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Jensen Ackles, son and heir to the largest speculative metals manufacturer in the land, was working in his laboratory soldering a pair of weighted brass globes onto a brass cylinder, when his valet Misha rapped on the door.

"What is it?" Jensen asked crossly, pushing his goggles up onto his head and replacing them with his small wire spectacles. He hated being interrupted while working. He still had to attach the cylinder to the pulley system and fasten it to the base before he could shelve this task for the morning. Then he could turn to one of his many other projects, including fixing about five of the Chads that had somehow lost an assortment of gears or limbs as they went about their housekeeping duties in Jensen's large manor.

"A letter from your solicitor has just arrived," Misha began, wrenching open the large, heavy doors of the former carriage house where Jensen spent most of his days tinkering with his inventions.

"Telling me I must marry, I presume."

"Yes, sir." Misha entered and extended a creamy envelope to Jensen. "Again."

"Thank you, Misha, is that all?"

“She was quite insistent. Apparently you are running out of time to find a spouse.”

Jensen gritted his teeth at the reminder. “Thank you, Misha, is that all?”

“How unfortunate to think that you might have avoided this situation if the lovely Miss Harris had not run off as she did. You would soon be celebrating two years of wedded bliss by my calculations.”

"Misha, is that all?"

Misha, unflappable as always, for he was made of brass and tin sheeting, merely said, "Luncheon is at one."

Jensen pursed his lips in annoyance. Lunch was always at one. “Thank you, Misha.”

Misha bowed in his stiff manner, which was supposed to convey respect but instead seemed faintly mocking to Jensen. His left knee was making a clicking sound as he retreated that Jensen would have to attend to sooner rather than later, if Misha was to keep up with his duties.

Once he was alone again, Jensen considered his options as he turned back to his latest project—fabricating the cam that would give the device its reciprocating motion capabilities. He'd been anticipating this stage of the project with some eagerness.

The news that Jensen must be wed with some urgency was unwelcome, but hardly unexpected. He had, in fact, already ventured down the aisle thrice in order to fulfill the arcane stipulation in his grandfather’s will that he must be married by 30 to attain his full inheritance. Unfortunately, his wives had all run off before the ink was scarcely dry on the marriage certificate, leaving in their respective wakes the lingering scent of perfume and a pile of signed annulment papers.

He paused in his work and wandered over to the water closet, where a looking glass hung that Jensen rarely bothered with. He took in his appearance now; green eyes and an embarrassment of freckles, hair slightly askew and sticking out in odd tufts above his safety goggles, and a smudge of axle grease on one cheek from crawling around under his steamcar earlier that morning. On the whole, he could find nothing terribly objectionable about his appearance—certainly nothing, on the face of it, that would cause his brides to flee so abruptly.

After his first wife had run off, the townspeople had made crude jokes, wondering if there was some peculiar aspect of his anatomy to which the lovely Miss Harris had taken offense. He ran his hands down over his rumpled shirt, touched himself briefly through his breeches. He had enjoyed relations with more than a few women and more than a few men, and nobody had ever voiced any strong objections to his physical traits. On the whole, he was fairly convinced that his anatomy was perfectly serviceable.

Some of Jensen's interests were, to be sure, rather untoward—there was, after all, an entire locked room in his laboratory full of devices designed solely for carnal pleasure that he took a great deal of joy in crafting—but it wasn’t as if he'd been fool enough to show those to his brides in the short time they’d stayed at Hanniger Hall before stealing away like thieves in the night.

After the third bride disappeared, the rumors took a far darker and uglier turn. Some suggested Jensen had murdered his wives in cold blood and locked their remains away in the third floor turret. Jensen always wrinkled his nose at that preposterous notion; the smell would be quite off-putting after one wife, never mind three. Or there were those who claimed that Jensen dismembered his wives and used them in his curious inventions. As if his wondrous mechanical devices needed grisly bits of wife to make them work! Really, it was quite ridiculous. (Although he had thought—quite secretly and with no real intention of following through—that using the likeness of the lovely Miss Harris to model a pleasure companion for lonely bachelors would be rather a lucrative enterprise.)

Privately, Jensen believed that his brides had each in turn somehow happened upon that secret locked room filled with his more debauched inventions. They had probably swooned in horror at his perversion, and promptly packed up their belongings and departed. It was this certainty, and the fear of public exposure and subsequent mortification, that prevented him from trying overly hard to find his missing wives. As to the question of why they hadn’t simply returned to their families, well, that would have been more troubling if Jensen hadn’t had the displeasure of actually meeting their families.

In any case, it seemed that he would have to take the plunge one last time. Maybe he should find a gentleman to wed, he thought as he returned to his current project and began fiddling with the gears on the saddle mount. Someone made of sturdier stuff. Or, perhaps, someone who needed a spouse just as badly as Jensen did. He decided to send Misha off on a reconnaissance mission to find just such a gentleman.

Though probably he should see to replacing Misha's knee first. The clicking of its joint was most grating on Jensen's already frayed nerves.

 

 

"The Padaleckis, sir," Misha said a week later, as he was ladling cold soup from a tureen into Jensen's bowl.

Jensen took a small sip and winced, realizing the fish stew wasn't actually meant to be served chilled. When he had instructed Misha to provide cold meals, he had intended for Misha to serve fruits and cheeses, along with the bread that was delivered from town each morning. This decision had come after several dreadful cooking attempts, including a particularly horrifying stab at salmon croquettes. It remained a mystery how Misha managed to override all Jensen’s attempts at clarifying the valet’s programming when it came to cookery.

Perhaps it was time to create a chef, he decided. Misha might appreciate the help, and Jensen would no longer be required to waste precious evening hours dining at Madame Ferris’s gaming establishment when he could be tinkering in his workshop.

On the other hand, Jensen had begun to suspect that the reason that the Chads were so often disabled was because of Misha—he had once spotted his valet giving one of the robotic monkeys a swift kick when he thought Jensen wasn’t paying attention. It would be of no benefit to the smooth operation of his household if Jensen were to craft a perfect cook only to have Misha render the poor creature inoperative at the first opportunity.

Jensen stirred himself from his musings and pushed away his unsavory bowl.

"Beg pardon?"

"The Padeleckis, sir."

"The Padaleckis?"

"Yes, sir."

"Of Forester Falls?"

"Yes, sir."

Jensen rubbed the spectacle indentations on his nose impatiently. "God in Heaven, what about them, Misha?"

Misha ignored this outburst and refilled Jensen's water glass.

"It seems their patriarch has died and left behind a sizeable debt."

"Misha, if you don't get to the point, I'm taking you apart for scrap."

It was an idle threat, one that Jensen made at least twice a week.

"You were hoping to find an eligible bachelor or bachelorette who is willing to wed you despite your rather alarming inability to keep hold of a spouse," Misha said placidly. "The Padaleckis have three such eligible children and a rather massive list of creditors."

Ahh. Right. In truth, Jensen had rather forgotten all about the matter of his impending marriage as soon as he'd given Misha the directive. All these weddings and runaway brides were so tiresome, and Jensen had achieved a bit of a breakthrough on his airborne compressor car, finally determining a workable method for allowing the vehicle to carry its own condenser without collapsing to the earth under its additional weight.

Why must he be continually pulled away from his beloved inventions to attend to this day-to-day nonsense? He just wanted to lock himself away in his lab and create, not deal with the annoyingly precise caveat in his grandfather's will.

Jensen pushed his spectacles firmly onto the bridge of his nose. "Very well. Let's arrange a wedding."

"Very good, sir,” Misha said. “I'm sure nothing will go amiss this time around. More soup?"

Jensen shuddered and declined.

 

 

Jared Padalecki, son and heir to a mountain of debt and little else, returned home one icy evening in late January feeling thoroughly used up by the world. It had been a particularly grueling meeting with the family attorney, at the end of which Mr. Sheppard had concluded that unless Jared was able to lay hands on some actual cash, he would no longer be represented by Mr. Sheppard's firm.

“But…I’ve given you all my available money!”

“Yes, and I’ve thus far kept you out of debtor’s prison,” Sheppard had said smoothly. “But I’m afraid it’s time for you to find another representative, Mr. Padalecki.”

As Sheppard had known to the penny exactly how dismal Jared’s financial prospects were, Jared assumed he would now be forced to navigate the lines of angry creditors on his own.

“Surely there’s some way we can come to an agreement?” Jared had asked desperately.

Sheppard had smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. “There is, unfortunately for you, nothing on God’s green earth you could offer me that I desire. Except for money, Mr. Padalecki.”

Jared had flushed at the insinuation that he had been making an unseemly offer of…what, he couldn’t even imagine. Feeling thoroughly humiliated, Jared had nevertheless pulled himself up to his full height and bid Mr. Sheppard a good evening on his way out the door.

He walked home, feeling grimy from all the muddy slush his feet were kicking up, wishing that they had not had to sell off all the horses. All he longed for when he reached his family home was a hot meal and a cup of ale followed by at least twenty hours of sleep. Instead, he was greeted with the unwelcome sounds of his sisters bickering when he opened the front door.

He sighed and pressed a finger to his temple, steeling himself for whatever fresh disaster had been discovered in his absence.

“Have we anything for supper?” he asked. His sisters paused to give him equally annoyed glances before returning to their argument.

“He is one of the wealthiest men in the land, and that is all that matters,” Margaret said rather forcefully.

“He is quite probably a murderer, you imbecilic twit,” Madeline snapped back. “You will marry him over my cold, dead body.”

Jared snorted. “We are penniless in all but name, sisters,” he said. “What’s with this talk of marriage? I wager we’ll all be off to serve the church before the Feast of the Archangels, unless we’re imprisoned for Father's debts.”

“I think an overabundance of wagering is what got us in this state,” Madeline said tartly. “But by all means, follow in Father's footsteps. We don’t need furniture or food or a home.”

Of all the Padalecki children, Madeline had taken the family’s fall from fortune the hardest. She was a practical girl, and had urged her father to be more judicious in the decade following their mother’s death in a freakish airship accident. But Jared’s father had been consumed by grief, and then rather consumed by cards, and horses, and the truly outstanding tab he'd run up at M. Ferris’s brothel and gaming house.

“We all handle grief differently, my boy,” Gareth Padalecki had been fond of saying in the years before his liver gave out, though Jared often thought that his father’s grief had run its course that first year after his mother’s death. Gareth had spent the subsequent years luxuriating in the opportunity to behave exactly as he pleased, free of the repercussions of Sheila Padalecki’s gentle household tyranny.

Well. Nothing to be done for it now. They were orphans—Jared the eldest at twenty, the twins not yet eighteen—and woefully undereducated in the arts of looking after themselves, a particularly difficult burden of late as the last of the household staff had been tearfully let go three weeks previously.

Jared turned towards the kitchen to serve up the stone soup their cook had shown him how to make in the week before her dismissal. And bread—Jared thought he might remember how to make a quick loaf to accompany it….

His sisters followed him, still arguing about some letter they’d apparently received that day.

“He is a nobleman and handsome as Adonis,” Margaret was saying.

“You’ve never even seen the man!”

“They say his eyes shine like emeralds, that his physique is like—”

Jared tuned out their squabbling as he stirred the soup and added some bits of potato he’d picked up at the market near Sheppard’s office.

“He’s a scoundrel at best, you stupid fool, and most likely a murderer!” Madeline retorted.

Jared moved about the kitchen preparing a zucchini herb bread to accompany their rather thin vegetable-marrow soup. He scrounged up the last bottle of ale in cold storage and divided it amongst the three of them. After a long and fortifying draught, Jared was ready to hear the details of his sisters’ latest dust-up.

“So I take it there was some news in the post today?”

His sisters looked at him incredulously, then at each other, before the table exploded once again in an uproar of accusations and complaints.

Jared took a deep steadying breath, and a deeper and more steadying drink of his ale.

 

 

Jensen had waited rather a long time to attend to the codicil in Grandfather Ackles’ will, paying his solicitor a handsome sum of money to find some sort of loophole that would free him from its demands. Miss Huffman, Esq., had scoured the document, parsed every phrase, researched legal precedence, and then ultimately determined that Jensen must indeed be wedded by the age of 30 or forfeit the bulk of his inheritance to his Great Uncle Timothy.

Jensen had loved his grandfather, but blast it all, his conviction that Jensen would die a crazed hermit if he was not forced to marry was significantly infringing on Jensen’s…. Well. He could admit—if only to himself—that it was infringing on his desire to become a hermit. Though certainly not crazed by any rational standard.

If Jensen were not married on his thirtieth birthday, and married for at least four weeks as a good faith show that the marriage would not be performed and annulled on his birthday (for the elder Mr. Ackles had been an astute man, and knew his grandson well), Jensen would retain the rights to Hanniger Hall, a sum of money to see to its upkeep, and not much else. Frankly, given the swiftness with which Jensen tore through the tin sheeting and other materials necessary for his inventions, it would probably be advisable that he find a suitable partner for once and for all.

The day of Jensen’s fourth wedding found him glumly reflecting on his disastrous marriages while Misha fussed about, helping him dress in his finest russet suit yet again and ensuring there was not a stray thread or speck to be found on his person.

Jensen's first marriage had been to the lovely Miss Danneel Harris, the wedding performed on a warm day in September eighteen months past in a lavish spectacle. Some three hundred members of Austonia’s high society had been in attendance, and another five hundred souls of the working class had cheered from beyond the Harris family's garden gates. Daneel had dressed in a splendid gown of white lace and champagne silk, her red hair pulled back in the fashion of the day with a broad silk hat that dipped coquettishly low over one eye as she smiled and greeted guests and waved at the adoring crowds. The guests feasted on roast pork and stuffed goose, savory eel pie and watercress soup, lemon confections and chocolate treats. All in attendance agreed it had been a splendid day.

