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Teaching Him to Trust

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Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter One

San Francisco, California, 2014:

The Bay City had been home to many since it was first created. It saw men and women of nearly every color, nationality, religion and more come to work, live, or in many cases hide, looking for a fresh start.  Its many diverse neighborhoods catered to nearly everyone, and if one looked hard enough, he or she could find nearly anything in this city.

Of course like any city, San Francisco had its not so nice sides; people and formally nice neighborhoods changed over the years, but one thing that hadn’t changed in the Lower Haight neighborhood was the stately old St. Lucy’s Church. It was Catholic by denomination but would preach to and care for anyone regardless of color, race or religion.

While the neighborhood had changed around it, the church and the nuns who took care of the it along with the shelters and daycare behind it hadn’t changed much, especially not the no nonsense old nun who ran it all with a warm heart, kind eyes, and a fist of steel hadn’t changed and wouldn’t ever change.

Sister Rose McCarthy had been at St. Lucy’s since the 1960’s. She’d seen the city go through several changes, some good and some not so good, but she refused to budge on her standards no matter who might gripe and complain.

The 70 year old had been in charge for the past 25 years, and while she understood that the neighborhood had changed, she didn’t see a reason to change her rules for either the shelter or who should or shouldn’t be allowed to stay there.

“We’ve never had an age limit on who can live in the shelter when a need comes up,” she was replying while snipping dead blooms off of her rose bushes in the back garden of the church rectory. “Are you planning on telling the old men who live in the alleys on Madison that they can’t stay here on a cold or rainy night as well?”

“Of course not but the occasional stay is far different than the case we’re discussing, Rose. I understand your feelings on the matter, but you have to see where the opinions of some of the congregation must come into play.”

Father Patrick was new to St. Lucy’s; he’d just been given the job six months earlier after the former priest in charge had been killed in a shooting.  The young man was merely 25 and freshly given the title.  He cared deeply about helping others, but understood that in this day and time they had to play a little politics to keep the Church as well as the shelter running.  This was an act that the older nun did not approve of.

“I am not barring the boy from having a place to stay in the day or night just because a few snippy people feel he’s odd,” Rose replied, her Irish accent coming out more as she turned to face the Priest.  She glanced over to where they could see the newly built playground. “The children adore him and he never says boo to anyone else so I fail to see what the problem is.”

Following the nun’s eyes to the playground, the young dark haired priest could see the tall young man tossing a ball to several of the children in their daycare program or who might be living in the side of the shelter that cared for abused spouses and their children.

“That’s part of the problem, Rose. The fact is that while the smaller children enjoy and like the boy, if an older one or an adult, male or female, touches him or speaks with him, he flips out. That can be very disturbing,” Father Patrick declared, wishing he could learn more about the young man in question but there were very few records since Rose didn’t keep such things. “Sister Martha says he’s been here since he was 12 years old. Where did he come from? Where are his parents?”

Rose huffed out a breath, pulling her gloves off to run a hand back to pat at a stray strand on unruly light red hair that was tinged with silver now. “Patrick, as you were told, the shelter accepts those in need without question. Jared was found by Father Thomas huddled in an alley outside a store. He was badly hurt and traumatized to the point that it took me six weeks just to learn his name. He was like a wounded animal those first few weeks, so he’s naturally skittish with strangers and adults; he was clearly abused.”

Father Thomas had read this in the few reports the new priest had located. It was believed that the boy, Jared, had run away from either his home or a foster family after being badly abused in all sorts of foul ways.  He had been living at the shelter ever since; he was too easily spooked to consider placing him with another family.

The physical wounds could still be seen as some of the scars had been bad enough to remain on the now 22 year old young man that Father Patrick had been introduced to shortly after arriving, but it was clear that the emotional scares were just as bad since the boy hardly spoke more than a word to anyone unless it was to a small child.  Even after 10 years, he would jump or lash out if anyone tried to touch him.

“He could be mentally ill and dangerous, Rose. You never took him to the authorities, so if he was in fact a runaway there could be people looking for him,” Patrick rubbed the bridge of his nose as he watched the young man stoop to tie a small boy’s shoe so he didn’t trip.  He noticed that Jared had tensed when a small group of teenagers entered the playground. “Has he ever told you where he came from?”

Rose had also seen the teenagers and knew they weren’t from the shelter, but the local boys also used the playground to play basketball on. Normally she wouldn’t have noticed them except for a few problems they’d been having lately.

“The only thing he would tell Thomas is that he couldn’t recall anything of his life before he was five. The people he lived with hurt him and did things to him until finally he got brave enough to hide on a truck coming into the city.   He said he’d run until he died rather than go back.” The nun had been protecting the boy since he’d collapsed into her arms sobbing and begging that she not send him back.

“He was a child, Patrick. The sadists raped that boy.  The clinic we took him to because he was bleeding so badly and because those scars on his neck looked infected said it was plain that he’d been sexually and physically abused for years before he escaped whatever hell he was living in.” She glanced back to the priest to glare at him. “There was a man who came to look for him, and I told that devil that Jared wasn’t here because I wouldn’t have turned a wild dog over to that man much less a traumatized little boy who barely knew how to feed himself or dress himself much less play or do the things children do.

“Jared has a brilliant mind but can barely write his name because he doesn’t know how to trust another person to be close to him to teach him.” Her attention was torn between making certain the playground remained safe and keeping an eye on a car that had just driven past a few times as if searching for something or someone.

Even today Sister Rose and her nuns sometimes had to turn away someone sent by that evil man who had hurt Jared, and it worried her that even now they were still searching for her lost and battered boy, so she was always on guard to shield him or deflect interest.

Those were things she could do so long as she knew were Jared was, but it was the nights that he didn’t stay at the shelter, nights that she knew he’d slept on the street or in some back alley that scared the older woman.

Jared was a sweet innocent boy in a handsome young man’s body, and while he instinctively would fight back against even a casual touch, it always worried the nuns that one day he’d be ganged up on and wouldn’t be able to fight back. Sister Rose knew he’d come in recently with bruises on his wrists but had backed away when she’d asked him what had happened.

“He’s taken to sleeping in alleys because he knows you don’t want him here, Patrick,” she said using her best guilty tone on the young priest.   While there had been times since Jared had gotten older that he might stay away for a day, he almost always slept in the same back corner bed that he’d taken as his own since the nuns had convinced him he didn’t have to sleep in a closet. “Those streets are dangerous now and he’s a boy. How will your conscience feel if Jared’s beaten up, killed or worse since we both know what people out there would do to a handsome boy like him?”

The priest knew he was hitting a brick wall; he didn’t want to see the boy casted out anymore than the head nun did, but he was being pressured by others. “The shelter runs on donations, Rose. Several people who donate a lot of money don’t feel it’s sending a good image to allow Jared to be so close to the little kids. They don’t know what he might do or if he’d hurt them like he was hurt because he wouldn’t…Rose, put those down.”

“Patrick O’Shea! I should do more than threaten you with my shears for even suggesting that Jared would ever touch a child much less hurt one like he’s been hurt,” Rose snapped, poking the tip of her pruning shears into the young priest’s clean white shirt. “You let one person say to me that they fear he’s a danger to those wee ones and I’ll be pruning your precious congregation by knocking a heads together.”

“Rose, you have to understand that as much as you want to help people, there are some you can’t help and others that you have to let go,” the priest argued.  Suddenly a noise from the playground had him looking up to frown. “This is what I mean. He attracts trouble and children or people could be hurt.”

Rose looked over and pursed her lips while reaching for her cane that she’d used for many years to knock the sense into hard headed boys. “All I see if five smart mouth street kids ganging up on Jared when he was minding his own business. Look!  He is trying to protect the little ones,” she huffed, shoving her basket of trimmed dead roses into his chest. “I’ll go handle this like I always have while you go make…policies with the people who are more interested in hurting than helping.”

Staring as she stormed past him to head to the playground, the priest saw one tall but muscular teen swung a hard fist into the face of the person he and Rose had just been discussing.  The priest shouted for her to come back before quickly following her.  Both failed to notice the shiny black car that drove past the Church for the third time in under 20 minutes.

The car, a bright and shiny black Mustang, finally pulled over in front of the old stone Church that had seen better days to allow its owner to step out to look around.

The man was tall at 6’1” with a pair of dark glasses covering eyes that were a deep emerald green when he wasn’t wearing the light blue contacts he tended to wear on stage.  The slight wind off the bay ruffled dark blond hair streaked with lighter blond highlights. These highlights showed up more when his hair was at the length it was now; not as long as it had been the last time he’d stood on this sidewalk but still long enough on top that it spiked when styled or restless fingers moved through it.

Moving around to the sidewalk to take a good look at the battered front of the Church, he could see the roof had several spots that needed to be fixed, the doors needed to be replaced or painted, and the bricks could use refacing; the buildings for the shelter and daycare didn’t look much better.

It had been ten years since he’d seen St. Lucy’s and the old nun who ran it; the same nun who had changed his life by not giving up on him and encouraging him to seek his dreams.  Ten years that had turned a would-be bad boy, one who’d been on the very rocky road to either a cell or an early grave, into a rock star and sex symbol.

Sex symbol.  Those words never failed to make Jensen Ackles smirk since he’d be the last person to ever consider himself a sex symbol. Hell, he still argued about the rock star status, but since his last two records had gone gold within weeks and the debut songs both went to number 1, it was hard to argue that point any longer.

The packs of screaming fans that tended to follow him, even stalk him when they could, provided additional proof.   It was those crazy fans that had sent Jensen away from his record label, his tour schedule, and the wild and crazy life back to the city of his birth and to the closest thing he’d ever really had to a home if it was only during the day.

Jensen had been born into wealth but as he’d learned when still a child, he’d also been born into a family that seemed to attract media attention of the not so good kind.

He’d been five years old when he had his first taste of the media after his high profile lawyer father was sent to prison for hiring a man to murder his cheating wife and her lover.  The events left Jensen a virtual orphan and in the custody of his grandmother.

Sarah Ackles has been the matriarch of the family since her husband had been killed in a plane crash when most of her four children had been small.  She’d taken what she had and held the family together as best as could, but by the time her eldest son had been sent to prison, she was really too busy and tired to raise another toddler   Her youngest daughter had been involved in a scandal when she had an affair at 16 with a married diplomat, her second son joined the military only to be killed in combat, while her third child, thankfully, seemed content to marry, become a doctor and live in New York.

Jensen had mainly been raised by nannies or other paid staff while Sarah took care of the various Ackles businesses both in the city and around the globe.  So while she loved and adored her grandson, she just didn’t have the time to properly raise him and that had led to trouble.

Most of the nannies and caretakers had seen him as just a paycheck, so by the time he was ten he’d figured out that they basically just let him do whatever he’d wanted as long as he was still polite, well-mannered, and knew the correct fork to use when in social settings.

By the time Jensen was thirteen, he was roaming the streets on his bicycle and getting into minor mischief. His private school had seemed too restricting to the outgoing boy; he tended to dislike order and being told what to wear or do. He also tended to not like the other kids who seemed too stuck up and only interested in spending their parents money.

While Jensen admitted now that he’d been spoiled and he’d never wanted for anything, he didn’t like knowing he was living off either his grandmother’s money or his small inheritance since he hadn’t come into his first trust fund until he was eighteen.

He had the best clothes, the best shoes, the best toys any boy and then teenager could ask for, but there’d always been something missing. It wasn’t until he was sixteen that he’d figured out what one of those things had been and it had come in the form of a stern nun with a firm hand and a stubborn streak to match Jensen’s.

By the age of fifteen Jensen had started running with the wrong group of kids and by the time he’d hit sixteen he’d already been picked up for picking pockets, minor vandalism and was on probation for trying to steal a car.

The last one hadn’t been his idea or even something he’d wanted to do, but it had been hard to say no to Kyle, his best friend and also the head of the gang that Jensen had found himself becoming involved with.

It had been Kyle who got him to steal the car, but then he had vanished and left Jensen to take the fall because he knew Jensen’s family name would keep him out of jail or from serving too hard a sentence.

It had been Kyle Marks, wannabe gang leader and thug, Jensen knew now, that had been responsible for a lot of the crap that had gone on in his life back in the years between sixteen and eighteen.

Jensen had felt like he’d been living two lives back then. The soft spoken, polite (if still a little snarky) teen his grandmother and her society friends saw and then the rough, tough, bad attitude, hell bent to cause trouble no matter who it hurt teen that he was around Kyle and the others in the gang of boys who had been steadily increasing their mischief to flat out crimes.

That had been how Jensen had run afoul of Sister Rose McCarthy one night when he, Kyle, and several of the others had been out late slitting tires, breaking windows in old buildings, and tagging buildings with spray paint.

He’d been reluctant to go out because he had a history test the next morning, and while Jensen would sneer at school, he actually did enjoy most of the dumb classes.  He didn’t want to flunk the history test, but he was getting tired of being sneered at by Kyle so he’d gone.

A lot of the crap Kyle had been doing or having the others do hadn’t been sitting well with Jensen, especially the night Kyle had pulled a knife on a young nun to take her purse and rough her up. That had been the first time they’d come to blows and also the last time Jensen had spoken up since it had been hard to cover the damn broken rib and black eye he’d gained for shooting his mouth off to his ‘leader’.

The night he’d met Sister Rose had just been supposed to be a night of casual and simple mischief.  Jensen wasn’t sure how the night ended for the others because he’d been the one caught red-handed with the can of spray paint by a testy nun on the lookout for troublemakers and with a swift hand that wielded a mean cane.

He’d been pissed off at something Kyle had suggested; something that involved a lot more than Jensen had wanted to get into, so when the gang leader had dared him to spray paint a crude message on the front door of the Church he’d snatched the can rather than risk losing face in yet another way.

The message had been half done when Jensen happened to look up to see his so-called friends running into an alley a block over.  Before he could figure out why, a hard object had swatted the can of paint from his hand while an irate older nun was in his face reading him the riot act.

To this day Jensen didn’t know why the hell he hadn’t just bolted over the railing to run instead of just standing there and letting the fiery nun, who was probably only 4’9” if that, yell at him before dragging him inside by his earlobe to continue the stern lecture while waiting for both the police and his grandmother to arrive.

Normally when Jensen went out late, he left his real ID at home and used the fake one Kyle had made for him, but on that night he’d had his actual real ID with his real name and address on it. Since the angry nun already had that information, he’d just blown out a breath and rattled off his grandmother’s phone number with the silent hope that she was out at some charity function and would miss the call.

He’d rather face breaking his probation and sitting in a cell for eight months than seeing the disappointment on Sarah Ackles’ face when she learned that he’d been grabbed defacing a Church.

It hadn’t been that simple because of course she had been home and had come right over at the nun’s call as had the damn same cop who’d picked him up the last time with the car.  Jensen knew right then he was screwed because Liam Murphy was a stern beat cop who took no quarter and didn’t give it.

Jensen had simply sat despondently in the church office while his grandmother and the police officer argued about hauling him to jail.  They thought just letting him sit in juvie for eight months might teach him a lesson but that had simply made Jensen smirk.

He knew he was in trouble, so as a defense, he’d let all the snark and the cocky punk side come through until he thought for a moment the cop was going to hit him.  It was seeing his grandmother start to cry, however, that made him back off, and that had been when Sister Rosie had moved in.

Maybe she’d been playing semi-good cop to Murphy’s bad cop, but she’d slapped her cane on the desk to be sure she had his attention.  All Jensen understood was that she was offering him a shot to stay out of a cell and keep his already spotted record from becoming spottier provided he played by her rules for the next six months, stayed out of trouble, and avoided Kyle and his other friends.

The last one had been the hardest.  Once it got out that Jensen was going to the church and shelter every day after school, it seemed like Kyle or a few of the others would always make it a point to ride by or wander close enough to jeer and make fun of him.

Sister Rose had stood out front each day of the first week as he scraped the door by hand and then repainted it. She’d merely stood there quietly as he debated on whether to join his friends or keep his promise, but after the fifth time it happened, she’d patted his cheek.  Jensen understood that this had been the gruff old nun’s way of telling him she was proud of him for resisting the temptation.

After the third week, while he’d been pulling weeds in the rat’s nest of a garden beside the original shelter building, she’d started talking to him more, asking him about his dreams, what he wanted out of his life or if he planned to live off his looks and his granny’s money.

The one made him smirk while the other pissed him off because he didn’t want to live off the Ackles’ name all his life. He wanted to make his own money, build his own life, and maybe try to make himself into something that would make his grandmother proud of him.

Back then the shelter had mostly been for battered women and scared kids, so they’d pretty much stayed away from him while he swept or cleaned up or did any of the other number of odd jobs Sister Rose thought up and she could think up some doozies that made him smile to this day.

On one of the days that it had rained, he’d been working inside scrubbing crayon off walls when a small, skittish little girl with big blue eyes, a broken arm, and a ragged toy cat with both eyes missing came over to sit next to him while he scrubbed.

Jensen had never been around children that much and especially not one that had been so hurt so badly.  She rarely left her mother’s side, but for some reason the small girl had come out to glue herself to his side. Wherever he’d gone in the shelter that day when Jensen would look, he’d see her following him on shaky little legs. When he’d stopped to eat the lunch his grandmother had packed him, he split his orange with the child.

Her bright smile when she’d first tasted the fruit had made him happy. After that each day Jensen would see her waiting in the door to the children’s playroom and if he was working inside, she’d follow him.  If he wasn’t working inside, she’d wave out the window until at lunch time he’d go share whatever fruit or snack with her.

After a month of this, Jensen realized he was now splitting his lunch with about six little kids, but he never bitched or complained to Sister Rose.  When she finally asked him about his little following, he’d just shrugged and said he didn’t mind the little rugrats.

During the third month he’d been taking a break from washing windows outside when Kyle had gotten brave enough to approach him.  The older boy said he had something for him to do so ditch the cleaning and come on, but Jensen didn’t want to go and had ignored the older boy.

It had been little Callie, Jensen’s first little shadow, who had screamed only a second before a fist swung a brick at Jensen’s head for his refusal. Her scream had saved him from being hurt, and that had been the first time he’d ever swung back and actually drew blood from his friend.

By the time Father Thomas and Sister Rose got out there, Kyle had run off, pissed and yelling threats, but all Jensen cared about was stopping the little girl from crying.  She’d clung to his neck when he’d sat down to rub his stinging hand and after a minute or two, he stopped rubbing his hand to begin gently rubbing her back.

That had also been the first time he’d sung to anyone but himself, and he hadn’t even realized he had started to sing until after a few minutes he’d realized Callie wasn’t crying anymore.  Instead, she was now smiling up at him with her thumb in her mouth as she rocked herself in his arms in time with the soft lullaby he’d been singing to her.

After that Jensen hummed or sung a little if it was just him and kids that were brave enough to come around him.  He didn’t think anyone else noticed until finally one day, while he was waiting for his grandmother’s driver to pick him up, Sister Rose had asked him if he enjoyed singing and he’d smiled his first real smile at her because singing was what he loved.

Jensen loved music. All types of music. Not just the rock or rap most of his friends had listened to, but he enjoyed classical, oldies, jazz, blues, and even some opera although he had to work really hard to stay awake for that.

He loved to sing music, he loved to write music, and he loved to play music though, as he admitted to Sister Rose, he only got to touch an instrument when in school since his grandmother didn’t know yet. As soon as he saved some of his own money, he was going to buy a guitar and take some lessons.

Those lessons had come more quickly than expected and from Sister Rose herself.  She’d been waiting for him the very next day with a battered old guitar that she told him had been in storage.  She’d had lessons herself years ago and, she could teach him enough to get him by until he found a better teacher.

The next months of his ‘sentence’ had quickly passed by with odd chores, playing with the kids, and learning enough chords to actually play Callie a song that had the little girl clapping and laughing.

Even after the months of work were up, Jensen still went back to help out. He’d begun to bring the kids who were in the shelter new blankets or toys to play with.  When Father Thomas asked how his grandmother felt about him spending money on strangers, Jensen had told him the truth. He hadn’t spent a dime of his grandmother’s money. He’d spent his own money instead: the money he was given each week as an allowance, and he’d done it because he wanted to see the kids smile.

Now, as he stood on the sidewalk to gaze between the church and original shelter building, Jensen could recall handing little Callie a new stuffed cat and how she’d clung to it and to him. That had been the last time he’d seen her smile, the last time he’d seen her at all, because when he returned from a three day trip with his grandmother, he was met with devastating news. 

In some ways he supposed it was that day, the day that he’d been met by a grim faced Sister Rose, that Jensen truly understood his first taste of grief.  It had felt like something hit him in the heart when he was told that the small child and her mother had both been killed by the woman’s enraged husband after they’d moved into a new ‘safe’ home.

It would have been so easy for Jensen to slip back to his old life.  He’d been filled with rage and grief and when Kyle approached him later that night, trying once again to goad him into making a drug run after trying a little product, he’d nearly given in. 

He’d almost given in to the pain, thinking of a world that could so fail such a small trusting girl.  The despair had left him sinking down, but as he’d gone to touch the needle, a flash of blue eyes hit him and his fist had struck Kyle in the face.  It was only three other gang members pulling him off that kept him from beating the crap out of the older boy.

Of course now Jensen knew that that had been the beginning of the end for his old life.  Only two days later he’d been he’d been jumped and beaten while walking back to his car, the car that had been a gift from his grandmother for his 17th birthday.  He had just made a quick stop at a small store three blocks from St. Lucy’s to grab some treats for the kids when Kyle and two other boys attacked.  The beating would have been bad enough, but the knife to his gut had been meant to be the lesson learned as Kyle cruelly told him dying in a gutter is what traitors deserved.

Jensen, to this day, didn’t really know how he’d gotten from his car to the church; all he remembered was collapsing in the garden and telling Sister Rose who had stabbed him and that he was glad to have met her. Then he’d passed out and didn’t regain consciousness for two weeks.

The knife wound had been serious and he’d nearly bled out.  Not even the specialists Sarah Ackles had called in could tell her how Jensen had managed to survive, much less survive without any damage other than a jagged scar on his stomach that he still carried to his day.

Sister Rose had visited him each day after he woke up, bringing him drawings the children had done or helping him get strong enough to hold the battered guitar she’d brought to his room because she didn’t want him lying in bed with too much time on his hands.

By the time he’d been released, Officer Murphy had been there to tell him that the police had picked up Kyle and the others.  If he wanted to press charges, then they stood a good chance of seeing the inside of a prison since by that time Kyle and those he’d had with him were of legal age.

It had been a brief struggle with himself since Jensen knew if he pressed charges, if he turned on his former friend, then his reputation would always be that of a snitch.  When he’d learned, however, from Father Thomas that the gang had tried to beat up Sister Rose for standing up to them one day, Jensen’s mind had been made up and he went with his grandmother’s attorney to file charges.

By the time the trial was over, Jensen had been threatened repeatedly, the shelter egged and spray-painted, and even his grandmother’s home on Nob Hill had been damaged.  He hadn’t given in, he hadn’t backed down, and he had stood in the courtroom while a judge sentenced his former friend to 20-years for attempted murder with the possibility of parole for good behavior.

It had been Sister Rose who had encouraged him on his 18th birthday to take his love of music and go with it.  She believed that he was gifted enough to go far if he stayed with it, if wanted it bad enough, and that’s what he’d done.

He’d come into the first of his trust funds at 18 so he’d given a third of it to St. Lucy’s and the shelter and had taken the rest to move out of the Bay City to see how far he could go.

Ten years later found him returning to the spot where his life had changed.  He was now a star of rock and roll, a man who lived off his own money and left his trust funds and inheritance in the bank.

Now as he slipped out of his black leather bomber jacket and tossed it back into the Mustang, he stared at the  church and shelter buildings.  They were obviously badly in need of repair, and Jensen decided he might be making another withdrawal in the very near future.  His friend in the city always kept him informed, telling Jensen when the Church needed repair or it looked like Sister Rose was in need of another anonymous donation.

He’d donated anonymously because the stubborn old nun wouldn’t take money if she knew it was from him because she didn’t want him spending it when he wasn’t around to see it put to use.

“Well, I’m here now so we’ll see what her excuse will be,” he muttered to himself, leaving the sunglasses on against the bright afternoon sun.  He glanced around and saw a few kids playing on the sidewalk while he could hear others playing around back in what looked to be a small playground that had been built sometime since he’d been gone.

Jensen had only returned to San Francisco once in 10 years, and that had been to see a friend of his who’d opened a bar in the city, but he hadn’t stopped to see anyone else due to scheduling conflicts.

The reason he was back now was because of a too close encounter with a rabid fan.  He had been left with some bruises, six stitches in his side, a torn muscle in his leg and a slight concussion.  He’d told his band, his manager and the tour promoter that he was taking the next six months off to try to lose some of the stress he’d been fighting, maybe work on some new music and just find himself again.

His first stop after dropping his stuff off at the home he owned in the city was St. Lucy’s.   He wanted to finally look the little stern Irish nun in the eye and thank her for giving him his life. He’d felt a little worried at first as he drove around the block a few times until finally parking, but it was on his second pass that Jensen had noticed that not only the church had changed but the neighborhood had as well.

It was harder now, with more bars and other places of a less than savory nature, but it was the groups of young men on a few corners that pricked his curiosity as well.  The gangs had never really gotten this close to St. Lucy’s before, so Jensen wasn’t certain he felt comfortable with this; he wondered if Officer Murphy was still on the San Francisco PD since he hadn’t yet seen a cop.

“Hey, mister,” a boy of about twelve called from the church steps where he’d been bouncing a ball on the sidewalk so it’d bounce back to him. “Cool car!”

“Thanks,” Jensen returned but paused before turning and eyed the bright-eyed Latino boy. “What’s your name?” he asked as he moved closer to the steps; he smiled when he heard a definite Irish accent somewhere toward the back.

“Carlos,” the boy answered as he snapped the ball again only to have it caught in mid air by the older man.  In the boy’s eyes, the mad had to be pushing middle age, he might even be thirty, so that impressed him.

Jensen recognized the shirt the kid had on as one similar in color to the shirts a bunch of boys had been wearing.  He’d seen them when first entering the neighborhood so that already warned him of potential trouble. “You stay here or just hang out looking for trouble?” he asked while flipping the ball off the palm of his hand to catch it behind his back.

“My sisters get help with their schoolwork while Mom’s at work so I wait to walk them home,” Carlos admitted, a little uneasy under the firm eyes that seemed to be staring into him from behind the cool dark glasses. “Me and my friends don’t cause Sister Rose any trouble. Not like some others.”

“Well then I think we can come to an understanding.” Jensen leaned on the railing a step below where Carlos sat to hand him his ball as well as a fifty-dollar bill. “I’m going to be hanging around here a lot so that means my cool car will be here a lot. Now, the money isn’t to leave the car alone but to tell me who in this neighborhood does bother Sister Rose or the people here or in the shelter.”  He waited until fingers touched the money to tighten his grip on it until dark eyes looked up. “My car gets tagged?  I’ll find you and your friends to have a little talk.”

Carlos had seen a lot of people come and go through the doors of St. Lucy’s but no one like this man. He didn’t dress or talk like some of the people Father Patrick had been talking to or who came to services, and he certainly wasn’t like the man that Sister Rose chased away with a hoe one day. He liked this guy so Carlos smiled. “What’s your name, mister?”

“Jensen,” came the reply as Jensen started to reach for the gate to the garden.  He froze when he heard the first shouts from the rear where the playground was. “Shit, what the hell’s that?”

“Donny Mueller and his pals must be after Jared again.” Carlos had hurried down the steps to join Jensen by the gate, groaning. “Oh man, Sister Rose is going after them and Donny carries a blade and…”

Jensen’s hand clamped down on the kid’s shoulder while eyeing the distance to the playground through the garden. “Is there a shorter way to get to that playground?  And give me a short report who’s who and what’s going on since I’ve been away for a while.”

“Cut around the side of the daycare building since that’s how people can access the playground from the street,” Carlos told him, hurrying to add, “Donny and his pals don’t stay at the shelter but hang around to cause trouble, especially if they can catch Jared without Sister Rose or Sister Martha around.  No one else will stand up for him and Jared won’t defend himself against them.”

“Why are a bunch of thugs picking on some little kid?” Jensen growled under his breath while glancing back to see a strange look on the boy’s face. “What?”

“Jared’s not a kid, mister. He’s old, probably early 20’s but…he’s a little…according to my uncle, he’s not right in the head or something.  I don’t know, but he’s always been nice to my little sisters. He still talks to me; I’m not big enough to scare him. It’s grownups like you or teenagers that freak him out, and he gets beat on by Donny’s gang a lot,” Carlos explained, staring as a shout was heard. “Shit!”

“Watch the mouth, kid,” Jensen told him, but then broke into a run when he heard a voice he knew he’d have to be dead to forget. “Damn it, Rose,” he groaned.

Sister Rose had stared down stoned hippies in the 60’s, so a sneering punk with a switchblade didn’t faze her in the very least. The young priest who was keeping her from defending a young man under her care was bothering her very much, however. “You will get your hands off of that boy and take those hooligans with you as you leave the playground, young man,” she ordered in a huff, shoving at the muttering priest. “Patrick, you’re in the way.”

“You’d better mind your business before this freak ain’t the only one bleeding today, old woman.” Donny was tall; not as tall as the young man he was threatening, but the three young men with him as well as the razor sharp switchblade he held in his hand made up for that. “When are you going to stop hiding behind the old bat’s skirts, freak? You know the boss’s rules. You cross into our alleys, you have to pay, and we know you’ve been sneaking in to sleep there.  So you either fork over the cash I know the nuns slip you or…you pay in another way since we hear that’s about all you’re good for.”

“Don’t you dare threaten him in such a foul way!” Sister Rose suspected that might be what was happening from the way Jared had come into the rectory a few times shaken and quiet like he had been all those years before. “If you don’t take your hands off of him I’ll…”

Donny had his fist curled in the ripped and dirty t-shirt of the tall, broad-shouldered, long-haired man that nearly everyone in the neighborhood talked about in whispers.  He jerked his head toward the nun and the priest as the little kids scattered in fear. “Show her what it means to stick her nose in our business while I teach the freak a lesson.”   He drew the knife back only to yell when it was caught in a tight grip.

“Still kicking ass and taking names while I’ve been gone, Rosie?”









Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Two

“Still kicking ass and taking names while I’ve been gone, Rosie?”

The unexpected male voice got several different reactions from Donny as his wrist was twisted back until the thug had no choice but to drop the blade and release the grip he had on the young man whose pale face was mainly covered by unruly brown hair.

“I’ve been doing that since before you were born and I’ll be doing it until the good Lord calls me home.  Now stop sassing me and watch your back,” Sister Rose huffed while hurrying toward the backpedaling boy, confident that the other hoodlums would be handled. “Don’t break them too badly, Jensen. I don’t want the police on my door.”

“The police should be on your door,” Jensen muttered, but he stepped back to avoid the fist that Donny aimed at his head as soon as he was released. “The gangs get stupider since I’ve been gone?”  He dodged another badly thrown fist while dropping to one knee to lash out with his leg, taking out the ankles of one of the other teenagers who’d been willing to jump a…

While dealing with the four would-be assailants, Jensen caught his first glimpse of the person they’d been trying to beat up and understood what Carlos had meant when he said he wasn’t a boy.

From this distance he couldn’t be sure how old he was or how tall he was, but he did catch a brief glimpse of wide, glassy, shadowed, hazel eyes filled with fear as he scrambled back away from where Sister Rose was trying to calm him down.  The priest merely stood there looking unsure what to do.

“You boys think it makes you big and tough picking on someone else?”  He caught a wrist as a fist was thrown to hit him in the face, meeting surprised eyes with a crooked smile and a lot of his old snark. “It’s not so much fun to attack someone who fights back, is it?”  He twisted the arm until the teen yelped before shoving him away, stepping on the blade just as a hand went to pick it up. “Leave it because I promise if you come at me with a blade it won’t end well…for you.”

Jensen’s lean rangy build and his height of 6’1” made him a natural athlete, and while he hadn’t played any sports in school, he did take some martial arts classes as part of a self-defense course at his manager’s insistence and now kept up with it to help keep himself in shape.

It also appeared it was going to come in handy now that he was back in San Francisco as he spun while standing to grab the ringleader by the throat and shove him back against the fence while his three friends took off running.

“Make sure you understand this, and tell whoever the hell leads you little punks.  I don’t ever want to see your faces close to St. Lucy’s, Sister Rose or her nuns, or any of the people staying here.  That includes that boy because if I do see you, it won’t be the damn cops you’ll deal with but me.”  He took a step closer while also tightening his fingers just enough to make his point. “Do we understand one another?”

“Yeah, I get it,” Donny gritted, gasping as he was let go, but he paused as he went to leave to sneer at the new man. “You don’t want to make a habit of defending the freak. It won’t make you real popular with the boss.”

“Try to touch that boy again while I’m here and your boss and I might be having a chat,” Jensen returned not backing down from the hard stare or looking away until Donny was well off the playground and out of sight. Jensen let his shoulders relax and bit and then turned to face Sister Rose.  “Seriously? You take on four punks when one of them already has a knife out? Doesn’t that go against all those rules you tried to drill into my head about looking before I leap?” he griped as he pocketed the switchblade and he turned, ignoring the wide-eyed young priest, and began to move to where Sister Rose had stopped to kneel on the blacktop still speaking softly to the young man who’d backed away until he’d hit the side of the building.

“I didn’t see those lessons coming into play just then, boyo,” the Nun replied with a huff, hating to take her eyes off of poor Jared but wanting to see her would-be knight in shining armor for herself. “Well, you certainly grew into those skinny arms, Jensen Ackles.”  She eyed the lean build and ruggedly handsome face with a sharp eye before nodding her approval at the young man she now saw. “I guess I can see why some of the girls gush and drool over your pictures in magazines.  I merely say I knew him when he was just a skinny thing with a mouth and an attitude.”

Reaching a hand up to catch his wrist when he was close enough, she squeezed it like she had when he’d been that skinny boy just trying to find himself. “Why’re you back home, Jensen?” she asked, concerned, as she caught the tension in his jaw and also noticed how he hadn’t removed his dark glasses.  The nun suspected the young man was hiding something since she could always read his eyes to know his inner thoughts. “Is something wrong?”

“Aside from finding you facing down a punk with a knife, nothing that can’t be fixed now that I’m home, Sister Rose,” Jensen assured her, patting her hand before dropping into a crouch near the young man. “Hey, you okay?” he asked while reaching out only to freeze the moment the kid cried out and tried to pull himself under the back of the board.

“Sweetie, it’s alright,” Sister Rose was saying, aching whenever she saw Jared reverting like this. “No one will hurt you, but we need to get you inside to see if that fool cut you.”

“No! Go…way.”

Jensen had stopped to try to get a better handle on the kid and the situation. Now that he was closer, he could tell he was mostly all leg; he watched them stretch out while he was backing away from the touch. He wasn’t a boy, but he also wasn’t that old either.  From what he could see of the long pale face with a rounded jaw, he looked to be in his early 20’s.

The long hair that covered most of his face right then was a soft brown with streaks of blond that looked too white to be natural.  Jensen had enough experience with hair dye to know that someone had streaked this kid’s hair for some reason. The natural color was perfectly brown and should have been left alone, but what caught his eye even more was the light scarring that he could see running on the side on his neck and up his jaw.

The scars bothered Jensen for some reason that he couldn’t define right then, but what also bothered him was the heaving chest and near sobs he could hear the boy make as he tried to protect himself from being touched.

Even after leaving the Bay city to begin his career, Jensen had kept a piece of that hard jaded teen that he’d been because it helped to shield him from those in the world who would have taken advantage of what might have seemed like a pretty boy with a soft heart.

Jensen knew his heart hadn’t been soft in a lot of years; he’d intentionally hardened it to avoid the pain that he’d felt only twice.  Now, just hearing the quietly shaking voice was causing that wall to crack because in a lot of ways this tall, big eyed, frightened boy reminded Jensen too much of a blue-eyed little girl who had first taught him to care about someone else.

“Hey, take it easy. I’m not going to hurt you,” he murmured, settling onto his knees on the pavement about two feet from where the kid had finally stopped.  He lifted both hands with the palms out to show he meant no harm, ignoring Sister Rose and the young priest who were bickering softly behind him. He kept his focus on trying to calm this kid down enough to get him inside. “What’s your name?”

“Oh, his name’s Jared,” Father Patrick finally spoke to this new young man absently as he tried to decide what to do.

He wasn’t certain who Jensen was or why the nun was letting him take the lead on this. She wasn’t even correcting him on his use of violence; he wasn’t certain that he approved of him when he suddenly found himself pinned by deep green eyes.

“Did I ask you, Padre?” Jensen shot the Priest a steady look as he finally slipped his dark glasses off, hanging them from the collar of his t-shirt. “No, I asked him his name.”

“Jared doesn’t speak to strangers or adults,” Father Patrick replied a little stiffly, not used to this tone or casual disrespect from anyone. “He barely speaks with the children.”

“Well maybe if you’d talk to him and not at him, he might begin to trust you enough to talk to you,” Jensen returned before turning his back on the shocked priest.  He rolled his eyes and gave a reassuring smile to Jared, catching the slightest change in his breathing; he was also able to see that he had gained his attention even though he’d buried his face in the arms that were wrapped around his knees again. “Hey there, kiddo.”

When Jensen’s third album had gone gold, he’d received a fan letter from a nurse in a London hospital who was writing for a young boy who was a fan, but was currently in a self-induced catatonic state due to traumatic injuries. She was hoping perhaps a visit from his musical idol might help.

Of course all the powers that be, including his manager at the time and his PR person, insisted that while visiting sick and needy kids was good PR, this might not be the right patient, but Jensen had gone anyway.

It had been a media and security nightmare, but Jensen had visited with the sixteen-year-old boy who had been abused by his foster parents and the cult they were a part of. The kid was a shattered shell, but by the time Jensen left two hours later, he’d actually smiled at him.

After that Jensen made it a point to visit various hospitals in whatever city he was in and while he would pop in to almost every floor, it seemed like the ones he visited the most were the ones with the little kids or the most traumatized ones.

He felt a special connection to young men and women like this young man in front of him now.  A part of Jensen understood that these people might just need someone to talk to them and not treat them like they were damaged goods because no matter how much they were hurt or how scared they might be of life or people, they were still alive in their minds and just needed to see that not everyone was going to hurt them.

“Jared? Is that your name?” he asked softly, letting his voice slip back to his more normal one because he could tell with one look that a raised or deep voice around this kid would shatter his fragile hold on calmness. He waited until he thought he saw just the slightest nod of a shaggy head to go on. “I’m Jensen. I’m going to sit down right here but I’m not going to come any closer or touch you if you don’t want me to, alright?

“I get that you’re probably scared after that little scene. It’s never fun to have some asshole wave a knife at you. I should know since I had an up close and personal experience with a blade back when I was younger than you so I get the fear, but Sister Rose and I need to know if the asshole cut you or hurt you so…can you nod for me if you’re hurt?” he asked carefully.

“Rose, let me get the boy so we can get inside,” Father Patrick encouraged a little impatiently while waving back several people who’d come out to see what was happening. “We’re drawing a crowd.”

The older woman stood up to brush off the knees of her slacks since she never wore her habit while gardening; she noticed the way Jensen had tensed at the priest’s words but she was more surprised to see the slight change in Jared, who actually seemed to be calming down some with the soft voice speaking to him.

“Patrick, go inside the rectory and place a call to the captain to inform him of what just happened,” she told the priest in her most reasonable tone, noticing his pinched face but refusing to lose her temper just now. “I know you don’t like involving the police, but I swore to keep him informed, so go call him while Jensen handles this.” She paused to look back before adding with a tight smile, “If you tried to touch Jared now he’d more than likely run off and Jensen would…”

“Jensen would forget that collar you’re wearing and hit you for making a stupid move like touching this kid when it’s not time to touch him yet,” Jensen spoke up without looking at the priest, keeping his eyes on the single hazel eye that had slowly appeared to stare at him.

Father Patrick stiffened at that. “Now see here, I don’t know who you think you are or why you think you can just come in here and take over, but if you don’t start showing the proper respect, I will have to ask you to remove yourself,” he snapped, voice rising.

Jared, who had just started to begin to relax, tensed again at the loud voice from the priest; this priest still scared him anyway since he wasn’t like the kindly Father Thomas.

“Hey, c’mon now, you were just looking at me so don’t go hiding away again because of him. He’s not going to hurt you, and he’s going to lower his damn voice when close to you.” Jensen didn’t bother to look back until he shot a quick smirk over his shoulder at the priest. “Unless he doesn’t care about getting that sagging roof repaired that is because if I go my donations go with me.”

“I’m certain the church can do without whatever small amount of money someone like you can…” Father Patrick started to say only to finally have the nun push him back with her finger in his face.

“For shame on you, Patrick!” she chided with a cluck of her tongue. “First off, St. Lucy’s never turns away a donation no matter how small. Second, this young man could probably afford to buy and sell our whole property ten times over with just his personal fortune never mind his family money.”

Sister Rose was not at all pleased with this young priest and would be making a call to the bishop if his attitude didn’t change soon. “Father Patrick O’Shea, this is Jensen Ackles…who according to some of the girls is a very hot rock and roll star: he also happens to be the grandson of Sarah Ackles and also one of my more popular success stories.”  She watched the realization dawn on the priest while Jensen merely shook his head and rolled his eyes at her description.

“I only succeeded because of you, Rosie.”  Jensen smiled at her fond huff and because he knew his affectionate nickname for the nun would annoy the priest. Then his whole focus went back to Jared when he realized the boy had actually lifted his head to lay it over his knees and gaze at him with the one eye not covered in hair. “So that got you to look at me. Was it the name or her use of ‘hot rock and roll star’ that finally made you want to peek out from under all that hair to see me?”

Jared wasn’t sure what it was. He knew that normally he wouldn’t have looked at anyone but Sister Rose and that was only if she was alone or with Sister Martha, but something in the voice speaking to him had caught his attention and made him feel strangely safe.

Jared knew he was weird. He’d heard that all of his life or at least for what he could remember of his life.  He had become used to how others in the shelter or in the neighborhood looked at and treated him. He didn’t care for being talked about like he wasn’t even there, but accepted that it was normal for him, so when this man, Jensen, actually asked for his name, it shocked him.

No one except Sister Rose or Father Thomas had ever asked him his name; it had been years since anyone had spoken directly to him while expecting an answer. Most people just assumed what they would of him but Jared had learned early on to not speak or risk being punished.

The life that he remembered began at about the age of five; he didn’t remember anything before that time but he knew that everything seemed to change in a way that he didn’t understand. These days he tried not to remember his previous life, but the flashes were coming back and scaring him.  It was so hard to handle these terrifying memories without anyone to trust; he worried that if he confided in anyone, they would make him feel guilty over what Jared knew were his mistakes.

He never spoke to anyone, not even the warm-hearted nun or old priest, of the exact horrors that he’d suffered from the age of five until he’d finally taken the risk one day to run.  He had gained his freedom at about the age of 12 and had been praying since the day Father Thomas found him that he was never found and dragged back to the farm in the hills.

Jared accepted that he was a freak like Donny said. He didn’t speak to anyone but the little kids, and that was because in too many ways Jared felt like he still related more to them because in his heart he was still that same small child that had been so damaged.

He had learned what little he knew from TV, and he could barely write his first name.  He only remembered his first name since his last name had been wiped away as easily as his life had been when he’d been taken from… he didn’t know where he had been from but this city and the farm with the apple trees was far from there.

He’d grown up since running away from the farm; he wasn’t sure how old he was to be honest.  He basically existed day to day, just trying to live his life without drawing anyone’s attention.  He ate what the shelter provided or what he picked up from behind clubs or bars, he slept at the shelter or hidden in an alley, and he spent time each day playing with the younger children at the shelter …before the trouble with the gang started.

Now he was scared to be anywhere because the priest and some others didn’t want him here, but the alleyways were becoming increasingly dangerous for a much darker reason.  While Jared knew he was sick and dirty, he’d rather be dead than to allow that gang to use him like he’d been used and hurt before.

Donny’s threat today had hit home and Jared had almost been tempted to just run into the water that he knew surrounded this city and sink until he was dead.  Sister Rose couldn’t protect him and the priest wouldn’t so Jared felt alone without anyone to help him and he’d rather be dead then be used as a sick toy again.

When the gentle voice of the handsome young man who was sitting close to him, much closer than Jared normally allowed anyone, spoke to him, he let himself pay attention to it because no one ever spoke to him these days except the little ones.

It was the kids who didn’t make Jared feel like so much of a monster or a sick freak. They let him play with them and never made fun of him for not speaking.  They didn’t laugh or tease him when he jumped if anyone went to touch him or stare at the scars that still bothered Jared when he could bring himself to look in a mirror.

Most of the scars that he escaped with had faded, and those he still had were mostly covered in his worn and tattered clothes.  His clothes were fairly ragged since it wasn’t always easy to find clothes to fit someone his size.  While most of his scars were kept covered, the scar on his neck that spread onto the side of his face wasn’t easy to hide, and Jared knew it was this scar that people looked at the most.

He didn’t want pity or sympathy. He’d rather just be left alone while he hid and tried to forget the images in his mind.  He had dreams of a life without fear, but he also knew he was wicked and wrong for more than the things he’d allowed to be done to him and that was probably why the new priest hated him so much.

Jared realized that Jensen was still speaking to him as he also heard what Sister Rose called him; that was what caused him to shift his head enough to actually look at the man beside him.

Jared had seen the singer on TV, had heard his voice on the radio in the shelter, and had seen his pictures in magazines the girls in the shelter (and a few of the younger nuns) kept secretly, so he knew exactly who Jensen Ackles was or at least who he was when on stage or in front of a camera.

It was a little hard for him to reconcile that famous singer with the young man dressed in worn jeans, a simple t-shirt, and boots sitting on the ground talking to him like he gave a damn if Jared had been cut by the knife or not.  Yet he found himself actually wanting to reach out to accept the hand that had been held out slowly.

“Will you let me just touch your hand enough to get you inside the shelter so Sister Rose can see if you’re cut?” Jensen was asking, starting to let out a low growl at the priest who was still hanging around.  “Jared? I know you don’t seem to like being touched and that’s all cool, but if it’s just your hand, can I help you up?”

“Rose, it’s because of incidents like this that people in the congregation are concerned about…him being here so much.” Father Patrick had pitched his voice low but not low enough since he was still close enough that his words were heard.

Jared had known the Priest wanted him gone, but he had been holding out hope that the head nun would still overrule that since normally it was Sister Rose who made the decisions for the shelter. Now he wasn’t certain and that made him start to breathe heavier again until the touch of a finger on his hand made him look to see gentle green eyes.

“She won’t let him put you out, kiddo,” Jensen assured him softly after hearing the priest’s words a second before Jared had tensed.  He realized then what was causing Jared’s fear and took a huge risk by touching the boy’s shaking hand with even a finger. “Sister Rose won’t let anyone hurt you. I mean, she’s fierce. Have you seen her whack someone with that cane? Of course I’ll forego mentioning what it feels like to be the one whacked with that cane since I felt it when I was sixteen, but I was a smartass so I deserved it.”  He softened his smile as Jared stopped shaking at his touch. “You’ve got those huge puppy dog eyes going on.  That’s gonna melt her heart, and I bet if you smiled it would melt even the coldest heart.”

Jared couldn’t recall the last time he smiled; even his shyest smile was rare, but he almost felt a corner of his mouth curving at those words until the priest shot a disgusted look over towards him.

“He doesn’t smile,” he told Jensen in a snap, clearly frustrated. “He doesn’t speak, he won’t allow anyone but a five year old to touch him, and I promise you that if you go to touch him now, he’ll either start fighting you like a wildman or he’ll scream like someone’s…”

“Hurting him?” Jensen’s eyes had gone to slits as he’d finally had all he was going to take from this so-called priest, shifting so when he turned his body was shielding Jared. “How old was he when he came here? How long did the abuse go on? Has he received any care to help him heal from it, or has he just been left to fend for himself with whatever Sister Rose can do?” He asked these questions even without knowing the kid’s backstory; he easily figured out what Jared was hiding from.

“Has anyone thought to tell him that whatever happened wasn’t his fault? Did anyone here besides Sister Rose and Father Thomas do anything for him or has everyone else been like you, just talking over him, around him, or about him, even if he was sitting right in front of you?”  The singer’s voice never rose, but his eyes had heated while glaring the priest down until the young man stepped back to run a nervous finger around his collar. “What parish were you at before coming to St. Lucy’s, Father? Were you this caring and compassionate there or are you only that way with the people who come to services and can fill your donation plate with three or four figure checks?”

Sister Rose was torn between hiding her small smile and correcting Jensen on his tone, but she felt a small surge of hope when only she caught the slight movement behind the singer; a move that she never thought she’d ever see.

Jensen was starting to stand, to intimidate the priest even more, when he felt the first touch of shaky, hesitant, almost fearful, fingers on his hand.  It was as if Jared was seeking his attention, and he was only too glad to give it to the boy whose head had finally lifted fully to stare at him with huge hazel eyes.

“Hey,” he murmured, glancing back to hold his breath as he saw those fingers trying to reach out to him without moving too much. “I’m not going anywhere, Jared. I’m staying right here with you until you’re ready to try to stand and then we’ll go inside.  We’ll make sure you’re okay and then see what’s good for lunch or…what?” Jensen asked after seeing a rapid shake of Jared’s head. “Did things get so bad that they stopped serving three meals a day? Cause if so my pal in the city who is supposed to be keeping an eye on things is going to be getting more than a phone call.”

“Of course we serve three hot meals a day plus snacks,” Sister Rose huffed but understood Jared’s response …and she feared Jensen’s reaction to it. “And of course Jared knows he’s most welcome to join us for those.”

That reply had Jensen’s eyes shooting to the nun’s, and when he saw her slight nod to her side,  he decided that by the time his vacation was over, St. Lucy’s would have a new presiding priest. “Did someone tell you that you weren’t allowed to eat here, Jared?” he asked, looking back to catch the way those shy eyes were rabbiting between him and Father Patrick. “Huh, okay. C’mon, let’s get you inside and cleaned up some. Then you and I will see what’s for lunch…unless you have something to say about that, Father?”

It was a blatant challenge and both Jensen and the priest knew it, but while the presiding priest had many concerns, he was also coming to realize this man wasn’t going to back down from him, so he merely shook his head.  “Of course not.”

“I didn’t think so,” Jensen smirked, but the smile he gave Jared was soft and gentle as he stood with an easy grace and held out a hand. “I promise not to leave you until you go to sleep, and then I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Mr. Ackles, you really shouldn’t make promises to him that you don’t intend to keep,” Father Patrick scoffed; he couldn’t see why the man planned to be back, and he was trying to get the nun to see reason about letting the boy continue to sleep in the shelter.

“Oh, dear,” Sister Rose sighed, seeing the flash of familiar anger a second before Jensen removed his glasses from where they’d been hanging on his shirt and handed them to a surprised Jared. “Jensen…”

“Hold onto these a second for me?” Jensen flashed a quick smile to reassure the once again shaky younger man before he quickly crossed the playground with his hands hovering close to but not quite touching the priest. “You may be the priest here now, but the last time I looked, Sister Rose ran the shelter, the daycare, the nuns, and SHE decides who’s allowed to stay or not.

“You’ve been saying a lot of crap that I don’t like, and the only reason your face isn’t bleeding is because I don’t want to write 500 Hail Mary’s on the blackboard, but if you keep getting in my face while I’m trying to help him or you keep scaring him, then I might take the chance of writer’s cramp and you will bleed,” he warned in a tight low voice while seeing the shock on the other man’s face. Jensen quickly figured that the priest wasn’t used to having anyone talk to him like that.

 “Just so you understand another thing, ‘Father’. I’m back in the city for a minimum of six months; maybe more depending on how things go, so you will be seeing a lot of me. Now leave Jared alone if you aren’t actually going to do anything to help him.” Jensen just tapped one finger on the starched shirt before stepping back and turning to see if that scene had upset Jared even more, but he had to stop and fight not to chuckle. “You like those then?”

Jared had been afraid the priest would force Jensen to leave, but as he watched Sister Rose’s reaction to what could certainly turn bad, his attention was drawn back to the dark sunglasses in his hand.  He’d seen sunglasses before, but not ones this dark.  As he held them up to his eyes, Jared’s lips curved a little because he thought it funny that while no one could see Jensen’s eyes behind them, he had only somewhat tinted vision and was able to see everything pretty clearly.  He played with them a little before just slipping them on his nose, looking around through the dark lenses until Jensen spoke causing him to jump a little.

Afraid he’d be in trouble for messing with the glasses, Jared quickly moved to take them off only to go still when a finger moved to slide them onto his face correctly.  He blinked a little as the bright sun went away, and his eyes didn’t hurt as he actually lifted his face to see Jensen’s smile and he gave a quick shy one back in return.

“Looks good,” the singer remarked as he left the glasses where they were and watched the boy’s shy smile form.  Jared moved his fingers out as if to reach again for Jensen’s hand and suddenly Jensen felt as good as he had over his first gold record. “That’s it, just take my hand,” he encouraged while holding his breath until those fingers closed over his so he could help the younger man to his feet.  He blinked when he caught just how tall Jared was. “Okay, so you are mostly all leg I see.”

Jared had been told that before, but usually with a sneer as he was made fun of.  There wasn’t anything in Jensen’s voice or in his face to show he was being mean, so he let it go, stepping a little closer to him.   Jensen was the first man other than Father Thomas that he’d let touch him. In fact, he was the first adult other than the nuns and Father Thomas that he’d responded to at all.  He felt the eyes of Father Patrick on him and shivered a little.

Jensen must have felt it too because he simply adjusted how he stood to better shield Jared, and while he had the strong urge to put his around the tall young man, he wouldn’t until Jared got more used to him or made some move to show that he might accept the touch.

“Sister Martha still cooking?” he asked Sister Rose as he took a slow step to see if Jared would follow, relieved when he was matched step for step.  They were soon at the back down the shelter that Jensen knew led to the small kitchen.

“Of course she is, and she’ll be thrilled to see your cocky smile,” Sister Rose replied while placing a hand on the priest’s arm to give him a displeasured scowl to show that she was not impressed with his actions so far. She followed the two young men into the kitchen. “Sister Martha! You have guests so turn off the soap opera.”

Sister Martha, a petite nun in her middle 40’s, looked up from the small B&W TV to offer a comforting smile when she saw Jared, but when she caught sight of who was next to him, she couldn’t hold back her excitement. “Jensen Ackles! Look at you! Ten years since you showed that face and you’re still as handsome. Now what can my kitchen do for you and this sweet boy?”

The nun was already moving to get some plates down and uncover the pots still warming on the stove. She noticed the stewing priest stomp off to the church. “I take it Father Patrick isn’t joining us?” she asked mildly, noticing and sharing her superior’s sour expression.

None of the nuns really cared for the new priest; he had certain ideas and feelings that didn’t go with the original plan for the Church or the shelter, but as Jensen rolled his eyes, she thought she understood why the young priest was stomping away.

“You both sit down while I see if Jared’s cut.” Sister Rose was careful when she stepped up with the battered first aid box. “May I, Jared?”

Jared had slowly sat at the counter, but he kept fidgeting nervously as if expecting to be corrected for being in the kitchen.  He didn’t relax until a warm hand squeezed his, the one he hadn’t realized Jensen still was holding.

“Are you cut?” Jensen asked him concerned. He’d seen some small droplets of blood on the front of the sadly thin t-shirt. “You need to tell her…or me if you are.”

Speaking was something Jared almost never did, at least not around adults or strangers, but as he watched Jensen pull a stool over to sit beside him, he began to realize that Jensen seemed to be causing him to do a lot of things he hadn’t before.

Taking a small plastic fork with two tines broken off it from his pocket, Jared ran his finger over the ones that were left and chewed his bottom lip before slowly lifting his head to stare into Jensen’s eyes through the lenses of the sunglasses and nodding.

“Okay, where are you cut?” Jensen asked patiently, deciding not to broach the subject of the plastic fork yet, or he feared he might be killing a Catholic priest by day’s end.

Sister Martha had turned from dishing up some hot shredded pot roast and gravy over mashed potatoes to see the interesting interaction between Jensen and Jared, a boy that she’d only heard speak a few times. “What’s…” she began to ask only to be hushed by the older nun.

Jared opened his mouth as if to speak, but quickly shut it and simply pointed to a small cut on the side of his neck that wasn’t scarred.  He moved his hand toward the hollow of his throat and Jensen held his own hand up so that Jared could see it.  “Can I tip your head back a little more so I can see the cut?”

Rather than answer, Jared reached to take the hand and he brought it to his neck; he let Jensen touch him and bit down on his lip again to keep in any sounds if the touch hurt like almost all touches did.

Squeezing his eyes shut in expectation of pain, Jared opened them after a couple seconds to see Jensen watching him with a crooked smile on his face and an empty Band-Aid paper in his fingers.  His forehead creased in confusion until his fingers were moved to touch his neck to feel the covered cut.

“All done,” Jensen smiled, letting his fingers stay where they touched Jared’s face when the younger man didn’t pull away from him or cringe. “Did he hurt you anywhere else?”

The torn shirt and the cut were the only damage, so Jared shook his head, hearing his stomach rumble as the plate of food was set in front of him.  Before he reached for the small plastic fork again, he motioned to his hands and the sink.

“Ahh, Sister Rose drilled that lesson into your head too,” Jensen grinned as he sat to watch Jared carefully wash his hands. “How old is he?” he asked the hovering nun softly while Sister Martha held out two kinds of hand soap for Jared to choose from.

“As near as we can tell, he’s probably 22 this year.” Sister Rose laid a hand on his shoulder as she leaned closer to kiss his cheek. “I’ll badger you with why you’re here and why you’re staying for so long later, but just let me tell you that in this short amount of time, you have already been a blessing to this boy.”

Jensen wouldn’t go that far; he’d been called a lot of things, both good and bad, but never a blessing.  He was fighting his inner urge to protect Jared each time those eyes looked at him, and he was starting to see shy little grins being offered each time he used Jared’s name. “I’m only doing what any other person would for him.”

“Jensen,” Sister Rose turned him on the stool so he was looking into her face and could see the grim worry. “No one has ever done for Jared what you have today,” she replied with a sad smile. “Father Thomas and I have done our best but…Jared’s a sad case and one that has deserved so much more.”

A touch on his arm made Jensen look to see Jared pointing to the sink and then his own hands which meant he wanted Jensen to wash his hands before they ate.

Jensen washed his hands before picking two forks up from the same drawer that had always housed them.  He then back beside Jared and laid one near his plate.  “Can you eat with this one and let me throw the broken one away or is there some reason you’re keeping it in your pocket?”

Answering that would require more than a nod or a gesture and Jared’s chin dropped to his chest while he decided if he should answer or not.  He sucked in a breath, but found that he couldn’t form the words that he wanted to say.  He couldn’t tell Jensen that the priest had chastised him for eating too often in the shelter and for using silverware that they were already short on.  He simply clutched the broken plastic fork a little tighter and shook his head.

“Was it Father Patrick again?” Jensen wondered out loud, beginning to realize just how cruel the new priest had been to Jared.  “Did he tell you not to use the shelter’s silverware?  Is that why you’re keeping that broken fork?”  Jensen could feel his temper rising, but cut the rage off before it could show either in his eyes or in his voice while watching Jared’s eyes widen behind the dark glasses that had slipped back to his nose.

“You can eat with this fork; you will never need that broken one and you will never eat out of a garbage can or someone’s trash again, kiddo,” Jensen told him swapping forks with him and handing the broken plastic one to Sister Rose. “Right now just eat some of this and drink some milk. While we eat maybe Sister Rose can tell me what needs fixed around here.  Obviously, she must not have been telling Chris.”

The head nun let out a huff of breath as she took a seat across the counter from her now two favorite boys.  She folded her wrinkled, yet strong hands around a cup of coffee. “I knew that man kept coming around snooping because you sent him.  Didn’t we discuss how I refused to take your money if you weren’t here to see it used? Well, it was the same thing by sending the Kane boy by every other month to check on things.”

Kind of amused to hear anyone calling his friend and former bodyguard a boy, Jensen shoved a forkful of food into his mouth to chew it rather than say what was on the tip of his tongue.  He noticed Jared was eating very slowly as if scared to drop a bite of food.

It saddened Jensen to see so much life in the younger man’s eyes, yet so much terror as well. Taking advantage of Jared’s distraction by the food, Jensen edged far enough away to speak with the nun in private but remained close enough to keep an eye on him.

“What’s his story?” he asked softly, waving a hand. “Nutshell it for me; I already know he’s probably an abuse case, but where did he come from and is the bas…is the person who touched him dead or in a cell?”  He had to catch himself before slipping because that word would still get his mouth washed out with soap.

“Father Tom found him in an alley when he was about 12,” she began seriously, wondering if Jensen realized how far he’d already fallen for the silent young man. “Yes, he has been badly abused in nearly every way possible and no, the man who hurt him is not dead or in jail.  In fact, I think he is still looking for him.”

Jensen had been about to curse when that caught his attention. “Wait, the asshole is still looking for Jared?” He stared at the boy, noticing that his hair was back in his face, but he kept moving it as he continued to eat. “Was he hurt by his real family, or was he a foster? He’s an adult, so even if he ran from a foster family, he’d be out from under them by now.  What aren’t you telling me that I probably need to know?”

Sister Rose didn’t want to involve Jensen more than he already was, but then Jared coughed when he ate some meat too fast and almost choked, and Jensen’s head spun to stare back at him until Sister Martha nudged his milk to him, and she knew it was already too late.

Jensen had been a quiet boy who rarely allowed anyone close to him. She understood he had his reasons for still being like that, but she also could see that he’d already opened himself to Jared in a way that she’d seen him do with only one other person.

“Tom and I, from what little we could get him to tell us, believe the animals might have kidnapped him and brought him here to California where he was used as a slave.” Sister Rose grabbed his arm, urging him to keep his temper for the moment. “You said you could tell he’d been abused, and you’re correct. The doctor at the clinic told us he’d been severally beaten and raped, probably for years, but you can also tell he’s still suffering from the mental abuse.”

“He’s very bright when he has a chance to show it even though I doubt if he’s ever been to school and can barely write his name. He loves to play, he enjoys watching sports, and he loves music of nearly every kind, but yet if anyone goes to touch him for more than a handshake he gets scared,” she sighed with sadness. “He’s a beautiful boy, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to protect him much more and being on the streets is too dangerous since, as you saw, we have a small gang issue.”

“If the jerk that hurt him is still asking about him then you must know who it is.”  Jensen narrowed his eyes. “Who is it, Rose? If you could prove…”

Shaking her head, the Nun glanced to where Jared sat finishing his meal. “Jensen, look at him. He was a shattered little boy who could barely speak when Tom brought him to me. He still doesn’t speak. He could never have survived a trial then, and I don’t think he could today. I fear that if that guy finds him…I don't know what it will mean for him because with no one to fight for him…if they take him back to wherever he escaped from…”

“I’ll fight for him, Rose. I’ll fight for him for as long as I’m here and after if I have to.”  Jensen knew what he was saying, and while it might not be a popular choice with some in his life when they learned of it, the young singer was certain that he couldn’t walk away from Jared now.

“You’re a good boy, Jensen.”  She patted his cheeks. “I don’t know what’s happened to cause you to come home, but I thank the Lord above for the timing because if anyone needs your help it’s Jared…he’s looking for you.”

Jensen stepped back to the counter just as Jared’s breath was picking up in alarm when he realized his new friend wasn’t sitting beside him any longer. “Hey,” he murmured and saw the way the boy calmed down at his voice. “I need to talk a walk around this place to see what stuff needs to be fixed while I’m in town. Do you want to come with me?”

No one had ever asked him to do anything but get out of the way before, so Jared instantly nodded.  He took the sunglasses off and held them out towards Jensen.  Jensen took them, but placed them on top of Jared’s head, gently brushing his hair back as he did.  Jared looked a bit confused, touched the sunglasses and pointed at Jensen.  “Yours,” he seemed to be saying.

“You can hang onto them,” Jensen replied, stepping back to see Jared’s face for the first time without any hair hanging down in front of it.  He felt something shift in his gut that might make this a bit more difficult than he thought because while he’d always figured the younger man’s face was handsome, he hadn’t been counted on just how handsome.

Jared’s good looks were boyishly young with wide eyes that were a soft hazel flecked with bits of green.  He had full lips that seemed to have been made to smile, and if one looked close enough, there were dimples as well.

The scars on his face that went down his neck seemed to have been made with some kind of fire, but Jensen feared thinking too hard about them because he knew he’d get angry and right now the boy was still too skittish to understand that he wouldn’t be angry with him.

Jensen’s fingers itched to touch that too pale but soft looking skin while brushing the long hair back, but he wouldn’t make those moves until Jared was more at ease with him.

“You’ll need those sunglasses if we scope out the outside of the place tomorrow,” Jensen added while standing to shoot the nuns a bright smile. “Anything in particular I should look for, or am I just supposed to figure it out for myself?”

“You’re the one looking to spend money here, so you see what you think needs fixed.” Sister Rose shrugged but was amused when Jared seemed to copy every move Jensen made as they went around the interior of both shelters so he could see what might need to be repaired or replaced.

After nearly an hour, Jensen could see that a lot of things needed to be fixed or replaced, but he also made note of things that just needed to be bought outright.

The kids’ playroom needed new toys and new mats on the floor for naptime. The classroom needed new desks and an alphabet rug. The beds should all have warmer blankets since he could feel the chill coming in from the poorly insulated windows.

“The old woman is so stubborn,” he muttered running his fingers along the old caulking that should have sealed the window.  “She’d rather the place fall down than ask me for money.  I know they have regular donors; where are all the other donations going to if not into the shelter or the roofs?”  He decided to take a risk and ask for the books later that week.

Glancing out the window Jensen noticed it was later than he expected and glanced at his watch when he felt the shifting body near him. “Where do you sleep?” he asked Jared suddenly.

Blinking big eyes owlishly as if surprised by the question, Jared took Jensen by the index finger since he was still leery of touching him without permission.  The boy led him back to the original shelter building and to the very back of the room.  Jensen saw that a small rusty bed was shoved under a patched window and covered with an equally small and ratty looking blanket.

“This…this is where you sleep?” Jensen could feel the cool air blowing even where he stood so he knew Jared must freeze on the nights when it got cold. “This is a child’s bed,” he chuckled.  Jared sat on the bed and pulled the blanket into his lap.  He pointed to himself and then to the bed.  “Okay, smart guy.  I get that this is your bed.  And I realize that you were a child when you came here, but Sister Rose should have given you a bigger bed when you got bigger.”

Jensen figured the bed probably was probably a tight fit for Jared at 12; there was no way he’d fit comfortably on it now since he must be close to 6’4”. “How do you fit on this thing?” he asked curiously.

Jared made it look easy as he lay down with his head on the pillow at the bottom of the bed, away from the window.  He then curled his legs up until he was almost in a fetal position but he merely watched Jensen before raising his eyebrows as if to say, “See?  My bed.”

He seemed so proud of the little bed that it made Jensen fight back tears.  He thought about how often he complained about his life being rough while, this boy’s life was so much rougher, yet he seemed happy to just have a bed and blanket to call his own.

“Yeah, Jared, it’s your bed,” Jensen smiled while silently vowing that by weeks’ end, he’d have one that fit him properly. “Do you want to go to bed now or do you want to shower or…what?”

Jared was shaking his head vehemently.  Sister Rose, who had finally caught up to the boys sighed sadly.  “I’m afraid Father Patrick has told Jared he needs to limit his showers to no more than once a week.  I’ve tried to tell Jared that he can shower whenever he wants, but…” She let her voice trail off knowing that Jensen understood.  Jared was so afraid of being kicked out of the shelter for good that he wouldn’t go against the priest’s decision.

Biting his tongue to keep from snarling, Jensen kept his face calm while letting his hand rest on the top of Jared’s hair.  He felt the young man tense, but then he relaxed slowly with the touch.  His eyes began to close but suddenly popped open and he looked at Jensen nervously.  He cautiously reached out for Jensen’s hand and tugged him a little bit closer.  It was obvious that he was worried about Jensen leaving.

Jared wanted the man to stay; he was worried that once Jensen left, he would never see him again.  Perhaps he would get bored with Jared, decide he was too much trouble like so many other people had.  He was afraid to hope that maybe Jensen would be different.

“I gotta go, kiddo,” Jensen said kindly, “but I promise I’m gonna come back tomorrow.  Probably in the early afternoon since I have to meet with someone first, but I’ll be here and you can help me look at the outside.” Jensen sat gently running his fingers back through the long hair, watching Jared begin to fall asleep. “Jared? Do you feel safe here at the shelter?”

Yawning and sleepy after the day he’d had, as well as from eating a full meal; Jared’s sleepy eyes tugged at Jensen’s heart as much as the young man himself did.  Jared started to nod, then hesitated and simply shrugged his shoulders.  He pointed out the window and shook his head, so Jensen could easily figure out what he was saying.  No, the shelter did not feel completely safe, at least not anymore, but it was much safer than being on the streets.

You’ll be safe here tonight, Jared.”  Jensen resisted the urge to lean over and kiss the boy’s forehead.  He still wasn’t sure what might send Jared into a panic attack.  Instead, he settled for a few more strokes of his soft hair.  “Try and go to sleep, kiddo.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Promise?” Jared’s raised eyebrows seemed to ask as he slowly fell asleep feeling safe with the firm fingers touching him; he didn’t even think once to be scared.

“I promise,” Jensen assured him as he sat until Jared was sleeping soundly, his fingers curled around the edge of the ragged blanket. “Sleep safe, little boy,” he whispered softly as he eased away from the sleeping young man to see Sister Rose still standing in the doorway. “I will get him away from here before anyone hurts him again,” he vowed.

Stepping outside to take a deep breath of cool air, he smelled the breeze from the ocean and that reminded Jensen he was home, but as he walked away from the property, a piece of him felt lost the further away he got from that wide open and trusting face.

“Damn it,” he muttered darkly as it hit him that his choice to come home might not be for as short a time as he’d originally planned.

“Well, well, look at what the cat dragged back in. Sell anyone else out recently, buddy boy?”

The stilted voice with a strong accent of the coast spoke from the darkness and instantly Jensen’s whole body went rigid as his blood turned to ice.



Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Three


The voice sounded older than the last time Jensen had heard Kyle Marks speak to him, but it still brought back the same sick fear it always had until he remembered that he wasn’t that same scrawny teenager anymore.

“Why aren’t you still in prison?” he demanded turning to face the other side of the street where the former, and apparently still the current, gang leader stood with several hoods, including the ones that Jensen had faced down earlier. As he noticed Donny, it began making more sense and then he began to get pissed off. “That piece of shit working for you?”

Marks had always been tall, but it seemed liked he’d put on some muscle while serving time for attempted murder.  Jensen noticed the increased mass as Kyle stepped out from under the streetlight of the quiet street to sneer. “Got out last year for good behavior, so I came back to the old neighborhood to start building fresh what you tore down.”  He glanced toward Donny and then back to Jensen. “Suppose it makes sense.  When the boys came back to tell me they got chased away by some hot shot punk while trying to bring me back my new toy, I should have figured that it was you. What brings you back here now that you’re all rich and famous, Jensen?”

“None of your damn business,” Jensen gritted, feeling his fist curl as all the anger he’d been burying since this afternoon began to bubble to the surface.  He realized the danger Jared was in; danger Jared probably didn’t even fully know about. “All you need to know is that I’m back and I’m not going anywhere for a while, so you can take the rabble and go crawl in a hole in some other part of the city because if you, or any of them, bother anyone here, including Sister Rose and most especially Jared, I’ll make sure you’re put back in a cell…or a grave.”

Marks snorted.  “You think you can take on all of us, tough guy?” He had sworn to wipe that smirk off his former friend’s face the next time he got the chance and now seemed to be as good a time as any. “Anyway, wouldn’t getting caught with a pretty little boy toy like that send your precious image as a fancy rock and roll star into the ocean, buddy boy?” he moved his eyes toward the shelter door with a slow smile. “Of course from what I’ve seen of him, he sure does look like a pretty fresh piece of meat. I can make a lot off of him…once I’m done with him myself of course.”

Jensen had been shoving down his instinctive reaction to move, to attack…right until that threat washed over him; then it was all white-hot rage. “You son of a bitch,” he gritted, taking a step off the curb. “Don’t you dare try to touch him, or even get close to him, Kyle. You leave Jared alone or…”

“Or what, hotshot?” Marks smirked, motioning to the group with him. “You willing to take my blade in your gut again to protect the freak?  Or maybe you just want him for yourself and don’t want to share with your old friend?”

“We were never friends, asshole,” Jensen snapped; he started to take another step when a hand caught his shoulder just as flashing lights snapped on and most of the gang ran for cover.

“This must be a night for seeing old faces back on my beat.” Liam Murphy spoke from where he stood holding onto Jensen’s shoulder to prevent him from moving into the street.  Another police car arrived on the scene, but it just drove by slowly when the officers noticed that most of the boys had fled. “Now this one’s ugly mug I’m not so surprised to see since I got a call telling me that he chased a few of those thugs of yours away from here earlier, but I didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to risk breaking probation by coming this close to the church or its residents, Marks.”

Sneering at the grizzled old cop, Marks eyed the church property from where he stood. “Still beyond the range of the restraining order, Captain.”  He smirked at Jensen before backing away. “You won’t always be here to save the kid, Jensen. As soon as you get tired of playing hero and go back to all the sexy little groupies who don’t know who you really are, he’ll be all alone and all mine the first time I catch his ass in one of my alleys. Remember that.”

“Bastard!” Jensen snapped, fighting the urge to jerk away from the hand still resting on his shoulder.  He finally sighed after a long moment when he was fairly certain the gang was well away from the shelter…and Jared. “Good timing… or were you waiting for me, Murphy?” he asked with a tired sigh, and then he suddenly turned. “Captain?”

Running a hand down the lapel of his wrinkled suit, the old cop smirked at the surprise on Jensen’s face. “You move away for ten years and things happen,” he chuckled, but he turned serious as he motioned Jensen further down the sidewalk. “So…I hear you’ve made quite the impression, and you haven’t even been back a full day. Roughing up some would-be punks and nearly punching a priest? I guess being some rock and roller didn’t curb that temper any?”

“They all walked away under their own power, and the priest didn’t bleed, so I’d say I curbed it pretty well,” Jensen countered while fishing his car keys out of his pocket. “The San Francisco PD lower their standards when they promoted you?” he asked with a half-smile, silently impressed and also glad to see the gruff cop. “Does Rose know Kyle’s behind her gang trouble?”

“I think she suspects, but I never told her for sure.  I didn’t want her hunting the punk down with a shovel or that cane,” Murphy replied. “One of the conditions of his probation was that he stay away from the property and Rose, but the damn paper didn’t say anything about him sending his new goons around to cause trouble for her…and that boy.”

Jensen leaned against the Mustang and stared back at the building.  He wished he could just take Jared with him now, but he knew it was too early to expect that much trust from a young man who didn’t even really understand the meaning of the word. “What do you know about him?” he asked the cop.  He felt eyes on him from the church and tried to ignore the priest’s gaze.

“I tried to find out about him when Father Thomas first brought him here because I was called to the clinic when he and Rose took the boy there.  That kid just shut down when he saw my badge, and to this day, if he sees a cop, his demeanor changes and he looks like he’ll either panic or bolt,” Murphy told him, pulling some old papers out of his back pocket. “Only two sheets and it’s mainly about how he was when he was found. It took them weeks to find out his first name, and I honestly don’t know if he even knows his last name. I ran his prints, but back then kid prints weren’t in the system, and I never did anything again because I agree with Rose; he’s not strong enough to handle the system, but…”

“I hated that word when I was a kid and my grandmother used it on me, and I hate it to this day because it usually means I won’t like the next words.” Jensen took the papers for later while motioning with his hand for to the cop to go on. “Just tell me.”

“I can’t prove a damn thing, but after I caught a whiff of who was skulking about asking for the kid, I did some digging. Does the name Anton Paul ring a bell, or were you gone when he hit the papers?” Murphy asked, not missing the way Jensen’s eyes kept moving to the shelter and then the area around it as if looking for a threat.

The name caused a tingle in Jensen’s spine and his eyes sharpened. “New Age guy, cable show, had some kind of thing going on in the hippie side of town when I was a kid.  My uncle went there a couple times before he OD’d.”  He nodded slowly, thinking back to what else he’d heard about the man. “Rumors were that he had a place in the hills, a farm of some kind that sold fruit or something, but the kids he and his wife took in as fosters… maybe it wasn’t so much to save them from the streets but so he’d have his own stable of personal slaves to work the place and…son of a bitch.”

“CPS and the cops have been out there multiple times but could never pin any child abuse or abuse of any kind on him.  We tried but the bastard’s slick, and his lawyers are good since there were places on that land that we weren’t allowed near.”  Murphy slid his eyes to the shelter and then back to Jensen. “He’s got an obsession for your new pal, Jensen. I get called at least once or twice a month to come down here because either he or someone from the farm has come to look for his missing ‘son’.  He doesn’t take no for an answer very well.”

“Jared ain’t his son and now that he’s of legal age, he doesn’t have to go with him even if the bastard does find him.” Jensen had his own issues with the man since it had always been believed that it was Anton Paul who’d given his uncle the drugs that killed him but nothing could ever be proven. “Except I guess Jared won’t understand that.”

“The most I ever heard that kid talk was when he begged Sister Rose not to send him back there. He promised her that he’d do whatever she wanted if she didn’t let the bad people hurt him or seal him in the bag or bury him anymore.  After that, Rose swore to always keep him safe but…that’s getting harder these days.”  The cop shot a dirty look toward the church. “Been a Catholic all my life and for the first time I’d like to punch a priest because that one there is determined to cast that boy to the wolves…and he don’t care which wolves.”

Jensen believed that, and he’d fight to keep it from happening. “I’ll ask a friend of mine to maybe do some checking into Jared’s past. If he’s a runaway that Paul picked up, then he should be somewhere in the California system but…I don’t think he is. I think the odds are good the asshole might have kidnapped the kid from somewhere, and if he’s not a native to California, that’ll make it harder to find out who he is.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure he’s not native to California, but you won’t see what I mean until he opens his mouth to say more than a word or two,” Murphy chuckled. “How long do I have to put up with you?”

“Originally it was six months…now I’m not so sure; I might stay longer.” Jensen sighed while he reached into his car to pull out a file. “I suppose I should hand this to you now since I’m sure my manager will be calling someone soon but…being burned out is not the only reason that I’ve come home and…well…here.”

Eyeing the file under the dim streetlight, the cop groaned before lifting his bushy eyebrows. “An obsessed fan tried to kidnap you? This girl sounds about as batty as that damn cult guru. Alright, I’ll make sure to alert the other departments. You want protection?”

“Not if it can be avoided.  Having a cop around me 24/7 will make it hard to gain Jared’s trust.  He’s afraid of so many things, and you already said anyone with a badge freaks him out.  I’ll just play it by ear,” Jensen replied, sliding behind the wheel but rolling the window down. “Can you have someone keep an eye this place?”

“Well, the good Father Patrick doesn’t like to have a police presence, but considering things, I think I’ll have a car or two doing hourly patrols.  I can also have a couple plain clothes boys watch the place especially since you’re around and may have a dingbat trying to kill you,” Murphy smirked, tapping his fingers on the roof of the car. “Y’know, I had my doubts if you’d make it, but when one of my granddaughters came in with your first single, I came straight here to tell Sister Rose that she’d been right. You made something of yourself, Jensen. I hope you don’t lose it by coming back.”

Starting the Mustang, Jensen understood the warning, but he also had begun to understand something else. “I can only lose myself if I don’t do what I feel I need to, Captain. Have a good night.”

Jensen felt himself tense as he drove farther away from the old church. It had been several years since he’d let his emotional guard down this way toward anyone. That time hadn’t turned out very well; Jensen had ended up with not only his heart broken, but he was also very nearly destroyed emotionally.  He learned the hard way that even the most innocent looking people could betray him.

After that he’d locked his heart and his emotions inside a wall that no one got close to. He kept his business and personal life completely separate, and even kept those who were considered close friends at a safe distance. The only exception to that rule was the man he was heading to see now.

While he was running low on energy, fighting jet lag, and wanting to sleep, Jensen didn’t want to put this visit off until the morning.  He felt it was important to take the time to do this now even though he already knew that tomorrow would probably be another long day.

A glance at the clock in the Mustang told him that the bar would only have just opened, and his friend would probably snarl at him for interrupting, but right then Jensen didn’t care. He cared about getting a better handle on this situation so he could focus on maybe helping a lost kid find himself.

The bar was really more of a nightclub, but since this was a Wednesday, it was a pretty slow night and Jensen was able to find a parking spot on the street. He hesitated before getting out of the car and debated before deciding which side of him would go in.  While he was there to see his friend and former bodyguard, there was still stood a good chance of being recognized even though the bar was more country than rock.

Reaching into the glove box to remove a small container, it took him only a couple seconds to slip in the light blue contact lenses that kept his natural eye color from showing.

The contacts and the light blond highlights in his hair were enhancements to his already good looks that his first publicist had insisted on.  While he hated them now and bitched to his manager about losing both, he put the contacts in and pulled his leather jacket back on; both were a part of the image he was expected to portray.

The bouncer at the front door recognized him and let him in easily while telling him that the boss was behind the bar.  That wasn’t a surprise to Jensen since his friend liked to keep a hand in his business rather than watch from behind the scenes likes many others would.

The bar was loud with music playing from the stage, and there were a good many people dancing while others sat at tables.  Luckily the bar only had a few customers as Jensen stepped up to the end of it to quietly wait.

“Bottle, draft or mixed?”  The bartender’s voice was deep and gravelly as he ran a rag down the shiny black marble bar top without looking; his long black hair was pulled back in a low ponytail and tucked into the back of his shirt.

“I thought you said it’d be a cold day in hell before I drank in your place, Kane?” Jensen smirked into his friend’s face when it snapped up in recognition of his voice, the voice that didn’t sound much like the one he’d used earlier today.

Chris Kane’s sharp blue eyes zeroed in on the voice, and he covered his surprise with the expected mock sneer on his tanned face. “You slumming or looking for work?” he asked, stepping closer so he wouldn’t have to raise his voice too much and also so he could better judge his old friend’s appearance. “Problems?”

Chris had worked for Jensen’s manager for years as a bodyguard; before that, he’d been a Navy SEAL.  When a serious injury sidelined him from his first career, he put his skills to use protecting spoiled rich singers from groupies or more often from themselves.

Of all the people he’d protected in his five years as a bodyguard, Jensen had been the one that Chris had stuck with the longest because unlike the others who were basically spoiled little brats, Jensen took an interest in his career as well as the lives of the people around him and he’d cared. 

Jensen had wanted to know about those who traveled with him or were sent to take care of him, and he did a lot of things on his own that most of Chris’s other clients had sneered at.

Even though while recording his second album there was a houseful of servants to cook, clean, and wait on him hand and foot, Chris had lost count of the times he’d gone looking for the singer only to find him washing and folding his own clothes or digging in the kitchen in the middle of the night for a snack instead of waking the cook.

It had been Jensen that Chris had literally taken a bullet for when the singer was in the wrong spot at the wrong time in some South American city.  Two rival gangs decided to shoot each other up, and he’d shoved Jensen out of the way taking the round in the chest himself.

He’d survived the wound, but after that Chris had decided to retire from being a bodyguard to open a bar in San Francisco.  The bar had been his dream. The location had been at the request of his favorite client, and since Chris happened to like the city he’d agreed.

Of course when he had agreed to Jensen’s request to keep an eye on the old church and shelter, he hadn’t exactly agreed to the keep an eye on the sharp tongued old nun who came with them. Chris had learned about the places that had been such a big part of Jensen’s life, and had changed it for the better, when the singer had gotten drunk after the one time he’d been hurt in a way that no bodyguard in the world could prevent.

“You suck at keeping me in the loop, Chris,” Jensen replied, having to raise his voice as the band on stage got louder, and his already aching head began to pound harder. “I have a list that fills half a notebook of repairs that need to be done, and that’s just for the inside of the shelter buildings.  I haven’t even looked at the outside of them or the church itself yet.  How’d a big bad bodyguard let a short old nun bully him into keeping quiet?”

“That nun might be small, but she’s got a wicked temper and a mean cane, Jensen,” Chris returned, motioning to his main bartender to take over while he stepped out from behind the bar.  He led the way through the crowd to his office in the back, and the sounds from the bar cut off as soon as the door closed. “When’d you get to town, kid?”

Even though Jensen was 28, there were nearly 10 years between him and Chris, so he allowed the term to be used. “Got into the city this morning.”  He dropped into a chair by the desk to get rid of the contacts with a curse. “Damn things hurt all the time!”

“I thought the eye doctor said to stop using them,” the older man commented as he poured a drink for himself but handed a bottle of water to his friend. “That’s what those fancy dark glasses were for; so you didn’t have to wear the contacts unless you were doing a one-on-one interview.”

“Yeah, I left the glasses with that kid at the shelter, Jared, since he got such a kick out of them,” Jensen replied, drinking the water but pausing as he saw the slight frown. “Issues, Kane?”

It was rare for Jensen to use his last name, so Chris knew he’d need to handle this with care. “Not really, but I know you, Jensen, and I gotta tell you that you need to be careful with this.  I know how you get at times, and that kid back at St. Lucy’s will pull all your strings.”

Chris had waited a couple months after opening his bar before making his first stop at the church and shelter. That had been five years ago, and he could still recall seeing the tall young man who wouldn’t have hit eighteen yet if he’d gauged right.

From the first moment he’d seen the big soft eyes and watched him back away from the raised voice when Sister Rose began to yell after after learning who had sent Chris, the former bodyguard had known this boy with the heart breaking life would hit Jensen hard.  The singer tended to get involved in too many of these cases and they usually ended with him being the one hurt because Jensen didn’t know when to just let something go.

“Jared’s a scared kid running from a life he never should’ve had and one that will never touch him again if I have a say in it.”  He pulled the papers out that Murphy had given him. “Yes, I came back to get a break and to let everything cool off from the whole mess with Abby but…I like him, Chris. He’s just like this little kid looking for help, and if I can help him while I’m here what’s wrong with that?”  He tapped the papers. “Look into this for me, and I’ll forget you haven’t been telling me stuff.”

“Jensen…” Chris began with exasperation but stopped as he sat at his desk to look at the papers with a frown that slowly turned to a scowl. “This asshole is trouble, Jen,” he muttered, waving a hand before Jensen could give him a hard time. “Sorry, I know you hate that nickname… but this guy…he’s trouble, and I don’t just mean the whole cult crap.  He’s got a load of lawyers that could cause that nun no end of trouble if they learn she’d been hiding that kid all this time…Maybe you shouldn’t get...Jensen!”

The bottle of water flew across the room to hit the wall a split second before the singer jumped to his feet and slammed his hands onto the desk. “Jared doesn’t belong to him!” he snapped, seeing those big eyes in his mind and imagining them as they might have been as a child, before he’d been abused and violated, when he might have been happy. “Anton Paul is a bastard who either kidnapped Jared or took him in as a foster child to torture and abuse him physically, emotionally, sexually, and I’ll be dead before he gets a chance to hurt him again!”

“Yeah, I figured you’d be saying that but thought it might take a little more than a day.”  Chris rubbed his head. “What do you want me to do exactly? The best way to protect this kid from anyone is to go through the system, but as I happen to know from reading the papers over the years, his lawyers keep deflecting all the rumors and charges that could get ugly. Do you think the kid…”

“Jared,” Jensen finally broke in tightly, green eyes firm as he looked his friend directly in the eye. “His name is Jared so please, if you’re going to help me, if you’re going to be around when I’m at the shelter or around him, call him by his name,” he urged. “Chris, the first time I spoke to him and used his name, it was like so odd for him to hear it or to have someone speak to him rather than at him.

“Sister Rose and Sister Martha, I know they’re doing the best they can but…this new priest there now…when he speaks about Jared, it’s like he’s talking about someone with less importance than a dog. He wouldn’t let him use a real fork, so Jay had this tiny little broken plastic fork he was using. The damn priest gave him a hard time about eating at the shelter, so sometimes he eats out of people’s trash.”  He clenched his fingers into fists while thinking back to Jared’s eyes earlier. “He’s sleeping in a bed smaller than this desk and with a blanket that I swear is as old as he is.  Sometimes he scared to do even that and he ends up sleeping in an alley somewhere, and…and…I want to help him, Chris.”

Chris gave the papers another look; what he had wasn’t much, but it was a start, and he’d do what he could to find out more.  It was plain by the look in Jensen’s eyes that he’d already made his choice even if he might not be fully aware of it yet.

“What exactly are you hoping to do in six months to erase a lifetime of pain, Jensen?” he had to ask, not wanting to seem uncaring, but it felt like one of them needed to be reasonable about Jensen’s plans and the reality of this situation. “If you let him get used to you being around and caring about him when no one else does, how will that affect him when you have to leave?  You know you will have to leave at some point, right?”

The former bodyguard knew enough of the boy’s backstory to realize what his friend would be facing, but he feared that Jensen didn’t understand the full scope of what he was getting involved with.

“Jensen, you’ve been to enough hospitals and clinics so you’ve heard all the speeches on how abuse cases vary. This kid…sorry, Jared, has probably been badly abused since childhood, so his trust for adults or authority figures is virtually non-existent. If he trusts you a little bit, you’re going to have to be careful how you handle him or else you could end up doing more harm than good,” Chris warned seriously.

Jensen got up to walk around the office, stopping to stare at the huge fish tank against one wall. He’d already considered that; he understood the risks of letting Jared get close to him, but as he placed a hand against the glass to watch the colored fish swim up to it, he knew there was another risk.

“It’s not hurting him that I’m worried about; I’m more afraid of hurting myself,” he murmured, glancing back at his friend. “If I can teach him to trust me, to trust others, and he learns to live a real life…if it gets where he feels safe enough to live without always being scared of someone hurting him…or if by some miracle we can find out if he has a family to go back to…Chris, I’m already half in love with him.”

That’s what the Oklahoma native had been worried about. Jensen might try to keep his emotions locked up, but Chris had seen him badly hurt once before.  As he watched Jensen getting ready to risk his heart again, he hoped this one turned out better.

“Are you in love with him or what he represents to your head?” he asked carefully, holding up his hands when those glittering green eyes shot to him in warning. “Addison was quiet and sweet looking too…until he got what he wanted from you; then he ripped your heart out and nearly took your career with him.”

“I was new to the music scene, naïve, and I was stupid to trust Addison. I learned my lesson, and anyway, Jared’s nothing like him, Chris. If you’ve seen him, then you can tell he’s not faking anything. He’s like a hurt little boy who needs attention. He needs to be told he’s normal, that nothing that happened is his fault, and that he’s not a freak like some people have been calling him,” Jensen replied. “I know I’m not a professional, and maybe one day he’ll be able to talk to one of those but until then…I just want to make him feel safe and see him smile.”

Walking back over to sit on the edge of the desk, Jensen offered a crooked smile to his friend as he related the day’s events. “He wants to communicate, Chris.  He’s trying to hard to communicate with me.  I swear, a couple of times, I thought he was actually gonna say something.  He got his message across most of the time using his hands or his eyes.  He’s got really expressive eyes.  And when I put my glasses on his head tonight and told him to keep them…he almost smiled.  I thought he was gonna smile and…”

Listening to Jensen talk about Jared and how they’d eaten together and then walked around the inside of the shelter buildings while Jensen conducted his inspection told the older man all he needed to know, and what he now knew worried him.

“Alright, I’ll start making calls to some friends of mine to see what can be dug up on him.  I’ll also try to figure out if there’s a way to shield him if Paul somehow finds out where he is.  Now I need to say one more thing in warning to you, and I don’t want you to take a swing at me.” Chris stood up and moved to sit next to his friend. “Jared’s a scared, lost boy who is going to need a lot of time and attention, so if you’re serious about doing this, about helping him, then you need to accept that a lot of your life might be changing,” he warned seriously. “Once you start this, if you actually gain his trust and get him to look at you and maybe even speak to you, you’ll have to follow through, Jensen.

“I know you’ve had some setbacks musically with that crazy stalker and some problems with the band, but to help him like you want, you might need to put your career on hold for more than the six months you’d planned. Are you prepared to make that big a change?” he asked curiously but could see the answer even before Jensen nodded.

“I think I knew when I left New York that when my manager and I talked again about the next record and tour, that I’d probably be turning something down and…I really don’t care.”  He smiled while considering it. “I can play music wherever I am; I can write music wherever I am, and if I seriously want to record, then I can record wherever I am, but right now…right now I want to repair the shelter, fix the roof, and heal a beautiful young man that makes me smile without even meaning to.”

“Well then leave me a list of what you think you’ll need a contractor for because we both know I’m not letting you on a roof.  Hell, even being in an airplane made you half nuts,” Chris snorted but laughed at the gesture that comment earned him. “You staying in a hotel or your place?”

“I’m sick of hotels and rentals, so I’m staying at the place I bought here in the city and no, I do not need to hire anyone to watch my back.” Jensen pulled his jacket back on but left the contacts out. “She’s in a cell in New Hampshire, but there might be one more thing I should tell you,” he paused by the door. “There’s a gang giving the shelter problems, and they’re really into bugging Jared.”

Chris groaned. He hated gangs anywhere, but it seemed like some of the ones in San Francisco were getting more vicious. “I guess he’d be fresh meat to one of the gangs.”

“Yeah, but the problem is…this particular gang’s leader is the bastard who I used to be friends with…before he tried to kill me.”  Jensen heard the harsh oath and he fully agreed with it. “You might see what you can find out about who the hell thought letting Kyle Marks out of a cell was a good plan because he’s still no good. He hates me, and I’ll put him in a grave if he touches Jared.”

“Jensen, keep your damn temper because if you get yourself killed or jailed, you won’t be able to help anyone,” Chris told him sternly, but he already knew that if the singer had one bad trait, it was his temper.  He could see that he might be spending a lot of time working on a roof if only to keep an eye on his former charge. “Will you being going back there tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I told Jared I would, and I want to get a look at the outside.  I thought I wouldn’t get there until the afternoon, but since I’ve already seen you, I’ll probably be there about 10 in the morning.  Jensen stopped and smiled at his former bodyguard. “I know I don’t thank you enough for opening your place here and for keeping an eye on things.  I also need to thank you for helping me with this situation.  You know I’ll make this up to you.”

Waving a hand with a smirk, Chris sat back to stare at the file again. “Damn kid has no clue what he’s getting into,” he muttered.

By the time he drove to his house that overlooked the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge, made sure everything was working correctly, returned several phone calls, unpacked his guitars, and fell face first into his bed, Jensen was sure he’d only slept ten minutes before the too bright sun was burning his eyes.

He was still half asleep when the spray of the shower hit him and began to wake him up. He shaved quickly to avoid the five o-clock shadow look he could get if he missed shaving in the morning and noticed the bleached highlights were finally fading.

“Good,” he muttered as he waited for coffee to brew.  He realized that he had no food in the house that wasn’t fit for a science project and made a note to have someone come in while he was gone to clean up and stock the place.  If someone did it once, he could keep it up after that.

Jensen preferred to do things for himself but when he knew he’d be busy, he also recognized the need to delegate.  So while he drove back toward St. Lucy’s after making a few stops, he called to arrange for his house to be cleaned and groceries and other supplies purchased.

He caught sight of a police car on a side street as well as two plain-clothes cops who still stood out like sore thumbs. “You’d think the cops would learn how to blend in sometime,” he muttered, parking the Mustang in front of the church much like he had the day before. And once again Carlos was hanging out on the steps.

