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The Biggest Lie is Who We Are

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Jensen needed to pee real bad. It was black dark though. Like inside the closet-monster's tummy dark. Mommy had forgotten to put on his night-light again. Jensen squirmed and squeezed his thighs tightly together, but the ache in his tummy just grew worse. If he didn't get up now, he was going to wet his bed and he was a big boy; big boys didn't have accidents like that. Accidents made Mommy sad and Daddy red-faced mad. He didn't want to make Daddy mad again. He shouted loud when he was mad. It made Jensen want to hide behind Mommy when he did that, but that just made Daddy angrier.

Grabbing hold of Patch, his stuffed panda and best friend - well...apart from Chris, but Chris had called him a booger-nosed baby yesterday afternoon so Jensen wasn't playing with him any more - Jensen slid out of bed. His toes curled against the chill of the wooden floor making him wish he knew where his Batman slippers were. He puffed out his cheeks, holding his breath as the cold air in his room swirled around him, nearly making him pee himself right there. The door wasn't far away, just across the room, a short run from his bed. It was a friendly door with a big picture of Elmo pinned to it, and even in the dark Jensen could feel Elmo smiling and waving to him. Chris said Elmo was for babies. Chris was a poop-face. Jensen was going to make lots of new friends so he wouldn't have to play with him anymore.

Clutching Patch's arm tightly, Jensen carefully walked forward, hand outstretched, holding his breath until his fingertips touched wood. Reaching up, he fumbled to find the handle of the door, almost crying in relief when he did. It was tricky to twist the round knob; it was too big for his little fingers to grip properly. Jensen could turn it easily with both hands but Patch was scared that Jensen would lose him if he let go of his arm, so Jensen concentrated and tried to spread his hand as big as Daddy's until eventually the handle turned.

A warm yellow glow spilled from his parents' open bedroom door, lighting up the gloomy hallway enough for Jensen to find his way to the bathroom. First, he had to tip-toe past Mommy and Daddy's room though; he didn't want to be yelled at for drinking too much before bedtime again - Daddy was sick to the back teeth of Jensen being a pain in the ass. Quiet as a little field mouse, Jensen hugged Patch against his sore tummy and crept down the hallway.

His parents' door was half-way open and it sounded like they had their little television on. Jensen wished he had a little television in his bedroom. Maybe Santa would bring him one for Christmas. Although he kind of wanted a bike too, like the green one Chris had that he'd promised to teach Jensen to ride. A muffled yell startled Jensen and he squeezed poor panda in fright. Mommy and Daddy must be watching a scary film. The ones that Mommy said Jensen was too little to watch. Mommy said he was too little to do lots of things. He wasn't though. He was going to be four very, very soon, in three more sleeps. Jensen smiled despite his tummy ache. His birthday was going to be awesome. Mommy was going to bake him a cake. A chocolate one with lots of frosting.

Jensen reached the open door of his parents' room and, holding his breath and creeping as quietly as he could, sneaked past. That was when Mommy screamed. Jensen jumped and let out a yelp, his face burning in shame when a little bit of pee soiled his pajama bottoms. Holding brave Patch in front of him, he peeked in through the door.

He could see the long waves of Mommy's gold hair spilling across the floor behind her bed. Maybe she'd fallen out of bed! Jensen was a big boy, he could help save her. He pushed the door open all the way and ran towards the bed. His bare feet stepped through something sticky on the floor and when Jensen glanced down, he saw that he was leaving a trail of red footprints. Like the time that Mrs. Delaney's cat had stepped in a tray of paint and walked across Daddy's car. It was pretty cool really. He was still looking at the floor behind him when he reached the far side of the bed so he didn't see her straight away. Didn't see Mommy's lifeless eyes staring at him. Didn't see the blood pouring from the ragged gash tearing open her throat. Didn't see the slices gouged deep into her body and bright splatters of blood painting the pale green cotton of her nightdress.

When Jensen did see, a scream ripped from his throat. He was still screaming when he saw the monster looming over him. Dressed all in black from head to foot, a mask covering its face. It was holding a knife in its black gloved hand. A knife covered with blood. Mommy's blood! Jensen couldn't move, couldn't take his eyes off the fat drops of blood dripping from the blade like melted butter. He stood frozen in terror, barely noticing the pee streaming down his legs as the figure patted him on the head before walking out of the room.


Chapter One


Small town, USA. Misha shuddered. There was a good reason he chose to live in San Francisco, and it wasn't the glorious weather. He'd bolted from his own home town, the second he'd left high-school and he'd never once regretted it. Even if it had meant sleeping everywhere from hostels to park benches until he'd been able to move into college dorms. Why would anyone want to stay in a dead-end no-where town? A town where everyone knew you, knew your family, your entire life story and probably what you ate for breakfast. The unsettling notion sent chills down Misha's spine.

With a population of around four thousand, the town of Cedar Ridge wasn't the smallest ever, but the way every head in the room had swiveled around to gawk at him when he'd walked through the door of the diner was a fair indication of the kind of close-knit community Misha had entered.

Sitting at the counter sipping at a decidedly mediocre cup of coffee, Misha surreptitiously studied his fellow diners. In a town like this, there was always at least one person that would happily while away their afternoon spilling every piece of gossip and rumor that had ever brightened up their dull life. The trick was being able to spot them. Misha had a pretty good track record at sniffing out the local big-mouth. His day job rather depended on it after all. Dark good looks, laid back charm and a well-rehearsed friendly smile often uncovered juicy tidbits of information that other reporters would kill for. Of course, he'd had his fair share of slapped cheeks and black eyes too. Not everyone appreciated his brand of investigative journalism. He didn't always enjoy it himself. That's why this book was so important to him. If he didn't blow this chance, it could give him the opportunity to tell his editor to stuff his crappy job up his wrinkly ass. The story in this little town could very well be the explosive final chapter in his book on serial killers. Now if only -

"Hey honey, can I get you anything else?"

Automatically flashing the wide smile that never quite reached the cool blue of his eyes, Misha looked at the waitress hovering across the counter from him.

"Well ma'am, some more of your wonderful coffee would be a treat, thank you."

"No problem hun, as long as you don't call me that again. I feel old enough already without a handsome young thing like you calling me ma'am."

After a quick glance at the grubby name tag pinned haphazardly to her pink blouse, Misha winked at the waitress, "I don't believe that for a second, Deb. You can't be a day over twenty-five. I bet plenty of menfolk come by just to see those pretty eyes of yours."

It was always a gamble as to whether such obvious flattery would result in an unamused eye roll or a pleased smile. It looked like Misha's luck was in today.

Deb, who couldn't be a day younger than forty, giggled like a schoolgirl and ran her fingers through the straw-like strands of her bleached blond hair. "Well, that's awful kind of you to say, sweetheart. Is there anything else I can get you? A slice of pie maybe? We sell the best apple pie in the county here, you know."

The stodgy looking slice of apple pie that Misha had spotted her serving up earlier had looked as appetizing as day-old dog food, however when he was on a charm offensive, sacrifices had to be made. "How could I say no to that tempting offer? Some of your apple pie would be great, thanks Deb."

With a pleased smile, Deb busied herself fetching, no-doubt the biggest slice of pie she could lay her hands on. "So hun, what are you doing in our neck of the woods? We don't usually get too many tourists this early in the year."

"Actually, I'm working. I'm doing my PhD, or trying to at least." Misha affected a self-deprecating laugh. At twenty-seven, he could still be finishing off his dissertation, so he hoped the story wouldn't raise any eyebrows.

"You are, huh? That sure sounds exciting. Why would that bring you to a quiet little town like Cedar Ridge?" Misha didn't miss the way the waitress’s eyes took on a slightly wary edge, even if she didn't lose her friendly tone.

"I don't know how exciting anyone else will find it. I'm looking into the history of small town America. Traveling around, talking to folks, researching the history of similar towns. How they grew up, why some are still here and thriving like yours, while others are dying away. I find it all fascinating. You know there's a town real similar to Cedar Ridge a couple of counties away that's all but dead. Most of the businesses there are bust or heading that way. The main street's deserted most of the time and there's more stores boarded up than still in business. All the young people are moving away; soon the place is going to be like a ghost town. I was hoping to talk to some of the older folk here to find out about the history of your town, y'know, figure out what's the secret of Cedar Ridge's success. Maybe talk to some of the younger guys and see why they're happy to stick around instead of heading to the big cities. Maybe it's the apple pie, Deb, this does look delicious." Misha dug into the pie in front of him with enthusiasm and thought, not for the first time, that he should have been an actor.

By the time he'd forced down the last mouthful of dry pastry, his mouth felt as though all the moisture had been sucked from it, but he'd procured the names of a few people that would probably be happy to talk to him and a rough map of the town including directions to the local library.

He swilled the last bitter dregs of his coffee around his mouth before swallowing; deciding that finding somewhere else to eat was definitely high on his list of priorities. He laid down enough cash on the counter to cover his pie and coffee as well as leave a generous tip. "That was delicious, Deb, thank you. Say, I don't suppose you know of somewhere I could stay for a few nights? I did spot a motel a few miles back down the road but I was hoping to find a room a bit more central."

For some reason the wary look appeared back on the waitress's face, but after a lengthy pause she answered. "There's a couple of sweet places that do bed and breakfast and there's the bar down the road I guess. I think it has a couple of rooms up the stairs but..." She hesitated again.

"But what?" Misha nudged, curious.

"No, nothing really." Deb pulled a chewed pencil out from her pocket, twirling it nervously between her fingers. "Just, I'd be careful about asking too many questions there. Some of the regulars won't take too kindly to it."

"Don't worry, Deb; I don't plan on upsetting anyone. How about you tell me where to find those bed and breakfasts."

With a relieved smile, the waitress scribbled down the addresses on a note of paper from her pad and handed it to Misha with a cheerful, 'have a great day, come back real soon.’

The scrap of paper was scrunched into a ball and tossed into the nearest trash can within two minutes. Misha had learned early on in his career as a reporter that if you were told not to go somewhere, then that was the first place to head.


From the outside, 'The Hunter's Retreat' looked similar to most other small town bars - rough around the edges and in dire need of a lick of paint. The inside was clean enough though, and the patrons, while not exactly welcoming, seemed more disinterested than downright unfriendly. He could feel a few glances flicking over him as he walked across to the bar, but he'd certainly had worse receptions.

There was a pretty red-head leaning on the counter reading, dressed casually in a tee-shirt and jeans, colored leather bracelets tangling together around her wrists. She looked more like a young college student than a bartender. As Misha approached, she looked up from her book, pushed her short hair behind her ears and smiled. "Hey there, can I get you a drink?"

"Actually," Misha replied, "I was looking for a room for a couple of nights. Someone in the diner recommended that I try here, said it was the friendliest place in town with the prettiest staff."

That piece of bullshit was met with the contemptuous look it deserved. "Really?" the red-head said dryly, crossing her arms over her chest and looking around the room. "The friendliest place in town? I think you might have gotten lost, dude."

Misha decided to tone-down the charm. This girl was as bright as a button, certainly no Debbie. "Okay," he admitted with a smile. "They said you have a couple of rooms that you rent out."

The bartender looked sceptical. "Well, Sam does have a couple of rooms but they're pretty basic. You sure you wouldn't be more comfortable in one of the bed and breakfasts in town? Or the motel?"

"I'm not really a bed and breakfast kind of guy," Misha said, honestly. "I'm not looking for anything fancy. Basic does me just fine."

"Okay then," she said. "Just let me run it by Sam first, then we'll get you checked in. You want a drink while you're waiting?"

"Sure," Misha nodded. "A Pepsi would be great, thanks, no ice."

"No problem."

The bartender flipped her book shut as Misha hopped up onto a stool. When she turned her back to fetch Misha's drink, he snuck a quick look at the cover, his eyebrows shooting up at the title. "That looks like pretty heavy reading?"

Looking over her shoulder, the girl winked. "It's just a cover for the gay porn hidden inside."

Misha nearly toppled off his barstool. A heated flush blossomed across his cheeks. He couldn't remember the last time anyone made him blush. Oh, he liked this girl.

As soon as she'd set the glass of soda on a mat in front of him, the red-headed bartender disappeared out of sight, presumably to find Sam. Misha guessed that Sam owned the bar. Hopefully he wouldn't have a problem with Misha renting a room for a night or two. You'd think in a town this small he'd be glad of the extra business.

With a guilty look up to check no-one was watching, he quickly flicked through the bartender's book, relieved, but maybe just a little disappointed, to find pages of incomprehensible information about advanced quantum mechanics rather than anything more salacious. Carefully closing the book, he picked up his drink and turned around on his stool. Leaning back against the bar and sipping his soda, he took his chance to properly look around the room.

As you'd expect from a bar christened The Hunter's Retreat, a mounted stag's head held pride of place on the dark wood-paneled wall. Stuffed fish on plaques also decorated the room along with various framed photographs, mainly old black and white ones, of grinning hunters crouching beside dead animals. It wasn't exactly Misha's idea of tasteful decor, but then he'd rather yank out his own teeth than kill a defenseless animal for fun.

The place wasn't what you'd call mobbed, but it was barely four in the afternoon. Two older guys sat together in a booth; newspapers, leaves loose and untidy, lying on a table between them, along with two half-empty glasses of dark beer. They were watching a muted television on the wall, news-headlines scrolling along the bottom of the screen, their eyes glazed in boredom or incomprehension. A pool table in the corner of the room had seen better days; its baize worn in patches and the wood surrounds scuffed with years of use. A middle-aged guy in scruffy jeans and with a baseball cap tugged low over his eyes was working his way through a bowl of fries saturated in ketchup. He was the only other customer in sight.

"So, I hear you're looking for a room?"

Misha turned back around at the sound of a woman's voice from behind the bar, trying not to show that he'd been caught off guard by her silent appearance. "Yes, ma'am, that's right."

One look at the owner of the voice told Misha that laying on the charm would do him no good whatsoever. This woman looked like she could spot a bullshitter from a hundred yards away. She must have been around fifty years old, with gray hairs winding their way through the brown waves spilling down to her shoulders, and fine lines around her eyes and pulling at her lips. She'd probably been a stunner twenty or thirty years ago and even now she likely had her share of admirers. With her mouth down-turned in a firm line, her eyes examined Misha's face like she was searching for even the barest hint of trouble and her fingers itched at her sides. If there was a shotgun concealed under the bar, Misha didn't doubt she knew how to use it.

"The name's Sam, not ma'am. I own this bar, along with my husband Jim. And you are?"

Polite and vaguely friendly thought Misha, weighing up his choice of approach. Show no fear and absolutely no cockiness. "Misha...Misha Collins. It's a pleasure to meet you, Sam."

"Misha, hmm?" For some reason, it seemed that Sam disapproved of his name, her eyes narrowing even further. Misha figured if she knew his original name she'd probably explode. Misha Collins was the name on his driving license and his credit card though, as well as being the only name he'd used in years. If she didn't like it, there wasn't much he could do about it. "You sure don't look like a tourist. You in town on business?" Sam asked.

Misha didn't want to lie, knew that he'd land on his ass outside the door if she saw through him, but then again he'd be tossed out just as quick if he told the truth too.

"Not exactly," he hedged.

"Hmm, what exactly are you doing here then?"

Misha wondered if every poor soul looking for a room received this warm a welcome or whether he appeared particularly suspicious.


Misha was saved from scrabbling to find an acceptable half-truth by the heavy door to the bar crashing open and raised voices. "Jesus Christ, Jensen, how can you be so wasted at this time of the damn day?" A cop with shoulders the width of a professional line-backer, but the youthful face of a college freshman and the shaggy haircut to match, frog-marched a slightly smaller man in through the door. It was the first time that Misha could recall seeing a cop escort a drunk into a bar.

"Practice!" was the slurred reply.

"What's happened now?" Sam asked, instantly forgetting Misha and striding out from behind the bar to where the cop was holding drunken guy up by his shoulders.

"Hey, Sam!" Now that Misha could see his face, he couldn't help but notice that drunk guy also happened to be cute guy.

"Never mind, 'hey, Sam'. Why the hell is Jared dragging your drunken ass home when you're supposed to be at work?"

The only answer Sam received from cute drunk guy was a hiccup and a failed wink. Rolling her eyes, she turned to the cop instead, hands on her hips and molten iron in her tone. "Well?" she demanded.

The deputy flushed, his hands squeezing tight around his inebriated charge's shoulders. He looked more like a shamed-faced school kid caught stealing an apple than a law enforcement officer. "I don't know the details, Sam. Jeff phoned me a while back, said that Jensen here had taken off and I might want to check out the creek and see if he was there, which he was, with a nearly empty bottle of liquor. Christ only knows how he managed to down it so quick. I don't know how he hasn't got alcohol poisoning."

"Practice," the cute, drunk, hiccupping guy - or Jensen as he was apparently known - said with a grin, swaying dangerously despite the grip the cop had on him.

Jared-the-cop and Sam looked about ready to murder the kid. "Don't you smart-mouth me, boy," Sam snapped before turning back to Jared. "Did he say why?"

Misha kind of felt sorry for the cop, which wasn't something he'd ever found himself thinking before. He was trying to hold Jensen up and in place, while Jensen seemed intent on staggering towards the bar. At the same time Sam was grilling him for information and giving him a glare that he could surely arrest her for. "Did who say why what?"

"Jared! Jesus boy, pay attention. You always were a little slow; all that damn football I shouldn't wonder." Misha stared bemused as the cop just stood there and let Sam rip into him. Either she was one scary woman or he was the most pansy-ass cop he'd ever laid eyes on. "Did Jeff say why Jensen took off to the creek?"

Jared's patience with Jensen finally wore out and he pushed him, none too gently, down on to a chair. "Stay," he instructed, pointing his finger at Jensen. Jensen held his hands up in surrender then gave the cop what looked like a boy scout salute. "Yes sir, Deputy Jared, sir. You know," he then said, with an exaggerated pout, "there was a time that you would have helped me drink that tequila, not dragged me home."

That didn't improve the situation. If anything Sam's scowl darkened and Jared just looked suddenly tired, or maybe it was something more. Sad, Misha thought, looking at the cop's drooping shoulders and the flat defeat in his eyes. He just looked damn sad.

"Jensen, there was a time you would have asked me to come with you to the creek, not taken off on your own. Sam..." Jared turned back in her direction. "Call Jeff if you want details. I think Jessica Weatherly had something to do with it. Look, can you handle him from here? I do actually have work to do today. Sheriff Lehne will have my ass for covering up for Jensen again."

"Don't you worry about Fred. You know you're more sheriff these days than that old fool is. He spends more time with his bad leg on his desk and a mug of Irish coffee in his hand than giving a hoot about what goes on in this damn town. What did that little witch Weatherly say to my boy this time..." Misha lost track of Sam and the deputy's conversation as they turned their backs and walked towards the door.

Jensen, spying his chance, lurched to his feet and with a quiet chuckle to himself weaved an erratic path towards Misha and the bar.

"Hey there, stranger. You want to buy me a drink?" Jensen leaned forward unsteadily until he was nearly nose to nose with Misha. He stared at Misha for a beat, then blinked slowly and said, as though announcing a fact of great importance, "You have very blue eyes." Followed swiftly with a lop-sided smile and another, "You want to buy me a drink?"

Jensen, it turned out, was even cuter close up but unfortunately not any more sober. His green eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. His dark blond hair was slicked with sweat and he smelled like a distillery. "I think you've had enough, kid."

"Not a damn kid." Jensen pouted. "I'm twenty freaking three years old and everyone still treats me like a stupid kid."

"I'm guessing that getting wasted in the middle of the day isn't going to help put a stop to that." Neither did pouting, but Misha held back that thought.

"M'not wasted," Jensen said, swiping his hand in front of face as though he was chasing off an invisible fly, and nearly falling over as a result. Misha steadied him with a hand on the small of his back until he was sure that Jensen wasn't in danger of overbalancing.

"No?" Misha said, eyebrow raised.

"No." Jensen shook his head, slow and deliberate. "Not drunk. Just...happy."

"You don't look happy," Misha said, noticing how darkly the kid's freckles stood out against his fair skin. Wondered distantly how the sun could deepen his freckles and leave his complexion underneath so delicately pale.

"How do I look?" Jensen asked, licking his lips and tilting his head in a way that Misha might have taken as flirting in other circumstances.

"You look -” Misha hesitated. The young man swaying in front of him looked - lonely, lost, vulnerable. "You look as though you need a tall glass of water and a lie down," was what Misha settled for.

"That sounds like a good idea," Sam said, appearing at Jensen's back. "Come on, let’s get you upstairs and in to bed. You can sleep this off, and then you're going to have to apologize to Jeff and make sure you still have a job to go to tomorrow."

Jensen's almost playful mood disappeared right in front of Misha's eyes. His face crumpled and Misha could almost reach out and touch the melancholy settling over him. "I'm sorry, Sam. Fucked up again, didn't I? It's all I do, isn't it? Fuck everything up. I wish...I wish..."

"Hush, boy," Sam said, her voice unexpectedly gentle, the iron from earlier cushioned by layers of soft velvet. She ran her fingers tenderly through Jensen's messy spikes. "Don't you speak like that, you hear me? There's nothing wrong with you that a good sleep won't fix."

