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Kiss Me Now, Catch Your Death

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The morning had not properly started when the knocking at the door woke me. Sure, I was in work. I hadn’t actually left work, technically. I had ended up pulling the quarter of whiskey out of the filing cabinet at two in the morning and drinking it in frustration. There were no leads in the latest husband could be cheating case I was desperate enough to have taken on and I’d exhausted all the avenues I could think of.

The blinds were filtering some sort of dull yellow light into the office. I was sufficiently confused to not know if it was still the harsh sodium of the streetlights or the actual dawn when I jerked my head in surprise off the desk. The knocking resumed. I rubbed my hand over my face feeling the stubble rasp against my hand and called out, “I’m here.”

The knocking didn’t let up. I felt my back complain as I struggled to my feet, pulling the tie around my neck straight. Not that it would make me look any better. I had foregone a shower yesterday morning in order to tail my target and had spent most of the day slowly stewing in my car. My black, hot car. I could feel the shirt crinkle against my skin as I pulled the door open.

“Yeah?” Or at least that was what I hoped came out of my mouth. There were various other options rolling around my thick, hungover skull. Expressions like “fuck” and “jesus god” and just “kiss me already”. At the door, hand raised to continue knocking, stood the most gorgeous guy I had even seen.

He was shorter than me. But then, most people are. But not too short. His hair was cropped and combed neatly to the side. A pair of wire spectacles did anything but hide his intense green eyes and long eye lashes. His lips were just sheer heaven. Obscene, filthy, fucking kissable heaven. I really wished that I’d gone home last night and showered and brushed my teeth this morning. This man deserved to be kissed within an inch of his life. I stared at him.

“Mr Padalecki?” he enquired. His voice had just the right amount of rasp and deepness to make my cock realise that it was morning and perhaps time to make me aware of its presence. I turned away to return to my chair. Either I was having the best wet dream of my life and those lips were going to be wrapped around my cock sucking it in the next few moments or I rather desperately needed to hide the obvious effect this guy was having on me.

“Jared Padalecki?” The guy asked again. He didn’t sound pissed off, just... tired. Which considering how tired I was must have been quite a deep exhaustion. He sounded like everything was against him and I was the place of last resort. I was familiar with being treated as that, but I wished this guy didn’t have to feel like that.

“I am indeed Jared Padalecki. Can I help you?” I rubbed my hand over my face again, accidently brushing a rough hand against my recently punched nose. The pain was as good as coffee.

“I need your help.” I just stared at him, dispassionately. Most people who come to the Padalecki Detective Agency want some kind of help. Normally it is something to do with revenge but this guy didn’t seem to be interested in that. He was earnest and bookish and looked like a goddamn accountant or something. Something harmless. Someone who worked in a bank or an office and regularly showered and had never even touched a gun in his life let alone fired one.

He shifted uncomfortably under my intent flat gaze, and remained standing in the doorway. “It’s my sister,” he said, blushing a little.

“Your sister?” Yeah, right. I was just about to ask him how often he fucked his “sister” when he pulled a photograph from his jacket pocket. Sure enough, it showed the guy and a girl, alike enough to be siblings. She wasn’t as pretty as he was, but they never are to me. Tousled blonde hair and all kinds of apple pie innocence that would have made this girl a desirable prospect for plenty of guys I knew. “Lemme guess. Moved to LA to be a movie star? Didn’t quite work out?”

“She worked in a department store,” he answered stiffly. “I don’t think she wanted to be an actress. She was engaged to this sound guy.” He shifted himself further into the room, letting the door swing shut behind him. The bang made my head ache.

I scattered the piles of paper on the desk searching for a blank notepad and a pen. “And then?”

“Nothing.” His voice was dull and quiet. I glanced up to see his mouth tighten on whatever he was about to say next. “Her boyfriend claims she broke up with him a month ago. The cops just filed a report. It’s not like Lauren though.”

I finally found the notepad and flipped it open. “The boyfriend’s name?” He gave me it and his address and where he worked. Then he moved a pile of files off another chair and sank into it. That made me feel ridiculously bad. I hadn’t even offered the guy a seat. He thrust his head into his hands, roughing his smooth hair into spikes. He pulled off the spectacles and rubbed a hand across his eyes. I wished I had coffee to offer him and some to drink myself sober.

“I asked around. A friend of mine suggested I come talk to you.” He looked at me and the erection that had been subsiding quite nicely became interested again. “He said you’re good at finding people.”

“I’m good at finding people out,” I replied softly. There was just something vulnerable about this guy. He needed protecting. He needed help. He needed out of this city. “Something you should know about LA. It eats people up and spits them out again.”

“But Lauren’s a good girl. She would never...” Again, the tightening of the mouth. This guy was hiding something. That’s when I became interested. Not just because he was the best-looking thing I had seen this side of Clark Gable, but because this sounded like a real case. Not another wandering husband or pilfering shop boy. A god honest case.

“Listen... What was your name again?” He hadn’t given me it and I hadn’t asked before.

“Jensen. Jensen Ackles.” He looked hopeful. Fuck. What I wouldn’t give for him to be giving me that look in relation to some other activity.

“Jensen. I need a shower, a change of clothes, a shitload of coffee and something to eat.” He started to say something but I cut him off. “I want to help you find your sister but I need to be a lot more awake for that.” I stood up and held my hand over the desk to him. He shook it and looked a little confused. I took pity on him. “My apartment’s just a few blocks over. Let me go get cleaned up and we’ll talk.”

 

I swear I don’t know what inspired me to invite him over. Maybe I thought it would be the only time I would have him in the place. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

He wandered into the living room with a bemused look on his face. I started stripping off – coat, jacket, tie. When I unbuttoned my shirt, he moved rapidly to the sofa, eyes flicking around the room uncomfortably. “There’s a coffee maker in the kitchen,” I hinted broadly, heading back into the narrow dark hallway.

I stood under the spray of the shower, hands flat against the tile to let the water sluice away all the accumulated grime. It did not, however, take away any of the desire and lust that I had felt looking at the guy... Jensen. His name was Jensen. My cock was very interested in Jensen. I ignored it.

Wrapping the somewhat threadbare towel around my hips, I wandered through to the kitchen. Jensen had taken my heavy hint and there was a steaming pot of coffee ready for the drinking. I doubted there was milk in the fridge, or at least milk that was still potable. I slugged the coffee, enjoying the rasp and burn of the bitter blend. It was then that Jensen coughed, once, softly, behind me.

“Shouldn’t you put on some clothes?” He looked embarrassed. In fact, he was looking at his toes. Then he looked at the mug of coffee in my hand. Then at the wall. Anywhere but at my chest. I’m not one of those vain guys, the type who primp and preen and pose in the mirror of the gym. But all that army training did me good, and I’ve tried to keep up at least some of it. Muscles are much more intimidating than fat. Jensen – and this realisation hit me like a fucking ton of bricks – was not finding it intimidating at all. He was finding my chest, my naked chest, something to enjoy.

And that was the only good thing to come of having him in my apartment.

Once I’d dried and taken notes about his sister, borrowed the photograph and engaged my upstairs brain, I asked him how to get in contact. That’s when it started to become really awkward.

He looked at me, suspiciously. “I thought I could just call you for updates.”

That made every single one of my PI instincts stand up and take notice. Why wouldn’t the guy wanting me to know where he lived? Especially when he was trusting me to look for his little sister. What was his big secret? Other than the liking men one. And I really didn’t care about that one, which he should know if he’d asked around.

“Doesn’t work that way, sunshine. What if you run off without paying me?” I caught and held his eye, only half joking.

He made a face at the nickname. “Can I just tell you where I work? That would be saf... better.” He finished abruptly.

“Safer? Why safer?” Now I was desperate to know. Was the guy in some kind of trouble? I hadn’t been joking when I told him about LA eating its young. And the city sure liked them pretty. The prettier the better. Not that Jensen was pretty. He was beyond pretty into gorgeous and amazing and breathtaking. I tried not to be too obvious about watching him think about how to answer my question.

“Never mind. I work at the Vienna Club, down on Sunset. I’m usually there between three and midnight. They know how to reach me.” Jensen stood and gathered his coat and hat. He moved towards the door, then turned. “I’d really rather I called you. I know you’ll help me.”

“Sure thing.” I muttered, as my brain processed his words. He worked in one of the hottest clubs in LA. And one not just famous for its clientele. It was owned by the guy suspected to be the biggest underworld boss in California. The guy that half the police would love to arrest and the other half were in cahoots with. Rumour was he had a state senator and a couple of congressmen in his pocket too, as well as the entire city council. Well, my boy was connected.

Jensen looked at me like he wanted to ask something else. Then his eyes dropped and he headed out into the dusty golden sunshine.

 

Even though I was not really awake enough to function in society, I was also way too wired to try and grab a little more sleep. It wasn’t just the coffee – that had dealt with the fuzziness from the whisky – but meeting Jensen. I closed my eyes briefly, experimentally, and just found the expression on his face where he resolutely did not check out my chest floating in front of my eyes. A groan escaped my lips, whether of frustration or arousal I wasn’t sure, and I rambled around the apartment gathering laundry.

I’d better look decent if I was to visit the Vienna Club in the future.

 

My sister did look happy to see me. She really did. I suppose it was a holdover from her mothering instincts. Her youngest had just started Kindergarten and she was lonesome in the house. Her husband worked from 8 to 6 at the First Mutual in the strip mall three blocks away and those hours were long in the middle of the day. She had grabbed my washing and had pounded it into the tub, sat me at the kitchen table with a sandwich and a glass of milk and grilled me about my current cases before ten minutes had passed.

My sister didn’t look like me. Not like Jensen’s had looked like him. We had the same scraggly brown hair and that was about it. My sister desperately tried to keep a fashionable wave in it by wandering about in curlers most of the time. All that seemed to do was make it frizzy though. She was busy telling me about her neighbour’s new car and I let her voice sweep over and around me. It was comforting.

“Sandy?” I stopped her in the middle of a monologue about my older nephew’s latest baseball misadventure. She looked ridiculous, caught in mid word. “I just wanted to say thanks. For the sandwich.”

She gazed openly at me. “What sort of trouble are you in now?” I heard our mom’s voice echo down the years.

“I don’t think I’m in trouble. I just wanted to see my sister.” I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Jensen was into something that would result in trouble for me. And part of me really didn’t care as long as it meant I could spend more time looking at him and his lips. Maybe I’m a little shallow when it comes to guys.

“And get fed.” She grabbed my plate and she was right. Only crumbs were left. She passed me a brown paper bag. “Not the contents you would usually have in a brown bag, I know.” I opened it. A dozen home baked cookies.

“Thanks sis.”

 

My next stop (after promising to come to dinner Thursday) was my old precinct house. Just because I’d chosen not to go back into the force after the war didn’t mean all my buddies were gone. I knew that Chad would be glad of the visit.

There were a couple of reasons why being a cop again would be a bad idea. Top of the list was my disinclination to obey orders. I’d had enough of that marching across Europe. Second was a certain colleague who thought he would do me a favour and take care of my wife when I was away. It wasn’t so much that I bothered. We’d pretty much decided to go our separate ways if I came back alive. It was the fact he was my direct superior and punching your direct superior in the mouth in a briefing was not the way to make friends and influence people.

Maybe reasons one and two were more closely linked than I’d realised. And of course he was the first person to see me when I came through the door.

“Hey, Kripke. How’s it going?” I didn’t smile. But I didn’t grimace either.

He flicked an eyebrow in my general direction. “Good. And you?”

“Back from honeymoon already? Heard the wedding was good.” My sister had gone. She’d been Genevieve’s best friend in high school. I didn’t ask her to stay home.

He grunted. Obviously it was a subject he’d rather steer clear of. Good for me. I headed past him into the familiar sounds of the office. Typewriters clattered, phones drilled that annoying ring that bypassed your ears and sounded in your brain. There was the usual shouting from one of the interview rooms, and a dull thud to cut off the yells. I looked around.

I really didn’t miss it any more.

Chad waved at me from his desk. His uniform seemed to be crumpled already even though he couldn’t have been on shift more than an hour. He rubbed his hand over his short cropped hair – the army look hadn’t proved difficult for him – and threw a pile of files onto the overflowing inbox that threatened to spill onto the floor. Our filing systems were obviously similar.

“I hate desk duty,” he grumbled.

“Shouldn’t have got yourself shot.” I replied. “Had to be the big hero.”

He sneered at me. “Didn’t know the bastard had a gun. Although the hospital made up for it afterwards. Nurses, man. They love an officer of the law.” His reminisces caused a wide smile to cross his face.

I felt almost bad for interrupting. “I need a favour.” I pulled the picture of Jensen’s sister (and Jensen) out of my coat pocket. “I’m looking for the girl.”

“There’s something I’d never heard you say, Padalecki.” Chad’s good mood had not dissipated. He frowned at the picture. “Something familiar about them though.”

My stomach dropped. That was not a good sign. Chad scrabbled on his desk, pulling files to and fro. Swearing softly under his breath, he pulled open a drawer that held twice as many pieces of paper. He flicked through swiftly. I knew better than to interrupt. Despite the chaos, Chad was good police and knew when was on to something.

“Ah ha.” He held up a manila envelope. “Confiscated this from one of our more exotic clients. Guy was an utter dickwad. Had been beating his girls.”

A pimp, then. Oh shit.

“Had a pile of these in the back of his car. Thought they might make a nice Christmas party gag for the boys before we really looked at them.” Chad opened the envelope. They were pictures. Lots of pictures. Mostly of girls. Girls being forced to look shy and innocent while posing in ways that were anything but. Chad flipped through the pile, placing them face down on the desk after he’d discarded them. He pulled three from the pile and passed them to me.

These weren’t of girls. These were of Jensen.

He looked different. No spectacles or carefully combed hair. Instead he was nude and his hair was mussed up into spikes, although whether by accidental sweat or deliberate styling was up for debate. He was staring at the camera and I realised these pictures were not an accident then. In one, Jensen rested on a pile of bodies, female and male, knee cocked to hide his cock. One of the others had him bent over a chair, head twisting to leer at the person taking the picture and someone out of frame slapping a wide male hand on his ass. Then there was one more. More explicit. I grabbed them and turned them face down on Chad’s desk.

I couldn’t speak. I just stared at the blank white sheets, the images on the front of them burned onto my brain.

Chad poked me in the shoulder. “The fuck, Padalecki?”

I tried to keep my voice even and professional, and I knew Chad would see through my bullshit. “That’s my new client. And he told me he worked at the Vienna Club. So I should have...” I waved my hand impotently at the pictures. I knew Jensen was not telling me everything. But knowing that and having the evidence forcibly shoved into your face were two very different things.

“For Jeff the Perv?” Trust Chad to use the police nickname. “And you still took the case?”

“It’s for his sister.” Fuck. Chad wouldn’t get it. He didn’t seem to understand that the endless parade of blonde, brunettes and redheads (some actually natural) that he frequently impressed with his police badge and nightstick were all someone’s daughter or sister. Sometimes even mother.

Chad flicked over the top photo. The one that showed Jensen fully frontal and aroused, one hand lazily curled around his cock. The other was teasing a nipple and his eyes, his gorgeous green eyes, seemed to shine through the black and white and look straight at me. “I can see why else you might be interested.”

And I had been. Hell, in my head I’d had Jensen in exactly the same pose in my apartment. But there was something about seeing him naked and vulnerable and on display for anyone who was privileged to get these pictures that really made all the lust and desire that had swirled through my body earlier seem wrong. Now all I wanted to do was make sure the guy had a home cooked meal and a bus ticket back to where ever he had come from. But none of that would happen if I didn’t find his sister.

I decided then and there that my urges to be a knight in shining armour were screwing with my ability to do my job. “Can I take his pictures?”

“They are technically evidence in an ongoing investigation,” Chad muttered as he pulled an envelope from beneath another tottering stack of files. He thrust the pictures inside. “I guess if I have the others, who needs to know.” He handed me the fresh envelope and I slid it into my inside pocket. He picked up the other picture. The innocent picture. “Want me to ask around about her?”

I took the picture from him and slid it into the safe hiding place beside the envelope. “That’s my job, Chad.”

“And you’ll want to be getting paid for this one.” Chad grinned at me with his usual insouciance. “Say hi to your sister for me.”

“Not if her husband’s about.” I shot back, pushing my hat back on my head. I needed a drink, but it was always better to take the next step sober. I’d need the alcohol to disinfect my brain afterwards.

 

The morgue has a very particular stink to it. It’s not that unpleasant actually. Something to do with the amount of sluicing the place gets and the air conditioning on full all the time even through the winter and the dead of night. The formaldehyde cut through the stench of death that clung right at the edge of every breath you took down here. Jim was also real good at keeping the coffee pot full to the brim in his office.

He glared at me over the top of his latest cup when I entered after a perfunctory knock. “Could have been getting me some, boy.”

The likelihood of it made me snort. “I thought all your paramours came in here in body bags.”

“Sick fuck.” He actually growled. “What do you want?”

I pulled the photo of Jensen and his sister from my pocket and waved it in front of his face. He squinted at it as I explained my new case. Calling it an explanation is probably ridiculous. All I said was, “I’m looking for the girl.”

Jim looked for a long time at the picture. “Pretty sure she’s not come through here.” He narrowed his eyes at me even further. “Why the fuck you stop being a cop, boy? The only time I see your face is when you’re working on some case.”

I laughed at him. Short, brittle, humourless. “Hated the uniform, man.”

It was then that the stink of death overcame all the careful barriers I’d been constructing against it, and I was in a different uniform, on a different continent and in a different time. The smell of slaughterhouse and blood was the same though.

 

Jim Beaver was an honourable cocksucker. He’d call me if anyone like Lauren Ackles showed up on one of his slabs. Sadly, he wasn’t the only coroner in the city. After a few more district morgues and a couple of stops to speak to doctors I knew, I was reasonable certain that there was no official death notification. By then the flashbacks had been more frequent, more urgent and, when my shaking hands refused to light the cigarette between my trembling lips, I decided that the drink I’d been craving since noon was definitely the best idea.

It was late afternoon. Too early for the office workers to be out and too late for the liquid lunch crowd. There were only a couple of regular drunks semi-passed out as I wandered into Collins’ bar. In a nice turn up for the books, Misha himself was standing behind the bar. He looked like he hadn’t been up long, beard growth shadowing the lines of his sculptured chin. His welcoming grin was sleepy and laidback but the beer that hit the bar just as I slung myself into the nearest stool was prompt and precise. I took a long, long swallow.

“Thanks, man.” I felt the alcohol warm the chill in my extremities. I tried to tell myself that it was just a consequence of all that air conditioning.

“New case?” Misha asked. He was actually polishing a glass with a cloth. He noticed me watching him and grimaced. “The wife has been getting on at me about being a better barman.”

“Because you weren’t before?” I finished off the beer in another long mouthful and tilted the bottle at Misha in the universal sign for same again.

“Apparently not. Also explains what the fuck I’m doing serving this early.” Misha pulled another beer from the cooler behind the bar. He slid it to me, pausing before I could grab it. “Are you all right, man?”

“Just a new case. Visiting the morgue.” Misha understood. He’s been one of the three survivors from my squad that day. He gave me the beer without any further comment. I flicked the photo out from my pocket. “Seen this girl?”

“If I notice a girl, my wife attempts to cut off my balls.” He wasn’t joking. His wife was all Russian fire and ice. He still looked at the picture, shaking his head.

It wasn’t like I was expecting him to. Sometimes you just never knew when a lucky break was going to hit. I swallowed another mouthful of beer. I was going to have to take this one slow if I wanted to drive anywhere else this evening. I wanted to head over to the boyfriend’s house. Maybe he had another photo or something too. I felt bad about having Jensen’s face out there too. Maybe someone would take pity on me and just fucking well buy me that white horse.

The bar door opened, sending a tendril of hot air across the floor. I looked up, not expecting anything to see Mr Hutton strolling in. He sat on the stool next to me, throwing me the “hey other guy in bar” nod before asking Misha for a beer. I gaped at him.

This was the bastard I’d spent all day yesterday attempting to follow. All day in my hot, stinking car. I groaned and realised that if I brought Mrs Hutton the evidence she was after I could cover my rent for the next two months easy. All it would take was some fast talking and a hell of a lot of alcohol. And maybe a favour from Misha.

It was then I realised he was talking to me. “Hey. You okay?”

I felt like a complete prick. There was some kind of code I knew I was breaking when I decided that I needed to get this guy drunk and spill his secrets. It wasn’t some pissy PI ethics code but something more primal. “Just a tough day.” I didn’t need to lie about that.

“Tell me about it.” He didn’t mean that literally. He obviously wanted to sound off too. So I let him. He coloured the air blue bitching about his job, his wife, the bank, the government, the weather. Pretty much everything in the entire world. I also slowly poured around half a bottle of tequila into him.

