Jensen couldn't believe how much his life had changed in just a few short years. He was married to an amazing man, had a beautiful, precocious daughter, and was three months pregnant with twins. His gallery was making a profit and he'd been able to employee several of the young adults from the center. Jared's new production company had several movies under contract and he'd been able to hire a few center residents as well.
His best friend had gotten married and was due to have her and Chad's first child a month before him, and the center his friends Chris and Steve ran was flourishing, their dreams of a safe haven for those that needed it finally becoming a reality.
Once Gabriel had started healing, Chris and Steve had given Jared the go ahead to set up a meeting with the security firm he'd recommended. Steve had called Jensen afterwards. They had been guardedly optimistic, but there had been several details that had to be worked out. As soon as things had been ironed out everything had been going well.
Gabriel's recovery had taken some time and physical therapy, but he'd healed and he was back in school with only two more classes to graduate with a degree in early education. Chris and Steve were in the process of adopting a little boy named Aaron who'd lost his parents in a house fire.
Chris was not so quietly freaking out, which amused Jensen to no end. Steve had confided that he'd woken several nights in the last few months to find his husband pacing in the little boy’s room mumbling to himself. Jensen had cornered his friend and told him he was acting like a nut and waited for his friend to crack.
Chris had tried to brush it off, but Jensen had been tenacious. He'd talked until Chris relaxed and opened up about what had been bothering him. Jensen had been shocked to discover that even after years of taking care of men, women, and children, the man in front of him was terrified he'd mess up. He would have laughed if his friend hadn't been dead serious.
It had taken another hour to assure Chris that everyone made mistakes when parenting. You asked for forgiveness, gave out some hugs and kisses, and kept moving forward. As long as you loved them and treated them the way they should be treated, everything else would fall into place. He had no doubt that both Steve and Chris were up to the task and he told Chris as much.
They had decided to wait to decorate until Aaron could choose what he liked. Jensen agreed with them, having just a little bit of input made anyone, no matter their age, feel like they had some control. For a four year old little boy whose life had been turned upside down, control was just as important as the security of a home and someone to love him.
Jensen had promised to paint whatever Aaron wanted in his room. Sophia had pretended to pout until Jensen had promised to do her baby's nursery as well, not that he hadn't already planned to do it as a baby present anyway. She didn't need to know that. This way, he was sure to get all the goodies his heart and stomach desired.
The first time Jensen had met anyone from the security team it had been Cliff, and he'd been more than a little taken back by just how big the man was. He'd been worried about how the kids and some of the more fragile residents would handle someone so physically imposing.
However, when he'd watched a group of little boys and girls vie for the two seats on either side of the man at lunch one day, he'd realized there wasn't anything to worry about. Chris had told him later, when he'd mentioned it that 'like knew like'. Jensen was a little dismayed by the thought that he put off some kind of vibe that identified him as an abuse survivor.
It wasn't that he was ashamed of the fact, it just freaked him out that someone could look at him and know something so intimate and painful about him. Chris had rolled his eyes and explained there was no such thing. It was just a sixth sense most people never had to develop, but that people who'd had to read the moods and body language of others to survive had cultivated, and they never truly lost it.
Alex was the newest member of Cliff's team, having shown up four months prior with a slight limp and a story lurking behind haunted eyes. No one had been able to pry it out of him, not that anyone had tried particularly hard, as everyone at the center knew time and trust was needed before people would open up. Jensen was positive that Cliff at least had the basics, because there was no way he'd have let Alex anywhere near the people he was charged with protecting otherwise.
Jensen had decided to target Alex as his helper in a secret mission. He hoped the other man didn't know about Jared and their friend's 'coddle Jensen clause'. Little did he know there were several paragraphs set aside for 'Things you didn't help Jensen get away with'. It had started out as a joke. Chad had been listing things that Jared would lose his shit over his husband doing, one night.
Jared had caught wind of it and blackmailed Chad into showing him. Then, he had mentioned the list to Chris, and between the three, it had grown rather large. When Jensen told Jared they were having twins, his first call had been to Chad to have him set the list up as protocol. Thankfully, for the health and well being of all those involved, Jensen was still unaware of said protocols.
Alex for his part thought everyone was just a little spastic when it came to Jensen, but when he'd gotten the other man's call, and Jensen hadn't wanted anyone else to know about it, he'd had to rethink his position. He decided, hopefully not at the risk of his life or limbs, to go along with the secrecy until he found out what Jensen's problem and plan was.
Jensen's request to bring mini cameras and mics made him a little twitchy, but he was confident he could handle whatever one pregnant man, who didn't have the good sense God gave him, could pull them into. Alex wasn't intimidated easily but Jensen's husband, while very affable and laid back, freaked the ever-lovin’-shit out of him when it came to Jensen's protection and well being.
Of course, it wasn't limited to just Jensen, close friends and family were included as well, and having heard the history behind Jared's need to keep Jensen healthy, happy and safe, he could understand.
Alex pulled up outside Jensen's gallery, which was apparently where the problem existed. He wasn't surprised when Jensen appeared at the door as he was pulling his equipment out of the storage compartment in the back of his truck.
"Did you get everything?" Jensen asked, looking up and down both sides of the street.
"Yeah. Was there a reason you wanted me to drive my own truck and not the company one?" Alex asked, trying to figure out what was going on.
Jensen had been adamant about there being nothing official looking being where anyone could see it. Alex thought it might be because Jensen didn't want anyone to think there was a problem at the gallery. If some of the artist that showed their art there thought there was a security issue it might cause problems.
Jensen waved him into the workshop portion of the gallery and locked the door. They didn't open until 10:00 so it gave Alex three hours to set up whatever he needed to. It wouldn't take him that long, but he was going to find out what was going on before he did anything else.
He followed Jensen to the break rom in the back, which was apparently their destination. Alex set the two duffle bags he was carrying on one of the tables and took a seat, waiting for some clarification on what he was doing there.
Jensen took in the unmovable picture Alex made with his arms crossed and his jaw jutting out. He sighed and pulled another chair out, settling himself with a pillow behind his back.
"About three weeks ago, I started noticing food was missing from the break room. Nothing major, just a few drinks here, and some bread and sandwich meat there. I probably wouldn't have even registered if my cookies hadn't disappeared."
Alex kept silent and waited. He hadn't known Jensen long but the man had never struck him as eccentric or a prima donna. There had to be something besides cookies that had made Jensen call him.
Jensen sighed when Alex just looked at him, he knew how it sounded, but he was not going nuts. "Look, I know it sounds weird, but nobody likes my cookies. Natalie makes me keep them in a plastic bag just so she doesn't have to smell them and Avery and Jared give me wrinkly noses every time they enter the house."
"I'm sort of scared to ask if Avery won't even touch them," Alex commented. He'd seen the little girl wolf down an inordinate amount of sweets given a few minutes. Cliff called her the Cookie Monster but it wasn't just cookies the kid would inhale, anything sweet was fair game.
"I was craving something and I couldn't figure out what it was. When I explained it to Sophia she made me a batch of molasses cookies. I'd never had them before, but it's apparently what these two want." Jensen rubbed a hand across his stomach indicating the twins.
"So someone's sneaking in here stealing cookies but not any of the high dollar art you have hanging all over the place? How come the alarms aren't going off?" Alex asked, looking around.
"I'm not sure. I know the gallery floor and storage are all set for motion just in case someone gets through the alarms at the doors or windows. They may not have thought it was necessary to put them in the bathrooms and break room."
"Well, no matter what we find, that's going to be the next upgrade," Alex grumbled as he started checking the room to see if he could figure out where the intruder was getting in and why none of the alarms were going off. He stopped suddenly and swung back around, pinning Jensen with unwavering eyes.
"Why did you include the bathrooms?"
Jensen sighed. He wasn't used to dealing with security issues and most certainly didn't have experience dealing with people that saw every comment as a reason to ask a million questions. "I've noticed some odd things in there recently."
Alex sat back down and waited. He could tell Jensen wasn't comfortable. He didn't know if it was with him or the situation he'd found himself in but Alex wasn't about to lose his head to this man's husband. He'd made it through numerous campaigns alive, maybe not always in one piece, but he was still here.
"I don't know really, it's like someone was cleaning up in there. There was a large amount of paper towels in the trash can and the soap container looks like someone tried to wipe it down after but didn't do such a good job, same with the sink."
"Do you think it might be someone that's homeless?" Alex asked, getting back up and resuming his search around the room. He didn't come across any obvious places that someone could get in other than the vent. True, it was close to the floor, but even a small adult wouldn't have been able to fit inside.
"I'd thought of that, but I can't see how they'd be getting in." Jensen waved his hand at the vent Alex had just inspected. "I don't think anyone can get in that way and there's just no where else that the alarms wouldn't pick them up at."
Alex headed to the bathrooms down the hallway Jensen had indicated. After a quick look around, he agreed with Jensen. There were no windows, a floor vent that only a mouse could get through, and nothing else.
He rounded the corner into the break room, catching Jensen chewing on a thumbnail. "I'm going to do a walk around and see where everything is set up and then I'll get the cameras and mics in place."
Jensen trailed behind Alex, watching as he checked every inch of the gallery, making notes as he went. Jensen wished he'd make some kind of noise because the silent inspection was starting to wear on his nerves. A few um's and grunts would at least give him some idea of what Alex was thinking.
"It's not too bad, but it's got some holes we need to plug," Alex finally commented, crawling down off one of the counters.
"Okay," Jensen stepped back so Alex wouldn't kick him.
"Give me about an hour to set up and then I'll walk you through where everything is."
"Sure, I'm going to go check on some of the canvases." Jensen gestured behind him before making a quick exit.
Alex busied himself with pulling all his equipment out and tried to keep his mind off what Jared would do when he found out. It took almost two hours to get everything put in place and tested. He found Jensen two steps up a ladder with a painting clutched in his hands.
He backed up and scraped his shoes against the floor, creating the squeaking affect everyone hated to announce his presence. By the time he rounded the corner, Jensen was standing on the floor with the painting propped on the ladder.
"You saw me didn't you?" Jensen asked.
"I won't tell if you stay off them," Alex offered.
Jensen sighed. "Fine, I forgot how frustrating it is not being able to do the things I see that need doing."
"Don't you have help?" Alex lifted the painting, shooing Jensen out of the way so he could get to the ladder.
"Yeah, but I hate getting Natalie to do everything. It makes me feel like a slacker getting someone else to do it for me and she's the only one I trust hanging paintings right now."
"Somehow, I don't think anyone can call you a slacker when you're carting around two babies that given the size of their daddy can't be lightweights." He paused looking at Jensen to see if he had the picture up straight.
"A little to the left," Jensen motioned. "I know, but it's still not easy to just stand by and have someone else do it for you."
"I get it, laying around’s never been my thing either," Alex acknowledged as he led the way back to the break room.
It took him a half hour to walk Jensen through the placement of all the cameras and mics. He'd explained the system would record for twenty-four hours, more than enough time to catch whatever was going on through the night. The system would switch over to a secondary device for the next twenty-four hours, giving them time to go through the previous one before it was recorded over.
Jensen relaxed when Alex promised to come over the next afternoon and look through the footage with him. He wasn't technologically challenged, but he wasn't a guru either so having Alex show him how to do it the first time was a great relief.
Needless to say, they hadn't thought it would take almost a month for them to find the culprit, nor were they prepared for what they found.
Alex looked out the window at the woods surrounding the land the center owned. He'd found out in one of his walks with Cliff that the house that sat at the front of the property had been donated and moved to the spot it now resided in less than a year and a half ago.
Chris and Steve had told Cliff that the anonymous donor requested they use it for whatever was needed to make their clients feel safe and they were given a blank check to furnish it however they saw fit. It was rampant speculation that the donor was a member of Chris' family.
He'd been impressed when Cliff had shown him around. The living room had been redone into a massive video room with screens for all the cameras that were laid out throughout the woods, grounds, access roads, and doors. There was even a separate set of cameras that would activate if someone managed to get into the house.
Steve had been adamant about the residents having their privacy. So far, the only times that they'd been turned on was the weekly test they ran to make sure nothing was malfunctioning. Even then, the vast majority of them were set for hallways and entrances to the house.
The den was a recreation and entertainment area for the firm’s handpicked employees. Not everyone that was employed with the security firm worked at the center. Cliff had made it clear that only a select few would ever be assigned to there. All of them had passed interviews and psych evals required by Cliff, but Chris and Steve both vetted every single one of the potentials once Cliff cleared them as possibilities.
There was a fully stocked kitchen, a laundry room, two full baths, and three bedrooms that were all set up for double occupancy if needed. The den also had two sofas that could be pulled out and become beds in case there was an event that required all hands on deck.
Alex had been impressed, not only by Cliff, but the entire set up. Derrick had been the first person Cliff had partnered him with when he'd joined the security firm, and Alex had found himself relaxing around the man without even realizing it. He tuned back into the conversation he'd been having before he'd let his attention drift.
"I'm sorry. I think I must have misheard you. You did what!?" Derrick asked, voice rising a little as he slid into the seat across from Alex, careful not to spill his coffee.
"I set up some mics and cameras for Jensen."
"He called and asked me to come by with them. I didn't know why until I got there," Alex defended himself.
"You didn't ask questions?"
Alex shrugged, taking another sip of his coffee. "I didn't think it'd be anything. He's an artist who’s three months pregnant. How much trouble could he get into?"
"You told Jared, right? Please tell me you told Jared."
"I haven't seen Jared to tell him," Alex mumbled. He was going to hang onto that excuse until his dying breath. It wasn't like he saw the man every day, for pete's sake.
"Nice knowing you, man," Derrick declared, shaking his head.
"Seriously, it's probably just the pregnancy hormones. I've heard folks forget things when they get pregnant."
Derrick lifted an eyebrow. "Man, that kind of talk will get you maimed if Jensen hears you. He's not prone to hysterics. Unless it has to do with Jared or Avery, he's a pretty level headed guy."
Alex stretched his leg out, trying to alleviate some of the stiffness. Dropping his head onto the back of the chair, he looked up at the ceiling. "I am so screwed."
"Who got screwed?" Jason appeared out of nowhere as he often did.
"Nobody," Derrick and Alex responded.
Jason stopped with his hand halfway to the coffee maker, turning around to stare at them. "Okay..."
Alex watched the look of unholy glee spread across the other man's face and winced. Jason was a damn good bodyguard, his lean frame always lulled his opponent into a false sense of power. However, Jason's particular gift was intelligence gathering. His boy next door looks and laid back charm had people falling all over themselves to tell him their secrets. It was fairly disturbing.
"Alex, are you getting into trouble without me?" Jason asked, grabbing the chair between the two men, setting his cup on the table, and pinning Alex with his patented 'I'm here to listen, I can help' look.
Jason didn't even flinch when Derrick dropped his head onto the table and groaned. He sat patiently waiting for Alex to divulge what they had been discussing.
"Go ahead and tell him, you know you're going to," Derrick mumbled his forehead still attached to the kitchen table.
Alex straightened back up, trying to figure out how he could maneuver himself out of the situation he'd placed himself in. If he told Jason, there might be a chance the sneaky devil could figure out a way since he'd been trying to come up with one for the past three weeks.
Jason listened quietly while Alex laid out what had happened, blinking a few times before picking up his coffee and taking several swallows. He glanced over at Derrick then back at Alex.
"Yup, you're screwed! Seriously, didn't you read those rules Cliff left?"
"Yes," Alex answered, exasperated. "I didn't think they were that big of a deal, they were written on Hello Kitty note paper. How was I supposed to know it wasn't a joke?"
"That's because Chad wrote it." Derrick cut in, pouring himself more coffee.
"Maybe it'll turn out to be nothing and you can pretend you were just checking out the security for Jensen's insurance company." Jason offered optimistically.
"Jared's going to kill me," Alex groaned, not surprised when he didn't hear any argument from either of his coworkers.
Chad stood in the doorway to Jared's office, staring at his friend and boss. He'd noticed Jared had been preoccupied the last couple of weeks, and while they definitely had more than their fair share of work, things had been going along smoothly. Chad didn't think it was work related so that left Jensen or Avery. Sophia hadn't mentioned any questionable acts of imaginative chaos from Avery so that left Jensen, and the only way he knew to find out was to bug his friend until he caved.
"Okay, out with it," Chad demanded, dropping into one of the chairs in front of Jared's desk.
"Out with what?" Jared asked, startled out of his brooding.
"Whatever it is that has you collecting frown lines and staring off into space. The babies are okay right?" Chad asked, more worried than curious now that the thought of something wrong with the twins had taken hold of his brain.
"Yes, the doctor said the twins are fine, everything is going great. Jensen's just tired, but the throwing up is slowing down. Once he can get some food in him that will stay and not expend so much energy losing it, he should start feeling a little better."
"Alright, so then what's the problem?" Chad relaxed a little, leaning back, and waiting.
Jared took in the jut of Chad's jaw and knew Chad wouldn't be going away until he was happy that he knew everything. He let out an exasperated sigh as he leaned back in his chair, his fingers automatically rubbing at his temples where a headache was starting to build.
"I don't know that there is one. It's just Jensen has been acting odd lately."
"What do you mean odd?"
"That's just it, I don't know how to explain it. He's been antsy, checking in at the gallery more than usual." Jared paused trying to find words for the unsettled feeling he'd been getting lately.
"I don't know man, it's like he's hiding something, but he's not. Does that make any sense?"
"Nope, not a bit," Chad responded, perplexed. Jensen just didn't have it in him to do anything that would hurt the people he loved. "Is he having problems at the gallery?"
"No, I asked him, he said everything was great. Natalie has been a huge help and they just put on two more people to manage the influx of business. Eric told us the gallery should be in the black by the middle of the year, which is almost two years ahead of schedule so it's not money either. I don't know what it is but something just feels off."
"You don't think it might just be you worrying about him and the twins do you?" Chad could relate if it was. Sure, his and Sophia's impending parenthood was more conventional pregnancy-wise, and thankfully not high risk, but he'd still had many a sleepless night stressing about it.
Jared couldn't deny he was worried. All multiple pregnancies were high risk, but when it was a man carrying them, it was even more dangerous. He knew that Jensen had been making sure to do everything the doctor told him to because Jared knew his husband was just as worried about the babies being born healthy as he was.
"No, it's not that, I mean, you know I worry about all of them just like you do with Sophia and yours, but this is different. I hadn't said anything because I don't know what it is!" The frustration was clear in Jared's voice.
"Look, everyone knows to keep an eye on Jensen, making sure he has help if he needs it and he's not doing anything that he thinks he can do but really shouldn't be. Whatever it is, it's probably nothing to get worked up about."
"Then why doesn't he just tell me? It's like he doesn't trust me," Jared finally voiced what he'd been eating at him the entire time.
"Jared, you know that's not true. Maybe there's nothing for him to tell you right now, or it could be he just doesn't want you any more worried than you already are. He knows you're stressed about the babies and work, and if it's nothing major he can handle it. He might be doing the same thing you did when you didn't tell him about the break in we had."
"Nothing was stolen, and I did tell him," Jared defended.
"Three months after it happened, and only because Sophia spilled the beans because she didn't know you hadn't!" Chad's exasperation was clear. "So you're telling me you didn't tell Jensen about it because you didn't trust him?"
"No! I didn't want him to see ghosts when there weren't any," Jared grumbled, referring to the trouble they'd had with Jensen's ex-husband.
"Exactly, see the parallel?" Chad asked, rolling his eyes when Jared looked about ready to pout. "Doesn't work for you, man. You and Jensen need to work on your communication or start paying me more if I have to take on the job of therapist too."
"Hey! You asked."
"Of course I did, you're my friend which is why I get to tell you you're acting stupid." Chad grinned as he bounced out of his seat and headed for the door. "Now if you're finished being a whiny bitch, we've got boards and edits to take care of in the workroom."
"I'll show you who’s a whiny bitch!" Jared grumbled, making his way to the door.
"I'm telling Jensen you called him a whiny bitch." Chad's voice floated down the hall.
"I was talking to you, asshole," Jared shot back, following his friend to workroom.
"Jensen, don't you think you should tell Jared about this?" Natalie asked, indicating the monitor her boss was sitting in front of. They were watching footage the surveillance cameras picked up from the night before like they'd been doing every single day for the last twenty-five.
"Nope, not until I know there's something going on. Jared has enough to deal with besides my obvious paranoia." Jensen sighed as he sat back in his seat, rubbing his eyes where they had started to burn from watching the monitor for so long.
"You're definitely not paranoid." Natalie blinked at what she was seeing. "Jensen look!" She exclaimed, reaching over and rewinding the recorder a little.
Jensen sat back up, focusing on the screen again. "What did you see?" He asked, waiting for the footage to get back to whatever Natalie wanted him to look at.
"Just watch," Natalie answered shakily, wanting someone else to verify what she was positive she'd seen.
Jensen picked up his bottle of water and was about to take a sip when the grate on the wall of the break room started to wiggle on the screen. Natalie grabbed the bottle out of his hand when he almost missed the desk trying to set it down again without taking his eyes off the screen.
He watched as the grate finally popped loose and would have hit the floor with a clatter if a small hand hadn't grabbed it before it could fall.
"Oh dear God!" Jensen breathed as a small head emerged from the hole, the body of a child following it. He couldn't tell if the little figure was a boy or a girl, it was bundled up in what had to be several layers of clothes and was wearing a hat.
Jensen kept expecting to see the kid go to the refrigerator, but the figure stayed in front of the vent. Before long, an even smaller body emerged from the hole, leaving Jensen lightheaded and breathless. He felt like his heart was going to beat its way out of his chest.
"I see them. What are we going to do?"
"I don't know," Jensen answered, never taking his eyes off the screen. The children moved out of the break room and into the hall where the camera picked them up again until they entered the bathroom. Twenty long minutes later, they both came out.
Jensen watched as they reappeared in the break room minus several layers of clothes, when the older child took off their hats he was finally able to see who it was that had been sneaking in and out. A young girl no more than twelve stood patiently waiting for a little boy to finish pushing his hair out of his eyes where the static electricity had plastered it.
Jensen figured he was about six or seven, but without knowing how long they'd been doing this he couldn't tell if they were just older and malnourished. He reached out, touching the screen as the kids finally made their way to the refrigerator.
Natalie sat down beside him and watched as the children ate several sandwiches, cleaned up behind themselves, and made a pallet on the floor by the vent. Jensen's heart broke as he watched them cover up with the remaining layers of clothes and go to sleep. He moved the footage forward watching the kids get up and make several more sandwiches before grabbing some fruit and a couple of bottles of water.
A backpack had appeared from somewhere and he watched them pack up their loot and scoot out into the vent, the girl pulling the grate back up and disappearing from view. Jensen was out of his chair and down the hall before Natalie even realized he'd moved. She found him standing in front of the vent with tears in his eyes.
"They were here." He stooped down as much as he could and looked through the grate. "What if something happens to them before they decide to come back?" Jensen asked Natalie as he turned around, worry and guilt written all over his face.
"Jensen, there was no way you knew it were kids getting into the building. If you'd have known, you'd have been here every night waiting for them. I think you need to call Alex and then I think it's time you finally tell Jared."
Jared's day had spiraled into chaos starting with the moment he stepped out of bed. Avery had decided today would be the day that she was too old to go to nursery school, and Jensen wasn't there to head off the tantrum because he was still hanging out by the toilet.
The episodes were getting fewer and farther between, but there were still some days that started out with Jensen sick. Jared finally managed to talk Avery into getting ready and visiting her friends, and made sure his husband was feeling better before he'd left for work.