Listening to the exchange felt very much like eavesdropping. And as much as Misha's job usually depended on intruding into other people's lives, it felt wrong witnessing this private moment. He twisted away on his stool, took a sip from his glass and averted his eyes from Sam brushing a lone tear from Jensen's cheek. To Misha's relief, Jensen quickly gave up his quest for more liquor and allowed Sam to lead him through a door presumably to somewhere he could sleep. The red-headed bartender had reappeared behind the bar while the drama had been unfolding, and Misha was surprised and grateful when Sam called back to her just as she was leaving. "Felicia, check Mr. Collins in please."

The red-head quirked an eyebrow in surprise. "It seems you got the boss's seal of approval."

Misha shrugged, as puzzled as she seemed to be. "Well, I'm not sure why, but I'm not complaining. So...Felicia? Can I get that room now?"

"Yes I guess so. And yes, it's Felicia. And you are?"

"Misha…Misha Collins."

Felicia checked him in quickly and efficiently, not blinking twice at the San Francisco home address he gave her and not questioning the fact that he didn't know how long he was staying in town for. Misha finished off his drink while she processed his credit card details, took the key (an actual damn key instead of a keycard - happy days) and listened as she gave him the simple directions to find his room.

"So," Misha said, setting his empty glass back down on a mat. "That guy...Jensen? He lives here?"

Felicia paused, chewed on her thumbnail before replying. "He...yeah, Jensen has a room here."

Misha didn't want to push too hard too soon, but he figured after what he'd just seen curiosity wouldn't be out of place. "He's Sam's kid?"

Crossing her arms over her chest, right over the Batman logo on her top, Felicia took a clear and telling step backwards, hesitating so long before she replied that Misha had about given up on getting an answer. "He', not really, but he doesn't have family around and Sam...well, her and Jim, they look out for Jensen."

Not wanting to spook Felicia, Misha smiled, innocuously he hoped, and picked the room key up from the counter. "That's the great thing about small towns, I guess. Everyone looks out for each other." With a swift change of subject he said, "I just need to grab my duffle bag from my car before I head up to the room."

Felicia visibly relaxed and seized the opening to explain how Misha could get access to his room through a back entrance rather than having to walk through the bar again.

Heading back out to his car, Misha wondered how many Jensens there could possibly be in the town of Cedar Ridge. It was likely, he thought, that he'd just stumbled across the reason he'd come here. Jensen Ackles, the son of the last victim of the Slate County Slasher and the only person to have laid eyes on the uncaught killer, was drunk off his ass and sleeping under the same roof as Misha. Looked like Misha's luck had changed, for the better for once.


Chapter Two


A restless night saw Misha waking early. It was barely six, but with a pale column of sunlight already squeezing through the gap in the floral curtains and a gang of birds squabbling right outside his window, he knew that attempting to fall back to sleep was liable to prove an exercise in futility. He hauled himself out of bed, stretched the dull ache out of his shoulders and, with eyes more closed than open, stumbled across the hallway to the shared guest bathroom. After pissing and brushing his teeth, he threw some cold water on his face, barely glancing at his reflection in the mirror in order to more easily ignore the lazy growth of stubble spreading across his face and the messy tangle of dark hair that was weeks overdue for a trim, then he slipped back into his room.

He rummaged through his unpacked bag looking for his running gear; the AC/DC tee-shirt from his college days was worn nearly see-through and his yellow shorts were faded with years’ worth of laundering. Considering how shockingly bright they were to start with, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. They had been a bargain though which at the time had been essential. Now both items were washed soft and comfortable and Misha saw no point in replacing them. His running shoes, unlike his clothes, were nearly new and in good condition. He ran too often to risk fucking up his knees and feet with crappy footwear.

Ensuring that he'd picked up his door key, Misha crept through the silent building and out through the back exit. Tipping up his face towards the hazy morning sun, he inhaled deeply, savoring the crisp clean air. It was a glorious morning, perfect for a run. That was Misha's escape - running. He loved it, loved the peace and the solitude, loved the way he could hear his heart pounding and feel the tension slide from his shoulders as his feet beat out a steady rhythm on the sidewalk. It was the closest thing Misha had to a religion.

It was also pretty damn convenient in this kind of situation. When he was chasing a story, running gave him a convenient excuse to snoop around an area without raising too much suspicion.

Last night, he'd hung around the bar for a couple of hours, ordered some food and watched as more customers gradually trickled through the door. Sam hadn't reappeared in the bar while Misha was there, presumably too busy dealing with Ackles. If that was who the kid was. It made sense; right name, right age and, from the old newspaper photos that Misha had seen, his mother's green eyes. Felicia had finished her shift and taken off by the time Misha swallowed his last bite of burger. Her replacement had been slightly less pretty and infinitely less friendly. Even toward the locals. The young guy looked like a cross between a brooding cowboy and an unfriendly pit bull, with a tendency of growling at anyone he didn't like the look of. Any attempt to extract gossip from him would have been a dangerous waste of Misha's time.

Misha had to content himself with sitting unobtrusively at the end of the counter, sipping his soda and listening to the conversations unfolding around him. That was how he heard about Redmill Creek. The same creek, he presumed, that the cop had dragged drunk-Jensen away from that afternoon. Misha wasn't sure how useful visiting it could be, but it was only a few miles out of town and as good a place as any to head towards on his run.

Despite the coolness of the morning, sweat was dripping down Misha's temples by the time he crested the brow of the hill outside of town and spotted the wide wooden bridge spanning the creek. As his feet ate up the distance, an old pick-up truck parked on the scrub by the side of the road came into clear view. If not for the figure leaning against it, Misha might have thought that the truck had been abandoned. With its peeling paintwork and the rust eating away at its body, it looked as though it was on its last legs.

As he neared the truck, Misha slowed his pace until he was virtually walking. He lifted up the front of his tee-shirt to mop the sweat dripping down his face as he approached the now recognizable figure.

"Hi there," Misha called, scarcely believing his luck.

"Hey!" Jensen replied, licking his lips, his gaze slowly drifting up Misha's body until their eyes finally met.

"Jensen, right?" Misha doubted that Jensen would remember their brief meeting in the bar the day before, but didn't see the point in pretending he didn't know who Jensen was.

"Yeah," Jensen replied, pinching off the burning tip of the cigarette that he held in his hand before flicking it on the ground and crushing it under his sturdy leather boots. "I'm sorry, man. Do I know you? You look kind of familiar, but-"

Misha stopped a few steps away from Jensen and tried for his friendliest and most harmless smile, wiping his palm on the seat of his shorts before offering it up for a handshake. "It's fine, no worries. I'm Misha, Misha Collins. I was...well, I was in the bar yesterday when you...anyway, I'm staying in town for a few days. At the bar actually, so I thought I'd..."

"Shit, I'm sorry, man." Jensen took Misha's proffered hand, shaking it briefly before pulling away and rubbing the back of his neck. "Yesterday was...was not a good day. I don't really remember that much. You must think I'm a fucking idiot."

"Hey, don't worry about it," Misha said, brushing off Jensen's obvious embarrassment. "We all do stupid shit sometimes."

"Yeah." Jensen finally returned his smile, one that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Some of us more than others though."

"You must have had a crappy day, huh?"

"Yeah, seems like I have nothing but crappy days right now," Jensen admitted, and there was something there in his voice, something lost and forlorn that made Misha hesitate for just a moment.

"You know if you want, never mind." Misha's normal self-assurance faltered. This was his perfect way in. 'Sometimes it's easier to talk to a stranger. I won't judge you, man. Maybe I can help.' How many times had Misha repeated those words to an unwary mark, only to record every word spoken to him in confidence. To splash them across the pages of a newspaper in another sensationalized story. He didn't even remember the names of all the people whose secrets he'd exposed. Or, maybe more accurately, he didn't want to remember them.

"If I want to...?" Jensen prodded, unaware of Misha's sudden flash of conscience.

"Talk," Misha finally said, falling back into professional mode, determinedly ignoring the unease churning in his guts. "If you needed someone to talk to. It's easier to talk to a stranger sometimes, but shit; you really don't know anything about me, man. You probably think I'm some kind of wierdo."

"No, no, I don't," Jensen said quickly, shaking his head, his smile smaller now but more genuine. "I mean the shorts are a bit out there, but the tee-shirt's pretty cool. If you're into classic rock, you can't be all bad."

"Hey! What's wrong with my shorts?" Misha looked down at the offending article as though the problem wasn’t blatantly obvious.

"They're yellow. Very yellow."

Misha laughed. "You should have seen them when they were new. You couldn't look directly at them without wearing shades."

"You ever consider buying a new pair?"

"Never! These shorts are stylish, my friend. You obviously just don't recognize a thing of beauty when you see it."

"I wouldn't say that exactly." Jensen's eyes flickered down Misha's body in an unmistakable show of appreciation.

Misha smirked. After last night, he'd thought the other man was interested in him, now there was no doubt in his mind. Befriending Jensen had just become a whole lot easier. Before he could capitalize on his discovery though, the rumble of a dusty black station wagon approaching interrupted their conversation.

"Oh, shit!" Jensen said, ramming his hand in his pocket and yanking out a half-crushed packet of cigarettes, fumbling one out and rolling it between his fingers nervously.

"Everything okay?" Misha asked.

"Yeah, yeah...just my boss, Jeff," Jensen mumbled, popping the cigarette between his lips and rummaging in his pocket again until he found a lighter.

"Your boss?" Misha said, then remembered the conversation in the bar last night. "Oh right. He pissed at you?"

"Guess I'm about to find out." Jensen lit his cigarette with a shaking hand on the second attempt and took a long draw of nicotine into his lungs before puffing out a cloud of smoke that Misha nearly choked on. "Sorry, man," Jensen said when Misha barked out a cough behind his hand. "It's a fucking awful habit I know."

"Put that damn smoke out, boy!" The car had ground to a halt at the side of the bridge. The guy that climbed out was maybe mid-forties, solidly built and had a scowl on his face that would turn fresh milk sour. "You wasting another day out here or are you planning on actually doing the job I pay you for?" he yelled down.

"I said I was sorry, Jeff," Jensen yelled back, nipping the flared tip off his un-smoked cigarette and slipping the remains back in the packet with a sigh.

"You don't know what you said, Jensen. You were still three sheets to the wind when you called me. Sam probably dialed my number and put the phone in your hand."

Jensen shoved the packet of cigarettes back into his jacket pocket, his shoulders hunched and the spark in his eyes draining away. "You know I'm sorry. I'll make up all the time, I swear."

"Yeah, you will. Now get your ass in that heap of junk you call a truck and get to the store before I forget why I hired you in the first place."

The man, Jeff, threw himself back behind the wheel of his car and slammed the door behind him.

"Wow, he always that charming?" Misha said, staring after the rear-end of the departing station wagon.

With a shrug of his shoulders Jensen walked around to the driver's side of his truck. "Jeff's cool. I don't blame him for being mad. I fucked up pretty bad yesterday; let him down."

"Still," Misha said, following a step or two behind Jensen, not happy about letting him drive away quite so soon. "You apologized."

"Yeah. It's not exactly the first time that I've screwed up, though. One of these days an apology isn't going to cut it. There's plenty of other people out there looking for a job and, chances are, they'd cause him a lot less hassle than me." The door of the trucked opened grudgingly with a grating squeal. Misha winced but Jensen didn't seem to notice the irritating screech, suggesting he'd become immune to it. "You want a ride back into town?"

Misha considered the offer carefully. He wanted to spend a lot more time with Jensen, for more than one reason, but he didn't want to come on too strong either. It was a dangerous balancing act and if he fucked up, he was going to ruin months’ worth of research. "No thanks, man. I'm going to finish my run before my muscles stiffen up."

"Okay, no problem. I'll maybe see you around then, Misha Collins."

It might have been a trick of the light or possibly wishful thinking, but Misha thought that Jensen seemed disappointed. He hoped so. It made the next part of his plan more likely to succeed. "Hey, Jensen? Is there anywhere in town to get a decent coffee. I had one at the diner on Main Street yesterday but..."

Jensen screwed his face up as though Misha had just admitted to voluntarily drinking dishwater. "Not Betty's place! Their coffee tastes like burnt cat-piss and their pie...tell me you didn't have the pie?"

The expression on Misha's face must have said it all. Jensen shook his head sadly in commiseration. "I'm sorry you had to go through that hell. The pie in that place should come with a health warning. The best place in town, or favorite Danni's Coffee House." Jensen scrabbled around in his truck searching for something. Finally laying his hands on an old napkin and a pencil, he scrawled down an address and handed it to Misha. "That's where it is. It's not too hard to find but it's not on the main street. Her coffee is excellent and her, you really need to try the pie."

Misha couldn't help but smile at the excitement in Jensen's tone. "Thanks, Jensen. You know, if you wanted, you could maybe join me for some coffee and pie later. I mean, Jeff's gonna let you have a break at some point, isn't he?"

"Shit, Jeff!" Jensen's good humor evaporated as quickly as it had arrived. "I'd better haul ass. I'd love to grab some pie with you, Misha. I really would, but I doubt I'll get a chance to today. I'll catch up with you later though, yeah?"

Jensen pulled away with a curt wave and sheepish smile without even giving Misha a chance to reply; the truck kicking up mud and grass as it coughed to life and struggled to make its way back up to the road.


As it turned out, Misha didn't manage to catch up with Jensen until quite a bit later. It wasn't until the following evening when he was sitting at the bar chatting to Felicia over his bottle of soda that Jensen hopped onto the empty bar stool beside him.

Misha tried to keep his face neutral. Finished his sentence before turning his head and saying hello; feigning casual welcome rather than showing just how relieved he was that Jensen had sought him out.

Since he'd last spoken to Jensen, Misha had done his research. As much research as possible without getting turfed out of the town, at least. Small towns were an absolute goldmine for reporters. The pure wealth of gossip was astonishing. As was the number of people willing to bitch loudly and in public about other people's personal lives. It made Misha thankful once again that he lived in a city where no-one gave a shit if he never went to church or mowed his lawn (not that he had one, but apparently Mr. Spinnakers lawn was an overgrown disgrace, for which he ought to be publicly flogged) or that he mostly preferred sleeping with guys instead of women. If untidy lawns were a floggable offense in the mind of the old codger sitting bellyaching at the counter, Misha dreaded to think what kind of punishment he thought the sin of homosexuality deserved.

Despite discovering that Jensen was indeed right about Danni's Coffee House selling the best coffee in town, Misha had continued suffering the sub-standard fare offered by Betty's Diner for one simple reason. While Danni's was a bright modern coffeehouse that had free Wi-Fi, friendly young wait staff and delicious food, people generally bought coffee to go or sat in front of their laptops or phones. The customers who did sit around chatting were mostly teenagers or young couples. In other words, not the type of people keen to while away their time yapping to Misha.

The diner, on the other hand, was the natural habitat of every bored and lonely senior citizen in town. Including Maisie Brannigan who single-handedly ran the town's historic society. She alone was worth putting himself through the torture of having tea - insipid but marginally better than the coffee - and whatever sandwich seemed least likely to contain salmonella bacteria.

Misha hadn't even had to find the remarkable Maisie himself. Debbie, the waitress had been responsible, totally redeeming herself for her god-awful pie. He'd hardly been in the diner for twenty minutes the following day when Mrs. Maisie Brannigan had wandered through the door, felt hat at a rakish angle, wearing gray leather gloves despite the mild temperatures, and carrying a purse the size of a small suitcase with knitting needles and a purple ball of wool sticking out of the top. After just a few words and a nod in Misha's direction from Debbie, Maisie was bearing down on him with the intensity and speed of an Exocet missile. Old she may have been, slow witted or shy she was not.

Misha did have to sit and write notes through nearly two never-ending hours of Maisie's ramblings about the origin of the town and its unbelievably boring early days when the main industry had been making bicycle pumps. Misha had struggled to look interested in that for longer than four minutes. Finally though, Misha had managed to work the conversation around towards the town's more recent history, and while Maisie enjoyed talking about dry historical facts, dates and figures tripping from her tongue as easily as the names of her nine grandchildren, she also loved to gossip.

The subject of the most notorious moment in the town's recent history was brought up by Maisie herself. She'd spoken through a white lacy handkerchief that she'd pulled from her pocket as dramatically as any magician, dabbing at her bone-dry eyes as she regaled Misha with the tale of the horrific murder of Helen Ackles. Faking complete ignorance hadn't been too hard, and despite the apparent threat of tears, Maisie had described with surprisingly ghoulish relish the details of the murder. Including how poor little Jensen Ackles had been found curled into the side of his mother's stone cold dead body, saturated in blood and all but catatonic.

She went on to explain that the local police had suspected and arrested Jensen's father, George, for his wife's murder but released him when they had eventually linked the killing to another three recent, gruesome homicides in the neighboring county of Slate. Maisie had been unimpressed by George Ackles’ subsequent behavior, labeling him a drunken layabout whom nobody, other than Jensen, had wasted any time worrying over when he'd disappeared about ten years back. The murderer, she'd said in hushed tones, looking around furtively as if he might be standing behind her, had apparently never struck again and never been caught. The police, she'd heard, theorized that he'd been jailed somewhere else for another offense, or possibly he'd died, or maybe even he'd left the country and was still committing similarly horrible murders in foreign climes. Misha had nodded, mouth open in awe as though he hadn't already come to the same conclusion himself.

Maisie hadn't reigned herself back in until after she'd passed on the juicy gossip that Jensen still lived in town with the Beavers who'd taken him in after his father had taken off - lovely couple, salt of the earth - and that he was gay - such a shame, nice looking boy like him, still...finding your mother dead like that was bound to mess with the poor boy's wits. Misha had nodded and bitten back the laughter bubbling in his chest; it was the strangest reason he'd heard yet to explain anyone's sexual preferences. Misha knew the moment that Maisie had realized how far she'd strayed from her original subject, saw the flicker of doubt in her face and the way her eyes jumped to the people around them, looking to see if they'd overheard her loose tongue spilling the town's secrets.

With practiced ease, Misha distracted her, changing the subject, asking her about the town's museum and census records. He'd chatted with her for at least another twenty minutes, enough time for her to push the fact that she'd pretty much told Misha Jensen's life story to the back of her mind. Later, hopefully, she'd remember that the last thing she'd told him would be the legend of the ghostly mail train that could be heard on silent nights in the disused railway station.


So, by the time that Jensen had climbed onto the barstool at Misha's side, Misha knew for sure that the young man was indeed Jensen Ackles, son of the poor departed Helen Ackles. And man, did Misha want to delve inside his pretty head and dig out the story that would turn his book from a bargain-bin sell off into a blockbuster.

"Hi, Felicia, can I get a beer please?" Jensen said. "Misha?" he added, almost shyly. "Can I buy you a drink?"

Before Misha could answer, Samantha Beaver strode into the bar carrying a crate of bottles like it weighed nothing more than a bag of chips. "Jensen! Jeff's finally forgiven you, then?"

"I don't know. I think he just ran out of chores for me to do."

Setting the crate down, Sam wiped her hands on the white apron tied around her waist and reached across the bar, patting Jensen on the cheek. "Well, it ain't like you didn't deserve it, boy. Have you eaten anything lately?"

"Sure, I have."

Sam tipped her head to the side and pursed her lips. "Uhuh? You know coffee ain't food."

Jensen shifted uncomfortably on his stool, his eyes flicking to Misha at his side before he answered. "I'm not a kid, Sam. I can look after myself you know."

"Well, you sure ain't going out of your way to prove that, are you honey?" Sam replied, looking less than impressed. "You stay right there and I'll bring you out a plate. Mr. Collins, are you having one of our burgers again this evening?"

Misha hadn't realized he was that predictable, but he did have a weakness for a good burger, and Sam's were the best he'd tasted for quite some time. And, he reasoned, if he and Jensen were both eating, it would give him more of a reason to hang around. "That would be great thanks," Misha answered, with a nod and his usual wide smile. Sam still didn't appear overly fond of him. There was always a hint of suspicion clouding her expression when she looked at him. He was a paying customer though, and she was a canny businesswoman, so she was never anything other than perfectly polite.

"Sure thing," she replied, bustling back out of the bar again.

"She grills a mean burger, huh?" Jensen said, nodding at the door that Sam had just disappeared through.

"Some of the best I've ever tasted," Misha agreed.

"She is an awesome cook." Jensen picked up the bottle of Budweiser that Felicia had set down on a mat in front of him. "Almost makes up for her nagging."

"She just cares, man." There was a fine line for Misha to walk, judging how much he could admit to knowing about Jensen, and this was a tenuous time; Jensen liked him for sure, but he'd be an idiot to trust him. Changing the subject was Misha's best bet.

"So Jeff's been working you pretty hard?"

Jensen picked absentmindedly at the label of his beer bottle, tilted his lips in a wry smile. "It could have been worse; at least he didn't fire me."

"So what is it you and Jeff do?" Misha asked, one question he didn't already know the answer to.