Soon I was his best friend in the universe. Misha shoved a plate of fries at me around ten o’clock, but I kept pumping poor Timothy – call me Tim - for details about Gina and what he did to blow off steam. It sounded like all he did was drink himself into a stupor. There was no discussion of random hussies or mistresses or anything that Mrs Hutton claimed was going on every time her husband worked late. My favour from Misha was called in at ten past eleven when Tim struggled across the bar to the restrooms.

I’d known Alona since she was a fourteen year old schoolgirl more interested in ponies and softball than anything else. Four years had made a hell of a difference. Misha swore blind this new version of his niece must be some kind of changeling. Her dirty blonde hair grew out of pigtails into long, soft, flowing waves. Her slim figure acquired curves in all the right wrong places and she started wearing the clothes to match. She might have been a few months from graduating high school, but her mind had already skipped ahead to adulthood. She merely ignored her Uncle Jared and went after pretty much everything else in pants.

A quick word of explanation in her ear and she was happy to help Uncle Jared with his latest case. She still found my job glamorous. The favour from Misha was to stop him interfering before I got the final information I needed to cement my presentation to Mrs Hutton. Tim came stumbling out of the bathroom and was surprised to find a young ingénue sitting on his stool. I ignored her.

“Scuse me, Miss.” Tim was definitely slurring. Alona turned and raised one perfectly plucked eyebrow in his general direction. He leaned rather precipitously to one side. “You’re in my seat.”

That was all the confirmation I needed. A man interested in cheating would have merely slid the next stool over and tried to talk Alona into letting him find out what colour panties she was wearing. I stood up and slung my arm over his shoulder. “Ready to head home, buddy?”

He looked at me owlishly. “Already?”

“Yeah. Time for bed.” I grunted as he fell against me. I dragged him to the door, turning to see Alona swaying towards the pool table as Misha picked up his polishing cloth again. His blue eyes were watching me incredulously. I shrugged and left. I debated heading back in after pouring Timothy into a cab but decided to head home. I needed a proper night’s sleep to deal with Jensen tomorrow.

When the nightmares came, I dragged the photos of Jensen out of my coat pocket and stared at them until I fell asleep again.

 

The boyfriend, sound engineer, whatever was at home when I pulled up outside his house. Mark was older than I would have imagined from Jensen’s brief description. He was actually mowing the lawn as I arrived, trundling back and forth in some kind of picture of domestic bliss. The cigarette hanging from his lower lip spoiled the image a little.

His eyes were flat and unfriendly as I climbed the sidewalk towards him. “What?”

“I’m not selling anything. I just want to ask you a few questions about Lauren Ackles.” I tried to be as non-threatening as possible. Something that was made substantially harder by the fact I towered above the guy.

“You a cop?” He stopped pushing the mower.

“Used to be.” There was always some advantage in playing up the connection. “Not anymore. I’m a detective.”

He grunted and resumed the lawn maintenance. After a few minutes of the silent treatment I started to get annoyed. “Listen, pal...”

“I’m not your pal.” He interrupted. “I don’t have to talk to you.”

It was then that I got pissed off. I had gone out of my way to make the guy comfortable and unthreatened. Obviously too well. Also, the hunt round morgues yesterday had not led to a peaceful night’s sleep. I was tired of the bullshit.

“Did you kill her?” I drew myself up to my full height.

A look of shock crossed his face but then his eyes narrowed and hatred flared out of them. “Did that faggot of a brother send you here?”

“Just answer the fucking question and I’ll get off your lawn and not bother you anymore.” I let my hands curl into fists, knowing that made my biceps ripple under the confines of my jacket.

“No. I did not. The bitch and I had a huge fight, a month ago. She stormed out of here.” I wondered if the fight had been about Jensen. “Sent her friend here to get her stuff.”

I pulled a notebook from my pocket. Flipping it to an empty page, I enquired after her name and address. Mark was rather grudging in his compliance but soon gave me it. He proceeded to bitch some more about Jensen and I wondered what had really happened between them. But in between the insults, he passed on more details about Lauren’s friends. It felt like I had a solid lead again.

I spent the rest of the day driving around hunting address. Few people were at home, but it was all worth it when I caught Penelope Parker at home. She was more than happy to discuss Lauren. And Jensen.

“I always thought that Mark guy was a total freak,” she said as she passed me a soda from the icebox. We were sitting on her back porch in one of those steel framed swings that burn through your clothes if the sun has reached them. Luckily it was still too early in the day for that.

Penelope was apparently a student in English Lit at the local community college. She wanted to be a teacher and also liked baseball. She had some kind of strange compulsion that made her fill in any silence with inane conversation. It wasn’t too long until I had to take control of the conversation and turn it back to Lauren.

“Well. She lived with Samantha for about a week and then said she was going to share with a girl from work who lived nearer the store. I always wondered why she didn’t go live with her brother and asked her. She told me that her brother didn’t have an apartment – can you believe that – but lived with some rich guy up in the hills. She told me she wasn’t speaking to him because he’d come to see her with a black eye and she told him to get out.” All this was strangely fascinating to me. But I needed more pertinent details.

“Did you ever meet the girl from the store?” I watched her gulp her soda as no doubt her throat was dry from all the talking.

“I don’t think there was any girl. I think there was another guy.” Penelope rolled her shoulders in a rather idiosyncratic shrug. “Why else did she never have us over?”

It took me around an hour to extricate myself from Penelope’s company. She seemed determined to hold me there as long as possible. I eventually begged a dentist’s appointment to escape. She tried desperately to extract a promise to come again from me. I kept my fingers crossed behind my back the entire time.

 

I made it back at my apartment despite the traffic. I stopped at the grocery store at the end of the block to grab something for tea and slowly climbed the stairs. My mind was fixed on a half formed plan to track down this mysterious new guy and it wasn’t until I reached the door that I noticed it was open. I placed the brown paper bag on the floor and pulled my gun from my shoulder holster. I checked each room cautiously, letting my gun lead around the corners.

There was no one there. Not anymore. I retrieved the bag from the hallway and pushed the door too. Whoever has opened it had kicked the locks off. I was going to need a brand new door. I shook my head slowly in frustration. I checked each room again. It looked like the place had been searched – drawers were open and all the cupboards in the kitchen. I shut them as I wandered around. Nothing was missing as far as I could tell. It wasn’t like I had stacks of cash lying around, but even the handful of change on the dresser looked intact. I didn’t keep files here. I groaned aloud at the thought of someone wrecking my office in the same way.

It took me a few minutes to remember Jensen’s photographs. I wondered if that was what my mystery burglar was after. I had returned the envelope to my coat pocket without thinking this morning. The feel of the paper through my clothes had kept me focused. It was just something I liked to do when on a case, or so I was telling myself. I perhaps didn’t want to admit that all I wanted was to keep Jensen close to me.

I picked up the phone and dialled Mrs Hutton. I passed on my professional opinion that her husband was not cheating on her, giving details of all the information I had gathered about his workplace during our bonding session last night. I even explained the honey trap I had set. She sounded dissatisfied but said the cheque would be in the post in the morning. I toyed with the idea of phoning Chad but decided it was more effort than it was worth to have the police stirring up the place. They’d do almost as good a job as the burglar. I pulled out the supplies from the bag as I contemplated the door. The whiskey went in the oven, the cigarettes in the cupboard next to my bed and the soup can opened after a brief struggle. I phoned my landlord while I ate.

I was tossing and turning on the sofa, letting the last rays of the evening sun keep me from either falling asleep properly or from letting the nightmares return when the phone rang in return. It wasn’t my landlord. It was Jensen Ackles.

I couldn’t help but think of him naked.

I closed my eyes but the pictures still danced upon my eyelids. “Hey there.” I swear I didn’t try and make my voice low and seductive.

“You all right there, Mr Padalecki?” His voice was dry and dispassionate. I smothered the urge to tell him to call me Jared. Call me Jared all night long.

“You want an update?” I asked it gruffly. Perhaps I had a cold coming on. I scratched at my belly and purposely didn’t slip it under the waistband of my pants.

“I would like to see you.” His polite voice made the rather filthy place my brain jump to completely unacceptable.

“My place or yours,” I growled and coughed to hide it. There was no way this was acceptable. I never thought about clients like this. I was screwed big style. On the other hand maybe this was all a hallucination and I was just imagining this. Maybe I was still asleep. Perhaps. I pinched myself. It hurt.

“I think it would be best if you came to the club tonight. Around ten?” He was not amused, or aroused, or any of the other things I currently was. “I stop working then tonight.”

I really didn’t want to know what kind of work my client did for Jeffery Dean Morgan. “I’ll be there.” I would need to leave in the next hour to be there on time.

“Goodbye, Mr Padalecki.” The phone clicked off. I cradled it against my chest for a long minute. My other traitorous hand was sliding across my cock in a definitely suggestive manner. I arched my hips into it. Fuck that felt good. I dropped the receiver back onto the phone. I did not need to leave for an hour. I realised after I’d come with Jensen’s name on my lips that I would was going to be very uncomfortable during this evening if this was the effect that only the sound of his voice had on me.

 

The Vienna Club looked pretty much the same as I’d always seen it. There was a red carpet on the sidewalk which always struck me as cheesy in a town built on red carpets. The edges of the carpet were lined with black velvet ropes strung between golden posts. On gala nights I knew there’d be journalists and photographers lining these ropes but not early on a Wednesday evening. The black and gold colour scheme carried over onto the doorway – a huge golden sign with black writing capping the doorway.

I strolled towards the suit clad man standing underneath it. To understand, I had made an effort. I’d even shaved and pulled some pomade through my slightly too long hair. It was just that nothing I owned would ever be good enough to wear to a place like this. I thought my tie was mostly clean, at least. The doorman did not agree with my assessment. He fixed his eyes on it studiously and thought about how to greet me.

I realised I was towering above him too. Maybe I could pick up some door duty on a quiet week, because here I was intimidating him. I slouched a little and coughed to disguise the laugh bubbling inside me. “I’m here to see Jensen Ackles?” By making it a question, he’d be more comfortable.

He finally looked me in the eye. “Absolutely, sir.” He pulled the smoked glass door open and I meandered inside, faking a nonchalant attitude. There was a coat check to the right and the walls were black between the huge mirrors on the other wall. I slid my coat and hat over, perfunctory smiling at the girl. “Where do I go?”

“Just head into the club, sir.” She gestured down the broad hallway. I shrugged. I’d find Jensen soon enough.

The club wasn’t full but it was hell of a lot busier than Misha’s place. A group around three tables in the far corner of the room seemed to be making most of the noise, but the band just about drowned them out. The band leader seemed a little interesting too. I thought at first he might be a girl on account of the long ponytail hanging over his white jacket, but the shoulders were way too wide for that. I checked out his ass too, just for form’s sake, as I slid between the slowly rotating couples to reach the bar.

I placed my elbows on the bar as I waited for the barman to finish up making some ridiculously complicated cocktail. He seemed to enjoy his job, swirling bottles up and over his shoulders, squeezing the lime at arm’s length and smiling like a fool the entire time.

“Hope you don’t want one of those,” said a small, quiet, all too amused voice at my shoulder. I turned and looked straight into Jensen’s beautiful green eyes. They were much more attractive when not clouded by indecision and tension. I might have stared a little too long as Jensen shifted uncomfortably and looked away.

I started slightly and looked back at the bar guiltily. Oh shit. I was falling for the guy. I knew he might be around the same age as me but I still wanted to call him kid and then maybe nibble on his lips a little. I was suddenly grateful to the bar holding me up and hiding the sudden interest in my pants. “Nah. I’m uncomplicated. Beer and whisky. Sometimes tequila.”

“All about the diversity then.” Jensen seemed determined to tease, determined to keep the smile on his face, determined to not show he was actually really fucking tense. His jacket was strained smooth across his shoulders and his hands were clasped tight together. I wondered who the show was for. “My boss wants to meet you,” he continued, in a low voice all too close to my ear.

That explained it then. Then I started to wonder what Jeff the Perv would want from me. “No problem.” I took the whisky the barman handed me after Jensen’s silent indicator and took a deep swallow. “No problem at all.”

I followed Jensen around the side of the room back past the entrance to the opposite side of the room. There was a slightly raised dais and holding court on it was Jeffrey Dean Morgan. A pretty girl, blonde, possibly out of her teens sat to one side of him. She was wearing a dress that seemed to be more like a bathing suit. His other side was occupied by a bare chested boy, definitely not out of his teens. They were both wearing makeup, the lipstick rubbed and bleeding off the side of their lips. Their companion wore some of the lipstick on his mouth too.

“Well, if it isn’t Detective Padalecki.” I was surprised he recognised me but then chided myself. Jeff may try to disguise how clever he is by playing scenes like this in his club and not challenging all the rumours that fly around the underbelly of the city. I knew better. He was smart enough not to get caught at whatever he was doing illegally, and clever enough never to cross the line in front of people he couldn’t trust. In a way, I trusted him not to make my life difficult here. He wouldn’t do anything that would cause me to wonder if I should report him to the police.

“Mr Morgan.” I nodded, politely.

He grinned lazily, his eyes remaining half closed. “We’re all friends here. Call me Jeff, Jared.” He pointed at a seat on the other side of the table. I slung myself onto it, twisting my feet around the chair legs. I felt more than saw Jensen come to stand behind me. Then he actually put a hand on my shoulder. I automatically tensed then made a conscious attempt to relax. Jensen was trying to communicate something to me but my brain was refusing to read his messages. Instead my dick was telling me where it would rather have Jensen’s hand.

“Haven’t seen you in a while, Mr... Jeff. Thanks for remembering me.” Never hurt to be polite. That’s what my mamma always used to say.

Jeff looked at me sideways and then focused his attention on Jensen. "I think Jared needs a drink."

Jensen handed me the whisky from the bar over my shoulder. "There you go, Jared."

There was a game being played but I didn't know what it was. And I was definitely in the middle of it. Suddenly all I wanted to do was get out of there. I could deal with my little obsession with Jensen Ackles quite comfortably from Misha's bar or at home. Which I hoped wouldn't have been broken into again by the time I returned. I cut to the chase. "What did you want, Jeff?"

"Now, Jared. Is that anyway to speak to the person who sends new business your way." Jeff continued to stroke the leg of the boy next to him. He knew about my predilections, I was sure, and thought this might rile me. I put my hand on top of Jensen's on my shoulder. Even if I didn't know the game, I could sure as hell play. Jensen didn't try to pull away. Instead he lifted his fingers slightly to entwine them with mine.

It felt like every nerve in my hand was on fire.

"Thanks for that." I smiled at Jeff, trying not to let him see how much I was enjoying the slight pressure Jensen was applying to my knuckles.

Jensen coughed slightly. I think he wanted me to move this conversation on. He must be desperate to find out how far the case with his sister had progressed. Even if it wasn't very far.

The music in the club started up again, and the noise level seemed to jump. It was getting much busier in here. Guess debauchery doesn't need to wait for the weekend if you're rich enough. I looked around to see the band leader glaring in our direction. I wasn't sure what in particular was causing the tensed jaw but I was willing to bet that Jensen was part of the reason. He was just too damn innocent to be here, despite the pictures continuing to burn a hole through my jacket pocket.

Jeff was speaking again. "Jared. It's very important that you find Jensen's sister." His voice had actually lost a little of the teasing twisting tone. "We all miss her."

"Did she come here often?" I felt Jensen's fingers twitch against mine but I didn't pull back.

"Never met her." The smirk was plastered back on Jeff's face. "But can't have Jensen's mind elsewhere. He's much too valuable an employee." His eyes slid over to the rest of the room. "And I've got work to do. See you kiddos later."

It was an obvious dismissal. I pulled Jensen along with me when I stood up and then stopped. I didn't know where we were going. I also didn't let go of his hand. It felt nice, soft, unscarred. I knew that mine would feel rough in comparison. He didn't pull away either. "Where to?"

"Let's use my office. No one will bother use there. Jeff'll be busy here for a while." Jensen pulled me towards a curtain at the right of the stage. There was a door tucked behind it. So many entrances and exits. A nightmare for security. I felt the glare of the band leader cut off when Jensen closed the door softly behind me.

"What's with that guy?" The exclamation just couldn't wait.

"Who? Jeff? That's just him playing." Jensen didn't sound happy about it but the corridor was too dark to do much more than just about make out his silhouette. It felt oddly intimate, like I could ask him anything and he would answer it. He turned to face me and I could just make out the glimmer of his green eyes and the moistness of his lips. I was tempted to just kiss him regardless of any consequences.

It took a few deep breaths to get myself under control. Fuck. Not even my first boyfriend had made me feel like this. Maybe it had something to do with the fact I'd already seen him naked. But I hadn't really. I'd seen pictures. And part of me reckoned that the reality would be even better. I cut off that train of thought, although compartmentalisation had never really been so difficult before. "The band leader?"

"Chris? He's just protective. He got me the job here, actually." Jensen turned and I followed him deeper into the club. I thought we must be behind the stage, and every so often I heard a dull roar of conversation and the sweep of music. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of another.

We ended up at a plain door. The club was much less lavish back here although the corridors were still lushly carpeted and the wallpaper look soft enough to stroke. Beyond the door, it looked like any other office. Jensen pushed the door open and flicked the switch. The room beyond was a lot neater than my office space but shared many of the same attributes. A desk, a lamp, a phone. A sofa.

The sofa dominated much of the room. It was a deep red leather and my head provided the image of Jensen stretched out naked and willing on it without any prompting. I closed my eyes but the image was still there, only this time I was joining him. I opened my eyes to see Jensen sitting down at one corner of the sofa.

I pulled a chair over from the front of the desk. "I haven't made much progress, so I wanted to ask you a few more questions." I outlined who I had spoken to, what they'd told me and totally omitted any conversation with Chad regarding Jensen's modelling career.

Jensen watched me silently throughout. "So, my next move is to visit the department store. Speak to her colleagues. See if they can direct me anywhere else."

I ran out of things to say, but the silence lengthened. Jensen was lost in thought, his green eyes dull and staring at a point somewhere over my shoulder. "Hey, man...." He looked at me again and my heart gave an uncomfortable leap. "You all right?"

Jensen just shook his head and slumped back on the sofa. He looked at the ceiling. "I should have stayed in closer contact with her. This is all my fault."

"How is it your fault?" I tried to console him, but I realised that I was just a sounding board when he continued talking.

"She followed me out here, after my parents asked me... told me to leave." His voice took on a bitter, mocking tone. I realised this must be an impression of one of those parents. "No one wants a pervert for a son. Not in a god-fearing household. Didn't matter that the man kissing me was the fucking minister." Jensen rubbed his hands across his face. "Didn't matter that I had gone to him for help in controlling these urges. These thoughts."

A vivid urge to punch this minister ran through me and I clenched my fists. The sensation of my fingernails biting into my palms forced me to relax.

"And in LA, there's so many pretty boys on the run from their past. Is it any wonder that some of them end up in compromising positions. And my sister found me in one. She said she thought she could deal with my perversions but she couldn’t." Jensen's self-loathing became apparent. "And she was even less forgiving when she found out that was how the rent was paid. She moved out to a friend's house. Then a boyfriend's."

I considered moving to sit beside Jensen but I was too scared to interrupt him. Too scared to make him stop talking. I knew that if I got onto that sofa I would take him in my arms and that would do neither of us any good. Yeah, I was a chickenshit yellow coward.

Jensen looked at me then. His eyes were shining with unshed tears. I couldn't move, frozen by the naked hurt and pain apparent in his eyes. He spoke in a soft, uneven tone. "She wrote to me then. Saying she'd made a mistake. We met for lunch and she told me all about her life. It was good. It was like getting a bit more of my life together. And we were supposed to meet again last week. When she didn't show I went to Jeff. He sent me to you."

I worked out that Jensen must have come straight from the club to my office that morning. He probably hadn't slept either that night. I prepared myself to move, a deep breath away from standing up and crossing the miles of carpet to that sofa and taking him in my arms. He was in pain and the stupid protective bit of my brain just wanted to make it all okay. To make all the pain go away. I stood up. Then the door slammed open and I found myself slammed against the wall.

I realised that it was the band leader - Chris - almost as soon as I'd pressed my gun into his side. Jensen was pulling at his shoulder. Now I'm not short and I'm not unfit and I was fairly sure I could take this guy in a fair fight. But the image of Jensen trying to protect me, to save me, just about made me laugh. I pressed the muzzle of the gun a little more firmly into the guy's side. "How about we all calm down here?"

Chris gave me one more good glare before stepping back and raising his hands in surrender. Jensen hit him, a solid punch in the shoulder, and I felt proud of my boy. Then I groaned inwardly at that thought. I had right to even be thinking of Jensen as mine.

"Jensen and I were just having a little chat about his sister." I explained to Chris, my hand unwavering keeping the gun trained on him. I would need to move it soon. Holding a gun in one hand looked great in the movies but they were heavy fuckers. The standard police two-handed grip would work better if I wanted to keep this standoff up.

"Put the gun away, Jared, please." Jensen asked politely and a little frantically. "Chris. What the hell?"

I did as he asked, a little grudgingly. Once Chris saw me slide the pistol into the holster he was a little less unwilling to talk. "He was going to attack you. Or do something you didn't want to do. You were so unhappy when you took him back here."

