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The Lumberyard

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The Lumberyard

"Yeah, tell me again how much your job sucks, Ackles." Collins' voice is tinny through Jensen's speakerphone.

"I'm just saying, after a while it gets old. All the nakedness, it's boring."

Collins makes a tsk noise. "It's gotta be a sign of the apocalypse if you’re not interested in an all-you-can-eat buffet of man flesh."

"Maybe that's the problem," Jensen says. "I'm in the kitchen, seeing how the sausage gets made." Collins barks a laugh and Jensen reviews what he just said. "Uh. So to speak. Did you call for a reason?"

"Yeah. The intel is good; we're moving in tonight. Your long nightmare is almost over."

Jensen blows out a breath. He'd been expecting the news, but all the same, he's surprised that his sense of victory is tinged with a little bit of regret.

"Jensen?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that's great. What do you need me to do?"

"Nothing, just follow your routine. The boss thinks you might need your cover identity down the line, so you're going to get picked up in the raid, too."

"Alright. Guess I'll be seeing your ugly mug sooner than expected. Did you lose the pool?"

"Yeah," Collins says. "I'm out twenty bucks, you fucker. Why do you have to be so efficient?"

"Just to ruin your fun. See ya."

Jensen hangs up and resumes getting ready for work.

*

Being a janitor in a strip club ranks somewhere below working in a slaughter house, Jensen reckons, but even so, it's still better than the original plan—suggested by Misha of course—that he become a stripper to infiltrate the business.

Jensen had put his foot down on that and wouldn't budge, even when everyone in the office gave him hell, saying he was too pretty not to be a stripper.

Misha had wondered what exactly would be different in Jensen's life for this gig, and Rosenbaum had responded that Jensen would be getting paid for it.

Jensen's knuckles had stung for a while after that. He'll allow that he's...well, he never lacks for company of an evening. He'll even allow that he maybe has a small issue with commitment, but that doesn't mean he's ever had to pay for it.

In his opinion, what two consenting adults get up to is nobody's business, but the sex industry is run by sleazeballs who prey on the helpless.

Maybe that's a little harsh, but Jensen's been around the block. As a DEA agent he's seen more than his fair share of human misery, and behind every hard luck story is some opportunist with no conscience, looking to make a buck.

Take, for example, Sheppard. They've had their eye on this asshole for years and have never been able to make anything stick. Jensen nods at him as he clocks in for his shift and Sheppard's grin is half snake, half wolf. Jensen schools his face against the grimace it wants to make. Only one more night; he can do this.

Grabbing his mop and bucket, Jensen starts making his way backstage. He starts at midnight on Fridays and the place is packed, as usual: humid and loud, a lube-and-latex miasma hanging in the air thick enough to choke on. Jensen's never understood the appeal of places like this. It’s all so fake.

He props up his orange safety signs and lazily swabs back and forth between them, all the while keeping one eye on Sheppard's office door. From the other side, Jensen can hear someone yelling, but he can't make out the words. He inches closer, straining for any intel he can get. Sure, the new shipment coming in from Colombia is big enough to put Sheppard and his entire crew behind bars for years, but Jensen knows—call it a gut feeling—that the import business isn't the only pie Sheppard's got his thumb in.

He's sloshing dirty water back and forth, staring a hole through Sheppard's closed office door when there's a shout and he's tackled to the floor. On instinct, he catches himself and flips, pinning his attacker between one breath and the next. His head clears and he realizes two things: first, the night-shift janitor at a strip club probably shouldn't know Muay Thai, and second, that his attacker is actually Jared, the improbably hot and gratuitously tall Friday night headliner.

Instantly, he lets go of Jared's wrists and sits up.

"Are you okay?" Jensen asks. Jared's gasping a little and he looks like, well. Like he just got tackled to the floor. Also, he looks about ready to take the stage: his white leather chaps are askew and his cowboy hat ended up in Jensen's mop bucket.

Jared's staring at him. Jensen clears his throat.

"Sorry," Jensen says. "Did you break anything?"

Jared's still looking at him as he moves to sit up, his expression inscrutable. "I don't think so. Oh, shit." He turns to pluck his hat out of the dirty water.

"I can run back and get you another one--"

"No, it's okay. I'm on in a sec. Not like anyone's going to notice, right?" His smile makes Jensen blush. "Anyway, it was my fault, I wasn't watching where I was going."

"Oh, " Jensen says, sensing that there's some kind of social formula he should be completing, but failing to guess what it could be. His mind keeps blanking out whenever Jared touches him, and it seems like Jared touches him a lot.

It's not that Jensen would mind—if he weren't on the clock—someone who looks like Jared touching him, it's just. Well, Jared's a stripper and probably touches everyone like that. He probably has strange rashes from removing body hair; probably has stains all over his couch from the baby oil he uses.

Anyway, Jared makes him awkward and it's annoying. So Jensen usually just returns Jared's smiles and touches with withering glares that—he hopes—fully express the extent of his disapproval for Jared's lifestyle choices.

"Listen, what are you doing later? After the show? I was thinking about maybe grabbing a beer or something."

"Um." Jensen blinks. "You mean like hang out?" Yep, he can totally speak English. Probably.

"Jared! Shift your arse! You're on." Sheppard's red-faced, chewing on a cigar. Jensen cranes his neck, but he can't see who else is beyond the door.

"Yes, sir," Jared says, and then smiles again at Jensen. "Gotta go."

It's only once Jared's gone that Jensen remembers he'd forgotten to glare witheringly. He picks up his mop and gives it a hard stare. It doesn't seem fazed.

*

[Six Weeks Ago]

"Congratulations, Mr. Anderson, you are the newest employee of The Lumberyard. You start tonight." Jensen leans over the desk to shake Sheppard's hand with a tight smile. First hurdle down, and he doesn't have to get naked.

"Thank you, Mr. Sheppard, I won't let you down." Jensen bows like this is the chance of a lifetime and Sheppard, the greasy jerk, gives him the once-over. Jensen shudders involuntarily.

"I hope for your sake you don't. Jared's waiting to show you around." And then he's waving Jensen off.

Jensen's team has been doing recon, and he knows from the blueprints that there's at least one false wall behind the bar itself, possibly behind the stage as well. Now he's going to get close enough to confirm it. The operating theory is that Sheppard's smuggling business uses the club as a warehouse. Jensen hopes it's also where Sheppard meets with his distributors.

With the lights up, the space has an oddly pathetic look to it, sort of flaccid. It smells like cheap beer and sweat. There's a guy leaning against the bar, and at first glance Jensen thinks it's a customer. He's enormous, all muscles and teeth and, Jensen notes, dimples. He's laughing with the bartender and as Jensen's appraising him, their eyes meet in the mirror above the bar.

A wave of heat rolls up his spine as Jensen holds his gaze for a beat.

"Hey, you're Jensen, right? New guy? I'm Jared, I'm gonna show you around."

Jared. The stripper. Right. Jensen blinks and squashes the filthy thoughts that had been forming, mostly involving what he'd do to get the guy naked.

No point in strategizing if he'll take it off for everyone.

"Yeah, thanks," he says and returns Jared's handshake. He’s here to do a job. A job that will probably mean watching this guy do wicked things to a pole. He follows Jared to the back and thinks of baseball, his grandma doing jazzercise, anything to keep his burgeoning erection in check.

*

“Anderson, clean up on aisle one.”

Jensen’s restocking the urinals with little pink urinal cakes. He looks up as Hodge bangs the bathroom door all the way open.

“Oh man, again?” Aisle one is code for barf on the main floor. He’d just done a sweep like, fifteen minutes ago. “Told you those frat guys needed to be bounced.”

“Yeah, tell it to Kane.”

“Don’t think I won’t,” he says, but Hodge is already gone. He probably won’t actually; Kane’s one scary son of a bitch.

He grabs a bucket and the gross orange powder they use to clean up puke. Maybe it would have been better to pretend to be a stripper. He hasn’t dealt with this many bodily fluids since college.

Weaving in and out of the throng, Jensen catches glimpses of Jared’s final number.

He’s seen it before; it’s not like it’s new, but every time Jared performs it, Jensen discovers another layer—feels like he’s seeing Jared. Like he’s learning secrets that Jared doesn’t even know he’s revealing.

Jensen blinks the daze out of his eyes and laughs at himself. Seriously, what’s next, love poems stuffed into Jared’s g-string?

The puke is covered in glitter when he bends to clean it up. It’s almost not disgusting anymore. After the first couple of shifts, he’d learned to ignore his body’s sympathetic impulses; no use adding his own mess to the floor. He’d just have to clean it up anyway.