Jensen rubbed the back of his neck. Something Misha had noticed him to do before; probably a nervous tick. "Jeff is a carpenter, a furniture maker really. He owns his own business and I, well I do whatever he wants me to do. All the grunt work mainly. But it's a job, you know, and I like it. Jeff's cool, usually. He teaches me stuff and...well, it's not like there are many other jobs for a high school drop out."

"You must be good with your hands then," Misha commented, making Jensen laugh.

"Better with my hands than my brain, anyway."

The guy had some significant self-esteem issues.

"Hey, Jen." Misha's eyebrows nearly shot into his hairline as the bartender from the other night appeared at Jensen's shoulder. The guy that didn't break a smile once when he was standing behind the bar noogied the top of Jensen's head then slapped him on the back.

"Chris," Jensen scowled, flattening down his hair. "Watch the hair."

"Sorry, Jen." Chris snagged a peanut from the bowl sitting on the counter in front of Jensen, throwing it up in the air and catching in his mouth; the shit-eating grin he had on his face while he chewed it making him look anything but sorry. "You okay? I heard you took a trip out to the creek the other day."

"You heard did you?" Jensen's scowl deepened.

"Well, Sam was spooning your drunken ass into bed when my shift started, so yeah, I heard. Jim said you'd had words with Jessica and Michael. What did dumb and dumber say this time?"

"Nothing," Jensen brushed him off, glancing at Misha. Eyes skating over Misha for the first time, Chris nodded in his direction. It wasn't exactly friendly, but he didn’t look like he wanted to gut him either, so Misha figured the guy might warm up to him eventually.

"Okay," Chris said, patting Jensen on the back again. "I get it; you don't want to talk in front of your new friend here, but next time you decide to take a bottle of liquor out to the creek, call me first and I'll keep you company."

"Sorry about him," Jensen said to Misha as Chris took off as quickly as he'd appeared. Misha watched Chris from the corner of his eye; he only went as far as the old pool table in the corner, setting his money down on the side before sitting on a stool, openly staring in Misha and Jensen's direction.

"He a friend of yours?" Misha asked.

Jensen nodded, took a sip of his beer before answering. "Yeah, Chris and I go way back. He was an annoying jerk when we were kids too."

"It must be nice," Misha said, fidgeting with the empty bottle of Pepsi in his hands. "Growing up in a small town like this. Knowing everyone, everyone knowing you?"

"It does have its drawbacks. Oh, man, I'm sorry I never bought you a drink. Hey Felicia, can we get a drink here, please?" Jensen lifted his finger, attracting the attention of Felicia who was standing and talking at the other end of the bar.

"What can I get for you gents. Well, gent and Jensen." Felicia winked in Jensen's direction.

"Another Pepsi would be good, thanks," Misha replied.

"You don't drink?" Jensen asked, as Felicia fetched his drink. As soon as he said it, he must have thought better of the question, apologizing quickly. "I'm sorry, that was rude. Ignore me, it's none of my business."

"It's okay, man," Misha quickly assured him, not wanting Jensen to feel awkward. "I don't mind. No, I don't drink."

Jensen tipped his own bottle up. "My drinking doesn't bother you though, right? I mean you wouldn't sit in a bar if other people drinking-"

"No, god no," Misha rushed to clarify. "I'm not a reformed alcoholic or anything. I just..." At this point, for once in his life, Misha found himself telling the truth. He hadn't planned on it; the words simply flowed as if he had no control over them. "My dad used to drink...a lot, and he smoked and he...well, I just decided, a while back, that I didn't want to turn out like him. So I don't drink and I don't smoke."

"That’s...well, I get that, man." Jensen laid his hand on top of Misha's just for a second before Felicia appeared, twisting the cap off a chilled bottle of Pepsi, breaking the brief moment between them.


Misha's confession, unplanned as it was, broke the last of the ice between them. Two hours later, both having successfully polished off plates piled high with burgers, fries and onion rings, they were sitting side by side in a dimly lit booth in the corner of the room, bumping shoulders and laughing at each other's stupid jokes like they'd been friends for years. To Misha's surprise, he wasn't even faking it. He genuinely felt at ease talking to Jensen. Felt like he was talking to a friend.

A few people drifted by, chatting briefly before leaving them on their own again. Among them, Chris who bought them both drinks, and Jensen's boss, Jeff, who after a couple of drinks and with his pretty wife at his side seemed like a totally different guy from the grouchy dick that had yelled at Jensen the morning before. Jared the cop had stopped and introduced himself and his girlfriend, Genevieve, to Misha. Jensen tensed perceptibly when Jared first appeared, but after it became clear that the deputy didn't plan on mentioning Jensen's recent brush with the law, he relaxed again, teasing Jared about some football result that meant nothing to Misha. A little later, an older guy, his beard more gray than brown and remaining hair thinning where it was combed across his balding head, came through the door. Obviously he was well known; most people shouted out greetings as he made his way across the room. Despite his age, he had no difficulties in powering himself through the bar in his wheelchair and Misha could see the thick muscles in his arms through his sweatshirt.

The guy turned out to be Jim. Sam's husband, and according to Jensen the closest thing to a father he had. Misha hadn't pushed when Jensen mentioned his own father, it wasn't the time. Beside, Misha was relaxed, enjoying himself for a change, and with the way that Jensen's ankle kept tangling around Misha's and his fingers occasionally brushed against Misha's thigh, he hoped that the night might end up with them knowing each other a whole lot better.

It was pushing eleven o'clock. Jensen finished up the last of his beer, tipping his head back and sucking the last drips from the bottle. Misha watched intently as Jensen's cheeks hollowed, his throat bobbing as he worked the bottle dry. Dropping the lucky bottle on the table, Jensen licked his lips and smirked knowingly at Misha. "I'm going outside for a smoke before I head up to bed."

"Oh, right...sure," Misha swallowed, unable to take his eyes away from Jensen's red lips shining with the last drop of beer. He hoped that there was an invitation somewhere in that statement. His jeans were feeling pretty uncomfortable thanks to Jensen's teasing touches.

"You're in room number three, right?" Jensen said, standing up and squeezing past Misha in the booth, his crotch closer to Misha's face than entirely appropriate.

"Yeah, yeah, I am," Misha confirmed, trying to drag his eyes from the bulge pressing against Jensen's zipper up to his eyes.

"You want me to meet you up there?" Jensen dipped his head down, speaking in Misha's ear, letting his tongue flick out and tease the lobe while he waited on Misha's answer.

Misha couldn't suppress a shiver. "God, yes," he replied, his voice so rough he barely recognized it himself.

"Awesome," Jensen whispered, biting the shell of Misha's ear hard enough for Misha to wince and for his cock to jerk in his jeans.

Jensen left him just like that, hard and breathless. Misha wanted to run from the bar, stripping his clothes as he went so he'd be naked and waiting for Jensen when he turned up in his room. He didn't dare move though, not until he got himself under control.

Just as he decided that he was calm and presentable enough to move, he found himself pinned in to the booth and going nowhere. Chris sitting down at his side, so close that Misha shuffled up the seat to avoid being sat on, and Jared sitting across from him.

"I don't know who you are," Jared said, his boyish grin nowhere to be seen. "And I don't know what you're doing in town, but I'm warning you, don't fuck with Jensen."

"Don’t fuck with him or don't fuck him?" It was a stupid reaction but Misha couldn't help it. He didn't respond well to threats. Especially not threats from cops.

He thought Chris was going to punch him for a split second, but his fist thumped down on the table dangerously close to Misha's hand instead. "Hurt him and I will fucking kill you," he growled.

"Did you hear that, officer?" Misha looked Jared straight in the eye, refusing to be intimidated. "Pretty sure your friend here just threatened my life. Are you going to arrest him?"

"Fucking smart ass," Chris spat from beside him, and Misha could feel the man's muscles tense, pent up aggression building and ready to explode.

"Relax, Chris." Jared shot the man a reproving glance before focusing on Misha again. "This is just a friendly warning. Jensen is our friend. He's a-"

"Grown man," Misha supplied. "Who can make his own decisions. If you're his friends, I'd have thought that you'd trust his judgment. I doubt he appreciates his supposed friends treating him like a kid."

Chris bristled at his side, hands bunching up into fists. Jared didn't say anything but his eyes strayed across to the door that Jensen had left through.

"You're right," Jared finally admitted. "He wouldn't be happy. But, Jensen doesn't always make the best judgment calls. He needs someone to look out for him."

"Yeah," Misha snorted. "Considering he was so drunk that he could barely stand up the first time I saw him, I wouldn’t say that you two are doing a bang up job there." He rushed on, refusing to let Chris or Jared defend themselves. "Jensen's a big boy. I'm not planning on hurting him, but if he wants to have some fun then I sure as hell won't turn him down."

Bracing himself, Misha dug his elbow into Chris's side, not hard enough to really hurt, but enough to catch him off guard allowing Misha to shove him out of the way. He turned back to the two guys scowling furiously at him. "Listen, I appreciate you're just trying to protect your friend, but seriously, there's no need. I'm not in town for long; I'll be gone before you know it and you can have your friend all back to yourselves." He should have stopped there. Should have left it well alone, but that wasn't in Misha's nature. "If you ask me, though, he'd be better off without you. Better off getting out of this town where everybody supposedly cares about him because as far as I can see, none of you are really helping him."

"What the fuck do you know about it?" Chris jumped to his feet, pushing into Misha's space. Misha could look after himself, and Chris wasn't the biggest guy in the world, but there was something in his intensity that made the hair on the back of Misha's neck prick up. He took a step back lowering his voice in attempt not to garner the attention of everyone in the room. He didn't want to make a scene in the bar, not when he was the outsider and likely to come off worst. "Nothing, man. Absolutely nothing. Forget it."

Misha turned his back on Chris and made to walk away towards the exit that would take him up to his room. Chris's pinching grip on his arm stopped him in his tracks. "Fuck you," Chris hissed in his ear. "You think you can stroll in here and just know what's going on. You know jack shit about Jensen, about this town, about what the fuck is going on here. I would do anything for that boy, anything. So would Jared. You don't even know him. You're going to screw him then disappear? Fine. Just don't fuck him up any more than he already is because I will find you and I will goddamn end you."

Shaking his arm free, Misha walked from the bar as casually as he could while his heart was thundering in his ears. He'd received threats before, plenty of them, but none quite as heartfelt.


Misha didn't breathe easy until he'd let himself into his room and locked the door behind him, leaning with his back against it, trying to force himself to relax. The sharp rap on the wood behind his head sent his pulse rocketing again until he remembered that he was expecting a visitor.

He cracked the door open cautiously, checking that it was Jensen on the other side.

"You all right, man?" Jensen asked, stripping off his leather jacket as he walked past, dumping it on Misha's bed.

"Fine,” said Misha, safely locking the door again. "Your friends are certainly protective."

"Shit," Jensen said, shaking his head. "Jared and Chris?"

Misha nodded, still standing with his back against the door, arms crossed defensively against his chest. He couldn't help feeling a bit pissed at Jensen even though he knew rationally it wasn't Jensen's fault his overbearing friends had come on heavy.

"Sorry, Misha. They're just, well...they're assholes, but they're harmless."

"Really?" Misha doubted that harmless was an apt description of mad munchkin Chris and Jared the seven-foot-tall cop.

"Really. Don't worry about them, honestly. I'll tell them to back the fuck off." Jensen walked, or more accurately Misha thought watching the sway of his hips, prowled across to Misha, not stopping until Misha could feel the warmth of his breath against his cheek. "Do you really want to think about them right now, anyway?"

Hands dropping and finding a natural home spanning Jensen's narrow hips, Misha wasn't sure whether he was trying to hold Jensen back or draw him even closer. "Jensen, maybe we shouldn't...uhh." His sentence faded into a groan as Jensen's tongue licked a stripe up the side of Misha's neck, not stopping until he was nuzzling behind Misha's ear. A spot that until now, Misha had never considered to be in direct communication with his dick.

"I'm a big boy, Misha. Not a scared little virgin, no matter what anyone thinks." Jensen pressed firm kisses in a winding path from Misha's ear, down his throat, back up and across the rough stubble of his jaw until he found his target; latching onto Misha's lips with a little moan that was so goddamn hot Misha couldn't help from grabbing Jensen's ass and hauling him in tight. "Unless" —Jensen gasped into Misha's mouth—"you want me to be."

Misha pushed Jensen back towards his bed, nearly sending them both tumbling to the floor as their feet tangled together. "Just want you to be you," he said, scrambling to unbutton Jensen's button-down.

He didn't stop to think about the hypocrisy of those words as he and Jensen wrestled each other's tops off, dropping onto Misha's bed which groaned under the sudden weight. Jensen pushed Misha onto his back, draping himself over him so they were face to face, their denim covered erections straining against each other. They kissed like it was a competition. Who could steal the other's breath first. Who could extract the sweetest sounds. Misha's lips burned as Jensen sucked and bit at them. He couldn't keep his hands still, running them continually over the smooth skin of Jensen's back, feeling the knobby ridge of his spine and every jut and dip of his ribs.

"Want to blow you," Jensen mumbled against the underside of Misha's jaw. "Can I? Can I suck you?"

"Oh god, fuck." Misha groaned incoherently as Jensen's fingers trailed down his chest and stomach, dipping into his navel before drumming torturously against Misha's zipper. "Yes, yes, whatever you want."

Misha brushed his fingers through Jensen's hair as Jensen unbuckled Misha's belt, popped open the button of his jeans then - so slowly that Misha invented several new curses - dragged down his zipper. He mouthed at Misha's cock through the thin cotton of his boxer shorts until the material was dark and sodden before tugging them and Misha's jeans down around his knees.

Jensen sucked cock like it was his passion in life. He groaned as loudly as Misha as he teased Misha's dick with his tongue, licking around the head and pressing wet kisses from his balls to the tip and back again, over and over until his dick was dripping with spit and jerking in frustration. Misha's grip on the silken strands of Jensen's hair tightened when Jensen finally took his dick into his mouth, slowly, inch by inch until both of them were unable to breathe. Then Jensen hollowed his cheeks and sucked, and Misha nearly developed a hernia with the effort it took not to buck forward and choke Jensen completely. The noises that Jensen coaxed from Misha with his skilled mouth verged on inhuman. With Misha's balls cradled in his hand and his mouth working up and down Misha's cock, sucking and licking in perfect rhythm, Jensen nearly drove him out of his mind. Misha'd had his fair share of blow-jobs but no-one had ever lavished this much time and attention on him before; bringing him to the edge, tugging on his balls to stop him from falling over the precipice then swallowing him down again and moaning as though his cock tasted like goddamn chocolate. It was intoxicating. Jensen was intoxicating. His green eyes glistened wetly as he stared up Misha while his lips sunk down to the base of his cock again and Misha wanted the moment to last forever almost as much as he wanted to come.

With one hand, Jensen unbuckled his jeans, freeing his own cock, never letting up his assault on Misha's body or his sanity. Moaning around Misha's cock he jerked himself off with an urgent, almost brutal stroke and finally...fucking finally...let Misha come, spilling down his throat in long hot bursts. Jensen came over his own hand at almost the same time. He held Misha in his mouth until the last buzz of his orgasm faded away then rolled onto his back, half-way down the bed and heaved in a deep lungful of air.

"Christ," Misha croaked.

"Uhuh." Jensen was even less coherent than Misha.

"That was...fucking awesome."

"Yeah," Jensen agreed, voice nothing more than a worn out husk. "Awesome."

"I would know, reciprocated, if you hadn't-"

"Nah, s'fine."

They lay, spent and panting, trying to remember how to breathe, until the cool air and drying come and spit proved too uncomfortable, then they cleaned themselves up with a pink and yellow floral guest towel that Sam would hopefully never look too closely at, or sniff, before washing.

Jensen fastened his jeans back up, while Misha just stripped out of his own after untangling them from his around his calves and finally kicking his boots off.

"You want to stay?" Misha asked.

"No, no, it’s fine." Bending over, Jensen gave Misha a fantastic view of his ass, as he scooped up his undershirt from the floor and tugged it back on. "I'd better not. I'll see you in the morning, yeah?"

"Yeah, of course," Misha agreed, standing awkwardly in just his socks as Jensen grabbed his button-down and tried unsuccessfully to shake the creases from it. With a small wave and a coy smile, Jensen slipped out of Misha's room as though he hadn't just attempted to suck Misha's brain out through his dick.

It wasn't until later, when Misha was drifting off to sleep that he realized that he hadn't worn a condom. That Jensen hadn't asked him to wear a condom. Hadn't even asked Misha if he was safe. Maybe Jensen's friends were right to be concerned about his behavior. But...hell, Misha wasn't his mother, wasn't even his friend. It wasn't any of his business.


Chapter Three


According to the launderette attendant, it was perfectly safe to leave his clothes in the washer. She'd even transfer them into the dryer for him, she'd assured Misha. He looked back doubtfully but allowed her to shoo him out the store, the brass bell clanging tunelessly above his head as the thick glass door opened and closed. He'd never dare take his eyes off his clothes at the launderette in his neighborhood, never mind just walk out and leave them unattended, but here? Well, he guessed it was probably safe enough. It wasn't as though he enjoyed hanging around, twiddling his thumbs, waiting for his laundry to finish washing.

The question now was how best to spend his time. He wanted to visit the library again. He'd already scoured old newspaper articles about the twenty-year-old murders and was fairly sure he'd found every piece of information reported at the time, but there was always a chance that the local library would have some nugget of information filed away that Misha hadn't seen before. He also wanted to find out a bit more about the Beavers and how they ended up looking after Jensen. And while he was at it, he wanted to see what he could dig up on Chris and Jared, Jeff too actually. He wanted to know everything there was to know about Jensen Ackles. All in the name of research of course.

First though, Misha decided, coffee sounded like a great idea. He'd had an excellent night's sleep, unusually for him, no doubt due to Jensen's phenomenal blow job. Afterwards, Misha had felt so relaxed that he hadn't even dragged himself out of bed to clean his teeth. This morning, he'd woken later than normal and with breath that even he knew was rotten enough to asphyxiate a skunk at twenty paces. That hadn't stopped him grinning. The memory of Jensen Ackles and his talented mouth promised to keep Misha in a good mood for at least the rest of the day.

Even the weather wasn't dampening his spirits too much. The pretty spring sunshine from the day before had been replaced by dull skies and the insidious kind of rain that crept down your collar in invisible drips, leaving you sticky and wet in the most unpleasant way. Misha tugged his backpack up on his shoulder, turned the collar up on his leather jacket and headed down the street towards Danni's Coffee House. It was a day for aromatic blended coffee, not the dishwater that Betty's served up.

For mid Saturday morning, Danni's wasn't too busy with half a dozen tables still free. Misha took his coffee and a whole-wheat blueberry muffin to a small table tucked in the corner and sat down with his back to the wall looking out over the rest of the cafe. He ate his muffin slowly, savoring every delicious mouthful, before slipping his lap-top out of his bag and taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi.

He spent the rest of the morning typing up the notes from his conversation with Maisie Brannigan, and got a second refill of coffee and a sandwich just before the lunch crowd arrived. The place had filled up noticeably in the past hour, and now a line of people were standing at the counter. At the front of the line, leaning over the counter having what appeared to be an intense if hushed conversation with the young woman serving was Jensen Ackles. No matter what angle you saw him from, the guy was gorgeous. From this angle, the long line of his back dipping into the generous curve of his ass was spectacular. Misha was staring appreciatively at the way his black denim jeans stretched just right over the rounded ass and strong thighs when Jensen turned his head and looked straight at him.

Misha sat back and smiled, unabashed at having been caught staring. After last night, he wasn't afraid to be caught admiring Jensen. Jensen didn't quite smile back; his lips made the effort, sure, but his eyes looked troubled even from half-way across the coffee shop. Turning away, Jensen continued his conversation with the pretty red-head behind the counter, both of them ignoring the pointed coughs and tuts from the line of customers waiting behind Jensen.

"I'm not an idiot, Danni."

Misha heard Jensen's last heated words as he turned and stalked away from the counter. Towards Misha. Jensen's steps slowed as he neared Misha's table. Brushing his hand through his hair and down the back of his neck, he approached Misha cautiously. "Hey," he smiled, not as strained this time but definitely restrained.

"Hey, Jensen. It's good to see you." Misha smiled back and pushed the chair opposite him away from the table with his foot, gesturing towards it. "You want to sit down? Have some lunch with me? You were right about this place; their coffee is the best I've tasted outside San Francisco."

Jensen jerked his hand towards Misha's laptop. "I wouldn't want to disturb you when you're working."

"Oh no, please disturb me." Misha laughed and turned the computer around so that Jensen could see the screen. "I talked to Maisie Brannigan yesterday, you know her? She runs the historical society. Anyway, I'm just typing up my notes and man, that woman can talk. You know she has nine grandchildren and I can tell you all their names and ages and what sports they play and I can also tell you that the town of Cedar Ridge was founded in 1872 and its main industry in the 1900's was making-"

"Bicycle pumps," Jensen finished for him with a small chuckle. "So you're, what? A history buff?"