“Shouldn’t you be at school or did I miss a holiday?” he asked while he climbed out of the car, leaving his jacket inside.

Unlike other singers or stars who never went out without high priced clothes and shoes as well as an entourage of security, Jensen still preferred to travel by himself. His manager usually had to threaten him to wear more than worn jeans and comfortable t-shirts, and he always declined security unless he knew he absolutely needed it.

Today since he was on his own and no one was telling him how to dress, Jensen had found his oldest pair of jeans with the beginning of a hole wearing in the knee and a battered blue t-shirt that used to have a cartoon character on the front. The character was long faded by too many washes and a mistake with a bottle of bleach, but the shirt itself was soft and comfortable.

He knew with the worn clothes and battered boots, he might not look like a successful singer, but there were times when he preferred to just look like an ordinary guy. It was less of a hassle when he could go without being recognized and now he really needed that.

“Oh, I…our school had a…earthquake drill, so it let out early,” the boy replied, coughing as green eyes just pinned him and he shifted a little uncomfortably. “Fine. I skipped today. I had a math test that I didn’t study for, and I just didn’t feel like the usual lecture for failing it.”

“Y’know if you asked her, I’m sure Sister Martha would help you with math. She can’t figure out science for anything, but she was a whiz with numbers,” Jensen told him while moving to the passenger side to begin unloading what he’d bought. “I’m better at history than numbers.”

“Dude, you’re like a rockstar. You don’t need to be good at anything,” Carlos snorted, coming closer to see the cramped backseat packed with bags. “What’s all this?” he asked.

Jensen handed a few bags to the kid while grabbing some himself. “Stuff and if you help me unload the backseat, I’ll pay you $20 and won’t tell Sister Rose you ditched school if you can come up with a better line than the earthquake drill one you tried on me.”  He shut the door with his foot, turning to the gate between the church and shelter. “And just because I’m successful with my singing doesn’t mean I don’t have to be book smart too,” he added. “I won’t always sing or my career could bomb, and I’d have to be able to make a living doing something else.  So no matter what you do, you need to work your brain.”

“Yeah, I guess you might have a point,” Carlos grudgingly admitted, grinning as he happened to look up.  He let out a low whistle. “Dude, you must have some magic mojo,” he muttered quietly so only Jensen could hear him and nodded to the side door. “I’ve never seen him wait at the door like that.”

“What?” Jensen looked toward the door only to smile as his eyes met the one hazel eye that wasn’t covered by long hair.  Jared had come out the door as soon as he spotted him. “Hey, Jared,” he greeted easily while shifting some of the bags to free one hand.  He held it out slowly and was a little surprised and a lot worried when Jared pulled to a stop as if afraid of the touch; he hadn’t been afraid of Jensen’s touch when he had left him last night. “What’s wrong?”

Carlos took the extra bags without complaint, but as he passed Jensen, he muttered something out of the corner of his mouth that had the singer tensing. “Father Patrick has already been around today.”

“Jared? It’s still okay to touch my hand. I’m still the same guy who talked to you yesterday and stuff,” Jensen told him, more concerned when he noticed how the younger man was holding himself. “Jared, did something happen after I left yesterday? Today?”

Jared bit his bottom lip, wanting to say but afraid. He’d been wondering if Jensen would return like he said he would, and now he was scared that if he told his new friend what he what had happened, he might get angry and leave.

“Tell me, Jared,” Jensen urged, catching a young nun’s face in the window and seeing her worried look as she gazed at Jared. “Come help me carry some stuff in from my car and you can tell me what you want.”  He decided that if maybe they were away from prying eyes, it might help.

Jensen had taken just a few steps when he felt a hand on his arm.  He turned to look and he felt his temper surge; he had to make himself move slowly as he reached for Jared’s right hand. “Who hurt you?” he demanded tightly upon seeing the bruises over Jared’s swollen knuckles and fingers; it had to hurt him to move them. “Jay? Who hurt you?”

Jared had tensed, expecting pain, but like yesterday, when Jensen touched him, there was nothing but the slow, gentle touch of fingers brushing over the deeply bruised, badly swollen fingers. Then he blinked as he realized what name had been used.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t think.”  Jensen swore at himself, but the more casual nickname had just slipped out with his concern. Then he noticed Jared pointing his left hand at himself while watching him, and he smiled. “Yeah, that’s you. Jay’s a shortened form of Jared so it’s like a…nickname. I won’t call you that if you don’t like it though.”

Considering some of the names he’d been called in his life, this one didn’t make him feel scared or stupid. When Jensen called him ‘Jay’ it made Jared feel good, and he did like it, so he offered a small smile as he nodded that it was alright with him.

The bright smile Jensen gave him also made Jared feel happy, so while he was still uneasy, he slid his eyes to the church before looking at his hand. He repeated this gesture two times before he caught the flash of something enter his new friend’s green eyes and tensed again.

“Father Patrick? He did this? He hurt your fingers?” Jensen had had just about enough of the priest and decided a call to his grandmother might be in order.  He knew she was on a first name basis with a bishop or two. “Why would he hurt you? Wait…where are the glasses I gave you?”

Dropping his head, Jared tried to tuck the injured hand close to him only to gasp when it was held carefully while two fingers curved under his chin to tilt his head back up. He felt his eyes filling with tears; he hated to tell Jensen that the glasses had been taken away from him.  Maybe Jensen would be upset and would never let him touch anything again.

“Hey, it’s okay. I’m not mad at you, Jay. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna be mad at someone else but never at you.” Jensen was very careful when he moved his fingers up to wipe the tears away, catching the way Jared’s eyes widened at the touch as if he was shocked at being touched but not hurt. “Did the priest take the glasses from you? Is that what happened?”

Jared’s downcast expression was all the answer Jensen needed.  He looked at the teary eyes and the bruised fingers.  Those, along with the missing sunglasses told him everything he needed to know.  He realized the priest must have accused Jared of stealing the glasses.

“Jared, you didn’t steal them.  You understand that, right? I gave them to you, but he didn’t understand or bother to ask Sister Rose where the glasses came from.” Jensen forced himself to calm down while he nudged the younger man back toward the kitchen. “We’ll get that stuff in a minute,” he replied to Jared’s nod to the front where the car was parked. “Let’s get this hand taken care of so it stops hurting you. It does hurt, doesn’t it?”

Jared nodded rapidly at that because it was hard not to let the pain show or the tears fall.  He glanced back up at the feel of a thumb brushing over his cheek to wipe away the tears that had fallen without him being aware of it.

No one except Sister Rose had ever touched his face before and never like Jensen was. Jared knew he should be frightened, but with Jensen, he didn’t seem to feel that same sick fear he always did with others. His touches were always slow and gentle. They made Jared feel safe and liked, but they were also beginning to make him feel something else and that did scare him because he didn’t want the new man to realize how sick he really was.

It amused Jensen to watch Jared’s face and eyes whenever he spoke to him or touched him. It was like everything was brand new to him and in some way Jensen guessed it might be. Of course because Jensen was still a man who liked to be aware of his surroundings, he also caught the change in the younger man that he wasn’t sure Jared had even noticed, and that reminded him that he needed to be careful on a totally different level.

“Let’s get this taken care of,” he murmured, opening the kitchen door to see that Carlos had deposited the bags off to one side before vanishing. “Where’s Sister Rose?”  He spoke to the young nun who was cleaning up after breakfast, catching the way Jared sniffed the air that still smelled of whatever had been cooked for breakfast.

“She had a meeting this morning and just got back a little bit ago,” the nun, Sister Carly, replied quietly as she turned to see the protective way Jensen stood just a bit in front of Jared.

All the nuns had heard of the disturbance yesterday, and Sister Martha had been quick to tell them who Jensen was, so she suspected that this sharp-eyed young man must be him.

“She’s in the rectory speaking with Father Patrick and the bishop now,” she went on.

“Well, that’s lucky for me then.” Jensen smiled tightly but then carefully nudged Jared until he sat at the counter. “So I take it she hasn’t seen his hand then?”

Sister Carly’s eyes were huge as she took in the swelling and bruises. “Oh, honey!”  She started to reach out to touch the hand, only to stop at the soft whimper that never failed to break her heart. “I saw him speaking with Jared, but then he took him into the utility closet and…he’s the presiding priest so some of us…most of us…are scared of him,” she explained as if seeking an excuse for not helping the quiet boy.

“Sister Rose controls the nuns, not him. You’re supposed to shield those in the shelter from harm from anyone, including a priest,” Jensen kept his tone even and his touch light as he rubbed his hand over Jared’s shoulder until he relaxed again. “Put some ice in a towel so this swelling can start to go down and…did you eat this morning, Jared?” he asked but knew the answer just by the way Jared’s eyes dropped. “I am so taking that asshole apart when I go over there.”

Jared didn’t always understand a lot of words or what people, said but he knew that Jensen was angry with Father Patrick. He also knew the priest didn’t care for Jensen by what he’d said earlier, so he was frightened of what would happen if the two met.  He was so afraid that Father Patrick would somehow be able to make Jensen leave.  He clutched at Jensen’s jacket, trying to keep him close.

“Don’t worry about me going anywhere because I’m not,” he assured him while he took the ice wrapped in a towel and placed it over the bruised hand. “I know it’s cold, but the ice will help the swelling go down. While I go speak with Sister Rose and the bishop, you’re going to sit here and eat some breakfast.  Then you can take a pill for the pain before you help me today, okay?”

Jared was still wary of eating but as he watched Jensen put some eggs and toast on a plate he felt his stomach grumble. It was a struggle to control the fork with his left hand, but after a couple tries he was able to maneuver it.  Even though he was really hungry, he nudged his plate toward Jensen, offering to share his food.

“I grabbed something on the way here, but I will eat lunch and dinner with you,” Jensen replied, standing to level a look to the nun. “He eats when everyone else eats, and since he didn’t get breakfast, if he wants more of this while I’m gone, give it to him. I’ll be back in a few minutes, Jay.”

The nickname still caused a rush of pleasure in Jared, and he nodded while eating with the same careful precision as he had the night before.

Sister Carly wiped a tear away at the casual exchange. Jared had already been here when she was assigned, but in the years since, she’d never seen anyone but Rose or the former priest take an interest in the boy like Jensen was, and she’d never heard anyone use a nickname for him that wasn’t foul or derogatory. Now she just hoped this blossoming friendship could last and that perhaps Jared could learn to trust at least one person.

“Absolutely not!” Sister Rose’s sharp voice could be heard even before Jensen got to the door. “Only three times since this shelter was opened did I ever put anyone out and that was for drug infractions. I’ll put you out before I do that boy!”

“Rose, as I explained yesterday, the congregation is concerned about him being near their children. Now there are other matters to worry about,” Father Patrick replied stiffly. “We certainly can’t have a thief living here. Who knows what else he might do.  Plus there’s that other matter.”

Bishop Michael Westing had been getting several complaints a week about the new priest at St. Lucy’s. Now he thought he saw why. He’d known the boy was the wrong choice for this assignment, but he was all they had at the time the decision needed to be made.

“Jared is no thief and what other matter?” Rose was livid as she had been since returning from her meeting downtown that morning.

“He’s clearly mentally unstable, he’s a threat to the children’s well-being, he’s a thief, and he’s also homosexual!” the priest snapped, slapping the sunglasses onto the desk. “All of those things are against the laws of the church, and I insist he must be put out.  If you don’t want to put him back on the streets, return him to the people who are clearly seeking him.”

“Yeah, try that and see how fast I bloody your face.” Jensen spoke from where he leaned against the door, eyes furious slits. “Of course I plan of doing that anyway unless you put the bishop between us in the next three seconds because the last time I looked, it wasn’t a priest’s job to step on or bruise a boy’s fingers and knuckles so badly he can’t move them.  Since I see only one thief here maybe you’d like me to break your fingers, ‘Father’?”

Three sets of eyes all turned to look, but only one set showed any hostility as the priest glared. “You have no business in here, Mr. Ackles, and I do not appreciate your tone,” he replied stiffly. “You do not understand what’s going on with that…person or whatever he is. Also, I am most certainly not a thief unlike your so-called friend.”

“Really? Then can you tell me why you have my glasses?” Jensen glared at the priest before he offered a slow smile to Sister Rose and a polite nod to the older man in his bishop’s clothes.  He reached over to jerk the dark glasses off the desk. “These don’t belong to you. They belong to Jared. I gave them to him last night but you didn’t bother to ask or investigate or get information at all, did you?  You just assumed he stole them and took it upon yourself to ‘punish him!’  Do you even know how badly you hurt his hand?  Do you even care?”

Sister Rose had come around the desk, her cane in her hand and fury in her eyes. “What happened to Jared?” she demanded sharply, narrowing her gaze at the priest. “Did you touch him? Did you hurt that boy?”

“He’s a thief!” Father Patrick snapped, anger and dislike making him forget where he was and who he was with. “He’s a retarded, violent, godless heathen who is a sick, thieving faggot!

“And now you bleed, you son of a bitch,” Jensen growled.


Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Four

Jensen knew he had a temper. He’d been told that since childhood, but he’d learned to mostly suppress it…unless he was pushed beyond his limit or until his temper snapped.

His limit was coming close, but his temper snapped at that last phrase, and he shoved the priest against the wall in the next heartbeat, holding him in place with an arm against the man’s neck. “Don’t you ever call him that,” he growled, voice low and harsh while snarling at the hate he saw reflected back at him. “I’m ignoring that you called me a godless heathen which is pretty amusing since I bet I can still recite every Bible I learned as a child while you probably have to look up the verses you use in your sermons each week.  I’m also ignoring that Jared seems to think that you’ll be able force me away from here and him.  

“What I will not ignore is you calling him sick or a sinner.  I will not ignore that you took those glasses away from him.  I will not ignore that you hurt his hand. I will not ignore that a man of the cloth, who is supposed to protect and shelter the weak and innocent, is threatening and hurting that boy because you clearly have some sort of issue with him!”  Jensen’s arm pressed a little harder; he felt the hand on his shoulder in warning but ignored it for the moment so he could get his point across.

“You can hate me all you want, but I’m not going anywhere. I will be here everyday, all day, for the next six months if not longer. I will have contractors here by week’s end to start repairing the roof and the outside as well as the windows and doors. I will have new beds installed that actually fit a man, and if you even try to tell Jared that he’s not allowed to sleep on one of them, then the next time I have my arm over your throat I might not let go,” he warned harshly, stepping back slowly with a smirk as he lifted the glasses. “These belong to Jared. I gave them to him.  You should have checked your facts before attacking him.”

Father Patrick was furious and ashamed that the bishop was witnessing this, but he felt confident that after seeing this blatant attack, his superior would force this man away from the property.

A hand closed over his throat but without pressure. “Never touch him again you sanctimonious prick and never call him that word again. Even if he is gay, a word he probably doesn’t even understand, don’t ever call him that.”

“He’s a sinner in the eye of the Lord!” Father Patrick hissed. “He should have stayed where he was if that’s what he wants to be. He should be punished for being impure, and he brings that impurity amongst innocent children that…”

“What he wants to be?” Jensen repeated, too shocked to be enraged since he wasn’t expecting that to come out of the priest’s mouth and clearly neither were Sister Rose or the bishop. “You think he wanted to be abused? You think he wanted to have whatever was done to him done? You think he wants to be too scared to speak? You think he wants to…”  He felt the anger spiking again as he envisioned those big eyes and soft smile as well as the beautiful young man that went with them.

“I saw another man kissing him in an alley a block from here and I’ve seen him…touching himself.”  The priest spoke like he was revealing a huge secret while sneering at Jensen. “Now what do you think of him?”

Jensen smirked and shook his head but stepped back before he did draw blood. “  What do I think?  I think you wouldn’t have noticed, or cared, if Jared was willingly kissing someone in an alley, or if some asshole was forcing Jared to kiss him. As for the other thing?  He’s a healthy, if confused and naïve, young man, and that’s something natural that most men do.”  He paused before turning his head to the side. “Now tell me…what you were doing watching him, ‘Father’?”

“Patrick!” the bishop snapped sternly when the priest’s fist drew back to strike. “That will be quite enough!  I’ve heard much more than I needed to.”  He stepped between the two men while Sister Rose hid her smile while pulling Jensen back.

The young priest took several breaths before calming down, but the look he slid to Jensen still showed his hate. “I’m sorry, Bishop. I assure you that I’ll make certain that both the young man in question and Mr. Ackles are removed before…”

“No, you won’t, Patrick,” the bishop cut in sternly, glancing over his shoulder. “Hello, Jensen,” he greeted cordially, a wry smile showing. “I was speaking with your grandmother last week and she didn’t mention your return. Am I to assume Sarah doesn’t know you’re back in the city yet?”

“Not yet but I’ll tell her soon.”  Jensen shrugged, seeing the surprise on the priest’s face at this. “I was going to call her to ask her to call you, but I guess I don’t have to now.”

“No, I’ve had several phone calls as of late regarding certain matters here at the church, but it was a call from a friend of yours this morning that made me decide to drop in for a visit. Mr. Kane was quite insistent that I look into things personally and now I see why.”  The older man shot a disappointed look at the young priest. “Father Patrick will finish out the week but then will be returning to the seminary.  I will see about appointing a new priest to St. Lucy’s just as soon as possible. One that will have a bit more compassion for those in need and less for those with money.”

As Father Patrick stuttered and tried to argue, Jensen merely smiled. “Whatever, so long as he stays away from Jay until then,” he replied, kissing the nun’s cheek. “Speaking of which, I need to get back to him and see what I’m doing today. Talk to you later, Bishop, Sister Rose.”

Jensen hadn’t gotten out of the church before the older woman was at his side. “I know, I know,” Jensen began, wanting to avoid a lecture from the nun.  “I lost my temper and it’s a sin to put my hands on a priest, but he made me angry when he popped off about Jay like that,” he sighed but then blinked when she placed her hands on his face to kiss his cheeks. “Huh?”

“You’re still a brash, hotheaded boy, but your heart has always been in the right place, so I’ll forgive you,” she told him, turning serious. “Is Jared badly hurt?”

“His hand is swollen and pretty badly bruised, and he’s scared of course, but I still think I can get through to him with enough time,” Jensen replied, stopping her before they entered the kitchen. “Did you know Kyle was behind the gang that’s bothering him?” he asked. “Did you know he was out?”

Sister Rose sighed, lacing her fingers together as she did when serious. “Yes, I knew that horrid man was out of prison, and while I wasn’t certain, I suspected he might be behind the more violent gang activity that’s been taking place lately,” she confirmed, eyeing him shrewdly. “Jensen, have you seen…”

“When I left here last night, he was waiting for me outside.”  Jensen was quick to lay a hand on her arm. “Don’t worry. Nothing happened. Everyone’s favorite cop showed up, but as long as I’m around, there might be more issues so…just watch things and keep me and Murphy on speed-dial,” he told her, taking a moment to clear his mind and face of the recent issues so he could open the door with a calm and bright smile. “Hey, look what I have.”

Jared had been sitting at the counter with Sister Carly and Carlos, and he turned at the voice, looking relieved when he saw Jensen. His eyes lit as the dark glasses were placed back on the top of his head, and he reached up tentatively to touch them.

“Yeah, Jay, they’re really yours,” Jensen promised with smile.  He glanced down and slowly lifted the towel to see that some of the swelling had gone down, but the bruises were still vivid; it would be hard for him to use that hand for a day or so. “Do you feel like helping me today, or would you rather just sit and watch TV?”

Holding up his left hand Jared motioned that he could still do stuff with it. He didn’t want to be inside when he could be with Jensen doing…whatever it was Jensen would be doing.

“Then let’s get the rest of the stuff out of my car before I start seeing how many windows don’t need to be replaced.”  Jensen gave a soft tap to put the glasses down to shield Jared’s eyes before speaking to Sister Rose. “In about an hour a truck is going to be pulling up to deliver some furniture. Just tell them where to put it, and they’ll take the old stuff away.  They’ll donate what can be used and trash the rest.”

“Jensen Ackles, I really should stop you from spending so much money.”  She’d known the beds needed to be replaced for a while, but there was always something more vital to fix with what little funds she saw come in. “This time I’ll let you because it makes you happy to help out.”

“We’ll see if she’s that easy to get around when the roofers start tomorrow,” Jensen told Jared out of the corner of his mouth, pleased to see a small smile on the young man’s face. “Or later when the grocer delivers food and stuff for the pantry.”

Jared’s eyes widened behind his glasses, taking in the fancy car as Jensen opened the small trunk to remove a few bags. He’d seen cars like this on TV or on the streets, but he’d never been close to one before and stood back so he didn’t hurt it.

“You can touch it if you want. It’s just a car.”  Jensen had seen the wistful look when Jared realized which car was his, and once again he was reminded at how young Jared really was. “One day if you’d like, maybe we can go for a ride in it. I swear I’m not the speed demon driver I once was. Would you like that?”

The smile still wasn’t a full blown one, but it real and brilliant as Jared nodded his head at the suggestion of riding in the powerful car, laying a hand on the hood to move it along the outline of the car slowly.

“On a straight road with no traffic, I can get her up past 120 in less than 15 seconds.”  Jensen laughed at the look of shock on that boyish face and longed to give him more chances to have that look.  He also treasured the joyous look that came when the beds were delivered, and Jensen took him inside to show him his new bed. “Now you can fit on it.”

The only tense time came when Jared clung to the ragged blanket even though Sister Rose tried to explain that the new blanket was larger and softer.  She kept gently trying to remove the old blanket from his grasp until he sat on the bed and held it tightly to his chest like a child might and started to rock.

“Did he have that when he came?” Jensen suddenly asked, the answer suddenly so plain.  He was cursing himself for not seeing it sooner.

The nun thought back with her fingers touching her lips. “Oh,” she whispered. “Yes, when Father Thomas found him, he had the clothes on his back and that blanket. I never once gave it a thought. Even when he doesn’t stay here he keeps that with him.”

“Jay, hey, calm down a second.” Jensen sat beside him and tipped the glasses back onto his head while letting his hand slowly rub over a shaking arm. “Jay? Did you have this blanket even from…before the badness happened to you?” he asked carefully, feeling his throat tighten when Jared looked up at him with tears shining in his eyes but not falling as he lifted one tattered corner to show Jensen some very faded embroidery. “JTP. Those are…they must be your…initials. This must have been your baby blanket.”

Jared wasn’t sure what that meant. All he knew was that he’d had this blanket when he was happy, before the monsters came, before he was hurt, and now he didn’t want to let it go.  He curled his fingers in the blanket and pulled in closer to him again, looking suspiciously at Sister Rose.

“Of course you can keep it, Jay. You can keep it and still have this new one too,” Jensen assured him, wondering if Jared realized he was holding his hand.  He chose not to mention it, and he then took a huge chance by easing his arm around the broad trembling shoulders.

The touch was light and he made no move to tighten it or get any closer.  He knew that Jared would probably remain wary of touches of any kind for a while, so he wanted to do this gradually.  He wasn’t sure who was more shocked when Jared made the move to lean into the hold, Jared or himself. “Jay?”

There was something about this handsome man who had stood up for him, who seemed to actually like him, that allowed the deep seated fear inside him to ease away some; Jared really couldn’t explain it because he knew he should have been terrified and looking for a dark place to hide the moment that slender but strong arm touched his shoulders.

The fear was still there, but it wasn’t as mind blowing as it was with other people. Jared felt more cautious than fearful. He also felt something else that he wasn’t used to feeling and that did frighten him. It also frightened him to let himself trust, something he didn’t know how to do.

Sister Rose had always told him that he’d instinctively know when he could trust someone and when someone was being honest with him. Jared hadn’t really believed that, but since yesterday, since meeting Jensen, he was trying to understand more.

He slowly looked up and forced himself to meet Jensen’s eyes.  He put a cautious hand on the arm around his shoulders and took a deep breath, trying to relax.

“Are you worried that I might hurt you?” Jensen shook his head and allowed his arm to curve more around Jared’s shoulder to bring the younger man closer to his side. “No, I won’t ever hurt you, Jared. I know trusting someone isn’t something you’re used; I get that it’s hard to know who to trust after what you’ve been through. I know it’ll take you some time to get to know me before you learn to trust me fully, but I will never hurt you and I will do my best to keep anyone else from hurting you,” he reassured the young man.

Jensen saw the confusion in Jared’s eyes and it almost broke his heart.  The young man was looking for a hidden agenda, a reason for Jensen to be so nice to him, a price he might ultimately have to pay for Jensen’s kindness.

That really reminded Jensen of how badly Jared had been hurt; he automatically assumed that if anyone was nice to him, they wanted something from him. “Little Boy, you have been hurt so damn much and in ways that you shouldn’t have been.”  His voice shook a little as he leaned back enough to carefully, finally, brush the hair away from Jared’s face so he could look at him fully. “Look at me, Jared. Let me see your full face.”

That was something Jared never did. He hadn’t looked anyone, not the former priest or any of the nuns, in the face or let them touch him in the ten years he had been at the shelter.  He always tried to hide the scars on his face, yet he stayed still when Jensen’s gentle fingers brushed his hair out of his eyes so he could hesitantly meet that steady green gaze.

“Shhh, don’t shake, Jay, don’t be afraid.  I promise I’m not gonna hurt you, and I promise I’m not gonna make you do anything you don't want to do.  I’m thrilled that you feel safe enough to look at me and let me touch you a little bit.” Jensen kept his fingers away from the scars because he knew that touching those might break the fragile trust that seemed to be developing. “You need to learn that the best way to tell if someone is speaking the truth to you is they will look you directly in your eyes; they don’t look away.

“I don’t want anything from you, Jay. I don’t expect anything back for what I do for you. I want to help you learn to trust, begin to live a life that doesn’t involve hiding, and maybe even to hear you say my name or see you smile so I can see the dimples I think you might have.”  He held his breath to see if the young man would believe him as he stared into his eyes for a long time. “No tricks. I just want to be your friend. You choose anything else that happens.”

Leaving that open so Jared could think and decide on it later, Jensen held his gaze for another moment before taking the hand that was still held and holding it up so Jared could see what he was doing. “I promise that if you ever need me and I’m not here, all you have to do is ask Sister Rose or someone to call me. I will get here as quick as I can, okay?”  He could have gone on, but he didn’t want to overload Jared with too much too soon, plus the singer had a feeling that for some stuff, the shelter might not be the place to talk.

Watching Jensen’s eyes for another second before slowly tightening his own fingers to hold his hand tighter, Jared nodded while offering a shy smile.

“Well Jay, we have stuff to do.” Jensen said as he heard another truck pull up; he guessed it was the grocer, and fearing Sister Rose’s reaction, he chose to go hide out back. “Let’s go check out some windows outside, Jay,” he said, standing up and extending a hand.

Jared ducked his head again, still shy about looking at anyone, but he grinned as his glasses were slid down again and he took the offered hand to follow the older man outside.

For the rest of the morning Jared followed Jensen around the buildings as he inspected broken drainpipes, cracked windows, chipped blocks and anything else that looked worn or broken. By the time lunch was ready, Jared was hungry but he made no move until Jensen did.

“Is it safe to stick my head in here or does she have that cane?” Jensen peeked into the kitchen to see several nuns hurrying around to put away all that was delivered as well as serve those who had come for lunch.

Sister Rose looked up from the plates of sandwiches, chips, and pickles she was preparing to crook her finger at him to come closer.

“Why do I feel like I’m going to get slapped if I get within her reach?” he asked Jared softly but smiled to let the suddenly worried younger man know he was kidding. “Yes, Sister Rose?”

“Oh, don’t turn that charm on me, Jensen Ackles,” she scoffed, wiping her hands on a cloth before reaching up to pull him closer.  She kissed his cheeks and then lightly slapped him on the head. “You have the voice of an angel but the eyes and the smile of the devil, boyo. I shouldn’t let you do all this, but I can’t seem to stop you.”

“You said that as long as I was here to see the results, I could donate what I want.  Well I’m here, so just stop worrying and leave it to me.”  Jensen kissed her cheek, seeing her smile when Jared got a little braver, peeking around Jensen to see what was on the plates. “He let me put an arm around him, Rose.”  He couldn't contain his own smile as he watched her add a few cheesecake bites, one of the many special treats Jensen had requested with his huge grocery order, to each of the plates.

She ran her fingers through Jensen’s shorter hair much like she would when he was still a cocky teenager. “Teaching him to trust might mean teaching yourself a few things as well, my boy,” she told him with a smile stepping back to hand him both plates and a thermos while handing glasses to Jared. “These are for you and Jared. You can eat outside so you won’t be in my way in here while I try to sort through all this stuff.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Jensen winked, heading toward the door. “You want to eat by the playground so you can show me what needs to be fixed out there when we’re done?”  He chuckled at Jared’s wide eyes and explained further, “You play out there with the kids so you know what should be fixed…or added.”

Another shy smile but Jared nodded. They sat at the small paint chipped picnic table on the other side of the fenced-in playground.

The sandwiches were made with ham, cheese and salami.  Jared had never tasted salami so it took him a couple of tries to bite into the soft fresh bread.

“Good?” Jensen asked, eating while watching as new expressions crossed Jared’s face every time he encountered a new flavor.  Jared smiled as he tasted a different kind of potato chip and realizing he really liked salami, he began to eat the sandwich faster.

More interested in seeing Jared eat and be full than in eating his own meal, Jensen offered him half of his sandwich as well as the chips as he realized those were what the young man liked best. The face the pickle earned him made him laugh, so he traded the pickle for the cheesecake bites on his plate.

“Okay, so not a huge pickle fan yet I see,” he smiled while pouring some lemonade into the plastic glasses. “Dill pickles take some getting used to, so maybe we’ll work into those. Try a cheesecake bite. Have you ever eaten cheesecake before, Jay?”

Jared wasn’t impressed with the tart pickle though he liked the lemonade. He was more cautious when he picked up the first cheesecake bite. He sniffed it before taking a tiny bite, blinking as the sweet, creamy flavor hit his tongue, and he made a soft sound of pleasure that surprised him because he looked up quickly to see Jensen’s soft smile.

“You can eat them,” he encouraged, enjoying watching the boyish delight of eating a new food that he liked cross Jared’s face. “We’ll have to see what other foods you like to eat so you can start eating more. I’m surprised Sister Rose hasn’t been yelling about your ribs showing.”

Chewing the soft cheesecake with relish, Jared reached his hand out to touch Jensen’s stomach and then his own.  He frowned as he realized that despite being a little taller he did feel thinner.

“Once you start eating right, full meals and also fruits and vegetables, you’ll put some weight, on but you still look fine, Jay,” Jensen told him, taking the cheesecake bite Jared offered slowly. “You want to give me your last bite of cheesecake? You sure?”

Jared made a sandwich motion before tapping the cheesecake to make his friend understand that he’d shared his sandwich so he’d share his dessert.

“Thank you, I adore cheesecake bites.  That’s why I added them to the grocery order for the shelter.  I know Sister Rose never splurges on special treats,” Jensen told him, sipping the lemonade.  He noticed the roofers had come to start checking the roofs to see what needed to be done, but his focus was on the big soft-eyed boy across from him. “I like most sweets and candy, though my favorite cookie is snicker doodles like my grandmother’s cook made when I was a kid.”  He smiled fondly at the memory and deciding he’d be paying a visit to Sarah Ackles if only to bug her cook. “I’ll have to bring you some of those one day.”

While Jensen cleaned up after they ate, Jared picked at some of the peeling paint, but he had already seen that on Jensen’s list of things to fix so he didn’t pay too much attention to it.  He looked around carefully before tugging on the man’s hand to bring him to the small swing set.

It was good for tiny kids, but not for the bigger ones as Jared pointed out by how he motioned with his hands to the ground. Then he touched it to show how it moved because the bolts in the cement were loose.

“That’s not safe,” Jensen muttered, watching as Jared put his hands on the support beam while mimicking the swing moving. “You hold the swing steady while the kids swing on it? Yeah, this is getting fixed tomorrow if I can arrange it that fast. Did you like to swing as a kid, Jared?”

Dropping his eyes, Jared shrugged a little. He didn’t like to think of when he first came here because that brought back the other memories, like the ones of being burned, touched, or hurt.  He was having a hard time fighting those memories off at night again.

“You never really were a kid though, were you?” Jensen wished he could repair all of that but accepted there were limits and all he could do was help him now. “What else? That basketball net was looking a little threadbare yesterday.”

Actually as Jared showed him, the whole damn basketball set-up was bad. The pole, like the swing set, was barely holding in the ground, the net was torn, and the backboard was loose.

“I should just put in a whole new playground except she’d probably slap me,” Jensen sighed, walking to the slide.  He saw that at least it seemed sturdy and just needed a new coat of paint and maybe some grass around it instead of concrete. “Do you slide?”

Jared’s cheeks turned a pale pink as he dropped his head, foot kicking a weed; he was embarrassed to admit that he still did like to go down the slide when no one was looking.

“Well, we need to see how sturdy this thing is so…one of us needs to go down it,” Jensen tried to keep the smile off his face at the hand that rose. “You want to go down while I watch for…sturdiness?”

He already knew the slide was the sturdiest thing on the playground, but it was the longing that he’d seen on Jared’s face that got to him.

Jared shot a wary glance over his shoulder as if to see if anyone was looking before he climbed the ladder, going up slower due to his injured hand. He sat at the top to look around, enjoying the slight difference with the dark glasses shielding his eyes from the bright sun.  When he looked down to see Jensen’s encouraging smile, he felt some of the always-there tension break in his chest.

The slide was a decent size, but Jensen had seen bigger ones; he considered adding one of those to the playground as he watched Jared’s face bloom into a full boyish smile when he relaxed his body to let it slide down.

He caught a flash of dimples, but it was the laugh that caught him by surprise as he reached out an arm to keep Jared’s momentum from taking him to the hard concrete.  He was amazed when instead of recoiling from the touch, the boy reached out to accept it.

“Not bad on this side, but I think you may have to try it again so I can look on the other side.”  Actually, Jensen was no longer watching the slide, but the happiness that just doing something as childlike and free as sliding gave Jared.

Jensen already suspected his heart was lost, but this sealed the deal. Even if he never admitted it to Jared because he knew the young man was too naïve to understand it, he’d do whatever he had to just to keep that smile on his face.

Jared came down for the fourth time with enough speed that he was able to stand up while still moving, and it took him a moment to realize that the other laugh he heard in addition to Jensen’s was his.  That took him a moment to comprehend, because he really couldn’t recall hearing himself laugh before.

“It’ll take you time to get used to laughing out loud.”  Jensen suspected what had caused that puzzled little look, which he also found adorable, and stepped closer to brush the windblown hair back. “Baby steps - I won’t lie and say it’ll be easy to learn to trust after so many years of fear, but you don’t have anything to be afraid of or ashamed of, Jay.”

Jared knew it wasn’t as simple as that; he knew he still had plenty to fear, and he’d never stop be ashamed of his past, but it was the fear of Jensen being ashamed of him that worried him the most now.

He knew he should try to explain things, to tell his new friend about himself, what it was that made people think he was sick and sinful, but he feared losing the safety he’d never known before now.

“Let’s go look at those windows so I can write down how many need to be ordered, or should I just say the hell…heck with it and replace them all?” Jensen had been quick to correct the curse word since he was on church property, and he also didn’t want Jared picking up too many of his bad habits.  It would be terrible if Jared finally worked up the courage to speak only to start cursing right off the bat.

Jared had figured out his new friend planned on fixing the broken things around the shelter. Considering the windows and the rhetorical question, he just nodded his agreement because they all needed to be replaced.  There was something else he wanted to show Jensen, hoping that maybe he could help with this as well.

He bit his bottom lip, trying to figure out a way to communicate his message.  He took Jensen’s hand and starting to pull him toward the back of the church, but then froze, starting to worry.  Maybe Jensen would be upset if he wanted something more on top of everything Jensen had already done.  He closed his eyes and started to pull away.

“Wait.  Jay, come on, if you need or want something just tell me.  Or show me.”  Jensen wished it wasn’t so hard for Jared to open up, but he’d never known what it was to want for anything while Jared had probably never had anything that was his own except for that blanket.

Jared took a deep breath and started off again, leading Jensen to the back of the church near the old shed that was used to store Sister Rose’s gardening tools.

Jensen frowned, feeling a bit confused, but let Jared lead the way.  He noticed the caution the young man showed as he looked around to be sure no one, like the priest, was watching before he got to his knees to move some branches and junk aside. “Jay, be careful. Don’t cut yourself.”  He didn’t like how rusted some of the junk appeared when he suddenly frowned more. “Oh my God.”

Eight little fluffy kittens crawled out from under the shed and into Jared’s lap as he took some of the spare ham he’d removed from his sandwich to begin to feed them sparingly.  Jensen was literally speechless, perhaps for the first moment in his life, as he watched how gentle Jared was with the tiny creatures.

“Jay?” he whispered, not wanting to startle Jared or the kittens.  “How did you find them?  Where’s their mama?”

Jared swallowed and pointed to a spot not too far from the shed.  The soil had recently been disturbed, and Jensen was pretty sure that the mother cat was buried there.  He shook his head sadly.  “Oh, Jay, you know these babies lost their mama.  And you’ve been trying to feed them.  But you don't get enough to eat yourself, so I'm sure you can't always feed them.  You know what it’s like to be hungry.  And you sure know what it’s like to not have your mama around.  Oh jeez…” Jensen’s voice trailed off and he swiped angrily at the tears that threatened to spill out of his eyes.  He wondered how long Jared had kept the kittens here, trying to keep them alive.

Jensen might have grown up a cocky, mouthy kid with an attitude, and he still tried to portray that hardness at times, but if he had a weakness for anything besides Jared, it was animals.  He sat down beside the boy to hold his hand out and smiled when one brave kitten sniffed his finger before curling into a ball in his hand.

He figured the kittens were just at an age where they didn’t need their mother to feed them, but they were still tiny and needed care so a hole under a shed wasn’t the best place for them.

It was clear from the start that despite it all, despite the life of hell that he must have gone through, Jared’s heart was still huge and also soft because he cared enough to rescue these kittens.

“We’ll make them a little bed inside the shed since no one goes in there much right now. Tomorrow I’ll take them to live at my place and you can come visit them whenever you want.”  He didn’t know what the hell he’d do with eight kittens in his home, but he’d just buy a book or hire a kitten nanny for during the day. “Is that okay with you, Jay?”

Jared would miss his little friends but he knew that being in a warm home would be better for them than where they were now, and if he could still see them sometimes, he was happy with the plan. He lifted one of the tiny kittens and held it against his cheek.  Then he bit his bottom lip and handed the kitten to Jensen, symbolically relinquishing the care of the kittens to his new friend.

Jensen saw a single tear fall from Jared’s eye as he handed the kitten over, and he reached out to brush it away with his thumb.  He felt Jared shiver and wasn’t certain if the touch was the cause or some memory.  Perhaps the helplessness of the kittens was causing Jared to remember how helpless he was during the years before he escaped and came to live at the shelter. “Jay, are you having flashbacks?” he asked cautiously, kicking himself for not seeing it before.

The younger man wasn’t certain what those were, but he nodded because he was having the dreams again only now that he was older, they were more vivid, clearer and also scarier.  He kept his eyes downcast, focusing on the kittens rather than Jensen.

“You know, Jay, I will take good care of these little balls of fluff, and I will love them even when they tear things up.  We will play with them, and I will never allow anyone to take them or hurt them,” Jensen promised, voice thick with emotion because he knew that he was also promising that he wouldn’t allow anyone to take Jared or hurt him.

But before he could add that or say anything else, he had to quickly adjust to the surprising armful of young man he found himself with when Jared suddenly moved to hug him in return for helping save the kittens.

The hug floored him because he hadn’t been expecting Jared to allow that level of closeness so soon, but in the next second Jensen was fighting back burning tears when the next shock came.

“…Thank…you, Jen...sen.”

The words were whisper soft and rough from a voice not used to speaking, but they were the best words Jensen had ever heard and would stay with him as the first time Jared spoke his name, no matter how haltingly.

“You’re welcome, Jay,” he murmured, coughing to clear his voice from the emotions that wanted to come out.  He didn’t want to upset or confuse Jared now as he returned the hug carefully, feeling the body in his arms tremble before it seemed like he settled into the touch. “Thank you,” he whispered, the urge to touch and soothe strong, but he pushed it back until a better time or until he could explain things better.

Jared slowly eased back to rub at his watery eyes, that adorable furrow in his brow as he tried to understand what his friend was thanking him for.

“Thank you for trusting me enough to speak to me, Jay.” Jensen’s smile was soft, his touch gentle when he let his fingers move along Jared’s cheek but again stayed away from touching the scars. “Let’s make these little critters a bed for tonight.”

Leaving Jared to keep the kittens from roaming off, Jensen went back to grab an extra blanket as well as a bowl of water. He ignored the curious looks from Sister Rose and waved off Chris Kane who’d just arrived to see what was happening.  He hurried back to clean a spot in the shed, and he laid the blanket where the kittens would be safe to roll and play but wouldn’t get hurt.

“That should keep them safe until I take them tomorrow.”  Jensen watched as Jared petted each kitten before placing it in the shed, and he could see how torn he was at not being able to see the kittens every day.  He began to consider another idea but knew it needed to be discussed with Jared in great detail. “I’ll take you to play with them anytime you want, so you won’t miss them and they won’t miss you, Jay.”

Jared smiled at that as he carefully shut the door, still looking around. He started to nod his head but took a shaky breath instead and swallowed. “O…kay?”

“They’ll be fine and no one will hurt them,” Jensen assured him, seeing the worry. “I’d take them today, but I need to buy kitten stuff like beds, food, toys…a baby gate to keep them from falling down the steps if I have them upstairs at night with me and…litter and…you can lose the smirk, Kane,” he spoke since he knew the older man was shooting him that look from where he stood.

He was also quick to put his hand on Jared’s arm to keep him still, feeling him go rigid at the first sight of someone new. “Jay, it’s okay. He won’t hurt you or the kittens. He just looks mean.”  He shot his own smirk at his friend while trying to calm Jared down when he turned at his sharp breathing. “Jared, look at me.”

The order was firm, but the tone gentle so Jared did, relaxing a little at the calmness reflected in those green eyes, but he was still wary. The new man wasn’t completely new since Jared had seen him around the shelter before, usually getting yelled at by Sister Rose for snooping.

“Jay, this is Chris Kane. He used to be my bodyguard. Now he owns a bar in town and is helping me with some stuff, so he might be here some,” Jensen told him slowly, rubbing his hand up a tense arm but made no move to urge Jared forward until he judged the situation for himself. “He won’t come close to you or touch you in any way except maybe to shake your hand if you offer it. I wouldn’t bring anyone close to you that I thought might be bad or hurt you.”

Jared gazed over Jensen’s shoulder into the long haired man’s steady blue eyes; he recalled what Jensen had said about people willing to look him in the eye, usually that meant they could be trusted. “He’s…your friend…Jen?”  The words were slow, and he didn’t seem to realize that he had shortened his friend’s name as he reached for a hand that was immediately there.

“Yeah, he’s my friend,” Jensen replied and prayed Chris kept his mouth shut about the nickname in front of Jared because while he had hated to be called that by anyone, it felt different when Jared used it so he was thinking he might get used to it after all. “Chris, this is Jared,” he said without moving his eyes from the hazel ones that moved from him to Chris as if making a decision.

“Jay?” Jared questioned curiously, noticing that at some times Jensen used his full name and others just the nickname.

“I call you Jay. He and anyone else should call you Jared unless you say different,” Jensen replied with a slow smile, shooting Chris a rude gesture with the hand that he held behind his back out of sight as Jared ducked his head with a shy grin as that sank in. “What do you want him to call you?”

It never failed to surprise Jared when he was asked what he wanted. No one except Jensen has ever done that. Before he was always told to obey or be punished. Even Sister Rose never really asked, just told him what to do or guessed what he wanted.

Being asked his opinion or what he wanted was new, but it made him feel a bit better about himself even if speaking was still weird for him.  He’d never even spoken his own name since he told it to Sister Rose years ago.

Seeing Jared’s lips move silently and realizing he was trying to say his name broke Jensen’s heart a little more as he remembered that until yesterday the younger man wasn’t even used to hearing it spoken. “Jared,” he spoke the name softly, slowly as if to let its owner hear it.

Listening to it spoken to him, Jared touched Jensen’s lips with a finger to feel the name as it was repeated before touching his own lips while mouthing it silently himself. “J…Jared,” he finally murmured, blinking when it sounded a little different than how Jensen said it, and then he realized a lot of his words sounds funny to him compared to his friend’s low, smooth voice.

That was when it finally hit Jensen, and he understood what Murphy had meant when he told him that he’d see that Jared wasn’t from California if he spoke. It was the accent.

“You said it right, Jay. You just speak with a different accent than me.”  Jensen shot a quick glance over his shoulder to see Chris nod that he’d heard it as well. “Sounds like you’re from somewhere in Texas, so your voice might sound different than mine but it’s still good.”

Jared wasn’t sure he agreed with that since the last thing he wanted was to be more different than he already felt, but if Jensen said it was okay, then he’d go with that.  He finally moved his gaze back to Chris. “Jared,” he said with a bit more confidence.

“Well I guess that’s what I’ll call you then.”  Chris kept his smile toned down despite his amusement at how serious the boy was when he said his name to him but couldn’t hide his surprise when a hand was shakily held out. “I’ll be damned,” he muttered, amazed and impressed at the change in the quiet young man in just a short time around Jensen, but he took the offered hand to shake it firmly, but gently.  He recognized it wasn’t Jared’s right hand and then noticed the bruises. “You didn’t punch anyone today, did you, Jensen?”

“Almost but there was a nun and a bishop in the room so I held off.”  Jensen shrugged, relaxing a little when Jared eased more to his side rather than behind him. “I have a list of stuff for you to order today, so that hopefully it can start to get delivered tomorrow.”  He handed his friend the pieces of paper he’d been writing on all day and hid his smirk as the former bodyguard’s eyes got wide. “Too much?”

Chris had suspected his friend would go overboard in repairing the aging church and shelters, but he hadn’t been expecting this much this soon. “Why don’t you just save time and money and build a whole new church and shelter in another part of the city?” he asked with a low groan.

“If I thought Sister Rose would let me, I would.”  Jensen shrugged, keeping his smile small when he felt fingers slipping into his. “Since I know she won’t, we’ll just have to repair this place. Jay? What is it?”  He felt the sudden jerk on his hand a moment before Jared tensed and stepped more behind him again. “Jared?”

“That is not appropriate behavior here, young man!” Father Patrick’s harsh voice sounded from the side of the path between the church and shelter building, and the priest was glaring at Jared. “Release his hand before I take a ruler to your fingers again!”

Jared’s breath picked up in fear, but before he could move, the hand holding his just tightened and Jensen put himself more in front of him.

“It’s okay, Jay. Stay where you are and don’t let go,” Jensen told him softly before narrowing his eyes at the priest. “Don’t you have something to do other than pick on him, ‘Father’?” he asked mildly, his smile slow but even. “Like packing for your return trip to the seminary or writing your goodbye speech to the poor people you had fooled into thinking you were a kind man of the cloth who cared about his parishioners?”

“I might be getting transferred, Mr. Ackles, but I will still do my duty while I’m here,” Father Patrick returned tightly, hating this smart mouth young singer almost as much as he did the boy behind him. “I see you’ve fooled poor Sister Rose into thinking you’re so perfect and kind, but I see through your lies. You’re clearly as much a godless sinner as that filthy dirty boy is or else you wouldn’t have been touching him and encouraging him to touch all day.  I’ve been watching you two and it’s disgusting!”

As Jared began to shake and tried to hide his face, Jensen felt his blood begin to boil and only a warning cough from Chris kept him from going for the man’s throat.  Sister Rose appeared in the shelter’s side door with a stern look toward the priest.

“That’s the second time today you’ve called me that, but I’m still ignoring it. I’m not going to ignore it if you keep insulting Jared because he’s done nothing to be condemned for.  I am starting to wonder about YOU though since you seem to be pretty obsessed with watching him.” Jensen smirked with a cockiness that he usually kept in check. “Maybe the bishop should dig more into your…habits.”

Jared’s eyes were huge as he watched this encounter. No one ever spoke to the priest like Jensen was, and he was scared of what might happen as he tugged on his friend’s hand to get him closer to the nun who was reaching back to find something. “Jen…” he whispered tightly, shaking. “Please don’t…leave?”

“I’m not leaving you anytime soon, Jay,” Jensen assured him, holding the cold eyes of the priest. “He’s angry with me, but he won’t hurt you ever again or else I might draw blood.”

“You’re both sinners in Gods eyes!” Father Patrick snapped, looking toward the gate to the sidewalk while offering a slow sneer to the singer. “Homosexuality is frowned on and WILL be punished. God has a special place in hell for sinners like this one and in heaven those who understand the way to remove the sin and the blight. I have only done what Father Thomas should have done the first time his rightful people came looking for him.”

Jensen was wondering the best way to dispose of a priest’s body when the meaning of those words suddenly hit him.  A split second later he felt Jared jerk away from him. “Jay?”  His first look over his shoulder shot his worry level to max because the boy’s face had gone pure white as he kept backing away while hugging himself and shaking his head violently. “Jared, what’s…”  He whirled back to the sneering priest as Rose hurried out. “You son of a bitch, what did you do?”

“No…no…Jensen, don’t let him…” Jared’s voice was shaking, soft and so low it was nearly that of a child as he clamped his eyes shut behind the dark glasses because he’d seen what Jensen hadn’t yet. He’d seen the face of his nightmares walking in the gate. “Jensen!”

That was the loudest Jensen had ever heard Jared speak, but it was the open terror in the voice that was choked with fear, and the tears running down the boy’s face that had him turning from the priest to look for his friend.  His heart nearly broke when he saw that Jared had dropped to his knees on the cracked sidewalk and was rocking and shaking violently.

He was moving to go to him when he heard the sound of a shotgun being pumped a moment before a voice spoke, a voice that made Jared nearly throw up and one that chilled Jensen’s blood.

“Hello, Jared. You’ve been a very naughty boy these past years. Are you ready to come home to your family?”


Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Five

“Hello, Jared. You’ve been a very naughty boy these past years. Are you ready to come home to your family?”

As soon as Jared heard the deep, oily-smooth voice, he was once again the same little boy who had escaped before he died in that hell.

“No, no, no,” he whimpered, mind reverting back to his childhood, when hearing that voice meant pain, shame, and terror. His mind was about to shut down when another voice began making its way into his ears, a much more welcome voice even if he’d never heard it sound as deep or cold as it was when Jensen spoke.

“Go inside the shelter, Jared.”  Jensen forgot the smug priest, he forgot the gathering people on the sidewalk, and he forgot the warning voice of both Sister Rose and Chris Kane. All he heard was the tiny voice begging not to be hurt from a young man who sounded closer to five than 22. “Watch my back,” he snapped to Chris while dropping to his knees in front of the shaking boy.

That went without saying; Chris stepped more onto the path and cracked his knuckles with meaning while shaking his head at the tall, bald man in the black suit and the two thugs he had with him. “I wouldn’t,” he advised simply, silently pissed that he’d left his bar without his pistol, but he still figured he could handle things if needed.  He prayed that Jensen kept his cool and that the nun actually knew how to use the shotgun she’d aimed at the men.

“Jared, look at me.” Jensen placed both hands over Jared’s neck while trying to get him to lift his eyes enough to see him, hating the terror he saw as well as the tears he felt on his cheeks. “Jay.”

It was the nickname that finally caused a reaction, and Jared lifted his head just enough to peek through his hair to see Jensen’s eyes. “Please,” he whimpered, fingers of his left hand trying to grasp onto Jensen’s while his right arm was wrapped tight over his stomach. “Please…don’ send me back…I’ll…be good…don’…”

“Shh, you’re not going anywhere with them,” Jensen replied firmly, hearing the outrage in Sister Rose’s voice as she put herself in front of Anton Paul and noticing that the bishop had come from the church to see what was going on. “Listen to me, Jay. You’re going to go inside the shelter and wait for me,” he told him, standing and bringing the boy to his feet to give him a little shove toward the door where Sister Martha was waiting with a skillet in her hand. “Stay inside no matter what you hear. I’ll be in as soon as I kick someone’s ass.”

Jared was torn between running into the shelter and clinging to Jensen. He knew if he didn’t escape, he’d never be safe, but he feared leaving Jensen outside. “Come,” he whispered, trying to pull the other man’s arm. “Come…with me.  He’ll…hurt…”

“This bastard won’t hurt me, and he sure as hell won’t hurt you, little boy. Now go with Sister Martha. I’ll be right in.”  Jensen made sure to keep talking as he got Jared into the door and met the nun’s gaze. “Call that cop and tell him to get his ass down here because his cops suck at looking after this place,” he growled, pulling the door shut and whirling around, the rage showing clearly on his face.

“You…I will make bleed later,” he snarled to the priest who was no longer looking very smug.  Then Jensen’s attention went to the bald man. “You will bleed now.”

It had been years since Jensen had seen the man at his uncle’s funeral, but he was still as tall and well-muscled as ever.  He also still projected the type of vibe that made most people uneasy despite his holier-than-thou act.

The truth behind the act was plain to see by his current expression and by how he’d looked at Jared. Now there was barely hidden rage that someone had gotten between him and his most prized possession.

“You have no right to keep me from him,” he declared in a low voice, using the tone that never failed to intimidate and get him what he wanted from people. “My family and I have been looking for that boy for ten years since he mistakenly ran away from our farm in the country. He’s mentally ill and he gets confused easily, so I will be taking my…”

Jensen darted past Chris to shove both hands hard against the so-called New Age Guru’s chest, forcing him back several steps. “You try to touch him, you even think of taking him or forcing him to go with you, and I might sit in a cell for a few hours, but you will either be in a hospital or a grave,” he warned tightly, eyes not looking away from the cold pale blue eyes that had scared him as a kid. “You have no claim on Jared.”

“He’s my son,” Paul sneered, refusing to feel threatened by this smart-mouthed punk.

He had always suspected that the nun and the old priest had been hiding his treasure, so he was quite grateful to receive the phone call from the new priest that confirmed it. Now it was just a matter of taking back his property whether the brat was willing or not.

Paul had been running his group for years. He had greased the palms of the correct people to ensure they looked away or ignored certain activities or claims when one of the ungrateful whelps got free or were no longer of use to him. Despite the number of young people at his disposal, he’d always had special plans for this boy. It was the reason he’d grabbed him when he and his wife had first seen him so many years ago.

The boy had been sweet and innocent, and no matter how much pain he went through or how much he cried during his ‘training,’ he had somehow kept that innocence. It was a treat to see him now, tall and broad with long legs and arms but still that childish, boyish innocence on his face.  Along with the sweet addition of his fear, Paul found him as irresistible as ever.

The man had to work very hard to keep himself calm, but he really couldn’t wait to get his hands on Jared again, to really get a clear look at him as they locked him back down to begin training again.  All he had to do was get past this would-be bodyguard.

“I will not be kept from my…son.”  He smiled, a slow almost evil smile, as he said it while nodding to the priest. “The good Father Patrick was kind enough to inform me that Jared was hiding here, so now I will be taking him back to his…family.”

“Show me a birth certificate, asshole,” Jensen growled, sensing movement as one of the men with Paul went toward the shelter only to have Chris in his face a second later. “If you’re claiming to be his biological father, then produce a legal birth certificate or if you’re going to try the foster father route, then produce the papers from CPS naming you that.”

The young singer smirked at the anger he could see pouring off the man. “I’m a bit smarter than I was when you supplied my uncle with the drugs that killed him, Paul. My family might not have been able to pin that on you, but if you try to hurt Jared again, if you even try to come close to him, I will bury you in legal problems, and that’s even without involving the Ackles’ family attorneys.”

The last name rang a bell because his error with Nate had been the closest he’d come to actually facing prosecution on any of the numerous charges he’d been dealt over the years.

Nate Ackles had been too old to use for his main purpose, but he’d come from an obviously wealthy family, so he’d been useful enough to supply money when it was needed.  As long as Paul kept him plied with drugs, the man was willing to make regular “donations” to his cause.  However, once Paul had admitted to an interest in Nate’s nephew, the stupid drug addict had developed a sudden attack of conscience.  It was “unfortunate” that he’d suffered that drug overdose, but there had never been any proof linking it back to Paul or at least none that the family could prove.

Now as he stared into the heated green eyes of his prime target’s ‘friend,’ it began to hit him who this was, and he rocked back on his heels with a smirk. “Well, well…now I know you. You’re Nate’s nephew…Jensen.”  He’d liked the boy’s looks before and decided he’d grown up well but a little too mouthy to be of use to him, so he’d have to be handled in a more permanent manner, especially if he continued to keep him from what was his. “This little matter doesn’t concern you; move along so I can…ugh!”

Jensen grabbed the wrist that went to brush him aside and twisted it back hard, hearing the sirens and car doors slamming.  He smirked at how, as usual, the cops showed up just a little too late.

“Oh, this does concern me, asshole,” he corrected. “This concerns me because Jared concerns me. He’s no longer a scared little boy you probably snatched off the street somewhere, and he’s certainly not alone with no one to protect him. He’s a grown man, and yes, he’s terrified because of whatever the hell you sick bastards did to him, but it’s over. You will not touch him.  Ever.  Again.”

“You can’t keep me from taking what is mine, boy.”  Anton Paul did not like being refused, especially not when he could already foresee what he had planned for Jared now that he’d grown up so beautifully. “I will simply have my lawyers draw up the correct papers naming me the boy’s guardian and also documenting how he’s mentally ill.  The papers will state that he is not capable of making reasonable decisions, so as his guardian, I can still speak for him.”

“Provide hard proof of your legal claim to him first.”  Liam Murphy spoke in his best cop voice. He’d broken many speed limits to get to St. Lucy’s when he got the call, and he wasn’t surprised to see what he did. He was just shocked that no one was bleeding yet. “I told you the last time I chased you out of here to not come back.”

The New Age man turned to the police officer. “These people are keeping me from my son, Captain. I demand his return or I’ll…”

“Prove it with paper or a DNA test?” Jensen smirked, glaring. “He’s no more Jared’s father, biological or foster, than I am, Murphy!” he snapped, furious at how easy it might be for this sadist to actually make a claim. “If Jared could, if he wasn’t so damn scared, he could tell you and the DA how he was abused by this asshole.”

“There’s no proof of abuse at my farm, and no court would take the word of someone who is clearly mentally unstable and doesn’t even speak,” Paul sneered; he was confident that the secrets he held would remain secret.

“Oh, but he is speaking…to me.”  Jensen shot a smirk at the look of surprise on the man’s face.  That look almost immediately disappeared, but the sweating gave away the fact that he was suddenly a bit worried. “All Jay needs is someone to treat him like a human and not an animal. All he needs is to be taught to trust someone who won’t hurt him, who doesn’t want anything from him, and he’ll start to talk. He WILL eventually talk about you and what you did to him, and when he does, I will gladly watch you be thrown in a cage.”

Murphy got between the two men while Chris pulled Jensen back a step.  Sister Rose was waving her cane in the face of a very uneasy Father Patrick, keeping him from becoming part of the argument. “You’re trespassing, Mr. Paul,” Murphy remarked.  He coolly added. “Also, you know that Sister Rose placed a restraining order.  It forbids you from coming onto the church or shelter property, so I suggest you leave because Jensen is correct. Jared is of legal age, so without a court paper stating that he is mentally incompetent, he doesn’t have to go with you.”

Paul had just started to yell when one of the men with him grabbed his shoulder and whispered something in his ear.  He forced himself to take a deep breath and calm down.  “Fine, we’re leaving but this isn’t over.  It’s far from over. I will be back to claim my property because that boy belongs to me and nothing you do will keep me from taking him,” he snapped furiously, glaring at Jensen. “Enjoy him while you can because it won’t be long before he’s back amongst his loving family. Oh, that’s right. You don’t want anything from him.”  Smirking, Anton Paul followed his thugs to their waiting car.

“He’s baiting you,” Chris hissed lowly, tightening his grip on Jensen’s arm to keep him from lunging at Paul, but he wasn’t prepared when the younger man whirled around to turn his rage on the sputtering priest instead. “Well, I didn’t think he’d go that way,” he said and shook his head, remembering how quick and wiry the singer could be when he wanted to be.

“You bastard!” Jensen didn’t care about the collar the man wore or the bishop and nun who were standing there as he grabbed Father Patrick by the front of his shirt to jerk him closer. “You called that sadist! You know Jared’s scared of him, and you know what this creep is planning to do to him if he can, but you still called him.  Really?  How can you hate that scared kid enough to make that call?”

The priest had thought things would go more smoothly. He didn’t believe the lies being told about Anton Paul or his New Age church, so he’d gone against the bishop’s wishes and let Paul know where the boy could be found. He thought it would be simple, and it would have been if not for the interference of this freak.

“We…don’t shelter the mentally ill or homosexuals here,” he gasped, pulling away while spitting into the dirt at Jensen. “You’re the same! I see how you look at him! I’ve seen how you’ve touched that…that…”

“Patrick! That is enough!” Bishop Westing yelled, appalled at this behavior. “That is certainly not a rule for either the church or the shelter! We do not discriminate and we definitely do not allow a man like Anton Paul to come and try to take a boy we have sheltered; a boy who has suffered abuse at that man’s hands.”

“Pastor Paul is a good Christian man who is being falsely accused of sick and immoral things by a boy who is dangerously unstable, Bishop,” the priest argued, throwing a look of disgust at Jensen. “Sister Rose is allowing this man, another man of immoral character, into the midst of the innocent. Depraved minds. God will punish you for your wicked ways because if I hadn’t stepped out and interrupted you when I did, I’m sure you and that other…”

“Finish it and bleed,” Jensen warned, body shaking with a rage that he hadn’t felt in years. “If you think that bastard is a good man, then I think the bishop here better recheck your mental tests. And you know?  You really do seem a little too interested in Jared to be normal.”

Liam Murphy had stood back while this was happening, waiting to see if he’d end up arresting someone before the day ended.  He finally coughed, wanting to end the situation before blood was actually drawn. “Sister? I’ll put a few more of my cops close to the shelter until something more permanent can be arranged but…if Paul gets his lawyers in on this, or if he pays off the right people downtown, there could be a problem keeping him away from the kid.”

“Jared is a legal adult.  Paul can’t force him to go anywhere!”  Jensen failed to see how this fact was still escaping everyone.  He clenched his teeth when a hand touched his arm. “Chris…”

“Yeah, he’s got the body of an adult, but can you prove he has the mind of one, Jensen?  He barely talks to you and he won’t say a word to anyone else.”  The former bodyguard spoke carefully, feeling the tension in Jensen. “He needs help which we’ll give him, but he’s also going to have to talk to someone; we need to have him evaluated before that moron does try to prove he’s mentally incompetent.

“I can give you a list of things that need to be done, but I think you know what most of those things are. I also think that you’ve now opened a can of worms by letting that rat bastard know who you are and what your connection to the past is, so I’ll ask you one more time…are you prepared to change your life this much for a kid you’ve known for less than two days?” Chris watched the anger settle in Jensen’s face as his fingers clenched and unclenched.  He realized what was about to happen only a second before his head snapped back when a fist connected with his jaw.

“Jensen!” Sister Rose spoke sharply while debating if she should use the old shotgun on someone yet. “Stop!”

The reaction was instinctive. His temper and his fear for Jared had been on simmer all afternoon until finally everything boiled over; he knew Chris was just concerned for him, but he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So far he’d only allowed himself to think of the most basic things; he hadn’t even considered the fallout if the people looking for Jared actually found him. Now that his location was no longer a secret, the risk to his friend had increased because it was clear by the look on the guru’s face that his obsession for the young man was far from normal.

There were still ways to shield and protect Jared, but Jensen hadn’t wanted to push those onto the boy because he had hoped they wouldn’t be needed.   Now he knew they were running out of options. “Fine. I’ll call my grandmother’s attorney in the city tonight and try to get something put in place to protect Jared from being forced to go with Paul or his goons, but I want you to find someone to start looking into his past.

“Find out who he is or where he was from before his life went to hell because if he was taken, then he has family that might still be looking for him.  If he was sold then I want to look the sons of bitches in the faces to learn why.”  He shot the worried nun a look of frustration. “I can’t help him if I can’t trust people with him, Rose. This might have just ruined all the progress we’ve made.”

“I know,” she said, and she did.  Like Jensen, she knew the danger had just increased. “Jensen, I still haven’t asked why you returned to the city, and I know it’s certainly not fair to ask you to take on this burden when you never asked for it so…I’ll understand if you step away now.”

“Step away? From what? From Jared?” Jensen looked shocked at the very thought, shaking his head firmly to glance toward the shelter.  That was where he needed to be right now. “That’s what everyone does to him, isn’t it?  They decide things are too tough and that he’s not worth the trouble? That’s why it’s also so hard for him to trust because why should he let his guard down only to be left behind when the issues get too uncomfortable or the situation too hard. No, I won’t do that to him.”

Jensen had grown up in wealth. He’d grown up in a dysfunctional family for sure, but he’d always known a grandmother’s love and had never lived with the kind of fear that his friend has almost always known.

Did he know what he was letting himself in for? No, not all of it.  He wasn’t stupid or naïve enough to think that helping Jared learn to trust or to heal would be all sunshine and roses.  He expected there to be setbacks along the way just like he expected there to be milestones reached…once he undid the damage that was done today.

“You keep that son of a bitch away from Jared, and by tomorrow, if not tonight, I’ll have him out of the shelter.” Jensen had already been considering taking Jared with him but had wanted to give Jared more time to adjust to him. Now they were out of time, so he’d have to see how much trust Jared was willing to give him this soon.

“I’ve got to go check on him and pray I can calm him down. At least I need to convince him that no one will take him.”  He dug in his wallet for an old card to hand to Chris Kane. “Call Vince.  Tell him who you are and what I’m doing. Tell him I need him to do something, and this time I’ll call in all the influence my grandmother’s name can muster, but I will keep Jared safe no matter what I have to give up.”

Turning on his heel to enter the kitchen door, Jensen left the others to settle anything else; his focus was inside.

Liam Murphy exchanged a grim look with the former bodyguard while the bishop turned to pull a sputtering young priest into the church for a stern talking to. This left the two men alone to face an unhappy nun. “Now Sister Rose,” Murphy began in his best tone only to be shut up with a finger poking in his chest.

“Don’t you ‘Sister Rose’ me, Liam Murphy! You’re supposed to have your police keep that man off the property! And he just came waltzing in as pretty as you please! Perhaps you should be seeing how many of your own are on that evil man’s payroll.  And you!”  She shot a sharp glare at Chris.

“Make some calls like he told you to. Help Jensen in his efforts to help that poor sweet boy or I’ll find a spoon and whack you in the head with it!” Sister Rose turned to march toward the church with the shotgun still held in her arms. “Now, I’m going to go see about dismissing that pompous arrogant priest in one manner or another.”

“This is not going to turn out well,” the cop sighed, eyeing the bodyguard. “Between Paul and that punk Marks, Jensen has painted one hell of a target on his back.  It’s sure not going to be easy for him to keep that kid safe. Guess I better go make a few calls myself because the mayor won’t be happy if anything happens to the grandson of one of his biggest contributors. You staying with him?”

Chris nodded, but he knew his help wouldn’t be welcome inside, so he’d go to his car, which was parked across the street. From there, he could still watch things and make the call to Vincent Davis, the long time lawyer for the Ackles family and let him know what was going on.

“I’ll slap the first person, man or woman, who comes into my kitchen to try to hurt him.”  Sister Martha was standing in the doorway that led to the front part of the shelter with her biggest skillet in her hand and glaring. “Is that evil, evil person gone?”

“For now but I won’t say how long that’ll last,” Jensen told her, kissing her cheek. “Thank you for not smacking me with that that. Where is he?”

Sister Martha glanced toward the back room with a sad look in her eyes. “Under the bed,” she replied, placing a hand on his arm. “When he first came here, that’s where he slept for months.  It took Rose and Father Thomas that long to convince him that he was allowed to sleep on the bed and that he would be safe in a bed. Just now, he was shaking and sobbing like he did that first day, and I know he would have gone to the toy room to search for something, but he’s just so scared of those men and you leaving him that he’s hiding.”

“I’m not leaving him.  I know Jared may not understand this yet, but everyone else needs to stop bringing it up!” Jensen was firm on this and would fight whomever it took to keep that promise.  He started to stalk out of the room but paused to look back. “What’s he want in the toy room anyway?”

The nun went to a cabinet and removed a small, faded, worn and battered looking stuffed cat that had seen better days; it appeared to have been patched and sewed multiple times. “He only had that old blanket when Father Thomas found him but shortly after he arrived, one of the children gave him this stuffed cat to make him feel better.  He kept it with him until a few years ago when he finally gave it to Rose to put in the toyroom.”  She smiled sadly as she recalled that day. “I don’t think he really wanted to give it up, but that was when he began to stay on the streets, so it was hard for him to carry it and the blanket. This might make him feel safe again.”

“I’ll help him feel safe, Sister,” Jensen assured her but took the old toy.  This battered old toy might explain why Jared had latched onto the litter of kittens.

Glad that the shelter was mostly empty, or maybe the nuns had just cleared out the sleeping section to give them some some privacy, Jensen walked toward the rear of the room and felt his throat tighten at the hopeless sobbing he could hear.

As if the sobbing alone wasn’t enough to tear his heart out, he could also hear fearful begging mixed in between the sobs.  He wasn’t sure if Jared was begging not to be taken back or if his memories had taken hold and he was begging not to be hurt.

Jensen sat down on the floor with his legs crossed trying to get comfortable since he feared this might take awhile. “Jay? Hey, it’s okay. The man left and I’m in here with you now. Can…can you come out from under the bed for me?”

The harsh sobbing cut off at the sound of his voice, but at first the singer feared Jared would be too frightened of him again to come out.  He was relieved when slowly the new blanket on the bed that draped down to cover the sides move enough that wide, tear filled hazel eyes peeked out.

“Hey there, kiddo.” Jensen kept his voice low and his smile gentle but made no move to reach out yet. “Can you come out?”

Jared’s face was white with fear and his hair was covering most of it again as he shook his head violently in refusal.  He did, however, move his finger to point at Jensen before laying his palm flat on the floor.

“Okay, I guess I can do that.” Jensen hoped his friend hadn’t fallen back to not speaking but guessed he couldn’t blame him for reverting into that scared little boy again after coming face to face with his tormentor just when he was just starting to feel safe. “Hi, Jay,” he murmured after he stretched out on his side with his hand propped under his head so he could meet the frightened eyes. “Sister Martha gave me something to give to you.”

He placed the ragged stuffed cat on the floor within reach and saw Jared’s eyes widen before filling with tears again, but this time they were tears of relief as he reached his left hand out to take the toy and pulled it under the bed.  He clutched it to his chest along with his blanket and tried to let the familiar objects calm him down.

It was humiliating to let Jensen see him crying like a baby and holding a blanket and an old toy, but Jared couldn’t help himself as he couldn’t get the images of that place out of his head.

Just seeing the man and hearing his voice had sent him back to the one place in his mind that Jared struggled every day not to think about because it made him want to die.  The brutal pain had been one thing, but it was the other things done to him that made him wish he were dead. If he ever had to go back, if he couldn’t escape, he’d find a way to kill himself before ever allowing that man or those people to touch him or hurt him like they had before.

He wanted to reach out to touch the hand Jensen had laid on the floor but was scared. Despite it all, despite what people thought of him, Jared didn’t think he was too stupid. He accepted there were things he needed to learn about, but he knew that if Pastor Anton had found him, he’d never stop until he had him and Jared feared for Jensen.

It had been a foolish stupid mistake to let his guard down, to let Jensen get so close to him, because now that the man had probably figured out what he was and how filthy he was, he wouldn’t want to be his friend. If that was the case, though, then why was he there with Jared now?

Of course Jared knew Jensen probably wasn’t the kind of man who would just walk out without an explanation, so maybe that’s why he was laying on the floor with him just watching him with gentle and kind green eyes. Of course those eyes didn’t look disgusted or upset with him…he still looked…worried.

“We need to talk about something, Jay,” Jensen began slowly; he noticed the drop of Jared’s eyes and the way his bottom lip trembled and was quick to move his hand and lay it over the younger man’s wrist. “No, don’t be scared. Well, it might be scary, but it’s the only thing I can think to do right now.”

“I…I know.” Jared made himself talk even if his voice was still trembling. It wasn’t Jensen’s fault he was a freak, and while it had been a short time, he knew he’d never forget the past day or so with the rock and roll star. “Thank…you for being nice…to me and trying to help me, Jen…I mean…Mr…”

“Whoa, Jay…just what do you think I’m going to say to you?  All of a sudden you’re going to use my last name like we’re strangers?” Jensen felt a cold lump form in his stomach when it hit him what Jared must be thinking. “Dude, do you think I’m walking out on you over this?”

Jared nodded tightly, scared to look up out of fear that if he did, he’d start crying again and begging Jensen not to go. “Father…Patrick was right. I’m filthy and bad. I let bad things happen to me and I did bad, sick things…”

“No, you had those bad and sick things done to you, Jared. That is totally different and no, that priest is not right because you are not any of those things he called you.” Jensen had been quick to cut those words off or else his temper would have spiked again, and that wasn’t what Jared needed right then. “Jay, I’m not leaving or walking away. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite that I want to talk to you about.”

“You’re…not going?” Jared eased a little closer but stayed under the bed. “Didn’t Fa…Father…Anton tell…huh?”  He blinked when a gentle finger touched his lips.

“Don’t call him that.” Jensen felt sick at hearing that name came out of Jared’s mouth. “I honestly don’t want his name to ever come out of your lips again, and if I could keep you from thinking about that bastard, I would but…I guess it’s going to be some time before that happens. Right now, the first thing I need you to understand is that I will not ever let him touch you like he did when you were little,” he promised firmly. “Jay, please look at me?”

He didn’t want to but the drop in tone as well as the gentle touch on his hand slowly convinced Jared to lift his eyes. He drew in a breath at how close Jensen had gotten as he’d slid a little closer so they could see one another better. “You…know what he did…to me?” he asked quietly.

“No, not in detail, but I know what little Sister Rose told me and what I suspect from how you acted the first day we met.” This was a hard one. Jensen didn’t know all the details and wasn’t sure he wanted to know them, but he feared that Jared didn’t understand what he did know, so they’d have to handle those memories together but not right then. “I know he hurt you in a way that no one, especially a little boy, should be hurt, but I won’t ask you to talk to me about that until you trust me more and are ready to talk to me, though kiddo, you may have to tell someone.”

“No, I can’t tell or they’ll…burn me or use that bag and I…” Jared’s voice broke on a sob; he let his sore fingers reach out to curl into Jensen’s shirt to find some contact in addition to the feel of the man’s hand over his. “Jensen…”

Reading Jared’s shaky soft voice and the wide openness on his pale face, Jensen took a deep breath and opened his arms a bit more to let Jared make the next choice.

A choice that only took a heartbeat of thought and then the younger man was sliding his upper body out from under the bed just enough to ease into the welcoming arms, finally letting himself be held and soothed.

Jared couldn’t remember ever being held like this or comforted the way he was then with Jensen. He thought he had memories of a childhood filled with soft arms, the smell of apple perfume, and lullabies, but then all his memories turned into monsters, pain, and shame.

Once he finally escaped on the truck that picked up baskets of fruit to deliver to the city, Jared had let Sister Rose hold him once, and only once, right after he arrived. Since then he’d protected himself from ever being held because as he’d learned as a child, once those arms were around him he couldn’t always get away.

Jensen’s arms, when they eased around to hold him close, didn’t tighten painfully. They held him so that Jared felt safe but were still loose enough that he could pull away if he got scared. It surprised him when he realized that he was only scared when he wasn’t with Jensen.

“It’s going to be okay soon, Jay,” Jensen told him softly while he allowed Jared to decide how close to come. He only tightened his arms when the younger man, still badly shaking, moved more into his arms and buried his face against his chest.

He wanted to talk with Jared about getting him out of the shelter, but when he heard the soft sobs being muffled against his shirt, he left it alone for the time being and just gently held him, letting his fingers card through long hair.

Jensen wasn’t aware of the soft song he’d begun to sing while soothing his friend. It was just something he seemed to do when it was quiet. Music was such a huge part of his life that he found himself humming or singing a lot without realizing it.

The singer didn’t realize it now until he heard the sobs lessening. Jared also didn’t seem to be shaking as much when he heard the soft slow song; it was one he’d been working on lately, and he really liked it, but his label had said it didn’t go with his rocker image.

“That…that was pretty,” Jared whispered, keeping his face down to hide his blush at crying like a baby in front a man he admired.

“Glad you think so. My manager doesn’t think it fits my image, so it might never be heard by anyone else.” Jensen wasn’t sure he liked that since he was getting a little tired of the image he was supposed to portray. “You feeling a little better?”

Jared nodded, still not looking at Jensen until a gentle hand on his face made him look up. “I…acted like such a baby. I’m sorry you…”

“You’re scared; I probably would be too, but you’re not a little boy anymore, Jared. You’re also not alone,” Jensen told him seriously, relieved not to feel him shaking as hard as he was a few minutes ago. “What I meant when I said you may have to talk to someone is…Jared, I’m not going to lie to you. Paul really seems to want you back.  He will try to either force you to go back, scare you into going back, or he might try to get fake papers to say he has a legal right to you as your father or foster father.”

Shaking his head again, Jared stared at his friend with wide eyes again, but when he started to tense, he felt a hand on the back of his neck squeeze gently, and he let his head rest back against Jensen’s chest, listening to his voice and the strong beat of his heart.

“It won’t be easy, but I can and will protect you. I’m getting you out of here, so you won’t be here if they come back. But to get him legally stopped from coming close to you, we’ll have to see my lawyer and…tell him about some of the abuse.” Jensen hated saying that and hated the small whimper it brought even more. “I know, Jay. And if there was any way I could get a restraining order on him without you telling something, I would but talking to a lawyer will also stop Paul from saying you’re not mentally able to make decisions for yourself.”

“I’m…stupid,” Jared whispered. He’d been told that since childhood, so he wasn’t sure why Jensen’s eyes heated when he said it now.

“You are not stupid, and I want you to stop thinking that you are,” the singer replied firmly, nodding as he went on. “No, you haven’t been to school. No, you don’t know everything you should at your age, but you can learn those things, Jared.  The ONLY reason you don’t know these things is because no one ever tried to teach you. I’ll help you learn what you need, but right now we need to take things one step at a time and the first step is…can we sit on the bed?”

Jared blinked when he realized how uncomfortable this must be for his friend. He was used to lyinging on the ground or hiding in cold cramped places, but he’d seen Jensen uncomfortably flexing his leg earlier after being down on the ground with the kittens.

He was still scared but he nodded, letting Jensen help him up from under the bed to sit on his bed with the ragged blanket and stuffed cat still in his arms.

“I’m going to speak to my grandmother’s lawyer first and let him know what’s going on. Only after I’ve talked to him will I bring him near you, and you only need to tell him about the abuse that you feel safe talking about. It doesn’t have to be anything really bad yet since I know you won’t want to talk about that to a stranger…but maybe you could tell him about how you got those scars on your face.” Jensen kept his arm around him, trying to explain the complicated situation without either confusing or scaring him more.

“To get a restraining order, a piece of paper that will keep Paul and his people from coming close to you, we have to show just cause. Explaining that he hurt you as a child and would do so again now will do that. It will also show that you do understand what’s happening around you,” he sighed. “I wish I could say that if I took you away from the city to hide, it would all go away but…”

“He won’t let me go,” Jared whispered flatly as he recalled the words he’d heard years ago. “He…always told me he’d…kill me before he let me go. I was…special he said. Special and I should feel honored that he didn’t drug me like he did the others before he…touched me or…I’d rather be dead than go back to him!”

Jensen had seen the craziness in the New Age man’s eyes, and he had no doubt that he probably had said those exact words and so much more to a small frightened boy. He also heard the desperation in Jared’s voice when he spoke of dying.

“You’re not going back and you’re not dying. Will you trust me to take care of you?” He knew this was a huge thing to ask a boy who didn’t know how to trust without being hurt or used. “You and the kittens,” he added softly.

Jared didn’t know what trusting someone meant. He didn’t fully understand everything Jensen was saying, but he wanted to believe the man meant what he said about protecting him.

A piece of him still expected the other shoe to drop; that Jensen would either get bored of him or start demanding…stuff, but if he had to choose between Jensen, who he didn’t believe would ever be as cruel as the man behind his nightmares, or Anton Paul then there was really no choice.

“What…what do I have to do?” he asked quietly, eyes focused on the floor.  He was willing to do anything if it meant not returning there. “I’ll do whatever you want, Jensen. I’ll…”

“You don’t have to do anything, Jay.” Jensen knew it would take a long time to break Jared of the fear that people wanted something from him. “I’m helping you because I care.”

“For what?” Jared cocked his head, rubbing his eyes with a fist as he was suddenly so tired.

“For you.” Jensen wished he’d phrased the earlier comment differently because if trust was something Jared didn’t understand, then he surely wasn’t used to anyone caring about him. “No secret plans, no ulterior motives, Jared. I like to see you smile, and I like to hear you laugh, so I want to help you become a man that can do those things without looking over your shoulder in fear. I just want to help you now. Can I?”

Nodding, Jared yawned and let his head lean over against Jensen’s shoulder. “Am…I…safe now?” he asked, not sure where he would be safe. “I don’t wanna make the Sisters not safe.”

“I think it’s good tonight. They shouldn’t come back this soon and Captain Murphy left a few police…” He felt the tension return at the mention of the police. “I know it’s hard to trust the cops, believe me I know the feeling, but Murphy’s a good man. I’ll get you and the kittens out of here tomorrow and I’ll…now what?”  His phone vibrated in his pocket.

Jensen wanted to take Jared now, but the kid looked half asleep, and he glanced at his phone to see a text message from Vince Davis telling him that he was visiting Sarah Ackles if he wanted to come by to fill him in. “Damn.”

“Trouble?” Jared shook a little but let himself he eased down to the new bed and covered with the new blanket while he kept of his old blanket and the stuffed cat. “Jen?”

“No, no trouble,” Jensen smiled. He’d been planning to stay with Jared at the shelter that night but figured he’d just come back after speaking with the lawyer. “I have to go for a little while to talk with that lawyer I mentioned, but I’ll be back really soon. Can you sleep for a little while? I can ask Chris to stay outside. Sister Rose will be close, and I’m only a phone call away.”

“Sleepy,” Jared yawned. He wished his friend could stay and not leave, but he wouldn’t ask that since he wasn’t a baby and could pretend to be brave for a little bit. “You’ll…come back?”

The wary hopefulness he heard in the soft voice reminded Jensen yet again that this one had seen too many broken promises in his life. “Yeah, I’ll be back, and maybe I can score us some snicker doodles when I come back,” he added with a smile, rubbing a gentle hand down Jared’s arm and letting his smile get wider at the hand that held his for a moment longer. “Have Sister Rose call me if you need me for anything, Jay.  Anything at all.”

A nod came as long hair fell into closed eyes, but Jensen stayed sitting on the edge of the bed until he was certain Jared was fully asleep. He stood to tuck the old blanket and stuffed toy into his arms more before tucking the new blanket in around him.

“I’ll be back in a couple hours,” he told Sister Rose and frowned at the look of exasperation of Chris’s face. “You can’t stay just until I get back?”

“There’s a small liquor problem at the bar that I need to handle, but I’ll swing back after I beat my manager’s face in,” the former bodyguard assured him, sensing the worry. “Jensen, he’s been on his own for ten years. I think he’ll be safe for a couple more hours.”

“I’ve got cops around the building, so nothing will happen,” Murphy replied, deciding not to mention that there had also been gang sightings that day as well. “Talk to the lawyer and see what he says.”

Jensen hated to leave but accepted that staying at the shelter was as safe as he could make Jared until he spoke to the lawyer and then moved him out. “Call me,” he told the nun after making sure she had all his contact numbers and then drove to his grandmother’s house in the Nob Hill section of the city.

The grand old house was Jensen’s main childhood home, and since some things never changed, he didn’t bother to knock on the front door as he let himself in with a familiar shout. “Gram!”

“28 years old and he still shouts when he enters a room!” Sarah Ackles gave her grandson a fond smile as he entered the drawing room where she was having tea, or more than likely whiskey laced with tea, with her lawyer and friend, Vincent Davis. “Were you planning on telling me you were in the city before or after I found out through the grapevine, Jensen?”

“I would’ve called, Gram. I’ve been busy,” Jensen assured her as he leaned down to kiss her cheek, snatching a cookie off the plate with a smile. “I’ll need to take some of these with me too.”

At 67 years old Sarah Ackles didn’t look or feel her age. Her life hadn’t been easy since her husband’s death, but she let very little stand in her way.

She kept herself fit and admitted to some touchups here and there out of vanity, but she had long ago stopped worrying about the white that colored her blond hair or the small lines around her eyes.  Most of those lines were from worry and the worry mainly came from the young man she was looking at now.

She’d known the moment her grandson returned to San Francisco, but she’d been trying to give Jensen the freedom he’d always sought. That was why she wouldn’t demand to know what trouble he’d gotten into that brought him home to begin with or why her lawyer said he was poking a hornet’s nest.

“So, sit down and tell Vincent what you’re doing that requires his help, and why that horrible, horrible man’s name came up in the discussion,” she urged while ringing for the maid to bring coffee since she knew Jensen wouldn’t touch the tea or whiskey.

Vince Davis had been the Ackles’ family attorney for a number of years, so he’d been involved when Nate Ackles’ died of an overdose of drugs that everyone knew, but couldn’t prove, had been given to him by Anton Paul.

He was a fit man at 56 who wore suits only when he needed to so tonight, since the meeting was casual, he was dressed in tan slacks, a white shirt and his running shoes. His black hair had begun to show streaks of silver, some of which he good naturedly blamed Jensen’s youth for causing.

He’d been trying for years to nail the arrogant, cruel, would-be New Age man on any number of charges. He’d even taken cases pro-bono to pile up evidence, but the man was slick and treacherous so this new allegation was concerning to say the least.

“You think he kidnapped this boy to abuse him?” He tapped a pen on his notepad after Jensen had finished telling what he knew. Jensen begun to pace as a sudden summer storm seemed to blow in from the Pacific. “Why would he kidnap a boy when he has so many that just wonder in off the streets? What made this boy so special that even after 10 years he’s still looking for him?”

Jensen had been thinking about that, and he thought he might now know the reason. “Jared’s not only beautiful, but he’s also innocent.”  He turned from the long floor to ceiling windows and winced as lightning flashed and rain began to pour.  He was glad that he knew his friend was safe indoors and not out in this weather. “Y’know how a lot of kids, myself included, lose the innocence we had when the harsh realities of life begin to sink in? Jared, despite whatever the hell that bastard did to him, still sees and looks at the world through the innocent eyes of the child that he once was.

“He might not trust anyone, and he thinks that if anyone does anything for him, they want something, but the innocence is there with everything else.” He smiled fondly as he recalled earlier that day. “He’d never tasted cheese cake, Gram.  Who lives 22 years without tasting cheese cake? He isn’t thrilled with dill pickles but he might grow to like them. He’s just starting to talk but he’s been communicating with me in other ways, and…”

“And you’ve already lost your heart to him.” Sarah wasn’t blind or stupid. She’d seen the change in her grandson when he’d been a boy even though Jensen had hid his attractions behind a façade of attitude and toughness that had faded somewhat, but not fully, even to this day.

“He’d never understand those feelings, Gram.” Jensen knew he had fallen in love, but wouldn’t confuse Jared more by admitting to how he felt because even if the priest’s cruel words were correct, the only exposures to physical touch Jared had faced were cruel, painful, and shameful. “He’s a boy in the body of a beautiful young man who believes he’s filthy and sick, but he has the biggest, softest heart of anyone I’ve ever known.”

Thinking back to the soft smile and big eyes made Jensen ache to be able to show Jared all the good things in the world, but he was reminded that he’d have to go slowly and not rush him into anything, including speaking of his ordeal.

“Can he talk?” the lawyer asked, making notes of what he’d need to do. “Does he have any memories of his parents or…”

“He can talk, but he doesn’t really like to yet.  He might have some memories of his parents, but I’m not sure if he’d know what those were.” Jensen shrugged, turning from the window when a sudden chill made him clench his fist and shake off the cold ball in his chest. “He has this old blanket that I think might have been his baby blanket; it has the initials JTP. I have what little the police dug up, which isn’t much. Can you help him?”

Nothing involving Anton Paul was simple, but Vince could tell just by the tone in which Jensen spoke that he wasn’t going to leave the fragile young victim alone to be recaptured by Paul and tortured or worse, so he nodded but was quick to hold up a finger to ward off the excitement he saw building.

“This won’t be an easy thing to face for you or him, Jensen,” he warned seriously. “I can probably get a temporary restraining order until a more formal one can be sought, but in the end he’s going to have to speak with not only me but also the DA and probably someone in the mental health field. Do you want my help or do you want someone who will just go through the motions?”

“I won’t let him go back with that asshole, Vince,” Jensen refused. “I may end up in jail, but I will make certain Jared is safe from him and Kyle Marks.”

The attorney knew Marks was out of prison but had been hoping Jensen hadn’t encountered him yet since that would just increase the danger the young singer was bringing into his life.

“Unless Paul can prove legal guardianship for a mentally incompetent adult, I can’t see any court forcing the boy to be returned to him, but I’ll push the TRO through as soon as I can wake a judge,” Vince assured him while Sarah merely rolled her eyes.

“Please. What good is it to be on good terms with a few judges if you can’t wake them up in the middle of a stormy night to help an innocent young man who’s suffered so much?” she scoffed with a wave of a slender hand. “I’ll call Harry if you want me to. Lord knows I never did anytime this one got himself in trouble as a boy, so he owes me.”

“It would be better if we could do this without it looking like Jensen’s using too much family influence,” Vince told her as the phone in Jensen’s pocket began to ring. “Unless we don’t have another choice,” he added when the boy swore while digging it out quickly.

Jensen had his phone set to different tones so he knew when to answer and when to ignore the phone. This ringtone was the one he’d just assigned for the phone at the shelter, and as it rang again the ball of cold fear in his stomach became suddenly much larger.

“Yeah?” he greeted cautiously, nerves on edge as the rain outside began to pour heavier. “Sister Rose?”

“Jensen, it’s Sister Martha! You…you need to come back! Something’s…something’s happened.”

Before he could ask the obvious question, Jensen could hear the sharp and irate voice of Sister Rose shouting in the background for Sister Carly to find her shotgun, call the useless lump of a police captain who had assured her policemen would be around, and to find her some rope to hang the heathens with.

That told Jensen that something had gone very wrong, and he asked the only question that seemed important to him. “Where’s Jared?”

“He’s gone.”


Chapter Text

  Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Six

“He’s gone.”

Those two simple words put Jensen Ackles’ word into a tailspin of confusion, fear, and anger; he didn’t even give the nun time to explain what had happened or what was going on right now. “I’m on my way,” he told her before hanging up the phone, grabbing his jacket, and quickly kissing his grandmother on the cheek while eying the grim faced lawyer. “Don’t go anywhere; you might be bailing me outta jail in ten minutes.”

“Jensen, it takes longer than ten minutes to drive down to St. Lucy’s,” Vincent Davis spoke warily and then grabbed his briefcase and shoved all the papers inside when he heard the next words thrown as the singer ran out of the house.

“Not this time it won’t! This time someone is gonna get hurt or die if I can’t find Jared!”

“Call Harry and tell him to call me so I can tell him what’s going on,” Vince told the older woman, smiling to reassure her. “I’ll keep him out of jail, Sarah…I hope.”

Jensen didn’t notice or care if the lawyer followed him in his car or not. All he cared about was getting back to St. Lucy’s in record time and if he broke a few speed limits or ran more than a few lights on a night where cops seemed to be scarce, then he didn’t give a damn.

With screeching tires and brakes, he slid the Mustang around the corner and saw the flashing lights of police cars and an ambulance near the church and shelter while he spotted Chris Kane just getting out of his truck.

“Yeah, what could happen in a couple of hours?” he shot to his friend as he ran for the gate, ignoring the arm of the cop that tried to block him from entering the space between the buildings. “Clearly a lot!”

Chris had caught the call on the scanner in his truck on his way back to the shelter. He’d known Jensen would be pissed but the moment he caught sight of the carnage ahead of them, he was making a grab to keep the young man from going for someone’s throat. “Jensen, wait!”

“Bullshit!” Jensen’s eyes had gone to slits when he saw Liam Murphy yelling at two shamefaced police officers while another cop was slapping cuffs on two large men in suits, the same two men that had been with Anton Paul earlier.

Both men looked a little beat up, but that might have been due to a scuffle with the police. What had drawn Jensen’s full attention, and therefore became the center of his focus and fury, was the priest.

Father Patrick was backed up against a wall with Sister Rose in his face shaking the pointed blade that she used to cut tall branches with. The priest was bruised as he held a hand under his bleeding nose.

Jensen started to smirk at his favorite nun making the priest bleed before he could get a shot in, but his smirk died when he noticed the garden shed was open, and his heart took a rapid jump.

“No!” Shoving through stern faced officers and past a clearly upset Sister Rose, the singer jerked the door to the shed open and felt his fingers curl into fists.

A small bottle of something was sitting to the side as if dropped, but he noticed two other things right off the bat and those things began to answer his biggest question. How could anyone get to Jared to leave the shelter without the nuns hearing or seeing something?

The missing blanket with the eight little kittens and the dropped older blanket just inside the door gave him two clues.

“It started to storm,” he began in a low tight voice, picking up the ragged blanket to run his fingers over the initials that he knew were the first clues to finding Jared’s missing life.

“Jensen.” Sister Rose still pointed her make-shift weapon to keep the priest from slinking off as she looked to where Jensen was standing, the blanket clenched in one hand while his other hand was clenching and unclenching.

“It began to rain,” Jensen continued almost picturing the scenario he believed had happened.  “Jared probably got scared for the kittens so he came out of the shelter; he came alone because he wouldn’t want anyone, not even you or Martha, to know about his fluffy little friends. He was either going to check on them or maybe even sneak them inside since he knew I’d be back to help him with them.

“He came outside during the storm to check on them but found something else, didn’t he, ‘Father’?” Green eyes went to dangerous slits when he turned to the priest. “You kept saying that you’d been watching us, so you probably saw him show me the kittens. You saw me put them inside the shed to keep them safe until I took them tomorrow. What the goddamn hell did you try to do to those cats?” he demanded harshly, moving before either a cop or his former bodyguard could get a hold of him.

Father Patrick sniffed, spitting blood from his mouth, which was bleeding along with his nose. “That…animal attacked me!” he yelled furiously, glaring at Jensen with hate. “You think he’s so soft and naïve, but he’s nothing but a Godless, mindless, animal with no control! Look what he did to me! He tried to kill me and would have succeeded if Pastor Anton’s men hadn’t come back to take him off my hands.  Then he went all wild on them and ugh!”

This time when a fist struck his face, the stunned man hit the ground with a thump, but Jensen wasn’t done with him yet; he following the priest down to grab him by the front of his shirt and jerk him to his knees.

“You tried to kill his kittens, asshole!” he snapped, no longer giving a damn about his tone or his words because while he’d had respect for the church drilled into his head by his grandmother and three years of early Catholic school, he didn’t find anything about this priest to respect.

“Jared’s scared of his own shadow thanks to that bastard and you, but he loves those little kittens so he probably would try to defend them. He’d defend them like someone, anyone, should have defended him all his life! Where are they? Where is he?” With that question, he looked at the priest and then to one of the suited men who was shouting obscenities at Liam Murphy as he read both of them their rights. “Where. Is. Jared?”

