Genre: Jared/Jensen AU
Word Count: 10,000
Notes: Written for spn_cinema and based off of Twister. I fear this fic may contain nearly as many scientific inaccuracies as the movie. Beg pardon. I also borrowed something from the tv series Storm Chasers, which I tripped across when I was doing research for the story. The opportunity was too good to pass up. Thanks to the darling mods for being so patient and awesome when I totally borked my due date.
Summary: Two years ago, Jensen gave up storm chasing, and gave Jared up right along with it. He should have known that it would only be a matter of time until he gets sucked back in.
“I’m broadcasting to you from the heart of Tornado Alley, fifteen miles north of Norman, Oklahoma, which was the scene of last year’s devastating tornado outbreak. Hundreds of homes and countless businesses were destroyed within minutes.” Jensen sweeps an arm out, loses focus on the camera and looks above the cameraman’s head.
The wind is picking up, a warm breeze cut through with cooler gusts. There’s that particular taste to the air that always makes the hair on the back of his neck prickle. Ozone and copper and something else that reminds him of better days and better luck.
“Circular rain pattern,” he mutters. “Would you look at that wall cloud? Fucking beautiful.” He sidesteps the van to get a clearer view of the flat expanse of fields and the big, big sky, the churning clouds thick as pea soup. About the same color too.
With a huff, his cameraman drops his set-up from his shoulder and rests it in the crook of his arm. “You can’t say ‘fuck’ on national television,” the guy says, “even if it is cable.”
“Goddamnit,” Jensen mumbles, although he’s pretty sure that he’s not allowed to say that either. He straightens his tie and pretends that it doesn’t remind him of a noose. “Sorry, Greg. Let’s try again. Take two?”
Jensen shovels eggs into his mouth, forkfuls of grits done right and follows it up with coffee so hot and so strong that he’s not sure if it’s putting hair on his chest or if it’s stripping off what little he has. He’s sitting at the counter of a diner that has turned into ground zero for amateurs over the last hour. Behind him, a couple of dozen folks with t-shirts that say things like Wind Jammers or Funnel Cakes or Twister Twins hunch behind laptops and mumble about the NWS and the SPC and the latest data popping up on the Doppler. It’s gonna be a hell of a couple of days, all the ingredients for what might turn out to be the most activity this region has seen in years.
Jensen tries his level best to ignore the talk, finish his food and avoid making eye contact. He’s staring down the barrel of a two-hour drive and at least three hours worth of voice-overs, and the worst thing about all of it is that it’s taking him northeast. A few years ago he’d been driving toward the storm and today he’ll be driving away from it, and the bitch of the thing is that he didn’t know then and still doesn’t know now which one of those is the right direction.
The bell over the door trills and someone walks up to the counter. Jensen recognizes the smell of a very specific brand of eco-friendly laundry detergent and the inevitable cloud of sweet cinnamon chewing gum, knows exactly who it is before the guy even opens his mouth. Doesn’t even have to look.
“I’ll take four coffees to go, biggest you can manage, and aw, man, is that sweet potato pie? I’ll take two, three if you got ‘em.”
“Got it,” the woman working the counter says. “Four large coffees and three slices of pie on the way.”
“Naw, sweetheart,” the guys says, and Jensen can hear the smile in his voice, doesn’t have to work too hard to picture it. “Three pies, if you can spare them. Long day ahead of us, and we’ll need all the caffeine and sugar we can get our hands on.”
Jensen tucks his chin toward his chest, tries to slump his shoulders into an unrecognizable shape and instantly change the color of his hair by sheer will alone. He’s fairly sure his heart and his stomach have switched places and before he can figure out how to put them back the way nature intended, a large hand grabs him by the shoulder and spins him around on his stool.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Jared says, laying the Texas on thick, laying the dimples on in equal measure.
The past couple of years have been good to Jared. He’s filled out some, his former wiry frame more bulky now. He’s learned to inhabit the space he takes up, to stand with his shoulders back rather than with the slouch that Jensen used to rib him about. His smile is the same, though, and so is his wild mop of hair. Jensen wants to tuck it behind his ears, get it out of his face, and that hasn’t changed either. He’s wearing an eye-wrenching green t-shirt with a four-leaf clover stretched across his chest that says Kiss Me, I’m Irish. Jensen knows for a fact that he isn’t, but also knows that anyone who takes him up on the offer is in for one hell of a good time.
It’s been more than two years since Jensen has laid eyes on him. Months had passed before Jensen convinced himself that he was over Jared, and another year had gone by before he convinced himself that he just didn’t care anymore. It takes less than minute in the same room with the guy for Jensen’s painstakingly constructed apathy to start to crack.
Jensen pastes a smile on his face and hopes it looks more sincere than it feels. “Shoulda known you’d be knocking around here.”
Jared lights up all over. “Of course. It’s shaping up to be a beautiful day,” he says, talking like it’s been two days instead of two years, and launches into a one-sided discussion of low-level moisture and instability in the area, CAPE and SRH, then moves smoothly into a description of a storm the crew chased last week, one that only amounted to maybe an EF1 but tossed hail down on them bigger than golf balls, smashed his windshield to smithereens and knocked Misha out cold. “So here I am,” Jared goes on, “the funnel’s an eighth of a mile away at most, wrapped in rain so I can’t see it, but I can feel it. Y’know the itch you get in your teeth?”
“Yeah,” Jensen says, nodding. “Way down deep.”
“Exactly,” Jared says as he snaps his fingers. “Misha’s down for the count and I’m trying to drag him plus a hundred pounds of equipment back to the car, and the tornado’s close enough to sling mud at me, and all I can think about is the time you and I--” He comes to an abrupt stop, cuts his gaze away from Jensen and clamps his teeth down on his bottom lip.
“Alabama,” Jensen finishes for him. “That time we got stuck out in that field in Alabama. Four years back.” That had been a run to write home about. Awake for forty-eight hours straight as they’d tracked a series of super cells across four states, out of their minds with exhaustion and absolutely crazy about each other, unable to keep their hands to themselves. “You lost a good pair of shoes in the mud that day.”
“I’ve never found a replacement.”
“Something like that is hard to find,” Jensen agrees.
