"My Big Fat Apocalypse Wedding"

Honey Creek Tennessee is going to burn. It has seventeen years left.

(*)

Jared built his first bomb shelter at age six. Not a very good one, it was mostly fast food containers held together with tape, but he ran to the graveyard as he did every other afternoon, where he and Jensen would lay down and hold hands and plan for the end of the world.

"It'll be great!" said Jared, turning it in the light, "We'll stuff it with pillows and comic books and hot cocoa. We'll never need to go back outside."

They lay on their sides facing each other, little red poppies dotting the field between mouldering headstones. Jensen let go of Jared's hand to take the toy model.

"What about guns?" Jensen asked. At age ten, he'd already enrolled in the Junior Sparpshooter league, in the hopes of gaining the attention of Army recruiters. He liked the Army. They both did. The President in the kitchen TV assured them the nuclear holocaust would come any day now, and the boys fantasized about dying in each other's arms.

Jared considered this. "Yes. We should have at least one gun, in case we need to hunt for food."

"Will there be bunk beds?"

"Why? We can just cover the floor with blankets and mattresses! Bounce on the bed all day! Sleep whenever we like!"

Jensen lowered his voice. "But the same bed? Does that mean we'll be married?"

Jared looked up. Married was a far-off place, closely related but not as forbidden as Virginity, which he assumed sat between Maryland and North Carolina.

The moon had come out, and Jensen's face was all pinks and shadows in the setting sun. Jared set aside the shelter and took both his hands and pressed his mouth to Jensen's in a silent 'yes'.

After that, poppies bloomed wherever Jared went, but he wasn't surprised. He'd seen stranger things back home.

1987. Tenth birthday. Jensen taught Jared how to french kiss. Sundays were spent in the back pew, languishing in each other's arms while the preacher explained global warming. In a town of competing eschatologies, Floodwaters Baptist took on a more practical view of the end times by going vertical and constructing over a hundred treehouses inside a ring of reinforced oaks, rope bridges criss-crossing so thickly that you couldn't see the sky from the ground level.

Jared wasn't sure about the preacher, but the music beat the Church of Hard Rock that their mothers attended, where the faithful would one day be raptured to Elvis Presley's slave planet.

After service, they lay in a hammock among the church's hanging gardens. Jared put his mouth to Jensen's ear. "I found something the other day."

Jensen said nothing, coming back for another kiss, hand slipping inside Jared's shirt and circling his narrow waist. Jared continued, "There's a collapsed mine south of here. It wouldn't need a lot of work, and once it's cleared we can start taking in supplies."

Jensen's fingers found his hip, the soft flesh beneath his ribs, tracing a map of Jared's warm young body, to be tucked away and thoughtlessly exploited once Jensen got the shower to himself. "Then I gotta go fetch a change of clothes."

"No you don't," Jared whispered, teeth sinking into Jensen's plush lower lip, "I like you dirty."

1990. Thirteenth birthday. The boys started taking baths together and Jensen got top marks at the state sharpshooting competition that year, second only to a girl in Jared's class who trained at the army base and considered herself the great white hope for the Daughters of the Confederacy.

Jared slopped water over Jensen's chest. "Cassidy likes you."

Jensen dozed, hot beneath Jared's weight. "She been bothering you at school?"

Jared said nothing. Cassidy and her cronies had button-holed him in the cafeteria that morning, taking turns to see who made Jared cry first.

"You two are so sweet, do you let him put his dick in you?"

"Don't be mean," said another girl, tits jutting from her pink camo jacket. They all wore matching uniforms, fatigues for the drill sergeant, bleached hair and no bras for their boyfriends. "You're gonna invite us to the wedding right?"

"You know Jensen doesn't have any money, are you gonna move into his mom's trailer after you get married?"

"Is she gonna listen to you guys doing it?"

"What if she wants a turn?" said Cassidy, grabbing Jared's jaw, "I'd ride that pretty mouth."

Jared let them talk until the bell rang. After school he stockpiled more supplies in the mine and heated water and filled the tub and waited for Jensen, where they now lay to steam.

Jared smiled, slowly running a soapy hand along Jensen's cock until it swelled. "I don't think Cassidy'll be a problem."

1991. Fourteenth birthday. Jensen drove them to the Smokies and undressed Jared on the hood of his Chevy and gave him his first blowjob as the sun set, clouds pillowed between the mountains like pink cotton candy. Jared lay in a sweat, yanking Jensen up until their mouths connected on the taste of his own cock.

"Do you have to go?" Jared pleaded, their foreheads pressed together. Jensen had been accepted into Special Forces at Fort Benning, over four hundred miles away, and there was talk of sending soldiers to Serbia.

"I'll write every day, baby boy," said Jensen, trailing wet kisses down Jared's throat, "You'll wait for me?"

His finger slid inside Jared's virgin ass, readying him for the next round. Somewhere below the cloudline, Cassidy and her girlfriends were testing pipe bombs, and doves burst from the trees like an exploding dandelion.

After Jensen left for basic training, Jared considered the problem of financing their future and started a modest drug trade in the local library. Most men in town worked at the abattoir, piling into a bus each morning and coming home with blood in their hair, and fifty cents for one of Jared's ketamine-laced cigarettes took the edge off killing-floor tedium without breaking their wallets. Naked Lunch, Dorian Gray, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, slid across the library counter with five dollar bookmarks, until Friday when Jared borrowed his mom's car to re-supply at a vet's office in Kentucky.

The system worked. Jared got a little cheddar while he wrapped up school, the workers got some of their dignity back. Until the apocalypse came, everyone had to feed their families.

1993. Sixteenth birthday. They clinked their beers to the first Rhodes Scholar hillbilly in the White House, and Jared looked up from Death in Venice to find Jensen before him, tan, lean, with an officer's uniform and a wicked glitter in his eye.

He bent over to Jared, breath hot on his ear. "My mom isn't home."

They almost didn't make it to the bed. Rain leaked and dripped in frying pans all over Jensen's room, but he'd cranked the heat up to 85 and lit the room with tea candles until their sweaty faces glowed, at first just their hands in each other's pants and then Jared kneeling over Jensen's mouth and then a confused silence when Jensen slapped something into Jared's hands.

Jared blinked through the jizzfog, holding up a plastic cylinder. Sky blue with ten different settings. "Is this for a girl or a boy?"

Jensen unbuttoned his uniform, miles of mouth-watering brown muscle inside the shirt and tie. "It's for me."

They kept most of their clothes on, Jensen's slacks hanging off one ankle, Jared parting his legs to see the ripe red cock waiting for him. Jensen's fingers tightened around Jared's hair, guiding him, giving him patient instruction, and when Jared came up for air he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a cigarette with a tiny red heart on the end and lit up and bent down and shotgunned smoke into Jensen's mouth.

"It's from the graveyard," said Jared, smoke coiling and breaking around their bodies, "I harvested the poppies that grow there. It'll keep us from finishing too soon."

Jensen exhaled, pain he didn't know he had evaporating, as Jared licked the vibrator and hooked his arm under Jensen's thigh and kissed him as the first inch of hard silicone opened his ass.

"You want more?"

Jensen's chest caved in and out, cheeks flushed, hand slowly working his own cock against his belly. "Yeah."

They took it slow for the next four hours, Jared alternately fucking him with a toy and taking breaks for ice cream and flipping Jensen over to suck on his aching rosebud. Jared asked if he'd killed anyone, Jensen made a vague hand gesture. Jared asked for a turn, Jensen insisted they wait for their wedding night. The boy was so young, and he guarded Jared's innocence above all things.

Lightning lit the rain in white pencil strokes against the window. Jared stared at the ceiling as Jensen twisted a lock of his hair. "When will I see you again?"

"Depends. They send me a lot of places, but I can request advanced leave."

Jared turned on his side and lay his head on Jensen's chest. "I've saved up money. I figure by the time I'm of age I'll have a good bit socked away," he said, fingers buried in Jensen's shirt, "It'd be enough to get us started."

Jensen made some noises, unaware of Jared's side income. A 'good bit' to him was two hundred dollars in a coffee tin, and Jared left him thinking as such.

1994. Seventeenth birthday. The body count between Serbian Orthodox and Bosnian Muslims was in the thousands. Famine swept across Somalia. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer pled guilty to the rape and dismemberment of seventeen people, whose skeletons he preserved in his Milwaukee home, only to escape punishment by having his skull cracked by a fellow inmate.

The preacher at Floodwaters Baptist, after careful calculation of the weather fronts, announced the date of the end times, one week after Jared would turn eighteen.

Jared called Jensen after church. "I'm never gonna grow up," he said, tears scrolling down his face, "What's the point?"

Jensen slumped against the wall, phone cord stretched above him. He'd killed six men men in the last week and never even saw their faces. "I wanna be there with you baby boy. But I can't get away."