He’s got the powder down and he’s fending off a particularly aggressive patron—who knew coveralls were sexy—when the house lights go up and the music dies.

He stands up quick and can just make out Misha’s head above the crowd, holding up a search warrant.

“This is a raid, people, everybody stay where you are.”

“Finally,” he mutters, and then catches Kane’s eye. He remembers to look shocked and dismayed as he’s nearly stampeded by drunk bachelorettes making for the fire exits.

Jensen’s dying to follow Misha and the SWAT team through to the back, but they’ve worked too hard and too long on this to mess it up now. He sits on a bar stool and waits his turn to be processed.

“Hey, what’s going on?”

Jensen turns to take in Jared, in a g-string and cowboy boots, sweaty and breathless. He’s wiping his face with a towel; it smears his eyeliner in a way that shouldn’t be hot. Jensen swallows and tears his eyes away from a trickle of sweat making its way between Jared’s pecs and says, “I dunno. Some kind of raid?”

Brows knitting in confusion, Jared whispers under his breath. Jensen thinks it could be ‘what the fuck,’ but he’s not sure. He’s never seen Jared look anything less than totally stoked to be taking his clothes off; right now he looks like someone you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley. Again: inappropriate thoughts get beaten back. It’s not hot. Not in the least.

“Don’t worry,” he offers. “It’s election time; probably just the Sheriff trying to pretend he’s tough on vice.”

“Yeah,” Jared says, mouth a tight line. “I should probably go get changed. Hey, raincheck on that beer, okay?”

“Sure. See you later.” He watches Jared slip out through the kitchen, only a slight pang at the idea of never seeing him again.

*

Hours later, Jensen’s about ready to actually commit a crime if somebody doesn’t come let him out of lockup soon. Like, say, murder. He’s got one or two likely candidates in mind, too. If Rosenbaum thinks this is funny, he’s got another think coming.

Jensen paces the ten-by-ten space again. He’d been shoved into a paddy wagon by a uniform, fingerprinted, photographed and given an orange jumpsuit. This is what happens when agencies don’t communicate. They forget operatives in the tank for twelve freaking hours.

“Hey man, sit the fuck down, you’re making me nervous.”

Jensen spares a look for his cellmate. One of them, actually; there’s five of them and one toilet. Overcrowding’s a bitch.

He stops pacing and folds his arms over his chest, reads the graffiti again. It hasn’t gotten funnier since the last time he’d read it, and the grammar still sucks.

There’s a double tap at the door, and a guy with a mustache says, “Anderson, Jensen, let’s go.”

He’s led to an interrogation room and shoved into a chair. Jensen side-eyes the one-way mirror and bites his tongue. Locals are always too cocky for their own good. In his experience, it’s the deputies and beat cops who like to throw their weight around. Quick to anger and quicker to shove a nightstick in your gut.

Mustache locks his wrists to the table and Jensen doesn’t even wince when the cuffs are wrenched too tight. Jerk.

Left alone again, Jensen counts the ceiling tiles. He’s exhausted, six weeks of night shifts catching up in a rush. It’s over, finally. He’s dying to find out what they got on Sheppard. He’s dying for a shower and a cheeseburger, too.

He taps out uneven melodies on the formica. More time passes, but this time Jensen knows he’s being watched. Obviously no one’s tracked down Misha yet, or he’d be free by now. So either it all went FUBAR or they found even more than they’d planned. Jensen chooses to believe it’s the latter.

They’d all worn Kevlar; SWAT infiltrated the back before Misha came in the front. At least, that had been the plan. Jensen’s meticulously detailed plan, that involved marking out the location of Sheppard’s arsenal along with the likely positions of his muscle at that time of night.

Yeah, there’s only one answer to the delay, which is that they’d got Sheppard and the entire shipment. Still, he’s about at the end of his patience. When the door finally opens, Jensen’s ready to cuss some people out.

And then he looks up at Jared in the doorway, looking like sin in a tight black suit and tie. There’s still eyeliner under his eyes.

“What the fuck?” Jensen says, rather eloquently, all things considered.

“Jensen, I’m Special Agent Padalecki, Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

“No.” For the first time, Jared looks flustered. He flips through a folder as he sits across the table from Jensen. “Uh. Sorry, about. Well.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jensen says, and lets his forehead hit the table.

"Listen. I don’t know how much you know about Sheppard’s operations—"

Jensen stifles a hysterical laugh.

"But the Lumberyard was the front for a fairly significant illegal operation and—"

“Jared,” Jensen looks up. Resolutely ignoring how adorable Jared looks when he’s uncomfortable. “Are you charging me with something?”

“Right now they want to hold you on criminal conspiracy, but I told them that you were new. And a janitor. I mean, you don’t have a record, so…” He flips through the folder again.

“No, of course I don’t—” He catches himself with a sigh. Yeah, he doesn’t have a criminal record and neither does ‘Jensen Anderson.’ He glances again at the mirror. He can’t afford to chance it and spill the beans, but god, he wants to. For one, it would get him out of this room and a lot closer to a cheeseburger. For another, Jared isn’t a professional stripper. Jensen has to shift in his chair and hunch, because all of those fiercely squashed, inappropriate thoughts are floating right back up to the surface.

Jared isn’t a stripper. He’s an FBI agent who only looks like he could be a stripper. And who also looks insanely hot in a suit.

But wait a second: if the FBI had someone on the inside, why didn’t they tell the DEA? They were supposed to be running a joint task force, for chrissakes. Jensen takes a long, deep inhale, willing his frustration at bureaucracy down to a manageable level.

“Of course I don’t have a record,” he says. He looks Jared in the eye, all the sincerity he can muster in his voice. “Are you telling me that Sheppard’s crooked?”

“Yeah,” Jared says. “That’s putting it mildly.”

“Well, shit. Does that mean that everyone at the club was, too?”

“That’s what we’re trying to assess right now. There’s been, um, well, a procedural mix-up between departments, and we weren’t exactly ready to pull the trigger on the raid, but somebody must have gotten antsy. Anyways, the upshot is that yeah, a lot of those guys either worked for Sheppard—like, illegally—or at least knew about it and didn’t say anything."

Jensen snorts. Procedural mix-up? Heads are gonna roll. Eight months of planning and he gets cheated out of his own bust because the freaking FBI can’t pick up the phone. “What kind of illegal are we talking about, here?” Jensen leans back the best he can, shackled to the table. Fuck it, might as well see what the Bureau knows.

“Well, I’m not really at liberty to say, what with you still being under suspicion of conspiracy and all.”

Jensen huffs a laugh. Jared’s pretty much failing at interrogating him. He’s willing to bet this is Jared’s first assignment. He makes a note to look it up later. “Right,” he says. “Listen, if you’re not gonna charge me, can I go? Or at least let me call someone. It’s been hours. I’m beat.”

“Yeah, I know. Believe me, if I’d known this was coming down tonight, I would have skipped my set.”

Startled into a laugh, Jensen says, “I guess so, huh. Man, you must be run off your feet.” Feeling like there’s nothing to lose, or maybe just delirious from sleep deprivation, he continues, “You were really good tonight, though.”

“Yeah?” There go the dimples. Jensen’s mouth waters. Jared looks almost shy; it’s kind of weird, given how little of his body is left to Jensen’s imagination. But Jared’s looking at the floor and—blushing.

“Yeah. Seriously, I never would have guessed you were a Fed.”

“Well, uh, thanks, I guess.” Jared shrugs. “Let me go talk to the Captain, see what we can do about getting you released, alright?’

“Yeah, alright. Thanks, man.”

Jared must have talked to somebody who talked to somebody, because forty-five minutes later he’s being told ‘not to leave town’ and climbing into a cab.

When he finally makes it home, he falls asleep in his clothes, with all the lights on.

*

“You epic asshole. This is on you. I spent twelve hours in the tank because of you and eight months of work are down the drain. You’re gonna have to lick my ass from now til Easter to make up for it.”

Misha looks up from his computer. “Well good morning to you, too, Mary Sunshine.”

Jensen tosses his coat over his chair and plops down, still exhausted after nine hours of sleep and roughly sixty-four ounces of coffee. “What the hell kind of clusterfuck was that last night? The Feds? Did you know they were inside the operation?”

“Of course not.” Misha leans back in his chair. “Believe me, somebody’s going to fall on their sword for this one, but it’s not going to be us.”