Danneel had been a pleasing wife, high spirited and intelligent and adventurous in the bedroom, and Jensen had thought the course of his life was set.

He sighed now to think of it. Only one week later she had vanished, not even bothering to take the trunk in his chambers that had been filled with her delightful scraps of silky undergarments. A few days after that, the annulment papers had been delivered.

Of course, they had consummated their marriage—rather energetically, Jensen blushed to remember—but he was in no way prepared to contest the papers, convinced that Danneel had discovered his secret room and the toys contained therein. He signed them all, returned them to Miss Huffman, and buried himself in his workshop to forget the sting of rejection.

His second wedding was a much quieter affair, undertaken after much prodding on Alaina’s part. Jensen had shuddered at the thought of carrying out the charade anew, and so invited only a hundred or so of his peers. The crowd beyond the gates had still been plentiful as farmers and fishwives and merchants craned to get a look at the dainty Miss Genevieve Cortese, who looked resplendent in a white satin gown with boning in the sleeves that called to mind some fantastical winged creature; her brown tresses were swept up in the newest fashion and a tiny silk top hat perched improbably atop her curls.

Unlike Danneel, Geneive had been rather suspicious of him from the start, and disinclined to join him in the marriage bed. Jensen had not pushed the matter, having no interest in an unwilling bedmate when he had, by his conservative estimation, some three hundred or so inventions in his carriage house that he could use for self-gratification. He had spent a quiet fortnight in her company, and she had slowly begun to thaw towards him, going so far as to intimate on their last evening together that she might be amenable to consummating the marriage. He had hoped perhaps this time the marriage would be a success. Alas, when he awoke the next morning he discovered that she, too, had stolen away while he slumbered unawares.

By the time Jensen was prepared to wed the statuesque Miss Adrianne Palicki, his fellow peers refused his invitation en masse out of a sense of offended decorum. The crowds outside the gate swelled anyway, as all and sundry sought a glimpse of the fool that would marry the heir to the Ackles fortune for the third time in less than two years.

His face had burned with embarrassment as he pledged his fidelity once again.

It was a brief ceremony, their troth pledged before God and his witnesses quickly and with little fanfare. The bride wore a black lace mourning gown, a crown of glossy black ostrich feathers, and a scowl so ferocious that Jensen’s voice had quavered embarrassingly when he said his vows. A feast had still been provided for the townsfolk, but Jensen had lost what little taste for spectacle he might have once had.

Theirs was a strained match from the start. Adrianne had quite obviously been compelled into the marriage by a social-climbing mother, and was quite obviously on her guard around him as she prowled the manor in search of dead wives. Jensen, for his part, did not deign to change his habits or behaviors one whit to ease her transition to lady of the manor. The house had been so fraught with tension that Jensen had been frankly relieved when Adrianne vanished.

In his more uncivilized moments, Jensen had considered the possibility that Uncle Timothy was somehow behind his wives’ defections, and Alaina was quite on board with investigating Timothy more thoroughly, but in the clear light of day he put that notion out of his mind. Timothy had inherited a rather hefty sum himself when Grandfather Ackles passed on, and he had been a cheerful presence at all of Jensen’s weddings. No, he thought with a tinge of guilt, it must be Jensen himself who’s strange predilection for creating fantastical diversions had ended his marriages.

His wedding to Mr. Padalecki was to be a solemn affair, held at the newly constructed courthouse in town. Jensen’s expectations about this new alliance with the Padalecki boy were so poor, he hadn’t the heart to meet his groom beforehand, and instructed Alaina to handle all negotiations in his stead. He would not even know what his betrothed looked like until they met before the judge.

"It's time to leave, Sir," Misha said, stirring Jensen from his gloomy thoughts.

"Yes, I suppose it is," Jensen sighed. "All right then, let's get this over with."

 

 

"I still don't see why you get to marry him," Margaret pouted as she straightened the seams on Jared's ivory suit coat. "I could have made him a fine wife."

"Because he thinks Jensen's a murderer," Madeline said acidly. "And he wants to protect your insufferable behind, goodness knows why."

"He's not a murderer," Jared said firmly. "Luckily idle gossip and a run of bad luck are not enough to throw a man in prison. If Constable Rhodes has found no evidence of foul deeds, I don't see what I have to worry about."

"Yes, yes," Margaret said impatiently. "And that is why I, as the eldest daughter, should have first right."

"Oh, do shut up, both of you!" Madeline said. "Margaret, you're a child, I don't care if you are seven minutes older than me. And Jared, you're much too trusting."

She turned away to hide her tears, but Jared caught her in a hug.

"Everything will be fine, Madeline, you'll see. I'll invite you both around soon and you'll see for yourself that there's nothing monstrous about Mr. Ackles."

"You could leave like the others," Madeline sniffed. "If he's horrible, you can run off and then send for us."

"Of course," Jared murmured, although the memory of his good-hearted mother surfaced then and he knew how disappointed she'd be to find him entering a state of wedlock for financial gain with no intention of seeing it through. No, unless Mr. Ackles was indeed a murderous villain, Jared had every intention of doing his best to make a proper marriage.

He needn't tell Madeline that, of course, though Margaret caught his eye and knew.

"Now, sisters, do I look presentable enough? I believe it's time we were off."

Madeline dried her tears. "Almost," she said, offering him a wavery smile and once again setting herself to the impossible task of wrangling Jared's cowlicks into submission.

 

 

It was a quiet gathering, with only the principals and their closest family members in attendance as well as Miss Huffman, and there would be no feast to follow. Jensen noted upon entering the courthouse that his new husband was comely, if a bit overgrown. Jared and his sister Margaret were largely silent, Uncle Timothy glad-handed everybody in his usual obsequious manner while Alaina shot him suspicious looks, and Madeline Padalecki had whispered threats to Jensen’s person and manhood throughout the ordeal, so that by the time they said their “I do’s,” Jensen had to fight the urge to cross his hands protectively over his groin.

“I do,” Jared said, biting his lip nervously. Jensen watched the way his husband’s startlingly white teeth caught at his rosy lip, could not help but notice how fetching the boy was, but Jensen had already hardened his heart to love matches, or even just matches of genial compatibility.

“Jensen Ross Ackles, do you…” the judge began.

“I do,” Jensen said, affecting a bored tone, as he turned his eyes from Jared.

Only Misha clapped at the pronouncement that they were now wed, the clanging of his tin hands echoing in the quiet courtroom.

 

 

Jared had anticipated fearing his new husband, perhaps even sleeping with one eye open while waiting for some fatal blow to fall, but he had expected that fear to manifest upon entering Jensen’s secluded manor, where he'd heard people were rarely invited to visit. He had not anticipated his fear bubbling to the forefront upon realizing he was expected to ride a personal flying steamcar back to Jensen’s home from the courthouse.

It looked similar to other horseless carriages at first, although with perhaps a few more coils connecting the water intake to the rear propeller, and at first Jared thought nothing of stepping into the passenger seat while his new husband slid on his driving gloves and strapped a pair of aeronaut goggles about his head.

He began to grow uneasy when Jensen pressed a shiny copper button and suddenly a pair of large, cloth wings like those of a bat unfurled.

“Mr. Ackles?” he asked nervously.

“You should call me Jensen now, I suppose,” his husband said in that same bored, dismissive tone he’d used during the ceremony. He pulled a knob and the vehicle shuddered for a moment before the wings caught air and lifted them up to the sky.

Jared stifled a shriek, but barely. The ride was bracingly swift, nearing forty miles per hour, and although they barely flew above the treetops, Jared felt as though he was soaring through clouds. It was deeply unsettling.

“He just finished it last night,” Misha said as Jared watched the roads and hills fly by by beneath them. Jared closed his eyes as panic sought to overwhelm him.

“You…made this?” Jared called to his husband as gusts of bracing wind chapped his cheeks and tousled his hair.

“I did,” Jensen said, sounding proud.

“And you…why would you make this?” Jared asked desperately, closing his eyes as panic sought to overwhelm him.

Jensen seemed startled at the question. “Because I could?”

“But why?” Jared was aware that he sounded just a bit hysterical, but the rules of deportment had been left behind at the courthouse when this bat-winged monstrosity had become airborne.

“Jensen is an innovator,” Misha spoke up from his position in the rumble seat. “Has he not told you?”

“Shut up, Misha,” Jensen said without heat.

Jared twisted his fingers in his lap, desperately trying to avoid gripping his new husband’s arm in panic.

It was a matter of moments before the frightening contraption was finally lowering to the lush expanse of lawn in the front court of Jensen’s manor. Jared didn’t dare breathe until his feet were planted firmly in the grass, and then he sagged against the valet, who held him up with a surprisingly strong and steadying grip.

Once he could move again without fear of losing the meager contents of his stomach, Jared squared his shoulders and turned to face his new home.

And felt all the words he might ever have intended to say dry up and flutter away at the sight before him.

He knew Jensen was wealthy, of course, he was known to be the richest men in Austonia, possibly in all land. But he'd never had occasion to visit or even ride past Jensen’s family estate, and as he took his first good look at it, he couldn't imagine how he was to make his home here.

The house—but of course it wasn't merely a house, it was a mansion, quite possibly a castle, and certainly large and sturdy enough to deflect medieval invaders if any should happen to be wandering the countryside—was a pale monolith of peach and gray stone, obviously inspired by the gothic cathedrals of yore. Turrets rose high into the sky in a pleasing asymmetry and a graceful porte-cochere flanked the left side of the manor.

As he gawked, his new husband and Misha began walking up the sloping lawn to the main entrance. Collecting himself, Jared followed.

“I trust you’re not expecting to be carried over the threshold?” Jensen asked dryly as he looked Jared up and down. Jared blushed a bit, imagining Jensen doing just that with his previous brides, all slim and dainty creatures that Jared would positively loom over.

“I think I can manage on my own,” he said stiffly. His insecurities about Jensen’s previous brides were quickly overshadowed by his insecurities at the sheer enormity and luxury evident in Jensen’s home.

In the entryway, twenty foot ceilings soared above him, leading to a magnificent curved marble staircase. The walls, what he could see of them, were papered in an expensive, if slightly worn, robin’s egg blue with gilt embellishments, and the floor looked to be a marble of the purest white shot through with veins of ice.

But the coloring of the grand foyer Jared noted only distantly, for the timepieces were the more urgent discovery. Jared thought he should be forgiven for wondering if he had somehow wandered into Mr. Poe’s story, and on the heels of that thought, worrying if he had a guilty conscience and a bloody misdeed in his past that he had somehow forgotten, for the ticking was incessant, and at such a decibel as he’d never heard upon visiting a family home.

When he stepped back and looked upon the walls of the grand hall, Jared realized that most of the available wall space was taken up by gears and pulleys and movements as far as the eye could see. There was a series of small clocks designed so that the face appeared to be a bird's head and the gears a songbird’s tail, and they soared up and down the wall next to the staircase. There were clocks so large that Jared could have stood in the center and served as the arms, and clocks so tiny they were scarcely bigger than his thumb nail, clocks with faces of stone and brass, iron and copper, and down to the last they ticked in perfect unison.

“I see that it is nearly two,” Jared said faintly.

“Yes?” Jensen asked with disinterest.

Jared turned in a slow circle. “Are you often late for appointments then?” he asked, gazing about.

Jensen gave him an odd look. “Of course not. Ahh, you’re referring to the décor?” He shrugged. “I have been building clocks since I was in knee shorts. I find it a very relaxing activity when I am out of sorts.”

“And are you ever… in sorts?”

The more Jared looked around, the more overwhelmed he became. In one alcove, clocks the size of baby mice had been arranged to form a much larger clock, which in turn made up the elaborate hand of an even larger clock. It was dizzying, and called into question Jared’s very place in the universe, for what if he was just one gear in that smallest timepiece?

He blinked and tried to tame his wild thoughts from such fruitless philosophical pursuits.

It was then Jared notices how cold the manor felt. Oh, the fires had been lit, and the curtains drawn against the sneaky early spring drafts that like to creep in around the windows, but it was a different kind of cold. It was the kind of chill that spoke of empty rooms, inhabited in only the most elemental sense of the word.

Everything looked to be well kept, but Jared could detect no scents rising up from the kitchens, could discern no whispered conversations among the maids. There was nothing alive in this house, not until Jared had taken his first timid steps into the grand foyer.

“It is very blue,” Jared murmured, wincing inwardly at the inanity and possible insult of the comment.

“I hadn’t noticed,” Jensen replied in the bored tone Jared was quickly coming to realize colored everything Jensen said.

He glanced around, wondering why the staff was not on hand to greet their master's new spouse, when he noticed a small army of copper-colored mechanical monkeys, about three feet tall or so, each identical to the last down to their strikingly similar smirks, lined up along the baseboard much like…

…much like the staff Jared had expected to meet on his arrival.

Oh.

Oh.

“What are those?” Jared whispered.

“Hmm?” Jensen followed his glance. “Oh. That’s Chad.”

“Which…” Jared cleared his throat and took a moment to compose himself. “Which one is Chad, then?”

“All of them. They’re all Chad.”

As the name was spoken, Jared saw all the creatures bow discreetly in greeting.

“They’re all…Chad?”

But Jensen had lost whatever meager interest he might have had in the conversation. “Come along,” he said. “Misha prepared a cold luncheon before we left this morning.”

“But…” As he watched, the Chads all stuttered to life and began clattering away. Jared realized with surprise that the strange creatures were equipped with, in addition to their legs and forelimbs, a pair of wings, when two of the creatures unfurled them from their backs with a clacking sound and whizzed off the ground to set about dusting the ornate crystal chandelier that hung over his head.

