colin wasn’t really a kid anymore. He’d been through his first Dom and lost him pretty horribly. Hank bit into a spoonful of cool ice cream and relished the flavor as it slid past his tongue. It tasted of home and all the things that implied. Harmony apparently read his mind even when making food. He could appreciate it now in a way that Hank couldn’t for years.
Jason shrugged. “I’ll try.”
“See that you do.” Colin pointed with his spoon.
With a nod and a smile, Jason made his way back up the steps.
Hank watched him go. “I see you’re the mentor now, kid. The student has become the master.” When Colin looked at him blankly, Hank made a mental note to show him some more Earth films, especially now since their cultures were becoming so intertwined. “You’re doing a good job with him.”
Colin rolled his eyes. “I’m the last person who should be giving anyone advice.”
“In my book, experience counts for a lot.” Hank let out a sigh. “And you’ve certainly been through a lot.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Colin put down his empty bowl. “I’m a poor excuse for a sub, hiding out in the queen’s household.”
“Colin, this is your home.”
Colin shook his head. “Jason thinks that I fought it - being a sub. He doesn’t understand that I wanted to be fought back.”
“Jason is just a kid. And he’s not a sub. Or a Dom either.” Hank frowned. How the hell was Jason managing at the Schola? There had been lots of changes since Hank was an impromptu student, but the basics couldn’t have changed that much. “I think you’re good for him.”
“Thanks.” Colin gave him a sweet smile. Something lurked in the shadows of his eyes.
“What’s going on with you?” Hank looked him over, not liking the tension he saw in Colin’s shoulders. Hank knew that tension. He felt it himself if he’d been away from Ian’s unique brand of care for too long.
It took him a few moments, but Colin finally let out a sigh. “I ache.”
“I still mourn my master. Just to be clear. But now, now I could really use some pain to fall into. To just feel and not think.”
Hank remembered how it had felt to be so desperate for Ian's touch that it was seriously painful. The drug had brought it out in him, but to have that feeling, and not be able to soothe it must be the worst sort of agony.
Hank put down his ice cream. “You know Ian has permission from the queen to help you, right?”
Colin nodded. “Dom Ian is one of the few I trust.”
“Then come. Ian is waiting in our rooms. Let’s see if he’s up for it tonight.”
For the first time tonight, Colin grinned.
“Well, this is certainly nicer than a hotel room.”
Jared laughed. Adrianne was understating the obvious. The room was gorgeous, done up in shades of cream and taupe. It was larger than his first apartment. The king-size bed against one wall seemed extra-long, and he appreciated the diligence. Adrianne was currently unpacking, but the amount of clothing they had brought didn’t even make a dent in the walk-in closet.
He went to the windows and threw back the curtains, marveling at the view of the sparkling city. Even though night had fallen, there was so much light and life out there.
“Oh my god, have you seen the tub? Jared?” Adrianne called from the bathroom.
He let the curtains fall back, giving them the illusion of privacy, that they were alone in the sea of thousands of people. Jared heard water running and went to find Adrianne.
They had their own personal bathroom, with a very large stall shower in the corner with glass doors. But what had Adrianne so entranced was the sunken tub with its jets of warm, pulsating water. She’d already started to strip, and Jared paused to take in the view, admiring each inch of creamy skin as it was revealed.
“Isn’t this amazing, Jared?”
“I know that look. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” When she glared at him, Jared put his hands up to ward it off. “Honestly, Dri, it’s nothing I can pinpoint right now. I mean, yes, this place is gorgeous. We’ve never stayed in so much luxury before. But, it has a dark side, you know?”
She let her shirt fall to the marble floor and stalked across the room. “Jared, honey, we’ve just got here. Let’s enjoy the time away from the kids. We’ve never taken a vacation without them.”
He put his arms around her waist and pulled her close. “I kinda miss them.”
“Oh? Don’t know what to do with peace and quiet?”
Jared kissed her nose. “Maybe you’ll have to teach me.”
“That bath is big enough for two.” She pulled at his shirttails. “Seriously, Jared, you’re going on that tour with your brother tomorrow. He’ll show you there’s nothing to worry about.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I’m always right.” She stepped back and unhooked her bra.
Jared found he could appreciate peace and quiet after all.
Jeff finished his walkthrough, making sure all the windows and doors were secure. It was a silly habit, but one he found he could not break himself of. He peeked into the girls’ room and grinned to see them each sleeping with the stuffed bears Jared and Adrianne had brought from Earth. Jeff shut their door and set the alarm that would notify him if they stirred and went wandering.
He didn’t want a surprise visitor in their bedroom tonight.
Music could be heard faintly from behind Jason’s door. Jeff debating knocking for a minute or two, before just sighing and walking away. Even if he just popped in to say goodnight it would turn into a fight. It hadn’t been easy having Jason here, and Jeff could admit his own part in it.
Harmony had taught him to be self-aware, if nothing else.
Jeff hadn’t been prepared for suddenly having a teenager to raise. He’d adjusted to each stage in the girls' development, but hadn’t expected the sudden intruder into their lives. That wasn’t fair to Jason. The boy had been shipped halfway across the galaxy to a father he’d never met and to a world very few people understood. Jeff got that Jason was a fish out of water. It would help if the boy would just meet them halfway.
Jeff flicked off the lights and entered his and Jensen’s bedroom. Jen had already changed into his PJs - a set of sleep pants that hung low on his hips - and was currently tossing a rubber ball for Mila to chase after. Jeff grinned at the sight. “Having fun?”
Jensen tossed the ball in the air and Mila jumped to snatch it. “Of course.”
“Mila, go.” Jeff let the dog scamper out of the room before locking the door behind her. She had been sleeping in Jason’s room recently and he was glad for her empathy. He was just as grateful for the privacy.
He turned back to a bemused Jensen. “Come here, sweetheart.” Jeff intentionally deepened his voice.
“Really? You want to do this now?”
“The kids are asleep. The alarms are set. And I think you need this.” He could see the tension in the way Jensen held himself. Jeff knew this visit was stressing his sub out. There was one cure for that. “Come to me, boy.”
Something changed in Jensen’s face. His eyes softened and some of that stiffness in his shoulders loosened. Jensen dropped to his hands and knees and started to crawl toward Jeff.
“You’re so beautiful, Jen.” Even after all these years, Jeff was grateful for this gift of submission. He was the luckiest man in the galaxy because Jensen Ackles had chosen him. Jeff grinned at his own sentiment.
A flush rose all along Jensen’s body, darkening that pale skin. Jeff still didn’t know if Jensen could blush on command, but it was damn lovely. He ran his fingers through Jensen’s hair, stroking the soft strands before grabbing a few and using them to pull Jensen’s head back. He took a moment to appreciate the line of Jensen’s neck, marked with the collar Jeff had placed there.
“Good boy. I want you to go into the playroom, strip, and present standing. Wait for me.”
“Yes, sir.” Jensen purred.
Jeff watched Jensen slip through the door at the back of their bedroom. The entrance disappeared whenever the girls or anyone else was in here. The playroom was only for the two of them, and anyone else they invited in.
He puttered around the room, turning back the bed, stripping down himself. Part of it was that Jeff hadn’t had any plans to do this tonight, not until he’d realized how much Jensen needed it. He needed to figure out what would best serve Jensen.
Also, he’d learned a few things about patience and anticipation. He pictured Jensen waiting for him, wondering with each minute that passed what exactly Jeff would do to him. Jeff could see every curve, every line of skin in his mind, from the faded scars on Jensen’s back, to the swell of his buttocks. The image inspired him.
So when Jeff charged into the playroom, he knew exactly what he was going to do, and the supplies were already laid out on the heavy wooden trunk near the door.
Seeing Jensen in the flesh was so much more arousing than the mere memory. Jensen stood facing Jeff, with his legs spread, and his hands clasped behind his neck. His cock swung proudly and hard between his legs. It was pink and perfect, and Jeff wanted to suck it.
With a wicked grin, he gave in to the impulse, kneeling before his sub long enough to wet his cock with spit. Jensen gasped as Jeff’s lips closed around him. Jeff took a moment to savor the flavor of Jensen, marveling at how good he tasted. Then he pulled off with one last lick. It wasn’t like he was going to let Jensen come.
“Good boy.” Jeff ran his fingers along Jensen’s body as he circled him, as if inspecting him. His arousal burned slowly, like a live thing between his legs. He’d get off tonight, but the real pleasure would be in helping Jensen. “Lean over the bench, brace yourself as you need to, but I want those legs spread wide.”
Jensen moved to obey, bending himself nearly in two. His pert ass poked the air and Jeff gave it a little swat.
“I said wide. You can do better than that, boy.”
Jeff swatted them again, grinning at the pink handprint he’d left behind. “Did I say you could speak?”
Jensen shook his head.
He needed to keep Jensen on his toes. After so long together, things could become routine. Jeff held back the laugh that threatened. That he should ever imagine this routine!
Jeff nudged Jensen’s thighs further apart with his knee. “Like that. Wait for me.” He took his time going back to the trunk at the front of the room to pick up the supplies. The pump bottle of lube smelled like vanilla. He took a sniff before moving back to Jensen. He caught his sub sneaking a peek.
“I think someone wants a spanking tonight.” Jeff put the supplies within reach. He ran his hands over Jensen’s ass, warming it a bit before lifting a palm to slap one full cheek. Fuck, but it had been far too long since they’d really indulged like this. He loved the girls more than anything, but having kids had changed things.
Jensen gasped and arched his back. “Please.”
“Do you like that?” Jeff slapped him again, alternating hands until each cheek was the same bright pink. He didn’t want to go too far. Jeff had plans for this ass tonight.
“Yes, yes, I like it.” Jensen got out between smacks.
So did Jeff. He was tempted, so tempted, to just continue until Jensen came from this. They’d done it before. But that’s not what he’d planned, and it wouldn’t fulfill the goal of keeping Jensen from fretting over his brother. No, Jeff intended to give him something as a reminder.
Jeff soothed the inflamed skin with a few kisses before going for the lube. It was thick and rich, and it made opening Jensen up so easy. He took his time, ensuring Jensen was properly slick and stretched.
He ran his lubed hand over his own hard cock, shivering at the stimulation. Jeff gripped Jensen’s hip and said, “All right?” It had become a thing between them. Jeff needed the reassurance that Jensen was okay, and Jensen needed to know he could always say no and Jeff would stop immediately.
“Yes. Do it.”
Jeff sunk into Jensen. He hissed as he was encased in heat. Jeff closed his eyes and caught his breath, tightening his grip around Jensen’s hips. “Gonna fuck you like I mean it, boy.”
Jensen let out a little laugh. “You always mean it.”
Boy earned himself a slap, just for good measure. Jeff grinned, and then lost himself as he moved, thrusting into Jensen and chasing his own climax. “Don’t come.”