The question was asked in a low tone that Chris Kane had only heard once before, and he knew it was time to bring the singer back to what was important, or else he knew that someone would end up in the ER.

Unlike the pretty boy rock singer persona he had when on stage or during interviews, there was still something of the brash teenager left inside Jensen. That side had all the insecurities, the anger and the cockiness as well as a dangerous side that very few people ever saw in him or would even associate with the handsome singer.

It took a lot to bring it out. Chris had seen it once before, and knew that if it came out now, either one of the men or the priest would be in the ER if not worse.

“Jen…” he began slowly, stepping in front of his friend to put a hand out only to be shoved back a good foot.

“Don’t call me that!” Jensen snapped, anger fueling him as it began to rain harder. “Jared calls me that and only Jared. He will be the only person I will ever allow to use that name. Now tell me where my friend is and why the hell these so-called cops weren’t around to protect him.”

“A couple of Marks’ gang made some trouble up the block. These two morons left their post to go take care of that situation and the one that was left, since it was in the middle of shift change, had his head split open by one of these losers.  I’ll be adding assaulting an officer to the list of charges that already includes trespassing, breaking the restraining order, assault, and attempted kidnapping.”

“That kid belongs to the Pastor!” the one man, a dirty blond haired thug with a scar on his cheek, shouted from where he sat with his hands cuffed. “We were only returning stolen property to our leader. He carries his mark so he…”

Jensen knew it would have been so simple to react, to lose his temper and take out all his fear and worry on the men. That side of him, the young wild boy he’d once been, ached for that freedom, but the man he was now knew that attacking these men would hurt his chances of helping Jared in the long run.

“You or your so-called leader will never touch him again,” he remarked in a low deep voice that was one step away from pure pissed off. “I will fight whatever battle Paul wants to wage. I will spend every cent I have to keep him safe from you bastards, but if I can’t find him tonight, or if he’s badly hurt…then you can tell your ‘leader’ I’ll be on his doorstep in the morning. Where is he, Rose?” he asked.

“I was just coming out of the shelter when I heard all the noise. I saw these two hooligans jump Jared; it looked like Jared had already had his run in with Father Patrick.  I was reaching for my shotgun when one of them hit that poor boy in the head to try to knock him down while the other stuck a needle in his neck and tried to put that…that hood over his head.”  She was both angry and upset by what had happened as well as feeling guilty for not protecting the boy that she had been looking after for ten years. “He panicked then, Jensen. He dropped that old blanket of his, grabbed for the blanket that must have had the poor wee scared kittens in it, and ran off into the alley.”

That description made him want to lash out again, but he stopped and took a deep breath to settle the growing dread in the pit of his stomach. “He ran into the alley?” He knew that meant that Jared was scared, running, more than likely drugged with something. He was alone on the streets at night with Kyle’s gang already looking to make a move on him. “Shit!”

“I’ll tell the cars to start looking for him, but if Marks’ boys spot him first…” Murphy left the rest unsaid since both knew the cruelty Kyle Marks had been capable of in the past. Now it would be worse if the gang leader suspected that hurting Jared might be an effective way to hurt Jensen.

“I’ll find him. You just keep these assholes away from him!” Jensen shot at him, turning to hurry back to his car when a voice stopped him.

“You can’t keep him from us. He belongs to the family, and we will have him back,” the man in the dark suit called out, a slow smile coming onto his face. “He will serve his purpose…after he’s punished for running and hiding for so long.”

The thought of just what those animals would do to Jared made Jensen sick. He was just starting to turn back when a firm hand gripped his shoulder.

“Well, first your boss will have to get through this restraining order that bars him and anyone from your…church or farm from coming within 30 feet or either Jared or Jensen.” Vince Davis had never seen the point of that damn portable fax machine his law partner had insisted he carry in his trunk, but now he was grateful for it because once he’d spoken to a very sleepy and grumpy old judge who had agreed to issue the order, he hadn’t wanted to wait to pick it up.

“Break it and go straight to a cell.” The lawyer handed the paper to the cop who looked it over with a close eye to see if there were any loopholes that might cause them problems. “Also, my firm is going to see to it that the State of California reopens every child abuse, neglect, and kidnapping charge that has been laid at Paul’s door in the past ten years.  We are also going to hire investigators to look into missing children cases that fall into the right time frame; maybe we can learn just where you sadists grabbed that boy from.”

“Ha! You think anyone in that hick town in Texas gave a damn about that brat?” the other man sneered as he and his buddy were hauled to their feet by the cops. “Twenty kids to a house it seemed? They were probably glad to be rid of the sickly little thing.”

“Jensen!” Chris latched onto an arm before he could lunge and shoved him toward the sidewalk. “You and I’ll go hunt the side streets for Jared. He couldn’t have gone far in this rain, especially if he was drugged and trying to carry the kittens. Forget these bastards and concentrate on what’s important. Finding Jared.”

Nodding slowly, Jensen paused long enough to hug the still fretting nun. “I’ll find him,” he promised her, but added, “I probably won’t bring him back here. I’ll call you though when I get him back, Rose.”

“Just find Jared before he can be hurt worse,” she urged him, feeling him shake. “This isn’t your fault, Jensen.”

“I shouldn’t have left him tonight. I should have taken him with me, but I didn’t want to scare him by putting him in the middle of too many people at once.” Jensen knew that if he had been here, this never would have happened and now he needed to fix it by finding his friend.

“I read Father Thomas’s file on the heathen,” Father Patrick said and shot a look of smugness at the singer. “Maybe if you had followed through on your promise, your little ‘friend’ would be more human than animal, Ackles.”

“Martha, smack him with your skillet while I go call the bishop to remove him from the church tonight,” Sister Rose called on the verge of losing her usual endless patience.  She saw the confusion come over Jensen’s face and quickly spoke to reassure the singer. “It’s nothing that can be changed now. Go find that boy.”

Staring between the smug priest and the nun, Jensen frowned. “What’s he mean? What promise didn’t I follow through with?” He wanted to know, he needed to know, but he also wanted to be moving. “Rose? What’s he talking about? How could I have helped Jared before now? And by the way, if he keeps calling Jay an animal, I will put him in the hospital with a broken jaw.”

“Father Thomas called you shortly after you left the city for Los Angeles. You left two days earlier than you’d originally planned over some issue with your family, do you remember?” Rose had hoped not to bring this up as she knew how Jensen might react and didn’t want to distract him right then.

His memory of that time ten years earlier was spotty since things were so turbulent for him, but Jensen did remember that he’d moved his up timetable to leave San Francisco by a few days.  He remembered that his one aunt chose to return to the city to give him attitude, and it suddenly seemed like a good decision to get out of the city as quickly as possible.

It had been a spur of the moment choice, and it had been hard since he’d been planning on helping Sister Rose put in her garden, but it had been leave or go nuts, so he’d packed and left.

Jensen did sort of recall the kindly priest calling him out of the blue to ask him if he could speak with his grandmother about perhaps being willing to take in a child he’d found in an…

“Oh my God!” He felt like he’d been hit in the gut when suddenly it all began to click together. “Jared.” He shot a look at Rose and saw her sad nod. “He was calling about Jared. If I hadn’t left early, I would’ve been here when he was found and…but I did call Grams. I did ask her to call Father Thomas or you to see what was going on. I thought she had but…I never checked back and…son of a bitch!”

“Sweetie, you were eighteen and trying to make your own way. Even if you had been here, you wouldn’t have been able to help Jared like you can now,” Sister Rose told him, hearing the guilt creeping into his voice the same way it had when she’d told him about little Callie. “Sarah did call Tom and say she’d stop by later in the week, but then your aunt acted up and the poor woman had so much on her hands that she forgot. Then we started to realize who Jared was running from, and Tom and I chose to keep him with us.

“You couldn’t have done anything for him back then because then he was so battered and traumatized, he would have seen you as a threat. You can help him now but first you need to find him, so go now; go find your friend and start to help him heal,” she urged softly. “Teaching him to trust may also teach you a few things because to help him, you’re going to have to let the wall down and let him into your heart.”

“He already owns my heart, Rose,” Jensen murmured, putting this new discovery and guilt aside for the moment to turn toward the lawyer. “Do what you have to; hire who you have to.  Just help me keep him safe and find out who he is,” he told the lawyer while walking away, past the others, and calling to Chris. “I’ll take the alleys and side streets on this side while you go the other way.”

Chris disagreed with that plan.  Since he’d learned the layout of each neighborhood in his adoptive city shortly after moving there. he happened to know which sections of those places had the worst gang activity.  He’d prefer to keep Jensen out of those areas if possible.

“Let me take this area, Jensen,” he urged but blew out a disgusted breath when he was ignored. His friend simply got in his car and executed tight u-turn that was only slightly illegal. “He was a lot easier to handle on tour.”

Jensen had been away from this city for ten years, but he still found that he knew the backstreets and alleys like the back of his hand.

They were grungier than before with more trash, more graffiti on the walls, and more homeless men and women seeking shelter. It hurt his heart to imagine a frightened teenager on these streets, as Jared must have been whenever he had first started moving between the streets and the shelter.

There were also more hookers on the streets than when Jensen had been a wild teen. Some were young, younger than Jared it seemed, while others had the hard edge of a life spent walking the streets looking for tricks.

Pulling over to one corner, Jensen rolled down the passenger window and an overly made up girl who was pushing being legal sauntered up to the car with a plastic smile on her face.

“Hey there, handsome,” she purred, eyeing the car as well as the driver to see that this could make her night if she played it right. “Looking for some fun?”

“No, I’m looking for someone,” Jensen told her, holding up two 100 dollar bills to ensure he had her attention. “Tall, pretty young, but still older than you.”  He smirked at her dark look and continued quickly. “He’s got long hair and some scars on his neck and face. He’s carrying a blanket and might be staggering a little. I need to find him.”

The girl chewed her lower lip. She knew who this man was looking for. Everyone on the streets knew Jared in one way or another. Many thought he was a little weird while others thought he was just a lost soul looking to be found one day.

Of course she also knew someone else was looking for him, and that someone could prove a threat to her if she talked to this man in the fancy black Mustang.

“Please. He’s my friend and he’s been hurt, so I need to find him before someone else can.”  Jensen still had the ability to read people, and he knew this girl knew something but also that she was scared. “He can’t protect himself and the kittens if Kyle finds him before I do.”

Leaning back from the car, the girl’s eyes widened. “Oh! He did save those poor little kitties?”  She had seen Jared the day he’d rescued the litter, and she’d watched him get beat up over it by those mean boys.

“Check the alley behind the Chinese place two blocks over.”  An older woman had stepped from the doorway to speak up. “I saw the kid about 40 minutes ago in that area, and he wasn’t looking too good. But if you want to find him before those punks do, you’d better hurry. They can scent fresh meat and it’s no secret on the street want they want to do to that sweet boy.”

“Thank you, both of you.” Jensen held the money out while reaching for more but the older woman merely shook her head.

“Give that to Darla here and you don’t have to pay me.”  She laughed at his frown. “Sugar, I merely look after the young ones on the block to keep them safe from predators like Kyle Marks. I try to keep an eye out for Jared when I know he’s on the streets and not at that shelter, but he’s real skittish and won’t come close.”

Jensen merely nodded. He gave the money to the young prostitute before heading in the direction the older woman mentioned.

The Chinese restaurant had been a Mexican one when he used to prowl these streets with Kyle, but many businesses had changed it seemed. The small alley between the restaurant and a laundromat was too tight for the Mustang, but he pulled in as far as he could to try to see further down through the beating rain.

The headlights allowed him to see down the dark alley that had trash and debris piled on both sides. At first he didn’t see anything but as Jensen stepped out of the car to squint, he caught movement.  He quickly texted his location to Chris in case he needed help, and then took a few cautious steps forward.

He’d learned way back that alleys were dangerous places because any number of hidden threats or foes could be lying in wait, and you’d never see the danger until it was too late.

Jensen ignored the rain that was once again soaking him and stopped a few feet down the alley when a quiet caught his ear.

A low moan, then a whimper of pain, along with the sound of flesh striking flesh could be heard as well as the low harsh laughter of multiple people.  It was that single, quiet voice, slurred and choked with pain, that had Jensen’s heart speeding up.

“Jared!”  He didn’t pause to consider the odds against him or wonder if Jared’s assailants were armed; Jensen pretty much knew in the back of his mind that they’d have some type of weapon. He just broke into a run to clear the distance quickly. “Leave him alone!”

There were three of them from what Jensen could see in the brief glance he took before he physically slammed into the closest one to shove him away from Jared.  He’d been beating his fist, covered with brass knuckles, into Jared’s stomach, while the other two tried to hold the tall and nearly unconscious young man up.

When he’d been a brash teen running the streets, fighting wasn’t what Jensen liked to do; he’d never seen the sense of beating up someone just to say he could. That didn’t mean he couldn’t fight or hadn’t when he had to because he had. He’d been quick and he’d learned to be vicious as well.

These days Jensen certainly didn’t do much fighting, but he still could if he had to, and on this night his temper was explosive.  These three punks were going to take the beating that he hadn’t been allowed to dish out to the priest or the dark suited cult men.

He didn’t have to look at the tattoos to know whose gang they belonged to. Jensen had recognized the asshole punching an already hurt and drugged Jared as the son of a bitch who’d been bothering his friend just a day earlier, so he knew they were Kyle’s boys and that pissed him off even more.

“Let him go,” he said to the young men holding Jared’s arms.  The dim light his car’s headlights provided allowed him to see the soaking wet and torn clothes as well as the blood that dripped from places on Jared that he couldn’t see.

Jensen really hadn’t been able to handle seeing blood ever since he’d been stabbed and had watched his own blood seep from his body, but on this night, seeing Jared’s blood didn’t make him feel like passing out or throwing up…it pissed him off.

“Get your fucking hands off of him, now.”  Jensen’s voice dropped into a dangerously low tone that even he almost didn’t recognize.  Then he heard a sound from the side and found himself instinctively shifting on the balls of his feet to sidestep the sharp piece of metal that Donny had tried to shove into his side.

“The boss wants the freak as his new toy since his last one got a little damaged when he tried to tell him ‘no’ over something.” Donny had lost a lot of respect in the gang from his last encounter with Jensen, and he was determined to get at least some of that back this time. “You’re on our turf now, pretty boy. And I told you that defending the freak wouldn’t make you popular, so now maybe we should teach you the kind of lesson we’re gonna teach him?”

“Or you can let Jared go, and I don’t kick your ass,” Jensen smirked, shifting his grip on his jacket while trying to keep an eye on the two young thugs who dropped Jared.  It made Jensen’s heart clench when the younger man hit the wet alley hard and merely laid still.

The gang members found Jensen amusing since no one had ever stood up to them before and certainly never on their own ground.

“Pretty boy, we’re going to make that face not so pretty before I have my pals beat you down, and maybe make you watch as I break this little faggot in so he’ll be a good toy for the boss,” Donny tapped the metal against his thigh with a sneer as his pals laughed.

The alley was tight, so he didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. The side of Jensen that had grown up here and knew what dangers he was facing buzzed that perhaps handling this in another way or stalling until Chris arrived was the better part of valor.

The other side of his subconscious, the smart ass cocky side that didn’t like to be pushed or see others hurt or pushed, had a stronger grip right then so when the shorter of the three kicked Jared in the side, Jensen noticed suddenly what was laying behind his friend.  As he stooped to pick it up, he noticed something else; something that was lying partially beneath Jared’s unconscious form.

Jared had been trying to protect a small box with the end of the blanket sticking out of it; this told Jensen what was in the box and why Jared would have been trying to shield it.

“Picking on lost boys and little kittens,” he sneered, letting his fingers slip into the collar of his jacket as if he was planning to drop it in order to defend himself. “Yeah, you’re all real big tough men. Scared little bullies are all I see. Glad to see Kyle still gathers the weak around him so he can look big and tough himself.”

“Shut the hell up about the boss, asshole!” Donny lunged toward Jensen with the sharp metal swinging only to grunt when his arm was caught in the jacket and twisted so he had to move it or cut himself. “You don’t know anything about him!”

“Oh, I know all I need to about him.”  Jensen figured all those self-defense and martial arts lessons were finally going to come in handy. “I know he’s fond of using that blade when someone doesn’t do what he wants or when someone disagrees with him.”

He took a fist to the face, but it was a glancing blow; it hurt but didn’t stun him enough to allow the gang to get him on the ground. His own fist did knock the short one down, and then he turned to toss what he’d picked up at the third one.

“All of you think it’s so cool and awesome to have kids and old people scared of you, but let me let you in on a little secret about your ‘hero’.” Jensen snorted as he heard a shriek when the dead rat he’d tossed hit the punk in the face; the jerk immediately lost interest in the fight and bolted out of the alley. “The second you outlive your usefulness to him, or he wants something you have, or maybe you grow up enough to see what he’s turning you into, or you end up in a cell instead of him…Kyle will dump your asses and move on or he’ll stab you and leave you to bleed out. I should know.”

Jensen wasn’t interested in changing their lives or even their minds. All he wanted was to get them away so he could get Jared someplace safe, but while the one punk had run and the shorter one seemed to be considering his words, Donny didn’t seem to have the smarts to know when to quit.

With a shout of rage, or what he thought would make him look tough, Donny jumped up from the alley where’d he fallen after he was shoved away the last time and dove toward the asshole, who without even looking like he was trying hard, was making a fool out of him again.

“Gonna gut you, asshole!” he yelled, slashing the sharp end of the metal rod at Jensen.  He had the brief satisfaction of hearing the man hiss a sharp oath, but then he found himself being jerked back by his hair and slammed face first into the grimy wall of the laundry with the distinct sound of a gun cocking near his ear.

“No, you’re not.  But you might be interested in what a 9mm round does to what little brains you have in that empty head,” Chris Kane’s gravelly voice snarled, weapon held steady while his fingers were gripped tight on Donny’s neck muscles to keep him still.  His eyes shot to where Jensen was standing almost doubled over with his hand clamped over his side. “He cut you?”

“Small cut.” Jensen had felt skin tear along with his shirt but already knew that while it was a cut and he might be bleeding a little, it wasn’t a bad or dangerous wound. “You got him?”

Chris’s eyes were hot blue lasers as he glared at Donny. “I’ve got him, and the cops are on the way,” he acknowledged, hearing Jensen curse. “Jensen?”

“Jared!” Dropping to his knees where Jared was laying, he reached out carefully to ease the young man onto his back.  He swore harshly at the number of bruises on his face and also saw a shallow line of blood on his chest where his shirt had been cut.

Using his body to try to keep some of the pouring rain off of Jared, he used the meager light to see more bruises already forming on his arms and wrists from where he’d tried to defend himself or the kittens from the gang. The knees of his worn jeans were torn and soaked with blood, so Jensen could imagine the condition of the skin underneath, but what alarmed him the most was the deep bruise he thought he saw on Jared’s throat as if something had been wrapped around it to try to control him.

“Jay? Hey, open your eyes.”  He forced his voice to be quiet and steady and gently cupped his hands on the sides of Jared’s cold, wet, battered face. He peeled an eyelid back but soon realized from the blown pupils that whatever drug he’d been hit with must have been a bad one. “Jared? C’mon, dude, give me a sign that you can hear me or…”

Letting out a soft whimper, Jared jerked at the touch he felt on his face; the memories that were chasing him were terrifying, but he couldn’t seem to find a way to reach for the gentle voice he so desperately wanted. In his mind, he was cold, confused, scared and trying to find someplace safe for the kittens until he could find a way to get to Jensen.

He blearily remembered going out in the storm to check on the little kittens when he saw Father Patrick trying to hurt them. Jared got angry; being angry usually scared him, but he couldn’t let the man hurt the kittens.  He was rushing forward to help them when someone grabbed him from behind.

The men in suits were from Pastor Anton and wanted to take Jared back to the farm, away from Sister Rose…away from Jensen, so he fought back as best as he could while still trying to get the little scared kittens away from the priest.

When the rubber hood had started to come down over his head, Jared completely freaked out because he hated the hood. Out of all of the torments and games he’d suffered through, he hated the hood more than anything because it was so tight and it always came with something to gag him.  It also served to blind him, and when he couldn’t see what else was coming, it terrified him.

So when he felt the needle and then the hood, Jared had fought through his panic to get away. He’d grabbed the blanket with the kittens and had run.

He thought of Jensen; he heard Sister Rose shouting for him to come back, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t let them take him, but as he lost his footing on the rain-slick backstreets and alleys, Jared realized that in his haste, he’d potentially made his situation worse.

He couldn’t find Jensen alone, and he had to shield the scared and meowing little kittens until his friend could find them.  He knew in his heart that Jensen would come; he’d come and it would be fine.  Jared would be safe; the kittens would be safe.  He just needed to stay where Jensen could find them.

He’d been trying to backtrack closer to the shelter when the gang had found him. His head was starting to feel funny. It felt like he was floating, and it was getting hard to keep his eyes open. His arms and legs also felt heavier, and he knew in his heart he’d been given the same drug the Pastor had always given him when he wanted Jared awake but trapped in his own body. He wanted Jared alert enough to watch whatever sick games he and his ‘family’ played with him.

Jared had found a box to lay the blanket in so it would be easier to carry his friends, but when he’d first been jumped, he’d dropped it. Despite how he felt now, scared, cold and in pain, his biggest worry was for the kittens.

He’d let the boys do whatever they wanted to him if they wouldn’t kill the kittens. But still the touch of warm fingers on his neck, on his face, brought out the instinct to fight and he started to twist away from the warm hands. Until he heard his name being called and something inside him latched on to the deep husky voice that seemed to be shaking as it called for him.

“Jay? God, he’s so cold, Chris.” Jensen was relieved that Jared’s pulse felt strong when he found it, even if it was a little erratic due to shock and the drug. “Jay!”

Chris heard the change in voice and knew his friend was one step away from complete panic, so he used the butt of his pistol to give a not so gentle tap to the back of Donny’s head to knock him out for the cops.  This freed him to help Jensen. “How bad’s he hurt?” he asked. “Can he move or should I call for an ambulance?”

“No, no ambulance.” Jensen flat out refused that. He wasn’t letting strangers touch Jared, especially not when he was drugged and helpless.  “They beat him up some, but I don’t think they did anything else. He’s got some bad bruises and cuts and it looks like he fell a few times just fighting past the drugs, but mostly he’s just cold and wet and…oh crap, I need to get them outta here, too.”

“Them?” Chris had shoved his pistol back under his jacket before coming closer.  He was just in time to see Jensen pull a box closer, and then he heard the small sounds of meowing from inside. “Are those…”

“These are what he was trying to protect from that damn priest.” Jensen gave a quick head count and let out a relieved breath when he counted eight small, soft, furry kittens in the box. “He rescued these kittens, and he’s still trying to protect them.”

Shoving the box into the hands of his ex-bodyguard, Jensen pulled his jacket on since he knew it would never fit Jared, and he’d need both hands free to pull himself to his feet.  He ignored the pain in his side and reached back down to try and pull Jared up. “C’mon, Jay. I’m taking you home, and we’ll get you cleaned up and warm.  Don’t worry kiddo, I’ll keep you safe until this damn drug wears off.”

“Jensen, wait until I put these…balls of fluff… someplace and I’ll help you.  Good grief…kid’s more damn stubborn than he was before,” Chris muttered as he watched Jensen struggle and fail a few times before finally getting Jared to his feet.

“Put the kittens in my backseat and turn the heater on high so the car will be warm when I get him there.” Jensen spoke without looking at Chris while he strained to stay upright and keep Jared vertical as well.

Jared was a good three includes taller than him, and while the kid wasn’t really heavy, he was currently dead weight due to the drugs in his system.  That made it very hard to keep him standing much less walking without dropping them both back to the filth in the alley.

“He needs an ER,” Chris said after he’d placed the box of kittens in the backseat, flipped the heater on high, and returned to where Jensen was still struggling toward the car.  He could hear the sirens closing in and knew they had to hurry. “Can I help you with him, or do you want to stubbornly try until you both fall which will probably hurt him even more?”

It was a low blow, but Chris knew the only way Jensen would relent to letting him help was if he thought he might end up hurting the injured young man more than he already was.

“A hospital means people, people who are strangers. Strangers mean questions and cops and that’ll scare him to death when he wakes up.” Jensen grunted under the weight he was holding and grudgingly nodded to Chris who gently took Jared’s other arm, and together they made it to where the Mustang sat idling at the curb.  A brave little kitten was crawling in the back window while its siblings were just starting to feel safe enough to poke their furry heads out of the box.

“He’s been drugged by God knows what; he’s been cut, kicked, and beaten. He needs a damn hospital, Jensen,” Chris growled in the tone he only used with Jensen when he was finally too stressed to try and reason with him. “That cop can put people in the hospital if you’re worried about someone grabbing him, or hell, I’ll call in some help if it’ll get you to let an actual ER look at him.”  Chris took in the stubborn expression on Jensen’s face and sighed.  “ How about the clinic on Madison?  That’s better than just taking him home.”

The clinic was larger than most and had most of what the hospital had including X-rays and other tests. Even though it was a fairly large clinic, it was still much smaller than the hospital so there was a better chance of Jensen controlling much of the environment to keep his friend safe.

“The clinic,” he muttered, but quickly added, “But only to see how badly they hurt him. I won’t leave him there overnight. I won’t leave him again period.”

Chris kept his mouth shut as he helped Jensen get the passenger door open and then stepped back to allow him to ease the limp, pale, and badly bruised and battered young man into the passenger seat. “This wasn’t your fault, Jensen. You didn’t know anything like this was going to happen.”

“I knew that asshole wouldn’t leave it alone, but I thought he’d be safe for a couple hours.” Jensen knelt down to wrap an extra blanket from the back around Jared while lightly brushing his fingers through Jared’s soaking wet hair. He wasn’t sure if the streaks on Jared’s face were from the rain he’d run in or tears. “I thought he’d be safe, Chris. I told him he would be. I was wrong and look at him.”

“You’re a singer, Jensen. You’re not a cop or a psychic so there was no way for you to know any of this would happen.” Chris took a step back as a couple uniformed cops stepped into the alley and looked at him.  He just jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “The moron that’s out cold beat the kid and tried to stab Jensen. He took a fall.”

Jensen knew that wasn’t the correct story but didn’t feel like wasting time with cops while his friend was shaking violently, lashes fluttering as his eyes moved restlessly under tightly closed lids.  It was as if Jared was dreaming, and Jensen was pretty sure after what the kid has just been through, they wouldn’t be good dreams.

“Shh, you’re safe again, Jay,” he murmured softly, letting his hand rest on Jared’s shoulder for a moment before pushing back up to shut the door. “Get off me!  I’m alright.”

Chris had been casually trying to probe the side that Jensen had been holding, narrowing his eyes at the bloodstained shirt. “Blood usually indicates the opposite, kid,” he pointed out. “Tell me how bad it is or you’re not driving.”

“It’s a cut.  It doesn’t even need stitches…Okay, maybe like three stitches. I’ll be fine,” Jensen returned, ignoring the cops and his friend as he hurried to the other side of the car. “Call the clinic and then call Murphy and have him meet me there,” he told his friend before getting in the car.

The night before, when Jensen had first showed up at his bar with these dreams and ideas, Chris had suspected but he hadn’t been certain. Now that he’d seen his friend at the shelter, and more importantly, now that he’d seen him with the quiet, shy, battered kid he was more than certain.  Jensen was in love again.

Jensen was unlike most of the clients he’d been paid to look after; in fact, Jensen was nearly the exact opposite of all of them. Oh, he had the money, the looks, and the attitude to make a sane person pull his hair out, but he also had a loving heart, and Chris had seen that heart bruised and stepped on once before.

Ever since that time, Jensen had closed down and refused to let anyone close enough to hurt him. Now he hadn’t just opened his heart, but it appeared to Chris that his friend had opened his whole life, body and soul, to a boy who didn’t know how to trust or what life could mean when he wasn’t running scared.

Jensen might think he was trying to help Jared heal and to learn to trust, but as Chris considered what he’d just seen today, he was certain now it was a toss up to see who would teach who to trust again.

Leaving his former bodyguard to follow, Jensen backed the Mustang out onto the street after finding the clinic he was looking for in his GPS locator so he’d know where he was going and wouldn’t waste any more time.

The kittens were still scared and probably as confused as Jared would be, but Jensen was glad to see they were all moving around more instead of huddled in the box like they’d first been. He didn’t even think about having sharp little kitten claws tearing up the seats or making other messes. All he was worried about was the man beside him.

The heater was on high and he turned the vents so the heat would blow toward Jared , and then he began to talk. He needed something to take his mind off the fear and guilt in his gut, and he also hoped that perhaps something would start to bring Jared back around.

To bring more noise into the car, the singer dug absently until he pulled out a CD that he’d made one day while playing around with some home recording equipment. It was just him and his original guitar, the one Sister Rose had given him, playing some songs he’d written that more than likely would never see the light of day since they were more soft rock than what his label had him singing.

“You’ll be warm soon, Jay,” he murmured.  His voice was tight, but he tried to keep his own pain out of it because he didn’t consider the small cut to be as worrisome as Jared’s injuries. “I’m going to take you to get checked out and cleaned up and then I’m taking you and the fluff balls back there home.”

Next to him Jared rolled his head and whimpered; he tried to curl his knees up as if protecting himself while reaching out his hand as if searching for something or someone and then a soft sob broke free. “…please don’t…”

Jensen hated every single person who had ever hurt Jared, who had helped to take his childhood and happiness away from him. “C’mere, Jay,” he said, taking one hand off the wheel so he could reached over to gently slip an arm around Jared’s shoulders.  He gently pulled him closer so his head was pillowed against his shoulder. “It’s Jensen. I’m with you and I’m so sorry this happened, but I have you and the kittens and you’re all safe.

“As soon as you’re awake I’m taking you home, and by home I don’t mean the shelter because you’re not going back there. I never should have left you there tonight while I went to talk to Vince. By home I mean my home, here in the city, where you can start to feel safe and heal from this while the lawyers deal with all this crap.” Jensen glanced quickly over when he felt a touch to his shirt, swallowing hard when he saw bruised and bloody fingers curling into the bottom of his shirt.  Jared’s eyes remained closed but were blinking rapidly.

“You and the kittens are going to love my place, Jay. It’s got a backyard, a wicked view of the ocean and bridge, big rooms for kitten toys, a kitchen that I really don’t use much but I swear we won’t starve.”  He kept his touch light so it wouldn’t frighten the younger man if he started to wake up and was confused, but let his fingers rub soothingly along Jared’s arm. “There’s TV, movies, games…you can do whatever you want and no one will ever tell you that you aren’t allowed to do something or use something.

“I know you’ll be scared and this won’t be easy, but I swear that I will be there and nothing like this will happen again.” Jensen knew that was a tough promise but he’d find some way to keep it.

He was getting close to the clinic when he felt a change in the soft breath on his neck from where Jared’s head was still lying on his shoulder. “Jared?”

Pain and fear still flowed through him, but as something pulled Jared to the brink of semi-consciousness, he realized dimly that even though he still felt chilled, he wasn’t nearly as cold as he had been.

He’d tensed briefly at the feel of an arm touching him, but then slowly the noise in his head, the mocking cruel voices, the sound of fire, the shriek of chains being stretched, were replaced by music.

The music was tinny, obviously recorded and only a single guitar, but it still soothed his nightmares. Aside from the music, it was the voice singing along with the music that made Jared’s inner fears calm down.

He’d heard Jensen sing with no music and realized that’s who was singing with the music. Jensen’s voice singing as well as speaking to him from close by slowly had Jared fighting to surface from the drug that had been used to incapacitate him.

It was hard and he was scared, but as he listened to Jensen talk about his home and how Jared and the kittens would enjoy it, the young man began to want to see his friend, to be sure he was real and not a dream.  He needed to see Jensen because he wasn’t sure why the singer would want to take him to his home after all the trouble Jared had caused.

Jared had moved his fingers slowly, painfully until they found the bottom of Jensen’s shirt.  He discovered that it was also wet; he wasn’t quite sure why Jensen would be so wet though memories from earlier, memories of hearing Jensen’s voice in the alley, came back to finally make Jared’s lashes flutter before struggling to open.

He smelled rain, dirt, wet fur, and leather but more importantly to Jared, he smelled the same aftershave he had earlier when Jensen had held him.  He held his breath as much as his chest and side would let him while trying to get at least one eye open; he couldn’t speak as his tongue didn’t want to cooperate either.

“Jared? You waking up for me now, Jay?” Jensen tried to keep the hope out of his voice while driving with one hand around a turn that showed the clinic up ahead of them. “You probably won’t be able to talk too much or move until that drug wears off but…I’m with you, kiddo and I’ll stay with you.”

The strength and depth of emotion in that voice reassured Jared more than anything else anyone had ever said to him.  He worked one blurry eye open to try to see Jensen in the darkened car but could only see his rugged profile.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough to tell Jared he was safe again and within a minute, he felt blackness pulling him back under.  He wanted to let Jensen know that he had heard him and that he believed in him, but as he opened his mouth to speak, he felt a sudden searing pain in his side.

“…J…Jen,” he tried to say, but the drug and pain made it hard and his voice came out choked.  He knew he could barely be heard, but when he coughed, his throat tightened and he tasted copper on his lips.

“I’m here, Jay.” Jensen had just stopped the car and assumed that someone had called ahead since several staff members were waiting by the door. He was just looking down to reassure Jared that he’d be fine, but gasped instead at the sight of blood dripping from the younger man’s mouth and nose. “No…”


Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Seven


The word and the sick terror that had accompanied it after seeing the blood coming from Jared’s mouth and nose were still with Jensen four hours later as he paced the tiny empty waiting room like a caged tiger.

He’d been both stunned and terrified at seeing that blood; he was suddenly certain that by moving Jared to put him in the car, he’d hurt him in some way.  Damn!  Maybe he should have listened to Chris and called for an ambulance!  Before he could comprehend anything else, Jared was being taken from him by hurried but efficient and gentle doctors and nurses.

It was only Chris Kane’s timely arrival that kept one well-meaning doctor from needing his own services when he bluntly told Jensen that he could go no farther than the front desk unless he was family.

A quick explanation of the circumstances and a call to Vince Davis assured the staff that as of that moment, Jensen was Jared’s only contact and would serve as his guardian until he woke up to say otherwise.  This meant that Jensen could be with the young man whenever possible.

That worked for the initial exam; however, the never-ending questions soon had Jensen growling low in his throat.  He finally had had enough of one nurse who asked the same question in about eight different ways, as if seeking to trip him up, and he flat out told the woman to “back the hell off” with whatever she was assuming Jared’s ‘case’ was about.

Jared hadn’t regained consciousness again since that brief moment in car, and in the brightly lit clinic’s exam room Jensen could see how much worse his friend had been beaten than he’d first assumed.

It was also the first time he’d seen Jared without a shirt on so he now could see some of the other old scars the abuse Jared had suffered had left him with. He refused to think the scars that still remained hidden; if he did, he might fall apart and he didn’t think the staff would appreciate it if he put his hand through a wall.

As it was he nearly punched someone after his bigmouthed ex-bodyguard mentioned to one of the nurses that Jensen had also been injured; that had him being pulled away from Jared to get his own small wound checked over.

Now he was stuck in a waiting room because they’d taken Jared for all types of x-rays and blood work to see the extent of his injuries what he’d drug he had been given.  All Jensen could do was pace while hoping his friend didn’t wake up and think he’d been left alone with strangers…again.

“I shouldn’t have left him,” he grumbled while pacing. “I promised him that I wouldn’t. What will he think if he wakes up alone?”

“What would he have thought if he woke up to find you bleeding all over him because you were too damn hardheaded to mention just how bad that little punk cut you?” Chris countered from the chair where he sat, keeping an eye on both the front door of the clinic and Jensen.

The singer’s ‘cut’ turned out to be a small gash that needed ten stitches to close up, and while the doctor said he didn’t need a blood transfusion, he had lost a good amount and needed to rest for the next 24-hours.

Rest was not in Jensen’s vocabulary right then since all he wanted was someone to tell him how Jared was doing and let him see the kid.

The nurses had stopped coming in to check on Jensen because every time they did, he would pester them to find out what was happening with his friend until finally Chris threatened to knock him out if he didn’t leave the staff to do their jobs.

Luckily on this night, the clinic was quiet which the ex-bodyguard was grateful for. Handling Jensen was one thing, but he was also keeping an eye out for any possible trouble.  He was still too much ex-Navy Seal and bodyguard to think that all the trouble, either with Anton Paul or that street gang, was going to just go away.

Captain Liam Murphy had stopped by to say that Sister Rose would arrive as soon as she stopped yelling at the bishop and personally escorted Father Patrick off the property. He also assured Jensen that he would have more alert officers patrolling the area around the clinic.

“He should have had them at the shelter,” Jensen had muttered but didn’t say anything.  As soon as Murphy left, he just started pacing again.

Now four hours later his pacing had turned to stalking, and he was very close to snapping at someone when a low cough from the door had both men turning to look.  A short balding doctor in his 70’s was standing in the door with a clipboard in this hand.

“Mr. Ackles?” he asked in a quiet voice; his face was expertly schooled to not give anything, good or bad, away.  He quickly deduced which of the two men in his waiting room was Jensen Ackles, and he turned his attention to the younger man. “You came in with the John Doe?”

“Crap!” Chris was shoving to his feet to put himself between the physician and his snarling friend. “You punch out the doctor and they’ll kick your ass outta here so control yourself,” he warned in a low voice.

“Jared. I brought Jared in,” Jensen corrected tightly, hating that just because his friend didn’t know his last name, it was so easy to write him off as nobody. “How is he? Where is he? Can I see him?”

Walter Jones had been the senior physician at the clinic for 12 years so he’d seen a lot come through his doors. He’d been the presiding medic in charge 10 years ago when Sister Rose and Father Thomas had brought in a badly hurt, frightened, and scarred boy.  As he watched the tall battered young man tonight, he’d recognized the scars on his face and neck; this was the same boy he’d seen all those years earlier.

He looked at the chart in his hand before glancing back up at the agitated young man.  His staff had informed him that Jensen had been badgering them about the boy’s condition despite needing stitches in his own side. “Jared then.  My apologies.”  He nodded, not offended by Jensen’s sharp tone. “He’s got four broken ribs; two more were cracked. He has several cuts on his chest, but they were shallow and didn’t need stitches. He did have a cut on his palm that needed a few but it looked like he might have fallen on glass to cause that one. Sit down, son,” he urged when he saw Jensen weave a little.

“No, I want to see him.” Jensen refused to sit. He could still see the blood leaking out of his friend’s mouth, and he was desperate to get his eyes on Jared again. “He was bleeding from the mouth and nose when I got him here. I know those punks were beating him when I found him so…”

“Yes, he does have some internal bruising from being kicked and punched, but there’s no internal bleeding. He was very lucky in that regard considering the extent of the bruising he suffered from that attack.”  The doctor looked up to see the worry clouding Jensen’s face and finally smiled. “He’d bitten his tongue and his lip at some point, so that’s why his mouth was bleeding.  As for his nose?  You witnessed the beating; his nose was definitely bleeding, but fortunately, it’s not broken and should heal without any further treatment.”

“He does have some serious bruises from this beating as well as whatever happened to his right hand. He has a slight concussion, but there’s no bleeding on the brain. His vitals are okay…not quite stable, but that’s normal considering he was probably pretty scared, and…” Dr. Jones flipped through the papers to get to the part that he was worried about. “…you know he’d been drugged.”

Jensen’s eyes went cold. “Yeah, I know that,” he replied tightly, fingers clenching. “What was it and will he be alright?”

He’d been exposed to the drug scene a lot while he was breaking into music, but he had never seen the need to use anything himself and worked hard to make sure no one around him used either.

Of course there’d been times at parties when Jensen had seen various types of drugs used, and it was at such a party that he learned a vital lesson: watch even those he thought he could trust.  Jensen still owed Chris for keeping that night from becoming worse than it had been.

He feared he knew what drug was used on Jared; if it was what he suspected, it could be frustratingly slow to wear off depending on the dosage.

“It’s actually a combination of drugs,” the doctor was saying.  “One is a popular version of what they call a date-rape drug, and the other is a powerful sedative that relaxes the body to the point of being nearly paralyzed.  The body is unable to move, but the person’s mind is still active and alert.”  The doctor had seen many cases come through his clinic, and he hated the drugs that were often involved these days. “I’m amazed that he made it as far as you say he did before he passed out fully. I’m afraid that even when he wakes up, the drug may still be in his blood; it could be another day or so before he regains full use of his body.”

Jensen turned away from the doctor to try to hide the flash of rage he could feel building.  He knew Chris as right; if he lost his temper now, he could easily be barred from the clinic, and Jared. He knew why Jared had been drugged, and he also knew his friend was going to be scared to death if he woke up like that. “Effects?” he asked when he’d worked through enough of the anger to be able to see straight again.

The doctor had been the one who told Sister Rose about the brutality Jared had endured as a child; while the nun had been brief and to the point with her opinion, he had a hunch that this young man would be a lot more vocal and possibly physical in his reactions.

“He’ll be frightened obviously. He may be confused and disoriented due to both the drugs and the concussion.  Even after he regains full feeling in his body, he may be a little unsteady. I don’t believe there’ll be any serious or long term effects from this,” Doctor Young replied, then he paused before broaching something he suspected might be a touchy subject. “I know Rose and Father Thomas, before his death, were trying to keep Jared at the shelter to shield him as well as protect him from falling back into the hands of those who hurt him but…I’ve been told that you’re assuming responsibility for the boy now. May I ask why?”

“Because I want to help him and because he’s my friend,” Jensen replied after biting his tongue to keep from popping off the first thing that came to mind.  He was fairly certain that he knew what a lot of people would think about his choice to help a scared, withdrawn young man, and while Jensen wouldn’t deny to himself the attraction he felt, he also had no plans to do anything about it.  He knew Jared would never understand that he could be touched physically without the pain of the abuse he’d suffered. “Can I see him now?”

“Mr. Ackles…Jensen, I think I know who you are professionally, so I hope you’ll forgive me for this, but you are aware of Jared’s past, aren’t you?”  The older man heard a low groan a second before the other man in the waiting room move a little closer. “You do know that I’ve never heard him speak more than his name, and that he’s not exactly the kind of man someone like you would normally show an interest in…unless it was for…”

Jensen!” Chris snapped a second before he grabbed the singer by the collar to yank him back a step.

“Someone like me?” Jensen debated taking a swing at Chris just to get loose, but decided it wasn’t worth getting himself knocked out. Instead he leveled a cool look at the doctor, head turned to the side and a dark smile forming. “What exactly does that mean, Doctor?” he asked curiously. “A rock and roll singer? A man who might find Jared attractive but wouldn’t ever take advantage of a sweet, naïve, scared boy? Or a human being who just wants to try to be a friend to someone who hasn’t much in the way of those and just wants to see him smile? What kind of man am I?”

Doctor Young knew he’d phrased that incorrectly and rather crudely, so he wasn’t surprised at the reaction it earned him. He was rather shocked at the counter questions, and he began to see that perhaps he’d misjudged this young man. “I’m sorry. I fear that I’ve become jaded after so many years of seeing the not-so good side of people in this city, and you are correct. Jared really hasn’t had many people stand up for him.”

“He has me now and for as long as he wants. I’ll stand up for him, and I’ll take care of him.” Jensen finally pulled free from his ex-bodyguard’s grasp. “Can I see him?  Please?” he asked again.

“Follow me.”  The doctor nodded and noticed the other man wasn’t coming. “Will your friend be coming?”

Chris wanted to take a walk around to be sure the clinic was secure for the moment. “Go on, I’ll catch up,” he told Jensen, and then offered an explanation when he saw Jensen’s curious expression.  “I just want to make sure Murphy sent those cops, so that you and Jared will be safe until you get him released.”

“Thanks.” Jensen stuck his hands into the pockets of his jacket since they were suddenly shaking. He didn’t do well with hospitals or clinics and he feared this wouldn’t make it any easier. “When can I take him home?”

“I’ll want to keep him until he regains consciousness so we can see if there are any serious effects, but I’ll say that it should probably be sometime tomorrow or the next morning at the latest,” Doctor Young replied.  He led Jensen down the hall to one of the few rooms the clinic had; they usually transported serious cases requiring an overnight stay to the local hospitals. “May I ask where he’ll go when I release him?”

Jensen paused with his hand on the door of the room the older man indicated. “Home,” he replied simply and then just slipped inside and had to lean against the door as his legs finally started to buckle. “Jared.”

The whisper sounded loud in the silent room as his eyes were instantly drawn to the lone bed, and he was stunned at how small Jared actually looked lying there.

Jared’s pale face showed the severe bruises he’d gained tonight. With his damp hair pushed back from his face to show the older scars, Jared looked even younger than he was, and it made Jensen hurt to imagine the fear and pain he’d known instead of warmth and joy.

The marks on Jared’s throat also seemed worse now that they’d been cleaned off. They’d make speaking all the more painful, assuming Jensen could convince the younger man that it was still safe to speak.

The IV lines led to two different bags of liquid, and a quick glance reassured Jensen that they weren’t anything that would hurt his friend, but were meant to ease the pain and push the other drugs out of his system a little faster.  There were warm blankets on the bed that were helping to combat the violent shivers going through Jared’s body even though the drugs reduced the spasms to minor twitches.

“Jay?”  He spoke quietly while pulling a chair closer to the bed so he could reach out to take Jared’s hand in his own.  He held it carefully, afraid to squeeze too tight, since right then the younger man looked like the gentlest touch might further bruise him. “It’s Jensen. I don’t know if you can hear me right now, but I just want you to know that I’m going to be here when you wake up, and I’ll take you home as soon as I can spring you from here.”

Leaning up to rest his chin on his other hand, Jensen let his thumb brush over Jared’s wrist lightly. “You’re going to be fine soon, Jared,” he promised softly, reaching up to gently comb his fingers through the damp hair.  With a sigh, he let his eyes settle on the scars on Jared’s face and neck.

He’d seen them before, but now that he could study them a little more closely, Jensen still thought they looked like burns.  It made him sick to think of how old Jared had been when he was burned so badly and why someone would have burned him like this.

“I’m here, little boy, and I’m not letting you be hurt again,” he whispered, keeping one hand folded over Jared’s hand while letting his other hand move gently over either over Jared’s shoulder or face; he carefully avoided touching the scars again. “If only I had known, if I’d just stayed those other two days…”

Sister Rose had arrived at the clinic a short while ago, but she had taken the time to speak with both Chris Kane and the staff to learn about Jared’s condition. She knew it would be useless to ask Jensen, and as she took in his shadowed eyes and his exhausted and grief stricken posture, she was glad she had.  It was obvious that Jensen was still blaming himself for what he thought of as his failure to protect his friend.

“I’m sorry you ever learned about that,” she murmured.  She’d stayed at the church until the bishop had arrived, and then she’d personally put that horrid excuse for a priest in a taxi which would drive him back to the seminary and away from St. Lucy’s. “Jensen, I meant what I said back there tonight. You were 18 and still rough around the edges. Jared was a shattered boy of 12 who saw nearly every adult, and person that was at all bigger than him as the enemy. He wouldn’t have responded to you then like he has now. You needed to go off and grow up some.”

“What if I can’t do what I’ve promised him, Rose?” Jensen was tired and when he got this tired the buried doubts and fears all came back. “What if all I am is what others think of me? The spoiled self-absorbed little rich boy who can sing a few notes? I’m not a professional anything much less someone who can say I know what he’s been through, because no one can ever know that.”

The nun came close to Jensen, hiding her smile at the way his hand automatically tightened on Jared’s as if to try to protect or reassure him as he slept. “No, no one will ever be able to say they can understand what horrors he suffered because I’m not even certain he fully understands it yet himself. But you are hardly a self-absorbed spoiled rich boy,” she scoffed while running her hand over his hair.  She looked into his eyes, and she did see a piece of the scared uncertain teen she’d known. “I know you’re scared of failing him, but you’ll never know if you can succeed if you don’t try, and you’ve already done so much that no one else ever would have attempted.

“Now, why don’t you try to sleep some while I sit in here?” she suggested, sharpening her gaze when he started to argue. “Jensen Ackles, you’re ready to fall over. Jared will need you when he begins to wake up, so at least rest your head on his bed if you won’t actually go find your own bed.  You need to try and sleep, at least for an hour or two. I’ll wake you if he starts to wake.”

Jensen was afraid to sleep. He didn’t want to be so deeply asleep that he couldn’t wake up fast enough if Jared came to and needed him, but he knew the old nun was right. He wouldn’t be any good to his friend if he crashed later on when Jared was sure to need help, so he blew out a breath while eyeing her. “Fine, but you stay here and wake me if he starts to come to, or if he even gets restless,” he told her. “The doctor said he still might not have much movement when he wakes up, so he’ll be scared and…”

“I’ll wake you,” she promised, sitting down on the other side of the bed to watch him with a warm smile.  As she suspected, Jensen didn’t move away to go find another bed or even a couch to stretch out on to try to sleep.  Instead, he simply adjusted the way his hand gripped Jared’s so he could still keep that hold when he leaned forward until his head was laying on the edge of the bed close to where he clasped the limp hand. “I’m right here, Jay,” he murmured, letting his eyes drift closed after another moment of watching Jared’s pale face stay still. “I’ll…be with you.”

That was how Captain Liam Murphy found them a couple hours later when he came back. A look into the room told him that while Jared was still unconscious, he did seem to be having more facial movement.  Jensen slept bent over where he sat beside the bed, his hand still clutching Jared’s.

Sister Rose was sitting in the chair on the other side of the bed reading a magazine, but the slight shake of her head told him not to enter so he turned to go hunt Chris Kane down.  He found the man in a waiting room right down the hall from Jared’s room.

“I’m guessing you have a permit for that pistol?” the cop inquired, already knowing the bar owner did since he ran him through the system the first time they met.

“You want to see it?” Chris merely smiled but was prepared to show the paper as well as the one that still had him listed as a licensed bodyguard. “Or are you asking as a way to tell me that I might be getting to use it?”

Murphy loved his job most of the time. It was times like this that he didn’t. “The gang punk got bailed out by his folks and is back on the streets; Paul bailed out the other two assholes, and they’re long gone back to whatever hole he holes up in,” he told the man, agreeing with the scowl and curse. “I spoke to Jensen’s lawyer and the DA; they say that restraining order will hold up but, Paul ain’t the type to let go. He’ll keep coming after that kid until I nail him with something, and that’s not easily done.”

“I know the type, unfortunately.” Chris sipped strong coffee while nodding to a man in jeans and a denim jacket who was lounging by the front door. “He’s used to using the law for his purposes and won’t accept it when it sides against him. He’ll move on the kid again; eventually he’ll get desperate enough to make a mistake.”  He glanced at the cop. “I just hope that desperation doesn’t wind up with one of those boys dead.”

That was what the cop was worried about. “Oh. I got a call from the cops back east,” He decided to mention this as he was leaving, feeling the way the bar owner’s eyes narrowed. “We’ve got one more thing to worry about.  Seems Jensen’s little fan got her Mommy and Daddy to bail her out, and she promptly skipped town so she’s in the wind. They seemed to think she might be heading this way.”

“Son of a bitch,” Chris groaned, knowing he didn’t have this much trouble keeping Jensen safe when he was actually being paid to do that job.

It was mild pain and low voices that began to filter into Jared’s brain and wake him up. His memories were spotty for the first few seconds, but the moment he went to move and it felt like everything was heavy and stiff, the memories of the needle, the men, and everything else began to flood back.

The memory of the storm came back first as Jared recalled trying to protect the kittens from the priest. Then he recalled the men attacking him and grabbing what he could to just try to run until he was safe.  His final memory as blurrier, as if seen through a fog, but he vaguely remembered the three guys from the gang finding him while he’d been trying to shake off the drug.  He didn’t recall what had happened after that.  How had he gotten out of the alley?  Where was he now?

Jared was trying not to panic because he still couldn’t really move and that had always had scared him. Whenever Pastor Anton used the drug to make him still, it meant he was going to hurt him or let others hurt him in a way that required more than just others holding him down.  He had used the drug the night he burned him so badly.

“…No…” He thought he made a whimper, but his voice seemed sluggish and far away just like his body, and he began to breathe faster, afraid that they’d found him and had taken him back there, away from…


Jensen’s voice speaking close to him caused Jared to try to force his eyes to open, but he got even more scared when his eyes didn’t even want to open; that had never happened before.

“Calm down a second, Jay.  I’m right here.” Jensen’s voice sounded raw and it was pitched low, as if Jensen had also just woken up, but it still managed to calm him down. If Jensen was with him, he wasn’t trapped in the bad place again; he was safe. “I’m going to wipe your eyes to try to clear the gunk out of them so you’ll be able to open them. It might feel warm.”

There was another voice, a voice that was new to him, somewhere in the room. Jared could hear it but not well enough to make out the words. He could tell, however, by Jensen’s tone that his friend wasn’t impressed by the speaker.

“What part of that paper that states he’s my responsibility aren’t you getting?  For the last time, I’m taking him the hell out of here and home!” Jensen shot the unhappy doctor a look before leaving him to Chris to deal with while he wiped a warm washcloth gently over Jared’s eyes to clear out the crusty residue that tears and rain had left behind.

Jared had stirred once or twice before, but the mixture of drugs he had been given kept pulling him back under.  This was the first time he seemed to be truly regaining consciousness since arriving at the clinic.

Giving his eyes a final, gentle wipe, Jensen tossed the rag. “Okay, all clear. Can you open your eyes for me, Jay?” he asked, moving one hand back to grip Jared’s while laying his other on Jared’s face to reassure him that he wasn’t alone and that he was safe.

It took a few blinks before Jared felt his lids open slowly; he blinked rapidly against the sudden bright light until someone turned off the overhead light. The hand that he felt on his cheek moved up to help shield his sensitive eyes and his blurry vision soon began to come back into focus.  The first thing that he saw made most of his fears evaporate and relief flooded his system.

“…J…”  He tried to speak his friend’s name, but his voice choked off as if a hand gripped his throat, and he tensed because he knew it was the drug that still was in his system.

“Shhh, it’s okay. Jay, it’s okay,” Jensen was quick to reassure when he realized what was happening.  He shifted on the bed so he was closer to Jared. “I need you to look at me and blink if you can understand me.”

He’d been hoping that most of the drug would be out of his system by the time his friend woke up, but clearly that wasn’t the case so now all he could do was try to keep Jared calm while release papers were drawn up.

Once Jared relaxed a little again and he blinked, Jensen smiled fully. “You know it’s the drug doing this and that as soon as it’s fully out of your system in a few more hours that you’ll be able to talk and move, right?”

Jared did know that. It was the time in-between that he feared because it left him trapped inside a mind that only had memories that scared him. Except this time he tried to focus on the calm smiling man sitting with him whose touch was about the only thing Jared realized he could feel right then.

“You have some broken and cracked ribs, some cuts, and a mild concussion that’s going to make your head hurt and your eyes a little shaky, but you’ll be fine.”  Jensen slowly moved his hand back to the unscarred side of Jared’s face to let it rest there, feeling a small tug on his heart when he felt just the slightest movement of the younger man’s face into his palm. “The doctor here is getting papers ready so I can sign you out and take you home. Do you remember earlier when I told you that I was taking you home?”

Thinking hard Jared thought in the midst of the memories of pain and fear, he could recall hearing Jensen talking to him, holding him, and saying that he was taking Jared and the…a burst of panic hit him as he thought of the scared kittens, and he struggled to move his hand to grab for Jensen but could only move a finger.

“What?” Jensen saw the flash of fear and confusion as well as the bitter frustration that Jared felt right then, and kept his hand flat on his cheek. “Jared, look at me. I know this is scary, and I wish I knew how to make it go away faster, but pretty soon you’ll be safe in my house with the…” Then it must have hit him what Jared might be alarmed over. “The kittens are safe, Jay. They’re already at my house.”

That made Jared’s eyes lift back up, tears pooling to let a single one fall. He’d been so scared for the fluffy little kittens and being unable to ask about them made this nightmare even worse. He tried to get his mouth to at least form a word even if no sound would come out yet, but while his lips moved they wouldn’t do what he wanted, and he let out a frustrated whimper.

“I know, Jay, I know.” Jensen moved up more to sit with his back at the top of the bed so he was next to Jared.  Slowly and carefully moving his arm so Jared knew what he was doing, he slipped it behind him to help sit him up more and against his shoulder. “Just don’t push it. I promise you’ll talk to me again, and by this time tomorrow, you’ll be playing with the kittens. I had Chris take them by my place so they wouldn’t be in my car while I was with you, and when he came back he brought some stuff for you to wear and…”  He reached over to grab what else he’d told Chris to bring. “He brought these too.”

It still was weird that he didn’t feel the same sick fear of being touched or being close to someone that he did with anyone else, but Jared relaxed more once he was leaning against Jensen’s side, letting his head drop to his shoulder.  When he noticed what his friend was holding, his eyes began to burn with tears again.

He’d had to make a fast choice back at the shelter. Jared had known he couldn’t take everything with him if he wanted to protect the kittens, so he’d chosen to leave his blanket as well as the old stuffed cat behind. He’d hoped Sister Rose would find the items, but to see Jensen with them made him turn his head more into his friend’s neck to try to hide the tears, even though he suspected Jensen could feel them.

Jared felt both being placed under his hand as the arm around him tightened just enough to let him know he wasn’t alone.

Even since he’d gotten old enough to really understand that something was very wrong with how he was kept and with the things Pastor Anton did to him, Jared had felt alone. He’d been too scared once he escaped to trust anyone to get close to him except Sister Rose and Father Thomas.  Once the kindly old priest had been killed, it reminded Jared how much it could hurt to get close to anyone.

If he was scared of Jensen over anything, it was of letting himself get too close.  Surely at some point the man would get bored with him or too frustrated with him or something more important would come along.  He wanted to hold some part of himself back so that it wouldn’t hurt too much when Jensen left him alone because like Father Patrick had been so fond of telling him, he wasn’t worth anyone’s time unless they wanted to use him for something.

The piece of Jared that tried to protect him from ever being hurt or trusting anyone still wanted to hold back, but the bigger part, the part that was tired of being alone and of not letting someone in, knew it was already too late. He’d already let Jensen in too far to pull back now. He just hoped the other man didn’t come to regret his decision to try to help him.

Jensen watched Jared’s face, interested in how much emotion and unspoken thought actually crossed it and wondered if anyone really was aware of how much this young man did feel.

He could almost tell what was going on behind those big shy hazel eyes that were like liquid brown with flecks of gold right now. “It’s so hard to know who to trust or to wonder if you can trust anyone without being hurt in some way, isn’t it?” he asked quietly, a gentle smile playing on his lips as Jared looked up and nodded.  He slowly moved his hand down to let his fingers curl over Jared’s jaw and watch an interesting change come over the young man’s face.

“You’ve been hurt so badly, little boy. You’ve been hurt in a way that no one can really understand. You were probably taken away from your family when you were really little.  You might not even think that you can be loved and cared for without being hurt or humiliated.” Jensen’s voice went quieter as his thumb began to move gently while his other arm stayed still to just hold Jared like he was.

“You’ve spent ten years hiding and trying to protect yourself from more pain, and now you’re living in a world that you want to be a part of but so much of it scares or confuses you. I can’t promise immediate healing or instant success in learning new things because I don’t think any of it will be easy, but I will promise to stay with you and do whatever I can to keep you safe and teach you whatever you want to know about including how to write your name.”

That made Jared’s lips curve a little more. He’d tried to learn, but while he could watch TV and remember words and other things, it seemed to be harder for him to transfer what he learned to a piece of paper. Of all the things the kids at the shelter could do, the one thing he really wanted to learn was how to write his own name.

“You’re going to be fine, Jay.” Jensen smiled when he saw the small grin form, feeling the body next to him move a bit on its own to lean closer while seeing Jared’s arm able to slowly move to bring the blanket and stuffed toy closer to his chest. “He won’t hurt you again.”

A sound from the door made Jensen’s eyes lift and his arm tense until he saw it was only Chris standing there with the doctor who was holding a clipboard of forms.  Some of his own tension melted, but not all of it, because Jensen wouldn’t feel safe until he knew Jared was out of this neighborhood. “We’re going home.”

By the time Jensen signed so many papers, release forms, notices, and other things he had to blink at to understand, he was half certain his hand was going to fall off, but finally he was behind the wheel of his Mustang with Jared sitting beside him.

The doctor had wanted to keep Jared until he regained full movement but admitted that might be another 24 to 36 hours, and it was plain that neither man wanted to remain in the clinic that long.

Chris had done what he could to keep it secure, and while Jensen had asked how much he owed whoever he hired to watch the place, the older man merely shrugged and said it was taken care of.

Now he followed close behind the Mustang on the way from the clinic back to Jensen’s home. The police had been alerted to the trouble, so there would be officers making more than casual patrols, and he’d continue to badger Jensen about upgrading to a more advanced security system.

Jared had gained some movement back, mostly in his hands and his right arm. His left arm was sluggish and both legs were still shaky. They’d hold him up standing still, but if he tried to walk or even move much, he fell easily.  It had been an uncomfortable moment when he had to face letting Jensen not only help him dress in the new clothes but also walk to the car.

Actually, it wasn’t hard to convince Jared to accept help walking to the car, but convincing him to accept help getting dressed took some time. The young man had never, not since escaping, allowed anyone to be close or even in the same room while he dressed or undressed because he felt uncomfortable about his body and because it left him feeling too vulnerable.

Of course when he nearly fell reaching for the clothes, it made Jared understand that he needed help this time, so he clamped his eyes shut and just nodded that it was alright.  Jensen surprised him by just standing by to assist Jared in removing the gown and then pulling on the new jeans and soft, slightly too big sweatshirt.

Jared had shook a little over the shirt because he knew that Jensen must have seen the other scars, but his friend’s face remained calm and his voice soft while he talked to him about the kittens and his house until Jared was relaxed again and realized he was dressed.

He had to let Jensen put on his sneakers, those were new too, since he couldn’t move his fingers enough to tie the laces.  One of the only basic childhood things he’d been taught was to tie his shoes, and it was while he was watching Jensen do this that Jared realized that while he’d been uneasy about having Jensen see his body, he hadn’t been scared of him. Now, he actually found himself wondering what it would feel like to be touched by those gentle hands.

He’d ducked his head and let his lashes hide his eyes while he shook that thought away because he knew Jensen would never want to touch him in any way other than he had been because touches like that were bad and filthy.  Jared knew that thinking about those touches, especially thinking about those touches and Jensen at the same time made him a bad person.

Jared suspected that by now Jensen might have been told more about him and why Father Patrick didn’t like him, so he was kind of surprised that Jensen still wanted anything to do with him.  Right then, however, he was too tired, too sore and still too scared to question what this day would bring.

The same music was playing that Jared thought he’d heard before as he let his eyes close in the car. It was daylight; he’d been kept in the clinic for longer than he thought Jensen wanted him kept, and Jared wasn’t certain how many days had passed since the night at the shelter, since his nightmares had come back to haunt him.

Right then he just wished the feeling in his body would come all the way and that his voice would return. He hadn’t talked except to the smaller kids at the shelter, but now he missed talking to Jensen even if he hadn’t said all that much.

“You hungry now or do you want to wait until we’re home?” Jensen had made sure his house had been well stocked with food. He wasn’t sure what Jared liked or didn’t like to eat, but he figured that if there was anything he wanted that Jensen didn’t already have, then he’d make a quick run to the store a couple blocks from his place or buzz Chris to bring it.

Opening his eyes to glance over, Jared frowned as he thought it through. He wasn’t used to being asked if he wanted to eat, so he wasn’t sure what to say.  He also wasn’t sure quite how he would respond since his voice still wasn’t making sound, but at least his lips had started to work with him. ‘Wait,’ he mouthed, moving a finger to gesture to the car stereo. ‘You?’

“Yeah, it’s just a recording I made to test some equipment. Just me and the guitar Sister Rose taught me to play on with some songs my label won’t let me record,” Jensen replied. He found that he liked the fact that Jared could recognize his voice even without all the fancy mixing most of his songs had done to them.

He’d been tense when they started out because Sister Rose, who had been there to see Jared, hover over him some, and to apologize for what had happened to him, told Jensen that Jared hadn’t been in a car since his first visit to the clinic 10 years ago, so of course he got a lecture on speeding and safety.

Jensen was watching Jared closely from the corner of his eye, but being inside the rather small, considering Jared’s size, car didn’t seem to make him uneasy. In fact he seemed curious, like a child, about all the buttons on the console and how the seat moved.

He was glad that the trauma the other night and being hurt hadn’t taken away Jared’s ability to enjoy new things and experiences. And because Jensen did enjoy seeing his friend’s eyes light up and his smile appear when he first saw something new that made him happy, he intentionally took another, slightly longer, way to his home.

The text from Chris didn’t come as a surprise since he figured the older man would want to know what the hell he was doing going off the prearranged course, but Jensen merely sent a quick text back to let his friend know everything was fine and to just follow along if he wanted to.

Jared had become aware that he was outside the neighborhood of St. Lucy’s, so he started trying to look everywhere at once. He’d didn’t remember being in a car, much less being this far outside of the part of the large, scary city that he found himself in when he finally broke free of the torture he’d lived through.

He looked with wide eyes as Jensen slowed the car down as he made a small climb up a steep hill into a part of the city with pretty houses, green grass, clean streets and fancy cars.  He felt himself getting a little nervous because he certainly didn’t belong in this part of the city. He didn’t belong with Jensen, but just as he heard his own breath quicken, he felt a hand reach over to squeeze his hand.

“It’s fine and so are you.” Jensen had seen the young man becoming more on edge, and hoped what he was about to show him would take his mind off of whatever it was that was worrying him. “Look out the windshield.”  He nodded as he eased to a stop at an overlook that showed a perfect view of the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.

It was a clear day with the sun just beginning to set, so it was an awesome view, one you might find on a postcard.  This view was one of the reasons that when Jensen had chosen to buy a home in the city of his birth, he’d chosen a place where he’d have this sight whenever he looked out his windows.

Jared blinked and then blinked again before his eyes got wider as he saw the ocean for the first time with his own eyes and not on TV.  Then he was smiling, wide and happy, with dimples showing as he looked over to meet Jensen’s own smiling face.

He raised his right hand as much as he could right then to point out the window and then made a wavy motion with his hand before touching Jensen as if to ask if he’d ever swam in the ocean before.

“Do I swim in that water? I have a few times but not in a while.” Jensen longed to let Jared get a closer look but knew that it would have to wait until he was stronger on his feet and they didn’t have to worry about anyone coming after him. “One day I’ll take you to the beach and teach you to swim. You can see a lot of this from the windows of my place which I suppose we better get to before Chris freaks out.”  He rolled his eyes but smiled to let Jared know he was kidding. “He’s slipping back into full-time bodyguard mode, so there won’t be any dealing with him if I don’t get you home soon.”

The other man with the long black hair and deep blue eyes made Jared wary, but he hadn’t been mean or cruel to him, so he’d accept him as Jensen’s friend.  He would, however, keep a wary eye out just in case since he knew how easy it was for people to be nice to his face when around others, but then to turn quickly.

Jared’s jaw dropped a bit when his friend pulled into his driveway and continued into a ground level garage; Jensen’s home was huge or at least it seemed that way to his eyes.

The house was two stories with a lot of windows as well as a fenced in backyard. Jared noticed some grass in front and a walk that led to the front door, but he guessed there must be another door under the house.  His eyes watched a big door rise with a push of a button on the console to reveal a garage that had room for the Mustang, one other car, and a shiny huge motorcycle that made Jared goggle.

“As you can see from this car and the bike, I still haven’t shaken my love of speed.” Jensen parked the car to see where Jared’s eyes had gone, chuckling as he made a motion with his hands like revving a bike. “Yeah, it’s loud and can go really fast. I’ll show you that one day soon…when we lose him.”

“You put him on that bike, and I’ll personally tell that nun so she can kick your ass,” Chris growled from where he stood just inside the garage as the door closed.

He’d parked on the street and walked down the sloping driveway so he could be close if Jensen needed help getting Jared up the few steps into the main part of the house. Not that he thought he’d get close since Jensen had made it clear that he could handle this, so Chris had decided to just wait it out until his friend realized he would have to accept more help than he’d already asked him for.

“I wouldn’t take him out on it until he’s more at ease with me, but he can sit on it while it idles,” Jensen shot back with a snort as he moved to the other side of the car to open the door. “Do you want to try to get out on your own or do you want help?”

Jared was feeling really tired just from the drive home, and he didn’t want to risk causing himself more pain by attempting to move on his own and possibly falling, so he lifted his hand up so Jensen could grasp it. His eyes moved to where Chris stood and back to Jensen in silent question.

“No, Chris won’t touch you unless you say I can let him.” Jensen got that it would take more time before Jared was comfortable with any touches from others, so he considered the best way to go about navigating the eight steps from garage to house. “We’ll take the steps one at a time and rest when you need it.”

Chris shoved his hands into his pockets to resist the urge to reach out to help as he watched Jensen attempt to handle Jared on the narrow steps.

Normally he knew his friend could do it as he happened to know Jensen was a lot stronger than he might look, but right then Jared’s body was still mostly dead weight.  Although he didn’t want to admit it, Jensen was still suffering slightly from his own wound, and by the third step it was clear that the injury, lack of decent sleep, skipped meals, and the strain were all taking a toll on his strength.

Jared must have felt the change as well because on the fourth step he stopped moving to look into Jensen’s face with true concern, glanced up the remaining steps, and then slowing turning his head to find Chris.  With a deep, slightly nervous breath, he slowly nodded that he was okay with letting the other man help.

“Jay, are you sure?” Jensen wouldn’t turn down the help, but only if Jared was positive he was okay with the touch. He grinned at the look Jared offered him. “Okay, okay. Chris can help then.”

“Thank God at least one of them has common sense,” the ex-bodyguard muttered under his breath, moving to Jared’s weaker left side to help get him into the house.

Jensen caught the movement of Jared’s lips and also the whisper soft words the young man wasn’t aware he was speaking in his concentration to move his legs to help himself. Pausing as he unlocked the door that led into the house, he caught Jared’s face in his hand. “Hey,” he called quietly, smiling into worried and still slightly glassy eyes. “You’re getting better and by tomorrow, you’ll be climbing the steps to the second floor.”

That was when Jensen remembered the larger flight of steps and nearly groaned, but cut it off so Jared wouldn’t think he was upset with him over the lingering effects of the drug.

There was a spare bedroom downstairs, but Jensen had really wanted to settle his friend in one of the larger, more comfortable rooms upstairs.

“Until he regains some mobility and balance, the second floor might not be a good choice, Jensen,” Chris spoke up, noticing the way Jared allowed his help but eased away from it now.  He silently wondered if either man really could see what was happening.

“The bedroom on this floor is just a spare. It’s nothing fancy, and I wanted him to be comfortable.” Jensen opened the door that led into the kitchen, keeping his hand on Jared when he felt him sway a bit too much. “C’mon, Jay. Let’s get you on the sofa to rest while I figure out what’s for dinner and…holy hell!”

Squeezing past both Jensen and Jared at the unexpected shout, Chris had his hand on the pistol he kept holstered under his jacket as he stepped through the door that led from the kitchen. His bodyguard and ex-Navy SEAL side was still in command as he looked for the cause of the sound; he was expecting either some sort of an attack or something equally shocking and he wasn’t disappointed.


Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Eight

“So, this is an interesting mess.” Chris Kane stuck his tongue into his cheek to stop from grinning now that he’d assured himself that no one had broken into Jensen’s home to lie in wait for him.   “I guess damage by kitten isn’t covered by your insurance, Jensen?”

Jensen was still trying to figure out how the hell eight little balls of fluff could have caused the damage he was seeing in his living room when he felt the arm under his hand start to shake, and he quickly turned. “I’m not mad at them, Jared. They’re just being kittens. I was just a little…shocked,” he quickly assured his friend, wishing he didn’t see the flash of fear in the tired eyes but understanding that any raised voice or change in tone could be misinterpreted as anger by the confused young man. “Come on in.”

Since he didn’t live here full-time, the furnishings were still sparse in areas, but the living room had comfortable plush deep maroon colored sofa with a matching chair and chaise lounge. There was a fireplace on one wall with a giant flat-screen TV over the mantle.

Instead of more modern hardwood, each room except the kitchen had deep plush carpet in a neutral color that would go with the colors on the walls. There was a cabinet filled with electronics like Jared had never seen. The windows were covered in light curtains…well…except for one window that had its curtain already in a ball on the floor; another curtain was still hanging, but was pretty much torn to shreds. Jared focused on the last panel, which had one of the eight little curtain bandits still hanging from it.

“Note to self, we’re buying you guys some scratching posts.” Jensen carefully eased Jared onto the long sofa before reaching up to rescue the one kitten, the smallest of the eight, from where he was still hanging on the curtain. “Jay, can you hold this guy while I go find the rest of bandits?”

Jared worried about leaning back on the plush sofa. Now that he could see more of Jensen’s home he was really worried about being here.  He’d never actually been in a home before, at least not that he could remember, and he feared breaking something or making a mess.

“I’ll go round ‘em up. You stay with him.” Chris had noticed how uncomfortable Jared seemed as he sat on the edge of the sofa as if scared to even touch it. “Can you do this?” he asked his friend again. “Can he?”

Jensen motioned the man away as he sat down on the sofa and let his hand rest on the back of Jared’s neck to begin to slowly, gently squeeze his fingers into tight muscles. “You can sit back and relax, Jay. I want you to feel safe here. I hope that one day you’ll be able to feel like this is your home, too, but first I guess you need to figure out what that means.”

‘Your home,’ Jared’s lips mouthed the words slowly, afraid to try to speak if the words weren’t ready to come out yet. ‘How…long can I stay?’

There was the question that Jensen hadn’t really stopped to consider; the one that Chris had been trying to get him to think about; the one that could very well break both of their hearts.

He’d originally planned to come back to San Francisco for six months, eight at the most, but Jensen hadn’t been sure what he was going to do after that. His contract with his label was coming due. He’d fulfilled most of his commitments except for a couple of interviews and one show in San Diego. After that he was free to find another label or renew, but he had ideas of his own that he wanted to try, and if he renewed, he wasn’t certain if the producers would go along with his plans.

Another piece of Jensen wasn’t sure if he wanted to sign any sort of contract at all since that would mean another tour and he was tired of touring. He was tired of a lot of things and for the first time in a long time, he found that he was at peace.

He enjoyed not having to answer to others or having to pretend to be someone other than himself. He enjoyed knowing he could come and go without needing an entourage of people to handle his calls, his appointments, hell, his whole life, and he suspected that it might take longer than six or eight months to clear up this problem with Anton Paul.

Looking into the deep eyes that were watching him reminded Jensen that while there might be only six years separating them in age, it really seemed like a lot more since so much of Jared was still like a young boy looking to mature into the young man he already was physically.

He could tell by Jared’s eyes and his expressions that he wanted to trust him. That he wanted to believe in what Jensen told him, but that it scared him because Jared feared being betrayed or left alone.

“You can stay with me for as long as you want, Jay,” he finally replied, making the choice that Jensen supposed had always been clear to him. “I have some time here before I do have some things to finish up for my record label.  Some of that will take me out of the city, but I’d love to take you with me so I can show you other places and things. No pressure, no strings. I just want you to be someplace safe while you get used to living your life and while we’re trying to find out where you’re from.”

Jared found it hard to not want to be with Jensen, to not want what he seemed to be offering, but again Jared knew he might be reading too much into the man’s genuinely kind offer to help someone as dumb and useless as Jared.

“You’re not dumb or useless, Jared.” Jensen smiled at the look of surprise he was given, leaning up to move his hand to Jared’s shoulder. “You move your lips when you’re thinking really hard to yourself now, so that’s how I knew what you said. You’re not those things or anything else you’ve been called in your life. You are a bright, handsome, kind-hearted young man who just needs a chance to learn to trust others and find himself.” He spoke gently, and then he winced, hearing the sound of something falling in the den that he’d made into a game room. “And I want to be there for you, with you, as you do.”

Jared wanted to ask why; what made him so special that Jensen would want to do so much for him?  He wasn’t anything special, but he was afraid of learning too much truth, so for the moment, he’d take what was offered and see if anything came of it.

Then his eyes were lifting at the sound of kittens mewling, and he smiled, letting Jensen finally ease him back on the sofa so his arms could be filled with all eight fluffy little kittens. All the purring and kitten nips on his fingers made a soft laugh come from his still tight throat. ‘Okay?’ He mouthed, eyes fluttering at the feel of Jensen’s calloused fingers touching his cheek like he seemed to be prone to doing now.

“Yeah, Jay. You and the kitties are safe here at home.” Jensen’s voice was thick with an emotion that he had kept buried for a very long time and knew his heart was lost to this boy.  He cleared his throat and looked up at Chris. “Does the den look as kitten damaged as this room?”

Chris smirked, amused as he took in the scene; his friend was sitting on the sofa with his arm stretched over the back to give him easy access to touch Jared’s neck or shoulders, while the kittens climbed over them both. After a few minutes, the kittens ended up settling on Jared as if as happy to see him, as he was to see all of them.

“Ummm, that depends…how attached are you to the giant speaker set under the TV in there?” He merely asked in response, smiling at Jensen’s stunned look. “They must’ve ganged up on it.  They managed to scratch through the material and then made a bed in the cabinet. It seems like your furry little guests have decided to claim your playroom as their playroom.”

Jared tensed suddenly, his eyes lowering while his long hair once again fell to cover the side of his face that carried the scars.

“Not that kind of playroom, Jay,” Jensen was quick to say after he caught the reaction to the word and guessed the cause. “It’s just a room where I keep all my video game stuff, movies, a dart board, a pool table, and other stuff.” He rubbed a hand down Jared’s shaking arm until it slowly calmed. “I don’t play those kinds of games.”

Jared blushed, burying his face into soft fur to avoid letting Jensen see how embarrassed he was. He knew that Jensen wasn’t like that, which is why he was afraid for him to find out about other things.  He tensed when he felt fingers gently lifting his face to look into deep green eyes.

“I think tomorrow when you’re more awake and we’re alone, we need to talk about some stuff that you might need to know…about me so you’ll stop looking so haunted and afraid of me,” Jensen told him, running his thumb along Jared’s jaw to see how his eyes changed subtly before eyeing him curiously; he smiled as Jared yawned. “You’re still tired, still working on getting over that drug, and we need to eat.  We can wait until tomorrow to start talking and learning more about one another.”

Jared started to get nervous about Jensen learning any more about him than he already did, but he couldn’t deny he was curious about Jensen.  He also knew it was only right that his friend knew the whole truth, so he could get out while he still could…before Jared let himself lean more on him than he knew he should.

“You stay here and play with the kittens while I see what’s in the kitchen to eat that won’t take long to fix. Is there anything you don’t like to eat?” Jensen asked while easing out from under three kittens “Aside from pickles?”

A head shake came because Jared really had never had a choice to like something or not. He’d learned to eat whatever was put in front of him or else go hungry like he had so often growing up when he’d displeased Pastor Anton.

He just wasn’t certain if he could eat anything too much right now with his throat still tight and sore, so he forced his heavy eyes open and moved his stronger hand until it grasped Jensen’s hand; Jensen immediately knelt back down. ‘Soup?’ He thought his lips formed the words, but he found that he was falling to sleep as he lay there on the plush sofa.

“I can do soup,” Jensen assured him, folding his hand over Jared’s to hold it until he was certain the younger man had drifted off for a short nap.  He smiled as the kittens followed him into sleep. “You get some sleep while I warm it up,” he murmured, fingers brushing over soft dark hair.  Oh, how he longed to press his lips to Jared’s forehead, but he wouldn’t scare his friend by making such a move.

He stepped into the kitchen and went to the sink to splash cold water on his face. He was tired and the damn gash on his side was hurting more than he was willing to mention; he knew he had more to worry about than himself at the moment.

“I need you to try to find out where they grabbed him from, Chris. He needs to know who he is or was and if he has family who might still be looking for him.” Jensen had no doubt that Jared wasn’t a runaway who was picked up off the street; he’d probably been grabbed away from loving parents in some other state, most likely Texas, if he went by that accent he’d heard that one time.

Chris leaned against the counter to watch as Jensen pulled a can of soup out of the pantry, opened it, and dumped it in a pan to begin to heat up. Jensen then turned back to the pantry to see what he might have to go with the soup.  “I already have some feelers out, and I think that lawyer said his office was going to hire someone as well.” He debated on what to say next. “If that nun has his age right and his own memories can be trusted as to the age he said he thought he was when he first remembered being with Paul, then it’s been something like 17 years since he was grabbed. Even if his family can be found, what will you do if they decide they don’t want to be bothered?  I mean they lost a little boy.  Jared’s a grown man and a pretty damaged one at that.”

“Finding Jared’s family is to let him know that he did have people who loved him and probably looked for him. It’s got nothing to do with what I’m doing because no matter what we find out, or how it plays out, I’m keeping my promise to be with him for as long as he wants to be with me.”  Jensen came out of a cabinet with a box of crackers that he tasted to be sure they weren’t stale. “I’m not going back to New York.”

“You have six months to make that choice, Jensen. Don’t jump into this until you’re sure it’s what you want, or that the kid will be able to handle this in the long run.” Chris caught his friend by the arm to pull him back when he went to walk away and saw the flash of temper that reminded him that Jensen still didn’t like to be grabbed. “You’ve known this kid for less than a week, and I know he went straight to your heart with those big eyes and sad story, but…you want to let go?”

Jensen had whirled to grab his ex-bodyguard and friend by the front of his jacket, shoving him back into the stainless steel refrigerator. “I told you before that it’s more than that!” he hissed, keeping his voice low so it wouldn’t disturb Jared. “Okay, I won’t lie and say I don’t find him attractive. I’m alive, Chris. And I think anyone with a pulse would look at that face and be drawn in, but it’s more than his looks or a sad story or a horrific life that’s pulled me to him.

“I want to help him find himself. I want to help him learn to do things on his own and not be scared of his own shadow. I want to see him smile the first time he does something on his own that he’d always been scared to do. I can help him and still love him silently, in a way that doesn’t scare him.” He knew the last part might be hard at times, but until he talked with Jared about things to judge how he really felt, he could keep this purely as a friendship.

“And what happens if you do help him?” Chris challenged, keeping his eyes locked on the face in front of him.  He knew Jensen’s face would give him more of an answer than any words the younger man might say. “What happens if we find his family and they want him back? Can you let Jared go without breaking your own damn heart? Or his?”

“I never said my heart wouldn’t end up broken before this ends. If going back with his family, assuming you can find them, if what’s best for him then…I hide my pain and let it show when I’m alone and he’s safe, but either way…I don’t want to go back to New York. Too much weirdness.”

Chris snorted, staying still as Jensen finally backed off to go check the soup. “You think San Francisco has less weird than New York? Did you get hit on the head at some point?”

“I’m from here, so it seems less strange to me,” Jensen shrugged, putting the soup on warm after a quick look told him that Jared was sound sleep, and he didn’t want to wake him.  He decided to change the subject. “I seem to recall hearing you say something about my stalker?”

“The cops are keeping an eye out, and I’m going to be hanging around as much as I can until she’s caught and shipped right back east for jumping bail, but just watch your back.” Chris hated to add to Jensen’s worries since he was already dealing with an emotionally fragile boy, a crazy cult guru who didn’t know when to quit and a gang leader with revenge issues.  He hated that the stressed signer also had to worry about a crazy stalker determined to have Jensen all to herself. “Tomorrow I’m going over the security here, changing your phone number, and putting a tracer on your line, so if anyone calls it might get a location. You know the other stuff.”

“Is this where I point out that you’re not my bodyguard anymore?” Jensen appreciated the concern and the help, but he’d prefer if his friend focused on protecting Jared.

“Sure,” the other man smiled as he pulled his keys out to leave. “It’s also the point where I tell you to worry about helping your new friend, protecting your house from the attack of the kitten army, and not burning the place down if you try to cook actual food. Leave keeping you and Jared safe to me and the cops…and a few extra people I might hire.”

Chris decided to go out the way he came in so the noise of the front door opening wouldn’t wake Jared or the kittens, but he paused to look back. “You call me or that cop if anything happens tonight,” he ordered in the same tone he used to use on Jensen. “I know you never liked to have people around, but it’s not just your life you’re looking out for now.”

“I’ll call,” Jensen promised. He might be more willing to take risks when it was just him, but now that he was also protecting and caring for Jared, he would be more careful. “Thanks, Chris.”

“That’s what ex-bodyguards are for, Jensen.” Chris shut the door behind him and made certain the outside of the home looked secure before heading back to his bar to make some calls.

Jensen checked the locks on all the doors and windows before carefully placing Jared’s old blanket and stuffed cat on the couch where he could reach them.

Jared’s hair was once against in his face as he slept, and as Jensen knelt down to brush it back, he caught the unusual tension on the boyish face that told him his friend would probably be waking up soon.

“Shhh, you’re safe, Jay,” he murmured, keeping his hand gentle as it stroked through Jared’s hair until he relaxed some and the fingers of his right hand stopped clenching. “Just relax. You’re safe with me and the kitties are right with you…” he paused when he only counted seven sleeping kittens and lifted his eyes with a sigh. “Well, it looks like the littlest one is going to be the climber.”

He reached up to once again take the kitten from the curtain and laid it back with its siblings, giving it a scratch under the chin encouraging it to settle back down. He looked at Jared, sleeping peacefully once again, and decided to take a quick shower and shave to get rid of the scruff that had formed in the past day. He would then try to make the downstairs bedroom more comfortable for the night.

Jensen had decided that he didn’t want Jared to strain himself more to climb steps in a place he wasn’t familiar with, so he’d keep him on the first floor for this night and move him upstairs once he regained some strength.

To stay close in case Jared wok up, he just used the bathroom on the first floor.  It wasn’t as big as either the master bathroom or the second bathroom in the guestroom upstairs, but it suited his purpose as he showered and shaved.

He still had some bruises from the fight in the alley, but Jensen noticed the stitches he’d gained were healing well and might only leave a faint scar. The older bruises from his encounter with Anna, the stalker, were finally starting to fade.  He finished his self-assessment of his wounds and pulled on a pair of worn jeans with a hole in the knee.

He was just reaching for a t-shirt when he heard the first cry.  Forgetting the shirt in his haste to get back to the living room, he found Jared half awake and trying to escape from whatever his nightmares were showing him.

“Jay!” He saw that the kittens had scrambled off Jared’s lap but were still staying close to him.  Jensen hurried to where the younger man was trying to back into a corner near the sofa and remembered that this is what he’d done that first day he’d met him as well. It was as if when he was scared or the bad dreams hit him, Jared needed to have something solid at his back. Once again, Jensen wasn’t sure to be angry or sad.

“…No…please,” Jared’s voice was ragged and whisper soft, his voice still wasn’t back fully, as he tried to beg the monsters in his nightmares to stay away. “Don’ touch, don’ hurt me…”  His eyes were still closed and he was shaking his head back and forth.

Picking the blanket up from where it had fallen in Jared’s haste to escape, Jensen noticed that the kitten must have been climbing…again… and this time the curtain had torn free of the rod and had come down to cover the sofa.  Jared must have woken up to suddenly find himself fully covered by the material.

Jensen’s stomach was curling with a sick dread because he was starting to suspect that Jared had been put through a lot more than anyone had assumed. “Jay, wake up now. You had a bad dream but you’re safe. You’re with me, remember?”

Of course that was easy for him to say.  He wasn’t the one living with the horrific memories of what Paul and his group had done to the scared boy. All he could do was be there to try to coax Jared past the memories and be there if he ever decided to open up and talk about what he remembered.

Jared was shaking all over. His left arm and hand had more motion now, and while he couldn’t fully control them yet, it was enough to allow him to fight past the feeling of something trying to cover him. He’d been trying to wake up when he heard a noise, felt something hit him, and then all he knew was that he was being encased, trapped, in something.

That was when he panicked. He couldn’t stand to be covered fully unless he controlled the blanket. Being covered by anything else, especially things that blinded him, brought back the one punishment he feared more than any other.  Being tied up, tossed in a box, and locked under the floor, a punishment Paul had used more than once and one that triggered one of Jared’s biggest reactions.

Whatever this was wasn’t heavy or too dark, but it scared him since he was just waking up, and he forgot for a brief moment that he wasn’t on the street or at the shelter. He had woken up thinking that Pastor Anton had found him and was using that heavy latex thing to trap him and he freaked out.

Jared thought he heard a voice close to him, but he kept his eyes clamped shut because if the cover was there, then the hood would be as well.  He wanted to escape, he wanted to be safe like…then a flash of gentle green eyes came to him and reminded him that he wasn’t alone.

Moving his lips to try to form more than just pleas, Jared jerked at the feel of gentle fingers on his hand, but before the touch could pull away, he was suddenly doing something alien to him…he reached out blindly to grab for that hand to cling while forcing his eyes to open. “…J…Jensen!”

“I’m here, Jay.” Jensen caught the hand that reached for him, kneeling down beside Jared. He then had to readjust his thoughts and his emotions when he let his arms gently encircle the shaking boy who lunged from the corner to go into his arms with a sob. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

Settling down on the carpeted floor with Jared in his arms, Jensen let his eyes close as he tried to keep his own emotions in check while just talking to a still shaking Jared in a low soothing voice.

The kittens seemed to sense their friend needed comfort, and soon they were all walking and tripping themselves over Jensen’s legs and rubbing up against Jared’s hand until slowly the muffled sobs eased, and he lifted his head from where it had been buried against Jensen’s neck to watch the kittens play.

The tiniest of the litter, the one who enjoyed climbing, held back as if sensing that pulling the curtain down had caused this. “C’mere, little one.” Jensen held out a hand, waiting until it came closer to lift it up and place it in Jared’s trembling palm. “The curtain fell down onto the sofa and that must have been what woke you up and scared you,” he remarked quietly.

“I…I couldn’t…wake up,” Jared murmured, voice shaky. “All I felt was something on me, and all I could think of was he’d gotten me and…”  He stopped to shudder, still afraid to voice his memories, still afraid of losing his friend to shame.

Jensen wanted to ask. He really wanted to ask what exactly had frightened Jared, but he didn’t want to push him too soon so he merely nodded. “I should have waited to take a shower until you were awake or completely settled down for the night.”

“I don’t want to get in your way, Jen.” Jared was now watching the kittens as they chased each other through the living room.  He started to pull away from Jensen, feeling embarrassed about his breakdown. “You’ve been so…nice to me and I know I’m a bother.”

“You’re not a bother, Jay,” Jensen told him, loosening his grip on the boy and then carefully adjusting them so that he kept one arm around Jared while he used the other hand to card back through his hair. “It’s going to take you some time to get used to things. And eventually you’ll probably find out that I’m not always easy to live with.”  He felt the body pressed against him tense as if worried about what meant, so he lifted Jared’s face up to look at him. “I’m not a morning person really, so I can be cranky when I first get up.  I also tend to get moody if something I’m working on isn’t going well, but I never want you to be afraid of me, because I will never touch you to hurt you.”

Jared blinked at him. Compared to things he’d lived through or seen on the streets, a bit of crankiness or moodiness didn’t seem too bad to him. “I…know,” he whispered, running his tongue over his lips to wet them and considered taking a chance. “Jensen?”

“Yeah?” Jensen had watched Jared’s movements and had to think of something else, something other than that tongue running over soft looking, but cracked, lips.

This was another new thing for Jared. He’d learned to never want for anything or ask for anything. He knew Jensen had said things were different now, but he was still unsure how different. Realizing how dry his mouth and lips were due to the drug and everything else, he decided to test things.

“Can…may I…have some water?” he asked, voice dropping along with his eyes in fear. “Just…a little?”

“Of course you can.” Jensen kicked himself for not thinking that Jared’s mouth and throat would be parched. “Jay, you never have to be afraid of asking me for anything.  I’m sorry because I should have known you’d be thirsty, so let’s go get you something to drink. Do you want to try the soup?”

Jared almost said no since he didn’t want to make more work for Jensen, but before he could a hand cupped his chin, gentle green eyes looked into his, and he nodded.

It felt weird to be encouraged to eat just because he felt hungry, or to know that he could still eat if his stomach made noises. And his stomach certainly made some noises when he followed Jensen into the kitchen to smell the soup that was still on low.

“I hope you like chicken noodle.” Jensen poured the soup into a heavy stoneware bowl so it would start to cool. He then reached for a bottle of water, pausing to look over his shoulder to see that Jared hadn’t budged from the door. “You can sit down.”

The sight of the large kitchen with all its glass and shiny appliances made Jared feel even more out of place, and he was scared to take a step until a hand took his to lead him over to the table.  Suddenly, what Sister Rose taught him kicked in. “Can I wash my hands?”

“Sure, go ahead.” Jensen slipped an ice cube into the soup to cool it enough that Jared could eat it without burning his mouth. “Do you want water or would you rather have something else?” he asked, hiding his smile as he was once again given that adorable little look Jared gave when confused by what should have been an easy question. “I don’t have lemonade but I’ve got soda, orange juice…” He smiled at the light that entered Jared’s eyes. “Do you like orange juice?”

“One time the shelter got…a lot of oranges so Sister Martha had me help her, and we squished them to get the juice and I got a little glass of it.” Jared’s smile was wistful as he thought of the sweet but tart flavor.

“Well, this is from the store, but if you like fresh squeezed I’ll pick some oranges up tomorrow, and we can play with the fancy juicer that hasn’t been used since I got it.”  Jensen hesitated just a second before pouring the juice into a glass and placing the bottle of water beside it.  He then turned back and grabbed a bottle of water for himself.

Drying his hands carefully, Jared sat down at the round kitchen table that was littered with papers, cards, and old photos. He carefully tested his still bruised right hand and decided to try holding the spoon with it, but he waited until Jensen sat down with a smaller bowl of soup and the box of crackers.

“Do…do you want this one?” he asked as if considering the size of the bowls, wondering if he’d gotten the wrong one by mistake until Jensen shook his head.

“No, that bowl’s yours and this is mine.”  He dumped some crackers out between them. “If you don’t eat all of it, that’s fine. Your stomach might not be up to eating a lot.”

Jared tasted the soup before smiling shyly and dropping a tiny oyster cracker onto his spoon. “If I tell you something, you won’t tell Sister Rose?” he asked after a couple spoons of soup had disappeared.

“Nope, whatever you tell me stays between us. Promise.” Jensen suspected he knew what was coming but kept quiet to let the young man speak.

“This is better than hers.” Jared dropped his eyes quickly. He loved the kind old nun and wouldn’t dream of ever hurting her by admitting that normally.

Jensen smiled.  “Don’t worry, Jay. She knows her chicken soup ain’t the best.” Jensen had actually told the nun that back in his insolent period, and she’d only smiled and shoved another bowl at him. “Besides, this came from a can, so I can’t really take any credit for it.  Now she makes a potato soup that is to die for, but she doesn’t always have the ingredients, so I guess that’s something else I’ll have to fix.”

They ate the rest of the soup and crackers in silence. Jared took a sip of the store bought juice. He didn’t care for it as much as the fresh, but it still tasted good and felt good against his throat, so he drank it, blinking when the bottle of water was nudged against his hand.

“You can drink the water too or take it into the bedroom for later in case you get thirsty during the night,” Jensen told him, heart tightening at the look of pure innocence that showed at the offer of having water available when he wanted it. “Jared, I mean it when I say that anything you want here you can have. Food, water, more blankets or pillows, anything. If you don’t know where it is, and until I have a chance to show you around you won’t, just ask me and it’s yours.”  He stood and picked up the bowls to take them over to the sink.