I hadn't been looking at Jensen's face. I had been looking at Jensen's ass most of the way here. I could neither confirm or deny Chris' supposition. I shrugged.

"Fucking Jeff, man." Jensen offered in explanation. "He's determined to make me “grateful” to him again."

This was a side of Jensen I hadn't seen. I'd seen him pissed off and broken and anxious, but never friendly and relaxed. Chris and he were obviously good friends, and I felt an odd pang of jealousy twinge in my gut.

Chris was going off about Jeff and how he wished he'd never got Jensen this job and that they should quit and head back to Texas when Jensen interrupted him with a swift kiss. I was the one who felt uncomfortable now. I felt my hand come up to grab the back of my neck and my gaze shoot to the floor. But it shut Chris up.

"Don't be stupid. I love this job. Go back to work." Chris did what Jensen asked, throwing a wary glance my way as he shut the door. Better than a poisonous glare, I supposed.

"Overprotective friend?" I was oddly surprised at the squeak in my voice. I sounded like a girl.

"Friend yes. Overprotective definitely." Jensen looked at me as if he couldn't quite figure me out. "Anyway. I'd like to come with you tomorrow."

"Don't you have to stay and work?" It was out before I'd really thought about it.

Jensen gave me another funny glare. "I'm done for the day."

"Not the night?" Again, with the verbal slips.

"What do you think I do here, Mr Padalecki?" Jensen's tone was dangerous. This felt just like the game he and Jeff had played earlier. I was stepping onto dangerous ground.

I couldn't think how to answer him. I slipped the packet of pictures from my pocket and looked at it. "One of my old colleagues recognised you and passed these to me." I handed him the envelope before I had a chance to back down.

Jensen blanched as he pulled the pictures out. He flipped them back and forth turning them over and over. "I was younger then..." He looked at me and his face was an angry mask. Nothing of the joking, teasing Jensen I'd seen with Chris remained. Part of me was fascinated by the way in which his moods could shift so easily.

"I don't need an explanation." I tried to let him see how little I cared about the past. "I just thought you should know I'd seen them."

Jensen hissed at me. "An explanation? I went to school with the money I made from these. I'm a fucking accountant now. Jeff's fucking accountant. Who else would employ... a fucking ex-hooker..." His voice was breaking now. "I suppose you want to drop the case."

Jensen wouldn't meet my eyes. I stepped closer to him but he backed up. I kept coming closer till I could touch his chin and raise it so his eyes met mine. His back was against the door. Hatred and anguish warred for dominance, turning the green something muddier and closer to my own hazel. "I don't drop cases because of shit like that. We all have pasts. No one is an angel."

Jensen refused to back down. He didn't move, barely seemed to breath. "I suppose you want paid in sex then."

Part of me, and I'm ashamed to say that there really was a part of me, desperately wanted to take him up on that offer. And because of that, even though I basically had him trapped and helpless, I had to try and defuse the tension. "Bank doesn't cash that."

Mentioning sex and money in such close proximity was a stupid idea considering what we were discussing. I apologised immediately, stepping back and sitting on the sofa. "Sorry man. I just..." There was no way I could get Jensen to understand how much I wanted to fuck him and that it had nothing to do with those pictures. It had everything to do with the way he'd checked me out and the pain in his eyes and the way I just wanted to make him forget the rest of the world.

He sat in the chair I'd been in previously and just waited for me to say something else that would make that even more unlikely. "I hate being a detective, you know. It's just that an ex-cop only has so many options. I didn't want to take some pissy security job and I didn't want to work for the other side, which is what most of the ex-cops I run into seem to do. I wanted to be my own boss. But being a detective is worse than being a cop. There's no up side. You just see more ways in which people fuck their lives up. And you start to fuck your own life up too."

There was a tense silence. I could not think of a single thing to say. Jensen sounded tentative when he spoke. "Do you think she's alive?" There was no need to ask who he meant.

"I hope so. I don't know." I had to be honest with him. "She's probably not."

He didn't look broken. I knew he'd probably considered this. He didn't look lost. He just looked spent. Exhausted. "I didn't think so. But I have to know."

It was the same line that every wife who suspected her husband of cheating used. That every man searching for a debtor who'd skipped town used. That everyone walking through my door used. Most of the time they knew there was no hope.

Fuck it. "I can't afford the prices in this joint. Join me for a couple down at my local?" Alcohol kept all sorts of nightmares at bay and Jensen looked like he needed a little of its succour.

It was the second night in a row that my car was going to be sitting outside Misha’s bar.

 

Jensen and I hadn’t really spoken much to each other on the way over or as we sat at the bar. I talked at him about Misha and his family and the bar and my last few cases. Jensen just watched the road, the streets and then the collection of bottles below the mirrors. I had snuck glances at him, orange shadows striping his face as we stopped at lights, the dull lights in the bar catching his cheekbones. He looked like he wasn’t listening.

Misha wanted to moan about Alona’s latest boyfriend and, as it stopped me saying anything stupid to Jensen, I was happy to listen. Misha had few blindspots. He could be a sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch and when drunk and without his family he turned into a raging horndog who never did anything other than leer. Alona’s rather intense interest in the opposite sex also seemed to have completely passed him by. I attempted to correct him when he explained he’d caught this guy shoving Alona’s hand onto his ass, but Misha was determined not to listen.

I shook my head at his latest protestations of her innocence and turned to Jensen to share a wry grin. And we did. He grinned at me, eyes dancing at the stupid pigheadedness of my friend. Then he seemed to realise what he was doing and dropped his eyes to the bar once again. Misha went off to serve another couple of regulars.

Jensen had opened his smart grey suit jacket and it hung loose on his shoulders. He had pulled his tie loose as well and opened the top two buttons of his shirt. He had run his fingers through his hair at some point and pushed the stiff precise wave into tangles and spikes. He was still the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.

I slid one of the full glasses over the bar to him. He’d just about finished his last drop in the glass he had. I’d long ago shucked my jacket and wound my shirt sleeves up. Cuffs seemed too restricting when determinedly drinking. Jensen glanced down at the movement, and his eyes seemed caught on my forearm. I tried to objectively think what he might be looking at – the faint scar of a knife wound, perhaps. Or the cheap watch whose band chafed a red mark if I left it on too long. Maybe he was thinking that my shirt needed washing, which it did despite the fact I’d tried to find the cleanest one I could before heading to the club.

He reached his hand out for the glass and let his fingers trail along the bare skin. I felt my muscles tense slightly before the gentle touch sent fire directly to the pit of my stomach. He quickly withdrew and grabbed the glass. I watched him swallow a large gulp of whisky before turning back to my drink. I looked up into the mirror behind the bar to see him watching me in it. A flush was spreading high over his cheekbones, barely noticeably in the dimmed lights of the bar. He put his glass down, next to my arm again. The burn of his proximity, the awareness of his nearness sent another flare of heat through my skin. I thought I must be flushing as much as him now.

The intensity built to a fever. I did not want to destroy this moment, this electricity that flowed in an endless loop around us. I couldn’t look away.

Misha came back just then to spoil it all. “Where were we?”

Jensen spoke then. “I really should be going.”

“But we haven’t talked at all.” I spoke without thinking. He gave me a sideways glance. “Maybe sitting at the bar is a bad plan,” I suggested. I nodded to a circular booth. I should be safe if he sat on one side and I sat on the other.

Jensen hesitated. Then he nodded slowly and lifted his drink. Misha stared at me. “You are actually leaving me here in the middle of a crisis?”

I nodded and grabbed the rest of the bottle he had conveniently left on the bar. “Client meeting.”

I ignored his dry “uh-huh” and led Jensen over to the booth. My plan went to hell the minute he sat down. He obviously felt that leaving his back to the room was just too uncomfortable, and slid round his side to the back. I seemed to have the same idea. Our legs bumped once, our thighs touched and then I slid a little further round.

“I like to see the room,” Jensen stated. I wonder if he even realised that the touch of flesh through two layers of cloth had made my dick twitch. It didn’t matter that his voice was dry and dispassionate. That he had returned to staring at the glass in his hand like it was the only thing that mattered in the world.

I had to stop thinking with my dick.

“You wanted to come with me tomorrow?” I introduced the conversation. “Cause we should discuss how that is going to work.”

“It was just a stupid idea.” Jensen was back to looking anywhere else.

“It’s not stupid. It’s just... I normally work alone. Been a while since I had a partner.” In any sense of the word.

“I just can’t sit here and not do anything anymore. I thought that hiring you would help, but it doesn’t.”

Now I knew that between us we’d drank most of a bottle of Misha’s finest (which wasn’t saying much) whisky but I could swear that I was no more drunk than I’d been at five o’clock that night. It was pushing on for closing time, but I knew Misha would bitch and let me stay as long as I wanted. And I just knew that it was going to be one of those nights when it didn’t matter how much I drank. I was not going to get any more buzzed. I blamed Jensen. His presence just seemed to fill up all the available space in my blood, leaving nowhere for the alcohol to go.

“It’s fine. Maybe her colleagues will be more willing to talk to you. Her brother and all that.” I watched Jensen flush under his collar.

“She might have told them about me.” He was doing an admirable job at keeping his voice soft and even. “They might think the worst of me...”

I managed to keep my mouth shut. I desperately had wanted to say “Any worse than I do?” but perhaps smart mouthed me needed to go into hiding. I needed to handle Jensen carefully. I thought carefully, even tilting my head over to the side so he could just about see the wheels turning. “It’ll be fine. If I was your sister, I wouldn’t have. Not if I wanted to keep my job. Remember, we’re all about the appearances around here.”

Jensen actually turned to look at me now. Voluntarily. I shut up. “What’s behind your appearance then?”

Oh fuck. Did I tell him? Did I tell him that all I had really wanted to do since he came through my door was to kiss him, to push him up against a wall and let my hands roam over every inch of his skin. To let him do the same to me. Did I tell him that those photos didn’t matter? That seeing him like that just made me want him to see pictures of me like that. To have pictures of me to carry around in his fucking neat and pressed suit pocket. To know that he could pull them out and see them and just want me like I wanted him.

That was what was currently going on behind my “appearance” as he’d put it.

Jensen was still talking. “And one minute you’re like this gigantic puppy and then you’re this cold professional. I hadn’t realised that Jeff actually knew you and that makes me fucking suspicious.” He fixed me with those penetrating eyes again. Maybe the alcohol had done a little more for him than for me. “And you invite me to your friend’s bar for a chat after seeing those fucking pictures that seem determined to follow me around no matter how hard I try to put them behind me. There’s times I walk into a room and I just know, I just fucking sense it, that someone there has seen them.”

It was the longest speech I’d heard him give. He put his hand on my knee then, grabbing it tight. His firm grip was the only thing stopping me from jumping up and hitting the ceiling. “And how am I ever supposed to find a normal life again? Lauren’s missing, my parents hate me and the only guy who’ll sit and listen to me is one I have to pay.”

“I’m off the clock,” I said. Good fucking job, asshole, said the small but definitely not quiet and gentle voice that seemed to be second guessing every interaction I was having with the guy... with Jensen. I couldn’t even think of his as “that guy” anymore. This was fucked up.

“Oh.” That seemed to have stopped Jensen in his tracks. He took a minute to process the information and then moved the hand off my knee. I regretted speaking even more.

Then I took my courage, did the fucking stupid Macbeth thing and screwed it to the sticking place, or whatever the quote was. “Jensen, listen. We have to find your sister first. But after that, no matter what happens, can we just hang out?” And suddenly I was also apparently a twelve year old girl as well as a giant puppy, or whatever Jensen had called me earlier.

“Hang out?” Even slightly drunk (or very drunk) Jensen understood the idiocy of that statement.

“That wasn’t what I meant. But it was as well.” I just gave up then and slammed my head down on the booth table. Maybe I was more drunk than I’d really been crediting myself.

“Don’t you knock any holes in my tables, Jared Padalecki.” The irritated voice of Misha floated over my shoulder. He placed a new bottle in the middle of the table. “I’m going to lock up. You know where the spare keys are if you want to stay longer.”

I looked at Jensen. He returned the look and then nodded slowly. I nodded at Misha who then grunted, a rather inelegant sound that was nothing like his usual witty repartee. He was also looking at me and Jensen. Then one corner of his mouth tilted up. “Stick with it, kid.”

I really hated when Misha went all paternal on me.

 

Jensen and I had drank most of the other bottle. I’d explained to him all the steps I intended to take in the investigation, and the other investigations that I had pending. He told me all about why being an accountant was not as geeky as it seemed. We had slumped closer in the booth, ignoring Misha as he’d switched the lights out and locked the doors. The streetlight directly outside sent enough light through the blinds for us to see the glasses and bottle and each other. I could no longer see where Jensen ended and the seat began, admittedly, but his eyes continued to glint in the half light. I stopped making sense, tiredness and the urgent need to piss taking all my concentration.

After I’d weaved my way back from the bathroom, I just stood at the table and watched. Jensen hadn’t noticed me returning. He was talking to the glass in his hand.

“So, glass. What do I say? Do I tell him to take me back to the Bastard’s house or do I try and go back to his apartment with him?” Jensen sounded really serious. And really seriously drunk.

“We could just stay here.” I spoke without thinking. “Stretch out on the seats and talk until we sleep.”

“Like camp?” Jensen giggled. He hadn’t said no.

“I’ve never been to camp.” I sat back down, letting gravity slide me closer to Jensen at the far end of the booth. I ended up with my head hovering near his shoulder and my feet hanging out the other end. It wasn’t uncomfortable. Jensen grabbed at my head and laid it against his chest as he slid his feet up onto the bench too.

“I hated camp. There’s just something about the scent of canvas that sends me running.” He was murmuring, deep in his chest, not really talking. I ignored what he was saying and just felt the soft movement of his chest thrill through me. After a while he stopped talking and began stroking my hair. That felt so very good.

Misha’s wife’s scream woke us both the next morning.

 

Sometime in the middle of the night my head had kinda slipped down Jensen’s chest, and I’d rolled over and flung my arm over him. And if you’re the sort of person who jumps to conclusions and shoots first and asks questions later, well, you’d get the wrong end of the stick.

A torrent of Russian followed the screaming. My head ached. Jensen had frozen and the comfortable thigh I had been leaning again became as solid as rock as he tensed his muscles. That had my brain taking a brief diversion into naked Jensen territory again. I pushed up, running my tongue over my dry and cracked lips. My mouth tasted like something had died in it. Possibly my dignity.

“Hey!” I had to shout, even though it reverberated around my aching skull. Natalia just glared at me. Her finger whipped out and she started to wag it at Jensen and me. The Russian continued unabated. “English, remember.”

And she stopped shrieking for a moment. The silence felt so very good. Then her heavily accented voice began again. In English. And I swear the Russian had been better. “Is bad enough you corrupt my husband. But this boy too?”

Jensen laughed at my blush. “Corrupted good old Misha, did you?”

It took a hell of a lot of sweet talking, but Mrs Collins was good enough to furnish us with two cups of her evil smelling coffee before she returned to her cleaning. The coffee may have tasted like it had been made with coal dust but it was strong and powerful enough to get us both onto our feet with respect.

“I think it’d be best if we got cleaned up. Do you want to meet me later on?” Jensen followed me to my car. I was a little proud of myself for not suggesting he come join me in my shower.

He was silent for a long moment, arms resting gently on the roof of the car. He looked evenly at me. It was obvious that something had changed in the way he was thinking about me. I reckoned that something I’d said last night had made him shift me out of the box he had pigeonholed me into. For the life of me, I couldn’t even think what that might have been.

“How about you grab some clothes and come with me to my place.” Jensen spoke slowly. It wasn’t reluctantly. It was more careful and solemn and serious. I knew this was something of a big deal. “After all, you don’t want to risk any strange men to come and ogle you through that big old open door.”

I’d clean forgotten about the break in. Hanging around with Jensen definitely affected my usually sharp faculties. Or maybe it was the monumental hangover that was lurking over my shoulder that was causing the problem. Or the fact that I’d slept in one of Misha’s booths and it couldn’t have been that comfortable.

Jensen smiled at me and when I looked into his green eyes I knew that this was all crap. It was all him.

Fuck. I was seriously falling for this guy. “You’d better have coffee.”

 

He’d whistled at the mess in my place as I’d grabbed a change of clothes. He pointed at my toothbrush and suggested I bring it too. He had looked a little surprised when I folded everything neatly into my old army duffel. Some habits are hard to break.

The drive to his place was scenic.

Sure, I’d been up to this end of town before. Just because I was curious. I’d never gone beyond any of the high walls and ostentatious gates. I was relieved when he directed me along a narrow road running alongside one of those enormous white walls. This one was topped by a red stone and was roughly ten feet high. Another gate, surrounded by wisteria was set about halfway along. Jensen hopped out and opened it, closing it behind me when I drove through.

We were at the back of one of the largest houses I’d ever seen. Jensen took over the tour, pointing out the pool, the peacocks on the lawn, the tennis court before pointing me to a guest house almost hidden in a grove of palm trees. It was another world I had stepped out into.

Jensen didn’t look that relaxed about bringing me here anymore. He looked rapidly around as he marched towards the door. There was no one about. There was barely any sound apart from a cry from the peacocks – peacocks! – wandering the grounds. The gravel crunched under my feet as I slung the duffel over my shoulder and locked the car. Jensen was standing in the open doorway. He eyes were in shadow and his face was unreadable without their clues.

I skittered across to the door, feeling like a naughty schoolboy out stealing apples or something. A walk of shame in reverse, almost. The room beyond Jensen was simple and clean. There were white drapes and dark wood and soft cream carpet under my shoes. My dirty shoes. I kicked them off, ignoring Jensen’s snort of laughter.

“You said something about showering?” I tried not to sound grumpy either. Jensen’s eyes continued to dance with laughter. Fed up, I shrugged out of my jacket and threw it over the back of the nearest chair. My tie followed it.

Jensen swallowed audibly. “I had forgotten that you like to strip in public.”

“This isn’t public. This is just us.” I continued to remove clothing – my shirt, my vest, my belt. Jensen continued to say nothing. I took off my trousers and socks and was contemplating removing my briefs, my only remaining piece of clothing.

Jensen spoke then. “Bathroom is through the hall. Second door on the left.” I turned to look at him. His eyes were no longer dancing or laughing. Partly they were sad and, a thrill rushed through me, there was a definitely element of lust there.

Now it takes some confidence to be naked in front of someone. Sure, sharing a room or a tent with guys rubs some of that away, but those guys aren’t looking at you. Most of the time those guys are looking anywhere else but at you. There’s an unspoken understanding that you just get on with washing and changing. And with a lover? Most of the time the other person is naked too and then the noticing tends to be mutual and following some sort of period of getting to know each other.

This was different.

I hooked my thumbs over the waistband of my briefs and slid them down my thighs. I kicked them off my feet to join the pile of other clothing and straightened. I had kept my eyes on Jensen’s face the entire time. He wasn’t looking at my face. He watched my feet. I stood there, patiently. His eyes started moving, almost of their own volition. I didn’t move as his gaze slid up my legs and paused, crucially, at my crotch. I remained still. After a long moment he continued to look up. I felt his eyes on me as if he was ghosting his fingertips over me. He eventually reached my eyes.

There was less lust in them and more sadness.

That was not what I wanted to see. “This isn’t about me wanting you. This is about evening the score.” I almost growled it out. It was difficult to stay in my spot. I wanted to stride forward and grab his arms and shake sense into him. “I wanted you to see me like I’d seen you.”

“You wanted me to see you?” Jensen held up a hand to stop me speaking, a look of intense concentration fixed on his face. Jensen continued to sweep his eyes up and down my body, refusing to meet my eyes again. I resisted putting my hands on my hips or moving them to cover me. It was an effort to leave them hanging at the side of my body. I settled for lifting one to sweep through my hair. Jensen’s attention followed the movement.

He took two steps forward and stopped barely an inch away from me. I could feel his breath on my chin as I ducked my head to look at him. “You’re tall,” he said, in a soft, hesitant voice.

Then his hands moved. He placed his right one over my heart and brushed it in a circle over my chest. When his fingers brushed my nipple, a soft groan escaped me. His left went on my hip, at first holding and then stroking along the top of my leg. My cock gave its usual Jensen twitch at the rough palms pressing against my body. Jensen’s eyes seemed fixated on my Adam’s apple, which convulsively moved whenever he caught a particularly sensitive spot. Other than my body’s reactions, I did not move.

His hands were sweeping wider now. Larger movements, stronger pressure. I bit my lower lip softly when his left hand moved further back and squeezed gently at my butt. A whispered “Jensen” slid out of me then.

He breathed more heavily at that and closed the final distance between us. The fact he was still fully dressed made no difference. I felt the heat of every single part of his body. He finally tipped his head up and met my eyes again. “You want me?”

“Yes.” There was no other answer possible. “I need you...”