"Kind of," Misha fudged, not letting his smile fade. Lying wasn't something he had a problem with. Usually. Now, an itch prickled between his shoulder blades at the thought of flat out lying to Jensen. "I'm doing some research. Small town America, it's not as exciting as you'd think."

"Yeah." Jensen looked back over his shoulder towards the counter where in-between serving customers the red-headed waitress was scowling in their direction. "Danni, that red-haired hellcat across there who's giving us both the stink eye right now was just telling me that you're writing your PhD. And that you've been researching the history of the town."

"And she's not happy about it, I presume?" Misha was going to have to be careful.

"Not particularly. People in Cedar Ridge can be a bit...sensitive to folk snooping about."

Misha raised his eyebrow at that and Jensen was quick to clarify. "Her words not mine, man. Sorry."

Misha pointed towards the empty chair angled out from the table across from him. "Why don't you sit down, Jensen, so we can talk."

Jensen shuffled his feet, squeezed the back of his neck, looked across at Danni again then finally sat down, uneasily on the edge of the chair, hands gripping his knees. "Misha, I don't really know you. I mean"—Jensen's cheeks lit up with an endearing blush—"last night was...good, really good, but, my friends...they're just...they worry're not from round here and asking questions, but I told Danni and I told Jeff, you're not..."

Misha wasn't entirely sure what Jensen was trying to say, but then he wasn't entirely sure that Jensen knew what Jensen was trying to say. "Jensen, look, I promise I'm not here to stir up any trouble. Not for you. Not for anybody. I know what small towns are like. I grew up in one, and I've visited plenty while I've been working on my research. I know that people can be suspicious of strangers, I get it man. I do." This was where Misha had to tread very carefully. Going by the distrustful glare aimed his way from Danni, he reckoned that news of his conversation with Maisie had been the subject of some gossip. Better that Misha told Jensen the truth rather than be caught in a lie. Some of the truth anyway.

Misha pushed his laptop to the side, likewise his sandwich, and leaned across the table. Eyes never wavering from Jensen's, he said, "Jensen. I'm not going to lie. I know...about your mom."

Jensen blinked hard and Misha could see him stiffen. His muscles going rigid, his spine straightening and even the green in his eyes seemed to dull. "I wasn't...I didn't...I mean I wasn't...I'm sorry, Jensen." Misha struggled to find the right words. Fuck, he needed Jensen to trust him. He wanted Jensen to trust him and he really didn't want to have to lie straight to his face to achieve that. "I was talking to Maisie about the town and its history and it just came out. I'm sure she didn't mean any harm. Old women like her, they just enjoy having someone listen to them. I think she told me all about you and your mom before she'd even realized."

Misha might have thrown poor old Maisie under the bus, but she had spilled the beans without much prompting, so he could live with that.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry that happened. To you, to your mom. It's horrible, but it's not why I... Last night, Jensen, you and me, had nothing to do with that, I swear. I like you. I enjoy talking to you, spending time with you. You're a great guy; sweet, gorgeous, fucking amazing in bed-"

Jensen rolled his eyes and shook his head, but there was a hint of a smile tickling the corner of his mouth. Misha relaxed slightly. "I get why your friends worry Jensen, but I just enjoy your company. I thought we could have some fun while I was in town. But if you don't want to, then that's fine, no worries. Maybe your friends are right and you should-"

Bingo, thought Misha as Jensen's expression darkened. "My friends need to mind their own business." 

Just at that the redhead behind the counter stormed across the cafe armed with a mug of black coffee and a slice of pie. "Your order," she hissed at Jensen slamming it down on the table. She aimed a vicious glare at Misha - so intense Misha felt he might be in danger of bursting into flames - before spinning on her high heels intent on stalking away.

"Danni." Jensen reached out, stopping her from leaving with a hand on her arm. Despite his previous words, he didn't look annoyed, just worried. "I'm sorry I yelled. Look, it's fine. Misha's explained everything. I swear, he's a good guy. You don't have to worry."

He doesn't like her being mad at him, Misha realized. His friends may piss him off with their protectiveness but they're important to him.

"Danni let me introduce you to Misha Collins from San Francisco. In town for a few days researching for his PhD and likely to be spending most of his time talking about bicycle pumps when he's not admiring my ass." Misha groaned and Danni dropped her ice-queen facade just slightly. "Misha, this is Danneel Harris, owner of this fine establishment, baker of the best pie in town and the only head cheerleader to have been thrown off the Cedar Ridge High School squad for breaking the football captain's jaw the night before the county championships."

Misha laughed and Danneel dropped her head and groaned. When she looked back up she was smiling fondly at Jensen though. "It was totally worth it y'know. Weatherly was a dick, still is."

Jensen grinned up at her; like a kid, Misha thought, like a little kid looking for approval. Danni ruffled her fingers through Jensen's hair then bent down and brushed a kiss on the top of his head. "I just worry," she said softly. "You know I love you." She looked across at Misha and grinned, a little like a shark. "I hope you're enjoying your stay in Cedar Ridge, Misha. I'm sure Jensen's been very accommodating."

This time Jensen groaned. Misha kept his expression calmly neutral, sure that Danneel wasn't finished with him quite yet. "By the way, I broke Michael Weatherly's jaw because he hurt my friend. I wouldn't think twice about doing it again."

With a swish of red hair, she turned and strode away before Misha or Jensen even had a chance to respond.

"Well," Misha said, looking down at his sandwich, "Do you think I should maybe stick with Betty's Diner? At least if I get food poisoning there it's more likely to be accidental."

"Danni's bite's worse than her bark," Jensen assured him.

"I doubt Michael Weatherly would agree with you there," Misha grumbled, peeling apart his sandwich looking for booby-traps or maybe spit or snot. Stomach turning at the thought, he dropped the bread and pushed away his plate.

Jensen laughed, obviously reading his mind but not taking the threat seriously. "She wouldn't do that to you man. She's not petty. She doesn't do premeditated shit. She just has a bit of a temper."

Misha raised his eyebrows and Jensen laughed. "Okay, more than a bit of a temper. She's a redhead, goes with the territory. You want some of my pie? I promise it's delicious and free of additives of any description."

In the end they shared the pie. Jensen drank his coffee with the look of a man experiencing a damn good orgasm while Misha tried not to stare. He wanted to see that expression again under entirely different circumstances. When Jensen stood to go, his lunch-hour over, Misha packed up his stuff and joined him. He didn't fancy hanging around the coffee shop without Jensen there to act as a buffer between him and Danneel. They walked down the street together as far as the launderette, stood crammed together, shoulders rubbing, under the shelter of the launderette doorway, and made tentative plans to meet at the bar later. It had been, Misha thought, a pretty productive morning and the evening looked set to be even better.


After collecting his laundry, remarkably un-stolen, and depositing it in his car, Misha spent the afternoon in the library carefully searching for books and articles on the history and growth of Cedar Ridge, using them to mask his real research. He wasn't deluding himself; he knew that he wasn't likely to uncover the identity of the Slate County Slasher, but he didn't really need to. If he could name suspects and formulate a theory, that should be enough to generate a decent amount of interest in his book. Especially if he had an eye-witness statement. If he had the inside scoop on what happened to the only witness that the murderer left alive.

At the time of Helen Ackles' murder, press interest in Jensen had been high. The kid had barely been four years old, but that hadn't stopped them plastering his face across the fronts of newspapers. Misha had seen the pictures; a family photo of Jensen hand in hand with his mom, looking up at her while the sun glinted off mother and son's summer-bleached blond hair. Another photo of Jensen in the arms of a cop, taken coming out of the hospital door by the looks of things. The boy had been pale and tiny, tears bubbling from wide green eyes; heartbreaking to see and a damn goldmine for whoever took the picture.

In the weeks following the murder, the local paper had been consumed by the story. Most of what they'd printed had been speculation or downright gossip. George Ackles had been vilified, painted as a neglectful husband and poor father. The police seemed desperate to pin his wife's murder on him. When the bigger picture had come to light, they'd pegged him as number one suspect for being the actual Slasher. Of course, that was nothing but lazy police-work and public opinion talking. The man had solid alibis for two of the murders and no motive. Misha also doubted he'd had the intelligence. Whoever committed those murders barely left a shred of evidence and never came close to being apprehended.

Misha did make notes of some of the people around at the time of the murders. One of the deputies' names stuck in his head—Fredrick Lehne. He was fairly confident that was the name of the sheriff now, which made sense. Jeff Morgan was also mentioned as a friend of Jensen's father and of supplying him with an alibi for the night of one of the murders. It had been one of their monthly poker nights, apparently, with two other mutual friends: Steven Padalecki, whom Misha had previously confirmed as being Deputy Padalecki's father, and Mitch Pileggi. Pileggi was not a name that Misha recalled seeing anywhere else, so he underlined it, meaning to dig a little deeper later.

He'd been in the library for nearly four hours and, with an ache radiating across his shoulders and down his neck, and an ass that was numb from sitting far too long on a painfully hard wooden seat, was about ready to call it a day. He just wanted to check he hadn't missed any information about the disappearance of Jensen's father when the distinctive noise of a wheelchair rolling across the vinyl flooring alerted him that he had company. Calmly but swiftly closing down the opened pages on the computer, Misha picked up a book about the history of the railroads in the county, pulled loose the pencil he had resting behind his ear and scratched down a note in his pad.

"Hard at it I see, Mr. Collins?"

Misha turned round and as expected came face-to-face with Jim Beaver. They hadn't exactly been introduced but the man was no idiot, and pretending that he didn't know who Beaver was would have been pointless. "Good afternoon, Mr. Beaver. I'm just finishing up for the day actually. It's a fine library you have here."

Beaver considered Misha, eyes squinting just slightly. Misha felt like he was being weighed up and found lacking. It was an experience that seemed to be repeating itself frequently in this little town. "I guess it is, Mr. Collins. Although there are certainly bigger and better libraries in the county. A one-horse town like Cedar Ridge can't have much to hold your interest."

"Mr. Beaver," Misha started, ready to explain his presence in town yet again, but Beaver held up his hand, stopping him in his tracks.

"I'm not interested in your tales, boy. I'm just warning you, people round here don't take too kindly to strangers shoving their noses in where they're not wanted. If I was you, I'd think about packing up soon and moving on."

Misha bristled. "Mr. Beaver, I don't believe my plans are anybody's business but my own. And just for the record, all you people warning me off is just making me think there might be something here worth hanging around for."

"Well, Mr. Collins, if that something is Jensen then I suggest you watch your back."

That sounded like a threat to Misha. He was getting pretty damn sick of them. "Are you threatening me?" he asked bluntly.

"Not at all, Mr. Collins. Not at all," Beaver said shaking his head, but the look in his eyes was perfectly clear and said something else entirely. "It's just a friendly warning, that's all. Jensen has some fiercely loyal friends in this town. Folks that don't want to see him get hurt. You don't want to tick them off, trust me."

"You know I'm getting pretty sick of being threatened by Jensen's so-called friends." Misha closed up all the books on the desk he was working at and started shoving his notes into his backpack. "I'm not planning on hurting Jensen. I wouldn't. I like him. I enjoy his company. We're just having some fun. I didn't realize that was a crime in this town." Zipping up his bag and grabbing his jacket off the back of the chair, Misha stood up. "You'll have to excuse me, Mr. Beaver; I'm meeting Jensen soon and I don't want to be late." With that, Misha took off, striding out of the library and right into Maisie Brannigan. The sheen had rubbed off his good mood twenty minutes later when she was still regaling him with stories of her grandchildren’s latest adventures.


The murky clouds and rain from earlier had broken up, leaving watery sunshine to dry up the lingering dampness in the air. Twenty-seven Orchard Drive, lifeless and broodingly dark, was better suited to the dismal gray from earlier than the current sunshine no matter how weak it was. The front yard was badly overgrown, straggling weeds running rampant over what used to be flowerbeds and a jungle of grasses waving wildly in the breeze where there should have been a lawn. Faded paintwork that once upon a time had been cheerfully yellow peeled and grew damp, and the windows were barricaded with wooden boards. Misha maybe shouldn't have expected anything different, but the sad state of the house was still disturbing to see, especially next to the bright painted facades of its neighbors. Jensen's dilapidated childhood home was a sad memorial to the destruction of his family and his innocence.

Misha sat in his car, looking at the house from the road. With time to kill after leaving the library, he'd decided to put some of his research to good use and investigate Jensen's former house. He hadn't known what to expect, but he wouldn't have been surprised to find the house happily occupied. Murder and tragedy wasn't always a deterrent in the face of a bargain house price.

Gravely focused on the house in front of him, Misha sat with one hand resting on his door-handle. There wasn't any reason not to investigate further. Get a closer look at where the last victim had died. The house was obviously abandoned. It wouldn't be the first time he'd found a way into a boarded up crime scene. It wasn't really a crime scene though, was it. Hadn't been for nearly twenty years. He wondered if Jensen and his dad had stayed here afterwards. If Jensen had been able to stay in the house without seeing the image of his mother, brutally hacked to death, everywhere he looked. If the stains from his mother's blood had ever truly been cleaned from the house.

More on autopilot rather than having made a conscious decision, Misha climbed out of his car and leaned against the door. He snapped a couple of photos with his cell-phone but couldn't work up the enthusiasm to get any closer to the house. Which, when Misha saw the police cruiser driving towards him, he figured was pretty lucky.

"Mr. Collins, I presume." The cop pulled up beside Misha and climbed out of his car. Underneath his brown hat, his face was weather-beaten and craggy, but his eyes were sharp as pins and his smile more predatory than friendly. He walked around the car towards Misha with an uneven gait, a noticeable limp down his left side.

"Good afternoon, Sheriff." Misha pushed himself from where he was leaning back against his car and confidently approached the cop as though he was doing no wrong, which strictly speaking he wasn't. "I take it you're Deputy Padalecki's boss." Misha stretched his hand out, leaving the cop not much option but to shake it. His grip firm enough for Misha to hide a wince.

"Yes, sir. I sure am. Sheriff Lehne." The sheriff nodded towards the abandoned property. "It's a strange place for a tourist to stop and admire the view."

Misha shrugged. "I guess so. My mother always did say that curiosity was my biggest fault."

Lehne tilted his head in question as he laid his hand, steady as a board, on his gun holster, just a touch too deliberately.

"Jensen told me about his Mom. God-awful tragedy. Just unbelievable that something like that could happen in such a normal neighborhood in a friendly town like Cedar Ridge."

Wrong-footed by Misha's honesty, Lehne coughed and mumbled his agreement. Then asked doubtfully, "So, Jensen told you about what happened?"

"Well, not the details obviously," Misha said, wearing his best 'I'm shocked by the brutality of my fellow man' expression. It said a lot about his career as a reporter than he had that one down pat. "But, yeah, he mentioned it. It must have been what twenty years ago? Were you a cop here at the time, you must have been a rookie?"

"Yeah," Lehne nodded. "I was a deputy. It was a terrible, terrible business."

"So Jensen's mom was - what...the third victim?"

"The fourth. Well, not including..." Lehne trailed off uncertainly.

Misha’s frankness had apparently caught him off guard. Rattled him. Well, good. If he knew something that hadn’t been reported, Misha couldn’t afford to let it go. It could be what he needed to piece the story together. “Not including who?” he pressed.

“Well…” Lehne took off his hat, smoothed his hair back before putting it back on. Misha stared, like a hawk eying a weasel. “Not including the babies,” Lehne eventually admitted.

"The babies?" Misha tried to keep his voice level, but shit...babies! That wasn't in any of the reports. The first victim, he recalled, had been fourteen weeks pregnant at the time of her murder, but there was no other mention of babies.

"Ah, yeah." Sheriff Lehne shifted uneasily under Misha's scrutiny. "Not really babies, I guess. Fetuses is maybe the better word. We...ah…we'd kept that out of the papers. All the victims were pregnant when they were killed. Under sixteen weeks, so it wasn't that obvious in every case, but yeah. I don't think-"

"Even Jensen's mom?" Misha asked quickly.

"Yes." Lehne's answer was abrupt. "Mr. Collins, I don't see-"

"And they never got him? The guy that did it?"

"No, they never did." Lehne shook his head and stepped forward.

"That's weird, isn't it?" Misha barreled on, not giving Lehne a chance to interrupt him. He'd learned that sometimes if you just kept on talking, people would forget why they had a problem with you in the first place. Attack could be the best form of defense. "For someone to be insane enough to kill four people, more really, like that and then just stop?"

"Sure it is, but…"

"I guess you were just glad that no-one else got hurt. You think the killer moved on somewhere else? I bet you had a few ideas of who did it?"

Lehne shook his head, stepped back again to lean his weaker side against the hood of his car as though standing was suddenly too much of an effort. "We had an idea or two, but there wasn't much evidence and the only witness was a terrified four-year-old that wouldn't talk."

"Poor kid," said Misha. "Good job he and his dad had plenty of folks looking out for him. The Beavers must have helped out a lot."

"The Beavers didn't move to town until a year or two later actually. But we're a close knit community, plenty of folks rallied round when his dad..."

Lehne stopped. He'd already told Misha far more than he should have or Misha thought he would have. Misha wondered if Sheriff Lehne had consumed a coffee or two with some Irish in it already that day. Discussing Jensen's dad, however, was apparently just a step too far. Misha didn't want to hang around, didn't want to be subjected to awkward questions or, as had proved to be the norm in this town, threats.

"Shoot, look at the time." He glanced at his watch, turned and opened his car door. "I'm meeting Jensen in a few minutes, I'd better head off. Unless there was anything else, Sheriff?"

Misha was half in the car by the time Lehne opened his mouth. "No, nothing else. Just" —Lehne walked around towards Misha's door and kicked his boot up, just in time to stop the door slamming shut—"be careful that curiosity of yours doesn't lead you into trouble. Wouldn't want to end up like that cat now, would you. You have a good night, Mr. Collins."

The sheriff sent Misha off with a lazy salute and a smirk that sent a chill down Misha's spine.


Misha did meet up with Jensen. Even sooner than intended. Driving around to the rear of the bar to park his car, he thought for a minute he was seeing things. A guy that looked, that really was Jensen getting shoved into the wall by someone Misha didn't recognize. Misha jumped out of his car just as the guy raised his arm back and swung at Jensen's face. Jensen dodged the weight of the punch and it just barely skimmed his cheek. He tried to push the other guy out of his way, but his attacker had a couple of inches on him, as well as the thick neck and stocky build of someone who liked his fast food super-sized.

"Fucking fag," the guy spat, tussling with Jensen, shoving him against the wall again. "Think we owe you something, don't you. So sick of your face, Jenny."

"Hey," Misha shouted, diving towards them and hauling the guy away from Jensen. "What the hell are you doing?"

"None of your god-damn business." Red-faced and breathing hard, the guy roughly shrugged Misha's hand off his shoulder before turning back to Jensen. "Talk to me or my wife like that again and pissing your pants will be the least of your worries."

"Grow the hell up, Weatherly." Jensen wiped the back of his hand across his cheek, looking at it to see if there was any blood. "School's long past, maybe it's time you moved on."

Weatherly laughed, ugly and unkind. "Moved on. That's rich coming from the boy who didn't speak to anyone for five years and pissed himself every time someone looked at him. From a loser that lives in a room above a bar and brushes up sawdust for a living."

"I'm not surprised he didn't talk to you for years," Misha interrupted, stepping in-between the idiot and Jensen. "Given your charm and sparkling wit, I'm surprised anyone talks to you."

"What the fuck do you know, dick-wad?" Weatherly really looked at Misha for the first time. "Who the hell are you anyway? Jenny's got a little boyfriend, does he?"

"Maybe he does," Misha said. "You jealous?"

The punch that swung Misha's way was wild and sloppy. Misha barely had to move to dodge it. Jensen wasn't impressed, stepping around him and shoving Weatherly backwards. "Michael, go home to Jessica. You're drunk."

"And a dick," Misha added because he didn't appreciate anyone trying to punch him, no matter how pathetic the attempt had been. Jensen shot Misha a look out of the side of his eye which said very clearly to shut up.

"Fuck you, city boy," Weatherly sneered, staggering sideways before he found his feet. "I'll catch up with you later, Jenny, when your guardian angel isn't hanging around. And don't...don't you bad mouth my girl again."

"Whatever, Michael," Jensen dismissed him, walking away without a backward glance and dragging Misha along with him by the sleeve of his jacket. "Come on, let’s get out of here."

Misha presumed they would retreat inside the bar, but Jensen had a different idea. He steered Misha back into his car and, after making a quick stop for pizza, they drove out to Redmill Creek. Blithely ignoring Misha's complaints, Jensen forced him from the nice enclosed warmth of the car. It was a mild spring evening, not warm exactly but not cold. The sun was still out, just dipping in the sky. Not picnic weather if you asked Misha, but Jensen was adamant - and holding the pizza - so grumbling good-naturedly Misha hauled the dusty blanket out of the trunk of his car, shook it out, and followed Jensen and the delicious aroma of pizza down to the water's edge.