He was sure he was about to faint, but then Misha was there to provide a steadying hand to Jared’s arm as he’d done on the front lawn, a solid if strangely mechanical presence. Misha led him further into the manor until they reached a formal dining room that could house Jared’s own not inconsiderable family dining room twelve times over.

“Luncheon, sir,” Misha said as he steered Jared into an ornate mahogany chair.

“Thank you, Misha.” Jared’s voice sounded to his own ears as though it had travelled a great distance to join them.

They dined in silence on buttered rolls and thick slices of ham, nibbled at crisp vegetables and chunks of cheese while they sipped overly sweet wine from crystal goblets.

The silence stretched out around them until Jared felt like he might drown in it.

“Your house is…” Jared began, in attempt to break the increasingly uncomfortable silence, but then words failed him.

“It’s a travesty, I know. Mother had thought to refurnish it, although her style would have merely brought it into the 18th century.” Jensen took a sip of his wine and then patted his mouth dry. “In any event, I’ve never been fussed enough to make the changes she planned.”

“And your parents are…?”

“Decidedly dead.”

“Ah.” Jared cleared his throat. “I’m terribly sorry.”

Jensen sighed and placed his fork and knife down upon his plate with a clatter. “Look, Jared, you needn’t bother with asinine pleasantries. We don’t know each other, and really, we don’t need to.”

Jared, who had been genuinely sorry to learn of Jensen’s status as a fellow orphan, was taken aback.

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s just,” Jensen began, and then frowned and massaged the bridge of his nose where his spectacles had indented the tender flesh. “It’s just that you don’t need to pretend you care about my trials, and I’ll treat you with the same courtesy.”

You mean discourtesy, Jared thought, but he was too unsettled to speak his mind.

“This is, after all, a business arrangement,” Jensen continued. “I’m prepared to send a check to your solicitor to cover your father’s debts, as well as an allowance for your sisters until and if they decide to wed.”

“I…” Jared was at a loss for words. It was what they had agreed upon, but Jensen’s tone was so devoid of even a polite warmth that Jared didn't quite know what to say.

“I am also prepared to provide you with a yearly allowance equal to a quarter of the annual sum I will inherit from my grandfather’s will, if you agree to remain in my company until my thirtieth birthday.”

Jared felt as though he’d been slapped. That their marriage had been an arrangement mutually beneficial to both parties was indisputable, yes, but some small part of Jared had hoped that they might form an actual partnership, and to hear Jensen speak so coolly of their union was terribly upsetting.

He could not bring himself to say any of this, being still so unsure of his new husband and this strange place in which he'd found himself.

“I have no intention of leaving, either before or after your birthday,” Jared said with stiff formality.

“Yes, well, I suppose we shall see,” Jensen said. “In the meantime, why don’t you let me know what I can do to ensure you’re well attended to during your visit.”

Irritation flared brightly and hotly at the word visit, and Jared dropped his fork back onto the table with a loud clatter. A hundred angry retorts were on the tip of his tongue, but then he thought of his sisters alone in their family home, counting on Jared to provide for them until they could make their own way in the world, and he held his tongue.

Finally, with as much dignity as he could muster, he said, “I should like to change solicitors. With preferential consideration for anybody whom Mr. Sheppard finds disagreeable, if at all possible.”

Jared thought he must have imagined the tiny twitch in the corner of Jensen’s mouth that could almost be mistaken for a smile.

“That can certainly be arranged,” Jensen said. “I’m sure my own Miss Huffman will do satisfactory work for the time being, unless you fear your interests won’t be properly looked after?”

Jared shrugged. She had seemed fair enough when they were going over the marriage arrangement, although he was sure she’d be horrified when she learned of the sum Jensen had just offered him if he’d only stay at Hanniger Hall for the next thirty days.

“Fine, I’ll send her a message. It should please you to learn that Mark Sheppard loathes her and she him. I believe they were once betrothed.”

 

 

Before their appallingly awkward first meal as husband and husband, Jared had rather feared—and at no time hoped for, nor daydreamed about, for he was a gentleman!—being divested of his virginity shortly after they crossed the threshold, but it seemed his new husband had other issues to attend to. Jensen disappeared after lunch with a hasty excuse about being needed in his lab, and Jared found himself at loose ends until late afternoon, when his luggage was delivered.

Misha ordered the trunks to be left on the side lawn and then waited for the carriage to drive off in a billow of steam before he allowed the Chads to come out and remove them to Jared’s chambers. It took at least eight of the smirking monkeys to move just one trunk, and the process was rather an extended affair.

“Why not have the deliverymen bring them in?” Jared inquired. Misha glanced at him from the corner of his eyes and Jared was startled anew at how very human Misha seemed in all his mannerisms. Were it not for luster of his ‘flesh’ and the unnaturally blue eyes, he might forget that Misha had been built by his new husband.

“Master Ackles is rather fond of his privacy, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.”

“But surely for a house this size, people must enter on occasion…” he trailed off as he realized that this was not the case.

“They used to, on occasion, until the third Mrs. Ackles departed. Now there is a room off of the conservatory where groceries are delivered. Master Ackles will occasionally meet with people there. In fact, you have an appointment there tomorrow with your new solicitor. But nobody comes into the house proper, not anymore.”

Jared wondered at how the meeting had been set up so quickly, for he'd seen no messenger leave the hall, but before he could inquire further, Misha changed the subject.

“In any event, I had planned to prepare a roast pork loin for supper, if that is to your liking?” Misha asked, looking a bit shifty.

“Hmm? Oh, sure, whatever Jensen likes is fine by me.”

“Jensen dines at M. Ferris’s establishment nightly. But the challenge of cooking an evening meal should be stimulating to my neurosynapes.”

“He what?” Jared squawked, before coughing quickly to cover the embarrassing sound.

But Misha was already moving back towards the house. As Jared watched, Misha kicked one perfectly formed silver foot at a passing Chad, which huffed indignantly before continuing about its task of dusting the clocks in the parlor.

That night Jared sat at the dining table alone, fuming. He had not expected rose petals and champagne on his first night of marriage (or well, mostly he hadn’t, although the part of him that stole off with his sisters’ novels of romance and derring-do had rather hoped); but to be left alone while his new husband visited a house of ill-repute—and the same house of ill-repute where his father had incurred such staggering debts as to ruin Jared’s family!— was simply mortifying. Jared would never be able to show his face in town again.

To add insult to this, well, insult, the dinner Misha finally managed to serve, about an hour past Jared’s normal bedtime, was frightfully inedible at best and possibly toxic at worst.

“This is what again?” Jared asked, poking at his dinner.

“Roast pork stuffed with pureed apples.”

“And did you…roast the pork?”

When Misha failed to reply, Jared glanced up to see that the valet had gone unnaturally still, even for one composed of metal. Jared waved a hand in front of Misha’s eyes, and the other man—machine—blinked owlishly before saying, “I must retire for the night. Leave the dishes for Chad; they will be dealt with in the morning.”

"Of course. Good night, Misha."

Jared sighed and turned back to his dinner. Avoiding the rather gelatinous looking pork entirely, he nibbled sadly at a bowl of jam before retreating to his bed for the night.

 

 

“Jensen Ross Ackles!” M. Ferris greeted him as he entered her establishment through the side door. “What in tarnation are you doing here on the night of your wedding?”

He smiled and offered her a sheepish shrug. “You know I can’t stay away from your roast beef, Sam.”

She snorted. “I’d shoot you for lying if I knew it wasn’t true. But I’d hoped you’d bring your new beau along with you, we’re all dying to meet him.”

Jensen blinked. Bringing Jared had never crossed his mind. M. Ferris’s club was his retreat, where he could be served a good meal in the private dining hall without having to fend off the advances of her staff. Where he could listen to the conversations and inanities of others without ever having to be directly involved. It would have been scandalous to bring his former wives to dine with him here, and as such he supposed that he had never considered bringing his new husband along.

Besides, even if Jared understood that Jensen did not intend to step out on their marriage, unconsummated though it still was, he highly doubted that Jared would take kindly to the news that Jensen dined nightly in the company of courtesans.

Even more unsettling was the thought that Jared’s attendance at the bordello could lead to his discovery that Jensen often gifted some of his more inventive novelties to the staff as a sort of unofficial testing ground, for the working ladies and gents were wonderfully discreet and cheerfully accepted any gifts that made their jobs easier. No, it would be better for all involved if Jared simply assumed Jensen ignored the evening repast all together and spent the two hours he could be found dining at M. Ferris's establishment in his workroom. He supposed he should inform Misha of the innocent ruse when next they spoke.

“Well, he’s welcome here any time, you know that,” Samantha said. “Gareth, rest his soul, was always such a gentleman. And of course, You're our best customer what doesn’t sample the merchandise,” she added with a wink.

“Thank you, Samantha.”

“Oh! And Jake wanted me to let you know that the brass doohickey you passed along with the rotating shaft? Aces.”

Well, that was good news. He smiled and thanked her, told her to give Jake his best, and returned to his roast beef with mushroom and port glaze.

When he returned home a few hours later, the house was quiet, with Misha and the majority of the Chads spending their nights in the lab recharging as usual.

There was no glow of light underneath Jared’s door, and Jensen presumed that was for the best. He had made it clear that he had no interest in forming an attachment beyond practical monetary benefit; messy sexual entanglements would just confuse matters.

Still, as he retired to his chambers with one of his massagers, his thoughts drifted to his new husband. He wound up the device and placed it over the head of his cock, where it provided a lively suctioning motion that had Jensen biting his lip in pleasure within moments. Images of Jared, and specifically, the way Jared’s ivory trousers had clung to his buttocks as he moved about, danced behind Jensen’s eyes and brought blood surging to his cock.

When he was pleasantly sated and drifting towards sleep, Jensen thought with some pangs of guilt that this was perhaps not the most auspicious beginning to married life. And if one as impressively lacking in social graces as Jensen saw this truth, how was his new husband faring in his cold and lonely bed?

 

 

It did not take long for Jared to grasp what life at Hanniger Hall had been like for his predecessors. Whether they had been insulted to the point of no return by Jensen as Jared was beginning to feel, or they had simply tasted Misha’s cooking one time too many, he was starting to believe that the mystery of Jensen’s former wives was not so very mysterious.

Things settled into a routine of sorts over the next week: Jared and Jensen broke their fast together in the morning while reading about yesterday’s happenings in the papers; they convened again for a mid-afternoon meal, talking little or not at all, while Misha served them cucumber sandwiches and cold meats and cheeses. Then Jensen would disappear into the carriage house to tinker with his mysterious projects while Jared was left to wander the grounds and the castle (and really, after one frigid early March night in his stone-walled bedchamber, Jared could hardly pretend it was anything but a castle, forbidding and cold and unwelcoming.)

Except for the brief peck of Jensen’s lips against Jared’s in front of the justice, they never touched and rarely spoke. Jared thought back rather wistfully upon the rumors he’d heard that Jensen was some sort of lust-addled Don Juan, but he never saw any evidence of it himself, and glumly assumed that Jensen devoted his amorous affections upon the employees of M. Ferris’s bordello. He tried not to dwell on the untouchable attractiveness of his husband's pouty lips or his adorably bowed legs as they nodded to each other or very occasionally made small talk.

He felt churlish for complaining, even if only to himself. His needs were being met—financially, at least, if not gastronomically or erotically. His sisters were cared for, and his meeting with his new solicitor Alaina had been a dream. The lady had gone over every line of Jensen’s agreement to the penny, detailing how Madeline and Margaret were to be cared for in his absence. Most of the released staff members were preparing to come back to Jared’s family home, and Jared was desperately grateful that his sisters were once again being looked after by the likes of Mr. Morgan, the butler, and his wife Samantha, a most excellent cook.

It should have been roses in springtime for Jared, if he weren’t feeling so terribly devalued in his own marriage.

In truth, Jared was lonelier than he had ever been in his life. He had a husband who barely tolerated him, an army of cleaning machines who snickered when he walked past, and a butler who was quite simply incapable of human emotion.

In his boredom, he sat down one afternoon at the pianoforte, determined to try to remember one of the songs his mother had taught him many years ago. He longed for anything in this cold, empty house that would evoke a sense of warmth and he sought comfort in music to enliven his mood.

As he rested his long fingers upon the keys, however, the pianoforte sprang to life and began playing a tune so eerie and discordant that Jared cried out and stood so suddenly he upset the piano stool.

“A player piano,” Misha had explained that night as he served Jared a chicken breast that had been broiled to the consistency and coloring of a charcoal briquette. “Charming, isn’t it?”

It was not, but Jared was too morose to contradict Misha.

 

 

Jared's daily life was not, of course, unending misery. On days that Jared was feeling more his old gregarious self, he would try to draw Jensen into conversation. His attempts were often rebuffed, but when he asked curiously one time about how Jensen had come up with the design for the smirky but admittedly efficient Chads, Jensen's eyes lit up as he discussed the inception of the idea, and how many prototypes he'd gone through before his first successful Chad.

Personally, Jared thought the beasts could have done with a little more tinkering, or maybe they just needed to be directed so as not look at Jared as though they were in on a secret he wasn't privy to, but he was so pleased to be conversing with Jensen that he kept those thoughts to himself.

Another afternoon, when Jared was reading the paper and lamenting the pitiful showing his favorite ratchetball team was making this year in the league, Jensen teased him for following the wrong team and they had a lively discussion about the merits and demerits of their favorite players.

In time, Jared thought optimistically, Jensen may indeed thaw enough to let Jared into his life some more. And into his bed, came the thought unbidden, and Jared blushed. But was he not a twenty-year old man living with his exceptionally handsome husband? Could he not help it if his thoughts strayed towards bedroom matters when they were together?

With renewed determination, Jared decided to settle into his new life at Hanniger Hall.