He stopped me explaining any further by pressing his lips to mine. It was too soft to be called a kiss, really, and he pulled back very quickly. But that gentle peck seemed seared on my skin. My tongue flicked out nervously and licked my suddenly dry lips. His eyes followed the movement.

Then he stepped away. “Shower’s in there. I’ll get the coffee on.” His eyes were hard and his voice was cold.

I stood in confusion for a few moments, wondering if my imagination had run away with itself again. On the other hand, my imagination probably would have had us bent over the sofa, so it seemed unlikely. Just in case, I pinched myself on the arm.

“Huh?” Jensen questioned. It seemed that I was not the only person completely thrown by the other’s actions.

“Just checking I wasn’t dreaming or anything.” I moved then, leaving my clothes on the floor and heading for the bathroom. I turned just before I entered the chill, white room. Jensen has been staring at my ass, and a blush painted his cheeks as I caught him looking. “Coffee would be nice.”

He smiled, genuinely, at that.

 

I took a long time in the shower. I stole Jensen’s soap and lathered extensively. I stole his razor and shaved. I stole his comb and tamed my too long hair. I finally realised there was no way in which I could stall any longer and decided to make my way back into the living room. All my spare clothes were there. I made sure the towel was snug around my hips.

Jensen was on the telephone when I left the bathroom. As a good detective, I stealthily made my way along the hallway so I could listen to the conversation.

Jensen sounded serious. “No, Tom. I’m fine... No. You don’t need to come down here... Soon...” He then caught sight of me. “I need to go now.” The phone clicked harshly as he replaced it.

“Bathroom’s free,” I told him, trying to slide past him without touching him. He put his hand out to stop me.

“There might be someone at the door while I’m in the shower. Just let them in. And try to be dressed by the time they get here.” Jensen’s eyes had gone back to being serious and sad. I started to miss the way they glowed when he was laughing or looking at me like he wanted to touch me again. A reminder of how bad it would be to screw a client also ran through my head again.

I headed for the main room only for Jensen to yell after me that he’d moved my stuff to the spare room. The guest house had a spare room! I shrugged into an undershirt and pants, leaving my suspenders hanging down at my sides. Barefoot, I padded in the direction of the kitchen, following the smell of the coffee.

The rest of the house confirmed my first suspicions. Jensen was a guest here. There were no photographs, no personal belongings. It ran through my head that maybe he was really neat and tidy, but when I “accidentally” opened a few cupboards on my way past, I found them empty. The kitchen was well stocked though, much better than my own. I grabbed some bread and butter from the fridge and ate it along with the coffee.

Halfway through my impromptu meal, a shadow fell across the table.

I already knew it wasn’t Jensen before I turned my head. This person loomed whereas the worst Jensen could manage was a tremendous invasion of personal space. I cursed silently when I realised my gun was still under my pile of clothes in the bedroom. “Hey.”

The man glared at me. He was tall, sure, but I was convinced I could take him. I was probably taller anyway. And he might be muscular but it all looked like gym poseur muscle, not down and dirty fighting muscle. And the fact he was glaring at me suggested that he wasn’t out to get Jensen. Just me. I didn’t glare back. I just let him see my open hands and a friendly smile.

My friendly smile that I know doesn’t go anywhere near my eyes.

He stalked over to the coffee pot, ruffling his hands through his dark black hair. After rattling a cup of coffee together, he looked at me again. I had obviously passed some kind of test as he didn’t glare quite so intensely this time.

“I’m Tom, one of Jensen’s landlords.” So this was the guy the house belonged to. It was quite an amazing house, I had to grant him that. And he got points for calling himself Jensen’s landlord as opposed to anything else.

“Jared Padalecki,” I returned. “Jensen’s PI.”

I got a further glare at that. Tom was obviously not happy with the fact that Jensen had hired me. I mentally added him to my list of suspects, which was basically everyone I had met through Jensen. This must be the rich guy Penelope had implied Jensen lived with. I was glad that didn’t seem to be the situation.

“What are you doing here at this time in the morning?” Tom grated every word out as if it pained him to say it.

“We ended up spending the night together.” My mouth always got me into trouble and it looked like now was no different. Tom grabbed the front of my shirt and cocked his fist back to slam a punch into my face. I tilted my head so he’d only catch my jaw and pulled my own arm back, ready to return the favour into his ribs. We froze when the sound of Jensen’s voice penetrated the fury.

“Put him down, Tom.” Jensen was coldly furious. “I told you I didn’t need help.”

I was close enough to see Tom’s eyes flare with anger and feel his grip tighten on my shirt. I also reckoned this had nothing to do with helping Jensen so much as challenging me. Tom then brushed his hand down the front of my shirt rather deliberately before pushing off of my stomach. I merely tightened the muscles and didn’t let the force of the shove move me in any direction. A flicker of fear passed over his face. Yeah, I could have done some serious damage. To reinforce this, I stood up. I was right. I was taller than Tom.

I pushed past him, nodded to Jensen and returned to the spare room. It was only when I got there that I realised Jensen was just wearing a towel. There was a whispered conversation behind me as I pulled the rest of my clothes on. I slid my gun into the holster as Jensen came into the room behind me.

“Everything alright?” he asked, solicitously. “Tom didn’t hurt you.”

“He was just looking out for you.” I stated this with complete confidence, despite the fact I was sure that Tom wasn’t just after Jensen’s health.

“Yeah. He co-owns the club with Jeff. When my last... lease ran out, he offered to let me stay here.” That was an interesting detail. I’d always thought that Jeff Morgan owned the club outright. A silent partner, a very rich and very interested in Jensen silent partner. And don’t think I didn’t catch that hesitation. There was something hinckey going on here.

“That’s nice of him.” I turned to look at Jensen. “Did he leave?” It was then that the knowledge Jensen was standing there in a towel penetrated my brain. Even though those photos were burned onto my brain, the reality was even better. My hands itched to stroke along his smooth pale skin. I looked closer and noticed a smattering of freckles across his shoulders.

“Yes.” I could not even remember the question. All things Jensen could say yes to... to me. But this was about Tom. I turned around to grab my jacket.

I had to moisten my mouth before I could speak again. “The store will be quiet early. We should get going.” I kept my back turned as Jensen left the room. I turned just in time to see him slide the towel off as he entered his room.

 

The car had been silent all the way downtown. Traffic was heavy and I’d needed to keep my wits about me. Jensen seemed lost in thought beside me, staring out the window. His eyes were hidden beneath dark sunglasses. As I squinted into the low morning sunlight haze, I wished I had a pair. It would help with the pounding headache. My awaiting hangover, probably.

I pulled into the parking lot behind the store. It might be difficult to make a quick getaway discreet if we needed to but at least I wouldn’t have to walk far. Jensen slid out of the car almost before I’d put the parking brake on. He took deep gulps of air and leaned heavily against the side of the car.

“Hope that isn’t a reaction to my driving,” I checked the lock once more.

“Just the hangover kicking in.” Jensen muttered under his breath. There were lines of tension radiating from his lips. He looked older than me now, no longer boyish and cute. A man, more masculine somehow. It made me fall in lust a little more. He pulled off the sunglasses and I saw the tiny wrinkles were also gathered in the corners of his eyes. I longed to take my thumb and smooth them out.

“Ready?” It was the only thing I could think to say. I really hoped we were going to catch a break here. The dead ends were starting to pile up. One smile of Lady Luck’s coming our way. Think positive and you will succeed.

Jensen started walking and I followed. Some part of my brain was definitely not remembering the flash of naked ass I’d seen earlier.

 

I couldn’t believe it. I stared at the girl in front of us. “You have to be joking.”

“Not at all, Mr Pada...” People often run into trouble with my surname. She was no different.

“Padalecki,” I supplied automatically, snapping the brusque syllables of my name out on my tongue. She flinched at little at the forcefulness with which I bit them out.

“Lauren Ackles stopped working for us two weeks ago. She told the duty manager where he could... She was quite forceful in her criticism of his managerial style and made some very inappropriate comments about his masculinity. In front of customers.” I knew that if I’d introduced Jensen as Lauren’s brother, Miss Sophia Bush would not be so open here. I’d had to seriously work my charms on her for a good ten minutes before she’d really agreed to talk to us.

Jensen was hanging back, pretending to look at some china as I spoke to Sophia. His shoulders were hunched inside his jacket, forcing it tight across his back. I still had to continue questioning. “Did she tell you where she was going?”

“Only something about making everything good for her brother. She never seemed that concerned about him before. Never mentioned him much.” Sophia bit her lip in concentration. “She was always too busy moaning about Mark, her boyfriend.”

“Did she tell you she’d left him?” I flicked the pages of my notebook. “A month ago.”

“She slept on my sofa for a few nights. I thought we were friends but she hasn’t spoken to me since she left.” Sophia looked at me in sudden fear. “She’s dead, isn’t she.”

“Missing.” I did not want to start any further rumours. “You were friends?”

“We used to go places together. When she could get away from Mark.” Sophia sobbed into her handkerchief as she told me of the coffee shops and bars they would visit. I even made her tell me which cinemas they went to. Lauren continued to sound like a normal, All-American shop girl. Ordinary and normal, heading for an ordinary, normal life with her ordinary, normal boyfriend. Nothing like her extraordinary, anything but normal brother.

It came to me that I’d trade a thousand Lauren Ackles for just one Jensen.

Sophia proved a mine of information. She gave me the names of other people Lauren had spoken to in the shop, places where they hung out. I even started to find out what kind of person she was. Quiet and friendly. The outburst to the duty manager aside, she was polite and unassuming. She had no problem with calling every customer ma’am and sir.

Then she told us she still had a few bags of Lauren’s possessions. Luck was smiling at me after all. We arranged to meet her after work to have a look at them.

 

Jensen didn’t seem to want to stop following me around when I suggested that I should check in at my office. I was dreading the mess that would be there. I presumed that whoever had given my apartment the going over wouldn’t have stopped there. And there was a hell of a lot more to make mess with in my office. Just going through the files alone would create a paper mountain to dwarf Everest. Luckily they’d decided to pick the lock here instead of just kicking the door down.

I groaned and Jensen shoved me out of the way to see the potential National Disaster zone that lay in front of me. He stood, hands on his hips as I pushed a few of the loose sheets around with my foot. You couldn’t even see the desk anymore. All the drawers in the filing cabinet and the desk lay wide open and every piece of furniture had been turned upside down. I felt a small surge of pride that they hadn’t managed to open the safe. I patted it fondly.

“I should really... Fuck. I don’t know where to start.” I ran my hands through my hair and looked from side to side in panic.

Jensen shrugged off his jacket, picked up the coat stand and hung it on it. Then he turned to me. “Help me turn the desk up first.”

I stared at him (an altogether familiar sensation). Every time I thought I had Jensen (and my reaction to Jensen) worked out, he flipped it on his head.

“You needed to tidy anyway. And I’m an accountant. I can file.” He grinned at me, easily, warmly. I was reminded of the grin he’d given his friend Chris. Was that where we were heading? Friends? I put all thought to the back of my head and grabbed the end of the desk where he pointed. Then I shrugged off my jacket and hung it beside his. I loosened my tie, rolled my cuffs up and got to work.

 

After a few hours of mostly silence, with the odd “where do you want this”, the place had started to look less like a paper hurricane had swept through the room. We settled on either side of the desk, the garbage can on the floor to the side and started resolving the piles of paper into files. Jensen hadn’t been kidding. He really knew how to organise. He improved my vague alphabetical scheme into something that resembled an actual system with closed cases, open cases, taxes and everything else having their own sections. His glasses perched precariously on the tip of his nose as he scanned sheets of paper and manila files. He even corrected me when I started to replace files in the wrong drawer.

He did purse his lips disapprovingly at the number of empty glass bottles that also filled the can. I hadn’t realised so many had been lurking in drawers or behind stacks of paper. I felt oddly ashamed that he’d witnessed such evidence of my unsettled set of mind. It was only after he tapped my hand that I realised he must have spoken before.

“Thinking hard there, Jared.” The casualness with which he spoke my name sent a thrill through me. Friends. It was a real possibility.

I grinned at him and then laughed as my stomach complained loudly. “Just trying to work out when last this place looked this good.”

“Buy a guy lunch?” Jensen blushed a little at the compliment. Then his blush deepened as I choked slightly on his words.

“A date?” Light-hearted, joking. That was the tone I was hoping for. Not desperate.

“I suppose we already slept together. You owe me food.” Jensen rolled his head on his neck and shut his eyes. His tone was determinedly light too. I couldn’t see the expression on his face to see if it was as flippant as he was trying to make out.

“If we’d done more than sleep together, you’d know all about it.” I grumbled as I stood up and stretched my arms high above my head. I felt the ache in the small of my back ease. When I looked at Jensen his eyebrows were raised. In that moment I realised how expressive his eyebrows were, quirking for fun, drawing low when serious. Now they seemed to be suggesting shock. “Come on.”

I walked around the desk. He stood up and grabbed his jacket to put on. I went for mine only to realise that I had taken off my holster and hung it on the back of my chair sometime after the serious paper shuffling began. I turned back to my desk and reached across it. I had just about snagged it when I felt hands on my lower back pushing me down.

Off balance, I fell forward onto the desk and turned my head to see Jensen grinning. He pushed his hips against the curve of my ass and pushed his hands up my back. I froze. He bent low over my shoulder to whisper in my ear. “I think you’d find you’d be the one who knew all about it, Mr Padalecki.”

A moan escaped my lips. I felt my body react to his nearness again – my heart pound, my breath quicken, my cock stir to hardness. Jensen stepped back to let me up but I stayed spread across my desk. After a moment, the fog began to clear from my thoughts. I scrabbled my hands onto the desk and pushed up. I walked slowly around the desk and grabbed the gun, sliding it over my shoulders and then I turned to Jensen.

He looked flushed and worried. “Sorry, Jared. I didn’t mean to...” The easy camaraderie of the afternoon had disappeared. The tension in the room increased as I returned to the other side of the room. I remained silent. I couldn’t quite work out how to respond. I’d gone from wanting this guy on his knees like a cocksucking whore (which he might have been. We’d never really been too clear on that.) to wanting to make sure nothing ever hurt him again. To wanting to shoot Jeff the Perv in the knee for being mean to him. To wanting something more.

I think I wanted to be in love with him.

I was such a girl.

And I didn’t care.

I pushed him against the door, gently. He still looked worried and maybe a little scared. I tipped his head back with a soft finger and fitted my lips over his. They tasted as wonderful and soft as I’d remembered from that brief kiss earlier. For a moment Jensen just stood there and then he pressed back. The kiss was almost chaste, a goodnight kiss at the end of a dance. Then he tilted his head to the side and the angle was just right to open my mouth slightly. His arms slid around me and pulled me closer as he returned the favour, tongue dipping out to trace edges of my lips.

I pulled back, reluctantly. “Jensen.” My voice was rough and low and breathless. I tried to put everything I was feeling into that single word. He groaned in return and tugged my shoulders back for another kiss.

This one moved past the lip stage fairly quickly, settling into full tongue fucking within minutes. He ground his own erection into my hip and I couldn’t resist sliding my hand down his body to pull his ass closer to me. It was all going well when my stomach growled again.

He actually giggled when he pulled back. “Think your stomach has other plans.”

I growled, low and deep and needy. Jensen’s eyes darkened and he pushed against me again.

 

I took him to the diner at the end of the block. I normally came here for lunch. The waitress – Alexis - knew me but she’d never seen me bring anyone here. Jensen slid into the booth nearest the back wall. He sat facing the door and me and asked what was good. I ordered a burger and a strawberry milkshake and Jensen just asked for the same. Our fingers had brushed as he pulled his drink towards him and a blush painted his cheeks. Alexis had given me an unsubtle wink before heading to the next table.

I just wanted to run my fingers over my lips, to feel the way Jensen had made them puffy and red. Jensen’s lips looked the same. Maybe I should run my fingers over them to soothe them. Then he’d draw them into his mouth and that would lead elsewhere. I clutched my hands around my glass and drew the straw into my mouth.

Jensen stared at me hungrily. In a low, soft voice, he said, “That looks obscene.”

I let my lips slide off the top with a soft pop. His eyes bugged out of his head. “I just like milkshake.”

His eyes saddened again. “My sister liked chocolate best.”

“Likes.” I interrupted the unhealthy train of thought.

“What?” He was adorable when he was confused.

“Likes. No past tense. We have leads and a possible suspect. We’ll find her.”

“The worst thing is that I keep forgetting that we’re looking for her.” I liked how that we sounded. “I get caught up in... other stuff and then it hits me again. Bam!” Jensen tapped the middle of his forehead. I understood what he was saying. I was wavering between my professional investigator side and the side of me that wanted nothing more than to lock Jensen in my apartment for a week. As if to prove it, one side of my brain started to list the things I could do to him whilst the other remembered the state of my apartment and the fact I possibly didn’t have a lock on the door anymore.

I was grateful for the interruption of the waitress. She placed two cheeseburgers carefully on the table. Must be new. “It’s just about time to catch Sophia again. Hopefully we’ll find out more there.”

Jensen leaned over the table. “Do we go back to Misha’s to debate the evidence?”

“We could.” A sudden stray thought crossed my mind. “It’s Thursday.”

Jensen made his adorable confused look again, a small crease forming between his eyebrows. “Also true.”

“I need to go to dinner at my sister’s. Pick up my laundry.” I couldn’t believe I was admitting this to Jensen of all people. “Hang here a minute.”

I pushed myself out of the booth and headed for the back of the counter. Dropping a quarter in the payphone and dialling my sister’s number took seconds. I could see Jensen watching me and then grabbing his burger and biting down like it was all he cared about. I realised my sister had answered a few seconds before from the irritated tone her “hello” had taken on.

A few seconds later, I realised that there was no way I was postponing this dinner. At her insistence, I caught Jensen’s eye and beckoned him over. “Do you mind coming?”

His eyes narrowed. Then he caught the actual meaning of my question. I could hear my sister berating me down the line for the bad invitation too. I was willing to bet a thousand dollars that Jensen could hear her too.

“I’d be delighted,” he replied before returning to his burger. My sister calmed down at that and started lecturing me on manners. I just said I’d see her later and hung up.

 

Meeting Sophia proved simple. Introducing her to Jensen was the difficult bit.

“This is my partner, Sam.” I grabbed at the name. It sounded masculine and far enough from his own name not to ring any warning bells.

“Sam...?” She assessed him thoroughly, obviously liking what she was seeing.

“Winchester.” Jensen supplied. “Like the rifle.” He even opened my car door for her, the perfect gentleman. She even giggled as she sat in the front. I pushed down an insane stab of jealousy, hoping Jensen hadn’t noticed my sudden frown. No such luck. From the way his eyebrows raised at me across the roof of the car, I could tell he had noticed. He slipped into the backseat and maintained polite conversation as I concentrated on the road.

Sophia lived not far from the store in an old apartment block. She seemed much more interested in Jensen now, who followed her around nodding wisely as she offered him coffee (which he refused), water (which he drank), a seat (which he took) and then a flash of stocking (which he ignored). I thumbed through the box of papers, nodding still. I would have to ask to take this away.

It was only when Sophia had got the hint that Jensen wasn’t interested that she let us head towards the door. Lauren hadn’t left much stuff here – a bag of clothes and another box of paper. It was only as we were heading for the door that she stopped us to hand over Lauren’s diary. Her brunette head ducked shamefacedly as I realised she must have read it. Jensen didn’t even raise an eyebrow as he took it from her.

We made it to my sister’s in time for dessert.

 

Sandy was a little pissed that we were late. She slammed the plates she’d been keeping in the oven down in front of us, despite Jensen saying he was fine and didn’t want to put her to any trouble. That softened her mood slightly. The sight of me with my two rather excitable nephews seemed to be doing something for Jensen. I looked up at him over the blonde head of my youngest nephew who was seriously explaining the drawing he’d done that day in class. Jensen was staring at me with a look I couldn’t read.

His eyes were softer than I’d seen and his mouth curved in something that could be described as a smile, except it was gentler and more ghostly than that. I let Ross pull me into a discussion of why firemen were better than policemen and then moved around some toy soldiers for a while. Sandy’s husband, Al, was sacked out on the easy chair with a bottle of beer in his lap and the boys were ignoring him.

I noticed then that Charlie, Sandy’s oldest, was standing beside Jensen holding a red exercise book. “What you got there, sport?” I asked.

“Math.” He looked glum and shifted from foot to foot. “I don’t get Math.”

Jensen definitely looked like he wanted to kill me when I said, “Well, Mr Ackles here is real good at Math. I’m sure he could help.” I ducked my head back down to the re-landing of Normandy when I heard Jensen softly ask what he was having trouble with. They ended up back at the kitchen table.

I couldn’t stop noticing the way Jensen’s neck was slightly freckled as he bent to help Ross with some pesky fractions. It was only when Sandy swatted my shoulder that I realised how obvious the noticing had become. “Could do worse, baby bro,” she whispered as she picked up the complaining Ross.

I didn’t know what to say.

 

We left soon after the boys went to bed, Charlie thanking Jensen profusely as he headed for his room. I pulled the car into a dark side street after about five minutes driving.