“Oh, god,” Jensen shuddered beneath him.
He slammed into his boy, not being gentle at all. Jensen was going to be feeling this one and that was the whole damn point. Jensen made sweet noises beneath him, and that was all Jeff needed to push him over the edge.
He allowed himself a moment, draped over Jensen’s back, breathing in Jensen’s musk, the scent of his arousal. Then Jeff reached out for the other item he’d brought in with him - a slender butt plug. He didn’t want Jensen to be uncomfortable, since he was going to be wearing this for a while.
“Gonna keep me in you, boy.” Jeff pulled out carefully before quickly sliding the plug between Jensen’s slightly swollen hole. “All night, and all day tomorrow, too. If you’re really good I’ll let you come tomorrow morning.”
“Fuck.” Jensen squirmed and he looked too darn pretty.
Jeff helped him to his feet and then cupped his hands around Jensen’s face and drew him into a kiss. He’d never get enough of kissing those full lips. Jensen tilted his head back and took it, letting Jeff own him with everything he had. “All right, boy?”
“Let’s get you cleaned up and then tucked into bed.” Jeff made a mental note to grab the healing cream before letting Jensen sleep. From the way Jensen’s eyes had gone soft, he could tell he was on the border of sub space. They hadn’t gone this deep in a while. It would be up to Jeff to take care of Jensen, make sure he got what he needed.
It was a responsibility Jeff cherished.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Jared met Jensen out on the terrace early the next morning. The sun beat down brightly out of a perfectly blue sky, although there was that sense of something not quite right about the light that he often got on other planets.
He found Jensen lounging on a chaise lounge, sipping something from a mug. Jensen looked relaxed, nearly dozing in the sun. Jared plopped down on the chair next to him. “You look well-rested.”
Jensen’s cheeks turned bright red. He sat up and shrugged. “Good night’s sleep. Also Jason took the girls to school, so I didn’t have to set an alarm.”
“Sounds like he’s settling in.” Jared knew Jensen had been concerned about that the last time they’d discussed Jason.
“We’re working on it. Have you had breakfast? There’s a spread on the table.”
Jared saw the goodies laid out on a serving table off to the side. He made grabby hands and went for the food. Jensen knew he could never resist eating. There were several trays set out with a variety of finger foods - muffins and pastries and what looked like tiny quiches. There were two pitchers -- one steaming, the other cool -- and several cups.
“How many people were you expecting?” Jared fixed himself a plate and sniffed at the drinks, not recognizing either. He went for the hot one and took a sip, surprised at the fruity flavor.
“Well I was expecting two more tiny people.” Jensen’s voice cut like a knife. “What’s the real reason you didn’t bring your kids, Jared?”
Jared nearly dropped his mug. “What?” He carried the food back to the chairs and set them down on a convenient side table.
“Come on, Jared, I know you and I know when you’re bullshitting me.”
Jensen glared at him as Jared began eating. He wasn’t going to not eat just because Jensen was pissed. The food was delicious, even better than dinner had been. He swallowed one of the mini quiches before saying, “Dri is going to run for junior Senator this year.”
Jensen blinked. “Congratulations? I don’t see how...”
“If we’d brought our kids to a sex planet, what do you think they’d do with that in the press?” Jared met Jensen’s gaze straight on. This was true, all of it, but mostly Jared did not want his children to see this place. They were far too young to understand.
His brother sat back and rubbed his eyes. “Jared.”
“Jensen, you know I’m right. Think about what the press did to you.”
“That’s not the same.” Jensen pushed himself up off the chair, wincing as he did so. All signs of his earlier relaxation were gone.
Jared stopped mid-bite at that wince. “Jensen. Let me scan you.” If something was wrong, Jared would do his best to help. He mentally catalogued Jensen’s vitals - breath seemed slightly elevated, color was good...
“No, Jared. You’re not my doctor anymore.” Jensen went to the table and refilled his mug. “I’ll start our tour with the medical wing, all right? Maybe that will convince you.”
Convince him of what? That Jensen was being well cared for? That this place was safe? Jared doubted that an alien city could be entirely safe. He finished his breakfast. He was going to need his strength.
“Are you sure you don’t mind taking me shopping?” Adrianne didn’t mean to fret, but she worried Jeff might see this as being beneath him. From a distance it might look like they were being sent out to do frivolous things while Jared and Jensen did the serious business.
He laughed. “I shop like a soldier, Adrianne. Observe my targets, create an efficient plan of attack, and show no mercy.”
She chuckled at the image. Adrianne had always liked Jeff, whatever Jared’s initial misgivings. “I’m sure it’s not so cutthroat.”
“You’d be surprised.” He led her to a glass elevator outside of their palace apartments. “First, we need to get you and Jared proper attire for tonight’s dinner with the queen.”
“That’s not going to involve leather and straps, is it?” She bit her lip and had a sudden flash of Jared in a harness, like the one she’d seen on one of the subs as they’d flown through the city. Adrianne felt her cheeks heat with the mental image. Oh, that was terribly hot.
“Not unless you want it to.” Jeff winked at her, though she wasn’t entirely sure he was joking.
The elevator’s doors opened to a luxuriously adorned lobby, with polished marble flooring and bundles of fresh flowers on waist high pillars. Like everything they’d seen, it was so very lovely. Adrianne had a start when she realized she’d forgotten to take any pictures. Her children would never forgive her, Donna especially, who’d really wanted to come.
Maybe when the kids were older. There was so much about this place that they couldn’t appreciate yet. She turned to ask Jeff about the protocol of taking photos or vids when a woman appeared through the archway.
“Jeff, darling! You’re early.” She had dark hair and a brilliant smile.
“We got an early start. Dom Traci, I’d like you to meet my sister-in-law, Adrianne.”
Adrianne immediately felt like she was being sized up by too shrewd dark eyes. Traci flicked one finger against the gray armband that Adrianne had tied around one arm. “How am I supposed to work with this?”
“Traci is the queen’s designer,” Jeff explained. “Doms and sub usually wear very different kinds of clothing. She’ll be working on something for you and Jared for tonight.”
“And it’ll be done by then?”
“Harmony provides,” Traci said absently, still eyeing Adrianne’s form. “I see more Dom in you than anything else. That lovely pale skin! Hmm.” She gestured with one finger. “Let’s do something different. I’m so tired of the one-shoulder look. You’ll be the talk of the city. By tomorrow everyone will be mimicking this dress. Step over here, please.”
Adrianne let herself be pulled toward a round platform. “What do you mean by everyone?”
“The arrival to the party will be broadcast.” Jeff made a face. “It’s standard for most of the events with the queen. Just be grateful the dinner itself will be private.”
“So we’ll be walking the red carpet?” Adrianne grinned at the thought of being a celebrity. She shared looks with Traci. “What exactly do you have in mind?”
“I love corsets.”
Jeff marveled at how well Adrianne was taking to the city. He probably shouldn’t be so surprised. Her job was dealing with other cultures for the galactic senate. She had to be incredibly adaptable.
After giving Traci Jared’s measurements from his UP file, Jeff had taken them out of the palace and to the shopping district on one of the bridge levels. He wanted to avoid the more touristy areas, even if, well, Adrianne was a tourist.
”I want to get something for Donna and Tyler.” Adrianne looked away from her camera. She’d been taking pictures from the edge of the bridge, the wind whipping her hair gently around her face.
“There’s a toy store not too far from here.” Jeff avoided clarifying that it was different from the toys for adults store they’d just passed.
“Who are the folks in red collars? Sorry. Subs I should say.” She pointed down a level to the group of people arranged on a stage.
Jeff grimaced. “That depends. Are they wearing armbands or not?” He took her arm and gently steered her in the right direction. “Since the city was opened up to tourism, we get a lot of wanna be submissives. They’ve been taken in by the red-bands, and honestly thank goodness for that.”
There were safeguards already in place to protect the red-bands who worked the temp circuit. Jeff thought briefly of the one time he’d made use of the service, when he’d believed Jensen to be dead and was so lost in grief that he needed the release. He’d beaten the crap out of the sub Ian had set him up with. It had been consensual on both sides, and if Jeff had overstepped his bounds, he would have been stopped immediately.
Honestly he worried about these kids. They came here because of some image shown in the news feeds and often were not prepared for what they got.
“I can imagine that being a problem.” Adrianne looked thoughtful. “Is that why they try to keep tourists in one part of the city?”
“The ones looking for a good time, yeah.” Jeff gestured to the open door of the shop next to them. “Here. Toys for children.”
The shopkeeper looked up as they entered. It took a moment, but then he recognized Jeff and came right over to them. Sometimes it really would be nice to be anonymous, and most people in Harmony did respect his and Jensen’s privacy. Merchants often fell over themselves to serve him, and that embarrassed Jeff, just like in his old hero days on Earth.
“Dom Jeff, it is an honor to have you in my shop. Please let me know how I may serve you.” He bowed just the right amount to show respect from one dom to another.
Jeff bowed back. “Thank you. We were just looking for some gifts for two children back in the UP.”
“Ah. Hmm. May I suggest my latest creation? It’s a variation on a popular design.” The man went to one of the shelves and pulled off what looked like a stuffed dog. It had several gadgets that came with it. He spread them out on a counter for Jeff and Adrianne to look at. “The dog has several different barks - one for food, one for bathroom needs, another for affection. It is up to the child to figure out the sound of each bark and provide the requested need.”
“Does it actually go to the bathroom?” Adrianne looked delighted.
“No, no. It’s simulated by putting on a leash and taking it for a walk.”
Jeff stroked the soft faux fur. He much preferred the real thing, but sometimes giving a child a real dog wasn’t feasible.
“It’s lovely, but since we have two dogs of our own, I think I’d best get something else.” When the shopkeeper went in the back to look, Adrianne turned to Jeff. “It’s actually quite interesting. They teach the kids here very young how to care for something.”
“Lifelong lesson.” And there were some Doms who never figured it out.
The shopkeeper returned with a box full of toys and Jeff resigned himself to spending the rest of the afternoon here.
Jared tried to decide if the queen having her own hospital was only logical or kind of creepy. He knew some world leaders kept doctors on retainer, but this went beyond that. From what he’d seen of the palace, however, he guessed that enough people lived here to warrant it.
So far the wing looked more like a doctor’s office anyway, though the waiting room had far more lavish couches than what Jared was used to. The cushions were plush and full, while the fabric was soft to the touch. Jared felt like he could melt through his seat. However, they didn’t wait very long before a woman with blond curls came out to greet them.
Jared stood up, slightly embarrassed at being caught enjoying the furniture. He stood beside Jensen and followed his lead.