"They're piling everyone into the school gym on the last night, so they can do a countdown," said Jared, wiping his face with his sleeve, "Please? Can you ask for time off?"

1995. Eighteenth birthday. Jared stood beneath soft blue and red lights in a white tuxedo, poppies clutched to his breast. He'd spent all month readying the final orders, and by the time he'd flattened out the dollar bills and rubber-banded them and stacked them in his briefcase, he had enough to buy him and Jensen a new trailer. Assuming anyone lived to see morning. But then you had to have a back-up plan in case the apocalypse operated on a different calendar.

He looked around. Where was Jensen? Someone across the room pointed to Jared, and a handsome older gentleman walked up to him with hand outstretched. "Mister Padalecki?"

"Yes, sir?" Jared asked, extending his hand.

A steel handcuff flashed, catching Jared's wrist. "Detective Morgan. Drug Enforcement Agency." he said, the smile vanishing, "I'd like a moment of your time."

Hours passed. Jared cooked beneath a light in a windowless room with three shadows standing behind him, trying to sweat out names and locations. There were no lawyers. There were no formal charges. They hadn't even read him his Miranda rights.

Detective Morgan poured himself another coffee. "You seem like a good kid," he said, wincing at the hot mug, "The K dosage you mixed tonight is too low to get me excited, so technically speaking we could fine you for selling untaxed tobacco and pretend I wasn't here."

Jared stared at his shoes, poppies wilting in his hands. The detective bent forward. "Or, I could notice the wad of loose cash in the trunk of your car and write you up for inter-state trafficking." He turned to one of the officers. "How much did you boys say he had?"

A policeman patted the briefcase. "Little over thirty thousand."

Morgan whistled. "Not bad for milk money."

Jared grit his teeth. "I want my phone call."

Morgan sipped his coffee. "There won't be no phone call tonight. What there will be," he said, his voice hard, "Is a drop-off. One of your classmates has a 3:00 am appointment with some folks I've been tracking from Florida, and you're going to show up with the goods and a shiny new wire under your vest. You'll have support. Your name won't be written down anywhere. And you get to go home afterward."

A red petal fell to the floor. The room stank of disinfectant, and his eyes flicked to the briefcase, all his years of hard work, as a policeman gently fondled the copper latches.

"I'll need a car."

Jared walked out of the station at 1:45 am with a map and the key to an unmarked truck and a long crate with GLASSWARE stamped in black letters. He'd just opened the door when a warm hand landed on his shoulder and spun him around.

"Jared!" said Jensen, folding him into his arms, "I've been calling everyone, what the hell happened to you?!"

Jared stayed close, lips barely moving. "It's a sting," he whispered, "Someone from school, they want me to get a recording of the deal."

Jensen's brow knit, looking from Jared to the plainclothes officers in the next car. "But why you? You ain't had any training, have you?"

Jared pursed his lips, afraid to say more with the wire on. Jensen gripped his hands. "Tell me where it is. I'll follow you, and if we get separated I'll meet you at home."

'Home' was the mine where they'd stashed all their survivalist gear, something no one else knew of. Jared pointed at the X on the map, a foreclosed fireworks shop on the state line where the deal would go down, and Jensen pulled him in for a searing kiss. "This town is no good for us baby boy," he said, red poppies crushed and scattered to the wind in their embrace, "I know I ain't got no prospects, but I'm a good man and I won't let no one else into my heart but you. Let me take you away from here."

Jared turned his head, ashamed of his secret life of crime. The money had never mattered to Jensen. "Wait for me when this is all over," said Jared, "I'll find you."

With both sides of the Florida deal retaining anonymity through maildrops, Jared had only to speak a pre-scripted phrase, remain in his seat to collect the money, and let the cops take over from there. His headlights swung along the switchback road, the eyes of deer glowing white in the mist, and he quickly lost sight of the DEA support team.

Two trucks idled in the field with car skeletons piled five deep behind a sign for Nervous Willy's Gas Guns and Fireworks. Jared rolled down his window and jerked a thumb at the crates in the cab. "K is for quality?"

Three men stepped out of the first car with crowbars, baseball caps pulled down low, while a shorter figure jogged up to Jared's truck with an envelope in her hand.

Jared studied Cassidy, barely recognizable between the hat and bandana. "You missed the school dance."

She froze, eyes flicking between him and the men. "Didn't know you were in the business."

"I didn't know your crew liked to party."

Her eyes narrowed, still hugging the envelope. She took a wary step back. "The fuck you talkin' about man?"

K is for Ketamine? Jared thought, What else would it be for?

He stared at her in confusion, then up at his rearview mirror, as the men tore open the crate and pulled up fistfulls of straw and hopped to the ground, newly minted Kalashnikovs in their arms. Jared's eyes tipped her off, and before he could suck in a breath her gun was pressed to his cheek.

"Get out and leave the keys," she said, pulling back the hammer with her thumb, "We're gonna take a walk in the woods."

The other men joined her, shining a light in Jared's face as he stood with hands raised. "What's up?"

She felt around Jared's front, lifting his shirt and sneering at the wire. "Fuckin' narc," she said, pushing him forward, "Don't worry, he ain't armed."

"He probably ain't alone either."

Her head whipped around. "Were ya'll tailed?"

"Naw girl," said the eldest of the trio, clearly the leader judging by his impatient headshake to the other two, "Cops don't know these roads, just take him out back and have done with it."

She breathed shakily, gun trembling. "Okay. Okay, ya'll load up, won't take me but a minute."

With the barrel pressed between his shoulders she marched him to a car on blocks, Jared scanning the trees and willing Jensen's face to appear amongst them. She opened the trunk. "Get in," she said, one side of her mouth lifting, "No wait, take off the jacket."

Jared shivered in the cold. "Why?"

She got up close, little pink tongue lolling between her teeth. "So I can wear it when I climb on your boyfriend's dick tomorrow."

Like the detective said, Jared was a good kid. He did not scream. He did not spit in her face. He did not grab the gun and shove it between her teeth and spray the car in a shower of pink pulp. Only in Jared's head.

Instead, he grabbed the trunk lid and slammed it on her arm until it went crunch. "Sorry," he said, holding it down one-handed, "The jacket's a rental."

Her mouth opened on a silent O, the gun dropping into the grass, and picking it up he backed away with the barrel pointed at her. "Get on the ground and keep quiet," he said, "You still got the money, I were you I'd catch the Greyhound and go visit Mexico ."

The envelope fell from her jacket and tipped open, hundreds of shiny grocery store coupons scattering in the breeze like confetti. The last thing he saw before the fight started was his shadow tripling against her body in the light of the other men's flashlights.

"There ain't no money."

(*)

Jensen was in his car one street over when he heard shots, like someone hammering a nail into the mountain. The police had circled back, thinking they'd missed a turn, and it would be minutes before they found the murder scene.

"Jared!" he shouted, racing from one corpse to the next and finding only strangers until he heard crying from behind the truck. He pulled his sidearm. "Who's there?"

Cassidy crouched by the tire cradling her broken arm. "Is he gone?" she whispered.

Blue lights flashed, a line of cruisers illuminating the road while Jensen looked around in a panic. "Did you see Jared?"

Men in DEA jackets jogged to them. "I didn't kill anybody, that junkie fucker did it and ran into the forest!" Cassidy hissed at an approaching officer, then back to Jensen, pleading, "I wasn't gonna kill him, I swear I was gonna let him go..."

Detective Morgan looked up, but Jensen shook his head. "Jared's never hurt anyone in his life, he wouldn't do this."

The police shrugged. Cassidy certainly hadn't told her friends she was purchasing weapons for the local militia, and there was enough blood on her clothes to confirm that this was just another botched gun run, to be added to her domestic terrorist charges after they found the white power pamphlets in her trailer.

Jensen left and spent the next few hours in the cave drinking coffee, not daring to close his eyes. A large bed lay with pillows and blankets and the petals of a rose bouquet he had fished out of a dumpster the day before. Before he'd enlisted he and Jared had built blast walls out of concrete and wood framing, and Jensen fingered the timber where he'd carved their initials inside a crude heart, picking over Cassidy's words. Wondering if they were true.

"Jensen?"

He looked up. Maybe it was the kerosene lamp, the way it turned the bloodstains black against Jared's white tuxedo, against his hands.

Tears sprang to Jensen's eyes. "What have you done?"

Jared lifted his hands in supplication. "I didn't know they were buying guns, the cops told me I had to-"

"You had to?" asked Jensen angrily, "What did they have on you that you would risk your life like that?"

Jared swallowed, eyes cast to the corner of the room. The word 'junkie' swam up to Jensen's memory. "Were you selling drugs at the dance tonight?"

Jared met his eyes. "I never spent a dime while you were gone. I saved it up, if the police ever give it back..."