“It really is,” Jared says, and Jensen feels a hot flare of irritation. Jared’s always had a habit of talking in circles around all the important stuff, never quite coming in for a landing.
Jensen clears his throat. “How’s Misha?”
With a wave, Jared chuckles. “He’s fine. Son of a bitch woke up five minutes later, pissed off that he’d missed all the good parts and wondering where we were gonna stop for lunch.”
“Sounds about right,” Jensen says with a smile.
The coffees show up along with three sweet potato pies boxed and bagged, and the waitress throws in a can of whipped cream with a wink. Jared slides a couple of twenties across the counter, tells her that he’s got Jensen’s tab too when Jensen pushes his plate away. His stomach is still shriveled up and his appetite is dust.
“You’ve gotten a fourth,” Jensen says as Jared juggles pies and coffee cups.
“Nope. It’s been the three of us ever since...Well. Ever since.” He hands Jensen one of the cups. “That one’s for you. It’s good to see you, Jensen. Really fucking good.”
Jared smiles at him, full-blown and beautiful and Jensen has to smile back. Jared has that effect on him. Always has and probably always will, and the next thing Jensen knows, he’s trailing Jared toward the door, fixated on the stretch of Jared’s shirt across his shoulders and the smooth shift of his hips as he walks. He really hadn’t been lying about never finding a replacement pair of shoes. He’s wearing a pair of flip flops that look like the have more miles on them than the ancient Honda that Jensen drove for his entire college career.
“Is that you?” Jared says, holding the door for Jensen with his hip and jerking his chin toward the van parked in the far corner of the lot. “Can I see what you got?”
The vehicle has been outfitted more for on-the-fly video editing than for chasing storms. A series of monitors are bolted to the interior wall, and his camera operator is sitting in front of them, absently chewing on a sandwich as he goes through a rough cut of footage. Jensen rolls his eyes as he sees his own face staring back at him from one of the screens, hears snatches of his voice, strange to his own ears. He’s never gonna get used to that.
Jared crawls into the driver’s seat like he owns the joint, almost spills the coffee as he starts screwing around with switches until the roof-mounted satellite begins to extend on its long pole.
“It’s the wrong kinda satellite,” Jared says, standing the van’s running board and squinting up at the thing once it reaches its full height.
“Maybe.“ Jensen shrugs as he climbs into the passenger seat and hits a few keys on the laptop situated on the center console. “But I also have this.” He tilts the monitor in Jared’s direction, watches Jared scan the data streaming down the screen, eyes growing wider and wider as his mouth drops open. “Sure beats any of the NEXRAD sites you’re hooked up with for Doppler.”
“It kicks them in the ass,” Jared says, distracted. “Wait a minute. Is this outta Vance? The air force base?”
“Yeah, and it’s real time, too. Refreshes every two seconds.”
“How the fuck?” Jared still hasn’t looked up from the screen, like he’s trying to commit the columns of fast moving numbers to memory.
“It’s a perk. Comes with the job,” Jensen tells him and snaps the laptop shut, feels smug when Jared glares at him.
“C’mon,” Jared says. “I’ll show you how the pro’s do it.”
Jensen snorts. He circles around the van and meets Jared at the back bumper. “What? Are you guys still running with a couple of beat-up trucks and a shoddy internet connection?”
Leaning in and tipping their foreheads close together, Jared says in a whisper, “She’s here.”
Jensen’s heart skips a beat. “Really?” His voice cracks, feels a little watery. “You’re kidding.”
“It’s fair to say I’m a bullshitter, but there are a couple of things I wouldn’t lie about, and she’s one of them. I’m glad you’re here to see her. She’s half yours anyway. More than half.”
Jared points toward the diner. “Around back. Katie’s getting her ready for her close-up, just a few more finishing touches.”
“Hey, Greg,” Jensen calls to his camera guy, jogging backward across the parking lot, mindless of the hot coffee that sloshes past the lid of his cup and over his fingers, “you oughta see this. Bring the camera, would ya?” He turns toward Jared. “I can’t believe you did it. Did you really do it? How did you do it?”
“Begged, borrowed and stole. Literally peddled Misha out to a couple of aircraft manufacturers when the grant money and the loans didn’t meet in the middle. I don’t think he minded too much.”
Jensen takes the corner and stutters to a halt. “Whoa,” he says on a large exhale. “She’s a fucking tank.” The vehicle is about the size of a standard four-by-four but built lower. It’s been outfitted with steel plates welded together, with more plates at the bottom that angle outward toward the ground like a skirt. A turret rises out of the roof of the thing, made of windows that look bulletproof and giving anyone who’s inside a nearly unobstructed three-sixty vantage. It’s a truck that has been built to be directly in harm’s way.
“You’re not wrong.” Jared stops and looms close to Jensen’s back. “Jensen, meet Intercept.”
He touches Jensen’s shoulder, slides his hand up and down his upper arm. It’s familiar and easy and Jensen lets it happen, catches himself leaning into the weight of Jared’s arm on the back of his neck. They’re not friends. They’ve never been just friends.
“What is that?” Jensen asks, stepping out of the circle of Jared’s arm for a closer look. Greg follows him, his camera fixed on the vehicle as he walks in a slow ring around it. “A truck chassis?”
“A modified Hummer,” Jared informs him. “Seven hundred and fifty horsepower engine. I opened it up to ninety miles an hour on the ride here.”
“Mobility?” Jensen asks, peering through the windshield. The driver’s and passenger’s seats are the only luxuries inside, the rest is diamond steel and instrumentation. Intercept isn’t flashy, but she sure is pretty.
“Doesn’t need it. We tested it at Boeing. With the skirt down and the stabilizer spikes engaged it held steady in winds up to one-eight-five, started rocking at around one-ninety, but I think we coulda gone a little higher.”
Jensen whistles. “It can withstand an F1 easy, maybe up to an F3.”
A pair of legs sticks out from beneath the far side of the thing, coveralls rolled up to the knees and ending in a pair of loosely laced green Doc Martens. The owner of them crawls out and stands up, picks some grass out of her ponytail and says, “I thought that was you.”
Katie leaps at Jensen, and the force of her makes him trip backward a few steps. She smells like engine grease, long streaks of the stuff on the front of her coveralls where she’s wiped her fingers clean, thumps hard enough on Jensen’s back to push the air out of his lungs.