“So.” I didn’t quite know how to approach the subject I was attempting to broach. Jensen sat quietly beside me.

“Your sister is nice. And your nephews.” Jensen wasn’t helping any. He had his head turned to look out the window. I found myself admiring his profile silhouetted in the street light’s orange glare.

I started cataloguing the things I’d like to do with him again.

“So. My apartment is still a disaster zone. Do you want to come help me clear it out?” I tried to keep the tone light and joking. Although flirtatious would be a closer description.

“What? No comfortable booth at the bar tonight?” Jensen sounded exactly as light as I’d been aiming for. Then he shifted to serious, his voice deepening and becoming gruff. “It’s late.”

“I should just take you back to yours.” I shifted the car into gear and checked my mirror, pulling out. I’d almost reached his street when he asked me to come in with him.

 

Jensen’s house – even if it wasn’t quite his – was as quietly luxurious as I’d reckoned this morning. It was even more apparent that the person who owned this didn’t worry about the cost of replacing dirty carpets or of wearing out sofa covers. Even the towels I’d used this morning were of the finest quality. And this was just their guest house. The intimidating (or not) Tom had mentioned he was only one of Jensen’s landlords.

I didn’t really get much more of chance to make any observations. I had carried the box of papers we’d gotten from Sophia in and Jensen had brought the bag of clothes and the diary. He gestured to the kitchen table and I put them there. I turned to see him locking the front door.

My throat was unaccountably dry. I swallowed, then realised that this would make me look nervous. Then I realised I was nervous. I was terrified. For all the ways my imagination could run away with me, it’d been a hell of a long time since I’d actually spent the night with anyone. A few fucks in the alley behind Misha’s didn’t seem to count.

Jensen was taking a really long time to lock the door. I just stood in the kitchen.

Also, I was sober. It’d be a long time since I’d gone to bed completely stone cold sober. I’d not even had a beer with dinner. My sister had muttered something about being out and placed a tall glass of milk beside my plate. It wasn’t that I needed alcohol. It just helped keep any nightmares at bay.

Jensen finally turned back from the door. He fumbled the light switch and the room plunged into near darkness. Soft light filtered through the half closed curtains, showing him walking across the narrow hallway. His face was in shadow, unreadable. He stepped closer to me. Now I could feel his breath on my shoulder, the heat from his body. We stood in the kitchen for a long moment, staring at each other. My breath quickened and his matched.

Suddenly his hands were pushing off my jacket and I had one of mine rucking up his shirt. I slid it around his waist, feeling the fabric come loose from the waistband of his pants. Then he kissed me. There was no coyness, no pretence about this kiss. It was just sheer need and power and before I could stop myself I’d moaned into his mouth. He took immediate advantage, licking his tongue between my softly parted lips. I pulled him closer.

It was only after he’d somehow managed to open all the buttons my shirt and pushed down my undershirt that he pulled his lips from mine and started tracing a path down my neck to my chest. He teased his tempting lips along my collarbone before dipping lower to capture a nipple. I arched my back into the sudden burning sensation that zapped through my belly straight to my dick. I grabbed Jensen’s shoulder to stay steady on my feet and he pulled back with a grin.

“Bedroom?” I ground out, not recognising the half growl, half pant that tore itself from my throat. I leaned towards Jensen for another kiss, moaning when he stepped back. He ran a hand over my sensitive chest, sliding light fingers over the nipple his mouth had engorged. I gasped.

I suddenly realised then that he hadn’t managed to undo my tie. He wrapped his fingers in the rough material and pulled me back into the hallway. The next door up was his bedroom, the room I’d seen him disappear into earlier that day. The discarded towel lay on the bed but slid off as I found myself pushed against it, not entirely gently.

Jensen stood in the doorway, a dark figure against the darkness. There was less light here. The window backed on the rear wall of the property. I could still make out the way in which his chest rose and fell rapidly. I pulled my tangled tie over my head, then shrugged out of the rest of my shirt. My shoulder holster had caught the fabric and prevented Jensen from removing it in the kitchen. I even pushed my shoes off my feet before Jensen approached me again.

He was less urgent this time, kissing me deep and yearningly. His tongue swirled around my lips, pressing and stroking. He ended up on my lap of all places, our chests rubbing, his thighs bracketing my groin. I stroked one hand over his muscles, the other around his back again, holding him in place. His skin felt incredible – satin and sweat and warmth and it tasted even better. I allowed myself a moment to kiss the faint freckles across his shoulder that had teased me, his mouth pressing at my temple, brushing aside my hair.

When I pulled back, Jensen stopped kissing me. He looked down at me, eyes aflame with desire. He skated his hand over my chest in the same sort of movement he’d used that morning, fingertips leaving ghostly treads of sensation in their wake.

Then I went and opened my stupid mouth. “Jensen?”

He didn’t speak. He didn’t really look at me, watching his hand play with my skin. I raised my hand to his head and tilted it towards me. He finally met my eyes. I considered melting into those depths for a few seconds before I spoke again.

“You don’t have to do this.” I might have wanted this since I’d first laid eyes on the guy, but it was the only way I could think of to resolve the tense, nervous feeling that had twisted my stomach since I entered the house.

“I want to.” He sounded sincere, his face was serious and his fingers gentle as he brushed the hair off my face.

“You don’t have to.” I couldn’t say the things I wanted to, didn’t want to.

He smiled at that. “I know, Jared. I know.”

I also didn’t want to think about what he knew. I pulled his head down to mine again, and the passion that ignited swept away any remaining doubts.

 

There was a scent of smoke in the air and burned flesh. Looking around, an oily smear of black seemed to block the road ahead. I could hear screaming – from planes, from people. The oily smear grew, enveloping them and coming for me. I scurried back – or tried to. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move. I was frozen, watching, waiting. I could feel hands at my shoulder pulling, pulling hard.

“Jared!” The shout broke through my panic.

I slowly became aware of my surroundings. I was in Jensen’s bed, thousands of miles away. I was safe. I started to untangle his white sheet from around my legs. Jensen watched me without speaking.

Eventually I lay back against the pillows again, my breathing slowed almost to normal. “Just a nightmare.”

“I got up to get a drink. When I came back you were...” He gestured with his hands, indicating the tangled sheets. He had pulled on pants to wander to the kitchen, but I was still naked. The aftershock of the nightmare made my skin tacky and cold. I shivered.

“I’m surprised I didn’t wake you before.” I started to move off the bed. “I’ll go...”

Jensen surprised me with his vehemence. He climbed on the bed, forceful and strong. He pulled me against him, wrapping his arms around me. “I was scared for you.”

I was too grateful to be embarrassed. We sat like that for a while. Through the half closed curtains, I could see the orange glow of the street lights be overtaken by the rising sun. It was going to be another hot, dry, dusty day. I eventually realised that Jensen had started talking to me.

“I used to hold Lauren like this, when she had nightmares. My parents – well, my parents didn’t really seem to understand where we’d come from. They didn’t know what to do except drink and let their friends come round.” Jensen choked a little on that. “She used to cry in the middle of the night. I guess I did too, but never around her.”

I turned around so Jensen and I lay face to face. “We’ll find her,” I promised. Then he kissed me.

This time, there was no struggle for dominance, no pushing or pulling. This time it was as if he knew exactly what I wanted and I knew everything about him – the spot under his hip that was sensitive, the way he’d arc his back if I kissed just the right point beneath his ear. He pulled me onto my back, gently taking control that I was happy to give. The feel of his hands on my cock had me writhing in the sheets again, but this time any lingering memories were overridden by the powerful sweep of his tongue.

When Jensen stood up to remove the loose pants he had slung on, I was unsurprised to see him pulling the bottle of oil from their pocket. He then surprised me. Instead of pressing his smeared fingers into me like last night, he reached around behind him and slipped them inside. I couldn’t move. For all my vaunted experience, I’d never seen another guy do this to himself. I tried to struggle up but stopped when Jensen told me to stop. He panted once, stroking his dick quickly, then climbed back onto the bed. He ran his slicked hand down my cock and it jumped eagerly into his touch. He kept his hand on my cock as he slid himself down onto it.

The slow friction made it difficult for me to do anything all over again. I grabbed the sheets to stop myself from thrusting up into him. Eventually, he had taken all of me inside him. He opened his eyes and looked at me, the green dark, perfectly framed by his eyelashes. For a moment, it didn’t matter that I was buried balls deep in him. I could have just lain there and lost myself in those eyes. Then he began to move.

He didn’t look away.

It ended with both of our hands entwined on his cock as he undulated his hips. The only time he looked away was when he came. And then I was coming deep inside him. He didn’t even attempt to clean my chest, just lay down on top of me, our noses touching, staring deep into my eyes again. I wrapped my arms around his back and realised I didn’t want to be anywhere but here.

 

After we’d showered and he’d shyly presented me with the clothes I’d been wearing the day before yesterday – “Margeurite did the laundry” – we ended up at the kitchen table. It seemed like the best place to go through his sister’s stuff. Jensen kept putting it off. He made coffee then toast. He washed up. I shrugged and pulled the box towards me.

What you find is that people never keep the really important documentation. Sure they keep things like birth certificates and driving licences, but they never really keep things that provide the context to their life. That might explain why a dozen cards from Mark seemed innocent and completely divorced from the bad-tempered bastard I’d met. There were letters from friends in Texas, a couple of bills from the telephone company and a whole lot of photographs.

I spread them out on the table. Most of them seemed to show Lauren palling around with her friends, although there was a couple of Jensen there. One of Jensen and Jeffrey Morgan, actually, with Jeff’s hand possessively on Jensen’s shoulder. That didn’t quite tally with the professional relationship Jensen had explained to me. I put it into the area of my mind to think about later. Her clothes were not much more revealing. I felt a little embarrassed raking through the duffle. Skirts and blouses were one thing, but there was underwear in there too.

Jensen finally settled down to read the diary. When I’d finished with the rest of the stuff, I stopped to watch him. He was crying. Not the passionate sobbing that I’d seen from victims and bereaved relatives, not the dry taunting whining that faithless wives indulged in when they came to ask me to track down unfaithful husbands. Jensen simply had tears falling down his cheeks in an endless stream. He didn’t even seem to realise he was crying, apart from the fact he blinked now and again.

I couldn’t bear to watch it anymore.

I grabbed the book from him and took him in my arms. I ended up kneeling in front of his chair as he sobbed more forcefully into my shirt. His shoulders shook with the intensity of the built up emotion finally letting loose. I swear I was ten seconds from pulling Jensen back through to the bedroom to make him cry out in a completely different way when there was a cough behind us.

Jensen looked over my shoulder and shuddered. Just a little bit, but enough for me to catch it. I turned around, letting go of him with more reluctance than was probably healthy to see Tom and some other guy standing in the doorway.

“We were just on our way to the courts when we smelled the coffee,” Tom smiled, insincerely. He was dressed in tennis whites, setting off his dark hair and tanned skin to perfection. He held a racket loosely in his hand. His companion was dressed in much the same way. He was shorter and his head was completely shaved for some reason. He pulled a seat out and rested the racket on his knee. He smirked at us and I pulled back from Jensen shamefacedly. He then started to stroke his hand up and down the handle of the tennis racket in a very suggestive manner.

Tom put his hand on his to stop him doing that. “This is Mike.”

“Jared Padalecki.” I offered my hand.

Mike just stared at it and ignored me. “What’s up, Jenny?”

I thought he looked like an asshole. Guess I was right. Jensen didn’t look at all happy to see him. He was red-faced and worn out from the emotional outburst.

I didn't know what to do again. Half of me wanted to tell these guys to fuck off but I thought Jensen wouldn't be happy at me telling his landlords to do that. He'd seemed to actually like Tom too, despite Tom sneaking up on me the other morning. This Mike character just seemed a bit nuts though.

I stood and pulled Lauren's diary towards me. "I'm just going to head through to the living room and read." And like a coward, I made my escape.

 

They left after another ten minutes and Jensen came through to join me. I hadn't heard yelling or even raised voices. "They warned me to be careful with you." Jensen said rather unexpectedly.

"Careful? Like don't break me?" Ridiculous humour to the rescue again. "I think you tried to do that last night."

Jensen flushed, totally different from the man who'd ridden my cock only an hour before. The cock that was suddenly becoming a little interested in some sort of repeat performance. I tried to be subtle about the way I shifted in the seat. Jensen wasn't buying it.

"Jared..." His voice was low and soft, almost a growl. I gave up pretending to be unaffected by him. I stood up and pulled him to me for a kiss. This led to him rutting against my thigh and then me on my knees in front of him. "Gonna make you feel good, Jen." He gasped when I took him deep into my mouth.

 

Afterwards, when I lay in his arms on the sofa, he looked at me from beneath his long, gorgeous eyelashes. "Jen?"

"Jensen is just too..." It wasn’t that his name was too long or didn’t sound good, or sexy when I moaned it out. I waved my hands in the air in front of me, unable to articulate why I wanted, needed to give him a nickname. Something that was just between us.

"I like it. It's better than baby or sugar." He winced as he said those endearments.

I folded my arms around him. "I could still call you them."

“I’d rather you didn’t. Used by guys who can’t be bothered to remember your name but need to feel good.” Jensen shook his head. He made me go wash up and then I went back to the diary. Nothing beyond the usual as far as I could see. Some rather vivid star fantasies that owed quite a bit to some popular romance literature and the usual bitching about work and friends. She really got annoyed at Penelope for a few weeks but it all faded after a while. Mark started off being the best guy in the world before dropping into mediocrity.

I was frustrated and only halfway through when I stopped to take a slug from the now cold coffee in the mug at my elbow. Jensen heard my sputter and came to grab the mug from me. He returned from the coffee pot, steam curling from the now full mug. "Here you go, Jay." He said it deliberately, then waited shyly for what he'd said to sink in.

He hopefully didn't noticed the slight shudder that ran through me at hearing that. Or maybe he could put it down to pleasure or the fresh coffee. I didn't care. I took a moment and looked up at him. His eyes were uncertain and shy. I pulled him down for a kiss, tasting the coffee in his mouth and trying to let him know how okay I was with him calling me that.

It wasn't like I was going to tell him what happened to the last guy who'd given me that nickname.

 

The rest of the diary made for depressing reading. Jensen flicked through the rest of the papers before announcing that he had to get ready for work around two. He'd made a sandwich too, flitting through the house before and after. He paused before he left the house. I was looking around, ready to grab my stuff and head out. Then he pulled a key from his pocket. "Lock up when you leave. If I'm not back. I just need to check in with Jeff really."

I was sure I was going to be heading out soon anyway, but the gesture was too touching to ignore. "I'm going to head to Misha's around ten. You could come meet me?"

He put his face up to mine for a kiss. "Sure thing." We stopped and broke apart when his hands slid under my shirt. He left reluctantly.

I went back to the diary. The disintegration of Lauren's relationship with Mark sounded all too familiar. She wondered if he was cheating, he stayed out late. She felt taken for granted. Something in me recognised the sad story of Genevieve and I's breakup all those years before. Of course, she had been cheating and so had I, in a way. I'd been cheating by hiding the truth about me and my predilections. It had taken a world war for me to come to my senses. A world war, Misha and Milo.

Odd that their names started in such a similar way.

The diary ended before the relationship did. There were no hints about a new boyfriend or roommate or anything. I could have screamed in frustration. Instead I settled for tossing the useless book on the table. As I glared at it, I realised that there was a piece of paper poking out from between the bindings. I caught my breath as I leaned forward and tugged at it.

It was a letter. A letter addressed to Jensen at Lauren's address.

I debated for a moment whether to read it or not. Then because it was open already, I slipped the paper out of the envelope sneakily, glancing around behind me to check no one was watching even though I knew I was alone.

The letter was blunt and to the point.

Ackles,

Don’t think you can hide behind Morgan forever. There are other things I can do to you other than let a few pictures slip into circulation. You meet me at the usual place on Thursday or else.

 

It was unsigned. Jensen would know who it was from and it looked to me as if his sister did too.

 

I was already into my third beer at Misha's before Jensen showed. He was late. So much for just checking in with Jeff. He knew he couldn't kiss me here, not unless he wanted to get us both arrested and settled for resting a hand on my shoulder and squeezing it tight. "Hey there, Jay."

Misha straightened up behind the bar and shot an unreadable glance my way.

"Nice to see you." The hand stayed on my shoulder a few seconds longer before Jensen settled into the stool beside mine. The bar was busy, it being a Friday night and all. Misha hustled over with a beer. A busy bar was also not the best place to tell Jensen about the letter either.

I excused myself and headed for the bathroom. I ran my hands through my hair and leaned back against the door heavily. I had to tell him, ask him what he was really into, what was worse than the photographs I’d thought bad enough. I decided the best plan was just to let him read the fucking thing and see how he reacted. Selfishly, I wanted to wait until the morning.

Once that was decided I headed back into the bar to see Misha bending Jensen’s ear. Alona had come down to help her uncle out and most of the customers seemed to be more eager to engage her attention. They hadn’t noticed me when I caught the drift of the conversation. Or diatribe.

It was Misha who was talking. “Most of us called him Pads, or Sasquatch as he’s so fucking tall. I didn’t even know his name was Jared until six months after I’d met him. I thought the J stood for Jack or Jimmy. Something more American. Then Milo joined the unit. He spoke Italian, helpful when you’re slogging your guts through the country and he just fit. Into the squad and into Jared’s life.” Misha took a pause to swig from the beer behind the counter. “He was the only one I ever heard call him Jay.”

Jensen was quiet for a minute. “Did he... what happened to him?”

“Ambush. The great oaf and I were the only ones to come home from that.” Misha pulled the neck of his shirt open to reveal the ugly red scar bisected his collarbone. “I was touch and go for a hell of a time.”

The smell of smoke. The ringing in his ears. The burbling groans of dying men. The memory was just as fresh as it had been all those years ago. Time didn’t seem to be making this any easier. I’d ran to see to the rest of the squad before I’d even looked at myself, aware of a thousand aches and pains. Misha had groaned and clutched at his neck but his eyes were open and he’d flashed me an OK sign before waving me on to the others.

Milo had been point. He’d taken the brunt of the attack. His body didn’t even look like his anymore. It was more like a pile of meat, riddled as it was with bullets. The ringing in my ears had grown stronger then. It was only Misha calling my name that got me back on my feet.

I realised Jensen and he were watching me. I shook my head and grabbed the beer, sinking the rest of it. “I need to go home. Do you want to come, Jen?”

The wideness of his eyes rivalled Misha’s. “Sure. Let me grab...” He reached for his wallet as Misha waved his hands in the universal sign for “on the house”. I grabbed Jensen before Misha changed his mind.

“He must like you.” I handed Jensen my car keys as we got near the end of the lot. He’d only had one beer to my four. And I wasn’t sure if the flash from earlier would return. Normally I just drank until I passed out after one of them. “He never normally lets me away without paying my tab.”

Jensen silently slid into the car. He didn’t start the engine. “Jared?”

“Call me Jay,” I said, as I slid across the front seat to kiss him. That took a fair bit of time and I smugly observed Jensen’s hand shaking slightly as he put the key into the ignition.

 

I knocked on the building manager’s door when we got to my place and found a new door locked against us. It was late enough that he gave me a dirty look and spouted off in some Eastern European language as he went to grab my new key. I was unsure what lay behind the door. “My office was bad. But...”

“Don’t worry,” Jensen reassured me. He laughed and then leaned in to whisper in my ear. “Just as long as your bed, or sofa, or floor is intact.” I swear his voice dropped a register when he spoke like that. It was insane how those low, rough tones could make my cock twitch. This time my hand shook as I tried to fit it into the lock.

My place was pretty much as I’d left it – drawers pulled out, books and the rest of my meagre possessions scattered everywhere.

Jensen took the key from me and checked the door was locked securely before forcing me back into the wall and kissing me thoroughly. “I actually missed you.”

There was very little I could say to that. The letter could wait until the morning. As could the mess. I kicked everything out of my way as I cleared a path and pulled him to the bedroom.

 

I was sitting on the sofa in the remains of my living room the next morning when Jensen woke up. I heard him call my name, tremulously, twice before I shouted through my location. He stumbled through, pulling on his shirt. The marks I’d bit into his shoulder stood out clearly from his fair freckled skin. A brief flashback to the way he’d moaned as I’d near broken the skin rolling it between my teeth flashed into my head. A good memory. I wondered if I’d ever get the chance to do it again.

I realised I’d been sitting watching him for too long. The silence grew uncomfortably. Jensen was almost back to being the same shy, serious guy who had knocked on my office door to start this whole shebang. I merely handed him the letter and turned back to sip my coffee.

“Where did you find this?” He sounded angry, or upset, or like he was trying to control himself to avoid expressing either of the previous emotions. I told him. “What do I do now?”

“I doubt they’ll still be at the ‘usual place’, but if you told me who they were...?” I trailed off.

Jensen flung himself onto the sofa, at the opposite end. “It’s all my fault. If she’s dead or hurt or scared. It’s all because I’m useless...”