Jensen turned away and covered his face. The cave, the one place where he could escape from his work-the war, the dead bodies, the creeping resentment toward the West-suddenly reeked of blood. "They're gonna come for you." he lied, to Jared and to himself. He reached into his wallet and pulled everything out and held it up without looking at Jared. "You need to hide."

Jared stared at the money. It wasn't the birthday gift he'd wanted. But then Jensen had given him twelve happy years, more days and night and words sweet as kisses remembered after death than some boys ever received in a lifetime. It had to be enough.

When Jensen looked up again, Jared was gone.

At the top of the treehouse, the congregation of Floodwaters Baptist gripped each other's hands, their tears gleaming in the new dawn. "You mean," said one woman despairingly, "We have to go on?"

1995.

1996.

1997.

1998.

1999.

Honey Creek Tennessee is going to burn. It has five hours left.

The phone in Sheriff Ackles office rang. He reached behind his coffee and lifted it from the cradle. "Hello?"

He nodded and swung his legs off the desk. "Didn't know the library was open this late."

Jensen pushed down the blinds with his finger, staring at the passers-by, wondering if he was out there today. "Yeah I'll come around."

He put down the phone and opened the drawer and plucked out his badge, keys, some spare change, then relocked it with his gun still inside. He hadn't used it in three years anyhow.

Jensen walked down the courthouse steps and met up with his deputy outside the library, a small group of spectators crowded around the window. Cars slowed to get a better look.

Jensen touched the brim of his hat. "What have ya'll got here?"

The deputy handed him a flyer. "You ever heard of a Wandering Eschatologist?"

Jensen scanned the paper, alighting on the words 'historical reproduction'. "Sounds like a Civil War reenactment, give a bunch of dudes uniforms and paintball guns until somebody gets a black eye."

"Sir, I think this is a little more involved. We got a class of fifth-graders just spent ten hours reading without a break, and now the teacher's saying they don't wanna go home."

"Bless their hearts," said Jensen, shoving the flyer back, "Call the parents and tell the kids I'm gonna eat all their Lucky Charms if they don't move their asses."

"They'll listen to you better, sir."

"Okay," said Jensen, "But you better put down in your report how I had to ask a bunch of ten-year-olds to give you your balls back."

Jensen walked past several shelves of romance novels where he and Jared used to spend their weekends underlining the fuck parts. The study area was two long wooden tables, desktop computers that had been old twenty years ago, and several children in uniforms taking notes. The break room door was propped open, where two girls with the nametags REAGAN and BUSH were softly french kissing by the snack machine.

Jensen opened his mouth, but stopped when another child tugged on his sleeve. "Are you Jensen?"

He nodded. She held up a copy of Heart of Darkness. "He left this for you."

He caught her arm as she turned away. "Who's he?"

Before she could answer, a timer dinged and she rushed back to join her study group. The two name-tagged girls emerged from the break room, REAGAN smoothing her skirt to give a prepared speech.

"My fellow Americans, violence has erupted in Grenada, where sixteen hundred marines were deployed to fight the Communist threat..."

Jensen leafed through the book, walking into the men's room and shutting the door and covering his mouth to mask the inevitable shuddering breath when he took a better look at the Polaroid of Jared within. It was a close shot, the right hand of the photographer flat against Jared's brown, muscled chest as he peered up from tangled bedsheets, and the number 8 had been circled on the back of the picture. Which meant it was one of a series. Which meant there were more back in the library.

A pencil struck REAGAN's face, a weedy little boy with a press badge pointing at her. "Murderer!"

The accusations flew thick and fast. "You killed nineteen soldiers!"

"The CIA is propping up a puppet dictator!"

"What do you have to say for yourself, Mister President?"

The girl's eyes swam. "I...I'm..." Tears scrolled down her cheeks. "I'm just doing what the worksheet told me to!"

Jensen's fist slammed the table. "Okay, class is over. You," he said, jabbing a finger at BUSH, "Who set this up?"

"The librarian. The man in white," she said, looking around, "He was here a minute ago...

Jensen swatted the air. "Go home, all of y'all."

As the students filed out, Jensen ran his fingers along book spines, The Handmaid's Tale and The Road and Parable of the Sower producing yet more dirty pictures, and waited for Jared to materialize from the shadows. He soon had a neat stack of Polaroids. He put them in order and flipped them like a cartoon book, the photographer getting steadily closer until Jared was nothing but a hazel eye with a starburst in the center, then pocketed them and thanked the deputy and walked to the bar, where he went every year on Jared's birthday.

Jared was everywhere that day. White linen suits made the hot summers bearable, and Jensen passed so many men wearing them outdoors that he did a little circuit until he was alone again.

"Hey Sheriff."

Jensen dropped nine dollars on the bar, five for the beer, one for the single cigarette, and three for a fat slice of cake all by itself beside the shrink-wrapped sandwiches. The bar was pale blue in the light of the TV, and it would be another hour before the mob arrived. Jensen patted his pockets. "You got any matches?"

Jensen took the table nearest the phone booth in the back and arranged the cake and cigarette and matches in a set pattern, but did not touch his drink. He was expecting a call.

He stared at the phone. "Well go on. I'm here."

The phone rang. The person on the other end echoed slightly, not the echo of a large space, but of a cheap phone close by, a truck horn honking in front of the bar and then sounding two seconds later through the earpiece.

Jensen took off his hat. Licked his lip until he could breathe again. "Jared?"

Another car horn, another delayed reaction. "Look up."

Jensen's eyes flicked around the bar, but Jared said, "No, the TV."

"It's just a basketball game."

"The news'll cycle again in a few minutes, just wait."

Jensen thumbed the brim of his hat. "Where are you?"

"Not far."

"No I mean...where have you been?"

"Texas mostly, though the new job's got me traveling."

Jensen leaned against the wood casing, a recent requisition from the now decommissioned Army base. If he closed his eyes he could rebuild that whole first year around him. "A wandering eschatologist?"

"Actually I'm a librarian, but I packaged this extracurricular program last year and a lot of schools signed up for it, so..."

Jensen laughed. "You're a librarian?"

"...what about you, Sheriff Ackles?"

"Yeah that. That started three years ago, after my discharge. It's quiet. The town I mean," he said, fingering the phone cord, "I don't even carry a gun."

Jared said nothing, and Jensen shut his eyes and covered the receiver and took a deep breath and removed his hand. "I was really screwed up last time you saw me."

Silence. Jensen pushed on. "I don't sleep much. I lay awake, watching the mountains through my window, going through my memories. And most of the time they make me happy," said Jensen, voice breaking on the last word, "But I wish I had more to remember."

On the TV, the game was interrupted by an emergency bulletin about a prison break, but Jensen didn't have to guess who the speaker in the grainy hostage video was. Jensen would've recognized Cassidy even with the bandana and baseball cap. No shouting or waving a knife in anyone's face like some of the Mexican jobs he'd seen, just Cassidy standing beside a bunch of tied-up prison guards with a shotgun over her shoulder and a short list of demands.

"Jared Padalecki I know you're out there. And for the rest of you, I got fifty thousand in cash for anyone who brings that junkie faggot to the town square by midnight tonight, dead or alive."

The camera panned ninety degrees to a small squadron of prison escapees, all armed, back in the shadows so their eyes were just holes in their faces.

"If Jared Padalecki is not delivered by midnight my men and I will ride forth and take it upon ourselves to execute every man, woman, and child in this town. We have blocked the roads. We have dynamited the bridge. No one's getting out tonight."

She pumped her shotgun. "You have four hours."

The video cut off. Outside, lightning danced atop the mountains on spindle legs, and the power blinked out all along the street. The bartender left through the back to check the breaker and for a while the only sound was the swinging of the kitchen door.

Jensen pressed his ear to the phone. "They'll have sent the state troopers in for this, no way she'll get to midnight."

The line hummed, the crack of lightning first here and then there on the other end. Jensen waited. "You still there?"

A match popped and swept a flaming grace note through the air. Jensen reached for his gun, realized he'd left it in his desk.

"Jared?"

The match shook itself out, the cigarette glowing orange as Jared's cheeks hollowed on the first drag. "I can't stay long."

Jensen leaned back in his chair. "Look at you."

Jared let him look. He was tall and tan and his suit fit him well. Hair cut long at the cheekbone, collarbone peaking out the top of his unbuttoned shirt, and when he inhaled he held the smoke in his mouth like milk in slow water. Jensen wondered how much of that was for his benefit.

"You have questions, Sheriff."

"How much time we got?"

Jared flicked ash into his hand and blew it away. "Enough for a smoke."

"How'd you know she was gonna do that?"

"I've been keeping an ear out."

"She's the best shot in the state, she could've done you real quiet without on putting on such a big show."

"She's building a brand. She thinks the government is in bed with pharmaceutical companies to prevent the next civil war by anesthetizing the South with cheap narcotics."