Jensen sighs. Doubts either of them will ever get the whole story, even if, come Monday some Deputy Assistant Director gets 'transferred' to a field office in the ass end of nowhere. “So what happened? You’re still alive, so I’m guessing it went well.”

“Yes, your enthusiasm for my well being is deeply touching.”

“Spill it, Collins.” Jensen opens the bag of donuts he’d bought along with his gallon-o-java and starts in on an éclair.

“Oh, did you bring donuts? Donuts might get you that ass licking you’re begging me for.”

Coughing donut out of his lungs, Jensen says, “Dude, no. Your tongue is never coming near my ass.”

“Fine, Ms. Fickle, you’re the one who brought it up. C’mon, I know you got me an old fashioned. Give it.”

“Talk first.”

“Yes, your detailed plan worked flawlessly.” Jensen takes a moment to preen. Damn right it did. “And they were still unloading the new shipment when we got there.”

“You pick up Sheppard?”

“We did, and two of his lieutenants. And a bunch of mules. Did you know he had frat boys do his distribution?”

“No, but that explains why Kane never kicked them out.”

“Mm. Him too. He didn’t come willingly; gave Rosie a nice new shiner. Took four guys to take him down.”

“Rap sheet?”

“As long as your arm. Come on, donuts now.”

“Fine, you big whiner.” Jensen tosses the bag over. “So, it sounds like it was a success all around.”

“Sure,” Misha says, spraying crumbs. “Unless you count the fact that the Feds were there hoping to nail Sheppard on RICO.”

“RICO? What the hell for?”

“Guess he’s in bed with Pellegrino.”

“No shit?” Jensen leans his elbows on his knees. “That’s huge.”

“Yep.” Misha licks his fingers one by one, loud pops as he goes. He’s such a cow. “Which is why Beaver’s not gonna let this one slide. Step on a few jurisdictional toes, you know, someone gets scapegoated but we take the win. This time we caught the minnow and threw back the whale.”

Jensen sighs, rubbing his palms into his eye sockets as he thinks it through. Beaver’s the Deputy Director of the FBI. One step away from the big chair. This SNAFU just got rolled in a pile of dog shit and lit on fire. At least that explains why nobody came looking for him last night.

“You think they’ll shit-can Tapping for it?”

Misha shrugs, equanimous. There’s never been any love lost between Collins and the head of their department. Still though, Jensen would hate to see Amanda take the fall on this one. If anyone’s to blame, it’s Jensen. He should have been more thorough in his research. “How’d we miss the Pellegrino connection?”

“Intermediary. Some Eurotrash douchenozzle.” Misha rifles through the stacks of takeout containers, coffee cups and papers on his desk—the man was obviously raised by wolves—until he comes up with what he’s looking for. “Sebastian Roché? Like that's a real name. Looks like he’s been laundering Pellegrino’s investments stateside. We never would have caught it alone, don’t beat yourself up.”

It makes Jensen’s teeth itch to know they were this close to landing Pellegrino, one of the top ten most wanted in the world, and it all went south because of some stupid strip club. Dammit.

“Is Tapping in her office?”

“What do you think?”

“Yeah, okay. Listen, when you’re done with your report, I want to look it over, okay?”

“Sure thing, sweet cheeks.”

“That never gets old.”

Misha grins at him. “I know, right?”

*

“Jensen, close the door.”

He’s got the same sinking feeling in his gut that he got every time he ever went to the principal’s office. He shuts the door and takes a seat. It’s been at least twenty-four hours since the bust, and Jensen knows Amanda hasn’t left the office since then, but she still looks immaculate. He doesn’t fidget as she flips through her notes.

“First of all, good job on the Sheppard case.” She flicks him a glance from under her lashes, then goes back to studying the folder in front of her.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“By now you’ve heard about the conflicting investigations.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Jensen shifts his weight to one side of the chair.

“If it’s true that Sheppard is working with Pellegrino, then that means we have the opportunity to bring down one of the biggest players in international smuggling.”

Jensen cocks his head. “You don’t think busting Sheppard prematurely wrecked our chances?”

“No,” she says and snaps the folder shut. She looks up with a smile. “Because we still have an ace in the hole.”

She’s looking at him significantly. Jensen waits.

“I want you to go back to the operation. Most of Sheppard’s crew is locked up, but we let Kane make bail this morning. Make contact with him and tell him you’re looking for work.”

“Okay,” Jensen says slowly. “But they know I’m a janitor. What kind of work am I looking for?”

Beaming again, Amanda says, “Tell him you were on the bantam weight boxing circuit and you’re interested in working security. Or, I don’t care, tell him you were a cagefighter. Your hand-to-hand training is excellent, Jensen. I want you to make use of it and get close to Pellegrino.”

Jensen stares at the nameplate on her desk and carefully doesn’t react. This is the stupidest plan he’s ever heard. It sounds like they’re trying to throw a Hail Mary, and he’s the football.

“Um,” he says. “Okay. What do we know about Pellegrino’s outlets stateside? Is Kane hooked up with him?”

“Yes. We’ve been working with the FBI’s people on this, and I believe that with a coordinated effort, we’ll gather enough evidence to prove racketeering and an organized connection between Sheppard’s importing and distribution, and Pellegrino’s human trafficking. Not to mention the numerous cases of homicide, bribery, intimidation, prostitution and gambling that are already pending against both Sheppard’s and Pellegrino’s crews. Jensen,” Amanda leans across her desk with the feverish light of true belief in her eyes. “Proving this connection will bring them all down.”

He’s got to admit, Amanda’s got a way of inspiring people. The possibility of sewing up RICO on these guys is making his heart beat faster. If they can pull this off, it would be a major blow to organized crime—not just in the U.S., but internationally.

But that’s a big if.

“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but yesterday none of us even knew about this connection. How do we know we’re not going to run into the same issue again?” There: Jensen managed to phrase it without even one cuss word.

Amanda sits back with a rueful grin and folds her hands. “That’s a fair question. We’re working with the FBI on this now. I’ve been in meetings all morning, debriefing with our colleagues.” The way she says colleagues makes it sound like small-time amateurs who like to pretend they can do our jobs. “And one of the more fortunate consequences of the debacle is a renewed interest in cooperation. We’ve got the full backing of the DOJ, and our task force now includes members of ATF, ICE and the CIA.” She studies her hands, still tightly clasped in front of her. “Nobody wants to miss this opportunity, Jensen. You’ll have full field support.”

Jensen swallows, throat dry at the thought of how suddenly huge this has become. No pressure or anything. “Okay,” he says. “What do you want me to do?”

He’s said the right thing, because Amanda’s smiling at him with all her teeth. “We’ll be the lead office on this one, and I’ve successfully lobbied to maintain your cover. Given Pellegrino’s ability to…get people to talk, your true identity will only be known to myself, Misha and Michael. Everyone else knows we have an asset on the inside, but no one knows it’s you. We stand a much better chance of retaining the element of surprise this way.”

Which is a nice way of saying that Jensen’s cover won’t get blown if Pellegrino decides to start torturing people. It’s sort of reassuring. “Uh huh.”

“Misha will brief you on what we’ve learned. Get in with Kane and get close to Pellegrino.” And just like that, he’s dismissed. Jensen blinks, stands up. “Oh, and Jensen?”

“Yeah?”

“Good hunting.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Jensen’s head is swimming. When he thinks about the ramifications of cracking this case, not just for the DOJ but for his career, he can’t help but wonder if he’s actually ready for the assignment. There are plenty of other, more seasoned, agents out there. Jensen’s ambitious, sure, but this. This is some seriously next level stuff. And if he survives it, he’s going to have his pick of assignments.

He buckles down and starts going over Misha’s notes.

*

“Cheeseburger, rare, and a beer. Whatever’s on tap.” Jensen hands the menu back to the waitress, who takes it with a smile. He is more than ready to finally get to eat this cheeseburger. He’s been thinking about it for so long, it’s become like, the platonic ideal of food. His mouth waters in anticipation.

“Hey, I called in a pickup order, burger and a milkshake for Jared.”

Jensen whips his head around at the voice. Of all the burger joints in all the towns in all the world…

“Special Agent Padalecki,” he says.

“Jensen?” Jared’s leaning against the diner counter near the register. He lights up with the smile Jensen’s come to associate with a corresponding hip wiggle, and for a moment, Jensen’s cock takes an interest, but with no hip wiggle forthcoming, control of his higher brain functions is returned.

“Yeah. What are you doing here?”

“Uh,” Jared runs a hand through his floppy—and definitely non-Bureau regulation—hair and says, “I live in the neighborhood. Getting dinner.”