She’s their jack-of-all-trades, an electrical engineer by education and training, but she’s also a mighty fine mechanic, keeps their vehicles cobbled together a hundred thousand miles longer than anyone else has ever been able to manage. She’s point-man too, knows every single highway, backwoods two-lane black top, dirt road and passable tractor path in this area better than Jensen knows the layout of his own apartment.
“My boys,” she says and takes Jensen’s face between her hands, turns to Jared for the same treatment, and now they’re smudged with grease as well. “I got the hydraulics on the passenger side rigged,” she tells Jared, “but you gotta baby them. No showing off.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jared says.
“Saw you on the television the other day,” she says with a punch to Jensen’s shoulder. “I always wanted to meet a real life TV star.” Hiking a thumb over her shoulder toward the cameraman, she goes on, “Already can’t go anywhere without a camera following you around.” She walks over to Greg and starts talking shop, makes animated gestures as she points out the specs on Intercept.
“She’s a natural,” Jensen says. “Maybe she should take over my spot.”
The door to the camper beside them bangs open and Misha sidesteps down the stairs. He regards Jensen like he’s not surprised to see him here.
“Howdy weatherman,” he says, then drop kicks the jumbled mess of a partially disassembled video camera. “I tried, but the camera’s cashed.” He reaches into the dark interior of the camper and snatches up a parasol. It’s a baby-blue, frilly affair that he opens up, props in the crook of his neck and starts to slowly spin. “The good news is the sensors all seem to be up and running. Intercept is in the matrix.” He’s wearing an earpiece like you see on secret service agents or high paid bodyguards, but Jensen knows he’s either listening to radio chatter or tapped into the NOAA emergency comm network.
“It was the camera or your head,” Jared points out. “I still maintain that I made the right choice. How much do we have in the budget for a new one?”
Misha taps a finger on his chin a couple of times and says, “After you filled that beast up with gas, I think we might have a nickel.” He hooks the bag with the pies under his arm and takes his cup of coffee from Jared. Saluting them with the cup, he says, “And this just moved us into the red.” He takes a sip and smacks his lips. “Worth it, though.”
Jared makes an annoyed sound, zones out with an empty stare across the field, then cuts his gaze toward Jensen. “That’s a nice camera you have there.”
Jensen shakes his head. “No.”
“That’s a really nice camera.”
The head shaking isn’t working, so this time Jensen puts his hands up, palms forward like a traffic cop. “Hell, no.”
“It’s high-def, isn’t it?” Jared takes a step toward the camera operator.
“Jared, fuck no,” Jensen insists and steps in front to block him, his palm flat on Jared’s chest, right over his heart.
“We should figure something out soon,” Misha pipes up as Jared and Jensen start an awkward, shuffling back and forth dance. “There’s a cold front blasting through about fifty miles southwest of here. No action yet, but it looks like it’s building up a nasty right hook.”
Jared and Jensen both freeze. With surprising calm, Jared says, “Next time you might want to lead with that info.”
The logical voice in Jensen’s mind, the one that told him to quit the life two years ago, the one that makes adult decisions concerning the preservation of life and limb is telling him to get out of their way, to pack up his camera operator and head back to the studio, do his voice-overs and watch the coverage of the storms on the evening news tonight. That voice is quiet. It’s getting even quieter by the second.
“Time to make dust,” Jared calls out, and Katie stops mid-sentence, beats feet toward the camper.
“Where?” Katie asks.
“It’s coming up on Lawton from the southwest,” Misha says, knuckle pressed to his earpiece.
“Okay,” she says. “Okay. Take highway nine west to two-seventy-seven south. Punch it and we’ll get there in thirty-five minutes. But punch it gently, Jared.”
“Are you gonna be okay heading back on your own?” Jensen asks Greg as he takes the battery pack out of the guy’s pocket.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, but--” Greg starts.
“Please tell me that you have a couple of spare memory cards with you.”
“Of course, but--” He finds a small zippered pouch in his back pocket containing a few extra memory cards and hands it to Jensen.
“Tell them I’ll return it,” Jensen says and pulls the camera from Greg’s shoulder. His pulse races and he feels lightheaded, knows it’s the first wave of an adrenaline rush and the crash will eventually happen, but until then he’s gonna ride it out. “If I break it, they can take it out of my check. Cell reception gets a little dicey sometimes, but if you need me, you can try and call.” He herds the guy toward their van. “Drive safely. Head that way,” he finishes, pointing to the northeast, already dashing back toward Intercept. “Bad stuff is about to happen in the other direction.”
“Don’t you mean good stuff?” Jared asks, opens the door to the truck and welcomes Jensen inside with a sweep of his arm.
“Yeah.” Jensen feels a huge grin taking over his face. “That too.”
Cornfields rush past in a blur as Jared guns the engine, and the vehicle shimmies enough to make Jensen’s teeth feel like they’re on the edge of rattling loose. The thing’s been built for function: no such thing as air conditioning and the only window that opens is on the driver’s side. Sweat drips down Jensen’s temples, gathers at the small of his back and he ditches his button down, balls it up in a corner of the foot well and tosses his tie on top of it.
The sky is a roiling mass of black clouds, cut through with lightning strikes every few seconds. A brighter flare lights up about three miles to the east, the telltale sign of a blown transformer.
“Surface temperature’s at ninety-two, starting to drop,” Jensen says. He points the camera at Jared, records him as he nervously bounces in his seat and drums his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Get that thing off me,” he says, but there’s no real heat to it.
“I’m giving myself a crash course on how to work it. Deal with it,” Jensen says and abandons the passenger seat for the turret in the back, weaving drunkenly as Jared steers onto the shoulder of the road to pass a slow moving car.
“Reports of hail on the ground.” Misha’s voice cuts through the radio static coming from the walkie-talkie mounted on the dash.
They’ve hit the leading edge of the storm, rain spotting the glass of the turret. The camper can’t keep up, reduced to tiny flickering headlights in the distance. A drop of water hits Jensen’s shoulder and within half a minute turns into a steady stream. A nest of exposed wires extends beneath the control panel in the back, and Jensen angles his body so that his back catches most of the water. Better him than them, or the somewhat feloniously acquired camera.
