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We All Fall Down

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“I’m getting married.” Jared Padalecki stared out the bedroom window, not wanting to see the expression on his lover’s face.

“Just like that?” A chuckle came from the direction of the bed. “Not a very romantic proposal, Jare.”

The tall man closed his eyes and stiffened his spine. “Not to you.”

The silence became a living entity.

“I want normal. I can’t have normal with you.” He cringed at how cold he sounded.

They had become lovers after his break-up with Sandy, but now he wanted a life like his parents, not something that made him an oddity, perhaps a pariah, or that caused whispers behind his back and frowns of disapproval from people that could make or break his career. John Barrowman he was not, though they had once joked about it, his lover’s voice carrying a hopeful tone.

The bed springs protested as his lover left their bed.

“I’ll get a hotel ‘til I can find a place. I’ll have my stuff out of here as soon as possible.” The usually warm, rich voice was flat…empty.

“You don’t have to…this is your home.” Jared turned and faced his lover.

“Not anymore. You just fucked me then kicked me to the curb.” He gave a bitter chuckle. “Maybe I should call Sandy. We can start a club, ‘Lovers crushed under Jared Padalecki’s ambition’. Fuck. I’ve become a cliché.” He mumbled to himself as he moved, naked, around the room throwing clothes into his duffel.

Jared stepped into his path and reached out to stop the shorter man.

Hands coming into his range of vision had the other man flinching away.

“No! You don’t get to touch the merchandise anymore. Get out of my way, Jared.”

“Jensen…Jen, please…you don’t have to leave.”

“What? After that little bombshell you expect me to stay!?” Eyebrows rose toward the tousled hairline.

“I thought…”

“What? That we’d keep fucking until you walked down the aisle? Be your best man? Be the other woman? So which of the little brunette clones are you marrying?” The voice never changed its calm inflection.

Jared was getting scared. He’d never seen this side of Jensen Ackles. He thought he knew everything there was to know about his co-star and lover, but apparently he’d missed something.

“Genevieve.”

“Ah Ruby 2.0. Personally, Katie’s the better actress.” Jensen picked up a set of clean clothes and shut himself in the bathroom.

He leaned against the door for untold minutes trying to pull together all the broken pieces of his mind. His heart would have to keep bleeding until he could get away from Jared. He couldn’t believe what had just happened. An hour ago he’d been relaxed, sated and loved. Now he was homeless, shattered—feeling used and alone.

When he felt like his knees would support him, he turned on the shower hot as he could stand. When the smell of Jared was obliterated from his skin, he dried off and dressed without looking in mirror. There was no way to wash away the bruises and marks of Jared’s passion, but he didn’t have to acknowledge them.

His shaving kit still rested on the counter from their last publicity jaunt. He ruthlessly shoved his toiletries in the bag, taking the first step in erasing himself from Jared’s life. He sucked in a deep breath, pulled his mask in place, and went to face Jared one more time.

He walked straight to his duffel, never looking at the man sitting on the bed where he thought they’d made love a mere two hours before.

*Hmph. So that’s how long it takes for my world to end.* Jensen almost giggled, maybe a tad hysterically, at the cynical voice in his brain.

He was almost through the door, mind cataloging the things he needed to take with him now. Laptop, cell phone, guitars…

“Jen, please.” Jared voice sounded hoarse, almost like he was on the verge of tears.

Jensen dropped his bag and whirled on Jared.

“Please what, Jared?” The expressions that warred on Jensen’s face caused the bigger man to lean away from the force of his emotions. “Please stay, please fuck me, please I was only joking let’s go back to being fuck buddies? Please, I love you and it was all a big mistake? ”

Jared’s chin dropped to his chest as he shook his head, but Jensen refused to let him hide. Strong fingers grabbed his chin and forced Jared to look at him.

“I gave…you are…were…everything to me, but apparently I was just a convenient fuck for you. Thanks for making me feel like a whore, and your dirty little secret.” Jensen dropped Jared’s chin.

The last Jared saw of Jensen that night was his back as he walked out the door.

%%%%%


Jensen drove away from his former home…numb…knowing he was bleeding internally. Like any wounded animal he wanted to find a safe place to hide—to lick his wounds away from prying eyes.

Large neon signs beckoned him to stop…Hotel, motel, inn. He drove, eyes unseeing, the weight in his chest growing heavier every mile. He had given all of himself to Jared and now he was nothing.

Wheels turned, bright lights caused him to blink as somehow he answered questions, showed proper paperwork, chatted with people in Customs who knew him from traveling between Los Angeles and Vancouver since his Dark Angel days. Wheels turned once more and when they finally stopped he got out of his truck and stumbled to a door. Two sets of pale eyes took in his appearance, but didn’t speak. Two sets of arms pulled him into the shelter of their home and their love as the keening sounds of a wounded heart fell from his lips as he collapsed into their arms.

%%%%%


They were furious. One they loved for so long had been grievously wounded. As soon as the healing began, they would hunt and run their prey to ground so he would never again hurt one of theirs. The predatory smiles they exchanged over the sleeping man sealed their silent agreement.

%%%%%

In the odd way things sometimes work, Jared and Jensen didn’t film together the first part of the week. When Jared got home on Wednesday, things seemed—wrong—out of place inside his house.

He was in the backyard playing with the Harley and Sadie when it struck him. He ran for the house, the dogs followed, thinking they were still playing. All three skidded to a halt at Jared’s bedroom. He pulled open doors and drawers unable to believe they were empty. Jensen was really gone.

The tall man sagged onto the bed. There had been a part of his brain that insisted when Jensen got over his snit of offended pride that he would come home. Sitting on the bed staring at the empty half of the closet, Jared finally realized the depth of Jensen’s feelings for him. Rubbing his hands over his face, he saw his fantasy of having Gen and Jen crumple to dust.

%%%%%

Seeing Cliff pull up to the curb the next morning, Jared’s heart raced, anticipating seeing Jensen sitting in the back seat, cap low, head resting against the window half asleep. His heart fell when he saw the empty seat.

“Mornin’, Cliff. How ya doin’?” Jared tried to sound upbeat. “Where’s Jensen?”

Cliff continued to stare out the windshield. “Drives himself since he got his new place.” His voice was blunt…flat.
Noting Cliff’s demeanor, Jared’s anxiety cranked up. He wondered what waited for him at the studio.

Through wardrobe and makeup, nobody acted different. When he asked about Jensen, the ladies told him he’d been in earlier. He was needed for some extra shots.

Entering the sound stage, he saw Jensen sitting off to the side with a cup of coffee, his concentration so focused on his script nothing else existed. Consumed with wanting to talk to the older man, Jared never saw the two figures moving toward him from the shadows. His forward movement was stopped when hands grabbed his arms and yanked him into a space between stacks of equipment.

“What the…” Jared’s voice rose until he saw the murderous expression on the faces in front of him.

The light and dark half of the couple known as Jensen’s best friends had a hold on his arms that was sure to leave bruises.

The light half’s grip tightened further, *damn, who knew guitar players had such strong hands*, as the dark half grabbed his nape and dragged his head down like an errant pup. Jared shivered when his eyes met the fury directed at him.

“You say one word to our boy that’s not related to work—You say one thing that causes him even a twinge of pain, and we will personally make you wish you really were in hell.” The growled words were practically subvocal as the bones in his neck popped from the hard shake he received as an exclamation point.

They stepped back as one. They stared hard at Jared until he nodded his agreement. In eerie precision they turned and started toward the door. When the hair on the back of his neck stood up, Jared looked toward the door. A ray of light fell across the men’s faces illuminating blue/grey and blue/green eyes as they stared at their prey. Always in tune, they turned and left the sound stage.

Heart pounding, adrenaline pumping, Jared stepped out of the shadows and looked around. Jensen was talking to Sera, Misha, and Eric, the crew was setting up the first shot of the day. It was as though his run-in with Steve and Christian had pulled him out of time then dumped him back when they were finished putting the fear of Kane and Carlson into him.

The two men had embraced him wholeheartedly because he was with Jensen, but Jared had forgotten they were Jensen’s friends long before they even knew his name, and his friendship with them ran a poor second to the years the three had been together. He remembered thinking many times that there had to more happening with them than he was seeing the way the trio moved seamlessly in and out and each others’ lives.

The day that started so surreal continued until holiday hiatus. In public Jensen was the perfect co-star, but away from work there was no socializing—no getting together to watch the game or any of the other things they did before. When Genevieve was in town it wasn’t bad, but most times he missed Jensen so much all he had was a chest full of pain.

After Thanksgiving the ‘Net was abuzz with the news of an engagement between two of TV’s beautiful people, Jensen Ackles and Danneel Harris.

%%%%%

Danneel had invited her good friend, Genevieve Cortes, to their engagement party, which naturally led to Jared attending. He never had gotten to talk to Jensen about their relationship after he told him he was getting married. His fear of a repeat visit from Kane and Carlson kept their conversations strictly business, but as time passed, his need for answers had become stronger than his fear.

Jared was primed to demand answers, and was halfway across the room when he looked up and saw Christian staring unblinkingly at him. He shivered as Steve walked up behind his dark half and handed him a fresh beer, his stare joining Kane’s. Jared shoved his shaking hands in his pockets, and joined his fiancée in giving congratulations to the couple.

%%%%%

Steve leaned back against the broad chest when strong arms wrapped around his waist and warm breath brushed his neck as Christian propped his chin on his shoulder and stared at their home. It had taken almost two years to complete, but it had become a labor of love for both men.

The blond had scoffed and teased Christian when he’d bought the 1300 acres close to Broken Bow, Oklahoma. His plan was to build a house right in the middle of the acreage, to afford them maximum privacy, had almost ground to a halt when he’d talked to the power company. The cost of running electric lines to the home site was almost as much as he’d paid for the land.

Stubborn and undeterred Christian looked for another way. Flipping through an old copy of Mother Earth News while he waited for the doctor to remove his latest round of stitches started his creative juices flowing.

Originally skeptical, Steve had climbed on board Christian’s crazy train after he’d shown the singer the plans he’d had drawn by an architect specializing in Earthship Biotecture. Ever mindful of his family’s safety because they were in Tornado Alley, Christian wanted the house as resistant to Mother Nature as possible.

People shouting about earth changes and the end of days might be a few fries short a Happy Meal, but Christian wanted to be prepared just in case they were right.

Totally off the grid, solar and wind powered, the earth-bermed house sported an adobe façade around the entryway with windows touted to be resistant to hailstones up to softball size. The men’s love of Native American art mixed well with the mission style of the décor. Their biggest luxury had been the recording studio.

“We’d better get the food in the house before it spoils and we don’t have anything to feed the hoard.” Steve straightened away from Chris.

Chris groaned. “Tell me again why I agreed to a housewarming/Thanksgiving get together.”

“’Cause we’d just christened our brand new California king, and you’ll agree to just about anything after sex.” Steve grinned mischievously as they grabbed crates and bags out of both trucks.

“Speaking of sex, when’s Jen comin’?”

“He and my folks should be here sometime tomorrow. They were going to meet up in Flagstaff. That aircraft carrier of an RV doesn’t make it down the road as fast as Jensen.” Steve chuckled.

“Danneel?”

“She doesn’t wrap filming until the tenth.” Steve looked at his partner of almost fifteen years. “Christian…”

“What. She won’t care.”

Steve sighed as they continued to empty out the trucks.

%%%%%

Soon after their engagement was announced, Danneel had called Steve and invited him and Christian to dinner even though Jensen was away at a convention. Much to the men’s surprise, she had laid all her cards on the table as to why she accepted Jensen’s proposal.

It turned out she, too, had been jilted by a long time lover that she thought was going to propose, but instead told her there was another woman. The two heartbroken friends had mapped out an old-fashioned marriage of convenience with both parties agreeing to be discrete if either took a lover.

%%%%%

The Ackles were the up and coming power couple in Hollywood right behind Angelina and Brad. Jensen’s directorial debut during Season 6 had drawn all the right kinds of attention. He was so busy with offers to direct and then produce that he had turned down a very lucrative contract for Season 7 of Supernatural.

When the stress of the series and working with Jared every day disappeared, Jensen had emerged from behind the façade of indifference he’d donned after their break-up. The few projects he’d chosen to work on had been both critical and commercial successes allowing him to relax and enjoy what his hard work had wrought. The trades touted him to as a young Dean Devlin. He’d even found time to go on tour with KANE and relish being with the two men that over the years he’d grown to love as he’d once loved Jared.

%%%%%

Steve looked up from the score sheet that contained the lead guitar arrangement of a song they’d written with Jensen on their last tour. The music the three men wrote on that trip filled the pit of his stomach with such warmth that they’d barely unpacked before he and Christian were in the studio working out which songs were best suited for the Carlson sound and which were best for KANE. There were even a couple they were going to pitch to the Shers for Rosalee.

An odd thing happened during their time on tour. They would wake to find Jensen leaned against the foot of their bed, his restless mind not allowing him to sleep. They’d pull him into the bed and cocoon around him giving his mind another focus.

Though their touch quieted his thoughts and allowed him to sleep, and he would kiss and cuddle with them, he refused to have sex with them. Christian would often growl in frustration, but under all his years in Los Angeles, Jensen was still a Texas boy raised in the Bible Belt. Steve would point out how thin he was splitting hairs, but Jensen remained firm in his refusal.

Steve began looking for ways to make Jensen change his mind.

The next time they were at Jensen and Danneel’s he turned to Christian to find him looking back.

“Finally noticed, did ya?”

Steve blinked. “Uh…what?”

I’ve been watchin’ ‘em since the weddin’. Wonder if they’ve moved into separate rooms yet?”

“But they always seemed so together—the way he looks at her and their body language.” He was confused.

“Jenny’s always been a helluva an actor, but, things have been changin’ for awhile. She’s movin’ on—he’s settled for what he can get—made himself be comfortable.”

“Think she’ll leave him?” Steve felt his chest tighten.

“Eventually.” Christian’s tone was bleak. “She sends him to us to get him out of her way.”

“You talk to her?”

“If you can distract Jen for a while…”

“I’m on it.”

When Christian saw Steve take Jensen outside for a cigarette he cornered Danneel. Always the diplomat, he went straight for the jugular.

“Who is he?”

Danneel’s expression was calm though confused.

Who’s who?”

“The guy you’re fuckin’…the reason yer gonna leave Jensen.” He stated flatly.

“Christian.” She smiled disarmingly.

“Don’t try to bullshit me, sweetheart.” He glared.

Danneel sighed. She loved these guys, but she needed more. Riding Jensen’s new found fame as a director didn’t satisfy her anymore. She wanted more than Jensen was capable of giving, at least to her. She sighed doing a quick look around the room.

“Steve’s distractin’ him so we can chat.” Chris assured her.

“Look. I care for Jensen. I really do, but since that whole thing with Jared the only people he’s truly himself with is you and Steve. In that hard head of his he’s positive everyone is going to leave so he’s mentally ready all the time for everyone he loves to walk away.” Brown eyes darted around the room to see if anyone was listening.

Christian took a step closer forcing the petite brunette against the wall. “You walk away with one thing…one penny that ain’t yers and you’ll rue the day. It’s bad enough yer gonna break ‘is heart, but you ain’t bankruptin’ his whole life.”

Christian’s demeanor and tone sent warning bells through Danneel. Instinct made her expose her throat to him as he bristled at the threat to Jensen.

“I wouldn’t do that to him.” She kept her voice soft. “I do care, just not like you and Steve.” She tried to soothe Christian’s ire before anyone else noticed a snapping, snarling Kane, and started asking questions she didn’t want to answer.

Christian watched as her eyes landed, and she gave a minute shake of her head. He followed her line of sight, stormy eyes narrowed when he saw who she was warning away.

“You bitch.” Chris growled more than spoke. “You invited the motherfucker here…now!” He kept his voice low, but the contempt was obvious. “Of all the people in this whole fuckin’ industry…you’re fuckin’ him, or is this some kinda sick revenge on Jensen? That yer leavin’ him for his ex? Does Jen even know he’s here?”

“NO!” Danneel pleaded, brown eyes filled with tears. “No one knows. We haven’t told anyone. He promised to avoid Jensen, and only stay long enough for people from the movie to see him. Please, Christian, I’m begging you not to say anything. He was invited because he’s part of the cast. I couldn’t invite them and not him, too. Please. He cares about Jensen, too.” She clutched at the tense arm blocking her escape.

“Interestin’ way of showin’ it.” Christian backed off like he smelled something foul.

As he started to walk away, he turned back whispered in her ear. “We tried—believe me we tried, but he never broke his vows to you…ever.”

He glared across the room, his hatred a living thing, before grabbing a bottle of Jack and stalking off in search of the two most important men in his life.

%%%%%

Steve’s mother had once joked about moving their mementos to ‘The Fortress’ as she’d dubbed their house, but it wasn’t long after the house was finished that boxes began arriving. Christian wondered if she didn’t have some sixth sense working, or if she was spending too much time with Jensen. Wrapped in Steve’s warmth, staring at their home, Christian felt a lump in the pit of his stomach warning him that as happy as they were right this minute, something big and nasty was looming. He pulled Steve’s arms tighter and hoped HIS sixth sense was wrong.

Giving in to Christian’s paranoia, they spent the next day making sure their small herd of cattle and horses were in the pasture close to the barn. They watched the west coast news feeds just to prove the silliness of their dread. Steve started to scoff at Christian during the sports report until one of the anchors yelled ‘OH MY GOD!’ before the screen went black. Both men grabbed their cell phones and began to dial.

%%%%%

Watching television became torture. Reports were spotty. The country…the world was thrown into chaos. The US government had gone to the bunkers, cities, countries, governments disappeared across the world. The electrical grid worked spottily at best, cell phones and internet connections were barely reliable depending on whether the towers and networks were located in parts of the country still above water. They still hadn’t heard from Jensen, the Carlsons, or any of their west coast friends and family. They’d talked to the Kanes, Manns, Riley, and the Ackles. Steve’s sister had called from Colorado to say she was fine and that her house had sustained minor damage from the earthquakes, but she now lived only a few miles from the ocean. Oklahoma had experienced some trembling and shaking, between 4 and 5 on the Ricker scale that caused only minor damage.
%%%%%

They sat gripping each other’s hands as they watched the west coast along with pieces of states all the way to Denver break up into islands. The reports showed the same thing happening all over the world. They still hadn’t heard from Jensen, Sandy or Chris.

Everyone’s electricity was erratic as the grid tried to compensate for loss of a third of the country. The east coast and Midwest were the least affected, but there were a multitude of problems trying to patch together gas and power lines, along with getting city services up and running.

Food and water shortages were becoming a problem in the cities while people in rural communities fared better. Steve and Christian made several trips into Broken Bow for staples then began opening the crates Jensen had been shipping from California, and taking stock of their provisions.

Seeing the variety of people on the road during their last trip to town, Christian had started carrying a pistol and a rifle. Steve had been reluctant, but agreed to carry a weapon when they left the house.

%%%%%

Information was sporadic. Many of the radio and television stations were off the air. There was information on the Internet when it was available, but there were also a lot of misinformation and conspiracy nuts posting things as well. As dire as the situation, Steve would grin at a growling Christian as they plowed through various websites looking for information on their missing friends.

A week after the quakes started, they began to give up hope anyone made it out of California until early one morning Steve's phone sang out a familiar ringtone.

"MOM!?" Steve's voice was hopeful.

"Will Dad do?" Chris Carlson asked his son.

Relieved to hear one of his parents Steve put the phone on speaker so Christian could listen before he started firing questions.

"Slow down, son." Chris' chuckle was rusty. "We're in Oklahoma City. We were able to find fuel for the RV and Jensen's truck, so we should make it to the ranch before dark."

"Where's Mom?...How's Jen? Has he heard from Danni?"Steve jumped in as soon as his dad paused.

"Your mom's okay." Chris' voice was a little hesitant.

"Dad?"

Steve felt Christian's hand on his arm in silent support.

"It's been a rough trip what with the quakes and…everything...I'm thankful every day Jensen was with us." There was a pause then Chris was back. "Gotta go. We just wanted to let you know we'll be there soon."

Seven hours later when the pickup and RV pulled into the yard, Steve and Christian breathed a sigh of relief. The people and the vehicles were dusty and a little banged and bruised, but they were the best sight the couple had seen since the earthquakes started.

Christian hung back slightly taking in the trailers behind both the RV and the truck. He wanted to question the things he was noticing, but Steve was already halfway to his parents so he headed toward Jensen, but paused when they saw the weapons and the dogs poised on either side of the younger man. They both sucked in a shocked breath when they noticed even Sandy was armed. The impasse was broken when Cody bounded out of the RV followed a scrap of fur about the size of their barn cats that looked like a wire brush on legs rushing toward Steve with happy barks and whines.