And so it was an especially bitter blow when Jensen blithely announced one morning that he was leaving Jared behind to journey north to that famed Exposition to which Jared would dearly have loved to visit.

“I have to go away,” Jensen said as they dined on fruit and something that was purportedly a waffle, although raw batter seeped out of the squares as Jared watched.

“Oh?” Jared asked without much interest, tapping at the waffle listlessly.

“I’ve been asked to give a talk in Windy Wakes on futurism. I won’t be gone but a few days.”

"Windy Wakes?" Jared perked up. "Won't Captain Amell of the Antonion Aeronauts be in attendance?"

Jensen's eyes narrowed in what Jared might have perceived to be jealousy, if he weren't so certain of Jensen's disinterest in him.

"I'm sure I don't know," Jensen said crisply. "In any event, I thought, that is, I know we don’t typically entertain, but if you’d like to invite your sisters for a few days, I suppose that would be all right? Just as long as you remember to stay away from my laboratory.”

Jared set his fork down with some force. “Oh, thank you, dear husband, for allowing me to invite my family into what is supposedly my new home while you gallivant about the most esteemed event of the decade!”

Jensen blinked. “There’s no need for that tone. I had not assumed you had an interest in futurism. I know this is a trying situation for both of us, but it will be over soon.”

“I thought I made it clear to you that I’m not leaving, Jensen! I was not brought up to run out on a marriage, no matter how unpleasant the man I’m yoked to!”

“Fine,” Jensen snapped. “Then I’ll look forward to greeting you upon my return. But if you have a sudden change of heart, remember that you must still be here when Wednesday next rolls around, or our agreement is void.”

“Yes, our agreement,” Jared scowled. “And who will you be travelling with while I’m locked away in this dreadful house?”

Jensen looked startled by the vitriol in Jared’s tone. “Nobody. Just a sample Chad, I suppose. Misha will still be here to look after you, if that’s what you’re concerned about.”

“Oh? You won’t be requiring the company of one of M. Ferris’s employees to attend you while you are away?”

“What? Why on earth would I?”

Jared found himself to be suddenly, bitterly through with it all. He pushed back from the table, upsetting a bowl of cream in his wake. “You’re my husband, Jensen! Can you not at least pretend to care about my well-being? ‘Business arrangement,’ yes, but why must you scrounge about for the affections of prostitutes when I’m standing right here, willing and able?!”

Jensen stood too, looking shocked. “I am not—”

But the fire of Jared’s anger dimmed almost as quickly as it had flared, and he sagged, defeated. “I don’t care, Jensen. Take one of your lovers with you. I should never have expected anything more. This marriage has been a hoax from the beginning; you've made that abundantly clear. I was foolish to expect anything more.”

He turned from Jensen’s startled expression and made to leave, blinking away furious tears.

As he retreated he heard Jensen mumble something that sounded suspiciously like ‘willing?’ before he slammed the heavy mahogany door behind him with as much force as he could muster.

 

They had not spoken at all before Jensen's departure since that last disastrous meal. Jared had indeed invited his siblings to come stay for a few days, and his sisters arrived amid a flurry of skirts, ribbons, and satchels. They were suitably impressed with the manor's grandeur, and Jared greatly enjoyed having someone to talk with who was neither a mechanical man nor his infuriating husband.

The twins exclaimed over the size of the palatial estate, petted at Misha like he was a lady’s lap dog, cooed at the Chads, who had suddenly become acquiescent to the point of flirtatiousness in the presence of female company. Whereas the strange beasts ignored Jared entirely—when not smirking at his every endeavor—his sisters could scarce travel from one room to the next without an entourage of the small brass creatures bowing and scraping, bringing them endless cups of tea and plates of shortbread cookies freshly delivered from the bakery.

Scandalized at the meals Jared had taken to cooking for his evening supper, and taking his silence for assent, they at once dispatched a message to Mrs. Morgan, recently reinstated at Forester Falls, and she turned up in a flurry of golden hair and smiles for her ‘darlings.’

“Good God in Heaven,” Samantha exclaimed when she saw the state of Jensen’s kitchens. The remains of the last meal Misha had cooked, a leg of lamb so scorched the stray cats had turned their noses up at it, was in evidence upon the stove. “Jared, my boy, what have you been eating?”

“There is a store of vegetables in the cellar that don’t appear to be tainted yet by time or disease,” Jared admitted. “And I can still make the few things you taught me before I left. Oh, and the bakery delivers bread. Really, Samantha, I’ve been getting along quite well.”

She tutted and gave him a disbelieving look. “You lot go catch up with one another; I'll get started on supper. I think we have the makings for stuffed quail and potatoes.”

Jared’s stomach rumbled loudly at the thought. “If you don’t mind, I think I’d like to stay and watch you prepare the meal. It seems I have an even greater need for your culinary education now than I did at home.”

He left his sisters to investigate the manor while Samantha showed him how to properly prepare and roast the quail, whisk a bisque until it was creamy and free of lumps, and how to tell when the quail had reached the proper temperature for eating. While they worked, she told him how relieved she had been to find things working out so well for the Padalecki children, and how happy she and Jeffrey were to be reinstated so quickly at Forester Falls.

“I’d have thought you would have been snatched up right away; Mrs. Tapping was forever trying to get you to leave us after mama died.”

“She did try,” Samantha smiled. “But Jeffrey and I decided to take a long overdue vacation and wait for you kids to straighten your affairs before we considered any offers.”

Jared was happier than he could remember feeling in a very long time, and he began to wonder how much different life would be at Hanniger Hall with Samantha and Jeffrey and his sisters.

“You haven’t said much about your new husband,” Samantha said judiciously as she checked on the quail.

“Oh. Well…” Jared didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to shame himself by admitting how disinterested Jensen was in getting to know him. “How did you first know you were in love with Jeffrey?”

She raised an eyebrow at his weak attempt to shift the conversation away, but didn’t overtly challenge him.

“Well, now, let me think," Samantha said as she diced an apple. "The lady of the house where we first worked together thought that married staff encouraged stability.” She snorted. “Her husband had a wandering eye, don't you know. And I told her quite firmly that I had no interest in Jeffrey Morgan, and I would not be coaxed into marriage for such an absurd reason, and she could find damn well find herself a new cook.”

“What happened?” Jared asked, wide eyed.

“Jeffrey escorted me to the train station when I left, and he told me he'd had feelings well before our employer had made her idiotic decree. And then he stole a kiss under the moonlight at the railway station, and I knew that it was love.”

She paused in her stirring to smile at the memory. “And I found a new employer, who had three little children that were always under my feet trying to steal cookies and cakes from the kitchens. And Jeffrey followed me soon after. I'm sure you can figure out the rest.”

He had many more questions to ask, but before he could think where to begin they were interrupted by his sisters racing into the kitchen, eyes alighted with mischief.

“Jared! You have to come see what we’ve discovered!”

“Go on, I’ll finish up,” Samantha said with a knowing smile. “Dinner will be ready at eight.”

He followed his sisters through the conservatory and out into the cold side yard, but halted when he saw where they were dragging him.

“That’s Jensen’s workroom,” he said uneasily. “I’m not supposed to go in there; I don’t even have a key.”

Margaret snorted. “Since when do you do what you’re told? And besides, who needs keys when we have hairpins?”

Jared had to admit he was curious to see where Jensen spent all his waking hours—those hours not spent in the company of ladies and lads of the night, that is. He nodded his assent, and they pushed into the cavernous room.

“Holy…” Margaret said.

“…shit,” Jared finished.

Madeline pinched them both for their vulgarity, but with rather less than her usual vigor.

They gazed about in wonder, turning in circles to try to see everything at once. Jared’s eyes were hardly able to process all that he was seeing. There were tables strewn with robotic limbs—human, yes, but also canine and equine and what had to be a series of pieces of Chad. On one table there was a mechanical tin spider the size of a foal; when Madeline poked at its leg, its many eyes ratcheted open and it began to scuttle towards them, and Jared was man enough to admit he shrieked more loudly than his sisters at the monstrosity.

The back wall was taken up entirely by some sort of analytical machine composed of brass cylinders that, on closer inspection, were actually rows upon rows of tiny numerals and letters. They whirred and clicked and seemed to be spitting out scrolls covered with computations, so many columns of numbers that Jared’s eyes began to swim.

Over their heads, tiny winged fireflies made of brass that produced a strange luminous glow fluttered about; every bit of wall space was taken up with shelves lined with beakers of strange colorful liquids, and everywhere lay sheets of metal propped against walls and tables that had yet to be twisted into shape.

“I found another door!” he heard Margaret call, and he followed the sound of her voice, giving the clacking spider a wide berth.

As Margaret worked another pin into the lock, Jared was filled with a sense of foreboding. Were they about to discover the secret Jensen had been hiding? He was not in any way prepared to make some gruesome discovery about the untimely deaths of the lovely Miss Harris, the dainty Miss Cortese, or the statuesque Miss Palicki, and when the lock caught and Margaret began to inch the door open, he placed a hand upon her arm and entered first.

It looked to be more of the same at a glance; sheets of iron and copper, strange metalworking tools that Jared couldn’t begin to identify, and on one table, an odd brass hand attached to a pole.

Most importantly, there were no dead wives, for which Jared was immensely grateful.

As in the larger workroom, the walls were lined with shelves, but these shelves were filled with oblong cylinders made of copper and brass, glass and wood, leather and steel, some hollow and some looking quite dense, with more than a few sporting complicated gear works.

“What is that?” Madeline asked, pointing to a strange device in the center of the room that appeared to be a leather saddle attached to some sort of propulsive device. When Jared tapped at the cogs, a brass cylinder, tapered at the top, spun smoothly from a hole cut into the center of the seat and rocked up and down. It looked almost like a…

Like a…

Jared flushed crimson, turned about on his heel, and hauled his sisters bodily from the room.

“Jared!” Margaret protested.

“What was that?” Madeline asked again.

“Let go of me, you oaf, I want to see!”

“It’s a…medical device Jensen has been working on,” Jared said in a strangled voice. “I only just now remembered. Now inside, both of you, it’s time to retire.”

“It’s not yet eight o’clock!” Margaret protested.

“And we’ve not yet eaten!” Madeline added.

He ignored their protestations and ushered them into the house, although, once removed from the room of such sinful provocations, he admitted that they should probably enjoy Samantha’s repast before adjourning for the night.

Later, he lay in his large bed alone and thought about what he’d seen. Here he was, a man full grown, three weeks into his marriage and still a virgin, while his husband spent his days crafting replicas of male anatomy and his nights visiting a brothel.

Was this why his other spouses had left? Had finding Jensen’s locked room been the last indignity in a marriage devoid of any other charms?

The discovery had left Jared feeling angry, humiliated, and—if he was to be completely truthful—more than a little titillated.

He could not help but wonder what those toys might feel like. He’d never known the touch of another; a few chaste kisses and the palm of his own hand were his only experiences with matters of sex.

But as he thought about that saddle with its unseemly attachment, he couldn’t help but wonder what it might feel like applied to—no, inserted into, his own body.

Tentatively, he inched a hand into the waist of his breeches and grazed it along his stirring cock. But no, he already knew what this felt like. He stretched his hand down lower, stroking it over his testicles and then further, to the furled entrance that had never known such an intimate touch.

The graze of a fingertip to his entrance was not unpleasant but it was dry, unyielding, and he cast about the room for some aid before remembering the pot of salve he had seen in his nightstand drawer. He had assumed it was some sort of eucalyptus rub for dealing with coughs and such, but when he opened the lid he found that it smelled of sandalwood and not the eye-watering unguent he had expected.

He dipped a finger into it and began caressing himself again. He found the sensation odd at first, but not unpleasant. He slid one fingertip in and out just a bit, feeling his body yield to the intrusion and, upon the addition of a second finger, he decided that this was indeed something he could enjoy.

When he pressed deeper, his finger brushed across a cluster of nerves and he gasped, delighted, as his belly tingled and his cock stiffened further.

He stroked himself, left-handed and clumsy, while his right hand continued its explorations, and he climaxed quickly while imagining it was Jensen’s hands on his body, Jensen’s green eyes looking down at him, and Jensen smiling his enigmatic smile.

When he was finished, he cleaned himself quickly in the water basin, embarrassed yet pleased with this self-discovery, though determined that his husband would not appear in any future lusty fantasies.

He would not give Jensen the satisfaction.

 

 

Jeff arrived with a carriage to pick up Jared’s sisters and Samantha a couple of days later, and Jared was saddened to be returned to his state of perpetual loneliness. But Jensen would be home the next day, and Jared wasn’t sure his nerves could handle the strain of his sisters and his husband under one roof. They had entreated him to join them for the night, but Jared was feeling melancholic and not ready to face his boyhood home. It would be an admission of defeat, an acknowledgment that his marriage was a sham, and an unpleasant one at that. But he had made his decision back when the marriage inquiry had arrived and he had determined, with patriarchal firmness that he rarely unleashed upon his sisters, that if the marriage might be dangerous, then Jared would be doing the marrying.

In any event, he decided it would be good to spend a day alone with his thoughts. He had no idea how he was to comport himself when he saw Jensen again in the wake of their last harsh words, and after the discoveries he had made in Jensen’s absence.

He determined to spend his day as if it were any other. He read the morning papers as he ate croissants with marmalade and drank coffee, sent a letter of inquiry to the university that he had been forced to leave when his father’s debts became known, and spent some time in the conservatory with his sketch pad and charcoals.

His thoughts wandered unceasingly to the locked room in Jensen’s workspace though. It was always in the back of his mind; the shelves of brass and wood and glass phalluses, how each might feel upon—and inside—his body, how their differing shapes might affect that hidden spot in his body that so yearned to be touched again.