“Wouldn’t have pegged you as the kind of guy who eats food like this.” At Jared’s puzzled look, he adds, “You know, carbs, junk. Milkshakes.” He grins.

Huffing a laugh, Jared says, “Yeah, I don’t usually, but it’s been kind of busy at work lately.” Yeah, Jensen bets. “What about you?”

“Me? Uh.” Jensen can’t admit that this is the closest burger joint to the office. He prevaricates. “Just was driving by. Got hungry.”

Jared’s biting his lip; Jensen’s cock is tuning back into the conversation. “No, I meant, you don’t look like you eat a lot of junk food, either.”

Oh.

“So listen,” Jared says in a rush, digging his thumb into the counter. “I’m sorry about having to lie to you. I mean, part of the job and all but. Still, it must suck to be out of a job and realize that your boss is a drug dealer and--”

Everything slows down, and Jensen can hear the words underneath Jared’s babble.

“Jared,” he says, and Jared stops talking. Jensen looks at him, steady. “You wanna get out of here?”

“Yeah,” Jared says. His smile is blinding.

*

They go to Jared’s place.

Jensen crowds Jared up against the door, wraps his hand around the back of Jared’s neck and pulls him into a kiss. He’s warm, radiating heat against Jensen’s chest and he opens up for Jensen’s tongue, lets him in with a little sound like he’s been waiting for this. He gets his knee between Jared’s and presses up; Jared spreads his thighs and grinds down onto him. Jensen groans as Jared bites his lower lip, hips bucking into the solid muscle of Jared’s hip. Jensen threads his fingers into Jared’s hair and uses it to position Jared the way he wants, biting the soft skin behind his ear, running his tongue down the length of Jared’s throat. He tastes like the ocean and he feels exactly the way Jensen had imagined he would. Taut muscles flexing under smooth skin. Jensen needs to see more; he slides a hand under Jared’s shirt, tugging the material up, but it gets caught on Jared’s holster.

“Here, wait.” Jared’s breathing it into Jensen’s skin. “Let me put this away.”

Nodding, Jensen uncages him and steps back. As Jared pulls out his Glock, double checks the safety and spins the combination on his gun safe, Jensen takes the opportunity to take a deep breath.

This is probably not the smartest call he’s made lately, sleeping with Jared. Particularly since Jared has no idea who he really is. He’s toeing off his shoes and stripping his shirt off as he debates the idea of actually leaving. He’s got his belt unbuckled when Jared comes back and kisses him, hot and fierce, tongue plundering his mouth. He’s still undecided about what he’s going to do when Jared goes to his knees and takes Jensen’s pants with him.

Jesus. Jared’s hands are huge. Jensen’s watched them wrap around poles and around dollar bills. Watched his clever fingers unbutton, unzip, undo. Now Jensen’s being undone, slowly taken apart by Jared’s hands and his mouth. Jared takes him all the way down, tight and wet; he looks up through his lashes, catches Jensen watching him.

With nowhere else to put them, Jensen sinks his hands into Jared’s hair, petting, just touching. He lets Jared set the pace and can feel the muscles strain in his jaw, his neck cording with effort. He slides to the back of Jared’s throat and oh fuck, “Jared, fuck, wait.” He doesn’t want this to be over too soon.

He urges Jared back. “Do you. Can we—”

"Bed, yeah." Jared's voice is wrecked, his hair mussed and damp with sweat. Yeah, fuck. Bed. Good idea.

Jensen kisses him as he stands up, mouth soft and bruised. He tastes himself.

"Come on." Jared tugs him by the hand. Jensen goes.

Naked finally, Jared's spread out beneath him, and it's so much different than the other times Jensen's seen Jared's body.

Jensen urges Jared's knees wider with his own; nails bite into his biceps as he runs a slick finger down Jared's balls, circling his hole. He guides one of Jared's legs over his shoulder and bends down to kiss him and Jared folds for him like it's nothing. Goddamn, Jared might be the bendiest guy he's ever fucked.

Hissing as Jensen pushes forward, Jared says, "What's your sport?"

"Huh?"

"You move like a fighter. Kickboxing?"

Preoccupied with how incredibly tight Jared is, and how badly he needs to just hurry up and fuck him, Jensen says, "Yeah."

"Fuck, that's so fucking hot."

Jensen's got two fingers inside now and Jared's breathing shallow and fast. "Condoms," Jensen says.

"Yeah, there--" Jared flails a hand at the bedside table. Jensen leans over far enough to snag the drawer and bat it open; he searches blindly til he comes up with a foil square and rips it open with his teeth. Rolls it down his cock and fumbles for the lube, lost in the sheets. "Fuck, Jensen, wanted you since I first saw you. Hotter than you have any right to be."

Jensen finds the lube, slicks up and he's pushing in as slow as he can, but it's not slow enough, because Jared's sucking air through his teeth, eyes screwed shut. He pauses, half way there and waits. The bruising grip on his forearms eases and Jensen says, "Good?"

"Yeah. Yeah just...gimme a minute."

Jared's so tight, so hot. Jensen turns his head, bites the tendon straining in Jared's thigh, and then kisses it. He holds his breath until God, finally, Jared's ready.

"Okay." And Jensen slides all the way in. Jared makes noise in bed; it's surprising. In all of Jensen's fantasies, he'd been as silent as he had been dancing on stage.

But real life is hotter; the filthy words, urging him harder, faster, the moaning, fuck. Hearing exactly what he does to Jared is like a feedback loop and Jensen's coming unstrung, his own pleasure fusing with Jared's until it's impossible to tell one from the other. And Jared keeps bringing him down for sloppy, open-mouthed kisses, small bites and tongue sweeping over Jensen's own. It's way more kissing than he's used to. Hell, Jensen's used to barely even knowing the guy's name; everything about this thing with Jared is different, and he starts to shake, long before he's ready to come. He watches Jared's face, the way the light reflects all the different colors in his eyes. He's so wrapped up in his sense of Jared—the sight, sound, feel, taste, touch of him that he loses track of time. It seems like only a moment before Jared's coming, head thrown back, eyes clenched tight, and Jensen slams back into his own body, following him over the edge.

He rests his head on Jared's shoulder until his breathing evens out, Jared running soothing hands down his back.

"Fuck," he says.

"Yeah," Jared breathes. He huffs a laugh. "Jesus, you. You're really good at that."

Jensen rolls to his side and pulls the condom off. "You're not so bad yourself." He leans down for a kiss before saying, "Bathroom?"

"Down the hall, turn left."

"Cool. Be right back."

"I'll be here," Jared says, and smiles, eyes half lidded. He looks fucked out and sexy as hell.

Jensen tosses the condom and grabs a towel, goes back into the bedroom, and Jared sits up to take it. "I got it," Jensen says. "Let me." Jared lies back, stretching his arms behind his head. "So, undercover stripper, huh?"

He can feel Jared's abs expand and contract with his laugh. "Yeah. It wasn't my idea."

"Did you like, have to study how to do it? Because you're seriously convincing."

Jared shrugs; Jensen tosses the towel and gets under the covers, resting his palm against Jared's still-rapid heartbeat. "Actually, I'd already had a little experience. I danced to put myself through college."

"Serious?" Jensen looks up into Jared's eyes and sees apprehension there. "I mean, that's cool. The FBI didn't have a problem with it?"

"Oh, I did it under the table. Paid in cash." Jared laughs. "Don’t tell anyone I told you that."

"Cross my heart," Jensen says with a grin. He leans up and kisses Jared again. This time it's less urgent, almost chaste.

"So what are you gonna do now that the club's been shut down?"

Jensen looks away, runs his hand across Jared's nipples, down his sternum. "Oh, you know. It's never very hard to find a job in the custodial arts. I'll be okay."

"How come you don't kickbox anymore?"

Jensen blinks, and then remembers Jared's assumption from earlier. "Um." Crap, he's gonna get buried alive underneath all these lies. "I got injured, been taking some time to recuperate."

"That sucks."

"Yeah."

They're both silent for a while; Jensen starts to nod off until Jared sits up slowly, dislodging Jensen's head from his shoulder. "So listen, I've got an early day tomorrow…"

Jensen's half way to dreamland, so it takes him an extra second to process what Jared's actually saying. When he does, it's ice down his spine. Jared's kicking him out?

"No, yeah, of course,” he says. You've got your hands full right now."

He gets up and starts hunting up his clothes. Jared gets up too, but takes his time, sorting through the various discarded items on the floor until he finds his underwear and slips it on.