I wanted to comfort him, protect him, tell him it would all be ok but I knew he was right this time. “Who’s the letter from?”

“The man who took those pictures.” Jensen crumpled the paper in his hand. “I don’t know where he lives.”

“That’ll be why you hired a detective.” I took the letter from him, smoothing it, thinking hard. “I think I know who to ask.”

 

It was just my luck that Chad had to work that weekend. I’d have been much happier meeting him at his house. Chad was not impressed to see Jensen accompanying me to the police station. He pulled me to the side. “Some people around here might have been working the case. Do you want everyone to know who your new buddy is? Your new fuck-buddy?” Jensen had left a few marks of his own on my neck and I saw Chad clock them.

“I need the name of the guy you took the pictures from,” I ground out. Chad might be one of my closest friends but he didn’t need to know everything. Didn’t need to know how deep I was already in.

He glared at me for a long moment and I returned his stare, neck cricking from keeping it so intensely focused. He let out a short burst of a laugh, humourless and bitter. “Westwick. Ed Westwick.” He gave me the address and everything. I decided it was better not to ask why the guy wasn’t locked up from the angry look still apparent in Chad’s eyes.

 

I didn’t bother knocking when I got to the house, just kicked the flimsy lock aside and strode into the house. The guy was in his bedroom, tangled up in dirty white sheets as he attempted to reach the gun sitting on his dresser. He fell to the floor in an ungainly heap as the girl sharing his bed shrieked and pulled the covers over to cover her nudity. It would have been funny had I not been so focused on my goal.

I grabbed Ed by the shoulder and pinned him up against the wall. He paled when he saw Jensen enter the room over my shoulder. “Good morning, Mr Westwick. Mind if we ask a few questions.”

He raised a hand, thinking to push me back. I just tightened the grip on his shoulder feeling the muscles in my arm bunch and stretch. All the fight went out of Ed. “I don’t know where she is. But I might know someone who does.” I felt a surge of triumph. Here was someone who actually knew why we were here.

Jensen was helping the girl, a petite brunette, into a robe, politely averting his eyes when he heard Ed’s confession. He didn’t turn, though. He just pushed the girl out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her. He leaned against it, arms folded casually. This posturing didn’t fool me. His shoulders were tight under his jacket and his mouth was pulled into a firm, straight line.

I didn’t make Ed wait long, swinging my fist back and letting it connect satisfyingly with his jaw.

 

Ed sent us to another house, a brothel. The madam shook her head when I flashed Lauren’s picture then scrambled to write down yet another address when I’d casually pulled back my jacket to reveal my gun. She was resigned rather than panicked, I thought. This address was more promising. Not quite in the same league as Tom and Mike’s place, but nice enough. Desperately modern with smooth concrete walls and huge windows looking out over the swimming pool and gardens.

No one seemed to be about. There were no cars in the drive as we pulled up and the silence after cutting off the engine was abrupt and profound. Even the insects seemed hushed. I didn’t know if I’d ever get used to how quiet these houses were. “Anything look familiar?” I asked Jensen quietly, pulling out my gun and double checking the bullets.

“I was never here.” Jensen’s jaw was tight. He opened the door and shut it softly behind him. I did the same. We heard the screaming at the same time.

Jensen’s eyes widened and he started to run for the front door. I grabbed the back of his jacket and held a finger to my lips as he struggled and started to complain. I hoped whoever was inside had been too distracted to hear his running feet on the loose gravel. I pulled him onto the grass verge that bordered the driveway and followed it around to the side of the house where the noise had come from.

French doors had been flung open onto the veranda. I could see the slight breeze capturing gauzy white curtains, billowing them out over the paving. Another shout came from within, not a scream but a yell. I still couldn’t hear clearly enough whether the voice was truly angry or not. Jensen paused behind me, fists clenched. I leaned down to whisper in his ear, “Element of surprise works best. On three?” He nodded in reply.

I pulled my gun out and took a deep, calming breath. “One. Two,” I recited. “Three.”

I swung around the door, pointing the gun into the centre of the room. I had struck lucky. There was a man in a silk robe standing over a girl on a chaise. The girl was bound and the man had obviously just finished shoving a gag into her mouth. She was mostly clothed still, in some bizarre fantasy of a negligee. I noticed a film camera lying kicked over on the floor and the bright red slap of a handprint on her cheek.

Jensen came in behind me and gasped even as I ordered the man to put his hands up. I gestured him away from the girl and spun him around to face the wall. He placed his hands against it, palms smooth against the red flock wallpaper, as I frisked him. No weapons. He was obviously used to being searched and having a gun in his face. I heard soft words exchanged between Jensen and the girl. I turned to look.

He had freed her and was chafing her wrists. He was looking at her oddly, half comforting and half angrily. It wasn’t his sister. I turned back to man against the wall. “On your knees.”

He slid down to his knees and placed his hands on top of his head without me even asking. I snapped my fingers at Jensen and pointed to the rope when he looked at me. He flung it over and I pulled the guy’s hands behind his back and tied them together.

“Why aren’t you using your handcuffs?” the guy spoke huskily.

“Because I’m not a cop,” I growled into his ear. He jerked at that, but I had him held firm and he wasn’t able to turn around. I tied his legs and spun him around to face me. His eyes were wide and his mouth hung open. I glanced down. The front of his robe was tented. “Jesus.”

Jensen came over then, holding the gag in his hands. He tossed it from hand to hand for a moment. “Hello, David.”

David went white when he saw Jensen and his erection quickly subsided.

“All I want is my sister.” Jensen spoke quietly and calmly, I was glad to notice. David’s eyes flicked between us and the door. I shrugged when he met my eyes. “I’m not here for revenge.”

David finally decided that telling the truth was a decent plan. “She’s with the others.”

“Thank you.” It was as if he’d merely handed Jensen his change in a store. Then Jensen bent down and forced the gag into David’s protesting mouth. He stood back and looked down at the pathetic, diminished man. “I may not want revenge, but she might.”

I was a little scared at the cold, bleak tone in Jensen’s voice. I hoped he’d never speak to me like that. When Jensen went to open the door to the rest of the house, I shook myself out of my shock and grabbed him. “Let me go first.”

The door clicked softly as I pulled it open, carefully checking the corridor outside in both directions. Behind me, I heard the girl hit the unfortunate David with her hand. I ignored it and let my gun lead me down the corridor to the right. We listened at the doors carefully before opening them. Most seemed to be bedrooms of one sort or another, some with chains and ropes lying about. All were empty, thankfully.

The last door opened into a large atrium, the height of the roof. A fountain actually flowed in the centre of the terracotta tile floor and plants made the room seem a veritable jungle. A huge rough wooden staircase led up the first floor. Female voices echoed down them.

Jensen stuck close behind me as I hugged the wall. Climbing the stairs meant I was blind to what lay in the rest of the house downstairs. I had to trust that we’d manage to avoid any bodyguards David might have employed. I ducked my head around the corner. The landing at the top of the stairs held five doors. One stood open, the one we’d heard the voices coming from. It was some sort of make-up room. There were mirrors and chairs all around the walls and a rack holding costumes standing in the middle of the floor. A large stern-faced woman stood with her back to me, berating someone sitting in front of the mirror.

“I know her,” Jensen said, quietly.

I turned to Jensen and pulled his ear close to my lips. “Is she a threat?”

Our positions reversed when he put his lips to my ear. This was something he knew about and I had no clue. “She kept the girls in line, mostly. I didn’t have much to do with her.”

I made a swift decision. The longer we were here, the more chance of being discovered and complications ensuing. I ran across the landing as quietly as I could and pushed the gun at the small of the woman’s back. She froze. She could see exactly what I held in my hand in the mirrors opposite. “I don’t want any trouble.”

Jensen followed me into the room. The woman watched him carefully in the mirror. The girl sitting in front of her also turned around. Jensen nodded, his face grim. “Hey, sis.”

This was not the heartfelt reunion I’d hoped for. It was a little hard to understand why Jensen was so standoffish. From where I was standing, I could see the make-up caked on to hide bruises and the tear tracks making the mascara on her face run down her cheeks. “Jensen?” She spoke as if she couldn’t quite believe it.

Then he softened and swept her into a hug. They stood there clinging to each other for a moment.

“I think it’s time for us to leave.” I heard the front door open in the atrium and raised voices shouting. “Is there another way out?” Jensen and Lauren turned to me, both shaking their heads. I turned my attention to the woman frozen in front of me. “Guess you’ll be taking us out, ma’am.”

She glared at me, but didn’t try to argue. “There’s a fire escape through the window in the next suite. It’ll take you out the opposite side of the house.”

“Thank you kindly,” I muttered as I shoved her towards one of the chairs. I grabbed a long scarf from the rack and quickly tied her to it. A final scarf in the mouth finished the look. I slipped out of the door, watching the top of the stairs all the time as I gestured to Jensen and his sister to go first. I followed behind them, closing the door softly. They were already at the window, pulling it open. I think I only started breathing normally when we were in the car heading down the drive.

Jensen sat in the back, arms around Lauren. He brushed his lips over her hair and muttered soft reassuring words. His eyes met mine in the rear view mirror. They were shiny with unshed tears. Then he returned his attention to his sister. We’d talk later, I thought.

 

Later never came. I drove straight to the guest house, slipping through the rear gate again. Jensen led his sister into the house as I parked and then returned to the doorway. He blocked the entrance, one hand on the half closed door. “I don’t think we’ve got time now, Jared.” He was back to being the cold professional I’d first met. “I’m going to take care of Lauren. Just... just go away.”

He shut the door in my face. I stood there for a moment. “Call me?” I muttered to the silent wood. Then I turned and walked back to the car, started it and drove it out of this part of town where I had no business any more.

He didn’t answer his phone when I called. Then the operator started to tell me that his number no longer existed. I received a check through the post the next week with no covering letter and I thought that I was done with Jensen Ackles.

 

Misha hated it when I was between jobs. He didn’t mind that I paid off my tab when a job paid up but I think he hated me hanging around the bar. Sometimes I caught a few of Natalia’s relatives eyeing me up a little too intently. They were scary, all muscles and tattoos. I wondered if Misha had asked them to move me on.

I was on my eighth beer and was considering asking Misha to start me on the whisky when Natalia slid into the booth seat across from me. “Jensen, zaichik, you are much sadder this time.”

“This time?” I think I knew where she was going with this, but I didn’t want to have this conversation, really. “Zaichik?” That was a new one on me.

“Little rabbit,” she explained. But the woman would not be dissuaded. I reckoned that was the main reason Misha was married after all his protestations of eternal bachelorhood in solidarity with me. “You are sad about Jensen? Yes?”

“I just don’t like it when I’m not working,” I tried to brush her off. I knew that if she’d come all the way over here to talk to me that there was no hope of that. “And a bit. I miss him a little.”

“A lot.” Natalia regarded me with clear brown eyes. “He was good for you.”

“You just think that I won’t try to steal your husband if I’m with him.” She actually laughed at this. I finished the beer in front of me.

“This is truth, perhaps.” She stood up, wiping her hands on her apron. “And how are you to get new job if you are drinking in here. Go answer your phone.”

 

The tidy office made me remember Jensen. The filing where I could always find what I was looking for reminded me of Jensen. The sheets I avoided washing for as long as I could reminded me of Jensen. But Jensen did not call my phone nor did I see him when I was passing by the Vienna Club around the time he should have been leaving. I thought of driving past the guest house but the gates were locked firm against me.

 

Three months passed. Mrs Hutton called again, convinced her husband had a new mistress. I followed him and took pictures of him buying some merchandise hidden in a brown paper bag. A few dollars bribe bought me the same tame pornography, full of women with exaggerated expressions on their faces. Even the occasional guys were unremarkable. I checked none of them were Jensen before suggesting Mrs Hutton check the shed at the bottom of the garden. Her check arrived two days later. I bought Jim the drink I owed him and had a particularly vivid nightmare that night which resulted in me shaking for days afterwards.

Business was not booming but was exactly back to normal when I received the phone call from Jeff.

 

The Vienna Club had changed only superficially, exchanging black and gold for red and white. Jeff had a new pair of youngsters on either side of them. He confided to me that they were twins as I sat awkwardly on a low stool on the opposite side of the table. I always felt ridiculous on these things, not knowing where to stash my legs. I settled for letting my knees drag on the floor.

“Why am I here, Jeff?” I asked, sipping at the drink a simpering waitress had placed in front of me.

“There’s been some irregularities with the books, Jared my boy.” He kept a casual expression on his face but there was a deepening in the wrinkles around his eyes. “Since you chased off my tame book keeper, I’ve been noticing some sums being lost.”

“Get a better accountant.” The suggestion was heartfelt. What did I know about financial records? “And I didn’t chase him off.”

“Less than a week in your company and he quits his job and heads for the hills. I call that being chased off. And I’ve tried the better accountant route.” Jeff’s voice became serious. He told his lap partners to go dance and beckoned me closer. “I’m actually scared, Padalecki. Someone is fucking with my club. I love this place and, despite what your former colleagues may think of me, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that deserves this kind of treatment.” All playfulness was gone from his manner.

I thought for a moment. “You must have some idea who it could be.”

“I have a list. A very short list.” He slid a piece of paper across the table to me, watching to see if anyone was paying attention. “I need discretion here. I can’t go to the cops and I don’t want to piss off any of those names.”

“I don’t kiss and tell, Jeff.” I put the paper securely into my inside pocket beside a rumpled photograph. I’d throw it out soon, I told myself, as my fingers brushed across the well worn surface.

He eyed me knowingly. “Not that there’s been much to tell, huh?”

 

I ended up back at the club during daylight hours, sifting through piles of receipts and ledgers. Most of it was still organised according to Jensen’s idiosyncratic system and I found the work easier going than I’d though. Jeff had made me come in through the liquor cellar and I thought no one realised that one Jared Padalecki was now hiding out at the Vienna Club rather than Collins’ bar. I swore I still smelled the same.

I was leaning back rubbing my bleary eyes when the door slammed open in an oddly familiar way. I looked up to see the band leader – Craig? Chris? – with the long dark hair in the doorway. I gestured to him to shut the door before anyone else saw.

“Where’s Jensen?” he asked, voice low and dangerous.

“I don’t know. He’s your friend.” I was too tired to be less blunt or more civil. “If you see him, tell him...” On the other hand, I didn’t want this guy to realise how much I was fucking pining like a sixteen year old girl after her first crush.

He looked at me as if he wanted to punch me for a moment and then seemed to come to some sort of decision. He flung himself into the chair in front of me. “I’m Chris – Christian – if you don’t remember.” This was as much of an apology as this guy would ever give.

“I remember. Jensen –“ It actually hurt to say his name out loud. “Jensen said you were his best friend. You got him the job here.”

“He said that?” Chris looked surprised. At my questioning noise, he continued, “Jeff knew him too. Before.” He didn’t say more but I was glad to have my suspicions of that confirmed. He sat there, uncomfortable in silence, tapping his fingers. I moved paper around to have something to do.

We started speaking at once. “Tell Jensen...” “If you see him...”

I picked up the conversation after we clashed and stopped. “I guess both of us just want to know he’s A-OK. Right?”

Chris regarded me with a look that I couldn’t work out for a long time. “I guess.”

 

Another day of nothing led me back to my apartment and the half of whiskey I had stored in the oven. I’d grabbed a sandwich from the shop at the corner more out of habit than want and I looked at it sitting, wilting, on the countertop while I poured my first glass. I kept it neat. The first burn always inoculated me against the others.

The phone rang. I let it.

The caller wasn’t getting bored. The phone stopped ringing for a merciful moment and then the shrill shriek began again. I winced as I came nearer.

“What?” I was in no mood to be polite.

It was Chad. He was furious. “What the hell have you been up to, Padalecki? Actually, I know as there’s a photograph sitting on my desk showing you doing it in lurid detail.”

For a moment I thought he was talking about the under the counter investigating I was doing for Jeff the Perv. The boys in blue wouldn’t have been too happy to hear that I was working for public enemy number three. Then I realised that for the picture to land on Chad’s desk, it had to be connected with Vice.

“There’s a new set of pictures.” My words were ash in my mouth.

Chad didn’t deny it. “I’m bringing them over.”

 

I could not quite work out how it had happened until I saw the picture. It must have been taken through Jensen’s blinds, through the gap at one end that morning after my nightmare. Jensen wasn’t recognisable, only the muscles in his back and the curve of his ass showing sharp in the half light. My face was clear and recognisable, looking up at Jensen with a look that was half wonderment, half adoration. It was too sweet and honest a look to be in such a photograph.

I flipped it over. Chad looked less furious now. Instead he was pitying. “Guess the guy really did a number on you.”

I took a long drink of the whiskey straight from the bottle and looked accusingly at the plain white back of the picture. A number? Guess he did. I think I’d trusted him. I respected him for looking out for his sister and getting himself out of the mire of ready holes to be fucked. This time in the picture had been about more than sex, for me at least. This had been about him giving himself to me, sickly as that sounded, and I reckoned I’d given a part of myself to him. I’d let him call me Jay for Christ’s sake. But I couldn’t take Chad’s pity.

“Guess he took the money and ran.” I was bitter and I let him know it.

Chad frowned. “This is the only picture of the pair of you, thank Christ. You may be my friend but I do not need to see any more of you. I can be glad that you didn’t pose, at least.”

“I don’t think Jensen knew, either.” I half-whispered it, in case Chad was ready to call me to task on it. Surprisingly he frowned. He pulled the other photos out of his jacket and started to lay them out on the table. Once he’d covered it, he started spreading them out on the surrounding floor.

Once he’d finished he stood back and looked carefully. “Come here.”

I went and stood beside him, not quite sure why. Then I got it. “Most of these pictures are posed. Studio shot and carefully lit. My one isn’t.” I recognised the girl from the house where we’d found Jensen’s sister. Her image was as artificial and posed as all the rest. It must have been taken before our arrival. There were two other pictures that seemed similar to the one of Jensen and me. One I had no idea about, but the other... There was something familiar about the shoulders and long hair of the figure on his knees before the other man.

“I think I know who this is.” I tapped my finger on the picture. “And he might know about the other.”

Chad looked at me carefully. “Jared, man, I don’t get how you can go from dead drunk and furious to calmly deciding where to take this case next.”

“That’s what us PIs have to do. We can’t just rush in, guns blazing and nightsticks at the ready.” I wasn’t going to think about Jensen’s role in this anymore. This had gone beyond him and me. Someone definitely wanted to mess with Morgan’s employees and I reckoned this was aimed at him. The case suddenly seemed a lot more than just paper pushing.

 

Misha had set a beer and a shot in front of me without asking. I wondered about the shot, then shrugged and downed it. The nightmares had been bad the night before, despite the alcohol, and I’d spent most of the night sitting looking at the photographs, looking for clues. Sadly the backgrounds of all the others had been anonymous bedrooms and corners of walls. Chad had left, agreeing to bring over the other set of photos with him later. He told me he’d meet me here – it was closer to the precinct, I supposed.

Chad was still dressed in his uniform when he came in. A few of Natalia’s cousins shifted in their seat when they saw him. He dropped the envelope on the bar in front of me, waving away Misha’s offer of a beer.

“There’s been a murder. A David Boreanez. Big house up in the Hills, pull with the Mayor and the Chief. They’re paying out the overtime hand over fist.” Chad turned back to the door, then came back to me. “Padalecki?”

I held my hands up, all innocence, but Chad didn’t fall for it. He’d seen the way I’d tried to not react to the name. He stood and watched me stone-faced. Eventually I broke. It wasn’t like Chad would be able to do anything with the information if the guy and his pals had as much pull as Chad believed. “That might be where we found Jensen’s sister.”

“Might?” Chad knew better than to believe the vague nature of my answer.

I shrugged. “I never really asked for a surname when I tied the guy up.”

He slid into the seat beside me. I could see him thinking, see the cogs in his brain working to put the whole thing together. My brain was making connections too.

I fumbled for a pen and paper. I found the back of an envelope and Misha handed me a pencil. “Mind taking it to a booth? I’ve customers who’d rather not come to buy drink with a cop at the bar.”

Chad and I headed over. “This is my investigation, Chad. I’m not having the LAPD stomp all over this.” Or sweep it and me under a convenient carpet. That picture would be motive enough for murder in some cops’ books, forget alibis and opportunity.

Chad nodded. He would want the truth rather than the closest fit the police could come up with. He also knew what scumbags his superiors could be when they were under pressure to produce results.

I wrote Jensen’s name at the centre of the envelope. Above it I put Jeffrey Dean Morgan and, after a moment’s hesitation, I added Chris’. Below it I put Jensen’s sister and her ex, Mark. I was still sure there was something weird going on with that guy.

“Mark Sheppard?” Chad asked, curiously watching me.

“You know him?”

“He’s a shop steward for one of the biggest unions in the business.” He didn’t need to say what business. Really only one business in this city. “Suspected mob ties and all the rest.”