"Come on in and relax," Steve cajoled, "we'll unpack later."

Jensen shook his head. "You guys go on...I'm gonna get the trailers off loaded and secured." He looked around the yard. "Where did you put the fuel tanks?" He looked at Christian.

Eyes narrowed, Christian indicated the lean-to with the tanks and pumps. More relaxed because their master relaxed, the two Belgian Malinois, Parker and Spencer, trotted over to get their share of scritches from the men.

Jensen had bought the dogs after run-ins with stalkerazzi and overzealous fans, and they were never far from his side. When Steve began herding his parents toward the house, Jensen climbed back into his truck. Not liking the vibe he was getting, Christian jumped in along with the dogs.

Once the fuel was being off-loaded, Jensen visibly relaxed. Christian finally reached out and wrapped his hand around the freckled neck. At that touch Jensen practically collapsed into Christian’s embrace.

“Jenny?”

“Oh God, Christian…it…you…I…” He breathed in the older man’s scent, letting it seep into his mind that he was home--safe.

Letting out the breath, he tried again. “It’s bad. California’s gone…all our friends, and…and…Danni…my family…”

“…Are fine. We called them after the quakes started. They got shook up a little, but Dallas survived pretty much intact. "What happened out there, Jen?" Christian prodded.

"I'll tell you after we get unloaded. Did you get the crates and equipment I've been sending?" Jensen asked as he tried to burrow against Christian's solid strength.

"Yeah. They're in the shed by the house. We opened a couple, but decided to wait until y’all got here to open the rest.”

The gurgling of the pump pulled Jensen out of Christian's arms.

They swapped out the vehicles and while Jensen and the dogs emptied the tank of diesel fuel that was hooked behind the RV, Christian began unloading the pickup.

Jensen unhooked the trailer and pulled the RV up to the house. Christian and the Carlsons climbed into the motor home.

"Holy shit!" Christian and Steve exclaimed together as they looked at the inside of the huge vehicle that held Sandy and Chris' most treasured items along with survival supplies.

“Mom, what is all this?” Steve asked.

“I asked Jensen what I should pack and he told me to act like I was never coming back.” Sandy’s voice hitched.

Chris wrapped an arm around his wife’s shoulders.

“Why don’t we just get the essentials? We’ll take care of everything else later. We could all do with a good night’s rest before we tackle… ” Chris waved his hand at the stacks of non-perishable goods.

With a sniff and a quick brush of the tears off her cheeks, Sandy nodded and started toward the back of the RV. Steve and Christian exchanged a look. Steve went with his parents while Christian settled in the passenger seat.

“Jensen, why were you stockpiling stuff like it’s the end of the world?” Christian asked quietly.

“I didn't know if all the doomsday bullshit everyone was spouting was true, but I wanted to be prepared for worst case scenario." Jensen explained as he huffed out a quiet breath. “I believed ‘em…the psychics, the prophets…all of ‘em. People thought I was crazy. Danni thought I should get help…” He picked up a box closed with red tape. “I liquidated all my assets,” he slit open the box, “ I have paper money, which may only be good for wiping your ass if we run out of toilet paper, and I have a lot of these.” He pulled back a piece of foam to reveal gold and silver coins.

“Fuck!” Christian exclaimed in shock. Then a sheepish look crossed his face.

“Steve and I did some of that…” he looked back toward the bedroom, “just in case.” His face turned serious. “What happened to Sandy’s face?”

Jensen paled. “Later. After we get settled.”

Christian nodded his agreement. When he started to stand, Jensen grabbed his arm.

“We all gotta start carryin’…Steve, too.”

“We already have. Nothin’s happened but some of the people we’ve seen on the road when we went into Broken Bow...”

He stopped—thinking how tense Jensen and the dogs had been when they pulled in the yard. How tentative Chris was on the phone. Even out this far they wouldn’t be immune to bandits and desperate people. Steve hadn’t like it, but he’d resigned himself—it was go out armed or stay sequestered in the house.

“We need to start usin’ the horses. Save our fuel for only necessary stuff.” He stopped when he heard boxes being shifted.

Christian looked at his friend with new eyes. He’d always known there was a core of steel in Jensen. There was no way someone with his looks survived in LA otherwise. Jared’s betrayal had hardened that steel, and now for the survival of his remaining family, Jensen encased his soft heart inside that steel.

With a nod Christian acknowledged the wisdom of Jensen’s words, and a silent vow to not allow the younger man to get lost inside that steel core. It was time to do what he and Steve should have done before Jensen had made the mistake of marrying Danneel.

After supper they relaxed, enjoying the last of the wine they’d had with their meal. Christian opened his mouth to ask about their trip, but Steve beat him to the punch.

“What happened between here and California?” He asked as he stared at the bruises on his mother’s face and wrists.

“We met up at the fuel stop outside Flagstaff, just like we planned,” Chris started, “it’s a place we always stop. Jensen arrived about ten minutes later, we fueled, grabbed some snacks and headed east on 40. We stopped just east of Gallup to eat and top off the tanks, stock the fridge and coolers…we wanted to drive as long as possible. The dogs were acting strange..edgy, but we didn’t think anything of it.” Chris squeezed Sandy’s hand. “When we got to Albuquerque, Jensen insisted we buy the trailers and tanks from a ranch supply. He didn’t want us to run out of fuel if we couldn’t find any between Albuquerque and here.” The Carlsons both turned to look at Jensen who had moved to look out the windows. Chris continued. “Jensen told us later that he’d been listening to the shortwave and sideband channels on his CB and had information that wasn’t on the regular radio. We found one of those bulk fuel places and filled the tanks—Jensen schmoozed the owner about us movin’ into a place up north of the city and how we wanted to be prepared for anything when we got there. The wad of cash he flashed didn’t hurt either.”

“I was watching TV in the coach when the network broke in with a bulletin about earthquakes in northern California, and all over the world.” Sandy picked up the story. “We spent the night off one of those exits where there isn’t anything, away from the interstate where we could see for miles. We were almost to the New Mexico—Texas border when the reports got real bad.” Her eyes welled up at the thought of their friends who died when California broke up and disappeared into the ocean.

“We saw. Information was spotty, but the satellite TV was broadcasting the stations still on the air.” Steve soothed his mother. “That’s when we startin’ makin’ calls.”

“Mama and Daddy, my sister and her family are fine. Jensen’s family’s all good. Josh and Mac moved back home with their families. Yer mom said it’s a little crowded but safer than out on the new Mississippi River plain. Jason and his family were at his folks in Virginia, and Riley was in Iowa for the holidays.” Christian drew a shaky breath as anguish caused tears to well in his and Steve’s eyes. “We haven’t heard from Darren or Rosalee or any body from Vegas, Steve’s crew in LA, the Leverage crew, or the rest of KANE. Tim, Beth and Aldis were supposed to be here, but…” Christian spread his hands in a helpless gesture.

“Everyone at Sis’ is fine, learning to live on the ocean.” Steve assured his mother. “What happened when you got to Texas?” Steve’s question brought them back to the original topic.

“It was my fault.” Jensen stated flatly from by the windows. “I let my guard down.”

“Jensen, No!” Chris and Sandy said together. “We…I…” Sandy looked at Chris, “thought Jensen was just being paranoid and over protective. We stopped at a little fuel stop after we got through Amarillo, figuring the big truck stops would run out of fuel first.” Sandy’s voice quivered, but when Chris tried to get her to stop, she stubbornly shook him off.

Steve and Christian switched their attention between the three. Their attention switched back to Sandy when she started to talk again.

“Chris and Jen were taking care of fueling the vehicles so I decided to slip inside the store…see if there was anything I could add to what we already had in the coach. I should have told the guys I was leaving the RV, but I didn’t think. I wasn’t in survival mode, but apparently the men inside the store were and thought I’d make a nice addition to their collection.” Sandy shuddered. “One of them grabbed my wrist and punched me thinking I’d be easier to handle if I was unconscious. He must have pulled his punch or I moved enough that I didn’t get the full effect, but I was groggy and played possum because I knew I couldn’t get away without help. One of them hoisted me over his shoulder and was taking me out the side door so I started kicking and screaming hoping the guys would hear me.”

Sandy grabbed her wine glass and drained what was left. Chris picked up the story.

“I ran around the corner without thinking, but Jensen hung back leaving the dogs with the vehicles. A couple men pulled a van around the building while a big man carried Sandy over his shoulder. When I came around the corner the driver yelled. The guy carrying Sandy and the passenger pulled guns. I hadn’t thought to grab a gun so I stopped. Suddenly the guy with Sandy falls, dropping her, then one of the windows in the van shattered. The men in the van left their buddy and drove off. I grabbed Sandy and ran for the RV. We left as fast as we could pulling the trailers. We didn’t stop until we got to Shamrock where we got a few hours sleep, then pushed on to Oklahoma City. We pulled in the truck stop, thankfully they still had diesel, and stayed the night. The military was starting to deploy throughout the city when we were leaving. It was also the first place we got a signal so we could call, but after what happened in Amarillo, we started carrying weapons wherever we went.” Chris wiped a hand down his face.

Before anyone could add anything, the front door clicked shut. Jensen was gone.

“The guy that was shot?” Christian asked as he stood.

“Jensen’s a dead shot.” Sandy whispered as she curled against her husband. “He was afraid of hitting me if he took a head shot, but a body shot worked just as well.”

Steve and Christian followed the younger man out the door.

They found Jensen and the dogs, even the scrap of hair Sandy called Evita, by the corrals, watching the horses in the failing light.

“How soon before you have to give those up?” Christian indicated his cigarette.

A shoulder shrug then exhale. “Should have a crateful somewhere.”

“Is it that bad? We thought the reports were maybe sensationalizing things.” Steve asked, as he reached out to pluck the cigarette from Jensen’s fingers then pulled a drag deep into his own lungs.

Steve’s hands still shook from how close he’d come to losing his parents. Even Christian took a drag wishing it was a joint instead of a cigarette.

“Bad. The stuff that was coming over the sideband and shortwave…sometimes while they were still broadcasting the signal would just stop.” Jensen drew a shaky breath. “Things may start to settle now that the quakes seemed to have stopped, and the military’s movin’ into town, but it’s like the Wild West. Not much law, very little order. You know the script. The strong and the thugs take over and the weak fall in line. Sounds like most of the government survived in the bunkers, but it’ll be awhile before there’s any kind of enforcement of anything. Think I’ll start ridin’ perimeter tomorrow. Maybe take the cattle and horses out for a few hours.”

“I wasn’t your fault, Jen.” Steve said softly.

“You did what was necessary to protect your family.” Christian added.

“But…”

“No.” Fingertips covered the full lips. “Mom always has to do it her way. I’m just glad you were there. If you hadn’t shot that guy we might have lost all of you and never known what happened.” Steve’s voice hitched.

Parker and Spencer crowded his legs as they sensed their master’s distress. Stepping around the dogs, Steve and Christian wrapped around Jensen, giving him the support he needed to let go.

The emotional upheaval of finding the divorce papers Danneel thought she’d hidden…the earthquakes…his wife’s death as California crumbled, their harrowing flight to Oklahoma culminating when he killed the man trying to kidnap Sandy…it all finally sank into his exhausted brain. He shivered as tears dampened Steve’s shirt. Christian thought it eerie how Jensen never made a sound. He finally lifted his head off Steve’s shoulder.

“She was going to divorce me.”

“What!?” Steve and Christian said together.

“Danni.” I found the papers the day I left.” He pulled a bandana from his pocket and wiped his face as he took a step back from Steve, only to bump into Christian.

Exchanging a look the older men kept silent, but pressed closer.

“It was probably someone from one of her movies. I know it wasn’t Riley. He came by the house to introduce me to his fiancée before they left for Iowa to meet his folks. God, I’m glad they were there when the quakes started.” Shimmering green eyes caught Steve’s. “I should never have married her, should have been strong enough to turn down an idea hatched in the middle of a drunken pity party.”

He stepped from between the partners and walked a few steps toward the house. “Shouldn’t ever git between people who love each other.” He shoved his hands in his pockets as he called the dogs and went to the house.

“Jensen.” Christian started, but a careless wave cut him off.

“I’m just tired and feeling sorry for myself.” He said as he kept walking, the dogs trailing behind.

“Dammit!.” Steve spat as he watched Jensen disappear into the house.

He’d expected Christian to be just as upset, but when the silence continued, he turned to see a speculative look in the blue/grey eyes.

“What are you planning, Kane?”

“Nothing much.” He moved to head back to the house.

Exasperated, Steve pulled him to a stop.

“Christian?”

“You know he’ll never come to us now?” The brunette’s smile was sly.

“Be like talkin’ to that fence post.” Steve agreed.

“We’ll just be our normal selves.”

“Handsy?” Steve’s grin matched Christian’s.

“Touchy feeley.”

“All in his space.”

“He’ll run.”

They exchanged a sad look.

“Nowhere to run.” They both said.

“We’ll have to go to him.” Steve reminded.

“We can do that.” Christian made it sound like a vow.

Jensen was either up early or hadn’t slept. Coffee was made and missing a cup when Christian walked into the kitchen. He was settling his shoulder holster when Steve shuffled in the room.

“Did he sleep?”

“’Bout to find out.” Christian caught a quick kiss from Steve before heading toward the barn.

Jensen was currying his horse as the seal brown stallion munched through his breakfast. When the horse and dogs turned their heads, Jensen’s hand went to his pistol.

“Kane comin’ in.” Christian called out.

Rolling his eyes, he reached for the saddle blanket.

“Funny, Kane.” Jensen’s laugh held more bark than humor.

Christian bent to ruffle the dogs’ ears before turning his attention to the horse he was going to ride. The black and white paint gelding was a good horse, but didn’t have the spirit of his favorite.

The blood bay Quarter Horse mare had been a green broke two year old when Steve and Jensen had given her to Christian for their tenth anniversary. It had been love at first sight. Now she was carrying her first foal due sometime in January, and he couldn’t wait to see the pretty baby Jensen’s stud was sure to have sired.

He’d just thrown the saddle on the paint when Jensen walked up leading Stoney.

“Ya eat?” Christian asked as he bounced his knee against Spook’s side. The horse was notorious for holding his breath and dumping his saddle and rider.

“What are you…my mother?” Jensen grinned at the gelding’s annoyed grunt.

“Nope. He’s cookin’ breakfast, and he told me to ask.”

Jensen’s sigh matched Spook’s.

“Got some stuff in the saddlebags, but I gotta take the scrap back to the house anyway.” He indicated Sandy’s terrier.

“Ya takin’ the dogs?”

“Yeah. Great alarms and Cody might even remember he’s a herdin’ dog.” Jensen’s voice was serious as they led the horses to the house.

Steve was turning toward the door when the men and dogs came in and settled to their breakfast.

“You sleep?” Steve asked bluntly as he sipped his coffee.

“Yeah.” Jensen frowned around his omelet. “Anything on the news?”

“Usual. Members of the military and government employees that survived overseas are trying to make their way home. Martial law, President, vice-president and cabinet are starting to crawl out of their bunkers, total chaos, millions of people dead, huge chunks of the country gone, spotty services.” Steve’s breath hitched, he grabbed Jensen’s arm. “Thank you for getting my parents here safe.’ He said solemnly.

Jensen nodded curtly before leaving the table. “Five minutes, Kane.” He said gruffly.

Taking those five minutes to comfort Steve, Christian admonished him not to go out without being armed—even to walk the dog.

“Better start to inventory everything…Freezers, refrigerators, Jensen’s crates, every cigarette and jar of peanut butter. It might be a long winter.”

Evita barking at the outer door broke them apart. Christian settled his hat on his head and rifle in his saddle scabbard, and swung up on Spook.

“Love ya. I’ll text you when we’re headed home so ya can have supper waitin’, Darlin’. Hopefully there’s a signal.” He teased the blond man holding the blonde dog and was rewarded with a one finger salute.

%%%%%

For the seriousness of the situation, Christian felt almost content. He sent prayers out for friends lost and those whose fate was unknown, but as he followed the ambling black cattle in front of him he felt relaxed, alert and strangely enough, at home in his own skin for the first time in a long time. Watching Cody quarter back and forth like he’d been herding cattle all his life, they followed Jensen across the field, Parker and Spencer trotted along each side keeping the herd together, Christian felt they’d slipped out of the present and into another time

He and Cody stayed with the cattle while Jensen and his guard dogs rode the fence line. Jensen couldn’t cover the entire ranch alone in a day, but the four men could. Sandy wasn’t as proficient with weapons as he’d like, but was skilled enough for around the protection of the house—they’d make up a schedule after supper.

%%%%%

They soon settled into a routine. Jensen, Christian and Steve riding out in the mornings while Sandy and Chris stayed around the house unpacking crates and making lists of items they needed, keeping an eye on the house’s systems to make sure they were working properly.

When the house was close to completion, Christian and Steve had sold everything they didn’t need, including Christian’s house in Nashville and moved it all to the ranch. Even with the crates Jensen had shipped, there were a lot of little things they’d need to get through the winter. There were also a few staples like flour, sugar, coffee and salt they would always need to replenish. Nobody liked the thought of Jensen without coffee.

Cell service had been off more than on. They hadn’t heard anything from any of their missing friends, and no one had miraculously pulled up to the house. They began to let themselves grieve for those lost.

%%%%%

He finished cleaning Stoney’s stall with a deep sigh, worried about Jensen. Since the weather had turned bad, they were keeping the animals close to the shelter of the barn, but the younger man continue to ride out every day, Parker, Spencer and sometimes Cody his silent shadows.

Steve had joked Jensen went more ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ every day as he often returned to the house with a deer, turkeys, grouse or rabbits thrown across Stoney’s saddle, or a wild hog dragging behind.

The two men continued to work on Jensen, trying to subtly draw him to them, but he constantly dug in his heels. They counted every night they coaxed him to sleep with them a win, though he consistently managed to escape from between them before they woke.

%%%%%

The house being underground meant the temperature rarely dropped below 55 degrees. Their body heat and heat from cooking added several degrees, but when the days were cloudy, with no sun for the passive solar, it was nice to have a fire in the wood stove to take the chill and damp from the house. It also added a cozy ambience.

Glad they had the windmill to backup the solar panels; they were still Spartan with the use of electricity so as to not deplete their bank of batteries. The crate of oil and solar powered lamps were a welcome find for the household.

Often Jensen would harness Dan and Jack, their team of black work horses load the wagon with tools and weatherproof containers. Sometimes he’d return the same day sometimes it’d be several days, but always he came with firewood, game, or news from the surrounding ranches. They too had hunkered down until it was seemed safe to venture out.

These times made everyone worry as they waited for Jensen to return. They were glad to have a support network from the surrounding ranches, but were aggravated at the younger man for pulling away from their love and care.

%%%%%

News since Thanksgiving was still sketchy though satellite and cell service had become a little more reliable. Many of the government officials had survived along with the President, Vice-President and members of the military that had been east of Colorado. What states remained were under martial law. The electrical grid was more reliable though many places were still in the midst of repairs. Hospitals and emergency personnel received preferential treatment, TV and radio stations were high on the priority list so survivors could be kept up-to-date on the latest developments.

A week before Christmas, winter came in with a roar. Winters in Oklahoma usually weren’t long, but they could be brutal. With the new west coast only seven hundred miles away, no one knew how the area’s weather was going to be affected. Cold damp air made all his old injuries complain, but so far they’d only had a few inches of snow making Christian thankful he’d gotten his neighbor to harvest the ranch’s hay last summer as he listened to the animals quietly munching.

Certain they wouldn’t be able to get the supplies they needed in Broken Bow, a trip to Oklahoma City was going to have to be planned. Jensen had passed the news of the trip on to their neighbors. Since the SC-KANE Ranch was central to the four bordering ranches, everyone met there to bring their lists and money for supplies. Three days before Christmas everything was readied, trailers hitched to Christian and Jensen’s trucks, weapons cleaned and cold weather gear and changes of clothes packed. After a lot of debate, they decided the younger men would make the trip, leaving Sandy and Chris to take care of the ranch. Spencer travelled with Jensen while Parker was left with Sandy and Chris.

The weather had cleared, but they kept to the back roads, watching for threats. They were a little south of Midwest City when they pulled off the road and stowed their rifles and shotguns in compartments they’d retrofitted into the trucks. They didn’t want to take a chance of all their weapons being confiscated. Having Tinker AFB south of Oklahoma City and a National Guard unit within the city along with a detachment of Marines and the Army at Ft. Sill, had the men thinking the cities would be locked down.