“Jared, I’d like to introduce you to Dom Healer Nicci.” Jensen bowed slightly. Jared imitated the movement. “This is my brother, Jared.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jared.” Nicci had her hands clasped at her waist. She wore white robes that resembled a labcoat. “Jensen has mentioned that you are a Healer as well?”
“I’m a doctor. A surgeon.” At her puzzled look Jared explained exactly what it was that he did.
Understanding reached her eyes. “Ah. We don’t specialize quite to that degree. There’s no need, really. Harmony does much for us.”
She took them on a brief tour of the facility, past the waiting room and through to exam rooms and private recovery rooms. Much of the machinery was so smooth and slick, Jared couldn’t imagine how it worked. He was used to his laser scalpels and interior cameras.
They paused in one of the exam rooms, and Nicci asked if he had any questions.
“Could I see Jensen’s records?”
He held out a hand, knowing what the look on his brother’s face meant. “I want to see the progress of your healing - what the technology did here that we couldn’t do on Earth.”
The anger on Jensen’s face settled. “I guess I can understand that.” His shoulders sagged.
“Do I have your permission, sub Jensen?” Nicci asked. Jared was glad that there seemed to be some kind of privacy laws here too.
“Yes. But only the comparison scans, not my entire file.”
That was a reasonable answer, but something in Jared wondered if there was something in that file Jensen didn’t want him to see. He felt sick at the thought.
Nicci walked over to a wall which turned into a screen at her touch. “This is sub Jensen’s brain when he first returned. You can see the damage to the optical receivers. This is his most recent scan.”
Jared moved closer. “Wow. That’s significant improvement. You can see the scar tissue receding. But what about the damage to his DNA?”
Nicci touched the screen and pulled up more images. They traded shop talk for a while until Jared noticed Jensen staring into space. Maybe they’d started getting a little too technical. Jared felt bad. This visit was supposed to be fun, whatever his own misgivings about Harmony.
Jared poked Jensen. “Ok, you’ve successfully convinced me that you are receiving adequate medical care.”
Jensen grinned. “Only adequate? You’re insulting Healer Nicci.”
“Oh, did I say adequate? I meant to say superb.” Jared was glad to see that Nicci was smiling, and not put off by their bantering. He got serious for a minute. “Thank you, Healer, for taking care of my brother.”
Nicci shook her head. “Thank Harmony.”
Jensen slung his arm around Jared’s shoulders - a feat much easier when they were teens and Jared still shorter than him. “Come on, I want to take you over to the Schola the kids attend.”
“They’re all at the same one?” Jared asked as they made their way back through to the lobby where the lifts were located. He never got an answer.
The elevator doors opened, revealing Colin being supported on either side by two men. It took Jared a moment to recognize the men from the space port, Hank and Ian. He was too busy assessing Colin, cataloging the black eye, swollen lip, and damage somewhere else that was causing him to limp.
Before he could so much as step forward to offer his services, the lobby was swarmed with medics in white robes. One pair had a stretcher between them. Colin shook his head when they tried to get him on it.
“Colin, what happened?” Jared could not just stand there without helping.
The boy blushed at Jared’s approach. “I’m fine, really.”
“You won’t be once the endorphins drop.” Hank rolled his eyes. He propelled Colin gently in the direction of the stretcher hovering in front of them.
That was when Jared caught sight of Colin’s bare back. It was covered in cuts, long strips of red from shoulders downward. There was no way that had been done by accident. He curled his hands into fists and swallowed hard. “Was this done intentionally?”
“Jared.” Jensen was at his elbow again.
“No, Jensen. What the hell?”
“Jared, let the Healers do their jobs.”
Right. He was in the way. Jared moved, his fingers itching for his kit. He couldn’t stand seeing Colin like that and not stepping in to help, even though he knew from his tour that the Healers could handle it.
“Do you want us to come with you?” Hank asked.
“I’m fine,” Colin insisted again.
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I will attend him.” Ian squeezed Hank’s shoulder and left with the Healers and Colin.
A sick feeling grew in Jared’s belly. Ian could not be the person responsible for this, could he? “What just happened?”
Jensen and Hank looked at each other. Hank shrugged. “He’s your brother. You explain. I got to go stop Ian from being overbearing.”
“Good luck with that.” Jensen’s lips quirked. “We’ll see you tonight.”
Hank let out a laugh before disappearing through the archway that Jared and Jensen had just come through. “So explain.”
Jensen didn’t say anything for a moment. He pressed his palm to the panel next to the lift, and then stepped inside once it opened. Jared had no choice but to follow. Then Jensen said, “Colin is a masochist.”
“What? So that means someone can just beat the crap out of him and that’s okay?”
“This is Harmony, Jared. Anything done to Colin was done with his express consent and probably a contract drawn up specifying where and when he could be hurt. If you continue to question that in public, you’re insulting both Colin and the Dom involved.”
“Ian." He'd been the only Dom in the elevator. "He’s the one that did that?”
“Jared. You have to stop the way you’re thinking.” Jensen leaned against the wall of the elevator and let out a little sigh.
“So what am I supposed to think about a boy having the crap beat out of him?” Jared crossed his arms in an attempt to keep himself calm. Nothing about this situation was rational.
“Did you even read the manual I sent you?”
“Damn it, Jensen, I shouldn’t need a manual to understand the place where you live.” Jared’s shoulders sagged. He didn’t want to fight with his brother. They hadn’t fought like this since Jared was a kid and had just found out about the Sex Corps.
Jensen nodded. “It’s my fault for not explaining before we set out.”
“Stars, Jensen, don’t do that.” Jensen couldn’t take responsibility for everything. What had Jared expected? His only experience with this kind of thing was seeing net pics of a dominatrix in leather holding a whip. She had to do something with that whip, right?
Jared never really thought about it before. He rubbed his eyes. “I didn’t expect the blood and everything.”
“It’s more than just Jeff bossing me around.” Jensen said, a smile lighting his eyes.
“Shit, Jen, you don’t...you know what? I don’t want to know.”
Jensen laughed, and while it didn’t make everything better, it loosened some of the tightness in Jared’s chest. “Let’s try to meet up with Jason for lunch. I’ll send him a message. We can focus on other things.”
Jared agreed, but he had a feeling he wouldn’t be forgetting the image of a bloodied and bruised Colin for a while.
A message icon blinked on Jason’s slate. He let out a breath at seeing the note from his father. Dad had started meeting him for lunch a few times a week. It was part of his new attempt at bonding. Jason didn't care. At least now he wouldn’t have to eat lunch alone in the cafeteria, pretending that no one was staring at him.
He brought the slate up to Dom Keaning as the rest of the students shuffled out for lunch, the Doms-in-training in front, and the subs-in-training following behind. It was unusual for both groups to have a class together, but this was one of Dad’s UP courses.
Dom Keaning looking at the note. “Very well. Be sure to return on time for the afternoon session.”
“Yes, sir.” Jason gave a sharp nod and scampered out of the classroom.
Freedom! He lagged behind, waiting for the floor to clear out before snagging one of the lifts. It was always interesting to watch how the other students clustered in groups, how a Dom might approach a group of subs, who would burst into giggles.
Shit. And the sex lessons wouldn’t even start for another year. Jason had at least that long to decide what the hell he was going to do. Maybe by then Mom would let him come home to Meridian.
Jason managed to get a lift to himself and asked it to take him down to the ground floor. Who was he kidding? There was no way Mom was letting him come back any time soon. She was probably thrilled that he was gone.
He missed her so much it was sometimes hard to breathe.
Jason navigated through the busy streets to the cafe his dad had mentioned in the note. When Jason had first moved here, he’d gotten lost all the time. Then the city had started to give him clues. He couldn’t explain it, but when he was torn between two paths, one would shimmer in the light, and Jason would follow that glow to his destination.
This time he didn’t need the help, since the place was very close to the Schola. By the time he got there, Dad and his uncle were already waiting at a table. Both were sitting in chairs, which made sense, since Jeff wasn’t here to do any hand feeding. Jason squelched all thoughts of his ‘stepfather.’ He was pretty darn sure Jeff hated him, and there was nothing he could do about that.
He slid into the empty seat and took the cup of water Dad slid across the table.
“So what class did I interrupt?”
Jason shrugged. “History of the UP. It’s not like I don’t know it all already. I just learned it from the other side.”
“The Confed side, you mean.” Jared spoke softly, like he didn’t want Jason to hear.
He shrugged, because, yeah, why hide where he came from? “Don’t worry, Dad, we haven’t gotten to the parts about you, yet.”
Dad made a strangled noise. “I honestly hadn’t thought about that. I hate the idea of being history.”
A sub came up to take their orders. Jason ordered a sandwich, knowing he wouldn’t have that much time before the afternoon session.
“So what other classes do you have?” Jared asked while they waited.
Jason smirked. “Right now Philosophy of Submission, Math, Modern Science, Intro to Contracts, and Fitness. None of the sex classes start until next year, and they still don’t know what to do with me.”
At his uncle’s stricken looked, Dad explained. “Training of that sort is divided into Doms and subs. Since Jason wasn’t born here, and he’s got green eyes like me, they don’t exactly know which he should be.”
“It’s like the entire city is in the Sex Corps.”
“Jared.” Dad sighed and rubbed his finger over the bridge of his nose. “Okay, maybe you have a point there.”
“Maybe they’ll let me take both versions of the courses.” Jason finally voiced something he’d been thinking about for a while. How would he know if he was a sub or Dom if he didn’t try out each role?
“This would be so much easier if they had a concept of a Switch here.” Before Dad could explain what the heck that meant, their food arrived, and the conversation shifted to his uncle’s life on Earth and his two children.
It was so weird to Jason that he had this huge family now, spread throughout the galaxy. For all of his life it was just him and his mom. Now he had sisters and cousins. They expected stuff from him.
“I gotta go. Can’t be late.” Jason really didn’t want to risk earning a punishment. That was very different here than back home.
“Don’t forget about tonight. Don’t make any special plans with Colin.” His dad and uncle both winced when Colin’s name was mentioned. Jason didn’t know why, but he sure as hell was going to find out.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Jared hovered just in range as Adrianne finished up the comm call to the kids. “...and Donna, I uploaded all of the pictures I’ve taken into the family account. There’s vids of your uncle and cousins in there too. Love you both. Be good for Grandma and Grandpa.”
“Listen to your mother.” He leaned forward and grinned into the unit. The tiny holograms of his children waved back.
Adrianne disconnected the call. She pushed herself to standing and slowly stretched. “I do miss them, though I’m really enjoying this time away.”
“Did you have fun on your shopping trip with Jeff?” Jared asked.
“Oh, yes. I have to show you some of the souvenirs I picked up. I talked Jeff into a trip to the more touristy districts and I got the kitschiest things...”
“Do I even want to know?”