They sat side by side on the ratty tartan blanket, sheltered from the road behind an overgrown tangle of shrubs, sharing pizza and a bottle of water. The river rumbled by, flowing in a lulling rhythm against the rocky banks and shallow bed. Birds sang and insects buzzed around their heads and the pizza box. It was as peaceful an evening as Misha could remember enjoying for a long time. They didn't exchange more than grunts and small talk until after they'd eaten their fill of pizza and the cool air had eased the stress from their minds as well as their muscles. Then, lying relaxed against Misha's side with his legs outstretched and ankles crossed, Jensen relayed his history with Michael Weatherly and Jessica Alba. A couple of small-minded bullies who still thought they were at high school as far as Misha could make out.

"You know what kids are like," Jensen was saying, and Misha did. He'd had his own run in with asshole bullies in the past. "I was small for my age, shy, scared of my own shadow and barely talked. Especially not when Weatherly was about. He always was an obnoxious shit who thought he was better than everyone else, even in first grade."

"Surely the teachers understood. After everything you'd been through. Didn't they put a stop to the bullying?" Misha asked.

Jensen wriggled further down on the blanket so his feet were on the damp grass and his head lay in Misha's lap. "They couldn't be there all the time. And if anything, it just pissed Michael off more that this runty kid, with the grubby clothes and propensity to piss his pants when people scared him, had the teachers fawning all over him. It is what it is, you know. It's over and done with."

"Didn't seem over and done with tonight," Misha said, carding his fingers through Jensen's hair, watching the way the fading sunlight highlighted the blond streaks.

"Weatherly was just running his mouth because he was drunk. I should have avoided him. Jessica hated me in high school. She was queen fucking bee with her little gang of admirers following her everywhere she went. She hated my guts. Chris said she had a crush on me and never quite forgave me for liking boys, but I doubt that's true. Anyway, she goes out of her way to be a bitch, stir shit up. We had words the other day and Weatherly was just giving me his opinion on it. Nothing I can't handle."

Misha suspected that it was something Jensen had to handle a lot. He didn't know how Jensen could stand to stay in a town where everyone knew him. Knew everything about him, where his every move seemed to be watched and noted. He said as much to Jensen.

"My friends are here, Misha. Okay, my life isn't perfect. Pretty fucking far from it, to be honest." He laughed, without any humor in his eyes. "But people, well some people, look out for me here. I have a job and somewhere to live. They're both pretty shitty, but what would I have if I left? What would I do? At least here, I'm not alone."

"Is that enough?" Misha asked. "You could do so much, Jensen."

In answer Jensen turned and knelt up, curled his hands around Misha's neck and pressed their lips together in a gentle kiss. Misha chased after him when he drew back, his hands wrapping around Jensen's waist, pulling him close. Before long, Jensen was on his back on the blanket, Misha a heavy weight pinning him down as they kissed and rubbed against each other like teenagers. Neither men noticing the air growing cooler or the sun disappearing nearly out of sight.

Misha nibbled under Jensen's jaw, his hand dropping down to the hard bulge of Jensen's cock pushing against the front of his jeans. Jensen whimpered, his head craning back and fingers knotting in Misha's hair holding him in place against the dip of his throat. Misha fumbled with Jensen's belt, trying to unbuckle it with one hand without looking at what he was doing. It wasn't easy, but when he finally got his hand on Jensen's cock it was worth it.

The delicious noises Jensen made as Misha jacked him slowly and too gently to be much more than a tease were addictive. Misha would have been happy to lie there all night until Jensen was a writhing mess below him. There was something else he wanted to do as badly though. "Want to suck you," he mumbled against the salty tang of Jensen's neck before he ducked lower, taking hold of the waistband of Jensen's pants and underwear and yanking them down past his thighs. Jensen's erection bobbed up hard and free, slapping against the bare skin of his belly, peeking out below his layers of clothes.

Jensen yelped, tried to push Misha off and sit up. Not the reaction Misha wanted or expected, but with his head level with Jensen's crotch he had a good idea why Jensen was anxious.

Shoving Jensen back down on to his back, Misha crawled up the blanket until he was face to face with him. Brushed his lips again the wrinkle creasing the bridge of Jensen's nose, then moved down and kissed the tip of his nose, then nuzzled at his tightly pressed lips, coaxing them open. He kissed him slow, deep and thorough; until the tension slipped from Jensen's body, until he was kissing back just as enthusiastically. His tongue exploring the inside of Misha's mouth and his eyes closed in pleasure. Nudging Jensen's thighs apart, as far as they would go with his jeans around his knees, Misha shuffled down and knelt between Jensen's legs, his hands steadying Jensen's stomach, holding him in place. He brushed his lips over the pink scars criss-crossing over Jensen's thighs. Laid gentle kisses against each and every line, from the barely visible marks to the raised slash that stretched across half the width of Jensen's thigh.

The top of Jensen's legs were wet with spit before Misha's mouth finally engulfed his cock. Licking and sucking, bobbing his head and rolling Jensen's sack in the palm of his hand. He hummed around his cock, enjoying the feel of that twitching hardness filling his mouth. Jensen yanked his hair hard once, jerky and desperate. Misha pulled off, wrapped his hand around Jensen and tugged his cock once, twice and Jensen spurted his release over Misha's fist and the top of his own legs with a groan. Misha watched his face screw up in pleasure and felt his own full cock throb painfully against the confines of his pants.

Wiping the sticky mess of Jensen's come from his hand on to the grass, Misha unbuttoned his pants and freed his cock. Before he could even get a hand on himself, Jensen lurched up, reversing their positions. Rolling Misha on to his back, he returned the favor, taking Misha's cock into his mouth without any preamble and repeated his stunning performance from the previous night.

It was decidedly chilly by the time both of them were lying spent and breathless on the ruined blanket. Misha shivered and tried to get himself together enough to at least pull up his pants.

"I'm fucked up, Misha. You can see that. My head is screwed up and I'm a mess. That's why I stay here. Why this all has to be enough. I'm useless. I'd never cope out there." Jensen was lying on his back, staring up at the first stars appearing in the sky when he spoke. Answering the question Misha barely remembered asking.

"You're wrong," Misha said, rolling onto his side, his hand skimming down from Jensen's face to the old scars scattered across his thighs. "You're so wrong."

"How can you say that?"

"Because you're still here. After everything that's happened to you, you're still here and finding a way to cope." Misha's fingers traced lightly over Jensen's old wounds.

Jensen laughed bitterly, squirming under Misha's careful caresses. "You're insane."

"Jensen." Misha took hold of Jensen's jaw, gently but firmly turning his head so they were eye to eye. "We all have our demons and we all battle them. I run. When I struggle, when I need to escape or unwind; I run. I do everything I can not to turn into my father. I don't drink. I don't smoke because he did. I don't eat damn doughnuts because they were his favorite food. I left the town I grew up in and all the people I knew just so I wouldn't be reminded of him. I cope in my own way and you cope in yours."

That was the most open Misha had ever been. With himself as much as with anyone else. He wondered what it was about Jensen Ackles that was shattering his usual professional defenses. Maybe it was the fact that his relationship with Jensen had quickly strayed from professional to personal. That despite himself, he was starting to care more about the man than the story.

"You run, you don't drink or smoke and avoid fatty food," Jensen scoffed. "I think that's healthier than cutting yourself just to ease the pain and see the blood. Than drinking to forget, and smoking because just maybe it'll help kill you that bit quicker."

Jensen jerked his head free of Misha's grip and yanked his pants back over his thighs, covering himself up. "You know, I was only twelve the first time I cut myself. I don't even know what I was thinking; some stupid shit probably. No, that's a lie. I know exactly what I was thinking. I thought that if I cut myself then maybe I would know how it felt. I thought if I cut myself hard enough, deep enough, maybe I'd know what my mom felt. The first time I did it, I cut my arm and it hurt like hell. I did it twice." Jensen made two slashing movement across his forearm with an invisible knife. "The blood flowed out, dripped down my arm and onto the kitchen floor. Jeff walked in to the kitchen looking for my dad and found me standing there, just watching the blood pouring from my arm. He freaked out. Really freaked out. Wrapped my arm in a kitchen towel, dragged me to the hospital, yelling at me the entire way there. By the time anyone found my dad, they'd stitched me up and made me an appointment with a psychiatrist. Jeff was furious, with me, with my dad."

"Jensen," Misha said, stunned at the ruthless honesty and the sheer horror of Jensen's words.

"I liked it though," Jensen admitted quietly, eyes lost and distant. "Liked how it made me feel. I never cut myself as deep again. I was careful. Most of the time." Jensen's fingers ghosted across his thigh where the angriest scar dissected it. "Made sure to do it where no-one would see."

"Your dad?" Misha asked. "Did he-"

"My dad..." Jensen started fiercely, then hesitated and continued, more calmly. "My dad tried his best. He loved me, but he had his own problems. He...not long after that first time I cut myself, my dad disappeared."

"He left?" Misha asked.

Jensen shook his head, then shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't think so. Everyone else seemed to think that he'd just upsticks and taken off, but that wasn't him. I know it wasn't. Whatever else, he was my dad. He knew he was all I had. He was far from the best dad in the world, but he wouldn't have just left me."

Misha hummed noncommittally. What kid would want to think that their dad would take off and leave them all alone, at what...twelve, thirteen?

"Anyway, I don't do it anymore. The cutting," Jensen said, standing up, fixing his clothes and brushing dirt and grass off his jeans. "Hardly ever. I grew up and discovered that drinking helped me forget, was more fun and socially acceptable."

Misha climbed stiffly to his feet, grabbed Jensen's hand and tugged him into a hug. He couldn't remember the last time that he'd wanted to hug someone quite as much. He couldn't remember the last time he wanted to hug anyone at all. The longer that Jensen stood tense and brittle in Misha's arms, the less inclined Misha was to let him go.

"I don't like you hurting yourself," was all he could think of to say.

"You don't even really know me, Misha," Jensen said, voice as rigid as his spine. "What do you care?"

"I care, Jensen. I like you...a lot, I thought that was obvious. I don't sleep with every drunk guy that hits on me, you know." Jensen huffed at that, his breath hot against Misha's neck and his shoulders relaxing fractionally. "Maybe I don't know you, not any more than you really know me, but I want to. I swear to god, Jensen. I want to know everything about you."

At last, the tension seeped from Jensen; his arms, limp at his side, rose up and hooked around Misha's waist, his fingers grasped hold of Misha's jacket, clinging desperately like he was drowning and Misha was his life-line.

In return, Misha held him so tight it probably hurt, all the while telling himself that his interest in Jensen Ackles was nothing more than professional curiosity, research. Telling himself that he didn't really care about the damaged young man. That he didn't feel a connection to Jensen. That he'd leave him behind without a second thought in a day or two when he had enough information to finish writing the grand finale of his book. Misha was lying to himself. Unconvincingly.


Chapter four


The framed picture on Jensen's nightstand showed a fair haired little boy in the arms of his mother, both of them caught with their mouths wide open mid-laugh. Their matching green eyes shone even in the muted colors of the faded photo. Jensen's mom was beautiful. Jensen, the cutest kid Misha had ever seen. The two of them so obviously happy in the photo, blissfully unaware of the tragedy waiting to unfold, that it was hard for Misha to look at without a crushing pressure encompassing his heart.

Misha flopped over onto his back and concentrated his gaze on a crack in Jensen's bedroom ceiling instead. Seven days he'd been in Cedar Ridge. Far longer than he'd planned on staying. There was nothing else he could achieve by sticking around. He had all the information he needed to end his book with a bang. The heart-wrenching story of the little boy that found his mother carved up and bloody. Who watched the killer calmly walk away. Who curled up in his dead's mothers arms and stayed there until he was soaked in as much of her blood as she was. A traumatized little boy that had grown up into a beautiful young man battling to overcome his harrowing childhood. Shit, one picture of Jensen now with his vulnerable smile would be enough to push his book into the best sellers list, Misha was sure of it. He also had the scoop on the fact that all the victims had been pregnant, which was huge. That along with the circumstantial evidence and background information he'd dug up meant he could produce several plausible, not necessarily true, theories that people would eat up. He'd found everything, and more, that he'd been looking for when he came to town. All he needed to do now was get the hell out of Cedar Ridge, back home to his tiny apartment and finish writing the book that would hopefully change his life, certainly his career.

The only problem was, he wasn't sure he wanted to do either of those things: leave town or write his damn book.

"Hey." Jensen smiled shyly, walking in to the room with a towel slung low around his hips and another one in his hand scrubbing his hair dry. "You're awake."

Beads of water clung to Jensen's shoulders, mingling with the scattering of pale freckles that spread all over his body. "Have I told you how gorgeous your shoulders are?" Misha asked, his dick jumping in appreciation under the bedcovers.

Jensen laughed, a hint of pink tinging his cheeks. That flush, Misha had been delighted to discover, spread all the way down over his chest given enough encouragement.

"No," Jensen said, throwing the damp towel in his hand over the back of the solitary wooden chair in the room. "You've told me how amazing my dick is and called my mouth the eighth wonder of the world, but you haven't mentioned my shoulders yet."

Jensen was standing just about close enough for Misha to touch, so arm out-stretched he curled his fingers around Jensen's wrist and tugged him down beside him on the bed. "Well, I'm sorry for that horrendous oversight," he said, dipping his head to chase a drip of water running down Jensen's pec towards his nipple. "Sorry that I haven't written odes to your broad shoulders and your very manly chest and these perfect nipples." Misha kissed his way lazily over Jensen's chest while he spoke, before latching onto a dusky brown nipple and gently nibbling. His fingers feathering a path up and down Jensen's spine. “And your back, your back is exquisite, the way it curves down to your cute little ass."

Jensen wriggled in his arms, caught between giggling and moaning at the way Misha's fingers were dipping down below the top of his towel. "Misha, you're an idiot."

"Maybe," Misha hummed against the damp skin at his collar bone. "But it's all true."

"Misha," Jensen protested, even as he allowed Misha to manhandle him down on to the bed and tug free the towel so cruelly depriving him of complete access to all of Jensen's body. "Misha, I have to work." He let out a breathy gasp as Misha's tongue dipped into his navel. "You'll make me late again."

Misha ignored him in favor of mouthing a path lower, licking swirls in the groove of Jensen's hips before pressing wet kisses down the soft skin towards his groin.

"Misha," Jensen moaned, more in frustration than complaint as Misha puffed out a hot breath over his cock, then ignored it completely, focusing instead on dusting every one of the scars crossing Jensen's thighs with tender kisses.

"I want to rim you, Jensen. Will you let me?" Misha asked, mouth hovering over Jensen's balls in a cruel tease.

Jensen bucked up involuntarily at the request, his dick smacking against his stomach.

"You're all clean and shiny," Misha continued, grinning up darkly at Jensen, "Want to dirty you up. Want to stick my tongue in your ass, eat you out until you're hole's dripping wet."

Misha crawled up the bed, covering Jensen's naked body with his own, feeling Jensen shuddering with need against him. "Then I want to fuck you, Jensen. Want to slide inside you, feel you around me. Want to make you see stars."

"God, yes please," Jensen whimpered, stretching his neck up and capturing Misha's mouth in a fierce kiss.

They hadn't gone beyond mutual hand-jobs and sucking each other off yet. It was becoming harder and harder for Misha to resist the desire to fuck Jensen. To see him open and vulnerable, to break him apart then piece him back together again. Now, he'd forgotten why he wanted to resist in the first place.

Jensen lying face down on the bed, spine bent in a graceful curve, his ass pushed up in the air waiting for Misha's mouth, was a picture destined to be indelibly printed in Misha's mind. He'd never seen anything more beautiful. If Jensen hadn't grumbled at him to stop staring like a moron, he might never have moved.

Misha made good on all his talk; licked and sucked at Jensen's tight hole until it was shining red and dripping wet and Jensen was a begging mess on the bed, shoving his ass back into Misha's face without any embarrassment. When Misha backed off to find the condom and sachet of lube in his wallet, Jensen swore blue murder. It was just as well that his bedroom was in the attic with no neighboring rooms.

"What the fuck, Misha?" Jensen rolled over, legs splayed wide and his hand on his cock. "Where the fuck are you going, you fucker?"

"Calm down, Jensen. Just trying to find my wallet."

"Your wallet! What do you need your fucking wallet for?" Jensen's cheeks were almost as red as his cock sliding through his fingers.

At last Misha found his wallet in the back pocket of his pants. Snatching the condom and lube free, he hurried back to Jensen before he could take matters in to his own hands. "Not going to fuck you dry or without a condom you gorgeous idiot," he said, grabbing Jensen's hands away from his cock and urging them over his head.

"Fuck, Misha, you've spent ten minutes working me open with your tongue; my ass is loose and leaking spit. You don't need to-"

"Yes I do. I'm not going to hurt you, so shut the hell up." Misha made his point clear by kissing Jensen until he stopped attempting to argue, then kissing him just because he could.

By the time Misha was ready to push inside of Jensen, he didn't know which of them was closer to coming. For sure, Misha was having to list presidents in order of stupidity to stop from humiliating himself. Seeing Jensen's face, his long lashes fluttering, his lips blood red and the scattering of freckles across his nose obscured by a dark flush was nearly enough to send him hurtling him over the brink. He was grateful for the barrier of the condom; without it, he would surely have come the second Jensen let out a needy whimper as Misha buried himself balls-deep in his hole.

It maybe wasn't... no, screw that, it definitely wasn't the longest-lasting, most drawn out sex of Misha's life, but holy hell, it was the most intense. When Jensen's eyes opened on a breathy gasp and bore into Misha's, he thought he was going to plummet into their hypnotic depth. Desire, need and pure want erupted into powerful orgasms that left both men shaking, Misha's arms barely holding him up and Jensen's legs trembling where they were wrapped around Misha's waist. He wished he could stay there all day, face to face with Jensen. Just the two of them staring into each other’s eyes as though the rest of the world didn't exist.

Unfortunately that wasn't to be. Misha's muscles refused to co-operate and reluctantly, he had to ease himself out of Jensen, disposing of the used condom before collapsing back down on to the bed.

"Well," Jensen sighed. "That was...good."

"Good!" Misha whipped his head around and looked at Jensen's glowing face and his satisfied smile. "Good? It was more than good."

Jensen shrugged, aiming for nonchalant, but unable to hide a sly smirk. "Meh, it was okay. Not bad for a morning quickie."

"Not bad." Misha dived on top of Jensen, attacking his vulnerable sides with ruthless precision, tickling him until Jensen was helpless with laughter, his hands flailing dangerously trying to shove Misha away. A stray knee glancing against Misha's balls was unfortunate but not as painful as it could have been and completely his own fault. Still, falling off the bed as he reared back, more with the natural reaction of protecting his privates than actual pain, was pretty embarrassing. For Misha at least. Jensen nearly fell off the bed laughing.

"Are you okay?" Jensen asked when he eventually pulled himself together enough to ask. Standing up, he offered Misha his hand and helped haul him to his feet.

"I'm good," Misha said and Jensen snickered. Misha shook his head, trying not to smile.

"Jensen," Misha said, unable to stop himself from reaching out and tracing his fingers across Jensen's lips, stretched in a grin; he looked so much younger, so beautiful, when he smiled. "Come away with me."

It wasn't what Misha had planned on saying, not at all. He'd meant to say something smart, something funny, something to keep Jensen laughing. But as he said the words, he knew it was what he wanted.

Jensen stepped back unsure, the smile on his face stuttering. "What? Where?"

Misha caught Jensen's hand, not wanting to lose contact with him. "Home with me. I can't stay here, Jensen. I finished my research days ago, but I don't want to leave you. Come with me."

It was the craziest idea Misha had ever had. He would have to tell Jensen the truth. He would have to tell him about his job as a newspaper reporter, about the book. He would have to uncover all the little lies he'd told. Jensen would have every right to hate him when he found out. Realistically, asking Jensen to come away with him was insane. Misha couldn't regret it. He'd happily throw away his work on the book if it meant having even half a chance of taking Jensen with him when he left this suffocating town.

"I can't," Jensen said. Misha felt a flicker of hope. I can't was better than I don't want to.

"My life's here, my job and my friends. Sam and Jim."

"They'll always be here. You can come back and see them whenever you want. You can get another job. One that you enjoy."

"I enjoy working for Jeff," Jensen snapped.

"You haven't tried doing anything else, Jensen." Misha gentled his tone, tried to sound reasonable instead of desperate. "Think about it. You can stay with me so there's no real rush to find a job. Maybe you can even do a couple of community college courses. We'll figure it out as we go. There's life outside this town, Jensen. Where no-one knows who you are or anything about you. You can start with a clean slate and be whoever you want to be."

Jensen frowned. "But I'm me, Misha. That's who I am. I can't change that. I don't think I'd want to."

Misha shook his head, trying to figure out a way to make Jensen understand. "I know, and I don't want you to change who you are. That's not really what I mean. Here, in Cedar Ridge, you're Jensen Ackles: the poor kid whose mom was murdered." Jensen flinched and tried to pull away, but Misha just held on to his hand tighter refusing to let him go. "Or you're the kid who didn't talk in school. Or the kid who peed his pants. Or the guy who needs protecting because he can't make his own decisions. Everyone here has their own set view of you. Their own preconceived idea of who you are and who you always will be."

"They care about me, though," Jensen said. "Chris and Jared are my friends. They look out for me."