The soldiers guarding the southern entrance to Oklahoma City were alert, professional, and didn’t give them any trouble. They were able to direct them to several areas where they might be able to find the items they needed. Finding parking not too far from the markets the soldiers had indicated. Jensen and Spencer stayed with the trucks while Christian and Steve went to gather their supplies.

Jensen sat on the tailgate smoking a cigarette, Spencer leaned against his side. He watched an Army truck full of men, women and children pull into the lot. Blonde hair drew Jensen’s eye to the people climbing out of the open truck. Something made him stand and start walking toward them after telling Spencer to stay with the truck.

“Beth?!?” Jensen called.

The blonde’s head snapped up at his voice.

“Jensen! Oh my god! Jen!” She broke and ran towards him. In true Parker fashion she launched herself into his arms.

Jensen braced himself and gladly accepted the weight. She stayed wrapped around him for several minutes before allowing him to set her back on her feet.

“What about Tim, Aldis and Pilot? Was anyone traveling with you? Where are you staying? Christian and Steve are pickin’ up some stuff then we’re goin’ back to the ranch.” Jensen said in rush.

“Wow. You haven’t been talking much have you?” She teased.

Jensen blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry. We’ve been sorta grievin’ for everyone.”

“Pilot and I flew into Will Rogers like we planned. Aldis’ plane was supposed to leave four hours after us, but the pilot said the earthquakes started two hours after we left Los Angeles. We we’re going to grab a rental car and drive down, but there were none, the military hustled everyone who wasn’t a resident to the camps. A few days later some soldiers patrolling the Interstate brought in Tim and Milo. They were driving…doing the father and son vacation thing. There was an accident and Tim got hurt and they were stuck out in the middle of nowhere for a long time, and the doctors are worried about Tim recovering from his injuries. Our phone batteries are all dead, so we didn’t have any way to get a hold of anyone. They’ve only recently started letting us use their field phones for non-emergencies calls. So they’re all back at the camp while I came to get some stuff. They bring us to the market every couple days, but they’re getting ready to move us to the Oklahoma University campus in Norman because of the weather.” Beth hugged him again hardly able to believe he was real.

“Will they let you come home with us? Is there any reason for you to stay here?” Jensen asked.

“We can leave anytime. They encourage it, actually, but I don’t know if Tim will be able to leave.” Beth’s eyes were bright with tears.

“As soon as Christian and Steve get back we’ll go pick up everyone up and take you home.”

Beth hugged him hard again. “I almost gave up that we’d ever get to you guys.” She sniffed.

Arm still wrapped around Beth’s waist, Jensen talked to the soldier driving the truck, and got directions to the camp. They settled on the tailgate watching for Christian and Steve.

An hour later, the two men returned with trolleys stacked with bags and boxes. Beth jumped down off the tailgate as they got closer. Jensen relieved Christian his trolley, allowing him to run to Beth and grab her up in his arms. They held each other for so long Steve turned to Jensen and spoke in a stage whisper to draw their attention.

“Good thing I’m not the jealous type.”

Next thing he knew, his arms were full of a crying, smiling Beth.

While they continued their reunion, Jensen started sorting the supplies. Supplies for the neighbors went in the stock trailer on Christian’s truck while theirs went on the trailer behind his pickup. Knowing Christian wouldn’t want to be separated from Beth, they headed toward the camp.

%%%%%

Jensen went to the camp commander’s office to check through the lists of survivors hoping to find other of their friends. Steve paused where they separated, wanting to be with Christian, but also wanting to follow Jensen.

It saddened him to see the younger man isolating himself, afraid of getting too close---of being hurt again. They’d all gotten so caught up in the day to day survival of their family that they weren’t pushing Jensen hard enough to force him to them.

Mind made up, he trailed after Jensen.

“Jense! Wait up, man!”

Surprise showed on the freckled face before his usual mask dropped in place.

“’Sup?” His surprise still showed in his voice.

“Two sets of eyes are better than one.”

“But…Christian…”

“Can gather up his friends and their stuff while we see who else might be here.”

They’d been through most of the lists when Jensen stopped, his hand taking Steve’s arm in a bruising grip.

“Jensen?” Steve turned to see a man on the verge of breaking.

Eyes closed, his face had turned white, twisted with pain. Steve snatched the list Jensen had been reading and quickly scanned down the page. His heart leapt into his throat then plummeted to his stomach when he read the names in front of him.

He felt the prick of tears when he saw the names of his partners…the brother and sister of his heart, Darren and Rosalee Sher. Right below that were two names he thought never to see again. Danneel and Jared Padalecki. He looked back at Jensen ready to offer his support, but the hated mask was firmly back in place reminding Steve that Jensen always was a hell of an actor.

“Guess we better go see what’s going on and pack Darren and Rose up with the Leverage crew.” Jensen stood waiting on Steve.

They took the list to the clerk and got directions to the section of camp wherein lie joy and pain.

%%%%%

Steve pulled out his cell and thanked the electronic gods he had a signal. Talking to Christian as he and Jensen headed toward the opposite side of the camp once again set his emotions on a rollercoaster.

“Beth, and the boys are fine, but Tim’s not healin’ as well as the doctors would like. Milo’s still shook over his dad bein’ hurt. Watchin’ him lay in the wreck and not being able to do anythin’ has got ‘im real skittish. The doc said that ‘cause of the time Tim was trapped with no medical help they can’t predict how well he’ll recover.”

“We’ll handle it, Kane. Just figure out how we’re getting them home.” Steve looked up to see Rosalee wrapped around Jensen while a very pale Danneel watched. “I gotta try and get Jensen through this in one piece.” He ended the call and shoved the phone in his pocket in time to open his arms to someone he thought he’d never see again.

%%%%%

Jensen stared at his wife as though seeing an apparition. He was about to go to her when sound from behind him made her look over his shoulder and her face lit up. He didn’t want to turn around…didn’t want to know which of his friends had betrayed him. He should go—now—not look back. He doesn’t need to know, doesn’t need the additional scars on his heart. He closed his eyes, straightened his spine and prepared himself to turn around and see…

Darren Sher and Jared Padalecki came around the corner of their tent as Rosalee squealed and flung herself into the arms of a man with blond hair lying in waves over his shoulders…

…Shoulders that Darren knew as well as his own. He dropped his bag and joined his wife in holding onto Steve.

Seeing Darren run to Steve, Danneel looked over Jensen’s shoulder to see Jared. Her face lit up when she saw the big man. He still had the boyish good looks that had caught her eye when Jensen had introduced them, six years before. Her eyes flicked from Jared to Jensen. Looking into the stony countenance of her husband’s face, Danneel was at a loss. Frozen in place between her legal husband and self-proclaimed husband, time seemed to stop and she felt as though the air had been sucked out of the bubble created by the men in her life.

The air returned so fast it made her dizzy when Jensen turned and saw Jared. The blankness that passed over his features turned his face into a beautiful marble mask. Her mobility returned at Jared’s shocked gasp. Danneel turned to see the look of surprise then anger on Steve’s face. He said something she couldn’t hear to Darren and Rosalee before starting toward Jensen.

It was Jared that really set everyone in motion.

“Jen…” He dropped his bag and reached for his former…everything.

%%%%%

A month after the wedding, Jared regretted wanting to be normal. Whereas his parents’ home had been noisy and boisterous there had also been love and respect. The Cortes household was one of constant strife and turmoil, passion and cold silences. Genevieve considered that normal, and proceeded to duplicate that in their home.

It had been exhausting, and after a year, Jared admitted defeat. He packed a bag, kenneled the dogs, and headed out of the country for a quickie divorce. Afterwards he picked up the dogs and slept for the most peaceful week he’d had since he’d told Jensen he was getting married.

After Supernatural ended when Jensen refused to sign for another season, he stayed in the CW stable while he waited for scripts to come his way. He wasn’t getting considered for any of the roles he thought he should so he started taking roles as a secondary character in a few films that did okay, hoping it would put him in line for leading roles, but nothing he did garnered the success of Jensen’s projects.

In his last movie, Danneel had played the female lead. It had been awkward at first, but after spending time together off the set, they both realized they’d both underestimated Jensen and were suffering the consequences of their hasty decisions. They found it easy to resume the friendship they’d started during Supernatural, but they both felt guilt ridden over cheating on Jensen. On the last day of shooting, Danneel told Jared her lawyer was drawing up divorce papers that would be ready when she set got home from their location filming.

As they lay in bed that last night, Jared told her his fantasy of having a ‘normal life’ with a wife and a life with Jensen at the same time. Danneel had stared at him until he began to feel uncomfortable then she started to laugh. When she finally got herself back under control and wiped her eyes she snuggled back down against Jared.

“Oh Jared, honey, I don’t mean to laugh, but Jensen doesn’t share. The only thing he ever shared was Steve and Christian.”

By the time filming was over they were in love, and trying to think up ways they could convince Jensen to stay with them.

%%%%%

Now that fantasy stood before them, close cropped russet beard, body whipcord lean from the hard physical labor of the past month. They stood momentarily mute before they began moving toward each other in an attempt to pin Jensen between them.

Steve looked up from where he was clutched between Darren and Rosalee and saw what was happening.

“Guys, I gotta stop Jensen from killin’ someone.” He whispered as he let go and started to move. The couple followed on his heels.

%%%%%

Jared’s hand froze when he saw the look on Jensen’s face. The normally jade colored eyes blazed gold with anger as he looked between him and Danneel. Frightened, Jared stepped close enough to bring Danneel against his side. Jensen sneered at the couple.

The tableau was interrupted by Steve’s quiet voice.

“Jense.”

The anger drained from Jensen’s face when he turned to look at Steve. His expression softened when he saw Rosalee and Darren.

“I’ll be done here in a minute.” He turned back to face his wife and ex-lover—ex-best friend.

Steve tensed when he saw Jensen reach under his coat. He knew the younger man carried a shoulder holster along with the gun strapped against his thigh. He nearly sagged with relief when Jensen pulled an envelope from his inner coat pocket and handed it to Danneel.

“My wife died when California fell into the ocean.”

He turned back to Steve.

“I’ll be helping Christian get the trucks loaded.” He walked away without another word.

Danneel looked at the envelope. She gasped when she saw the return address for a law firm that now only existed on the corner of the envelope. She pulled out the papers and saw Jensen’s signature at the bottom of the page. She was officially a single woman.

%%%%%

Jensen stalked across the camp, the iron grip he had on his emotions the only thing keeping him upright. If he stopped to think about the betrayal of his wife—ex-wife, he’d probably go back and shoot Jared somewhere crippling to make them both feel a small portion of his pain.

As he got closer to Christian and the Leverage crew, he locked down everything and was prepared to do what was necessary for the survival of ‘his’ family.

As he stalked across the camp, coat tails flapping like raven’s wings, a familiar voice called his name.

“ACKLES!”

Jensen stopped long enough to see who yelled coming face to face with comedian, actor, friend and Marine Corps Reserve Lt. Colonel Robert Riggle.

“Riggs! Great to see ya, dude.” Jensen drew him into a back slapping hug. “Glad ya made it.”

“Yeah, well, Marine and all—never doubted I’d see you. You bein’ such a paranoid badass and all.”

“You’ve mistaken me for my short, homely friend, Kane.” Jensen put on a good front for his friend. “Rob?”

“With me.” His expression softened.

“Good to hear. I’m happy for ya, man.” Jensen tucked his thumbs in his gunbelt. “So why you hollerin’ at me across camp like a Sunset Strip hooker?”

The Colonel looked sheepish. “Walk with me, Jensen.”

The men continued the same path Jensen was taking when Riggle interrupted his headlong flight from Jared and Danneel.

“ Kane’s place is out by Broken Bow…backs up to the state park?”

“Yeah, Hochatown, but you knew that or you wouldn’t have asked.” Jensen frowned.

The big man blushed.

“One of the things they’ve got my Marines in charge of besides getting these people moved down to Norman is information gathering.” He paused as though he hated what he was about to ask. “I need eyes down there, Jensen. State and national parks are the first places the militia nuts and bad guys think to hang out.” He pulled Jensen to a stop. “You bein’ a civilian I have no right to ask, but my guys would stand out like sore thumbs down there, but no one would question you being out and about the area…”

“You want me to do recon for you?” Jensen arched an eyebrow at his friend.

“Yeah.” The Colonel looked hopeful.

“What do I get for taking a chance of gettin’ shot or worse?”Jensen face and tone turned hard.

“Come with me.” Riggles was all business.

Jensen left the Colonel’s office with a satellite phone and an order to receive a crate at the gate.

%%%%%

After Jensen stalked off, his anger so palatable even the soldiers moved out of his path, Danneel looked at her friends from The Omnitone for understanding only to see three angry looks directed at her and Jared.

“Steve, wait.” Danneel pleaded.

“For what?” His tone was cold. “Of all the people you could have shown up with, HE’s the worst.”

“I know, but we fell in love and we need to get to San Antonio to look for Jared’s family. They’re all we have left.”Knowing they must have some kind of transportation, Danneel looked at her friends of many years.

“Good luck with that.” The blue/green eyes were full of contempt as they swept over the couple. “Let’s get your stuff so we can head home.” Steve headed into the tent behind Darren and Rosalee.

“Steve, please?” Danneel tried again.

Holding the flap open, he turned around. “I’m sorry, but you and Jared have almost single handedly destroyed someone we love. How do I ask Jensen to subject himself to having you around rubbing his nose in…this?” He waved his hand at them. “You know…never mind. I refuse to ask someone I love to go through that kind of pain.”

When she had no answer he went inside to help gather the Shers’ belongings.

%%%%%

With Tim injured, Christian would drive Jensen’s truck with Beth, Tim and the boys while Jensen drove Christian’s with Steve, Rosalee and Darren. They double checked the supplies for their neighbors were all packed in the stock trailer so Christian could go straight to the house.

Christian was anxious to get the injured Hutton back to the ranch. He left the truck idling to keep everyone warm while he helped Darren and Rosalee stow their gear in the bed. For safety’s sake they needed to stay together since Christian was the only one in his truck armed. He was finishing the last round of checking hitches, tires and safety chains when he was stopped by Jensen’s calling his name softly.

Jensen told Christian to move Tim into his room since it had bathroom and was closest to the living areas. Christian started to protest, but the light touch on his arm and Jensen’s quiet baritone left no room for the older man to argue. When Jensen got that soft look in his eyes no one refused him, not even a hard ass like Christian Kane.

Jensen’s deal with Colonel Riggle had its perks so he led them to the fuel depot before they headed back to the ranch. Too overcome with the excitement of finding some of their friends, neither Christian nor Steve questioned being able to refuel from the military’s supply.

The weather remained cloudy and cold with snow forecasted to start around midnight. They all hoped they would be home by then.

It was after eight when Christian turned in the ranch’s driveway while Jensen drove on to the neighbors.

Christian and Steve had kept receipts for all the supplies they bought. They’d carried extra cash out of their reserve in case the neighbors had run short so by the time Jensen, Steve and the Shers got to the ranch, the truck bed was piled high with hay bales and the trailer contained chickens, a pair of pigs, two milk cows, and more hay.

Darren called Jensen Noah and joked about riding in the Ark. Jensen gave his opinion one finger at a time as he pulled up to the house.

They unloaded Darren, Rosalee, and the supplies before Jensen drove toward the barn with Parker happily running behind the truck, satisfied now that her master and Spencer were finally home.

Prepared to sleep in the barn if they ran out of room in the house, Jensen was surprised when he went back in the house and found Sandy had laid out a late supper for the travelers. He thought after this afternoon’s confrontation with Danneel and Jared that he’d never eat again, but seeing Sandy, Christian and Steve watching, he did the best he could, but exhaustion soon set in and all he wanted was a shower and a bed.

Steve and Christian exchanged a look as they watched Jensen finally succumb to the stress and exhaustion he’d been carrying around since the earthquakes began. With a grin, they took pity on him.

“We moved your stuff to our room.” Steve volunteered.

With a careless wave, Jensen staggered toward the bedrooms. When he didn’t come back out, the men exchanged a look of victory. With everyone else was settled, they secured the house and retired to their room where they were met by a sight that was a gift better than finding their friends alive, and that was finding Jensen voluntarily in the middle of their big bed sound asleep.

Christian pulled Steve in tight to his side. “We’re gonna git this sorted out real soon ‘cause that’s where Jenny’s supposed to be.” Christian whispered as he pulled Steve toward the bed.

He woke the next morning feeling more rested than he had since the day their world stopped. Slipping out from under Steve, he got dressed and checked on Tim. He found the older man resting peacefully, Beth curled up beside him. Pilot and Milo were curled like puppies in the middle of an air mattress tucked along the wall.

Smiling he headed toward the kitchen expecting to see Jensen, but the room was empty and coffee made. The air held a bit of a chill so he laid a fire in the stove. Sipping his coffee while he watched the fire he wondered how Jensen had moved around their room without waking him or Steve since they were all notoriously light sleepers. It was amazing what having your family alive and well did for your ability to sleep.

A rush of cold air and dogs startled Christian out of his revelry as Jensen came in carrying two buckets. One filled with milk warm from the cow, and the other with brown and white eggs.

“Figured you’d still be asleep.”

“Would be, but the cow’s on a schedule.” Jensen grumbled as he headed for the kitchen.

Following Mrs. Rivers instructions, he strained the milk for hair and bits of dirt before pouring it into a pitcher. He took time to scribble a note for everyone to either stir the milk or skim the cream before drinking. Washing the eggs he placed them in bowl and set them beside the milk. Only then did he pour a cup of coffee and join Christian in front of the fire.

“How’s Tim doin’?”

“Restin’. Guess everyone else is decompressin’ after worryin’ and grievin’ the past month.” He reached out and clasped Jensen free hand. “How ya doin’, Jenny?”

“Me? I’m fine.” Hearing Christian’s snort he turned to face him. “I already thought she was dead, knew she was gonna divorce me so…” He shrugged and settled back with his feet on the ottoman, resting against Christian’s side.

Christian didn’t move, afraid of breaking the spell or whatever it was that had Jensen relaxed against him like a hundred morning afters they’d shared in the past. He was starting to hope coaxing Jensen permanently into their bed was going to be easy now that the boy had closure with Danneel and Jared, but that hope was dashed when a bedroom door opened and closed. Jensen was off the couch and grabbing his coat and boots before Christian could protest.

Steve came around the corner in time to see Jensen and the four dogs going out the door. He turned to ask Christian a question, and backed up a step at the glare directed his way.

“What?...Christian?” Steve bumped against the counter in his haste to back up. “Ow!”

Christian was next to him in a heartbeat, pulling him into his arms.

“Sorry, darlin’. Didn’t mean to be cross—Jenny was…” He trailed off as he buried his face in Steve’s neck and breathed deep.

“Christian?”

“He was so like old Jenny, restin’ against me then the door slammed…” He drew a deep breath and let it out before straightening. “Guess sleepin’ in our bed is a long way from what we want.” He grabbed a kiss from the blond. “Better git breakfast. Jen provided fresh milk and eggs. Might have to go coax ‘im back from the barn.” Christian yanked the refrigerator door open.

“Sorry, babe.” Steve crooned moving to help.

“Not yer fault he’s jumpy as a gobbler on Thanksgiving.” Christian moved toward the coffee pot. “We’ve probably found everyone we’re gonna…we can git back in a routine then I’m thinkin’ it’s time we git to seriously workin’ on that little project.”

“You mean you, me and Jensen?” Steve’s eyebrows rose.

“That’s the one.”

Decision made, they got to work on breakfast.

%%%%%

Jensen didn’t stop his flight from the house until he was back in the barn. He stood inside the door letting the sounds of the animals soothe his nerves while he fought to slow his breathing. He slipped. Let exhaustion lower his defenses and lean into Christian’s warmth. The three of them had always been close with Jensen waking up many a morning between the two men, but he knew what happened when you stood between two people in love. He should have learned his lesson with Jared, but it took Danneel and Jared together to finally drive it into his hard head that there was always something other than his love people wanted and once they had it, it was Jensen’s heart left bleeding in the dirt.

He grabbed a shovel and started cleaning stalls. He spent extra time grooming Stoney and Christian’s mare. Sensing Jensen’s distress, Red Dawn reached around and lipped the brown strands that had grown out to curl over his collar as Jensen ran the brushes over her pregnant belly.