“Look. A snowglobe - an actual snowglobe. But it’s filled with tiny sex toys instead of glitter.” Adrianne pulled the object out of one of the half dozen bags placed against the wall.
Jared burst out laughing. That was absolutely hysterical. He didn’t know how this place could go from so deathly serious to ridiculous in one breath.
A knock on their bedroom door had him straightening up. “Yes?”
Jensen popped his head in. “Hey. Your clothing for dinner has arrived and Dom Traci has sent a couple subs to be your stylists. Can I send them in?”
“Um, sure.” Jared exchanged a look with Adrianne. He hadn’t gotten a chance to look at the ‘appropriate’ clothes Adrianne had picked out for him. Hopefully it wouldn’t be anything too revealing.
“Okay.” Jensen slipped out.
“You go first,” Jared told Adrianne. “There’s something I want to research.” That wasn’t so unusual for him. Jared always had his nose stuck into a tablet reading the latest medical journal. Adrianne just nodded and greeted the subs who entered.
Something had been bothering him about this place since visiting the Healers, and Jared needed to find out why.
Jensen straightened his tunic, tugging at what appeared to be a stray thread at the hem. This was a formal occasion and he was appropriately - if conservatively - dressed for a sub. But he still felt awkward showing this side of himself to his brother.
“You look fine.” Jeff came into the bedroom. “The girls are just giddy over the fact that they get to go.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about.” Jensen was grateful Jeff had stepped in last night. He really needed the scene to calm his nerves, and having the plug in most of the day had helped keep him grounded. But now that he'd been released, the tension crept back into his shoulders. “I’m not sure it was a good idea to have Jared visit.”
Jeff tugged on his formal jacket. Jensen stepped up beside him and started to do up the clasps on each sleeve. “Why not?”
“We ran into Colin after a scene at the Healers.”
Jensen couldn’t help the laugh that escaped. “That’s probably the best way to describe it. I don’t know how he’s going to react to tonight. All of our friends will be there, and the queen, and...”
He stopped his tirade and took in a deep breath.
“It will be fine, all right? I’ll be by your side the entire time. Come.” Jeff took his hand and led them from the bedroom.
The girls were chatting with Adrianne in the living room. Traci had outdone herself with the gown’s design. Unlike the bold colors usually used in Harmony clothing, Adrian’s dress was white with black detailing. The strapless top was a corset, cinched tight around her waist, giving Adrianne that perfect hourglass figure.
“You look like a princess, Aunt Dri.” Sammie played with the folds of her own dress. It was a pale sea foam green, because pink clashed horribly with her hair.
Lily, in contrast, was wearing a dark blue jacket over black leggings. She had the edges and sleeves trimmed with frilly lace, but that was about as girly as Lily got. Jensen had spent weeks helping the girls choose their attire for their first formal party and couldn't help but be amused by their differences.
“All of you look lovely,” Jensen said, including a sulking Jason in that sweeping comment. His son stood stiffly in the corner, as if the weight of his own suit constrained him. “Where’s Jared?”
“I’m here.” Jared emerged from the guest room, dressed in a dark navy suit similar to Jeff's. His eyes seemed hard, and he wouldn’t look directly at Jensen.
Something had happened. Jensen hoped Jared hadn’t spent the past hour working himself up over Colin. There really wasn’t any way for Jensen to resolve that. He felt Jeff’s hand on his arm and let out a breath.
“Good,” Jeff said. “We can all go downstairs now. Remember the cameras will be capturing our arrival down the royal staircase, but after that, we’re clear.”
“Is Mila coming?” Jason scratched behind her ears.
“If she wants to.” Jensen never denied his dog anything. She often wondered around the city on her own, seeming to communicate with Harmony herself.
He took the girls by the hand and led them out of their apartments. No matter his nerves, Jensen was looking forward to this event. It was the first time in forever that all of his friends would be gathered together. It was like Christmas without having to give any presents.
That thought brought a smile to his lips as they all made their down the lift, to the level above the Grand Hall. The glittering staircase shimmered before them. Below Jensen could see they were not the first to arrive.
One of the queen’s subs approached them and directed them to wait as they were announced. Jensen squeezed the twins’ hands and followed Jeff down the stairs, grinning for the cameras. This was going to be broadcast all over Harmony, better make it look good.
The Hall had been decorated very subtly, in silver and white, helping to enhance Jensen’s holiday association. Tables of food hovered along the walls, with the seating arranged in an informal circle.
There were so many people to see, Jensen didn’t know where to start. He lucked out when Sophia and Tom approached them first.
“Hey, Jensen, I see you still have your kid brother following you around.” Tom reached out to shake Jared’s hand.
Tom had made so much progress since coming to live in Harmony. Here his desires weren’t seen as deviant in themselves, and they knew how to treat what was really hurting his soul. Jensen would have to remember this example for Jared later. It might help explain Colin.
“It’s good to see you, Jared.” Sophia gave Jared a kiss on the cheek and stopped to hug Adrianne. Sophia had blossomed as Tom’s Dom, and Jensen had to give her a lot of the credit for seeing Tom through his treatment.
“I forgot you guys moved here!” Jared grinned, and the darkness in his eyes lightened a bit. Jensen felt a little bit of hope blossom in his chest. “Tom...” He trailed off. “I’m really glad to see you.”
“We should totally have lunch,” Sophia said. “How long are you guys visiting?”
“Two weeks. We’ll have plenty of time to meet up.” Adrianne tucked her arm under Jared’s.
Jensen felt a tap on his shoulder. Jason leaned close. “Dad, I see Colin over there. Can I go hang out with him?”
He tried to remember if Colin was serving tonight. Seeing him between Hank and Ian, Jensen thought not. “All right. Just be back when the queen makes her entrance.”
“Fine.” Jason slipped away into the crowd.
Maybe one day Jensen would understand his son. Some days Jason was the cocky kid from the Confed who’d seen it all. Other times he seemed like a lost little boy. Jensen didn't know which – if either – was the real Jason.
Before he could mull on it any further, Sophia and Tom had gone, and they were being approached by Duchess Claudia, and Misha, both dressed in their most dramatic formalwear, with Misha wearing a half-sleeve leather top. Jensen spotted Vala hiding behind Misha and couldn’t help the grin.
The girls squealed when they saw her. Jensen laughed, and over their din introduced Jared and Adrianne. “This is Duchess Claudia and her primary sub Misha. And this is Vala.”
Jensen opened his arms for a hug and the girl squeezed him obligingly. She looked even more like him as she got older, with wide green eyes just like Jason, and Claudia’s dark hair.
“Can we go play?” Sammie grabbed her hand and Jensen nodded, watching as the three sisters ran through the Grand Hall.
“Jensen, is she your daughter?” Jared gaped, unable to take his gaze off of them.
Jeff swept in, and thank the stars for that, because Jensen was not up to explaining at the moment. “Genetically, yes, she is.”
“I had asked sub Jensen for his contribution. His green eyes are such a marvel. ” Claudia beamed. “And she is amazing. Best of all - I have no idea who she’s going to grow up to be. It’s delightful!”
Jared felt sick. He wanted to pull Jensen aside and demand to know what the hell his brother had been thinking. His mind still whirled with what he had uncovered earlier from his research and this only made it worse.
But Jensen wasn’t acting like this was odd at all, and the duchess kept talking. “How are you enjoying Harmony?”
Jared stammered, but Adrianne picked up his discomfort and answered. “We’ve only been here for the day. It’s lovely so far.”
“If you have a moment in your schedule, you should come visit my district.” She looked them up and down, and Jared felt naked beneath her eyes.
“Mistress Claudia,” Jensen said. “Remember the gray bands!”
She laughed, and Jared didn’t understand why. “I know you are busy, sub Jensen, but you and Jeff must make time for us. Let the girls frolic and we’ll play.”
Thankfully she and her sub left after that. Jared dropped his shoulders. “I swear I need a dictionary any time anyone speaks here. Who was she again?”
“One of the main rulers of Harmony. She’s second only to the queen. Jared, I know you read the manual, hon.” Adrianne took his hand in hers.
Jared shook his head. “That might be her title, but what is she to you, Jen?”
Jensen exchanged looks with Jeff and Jared hated Jeff for a moment. He used to be able to do that - communicate with his brother without using words. Now their lives were so dissimilar he was pretty darn sure they were speaking different languages.
“We have a special relationship with Claudia and Misha.” Jensen pressed his lips together so tightly they turned white. “But I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know the details.”
A horn sounded throughout the room. The low hum of conversation stopped, and everyone turned to face the staircase. Jared was about to get his first glimpse of the queen of Harmony.
Even from this distance, he could see why the woman at the top of the stairs was a queen. Her gown was the deepest of reds, accentuated with just enough sparkling diamonds to impress, but not look gaudy. Her hair was pulled back out of her face and set up with a silver crown.
“Michelle Tal, Queen of Harmony, accompanied by her heir, Prince Alonen, and her primary sub Fredric.” The disembodied voice announced.
The boy by her side must be the prince. He too was in red, his suit a dark shade of maroon. Behind them walked the sub, wearing a one-shoulder tunic like Jensen and most of the subs in the room, though his subtly matched the queen’s gown.
They came down the stairs until the second landing, where the queen paused and held up her hand. Her voice carried as if amplified by a microphone. “I want to welcome all of you tonight. Harmony has opened her doors to so many worthy visitors over the past several years, but never had we such an occasion to celebrate as this. Sub Jensen is very dear to our hearts, and I can only do him honor by greeting his family in my home.”
Jared could feel his cheeks burning. The anger that had been raging only a moment ago faded to the sheer sense of awe. This woman was amazing.
“Enjoy tonight, my friends. Because we are all friends and family this evening.” She tilted her head to one side and everyone applauded. Then, she gestured with one hand and said “End recording.” A wicked smile appeared. “There, now we can truly be ourselves tonight.”
The crowd laughed, and the queen came down the rest of the steps. She and her entourage made a beeline for Jared, and he somehow felt two feet tall. Jared hadn’t felt short since he was fifteen years old.
Crap, his mind blanked on what to call her. Jensen had just drilled them in it before leaving the elevator. Jared didn’t know if the panic was visible on his face, but the queen only smiled as she approached.
“Sub Jensen, will you do me the honor of introduction?”
Jensen bowed slightly from the waist. “Yes, mistress. This is my brother Jared and his wife Adrianne.” He turned toward Jared, “May I present Queen Michelle, her grandson Al, and her sub Fred?”
“Ma’am.” Jared bowed. Crap, that wasn’t right. “Your majesty.” At the way Jensen rubbed his forehead, he knew that wasn’t right either.
“Hi.” Al grinned at them. He looked on the cusp between boy and teenager, maybe around twelve or thirteen. “It’s nice to meet you.”