His post-coital buzz is gone, replaced by a weird pit of…something. It’s a feeling Jensen can’t name, but it doesn’t feel good. Jared follows him out to the foyer and gives him a kiss.

“I had a great time,” he says.

Even though it’s getting harder to talk, Jensen says, “Yeah. Me too. If you want, I could give you my number. We could do it again some time.”

Jared squeezes his shoulder once and drops his hand. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. We’re from two different worlds, you know?”

“Oh. Sure, I get it. Well,” Jensen says, forcing the words across the desert of his tongue. “Take care of yourself.”

“Yeah,” Jared says, bright smile dimmed only a little. “You too.”

*

Monday he meets Mike and Misha at the new operation’s safe house.

“We’re calling it, ‘Operation White Whale,’” Mike says.

“Oh good, because that’s not ominous or anything.” Jensen slings his jacket over a chair and unbuttons his shirt. Mike comes over and starts taping the wire to his chest.

“It was Misha’s idea,” he says.

“What can I say? I love literature.” Misha’s fiddling with the recording equipment, headphones held up to one ear. “Say, test.”

“You’re a dork,” Jensen says, then adds: “Test.”

“We’re good,” Misha says. “This thing’s got six hours of recording time and a built-in wi-fi transmitter. Anywhere you can get cell reception, this will transmit. Which basically means you’re cordless.”

“Awesome.” Jensen’s so tired he can barely stay upright, let alone drum up false enthusiasm. All day Sunday, he’d gone over what had happened with Jared. Obsessed on it, actually. He’s never been kicked out of a guy’s bed before.

"Ackles, what crawled up your butt and died, man?" Mike's rolling up wire and shoving it into a bag.

"Huh? Nothing. Just tired." He can't remember the last time he'd wanted to spend the night with anyone, either.

"Well, you better get your head in the game, or you're gonna end up wearing concrete shoes."

"Yeah." Jensen rubs his eyes. "Yeah, I'm good." He gets up to go. He'd felt something. There's something there, he knows it. He couldn't have just imagined it, the way Jared had looked at him; it had been real.

"You sure?"

"Huh?"

"Seriously, are you okay?"

And Jesus, if Rosenbaum's noticed, Jensen must really look good. But it's not like he's got a choice; there's way too much riding on this for him to take a sick day. So he bluffs. "Yeah," he says with a grin. "Just had a late night, you know?" He accompanies it with an eyebrow wiggle.

"Ah," Rosie's furrowed brow smoothes out. "Dear Penthouse, I never thought it would happen to me—"

"All right," Misha cuts him off. "Your code word is 'satanic.' Say it and we'll extract you."

Jensen looks him askance. Rosie's grinning.

"What? You wanna pick the code word?"

"Just wondering how I'm gonna work that into a conversation is all."

"Well, it won't matter much, will it? Besides, adjectives are much subtler than nouns when it comes to these things."

"If you say so."

"Mike voted for 'walrus.' You're welcome." Misha's almost done packing up. "So let's go over the game plan one more time."

Jensen and Mike groan in unison. "Fine," Jensen says. "I get in with Kane, convince him I'm muscle for hire, work my way into the organization, become Pellegrino's bodyguard."

"Yes, thank you for the CliffsNotes. Mike, what's the name of our FBI contact?"

"Uh," Mike's scrolling through his notes. "Jared Pada-something." Jensen's heart skips a beat. He glances between Misha and Mike, but neither of them give a sign like they know anything. Of course not. He tells his stupid heart to shut up.

"Yeah, Jared. He mentioned that some of Sheppard's crew like to hang out at a place called 'Paradise Lost Lounge.'"

"I'm sensing a theme."

"Like I said, I'm incredibly well read," Misha says.

"Uh huh."

"Anyway, Jared says he's been in there a couple of times; they run numbers out of the back and there's usually a poker game going on. That's where you're most likely to find Kane."

"Ask for Heyerdahl, he runs it," Mike adds. "Hey, did you know Jared when you were undercover? Dude was a stripper. That's commitment."

He can feel his face heating up, so Jensen turns away, pretends to be adjusting his wire. "Yeah, I knew him. Never knew he was a Fed, though."

"Right?" Mike says. "Jesus, I don't even like dick, but I'd get on my knees if that guy asked me to."

"Charming, Mr. Rosenbaum. Can I continue?" Misha's looking anxious. Jensen's right there with him. "I guess this Heyerdahl's mobbed up pretty tight, too. He's a regular go-between for Pellegrino and his launderer, Roché. With a little luck on our side, we'll be well placed when or if Pellegrino himself shows."

"When," Jensen says, because luck's gotta swing their way at some point.

"Right, when. You all set?"

Jensen nods.

"Okay," Misha says. "Break a leg, Special Agent Ackles."

*

"I'm here to see Kane," Jensen says to the mean looking bouncer. "Tell him it's Jensen."

The bouncer looks like he'd rather eat Jensen's face, but after a second, he mumbles something into his wrist, then stares off as he listens to whatever the response is. He grimaces, but then jerks his chin, and Jensen's slipping past him with a nod.

He hasn't shaved in a couple of days and he knows, with the dark circles under his eyes, he looks much more the part of a down-on-his-luck petty criminal than he normally would. He should really thank Jared for helping him get into character.

Paradise Lost Lounge is, if it's possible, even skeezier than the Lumberyard. The girls on the poles don't look happy to be here. A lot of them look glassy-eyed, like maybe their paychecks don't make it out of the building. There's a couple that Jensen doubts are of age. He grits his teeth against the urge to hustle them out of the club and into protective custody.

Through the swinging double doors to the kitchen and down a flight of stairs, Jensen is stopped again, this time by a freaky looking guy almost as tall as Jared, but maybe half the weight. Jesus, he's got to stop thinking about Jared.

"Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for Kane," he says.

"Ah, you must be Jensen. I'm Christopher. This is my establishment; welcome." And the freaky dude bows.

"Uh, thanks."

"Follow me."

Jensen recognizes two of the guys at the poker table; one of them's Kane, as expected, but the other one's a surprise: Hodge, the bartender from the Lumberyard; it's disappointing in a way he can't put his finger on.

None of them stop playing when he enters, but Kane squints at him from behind a stubby cigar. "Jensen, to what do we owe the pleasure?"

"Hey. I heard you're the guy to see about work."

"You did, huh? From who?"

Shrugging, Jensen says, "From around."

"Hnh. Well sorry, kid, nothing around here needs cleaning."

"That's not the kind of work I'm looking for." He stands with his feet apart, planted, and his shoulders back. This is as much a bluff game as poker is. He tries to project how unconcerned he is.

One of the other guys turns to look at him, appraising. He grins like Jensen's a steak dinner and he's starving. Jensen holds position and waits. Cigar smoke curls lazy around the bare overhead bulb. "What else can you do?" Guy says, leaning back in his chair and spreading his knees. He's actually not bad looking: dark eyes, salt and pepper beard. In another context, Jensen might even go for it.

He swallows, the invitation or the threat is clear as day. He says, "With the heat that's been coming down, figured you could use a little extra muscle."

Kane snorts. "Oh you did, did you. And you're gonna be able to help out with that?"

Shrugging, Jensen says, "Yeah."

A look passes between Kane and Beard guy, who gets up and comes at him. He's telegraphing all his moves, and Jensen has no trouble getting him in a headlock, face against the wall. The guy laughs, like it's an unexpected joke.

"Not too shabby, kid." Beard guy smiles when Jensen lets him go.

"Get out of the way, Morgan. You're clearly useless." Kane drops his cigar in an ashtray and rolls up his sleeves. "Let's see how you do against someone who's not a senior citizen."

"Nice, Kane." Beard guy, Morgan, sits back down and picks up Kane's cigar.

Jensen gets his weight up on the balls of his feet, ready for whatever Kane might throw at him.

Anything except the leg sweep that lands him flat on his back, that is. All the breath knocks out of him and Jensen sees stars, but he flips back upright immediately and paces a semi-circle around Kane. There's a reason this guy's a bouncer, he remembers. Why he's the head enforcer in Sheppard's crew. He plays dirty.

Jensen decides that he can play dirty, too. He dodges a left upper cut and goes right for center mass, not pulling his punch to Kane's solar plexus. Kane oofs but doesn't go down, just snarls and attacks. A right hook has Jensen's head snapping back, and then there's a barrage to his kidneys. He wraps his arms around Kane, pulls him in tight and flips them, landing on top of Kane, who lands on the floor. He pins him down with his knees and from there, it's pretty simple to get him into a half-nelson, and Kane taps out.

