The mission is standard. Simple, even. Get in, extract all the data Goddard needs, leave nothing and no one behind. Blow the whole damn place up when they’re done. It’s a perfect job for what Cutter once called his “dynamite duo,” which is something Jacobi never needs to hear again, thank you very much. Anyway. Get in, get the info, get out, wreak havoc. It’s not like they haven’t done this before.
They get in. Jacobi watches Kepler hurt and torture and kill without a second thought, and he stands at his side the whole while, cleaning up the messes he leaves behind. Mostly by making more messes, he thinks wryly as a laboratory goes up in flames. It’s the kind of mess that leaves nothing in its wake-- it cleans by destroying.
They get the info. Or Kepler does, at least. This one’s beyond Jacobi’s security clearance, so he hangs left as Kepler hangs right, heading off to make some more messes in the east wing of the building. Before they part ways, Kepler stops Jacobi with a hand on his shoulder.
“You can handle, this, can’t you, Mr. Jacobi?”
Kepler’s voice is soft and terrifying. There’s only one answer to this question. Anything less would be met with death-- not that that isn’t an option anyway.
Jacobi says yes.
He hangs left, starts laying intricate trails of wires and fuses and smatterings of chemicals, shoots a man in a lab coat before he can shout for help. He glances at the floor plan, plotting a route to meet back up with Kepler once the building’s wired to blow. It’s fine, it’s going as expected-- until it isn’t.
It certainly isn’t what Jacobi expects when something slams into his head from behind and he sees red and blinks his eyes open tied to a chair in a literal fucking broom closet. It isn’t what he expects to get beaten by some Doctor Fuckface until his vision goes blurry from the blood dripping down his forehead, to be stuck with his arms wrenched behind his back for hours, for days, for what damn well feels like months.
It also isn’t what he expects when Kepler slams through the door and puts a bullet in Doctor Fuckface’s forehead. Come to think of it, maybe Jacobi should have expected that one.
Kepler doesn’t say a word to Jacobi as he crosses the room, but the fire in his eyes makes Jacobi wonder whether he’s going to get punched across the face again or kissed until he tastes blood. He wouldn’t really mind either option, honestly. Not when it’s Kepler doing the punching, or Kepler doing the kissing.
It turns out to be neither. It’s not hard knuckles across his cheek or sharp teeth biting at his lips. It’s Kepler’s hands, somehow soft. They gently untie the ropes that bind him, run fingers through his hair, wipe blood off of his cheek.
Kepler gets the info. They get out. They blow the damn place up, wreak havoc. It feels good, with Kepler by his side. For just a moment, Jacobi closes his eyes and imagines that this is what it’s like all of the time.
The next time they have sex, it’s different than usual.
Kepler still grabs Jacobi by the lapels, still hauls him off into an empty room and locks the door. Jacobi still drops to his knees so fast it’s dizzying. His world is still reduced to Kepler’s thighs, his hips, his cock, hot under Jacobi’s hands and in his mouth. He still does everything Kepler asks of him and more without so much as a second thought, but there’s something-- something new, something warmer and less fiery that makes it impossible for him to think.
When it’s done Jacobi aches all over, aches in the best way, and before he can stop himself he’s tiredly nuzzling his head into Kepler’s chest, just for a second, just to feel his heartbeat. And instead of pushing him away or telling him that it’s time to get back to work, Kepler rubs his hand down Jacobi’s back, lets them lie there for a while, just silent.
If Jacobi didn’t know better, he’d swear that Kepler had pressed a kiss to the top of his head, as soft and light as a flame. But Kepler wouldn’t do that. Kepler doesn’t do that.
It doesn’t last long, anyway. Kepler’s phone goes off, buzzing in the pocket of his pants where they lie discarded over a chair. Jacobi starts, yanking his head up off of Kepler’s chest and scrambling for his clothes, muttering about missing a meeting. Or something. All of his meetings are with Kepler anyway.
The next time they’re assigned to a solo mission, there’s a room, and there’s a bomb.
Jacobi’s never seen anything like it before-- a tangled mess of wires hooked up to tannerite and chunks of C4 and something that even he doesn’t know the name of, tied together with sparks and the smell of burning metal. He looks at it, looks up at Kepler, who’s cool and commanding as always, and tells him that they should do the manly thing and run for their lives.
Kepler looks down at Jacobi, then down at the bomb. He narrows his eyes. And he locks the goddamn door.
After a long moment filled only with the steady beeping from the bomb, he looks back at Jacobi. He says, slowly, surely, smugly, “Go take that bomb apart.”
Jacobi gets to work.
When it’s done, Kepler pauses before unlocking the door. It’s not a hesitation-- there’s a surety in the way he slowly turns and walks over to Jacobi, stepping over the dismantled pile of wires and smoldering metal pieces on the floor.
The bomb is still smoking, spewing a steady stream of gray smoke that smells like metal and sulphur and something strange, almost sweet, that Jacobi can’t quite put a name to. Maybe it smells like whiskey. Like blood.