Jared just sat there as if stunned. No one had ever said that to him before. Well, there had been one person but there had been serious strings attached, so Jared had run from that. He still couldn’t help but worry that there’d end up being strings attached to this as well, but right at that moment, all he could do was sit and try to not let the burning tears he felt at Jensen’s kindness fall.

Seeing the big eyes get even deeper as they pooled with unshed tears, Jensen left the bowls to move around the table and kneel down, keeping his movements slow since he didn’t want to spook Jared. “What’s wrong, Jay?” He worried about doing or saying something that upset his friend. “I need you to feel safe enough to tell me when something’s bothering you or you’re upset or you need something.”

“You’re nice to me,” Jared whispered, still feeling childish and insecure about the whole situation.  “I don’t know why you want to help me or be nice to me or take me in like this. You don’t know me or what I am. You don’t know the things I’ve done, and you’ve put yourself in danger to help me. I wish I could give you something back for being so nice, but…” He dropped his eyes while chewing on his lip.

Jensen had wanted to give Jared time to get more used to him, to being in the house, before they got into any serious discussions, but he realized that he was going to have to continue to try to make it clear that he wasn't expecting anything in payment.

“Do you want to sleep in the bedroom down here or try to go upstairs?” he asked, noticing that Jared’s legs and left side still seemed weak.  He wasn’t surprised, and he was honestly relieved, when the young man chose the spare room downstairs. “Come on. I’ll show you the room and then tomorrow we can get you settled upstairs.”

The kittens were playing on the sofa and didn’t want to give up Jared’s blanket or the stuffed cat, but Jensen just traded those for his already ruined curtains with a mutter about obnoxious little fluff balls and heard Jared chuckle.  Hearing that quiet chuckle warmed his heart, and he felt that it was safe enough to tease Jared just a little.

“Laugh now, dude. Wait until they learn to climb the stairs to the second floor and scale your bed. See if you’re laughing when you get kitten clawed in your sleep,” he smirked, opening the door to the room that he’d gotten ready earlier. “It’s not as fancy as what you’ll have after you’re settled in upstairs, but for tonight it’s a bed big enough for you and the kittens and it’s warm.”

Jared had followed Jensen into the room, a little surprised that he was still tired considering how long he’d slept at the clinic and then again here. He’d trained himself to not sleep too much and not soundly since it was too easy to be hurt while he was sleeping.

He blinked in surprise at what Jensen considered ‘not fancy.’ To Jared this spare room was a mansion. It had a queen sized bed covered with a deep royal blue comforter with pillows all over and a quilted throw on the bottom, a large dresser that matched the bed’s deep cherry coloring, a small stand across the room with a TV on it, and a comfortable looking chair.

The small window that was covered with curtains that didn’t seem to match the walls, and that small discrepancy helped Jared relax a little since he wasn’t used to being anywhere this fancy.

“I can sleep in here?” he asked, looking around carefully; this was an old habit he’d picked up. He knew he needed to be aware of his surroundings so he knew where the exits were and where the best places to hide would be. “Really?”

“Really,” Jensen smiled, turning on a light beside the bed while pulling down the covers to show light blue soft cotton sheets. “There’s a small bathroom right through this door or there’s a bigger one down the hall. This one has a toilet and sink if you need to use it during the night, and it does have tub if you’d like a bath before crashing for the night.”

Jared gazed toward the bathroom longingly but held back warily. He was used to quick showers at the shelter or washing off in a sink; the thought of an actual bath brought a flash of another time and another place…of soft hands and a woman’s laugh.

“Jared?” Jensen’s hand on his shoulder made Jared look over. “Do you want a bath? The doc at the clinic said water wouldn’t hurt those few stitches, and it might help you relax so you can sleep better. I’ll run it and while you’re in the water, I’ll go feed the kittens. Okay?”

A nod was his answer, but it was the happy smile that reminded Jensen that it had probably been a while since Jared had been close to a tub.

He ran the water hot and then began to cool it back to warm since he didn’t want it to be too hot.  He shook his head at the décor that he kept meaning to have redone. The previous owners of the house had had children so this room still reflected that, as he hadn’t been here long enough to fully redecorate or move things out.

A glance back to see Jared standing close by watching made him reach up for the bottle of bubbles. “You want some bubbles?”  He wasn’t sure until he watched the small smile falter as if unsure, and he merely tipped his hand to pour a small amount in. “I’ll tell you a secret, but you can’t tell Chris cause he’ll never let me live it down. I use bubbles when I take a bath, too.”

Watching the bubbles form and thinking that Jensen used them too made Jared feel not so childish.  He was feeling more relaxed than he had since arriving, but then he gasped a little when he happened to look up to see his reflection in the vanity mirror above the sink.

Jared hated seeing himself. He hated the scars on his face and neck. He hated the ones he couldn’t see right now. “How can you stand to look at me?”  He wasn’t sure where that question came from or the bitterness he heard in his own voice when he spoke, and it confused him.

He was ugly. He’d been told that many, many times. He’d been told that as a child.  The more cruel boys at the shelter or on the streets called him ugly and worse. Father Patrick had always called him ugly and freakish. Jensen, however, hadn’t said anything to him about that and never seemed to mind looking at him. Of course, he hadn’t ever touched the scars so maybe those were an issue, but Jared was too afraid to ask.

“Why wouldn’t I look at you?” Jensen stood up to dry his hands on his jeans, not liking the way Jared was staring at himself in the mirror or the tone of disgust. “Jay?”

“Ugly,” Jared whispered tightly, closing his eyes to look away only to feel a strong hand on his face to keep it still. “They’re right. I am ugly. I could…never be seen out with…”

He stopped speaking when he recognized a real flash of anger in Jensen’s green eyes.  He started trembling, fearing that this might be the first time he’d see what Jensen was like when he lost his temper with him, but instead of pain or violence, he watched in the mirror as his friend’s fingers gentled, and he stepped up beside him to meet his eyes in the reflection.

“You, little boy, are far from ugly,” Jensen told him seriously. He pushed back his instinctive response to get angry that anyone would tell Jared he was ugly; he suspected those people were looking to hurt him and destroy what little self-confidence he might have had. “Is that what Paul and the people there told you?”

“Fa…Pastor…he said I was ugly and hideous and that’s why I was only good to…serve him and the family for…stuff.” Jared hated to tell his friend that, but he guessed he needed to face the truth sooner rather than later. “He said I was only ‘pretty’ when I had someone’s…”

“Stop.” Jensen turned him away from the mirror and kept his left hand on Jared’s face while his right stayed on his shoulder, just below the scars. “First off, all the things that bastard ever said to you were damn lies. You’re handsome…hell, you’re beautiful, Jay, and I’m sure you were back then too cause that’s probably what made the asshole grab you.

“I know it’ll be hard, but I want you to try to start pushing all the bad crap you’ve been told out of your head. It’s all a bunch of lies. You are not ugly. I could tell you something, but I’m afraid it would scare or confuse you this soon, and I don’t want that. Just know that anyone with a damn brain will look at you and see you for who you are inside.  They’re not gonna see any of the bad stuff that happened to you and still scares you.  The stuff that was done to you as a child was bad.  As for that stupid priest?  I’ve been assured that he is no longer there; the things he said to you, the things he didn’t let you do, all of that was wrong. You’re not bad or a sinner, Jay. You’re just a confused little boy looking to grow up in a world that’s often too cruel to people like us.”

Jared felt his breath speed up and his eyes get wide again. He’d never had anyone tell him what Jensen had just then and it made him feel…good. He didn’t like to think he was bad or that no one would ever like him because of what he’d done.  As he was beginning to question if Jensen would still think that if he knew everything Jared was feeling, the last few words hit him and he stared into his friend’s steady eyes.

“People like us?” he repeated softly, not understanding what that meant. Jensen was gorgeous and perfect. He was famous and had money. He hadn’t ever known what it was like to be hurt, locked in a box or held down while people did bad things. What could ‘people like us’ possibly mean? “Jen?”

Jensen realized he might have opened a huge can of worms a little sooner than he’d planned, but he didn’t back away from it. He just needed a second to think of a way to broach it without confusing Jared more.

“You take your bath while I feed the kittens, and then we’ll talk before you go to sleep,” he urged, motioning to the water. “It should be warm enough but not too hot. I’ll leave the door open a crack, so if you need anything, anything at all, just call for me, okay? Take your time.”

Jared thought he might have seen something in Jensen’s eyes just then, but it was quickly gone…as if the man didn’t want him to see it. He was still curious over Jensen’s choice of words as he listened for Jensen’s voice talking to the kittens in the living room before he began to undress.

It felt strange to be naked in a bathtub filled with actual hot water and bubbles, but as he lowered himself into the tub and let the water settle around him, he decided that it was a feeling he could definitely get used to. He watched the bubbles moving around him until he scooped some up into his hand to blow them; Jared felt a giggle come out of him as he watched the bubbles float in the air.

Normally when he showered, it was done quickly due to the cold water, but this time Jared chewed his lip to debate with himself. He didn’t want to waste time, but Jensen did tell him to take his time, and he honestly couldn’t recall the last real bath he’d had; at least not one that he wanted to remember.

Seeing the basket of toys sitting in the corner made his lips curve into a small smile. He did seem to recall having another warmer memory of bubbles, giggles, and toys in the bath water.

By the time Jensen had fed all the kittens, laid out enough food and water to get them through the night, or so he hoped, and stepped back into the spare bedroom, more than twenty minutes had passed.  He paused at the door to listen.

He’d been worried about leaving Jared alone since he was still fighting off the final effects of the drug and he was still tired, but he also had wanted to give him some privacy.  Somehow he didn’t think privacy was something Jared had ever had a lot of, but as he got back to see that the bedroom was still empty, he worried that perhaps he’d fallen asleep in the water.

Stepping to the bathroom door and raising his hand to knock lightly, the singer paused to listen once more.  Then he smiled to himself, listening to the water splashing while Jared laughed in a way that told Jensen he was relaxed and finally feeling safe enough to let his guard down.

He considered sticking his head in just to check on his friend but decided against it.  He was stepping back when the voice called to him.

“Jensen?” Jared had lost track of time when he began to let the bright yellow rubber duck and a boat float in the water with him as he washed off, but it was as if he could sense when his friend was back in the room.  He swallowed his embarrassment and a brief surge of fear to be undressed like this and called out to his friend.

“Yeah, Jay?” Jensen was close, just outside the door, so Jared wasn’t sure why he didn’t come in. “You need something?”

Jared thought he did, but he wasn’t sure what that was, so he stuck with that he knew. “Umm, my shoulder’s still stiff so I…I can’t reach behind me. Could you?”  He stopped just shy of asking outright but still heard the soft intake of breath. “I mean, if you don’t want to come in while I…I know you’ll see the other scars, and if those bother you…”

“Your scars make me angry at the people that inflicted them, but they don’t bother me and would never stop me from coming close to you, Jay.” Jensen eased the door open, eyes steady when they met Jared’s. A small smile curved his lips as he took in the bubble war that must have happened with the rubber duck. “I just wasn’t sure if you felt safe enough with me to want me near while you’re in the tub.

Jared’s cheeks turned a faint pink as he began to play with the bubbles again. “I felt safe with you, I think, the first time you actually spoke to me.  You treated me like I was someone,” he confessed, keeping his eyes down as Jensen came over to kneel down beside the tub.  The singer took take the rag in his hand and lightly touched it to Jared’s back.

He’d seen some of the old scars that littered the young man’s back and shoulders in the clinic, but now he noticed how far down they extended, and he bit his lip to keep from calling Anton Paul the names he wanted to. “I’m so sorry you were hurt like this, Jared,” he murmured, dipping the cloth into the water and run it up his back.  He paused as he noticed the shiver that ran through Jared. “Something hurt?”

“Umm, no,” Jared was quick to say, but he also realized that maybe having Jensen this close right then wasn’t a good plan. “I…I think I can reach the rest if you wanna go to bed or…” He started to reach for the rag only to go still when a hand caught his wrist and moved it back to the rubber duck.

“I have you, Jay,” Jensen murmured, voice a little deeper than Jared had heard it before.  Jensen made sure to not do anything other than wash the younger man’s back while considering his words. “I know you’re scared of me being upset over what happened to you back then, but you are starting to understand that none of that was your fault, aren’t you?”

It wasn’t just his past that Jared was confused and ashamed over, but he wasn’t certain how to say that, especially when he was tensing as he felt his damn body responding in a way that was both familiar and also not so familiar.

Jared had learned that aside from the scars he’d come away with from the farm in the hills, so much more was wrong with him. He’d noticed about a year after his escape that his body responded to touch, his own mostly, in a way that shamed Jared. He also didn’t like when someone would corner him in an alley or a back room at the shelter, and touch him because his body sometimes reacted like Pastor Anton always made his body react.

He knew it was wrong. He knew that normal people, people not bad or sinful, didn’t do the things he had done.  Even if he’d been made to do them, a piece of him had still responded in shameful ways.  That was the reason he was now fidgeting in the cooling water; because the feel of Jensen’s hand moving over his bare back was going to reveal the secret he’d sworn to leave behind when Jensen had been kind enough to take him in.

“Jen…” He wanted to say something, maybe tell Jensen to leave, but he also was suddenly very aware that Jensen’s touch wasn’t scaring him like other touches had when he’d been made to respond like this. “You’ll…you’ll hate me,” he suddenly said, voice breaking as tears came suddenly.

“No, I won’t hate you, Jay.  I’ll never hate you,” Jensen replied, letting the rag drop into the water while he moved so he could see Jared’s face. He hated the fear and self-loathing he saw on that innocent face. “You don’t need to hate you either.”

“I do,” Jared whispered.  He drew his knees up to his chin to wrap his arms around them but still leaned more toward Jensen to feel the touch of his hand on his arm. “Father Patrick…he was right about me. The others on the street, Mr. Peabody, and the delivery man, they’re right. I’m wrong and only good for what Pastor…what he did to me.” He dropped his head to his knees until a touch on his head made him whimper in fear of the shock and disappointment he’d see if he looked.

Jensen made a mental note of that name, Mr. Peabody, so he could have Chris find out who that bastard was. He planned to pay a visit to him one day soon, but right then his chief worry was to try to make Jared understand something. “You’re not wrong, Jared. You’re not evil, you’re not sinful, and contrary to what you were told by anyone, what you feel, what your body feels now is actually very normal for a man of your age.”

“I’m not normal, Jensen,” Jared argued, the first sign of an actual tone in his voice as he got agitated by what he saw as a huge defect within himself. “You’re perfect. You have no idea what’s wrong with me cause if you did, you’d put me right back out there, and maybe that’s where I…”

Fingers gripping his chin with a strength that startled the younger man shut him up as his face was lifted to look at Jensen; he caught a flash of anger that made his stomach clench, and immediately had him starting to pull back into himself…until the soft stroke of Jensen’s thumb along his jaw made him still.

“Normal is in the eye of the beholder, little boy,” Jensen began in a voice that was deep with emotions he’d sworn to keep locked up, but it was impossible to sit quietly and listen to Jared berate himself over something he didn’t understand. “You’re very normal to me, and I am far, far from perfect.”

Jared shook his head, hair wet from where he’d dunked it into the water. “You don’t understand, Jen.”  He fought not to let the tears fall, hating to come out and say it, but it was plain to him that his friend just was not getting it. “What he…they did to me, it’s made me bad.” His fingers reached out to hold onto Jensen’s other hand tightly. “It’s made me like things that are dirty. Even though I hide, and I’m scared of people…except you…I…Mr. Peabody, the old man who works in the grocery near the shelter…he caught me in the trash one day and said he wouldn’t call the cops if…I let him touch me.”  Jared’s voice was so quiet that Jensen could barely hear it.  He wanted so badly to interrupt Jared, to save the boy the pain of sharing this story, but at the same time he needed to hear it, so he could help Jared understand that what he was feeling was normal.  He looked calmly and steadily at Jared’s bowed head as the young man continued.

“I hated it when he touched me cause I couldn’t move…and he stuck his tongue in my mouth and made me kiss him back…but…but my body…my body liked it and…things happened to my body…and I know that makes me bad.  It’s so hard to not react like that to you, but I won’t cause I don’t want to be bad anymore. I wanna be good, so I can stay with you,” He stopped on a sob of frustration and shame until he looked up to see that Jensen didn’t look sickened or shocked by that announcement.  In fact, he looked at Jared with as much caring and compassion as he ever had. “Jen?”

“What he did, threatening you because he knows you’re scared of cops, was just as wrong as what Paul did to you, Jay. But answer me this…I know you’re scared to be touched because it triggers the bad memories, but do all touches trigger bad memories, or just when someone touches and you feel trapped?”  He frowned as he tried to find a better way to ask. “Has there ever been a time you were touched and it didn’t scare you?”

“When you touch me,” Jared replied swiftly, blushing again as if embarrassed to say that. “When others touch me, like Mr. Peabody, or the delivery man, or…Father…” He cut off the second green eyes flashed.

“Jared? Did that priest put his hands on you like those other people did?” Jensen hoped he never saw that asshole again; now he would draw blood because he had the answer the second Jared trembled and tried to shake his hair into his eyes to hide. Jensen gently stopped him and brushed the hair back carefully. “Jay, look at me. Do I scare you?”

Jared shook his head, swallowing to find his voice. “No,” he whispered softly, scared to speak again, but Sister Rose had taught him to be honest or as honest as he could be. “Can…can I tell you something, Jen?”

Jensen now decided that he really did enjoy hearing that nickname come from Jared’s lips. He smiled gently. “You can always tell me stuff, Jay,” he promised him, rubbing his hand and knowing he needed to get him out of the water soon. “What?”

“I…I…think I…like…boys.” The words were shy and muffled since Jared had dropped his head again. “I’d never touch someone cause it’s wrong…I’m wrong, and I’ll…I’ll understand if you kick me out cause of it and…”

Jensen shushed him with a gentle figure to his trembling lips. “Jay, you’re not wrong. Some people like guys instead of girls, and I am not kicking you out.  Not over that and not over anything else.” Jensen knew this was shaky ground since Jared didn’t understand anything about how he felt or why he felt like it.

He couldn’t be certain if Jared’s attraction to men had been born from the abuse he suffered or not. They’d have to see if it stayed once Jared began to get used to living in a safe environment. Once he healed some and he learned to trust, he might find he did like females over males.

Of course he’d face that as it came. For the moment, he thought it best to reveal something to his friend, hoping perhaps to ease his fears. “Can I tell you something now?”

“Yeah, of course.” Jared found that odd that Jensen asked since they were in Jensen’s home, but it made him feel special. “Anything.”

Jensen ease up to his knees so he was a little closer, and he let his fingers rub over the tense muscles in Jared’s arm. He could see the boyish innocence in Jared so clearly, and he wished more than anything to be able to take his fears away. “I like boys too,” he whispered, and then held his breath to see how Jared reacted.  The boy’s big eyes began to get bigger and his breathing picked up and Jensen feared he’d just made a huge mistake.



Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Nine

Jared was trying to breathe. He hadn’t heard Jensen right. He knew he hadn’t because there was no way that he’d just heard Jensen, the most beautiful and perfect man that Jared had ever seen, say that he liked boys.

He’d seen Jensen on TV and in magazines, and he was always surrounded, even mobbed, by girls. Oh God, was Jensen making fun of him? No, Jensen wouldn’t do that. Maybe he was humoring him, trying to make Jared feel better. He tried to slow his breathing when he once again felt that thumb stroking over his chin; it still made him shiver.

“Seriously?” he asked, shivering again; this time he knew it was from the cooling water, but he was still hesitant to get out of the tub. “You’re not just saying that to make me feel better or not bad about what was done to me?”

“Jay, I can promise you that I will never say something to you just for the sake of saying it, and I am very serious.” Jensen pushed to his feet now that he felt he could without scaring Jared and reached for a towel. “You stand up and wrap this around your waist. I won’t look.”

Jared carefully placed the rubber duck and boat off to the side but not back in the basket and slowly stood up, holding onto the wall as his legs shook a little. He quickly wrapped the large soft towel around his waist and stepped out to stand there, a little unsure what to do since he didn’t want to get water all over the place.

He noticed that Jensen had kept his word to not look as he busied himself with pulling out a couple more towels and passing them to Jared.

“You can go dry off and get dressed in the bedroom while I let the water out,” he told him, looking only when Jared’s hand touched him and then smiled in reassurance. “I’ll answer whatever questions you may have and tell you what you want to know; you can talk to me about whatever you’d like to as soon as you feel comfortable.”

It still confused Jared as to why Jensen was being so nice when others had disregarded him or mocked him. He wondered if things would change with their mutual confessions, but then he figured if Jensen had wanted anything like that from him, he could have already taken it. Others certainly had.

Listening to Jensen sing softly while cleaning up the tub and floor, Jared found that he relaxed while his friend sang. He dried himself off and reached for the new underwear and soft flannel pants made for sleeping in. He noticed his jeans had been picked up and placed in a basket with other dirty clothes while new jeans were laying on the dresser.

He muttered to himself as he had a hard time getting his left arm to cooperate with putting the clean but equally soft sweatshirt on, realizing he preferred the looseness of these clothes to the ones he had been wearing that were ragged and about ready to be tossed.

“You warm enough?” Jensen asked as he entered the room to see that Jared had slipped under the blanket but still looked a little uneasy. “You okay?”

“I’m just a little chilly, but I always was after he used that drug.” Jared’s fingers ran over the blanket, still uncomfortable with his memories. “It’s just…I’m not used to sleeping someplace so nice, and these blankets and pillows are too good for me, so if you have something else I can just sleep on…why does your jaw twitch like that sometimes?” he asked after catching the muscle jerk in Jensen’s jaw.

“Because it’s so hard to not go find that bastard and everyone else who let you think that you’re so worthless that you don’t deserve to sleep in a real bed with soft sheets, decent pillows and a warm blanket.” Jensen had placed the old blanket and stuffed cat on the bed within reach while sitting down to stretch his one leg out with a wince. “Jared, I want you to feel safe and warm here. You deserve to be able to close your eyes and go to sleep someplace comfortable. Are you comfortable? Cause if you need another blanket to keep you warm, I have more. Pillows, too.”

Jared just stared. “Why do you care so much what happens to me?” he asked softly, clutching both familiar items as he began to ease down more on the huge bed; his head touched a pillow so soft that Jared feared he might not ever want to leave here. “No one else ever did.”

“Rose did, Jay,” Jensen corrected, but he understood what the younger man was saying.

Even though Sister Rose and Father Thomas took Jared in to keep him off the streets and also to keep him from falling into the system that may very well have put him back with the monsters he escaped from, it was hard for them to find the time to show him that attention and care that he needed.

“I care because I think you’re worth fighting for, because you’re a gentle hearted boy who I like to see smile and hear laugh.” Jensen smiled as he reached a hand up slowly to brush the unruly long hair back out of hazel eyes. Those eyes took his breath away when they watched him like they were now. “People have told me that I have too soft a heart despite the attitude I give off on stage or in interviews, and maybe they’re right, but it seemed like when you looked at me the first time, when you let me hold your hand, you were reaching out to me and I do care, Jared.

“I want to help you learn to trust others and to be able to live without being afraid. I want to keep you safe while the lawyers find a way to keep Paul away from you. I want to teach you all the things you’ve missed out on, and I want to be your friend and listen when you decide you can talk about stuff.” He adjusted the covers without thinking about it until he saw Jared’s small shy smile and realized he was hovering. “I also meant it when I said I want nothing from you out of this. I just want to help you. It’s your choice about anything else.”

Jared wasn’t real clear on the whole choice thing since he’d never had many of those in his life. It felt strange to be able to make choices, especially when he wasn’t even sure what he was supposed to be choosing. He was still too scared to do anything, but he guessed that was part of what Jensen was offering to help him learn to do.

He did know one thing he’d like to choose, but he would give it some time to settle before he asked Jensen about it. For the moment there was one thing he did have to ask before he went to sleep. “My scars,” he began slowly, fingers running over the worn embroidery on the blanket. “You say they…don’t bother you.”

“They don’t,” Jensen replied easily, watching Jared’s face since he’d learned that it was easy to read the unspoken words or emotions the younger man might not know how to express fully. “What is it, Jay?” He could see that something was bothering him.

Biting his lower lip like he had a habit of doing when nervous, Jared sat up again to look into Jensen’s eyes while reaching for his hand. “You…you’ve touched my face but…you won’t touch the side that’s…hurt.” He couldn’t quite make himself say ‘burned’ since that made him flash back to the pain he’d felt that night. “If they don’t bother you or make me ugly then why won’t you touch them?”

Jensen hadn’t considered that that might be what Jared would think. It hadn’t felt right to touch those because he wasn’t sure if it would upset Jared, but as he took in the lowered eyes, chewed on lower lip, and nervous movement, he realized he’d given the boy the wrong idea.

“That’s not the reason I’ve held off on touching your face on that side, Jay,” he told him, carefully moving his hand up to brush long hair back so he could see all of Jared’s face. He let his fingers hover over the scars, but still did not touch them. “I haven’t touched those because I didn’t want to scare you. I knew you didn’t like to be touched anyway, so when you did allow me to touch you a little, I felt that touching those scars might be moving too fast. It’s not because I don’t want to touch your face there, but because it felt too personal. May I touch your face, Jared?”

Jared felt like his head would explode with all the confusion and surprise he was faced with, but this one about did it. He’d never had anyone ask if they could touch him, and it felt unreal to see the way Jensen’s green eyes had deepened more as he looked back at him, until he finally remembered to nod. “Yes,” he whispered in the next second since it made Jensen happy to hear him speak.

Jensen understood even more than Jared how big a step this was for the young man, but he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to make him more self-conscious than he might already be. “Thank you, Jay,” he murmured, watching Jared’s face to see that he still expected pain at the touch, but he stayed still to allow it as Jensen let his fingers brush over the scars lightly.

The burns were faint but must have been serious enough to cause the scaring; Jensen feared to ask at what age Jared had suffered the pain that must have been agony, so he didn’t. He’d allow his friend to open up when he was ready.

“These don’t make you ugly, Jay,” he told him quietly, allowing his palm to cup that side of Jared’s face. He watched those big eyes change subtly, and he found himself fighting not to let on when he felt Jared lean into the touch. “They’re a part of you, so anyone who accepts you for you will accept them. I’m just sorry that you suffered the pain.”

Jared had never allowed anyone to touch them before, but he’d wanted to feel Jensen’s hand on his face, he wanted to see what it felt like to be touched over the scars he hated so much. As he felt that touch move down to his neck, he felt like crying not in pain or shame like before, but in relief.

Being with Jensen made everything bad that Jared had seen or had done seem like it hadn’t been his fault. He still felt scared but not for his usual reasons. Now he was scared of losing this, losing Jensen or his friend being hurt in some way.

“Tell me what you’re thinking, Jay.” Jensen’s voice brought him back and he realized the other man was watching him closely. His concern was plain, but his hand remained steady as it gently caressed over the scars.

“I…I never wanted those people or others like Mr. Peabody to kiss me or touch me,” Jared’s voice was soft like it went when he was unsure, his accent became heavier those times as well. “I hated it and how it made me feel.”

“I know that,” Jensen responded, unsure of the message in that comment, but he started to ease away only to stop when Jared’s hand suddenly gripped the one on his face to hold it there. “I also know you’re probably confused as hell right now which is why nothing happens unless you choose to let it happen, and then only when you understand that you don’t have to do anything to earn my friendship.”

There was that word again: choose. Jared would have to learn what choose meant because he’d never had to make choices in his life except to stay at the shelter or on the street. Hide or be caught. Those were his choices and now Jensen was telling him he had more, but it was the last part of that statement that made Jared curious.

“I…I can choose what happens between us?” he asked warily, unsure how that worked. “I mean…if you looked at me like that?”

It had always made Jared’s stomach jump a little when Jensen gave him those deep smiles that matched the look in his eyes. Jared knew what lust and desire in a man’s eyes when he looked at him meant, and it usually made him sick, but the look in Jensen’s eyes, how they darkened and how his touch changed subtly, didn’t make him sick. It made him wish he knew more about these things he felt.

“I do look at you like that, but yes, you choose if we just stay friends like we are now.” Jensen wasn’t sure how they’d gotten to this topic since he hadn’t really wanted Jared to think he wanted anything from him, but he wasn’t a saint or blind either, so he also couldn’t lie to him. “You are a very good looking young man, Jay. Beyond good looking and passing into gorgeous and beautiful even, but you’re still too new to this and scared after what you went through, to understand the difference between being made to do something and liking it if it’s between the right people.”

He made a note to try to convince Jared to maybe speak to a therapist once he was more accustomed to people not hurting him, so he could start to learn that difference because Jensen was the first to admit he wasn’t skilled enough to help in all areas.

“So I can choose to just be friends…like we are or…more later on?” Jared knew he was blushing, but it felt weird to talk about this.

“Yep, your choice,” Jensen nodded, using his other hand to card back the rest of Jared’s hair. He noticed as it dried that some of the blond highlights were fading back to his natural color, and found himself glad that he was right; Jared’s hair was the perfect shade of brown and needed to be left alone. “No pressure, no demands. Nothing will change either way because I like you and I want to help you. I won’t lie now and say I’m not attracted to you, but I can control that and still keep you safe.”

Jared wasn’t sure how that worked since as far as he’d ever been able to tell and from what he’d been told, lust couldn’t be controlled and people, especially men, took what they wanted from people like him.

“Are you okay with that or is there something you still don’t understand?” Jensen thought there might be since Jared’s forehead was crinkled like it got when he was confused.

“You could have anyone you want. You’re rich, famous, and pretty, or that’s what the girls at the shelter said. You’ve been nice to me since the moment you met me, and you are trying to keep me from going back…there. You know what was done to me there and…after, so you know you could have whatever you want from me. Why…don’t you?” Jared was confused about how to try to say what he had, so he hoped he hadn’t made his friend angry, but the hand on his face stayed gentle when it moved to stroke down his cheek to lie over his neck.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever really called me pretty before, but I’ll take it from you,” Jensen chuckled, adoring the faint blush whenever he could see it, and though a piece of him wished Jared hadn’t learned what he had or thought he was just something to be used, he pushed those thoughts back to concentrate on his reply. “There is a huge difference between taking because I want something bad enough and taking a gift that’s being offered to me.”

Jensen smiled with a touch of sadness as he watched Jared take this in. “Before, when you were little or on the street, you weren’t given a choice; they made your body respond and forced you to do things. They took from you without asking. Yes, I probably could too but first off, I’m not that kind of guy and second…” He paused to tilt Jared’s face up a little so their eyes could meet. “You’re someone to be treasured and cared for, Jay. If you ever decide to make that choice to offer even a little more between us, it would be a gift; one that I’d take care with like I’ll care for you now.”

The amount of emotion reflected in Jensen’s voice and on his face took Jared’s breath away because no one had ever talked to him or looked at him like this and while it made him shake a little, it also took away another layer of fear that he’d built up since his nightmares started.

“This is also where you get to see that the image I put up on stage or in interviews isn’t exactly the me that’s real.” Jensen coughed a little as he realized he might have gone a little too far too soon until he felt a tear fall from Jared’s eye onto the hand he still had on his face. “Jay?”

“I…I think you should be the real you more often,” Jared told him softly, feeling his eyes start to get heavy again, but he hated to have Jensen leave. “I don’t mean the you on the TV doesn’t seem nice. I just mean…I don’t know what I mean.”

Jensen laughed, seeing the drooping eyes and knowing Jared was fighting sleep. “No, I get what you mean. I don’t really like that me either, which is another reason I’m making some changes in my career soon. I want to write and record songs that I like and have passion for; I haven’t been able to do that in a while.”

“Will my being here keep you from working or doing whatever you came here to do?” Jared yawned, lying back. He missed the warmth of Jensen’s hand immediately, but then he felt it on his wrist.

“No, so don’t worry about that and just try to sleep now.” Jensen stayed sitting on the edge of the bed, a little uneasy about leaving Jared to sleep in a strange place. “Will you be okay tonight or would you rather I stay in here with you?” He realized what he might have just implied so he quickly added. “I’ll sit over there in the chair so if you have another nightmare I’ll be closer this time.”

Jared didn’t want to be alone this soon since he feared the bad dreams would come back, but he also didn’t like the thought of his friend sitting up all night like he suspected he had in the clinic. He glanced at the oversized bed and swallowed, working up his courage. If he could make his own choices then he guessed here was a good place to start. “You…can sleep here…if you want.” He spoke quietly but knew he’d been heard when Jensen went still. “I mean, this bed is huge and I don’t move a lot unless I dream, but even then I don’t think I’d…bother you and I don’t want you to sit up again because of me and…”

Jensen laid a finger against his lips to stop the rambling, finding it adorable since it was something he also tended to do when nervous. “Are you sure you want me that close?” It was actually a really good plan and since the bed was a king size, there’d be plenty of room, but he wanted to be sure.

“If I’m supposed to learn to trust you that means believing you when you say you won’t touch me unless I want you to, right?” Jared replied, rubbing his eyes like he was prone to do before placing his old blanket and the stuffed cat close to him. “It’s scary, but…I trust you, Jen. I…want you to stay…if you want to.”

Jensen wouldn’t deny that even sitting up on the bed would be more comfortable than the chair in the room. He held Jared’s eyes for a second longer before slowly nodding. “I’ll stay with you, Jay,” he agreed, moving to the other side of the bed to sit down. “This way if you need me, all you have to do is reach across or hit me with a pillow.”

Jared moved a little more to his side so he was facing Jensen. He watched the other man stretch out on the other side of the bed. There was still a lot of space between them, and he suspected Jensen was doing that so he wouldn’t feel uneasy or crowded with sharing a bed.

“Just close your eyes and think of playing with the kittens. Those are happy thoughts that will help keep the bad ones away.” Jensen felt his back and neck pop several times as he relaxed slowly since he hadn’t laid down to sleep since the other night; he looked at the light touch of fingers on his hand. “Is this okay?”

“Uh-huh.” Jared was falling asleep, but he wanted to feel the warmth of Jensen’s touch so he slowly reached out until he felt his hand gripped and held. “Thanks, Jen,” he mumbled. “G’night.”

“G’night, Jay.” Jensen shifted slowly until he was facing Jared and just watched him sleep, smiling softly at how young and innocent Jared looked when he slept.

It was this innocence that Anton Paul wanted to own, wanted to taint, and Jensen would fight to keep his friend safe, from ever living through that hell again.

As he let himself fall asleep, Jensen tried to relax more, but in the back of his head was this little nagging worry that the worst of this mess wasn’t over for either of them.

When Jensen woke up sometime the next morning, it took him a second to remember where he was and why. When he went to move, the first thing he realized was that all eight kittens had come in during the night and were scattered over the bed.

The other thing he realized, and what kept him from moving too quickly, was that Jared had moved in his sleep and had laid his head against Jensen’s shoulder while still keeping hold of his hand like he’d done since falling asleep.

It was a little odd for Jensen to wake up with anyone in bed with him, but he stayed still to just watch Jared sleep. He took a shaky breath because this was something he could get used to very, very quickly.

Jared’s face was relaxed and didn’t look as pale as it still had been last night. He had his blanket and the cat toy tucked in against his chest, which made Jensen wonder if he’d gotten scared during the night. He hated to wake him as he was sure it had been a long time since Jared had probably slept without fear of being jumped or hurt.

He was about to try to figure out how to move to go start breakfast when Jared’s fingers tightened around his hand and he made a soft sound before his eyes slowly blinked open to stare into Jensen’s face.

“Hey,” Jensen greeted softly while watching Jared wake up more and knew his heart was gone the moment a sleep shy smile was given.

“Hey,” Jared murmured back, not asking how he’d gotten where he was; he figured he must have moved in his sleep. “I guess I moved. Was it okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine with it if you are.” Jensen moved his hand slowly to allow Jared the time to see what he was doing before he brushed unruly hair. “I think I could get used to waking up to your smile every morning.” He kept his touch light when it stroked down Jared’s face and caught the way his smile grew.

Jensen had to put the brakes on what his brain and body wanted to do because it was so tempting to lean closer to kiss Jared, but he held off; even a light kiss would break his promise to keep the ball in Jared’s court as to what happened between them.

Jared had blushed, but as he woke up fully, he realized that he wasn’t on edge; in fact, he was relaxed. He was never relaxed when he first woke up, but as Jensen’s fingers touched his face, gently moving over the scars, he felt himself leaning into the touch more and wishing he had the courage to do one more thing.

“Do you want breakfast?” Jensen asked, leaving his hand where it was when he felt Jared turn his face into it more. “We have cereal, eggs, toast…or I can make waffles.”

Breakfast wasn’t always a meal Jared got to eat, so he wasn’t sure, but he did perk up at the waffle suggestion. “Frozen waffles?” He remembered the time the shelter had those and he had enjoyed them, but Jensen’s laugh made him look up.

“Frozen waffles are good in a pinch, and I’m sure we’ll get those to have on hand for when I’m too lazy to cook, but I make waffles from scratch,” he explained and then realized the boy had probably never had homemade waffles before. “I’ll go start them. You can hang out with the bed snatchers here. There are clothes for you on the dresser.”

It was still so unreal that he was living someplace where he felt safe and was encouraged to play with kittens, but Jared wanted to watch Jensen, so he gave each kitten a hug and a kiss between little ears before pulling on clothes that actually fit him.

Everything was actually little big except the sneakers, which were just a little tight, but Jared thought they were the best things he had ever put on. He and the kittens all moved into the kitchen to hear Jensen humming softly while he broke eggs into a bowl of flour and other ingredients; he mixed up the batter while a piece of equipment heated next to him.

“I’ll ask Chris to bring real oranges by and some other fruit if you can tell me what you like.” Jensen had poured himself coffee and Jared orange juice while he prepared the batter for waffles.

“I didn’t eat a lot of different stuff so…I’m not sure.” Jared sat down carefully at the table as the kittens all piled around the dishes that had been filled again. “I’ll try whatever you eat…except those pickle things.”

Jensen chuckled. “Pickles are good, but you have to ease into them, and those were the really sour ones. I bet you’ll like the ones I buy.” He tasted the batter to be sure it had enough vanilla and began to scoop it onto the waffle maker. “I also bet you’ll enjoy these with maple syrup.” He turned to place a bottle on the table. “Greatest thing ever invented after cheesecake was maple syrup.”

“You always…cook?” Jared asked as he took a small sip of the juice to make it last while seeing how comfortable Jensen was in the kitchen. “Don’t most singers have cooks?”

“Most do and some people do as well. My grandmother still has a cook, but I really prefer to do things on my own. I made the effort to learn to cook so I wouldn’t need to have someone live in to do it for me,” Jensen replied easily. “Can you reach into the cabinet next to me and get two plates out?” he asked casually.

“Yeah,” Jared moved carefully, afraid of making a mistake as he took two plates out to lay them on the table. He remembered the drawer that Jensen had gotten soup spoons out of the night before, so he also got the forks but hesitated on the knives.

Jensen turned to pull out two butter knives to hand him. “These are pretty soft, so we won’t have to worry about sawing them with the sharper ones.” he smiled easily to put the younger man back at ease. “You can also have more juice if you want it, so drink as much as you want.”

That made Jared smile a little more, and he went back to set the table as Jensen finished with the waffles. It took him no time at all to have a plate of waffles ready for them. He placed it on the table and sat down, reaching for the butter.

“Butter and then syrup,” he winked, buttering his own as if showing Jared how without appearing to be doing so.

Jared had better movement today so that made both men happy, but what made Jensen the happiest was the look of pure bliss that crossed Jared’s face the moment the waffle coated with butter and heavy dark syrup touched his tongue.

“Good?” he asked with a laugh at the vigorous nod while Jared chewed the waffles happily. “I can’t wait until you taste pizza. While I’m sure you’ve had it, I’m also sure it was either frozen or old. I know the best pizza place in this city and it delivers.”

They ate the rest of the waffles with Jensen making sure Jared got as many as he wanted. Once they were done eating, Jared stood beside the sink while Jensen did their dishes. “Will you go back to check on the shelter?” he asked, not sure if he could handle going back there this soon, or even if he felt safe enough to go outside at all yet.

“I will at some point, but not for a few more days, maybe even a week. Chris can handle the in person stuff, and I can call Sister Rose to see if it’s going good, but I’m not ready to leave you alone…and I’m guessing you probably aren’t ready to go back there.” Jensen turned to see Jared staring at his shoes and guessed this is where his friend would begin to start doubting things. “I’ll have to call the lawyer and see if he’s already handling things or if he needs to see you. Hey, I’ll be right there with you if he does need to talk to you,” he was quick to reassure the second he caught Jared tensing.

Jared knew he’d need to talk to people if he wanted to be sure he never had to go back to Paul, but it scared him to have to think about that part of his life, much less to speak about it to strangers. He hadn’t even been able to tell Jensen much about it yet.

“If I do have to talk to him, can he come here?” he asked, more at ease here since he could cuddle the kittens if he had to talk about his nightmares.

“Yeah, Vince can come here if he needs to speak with you.” Jensen figured the lawyer might gripe, but he wasn’t risking Jared’s safety or comfort by putting him in a cold office or around too many people at one time. “Today I’ll show you around the place and get you settled in your room upstairs. Then I think my ex-bodyguard, who seems to have decided that he’s once again my current bodyguard, might be coming over to play with the security system and phone. We can hide out in the game room if you want or, well, pretty much do anything you want.”

It was amazing to Jared that his friend was willing to change so much of his life because of him. He could only imagine the things Jensen would be doing if he didn’t have to make so many adjustments because of him. He felt bad for being such a bother and unsure how he could make it up to him. “Can…I do something around here to make up for being so much trouble?” he asked, fingers running over the counter while chewing his lip. “Sister Rose used to let me sweep up or I can do dishes or…or you can show me how to do stuff you need done or…”

“I didn’t bring you here to do chores, Jay,” Jensen chuckled, running his hand over the tense shoulder and down until he could gently fold Jared’s hand into his. “I brought you here because it was safe and because I like to see you smile when you find out something new. I also thought I could maybe teach you how to read – I think you’ll love to read books once you learn how. And I bet you’d like to learn how to write your name.”

“Do you think I can learn those things? Really?” Jared asked as he followed Jensen back to the living room. “I can remember stuff I hear, but it’s harder to make sense of things I see. I don’t wanna be stupid, Jensen. I want to be able to learn enough to make you and Sister Rose proud of me. And yeah, I’d really like to be able to write my own name.”

“You’re not stupid, Jared. You don’t need to do anything to make us proud because we are both already proud of you and what an amazing person you are. And you will learn to read and to spell and to write,” Jensen promised, taking his phone out to send a text to Chris with instructions on things he wanted him to bring by later. “But today I think you should get used to me, to this place, and to being able to do what you want without fear of being hurt or corrected. What would you like to do, Jared?”

Blinking as he sat down on the sofa to just stare at Jensen, Jared had to think. His days usually entailed trying to avoid the priest, help the nuns, maybe play with the little kids and stay safe. Being able to do something else took him off-guard and left him a little confused until a fuzzy body rubbed against his leg and he lifted his eyes. “Can I play with them?”

The soft tremble in Jared’s voice when he asked for something as simple as playing with the kittens nearly broke Jensen’s heart, but he hid that behind a smile, nodding. “Yeah, you and the kittens can play all day if you want to. I’ll stick close until you get used to where everything is.”

By the time Chris Kane arrived early in the afternoon with bags full of things that Jensen kept texting him to bring, the former bodyguard turned club owner was close to growling and was about to tell the singer to go do his own damn shopping next time until he came through the front door and heard the laughter ringing out from the living room.

It was actually really rare to hear Jensen’s full out laugh so that in itself made him pause. He was even more stunned when he heard the other laugh, a full on happy, relaxed, boyish laugh that made Chris blink because he’d barely heard the kid speak much less laugh like that.

Stepping to the door to peer in, he noticed that there seemed to have been a small war, and he was fairly certain the men had lost to the eight kittens. The tiny animals were all looking pretty proud of themselves as they dove from the sofa onto Jared’s stomach; he was lying on the floor laughing because little kitten paws seemed to keep finding his ticklish spots.

Jensen was stretched out on his stomach to watch; he’d given up trying to corral the little monsters when it was plain they were all excited about having a huge place to play and romp, especially the little one who had finally discovered the steps to the second floor.

Chris started to open his mouth to speak when he caught the hand that moved and motioned him to go into the kitchen; he figured Jensen’s senses were still keen if he’d sensed him.

He heard Jensen say something to Jared about controlling his monster pets while he went to see what had been brought for lunch. Chris rolled his eyes while shaking a bag of oranges. “If you wanted a fast lunch, you should’ve added that to the ever growing list of things. I know you’re pretty much considered a recluse when you’re not on tour but are you ever planning to take that kid out of this house?”

“Sure, as soon as you, Murphy, and Vince can give me some assurance that he’ll be safe.” Jensen put the oranges on the counter while digging into the bags to see what his friend had brought. “Dude? Cheesecake?”

“I got everything else you wanted, but I was not standing in a line for 40 minutes waiting on cheesecake, Jensen. You can go get that yourself,” Chris returned firmly while noticing that Jensen kept a close eye on the living room. “Did either of you sleep?”

“Yeah. He had a nightmare earlier last night but calmed down. Got him to take a bath, and he let me help him wash his back. We even ended up talking cause he was scared that if he told me that he thought he liked boys, I’d boot him out.” Jensen grinned at the books and tablet he pulled out as well as a box of crayons. “I sort of told him that so did I.”

Chris had been reaching for coffee when he stopped. “I thought you said you were going to keep how you felt out of this.” He nearly snapped it but lowered his voice at the warning look he got.

“He was scared I’d be ashamed or angry. He deserved to know he wasn’t alone in how he felt, but like I told him, I will control how I feel; it’s up him what happens. If being friends is all he wants that’s what we’ll be,” Jensen sorted the books and other stuff from the food and quickly put perishable items away but tensed when a hand caught his shoulder. “Chris.”

“He’s a naïve kid with no experience physically except the bad, Jensen. Does he even know how to say no? What if, because he’s starting to trust you, he lets you go farther than he should? What if feels like it ‘owes’ something to you because of everything you’ve done for him?” Chris figured he was close to getting hit again but needed to see how much control his friend had in this matter. “I know you say you can control your feelings, but how long has it been since you’ve been with…Jensen!”

Whirling from closing a cabinet, Jensen moved to shove his friend into the refrigerator; anger plain. “Do you think I’d do that to him after what he’s been through?” he demanded, fighting to keep his voice down so Jared wouldn’t hear them. “I flat out told him I liked him, but that it was his choice, and it will be his choice in what happens, if anything ever does.”

Jensen stepped back, shaking the tension out of his shoulders, and stalked over to a cabinet that had different bags of chips in it. He grabbed a couple of small bags. “That damn priest touched him, Chris.” He vowed to never allow anyone to abuse Jared again, especially someone he should have been able to trust. “I don’t mean just to punish him either but…damn it, Chris…he’s so innocent looking. Why would anyone hurt him?”

“Because he’s innocent,” the older man replied, taking his jacket off and holding up a small box. “Go save him from those furry little demons while I get to work on tapping your phones.”

Nodding, Jensen shook off the last of the emotions so that he’d appear calm when he returned to Jared. He then gathered up the chips, bottles of water, books, and the other school-type supplies and carried everything into the game room to see that Jared had managed to sit up and was sitting cross-legged on the floor pulling a mouse on a string. Some of kittens were chasing the mouse while other kittens were chasing each other.

He looked up with a bright smile as Jensen sat back beside him. “Is…Chris here?” He thought he’d heard the other man but he wasn’t sure. He was now comfortable with Jensen but still felt uneasy with others around. “Should I take the kittens into the other room?”

“No, you’re fine where you’re at, and yeah, Chris is here, but he’s busy playing with the phones.” Jensen opened a bag of chips to place between them. “You can eat these while you’re playing.” He watched as Jared took a cautious bite before he smiled and ate more. “I wasn’t sure what you might have done with the kids at the shelter, or what you’d like to do, but I thought we could start out with these.”

Jared looked down and his eyes widened. He enjoyed coloring with the little kids, but he’d stopped doing it when he was made fun of, so while his fingers itched to touch the crayons, he held back until Jensen handed him one.

“Y’know back in New York at my manager’s office, she would sometimes bring her little girl to work so she keeps some coloring books and crayons in the office,” Jensen began smoothly, placing the various coloring books out while also moving the small books into Jared’s line of sight. “When I’d get bored waiting to be seen or something, or if I was working on a song and I’d get stuck, I’d color.”

“You like to color?” That amazed Jared but also helped him relax more as he noticed one of the coloring books was filled with letters and numbers. “This one…will it help me start to learn?”

Smiling at how quick and bright Jared was, Jensen nodded, flipping the pages until he found the letter he wanted. “This is the letter ‘J’ and it is the first letter of my name and also your name. You want to color some letters?”

Despite being so tall Jared was also as agile and limber as a cat because he easily flipped to his stomach and stretched his legs out like a little kid watching TV. He smiled happily at his friend as the kittens began to play amongst themselves and also chase the crayons. “Will you?”

“Yeah, Jay, I’ll color with you.” Jensen sat with his back against the sofa as he picked out a coloring book of his own, but mostly he watched as Jared carefully traced each letter before coloring it in. He soon realized that Jared actually seemed to know most of the letters; there were only a few he kept getting confused over. “You know, it takes most people a long time to learn how to read. You’re not going to be able to learn everything overnight,” he told him as he laid a hand on his shoulder to calm him down after he clearly got frustrated.

“Why can I remember what people say but not if I have to see it in a book or on paper?” Jared hated feeling like a child, and he hated looking stupid in front of Jensen. “I’d watch these shows with the little kids that teach letters and numbers, and I’d think I was learning what some of them were, but when I went to try to write something down, it all left.”

Jensen considered that and began to wonder if maybe Jared had some sort of learning disability, or if he was just trying to learn too much too fast in addition to all his other worries. “I tell you what…I’ll get some of those learning DVDs for the TV, and between those and the books, we’ll see how you do. A letter a day, starting today with ‘A’ and going from there.”

“Apple,” Jared tried, hoping he was right and finding that he enjoyed it when Jensen’s smile lit up at each correct answer. “I know that cause I like red apples, not green.”

“I’ll remember that,” Jensen chuckled and held out a book with letters and a few examples. He also had the tablet with letters printed and space below so Jared could practice writing them. “I promise that soon you’ll be able to recite the alphabet and write your name, but don’t get upset if it takes some time.”

Jared wished he was as smart as his friend, but he knew he wasn’t, so he’d try to be patient and just hope he didn’t disappoint Jensen.

Over the next week, Jensen was true to his word. He and Jared spent a few hours each day working on a letter of the alphabet and a number. It did seem like Jared could pick things up faster from hearing them on TV than seeing them in a book, but that just made the young man more determined than ever to be able to learn from the books Jensen bought him.

Whenever it looked like Jared was getting frustrated, Jensen would just smile and say it was time to take a break and do something else. That might be playing with the kittens, learning to play pool on the pool table in the game room, sitting down to play an educational game on the computer, or grabbing two controllers and playing with Jensen’s impressive video game system. Jensen even brought Jared into the garage a few times so he could sit on the Harley while Jensen fiddled with it.

Jensen had learned that it wasn’t hard to amuse Jared as his friend was open to nearly anything, and he was a fast learner at just about everything. The only exceptions were things he needed to read out of a book; those things he didn’t pick up on quite as quickly, but Jensen was always quick to reassure him that he’d eventually get it.

During the week there’d been no issues even though both Chris and Vince Davis said people had been snooping around the shelter, and the cops had been called more than once to chase away Kyle Marks. It seemed that the gang leader was getting bolder about coming near the shelter, so Jensen still refused to take Jared close to the place.

In fact, Jensen hadn’t taken Jared anywhere yet, and he suspected that Jared would happily live the rest of his life in the house with just Jensen and the kittens for company. He finally decided it was time for Jared to see a little bit more of the world, so he took him down to a small bakery to get some treats. Jensen had ended up spending a lot more time as well as money than he’d intended, but he enjoyed listening to Jared laugh and watching his face as he tasted various sweet cakes, cookies, and other baked goodies. He finally had to drag Jared out of there before the boy made himself sick, but he promised that they would return to the bakery soon.

After that, he made it a point to get Jared out of the house at least once a day. He was careful to stay close to his neighborhood, and he skipped the trips if Jared was edgy because on those days, he noticed that the nightmares were more prone to occur and some of those were bad for both of them.

Jared had been uneasy with moving to the upstairs bedroom because it was bigger and fancier than the spare room downstairs. While the bed was still king-sized, the coverings had been more silk and satin than cotton. The heavy mahogany bedroom furniture all matched and looked new and shiny while the guest bathroom was all marble and glass.

It took Jensen a good part of a full day to convince Jared that the room was his and he could mess it up as much as he wanted, but it wasn’t until he agreed to switch the covers with the room downstairs that Jared would even sit on the bed to test it.

That night Jared had a nightmare, his first in days, and Jensen was close to panicking himself because he couldn’t wake him up or even stop him from screaming. Jared was sobbing and begging the monsters to not to hurt him or seal him up or use his mouth. After a solid hour of trying to calm the hysterical young man, the singer had given up and decided to just go with his heart instead of trying to use common sense.

He’d known before Jared had even gone to bed that it had been a stressful day for him. There was the strain of convincing Jared that he was perfectly good enough for a room like this because he deserved to be free and happy. Jared had also been playing in the backyard with the kittens while Jensen argued with Chris over his friend’s idea to electrify the fence, and that quarrel had clearly bothered Jared. So it was obvious that a stressed and overly tired Jared couldn’t wake up out of the nightmare by himself.

A gentle touch to Jared’s arm had nearly resulted in Jensen bleeding because despite his lean body, Jared had some strength in those long arms, especially when he was reacting out of fear and desperation to protect himself. When Jared’s voice broke on a sob that included Jensen’s name, as if pleading for help, Jensen finally dropped to the floor where Jared had backed himself into the corner and carefully took his friend into his arms and just held him, humming wordlessly.

Jensen figured his back would have some bruises on it from where Jared’s fists had struck in a brief attempt to free himself from the arms holding him, but after a few minutes of struggling, the boy had slowly calmed down. Jensen wasn’t sure if it was because he’d exhausted himself, or if his voice had finally begun to filter through the panic, but whatever it was, Jared stopped fighting, stopped screaming, and just turned to bury his face against Jensen’s neck sobbing brokenly until he fell to sleep.

The next day Jared was quieter, more reserved, and a piece of Jensen feared that the nightmare might have forced a step backward. He didn’t push him, however, and tried to continue on like everything was normal, or as normal as it could be for Jared.

Breakfast was quiet, but the tightness in Jensen’s chest loosened a bit when Jared gave him a shy smile over a plate of chocolate chip pancakes. Jensen had quickly discovered that chocolate chip pancakes were Jared’s favorite breakfast, and he was glad the young man seemed to feel well enough to enjoy them. Because of the nightmare and how quiet his friend was that morning, he’d decided to just let Jared play with the kittens or mess around with the video games rather than do the normal learn a letter and number plan they’d been following.

Chris was bringing pizza later that day so dinner was taken care of. With nothing pressing on his schedule, Jensen had slipped into his makeshift studio right off the playroom to try to take some of the worry away by fiddling on his old guitar and working on a song. He felt a presence and looked up to see Jared leaning in the door watching him.

“Jay?” Setting the guitar down, Jensen began to stand but never made it up because Jared surprised him by moving across the room to sit on the battered leather sofa beside him and hug him tightly.

Jared was getting better at not tensing with casual touches and he enjoyed having Jensen’s hand on his neck, in his hair but he still tended to stiffen with hugs. He’d only ever once initiated one, and that had been the day he’d shown Jensen the kittens; so after the nightmare and how quiet he’d been all morning, this definitely surprised the singer.

“You okay?” Jensen asked but didn’t move; he just let his arms fold around carefully to hold but not tighten. “Jared?”

“Thank you,” Jared whispered, feeling a little awkward but relaxing when he wasn’t pushed away. He’d been worried that his nightmare had upset Jensen because his friend had seemed to be leaving him alone today to just do stuff. He’d feared Jensen was angry for having another night’s sleep ruined and for being bruised since Jared could recall fighting back until he realized whose arms were around him.

He’d been absently playing a game while watching the kittens play in the game room when it suddenly occurred to him that his friend hadn’t been angry but was simply trying to give Jared space to get over the bad night. It was then that he forgot the game and began to work on something else; something that he hoped would make Jensen smile like he did whenever Jared did something new for the first time and enjoyed it.

“Come with me?” he asked as he eased back to take Jensen’s wrist and gently tugged, chewing his bottom lip. “Unless…you’re busy?”

“No, I’m never too busy for you, Jay,” Jensen assured him, voice a little shaky from the emotions building at the courage Jared was showing without even realizing it. “What’s up?”

Jared pulled him into the playroom but let go as soon as he was there to go stand by the pool table. Jensen noticed the TV was paused on one of Jared’s learning games, but his friend’s hand was on the polished teak wood of the table.

It was then that Jensen noticed the colored balls were all lined up in a straight line…in numbered order and he felt his breath catch as well as saw the small tremble of Jared’s lips as he watched Jensen.

They’d just seriously started to learn numbers, but Jensen had been using the pool balls as a teaching tool by sinking each ball in numbered order because it made Jared grin to watch them go into the holes and laugh when Jensen hit the wrong ball and would have to start over.

Because the balls kept Jared focused, Jensen had bought extra balls and had written a letter on each one so he could demonstrate how words were spelled with the letters, but he hadn’t thought Jared was really focusing on the numbers until he walked closer to see that he had lined them up from smallest to largest and now seemed to be waiting for a reaction.

There were hundreds of things swirling around Jensen’s brain, dozens of things he wanted to say, but the first thing he did was reach out slowly to pull Jared into his arms for a hug that he kept light. “I am so proud of you,” he told him, holding on tighter when he felt Jared’s arms tighten.

“Can you show me the letters?” Jared asked, smiling because he’d gotten the numbers right after spending nearly an hour trying to remember the correct order.

“Yeah, I can show you those.” Jensen didn’t realize how his hands shook a little at this small but still important milestone until Jared touched him. “I wasn’t good in school myself, so I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do this and really help you, so to see that maybe I am doing some good…”

Jared stood close to him, his hand reaching down to slip into Jensen’s to hold it tightly. “I don’t think I’d want to learn from anyone else, and you did good from the first time you touched me, Jen. I’ll never be able to repay you for…”

A finger on his lips once again stopped him as Jensen turned from laying the alpha-balls on the pool table. “I’ve told you that I don’t expect you to do anything. I’m doing this because I want to. Nothing happens unless you want it to, Jay. Now, pick a letter.”

That was how Chris found them hours later when he let himself in. Grumbling about the security system not being turned on and having a kitten jump out from a shadow to attach herself to his leg, he was wondering why he put up with this until he heard the laughter again and stood in the gameroom door to watch as Jared seemed to be playing with random pool balls while Jensen stood beside him.

That morning when he’d spoken to Jensen, he hadn’t been certain what he’d walk into since his friend had told him about the issues the night before. Now he was surprised to see Jared smiling as Jensen laid a hand over the balls.

“What’s this spell?” he was asking, sensing the other man was there but choosing to focus on this moment.

He’d taught Jared that by placing the balls in a certain order, the letters could form words and had been thrilled when Jared had picked up on that quickly enough. Jensen was winding down the lesson for the day since he knew dinner would be coming, but he wanted to try one more thing.

“J…a…r…Jar.” Jared sounded each letter out like he’d seen on his favorite show on TV with the big yellow bird. “Like the jar in the kitchen with the cookies in it?”

“Yeah, just like the cookie jar,” Jensen chuckled as he laid two more balls on the table. “What about these two if I use the ‘r’?”

This time Jared had to frown, getting nervous when it took more time, but he merely felt a warm hand running up his back to soothe him and he worked to sound it out. “R…e…d…red, like the color?”

“Right, red is like the color crayon you and that curtain climbing kitten were fighting over the other day.” Jensen took a breath when he combined the five balls to form a new word. “Now this might be tricky because on this one the letter ‘a’ has a different sound to it. Instead of how it sounded like in ‘jar’ it’s more like it does when you say ‘apple’,” he smiled at the wrinkled brow that got him, squeezing the shoulder his hand was resting on. “Just take your time and sound it out. It’s a word you know because it’s a word I say. A lot.”

Chris realized what the word was and held his breath, hoping Jensen wasn’t pushing the kid too fast. He opened his mouth to speak only to get a quick motion to keep quiet as Jared worked silently to sound this new word out.

Chewing his bottom lip, Jared was trying to sound out the word, but he was getting frustrated. He glanced next to him, wondering if he should just give up, but he saw Jensen just calmly watching him with no judgment in his eyes, no wish for Jared to hurry. Blowing out a breath to settle himself, he took each ball and moved it so he could focus on each letter again, and then his breath drew in quickly.

Saying what he thought the word was to himself, he then took each letter before he put them together again, and he felt his eyes start to burn as a single tear fell.

“Did you figure it out?” Jensen asked softly, brushing the back of his knuckles down Jared’s cheek to wipe the tear away.

“It’s…I think…” Jared swallowed thickly, a little afraid to say what he thought it was in case he was wrong, but he repeated each letter as Jensen touched it until he got to the end and took a chance. “Jared,” he whispered, closing his eyes and trying not to cry when he realized he’d just read his name, looking down when a hand was placed over his heart. “It spells Jared, my name. I read my name, Jen.”

“Yeah, you did.” Jensen smiled softly as Jared turned to move into his arms. “So damn proud of you, Jay,” he murmured against Jared’s ear as he held him, understanding that Jared had just taken a huge step in finding his life. “Now, you wanna eat some of the best pizza on the West Coast?”

Jared held on for a moment longer before wiping his eyes with the back of his hand and nodding. “Yeah, I am kind of hungry,” he admitted, realizing they must have missed lunch. It amazed him how quickly he’d gone from barely eating one meal a day to eating a full three plus snacks. “Does it have chocolate chips on it?”

“Not this time; I figured I’d start you out with plain pepperoni and cheese, but we could always add chocolate chips ourselves.” Jensen smiled and ignored Chris choking. “Ignore him. He doesn’t like chocolate.”

“I like it just fine, but you are not putting chocolate chips on this pizza, Jensen,” Chris replied in his best growl, dumping the box on the table and digging for a beer in the back of the refrigerator. He noticed that Jared seemed more at ease in the kitchen, getting out the plates and silverware, than he had been just a week earlier. “He doing alright?” he asked softly.

“He is…unless you have something to tell me that might make him not alright.” Jensen frowned when he noticed and recognized the grim look in his ex-bodyguard’s eyes. “Damn it, Chris. What now?”

Seeing that Jared and two of the kittens were absorbed by the thick pizza Chris dropped his voice. “Cops got called to the shelter two days in a row. The first time because Paul’s men were back; they’re still playing tough guy and still haven’t gone the legal route, but they left a pretty strong impression with the guys I have there that he’s not letting Jared go without a fight.” He paused to let Jensen settle down a second. “Your buddy Kyle’s pals tagged the side of the shelter with a pretty clear message to you, so you better watch your back and talk to that lawyer. By the way, he said he’d be stopping by soon.”

Of course Jensen knew Anton Paul wasn’t going to give up just because Jared was no longer at the shelter. He might have wanted to hope for that, but he knew it wouldn’t happen. He just hated to see the fear on Jared’s face every time he heard the man’s name.

“Anything else?” he asked tightly. He wished he could simply pack Jared up and take him to another state, even another country, but that wouldn’t accomplish Jensen’s true goal; that wouldn’t give Jared a life without fear.

“I heard back from the detective friend I asked to look into the kid…into Jared’s background and…he might have hit on something.” Chris had learned to be alert, so he didn’t miss the mixed emotions that crossed over his friend’s face at that news, thinking he understood it. “Here’s a new question for you then. If these people are his family, if he is this boy, and if they want him back…can you let him go?”

Jensen opened his mouth to scoff that of course he could, only to close it and look toward the table. Jared had already inhaled two pieces of pizza and was happily working his way through a third, smiling as he fed tiny bits of cheese to a very eager audience of kittens. “I don’t know,” he whispered, moving to sit down and try to work that puzzle out.

“And that’s what I was afraid of,” Chris sighed but joined the two at the table.

Compared to how Jared was just a week ago, the difference was amazing. The quiet, withdrawn young man who was terrified of being touched and wouldn’t say a word appeared truly relaxed and happy…with Jensen. He still hadn’t gotten used to speaking directly to others, but he had started to reply when Chris spoke to him as long as it was something he felt safe talking about.

One time Chris pressed a little too hard, trying to see if Jared remembered anything from before the monsters came into his life; the boy had basically shut down, pulling into himself and picking up the closest kitten to hug to his chest. Jensen quickly laid his hand over the back of his neck to offer him silent comfort while shooting a heated glare at the ex-bodyguard.

“It’s okay if you don’t remember, Jay. You were just a little boy at the time and a lot’s happened since then.” Jensen spoke softly, hearing the sniffle while running his hand over Jared’s hair and then the kitten. “Why don’t you gather up the monsters, curl up on the sofa with them, and I’ll be in to watch TV with you after I kick this one’s ass out of the house.”

Jared hesitated, but after a moment of holding Jensen’s gaze, he nodded and left the kitchen, calling for the kittens who he’d named after characters from TV.

Jensen waited until he heard the TV click on to shoot his friend a look that could have killed. “Subtle, Chris,” he snorted, tossing the plates in the sink for later. “He’s barely talking to you, and you start grilling him on a past that he probably thinks of as some sort of dream.”

“You know before the week’s up that Vince will be coming by, probably with the DA, to see him so it’s best to see if he has any memory of his old life sooner rather than later,” Chris returned, not wanting to see the shadows back in those sad eyes but trying to be realistic. “Jensen, I know you think he’s fragile and maybe he…you have a worse habit of grabbing me now then you did when I actually worked for you,” he murmured lowly, eyes steady but firm when he put his hand over the one Jensen bunched in his shirt.

“You don’t see him at night when he wakes up screaming, begging that bastard not to touch him, not to hurt him again. You didn’t see him last night when I finally got him to calm down and he just sobbed in my arms,” Jensen gritted through clenched teeth. “Don’t tell me that I think he’s fragile. He’s the strongest fucking person I know because he survived everything that bastard did to him, but I don’t want him to have to relive those memories. If I could handle Paul without Jared ever having to be involved I would because I hate the damn terror that comes over him when he hears that name.”

Now, Chris watched as Jared pushed back from the table, obviously having had his fill of pizza. The boy was watching them curiously, but his eyes were bright and clear, not shadowed with the fear that Chris was so used to seeing in them. He sighed, knowing that more pain was likely to come for both young men. “Jensen, just watch yourself and your heart because if you do happen to have to let him go at some point, you know it won’t just be his heart that gets broken,” Chris advised, putting his coat on. “I’ll see what the detective has found out or if the investigators in the lawyer’s office have had more luck. You eat some of that pizza and get some damn sleep. You look like shit.”

“G’night to you too.” Jensen shut the front door and made sure this time to lock all of the locks and use the security system. He slid a couple of pieces of pizza on a plate before going to track down Jared who was no longer in the kitchen. He found him back in front of the television watching a gameshow.

Cartoons and gameshows were Jared’s favorite things to watch on TV. Police shows made him nervous, hospital shows had his fingers digging into Jensen’s arms, and the news straight out scared him because he found it confusing and overwhelming. It had become almost a ritual to watch the cartoons in the day time, some game shows after dinner, and then Jensen would search for the music channels with videos.

Jared’s taste in music appeared to be close to Jensen’s own most of the time. Once, however, one of Jensen’s earlier videos had come on and before he could grab the remote to switch it Jared’s eyes had gotten huge as he made the connection. Back in the early days of his career, Jensen’s hair had been longer than Jared’s and slicked up with enough gel that he was his own fire hazard; for the video, he wore heavy makeup because he had been told to.

Jensen really didn’t care for those early days, just like he was starting to not care about his current image portrayal. He wished now that he could sing and write what he wanted and not be stuck in a category that no longer fit him.

They were sitting quietly watching the kittens play on the floor or with the multiple climbing trees and other cat toys when Jensen felt a shudder work through Jared. He shifted slowly so that he was leaning against Jensen’s shoulder.

“Jay? Hey, you cold?” Jensen asked since there were times when Jared would still get incredibly cold. He started to reach for the blanket he kept on the back of the sofa, only to stop when his arm was moved hesitantly as if the young man beside him wanted it around him. “You want my arm around you?”

Instead of answering, Jared merely nodded, relaxing a little after Jensen adjusted so his arm could go around his shoulders so he was held protectively against his side with Jared’s hand curling around the bottom of Jensen’s shirt.

“There…there was a lullaby,” Jared began quietly, unsure if he was speaking of a memory or a wishful dream. “About a soft kitty and she’d sing it every night as I was tucked into bed with my blanket and a soft stuffed cat that I…I think was my favorite.” His eyes had closed to try to bring the memories into focus, but they were mostly shadows and nearly always overwhelmed by the monsters. “I…can’t see her face, but I think I remember happy eyes, a soft smile and lots of laughs and hugs and kisses that made me giggle. She and the man sounded like I do with what you called…my accent. I used to think I was dreaming, but now I wonder if it’s more; if the lady was more.”

Jensen swallowed, happy that Jared was slowly beginning to open up more, and he understood what these dreams might be. He carefully tightened his arm a little and when Jared didn’t tense, he let his other hand begin to card back through his hair and also touch his face.

“I think those might be memories of your mother,” he told him carefully, wondering if Jared would even understand the word as he saw his lips moving to silently repeat the word. Then he recalled that if Jared was from Texas, he might not have used that word very much. “You might have called her Mama, or Mommy, or…”

“Momma,” Jared whispered softly as if testing the word. He opened his eyes to see Jensen watching him with concern. “I can’t remember a lot, Jen. It’s like the pain and monsters took all the good away, and they want to take the good away again if he gets me back and…”

“No one is getting you, Jay. I promised you that and I’ll keep that promise.” Jensen gentled his touch a little more when he felt the way Jared shifted so his cheek was pressing more into Jensen’s hand. “You were probably only five or so when they grabbed you, and after everything else that’s happened, it’s not unusual that you might not have too many early memories. Chris and the lawyers are looking to see if they can find out where you came from and who you are.”

Jared bit his lower lip while he slowly let his free hand reach up to touch Jensen’s face like his was being touched. “What if I wasn’t taken? What if they gave me away?” he asked, voice shaking in fear of that. “That’s what he always said. That he paid my…” He stopped to try to find the word only to finally skip over it. “He said he paid for me and that’s why he’d never let me go, that’s why he burned that mark…”

“That’s why he what?” Jensen had stilled, blood turning to ice as he thought back to something that one thug had said about Jared wearing a mark. “The bastard branded you?” He knew Paul was a sick sadistic son of a bitch considering the burns and scars on Jared that he’d seen, but the thought of him branding a small child made him sick and his arm brought Jared even closer to him without him even thinking about it. “Damn, Jay. Can…where?” He probably shouldn’t have asked, and didn’t expect to get an answer, so he was startled when Jared answered him.

“Upper leg on the inside,” came the soft reply. Jared’s fingers were shaking as they trailed over Jensen’s jaw, and he was so distracted by his thoughts, that he didn’t notice Jensen shifting uncomfortably beside him. Jensen was determined to let the younger man touch him as much as he wanted to, but he was equally determined to hide his body’s responses to the touch. He listened as Jared continued his story. “I’m…not sure how old I was when he did that. It wasn’t long after it started, but the night they burned me, he kept saying how when I turned that special age, he’d burn a new mark where everyone could see it cause then I’d really be his and…that was when I knew I had to get outta there.”

Jensen used the distraction of the thought of Jared’s fear to keep his mind off of how just the subtle little touch of Jared’s fingers on his face, along his jaw, was affecting him. Jensen realized that the sick New Age freak had been planning something for when Jared turned 13. Jared had barely escaped in time.

“You…you escaped from there, Jay. You took a huge risk but you did it. You’re an incredibly brave young man, and you never stop amazing me with how brave you are,” he told his friend, glad that Jared wasn’t looking up right then because he had to bite his own lip to keep from making a sound that he knew would scare the younger man.

“If I was brave, I wouldn’t have spent all these years hiding and not talking. I would’ve already learned how to spell my own name.” Jared sounded bitter, blinking when fingers tipped his head up; he swallowed not only at the intense expression on Jensen’s face, but also at the change in his eyes, a change he’d seen in the eyes of many other men. He shuddered and had to remind himself that Jensen was different. “They’re right. I’m a…”

“You are not a coward, Jared,” Jensen cut him off, hating how little Jared still thought of himself. “A coward wouldn’t have been able to find the guts to escape that hell-hole like you did or survive all these years, and contrary to what you’ve been told, you have survived. You are surviving and everyday you recover a little more and one day, probably a couple more years down the road, I hope you’ll be able to say that you have survived and can live a life without fear or looking over your shoulder.”

Jared wasn’t sure if he agreed with the brave part, but it made him feel warm inside that Jensen thought he was, so he’d certainly try to act the part. “And when I get to that point, or any point, when it’s this time next year…will you still be here?” He wasn’t sure what made that come out of his mouth instead of stay in his head. He didn’t want to pressure Jensen into anything; he knew he needed to let Jensen live his amazing life. “Oh. No, that was wrong. That wasn’t supposed to come out. Jen, I’m sorry. That was stupid and bad. I know you won’t stay. I know you can’t stay with me cause you have a career and a life. Plus your gorgeous and strong and deserve so much better than…I’m rambling.”

This hadn’t been what Jensen ever expected to hear this soon. He thought perhaps Jared might share an attraction, but he hadn’t planned on asking or trying to find out, at least not yet. He understood how innocent and confused Jared was about anything physical, much less sexual, so he was a little taken aback…until Jared’s breathing quickened, and it was clear the kid was starting to get upset because he thought he’d made him angry or upset.

“Jay, look at me,” he murmured, taking a calming breath; he thought, he hoped he looked composed by the time those huge hazel eyes finally lifted to meet his. “The very fact that you can ask me something like that, that you feel safe enough that you’re not overthinking every little thing you say shows how much you’ve changed in the week that we’ve known one another.

“Sure, you’ll still be scared sometimes, and you’ll be uneasy with people until you can see that not everyone wants to hurt you, but each time you take one of these little steps, it proves how brave you are…and that Paul didn’t destroy you like he wanted to.” Jensen was cautious when he moved so he was sitting up more, facing Jared, fingering gently over the scars on his face and smiling kindly to relieve the fear and worry reflected in those gold flecked eyes. “As for the other…do you remember the other night, your first night here, when I told you that I would have some stuff to do for my record label to finish out my contract, but that I wanted to take you with me?”

Jared’s breath caught in his chest as he nodded slowly. Although parts of that night were a little hazy, he did remember Jensen saying that, but he hadn’t thought too much about it, since he just assumed his friend was being nice. He couldn’t believe that Jensen had any real interest in taking Jared with him, showing him other things, or letting him be around the normal people in his life.

“If you want it, if you’ll let me, then this time next year? Yeah…I will be right here with you, Jay,” Jensen told him in a low husky voice, keeping one hand on Jared’s face while reaching for a shaking hand with his other. “Does that scare you now?” he asked easily. “I meant it when I also told you that I liked you in a way other than friendship, but that I was leaving it up to you so…you don’t have to worry about me taking off, and if I ever do appear to pull back for a little bit one day, it’s because I’m trying not to scare you since my body sometimes reacts in a way that I’m trying to fight against.”

“Why’re you fighting it?” Jared couldn’t understand Jensen. He wasn’t like anyone he’d ever met.

“Because you’re so used to people, men mostly, looking at you and wanting things from you. I’m trying to give you the time to learn that it can be two ways; so that you can enjoy the physical as much as I do because I wouldn’t touch you if I didn’t think you might not like it.” Jensen knew Jared wouldn’t understand that and was trying to come up with a way to get them back onto safe ground when once again he was surprised.

“I…I do like it when you touch me.” Jared’s lashes shielded his eyes and pink tinted his cheeks; he’d never liked anyone touching him, but with Jensen, it felt…nice. Maybe more than nice. “You’re gentle and you haven’t grabbed or…” He broke off with a shake of his head only to look up again when he thought he heard a low curse. “Why do you always get upset when you think about what was done to me?”

Jensen could have banged his head into something right then, but he understood that for Jared being hurt or used had nearly become second nature, so naturally it would confuse him as to why Jensen was trying to give him something different.

“It upsets me because you were hurt, Jay. It upsets me that something was taken from you. It’s given you the wrong idea of what this can be like. I want to show you how different it can be, but I know you’re scared and it’s too soon,” he tried to explain, running his thumb slowly over Jared’s wrist and smiled a little more at the feel of the pulse under it jumping. “Do you understand?”

Jared wasn’t sure he did fully, but he understood enough to feel his beating heart quicken a bit, and not with fear. He cocked his head as he considered something. “My choice?”

“Yeah, you make the choice now about what you do or don’t do,” Jensen replied with a nod, seeing something flash in those big eyes, but he couldn’t define it quick enough. “No one will ever tell you what to do again…unless it’s something to keep you safe,” he thought he should add.

“Jensen? If I made a choice…if I wanted to ask you for something…could I?” Jared felt really odd; he was a little bit nervous and a lot scared of what he wanted to say next once he saw the affirmative nod. “Would you…could you…” He didn’t know how to ask and feared the reaction. What if Jensen thought he was crazy? “Kiss me?”

Of all the things he might have been expecting to come out of Jared’s mouth that had not been one of them, so it took several seconds for Jensen’s brain to reconnect, and then he was quick to catch the retreating young man who’d taken his shocked silence as rejection. “Wait,” he urged softly, lacing their fingers together while using his free hand to stroke over Jared’s face to feel the slight trembling under it. “You…want me to kiss you?”

“I hate…anything touching my mouth because of stuff he did but…I sorta wanna know what it feels like if I’m not being made to do stuff and…if it’s with someone I’m not scared of.” Jared knew he was blushing beat red, but he had to be honest. “And I’ve been watching your mouth since the second day…but if you don’t want to…I get that totally cause of things and…”

“God, Jared, I could’ve kissed you the first damn night if I hadn’t wanted to scare you out of your mind,” Jensen told him to try to soothe the nerves he could see on the wide open face. “I want to. You have no idea how bad I want to kiss you, but like when I didn’t touch your scars, I didn’t want anything to happen too soon. I also don’t want it to be because you think you…”

This time it was Jared lifting a finger up to Jensen’s lips to stop him. “I know I don’t have to. It’s the first time that I really don’t feel like I have to do…stuff to have a roof over my head or food in my belly or just to stay safe. Even if somehow I end up having to go back there, and I’d probably kill myself before I let that happen, I just want to be kissed by someone I…I mean by someone who…please?”

“You are never going to have to go back there, Jay. Even if the bastard pulls some legal crap that says you might for a short time, I’d take you and run before I ever let him touch you again.” Jensen would rather do that than ever risk Jared facing that horror again, but right then he was facing another matter and had to make a surprisingly difficult choice.

If he turned away, Jared would think it was because of what had happened to him, and yet if he gave in to those huge sad eyes pooling with tears now, he was afraid he’d never be able to let go if circumstances ever dictated that he must.

The innocent eyes, the way Jared looked at him, pulled at Jensen, but what really did him in, what sealed his fate and finished stealing his heart, was the hesitant little touch of Jared’s hand on his heart.

“Tell me if it starts to scare you.” He knew he’d just given in, but the look of relief that crossed Jared’s face took away some of the guilt that he was moving too fast. “Just relax and trust me.”

“I do trust you.” Jared trusted Jensen more than anyone that he could remember and wondered why he wasn’t more edgy as he felt warm fingers brush over his neck before slipping back to gently hold the back of his head and bring it closer. He shivered once but couldn’t be sure if it was fear of being hurt or of not being as good as he wanted to be at this.

“It’s okay to be scared, Jay,” Jensen whispered, pausing when their lips were close but not touching. “I’ll keep it simple and light. If you don’t like it or if it freaks you out, tell me and I’ll stop. Okay?”

Jared nodded, not quite sure what he should do; he wanted to both close his eyes against what he thought would happen and keep them open to watch, something he’d never done unless drugged and ordered to watch.

Despite how things had been so far with Jensen, a piece of him still expected the kiss to be rough, hard, and heated, like every other one he’d ever experienced. He really expected Jensen to just find his mouth and ravish it, so when his friend finally did lower his mouth, it took the younger man totally off-guard to feel a soft, light butterfly kiss on the edge of his lips.

Jensen’s lips were full and soft as they teased and played over Jared’s mouth, offering light kisses to each corner of his mouth, above and below until he finally feathered a soft kiss over lips so full and sweet that the singer fought back a groan from what these teasing little kisses were doing to him.

This was not anything like Jared had experienced. He’d been expecting some pain. He’d been expecting fast and sloppy, not this gentle warmth of lips barely touching him. He also wasn’t expecting to feel a really strange feeling in his stomach. He really wished for more contact but was afraid to move.

“So sweet, baby boy,” Jensen murmured, not paying attention to the new nickname that slipped out, but he did notice the small smile on Jared’s face as he slowly relaxed a bit more and leaned closer. “Okay so far?”

He was confused and Jared swore his heart was beating too fast but not from fear. He didn’t feel the same sick dread or shame curling into him like he always had whenever he’d been made to kiss someone or use his mouth, and while he still figured he wouldn’t like other stuff, he found that he liked this. A lot. Nodding, he let his fingers curl more into Jensen’s shirt to try to maintain contact.

“Trust me a little more, Jay.” Jensen had given the soft kisses so he could gauge Jared’s response. He’d planned fully to stop at the first sign of tension or fear, but as he watched those hazel eyes grow slightly darker and wider before fluttering closed, he decided to take a huge risk and finally let himself give into the kiss.

Jensen didn’t deepen it or allow it to heat up as much as his body might have wanted, but it still affected him to hear the sigh that escaped from his friend as their lips finally touched fully, softly.

He kept his eyes on Jared’s face to watch for signs of distress or fear, but it remained calm, almost serene maybe even slightly surprised as it finally sank in that he was being kissed fully but not being hurt.

It took several seconds for Jared to realize this, to realize he was being kissed and that he was kissing back with what little skill he had and nothing bad was happening. He wasn’t ready to open his mouth but didn’t even feel the hint of Jensen’s tongue which was another surprise.

This kiss was just as gentle and slow as the first teasing ones had been, but with just a little more pressure that Jared soon felt himself leaning into and, to his continuing surprise, his mind wanted more.

Jensen didn’t hold the kiss for as long as he might have or wished for before he eased back to watch Jared, his breath held with a nervousness that he hadn’t felt since his very first kiss. “Jay?”

Jared’s lashes were shielding his eyes again and tears shined on them, but his smile was genuine when he finally looked up into worried green eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered, moving into the arms that welcomed him and returning the hug fully. “You didn’t…I mean…it wasn’t like…”

“Jared, while some things might be similar, nothing we ever do would ever be like that; I promise that when you feel comfortable enough to try more you can feel enjoyment from it.” Jensen felt the tears on his neck but understood how emotional that must have been for his friend. “Did you enjoy kissing me?”

“You kissed me,” Jared replied shyly, blinking when Jensen carefully ran the pad of his thumb over his bottom lip in a slower way than he had before.

“You kissed back too,” Jensen told him, seeing his eyes widen in surprise as he realized that he had. “I also think that I could get used to kissing you, but I won’t kiss you again unless you make the first move, okay?”

Nodding, Jared let himself be tucked against Jensen’s side on the sofa again, and as they settled into a comfortable silence, he made another choice. “Can…is it too late to call the man who wants to talk to me?” he asked, fingers playing with the hem of Jensen’s shirt.

“You…you want me to call Vince?” Jensen worried that it might be too much but sighed as Jared looked up with worry but determination showing on his face.

“You say I’m brave. I want to be brave, Jen. I want this to be over so I don’t have to be scared of him or that place again. Call him?” Jared asked but was quick to latch onto his wrist. “Will you stay with me while I talk to him?”

“You couldn’t pay me to leave your side, Jay,” Jensen replied thickly, texting the man regardless of the time because if Jared was willing to do this, they’d get it over with as soon as possible. “He’ll get back to me in a little bit. Can you tell me why you want to do this tonight?”

“Cause if I do it tonight, I can put it behind me and try to start fresh tomorrow; does that make any sense?” Jared understood his reason, but knew he didn’t have the words to express himself like his friend could.

Jensen nodded slowly. It did make sense to him and it also made him adore this young man with the shattered life so much more.

He was just about to say something when the cellphone rang and since he knew the lawyer would be calling back, he didn’t bother looking at his Caller ID and just answered it. “Yeah?”

“Hello Jensen. I believe you have something that belongs to me.”


Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Ten

“Hello Jensen. I believe you have something that belongs to me.” The smooth and oily voice of Anton Paul spoke from the cellphone with a low chuckle. “Don’t you think it’d be better to just return it?”

Jensen had to fight to not let his whole body go rigid at the sound of that voice, but he sensed Jared’s tension and suspected he’d already picked up the change, so he met his eyes and mouthed the words ‘I have this. Don’t be scared.’

Jared had sensed that whoever called wasn’t the lawyer, and it didn’t take him long, as Jensen eased away to stand up but didn’t move too far away from the sofa, to figure out who it was. As fear flooded his body, he began to shake; he might have bolted from the room, but a warm hand touched his shoulder and despite the rage he could see on Jensen’s face, his touch was still gentle.

“I don’t have anything of yours since Jared doesn’t belong to you.” Jensen worked to keep calm and not frighten his friend more than he already was, but the fact that this bastard had actually gotten his cellphone number both scared him and pissed him off. “How’d you even get this number, Paul?”

“You will address me as Pastor Anton.” The man enjoyed his power and before this ended, he would teach this upstart punk just what kind of power he had. “You’re not the only one who can buy information, and there are many ways to find a simple number. I still have many connections made through your late uncle.”

“I’ll address you as ‘dead man walking’ if you ever call me again, or if you even think of coming close to him,” Jensen gritted. He hated to sit back down because he didn’t even want the man’s voice close to Jared, but he heard the soft sob that Jared tried to hide before he began to curl up in the corner of the sofa to bury his face against the knees that he’d drawn up. “I’m pretty certain even calling here breaks that restraining order. Cut your losses; let Jared go, or I will ruin you.”

The New Age man’s smooth voice changed at that. “You punk! You think you can threaten me? You think you have some power to take away my beautiful prize? That boy was destined to be mine, and I will claim what is mine. You know that I would have had you if your damn junkie uncle hadn’t suddenly developed a fucking conscious and said no to me when I told him to bring you.” He laughed in a way that was not even close to sane. “Do you want to consider that if Nate hadn’t refused me, you might have met my sweet prize in a much different way?”

“Wh…what?” Jensen felt cold, sick, and furious at what he was hearing. He couldn't fully process what it meant because he only had the time to focus on the enraged cultist on the phone and the shaking boy beside him. “You had my uncle killed because he wouldn’t let you near me?”

Back then he’d been too young and also too self-absorbed to pay much attention to his family’s drama, but he did have one last memory of his uncle before his apparent overdose that had stuck with Jensen through the years. He recalled it because it had been so odd for Nathan Ackles to come into his room late at night, but this one night he had.

At first Jensen had thought his uncle was high or drunk, but he realized he wasn’t either as he just sat down to ramble about how his stupid mistakes and habits might cost him, but they wouldn’t cost Jensen. Then he’d given Jensen a disc and told him to keep it safe.

Two nights later his uncle was dead and while everyone knew Anton Paul had given him the tainted drugs, there was no way to prove it. Now it sickened him to think that his uncle might have been killed just for protecting him.

“Nate knew I didn’t take rejection well,” Paul replied simply, carrying on normally like he hadn’t just come very close to admitting to killing a man. “Are you enjoying my prize, Jensen?” he asked, a sneer in his voice. “Have you tasted him or touched him? Of course I’ll have to punish him severely for letting others have a taste of what is only mine and my family’s, but then punishing him was always the sweetest part since watching him strain and fight was almost as satisfying as when I finally had him under me and…”

“You sick, sociopathic bastard.” Jensen’s voice had dropped to a tone that Jared had never heard before and while he briefly knew it should scare him, it didn’t. It did worry him because he feared his friend was being set up to lose his temper, so he finally uncurled to reach over and tug on the arm closest to him.

There was no way to ignore the images those sneering, slick words caused to flash in his mind, and it took everything Jensen had to not lose it as he could easily picture Jared both as small frightened boy and as he was now enduring that horror. It made him want to reach through the phone and strangle the man with his bare hands, but a shaking hand pulling his arm reminded him that he couldn’t lose that much control; at least not yet.

“You will never touch Jared again, asshole,” he growled, more determined than ever to see the man put behind bars. “You would have to kill me before I would ever let you, your thugs, or even a goddamn cop take him. I’m not my uncle, and you’ll find that I’m a bit harder to get rid of.”

He hung up on the furious roar that followed, but before he let the phone drop to allow him to do what he wanted, he hit speed dial. “Get your ass back over here.”

“Uhh, running a bar here tonight,” Chris Kane responded over the noise in the background, but then something in the tone must have clicked. “What’s wrong?”

“The bastard called me. He called me on my cellphone, Chris.” Jensen knew that while his friend had rigged up the house lines to trace and record, he didn’t think it worked on the mobile line. “He came very close to admitting he had my uncle killed when he wouldn’t let him have me, and…”

Chris was already moving through his place, snapping silent orders to his staff as he headed for his office to grab his jacket and his weapon. “I’m on my way,” was all he said to that.

Jensen let the phone slip from his fingers, turning on the sofa to pull Jared back into his arms; this time he held on tighter because he felt like he needed this as much as the shaking young man did.

“He’s not taking you, Jay. He’s not. I’m not letting go, and I’m not letting him hurt you,” he promised as he let Jared settle in his arms; he wasn’t sure which one of them was shaking more.

“He’ll kill you, Jen,” Jared whispered, voice low and soft; his Texas drawl slightly heavier due to his fear. “He won’t stop and he’ll kill you if it means getting me. I don’t wan’ you hurt cause of me. I…”

Unlike the many times before when Jensen would interrupt him with a finger on his lips, this time it was a soft brush of lips that made him stop talking, his breath catching like it seemed it might be doing whenever Jensen kissed him.

“He may try but I’m not that easy to kill, kiddo,” Jensen assured him, letting his fingers brush back through long soft hair a few times until he felt Jared beginning to calm down. “I made you a promise, and I’ll see it through. Now, while we wait for Kane to get his ass here and to hear back from Vince, why don’t we pig out on junk food and watch really bad videos?”

Two weeks ago Jared would have been fighting back the panic at something like this, and while he was certainly on edge and worried, it seemed like Jensen’s calm voice and the soothing feel of his touch reassured him that perhaps he could be safe so slowly Jared nodded. He settled back as Jensen went to the kitchen and brought out a plate of cookies, some cheesecake bites, bottles of water, and really strong coffee for him since he wouldn’t go for beer until he could judge Jared’s reaction to the alcohol.

It wasn’t long before there was a knock on the door that had him tensing since by now Jared noticed that Chris never knocked; he always just let himself in. “Jen?”

“Stay here and finish off the cheesecake. I’ll go take a look.” Jensen rubbed his hand over a shaking arm to squeeze it lightly. “Jay, no one’s gonna come to my door.” He knew he sounded confident of that, but as Jensen stepped into the hall he opened the drawer of the table stand that was near it to see the pistol he’d reluctantly allowed Chris to teach him to use and had a permit for. “Who is it?” he called, voice clearly not happy.

“You called me to come up here at night, dragging the ADA out of a social gathering to come with me, and now you’re asking me who it is?” Vince Davis snorted from the other side of the door. “Jensen, I love you like a son, but I might slap you. Open the damn door!”

“I’m slightly paranoid right now since Paul just found my cellphone number and called me. I also don’t remember telling you to bring anyone else.” Jensen checked to be sure before he unlocked the door to open it, giving the lawyer a stern glare while shooting his eyes to the calm looking black haired woman with him. “Jared said he’d talk to you but another stranger, after the call, might be too much.”

Vince had thought of that, but he knew it would be called for soon, so he decided to just get it over with. “Abby would need to speak with him anyway if we stand a chance of doing anything long term with Paul, and this way he only has to tell what he wants one time,” he replied, stepping inside to pick up the tension. “He called you? Why? What he say?”

“That I had something that belonged to him, that it would be better for me to just give it back, and how my uncle died because he said no to him when Paul wanted me.” Jensen had been digging in a drawer to find what he thought he’d tossed in there at some point. “Then he went all sicko when he started to describe what he’d do to Jay for letting people touch ‘his prize’.” He couldn’t help the shiver that hit as he once again heard that voice. “Doesn’t that violate something in the restraining order?”

“It is an all-around no contact order, so yes, if he keeps harassing you we could probably use it.” Vince nodded and then frowned. “He said that about Nate?”

“He said if my uncle hadn’t developed a conscious that I might have met Jared under different circumstances.” Jensen held up the disc to shove it at the lawyer. “Uncle Nate gave me this before he died. I don’t know what’s on it but you take it. He told me to keep it in case I ever needed it. I’ve never actually looked at it; I just usually take it with me since it was his and he told me to keep it safe. Maybe there’s something on it you can use.”

Vince looked at the disc before showing it to the pleasant faced young woman and placing it in his case. “Maybe we’ll get a break on Paul after all. Can we see Jared?”

Jensen still wasn’t certain this was the best time, but as he heard Chris’s truck pull up he nodded, stepping back to see Jared’s small smile at the cheesecake bite and made a note to keep those in stock. “Jay? Vince is here…and he brought the Assistant District Attorney so she could hear what you tell him. They figured that way you won’t have to repeat your story. Is that okay or would you rather it just be him this time?”

Jared had looked up. He’d never seen either person, but he didn’t get any negative vibes from them even if he still couldn’t look at their faces very long. “Can…can you still stay with me?”

“Right by you every minute,” Jensen assured him while shooting both visitors a look that just invited them to try to tell him differently. “You tell them what you want. I’ll be with you while the snarling moron stalking in our door figures out how my private number got leaked to the bastard.”

“Yeah, I’ll break heads in the morning for that,” Chris muttered, tossing his jacket while looking curiously at the two lawyers before snatching the cellphone. “There is a damn good reason I tapped your cellphone too. I just didn’t think Paul would have the guts to call. I was thinking the gang punk would.”

“You do know wiretapping is illegal?” Abigail Lee, a 30-something looking woman who’d worked her way up in the DA’s office to get to her current position, asked curiously. The black-haired man smirked as he jerked his thumb toward Jensen.

“It’s not illegal if he gave me permission to do it, and, really, those two have too many people gunning for them for me not to take some precautions.” Chris headed for the kitchen so he’d be close in case Jensen or Jared needed him; he’d finally come to accept that he was just as much responsible for Jared as he was for Jensen now.

The kittens were wide awake and playing again except for the little one, Zoe, who’d climbed up to settle on Jared’s legs. Jared was careful not to jostle her too much as he moved closer to Jensen once he was back beside him.

“Jared, my name’s Vincent Davis. I’m an attorney employed by the Ackles’ family and now Jensen. I hope to be able to help you.” The older man pulled a chair closer to the sofa while Abby sat a little farther away so it wouldn’t feel like they were closing in on a boy who she understood might be leery of strangers.

Her office had a file two phonebooks thick on Anton Paul, but every time it looked like they were close enough to at least get cuffs on that slimy bastard, their witnesses either recanted or vanished. This looked like the firmest lead in a long time, but first she had to decide if this shaky, scarred boy, a boy who could barely look anyone in the eye, was fully capable of understanding what was happening.