“I should have told you,” Jared says with a quick glance back, his profile showing half of a wicked grin. “She’s a little leaky. I don’t think you’ll get electrocuted, though. Misha has everything fairly well grounded.”
“You don’t think? That’s comforting,” Jensen shoots back, and then loses his train of thought. The corn stalks to their left, which had been getting whipped consistently eastward by the storm, abruptly change direction, bend flat toward the west. The first few hailstones clink against Intercept’s steel exterior. “Slow down,” he commands.
There must be something in the sound of his voice, because Jared doesn’t question him, only hits the brakes hard enough that Jensen bangs his head against the edge of the turret and has to work hard maintain his balance. He holds his breath, watches the sky and counts to ten.
“What are you seeing?” Jared asks. He’s hunched toward the windshield as if that will improve his visibility. It’s futile. The road ahead of them is invisible through the heavy rain and ice falling from the sky.
Jensen ignores him and counts to twenty. Debris shoots across the road, leaves and twigs, fast food bags and an empty soda bottle, all the ubiquitous roadside trash. A gust rocks the truck and a small tree branch as thick as Jensen’s wrist fetches up against the front bumper.
He counts to thirty, makes it all the way to forty and quietly says, “Updraft. Clear slot. There you are.” Louder, he continues, “On your nine, Jared. Any second now.”
“Got it,” Jared says, both feet on the brakes as he swerves into a hard left just in time to see the funnel reach down from the shelf cloud now almost directly in front of them. Intercept skids, heads sideways down a muddy tractor path between the fields, corn, corn, and more corn jamming in the windshield wipers. Jared steers blind into the fishtail, gets them back on the straight and narrow and sets a course due east.
The vortex touches the ground and there’s an immediate swirl of dust and grime at the base as it rips open the earth beneath it, shreds through a copse of trees and seems to take aim directly at them.
“Damn, that’s my boy,” Jared says, fingers wrapped tight and bloodless around the wheel. “You need to teach me how you do that.”
“What?” Jensen falls into the passenger seat, stabilizes the camera on his shoulder and zooms in on the tornado, vaguely brown colored and growing stronger. Thicker. He sends up a silent prayer of thanks that there’s nothing but empty fields and a few trees around for it to chew.
“No one can read a storm like you,” Jared tells him.
Shrugging off the compliment, Jensen says, “What’s the plan?”
“Get as close as we can in front of it and park. Maybe make out for a few minutes before it hits.” Jared shoots him a hot, heavy-lidded look and Jensen’s slammed with the urge to take him up on the offer.
Although it goes against every instinct he should have been born with, Jensen hunkers down in his seat. “I can’t wait.”
Jared cranks the window open so they can hear the thing, that roaring freight-train sound that sinks down into Jensen’s bones and causes his blood to run faster.
Distantly, he hears Katie’s saying something to Misha, her voice picked up inadvertently over the radio, spilling out panicked and fast. “Intercept’s GPS is out. I can’t see them. I can’t keep them safe if I can’t fucking see them.”
“Hey, sweetheart,” Jensen says into the radio. “Can you see the vortex? We’re a quarter mile to the east of it.”
Misha mumbles something they can’t make out, and Katie breaks through again. “There’s no road there.”
“We’re in the field,” Jared cuts in. “Holy…multiple vortex. We’ve got sisters.”
And sure enough there are two now, with a third trying to form at the rear flank of the storm, another rotation spiked through with lightning.
“Twins are hot,” Jensen says. They’re dancing toward each other, almost connect and bounce apart again, until about an eighth of a mile separates them and Jensen can’t look away. He’s riveted, transfixed, can’t believe that he spent the last two years of his life not doing this exact thing.
“There’s a bridge,” Katie says absently. “Why is there a bridge?”
“Humidity, dew points and temps are coming in loud and clear,” Misha says. “Thought you might like to know, since all of this is actually about science, and not solely for street cred.”
Jared’s silent when it happens, and that’s how Jensen knows it’s not good. Jared tenses beside him, teeth gritted into a snarl as he spins the wheel and somehow manages to shift the engine into neutral at the same time. There’s a crack, a metal-on-metal screech and Jensen tumbles into Jared, knocks their heads together and gets an up close and personal view out of Jared’s window at a wide canal cut into the center of the field. Intercept stalls, lurches to a stop, canted in what seems like a really bad way, nose too far down on the left side and the rear too far up on the right.
There’s a scuffle and something that has to be the sound of Katie ripping the radio out of Misha’s hand.
“Irrigation canal. That’s why there’s a bridge.”
“Yup, just figured that out,” Jared says, shaky, thumbing at a spot over Jensen’s eyebrow that he didn’t notice was painful until Jared began screwing around with it. “Are you okay?”
“I’m good.” It’s the truth. He’s better than he’s been in years.
“Good, ‘cause we’re boned, and not in the fun, promise-to-call-me-later kinda way.” Jared forces the door open and looks back. “They’re coming. We gotta go.” With that, he spills out of the vehicle and skirts the edge of the canal, bouncing on the balls of his feet until Jensen meets him. The front tire is sitting at an awful angle to the ground and Jared pauses to kick at it, frustrated.
A few seconds in the deluge and Jensen’s soaked through and through, wiping water out of his eyes and wishing he had better shoes for all of this. It’s not the first time they’ve had to outrun a tornado on foot, but it’s the first time they’ve attempted to outrun two at the same time.
“I thought she was built for this.” Jensen has to do double time to catch up with Jared’s long strides.
“She is, but only if we can put the flaps down and sink the spikes into solid ground,” Jared informs him between panting breaths. “As it stands, she’s a four ton parachute. Goddamn aerodynamic. The twister can scoop her right up.”
“That about covers it.”
The wind whips at them, vegetation smacks into them, Jensen’s ears are popping from the drop in pressure and he’s never liked cornfields very much, they’ve always sorta freaked him out. Ahead of them stands the bridge across the canal, a shoddy-looking wooden thing which might be salvation or a spectacularly terrible idea, or maybe a little bit of both.