"Wow, and here I thought she was just trash with guns."

Jared studied the cigarette. "Look, for the money she's offering, someone could send an innocent stranger in my clothes. I can take her and her boys, but I need your help."

"She doesn't have any money, does she."

"No, but it's a nice round number, and not so big that some people wouldn't think twice about taking a shot at me, or someone who looks like me."

Jensen held up his hand. "I won't kill anybody on your account. Let's be clear on that. I haven't fired a gun since back east and I don't aim to do so again unless I got a suicide note to go with it, so if that's what you're asking...

"Will you help me?"

Jensen chewed his lip and looked down at the cake. He hated wasting food. "You know where she is?"

"No, but I know where she'll be. Down in the mines, digging up a shipment of ammo but what's actually ten crates packed with cement."

"And how do you know that?"

The cherry flared in Jared's eyes, words sliding down the cigarette as he brought it to his mouth. "Cuz I sold it to her."

Jensen pushed the little plate around on the table. Every year on Jared's birthday he bought a cigarette and a slice of cake, watching the cigarette burn down to ash before tossing everything in the garbage can. "You could've called before today."

"I didn't want you attracting undue attention."

"You sorry to see me?"

"That's not the word I'd use."

Jared's hand strayed to the cake, sinking the cigarette into a pale pink rosebud until it hissed. "I miss it here, the mountains, the music, the people," said Jared, as Jensen stood up from his chair, "I wish I could come home but...

He'd forgotten how fast Jensen moved. Walking them backwards against the wall Jensen sunk his thumbs into Jared's belt-loops, hips slowly pivoting into his, biting down on Jared's lower lip until he got a noise he liked.

The cake was store-bought, two wafer-thin sponges larded with buttercream, the top layer already sweating in the summer heat. Jared hooked his thumb into it and painted a fat line of frosting on the end of his tongue, breathing in hard when Jensen pinned his hand against the wall and sucked on his mouth, thumb pressed hard to the inside of Jared's wrist, tongues curling in the grainy sweetness.

Jensen broke the kiss first, fingers laced through Jared's hair, foreheads pressed together as they came up for air. "You keep up like that and I will marry you tomorrow."

"Jensen slow down," Jared panted, voice shaking as Jensen buried his mouth in the hollow of his jaw, wet lips sliding up Jared's throat, "This isn't a good idea..."

A poppy bloomed in the cake. Jared watched a single red petal hit the floor, then slowly raised his eyes to the rest of the room.

More flowers emerged from the cake, spun sugar vines twisting up the walls and setting roots in the ceiling. Jensen unbuttoned Jared's shirt. The napkins tore free from their metal containers, skating past them in a flurry of paper wings.

Jensen's fingers felt out Jared's body, all grown up under the white suit. The hot water taps flicked on, soap dispensers creaming over dishes and distorting their reflections in fruiting soap bubbles.

Jensen wound his arms around Jared's bare waist, bending him inward, forcing his mouth open with his lips. The klaxon alarm at the Army base went off, the noise transmuted and rising into a strange anthem until every car horn and alarm clock on the street was singing along and shook the building and powdered Jared's burning upturned face in plaster dust.

Jensen said he loved him. Jared watched his handiwork through slanted eyes and then closed them. Five years ago they'd lost their dream of happiness. Now it had found them.

(*)

Honey Creek, Tennessee is going to burn. It has four hours left.

Cassidy had named her army Deathclock, forty career criminals with no education and, at least since they joined up with her, a penchant for adding clock- to everyday objects. It was like being in a club. Cassidy cleaned her gun while the men practiced their secret clockshakes and picked clockerpillars from their food. They looked like boulders in orange jumpsuits.

"When are we gonna get the ammo?" asked one of the men.

"Soon." she said, slapping the wood casing back into place. Prison had made her a star on the white power internet forums, fanboys sending her money to produce a Confederate Barbie porno out of her jail cell, and seventeen sequels later her body still had that coveted combination of lush and lean that made her so popular in Anglo-Cinema.

"I don't like the TV idea," he said, "I mean, we don't have the money, folks aren't gonna be happy about that when they show up tonight."

Her dead gaze met his. "I didn't make the video for them. "

He left to get her some food, and when he came back she had begun a complicated braid and exposed a tantalizing amount of side boob from her sleeveless shirt. He set the plate down and offered to hold her bobbypins. "Who's the video for?" he asked.

She separated another lock of hair and took a pin from his hand, so big he could have circled her throat with thumb and forefinger.

"I've known Jensen and Jared since the start, and if you put a bounty on one, the other will protect him. Overprotect him. Which Jared could never fucking abide, which means that Jensen will hide him somewhere safe so he can go look for me, while Jared will countermand his orders and run off to join him. Either way," she said, "They'll be separated for a time, and easier to corner."

"I don't see why this Sheriff's so special."

She ran her manicured nails lightly across her cheek. "If Anglo-Cinema is going to succeed, we need a male lead, and he's perfect for it. Jensen's strong, fearless...clean. A face to march to," she said, twisting the rest of her hair up and reaching for the dinner plate, "Seriously, if the Nazis had spent more time advertising their brand instead of killing potential customers, they'd be running the world by now."

Back at the campfire, the men had taken to calling each other clockblockers, then clocksuckers, and, inevitably, clockblocking clocksuckers.

"You could've asked him. Over a phone. Like a human being." he said.

"He never would've listened," she said, surveying her army, "Some days you can't get a man's attention unless you start a war."

(*)

Honey Creek Tennessee is going to burn. It has three hours left.

Jensen and Jared lay in the dark. They'd slipped into the cave to wait for Cassidy and regain their night vision and grind against each other on the old mattress that smelled like jizz and burning leaves. The ghosts of rose petals stuck in their hair. The slice of cake had come wrapped in plastic, most of the icing used to draw hearts on Jensen's body before Jared sucked him off. Jensen shivered, Jared's cake-slimed hand sliding up his belly to relish the post-orgasm aftershocks.

"The hell happened back in the bar?" asked Jensen, later when they'd been silent a while.

"That started happening a little after I left town. There's not a name for it."

"I can think of one."

"Don't say witchcraft."

"Lovecraft?"

"The writer or the reification of desire?"

"Whichever's quicker to explain."

Jared traced Jensen's shoulder. "I don't see that I can explain it. Women I kiss can turn today's light into the weaker light of fifty years ago. Men find their pockets full of pressed flowers. Even my tea tastes like candlelight if it touches my mouth for too long."

"You been with a lot of people then?"

"Only to gain a better understanding of what I'd become."

"And?"

"And after a childhood spent immersed in end-times theory, a new question played in the back of my mind: If the apocalypse was not about kick-starting an agrarian utopia or knocking the planet from it's orbit or the man-eating horrors of Ezekial, if instead it was about merging a new reality with our own, could an erotic singularity accelerate mankind's capability in the same way that the invention of writing, mathematics, and computers radically transformed how mankind interacted with nature?"

"So you fucked strangers until you figured out how to split the love atom. That's what you're telling me."

"Who said I would ever let anyone have me?"

Jensen sat up on his elbows. "Why you getting undressed? You going somewhere?"

Jared stood naked, neatly folding his clothes. "Cassidy's men are almost here. I'm going to meet them."

"And then what?"

"There's a lake at the far end of this cave."

"And?"

"And it's about to get a few more fish."

"I'll come with you."

"Someone has to be the lookout, this is the only exit."

Jensen studied him. He should have been mad, but Jared had sucked him off twice and his chest felt like it had been stuffed with pink summer clouds. "That was smart."

"What was?"

"Waiting to tell me all this."

"Don't worry. Once I'm done with them," said Jared, bending down for a last kiss, "I'll be back for you."

(*)

Earle and Atticus were lovers, but only in the tertiary sense. Before joining Deathclock, they'd spent their prison sentence trading pornos and imagining the other man's face on Cassidy's body. Earle shined his lantern on a set of footprints.

"The ammo dealer must have gone ahead of us." he said. Down in the mine, they stood by a shovel marking a five-way intersection, and spotted Jared's underwear.

"Damn it's cold." said Atticus. Cassidy had shown them photos of their target. He imagined Jared down here, naked, lurking the tunnels in search of lost souls for his junkie sex dungeon. "What kind of man goes around with no clothes?"

They forged ahead, the temperature dropping with every step. Their lanterns did not light their way so much as solidify the darkness around them.

"You heard the story about this guy?" asked Atticus.

"Cassidy made that up."

"Naw man, I once shared a cell with a guy who knew a guy who worked with the feds. They don't like saying his name in the DEA. He's bad luck."

"Look man, her story's bullshit, if there were three of me and one of you, and you was a skinny ass teenager, who would win?"

"She said he didn't have no gun, he just talked to them and-"

"I don't wanna hear it."