“Spoiled little lady aren’t ya.” Jensen straightened up and rubbed the broad forehead. “Can’t wait to see the pretty baby ya give Kane.” He moved out of her stall to the work horses.

He harnessed the team and hitched them to the manure spreader gasping at the freezing bite of the wind. He pulled his watch cap down tight and his hood up as he closed the doors. Climbing up on the seat he started the team for hay field to spread his smelly load.

Caring for the animals reminded him of the horses he’d had growing up. He called and talked to his family when service was available, but things always sounded hectic, and though everyone sent their love they never asked for him to come home—said they were glad he was with Steve and Christian. Obviously no room at the Ackles Inn, and that was fine he told himself. He knew he didn’t fit in with them anymore.

Man and animals alike were feeling the cold by the time Jensen drove the team back into the barn. He made sure the big blacks were rubbed down and their feet free of snow before checking the other animals and heading toward the house. Evita had long since retreated to the warmth of the house, but Cody, Parker and Spencer raced from the barn to the house. The snow around the house showed signs that other members of the household had been outside, but he made sure the wood storage by the front door was full, checked the battery house and solar panels before stopping to remove his coats and boots in the sheltered walkway between the outside and the house. It’d take until the evening milking for him to get the feeling back in his fingers and toes.

%%%%%

The clock showed closer to lunch than breakfast, Sandy and Rosalee scowled from where they were setting lunch on the table. He locked his guns in the cabinet before heading to the bathroom to wash up. Hand on the door knob he heard voices coming from his room and remembered Tim, Beth and the boys. He continued down the hall. Christian and Steve’s room was the furthest back with the recording studio, storage rooms and office down a hallway to the left. A couple of unfinished rooms on the right would have to be set up for the boys. A sigh of relief escaped him when he saw the light in the studio. Gathering his things they’d moved into their room, he carried everything to the office then went to wash up for lunch before he ended up deeper in Sandy’s dog house.
%%%%%

A cup of hot coffee was waiting on the counter when he got back to the kitchen. Beth and the boys had come into the living area while he’d been washing up. The boys chattered away while everyone settled around the table, Darren and Steve supported Tim from the bedroom to the couch.

Worried, Milo hovered around his dad until Sandy called them all to the table. Jensen grabbed the lap tray and carried it to the couch where he settled it across Tim’s lap.

Asking and answering looks were exchanged, but Jensen didn’t move to the table until he watched the injured man start to eat.

He listened to the chatter around him as dishes were passed and plates filled. They’d dug out Christian, Steve’s, and the Carlsons’ salvaged Christmas decorations and had begun to decorate the house. They’d even gone out and found a small cedar tree that was just the right size for the corner by windows, filling the house with its scent. Jensen felt as though he was sitting in an isolation booth as sound flowed around him without touching him.

He never saw the worried looks that were exchanged across the table as he merely picked at his lunch. A small noise from Tim found him at the man’s side without a thought of moving. He carried the half finished tray to the kitchen then patted down his pockets for his cell phone. Without a word, he moved to the upstairs living area where the pool table and electronic games were kept. Moving to the furthest corner from stairs, he pushed the number for his mother’s cell.

“This better be good. For all this thing rarely rings—you couldn’t have picked a worse time.” His mother grumbled into the phone.

“Sorry.” Cut to the bone, Jensen ended the call.

He rarely called anyone since the signals were still spotty and he didn’t have anyone but his family to call, and now apparently that was unwelcome. He laid the phone down and went to get dressed and once again collect his guns.

Seeing Jensen unlock the gun cabinet, Beth caught him before he went out the door, asking if he’d go around to the neighbors and invite them over for Christmas dinner, and to check for eggs ‘cause they needed them to make dessert for tomorrow. Oh and could he walk the dogs before he left because she was really busy. With a nod, Jensen settled his guns and moved to the outer porch for his parka.

“If they ask if they can bring something?” He asked quietly.

“Whatever they want to contribute. I think it’d be good to get to know one another a little better, introduce the boys to the kids in the ‘neighborhood’.” Beth offered. She turned away when Sandy and Chris came into the room. “Maybe we can talk about how they’re schooling their kids. Who knows when they’ll be any kind of organized schooling going again…” Beth continued to chatter as she walked away.

She headed toward the kitchen with Sandy leaving a bewildered Jensen looking after them as Chris chuckled.

“You know how women get at Christmas, Son?”

“Uh…sure.” He turned toward the door calling the dogs.

Steve was upstairs looking for a CD when he heard a phone ring. Looking around he saw the light flashing on the table in the corner. Seeing ‘Mom’ on the ID he hurried to answer.

“Jensen?” She sounded a bit frantic.

“It’s Steve. What’s wrong, Donna?”

“The phone rang a couple hours ago and things were really hectic and I yelled at whoever called. I just looked at my phone and saw it was Jensen. Is he there?”

“Actually I haven’t seen him since lunch.” A note of concern entered Steve’s voice.

“When you see him tell him I’m sorry I yelled and have him call me.”

“Sure as soon as I see him.” Steve assured her.

Steve went through the house looking for Jensen. He saw the milk pail sitting on the counter along with another pail with several eggs. He threw on his coat and boots and headed for the barn. He saw Christian in the stall with Red Dawn while Darren leaned against the stall.

“Christian, where’s Jen?”

“He was going out across the field toward the Rivers’ place with Spencer, Cody and Parker when I came out to the barn.” Christian continued brushing the mare.

‘He doesn’t have his phone.” Steve stood flexing his hands into fists needing to do something, but not knowing what.

Christian finished with the mare.

“That’s odd. He never leaves without his phone.”

“I was upstairs when I heard it ring…it was Donna. She said Jensen had called, but she didn’t know it was him and yelled and hung up ‘cause she was in the middle of something with the kids.”

“Ya ask yer mom?”

“Her and Rose didn’t know anything, but Beth had a funny look on her face…”

It was long past supper and dark. The wind and snow had picked up. The crackling of the wood stove was the only sound in the house. Christian stood at the windows staring into the darkness arms crossed over his chest. Steve sat close by, his guitar resting on his lap, but his fingers were still. Rosalee and Darren had taken the boys up to the game room to play quietly, Sandy and Chris were watching their worried boys, Beth was on the couch with Tim, her eyes and nose red from crying when fear for Jensen caused Christian’s temper to snap.

“God damn it, Beth! How can you fuck shit up after being here one day! This ain’t like drivin’ to the corner store.” Christian shouted before stalking off to stare out the window.

“Why didn’t he just say something?” Tim tried to play peace maker. “Jensen’s not one to just lie down.”

“Because he knew how worried Christian had been about you guys, and we may all be stuck together here a long time. He didn’t want to start things off with hard feelings and arguments. He’s had a rough couple days, gave up his bed, hasn’t been sleepin’…” Steve closed his mouth with a snap and followed Christian before he said something he’d regret later.

So they waited. Sandy was keeping everyone in coffee and hot chocolate. She and Chris had settled on one of the other couches after helping Beth get Tim into bed when Evita went racing from the bedroom toward the outside door.

Christian, Steve and Chris threw on their gear, switched on all the floodlights, ran out into the storm. Parker and Spencer lay on either side of Jensen with Cody lying on top of him trying to keep the fallen man warm.

Christian and Steve went to their knees while Chris continued to the barn.

“I’ll check on Stoney.” He called.

They checked Jensen for injuries, but finding none, they each got under a shoulder and hoisted the younger man to his feet.

“Shit. He don’t weigh nothin’.” Christian complained as they started for the house, the three exhausted dogs following behind.

With Christian supporting the lax body, Steve stripped off Jensen’s boots, Carhartt arctic coat and bibs before hauling him before the wood stove where Sandy appeared with comforter to wrap around him, Steve and Christian, as the other two used their body heat to warm the younger man.

She returned several minutes later with a mug of soup while Chris, Darren and the boys tended to the dogs.

“What were ya thinkin’, Boy?” Christian muttered.

“Tryin’ ta make things normal.” Jensen slurred as he snuggled into their warmth. “Everyone’s comin’.” He started to struggle.

“Stay still, Jense.” Steve cajoled as they tightened their grip.

“Stoney…the dogs…”

“Are fine. Dad checked Stoney, and the dogs are fine.”

“Let’s get you in bed.” Steve and Christian started to maneuver Jensen off the couch.

“Do’n have a bed. Gave it to Tim.” Jensen tried to lie back down. “Do’n need bed…too big.”

“Come on, Jenny…uppy uppy.” Christian stood bringing Jensen with him.

“Where we go’n?” Jensen mumbled.

“Bed.”

“Ca’n. Steve wo’n like it.” He tried to pull away only to bump into Steve.

“’S okay. Steve’s gonna be there, too.” Christian crooned.

“K.” Jensen let himself go limp.

Before they got to the hallway, Sandy stepped in front of them. Christian actually growled, but Sandy just glared.

“It’s what we all want but he’s been fightin’ it.” Steve stared down his mother.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. We shoulda done this before Jared ever got a hold of ‘im.” Christian added.

Whatever she saw on their faces satisfied her as she stepped out of the way.

“Thanks, Ma.” Steve gave her a quick peck on the cheek as they continued toward the master suite.

The last thing he remembered was rubbing down Stoney, making sure the stallion had been taken care of after their trek around the neighboring ranches and a little recon work for the Colonel. He blinked several times, but the room stayed pitch black, but he could feel the blessed heat…of someone’s breath on the nape of his neck…there was a body plastered against his front.

The gods must really be laughing. The only place Jensen had ever wanted to be, and now that he was here all he could think about was getting away as fast as possible. He was a failure at relationships, and he would not be the reason Christian and Steve’s almost fifteen year relationship went on the rocks. Now all he had to do was get from under Christian and out of Steve’s hold.

Maybe it was time to think about going to Texas. He could stop and visit his family before moving on to…wherever. If he took Spook, Christian would have Stoney to stand stud and his truck. Yeah. That was a good plan. After New Year’s he’d slip away. Maybe he could find Riggle’s boogey men so they couldn’t hurt his family.

He finally got his arm free of the covers and was able to see his watch. He needed a plan of escape. It was nearly time to do the milking. Sophie wouldn’t appreciate being made to wait.

Jensen squirmed until the older men moved. He’d just cleared the covers when strong fingers closed around his wrist.

“Where goin’?” Christian grumbled.

“Take a piss.”

“K.” Christian pulled Steve against his chest and went back to sleep.

Jensen stood at the bathroom door letting night light beams fall over the room. He watched the pair fill the space he’d left then settle back to sleep. The weight in his chest took his breath and left him feeling lightheaded. He loved them so much it was better he leave before he did something foolish that would end his friendship with the couple.

He grabbed a change of clothes then headed for the other bathroom to keep from waking them.

%%%%%

Looking out the windows, they were definitely having a white Christmas. The dogs danced around his feet as he fed the woodstove and started the coffeemaker before donning his black Carhartts and heading for the barn, Evita followed his steps to keep from getting buried in the foot of snow that had fallen overnight. The bigger dogs ran around the yard, rested from their adventures of the day before.

Everyone fed, eggs gathered, the gate to the lean-to open so the animals could wander into the pasture if the wind died; he turned his attention to Sophie, the dairy cow still giving milk. In a couple months June would be dropping her calf, giving Sophie a break until her calf was born next summer. If things went the way he envisioned, he wouldn’t be here to see it.

Putting away those thoughts, he pulled off his heavy gloves to the fingerless gloves underneath. Bucket in place he settled his head against the warm brown flank and started to squeeze and pull while his melodic baritone rumbled soothingly through the barn.

Tucking Evita inside his coat, Jensen secured the barn door and headed back to the house with his morning bounty.

Letting the dogs inside to keep them out of the milk, Jensen peeled out of his snow covered coats and boots before taking care of the milk and eggs.

Grabbing a couple Christmas cookies and a cup of coffee, Jensen settled on the couch, feet on the coffee table to soak up the heat from the woodstove. He pulled the sat phone out of his pocket and sent some videos and photos back the Colonel’s office in Norman.

Watching the flames through the glass door still exhausted from the day before, along with wading through the snow and cold to tend the animals, Jensen pulled the afghan off the back of the couch and closed his eyes for a nap before the rest of the household woke.

%%%%%

Living underground it was hard to tell night from day, but years of early calls had Christian’s internal clock about fifteen minutes faster than the one sitting on the night stand. He was getting ready to snuggle back under the comforter when he realized there were not enough bodies in the bed. Jensen said he was going to the bathroom, and Christian had drifted back to sleep without waiting for him to come back to bed. He hadn’t checked the clock so he had no way of knowing how long the younger man had been missing.

His growling and grumbled cussing woke Steve.

“Santa probably left you lumps of coal and switches with all the growlin’ and cussin’ you got goin’ there, Kane.”
Steve stretched out on his side and propped his head on his hand.

“Already had what I wanted for Christmas—you and Jenny in my bed, but now Jenny’s missin’…again.”

“You really didn’t think it was going be that easy?” Steve signed as he reluctantly crawled from their warm nest. “Jared and Danneel really fucked up his head.”

“Smart ass.” He growled with a kiss as he headed out the door.

The growling started again when he saw the half empty pot of coffee, and the fire burning merrily in the stove. Then he noticed the four sets of bright doggie eyes watching him from different places around the couch. Seeing Evita with her chin on the back of the couch gave him the second clue as to where Jensen was hiding.

He was contemplating stretching out beside Jensen when he heard Milo and Pilot knock on Tim’s door. They had gotten the boys moved into one of the unfinished rooms before they started worrying over Jensen.

“Mom! Tim! Come on, it’s Christmas and it really SNOWED last night!” Pilot yelled.

Looks like Santa got Tim a little something for Christmas, too.

The boys’ shouts startled Jensen awake. Green eyes blinked blearily at Christian.

“Ya forgit yer way back to bed from the bathroom?” Christian scolded quietly.

“Had a date with Sophie.” Jensen mumbled as he sat up rubbing his face.

“Sophie. Who the fuck is Sophie?” Christian growled.

“One of our milk cows, dumb ass.” Jensen chided.

“We have a cow named Sophie?”

“And June.” Jensen reminded as he picked up his cup. “Still coffee?”

“In the thermal. Brewin’ another.” Christian stood to follow him.

He crowded the younger man against the counter and started to express his displeasure at finding Jensen absent from their bed when the boys came racing down the hall. Jensen moved away like he’d been burnt.

Christian rested his head against the cabinet. He loved his family…he really did, but right now he would joyfully strangle them all if it would get him and Steve a quiet moment with Jensen.

They flew past Jensen with shouts of ‘Uncle Chris!’ while Jensen continued on to check Tim. Jensen had disappeared around the corner, when Milo grabbed a hug from Christian before he moved to follow Jensen.

Jensen knew it had only been a couple days and the trip from Oklahoma City had been hard on the injured man, but he’d really thought to see some improvement in Tim’s condition. The trauma from the accident and surgery had severely depleted the older man’s strength.

As though he’d been doing it all his life, Jensen and Beth helped Tim bathe, changed his dressings, and got him moved to the couch with very little fuss. Beth changed the linens and gathered their dirty clothes and headed for the laundry room.

Tim watched Jensen after he helped him to the couch. He’d come to like and admire the younger man in the years he’d known him, but the earth changes that had changed them all really left a mark on Jensen Ackles. He’d picked up the burden of helping his family survive with little fuss. If anyone needed an example, the fact that he’d exhausted himself to make Beth’s Christmas wish come true was all the indication he needed.

They all realized it wasn’t going to be a normal Christmas, but the newest members of the Kane household were grateful for the fact they were alive and out from under the military’s care. Tim just knew that even with moving to the protection of the buildings on the college campus in Norman, winter would be hard on the refugees. He probably wouldn’t have made it if Beth hadn’t run into Jensen at the market.

His focus was pulled outward by the sound of Milo’s voice urging Jensen to get dressed so they could go play in the snow before breakfast. Dark circles indicated the man was still exhausted, but he trudged to the outer entry and pulled on his winter gear making a joke about the dogs needing walked whenever Steve scolded him.

He took the time to explain to the boys that they needed to check on the animals before they could play. When Pilot began to whine, Jensen raised his hand for quiet then explained if they didn’t take care of the animals there would be no milk, eggs or meat. The boys waited patiently while Jensen checked their gear, double checked his guns then whistled up the dogs.

Seeing a body come into his peripheral vision, Tim turned to see Christian bearing a tray with his breakfast including medications. Shifting to allow the tray to fit over his lap, he smiled when Kane settled on the coffee table and sipped a cup of coffee while Tim ate.

“How’re ya feelin’ this mornin’?” Christian asked as he looked toward the door.

“All things considered, not too damn bad.” Tim answered around his eggs. “You and Steve gonna do something about that?”

“’Bout what?” Eyes more grey than blue turned on him.

Tim rolled his eyes. “Subtlety was never one of your strong points, Christian.”

Broad shoulders shrugged. “Jared and Danneel’s got the boy so spooked we might pin him down in the next ten years or so.”

“Don’t think you’ve got that long.” He savored the taste of real eggs.

“What!?” He had Christian’s full attention.

“I know we haven’t been here that long, but he keeps everyone at arms’ length, has been cleaning all his weapons and looks at you, Steve and the Carlsons like he’s never gonna see you again.”

“Damn.” Christian’s knuckles were white around his cup. “Bet he’s gonna feed us some line of shit ‘bout goin’ to see his folks.”

“No bet.” He picked up his meds and water glass. “Bet he doesn’t come back.”

Stricken Christian stood. “Are you…?” He waved at the tray.

Tim waved him off. “Go talk to your other boy.” He chuckled.

“Smart ass.” Christian said affectionately planting a kiss on the pale forehead then headed for Steve.

He was in the middle of going over his conversation with Tim when Sandy snatched Steve away along with Beth and Rosalee before shooing everyone else out of the kitchen.

“But…” Christian started.

“Whatever it is can wait to ‘til later. The world’s not going to end between now and dinner.” She scolded, then stopped when she heard Christian growl on his way out of the kitchen. She looked at Steve. “Did I just step in it without knowing it?” She quietly asked her son.

“Yeah. We’re worried about Jen.”

“Christian can handle Jensen.” She assured him.

“We don’t want to handle him, Mom. This is his home. We want him to feel that way…no like he’s hired help.” He shot a blue glare at Beth who ducked her head.

Sandy opened her mouth then decided silence was better. With a nod they got to work—until two pre-teen boys flopped a dead turkey in the middle of the counter causing squeals from Rosalee and Beth. Three sets of wide eyes stared at the grinning boys.

“Uncle Jensen said you might need more meat for the pot—what with company comin’ and all.” Milo drawled in a good imitation of Jensen.

“Did you boys help?” Tim asked grinning from the couch.

“Dad! You’re up!” Milo bounced over to his father and gave him a light hug. “How’re you feeling?”

“Better. I’ll be up and around in no time.” Tim assured his son.

The morning passed quickly as everyone helped prepare for the impromptu party. Noticing the dogs watching intently out the windows, Jensen dressed and readied his guns before calling Parker and Spencer, making Cody stay. Without a word, Christian backed him at the inside door.

It was their neighbors, The Johnsons and The Dawsons. Darren and Jensen helped the men settle their horses and makeshift sleighs while Christian and Steve welcomed the rest of the family. About a half later, The Rivers and The Suarez families arrived.

The community areas of the house filled with chatter and laughter. Plates of snacks and finger foods were demolished. Chris and Christian wheeled a fully restored upright piano that had been hidden in the office out into the living room.

Steve was speechless as he ran his hands over the beautiful wood. Blue eyes filled with love and awe sought out Christian who snagged Jensen by simply wrapping an arm around his neck and dragging him against his side.

While the three men communed silently over the piano, Rosalee, Darren and Chris carried their guitars from the studio. In the middle of everyone getting settled, Jensen’s phone rang. His face lit up but his voice was cautious when he answered.

Steve and Christian were captivated when they saw the soft look on the freckled face as he headed for a quiet corner to talk.

Their Jensen watching was ended when Sandy shouted from the dining room.

“Oh no. They get started with the music we’ll never get them to dinner. So step away from the piano and guitars until after we eat.”

A round of laughter had everyone headed toward the buffet style Christmas dinner.

Exhausted from the day, Tim asked Jensen and Darren to take him to his room. Beth came along with his meds. Seeing the worried looked on Milo’s face, Tim patted the bed next to him as the adults left the room.

The Shers exchanged a look as Jensen headed for the front door after stopping for his guns. With a nod of agreement to each other, they followed.

Jensen was shrugging into his coat, the dogs watching expectantly when the couple started getting dressed.

“What…?” Jensen started, but Darren held a hand up to stop him.