"Yeah, you're right, they do," Misha agreed. "They're good friends, they don't want you to get hurt. But they have their own lives, own relationships. They've figured out what they want out of life. Have you really had a chance to do that?"

"I...fuck, Misha." Jensen looked torn, confused. "I...why...why do you care?"

"Because I like you. I more than like you. Shit, Jensen, trust me I know it's mad; I know we only met a week ago, but these past few days with you are the happiest I remember being for a long time, maybe ever. When I'm with you, I forget to be the cynical person I am with everyone else. I forget that I don't care about anyone but myself. I love seeing you smile, making you laugh. I want you to be happy. I want you to be happy with me." Misha laid his heart on the line.

Jensen stared at him in disbelief, then slowly, slowly, closed the space in-between them and pressed his lips against Misha's. "I am happy. With you," he breathed into Misha's mouth. "I think-"

Whatever he thought was cut off by a scuffle outside of his door. Misha swore to himself, then out loud. Someone knocked on the door, demanding and angry.

"Shit," Jensen said. "Clothes."

Both men scrambled around the room trying to locate their own clothes as the thumping against the door grew impatient.

"Okay! Okay! Give me a second," Jensen yelled, fastening up his pants and grabbing a tee-shirt off the floor. Misha only just had time to make himself decent before Jensen opened the door.

"You!" Chris Kane stormed into the room towards Misha, his fist already raised.

"Hey!" Jensen shouted, grabbing Chris's arm as he barged past him. "What the hell's wrong with you, man?"

Chris shrugged him off, nearly knocking him over. "Get off of me! I told you," he yelled in Jensen's face. "I told you not to trust him."

Misha's stomach plunged and he was caught between wanting to get the hell out of dodge and wanting to shove Chris away from Jensen.

It was Felicia who'd entered the room quietly behind Chris's whirlwind who put her hand on Chris's chest and nudged him back out of Jensen's space. "Okay, Chris, calm down. I wish I hadn't told you now. You're just supposed to be here for back-up."

"What the hell is going on?" Jensen demanded, stepping back towards his open door, placing Chris and Felicia between him, and Misha standing at the opposite side of the room.

"He lied." Chris spat, glaring at Misha.

"Chris, let me, okay?" Felicia said firmly. "He's not who he says he is, Jensen. He's a reporter. Isn't that right Mr. Collins?"

Misha ignored her and talked straight to Jensen. "Give me a chance to explain. Just you and me. I'll tell you everything, Jensen, I swear. I was going to anyway."

"What are you talking about?" Jensen looked at Felicia as though Misha had never spoken.

"He isn't doing a PhD. I looked him up. He was asking questions, and you and he were getting close, and when he was still here after a few days I just wanted to check, so I did some research. It wasn't hard... not for me. Not with his address and credit card details. He's an investigative reporter, but he's taken six weeks out to do research for a book he's writing about serial killers. He came here looking for you, Jensen."

Misha had to admire Felicia's skills. She'd make a damn good journalist herself. Unfortunately for Misha she wasn't finished.

"That's not all, Jensen." Felicia flicked a glance at Jensen then focused on Misha and continued without hesitation or mercy. Misha felt the blood drain from his face as his nightmare unfolded around him. "His real name is Dmitri Krushnic. His dad was Vasili Krushnic."

"I don't...I don't understand." Jensen's voice was faint, nearly drowned out by the blood rushing in Misha's ears.

"Vasili Krushnic; the St. Louis Stalker. He murdered three women before the police caught him breaking into victim number four's house. The things he did to them, Jensen. He stalked them, messed with their heads for weeks before he finally killed them. The diaries that he left behind were...he was a monster, Jensen. And Misha is his son."

Time stood still. Misha felt trapped; in the room, in himself. Unable to react. Barely able to breathe. Whatever he did, wherever he went, he would never find a way to escape where he came from.

"No." Jensen was the first to break the loaded silence. "Misha? Tell me it's not true."

Misha tried to speak, got as far as opening his mouth, but what could he say?

"It's true?" Jensen whispered.

The devastation in Jensen's face, in his broken voice, ripped a hole straight through Misha's heart. "I was going to tell you." It was the truth, but it was too late and Misha could see it in Jensen's eyes. "I was going to tell you everything."

"He's lying, Jensen," Chris drawled. "He's done nothing but lie to us all since he set foot in town."

Misha ignored him. "I wouldn't have asked to you come with me if I wasn't going to tell you."

"You what?" Chris said.

"Shut up!" Misha dismissed him through gritted teeth. "Think about it, Jensen. How could I have kept any of that secret?"

"You lied about it all?" Jensen said, Misha's words not registering, still stuck on the one huge thing that Misha couldn't deny and couldn't change.

"To start off with, Jensen. Before I got to know you, before-"

Jensen cut him off. "You never cared, did you? It was all for what? A story? Poor Helen Ackles' baby boy all grown up, and look how fucked up he is! Well, I guess you got what you wanted."

"You're wrong, Jensen." Misha tried to cross the distance between them, but Jensen backed out nearly into the hall, and Chris and Felicia still stood between them. "I did care, Jensen. I do care. I care about you more than I've ever cared about anyone else."

Jensen scrubbed his hands across his face so hard it had to hurt before wrapping his arms around himself. "I don't... I can't believe you. All those things you said and you knew all along who I was. Who my mom was. Was it all just a game? Getting me to trust you. Fucking me! God, I bet you were laughing your head off at what an idiot I was! How fucking gullible!"

"No." Misha reached out to Jensen even though he knew he would never reach him. "I never laughed at you. Never. And I never lied about how I felt about you. You have to believe me, Jensen. I fucked up. I know I did, but I'm begging you, just give me a chance to prove how sorry I am."

"No." Jensen shook his head, his answer determinedly simple. "No, I can't. You need to leave. I need to leave."

Jensen turned and walked away, disappearing out of sight so quickly that Misha barely had a chance to react. When he did try to follow, Chris stepped squarely in his way, shoving him with both hands in the middle of his chest. “You heard him scumbag. You need to leave."

"Fine." Misha knocked Chris's hands away and tried to step around him. "I'll leave as soon as he hears me out."

"No, that's not gonna happen. You'll grab your crap and get the hell out now before I beat you bloody, then call Jared and get him to throw your ass in jail."

"Throw me in jail for what, exactly?"

"For being a lying piece of shit." Chris growled.

Misha knew he was beaten. He was outmaneuvered, outnumbered and in the wrong. He held his hands up in defeat. "Fine. Fine. I'll leave. Leave you all to fuck Jensen up a bit more. And seeing as how you care so much about him, you think you should maybe go after him? You know, since he stormed out of here with no socks or shoes on, no jacket or wallet or-"

Chris looked uncertain, torn between his worry for Jensen and deep-seated desire to physically throw Misha out on his ass. With an ugly scowl at Misha, he opted to run after his friend.

"You happy now?" Misha turned to Felicia, who'd been quietly watching the drama unfold around her.

"I did the right thing," she said, jutting her chin out, defiant.

It's not like Misha could argue. She had. Misha was the one who'd screwed up. He'd brought this whole mess down on himself. Still, he couldn't help but feel bitter. Especially about her digging deep enough to find out about his father.

"Sure, you did," Misha said, grabbing his socks and shoes and sitting down on the bed to put them on. "You couldn't have come to me first though? Let me explain before you dragged Chris in to make things ten times worse. And really, what the hell does who my dad is have to do with this? I'm not him. I'm nothing like him."

"Jensen had a right to know," Felicia said, watching Misha carefully as he stood up and looked for his jacket before snatching his watch from the nightstand.

"He did," Misha agreed. "And I would have told him. Fuck!" Misha ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "You're right, okay. You did nothing wrong. If I'd been in your position, I'd have done the exact same thing. I swear though, I stopped caring about the story as soon as I got to know Jensen. I just asked him to come with me when I leave. Two minutes before you and Chris came bungling through the door. I was going to tell him about my job, about the book. If you'd just waited one more day."

"Or if you hadn't lied in the first place," Felicia said without a hint of remorse or sympathy, crossing her arms over her chest and tilting her head at Misha.

The conversation was going nowhere. Misha raked in his pocket for his room key before marching out of Jensen's room with Felicia following close on his heels. Chances were he wouldn't have much time to get his stuff together and get out before Chris came back and threw him out, or called Jared to run him out of town. Misha stormed around his room, ramming his clothes and toiletries into his bag, everything that had just happened turning over and over in his head. What a fucking mess. He couldn’t believe he’d screwed up so badly. He should have just stuck with his original plan and left days ago. What the fuck was he thinking? This was what happened when you let yourself care. It made you vulnerable, made you stupid.

Misha felt Felicia watching him from the doorway as he stuffed his duffle bag in the trunk of his car, before slamming his door and driving off with a screech of tires. He didn't who know he was angry at, but he was goddamn furious. He wanted to punch something so badly, his hand was cramping. Fuck them! Fuck them all. Maybe he would write the story. If Jensen wouldn't listen to him, wouldn't give him the slightest benefit of the doubt then Misha might as well profit from the fiasco.

He'd driven forty miles out of town before he figured out the only person he was angry at was himself. His anger deflated as quickly as it had blown up. His foot eased off the gas pedal and he slumped back in the driver’s seat. He was deluding himself if he thought for one minute he could do that to Jensen. As he drove farther away from Cedar Ridge, away from Jensen, it felt as though his heart beat fainter. As though he was dying slowly with every passing mile. Every time he blinked he saw Jensen’s face. The broken look of betrayal in those hurt eyes would be stained on Misha’s soul forever.

He checked in to the very next motel that he came to. Not exactly the Ritz, but not the Bates Motel either. The weathered exterior had seen better days, and the interior with its genuine eighties decor was plain shabby rather than shabby-chic. The chintzy polyester sheets on the bed seemed clean enough however, and the mold in the bathroom was at least confined to the shower.

Misha called Jensen five times. Left three voice messages then a dozen texts. Then he went out and bought himself a bottle of whisky and, for the first time ever, proceeded to drink himself incapable and then unconscious. He had to force down the first mug full, grimacing as the foul tasting liquid scorched a path down his throat, stopping to soak in to his lungs on its way to his gut. The taste seemed to gradually improve after that until Misha decided Wild Turkey was pretty much the best thing ever. Shortly after that he passed out.

When he woke up the next morning, he was lying face down on the bathroom tiles. His tongue felt three sizes too big for his mouth, he had a ferociously pounding headache and it appeared to be only a matter of luck that he hadn't choked to death on his own vomit. The rest of the day was spent dry-heaving, feeling incredibly sorry for himself and sleeping.

The day after that, he decided to pack up and head home. He went as far as throwing his bag in his car and stomping to the office to check out. Once he managed to coax the clerk out of the back room, the disturbing sound of seedy seventies porn music trailing after him, he ended up telling the uninterested sleaze bag that he was staying for at least another few nights. Clearly having better things to do with his time, the guy scratched his belly, shrugged in indifference and wandered straight back to the faint sounds of skin slapping against skin. Misha quickly left, climbed in his car and headed back to Cedar Ridge.

Halfway there, swearing at himself for being such a chicken-shit, he turned around and headed back to the motel.

There he unpacked his laptop and notepads and buried himself in the research he'd done on the Slate County Slasher. He wasn't going to include it in his book, wasn't ever going to make it public, but for some insane reason he wanted to show Jensen everything that he knew. If Jensen didn't want to read it that was up to him. But Misha wanted to physically hand over the story he'd written, give possession of it to Jensen, as though that would somehow prove he'd never publish it. It was a lame idea, but it was the only one he'd come up with.


The following day, his room looked like a tornado had ripped through it. Notes and photos were spread everywhere. He even had a chart pinned to the wall, every person named on it that he'd linked in one way or another to the murders. He actually thought he was getting someplace. He'd had about three hours sleep and a bag of chips to eat in the past twenty-four hours, but he was so close to answers that he could taste it.

He ignored the knocking on his door when it started. He didn't need the sheets changed or fresh towels. He really didn't need anyone to see his work spread along every surface of the room. The knocking continued steadily though, persistent and unwavering. Looking down at himself to make sure he was at least half-presentable, no chips stuck in his shirt, he eventually gave in and answered the door. Felicia stood on the other side with Jared a few steps behind her. Not who he expected or wanted to see.

"What do you want?" Misha asked brusquely, half closing the door, not wanting them to see into his room.

"We just want to talk," Felicia said. "We're not here to cause trouble, I promise."

"How did you even know I was here?"

Felicia looked down and shifted nervously before admitting, "Your credit card. I am pretty much a genius. I can find out most things."

As if Misha hadn't already found that out.

"Can we come in?"


"Please? We want to talk to you about Jensen. He's...he's not doing so good."

And damn but that was unfair. Now he was going to have to let them in. The only problem was they were going to take one look at his room and jump to the conclusion that he was a) still writing the story or b) a serial killer. Like his father.

He rubbed his hand through his hair, doubtless messing it up worse than ever. When was the last time he'd washed it? Showered? "Look," he finally said. "You can come in, but I don't want any trouble, especially not from the hulk there." Misha nodded at Jared who had the gall to look offended by the name. "My room's, well... I've been working. I wanted to at least try and figure out some kind of theory behind the murders. Jensen's mom's murder. Not to publish it, just to finish up what I started. I'm going to hand it all over to Jensen and he can do whatever. Read it, burn it. It's up to him."

He stood back, arms crossed, and against his better judgment let them both in.

"Wow," Felicia said. "I love what you've done with the place."

Jared strode straight across to the wall, running his fingers over the names linked in diagrams on the wall. "You've been real busy."

"You wanted to talk about Jensen," Misha said, ignoring them both but keeping a watchful eye on the young deputy.

Felicia carefully moved aside a file and sat gingerly on Misha's bed. "You have every right to be pissed at me, but for the record, I still don't think I was wrong to do what I did."

Misha waited, face a blank mask.

"But," Felicia continued, "maybe I could have handled it a little differently. Talked to you alone first. But when I found out about your dad, I guess I freaked out a little."

Misha stood impassively. Refusing to help her out. Her actions had been understandable, but fuck it - he'd lost Jensen because of her. He wasn't feeling charitable.

"You fucked up, man," Jared cut in, his voice surprisingly even, not accusatory, just stating a fact. "You came to town looking for a story and you lied. I'm pretty sure you regret it. I saw you with Jensen. Unless you're a fucking amazing actor and seriously screwed in the head, I believe that you care about him. I don't believe that who your father was has anything to do with any of this. You weren't more than a kid when the cops caught up with him and from what I heard, he wasn't exactly dad of the year material. For the record, I don't blame you for changing your name."

Misha looked at him in surprise. He'd expected Jared's input to be more of a physical or threatening manner. Calm reasoning was unexpected.

"You aren't going to get an apology for what happened the other day and you don't deserve one. But if you're still here and you really do give a shit about Jensen, then there's a chance that we can all move on. Yeah?"

Misha nodded his head slowly, not quite sure what to think.

"We're worried about Jensen," Jared continued. "He's not doing too well. He's barely talked to anyone. Not even Sam or Jeff. He hasn't been to work, barely comes out of his room. When Chris tried to talk to him, Jensen punched him in the face. And that's really not Jensen. He'd rather hurt himself than anyone else."

Misha's taciturn stance finally broke. "He hasn't though? Hurt himself?"

There was a beat of silence before Jared admitted that he didn't know. "Like I said, he's barely out of his room."

"Give me an hour or two. I'm close to finishing up. I'd rather have it all done before I go see him." Misha was already moving towards his laptop.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Felicia asked, chewing on her thumb nail nervously. "I'm pretty good at the research thing."

"I've got a spare hour or two as well." Jared shrugged. "It's my day off. And if you think you might be close to finding out some answers. If it might help Jensen. Then, I'd...I'd like to help."

Accepting help wasn't in Misha's nature. He was fiercely independent, he worked alone, detested relying on other people. On the other hand, Jensen needed him. He needed to see Jensen, sooner rather than later. And Felicia's computer skills were without a doubt impressive.

Picking up his laptop, Misha brought it over and placed it beside Felicia on the bed. "What can you find out about a man named Mitch Pileggi?"


Chapter Five


Misha had half expected to be lynched the second he walked back into The Hunter's Retreat. Luckily the place wasn't busy and there was no sign of Chris. Jim and Jeff were sitting at a table with Sheriff Lehne, a pack of cards on the table between them. The three men looked his way, but other than a dark glower from under Jim's bushy eyebrows, Lehne patting his gun none too subtly, and what seemed to be a blink and you'd miss it nod of approval from Jeff, they let him be. Behind the bar, Sam looked thunderous, and if the violent way she was slicing lemons was any indication then she wasn't best pleased to see him. She didn't stop Felicia and Jared from accompanying him through the bar and up to Jensen's room though.

Jared patted Misha clumsily on the shoulder as they walked past her. "She's not your biggest fan right now. She's like a pissed off momma bear defending her cub. If you manage to talk Jensen out of his room, then I'm pretty sure she'll forgive you. Eventually."

The traipse up the stairs to Jensen's attic room seemed to take a lifetime, and sweat beaded uncomfortably at the nape of Misha's neck by the time they reached the top landing. Hand trembling and palms damp with sweat, Misha rapped out a tentative knock. There was no answer. Egged on by Jared and Felicia, he tried again.

"Jensen! It's Misha. Can we talk?" Misha shouted as loud as he dared against the pine wood door. "I really want to see you. Just give me one chance, Jensen please. If you want me to leave after that I'll go without a fuss and you won't ever see me again. I promise." Misha knocked again, a bit louder, a bit more urgent.

Misha had nearly given up hope by the time the door finally opened. The relief he felt at seeing Jensen was tempered by how awful the other man looked. His hair greasy and unkempt, his clothes wrinkled, and worrying dark pits under his eyes as though he hadn't had an uninterrupted hour's sleep since the last time Misha had seen him. It smelled as though he’d smoked a carton of cigarettes without stopping to breathe or open the window. And he’d obviously showered as often as Misha.

Jensen looked at him, then at Felicia and Jared on either side of him. "Not here," he said roughly.

He slammed the door shut, leaving Misha, Jared and Felicia exchanging worried glances. Two minutes later the door opened again, and Jensen reappeared wearing boots and a jacket. "Let's go," he said to Misha, qualifying that with a "not you two," to his friends.

Misha meekly followed Jensen out to his truck. Jensen climbing into the driver’s side and waiting without even a glimmer of a smile while Misha struggled to pry open the stubborn passenger side door. When Jensen headed out to the creek, Misha wasn't at all surprised. Jensen didn't turn on the radio, didn't utter a single word. Misha wasn't sure what to make of his vacant muteness. It was more unsettling than blatant anger.

Pulling over before he reached the bridge, Jensen clambered out of the truck, waded through the long tangle of grasses and weeds until he stood silently at the river's edge. Misha, slightly less sure-footedly followed.

"Jensen…" Misha reached out, tried to take hold of Jensen's hand. The instant that his fingers grazed Jensen, Jensen's hand shot away as though he'd been electrocuted.

"What do you want, Misha?" Jensen's voice was flat, lifeless.

"You." Misha answered on instinct, then when Jensen didn't react, added, "a chance to explain."

"I'm listening," Jensen said coolly, shoving his hands in the front pockets of his jeans and staring at the water flowing by. His face looked so pale in the daylight, his cheekbones sharper than Misha remembered. He was still beautiful.

Misha took a deep breath and talked, pretending that what he said might make a difference. That Jensen was even listening. That there was a hope he might forgive Misha his mistakes. Might take a chance on him.

He told Jensen about his father. About his crappy childhood. About how his father was caught and shot by the police at the scene of his attempted fourth murder when Misha was nine years old. He told Jensen about how his mother fell apart, turned to drugs instead of her family, how she slowly rotted away and Misha had been helpless to prevent it. Told him about the bullying and hate he'd suffered, the friends he'd lost. The years he'd spent alone and miserable, only the thought of escaping his past and starting afresh when he was old enough to go to college keeping him sane. He told Jensen about his inability to hold on to a successful relationship, about the handful of boyfriends he'd had that had all dumped him because of his walled off nature. His inability to care, to love.

He told Jensen everything he could think of, broke himself into tiny pieces, vulnerable and unshielded for the first time since the theft of his childhood.

Then he explained about the job he didn't love. The book he planned on writing. The hope that it might in some way be cathartic for him to study the mind of a murderer. The dream that it might allow him to move on and start a new chapter of his life. The lies that hadn't mattered at first, but had turned into an impending disaster when Misha had fallen for Jensen. He begged Jensen unashamedly to believe him when he promised that he'd no intention of writing about his mom, even before Felicia and Chris had barged into their room that morning. He talked until his mouth was dry and he'd run out of words. Until he was an empty shell. Then he waited.

"My mom used to bring me here when I was little," Jensen said softly, talking as much to the river as Misha. Barely loud enough to hear over the rumbling of the water tumbling by and the birds chattering in the overhanging trees. "It's my first memory; sitting on the bank here with my socks and shoes off, my trousers folded up to my knees and my toes dipped in the water. I remember my mom laughing when I told her the fish were nibbling at my toes." Jensen paused and smiled faintly, his eyes focused far away on things that Misha couldn't see. The fragile smile disappeared behind a cloud a moment later. "The only other clear memory I have of her, is her lying on the floor, her pretty blonde hair sticky with blood. I remember trying to stop the blood flowing out of her throat, but I couldn't; the blood trickled through my fingers until my hands were covered in it. I remember crying when she wouldn't wake up. Wouldn’t see me."