Kepler leans down, places his hand on Jacobi’s cheek-- is this happening? Jacobi can’t help but wonder if the bomb didn’t explode and kill them after all-- and kisses him. It’s gentle at first, like Kepler’s never done before, but Jacobi readies himself for the sex nonetheless, wrapping his arms around Kepler’s waist and pressing their bodies together. He moves to deepen the kiss, sneak his hands under Kepler’s shirt, but Kepler pulls away slowly, placing one last soft, unbelievable kiss on Jacobi’s cheek.
“We’ve got work to do,” he says, and unlocks the door.
It’s only a couple months more before the accident. A couple badly laid wires, a little too much moisture creeping into his stash of tannerite, and Jacobi gets his hand blown straight off.
He barely feels it. He’s too high on adrenaline and the smell of gunpowder and the spark of wires tangled up in his hand in places they shouldn’t be to notice the burning flesh, the exposed bone, the raw, searing pain. Or maybe he does notice. It doesn’t matter.
Goddard rigs him up a fancy new hand, silver and gleaming and probably smarter than he is. They connect wire to nerve, circuit to brain, until Jacobi is part machine and feeling the electricity crackle through his blood.
He didn’t feel it when the hand got blown off, but he feels it when Kepler picks up his new one, examining it maybe a little more closely than he has any reason to. He feels Kepler’s breath on his new gleaming knuckles as he says, “Be more careful next time. We wouldn’t want to lose you.”
Jacobi wonders who “we” is.
The next time Jacobi wakes up tangled in sheets next to-- his boss? His commanding officer?-- next to Warren Kepler, he needs to sit up and take a second to think about it. He lets Kepler’s hand wander down his arm, tracing over the bruises those same fingers left there last night. Jacobi always tries not to look at the man while he’s sleeping. It feels wrong, somehow, to see Kepler with his guard down.
Jacobi’s always been able to draw a map of all the places Kepler has kissed him. At first, it was easy. His lips, his neck, places that should never see the light of day, and his throat, as far down as that smug self-satisfied smirk can go. The inside of his left knee, on one memorable occasion.
He tries to trace the map now. It’s less of a clear path than it was before. His mouth, yes, his neck too, but also the bridge of his cheekbone, his temple, the inside of his wrist, the softest part of his stomach. Even the hardened stump of what’s left of his right arm has borne the fire of Kepler’s kiss.
He looks over at Kepler now, the fire in his eyes hidden behind closed lids and the thickness of sleep. But somehow, like he can sense Jacobi’s gaze, Kepler cracks one eye open-- and smiles, really smiles, the expression making it to his eyes for what might be the first time in Jacobi’s memory.
So Jacobi lies back down, reaches to brush a kiss over Kepler’s lips, tasting sleep and whiskey and something even sweeter. And he’s stopped in his tracks, all thoughts of his map fleeing for the idea of being able to make a new one.
The weeks go by. Months, too. Soon enough, Jacobi’s celebrating his two year anniversary of working with SI-5 instead of the four year anniversary of the time he got two good guys killed. Time flies, he thinks with a wry smile as he whips around the earth in a space station at a brisk pace of seventeen thousand miles per hour. It hasn’t been a bad two years. Lots of bombs. Lots of sex-- really, really intense sex. He even made a friend, somehow, a genius computer scientist with lightning-struck hair that Jacobi can’t help but think he saw around MIT a time or two.
As it turns out, Daniel Jacobi really likes space. Without the constraints of an atmosphere, there’s new kinds of explosions and destruction to create, and when he gets bored of that he can engineer his own atmosphere to play with inside the stations that Goddard sends them to or get Maxwell to find him a room that they don’t need so he can light it up. Half the time, the job is just destroying the station-- it’s almost like Cutter’s custom-designed the perfect job for Jacobi.
And Kepler is there too, which doesn’t hurt.
The one thing he can’t stand about these missions is getting there. It’s days or weeks or one time even months on a tiny shuttle, with nothing to do but sit around and read mission reports (and Kepler spends all his time reading the mission reports, so Jacobi doesn’t even get to make use of that distraction).
They’re off to some far-off star, 7.8 light years away in the damn Dorado system, and it’s going to take weeks to get there. Jacobi straps himself into the shuttle next to Kepler nonetheless, laughs at Maxwell fidgeting with her flight suit, goes through the pre-flight checks and initiates the launch and grits his teeth because this is the worst part, the detaching from the earth and not being able to hear anything but the roar of the engine and seeing nothing but sky, nothing but blue so bright it hurts to look at--
And then Jacobi stops, because there’s a hand on his, gently prying his fingers up from where they clench the armrest and lacing familiarly calloused fingers in between his. Kepler’s taken his hand, the real flesh-and-blood-and-Jacobi hand, and Jacobi can only watch on in shock as Kepler bends to brush a kiss over his knuckles.
It hits Jacobi all at once, not unlike the time a full pound of tannerite ignited not 3 feet from his face, that this kiss, this one touch, completes the map. There isn’t a part of him left that Kepler hasn’t kissed-- well, if he includes being bitten and bruised as being kissed, and he does.
That pound of tannerite etched scars across Jacobi’s torso, right over his heart, and he can’t help but think that Kepler’s done the same thing to him. Jacobi’s never been quite sure what love means, but if you ask him?
These burns and bruises and searing kisses aren’t far off.