“We all need to learn this stuff in case one of us gets sick or is on a supply run.”

Rosalee nodded in agreement. “We figured who better to teach us than ‘Ol MacDonald himself.” She teased.

“I could use the help since we’ve got the extra horses.”

Sharp eyes watched Jensen, then the Shers head out. The eldest from each of the families moved to follow.

“Where you goin’?” Pilot asked.

“See ta the horses.” Carly Rivers answered.

“Jensen’ll take care of them.” Beth came up behind her son.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, ma’am, figgerin’ he’s got his hands full with y’all’s stock.” Jake Johnson answered.

“’Sides, ya invited us ta supper and beddin’ us for the night, least we can do.” Ashley Dawson stated as she tugged Tiko Suarez in her wake.

Beth and Pilot stared after the teens.

“They’re ranch kids. They all got their chores to do ‘cause their folks are workin’ the fields or a job.” Christian explained.

“Do I have chores?” Pilot asked.

Christian played with the patch of whiskers under his lip as he pretended to consider. “How ‘bout…it’ll be your job to keep the wood box full, the ashes carried outside, the woodshed filled, and take care of Evita?” He winked over Pilot’s head at Beth. “Milo can help ya when he ain’t takin’ care of his dad.”

“When do I do that?”

“Whenever it needs done…like right now so when Jensen gits done milkin’ and takin’ care of the animals in the barn he can come in and enjoy the evening with the family instead of havin’ to keep workin’.”

“Come on Mom! If the band’s gonna play later, I wanna get my chores done.” Pilot grabbed Beth and pulled her toward their outside gear.

Christian looked at Beth’s frown. “Git used to it, darlin’. Ain’t no free rides now days. Come spring it gits harder.” He left to check on Milo and Tim.

Beth followed after her son as he called the little terrier while he grabbed the bucket of ashes from beside the stove.

%%%%%

Chores done, they pushed the furniture to the edges of the room. Coffee tables were loaded with more snacks, they found some beer, and pulled a couple bottles of wine out for the adults. Air mattresses and sleeping bags were spread out, kids and adults alike got into their sweats and pajamas as Darren settled at the piano with Rosalee cuddled against her husband on the bench. All the drums, tambourines, and various and sundry hand held instruments were carried from the studio for anyone who wanted to play. Milo had come out after his dad had fallen asleep and sat at Jensen’s feet with the big dogs while Evita curled up with Sandy and Chris.

They played all the Christmas songs they could remember, played songs they written individually and together since all the musicians knew each other’s songs until the kids were all played out and had snuggled down in their sleeping bags.

The adults talked quietly about how they were schooling their kids, coping with the lack of power from the grid and shortages of food, gas and diesel. They talked about setting up a regular schedule for checking Broken Bow, Oklahoma City, and maybe Dallas for supplies. They discussed security and strangers, which thankfully they hadn’t seen many since the ranches were off the regularly traveled routes.

Amanda Rivers pointed to something on one of the upper shelves and asked Sandy if they were making butter. When Sandy looked confused, the woman explained the contraption sitting on the shelf was a butter churn. She promised to show them how to use it to turn the cream off the cow’s milk into butter, and how if the milk went to clabber before they got it all drank they could cook it into curds for cottage cheese.

Chris laughed as Sandy and Steve’s faces lit up at the prospect of fresh butter, buttermilk and cottage cheese.

The evening was winding down. Christian and Steve looked around for Jensen only to find him coming in from walking the dogs brushing the snow out his now shoulder-length hair. When he moved down the hall the two men followed only to see Jensen turn toward their office.

“Jenny?” Christian called softly.

Jensen had heard them following him. He was torn as to what to do if they stopped him. Now that Christian had called his name, he was not strong enough to ignore its siren’s call.

He turned to see two sets of blue eyes watching him, full of love and hope. He dropped his head unable to bear the pain in his chest, but he wouldn’t let himself surrender to his feelings. He wouldn’t be the thing that…

“Whatever it is pinging around your brain—it needs to stop.” Steve took a step forward. “You need to come in this room and talk to us.”

They talked, though at times it was difficult as old wounds opened as old dreams were revealed. There were plans and promises, vows to one another.

Then there were no more words. Only touch and breath and sounds, and sweat, and pain soothed into pleasure and skin painted with lust and passion and possession and love and rest and peace that everyone was finally in their proper place.

%%%%%

Things settled into a routine after Christmas. Everyone learned how to take care of the stock and milk the cow. There were enough bodies that four of them could each take a direction to ride the perimeter. Chris took over maintaining the mechanicals on the power, water and septic systems and along with the boys kept paths shoveled and the wood shed filled and the ashes carried.

Beth wasn’t crazy about being around the large animals so she and Tim kept the household inventory lists up-to-date. Tim’s wounds had healed, but rebuilding his stamina was a slow process. Everyone was contributing something to home schooling the boys and they were preparing for their next trip to Oklahoma City in the middle of the month.

No one was surprised when Jensen moved in with Christian and Steve. Their physical relationship was all they’d dreamed, but Jensen was taking emotional baby steps. He often disappeared for a day or several, giving Steve and Christian time alone. There were times he tried to pull away, but Christian and Steve kept cutting through the layers of scar tissue to reveal the love Jensen had hidden away all those years ago, not wanting to come between his best friends.

%%%%%

Cell service, the TV satellite and Internet were improving steadily as things started to stabilize a little more each day. The government was getting back on its feet, and though martial law was the order of the day, things had eased since Christmas as people began coping with their new country.

A couple of days before the 15th everyone got together with their lists and funds. The weather had been holding since New Year’s with only a couple storms and low temperatures that didn’t allow for much snow melt. Their windmill kept the batteries charged when dark skies rendered the solar panels nearly useless. Overall everyone in their neighborhood seemed to faring well, or so Jensen thought until Joe and Amanda Rivers pulled him off to the side after everyone enjoyed one of Sandy’s great lunches.

Christian caught his eye as he directed the couple back to the office. A quick shake of his head and Christian went back to his conversation with the others. It would be interesting to see why the Rivers singled him out. Closing the door he watched the couple settle. He sat behind the desk and waited.

“When we moved out here it was to homestead—be self-sufficient.” Joe Rivers started. “Seed, animals, equipment, livin’ off grid, sellin’ animals, hay and wheat when we needed more cash than we could make off our butter and egg sales and contractin’ to do folks plowin’ and such.” Jensen nodded starting to get an idea of where this was going.

“Ya probably already figured since we gave ya Sophie and June last time that this whole earth changes thing caught us just this side of cash poor.” Amanda added.

“What we’re tryin’ ta git at here is we need what’s on this list but unless ya wanna haul a couple beef or hogs ta the city and sell ‘em for us—we’ve got very little cash.” Joe blurted out.

“Or come spring we can barter on seed, do plantin’ and such on shares or stud service on one of our bulls.” Amanda added.

“Why come to me? Y’all haven’t known me but a couple months…why not Steve or Christian or one of your other neighbors?” Jensen asked softly.

The couple blushed and ducked their heads.

“We like all y’all, but those two are just a tad intense. When they look at ya it’s like they know what yer thinkin’ afore ya can say it.” Joe answered. “As for the rest of the neighbors, they’re barely better off than us.”

“It can be a mite disconcertin’.” Amanda finished.

Jensen grinned. “That about covers it.”

This conversation made Jensen glad part of their evening routine was to run the computers and TV to keep apprised of the news and the markets to keep up-to-date on the value of their gold, silver, hay and animals.

One of the first things that the government had gotten up and running was the commodities market. It would take a little longer for the stock market—they were assessing what companies were still around to be on the market. The monetary system was barely viable and had to make some adjustments.

This conversation with the Rivers made Jensen glad they did, giving him hope everybody could come out of this with their dignity intact.

“Tell ya what…we’ve only got one more breedin’ season in our bull. Now we were gonna wait ‘til spring to start lookin’ for a new one.” He picked up a list off the desk. “While I can plow the house garden with the horses we’ll be needin’ some plantin’ done along with makin’ hay and such.” He looked up to see hope in the couple’s eyes. “How about we work somethin’ out where we all come out ahead?”

He pulled out a sheet of paper, and they made a plan.

Things they hoped to sell were carefully packed in the backseat of Jensen’s truck. The backseat of Christian’s was made as comfortable as possible for Tim, who had doctors’ appointments. Steve was riding shotgun along with Beth who wanted to try to find clothes for her, Pilot, Tim and Milo. Chris would ride shotgun with Jensen.

The trip into the city was uneventful. The markets were fairly well stocked though fresh food was at a premium, so they had no problem finding vendors to buy their butter, eggs and such. Christian took Tim to his doctor’s appointment while everyone started working on their lists. Jensen took extra time at each of the vendors collecting information, then slipped away to meet Riggle.

Rob looked worried when Jensen sat down across from him with his coffee.

“What’s wrong? Couldn’t get the brand of beer I ordered.”

“What? No. I got everything on the list.”

“Even the extra batteries for the house, and the seeds?” Jensen was surprised.

“That one was easy. Plus you earned a bonus. It’ll be with the rest of your order.” He pulled out photos Jensen recognized as ones he’d taken about five miles from their boundary with the state park.

“We’d been looking for these guys. Kidnapping, extortion, murder, rape. They kidnap someone from a family they think has cash or gold, anything of value and hold them for ransom. If it turns out their intel is bad, it’s not a pretty thing. These pictures are of one of their camps. We’re takin’ ‘em down today.”

“That’s a good thing, right?” Jensen was worried because Rob was worried.

“What? Yeah.” The Marine’s attention fixed on Jensen. “We still don’t know where they get their information, but this raid will put a big dent in their operation.”He looked at his friend. “This could get risky. You don’t have to keep doin’ this.”

“I don’t want this shit happenin, especially so close to my home.” Jensen growled.

“Do the others know?”

“No and I don’t want them to know either.” Green eyes blazed at the older man.

*Shit. People thought Kane was the scary one.* Rob thought as he looked away. “Fine, but if something happens they’re the first ones I’m callin’. I won’t have those two out for my blood.”

Jensen nodded. “See ya next month.” He tossed his cup as he clapped Riggles on the shoulder. “Say ‘Hi’ to Rob.”

“I will.”

%%%%%

He followed the directions Rob had given him to pick up his ‘pay’. Many of the local people had returned to their homes. Schools had yet to resume, and the tent city had been moved to the Oklahoma University campus at Norman, but there was a liaison office in each of the market areas with up-to-date lists. None of the names on the lists were anyone he knew, but Jensen spent some extra time talking to the soldiers, picking up gossip. You never knew what might be important.

Everyone had been holding their breath waiting for radiation from the west coast nuclear plants and Los Alamos to start coming onshore, but all traces of the plants had disappeared and so far no radiation had shown up on shore or in any rain or snow that had fallen. All anyone could do was keep watching and checking. Other countries hadn’t been so lucky, and the Colonel told him all they could hope for was the radiation would dissipate somewhat by the time it made it around to the US.

The next few years were going to be hard for the whole world.

Jensen caught up with Chris and Beth, the blonde grinning at finding the clothes they needed. They hadn’t had a lot with them when they left home, and Tim and Milo lost a lot in the accident. With two growing boys, clothes and shoes were going to be one of their biggest expenses for the next few years.

They ate lunch at a vendor’s near where they were to meet Christian, Steve and Tim. Chris talked about a couple little things he’d picked up for Sandy, just because. Jensen blushed under his freckles.

“Here I bought her a couple cases of canning jars and lids to add to the supply. I know the greenhouse is starting to produce more than we can eat. Oh, and I was able to find seeds, too.”

Beth laughed. “Just what every woman wants—more work—you’re all heart.”

Chris didn’t like how that shut Jensen down, and turned to the blonde woman. “She’ll love ‘em. She’s got some sauces and things she wants to preserve. Give us a little variety in what there’ll be to eat until spring. The size garden we’ll need to plant—it’ll take all of us to make sure it’s successful.” When he saw Beth’s flush, he turned back to the young man who’d become another son to him and Sandy. “What kind of seeds were you able to find?”

Talk turned to plans for spring planting and adding variety to the plants in greenhouse. Seeing Christian pull up, Chris went to meet the men while Jensen and Beth cleaned up their trash. Beth laid a hand on Jensen’s arm when he started for the door.

“Jensen.” Green eyes turned on her. “I don’t mean to keep sticking my foot in my mouth.” She paused, her eyes a little misty. “It’s just…a couple months ago we had homes and jobs and money, and now if it weren’t for you, Christian and Steve the five of us would be living in the camps with the other refugees or dead if we hadn’t accepted Christian’s invitation. We don’t have skills for times like these.”

Jensen looked down at the beautiful young woman and pulled her into a hug.

“It’s alright, sweetheart. You’ll learn. We’ll adjust.” His lips caressed her forehead as he released her. “Let’s go round these guys up and head home.”

He wrapped an arm around her waist as they headed out the door.

%%%%%

The doctors had been pleased with Tim’s progress, but told him that with the damage to his lower lungs and internal organs, his health might never return to what it was before his accident. He was warned to do his best to guard against respiratory infections.

Tim was quiet and withdrawn for several days after receiving the news. He cornered Christian in his office one day, and when they came out Tim seemed to be his old self. When questioned by Steve and Jensen, Christian explained that Tim had given them custody of Milo should anything happen to him.

That night after supper they all gathered around the table and talked about arrangements that had been made in case of injury or death. Papers were drawn up whereas the boys would always have a home and medical powers of attorneys written so everyone had someone to speak for them.

Knowing the lengths Christian and Jensen would go to protect their family, Steve pulled the two men down the hall by the braids they twisted in each other’s long hair to keep it out of the way. With a knowing smirk Tim shooed the other two couples after them then turned to see Beth smiling softly at him.

%%%%%

The first day of February, Red Dawn presented Christian with a beautiful palomino filly, during the worst storm of the winter. The good news was the wind kept the banks of batteries for the house charged, but it was extremely difficult to get to the barn to care for the animals.

Christian and Jensen took turns staying with the mare when she went into labor. They would trade places when the cold became too much for them. When they switched around 2am, Steve had wrapped around Christian under their goose down comforter in an effort to warm the chilled man.

When they woke the next morning, it was to find the sun shining the wind calm and no Jensen in their bed or on the couch in front of the stove. That sent everyone into a low level panic. The able bodied quickly dressed in their warmest gear, and prepared to shovel their way to the barn to look for Jensen and care for the animals.

With all the extra hands to shovel, it didn’t take long to get to the barn and find Jensen, the foal and Red Dawn piled together under several heavy horse blankets. Pictures were snapped and Jensen’s video camera came into play as the exhausted mare climbed to her feet to protect her charges, which in turn brought Jensen to his feet causing him to stumble as blood started to flow back into numb fingers and toes.

A protesting Jensen was escorted back to the house as Christian and Steve both growled over the man’s stubbornness while pulling him out of his clothes and into a warm shower then into bed where lips, teeth, tongues and hands got his blood circulating in the very best way. Because everyone knew nothing beats body heat for warming a chilled person, and nothing got the blood flowing like a bruising round of sex.

Later when a warm and sated Jensen finally slept, Christian and Steve went out and properly introduced themselves to Stonewall’s Golden Dawn.

%%%%%

Soon the snow started to melt and the days turned warm. The men of the SC-KANE Ranch resumed their patrols of their borders and preparations for spring planting.

Along with the snow melt came another thaw. Jensen finally allowed himself to relax and let Christian and Steve love him the way they always loved him. In return he gave them everything he’d been hiding for ten years. Though the shadows of past experience still tainted the green eyes, the lowering of his defenses with family brought forth a man full of light and smiles so dazzling that sometimes you had to turn away from their beauty.

Using the resources they had at the ranch, they tried to keep The Omnitone alive. The five of them together came up with enough material during the long hours stuck indoors, that they produced a CD for KANE, Steve and Rosalee.

By the time they were preparing for their February trip to the city, their neighbors’ power had been restored and they had fifty copies of each CD to sell.

The profits from the surprising amount of sales were put back into purchasing more blank CDs, a few extras they picked up that went toward a dinner to celebrate. The Colonel in charge of the Marines tracked Jensen, Steve and Christian and asked the men to perform in Oklahoma City and Dallas. After exchanging shocked looks, they agreed and set up dates asking for accommodations and fuel in exchange for their performance. The Colonel did quibble on the ‘fee’, and when Jensen went to have a drink with an old friend, several new items were added to his ‘pay’ list. The coming spring was truly a time of rebirth in more ways than one.

%%%%%

Seeing the concert as an opportunity for everyone to take a break from the ranch, it was decided if they could get the Rivers to take care of the livestock, they’d take the RV to the show in the Norman.

The next day while doing patrol, Steve and Christian rode to the Rivers’ house to ask their neighbors to take care of the livestock while they were gone. They offered to pay them along with the milk and eggs from two days they’d be gone. Joe and Amanda were happy to help, and even happier to start repaying their deal with Jensen. The animals squared away, everyone began making plans for their mini-vacation.

Jensen pushed deeper into the state park, hunting for man and beast. He shivered at the feeling of foreboding filling his chest.

Since they were taking the motor home, even Tim was looking forward to the trip. His endurance was still low, but walking the stairs in the house and using the exercise machine were slowly making an improvement. They had all been lucky about not contracting colds or other illnesses over the winter months that would have put him at risk.

%%%%%

It was a perfect spring day. Everyone piled in the motor home at daybreak for the five hour drive. Guitars came out and a set list was put together with a mix of everyone’s music. They’d start with Steve, bring Rosalee out in the middle, and finish up with KANE. Tim, Beth and Sandy would take care of selling CDs, with Milo and Pilot would be their runners.

In no time they were parking behind the Rupel Jones Theatre at the University of Oklahoma. The Colonel’s aide-de-camp showed them where they could park the RV. The Marines packed chairs in every nook and cranny, and would broadcast the show throughout the buildings and back to Oklahoma City if the connection held.

Jensen worked steadily carrying equipment between the RV and the stage. Milo and Pilot helped him carry boxes of CDs over to where Sandy and Chris were setting up a table and chairs while Tim and Beth talked with the Colonel and several of his staff.

People had been coming into the theater for almost an hour by the time they were ready to do a sound check. Jensen settled behind the sound and light board waiting for Steve, Christian, Darren and Rosalee to get settled. Chris stood quietly behind him ready to make notes. What Jensen didn’t know was that the others were not going to allow him to hide in the dark anymore.

”Start with the chorus from Dynamite to give Jensen something rockin’ for a baseline.” Steve said as he finished tuning his guitar.

The trio started like it had only been days instead of almost a year since they’d all stood on stage together. Jensen relaxed, fingers dancing over the light and sound board as he closed his eyes and listened until the music was…right there. They played a cross section of their songs until Jensen had the board set to a happy medium for all the songs. He might have to make some adjustments once the theater filled, but for now it was good.

Sticky tabs soon scattered over the board like neon colored glow worms as Christian finished his sound check. With Darren playing rhythm and Steve on lead guitar, it made Jensen’s nerves tingle and his fingers itch to play. He was startled out of his reverie when a hand landed on his shoulder.

He grinned sheepishly at Chris. “Sorry. Got off in my own head a little too far.”

“No worries. Get out of here while you’ve got the chance. I’ll babysit this.” He waved over the board.

Jensen arched an eyebrow suspiciously. “Shouldn’t you be with Sandy, Beth and Tim?”

“They’ve got Milo and Pilot to boss around. I’m hanging with the big kids tonight.” He grinned back.

“Steve gets his contrariness honest.” Jensen shook his head as he made his way toward the stage.

Four sets of eyes watched as Jensen made his way to the stage. The two sets of pale eyes that watched from the stage glowed with love and mischief as they considered and discarded all the ways they could get Jensen on stage and not have to listen to his grumbling all the way back to the ranch.

Two sets of dark eyes that watched from the audience glowed with greed and avarice. Still wanting what they had discarded without thought. Seeing the beauty of face and spirit along with the knowledge that Jensen could get them what they wanted. Money, maybe talk him into staying with them, and a way out of Oklahoma.

As if feeling the intensity of their stares, the russet colored head turned, scanning the crowd for where the prickle along his spine had originated. Worry had him settling the pistols under his jacket, glad the Colonel had let him keep them.

“Jenny?” Christian asked as he watched the green eyes scan the crowd.

“It’s nothing.”

“Jense.” Steve’s voice carries a warning.

“Ya know that feeling?…That someone’s watching you, and not in a good way?” He looked around once more still not able to pinpoint the stare.

Each grabbing an arm, Christian and Steve pulled him into the shadows and encircled him once they were out of sight. They held each other, Jensen’s wariness telegraphing itself to them.