"She said-"

"Fuck that, Padalecki must've had a gun on him. Or he had help. I can talk all day, but you can't talk three men dead."

"So why are you whispering?"

They walked until they felt a change in the weight of the air, Earle breaking the silence. "What do they call him?"

Atticus looked down. Lifted his boot from a small red flower growing out of the mud. "They call him the Wicked Bride."

Earle stood in the cave, lantern raised, listening to his breath echo. The lynch mob, the guns, Cassidy's dream of a Pornocratic Republic of Tennessee, were crap unless he found that ammo. He tossed a rock. Water splashed just outside his circle of light.

He almost walked back to ask Cassidy if they were in the right spot. Noticing movement further down, they climbed into a small boat and began to row, except that every time Earle pulled the oars, the water flickered with a light of it's own, and he turned off the lantern and leaned over and put his hand in the water.

"Damn," said Earle, "You ever seen the likes of this?"

The catfish glowed like new pennies. Long-whiskered, fins flashing silver every time they tickled Earle's hand, and blind as moles. There were hundreds of them. It was like staring into the bottom of a coin fountain.

"Why you think they glow like that?" Earle whispered, reaching behind him, "Let's get a move-on, she said the crates aren't far."

He turned around. With his lantern off, the roof of the cave vanished into the shadows and the lake was lit entirely by the bioluminescent radiance of the fish. Earle was alone.

"Atticus!" Earle hissed, "The hell are you?"

The rest of Deathclock was not far behind, joking about clockthirsty sluts and chuckling at their own wit. Earle reached back into the water because Atticus was secretly the only reason he'd joined the stupid army, and he would not abandon his friend. Who knew how far down the water went. Or what lived there.

A long, tan hand closed around Earle's wrist. He didn't see Jared's face until it was too late. By the time the others found the boat, the lake was quiet again.

(*)

Honey Creek Tennessee is going to burn. It has two hours left.

Fuckable figureheads will always have the greatest influence on the human terrain. As a sheriff, Jensen's combination of good looks and war veteran gravitas did more to prevent crime than a mile of armed patrolmen might have done elsewhere. The town liked him too much to break the law. He only hoped the inverse would not become true with Cassidy, who, from his vantage point up in the trees, had retreated from the cave with all but two of her men, most likely headed toward the main square to give another speech.

Jared could watch out for himself, for a little while at least. Jensen had a responsibility to his constituents.

Jensen scribbled on the back of a gas receipt and lay it on the mattress where Jared would see. Gone to main square. Meet you at The Place at midnight. Don't get caught. Will drag your sorry ass to the wedding chapel in handcuffs.

Jensen stopped by the police department, but not for his gun. A cupcake tray from an ill-attended office party sat in the fridge.

The opposing factions of armed locals and Deathclock soldiers stood in the main square and watched Jensen descend the courthouse stairs, holding out cupcakes to each man in turn on the assumption that: a) you eat with the same hand that would normally pull the trigger, giving you a two-second advantage should the situation go to shit, and b) there's no such thing as a dieting Southern nationalist.

"Y'all found anybody yet?" asked Jensen. The streetlight winked off his badge, bulging biceps and square white teeth, just enough eye contact to give the teenage boys an inexplicable hard-on.

The postman answered. "She ain't given us much to go on," he said, sucking frosting off his mustache, "We was hoping you'd seen something."

Jensen smiled, casually scanning the rooftops. Deathclock had fashioned a low-rent gallows with a rope and a tow truck, the idea being that they could drag Jared's body through the street if his neck didn't break on the first try. He offered a cupcake to a weather-beaten ex-con. "Boy there's a lot of you, how many you got here?"

"Nineteen."

"Mmmm, twenty-seven."

The man took his right hand off the trigger and bit into his cupcake, teeth blue with frosting. "Nineteen."

"So there's nobody in the woods," said Jensen, purposely not glancing at an oak tree a quarter-mile down an unlit corner of the road, "Trying to load an M60 but too drunk to see where to feed the belt?"

A muscle twitched in the man's jaw. "Nope. You seen all of us."

"Then you're not gonna mind when I do this." said Jensen, and, wrenching the man's gun to one side, fired toward the oak. The shot echoed, followed by a satisfying thump of someone screaming "MY LEG" over and over, and Jensen released the gun.

No one moved. They had orders from Cassidy to keep the townsfolk in line, but the sheriff...

Jensen licked his thumb with an insolent little smirk. "Hold on boy, you got some frosting on you."

The ex-con let Jensen run a wet thumb down his cheek, fingers stopping to rest against his throat.

Jensen leaned in confidentially, nodding toward the locals. "Look, I went to high school with these assholes. I don't wanna see anyone get hurt. But if I gotta wake up tomorrow and tell their wives and their mothers and their daughters that they got shot over a potential cash reward from some Waco bitch that spent the last five years fuckin' her cellmate with a broomstick, I'm gonna have to kill you," said Jensen, the smile not quite touching his eyes, "All of you."

He heard a click two inches behind his head. "Sorry Sheriff," said the postman, as Jensen raised his hands and felt someone mouse around in his pockets for the jailhouse keys, "But business is business."

Jensen's lip curled. "Jared left five years ago," he said, two men dragging him away by the elbows, "You don't have the first clue where he might be."

"Hold this." said the ex-con, passing the cupcake to his neighbor. Dipping into his jumpsuit he unfolded a grainy print-out, a bill of sale paid in cash between a Canadian front company and the county tax office, with a photo of a trailer with a blue tarp stretched over the roof. Mom's old trailer.

Jensen's mother had retired to a nudist trailer park in North Carolina during his last tour (or as she liked to say, "Nudity is Rapture-ready"), and he hardly recognized the property now for all the ivy. The sale had gone through last week.

"Matter of fact," said the ex-con, holding it close enough for Jensen to recognize Jared's signature at the bottom, "We do."

(*)

Drug labs don't operate year-round. Most things on the market have a long shelf life. For one man to supply several hundred people with ketamine, he would need only a ventilated room, some cooking equipment, the balls to steal power from an electronic billboard, and three weeks for chemical processing, after which he can close up shop until the following spring.

Cassidy did not know this when she opened the door to Jared's newly purchased trailer. If Jared had returned to Honey Creek, it was clearly with the intent to kickstart mass production in his CIA-sanctioned scheme to sedate all able-bodied citizens who might try to form a resistance movement later down the line, while using the disenfranchised townsfolk as a source of revenue. She was not expecting so many flowers. Or the wedding cake.

Jensen was a romantic, but Jared was a domestic. She touched each thing in the dark, tracing the path of Jared's wedding night. A calendar appointment with the Floodwaters Baptist pastor, beer by the bath tub, a dance step diagram, a tape player with a stack of cassettes. She popped the first one in and pressed PLAY.

"Hey boss, you need a flashlight?"

Her head whipped round to the window. Deathclock stood a few yards away, staring into the forest on the look-out. "Just a minute," she said, "Be right out."

The bedroom door swung open, Cassidy's fingers around her collar as she imagined Jared nervously unbuttoning his shirt. The pillow where Jensen would lay, one hand on the headboard, sheets pulled up to his waist, watching. Waiting.

It struck Cassidy that, for the first time in her life, she was homeless. The mattress gave under her weight as she crawled across it on all fours and wrapped her arms around the pillow and pressed her face into it and wept for the love she could not have.

"Hey now," said one of the men when she stormed out, "Pretty bad in there?"

She swiped a tear with the heel of her hand, smearing eyeliner up to her temple. "Yeah, there's enough in there to tranq an elephant."

"What do you wanna do?"

She sniffed hard and went round to the back of the truck. Kerosene had been set aside for torching the town, assuming that a well-placed pint spread across suitably flammable material could destroy a single house before spreading to it's neighbors. She had five hundred and fifty gallons.

"Burn it."

(*)

Honey Creek Tennessee is going to burn. It has one hour left.

Porn is only as good as your proxy. An actor must be your physical superior without detracting attention from the subject he's fucking, a living movie theater seat with a cock sticking out one end. You're only there to see a pretty girl's orgasm. Or, if you were one of the dozen Deathclock soldiers huddled inside a jail cell tying Sheriff Ackles to a metal cot with a jar of Vaseline in easy reach, you're there to see a particular pretty girl's orgasm.

"She gonna ride you like a broke horse," said one of the men, lips stretched over gap teeth.

Another man circled the bed with a camcorder on his shoulder. "You ever eaten shaved pussy? Say you like eatin' shaved pussy."

"Yeah Sheriff, say it."

Gap Tooth unzipped Jensen's pants, pulling down his boxers. "That ain't no way to greet a lady," he said, slapping Jensen's soft cock, "Wake up little man, Cassidy's makin' a movie tonight."

"I got this." said the ex-con. He hesitated for a second, then dipped his hand into Cassidy's duffel bag and produced a box of syringes and small unlabeled vial. The other men twisted Jensen's arms behind his back.