Jensen typically dropped Avery off because it was on his way to work, but Jared did his best especially now that his husband was pregnant again, to help with getting their daughter ready in the morning. He'd completely forgotten that today was Sophia's doctor’s appointment and Chad would be in later than usual.
He'd just managed to get everyone in the workroom caught up on where they were on all the various projects and what still needed to be done when his phone rang. He hurried to answer it when he saw Jensen's ID displayed on the screen. Jensen never called first thing in the morning because he knew how busy things usually were, even though Jared had told him a million times that he didn't mind.
"Jensen? Is everything okay?" Jared asked, worry eating a hole in his stomach as he shut his office door.
"I'm fine." Jensen paused. "I know Chad won't be there until later, but could you come to the gallery when he gets there?"
"I don't have to wait for Chad, I'll be there in less than an hour," Jared stated as he shut down his computer and started gathering keys and his coat.
"Jared, I know how busy you guys are. It can wait until you get here, I swear."
Jared sat down in his chair and took a deep breath. "Okay, why don't you tell me what's going on then, that way I'm not imagining all kinds of scenarios."
Jensen was quiet for a few seconds. "I don't want you to worry. There's nothing wrong with Avery, the twins, or me. I'd just rather talk to you in person."
"All right, I'll wait until Chad gets here. At least tell me if this is what's had you so stressed out."
"I've not been stressed," Jensen disagreed.
"You've been calling the gallery more times than mama's been calling to check on you," Jared responded, exasperated.
"Really? Huh. I didn't realize. I'm sorry if I worried you."
Jared sighed. He loved Jensen more than life itself, but sometimes the man could be completely oblivious. "It's okay, we'll figure it out together. I'll see you as soon as I can get there."
"I love you."
Jared couldn't help smiling. "I love you, too."
Jared found Jensen sitting in the break room staring at the wall, which in itself wasn't necessarily odd, but there was usually a piece of art hanging on it to contemplate.
"Jensen." Jared walked across the room the worry he'd been feeling over the last few weeks coming back full force.
His husband looked up, startled, and then back down at his watch, appearing to be surprised that three and half hours had passed.
"Natalie said you've been back here since we talked. Tell me what's wrong so we can fix it." He ran his fingers through Jensen's hair and down the back of his neck, trying to massage some of the tension out of the tight muscles there.
Jensen sighed, leaning his head against Jared's leg, relaxing into the pressure of his husband’s hand soothing his nerves. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly and trying to organize his thoughts.
Jared moved back a little as Jensen made to stand. "Let's go in the office. What I need to show you is in there anyway."
Instead of going to the desk he made his way to a small table sitting in the corner and took a seat. Jared knew that wasn't a typical fixture in the office nor was the all the devices and wires spread across the top. If he didn't miss his guess, he'd swear that it looked like monitoring equipment, which begged the question just where Jensen had gotten it.
"A couple of months ago or so I noticed things in the break room kept disappearing. Small things really, nothing major. I didn't think much about it until my cookies walked away one night."
"The molasses ones?" Jared asked, wrinkling his nose.
"Yes, and stop doing that, it's not my fault your kids like them." Jensen glared at his husband for a minute. "Anyway, as I was saying, I couldn't figure out who'd be getting into the food. I mean, that's what it was there for, but it was disappearing quicker than it usually did and that was taking into account the new guys."
"Is that all you found missing?"
"Yeah, nothing else was taken, but every time I noticed food missing the bathroom was always left in odd shape."
"What do you mean odd shape?"
"You know how we have to clean up behind Avery's attempts to clean up? It was like that. There would be dirt on the soap container but it looked like someone had tried to wipe it off. The sink would have grit in the bottom and there would be a ton of paper towels in the trash can."
"Jensen, are you trying to tell me you thought someone was breaking in and you didn't call the police?" Jared asked, horrified.
"No. I wasn't sure what was going on. I figured I could find out first and then if we needed to call the police we could," Jensen explained as if it made perfect sense.
Jared ran his fingers through his hair, trying not to give into the desire to pull it out. He already had a headache and it looked like it was only going to get worse so there was no reason to add to it himself. He didn’t understand why he continued to forget just how hardheaded his husband could be. They grew up together, for heavens sake, he remembers Jeff beating his head against the wall on more than one occasion when Jensen dug in and wouldn't listen.
"So who did you ask to help out?" Jared indicated the equipment, silently promising himself he'd take his frustration out on whoever that turned out to be.
Jensen took a good look at Jared and winced as he noted the tick in his husbands jaw and the way he kept squinting. He pushed the chair back, grabbing the aspirin out of the desk drawer and a water bottle, and handed them to his husband. "Why didn't you tell me you had a bad headache?"
"Because I've been waiting for you to tell me what's wrong for weeks now and I didn't want to get sidetracked," Jared grumbled as he swallowed two pills, capped the water, and waited for Jensen to continue.
"I'm sorry, I was trying not to worry you, but I did anyway, didn't I?" Jensen mumbled, looking at the floor.
"Hey, look at me." Jared slid forward, lifting Jensen's chin with his fingers. "I know you didn't mean to worry me, just like I didn't want to worry you about the break in. I suggest from now on we just tell each other what's going on because obviously we're both shitty liars."
Jensen smiled, leaning over and pecking Jared on the lips. "Yeah we are, it's a deal."
"Now how about you tell me what you found out," Jared requested.
"I called Alex and asked him to come see me and bring some mics and cameras. I figured if I could find out what was going on then I'd know what to do about it."
"Alex? The new guy?" Jared asked, trying to keep his voice level. 'The who I'm going to kill' remained unspoken.
Jensen caught the tone, though, because he pinned Jared with a glare. "You will not be mean to Alex. He was just trying to help and he probably thought he was humoring the paranoid pregnant man."
"The one thing you're not is paranoid. If you think something's going on, I've never seen a time there wasn't."
Jensen beamed. "Thank you, but Alex doesn't know that. He hasn’t been around very long, which is another reason I asked him to help. You've not had time to scare him to death."
"I'll make sure I remedy that at the next opportunity," Jared grumbled under his breath.
"I'm serious don't pick on Alex, he has his own problems." Jensen crossed his arms over his chest. "Do you want to hear the rest of this or not?"
"You know I do. Did he at least find out why you wanted him to set things up before he just left you to play amateur detective?"
"I told him, but I'm sure he thought I was nuts. That's why I've been calling a lot, I wanted to make sure everything was okay, and then on the days I was off, Natalie would check the footage for me. So far, there's been nothing on it until this morning when we were looking at last night’s footage."
"So was someone breaking in?"
Jensen flipped on the monitor and started the footage. "It's probably best if you just watch for yourself," he offered quietly, not sure he could explain it past the lump in his throat.
It didn't matter how many times he watched the kids emerging from the vent, the horrified feeling he got never changed. He could see it on Jared's face as soon as his husband realized what he was seeing.
Jared continued to watch until the picture showed the kids coming back into the room and taking off their hats. He froze the footage and just looked at the two small figures on the screen.
"Have you called Alex yet?"
"No, I was waiting for you. I never meant to leave you out, I just wanted to make sure there was actually something happening before I worried you."
Jared sighed. He grabbed Jensen's hand and gave it a squeeze. "Call Alex and ask him to meet us over at the center."
"What are you going to do?" Jensen asked as he was searching for his phone.
"Call Chris," Jared answered, already halfway out the door with his phone to his ear.
"Well sh...crap!" Jensen breathed, dropping his head into his hands. His ears were already ringing from the yelling he knew Chris was going to do.
Jensen dialed Alex's number, trying to listen to Jared's conversation with one ear, but his husband had apparently walked to the end of the hall.
Jensen pulled his attention back to his own call. "Hey Alex."
"Did you find something?"
"Yeah." Jensen sighed, his thoughts drifting back to the kids. "Do you think we could meet later tonight?"
"Sure. Where do you want me to meet you?"
"Would it be okay if we came by the house?" Jensen asked, referring to where the center's security team stayed.
"Yeah, sure. Cliff's not holding any meetings tonight. What time?"
"Not sure, hold on a second." Jensen stuck his head out the door, finding Jared at the doorway to the breakroom.
Jared consulted Chris quickly before answering.
"Yeah, we'll do it over at the house," Jensen informed him, waiting for Jared to nod his agreement.
Jensen finished his call with Alex and waited until Jared came back into the room. "How bad is it?"
"Well, the fact that you're pregnant is in your favor."
"He's that mad?" Jensen asked, trying to picture Chris' worst hissy fit, and cringing when it came to mind.
"He's not happy that's for sure, but I think he got a little derailed when I told him what you'd found and now he's worried about the kids. He's relieved it was you that figured something was going on, but he's still pissed."
"Does everyone think I'm incapable of taking care of myself?" Jensen huffed.
"No, but we love you and you've already had enough bad things happen in your life that we'd prefer you not have a repeat performance. Not on our watch." Jared leaned forward kissing his husband on the forehead.
"Do you think your mom can watch Avery tonight? It's probably going to be late by the time we get finished."
"I'm sure it'll be a huge hardship, but she'll manage somehow," Jared answered, rolling his eyes. Sometimes, he wondered if they needed to set up visitation rights as often as his parents tried to steal their little girl.
Jared had talked Jensen into going home and getting a little rest before they met with everyone. He didn't delude himself into thinking that Jensen would actually sleep but the twins were a huge strain on his body and every little bit of down time he could get his husband to participate in he considered a win.
Jared knew they wouldn't leave the meeting tonight without some clear direction on what they were going to do about the gallery's visitors and there was no telling how long that was going to take. Since his parents were keeping Avery for the night he'd called Chad to let him he'd be late coming in the next morning.
He promised to fill Chad in on what was going on after reassuring his friend everyone was okay. Once he'd taken the care of the dogs, he made his way up the stairs. He had a few things he needed to check into before they left.
He pushed the door to their room open to let Jensen know he was going to be in their office, but his husband had proven him wrong again and had actually fallen asleep. Jared couldn't help but indulge the urge to stand and watch Jensen sleep.
Jared pulled his phone out of his pocket and snapped a quick picture. His husband was lying on his side his knees bent, one hand tucked under his cheek the other wrapped around the growing girth of their children.
There was a time when he'd thought he'd be single his entire life, but when unexpected circumstances had changed all that, he'd grabbed the opportunity with both hands and refused to let go. Now he couldn't imagine his life any other way.
He knew exactly how blessed he was.
Jensen was relieved to find that Chris and Steve hadn't arrived yet. He wanted to make sure he was there to run interference between the men and Alex. There were times that he could cheerfully throttle his friends, even though he knew they only acted the way they did out of love.
He was well aware of how fortunate he was to have people in his life that loved and wanted to protect him, but sometimes he felt like one of Avery's Disney princesses. He didn't doubt that his husband and friends would lock him away in a tower if they thought they could get away with it. Jensen found it both endearing and frustrating.
Derrick met them at the door. "I hope you haven't eaten, Ellen just dropped off enough food to feed a whole platoon."
"Steve texted and told us we were being fed so we came straight here," Jensen assured him.
"Alex and Jason should be back in just a few minutes. Cliff had something going down at one of his other cases and they had to take him some more equipment."
"That's fine, Steve said they might be a few minutes late as well. They had to meet with the social worker for one of their residents," Jensen told him as he took a seat at the kitchen table.
Jared grabbed a couple of plates and started piling food on them, already predicting his husbands response before he put the plate down, and Jensen didn't disappoint him.
"Jared, there's no way I can eat that much food," Jensen exclaimed.
"You're eating for three now, and it's late enough that it won't bring on the nausea and early enough not to bother you when you go to bed tonight as long as you don't forget to take your medicine before you do."
"Well yeah, but you're forgetting my stomach doesn't have a whole lot of room with these two in here." Jensen poked at his expanding girth.
"Wouldn't several smaller meals work better?" Derrick asked as he put his own plate down and took a seat at the table. He seemed to remember something about that from his sister's pregnancy.
"Typically, but unfortunately I'm still getting sick until noon and if I don't have at least two or three hours for digestion, I don't have a good night. It's a great big vicious circle of cause and effect."
"Does it get any better?"
"It did with Avery. If this pregnancy stays on the same track, I should get some relief within the next month. I'm not counting on it, though, because everyone's told me no two are the same."
Alex and Jason returning from their errand interrupted Derrick’s response. Jason headed to the food, grabbing a plate and loading it to overflowing. Alex hung back, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible. Unfortunately, it had little effect as Jared continued to glare at him.
"OWW!" Jared exclaimed, reaching under the table to rub the shin Jensen had just kicked.
"Then stop acting like a caveman," Jensen responded, continuing to eat without bothering to look at anyone in the room.
Jason breathed a sigh of relief as some of the tension dissipated and Alex relaxed enough to grab a plate and start filling it.
Table conversation revolved around general topics, no one willing to get into the reason for their meeting until everyone had arrived. Jared watched his husband place his dishes in the dishwasher and slip out the door. He'd heard Steve's truck pull up and knew Jensen had probably heard it as well.
Jensen met Chris at the foot of the steps, nodding at Steve as the man squeezed his shoulder on the way past him. He'd been trying to decide what to say to his friend ever since Jared had made the call to him.
"So how mad are you exactly?" Jensen asked, sitting down on the steps.
Chris had built up a fair amount of steam and he was ready to let it out, but faced with Jensen's quiet question he felt his anger deflating. "Why didn't you get some help?" Chris asked, taking a seat next to Jensen.
"I did get some help. "
"You asked Alex to set up cameras, that's not help. It could have been anyone breaking in."
"Chris, do you think I'd really endanger Natalie and the other guys?"
"No," Chris answered, sighing.
"Do you think I'd do anything that would risk these babies?" Jensen asked, rubbing his hand across his stomach.
"You know I don't."
"I realize you think the only way for the people you care about to be safe is if you're the one watching out for them."
"No, I don't!"
"Yes, you do, but it's not practical. You can't be everywhere, and you shouldn't need to be. I know it's in your genetic code, but I think I can venture a safe guess that I was in good hands with an ex-special forces guy checking into things for me."
Chris' shoulders slumped, and he rested his head in his hands. "I've been acting a little insane, haven't I?"
"Just a little more than normal." Jensen grinned at Chris' glare. "You've got a lot going on man, you need to let other people help out. Besides, you know I'm going to need your expertise when we do find the kids."
Chris rubbed his hands down his face, looking over at his friend. "How in the hell have they survived this long if they're as young as you think they are?"
"I have no idea, but if the center's taught me nothing else it's that when people get desperate, there's no end to the ways human beings try to survive."
"Yeah, I shouldn't be surprised by now, but there's always something new that makes my jaw drop."
"Not an attractive look for you by the way," Jensen informed him.
Chris nudged him with his shoulder. "So not funny."
Jensen smiled, taking Chris' hand so he could get to his feet. "Go on in and get you something to eat. I'll be in, in just a few minutes."
Chris hesitated a few seconds before he nodded and disappeared through the back door. It wasn't long before Jensen felt Jared slide up behind him, right before his arms came around his waist and settled over their growing children.
"Everything okay?" Jared asked, placing a soft kiss against the back of Jensen's neck.
Jensen shivered and pulled Jared's arms around him a little tighter. "Yeah, we're good."
By silent agreement, they waited until everyone had eaten, and then moved into the den to discuss what they'd all come together for. It took a minute of silence for Jensen to realize they were waiting for him to start.
Jensen pulled the surveillance footage out of his pocket and handed it to Jason who'd stood up to grab it. Alex hadn't said much since he'd gotten back from his errand and he'd kept his movement to a minimum so as to not draw any more unwanted attention in his direction. While no one had said anything outright to him, he'd still been on the receiving end of quite a few glares.
"I'm not sure how much everyone knows so I'm just going to start at the beginning and we can go from there." Jensen sighed and leaned back, rubbing his hands through his hair. "I'd noticed things missing in the breakroom, just food and drinks, I thought it was Natalie or one of the guys at first, not that they're not welcome to it, that's what it's there for."
"Couldn't one of your folks have grabbed something on the way out and you not seen them?" Derrick asked, trying to figure out how Jensen had made the leap from missing food to break ins.
"I thought about that, but some of those times I'd closed the store and opened the next day, there hadn't been anyone else there to eat it. It was odd, but not something like a missing painting so I just pushed it to the back of my mind. Then I started noticing the paper towels in the trash can after I knew the cleaning crew had done their work and before we opened the next day. The sink was dirty too, like someone had tried to clean it up after but didn't do a good job."
"Why didn't you think the cleaning crew was half-assing things?" Jason asked, playing devil’s advocate.
"They've worked for me ever since we opened the gallery and their work has always been impeccable. They also didn't take the food, they can have anything in there they want, but even after all this time, Don will leave a note on my desk if anyone did decide to get a drink or snack. I've told him a ton of times I didn't care, but he does it anyway. These times, there were no notes."
"So what made you decide to call Alex?" Steve asked.
Jensen wasn't sure what was going on with his friend, but he'd been almost as quiet as Alex had all night. Steve wasn't boisterous by nature and his experiences hadn't leant themselves to him changing.
"Because they took my cookies, not the cash box and… um… well… I figured you all hadn’t had a chance to scare Alex into tattling on me yet," Jensen answered.
"Cookies!?" Derrick questioned, confused.
"They're molasses, and nobody else likes them," Jensen explained, gesturing at Jared who was indeed sporting a look of distaste.
"Let's see what we've got." Jason cut into the conversation. He'd been cuing up the footage to the right spot.
Everyone gathered around and watched the scene play out. Jensen hung back so the others could see since he'd watched enough times that it was burnt into his brain. He knew from the reactions the other men in the room had, exactly what parts they were watching without having to glance over their shoulders.
It had taken several hours to come up with what they hoped was a foolproof plan to catch the kids. The whole thing sucked having to set up a trap, even though it wasn't wire and cage, to catch children, but the group tried to remember than once completed, the kids would be in a much safer environment.
They'd all agreed that any work done would have to be carried out from the inside in case the children were street smart enough to case their locations before spending the night, or if they'd just been incredibly lucky at not getting caught. Jensen had been of the opinion that the oldest child spent too much time taking care of the younger one not to be paying attention to what was going on around their hideaways.
Jared tended to agree but he sat quietly, letting the meeting roll on around him. He wasn't at all surprised when Jensen called him on it once they were on their way home.
"You were really quiet tonight. Is something wrong?"
"Yeah," Jared answered, keeping his voice as casual as he could. "There are two kids out there scraping together food and shelter when they should be getting tucked into bed and hugged goodnight."
"I know." Jensen sighed, leaning his head back against the rest. "Do you disagree with the plan?"
Jared reached over to squeeze the hand closest to him. "No, I don't think there's any other way to do it. If it was just the little girl, she might take a chance and trust us, but she's protecting someone else and I don't see her letting down her guard."
He paused and looked over at his husband. "I wouldn't."
Jensen smiled tiredly. "I just wanted to make sure everything was okay. You're not usually one to sit back and have no input."
"Are you calling me bossy!?" Jared asked in mock offense.
"Maybe," Jensen answered, trying not to laugh at the look on Jared's face.
"There wasn't really anything for me to offer. It's not my area of expertise," Jared explained, getting serious again.
Jensen nodded, turning his head to look out into the dark. Lights blurred past them as Jared took them home. He hoped the kids were in as safe a place as they could get tonight, and he prayed that they wouldn't have to hide for much longer.
It had been three weeks since their meeting, and three weeks they'd come up empty. The children hadn't returned, and all Jensen could do was worry and watch the news obsessively in case they'd been found. Jared tried to mitigate the stress his husband was under, but he'd be lying if he said he hadn't been just as worried.
Even though they'd tried to keep things as normal as possible, Avery had still picked up on their tension. Instead of being whiny or clingy, she'd gone out of her way to try and get things for Jensen whenever she thought he was getting ready to get up. She was scarily adept at reading what he needed before he could shift himself off the couch and get it. Jared couldn't help the snort that escaped when Jensen commented on their daughter’s behavior.
"What?" Jensen asked, confused.
"Jen, she may look a lot like me, but she acts just like you. "
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Jared bit back the laugh that tried to escape as he watched his husband try to figure out what to do with his hands when he realized he couldn't put them on his hips because of his growing waistline. He reached out, drawing Jensen towards the bed, sliding back to rest against the headboard before pulling his husband between his legs and wrapping his arms around him until he could smooth his hands over Jensen's stomach.
Jensen sighed, relaxing into Jared's hold, letting it soothe his frazzled nerves. It had been a long day at the gallery on top of worrying about his next doctor’s appointment. His blood pressure had been a little higher than they would have liked, and he was worried that not only would they put him on bed rest, but that it might endanger the twins as well.
"Do you remember the summer that Jeff broke his leg?" Jared kept rubbing circles into Jensen's stomach.
"How could I forget? I think that's one of the few times I've ever heard your dad raise his voice and it sort of freaked me out."
Jared winced a little, remembering. It had been very rare for either of his parents to raise their voices so when it did happen they knew they were in deep shit. Of course, it hadn't helped that he'd gotten suspended three days for fighting.
"Yeah, he wasn't very happy with me. It was worth it though, the jackass didn't mess with you or Jeff anymore after that."
"You do realize that Gary was only trying to show off ‘cause he liked Jeff right? I don't think he was planning to fall off his skateboard right on top of your brother."
"I know what the little prick wanted. I think it worked out just fine." Jared kissed the top of Jensen's head.
"You got suspended from school, and your dad grounded you for like a month."
"Sure, but it got rid of Gary too."
"Well, yeah, but what's this got to do with Avery and her being like me?"
"Don't you remember how you waited on Jeff hand and foot? I thought he was going to smack you in the head with his crutch, you were hovering so much. "
"I was not, and Jeff would never have hit me."
"Probably not, but my point remains. Avery is just like you, she senses something’s wrong and she's trying to fix it. You're both fixers, you always have been, and she's already exhibiting the signs."
"Like you're not," Jensen scoffed. "She could have gotten that from you just as well as me."
"Maybe, but I wasn't the one bringing Jeff all the baby birds and rabbits."
"No, that's true," Jensen agreed. "You're just sneakier about your fixing habit than I am."
Before Jared could respond, Avery came rushing into the room followed closely by Sadie and Harley. She was holding both their cell phones babbling about Uncle Chris calling.
Jason was on patrol, which typically meant he walked the perimeter and made sure there was no one setting up camp in the woods surrounding the property that could be a threat to any of the people working or living at the center. It wasn't a particularly dangerous assignment, but one never knew.
He had a shadow today. Robbie was one of the kids staying at the center while his dad tried to get them back on their feet. The kid’s other dad had been an absolute tyrant asshole and Kevin had finally had enough when the man had turned his temper on Robbie. Many residents of the Center were known to have endured unbelievable abuse, but they’d leave to protect their kids even if they wouldn’t do it for themselves.
They tried to discourage the kids from hanging out with them when they were doing rounds but Robbie had attached himself to Jason and no amount of redirection had worked. He just hadn't had the heart to tell him no and disappoint him. He swore the kid had special powers because he'd never had a problem telling anyone ‘no’ before and he couldn't figure out why an eight year old could affect him that way.
Jason was doing his normal visual sweep while keeping an ear out for Robbie's steps crunching on the gravel beside him. He'd explained to the boy why they walked the perimeter and why they had to be quiet, and Robbie had mirrored his actions, both his walk and his silence. It was disturbingly comfortable in its normalcy.
He was contemplating the things he'd need for the night's surveillance at the gallery. It had taken them two days to set up the equipment to try and catch the kids and every night there had been someone there to keep watch. Tonight was again his night. His body stopped moving before his mind registered what he was hearing.