At loose ends once more, he found himself in Jensen’s study, perusing a weighty tome about anatomy for some indication of what had caused his body to react so strongly to internal stimulation. He learned of the prostate gland and its stimulating qualities, which answered many of his questions even as the memory of the previous night caused his cheeks to heat up.

He dismissed Misha early, ate a supper of cold fish and tinned vegetables, and prepared himself for an early night.

And then his feet carried him, seemingly of their own accord, outside and into to the workroom, and what lay therein.

When he threw open the doors to the carriage house and lit the lamps, the first thing he spotted was Misha standing against the wall beside the counting machine, his eyes devoid of light or acknowledgement.

Jared let out a startled yelp.

“Misha, you scared me,” he began nervously, wondering if Misha would go to Jensen with Jared’s transgression, but Misha remained completely motionless. When Jared stepped closer, he realized that Misha was actually connected to the machine, his body humming softly as it drew energy from the computational device.

“Misha?” he whispered, waving a hand in front of Misha’s face. Misha remained slack and unresponsive, and Jared released a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding.

Well, on further thought, it made sense that Misha would need to replenish his power somehow; Jared should have realized earlier. In any case, Misha's blank state was and one less encumbrance to get past on his way to the forbidden room.

With one last uneasy glance at Misha’s still form, Jared crept to the door concealing the second room, which had not been re-locked upon their hasty exit days before. He wondered if Margaret had left behind a hair pin he could use to cover his tracks, but he was not concerned enough to delay his quest.

He also wondered uneasily if his sisters had returned to this unholy place at night while he slumbered, but there was nothing to be done for it now.

He opened the door and lit the lanterns until the room was cast in a glowing amber light, and then he began his slow examination of Jensen’s novelties.

There were phalluses in every shape imaginable, most unmoving but some that shimmied to life when a key was turned or a button pressed. Some, as he’d noted on the previous evening, were hollow, and he realized that they were meant to provide pleasure to the shaft rather than the inner secrets of the body. He wanted to try them all and cursed himself for not discovering this room at the beginning of Jensen’s journey rather than the end.

In one corner, he discovered a rosewood trunk that was engraved with the initials DH, and when he opened it he discovered a trove of silken garments that whispered beguilingly when he ran his fingers through them.

He looked around guiltily, as though expecting the lovely Miss Harris (or perhaps the ghost of the lovely Miss Harris) to appear from thin air and denounce Jared for touching her unmentionables. But no, he was still very much alone. He reached in and slowly pulled out an ivory boned corset of pale blue, trimmed in white lace. It was somehow both sturdy and delicate, hard and soft, and Jared was utterly bewitched by the contradictions embodied in the garment.

Since he had committed himself thus far to exploring carnal pleasures with himself for this one evening, he divested himself of his night clothes and, with a last nervous glance about the empty room, slipped the corset up over his narrow hips. Lacing it up was tricky; it was quite small on his form, of course, and his clumsy fingers were unused to lace fasteners that drew up the back, but he managed to cinch it closed and found the pinch of it against his skin had his cock swelling and his breath quickening. He wondered what it might feel like to have it pulled taut, tight enough to feel the smooth material encasing his torso, restricting his breathing.

There was a plush burgundy chaise in the corner and with a sigh, Jared lay down upon it and began his explorations.

He began with cool glass and liked the way it felt very much as it entered and withdrew so smoothly from his body; when he moved onto one of the toys that moved, he realized he liked that even more. He was close, was sure that he could climax from the humming toy and the barest touch of his hand to his shaft, but his eyes kept straying to the dildo mounted onto the saddle in the center of the room.

Well, if he had one night to explore Jensen’s designs, he determined that he was going to do it thoroughly.

He spent several minutes studying the secrets of the machine and making sure that it didn’t run on a current. The image of himself baked like a ham and impaled on a phallus cooled his ardor somewhat, and gave him the chance to appreciate the craftsmanship that had gone into creating the pleasure machine. He felt a grudging swell of respect for his husband that he determined never to utter aloud.

Once he decided that he could work the machine without bringing about his untimely and thoroughly humiliating demise, he introduced more salve to the brass phallus, held it steady with one hand, and then slowly lowered himself onto it. It was no thicker than what he had tried before, but included a cunning little bump that, when seated, snugged right up against his prostate. Jared exhaled sharply and then settled his feet into the stirrups. There was a switch on the sawhorse mount upon which the saddle was seated, and when Jared flicked it with a finger, the machine surged into motion.

The phallus began driving into him with a slow, steady rhythm that left Jared breathless. When his body had grown accustomed to the movement of the intruder, his finger found the second switch and then the saddle began rocking as well and Jared cried out with pleasure as his hips rocked and the dildo pressed into him.

He closed his eyes and imagined that it was Jensen’s cock he was impaled upon, Jensen bucking up into him as he caressed Jared’s backside and whispered endearments. He bit his lip as waves of pleasure radiated from his groin throughout his body and all the way to his fingertips.

It was not meant to be a quick ride, and Jared resisted touching his cock for as long as he could, wringing slow pleasures from his body until sweaty strands of hair clung to his forehead and his neglected cock was aching for any sort of external stimulation. He ignored it and ran his hands along the smooth silk of the corset, playing with his nipples, running his hands along his thighs, and finally pressing the gentlest caress along his sac.

“Oh God, oh God,” he moaned in time with the machine as it fucked him senseless. His body moved ever closer to climax, thighs gripping the leather saddle tightly. Jared ran a hand through his hair, utterly debauched, and when he finally caressed his shaft, his orgasm ripped through him. He cried out, eyes squeezed tight as a seemingly impossible amount of ejaculate covered the leather saddle. Almost immediately he felt oversensitive and raw, and fumbled with his messy hand for the off switch. As the machine slowly came to rest, he became aware that his own harsh breathing was not the only sound in the quiet room.

He opened dazed eyes and looked towards the door, looked into Jensen’s own startled eyes, which were wide with wonder as he stood in the doorway, one hand still gripping the doorknob tightly.

Jared felt a thrill of alarm, but he was too thoroughly satisfied to feel any of the panic or mortification that the situation most certainly warranted.

“Welcome home, husband,” Jared greeted, his voice rough and a smile playing upon his lips.

Jensen wordlessly took a step back, and then another, and then he was gone.

 

 

The Exposition had been a colossal waste of time as far as Jensen was concerned.

Oh, there had been some interesting inventions to examine, and one or two conversations that he’d found intellectually stimulating—in particular, he always enjoyed the opportunity to verbally spar with the Lady Day, a leading purveyor of personal air cycles—but the response to his robotic housekeeping system had been tepid at best, while accusations that he was taking work away from good folks who needed the pay grew heated.

Reminded anew why he tried not to leave the house unless he absolutely had to, Jensen had decided to cut the trip short and book passage on the last airship of the day. Even the cool reception he was sure to receive from his husband was better, he decided, than another day of crowded exposition halls and cutting remarks.

He was still not certain how their relationship had deteriorated from civil neutrality to outright animosity, and Jensen felt a twinge of guilt. Perhaps he could smooth things over when he returned to Hanniger Hall. Jared could be pleasant company after all; he was easy of manner, and certainly pleasant to look upon. In fact Jensen had found it increasingly difficult to look away from the lovely lines of his husband's body, or the sweet curve of his dimples when something pleased him. And since Jared had so far shown no inclination to leave the marriage behind, Jensen made up his mind that he would try harder to take his husband at his word and get to know him better.

And if things went well, perhaps he could get to know his husband… intimately. It had been a long time since Jensen had known the touch of another, and as much as he loved his creations, having Jared underfoot all the time made him realize that his body craved the touch of a living being, someone to kiss and nibble and fuck and be fucked by in turn.

It was late by the time he landed his steamcar upon the lawn though, much too late to go bursting into Jared’s chamber with his newfound resolve.

He was tempted to peek into Jared’s rooms just to make sure he was still there, that he had not in fact run off like his predecessors, but Jensen was bolstered by the sight of that abominable pink waistcoat that Jared insisted on wearing still hanging on the hall tree and a pair of Jared's boots in front of the fireplace, as well as some sort of scandalous looking novel Jared had marked with a scrap of paper and left upon the side table in the study, so he decided to let the lad sleep.

He was feeling dead on his feet, in sore need of a bath and a solid ten hours of sleep, but he decided to make sure all was well in his lab first.

He felt a sense of trepidation when he approached the carriage house and discovered that it was not locked. He pushed the door open quietly and looked around for evidence of vandalism or thievery. He would not put it past that oily snake Fuller to break into Jensen’s lab and steal some of his ideas. Lord knows he didn’t have any himself, and had styled himself an ‘experimental inventor’ for the glory and monetary compensation; he was certainly no scientist!

Jensen's heart turned to ice when he saw that the door to his secret lab was ajar.

He walked slowly towards the door, heartsick at the thought that his private creations might have been discovered, ridiculed, could be brought into the light for public scrutiny and outrage.

He was therefore wholly unprepared for the sight that greeted him when he pushed the door open.

Jared, his husband, was wearing one of Danneel’s corsets—and looking like sin personified in it—while lost in a haze of lust as he rode Jensen’s most treasured creation, The Stallion.

Jared was sweaty, flushed, wrecked…and absolutely breathtaking.

Jensen knew he should back away, retreat to his rooms, and figure out how to process this new information, but he was frozen in place, completely unable to look away from the sight.

And even as his cock stirred and his breath caught in his throat, his inventor’s mind couldn’t help but be pleased with how well the untested device was working. The motion of Jared’s hips, the rocking of the machine, it had all come together just as Jensen had envisioned when he drew his first tentative blueprint for The Stallion so many months ago.

He watched as Jared undulated on the machine, watched as Jared’s toes curled just before he achieved climax, watched as Jared spurted copiously all over the saddle…

Watched as Jared came back to himself, and tossed his head over his shoulder to meet Jensen’s eyes. He looked startled but unafraid as he greeted Jensen.

And Jensen fled.

Some minutes later, as Jensen was pacing his rooms, he heard a tentative knock on his door, and Jensen opened it reluctantly to reveal Jared, still becorsetted although he'd thrown a filmy silk dressing gown over his shoulders.

He looked embarrassed but determined as he asked Jensen for a word.

"I…" Jensen took in the long, lean body, barely covered by the delicate blue satin, and felt his head swim.

"We should talk about this?" Jared asked hesitantly, and Jensen had to close his eyes lest he launch himself at Jared. "I know I wasn't supposed to…"

"Yes," Jensen said. "Yes, I believe a conversation is long overdue. But I've been traveling all day and you've been, well, that is, maybe we should table this discussion in favor of some sleep, and take it up again over breakfast?"

Jared looked uncertain, and Jensen said, "I promise I'm not angry, Jared. Quite the opposite, in fact. I just need a little time to think."

Jared bit his lip and Jensen found his resolve crumbling, but Jared nodded, smiled shyly, and said, "In the morning then."

"In the morning. Good night, Jared."

He spent a sleepless night chastising himself for running off like a coward, for sending Jared away with so many uncertainties still in the air, and longing to enter Jared’s chambers and take him, make him cry out in pleasure, turn their marriage from the sham it currently was into something real. Near dawn he drifted into a fitful sleep, having finally resolved to do everything in his power to convince Jared that he was ready for a true and loving partnership.

But when morning came, he discovered he was too late.

Jared was gone.

 

Jensen stood at his place at the breakfast table in the pale light of day, reading and re-reading the note a dozen times. He had found it lying innocuously next to his coffee cup, pale blue paper that stared up at him in accusation.

Jensen,

I fear I’ve made a grave error. I do not wish to be wedded to you any longer. Expect annulment papers in the next week.

Please do not try to find me.

Jared.

Well, that was that then. Jensen had known some of his interests were a bit…unorthodox, but after last night, when he’d watched Jared’s body hum and sing with arousal from the machine Jensen had created, he’d been certain Jared was just the person to share those interests with. How could he have gotten it so damnably wrong again?

He attempted to throw the note across the room in frustration and watched as it fluttered to the ground at his feet in a wholly unsatisfying fashion.

He would throw a dish, he decided. That would be much more gratifying.

He was on his fifth plate, shards of fine china littering the floor of the parlor where Jensen usually enjoyed his coffee and fruit with the morning paper, when Misha found him.

“I see Mr. Jared has left us,” Misha said in his usual placid voice.

“Yes, Misha,” Jensen said through gritted teeth.

“Shall I begin sweeping up, or would you rather I bring you more plates?”

“More plates, Misha,” Jensen said decisively.

“And shall I put his note with the others, then?”

“The others?”

“Yes sir. I’ve saved them all. We’ll soon have enough notes to print a chapbook, if you so desire.”

Jensen sighed heavily. “Go away, Misha.”

“Very good, sir. I’ll just leave these on the table for you.” He placed a stack of pale blue letters on the table that had formerly held Jensen’s breakfast plates and strolled from the room.

Jensen let the last plate fall from his suddenly loose fingers as he approached the table. He sifted through the notes, and finally laid them all out side by side.

He read through them all again, noting for the first time how strikingly similar they were in phrasing, how utterly lacking in any distinctive personality. At the very least, he would have expected Adrianne’s note to include some creative oaths attacking Jensen’s person and eventual damnation.

But there was nothing of the sort. Considering how very different his wives had been, it was a coincidence too obvious to ignore.

How could he have missed this before now? To be sure, it’s not like he looked upon them often; in each case he had handed the notes over to Miss Huffman to deal with and, he had to assume, she had passed them back to Misha at some later point. Still, he should have detected something amiss….had he been so blinded by his shame and embarrassment that he ignored the very real possibility that his wives hadn't left of their own accord?