I filed that bit of information away. Good to know the instincts were right. And if they were right about Mark, were they right about Jensen? Everything came back to him. Beside Morgan’s name I wrote down Tom and Mike. I was starting to fill the paper with my untidy scrawl. Beside Jensen’s sister, I put down Boreanez, Westwick and the madam. Someone on this paper was responsible for that picture, directly or indirectly. Chances were someone was also responsible for Chad’s murder victim too.

Chad took the paper from me. “I think we discount the sister.”

“Because she’s a girl?” Chad could be very old-fashioned sometimes. The women in this town were as capable of murder as anyone else.

“She had plenty of opportunity to murder him when she was trapped, I think. If she really had wanted to.” Chad stated this like it was perfectly obvious.

“So you don’t think she’s the murderer because she would have done it already?” The more I thought about it, the more I decided that it did make some kind of sick sense.

“Also, he was beaten and strangled. I doubt a little girl would have been able to do that. She’d have used a knife or a gun.” That cold statement was even more chilling because of the matter-of-fact tone. “I think it had to be a man.”

“The victim, uh... He seemed to enjoy being tied up.” I said it in a rush, hoping Chad didn’t really want to ask more about how I knew that.

He’d obviously learned more than he needed about my sex life. “From the crime scene pictures, I don’t think this was sexual. There was a lot of damage to the face.”

“I’m leaning towards discounting Jensen too.” Chad was getting to his feet as he said it. He pointed.

The door had opened a few times since we’d sat down but my back was to it. Silence fell over the bar as we took in the last person to come through it. It took me a moment to recognise him.

Jensen had been beaten. He was a mess of blood and torn clothing. He was swaying as he looked around the bar, those green eyes still beautiful despite the rapid swelling threatening to close one of them. Then he found me. He half-raised a hand towards me and the shock that had kept me frozen in my seat now had me moving. I reached him as his knees buckled. I caught him as he fell.

 

Natalia took charge, ushering me through the back and down to the basement. I knew the reason she told Chad to get back to work. Sometimes she had ‘cousins’ stay here that wouldn’t be too happy about a cop knowing their hideout. I also knew why she didn’t take me up to her and Misha’s apartment above the bar. That was their sanctuary. The dirty business belonged in the basement.

There was a narrow cot in the corner of the basement that had been turned into a room through the addition of thin plasterboard. A bare bulb hung from the ceiling casting its too bright illumination over the scene. Jensen looked worse under its unremitting scrutiny. His rising bruises had been somewhat hidden in the softer shadows of the bar and I regretted lifting him to bring him here. Natalia preceded us into the room and placed towels on the bed.

I laid Jensen down. Natalia bustled around behind me. One of the drawers in the chest on the other side of the room seemed to hold nothing but bandages and cloths. She dumped a pile on the bed.

“Undress him. I bring water.” I was obeying her commands before she even left the room. I had to bite my lip to stop hissing with sympathy as I lifted Jensen’s ruined shirt away. Some of the wounds on his body had been made by fists and booted feet but there had definitely been a knife involved at some point. His tie, shredded, still held its knot. It had been grabbed and pulled around Jensen’s throat at some point. I had to work at it until it slid lose in my hand. By then my hands were slippery with Jensen’s blood.

He stirred occasionally when I lifted a piece of cloth away a little too harshly or moved his body to pull the clothes from underneath him but he didn’t open his eyes. Natalia returned with two bowls of water. I had just opened the zipper on Jensen’s slacks when she surprised me by moving around the cot. She made me support his hips as she gently removed the trousers. It was clear she had done this before. We left Jensen in his briefs.

Natalia dampened one of the cloths she had taken from the drawer and handed it to me. “I need to go back to the bar.” She rested her hand on my hair briefly. “Be soft.”

I took that to mean with the cleaning up, but with Natalia you never could tell. I mused on other possibilities as I started to clean the blood from Jensen’s face. I felt better when his lips were no longer bloody. I suppressed the urge to lean down and kiss them. There was nothing I could do for the blood in his hair, really, but I ran the cloth over it anyway.

I was concentrating on the crook of Jensen’s elbow when I glanced back to see his eyes were open again. I smiled at him automatically, trying to reassure him. “Hey. You’re pretty beaten up there.”

“I found you.” Jensen smiled back, wincing as the move reopened one of the cuts on his lips. I rinsed the cloth in the basin before moving it to clean the blood.

“You found me,” I agreed, trying to calm him down.

He wasn’t calmed. He grew more agitated and tried to sit up. I held his shoulder gently and it was enough to stop him moving. “I need you,” he whimpered.

“You know I’ll always help you.” I let the hand on his shoulder stroke gently over the patch of unmarked skin.

“I missed you.” His eyes were closing again and his voice had dropped below a whisper. If I hadn’t been kneeling so closely to him, I doubt I would have even heard his next statement. “Love you.”

I concentrated on cleaning the rest of his wounds and bandaging them tight. He’d need a doctor, I had no doubt, and I thought that he’d probably had a few ribs broken. The rest of the wounds were fairly superficial, even the knife wounds. It looked like someone had almost been playing with him, drawing it over his skin instead of stabbing. This beating hadn’t started out to hurt seriously.

I pondered this until my knees ached under me. There was nothing else in this room beyond the bed and the chest of drawers. The floor was cold concrete. I couldn’t leave Jensen here alone. I carefully stretched my long body out on the far side of the bed nearest the wall. It could get chilly down here and my body heat would help keep Jensen warm too.

It was only when I was lying there that I realised that the last time we’d shared a bed, someone had taken a very compromising photograph of us. Someone who had known we were there. Being as it was not exactly the most public of thoroughfares I wondered if that meant Tom or Mike had taken the pictures. Despite their rather odd behaviour and obvious distaste for me, they had given Jensen a place to live and I doubted that they would sell out someone they trusted enough to stay so close to them.

It didn’t make sense. Nothing in this case made sense. I fell asleep eventually.

 

Jensen let me take him to the hospital in the morning. He was conscious most of the way there but concentrated on keeping his body mainly upright. He didn’t talk. He didn’t let me come into the consulting room but I waited for him. I phoned Jeff to say that I’d been held up on another case and wouldn’t be in from the payphone in the waiting room. I stole a day old newspaper from a sleeping man and borrowed a more current one when its purchaser had finished with it.

Jensen was pale and shaking when he walked out. Misha had loaned him clothes that were a smidgen too small and he looked like a kid, too young for the horrible beating he’d taken. The bruises on his face were vivid blue and purple that would turn putrid shades of yellow and green. I knew that from experience. The doctor had taped some fingers together on his left hand and put it in a sling. I didn’t know what else I could do to make him feel better.

“Take me home,” he rasped. I fetched the car.

 

In the end, it turned out that Jensen wasn’t staying in the guest house anymore. He’d been sleeping on Penelope’s sofa ever since Lauren and he had decided to try and make a clean break of it. Jensen had agreed not to speak to any of his old friends, not even Chris. I took him back to mine. Of course there were a not so neat pile of pictures on my coffee table that I’d half forgotten about. Jensen turned over the top one as he sank into the sofa to recover from the climb up the stairs.

“Ah.” The single syllable hung heavy in the air.

“Chad brought them over. The police picked them up from a brothel raid a few days ago.” I couldn’t look at him as I sat on the far end of the sofa.

Jensen continued flipping through all the photographs. He came back to the three odd ones out. “They’re trying to show they can get at the people... I care about.”

I suppressed a slight thrill at hearing Jensen tell me that, just like I’d tried to ignore what he’d said when barely conscious. I did not need to fall in love with him. Not at all. The guy had left me hanging for months. “Who are they?”

“Chris and Steve.” I’d already guessed at Chris. “Allison and her husband, Joe. I haven’t seen any of them since I left the guest house.”

“Chris asked me where you were. He was worried,” I blurted out.

Jensen didn’t reply for a long moment, his fingers stroking over the picture of the two of us. “When did you see Chris?”

I explained to him about working for Jeff and then stopped. Then I told him about why I was working for Jeff. If Jensen was the one skimming off the profits, there was no way I would be handing him in.

Jensen went white as I spoke. “I know who it is. I’ve known for months.” Jensen refused to tell me any more, so I made him go to bed. I spent the time looking at my list, adding Allison’s name to the paper.

 

In the middle of the night, I was shaken awake by Jensen. He was looking down at me quizzically. “Why didn’t you come to bed?”

“I didn’t know if you wanted me. There.” I had been sleeping awkwardly and rubbed at my neck as I sat up. Jensen took over with strong fingers, soothing the aching muscles. Eventually it became less of a soothing motion and more of a caress. I leaned into it hungrily.

“Come on.” He started heading back to the bedroom and this time I went with him.

When I woke in the morning, the stain of our lovemaking still evident on my body, he had gone. It felt like one final goodbye. I lay there long into the day, just holding the sheets with his smell close. Jensen was gone.

 

I returned to the Vienna Club the next morning, back to more fruitless searching. I suspected I was being followed and that my movements were being tracked. I took a different route everyday but rapidly realised that once my destination was known it didn’t matter how long I sat in traffic. I was rapidly coming to the end of the information that Jeff had to give me. I could see a clear pattern to the money being removed but could not work out why it wasn’t showing up in the ledgers.

I wished Jensen had trusted me enough to tell me who it was. But I didn’t try looking for him again. Jensen knew how to stay hidden when he didn’t want to be found. Jensen was gone.

 

Thursday night dinner at Sandy’s had become a regular occurrence once more. The kids were always glad to see me, despite the rather unwelcoming atmosphere surrounding her husband. But since he’d never liked me, I guessed that was nothing new.

Meatloaf made an interesting change from casserole but the potatoes and gravy tasted as good as ever. Sandy tried to ask me about work but I changed the topic, asking the boys about school. They both insisted that I heard them read to me for a change. They were growing up so fast, no longer accepting a bedtime story but being determined to read them independently. My sister got a little weepy when I pointed this out and I pushed to find out why. It wasn’t like her at all.

It was late, too late by the time she told me the whole story. Al was sleeping with one of the secretaries at the bank and she didn’t know how to deal with it. She offered me the spare room and I crawled gratefully to it. I thought I knew everything there was to know about cheating spouses, I’d come across enough. But all I wanted to do was start hitting Al and not stop until he stopped bleeding.

The nightmare caught me in the middle of the night. I pushed back the sweat soaked sheets and knew that I’d never manage to get back to sleep. The combination of strange bed and the turbulent emotions under my skin were not aiding either. It was still darkest night outside but I thought a walk would help clear my mind. I slipped out the back door and headed for the playground I had taken the kids to when that was still a cool thing to do.

The slight creak the swing made seemed loud in the silent night. I wondered when my life had gone from being the simple round of hangover, stakeout, bar to being the mess it was in. On the one hand, I could trace all the disruption back to the day Jensen had walked into my office. But I couldn’t blame him. This had been coming for a long time. My life had become simple and stuck and all this shit had been waiting for me to wake up and smell it. Jensen was gone. It was time to man up, finally, and stop just letting my life be fucked over.

The new resolve returned me to my feet. It was cold now and I could get a cup of coffee back at my sister’s. I was feeling positive about making a breakthrough on the case today. I wondered if the glow ahead of me was the light of dawn finally breaking. It was too concentrated in one place, though.

The answer became clear as I rounded the final corner into my sister’s street. I ran towards the burning house, screaming. I called out for my sister, her kids. There was no answer. If only I hadn’t decided to go for a walk. The thought struck me then that maybe I would be burning up inside the house too. I ran faster. I could hear the shriek of the fire engines sounding as I ran around the final corner, my lungs burning from the effort and from the stench of smoke in the air.

A wave of heat struck me as I tried to get to the house. Yellow flames licked through every window, every door. Sirens cried behind me. Smoke billowed high into the sky obscuring any stars and it was clear to see no one could still be in there alive. I still called for my sister.

I sank to my knees in the grass, gasping for breath, unaware of anything. I felt hands tugging at my clothes, trying to pull me away. A cluster of neighbours stood to the side, dressed in their dressing gowns and slippers. They gawked as the firemen pushed them back. The hose started, there was shouting and I knelt there unable to move. Someone was yelling in my ear but I couldn’t hear them.

Someone knelt before me and dragged my face round so I would look into their eyes. It was the pair of green eyes that I thought I’d never see again. His perfect eyelashes framed the concern and worry that was spilling out of him. He was speaking my name in that deep, husky voice that I never thought to hear again. “Jared? Jared?” Then softer: “Jay?”

I jerked at that, pulling my chin from his fingers. He let me go, happy to have some sort of reaction. “Jensen?” It was hesitant. It was weak. He nodded, understanding. I couldn’t hold my body up anymore and collapsed against him, as he’d collapsed against me all those months ago in his kitchen. “They’re gone, Jensen.”

He pulled me back, reluctantly I thought. “Jay – they’re not dead.”

I stared at him, unable to comprehend what he was saying. “Not dead?” I repeated, trying the words on my tongue.

“I came to see if you were here. It was Thursday and you weren’t answering your phone. I wanted... needed... to see you. To talk. And I saw the flames. I got them out.” He stated the fact simply, not trying to make himself into any hero.

“Where?” I couldn’t think anymore. He just pointed at a group of figures swaddled in blankets. Through the smoke wreathing the lawn I could make out my sister and nephews. No sign of Al. I clung to Jensen and he held me in the same way my sister had her hands wrapped around the children.

 

Jensen’s fading bruises became clearer to see as the sun rose. The entire group of us had ended up at Sandy’s neighbours. I couldn’t take any more cheerful “smile and carry on” sentiments and had slipped out onto the front porch. Jensen joined me, carrying a cup of coffee for both himself and for me.

“I think Al may have set the fire.” Jensen said, long after the coffee had gone cold. “I saw him leaving while I was trying to work up enough courage to cross the street and knock.”

“He might be a useless bastard but I don’t think he’d do that to his wife and kids. No matter how much he wanted to run off and live with the new girlfriend.” I wondered if I’d read him wrong all those years. He and I mostly ignored each other anyway. “I do think he told someone I was there.”

“That would make sense,” Jensen agreed. “You know the fire was aimed at you.”

I don’t think I’d really processed that until he said it out loud. Christ. The bastards out to get me did not care about innocent casualties. “Who are you protecting, Jensen? And why?”

Jensen rubbed his hands over his face, pushing his grimy spectacles out of the way. “It’s complicated. I don’t have any real proof and I’m not sure if I have all the pieces.”

I pulled the crumpled list of names out of my coat pocket. “We made a good team. We should work together.” I showed him the list, his name prominent at the centre of the page.

He took it from me and traced the links between some of the names. “It starts with Jeff and the Vienna club, I think.”

I stopped him there. “It starts before that Jensen. It starts with you. I think it’s time you came clean.”

Jensen winced once. He was quiet for a long moment. “What if you hate me?” he asked quietly.

I was aware that we were sitting on a front porch in full view of Sandy’s entire street. In a way, this was good, because I couldn’t give into my urge to grab hold of Jensen and never let go. I’d come so close to doing that when collapsed on Sandy’s lawn. I couldn’t kiss him or hold his hand or anything that would distract me. But it also meant that we could be interrupted at any point.

My car had avoided damage by being parked in the street. I pulled the keys out of my pocket. “Let’s go to the Vienna. I can show you what I’ve found and you can tell me everything.” There was a certain ominous feeling that surfaced in my gut but I pushed it down and ignored it.

 

Jensen was as familiar as me with the entrance through the liquor room. We sat on either side of the desk, afraid to be too close to each other. I delayed him further by pulling files out of the locked drawer and placing them on the table. He pulled a packet I recognised as the one I’d given him photographs in. The original ones of him. He put it on the table in front of me.

“I was seventeen when I arrived in LA. Got off the bus and started walking. I had money, enough for a hotel for a few nights. I’d stolen it from that preacher I told you about. I thought I’d get a job quick enough. After four days, it became clear I’d have to choose between a roof over my head and food. I ended up just walking Sunset with all my belongings in a bag on my back. This car kept driving past me.”

Jensen looked at me for some reaction. I nodded, tightly, seeing the kid he had been in the shadows in his eyes.

“Jeff had seen me walking and thought I might be his next conquest. He didn’t own the Club then. This is thirteen, fourteen years ago.” I started a little at that. Jensen was older than me. Three years older at least. Jensen didn’t notice. He was lost in the story. “Anyway. I was hungry and broke and my feet hurt. So I got in the car.”

I think I would probably have done the same. Jeff the Perv was a fine figure of a man, if you could ignore all his little habits.

“He didn’t ask for sex right away. He only asked I sit on his knee and kiss him. And I was glad to. I was so naive. I was glad to do anything he asked. I think I’d convinced myself I was in love with him. He’d ask me to kiss his friends occasionally. I didn’t mind. Then I started to get a little old for him. He found a new boy to keep his bed warm.” Jensen shook his head at his idiocy. “I thought my heart was breaking.”

“You were young,” I tried to reassure him. “Didn’t know any better.”

“I sure learned fast. One of Jeff’s friends had become fond of me, so I moved into his bed, turfing out his current partner. It became like musical beds, some freaky party game. I’d live off some rich older guy until he got bored of me and then I’d move on. But I started getting too old for them. And then Jeff introduced me to David and Tom and Mike and then my life became a little different again.”

Jensen was silent for so long that I wondered if he was going to speak again. He scrubbed his face with his hands, knocking his spectacles up over his forehead. Then he stood and started to pace. “At first they were just people my own age who were normal. Rich and entitled but there was no big deal about the fact that they screwed each other. And I wanted to be like them. David showed me the photos of the girls and told me how much money he could make me. I refused.”

“Then Tom asked. I couldn’t deny him anything. I was living in the guest house then, for the first time. He told me the pictures would be just for him and Mike and me. That it would be artistic.” Jensen shuddered all over. “There are less artistic ones that Tom never let David sell.”

My brain jumped into overdrive imagining what Jensen was hinting at. “Did they hurt you?” I wanted to kill Tom now.

“Not at first. And it was fine. But David didn’t want to stop with photographs. He wanted to be in the movies like everyone else in this city. I wasn’t so sure. By then, Lauren had joined me here and she found one of the pictures. I think Tom had left it lying around. It wasn’t one of the ones you saw.” Jensen stomped back to the desk and dragged the envelope open. There were more pictures in there now. “I took all the ones I could find. I didn’t want them to have them anymore. And I took the money David had given me. Jeff loaned me more when I needed it. And I decided to put this all behind me.”

“But how did you end up back in the guest house?” That I couldn’t work out. Jensen had escaped.

“I never could deny Tom anything. I was in love with him.” Jensen said it in a matter-of-fact way but I could tell that there was strain there. “He heard I was working for Jeff and said they’d leave me alone. He said he’d stop pressuring me into taking more pictures. I think he would have promised me the moon to get me back into that house.”

“I could never say no to him before I met you.” Jensen finally looked at me. His eyes were filled with a dark, intense emotion. There was love and there was hurt and need and something dangerous lurking beneath the surface. “And Tom hated me for it. I told him no for the first time after I came to your office.”

“David was trying to blackmail you into more pictures.” I said it slowly, not wanting to stop Jensen. His revelation shook me to the core. The floodgates had opened and he did not seem able to stop.

“Into movies. Tom wanted me to be fucked on film. And not just that. I think Tom has stopped being just a bastard and moved into being a crazy bastard.” Jensen sank back into the seat. “He uses knives.”

Just like that I knew who had attacked Jensen the night he’d walked into Misha’s. I climbed out of my seat and made my way around the desk. I knelt in front of Jensen. I didn’t touch him or try to kiss him. I just sat there, willing him to know that I cared.

“So Tom is the one taking the money from Jeff, which I’m sure you’d worked out. He hides it as union payments. He was using the money to fund the movies. He had great plans.” Jensen finished up. “Some of the girls. He didn’t just tie them up or cut them up. He hurt them. Lauren told me.”

“I think David was scared,” Jensen was musing now. “I think he was going to tell Jeff.”

I thought over what he had told me. “I thought Tom was rich?”

“The house belongs to Mike. Mike is crazy but in a different way. As long as there’s a steady stream of pleasure he doesn’t really pay attention to anything else.” Jensen shook his head wearily. “Tom sunk a lot of money into the club and it pays okay, but not enough to really fund the type of production he wanted.”

“And Jeff wouldn’t help because...?” I was working over the names on the list in my head.

“Jeff doesn’t like the pictures. He wouldn’t like the movies. He really wouldn’t like what Tom was planning to do in the movies.” Jensen rested his hands on my shoulders. He was much calmer now. I felt able to put one of my hands on his knees soothingly. He smiled, hesitantly at first and then more genuinely.

I couldn’t help but smile back.

In the midst of the fact that someone had tried to kill me and my sister, had beaten Jensen badly and had totally screwed up my life, I was sitting smiling at this guy. He leaned forward and brought our foreheads together gently. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” I was whispering.

“For dragging you into this, for ruining your life. For putting you in danger.” Jensen started to move away but I wouldn’t let him.

I was never going to live this down. I tried for light-hearted, tried to joke, but it came out more serious than I thought. “But it brought you. And if you stop leaving, I think I’ll manage.” I still couldn’t quite say the word that perhaps would send him running for the hills but might just keep him in my arms forever.