He spared a quick glance at Robbie who had frozen beside him, eyes huge in his head. Jason really wanted to send him back to the center, but without knowing what was in the woods, he was worried about the kid moving and becoming a target. Jason slowly stared moving in the direction of a large tree, angling Robbie until he was standing behind it for cover.
He motioned for the little boy to stay and keep quiet before disappearing into the woods. It didn't take him long to find the source of the noises he'd heard. Jason could make out a body curled in on itself, low moaning cutting through the still afternoon. The birds had quieted in the trees. There was no rustling of small animals and even the bugs had seemed to still, sensing danger in their habitat.
The closer he got, Jason could tell there was no danger from the kid that was lying in the underbrush. He carefully picked his way around, keeping a dual focus on the surrounding area and the body in front of him. At first, all he could see was the back of the person, but as he made his way around the face of a boy who looked like he'd been ten rounds in a cage match and lost badly was revealed.
He knew there was no way he could risk moving the kid, the injuries he could see were bad enough, but there was no telling what was under the torn and dirty clothes. Jason did lift up the boy’s shirt and was met with ugly black bruises littering the little amount of skin he could see.
"Shit!" Jason sat back on his heels, tapping at the communicator in his ear that Ash had given all of them to wear when they were out doing sweeps.
"Speak and be heard. The all powerful Oz is listening."
"Ash, I've got a body in the woods."
All background noise cut off as Ash's voice came back calm and dead serious. "Alive body or dead body?"
"Alive at the moment. I need you to call 911 and see if Jake is up at the center."
"Derrick's out the door, give me a location."
Jason gave him his general vicinity, waiting while Ash relayed it to everyone that would need it. "Robbie is here with me. I'm going to have him waiting at the road so make sure they're keeping an eye out for him."
"What's little man doing out there?"
"You know how he is, he knows my schedule better than I do."
"True that. Derrick should be there in five. I'll tell him to keep his eyes open. Ash out"
Jason took one last look at the boy before dashing out of the woods and explaining to Robbie what he needed him to do. The little boy nodded. Jason could tell he wanted to ask questions, but he never did. He stepped back onto the path and started looking for their help to arrive.
It couldn't have been more than three minutes later when he heard someone making their way through the woods, but it felt like it had taken forever. Jason stayed alert until he was sure that it was Derrick and not the person responsible for the kid’s condition.
"Not very quiet there, man," Jason observed.
"Didn't want to get shot dude," Derrick responded when he got within earshot. "What have you got?"
"Male, late teens I think, it's hard to tell. He's been beat to all hell," Jason answered between clenched teeth.
"Jesus," Derrick breathed as he got his first look at the boy. "Do you know who he is yet?"
"He's been unconscious the whole time and there was no way I was moving him to look for ID."
Derrick nodded in agreement. "Ambulance is about ten minutes out. Jake should be here in about three with Chris and Steve. Steve's going to take Robbie back up to the house."
Jason relaxed a little knowing that help was on the way and someone was going to be taking care of Robbie. He hated leaving the little boy on the path alone, but even with Derrick here he didn't want to leave the unconscious young man's side. Derrick seemed to sense it and disappeared back the way he'd come to stay with Robbie and lead the others back to where they were.
Jake was the first one at his side, Chris and Derrick following close behind, slowed down by the equipment they were carrying. He was relieved to see the backboard and neck brace, it meant they could get things rolling and didn't have to wait for the EMT's.
"He been unconscious the whole time?" Chris asked as he pulled a camera out of his pocket to document the position of the boy’s body and the surrounding area for evidence in case it was needed later.
"Yeah, he was moaning a little at first, that's what caught my attention. He stopped not long after I found him. I didn't want to move him looking for ID so we don't know who he is yet."
Chris nodded, grimacing as Jake and Derrick put the neck brace in place and then slowly shifted the kid onto the backboard. The boy whimpered and Jason's hand shot forward without his permission to run through sweat soaked hair.
He knew he was getting odd looks, he just didn't give a shit at the moment. Jason had no idea why he was acting the way he was so he just rolled with it, hoping he'd figure it out later. Chris took several more pictures as more damage was revealed, and even though Jason knew why and what it was for, he still wanted to shove the camera down Chris' throat.
Chris kept shooting him looks like he knew exactly what he was thinking, but Jason continued to ignore him in favor of listening to Jake catalogue the damage he could see without further tests. Derrick was relaying the information to Ash who was in contact with the EMT's.
"Jake, the ambulance should be here in about two. Ash has let them know everything we know so far. You want to go ahead and get him to the road now?" Derrick asked when Jake took a breather.
"Yeah, I want to get him to the hospital as quick as possible. I don't like his color and I can't tell if there's any internal bleeding without more tests. Looking at the contusions, though, I'd say there's a good chance he has some.
They each took a corner and started making their way to the road, being as careful as they could be to keep from jarring the kid, but moving as quickly as possible. Jason could hear the sirens as they grew louder, cutting off abruptly when they reached the flare Derrick had set up on the path.
Derrick and Chris relinquished their corners of the board as the EMT's took over loading the board onto gurney and pushing it into the back of the ambulance. Jake took one look at Jason's face and shook his head. "Just stay out of the way, man."
Chris had already led the police back into the woods. Derrick gave the ambulance one more confused look as it moved down the road, lights flashing, before heading back to join Chris and answer the police’s questions.
Jensen had just finished waving Avery and his mother-in-law down the driveway when his phone rang. He knew it wasn't Jared because his husband was on a night shoot in the middle of the desert. Even if he had time, there was no way he was getting a signal where they were shooting.
He glanced at the display, but didn't recognize the number. "Hello."
"Jensen, it's Alex."
"Hey, Alex. Is everything all right?"
"We're going to have to put off the stake out tonight."
"Why? What's wrong?" Jensen asked, concerned. He knew there was no way any of the guys would bail on something so important unless there was an emergency.
"Jason found a kid in the woods a little while ago. He was the one doing the stake out tonight, but he rode to the hospital in the ambulance. There's no telling what time he's going to get finished there."
"What do you mean by kid and why were they in the woods?" Jensen took a seat in one of the outdoor chairs they'd added to the patio area. It was a little chilly, but the sun was still up, and just like before when he'd been pregnant, he always seemed to be hot.
"Derrick said from what he could tell the boy was about seventeen, maybe eighteen. We don't know why he was in the woods. He'd taken a beating, though, so whatever reason he was there, it wasn't a good one."
Jensen laid his head back against the chair. He got so tired of hearing how badly people treated other people. He just couldn't understand how it never seemed to end. There was nothing he could do about boy in the woods at the moment, but there was a chance he could do something about the kids.
"So there's no one that can go over tonight?"
"Cliff has everyone else out on jobs. He's even pulled Ash from behind his computers to help out," Alex explained.
"Okay, thanks for calling and letting me know. I'll call Natalie and tell her not to wait for anyone and to go ahead and lock up."
"I'm sorry man, if there was any way one of us could get over there, we would."
"I know. Go ahead and take care of whatever it is you have to do."
Jensen sat for a while longer contemplating his options. He knew Jared wouldn't be home until the next day, and Avery was spending the night with her grandparents so they could get an early start for their trip to the zoo.
The more he contemplated the issue, the more uncomfortable he became knowing that they might lose their chance at finally getting the kids off the street. With his mind made, he pulled himself up and went to pack a bag.
Jensen had lied through his teeth and told Natalie that Alex was on his way. He knew she was studying for exams and he had no intention of being the reason she failed a test, he'd spent too long talking her into going back and getting in some business classes so she would be able to make educated decisions concerning marketing her art and her future.
He'd debated on where to wait. He knew the security team sat in his office and monitored the cameras, and just thinking about sitting there for hours made him want to cry from boredom. Jensen decided to sketch instead. He'd been toying with the idea of expanding the gallery to include other art forms as soon as the gallery was in the black.
Jared had been behind the idea, suggesting he include enough space in his expansion to have someone teaching those forms as well. Jensen was positive he wanted to add pottery and possibly some form of metal works, but he was still in the research phase.
He'd been working on his sketches for about three hours when he heard a small thud coming from down the hall. Jensen rolled his chair back slowly, careful to make as little noise as possible. The button to release the hidden grate inside the vent shaft was just inside the breakroom door so he was going to have to wait until the kids went into the bathroom.
It seemed like hours before he heard the careful shuffle of little feet make their way down the hall and the bathroom door shut. Jensen slipped around the corner and pushed the button, relieved to hear the small click it made when the grate locked into place. He'd seen Alex test it, but you never knew when something was going to go wrong.
Jensen placed a chair in the corner and waited for the kids to come back into the room. There was no way around scaring them when they were confronted, and it made his heart ache having known that kind of fear. He just kept telling himself that things would be so much better for them once they were safely off the streets.
"Can we go look at the pictures tonight, Bray?" A little boy's voice floated through the hallway.
"Not tonight. This is the best place we've found. We can't screw it up."
The children rounded the doorway and were halfway to the refrigerator when the little girl stiffened and turned to survey their surroundings. Her eyes widened when she found Jensen sitting in the chair watching them.
"Look, mister, we didn't mean no harm," she rushed to explain, pushing the little boy behind her, and backing towards the vent. "We'll just leave and not come back."
Jensen didn't move, afraid that any sudden movement would send them scrambling. He wasn't worried about them getting out, not without breaking the glass in the door, he just didn't want to scare them even more by having to hunt them down, not to mention he was worn slam out, and the night was nowhere near being over with.
She chanced a quick glance behind her when she realized the her charge wasn't climbing back out the way they came in. The little boy’s eyes were filling with tears and Jensen wanted to do nothing more than scoop him up and make it all better, but he knew there was no way that would be received well by either of them.
He watched while she came up with and discarded escape options until her shoulders slumped when she realized there was truly no way for them to get out of the situation, at least not together, and Jensen knew she wouldn't leave the little boy, nor could she sacrifice herself and leave him on his own.
"Why don't you both sit down I'll fix you something to eat and then we can have a talk about what to do."
"Look, mister, we don't want to do anything. If you'll just let us leave, you won't ever see us again, I swear." The girl tried one last ditch effort to bluster her way out.
"My name's Jensen, and I'm afraid letting you both leave so you can fend for yourselves isn't an option," he answered, taking out the makings for ham and cheese sandwiches.
Jensen watched as the girl, resigned to their fates at the moment, helped the little boy out of his coat and hat and stood beside him as he crawled up into the chair in case he fell. When she finally took a seat, Jensen set the plates down in front of them, adding some chips and grabbing a couple of sodas.
He waited patiently until they finished eating before setting a plate of molasses cookies in front of them. Jensen couldn't help smiling when the little boy reached out and grabbed one, nibbling on it while he looked at Jensen curiously.
"You like those cookies?"
"Mama liked 'lasses she said I got that from her," the little boy answered, swinging his feet back and forth, none of the tension radiating from the girl showed in his actions.
Jensen noted that the boy used past tense and how the girl looked down and refused to make eye contact with him. "Will you tell me your names?"
The little boy looked over at the girl. It was clear he wasn't going to answer until she told him it was okay. She nodded slowly, still refusing to look up from where she was studying the color flakes in the table top.
"My name's Xavier."
Jensen waited until the girl finally looked up at him. She heaved a sigh before relenting and mumbling something he couldn't understand.
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch that."
"How old are you, Brayden?" Jensen asked.
"Eleven, and Xavier is almost seven," Brayden answered before Jensen could ask.
"Is Xavier your brother?" He almost snorted when she gave him the 'duh' look.
"Yes. What are you going to do with us?"
"That's a good question, actually. It's three in the morning right now, and there's not much we can get done tonight. I can take you to a place my friends run for people with nowhere to go, or I could take you home with me tonight and then we can contact the right people after we've all had some sleep."
Jensen worked on cleaning up the break room while he waited for her decision. He'd given her as much control over the situation as he could, knowing that right now it was the only thing he could offer her that she'd accept.
"We'll go with you, but me and Xavier are staying in the same room," Brayden answered, the challenge clear in her voice.
"That's not a problem." Jensen turned to throw the paper towels away, hiding the relieved smile that spread across his face.
They all jumped when Jensen's phone started to ring. He looked down at the display and grimaced.
"Hey, Alex. It's kind of late to be calling isn't it?"
"It's kind of late for you to be so wide awake too," Alex growled. "You had better not be where I know you're at."
His eyes shot to the kids who were watching him curiously. "If I don't answer that question, you have plausible deniability."
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes, don't you budge," Alex shot back, exasperation clear in his voice.
"Okay, but I have company. Call me when you get here and I'll unlock the door."
"Yeah, see you in a few." Jensen hung up, putting the phone back in his pocket.
"Is someone else coming?" Brayden asked, standing up, her gaze darting around.
Jensen could tell she was terrified by the idea, but was trying to hide it. He took a seat, hoping she followed suit, but she remained standing.
"I'm going to be honest with you. I'm not supposed to be here, especially by myself."
Xavier looked at him and then back at his sister. "Why not?"
"Well, my husband and friends didn't think it was a good idea. See, I'm going to have a baby, well, two actually." He paused waiting for that to sink in.
"Really?" Brayden asked, lowering herself back into her seat.
"Yeah. We've known for about a month that you were staying in here to keep safe and some friends of mine have been hanging out here each night in hopes of helping you guys. Tonight, the guy that was supposed to come couldn't because someone had gotten hurt and he stayed with them."
"When are you going to have babies?" Xavier asked, peering under the table to get a look at Jensen's stomach.
Jensen stifled a laugh at the little boys antics. "Not for another five months, if we're lucky."
"So that's why no one wanted you to come was because you were going to have babies?" Brayden asked.
"I get tired easy, and they didn't know how you guys would react so they were afraid either the babies or I might get hurt."
"They thought we'd hurt babies?" Brayden looked appalled.
"Not on purpose, there was no way you'd know I was pregnant. People do things they wouldn't typically do when they're scared, especially when they're trying to protect someone they love."
Brayden looked over at Xavier before looking back at him. "This person that's coming is one of your friends?"
"Yes, his name is Alex. He's not very happy with me at the moment, but he's not mad at you guys. He's going to help me get everybody home and settled in." Jensen glanced over to where the little boy's face had taken on a dejected cast.
"Xavier, is something wrong?"
"I wanted to look at the pictures."
"I tell you what, we'll look at the pictures until Alex gets here. Once we get some things settled, I'll bring you back and you can stay as long as you like."
"I promise?" Jensen swore, standing up and leading them into the gallery section.
Alex called as he was following Xavier through the aisles. Brayden stayed close as well, keeping an eye on her brother. Jensen watched the little boy’s eyes light up as he found a new favorite picture. He slipped away long enough to open the door, not wanting to disturb the kids.
"You are in so much trouble," Alex hissed.
"Blah, blah, blah. I can't hear you," Jensen whispered back.
Alex rolled his eyes. "Are we taking them back to the center?"
"No, I'm going to take them home with me."
Alex's eyebrows disappeared underneath his hair. "Do you think that's wise?"
"It's almost four in the morning. I'm worn out, and so are the kids." He motioned to where Xavier, despite his excitement, was starting to droop.
"There's nothing that can be done right now anyway. We might as well all go back to the house and get some sleep."
"Fine, but I'm staying until Jared gets there. He's going to ring your neck, but maybe he won't kill you if there's a witness."
"He's not going to kill me, I have two passengers. He's probably not going to be happy with me though," Jensen acknowledged.
"Brayden, Xavier can you come over here for just a minute? I'd like to introduce you to one of my friends."
Both children looked towards the doorway and Jensen noticed some of the tension return to Brayden, but they both moved closer for the introduction.
"This is Alex, he's been helping me to find you." Jensen held his breath as the kids checked over the new arrival.
Alex had knelt down on the floor so he was closer to their level instead of towering over them. He held out his hand. "It's nice to finally meet you."
Xavier hid behind his sister until the little girl reached out and shook Alex's hand. He tentatively moved to her side and did the same.
"Now that everybody's been introduced, why don't you go grab your coats, Brayden, and we'll go to the house and all of us can get some sleep."
Jensen didn't say anything when she took Xavier's hand and disappeared down the hall.
"Money says she's trying that vent again just to make sure," Alex muttered as he watched them go.
"Mama taught me never to bet against a sure thing." Jensen took a seat on the edge of one of the tables to wait it out."
Several minutes later, both children emerged with their hats and coats on, looking resigned. Jensen handed the keys to Alex and reached down, scooping Xavier up in his arms before either of them could protest.
Brayden gave him a disgruntled look that he returned with a gentle smile. She followed him out and they all waited until Alex had set the alarm and locked the door.
"We'll take mine, it's got more room and it's still got Avery's car seat in it," Jensen told Alex as they were walking to the parking lot.
"Whose Avery?" Xavier asked around a yawn.
"She's my little girl.. We'll have to adjust the straps because you're a big boy," Jensen explained while he shifted the boy's weight so he could reach his keys.
"How old is she?" Brayden asked, climbing into the back seat and sliding until she was sitting right next to her brother.
"She's three," Jensen answered as he sat Xavier in the seat and went to work adjusting the straps.
Alex had already slid behind the wheel and had the heater going. Jensen pulled his seat belt on and relaxed into the seat, letting some of the tension he'd been holding onto drain away. He was thankful Alex had shown up because he didn't know if he'd be able to keep his eyes open all the way home.
Thanks to the late hour, it took less time to get there than it typically did, and they were pulling into the garage before Jensen even realized it. As he got out, he glanced into the back seat and noticed both kids were asleep. He was a little surprised that Brayden had dozed off, but there was no telling how long it'd been since she'd gotten a decent nights sleep and it was warm and cozy in the vehicle.
She startled awake when he opened the door, looking around in a panic. Her eyes finally landed on him and he smiled, hoping to relieve some of her fear. He stepped back and let her unlatch the straps holding her brother in place, but he reached out and pulled the little boy back into his arms.
"Let's not wake him up unless we have to. That way, you can get some sleep. He's going to want to explore if he wakes ups now," Jensen explained as he waited for her to climb out so he could shut the door.
Alex opened the door and waited until Jensen went in and turned off the alarm. The dogs bounded around the corner and came to a halt, eyeing first Alex and then Brayden. He felt the little girl edge closer to him and he dropped a hand to her shoulder.
"It's okay, they won't hurt you. They're just trying to figure out who all the new people are."
Alex stepped around them slowly, kneeling down and offering the dogs the back of his hand. Brayden watched closely as each dog sniffed the offered hand and then proceeded to give Alex an unwanted bath. Alex stayed kneeling until after the dogs had checked out the little girl and given her a bath of her own.
Sadie was the first to venture over, sniffing Xavier's tennis shoe and then moving on to licking at Jensen's exposed hand. Harley wasn't far behind and he waited until both dogs seemed satisfied with their visitors and moved on to their food bowls.
Alex could tell Jensen was ready to drop so he reached out, taking the little boy and heading in the direction Jensen indicated. The extra weight wasn't fabulous for his leg, but Jensen had been toting too much since they'd left the gallery.
Between the two, they got the children settled in Jensen's old room and closed the door. Once the alarm was set and the dogs were taken care of, Alex got a pillow and blankets while Jensen disappeared into his own room, leaving the door open in case the kids woke up and needed something.
Alex dropped down on the couch and gave into gravity, falling sideways and burying his face in the fluffy pillow. He groaned as he lifted his leg up onto the couch and shifted around until he was more comfortable. Alex pulled his pills out of his jacket pocket and downed two with the bottle of water Jensen had left him.
He'd been surprised when Jensen had dropped the ice pack on the table beside him, shrugging when Jensen had raised an eyebrow at him before heading up the stairs. Alex didn't fully understand all the dynamics that went on in the ever expanding group of people he now seemed to be involved with but he was positive it sure wouldn't be boring while he figured it out.
Jared was exhausted. The shoot had lasted until five in the morning, but that hadn't included packing everything up and the drive time it took to get back home. It was pushing eight and all he wanted to do was crawl into bed with Jensen and go to sleep for twelve hours. Avery was at his mom's so there wouldn't be a bouncing toddler waking him up, and Jensen would stay in bed until at least noon when their little girl wasn't home.
He shut the door as gently as possible in hope that the dogs wouldn't start barking and wake his husband up. Jared was in no way prepared for an unfamiliar head to appear over the back of the couch. It took several long seconds for him to realize that it was Alex struggling to sit up, and then his sluggish brain couldn't quite make sense of why the man would be sleeping on their couch.
Jared knew he was standing there staring, but he was too tired to figure out what questions to even ask. Alex seemed to understand Jared's dilemma.
"Why don't you sit down before you fall down?" He offered as he managed to get himself into a sitting position, moving the melting ice pack off his knee.
Jared slumped down in the closest chair. He was sure he wasn't going to be happy with the explanation, not that he minded the man being there, but there was no way Jensen doing something he shouldn't have been doing wouldn't be a part of it.
"So what did he do?" Jared asked, leaning back to ease the ache in his back.
"I know why that list exists now," Alex stalled, trying to order his thoughts before he threw Jensen under the bus.
"Alex, I know my husband. I love him to death, but I also know how he can do things that he thinks are in other people's best interest before he thinks about his own."
Alex sighed. "I called him earlier to let him know Jason wouldn't be at the gallery last night. He asked me if there was anyone else that could come, but Cliff had everybody out on jobs. Jensen told me he'd call Natalie so she would know to lock up, and not wait for one of us."
"Let me guess, he went down there on his own didn't he?"
"Of course he did." Jared groaned, dropping his head back against the chair.
"As badly as I hate to say it, it's probably a good thing that he did."
Jared raised his head, lifting his eyebrow in question instead of giving voice to the 'why's that' he was afraid to ask.
"The kids showed up last night." Alex smiled a little when Jared came to attention as if someone had plugged him in to a light socket.
"Were you there?"
"No, I came after. I just had a bad feeling, so I wrapped up the job I was on at one or so. Figured if I called and woke Jensen up he'd just go back to sleep. If not, something else was going on I needed to know about it."
"So what happened exactly?"
"That's something you'll have to ask Jensen. By the time I got there, the kids were looking at paintings and seemed pretty calm. I just helped him get them home and settled. He was worn out himself. Figured I'd stay till you got here and then I'd get one of the guys to come get me."
Jared nodded as he leveraged himself to his feet. "Why don't you get some more sleep before you head out?"
"Thanks for the offer, but I've got to get home and take care of this leg or I won't be any good the rest of the day."
Jared grabbed the spare set of keys and handed them to Alex. "Take Jensen's SUV, there's no sense in you having to wait for someone to come get you, and that way I can set the alarm before I go to bed. "
Alex wanted to argue, but Jared didn't look like he was going to be standing much longer so he shoved himself to his feet, grabbing the blanket to fold it up.
"Leave it man, we'll get it when everyone is human again. Go get some sleep, you look like you need it as much as I do."
Alex nodded, grabbing the bottle aspirin handing it to Jared as he headed to the door. "Might want to put that up since there're kids in the house," he suggested.
"Yeah, probably a good idea," Jared agreed, opening a cabinet up high and sticking the bottle on a shelf. He waited until Alex was settled behind the wheel before he shut the door and set the alarm.
He climbed the steps, pausing at the door to the guest room. There was a small lamp burning in the corner and he couldn't resist the urge to nudge the door open just a bit more so he could see for himself that the children they'd all spent weeks worrying about were indeed safe.