The queen put her arm around him. “Yes, indeed. We’re so happy that you’ve come to visit. Please accept my hospitality and enjoy tonight’s fare.”
“Thank you, mistress.” At least Adrianne apparently remembered the proper address. The queen nodded at them and strode across the room to the chairs that were set slightly above the rest.
“Come, time to eat.” Jensen gestured.
Servants suddenly appeared, as if out of nowhere. Seriously, where the heck had they been hiding? The subs were quiet, and smiled a lot, as they led people their appropriate seats. Jared sat where he was bid, next to Adrianne, and frowned as Jensen settled on the large fluffy pillow at Jeff’s feet.
Jared scanned the room and noted that anyone with a collar sat on a pillow. So apparently subs weren’t allowed chairs?
Jason and the girls came back to sit with them, including Jensen’s other daughter. If he’d known about Vala’s existence, Jared would have brought the girl a gift from Earth as well. Although considering the weird arrangements of her birth, was he even considered her uncle?
His head hurt.
The subs brought around trays of food. Jared filled his plate, since the tiny finger foods really couldn’t fill him up. They had goblets of that red fruity drink poured and placed on the side tables attached to each chair. Jensen took his own plate, but let Jeff feed it to him.
After dessert was brought out - rich ice cream with a variety of toppings - Jensen sent the girls upstairs with one of the sub servants. “The queen’s provided us with a babysitter, so the adults can stay longer.”
“Oh, so I count as an adult now?” Jason grinned. “Would be nice if this place actually had any alcohol.”
“You still wouldn’t be allowed to drink it.” Jeff’s words might have been meant humorously, but it put a sour look on Jason’s face.
Jared felt bad for his nephew. It wasn’t the kid’s fault that he’d been plunked down in this strange city with its fucked up rules. He honestly didn’t know what Jensen was thinking. His brother might have chosen this life where he knelt and got treated like a dog by his husband, but that didn’t mean Jensen could make the same choices for Jason.
“Hey, Jason, what do you think of the idea of coming back to Earth with us? You could go to school there, and not have to worry about all this sex stuff."
Even as he said the words, Jared could see Jensen bristling.
Jason looked intrigued. “Can I think about it first? That’s a pretty big deal.”
“He’s not going anywhere,” Jensen snapped. “If he wanted to go to a UP school he could go at the base.”
“Right, where all the military kids would know who my dad was and that my mom worked for the Confed. How do you think that’s going to go?” Jason crossed his arms over his chest.
Jensen ignored him. “He’s doing just fine here.”
“At least he’ll be somewhere where his brains aren’t being scrambled!” Jared couldn’t hold it in any longer. He’d wanted to talk about his findings with Jensen in private, much later. But Jensen had forced his hand.
Jensen went stiff. “Who told you about that?” He skimmed the room, where people had started to mingle once more. "Hank? He should know better…"
"What? No, Jensen, I found out on my own. I accessed the medical logs the researchers have been keeping...”
“Those records are classified.” Jensen pushed himself to his feet. It was only then that Jared realized he was standing as well.
“Not when you have a Senate login.” Adrianne was going to kill him for this, but right now Jared didn’t care. “How could you, Jensen? You wanted me to bring my children here, and this place changes your fucking brain!”
“The brain altering effect needs a month to kick in,” Jensen retorted.
Jeff stood and put his arm on Jensen’s shoulder. “This is not the place to discuss this.”
“No,” Jared spat. “This is a place where two men can beat a boy so badly he needs a doctor. Where a child’s whole life is determined by the color of their eyes. Where apparently people just give away their genetic material as if it were normal. And, damn it, Jensen, for the life of me, I can’t understand why this place is paradise to you.”
He turned and walked out of the ballroom, not caring about the eyes that followed him.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Jared woke with his face smushed up against a tablet. He pushed himself up off of the couch where he’d fallen asleep. Memory trickled in, and he vaguely recalled returning to his room and throwing himself back into his research. He’d wanted to be sure about what he’d read last night, so he’d gone over the data again and again.
It had helped distract him from reviewing the very public argument with Jensen in his head.
“Good morning.” Adrianne’s tone was anything but pleasant.
Jared rubbed watery eyes and looked up at her. Adrianne had her arms crossed over her chest. Her curls were pulled back into a tight ponytail, giving her face a severe look, which didn’t help the anger sparking in her eyes. “I slept all night on the couch?”
“I’d say that’s the least that you deserve.”
Her face softened. “There’s breakfast on the table. You might as well eat while I’m yelling at you.”
Jared appreciated her consideration. He sat down at the circular table in the center of their suite and mourned the lack of coffee before digging into his food. “You may now commence with the yelling.”
She took him at his word. “Jared, what were you thinking? Using my login to look at classified documents! That could get me fired!”
“I’m sorry, Dri. I just hit a wall when I was looking stuff up, and your password was saved on the tablet...” Jared pushed the dish of food away. “Something was bugging me this whole trip. I couldn’t explain why, not till I saw that data.”
“That doesn’t excuse what you did, Jared. You have to respect my work - respect me - enough not to do shit like that behind my back.”
“I do respect you,” Jared cut in. “I just...it was wrong. I should have talked to you first.”
She sat across from him and stared him down. Finally she just sighed. “I’m still pissed at you, Jared.”
A knock at the door startled them both. Jared grimaced. He did not want to face Jensen just yet. He pushed himself away from the table and answered it, surprised to find not Jensen on the other side, but Hank.
“Um, hi.” Hank waved. “Morning. Hope I didn’t wake you.”
Jared shook his head. “No, no, it’s fine.”
“Good, good.” Hank rocked back and forth on his toes. “So, we took a vote, and somehow they decided I was the best person to talk to you. Okay, so there was no actual vote, per se, but, well, here I am. Do you play Gravball?”
Jared wondered if he actually was awake. “Um, yes?”
Hank beamed. “Fantastic! Get geared up and I’ll meet you out on the terrace with a tram.” He turned and disappeared.
“What the hell?” Jared turned to Adrianne, who wore a bemused smile.
“You were loud last night, Jared. And you have to remember that every single person at the dinner last night was one of Jensen’s friends. I think you should go with him.”
Just how long had Adrianne stayed at the dinner after Jared had left? He rubbed his forehead and tried not to think too hard about it. “I’ll get my workout gear.”
Jared hadn’t known they played Gravball on Harmony. It didn’t fit in with the sex-obsessed image. However, it made sense that some elements of UP culture transferred over here. He’d accompanied Hank on a short tram ride to what he guessed was a gym. Hank had already had a room reserved.
Gravball had been Jared’s sport of choice since he was a teen. It was the one thing he could play despite his physical limitations at the time. Even now as they stood in the middle of the circular room, waiting for the anti-grav field to kick in, Jared could feel his knee ache with muscle memory.
A buzzer signaled the beginning of the match, and the ground seemed to drop away from them. Ten balls entered the playing field, half of them colored red, the other blue. Jared went for his color - blue - and started to score as many points as he could before the timer buzzed again.
The physical activity felt damn good. He didn’t have any time to think about anything but scoring goals and trying to block Hank’s shots. Eventually the match ended, and the gravity slowly re-engaged.
Jared leaned over, sweaty from the exertion. “Water?” he asked.
Hank motioned over to the side of the arena, where two bottles and towels conveniently appeared. Jared went over and grabbed one for himself. Hank took his time, playing with the ends of his towel before he finally spoke.
“I think you got the wrong impression about me.” Hank hung the towel around his neck. “When I gave you my rank and file at the spaceport, you thought I was a Scut, didn’t you?”
“I honestly didn’t think about it.” Jared gulped down the water.
Hank shrugged. “I figured, seeing me as a sub, you might have made some assumptions.”
“Maybe.” Jared shrugged.
“No. I was ground corps. Dr. Johnson and I got captured the first time Morgan led us into the city.”
Jared blinked. “You’re the reason Jensen was assigned here.”
Hank laughed. “Yeah, though to be fair it was Johnson who offended them, not me.” He grew serious. “I thought - protect the civilian. I was prepared to take one for the team. That was my job, right? And then Ian showed up. And he made me rethink everything I thought I knew about myself.”
“It wasn’t because my brain was being fucked with - and trust me, I understand that first hand.” Hank shivered, and Jared wondered just what darkness could cause that reaction. “Like Jensen said last night, it takes a month at least for the effect on the brain waves to start. Unless you actively enter into a medical device, the city’s influence is very subtle and slow.”
“Or if you’re born here.” Jared had seen the data. “The citizens are programmed from birth.”
Hank winced. “Yeah, but we’re talking about me, and you and Jensen. Let’s not pass judgment on the Harmonians right now, okay?”
Jared fumed, but only nodded. He could at least listen to what Hank had to say, even if he knew it was bullshit.
“When I first met your brother I thought he was a snotty little shit. Here he was, all confidence and swagger, this Scut who knew his job better than me. I had just had my world rocked. Ian wanted things from me, and I couldn’t wrap my head around what it meant that I wanted it too.” Hank had settled down on the bench that had appeared behind them. Jared guessed there wasn’t going to be a second round of Gravball.
“My brainwaves were sub brain waves before I got to Harmony, Jared. I just never met anyone who could do that shit with me. It’s not something this city created. So, your brother? All those tourists banging the door down? They’re just glad to find a place where they aren’t seen as fucked up. Yeah, Harmony’s not perfect, but neither is the UP.”
Jared turned away and walked halfway through the arena before he stopped. Hank was right. The UP would have given up on Jensen, left him in Confed hands even though Jensen had given his life multiple times over to the military. Hell, the only reason Jensen had to join up was because the UP failed its citizens in some areas. Jared would never have received the medical care he needed without Jensen.
“I still don’t understand it,” he finally told Hank. “Here I feel like a fish out of water.”
“Yeah, kid, and what do you think the Scuts feel like back home?” Hank put down his water. “Ready for round two? You might even stand a shot of beating my score.”
Jared laughed. “Let’s do it.”
After showering at the gym, Jared had Hank drop him off in the palace gardens. His head felt too full, and he needed a walk to clear it. Hank had given him a lot to think about, but Jared still wasn't sure he could piece it all together.
The gardens were a marvel of architecture, built into the palace itself in several levels, looking out over the city. Jared could easily get lost here, and that was kind of the point. He kept to the graveled path, which wound through and around a variety of trees, some with vividly colored leaves in shades of orange and purple.
Jared paused for a moment under a tree full with fragrant flowers. He held out his hand and watched as the petals drifted in the wind. One blood-colored petal landed in his palm and he stared at it, thinking about Colin and his blood-streaked back.
Which brought his thoughts back around to Tom. Jared had come to know all of Jensen's Scut friends, who'd taken a special interest in him while they lived at the Atlantic base. It had hurt to see Mike killed, but even worse had been watching Tom spiral into devastating grief – a grief so deep he'd resorted to hurting himself in increasingly damaging ways.