“We’ll keep an eye out. Good thing yer on stage with us.” Chris winked at Steve around Jensen’s head.

Before Jensen could protest, Steve chipped in. “That way we can all keep watch.”

“What do you mean on stage? The sound board…”

“Will be well taken care of by Dad.” Steve assured him. “You’ve got just as much in this music as we do, and since it looks like we might possibly be able to make a living at it again, it’s only right you’re here with us.”

“But I don’t…can’t…I’m not…”

Chuckling at the stammering Jensen, Christian silenced the sounds coming out of the full lips with his own. When he came up for air, Steve took over until Jensen was leaning heavily against the older men, half-lidded, green eyes glazed over with desire.

“Y’all don’t fight fair.” He mumbled into Steve’s neck.

There were advantages to being the tall one in the relationship.

“Have we ever?” Christian grabbed a belt loop and pulled him back in the middle. “Sing with us, Jenny.”

Jensen pulled away from Christian to lean against Steve.

“Fine.” He huffed out.

“Always.” Steve added.

“No more hiding.” Christian picked up the ball.

“Enough!” Yer makin’ me dizzy.” Jensen groused.

“Damn, it must be love for me to put up with all yer shit.” Jensen leaned his forehead on Christian’s shoulder.

Blue eyes exchanged shocked looks over the reddish brown head. They knew he loved them, but Jensen had never said the words out loud.

“Love ya, too, Jenny.” Christian’s voice was low, choked with his emotions.

Steve didn’t speak just wrapped his arms around his lovers and pulled them in tight.

“Hate to break up the love fest, guys…” Darren started.

They turned around to see a misty eyed Darren, and a teary eyed Rosalee watching them. They opened their arms to take in the rest of their family. Jensen was the first to move.

Looking at Steve, Rose and Darren, he grinned wide.

“Guess it’s time.” He said as he watched Colonel Riggle walk up to the microphone.

Rosalee hurriedly checked her makeup while everyone else settled. The crowd roared as the Colonel yelled into the microphone.

“From The Omnitone Studio…Steve Carlson, Darren and Rosalee Sher, and Christian Kane!!!”

By the time everyone got back on stage for an ensemble of House Rules the walls were vibrating with clapping, whistles and everyone singing along. All except two. They were watching and planning.

%%%%%

When they finally made it to the motor home everyone was still vibrating from the energy of the show. Knowing once they were fed and made to sit for more than five minutes, they’d begin to wind down, Sandy and Beth began pulling out food.

They’d all used the showers in the dressing room area before coming out, but that hadn’t even begun to settle any of them though the showers of some were suspiciously longer than others. Chris slid up behind his wife and wrapped his arms around her slim waist as she put together her version of Panini sandwiches for everyone.

“They’ll sleep like the dead, and then you and I will take advantage of keeping ‘our’ room.” He whispered in her ear.

Christian turned to say something to Sandy in time to see the blush creeping over her cheekbones. Seeing the glow in the older couple’s eyes, he elbowed Steve to get his attention.

A sharp elbow in the ribs had Steve turning from Rosalee to snap at Christian until he saw why he’d been elbowed.

“God, you two are worse than a coupla teenagers.” He complained as he blushed.

Sandy’s melodic laugh filled the RV. “We’re not as bad as you guys.” She raised her eyebrows in innuendo.

That set the younger couples to blushing while Tim laughed from where he was stretched out on the couch with Milo and Pilot tucked against him.

The youngsters had run themselves ragged in between performances moving through the audience selling mp3s after all the CDs sold out. They had given out one of their PO Boxes in Broken Bow for people to place orders, and thanks to Jensen and their Internet provider, they were able to give out a rudimentary website with all of them working under the banner of The Omnitone.

Jensen sat in the passenger seat of the RV scrolling through the pictures he’d taken of the crowd, backstage, on stage, and around the campus. He had the beginnings of an idea for a video…something like After the Change, or whatever he might come up with and had started cataloging his videos and pictures since he’d left Los Angeles before the earthquakes.

He was only half paying attention to the pictures when a face caught his eye. Jared. He scrolled back one… nothing. He scrolled forward…there…Danneel. He thought they’d have made it to San Antonio by now.

Why were they still in Oklahoma City? Could they have been who he felt watching him? Surely they weren’t thinking he’d want them back in his life? He had a new home and a family that truly loved him. He could only think of one reason they’d still be around. Danneel knew how paranoid he was about the whole 2012 business. She didn’t know how much of his money he’d converted. That’s probably it. Neither one of them had many marketable skills for this environment so they’re probably hurting for money. He refused to let them bring harm to the family. Maybe if he confronted….

“Jenny!” Christian snapped him out of his thoughts.

“What?!”

“Where’d ya go? Been tryin’ to git yer attention for a couple minutes.

“Sorry. Now what did you need, Princess?” He asked as he set aside the camera, and was promptly rewarded with a lap full of Kane.

He pushed his exes to the back of his mind and enjoyed being with his family.

%%%%%

When he felt safe, he relaxed and slept like the dead. Before finally giving in to his feelings for Steve and Christian, the last time he’d truly slept well was right before Jared dropped his bombshell about getting married to Genevieve.

Once again it was Jared interrupting his sleep. Other than Chris and Sandy’s room, the RV’s beds weren’t big enough for three grown men so Jensen had stretched out on the couch Tim had abandoned to climb in one of the bunks with Beth. Darren and Rosalee had one and the boys were piled on the bed made when they moved the dining table.

“It’s only one night.” Jensen had soothed the other two.

“Don’t care.” Christian had growled as he climbed to the bed over the front of the motor home, a sullen Steve following.

He slept in fits and starts, his active mind running scenarios that would have woke him screaming if he’d been deeply asleep. Giving up, he secured his weapons and slipped out so quietly the springs of the coach never twitched, and slipped through the shadows towards where the Colonel lived with his partner.

Scanning the area, he was surprised at how few lights he saw…Reminded him of fireflies on an August night twinkling here and there. He remembered less than a year ago flying into Will Rogers and thinking the city looked like it was on fire there were so many lights.

Something the family didn’t know was Jensen had established a network of contacts around the city and as far south as Dallas. Riding away from the house for days at a time with only Spencer and Parker allowed him to make contact with people living in the area and keep an eye on the activities around them. It was one of the reasons Jensen always went on the monthly supply runs to the city, and the Colonel was so eager for them to schedule performances along the I-35 corridor.

If Christian and Steve found out they’d probably kick his ass right before they kicked him out. He had plans in place if that should happen.

That’s why he needed to know why Danneel and Jared were still in the area. Careful to avoid surveillance, he moved toward the sliding glass door. He grinned when he saw the flood lights were off. His grin got wider when he tried to the door to find it unlocked. He stayed silent until he’d closed the heavy glass door behind him.

“There better be coffee.” He snarked.

“Good Marine coffee.” A voice in the dark answered.

Jensen chuckled as he poured a cup and sat down the only light coming through the glass doors and a computer screen. He tossed an envelope on the table.

“Still haven’t figured out how a Lt. Colonel in the Marines ends up top dog over the Air Force and Army.”

“Talent, my boy…talent.” A bad impression of W.C. Fields floated across the table as the memory cards were slipped into the reader.

Jensen snorted his disagreement as pictures and information flash over the computer screen.

“How’s Rob?”

“Adapting. Actors and comedians really don’t have a lot of skills for surviving in post apocalyptic conditions, unless of course you’re a bad ass like Dean Winchester and Eliot Spencer.”

“Who knew fighting and weapons training for TV shows and movies could translate?” His tone was sour.

“Didn’t hurt that you’re one paranoid son-of-a-bitch that rubbed off on his partners.”

“Yeah. Who knew?” He drained his cup and goes for another. “I need a favor.”

“Name it.”

“I need to know why my exes are still in town.” He drew a breath. “They should have gone to San Antonio around the first of the year.”

“Together?” Eyebrows raised in the long face across from him.

“Yeah. Ain’t that a kick in the head? My ex-lover’s fucking my now ex-wife. I found them in camp the first time we came to the city. She was supposed to be in California. Instead she was on the way to Texas with her lover.”

“Fuck. Names?”

“Danneel Harris and Jared Padalecki or maybe she’s goin’ by Padalecki, who knows?”

Lt. Colonel, soon to be full bird thank you very much, Robert Riggle frowned as he read the screen in front of him.

%%%%%

He’d been on his way from Los Angeles to New York when a layover in Tulsa had the higher ups putting him in charge of the Marines in the state of Oklahoma when the earthquakes hit.

He and the Marines in the recruiter’s office met up with the detachment from Ft. Sill. Thankfully he’d gotten along with the heads of the Army National Guard and Tinker Air Force base, making it easier to coordinate their troops in and around the capital city, along with Tulsa, and securing the Governor and most of the state government. He was thankful Oklahoma didn’t have more big cities.

He’d met Jensen Ackles at some dinner or celebrity golf tournament…something several years ago. The younger man could probably tell him down to date and time. He was scary like that. They’d become friends, Jensen being one of the few people in Hollywood or New York that knew his comedy partner, Rob Huebel was also his real life partner, and they were part of the handful outside Jensen’s immediate circle that knew the truth about the Ackles.

Rob swore quietly trying not to wake his partner.

“That good?” Jensen joked sadly.

“They were offered transport back in January when the supply convoy came through. Apparently the accommodations weren’t to Mrs. Padalecki’s standards. Since then they’ve gone on the grift, just this side of the line from illegal, cultivating acquaintances in low and high places to raise money.”

“Planes or trains running south yet?” Jensen asked.

“Trains are starting back up, planes not so much. Highway traffic has started to pick up since a few of the refineries that are left are getting up to speed. We’re starting to get crude coming in from Texas and Oklahoma. The Big Guys are trying to get the rigs in the Gulf up and pumping again.” Rob answered him.

“So we’re starting to get back on our feet?”

“Slowly. We’ll probably be under some form of martial law for good while. The states least affected are getting their act together the quickest, but as people start moving out into the countryside I expect to see a rise in the type of problems you’re watching.”

“So I won’t be out of a job any time soon?” Jensen joked.

“Unfortunately, no.”

He stood to leave.

“I better get back. My luck Christian’ll get up to take a piss and come lookin’.”

The Colonel chuckled as he used Jensen’s handshake to pull him in for a hug.

“Take care of the family. I’ll keep an eye out, but I don’t want to know about it if something happens to your exes unless it’s to arrest them.” Rob gave him a stern look.

“Got my stuff?” Jensen avoided the topic.

“Duffels by the door.” He handed the now empty memory cards back to Jensen. “Take care yourself. I don’t want Christian Fucking Kane on my ass, though I hear the blond is the dangerous one ‘cause you’re so busy watching Kane you don’t see him comin’.”

“Don’t forget it.” Jensen grinned as he shouldered the duffels and slipped back out the door.

%%%%%

Dawn was breaking in the eastern sky when he slid the large duffels in the compartment under RV. Slipping back inside, he breathed a sigh of relief to find everyone still asleep. He picked his camera off the dash to finish going through his pictures.

He was surprised the smell of coffee hadn’t woke the others, and while he felt tired, Jensen knew there would be no more sleep while he worried over the Danneel and Jared.

Camera around his neck, he sat slouched down in the camp chair, coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other watching the birth of a new day, snapping the occasional picture in the changing light.

He’d heard the door to the RV open so was not surprised when he heard the clicks of Beth’s camera. Between the two of them Jensen felt they could put together an incredible video.

All too soon everyone was up and breakfast was being prepared. Steve had commandeered Beth’s chair when she went back inside to see to Tim and the boys. Jensen lit a cigarette and passed it to the blond enjoying the sense of peace he had this morning. Christian appeared carrying two mugs of fresh coffee one he passed to Jensen before settling so Jensen was between him and Steve.

It was Steve that broke the peace.

“Where were you, Jensen?” His voice was conversational.

Jensen looked confused. “When.”

“This morning—say around 3?”

“Nowhere.”

An impatient growl came from Christian. Before he could speak, Steve continued.

“Strange thing, I woke up about 3:30 and you were nowhere to be found.”

“Don’t sleep so good alone anymore.” Jensen said into his coffee cup.

That brought a smile to the other men’s faces, but it faded just quickly. Something was going on and they wanted to know what Jensen was doing when he disappeared, sometimes for days at a time.

Jensen continued to act like there was nothing more on his mind than sitting and sharing coffee with his lovers. Steve and Christian both reached out to lay a hand on one of Jensen’s thighs.

“Where do you go, Jenny…when you leave us in the dead of winter for days at a time?”

Before he could formulate an answer Steve started.

“How come you take Stoney sometimes, but other times you take Spook?”

Jensen looked back and forth between the two people he loved more than his own life, and for a split second considered lying. Seeing the concern and love in the two sets of pale eyes, he settled for the only lie he could live with—a lie omission. He did not want his family to know he’d prostituted himself to the military for Tim’s continued health care, fuel, and other things that made their lives easier until things returned to some semblance of normal.

Sure he and Rob had been friends, but now they were using each other for their mutual benefits, and if something nasty happened, which Jensen was almost sure was in the not too distant future, Rob and his Marines would take care of the problem, The Family would be safe, and Jensen would be dead or worse—injured with Kane and Carlson so pissed he’d be lucky if they let him pack before they kicked him out for not telling them.

Taking their hands and raising them to his lips in a gentle kiss, Jensen chuckled.

“Y’all’s a bunch of agony aunts. I take Stoney on the days I’m not going into the Park to hunt. There’s displaced people living in the Park and I don’t want to take the chance of losing a valuable stud, so I take Spook. Game’s harder to find close to the border so some days I have to ride in further.” He kept his voice light hoping to show the two they didn’t have to worry or volunteer to come with him.

His hopes were dashed moments later.

“Then Steve can take Stoney on those days, and I’ll take Ojai and ride out with you.”Christian stated flatly.

Jensen fought down a flare of panic. He had to be calm and stern with Christian, not let him get all Alpha on him…prick his need to put the family as a whole first.

“Kane as much as I would love to ride off into the sunset with you.” He paused to smirk and waggle his eyebrows in a suggestive manner. “You know Steve’s not an experienced enough rider for Stoney.” He grinned apologetically to Steve. “Plus it’s not fair to make him or Chris double the size of their patrol area. It’s takin’ all of us to keep meat in the freezer until a couple of our yearlings are big enough to butcher…”

Christian frowned. “Fuck. Quit bein’ so fuckin’ reasonable. I git it. I don’t fuckin’ like it, but I git it.” He growled. He was about to wind up again when a voice came from inside the motor home.

“Christian Kane! You watch your language! All of you get in here for breakfast.” Sandy scolded.

‘Yes ‘m.” Christian answered, blushing profusely while Jensen and Steve snickered. “Shut up.” He pouted as he walked toward the door in a huff.

Jensen breathed a sigh of relief as he followed Steve inside. Now that they were paying attention, he’d have to let them know the days he was going ‘hunting’ and make sure he brought game home when he was gone overnight.

%%%%%

The time until their concert in Dallas was busy. Calves being born, Ojai was now pregnant, Christian was back to riding Red Dawn with Goldie tagging along behind her mama. A large plot of ground was plowed and readied for planting.

Beth and the boys were learning…finding their footing in this new world. The boys were truly becoming brothers as Beth and Tim’s relationship deepened. Tim had come back to approximately 80% of his pre-accident health. He spent a lot of time helping in the greenhouse and learning from Chris and Christian about the power and water systems of the house.

Joe Rivers plowed and planted what seeds Jensen had been able to get from Riggle while everyone pitched in to get the garden planted while they ooohed and aaahhed over all the new babies.

Christian and Steve tried to keep a closer eye on Jensen. Always kept him close when they were all home, fretted when he was gone over night, was glad he stopped disappearing for days at a time, and tried to make sure he knew how much he was loved.

Jensen for his part did everything he could to keep from worrying his lovers and family. Since Darren and Rosalee had taken over care of the milk cows, hogs and chickens, it freed him up to take the cattle to pasture earlier in the morning, leaving Cody and Parker with the cattle while he and Spencer hunted and did recon.

The military had taken out one camp of people that were carrying out kidnappings Riggle had told him about. They were still trying to trace the information brokers so they could clean them out once and for all.

Jensen had found the new camp and had sent the information to the Colonel, who’d sent back a message for Jensen to only check on them enough to make sure they didn’t move their camp. Today was the last time he would check the camp before they left for Dallas.

Jensen tethered Spook a good quarter mile from the camp then went the rest of the way on foot. He’d just slid into position when shock caused him to freeze. Standing outside of the tent Jensen had dubbed ‘command center’ was Jared Padalecki. Shaking off his paralysis, Jensen started snapping pictures. When he had enough, he settled to watch.

The men talked then Jared became angry, arguing, but trying to keep their voices down. Eventually the man Jensen had figured was in charge threw his hands in the air and went inside a tent. When he returned he was carrying a sleeping child. He quickly grabbed his camera. Jensen thought the child was asleep until the blonde head lolled when the man handed what turned out to be a boy of about five to Jared. Jared carried the child to a small SUV and strapped him into a car seat. Jensen snapped pictures until the vehicle was out of sight.

He moved silently away from the camp, mounted Spook and headed back for the herd.

%%%%%

Christian kept watch from on top the hill that contained their home. Binoculars watched out over the prairie, scanning for the black mass that should be moving toward the barn. Just as the stars started to twinkle he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the paint horse bringing up the rear of the herd. He saw a tarp thrown across Spook’s rump.

He stuck his head in the door and hollered for Steve to come help carry in whatever Jensen had strapped behind his saddle. By the time they got to the barn, the tarp laid by the door, and Jensen was giving Spook a rubdown. The black and white gelding leaned into the brushes as Jensen cleaned the dried sweat off his back.

“Stoney wasn’t happy today.” Christian groused.

“Did he settle?” Jensen’s put the brushes away while Steve fed the gelding.

“Yeah, after we agreed on who was gonna be boss.” Chris exchanged a look with Steve.

“Jenny…”

“I…” The men started at the same time.

Christian and Steve paused for Jensen to speak.

“I need to talk to everyone after supper.” He paused. “Where the kids won’t hear.”

With a nod they picked up the deer carcass and headed to the house. If there was going to be a family powwow, they needed to get this meat processed so it didn’t go to waste.

They continued to watch as Jensen toyed with his dinner, finally carrying his plate into the kitchen then going outside to smoke a cigarette. Of all the things they ran short on, cigarettes was not one of them.

The boys played baseball then with the dogs until they were all exhausted. Beth hustled them off to a shower and bed before returning with a thermos of coffee as they sat around the outdoor fireplace. When they settled all eyes turned to Jensen.

Not wanting to see the expressions on their faces, Jensen stared into the darkness as he started his story.

“When we went to the camps the first time and found y’all, I ran into an old friend. When we met he was a comedian and a Lt. Colonel in the Marine Reserves. The Marines found him in Tulsa during the quakes and put him in charge of all the Marines in Oklahoma. Knowing where we lived he asked me to do him a favor. In exchange for that favor I asked for and received medical care, supplies for here and to use to set up an information network in the State Park and surrounding area…”

Too tense to sit still, Jensen smoked while he paced and talked. He told them everything, even that he was driving into Oklahoma City tomorrow to turn over information that would probably get Jared and Danneel arrested.

“I never wanted you to know what I was doing, and if I wasn’t going to attempt to save Jared and Danneel from their own stupidity, I wouldn’t have said anything at all.” He finished still not looking at anyone.

“Save them how?” Christian asked shocked to his soul at what Jensen had told them.

“By offering them a ride to San Antonio. I’ll be setting up fuel stops with the Colonel tomorrow, but I know how you feel about them, and probably wouldn’t want them riding with us in the RV to Dallas. I’ll be taking my truck and we’ll convoy.”

He stopped his pacing to scrub his hands over his face.

“This may all be moot depending on what I find out tomorrow. If Jared or Danneel are directly involved in what I’ve been reconnoitering in any way there’s no need to try and get them to Texas. They’ll be in prison.”

Shocked gasps filled the yard, but it was Steve who finally broke the deafening silence.

“So the shows…the music, did you whore yourself out for that, too?” He spat.

Jensen jerked like he’d taken a body blow.

“No. One of the Marines had bought Kane’s CD and Rob asked about doin’ the shows after our business had been concluded.”

“What if some of those people had followed you. Did you ever think about the danger you were putting us in skulking around their camp? Do you know what could have happened?” Steve continued before anyone else could form a thought.