Two small lumps were buried under the covers, not much showing but bed-mussed hair and tips of ears, but it was enough to lift the weight that had felt like it was weighing him down since he'd seen the footage. He pulled the door back until it was just barley cracked and quietly made his way to his own bedroom.
Jensen didn't budge until he slid into bed next to him, and then it was only to shift closer. Jared sighed, wrapping his arms around his husband’s warm body and burying his nose in the nape of Jensen's neck. He knew there were going to be calls to make and dozens of things to handle as soon as he got up, but for now he would take the uninterrupted time he had to enjoy holding his husband.
The next time Jared blinked his eyes open, the sun was high in the sky, and the spot next to him was empty. He threw back the covers and headed for the bathroom, and after taking care of the necessities he pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt, and headed down the stairs. On the way he glanced in the direction of the guest room, finding the door open, and the room empty.
He was halfway down the steps when he heard clinking of dishes and mumbled voices coming from the kitchen. Jared had no idea how to go about entering the room without causing an uncomfortable situation so he decided to just play it by ear.
Of course, everything stopped when he entered the room. Two sets of scared eyes swung his way when he walked through the doorway. Jensen paused with the frying pan halfway to a plate, but he quickly returned to divying the eggs out.
Jared crossed the room to stand behind his husband, dropping a kiss on the back of his neck. "We'll talk later," he mumbled next to Jensen's ear before stepping back and grabbing a carton of juice and milk out of the refrigerator.
Jensen nodded, shooting a glance behind him and then over at the table where the kids were sitting huddled in on themselves. He offered them a bright smile and went back to tending the bacon.
"Hey guys, this is Jared. Jared, this is Brayden and Xavier, I met them last night and decided they'd be much safer if they came home with me," Jensen offered, trying to break some of the tension as he set the plates on the table.
Jared took a seat, smiling at the children on the other side of the table. "I agree, I think it was much safer as well."
Xavier smiled back and Jared saw some of the tension go out of Brayden's frame, her shoulders slumping just a little. He shifted over a little so Jensen could sit down next to him and still have enough room. Now that his husband was starting to show a little more, he needed more room for his movements.
Breakfast was quiet, but not an uncomfortable quiet. Jared could tell both children were hungry, but both of them ate neatly. He wasn't sure he'd have been quite so neat if he'd been living like they had. Xavier would comment every now and then, but Brayden didn't have much to say.
He made several calls while Jensen got the kids settled in the living room with the remote and was just finishing up when his husband walked out the back door looking for him. Jared couldn't help smile as he watched Jensen carefully navigate the steps, the slight waddle in his gait reminding him of what they'd have to look forward to in a few months.
"So how mad are you?" Jensen asked, taking a seat on one of the cushioned chairs.
Jared sat down next to him and wrapped an arm around his husband, pulling him up against his side. "I'm not mad. I should be, but I know how worried you were. I can't say I'm happy about you going alone, but I can't argue with the results either. Just remember I worry about you, so try not to give me anymore reasons to do it."
Jensen smiled into Jared's shoulder. He'd never understand how he'd lucked out marrying such a wonderful man, but he'd decided not to question it. "I'll try."
He pulled back just a little, "Who were you calling?"
"Your favorite ex-district attorney."
"You called Misha?" Jensen asked, surprised.
"I looked him up when you told me about Joshua. When we found out it was kids getting into the gallery, I did another search for him. Misha started his own practice three years ago, he does family law."
"What did he say?"
"Which time?" Jared asked, laughing when Jensen gave him an astonished look.
"What do you mean which time?"
"You do realize you're not the only one that can be sneaky." Jared grinned at Jensen's glare.
"Okay," Jensen huffed. "Why did you call him to begin with?"
"I needed to know what to do if we found them. I called him today to let him know you had, and to get the ball rolling."
"What ball rolling?" Jensen asked, confused again.
"Oh, sweetheart, you're really very transparent you know that." Jared leaned over and gave his husband a kiss.
"I called him to find out what we'd have to do to be foster parents until we found out what was going on, and depending on those answers, whether or not we could adopt them," Jared stated matter of factly.
"I don't understand why would you ask about that?" Jensen asked, his heart speeding up. It's not that he hadn't thought about it, and he'd even imagined suggesting it to Jared, but he wasn't sure what to do with this turn of events.
"Jensen, you can't tell me you haven't thought about it." Jared watched his husband’s face, each emotion broadcast clearly for him to read.
"That's what I thought," Jared answered for him when his husband stayed silent. "As soon as you saw them, in your mind they became your responsibility, and as soon as I saw them, I knew what you would want to do."
"Just because I want to doesn't mean we have to," Jensen offered quietly. "I know you used to laugh at me when I brought every stray I found home."
"I didn't laugh at you, roll my eyes maybe, but I always thought it was sweet, even if it wasn't practical."
Jensen ducked his head and blushed. He'd always felt Jared looked at him as if he was a bleeding heart hippie most times when they were young. It's not that he'd ever been into the activist scene, but he'd always felt if he could help his small portion of the world it would still help the big picture overall.
"These aren't pets, though, and I'm not opposed to the idea, I just want to make sure we both know what we're getting into. We don't know their story first of all. There're bound to be adjustment issues too, secondly there's no telling how those will manifest themselves. You're four months pregnant with twins and we have to be concerned with how that will affect you as well."
"Okay, but this is something you want, right? Leave me out of it for a minute. You're right, it's a big step so I need to know if this is something you want."
"Jensen, you're not the only one whose watched that footage dozens of times. It's not something I can honestly say I've thought about before we found out about them, but it's something I've not stopped thinking about once I saw it. Took me a week to wrap my head around it, so I figured I'd better get some information."
"What did Misha say?" Jensen asked, a little afraid that the growing excitement he had over adding two more to their family before the twins were born would be squashed.
"He sent me some paperwork to fill out. Everything's done on it except your signature. He and his wife will be here about 2:00 to pick it up," Jared answered, standing up and pulling Jensen with him.
"Why are they coming here, and why is his wife coming, not to mention when did he get married?"
"Not sure about that last one, but she's coming because she's a social worker. She'll be doing an inspection and checking over the paperwork while she's here."
"Okay, even I know that's not how social workers typically do things. So how did you get her to agree?"
"Misha probably had a lot to do with it, plus it's not a done deal yet. When you started volunteering at the center they did a background check on you, same as they did for me when I started going with you."
"Yeah, I remember signing some paperwork about it."
"Misha already knew we were gainfully employed and I have a copy of our taxes for his wife's files. Plus, he said it helped that we already had some experience working with children that were fragile, since there's no telling how well the kids will adapt to any changes and how long it will take."
"Will my stuff with Joshua cause any problems?" Jensen asked, frustrated that he had to worry about the effects the man could still have on his life.
"We can ask Misha, but I don't see where it should. None of that was in any way your fault."
"Okay, so what else?" Jensen relaxed a little at Jared's reassurance.
"We’ll have to get several notarized statements from friends, family, and associates as to what type of people we are."
"Like the ones we did for Chris and Steve?"
"Exactly like that, I think there're some classes too but Misha said his wife would go over all that when they come."
"Chris and Steve didn't have classes," Jensen grumbled. "Did you forget I only liked art in school?"
"Oh, I remember all right. Your mom threatened to take all your paintbrushes away." Jared grinned as Jensen continued to pout at him. "And I'm also certain that Chris and Steve have taken plenty of classes over the course of their training."
"Fine." Jensen sighed. "I don't know why I ever think things should just be simple."
Jared laughed, helping Jensen stand. "Because you still want to live in your Pollyanna universe, that's why. Let's go see if we can talk them into a bath." He nodded at the house where the curtains kept twitching.
It wasn't as hard as Jared had thought it might be. He'd suggested Brayden help Xavier with his bath, and then she could send him downstairs while she took her’s. Jared knew there was no way she was going to trust either one of them giving her brother a bath right now. She hesitated for just a few minutes, but finally agreed, the excitement of a real live bath for them both too much for her to ignore.
Jensen had promised to leave their clean clothes outside the door. He'd asked Brayden if she'd like him to wash anything while he was doing a load of clothes and she'd reluctantly handed them over, watching as Jensen separated them with the others and started the first load.
After they disappeared up the stairs, Jared convinced Jensen to take a seat and let him clean up the kitchen. They'd both gotten a fair amount of experience cooking and Cassandra still came three times a week to help out. He'd thought about talking to Jensen about hiring a housekeeper, but the last time he'd broached the subject it hadn't been received well.
Jensen was under the delusion that having help taking care of the house and Avery reflected poorly on him. Jared had no idea why he'd think that but sometimes time and patience was the only thing that could dislodge it. Of course, he wasn't above using sneaky methods, but for now, he'd let Jensen make the decision.
The ride in the ambulance was nerve wracking. Jason's head felt like it was going to come off his shoulders if they didn't turn the siren off and stop blaring the damn horn. It wasn't that he didn't understand the necessity, but the kid on the gurney would flinch every time they used it.
Jason reached over, placing his hand on the boy's arm and giving it a gentle squeeze. He didn't pull away, though, leaving it there, and hoping it would offer a small amount of comfort. He had no clue what had gotten into him because he'd never formed an instant attachment to someone before.
He'd had long-term relationships with both men and women, but it had [always] been gradual. Even his friendships took time to develop. Derrick told him it was because he could get anyone to talk and so it made him more wary of letting his own thoughts and feelings out. Of course, Derrick was a little stunted in his own personal life so Jason felt he had the option of ignoring him when he so chose.
Jason wasn't even sure how he felt about the boy laying so still, he just knew he didn't want to leave him alone. Besides, no one even knew what was going on yet, it wouldn't help to muddy the waters from the get go.
He hadn't been paying attention to where they were until the siren went blissfully quiet. Glancing out the window, he realized they were pulling into the emergency room drop off. Jason reluctantly moved his hand away so the EMT's could do their job, but the small whimper that followed made him want to reach back out again. Jason knew though that he had to stay out of the way so they could help the boy.
"Sir, you'll have to wait here." An older nurse tried to stop him following the gurney into the room.
"No, I don't," Jason responded.
"No one but family is allowed in the room with the patient."
"Let me explain something to you. I work at First Step. I found that kid in the woods, and until I know who left him that way and how he got there, I'm going to be glued to his side unless he's in surgery. So you do what you have to do, but I'm going in there." He put word to action and stepped around the woman and through the door.
A few moments later the nurse followed him, shooting him a glare but offering no further complaint. Jason stayed out of the way as he watched them the doctor evaluate every inch of the boy, noting every contusion, bruise and break. The doctor called out each injury while one of the nurses took notes. There were six broken ribs, but none had punctured the boy’s lungs.
Jason would find out later just how miraculous that was. He wasn't all that happy to cool his heels while they took the boy to X-ray, but he agreed to stay in the room and wait. The nurse that was still glaring at him relented and offered him a small smile before following the gurney out and down the hall.
Jason ignored the no phone rule and texted Derrick to see if they'd found out anything. The reply was quick and disheartening, no one had found anything. Gabrielle had tracked backwards to where the kid had entered the woods, and from the evidence, the boy had been alone at that point.
She and Terrence were walking the road he had most likely taken just to make sure they didn't miss anything. Jason knew the police would be waiting to take the kid’s clothes and any identification that was available, but he was determined to get a name first if there was anything to give them.
He heard the wheels squeaking moments before they wheeled the kid back in, his color was a little better than the gray pallor he'd had the whole ride in. Jason knew they'd hooked him up to fluids and were going to start antibiotics soon as a precaution. The nurse approached, looking him over as if measuring his worth.
"Are you going to stay?"
"Not leaving until he wakes up and tells me to," Jason answered gruffly.
"Do you know him?" She inquired.
"Nope, I'm hoping when you get him ready for his room, he'll have some ID on him. We were too worried about his injuries to try and find it when I found him.
"You know we have to turn that all over to the police," she stated.
"I am aware, yes, but we need to know his name as well. If the police do a family contact and they're the ones responsible, then we need to be prepared."
The nurse nodded. "My name's Melanie and I'll be with him until the end of my shift. He's got several broken bones that have to be set, so they're discussing if they want to do that now or hold off until a little later. Once they decide, I'm going to get him cleaned up and moved to a room. I'll see what I can do about that name for you."
"Is there a reason you're not shooting lasers at me any more?" Jason asked suspiciously.
"I wasn't sure if you were the one that had done that to him or not, and I've certainly seen my fair share of smooth talking assholes."
Jason let out a surprised laugh. "So what changed your mind?"
"I've heard a lot about First Steps. They do good work. I'm not sure what you do for them," she paused, giving him an assessing look, "But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt for right now."
Jason breathed a sigh of relief. He knew she was calling him on is half truth, but as long as he was able to stay with the kid, he really didn't care.
Xavier came down the steps, his hair sticking out in fifty different directions. Jared waved Jensen back into his seat when his husband started to stand.
Jensen nodded, smiling as he pulled out the small stool that Avery sat on when he was doing her hair. Xavier looked at him a little uncertainly, but took a seat anyway. Jared was back down the stairs with a brush in his hand, which he handed over.
Jensen started working the tangles out of Xavier's hair, all the while keeping up a running conversation with the little boy. Jared listened to the chatter, smiling at the ease with which Jensen engaged the child. He had several phone calls he needed to make but he couldn't bring himself to miss his husband bonding with Xavier.
He caught movement from the corner his eye and turned to see Brayden standing at the top of the stairs. She looked uncertain of what to do with the situation in front of her. Jensen noticed Jared's attention shift and looked in that direction.
"Would you like to use the brush?" Jensen offered, hoping to draw the girl into the room with the rest of them.
She hesitated for a minute, but Xavier hopped off the stool and pulled her into the room where she curled up at the end of the couch and took the offered brush. Jensen watched for a minute before turning to look at Jared as if lost on how to start the conversation they needed to have.
Xavier had crawled up on the couch with his sister and was rubbing Harley who'd laid his head on the cushion beside the little boy looking for some attention. Jared wasn't all that sure how to start it either, but it had to be done so he cleared his throat and focused on the kids.
"Hey guys, we need to talk to you about some things." Jared addressed everyone on the couch.
Xavier glanced up at him, but went back to petting Harley straight away. Brayden tensed, setting the brush she'd been fiddling with down on the table, and watched Jared warily.
"There are some folks coming over to meet you. " He hesitated when Brayden hunched in on herself.
"A social worker?" She whispered.
Jensen hated the way Brayden shrunk in on herself, and couldn't help himself reaching over and squeezing her arm lightly before pulling away to give her space.
"Yes, a social worker and a lawyer," Jared answered. He and Jensen both had decided not to lie to the children, hoping that it would smooth the path to the trust that they knew they had to build with them.
"Will they make us leave?" Xavier asked, scooting closer to his sister.
"We're going to try real hard not to let that happen," Jensen answered before Jared could form a reply.
"When will they be here?" Brayden wrapped her arm around her brother and pulled him a little closer.
Jared glanced at his watch. "In about an hour."
Jensen looked at the tense faces across from him and tried to think of something that would distract them for a little while. "Would you like a tour of the house? I can show you my studio?"
"What's a studio?" Xavier asked curiously?
"It's where I paint," Jensen answered, watching the little boy’s eyes light up.
"Yep." Jensen smiled at the little boy’s excitement.
"Can we?" Xavier asked his sister, jumping up when she nodded.
"Let me show you the rest of the house and then we'll end it with the studio," Jensen suggested, having an idea that Xavier wouldn't want to leave the studio once he'd gotten in there.
Brayden offered him a small smile, understanding exactly why the studio was being put at the end of the tour.
"Okay," Xavier agreed, bouncing on his toes, waiting for everyone to get a move on.
Jared promised to catch up after he'd made several phone calls. Jensen wasn't sure who Jared was calling, but he was pretty sure it was about their current situation so he held his questions and trusted his husband to do whatever needed to be done to make things work out for all of them.
Jensen led the kids upstairs, showing them all the different rooms. When he opened the room they'd converted into a library, he could have sworn Brayden stopped breathing for a minute, before she stepped over the threshold.
Xavier shot to the corner they'd set up for Avery. There was a niche just perfect for a kids section and they'd set it up with that in mind. Jensen had painted that corner of the room to look like they were in the forest with all the characters and animals being in the shape of books. There were books with big fluffy squirrel tails, and knights with square bodies that had bookmarks as swords.
The little boy was standing in front of one of the pictures giggling, and when Jensen looked over his shoulder, he saw it was the picture of the skunk book. He'd painted the book black with a stripe down the center with a bushy tail and a trail of fumes following behind it. One of his knights was trying to hide behind his book shield in the hopes of warding off the smell.
Jensen looked back to see Brayden walking down the line of bookcases, running her fingers over the spines of books. They didn't have many books for girls her age since Avery was so much younger, but he would make sure to remedy that situation the first opportunity he got.
When they finally left the library, he showed them the nursery. Avery's room had been completed not long after Jensen had found out he was pregnant. He'd let her pick the colors, relieved when she'd picked a light lavender and kept the pink to only accents. Her walls had fairies in a field of wild flowers with butterflies and dragonflies playing in the tall grass.
The nursery had been rearranged to accommodate another crib and changing table. They'd returned to the same store they'd gotten Avery's furniture from and were excited to find another crib and changing table that was close to the same design but with its own character and story to tell.
Jared appeared at the base of the stairs as they were coming down and joined them for the rest of the tour. They skipped the living room and kitchen since the kids had already been in both of them and Jensen had made sure they knew where to go to find the kid friendly movies.
When they made it to Jensen's studio, everyone thought Xavier was going to vibrate a hole in the floor. Brayden tried to calm him down, but the little boy had been as patient as he could be and he was finally at his limit and his excitement was boiling over.
Brayden walked around the room for a few minutes, taking everything in before she settled on the couch Jared had taken a seat on. They both watched as Jensen patiently answered all the little boy’s questions, and showed him painting after painting.
"Painting not your thing?" Jared asked, curious about the little girl that had taken care of her brother for God only knew how long.
Brayden looked over at him, and Jared could tell she was trying to decide what he wanted and whether she should answer him.
"Mama liked to draw. Xavier would sit and watch her for hours. I'd rather read. Mama used to say I painted the picture in my head cause that's what books do."
"Sounds like your mama was mighty smart."
"Daddy always said she was." Brayden offered him a small smile.
They lapsed into a comfortable silence, watching as Jensen and Xavier continued the quest to look at off Jensen's paintings. The quiet peacefulness was interrupted by the door bell, followed shortly by the dogs barking.
Just to be clear. I have no knowledge of medical procedures or fostering/adopting legalities. This is me winging it, because I do this for fun, not to be an actual writer. :)
Jared disappeared to answer the door while Jensen stayed in his studio with the kids. They'd decided earlier that since Jared had been the one speaking with Misha, he'd fill them in before Jensen and the kids were needed. They were hoping it would keep the kids from becoming too tense and getting more scared than they'd already be.
Jared ushered Misha and his wife, Samantha, into the living room, and took a seat across from them. He fidgeted a little, not really sure how to start the conversation. Samantha seemed to understand and jumped in, getting right down to business.
"So I hear there's been some new developments."
Jared smiled. "You could say that. I'm assuming Misha filled you in on everything so far?”
"He has except for last night."
Jared nodded and went on to explain how Jensen came to be at the studio, and what had happened after the kids had shown up.
"I'm sure that went over well," Misha commented when Jared mentioned Jensen going into the gallery alone.
"It wouldn't have if I'd known about it, but I had a late-night shoot and didn't get in until early this morning. I found Alex trying to sleep on the couch; two kids snuggled up in the bed upstairs, and Jensen sacked out in his clothes."
"Have you talked with Jensen about the fostering?" Samantha asked as she pulled out notebooks and folders.
"Yeah, he just wants to make sure we have the option of adopting them if you find there are no relatives."
"There are never any absolutes until the judge puts his signature on the adoption papers, but we always endeavor to give the fostering parent the first option of adoption if that's what they and the children want. Not all our parents who foster are in it to adopt."
Jared couldn't help but be confused by that, if not offended for all the kids put into that situation.
"Jared, you have to understand, if we didn't have parents willing to foster, we'd be drowning in abused and neglected children who would be further neglected by the system. We get some children when they're two years from adulthood, and these men and women take them in and give them love and support and, hopefully, get them on the right track when they go out on their own."
"I guess," Jared allowed. He still couldn't imagine taking a child in and loving them and not wanting to keep them. However, he could also see the gaps that could become overwhelming if there weren't people willing to fill them in and take a different approach of being more a friend and support system than a parent.
"Have they told you their names? Misha asked.
"Yeah, the little girl is Brayden. She's eleven and her brother is Xavier, he's six."
"Jesus Christ," Misha breathed, running his hands through his hair.
"Are there any signs of abuse that you could see?" Samantha asked as she jotted down notes.
"Not that we could see. They took a bath, but I left it up to Brayden. They don't really shy away from contact, not that we've offered much just in case since we don't know what they've been through. Brayden is a little more wary than Xavier, and he always looks to her for direction. The couple of times they've spoken about their parents, it's been in the past tense."
"What did they talk about?" Misha asked, leaning forward trying to release some of the tension settled in his shoulders.
"Brayden mentioned Xavier would watch their mom draw, but she preferred to read like her dad."
"So we're going with probable death then, I'm not getting the abandonment vibe like they'd been dropped off or left somewhere. I'll bet money there was talk of separating them, and they ran."
"Why in the world would anyone separate siblings, much less ones who've just lost parents?" Jared asked, horrified and angry.
"It's not something I agree with at all, but sometimes there are just no foster homes that can take two. Then there are times that the sibling bond outweighs the help that they can receive if they open up. There's a school of thought that if you separate them; it forces them to open up. I think it does quite the opposite, and the extra time should be given to build the trust, so they both open up."
"Damn stupid if you ask me," Misha grumbled.
Jared smiled. He was in total agreement with that statement.
"Well, no matter our thoughts on the wrongs and rights of it, these two have managed to stumble onto a pretty good situation as far as I can tell." Samantha sat back, shifting her papers into her case.
"Would you like me to go get Jensen and the kids?"
"That would be great. Is there somewhere I can sit and talk with the children alone?" Samantha asked, gathering the rest of her paperwork.
"Sure, you can use the media room. It'll be more comfortable in there. I'll show you the way and grab those documents so Misha can make sure we filled everything out correctly."
Jared left Samantha getting comfortable on the couch, and made a stop at his office to grab the paperwork before heading back to the studio to retrieve his husband and the kids. The room's mood had turned somber. Jensen was sitting on the couch with both kids curled up in the opposite corner.
"Are they ready for us?" Jensen asked when he realized Jared was standing in the doorway.
"Yeah, Samantha is waiting to talk with the kids while we talk to Misha."
Jensen frowned. Even though he'd known Samantha would want to talk to them alone; he didn't have to be happy about it. "Okay. Where's she at?"
"I put her in the media room, figured it would be the most comfortable for everyone. Misha's in the living room. I'm going to go ahead and take him the paperwork unless you want me to go with you?"
"No, I'll take them. I'd like to meet her before I leave her with the kids." Jensen smiled down at Xavier, trying to put him at ease. The little boy had been gripping his hand so tight he'd lost feeling in it.
Jensen tried to keep his nerves under wraps. He knew the children were already terrified, and if they got an inkling of just how worried he was, things wouldn't end well. Jensen took a deep breath and stepped into the media room, bringing Xavier with him as the little boy still hadn't released his hand. Brayden wasn't far behind, and Jensen was sure if her brother hadn't been ahead of her, she'd have dug in her heels and refused to go.
The woman sitting on the couch stood and smiled at the trio. She waited for them to move further into the room and then introduced herself.