At that moment, with his cracking voice and gentle tone, Jensen didn't sound a day older than that four-year-old kid. All Misha wanted to do was fold Jensen in to his arms and never let him go. No-one should have those memories. He suddenly deeply understood why his friends were so over-protective.

"I don't trust people," Jensen continued levelly, as though he hadn't just described the most horrific moment of his life. "My childhood psychologist said it was normal. For someone like me. She said a lot of things though and most of it was bullshit. And it didn't help. I still don't trust many people. Chris and Jared because we were all friends before...before. I trust Jeff. He's...he's a good guy. I don't think I'd still be here if it wasn't for him. I trust Sam and Jim now; that took years though. I trust Danneel and maybe Felicia, I don’t know, I like her anyway. Then you came along. You were gorgeous and smart, so sexy it was like you'd stepped out of my wet dreams and that was scary as hell. But I trusted you. I don't even know why, but I did. I trusted you with my secrets and my body." Jensen flushed as he said that, a pink tinge putting much needed color into his cheeks.

"When Felicia told me, when she...I felt like an idiot. Like I deserved for it to happen because I was stupid enough to trust you in the first place. Good things don't happen to me. I don't deserve them."

"Jensen," Misha said, but Jensen shook his head and carried on talking. "I'm a mess, Misha. I might look okay on the outside but inside I'm a wreck. A neat package of insecurity, self-loathing, abandonment issues and guilt. I'm emotionally stunted and needy." Jensen ran himself down as dispassionately as though he were reading out a shopping list.

"That's not true, Jensen," Misha argued. And even if it was, he thought, it didn't matter.

Jensen shrugged. "When you left. When I told you to leave," Jensen clarified, "I came out here and got so drunk that Jeff had to pour me into his car and take me home. I don't even remember it. Then I slinked back to Sam's, hid in my room and ignored everyone, apart from Chris - him I punched. All he said was sorry. I didn't want to eat and I couldn't sleep. I cut the outside of my thigh with a shard of broken glass. These aren't the actions of someone normal."

"Normal's overrated," Misha said as calmly as he could, trying not to think about the new wound on Jensen's leg. About how he was responsible for causing Jensen so much pain that he had to make himself bleed. "You think I'm normal? After everything I just told you? I'm just as messed up as you. Lots of people are, Jensen. Maybe they hide it a bit better, but there aren't many people out there who are normal."

For the first time Jensen turned his head and looked at Misha. "I missed you. I sat in my room thinking about you...and me, and I didn't care about the lies. I just wanted to see you again. I think that's maybe fucked up."

"I missed you too," Misha admitted. "So if you're fucked up then I'm just as bad. I didn't want to miss you. I wanted to be mad. I wanted to drive away and never think about you again." He didn't know if being that honest with Jensen was a great idea, but he wasn't risking one more lie or half-truth. "I only got about an hour away, Jensen. I couldn't leave. The thought of never seeing you again wasn't something I could bear. I've never loved anyone. Never let anyone get close enough to me. But you, Jensen, I think I might love you."

"I don't know what to do." Jensen sounded lost as he looked back over the river.

"What do you want to do?" Misha asked simply.

"I want to be with you."

"Then we'll do that."

"Just like that?" Jensen asked.

"Just like that." Misha nodded, reaching out to take Jensen's hand again. This time Jensen didn't flinch, allowed Misha to tug his hand from his pocket and lock their fingers together. "Whatever you want to do. However long it takes to decide what we want to do. Where we want to go. Whatever happens we'll do it together. I'll not leave you. Never again."

They stood side by side quietly for minutes. A cool breeze licking around their faces as they silently watched the river flowing endlessly by. Until the tension finally slipped from Jensen's body and he turned towards Misha, pressing a timid kiss against his lips then slipping his hands around his waist, burying his head against his shoulder and sinking tiredly against him. Misha wrapped him in his arms and held him close.


They spent the night in Jensen's bed. Misha persuaded Jensen to shower and eat, then followed his own advice and did the same. Then, both wrung out, they fell into Jensen's bed, tangled themselves in a complicated knot of arms and legs and fell asleep, Jensen's soft newly-washed hair tickling Misha's chin.

The following day, Jensen and Misha talked and ate and slept. Made no big decisions and avoided talking to anyone else. Something that Jensen felt guilty about and Misha didn't. They kissed and snuggled together on the bed but didn't go any further. Silently agreeing not to rush their fragile new relationship.

It was another day before Misha broached the subject of his research. Jensen's face shuttered completely and he stormed off, only to return five minutes later full of apologies. Misha kissed him quiet. Jensen opted to talk it over with Jared and Chris before deciding if he wanted to hear about Misha's conclusions. He arranged to meet them down in the bar, leaving Misha sitting on his own at the counter listening to thinly veiled threats from first Jeff, then Sam. Jeff at least believed that Misha cared about Jensen and was trying to make amends for being a lying dick in the first place. Sam was struggling to get past Misha being a bare-faced lying liar who lied. Misha didn't exactly blame her. Jim, passing by after Sam had just ripped him a new one, gave him a sympathetic pat and advised him under his breath to give her some time.

In the end, Jensen asked Misha to tell him what he'd found out.

More nervous than he'd ever admit, Misha laid his work out for Jensen to look over. Everything apart from the crime scene photos he'd managed to get hold of and the autopsy reports. There was no need to subject Jensen to them.

He told Jensen about each of the victims. Started at the first and didn't stop until he reached Helen Ackles. Jensen grew paler, gnawed at his lip until Misha worried he'd bite clean through it, but he sat and listened silently to it all. The news that each of the victims were pregnant was a shock.

"All of them?"

"Yes," Misha nodded. "You knew about your mom?"

"Yeah," Jensen said, much to Misha's relief. "My dad, when he was drunk, used to talk about it. How I was going to have a little brother or sister. How we were going to be the perfect little family. It was all bullshit, of course. We weren't the perfect family before, I doubt having another mouth to feed would have stopped the arguments."

Shuffling his chair close enough to Jensen's to press their thighs together, curl their ankles together, Misha carried on, trying to just get the whole thing over and done with for both their sakes.

"Mitchell 'Mitch' Pileggi was a dispensing pharmacist in Greenvale. He was also a friend of your dad, Jared's dad, Jeff, and Fred Lehne. I can't prove it, but I think that he knew about each of the pregnancies. Women buying home-testing kits and prenatal vitamins, it would have been easy for him to spot."

"All the victims weren't from Greenvale though, were they?" asked Jensen doubtfully.

"No, one of them was. The other two were from very small towns not that far away. They both went to family doctors in Greenvale, so it's not a big leap to assume they shopped in the pharmacy there. The only one that didn't was your mom. But then-"

"He was friends with my dad," Jensen finished. "So you think he...?"

"Yes, I think so," Misha said gently. "Felicia, your friend with the ninja computer skills, helped me dig into his past. His first wife died in childbirth. He was barely twenty-two at the time and living in Oregon. I doubt many people outside his family even knew about it. He settled in Greenvale with his second wife, Marie, about five years later. Apparently they tried for years to have children, but she suffered multiple miscarriages, then just a few weeks before the first murder, she suffered complications after another miscarriage and nearly bled out. They had to perform an emergency hysterectomy."

"Shit!" Jensen said, wiping his hand across his eyes. "And you think that made him flip? Why didn't the police figure it out?"

"I don't know really. Jared had a look at the investigations. He wouldn't tell me much but he did say Pileggi's name was mentioned briefly. My guess is that because he was friends with Lehne and was a fine upstanding member of the community, he got overlooked. There was no definite link between him and all the victims and then...well, then he died in a car wreck. Less than a week after your mom died."

"Fuck," Jensen cursed. "I don't believe that you figured all that out after a couple of weeks while the police didn't come up with jack shit."

"It is only a theory. I can't prove any of this." Misha laid his hand over Jensen's. "It's all circumstantial. I didn't have to come up with hard physical evidence or convince a jury. I might be way off base."

"But you don't think so?"

"But I don't think so," Misha agreed.

"I need some time," Jensen said. "To think about all this."

Misha tipped Jensen's face towards him, looking into his eyes and trying to figure out what he was thinking. "Are you okay?"

"Sure," Jensen replied automatically, then stopped, shook his head and said more honestly. "I don't know. He was a friend of my dad's. Of Jeff's? How could he..." Jensen trailed off.

"How could anyone?" Misha said. "Some people just snap, I guess. Maybe it's a mental illness or a twist of biology. I honestly don't know. And trust me, it's something I've put a lot of thought into. I've never managed to come up with an answer."

Jensen leaned forward and caught Misha's lips in a kiss. "Thank you. For explaining all this. For figuring it out. I don't know what I'm going to do with any of this yet. But I think I'm glad you showed me."

With a badly needed hug, Misha left Jensen to figure out what the hell he was feeling. He wasn't that sure of what he was feeling himself. Drained, if he was honest. Tired of all the senseless death and wasted lives. Sick of thinking about it, of pouring over the photographs and gruesome details. He changed into his running gear and pounded his melancholic mood out in a long run that left his muscles aching and his lungs straining but his head a hell of a lot clearer.


It was after eight by the time he got back to Sam's, and Jensen wasn't in his room. Misha showered and changed before heading down to the bar to look for him. He was there. Talking to Jim and Sam. Heads nearly knocking together over a table, Sam holding Jensen's hand in hers.

"He's telling them that he's leaving."

Misha whipped his head around to see Jeff Morgan leaning against the bar, looking in his direction. "He's already spoken to me. Said that he wants to leave town for a while. Head out to San Francisco with you.

"He has? He is?" Misha looked at Jensen again; saw the way his eyes were glistening brightly.

"You didn't know?" Jeff said, eyebrow raised in question.

Misha shook his head and climbed up on a barstool near Jeff. "We'd discussed it, but he hadn't decided anything."

"Well, for its worth," Jeff said, raising his whisky glass to his lips and taking a sip, "I think it's a good idea."

That surprised Misha. He didn't think that any of Jensen's friends would want him to leave. "You do?"

Jeff smiled knowingly. "You probably think we all want to keep him here, don't you? Keep him coddled and protected. Well, you're not wrong. I love that boy like he was my own. I've watched him grow from a terrified little kid, scared of his own shadow, into a grown man scared of living. I wish I could have done more for him, but well, I didn't know how and he was never one for letting people see how much he was hurting. His daddy and I were friends, trained side by side for the corp, but some days...some days I wanted to strangle the man for not helping that boy more. He needed a mother and what he got was a father who spent more time drinking and wallowing in self-pity than looking after his kid." Jeff turned his glass round and round in his hand, stared down into the swirling golden liquid. "I can't say I was that sorry when his daddy upped and left. I thought that when Sam and Jim took Jensen in, they might be able to bring him out of himself. I'm not quite sure if that worked out."

Jeff and Misha both looked across to where Jensen was sitting with Jim and Sam, none of them looking especially cheerful.

"Anyway," Jeff said, raising his glass to his lips again, "I think it'll do Jensen good to get out of this town, experience a bit more of the world. Especially if he has someone he loves, that loves him, looking out for him." There was just a hint of a warning lacing Jeff's tone.

"Of course I'll look out for him. I do love him," Misha admitted. "I know we haven't known each other that long and the shit kind of hit the fan for a few days there, but I love him. And I promise you I won’t let anyone hurt him."

"No, you'd damn well better not." Misha couldn’t help but jump when a growl came from the other side of the counter.

"Chris." Misha nodded. "You heard then?"

"I heard enough," Chris said, plonking a shot glass containg something that looked like water, but which undoubtedly was not, down in front of Misha. Misha picked the glass up cautiously and sniffed it, wrinkling his nose up at the pungent smell. Chris stared at him, daring him to say something.

"And?" Misha stared back. "Don't you have a list of ominous threats to work through?" Sitting on the opposite side of the bar, the solid barrier seperating them, Misha felt considerably braver when faced with Chris Kane's scowling face.

"Nothing that you've not heard before." Chris grinned, but if anything that sent more chills down Misha's spine than his scowl. "Besides, I was told once that Jensen's a grown ass man capable of making his own decisions. Maybe it's about time I stood back and let him."

Another surprise. Misha didn't think he could take much more.

"As long as he keeps in touch, I can deal with him leaving. And as long as you remember that with Felicia's help I can find you wherever you are. And if Jensen needs me, I'll be there before you have time to hide."

Misha actually felt reassured hearing the thinly veiled threats from Chris. They sat much more easily with him than Chris pretending that he didn't plan on pummeling Misha's face bloody if he even thought about hurting his friend.

"Well, I'll drink to that." Misha smiled, just to annoy Chris, and with ill-advised bravery knocked back the unidentified shot in his hand.

It tasted like someone had mixed iodine with gin then added chili-peppers just for fun. Misha thought his throat was actually burning. He coughed and spluttered across the bar, grasping his throat as though he was dying. When a bottle of water was shoved into his hand, he downed half of it trying to douse the flames before trying to breathe.

Chris smirked at him, self-satisfied and definitely the winner of that little encounter.

"Christian, you asshole, are you trying to kill him?"

Jensen was standing beside Misha glaring at his friend. He urged Misha to take another drink of the water he'd given him, rubbing soothing circles across Misha's back that made Misha want to melt into his arms, and almost made being poisoned worthwhile.

"Maybe you should stick to the soft drinks, huh?" Jensen suggested when Misha finished off the bottle of water and felt some of the fire fade from his face.

"I think that might be a good idea," Misha croaked.

Misha didn't drink anything more toxic than Pepsi for the rest of the night. Jensen, he noticed, didn't consume much more. He stuck to beer and didn't drink more than two bottles, spending more time chatting with his friends. His mood seemed so much lighter. Like a weight had lifted from his shoulders. Maybe it wouldn't last, but Misha was enjoying seeing Jensen smiling and looking relaxed. No sign of the lines of stress that normally clung to the edges of his eyes.

News of his impending departure spread quickly. As time wore on, the evening turned more and more into a leaving party. All of Jensen’s friends turned up; Chris and Jeff were already there, Jared appeared with his girlfriend, and Felicia and Danneel turned up together a short while later. Danneel's appearance the most warmly welcomed by Jensen because she came bearing pie. Chocolate and pear pie. It was heavenly. Misha was brave enough to have some because she'd baked it for Jensen and not him. Danneel's suspicious looks and fiery temper still had Misha on guard. If she and Chris ever combined forces, he doubted anyone would be safe. Certainly not him.

The only blip, or certainly the biggest one, in the evening was the appearance of the Weatherlys. Misha didn't notice them arrive, but he certainly noticed when Michael knocked Jensen's beer bottle over his lap, then laughing like a hyena, made a stupid crack about Jensen peeing his pants. Predictably the only person that found it funny was his wife, who, oblivious to the atmosphere in the room, snickered along with her moronic husband.

Jensen jumped up from his stool, accidentally knocking into Jessica in his haste. Taking that as his cue to start a fight, Michael shoved Jensen hard sending him stumbling. Tripping over the legs of an empty bar stool, Jensen lost his footing and fell backwards, hitting the ground hard. The back of his head thudding against the wooden floor.

Misha dropped to his knees at Jensen's side. Chris practically vaulted across the bar, grabbing Weatherly by his throat and dragging him out the nearest door, Jared following close behind. Jessica caught sight of Danneel storming towards her, murder in her eyes, and ran out of the door after them, clutching her purse to her chest like a shield.

"I'm fine." Jensen pushed up on to his elbows first, before sitting all the way up. "Do you think Jared went out there to stop Chris beating Weatherly up or to help him?"

Watching Jensen gingerly prod at the back of his head, Misha hoped it was the latter, but didn't say as much. "I wouldn't worry about it either way. Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little winded. I think I'm gonna go change out of my pants though. These ones feel pretty gross."

"You need a hand with that?" Misha winked at him.

Jensen laughed and let Misha help him to his feet. "I guess it might be a two-man job."

Jeff, who'd been hovering anxiously beside them, groaned. "Please don't say any more. I really don't want that image in my head."

"What image?" Jensen knocked shoulders with Jeff on his way past. "You thinking about me in my tighty whities you old perv?"

"Oh, god, shut up," Jeff pleaded, desperately reaching for his glass of whisky. He smiled indulgently at Jensen and Misha as they left the bar hand in hand though.


In Jensen's room, Misha pressed Jensen back against the door and knelt at his feet. Untying the laces of his boots, he tugged them from Jensen's feet then slipped his socks off too. Jensen looked down as Misha deftly unbuckled his belt and peeled his damp jeans slowly down his legs. Misha ignored the smell of beer as he let Jensen's jeans pool around his feet, concentrating instead on the angry new scar on the outside of Jensen's thigh. He pressed a tender kiss to the bruised skin around it but didn't touch the scar itself for fear of hurting Jensen.

"That looks painful." He looked up at Jensen who shrugged.

"I'm sorry," Misha said, layering kisses across the remnants of old cuts and pained memories.

"It's not your fault," Jensen mumbled, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back against the door. Wincing when he knocked the tender spot on his skull.

"Still," Misha said, slipping his fingers under the waistband of Jensen's boxer briefs and dragging them down his thighs. "I'm sorry."

Slowly, Misha pulled Jensen's underwear all the way down his legs, pressing kisses against the freckles on his knees and a faded childhood scar on his shin. Then he stood up and, button by button, unfastened Jensen's shirt, mouthing against Jensen's neck as he slipped the shirt down and free from his arms. Sliding his hands up Jensen's body, below his tee-shirt, Misha felt Jensen's stomach flutter beneath his fingers and his nipples blossom into hard peaks under the coaxing pads of Misha’s thumbs. When he finally yanked Jensen's tee up and over his head, Jensen was breathing hard and his eyes were more black than green. Urging Jensen to step out of the clothes tangled at his feet, Misha grabbed his hand and led him across to the bed, nibbling at his full lips as he gently pushed Jensen down onto his back.

Misha stripped himself out of clothes with brutal efficiency, watching the flush spread across Jensen's cheeks and the delicious way his cock filled out, jerking needily in the air. He crawled up the bed, in-between Jensen's legs, grabbing Jensen's wrists and pulling his hands away from his cock. Holding Jensen's hands down against the mattress, Misha peppered kisses across his body, from the hollow of his throat across the firm muscles of his chest, where he could feel the pounding beat of Jensen's heart. He kissed the sharp edges of Jensen's shoulders and then down the inside of one and then the other arm, spending long minutes tracing his lips over the two faint scars from Jensen's youth. He licked a meandering path across Jensen's stomach, scraping his teeth across the jut of his hip bones until Jensen was quivering below him, his cock leaking a drop of precome at the tip and his balls heavy and tight.

Blindly reaching across to his nightstand and rooting through his drawer with desperate frustration, Jensen eventually located a bottle of lube that he threw down on the bed beside Misha.

"Are you sure?" Misha asked, flicking his tongue against the fine trail of hair leading down towards Jensen's cock. "I could just suck you?"

"No." Jensen rolled his head against the pillow. "Want to feel you. Want to feel...feel, fuck I don't know. Just want you in me."

Misha's cock was enthusiastically on board with that plan. He didn't argue, didn't tease Jensen any further. Coating his fingers in an overly generous squirt of lube, he encouraged Jensen to bend his knees up. Misha's breath hitched and a stab of want punched him in the gut when he saw the tightly clenched hole waiting just for him. With one, then two fingers, he opened Jensen up gently but quickly, just enough not to hurt when his cock pushed past that first tight ring of muscle. Both men groaned in unison when Misha lifted Jensen's legs up and over his shoulders, driving his cock deep inside him, hitting him at the almost perfect angle to scrape across his deliciously sensitive prostate.

From his position Misha could see every flutter of Jensen's eyelids, every ripple of muscle under his freckled skin. Witness every bitten off groan and soundless gasp. He could kiss those blood red lips and mark the milky white skin of Jensen's collar bone with bruising hickeys. He could grip Jensen's hands and thrust so deep inside of him that Jensen would never be able to forget how it felt to be filled and owned and loved. When the hot prickling of his orgasm spread like a brushfire up the base of his spine, he reached down and took Jensen's cock in his hand, jacking him, probably too rough and too dry and too fast. Jensen's body bowed off the bed; he threw his arm across his face and with a muffled yell, came at the same time as Misha's orgasm crashed into him.

He didn't pull free of Jensen, didn't break their connection until Jensen frowned and stretched his legs out.

"Cramp in my ass," were the romantic words groaned from Jensen's bitten-raw lips.

Misha laughed, reluctantly drew out of Jensen, only realizing when he pulled free and a spurt of come dribbled out of Jensen's pulsing hole and down the back of his thigh that they'd forgotten the condom.

"Fuck," he hissed, wiping the smear of come back up to Jensen's hole with his thumb. That was possibly the hottest thing he'd ever seen. Stupid,

"I'm clean," Jensen said.