Jared slides down the steep bank and pulls Jensen down with him, and together they slosh through the shallow, muddy water. It swirls around their ankles with a current that shouldn’t be there. Every step is a fight as Jensen’s feet sink into the silt. He’s running calculations in his head, wind speeds and angles and the likelihood of getting sucked out from under this bridge while he rips his belt off, makes a slipknot with the buckle and wraps it around the piling closest to the bank, shoves Jared face first against the splintery wood, then shoves himself against Jared’s back and pins him there.
“Hold tight,” he says, and loops the belt around his wrists.
One of the sisters has dissolved and the other vortex is losing shape, close to the end of its run as it approaches, but Jensen’s seen even an F0 tear shingles off of a roof and shove cars for blocks and blocks, and here they are, with nothing but some farmer’s cobbled together bridge and a strip of leather about an inch and a half wide to hold them down. Grit flies into Jensen’s eyes and all the air is getting sucked out of his lungs and it’s now that Jared decides to start bitching about leeches.
“That’s what you’re worried about?” Jensen yells over the roar.
The dark clouds have brought on a premature dusk, and it’s even darker under the bridge. Jared’s a figure made of shadows, but Jensen can feel his laugh in all the places they’re touching. “I can see the tornado,” he yells back. “I can’t see the leeches.”
The tornado veers west, and there’s an ear-splitting screech as it pulls planks from the opposite end of the bridge. Jensen’s plastered to Jared’s back, his face notched into the nape of Jared’s neck and the vibration is so intense that his teeth chatter. Jared’s struggling, and whether he’s trying to break free from Jensen’s grasp or the tornado’s is anyone’s guess, but Jensen bears down, holds him tight, keeps his eyes closed until the sandblast of dirt and water lessens.
“It’s over,” Jared says, and damn if he doesn’t sound disappointed. He turns to face Jensen and hugs him tightly, squeezes out the little bit of air Jensen has left in his lungs. “Sorry about this,” he goes on, knuckling at the bang Jensen took to his forehead.
Jensen thinks about how their first kiss looked a lot like this. Their first chase together, and Jared’s first chase period. Jared had been an undergrad in the meteorology department, wet behind the ears and eager to prove to anyone willing to listen to him that he had what it takes. Jensen had been a grad student at the time, only moderately less wet behind the ears. Even then Jared had a knack for interpreting the data, could read radar like it was his mother tongue.
“Here’s to better days and better luck,” Jared says, because they’re both too superstitious to shirk tradition, and traces Jensen’s hairline, fingertips gentle on his temple.
It would be so easy. Jared’s right there and it would be so easy to take a half-step forward, pull him down and push up at the same time. Jensen wants to, believes Jared would let it happen as well.
Instead he takes a half-step back, says, “Better days and better luck. We should get back.”
Jensen’s arms are shaking and his knees aren’t doing much better. He stumbles up the bank, sees how close they came to a very bad day, churned earth and half of a misplaced tree barely on the other side of the canal. Jared is sullen and silent at his elbow, trudging alongside him, and Jensen realizes with a sort of absent amazement that he didn’t lose his flip-flops in the mud. The guy has always had the kind of luck that’s wasted out here, would be put to better use at some blackjack table in Vegas.
By the time they make it back, Katie and Misha are crawling over Intercept, inspecting the damage. Katie’s got a lug wrench in her hand. She’s wearing a worried expression on her face and Misha’s wearing a football helmet. Apparently he learned his lesson the last time.
“Intercept took a glancing blow,” Misha informs them. “The top wind speed measured at eighty-two. Good news is that she stayed put and didn’t get pulled into the canal. From the looks of it, you two took a decent hit.”
They’re filthy, drenched and mud spattered. Jared’s t-shirt sticks to his torso his hair hangs in his face in long, muddy strings. Jensen’s undershirt is a lost cause, so he strips it off and replaces it with his rumpled dress shirt from the floor of the truck.
“What’s the prognosis, doc?” Jared asks Katie.
“Best guess is a busted tie rod. It’s one of those things that looks worse than it is, but it’s not going anywhere until I fix it.”
“Should only take a couple of hours.” She toes at the wet dirt and mumbles, “If the hydraulic jack doesn’t sink into the ground.”
Misha’s taken the camera out and has it resting on the roof of Intercept, and is watching the playback on the viewfinder. ‘You got some good footage. Most of it is of Jared, I’ll grant you, but he looks great.”
“Did anyone else get anything?” Jensen asks. It’s one of the things that he’s missed most about storm chasing. It’s a community of scientists and lunatics, all with a clear sense that everyone is in it together.
Misha nods. “A tornado hit that dinky airport we passed on the way in. A couple of Cessnas went cartwheeling and they got video. Someone’s gonna pay good money for that.”
Jensen hums and Jared bites off a curse, and Katie decides to use her mother voice.
“We’re grounded until I can get this fixed. Misha, you’re helping.” Regarding Jared, she continues, “Take the camper and find us a place to dig in for the night, get cleaned up. Just carry my welding gear over here first.”
“Before you can say anything, they only had two rooms left.” Jared doesn’t look up from digging through his backpack as Jensen walks through the open door. He throws a bundle of clothes at Jensen, the boxers hit the floor but the rest of it lands on top of the paper bag wrapped around the six-pack he’s cradling on his hip.
“Really, Jared? Really,” Jensen says, regarding the king bed in the center of the room.
“Misha and Katie should have the double. We can share. You and I have...precedence.”
“Precedence? Is that what you call it?”
“What else would you suggest?”
Jensen bites his tongue, considers saying that he’d call it a series of really great and really terrible decisions, and says, “Precedence.”
“You could sleep in the camper if you want, but we took the bed out a while ago to make room for equipment. Katie’s tool boxes might not be all that comfortable.”
He gets cleaned up. The water pressure in the shower isn’t anything great but it’s hot, hot enough to make his skin go pink and sensitive as he spends a minute staring at the dirt from his skin and hair swirl down the drain. The borrowed clothes are too big for him in places and too small in others, but they’re clean and they smell like Jared, so that’s good enough for him.
Jared has downed one beer and moved most of the way through the second by the time Jensen emerges, a cloud of steam-heavy air following him out of the bathroom.