“Mr. Ackles? Before we start, may I ask if…he’s aware of what exactly is going on?” Abby knew it came out a little cold even before something in the kitchen hit the table, and Chris stepped into the room again with a firm look of warning leveled at the singer. She swallowed nervously, but continued. “I understand from Vince as well as from several nuns at the shelter that he was found when he was about 12, but to keep him safe Sister Rose and Father Thomas kept him at the shelter. They didn’t want to risk him falling into the system and possibly back into Mr. Paul’s hands. It’s my understanding that he’s never even been to school. Before I can put him on a witness stand I need to know if…”

Jensen’s teeth had clenched, but it wasn’t Chris’s firm look from across the room, or Vince’s sharp inhale of breath that stopped him from snapping back or throwing this woman out of his home. It was the hand on his arm and the whisper in his ear that did it.

“Yeah, Jay, that’s what she wants to know.” He aimed a smirk at the ADA while slipping Jared’s hand into his fully. “She wants to know how smart you are to make sure you’ll understand when they ask you something. Now can I kick her out?”

“No, Jen. Everyone but you, Sister Rose, and Sister Martha thinks I’m stupid. She looks at me; she knows what she’d been told; so yeah, she probably thinks the same thing. I still kind of think I’m stupid too, except it makes you mad when I say that.” Jared’s voice was quiet; he was a little surprised to be the calm one right then. “I just started to read and recognize letters; it’s hard for me to put numbers in order; I still can’t even write my name; so I get that she’s worried that I’m dumb and useless.”

The ADA felt tears stinging her eyes as she listened to the young man’s soft voice. It was painfully obvious that he knew what the situation was and what everyone had been saying about him for years. It was also obvious that what she had previously heard about him was wrong.

“You are not dumb or useless, Jared,” Jensen returned firmly, finally turning his glare away from the ADA to soften his gaze when he looked into Jared’s eyes. “You are smart. You remember stuff you hear; you pick other stuff quickly, too. It’s just reading that sometimes throws you off. Stop saying you’re dumb. Do you still want to do this?”

Jared nodded after a moment of thought. “I…I don’t wanna talk about the real bad stuff though yet. That okay?”

“Son, you just tell us what you want for now,” Vince replied calmly and prayed Abby stayed quiet since he could tell Jensen was aching to jump down someone’s throat right about then. “I’m just here to help you stay out of that asshole’s clutches and maybe even get you back home with your real family.”

Only Chris and Jared noticed the way Jensen tensed at that, but the bar owner just shook his head while Jared eased closer, not caring what the lady might think of how close he was to Jensen. His friend might say he’s brave, but Jared knew he’d need Jensen beside him to get through this.

“I…I don’t have a lotta memories of when I was little. I mean before the badness came and the monsters,” he began slowly, keeping his head down so he wouldn’t have to look at anyone except the kitten on his lap and the hand that held his. “I told Jen tonight that I have some memory of a lady singing to me. There were always hugs and kisses, but not the kind that scare me. I remember my blanket and a small stuffed cat. I remember bits and pieces, maybe dreams, of fields of grass, water, but not like what’s outside Jen’s window, and it was…hot.”

“If the dates are right, and we think they are because of some things the detectives my firm hired and Kane’s own man turned up, then the boy was close to five when he was grabbed and probably 12 when he broke free.” Vince tapped a pen on his notebook and noticed Abby doing the same while Jensen’s focus was on Jared. “His descriptions all fit with what we discovered, but I’ll get into that more soon. Son, do you…”

“Jared,” Jensen finally cut in, lifting his eyes to meet the lawyer’s. “Call him by his name.”

“You’ll have to excuse Jensen.” Chris had moved closer in case he felt he had to act fast. “He hasn’t slept well so he’s cranky.”

Jensen resisted the urge to give the response he normally would since he didn’t want to teach Jared any rude gestures, especially not in front of two lawyers.

“No, he’s right. It’s rude to not address Jared by his name.” Abby smiled kindly from where she sat. “Jared, what can you tell us that you recall from the time Mr. Paul had you?”

Jared mostly kept calm as he related what he could to them. He hadn’t intended to reveal too much, especially not the really bad things, since he didn’t wanted to upset Jensen more than he seemed to already be, but once he started talking, it seemed to all come out.

It was difficult for him to explain how he ended up with Anton Paul’s people. All Jared could recall was being on a ride of some sort outside a store. He didn’t think the pretty lady had been there but he thought he could remember another kid, a girl, being with him. Then there were other voices and confusion and the next thing he remembered was crying for his…

“Momma,” he whispered tightly, fingers clutching Jensen’s as an arm slid around his shoulders to bring him closer. As if sensing he needed comfort, all the kittens started piling into his lap. “This lady, Michelle or Mistress as she wanted to be called at the farm, picked me up and got in a big van and…took me. I was crying and crying but…Father Anton…said they paid for me so I was theirs now.”

“Shh. He lied, baby, you know that now.” Jensen wasn’t even aware of what he said right then as he tried to keep his voice level; he didn’t want to let on how angry he was at the amount of terror Jared must have gone through. “They kidnapped you.”

Jensen had been five when he’d basically lost both of his parents and he remembered being scared even though he still had a grandmother who loved him. The thought of Jared being grabbed from loving parents, a family, and then being alone, tore at his heart almost as much as feeling his friend tremble against him.

Chris had gotten up to go get coffee for everyone and some orange juice for Jared. He had to admit, as he watched the kid take the glass with shaking hands, that if he had an opening he probably would shoot someone.

Jared sipped the juice but let Jensen place it aside as he began to speak of the bad things that had been done to him pretty much from the moment they’d gotten him to the farm with the apple trees. He told them how they’d driven for a long time, and how even while they drove, Pastor Anton and his wife had taken turns touching him. He had struggled for years to try to forget the bitter nightmares of being so small, so scared, and confused; of being made to suck the woman’s breast while the cult leader forced his fingers inside him.

While it was clear that there were details that the young man was omitting, he did tell of the extreme physical abuse. He explained how Paul and his inner guard had about ten kids ranging from seven to sixteen that they used for slave labor on the farm or for sexual abuse; even some that they seemed to just abuse in general.

He told of the old barn way out on the property that was used to keep the slaves out of the public eye. He spoke of the various forms of punishments such as beatings, starvation, and being locked in a box under the floor of the barn while tied, gagged, and hooded.

When Jared spoke of the abuse and horrors in general, when he told them of what he witnessed being done to others, his voice was low but steady, almost a monotone. When asked about what was done to him, however, he began to shake more, his already soft voice shifting to nearly a whisper.

He began to stutter badly, dropping letters in his words or even whole words completely, but it was when he tried to describe the act he hated the most that he started to shake so hard, Jensen thought he might shake himself apart. He was trying to explain why he hated the hood so much - because it had always been used to blind him even before he was tied and then sealed in some kind of heavy thing that had clung to him, so he was completely trapped and helpless, even when he’d been drugged, while they raped him

“When…when it…that…they’d use…my mouth and…I hate…to feel…” Jared’s breathing was rapid to the point that Jensen was scared he’d hyperventilate. “Said…once he marked me again that I’d…never leave the house and would be…” his voice broke and Jared’s eyes clamped shut as he suddenly strained against the arm holding him when he felt his stomach twist. “Gonna be…”

“Jay!” Jensen had let go but was on his feet the moment Jared bolted, seeing the pale skin and the terror in his eyes at the thought of being sick. “I have this!” he snapped before anyone else could move.

It had sickened Jensen to sit beside his friend, helpless to do anything but hold and support him, as he spoke of just some of the torments he’d suffered and also seen; he knew that while what Jared said had been bad, there were even worse things left unsaid.

He hadn’t been surprised when Jared had finally cracked and the emotions made him sick. He just prayed reliving it hadn’t pushed him back into his shell as he hurriedly followed the younger man into the hall. He paused for just a moment to try and calm his own nerves, to push the raw emotions back inside, so he would be better able to help his friend before kneeling down where Jared had dropped to his knees.

Jared had gotten confused and upset, and suddenly his stomach had started to churn and he couldn’t hold in the sour feelings anymore. Now he was struggling to breathe, throw up, and apologize to Jensen, who he knew was with him, about the mess, but he nearly fell forward as strong pains in his stomach made him cramp.

“Shhh, it’s okay, Jay. It’s not a big deal, just let it out.” Jensen slowly eased his arm around Jared’s heaving chest to support him, as what had been in his stomach came up. He kept pushing damp hair out of the younger man’s face and whispered soothing words into his ear. He turned to snarl when he heard a step in the hall only to see a wet cloth being held out by a silent Chris. “Thanks.” He nodded to his friend, silently asking him to please go back and keep the lawyers busy while he took care of Jared.

Wiping the cold wet cloth over Jared’s tear streaked, sweaty face, Jensen waited until the retching had settled into dry heaves before trying to ease him back closer to him when he sat with his back against the wall. He closed his eyes and tried to settle his frazzled nerves with a nearly silent, shaking Jared leaning back against his chest.

Jared hated the feelings that reliving those memories had brought back, and he was struggling against the urge to curl up into a ball to protect himself. He hated being sick, and he was terrified of being in trouble for throwing up in the hall, but slowly as his breathing began to settle and the sound of his own heartbeat receded from his ear, he heard the quiet, deep, soothing voice close to his ear as Jensen sang to him.

Jensen’s voice always calmed him down, and right now, it reminded him that he wasn’t that scared 12-year-old boy anymore and while he had plenty of reasons to be scared still, he was safe.

The emotional drain as well as being sick had weakened him, so it took several minutes until Jared could make his body shift a little and look at the other man. He opened his mouth to try to apologize again only to see Jensen shake his head slightly.

“Don’t,” he murmured and then offered a soft smile to show that he wasn’t angry. “Don’t apologize for getting sick, Jared. It’s a natural response, and I should have been expecting it but I wasn’t.”

Sliding his eyes to the mess on the floor, Jared winced and went to move, only to be eased back into the warm and strong arms of his friend. “I’ll…clean…”

“No, you won’t.” Jensen was firm on that, letting his fingers begin a soothing pattern as they carded back through Jared’s dark hair; he slowly felt the leftover shaking start to ease off. “We’re going to get you upstairs into a nice warm bath so you can wash the bad feelings away. And while you’re doing that, I’m going to kick these people out of here.”

A bath sounded good to Jared since he felt soiled, inside and out, right then, but he frowned. “Did…I tell them enough?” he asked, voice a little ragged from throwing up and coughing so much. “Will it be what they wanted or do I have to tell them…”

“You’ve told them enough, Jay. You don’t have to tell them anymore of the bad stuff.” Jensen would have stopped it before it went any farther anyway because he knew this was too much to ask of Jared so soon. “You did really good. You did better than I ever could’ve done, and I’m proud of you.”

Being told that Jensen was proud of him never failed to make Jared’s heart beat faster and warm him. It also never failed to make him blush a little. “Will you stay with me tonight, Jen?” He knew he didn't want to be alone tonight, not after speaking of his painful past, but it still was hard asking.

“I was already planning to stay with you, Jay,” Jensen replied as he helped Jared to his feet, steadying him as he swayed a little too much before letting his hands settle on his face. “I wouldn’t have left you alone after this. I wouldn’t leave you alone now except I really want to clear them out.”

Jared accepted the support as they went upstairs, leaning against the cool marble wall as Jensen ran the water for the bath. “I…hate them,” he whispered suddenly, lashes covering his eyes but he knew when his friend glanced back at him that Jensen understood who he meant.

“So do I, Jay. So do I,” Jensen replied, checking that the water was hot, but not too hot, as he poured some bubbles in it and made sure the little rubber duck and boat were within reach. He knew Jared would never ask for them but would play if they were there and he was alone. “Can you handle the rest?”

While Jared was becoming more used to things, he still got uneasy about undressing or dressing in front of Jensen, so unless Jared needed the help, he normally made himself busy elsewhere. Tonight though, he waited until Jared nodded that he would be okay alone to step out of the bathroom. As he passed by, Jensen paused to lay his hand on a still shaking shoulder to squeeze it, leaning up to give a gentle kiss to the corner of Jared’s mouth; he was glad to see him smile shyly.

“Take your time and I’ll be back up soon.” Jensen left the door open a crack as he headed back downstairs. Only when he was halfway down the steps, did he let his hands start to shake as he allowed the picture of what Jared had lived through to settle into his mind.

He’d known it would be bad, but what bothered Jensen the most was thinking that as bad as the stories had been, there were even worse things that Jared hadn’t said. It left him in awe at the courage and inner strength the boy had because he not only escaped that hell, but he escaped with his sanity intact.

“That kid’s something else.” Chris spoke from the hall where he was cleaning up the vomit with a mop and bucket while eyeing Jensen. “I know people who’ve cracked from less than what he’s endured and he’s still fighting. He’s brave.”

“He’s brave, smart, and beautiful,” Jensen replied and then took a shaky breath before he stepped back into his living to see both lawyers look up. “Well?”

Vince had known Jensen since he was little, so he knew the challenging tone well. He also could see that the strain of keeping calm was wearing thin. “Where’s Jared?” he asked carefully though not surprised that the younger man didn’t make a reappearance. “Abby had a couple more questions.”

“Jared’s taking a bath and is done for the night.” Jensen shot the ADA a look. “He’s never talked about his time there or what those sadists did to him. He’s scared to death of having to go back. But he’s not talking anymore tonight.”

“The DA’s office has reopened several cold cases that involved Mr. Paul as a suspect, and I think with what I’ve heard, there should be enough to get my boss to approve the resources for a new full investigation but…” Abby paused to eye the singer closely. “…it won’t be easy on Jared. Witnesses tend to vanish or recant before we come close to proving anything, but I think with Jared’s testimony, we’ll have enough ammunition to get a full out search warrant for that whole damn farm this time. We might have to put him into protective custody while this happens.”

“He’s safe with me.” Jensen didn’t trust anyone enough to let Jared go with strangers. “He won’t go with you, and he’d bolt if he was left with strangers,” he told her simply. “He’s still getting used to trusting me. He’s taken a lot of first steps in the past several days, so you worry about your case and let me worry about keeping him safe.” He jerked his head at Chris who was finishing up in the hall. “Besides, I sort of have my own protective custody detail on call.”

Abby had guessed that this would be Jensen’s reaction, so she’d put it in her report that it might be best to leave Jared where he was for the time being. Especially since she knew there would be harder battles to fight, like the one she was about to bring up. “More than likely it’s going to be suggested that he speak to a mental health professional just to…Jensen, Paul’s attorneys will be vicious and will work very hard to make that boy seem unreliable and mentally challenged,” she told him seriously, seeing a flare of anger a second before a low cough from the hall reined it in. “Are most rock and roll singers this possessive?”

“No, but then I’m not most people,” Jensen returned tightly, flexing his fingers to keep from clenching them. He understood the woman’s point and knew what Anton Paul would try to do, but it still made him furious that Jared would have to go through even more crap. “Everyone thinks just because he doesn’t know his last name or where he’s from that he’s stupid or damaged. He was five freakin’ years old when those animals kidnapped him!”

“Padalecki,” Vince spoke up at that, pulling a file out of his briefcase.

Jensen turned from glaring at the ADA to blink. “What?” He stared at the file and then the man. “You…you found his family?”

“It took a lot of combing through missing children reports from nearly two decades ago when the resources weren’t as good as they are today, but my firm’s detectives, who have been working with a friend of Kane’s, thought they had a pretty solid lead, so they went to a little place outside of Odessa to check it out.” Vince laid out the file and held up a faded photo. “Jared Tristan Padalecki was kidnapped outside a grocery store in Odessa, Texas when he was five years old after his mother went to return the buggy to the store. She left him playing on one of those coin operated rides while his ten-year-old sister watched him.”

“Oh my God.” Jensen sat down to look at the missing child report from the local sheriff’s office in Odessa and saw what had then been a recent photo of a happy, smiling little boy with floppy brown hair and huge bright hazel eyes waving at whoever was taking the picture while a pretty woman held him.

A single look told him why Paul and his wife had singled Jared out. He was gorgeous now, but even as a toddler he’d been stunning and innocent. A perfect target for the pedophile.

“Have they…does he still have family there?” he asked shakily, a little afraid of the answer but reminding himself that he was helping Jared. He couldn’t just selfishly keep him if there were people out there still looking for their lost son.

“He has parents, an older sister, two older brothers, and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins,” Vince replied, pausing before he added, “The detective has spoken to Jared’s parents. They’ve explained about his kidnapping, and the possible abuse. They wanted to see if the family was interested in seeing him again after so long.”

Closing the file but keeping the photo with him, Jensen took a shaky breath. “And?” He looked up, both hoping for and against having to expose Jared to possibly more heartache.

“They wanted to fly out here immediately, but my people have told them to wait a little longer, to give Jared more time to adjust. I do have their number if you want to call them and speak to them.” Vince left the file but knew it was time to leave Jensen and Jared alone. “I haven’t given anyone your number, but I have spoken at length to both Kathy and Mike, his parents, and I’ve explained a bit more about Jared’s situation than the investigators did. I can tell them even more if you like so we can see how much they’re willing to accept considering he’s got a long road of healing ahead of him.”

“I don’t think telling them that some sick sadistic bastard raped and tortured their son until he was 12; that he escaped to live in a shelter but spent a lot of time on the streets; that he continued to be abused both mentally and physically; that he’s more than likely gay; and that the bastard who kidnapped him is still after him, is going to come across very well over the phone,, do you?” Jensen wanted the family to know the scope of the situation, but didn’t think it was wise to hit them with it all at once.

He wanted these people to understand that while Jared had lived through hell and would always carry the scars on the inside and outside, he was still a loving and wonderful young man. Jensen just wondered what would shock them more, the abuse or the fact that he might be gay. After all, the family was from Texas.

Of course he suspected that Jared’s family might just believe that his inclinations were a latent result of the abuse and could be fixed with time and therapy, and if he was honest, it was that belief that scared Jensen now. He didn’t want Jared to think how he felt was wrong or bad. But it wasn’t his choice. He had to think of what was best for Jared over his own wants.

“Tell them what you will, but make sure they understand how fragile he is. I don’t want him hurt, Vince. I don’t want him to think that he’s bad or wrong because of what that asshole did. I’m just starting to get that thought out of his head in the first place.” Jensen rubbed his neck where the strain was starting to settle. “You can…give them my number, but make sure they know I’m going to talk to them first.”

Vince could see Abby rolling her eyes over Jensen’s shoulder while Chris merely shook his head. “I’ll speak to them tomorrow, and I’ll tell them what I can. I’m also going to see about getting an unmarked cop car to patrol around here, and I’ll double check to make sure calling or harassing you or Jared is against the terms of the restraining order.” He held the door for the ADA before watching Jensen for a moment longer. “Your grandmother’s badgering me to tell her how you are since you don’t call her as often as she wants, and she doesn’t want to bother you. I guess I can tell her you’re good.”

“I’m stressed, worried about him but…” Jensen realized that he also didn’t want to be anywhere else. “Yeah, tell her I’m good and that I’ll call her soon.” He shook the lawyer’s hand. “You’ll check that disc?”

“Yes, I’ll see what’s on it tomorrow.” Vince nodded to Chris before he left to join Abby in the car, calling back, “Call me if you or he needs anything else and I’ll be in touch.”

Jensen nodded, glancing at his friend. “The cell?” He nodded to the phone as it was handed back.

“The asshole might have outsmarted himself since I did have a bug on the cell to record any incoming or outgoing calls.” Chris recognized the pained look he got but shrugged it off. “After this is over you can get a new phone, but right now I’m bugging all your lines, landline or mobile, and while it might not be able to be used in court, it sure won’t hurt to have everything taped,” he told him, considering before asking, “You want me to stay the rest of the night?”

“No, I still don’t think he’d be stupid enough to show up on my door.” Jensen knew that while Jared was becoming more accepting of Chris, he still felt uneasy with him in the house for long periods. That night he just wanted to get Jared to sleep and pray for peaceful dreams even though he doubted if either of them would have those.

Once he locked the door and reset all the alarms, Jensen took care of the kittens who he knew would probably follow him up to Jared’s room after a little more time spent playing, eating, and tearing about the living room.

He grabbed a couple bottles of water to take up with him, shut off the lights, and stepped into the bedroom to see that Jared had finished his bath, dried off, and dressed in a pair of loose sweatpants and t-shirt before curling up on top of the comforter.

Placing the water beside the bed, Jensen stood still and just watched the handsome boyish face as Jared slept. He noticed the movement under his lids, which seemed to indicate that this would not be a good night, and honestly, he knew that already.

Jensen stepped into the bathroom to see that Jared had already drained the tub, wiped it out, placed the two toys on the shelf behind the tub, and placed all the towels and washrag on the bar to dry. He noticed the dirty clothes had been placed in the basket with the others and it still made Jensen ache that nearly everything Jared did was done with such careful precision, as if he was still afraid of making a mistake and being punished.

He debated on waking Jared long enough to get him under the comforter or just getting another one from the linen closet to cover him when Jared whimpered suddenly; Jensen moved quickly to kneel down beside the bed.

“It’s okay, Jay,” he soothed, catching the hand that reached out blindly and holding it tightly while carding his fingers back through still damp hair. “I’m with you and you’re not alone.”

Jared’s eyes blinked rapidly before opening on a gasp of fear as his nightmare chased him, but he stopped when he found himself staring into deep green eyes. “Jen.”

“I’m here,” Jensen assured him, a little relieved that Jared was able to come out of the nightmare by himself and that he knew who was with him and where he was, unlike the night before. “You’re safe, Jared.”

“Hmmm,” Jared yawned, eyes still sleepy and unfocused as he tightened his fingers on Jensen’s hand. “Dreamed.”

Jensen chuckled at the adorable sleepy face, brushing hair out of it so he could see Jared fully. “I figured that, but you know that while they’re scary, those dreams can’t hurt you anymore than he can.”

“Yah, but…dreamed of you.” Jared’s voice dropped a little more, blinking again as he tried to wake up more. “Dreamed…you were hurt and left me.”

“Hey, I’m fine and I’m not leaving you.” Jensen considered telling Jared about his family but wanted to do that when he was awake more and not just coming out of a bad dream. “You awake enough to get under the covers?”

Jared looked and nodded as he realized he’d fallen asleep without meaning to. “I was trying to wait for you, but I guess I fell asleep.” He ducked his head a little as he went to stand up after Jensen moved back only to stumble a little as his legs seemed shaky again.

“You’ve had a long day so I’m really surprised that you didn’t fall asleep sooner.” Jensen caught him, working to keep Jared upright while pulling the covers down and getting his friend under them. “I brought up some water in case you’re thirsty.”

He was really. He’d brushed his teeth, but his mouth still had a weird after taste from being sick, so Jared sipped some water while watching Jensen move around the bedroom, not missing the tension. “Jen? Am I in trouble?”

“What?” Jensen pulled the curtains after checking the lock on the window, turning on his heel at that. “Why would you be in trouble?”

“Cause I couldn’t tell them everything, and I got sick in the hall?” Jared’s fingers moved nervously over the blanket.

“Jay, I would’ve stopped you before you went much further anyway because I knew it would be too much to relive all at once. I told you that you only had to say what you wanted.” Jensen sat down on the other side of the bed, smiling as Jared shifted closer. “The hall was no big deal. Chris had it cleaned by the time I got back downstairs, but there is something I should probably tell you.” he wanted to wait, or avoid it all together, but if Jared wanted a fresh start in the morning then he supposed he might as well do this one thing so the boy could sleep on the information. “Here.”

Jared was nervous because he sensed how reluctant his friend seemed to be about whatever this was, but he took the photo and frowned. “Who is this?” He cocked his head as he stared at the smiling baby with eyes that looked a lot like…

“You.” Jensen touched the photo and then touched Jared’s face. “Jared Tristan Padalecki.” He’d practiced saying the last name so he didn’t butcher it too badly in case anyone called and he had to use it. “And that’s your Mom.”

Jared’s breath caught in his throat as he swallowed, his hand starting to shake until Jensen eased him closer to slip an arm around him. “How…where?”

“Both Chris and Vince had people looking to see if there’d been reports of missing kids from around that time, and after a lot of looking, this report seemed to fit. They went to Texas, apparently you do have a Texas accent, and spoke to your folks.” Jensen hoped this wasn’t too much information as Jared shook against him. “When Paul told you that he paid your folks for you, he lied. Your memory was right. They took you. Your Mom and Dad, your sister and brothers, they have all been looking for you ever since you disappeared.”

“Do they…I mean…do they know…what…” Jared had never allowed himself to think that he still had family. Of course he wasn’t really certain what family meant since he’d been told that the people at the farm had been his family. Now he was actually kind of scared of what being part of a family might involve.

“Vince says they know some of what happened. He’ll tell them a bit more to get a feel for things but…he also said your parents wanted to fly here as soon as they learned you were alive.” Jensen felt the boy curl more into him and knew it might take Jared some time before he’d accept that. “It’s your choice remember? You can choose when, or even if, you want to meet them.”

There were times when Jared wasn’t sure he liked making his own decisions. There were too many to make and he was scared of making the wrong ones and hurting himself, or worse…hurting Jensen.

“If I did…would you be there too?” He knew that he might be relying on Jensen too much, but right then Jared also knew his friend was the only thing allowing him to get through all this. “What if…they don’t like me?”

“Yes, I would be with you, and of course they’ll like you, Jay.” Jensen smiled, curling a finger under a lowered chin to lift it back up. “They will adore you and love you because you’re still their son.”

Jared stared at him and Jensen understood his fears. “I’ll make certain they understand, Jay. None of this was your fault, and they won’t blame you for what was done,” he assured him. “Now, are you still sleepy?”

That answer was obvious by the heavy lids and fast blinking; Jared was trying to fight sleep like a child might, but he was relaxed enough again to allow Jensen to ease him down to the pillows. It was several minutes before Jared realized he was lying with his head on his friend’s chest, the strong beat of Jensen’s heart under his ear was calm and soothing much like his voice was.

“Is this alright, Jay?” Jensen had waited to see if Jared would tense, but only felt him relax fully as he listened to his heart.

It never even occurred to Jared that he should be scared. If anyone else but Jensen was with him or tried this then he would be, but he trusted his friend. He also felt safe in his arms so he let his eyes close while nodding. “I’m glad you came home, Jen,” he murmured, smiling when he felt warm lips press against the top of his head.

“So am I, Jay,” Jensen replied, and he knew that no matter what decisions he made in the coming months, this was one he’d never regret.

The next few days seemed to pass quickly; each day Jared learned a bit more or was willing to try something new, including another try at dill pickles and while he still made faces, he did admit he might get used to them but he liked green olives better.

Vince and the ADA had been in touch to say that the office was reopening a much stronger case against Anton Paul, his farm, and church, so to watch out for any fallout from that. An unmarked cop car, Jensen had smirked at it, patrolled along with the usual cruiser, and Chris had a few ‘friends’ keeping an eye on things from time to time while he worked on getting Jensen to let him upgrade security.

Jensen still wouldn’t take Jared near the shelter, but he kept in touch with Sister Rose by phone to see how the remodeling was going and had only winced a few times at her complaining that he was doing too much. He let her speak to Jared which pleased both of them since he suspected Rose still felt bad about failing to protect Jared that night, but Jared was quick to reassure her that he still adored her and they’d come when it was safe.

They’d moved on from pool balls to paper, and Jared began to trace letters in the letter tablet. He surprised Jensen one night while they’d been watching TV by handing him a piece of lined paper with some shakily written letters on it, but it had thrilled Jensen because it was the first time Jared had tried writing the alphabet on his own, and he had done really well.

Jared was a quick learner and took corrections well, but even Jensen could recall mixing up the couple letters that Jared had gotten backwards.

That was also the night that Jared had chosen to take another step, and it had nearly made Jensen swallow his tongue when Jared pulled back from kissing to hesitantly, almost shyly, pull his shirt off.

Except for in the clinic, it was the first time Jared had taken his shirt off in front of Jensen. His nerves had shown by the way he chewed his bottom lip and only met Jensen’s eyes when Jensen asked him to.

Jensen had seen the scars in the hospital. Only now he could see that some were deeper than others and some were smooth while a few were jagged. There were also tiny burns along Jared’s stomach and back that looked to have been made with a small ring, but he didn’t ask the cause of any of them.

Instead he held Jared’s eyes the first time he pressed a soft kiss to a scar on his shoulder, and when it became plain that he wasn’t going to make fun of the scars or hurt him, Jared gave a nod to his unspoken request to touch them again. They spent the rest of the time before bed with Jensen giving each scar his undivided attention until he finally had to pull back so he didn’t go too far.

Jared was pretty receptive to touch and attention despite never having any that wasn’t bad or painful, and Jensen was careful to move slowly, as he explained each step and answered whatever questions Jared might ask as honestly as he could. He absolutely adored each blush along the way. He knew that Jared was a quick learner, so it shouldn’t have surprised him when the next night he asked to see Jensen’s scar from the knife wound. He’d caught a glimpse of it one night when Jensen changed shirts after the idea of giving the kittens a bath hadn’t turned out so well…for Jensen.

Jensen took off the shirt and swore to himself to watch what he showed Jared after that. He knew what Jared’s mouth was like because they had kissed quite a bit by then, but he wondered if his friend had any idea what he did to him when he offered little butterfly kisses to that scar. Jensen tried his best to fight his body’s responses, but Jared must have sensed his response and asked if Jensen wanted him to take care of that.

It was the hardest thing Jensen had ever done when he’d settled Jared back in his arms and just held him while he worked on settling himself down. He explained when Jared got upset, thinking he’d done something wrong, that being aroused was a natural thing, but that he didn’t want anything like that happening between them until Jared was more relaxed and understood more. He made certain Jared knew that they were working up to that slowly.

Of course Jensen also explained that it was okay for Jared to touch himself when in private, when needed, to ease the pressure. Jared had blushed furiously at that, and Jensen longed for the day when he could show the frightened young man that having sex could be pleasurable and nothing to be ashamed of.

That afternoon they were in the kitchen while the kittens played in the little fenced in area Jensen had built for them in the backyard just outside the kitchen door. He’d cut oranges in half and showed Jared how to use the juicer while he prepared lunch and actually put meat in a slow cooker for dinner. Jensen was tired of take-out and wanted to feed Jared real food.

He was laughing at Jared who kept eating bits of pulp while he juiced, so when the phone rang Jensen didn’t bother looking at the caller ID. He was expecting Chris to call, or maybe his manager since he’d recently sent her a letter explaining his plans to not resign with the label, but when he answered the phone, it was neither of them. “Yeah?”

“Umm, Jensen Ackles?” The hesitant male voice on the other end was deep with a definite Texas accent, and it instantly put Jensen on guard as he finished cutting Jared’s sandwich.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Jensen replied smoothly, running his hand over Jared’s shoulder while nudging the plate with the sandwich, chips, a pickle spear, and a few squares of cheesecake bites closer to him. He debated on taking the call in his office to avoid upsetting his friend once it became plain who he was talking to.

The man on the other end sounded uneasy when he spoke again. “My name’s Mike Padalecki and Mr. Davis gave me your number. He said I’d have to talk to you……about my son.”

“Uh-huh,” Jensen replied simply, watching as Jared grinned at the ham, cheese and salami sandwich. “You do.”

Mike seemed to hesitate before he chuckled a little. “Jared’s close by, isn’t he?” he asked as if finally understanding the short answers. “You’re trying to keep him from being upset aren’t you, son?”

“Yeah,” Jensen sighed then, realizing there was no way not to let Jared know who he was talking to since he’d sworn to never keep anything from his friend. “If you’ve talked to Vince then you’ll know why that is…Mr. Padalecki.”

Jared’s eyes lifted from giving the pickle spear a wary glance at the sound of the last name. He was slowly coming to accept that it was his last name even though he’d flat out said there was no way he’d ever be able to spell that one. He frowned a bit before pointing to the phone as if asking who it was, but leaned into the touch of Jensen’s hand when he placed it on his shoulder.

“Mr. Davis was kind enough to come down to speak with Kathy and me personally. He told us some things, hedged around some other things, but I’m not stupid by any means, so I can probably guess at the things he didn’t come right out to say about Jared…is that…I mean, does he know that’s his name?” Mike feared that bastard who’d stolen his son might have taken it all away from his boy, including his name, but he relaxed a little once Jensen spoke again.

“Yes, Jared knows what his first name is. It was the rest of it that he didn’t remember.” Jensen stayed still realizing that so long as he did, Jared kept eating, even though his eyes kept moving from the food to the phone curiously. “All he had was this blanket with his initials on it.”

A sound from behind the man told Jensen that his voice must be on a speaker, and he guessed that the sound had come from Jared’s mother.

“His Momma made that blanket for him. I’m glad to know the bastards let him keep that at least.” Mike sighed and Jensen heard a muffled sharp voice from further back, but he couldn’t make it out; then the man spoke again, but not to him. “I’m sorry if my opinion of the kidnapping bastard that stole my son offends you, Aunt Clara but if I could ever get my hands on them, I’d probably rip them apart with my bare hands for hurting my boy.”

That caused a small knot in Jensen’s stomach to loosen. The man sounded sincere and like he cared for Jared, but he didn’t feel so sure about this Aunt Clara person.

“I apologize for my aunt, Mr. Ackles. She’s on the far side of strict religious bible carrying Sunday school old fashioned, so she and my wife and I don’t always agree on things,” Mike replied when he came back on the line; it sounded as if he’d gone to a different room. “Mr. Davis said you’ve helped Jared out quite a bit, and that you’re still helping to keep him safe.”

Jensen wasn’t sure how to answer that since he didn’t know what the hell Vince had actually told the couple about Jared and him. He was about to try to brush that off and get a better feel for exactly what the man wanted to know, but then he whirled as Jared began to cough. “Jay? Jay, what’s…” He grabbed a glass of water while carefully hitting Jared on the back. “Uhh, give me a second here, Mr. Padalecki.”

Mike blinked on the line back in his den in Texas as he listened to the sounds of Jensen frantically telling Jared, his son, to calm down and try to breathe. That he was fine and had just choked a little on…Mike chuckled when he heard Jensen groan a little.

“Jay, you barely like pickles; why on earth would you put one on top of your cheesecake, dude?” Jensen knelt down to rub gentle circles over Jared’s back as he finished coughing from that experiment, forgetting the phone for a moment as he wiped the tears from Jared’s cheeks. “Don’t give me that look. I didn’t tell you to experiment with a pickle on top of your dessert.”

“No more pickles,” Jared gasped, gulping water while making faces at the evil sour thing. “Nope, never again.”

“Okay, I’ll eat the pickles, and you can stick with olives…but not on top of cheesecake,” Jensen told him, leaning down to brush his lips over Jared’s to make him smile. “Finish the sandwich and chips, baby boy.”

Mike was smiling and wiping away a little tear in his own eye as he listened to this exchange; he wondered if Jensen knew how much of his feelings he gave away just by the tone of his voice.

“What’s going on?” Kathy Padalecki had come into the den to sit on the arm of Mike’s chair and notice the sad smile on his face. “Is…is Jared…”

“Your son just tried to eat a pickle on top of cheesecake and didn’t like it,” Mike told her, reaching for her hand. “I also think I understand now some of Mr. Davis’s warnings about Mr. Ackles being protective of our little boy. Listen to them.”

“Shh, just swish some water around your mouth and spit it out, Jay. I swear the taste will go away; no, don’t drink the orange juice on top of it; it’ll just make the taste worse; here…” Jensen then remembered he’d laid the phone down, swearing under his breath as he grabbed it back up. “Umm, sorry about the long delay, Mr. Padalecki,” he coughed and hoped the man hadn’t heard too much of that conversion.

“No, I understand a stranger calling out of the blue might have interrupted lunch or dinner, and I’m sorry about that but…while I told Mr. Davis that we wouldn’t fly out yet, I hope you understand that I wanted to touch base with you and just ask how…” Mike paused to take a breath. “It’s been 17 years, Mr. Ackles, so I know he probably doesn’t remember too much about his family and that he’ll be scared of us…but do you think sometime that he might at least talk to his Momma?”

Jensen looked to see that Jared had finally stopped spitting into the sink and had tossed the offending pickle down the garbage disposal. The boy turned and cocked his head when Jensen tapped the phone while pointing to Jared and mouthing the words ‘talk to them?’ He raised his eyebrows and he looked at Jared.

Jared stiffened for a moment. He and Jensen had discussed this already. Jared was scared of any contact with strangers, but Jensen had told him his parents had never given up looking for him and desperately wanted to see him. He was leery about meeting them in person, especially considering his scars, but he hadn’t considered talking on the phone. The phone seemed sort of safe as long as Jensen put it so that he could hear it too.

“Jared’s thinking about it, Mr. Padalecki,” Jensen replied calmly, giving his friend time. “He’s a little worried since he just started talking a few weeks ago. You probably know that he was told by those people that he’d been paid for so…uh, okay,” He’d pulled the phone away from his ear to avoid the interesting curses used at that bit of information. “Of course, he’s also extremely skittish. Loud voices and any hint of anger, at anybody, scare him, so that tone’s got to go, sir.”

“Michael Padalecki, you stop that language this instant before you scare both those boys!” Kathy scolded, taking the phone to apologize for her husband. “Jensen? Is it alright if I call you by your first name? You have to forgive Mike. He was stationed overseas when that awful day happened, and it’s torn him up not to be able to find Jared all these years. It’s been ever harder after all that Mr. Davis said, and what he didn’t say, about the things that happened to Jared. I’m trying to prepare myself for someone who’s not my little baby anymore; he was just so tiny back then.”

That made Jensen smile as he eyed Jared’s 6’4” tall and lean body. “No, he’s not tiny anymore, ma’am,” he agreed, feeling Jared’s hand slip into his as he stepped closer; he could see he was wavering. “He doesn’t have a lot of memories, but he remembers hearing a lullaby about a cat.”

“Oh, he loved cats and kittens as a baby.” Kathy smiled while seeing that her husband had calmed down again, but she wasn’t giving the phone back as she put it back on speaker. “Does he still?”

“If I go by the eight kittens he rescued, then yes, ma’am.” Jensen smiled at the woman’s soft voice, holding the phone a little away from his ear so Jared could hear. “He loves these kittens, and I think you’ll be proud of the young man he’s grown into even with all the setbacks he’d faced.”

“Sugar, he’s my baby, so no matter what he’s faced or what’s been done to him, his Daddy and I will love him and be proud of him for just surviving that ordeal,” Kathy replied, tears in her voice.

Jensen raised an eyebrow in question and waited until Jared closed his eyes for a second as if praying before reaching a shaky hand up to take the phone, clinging to Jensen with his other.

Jared listened to the soft melodic voice with an accent much like his own and let himself recall hearing it without all the sadness singing to him or talking to him, and his heart knew who the woman was.

In Texas, Kathy must have sensed that something had changed because she just kept chatting, but her hand was clutching Mike’s when another voice, this one much softer and unsure, spoke and she nearly wept.


“Oh, my baby,” she whispered, fighting back tears as she heard the voice of her son for the first time in 17 years. “Jared, sweetie, you have no idea how good it is to hear you call me that.”

Jensen nudged his friend into the living room to sit on the sofa, his arm around him, while Jared gave little answers to what Jensen guessed were simple questions, and he hoped neither of his parents began asking too much from him too soon or he’d shut down.

Jared was tense and unsure about what to say to a couple that he only had fleeting memories of, but he did try, resting his other hand over Jensen’s chest, glad he was with him for this.

“No, I’m safe now, Momma” He smiled as he looked up at Jensen. “Jensen helped me and saved me. He’s teaching me to read and write, and he’s helping so I’m safe from them. Ummm, don’ know.”

The moment Jared started to mumble, Jensen held out his hand for the phone. Jared told his mother to talk to Jensen before handing it back while shaking his head, burying his face against Jensen’s chest.

“Mrs. Padalecki?” Jensen wasn’t sure what caused the change, but he did have a suspicion. “Jared’s seems a little unsure of some things right now. Is everything okay?”

“I asked him if he thought it would be alright if Mike and I came to see him soon…I think it scared him,” Kathy explained. “It’s been so long and I just…I just want to see him for myself and hold him.”

Jensen thought that might be it and while he could sympathize with the parents, he also understood Jared and his fears. “Vince should’ve explained that touch isn’t something Jay…Jared’s completely comfortable with yet. He’s still adjusting to someone touching him but not hurting him, ma’am,” He tried to soften what the woman might have felt was her son’s rejection. “Also, he might be scared that you’d reject him because of some…scars.” He let his fingers brush over those as he spoke and was glad not to feel tears on his friend’s cheeks.

“Mr. Davis did explain, but Kathy gets a little anxious,” Mike explained, noticing the slip in name again and seeing his wife’s smile. “We won’t push, son. It’s enough for now to be able to speak with our boy on the phone and to know he’s with someone who cares enough to take care of him. My daughter googled you, so we know you’re a singer; this must be taking time away from your career.”

“No, sir. It’s not.” Jensen’s tone got just a little frostier but he stayed friendly as the front door opened to allow Chris to enter. “I was taking a break when Jared and I met, so he’s not taking me away from anything. He’s helped me out a lot too, and I’m only too glad to be able to help him; seeing him smile is still the best thanks I could get out of this.”

“That and the kissing,” Chris chose to throw in without knowing why Jensen’s eyes bugged out and Jared snickered but blushed. “What?”

Jensen was trying not to choke and praying the couple on the other end hadn’t heard that ill-timed line; he managed to grab a pillow and throw it at Chris. “Sorry about that, Mr. and Mrs. Padalecki, I didn’t catch; a friend of mine just came through the door.” He stressed the name and saw his former bodyguard’s eyes widen, and then he was cursing and offering an apology.

“No, I was just saying that we better let you get going and I hope you don’t mind if we call again sometime?” Mike had heard the boy’s voice change and recognized the protectiveness in Jensen even before that other voice offered an ill-timed but eye-opening addition to something else the lawyer had mentioned in passing.

While Vince Davis hadn’t come right out and said that their son was gay, he had suggested that due to how he’d lived, Jared’s lifestyle might not be something the family approved of. If that was the case, he wanted them to go ahead and tell him, so that he could cushion it when they met their son who was just learning that he wasn’t a godless heathen or vile sinner.

It had been pretty clear to Mike as he’d listened to Jensen before that the young singer did care for his son, and the change in tone when he’d deliberately mentioned how this might be bothering his career told him more, but he’d hold off final judgment until he actually met the man.

“I think that’s something we can arrange,” Jensen agreed, adding quietly. “Just…give him time…and choices. He needs to make the choice, Mr. Padalecki.”

After a few more minutes of talking, he disconnected the call and just drew in a slow breath while letting his chin rest on the top of Jared’s head. “Well, except for someone’s blunder, I don’t think that went too bad.” He shot Chris a dark look. “What do you think, Jay?”

“They wanna come here and see me.” Jared still couldn’t believe that. “Why can’t they just stay there and talk on the phone? Why do they want to see me, Jen?”

“Because they’re your folks and they love you, Jay.” Jensen could hear the confusion in his friend’s voice. “I guess it’s natural for them to want to be sure you’re really you and you’re really okay after so long, but again it’s your choice when you see them. Okay?” He ran his fingers through Jared’s hair to make him smile more and wasn’t disappointed when he saw the first dimple show. “Are you alright after talking to them?”

Jared sat up, nodding slowly. “Yeah, I think so. I mean it was weird, and I do sorta want to see them, but I’m afraid of what they’ll say about these.” He started to touch his face but Jensen caught his hand to hold it in his while leaning over to lightly kiss the scars on his face.

“These don’t change who you are, Jay. If they accept you then they’ll accept these…like I do.” He smiled when Jared made a small sound in his throat before moving closer to accept Jensen’s kisses, gasping at the feel of his friend’s lips moving down to his neck where they had both discovered he was extremely sensitive.

“Hey, shouldn’t there be…oh, c’mon now,” Chris groaned, as he stepped in from the kitchen just in time to catch them necking on the sofa; he rolled his eyes. “Geez, I’ve seen a lot in both my careers, but you two might burn my eyes out if you keep that up! And shouldn’t those fuzzy little escape monsters be in their play yard out back?”

Jensen offered his friend a well thought out reply but was relieved that Jared had stopped tensing at Chris’s voice and merely smiled shyly as he sat up. “Go fry my electronics by upgrading something, and they are outside playing,” he returned, then frowned at the ball of fluff sitting proudly in Chris’s palm. “Where’d you get Zoe?”

“How you can tell them apart is still a mystery, but she and all her little siblings are in the kitchen,” Chris smirked as Jensen bolted for the other room to see that, as stated, the rest of the kittens were inside eating and playing. “I think you might want a 10-foot fence around that area or one with a top cause they like to climb, but I think this time, they dug a hole.”

“They’re cats, Chris. Cats don’t dig holes under fences.” Jensen went out to see that a kitten size hole had been dug and he groaned. “Jay, did you know these cats dug holes like a dog?”

Jared had picked up a small chubby black and white kitten that he’d named Ernie to pet it while trying to look innocent before coughing. “I…might have taught them how to dig in Sister Rose’s garden,” he admitted, using his best smile as he’d seen Jensen do with the nun even as his friend stared at him before letting is head fall to the table.

“He taught ‘em how to dig,” the singer muttered but reached out for Jared’s hand to make sure he knew he wasn’t angry. “Okay, so our kittens think they’re puppies. Okay, I’ll come up with a new plan for them, but I swear, the second one of them barks, we talk.”

“They don’t bark, Jen,” Jared laughed but then looked the one in his hand in the face and whispered to it not to bark. “Ummm, Jen?” He shifted his eyes to the empty box on the counter.

“Oh, right.” Jensen smirked up at his ex-bodyguard. “Hey, wanna go get something for me, or us?” he asked, and then used that innocent look that instantly put the older man on guard.

Chris had been with Jensen long enough to know his tricks, so he knew when the green eyes went bright and the smile went big and innocent, that he had either done something stupid or needed something that he knew Chris would bitch about. “What?” he asked warily, in no way committing to anything.

“Umm, so could you go to the bakery and pick up another chocolate and plain cheesecake?” Jensen smiled again while watching as the man stared at the empty box.

“You just bought that thing day before yesterday, Jensen.” He stared at both young men to see matching looks of guilt. “You keep feeding this kid sweets, and you’ll be taking him to a dentist and explaining that to Rose. She was just lecturing me to make sure you’re keeping on Jared to brush and floss since she drilled that into his head.”

“I brush and floss like always,” Jared returned, a little nervous at the sharp tone but didn’t hide too far behind Jensen like he’d been doing, so he took that as an improvement.

Chris opened his mouth, but stopped at the sharp look he got from Jensen. He looked at the younger man again, and, as he saw those wide, hazel eyes, he knew why Jensen had such a hard time saying no to the kid. Chris, however, didn’t have that problem and shook his head. “I don’t go near that bakery and you know it. If you want cheesecake, then you leave Jared to kitten sit while I’m here, and you take your cocky ass down and get it.”

“Seriously?” Jensen wasn’t surprised since he was fairly certain this would happen. “You’re going to make me leave him here just because you don’t like the crowds in the bakery?”

“No, I don’t like the crowds and also the owner flirts too much,” Chris countered with a smirk. “You’re pretty immune to it, so you go grab more cheesecake while I stay with him and the tumbling fluff balls.”

That made Jared chuckle, and he touched his friend on the arm. “I’ll be okay, Jen. No one’s called or come by, so maybe if the lawyers did anything, he’s too busy to think about me.” He still wasn’t comfortable being on his own for long, but knew he really wasn’t alone. “Besides, if you go, you can bring back those cupcakes with the sprinkles and cookies and…”

“Jensen? You do feed him actual food, right?” Chris demanded, knowing he did since he’d hauled in more food in the past week than he thought Jensen could eat in a month but had noticed that Jared was losing a lot of the raw edge around his ribs and actually looked healthy.

“Yes, but he likes sweets.” Jensen didn’t mention that he ate as much as Jared did of the treats; instead, he just reached for his keys. “Fine, I’ll go,” he huffed, but smiled while reaching for Jared to lightly grip the back of his neck and bring his head down so their foreheads touched. “If you need anything, I showed you how to call me or you get Chris, but I shouldn’t be any longer than 30 minutes.”

“You’ve hovering, dude,” Chris commented after Jensen checked the slow cooker and made certain Jared and the kittens were settled in the play room before he left. “He’s been through hell, but he is not a child. You hovering like this will not teach him how to trust others or be on his own. Like it or not, Jensen, you will have to leave him alone for short periods while you finish up fulfilling your last contract deals.”

He paused before starting the Mustang. “Until that asshole’s locked up and Kyle’s handled, I don’t like leaving him alone, so sue me for caring, Chris,” he shot back, sighing at the arched brow. “I love him and I just don’t want to see him hurt. He makes me smile and laugh. He likes to hear me sing.”

“Umm, you’re a singer, genius. A lot of people pay to hear you sing.” Chris rolled his eyes but frowned as he really began to understand just how much in love his friend was because not even before did he ever see Jensen’s eyes go that soft.

“Yeah, but that’s me singing with a lot of fancy machines and other singers. Jay likes to hear me sing when it’s just me and my old acoustic guitar.” Jensen knew he’d never be able to make anyone understand how he felt or why it was important. “Do you know how long it’s been since anyone’s heard me sing without all the fancy equalizers and crap? Or that I could sing a song that I wrote and had it mean something? To see his face light up when he realized I was singing to him and about him?”

“Shit, you are too far down the path to turn back on this one.” Chris shook his head but did slowly offer a smile. “Does he know?”

Jensen started the car to begin to back out. “I think he knows, but he doesn’t understand yet what it means. I figure I’ll try to explain all of that once this mess is settled more. I’ll be back so just keep an eye out.”

“Kid forgets what I did for a living,” Chris muttered, glancing over his shoulder toward the road after Jensen had driven off. He had a strange feeling that something might be wrong, but a better look showed him nothing, so he shut the door back and went back to figure out the security set-up he was installing.

Jared was tracing letters and thinking about what might happen if he did see his parents. His concerns were about more than just his scars. He was also worried about how they’d take it if they found out about his feelings for Jensen.

He knew his friend said that while feeling like that was normal for some people, he feared his parents might be more like Father Patrick and would think he was evil. He didn’t want to learn that his parents hated him for who he loved and he also didn’t want to lose Jensen, even though a piece of him still worried that he would yet.

Jared glanced down to see that his thoughts had wondered off and in doing so he’d begun to write shaky letters. He blinked as he also realized with some surprise, his letters had formed words and not just words, but his name.

Swallowing hard, Jared grabbed for a sheet of paper as he tried to think of the words he really wanted to try to write to surprise Jensen. It took a few tries before he smiled at the shaky writing, and while he was half certain at least one letter might be backwards, he thought Jensen would still understand it. Now he just had to hope it made his friend smile.

The young man knew that while they’d talked a lot, and Jensen had explained a great deal about the weirdness of life and living it, they hadn’t actually talked about the reason Jared’s breath still caught whenever Jensen smiled that slow crooked smile or touched him.

Jared knew he was still young and naïve about some stuff, but he still knew what Sister Martha had told him about love, so he was fairly certain that was what he felt for Jensen and could only hope in his heart that his friend felt the same, or else this note would embarrass them both.

A rumble in his stomach made Jared look up to see that the sun in the window had changed which told him that it had been longer than 30 minutes and Jensen still wasn’t back yet.

Normally Jared wouldn’t worry because he knew his friend could take care of himself, but he was oddly cold and suddenly nervous as he sat on the floor to cuddle the kittens, and only when he realized he was rocking like he had back at the shelter, did he scramble to his feet to go find the small phone that Jensen taught him to use.

Pressing the button that would call his friend, Jared’s frown got deeper when instead of ringing like he knew it should, it went straight to what Jensen called voicemail. “But Jen said his phone would always be on if he was out,” he told the curious kitten sitting in one of the holes on the pool table.

He tried not to worry, but something deep inside said this wasn’t right. If Jensen was going to be gone longer than he said, Jared knew he would have called. He hadn’t called, his phone was acting weird, and he wasn’t home yet.

“Chris!” he yelled, going in search of the former bodyguard.

Hearing his name shouted by Jared took Chris off guard since it was hard to get the kid to look at him most times much less speak to him or call him by name. So when he heard it now and caught the slight edge to it, he hurried in the backdoor where he was redoing the security.

“What’s up?” He noticed the worry in Jared’s eyes even as a phone was shoved at him. “Jared?”

“Jensen’s phone isn’t working right,” Jared replied, chewing his lip while moving to look out the big front window until a hand tugged him back. “He says he always leaves it on and it’s not on so…where is he?”

A look at the clock had Chris swearing. He hadn’t realized how late it had gotten. Jensen had been gone over 90 minutes and no trip to the bakery took that long. If he wasn’t answering his cell, then that was a major red flag to the ex-Navy Seal and bodyguard.

Offering a smile to try to keep Jared calm, he dialed Jensen himself just to double check and felt the muscle in his jaw tick when the voicemail kicked in. “Sometimes the goofy weather or sun bursts up in space screw up the signals for the phones, and he might be stuck in bakery traffic.,” He tried to make it sound right while finding the number of the bakery to place a quick call. “Hey, Millie, this is Chris Kane and I was wondering if Jensen might still be there or…oh, when?” His chest was getting tighter as he processed what he’d just been told. “Okay, thanks.”

“Where’s Jen?” Jared was right there, rocking back and forth on his heels like Chris had caught him doing before when he was nervous and close to the edge of panic. “Is he there? Chris?”

“Okay, look, I don’t want you to freak out when I say this, but Millie says Jensen left over an hour ago.” Chris handed him back the phone and pulled his own out to send a couple texts in rapid order. Suddenly, he grabbed for Jared when he paled and swayed on his feet. “Kid, breathe and don’t pass out, cause I can’t go look for Jensen if I think you’re going to faceplant on the floor.”

Eyes jerking up, Jared steadied himself on his feet. “I’ll go with you.” He wanted Jensen and he wanted him right then, the gnawing fear that something was wrong huge inside his heart.

“Oh, the hell you will.” Chris was firm, locking the back door and hitting the alarm while leading Jared out to the living room and taking a quick kitten count. “You and the kitten army…I swear there’s more than eight of these guys in this house, are going to sit right here while I take a quick drive around the neighborhood. I’m sure he’s fine and that walking death trap he calls a car ran out of gas or something equally stupid. You stay put, don’t open the door to anyone but me or Jensen, and I’ll call soon, okay?”

Jared didn’t want to stay totally by himself. That did scare him, but he took a couple of deep breaths like Jensen had taught him to calm down. He knew this house was safe. He knew no one would come here, so he finally nodded. “Is…Jen’s car really a death trap?” he asked worriedly.

Chris groaned silently, forgetting how literal Jared could be at times. “No, the Mustang’s perfectly safe. I call it that because he likes to speed and…shutting up before I stick my foot even farther into my mouth. Jared, Jensen is fine, and you can yell at him for scaring the crap out of you as soon as I bring him back.” He reached out slowly to lay a comforting hand on the young man’s arm and felt it shaking. “I swear; he’s fine.”

“Just…just find him…please.” Jared watched Chris go out the front door. For the first time, he found himself alone in Jensen’s house, and he was scared. “Jen’s gonna be come home, guys,” he told the kittens who were also a little jittery and meowing.

Jared tried to sit on the sofa and watch TV, but he couldn’t calm down. Something was wrong, but he didn’t know what to do.

He went upstairs to bring his blanket and the stuffed cat back down and held both in the crook of his arm as he paced the living room. He fiddled with the phone in his hand until he stumbled on a number with a name he knew and he pushed the right number.

“St. Lucy’s.” Sister Rose sounded stressed and strict, but it made him smile.

“Sister Rose.” Jared wasn’t aware of how nervous he sounded until the nun called him on it.

“Jared? What’s wrong, honey?” The old nun waved off one of the roofers she’d been yelling at to focus on the frightened boy on the phone. “Jared, where are you and where’s Jensen?”

Jared had glanced out the window when he noticed a big van driving past the house and something made his stomach clench. “Jen went to the bakery, but now he’s not home. Chris went to look for him, and the kittens and I are alone and…I’m scared, Sister Rose.”

This was the most she’d ever heard him say at one time, but the fast speech and equally fast breathing alerted the nun to Jared’s growing fear. Suddenly, she heard him gasp as there was a loud bang in the background. “Jared? What was that?”

“No, no no,” Jared whispered tightly, the blanket and toy dropped as he whirled as something hit the front door and he heard sharp voices calling him by name. “No, they found me. They musta hurt Jen to keep him away…and now they’re gonna get me…and I haveta hide the kittens!”

“Jared! You need to hide yourself if someone’s trying to break in!” Rose hurried back outside to grab one of those men she knew Chris Kane had stationed around the shelter when they should have been by Jensen’s home. “You go hide, and I’ll call that useless excuse of a policeman who can’t do a darn thing right.”

Fear was making him sick, but Jared pushed that aside as he kept the phone to his ear while he quickly gathered up all eight…ten kittens. He wasn’t sure how they’d ended up with ten kittens, but he put all of them inside the playroom. “No, if I hide, they’ll break Jen’s stuff and hurt the kittens so…I’ll be brave and…” He grabbed a pencil to try to hastily scribble more letters on the note he wanted to surprise his friend with; to write what he hoped would make sense. “Sister Rose?” He stepped into the hall to stare at the door with his heart pounding, the urge to run huge, but he didn’t know where to run to and could only pray Jensen was alive.

“Jared! You go hide and I’m calling the police,” Rose ordered, grabbing a big black man with spiked hair, an earring in his ear, and tattoos all over his arms by the ring in his nose to haul him down to her level. “You! Get on that fancy phone and call someone! Jared’s in trouble!”

The man was squirming in the hold and wondering how a little old nun had figured out who or what he was when her words sank in and he was swearing under his breath. “Shit,” he cursed, grabbing his phone. “Boss is gonna be pissed off.”

“It’s going to be fine, Jared.” Rose was hurrying back to the shelter to decide if she should try to find a ride when she saw a police car driving by; the little old nun just stopped in the street until it halted. “Jared!”

The pounding was getting louder as were the voices, and as he heard glass break from a window, Jared recognized the voice. “Sister Rose…tell Jen…tell Jen to take care of the kittens and…don’t come after me. I don’ wan’ them to kill him if they haven’t already and…tell him…I love him.” He flinched as the door was kicked in, the alarms going off and, as he took a step back, he felt something crack against the back of his skull.”

“Jared!” Rose shouted at his cry of pain, hearing the phone clatter to the ground, and as she heard a soft moan of pain, it was the other voice that chilled her blood.

“Hello, Jared. It’s time to stop being a naughty boy and come home to take your punishment.” Anton Paul chuckled as he picked the phone up and sneered. “He’s mine,” he spoke into it before disconnecting and snapping orders to his men to drag the whelp to the van. “It’s a pity Ackles won’t be able to see what I do to him.”

Right then Jensen was deciding who the hell let the dance line of step dancers loose in his head since that was all that could explain the pounding in his throbbing head.

The singer tried to think back to what the hell happened. He remembered getting too much sweet stuff and thinking he was leaving half of it in the car until Chris left, so he could avoid another lecture on dentists, cavities and belly aches.

He’d been halfway back to his place, debating on calling Jared to ask if he wanted him to swing by the store for anything else like fruit, jerky, or a 20-foot crate for the escaping kittens that Jensen did think might be multiplying, when a huge green truck came out of nowhere and slammed into the side of the Mustang.

Jensen was a great driver. He could control his car at 120, but that was on an empty road that he knew by heart and not on a crowded city street with nowhere to go. Also breaks would be nice; as he went to hit his to try to slow the wide spin, he gritted his teeth when he realized his damn breaks weren’t working.

He’d managed to keep from flipping until the damn truck hit again, and all he saw before he lost consciousness was a brick wall and nothing.

Now his head was ringing and he tasted and felt blood. When he went to move to assess his injuries, he realized his arms were tied tightly together behind his back while his ankles had been tied to the front of the chair. He felt his temper surge which made his head pound even harder. “Son of a bitch!” he gritted, fighting back the fear that wasn’t for himself but for Jared since his friend wouldn’t understand if he didn’t come back. “This is cute. Decide you can’t take me in a fair fight, asshole?” He spit blood and wished his head would stop ringing as he tried to see where he was, but only saw thin light coming through holes in the roof of what he guessed was a warehouse of some sort.

“We tried fair one time before, Jensen. You lived, and I went to jail because of you,” Kyle Marks sneered as he stepped into his former friend’s line of sight with a knife held in his hand. “This time? This time I’ll make sure to bleed you and watch you die before I go make a toy out of your little friend.” he smiled, blade flashing down with clear intent.



Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Eleven

The pain wasn’t severe as Jensen expected it to be, so he knew the slash merely ripped through his shirt and left a shallow cut. His head was still aching, but anger was beginning to override the pain.

“I’m going to bleed you slowly. Let you watch each cut bleed out; maybe even let the boys play since you’ve been a pain in my ass since you came back.” Kyle Marks ran the tip of the blade down the side of Jensen’s face, leaving another shallow cut in its wake. “You got to be such a pretty boy rock and roll star, Jen. Maybe I should mess up that pretty face some, too, or slit your throat so you can’t sing anymore; leave you alive to live mute and scarred.”

“Don’t…call me that.” Jensen’s brain figured he should be scared at the threats being hurled at him, but as he grunted when a heavy fist slammed into his stomach, he found that he wasn’t as much scared as he was pissed. This was a distraction that he so did not need right now. He needed to be home. “You and I both know you won’t kill me, Kyle. You’re still on probation from trying to years ago. If you succeed this time, there won’t be any more freedom. You’ll…agh…you’ll be back in a cell.”

Now that his head was clearing a little and his vision wasn’t swimming, Jensen could see the old battered warehouse and hear the sounds from outside, so he knew this was the waterfront. That did worry him a little since this was outside the gang’s normal area, but then he recalled that Kyle’s family had owned some old rundown buildings here.

It also worried him that this was a long ways from where his car was wrecked, so even if the cops or Chris knew something was wrong, they’d have no way of knowing where he was. But again that worried him more for Jared then himself. He didn’t want his friend to get scared or be left alone so that meant getting himself out of this alive.

There weren’t many gang members in the warehouse, but Jensen recognized Donny among those there; he was the one who punched him in the gut, so he smirked a little. “Still following his orders like a good little soldier I see. Gonna take the fall for him too?”

“Shut the hell up!” Donny shouted, fist slamming into Jensen’s jaw before grabbing a handful of hair and jerking his head back. “Kyle’s my friend! He protects us! So if he says to gut you like a fish I will!”

Jensen recognized the loyalty but also the madness as he let his eyes find the gang leader to offer an eyeroll that he knew would piss both men off. “What’re you feeding these guys, Kyle? That whole honor thy leader and all shall be rewarded crap? That didn’t work when we ran together and that was before you knifed me.”

“You betrayed me,” Kyle snarled, getting in Jensen’s face. He wanted to see fear not this arrogant smirk. “I made you more than some spoiled rich kid from Nob Hill and you spit in my house. You walked out on me…on us!”

“You tried to knife a goddamn nun!” Jensen snapped back, jerking his head free from Donny to glare at his former friend. “You were turning us into criminals and drug runners…the next step would have been murder! You thought it fun to scare little girls, beat up nuns, and push around old people! I never signed on for that!”

“You walked out on your brothers!” Kyle screamed, digging the tip of the blade into the soft flesh of Jensen’s shoulder; he smiled coldly at the scream Jensen couldn’t bury. “I gave you a chance to get smart, but not only didn’t you take it, when you didn’t die, you ratted me out! I spent years in a cell because of you!”

Jensen fought through the pain. He fought the urge to pass out as he felt the warm blood running down his arm. He fought the stronger urge to laugh in the enraged man’s face. He didn’t want to push Kyle so far that he got himself killed; he wouldn’t do that to Jared. “You knifed me; you tried to kill me all because I said no to being your little errand boy.” He moved his eyes past Donny and saw a few of the others shuffling around nervously as if not expecting this much violence. “You…you were a spoiled brat then, Kyle. You wanted everything…your way, but you left us to take the fall for you.

“Michael got time in juvie because he was caught running drugs for you. Neil took a blade to the back because you sent him into a rival gang’s area to hassle a girl that dumped you. Petey took life in a cell rather than admit you were behind him killing a guy who dissed you at a club.” He made sure to look at each of the nervous looking young men as he spoke before shifting his gaze back to Kyle. He ignored Donny, knowing he was too far gone in his devotion to Kyle. “I could have ended up like them, and if you hadn’t screwed me over on that graffiti job at St. Lucy’s back then I probably would have, but then I figured out how much you were playing me and I grew up.

“I grew up enough to realize that I could be more than a thug on the street. I grew up fully the night you stuck a blade in my gut and I nearly died. You’re pissed at me for you spending time in a cell? Dude, you better kill me this time cause if you try to hurt Jared, I’ll make damn sure you bleed before you die.” Jensen barely blinked this time when Donny hit him, his eyes locked on Kyle’s furious face.

The ropes on his wrists were tight, but Jensen still twisted them to try to get some play, to work the knots loose. He knew pushing Kyle’s temper was a risk, but he wasn’t planning to stay sitting for a knife in the gut again either.

“The freak means something to you,” Kyle sneered, blade going to Jensen’s throat. “I should’ve seen that coming since you always were too soft-hearted. Boy’s only good for one thing…or have you figured that out and that’s why you’re hiding him away?” He chuckled at the flash of rage he noticed, but Jensen was forced to keep still or risk slashing his own throat on Kyle’s blade. “Bet he’s real good fuck; I’ve heard all the rumors and stories about him. Is he, Jensen? Want to share all the details? Maybe I should bring him back here and make you watch with a blade at your throat as I take that pretty boy and shove my dick in his ass.”

Jensen had grown up with the gang leader. He’d heard it all before and he’d heard plenty of crude sexual innuendo on the road when he first started singing. Normally it bounced right off of him or he could even smirk and play along, but this time he felt the slow burn of fury start to build.

Ever since he was sixteen, he’d tried to curb his temper. He wasn’t the hot-headed cocky kid he had been during his days running the streets with Kyle. He’d learned to channel that anger, those darker emotions, into his music so he could keep his temper inside.

Only once since then had he lost that control. That had been right after he learned how easy it was to be used and had nearly watched his career go up in flames when Addison not only betrayed his heart but also tried to steal the rights to his music.

Since then Jensen had worked to keep everyone at a distance, to not risk his heart. Returning to San Francisco, however, and meeting a scared, withdrawn young man had changed all that.

Meeting Jared, deciding to help him, falling madly, hopelessly in love with him changed Jensen in many ways, and he wasn’t sure all of the changes were good. These feelings had cracked a few of his walls, and also rekindled feelings of extreme protectiveness, so when Jared was now threatened, his temper surged dangerously close to the surface.

Threaten him, hurt him, that was fine, but threaten someone Jensen loved? That wasn’t so fine. “You try to touch him, you put a single bruise on Jared, and it won’t be Murphy with his cuffs that you face this time. Maybe we’ll see how you like a taste of your own damn knife in your gut,” he growled, voice low in a way that he hadn’t heard in more than 10 years.

Donny’s fist landed again but Jensen’s focus remained on Kyle. “You try to act so big and tough, but we both know you’re nothing but a damn coward, Kyle. No man or woman will give you the time of day, so you think it befits your status of ‘gang lord’ to go after a kid who’s been traumatized and abused nearly his whole life. You can’t get off any other way than by attacking a scared kid. You’re just as big a sick bastard as that cult leader, but I swear you won’t hurt him, Kyle.”

“Asshole!” Kyle’s fist raised the knife to plunge it into Jensen’s body when a hand grabbed his wrist. “What the hell are you doing?” he screamed at a tall, thin young man with red hair. “You don’t ever interrupt me!”

“Is he telling the truth?” He glanced into Jensen’s eyes, which were still locked on the gang boss; the bruised singer seemed totally oblivious to the cuts on his shoulder, face, and chest. “I mean, I know you’ve had stupid here” The young man nodded at Donny. “I know him and his buddies have been harassing that kid, and I know what I’ve heard you say about him…but I thought you were blowing smoke out your ass like always. You really planning on grabbing Jared just to…” He blinked before stepping back with a look of disgust showing. “Man, you’re out there. I mean, the other crap you have us doing is one thing, but grabbing some kid just to use for sex? Raping him because you think you can? No way. I’m not into that.”

Kyle whirled to grab the redhead by the shirt. “You’ll be into whatever I say you are!” he snapped, catching the wariness in several other faces. “What? Now you’re all getting guilty consciences? Please! No one gives a crap about that scarred freak!”

“He does.” Red jerked a thumb at Jensen, shoving away from Kyle. “I think he’s right about a lot of things, and I don’t plan to go to jail because of you.”

“Anyone who walks out on me won’t live ‘til the end of the week!” Kyle yelled, furious that several other members of his gang also seemed to be on the verge of leaving. “You did this! You caused them to doubt me!” He spun back and grabbed Jensen’s face, jerking it up so the edge of the blade was over his throat. “I’m going to slit your damn throat!”

For a moment, Jensen froze, barely breathing as he felt the knife pressing into his neck. He really didn’t want to get himself killed, but he couldn’t let Kyle continue bullying the gang members into following him. He certainly couldn’t let him carry out his plan to grab Jared. “Big man with a blade at my throat. Think that makes you tough? I’m tied to a damn chair, you idiot!” Jensen felt the knife scratch into his skin, but by this point he figured he had nothing else to lose and offered a smirk like the one he used to use as a cocky kid. “You really want to prove to what’s left of your gang that you’re not a coward? Untie me and then try to cut me.”

The gang leader glared into his former friend’s face, flicked the blade to cause yet another wound, and then placed the tip right at the edge of his eye. Jensen tried to lean back, away from the blade, but Kyle’s grabbed a fistful of his hair and held him still. “Maybe I should carve this out and take it with me when I go pay a visit to your whore?” he sneered, seeing the muscle twitch in Jensen’s face. It was Kyle’s turn to smirk; he knew that Jensen couldn’t struggle without risking a puncture wound to his eye. “You think the freak will beg for you, Jensen? Will he beg for your life? He’s good at begging. I heard him trying to beg the old man at the grocery that time Peabody caught him in the alley.”

“Shut the hell up,” Jensen gritted, twisting his wrists in the ropes and while he felt blood, he also felt some give. “You watched some pervert hurt him and didn’t help him.”

“Nope,” Kyle sneered, tightening his grip in Jensen’s hair. “That was when I decided I wanted the freak for my own personal pet. I even have a collar for him!”

That did it as far as Jensen’s temper was concerned. He reacted before he could think, completely forgetting about the knife near his eye, because the image of this asshole touching Jared much less putting a collar on him pissed him off.

He jerked his head forward to head butt the gloating gang thug, and while it hurt his already throbbing head, Jensen was pleased to hear something crunch and see blood start pouring from Kyle’s nose. He felt the knife graze his cheek, but then it clattered to the ground. “No one ever puts a collar on him,” he gritted, taking Donny’s punch to the face and letting the force push the chair back to crash on the cement floor.

The fall took Jensen’s breath and the back of his skull hit the floor, but he was quickly trying to shake his fuzzy thoughts clear, hoping the fall also might have weakened the damn chair.

“I’m going to rip your damn gut open for that, Ackles!” Kyle screamed, trying to stop the flow of blood from his nose while yelling at his one still loyal thug to kick Jensen’s head in.

Donny giggled happily at that, but before he could land a blow, a low roar was heard from outside the warehouse and everyone, including Jensen, froze. Before anyone could determine what the sound was, a big black four-door truck rammed right through warehouse door.

It had taken Chris Kane far longer than he liked to get a handle on what the hell was happening. He’d easily found the wrecked Mustang along with a couple of cop cars that had already been called to the scene. A bystander’s description of what happened then gave him a pretty clear idea of who had jumped the singer. The problem was finding out where Marks had taken Jensen, and that was what had taken far too long in his mind.

A call to Liam Murphy had alerted the police captain who said he’d start a search, but Chris vetoed that in favor of the man sending units to the house to keep an eye on Jared even though he’d honestly thought the boy would be safe for the short amount of time that the ex-bodyguard thought it would take to find Jensen.

He’d believed that right up until the moment he got the call from one of the men he’d stationed at the shelter, telling him what Sister Rose had said. Before Chris’s blood pressure had settled from that conversation, the nun herself was on his phone screaming some rather interesting words, and he knew he’d screwed up.

Chris’s options then were to go back to try and get a lock on where those assholes had taken the kid, or try to find Jensen first. He’d chosen to track Jensen and leave Jared to the cops, the lawyers, and the FBI who’d suddenly decided to get involved.

It had taken another hour and a half to learn, thanks to a visit to Kyle Marks’ family, where the little bastard might have taken his friend, and then even more time to pull in some help since while Chris was brave and willing enough to go into a situation sight unseen, he wasn’t stupid enough to go in alone with the life of someone else at stake.

As soon as he slammed the truck to a stop, he jumped out and took in the scene in the warehouse. He could see several young men already running for the back door, and he decided to ignore them as sirens could also be heard; the cops would easily catch up with those kids. A handful of the gang members were holding their ground including the moron Chris recalled hitting with his weapon in the alley a couple of weeks ago and Kyle Marks, who was holding a knife in one hand and his bloody nose with the other.

Jensen was on the floor looking bruised and bloody, but since he was moving, Chris hoped he wasn’t seriously injured. That relieved some worry…until Chris had to tell him the bad news.

“Drop the blade, Marks!” the former Navy man snapped, leaving his weapon holstered for the moment as he stepped away from the truck. “It’s over.”

“Donny! Do what I said and kick my former buddy’s face in, while me and the others handle the tough guy.” Kyle forgot his bleeding nose and just how far out of control this had gotten. He was desperate to prove how tough he still was…as long as he could hide behind what was left of his gang. “There are still six of us to your one.”

Eyeing the wary looking gang, Chris could tell they still wanted to follow their leader, but weren’t sure what to make of the new arrival. Chris looked at them with an amused grin. “Right…and you seriously thought I’d come in after Jensen without some backup?” He laughed at that as the other doors on his massive truck opened. “The good thing about being an ex-Navy Seal is I still have some contacts when I need some muscle. Don’t kill them since I won’t have time to cover it up.”

“Right, street gang punks. Yep, far scarier than drug runners in Colombia or terrorists in the Middle East, Lieutenant.” A large muscled blond man snorted as he cracked his knuckles. “My Granny back in Georgia looks scarier than these boys.”

“I just said don’t kill them. I didn’t say they were scary.” Chris rolled his eyes, but locked them on Donny while making a motion to another man with him. “Moron lands a kick and you’re working for free.”

Jensen’s head had cleared enough to recognize the familiar growl of his former bodyguard. He sighed in relief knowing that Chris would quickly have everything under control… and then he frowned. If Chris was here, then who the hell was at the house with Jared?

He didn’t bother to wonder right then where his friend had gotten the other men from since he knew Chris still kept in touch with people. All he cared about was getting loose and relieving Kyle of a few of his teeth for keeping him from getting home on time and probably worrying his friend.

“I thought we were working for free anyway since this ain’t a bodyguard job and you don’t officially acknowledge the other stuff you do.” The man who tackled Donny, a short guy at barely 5’6”, with a New York accent, made the comment while rolling to his feet with a blade in his hand and beginning to cut at Jensen’s bonds.

“There’s a reason I don’t acknowledge that, and one of those reasons happens to be the guy you’re cutting loose, Mickelson,” Chris snapped, easily dodging the knife while backhanding Kyle. “I am pissed off enough and you are not helping any, so do us both a favor and stay the hell down!”

The boys in the gang were used to run-ins with cops. They were used to scaring the crap out of hookers, store-owners, and little kids for lunch money, but they weren’t used to men who fought back. They weren’t used to being up against guys who’d fought for a living.

“Come back you cowards!” Kyle screamed as most of them took off, following the earlier deserters, to take their chances with the arriving cops. He tried to reach for his knife only to yell in pain when a foot stepped on his wrist. “Bastards! I won’t go back to a cell, and I will have that freak!”

“Son, you’d do best to keep your mouth shut before Jensen gets loose.” Chris kicked the blade off to the side. He was debating on knocking the man out cold to shut his ramblings up, but he groaned when Kyle shot his mouth off one too many times. “Jensen…”

Jensen had almost had his hands loose when he felt the ropes being cut. He sat up slowly, trying to ignore the blood he could see since while he was good at handling Jared’s blood, he sucked at dealing with his own and really didn’t want to pass out.

“Ackles! I’ll take that freak from you sooner or later!” Kyle was screaming in rage, glaring past where Chris had his boot on his wrist. “You’ll turn your back one day, or you’ll get bored playing nursemaid to the freak, or maybe I’ll just pay a visit to that fancy house you got on the hill.” He ignored the low warning from the man who’d stopped his fun and threw a sneer across where his former friend was struggling to stand. “Maybe you’ll come home one day to find him tied to the bed where you fuck him, and that pretty boy face won’t be so pretty anymore after I’ve cut him, and made him suck my…”

“Here we go!” The short man who’d come with Chris made a grab, but the tall rugged looking singer was a lot faster and more agile than he looked, so he missed by a mile when Jensen lunged.

Jensen had been trying to keep steady; his legs still felt wobbly and his head was swimming a little. He was about to toss a question to Chris when Kyle’s words reached him and he lost it.

Knowing Paul was after Jared was one thing, but to think that his own home might not be safe for his friend was more than he could handle. That idea, combined with the image Kyle had just planted in his head, sent him across the warehouse; he knotted the fingers of one hand in the gang punk’s shirt while his other fist landed blow after blow.

“You will never, ever put your hands on him!” He didn’t even realize how much rage in his voice or how the manic laughter had died off when Kyle suddenly must have caught on to how wild Jensen’s eyes were and how out of control his fist was. “No one will touch Jared or hurt him. No one! You don’t want a cell, Kyle? Fine. How about I put you in a grave and end both our…let go of my hand.”

Chris had grabbed the fist before the singer could carry out his threat. “Let him go, Jensen. The cops can haul his ass to jail for kidnapping and assaulting you. He broke his probation, so he’ll go back to jail; but if you do what you’re threatening, he won’t be going there alone.” He tightened his grip enough to warn Jensen but not hurt him. He realized Jensen still wasn’t in full control of his anger was in full, and he dreaded to see the reaction his next words would bring. “You can’t help the kid if you’re behind bars, even if it’s justifiable.”

“Wait. If you’re here bailing my ass out, then who the hell’s with Jay?” Jensen demanded tightly, not letting go of Kyle yet as the cops arrived on scene. “Chris? You left Jared alone?”

“Uh, yeah. I figured he’d be fine for an hour or so while I hunted for you.” Chris took two careful steps back while deciding the best way to say what needed to be said.

“You left him alone? Jay’s never been alone!” Jensen groaned, knowing his friend would have been upset and scared that he hadn’t come back. “You were supposed to stay with him until I got back!”

“You got kidnapped by the would-be Godfather here, Jensen!” Chris snapped, the stress of the situation making it even more difficult for him to stay calm. “I had to make a choice; I thought the kid would be safe!”

Jensen opened his mouth to reply when something in the wording caught his buzzing head. “You thought he’d be safe?” He frowned, a cold feeling coming into his gut at the words and also at the way his former bodyguard wasn’t looking at him. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Look, Jensen…” Chris took a deep breath, then glanced over at a cop calling his name. “What?”

“Mr. Kane? Captain Murphy said to tell you he’s put out a statewide APB on the description the neighbors gave of that black van. He’s at the house now with a team looking for evidence or clues to maybe get a solid lock on where Mr. Paul took the boy…uh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that?” The young uniformed officer cringed when he was instantly nailed with sharp green eyes a second before Jensen lost interest in the unconscious man on the floor and went after Chris.

“What the hell?” Jensen slammed into Chris to shove him back and immediately followed that with a fist that while thrown blindly, still managed to connect. The former bodyguard was snarling under his breath and snapping at those around him, telling them to not make a move on the irate singer. “He…Paul got Jared? How?” he demanded, fury and sick terror rolling into one huge lump of guilt. He lashed out at the man on whom he was aiming half the blame; he accepted that the other half was on his head for leaving in the first damn place and getting jumped. “My place had alarms. You upgraded the system! He should’ve been safe!”

Chris knew the kid was upset. He accepted that Jensen was hurt and, of course, angry over this, so he was attempting to remind himself of that and not knock him on his ass until he calmed down. “I don’t know how he got the address, but they must have been waiting for us both to leave or something. I thought he’d be safe, Jensen. I didn’t know the bastard would go to the house.”

“I promised him he’d be safe! I left him with you! Those animals will…I have to find him. I have to…hey!” Jensen landed another glancing blow only to snarl when his arm was grabbed, twisted painfully behind his back, and he was shoved face first into the wall. Chris grabbed his other wrist, pinned it to the wall and held him there.

“Settle your ass down!” he snapped in the low deep voice he only used when in pure bodyguard mode. He had to calm Jensen down; he applied enough force to his hold to keep the singer from lashing out, but not enough to hurt him more than he could see he’d been hurt already. “Jensen! This ain’t going to help find Jared any sooner! Now listen to me!”

Jensen didn’t want to calm down. He wanted to find Jared. He wanted to make Anton Paul bleed if he’d put his hands on his friend, or if he’d hurt Jared again. Deep down inside, he feared that the man wouldn’t just hurt Jared; that he’d disappear with him so he couldn’t be found. That thought made his blood turn to ice.

Images of what the man had said on the phone and what Jared had let slip in bits and pieces of his abuse filled Jensen’s mind. He couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid to think this would go away, that maybe Jared could live a normal life without fear.

“Get…off…me.” He tried to fight only to hiss when Chris pushed him harder into the wall of the warehouse, twisting his unbleeding arm up just a hair more. “Chris…”

“Stop and listen to me.” Chris heard the panic, the guilt, but he had to get through to Jensen before letting go. “I know you’re pissed at me. I screwed up. I should have stayed until a cop car or one of my people could to the house to be with him. But he was freaking out over you being missing, so I thought it would be okay. I really thought he’d be okay. So this, Jared getting grabbed, is on me.

“Now, as soon as you stop trying to punch me and settle down enough to listen to reason, I’ll let go. We’ll go talk to the cop, see what he’s found out, see if that lawyer got a search warrant for the farm green lighted yet. I swear to you, Jensen, we will get him back.” Chris relaxed his grip slightly to see what would happen and when Jensen stayed still he let go of his one hand to squeeze his shoulder. “That bastard won’t have time to hurt him too much. We’ll get to him before that. You’ll have him back but you need to think straight; you need to think of Jared and not like a crazy person or else you’ll do something stupid and make this situation worse. Okay?”

Closing his eyes to stop both the room from spinning and from seeing the images of his friend’s scared face, Jensen finally stopped straining and let his forehead rest on the cool wall for a moment. He stayed there even after he felt the weight ease off.

“How…how do they know it was Paul?” he wanted to know even though Paul was only person besides Kyle who had an interest in Jared.

Stepping back from Jensen, Chris remained ready to catch him as he saw both how pale the young singer was as well as the blood dripping from multiple wounds. Now that the chaos had settled down, he could see how badly he was hurt. “He called Sister Rose. He was scared and didn’t know my number, so he was on the phone when she heard the noise start. I guess she told him to go hide and that she was calling the cops but…”

“But what?” Jensen pushed away from the wall, shooting a glare at Kyle as the cops cuffed him; he wished he could make him hurt more for causing him to be away from Jared when he needed him the most.

“He told her that if he hid, they’d break your stuff and hurt the kittens…so he hid the kittens…by the way, for some reason you now have ten kittens…and then he must have just waited.” Chris saw and understood the pained look that crossed his friend’s bruised and bloody face. “Kid has guts; I’ll give him that. He knew who was there, but he wouldn’t hide himself. Rose said…she said he told her to tell you something.”

Jensen shrugged off the medic that had been called. “What?” He glanced back at the hand on his arm, a little surprised at the look he saw on Chris’s face. “What did Jay say?”

“That he loved you.” Chris tightened his grip when he felt the younger man falter, letting him lean against the passenger door of his truck a moment. “We will find him, Jensen. We will find him, and I might even let you take a swing at the bastard if there aren’t any cops looking.”

“I’m going to beat his damn face to a bloody pulp whether the cops are there or not,” Jensen returned, again shrugging off the medic even as a hand was applying pressure to the still bleeding shoulder wound. “Where’d you get these guys?” He happened to remember to ask this as the four guys squeezed into the back seat while one, the smaller one, tried to get his shoulder to stop bleeding while grumbling about stitches.

“Uhhh, yeah…let’s just ignore them for the time being and say they’re bouncers at the bar.” Chris shot a warning glance in the back. “They might come in handy depending on how the cops and Feds are handling this.”

Jensen leaned his head back to close his eyes and smiled a little as he saw big hazel eyes and a dimpled smile in his mind. “I want him back, Chris,” he muttered, looking at his hand and the blood on it. “Even if he might not trust me again cause I let him down I…love him too much to let go.”

“That kid isn’t going to be mad at you or blame you, Jensen.” Chris drove back to Jensen’s house while keeping a close eye on his former client to try to see how badly he was hurt. “You probably do need an ER for some of those cuts. Not to mention you must have been pretty banged up in that car crash, so maybe an x-ray or CT scan or…Jensen, I don’t want you trying to do this if you’re hurt.”

“No hospitals, no x-rays, no tests,” Jensen refused flatly, blinking his eyes that were still a little shocky looking, but he kept shaking his head to clear them. “I won’t let anyone put me in one until I have Jared back, and then I’ll go with him.”

“Someone remember he said that,” Chris muttered, stopping his truck as close to Jensen’s house as he could get. He see several police cars, a K-9 unit, and a few other cars all around the marked off area that was Jensen’s home, and he groaned. “Hey! Don’t punch any cops until I get there!” he snapped as the singer was out of the truck and running for the front door before anyone could stop him. “Lose whatever you guys might be carrying and keep your mouths shut until I rein him in again,” he ordered and parked.

A stern cop tried to detain Jensen only to stop at the sharp voice from the door as Captain Liam Murphy stuck his head out at the first sounds of a problem. “This is his house! Let him in and anyone with him!” he ordered sternly, stepping back to whistle lowly when he got a good look at Jensen. “You need a medic?” he asked with concern since he’d already been screamed at by several people today; he didn’t want a repeat performance if Jensen fell flat on his face.

“What I need is someone to tell me how in the hell the asshole got my address and why your cops weren’t around!” Jensen stepped in to see that his front door had been broken apart by what looked like an ax. He’d already seen the busted front window on his way in, and now he saw that they’d also destroyed a good bit of his home. The amount of damage done to his home didn’t bother him…yet. “Got an answer, Murphy?”

“Yeah…but I don’t think it’ll make you any happier.” The cop looked mad as hell, but he knew no amount of anger would top what Jensen was feeling. “Rose called us after the bishop called her. It seems that his office had been broken into; some files were misplaced, papers moved, drawers pulled open. The file that your grandmother had given him; the one with your number and address in it in case he wanted to talk to you was missing. A certain priest is also no longer at the seminary and is believed to have joined his new idol. Jensen, I’m sorry. We fucked this up all the way around but…”

“You think?” Jensen sneered, ignoring the warning cough from the door from Vince Davis who’d stepped into the hall. Sounds from further down the hall caught his attention and he realized they were coming from the playroom. “I brought him home to keep him safe. I promised Jared he’d be safe! This doesn’t look safe! What the hell are they doing?”

Two cops were trying to open the playroom door with what looked like a fishing net on a pole and Jensen realized where Jared must have put the kittens and what was happening. “Oh, hell no. They touch those kittens I toss all of you outta my house!”

“Kittens? Dude, you got a tiger in there or something, cause when we finally got the door opened - it was locked and we thought maybe the victim had locked himself inside - I got my leg tore up before I could get back out,” a cop replied but stepped back from the door with his hands raised at Jensen’s glare.

“Jensen, how did those cats multiply?” Chris asked curiously, taking careful note of what he could see of the damage and catching how a lot of it had been done to send a message. “Weren’t there just eight when you started?”

“Uh, yeah. I think Jay might have picked up a couple more strays he found under a bush the other night.” Jensen wasn’t really certain since when he asked, all he got were those huge sad eyes and a string of butterfly kisses until he laughed and just accepted the additions.

Jensen knelt down with a low moan of pain, but covered it as he opened the door to slowly stick his fingers inside. He could hear the sounds of hissing, growling, and a few little spits, but instead of being scared of having his hand tore up by sharp kitten claws and teeth, he let his head rest against the door as he began to understand. “They knew Jay was scared when he put them in here. They think they’re protecting him by attacking whoever comes in the door.”

“Damn it, are these kittens or puppies?” Chris muttered, motioning the cop back when he went to steady Jensen a little. “I think one just barked.”

“Hey, Zoe, Ernie, Elmo, guys…shut up, Chris…it’s me.” He waited to feel a tooth, but instead felt a cold nose touch his hand before little licks were felt and he knew he could open the door. “Hey there little ones. It’s okay. You’re safe now.”

The kittens were all upset, but came to Jensen’s voice, and the little one, Zoe, climbed his leg until he picked her up to let her rub against his face. “Jay took care of care you and kept you safe, and you guys were just trying to protect him by hissing or scratching or…” He blinked when he stared at the chubby furry black kitten that he did swear tried to bark and made a note to get a tape of cat sounds for it. “Until the door and window get fixed and I get Jay back, I’ll have someone take you to stay with Grandma.”

“Shouldn’t you ask Sarah about that plan?” Vince spoke up curiously as Jensen gathered the kittens up to place them back in the playroom for the moment. “Or put them up at a shelter?”

That earned the lawyer a steely look. “I am not putting these kittens in a shelter. They will be here when Jared comes home because by then my home will be fixed. Isn’t that right Mr. I Told You To Stay With Jared and You Didn’t?” he shot at Chris, and then he noticed the paper on the pool table.

“I’ll have it fixed,” Chris replied with a grin. It had been awhile since he’d heard that tone, but he knew that considering things, he was lucky the younger man wasn’t snapping more. Noticing Jensen’s distraction, he turned to the cop and then cringed at the black suited man he caught speaking with one of his people. He silently offered a sharp oath. “Murphy, tell me you have good news; or at least a way to keep him from losing it even more?”

“The neighbors described the van and several of the men, including Paul. Someone also caught the plate number, so we were able to confirm that the van is registered to Paul. It’s a pretty clear case of breaking and entering, breaking the restraining order, kidnapping, assault, and probably a lot more charges on top of that, so getting a full on search warrant for his place in the hills won’t be a problem.” Murphy’s words sounded encouraging, but his expression was still grim. “Our problem is jurisdiction. It’s outside of mine, so it’s going to be a state, county and federal problem.” He nodded to the suits. “They’ve also latched onto the original case which involved an out of state kidnapping so…I’m not so sure they’ll let Jensen go close to the place.”

“Yeah, that’ll be fun to explain to him,” Chris muttered while rubbing his neck to avoid the very pointed stare of the agent in the hall. “This is turning into a big pain in my ass.”

“How far away from the city is this farm?” Jensen was asking as he picked up the paper to see Jared’s shaky writing. He had to put one hand on the pool table edge to keep his legs from buckling as he read it, feeling tears burning as he easily read the message of ‘Jared loves Jensen’ with some happy faces since Jared loved to draw those. He looked closer at some drawings, scribbled lines, boxes or something on the other side of the paper, but those didn’t make sense to him right then.

“About two or three hours give or take.” A man in a sheriff’s uniform spoke from the door. “The damn property’s huge with orchards and outbuildings, and this’ll be the first time we’ll have a warrant to let us search it all including the main house. “He’s a slick one, so he’s probably out there right now hiding all the evidence or…”

Jensen’s eyes pinned the man. “Or destroying it?” he asked tightly, feeling the tension as the men around him glanced at each other before edging away from him. “He won’t kill Jared; at least not before he’s made him suffer. He’s too obsessed with him and that obsession will hopefully buy me the time to get to my friend.”

“Mr. Ackles,” the Sheriff coughed. “I’ve been given a short explanation about what’s going on; certainly you understand why involving a civilian in what is so clearly an official matter is…wrong?”

“I understand you have your rules, Sheriff. I understand the feds have theirs. I also understand that I made a promise to that boy to keep him safe from that bastard, so now you’ll understand why you’ll have to throw me in a cell if you want keep me from going after Jared?” Jensen countered, folding the paper to slip it into his pocket. “I’m going, and if Anton Paul gets in my face, then I’m gonna punch him in his goddamn smirking face like I couldn’t after he murdered my uncle.”

Confident the kittens would follow him, Jensen went upstairs to patch what he could of his cuts and change into clean clothes. He took a brief look into the other rooms to see that things had been busted or tossed. His studio was a mess and several guitars had been smashed, but thankfully the old acoustic had been overlooked.

Both bedrooms had been tossed, but while his dressers and closets had all the clothes tossed out it, was what had been left behind that sent him to his knees. “Chris!”

“He’s not going to stay behind. You will have to lock him up or knock him out, and then still lock him up, to keep him from following.” Chris was arguing with the well-meaning and friendly sheriff while Vince Davis spoke on his phone with someone from the DA’s office.

“If Mr. Paul really did have something to do with the death of Mr. Ackles’ uncle, then he has a far too personal investment in this to be allowed to go anywhere near the man.” The old sheriff didn’t understand why the main FBI man who’d arrived at his office earlier wasn’t stepping in to lay the law down about a rock and roll singer involving himself in a kidnapping and possible cult abuse case, but the man was so far staying back and quiet.

Vince had shut his phone down with a grim look. “The DA’s office just decoded that disc Jensen gave us the other night; the one Nate gave him before he died,” he announced, taking a deep breath. “Aside from maybe being pissed that Nate refused to allow him to have his nephew, Paul killed him because he knew that Nate had a helluva lot of crap on him and his ‘church’.

“That disc has the names of kids he picked up from the streets here and kids he grabbed from other states; it had dates of the abductions. It also has every deal he ever made with various drug runners as well as the people at the county and state level that he’s bought off. Abby says her boss is saying he doesn’t care what else happens, but he wants the man brought down.” He looked at the Sheriff. “I know it goes against your protocol to involve a civilian, but Jensen might be the only way to find Jared or help him when you do.”

“The kid in question, the one that’s been grabbed, is still the walking wounded, Sheriff,” Chris told him grimly, looking up to eye the fed with a sigh. “From the age of five to 12, that asshole kept him, abused him, raped him, and turned his world upside down. He was just starting to talk, to interact with the world a little bit. This is going to send him spiraling back into a world of fear and confusion. He trusts Jensen and he’s who Jensen’s concerned with.

“Your office, the suits, you can play cop, search the place, but I promise you that Paul will have hidden Jared away because of all the kids he might still have up there, he’ll be the one he won’t want to let go of. I’m telling you that I don’t know how, but if Jensen’s there, he will find him.” The former bodyguard really didn’t want to have to knock his friend out if the brass said no to him going.

“Can he shoot and does he have his head on straight?” The grim faced fed, a tall man about Jensen’s height, but with close-cropped brownish blond hair and dark eyes hidden behind his glasses asked finally.

Chris eyed him calmly. “I taught him how to shoot, so he’s a pretty good shot, but of course his head’s not on straight. He’s had it beat in by a gang punk, he’s freaked out over this, and he’s scared for his friend. He goes. I’ll have his back.”

“Oh, that makes me feel so much better, Kane,” the fed snorted, pushing off the wall to come closer when they all heard the strained shout from upstairs. “Can’t you stay outta trouble? I thought opening a bar was supposed to be normal and sane? For that matter, I thought you were out of the bodyguard gig?”