When Jensen rolls off him, Kane flips sweaty hair out of his eyes and says, "Where'd you learn that trick?"

Quantico is probably the wrong answer. "Was on the Amateur MMA circuit for a while."

"Yeah? When? I never heard of you."

"In South Africa," Jensen says, not missing a beat. "You familiar with the circuit here?"

"I know some people," Kane says. He prods at his jaw and Jensen holds back a smirk. Kane sits back down at the table. "Might know some people who could use your skills, too." Kane tilts his head at the last guy at the table, the one who hasn't spoken yet. The guy sweeps a glance over Jensen and nods subtly.

He holds out his hand to Jensen and says, "Darling, these ruffians have terrible manners. My name is Sebastian; it's a pleasure to meet you." Jensen shakes Sebastian's hand firmly. "I'm going to be in town for a little while and could use a companion with your," he looks Jensen up and down again. Jensen doesn't flinch, but the urge to do so is strong. "Talents. Why don't you stick around for a while, and we can get to know one another, hm?"

And it looks like luck might finally be on Jensen's side for once. "Sounds good," he says.

"Hodge, bet or fold man, it's your turn."

Jensen looks over at Kane, who's looking at Hodge. Jensen had thought they were friends. Well, as much friends as you can be when you're lying. Still, he's surprised to learn that Aldis is in on the racket; he's a nice guy.

"I fold. Jensen, come take my seat." As he gets up, he slaps Jensen on the arm and says, "Good to see you." Jensen nods in return.

"Okay, the game is five card stud."

Jensen looks around the table and allows himself to relax minutely; he's in.

*

Mike hoots in his ear when Jensen picks up the phone. He holds it out and stabs at the speaker button, then goes back to making coffee. "Jensen, you dirty dirty dog."

"Rosie." Shit, he's out of coffee filters. Jensen hunts in the cupboards until he finds the paper towels and rolls one up into a funnel, stuffs it in the top of the coffee pot. "What do you want, man, I just woke up."

"It's one o'clock in the afternoon, this is not my problem."

"Mike." His cheekbone is still killing him where Kane had punched him. It'd swollen up like a grapefruit and even three days later, it's hard to talk.

"You banged Jared, didn't you, you man whore."

He fumbles the coffee, spilling half the bag on the counter. "What? Who told you that?" Fucking Mike and his fucking never-ending curiosity.

"Jared. Well, he didn't know he was telling me. I mean, he knew he was telling me, but he didn't know I know you."

"I'm hanging up now."

"Listen, I'm not blaming you, like I said: he's hot. But he's too sweet a kid to be subjected to the Ackles One Night Special, if you know what I mean."

"I have no idea what you mean. And anyway, it's none of your fucking business." As his brain reacts to the scent of coffee, coming back online, he adds: "How did that even come up?"

"Ha! I knew it, you did do the deed." There's rustling on Mike's end and when he speaks again he sounds muffled. "The kid's all torn up about it. He's been moping through our debriefs for days, I guess he just had to talk about it with someone."

Jensen doubts Mike's version of events very much. "What are you doing? Did you put me on speaker?"

"Yeah, but don't worry, he's not here. It's just me and Collins."

"Take me off speaker right fucking now or I'm going to break every bone in your puny little body."

"Pfft, fine, but you know I'm just going to give him all the juicy details later."

"Hi Jensen," Misha says. "I'm glad you're getting laid, you're way too uptight."

Jensen sighs. Resistance is futile. But he swaps a mug for the pot and steals the first couple life-giving ounces of coffee before he gives in, though. Also, now he's dying to know what Jared's moping about. All the asshole has to do is pick up a phone.

"Alright, yes, we slept together. But he kicked me out, not the other way around. What did he say to you?"

"Ooh, taste of your own medicine, Ackles? He just said that he'd met a guy undercover, and that he really liked him and all, but the guy's a civilian. He's worried that his job's too dangerous to be dating, but that he wishes he could find a way to make it work."

"He actually said that? That he wishes he could make it work?" Jensen's heart is expanding; it feels like gravity is losing its hold. He grabs the phone and stares at it, willing Rosie to talk more.

"Yeah, basically. I don't remember man, just something about how he's never gonna find the right guy, because he can't date a civilian and he can't date anyone at the Bureau. I didn't actually listen all that close."

"Seriously, every bone in your body." But the threat doesn't hold as much bite as it could; the weight on Jensen's chest has lifted and he feels like he could hug Rosie and his big, dumb, stupid interfering face.

"So I guess you want me to go ahead and tell him you love him, too?"

Jensen hangs up on him.

*

Following Roché around town is about as fun as Jensen thought it would be.

They go from a pawn shop—Roché likes gold chains—to a housing development—Roché checks on how well his product is moving—to a Vietnamese restaurant, where he meets up with Heyerdahl and orders squid. At least at the restaurant Jensen can sit at his own table and doesn't have to pretend that he's oblivious to the oily come-ons. It's almost like Roché's got eight arms himself; Jensen probably has bruises.

He's at a different table, with a view of the front and back doors, but he can still hear everything they're saying.

"Your new boy's quite the arm candy," Heyerdahl says.

"Oh, Jensen's a treasure, isn't he? Such a strapping young lad." Sebastian waves at him. "If he works out this trip, I'm considering bringing him with me to Thailand."

Jensen arches an eyebrow at his pho. It'll be a cold day in hell before he goes anywhere with that guy.

"Speaking of work," Heyerdahl says. "Mark isn't pleased with developments. Have you spoken with him?"

"Yes, he's quite upset. He's asked me to make arrangements for Mr. Sheppard when he goes upstate. Can you recommend anyone reliable?"

Slurping noodles from his chopsticks, Jensen strains to pick up their voices as they get lower. A hit on Sheppard, arranged by Pellegrino, is exactly the evidence they need.

"Now, Sebastian, you know I'd recommend someone if I could, but good help is hard to find these days." Heyerdahl didn't order food, but he's sipping fastidiously at a cup of tea.

"Don't I know it? This entire business just goes to prove you can't trust anyone anymore." Sebastian leans in towards Heyerdahl and Jensen can't hear them anymore. Dammit.

He keeps his eye on their table, hoping to pick up something from reading lips, but he's never been very good at that.

His wheels keep spinning on the idea of Jared missing him. He'd been elated at first, but had quickly realized that it doesn't change much. Either Jared continues to believe he's a civilian, or by some miracle this case closes successfully, in which case Jared still won't date him, because he's got some kind of hang-up about dating colleagues.

And yes, he's aware of the irony. Jensen himself refuses to date colleagues. Or well, to be more accurate, Jensen refuses to date, period. He can't remember the last time he'd met anyone like Jared, though. Jared is… Jared's the exception that proves the damn rule, and Jensen's basically fucked.

"Jensen, my boy, come along, we have to go warehouse shopping." Jensen looks up to see Sebastian standing at his table, and Heyerdahl long gone. Shit, he needs to keep his head in the game. Concrete shoes aren't even a joke with these guys.

Roché's been given the task of finding a new base of operations for Pellegrino's import business. With Sheppard out of the picture, it looks like Heyerdahl's going to be expanding his distribution channels. Short of being Pellegrino's personal bodyguard, Jensen couldn't have been better placed to get all the dirt they need to take the whole crew down.

They tour the docks, looking at one abandoned warehouse after another. Somewhat to Jensen's surprise, they're accompanied by a realtor. Roché's going to pay cash up front. It seems like a rookie move to leave a paper trail, until Roché's greeted by the realtor as 'Mr. Smith.'

From what little documentation Jensen had been privy to before he went back undercover, Sebastian's an accountant by trade, which makes sense. He's the one who's been able to keep Pellegrino clear of any evidence linking him to his businesses. Evidently Roché had started out legit, but owing to a little contretemps with an underaged 'exotic dancer' at a club that was run by Pellegrino, he's been under the guy's thumb ever since.

The lifestyle change doesn't seem to disagree with him.

"What do you think about this one?" Roché puts his arm around Jensen's shoulders and Jensen slowly disengages, pretending to be thinking about the question.

"Yeah, it's nice." He flashes a grin. "Good view of the harbor from here."

Arm firmly back around his shoulders, Roché guides them to the windows. Jensen grits his teeth. Maybe he should explain that he's too old for him, being that he's an actual adult. That probably wouldn't slow Roché down much, though.

"And it gets such good light. Do these windows face west?" The realtor nods. "Oh, the sunsets must be spectacular! What do you think, Jensen, wouldn't it be divine to have a quiet dinner here, watch the sea gulls over the water, and pretend we're the only people in the world?"