“Drink ‘em quick,” he says, “before they have a chance to warm up.” He disappears into the bathroom, a bottle of beer in tow and comes out ten minutes later, skin wet and hair dripping, the empty bottle hanging from his fingers and a towel hanging around his hips. Jared flips through the television stations until he runs across the local affiliates, and they both watch long enough to see the fuzzy, shuddering footage of the airport, one plane tossed into another. He turns it off a moment later. They’ve seen enough weather for one day.
Jensen’s leaning against the headboard, his own bottle of beer leaving rings of condensation on his shorts. Jared turns his back and drops his towel, replaces it with a pair of boxers. He’s never had any sort of compunction about that sorta thing, so Jensen doesn’t have any compunction about staring.
After a long swallow, Jensen says, “I’ll stay the night, make sure that the two of them get back safe then find somewhere to rent a car to get me back.” He’d been so impulsive, set out with Jared without an escape plan.
“You’re better than what you’re doing.” It’s quiet when Jared says it. Like a secret.
“So are you.” Jensen regrets it the instant it’s done coming out of his mouth. Jared slumps onto the foot of the bed, just sorta withers, and Jensen nudges at his side with his foot. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. Everything I have is tied up in this project. I’m so far in the hole I can hardly see light from down here.”
“You could have gotten ahold of me. I would have helped,” Jensen offers. He’d wanted to avoid turning this whole thing into a hapless melodrama, but it’s heading in that direction anyway.
“I’m not only talking about the money,” Jared says and makes room when Jensen scoots to the edge of the bed beside him. “It’s my reputation too.”
“You’ve never had much of a reputation,” Jensen teases.
Jared knocks their shoulders together and Jensen shoves back and stays there, hip to hip, his thumb tucked into the waistband of Jared’s boxers at the small of his back.
“Besides,” Jared continues, staring at his toes, “I couldn’t call you. You told me you wanted a clean break. After all those years, it’s was the one and only thing you ever asked for, so I had to give it to you.”
It hits Jensen hard, like a fist clenched around his heart. There are a lot of things he could tell Jared right now, like how he’d been so idealistic when he’d taken the job at the network, thought that television money and the ability to reach a larger audience would make a difference. Things like the way he’d known at the time that Jared would have been miserable in Atlanta, boxed into some sort of nine-to-five and reduced to chasing storms one or two weeks a year. He could also tell him how he learned very quickly that he’d been hired not for his credentials, but because viewers like a pretty face and a hint of southern charm, and how he’d had to sell his bed less than a week after he moved into his new place, because it felt too big and too empty without Jared in it.
He doesn’t say any of it. Jared’s smart, knows Jensen better than anybody, so he’s probably figured most of it out on his own anyway.
“I wasn’t very mature about it all,” Jensen tells him instead.
“That was on both of us. We never have been. It’s one of the best things about us. And the worst.” Jared hooks their ankles together, and it’s the littlest thing, the tiniest thing, so time-worn and familiar and Jensen feels his heart crack open all over again. “If I kiss you, would that make anyone mad?”
Jensen has seen Jared stand in the path of a tornado and stare it down like he is staring down the devil, but he’s never seen Jared so vulnerable before. So laid bare.
“No,” Jensen says simply. He might wind up angry at himself, but that will come later, because right now Jared’s inching in, whispering something that sounds like slow, slow, and he’s sliding his hand up the inside of Jensen’s thigh and his wet hair is ticking Jensen’s face, dripping onto his shirt.
Jared’s mouth is a soft, warm drag against his, hesitant and testing and careful, like it’s the first time all over again. Jared pulls back, gasping warm breath on Jensen’s lips, shivering as if he’s finally gotten a fix and Jensen knows how that feels. He knows exactly how that feels, and when Jared leans forward again, sucks on Jensen’s lower lip and slides his tongue in his hands fly up, bury into Jared’s hair, shove it out of his face.
Jared gathers him up and spills him flat on the bed, forces his thighs apart with his hips, gives Jensen the full measure of his weight and doesn’t stop kissing him, drawing Jensen’s tongue into his mouth with long, sucking pulls. Jensen holds on, hands greedy on Jared’s back, over every well-known ridge of bone and each curve of muscle.
“Like this, like this,” Jared says, pulls them so they’re side by side, facing each other and Jensen tries to counter it, get Jared back on top of him, feels like he needs the press of Jared’s body to keep him from floating up and up, but this is Jared saying something important, putting them on even ground.
Jensen can work with this, would figure his way around anything Jared wants to offer him at this point. The small gap between them gives Jensen room to ruck his shirt up and off, nuzzle at Jared’s jaw until he tosses his head back, gives Jensen the space to lick up the long arch of this throat, drag his teeth along his collarbone. The thin material of Jared’s boxers does nothing to hide the swollen shape of his cock pressed against the front of them. Jensen slips his fingers past his waistband and curls them around Jared’s cock and it’s good, so good, Jared slick and heavy in his hand, reaching for him, one arm crooked around his neck and the other hand pawing Jensen’s hip, trying to shove at his shorts.
“Wait a minute,” Jared says, and Jensen thinks an icicle might have lodged itself in his chest.
“Is it...do you wanna stop?” Jensen asks.
“No, no,” Jared says quickly. Then, “Do you wanna stop?”
Jensen shoves a hand down his own shorts, palms his cock to ease the steady throb and sinks his hips into the mattress. “You’re smart,” he says, “you figure it out.”
Jared’s laugh is deep, a fraction away from wicked. “I just needed a little help getting your pants off.”
It’s Jensen’s turn to laugh. Jared’s pants are too big for him, don’t even need to be unbuttoned, slide easily over his hips. “You used to be better at this.”
“So I’m a little rusty,” Jared says, and grunts when Jensen straddles his hips, because side-by-side might be good, but Jensen’s always liked to look at Jared from this angle, to be able to bring all his weight to bear and hold him in place. He squirms on Jared’s lap, rolls his hips and slips Jared’s cock between the cheeks of his ass, gets off on the way Jared groans from the light, teasing friction. His cock is heavy, slaps against Jared’s stomach with each tiny thrust, marks Jared’s taut skin with shiny little trails of precome.
Jensen watches Jared’s restraint melt into desperation, watches his mouth fall open and breathe out Jensen’s name as he grabs handfuls of Jensen’s ass, fingertips digging in to make it tighter, and now Jensen’s the one shivering, lungs hitching each time the head of Jared’s cock drags and catches on the sensitive flesh of his rim.