"You get that away from me." Jensen hissed, teeth bared as his pants were pushed to his ankles. His boot landed on Gap Tooth's cheek and sent him doubled over the sink.

"Woo lookit him kick!" said the cameraman, one eye through the lense.

"Don't worry son, stuff wears off in a few hours. Besides," said the ex-con, talking around his cigarette as he poked around folds of skin to find a vein, "Ain't like you'll be doin' any of the work."

The needle prick was expertly done, Jensen's cock swelling as various men took turns slowly jerking him off with Vaseline-greased fists, the closest they'd ever get to Cassidy's cunt by one degree of separation. The other men laughed, slapping each other on the backs as if they'd prepared lawmen as the unwilling slampiece in Cassidy's neo-Confederate pornos before. They had.

One of the Deathclock walkie-talkies crackled, Jared's voice distorted but recognizable. "Report? Hello? Report?"

"How'd Jared get on their radio band?" Jensen whispered aloud.

The old ex-con grabbed Jensen's shirt. "Who you talkin' to?"

"Nobody."

"You were talkin' to someone."

"I was not."

"You callin' me a fuckin' liar Sheriff?"

When Jensen did not reply, the old con flipped his cigarette into the corner and picked up the radio and ducked his chin as he spoke. "Yes ma'am, we got the situation covered here."

Jensen stopped struggling, then realized the other men had stopped as well, his ropes dangling free from the bedframe. Didn't they know that wasn't Cassidy on the radio?

"Any casualties?"

"No ma'am."

"I hear a lot of noise in the background."

"Just the boys rough-housing."

"So everyone's accounted for."

"No, a few went ahead to check on the property, though judging by all the smoke comin' from that direction they probably torched his trailer by now."

"Padalecki's trailer?"

"Yes ma'am, like you asked."

"..."

"You still there boss?"

"I found something out here, but I need support."

"Alright, how many boys you want?"

"Everyone."

"But what about the-?"

"Take the main road west out of town, left at the power lines, left again at the pile of car tires. You'll see the path."

The radio hissed and switched off on the other end. Jensen did not think to ask what black magic caused them to hear Cassidy's voice while he remained immune. Taking this as their cue, Deathclock packed up the camera and lifted their guns from the office wall and filed out until the old ex-con rolled the cell door shut with a click and remained behind to stand guard.

Time crept by. Jensen stared at a streetlamp through the window, ashes turning in the yellow light. Scattered shots sounded far away, followed a few minutes later by flares in the main square, though he could not guess their significance.

The ex-con leaned against the bars. "Is it true what she said, you ain't never been had?"

Jensen continued to look out the window.

"You could do worse than her, Sheriff. You ought not let a good thing go. It might get taken from you anyway."

"You don't have to tell me that."

"I saw you sittin' in the trees while we was leavin' the cave earlier. Saw the shine on your rifle. But you never took a shot."

"I don't enjoy killing."

"I heard you was good at it."

"Just cuz you're good at something doesn't mean you want to live with it the rest of your life."

"You think you got much life ahead of you after tonight?"

The ex-con had his arms crossed when Jensen reached through the bars and grabbed his hair. In the same motion Jensen hauled back until his shoes slid across the floor and he landed on his ass with enough force to bounce the convict's head off the door with a meaty crack, and the ex-con flailed, kicking over a trash can and sending paper flying as Jensen's fingers closed around his throat. Eventually he stilled. The jail keys fell from his orange jumpsuit pocket.

Later, the ex-con touched his face and stared at his red hand, Jensen's shadow passing over him as the cell door opened and shut, with him on the wrong side.

"You got my blood all over the carpet."

"That'll wash." said Jensen. He tried the radio. "Jared, you still there?"

Nothing. Jensen flicked it on and off several times, walked over and stuck it outside the front door for a better signal, then walked back and opened the battery case. It was empty. He put it back and sat down at his desk, rubbing his mouth.

"You know all of this was for you," said the ex-con, "The prison break, the recruiting, the big plans of hers. You know that."

"I guessed close enough."

"You'll never stop her."

"I aim to try."

"You'll never find another woman like her."

"May be," said Jensen, unlocking the desk drawer to get his gun, "But she ain't my bride."

And leaving the old convict to bleed, Jensen took his keys and wiped the blood on his slacks and squared his hat on his head and walked out without a backward glance.

(*)

Cassidy loved anything that might yield to a smack. Guns, co-stars in the porn industry, or, in this case, a two-way radio. In the interest of circumventing government surveillance, Cassidy had her men communicate via Radio Shack walkie-talkies, which had the advantage of being so low-tech that Washington spooks overlooked it. No wiretapping, no chance of voice recognition, radios were great. Unless the batteries ran out.

Cassidy hit the transceiver over and over with the heel of her hand, but got only static. Bodean, one of her men, tightened his grip on his gun. He turned to his friend. "Cody, you hear that? Not the fire, that other thing."

"Yeah dude," said Cody, as the forest whipped around them though there was not a breath of wind, "And what's with the trees? Trees ain't supposed to move like that. I'd be happier with coyotes, you can shoot them fuckers."

"All right everyone, the radio's out, stay here and watch the supplies while I check with the men in town. You two," said Cassidy, pointing at Cody and Bodean, "Follow me."

They followed the slope of the mountain, the trees washed of color in the moonlight, and Cassidy motioned for Cody to lead with Bodean bringing up the rear. Bodean whispered, "Watch yourself man. I dunno what happened back in the cave, but..."

"I don't see too much water around here, you plannin' to drown me?"

"Okay," said Cassidy, "I don't see any cars on the road ahead, let's cross."

"So boss," said Bodean, staring at the back of Cassidy's blonde head, "What's with you and Padalecki? I mean, you said he didn't have no gun that night you were arrested. How'd all those other guys die?"

She did not turn around. "Shut the fuck up."

"Man this place is quiet. Hold up," said Cody, raising his hand, "I see someone."

"The trees are worse here," said Bodean, shrinking away from the nearest branch, "Can't you hear that sound? Like a downed power line. Maybe we're near a substation..."

"Come out where we can see you!" said Cassidy, aiming her gun at the shadows ahead, "You can see I ain't fuckin' around!"

Cody edged forward, feeling the ground for a trail. "Someone was here, but they must have moved in a hurry."

"What's with all the poppies?" asked Bodean, bending down and twirling a red flower between his fingers, "These things only grow in graveyards."

"Whoever it is, he can't have gone far," said Cassidy, scanning a break in the forest, "Maybe through there."

The smell hit her before the sight of the bodies did. Her walkie-talkie whooped with feedback, which often happens if two radios sit facing each other. Or if several radios are lying on the ground in a heap.

"What happened to them?" asked Cody, turning over the dead Deathclock soldiers, "They were supposed to stay in town, the fuck brought them way out here?"

"L-looks like they were shot," said Bodean nervously, Gap Tooth lying face-down with a dinner plate-sized hole in his chest, "Point blank for some of 'em."

"We still got plenty back at the trailer," said Cassidy, "Cody, you catching any more of that trail?"

"There ain't shit," said Cody, "Everything stops here, unless he climbed a tree or something."

"Okay, well keep your voice down," said Cassidy, "We may not be alone for long."

"They shot each other. Just like last time."

All three whirled around at this new voice. A man in white stood behind them at the edge of the forest.

"It's him..." Cassidy whispered.

"Have you seen Jensen?" asked Jared, "He left a note, but I've looked everywhere and haven't been able to find him."

"Bodean!" hissed Cassidy, "Run back to the others, we need back-up."

"Show me your hands!" shouted Cody, "You're comin' to town with us!"

"Sorry, I can't stay," said Jared, his clothes uncannily bright in the moonlight though they couldn't see most of his face, "You'll have to take someone else."

"Show us your fucking hands!" shouted Cody, rushing forward with his gun raised, "You're worth just as much to us dead!"

"Slow down dude," said Bodean, "He ain't even moved..."

"It's over," said Cassidy, now only a few yards away from Jared, "Even if you ran a second time, all your shit's been burned and I got your bank info. You won't get far."

Bodean began to sweat. "Why isn't he moving?"

Cassidy moved her gun to her left side. "Surrender or die Padalecki, what's it gonna be?" she said, putting out her hand, "Answer me!"

"Boss, be careful, I think that weird sound is coming from him..."

She reached out her hand to grab Jared's jacket...and passed through empty air. She pulled back and tried again. The suit, the darkened face, the tall, slender figure, was nothing but a composite of fog and darkness, a twig for a mouth here, a trunk of light for a leg there. Then a cloud passed over the moon and they all stood shadowless on the mountain.

She turned pale. "The fuck."

Bodean backed away. "He talked to us. You all heard him, he was talking to us, right guys?"

"Where did he go?" Cassidy whispered, waving her hand up and down. Both men turned their backs on her, straining to listen.