Well, Miss Harris and Miss Cortese at least. From what he'd learned of the statuesque Miss Palicki during in their brief acquaintance, he wouldn't be surprised to learn that Adrianne was now captaining her own pirate ship or leading a contingent of merchant marines.

Still. Even if his wives had all left on their own assent, their notes should still reflect some distinct personality traits. And if they had been carried off through malfeasance, was Jared in danger at this very moment?

He blinked, realizing that his thoughts were awhirl with confusion and unnecessary tangents. This was a situation that called for action, not his usual method of dealing with problems, which was to sit in a corner and puzzle out his options or ignore them all together.

Still, he would be of no use to anybody if he went rushing off in the wrong direction or leveling accusations at the blameless. He rescued an unbroken coffee cup and the coffee urn from the wreckage that had once been his breakfast table and found a quiet corner in which to sit and puzzle out his options.

It seemed stunningly obvious to him now that his brides had been stolen away, and there was really only one person who would benefit from such evil-doings.

"It must be Uncle Timothy," Jensen said aloud, setting his empty cup down and beginning to pace in front of the large stone fireplace. "Who else would stand to gain by harming innocent young newlyweds? Don't you agree, Misha?"

"Of course, sir."

Jensen paused. "Did you suspect my Uncle Timothy already, Misha?"

"Of course, sir. I have a computational brain and a convenient lack of emotions, sir."

"Blast it, Misha, why didn't you say something?"

"You did not ask, sir."

Jensen turned in a fit of pique and hurled the last survivor of his mother’s Davenport bone china into the stone fireplace.

“Misha!” Jensen snapped.

"Sir?"

"Ready the airship."

"Very good, sir." Misha turned to leave the parlor. "About time, sir."

 

 

“I think he’s coming around,” said a breathy, feminine voice near Jared’s left ear. He struggled to open his eyes, his bleary gaze landing on what looked to be the lavender bodice of a lady’s gown, creamy breasts spilling out of the top. He blinked, and saw that the lavender-clad bosoms had been joined by another pair, smaller but no less lovely, swathed in silk the color of sea mist. Jared thought fleetingly of Easter baskets filled with pastel colored eggs and then blinked again, trying valiantly to remember where he was and why his head was shrouded in an unpleasant fog. He gave up after a moment and slid back down into sleep.

“Now he’s definitely waking up,” said the voice again sometime later.

“You keep saying that and it keeps not being true,” said a second voice, slightly lower than the first.

“He has to wake up eventually. Unless they gave him too much? I don’t fancy sharing our quarters with six feet of dead boy. Check his pulse.”

Jared opened his eyes and scowled, not sure if he should be more affronted by being called a boy or by the under-estimation of his height. He was nearing one and twenty after all, and well over six feet tall!

“Oooh, you’ve made him grumpy,” said the second voice.

“Sleepy,” he muttered, and closed his eyes again.

“Oh, no you don’t, you need to wake up,” said the first voice, and Jared decided that he didn’t care much for the speaker.

“Nuh,” he said crossly, and slipped away again.

The third time he came to, a cool hand was slapping his cheek lightly and he growled.

“Oooh, now you’ve made him grumpy.”

“You are both horrible people,” Jared grumbled as he struggled to sit up. A wave of dizziness washed over him and he was grateful when four small hands steadied him and helped him slump against the nearby wall. “Who are you?”

It turned out that the lavender bosom belonged to the first Mrs. Ackles, the lovely Danneel, missing these last 18 months, and the sea-mist bosom was the second Mrs. Ackles, the dainty Genevieve, missing these past 12 months.

This did not bode well for Jared’s future. He thought longingly back to five minutes before, when he had thought the worst of his problems was being un-gently slapped into wakefulness. This time he chased after the dreamless sleep quite willingly.

The next time Jared awoke it was to an unpleasant sensation pressing upon his throat, as though a bar were being shoved beneath his jaw. He opened groggy eyes and caught a glimpse of wild, blonde curls, black leather, and pale hands that were indeed holding some sort of bar beneath his jaw.

“Grrgh!?” Jared asked with some alarm.

“Who sent you?” the blonde asked, eyes narrowed as she studied his face.

“Grrgh!” Jared tried again.

“It’s no use, scallywag! Your spying will end in your death unless you tell me everything!”

“Grrgh!”

“Adrianne,” said a bored voice from across the room that Jared recognized as the First Voice. “He’s obviously one of us. Please stop choking the new boy.”

Boy. That hated word again. Even as Jared felt a deep relief as the pressure upon his throat eased, he was annoyed at continually being called ‘boy.’ He shook his head slightly to clear his muddled brain, and decided to focus on the positive aspects of his situation, the first of which was that he could draw breath again. He took in several ungainly gulps of air, coughed explosively, and tried again to speak.

“Who—?” Jared began, but he was quickly interrupted.

“Who are you? One of Timothy’s spies? Sent here to infiltrate and slaughter us?”

Jared stared into the scowling visage of the blonde, completely cowed and befuddled, and in a last effort for reprieve he closed his eyes and prayed silently for unconsciousness to steal upon him again. Alas, as had so often been the case in the past few months, his prayers went largely ignored. When he opened one eye to see if his ruse had been believed, the Amazon glowered at him.

"Well? Who are you?"

“Jared,” he wheezed, rubbing a hand across his throat. “Jared Padalecki of Forester Falls. Pleased to meet you?” Never had he spoken a courtesy more timidly, although, to be fair, he was decidedly not pleased to make the acquaintance of this woman who seemed so intent on killing him.

“No, you’re really not,” said the bored, breathy voice again, which as he swam towards alertness, Jared recognized to be the voice of Danneel Harris. “Adrianne, Jared is quite obviously the new Mr. Ackles. Please try not to kill him and, if you truly must kill him, please try to make it a tidy thing.”

The blonde—Adrianne—was dressed head to toe in a clinging black shirt and trousers (which Jared would later learn had once been an overstuffed leather armchair, until Adrianne denounced her dresses and began fashioning her own clothes). She resembled one of the ninjas he’d read about in the adventure stories he’d so enjoyed as a boy, and even his oxygen-starved brain admired the way the leather clung to her curves.

And yet, as she pressed the bar closer to his throat once more, he was once again thrown into a premature fit of nostalgia for the time so recently passed when the worst he’d had to endure was a dainty smack to his cheek.

“Grrgh?” Jared tried again.

"Adrianne!" said the two voices that he assumed belonged respectively to the lavender and sea-mist clad Miss Harris and Miss Cortese.

Adrianne backed off a bit, though Jared noticed that she had merely re-seated herself upon his thighs. He was relieved that she was no longer sitting astride him in such an intimate position, but still he would have preferred her to re-seat herself a county or so away.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“I’ll ask the questions,” Adrianne snapped. “Where are we?”

“How am I to know? I've only just woken up. You're the ones who have been here!"

“Yes, but where is here?”

Jared looked to the other two women, who were seated snuggled together on a love seat watching the proceedings with interest. When he raised an eyebrow at them, Genevieve shrugged.

Seeing that he was not going to receive help from them, he turned back to Adrianne. "Please, Miss Palicki, surely you can see that I know nothing more, and in fact probably a great deal less, than you three. I went to bed last night in my rooms at Hanniger Hall—" and here he broke off, coloring a bit at the memory of his wanton display and how shamelessly he'd acted upon Jensen's discovery of his activities—“and I woke up here by being slapped and pinched and choked by a trio of ladies who have been presumed dead by the court of public opinion.”

"That speaks ill of your intelligence," Danneel said with a soft snort. "At least when I married him he was considered a prize catch, if a bit eccentric. You two," she continued, gesturing at Jared and Adrianne, "knew you were probably marrying a serial spouse-killer and you did it anyway. Were you so blinded by his wealth that it was worth dying for?"

Jared and Adrianne both scowled at Danneel, then each other.

"How did I get here?"" Jared asked finally. "Do any of you remember making the trip?"

All three shook their heads and admitted that their stories were the same as Jared's—they went to sleep in their own chambers and woke up in this strange prison.

"You're assuming we've travelled any great distance at all," Adrianne said. "But we're just as likely to be in a secluded set of chambers at Hanniger Hall."

Jared shook his head. He and his sisters had prowled every inch of the manor during Jensen's absence, and he felt sure he would have noticed such a large area that was inaccessible from the interior of the home.

"We must have gone some distance," he said. "Besides, Jensen wouldn't do this to us. He might be a bit odd, but he's certainly not evil."

Adrianne scoffed, but Danneel agreed. "We had quite an amiable marriage in the weeks we were together. Hanniger Hall was the work of nightmares, but Jensen and I got along quite well."

Genevieve pouted at this—and at all subsequent mentions of Danneel's marriage to Jensen, Jared was to learn—until Danneel drew her into a kiss.

Feeling more himself as minutes removed Jared further from his near choking, he climbed to his feet to begin investigating his surroundings. It was only then that he noticed he was still clothed in the corset and silken white robe he had gone to sleep in the night before.

"Have I any other clothes?" he asked in a small voice.

"Your trunk's in the peach colored bedroom. Although I think you look quite fetching in my stolen unmentionables," Danneel said.

Jared sagged against the wall. “It must have, er, that is, the kidnappers must have dressed me in this…” he tried.

The ladies on the couch tittered while Adrianne rolled her eyes.

“I should like to change,” Jared said with as much dignity as he could muster. “Then we’ll try to sort things out.”

He retreated to the room Genevieve indicated and hastily threw on his black trousers and a white silk shirt. When he finally found the courage to venture out to the main quarters, blushing mightily and causing the ladies to giggle anew, he saw that their quarters were comprised of a grand circular room with a seating area, fireplace, and a dining area, off of which branched several bedrooms and a bathing area with a water closet. The bedrooms, of which Jared counted at least seven, were all decorated in a different hue. The main room was interspersed with amply sized windows that let in a good amount of light but, on closer inspection, merely looked out upon a bleak and empty courtyard, ringed by a large stone wall.

The furnishings looked to be comfortable and of good quality, consisting of plushy settees, some cozy, well-stuffed armchairs in front of the fire, and a polished oak table and half a dozen upholstered dining chairs.

Between two windows hung a life-sized oil painting of Jensen’s uncle, resplendent in a shiny purple suit. Jared noted that the portrait had been badly defaced during the ladies’ confinement; Uncle Timothy now sported a piratical eyepatch, blackened teeth, and a large number of punctures centered near his heart.

When he had finished his inventory of his new home, Jared rather wished he was being choked by Adrianne again. Though the tower was spacious and comfortably furnished, there could be no doubt that it had been constructed to keep prisoners in luxurious, long-term confinement.

"This looks rather like," Jared began, and then trailed off in embarrassment. “I mean, I’ve seen paintings…”

“It’s a harem,” Adrianne growled.

Jared felt rather in need of a fainting couch at that moment.

“Are we to be, ah, haremed then?” he asked.

“No, Timothy seems more taken with money and power than sex,” Danneel said, and then added with a smirk, “Seeing you in my corset might have given him some ideas, though.”

“Can we please never speak of that again?” Jared hissed. “This is quite enough to cope with as it is!”

As he spoke, he approached the round metal door situated between the teal and plum bedrooms. It looked like it belonged on a submersible; there was no knob that he could see, but instead it sported a large metal wheel. He spun it but was unsurprised when nothing happened; it appeared to be well and truly sealed.

“Where do those stairs lead?” Jared asked, gesturing to a ladder that led to a trap door in the ceiling.

“There’s a garden on the roof,” Genevieve said. “I’ve been trimming the grass so it says ‘HELP,’ but the airship captains that pass overhead seem disinclined to ever glance down.”

Adrianne had grown restless while Jared was prowling the perimeter of their luxurious prison, and she took up her bar, which Jared realized belatedly was a curtain rod that had been filed to a point at one end, and began hammering on the door.

"God, not this again," Genevieve grumbled. "Stop it, Addie, I'm in no mood for the fog, it gives me such a headache."

"Fog?" Jared wondered aloud.

"Unless it's the purple fog," Danneel purred. "The purple always leaves me tingly in all the best places."

Jared’s cheeks blushed most furiously, but Genevieve growled her agreement and climbed onto Danneel's lap, catching her lips in a kiss so passionate that Jared could scarce look away.

"Er, what's this about a gassy fog?" Jared asked.

"It comes in through the grates," Adrianne said as she continued to take her frustrations out on the door, which had surely been reinforced with oak and iron bands. "Knocks us out, usually. Probably how we were brought here."

"I see," Jared said, though he did not see at all. He watched as Adrianne continued battering the door while the first and second Mrs. Ackles embraced each other upon the couch, all seemingly unconcerned about the bright orange clouds of vapor that were suddenly filling up their chamber.

"I must have gone mad," Jared said. "Or, God no, maybe I did die on the machine and this is, is..."

"You're not dead," Adrianne said flatly, throwing her bar aside in disgust. "And it's not the purple fog, so take a cold bath, ladies."

"It's like tangerines," Jared said dreamily as he watched the fog roll in, and then he was collapsing senseless to the ground once more.

When he next awoke, Jared had a headache to rival the time he'd fallen out of an oak tree while racing his sisters to the top.

His sisters. Did they know yet that he was missing?

He struggled to sit up as his head swam from the remnants of the gas.

"Why?" he asked, his voice sounding pitifully unmanly to his own ears.

"Let's sit," Danneel said, gesturing to the table where a store of food had been left. "We'll tell you what we know and then you can tell me what I've missed while I've been locked up in this godforsaken tower. Has A Quarrel Amongst Queens been completed yet? I was so looking forward to chapter 58 before my abduction, and my companions were not great readers in the outside world."

Jared’s face lit up. “Then you missed Princess Liara’s coronation! It was stunningly told.”

“But what of the Archduke of Arrows?” Danneel asked eagerly. "Has he been stabbed through the throat yet?"