"Doesn't matter," Misha replied, fascinated by the sticky white drops of come leaking out of Jensen's ass. "That was fucking stupid."

Jensen smirked down at him, just as Misha licked a stripe of come from the inside of his thigh. "Hot, though, isn't it?"

Misha slapped Jensen's thigh and stood up with a groan. "I do believe you're attempting to corrupt me, Mr. Ackles."

"Damn right," Jensen replied, looking so satisfied with himself that Misha had to laugh.

"Come on, you slut." Misha threw his dirty tee-shirt at him. "Clean yourself up. Your friends will be wondering what we're up to."

"Oh I think they'll know." Jensen grinned and licked his lips. "One look at your sex hair and my bow legs and they'll be in no doubt about what we've been up to."

"You're a goddamn demon in disguise, Jensen Ackles." Misha combed his fingers through his hair, knowing by the numerous tangles they were getting stuck in, he was fighting a losing battle. "Now get your sticky ass out of bed before someone comes up here looking for you."

"I want to leave tonight."

"What?" Misha glanced up at Jensen from where he was picking his pants off the floor, unsure that he'd heard right.

Jensen's eyes shone jade green. His face lit up with the idea. "I want to leave tonight. You and me. Let's just pack up and go."

"We can't," Misha said, caught completely off guard. "I mean you've barely given yourself time to think about it."

"I've thought about it all I need to."

"You'll need time to pack," Misha argued.

"I live in one room. It'll take me forty minutes to pack up my shit," Jensen said dismissively.

"What about your friends? Don't you want to say goodbye?"

"Everyone I care about is downstairs right now. I can say goodbye in ten minutes. It's not gonna be any harder to do it now rather than later. Don't you want to get out of here?"

There really was nothing more Misha wanted, but he didn't want Jensen to freak out the next day because he'd changed his mind. Everything was suddenly happening very quickly. "Of course I do. I just want you to be sure. I don't want you to have any regrets."

"The only regret I'll have is staying here longer than I have to. It's the right time for me to leave. I don't want days to brood about it. I just want to do it." Jensen was practically vibrating on the bed. He looked like a little kid on Christmas Eve hearing sleigh bells.

"You're sure?"

"Shit, Misha. Yes, I'm sure. It's not that big of a deal. It's not like we're eloping to Mars or anything. We can always come back."

It was a big deal. For Jensen, who'd lived his whole life in this small town, it was a huge deal. But he seemed adamant and Misha couldn't say that the idea didn't appeal. "Yes. Okay, yes. Let’s do it."

"Yeah?" Jensen said looking up at him hopefully.

"Yeah, why not."

Jensen jumped out of bed, only wincing slightly at the ache in his ass, and tackled Misha into a hug.

"Get your naked ass off me you freak and go pack." Misha laughed a moment later, squirming out of his hold and giving Jensen’s poor defenseless butt cheek a hearty slap.

"You love my naked ass." Jensen smirked, wiggling said ass provocatively as he bent over and picked up his underwear, practically begging for a matching handprint on his other cheek.

Misha couldn't resist. This time Jensen yelped with the force of the smack, but the resulting pout as he rubbed his sore butt was adorable and ample encouragement for Misha to want to repeat the action at a later date.

Eventually Misha managed to persuade Jensen into clothes. It was decided between giddy kisses and wandering hands that Jensen would go down to the bar and talk to everyone while Misha started to pack his clothes into his duffle bag and an old suitcase lurking under his bed. Splitting up, they figured was the only way to get anything done.


Jensen's drawers and closet, surprisingly, were fastidiously neat and free of clutter. He was so organized that it bordered on O.C.D. Misha wasn't sure how he would cope with Misha's own slightly less-ordered brand of cleanliness. That was a problem for another day, though. One too far away now to spend a second worrying about.

It only took about twenty minutes to pack the entire contents of Jensen's chest of drawers into a bag, and that included stopping to laugh for two minutes at Jensen’s assorted range of Sesame Street boxer shorts. Misha started on the closet next. He was unhooking hangers and laying Jensen’s shirts on the bed when he spotted a small, battered looking, cardboard box tucked away in the back corner. Carefully digging it out, he took it across to the bed. The top of it, loosely closed, unfolded as he set it down exposing the contents. A small stuffed black and white panda peeked out of the box. Misha plucked it free, noting the warm bed of a baby blanket and women's knitted sweater it had been set on. The little panda bear was worn in patches, had one eye missing, and a faded stain on its white tummy. It was obviously a much loved childhood toy. Considering the abrupt end of Jensen's childhood, Misha wondered how long the stuffed bear had been hidden away in the dark.

He was still holding the toy when Jensen's bedroom door swung open. He looked up guiltily, expecting to see Jensen standing in the doorway. Instead Sam Beaver stood there. A shotgun in her hands. Aiming straight at him.

Misha froze. She wasn't serious. She couldn't be. People did not just point shotguns at other people. She was obviously making a joke at Misha's expense. A poor one.

"Sam." Misha forced a smile. "Jeez, you gave me heart attack there. Is this another hurt him and I'll kill you speech, because I've got to say I think the prop is overkill."

"Shut up, Collins." Sam stepped properly inside the room, kicking the door shut behind her. "I've heard more than enough from your smart-alec mouth."

"Sam." Misha slowly raised his hands out in front of him, still clutching the little panda.

In response, she raised the shotgun to her shoulder. "I told you to shut up."

Misha's heart was pounding so wildly it felt as though it was trying to jump into his throat. He stayed utterly still and kept his mouth firmly shut.

"I'll tell you what's going to happen and then you're going to do it, no discussions, no tricks or I will shoot you right here." Sam's face was grimly determined, her hands perfectly steady. "You're going to grab your bag and leave. Right now. Without Jensen. You're going to leave and never come back and you're not going to make any attempt to contact him again. Understood?"

Misha stared dumbly at her, stunned.

"You," Sam spat at him, her tone bleeding fury. "You stroll into my home, lie your way into my son's bed, dig up things from the past that have nothing to do with you, then think you can just walk away and take him with you? Take him away from me? I won't allow it? You hear me? I won't allow it."

The gun twitched in her hand as she stared at him through narrowed eyes. Sam wanted him to leave, but Misha suspected that even if he moved to do that, her finger would squeeze that trigger so fast he'd have no chance. His stomach flipped, fear writhing in his guts; he had to concentrate hard on not hyperventilating.

She was batshit crazy, that was clear now. Absolutely insane. Misha wondered if he stood a chance if he rushed her. Somehow he doubted it.

Sam's lips pursed together. She was waiting for him to make a move, but Misha was in no rush to be shot full of buckshot or whatever the hell she had loaded in that gun.

It was a toss-up, which of them got the biggest shock when the door behind Sam suddenly flew open.

"Misha, you nearly finished? Everyone down there wants to buy me a drink for the road. We'll be lucky if I get out of here in one piece."

They both heard Jensen's excited chatter before they saw him. Sam swung round with the gun towards the opening door as Misha shouted out Jensen's name in warning. It didn't stop him from coming in.

"Sam?" Jensen looked at her in surprise. "What are you doing with that gun? Is that the Remington from behind the bar?"

"Go back down stairs, Jensen," Sam said calmly, dropping the barrel of the gun a few inches so it wasn't pointing directly at him. Misha eased around the room while Sam wasn't looking at him. Edged towards Jensen and the open door.

"Sam, this isn't funny." Jensen's eyes flicked to Misha then back to Sam. Misha saw the second he realized how deadly serious the situation was. That Sam wasn't playing some kind of sick joke. Still, he tried to keep his voice light and act as though everything was normal. Act like Sam hadn’t completely flipped. "Put the gun down and come back down to the bar. You're missing the party."

"Jensen, son. Do what your momma says and go back down the stairs."

Jensen flinched. Blinked hard. His wide green eyes flashing in an instant to cold and inscrutable. His fingers clenching into solid fists against his thighs; the veins on the back of his hands standing out vivid and blue.

"You're not my momma, Sam." Misha had never heard Jensen's voice drop so low. "I love you, but you're not my momma."

"I am, Jensen. I am now. I knew the second that I saw you that you were mine. With your big green eyes and your baby blonde hair curling over the collar of your pajama top. You looked just like an angel."

"What are you talking about?" Jensen said. And suddenly Misha knew. Knew how very wrong he'd been. Knew that they needed to get out of there right away.

"You know, baby, don't you." Sam smiled at Jensen. "You saw me. You looked right at me that night before I had to leave."

"No," Jensen whispered. "No, you can't be. Why? Why would you do something like that... how could mom…"

The smile on Sam's face turned so cruel that she was unrecognizable. "Because she wasn't fit to be a mother. Women like her, they don't deserve to have children. Dumb blond bitches. She was going to have a child with a man who was a drunk, who'd beat her, who'd hurt the child, who'd..."

Jensen shook his head. "No, you're wrong. They had a child. They had me, and dad never...he never laid a finger on me...or my mom."

"Of course he did," Sam snapped, the shotgun jumping in her hands. "I saw the black-eyes she tried to cover up, the bruises she tried to hide. I know the type of man he was. I knew what they were all like."

"Oh God...oh God...oh God" Jensen chanted, in little more than a whisper.

"Don't worry, baby," Sam crooned, dropping one hand from the gun and reaching out to him. "Just let me get rid of this interfering city boy, like I got rid of your daddy, then we can go back to the way we were. We're happy, aren't we baby. You and me and Jim."

"My Dad?" Jensen repeated, as Misha inched toward Sam.

"That useless son-of-a-bitch didn't deserve you, Jensen. I should have gotten rid of him sooner. Thought about it for years. But letting you hurt yourself; that was the final straw." Sam tried to cup Jensen's cheek, frowned when he jerked away from her.

"You're fucking insane," Jensen said, eyes wide in disbelief. "You murdered my mom and dad and how many other people. And you...I trusted you..."

Sam spotted Misha moving, just as he rushed her.

He launched himself forward, grabbed the steel barrel of the gun with both hands, forced it upwards towards the ceiling, tried desperately to wrench it out of her grasp.

She screamed in anger, gripped it tighter, shoving him backwards. Out of the corner of his eye, Misha saw Jensen hovering helplessly by the door as they tussled. Misha held on to the barrel of the Remington grimly. He couldn't let go, refused to...didn't dare.

They fought over the shotgun until Sam's face turned crimson with frustration, her eyes dark with fury. Until Misha’s fingers stung and his arms ached. Sam's madness cancelling out the advantage Misha's height and strength ought to have given him. Just when he thought he had the upper hand, that she was tiring, she managed to twist away. In the blink of an eye, the gun was back aiming at his chest.

Self-preservation kicked in and he dived to the floor. His eyes screwing shut of their own accord. His breath catching in his throat. A shot blasted out, deafening and terrifying, echoing through the small room. Muscles coiled and heart racing, he waited expectant, one second, two, but the explosion of pain never crashed into him. Breathe, he reminded himself, ignoring the ringing in his ears, forcing his eyes open; desperately searching the room for Jensen. There. Alive. Unhurt. He'd tackled Sam, shoved her to her back on the floor, was kneeling over her. An elbow in her face, the gun ripped from her hands, thrown across the room.

Scrabbling to get his feet under him, panic clawing at his chest, Misha surged to Jensen's side. Arriving just as Jensen raised his hand and punched Sam in the face. Hard. Her head snapped to the side, a purple blush immediately spreading across her cheek and her eyes rolling back in her head. He pulled his arm back again, not finished. This time Misha caught his fist and held onto it.

"She killed my momma," Jensen growled, his voice broken and rough. "She killed my momma and my dad. She was gonna kill you. You saw her. You saw her Misha, she was gonna kill you."

"I know, Jensen." With what had to be his final reserves of strength, Misha hauled Jensen off of Sam's prone body. "And she won't get away with it."

"Let me go." Jensen struggled against Misha's hold. "Let me go. I'm gonna kill the bitch."

Misha held on as Jensen fought against him. Held on as Jensen screamed and cursed, and eventually sobbed against Misha’s shoulder.

"You're not a killer, Jensen." Misha's hand clasped the back of Jensen's neck, holding him steady. "You're not like her. You're nothing like her."

Jensen's weight sagged against Misha as the fight drained from him. They sunk down to the floor onto their knees, clinging to one another.

"Guys?" Jared's voice called from the doorway. "What the hell's going on?"

Misha looked up to see Jared standing staring at them, Jeff beside him, and Chris trying to push past.

Misha squeezed Jensen close to him for one more second, needing to feel the pulsing warmth from Jensen's body just a moment longer. Then, on legs that struggled to support him, he pushed up to his feet, dragging Jensen along with him. He pressed a kiss to Jensen's forehead, then turned to face the men at the door.

Just in time to see Jared's jaw drop open and Jeff pitching forward, eyes wide and filled with...shock...fear.

Hot dread flooded Misha. He spun around, saw Sam lurching to her feet, saw the ka-bar she slid from behind her. Saw the dull grey blade. Razor-sharp and lethal. Heard the anguished howl, like the scream of a dying animal.

Sam threw herself toward Jensen, the knife slashing through the air in a wild arc. It happened so quickly and so god-awfully, terrifyingly slowly. Blink by blink, heartbeat to heartbeat, the scene unfolding. Misha stood rooted to the spot, impotent and helpless.

He'd never know exactly how it happened, would never remember consciously deciding to move. Wouldn't recall the second that he managed to react. He saw the shotgun on the floor, whipped it up, pumped it and fired at Sam just as Jensen crumpled to his knees. The blast caught Sam in the throat. Knocked her off her feet. Sent her flying, blood spraying across the room, over Jensen and Misha, the floor, the bed. Nothing was left untainted.

Dropping the gun in a panic, Misha's knees buckled. He tumbled to the floor beside Jensen. Jensen who was alive. On his knees. Clutching his back. Eyes glassy with shock. "Is she dead? Did you shoot her?"

"Yes," Misha gasped, looking past Jensen at Sam's unmistakably dead body, feeling for a pulse pointless. "Are you...did she...." Misha roughly shoved Jensen around, barely able to breathe, desperate to see what she'd done. Tearing Jensen's bloodied hand away from his wound, Misha took in the clean slice through his over-shirt, the gash ripped along the width of his tee-shirt and the...the shallow laceration across Jensen's lower back, that was sluggishly bleeding, that would just barely require stitches. He nearly cried in relief.

Consumed by Jensen, Misha was only vaguely aware of more people piling into the room. Of shouting and shocked questions. Of the gut-wrenching smell of blood and gunpowder hanging in the air. He ignored it all. Held Jensen as he shuddered violently in his arms, sheltered him from everything he could.


It was Jeff that finally hustled them from the room. Misha only stopped to pick up the little black and white panda lying on the floor, half hidden below the bed and miraculously free of blood. Jensen took it from him, his hands shaking so badly he almost dropped it before hugging it tightly against his chest as though he was protecting it from the world. Or maybe it was protecting him.


Hours later, they were huddled in a booth in the bar; Jensen in the corner, Misha on the outside of him. A bottle of brandy sat in the middle of the table, half-filled glasses beside it. An old copper ashtray was overflowing with cigarette butts, Jensen’s hands trembling as he lit and smoked each one.

Sheriff Lehne sat opposite them, Jared at his side. Both men were grey and exhausted. They looked as though they’d aged ten years in one night. Jeff, Chris, Felicia and Danneel were across at the bar casting concerned looks their way. All of them were shaken and distraught. The shocking turn the night’s events had taken turning their world upside down. Jim had been taken down to the sheriff’s office for questioning; the extent of his knowledge of his wife’s murderous nature unknown. Apart from confirming a few dry facts he’d been remarkably calm and quiet. Shock or guilt sealing his lips tighter than a clam.

Slowly between them, they thought they’d pieced the story together. Sam Beaver had worked in the same pharmacy at the same time as Mitch Pileggi. She’d only been a clerk. A mousy little thing who often went unnoticed. No-one could ever have guessed the violent rage brewing beneath her harmless facade. From what they’d gathered, with some highly questionable help from Felicia, Sam Beaver, nee Ferris, had been brought up by a self-centered mother and a violent father. She had a medical record pages long, stretching from her childhood until a few months after she wed Jim Beaver. The injuries she’d received ranging from cuts to broken bones. The last notable injury had been two broken ribs and a bruise the shape of a boot sole on her abdomen. She’d also suffered a miscarriage.

No-one knew exactly what provoked Sam into her killing spree. Maybe now they would never know. It was likely, they thought, that she blamed her father for her inability to have children, but apparently she hated her mother more for doing nothing to stop her father’s violence, for allowing him to abuse her for years. Why she snapped when she did, they weren’t entirely sure yet. She’d been, as best as they could figure, killing pregnant young blondes who reminded her of her mother, or who were married to abusive men, or maybe men who reminded her of her father. In her mind she’d been saving those babies from her fate.

As far as they knew, she’d been unaware that the Ackles already had a small son the night she’d sneaked into their house. None of the other women she’d targeted had any other kids. From what she’d said, she’d fixated on Jensen the second that she saw him wander into his mother’s bedroom.

Whether she would have stopped killing then if her husband hadn’t been involved in a car crash that left him seriously injured and the other driver, Pileggi, dead, they’d never know. As it was she’d spent two years nursing Beaver back to health, then caring for him as he adjusted to life in a wheelchair. Only a short while later, the Beavers moved to Cedar Ridge, bought The Hunter’s Retreat with some of Jim’s settlement money, and Sam slowly levered herself into Jensen’s life. It had helped that Jim struck up a friendship with fellow ex-marine Jeff and Lehne.

“I thought it was Pileggi,” Lehne admitted, rubbing his hand over his jaw. “Not at the time, but after he died, when the murders stopped. I pieced a few things together and figured it’d been him. But he was already dead, what was the point in dragging his wife and their families through the hell of an investigation. There were no more killings. I thought that was the end of it.”

“And Jensen’s dad’s disappearance?” Misha asked as Jensen tapped another cigarette out of the packet. It surely had to be his last one by now, Misha thought as he watched Jensen take three attempts to light it. “You didn’t think that was suspicious?”

“People go missing,” Lehne said tiredly, trying so hard not to look at Jensen that it nearly hurt to watch. “Especially men. His car and wallet disappeared along with him. We assumed he’d just taken off.”

“Leaving his motherless son behind?” Misha asked incredulously.

“He was hardly winning any father of the year competitions,” Lehne retorted with as much conviction as he could muster.

Jensen stiffened at Misha’s side. “He was still my dad. We were all each other had. I told you he wouldn’t just leave me like that.”

“I’m sorry, Jensen. I really am. If I could go back and change what I-“

“But you can’t,” Jensen cut the sheriff off more sharply than Misha thought him capable of. “That woman killed my mother and my father. She nearly killed Misha. She made me think she cared about me, that she loved me, when all the time-“ He broke off, his voice ragged, and took a shaky drag of his cigarette.

Misha patted Jensen’s leg under the table. It had been a long and disturbing night. One he would be grateful to see the back of. One he’d like to forget all about. Somehow he didn’t think that was likely to happen.

“What happens now?” Misha looked to Jared. Didn’t think the sheriff was competent of investigating as much as a bicycle theft any more.

“There will be an investigation. It’s going to get messy. There’s no way to avoid it.” Jared looked at Jensen. “They’re going to drag all the murders up again. Your mom’s especially, and they’ll try and figure out what exactly happened to your dad. I’m sorry, Jensen.”

Jensen brushed off his friend’s apology. “How long do we have to stay in town for?”

Jared ran his fingers through his hair nervously, pushing his bangs out of his eyes. “I don’t know man. I-“

“Go,” Lehne interrupted him. The three men looked at him in surprise. “We’ve taken your statements. There were witnesses to the shooting and it was obviously unavoidable. Just go now. I’ll take responsibility. If you don’t leave town tonight, I think you’ll be stuck here for weeks, and Jared’s right; it won’t be pretty.”

“But…” Jared argued and then looked at his friend, really looked at him. At his grey pallor, his shaking hands, at the turmoil in his eyes. It was obvious to everyone how very close to falling apart he was. “He’s right. Go. Leave us a way to get in touch with you and expect a visit or two from the authorities, but if you want to leave town, best do it now.”

It was all the prompting they needed.

Thirty minutes later, they were in Misha’s car; their bags and Jensen’s suitcase in the trunk, his panda safely on his lap. Jensen was wrung out. Exhausted and overwhelmed. He was half asleep before they’d even driven past the town limits.

Saying goodbye to his friends had been hard, but each of them understood, silently helped them get their things together. Even rescuing most of Jensen’s belongings from what was officially a crime scene. Jensen had good friends and Misha was positive they’d fight to stay a part of his life wherever the pair of them ended up. Whether they stayed in San Francisco or travelled the world.

They had no plans for the future.

The only thing that mattered to Misha was having Jensen by his side. Keeping him safe. And if that meant shooting someone that wanted to hurt Jensen, killing someone who tried to hurt him then, apparently, Misha didn’t have a problem doing that.

As they left Cedar Ridge behind in the distance, Jensen’s head resting sleepily against Misha’s shoulder, that realization was something that bothered Misha a lot less than it should have done.


The End


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