“I am out of the bodyguard gig, but Jensen’s different. He’s a friend. He’s a good kid with a soft heart but a wicked temper if he’s pushed. He cares for Jared. Jared cares for him. Paul is a sadistic SOB that needs taken down in one way or another. He goes and my people will have his back to keep him alive and out of your way,” Chris returned, walking away to see what was wrong upstairs and choosing to ignore the groan behind him.

“Your people are my people, Kane!” the fed argued, shooting those four men a dark look as he hurried after the other man with Vince right behind. “How’d they get involved anyway?”

“They answered when I called,” Chris shrugged, running up the steps when the next shout took a different tone and he knew that wasn’t a good sound. “Jensen? What’s…oh my God…”

The physical damage in the master bedroom wasn’t anything that he wasn’t expecting, but it was when Chris stepped in behind Jensen who was on his knees by the bed with a bloody shirt and jeans in his fist, that he saw what had really upset the young singer. While one hand fingered the blood stains on the discarded clothing, his other hand was running through strands of long dark hair that looked to have been cut.

There was also blood on the bed and a crude message scrawled on the wall that also looked to be written in blood; the words made the ex-Navy SEAL’s blood boil.

Something to remember him by since you will never have what’s mine.’ The words were written across the wall above the bed.

“I will rip his damn heart out.” Jensen’s voice was toneless and ragged as he gathered up a handful of soft dark hair that still showed lighter blond highlights; he fought back the images of what had been done in his own house and what might be happening now. “I want Jay…and anyone who says I’m not going will get my fist upside his head! This bastard has my friend! He’s hurting him and…I’m not…losing him. Not like this. No.”

“Okay, get dressed and let Mickelson look at your shoulder and other wounds while the cops get their act together.” Chris was trying for calm but even he hadn’t expected to see this. “We might have to wait until…”

Jensen was on his feet and in Chris’s face in the space a heartbeat. “I am not waiting until the morning!” he yelled, throwing his arm back to point at the blood while shaking the bloody clothes that were still in his hand. “Look at that! They hurt him here! If he’d do this here, in my house, what in the goddamn fucking hell do you think he’ll do to Jay at that hellhole?”

Hands shoved against Chris’s chest as Jensen stormed past him. “Screw you! I left you with him! If you had stayed here like you should’ve, Jay would’ve been safe! He wouldn’t have been grabbed! He wouldn’t be scared! He…” A hand on his arm stopped him but instead of lashing out like the bodyguard obviously expected, Jensen caught the wrist in a shaking hand to hold on like he needed something to help him keep from falling off a very high and brittle cliff. “I let him down, Chris.”

“No, you didn’t. I let you both down, and next time I will go get the damn cheesecake.” The older man felt Jensen shaking and saw how close to cracking he was. “Jensen, I know you’re scared, and I know you’re angry, but Jared needs you to be in control. He needs you to be strong for him now because he’ll need you when we find him.” He put both hands on the singer’s neck like he had learned to do when needing to calm him down. “Look at me.”

Chris waited until Jensen’s green eyes met his to speak again. “That farm’s not going to be a cakewalk. He’s going to have thugs and guards, and we know he’ll make it hard to find your boy; so you need to take a step back and let the cops and the feds handle that and you need to keep your damn temper because Paul will use it, and Jared, against you if he thinks it’ll mess you up. Now, can you handle it without going off halfcocked?”

“I just want Jared, Chris. I just want to find him and bring him home,” Jensen replied quietly, fingers in his pocket to touch the note. “I want to see him and feel him and put my fist through the faces of any of the bastards who touched him and scared him.”

With that Jensen walked out of the bedroom and left the men staring after him. “Yeah, but you control him,” the lead fed snorted and scratched the back of his neck. “I shouldn’t let him go.”

“Okay, I’ve been trying to do this the nice and friendly way, but I guess that isn’t working. So now, let’s try it this way.” Chris took a slow breath, let it out, and finally faced the fed, his blue eyes sharp and unblinking. “Jensen comes on this raid. He finds his friend. He gets carte blanche to throw a few punches as long as he doesn’t actually rip anyone’s throat out. You agree to this or by tomorrow morning it hits the press about the disappearance and ultimate death of the Sudanese Ambassador back in 2002. Your choice, Mark.”

The fed jerked his glasses off and threw a glare toward the curious lawyer and sheriff who were still in the upstairs hall before trying to stare down the former bodyguard. “You wouldn’t dare. That op is still classified, Kane,” he growled lowly.

“I don’t work for you anymore, Mark, so that line doesn’t apply”. Chris smirked while walking away; he could see the kittens being gathered up for their trip to Sarah Ackles home. “And an anonymous call can be placed by anyone, but it sure would cause one helluva press nightmare, especially if the part about the man working with terrorists was left out.”

“You’d blow your own damn op just to get that kid in on this?” The fed would call the man’s bluff except he knew the bastard never bluffed and would do just what he was threatening. “Damn it, Chris,” he gritted, grabbing his arm to yank him into the kitchen while glaring at the short blond man who’d been with Chris to keep an eye on Jensen. “You know the agency’s been after this cult network for years, but every time we come close, they move or hide the evidence. If the disc has on it what that lawyer says it does, I stand a good chance of not only shutting this location down, but tracing it back to the other states and saving a lot of lives; not just one shattered kid.”

“Give me the lives of the many outweigh the life of one speech and I’ll let Jensen hit you, Mark.” Chris looked to see that Jensen was sitting on the sofa talking to each kitten before placing him or her into a large cat carrier that had come from somewhere. He also noticed Jared’s ragged blanket and old cat toy close to him. “I’m trying to work with you. I’m trying to do this the legal way, but I’m going to be honest; I will go over your head and call Nina if I have to in order to get this done because while you’re focused on long term, I’m focused on a 6’4” kid that my friend is pretty much in love with.”

Mark Stein had dealt with Chris since he was the control agent who worked with his unit of Navy SEALs; he had also worked with him a few times after his retirement, and it never ceased to amaze him how stubborn he could be. “Great. One minute you’re threating to expose something that could be an international incident, and the next you’re threatening to call my wife. I’m not sure which one scares me more.” He scrubbed his face before blowing out a disgusted breath. “Fine! He goes but you watch his every damn move because I do not need him getting hurt. We leave in 30 minutes people, so sheriff get that state cop on the radio so I can give him orders on how I want this place sealed off. Also have social services and some EMTs on standby.”

Jensen was just slipping Zoe, the final kitten, into the carrier and giving Vince Davis a stern lecture on how to carefully drive the kittens to his grandmother’s home and how to take care of them while he was gone. He also made sure Vince knew exactly what would happen if all ten furballs were not there when he came to collect them. As Chris entered the room, Jensen looked up. “Well?”

“You stay with me or one of my guys every damn minute. You keep your temper. You do not go running off on your own under any fucking circumstances. If you can live with that, I think we’re a go.” Chris watched Jensen’s finger run over the initials on the blanket. “You’re right. He’s brave. Jared will come through this.”

“He was scared. He thought I was hurt or even dead. If he thinks something happened to me, that I might not come for him, what’s to keep him from crawling into himself to get through the pain of whatever they do to him?” Jensen wrapped the cat toy in the blanket because he was taking both items, along with one more thing, with him. “What will that bastard do to him, Chris? What has he done to him already?”

“I’m not saying it’ll be easy for him to get over this but…will you stick with him?” Chris sighed when he caught the hand this time that tried to hit him. “I’ve given you enough free shots, kid. All I’m asking is will you be able to help him pick up the pieces if this has put him back to where he’s not speaking again? Or worse, if he can’t handle be touched again?”

Jensen felt stiff and his shoulder was killing him, but he put the pain aside until he had time to deal with it. He’d deal with his own pain and wounds once he had Jared back safe and away from harm. That didn’t mean he had complete control of his temper.

“When I first met Jared and chose to help him, it didn’t matter to me that he didn’t speak and that I couldn’t touch him other than putting a single finger on his hand. I wanted to help him feel safe. I wanted to help him learn to be safe. I still want that.” He grabbed his jacket before he stalked to the door. “Even if we have to start completely over, even if he decides he doesn’t want me to touch him ever again, I will be beside him to help him heal. I will not break another promise to him and I want him back.”

Jensen felt cold inside as he went toward Chris’s truck; he stopped to look back at his house. He knew the door, window and other damage could and would be fixed, but he also knew as soon as the repairs were complete, he’d be putting it up for sale and buying another.

He could never bring Jared back here because the memories would always linger, so assuming his friend would still trust him, and would let him help him recover, they’d start again someplace new with lots of space for kittens and maybe even a puppy or two.

Seeing Chris exchanging words with the guy in the dark suit again, Jensen took the note out of his pocket to read it one more time. He, thought about what Chris said Jared had told Sister Rose, and tears stung his eyes as he refolded the note and returned it to the safety of his pocket. “I love you too, Jay,” he whispered and prayed silently that he still had the chance to tell Jared that. “Hang on, Jared. I’m coming for you. Just hang on.”

Meanwhile, at the apple orchard belonging to the New Age group of Anton Paul, it was pretty much a normal day moving into night as fruit trees were harvested, fields were plowed and sowed, animals were cared for, and the usual activities in the outer barns continued by Paul’s most trusted minions.

Usually he would oversee the ‘training’ of the new members, or he would take part in the punishment of those who had disobeyed or failed to meet some expectation, but since his return from San Francisco earlier, he’d been much too busy preparing things. He was eager to continue the upstart boy’s punishment for running away and hiding for so long, as well as prep him for what was to come for his new role in life.

Of course being the leader of the cult’s San Francisco base meant he had to take care of business before pleasure, and that meant listening to complaints and concerns.

“Pastor Anton, I can’t reach our associates in the city.” Leroy Barnes had been a long time member of the group and was also Paul’s oldest friend; therefore he was the one that got to deal with the hidden aspects of the cult that some members might not know about. “I think we might want to start taking some precautions and hiding the minions in the field sheds.”

“Nonsense, Leroy. I’m sure they’re busy with other matters and just can’t get back to you yet. Let’s not panic until we’re sure we have a reason. I’ve got some…things…to attend to tonight, so I’d rather not change my plans.” Paul was going through a large chest he kept in his office to find certain tools that he thought would work well when he returned upstairs.

Barnes took in the assortment of plugs, dildos, sounds, rings and other items that he knew his employer only used with special cases. He also noticed that he’d already taken several whips, chains and other more invasive items up where his wife and a few others were waiting with the prize. The men in the inner circle had been instructed to refer to the boy not by his name, but as ‘the prize’.

He’d been in the group years ago when Anton and Michelle Paul had returned from a meeting with their Texas sect with the small boy.

The wide-eyed, frightened child, who despite his fear and the abuse inflicted on him, never lost the innocent expression on his face, and the skinny man knew that was one reason Paul had latched onto him so tightly. That and the simple fact that the boy also never lost the will to struggle, and the Pastor was attracted to the challenge of breaking him to his will, determined that he would become the perfect slave.

Earlier, he’d watched the burly guards drag the semi-conscious, and now fully grown, naked young man out of the van and into the barn. Jared had been hung from the rafters by heavy chains so Anton and Michelle could take turns whipping him.

Barnes had thought it odd that Anton hadn’t drugged the kid as heavily as he had once, and how he still did some others on the farm, but it seemed like he enjoyed watching his ‘prize’ actually try to fight in the chains that held his wrists and ankles as he was whipped.

Michelle and Anton took turns whipping the boy, as well as letting a muscular guard occasionally beat him with a heavy metal bat. This continued for over 90 minutes until his back, legs, and ass, as well as the front of his chest and stomach were bruised and bled from deep welts.

Finally, it seemed something gave and the kid appeared to go limp. He’d thought any will to fight back or refuse to cooperate had finally been beaten out of him, but it wasn’t long before Jared proved him wrong.

Anton had ordered him lowered to the floor so he could grab a handful of hair; the shaggy, brown hair looked long in the back and on the sides, but the front appeared to have been cut so it wouldn’t block the view of his still scarred face. Barnes recalled watching his leader gleefully burn the boy’s face when he was seven years old for refusing to suck him off. The boy never refused again.

Barnes expected to see the same glassy-eyed look of shock that the kid had always gotten after being beaten or abused for long periods of time, but as Anton’s fingers grabbed his hair to jerk his head up off the ground, Jared fixed the cult leader with a look of pure hatred that almost hid the buried fear. If everyone in the barn was shocked at the look of hate, then the moment when he spat in the face of the cult’s leader was almost surreal; no one had ever dared to do that before.

The skinny, scrawny 12-year-old boy had grown into a tall young man, and while the fear and memory of his early life were evident, there was something new buried in those eyes that Barnes couldn’t place and that worried him.

He’d watched as Anton Paul’s proverbial calm and well controlled cruelness left in the blink of an eye; at first he’d feared they’d have to pull him off the kid before he killed him, but after a few brutal fists to the head and face, Jared went limp, and the man stepped back to give the order to drag him into the house. That was when Barnes knew this was going to be more than a regular punishment or a reminder of what Jared was going to be used for.

The entire third floor in the main house had been redone to Paul’s exact specifications. Most of the rooms were small bedrooms for the Chosen, the private guards, to use as they saw fit, but the largest room had been converted from what had formerly been three separate rooms.

It was soundproof, as all the rooms on this floor needed to be, but this one was Paul’s private hideaway. It was where he’d planned to keep his prize once the boy had been taught and trained to serve him and the ‘family’.

Barnes had seen him briefly use it a few times, but not with the glee he’d seen in his eyes as he ordered the boy to be taken and confined on one of the many racks that had been installed. The room was also adorned with shelves containing a wide variety of sex toys.

Anton Paul’s obsession with the kid had long been a concern of many others in the group, but Barnes knew well that everyone feared the man too much to ever stand up to him. Now, as he stood in the office to watch his leader choose some toys to amuse himself with as he sought to punish and humiliate the kid, he feared Paul wasn’t taking this other matter seriously enough.

“Anton, do you understand what I’m saying?” He sighed when he was still ignored. “I can’t get through to the people we still have in the police department or the DA’s office. I think we should prepare to either hide things or even leave this place.”

“Nonsense,” Paul scoffed, placing the small items in a leather bag to make carrying them easier. “I’ve just regained a lost treasure. I do not plan on putting off reacquainting myself with him or teaching him his lessons just because you’re paranoid. There’s no reason for anyone to come looking here for anything.”

The man stared for a moment before pointing to the ceiling. “No reason?” he repeated, not believing he’d heard that. “You kidnapped that boy…again; this time I don’t think keeping him will be that simple considering some of what you’ve said. The DA’s office has already started looking into the group again, and I have a hunch that the Ackles boy won’t just forget that his home was broken into and his friend taken.”

“Please, that boy has no interest in my prize outside of what I plan to use him for,” Paul returned calmly while removing his tie and beginning to undo the buttons of his shirt. “If little Jensen chooses to make a scene, he can be as easily handled as his dear uncle. After all, accidents happen all the time to singers such as him. Though it’s a shame that we can’t use him, but despite how beautiful he is, it would take too much to handle him. Now come and you can help us bring my prize back into the fold.”

Barnes bit his tongue to keep from snapping. “Anton, the last time I spoke with our person inside the DA’s office, she said Ackles’ had handed over some type of disc that his uncle had given him. If Nate had any kind of evidence on the group’s activity, it could be a threat to us all.” He was trying to warn his leader, but the man was too obsessed with his ‘prize’ to care. “You have a lot of slaves. This one boy is not as important as protecting the interest of…”

“Yes, he is!” Paul whirled and shoved a hand into the man’s chest to push him into the wall, a kind of madness in his eye that the paper pusher couldn’t recall seeing before. “This boy was perfect from the second I saw him in that hick town! He was innocent and perfect. I was grooming him to be the perfect slave before he managed to escape, and after I’ve rebroken him and this strange habit of thinking he’s more than my property, he’ll be that again! Just have her destroy this so-called disc, but I’m not worried since Nate never paid any attention to anything other than the drugs I gave him.” He stepped back as if nothing had happened to smile. “Come. Our newest recruit will be rewarded for giving me the details needed to regain my little prize.”

“Uhh, you go ahead; I’ll keep trying to find out what’s happening in the city.” Barnes had seen a lot, had even done a lot, but there were things he still felt squeamish about, and he feared what was about to happen up on the third floor would be one of them. “Just remember that killing him won’t fulfill your desires to own him.”

“Oh, I have special plans for him…once he learns who his master is.” Paul chuckled as he left the other man on the first floor to continue up to the third floor, smiling a slow smile as he considered the time to come.

He had nearly given up hope on ever finding and regaining the boy, the one he had had such special plans for. Now that he once again had him, he would take care and extra precautions to make sure he never lost him again. Of course he would drug him at times because he’d always enjoyed taking him when he was drugged and helpless, but alert; but for now, until he learned his lesson, he wanted to break him the old fashioned way.

Stepping into his private room, his smile increased as he took in the naked, bleeding body that waited for him. The boy was trembling through the heavy leather straps kept him bound to a low bench. He was conscious, and while Paul could still see a trace of the defiant anger in the boy’s eyes, there was no hiding the fear that was there as well. That fear brought delicious warmth to Paul’s stomach.

Jared was kneeling on the bench and the thick straps kept him bent over at an awkward angle; a bar was at his chest to support him while his arms were bound tightly behind him, tied at the shoulders, biceps and wrists. Paul smiled, recognizing just how much pain those bindings must be causing.

Paul studied the boy’s long legs; they had grown more muscular than Paul really approved of, but a strictly reduced diet would fix that in relatively short time. Right now, those legs were bent at the knees and strapped down in a spread position to give easy access to his ass. A metal clamp had been hooked around his thighs to further prevent movement as it was locked to the frame.

The frame could be adjusted to several positions depending on how Paul wanted his slave positioned, but for right now, he wanted him just like this. Instead of having Jared’s head lowered, he’d ordered the neck support to be added and hooked to a thick leather collar that he’d personally put around the boy’s neck after they’d dragged him upstairs; he wanted to give him a brief taste of the pain and shame to come.

Paul wanted the boy to understand that his new hero couldn’t protect him and wouldn’t come for him, so he’d cut him enough to leave the message in blood. He’d also cut the overly long hair that hid his face from view before forcibly stripping him of the clothes that made him think he was something more than he was. Finally, he had his men hold the boy down while he forced him to suck his cock.

Jared had fought and tried to bite, but a few harsh slaps and a threat to hurt his little friend had stopped him; but still, the boy hadn’t displayed the same terror that he had in the past, so as Paul walked around him now he made a note to begin to remove that nasty little habit.

While he’d enjoyed the boy’s struggles and his innocence, he was determined to have an obedient slave. They’d just have to start over in his training, but while Jared was much older than he usually cared to have as a personal toy, he’d been dreaming of this moment too long to let him go without some fun.

Father…well former Father… Patrick had decided to help him regain his prize by informing him of where Ackles’ was hiding him, and since the good man had decided to join his little group, he would allow him to participate in this special time.

“You have the family’s deepest thanks for helping to return this boy to us, Patrick.” He clapped a hand on the young man’s shoulder while handing his bag of toys to his wife, so she could lay them out carefully in front of their prize, allowing him to see what was to come. He smiled as the boy shivered and then tried to close his eyes, lowering his head as much as the collar would allow. “He must be punished for being such a bad boy and running away and hiding; he also should have never given himself to those other men when he belongs to me.”

Patrick had lost faith in his vows long before now, but to be removed from such a perfect position by the bishop all because of this freak and some rock and roll singer? He’d made his decision the last night at the seminary when he found the address on the bishop’s desk; he knew immediately what he needed to do.

“I believe you do good work, Pastor, so I’m happy to help in whatever way I can.” He saw the tension in the boy’s shoulders when he recognized Patrick’s voice. “I tried to remove the sin from him, but I fear I don’t have your ways.”

The cult leader chuckled as he walked in front of the bench, which was positioned to face the massive bed against the far wall. The bed had chains, straps, ropes and other bindings already attached to it as well as the leather bags that were often used to restrict a slave’s movements.

“Hello, my sweet little boy,” he greeted smoothly, pleased at how his prize’s head was restrained so he couldn’t look away. The boy also couldn’t close his eyes since he had given the order to have him drugged just enough to allow him to control certain functions.

The boy had always wanted to close his eyes while being trained, so Paul had started to drug him so his eyes would remain open. If he wanted him blinded, he used the hood, which he looked forward to using again as he recalled just how much this boy had hated that. But first he had so many other adornments to put on him.

“Silly boy. You thought you could escape your family, but Patrick had returned you to me…to us…and now you must be trained to forget all that you’ve done these past ten years. I must remove the taint of having the touch of others on you, especially your little would be savior.” Paul moved his hand down to touch the pale, bruised, and bloody face, pleased to see that a ring gag had already been placed inside his full plush lips. This would serve to silence him, keep him from speaking words if he dared, and it would also to make it easier to use his mouth. “You will pay close attention to when your owners speak to you; you should understand that fighting me is useless and will only prolong the punishment phase. No one wants that because training you to serve is so much more important.”

Jared was hurting and scared; perhaps more scared than he’d ever been before. However, unlike before when he might’ve given in to avoid the pain of punishment, now he still strained against the bindings that held him bent on his knees. He hated the man; he hated all of these people; and while hearing the voice of the priest shook his resolve, he still knew he had to fight back. He had to find a way to escape, to find Jensen, to get back to him.

He feared that perhaps Paul and his men had done something to Jensen. He was terrified that perhaps his friend was dead, or worse, being hurt like him. If that were happening, it would all be his fault. Paul kept saying that Jensen was gone, that he wouldn’t come to save him, and while Jared tried not to believe the man, the more that was done to him, the longer this went on, the more he could feel his hopes for rescue fading.

When he’d spat in the man’s face back in the barn, it had been the first time that Jared had ever done anything like that, and it reminded him that he wasn’t a slave. He could fight back even when it seemed hopeless. He wouldn’t give in easily this time; he would fight as much as he could to keep these people from hurting him.

Jared had nearly given in back at Jensen’s home as he tried to fight the hands that held him still as his hair was cut and he was slashed just to leave a message. He had started to fight when Paul had stuck his dick in his mouth, but when the man threatened Jensen, he’d stopped his struggles and done what he was told if only to try to buy time. He didn’t know where Jensen and Chris were or even if they’d look for him, but he still hoped they’d be able to save him.

Now, bound to the bench, he worked on keeping his thoughts from falling back into the headspace of before. Before he’d believed what was done was his fault, that it made him bad and dirty, but Jensen’s deep soft voice was still in his head, so Jared tried to listen to that voice telling him not to give in, to fight back because he was a victim, and the people hurting him were the ones at fault.

Paul’s deep, smooth, oily voice still filled Jared’s belly with dread and fear, but he tried to not let that show. The gag kept him from speaking or spitting, and his eyes wouldn’t close, so all he could do right then was tense his muscles uselessly in the restraints. The sight of the laid out toys was making his heart beat faster when a sharp backhand slap across the face made Jared realize the man didn’t like being ignored.

“I said to pay attention, boy!” Paul snapped, giving another hard slap; he frowned when those wide eyes showed a bit more fear, but also something else that he couldn’t quite discern, and he didn’t care for that at all. He wanted, no demanded, total respect and fear from his slaves. This boy’s innocence was still there, and the fear was clear in those hazel eyes, but something seemed different since he’d seen him at that damn church shelter. The panic and absolute terror he’d shown there wasn’t here now.

“You need to be taught that what that heathen singer told you was wrong, my prize,” he sneered into Jared’s face, getting closer since he knew the boy was unable to spit or bite or hit now. “Did he tell you that you were something special? Did he tell you that you didn’t have to obey me or your betters? Did he touch you to make you think you were special? Did he make you think that you could escape my plans for you? Oh, I look forward to reminding you that you live only to please me and my family.”

He turned to eye the assortment of items he’d brought up to add to what was already in the room. “We’re going to try something new with you. We’re going to combine training with punishment. You will never leave this room, boy; look around you this is all you will ever see. You will be kept naked all the time; you will chained on the bed, on the bench, the rack, or in the box.” He spoke calmly, even reasonably, as if explaining the weather instead of telling the captive boy the fate that awaited him. Paul didn’t miss how Jared’s breath quickened, how his body began to tremble, and how the fear in his eyes increased at the mention of the box. “My Chosen guards will have use of you during the day. My lovely wife, our most special ones, and I will have access to you at all times, but especially at night. I may, after you are tested for possible diseases from being used by unclean hands, use you with a few of the girls to enlarge our family.”

Jared tried to jerk his head away from Paul’s touch, but he couldn’t due to the collar on his throat; it was so tight that he could barely breathe much less swallow or move. He wasn’t sure what Paul’s words about enlarging the family meant, but he knew it was something bad and it made his stomach feel sour even more. He wished he could close his eyes or even pass out when he felt hands on his back and saw Paul lifted a long smooth cylinder like object as well as a heavy metal cage.

“How many times have you let someone touch what was mine, boy?” he demanded while handing the sound to his wife; Patrick, after a nod from the Pastor, stepped closer to use a small whip to lash the boy’s back, shoulders, ass and legs while the gag reduced the screams and curses to muffled sounds. Those sounds turned to whimpers as Michelle knelt beside the boy to take his soft cock in her hand to begin to insert the sound, dry and unlubed, into the slit of his cock. “Did you let that singer touch it? Did he suck you off until you came? Did you suck him?”

Jared was straining more, trying to twist away and escape the pain, but the straps held him far too tightly. The agony of the cold metal sliding into his cock pierced him with pain he’d never felt before while one of the woman’s fingernails raked up the underside. He didn’t understand anything the man was asking, and he was unable to answer anyway with the ring gag that kept his mouth open. Even his moans and whimpers were silenced as a rough hand shoved a ball into the opening to seal the gag.

The pain from the insertion of the sound was bad enough, but then he felt hard hands begin to pull at his ass and his struggling intensified. Paul smiled at the boy’s helpless efforts to free himself while the former priest continued to whip his skin until it was even more raw and bloody than before. He held up a curved device, a hollow like tube, with a flanged end so that Jared could get a good look at it. He then held it out to a guard who had his sleeves rolled up.

“Sal is one of my top Chosen, my most trusted guard who protects our family. He will train and punish you each day while I attend other matters.” Paul held the boy’s jaw tightly while wrapping heavy latex bonding tape around his face to seal the gag in, smiling at the first sign of the boy’s defiance leaving him, the slightest hint of panic washing into his eyes. “To make it easier on our family, this thick, hard, hollow piece will be inserted in your ass. It will keep you spread so, when someone wants to fuck that tight ass, to teach you and remind you who owns you, it will always be open and ready.”

Sal was a tall man, well over 6 feet tall, though probably not as tall as Jared. He appeared to be in his mid-30s with a rugged build, and an upper body strength that give him the ability to hold up the captive who was beginning to sag in his bonds. Patrick stepped back, breathing heavily, a clear erection showing just from using the whip.

“Do you want the device lubed, or should I open the boy some first to prevent too much tearing?” Sal inquired, watching without emotion as Jared’s body jerked in the straps and blood poured from open wounds caused by the straps. Sweat trickled from the boy’s body, caused by both the heat of the room and the pain of having the sound inserted.

The cult guru watched as his wife finished inserting the sound and slipped the cockcage around his balls before attaching the cage and fastening it with a lock that required a special key. “I might have considered making things a bit easier on him if he hadn’t been such a bad boy who ran away before I could mark him with my final brand. I will prepare the brand now while you insert that…dry mind you.” He grabbed a handful of long hair and pulled it violently while hissing against his ear. “Your singer stretched you before taking you I’m sure.”

Every mention of Jensen managed to keep Jared’s drifting mind from completely giving into the agony, the shame, and the fear. Jensen had been so kind, so gentle, as he explained that his past was not his fault despite what he’d been told and was still being told. Jared’s mind jerked back to the present time and location when something was attached to his nipples and even more pain shot through his body.

“Someday, we’ll have you pierced, but for now, these nipple clamps will work fine; this chain on them hooks to this pretty cage; the cage that will prevent you from getting fully hard; you will only find release when it suits my purpose.” Paul licked his tongue from the top of his prize’s ear over to his taped and sealed mouth; then he growled when the arrogant brat still tried to pull away from him.

“No! You will never refuse me! You are mine! That punk ass jackass who tried to hide you from me is dead! I killed him myself! He’ll never save you even if he cared enough to try! You’re nothing but a worthless piece of shit that lives because I allow it!” Paul screamed into the boy’s face, wrapping his hand in Jared’s hair to pull his neck back until it was stretched enough to strain his breathing. The boy screamed as much as he could when the guard gave two hard shoves to push the hollow dildo into his tight hole, ripped skin and blood being the only lube. It was brutally moved in and out several times while the man laughed.

“I am going to strip you bare, remove it all; this life you thought you might have? It’s never going to happen!” Paul couldn’t believe that this boy was trying to deny him the pleasure of hearing those soft little whimpers and cries, or seeing his tears as the shame of what he was and what he was doing overwhelmed him. “Get him off the bench and onto the bed! Hold him down while I put my mark on him; once it’s burned into your flesh, you will never belong to anyone else, boy!” he snapped, voice and eyes hard as he lifted the tight black hood. “Look now my beautiful treasure because you will never see another sight again; I hope you enjoy the memories of that punk because soon Ackles will just be a faded memory!” Paul could tell Jared was starting to panic at the sight of hood, and he savored the sight before lifting the hood to cover the boy’s face.

No! No! No!’ Jared’s mind was fighting for control. Control over the terror that was building, control over the pain that he was trying to use to stay sane; control over his memories, both far back and more recent; but as the hood was pulled over his face, skintight and blinding, he felt all control slipping away from him and panic threatened to engulf him.

A sharp poke of a needle in his thigh told Jared what would be coming, and he gave a muffled sob for help. He could feel the fast acting drug beginning to drag him down, making him unable to move as he was unstrapped and dragged to the bed. He was dropped and held face down; strong hands gripped his arms and legs, but they weren’t really needed since his limbs felt like lead.

He struggled to think of Jensen. He made himself focus on the brilliant green eyes, soft, soothing voice and gentle touch that had begun to help him heal from his nightmares. He could see him as he stood beside him on the day not so long ago that Jared had read his name. He tried so hard to hold onto the image of Jensen’s smile and the deep husky voice when he told him how brave he was.

“Sal, keep him still!” Paul ordered harshly. The sound of a flame igniting, the smell of smoke…these were diluted through the mask, the mask that Jared had always detested. This time, however, he wondered if the mask blocking his senses wasn’t a good thing as something searing hot, hotter than even the flames used to burn his face years earlier, suddenly pressed into his upper back between his shoulder blades and almost touching the base of his neck.

Jared thought he might be screaming. No, he wasn’t making any sound, but he would be if he could, if the drug hadn’t taken his voice again. The sickening smell of burning flesh had his thoughts fading as darkness tried to claim him.

This brand, he’d been told it would make him the cult leader’s forever. No one could save him even if they’d want him. He was marked. He was owned…he was dead.

The courage he’d shown, the need to live, the will to survive, all the things that had kept him alive since his escape teetered, and Jensen’s voice came to him speaking of choices. Jared dimly realized he still had a way to make a choice; one he hoped would make his friend, if he was still alive and safe, proud of him.

Jared could feel multiple hands on him; Paul began to assault him while others touched him, and he knew dimly he had one choice left. He could either give in and become the mindless slave that these sick evil people wanted him to be, or he could withdraw into himself to protect his mind from being taken away from him.

He’d rather lose his body than lose the good memories of Jensen, Sister Rose…the kittens. It was dark under the hood, and he knew he couldn’t cry, but as he thought of Jensen, as he made himself try to hear his voice singing to him one more time, he thought he felt a burning in his eyes. The last real conscious thought Jared allowed himself, as he felt searing, burning pain ripping through his ass was to say goodbye to the man who had taught him to trust; the man he wished could have taught him to love.

G’bye, Jen…



Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Twelve

“The local SWAT team, the FBI, and agents from the DEA and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have the full perimeter covered. They’ll be coming in from that direction,” FBI agent Mark Stein was saying as he turned in a seat of the big official looking Hummer.

It had taken over six hours longer than he’d planned, much longer than someone else liked, to get all the correct papers, including court orders and search warrants, in order and to make sure the cult’s last remaining people in the police department and DA’s office were handled so no word of their plans would get back to the leader. They wanted to make sure Paul didn’t suspect anything that would force his hand into either running or getting rid of evidence.

“That’s a lot of agencies for a simple kidnapping even if everyone has been looking into this guy for a while,” Chris Kane remarked while studying the layout of the farm and keeping a close eye on the edgy young man sitting beside him.

Jensen had been snarling ever since he learned it would take more time to get going. He feared for Jared’s safety and he’d been threatening to go on his own if the damn officials didn’t get their heads out of their asses and start moving.

“Anton Paul is a huge fish in a very tightly organized fish bowl; this organization has been under watch from several agencies for over 20 years, but he and the main group have always been very careful to avoid causing problems that could attract attention at either the local or federal level,” Mark replied, watching the way Jensen’s fingers moved restlessly; he could clearly see the kid was on edge. “This asshole had the money to buy his way out of trouble and he apparently had moles in certain agencies that tipped him off to investigations or simply made the trouble go away. That’s why nothing could ever be pinned on him before. This time his ego and his obsession might just be his undoing.”

“If you’re using Jared’s kidnapping as an excuse to get involved, why the hell didn’t you look into it when he was grabbed as a kid?” Jensen demanded tightly; his voice was not the quiet or friendly one Jared would recognize. This tone was one that the singer himself wasn’t even sure he recognized, but he was angry, guilty, in pain and scared out of his mind for his friend.

“My agency did look into the Padalecki kidnapping when it took place 17 years ago, Mr. Ackles,” Mark replied calmly, reminding himself that this was a civilian and shouldn’t be involved in this operation in the first place, but he also didn’t think his superior would like it if a still classified job was leaked to the press and he’d hate to have to kill Kane to keep it quiet. “We were able to track the kid as far as Arizona, but then we lost the trail.”

The fed had lost his suit and tie since while he’d certainly try to do this the official way with all the papers and nice words, he had no doubts about how this would eventually turn out. “This church or cult or whatever you want to call the bastards have set-ups in at least seven states and three countries. They make a habit of kidnapping runaways or street kids or people depending on what they need them for. The Padalecki case was different from the start since cult members had never kidnapped a child from a stable family. So yeah, this was an odd case from the start, but Paul’s good at what he does and it could never be tracked back to him with enough proof. Now perhaps if when the boy escaped, someone had alerted the authorities, then…”

“Right, alert the authorities,” Jensen sneered, his longtime dislike of certain figures of authority still evident as he smirked at the fed. “If Sister Rose or Father Thomas had done that, the odds of Jared being grabbed and put right back into the situation he escaped from would have been too high. You said yourself the bastard had people in position helping him. Jay wouldn’t have stood a chance in the system because everyone would have taken one look at him, and they wouldn’t have seen a victim. They would’ve seen a target or leverage…just like you see him now.”

Mark lifted an eyebrow curiously while sliding a look to Chris. “He always this way or is it just because he’s pissed off?”

“No, I think he just doesn’t like you much,” Chris replied, nudging his former client’s shoulder only to frown when he felt it stiffen. “Jensen?”

“The feds got involved after the DA’s office chose to reopen their file on Paul and his little cult like church. They decided to do that after it was pretty clear that they could make some kind of case stick based on what Jared told them. When Jay got grabbed because I was stupid enough to leave him alone,” Jensen’s eyes slid to offer his former bodyguard a still pissed off look before looking back at the fed, “that gave the Feds reason to show up. You don’t give a crap about what’s being done to him now, or how scared he is, or if he’s even alive. All you see is a means to your end.

“Well you can take all your fancy papers and rules and stick them up your ass. I just want my friend away from that bastard, and if he’s hurt, if anyone put their hands on him, after I take a piece of them, I will swing on you for costing me even more time to find him,” he stated and then turned to stare out the window, his fingers moving to touch the item he slipped into his inner jacket pocket and ignored the rest of the men. ‘Hang on for me, Jay,’ he thought to himself and tried to ignore the ice-cold feeling that was beginning to settle the longer this took.

“Are you sure he’s a singer?” Mark asked sourly, listening to different voices on the earplug he wore to keep in touch with all the people involved in this. He gave his ominously silent cell phone a dark look because he’d feel a lot more comfortable going into this place if he’d at least hear back from what should have been the ace in the shaky hand of cards he’d been dealt with this damn job. “He reminds me of you back in the day.”

Chris merely lifted his eyes long enough to make sure Jensen wasn’t working himself into another panic attack or preparing to take a swing at anyone before looking back at the telephoto long range shots of several buildings and shrugged. “He might’ve picked up a few of my bad habits when I was his bodyguard. He’ll be fine so long as you understand that this isn’t a ‘bigger picture’ type of thing for him. He’s zeroed his focus on one thing and one thing only, and that happens to be a 6’4” kid with floppy hair and these huge puppy dog eyes that could very well melt even your damn icy heart.” He paused to grin and then added. “Your wife would adopt him on the spot.”

“Sir? We’re approaching the cut-off road to the driveway. It appears as if the state troopers have it sealed off,” the driver reported without turning as he steered the Hummer onto the road. “The sheriff is following us right?”

“Yeah, he’s got Ms. Lee from the DA’s office with him so the legal end can be covered; I figure that damn paper pushing asshole will be there since he wasn’t at the church when the boys raided it this morning,” Mark nodded. He eyed the men in the Hummer with him to see that they were still looking to Chris for instructions. “I appreciate you snagging four of my people without clearing it with me by the way.”

“I knew they were in the city cause they were by the bar the other night. Most of my usual guys were at the shelter, so when Jensen went MIA, I called Doug.” Chris shrugged easily as if not caring about whatever unspoken rule he might have broken. He finished with the photos and was surprised when Jensen snatched a couple to look at intently. Then he let his full attention move to the fed, pitching his voice low enough so that it was only heard by the man. “Just so it won’t come as a surprise later, let me tell you what I figured out. You had people in the city; you already had the okay to raid that church this morning; that tells me you had this whole thing planned even before Paul made his move on the kid.

“You probably already knew the danger and did nothing because you wanted Paul distracted by his obsession with Jared so he wouldn’t see you planning a raid on his farm.” Blue eyes sharpened but his voice dropped to a dangerous tone. “You used that boy as bait because to you, all he was is a means to an end. That’s fine. That’s how you’ve always played this game, and that’s how I ended up with the bullet in my chest that nearly killed me, because me and the guys were a means to an end. I mean, that’s fine; I knew the risks when I signed up to play your little black bag game but this? Jensen and the kid? No, that’s not how it plays with them, and if those sons of bitches have hurt that boy too badly because you didn’t see a person and just an object…after this is over…after Jensen gets him back and I have them both someplace safe to heal…I’ll finish what I started in Vancouver. Just so you know.”

Mark’s lips thinned, but he merely nodded as Chris sat back to nudge Jensen’s shoulder, speaking to him quietly as if encouraging him while nodding to the other men. He still thought this operation would go smoothly, but he could already see the blow-up if the former Navy Seal learned about the one other thing he was keeping from him. Somehow he didn’t think Chris would be very happy to know that he had an agent inside the farm; at least he hoped he still had an agent inside the farm because the asshole wasn’t replying to his texts.

“There are guards in the trees.” Chris spoke as the Hummer slowed down as it neared the main house. He could see that activity had picked up in the orchard; people were starting to move as the officially marked cars from the various agencies pulled up, but the agents who were on the outer perimeter quickly moved in to keep them from hiding or destroying evidence.

“Yeah, they've already been handled.” Mark stepped out of the Hummer to join ADA Abby Lee who was already in the face of a huge muscular man in a suit. “Keep your boy by you until we get this under control.”

Jensen’s eyes had gone to green slits as he looked around. It looked like a normal farm. It had massive fields of apple trees as well as a couple of fields of crops, but something about the place just felt wrong.

The workers, or at least the ones they could see, were all tough looking men. The few women he noticed were trying to move to the main barn but were being stopped by state troopers. The ADA was slapping a sheet of paper into the chest of the burly man who’d confronted her before poking a finger at the tall man who stepped from the main house.

“Gather all your people in the main yard and tell them that if anyone tries to interfere with these men doing their jobs, they’ll be arrested. You will all stand by as we search every inch of this place.” She spoke sternly, a cool smile forming as something like a shot rang out from further in the fields. “Oh, and in case you haven’t guessed it yet, the officers and the federal agents do have the authority to shoot. Now, where’s your boss and the boy he kidnapped from the city earlier?”

Leroy Barnes had put out the alarm as soon as he saw the sheriff’s car pulling up. He’d been expecting a visit from someone, but he hadn’t been expecting anything of this magnitude.

This was the first time the ADA had come with the police, and this was also the first time the damn cops had a search warrant that allowed this to go anywhere they wanted. While his heart was pounding, he tried to appear calm and smooth while sneering at the petite woman until something made him look up to see that the feds had indeed arrived in full force; that, however, wasn’t what stopped him.

It had been his job to research the people who might interfere with Anton’s actions, so he’d looked into the background of Jensen Ackles as soon as he was told the singer was protecting the boy.

Aside from his family connection to Nate Ackles, the singer was just like any other regular spoiled rich kid…or so he’d thought. Now he saw him in person for the first time, and while he appeared bruised and battered from something, the look of disgusted hate he saw on his face made it plain that he was not letting go of his friend as easily as the cult leader suspected he would.

Still, physically Jensen appeared to be a normal guy; a rock and roll singer with no experience or training that might make him dangerous. But the 5’10” man with long black hair and piercing blue eyes? When that guy stepped up beside Jensen, everything about him screamed ‘danger’ and Barnes knew they were screwed.

The cult had been in the target range of the feds for years, but Barnes suspected now that target had been pinpointed to their location and even before he completely opened his mouth, he shut it again. “I’ll want to call out attorneys,” he said finally, jerking as he heard the sounds of shooting from the backfield where the sheds were kept. He could tell the first rounds came from their own guards, and that would give the cops an excuse to fire back.

“Gotta ask myself why an apple orchard needs so many heavily armed guards,” Mark Stein mused as he smirked at the sweating man who was clearly becoming more nervous by the minute. He flashed a badge so quickly that there was no way the man could have read it, and he really didn’t care since it wasn’t in his real name anyway. “The lady asked you a question, Barnes. I’d tell her what she wants to know or better yet, get your damn leader out here…unless he’s…busy?”

“Pastor Anton has been alerted to your illegal intrusion and will be down shortly,” he replied stiffly, fighting not to cringe as several officers approached the barn.

Most of the slaves had been moved to the outer buildings or sheds earlier so Anton could use the main barn to punish his prize. The evidence of that hadn’t been removed yet, and he knew if they looked too closely, they’d find a few others who were undergoing extreme punishment, but he didn’t think they’d…

“Holy fuckin’ hell!” A shout came from the barn and a short blond man who’d gotten out of the Hummer stuck his head out the door. “Boss! You’ve gotta see this!”

“Seal this place down! No one in or out, and start cuffing these assholes if they resist!” Mark snapped, swearing under his breath as Jensen bolted for the barn. “Miller! Bring the paper pusher along since maybe he can explain what I’m about to walk into”

Jensen was pushing back the urge to go into the house. Something in his gut told him that was where Jared would be kept this time, but at the man’s shout he moved toward the barn, ignoring Chris who hurried after him.

The blond man laid a hand flat on his chest and shook his head as if to say he hadn’t found Jared and whatever it was might not be something he wanted to see.

Stepping inside the barn, the smell alone made Jensen’s stomach pitch dangerously; sweat, blood, urine and other odors combined to make the air almost unbreathable. As he worked to control his gag reflex, he took in the chains hanging from the ceiling, others bolted to the floor, blood covered whips, as well as several cages hidden from sight, only revealed as the police searched the barn.

“Uh-huh,” The grizzled old sheriff looked around with disgust and tipped back his hat; he looked at Barnes with the same expression he might use for something stuck to the bottom of his shoe. “Guess this explains why you people always stopped us from searching in here.”

“Jay…he said once they’d lock him in a box under the floor in the back of the barn.” Jensen knew his voice was shaking, but as he touched the chain to feel the still tacky blood, he almost could see his friend hanging as they whipped him. He felt his temper spiking again because it was too easy to visualize Jared, scared and bleeding, not only as the adult he was now, but also as a small child.

“Tear every damn building on this property apart!” Mark snapped into his radio, whirling to shove Barnes toward the chains. “Your boss; this whole damn set-up; everything is gonna crash and burn. Today. You stand a very good chance of going down with him if you don’t tell me what I want to know right the fuck now.”

“Pastor Anton is protected. You can arrest him; you can arrest us all, but you’ll never be able to hold us. We have friends who will…” Barnes tried to sneer, but something in the fed’s smirk made him feel less confident about his claims.

Keeping an eye on Jensen to be sure he didn’t lash out again or disappear to search on his own, Mark held out the phone he’d confiscated from the man. “You think your buddies are going to pull his ass out of the fire this time? Go ahead. Try to call the big man in Dallas since we both know that’s where your little cult is based. See what answer you get.”

Jensen lost interest in what was happening. He was on edge. He wanted Jared and knew in his heart he was running out of time to find him. He squinted as something in the back of a stall caught his eye; something that looked like it was meant to hold an animal.

There were a lot of things that Jared had started to reveal to him that Jensen hadn’t shared with Chris; he had promised Jared that anything told between them would stay between them.

After the traumatic night with the lawyers, Jared had started to talk a little bit more about his captivity, but only to Jensen. There had been a few times, usually in the quiet moments after he’d taken a bath or once when Jensen had been helping him wash his hair, that he’d just start talking about things that had happened to him. While the stories had been difficult to hear, the singer knew that he needed to let Jared talk.

As he stared into the tiny stall now, he thought about one of the stories Jared had told him, and he felt his hands shake as he jerked a rough canvas tarp off of a small cage that still had blood dried on its bars. What really succeeded in pissing him off was that the bastard had actually put a nametag on the cage as if that made it more special.

“Where. Is. He?” he demanded tightly, speaking to the stuttering man who looked sick as he realized all his calls were useless because the numbers had been disconnected. This probably meant that their main sect had chosen to finally disavow them and cut them off from their resources and protection. “This is where your bastard leader locked Jay up as a little boy? When he didn’t have him locked in a box somewhere dark?” He pushed to his feet, eyes heated. “Where the hell is he now?”

“Jensen,” Chris warned and moved to get in front of him; he simply sighed when he was shoved aside.

Barnes was still recovering from the knowledge that they’d been left to fend for themselves; he couldn’t understand why but then a look at Jensen’s face gave him his answer.

The main council had warned Anton that his obsession with the boy who escaped would be their undoing, and that if he went too far and attracted the wrong attention, they would no longer shield the cult from the authorities. He guessed that time had arrived.

He’d personally protected Anton for years. He’d turned a blind eye to the drugs, the kidnappings, the abuse, the torture and rapes, everything he’d seen go on. He knew the boy in question had been what brought them down, but he still feared Anton’s wrath if he lost his toy again.

“I…” he started to say when a gun clicked in his ear. “He…Anton…he had him in the house after they whipped him out here. The boy fought back. He spit in Anton’s face, so he was taken into the house for further…lessons.” He hedged on the last bit of information, not sure how this punk ass singer would react if he knew what had been done to his friend and what was possibly still being done. “Even if you take Anton in, you won’t find the boy. He won’t give him up…he might even have moved him out of here…ugh!”

Jensen’s fist struck before anyone could react, and it landed twice more before Chris finally got a firm enough grip on him to pull him back. “I am not leaving here without Jared,” he gritted, struggling to get past his former bodyguard. He stiffened when a voice from the yard made him completely forget about the man with the bloody mouth. He literally snarled as he struggled to move toward the door. “Guess I get to keep my promise to make that asshole bleed after all.”

“What’s he…who’s the moron in the sheriff’s face, and why do I think your boy can do a lot more than just bloody someone’s face, Kane?” Mark snapped an order to cuff Barnes while hurrying after the singer.

Chris had looked, done a double take, and groaned a little. He knew he stood little chance of controlling Jensen the moment he saw Paul, but he hadn’t been expecting the smart mouthed former priest to be here as well. “That’s the former priest of St. Lucy’s, and he’s been on Jensen’s bad side since the first day they met I think,” he told the fed, adding quickly, “This could get bloody.”

“Chris, I knew it would, but I thought it would be you causing me issues,” Mark muttered, breaking into a run as the men watched Patrick O’Leary look up his argument with the sheriff. He’d been demanding to be allowed to leave the property, and insisting that the police were wrong to be accusing such a man as Pastor Paul of such heinous crimes when he suddenly caught sight of Jensen and sneered.

The former priest had enjoyed the last several hours in a way that he hadn’t thought he would. While he hadn’t done much more than stand back and watch as the Pastor, his wife and his trusted guards continued to torture and abuse the boy, he had been given permission to touch him one time while the guard, Sal, had used his stretched open, sloppy, bloody hole to place an interesting toy inside before sealing it in with a large butt plug.

It still made him hard to relive the memories of hearing the sounds the boy made despite now being drugged. With his face covered and drugs circulating through his system, the boy was not as responsive as pastor would have liked, but Patrick had still enjoyed using the small vibrator with the sharp nubs on it. He had slowly dragged the device down the young man’s chest, rubbing it over trapped nipples, before forcing it up behind his caged balls; this cause a delicious reaction even though Jared could barely do more than jerk.

Even watching Paul brand his prisoner had done nothing to disgust the former holy man. Jared was a heathen who should be punished, and he was grateful that the older man had allowed him to witness the event. It was even sweeter than it had been those few times he’d touched him, listening to him try make words or cry past the gag and hood.

He’d been playing with the boy’s trapped cock and the sound inside, listening to the grunts and foul words spilling from Paul’s mouth as he fucked the boy’s ass on the bed where he now lay still and barely moving, when the word had come that the police were on their way.

Patrick thought it a shame that such a good man as Pastor Anton had to be subjected to a witch-hunt, and he vowed that once he was back in the city, he would do what he could to help the man’s cause.

While Michelle cleaned up and the guards worked to make the room look as normal as possible with the obvious toys, he helped Sal and the pastor tie the boy up tightly. They had rigged the bonds so that if he tried to move, it would cause a reaction to the devices they left on or inside him.

He’d very nearly come again just from watching Sal roughly tie the boy’s arms, wrists and ankles in such a fashion that he really couldn’t move, but it showed every welt, burn, bruise and cut on the well-developed body. Then a skin-tight, black, latex sheath was wrapped around him, and Paul laughed when he said the boy hated to be enclosed in it because the sheath bonded to him and kept him tied even tighter than the ropes would. Finally, they tossed him in a solid, soundproof box under a special section of floor that had built just for it but could barely be distinguished from the rest of the floor.

It was barely big enough to hold Jared’s contorted body. Paul jacked the remotes that controlled the speed of those toys torturing the boy to their highest setting before tossing them into the box with a promise of more to come soon after he dealt with this intrusion. The box was then sealed and locked, and Patrick groaned as the boy made soft whimpers as if he knew where he was and what was in store for him.

The former priest had to take a moment to compose himself and then, while Paul was dressing, he went to leave the property only to be confronted by the arrogant sheriff who clearly thought he had some control over who was or was not allowed to leave the farm.

He was about to threaten to call the man’s superior when he happened to look up and felt a cold ball of both concern and rage settle in his stomach.

The cocky little bastard that had cost him his job with the church, had ruined his plans there, was actually coming out of the barn, and he knew the moment he spotted him. “Looking for something, Mr. Ackles?” he asked with a cold smile. “Did you do something to lose your…pet?”

“You son of a bitch!” Jensen either didn’t hear the sharp snap in Chris’s voice when he shouted for him, or he just chose to ignore him because he was across the yard to take the former priest down to the ground in less than five running steps. “You gave him up! You told this bastard where I lived so he could grab Jared! You did this! Where the hell is he?”

Patrick hadn’t expected the law enforcement officers to allow the punk to attack him like this so it took a couple moments for his head to clear. When it did, he realized that a steady stream of hard, solid punches was striking his face and he began to struggle to fight back, but while Jensen was lean and wiry, he was also agile and had strength in the blows that hit the man.

“Stop…stop him! Get this heathen faggot off of me!” He tried to shout but gagged halfway through when a punch nearly collapsed his windpipe, fingers digging into soft flesh.

“You no longer have the right to call me or Jared names, asshole!” Jensen gritted, feeling others around him and dimly surprised that no one was pulling him off the man yet. Of course he really didn’t care either as he jerked the man up from the ground to slam his closed fist into his gut. “Seriously? You’re begging them to help you? Did Jared beg? Did you touch him again?” He fought the white hot rage in his heart and tried to ignore the images in his head. “Where is he?”

“Where…he…belongs! Cowering and bound in the dark like the animal he is!” Patrick gasped, spitting blood. “The Lord punishes the wicked, and he’ll be punished for what he is! As will you for being with that…ugh!”

Jensen’s fist flew a couple more times before a strong grip that he recognized finally grabbed his arm to pull him back a step. “No! He’s hurt him too much. He’s just as bad as these bastards, Chris!” He tried to fight against the grip, but he was spun around to look into his friend’s sharp eyes.

“Yeah, there’s no doubt about that. He is just as bad as these assholes, and he’ll be cuffed and jailed just like the rest of them. But if you do what you want, what you’re coming close to doing, you’ll end up in cuffs too, and then you won’t be around when Jared needs you, so settle,” Chris urged, hearing several weapons clicking off safety as the door to the house opened to allow a finely dressed but hot eyed Pastor Anton Paul to step out.

“Sheriff, I believe we’ve had this discussion before.” The smooth talking man sniffed as he worked on fixing his cuff. He was making no attempt to hide the fact that he was straightening clothes that he’d just changed or put back on. While he ignored most of the people in his yard, his smile took on a predatory tone as he looked at Jensen. “Your officers are trespassing on private church property and can’t touch my people or look around without my…”

ADA Abby Lee stepped up to quite proudly shove the search warrant and arrest warrants into his face before stepping back to smirk up into his enraged face. “The sheriff and his deputies are here to help search all the outbuildings. The feds have first come, first serve basis to search this house and to take you, your wife and your top guards into custody.” She tossed a glance at the bleeding man on the ground. “You too.”

Paul glared at the papers, his chest puffing out. “You have no authority to come into my personal…” He stopped and frowned as he caught sight of Barnes in cuffs being put into a car. “We are a religious…”

“Like I told the paper pusher, give your boys in Dallas a call and see how far that gets you,” Mark returned coolly, jerking his head to the house. “Search it. Top to bottom, every square inch,” he ordered his men while catching the look the cult man was giving Jensen. “I think you know why he’s here, so how about saving everyone the hassle and just tell me where you stashed the boy you grabbed from Ackles’ house?”

The fed honestly expected the man to deny it. Most people in the position he was in would seek to deny or try to deflect blame, so he was honestly shocked when he didn’t get that.

“You’ll never find him,” Paul sneered, looking past the fed and the cops as if they didn’t matter to him and locking his cold cruel eyes on Jensen. “I told you that he was mine and that you couldn’t have what was mine. My sweet beautiful prize. He was always so innocent and sweet as a child and while he’s now older than I usually like, it was still so wonderful to feel him try to fight back and squirm under me or scream through the gag as I punished him for allowing others to play with him.”

Jensen was trying his best to not let the man goad him into responding. It was hard since he could so easily see the scene being described. He could see Jared’s frightened eyes. He could see the fear, the return of all that shame that they’d been working on removing coming back as he wasn’t able to fight against what was done.

He knew the man was goading him, trying to force a confrontation, and while he was aching to smash his fist into his damn mouth for the filth being said, he managed to hold himself back. “Jared’s not yours,” he suddenly said. His fingers were clenching and unclenching, but so far he was staying where he was as a deputy cuffed the former priest despite his protests. “He will never belong to you. He will never belong to me. He will always belong to himself. Nothing you ever do or say will ever destroy that brave wonderful boy’s spirit. You tried. You abused a perfect child. You and your bastards hurt and abused him, but he still survived, and he will survive now.” He lifted his eyes to smirk. “You will lose just like you lost with my uncle.”

“Little punk!” Paul took two steps toward Jensen only to stop when a weapon was pointed in his face to keep him from lunging at the singer. Men could be heard tearing the house apart while others began rounding up cult members and searching the sheds and outbuildings. “I could have owned your ass if that addict would’ve been smart enough to give you up! I am a powerful man and get what I want when I want it! I don’t need laws or people telling me that I can’t have someone!

“Nate was a damn addict and only good for the money he gave me when I demanded it. He was a spoiled rich punk with no desires or dreams, but the one time I demanded he give me his precious nephew, he balked. Had the gall to laugh in my face and say I was a pedophile for what I did to those that belonged to me.” Paul sneered as Jensen’s face tightened. “He actually thought he could threaten me, refuse me and not pay a price. I could still have you if I wanted you, boy. Money buys all kinds of things, but you’re not innocent…not like my prize.”

Chris’s hand latched on tight when he caught Jensen beginning to move. “Mark, can’t we gag this asshole since he just dug himself a pretty deep hole?” he asked hopefully, wondering if the man was on something or just that arrogant.

Mark wished he could, but he soon had more problems to deal with when an agent came out with Michelle Paul in cuffs; she was screaming about illegal searches and invasion of privacy. “Tell me some good news and hand her off to the cops before my ears bleed from her voice.”

“Oh, there’re videos, pictures, papers, and all kinds of crap to nail this lot on but…” The man shifted a grim look to Jensen and back to his boss. “The boys are cuffing a few hardcore losers. But the third floor…man, we stepped into some heavy shit up there, but so far no sign of anyone else…including the kid we’re looking for.”

“No, Jay’s here.” Jensen was sure of that, bits of panic beginning to seep into his heart at the thought of them giving up the search. “Paul wouldn’t let him go that easy. He’s in that house.”

“Good luck finding him,” Paul sneered, licking his lips. “Even if he is here, you will never find him. No one will because he knows he belongs to me. I would let him die before I let anyone, much less you, take him from me again. So sweet…all the ridiculous little lessons you taught him, telling him he could be his own person, live a free life…so sweet to watch them fade when I convinced him you were dead and would never come for him. How that tight ass that my man spread open with a special toy just gave in as he accepted his place as my slave and…”

Mark and Chris both swore at the same time, but neither was fast enough to prevent what had been bound to happen since the first time Jensen had laid eyes on the so-called Pastor weeks earlier.

“Jensen!” Chris snapped but missed grabbing the singer by a mile as he forgot just how damn fast and agile he could be when he wanted. “I guess you want this asshole alive?” he asked his former control officer.

“I’m actually debating that right now,” Mark muttered, snapping orders into his earpiece. He kept looking for a certain face, but he was beginning to worry about his undercover agent; this wouldn’t be the first time he had an agent get in too deep and stay there. “Someone get me a dog to start searching. Oh and find that other moron before I have to explain this to Kane.”

Jensen’s temper snapped finally. His mind had filled with too many images and while he’d been able to push them back to a point, that last remark finally did him in and he was moving before he really knew it. Without making a conscious decision, he had Paul shoved back against the wall of the porch.

“Jared is not a slave!” he yelled, rage and fear making his already tenuous grasp on his emotions that much thinner; his arm was flat over the bragging man’s throat. “He is a human being! He’s a wonderful, caring, frightened young man that you will never control!” He longed to smash his fist into the man’s sneer but something held him back. “You killed my uncle because he denied you. You’d kill me if you could because I will protect Jared from you, and you’d kill Jay rather than let him escape.”

“If I can’t have him then no one will,” Paul spat. The voices of his followers as they were cuffed as well as the cries of those he’d kept prisoner all went unheard by him as he glared into the face of the man that he blamed for costing him all of this. “You’re no good trash like your uncle,” he sneered, bringing his arms up to shove the punk ass singer back, but he found himself knocked into the house with a fist to the face. “I know what you are! You sing those unholy rock songs, wear leather and earrings, and want to take my prize for your own sick ends. He’s mine! He will never belong to anyone but me, or I’ll see you both dead!”

Jensen was about to offer a remark when he took in the staircase that led up to the second floor. He suddenly felt a twinge of something, a shiver down his back, and he looked around. “Jay?” he whispered.

“If his lawyer was here instead of in a cell back in the city, he’d be telling him to shut up,” Abby Lee was very happy so far with how this was turning out when she noticed how pale Jensen was becoming. “Mr. Ackles? Jensen? What’s wrong?”

“He…he didn’t draw doodles,” Jensen whispered, blood starting to run colder as he heard noises from below and above as someone yelled for a damn locksmith to remove a lock upstairs before he shot it off.

“Say what?” Mark had finally had enough and was considering knocking the ranting cult leader out when he caught the look of concern on Chris’s face. “Who didn’t draw doodles? Did we have this kid checked out for a concussion after whatever happened to him?”

Chris shot the man a snarl while stepping closer to see that Jensen had pulled out the folded note that Jared had left for him. As he moved he realized the boy had made some hastily scrawled stick figure like drawings on the back. They looked like something that a three-year-old…or a 22-year old just learning to write…might make.

They hadn’t made sense to Jensen earlier, but now they were starting to. “See? This is the house. Two sets of steps and a big area like another floor or a room.” Jensen was staring up the flight of steps, his fingers shaking as he pointed up and then back at the drawing and letters. “He was scared when he did this. Jay has a hard time focusing if he’s scared, so his letters don’t all make sense, but this piece here in the middle of this big space?”

“Flor?” Chris frowned as what had been written down slowly begun to hit him, and his appreciation and respect for the scared kid grew even more. “Floor?”

“We haven’t really practiced many words yet, so he was probably trying to sound it out, and he was scared and in a hurry. He’s telling us where he thought or feared he’d be put, Chris,” Jensen whispered, turning to the head FBI agent. “I know where Jared’s at. Let me go up.”

“No!” Paul snapped, shoving up from the floor in a sudden desperate move, but one of the men tripped him to put him back down. “No! You will not go up to the sacred floor! My loyal guards will keep you from taking what is mine!”

Mark had been on the fence about allowing Jensen to go, but at that final remark from Paul, he glanced down before tossing a set of cuffs to the big black man guarding the cult leader. “Cuff the bastard and call the EMTs; they’re clear to come up to start checking on those kids out there,” he ordered, pulling out his pistol. “Let’s go take a look at this ‘sacred floor’.”

Jensen didn’t need any more permission than that as he bolted up the steps with Chris following closely. There were still agents going through the rooms and carrying out boxes of evidence, but the singer couldn’t care less right then. All he wanted was Jared. He wanted to get his friend as far away from this place and this nightmare as he could.

The whole third floor had a feel to it that made Jensen’s skin crawl, but it was the room at the end with the multiple locks on it that caused his stomach to pitch. It was almost like he could feel Jared’s fear even though he couldn’t see or hear him yet.

“Why isn’t this opened yet?” Mark demanded gruffly and then swore as he took in the multiple locks that several agents were still struggling with. “Seriously? High tech super spies and none of you can pick a damn lock? Go make the asshole give you the keys!”

“Jay doesn’t have that kind of time,” Jensen snapped, his temper and concern for Jared making his control that much more brittle as he shoved the agents aside to drop to his knees in front of the locks. A single look had his lips curling up in a sneer. “Give me a paper clip or something.”

An agent smirked at him. “Dude, these will take a lot more than a little paperclip.”

“Sorry, I dropped my lockpicking set when I went into singing,” Jensen returned without looking up as Chris handed him a couple unfolded paperclips. “My time running with Kyle’s gang taught me more than how to run from the cops or tag walls with paint.”

“Don’t want to know that,” Chris reminded him while eyeing Mark as he was scowling at his phone. “You expecting a call or something? You’ve been starting at that phone all night.”

“Or something,” Mark muttered but kept his pistol out while noticing that Chris had pulled his as well. They and the other agents watched as Jensen went to work on the locks. “How’s a rich kid from the Ackles family know how to pick locks in less time than it would take me to?” he asked curiously.

Jensen looked up as the last lock popped open and he stood up with a grimace as bruises and wounds all reminded him that they were still there. “Poor taste in friends,” he replied, reaching for the knob when he was pulled to one side just as a bullet hit the inside of the door. “Shit!”

“Stay back here!” Chris snapped, moving on instincts learned years ago. He kicked in the door, threw himself in low with his gun drawn, and tracked the single man still inside the room. “Drop it!”

“You first, hero,” Sal returned while drawing a bead on the man until another shot whizzed by his arm. “Hey!”

“Two choices.” Mark’s voice had gone cold. He was trying to stay out of the line of fire of either man, but also keeping his own weapon level while blocking Jensen from charging into the room until he got this situation under control. “Drop the gun and tell me if you’re still working the side of the angels, or fire that damn gun again and I let Kane take care of one helluva lot of hassle and paperwork for me.”

Several sets of eyes all went to the head agent. A few surprised, a couple hostile, and one set not really caring. “Oh boy, this could get ugly,” the blond man that had decided to stick with Jensen mumbled under his breath as Chris’s eyes went to slits. Jensen was just trying to see into the room.

“My orders were to maintain my cover at all costs,” Sal replied tightly, not taking his eyes off of the weapon Chris had pointed at him. “My cover remained intact until you showed up like gangbusters.”

“Those orders did not include falling into the same habits as the assholes I’m hauling out of here. They also did not include taking place in the torture or abuse of minors or someone unable to defend himself,” Mark shot back, allowing Jensen to enter since he suspected the singer wouldn’t give a damn about this. “That lapel pin marks you as the top of the elite guard, so tell me, Sal, do I get to let Kane end my problem or do you want to drop that gun and tell me where the Padalecki kid is?”

Chris never dropped his gun but his eyes were heating more. “Oh for the love of…” He glared at the Fed. “You put a ringer inside the damn cult and expected him to stay on your side?” He kept his eyes locked between the glaring inside man and Jensen, who was looking around the room that could only be called something from a sick BDSM porn flick. “This asshole touched Jared and I end him anyway!”

“I did my job!” Sal snapped, pistol moving when a boot shot out to knock it out of his hand. “The mandate was to stick close to Anton Paul until we had enough evidence to move on him and the full mass of the cult network. I was ordered to play a role, and that’s what I did. I gained Paul’s trust and moved into a position where I had full access to him. A trained agent can’t let any personal feelings interfere with his cover, so if that meant following Paul’s orders when it came to the…”

“You get this bastard out of this room before I do shoot him,” Chris growled, now remembering the other reason he took the retirement option. He hated how some people worked, and this stone-cold unfeeling asshole ticked him off.

“Where’s he at?” Mark asked again as his agents began to go through this room a bit more thoroughly. “I want every surface of everything in here tested. I want everything bagged and marked, and I’m only asking you one more damn time, Sal, where in the hell is that kid?”

Sal eyed his superior with an odd twitch in his face before glancing to a section of floor that Jensen was looking at. “What kid?” he deadpanned, screaming as a bullet went through his knee and he dropped to the floor.

“You son of a bitch,” Chris gritted, pissed off that Mark had put an agent inside the cult and then didn’t think to mention that he had stopped responding and might have turned. Then some of Sal’s words flipped a switch inside him. “You did whatever that asshole told you to, didn’t you? Where is Jared?”

“Chris!” Jensen had been paying enough attention to know the ‘guard’ was supposed to be a fed, but he lost interest when he took in the metal bench bolted to the floor; it looked more like some type of modern torture device than a simple bench.

He never considered himself sheltered; he’d seen more than a few dark places and had experimented a little when he first got to LA, so Jensen knew what most of this crap was and what it was used for, but the images of any of it being used on Jared made him sick.

“Chris!” he shouted again when he stepped on a piece of floor and heard a slight change in how the wood sounded under his boot. “Chris, screw the Feds! Help me find him!”

The former bodyguard glared another moment before turning to level a hard look at Mark. “This isn’t over,” he warned lowly and then hurried to where Jensen was kneeling and running his fingers over the smooth floor.

“Oh, I know that,” Mark muttered, giving a nod to two men to help them while he glared at his former agent. “I guess I know why this op took a year longer than it should’ve. Oh and if I see your hand in that kid’s injuries, I will be letting Kane loose.”

“What kind of nutjob builds a hidden section in the floor on the third story?” Doug Mickelson, the New Yorker that had been with Chris earlier, asked as hands hit the floor to try to gauge the size of the space they were dealing with only to discover it wasn’t very big.

“Psycho pedophiles,” Chris returned, tracing a groove in the floor with his fingers. “Jensen, start talking,” he instructed firmly. He wasn’t sure if anything could be heard from the box in the floor, but if there was any chance, he needed at least one voice that the boy would definitely recognize. He figured Jared would be scared out of his mind being enclosed like this, and Jensen’s voice might help calm him down. “You talk to him and don’t stop until you have him in your arms. Let me and the boys worry about tearing the floor up.”

Jensen was on his knees with a hand pressed over the center of the space as he heard someone yelling for something to pry with. “Jared! It’s Jensen. You stay with me a little bit more and we’ll have you out of there!” He hoped his voice was steadier than he thought it was, and he got edgier the longer it took the men to start tearing the floorboards up. “Jay, it’s okay. I’m here and I swear that I will be making Chris work damn long and hard to make this up to you. He’s going to be buying cheesecake three times a week for at least five years.”

“You do remember the part where I saved your ass, right?” Chris muttered, but he couldn’t deny he’d messed up by leaving Jared alone. “After this I’m not letting either of you out of my sight; I still have an obsessed stalker looking for you.”

“Screw Anna,” Jensen growled, not even caring about that right then as a crack finally sounded and the first piece of fake floor came up.

There was a sound from elsewhere in the room like a sharp breath, then a grunt and the pistol cocking were heard but ignored. “Please, make some stupid move; try to stop them from seeing what’s under that floor,” Mark invited. “I thought you were smarter than this, Sal. What made you decide to turn cult worshipper?”

“I didn’t turn anything,” Sal hissed with a glare but still watched as the men uncovered the small space. “Paul’s as nuts as they come, but you told me to do what was needed to gain his trust so…I did.”

“I’m making Nina a widow,” Chris called with a snort of disgust. He saw Jensen’s face and realized he understood a lot more than the others might think. “You asked me once if my injury was the only reason I retired from the Navy. Well it wasn’t. The backstabbing and having to wonder who would sell me out next was the other reason I left the military.”

“That and he and Mark had one big blow up too many,” Doug smirked, tossing the last board aside and peering in only to groan. “Oh, seriously? What’s next? Is it coated with kryptonite or something?”

Jensen felt cold and sick as he looked at the sealed box. “Jay!” he shouted louder, hoping that his voice was getting through. It scared him to death that no sounds were being heard in response. “Jared? Jay!”

“He can’t answer you.” Sal finally spoke up, continuing when several sharp eyes pinned him and a foot nudged his bleeding knee. “The box is soundproof so he can’t even hear you. He probably couldn’t hear anyway with everything Paul did to him. He was pretty out of it when we finally tossed him inside that box. He shouldn’t have run out of air though…not yet. Of course I’m not sure if he was breathing too well under the gag, the tape, and that covering.”

“No!” Chris snapped at Jensen as the singer tensed as if to spring at Sal. “You stay right here and let Mark deal with him!” Chris dropped into the small space after seeing that there was enough room around the box. He winced as he studied the box. It couldn’t be much more than five feet long. How did a 6’4” kid fit into such a small box? Cursing even more, he grabbed the pry bar and hit the lip of the smooth box to begin to lever it up. “Hey! Have someone go grab some blankets and water and that bag in the back of the Hummer!”

Mark nodded his understanding and relayed the orders to someone outside; meanwhile, he divided his attention among the man he was debating on shooting, the activity going on as the house was searched, and what the hell they were going to find when the lid finally came off that damn box.

“Chris, hurry up,” Jensen urged, a strange sense of urgency hitting him as he made himself stay still. He didn’t get in the way as his friend grunted, cursed and offered more than a few choice words at several people until suddenly the sealed lid gave a loud pop, and he saw it move. “Jay?”

A sharp jerk of Chris’s head had a hand landing on the singer’s arm to urge restraint, but that was hard when all Jensen wanted was to get to Jared and reassure him that he was safe.

“Give me a second to move the lid out of the way so we can…fuck!” Chris had been trying to stay calm for Jensen’s sake, but when he glanced into the box as the heavy lid was pulled out of the hole, he felt his heart give a sharp kick to his ribs. His stomach flipped and his brain sizzled with a rage that he hadn’t honestly felt since he’d been bodyguarding Jensen and that asshole boyfriend had weaseled his way into his life had set him up to get drugged and beat up once he’d gotten all that he’d wanted from him.

“Chris?” Jensen had been watching Chris closely and saw the fury and horror wash over his face, making his own worry increase even more. The moment he saw why Chris had reacted in such a way, he became oblivious to anything other than his need to get to Jared, to get him free from that awful thick black latex covering that seemed to be molded to his contorted limbs as he lay so still; there was no sign of movement in the box that had held him prisoner. “No,” he whispered and could hear Jared telling him how much he hated the covering. “No, get him outta there and get that off of him. Get it off, Chris!”

Chris dimly heard a thud and realized that Mark had just knocked Sal out so he could give his full attention to what was causing Jensen’s near meltdown. “Get something to lay him on…find those damn blankets…and make sure Paul is in cuffs and out of Jensen’s line of sight when we’re ready to move Jared out of here.” He gave the orders quietly while carefully, ever so gently, lifting the still body out of the box. He wasn’t even a little bit surprised that it was Jensen who took him nor that the singer made a low growl at anyone else who came to close to them.

As soon as Jensen had Jared’s twisted and still body in his arms, he sat on the floor, scooted a bit away from the open hole, and put his back to it, the bed, the bench and all the other things in the room. He held his friend’s still form and begin to try to find a way to pull the black casing off his body. He was beginning to panic because Jared still hadn’t moved at all.

“It won’t come off. Why the hell won’t it come off?” His voice was low, strained, and as close to panicked as Chris had heard it in a long time. The former bodyguard dropped next to them with a knife in his hand. “He hates this, Chris. He hates it cause it’s so tight and…oh my God, what the hell have they done to him?”

The latex sheath was tight enough that it showed the outline of the hood, the gag, and the ropes binding Jared’s long limbs into a painfully contorted shape and it also showed the shape of the cock cage as well as something that protruded from Jared’s bottom. Jensen could feel it pressing against his leg where he had his friend sitting. He tried to maintain control, but he wanted to cry or throw up as he began to understand Paul’s words more.

Jared was still ominously unmoving, and Jensen’s fingers shook as they tried to make a tear in the material. “I’m with you, Jay. I don’t know if you can hear me yet but give me just a second. I’m getting this crap off of you and getting you untied and we’ll go home.” Jensen ignored the hiss Chris gave at that one since he wasn’t stupid; he knew this time his friend needed a hospital no matter how much he might hate the idea. “Damn it!”

“Calm down and just hold him, Jensen.” Mark had knelt down on the other side of Jared and pulled a knife out of his boot. “You start at the head while I start at his feet and work up,” he told Chris who’d been having his hands batted away by an anxious singer who feared the blades. “Kid, the only way this stuff comes off is with a blade. This isn’t like the zipper bags some people use. This must have been heat sealed which means the only way to free your friend is to cut the damn stuff off, so hold him still so he doesn’t jerk if he feels us touching him.”

Jensen nearly snapped. He still wasn’t thrilled with Chris touching Jared, so he sure as hell wasn’t happy having the fed near him, especially since one of his agents…former agents…whatever…had a hand in what was done to his friend.

He shifted his grip on Jared so whatever the hell was trapped in his ass wouldn’t be pushing against his leg and possibly hurting the boy even more. One of the men he recalled seeing in the warehouse ran back in with several blankets, a first-aid kit, some bottled water, and a few pillows. A uniformed EMT followed closely, but Jensen merely snarled at the man when he came too close, and the paramedic wisely chose to stay back while they worked to free the boy.

“Shit, shit shit,” Chris muttered as he finally got the sheath cut enough that he could start to pull it free from Jared’s head. He felt Jensen jerk and heard some harsh curses from the other men as they realized that the hood needed to be dealt with as well. “I am starting to think this asshole trained under some very sick people,” he muttered, leaving the sheath and moving to study the heavy leather collar wrapped tightly around Jared’s throat. “Jensen? Can you figure out how to get that off him or do you want Doug to…fine, I won’t remind you of that gesture later.”

“Just finish cutting this damn thing off of him,” Jensen gritted, blinking his eyes to clear them as he worked to keep Jared in his arms while he tried to figure out how the collar came off. “Shh, I have you, baby. I have…Jay?”

Something about the switch in tone made Chris look up, and he saw the buried anger fade away to be replaced by a spark of panic. “Jensen? What’s wrong?”

“I…I can’t find a pulse,” Jensen whispered. His fingers had been moving under the collar, trying to find the clasp to release it, when he realized that something was very wrong. He pressed his fingers to Jared’s neck and felt his heart stutter in fear when he realized what it was. “I can’t find his pulse!”



Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Thirteen

“I can’t find his pulse! He’s not breathing!” Jensen felt like he couldn’t expand his lungs either as he stared at the still, slack form of his friend.

Dropping the blade to take a firm hold of the black latex that trapped Jared even more tightly than the ropes, Chris gave a sharp nod, and Mark Stein used his knife to swiftly cut down through the material while being careful to not cut the already damaged skin.

“Calm down, Jensen,” Chris urged, but he knew that would be next to impossible for the singer who was already stressed just about to his breaking point. “Calm down and listen to me. He has a heartbeat; it’s really slow so that’s why you might not have felt a pulse, but put your hand on his chest. See? You can feel his heart beating. You can feel his chest rising. We need to get him untied so the blood is flowing better; we need to get this collar off so he can get air more. Just keep your hand on his chest and make sure you keep yourself breathing so you don’t pass out on me.”

Jensen was fighting not to lose it. When he’d slipped his fingers under the collar and the hood and didn’t feel a pulse he just about lost it completely. Now, as he laid his hand over the bruised and bloody chest of his friend, he did feel Jared’s heartbeat; this allowed him to take a few deep breaths himself which was enough to spur him back into action.

“I’m getting this off, Jay.” His fingers weren’t anywhere steady as he fumbled with the collar, but after a few seconds, he felt the clasp open. “Get this goddamn thing away from him!”

The collar was hurled across the bedroom with a violent curse, and then Jensen began to try to work the tight hood up over a face that was ghostly white. He grimaced as bruises, cuts, and blood were revealed with every inch that was uncovered.

The singer kept up a running dialogue as he worked, not really saying anything, but just making noise in case Jared could hear him on some level. He could see that Chris was still carefully cutting the latex away from Jared’s body, which was also badly injured. He’d tried to prepare himself for the worst, but Jensen knew he’d failed when he finished removing the hood, which he also flung away, and then felt his stomach pitch at the sight of the gag.

“God,” he groaned and his fingers shook more when they carded through hair soaked with sweat something else that he really didn’t want to think about. He noticed that while the hair was still long and thick in the back, the front of Jared’s hair, the bangs that had almost always fallen into his shy eyes, had been badly chopped; he blinked back tears as he realized that’s where there dark hair in his house had come from. “Jay? Hey. C’mon now, start waking up for me.”

Jensen was now tuning out all the other voices in the room as he concentrated on the gag. He’d been in enough clubs in LA, a few that he swore never to go near again, to know what the hell this was, so he let Chris very carefully cut the bondage tape that sealed the gag. He removed the ball and hurled it across the room, hearing glass break.

“Do we need that as evidence?” someone asked after the ball attachment broke a window and sailed outside.

“Don't worry about that now,” Mark muttered too focused on helping Chris Kane to really care about much else. Then he saw something that made him go still. “Chris. Problem.”

Chris had already seen what the fed just noticed, and he knew it would become a major problem if they couldn’t find the damn key before Jensen’s attention moved to it because the damn cockcage would take more than a couple of paperclips to unlock it.

The strap to the ring gag was unhooked, and Jensen forced himself to move slowly as he worked to remove it from Jared’s mouth. He could see welts left on his face from the tight straps. A hand grabbed the gag before he could throw it, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was gently rubbing his fingers over the hinges of his friend’s jaw to help it close after being held open for so long.

“Jay? Jared? It’s okay now, babe. I’m here with you. I got that damn hood off and the gag’s gone, so you can open your eyes and look at me now.” He wanted that more than anything, to see those hazel eyes again, but a part of him also thought it might be better if his friend just stayed unconscious for a bit longer until they got him freed all the way.

Jared’s eyes were actually open a little bit since the drug Paul had administered prevented them from closing all the way, but they were unfocused, unseeing, and nearly blank as if the bright boy wasn’t even inside his own mind anymore.

Jared’s face was a sickly white. It was also bruised, bloody, filthy and damp from tears, sweat, and…once again Jensen shut that train of thought down as he grabbed a wet cloth that someone held out and gently wiped it over his friend’s face to clean it off. He also hoped the cool cloth might bring the younger man around some, but he remained still and completely quiet.

“Shhh, you’re safe. I’m here,” he whispered, lightly running the cloth over a deep gash on Jared’s face before moving it over his open eyes to carefully close the lids. He shook with anger at the thought of Jared being forced to watch all the abuse, not being able to close his eyes even behind the hood. “Close your eyes and rest, Jay. You don’t have to keep them open now. You don’t have to do anything now but rest. I’ll take care of you.”

Jared whimpered softly, the first sound he had made since being lifted from the box, as his body was moved away from Jensen’s. He was placed on a blanket on the floor so the ropes and other remaining straps and restraints could be removed easier. Jensen continued to hover over him and snarled if anyone but Chris got too close.

“Get him loose,” Jensen snapped; he wanted to just take Jared into his arms and hold him; he wanted to make all of this just disappear, but he knew he couldn’t until they got him completely loose and his arms and legs unfolded. Now that he wasn’t sitting and holding Jared, now that he was hovering above him, he finally saw the nipple clamps, cage, and plug. His emotions were on a roller coaster and his temper flared once again. “What they hell did those bastards do to him?”

“Okay, you need to back off and let the medics get in here. They need to start getting all this stuff off…and out.” Chris placed a gentle hand on Jensen’s shoulder. He could hear Mark on the radio demanding that someone get Anton Paul or his wife to hand over the special key to the cage, but he was keeping his attention on the stony face in front of him. “Jensen…”

“Go to hell,” Jensen shot back, grabbing another blanket to cover his friend. He knew Jared’s body had been sweating from the tight latex, but was now exposed to the cooler air in the room, and he wanted to prevent the boy from going deeper into shock. “If you think I’m letting him be touched by anyone other than you or me right now, then someone must’ve hit you in the damn head. I trusted him once with someone else…alright twice…and both times I’ve regretted it. I won’t do it again.”

Chris opened his mouth to snap but closed it with a sigh. He knew Jensen wouldn’t be very eager to trust anyone with Jared again and while that was fine for the moment, soon he was going to have to let the paramedics administer some medical help.

Jensen knew on some level that he was in denial as he kept refusing to let the medics get close to Jared, but he couldn’t seem to help himself and stubbornly went back to ignoring the men in the room. He kept a hand on Jared’s shoulder, desperate to keep some form of physical contact with the boy, especially while he was still unresponsive. He moved to sit behind him, and finally saw what had been pressing into his leg when he had held Jared right after he had been brought out of the box.

He swallowed hard, and then glared across the room at Sal who was just starting to regain consciousness. “Get that asshole out of this room before I throw him out of the window!” he growled lowly. The large black man who was shaking Sal, trying to get information about the key to the cockcage, paused and pulled Sal to his feet. Jensen shook his head, forcing himself to stay at Jared’s side rather than go carry through with his threat. “You didn’t have to do this to him, you bastard.”

Sal shot a sneer over. “He’s Anton’s pet. His ass was gonna be on call 24/7, so it made sense to keep it open. Kind of thought you might appreciate that to since I’m sure that’s all…ugh!” A fist to his jaw cut off his words.

“Get his ass locked in a truck downstairs!” Mark snapped after he’d punched the man in the face to shut him up. He searched his pockets and triumphantly pulled out the small key he’d been keeping safe. “I won’t complain a bit if he winds up bleeding some more for all the crap he’s causing me. Hell…if he manages to get lost and dumped to be eaten by the wildlife, that works for me, too.”

Jensen had nearly gone for the man, but stayed where he was beside Jared. While he still didn’t fully trust the fed or want him too close to his wounded friend, he was grateful to him for giving Sal the punch he deserved. “Jay? I don’t know if you can hear me right now, but if you can, you’re going to hurt…a lot…your muscles are really knotted from being tied up…and this crap has got to come out and off so just…I’m with you and it really is going to be alright soon.” He hoped he could keep that promise since he’d sucked at keeping the one about keeping Jared safe.

“I’ll get it.” He spoke before anyone got the idea of touching his friend, lifting his eyes and holding out his hand for the key. “I’ll get it…I have him.”

“Jensen,” Chris understood what Jensen wanted, what he was doing, but there were things he just didn’t think the singer needed to take on. “I can do this. You can just talk to him.”

“I have him,” Jensen repeated more firmly and then began talking to Jared again. His voice was soft, soothing and steadier than his hands were as he first removed the massive plug.

It was still vibrating when he tossed it aside, and then he was biting his tongue to keep in every curse that wanted to slip free. It was plain that the damn plug that had been shoved into Jared’s red, bloody ass hadn’t just been used as another device to shame him. It was being used to keep someone’s semen inside the boy, probably the so-call cult leader’s or maybe even the smirking ex-fed’s.

“Do you have any control over this kid?” Mark asked quietly; he had to remind himself that the naked injured boy was not really part of his case, but he was considering making him one because while he’d seen a lot in his career, this was making him sick. “I figure I should ask before he flips out on someone…like you.”

Chris shot the man a dark look but did ease away to try to give the two some privacy. It was clear that whatever the hell had been done to Jared had hurt him severely, and not just in the obvious ways such as all the bloody welts, burns and the mess that was his upper back. Chris squinted and looked closer at Jared’s back. He swore when he realized that something had actually been branded into his skin.

“No,” he replied, “I probably couldn’t control him even if I wanted to.” He moved back toward the boys, wanting to offer more help, but Jensen would only allow him to undo the array of ropes and straps that had twisted Jared’s arms and legs into a pretzel.

Jensen was still keeping up a steady stream of words, telling Jared about the kittens and how they were all safe and waiting for him as soon as he was well enough to go see them. He told him how they were getting a new place to live with an even better view and a thirty-foot high fence that would keep even the most adventurous kittens contained.

His voice broke a little when he eased the hollow dildo out and the blood mixed with come that came with it and continued to leak from the loose and abused hole. A thick little vibrator had also been pushed deep inside to further torment him.

The mark on Jared’s upper back, in between his shoulder blades, made Jensen sick because he realized his friend must have been conscious when he was branded, and there was no doubt that was what it was. It was deep, raw, bloody and already beginning to show signs of infection.

Jared whimpered again as his twisted arms were gently eased back into a normal position. His wrists were raw and bloody from where he’d tried to fight against the restraints. His muscles had been twisted and contorted for long enough, that now, as they were trying to readjust, they were beginning to cramp. At the moment it was a blessing that the young man was so deep inside his own mind that he didn’t feel all the burning agony.

“Jensen, let me or Mark touch him enough to help work out the cramps,” Chris tried to be reasonable since knocking his friend out was not high on his list of things to do. “I swear that’s all we’ll do. You can take the cage off and…that out.”

“That? What’s that?” Jensen had been so focused on handling the plug and other stuff that he hadn’t looked closely enough at the cage that kept Jared’s cock trapped. Now he did, and now he snarled.

“Goddamn it Kane. What kind of words did you teach this kid?” Someone in the room whistled at the wide array of curses used. “He cusses better than some sailors at a third world port of call and that’s saying something.”

Jensen didn’t know how to roll Jared to his back without causing him pain from all the open wounds there, but he knew he needed him flat to try to straighten his legs out and also to get the remaining devices off. “Shhh, don’t cry, Jay. I know it hurts. I know it feels bad. I’m going as fast as I can without hurting you even more.” He made soothing noises as Jared let out yet another whimper; he wished it was just the two of them in the room, but he knew that as soon as he had Jared fully free, he could get him away from this place. Unfortunately, they would be heading for a hospital rather than home. “I…I need that bag in the Hummer, Chris.”

“Doug went for it,” Chris assured him. As if mentioning his name summoned him, the man in question returned with the bag and still more blankets. “Can I touch him? Just to help with the cramped muscles?”

If Jensen had felt he had a choice, he would have said no, but he knew there was a risk of permanent damage if those muscles didn’t loosen, so with a forced sigh he nodded. He turned his own attention to his fingers, which shook badly as he tried to fit the tiny hex key into the damn little lock on the cockcage.

“Jay? If you feel hands on you, don’t be scared. It’s just Chris. He’s going to try to work the cramps out of your arms and legs, so it doesn’t cripple you. He won’t touch you anywhere but there but…I need to take this last thing off, so you will feel me a little.” Jensen talked the entire time he was unlocking the cage.

He still didn’t know if Jared could hear him, and even if did hear him, he didn’t know if the boy understood the words being said. It was clear that Jared had retreated far into his mind, away from the fear, pain, and shock. Regardless, Jensen continued to talk, and he explained as best as he could what he was doing. He wanted to make sure that if Jared started to become aware of things, he knew exactly what was happening so he might not be as scared. But except for a few low whimpers and an occasional muscle twitch, he remained still and silent and that was worrying Jensen.

“What if he doesn’t wake up?” He hadn’t realized he’d spoken the fear out loud until he felt a hand on his arm. “Look at him, Chris. Why would they do this to him? He’s just a kid!”

Mark turned to open his mouth to mention that this ‘kid’ probably wasn’t much younger than Jensen, but he felt a punch to his leg so he kept quiet.

“They hurt him because they could,” Chris replied while massaging the knotted muscles as best he could until they could get him to a hospital. “Men like Paul, like the gang punk…anyone like them…they think they can take what they want. Jared’s been hurt enough that they think it makes him an easy target, but he’s tough. He’ll pull through this.”

The fear was plain in Jensen’s eyes as he finished pulling the main section of the cage off and let it be taken from his hand rather than hurling it like he wanted to. “What if he can’t get over what they did this time?” he countered, wincing himself as he tried to free the rings that held Jared’s balls; he wanted to rip Anton Paul’s balls off and shove them down his throat for doing this to the frightened boy. “He was just starting to heal. He was just starting to trust. They’ve whipped him, Chris! Look at his back. He’s been tortured, abused, raped, and…the bastard branded him!

“He’s not moving, not crying, not reacting to me; it’s like he’s not even here!” Jensen saw the brand on the inside of Jared’s leg form when he’d been younger and didn’t bother to hide the tears. “He was just a little kid when they did this to him. He hurt him now because he couldn’t stand being told no. Jared fought back and was punished even more. You think he’ll trust me again? You think he’ll want to wake up just to go through this crap?”

“He’ll trust you because he knows you won’t hurt him, Jensen. You didn’t do this to him. He’ll know that and he will come back to you; it just might take time,” Chris told him. “Let’s finish this so you can get him out of here, okay?”

Jensen nodded. He tried to remove the damn nipple clamps as carefully as he could, biting his lip when he got them off. He heard another small whimper as blood rushed back to the abused little nubs. He finally faltered at the removal of the sound. He’d heard of them before but never seen one used, so he was fighting really hard to not let himself imagine the pain Jared had been put through with that thing. He was also scared of removing it and causing the boy more pain, but he knew it had to come out. “I…I…Chris, I…don’t know…that…”

“May I take it out?” A young female EMT spoke from where she’d been standing to the side since it was clear that going close to the young man in question wasn’t wise. “I promise I can have it removed by the time you ready a blanket for him.”

Green eyes stared at the woman warily as if judging her intentions before a whimper from Jared made him relent. “Can…can I hold him while you do it?” He thought it best if Jared was held in case he jerked or twitched while the young woman worked.

The whimpers and muscle spasms all seemed involuntary; Jared still seemed a million miles away; but Jensen still would feel better if he could hold his friend while the paramedic removed the damn sound that had been inserted into his penis.

“Sure, sweetie. You hold him while I get my gloves on.” She smiled reassuringly at Jensen while pulling on a pair of sterile gloves. She turned to look at the men in the room and the other EMT. “He’s obviously in shock and he’s lost a lot of blood. Get a gurney up here and have some IV fluids ready in the truck. Will he let us take him?”

This was aimed at Chris, the only one the blond appeared to respond to without too much of a snarl.

“Probably, but you’ll have to let him go with you. That's for the best anyway cause if that kid does wake up and Jensen’s not there, he’s probably gonna freak out big time,” The ex-Navy man responded quietly, watching as Jensen carefully wrapped another blanket around Jared. It seemed the boy was starting to shake more and Jensen carefully, tenderly moved the younger man back into his lap to hold him.

Jared remained limp and unresponsive as his body, bloodied and battered, was tucked into Jensen’s arms like a child with his head under his chin. He was partially wrapped in a blanket, but it was open in the front so the EMT could still touch him.

“It’s almost over, Jay,” Jensen was whispering, eyes sharp as he watched the woman wipe a sterile pad over the tip before she began to slowly pull the long, thick metal rod out. “I’m sorry I let this happen, Jay. I’m sorry I left you alone and that I wasn’t there when this happened. I am so sorry I let you down.”

“You are going to be getting shit for this for the next decade probably,” Mark remarked to an unhappy Chris before coughing. “I can probably take some of the heat if I tell him that I suspected Paul was moving on the kid but I needed him distracted so I let him.”

Chris merely shifted a cold look next to him as they watched the medic remove the sound and sterilize the slit of Jared’s cock before covering him with the blanket. She stepped back until Jensen calmed down more and agreed to let his friend be moved. “No, you won’t be taking any heat because I plan on killing you after this for that move,” he returned tightly. He saw that Jensen had started to rock Jared slowly without even seeming to be aware of it. “You had choices that you could’ve made that would’ve kept Jared from being hurt or at least hurt this bad, but you didn’t care about him. Like every other job, all you care about is the mission.

“Normally you don’t get to see the fallout of your choices, so take a look at those two now, Mark; look at that boy laying in Jensen’s arms like a broken toy and tell me if it was worth it.” Before the man could respond Chris shook his head. “Don’t. Just don’t say it because if you give me the ‘mission results are always more important’ line, I will just kill you now.” He took a step away but paused, looking back. “You got Paul and his followers. You got all the evidence you need to shut the cult down, so now do what you always do, Mark. Disappear and leave others to clean up the mess. Leave and don’t ever let me see your face again.”

Jensen was lost in his own dark thoughts and fears as he sat on the floor of the hellish room and just held his injured friend in his arms. He could still feel the occasional tremor from Jared’s muscles fighting to uncoil, but so far the boy was just as unmoving as he had been and his eyes stayed closed.

“Jared? It’s safe now. All that crap’s off of you. All those assholes are in chains and will never be able to hurt you again. You’re hurt pretty bad, so I’m going to have to let you go so these medics can take you to the hospital, but I promise that I’m gonna stay really close to you.” Jensen didn’t like that choice, and he’d feel much better if he and Chris could drive Jared there, but this farm was a long way from a decent hospital and Jared was hurt, in shock, and he needed immediate medical attention that Jensen just couldn’t provide.

He knew his friend was losing blood from the cuts and welts as well as from his injured bottom. Jared might even be bleeding internally. He might have been without enough oxygen for too long so while Jensen longed to shield him, to hold him and never let go, he knew he’d have to trust his friend with the paramedics this time.

“I don’t wanna let ‘em take you from me, Jay. I want to keep you right where you are, but neither of us wants to be in this damn house any longer.” He stretched an arm to reach into the bag he wanted. “Hey, I brought you something to hold and to make you feel safe when you wake up in case they won’t let me around you. I couldn’t bring the guys since furry kittens would so seriously not be allowed but I brought this guy.”