Every muscle in Jared’s body goes rigid, and still as he comes, shoots pulse after pulse of hot spunk that runs along the crack of Jensen’s ass and drips onto the backs of his thighs. Jared lets out a low moan and his eyes go wide, staring up at Jensen like he’s the only thing in the world worth seeing.
There’s a tremor in his hand, Jensen can see it as Jared spits into his palm, can feel it as he wraps his fist around Jensen’s cock and works him fast and hard, thumb swiping over Jensen’s slit with every tug, exactly the way that Jensen likes it. He urges Jensen forward, licks into his mouth, presses their tongues together smooth and slick and dirty. Jared kisses him through his orgasm, keeps kissing him until Jensen’s lungs are on fire and his body is useless shuddery mass.
Jensen’s sweaty, filthy all over again but it’s the good kind of filthy, Jared’s spunk and his own drying sticky on his skin. He stretches out, curls his arms around Jared’s shoulders and hums, content, when Jared slots his leg between his thighs and hooks their ankles together.
“You probably want to talk about this, don’t you,” Jared says. It’s not a question.
“We probably should.”
“Can it wait?” Jared’s voice is muzzy and tired, his face smashed against Jensen’s chest.
“Yeah, it can.”
“Good. I’ll understand if you need to leave again. I mean, I get it. Just. Don’t go anywhere until I wake up.”
“I’ll be right here. I promise.”
Jensen keeps his arm snug around Jared’s shoulders, doesn’t want to let go, can’t figure out why he’d thought that it was a good idea to let go of Jared in the first place.
The sun has set and the room is dark when there is a knock on the door. It startles Jensen out of a doze, and he’s hardly gotten his shorts up to his knees before Jared’s opening the door, his hair a mass of corkscrews and his boxers crooked on his hips.
“It’s not good,” Misha’s saying. The pavement in the hotel parking lot is wet, leaves scattered over all of the cars and the sky is an awful color, hazy and red. “Two touchdowns on the outskirts of town. Three square miles of nothing except for one fucking house. Radio chatter says the twister took it out like it was aiming for it.”
“I never heard a siren,” Jensen says, pulling his shirt over his head and tripping into his shoes. He dodges Jared, who’s doing the same thing.
“There wasn’t one.”
Jared shoulders past him, keys to the camper dangling from his finger. Without a word, he heads to the parking lot and Jensen flanks him with Misha at his side. Katie’s already there, shoving what looks like a thin blanket and some clothes into a backpack.
“You ready?” she says, and catches the keys when Jared throws them at her.
Emergency vehicles wail in the distance and Katie drives them to the northwestern edge of town, then it’s a matter of following the path of destruction, toppled trees and downed power lines to a long driveway cut into the center of a field. An old pick-up rests on its side in front of the shattered home, and ambulances and firetrucks crowd the front yard.
It used to be a two-story farmhouse, but the top floor is gone and the roof rests about twenty feet away from the footprint of the building. Firefighters are crawling all over the periphery of the house, yelling back and forth to each other about gas lines and a couple of paramedics are attending a woman sitting in the open door of an ambulance. Her arm’s in a sling and she’s bruised and battered, and a barefoot boy who looks to be about three years old stands on the ground at her side, his fist wrapped in the folds of her nightgown.
A news truck is lumbering up the driveway, and Katie and Misha break free of the group to block its path, wave it off. There’s something to be said for bearing witness, but that’s not the right kind.
Jared kneels beside the kid, puts himself on the boy’s level and starts talking to him in a low rumble that Jensen can’t pick up.
“We had no warning,” the woman’s saying. “All the windows started to rattle and I barely had time to grab him and get us downstairs.” Something inside of the house crashes and the woman slumps, hides her face in her hands.
Jensen’s throat feels thick and he tears his eyes away from the woman to Jared, who’s picked up the little boy and is rocking a little. He places the backpack on the floor of the ambulance beside her.
“Do you have somewhere to go?” Jensen asks.
She wipes her nose with the back of her hand. “I have a sister a couple of counties over.”
With a nod, Jensen says, “There are clothes in there, some water and food for you until you can get there.” He turns to find Jared staring at him over the little boy’s head.
It’s not about the money for Jensen, and it never has been. It’s not even about the adrenaline rush or the science, although both of those are a means to an end. It’s about trying to turn two minute warnings into five minute warnings or hell, even three, about giving people who are in the direct line of fire a fighting chance.
He smoothes the kid’s hair down and brushes his knuckles against the back of Jared’s hand.
“Okay. I’m in. I’m not going anywhere.”
“We can’t make it.” There’s a ditch beside the road, an axle breaking dip that leads to a sharp rise. Intercept is shuddering and some piece of equipment in the back is clanking and the sky in front of them is the color of swampy water. Jensen’s bones are telling him something big is on the way.
“We can make it.” Jared should be slowing down, but instead he’s speeding up, mouth set in a strict line as he eases onto the shoulder.
“I don’t think we can make it,” Jensen says and steadies himself, clings to the handrail on the door and protectively hunches over the camera in his lap.
“We’re definitely gonna make it,” Jared insists, cutting the wheel to the right and barreling over the ditch, downshifting to accelerate up the embankment. “See? We made it.”
“You’re off-line,” Misha says across the two-way. “It was probably that Indiana Jones move you just did.” In the background, Katie’s cussing about the suspension, asking Jared if the steering feels slushy.
“I don’t know,” Jared tells her. “This thing’s always like trying to steer a fucking mountain.”
“Misha, tell me how to fix it,” Jensen cuts in. None of them has slept since they left the farmhouse last night, and Jensen’s stomach is rolling, part adrenaline and part caffeine, with a decent helping of soul-deep exhaustion tossed in for good luck. He throws himself toward the back and kneels on the floor in front of the instruments and gets sucked into the readings coming out of Vance. A monster of a supercell is heading their way, low level circulation and temperatures are fluctuating. They’re wild, all over the place.
“You’re coming up on a driveway,” Katie says. “Take a right until you get to the local 507. Take another right.”
“Maybe a wire’s loose,” Misha guesses. “Check the transmitter. Black box next to the monitor with all the wires sticking out.”