They'd fixed him here.
No, Jared amended, it wasn't that they'd cured him, exactly. Tom had worn a collar, just like any sub here. He'd found something in Harmony. It was the thing Jared couldn't understand, what had him defensive and snapping at everyone.
Just because Harmony didn't speak to him, didn't mean it was wrong. That's what Jensen had been trying to tell him for years, from when his brother first joined the sex corps and Jared had confronted him. Jensen had been so proud of his work and his skills. Jared hadn't understood then, either.
Jared walked away from the trees, and down a level, to where fields of grass stretched out. This would be a great place to play soccer, and he knew his son would have loved it. He closed his eyes and pictured how different this visit would have been if they'd brought Tyler and Donna. Tyler would be running around the gardens, unable to sit still, while Donna would be asking millions of questions over everything she saw.
Fuck, he missed them.
He shook his head and continued through the fields, stopping only when he heard voices ahead. Jared turned down a path bordered by hedges to see Nicci and a man walking with a child between them. The man was a sub, wearing a navy blue collar and a one-shouldered white tunic. He had golden hair and bright blue eyes. The little girl looked no more than five or six and she swung her arms happily.
"Jared!" Nicci smiled when she saw him, which was more than he expected after last night. "I never got the chance to introduce you to my sub Levi and our daughter Micayla."
Jared bowed liked Jensen had. "Pleased to meet you."
"We're going to play with Aunt Alona and my cousins!" Micayla piped up, and then hid behind her father, as if embarrassed.
"Yes, love." Levi reached back and gently tousled her hair. He smiled at Jared. "It is rare that my sister manages to visit. It is because of your arrival that she found the time."
Jared could feel his cheeks heat. She'd come for his party, and he'd screwed it up for everyone. Then his mind rewound the conversation. "Wait, your sister is…"
"Duchess Alona," Levi said.
The name sounded familiar, and Jared remembered the boy prince who'd been named Alonen. He looked at Levi. "That means you are…"
"Oh, don't call him prince, it'll go right to his head." Nicci teased. She reached out and grabbed Micayla's hand. "We'll meet you on the fifth level."
Levi nodded. Jared waved at the little girl who scampered down the path with her mother. Clearly Levi had something to say to Jared, so he waited.
"Your brother saved my life." Levi looked away from Jared, but his gaze remained unfocused.
Jared pressed his lips together. "Jensen does that." Jensen had saved so many people, using his own body as the weapon.
Levi laughed. "True. When he first came to Harmony I was under contract to an evil man. It was a very dark time for me."
As Levi spoke, Jared started to remember this story. Jensen had talked about it back on Earth once. Jensen had been in pain, and Jared had asked him to talk about something, anything to distract him. His brother had talked about Harmony.
"I'm sorry," Jared said.
"If I could at that time, I think I would have left. I'd been broken by my first master." Levi's words surprised him. "But thank Harmony Nicci took me on. In her I found what I'd lost."
Jared shook his head. "You went through all that and you still wanted to be a sub?"
Levi leveled a gaze on him, his eyes burning. "I am a sub. Whether or not I find a worthy master is always in Harmony's hands, but I wouldn't change who I am."
"I think, I think I understand." Jared's knee ached, and he remembered all the times as a kid when he wished he wasn't sick. But his disorder had molded him into the man he was today. Would he even be a doctor now, if he hadn't been so fascinated by his treatments?
"You will." Levi bowed and started after his Dom and daughter.
Jared kept walking though the gardens, his mind starting to settle. He just needed some more time alone, then he'd go find Jensen.
Jason had resorted to using the tele to find his uncle Jared. He’d already looked in the apartments, and had tentatively asked his father. Dad had given a too-patient response, which just went to show how really angry he was. So, time to check the city maps, and stay away from the rest of the family.
He found Jared sitting under a tree in the queen’s gardens, his knees drawn up and his chin resting on his arms. Somehow all curled up like that he looked small, which seemed an impossibility when Jason knew how tall his uncle was.
Jason cleared his throat. “Hey.”
“Oh, hi Jason. How’d you find me?”
Jason sat across from him in the fluffy grass. “If you don’t want anyone to find you, you really should set your tele profile to private.”
Jared blinked. “Show me how?”
They spent the next few minutes with the tele. Jason explained some of the intricacies of the system. Finding a way to keep private had been the first thing he’d figured out when he'd landed on this planet.
Jared finally closed his window, looking satisfied. Jason pulled out some blades of grass and started to weave them on his knee. “So, I’ve been thinking about what you said last night. About moving to Earth.”
“Stars.” Jared rubbed his face.
Jason couldn’t help it. He laughed. “Yeah, Dad cursed too when you left. You know it took me two months to stop calling him ‘Jensen’?
“Really?” Jared smiled and shook his head.
“Yeah. I think, I think I’m going to listen to Colin and try to spend more time with my family. I figure I might even get along with Jeff someday.”
“Jeff’s a good man. Took me a while to realize that, but I did. And Colin sounds pretty smart,” Jared said.
Jason nodded. He talked to Colin at length after the party. “Which is why it’s really kinda annoying how you put him in the spotlight last night.”
“I said a lot of things I shouldn’t have last night.”
Jason let the twisted pieces of grass fall back down to earth. “I do that all the time. Say things I shouldn’t,” he clarified. “Look, I get that you’re worried about me, but, you know, things aren’t so bad here.” He pushed himself to his feet and faced away from his uncle. Jason couldn’t look at him when he said this. “You probably don’t know about my mom. She runs one of the most successful brothels on Meridian. And my dad is the most famous slut in the galaxy. How do you think that’s going to affect my rep on Earth?”
“But here, that kind of thing is downright normal. I just, I have to pick a side, and then they’ll know how to deal with me.” Then maybe he could make some friends at school. All night long Jason kept turning it over in his head, and as bad as his life was here, on Earth it would suck so much more.
“You’re awfully self-aware for a kid.”
Jason laughed and turned back around. His uncle looked terribly confused. “Chalk that up to a Harmony education, I guess. And don’t tell my dad I said any of this.”
“My lips. Sealed.” Jared stood up and there was the giant that Jason remembered. “I guess I’d better go apologize to your dad.”
Jason made a face. “Better you than me.”
Jensen paced the living room, checking the tele again, but Jared had disappeared from the interface. He’d avoided talking to his brother, at least until Hank had had his say. But Jared had never come back from playing Gravball, so now Jensen was back to worrying. He touched the wall and murmured, “You’d tell me if he left the city, right?”
He still felt silly, talking to Harmony like this. Right now Jeff was out with the girls and Mila, and who knew where Jason had gone off to. So it was just Jensen and the city. It was odd, but he swore he could feel her respond. Jensen was always aware of her presence, like a hum that he missed whenever he left. It had gotten to the point where it was strange to be without it.
Fuck, what was he going to do about Jared? This visit was supposed to have been fun. Instead Jensen found himself in the position of having to defend his lifestyle and choice to stay here. He leaned his head against the wall. Maybe Harmony was influencing him, keeping him here.
He shook off the thought as soon as it arrived. He’d chosen to return with Jeff, and it was for more than just the medical advances. They’d built a life here, and it had been so long Jensen had forgotten how it would seem to an outsider.
The door slid open and Jared walked in, his hands tucked into his pockets. “Hey.”
Jensen forced down the fear that rose in his throat. What if he lost his brother over this? “Hey. Um, I couldn’t find you on the tele.”
“Jason taught me how to use the privacy mode.”
“I think I’m going to have a talk with Jason about his timing.”
Jared laughed. Then the amusement drained from his face. “Look, Jensen, I’m sorry.”
“For what? Reacting like a normal person when confronted with this place?” Jensen could hear the bitterness thick in his own voice.
“For embarrassing you in front of your friends. For not understanding this is your safe space.” Jared moved across the room and plopped down on the couch. “You know Hank has some interesting stories to tell.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.” It had been Ian’s idea for Hank to talk to Jared. Jensen had seen the merit in it. Hank had been just a normal guy once upon a time, after all. If anyone could relate to Jared, it would be him. “Jared, you’re not wrong about the medical data. It’s why no one is allowed to come here for more than two weeks at a time. The tourism rules are strict for a reason.”
“And you couldn’t tell me because it was classified.” Jared looked over, giving him the same puppy eyes he’d used since he was a child. “Look, Jensen, I’ll admit that I just don’t get it. I don’t get this place and I don’t get why you need to be here. But, you know what? Just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean you’re wrong, either.”
Jensen joined him on the couch. “Thanks, I think.”
Jared punched him playfully on the arm. “Be patient with me. Remember I’m just your snot-nosed kid brother.”
“You haven’t been a kid in a long time, Jared. I think I forgot that.” Jensen shouldn’t have expected Jared to fall in line, to accept Jensen’s lifestyle without questioning. He was his own person now, and Jensen owed him that much respect.
“Okay, so we’ll start over? This time explain things like I’m five. Remember, I read the manual and I still didn’t understand.”
Jensen held out his hand and they shook pinkies, like when they were kids. “And I’ll try to remember how fucked up this place looks from the outside. Speaking of fucked up...”
“Why do I not like the sound of that?”
“After last night, you kind of owe an apology to the queen, for making a scene at her dinner party.” Jensen watched Jared’s face go white. “You have an appointment with her for tea this afternoon.”
“Is this tea or ‘tea,’” Jared made quotation marks with his hand. “There’s not going to be any whipping involved?”
Jensen laughed at first, but when Jared didn’t join in he realized his brother was serious. They were going to have to talk about a lot, like how the queen was not going to whip him, unless he was into that. “No, Jared, she’s not going to punish you.”
The door slid open again to reveal Adrianne wearing a brightly colored scarf and carrying a few slates. “Jared! There you are.”
Jared winced. Jensen could sympathize. It was never good to be on the outs with your partner. “Hey, Dri.”
“I just had a lovely lunch with the duchess.” She strode across the room and handed Jared one of the slates. “Fill that out, please, and return it before your meeting with the queen.”
“Does everyone know about that?” Jared started to scroll through the slate, his eyes widening as he did so.
Adrianne met Jensen’s eyes. It was probably best Jared didn’t know that this whole meeting as apology had been thought up by the group after Jared had left the party. Her lips quirked into a smile. “Jared, love, take your time with those questions. “ Then she disappeared down the hall toward the guest bedroom.
Jared looked back at Jensen. “I think you’re going to have to help me with this.”
“Let me see.” Jensen took the slate. It was a contract checklist. Oh, that explained Adrianne’s smile. “Don’t worry, Jared. I got this.”