"You see where he went?" asked Cody, facing up to see if a film projector were secreted in the trees.

"Naw man."

"This is fucked."

Cassidy took a step toward them, and Bodean angled his head. Some unwelcome change in his posture made her stay in place. The high keening noise filled her head until she saw double vision, four men, two forests, as if her world were coming uncoupled.

"Did you hear that Cody?" asked Bodean.

"Hear what?"

"That sound he made," said Bodean, turning slowly toward Cassidy, his eye sockets nothing but empty red pits in the forest gloom. She didn't have time to sidestep when he raised his gun at her face, and her last thought was Not again. "It's coming from over there."

(*)

Jensen never talked about Bosnia. Localized warfare meant that you could drive through miles of lush, untouched countryside, then turn the corner and find a village flattened three feet high by mortar rounds. Ambassadors zipping around in shiny limousines while soldiers drove Toyotas and used comic books for body armor. The contradictions messed with your head.

The main square was filling up fast, everybody talking at once. Two of Cassidy's men stood by a streetlight with something wrapped in a bedsheet and a rope around the ankles. The postman looked over at Jensen and smirked. "Looks like they got him first."

Jensen stared at the postman. They'd sat by each other in high school math class. Jensen used to baby-sit the man's sisters. Now they were strangers.

"That ain't him," said Jensen, pointing at the wrapped body, not even convincing himself, "That could be five broomsticks tied together over a flour sack. Tell 'em to take off the sheet."

"You know what's under that sheet Sheriff."

"I know that Cassidy found some poor bastard for your little lynch party and ya'll are headed for thirty years of cockmeat sandwiches soon as State Troopers arrive."

The postman snorted. "You don't even know what she's started, have you?"

One end of the rope flew up. The streetlight wasn't built for tensile strength, and everyone's shadows flicked on and off as wires popped free under the corpse's weight. Jensen felt electricity hum beneath him, making his hair stand on end, or maybe that was just the contact high from the mob.

The postman leaned in and whispered. "Your boyfriend's gonna burn."

Jensen pushed through the crowd. More flares fired into the night sky and people looked at him over their shoulders, smiling like they were at a wedding and Jensen was the flower girl. A punch to the gut brought him to his knees, gentle hands keeping him from getting too close to the pyre.

They needed Jensen, or the future version of Jensen once Cassidy fucked him to the dark side. A pussywhipped lawman eager to petition the Defense Department for much-needed tanks and grenade launchers, so the new Confederacy could withstand roadside attacks once the Pornocratic Republic of Tennesee started marching on Washington. He was almost impressed with their proactive attitude. Honey Creek didn't want another apocalypse. It wanted a slogan to chant.

"Please, cut him down!" Jensen shouted, "Let me bury him!"

Voices came from all directions. "Will someone shut him up?" "It doesn't matter."

Someone made a torch from a can of HairNet and touched a blue flame to the bottom of the sheet, where the head was. A cheer rose, more flares. A buzz that started deep in the Earth and worked it's way up to Jensen's throat threatened to choke him, as hands released him and the church bells tolled midnight. After that he saw nothing. Remembered nothing. The air was a fog of gunpowder and burning hair.

Jensen didn't know how he got to the graveyard. All the poppies had been picked. He took a minute to tuck in his shirt, tie his laces, then sat beside a headstone with his hat against his chest.

"Hello." he said, tracing the letters HERE LIES JARED PADALECKI. A birthday purchase he'd made last year, along with his own adjacent headstone.

He pulled the gun from his holster and opened the chamber. One bullet. All he'd ever needed.

"You know I nearly came home in a box one time. Sarajevo. They weren't even aiming at me. And I lay in the mud lookin' up at stars I didn't recognize, thinking…" he said, his voice cracking.

The shadows of clouds moved across the mountain in the moonlight and it took him several minutes to realize he was heartbroken. "...I was thinking, how I didn't wanna die alone."

The barrel was cold against his skin. He looked at the world for the last time, drinking it in, as if taking a long breath before jumping into dark waters, and closed his eyes. "I'm not alone now."

(*)

Honey Creek Tennessee is going to burn. It has ten minutes left.

Sex magic is a rich man's game. And a dangerous one at that. Thirty loser cult members attaining higher consciousness through slow jazz and delayed orgasm. Middle class housefraus hip-deep in basement water trying to summon a tentacle beast. It's all in good fun, but ultimately they are grinding smoke. The real power, as many of the great religious founders will tell you assuming they survived public execution and/or ascension, is in sexual restraint. In weaponizing your own virginity.

"Jensen?"

Jensen heard that same high keening noise from earlier, looked down and wondered if he were dead but the bullet was still in the chamber, then turned his head toward the forest. And there he was, like a lost ghost. Jared, silent, dilated eyes the color of wet coal, shoes pointed down and floating two inches over the grass. A thin line of blood ran from his nose. Behind him, all the trees had come uprooted and were gently bobbing up and down like wind chimes.

"I need a virgin," said Jared, his voice hollow, "But it can't be you."

"Are you dead?"

"No."

"Then I ain't going anywhere."

"Please, I've done terrible things. I might lose control of this. Let me find someone else and I'll come right back, but you can't stay."

Jensen walked backward, plucking the handcuffs from his belt. The stone crosses he'd purchased last year were tall enough that, without a key, anyone dumb enough to handcuff themselves to Jared's headstone would have needed a ladder to lift themselves off. He sat down, arms behind his head, looking up through his long eyelashes. Click.

"I ain't going anywhere."

Jared hugged himself, teeth chattering, the boy who'd learned to split the love atom about to go nuclear. "I don't wanna hurt you."

"You won't."

"How do you know?"

Jensen looked at Jared's left eye and then his right, this tall white figure bent hungrily toward him. "Clean your face."

"Why?"

"Cuz you got blood on your mouth and I got something to say to you."

Jared pulled a handkerchief from his jacket and wiped the blood. Jensen nodded down. "Get my wallet."

"What's in there?"

"You'll see."

Jared opened it, pulling out money and gas receipts, until he came to a yellowed piece of paper that had been torn and scotch-taped many times over the years.

Jensen pressed his lips flat. He hated speeches.

"You know, when we were kids, when we made all those plans, first thing I did was go home and memorize the wedding vows. I didn't know how much time we had left. With all the talk of war, you don't know when the end will come, you blink and when you look again," said Jensen, closing and opening his eyes with a little smile, "Your whole world's changed."

Jared opened the paper, adam's apple bobbing as he read the contents. Jensen recited it from memory.

"I take you to be mine.

In plenty and in want.

Forsaking all others to remain true.

Hereto I pledge you my faithfulness

For you are my desire and delight

And when you die

I will go wherever death takes you

If it means I can hold you for one more day."

Jared looked up from the paper. He'd never seen Jensen look so scared in his life.

Jensen held his breath. "Well?"

"Well what?"

Jensen swallowed hard. "Is it a yes?"

Jared dropped the paper, kneeling and rushing to take Jensen's face in his hands. "Yes. Yes, it's a yes."

Their mouths were very close, breath hot between them. "Then you can't hurt me anymore."

Jared kissed him, hands resting on the top of Jensen's knees, Jensen's thighs tensing like bridge cables beneath Jared's long hard fingers. "I didn't want it to be like this," said Jared, staring at Jensen's shirt buttons, his belt, his zipper, unsure where to begin, "I had everything ready for us, a home, a bed..."

Jared lifted his eyes, two black mirrors reflecting a concave moon. "I didn't even get you a ring."

"You think I need any of that?" said Jensen, "You think I would want you any less?"

Back in town, the fire from Cassidy's corpse had touched a nearby roof and spread along the street like a living thing, paint boiling on the clapboard siding until it ran down the paving stones and a nearby car exploded in a shower of glass. Their screams were lost on the night air.

Jared kissed him, fingers running through bristle hair and then nervously down Jensen's shirt, muscled torso carved solid from years of police training. He unfastened the top buttons to reveal the line of his collarbone, skin fever-hot, Jensen shivering beneath his every kiss, Jared's mouth running down the length of his body until he got to the belt. He gave an up-flick of his eyes for permission, and pulled the buckle free.

Jensen's beautiful mouth-filling cock slapped against his belly. Jared drew little circles in the Vaseline. "Someone's been at you tonight."

"Cassidy's men. She wanted something of mine."

Jared bent down and pressed his mouth to the inside of Jensen's thigh, fingers wrapped around Jensen's knees as he pried them apart. "And what did you want?"

Jensen watched him, cheeks warm and breathing hard through his teeth in anticipation. "I wanted you to take that away from her."