This guy can't be real. The realtor's looking at him like it would, in fact, be divine. Jensen sighs. "Yeah, that'd be swell."

Sebastian claps. "We'll take it!"

*

"Yeah, it's on Water Street, last one before the freeway overpass." Jensen shuts the refrigerator with his elbow. "Street address is six thirty-two."

"Got it," Mike says. "Good work, man."

"It's all falling into place." Jensen's getting a little excited; things are moving faster than he'd dared to hope. "I'm meeting Kane there later tonight, we're gonna work out the details on getting containers in and out."

"Awesome. Any word on when the next shipment's due?"

"I overheard Roché say something about expecting Pellegrino himself in with the next one. It'll have to be soon or there's going to be a turf war. We scooped up so much product, other importers are going to be looking at it like an opportunity."

"Yeah, we got people working that angle. Oh, that reminds me, Jared says hi."

Jensen freezes, orange juice carton halfway to his lips. "Shut up."

Mike laughs. "No, I'm just kidding. He still has no idea you're the asset."

"You are such a dick."

"You love me."

"Really don't."

"At the last task force debrief, the ATF finally decided to play nice and let us know they've got one of their own on the inside, too."

Jensen laughs. "What the fuck? Is there anyone in Pellegrino's crew that actually works for Pellegrino?'

"Not looking likely at this point."

"Do we know who it is?"

"No, it's a whole big quid pro quo political clusterfuck. They won't show us theirs til we show them ours."

"Jesus. Awesome."

"So don't go shooting anybody unless you can't help it. What else you got, Jenny?"

"Put someone on Sheppard if you didn't already. Roché's been putting out feelers for a professional, on Pellegrino's orders."

"Nice. Yeah, he's covered. Think we might get him to turn state's evidence, too—what? Misha's yelling at me to remind you to replace the battery on your wire."

"Got it."

"Well alright. As the boss lady says: good hunting, soldier."

"Aye aye, captain."

*

When Jensen pulls up at the warehouse, Kane's already there with Hodge and Morgan.

"Hey, kid." Morgan's grinning at him. Jensen finds it oddly charming.

"Hey."

"Jensen. Change of plans, man. Pellegrino's on his way down, he wants to check out the place himself."

Jensen doesn't react. "Oh yeah?"

"Guess he doesn't trust Roché's judgment."

Jensen nods, remembering that he's essentially a henchman here. His opinions don't count and asking questions will look suspicious. "Okay, what do you want me to do?"

"When they get here, just hang back. You'll know when you're needed."

"Kay." He follows Hodge and Morgan into what used to be the warehouse office. They set up the desk like a poker table. Guess they're used to doing a lot of waiting around, because they seem completely unsurprised to have nothing to do.

"So Aldis, you moonlight as a bartender, or were you always Sheppard's muscle?"

Aldis is the dealer this round, and he tosses out cards. "Nah, more like the other way around. It's this damn economy, you know?"

Morgan laughs. "Tell me about it. I'm under water on my mortgage, with two kids to put through college."

"Is that why you're in this crew?" Jensen's honestly surprised. Maybe it's too many Bond movies, but yeah, duh: who grows up dreaming of becoming Anonymous Henchman Number Two? Sometimes you just do what you gotta do.

Jensen's still going to arrest every single one of them.

Kane gets a call about an hour into the game and he steps out to take it. When he comes back in, he looks grim.

"They're here. Look sharp. Jensen, come with me."

Kane nods towards the door and Jensen looks first at Hodge, then at Morgan, who both shrug. He follows Kane outside. "Yeah?"

"How are you with semiautomatics?"

Jensen is excellent with semiautomatics, considering that's what his Agency-issued piece is. "I'm okay," he says.

Kane nods like that's what he wants to hear and hands him a Makarov—vintage, by the look of it—cocked and locked. Jensen takes it, sights down the barrel, double checks the safety, and tucks it into the small of his back.

"You expecting trouble?"

"Just stay on your toes. You might be hired to protect Roché, but Pellegrino's the one paying you."

"What does that mean?"

There are footsteps behind him, so Kane just says, "Follow my lead," low and dangerous. Jensen starts to sweat.

"Kane, " says a voice behind him. Jensen swivels and sees Heyerdahl, Roché and another guy, most likely Pellegrino. They're stopped in the doorway and Jensen's senses go on alert; he and Kane are bottlenecked between the office and the only escape route. The hair on the back of his neck stands up when Pellegrino smiles.

"Mark," says Kane, and shakes his hand. "Any trouble on the way in?"

"No, it was a delightful flight. Watched a movie, ate some peanuts. Who's this?" He gestures at Jensen.

"Oh, you must meet Jensen," says Roché, coming up and putting a proprietary hand on his shoulder. "He's been entertaining me this week. One of the silver linings in that unfortunate Sheppard business."

"Nice to meet you," Jensen says, and holds out a hand. Pellegrino looks at it and smirks.

"Show me around this dump, Jensen. Sebastian says you helped him pick it out."

"Uh." He looks at Kane, who gives nothing away. "Sure."

They single file into the main holding space and Jensen points out its access points, the defensible positions. There are still crates and pallets scattered around from the previous tenant, but the general floor plan is still evident. He'd emailed a sketch of the layout to Misha earlier, with all of these points mapped out. "And you can load in from the port without taking any main roads," he's babbling now, basically. He knows something 's wrong but he can't figure out which way it's going to go when the bullets start flying. Kane made it sound like he shouldn't try too hard to protect Roché. The weight of the Makarov is comforting at the small of his back.

"Good work, guys," Pellegrino says. He's smiling now, and Jensen can see Morgan and Hodge out of the corner of his eye, looking as uneasy as he feels. "But I don't like it."

"What?" Roché looks hurt.

"Yeah," Pellegrino's edging around now, and Jensen's getting the distinct sense he's being herded. "I just don't think I like the feng shui."

"But it's got everything you asked for—" Roché starts spluttering. It's not a good look on him.

"True, but here's the thing." Pellegrino pulls out a Sig 9 and aims it at Roché's head. "It's got a rat problem."

Quicker than Jensen can blink, Roché' has him in a headlock, with the Makarov aimed at his temple. Jensen is now the only thing standing between Roché and a bullet. He puts his hands up. Really, it's almost funny. Does Roché honestly think holding Henchman Number Four hostage is going to stop this guy?

"I knew you'd turn on me eventually, you bastard." Roché is spitting on Jensen's neck. "You think I didn't plan ahead for this?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees that Morgan and Hodge are armed and aiming at him, along with Kane. Heyerdahl's also pulled his piece, and the muzzle is resting against Pellegrino's temple.

"Come on, guys," he says, mouth dry. "No need to get all satanic, now." Damn Misha and his stupid code words. He's going to die and the last thing out of his mouth is gibberish.

"Shut up, Jensen." Kane and Roché say it in unison. Kane looks like he wants to tear Roché' apart with his teeth.

"You think I didn't know I had a rat, Sebastian? There have been too many convenient 'unfortunate events' around you." Pellegrino's talking like the gun at his head isn't even there. "My deliveries get disrupted, Sheppard gets witpro hours after I tasked you with putting him down. And the minute my plane lands, all of my assets get frozen. What's that saying about coincidences?"

"You think I did that? Mark, come on! You know I couldn't have possibly—frankly I'm not that smart. Besides, what advantage would it gain me? I have no desire to do your job."

They're edging behind a shipping container, but Jensen can see that it's a trap. Roché isn't thinking clearly, and there are too many guys to shoot a hole through. He tries to breathe slow and even, willing his panic down.

"Maybe not," Pellegrino continues to circle them as he talks. "But there's only one way to find out." The gun comes up level with Jensen's chest.

There are three shots, all at the same time. He doesn't think they're all aimed at him, but one definitely was, because his arm is bleeding. He hits the ground and rolls. The Makarov clatters at his feet and he grabs it with his good arm before ducking behind the container.

He checks his arm, doesn't think the bullet hit an artery, but it hurts like hell. His gun has been fired, so he cocks the slide and gets low to peek around the side of the container. There are two pools of blood on the floor, but nobody's down.

With all the concrete and metal, echoes make it hard to determine the original source of gunshots. Over the noise, Jensen is aware of the sound of choppers about one second before sweeping spotlights flood through the windows. That's followed by a booming voice saying, "This is the police. Put your weapons down and surrender." It sounds like Tapping.