"Hello, my name is Samantha."
Jensen took the offered hand and introduced himself; he held his breath not sure what either of the kids would do. He was pleasantly surprised when Xavier copied him, telling Samantha his name, even if it was barely above a whisper. Brayden stepped around her brother and offered her hand as she eyed the woman for several moments before finally introducing herself.
Samantha waited until the kids had settled themselves on the other end of the couch before she took her seat again. Brayden and Xavier had squished themselves as far into the corner as they could, and it broke Jensen's heart to see them trying to disappear into the furniture.
"I'm going to be in the living room with Jared if you need me okay," Jensen tried to reassure the kids. He couldn't stop himself from running his fingers through Xavier's hair and tugging gently on Brayden's braid. Both kids looked up at him and nodded solemnly.
Jensen glanced over at Samantha finally nodding to himself and left the room before he couldn't make his feet move. His morning sickness had eased off some, but he had the unpleasant feeling he was going to be revisiting the sensation before the day was over. He was grateful when Jared stood and wrapped his arms around him, backing them until they could both collapse onto the sofa.
"Hey, I know you're both worried about the kids, but Samantha is great. They'll be fine in there with her," Misha offered his own reassurances.
Jensen let out a long breath. He knew it wasn't going to do the babies or himself any good stressing about things he couldn't change. He'd just have to trust that everything would work itself out. Of course that didn't mean he wasn't above trying to push it along in the direction he wanted it to go.
Jason watched as Melanie used several washcloths and sterile wipes to clean off the boy's face, neck and hands. The leaves and brush had already been combed carefully out of his hair, sealed up and handed off to the police that were waiting to take the kid’s clothes into evidence.
"When will they decide what they're going to do about all the breaks?" Jason broke the silence.
"Doctor Monroe is consulting with an orthopedists. They'll decide if any of the breaks need surgery, and if they'll set them now or wait."
"Wouldn't it be better to do it now?" Jason asked, confused.
"Most of the time the answer would be yes, but this poor thing has already had his fair share of trauma. His body is struggling with shock, too much, and it could shut down completely. It's always a balancing act in cases like his to make sure you don't do more harm than good."
Before he could ask any more questions, there was a light knock on the door and two men in white coats walked in. Jason recognized Dr. Monroe as the ER doctor, and the other man introduced himself as Dr. Phillips.
"I understand there's no family available," Dr. Phillips stated, looking over at the boy in the bed.
"Not at this time. We don't know who he is. Even if there were someone available, I don't know that I'd be comfortable with them making any medical decisions."
"So you think they might be involved?"
"There's always the chance and I'm not big on taking chances with someone else's life."
Dr. Phillips nodded, taking the chart that Dr. Monroe offered him and looking over it again. "Well, since we don't have anyone who can make medical decisions for him, and we have no positive identification at this time, we're going to treat him as a John Doe."
"Okay. Can you tell me what you're going to do for him?"
"Typically, I wouldn't, but I know Chris, and I'm sure he'll be here before we're out of surgery. Since I know just how patient he's not, I'm going to give you a quick overview so you can stall him for me." The doctor flashed a wide grin at Jason's groan.
"Sorry, son, there's always a price to pay for information, some not so pleasant as others. Since he's made some headway towards stabilizing, we're going to go in and try to set the breaks to his leg and arm. Once we see how that goes, we'll decide about his ribs. There was some pretty significant damage, but he's young, and I tend to think he'll do better healing on his own than us going in there fiddling around with them."
"How long will the surgery take?" Jason glanced at his watch, checking the time.
"Really depends what we find when we get in there. It shouldn't take more than a couple of hours, unless we run across some complications. We're using a surgery suite, that way we can keep him sedated, no sense in putting anymore stress on his nervous system if we don't have to."
"They'll be down here in just a few minutes to wheel him up to the fourth floor. There're a couple of waiting rooms up there if you want to use one. I'm sure there's one that's empty this time of night," Dr. Phillips offered, knowing the man wouldn't be found far from his charge.
"I'll head up there when they come to get him," Jason agreed, retaking his seat as the doctors left.
Samantha came back to the living room almost an hour after Jensen had left the children with her. She motioned him back into his chair when he made to get up and check on them.
"They're fine. I left them watching Finding Nemo, and I told them I wanted to talk to you for a bit. I'd like to tell you how the visit went before they get bored and come looking for you."
"Okay," Jensen agreed, even though he was torn between learning what Samantha had found out and checking on the kids.
"I promise it won't take long." She cleared her throat. "They've already established a bond with you, Jensen, and I'm sure with a little more time they'll do the same with you." She addressed Jared.
Jared nodded his understanding. "Did they tell you what happened to their parents?"
"They were killed in a car accident. Brayden didn't know very many details, just that they hadn't been in the hospital after. I'm assuming they died instantly or not long after, since the children were informed without ever getting to see them."
"Were there no relatives?" Jensen swallowed around the lump in his throat. As much as he'd come to care for them, if they had someone who would love them in their own family, they should be with them.
"Xavier didn't seem to know, but Brayden said there weren’t any. Now that I have their last names and where they're from, I can do some checking, and see what their circumstances were.
"What's their last name...
"Where are they from....
Jared and Jensen glanced at each other as they asked their questions at the same time. Jared shrugged and looked back at Samantha, waiting for an answer.
She smiled at them both. "Their last name is Thomas, and they're from Andersonville."
"That's on the other side of the state. How in the heck did they get all the way over here?" Jared asked, appalled at all the things that could have happened to them.
"Brayden wasn't very forthcoming about that, but Xavier said they walked a lot, sticking to wooded areas, mostly. I think there's more to it than that, but with this being my first meeting with them, I didn't want to push and have them both clam up.”
Jensen felt sick to his stomach just thinking about what Brayden's reluctance meant, but he knew there was nothing he could do now but love and support both the kids.
"So what's our next step?" Jared asked, trying really hard not to dwell on the details that they didn't know.
"Well, they need to be examined by a doctor, make sure they're in good health. I'd say overall they look decent, maybe a few pound's underweight, although I'm sure you'll have that taken care of in no time." Samantha answered as she made a notation in her notes.
"I'm going to file your paperwork as soon as we get done here. I don't foresee any problems with them going through, but I'll call you when it's all official," Misha spoke for the first time since his wife had come back into the room.
"Is there someone specific we should take them to, to have them checked out?" Jensen asked, as he ran through all the names at Avery's pediatrician, and the ones from the clinic trying to match up who the kids would respond to better.
"No, although I'd suggest a female with Brayden. I'm not sure that anything happened to her, but even if it didn't at her age, she may be more comfortable with one," Samantha suggested.
Jensen nodded, even as he continued to consider and discard physicians in his head. Jared watched him for a moment and then turned back to Samantha, realizing she had started gathering up all her notes and preparing to leave.
Jared stood, helping Jensen gain enough leverage to do the same. "Why don't you go check on the kids while I see our guests out."
Jensen sighed, relieved that he finally had an excuse to check on the children. He shook both Misha and Samantha's hands, thanking them profusely for all their help before he made his way as quickly as he could down the hall.
Jared ushered their guests to the door, following his husband's lead and thanking them both. He cleared his throat, trying to decide whether to ask one last question, only to find Misha waiting patiently for him to voice it.
"Will there be any problems with the fact that they're from another county?"
"I wouldn't think there would be. There's not a child service department out there that's not overwhelmed. Honestly, they'll probably be relieved to have it off their plate," Misha explained grimly.
"How does Samantha deal with that day in and day out?" Jared asked, looking over at the car where the woman in question was waiting.
"She wants to help, even though she knows it's not always going to be fairy tales and happy endings. She truly wants that for all the kids, and no matter how much it breaks her heart, she just doesn't give up. Her success rate is envied state wide, so I don't think you've got a thing to worry about."
Jared and Jensen spent the rest of the afternoon trying to bring a sense of normalcy back into the children's day. It hadn't taken long for Xavier to fall asleep curled up on the sofa with Sadie, the emotional drain finally getting the best of him. Brayden, still filled with nervous energy, had disappeared into the library room, and when Jared had stuck his head in to check on her, found her stretched out napping with a book propped on her knees.
He'd finally managed to talk Jensen into laying down, even though it came with conditions. Jared had crawled into bed behind his husband, keeping up his end of the bargain. Jensen shifted until his back was tucked up tight with Jared's chest and let out a huge sigh. The quiet wrapped around them, giving them some much-needed time to think and reconnect.
"What are we going to tell Avery?" Jensen asked through a yawn.
"The truth." Jared smiled into Jensen's neck when his husband huffed.
"I know that. I mean how are we going to tell her?"
"We're not. I'll have to tell her unless you want to pick her up from Grandma’s."
"Crap, I hadn't even thought about one of us having to stay here," Jensen grumbled.
"I know; I'd rather both of us be there, but the kids have already had a rough day. I don't think meeting my parents after everything else would help, it's going to be hard enough bringing Avery home and making sure they all feel okay with the situation."
"I know you're right; I just feel like I'm leaving you to do the hard work. What are you going to tell your parents?"
"The truth." Jared snickered as Jensen made an aborted attempt to turn over.
"If I weren't so tired, I'd pinch you," Jensen grumbled.
"I guess the same thing I'm going to tell Avery, just in a different way. I mean, I can't see any other way of doing it."
"Do you think they'll be upset?"
"Upset, no. Worried, probably. They know carrying twins isn't easy for you. "
"I've been doing pretty good," Jensen argued.
"Yes, you have, but you're not even halfway there, and Dr. Agnit's already told you it was going to be a lot harder than with Avery."
"I know. I just want things to work out."
"They will, but you have to keep your stress down, and let me do some of the hard work. Okay?"
"Okay," Jensen agreed, trying to stifle another yawn.
"Get some rest while you have the chance. Once Avery gets home, it's going to be a whole new ball game,"" Jared murmered around his won yawn.
Jason was contemplating beating his head against the wall just to relieve his boredom, when the door to the waiting room was pushed open. His shoulders slumped when it was Chris instead of the doctor.
"I'm assuming from your lack of greeting they've not told you anything." Chris dropped into the seat beside him.
"No, it hasn’t been as long as the doctor said it could be. I was just hoping it would be over sooner."
Chris looked over at the man beside him. He'd not had many interactions with Jason, but Steve seemed to like him well enough. "You could head on home. I can stay until they get him settled."
"I'm not leaving until we find out how the hell he got into those woods and who messed him up like he was," Jason growled.
Chris inclined his head in understanding. "I thought you might say that. Cliff told me to let you know that Derrick would be by in a few hours to relieve you."
"Okay. I'm still not leaving."
"Yeah, Derrick is bringing your bag since Cliff figured you would say that."
The door opened again, and both men looked up. Melanie slipped into the room a sheet of paper clutched in her hand.
Jason stood, meeting her halfway. "Have you heard anything?"
"No, but it shouldn't be much longer. I was able to get you a copy of the boy's ID before they turned everything over to the police They didn't find it to start with because it was wedged inside his shoe." Melanie pushed the paper into his hand. "I've got to get back to my floor before someone needs me."
"Thanks for getting this for us."
"You just make sure you take care of him," She answered, smiling before she ducked back out the door.
"So the tales are true," Chris observed, amused.
"I'm sorry?" Jason asked distractedly.
"You can charm your way into all manner of trouble."
"I've no idea what you're talking about." Jason glanced up.
"So what's the boys name?"
"Steven Strait, he just turned nineteen." Jason handed the paper to Chris after he'd memorized all the pertinent details.
The door opened again before Chris could say anything, and Dr. Phillips walked in. Jason relaxed when the doctor smiled at him and gestured for them to take a seat.
"It's good to see you again Chris. I just wish it weren't under the same-old circumstances."
"I know what you mean, but with our jobs I don't see it changing anytime soon," Chris responded.
"Our patient did well; we didn't find anything we weren't expecting. He's going to have a long road ahead of him, and he'll definitely have some physical therapy, but he's young so I'm expecting him to make a full recovery."
"Will he be back in the same room or are you moving him to another one?"
"He'll go back to the same room, but it's going to be at least an hour or more. He's still in the recovery unit, and we won't move him down until we can take the breathing tube out."
Jason and Chris both stood as the doctor did. "I'll let the desk know that you'll both be there when they bring him down," Dr. Phillips said as he shook both their hands.
They parted ways, Chris calling Steve to let him know what they'd found out so far, Jason, so he could get Ash working on Steven's background. When both had finished their respective business, they reconvened in the boy's room and waited for him to be brought back down.
The nap did everyone a great deal of good. Xavier had regained his pep, and while Brayden wasn't as exuberant as her brother, she seemed to be a lot more relaxed. Jared left shortly after they'd all had a quick snack, and Jensen spent his time working with Natalie to reorganize schedules so he could take a few days off. It would take them some time to get the basics settled for two more children in their lives. He still needed to call Steve and see who was going to be at the clinic. If anyone was well versed with traumatized children, it was the doctors who volunteered there.
He wasn't really worried that their friends would support them, but just like Jared's parents, he knew they were going to be worried. Jensen had been thinking about Jared's desire for him to have some help. He hated the thought of not being able to do everything himself, but maybe it wouldn't be so bad to have someone help him with the tedious stuff. He could spend his time being with the kids instead of washing clothes and vacuuming.
Xavier came running into the living room distracting Jensen from his train of thought.
"Jensen can I take the dogs out?"
"Not on your own. Why don't you see if Brayden wants to get some fresh air, and I'll get my shoes okay?”
"Okay!" The little boy agreed before dashing out of the room in search of his sister.
Jensen smiled to himself; it was going to be interesting to see how Xavier responded to poop patrol.
Jared spent his trip to his parents rehearsing what he was going to tell them. There wasn't any real way to tell them separately because as soon as he stepped foot in the house, Avery would be all over him. His parents would of course give him some privacy if he wanted to speak with Avery alone, but he had no illusions that as soon as they walked back into the room she wouldn't blurt out the new information. He resigned himself to kill two birds with one stone, and hoped things would go better than he expected.
As predicted, Avery attached herself to Jared's legs and refused to be swayed. He did the shuffle walk into the living room with her riding his left foot, giggling the whole way. When he finally collapsed onto the couch, she crawled onto his lap and planted a sloppy wet kiss against his cheek.
"I miss you Papa!"
"I missed you too Avery. Did you have fun at grandmas?"
"Yes!" The little girl exclaimed.
"That's good; I've got something to talk to you about. Can you sit down here beside me?"
Jared waited until she had settled on the cushion and glanced up at his mom who was standing inside the doorway. "You remember how I told you daddy was having two babies, and you were going to be a big sister?"
"Yup," Avery nodded her head, her curls bouncing all around.
"Well, what if I told you, you could be a big sister and a little sister all at the same time?" Jared asked, holding his breath for the little girl's reaction.
Avery screwed up her face in thought. "I be both?"
"Yes, me and daddy had some visitors come to his gallery, and they need someone to take care of them."
"What's their name?"
"Well, there's a little boy, he's not much older than you, only six and his name is Xavier. The little girl's name is Brayden, and she's eleven."
Avery tried several times to pronounce the names, but they were just too difficult for her. "I can't say 'em." Her lip wobbled a little.
"Hey, that's okay. When we get home we'll see if we can come up with some shorter names you can say. It'll be your special name for them."
"Weally?" The little girl asked, awed.
"How about you go get your stuff packed so we can go home, and you can meet them."
"Okay!" Avery shouted and scooted off the couch. She'd almost made it to the door before she slowed down, and came back.
"Where their daddies?" Jared heard his mom make a choked noise over his shoulder, but he ignored her, making sure all his attention was on his little girl.
"Well, they didn't have two daddies; they had a mommy and a daddy. You remember how we talked about all the different types of families?"
"Huh uh," Avery nodded her head. "But where are they?"
"They were in an accident, and they can't be here anymore." Jared cringed. There was just no right way to explain death to a four-year-old.
Avery thought for a minute looking sad, and Jared was sure she was going to cry, but his baby was always full of surprises. He watched as she got that look in her eye that made her look even more like Jensen.
"Then you can be their papa," She stated before skipping out of the room in search of her backpack.
"That's the plan munchkin," Jared mumbled, running his hands through his hair, and glancing up at his mom as she came fully into the room.
"What exactly have you gotten yourself into Jared?" Sherri asked as she took a seat across from her son.
"We were finally able to get our hands on the kids who were sneaking into the gallery."
"I figured that out on my own, son. What I'd like to know is at what point you and Jensen decided to keep them?"
"There wasn't really a point, I'd been thinking about it since we saw them on the security footage," Jared admitted sitting back on the couch.
"What did Jensen have to say about it?"
"We honestly hadn't talked about it until this morning. I didn't want to bring it up when it was only a hypothetical. He was stressed enough just thinking about them being out there alone."
"I'm assuming he'd been thinking the same thing?" Sherri asked her son quietly.
"Yeah, he didn't want to say anything, in case it wasn't something I was onboard with."
"Jared, you had to know that's what he was going to want to do."
"Mama, I've known Jensen practically all my life, of course I knew that's what he was going to want. That doesn't mean I didn't weigh all the pros and cons."
"How are you going to manage going from one to three, not to mention going from three to five in just a few months?"
"We'll figure it out just like other families have. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, and there won't be hiccups along the way, but I know we can do it. I wouldn't have even considered it if I thought we couldn't."
"Okay, then I guess I get to tell your father. He’s become a grandpa again a little earlier than we thought," Sherri stated just as Avery came flying across the room, her backpack dragging the floor behind her.
"Can we go now papa!" Avery asked, jumping up and down.
"Go get your coat first, I don't want you catching a cold."
"Then can we go?" She asked excitedly.
"Yes, then we'll go," Jared assured her.
"You give me a call when everything gets settled, I want to meet the newest additions," Sherri told her son as she gave him a big hug.
"I will mom, just as soon as we get everything worked out." Jared hugged his mom back.
Avery came running back into the room, her coat flapping behind her. "I got it!" she shouted.
It didn't take long for Jared to get her coat on and settled into her car seat, and then they were off for Avery to meet what he hoped would be her new brother and sister.
Jensen had no clue what to do about supper. He hadn't really thought ahead, and Cassandra had been on vacation, so there weren't any pre-made meals hiding in the fridge. He'd actually been progressing with his cooking experiments, and Avery had hours of fun helping him. However, there'd been too much going on over the last two days for him to even think about thawing something to cook. He pulled out all their takeout menus and laid them on the table before he called the kids in.
Xavier and Brayden both appeared in the doorway followed closely by Sadie and Harley. Jensen couldn't help smiling as Harley almost knocked Xavier down, no matter how old the dog got he always acted like an overgrown puppy.
"Hey, I didn't have time to figure out what to cook tonight, so I thought we'd order something instead," he explained, gesturing to the menus.
Jensen laughed as they both scurried to the table, eager to see what their options were. "Are either of you allergic to anything?"
"No, but Xavier doesn't like mushrooms," Brayden offered cautiously.
"That's fine; everybody has things they don't like. Of course, you have to try them first before you decide though."
Xavier wrinkled his nose up and stuck out his tongue in the universal kid speak of 'yuck'. Brayden rolled her eyes and went back to studying the menus.
"Could we have pizza?" She asked after a quickly whispered conversation with her brother.
"Sure. What do you want on them?"
"I like cheese!" Xavier answered excitedly.
"Just cheese?" Jensen asked, smiling as Xavier bounced up and down, and nodded in answer.
"Okay, I'll get a large cheese, and you and Avery can share. That's how she like it too."
"Really?" Xavier asked, eyes wide with happiness at finding someone who liked what he did.
"Yep, she'll eat pepperoni sometimes, but she prefers cheese." Jensen shifted his focus to Brayden. "What would you like?"
"I'd like just pepperoni." Brayden answered.
"All right then. Is there a certain kind of crust you like?"
"Xavier likes the thick, but I like mine thin. We can eat it either way; you don't have to order special for us."
"I know I don't have to, Brayden, I want to," Jensen explained gently. "Besides, you like yours just like I do."
The little girl smiled and ducked her head.
"Okay, why don't you both go on back to what you were doing while I work the phone and get us some supper on the way."
Both kids nodded; Xavier scampered out of the room with his sister following at a more sedate pace.
Jensen shook his head fondly as he called Jared next and couldn't help but smile when his husband answered on the second ring, and Avery's excited chatter could be heard in the background.
"Well, I guess that answers that question," Jensen stated without preamble.
"What question? The one where you were going to ask if Avery was excited?" Jared responded dryly.
Jensen laughed. "No, the one where I was going to ask if I should get our pizza delivered, or if you wanted to pick it up on the way home."
“Definitely delivered. If we don't get home soon I'm going to have to get new shocks. Avery's about to vibrate us right out of the car."
Jensen chuckled. "Okay. Do you want your usual?"
"Only if you promise to kiss me after," Jared answered. He liked onion on his pizza, but his husband's stomach had been delicate for the last several months, and he didn't want to make Jensen sick.
"If you promise to brush your teeth before you try. I've been feeling a little better the last couple of days."
"Then, yeah, get me the usual." Jared didn't mention that he was sure not having the stress of worrying about the kids being on their own probably helped.
"How much longer before you're home?" Jensen asked, glancing at his watch.
"Should be there in about ten minutes."
"All right, I'm going to go ahead and order. The kids will have time to meet each other before it gets here. If it's not going well, then the pizza will be a good distraction." Jensen sighed at the thought.
Jared could hear the tension in his husband's voice, and he hated it. "It's going to be fine. They're all good kids. We may have some bumps, but it's going to turn out great. Stop worrying, it's not good for you."
"I know, I'll try not to," Jensen agreed softly. "See you when you get here. I love you."
"I love you too."
Avery was working on the straps of her car seat as soon as Jared pulled into the driveway.
Jared looked in the rear-view mirror and huffed. "Avery you're not supposed to take the straps off yet."
"But Papa we're home!" She exclaimed.
"Yes, but a bunny could run out in front of us, and if I slammed on the brakes you could lose one of those nice new teeth."
He knew it was unlikely. He drove slowly enough in the driveway because they did have a lot of wildlife in the yard. He didn't want to have to explain to Avery or Jensen why there was a squirrel or bunny that hadn't made it across to the other side of the driveway. However, if she started undoing her straps now, she'd probably do it somewhere else, and he wasn't going to set a dangerous precedent.
Avery sat back and pouted at him.
Jared ducked his head so she couldn't see him smile. She had her daddy's pout, and while it was sexy as hell on his husband, on her, it was just adorable beyond words.
"Thank you. You never undo your straps unless the adult you're with tells you it's okay," Jared explained.
"Okay, Papa." The little girl agreed reluctantly.
Ultimately, the children's meeting was highly anti-climatic. Avery had burst through the door, dropped her bag on the floor, and disappeared in search of the other kids in the house. As soon as Jensen and Jared stopped gaping at each other in shock, they followed their daughter.
They found them in the library room, a game of Candy Land spread out on the floor between them. Avery was sitting next to Xavier, listening intently to Brayden explain how to play. She glanced up at Jensen and Jared standing in the doorway and smiled before going back to her explanation.
Jared tugged his husband into the hall, and down the steps where Jensen dropped on the couch like someone had cut his strings. "I guess we really didn't have to worry about it," Jensen murmured, a little dazed.
Jared leaned down and kissed the top of his head. "I told you not to. Just lean back and rest, I'll go get the dishes out," Jared suggested before heading toward the kitchen.