Sliding fistfulls of fabric over bare skin, Jared pushed Jensen's slacks down Jared ducked between Jensen's legs and took his cock on the end of his tongue, breathing hot on it like a bloodhound. Looked up through his bangs. And seizing his cock with his lips, he began sucking the taste of Cassidy out of Jensen, her words, her war, the bitter image of her pink pussy lips parting over Jensen's cock while other men held him down and hooted for him to come inside her, the loss of Jensen's virginity forever captured on film and replicated in the computer screens of millions.

From the grass, new poppies rose and uncurled from between Jared's fingers. Jensen tells himself it's the Viagra injection and not fear that kept him from coming inside Jared's mouth.

Back in town, Honey Creek was in flames. With the roads blocked, no one could get in or out, and years of drought turned any vegetation into kindling. Just as Cassidy had foretold, it was going to be massacre.

Their shirts were open now, hot skin sliding against each other, Jared back arched inward, arms straight down on either side beneath Jensen's thighs, the barest touch of their cocks making him whimper. In Jared's fantasies, they'd have had all night to lead up to this moment, hours of dancing and drinking and slow thoughtless touching in a candlelit bedroom. But they didn't have all night.

Jensen set his teeth against Jared's ear. "You need to get me ready."

Jared shut his eyes, face flushed and wet, magic humming in his brain like a buzzsaw. "We're going too fast..."

"We ain't going fast enough," said Jensen, biting hard on Jared's lower lip, "Get me ready."

Jared's head swam, giddy with lust. He was a fool to think he could have defused himself with anyone else, he'd made sure of that when he was six years old. When the world ends, the bomb only goes off in Jensen.

Two spit-wet fingers don't feel like enough, but Jensen didn't seem to mind, sucking at Jared's mouth as he was opened, whispering sin in his ear, thighs pinning him close, and Jared can't help but wonder if Jensen will do the same to him later or if he had plans of his own, toss Jared on the trailer bed and pry his legs apart and slowly fuck him with that blue toy he'd bought back in high school until Jared's begging for a hot cock inside him.

Jared cupped a hand under Jensen's knee and kissed his throat, inhaling him, relishing every little noise as Jensen writhed around his fingers, half-wondering if he was dreaming. His body is weightless, floating, so light that if he let go of Jensen he would rise into the sky right over the mountains into outer space.

Jensen broke the kiss. "Give me your mouth."

Even in handcuffs, Jensen was ever the one in control, and Jared pushed Jensen's thighs up to the tiny pink shadow in between. Jensen is warm and wanton and untouched, demanding to be claimed, years of using only his fingers when other men held no interest for him, and it is only when Jared's tongue pushed inside him that he felt a tremor and realizes how precipitously close Jensen was.

"Maybe we should try something else first…" Jared began, but Jensen's boot-heels dug into the small of his back, grinding their hips together, and his words evaporated.

The deciding moment had come. Jared undressed and knelt with his arms hooked under Jensen's knees, Jensen's thick red cock leaking on his belly like a crime scene. Would Jensen come all at once, three or four tight thrusts around Jared's cock, or would he take hours, fucking himself on Jared until he'd wrung out the last drop?

The night wind coiled up Jared's spine, suddenly fearful of his husbandly duties. "It'll hurt."

Jensen stretched out beneath him, the moonlight drawing hard lines around his body. "Then give me a distraction from the pain."

Jared surveyed their naked bodies. How had they gotten to this point so quickly? He didn't want this to end, but more importantly, he didn't want this responsibility. He wanted to find the key to the handcuffs and roll over and let Sheriff Ackles ride the innocence out of him, milk his evil cock back to the side of justice, the way he'd dreamed since he'd first seen Jensen in uniform as a teenager.

Jensen's kisses are bruising, stubbled jaw rubbing against Jared until his teeth found the shadow beneath his ear and bit down hard, words smeared against his throat. "Take me. Take me now."

Jared took Jensen's cock in his fist, eyes open so he could watch Jensen's face as he entered him for the first time. Watch him transform until Jared's touch, jaw clenched, sweat ribboning down his cheek, square white teeth parted and saying something that might have been Jared's name.

Jared had a fleeting thought for the wedding night Cassidy would never claim, as the head of his cock stretched Jensen, threatening not to go in at all, then was swallowed up. All night, Jared's cock felt like it had been capped at the end, achingly hard and liable to burst at the first touch, and as Jared tightened his grip on Jensen's thighs and eased the rest of the way in, Jensen locked tight on the base of his cock and Jared's whole body froze.

"We need to go slow." said Jared, his voice ragged.

"Why?"

Jared didn't answer, and Jensen didn't push. What would Jared have said anyway, that he'd spent the last five years jerking off, buying soft hands, buying pretty boys' mouths, but always stopping at the last second to save himself for this day? That years of delayed orgasm was akin to scraping the radium off thousands of glow-in-the-dark watches to build a warhead?

That his virginity was atomic?

Jensen's nails dug into the gravestone, stretched wide on Jared's cock. Back in the army, he never described himself as gay. He was a straight man who loved his guns and his truck and the United States of America, and really loved getting fucked in the ass. The only reason he'd never taken up anyone else's offer is they hadn't lured him like Jared. Hadn't scared him.

The world changed around them. Jared filled him and the iron shadows of the trees wavered as if through a heat haze, putting down roots, sending out buds though it was the wrong season for it. Jared's orgasm began to build and the ruined storefronts of Honey Creek stopped burning, the flames turning to red and gold confetti before everyone's eyes. The head of Jared's enormous cock popped to the size of an orange so deep inside Jensen's tight ass that pulling out would now be impossible unless he came, and a blonde rabbit peeked it's head from the bloody bedsheet left on the streetlamp and looked around and scampered away, down the street, out of the story.

Jensen looked up at Jared's strained face, bangs stuck to the sides in sweaty ringlets, even now his touch tender and respectful. "I'm close."

"Then go ahead and finish."

Jensen was close as well, locked tight around Jared's cock and looking like he might die if Jared stopped pumping into him. Jared looked down at him, stricken, terrified of the consequences should he finish now, should he lose himself and have to watch red flowers blossom in Jensen's eyes. "I don't know what'll happen..."

Sex magic is not so different from chemical reactions. Done correctly, one may syphon off tantric energy if done slowly enough, like dropping sodium into water one flake at a time, and Jared, from years of reading the likes of Vajrayana, Aleister Crowley, and Sting, knew this well. Jensen did not. Even if he had known about the Love Bomb, as historians would later call it, Jensen said he'd have done it again and twice as hard.

Jensen bared his teeth. "I know exactly what'll happen. You were my first kiss," he said, locking down in cock-crushing agony until Jared screamed, "And damned if you ain't gonna be my last."

(*)

State Troopers have a knack for falsifying reports. Even so...

"How the hell I'm supposed to write that," said one man, pointing toward the crater in the graveyard, "Without getting my ass fired?"

The headstones angled drunkenly, the ones nearest the center mere ghosts of headstones with the names and dates stripped. The troopers would have written down 'weapons test' except that the whole valley was red with poppies and not a single one bent or broken.

Jensen opened his eyes, Jared's head warm against his chest. Where the handcuffs had been there was now only a faint mark on his wrists and two silver bands in his cupped palm.

"Hey," Jensen whispered, "You awake?"

Jared did not stir, and Jensen did not prod him further. Lying back on the grass, his eyes tracked the mountains limned against the sunrise, listening to the birds as if they had a secret to tell him, then closed his eyes.

Jared inhaled and lifted his head. "You hear that?"

"Here what?"

Jared untangled himself from Jensen's arms, standing up with his jacket in one hand. He pointed. "The sound has moved."

It took Jensen's eyes a while to adjust to the forest gloom, so thick were the trees with new leaves. He looked behind him at the strange red country his lover had made, then let Jared take his hand and lead him into the dark.

"Lot of rabbits," said Jensen, noting the empty prison uniforms, "Must be something in the water."

Jared hummed to himself, though he was no longer the lightning rod he had made himself last night. The power had seeped elsewhere, into the graves, into the animals, into underground lakes where the blind fish keep themselves. There was only one other place it might have escaped...

Blackened grass crunched beneath their feet. Jensen looked at it, then at Jared, then back again. "They said she'd burned it."

"She did," said Jared, unable to keep the corner of his mouth lifting, "I can't say I'm sorry for it."

It wasn't just a house. That assumes someone drafted a plan and took it to City Hall and didn't get a 72-hour lock-up for their trouble. It was the dream of a house. All the little versions Jared had made before, out of food cartons and mine shafts and broken down trailers, synthesized down to a classical form that was somewhere between a mansion and a cathedral. Jensen rested his hand on the door to make sure it was real.

Jared searched Jensen's face. "Wanna bet there's a library?"

Jensen swept him in up in his arms, knocking his hat to the ground. "Wanna bet there's a bed?"

And carrying him Jared over the threshold, Sheriff Ackles let the door shut behind him and brought his bride home. The rings could wait.

They had all the time in the world.

THE END