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Was it only two days ago that Jared set foot on this planet? It felt like he’d been here a month already. The way his head ached with all that had happened, he wondered if that altering of his brain waves had begun early.
His mind still swirled over that questionnaire that Adrianne had presented him with. Jensen had helped him through it, explaining what certain things meant, and most of Jared’s responses had been a definite ‘no.’ However, that still left plenty on the list that intrigued him, and he had no idea what Adrianne had planned for him tonight.
“Once we get off the lift, a sub will escort you to the queen’s chamber.” Jensen had been kind enough to come this far. For the first time since Jared arrived, he felt like he had his brother’s support. “Just remember to be polite and be yourself.”
“Isn’t that what got me in this mess in the first place?” Jared tried to smile but it was weak.
Jensen slapped his shoulder. “Don’t think too hard about it.”
“Ok, stop thinking.” Jared shook himself, as if he could shake the meandering thoughts away.
The elevator door slid open, revealing a gorgeous lobby with a fountain in the center. Sub Fredric waited there with a smile. Jared swallowed and nodded to Jensen. Then he stepped out and left his brother behind.
“Welcome. Please follow me, as my mistress awaits.” Fredric had a sparkle in his blue eyes, so that couldn’t be all bad, could it?
The room he was led to was much more homey than anything Jared had seen so far. There were comfy couches, and soft throws over them. A shelving unit held a stack of slates, and screens showing pictures of children. The queen herself sat tucked on one of the couches, wearing what looked like a high end version of sweats and a t-shirt, if those things were made out of fabric like cashmere.
She stood to greet him. “Welcome, Jared, brother of sub Advisor Jensen.”
“Um, thank you ma’am.”
She smiled, and she looked amused, although Jared couldn’t tell why. “Please sit. Fredric will serve us.”
Jared moved to the couch she gestured to and sat. There was a table between them with a steaming pitcher and two mugs. Fredric smoothly knelt beside it and poured them both a drink. He served his mistress first, and then handed Jared one of the cups.
He held it between his hands, not sure what the protocol was, if he should refrain from drinking before the Queen or not. Jared blew out a frustrated breath and just blurted out. “I’m here to apologize for disrupting your dinner.”
She took a long drink, while Fredric returned with a tray of cookies that he placed between them before melting into the background. “For disrupting the dinner, yes. But you are not sorry for what you said.”
Jared could feel his face heat. That’s not quite what he meant. The last thing he needed was to insult the queen so thoroughly again. “I didn’t mean, that is...”
“You learned something about this city that disturbed you. I’d often wondered how the people of the stars perceived us.”
She looked thoughtful, not pissed off. So maybe he was doing okay. “I’m not the best example, honestly, your majesty.”
Fredric returned with small plates for the cookies, and handed one to Jared, while reserving one to fill himself. He knelt next to the queen and held out the plate, as if he were another piece of furniture.
“You’re a healer, aren’t you, Jared?”
“A doctor, yes, so I suppose I could say that I am.” Jared thought his belly would reject the cookies, so he put the plate back down on the table.
“Healer Nicci - who is the Dom to my son - has often confided that it is difficult for a Healer to dispense pain. I suspect this is part of what clouds your eyes. But, dear Jared, submission is not always pain.” Here she reached out and stroked her sub’s hair. Fredric closed his eyes and leaned toward her. “And there is such beauty in submission for those who chose to give it.”
“So Jensen’s told me. But your subs are born that way. They don’t get to actually choose.” Jared bit his lip, wishing he hadn’t spoken.
She sat back and frowned. “Now they can leave the city. Many have done so. Ask Jensen about his chores managing the emigration. And many have submitted requests to become citizens of Harmony. You will find, Jared, that there is balance in all things.”
“I hope so, ma’am.”
“You spoke as you did for care of your brother. Despite your actions, I cannot fault your motives. We are all fond of Jensen, you see.”
Jared grinned. “I’ve learned that, your majesty.”
“So, yes, Jared, I accept your apology. Feel free to eat.” Now she grinned.
Feeling a little silly, Jared tasted one of the cookies. It melted in his mouth. The flavor was something like chocolate and cinnamon, but with a tang he could not identify. Alien cookies, he supposed.
The queen made a motion and Fredric rose from his knees. He lifted something from one of the shelves and brought it to the table. Jared could see it was a game board, and after a moment he recognized the game that had been imported to the UP.
“When I first met your brother I challenged him to a game of turnabout. Would you care to play, Jared?”
He leaned forward and examined the delicate pewter pieces. “I’m afraid I don’t know how, ma’am.”
She smiled again. “Then I will teach you, as I taught sub Jensen.”
“I would like that very much.”
Jensen checked his chrono for the fifth time. He'd only just left Jared up in the queen's chambers, but every minute that ticked by had him worrying about the meeting. He sat back with a sigh and watched as Lily set up the game board. "Wolves next to the tigers, love." Jensen leaned forward to correct her. It was a bit of an advanced game, but she wanted to learn it.
"Got it." Lily fixed her mistake.
Both girls were off from school today. Harmony believed in plenty of playtime in addition to learning. It was a sentiment Jensen could get behind, since he treasured these moments with his girls.
As did Jeff, who was currently teaching Sammie how to cook. He'd managed to get Harmony to give them something resembling a real kitchen and had set her mixing ingredients while he chopped something up.
Jensen leaned back to check on them. "Everything all right in there?"
Sammie waved with her spoon, and then blushed as drops of the mix went everywhere. "Oops."
Jeff laughed and tossed her a dishtowel. "Most important part of the lesson. Clean up after yourself!"
"Why do you even want to learn how to do that anyway?" Lily made a face. "The Dumb Waiter makes everything."
Jeff left Sammie for the moment and came into the sitting room. "Right now, yes. But you never know when you might leave Harmony. What happens if you get lost in the woods and have to hunt for your own food?"
"Ew, Dad, that's gross!" Lily's face scrunched up in disgust.
Jensen met Jeff's eyes and tried not to giggle. Lily was in for a surprise when she started her UP reading list. He'd submitted the standard literature list to the Shola, giving them wiggle room to pick what they thought best for Harmony's students. Still, it seemed a lot of kid's books involved some pretty miserable themes. At least one of them portrayed a boy living in the wilderness alone, and that consisted of him killing and skinning his own food.
He should probably warn the girls before they started that one.
"How's the lesson going?" Jeff peaked at the game board. "Your father always beats me. He's an excellent player."
Jensen blushed. "I'm all right. There are grand masters in this, you know. I couldn't stand up to those guys."
"Daddy, what do I do next?" Sammie called.
"Be right there, love." Jeff squeezed Jensen's shoulder and said in a low voice, "Stop checking the chrono. He'll be fine. The queen will eat him alive, but I think he needs that right now."
Jensen laughed and nodded. "Fine." He tilted his head back for a kiss before Jeff went back to Sammie. He really hoped they weren't going to eat whatever the two came up with for dinner.
"All right, Lil." Jensen turned his attention back to the board. "Now, tell me the properties of each animal."
Lily dutifully recited them. Jensen corrected her once, but she had a good grasp of the rules. She just might be a prodigy. He smiled at that. Jeff said he always shot for the highest for his children. Lily couldn't just be good at the game, she had to be a genius.
He looked at the door and counted the minutes until Jared came back.
Adrianne could tell how nervous Jared was. All through dinner he could not keep still. He would shoot her looks across the table, and then look back down at the cutlery. His meeting with the queen had apparently gone very well, so she knew that wasn’t weighing on him.
She couldn’t help the bit of glee she felt, knowing she was the reason for Jared’s discomfort. Tonight was going to be epic.
Jared followed her into the bedroom after they said goodnight to Jensen and the kids. He didn’t say anything when the door shut. He stood, waiting, and she found that she liked it.
Adrianne cleared her throat. “I read your checklist while you were out.”
“Oh.” Jared shuffled his feet.
There was just one thing she needed to be sure of before she proceeded. “Jared, I’m not angry with you, anymore, do you understand? I just want to try something out, and you can say stop at any time, okay?”
As soon as she had finished speaking, Jared was across the room and cupping her face between his giant hands. He leaned down and kissed her. She let him, opening to him and catching her fingers in his hair. “I love you,” he said.
“Love you too, hon.” She pushed away. “But I’m in charge now, got it?”
He grinned. “Sure.”
“Seriously, Jared. Until I say the scene is ended, got it?” She waited until he nodded and his face grew serious. “Good. Take off your clothes, fold them neatly on the bed, and then go stand in the middle of the room with your hands behind your back.”
Jared took a deep breath, as if steeling himself for something. She frowned. This was supposed to be fun. Adrianne touched his arm and gave it a squeeze. “Hey, remember when we were in college and tried out all those sex toys Jensen’s friends sent you? This isn’t that different.”
He chuckled. “That’s one of my favorite memories. I trust you, Dri.”
That was so important, or at least that’s something Claudia had emphasized. Adrianne took a moment as Jared got ready. She took a deep breath and counted down from a hundred, settling herself. Claudia had such interesting things to say, and Adrianne hoped she remembered all of those lessons.
Jared stood in the center of the room, his back to her. Adriane admired the lines of his back, and his well-formed buttocks. He took such pride in keeping in shape, especially since overcoming his childhood illness. Sometimes he might still stumble, but Jared always pressed on, never gave up. It was one of the things about him she loved so desperately.
Adrianne plucked a black silk scarf out of the trunk at the end of their bed. She left her other supplies there for the moment before crossed the room and covered Jared’s eyes with the blindfold. “Remember, you can always tell me to stop. All right?”
“All right,” he echoed. Frequent checks were important, especially for someone’s first time, Claudia had said.
She finished tying off the scarf and then stepped back. Jared looked beautiful like that, nude save for the slash of darkness over his eyes. Adrianne moved back and didn’t say a word as she slowly disrobed. It would give Jared time to think, to wonder what she was up to.
Adrianne slipped on a black leather corset that self-tightened as she cinched it around her waist. She’d thought it a mistake when Traci had sent their clothing, but it had come with a note that said “Just in case.” Merely putting it on did something for her, even though Jared couldn’t see it. The corset hugged her curves, pushed up her boobs, and left everything else bare. Adrianne felt sexy and dangerous.
She saw the way Jared’s throat worked as he swallowed, and smiled. So her silence was having an effect. Adrianne picked up a feather from the trunk and moved quietly across the room. She brushed it between Jared’s shoulders and he tensed.
Jared relaxed as she continued to make gentle strokes with the feather, tracing the lines of Jared’s shoulder blades, then along his arms, and down his buttocks. She circled Jared, teasing gently across his pecs and down his abdomen. His cock had just started to perk up with interest, especially when Adrianne ran the feather over the head.
Adrianne loved Jared’s dick. It was long, just like him, and filled her up in all the right places. She refrained from touching it just yet. Jared had a few lessons to learn about restraint.