Jensen felt his heart sink. He’d never seen Steve so angry. He could see the end hurtling toward him. He saw Christian entwine their fingers, giving Steve his support. The others filed back into the house, their silence feeling like added weight to Steve’s condemnation.

The house had long gone dark before the solitary figure moved.

%%%%%

There was a pall over the household the next morning. The boys sensing something wrong among the adults were subdued.

Rosalee came into the house breathless from running from the barn.

“It’s gone.” She panted.

“What?” They exchanged concerned looks.

“Jensen, his truck, gear, his dogs.”

Steve and Christian moved to where they’d buried a safe in the floor. Nothing was missing. After breakfast they looked in several other places Jensen was known to stash things. A bundle of cash was missing, but several documents had been added. A will, a list of conditions he’d set with Riggle in exchange for Jensen’s services.

“My god.” Sandy breathed out as they read.

Jensen had driven a hard bargain with the Marine Colonel making sure the SC-KANE Ranch was protected.

“At least he’s a high dollar whore.” Steve snarled under his breath.

“Steven Paul Carlson, I don’t want to hear another derogatory word out of your mouth.” His mother snapped.

Shocked they all turned toward the older woman.

“That boy gave us everything. My life, things we needed, protection, everything he could think of to make sure this family survived. He didn’t tell anyone about what he’d done because he felt he was expendable.”She had to stop and gather herself. “He felt it was okay because he wasn’t leaving behind someone who’d be left alone.”

“How do you know all this?” Tim asked.

“Jensen isn’t the only insomniac in the family. Menopause is not always kind to a person’s sleep habits. I’d sit in the hallway and listen to him talk to the dogs, and it broke my heart. I thought after Christmas…after you took him to your bed it would get better, but it only got worse. His determination to protect us increased to the point where he took a chance of pissin’ everyone off to keep us safe.”

“Why didn’t he talk to us?” Beth asked.

“Jensen’s hidden his true self for so long…He never trusted anyone with his ‘real’ self after Jared.” Christian was the one to answer. “We thought he stopped, but the only thing he quit hiding was his feelings for us.”

“I made things worse. I shouldn’t have lost my temper, but I thought we were past Jared and Danni causing him more pain.” Steve admitted running his fingers over Jensen’s guitar pick necklace that matched his and Christian’s.

“So what now?” Darren asked.

“Hope he meets us in Dallas either before or after the concert. That’s all we can do.” Christian said sadly as he turned to start packing.

“What about the Colonel…Riggle?” Tim asked.

“Jensen didn’t leave any contact information for Riggle so other than driving to Norman, and we don’t have time for that or a guarantee Riggle would see us.” Steve added before following Christian.

%%%%%

Though it was early, he managed to find a cup of coffee as he headed to the address Riggle had given him for the Padaleckis. He left Parker in the truck. He headed to the house, Spencer at his side.

When the door opened enough for him to see Jared, he was through the door before Jared had a chance to protest. Closing the door after Spencer came through, the dog stood between the men.

“What the…Jensen?” Jared went from irate to confused.

“You need to pack, we’re leaving.” He said bluntly.

“What!?”

“You want to go to San Antonio—here’s your chance.”

“Jensen!” Danneel’s voice was shrill when she spotted him. “Jared?”

“Jensen came to give us a ride home.”

“Why?” The spoke together when they turned toward their ex.

“Why not? Is there something holding you here?”

“In December you wouldn’t have spit on us if we were on fire…” Danneel started. Jared laid a hand on her arm.

“What’s the catch?”

“You have to talk to a friend of mine first.”

“About what?” The younger man’s voice got small.

Jensen held out a proof sheet.

“It’s not what it looks like…” Jared started.

“I don’t care what you’re doing, but my friend is very interested.” Flat green eyes looked at the couple. “Pack yer shit or yer leavin’ without it.”

“You can’t…” Danneel straightened to her full 5’7”.

A pistol appeared in Jensen’s hand. He was exhausted and soul sick and in no mood for theatrics. They’d surprised him last night. Steve and Christian had reversed roles on him, though Christian had ultimately supported Steve as he knew he would. It didn’t matter that they’d invited him into their bed, he was the interloper.

He’d made a plan on the drive to Oklahoma City. He’d come back and help Rob clear the really bad guys out of the Park. Maybe he’d visit the new west coast. He had an ID that said he was Jacob Gray. It’d been a joke when he’d bought it, but he had it stashed where he could get to it without going to the house.

He was brought back to the present by Jared.

“Where did you get these?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“But…just…I…” He gave up. “We better get packed.” He turned to Danneel.

She didn’t protest, but glared at Jensen, who ignored her. He followed them to their room, he didn’t want any surprises.

As soon as they were loaded in the truck, Jensen made a call.

“We’re comin’ in.” He listened for a moment. “Be there in 30.”

He’d put Jared and Danneel in the back and ordered the dogs to ‘guard’. Danneel had tried to friendly up to them, but the dogs refused her overtures.

They started to protest when Jensen pulled up to the administration building at OU, but a warning growl from the dogs had them settling back in the seat. Two of Riggle’s personal detail met them along with his aide.

“Hey Mike.” Jensen greeted the corporal.

“Jake.” The corporal gave him a wink.

“Brought some people to meet with the Colonel then I need a place to shower, sleep and put their stuff.”

“Knew you were comin’. The boys will take care of your guests. I’ll show you to your room. Colonel expects you for mess.”

“Thanks Mike.”

He left his gear where Mike indicated and he and the dogs headed to the Colonel’s office.

By the time Jensen knocked on the door of Riggle’s office, the room was set up for supper for the four of them. A very subdued Jared and Danneel sat off to the side as he settled the dogs across the door.

“Paranoid much, Jake?” The Colonel joked.

Jensen grinned back. “The number of people that probably hate me right now…yeah.”

Rob’s eyes widen as he noticed the grin didn’t reach the green eyes.

“How?” He sounded angry.

“I told them. I knew they wouldn’t want to travel to Dallas with Mutt and Jeff.” He jerked his thumb toward the couple.

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well it pretty much met my expectations.”

“You have a place…” The Colonel started, but Jensen waved him off.

“Jen…” Danneel started, but stopped when the two men glared at her.

“I don’t want anyone to associate ‘this’ me with SC-KANE Ranch.”

“How can they not…” Another glare cut off Jared.

“Because I’m that fuckin’ good. People see what they wanna see.” Jensen snarled. He looked at his exes. “Know what I see as you sit there?” They shook their heads. “You thought you were smarter than the people around you until you woke up to find you were up to yer ass in alligators. The users were being used. The fact yer settin’ here instead of the brig says you aren’t bad guys, just stupid. You refused to accept the help you were offered. You could have already been home, but you were too good to travel in a supply truck, so here we sit.” Jensen helped himself to a cup of coffee.

“Sure you don’t wanna join the Marines.” Rob joked.

“I thought I did.” Jensen’s tone was sour.

His attention remained on Jensen as he spoke. “My troops only know him as ‘Jake’—it better stay that way.” He turned to glare at them.

Their conversation was cut short by Mike’s return with a cart of food.

The Colonel met them at the fuel pump the next morning.

“What are you going to do?”

Sadness drifted across the freckled face before it disappeared.

“I’ll see you in a couple days. I may stop by Dallas or not.” He shrugged as he screwed the cap back on the fuel tank.

“We’ll be ready.”

Jensen gave a curt nod and turned away, but Rob stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“You can stay with us.” He offered.

“Not very good company right now.”

“Just think about it.”

One last nod and he climbed in the truck, Jared and Danneel once again in the back seat with the dogs on watch.

“Are we doing this all the way to San Antonio?” Danneel wheedled.

“Unless you wanna ride handcuffed in the bed.” Jensen snapped.

His passengers were fairly quiet, which suited Jensen just fine. It gave him time to nurse his broken heart, and work to pull the bleeding edges of his soul together. That Steve and Christian could believe he would do anything that would put his family in danger cut him to the quick, and he was still trying to stop the bleeding. He would help Rob’s people clean out the State Park then leave.

They’d just entered the north side of San Antonio when he was shaken out of his reverie as Jared and Danneel started asking about his plans and would he be staying in the city—trying to cajole him into spending time with them.

“You didn’t want me before so why are you so keen on me staying?” He asked bluntly.

“I never wanted to give you up, Jen. I wanted to have you and Gen, now you and Danneel.” Jared blurted out.

Jensen’s laugh was both bitter and unhinged. “You thought I was so stupidly in love with you that I would just hang around on the fringes your of life while you did the whole wife, kids, all-American family thing? ‘Poor pathetic Uncle Jensen never found ‘the one’. It’s good to know how highly you think of me.”

He watched as Danneel and Jared exchanged a look.

“We could do it, Jensen, the three of us. In these times no one would think twice.” Danneel’s voice had that wheedle that had him agreeing to marry her after a night of too much Jack and too much heartbreak.

“Tried the threesome thing, sweetheart. You can see how well that worked out.” The dogs bristled at his raised voice. He let them. “You’ve managed to fuck my life over three times. Even I get the hint if you hit me in the head enough times.” He spoke more to himself than them. “The quicker I can dump you and your shit on the Padaleckis’ doorstep the better I’ll like it.”

Ten minutes later he was doing just that. He unloaded the truck while everyone made over the happy couple and when Gerald and Sherry would have approached him, a hard look from Jensen and a growl from the dogs kept them at bay.

He followed the directions from Colonel Riggle to a place to get fuel then headed north. Rob had set him up with an ID that would get him access to any checkpoint or base making sure if he needed to go to ground he had somewhere safe to go.

The guard at the gate gave him directions to the auditorium. To keep from using the air conditioning, they had propped open all the doors. He parked in front of the doors knowing he wouldn’t be staying long enough to be a hazard. He kept to the shadows. Rosalee was on stage with Darren and Steve backing her. They’d just finished I Believe. He watched Christian come on stage, listened until Christian announced the last song. He dodged the light as he slipped out the doorway. He never noticed the shrewd blue eyes that watched him until he left.

The watcher was interrupted when someone bumped his arm.

“Hey, you gonna help or just sit there like a lump.” Beth complained. When she didn’t get a response she got worried. “Tim?”

“Huh, oh sorry. Got lost in thought.” He turned to help her set out CDs.

Jensen knew he was tired, he rubbed his eyes trying to get them to focus. He looked down when his fingers came away wet. He brushed them on his shirt only to realize there were wet spots on it. Feeling his distress, Parker swiped a tongue over his face and leaned into his side. As much as he wanted to take the comfort the animals were offering he had to get out of here before the show finished.

As the grey pickup sped off into the night, a flurry of lithe body and blonde hair dashed through the door in time to watch taillights leaving the parking lot.

By the time he pulled into Rob’s driveway, he was bleary eyed. He and the dogs slipped quietly into the spare room only taking time to pull off his boots, guns and jacket before crawling onto the bed. Spencer across the door and Parker on the bed between Jensen and the door, everyone was soon asleep.

Riggle and his partner Rob looked in the door of their spare room. They had hoped it would be empty after the frantic call they’d gotten from one Christian Kane, but apparently Jensen hadn’t stopped in Dallas to speak to his family. Apparently Kane had asked their liaison in Dallas for his number, but they weren’t very forthcoming until Christian threatened violence on the next person that told him no. The Colonel was torn between happy to have Jensen working for him and sad that the younger man thought his family no longer loved him because of his scouting for the military.

He told Christian Jensen Ackles was not on any of his bases. He hadn’t been lying—technically. Everyone knew Jensen as Jake Gray so technically Jensen wasn’t sleeping in his spare room—Jake was.

It was nearly noon when Jensen woke. He showered and headed to the kitchen in search of coffee feeling just as tired as when he’d fallen across the bed. He found breakfast then headed for Riggle’s office.

“You’re just in time, Jake.”

The Colonel made introductions before starting the briefing.

“Gray here is your scout. He knows this area intimately and has provided the intel we have on this camp.”

By the end of the briefing, the Marines had gained a respect for the scouting Jensen had done and his suggestions. As soon as he was outfitted they set out for their staging area at Ardmore. They would move out at dawn.

The squad of Seals rested quietly waiting for Jake to return. Too well trained to yell, Lt. Jack Dawson nearly peed himself when he felt a wet nose on the back of his neck. Standing behind him as though he’d sprung from the Earth was Gray with an unrepentant grin. He pulled out the map he had marked with sentry positions for the camp they were set the raid and transferred the information to the LT’s map.

For six months they conducted mostly successful raids suffering only a few injuries, losing two of their squad. Jensen sported a few new scars including three silvery lines that marred his left cheek. Parker died protecting him in the same fight. Spencer had lain on his bed at the clinic refusing to be moved. The two lone males had withdrawn further into themselves.

He’d just been released from the clinic and was in Oklahoma City to replenish his wardrobe and eat something that wasn’t an MRE or hospital food. He’d stepped out of the restaurant and ended up literally on Steve and Christian’s heels.

Feeling like Spencer was sitting on his chest, Jensen followed a few steps behind making sure the oversized hood he wore to hide his scars also hid his identity. He tasted blood as he clamped down on the inside of his cheek to keep from calling out.

Both men looked good, apparently him not being with them hadn’t made a lot of difference in their lives, and listening to their conversation, he found out the rest of the family was well, Rosalee and Beth were expecting babies, one in spring, the other in early summer. When they turned into a shop selling books and music he continued on to complete the rest of his shopping. He didn’t come into the city again.

The country was slowly returning to normal, or as close as they were going to get. Television stations started showing programs other than news and weather—offices started reopening as industry slowly started to climb back on its feet.

With the normalization of society, martial-law was being lifted in some of the east coast cities, but west of the Mississippi things were still unsettled, so martial law remained in place.

Colonel Riggle was worried. Most men in his position would be elated at the numbers he was reading, but he knew the costs of those numbers intimately. He saw the effects every time he looked into the face of his friend who was now more Jake Gray than Jensen Ackles.

The information network Jensen had built across the state would have done the CIA proud, but the man he’d met a few short years ago was no longer in evidence. His squad respected him and feared for him for he seemed to have left his sense of self-preservation behind the day he drove away from SC-KANE Ranch.

Soon he would pull all his raiding squads back. One more raid would see the last of the outlaw bands brought to heel in the state. Location had been the key to the longevity of this group. They’d made their base in Robbers Cave State Park, but Jensen using one of the female members of his squad as his ‘wife’ had convinced some of the women he could get them some place safe. The women agreed but only if he could get their children out, too.

One squad caused a diversion—they stole the camp’s horses, and while most of the men had headed for the stables, Jensen’s squad had gone in the back entrance to the main cavern and taken the women and children that wanted to leave, killing or taking into custody any of the fighters that resisted.

The Colonel had sweated bullets over that one. Now with the intel they’d received from the women and children …bless the children for all the nooks and crannies they found to play, he had to send his people back in to finish cleaning out the park.

Standing in front of the roomful of people he was sending out tomorrow he saw the results of a year’s work. Hard-eyed men and women, who fought, died and killed on his orders. People who before the earthquakes had been teachers, actors, grocery clerks…just ordinary people—Now he could think of no better fighting force in the country.

He’d read the reports from all over the country and thanked any of the Powers that were listening everyday for these people. In three days he would send his civilian scouts home and give his raiders some well deserved R & R.

Now he watched his people file out of the room, and hoped they all came back.

%%%%%

“GRAMS!!!” Milo and Pilot yelled together for Sandy.

All the adults in the house came running when they heard the boys yell. The television station in Oklahoma City had broken into the program the boys were watching with a special report. People were scrambling to move vehicles as the camera showed a military helicopter landing in the parking lot of the Trauma One Center. Men and women bristling with weapons poured out of the huge machine as medical personnel poured out of the building with gurneys.

They tried to reach into the chopper only to be met with a bundle of teeth and growls. Something from inside caused the dog to settle.

Everyone in the room recognized Spencer. No one breathed as four soldiers reached in and carefully lifted a body out of the helicopter. The dog jumped out and planted himself by the gurney with his master’s body. When the medical personnel started to argue, a hard look from a Captain and the dog had them wheeling the gurney into the hospital behind the other two. The remainder of the squad followed.

The voice of the reporter grabbed their attention.

“No one had any comment on how these soldiers were injured, but while we’ve been standing here two humvees have pulled up to the hospital entrance. Colonel Riggle from the temporary base in Norman got out of the lead vehicle. We’re going to send you back to James in the studio, but as soon as we have further information we’ll let you know.”

The camera showed one last shot of the hospital and helicopter before going back to regular programming.

Silence reigned in the TV room as a tidal wave of emotions ran through everyone. It had been over a year since Jensen had left. There’d been rumors when they’d gone into Broken Bow about a man with two dogs that ran with a Special Forces group working on clearing some very nasty people out of the State Park.

Once a month they would find supplies sitting in the driveway halfway between the house and the highway. One bag had contained Parker’s collar and dog tags. There was a note that simply said, He threw them away.

They started a family cemetery that day in a copse of trees not far from the house. A cross was erected with Parker’s name and the inscription Christian had carved into the wood. She gave all for the love of one. The boys hung her tags on the cross.

Steve had hidden himself away in the studio after their little ceremony. The words he shouted at Jensen running on a loop through his brain until words and music were scratched on paper stained with tears. He’d come out feeling cleansed and ready to find a way to get Jensen to come home.

Christian had taken the horses and cattle to the back field, letting the antics of the babies soothe his guilt and regret for not offering Jensen the same support he’d given Steve. His reaching out to Steve to diffuse his anger had been an ingrained habit from all their years together. He had hesitated in reaching out to Jensen, and the younger man had taken it as a rejection.

They had all played their parts by keeping their silence, and he could only hope Jensen’s Colonel would let them know if something serious happened.

Now it appeared something serious had happened, and all they could do was wait to see if they were contacted, if only to retrieve a body for burial.

Supper was a quiet affair until Sandy slammed her fork against her plate.

“How long are you going to wait to see if he comes home? Are you ever going to give him any reason to think he still has a home here? Maybe you’re glad he’s gone.”

A collective gasp sounded around the table at Sandy’s harsh words.

“MOM!” Steve protested. “How could you even…” His tirade was interrupted.

“She’s right.” Christian said quietly.

“WHAT!”

“We didn’t DO anything. Just let him go. Didn’t try very hard to find him…talk to him. We coulda gone to that Colonel fella, tried to get him to let us see him.” He got up and left the table.

Steve shot a glare at his mother before going after Christian.

“Christian!” The dark haired man didn’t stop until he was outside. “Dammit Kane, wait!”He grabbed Christian by the arm and spun him around. “What are you doing?”

“Goin’ to Norman. See if I can talk to that Colonel again.” He pulled his arm out of Steve’s grip.

“Wait. It’s too late to go tonight. We’ll go first thing in the morning. We can be there by lunch. You can’t pay any attention to what mom said. We’re not the only ones in the wrong. Nobody else said anything either.”

Christian turned on Steve, eyes spitting blue fire.

“They didn’t say anything because it’s OUR home. If we didn’t want Jensen here how could they nay say that? Hell, they might have been afraid to say anything for fear we’d throw them out, too.”

“We’ve royally fucked this up.” Steve said quietly.

They walked quietly back to the house.

%%%%%

Dawn found them on the road to Norman. They didn’t hit any roadblocks until they stepped in the Colonel’s reception area.

Corporal Mike Riley didn’t know the two men standing at his desk, but the Colonel had shown him pictures and told him if they ever showed up he was to find him immediately.

“Can I help you?” He asked in an overly polite manner.

“We’d like to see Colonel Riggle.” Christian watched the young man behind the desk carefully.

“You are…?”

Pale blue eyes narrowed.

“I think you know very well who we are.” He was satisfied when he saw the brown eyes widen slightly. He bared his teeth in a parody of a smile.

“If you’ll have a seat, I’ll inform the Colonel you’re here.” Mike practically spat the words.

Five minutes later, a tall man followed by three armed men came through the door. Cpl. Riley snapped to attention. The tall man gave a casual, At ease, before the arm could snap a salute. He stopped in front of the Steve and Christian.

“Come.” He ordered than continued toward the office.

His security detail waited for the civilians to obey.

Christian bristled, ready to turn stubborn when Steve’s hand on his arm stayed his irritation.

“Not the time to go all alpha, man.” Steve whispered.

With a nod they followed the Colonel. Riley followed the men into the office.

“Get me the latest on Jake Gray’s condition.” He ordered.

“Sir.”

The door closed.

“No one knows him by anything other than ‘Jake Gray’. I thought he might want to go back to his civilian life one day.” He settled behind his desk. “Coffee?” He indicated the machine on the other side of the room.