Jensen slipped the old cat toy under the blanket where Jared’s limp hand was laying. “I’ve got your blanket and sunglasses too. It’s going to be alright now. We’re getting you someplace warm and safe; then as soon as they say it’s cool, I’ll take you home…well, someplace since we need to buy a new house. I won’t take you back to the old one.” He laid his jacket over Jared and wished he would’ve thought to bring some clothes for him. He was unaware of how he was rocking his friend in his arms as he spoke to him; he was also unaware of when he stopped actually talking and began to hum instead. He was so caught up in his thoughts, that he didn’t notice the slight change in the tense body right away.

“We need to get that boy into the ambulance to start stabilizing him and get him to an ER,” the female medic was telling Chris seriously. “Can you get him to let go? He can accompany us in the ambulance even if it’s against the rules.”

Chris rolled his eyes at the thought of convincing Jensen to let go right now, but he took a slow breath to start talking. Then he blinked and stared hard at what he thought he might have just seen even as a shoulder nudged his to show that the still present fed had also caught the movement.

“Jensen? They need to get Jared into the ambulance.” Chris spoke slowly carefully and he still watched the singer tense. “Jensen, they say his body’s going into deep shock and he needs to be moved now. You have to let…”

“I know I have to let go!” Jensen snapped, tears in his eyes when he finally looked up toward the others in the room, but his arms still tightened fractionally and he continued to rock. “I know I screwed up! I failed to keep my promise! I failed to protect him, be with him to keep him safe! I failed him and now I could lose him!”

“You’re going to lose him if you don’t let the medics help him, kid,” Mark finally broke in, deciding it best if Jensen went for his throat rather than Chris’s. “He needs help. You can hover around and feel sorry for yourself and him at the hospital.”

The room fell silent as Jensen’s eyes narrowed into hot green slits when he glared at the fed, fingers still moving slowly back through Jared’s filthy hair.

“Oy.” Doug Mickelson groaned, wincing as he could see the outcome of this. “It’s been nice working for you, boss.” He clapped Mark on the shoulder and then shot Chris a blank look. “So, you need any new bouncers or anything? I don’t think Mark’s gonna be living much longer if your buddy gets to him.”

Jensen hated being told what to do. It was one of the reasons he’d rebelled as a kid. It was one of the reasons his music had taken the path it had and why it would be taking a new path as soon as he got settled again. He did not respond well to orders. He especially did not like being given orders by the man who he held more than a little responsible for this mess, for Jared being an unresponsive shell in his arms.

He felt like snarling; he felt like lashing out; he really felt like beating the living goddamn hell out of Anton Paul, that so-called former priest, and the ex-fed turned cult torturer.

He started to ease Jared down when a slight movement had him slashing the tears out of his eyes before putting his hand back to where he’d placed Jared’s hand near the stuffed toy.

“Jay?” he whispered, hoping it hadn’t just been another muscle spasm. He thought he’d felt the slight movement of stiff fingers, but as he watched, no other movement came. Jensen was about to accept that it had been his too hopeful imagination, but he went still again as a soft puff of air was felt on his neck where Jared’s face was laying against his neck. “Jared? God, I hope you’re still in there enough to know you’re with me and that you’re safe. It’s Jensen. I’m right here. I’ve got you.”

Terror, pain, shame, and loss were all hovering near the surface as Jared felt consciousness slowly returning. He didn’t want to wake up. He didn’t want to come back into his mind. He didn’t want to hear the cruel mocking words or feel the pain as his body was used and toyed with by the other people. He didn’t want to hear the church leader tell him that this was all he was good for, and that he’d never escape to live a normal life, to live safe and happy with the kittens and…

It was a voice that he realized was pulling him back. There were a lot of voices he thought fuzzily. All male it seemed so that terrified him, but they didn’t seem to be close to him or at least Jared didn’t think they were close unless his ears were still messed up.

Jared hurt but he knew he should be hurting a lot more, so he guessed he either wasn’t all the way back in his mind, the effect of the drug were still too heavy, or something else was wrong. That scared him but he tried to focus on one voice, the one closest to him…the one that had been humming softly before someone spoke and the voice snapped.

Jared had made the choice to withdraw into himself, into his mind, to live with the fluffy kittens and the man that he wished he could see again. He’d accepted that Paul wouldn’t allow him to escape this time; the brand on his back was evidence of being owned, so he chose to move deeply into his mind, reliving those few happy weeks with Jensen and the kittens rather than go through the agony and shame of being made to respond to the touches or desires of others.

His body actually might continue to respond since he understood Paul had drugs that he could use to make Jared’s body react in the way he demanded. He might not have been able to fight that, but he could do the one thing that he hadn’t known he could before. He could bury his mind in the safety of his dreams until maybe one day a miracle would happen, and he’d either die for real or someone would come for him.

“I’m here with you, Jay. I’ve got you.”

No one but Jensen had ever called him ‘Jay’ and no one had ever spoken to him with a voice that managed to be both deep and a little hard but still gentle. Jared tried to focus on the voice and began to realize that it had actually been talking to him for at least several minutes.

He’d drifted deeper than he thought he could go when he felt himself dropped in the small box and heard the lid close. He knew when the air seemed to change that the lid had been sealed and he was being buried. The panic was there, the need to scream and beg to be let go, but even if he could have spoken past the drug, the gag, and the hood, the young man wasn’t sure this time if he could bring himself to beg.

Paul used to put him in the box, tied and hooded, just to break him because he knew Jared was scared of the dark and of small places and he would break. The punishment for speaking, even to beg for his sanity, was always harsh and perverted, but the man enjoyed breaking him.

This time, despite being afraid, the bits of courage that Jensen had helped him to find within himself kept him from giving in. He would rather go mad or sink into the abyss of darkness than give the sadistic man any more satisfaction. And so he crawled deep into his mind and stayed there, only beginning to return when Jensen’s voice finally penetrated the fog.

His arms appeared to be free even if he couldn’t move them. They ached and Jared knew the pain would be worse because of the way they’d been twisted. The pain had always been that way after he’d been put in the box or the tiny cage. He didn’t think he could feel the latex covering anymore, or the things that crawled and moved inside him, the things that made him want to curl up because he hated the way his body felt during those times.

The covering was itchy and made what he guessed were his open wounds hurt and burn. He hated the smell and wanted to gag because the blanket smelled like everything in this house and that was of the Pastor and his wife. Jared feared they were trying to trick him into waking up, to respond so they could hurt him more, so he tried to return to the peace of his little dream world where he was happy, he was smart and able to read and write, and Jensen was there to laugh and smile all the time.

He was almost there when another smell hit him as something else was laid over him. He thought he shook but he didn’t think he could move enough to shake even though he was cold. The scent was faintly familiar and made some of the tight terror loosen. It smelled liked coffee, warm cinnamon, and…Jensen.

Slowly Jared tried to focus on the voice. He didn’t yet have the strength to open his eyes and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to see if he could as his head still felt floaty.

The other voices were still there; he didn’t like those voices though one sounded like Chris, and if Chris was there, then perhaps Jensen was with him. Jared had prayed for Jensen to come but still couldn’t let himself fully believe it had happened until he felt something placed close to his hand.

He felt the fur of what he somehow knew was his stuffed cat; he heard the mention of his blanket and Jensen’s sunglasses, his sunglasses, but what he finally made him try to come back more was the warm touch of a calloused fingertip on the hand.

Jared had cringed and shied away from touch for so long that he didn’t want to be touched now even though he knew in the back of his mind that he was being held by strong arms against a hard chest; he inwardly knew that this touch wouldn’t hurt him.

The feel of the fingertip, just barely there, as if its owner wanted to touch him more, but was afraid of his reaction made something surge in Jared’s heart because he knew the feel of that finger. He remembered that single finger carefully touching him before; it had been the first touch in years that hadn’t sent him into a panic.

Jensen’s fingertips were calloused from playing his guitar too much without a pick. Jared had learned the touch of his friend’s fingers shortly after he realized he was allowing the man to touch him without fear, so feeling those fingers now was enough to make the frightened, injured boy take a risk and try to make his own fingers move.

It was hard. His fingers and arms didn’t want to cooperate, but he thought he felt something twitch, the blanket maybe, so he worked on making a better attempt. He was doing this; he wanted to touch Jensen in some way as he listened to that voice drop even lower when it shook as he yelled at someone who was speaking about taking Jared about from him.

No, that wasn’t happening. If this was real, if this was Jensen with him, then Jared would fight as best as he could with what little strength he could feel to stay wrapped in the safety of his friend’s arms, but first he needed to try to let Jensen know he didn’t have to shake like he was.

His current situation scared Jared, but to feel Jensen shake, to hear his voice tremble like it was, scared him even more because Jared didn’t like it when something scared his friend. If Jensen was scared, then something must be really bad.

Jared knew speaking was out. He could barely feel his tongue right now it was so heavy, but he realized the gag was gone, the tape and the hood as well, because he could breathe better. He also felt Jensen’s neck against his cheek, unaware when a tear fell as he tried to get his lips to move at least a little bit.

The young man wasn’t sure what he did, if anything, since he felt, with some panic, that his mind was drifting back to the void, but he did feel the body near him stop moving.

“Jay?” Jensen’s voice was quiet and the tone was soft again, hopeful, and Jared felt fingers on his face to lift it a little, but he couldn’t open his eyes or speak though he thought his lips might be moving at the touch of a finger running softly over them. “Can you hear me, Jay?”

Hearing wasn’t his problem; in fact it seemed as if things were now getting really loud. It was the act of moving enough to respond, to let his friend know he was conscious that seemed beyond him. Jared reached for an inner strength, strength Jensen had helped him find, and strained to get a finger, or anything, to move.

He thought he heard his own whimper, but he was now focused on Jensen’s voice. He knew he’d managed to move when he heard a watery laugh and strong, warm fingers closed over his hand.

“I’ve got you, Jared. I’m with you, and the next time you wake up, it’ll be better,” Jensen assured him, fighting back more tears as he felt Jared’s muscles trying to respond and get his fingers to close. “Shh, don’t fight it too much, baby. You’re hurt and in shock. Just relax and go back to sleep but…don’t go too deep. You don’t have to. I’m here and I’ll be here when you can open your eyes.”

Jensen wanted to just curl up with Jared in his arms, to just hold him and rock them both. He was relieved that Jared appeared to hear him and seemed to be trying to respond. He hoped it meant his friend would be able to wake up fully when it was time; he watched the rapid eye movement under tightly closed eyelids and his relief started to fade as he felt the unstable pulse and the change in Jared’s breathing.

“Jay? Hey, you need to calm down and not fight to wake up too soon. You need to relax again cause your heart’s beating too fast and the medics are looking at me funny.” Jensen carded shaking fingers back through Jared’s hair. “I need you to listen to my voice and just calm down again.”

The pain was starting to overwhelm him. His muscles were in agony, his back felt raw, his ass hurt, and Jared felt sick at what Jensen had seen. He was horrified that Jensen knew what was done to him and he whimpered again while trying to turn his face back into the safety of his friend’s neck.

“Shhh, you’re okay. They’re gone. They won’t do this to you again and this time I mean it cause I’m never leaving your side again.” Jensen suspected what Jared might be thinking right now as he moved a little so he could turn him more towards him while still holding him. He could feel him starting to shake more and could also feel the hot tears falling against his neck. “Hey, one thing before you go back to sleep?”

Jared didn’t want to sleep. He was now scared that if he went back under, he wouldn’t have the strength to wake back up cause something felt really weird inside him, but his voice still didn’t work so he couldn’t tell anyone that.

“I got your note and you did a really awesome job. I’ll remember to tell you how damn proud I am of you for being able to leave that part of it that told me where you might be…and as for the other part?” Jensen let his head lower so his lips were against Jared’s ear so this was just between them. “I love you too, Jay.”

Jared wished he could open his eyes to see his friend. He longed to see Jensen’s eyes when he said those words but right then, as he drifted back under, he was just glad he could hear them once even if he wasn’t sure what love really meant for someone like him.

The noises, the voices in the room, were getting farther away so Jared knew he was going back under. He thought he’d managed to give one final movement of his fingers against the hand still over his, but all he wanted to think about was the feel of Jensen with him, the sound of his voice in his ear, and the gentle touch of warm lips brushing over his cheek.

“Love you, baby boy,” Jensen whispered again, hoping it wasn’t just his own needy imagination that thought Jared’s lips curved a little more before the boy tensed, whimpered again, and then went limp. “Sleep now, Jay.”

Chris waited a bit longer before approaching his friend and kneeling down. “Jensen? Let them put him on the stretcher so we can get him the hell out of here,” he urged quietly, seeing the way Jensen’s fingers were gentle on Jared’s skin when he touched him. “He’s going into shock and if they don’t get him stabilized, his heart might not be strong enough to handle it.”

“Can I stay with him?” Jensen did tense but didn’t resist as Chris helped the medics gently lift Jared out of his arms and onto the stretcher they’d brought up. “He’s scared and…”

The same female paramedic that had approached him earlier laid a hand on his arm as he got to his feet; the hand seemed to both reassure and steady him as he swayed a little on his feet. “You can go with us in the ambulance so he won’t be alone, but the doctors probably won’t let you be with him in the exam room. You look like you should probably be looked over anyway.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling him,” Chris muttered, staying close as the medics secured Jared on the stretcher with straps; he saw Jensen tense at that. “He’d fall off if they didn’t use those,” he told him lowly, catching Jensen’s arm when he went pale. “Hey! You need a stretcher? I’m serious dude.”

“No, I think everything’s starting to catch up with me, but I’ll be fine until he’s stable,” Jensen replied, making certain the stuffed cat stayed with Jared as they started the slow and careful trip down the multiple flights of stairs until they finally made it to the first floor. “Jay?”

Jared’s face was showing more strain but he stayed unconscious as the medics began to move the stretcher out of the house and across the yard to where an empty ambulance sat waiting.

There were many more medics and ambulances present to handle the wounded and scared people that had been found in the outbuildings and sheds. Police vans had also moved up to make it easier to remove the cult members.

Jensen was no longer interested in any of that. He only wanted to get Jared away and to a hospital so his wounds could be cared for.

He walked beside the stretcher with his hand over Jared’s while Chris held back to speak with the federal agent some more to be sure this was all properly handled.

“I don’t want anything from this coming back to bite either of them in the ass,” the former bodyguard growled lowly, switching his attention from the fed to watching Jensen to make sure he was still steady on his feet. “If it does, I will come looking for you.”

“Y’know…if you plan on making this bar owner gig work out, then you really need to stop sounding like you’re gonna kill someone any minute.” Mark commented casually when he noticed something that made him frown. “Also, don’t think I don’t know about those other little ‘jobs’ you do. Does he?”

“Jensen never had to know about them and if he stays in the city, I’ll have to make some adjustments,” Chris shrugged, looking to see where the fed was looking and matching his frown. “Shit,” he hissed. “Jensen!”

“Do you know his blood type?” the medic was asking as they neared the ambulance. “Is he allergic to anything?”

Jensen didn’t know those things, but made a note to find out. “He…he was in a clinic a few weeks ago. They should have his blood type listed,” he replied, squeezing a limp cold hand; a wave of dizziness washed over him again, but he pushed it back.

He knew his own injuries were now going to start bothering him since he could feel the surge of adrenaline starting to wear off now that he had his friend back and felt confident that the danger was over. He let his guard down and that was his mistake because he heard Chris shout for him.

“NO!” a sharp voice screamed. “You will not take what is mine!”

Anton Paul had been sitting on the ground with two deputies from the Sheriff’s office near him. He was livid that these people thought they could come onto his property and take what was his; that they thought the inner council would let him rot in a cell.

His wife and chief guards had already been placed in cars, but he’d convinced the lackeys to leave him outside and uncuffed while he tried to make a phone call to the head office in Dallas. He was furious and stewing and planning his revenge when he looked up to see the Ackles punk.

The man planned, as soon as his lawyers got him cleared of this ridiculous charge, to make him pay for causing this mess. The little punk thought he could have what belonged to Paul. He thought he could take…then he noticed the form on the stretcher and a flash of insane rage filled him as he shot to his feet.

“He’s mine! He’s my prize and you won’t take him!” he screamed, shoving the one deputy away while clawing for the other man’s revolver. “I’ll kill you before you steal him from me!”

“Jensen!” Chris shouted upon seeing what was happening and swearing as his hand reached for the weapon he’d holstered earlier. “Damn it! Jensen, move!”

Hearing the alarm in his friend’s voice as well as the sudden shouting from others around them, Jensen shook his suddenly cloudy head and turned slightly to see what was happening. He didn’t let go of Jared’s hand as he saw Anton Paul lunging to his feet, shoving a deputy aside, and grabbing for a weapon, all the while glaring at him and Jared’s still form on the stretcher with madness in his eyes.

Jensen saw it as if it were happening in slow motion. He saw the gun be pulled; he heard Chris calling him; he thought he heard one of the paramedics shout something about getting down; but all he knew was that if that bastard thought he was hurting Jared again, it would be over his dead body. Later he would think of just how close that came to being true when it clicked that the gun was pointed at him.

The idea to move briefly flashed in Jensen’s mind, but the shock and pain his body was in due to the earlier attack and all the strain he’d put on it the last hours picked that moment to set in and he knew he was passing out just as the sound of the gun firing was heard.

He knew Chris must have yelled, but all Jensen heard was Jared’s voice as things went black and pain exploded…


Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Fourteen


“Ex-cuse me? I saved your boy’s ass.”

“You got him shot and his friend tortured! The only reason you’re not dead is because we’re in a hospital with resuscitating equipment!”

“I didn’t get him shot! The stupid deputies who didn’t have a brain between them to keep the bastard cuffed got him shot!”

“He should’ve been stuffed in a cruiser or a van!”

“I…okay, can’t argue that point, but I was upstairs with you and I thought they had locked him down…Look, can we just agree to stop screaming at each other before that head nurse in drag kicks us outta here?”

“I’m going to kick you both out if you don’t stop talking so damn loud,” Jensen groaned as his head threatened to pound off his shoulders. Between the pain in it, the pain in his body, and the voices echoing inside his head, he was surprised he was able to stay conscious.

Shoving Mark Stein back a step, Chris Kane turned to push Jensen back down even as he was trying to sit up as too many thoughts flooded back into his aching head at once.

“Settle down,” he urged, this time easily batting the hands aside when Jensen went to push him away so he could get out of the hospital bed he woke up in. “Jensen, I will knock your ass out this time if you don’t settle down and listen to me!”

Jensen Ackles shot him a weak glare but since the room was suddenly spinning, he slumped back to try to put things together. He remembered being at the farm. He could recall finding Jared…his breathing picked up as it all came back in a rush.

He was in pain but hiding it as he walked beside his unconscious and badly hurt friend to the ambulance. Anton Paul was screaming like a lunatic when he grabbed a gun. He thought he heard a gun fire; he felt pain; and then nothing but the memory of hearing Jared’s voice, the first time he had spoken since they found him, and he said Jensen’s name.

Now his eyes were snapping back open to stare wildly around to see that he was in a hospital room. His shoulder that Kyle had cut as well as the other cuts appeared to be dressed but there was another bandage on his left shoulder.

“Where’s Jared?” he demanded.

“Really? That’s what he asks first?” The head fed snorted but stepped back out of range of being hit with anything. “Kid, you were shot! Never mind the shock your body was already in from whatever the hell else happened to you before. Does that matter to you at all?”

Jensen really didn’t like the man, but his head was hurting too badly to shoot him too much of a glare. “No,” he replied and then once again tried to get up only to once again be held back. “Chris…”

“Jared’s in surgery and you need to listen to me before you take a swing at a doctor or do something else stupid,” Chris told him in the tone he very rarely used on Jensen.

As the man’s bodyguard, he’d learned early on that there were tones and things the singer didn’t respond well to, but this was one of those times when he needed to make certain he had his attention. He correctly figured he had that focus the second the word surgery left his lips.

“Surgery? What? Why? For what? What the hell happened?” Jensen tried to fight his way off the bed to go find his friend or a doctor and then he snarled. “Did that asshole touch him again? Where’s he at? I don’t want…”

“Paul’s dead,” Chris replied frankly, making certain to keep his hands on Jensen so he didn’t try to bolt. “He grabbed a gun, tried to shoot you…well did shoot you…then Mark shot him so whatever else happens, that’s one demon that kid won’t have to face again.”

Jensen blinked, sliding his eyes past his unmovable ex-bodyguard to the fed who was still standing in the room and noticed he’d changed from the remnants of his suit to jeans and a t-shirt; he was also sporting a nice bruise on his jaw. “You…I thought you wanted him alive.”

“I want the whole damn cult network he was a part of shut down. Paul would have been a pretty direct way to that end, but my group will make do with what we have. He was a rabid dog who needed to be put down years ago.” Mark shrugged, shooting a smirk at Chris. “Besides, if I didn’t shoot him there, he probably would’ve had an ‘accident’ before he could go to trial anyway.”

“It wouldn’t have been an accident,” Chris muttered darkly but didn’t bother denying the implication. He sat on the edge of the bed to look Jensen in the eye. “Do you want to know how you are or should I just skip that and tell you about Jared?”

“I’m awake, I’m not bleeding anymore, and I’m in pain, so obviously I’m alive. Tell me why Jay’s in surgery and what they’ve said.” Jensen would learn about his own injuries later. He wanted to know about his friend. He felt bad that he’d passed out and wasn’t with Jared like he said he would be. “I told him I’d stay with him.”

The sound of something hitting the wall along with a muttered curse about stubborn idiots could be heard but Chris just shook his head. “They took you in the same ambulance but Jared never woke up again; he was still unconscious when all hell broke loose and they had to rush him to surgery.” He took a deep breath since he knew he had to handle this carefully. “Jared’s heart rate dropped on the way to the ER. They thought it was a combination of the shock from his wounds and the drug he’d been given; it seemed to be a much heavier dose than he was given that night at the shelter but…it was more complicated than that.”

“How bad’s he hurt?” Jensen worked to sit up; the room didn’t spin so he took that as a good sign. “He was cut up and beat on and that brand looked infected. Is that…did they had to operate on his heart?” That nearly made his world spin again but he looked down when the ragged stuffed cat was placed in his hand; his breath caught when he noticed that it was spotted with some dried blood. “Chris?”

“He was bleeding pretty bad inside, Jensen,” Chris began slowly, placing a hand over the one that fisted when he heard a sharp inhale. “According to the docs I’ve talked to once Mr. Super Spy here pulled rank, the initial beating the kid took broke a couple ribs, bruised him up internally, and caused some minor bleeding, but what did the most damage and what caused the trouble was whatever the hell they did to him when they raped him.

“He’s torn up pretty bad and a rib punctured a lung, so he was in pretty bad shape when they took him to surgery the first time; that was 19 hours ago. I think he’s actually been in surgery a couple of different times.” He hated the sickly white fear on Jensen’s face. “I’m not gonna lie to you; he’s in rough shape, but he’ll pull through. You need to keep calm so you don’t make yourself worse and can be with him when he’s out of surgery.”

It made Jensen angry again to think of what his friend had gone through this time and how scared he’d be when he woke up. He felt desperate to be with him; he wanted to be able to hold Jared’s hand; but most of all, he wanted to see those hazel eyes open and be clear.

“Will…will they let me see him?” he asked, suddenly realizing how ragged his voice sounded. “I’m not family and his family…God, I don’t know if I should call them or…”

“The lawyer is going to place a call to the Padaleckis before they try to call your place again. Mark and the DA fixed it so you’re still listed as Jared’s contact and the one responsible for him, so as soon as he’s out of surgery and recovery they’ll let you see him. I imagine they’ll let you stay with him, too, since I know you won’t budge from that room once you’re with him.” Chris decided to not mention that he advised Vince Davis to not let the family come yet because he knew until Jared was stable, his friend would not allow anyone strange to come close to him. “You’ll be sore but you got lucky in that bullet only grazed your shoulder.”

Jensen honestly didn’t care about his own wounds. He had them; he’d cope with them. His worry was for his friend, and it stayed that way for the next few hours.

The anxiety of not knowing what was happening finally pushed Jensen out of bed to pace the room he’d woken up in restlessly until Chris was threatening to ask a nurse to knock him out.

Sister Rose had come by to see him, and she’d managed to get Jensen to eat a sandwich while Chris was out taking care of his own business. Even though the guys who’d been with Chris in the warehouse were still hanging around, and Mark was there more often than not, nothing really took the edge off the singer’s nerves until a tall broad shouldered doctor stepped in.

“Mr. Ackles?” He spoke in a deep voice, smiling as sharp green eyes flew to his. “I was told to speak to you about my patient.”

“I’d rather you just take me to my friend,” Jensen returned, batting Chris off and eyeing the man carefully. “Is he…is Jared okay?”

Doctor Malcom Phelps took his time to gaze at the chart he knew by heart while also taking careful note of the pale skin, dark shadows under deep green eyes, and nervousness of the other young man the ambulance had brought to his door. “Have you slept at all since waking up, Mr. Ackles?” he countered with his own question. “You had some pretty serious cuts that required stitches as well as three broken ribs and a mild concussion. Not to mention a gunshot wound. You really should still be…”

“Was I bleeding out to the point where I needed surgery?” Jensen returned evenly. He hated hospitals. He’d hated them even before nearly dying in one several years ago. He’d hated them since his mother had died in one, so he really didn’t like having Jared in one, especially when he couldn’t get anyone in the damn place to give him a straight answer. “No? Then I think I’d know how I felt. I want to know how my friend is. I want to see Jay.”

The doctor had been informed that would be the singer’s response and while he didn’t think it wise, he finally nodded, stepping back to motion Jensen and Chris to follow him.

Even though the obvious threats were handled and in jail, there were still uniformed and plain clothes police in the hospital. Chris had also placed a few of his own guys in strategic locations, as he felt more secure with them guarding the younger men.

“Mr. Padalecki made it through several surgeries in the past 24 hours, and we’re confident we finally got all the internal bleeding stopped,” Phelps began as they stepped onto the elevator to ride to the 8th floor. “Due to some serious bleeding, we had to remove his spleen, but we were able to stop the bleeding, repair all the tears, and reinflate his collapsed lung.” He paused to glance up. “You are aware of his…other injuries?”

“Is that the politically correct way of asking if I know some rat-faced sadistic sex hungry bastard and his buddies raped and tortured my friend, Doctor?” Jensen sneered, wincing when an elbow nudged his arm and he squeezed the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, fine. Sorry. I’m tired and freaked out over Jay being in surgery for so long. I also have this issue with not knowing where he is…for obvious reasons.”

Chris shot the singer a scowl since he was still giving him the less than subtle little zingers about leaving Jared alone to be grabbed by the cult leader.

“Mr. Padalecki is badly hurt; he’s still not out of the woods since several of those wounds got infected quickly.” Phelps didn’t seem to be bothered by Jensen’s tone as he flipped through some pages. “He had some cuts that required stitches. While most of the burns will heal without a scar, I guess you can understand that the one on his upper back will leave a scar as it’s…”

“It’s a brand, not a burn,” Jensen cut him off with a nod. “The asshole branded Jay to try and make everything even more degrading for him. I was there when we found him, Doctor. I took most of that crap off of him; so yeah, I know what was done. I know he’s hurt, I know he’s going to be scared, and I know what I’m taking on.”

“I’ve seen the charts of his earlier injuries, Mr. Ackles. I understand this isn’t the first time that boy has been used in this manner. He’s young, he is strong now that some of the drugs have left his system, and his heart and pulse are finally stable, so I believe he stands a good chance of surviving physically. It’s mentally I’m a bit more concerned about,” Phelps pushed open a door to a private room. “His brain wave activity isn’t as stable or strong as I’d like it to be. I’m willing to wait to make a final determination until his body’s calmed down more and the rest of the drugs are gone, but I’m going to advise you, and his family if he has any, that the odds of that boy ever waking up or being coherent again are very slim.”

Chris was ready to latch onto Jensen in case he lunged for the man’s throat, but instead Jensen merely cocked his head as if taking that in before letting his eyes move to the bed; it was a standard sized hospital bed, but somehow it managed to make Jared look like a small child surrounded as he was by wires, tubes and covered in bandages.

Jared’s skin was pale which made all the bruises, broken skin, stitches, burns, and other wounds look even worse than they might be. There were IV lines for fluids, blood to replace what he’d lost, antibiotics, and pain killers.

He was hooked to monitors to measure his heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen level. He was breathing on his own, even if it was shallow, so he just had an oxygen cannula in his nose rather than a full face mask.

Because of the severity of the wounds on his back as well as the damage done internally to his rear, Jared was positioned on his side without a shirt and only covered with a light soft blanket to ward off any chill.

The young man was still but his eyes were moving under his closed lids, so Jensen knew his brain was still active. It would just be a matter of coaxing him out of the safety of that mind and back to the real world, back to Jensen and the kittens. Chris had received a call from Sarah Ackles while Jensen was still unconscious and she had told him that the kittens were missing their friends and were destroying her drapes.

“He’ll wake up.” He spoke after several moments of silence, stepping closer to the bed and pulling up a chair. “He’ll wake up and he’ll start to heal. I’ll help him heal.”

Doctor Phelps opened his mouth to comment when a low cough from beside him revealed the other man shaking his head at him. “Does he understand that between the loss of blood, the amount of shock that boy’s body had been put through, as well as all the various injuries and the mental trauma he must have endured, that even waking up will be a stretch?”

“Doc, you had a nun, a lawyer, and this moron who calls himself a federal agent in your face already, so you know that Jared hardly spoke from when he was 12 until very recently. I know what you’re saying, I know how bad he’s been hurt, and I know the road of hell that the kid will face if he does wake up…so does Jensen.” Chris glanced over to see that Jensen’s fingers had already curled lightly around an unmoving hand after dropping the bedrail to have easier access to the injured young man. “Now look at him and ask yourself if he gives a crap about all your warnings.”

Phelps watched Jensen and noticed how gentle he was when he moved his fingers back through long dark hair, and how he didn’t touch the scalp as if fearing to hurt the bloody bump that had been there. He noticed that he tucked a ragged looking stuffed cat into the crook of the boy’s arm while laying a small faded blanket over him. He did all of this while talking softly to the unconscious boy.

“I guess I should just have an extra bed moved into this room?” he asked as it became plain that his order to allow Jensen to stay with Jared had been correct. It didn’t look like the young singer would be moving from his friend’s side.

“Yeah,” Chris snorted and then just found himself a chair to sit in that wasn’t too close to the bed, but would allow him to still be around in case he was needed. Now it was a waiting game.

A week later it was becoming a game of seeing who Jensen would hit first because while the young man was fine sitting in the private room for hours on end with only the low sounds of a TV or radio, he got slightly edgy when anyone but Chris or Sister Rose would enter, and he often switched to full on confrontational depending on which doctor or nurse stepped into the room.

It became clear within a few days that certain staff at the hospital had their personal feelings about Jared, his injuries, and how he’d came by them. Most were sympathetic and sensitive and made certain to treat the nearly catatonic boy carefully when they changed the dressings, checked the stitches, cleaned the infected brand on his back, or applied the antibiotic cream to the wounds and tears inside the anal cavity.

However a few were less so, and it was on one such occasion that Jensen’s frayed and exhausted temper finally snapped. He’d grudgingly stepped into the hallway to give his unconscious and unresponsive friend privacy to have the cream applied, but he’d remained close to the door since the nurse had given him a feeling of unease.

A change in the sound of the monitors had him looking back into the room since normally those monitors remained at a steady tone. They generally didn’t change unless something disturbed Jared enough that his unresponsive mind felt afraid such as with a nightmare, pain, or in this case, a callous nurse who was not taking care with how she touched him or with what she said when speaking to the aide who’d been helping her.

Chris had been down the hall speaking with Liam Murphy who’d dropped by to inform him that Kyle Marks had been sentenced and wouldn’t be seeing the sky again for several years. Both men startled and moved toward Jared’s room when they heard Jensen’s voice as he snapped on the woman.

While Jared hadn’t regained consciousness or opened his eyes in the past week, he had started to respond to various sounds…mainly the sound of Jensen’s voice. He seemed to know when the singer was close to him and when he wasn’t, when they were alone in the room or when someone else was there; it was also becoming clear when he didn’t want to be touched.

The doctors had decided that while Jared’s body was healing nicely, it might take longer for his mind to heal, and while his responses showed some thought, he was still deep in his subconscious mind where the pain, the shame, and the abuse couldn’t hurt him more.

When Chris, Murphy, and the floor nurse got to the room that day, Jensen was standing between the bed and the glaring nurse. She’d made the mistake of saying to Jensen’s face that it didn’t matter how rough she was or if Jared’s sensitive skin tore a little more since he was practically a dumb vegetable anyway; one who would need to go into a private hospital for the mentally challenged soon.

It had taken a full on sharp snap from Chris’s bodyguard voice to make the singer back off and focus on calming Jared down; the monitor for his heart had spiked as if he’d heard or sensed the strain in the room or the tension pouring off of Jensen.

After that it was arranged that only certain nurses or doctors could treat Jared. It had actually been easy to arrange once the head of the hospital had been told of the incident; Vince Davis pointed out that it might not be wise to upset one of the hospital’s largest contributors, and Sarah Ackles would certainly be displeased if her grandson’s friend was given ill-treatment.

It hurt Jensen to sit still and watch the flickers of pain that crossed Jared’s still pale and bruised face every time the wounds were cleaned, and while it was easy to see that any touch bothered the boy, the worst reaction always came when the tears inside his ass had to be treated.

Jensen had stopped stepping out of the room during treatments because it tore his heart to see Jared’s limp hand clench or move as if trying to find him in his sleep while the matronly and kind older nurse applied the cream after cleaning him. He’d started to sit on the bed so Jared could feel him and that seemed to soothe him somewhat, but never fully.

Nurse Mary, as she’d told Jensen to call her, had taken over Jared’s night-time care, and she had arranged it so that most of his severe wounds that needed cleaning and dressing would be treated at night so she could do it, and then the boys could sleep. She had started to notice that her silent and unresponsive patient didn’t twitch or whimper when Jensen touched him.

Sometime early into Jared’s second week in the hospital, she’d stepped into the private room early in her shift to see what she normally did, and that was Jensen sitting on the bed with Jared laying against him while long fingers soothed and touched while he talked to the boy about whatever he thought might make Jared happy.

She had taught Jensen how to apply the oils and lotions that would both help Jared’s stiff muscles and keep tender skin from drying, and as she watched him run his fingertips over the healing scar of the brand between the boy’s shoulder blades, Mary made a choice.

The older black woman was in her 50’s and had been a nurse for many years, so she had a good ability to judge people and she’d judged Jensen to be a gentle, caring person who just wanted to help someone he very obviously cared a great deal for. She had discussed her idea with Doctor Phelps who’d given his consent as long as Jensen was willing.

Because Jared allowed Jensen’s touch without flinching or, according to the monitors, becoming upset, and because even after Jared was released from the hospital, he’d still need certain wounds cared for, she’d approached Jensen about teaching him how to clean those wounds and apply the creams and ointments.

Jensen had been naturally uneasy and nervous, but he had allowed Mary to teach him. After seeing that his touch didn’t make his friend worse, they moved from cleaning and caring for the brand to the deeper wounds on and in his ass although Jensen had shaken when he first followed the kind nurse’s slow and careful directions.

Jared started to jerk at the new touch until Jensen’s voice began talking to him softly, and then he settled down to allow his friend to take care of him. After that it was Jensen who cleaned and cared for those wounds as well as the bruises, while Mary and the other staff handled the stitches and changed the IVs.

“He’s healing well considering the number of wounds he had when he was brought in and how much blood he lost,” Doctor Phelps remarked as he checked for signs of infection. He noticed that while he held Jared’s arm in his hand to check if his muscles were getting too weak from not using them, it was tense; but the moment Jensen touched him, the boy relaxed. “Mary says his vitals are remaining stable now and his brain activity has also increased despite his not being awake yet.”

“He’ll wake up when he feels safe,” Jensen replied coolly from where he was standing in the tiny bathroom to shave quickly since Chris had brought him a razor with the excuse he was getting more hair than those kittens. “He went into his mind because he was scared. He started waking up there, but he was hurt and still scared, and then I got shot and he thought I wasn’t with him anymore. As soon as his mind feels safe and he understands that he can wake up without pain, then he will. I’m prepared to take him home to care for him as soon as he’s stable enough.”

Phelps had already had this argument, so he knew the singer’s mind was made up about this and that he wouldn’t consider letting Jared go anywhere else such as into a rehab place.

“Who will care for him when you need to go back to your career, Mr. Ackles?” he asked before stepping out of the room. He heard a low warning cough from outside the door and realized that Chris was back from checking on his bar and the shelter where the repairs were being finished up. “Are you seriously prepared to give up the lifestyle you’ve become used to just to care for someone who might not ever be the way he was?”

Jensen stood up to level a look at the physician. He was getting really tired of people telling him or insinuating that he was either using Jared or would get bored and walk away from him, and considering he’d been keeping his temper pretty level for the last few weeks, he really was impressed that he didn’t snap on the man right then.

“Jared could stay the way he is right now forever, and I’d still take care of him. He’s my friend and yeah, I love him. I won’t walk away no matter what happens,” Jensen told him evenly, resting his hand over Jared’s. “You try to put him anywhere, and I’ll fight it.”

“Have a good evening, Mr. Ackles.” Phelps stepped out to meet Chris’s gaze. “Does he know you’ve talked to the boy’s parents? Does he know they’re making arrangements to come here? Does he know that if they want to take their son back, he might not have a leg to stand on?”

Chris rubbed the back of his neck with a tired sigh. “No, I have to pick and choose my battles with him, and I’m not giving him anything else to worry about until I absolutely have to,” he told the other man while looking into the room to see Jensen settling on the bed beside his friend with a notebook in his hand and a child’s book beside him.

Jensen was working on writing a few songs as best as he could without a piano or guitar at hand to test the lyrics. When he wasn’t doing that, he’d find a child’s program on the TV so the noise would still be in the room. Toward the evening he’d always read to Jared or use the laptop Chris had brought to watch a movie or play the video feed of the kittens playing at his grandmother’s house.

Physically, Jared was getting stronger, but he still hadn’t really showed any positive signs toward waking up and while Jensen struggled to keep his hopes up, it wasn’t always easy. He longed to see his friend’s eyes open to look at him. He wished even for a little smile or the sound of Jared’s soft drawling voice or to feel him return the touch to his hand, but it was now nearing the start of the third week, and so far it didn’t look like Jared was waking up.

His wounds, inner and outer, had healed to the point where the doctors were now getting worried about him getting enough nutrition. Dr. Phelps had started mumbling about a feeding tube because even if Jensen took him home, if Jared remained unconscious and unresponsive, he wouldn’t be able to eat or drink.

“Y’know they’re right.” Chris spoke from the door where he’d been standing for several moments, catching the slightest twitch on Jared’s face when his voice intruded into the room. “He’s not comatose, but he’s still unresponsive to the point where he could end up starving himself without the tube.”

Jensen’s hand settled on Jared’s arm. “He’s scared to wake up, but he can still hear what you guys say because he tenses whenever that comes up, so back the hell off,” he shot back, whispering something that the bar owner didn’t catch as he eased off the bed to move away so their voices wouldn’t alarm Jared more. “His eyes are moving more under the lids. He knows I’m here. He’ll open his eyes soon, Chris. I know he will. He just needs to be reassured that this is real and not a dream or something.”

The tone was hopeful, but it was clear that Jensen was working to reassure himself as well as Jared that it would all be fine. “How…how much longer before I have to have Vince fight the hospital over the feeding tube?”

“A couple more days…but there’s also the matter of his folks, Jensen.” Chris had stalled them for as long as he could. “His Mom and Dad will be coming to see him and if he’s still not showing any change, they could make the move to try to take him with them.” He shook his head to stop the protest he could see building. “Unlike Paul they do have a legal right to him since he is their son. He can’t refuse to go because he’s not awake, and I’m not sure how solid that guardianship you have would hold up against his biological parents.”

Jensen had known in his heart that eventually the Padaleckis’ would have to be told, that they’d come, but he was hoping Jared would be awake and responding, or would have at least opened his eyes before that time. He’d known from the start that he stood a chance of getting his heart broken before this was over in whatever fashion fate had planned, but he didn’t think it would be over a legal battle with people Jared hadn’t seen in 17 years.

“I’ll…try to get him to open his eyes. I’ll get him to eat…just please…help me a little while longer, Chris.” Jensen was tired and the panic of his friend ending up alone or with people who didn’t know him or wouldn’t care about him was starting to wear him down. “I know I’ve asked a lot of you and you didn’t have to help me or Jay but…I…love him.”

It was one of the few times when he’d admitted that aloud to anyone but himself or Jared, and he guessed this was what Chris had been warning him about so many times in the beginning, but that was then, this was now, and even if he would have to step back eventually, he still was going to do his best for Jared.

“I’ve stuck with you this far and since him being like this was because of my mistake, I’m not planning to leave you to face this alone now,” Chris assured the singer, holding out what he’d brought. “I think you and he might be getting tired of reading and hearing those books about a pokey puppy, so I thought this might be a nice change of pace.”

Jensen stared at the case to his old acoustic guitar before taking it with a shaky smile. “Thanks, Chris,” he murmured with feeling, glancing up. “You hanging around like you have been?”

Even though he rarely saw his former bodyguard at night, Jensen suspected the man was probably crashing in a waiting room or somewhere else nearby. He didn’t think he’d feel secure enough to leave the hospital even though there were guards and Chris’s own people still hanging around despite the biggest part of the threats being locked up.

Anton Paul’s death was one less hassle to worry about, but until he was told the cult’s other top people were locked up for good and that Jared was completely safe, a piece of Jensen wouldn’t be able to relax without someone watching out for him.

“I’m close,” Chris assured him, clapping a hand on his arm and not missing the shadows under Jensen’s eyes that told him how very little he was sleeping. “Jen, try to sleep,” he urged, intentionally using the nickname just to get a response. He wasn’t disappointed when his friend’s eyes narrowed but then frowned a little when he could have sworn he caught the slightest change to Jared’s face as well.

“Don’t call me that and I will.” Jensen shoved the man out the door to then rest his back against the door with a deep sigh.

He was fighting his own exhaustion because he didn’t like to sleep until after Mary was by to check on Jared, and then he mainly only dozed lightly in case his friend got restless in his sleep like he’d been prone to do since the beginning.

“Jay? How about some music?” He took the guitar out of its case and strummed it lightly to see if it needed to be tuned or if it had been damaged by Paul’s thugs when Jared had been grabbed. “You can lay here with me while I see if anything I wrote recently is any good with music.”

Sitting back on the bed, Jensen made sure the stuffed cat and blanket were in Jared’s grasp; he’d also started putting his sunglasses up on Jared’s head again so he could tip them down during the day when the bright sun was shining into the room.

Since it was evening he took them off and placed them on the table beside the bed before picking up a sheet of music that he’d been messing with for days.

Chris stayed outside the door until he heard the first strum of the guitar, and then he wondered down to the nurses station where he’d spend the biggest part of the night until Doug showed up to spell him while he got a couple hours of sleep.

Mary came and went but smiled happily when she noticed that unlike some nights when Jared’s body was pure tension, he was relaxed and actually appeared to be sleeping as Jensen played the simple guitar and sang softly in between breaks of swearing at the lyrics that just wouldn’t come like he wanted.

“Since when does a hard rocker write ballads?” she chuckled as she finished up changing the IV line with the last round of antibiotics that the doctors felt Jared would need. “My granddaughter’s obsessed with you, in a good way, but was a little disappointed when I told her I hadn’t once seen you with that dark eyeliner or earrings all up your ear and your highlights seem to be touched up. Oh, and you’re eyes are green here.”

Jensen tossed the balled up paper into the trash and smiled, rubbing a hand over Jared’s arm when it tensed a little at the pinch from the IV. “The eyeliner and contacts usually only get used when I have to perform since my eyes have gotten too sensitive to the damn things and I only have one earring these days.” He tapped the small stud he wore to keep the hole from closing. “The others are carefully put on fakes since I flat out refused to have anymore holes put in my ear.”

“Smart boy.” Mary squeezed his hand, leaving it there for a moment as she watched him stare at Jared’s peaceful face. “I think he likes to hear you sing. Even the motion behind his eyes is still tonight. Maybe you should sing something just for him and then get some sleep yourself. Now I gotta go shoo that bodyguard off before he distracts my nurses again.”

That made Jensen laugh because he knew Chris wasn’t going too far from the room. After Mary left to do her rounds, he fiddled some more with a different song before he suddenly stopped to look next to him. “Jay?” Something felt different but Jensen couldn’t put a finger on it yet.

Jared’s eyes were still closed, but Mary was right when she said there wasn’t as much activity behind those closed lids as there usually was. Jensen didn’t know if that was a good thing or not as he thought back to the very first day he’d seen Jared to the last time he’d seen him smile and felt the tear fall down his cheek.

And just like that, the words came into his mind as well as the soft and slow lyrics, but instead of writing them down like he normally would have, Jensen closed his eyes and let the song come out. His manager and label let him write what he wanted, but he couldn’t record the softer rock or the few love songs he wrote because those went against his image. This time though, he wasn’t writing this for the money or for anyone else to record. He wasn’t even writing it for himself. He was singing it to…and for…Jared.

The memories of Jared’s first smile, the first time he really smiled for Jensen, came back to him as he let the emotions come from every happy memory he and Jared had shared in their short time together. He relived every smile, every laugh he’d seen and heard from Jared. He could see and feel the first time Jared had let him kiss him and every kiss after that until the young man was starting to give them as well as receive them. He also remembered Jared finally trusting him enough to get brave and reach out to touch him.

Jensen lost himself so deeply in the memories and the song that he was unaware of the burning tears that were flowing down his face from the emotions and fears he hadn’t allowed himself face yet. As he came to the end of the song, he slowly realized he was close to sobbing as his voice broke on the final note and he laid the guitar on the floor to give in to the need to just hold his friend.

“I know you’re still scared and afraid that maybe what you’re hearing isn’t real but…I really need you to wake up for me now, Jay. I need you to open those big eyes even if you don’t speak to me right away or don’t want to be touched.” Jensen considered that for a moment before he looked to make sure they were alone and then laid on the edge of the bed to ever so carefully ease Jared more into his arms, mindful of the stitches he still had as well as the damn healing brand and how sore he might still be. “I know this is wrong, that I shouldn’t be this close until you can tell me yourself that it’s okay, but goddamn it I need to be able to feel you in my arms and know you’re safe.”

He was tired and that made the feelings more intense, but this time he couldn’t bury the thoughts of what if Jared never woke up fully but stayed buried in his mind where he was safe.

“I’m buying a house on the hill overlooking the bridge and the water. It’s a little bigger than my old place but the whole yard is fenced in so the kittens can play once we build them a fort of something…maybe even get a puppy or two if you’re not scared of puppies. I can make the basement into a studio so I can still record or write. I don’t wanna tour anymore, Jay. I wanna stay here with you and the kitten patrol and just be normal.” He brushed his knuckles down Jared’s cheek to feel smooth skin since while he didn’t always shave himself, he did shave the faint stubble on his friend.

Jensen took the wrinkled note, the last thing Jared had written to him, out of his pocket where he kept it and smoothed it out to read the shaky writing again and then gave a tender kiss to the corner of his friend’s mouth since it was just the two of them in the room. “No matter how long it takes, Jared, I’ll be here with you. Those people can’t hurt you again. Paul’s dead; Chris has assured me that he watched it happen and put an extra bullet in the bastard just to be certain.” He smoothed his hand down over the scars on Jared’s face; he was glad to see that the cut there had healed and wouldn’t give his friend another scar to deal with.

He blinked a few times to try to stay awake, to focus on the peaceful face in front of him, and then he paused when he saw the slight change. Jared’s face had been at ease all day and night, and he cursed himself for losing control of his emotions when he knew his friend would respond to him.

“Damn it,” Jensen swore softly. “Sorry, Jay,” he whispered, giving another gentle touch of his lips to Jared’s forehead. Then he went to move off the bed until he got control of himself again, but he froze in mid-move and his heart slammed into his ribs when he watched stiff, shaky fingers move to curl into his t-shirt. “J…Jared?”

It felt like Jensen’s head would explode as he listened to his heart pound and held his breath to stare down at the young man lying beside him. Jensen was thinking he might have imagined it except for the fact that Jared’s fingers were still touching his shirt and then he glanced to his face and saw long lashes fluttering as if the lids they belonged to were too heavy to open.

“Hang on a second.” Jensen heard the shake in his voice but ignored it as he gently brushed his thumb over Jared’s eyes to clear away any crust that might have built up. He then moved quickly to hit the light over the bed so if Jared’s eyes did open, he wouldn’t be blinded. “Can…God, can you open your eyes for me now, Jay?”

It had been weeks since Jared’s eyes had been open on their own, without a doctor peeling them open to check pupil reaction or something equally stupid in the singer’s point of view. Now Jensen held his breath as he watched those eyes blink a few times as if testing them before he saw the first hint of color and nearly burst into tears right there.

The room was still bright as Jared slowly blinked to make his eyes open for the first time in…well, he wasn’t sure in how long. He thought he’d been awake a few times but kept drifting back into the comfortable darkness. He’d heard voices he didn’t know and had been scared until he slowly realized that he also almost always heard Jensen’s voice as well.

He was numb and groggy for a good long while, but the one constant was that Jared knew even if he couldn’t hear him, he could always feel Jensen near him in some way. That was when he started to pull himself fully out of the safe place he’d built deep in his mind.

Jared guessed he was in a hospital; he’d dimly listened to a voice speaking over something to call to a doctor, and he thought he’d heard Chris lecturing Jensen that if he kept snarling at the doctors and nurses he’d be kicked out and banned from the hospital.

The young man didn’t think he liked hospitals. He just wanted to be with Jensen and the kittens. He wanted to forget the horrors he’d seen and felt, but as some of the drugs wore off and the pain began to kick in, he guessed there was a reason he was in one.

Jensen’s voice was always close to talk to him, to soothe him, to explain if someone had to touch him, even if Jensen touched him. The wounds needed to be cleaned and dressed, and the boy wished he didn’t feel as much as he did when that went on. Though it was better when he realized someone was letting Jensen dress the two wounds he hated the most. At first he thought he’d be ashamed that Jensen would know how badly he’d been hurt and would have to care for the wounds, but his friend’s touch was gentle, his voice soft as he talked or sang to him while cleaning and dressing them.

Jared was scared a lot and his eyes just hadn’t wanted to open; he was beginning to fear that whatever drug Pastor Paul had given him to start with to force his eyes to stay open had done something so he then couldn’t open them again. He’d finally been longing to at least try to peek and see Jensen, but he hadn’t been able to make his eyelids move until now.

He wasn’t certain what had happened. Jared had sensed that Jensen was on edge and that scared him because he didn’t want to be the reason his friend was upset or tired, and he suspected Jensen hadn’t been sleeping much, if at all. He’d heard the doctors telling Jensen that if he didn’t wake up and start eating soon, they’d have to put in some kind of tube and that had scared him even more. He hated being fed through a tube because Paul had done that to him once when he was small and refused to eat in the hopes that if he starved, he’d die and escape the pain.

He wanted to wake up, he wanted to see Jensen, and he wanted to reassure his friend that he would be okay, but he was still so weak; he also couldn’t shake the fear that if he opened his eyes or spoke, he’d learn this was all a trick to bring him out of his mind to suffer more pain and humiliation.

Jared had begun to sleep better and longer without his mind jerking awake with harsh voices in his ear or rough hands on him. When he did tense during the night, he’d feel gentle and warm fingers rubbing over his arm or stroking his face and a deep husky voice murmuring in his ear that he was safe, and he’d fall back to sleep knowing Jensen was still with him.

That night, he seemed to know it was late night since Mary the nurse who taught Jensen to care for his wounds had been by already, something was different for both of them.

Jensen sounded more tired and on edge at the thought of Jared not waking up or someone separating them, but it was finally the music that made Jared work harder to reach for his friend, to open his eyes.

Sure, Jensen singing or playing the guitar wasn’t anything new except he’d never done it in the hospital, and there was just something in the tone of voice, the words of the song, that warmed Jared. He seemed to feel in his heart that Jensen was singing it to him, had written it just for him, but then he heard his voice break, and Jared knew it was time he found enough courage to wake himself up.

Jared had felt the bed move a little, so he sensed Jensen had finally given up on the whole sitting up all night plan. Even though he thought Chris had said the staff had moved another bed into the room, his friend never seemed to budge from his bed.

The feeling had returned to most of his body, so Jared took a breath and tried to move his fingers just a little. They were stiff and his arm felt stiff, too, despite Jensen moving his arms and legs during the day to prevent his weak muscles from getting any weaker, but he soon felt the tips of his fingers connect with soft material on top of hard muscle and knew he’d found Jensen’s shirt. He let his fingers curl into that material like he had before.

“J…Jared?” Jensen’s voice sounded as ragged and broken as Jared feared his own would, if it even worked, after so much screaming and the tightness of the collar around his neck.

Jared felt his eyes blinking rapidly, but he wasn’t able to convince them to open. Within moments, he felt a soft touch wiping over them, then a click of a light or something that took some of the brightness he knew would be there, even from behind his closed lids, away. He longed for the feel of the sunglasses but realized that, even more, he wanted to see Jensen without even that tiny tint.

“Can you open your eyes for me now, Jay?” His friend was shaking under Jared’s hand and the younger man wondered if Jensen was as scared as he was; he inwardly feared opening his eyes and not seeing anything because something had really gone wrong from this latest attack by the church.

Fighting down the nerves that nearly made him not do it, Jared blinked a few more times before slowly forcing his eyelids to open; first to slits only wide enough to see the deep blue of the shirt his hand was now fully clutching, then more completely.

The room was still bright after not having his eyes open for so long, and he was grateful when he felt a hand cupping over his forehead to shield his eyes as they opened a little more. He heard a sound; it sounded an awful lot like Jensen was forcing back a sob just like Jared was trying to. Finally he opened his eyes fully and was able to lift his head up enough to lock onto the brilliant shining green eyes of… “…Jen.”

The air rushed out of Jensen’s lungs as he not only saw the tired looking but clear hazel eyes but also heard the whisper soft voice speak his name. It took every ounce of willpower he had not to kiss Jared, but he refused to do that until he was stronger again and said it was okay.

He did lift his other hand to brush the back of his knuckles down his cheek in a feather soft touch and smiled. “Hi,” he whispered even though they were barely three inches apart. “Wait; don’t try to talk again until you wet your throat.” Jensen stretched an arm behind him without moving away or breaking eye contact and grabbed a glass of ice water that he kept a straw in…just in case. “Sip slow.”

Jared’s lips curved a little more, but he followed instructions and took a few sips of the blessedly cool liquid. He winced when his throat burned like fire and almost refused to drink again until he felt a finger touch his throat.

“It’s been a long time since you talked, and your throat’s raw from where you probably tried to scream, and you were sick a few times from infection…so it’s going to hurt, Jay. Just take little sips of water so it doesn’t make you sick and don’t talk any more than you have to right now,” Jensen told him, working to keep his voice level which was hard when all he really wanted was to grab onto Jared, hold on, and not let go.

“…Safe?” Jared whispered; he refused to go back to a world of not talking. He found that he liked being able to communicate with words rather than his eyes or expressions, and while his throat hurt and he sounded like a frog, he still wanted to try.

“Huh? Yeah, yeah, you’re safe, Jay,” Jensen assured him, keeping his voice low as if not wanting anyone to hear him and look in to see what was happening. He wasn’t ready yet to share Jared. Then he caught the shake of a tired head and frowned. “What?”

Jared had heard long enough that he was safe, and while it was weird and a little hard to believe that Paul was dead and he might be safe from the cult leader’s obsession, that wasn’t what he meant. He leaned his head back a little to try to gaze at Jensen better, but it was hard as his vision was still a little blurry. He blinked a few times to clear his eyes and slowly he began to see what he wanted.

Jensen was pale with dark rings under his eyes from not sleeping. He thought he could see a bruise still showing as well as a thin cut on his neck, but as he dropped his eyes, he caught the outline of a bandage on not one but both shoulders.

“You…safe?” Jared touched his friend with a finger of his other hand since he wasn’t letting go of that shirt for the next little while. “Hurt?”

“No, I’m not…” Jensen began to say but stopped the second those big eyes shifted to his shoulder and then back to his eyes as if daring him to say he wasn’t hurt. “I’m not hurt as bad as you.”

Jared moved his finger up to touch the small scar on Jensen’s throat and thought back to that day. “Wha…what happened?” he asked tightly, sipping again. The water felt good on his throat, but what felt better were Jensen’s fingers moving over it as he swallowed. “That…day?”

“God, I am so damn sorry I left you that day, Jared.” Jensen would still hate himself and give Chris hell for a long time to come over that. “I never should’ve left you, and Chris sure as hell never should’ve left you alone. I…”

A finger touched his lips, and he went silent to smile a little, letting his lips kiss the fingertip on his lips. He felt something loosen in his chest when he still saw the faint blush that went over Jared’s cheeks. “Worried…about you. Scared.” Jared’s words were soft and faltering, but despite the rawness and burning of his throat, he still talked. “Did they…he…hurt…?”

“Shhh, no, baby.” Jensen never paid attention to the endearment and his fingers were gentle when they carded back through soft dark hair. “I had a run-in with Kyle and his gang. They wrecked the car, grabbed me, and did some damage before Chris found me…but he should’ve stayed with you until someone else was there.”

“No…made him go.” Jared recalled his fear at losing Jensen and how he’d pushed Chris Kane out the door to go look for him. “Was scared…but…wanted him to look for you…Jen.” He shifted a bit more after taking another sip of water, and then let his head rest on the pillow while his hands stayed on or near Jensen. “Hurt bad?”

Jensen shook his head, placing the glass back before easing down more on the bed to slip an arm under Jared’s shoulders; he would let him move closer if he felt safe enough to, but Jensen stayed more on his side so he could keep his eyes on his friend’s face.

“Just had some bruises and a few cuts, nothing too serious.” He didn’t want to worry Jared so he figured it was safer to downplay the actual wounds and hopefully avoid telling him the other thing for the moment. “I’m good. You’re getting there and now that you’re awake, soon we can go home.”

That made a small flicker of unease cross Jared’s face as he recalled the last day in Jensen’s home, the attack and what happened upstairs, but just as he went to reach for his hair, a hand was quick to catch his.

“Look at me, Jay.” Jensen had seen the flicker and also felt the tension creeping into the younger man when he reached to take that shaking hand back into his own to hold it. “Yeah, I saw that message, and I suspect what might have gone on, but you don’t have to be scared. We’re not going back there. Could you hear anything I’ve been saying to you lately?”

Jared had heard quite a bit. He thought he might have missed a few things, but he did think he recalled something about a new house, a yard, a play fort for the kittens and… “Puppies?” he asked hesitantly.

“Yeah, but that’s later on after we get the monsters settled in and we see if you’re scared of dogs,” Jensen chuckled, fingers gentle while touching Jared’s face, and he was relieved to feel him relaxing again. “I’m buying a new place. I wouldn’t have taken you back there after that…I know the memories would have been too raw. This way we can start new…and install a kitten proof playground, and you can make your room how you want it. Jay?”

Jared was better at hiding his doubts about that since he wasn’t going to admit that he hoped his room would one day be with Jensen. After all this, after what had happened to him this time, he understood that his friend might be wary about moving further with what seemed to be happening between them.

Right then Jared stayed silent, not asking if Jensen had changed his mind about him, or them, since he still felt safe with him and for the moment, would take whatever the older man was still willing to give him. “I…I can still stay with you?” He did ask this but his voice was soft, his lashes lowering again until he felt a curved finger tipping his head back up to see a warm smile.

“Of course you can,” Jensen scoffed, frowning when it began to dawn on him what might be happening here. “Jay, this doesn’t change anything. What happened, what those bastards did to you…any of it does not change how I feel or look at you.” He eased forward just a bit to see if Jared would tense and when he didn’t, he settled again. “Remember what I told you about how those things were not your fault before? Well, that applies to this time too. You tried to fight but you couldn’t.”

“I did try, Jen,” Jared murmured, feeling his eyes getting heavy but wanting to keep them open to watch his friend. “I remembered how you called me brave so I did try but I…I…he…they…”

The moment Jared’s breathing changed, his fingers tightened on Jensen’s shirt, and his eyes filled, Jensen just shook his head and let Jared move into his arms. The young man buried his face against Jensen’s chest as the burning tears and sobs took over and the first wave of cleansing tears came out.

“Shhh, you’re safe now, Jay. You’re safe and it’ll get better slowly,” Jensen whispered against his hair. He gently folded his arms around the sobbing man, listening to the broken choked words as Jared tried to tell him what he could of the horrors he endured, until finally he just cried.

Jensen stayed silent through this except for whispering whatever soothing words he could to try to let Jared know he wasn’t alone this time and that he’d heal from this nightmare. “I have you, baby boy. I’m with you and I’m not letting go,” he murmured, pressing his lips into Jared’s hair as he heard and felt the sobs lessening; soon Jared was still, having cried himself to sleep, but as he lay with his head against Jensen’s shirt, his fingers still clutched tightly, the singer forced a shaky smile. “Love you, Jared.”

He stayed awake for as long as his eyes would remain open, but slowly, confident that Jared was safe and would wake up again, the singer let himself relax, and he slept deeply for the first time in weeks. Jensen smiled as he drifted off as he knew things would get better now…


Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Fifteen

“How could you buy a house sight unseen?” Chris Kane was certain his head would explode and wondered why the kid hadn’t seemed this exasperating when he actually did work for him.

“I didn’t buy it sight unseen,” Jensen Ackles responded with a smile. “I took a virtual tour.”

Chris’s head hit the hospital room wall with a groan. “Oh, he took a virtual tour and then bought a house.” He shook his head. “Are you planning to buy virtual furniture too? I don’t see you leaving him to go shop for stuff to sit on much less sleep on.”

Jensen nudged Jared’s shoulder with a playful smile. “Well, I did actually purchase a living room set and some beds online since Jared saw one he really wanted…though I did veto the bed shaped like a cat for the master bedroom.”

“What?” Chris whirled to glare, about to put his foot down and say that there was not going to be any buying furniture online when he saw the little smirk on Jensen’s face. Jared was looking back and forth between them innocently and shaking his head as if taking himself out of this discussion. “Just write out what you want or send me the pictures, and I’ll go buy it and have it delivered. Or you could just stay at your grandmother’s house or a motel until you get the place fixed up.”

“Motels and hotels are too crowded and too loud, and we can’t have kittens there. I guess we could stay at Gram’s place a few days, but then I wouldn’t have any alone time.” Jensen smiled, squeezing the hand that slipped into his while not missing the faint blush that he knew he’d never get tired of seeing. “Hell, I can barely get rid of you and your buddies to get that here.”

“You’re in a hospital so there shouldn’t be any alone time, and he’s still too hurt for that anyway,” Chris shot back with a warning look to his friend even though he wondered which one of them was getting annoyed more with the constant stream of people into the room.

It had been four days since Chris walked back into the room one morning to find the two curled up together. While that didn’t surprise the older man, what had made him stop to blink was that while Jensen had still been asleep, it was Jared’s eyes that gazed up at him, and he made a shushing gesture so no one woke his sleeping friend.

Doctor Phelps and the other doctors, including several therapists, all seemed quite pleased with Jared’s progress once he’d woken up.

Of course Jensen was still leery of leaving his friend alone, and when Jared all but shut down when a psychologist tried to speak with him about his ordeal, the singer put an end to that quickly. Then he merely held the shaking young man in his arms until he calmed down.

Jared was quiet still. His throat was still a little raw, and he only really could be heard speaking when he and Jensen were alone, though he would speak occasionally if Chris was in the room. He didn’t trust the doctors, so he’d nod or give one-word answers to their questions or gesture with his hands.

He did relax around Nurse Mary who seemed to sense and accept his wariness for strangers and didn’t push him to give answers. She’d speak to him through Jensen and would take the replies that way as well.

He was still weak and shaky but could walk more now than he had been able to even two days earlier. The physical therapist had been nice and friendly. He hadn’t made faces when he cringed or reached for Jensen’s hand to steady him when the exercises had first started.

The therapist had allowed him to work at his own pace and showed Jensen the best way to work any cramps or knots out of his muscles because he did still have that problem given how he’d been tied and how long it had been since he’d moved.

Jared had balked at sitting in the whirlpool down in therapy because it had meant being only in shorts, and he still hated for anyone to see the remaining bruises, stitches or marks; he hadn’t even wanted Jensen to see them, even though in his head, Jared knew his friend had seen far worse when he and Chris had rescued him.

It had taken Jensen assuring him that the warm water would help his muscles and that no one but the three of them would be in the room to finally get the younger man to relent.

The warm water and bubbles from the whirlpool jets did make him relax and soothed the pain in his still tight muscles, but it took longer for Jared to be convinced that it was just a big tub and that he wouldn’t drown. It was after he’d settled down after one mild panic attack that he finally revealed to Jensen that when he’d been about seven or eight, Anton Paul had his men hold him face down in a tub like this while they played with him.

After that Jensen sat on the outside of the whirlpool with him, keeping his fingers steady on the back of Jared’s neck for the hour that he had to sit in the water to work his muscles. It was while Jared had been doing therapy to get his muscles stronger that Jensen had begun to look at furniture on the laptop.

It both amused and amazed Jared that his friend’s laptop could have so much stuff on it, but he laughed for the first time in weeks when Jensen showed him the home he found and took him on what was called a virtual tour of the place.

“It’s even got a little room off the kitchen that the monsters can claim for their own,” he’d said with a grin.

As Jensen went through each room and showed it to Jared, it became clear to the young man that his opinion mattered to his friend. He began to pay even more attention as he realized that while Jensen had already bought the place, he’d bought it with plans for them not just himself and that took another layer of tension away.

Jared knew he was still damaged, still scared, and had taken a few steps back from where he’d been getting before he’d been kidnapped again, but he still tried to believe in what Jensen said when he promised not to leave him and that things would get better.

The other day while Jensen had been out of the room getting lunch and taking a reluctant call from his manager, the one therapist that Jared disliked most of all had stopped by.

The very first time they worked together, it had been clear that she didn’t like him, didn’t believe that what he said had happened to him since he was five years old was true, and didn’t approve of the relationship between him and Jensen either. Jensen had requested that she not work with Jared again, and since that day, she hadn’t been back. On this particular day, however, Jared’s regular therapist had called in sick and she was covering his caseload.

Returning from his errands, Jensen was just in time to hear what she was saying to a visibly shaking Jared.

“Perhaps you might have stood a chance at fully healing or becoming normal if they had bothered to get you proper mental help when you were still young, but now? All I feel we can do is help you accept that regardless of what that…man tells you, your life will be pretty much be nothing but abuse. Your…type usually reverts to being controlled and wanting to be abused.” Her voice was cold and she ignored his tears and how he tried to deny that he’d ever wanted to be hurt, and how he would never allow anyone to hurt him like that again. “You have no skills that we can see. You can barely speak, and your writing is worse than a child’s. Do you really think anyone normal will want to deal with your issues? He’s clearly only humoring you to get what he can from you before he grows bored or…”

“Get. The. Hell. Out.” Jensen’s voice had been stone cold flat and dangerous as he stood in the door to the room, a fast food bag in one hand, a bag from the gift shop held over his wrist, and a tray of food for Jared held in his other hand. “Get out, get away from him and if you ever come close to this room again while he’s here, I’ll report your conduct to the hospital board.”

The woman had fled with a huff, and the food was forgotten as Jared’s emotions curled into a sick panic in his stomach and he flinched away from the gentle touch until slowly Jensen coaxed him into his arms and he broke into tears.

After that incident, Jared was quieter and more watchful; he refused to meet anyone’s eyes and only met Jensen’s when a finger touched his face to encourage him to look up. The shame was huge as were the bitter painful memories of what was done to him this time, and he still sobbed into the pillow when Jensen gently applied the salve to the few wounds that were still raw and needed care.

Jared didn’t want to revert to how he was when he first met Jensen, and he knew his friend was trying his best to keep him from believing what that woman had said. But he couldn’t help the moments when he did wonder why Jensen stayed or cared so much, especially now when he was still so weak and shaky and scared of nearly everyone again.

Now he sat on the bed with Jensen while Chris lectured mildly about the dangers of shopping for houses and furniture online. Jared almost smiled when Chris switched subjects and said that he was fairly positive that the last time he went to Mrs. Ackles house for a kitten check, the number had risen from 10 to 12. He complained that, at the rate they were going, by the time Jared was released, they’d be up to 20 kittens. Jared could tell that while the man was exasperated, he really wasn’t angry. But he did catch the mild warning look aimed at Jensen over his comment about not getting enough alone time.

They actually had plenty of ‘alone time,’ as Jensen called it, but Jared understood that his friend was taking things slowly again because of his injuries…at least he hoped it was just for that reason.

Jensen hadn’t pushed for anything physical and still seemed content with letting Jared choose when he felt comfortable enough to move closer to be held or touched, and while he’d felt his friend’s lips touch his forehead and hair, Jensen had made no move to actually kiss him yet.

Of course Jared had been wary about that, too, but not for the reason he feared his friend might think. He suspected that he might have to get over that fear, and maybe even make the first move, because he really did want the bad memories taken away and replaced by the good ones he knew Jensen’s warm lips on his could bring.

Jared had drifted into his thoughts so he didn’t realize that Jensen had been speaking to him until he felt a hand on his and registered the deep voice that now sounded worried. “Huh?”

“You okay?” Jensen asked as his eyes moved over Jared’s still pale face as if looking for signs of pain or any other issues. “I asked if you’d mind staying at the new place even if it didn’t have all the furniture and stuff or if you’d rather stay at my grandmother’s house?”

Jared was still leery around most people, though he thought Mrs. Ackles was friendly when she’d paid a surprise visit to the hospital because her grandson wouldn’t answer his phone. She was pretty and soft spoken and she hadn’t looked at him with pity. But while he felt alright with her visiting, he wasn’t sure about staying there since he had heard her telling Jensen that one of the kittens had broken a crystal vase.

“Could…could the kittens come…home with us?” he asked quietly. He really wanted three things. He wanted to be with Jensen, he wanted out of this hospital, and he wanted to play with the kittens.

“Yeah, as soon as I get you out of here, the kittens will be with us,” Jensen assured him, noticing the tension but not mentioning it yet. “The docs say tomorrow or the next day and you can come home. Is that what’s making you nervous, Jay?”

“Is it…safe?” Jared wanted to believe both Jensen and Chris when they said all the threats were gone, but he’d lived with the fear for so long it was hard to accept that maybe he was actually safe now.

Jensen slid his arm around to just let it rest over Jared’s shoulders until the young man moved closer to him. “Paul’s dead; his wife and guards are in a cell, and they won’t ever be back to hurt you,” he repeated, hoping it was that simple and that Mark Stein kept his promise that Jared wouldn’t ever have to testify at a trial. “And the gang’s pretty much broken apart now that Kyle’s in jail again. It’s all going to be good, Jared.”

“You’ll have to leave.” Jared remembered what Jensen had said about doing stuff for his record label. He also knew he wasn’t ready to be around those people, so he’d have to stay behind and that worried him. “You keep hanging up on that lady.”

“You’re hanging up on Margo?” Chris knew Jensen’s manager had been calling him and that he’d been avoiding her. He knew this because the woman was now calling him to bitch.

“She’s trying to move up the time table on the last few things I have to do and that wasn’t the agreement.” Jensen shrugged, hating to be bullied. “She’s pissed off cause I said I wasn’t re-signing with them…or if I did it would be under different terms. A lot of different terms.”

Jared’s fingers moved over the soft fur of the new stuffed cat Jensen had bought him from the gift shop while pulling his blanket up closer as if cold. “I…I don’t want you to get in trouble over me, Jen,” he murmured. “If you have to go…I’ll be…”

“Oh, no. No way in hell.” Jensen shook his head firmly at that, suspecting what was coming and cutting it off. “I’m not leaving you until you’re stronger, and if I do have to leave you? If I go somewhere and can’t take you with me? Then I’m making damn sure someone is with you 24/7 in case you need something or a kitten climbs the roof or something.” He eyed his former bodyguard narrowly at that.

“Someone meaning me I take it?” Chris saw that coming, but he wasn’t sure how Jared would feel about it since the kid seemed to be back to the point of not looking at him.

“I don’t know since I left you with him once and this all went to hell.” Jensen still wasn’t ready to forgive that one, so he accepted he still might sound a little bitchy. “I was thinking of hiring Doug out there since my grandmother says he’s been dropping by to spoil the kittens every day.”

Chris rolled his eyes at that one, though it did explain how the hell his former teammate kept ending up with his hands and arms all scratched to hell.

“It…it’s not Chris’s fault, Jen.” Jared didn’t want his friend to be angry with the other man, and while there were times he thought perhaps Jensen was just pretending to be mad at Chris, there were others, like now, when his tone didn’t sound so pretend. “I made him leave me cause I wanted him to find you. My choice.” He lifted his head from where he’d laid it on Jensen’s shoulder and saw the green eyes were calm, but still worried when they looked at him. “It was my choice to hide the kittens and not myself like Sister Rose said to and…”

“Shhh, stop.” Jensen laid a finger over his lips when he felt the boy’s breath hitch and tried to remember how innocent Jared could still be, and that he might not understand that he wasn’t quite as angry with Chris as he had been once. “I know you told Chris to leave you, and I’m not as mad at him as I was a few weeks ago, but you have to understand how I see it, Jay. If he’d stayed with you, if he’d waited until someone was there with you…”

“You might be dead,” Jared replied quietly, seeing a startled blink and hearing a low cough from the other side of the room.

“And once again the voice of common sense does not come from the one of you that it should.” Chris got that it would be a long before Jensen forgave him, but he was a little surprised that Jared was that level headed on the subject. “Though Jensen is right. I should’ve waited until I had someone else there with you before I left.”

Jared looked between the men and then frowned a little. “It…wouldn’t…have mattered.” He stammered a little on this. “He…he would’ve come after me at some point…and you might’ve been hurt if you had been there.” He dropped his eyes to the hand holding his and moved that hand up to touch his heart. He then laid his hand over Jensen’s without saying anything; he just held the other man’s eyes.

Jensen held those big soft eyes before speaking without breaking eye contact. “Chris? Go lose yourself for a few minutes,” he urged, tone steady but his voice deepened.

“No, because you know you can’t make out with the kid until he’s fully healed and all that other stuff.” The ex-bodyguard knew that tone and also didn’t miss the silent exchange that had just passed between the two.

“I know what I can and can’t do, damn it. I also know that I want you gone for a few minutes so Jay and I can talk privately.” Jensen reluctantly looked away from Jared’s eyes and shot Chris a dark look, jerking his head to the door. “Go find someone else to bug for ten minutes, or better yet, go get him another milkshake since they said he could drink all of those that he wants.”

Chris considered arguing until he was hit with huge hazel eyes; Jared was obviously very interested in another milkshake and he groaned. “You taught that kid your sad eyes trick and that is so not fair, Jensen,” He sighed and was debating how long he could hold off when a sharp knock came a second before Doug Mickelson poked his head in.

“Boss? Better come out here,” he advised before disappearing again.

Jensen frowned but stayed still as Jared seemed to tense a little. “I thought that fed was his boss; just what the hell else do you do when I’m not around driving you nuts?” he wanted to know, running his hand over a tense arm.

“Mark is his boss unless I’m paying him for a side job, and never mind what else I do.” Chris didn’t like the tone or the warning look he got from Doug, so he moved to the door while shooting a firm look back to his ex-client. “I’ll go see what he wants and grab Jared a milkshake while you two…talk.” He stressed the last word as a way to remind Jensen what he couldn’t do yet. “Vanilla shake, right?”

“Blah!” Jared stuck his tongue out, and Chris laughed since it was no secret that if it wasn’t chocolate, then the young man didn’t care for it. “Chocolate…please.”

Chris’s hand paused on the door, and he looked back with a grin. “Yeah, it’ll be chocolate, Jared. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Jensen hadn’t missed the change in the older man’s tone which told him that whatever the shorter man called him out for had Chris worried, but he’d let him take care of it while he focused on what he wanted Chris out of the room for in the first place. “Hey,” he murmured.

Jared’s hand was still on his heart while his was still over Jared’s, so the singer waited until Jared’s eyes came back to him. Jensen thought he understood the silent message that his friend was trying to give him with the touch and hoped he was right as he reached into his pocket for the wrinkled piece of paper.

“I haven’t had a chance to tell you how proud of you I am for not only managing to draw what you did to try to tell me where to look for you, but also for writing what you did.” Jensen smoothed out the paper so the words and smiley faces showed. “This kept me from losing my mind completely when I didn’t know where you were, and it’s helped me get through the days and nights when you were sleeping…cause I kept looking at it and praying that when you woke up you’d still feel that way. That you’d still trust me and wouldn’t hate me for not protecting you like I said I would.”

Jared blinked as if surprised that Jensen might think he’d feel differently or blame him in some way for what happened. “Not your fault, Jen. I was scared…but more scared cause he kept saying you were dead and wouldn’t look for me.” He glanced at the paper and could remember how happy he’d been when he wrote it even if a couple letters might be wrong. “I…I wanted to make you proud and smile.”

“I’m always proud of you, Jay. You lived through hell and you fought to come out of a shell that most people wouldn’t even have bothered with. You’re still fighting and you make me proud every time you do something new even if it might scare you.” Jensen moved his hand slowly to reach up to touch the side of Jared’s face, running his fingers lightly over the scars; he traced the slight one that still hadn’t faded yet from the straps of the gag and watched his eyes closely. “I’ve said this before, but I’m not sure if you heard me the first time, and the last few times you’ve been asleep, so I’ll say it now while you’re watching me. I love you, Jared.”

He thought he’d heard Jensen say those words before he slipped under back at that place but had been afraid he’d imagined it. Now Jared felt his heart skip as he heard them, heard the deep husky voice and felt the touch on his face as their gazes met and held.

Jared knew that’s what he felt for his friend and while he wasn’t sure what love meant or how to go about showing it, he smiled shyly. “I…I…love you, Jen,” he whispered, knowing he was probably blushing. He wished he knew if it was all right if he kissed his friend since so far Jensen hadn’t brought up anything they’d done before; he was afraid he was too ashamed of what had happened to want to kiss him. “I…can…”

“Tell me what you want, Jay.” Jensen could see the inner struggle on Jared’s face and ached to take the last few weeks away for the boy, to put it back to where they’d been; he wasn’t sure if Jared would still want to be touched or kissed this soon…or at all. “It’s the same as before. You can tell me whatever you want, if something’s bothering you or you need something. You can talk to me about what happened to you if you want and just like I told you before, it stays with me and there’s no judgment.”

He stroked his thumb gently down Jared’s cheek to feel his shudder and knew he had to pull back. “It’s still your choice of what we do or when we do it, Jay. There’s no pressure cause I know this was bad and you’re still dealing with nightmares and stuff so…don’t push yourself.”

“I…wanna kiss you but I…” Jared wanted to, he’d wanted that since he woke up fully but couldn’t bring himself to have the feel of anyone’s lips, not even Jensen’s, touch his yet. “I…can’t yet. I still feel him…them and I don’t feel clean enough to kiss or be kissed and…”

Jensen had known it would be a while before Jared would feel safe to be touched or kissed but he hadn’t expected that one. “Hey, no…no, no, no.” He caught the drooping chin in his hand. “Listen to me, Jared. Yeah, you’re going to be scared and uncertain…and you won’t want me to kiss or touch you too much too soon, but I don’t want you to think you’re not clean enough. That’s not true. I want you to start remembering when I would tell you that none of this was your fault. It’ll get better slowly, and we’ll take it slow, but don’t ever feel that you’re not clean because you, my brave, sweet, wonderful boy, are still perfect in my eyes.”

Jared’s lashes lowered to hide the tears that came into his eyes at that because he wasn’t sure if Jensen would still feel that way after all he’d seen, after all that had been done to him this time. He slowly looked up to see those green eyes, the eyes he dreamed of in his safe dreams, shining with tears. “Not…ashamed of me?”

“No, Jay. I’m not ashamed of you. I’ll never be ashamed of you. There’s no reason to be ashamed of you because you tried to fight those bastards and they hurt you.” Jensen still had to bury the anger of the thought of those people hurting Jared. He honestly didn’t think jail time was good enough; they deserved to know the pain this boy had felt for so long, but he covered those feelings until he was alone. “I love you. I’m proud of you, and we’ll get through this. Okay?”

“Okay,” Jared had his doubts, but he’d try for Jensen. “Jen? Can you…would it be okay if you kissed me here?” He touched his cheek.

Jensen smiled softly. The want and fear in Jared’s voice hurt him, but he was still amazed at the courage it took to ask him for even this small thing considering what his friend had just survived. “Yeah, I can kiss you there, Jay,” he murmured; he kept his movements slow as he leaned forward to press his lips lightly against his friend’s cheek. “How was that? Jared?” His smile started to fade at the first tear and panic kicked in. “Jay?”

“No, no…I’m…alright.” Jared was quick to hold onto his friend when Jensen went to move, trying to explain his small meltdown with what words he knew. “I…I know it never hurt before, but I was…afraid it would this time and…it didn’t and I want so…much that I don’t know what I want and…Jen, I just wanna go home!”

Jared turned his face into Jensen’s neck like he was doing more these days to try to hide his tears, but he didn’t tense as arms were wrapped around him to hold him and he heard soft words being whispered soothingly to calm him down.

“Tomorrow, Jay. I’ll get you out of this place tomorrow, and you, the kittens, and I will have one big slumber party in the living room of our new house since we don’t have furniture yet,” Jensen told him, letting his fingers stroke through Jared’s hair since that still worked to settle him when he was upset. “For today, just try to rest and…did we forget where the milkshakes were?” he asked sourly as Chris opened the door, but he was instantly on guard just from the grim look on the man’s face. “What is it?”

Chris watched the pair of young men for a moment, and he noticed the drying tears on Jared’s cheeks. He shook his head, hating to add more to them. “Jensen, come out in the hall a minute?” he asked with a nod to the hallway.

“Umm, no.” Jensen frowned, whispering into Jared’s hair when he felt him tense at the thought of being alone in the room. “Whatever it is tell me.”

“That’s not a wise idea.” Chris shot another look over his shoulder before looking back. “I need you to come out here for a second. We need to talk.”

“You can talk to Jen here.” Jared’s fingers were tightening on his friend’s arm while he eyed the bodyguard warily.

Chris did not want to do that, but he was running out of excuses that wouldn’t freak the kid out more than he’d probably already be over this issue. “What I need to talk to Jensen about might upset you, Jared. I’m trying to avoid that since when you get upset, he gets testy.”

“Right…and saying that won’t upset him?” Jensen snorted, shaking his head while lightly rubbing a shaking arm. “It’s okay, Jay. Whatever it is won’t hurt you, and I’m right here with you. Deal with whatever or whoever it is, Chris.”

“Jensen, you need to come out here,” Chris repeated firmly, letting his eyes move from Jared to the door.

“No, you can tell Jen whatever it is, and I won’t get upset.” Jared wasn’t sure about that, but he’d rather try to be brave with his friend with him than risk something happening without him.

Chris felt like hitting his head into the door while wondering what the hell happened to the quiet agreeable kid but finally blew out a breath. “His parents are out here and want to see him,” he announced and then waited for the blow up.

Of all the things Jensen might have expecting his friend to say, he wasn’t expecting that yet. “Crap,” he groaned. He wasn’t really surprised since he knew there was just so long that they could delay the Padalecki’s visit, especially if Vince or Chris told them about this latest mess. He really would have preferred, however, to let Jared meet his parents in an environment that was more neutral, one where he felt safer; not in some damn sterile hospital room.

“Crap.” Jared repeated the sentiment even if he wasn’t sure of the meaning. He just knew Jensen wasn’t happy, and he certainly didn’t feel prepared to see people he wouldn’t even know; people he hadn’t seen in 17 years.

While Jensen sputtered a little, trying not to smile at the repeated phrase, Chris shot both young men a dark look, but settled it on the singer whom he blamed for teaching Jared the word.

“Damn it Jensen! That nun will slap you silly if she ever hears him repeating some of the things I’ve heard you say recently.” He shook his head then nodded again to the hall. “You want to meet them first, or do you want me to let them in?”

Jared tensed all over, shaking his head. “No, no,” he whispered tightly, panic building. “Jensen…please. What if they’re mean? What if they don’t like me or…see my scars and…can’t you see ‘em first and…then tell me?”

The fear was plain, and Jensen couldn’t blame him. Jared had been hurt badly and was still easily frightened, so having to meet strangers, people he didn’t know but who might expect things from him, was bound to scare him, so Jensen nodded.

“Okay. I’ll go meet them and see what’s up.” He eased off the bed but made sure to place the various stuffed animals that he, Chris, Chris’s friends and even Sister Rose had been bringing by so that they took his place on the bed. “Jay? I might not be able to stop them from seeing you if they insist, but I’ll be with you when it happens, okay?”

Jared nodded; he knew he was still safe and would trust Jensen to do what he thought was best. He did feel a little better though when Doug stepped in with a large cup and said he’d stay in the room while Jensen and Chris went to meet his…parents.

“I’ll be right back,” Jensen murmured, lightly kissing his forehead before taking a deep breath and stepping into the hallway. “Opinions?”

This was aimed at the man next to him since he’d trust Chris’s ability to judge the parents more than he would his own right then because he probably would never trust anyone to be close to Jared.

“They’re nervous but also worried since I didn’t get to them before Phelps did. I tried to undo some of the worst images he put in their heads, but they are his parents so…just keep your temper reined in cause I can tell you right now that Jared’s Dad is ex-military, a Marine if I’m still able to read it right.” Chris didn’t mention how awkward that might be since the long-standing rivalry between the Navy and the Marines was well known. “Mr. and Mrs. Padalecki?” He spoke as he stepped into the small waiting room down the hall from the room. “This is Jensen Ackles. I believe you spoke on the phone.”

“Yeah, that was who I was talking to the day you were blabbing,” Jensen muttered. He took another calming breath before taking his first look at his friend’s parents; he realized very quickly where Jared got his height.

Michael Padalecki appeared to be between 6’5” and 6’6” and had the same broad shoulders and long limbs of his son. His hair was a dark brownish blond and he had the same color eyes as Jared. Jensen new there was no denying that this man was Jared’s father. His wife, on the other hand, was 5’4” with long deep brown hair and what was trying to be a soothing smile on her pretty face.

Both appeared to be a little nervous, but given where they were and the reason, Jensen guessed that was probably normal. He supposed he was also more than a little nervous as he and the older man gazed at one another for a long moment before Mike extended a slow hand.

“I’m told we owe you for saving our son.” His voice was deep like it had been on the phone with a heavier drawl than what Jared spoke with. “I understand you might not be too happy to see us, and we do know that this might be too soon to expect Jared to want to meet us, especially now, but you have to see our point of view. After Mr. Davis told us what happened this time…”

“I made Mike come.” Kathy spoke up, her accent softer, but what Jensen really heard was a mother’s concern and fear for the son she thought lost long ago. “Vince told us what those awful people did, or some of it at least, and then Dr. Phelps was just saying…”

“Okay, wait a second.” That made Jensen put a hand up while shooting a look at Chris that pretty much meant that he should go hurt someone. “I’m going to stop you right there because while Jared was hurt really bad this time…physically, sexually, and emotionally…he’s been healing really well since he woke up and that…doctor is only focusing on the damage that he feels he’s not healing from quickly enough.”

That had been one of the problems Jensen had with the main doctor in charge of his friend’s care. Phelps took Jared’s quietness, his refusal to speak in some cases, the way he cringed away from touch and refused to speak to the callous psychologist, as a holdup in his healing.

“When I first met Jay…Jared a month ago, he was scared of his own shadow. He hid his face behind his hair, he never met your eyes, he was scared to eat or sleep, and he would only speak to the little kids at the shelter. He was this shattered little boy in the body of a beautiful young man. He never responded to anyone but Sister Rose and even that hardly ever happened. He barely knew what his own name sounded like because very few people used it.” Jensen walked to stare out the window; he could see the sun was shining and longed for the day he and Jared could walk in it together.

He was pretty sure Vince had probably told the couple this, but he needed to make sure they understood all that they could about their son before he’d feel safe letting them close to Jared. “Jared escaped that hell at 12 years old and while he healed physically, it wasn’t until last month that I think he began to heal emotionally because no one ever really explained that it hadn’t been his fault. No one told him that he wasn’t bad for how he feels now.” He glanced over his shoulder at the couple to watch their faces.

“Sister Rose and Father Thomas took him in; they tried to protect him as best as they could because they feared if they turned him over to CPS or he landed in the system, that he’d end up back in the hell he barely escaped from. But he was so damn broken that he lived inside himself, and that made him a target for so much crap and for sick people and he never understood what it meant to live.” He thought back to those first days and remembered the shaking silent boy who’d tugged at his heart and changed his life.

“I won’t tell you everything because I promised him that what was said between us would stay between us, but what I’m trying to tell you is that what Phelps sees as a broken boy, I see as an amazingly brave and strong young man who trusted me enough to let me help him start coming out of that shell. He was just starting to feel safe when this happened, so yeah, it’s put him back a few steps, but he fought them.” He refused to let himself dwell on the pain or horrors he both knew and suspected his friend had faced. “Jared knew he was at risk that day…”

“He was alone.” It wasn’t a question but a firm statement from Mike who hadn’t meant it as an accusation but saw the flash of pain that crossed the singer’s face while the other man straightened and looked like he might say something.

“No, he’s got a right to be angry, and while I might still throw it in your face about leaving Jay alone to come look for me, in the end this is on me and I’ll own it.” Jensen spoke to Chris who he knew was tensing to defend him when he clenched his hands before turning to face the Padalecki’s. “Yes, Jared was alone. He wanted cheesecake since that’s become his favorite treat from the first time I gave him a cheesecake bite as a snack and we’d run out…”

“Even though there were three in the house earlier that week,” Chris muttered under his breath, ignoring the glare he got from that. “What? The two of you eat too much of that stuff.”

“We’d run out and my friend with the big mouth has an aversion to the bakery, so I went. It should have been simple, in and out and back home but…a piece of my past decided to make my life hell that day and I was run off the road and kidnapped.” Jensen shook his head at the soft sound of distress that Kathy made. “No, I won’t use that as an excuse. Jay is my friend, and I’d promised him to protect him. I’d sworn to keep those bastards away from him and when he needed me, I wasn’t there. I will never be able to take that back, and I hope he does forgive me.”

“He doesn’t blame you.” Chris responded on instinct, looking at the parents firmly. “Jared freaked out because Jensen wasn’t back and wasn’t answering his phone, so he made me leave him to go look. I should’ve waited for someone else to come to stay, but the kid wasn’t taking no for an answer. I thought he’d be safe for an hour. We didn’t know that Paul was waiting for a chance to strike. Tell them why he didn’t hide.”

Kathy’s hand was on her husband’s arm just to make sure he stayed still, but she’d seen the hidden guilt and pain in Jensen’s face when he’d spoken earlier, and she felt for him as much as she did her own son. “He could’ve hidden?”

“I’m not sure if it would’ve helped since they probably would’ve torn the place apart looking for him but…” Jensen paused to consider this as if he wasn’t sure if the couple would understand. “He wouldn’t hide because he was protecting the kittens,” he told them gently, then quickly continued. “Jay felt that if he’d hidden, the men would’ve done more damage to my place and possibly hurt his kittens so he…faced them. He…drew and tried to write what he could as a message to me and then he waited.

“Paul told him I was dead…that no one would come for him and he could’ve given in. He knew what they’d do to him again, but he still tried to fight as much as he could. Even after everything they did to him, rather than surrender, he buried himself in his mind to try to protect his sanity because I told him he was brave…and he is.” Jensen heard his voice shake and knew he needed to step back before he lost it in front of these people, but it still shook him at how much Jared had endured and how he survived. “He could have stayed in that safe little pocket but he came back, he came out of it, he woke up for…”

“You.” Mike had a fairly good idea of what had caused his son to wake back up after living through that hell a second time. He’d heard it when they’d spoken on the phone; he could see it now when Jensen spoke of Jared; and also as he noticed the way this young man’s hands shook when he’d spoken of Jared’s captivity even in the basic sense.

Jensen opened his mouth to deflect that, but he stayed silent for a moment and then chose to change the subject. “Jared has scars on his face and neck from where he was burned as a kid. He’s self-conscious about his body and his looks because he doesn’t see himself like I do or like I hope you will but…the big thing…or one of the big things is…I just got him to stop thinking he was evil or filthy because…okay, I don’t know if it is because of the abuse he suffered growing up or what but…he…”

This was a hard one, and Jensen had no clue how to broach it. His grandmother had time to suspect and adjust that he might be gay, but this couple hadn’t seen their youngest son since he was five years old, so they might not be too willing to face that…and that was Jensen’s biggest fears.

“Y’know, son, we heard you and our boy on the phone that day,” Mike broke in when it was plain that Jensen was having difficulties in finding the words he wanted to say. “It was pretty clear that you care for him and what little Jared said, the way he responded to you…and of course what this man accidentally said…is Jared gay?” He felt his wife’s fingers dig into his arm.

He and Kathy had talked about this before leaving Texas. It had been pretty clear after a few more discussions with Vince Davis, what he was trying to build up to without flat out saying it, and while homosexuality wasn’t something that was readily accepted by a lot of the older people in their small Texas town, it wasn’t exactly a taboo topic in the Padalecki household…unless it was with Aunt Clara…but that was another matter.

“Jared doesn’t really understand the term or everything it means or stuff.” Jensen shuffled a little uneasily but held the man’s gaze; he wasn’t ashamed of his feelings for Jared, and he’d been working damn hard to reassure Jared that he didn’t have to be ashamed of his feelings. “He’s been hurt and abused so much that he thought his feelings made him filthy, no thanks to that stupid priest, but I just don’t want you to react to something he might say or if he reaches for me because it seems to be a habit for him to want me to be close if he’s on edge.

“I know he’s your son. I know you want to see him, but you need to understand that he’s not five years old anymore. He’s 22 and is still fighting to find himself. I won’t deny that I love him…but like I tell him and have told him all along, it’s his choice about anything else.” The singer glanced to the door as if knowing he’d been gone too long. “I told you on the phone that choices were vital to Jared. He never had to make them before because no one gave him the chance or explained that he could. I let him make choices as much as possible, and it’ll be his choice if he sees you today. I won’t push that on him and if you try, then I will push back.”

Mike had been in the Marines for ten years. He’d met a lot of people in that time and had learned how to judge them beyond how they looked on the exterior. The young man he was looking at now might appear different than his musical persona, but he still looked like a young man with dark blond hair that still showed fainter blond streaks.

Jensen looked young and easy to push around, but Mike saw the difference in his eyes when he spoke of Jared. The man saw the protective stance, heard it in his voice, and knew that Jensen was not like anything he’d read online or guessed he might be.

“Will you ask him?” Kathy asked quietly as if reading the same things that her husband had. She’d been a little worried about her baby being with some rock and roll singer after she’d seen his photo online. Their son’s daughter had also shown some of her many photos of the man on stage and on the road. Those pictures showed a much different Jensen Ackles than the man who stood in front of them now.

“Give me a few minutes to talk to him.” Jensen didn’t want to do this, but he had to live up to his word and let Jared make the choice.

He hadn’t sensed anything or heard anything in their voices that worried him, but then he’d done most of the talking. Still Jensen had learned to read people and the Padaleckis seemed to genuinely want to see their son. Not that he’d accept that until he could see them relate to Jared because it would be then that some people couldn’t always hide their emotions or opinions.

Doug was waiting outside the door when Jensen got back to the room. “He got edgy a few minutes ago and went under the covers,” he told him. “I told him I’d wait by the door to grab you and then I’d go get him another milkshake and some pudding. Chocolate too?”