It’s a goddamn birdsnest of cables and all of them seem secure. Jensen checks a few before he’s tossed sideways from another sharp right turn. “Everything looks snug as a bug,” he hollers and hopes the radio picks it up.
“Eh, try turning it off and turning it on again,” Jared suggests, so Jensen does. The series of lights across the top blink for a few seconds then grow steady.
“You’re back,” Misha says. “Hello, there.”
“Good.” Jared steers them into another right. “Katie, I need to go west. Find me a road.” He cautions a glance over his shoulder. “Jensen, check out the sunroof. You’re gonna want to see this.”
“Goddamn,” Jensen says under his breath. The storm is enormous, a towering anvil cloud marching across the sky. What looks like smoke is swirling upward and on the far edge of it, caught in the updraft, making it visible. “What is that?”
“Downed power lines sparked a grassfire on the western flank of the storm. I watched them go down a second ago. Absolute mindfuck. You can see it happening.”
A skinny, twisting tendril drops down from the cloud, reminds Jensen of the skeletal finger of the Grim Reaper. It just barely kisses the ground and is sucked back up again, fast. Jensen gets it on film, the camera steady on his shoulder. Two seconds later a huge funnel drops down from the same spot and in the space of a blink doubles in diameter, rips through an abandoned grain silo and sends the top of it spinning like a frisbee.
“Katie, do you see this?” Jared says.
“Hell yeah, sweetheart. You’re coming up on a left. It’ll take you in, dead to rights.” Usually she’s the most level-headed among them, more cautious by a mile, but right now she sounds hyped up, determined and half crazy.
“Are you good with this?” Jared says to Jensen. “Because this is your last chance to--”
Jensen interrupts him. “Jared, drive faster.”
He can hear the grin in Jared’s voice. “That’s my boy.”
Jared speeds up, screams into the left turn then makes another into the field. A cluster of trees is to their right, a little too close for Jensen’s taste, but Jared needs time to get Intercept ready, engage the wind barrier at the base and sink the stabilizer spikes to the ground. He joins Jensen in the back, pauses to land a quick kiss on his cheek and pulls a series of levers. The vehicle rocks as the spikes engage, but holds tight when the first blast of wind hits it.
The idea for Intercept had been born in a diner outside of Tyler, Texas, two in the morning after an all day bender of chasing storms. Jensen remembers that he’d had bacon and eggs topped off with hot sauce, and Jared had been plowing through a stack of pancakes and had wondered out loud if it was possible to get closer. He’d always wanted to get closer, and Jensen had flipped over the placemat and made a rough sketch. It had been just an idea, a maniac idea to make Jared smile and squeeze his knee under the table.
Now Jensen’s standing inside the thing with Jared crowded close to his back, and the tornado is on a path right for them, cloud of dust at the base growing bigger and bigger, creeping closer and closer. It’s widened into a stovepipe, vicious and inexorable, looks like the hand of god has come down to crack the earth wide open. Hail starts banging on the roof, bouncing off of the windshield and the light has become strange, an odd green quality to it that makes the grass and the trees stand out in bright relief against the deep purple of the sky.
Something smashes into the turret, shatters the plexiglass and now the storm has invited itself right on in, pelting them with debris and hail that’s about an inch in diameter. Jared grunts under the onslaught, scrambles forward and throws himself on top of Jensen, tumbles them both to the floor of the truck.
“I’m not over you,” Jared says in a whisper, and although the storm is howling like a semi, transformers are exploding nearby and tree trunks are cracking like rapid-fire surface to air missiles, Jensen can still hear him. Clear as a bell. Clear as anything.
“Your timing sucks.” Jensen struggles beneath Jared’s weight. If he’s about to die, he doesn’t want to do it face down and on his stomach. He wants to watch it come. He wants to see. On some level he knows he should be afraid. He’s not. Jared’s here. Jared’s mouth is pressed against the side of his neck and Jared’s hands are grasping at his arms and he’s not afraid.
The windows of the turret show a dusty void, a grey non-color shot through with darker streaks of tree branches as they shoot past. It brightens and dims with flashes of lightning and suddenly all the air is sucked out of Jensen’s lungs, his ears are popping again and even his teeth feel like they’re pounding. Intercept shimmies, rattles like a sack of old bones and the sound of metal grinding is nearly enough to drown out the sound of the storm. The doors bang and threaten to come loose from their hinges and Jensen can feel how badly the vehicle wants to spin, get tossed around.
And just like that, it’s over. Jared’s still between his legs and holding onto his ankles in a bone-crunching grip, and that’s okay, because he thinks that Jared’s going to be wearing bruises in the shape of Jensen’s fingers for days to come and it’s only fair to repay the favor.
Jared’s the first to speak. He squirms to face Jensen, elbows locked to prop himself in place. “Direct hit,” he stammers. “Holy fuck. Did you see that?”
Jensen’s whole body is shaking and his nervous system has got to be fucked, reading fear and adrenaline in all the wrong ways because he’s hard, incredibly turned on and has been almost from the start.
Misha is whooping over the radio, reading out the data transmitted from Intercept but Jensen hardly notices. He’s too busy yanking Jared down on top of him, getting a hand in his pants and learning that he’s not the only one whose body read this situation in all the wrong ways. Jared’s kisses him, sucks at Jensen’s neck hard enough to leave a mark. They’re laughing, side-by-side, even ground again with their arms criss-crossed as they rub each other off, come so quick that it might have been embarrassing in any other instance, awkward and clumsy as a couple of teenagers sneaking around, their shorts barely past their hips.
After, Jared wipes his hand clean on Jensen’s shirt, and Jensen doesn’t even care.
“What do you mean my timing sucks?” Jared asks once he’s caught his breath. His pants are still puddled around his thighs and his cock is going soft against the cut of his hip. There’s a deep flush on his cheeks, a smudge of dirt on his face and Jensen’s never seen anything nearly as beautiful.
Jensen sighs. “It’s the impending doom. Makes it lack a degree of sincerity.”
“Doesn’t make it any less true.”
“I know," Jensen says and gives him a soft smile. "Me too.”
They both hear it at the same time: the distant howl of a tornado siren.
“Hot damn,” Jared says, pulling his pants up. “You ready for round two?”
Thanks for reading!