The pizza arrived twenty minutes later, and Jared called the kids to come eat. Jensen watched as they scrambled down the stairs. Xavier slowed down so Avery wouldn't fall trying to keep up. He swallowed thickly and quickly cleared the moisture at the corners of his eyes. "Damn hormones," he grumbled beneath his breath.
Xavier and Brayden seemed to take their cues from Avery and supper was a much more boisterous affair than breakfas and lunch had been.
Jensen waited until after supper and the kids had disappeared up the stairs to play again to call the center. Unfortunately, neither Chris nor Steve was available. Jensen knew he could call them on their personal phones, but he was procrastinating, and he knew it. Michael did tell him both Jake and their new volunteer Dr. Lindsey McKeon, who was a pediatrician, would be there in the afternoon.
He'd already planned to take the kids shopping in the morning, so he'd just swing by and have them looked over while he was out. Jared was supposed to get in contact with Samantha the next day to see if she'd been able to track down any information. Hopefully, they'd be able to get the kids’ medical records soon.
Jared wasn't able to go with him because Chad would be at a doctor's appointment with Sophia, so he'd be on his own. "I really wish you'd wait until I can go with you," Jared said as he sat down beside him.
"I think you've made that abundantly clear after the last five times you mentioned it," Jensen responded, rolling his eyes and leaning against his husband's side.
Jared kissed the top of his head. "Yet you don't listen to me," he complained.
"I do listen. I just don't always do what you'd like me to," Jensen answered, snuggling even deeper into his husband’s warmth.
"I am aware." Jared's dry reply made Jensen snicker.
"They need clothes. I'm not planning on buying out the stores, but there are some things they need, and I want them to be able to get a few things they want."
"I know, but I also know how tired you get. I don't want you pushing yourself." Jared wrapped both arms around his husband, enjoying being with him for a few uninterrupted minutes.
"You realize we're not going to be getting very much of this right?" Jensen asked with a yawn.
"Yep, which is why we should enjoy it while we can."
"I always enjoy spending time with you," Jensen mumbled into Jared's chest.
Jared couldn't help but smile. Jensen was adorable under almost all circumstances, but a sleepy Jensen was completely irresistible. It didn't take long for his husband to give in to the tug of exhaustion. Jared eased himself off the couch and settled Jensen's head on a pillow, covering him with the blanket they kept on the back of the couch.
He spent the time Jensen was napping making calls and adjusting his schedule. He wouldn't be able to take the next day off, though, because Chad would be going with Sophia to her doctor's appointment. He and Chad had been trying to clear up most of their work loads in anticipation of their respective spouses giving birth, but things were going to have to be pushed ahead even more now that they had Xavier and Brayden to take care of.
Jared knew Jensen would argue that he could handle it, and Jared didn't doubt him, but he wasn't willing to let his husband run himself into the ground, nor did he want to miss time bonding with the new additions to their family. He decided to talk with his friend the next day when he came in after Sofia's doctors appoint, it wasn't a discussion he wanted to have on the phone in the first place.
Normal nighttime rituals were pre-empted a little since Xavier, and Brayden had already taken baths that morning. Avery got a bird bath instead of her typical hour of bubble play. Once everyone was changed into pajamas, or in the case of Brayden and Xavier one of Jensen's T-shirts, it was story time.
Brayden disappeared into Jensen's old room while Xavier crawled into bed with Avery to hear the story. Jensen chose one of the new books, Plant A Seed, he bought for Avery that he thought would appeal to Xavier too.
Thirty minutes later, both were sound asleep. Jensen knocked on Brayden's door and waited for her to respond.
"Brayden, Xavier's asleep. Do you want me to get Jared to move him in here or leave him with Avery?"
She thought about it for a minute and then shook her head, wrinkling her nose. "He'll be okay if you don't mind. He's grumpy if you wake him up right after he's just gone to sleep."
"I don't mind at all, just wanted to make sure he wouldn't be scared if he woke up without you," Jensen assured her.
"I don't think he will, but you can leave the door open just in case."
"Sure. Did you find something to read?"
"No, but I brought one with me when we left," Brayden answered quietly.
Jensen smiled sadly, seeing the dog-eared book. "We're going to go shopping tomorrow, maybe you can find something in town."
The young girl looked surprised, but nodded at him. "Okay."
"If you need anything, we're right down the hall," Jensen reminded her before pulling the door almost closed.
Jared was already in bed waiting for him, and Jensen didn't dally getting ready himself. He was tired, but not exhausted thanks to his earlier nap. He pulled the covers back and slid inside with a sigh. Jared pulled him closer, kissing his shoulder and settling his hand on Jensen's stomach,
stroking the warm flesh. "Have you felt them yet?"
"Butterfly wings, but nothing on the outside. It shouldn't be long, though, they have to be running out of room." Jensen's accusatory tone made him smile.
"You know I'm not that much bigger than you are, sweetheart."
"Still bigger," Jensen replied with a grin, covering Jared's hand with his.
"Mmm..." Jared hummed. "Let's test that theory." He murmured sliding his hand further down and finding Jensen hard and leaking.
Jared smiled at the shudder that ran through his husband's body. They'd been so busy the last few days, neither were awake enough at the end to enjoy each other intimately. Jensen pushed forward into Jared's fist and back against the hard cock nestled between his cheeks.
"How tired are you?" Jared asked, trailing kisses over Jensen's shoulder and up his neck.
"A little, but the nap helped," Jensen answered, leaning back to give Jared more places to kiss.
"Mmm," Jared hummed, his kisses shifting to nips as he worked his way to Jensen's ear. He latched onto the lobe and worried it with his teeth for a moment before sucking it further into his mouth and stroking it with his tongue.
Jensen groaned and pushed back, trying to get more contact. Jared's hand followed, stroking the hot, wet length of his husband’s cock. He kept his touch slow and steady, his fingers skimming lightly over the head and gathering the liquid that was weeping from the slit.
Jared reluctantly released Jensen and pulled back enough to slip his fingers between the globes of Jensen's ass and slide his thumb over the furled opening. He waited for Jensen to shift his leg, giving him better access before he started slowly preparing his husband. It wasn't long before Jensen was pushing himself back onto three fingers impatiently.
"Come on Jared, I'm ready," Jensen moaned as he clutched his pillow and bit his lip trying not to make too much noise. He lifted his leg and draped it across Jared's as his husband withdrew his fingers.
"Are you sure?" Jared asked, even as he was lining himself up and pushing forward, the need to be connected with Jensen overpowering.
"Yeah," Jensen gasped as the head of Jared's dick breached him and slid inside, relishing in the fullness and seemingly unable to verbalize how much he needed the intimacy after the uncertainty of the day.
Jared pushed all the way in and pulled out slowly, the drag of tight heat surrounding him tearing at his control. Of course, Jensen did that too him by just breathing.
"Jared" Jensen moaned. "I need..."
"What? What do you need baby?' Jared asked, nuzzling into the short, sweat dampened hair behind Jensen's ear.
"Faster, harder..." Jensen's breath sputtered out of him as Jared's hips snapped forward, giving him what he asked for.
Jared gripped Jensen's thigh, lifting it a little to give him the extra leverage to set the pace his husband was asking for. He knew he'd found the right balance when Jensen cried out, voice hitching around a hiccuped sob.
Jensen reached up and grabbed the headboard, trying to find something to ground himself. Jared never failed to know exactly what he needed and how to give it to him, and it still took his breath away. His toes curled, his balls tightened, and the an electric current shot up his spine as his release barreled through his body, curling him forward and pushing Jared even deeper.
Jared growled as he lost the last threads of control and chased his own release. He was gripping Jensen's hip so hard he was worried he'd leave bruises, but he was unable to let go as he felt his own orgasm rip through him.
When he could think again he realized his hips were still doing an abortive grinding motion as one part of him was still trying to get closer, but his cock was too sensitive to the motion. It still took a minute for the wires to uncross and his hips to slow to a stop.
"Holy shit." Jensen breathed out softly, his body still shaking with aftershock.
Jared snorted, resting his head between his husband's shoulder blades. He grimaced as he started the slow delicate process of withdrawing without lighting-up oversensitive nerve endings.
Jensen whimpered at the loss, and then shivered as the sweat began to cool on his skin. Jared leaned up, licking a slow line up from Jensen's neck and over his ear, swirling his tongue around the shell.
Jensen shuddered and batted at him. "Too tired. You broke me."
Jared laughed and untangled their legs so he could get them cleaned up.
"Unlock the door, and leave it open a crack," Jensen mumbled, more than half asleep as Jared finished taking care of him.
Jared pulled the covers over his husband and cleaned himself up, grabbing a pair of boxers and pulling them on just in case one of the kids needed something during the night. He did as Jensen requested before sliding in next to him and snuggling up, wrapping his arm around Jensen's waist and falling into the best sleep he'd had in months.
Jason shifted in the reclining chair someone was kind enough to bring in. The kid had been wheeled back down into the room about two hours ago, but the night nurse Jackie had smiled and informed him Steven probably wouldn't wake up until the next day at the earliest. She'd explained they had him on some pretty heavy painkillers, and even when he did wake up it wouldn't be for long, and he might not remember anything from these times.
Jason wasn't surprised; he'd had his fair share of hospital visits, and some of them included the happy juice. Derrick had stopped by, dropping off his bag and laptop, promising to keep him informed if they found out anything. When it became clear Jason wasn't budging, Derrick left to take care of the job he'd been assigned for the night.
It was about two in the morning, and he was reading emails he'd received from Ash detailing the progress of several cases, including the fact that so far there was no missing person's report listed for Steven Strait. Ash notated that it might not mean anything since the kid was 19, but that he'd keep looking.
He'd just opened an email from one of his sisters when Steven started to whimper. Jason nearly broke his neck trying to get out of the chair and untangled from the cord simultaneously. He glanced up at the IV bag, noticing it was practically empty, which meant the kid was probably starting to hurt.
He hit the nurse's call button, and didn't have to wait long before Jackie pushed the door open with a new bag in her hand. "Sorry, I was headed down here to change his bag when we had an emergency in another room," Jackie explained as she replaced the bag and injected what Jason assumed was the pain medicine into the IV.
"I think he was starting to hurt."
"Did he wake up?" She asked as she cleaned up the packaging.
"No, he was moving a little and whimpering some."
"Okay, if he needs anything else just hit the button," she reminded him before leaving quietly.
Jason hovered by the bed for several more minutes watching Steven's abused face smooth out as the pain medicine took effect. He'd just settled back in the chair when his phone vibrated. Jason quirked an eyebrow at the display, a little surprised to be getting a text from Alex at such an ungodly hour of the morning.
The message was short and to the point. Kids safe
Jason knew who the kids were without a second thought, and he let out a relieved sigh. The relief was short lived though when he remembered everyone had, had assignments.
Who he texted back, pretty sure he already knew the answer.
"Shit!" Jason whispered harshly.
Jared know yet
Nope late-night shoot
Jason winced; he didn't envy Alec that conversation at all. Jared was going to be wiped, and this was just going to send him right off the edge.
Alex apparently agreed because he changed the subject.
How's the kid
Surgery went well; he's on the happy drugs
Get any info on him yet
Name’s Steven Straight, 19, no missing persons
Least he's an adult. No juvenile authorities required
And thank all the deities for that Jason agreed.
Keep me posted, Gonna catch some sleep
Jason sighed and dropped the phone on the table beside him; sleep sounded like a fantastic idea. He set his laptop aside and pushed the chair into it's reclining position. He pulled the blankets over him and rearranged the pillow, trying to find a comfortable spot. If he was lucky tomorrow he'd get some answers about Steven, and then maybe he could figure out what the hell it was about this kid who affected him so much.
Jensen woke to quiet chatter coming from the mobile that they kept in Avery's room. He rolled over and stretched, taking up the entire bed in Jared's absence. His husband had left around seven, so he could be at the studio before everyone else started showing up.
He glanced at the clock and groaned, not understanding why little kids couldn't sleep past eight o'clock. Jensen gathered from the conversation going on in his daughter's room, that Avery and Xavier were debating the merits of waking Brayden up to the play with them. He rolled out of bed and grabbed the sweats and t-shirt he always kept on the chair in case of emergencies.
Jensen got dressed as quickly as possible and barely managed to head off the younger kids blitz attack on their unsuspecting victim.
"Hey guys, how about you let Brayden sleep in this morning. I bet it's been a long time since she's gotten to." He said.
Avery bit her lip thinking it over, finally nodding when Xavier agreed reluctantly.
"Come on, we'll go downstairs and find you some cartoons to watch while I see about getting breakfast ready."
Twenty minutes later, Jensen had the two youngest settled and was in the process of pulling out everything he'd need when a soft voice behind him nearly gave him a heart attack. Brayden was hovering in the doorway, waiting for an answer to her offer of help.
Jensen smiled, and motioned the little girl forward. "If you'd like. You don't want to watch cartoons? " He asked, laughing when Brayden made a face.
"Not fond of Spongebob?"
"Not really," she answered, taking the plates he handed her, and setting the table. They worked in easy silence for several more minutes until everything was ready. They were halfway through breakfast before Jensen decided to broach the subject of going to see the doctor.
Brayden seemed resigned, but Xavier’s bottom lip quivered. "Will I have to get a shot?" the little boy asked.
"I don't know Xavier. I don't think so, but I'm not sure," Jensen answered honestly, he didn't think any doctor would chance it without the kids medical histories, but he wasn't going to lie to them either, even if it wasn't on purpose.
Avery tugged at his sleeve, "I'll hold your hand. Daddy holds mine when I have to get a shot."
Xavier sighed, "okay."
"I thought we might do a little shopping before we went, though." Jensen offered, hoping to cheer the little boy up some.
"Really?" Xavier asked, perking up a little.
"Yep, I figured you might like to get some more clothes and maybe some things of your own to play with."
"Daddy, can me and Xa pick out some more books for you and Papa to read us?"
Jensen smiled at the shortened version of the little boy's name. Avery's pronunciation came out more of a za or sa than xa, but it was apparently fine with Xavier since the boy smiled and nodded when Avery looked over at him.
"I think we can arrange that." Jensen didn't bother telling them it had already been on his list of things to do. If they were already plotting together then things were going a lot smoother than even he had hoped.
He sent them all upstairs to change while he cleaned up the kitchen, thanking Jared's foresight in laying out their daughter's clothes. She usually wanted to pick them out herself, which in most cases was fine. Today, though, they'd be in and out of stores all day, and he preferred her not to look like a rag-a-muffin in mismatched clothes.
When Jensen had washed Brayden and Xavier's clothes, he'd checked the sizes. Some had been almost impossible to read, but he thought he'd gotten a pretty accurate list. He smiled to himself as at least two of the kids came thundering down the stairs.
While they pulled on their coats, Jensen took a moment to see who was outgrowing what. Both Xavier and Brayden would need to go up a size in tops and bottoms, and both their coats were too small and on the ragged side of used. Avery had shot up at least another inch, leaving a gap between her shoes and the bottom of her jeans.
He sighed to himself. Their baby wasn't going to stay that way long, and it made him sad at losing that version of his daughter even as he looked forward to the next phase of her growing up.
"All right, everybody out. Let's get this bus rolling!"
"We're not riding in a bus," Avery pointed out, giggling as they made their way down the garage steps.
"Nope, but we might soon have to get one," Jensen answered, ruffling Xavier's hair as he climbed into the SUV.
Jensen was exhausted. Jared had been right about it being a lot to do, especially on his own, but he couldn't stand the thought of Brayden and Xavier needing things and not having them. Besides, being tired every once in a while wasn't going to hurt him or the babies. Jensen knew once he got to the center, they'd have him propped up in a chair refusing to let him do anything.
Their first stop had been to a couple of Jensen's favorite spots to purchase kids’ clothes. He had no illusions that once toys became involved he'd have no control, so clothes and shoes came first. The sales associates hadn't even blinked when he'd walked in trailed by three kids, instead of just Avery.
Over the course of the next two hours, everyone had been outfitted in clothes that fit. Jensen wasn't sure if he'd ever get the little boy out of the Batman shirt he'd decided to keep wearing, but it was worth seeing the big smile on his face. Jensen had to admit he'd been relieved when one of the associates had disappeared into the undergarment section with Brayden.
They reappeared weighed down with what looked like the whole department. Brayden looked decidedly uncomfortable and worried. Jensen just tugged on the end of her pony tail and asked if she'd gotten everything she needed. She'd given him a quick, shy smile and nodded. He'd been prepared to take care of it himself, it's not like he didn't buy Avery's, but there was a large difference in a little girl and one that was closing in on thirteen.
He'd have to make sure Sophia was available next time, because he didn't want Brayden to be too embarrassed to get what she needed or ask important questions. Of course, he still had to tell his best friend that they'd been able to get the kids off the streets, and about the possibility that they'd be adopting them. That was sure to be a fun conversation, since he'd have to come clean about going to the gallery alone.
The shoe store wasn't quite as difficult as the clothes shopping. Jensen was able to sit in one of the thick, cushy chairs while the kids picked out the different styles of shoes he'd told them to look for. They seemed to have fun showing them the ones they liked and asking his opinion, especially when it was a particularly hideous color scheme. It didn't take him long to realize they didn't really like them, they just wanted to see him make faces.
Avery only wanted a couple of pair of flip flops. They had them stocked all over the place, even though no one would be wearing them for at least another couple of months. Jensen knew that they went through a ridiculous amount of them since they all seemed to tear up in a couple of weeks. She was content to follow the other two around and suggest colors, some of which made Xavier cringe and Brayden laugh.
Brayden and Xavier were both looking for two pair of tennis shoes, a pair of dress shoes, boots if they liked them and their own pairs of flip flops. The salesperson was more than happy to assist, and disappeared into the back several times to find the correct sizes. Thankfully, they were done in under an hour and on the way to the toy store.
Jensen had thought about stopping for food first, but Ellen knew they were coming by to see the doctor, and had called to tell him that they'd have plenty of food for them. He figured if he got the shopping out of the way all at once he'd have plenty of time to rest while he was at the center before making the trip home. He sincerely hoped Jared would be there to unload the SUV because he just didn't think he had it in him.
In the toy store, Jensen made sure everyone knew they had to stay together. They'd get to everyone's age section eventually, but they'd have to be patient when it wasn't their turn. Avery didn't really need any more toys, but Jensen let her pick out one just so she wouldn't feel left out. It ended up being a joint toy because she wanted Xavier to help her build a Lego castle.
Brayden stuck to the craft aisle, and after asking Jensen how many things she could get five times, he finally told her to get whatever she wanted. Probably not his wisest choice when kids and toys were involved, but he wanted them to have fun, not worry. Xavier settled on a set of building blocks, a couple of stuffed animals, batman action figures with multiple villains he could defeat, and some art supplies to get him started.
Jensen promised to take him to the big kid art store later. Brayden chose several craft kits, a stuffed penguin, and several packs of colorful pens and markers. A sketchbook and some journals rounded out her selections. The book section was where his credit card took the real beating, because the kids clearly held off on the toys. They had no such limits when it came to books. Jensen couldn't help but smile as the three of them became engrossed in the world of make believe and fantasy.
He starting making a plan to convert one of the other corners in the library room to a more grown up reading nook for Brayden. Jensen sat in one of the cushy chairs and let them stack their piles as high as they wanted, only vetoing books that Avery already had. Brayden attempted to put some back when she realized just how many they had pulled, but Jensen assured her it was fine.
Jensen made sure to tip the clerk that had helped him get all of their purchases not only to the register, but to the car, and made a mental note to send in a thank you note. It had taken a little longer to get finished than he thought, but it was probably better that they didn't show up in the middle of lunch anyway. The kids would be overwhelmed by the noise and activity, and they were already nervous about the doctor’s appointment.
"Well, I think we're all shopped out for today. We get anything else, someone's going to have to ride on the roof," he joked. The answering giggles were all he needed to help alleviate the exhaustion weighing his body down.
Jared had spent the morning resisting the urge to call his husband. He'd kept his phone beside him, though, in case Jensen needed him. Chad had gotten to the office only a couple of hours later than usual, but he had several ultrasound pictures that he was showing anyone who stood still more than a second.
Jared smiled at the first time father's excitment, remembering how it had felt. He'd thought that the second time around would feel different, maybe a little less butterflies in the stomach, and a little more muted expectation. He'd been happy to realize that wasn't the case, he was just as excited marking all the pregnancy milestones this time as he'd been with Avery.
"All right. What's going on?" Chad demanded.
"What do you mean?" Jared asked, tearing his eyes off his silent phone, and focusing on his friend.
"I mean the fact that your face is all scowly and you've barely shifted your eyes off your phone." Chad pushed off the door frame he'd been leaning against and entered the office. "Is something wrong with Jensen?" He asked, leaning forward in the chair he'd just relaxed into.
"Other than wearing himself out?" "Not as far as I know." Jared sighed heavily, rubbing his hand across his eyes. The last two days had been draining, between the long hours at work and navigating the emotional and legal landmines that came with integrating new family members with old.
"That's not why you look like you're contemplating becoming one with your phone. What else is going on?" Chad settled back in the chair and prepared to wait Jared out for as long as it took. Fortunately, his friend had been stewing for some time and needed to release the pressure he'd been under.
"Jensen caught the kids at the gallery night before last."
"That's great!" Chad exclaimed, leaning forward again. "Is that not great?"
"Yeah it is, one less thing for us to stress about," Jared agreed.
"Okay...Wait a minute! Did you say Jensen caught the kids!?"
"Yes," Jared sighed, going on to explain what had been happening for the last couple of days.
"So you're going to adopt them?" Chad asked slowly.
"Foster right now, but adoption is the end game," Jared acknowledged.
"Are you sure about this? I mean really sure? Don't get me wrong I think it's great, but you're about to have your hands full with twins. Are you sure you can handle quads?"
"It's not going to be easy, Chad, I know that. We know that. At least two of them don't require hourly diaper changes and three a.m. feedings," Jared teased.
"Seriously, Jared. How are you going to handle going from one kid to five kids?
"We'll figure it out, Chad. We have a few months before the babies come. We should have a routine by then."
"So what are they like? How long have they been on their own, and better yet why are they on their own?" Chad asked.
Jared grinned at his friend’s rapid fire questions. The man could switch gears faster than a race car driver. Chad's easy acceptance of Jensen and his decision to adopt Brayden and Xavier helped relax some of the knots in Jared's stomach.
"It looks like at least six months maybe longer, we're waiting for the social worker to get the paperwork from their home town. Their parents died in an accident is all we really know at the moment, again waiting on the paperwork. The little girl is Brayden, she's eleven, and her brother is six and his name is Xavier."
"Jesus! They're just babies." Chad sighed. "How's Avery doing with everything? I'm assuming you've already introduced them?"
"Did that yesterday. It went surprisingly well. I think she's happy to have some playmates, but I'm not sure what's going to crop up down the road," Jared admitted.
"I bet she'll be fine, she's a great kid. Besides, she's got Jensen's heart, no way she'd deny them love."
"That's exactly what I said," Jared agreed, smiling.
"So why don't you tell me why you're still giving your phone the death glare," Chad asked, putting the ultra sound pictures in Jared's outstretched hand.
Jared stalled as he looked through the pictures. “You know, the 3-D pictures are cool, but they're a little creepy too. I can see he's going to have your lips, pity too, Sophia's are prettier," Jared mused.
"Hey! I have a purty mouth, and don't you forget it!" Chad defended.
"Yeah, and now I hear banjos," Jared answered, grinning as he handed the pictures back to Chad.
Chad scoffed and waited for Jared to tell him what was going on. His friend could be decidedly stubborn if he wanted to be.
Jared leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his hair.