I sat back. “What do we do now? Tell Morgan?”

“I think that he deserves to know. I... I was helping Tom hide the money. I know the truth.” Jensen looked terrified and I could understand that. Morgan might seem to be urbane and civilized but a core of steel ran through him.

“I don’t think he needs to know that.” I drawled. “I think he needs to be grateful to you for finding out about it. There’s so many secrets floating around. What will one more matter?”

Jensen kissed me. It wasn’t the same as all the passionate kisses that we had shared when fucking and it wasn’t a chaste press of lips. It was the type of kiss people give when they know that they’ve got the rest of their lives with someone else. He looked at me, nibbling his bottom lip when he sat back. That led to me smiling again.

Maybe I was going to get out of this okay after all.

 

Jeff’s front door was wide open when we drove up his drive. I started to make Jensen stay behind me again before realising he knew this place like the back of his hand. He led the way through the marbled foyer and up the carved wooden staircase. The place was as ostentatious as the club. All of the doors leading off the hallway were open so it took only a minute or two to find Jeff.

Jensen had guessed Jeff would be in bed. He was right. Jeff’s body lay splayed on his bed, his latest two companions equally inelegantly sprawled. They didn’t look beautiful or ugly. They just looked dead. A gun had been the weapon from the looks of it, blood splattered across white satin sheets. Jeff looked smaller, deep wrinkles surrounding his mouth and eyes showing his age, making him look old for the first time since I’d met him.

Jensen and I looked at each other in panic. It looked like Tom was clearing house and we were probably the next people on his list. I pulled him from the room and back into my car. I flung the wheel around, clipping the kerb in my haste to leave the horrific scene behind me. I started taking random turns, lefts and rights, no order or pattern. Jensen clutched the dash as I swung around corners and ignored irate horns.

I was well and truly lost by the time I stopped.

I lifted one hand and slammed it against the steering wheel. “Fuck.” Then I hit it again and again. The leather snapped against my palm, made it burn. I sat back. Jensen wasn’t looking any better on the other seat, his mouth tightened into a straight line, eyes unstaring. I wondered if he’d ever seen a dead body before.

“We need to call the police, Jared.” Jensen said. He sounded like he was trying to not be sick. I didn’t blame them.

I rubbed a hand through my hair. “You’re right.” I looked out of the car window. Some sort of residential street, chain link fences and huge dogs were all I could see. I started the car and drove, paying more attention to my surroundings. Eventually a diner slid into view. I told Jensen to stay with the car as I went inside.

Chad answered on the third ring. “Padalecki!” he spluttered my name. “Any closer to solving my problem?”

“Yes and no,” I told him. Then I filled him in on what we’d found at Jeff’s. “And Chad?” I finished.

“What?” His voice was already a thousand miles away, no doubt planning where to take the information.

I hesitated before telling him. “Sandy might be in danger too.”

He exploded down the phone at me. I had to hold the receiver away from my ear but I still caught the mention of me going soft over a whore. I had to interrupt him there. “He’s not a whore. He’s... He’s Jensen.”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Chad had returned to normal volume, thankfully. “Where are you going now?”

“My office? I don’t know. Just... hurry?” I urged him on and he hung up and swung into action as Officer Murray.

 

It was then that Jensen suggested that we needed to get back to the Vienna Club. I blamed the shock of the brutal scene at Jeff’s for not realising that this was a shit plan.

“Tom’s cleaning house. He’ll go after the records next.” Jensen seemed adamant. “And I have some records that’ll help prove fraud.”

“Not that that’ll be the crime Tom’s convicted of. Not after Jeff.” My mind still rolled the gruesome scene over and over in my head. The fact that he’s had it coming to him for years was no real consolation. I guess I actually might have liked the old Perv. I concentrated on driving, letting the ebb and flow of the traffic distract me from all the questions I wanted to ask.

Jensen sat tight-lipped.

 

The club didn’t look any different from when we’d left it earlier.

It was still too early in the day for anyone to be around. No practise for the band scheduled, or so Jensen told me. We snuck in through the liquor store once more. The smell of the alcohol couldn’t hide the scent that awaited us just inside the door through to the main part of the building.

Chris lay there, dark hair unable to hide the wound he had taken from some sort of bludgeoning weapon. The back of his scalp was almost completely destroyed with bone and blood and brain matter leaking over his shirt. He was dressed casually, like some kind of cowboy in worn jeans and dusty boots. The details washed over me.

“He must have been surprised,” I surmised. Most of the blow had landed on the back of his head. I glanced at Jensen. He was pale again, freckles standing out starkly. His eyes were dry.

“Fuck, Chris. What were you doing here?” His voice was soft but steady. I guessed then and there that these were not the first time Jensen had encountered violently dead bodies after all.

I pulled my gun out and turned to him. “Decide. We go on or we turn around and get the cops to come in all guns blazing.”

He didn’t hesitate. “We need to stop Tom. Otherwise he’ll just destroy the evidence and vanish. Don’t suppose you’ve got another gun hiding there?”

“No.” I also wasn’t about to trust an unknown marksman at my back either, even if it was Jensen. I checked the bullets and sighted down the barrel. “If we need more than this, we’re doomed.”

“Great.” Jensen looked around as if expected something to appear from nowhere. There was nothing he could use as a weapon in the empty corridor. “My old office?”

“Right.” I hugged the wall, listening carefully and walking softly. Jensen fell into step behind me, trying to keep quiet. There were voices up ahead but it was impossible to tell from where. The thick red plush of the wallpaper acted as a very effective sound dampener. I opened Jensen’s door as quietly as I could. If they were inside, however, that was a waste of time. Luckily, there was no reaction to the near silent click of the lock.

I lifted my fingers and counted off to three. Then I pushed the door open all the way and let my gun point my way into the room. Nobody there. I checked the corners and behind the door before Jensen pushed past me, kneeling under the desk. I shut the door and stood with my back to him. I risked a glance. He was pushing at the bottom of the drawers. There was a soft thud and then the bottom of one of the drawers came away. All the time I’d spent rifling through files in that very desk and I’d never noticed that there was a false bottom to the drawer.

Jensen looked up cautiously. “Do you think anyone heard that?” I knew that, to him, every noise sounded like a gunshot.

I shook my head. “Think we’re okay.” I placed my ear against the door and listened. There were no sounds of doors opening suddenly or crashing footsteps. But the thick wallpaper and plush black carpet would hide those from us as well.

Jensen withdrew three thin books from the hidden compartment. He nodded sagely to himself then reached further in. He brought out a slender envelope that I recognised as similar to the one that the photos Chad had found were in. Jensen tucked all this into his increasingly rumpled jacket pocket. The sharp professional book-keeper persona he’d adopted seemed further and further diminished. He groped around a third time.

He surprised me then. He drew out a stack of cash, a bundle of fifty dollar bills, it looked like. He saw my wide eyes. “Didn’t quite want to leave this at the house or in the bank. Just in case.” He looked ashamed but slid it as neatly into his pocket as everything else. “That’s us.”

I listened at the door again. Still nothing. I flicked off the lights and gestured Jensen to come close. I lifted my gun and opened the door quickly. Not quickly enough as it turned out. Before I’d taken a step out of the room, I felt the barrel of a gun placed against my temple.

“Don’t move,” an oddly familiar, slightly Irish accented voice ordered. I obeyed, freezing in place. I was still blocking the doorway, trying to protect Jensen. I saw Tom lounging in the corridor across from me. He was smiling. That terrified me.

“He’ll be a good boy, Mark. Especially after you put him to sleep.” Tom’s voice sounded like he was giggling deep inside. I reckoned something had indeed snapped inside him. However I didn’t get much more than a chance to breathe again when I felt the press of a pad against my mouth and nose. I took a deep whiff of the chloroform that it had been soaked in, and everything went black.

 

Jensen’s voice was what dragged me up out of the daze. I knew that I’d been waking for a long time, but it took the sound of his voice to finally make me pay attention to my surroundings again. I was in a chair. I couldn’t quite understand how I was managing to stay upright until I realised I was tied to the chair. The chair was a little too small for me and it meant my knees were bent at an awkward angle to accommodate the ties at my ankles. My fingertips brushed the floor behind me.

Jensen wasn’t tied up, thankfully. He was sitting on a sofa opposite my perch. The man with the gun was seated comfortably beside him, one arm raised over the back of the sofa and the other holding the gun across his knee. I recognised him now. It was Lauren’s boyfriend, the ex that Jensen suspected. I wondered how he fit with Tom.

Tom wandered into my line of vision then. He’d been doing something behind me. He was wiping his hands on a towel. I watched him and then looked around the room a bit. The red plush wallpaper told me we were still at the club. And being as the room was bigger than my apartment near enough, I guessed we were probably in Jeff’s office. I really didn’t envy Jensen his seat on the sofa. Who knew what had gone on there. Then the remembrance that Jeff was dead struck me. He had murdered in all probability by the very man pointing a gun at my... lover? Boyfriend? At Jensen. My heart sunk like a stone.

“Mark likes guns,” Tom was saying. “You know I like knives.” His voice still held that undercurrent of glee and hysteria.

Jensen spoke again, asking the question that had awoken me. “Where’s Mike?”

“Mike didn’t really like the knives.” Tom sounded sad now. He turned to me then. His eyes brightened. “I don’t think Mr Jared Padalecki, Private Investigator, will like my knives either.”

I didn’t like the way his mouth turned into a gloating smirk when he mentioned the knives. I didn’t reply. I was determined to keep him talking and not playing at all with the knives but I just couldn’t think of anything to say. I wondered if the shallow cuts that had cross hatched Jensen’s body the night he was so hurt had come from Tom. I wondered if Mark had been responsible for the actual beating.

I wondered if Mark was going to beat me or Jensen. Something else seemed to be going on here. I still didn’t understand the role Mark was playing or even why he was here.

Tom walked behind me again. I heard him pick up something from a wooden surface, knuckles knocking against it. I felt the cool smooth metal of a blade on my neck. Just the flat for now. I tried to slow my breathing and not flinch at it traced a path along my jaw line. I thought about Jensen kissing his way desperately along there.

I made eye contact with Jensen. He had refused to look at me before, watching Tom instead. Tom was so focused on me that he didn’t notice Jensen’s attention had shifted. I tried to let the fact I was replacing Tom’s threatening strokes with my memory of much more pleasant things show in my eyes. I tried to pour all the respect and affection I felt for Jensen show. I thought that if I was going to die that it wasn’t worth hiding it anymore.

I hoped Jensen understood.

Tom started to tease my neck with the tip of the blade. The point dug into the tracery of old scars so long healed as almost to be invisible. I tried not to let myself tense, knowing that would cause the blood to start to flow.

The odd calm was broken my Mark’s low drone. “Why are we messing about here? Let’s just kill them and get gone.”

“But I want to impress upon Jensen that it is important that he always stays with me.” Tom was actually whining like a little child. He sounded petulant and still dangerously unstable. “And I wanted to...”

“I understand.” Mark’s voice had turned indulgent. “He’ll also be a perfect object lesson for anyone who tries to come after us.” He leaned forward eagerly, watching Tom’s every move. I got the idea then that Mark quite liked to hurt people too.

Tom pressed the knife into my cheek. It was light enough that the cut it made wasn’t serious but it bled freely. I could feel the sting like a line of fire. I bit my lip rather than hiss at the pain. He stood in front of me and concentrated seriously, drawing the razor sharp knife over my face again and again. No cut was deep enough to seriously hurt and if I healed I doubted any of them would ever leave a scar, but it was humiliating and painful enough that I couldn’t close my mind to his single-minded torture.

He stood back to let Mark and Jensen see. Jensen kept his face immobile but his eyes were distraught. Mark grinned.

Tom methodically cut off my shirt and started again with his teasing, taunting cuts over my arms, my chest and my stomach. He was slowly pressing the knife in deeper and his breath was coming faster and faster as the blood dripped down. I felt like someone had sprayed me with ketchup with the way I could feel the sickening slide of the red liquid everywhere. I sought Jensen’s eyes again and drew strength from his urgent glare.

Time passed. I knew that it must be later in the day. The traffic noise from outside had increased and the light coming in through the closed blinds had changed from golden to a softer orange. There was even noise outside in the corridor. But if Tom was a co-owner here, or if they’d found out about Jeff, I doubted that anyone would really disturb us here.

Tom kept cutting me. The accumulation of all the small hurts was starting to add up. He started retracing cuts, with a bigger knife, with his fingers. He painted words on my chest in my blood and licked his hands afterwards. My eyes never left Jensen’s.

Eventually Tom stopped. He nodded at Mark and sat on the sofa beside Jensen. He grabbed Jensen’s head and pressed his blood-stained lips to his in a parody of a kiss. Jensen didn’t respond which just seemed to make Tom even happier. He palmed at the bulge at his crotch as he sat back.

Mark was rolling up his sleeves. “Tom likes knives. I like fists.” And then he punched me, the ring on his finger catching the torn skin on my cheekbone and slicing it open. “I want to tie you to a crossbeam and beat you till you break out into pretty colours.” He slammed another fist into my face, catching my jaw and snapping my head back. He drew his hand back for one final blow when the door flew open. Chad stood there, fully dressed in the LAPD uniform I’d thrown away so easily.

He didn’t hesitate in pulling the trigger when Mark tried to pull the gun at his shoulder out. Tom also jumped up, running at Chad with a bloody blade in his hands. Chad sighted and shot, impossible to miss at this close range. He shot again. Tom crumpled into a pile at his feet. He looked smaller like that, harmless.

I felt the blood drip from the cut on my cheekbone. I desperately wanted to stand, to go to Jensen. Instead all we could do was stare at each other, like we hadn’t seen each other in weeks.

 

The police had not been happy to find out that we’d gone to Jeff’s and left without calling them. There was a conversation about evidence contamination but when Jensen handed the officer interviewing him the notebooks a lot of the bitching stopped.

We were in the same fucking police station again and I was on the wrong side of an interview desk. The sun had set during the drive over, Jensen close to me in the back of the patrol car. We didn’t touch but his presence stopped me from freaking out. The bastards hadn’t even let the ambulance drivers do more than clean me up and tape gauze over the worst of the cuts. I wasn’t that badly hurt in truth, not as beaten as Jensen had been. But it was the principal of the thing. I was a victim not a criminal.

You wouldn’t know it by the way the detective across from me sat smoking one cigarette after another without offering me one. They hadn’t even offered me coffee. I suppose I should be glad that I wasn’t wearing handcuffs. I’d already been restrained enough for one day.

Chad tapped at the door. “Detective? The Lieutenant wants to speak to you.” For all that he was an irritating shit, Chad knew exactly how to merge the right level of respect and insouciance when getting superiors to do what he wanted.

The detective stubbed out his cigarette and stalked from the room. Chad slipped inside to sit at the table. He didn’t just bring coffee. He had a sandwich tucked into a brown paper bag too. I ate gratefully.

“Are they treating Jensen okay?” I asked, when the initial rush of hunger had been sated.

Chad watched me for a long moment, his expression unreadable. “I took your sister and the kids to mine. Her husband showed up shot in his car this afternoon. Don’t know if it was the pair working you over or someone else.”

“Thanks, man.” I really was indebted to him but I couldn’t help but notice he’d not answered my question. “Jensen?”

“Singing like a canary. Thinks Mark was how Tom was going to make money on his little picture business. He had connections with distributors and so on.” Chad took a sip of his own coffee. “Is he really more important that your sister and her husband? Do you really think this is the type of guy you want to throw your life away on?”

“What am I? Some kind of chick? I can take care of myself,” I told him angrily. “The fuck, Chad?”

“If I’d been any later in working out where the pair of you had gone, I wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation.” Chad leaned over the table. “All I can think is that my friend might be dead and it’s all the fault of that guy. Doesn’t matter anyway. I think they’re going to charge him as an accessory.”

“It wasn’t his fault. He’s a victim here too.” I could see Chad’s mind was not going to be changed by any explanation or reasoning. It was with some sadness that I realised I was cutting one of the last ties I had to my life before. There was no going back here, no return to the life I’d been trying to get back to ever since Jensen had walked into my life. He was all that really mattered now. “Let me see him.”

Chad headed to the door. He hesitated at the door. “One last thing. I’m doing this one last thing for you. Then we’re done.”

 

The sun rose, finally.

Jensen and I were sitting on the hood of my car, high up with the city spread out in front of us. I watched the street lights flicker off and the smog rise as the sun turned everything grey then orange and yellow. We’d sat here since the cops had let us go, late into the night. Jensen smoked a pack of cigarettes, one after another. I rubbed at the now grimy bandage covering my arm. He caught me doing it and grabbed my hand to make me stop.

I captured his hand in mine and held it on the hood between us.

“Didn’t know you were a sap, Padalecki.” Jensen didn’t sound happy or sad, just tired. He kept right on dragging the cigarette into his mouth. I turned my attention back to the city.

“What do we do now?” he asked, quietly.

I felt in the inside pocket of my jacket. I’d picked up a quarter bottle of Scotch earlier when Jensen had bought his cigarettes. I pulled it out and opened it to take a swig. It burned, sure, but it didn’t taste right. I didn’t offer Jensen any. Instead I methodically screwed the cap on tight and then flung it as far as I could. It landed with a smash and a splash. I reclaimed Jensen’s hand.

The warmth of the day sent a better, more real flush of heat through my cold bones. Jensen had stubbed out his last cigarette and had turned to watch me. The softness in his eyes made me feel even warmer.

“I hate this city. I don’t know why I ever came back.” I had to turn my eyes back over the view. I thought about the look in his eyes, the question he was trying to ask me. The easy way he said “we” when he was really asking “you”.

Jensen sat quietly and let me hold his hand in mine.

Eventually, I felt something shift in my shoulders. A tension I wasn’t even really aware I was carrying melted away and I turned to look properly at Jensen. No more sidelong glances. He faced me and I guess that whatever he read in my face must have pleased him because he smiled. “I don’t want to stay here anymore,” he told me. “I think I’ll leave. Find somewhere to settle down.”

“I was thinking that I might get back into law enforcement. I could be a sheriff in some small town...” I let the idea percolate into my brain. It sounded good. A fresh start.

“Liking the idea of you in a uniform,” Jensen nodded. His smile turned wicked. “And I could be your good little wife, cooking and cleaning.”

“Liking the idea of you in a frilly apron,” I replied, letting my voice roughen and deepen. He laughed at that, genuine and surprised.

Then he quietened and turned to me, serious. “A fresh start would need some fresh names, I think. Tom had some other investors and there’s the cops to think of too. Jensen Ackles is a little too easy to track down.”

“And Jared Padalecki ain’t.” I thought about it for a moment. There was a pang in my heart as I wondered about giving up seeing Sandy and the kids, Misha, everything that had ever tried to be home to me. But it was an oddly small one. “There’s always vacations.”

It was time to give my answer. I drew in a deep breath and shifted closer to Jensen. It felt awkward sitting on the hood of the car and I stood up. I looked at the dust on the ground and scuffed it with my foot. My pants would get really dusty down there.

“What are you doing now?” Jensen asked. He’d let me take his hand with me when I stood up and I looked at his outstretched hand before following the line of his arm up to his face.

“I was wondering if I should kneel,” I told him honestly.

Jensen didn’t understand. “Am I getting a blow job?”

“I wanted to do this properly. I’ve only ever proposed to Genevieve.” I was shamefaced. I looked at the ground again.

Jensen slid off the car, his eyes unreadable. He tilted my head up with his free hand to meet my eyes. “Proposed?”

“Or whatever you do when you ask the guy you love to be with you. Forever.” There. I’d said it, finally. I was in love with Jensen Ackles and now he knew it.

“You’d want me like that? Still.” I knew Jensen was still beating himself up about having even a small part in Tom’s craziness.

“Still. Always.” I tried to let him see how much I meant it, my eyes boring deep into his.

“That’s all I need to hear.” There was a soft smile before he used our joined hands to pull me close for a long, hard, needed kiss.

 

As we walked around the car to drive away, Jensen turned to me absently. “I liked the name you gave me. That time with Lauren’s friend in the store.”

“Sam?” I leaned my arms on top of the car, hands clasped loosely.

Jensen had his hand on the door handle, but he turned to look at me. “I’ve always wanted a nice normal name like Sam.”

“I think I’m more of a Sam. You’re all cool and hard edges.” He started to walk around the car and I turned to watch him. “See, dangerous and threatening.”

“I liked Sam.” He actually pouted. I wanted to kiss his lips so badly.

My voice dropped and I leaned forward to meet him. “We’ll think of something for you too.”

He stopped me with a kiss.

When we reluctantly parted, he was serious. “Maybe we should pretend to be brothers. That way we can live together. Without too much comment. If we stay.”

“What I’m thinking of doing you ain’t brotherly.” I dragged him back down for a kiss. The last of the pained tension that had surrounded me vanished. I guess this was as much of a happy ending as I was getting. Good enough for me.

We got into the car and drove away.