Then all the doors roll up and SWAT's pouring in, aiming sniper rifles with scopes, red lasers leaving trails in Jensen's blurring vision. He thinks he sees Misha, and behind him, Jared, wearing Kevlar and a determined look. Thank god for the cavalry. He inches his way to standing, leaning heavily on the container. There are shots coming from all over the place now. He tucks the gun in his belt and raises his hands, making his way across the open space between the container and Jared. God, it's good to see him.

SWAT's clearing a path deeper into the building, Jared close behind. Jensen's maybe five feet away when he sees Heyerdahl, bloody but determined, take aim at the back of Jared's head.

"Get down!" Jensen runs, tackles Jared to the ground just as the shot goes off. They land in a heap and ow, fuck, that hurt.

There's another shot, close to, and Jensen rolls onto his back when Jared pushes at him. "Jensen?"

"Hey, Jared," he says. He's grinning, he knows, but he can't help himself.

"Did you just—" Jared's looking him over. "You've been hit."

"Yeah. Took one in the arm." Jensen's getting sleepy. Maybe he can just take a nap while Jared finishes up.

"Arm?" Jared's poking him, prodding at his ribs and it hurts. Jensen sucks air through his teeth. "Oh shit. Medic! We need a medic in here! Jensen, stay with me, now."

"Did you get him?" Jared's fuzzy. There's a lot of noise. Jensen's tired.

"Yeah, we got 'em." Jared says. "You." Jared looks upset. Jensen tries to comfort him, smooth his hand down Jared's hair, but everything's so heavy. "You're not a janitor, are you?"

Jensen huffs a laugh. "No, I'm not a janitor."

"Come on, Jen, stay with me." Jared's touching him, which feels nice. He nods, he knows: he's gotta stay with Jared.

"It'll be okay, Jay," he says. "I love you."

And then all the noise and light turn into a rushing in his head and he closes his eyes.

*

When Jensen wakes up, the first thing he notices is that his mouth is dry. The second thing he notices is pain.

"Ow," he says.

Somebody's laughing on the other side of the room. Jensen turns and sees Aldis lying in a hospital bed, eating jello. "Welcome back, Special Agent Ackles."

"Aldis?"

"Yeah, man. Good to see you."

"You, too. What are you doing here?" Jensen looks around. "What am I doing here?" God, he needs water.

"This is the hero's ward. It's where they put all the guys who get shot in the line of duty. Course, since it's the government, we don't get private rooms."

Aldis continues to eat jello, as if it all makes perfect sense. There's a pitcher of water and a cup next to Jensen's bed. He reaches for it, but rethinks that plan when an explosion of agony rips through his chest. "Ow," he says again.

A nurse comes in, cheerful peach scrubs with cats on them. She beams. "Mr. Ackles! Good to see you awake."

"Yeah," he says. "Water?"

She pours him a cup and sticks a straw in it, then hands it over. Ah, blessed, beautiful water.

"How are you feeling?"

"Crappy," he says. "What happened?"

"Well, you were shot in the line of duty, once in the arm and once in the back. Thankfully, no major organs were damaged, but you had significant internal bleeding. It was touch and go there, for a while. What do you remember?" She's fiddling with the machines he's hooked up to and taking notes.

Jensen leans back and considers. The warehouse, Roché holding a gun to his head. Jared? Yeah, Jared was there. "Pellegrino's warehouse. Did we get him?"

He looks over at Aldis, who smiles. "Yeah, we got him. He surrendered and cried like a little girl."

"For real?"

"Well, maybe he didn't cry, but he's in custody."

"What about the others?" Jensen wiggles his cup hopefully, and the nurse refills it for him. "Did anyone else get hurt? Wait a second—" The clouds are lifting slowly but surely. "Aren't you a bad guy?"

"ATF," Aldis says, laughing. "Believe me, I never would have guessed you were DEA. Good job on your cover story, man. My money had been on Morgan."

Jensen thinks about that. "Is he okay? Morgan."

"Yeah, he's alive. Sweating it out in lockup, but he's okay. Kane, too."

"Good."

"So, Jensen, do you think you're up for some visitors?" Apparently satisfied with the bleeps and whirrs of the machines, the nurse had put his clipboard back in its slot next to his bed.

"Sure." He tries to scoot up in bed, but that makes the pain worse. "Ow."

"Here, this button is for the morphine drip, and this one is to call the nurse's station. If you want to sit up, press this. Now don't go crazy with the morphine. It'll only dispense once every two hours, but if you're really in pain, let me know, okay?"

"Okay," he says. Now that he's awake, he'd rather take the pain and stay that way. "Who's here?"

The nurse stands back up. "Some of your co-workers, I believe." She looks over at Aldis. "You've seen them, right?"

"Yeah, there's been a couple of weirdoes and a really tall guy hanging around, waiting to see you. The tall one ate your jello."

"Shall I send them in?" The nurse is smiling again.

Jensen knows for sure who the weirdoes are; he can only hope he knows who the tall guy is. "Yeah."

Misha's holding a mylar balloon that says, "Congratulations, it's a boy!" Mike's got a teddy bear wearing bondage gear, and behind them, Jared's just standing there, looking gorgeous and alive and not full of bullets.

"You had that teddy bear already, didn't you, Mike?"

"What are you talking about, I bought it in the gift shop. Here." He tucks it in between Jensen's shoulder and the bed rail.

"Thanks," Jensen says, dry.

Misha tethers the balloon to the end of the bed. Jared's still just standing there, smiling. "I uh, didn't get you anything," he says, ducking his head. It doesn't hide his dimples.

"That's okay," Jensen says. "I mean, now that I've got this teddy bear, I'm all set."

"Yeah," Jared says, laughing.

"So," Misha says. "We're all real glad you're not dead."

"Tapping says 'good job' and you should call her when they release you." Mike says, and adds: "I think she's gonna throw you a pizza party."

Jensen laughs. "We get all the bad guys, or what?"

"Yep, Heyerdahl's dead, Roché is in protective custody—took a bullet in the gut—and Pellegrino's locked up in a deep underground facility. Hopefully never to see the light of day again." Mike's perched at the end of his bed. Jensen kicks him.

"Huh," Jensen says. "Guess that Hail Mary worked out."

"We're working with Interpol to hash out jurisdictional issues," Misha says, rolling his eyes. "You wouldn't believe the bureaucracy with those guys."

Yeah, actually Jensen's pretty sure he would. He can't keep his eyes off Jared, or the goofy grin off his face. Everybody stands around for a while, silent, until Misha finally clears this throat. "So, uh. We're gonna go. Get well soon; call me later." He grabs Mike by the arm, who squawks and flails at him. "Jared," he nods at Jared. "Aldis, pleasure to meet you. Glad we didn't kill you."

"Me too, man." Aldis tilts his jello cup at them in salute.

And then it's just Jared standing at the side of his bed, and Aldis trying to look busy, flipping through channels on the TV.

"Um." Jared says.

"Yeah," says Jensen.

"So."

"So."

"I'm sorry I didn't—"

"I know you don't—"

"What?"

"No, you go ahead."

"Um, I was just gonna say… Maybe when you get out of here, we could grab a burger or something." Jared's blushing. Jensen bites his lip.

"I don't know if you noticed," Jensen says. "But my job's kind of dangerous." Jared looks up, eyes searching. Jensen grins. "Things could get messy."

"Yeah, that's true. Huh, well maybe you're right. Maybe we should just skip the burger."

"Maybe so. My recovery's going to require some pretty intense physical therapy, though. I've been thinking about looking into strip-aerobics. You know anyone who gives lessons?"

Arching a brow, Jared gets closer to the bed. He reaches out a hand, and it hovers over his arm. Jensen holds his breath. "Yeah? I might. Maybe we can arrange a swap? I'd like to learn some of your moves."

"That seems reasonable." Jared's fingers are warm as they skim Jensen's wrist, the back of his hand. "We could work out a trade."

"Private lessons?"

"Yeah," Jensen breathes, reaching up a fraction to meet Jared's lips as they close against his own. "Sounds like a plan."

"Hey Jensen?"

"Hm?"

"I think I might be a little in love with you." It jolts down Jensen's spine, and he suddenly remembers what he'd said, back in the warehouse. His toes curl, and his smile breaks into a laugh.

"Well, I guess it's a good thing the feeling's mutual."

And Jared kisses him again.

"You know, I'd say get a room, but—" Jensen grabs the teddy bear and chucks it at Aldis. He knows it hits when Aldis hollers. "Seriously, you'd think the government could at least afford a curtain or something. Next time I get shot, I'm asking for an upgrade."

THE END