"Jensen took the kids shopping today. I wanted him to wait until I could go with him, because I knew it was going to be too much on him. He just couldn't stand them not having things they needed and was determined that they have something they wanted too."
Chad contemplated what his own reaction would be if he was in their situation. "I can see where Jensen's coming from, I'd probably do the same thing. I can't imagine the baby needing something and not getting it as soon as I could."
"I know, and I understand it, I just wish he didn't have to do it by himself. I know he's spent all morning shopping and he's still got their doctor’s appointment at the center this afternoon."
"So why didn't you go? I could have skipped this appointment, or you could have called in and told them what to get started on until I got here. You didn't have to come in," Chad pointed out.
"I didn't feel like we could get behind. We're both going to be taking extended time off soon, and on top of that, I know Jensen and I are going to have some legal meetings to attend that's going to keep me out of the office more than I anticipated. I don't want you to have to do everything and not be able to be there for Sophia," Jared explained.
"Bull shit, you know there's plenty of people that can keep this place running even if both of us aren't here, and you're not that much of a control freak." Chad paused. "Okay, you are that much of a control freak, but not at the expense of Jensen overdoing it, so what's the real issue."
"Honestly, that is the real issue, and I felt like Jensen needed the time to bond with them," Jared acknowledged. "He's already connected with them, but I know he's not going to be able to offer them his full attention like he'd like to because he's not going to be physically able to do the things he wants to with them. You know how hard on himself he gets when he realizes he can't do it all."
Chad nodded, he was aware, and it was a continual source of frustration for everyone that loved the man. "Well, I'm here now. Why don't you call him and find out where he is. You can meet him and help him finish up his day without it looking too suspicious."
Jared glanced at his phone again, noting the time. It was pretty close to lunch and he knew the kids appointments were at 1:30. "I think I'll just head over to the center. We decided it would probably be better if Brayden saw a female pediatrician at her age, especially since we're not sure if anything happened while they were on their own. Lindsey was supposed to be there today, and since we couldn't get an appointment with Avery's until later in the week we figured this was the best option."
"Do you think something happened?" Chad asked, horrified at the possibility, but knowing it certainly wouldn't be unheard of.
"She's not skittish like I'd expect especially with us both being men, but then we've kept our interactions as far as touching as few and unthreatening as possible. I'm hoping Lindsey can give us some answers today, maybe take another worry off our plates."
"All right then, give me a call later on and tell me what's going on. Stay home tomorrow if you need to. I'm going to be here most of the day anyway. I'll fill Sophia in and let her know that Jensen isn't going to be in any shape to talk tonight, she'll just have to vent to me until she can talk to him tomorrow." Chad stood and waited for Jared to do the same. "Go on and get out of here, go take care of your family."
Jared smiled. It hadn't been too long ago that he never thought he'd have that, and now he couldn't imagine his life without them. Brayden and Xavier had only been with them for
two days, but Jared already felt they were part of the family, and he was sure that connection would only strengthen over time.
"Yeah, I'll do that," Jared agreed, grabbing his phone and throwing his coat on as he headed out the door.
Jason watched as the doctors checked Steven's chart, going over his vitals and his progress through the night. Dr. Monroe seemed to be happy with how he'd weathered the first several hours and was guardedly optimistic for a full recovery. Dr. Phillips was also happy with the results of the night and thought that, after some physical therapy, there shouldn't be any lasting issues.
They were going to start reducing some of the medications so that hopefully in the next few hours he'd be conscious enough that they could do some of the tests that they needed to measure if there were any negative neurological affects to the beating he'd sustained. Jason had just settled back in the recliner when there was a light tap on the door and it was pushed open slowly.
He was expecting either another nurse or one of the guys from the center, when it was neither he stood quickly, all his muscles tensed for a fight. The man was in his early fifties with graying hair and mustache. Jason thought it might have been red at some point. He stood just under six foot with a stocky build, but the thing that kept Jason's attention was the gun he could tell was under the man's jacket in a shoulder holster.
The man held up his hand in the universal wait gesture. "I'm Detective Jim Beaver, son. If you'll give me a second before you try to rip my head off I'll show you my ID."
Jim watched the kid’s eyes flick to the pocket he was gesturing to and back up to meet his eyes. He could see the calculations going on as to whether or not he could be trusted. Jim let out a quiet breath when he got a slight nod, and he slowly reached in to grab his credentials while keeping his jacket open so his gun was visible.
He held out his badge and waited for the other man to take it. While his ID was being inspected, he catalogued the man in front of him. His build was slender, but Jim was sure that worked to his advantage more often than not. People tended to underestimate the coiled strength that wasn't always apparent in favor of the huge muscles and large build. He'd already seen the man's reaction time, and the intelligence running quicksilver across the kid’s face, and Jim would bet his pension that he was ex-military, probably special forces.
The question was, what was his connection to the boy in the bed? He already knew the basics since he'd picked up the report at the station before making his way to the hospital. The staff had been kind enough to warn him about the boy's bodyguard before he stepped into the snake pit because he had no doubt if he'd walked in like he normally did he'd have gotten bit.
"He's not been conscious at all since I found him."
Jim was pulled from his assessment to find the man holding out his badge, watching him with a small amount of amusement. He reached out, took his badge, and slid it back in his pocket as he held out his other to shake the one being offered.
"Jason Dohring, "
Jim took a seat and waited for Jason to reclaim his in the recliner. He could tell the kid hadn't gotten a hell of a lot of sleep in the past two days, but something told him it was going to be even longer before he let himself remedy that.
"Yeah, I talked to the doctors before I came in. How about you tell me what happened, and we'll get that part out of the way. Maybe we can get some answers before he,” Jim
nodded at the boy in the bed, “has to dredge up a really bad time."
Jason nodded, glancing over at the bed. He took his time, making sure to go over every aspect of what he could remember. He used the techniques the military had trained him in, and used on him to reconnect with the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of the time surrounding his discovery of the boy, and everything that happened after.
Jim was impressed with Jason's recall. He was just finishing up with his follow-up questions when there was a tap on the door, and a man in a white coat pushed it open and stepped in. Jim glanced over at Jason, but it was obvious he knew the doctor in question.
"Jake?" Jason acknowledged, the man.
"Hey, Dr. Phillips said you were still in here," Jake answered the unspoken question. He took a moment to introduce himself to the detective before explaining his presence.
"We just got the results back from his MRI, and there were some things I thought you both should know about."
"I thought the doctors already had that?" Jason asked, straightening from his slouch.
"They did, but they were only looking at the injuries that needed to be treated at that moment. Once they had time to go over the films, they were able to look at the older injuries Steven has."
"What kind of older injuries?" The detective asked before Jason got the chance.
Jake sighed, dragging his fingers through his hair in frustration. "This kid’s been abused his whole life, we can't tell you exactly when, but they can tell you roughly how long they've been there."
"So it's probably a family member, not a partner or a random attack," Jim mused.
"No, it would have definitely had to be someone that had daily contact with him." Jake picked up Steven's chart and read over the reduction in medicine, then took a look at his vitals. "He's probably going to start waking up in about an hour, he's more in a deep sleep now than he's medicated. The pain's going to be what brings him out of it."
Jason nodded grimly. He'd been injured enough times to know that the pain was always the first thing you felt after a traumatic injury. It's the body’s way of letting you know you lived through it, and the doctor’s way of making sure you'd return to waking so they could check your cognitive abilities. He didn't like it at all, but he understood that was what had to happen.
"Do the old injuries look like they were treated?" Jim asked, hoping that he'd be able to get past medical records so the DA could start building a case.
"It's hard to tell, some of them are old enough that he'd been really young. Those tend to heal pretty quickly. If they weren't treated then he's been lucky in that respect, the vast majority of them healed well. There aren't any that are going to require rebreak, and the ones that healed a little wonky aren't in areas that would affect his movements."
"Jesus Christ, Jake! How many breaks has he had?" Jason growled, ignoring the look the detective shot him that made it clear everyone knew just how furious he was.
"He's had spiral fractures to both arms, one of his legs suffered a break. I'm pretty sure every rib has been broken at various points in his life. His collarbone and there's some hairline fractures around the eye sockets, but those are hard to make out over the most recent traumas. Doctor Monroe said he'd have a write up and records for you, Detective, by the end of the week. He wants to wait and see what he needs to add to his report after Steven wakes up."
“Who are you?" a weak, slurred voice asked from the bed.
Jared pulled up beside Jensen's SUV and hopped out, taking a quick look into the back window. He had no idea how his husband had fit the amount of boxes, bags and who knew what else in the back. He hoped someone else had done the heavy lifting or he was going to be even more upset that he hadn't blown off work and gone with them.
Steve met him as he walked in the door. "He's up in the family playroom, with the kids."
"Did he eat?" Jared asked as they headed up the stairs.
"Yeah, he got here about an hour ago. Ellen took one look at him and bustled them all into the kitchen. Then she sent them upstairs so the kids could play and he'd rest. What the heck was he doing all day?"
"He took the kids shopping before he came for their appointment with Leslie and Jake," Jared explained.
"You let him take them alone?" Steve's voice rose in his exasperation.
Jared just looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
Steve let out a frustrated breath. "Yeah, yeah, I know you don't LET Jensen do anything, he does what he feels is right. Sorry."
"No, I get it, I'm kicking myself in the ass for not just saying fuck it and going with him. I just thought about all the extra time we were going to be spending in court and didn't want to get too far behind at work. That doesn't make a damn in the long run because Jensen and the kids come first," Jared acknowledged.
"Yeah, but I know you always put them first. It's just hard to let go of looking after him, we've been doing it for so long."
Jared understood completely. Jensen just inspired love, and protective instincts. More often than not, his husband was gracious in his acceptance of everyone's overprotectiveness, but sometimes he didn't appreciate it when it got in the way of something he thought was more important.
Steve left him at the end of the hall to take care of the many issues running such a large center seemed to have in never ending supply. Jared made his way to the doorway of the playroom and just stood there, watching his family. Brayden was curled up in a chair, engrossed in a book, while Xavier and Avery were being entertained with the escapades of
Brayden glanced up and noticed Jared in the doorway and put her finger to her lips, looking over at Jensen. His husband was lying on the couch with Avery's blanket draped across his chest and stomach, completely out. Jared smiled at her and moved further into the room, alerting the other two children he was there. Avery looked up and smiled at him, but
Xavier stood up and pulled at his pants leg until he bent down.
"We're being quiet so Avery's daddy can sleep," He whispered.
Jared ran his fingers through the little boys hair. "You're doing a very good job. Why don't you go finish the movie and I'll just sit down here with Jensen until he wakes up."
Xavier smiled and nodded before running back to his spot beside Avery. Jared sat down on the floor next to the couch and pushed Jensen's hair off his forehead, leaning in to place a gentle kiss in its place.
Twenty minutes later, Jared watched his husband slowly wake up from his unplanned nap. He blinked his eyes open, looking around quickly to check the locations of all the kids and came face to face with Jared, and frowned.
"Did Chris call you?" Jensen grumbled, struggling to sit up.
"No, Chris did not call and tattle tale on you. Chad got to the office and I was worried so I came to finish the day with you. Don't frown at me, it's my right to worry, just like it's yours to worry about me," Jared told him softly as he helped Jensen sit upright.
Brayden had been watching the exchange, and snickered at the disgruntled look on Jensen's face, but outright giggled when he stuck his tongue out at her. Jared smiled at the display of complete normalcy and laughed himself when Leslie appeared in the doorway and Brayden groaned at the sight of pediatrician.
"What's that for? I've not even stuck you with anything yet," Leslie pouted.
"But you're a doctor and there's a yet part." Brayden came close to whining.
"Yes, but that doesn't mean every time you see me I'm going to stick you," the doctor wheedled.
"Not what I remember," Brayden grumbled, making them all laugh.
Xavier had been listening to the conversation and slowly approached Leslie, looking her over carefully. "Why would you stick my sister?"
Leslie knelt down so she was closer to the little boy's level. "I don't usually have to stick people. We only do it when someone is really sick, or to keep them from getting really sick. There won't be any sticking done today, though, so it won't be so bad."
Xavier thought it over for a few seconds before he nodded and held out his hand. "Okay."
Leslie stood up and took his hand before glancing over at Jensen and Jared. "Did you want to come in with us?"
"Yeah, I'll go," Jared answered, looking over at his husband who was still trying to gather himself after his nap.
Jensen looked over at Xavier and then Jared before he nodded. He really wanted to be in there with them, but someone had to keep an eye on Avery, and he needed to find out if
Brayden wanted company for her visit or not. He'd been trying to figure out how to broach the subject all day.
Avery had climbed up on the couch at some point during the conversation with Leslie and drifted of to sleep, exhausted from a morning out, and no nap. It left him the one on one time he needed to talk to Brayden.
"Hey," Jensen said gently to catch Brayden's attention. "Do you want me to go back with you when you have to see Leslie?"
The little girl’s forehead creased as she thought about it. He moved the blanket that was still draped over his stomach and covered Avery up with it while he waited patiently, letting her think through her options.
"Will I have to change?" Brayden asked.
"I"m not sure, but if you want me to go back with you, I can go out until you're ready for me to come back in," Jensen offered.
"Okay, we can do that," Brayden agreed. "I really don't like going to the doctor."
"I understand completely. I'm not too fond of it myself," Jensen confided.
"I bet you have to go a lot," She said, glancing down at his stomach.
Jensen smiled, rubbing his hand over the swell that had started to expand. "Yeah, but it's all worth it in the end."
Brayden nodded, but didn't look entirely convinced. She decided to pass the time by retreating into her book to keep her mind off the coming visit. Jensen couldn't help but let out a small sigh of contentment as he waited for Jared and Xavier to return.
Jared took a seat in the chair next to Xavier while Leslie typed in the information to start a new chart. "Do you and Jake do the charts too?"
"Right now we do. We're working with Allison and one of the new counselors, Felicia, to show them how to keep the records. Eventually, we're hoping to have a mini staff here that will maintain the charting and appointments that need to be set up with all the residents, and the flow through clients that come in. It's great training for anyone that wants to get into the medical administration field, sort of like an internship," She explained as she finished entering the little bit she had on Xavier from the paperwork Jensen had filled out.
"Okay, Xavier, we're going to see how much you weigh and how tall you are."
The boy jumped up and kicked his shoes off before sliding across the floor to join her at the scales. He stood still while they waited for the numbers to stop jumping around, and
then he followed the doctor to the height chart.
"Well, you weigh 45 pounds and you're 3' 6 1/2 inches tall, " She told them both as she helped Xavier climb the steps so he could sit up on the table, sitting still while she checked his temperature and his blood pressure.
Leslie asked Xavier questions about his and Brayden's time by themselves as she checked his ears, eyes and throat. He giggled through her examination of his stomach, sides and neck, but answered all of her questions in the matter of fact way of a six year old. Xavier was fascinated with the uncontrollable jerk his legs did when Leslie checked his reflexes, and listened intently to her explanation of why it happened.
The physical didn't take long, and they were walking down the hall, Xavier sucking on a purple lollipop and carrying an orange one for Avery after he asked Jared what kind she liked. He was going to get Brayden one, but decided she'd probably like to pick her own after her appointment.
Jared stalled when he entered the room because he didn't really know how to ask Brayden if she wanted company at her visit, but Jensen must have seen the panic on his face.
"We've got it figured out?" Jensen said, as he wiggled his fingers with his arms out, his sign for needing help off the couch.
Jared reached out and helped him slide to the edge and held on while his husband found his balance. "Great. I'll just hang out here with Xavier, and Sleeping Beauty, he nodded at Avery."
Xavier giggled and carefully crawled up on the couch to sit beside Jared, who had picked up the remote and backed the movie up to where the little boy had left.
Jensen and Brayden made their way down the hall, the little girl dragging her feet the whole way.
"I don't think it's going to be that bad," Jensen consoled her.
Brayden looked over at him with an unconvinced frown, but didn't comment.
Leslie followed the same routine, asking Brayden questions as she worked her way through the physical examination. When she was finished, she stood back and looked the little girl over.
"Xavier is in great shape for someone that's not had a stable environment for awhile. You did a great job taking care of your brother."
Brayden blushed and ducked her head.
"I'm going to ask you a couple of questions that might make you uncomfortable so if you'd like Jensen to step out you need to let us know okay?" Leslie offered gently.
"It's okay." Brayden answered, swallowing nervously.
"Did anything bad happen while you were on your own?" Leslie asked, trying to ease her way into what might be a landmine.
"Bad?" Brayden asked, confused.
"Did anyone hurt you while you were hiding out?" Leslie clarified.
"Oh." Brayden still looked a little unsure. "No...there was this guy at a truck stop."
Jensen tried really hard not to shift in his seat or make a sound. He didn't want to distract Brayden or make her feel like there was a right or wrong answer. It was killing him inside to think someone had taken advantage of a child.
"Did this guy do something he shouldn't or make you feel uncomfortable?" Leslie asked.
"No...he just scared me. Xavier had to use the bathroom, and we usually waited until there weren't so many people around at the places we went to. He kept watching us, and when we got ready to leave he followed us out."
"Did he talk to you?" the doctor asked.
"Yeah he tried to and then he tried to grab my arm, but we ran. He was older, so we got away. That's when we started sticking to the woods more until we got here." Brayden
"Is that the only time someone almost caught you?" Leslie asked.
"There were a couple more times that we weren't quiet enough and almost got found out but we didn't get caught."
"Brayden, you did such a good job taking care of yourself and your brother, but you know you're very lucky nothing bad happened while you were out there on your own, right?" Leslie gently prodded.
"Yeah," the little girl agreed reluctantly. "but I couldn't let them put us in different places. Mama and daddy always said never let them put us in different places if anything ever happened to them." Brayden's eyes filled with tears.
Jensen stood as quickly as he could and crossed the distance to stand by the table so he could put his arm around the little girl. "We understand honey, but knowing all the things that could have happened while you were out there alone scares the mess out of all of us. We're going to do everything we can to make sure you and Xavier aren't separated, but you have to promise not to run like that again, it just too dangerous out there."
Brayden nodded her head, sniffling into the tissue that Leslie handed her. "Okay." She whispered.
They took a few minutes to let Brayden collect herself before walking back to the playroom. They left Brayden in charge of Avery and Xavier, who were both napping on the sofa. She plopped down in the chair and went right back to reading her book. Jared and Jensen followed Leslie back down the hall to a small office off the examination room.
"I thought Jake was going to do Xavier's exam?" Jensen asked after they'd all gotten settled.
"He was supposed to, but he got caught up at the hospital. Something to do with the boy they found. I'm sure you'll hear about it later, I didn't really have time to get any information. Jake was in a rush when he called and I had to cover his appointments, which was why I was later getting to you than it was supposed to be."
"So how do they look?" Jared asked.
"Xavier is pretty close to average. He needs to put on about five pounds, but his height is right in target. Now Brayden needs a several good meals, she's not emaciated by any means, but she's at least ten pounds below average. She should be around 81 pounds on an average and she's just barely scraping 70. Her height seems to be on track, but anytime there's a loss in nutritional intake over an extended amount of time it's possible it'll stunt her growth. It won't be any great amount mind you, but it will affect it."
Jensen made a distressed sound, at the thought of any child going hungry. He knew it happened every minute of every day, but knowing it and seeing it was much harder to deal with. Jared reached out and took his hand, giving it a squeeze.
"Jensen, it's nothing a few good meals won't fix. She's going to gain it back pretty quick with regular meals. Just make sure she gets a higher calorie intake than you might normally give the kids. She doesn't need to eat a lot at once, that will just make her sick, but maybe something a little higher in calorie count during snack time. I'm sure they've both been without treats for so long anything is going to make them happy, and have the added bonus of increasing the lost weight."
"All right, is there anything else you noticed?" Jensen asked.
"No, overall they're in really good shape, their hearts sound good. I didn't see any obvious warning signs, but without their medical background it's hard to say. Did they tell you when they'd have the records for you?"
"Samantha was working on it, but we've not heard anything yet. I'm hoping it won't take long, but it's red tape so there's no telling."
"I'll give her a call when we get home," Jared interjected, "See if there's anything she needs or if she knows when they'll get them to us."
"Okay, well then I'm thinking that's pretty much it. Once we get the records, we can go from there. If you want me to switch all the records over to the office once we get everything, I can, that way they can come to the regular office with Avery."
"Yeah, we just wanted them checked over as soon as possible so we could address any issues that might be a problem. They were booked up till the end of the week and neither of us wanted to wait that long," Jared explained. "Did you get a chance to talk to Brayden and see if anything happened while she was out there?"
"Nothing like we were afraid of. There was a guy at a truck stop that tried to grab her, but I don't know if he was trying to hurt her, or he realized they were on their own and was trying to help them. It scared her, though, so they stuck to the woods after that, trying to fly under the radar," Jensen told his husband.
"Good." Jared breathed a sigh of relief. They'd both had all kinds of horrible thoughts about what might have happened to either of the kids, and knowing none of those had come to pass made it just a little easier to deal with.
Jared stood, and pulled Jensen up with him. "How about we head home, and me and the kids get the car unloaded while you go take a nice warm bath."
"Do you have eyes in the back of your head?" Jensen complained as they walked back down the hall. He'd made sure that Jared wasn't looking before he tried to work the kink out of his back.
"I have kids remember, all parents have eyes in the back of their head. But I don't need them when it comes to you. I remember the cramps you got when you had Avery, it's got to be worse with the twins and you've been going all day. Plus, you took a nap on the sofa, a comfortable sofa mind you, but not the support you need right now." Jared pulled Jensen to a stop before they entered the playroom and lifted his husbands chin so he could lean down and kiss Jensen like he'd wanted to since he'd come in and seen him sleeping.
"You're really good at taking care of me," Jensen said as he pulled away, smiling.
"Of course I am. I love you," Jared answered, taking his hand as they entered the playroom.
Jensen and Jared have everything they've ever wanted. They have their friends, family a beautiful daughter and twins on the way. Will an unforseen situation ruin all that or will they find they have more than they ever thought they did to give.
This is a sequel to An Unexpected Love.
The first three chapters are complete but after that it becomes a WIP.
Jared had sent Jensen upstairs to rest while the kids helped him unload all the purchases. It took them the better part of an hour to get everything piled into the living room and the dogs taken for their potty break and walk. He got Xavier and Avery set up with a movie and left Brayden in charge so he could help Jensen get his bath ready. The further along Jensen's pregnancy went, the harder it was for him to bend over and get the plug in and the water temperature right without the possibility of falling over or causing even more strain on his back.
Jared wasn't really surprised to find both the bathroom and the bedroom empty. He checked the nursery first before moving to Avery's room and finally the one that Brayden and Xavier were sharing with no luck. He sighed in frustration and relief when he found Jensen bent over the desk in the office studying the house plans and mumbling to himself. "Jensen you're supposed to be resting." Jared admonished resting his hands on his husband’s shoulders and massaging the tense muscles.
"I was, but I got bored. Then I started thinking about the room situation and I wanted to look at how everything is set up right now on the blueprints."
"You're exhausted. Why can't this wait until after you've rested some." Jared asked, pulling the chair out and guiding his husband into it.
"It can, but my brain isn't tired, besides I took a nap at the center. I want to get things started as soon as we can, so there won't be any issues with the adoption."
Jared pulled up a chair next to Jensen. "First Samantha hasn't even gotten back to us with their information so I think we have some time. I don't think Xavier or Brayden are comfortable enough to be in different rooms and if they were then Brayden could set up in the room downstairs." Jared held up his hand forestalling Jensen’s displeasure before he could voice it.