The next object she pulled out was a satin rose. The fabric slithered through her fingers when she caressed it. Adrianne followed the same track around Jared’s body, stroking and teasing until Jared was breathing heavily.
“I bet your skin feels so sensitive right now.” She couldn’t keep silent.
“Yeah.” Jared’s voice cracked.
Adrianne returned to the trunk. This time she slipped on a glove. There were several types of these with fingertips designed to give varying types of sensation. Adrianne had seen a pair with needles poking out from the tips. This pair wasn’t any more abrasive than the loofah sponge she had at home. But after the very soft objects she’d sensitized Jared’s skin with, it would feel startling.
Jared jumped when she ran one finger down his chest.
She shivered. Adrianne pressed her thighs together, feeling incredibly slick. She loved this, having Jared at her mercy, being such a good boy for her. His breathing grew heavy, and she could see the way it affected him, as the precome gathered on the tip of his cock. She needed that inside of her, needed him to fill her up in the way only Jared could.
Adrianne couldn’t take it anymore. She ripped the blindfold off of Jared. He moaned at the sight of her. “Fuck me.”
Jared didn’t argue. He lifted her up by her buttocks and carried her the few feet to the wall. “You look,” he got out before crushing their lips together.
Adrianne’s back slammed against the wall, but she didn’t feel it, too caught up in Jared’s kiss, the way he smelled, how he completely overwhelmed her. Jared hefted her up and slid between her moist folds. She grasped his shoulders, trying to get some sort of purchase as her legs were split by his body.
Jared growled as he drove into her, rolling his hips against hers. They fit together perfectly, and his body molded into hers.
She cried out as he hit her clit, impossibly sensitive. The entire evening had been so intense she didn’t need much more. “I’m coming,” she said and clamped down hard as her orgasm took her in waves.
He moaned in her ear and stilled. She could feel him pulsing inside her.
Slowly, Jared lifted her away from the wall and helped her to her feet. His hands ran over the smooth leather of her corset. “Holy shit that was amazing.”
“You missed the bed.” She teased, rubbing her nose against his.
“Mmm.” He kissed her. “Shower?”
“How about a bath?” Adrianne pulled away, sliding her thumbs over the catch on the corset. It slipped away and Jared watched her hungrily. The night was just getting started.
Jensen entered the living area to find Jared in his pajamas poking at the Dumb Waiter. With a laugh, he closed the bedroom door and approached his brother. "You know you have one in your room, too?"
Jared jumped at the sound of Jensen's voice. He gave Jensen a sheepish look. "Dri is asleep. The smell would wake her up – if I can get this damn thing to give me what I want."
"Here, like this, lemme show you."
It took a few moments, but eventually the Dumb Waiter produced two large steaming bowls of chocolate covered popcorn. Jensen took a deep breath and his stomach rumbled. Yes, this definitely would have woken up Adrianne.
"What the heck is that?" Jason had come in through the terrace. Jensen frowned. It was long past the time when he should have been in bed.
"Snacks!" Jared proclaimed. He held out a bowl to Jason. "Try some. If you like it I'll make you your own bowl."
Jason blinked. "That's just for you?"
Jensen laughed. It was no secret how much Jared loved to eat – or how much he could put away! "I'll make you a smaller bowl. There's no way to eat this neatly."
Jason sniffed at his share of the treat, looking a lot like Mila when she was trying out a new food. She sat by Jason's side and gave them all wide puppy-eyes. "Sorry, luv, no chocolate for dogs. Even genetically-engineered dogs."
"It's not bad." Jason conceded.
Jared fell into the large couch in the center of the room, taking up most of it. "Hey, Jason, want to see pics of your dad when he was your age?"
Jensen sat across from him. "You didn't."
Jared flicked the holo-projector he'd set up on the glass coffee table between the couches. "I did. I figured you'd want to see some recent pics, but why not look at some of the older ones, too?"
A slideshow started up, showing the image of a young Jensen holding an infant Jared. It cycled through until there was a pic of Jensen in high school, with Jared and Meggie on either side.
"Who's that girl?" Jason asked, pointing with sticky fingers.
"Meggie. Our sister." Jensen took a deep breathe. He hadn't thought about her in ages.
"She was killed in the attack on the Alfani base, along with our parents." Jared finished when Jensen remained silent.
Jason frowned. They hadn't really discussed Jensen's past, especially about how the Confed had shaped the direction of Jensen's life. If it hadn't been for the attack, he wouldn't have needed to join the Sex Corps, and he never would have met Jason's mother. Hell, he'd never have met Jeff and ended up on Harmony. Every action, every decision he'd made since then had led Jensen to this moment, eating popcorn with his brother and son on an alien world.
He sucked chocolate off of his fingers. It was far too late to be this profound. "I'm sure you'll get to that in history class."
Jason put his empty bowl back in the Dumb Waiter. "Yeah, but it would be nice if you told me about it."
"I will," Jensen promised. "Just, not tonight. You should be in bed, mister."
Jason rolled his eyes and gestured at Mila, who followed him to his bedroom.
"You realize he's not five, right?" Jared touched the holo projector again and pulled up a menu selector. "Want to see the ranch?"
A new slide show commenced, showing a time lapse of changes at the Ackles family ranch. It looked the same in some ways – that was still the house he grew up in – but very different in others. Adrianne and Jared had some renovations done, including adding rooms and taking down that wall separating the living room from the dining area. His old home would never exist again.
"What about the horses? Do you still have Blossom?" His heart ached at the thought of the injured horse that had saved his life. Jensen had been a mess when he'd first returned to Earth, screwed up in both body and mind. She'd helped heal him.
"Yeah. She's retired now, of course, although they're not quite sure how long she'll live with the enhancements." Blossom was a cyborg horse, more machine than flesh. She'd had her own pain, and that was part of what drew Jensen to her.
"Good. I'm glad." Jensen grinned. "Okay, go ahead. I know you're dying to show me pics of your kids." He hoped Jared understood his gentle teasing meant he wasn't angry with him. Not anymore.
Jared blushed. "Not that you haven't seen them all already in the digital bursts, but yeah. Donna is quite the equestrian."
They spent the next hour munching on popcorn and flipping through holos. Jensen had turned the coffee table into a screen and shared his own bounty of vids of the girls. He realized as he did so that he lacked any with Jason in them, other than all-family photos. He was going to have to rectify that.
A yawn nearly snapped Jared's jaw. "I guess I should head back to bed." His cheeks got red. "Adrianne has definitely learned some interesting things here."
Jensen laughed. Then he sobered. "Are you glad you came?"
Jared looked stricken. He reached across the table and grabbed Jensen's wrist with one sticky hand. "Yes. I'm sorry I was such a shit, earlier."
"Jared, you weren't."
"Yeah, I was. And thanks for meeting me half-way. I appreciate it. But, yeah, I'd travel across the galaxy again to see you, bro."
Jensen laughed. "Likewise. Go get some sleep while you can Jared." He had a feeling Jared and Adrianne were going to have quite a few late nights.
"Night, lil' bro."
Chapter 8: Epilogue
Jared couldn’t believe how quickly the two weeks had gone. It seemed like just yesterday that he and Adrianne had landed and gotten lost in the spaceport. But here they were at this little good-bye shindig that Jensen had set up out on his terrace.
There were tables of food set up around the perimeter, and plenty of chairs and other seating. The girls had strung balloons along the railing. Tiny lights twinkled in the air, although Jared could find no source for them.
Jensen had apparently invited everyone, and Jared had spent the evening chatting with and saying farewell to what seemed like all of Harmony. He finally found a quiet corner where he sipped his tye and watched Adrianne weave flowers in Sammie’s hair.
“Leaving so soon?” Hank came over with his own drink. “I think you still owe me another round of Gravball.”
“I like leaving the score where it is.” Jared laughed. He was up a round on Hank. They’d taken to playing the game frequently, and had become good friends very quickly.
Hank grinned. “We’ll just have to rematch the next time you come visit.”
With Adrianne running for senator, and the kids growing up so fast - Donna was in middle school already - Jared honestly didn’t know when they’d be able to make it back. “Or if you make it back to the UP any time soon.”
“Who knows? It might be time for another tour de Hank and Ian.” Hank winked. “The last one I called ‘Hank and Ian take the galaxy.’”
“You watch too many old school movies, Hank.” Jared shook his head.
Hank laughed. “You might be right. Hey, look at Jason.”
Jason and Colin had just arrived together, which wasn’t so unusual, but what was unexpected was the green armband Jason wore. “What does that mean?” Jared asked as Hank waved them over.
“He’s picked a side.”
“Sorry we’re late, Uncle Jared.” Jason came over with a spring to his step. He touched the armband and smiled.
“All right, you have to tell me what that means.” Jared gestured to his own gray band. “I only know about my own.”
Colin chuckled. “He requested to be trained as a Dom.”
“It’s going to drive everyone nuts.” Jason’s grin widened. “They all thought I was going to be a sub, because of Dad.”
“And now they can’t pigeonhole anyone with green eyes.” Hank saluted Jason with his glass. “Well done, kid.”
At least Jason had a better handle on his school situation now. Jared hoped his nephew would be able to make some friends, or at least feel a little more settled in Harmony. He’d given Jason his comm code and told Jason he’d better damn well keep in touch.
Jensen stood on a table and waved to get everyone’s attention. The noise on the terrace quieted, even with all the kids running around. Everyone turned his way.
“Thank you all for coming to see Jared and Adrianne off,” Jensen said, his voice carrying. “When Jeff and I decided to call Harmony our home, we never expected to see any of our family members again. I can’t tell you how glad I am that we were wrong.”
Jared could see Jensen choking up from here. He strode across the terrace, pulled Jensen down from the table and engulfed him in a bear hug. This might be the last time in a long while that Jared would get to hug his brother. He felt tears sting his own eyes.
“You have to come visit us,” Jared whispered. “You have to.”
Was it just his imagination, or did the lights dim a bit at that? Jared pulled away and shook his head. He swallowed and turned to the crowd. “Thank you all for making me and Adrianne feel so welcome here. I know we got off to a rocky start...but I feel honored to be able to visit this beautiful city.”
“We won’t forget you!” Adrianne added, coming up to hook her arms through his.
“I hope not dear, that’s why I’m sending you a trunkful of toys!” Duchess Claudia called from the crowd. Laughter broke out, and the somber mood was lifted.
Jared and Adrianne said goodbye to everyone, shaking hands and giving hugs as the guests started to leave. Jensen had built himself a little family here and Jared was honored to be included.
“Comm me as soon as you land.” Jensen grabbed Jared for another hug.
“I will.” No matter what happened, or how many light years separated them, Jensen would always be his big brother. Jared would not have it any other way.