Jared caught Danneel up on her favorite serial as they dined on tomato sandwiches and cheese. As they ate, Jared wondered uneasily if it were possible that they were sequestered in some secluded wing of Hanniger Hall, for the food was distressingly familiar to anyone well-acquainted with Misha's limited culinary capabilities.

"Do they knock us out every time someone brings in food?" Jared asked, rubbing at the knot on his forehead from where he had fallen and noting for the first time the achy feeling in his head from the noxious fumes.

"No, they mostly do that when Adrianne gets a head of steam and starts destroying things," Geneieve said crossly.

"When I finally figure out a way out of this place, I'm leaving you behind," Adrianne snorted, but there was less bite in her tone this time. Jared wondered if Adrianne had got something out of her system by beating up the door, which was only just doing its job after all, or if there was something in the orange fumes that had a calming effect.

"Usually our food is brought by—" Danneel broke off when a strange clicking sound began to emit from the curved bookcase on the far wall. Jared watched in shocked confusion as it spun around to reveal a hidden passageway where Misha stood holding a bottle of wine and a tray and looking as unflappable as ever.

"Him," Danneel finished.

"Misha!?" Jared exclaimed, feeling suddenly betrayed, both by the mechanized butler and by Jensen, who it seemed surely had something to do with his imprisonment after all.

"No, I am Dimitri," the robot said, and Jared frowned.

"Do you know Misha?" Jared asked.

The butler sniffed as though offended, a strange mannerism for one who did not draw breath. "He is my brother, I suppose, in that we come from the same father. But he is an impudent, pale imitation of myself.”

Jared saw no reason for a mechanized man to lie, but the resemblance was startling. Until he noted that this Dmitri's knees were identical, whereas Misha's displayed a slight discoloration from a recent upgrade.

"Ah." Jared's headache was growing in size with each new bit of information he discovered. "Do you work for Jensen?" he asked.

“Of course not; I was gifted to Master Timothy many years ago. He would like to present you with this welcome gift,” Dimitri said as he placed the wine and tray onto the table before leaving through the bookcase again.

"I assume you've all tried to get out that way?" Jared asked as the bookcase spun around once more.

Adrianne shot him a look of pure venom.

“There are guards,” Danneel coolly. “With muskets. I suppose someday a hole in the chest might appeal more than this prison, but I’ve not reached that stage just yet.”

 

 

Jensen paced impatiently as Misha readied the Ackles company dirigible for take-off, cursing the fact that his steamcar was not yet capable of undertaking such a long journey.

“It should take us about fourteen hours to travel over the mountains to your uncle's lair, if my calculations are correct,” Misha said. “Which, of course, they are.”

“Fine, how long until we can leave?”

Misha started checking various dials, flicking switches, and jotting numbers down. “One hundred and seven minutes," he said.

Jensen sighed. Being a man of action was really quite frustrating, as it seemed there was an annoyingly large gap between deciding to be a man of action and actually acting. He was impatient to get into the air, impatient to find Jared, and impatient to see if his former spouses were still alive and well or if they had come to any harm.

He still couldn't quite wrap his mind around how unbelievably stupid he'd been, how blinded by the desire to be left alone to tinker with his creations that he never realized how baldly and easily his uncle had been manipulating him. Alaina was going to have his balls.

Given everything that had occurred, it actually lent credence to his grandfather's argument that Jensen needed to be around people more, lest he turn into something with little more feeling than one of his own creations.

Jensen could only imagine how frustrated his uncle must have been to learn that Jensen had entrusted his personal matters to Alaina’s keeping several years past. He had probably planned to just sit back and wait until the need to marry inevitably slipped Jensen's mind so he could collect and count his money. It might have taken Jensen years to even notice how slim his income had dwindled without Alaina's guidance to keep him on track.

Unless Uncle Timothy was truly a sick man and not just a greedy schemer? The thought of his wives, who he'd known not long but wished no harm to, at the hands of a madman… and his poor Jared...

"Misha!" he bellowed, anxiety and nerves twisting at his insides as he fretted about Jared, whose company he had not been wise enough to desire until it was too late.

"One hundred and three minutes, sir."

Jensen turned and stalked back to the house to gather up the Chads.

 

 

Jared and the former Mrs. Ackles’ passed the afternoon playing a game Danneel had slyly suggested, a most impertinent entertainment requiring that they indicate their familiarity with a subject by taking a sip of the cognac Danneel had pulled from the sideboard. It started innocently enough, with questions about places visited and subjects studied, but as the liquor flowed more freely, Danneel’s suggestions became embarrassingly personal.

"I have certainly not had sexual relations with another," Danneel said as she polished off her drink and went to pour another.

Genevieve finished hers as well, nudging Danneel in the ribs with a wicked grin, and when the two ladies realized Jared and Adrianne had not sipped from their glasses, Danneel hooted with laughter.

"How long have you been married?" she asked with a giggle. Jared was mortified at the question, and at the realization that he had technically lost his virginity to a mechanical saddle, and decided to pass his embarrassment onto Adrianne.

"You were married too," he pointed out.

Adrianne rolled her eyes. "I have no need of the love of a man," she said, and then eyed her two predecessors. "Or a woman. I am like Diana in that way."

Jared's head was quite swimming with cognac by this point, and he slumped back against the dining chair and studied the ceiling. "If you were truly like Diana, you would have an arrow, and we'd be quit of this place."

"You've been here less than a day, you have no right to fuss about being cooped up,” she sniped back.

Jared realized with dawning dread that what seemed so far to be a bizarre—yet for all intents and purposes, relatively harmless— adventure for him had been these ladies' lives for many long months. Would Jared too spend years in this gilded cage, greeting each new Mr. or Mrs. Ackles as the years passed? It was a depressing thought, and one that created a stabbing spike of jealousy in his stomach besides.

Then a thought occurred to him, and his mood cheered considerably. "We must simply wait until Jensen's birthday, and then we'll be freed!" he exclaimed. The ladies eyed him with matching dubious expressions.

Jared explained the will, the codicil, and Jensen’s necessity to be wed, to the consternation of Jensen's previous wives.

"He's turning 30 in a matter of days," Jared said. "And since nobody has tried to kill you before now, it stands to reason that we'll all be allowed to leave when he comes into his inheritance."

There was an explosion of surprised utterances, from which Jared inferred that the three former Mrs. Ackles had not been made aware of the reason Jensen kept steadfastly marching down the aisle again and again with disastrously similar results.

"Actually, he's turning 30 in a matter of hours," said a new voice, a deep baritone. “And he will be too late to save you.”

They whirled around and saw the library case had spun about again while they were talking, allowing the villain himself, Jensen's Uncle Timothy, to enter. He was smiling triumphantly, and—Jared had to blink to be sure—actually twirling his waxed mustache.

"Save us?" Danneel said. "If you were just going to kill us, why didn't you do it straight away?"

Jared jumped to his feet to stand protectively in front of the ladies, only to find that Adrianne, who very nearly came up to his chin, had done the same.

"What a pleasure to see you again, Jared. And dressed in men’s clothing this time, I see."

Jared blushed but stood his ground.

“I had planned to set you free, and bestow a sizeable allowance of hush money on you as well, once I inherited my brother’s estate,” Timothy said. "But now Jensen is on his way to save you. How unfortunate that he will arrive too late."

“He's coming for Jared?” Danneel and Genevieve cried in unison.

“Why shouldn't he come for me?” Jared asked, affronted.

“How do you know he's coming?” Adrianne demanded.

“Because he's flying a bleeding airship the size of a small city that has Ackles Metallurgy painted on the side," Timothy said dryly. “It’s a bit hard to miss.”

They all ran to the windows to see. It did indeed appear that the Ackles family airship was heading towards them, but so slowly that it scarce seemed to grow any larger as they watched.

"Oooh," squealed Danneel. "I think he loves you! After I knock him into next week for leaving me here to rot all this time, I'll throw you two the cutest of wedding receptions....”

"What makes you think you're going anywhere?" Timothy asked, pulling out a silver pistol with a long barrel. "If my nephew's finally pulled his head out of his arse enough to realize I've been stealing his wives, it is high time I got rid of the evidence.”

“But he already knows!” Jared argued. “You’ll hang for sure if you’re found with a heap of dead bodies at your feet!”

“Jensen only thinks he knows,” Timothy said. “I can be quite convincing when I want to be, you know.”

Jared noticed from the corner of his eye that Adrianne had moved behind their captor with her curtain-rod javelin, and so he sought to distract the villainous uncle while she plotted her attack.

“Somehow you’re going to re-convince him that we’ve all run off to the tropics?” Jared snorted. “Be sensible. Just let us go now and you might escape whilst your head is still attached to your neck.” He glanced desperately out the window, where the airship was cruising along at an infuriatingly leisurely pace. Damn it all, Jensen, he cursed inwardly. If ever there was a time for steamcars that flew full speed ahead, this was it!

With lightning alacrity, Adrianne swung her weapon at Timothy’s head, but he turned from the blow at the last moment and it glanced off his shoulder instead.

He fired his pistol, but Adrianne ducked out of the way and the shot ricocheted off the stone walls, embedding itself in the defaced portrait. Jared winced and crossed his legs quite involuntarily at the placement of the bullet in the painting.

Adrianne tried to kick the gun out of Timothy’s hands with one of her long legs, but Timothy spun out of her reach. Jared took his chance to dive into the fray as well, landing two good hits upon the man's jaw before he was brought down by a kick to his ankle. Jared found himself flat on his back, staring into the inky depths of the barrel of the pistol.

He raised his hands, moving slowly as though not to spook a horse.

“Really now,” Jared soothed. “There’s no need for such violence, after all.”

Timothy glanced out towards the approaching ship again, and his eyes suddenly went wide as pie plates.

“What the deuce are those?” he asked in wonder. Jared followed his gaze, and suddenly their tower prison was abuzz with flying Chads swirling above their heads, which then began dive bombing Jensen’s uncle.

Never in his life had Jared been more pleased to see the impish mechanical monkeys (nor, he thought, would he likely ever be so pleased again.)

He jumped to his feet and looked out the window, through which dozens of monkeys were still flying, and saw Jensen’s vehicle circling the tower as even more Chads flew out of the carriage and filled the room.

“Ow! Damnable pests, get off of me!” Timothy shouted as he batted ineffectually at the sturdy little creatures.

Jared took the opportunity afforded by the army of Chads to dash into the melee and snatch Timothy’s weapon, which he pointed at the criminal while the monkeys continued to dart about, biting and striking at him with robotic glee.

"It's over, Timothy," Jared said. "Surrender, or I'll start putting holes in your favorite limbs."

“I surrender!” Timothy cried, raising his hands in the air and then promptly crying out in pain as one of the Chads flew squarely at his face and bonked him on the nose. Not to be outdone, Adrianne walloped him in the back of his knees with her weapon, and he collapsed to the floor.

“Ladies, have we anything to tie him up with?” Jared asked, glancing over his shoulder. With a cryptic smile, Danneel retreated to the rose colored bedroom and returned brandishing a decidedly official-looking pair of shackles.

“Oh, but I love those,” Genevieve pouted.

“For goodness sake, you can replace them,” Adrianne snapped, yanking them from Danneel’s outstretched hand and securing Timothy’s hands behind his back.

“Should we call off the horde?” Jared wondered as the metallic creatures continued to swarm the helpless man.

“Oh, probably so,” Danneel said as Timothy took a blow to his cheek from one of the Chads. “Do you know how to control them?”

But it no longer mattered, for at that moment Jensen descended the garden staircase, looking about frantically. When his eyes landed upon Jared, Jensen’s face broke into a smile of relief.

“Chad, stand down,” Jensen called, and the winged monkeys buzzed harmlessly to the ground.

And so, as Adrianne stood guard over the sniveling Timothy and Danneel and Genevieve looked on with interest, Jensen and Jared shared their first embrace.

Timothy told Jensen, with many unnecessary oaths and insults to Jensen's character, how to open the hidden passageway that connected the locked tower to the rest of Cain Castle. The two guards who slouched in the hallway took one look at the party in the room—Timothy shackled, Jared still holding onto the pistol, and an army of copper imps beyond—and they turned and fled.

Jensen led them out of the prison and through many winding passageways until they stopped in a cozy sitting room. A messenger was dispatched to collect Constable Beaver, and the strange assembly took up seats about the room as they tried to determine what should happen next.

The lovely Miss Harris and the dainty Miss Cortese were once again curled up together on the couch, taking comfort in one another’s frequent embraces and kisses. The statuesque Miss Palicki was pacing about in front of the fireplace, shooting dark looks at Jensen every so often.

And as for Jared? It had occurred to him, once the rush of adrenaline to his system had faded after the tussle in the high tower, that the lovely Miss Harris was still, in fact, the first (and only) Mrs. Ackles. No wives had been murdered, the annulment had been achieved under duress, and the marriage quite enthusiastically consummated, if Danneel’s eyebrow-raising stories during their game of “I’m Certain I Would Never” were to be believed.

Jared wasn’t sure where that left him. A penniless bachelor again, heir to his father’s debts and little else.

He tuned out the rest of the reunion, where Genevieve was thanking Jensen for saving them, Adrianne was cursing him for leaving them in the tower for months on end, and the Chads were fawning endlessly over the ladies in attendance. Instead, he gazed moodily into the fire, pondering his bleak future.

After all, hadn’t it only been three or four nights previous that Jared had longed to be reunited with his sisters and back under the sheltering embrace of Samantha and Jeffrey once more? Hadn’t his most fervent wishes come true, and with no insult to his marriage vows?

Jensen had paid off the debts inflicted on the Padalecki children by their thoughtless father by now, and though their income was miniscule, they could survive off it until Jared finished his schooling and was able to provide for his sisters.