“Yeah, Chocolate in anything really,” Jensen replied, slipping into the room to see the huddled form on the bed covered with the blanket. “Jay?”

Jensen smiled when he noticed the blanket move enough to let an eye peek out to see him. “Hey, you get cold or scared?” he asked as he sat back down and let his friend snuggle against him.

“Both,” came the quiet reply. Jared still got cold easily, especially when he didn’t feel well or he was frightened. “Did…did you see ‘em?”

“Yeah, I saw your folks.” Jensen let his hand rest lightly on top of Jared’s head over the blanket just to allow his friend to feel his touch. “They seem nice and they do want to see you…but I told them it’s your choice. I told them that I wouldn’t push you and if they tried, then I’d push back because you won’t ever have to do anything that you don’t want to do.”

Jared stayed still under the blanket for a couple minutes to just let himself think and feel the strength of the hand moving over his head and down his shoulder before he moved the blanket to look up. “If…I said no…would they go away?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to meet his family…ever. It had been so long, and he knew he wasn’t what they were expecting anymore.

“Maybe for today, but I’ll be honest with you, Jay. Even if you don’t see them today, I get the feeling that they’ll keep coming back until you agree to meet them. They really do seem worried and want to make sure you’re okay.” Jensen got that his friend was scared, and a piece of him now wished he’d never asked for the lawyer to look into his past to see if his family still existed.

“Will you stay in here with me?” Jared still knew he was leaning too much on Jensen, but he didn’t feel comfortable meeting strangers alone, especially ones who might look at him and decide he was as filthy and bad as he’d been told he was so often.

“Right by your side, Jay,” Jensen assured him, slipping Jared’s hand into his own and holding it as the nervous young man moved out from under the blanket. Jared looked at him curiously as if unsure about what to do, and he simply smiled and opened his arms so the younger man could lie against his side. “You want me to tell Chris to show them in?”

He was really tempted to say no, but if Jensen still thought he was so brave, then Jared guessed he’d try to be that way, so he nodded but drew his blanket up tighter to his chin to draw support from it as well as from the man beside him.

“Chris!” Jensen knew the man would be close so he wasn’t surprised when the door immediately opened. “Jay says it’s okay. He’ll see them for a little bit.”

Jared felt his breaths get shorter and faster, and he feared he might pass out from it being too fast, but he began to calm down when a gentle touch pressed against his chest. “I’m scared,” he whispered.

“I know you are, baby, and I wish I could tell you not to be, but you’re not alone and if it looks like things are going bad, then Chris and I will handle it.” Jensen took a chance that they still had time alone to press a soft kiss to Jared’s temple. “Love you,” he whispered and saw the shy smile as Jared squeezed his hand when a knock was heard.

Jared kept his lashes lowered so his eyes were hidden from direct view but he could still look from under them to watch as a man and woman entered the room with Chris. He wished he still had his long bangs so he could hide his scars like he used to, but now he could only try to shield his face against his friend’s chest.

“Oh,” Kathy whispered as she stepped into the room to see the young man curled against Jensen’s side with his eyes nearly closed and trying to hide the side of his face that appeared to be scarred. “Mike.” She reached for her husband’s hand to see that he was trying to keep his face neutral and not let the emotion of seeing their now adult son almost cowering in fear show.

The woman’s voice reminded Jared of the voice from his dreams, but he whimpered into Jensen’s chest at the fear of looking up and possibly seeing shame or disappointment on her face.

“Jared? Shhh, it’s okay, Jay. Look up a little.” Jensen had to fight the urge to wrap the boy in his arms to protect him when he logically knew there was nothing here to harm him. “These are your parents, and they just want to meet you after looking for you for so long.”

Jared had heard from Paul that his family had sold him; but Jensen had said that had been a lie and his family had looked for him. He wanted to believe that, but he’d learned the hard way that people could lie just to get something.

He started to peek from under his lashes but then paused to ask Jensen something in a whisper that only the singer could hear; he relaxed a little more at the feel of strong fingers moving over his arm.

“I told ‘em about your scars, Jay. They won’t be upset to see them if you look up.” Jensen spoke softly but he gave the Padaleckis a warning glance. Then he could only hold his breath as his friend’s head slowly eased away from his chest to finally meet the tearful gazes of his mother and father.

“My sweet little boy.” Kathy had thought she’d prepared herself for this, but looking into the large deep hazel eyes of her son after so long, it was heartbreaking to think of the years she’d lost. “Jared, it’s been so…I am so sorry I let this happen, sweetie.”

Jared stared at her in confusion, fingers digging into Jensen’s arm as she started to cry. He’d never seen anyone cry before…well he’d heard Jensen the other night and that upset him, but he couldn’t understand what he’d done to make the lady cry and feared he’d be in trouble. “Jen? What did I do?”

Jensen started to explain, but then Mike took a careful step toward the bed while patting his wife’s hand as she wiped her eyes. “You didn’t do anything, son. Your Momma’s a little emotional over seeing you and knowing you’re alive.” He glanced at Kathy before offering a sad smile. “She and your sister have always blamed themselves for not being able to protect you, and we never gave up hope that you were alive. It’s…I know this must be confusing for you to have strangers coming in and getting all emotional.”

Mike had been stationed overseas back then, so he’d even missed much of his youngest son’s early life. The last time he’d seen his son, Jared had been three years old, so staring into this young man’s confused, innocent face as he tried to decide if he wanted to face them or curl back into Jensen’s shoulder made him angry again at the animals who’d abused and hurt his boy.

He knew Kathy wanted to reach out and touch the boy, but Mike could sense the tension in Jensen. He suspected that Jensen would allow them to touch Jared, but he feared that an unexpected touch would cause Jared to pull back into himself. At least he had finally looked at them.

Even though he was warned about the scars on his son’s neck and face, they still made Mike tense, but his wife touched his hand. The moment was brief but Jared still caught it because he flinched and started to look away until fingers touched his face.

“No, Jay.” Jensen realized his friend wouldn’t understand the flash of emotion that he’d seen on the faces of his parents, but he refused to allow him to think they’d found a flaw in him. “There is nothing wrong and you don’t need to look away. Do you remember when you asked me why the muscles in my face twitched at certain times?”

“You…you said it was cause it upset you to think about what they’d done to me when I was little.” Jared wanted to look away; he didn’t want to see shame, or worse hate, in their eyes. But as he forced himself to stay still, he realized that while his father’s face had pinched like Jensen’s still did when he was fighting not to show his emotions, there weren’t any other dark emotions showing.

“Exactly, and that’s what you just saw on your dad’s face. He’s not upset with you, Jay. He hates those bastards just as much as I do for what they’ve done to you. It’s probably even worse for your folks since you’re their son and they love you,” Jensen explained, his voice low and soothing. He wished he’d thought to tell the couple that despite everything he’d been through, Jared still saw things simply and innocently.

Jared considered that and thought it made sense. He turned his head so he could gaze up at Jensen, his eyes and face having that innocent boyishness he’d had since their very first meeting. “Like…you love me?” he asked curiously but blinked when Chris snorted, Jensen blushed a little, and the man…his father actually shared a secret smile with his Momma. “Jensen?”

“Uhh, okay, shut up, Chris.” Jensen guessed there was no way to disguise that and he acted quickly before his friend could think he’d done something wrong. “Well, they love you in a different way than what I do but…we’ll talk more about that later.”

“Did I say something wrong?” Jared felt that he had but Jensen shook his head.

“No, honey, I’m sure you didn’t.” Kathy had nudged her husband’s arm to make sure he didn’t say anything while turning to offer a snickering Chris a light slap on his arm. “And Jensen’s right. Your daddy’s still got that military side that comes out at times, and thinking about everything you’ve lived through alone, and how we couldn’t find you…it still upsets him, but we’re not upset with you, Jared.”

“Not alone now,” Jared mumbled, wanting to make sure these people understood that and he pushed down the buried fear that Jensen might leave him. “Jen saved me and the kittens. I…I have kittens…Momma.”

Kathy had been trying to hold back her tears, but hearing her baby call her that on the phone and hearing it in person were different things, and she couldn’t hold them back any longer as she let out a watery laugh at how proud he seemed to have pets. “Now that doesn’t surprise me at all since you always did like cats, Jared. We have a couple dogs back home, but I’m sure we can get a kitten or two for you when you come home.”

Mike caught the mistake a second before his wife did because he saw Jensen’s hand tighten and Jared pulled back.

“Am home,” Jared whispered. He didn’t notice he was dropping words; all he knew was that he didn’t like what his mother had just said. “Jen’s home.”

Chris had straightened at the sound of that soft shy voice dropping to an almost inaudible whisper and wasn’t sure which one of the boys he might have to speak for since it was plain that Jensen hadn’t cared for the slip either.

“Of course your home is here with Jensen, son,” Mike was quick to interject. “All your Momma meant is we could get some kittens for you when you boys come to visit.” He sighed when Jared eyed him with suspicion. “I’ll be honest when I say we’d hoped you’d want to come back to Texas with us, even if only for a few days, so you could see where you were born and meet your brothers and sister. We’d like a chance to get to know you, Jared.”

Jensen was so glad he was a performer and that he hadn’t lost the ability to mask his feelings, or else he was sure his face would have gone white at that confession. Of course he should’ve suspected the couple would want to take their son home to Texas, and he knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on legal wise if they insisted on it since even though Jared was an adult, he was also still emotionally and physically hurt. Fighting biological parents would be a lot harder than a demented cult leader.

“I…I…” Jared felt himself getting more scared and also unsure. He knew they were his parents, he knew he had family back somewhere, but he didn’t know what that meant. His world was limited to Sister Rose and now Jensen and the kittens…and maybe Chris thrown in, but he couldn’t read Jensen’s face right then and it scared him to think that maybe the older man would want him to go back. Maybe he didn’t want the hassle or…

“Jay.” The voice was soft but firm and he realized he must have started to hyperventilate because when he blinked to bring things back into focus, he was laying on his back with Jensen’s hand over his heart while he stared into his face with a worried expression.

The voices of his parents were mixed with Doctor Phelps who seemed intent on injecting Jared with something to calm him down until Jensen growled low.

“Mr. Ackles, I warned you the boy needed to be kept calm and if you couldn’t do that, then I’d have to prescribe a sedative,” Phelps was saying. “He’s much too agitated and unsure to be allowed to get upset. We really don’t know what he’ll do if really upset so I’m just going…”

Jared could calm down with Jensen’s voice and touch but the sight of the needle in the man’s hand took him right back to the mindset of being drugged by Pastor Paul and he whimpered in fear, trying to reach for Jensen’s hand as Chris stepped between the doctor and the bed, but it wasn’t Jensen or Chris who held the doctor off when he went to inject the needle into the IV.

“If you try to inject my son with whatever the hell you have in that needle, it’ll be the last damn thing you do in your career.” Kathy Padalecki had been a nurse before becoming a mother, and she still worked part time as one, so she understood hospitals and their policies quite well. She also understood her son’s reaction to the needle in the man’s hand, so the nurse side that became concerned the moment her boy’s breathing increased was replaced by the mother inside her; a mother who swore to never see her baby hurt or scared again.

“Jared’s calming down; in fact, he was doing just fine calming down with Jensen until you decided to start waving needles around and talking about him like he wasn’t even in the room. Now while you might not be happy with listening to Jensen, I’d like to see you try that clinical crap on us because if you try to touch my son? After my husband’s done taking you apart…very slowly…with every ounce of Marine skill he’s learned, I will march to the administrator’s office to lodge a formal complaint.” She poked a very hard finger into his chest until he backed away while stuttering and trying to get a word in. “Now, go away and leave Jared alone to calm down. Shoo! Go on now!”

Mike smirked as he watched his petite wife all but shove the doctor out of the room. “Yeah, the old sayin’ to never threaten a Mama lion’s cub still holds true for my Kathy,” he chuckled, watching from the corner of his eye as Jared seemed to be slowly calming down, and he knew it was because of the green eyed man talking to him. “Anything I should know that he didn’t tell me, Navy?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah, if you think she’s fierce, piss Jensen off and find out just how quick you’ll end up with a bloody lip.” Chris didn’t deny his military affiliation or ask the man how he’d known which branch of service he’d been with. He just chalked it up to him still wearing his Navy ring. “I know what you and your wife probably want. I know what Jensen wants. You’re all gonna have to hold off and see what Jared wants.”

“Shhh, he’s gone, Jay. Phelps is gone and he didn’t drug you.” Jensen would have to watch the man until he got his friend released, and he hoped to God that was tomorrow. “Come on. Breathe with me. You can hear my voice and you can feel my hand, so slow your breathing down and relax. Man, Jared, your Momma is one scary lady when she puts her mind to it.”

Kathy huffed out a breath after she made certain the doctor wasn’t coming back. “I detest men like him who think all the problems in the medical world can be solved with a needle and some drugs.” She took a slow step to the other side of the bed to offer a comforting smile. “I’m sorry if what I said scared you, Jared. I never meant that we’d take you away from Jensen or that he wasn’t welcome to come with you. We owe him a debt of gratitude for everything he’s done for you.”

“You don’t owe me anything. I helped him and will continue to help him because I care about him,” Jensen told her while keeping his eyes locked on Jared who was slowly calming back down. “You back with me now, Jay?” he asked once he saw those eyes finally focus again.

Jared had been listening to the sounds around him, but aside from his mother telling the doctor off, it was Jensen’s voice that he mainly focused on, and once he heard the deep and husky tone when he used his nickname, he released a shaky breath to nod. “Always with you, Jen,” he murmured softly, grasping the hand he felt holding his.

After another couple of moments, Jared shifted his eyes and slowly took another huge step when he cautiously moved his other hand to reach hesitantly out to his mother. He watched her eyes go wide before she took it in both of her smaller hands. “Momma?”

“Yeah, sweetie?” Kathy knew that while all of her kids still called her ‘Momma,’ she would never take hearing it from Jared for granted again.

“If…if Jen and I come visit…” Jared’s gaze moved to his father; he was uncertain what to call the man since he really didn’t have a lot of his early memories of him, but rather than worry too much on that right now, he went back to what he was trying to say. “If…when Jen and I come to visit…no pickles.”

Jensen couldn’t keep back the soft laugh at that as Kathy smiled. “Well, your sister might object since she’s a pickle snob, but I’ll make sure they stay far away from your plate if you come to visit.” She hesitated briefly. “May I touch your face, Jared?” It seemed so strange to ask permission to touch her own son, but she understood that he might not welcome sudden touches too soon.

“Ummm…” Jared wasn’t sure since he didn’t like for anyone but Jensen to touch his face, but a slight nod from his friend assured him that it was safe, so he nodded after a moment of hesitation. He knew he flinched when her she laid her small warm hand over the side of his face that was scarred, but he was a little surprised that her touch, like Jensen’s, didn’t hurt either. “You sang to me when I was a baby,” he murmured.

“Yes, I did,” Kathy nodded, relieved that while Jared did seem tense, he was allowing her to touch him and she hoped he’d warm up to Mike soon. As someone who had worked for several months in a grief center, however, she could see why her boy might be leery around men. “You were a fussy baby some nights, so I’d sing to you. You liked it, so I kept singing even after you weren’t a baby anymore.”

“Jen sings to me.” Jared smiled shyly and was happy when his friend just met his smile and didn’t seem embarrassed by that. “He sings soft songs to me cause he can’t sing ‘em on stage.”

“One day soon I’ll sing those on a stage too,” Jensen assured him since he was more than determined to be able to sing and write what he wanted. He wanted to make Jared as proud of him as he was of him. “I’ll sing them all… except for the song I sang to you the other night cause that’s your song and I’d only sing it if you said it was okay.”

Jared blushed, forgetting for a moment that they weren’t alone. “You can…if you really want to.” He wondered when he’d feel brave enough to kiss Jensen again, but a sound from the room and Jensen’s eyes moving to Kathy, reminded him that all of that needed to wait.

“I seriously need to sit those two down for a talk about being subtle,” Chris muttered under his breath; his head jerked up at a knock on the door and he frowned when Doug poked his head in for the second time that day. “Yeah?”

Ignoring his boss’s growl, the man shot a look to Jensen. “Dude, I have been shot at by some scary guys in the black pits of the world, and I’ve even faced down a couple ex-mothers-in law, but your manager? No way. She scares the hell out of me, so how about you leave the boss to guard the kid and you come out here and deal with this one before I defect back to what my real job is supposed to be?”

Jensen had to replay that to understand it, and then he was scowling. “Margo’s here?” He looked to where Chris was swearing lowly while squeezing the hand he was holding to reassure his friend. “What the hell’s she doing in San Francisco?”

“Probably looking for you to find out why you’ve been ignoring her damn phone calls.” Chris didn’t like the woman; he hadn’t even when he’d been Jensen’s bodyguard. He’d found her too abrasive, too demanding, and knew she’d been behind a lot of changes in Jensen’s onstage persona that the singer wasn’t happy about now. “Go out there because you do not want her coming in here around Jared; her voice would crack his eardrums if she yells.”

“She’s not going to yell because she’s got no damn business intruding on what is still my vacation,” Jensen muttered, taking a couple breaths before turning to see the fear in Jared’s eyes. “No, it’s okay. This is just my manager being a pain in the butt cause I haven’t taken her calls. I’ll go see what she wants while you talk with your folks.” He didn’t miss the brief look of uncertainty there. “Chris’ll be here too.”

Jared wasn’t sure he wanted to let his friend go out that door. Something that told him if Jensen left, things would change, but he was determined to be brave. He slowly let go of Jensen’s hand to wrap his fingers around his stuffed cat and nodded. “Come right back?” he asked shakily.

“Right back, Jay.” Jensen promised, wanting to lean down to kiss Jared’s hair or forehead but holding off due to his parents being in the room. “Shhh, soon,” he whispered; he knew he’d have to explain to Jared why he didn’t kiss him as he caught the look of confusion when he stepped back. He reminded Chris to stay in the room, then stepped into the hall and snarled at the woman waiting for him. “Does this look like a good place for you to be, Margo?”

Margo Scott flipped her long red hair back over her shoulder as she took in the hard look shot her way. “If you would have picked up a phone, I wouldn’t have had to come clear out to California for this,” she replied in her usual high-pitched Jersey accented voice. “You send me a letter saying you’re not re-signing, or if you do re-sign, you have a list of demands that are quite frankly silly. Now, when we need you to get your skinny but hot bod back into the limelight, you start ignoring me. That’s not how this works, Jen.”

“Do not call me that. Only one person can call me that name, and you are not him.” Jensen moved away from the door because he felt his voice and manner changing from the man Jared was used to seeing and hearing and back to the colder, harder, edgier man he was on stage and in this side of his life. It wasn’t something he wanted the younger man to see right away, if ever. “If you want me to re-sign with you and the label, then I don’t think my demands are silly.”

“You’re a rock and roll singer, Jensen. You write, sing, and perform loud, crass, rock and roll music that today’s teenagers all like. You don’t write or sing this soft rock crap and…for the love of Gene Simmons tell me you haven’t been going out in public looking like this.” The woman had gotten close enough to see Jensen’s worn out jeans, his faded t-shirt, and his nearly back to normal color hair and green eyes.

Jensen couldn’t help the smirk as he glanced down at his outfit. “Considering the outfit I had on the other day, I think this one is pretty good.” He knew what she meant, and he knew he’d be getting the usual lecture on how his public image was already set, so if he went out anywhere, even a store or a hospital, then he’d better be in full-on ‘Jensen Ackles’ persona, including earrings and blue contact lenses. “My friend’s been hurt, so I’ve been pretty much 24/7 in his room. I can’t wear those damn contacts for more than 20 minutes at a time these days, and I’m not that man anyway since this is my private time, Margo.”

“Sweet-cheeks, there is no such thing as private time in this business.” She reached into her bag to pull out a few papers. “I mean the label was, and is, fully understanding that you needed a few weeks to get your head back in the game after that little stalker thing…and true she’s still on the loose, but the cops will have your back down in Modesto and San Diego and the other shows on the coast here.”

“Come again?” Jensen stared at the papers to see they were concerts scheduled up and down the Coast for the next several weeks. “Whoa! I said I was out here for six to eight months on a break. I have to do one more show…one…to fulfill my contract, and a couple press gigs but that was it!” He threw the papers back at her. “When the hell did these come up? I didn’t agree to do any other shows. I just told you…and I know I told you on the phone that my friend’s been hurt and needs me so…”

The woman simply laughed, reaching up to pat him on the face like she always had since signing him and ignoring the flash of anger. “Honey-bunny, considering what’s been coming across the newswires about you and your new little…um…boytoy…you’re lucky right now the label isn’t suing you for breach of contract. We’ve been able to squash most of it and twist the rest to make it seem more like another stalker just got you in a bad position.” She held out some local papers that were grabbed out of her hand. “Now, go get your coat or something so we can hit the road. Your hair needs some work.”

Jensen ignored that comment in favor of staring at the various papers that clearly Chris had been keeping from him. He hadn’t seen any of the stories before or else he would have been shouting at people by now. Though he suspected the person responsible for the majority of the crap he was reading now was standing right in front of him.

“Bullshit!” he snapped, jerking his arm loose to glare at his manager. “This?” He shook the one paper that was distorting everything to make it appear as if Jared was a drugged up nut job asking for trouble and never in any danger. “This is a crapload of garbage! That fucking bastard kidnapped Jay as a kid and raped him for years before he broke loose! None of this is true and it makes light of the hell he’s gone through…that he’s still going through!”

“The label’s PR people don’t get paid to make some fruitloop look sympathetic, Jensen. They get paid to make certain our star performer’s not coming off as some lovelorn gay guy who got in the middle of a cult thing,” she replied coolly while staring into his enraged face without a trace of understanding. “I talked to the cops who are looking for that stalker, so I know what they say has been happening. I know that must be who you’ve been with here and while I think it’s sweet of you to take pity on some kid you picked up like a stray, now it’s time to cut your losses and get back to the real world. Pack your bags, say bye-bye, and maybe you can pop down to play house sometime after we re-sign you and get you back on tour.”

Jensen had been in the world of music in some form or another since he left San Francisco years ago. He’d seen the dark and ugly side of it all but never did he feel so sick or so furious as he felt right then. He prayed with all his might that the woman’s voice was not carrying to Jared’s room down the hall, but a single look at the worry on Doug’s face as he made a lunge for the room door told him that he wouldn’t be that lucky.

“What part of me saying that I’m not re-signing unless my terms are met did you not get, Margo?” he demanded, feeling his heart beating so hard he swore he could hear it in his ears. “Now even if I might have considered it, I wouldn’t sign with you or your goddamn label if you were the last record company on this fuckin’ planet!” Jensen snapped, fury taking his voice to the sharp and hard one he very rarely used unless extremely pissed off.

“There will be no re-signing; there will be no new tour! I will not put highlights back in my hair and I will not wear those goddamn contacts!” Jensen hurled the newspapers into the trash. “I’ll personally fix that crap because I’ll be damned if anyone will make Jay out to be some drugged out cultist when he’s the damn victim of their crap!”

He stalked toward the door leading back to the room with a look over his shoulder. “I’ll do the San Diego show and the press stuff because it is in my current contract, but I didn’t sign for those other ones and you can’t make me do them!”

“Oh, you are still so cute when you’re being naïve,” Margo laughed while fixing the contracts to hold them back out. “You’re still under contract with us, Jensen. And until the very last day of that contract, we own your ass and can make you sing yourself hoarse if we want. As it is, the label’s willing to make a compromise with you. You do all of these shows, plus the press interviews, and you do them on our terms, and once you do the last gig…a month from now…we’ll let you out of your contract early and with your complete promised bonus plus 5K more…all you have to do is be a good boy.”

That put Jensen on guard because he’d seen Margo pull this ice bitch roll on others. He wasn’t stupid enough to think the label didn’t have some fine print somewhere to be willing to let him out of his contract early. “Your terms?” he repeated tightly, an odd tension curling in his belly. “What are they?”

“Well the usual ones…the highlights, the contacts, the tight leather outfits, and, of course, you play what we tell you, but in addition to that…you stop this crap of pretending your gay and you keep your mouth shut and let the PR people handle any questions about what you’ve been doing this last month.” She stood up to meet his eyes firmly. “You don’t mention that cute little stray you’ve been playing with and you stay away from him or else the label sues your ass in court for breach of contract because it goes against our rules to have one of our stars coming out as homosexual.” She reached up to brush his clenching jaw. “If we do take you to court? We can also rake that boy through the coals and put out all sorts of dirty stuff those tabloids would eat right up.”

“You bitch,” Jensen gritted, glaring but knowing she’d do exactly that, and it sickened him that Jared would ever have to go through the hassles of the press with a story so far from the truth that it would make it all the worse on the naïve young man. “Jared’s just an innocent kid! He’s been through hell and back! He wouldn’t affect my ability to do those shows!”

Margo smiled but shook her head. “You’re a sex symbol, Jensen. We make money off all the pretty girls with their fantasies of you. It wouldn’t go over well if all those hearts were broken because it got leaked that their idol was fucking some druggie…Jensen!”

His hand went around her throat before he even realized it, but even as he was dropping it, he was shaking. “Don’t you ever call him that,” he snarled, hating this. Jensen hated that it had come to this and couldn’t believe he would have to possibly hurt Jared to keep him safe. “If…if I do this…if I do those damn shows and the appearances, I’m free from my contract, from you and the label, after a month?” he asked tightly. “If I do this your way you’ll keep the PR people off of Jay? You won’t leak or print anything that’ll hurt him? Because if you do, I’ll fight you in court, but I’m not letting him be hurt by those vultures all because you’re trying to control me.”

The woman considered the young man in front of her. She’d come up with this plan after the label was willing to just cut their losses with the young singer. She convinced them that she could get the kid to do more shows and fall in line if she just pushed the right buttons. Now that he was on the verge of giving in and cooperating with her, she began to mentally count her own bonus.

She’d been in this business longer than Jensen had been alive, so she knew how to get her way. It was why the company kept her and why they gave her the clients that might one day give them issues.

She’d known from the first second of meeting the smart mouthed cocky kid that he was gay but willing to hide it to advance his career. He was gifted in singing and writing even if she had to push to get him to fall into line. She’d hooked him with up with Addison and then encouraged the other man to betray Jensen, thinking it would ensure Jensen’s loyalty once he saw how the real world worked. If that didn’t work and the kid was hurt too badly, then Addison would have the legal rights to Jensen’s music so the label would still win.

Once she’d caught wind of what was happening now and looked into it, she knew what buttons she would have to push. She honestly didn’t give a crap about the stray Jensen had picked up, but he was useful to use against her singer to get him to follow the rules for a bit longer. She still had plans to re-sign Jensen because he was too big a money-maker to risk letting another manager or label get him. She also figured if he planned to out himself with the little cult boy, then maybe she could expand her interests since she’d been approached by a few associates with an offer to film Jensen in a way the singer had never considered before. She might even use his little friend if Jensen didn’t play along.

But that was later. Now she just had to get him to do this and go from there. “Sure, kid,” she finally replied. “If you do this, we’ll leave him alone and after you’re out from under the contract, you can do whatever you want.”

“Fine, you win…but you already knew you would.” Jensen didn’t know how the hell he’d do this without breaking a very fragile trust and heart but he’d find a way.

“Great!” she clapped her hands but frowned when he jerked away as she went to touch his arm. “Jensen?”

“Not tonight,” he refused flatly. “Jay’s supposed to be released from this place tomorrow. You might have been able to blackmail and bully me into doing this, but I’m not leaving him in here alone. I’m not just walking away from him after working so damn hard to teach him how to trust someone, Margo. You’ll have me for a month, but I’ll handle how I leave Jared for that time.” He glared at her huff but walked away. “Stay away from me until then, and don’t come close to him or all bets are off.”

Jensen didn’t give her time to argue or turn it around on him. He took his time going back to the room and made a detour to step into the restroom. He leaned against the sink before throwing up. He was sick with a pain in his heart that he hadn’t ever expected.

He’d tried so hard to not fall in love. He thought he’d hardened his heart since the mess with Addison to prevent it from ever falling for someone again, but Jared’s soft smile and innocent eyes had cut right through all of it and now to protect them both, he had to run the risk of losing it all.

Doug was watching him intently, so Jensen knew he’d tell Chris everything he heard, but Jensen didn’t care if Chris knew. In fact he hoped his friend did find out so maybe he could think of a way out of this…so it didn’t cost Jensen a month away from Jared.

He stood by the door to listen to Jared’s soft drawl; it sounded as if he was speaking more to his parents. Then he realized that he must be having a conversation with his mother since he could tell that Mr. Padalecki was having some conversation with Chris.

Jensen had been wary of his friend’s parents coming. He’d feared them taking Jared back to Texas because they’d want to care for their son on their own or wouldn’t approve of the relationship that appeared to be developing between them.

He’d been ready to fight them because he knew that Jared wasn’t emotionally ready to be surrounded by strangers yet. Hell, he could barely tolerate Chris, so a full family of strangers just wasn’t something his friend would be prepared for. Now…now he had no choice but to risk it because Jared couldn’t stay alone in this city while so much was so unsure.

The gang might not be a threat, but the cult network was still a risk even with Anton Paul’s death. This sect might be in jail, but Jensen didn’t trust the cops or the justice system to keep them there, and while maybe even in Texas there was a risk, Jared would still be safer there than alone here. He’d just have to talk his grandmother into kitten sitting for another month.

“Damn it,” he whispered, trying to make his hands stop shaking and trying to force the emotions off his face as he stepped into the room to be instantly pinned with huge hazel eyes and a dimpled smile. “Hey there.”

“Jen!” Jared had relaxed more, but he was still happier once he saw his friend…until he caught a tension that he’d never seen before on Jensen’s face and saw his hands shake before he slipped them into the pockets of his jeans. “Something…wrong?”

Chris’s blue eyes had hardened the second he saw the singer and knew he’d be grabbing Doug in a second to find out just what the hell had gone down. While he’d heard some of the woman’s words, he’d missed a good deal by trying to distract Jared. “What’s up?” he asked, knowing something was just by the way Jensen was standing, and he felt his stomach drop the second he watched him blink a tear away before he faced the bright eyed kid on the bed.

“I…I think you should take your folks up on their offer and go spend some time in Texas, Jay.” Those were the hardest words Jensen had ever said, and he fought not to let the dam of tears loose at the first quivering lip he saw. “You need to go with them for a few weeks.”


Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Sixteen

“‘I think you should go with your folks.’”

It had been nearly three weeks and those words still broke his heart every time he replayed them in his head.

It had come out of the blue for Jared, and he still really couldn’t figure out what he’d done wrong to make Jensen leave him.

Actually, his brain could come up with all sorts of things that he’d done wrong or maybe it was just because he was wrong and it had finally dawned on his…dawned on Jensen. Maybe the lady who’d come to see Jensen right before everything changed had pointed it out, pointed out how hopeless Jared really was. He wasn’t sure. All he knew was that something had changed. He’d lost his friend, lost his trust, lost the kittens and was now surrounded by strangers in a strange place; so much of Jared just wanted to curl back into himself and hide.

He wasn’t angry with Jensen for choosing his career, and hell…his own life over taking care of a guy with so many problems. He was hurt but not angry. He’d known from the start it was a mistake to trust all of Jensen’s promises because even if the man had meant them, and the boy still needed to believe he’d meant some of them, he’d known that eventually Jensen’s life, his career, would call him back.

But more than hurt, more than fear, what Jared felt now was confused. In his mind, he could still see and hear everything that happened that day in the hospital. His parents had clearly been shocked by the sudden change in Jensen’s plans and were unsure how to react, but Chris Kane hadn’t had that problem. While the ex-bodyguard had been shocked, he reacted swiftly and until Mike Padalecki finally stepped in, Jared had been afraid Chris would hit Jensen since that’s where the argument seemed to have been going.

Loud voices and confrontations still put Jared on edge because usually when voices raised or changed, he’d be hurt. So even though it all seemed to be going wrong, Jensen had moved to put space between his irate friend and Jared’s bed, and while his voice was a bit harsher than Jared was used to hearing, he told Chris to back the hell off cause he was scaring Jared.

“I’m scaring him?” Chris had sounded like he couldn’t believe the words, shoving both hands hard into Jensen’s chest. “You’ve just broken the kid’s heart but you’re worried about me scaring him? Stop being a damn hypocrite and tell me what the hell is going on!”

The man was correct. Jensen’s worry about scaring Jared didn’t make much sense, but then again, nothing was making sense to Jared at that point.

“I don’t know what the hell’s making you do this, but I will soon. Come on…instead of sending him to Texas this soon, let him stay here with your grandmother. I’ll be around to watch out for him, and his folks can spend a few days with him here in San Francisco until he gets used to them, and…this,” Chris had said.

“You’re running a business that you’ve spent too much time away from lately because you’ve been helping my sorry ass. Can you honestly tell me that you can afford to spend even more time away from it?” Jensen argued back, wishing it could be that simple. He wished he could let Jared stay in town with Chris but…knew what he needed to do. “He’s not comfortable with strangers and Gram’s place almost always has people coming and going. He’d be scared, and while I love her, I’ll be the first to admit that she’s not always the kind who thinks before she speaks.”

“Then I’ll go hang out in Texas with the kid until you get your head outta your ass and come for him!” Chris did not like this idea, sending Jared to Texas, because he hadn’t told Jensen what else Mark had said about the main cult; how even with Paul dead, they might try to take Jared again because they viewed him as a possible security risk.

“Again, can you pick up and leave your bar and stuff?” Jensen knew the answer when his friend offered a low curse.

Jared had tried to speak up to say he didn’t want to go to Texas alone. He didn’t know these people or who else might be back there. He wanted to stay with Jensen, or the kittens, but Jensen had finally said he couldn’t and needed to go…home with his parents.

No. Jensen didn’t say home. In fact as Jared thought back now, Jensen had never said the word home when speaking of Jared going with his parents. He just kept saying go with ‘them’ for a few weeks. All that night, after Chris had stormed out and his folks reluctantly left, Jared kept expecting Jensen to leave as well; to leave him alone in the hospital, but he hadn’t, and that confused the boy even more.

Jared had tried not to cry or show how upset he was at whatever was happening, but it was hard. Finally after a couple hours of heavy thick silence, hours in which Jensen had kept his distance while glaring at whatever papers he’d been given earlier, the younger man spoke up with tears choking his voice. “I’m…sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Jay. You’ve done nothing wrong, and I promise I’ll explain this, why I’m doing this, when I can, but right now, for a few weeks, I just need you someplace…not here.” Jensen had dropped the papers with an almost grunt of disgust before curling on the bed with Jared to hold him like nothing was wrong, but both young men knew there was. “I know this is confusing, and I know you’re probably mad at me for breaking my promise to not leave you but…I…I can’t take you with me for what they want me to do, and I just feel you’ll be better off out of San Francisco until I finish what I need to do.”

Jared had sort of guessed the change might have something to do with Jensen’s singing, but he didn’t understand what had changed so much that his friend didn’t want to take him unless… “Not mad,” he whispered, dropping his lashes to hide his eyes. “I…I don’ wanna embarrass you…and I know I would cause I’m…”

“Don’t you dare say you’re bad or dirty because I’ve told you that you are not either of those things…and it’s not that you’d embarrass me.” Jensen’s fingers had skimmed down his arm, voice trying not to show how angry he was still over this. “This could turn out to be a good…well, an okay…thing. A few weeks with your family so you can let them get to know you and you can get to know them, and as soon as I do the last damn thing to get my contract finished I’ll…come for you, Jay. I swear I’m gonna come for you.”

Jared could remember burying his doubts about that because it made him sad. Jensen was already breaking his first promises to him; he didn’t dare let himself fully believe this one. He’d wanted to risk kissing Jensen one last time but just when he’d almost worked up the courage to do so, he felt Jensen’s lips brush over his hair while whispering something about giving himself time to heal.

They spent their final hours that night cuddled on the bed watching Kitten TV as Jensen liked to call the video sent over his laptop of the kittens playing in the room Sarah Ackles had given them in her home. It had made Jared sad to see them and to know that he’d be away from them even longer. He had this little fear that his furry friends might not remember him or that they’d be gone before he got to go back to them.

It was when Zoe had come up to put her paw on the camera that Jared’s resolve broke and he started to sob bitterly. He tried not to give in to the strong arms that held him, but when Jensen began to sing to him softly and he heard the tremble in the other man’s normally steady voice, Jared became positive that once they parted company the next day, he’d be left behind forever.

The next day the doctors did one final round of exams and tests to be sure Jared was okay enough to be discharged, and he really expected Jensen to leave before the actual release happened, but to the younger man’s surprise and huge relief, he’d stayed right with him the whole time.

Chris had come, and Jared had sensed the continuing strain between the two men, but he’d noticed what made Jensen’s mood really change, what made him go edgier, was the appearance of the petite red-haired woman. Jensen’s hand had stayed on his shoulder or neck, and the one time when she’d tried to approach them where they were sitting waiting for Dr. Phelps to write out Jared’s release papers and instructions, Jensen had snarled and snapped in a tone that made Jared shake a little because he’d never heard that tone before out of Jensen.

Kathy and Mike…or Momma and Dad as Jared kept trying to remind himself…had come, and it was then that Jared really felt the change in Jensen; he’d felt the hand on his shoulder start to shake and he thought he saw a look of indecision on the rugged face.

Jared wanted to believe that Jensen didn’t want to go; didn’t want to send him away, and it looked like he might be about to change his mind. Then the red-haired woman made a low coughing sound while holding out a newspaper and Jensen let out a growl of frustration. Jared seemed to sense it was something to do with that lady that was making his friend, at least he hoped he was still his friend, leave him.

The doctor was speaking to his parents about what to expect, what to do to care for him, and who to call if they needed any ‘special help’. Jared wasn’t sure what that meant, but he didn’t think Jensen liked it because he snapped at the man that Jared would be fine.

Jared knew he wouldn’t be fine because he could only be fine if Jensen was with him. That right there moved his recovery back a step, but he tried to still be brave as they made him sit in the stupid chair with wheels to be taken outside. He could feel the sun on his face, and as they got closer to the large vehicle that his Dad told Jensen was theirs, his mom explained how they didn’t want to try to put Jared on a plane to go home.

Jared didn’t like that word because home was here with Jensen and the kittens. His parents place was just that, a place that he couldn’t fight going since he was still too weak and shaky to even attempt to run. Though he wasn’t sure if Sister Rose would even let him stay at the shelter now after all the trouble he’d caused there.

He’d shaken a good deal while trying to cling to Jensen’s hand as he listened to his friend talk to his parents about him. Jensen explained about his likes and dislikes, about what he was scared of and what he found comforting, and Jared had caught sight of a small bag that Chris had held out to his Mom while Jensen slipped something inside it.

This was all getting too real and too final for Jared, and he refused to answer when his Momma asked him a question until he blinked at the gentle hand that cupped his face.

“Jay.” Jensen had dropped to his knees beside the chair to put himself in front of where Jared sat with his head down so his chin touched his chest; he once again wished his hair was long in the front to hide his face. “Jay, look at me…please.”

Jared didn’t want to. He wanted to go back into himself and try to find his safe spot again so he wouldn’t feel this huge gaping hole where he thought his heart had been. After a few moments, he did slowly lift his chin enough to see Jensen’s face and was once again confused to see the tears on his face.

“I know you’re angry and confused. I don’t blame you for being that way with me. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk with me since I get how this looks to you, but if your folks are going to be able to take care of you while you’re with them, you’ll need to talk to them.” Jensen’s thumb brushed over the wet cheek as he stretched up to let their foreheads touch while dropping his voice lower, and Jared realized he didn’t want anyone else to hear what he was about to say. “I can’t explain this to you right now, not with her still hanging around, but what I need you to try to understand is that I’m doing my best to protect you from stuff you don’t need to know about; stuff that I never thought would ever come up.

“You can be angry with me, Jared. I accept it because I broke my promise to stay with you, but I’ll make it right in a few weeks when I come to get you. Just please…please…don’t close down again or stop talking. I know this is scary for you and that you’re scared…so am I, Jay.” Jensen’s lips curved a little when that admission made Jared look up more. “I’m scared you’re going to go back into yourself. I’m scared about letting you go with them and…I’m…”

Jensen stopped. He looked like he wanted to say more but didn’t as he ducked his head a little and brushed his lips over Jared’s cheek while his thumb traced his lips. “Remember what I said, Jay. You’re a strong and brave young man. Hell, you’re probably braver than I am because if I was brave, you wouldn’t be looking at me with tears in your eyes. I love you,” he whispered against his ear.

They stayed like this for another long moment before a cough was heard, and Jared could have sworn that Jensen actually shook a little before he slipped something into Jared’s hand and then stood up to meet his eyes with a little smirk that Jared could see was fake.

“You go eat home cooked food while I survive on fast food, and in a few weeks we’ll pig out on pizza with chocolate chips.” He stayed close to help Jared into the Blazer. “I’ll try to call you, but if anything bad does happen, you can call me or Chris. Okay?”

“You’ll…come for me?” Jared had asked shakily, trying to find some reassurance in the warm gentle smile and the strength of the fingers that squeezed his one last time.

“I’ll be on your parents’ doorstep in a few weeks, Jay, and then we’ll go home,” Jensen had assured him and then held his gaze as Jared had turned to look out the back window.

Jared had tried to keep Jensen in sight for as long as he could, and then tried not to shake as he realized that he was alone with strangers; now that they had him, they could do anything they wanted with him or to him.

Now it had been almost three weeks since Jared had been brought to the small cattle ranch outside of Odessa, Texas, and he was as lost and confused as he was that last day in San Francisco. In those three weeks Jensen had only called once and that one call had managed to bring all the pain and loss back to both of them.

Kathy had tried to say that maybe Jensen was busy with the sudden increase in concerts and interviews he needed to do, or that he didn’t call again because he knew it made Jared miss him more. Jared accepted those reasons as possible truths, but it still hurt him.

He was someplace strange with people he didn’t know and even after three weeks, it was still weird to wake up here and know he was on his own.

Jared didn’t deny that his parents were nice and kind to him. He still held himself still if either of them went to touch him, but after the first night when he woke up screaming, Jared knew he had to let them help him or he would shatter. He didn’t have Jensen to turn to anymore, so he slowly began to accept his mother and father’s attempts to help when the bad dreams, the sour memories, would chase him.

For the first week it was just the three of them at the ranch. There were a few men who helped care for the animals but they steered clear of Jared as if they had been warned to.

Basically, for the most part, Jared didn’t mind this family he was supposed to be a part of. His Momma liked to sing while she cleaned or cooked, though Jared didn’t tell her that she didn’t sing as well as Jensen. She was quiet and understanding when he stiffened at her touch, and she always seemed pleased when he joined them to watch TV.

His Dad didn’t say much, and Jared wondered if that was because he didn’t know what to say or if he was beginning to wonder if making this big an effort on a kid so obviously broken and shaken was worth upsetting the normal family life.

There had been one night, probably the sixth night, when a massive storm and a nightmare chased Jared out of the big comfortable bed and into the cramped little closet in his room. Mike had come in, and as Jared shook and tried to breath, his lungs burning to get enough air, he waited for his father’s huge hands to hurt him for acting like such a baby. The man, however, merely sat down outside the door to tell Jared about how he’d been scared of storms when he was a boy too.

Mike had stayed where he was to just talk to Jared while it stormed. He only moved once to get Jared’s blanket and stuffed cat from the bed so he could hold them. He talked about growing up on the ranch. He told Jared more about his brothers and sister and about how he’d been in the military. That was when Jared started to understand that his Dad was holding back as much as he was, not because he was ashamed of Jared, but because he blamed himself for what had happened.

“I was supposed to be getting out in about 18 months but when you…when you were taken, the brass let me come home early. I served out the rest of my stint at a local base, but for three years nearly every day I was doing something or trying to find someone to help us find you because your Momma and I knew you weren’t dead.” Mike had let his hand move slowly in Jared’s direction, but didn’t touch his son. He knew that what he’d been told by Jensen about Jared needing to make the choices was correct. “We never gave up hope that one day you’d come home, son.”

If the older man noticed when Jared’s face pinched at the term ‘home,’ he didn’t let on. He just settled back to talk in a low drawl that soon had the younger man relaxing; Jared felt his eyes drooping and let his Dad help him out of the closet and back into bed where he cuddled with his old worn blanket, the ragged stuffed cat, and a couple of new stuffed animals that had somehow gotten packed with his stuff.

Having familiar things around helped calm him down in that first lonely and awkward week. Jared was on a roller coaster of emotions; he went from being withdrawn and barely speaking, to being angry to the point where he’d snap to be left alone. He’d about had a complete meltdown the day Kathy had taken his blanket to wash it while he’d been out with his Dad seeing the cows in the barn. When he’d went to find it so he could hold onto it while watching TV with the two huge but friendly Golden Retriever dogs the family had, it hadn’t been in his room. He felt his chest tightening with panic, and he didn’t know how to calm himself down.

It was the first time he’d tried the number programed into the cellphone that had also been in his bag, but he only got a gruff sneering guy telling him that Jensen was too busy with real life to play on the phone, and that didn’t help calm him down at all. He considered calling Chris but knew a missing blanket did not really scream emergency. Finally, he’d taken his letter tablet into the room off the kitchen to sit with his back to the dryer and practiced tracing letters until the machine clicked off and his Momma got the blanket out for him.

“I made that when I was still carrying you,” she’d told him with a gentle smile as she crouched down. He took the blanket back to examine it in case the machines had damaged it, but once he saw that it was fine, he settled down to offer a shy smile.

Jared didn’t talk much. He’d answer direct questions most of the time depending on who asked them. His Momma and Dad were careful with what they asked him and never or pushed to know things that might upset him, and they never asked him anything about Jensen or directly about the abuse.

He missed Jensen more than he thought possible, but had given up calling him because he didn’t like the people answering his phone. He missed the kittens but got a surprise when one evening, as he was finishing up writing what he hoped were words, his Momma called him into his dad’s office. He went into that room where his Dad worked on papers and stuff to see a video of the kittens playing on the computer screen on the desk.

Chris had gone to Mrs. Ackles home and set up the webcam to connect with Mike’s computer in Texas so Jared could still have some contact with his furry friends. Even though Jared’s ability to count was still fairly limited, he was pretty sure there were even more kittens than there had been the last time he’d viewed Kitten TV with Jensen.

He’d asked Chris if he’d seen or spoken to Jensen, but the former bodyguard had become evasive; he did say he’d look into who the hell had control of Jensen’s phone because, as Jared knew, no one normally could get that phone away from his friend.

It made Jared smile and laugh to watch the kittens play with all their toys and the really cool looking climbing toy that Mrs. Ackles had bought for them in an attempt to save her curtains and breakables. He showed his parents each of the kittens on the screen, reciting names and even naming the new ones that had come to live there. Seeing them made him feel not quite so lonely, but it was always when he was in bed alone, that he started to feel the weight of everything hitting him.

Jared knew he’d never fit in fully with his family. They were all warm and welcoming, well, most of them. He considered the bitter old woman, his dad’s Aunt Clara, who seemed to have a permanent frown on her face and always stared at him like she could see every sin and filthy thing he’d ever done. She was the one person in Texas who made no attempt to make him feel comfortable. He remembered the first time he met her, only a week into his stay at his parents’ house.

He’d slowly begun to feel that it was safe to relax around his parents. He was talking a bit more and even accepting his mother’s gentle touches. However, when Mama announced that several family members would be coming over on Sunday, he felt a panic attack begin to build in his chest. She told that the family always got together on Sundays, and everyone was eager to meet him. He had a small freak-out about that even though his Momma assured him he’d be safe.

Jared didn’t care for crowds, and he still felt ill at ease around adults. He might be taller than most people, though it made him smile to see that his Dad was even taller than he was, but he knew he was stupid and made mistakes; it would be easy to say or do something that would make people laugh at him or get cornered somewhere in the big house to be hurt.

He’d tried to hide in his room, but his Momma proved that she could be as stubborn as Sister Rose when she finally coaxed him down to meet his siblings.

The young man had spent so many years thinking he was alone, and it was strange to find out that he wasn’t. His sister was a younger version of their mother; she was petite and quiet and when she started to cry at seeing him, Jared wasn’t sure what to do until a man about his height with similar eyes and build shook his head.

“Just ignore Erin, kiddo. She cries at a drop of a hat and has been close to it since Mom and Dad told us we might be getting our baby brother back soon.” Jed Padalecki was the oldest son but hadn’t been with his mother and sister that fateful day when his baby brother was snatched. It was something the man had never forgiven himself for.

As Jared learned about his older siblings, he tried not to let himself get overwhelmed. Jed was the oldest and was married with three kids of his own; he worked on his own ranch in addition to helping his Dad and brother Steve out. Steve was the next to oldest, and a bit more reserved. He gazed at Jared curiously so that naturally made Jared leery of him. Erin, the only daughter, had been ten the day she’d turn her back to speak to a school friend while watching her brother play on the little horse outside the store when he was grabbed. She was married and a teacher and very friendly and warm once she stopped crying.

Aside from Steve, it was Aunt Clara who made Jared’s stomach clench from the moment the woman stepped into the house and glared at him.

Rather than greet him cordially like one might do a long lost relative, she stepped right up into his space to peer up through thick glasses before grabbing his face and turning it to expose his scars. He froze at the first touch of cold fingers on his skin while a flash of memory came back that had him paling.

“He’s certainly not Kathy’s perfect little boy anymore is he, Michael?” she sniffed with a definite air of disapproval. “How many times did you give your body, boy?”

“Whoa! Aunt Clara, that’s enough!” Mike had snapped, shocked at the older woman’s tone and how she’d treat his son after he had been missing for so long and obviously hurt. “Jared, it’s alright. You don’t need to answer her; she has no right to ask you that.”

But Jared suspected the old woman was just getting started in expressing her dislike of him, but before she could speak again, or Jared could bolt like he felt like doing, Kathy had his hand in hers. “C’mon, sweetie. You can help me in the kitchen,” she told him while giving the woman a cold glare.

Erin caught Jared’s arm and tugged him toward the kitchen, but he still heard his Momma’s normally sweet voice drop to a tone that reminded him of Jensen when he was angry.

“You might be Mike’s aunt, and I might have to welcome you into my home, but I swear that if you say one more thing to hurt my son after all the hell and grief he’s suffered, I will bounce your uppity bible thumping butt out of here so fast you won’t know what happened,” Kathy snapped and then shot her middle son a warning look before marching into the kitchen to offer a shaking Jared a hug that he accepted willingly. “It’s okay, Jared. You’re safe here and you know we all love you.”

Jared knew his Momma and Dad said they did, but he was on the fence with his siblings, still not sure if he could trust them. He had no doubt about how Aunt Clara felt about him; she looked at him like nearly everyone else always had until Jensen came along, so he knew he had to watch his step and never be alone where she was because while she might not be a physical threat, he knew she could cut him with just simple words.

“Momma! Why aren’t there any pickles out?” Erin had been looking at the array of sides her mother had been preparing to see what she could help with when she caught a definite lack of pickles. “Don’t tell me we’re out!”

Kathy smiled the way a mother with completely different children would, and then nearly cried as she caught the face Jared was making behind his sister’s back. She realized it was one of the most normal little brother things she’d seen him do since coming to them.

“No, they’re in the fridge, but if you put them out you make certain not to put any near your little brother.” She smiled up at her 6’4” son who towered over her and Erin by a good foot but would always be her baby. “Jared doesn’t like pickles; I was told this very firmly.”

“Blah!” Jared stuck his tongue out at the offending food but took a wary step back when Erin whirled to look at him like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Umm, I…umm.” He jumped when a hand landed on his shoulder.

“Don’t let Erin bully you, little brother.” Steve Padalecki spoke from behind him, letting his hand stay on Jared’s shoulder only when he seemed to feel the younger man relax once he realized he wouldn’t be hurt. “She’s been trying to push those things on us for years. She tried to feed you one once before you had teeth, and you made the same face you just did now, so we’ll leave the pickles to Erin.” He paused to look at Jared for a moment. “What kind of food do you like?”

Jared still wasn’t sure, but he was scared to admit that, so he shrugged while shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Pizza, olives, and cheesecake,” he replied after a moment’s thought, thinking to what he’d eaten while with Jensen. “Pancakes, waffles with chocolate chips, and when I go back, Jensen said we could have pizza with chocolate chips.” He sighed. “If he keeps his promise to come for me.”

Kathy hadn’t told her older kids too much more than they had needed to know, so when she saw both Erin and Steve exchanging looks, she turned to hand Jared a small can of tuna. “Jared? While I’m finishing dinner do you want to go feed Barney?”

The boy’s face lit up at that since it would give him a chance to play with the tiny kitten his Dad had brought home one afternoon a few days after Jared’s arrival on the ranch. While the little ball of calico fluff didn’t lessen Jared’s missing of his other kittens, it helped since he was more at ease with the tiny kitten than with his family’s two big dogs. It made Jared laugh when one of the dogs, Pluto, ran whenever the kitten got close to him while the other dog just lay there and let the kitten crawl over him and play with his tail.

“Who names a kitten Barney?” Erin wanted to know while laying pickles out. “And who the hell is Jensen and what’s he mean when he goes back? Back to where? I thought he was home?”

“It’s complicated,” Kathy had told her children while making certain her voice didn’t carry to the small sunroom where the kitten was playing with Jared as he fed it. “Your Daddy and I told all you kids that Jared’s had a rough time of it. He only agreed to come back with us because his friend had other things to do and wanted your brother kept safe.” She pinned them both with an even look. “He’s scared and still unsure of his place in all of this since he’s believed for so long that everything that was done to him was his fault. It apparently took a lot of convincing from his friend to help him start to understand that it wasn’t and that he’s not evil or sinful.”

“Oh, then he’s got to keep away from Clara,” Steve snorted but paused to look at his mother. “So…who’s this friend and why do I think it’s a guy and that it’s more than a friend?”

“His name is Jensen and he’s a very caring man who helped your brother when no one else cared enough to treat him like a human. In fact, if it wasn’t for Jensen, we probably wouldn’t even know that Jared was alive.” Kathy left out the last name for the moment while putting her ham on a platter. “Something came up and he had to leave San Francisco or I don’t think he would’ve allowed your brother to come here alone.”

“Allowed?” Steve smirked, not sure how to handle all they’d learned of their brother’s life after his kidnapping, much less how he should feel about this. “So…is the kid actually gay or just convinced that he is because some fancy guy with too much time on his hands or an eye for a pretty boy told him…ugh!” Suddenly, Steve was confronted with a very angry younger brother.

“No!” Jared had been coming back into the kitchen to see if he could help when he’d heard Steve talking about him, and while he still didn’t fully understand what liking Jensen meant, he did hear the tone used and got what his brother was suggesting.

In all of his memories, there were only a few times when Jared could really recall getting angry enough to want to strike out. The most vivid one of those memories had been the last night at the shelter when he’d tried to protect the kittens from the priest. He knew that being angry didn’t help him, and that usually it ended with him being hurt, but when his fist struck out before he even realized he wanted to, it didn’t stop the rush of anger he felt.

He’d been told for years that what he felt was wrong, how it made him evil, a sinner, dirty and wrong, but Jensen had made him feel safe about how he felt. He knew it still might be wrong and due to how he was abused, but he refused to let anyone, even his own family, make it seem like Jensen was doing something wrong.

“You can’t say anything about Jensen! You can’t say anything about me cause you don’t know me! You don’t know him!” Jared wasn’t even aware that he was yelling because he almost never raised his voice. “Jen protected me! He was my friend when he didn’t have to be. He was my friend even when I wouldn’t talk to him. He called me by name! He told me it was safe to eat! He kept me safe when those men and Father Patrick wanted to hurt me and he saved my kittens!” He lost himself in the rush of memories and emotions that all just bubbled to the surface.

Jared wasn’t sure if his reaction that day was because he was still fighting back emotions and fears, or if it was just time to react and his brother’s comments lit a fuse Jared didn’t know he even had. “I know I’m sick and bad even if Jen says I’m not. I know I should’ve fought more to get free from those people or fought until they killed me! I know I’m probably not what anyone would want for a son or a brother, but if you don’t like me then you say it to me! You leave Jensen outta this cause even if everything he said was a lie…even if he doesn’t come back for me after all his concerts are over, he’s still the one I trusted enough to want to live for and find out that I could make choices in my life! He taught me to write my name and read a little and…and…”

Suddenly Jared realized that his fists were still hitting Steve’s chest while his Momma was trying to get between them. Mike and Jed rushed in to see what was happening, and the eldest brother pulled them apart, but instead of lashing out at Jared like he expected him to as he fell back into the table with a barely hidden sob, Jed shoved Steve hard and the middle son stumbled back against the wall.

“Damn it, don’t you dare swing on him or go to touch him!” he snapped at his brother while looking to see their mother moving but it was too late. It was pretty plain that Jared’s terror over what he’d just done was hitting panic attack stage. “Jared…”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Jared was trying to get more of an apology out, but he could feel his chest tightening; his breathing was getting faster and his eyes were starting to spin. He’d just hit his brother. He yelled in his Momma’s home and said things he shouldn’t have. “Momma…I’m sorry. I…know…knew they’d hate me for what was done, for what I am and…I wanna go home but…”

“Will you and Kathy take him to meet the pastor, Michael?” Aunt Clara disapproving voice spoke from the door where she’d obviously taken the scene in and was now glaring at Jared with a withering look. “Look at this uncontrollable thing you’ve brought to your home, that you’ve allowed to be near your children, with your grandchildren. He attacked Steven and has admitted he’s a heathen who allowed his body to be used. Will you take him into your church and explain to your fellow church members what he is?” She sniffed in distaste. “I’m sure the pastor…”

The word finally got through the pounding of his heart in his ears and Jared’s head snapped up. “No! I won’t go near another pastor! I won’t go near a church! They’re bad and hurt me and I won’t…I…no!” He shoved away from where Kathy was trying to calm him down and ran out of the kitchen and up the steps to his room. A piece of him was screaming to get the hell out, to hide, to try to get back to Jensen except he didn’t know how to find Jensen or if he’d be welcomed with him anymore.

“Jared!” Kathy called out, heart breaking for what she’d just heard pour out of her son; she was unsure what to do or say to reassure a broken boy that what he felt was so wrong. “Mike?” She addressed her husband in a low voice, a voice he didn’t hear very often, a voice that warned him his wife was pissed off. “I’ll deal with our sons because Steven Michael Padalecki, I am not pleased with you right now. But you Mike? You get this woman out of my house because I will be damned if she will stand in my kitchen and speak to my son that way, call him those hateful, hurtful names, and still call herself a Christian woman.”

Kathy had always tolerated the older woman’s old fashion beliefs. She’d mediated between Mike and his aunt many times, but she was furious now as she jerked her apron off, listening to Jed and Erin lecture Steve who was trying to stumble through an explanation. “What he is, Clara, is my son. Our son. The innocent little boy he was at five years old when those horrible cult people, a cult affiliated with a church you’ve attended before, kidnapped him.

“Those people, those sick perverted bastards, abused my baby. They raped him, hurt him, burned him until he ran away and lived practically on the street. He grew up alone, silent, scared, confused, and thanks to people like you, he was convinced it was all his fault and that he was a sinner.” The petite woman poked a finger at Clara while lifting an eyebrow as if daring her to raise her cane. “Now he’s a confused, frightened young man still trying to find where he belongs. He doesn’t trust us. He doesn’t know us, and this little scene will probably have him begging Mike to take him back to San Francisco, but I will be damned if you will insult or look down at Jared for things he had no control over!”

“He’s homosexual, Kathy!” Aunt Clara was horrified at saying the word much less that her nephew’s wife was defending it.

“So is Steve!” Mike finally snapped, furious that he’d thought the woman would be able to put aside her bitterness and small minded feelings and just be happy his family was whole again. “You had your mind made up from the second that lawyer and private investigator came here to tell us our son was still alive. I thought perhaps if you saw him, looked into his eyes and saw how scared he was and how innocent he still is, that you’d be nice to him. I guess I was wrong and now you can leave.” He picked up his keys and held them out. “Steve, since you appear to also have a problem, you can take your aunt back to her home and decide if you want to give your brother another chance.”

Steve shoved his older brother out of his face, tossed unruly dark hair out of his face, and blew out a breath. “I don’t have a problem with Jared. I just met him and I didn’t mean to set him off, Dad. I…” He ignored the keys. “Let me talk to him?”

“Right, you just chased him up to his room; we’ll be lucky if he ever sticks his head out again.” Jed snorted but groaned as the keys were held out to him and knew that meant his father was telling him to get the old woman out of the house. “Fine, I’ll take Clara home but don’t let Erin feed my kids too much junk food or else they’ll never eat real food.”

Clara was astounded that her nephew was putting her out of his home for this. “You will take him back in? Knowing everything he’s done? Everything he’s allowed to happen? You will let that…”

“You leave my baby brother alone!” Erin yelled, no longer focused on Steve since she’d seen the remorse in his face. “You were mean to Jared even when he was a baby because you never wanted Mom to have another baby. He used to hide with me and Steve whenever you came around…so you don’t like him now? Well screw you! He’s my brother and I don’t care what’s happened or who he is now! I’ll love him, and if this guy who helped him makes him smile and feel safe, then I’ll love him too…after I meet him to make sure he’s good enough for my little brother.”

“Get real,” Steve snorted. “No one, male or female, will ever be good enough for the baby of the family. Can I go up, Ma?” he asked. He was well aware that his original intent of asking his mother what he had hadn’t gone the way he’d meant it to, or maybe it had since he wasn’t expecting to feel the rage at thinking about his little brother, the tiny boy that he’d carried on his back, being so hurt that it caused the shadows he’d seen in those expressive hazel eyes.

Kathy and Mike exchanged looks as if deciding. “Fine, but if I hear one shout or he gets more scared, I will tan your hide six ways to Sunday and you won’t be touching Sunday dinner in this house for a long time,” Kathy replied sternly, nodding to her daughter to stay close but to give her brothers a chance to work things out while she went to finish getting that hateful woman out of her home.

Jared was sobbing by the time he’d made it to his room. His breathing was so rapid that he was feeling lightheaded and having a hard time swallowing. He knew he’d be hurt by someone for how he’d acted. He was scared, but he’d take the punishment because he’d done wrong. He was huddled in the closet with the phone in his hand, but Jensen’s phone went straight to the message thing. He didn’t want to seem like a baby and call Chris over this because as far as his muddled thoughts were working right then, maybe the older man had just humored him for Jensen.

Barney the kitten had followed him up the steps, so he sat cross legged in the closet snuggling the fuzzy kitten who licked his face and thought of ways he could get back to his other fuzzy buddies. Jared didn’t have any money because he’d heard his father flat out tell Jensen that day that he wouldn’t accept any money from him to help take care of his own son, so that meant anything Jared needed or wanted he’d have to get from his parents.

“Wanna go home,” he sobbed, pulling his legs up while trying to hold onto the real kitten, his stuffed cat, and his blanket while also smoothing out the note Jensen had slipped into his hand that last day.

It was a simple note with some smiley faces, a heart, and a few words that Jared could read. Those words were what Jared focused on now as his tears slid down his cheeks to stain the paper. ‘Love you.

There was a cold feeling in his chest over Jensen’s lack of communication, and Jared wasn’t sure if he should be worried or hurt. His fingers were playing with a picture he’d found in the small bag of his stuff, the bag that he figured Jensen had Chris pack for him. He held it to his heart as he jerked at a knock on the closet door.

“Hey kid.” Steve had knocked on the main bedroom door since it had been pounded into all their heads to knock before entering a room, but when he hadn’t gotten even a ‘go to hell,’ he got worried and opened the door, a little surprised that it hadn’t been locked. “I knocked but got worried when you didn’t reply. Can…can we talk?”

Jared’s eyes had jerked up to see Steve and he whimpered as he tried to back up more into the closet only to realize how small it really was. “I…I…” His chest was hurting as he tried to breathe, but as the kitten mewled as if sensing his fear, he placed it behind him; if he was going to be hit, he didn’t want to let Barney get in the way. “I…sorry I…hit you,” he whispered, remembering his lessons well as his head dropped to his chest. “Don’t…hurt?”

“Huh? Hurt who? You?” Steve was blank until it hit him that the scared boy in front of him expected to be punished for what he saw as some transgression. “Oh God…Jared, no…”

The Texan had spoken to Vince Davis as much as his siblings had, but it dawned on him that maybe he’d been in denial as to what had really happened to his brother. While he had heard and accepted what they had said, it didn’t really click until this moment exactly what it meant. It was clear now that Jared still expected to be punished or mistreated by everyone.

“Hey, no way. I’m not going to hurt you. No one’s going to hurt you here.” He shot a look to the door where he heard Erin offer a soft ‘no shit’ comment, but then ignored her as he knelt down just outside the closet door. He got it now, he finally really understood that his little brother was not the same clingy, happy, smiling boy he’d been 17 years ago, and he winced as he realized how much harder he’d made it for the kid to accept his family. “Jay…”

“Don’t…don’t call me that.” Jared felt afraid saying that, but since he accepted he was going to be hurt anyway, he figured he might as well go all the way because Jensen had told him he could choose who used that nickname, and if that was the last thing he had between him and his friend, then he’d keep it that way. “Only…only Jen can call me that.”

Steve stuck his tongue in his cheek at the correction and felt a spurt of pride at how even though he was scared and shaking, his kid brother would still correct him over something as simple as a nickname. “Okay, then I guess that told me…Jared.” He watched the lowered head to see that the kid was trying to hide his face, but the front of his hair showed signs of being cut…no, chopped recently since Steve knew the signs of a bad use of scissors. “Anyway, I’ll get it out of Mom or Erin just who this Jensen is, but I think first I better apologize to you for what I said downstairs. I didn’t mean to imply anything about you or your friend. It’s just…a lot to take in.”

Jared lifted his eyes to stare in open surprise. He’d expected pain or yelling, but as his brother sat with his back to the door, he didn’t appear angry and Jared still could read faces and voices enough. It just confused him. “I hit you,” he whispered, resisting the urge to whimper when a hand reached over to touch him. “Not…supposed to hit my…”

“Kid, hang around here long and you’ll probably see Erin whack on me more than once, but that’s just how we were raised. While we push and play a little rough, it’s rare to see us actually hit one another in true anger.” Steve frowned and then amended that. “Okay, Jed and I do get physical sometimes, but that’s just because he still thinks he can boss me around and while it might be hard to remember, we’ll try not to do it around you since it scares you.”

He reached up to touch his jaw and had to silently admit the kid had one hell of a punch on him. “I openly admit I earned the punch to the jaw for popping off about things I don’t know anything about, and for a scrawny little boy, you got some power in that arm.” He chuckled and relaxed a little more when big eyes stared at him.

“He’s scrawny?” Erin scoffed from the hallway, finally sticking her head in. “He’s about two inches taller than you and probably a little heavier though he does look skinny. Momma’s cooking will help that…even if he doesn’t like pickles.”

“Let it go, girl.” Steve shook his head while noticing that Jared had slowly begun to stop shaking now that it looked like he wouldn’t be hurt. “So…let’s try this again, and this time I’ll try to keep my big foot out of my mouth.” He held out a hand. “Hi, I’m Steve. I’m one of your older brothers and it is really good to see you again, little brother.”

Jared stared at the hand warily for a second or two before reaching out to take it as he’d seen Jensen or Chris do when meeting new people. He didn’t tighten his grasp too much and quickly pulled it back as he noticed that one of the dogs, Astro, had come up to lie close to Steve while Pluto stayed far away from the closet and Barney. “Hi,” he murmured, shy and unsure again. “She…she thinks I’m evil too.”

“Clara? Oh, she thinks nearly everyone is an evil, sinful heathen.” Steve waved that off but sensed the tension in the boy as he sighed. “Jared, whatever happened to you…and not a one of us will ever ask you to talk about it unless you feel safe enough to…it wasn’t your fault. You never asked for that asshole to take you, and you never wanted to be hurt. It doesn’t matter what Clara thinks and that’s why Momma kicked her butt out.”

Jared blinked at that. “I…I don’ wanna cause trouble,” he mumbled, afraid if he did it would be even worse on him. “She’s right even though…Jensen says there’s nothing wrong with how I feel for him. He taught me that while those other men hurt me, and I didn’t want it or like it, that if I feel something for him it’s…not evil.” He touched the photo again to draw comfort from it as he looked back at his brother with worried hazel eyes. “Do…you hate me cause I like Jensen?”

“Kid, it’d be really hypocritical of me to hate you for liking a guy when I’ve been living with my partner for seven years and he’d kick my ass for giving you grief.” Steve chuckled, his gaze softening as he got that Jared might not understand what he had just said. “Jared…this family…well most of it, won’t give you trouble if you’re gay, if you like this guy, because they’ve had time to adjust to it. I like guys too, so I at least paved the way for you.”

“Yeah but at least Momma and Daddy didn’t find him naked in the barn with his boyfriend,” Erin piped up, rolling her eyes. “I’m sure nothing could shock them more than that did. Of course I don’t need images of any of my brothers’ sex lives.”

“Right back atcha, Erin,” Steve muttered with a mock grimace that made Jared’s lips curl up in a small, hesitant smile. “I’m sorry about what I said, Jared. You’re right. I don’t know you and I don’t know…Jensen, but there’s still the big brother inside me that will now worry about some guy taking advantage of you.”

Jared shook his head firmly. “He’s not. He…loves me…I think,” he sighed, tired again and hungry. “It’s confusing, and I don’t know why he’s not calling or answering my calls, but I trust him to explain it when he can.” He gave another smile as he thought of his friend. “Jen always says it’s my choice to what we do, and he’s always been gentle and kind, and he sings to me and…”

“Yeah, you’ve got it bad for this guy,” Steve decided, but had to smile at the obvious love in Jared’s voice as he spoke and decided he’d give this Jensen guy a chance. “Now, you wanna come out of there, wipe your face, and come back down to get some food in that belly?” He stood up easily and held out a hand to his brother. “You haven’t had real Texas food until you’ve had Momma’s Sunday cooking…though you and I might need to talk about this plan to put chocolate chips on pizza cause dude, that sounds nasty.”

“Chocolate’s good on anything Jen says.” Jared smiled and took the hand to help him stand, slipping the note and photo away since he wasn’t ready to share those with his family yet. “I don’t like chocolate cheesecake as well as regular cheesecake, but it’s still good…though not with pickles.”

Steve laughed while Erin made a face at the insult to her beloved food. Though he did have some doubts about the stuff his kid brother ate. “So…when do I get to hear more about this Jensen guy?” he asked as he kept a hand close to Jared’s arm in case he fell. He noticed that the kid wobbled a bit too much, still suffering from the after effects of the panic attack, but at least the dogs were in front of him to cushion a fall if one occurred.

“Don’t pester your brother, Steven,” Kathy chided, relief plain on her face as she stepped from the kitchen and heard her boys chatting easily. She nearly wept again as Jared moved willingly into her arms to hug her and whisper an apology. “You didn’t do anything wrong, sweetie. Now, let’s get ready to eat.”

After that things were less tense even though the nights were still hard on Jared. He still longed to hear his friend’s voice but settled for listening to his music on the little music player Jed’s daughter had left there.

The rock music hurt Jared’s head, and it was hard at first to remember that the loud hard music was his friend’s voice. He had gotten used to hearing Jensen sing softly, and he knew it was like Jensen said: he had to sing what he was told to. Jared began to wonder if that also wasn’t why Jensen was steering clear of him right now.

He knew Jensen was doing concerts in California because Amanda, Jed’s daughter, talked about her favorite singer nearly all the time; it amused Jared to hear the 12 year old talk about Jensen’s favorite things as reported by magazines when he knew the man really didn’t like any of those things.

He’d sat in the den with Amanda one day because he’d gotten too hot outside and had nearly passed out, so his Dad had told him to stay inside until he felt better. Jed was by helping with the new calves so while his boys played outside, Jared and Amanda sat and watched a DVD of one of Jensen’s concerts.

It was so weird for him to accept that the image of the man on the TV, his dark blond hair short and spiky with white blond highlights, intense pale blue eyes, earrings and dressed in tight leather, was his Jen because the two men were totally different. Jared understood why his friend was so eager to get away from this image and this lifestyle.

The pre-teen had paused the image on a close-up of Jensen while she ran to get more water and soda, and Jared took the time to put his hand to the TV. “Jen,” he whispered, feeling his eyes burn as he suddenly missed his best friend so much it was like the last day they’d been together.

“Isn’t he so pretty, Uncle Jared?” Amanda had taken to Jared right away. She was the first of Jed’s kids to approach him since Jared was a little skittish still of loud noises and the stares of people, but the little girl just shot her older brothers a look before she lay on the floor near where Jared had been playing with Barney and Astro.

It thrilled her to learn her new uncle seemed to like her favorite singer as much as she did, so she spent all her time whenever they visited showing Jared her magazines, pictures, and articles about Jensen Ackles. Her brothers, Dad, and Uncle Steve usually rolled their eyes, but Jared never complained about her playing his music or watching her DVDs of his concerts, or searching the internet for any new scraps of information on him.

Jared especially never discouraged the last thing since little Amanda was at least letting him know what was going on in Jensen’s life even though something about it was making the young man uneasy.

As Amanda handed him a bottle of water, she noticed his attention was on the man on the TV. She plopped down beside him to dig into her bag to pull out her new poster. “He’s got such pretty blue eyes. I could stare at them for hours if Mommy and Daddy would let me.”

“Jed! Your kid’s drooling on a poster again!” Steve yelled from where he’d stepped into the den with the intent to check on Jared after their Dad mentioned the heat had gotten to the kid. He shook his head when he saw both brother and niece staring at the rock and roll singer Amanda was obsessed with. “You need to find her a more realistic obsession.”

“You just don’t appreciate his music or his eyes enough, Uncle Steve,” she returned with a giggle, looking over to see that her new favorite uncle was staring at a photo in his hand. “Right, Uncle Jared?”

“His eyes are green though,” Jared murmured, thinking about how Jensen had tried to keep his musical persona from entering their lives. “He said those were contacts that hurt him and he hated ‘em. And his hair’s darker blond and not…that.”

Amanda frowned a little while sitting up, unsure how she felt about being corrected on her idol. “No, all the magazines say his eyes are blue. See? Blue eyes. He’s single and looking for a girl with a wild side to share all his…Uncle Steve!”

“Okay, we’ll just be taking that until you’re older,” Steve snorted as he grabbed the magazine, but it was Jared’s face he looked at to watch the little ticks of muscle move in his jaw. “Something wrong, Jared?”

Jared couldn’t read the magazines or the internet gossip about Jensen, but Amanda read it to him or he’d ask his mother to read to him in the evening as he watched Barney play. He especially loved watching Barney try to play with the kittens on the laptop screen since Mrs. Ackles still called each night so Jared could say goodnight to the kittens.

He didn’t like what was said or reported, especially lately, because he knew none of it was true. Jensen wasn’t a party guy. He didn’t drink or do drugs or have tattoos proclaiming he was Satan’s disciple or have a house full of wild women waiting on him hand and foot.

“Why do they say all that stuff that’s not true?” He couldn’t understand it and didn’t know why Jensen would let them say things like that. Then he thought back to that red-haired woman who had been the reason Jensen pulled away from him and started to wonder just what might have gone on that his friend hadn’t told him. “None of it’s true, Steve. Jen’s not like what they say he is. He’s sweet and funny and has these deep green eyes and freckles that I never mentioned to him, and he took care of me when no one…Steve? Are you choking? Are you okay?”

Steve had been staring at his brother when the name clicked and he coughed on the mouthful of beer he’d just taken. “Whoa! Hold on a second. Jen? Your Jensen is the Jensen Ackles?” He jerked a thumb at the screen. “That guy is who Momma said saved you and…that’s who you’ve been brooding over? That guy?”

“No, that guy is not my Jensen.” Jared gave a rare sneer at the screen while slowly holding out the picture in his hand. “This is my Jensen. This is who I love and who loved…loves me and our kittens.”

Steve took the photo which had obviously been snapped by a phone and then printed off. He could see his brother’s shy smile as he looked up into the phone’s camera while several kittens crawled over him and a handsome dark blond haired young man with laughing green eyes who sat beside him.

It was only a closer look and the same little mark on the rugged jaw that told Steve that this was, indeed, Jensen Ackles when he wasn’t on stage or performing. This was the man who’d met and drew Jared out of his shell and had made him happy. This had been who’d helped reunite Steve’s family.

“Shit,” he breathed as he handed the photo back while seeing Amanda’s confusion. “It looks like your Uncle Jared has the inside track to your singing sensation, kiddo. I also think you and every other female on the planet can forget about ever impressing him.”

“Huh?” Amanda stared between them but gave up and went back to watching the concert. “You guys are silly.”

Jared thought he understood that Jensen’s fans didn’t know about his likes, especially that he liked men; he had to wonder if that also wasn’t one of the reasons his friend had nudged him to Texas while he took care of his business with his contract. It just confused him to why he had to go clear to Texas and why Jensen wasn’t calling or accepting his calls.

“His manager told the press the other day after Jensen had to miss a show, that it was because he got sick on stage the night before. She also said that he’d been hurt doing something last month and some bad people drugged him, so that’s why he hasn’t been acting like himself on stage or in public appearances,” Amanda remarked without looking so she missed Jared’s face pale. “He’s supposed to be giving a live press conference in a few days, right after his last concert, and his manager is hinting at big news about a new tour and record and stuff! That would be awesome…Uncle Jared?”

Jared’s stomach was feeling sick again. He knew Jensen said he wasn’t re-signing with his label unless they gave him more freedom to sing what he wanted, so he wasn’t sure what to think about that news. Surely if Jensen had changed his mind or planned to tour again, he would’ve called Jared to tell him…unless he felt he didn’t have to because he didn’t plan on…

Ignoring Steve’s shout of concern, Jared bolted out the front door because the house was suddenly too close and he’d rather be sick outside than inside when he knew his Momma had just spent all morning cleaning. He’d grabbed Jensen’s sunglasses to put on so the bright Texas sun didn’t make his eyes hurt, and he was sitting on the steps to try to slow his breathing.

He needed to speak with Jensen; he needed to know for sure what was happening. He needed to know one way or another if his friend planned to keep his promise to come for him, or if he’d lied to Jared…again…and he’d never see Jensen or the kittens again.

Jared heard the sound of tires on gravel but didn’t have the strength to look up to see who might be coming. He knew Erin was supposed to come by to help him with more reading and writing because ever since his sister learned he didn’t know how to do much of that, she’d been trying to help him, picking up where Jensen had left off.

She was patient, but not like Jensen, so Jared didn’t learn as quickly, but their Momma told her to let him learn at his own pace and by using methods that he was comfortable with.

“He’s using pool balls, Momma,” Erin had argued, but in the end decided that Jared did pick up faster with the balls than her letter cards, so she just shrugged and let him use what made him happy.

Everyone in his family had been helpful and supportive and while Jared still didn’t talk much and never about his years of abuse, he did like to talk about Jensen and the kittens. When he got worked up or had a nightmare, his Momma and Dad were always there to calm him down.

Kathy let him help her around the house as it made Jared less nervous or lonely if he was focusing on something other than his bad dreams, loneliness, or fears that Jensen wasn’t coming back or that his biggest nightmare would return if it turned out that he wasn’t safe.

Mike and Steve showed him around the ranch, but the big cows and bulls scared Jared, so he stayed around the barn that housed the little calves; Jared liked petting them and he and the kitten and dogs would stay out there all day until someone called him inside.

He thought he’d escape the heat and dark thoughts by going out there to see if any of the ranch hands needed help caring for the calves when a sudden cold chill went through him and he looked up to freeze.

An older man with slicked back silver hair, a crisp dark suit, and black glasses over his eyes stood close to him, having just gotten out of the car sitting in front of the house. The man made him tense and his hands shake, but the two men in suits with him gave Jared the same feelings as Anton Paul’s guards always had.

“So, this is the boy?” He addressed Aunt Clara who stepped up with her cane clenched tightly in her hands as she stared at Jared with pursed lips.

“According to my nephew and the fancy lawyer who came to see the family, this boy belongs to your church,” she replied with a nod, shaking her head. “I never saw the mark, but I assume he has one, and if so then he don’t belong here anymore. He belongs to others.”

“God, no,” Jared whispered, backing away on the porch as the man lowered his glasses to peer at him like Paul often would; like he was a piece of meat. “Nooo…go away. They promised it was over. That I was safe from…”

“Oh, Anton’s quite dead and his most devoted followers will rot in cells since the church has cut ties with them, but I am well aware of who you are and how much time, money, and energy Anton put into training you for a certain purpose, boy.” The man spoke with barely an accent, his voice cool, and it made Jared’s blood turn to ice. “I also know his obsession with you caused the downfall of a very important link in my organization, so when Miss Clara, who is not even a member of my church, contacted me last week to tell us about your return to your loving family, I decided to come collect a valuable piece of church property if for no other reason than to punish you and so any details Anton might have passed unknowingly to you never come to light.”

Jared’s eyes were moving rapidly as he tried to find a way off the porch to run. He knew he couldn’t let this man touch him; he couldn’t get grabbed because if he did, this time there’d be no rescue. Jensen and Chris wouldn’t even know he was gone and…

“No!” he shouted, trying to get his feet under him when the man motioned his guards forward, but before Jared could do more than lurch back against the wall near the door a strong arm was reaching out to grab him. “No!” he screamed on instinct, body also reacting to the touch as panic welled up; he wouldn’t go peacefully this time. “Not going…”



Chapter Text

Teaching Him to Trust

Chapter Seventeen


“No!” Jared screamed on instinct, body also reacting to the touch of hands pulling him back as panic welled up, but he wouldn’t go peacefully; not this time. “Not going…”

“Jared!” Steve’s voice was sharp as he pulled his brother into the house while Kathy stepped out on the porch with a shotgun in her hand; she quickly pumped it and fired into the ground near the man’s feet. Steve admired his mother’s courage, but he afraid that the men might also be armed. He gave Jared a small push. “Go into Dad’s office. Stay with Mandy and don’t come back out. Ma! Wait for Dad!”

Kathy had seen the fancy car pull into her driveway while she’d been washing windows, and every instinct she had shouted for her to get outside. When she saw Clara in the company of the silver haired man in a suit, she began shouting for Steve to find his brother and get his father’s ass up from the barn.

She told Amanda to go play on Pappy’s computer when she realized with terror that her youngest son was outside alone. She had Mike’s shotgun out of the hall closet and was out the door even as Steve was pulling Jared inside, and the look of sick terror on her baby’s face had her pumping the weapon and firing it into the ground.

“You take one more step and the next shot fills your ass full of buckshot,” she snapped, no sign of the quiet mother of four that tended to small children, cared for the sick, or counseled people seeking to end their lives. “You take your fancy car and your hired goons and get the hell off my land and away from my son and you…you better never show your face here if you led him to my son,” she told Clara coldly.

The man took his glasses off while motioning to his men to stay where they were as he gazed at her with cool blue eyes. “Mrs. Padalecki, I don’t think you understand the service your aunt has done you. That boy might be your biological son, but he stopped belonging to you years ago. Now while Anton was foolish for abducting him, he did mark him, so that makes him property of my…”

The sound of a weapon cocking from the side had him pausing to see a blue-black muzzle aimed at his head. “My son’s no one’s property, you bastard,” Mike growled, low and dangerous, as he held his 9mm Beretta steadily.

He and Jed had been heading to the house when he saw the car and heard the shotgun fire. He was sending Jed up to the front when one of the new hands he’d hired on shortly after returning from California stopped him to tell him something. Mike found the man’s comment a little odd, but he was in too much of a hurry to get to his family to question the tall blond haired man.

Ever since they’d brought Jared back, Mike had taken to wearing his Beretta. He hadn’t worn his weapon since retiring from the Corp but had always kept it ready. Some inner sense just told him to start wearing the damn gun and today, as he rounded the house to see the scene unfolding, he was glad he had.

“You have 10 seconds to get yourself, your thugs, and my so-called aunt off my ranch because if I hit 11…I start firing. If the Corp taught me anything, it was how to shoot assholes without blinking.” Mike spoke sternly, stepping around to keep his weapon pointed at the man in charge while giving his aunt a cold look. “You’ve seen the hell Kathy and I’ve gone through the last 17 years looking for Jared. You knew I said I’d never stop looking for my boy. Now we have him back and you bring these bastards to my door? You’d give him right back to the fucking bastards who hurt my boy?”

“He’s not yours, Michael,” Clara responded simply, deeply saddened by her nephew’s feelings on this matter. “A friend of mine belongs to this church and told me how when they mark a member, that person belongs to the church for the rest of their days. None of this brainwashing silliness or abuse some of those people claim. They go willingly because they belong to…”

“Jared was five years old when they snatched him away from Mom and Erin, you crazy old bat!” Steve yelled from where he was guarding the front door and silently daring someone to try to get past him. He frowned as another vehicle could be seen coming up the driveway. “Shit, this could get messy. I hope Jed’s calling the Sheriff.”

Mike was staring at his aunt as something like ice settled in his stomach. “Your…friend…tell me you didn’t know or suspect all these years that these freaks had our son.”

“It hardly matters now, Michael,” Clara shrugged, neither confirming nor denying the accusation while waving her cane toward the weapon in his hand. “Now put that silly thing away and let these men get what they…Michael…”

“I will shoot you as fast as I will them if anyone tries to get into that house to touch my son.” Mike was sick with fury but heard the shotgun pump again and the door bang as Jed stepped out. “You’re trespassing and my son is not yours, so get the hell off my land.”

The silver haired man sighed with a slow shake of his head. “Mr. Padalecki, I’m afraid it’s not that simple. He bears our…”

“Hey Jonesy, long time no see.” The ranch hand who’d spoken to Mike had wandered up just as a large black Hummer was pulling into the drive to block the limo in.

One of the guards started to whirl while reaching for his weapon, only to grab his neck to fall to the ground with his buddy quickly following suit. The man in charge glared at the name used by the sweat and dirt covered man.

“I’m afraid you have me mistaken for someone else, sir,” he returned coldly, looking to see that his guards were both unconscious. Before he could blink or Clara could even yelp, the ranch hand was across the rest of the space to slam the barrel of his .45 into the man’s jaw and shove him back into the hood of the limo.

“Elijah Jones, so-called head Prophet of that so-called fancy church and wannabe cult leader over all the sects in seven states and a few countries. You were sent to prison in ‘67 for murdering a black family in Alabama; got a lot of your little followers while you were in prison, and your group is suspected in several hundred disappearances and deaths since your release from prison in ‘72.

“You take money and property from your ‘faithful’ regardless of whether they want to give it to you or not. You drug, abuse, torture, and rape both the male and female recruits to keep them in line, and then your little branches began to prey on the street kids. You…and they…somehow managed to maintain a clean outer image so those high priced lawyers can keep your asses outta jail.” The cowboy smirked as he pinned the man’s chest to the limo. “That didn’t work so well for your buddy Anton in San Francisco. Now that the feds are moving in on you, how long do you think it’ll be before all those lawyers and judges drop you like a cheap suit?”

“Take your hands off me!” Jones snapped, livid at being touched by such a person and so distracted that he’d failed to pay attention to the new arrivals until the barrel of a gun tapped his temple and a low cough was heard.

“Man, I was hoping, but I really didn’t think you’d be this damn stupid as to come out of your protected hole in the ground to come after the kid.” Mark Stein stepped to where the silver haired man could see him, his gun, and the badge he flashed. “I bet you didn’t think you’d see me this soon, Jones. Oh, and don’t bother using the line about how you’re protected and all that crap. My boys got a search warrant for that fancy place down in Dallas, and we dug up all the skeletons…literally. I just needed you to make one final slip-up and you did that by coming after the Padalecki kid.”

Jones struggled as cuffs were placed around his wrists. “You have no right to touch me!” he shouted but grunted when a fist slammed into his gut.

“Whoops, my fist slipped,” Mark smirked as he looked at the man on the ground and his agents moved in from where he’d stationed them around the ranch earlier in the day when he gotten the ok to move on Jones after word of where he was heading got out to him. “Though I’m sure the Marine behind me would like to do more to you since you knew all along where his boy was, and I’m sure you put more than a few of those scars he’s carrying still on him.”

“Nothing you find will stick, Fed!” Jones sneered, confident of that, but his sneer lost some of its weight when the man pulled a photo out that he knew had come from his private quarters in Dallas.

“Right…and I’m sure a former Texas Congressman won’t want your balls strung up from the tallest building in Austin when he finds out what really happened to his runaway daughter 20 years ago.” Mark slipped the photo away with a shake of his head. “Sorry Jones, this time you and your goddamn cult of perverts will go down and I will make sure each and every one of you pays for the pain you’ve caused the kids you’ve hurt over the years. Get him outta my sight…his buddies too!” he snapped before turning to hold his hands up to a clearly pissed off former Marine. “Hang on and let me explain.”

Mike wasn’t sure what was happening and he didn’t really care. He’d heard Kathy hand the shotgun off to Jed before she bolted into the house to find Jared. His other two sons were giving the ranch hand a curious but wary look; he was also curious about his new “ranch hand,” but his attention was on the guy with the badge.

As a former Marine who’d come across his fair share of spies, agents, and more, he had the same feeling when he laid his eyes on this man as he’d gotten when he first met Chris Kane and the men who’d been supposed to be watching the hospital and not drawing attention to themselves.

“Who are you, what are you, and why the hell didn’t you grab his ass before he could put the fear of God into my son again?” he demanded harshly, lowering his weapon but still keeping it where he could aim it quickly. He turned to also glare at his aunt. “I want her off my land for bringing him here.”

Mark had already considered taking the old woman in just to see how much she did know, and as she took off on a rant spouting nonsense about her religious rights, he whistled to one of the local sheriff’s men who he’d brought along just to say he had the locals cooperation while in their jurisdiction. “Take her into custody for questioning on…how she knew how to get in touch with Jones and I’ll go from there,” he ordered before returning his gaze to Mike. “My name is Mark Stein, Mr. Padalecki. I’m special agent in charge of the FBI’s investigation into the cult Jones runs; I was in San Francisco when we freed your son.”

“You were…” Mike did not want to think about Jared’s condition when they had first found him considering how pale and bruised he’d still been when he and Kathy had finally seen him. “Have you been watching Jared since his arrival or was it just luck that you showed up here when you did?”

Mark had to consider his answer to that question very carefully since while he had been trying to keep an eye on the boy after learning he was in Texas, dangerously close to the main cult HQ in Dallas, it wasn’t exactly on the books. Not that it seemed he had to worry about that as he shot Mike’s new “ranch hand” a sour look. “My group suspected the cult might feel threatened that Jared was still alive since they couldn’t be sure if Paul might have spilled some cult secrets while…” He stopped in time before accidentally saying something to set any of the Padalecki men off. “I did have agents close in case someone made a move on him before we could shut the group down, but I’m surprised that Jones would come personally, and with what he said to you, he pretty much indicted himself.”

“Is he yours?” Mike jerked a thumb to his most recent hire, not missing the look the fed shot the cowboy. “He told me as he passed me not to kill anyone cause his boss was on his way. That you?”

“Yeah, I’ll claim the jerk even though he’s not officially here,” Mark scowled. “I thought you went to Maui or something. At least that’s what your text said to explain your time off. If you’re here, where’s Doug and Cal?” he demanded shortly.

The cowboy took his hat off to run his fingers through stringy blond hair and shrugged. “Doug stayed in San Francisco to keep Chris from shooting anyone since there’s something wonky with the way that singer went off grid. Cal did go to Maui…and did I say I was going there, too? Damn! I thought I told you I was heading to Texas to get back in touch with my cowboy roots, boss.”

“Seth, I hate you. I hate Kane even more. If you guys don’t start coordinating these little ops better or staying the hell out of my sight when you do stuff like this, I’m shooting all of you and leaving your bodies in a desert,” Mark muttered, vowing he’d kill Kane for this, though he really wasn’t surprised the man had sent someone to keep an eye on the kid. “Mr. Padalecki? Can you tell your kid to lose the shotgun so we can go check on your other son?” He sighed at the wary look. “Look, I have an ex-Seal back in the Bay City who I need to yell at, but if I can tell him that I at least saw Jared, he might not snarl too much when he learns the cult made one final move on him.”

“You mean the Navy guy in the hospital? The one who looked ready to tear Jensen’s throat out when he decided to let Jared come with us?” Mike had caught the name and knew it, suddenly understanding his new ranch hand’s timely arrival and why he’d caught him watching his boy a little too closely at times. “You can come in, but I won’t promise that my wife will let you close to my son…or that Jared will.”

Neither Jed nor Steve looked like they wanted to let the man inside the house, but after a look from their father, they relented and opened the door. The men could hear Kathy’s voice coming from the den as Amanda ran to her father with tears on her cheeks.

“Uncle Jared’s scared, Daddy,” she cried. Jed picked her up and saw his sons standing protectively in the hall, armed with brooms and mops. “Gramma’s with him but…he keeps asking for Jensen and his kittens. Can’t you get him what he wants so he won’t be scared anymore?”

“Baby, I wish we could get your uncle want he wants,” Jed told her, gathering his brood up to take them into the kitchen for snacks while whispering to Steve to call Erin. He suggested telling her to hold off coming over since he knew she’d probably go ballistic on someone.

“What the hell happened to get your son voted off the island so to speak? I basically had Ackles in my face from the second I met him over that kid. Why isn’t he here with Jared? Or why isn’t Jared still in California with him?” Mark swore this was the last time he was getting personally involved in a case no matter what his wife said since it had been Nina who had flatly told him not to come home until he made certain that poor lost boy would be safe.

“I think something happened with his manager because it was after she came that Jensen’s plans to keep Jared with him shifted a bit.” Mike frowned as he stepped into his den to see Kathy kneeling beside his desk while both dogs were in front of it and the kitten was prowling the top. “Kath? How is he?”

Slashing her tears away, she shot her husband a look that could have killed. “How should he be? He was just confronted with something he’d been told wouldn’t go after him again. He’s alone in a strange place with people he barely knows and just wants to be where he was safe and comfortable. He wants his friend and I’m afraid he’s going to make himself sick if he doesn’t stop crying.” She then noticed Mark and shot to her feet, hand going for the letter opener. “Who’s he and why is he in our house?”

“He’s a fed and he wanted to see Jared.” Mike moved to block her in case she did try to attack the fed; he could see how much in Momma bear mode his wife was right then. “I think he’s a friend of that dark haired guy in the hospital.”

“A ‘friend’ might be stretching it these days since Kane was pissed at me that last time I saw him but…damn…” Mark had last seen Jared before the boy had regained consciousness back in California, so he knew he had to look better than he had, but as he caught a brief glimpse of pale tear streaked cheeks and a badly shaking body stuffed as far under the old wooden desk as he could get, he wondered just how far into himself this might push the kid. “He won’t remember hearing me and that might be for the best, but I will give Kane a call to see if he can’t get Ackles to call him or something.”

He didn’t want to spook the kid by getting too close to him since he knew right now seeing or hearing another stranger, especially one in a suit, would just scare Jared more, so he stepped back to pull Mike aside. “I can assure you that the cult will be shut down so he’s as safe now as he can be but…so long as he does have that brand, he will always be a target.” He wished it was different but he’d seen too many of these cases. “We’ll never get all the members; the silent ones who didn’t partake in the activities or are too well hidden, and the mark will always be recognized and…”

“Not a target!” Jared’s head suddenly popped up from under the desk to send the fed a wary but nearly wild look. “I won’t be anyone’s target again! I’ll die before they take me or hurt me again! I’ll die! And without Jen I don’t wanna be here anyway!” he spat, tears choking his voice as he wiped his face with shaking hands. “Don’t touch!” He couldn’t stand to be touched right then because just seeing that man had brought it all back to hi