“Can we see him?” Steve asked without preamble.

Before he could answer there was a knock then a pause before Riley opened the door to bring Riggle the folder he requested.

“Thank you. Dismissed.”

“Why?” Rob asked as he opened the file.

He knew Jensen’s condition. He and his partner had taken turns sitting with man at the hospital. Rob was there when the Colonel had business to attend—business like former lovers who suddenly wanted to see the fallen warrior.

“To tell ‘im we’re idiots and want ‘im to come home.” Christian answered.

“You waited ‘til now because…?”

“We didn’t know where the fuck he was.” Christian growled. “He didn’t answer his phone, and if that special report hadn’t come on the TV we still wouldn’t know.”

“Why didn’t you come SEE me?” Riggle asked. I couldn’t talk about it over the phone. That’s why when you asked for Jensen I said he wasn’t here. Only Jake was here. That’s the way it will stay until he says otherwise.

He knew about the messages. When he’d seen Jensen pitch the phone he’d pulled it out of the trash and kept it waiting for Jensen to ask for it back. The stubborn man never did.

“Would you have told us?” Steve asked.

“Maybe, though not at first. He was hurt too bad and too valuable an asset.”

At the word asset Christian started to stand. Rob waved him back down.

“Six months ago I almost called you because I thought it was time, but before I could call Parker was killed, and he was injured. He checked himself out of the clinic and went feral on me. I didn’t see him or Spencer the whole winter. Only his squad knew where he was, and they weren’t talkin’—especially to their colonel. Even Riley couldn’t get it out of them.”

Riggle poured himself more coffee wishing he could doctor it with the bottle in his bottom drawer.

“This spring he comes in here so quiet I damn near had a heart attack when I looked up and him and Spencer were standing inside the door like a couple wolves. The squad had brought in a group of women and children they’d liberated, stolen, whatever you wanna call it from some group holed up in the state park at Robbers Cave. They were the last group we had to take out before we could begin to lift martial law. I sent my four best squads. There were about fifty diehards left in the caves. They were finishing the clean up when Jensen discovered the caves were booby trapped. He was tending the wounded when he saw the devices and used Spencer to get everyone out he couldn’t reach by radio. The wounded couldn’t move fast enough so he stashed them in a pocket the kids had told him about.”

The Colonel stopped and looked out the window. He stared so long Christian was about to get up when he turned and started talking again.

“He went back for the last wounded when the bombs went off. They were almost to the safety zone when part of the roof came down. He shoved the wounded soldier toward the others—he almost made it, too.” Riggle got quiet again.

“Dammit, Riggle!” Both men were exasperated with the man not getting to the point.

“He’s alive. Most of the damage was to his lower legs. The damage to the left will heal fine—it’s the right the doctors are worried about. It’s a mess…even with rehab…” He shrugged.

“Is he conscious? Can he have visitors?” Steve asked.

“His squad’s keeping an eye on him—taking care of Spencer. They’re the only ones can get that dog away from him.”

His face was stern when he looked at them.

“He was devastated when he came here. Truth be told he was probably hoping for suicide by bad guy. He took chances, did things that scared the bejesus out of my hardened vets. He’s built a shell…” Seeming to make a decision he picked up the phone. “Corporal Riley I need two passes for our guests to have access to Jake Gray.”

It didn’t take long for the Corporal to come in the office and hand them passes.

“All I can say to you is good luck. You’re gonna need it.”

%%%%%

With the passes from Riggle, and a conversation with the doctors alleviated some of their concerns but raised others.

They were keeping Jensen heavily drugged because of cracked ribs and a shattered leg. The orthopedic specialist joked that Mr. Gray and his dog had similar personalities. They both growled and snapped a lot. The doctor had directed them to the suites families of patients used where they settled their duffels before girding their loins to face Jensen and Spencer.

Showing their passes, they introduced themselves to the soldiers by the door asking about their concerns for any of the groups they’d taken down trying to hurt ‘Jake’ and the others. They’d given them a cursory, Just a precaution, as they moved into Jensen’s room to be met with bared fangs and growls.

A few quiet words with the dog until he remembered them garnered them a few wary tail thumps as Spencer took his customary post under the bed. A nest of blankets had been provided to make the faithful animal more comfortable.

Moving to the unconscious man’s bedside they were shocked to their cores. The year and half they’d been separated did not rest easy on the younger man. The still handsome face was scarred, drawn and weathered—strands of grey appeared sporadically through the reddish brown hair and beard.

Christian turned in time to catch Steve as his knees buckled at the sight.

“I did this.” He gasped trying to contain the guilt flooding his system as he looked down at Jensen.

“We all played our part.” Christian stated bluntly. “No one spoke up until it was too late. We can only hope he’ll let us make it up to him. If we’re really lucky he might let us love him again.” Christian voice was calm, but somber.

Several hours had passed before Jensen started to come out from under the drugs. As the tired green eyes started to focus, they widened then narrowed.

“What are you doing here?” His tone was bitter.

“The boys saw the helicopter on TV and we watched them bring you into the hospital.” Christian answered.

“Still doesn’t answer my question.”

“For you. We’re here for you.”

“Shame I wasn’t a little slower. It wouldn’t have saved y’all a trip.” Jensen sneered.

The men gasped at the hard words. They had never given a thought to how Jensen would react if they saw each other again. They assumed he was alive because the supplies kept being delivered and the Colonel hadn’t sent Jensen’s dog tags like he did Parker’s, but to see the effect of their words and actions, to hear Jensen say it would have been better if he died filled both men with fear and guilt.

“You don’t mean that.” Steve stepped toward the bed a hand reaching out to touch.

Gold flecked eyes mocked the blond. “I died the night my family,” the word sounded like a vilest of curses, “left me sitting in the yard like I was yesterday trash. My body’s just been too stupid to get with the program and lay down.”

“Jenny…” Christian started as he helped Steve sit.

“Died. What’s the matter Christian? Don’t you like Jake? You made him. Jake is the perfect scout. There’s nothing he won’t do to get what he needs. Beg, steal, lie, seduce, fuck, intimidate, even kill.” He ran a hand over his face. “Go home Christian. I’m afraid there won’t be any more goody bags. Military doesn’t pay crippled scouts.”

“We don’t care about that. We want you to come home. We realized what unreasonable asses we were, but when we looked for you the next morning you were already gone.” Blue eyes glistened with tears.

“We called…left messages. When you didn’t answer we didn’t know where else to look until yesterday.” Steve pleaded. “Please come home.”

“No. You don’t get it. Jensen is dead—only Jake remains, and Jake’s not fit company for decent folk.” He turned his head and closed his eyes shutting them out.

Steve opened his mouth to try again, but Christian grabbed his arm and shook his head, tugging him out of the room. They met the nurse outside the door.

“He’s awake.” Christian informed her.

With a nod she continued on.

They started toward the exit when they heard a voice.

“So that’s it? You’re leaving?”

They looked up to see a man with sandy brown hair standing by the waiting room with three cups of coffee.

“Who the fuck are you to care what we do?” Christian snarled protectively over a devastated Steve.

“A friend of…Jake’s…and the Colonel.” He jerked his head toward the waiting room. “Get comfortable…unless you really want to leave, I’ve got some coffee to deliver.” He headed toward the soldiers outside Jensen’s door.

“So you gonna tuck your tails and run?” The stranger taunted when he got back.

“He doesn’t want us here.” Steve finally found his voice.

“If you were him would you? He might think the only reason you’re here is to see if the gravy train quit running since he’s obviously not going into the field again.’

“Who are you?” Christian stood.

“Don’t get your panties in a twist, Kane. I’m Rob Huebel. The Colonel’s partner and Jake’s friend. He stays with us when he lets himself. You two really did a mind fuck on him.”

“We tried to fix it, but he wouldn’t talk to us. We didn’t know how else to find him.”

“So now that you found him you’re going to run when he didn’t welcome you with open arms?” Dark eyes narrowed at the pair. “The man that came to our door was a bundle of pain. Why would he open himself to that again just to assuage your guilt? Did you really think he wouldn’t change?”

“You’re saying what?” Steve asked. “That somewhere under all that anger and cynicism Jensen Ackles still exists?” The singer’s voice was hopeful.

“It’s faint and fragmented, but yes, I’ve seen flashes of Jensen peek out of Jake’s hard shell. Now that he’s off the front line the two might merge, but what do you care? You’re going home.”

“Not goin’ home.” Christian growled. “He shut us out. Thought we’d regroup, try again once we pulled it together.”

“I’ll warn you now. Whatever you knew about Jensen won’t work. He’ll be so vile he’ll leave you bleeding on the floor. Who knows you may not want him back. If that’s the case…decide fast.”

“We’ll be taking him home.” Steve insisted.

Rob smile was nasty. “We’ll see.”

The next month was hard. Jensen was just as nasty as Rob had predicted. There was a second surgery on his right leg. The two Robs took pity on Christian and Steve and took them home with them. Sandy and Chris, Darren and Rosalee, Beth and Tim took turns coming to the city only to go home down spirited at Jensen’s reaction to their visits.

Not happy with the progress of the leg, Dr. Jackson, the orthopedist, called in a friend who specialized in extreme cases. The consultation coincided with three days Christian and Steve had shows scheduled so when they returned to Oklahoma City, they found Jensen had just been taken to recovery after a third operation that had lasted several hours.

Frustration with the lack of progress in their relationship with Jensen and dealing with Jensen’s attitude while keeping his temper in check, Christian finally reached the end of his patience.

Jensen was still groggy when they wheeled him in from Recovery. Because they needed him aware for the procedure they’d only given him a light sedative while they worked on his leg using local anesthetic to numb the skin. The doctors needed his nerves functioning so they could graft the wiring of the experimental cybernetic brace into Jensen’s nervous system and the skin around his knee.

They couldn’t predict how well the knee would heal, but the brace would allow his leg to function. He could walk, drive, ride, do everything he’d done before except run, and he would need to use a cane, especially when the leg was fatigued.

The doctors were watching Jensen and grinning like they’d won the lottery. That was the spark that lit Christian’s fuse.

“You waited ‘til we went out of town for a gig, then used Jake,” he spat the name he hated at the doctor, “as a guinea pig for your Six Million Dollar Man erector set!”

“I assure you, Mr. Kane, Mr. Gray was fully aware of all the risks and benefits to the procedure.” The two orthopedists drew back from Christian.

Just as Christian was preparing for round two, a soft voice stopped him cold.

“Kane, quit yer fussin’. The docs were gonna amputate if I didn’t.”

Christian exchanged a look with Steve before looking over at Jensen.

“Jenny?” The light and dark halves stepped over to the bed.

Jensen’s eyes were glazed as he blinked groggily at the couple. The doctors took the opportunity to slip out of the room.

“You’re high.” Steve stated the obvious.

“As a fuckin’ kite.” Jensen grinned then sobered. “I loved you guys so much, but I don’t know what I did wrong. I don’t know why you think I’m a whore—well I kinda am now, but I wasn’t then, and if God has any mercy I won’t remember this conversation when I wake up again.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “I killed them you know…” His voice was low like he was telling a secret. “The day after you threw me out we went into to the park and took them all out so they could never come near our—your home again.”

Steve started to ask a question. They both wanted to ask questions while Jensen was…Jensen, but before they could ask, the drugs had pulled the younger man back into unconsciousness. They wondered who would be there when he woke. Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. Jensen or Jake.

It seemed the last surgery had affected Jensen on the most basic of levels, or maybe it had been the prospect of losing his right leg, but it seemed Jensen was around more than Jake.

After a visit with Jensen that was loud enough for them to hear in Norman, the Colonel speculated that being away from the frontline Jensen was allowing his true self to come through. He’d stopped on his way out of the hospital to talk to Christian, Steve and the Carlsons.

“He’s never gonna be the man you knew before he left home, and if you expect it or keep comparing the before and after, you’re never going to get him back.” Riggle warned.

“Ain’t none of us the people we were before, Hoss.” Christian snapped.

Sandy laid a calming hand on Christian’s shoulder. “What happened with Jensen has affected us all, Colonel.” Her voice was calm, but firm. “Jensen has always been reserved, tending to fade into the background, but he has always had the strength to step up when the situation called for it. I fear we became insular and intolerant inside our bubble at the ranch.”

“I pray that when they release him he’ll agree to go home, but he’ll always have a place should he decide he can’t return to SC-KANE. The way y’all been pussyfootin’ around him he’ll be gone like smoke.” Riggle was blunt.

He wanted to shock them so they didn’t get complacent. Jensen was still more than a little inclined to run---figuratively, away from his family when he was released. They had yet to prove they were there out of love rather than guilt.

Turning his back on the group the Colonel grinned. He noticed Kane narrowing those famous baby blues as his words sank into the equally infamous hard head. If Kane could drag the rest of the family on board, they might have a chance.

%%%%%

Jensen gritted his teeth as he maneuvered his wheelchair towards his room. PT had been a bitch, and he’d gone outside to regain control of his temper and the pain. The couple cigarettes he’d practically chain smoked helped somewhat. Being outside had helped with the feelings of claustrophobia. Time watching Spencer run and playing fetch with the big dog eased the bands of tension around his head a little more.

He’d been in the hospital for six weeks. The first four had been full of physical and mental pain.

When he’d woke up and seen Steve and Christian camped by his bedside he’d been nearly blind with rage. If the two Robs would have been present, he’d have shot them all. How dare his friends let the two people who had caused him more pain than Jared and Danneel combined near him when he was at his most vulnerable?

He lashed out. He lashed out at anyone that visited from the ranch. He was Jake Gray at his worst. He’d done his best to drive them back to their safe little nest, but even when they’d left with tear filled eyes, his own heart bleeding from the pain his words caused, they kept coming back. He waited for Kane to blow the roof off the hospital at the things Jensen had said to him and Steve, but the man had taken it right up until his last surgery. Just as the Kane temper started to fire off, Jensen had diffused the situation with things he’d have never said if he was even halfway straight. That the memory of that little scene was still at the forefront of his mind when he woke up the next time hadn’t helped his own temper any.

Away from the stress of being in the field, and not having to always on guard, more of his true self started to emerge. When they’d allowed him access to a wheelchair, he’d started tending Spencer himself, the faithful animal clinging stubbornly to his side.

Instead of getting back in bed, Jensen rolled over to the window, thankful the room was empty. Sensing his master’s distress, Spencer squirmed and wiggled until his front end rested in Jensen’s lap. He buried his fingers in the soft coat until the weight in his mind caused him to lower his head and bury his face in the dog’s fur.

%%%%%

Fear gripped the hearts of the two men that stepped in the room after having lunch. They were expecting Jensen to be asleep, but to see him with his face buried in Spencer’s neck unnerved them. The Mellinois’ soft growl caused him to raise his head. The red rimmed eyes spoke volumes.

Steve and Christian both started forward only to be brought up short when Jensen spoke to Spencer then spun his chair around to face them, eyes sparking gold with anger.

“Why are you here? Why are you always here? I’ve got nothing for you. I’m done. There’s no more. No extra hard to get supplies—nothing. There’s no need for you to hang around here like you care. No need to drag everyone nearly 400 miles to try and prove you care. You have no obligation here. I’m all used up and of no use to anyone. SO WHY DON’T YOU JUST FUCKIN’ LEAVE!”

Stunned they could only blink. Seconds turned into minutes as the men stared at one another.

The impasse was broken with one word.

“No.” Steve said quietly.

“No?!” Jensen repeated dumbfounded. “Why the hell not!?” His voice started to rise again.

“We love you. This is what you do when you love someone.” Steve’s voice remained calm.

“LOVE ME! You called me a whore then the whole family got up and followed YOU while I sat in the dark alone.”

Steve cringed, but didn’t back down. He made this mess he felt it was up to him to fix it.

“I was wrong and angry and afraid. You were out tracking down bandits and kidnappers and who knows what else. You were a fucking actor and director not fucking Dean Winchester.” Steve’s voice went up as he tried to make Jensen understand.

“This actor and director killed a man to save your mother’s life.” Jensen’s voice and eyes were flat.

Christian’s hand on Steve’s shoulder steadied him. The golden gaze followed the movement.

“Let’s hear your excuse, Kane. While we’re airing our dirty laundry for the whole fuckin’ hospital to hear, you might as well have your say.” Jensen started to stand. He really needed to move.

Pain shooting up his thigh left him gasping. Spencer shoved against him so he went back down in the chair. When the pain subsided to a manageable scream he unlocked the brakes and headed for the exit.

“JENSEN!” Christian made a grab for the handles.

“Kane, you touch this chair and I will break your arm. I’m going to have a cigarette. You can stay or you can go I really don’t give a rat’s ass.” He headed down the hall, Spencer trotting at his side.

Exchanging a look, they jogged to catch up.

They found him sitting in the shade of the Spanish Oaks, Spencer lay panting on one of the stone benches.

Christian started to speak, but before any words came out, Jensen started.

“You broke your vows.” He looked out over the hospital lawn refusing to look at the men who’d been his best friends then lovers for the better part of 12 years. “You vowed to me,” the rough voice almost broke, but Jensen got his control back, “that Christmas you vowed you would never leave me. I was so stupid. I told you—I said, ‘shouldn’t ever git between two people who love each other.’ I thought you loved me, too.”

“Dammit, Jenny. I do, we do.” Christian kneeled in front of the wheelchair. “Since the first day we met it’s always been my first instinct to protect Steve, even though I know he can handle himself. While I was reachin’ out to him I should have been reachin’ out to you, too. Ya both needed me that night, and I fucked up, and we all paid for it.”

Though they sparkled with tears, Jensen’s eyes were their usual moss green when he looked up at the two men crouched in front of his wheelchair.

“I know your knees gotta be killin’ ya, Kane. Sit yer ass on the bench.” Jensen growled.

He shoved his hands in the pockets of his robe to hide his clenched fists.

“I need you to do something.” Jensen stated simply. “I need you to go home.”

“WHAT!”

“NO!”

“JENSEN!”

The voices usually so in harmony were mangled and discordant.

Jensen held up his hand for quiet.

“I could be here for days, weeks, maybe months. You can’t be away from the ranch and your lives that long. You have to go home.”

“But…” Steve started.

“No Steve.” You have a life…a life that works fine without me. I have no life…no home. Haven’t had one for a year and a half. Now that I’m no further use to the US Marines, I have to figure it out.”

“Jenny…” Christian tried.

“Let me finish.” Jensen barked. “I don’t know if I have enough heart left to take another chance whether with you or someone else.”

This caused sounds of dismay from the two men on the bench.

“I can’t do that and rehab with you breathing down my neck all the time. I can’t open my eyes every day and see the expectant looks on your faces waiting for me to say what you want to hear so your guilt will go away. You have to live with the consequences of your actions and so do I. That means figuring out if I can still love and trust you again or if I’m even capable of feeling anything remotely like that again.”

The men sat in silence for several minutes before Jensen called Spencer and rolled back into the hospital.

Epilogue

Three Months Later

“Colonel Riggle.”

“Where is he?”

“Hello Kane.”

“Where?”

“Don’t know. Checked himself out of the hospital three weeks ago and disappeared.”

Silence.

Christmas Eve 2014

They knew the winter storm was howling outside the house, but inside was warm with a cheery fire burning in the wood stove, music moving through the rooms as the family was gathered around enjoying the special treats that meant Christmas to each one. Eyes would occasionally turn to the guitar sitting alone in the corner as the voices lifted in a wonderful harmony.

Unnoticed two shadows moved quietly through the outer passage towards the inner door. Sounds and smells that were familiar caught sensitive noses…smells that said the intruders were pack wafted around the door. They sat like the guitar waiting for the one who was missing, but now…

Excited whines from Evita and Cody drew Christian’s attention to the dogs now sitting by the door quivering like bowstrings. He started to stand as the door opened. Only one person had a key for that door.

Everyone froze as a shaggy coated Spencer slipped through the door running point for his master who was just as shaggy leaning heavily on an intricately carved cane. Man and dog stood barely inside the door waiting.

Two voices stuttered brokenly.

“Jense?”

“Jenny?”

Guitars were hastily propped against the coffee table as they moved through the room dodging legs, boys and babies.

They were careful not to knock him off balance as they wrapped around him and buried their faces against his neck. Wrapping his arms around their shoulders, the three men stood and absorbed what had been missing.

Jensen lifted his face from where he’d buried it against the shoulders of the light and dark halves of his soul to see the faces of his family smiling tearfully, waiting for their turn to welcome him home.

“Merry Christmas.” Jensen rasped out, voice choked with emotion.

“It is now.” Christian and Steve said together.

~ Fini ~