So why wasn’t he happier?

“And then Adrianne kicked him in the—” Genevieve said.

“She most certainly did not,” Timothy countered from his position on the ground where he’d been unceremoniously and uncomfortably hogtied while they awaited the Constable.

I will if you don’t keep your tongue,” Jensen hissed at his uncle, and the elder man fell silent once more.

Jared ignored them all and fixed unseeing eyes upon the fire, thinking back to the night before his wedding. His sisters had insisted on staying up late with him; after all, Jared was to be married off to a man about whom such monstrous rumors had been spread that they weren’t sure when they’d see each other again.

Even Margaret, unconvinced of Jensen’s guilt and morose that she was not to marry an heir of such renown, had sat next to Jared and patted his arm every so often.

“What shall they call me when I am disappeared?” Jared had wondered at one point. “The spindly Mr. Padalecki?”

“Hush,” Madeline had scolded. “You're not going to disappear. And I rather think it will be ‘the winsome' Mr. Padalecki.”

“The estimable Mr. Padalecki?” Margaret offered.

"The weedy Mr. Padalecki," Jared sighed.

“The affable Mr. Padalecki,” Madeline countered.

That one they all decided they could live with, although Madeline was quick to pinch him in the side and remind him that he was not disappearing anywhere or Jensen Ackles would have her to answer to.

Although Danneel and Genevieve were still snug together on the couch, Jared had intercepted several warm smiles between his ‘husband’ and the true Mrs. Ackles, and he suddenly determined that he could not quit the room quickly enough.

He stood from the couch, dusted off his pants, and smiled at those assembled.

“I must use the lavatory,” he apologized as he walked out of the room. Jensen smiled at him and then resumed his conversation with Danneel, and Jared knew then that all was lost.

He wandered the corridors for nearly a quarter of an hour before he discovered the front entrance, where he entreated a liveryman to point him towards the nearest train station. It was a good walk, but Jared was pleased to escape the claustrophobic confines of Cain Castle. He tried his best not to dwell upon what might have been—those times he had been sure he caught Jensen gazing upon him with fondness or amorous intents—and simply put one foot in front of the other until he reached the station. He sat outside underneath a wooden overhang while awaiting the ticket booth to open, unsurprised when a cold March drizzle that matched his mood perfectly began to rain down, and planned his next move.

Return home, he supposed. Greet his sisters. See if the agreement he had struck with Jensen would allow him to return to school. After all, he'd kept his side of the bargain. He felt quite certain that after a short series of law courses, Alaina would take him in as a novice at her practice.

“So you have indeed run off,” said a voice behind him.

Jared rose to face Jensen, who managed to look dashing in his rakishly tilted homburg, while Jared felt damp and bedraggled in the extreme.

“It is for the best, don’t you think?”

“The best for whom?” Jensen looked so wounded that Jared had to lower his eyes. “For you?”

“No, Jensen!” Jared said with exasperation. “For you! For you and your…wife.”

“And silly me, here I thought you were my spouse.”

“You are still legally wed to Danneel. I’ve never been more than an interloper in your official marriage.”

“I see. And has it somehow escaped your notice that Danneel is thoroughly besotted with Miss Cortese?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jared said stubbornly.

“But it does. If Danneel says she didn’t sign those papers under duress—and there’s no reason why she would, since she intends to set up house with Genevieve—then we are free to pick up where we left off."

“Yes, but,” Jared began to argue, but Jensen raised a hand to stop his protestations.

And then Jensen stole a kiss under the moonlight at the railway station.

And Jared knew that it was love.

 

 

Margaret was in a tizzy and Madeline was sanguine, and so all was right with the world, Jared reflected as he straightened his favorite pink waistcoat.

After the discovery and tearful reunion of Jensen’s stolen brides with their families (save Adrianne, who held her mother in as little regard as she ever had), it had been decided that those most grievously offended by the actions of Jensen’s uncle would determine how things played out.

This was due in no small part to the heroic legal wrangling of Miss Huffman, Esq., who spoke with each Mrs. and Mr. Ackles in turn, then set about a course of actions that would uphold the legal validity of the annulment documents signed by the first three Mrs. Ackles without impugning their good names.

The town was abuzz with the scandalous news, but the parties most affected by Jensen’s obliviousness and Timothy’s machinations were pleased with the outcome.

And so it was a fine morning in May when the gates of Hanniger Hall were thrown open for the first time in years to host a spectacular double wedding.

The only person in attendance who seemed disgruntled was Mrs. Palicki, who had so hoped that her daughter would be brought to heel through a marriage connection to Jensen. She sobbed openly and bitterly into her handkerchief while her daughter stood in as best man while first Danneel and Genevieve, and then Jared and Jensen, were wed before the smiling attendees.

When Father Sali pronounced them husbands and wives, each to each, Jared and Jensen turned to each other and shared a soft, sweet, perfectly perfect kiss.

The crowd cheered.

When Jared wrapped his arms around Jensen’s back and Jensen threaded his hands through Jared’s hair as the kiss deepened, the crowed coughed and blushed and averted their eyes.

When Jared slid a long leg up Jensen’s thigh, one hand brushing the dip of his back, threatening to cup Jensen’s buttocks right there in front of God and the good townspeople of Austonia, the father shouted a slightly hysterical blessing upon the newlyweds.

Still, it took a hip check from Adrianne to actually separate the two.

Danneel and Genevieve would later tease them about their most unseemly entrance into official matrimony, but Jared reminded them that they had already had months to discover one another, while Jared and Jensen’s explorations were quite new.

After the services, there was a veritable feast of roast meats and savory pies, sweet cakes and plump berry tarts, the sweetest wines and the stoutest ales. The guests toasted the happy couples, and all those in attendance received their very own complimentary Chad as a favor for their presence.

For that had been Jared’s main stipulation when Jensen had fallen to his knees and asked Jared to marry him for true. They would either hire a human staff, or move into a cottage small enough that Jared could keep it up himself.

Oh, Misha would still to attend them, but even though the Chads had proved heroic and victorious in the skirmish at Cain Castle, Jared would not spend the rest of his life tripping over—and being mocked by—grinning brass monkeys.

Jensen had agreed, stating that his love for Jared was greater than his pride in maintaining a purely mechanical household, but as the happy day grew closer, Jared had noted Jensen’s increasing distress and relented. Jensen would be allowed to keep his five favorite Chads.

As they waltzed in the garden, Jared spotted Misha standing on one side of the courtyard and Dmitri on the other. They scowled at one another in such perfect mimicry of estranged brothers that Jared was once again disconcerted by their strangely humanlike behaviors.

Unlike most fashionable garden weddings of the day, which ended after the salad course with some decorum maintained, this celebration went long into the night, and Jensen ordered the servers to keep the wine and food flowing until the last guest had taken his or her fill.

As for the happy grooms, they retired early to attend to matters they’d both been eager to settle for many weeks.

“I should like to fuck you,” said the affable Mr. Ackles-Padalecki.”

“I should like that, too,” agreed the eccentric Mr. Aclkes-Padalecki.

“I should like you to fuck me as well.”

Jensen grinned. “Should I be taking notes?”

“I should like to lick every square inch of your body, count the freckles on your ass, and swallow your cock down whole.”

“There are no freckles on my ass!” Jensen said indignantly.

“There most certainly are. I have it on good authority.”

“How could you possibly know that?” As Jensen shed his shirts and stepped out of his pinstriped trousers he tried to look surreptitiously over one shoulder for any sign of freckles on his backside.

“Danneel told me.”

“God save us all, what exactly did you all talk about? Must I remind you that you were only kidnapped for thirty-two hours?”

“Danneel has a way of getting to the root of things,” Jared said with a shrug as he slid out of his own clothes.

“Jared. I love Danneel, and Genevieve, and even Adrianne, though I’m convinced she would stick a sword through my sternum with little incentive. But I don’t want to talk about any of them tonight.”

Jared could hardly disagree with that.

Once they were completely divested of their wedding suits, Jared became bashful, turning shyly away from Jensen’s gaze, but Jensen have none of it.

“I want to see every bit of you, Jared. God, that night I found you riding the Stallion…”

Jared looked perplexed. “The Stallion?”

Now it was Jensen’s turn to blush. “My, ah, saddle invention.”

Jared smiled. “That was the night I realized your true genius, Mr. Ackles-Padalecki.”

“Ah, that reminds me,” Jensen said. “Danneel has seen fit to retrieve the trunk that was left here during the night of her abduction.”

“Pity,” Jared said. “There were some delightful garments in her trousseau.”

“She might have mentioned that a certain candy-pink corset had gone missing, as well as her favorite blue.”

“How thorough of her to inventory the items upon picking it up.”

Jensen smiled and retrieved the pink corset from under a pile of blankets on the rocking chair in the corner.

“Would you do me the honor?”

Jared grinned. “I’ll need your help to lace it up.”

“That, ah, shouldn’t be a problem.”

As Jensen pulled the white ribbons tight across Jared's muscular back, he said, “Actually, I was disingenuous. She actually specifically asked that this item not be returned. She feared it might already be as soiled as the blue.”

“Did she – ahhh – now?” Jared gasped as Jensen cinched him up.

“Jared, I have made several concessions in this marriage. I have sold all but my hundred favorite clocks, given away as gifts all but five of my favorite Chads.”

“Indeed you have,” Jared agreed, turning in Jensen’s arms to kiss him full on the lips.

“I . . . hmm . . . I have hired your family’s servants to run Hanniger…invited your sisters to stay with us for as long as they choose....”

Jared wound his arms around Jensen’s neck and pressed his groin into Jensen’s, causing Jensen to stumble back into the wall of the bedchamber, now mercifully relieved of all but one ticking clock.

“Hmm hmm,” Jared agreed, pressing his questing tongue into the sensitive shell of Jensen’s ear.

“I have given the statuesque—ahh!—Miss Palicki her own Ackles Metallurgy ship and crew, which she assures me will never be used in the engagement of piracy.”

Jared slid his arms down Jensen’s quivering sides, graced them along his ticklish abdominal muscles, and then around to his buttocks, which he squeezed firmly, eliciting another gasp from his husband.

“Jensen. Is there a point to this? Because if we’re not on that overly large bed within the next fifteen seconds…."

“My one request,” Jensen continued valiantly as Jared gave up reasoning with his husband and picked him up, tossing him onto their marriage bed.

Words failed Jensen for several minutes as Jared took his cock into his mouth, licking all about the shaft and sucking at the head.

Jared climbed up and straddled Jensen’s hips, lifted himself up on trembling thighs, and eased his body down until the tip of Jensen’s cock was poised at his entrance, not touching but close enough to feel Jared’s body heat.

“Your request?” Jared asked with an evil glint in his eyes.

“Oh my God,” Jensen moaned, and grasped Jared’s hips to pull him down.

Jared eased down slowly, no longer thinking of teasing his husband but simply relishing the slow drag of flesh in his channel, the delicious feel of his hard cock standing at attention so much that the sensitive head was dragging across the corset boning.

He eased himself up and down slowly, taking Jensen in deeper with each descent, and when he was fully seated in Jensen’s lap, his fingers playing with the short hair on the nape of Jensen’s neck, he felt—to his great embarrassment—tears welling in his eyes.

“Jared?” Jensen asked, sounding alarmed. “Am I hurting you?”

Jared shook his head. “Not anymore, love, and never again.”

Then they moved together as one until they reached their climax and slept wrapped in each other’s arms; awoke, changed positions and did it all over again.

It was noon on the first day of their official married lives together before they stirred. Misha rapped at the door, informed them that Mrs. Morgan had a late brunch waiting for them, with eggs Benedict and French toast and maple sausages. Jared thought he might begin to weep again at the possibility of hot foods for breakfast once more—a lifetime of hot breakfasts.

They washed each other, dressed slowly, traded lazy kisses and promises of their next carnal activities. Jensen expressed a desire to take Jared to his lab and try out something new he’d been working on that he was tentatively calling The Bronco, and Jared’s eyes had gone so dark with lust they almost missed their last call for brunch.

Luckily Jared’s sisters were still in town finalizing plans to sell their family home, and so Hanniger Hall contained only Jeff and Samantha, who had been newlyweds themselves once after all, and Dmitri and Misha, who cared not a whit about the lustful improprieties of humans.

It was as they were sipping tomato juice laced with spirits on the back lawn while they digested their food that Jared remembered how he had so cunningly managed to make Jensen forget about whatever he was going to request the night before. He watched a gaggle of geese toddle up and down the lawn, trying to teach their goslings to swim in a thin rivulet of rainwater from the hard rains that had fallen in the days before their wedding, and wrestled with himself. He weighed the possible annoyance of whatever directive Jensen was about to place on their marital bliss versus the damnable Padalecki curiosity that had led Jared to discover Jensen’s secret workshop in the first place.

Jared sighed. “I admit my shameful curiosity has gotten the best of me once again. What is it?”

Jensen looked at him curiously and Jared had to remind himself that they had halted this conversation many hours – and orgasms – previously.

“What is this request you were so eager to make last night that I had to use my tongue, and cock, and ass, to quiet you for a time?”

“Ah, that,” Jensen said, relaxing against the Adirondack chair as the sun warmed his body (no doubt causing new freckles that Jared would find delectable and his husband infuriating) to appear upon his countenance.

“You must agree, given the great and many concessions I’ve made to get you to marry me, that you will never again play ‘I Certainly Would Never’ with Danneel Cortese-Harris. There are limits, Jared, to what I’m willing to let the outside world know about our love.”

Jared threw back his head and laughed, reaching across the space between their chairs to clasp Jensen’s hand in his.

“Good husband, you can surely count upon it.”

 

-the end-