"I know you aren't thrilled with any of the kids being that far away and I think it's a moot point anyway so don't start stressing about it. I'm just making a point that if it came down to it, we had options until an expansion was done. Secondly, we haven’t even found an architect, because we've not even started looking yet."
"I've been thinking about that." Jensen perked up where he'd been slouching in his seat.
Jared bit his tongue and counted to ten. He loved Jensen beyond all reason, but sometimes he really wished his husband was blessed with a little less stubbornness.
"How about we get you in the bath, and you can tell me your ideas." Jared hedged, standing and helping Jensen to his feet.
"What are the kids doing?" Jensen asked, as he followed his husband down the hall. He sat down in the chair and waited while Jared set up the bath and all the necessities.
"Brayden is checking out one of the craft kits, and Xavier and Avery are watching a movie. I told them we'd eat as soon as you're finished up here." Jared answered, while pulling his husband to his feet and helping him undress and get in the tub.
"As much as I like you doing things for me, I really do hate feeling like an invalid." Jensen complained as he sank down into the warm water.
"If you were an invalid, you wouldn't have been able to drag all over town with three kids in tow, two weighing you down and still have all of you in one piece at the end of the day. You know as well as I do this is only for a limited time, and that includes your recovery so just relax and let other people take care of you for a change."
Jensen sighed and slid down further in the water so it would hit the back of his neck. His muscles were starting to unclench and with it the soreness started to ease a little. He knew Jared was right, but it didn't help the frustration when he had things he wanted to do and couldn't get them done without help.
Jared took the seat next to the tub and got comfortable, waiting until he could see some of the tension loosen from his husband's shoulders. "So, what's your ideas for the expansion?"
"I called Erin after we had lunch today and asked her if she or Preston had any recommendations for an architect. Someone that could make the addition look like it was part of the original build."
"Did she have any suggestions?” Jared asked, motioning for Jensen to turn around so he could massage the rest of the tension out of his husbands’ neck.
"Erin said they knew someone she thought would be perfect, but she wanted to talk to Preston in case he had someone that would be better. Since they don't always work on the same jobs, she said there are architects that one of them have worked with but the other hasn't. She's supposed to call me back either tonight or tomorrow, she wasn't sure what time her brother would make it back tonight."
"Then it's probably time we sit down and talk about how many rooms we want to add because I only want to have to do this once. There's something I want to discuss with you once we get the kids down for the night anyway." Jared stood by waiting for his husband to get out of the bath in case he needed help. He'd learned to step back and wait until Jensen truly required assistance before he offered it, because there'd come a time when Jensen's pregnancy gave him no choice in the matter.
"Why not now?" Jensen asked as he dried off and dressed.
"There's nothing wrong, it's just once we get downstairs the kids are going to take up our attention, and we won't really be able to discuss things the way we need to."
"You know I hate when you do that. Now I'm going to be trying to figure it out all night." Jensen complained.
Jared leaned down and kissed his husband's forehead. "Stop thinking and go check on the kids, I'll clean up here. "
Jensen frowned at him but didn't ask any more questions. He decided he'd rather play with the kids anyway.
"Steven’s awake. Who are you?" a weak, slurred voice asked from the bed.
Everyone in the room swung around to look at the young man trying to focus on them from the hospital bed. No one answered or even moved for several seconds, shocked into a frozen state of immobility. Steven groaned as he tried to shift to a more comfortable position, and it spurred everyone into motion.
Jake shot across the room to help him, and Jason hit the button for the nurse’s station. Letting them know their patient was awake when the staticky response came through. It didn't take long for the nurse to appear and kick both Detective Singer and Jason into the hallway. Neither of them was pleased with being expelled from the room, but it wasn't like anyone was going to get past them without having to show ID. The nurse did tell them that Dr. Monroe would be there shortly and after they got Steven settled, they could come back in as long as the patient agreed, and they didn't upset him.
Jason nodded and didn't comment, but Bobby figured the kid would have been back in the room afterwards whether he had permission or not. Dr. Monroe showed up 15 minutes later and paused long enough to let them know he'd let them in when he was finished with his evaluation.
What felt like forever, but was realistically only 20 minutes the doctor and nurse emerged and gave them clearance to go back in. Jake had agreed to stay behind and monitor Steven's condition while the detective questioned him. Jason waited for the detective to enter before he slid into the room and closed the door quietly behind them. He was surprised to find Steven's eyes tracking his movements instead of the detective that was closing in on his bedside. The kid’s eyes finally shifted to look at the older man standing beside him.
"Steven, I’m Detective Bobby Singer. I'll be overseeing your case."
Steven nodded his head in understanding and motioned to the chair. "Can you sit down please; I'm getting a crick in my neck looking up at you."
Jason took his own seat in the corner while the detective got comfortable. Jake stood to the side with a cup in his hand and an eye on the machines. Once everyone had settled the detective pulled out a small notebook and pen and flipped a few pages until he found an empty sheet.
"Let’s start with the basics okay son. Work our way up to the unpleasantness." Detective Singer suggested as he focused all his attention on the kid.
"Okay,” Steven agreed.
"What's your full name and birthdate?"
"Steven Lucas Strait,” he paused and then spelled both his first and last name for the detective. "I was born March 23, 1999."
"Where do you live?" Bobby asked looking up when there wasn't an answer.
"We moved around a lot. I don't know the address of the last place." Steven mumbled.
Jake offered him a sip of water, and the detective waited patiently until Steven finished and cleared his throat.
"Okay, do you know what state and city you were in?"
"Um... Arizona I think Casa something..."
"Grande?" Jason asked.
Steven glanced over at him and nodded. "I think so."
Detective Singer shot him a quizzical look, but quickly focused back on the kid. "When you say we moved around a lot, who is we?"
"My mom and me." Steven answered barely above a whisper.
"Was it always just you and your mom?"
"Most of the time." Steven answered looking down at his lap.
The detective glanced over at Jason before focusing on the kid again. "Was your dad ever around?"
"No,” Steven murmured softly. "I never met him."
"Do you know what happened to him?"
"Only what my mom said, she said that he left."
Detective Singer could tell this was not a subject that Steven was comfortable with, but the more information he had to go on the better. "Steven, do you know why he left?"
Steven looked away and swallowed hard. "She said it was my fault."
"Did she say why it was your fault?" The detective asked, ignoring the killing glare that both Jason and Jake were shooting at him.
"She said I was bad, that I never listened and didn't know how to do anything right."
Jason clenched his teeth to keep from cursing and Jake glanced over at the heart monitor as the beeps increased to a faster clip.
"Steven, I need you to take a deep breath and relax some." Detective Singer calmly ordered. He needed to get as much information before the kid shut down or had an anxiety attack. His job sucked ass sometimes...okay lots of times, but he had every intention of putting the person responsible for making this boy's life miserable in jail and throwing away the key.
Steven leaned back and took some slow breaths, closing his eyes against the glare of the bright lights. Jake nodded at the detective as the kid’s heart rate started to slow. He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder hoping the small offer of support would help him get through the next round of questions.
"I know this is hard, but I need you to tell me who is responsible for doing this to you?"
Steven swallowed and tried to push the words out of his mouth, but it felt like his tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth. The doctor standing beside him offered him some more water which helped but just the thought of revealing a secret he’d kept hidden since before he could even remember was proving impossible.
He cleared his throat when his first attempt came out so low and raspy that he had to clear his throat and try again. “My mom.”
The detective nodded before he wrote something in his notes. “What’s your mom’s name?”
“Emily Ann Tucker.” Steven whispered, cringing back a little when Jake moved slightly to offer him more water.
Jason’s knuckles turned white from the grip he had on the armrests of his chair. He’d already figured that it was the kids’ mom, and the muscle ticking in the detective’s jaw said he’d known it too. Steven just had to corroborate it. Then Steven had shrunk back when Jake moved, and he’d wanted to put his fist through a wall, but he’d kept his seat and done his best to reign in his temper so as not to disturb the detective’s questions.
“So how did you end up in California?” Detective Beaver asked.
“We were moving again. I wasn’t allowed to get out of the car. She always made me stay in the back seat laying down, nobody was supposed to see me.” Steven answered slowly.
“Do you know where you were moving to or were you just passing through?
Steven took another sip of water. “I don’t know, she never told me things like that. She’d come tell me we were leaving, and she’d come get me when it was time to get in the car.”
Jason could tell that the detective wasn’t going to be getting many more questions in by the way the kid was blinking slower and slower and obviously the detective had noticed as well.
“Steven I’ve got some more questions, but I’m only going to ask you one more before I leave you to get some rest. I need you to tell me how you wound up in the woods in the shape you’re in.”
Steven stared at the wall and tried to order his thoughts. They were still scattered, and he was starting to doze off even with the pain he was in. “She saw me sitting up in the car when she came out of the gas station. I was looking around and thought I could lay back down before she came out. I knew she was mad, and she was going to punish me, so I tried to be really quiet.”
The detective waited while Steven gathered himself, glancing over at Jason who had stayed remarkably still except for the death grip he had on the arms of the chairs. He also seemed to be grinding his teeth to stay quiet.
“She pulled onto this dirt road and made me get out and wait while she found the closest thing to punish me with. I don’t remember much after I fell except, she kept hitting and kicking me. I must have passed out because when I woke up, I was laying at the edge of the woods, and she was gone. So, I just started walking, I don’t know how long I walked until I tripped, but then I couldn’t get up and I must have passed out again.”
The detective closed his notebook and stood up to leave. “I’m going to get started on trying to find your mom, and I’ll drop by tomorrow to ask you some more questions.”
“I won’t have to go with her, will I?” Steven asked, his body shaking at the thought of being punished because he knew she’d be mad about him talking to anyone.
“No son, you won’t have to go with her ever again.” Detective Beaver patted the boy’s shoulder, careful not to hit any bruises.
Jake administered the pain medication and cleared away the trash, “If you need anything hit the button to call the nurse. Your doctor should be stopping back by later in the afternoon to check on you.
Jason stood and flipped the overhead light out leaving only the soft lights around the bed on before taking his seat again. He expected Steven to be asleep but when he settled down in the chair and looked over at the bed the boy was looking at him curiously.
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Jason, think of me as your bodyguard.”
“Are you a policeman?” Steven asked as he shifted around trying to get comfortable.
“No, I found you in the woods at a facility I’m working at.”
“Oh. Sorry.” The kid mumbled. “I didn’t mean to cause any problems.”
“There’s nothing for you to be sorry for. I don’t imagine you were in any shape to be paying the property lines any attention.”
“I don’t really remember much about the woods except for the vines that kept tripping me.”
Jason watched as the boy shifted again, wincing at the pain from his broken bones and contusions. He was waiting to see if Steven would be comfortable enough to ask for something to make him feel better, but he never did. He stood keeping his movements slow and as unthreatening as possible, moving to the side of the kid’s bed. Jake had moved the call button to the top of the bed behind Steven’s head when he’d stayed through the questioning and hadn’t moved it back down again.
“I’m going to get the controller so I can call a nurse to come help you get comfortable.” Jason explained as he reached the side of the bed and moved the remote back within reach, pushing the call button so that it would be within Steven’s reach. He ignored the way the kid flinched back from him and tried not to take it personally.
“Can I help you?” a voice drifted out of the speaker.
“I think Steven’s ready for some sleep, but he’s not finding a position that doesn’t hurt.” Jason informed the nurse.
“I’ll be right with you.”
Jason moved back to his seat and got comfortable. It didn’t take long for the nurse to come in and sort out the fluids, pain medication and help Steven lay where it didn’t put pressure on his worst wounds. She introduced herself and told them that she’d be on duty until 12:00 and that she’d be in a little later to check on Steven.
Jason watched as the kid relaxed back into the pillow and sighed. He wasn’t sure if it was because the nurse had left, or the medicine was already starting to work but he was happy to see that the lines etched around the kids face from pain had smoothed out. He settled in to take a nap, hoping that no one called him for at least three hours. He’d have to start coming up with a plan when he woke up.
Jared had just placed their supper order with one of Jensen’s favorite restaurants when his cell started to ring.
“Mr. Padalecki, this is Samantha Collins. How is everyone today?”
“Please call me Jared. Everyone is doing well. We took the kids to see the doctor at Steps and she said she’d send your office the report. Overall, they’re both in good health, a few good meals and they should regain the weight they’ve lost.”
“Great! I’ll keep an eye out for that report. In the meantime, I’ve spoken to the office in Andersonville, they’ve agreed to my request to have the children’s case file moved to me. I should be receiving it in the next day or two. Hopefully by then I’ll have the doctor’s report and can send over their medical background for their charts.”
“So, what are our next steps?” Jared asked, grabbing a pen and rifling through the junk drawer for a piece of paper.
“I’m going to be sending you information on those classes, and you’ll need to get those scheduled as soon as possible. I’ve already filed the updated background checks and your fingerprints in our system. Let me know the dates of your classes as soon as you have them scheduled and I’ll notate it in your files. Once that’s done, we’ll do a few home checks and start working our way through the rest of the red tape. I’d also suggest hiring an attorney once we’re further along so they can file the adoption papers once you clear our checks.”
“Will we be able to get the kids' school records?” Jared asked, as he finished writing the to do list.
“I’ll send them over as soon as my supervisor signs off on the placement, but I don’t see any issues arising with that.”
“I’ll let Jensen know that we need to start looking into schools. I’m sure they’ll need placement tests, but it might just be better to hire tutors to get them caught up and start them on the next school term. It’s already going to be a hard adjustment going from one school to six months on the run and then a new school within a year period.”
“If it’s an option then it would probably help them get caught up and not be held back. How have they been doing? Better yet how have you all been doing with the changes?” Samantha asked.
“It’s actually been going well. Avery is excited to have new playmates and the meeting between them was anticlimactic. She ran in, dropped everything and found them within a minute and made herself at home with the game they were playing. Brayden and Xavier have relaxed more with her here and they’ve been getting along great. I’m sure there’ll eventually be squabbles, but right now it’s been strangely easy.”
“Well, that sounds like a best case scenario then. How are you and Jensen dealing with the changes?”
Jared sighed, “Honestly the kids are the easiest part. Jensen is my hurdle.”
“In what way?” Samantha asked, but she had a good idea what the answer would be having talked to her husband.
“Jensen isn’t one for letting grass grow under his feet, I guess you could say. Not when it comes to someone needing something he can provide. He took them all out to get clothes, shoes and toys and then the doctor’s appointment.”
“Did things not go well?”
“No, everything was fine, but I wanted him to wait until I could go with him. I’m talking about a day or two, not a month, but he couldn’t abide the kid’s needing things and them, not having them. It just wore him out even though the kids were great. He likes to purposely forget that he’s carting around twins too. I mean I get it; I didn’t like it either, but I swear he’s stubborn.”
Samantha laughed, “I remember my husband talking about that exact attribute. It’s served Jensen well in a lot of ways, but I can see where it can be detrimental too.”
“God help me, it’s part of his charm.” Jared laughed. “Was there anything else we need to be doing?”
“Not right now. Just keep me informed and we’ll start working on the homework we all have.” Samantha answered, ringing off shortly after.
“Jensen, the food should be here any minute,” Jared called up the stairs just as the bell at the gate sounded.
Jensen rounded the corner of the kitchen just as the delivery person was leaving. “The kids are washing their hands.”
He started pulling plates and cups out of the cabinet. Jared kissed him on the forehead and grabbed the milk and tea out of the fridge.
“I swear we just need to buy a cow for the backyard,” Jared stated as he poured the kid’s cup. I mean how can they drink milk with pizza! Yuck!”
Jensen laughed, “Martino would kill you if you messed up his yard.”
“It’s our yard,” Jared complained.
“You keep telling yourself that.” Jensen said as the kids descended on them.
Once supper was finished, three baths were completed, and several stories read, and all the kids were settled down in bed for the night. Jared found his husband sitting up against the headboard impatiently waiting for him as he exited the bathroom from his own shower.
“Now will you tell me what you were going to talk to me about?” Jensen asked.
Jared slid into bed grinning at the disgruntled look on Jensen’s face. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait till tomorrow when you’ve had some sleep?”
“I will end you.”
Jared laughed and settled himself beside Jensen. “So, I was talking to the guard the other day and he mentioned it didn’t look like the sale for the property next door to us was going to happen. Something about the buyers wanting a larger piece of land.”
Jensen scoffed, “What are they looking to build a compound? That’s a huge piece of land!”
“I called Alona and asked her to check into it for me.”
“Why?” Jensen asked, completely baffled.
“I thought we might extend our yard and put a pool and play area there.”
“We have a pool and a swing set.”
“Yes, we have a small pool and a swing set big enough for a couple of kids. We’re going to have to add on to the house somewhere and I don’t want to add another story, so it has to go out not up. We’re going to have five kids that need space to play and a bigger pool and play area will be good for all of us.”
“Jared, that's not going to take up that whole space. What would we do with the rest of it?”
“I thought we could put in a garden, maybe some fruit trees. The kids would probably enjoy growing things and learning to cook with what they’ve grown. I’m sure Martino can help us get things started and Viviana might like to use some of the space too, you know she’s always complaining about not having enough space in her garden.”
“Is it something we can afford to do right now with the addition?” Jensen asked.
Jared handled the finances for the most part, but he always made sure Jensen knew the household expenses and the income. When he’d found out Joshua had always kept Jensen in the dark about money, he’d showed his husband where he kept all the financial information. The bank ledger was kept there as well. He’d added Jensen to all the accounts and shown him where all the passwords could be accessed.
He’d called Eric and set up an appointment with him for the next time he’d be there so that he could walk Jensen through all the investments and insurance information. Jensen had told him it wasn’t necessary, but he’d seen the relief on his husband's face at being included in an important part of their life. Once he understood where everything was and how to access it, he’d been happy to leave it to Jared to take care of only looking over things every few months just so he’d remember how.
“Alona is still working on the particulars for the land and even with the addition it we won’t have any issues. I’ll go over the numbers with you as soon as she gets back to me about the property, and we nail down a contractor.”
“Okay.” Jensen agreed, sliding down until he was snuggled under the covers, and yawning.
Jared smiled at the sleepy answer, leaning over to flick off the light he shuffled his way into a comfortable position, wrapping his arm around Jensen and smoothing his hand over their growing children.
Tomorrow he’d start making lists of all the things that needed to be taken care of, but right now he was just happy to spend a few minutes soaking in the quiet peace that came from knowing your family was safe and secure.
It had been two weeks and Jared was positive that Jensen had made more lists in that time than he’d made in his whole lifetime. He had lists for the kids, lists for the building projects, lists for work and lists for his lists. He’d figured if that helped his husband feel in control then he’d keep his mouth shut and let Jensen happily make all the lists he wanted. It was just unusual since Jensen, up to this point, had pretty much been the king of winging it and random. He’d always blamed it on his artistic brain, Jared had always blamed it on his total lack of wanting to be constrained by the real world.
Either way Jared would sit down with him each night and they’d check off the things that had been accomplished and add any new items that needed to be addressed. He smiled thinking about his husband bent over the notebook he kept his lists in mumbling to himself as he added another number and the small smile each time, he was able to mark something off.
Jensen had a doctor’s appointment in a couple of days, and they were debating taking the kids since it would be a sonogram visit as well. Avery had been wearing them out about seeing the babies. Brayden seemed nervously interested and worried, while Xavier was caught between being excited and concerned about getting a shot.
They explained it was an appointment for Jensen only and he didn’t need to be worried about getting a shot from anyone. Jared noticed Brayden had been quiet throughout their explanation to Xavier and had disappeared shortly after. Jensen started to get up from the couch, but Jared waved him back and went in search of the missing girl.
He found her in the library with a book in her hands, but she was staring off into space worry painted across her face. Jared had a feeling he knew what the problem was; he just needed her to tell him so he could make it better. He took a seat in the chair across from her and settled back waiting until she relaxed a little before he broke the silence.
“Brayden, are you okay?”
“Yes sir.” She answered, never looking up from her hands.
“All right, let me rephrase that. Will you tell me what’s bothering you?” Jared asked, waiting patiently for however long it would take for the little girl to tell him.
It took thirty minutes, and he could see her struggling to find the right words several times before she finally sighed and asked. “Once the babies come, there really won’t be room for me and Xavier. Will we have to find somewhere else?”
Jared leaned forward in his chair and waited for her to look at him. “As far as me and Jensen are concerned you and Xavier never have to leave. The babies didn’t change anything when we found you and it’s not going to change anything when they’re born.”
Brayden had relaxed a little but still seemed to have something on her mind.
“Is there anything else you’re worried about?” Jared asked, when it didn’t seem like the little girl was going to ask any more questions.
“Where’s everyone going to stay? Won’t you run out of rooms for everybody? I mean me and Xavier can share it’s not a problem.” She rushed to add.
“Everyone will have their own space; you don’t have to share. I know you’re more comfortable with Xavier being close to you right now, but I’d imagine you’ll want some privacy at some point. We’ve been talking about building onto the house ever since we found out that we were having twins. There will be several more rooms added so that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about, okay.”
Brayden appeared a little shocked by the news even though she’d heard them talk about expanding, but she apparently hadn’t understood why. “Okay.” She exhaled a long breath and gave Jared a small smile.
“Do you feel a little better now?” Jared asked, standing and stretching to work the kinks out of his back from sitting still so long.
“Yes, thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart.” Jared smiled and ran a hand over the top of her head as he walked past. He figured she’d need a few minutes to herself.
When he walked back into the living room, Xavier and Avery were brushing the dogs. Jensen looked up with a worried expression on his face.
“Everything is just fine.” Jared answered the unspoken question, leaning down to kiss the top of his husband's head as he walked by. “Who wants popcorn?”
The kids clambered to their feet yelling “I do!” and ran to help him find the popcorn bowl.
Chad was waiting for him the next morning in his office and didn’t appear to be prepared to budge until he got some answers. They had been crossing paths in the last several weeks in their attempts to get as much done as possible before the babies came.
“So how are things going?” Chad asked, as Jared collapsed into his chair.
“They’re actually going well, the kids are getting along, and Jensen is trying to behave.”
“Then why do you look like you could sleep for a week and still need a day at the spa?”
Jared grinned, “Would you like the abridged version or the entire list?”
Chad sat back and got comfortable, he’d made sure everyone was on task before he’d sat down and waited for his friend to get there.
“Entire list it is,” Jared chuckled. “We’ve got several classes we have to take to fulfill the foster care requirements. We've been looking for a tutor for both the kids to get them caught up after we have testing done to see how far behind they are. We’re fielding calls from the kid’s social worker and the lawyer that we’ve hired to take care of the paperwork and hopeful adoption when we get to that step. Alona is trying to finalize a property purchase next door to ours and then we’ll be expanding the house to add several more rooms and developing the property with several agendas in mind. That’s what we have going on at home.”
Chad stared at him a minute with his mouth hanging open before Jared continued. “Here we have two movies in production and three in pre-production and one in post-production. Two of the ones in pre-production still need major rolls filled and the one in production should wrap up about the time you’ll be gone for daddy leave. “
“Damn! Is there anything I can help you do besides keep the list at work rolling?” Chad asked.
“Not really, just keep us on track here. Jensen has like four lists going for all the stuff at home. We’ve got to find someone that can watch the kids though when we both need to be out. Avery can go to daycare, and if Xavier and Brayden were in school it wouldn’t be an issue, but they aren’t ready for that. Jensen has been checking in at the studio and Natalie has been running everything from that end, as well as, covering his classes at the center, but you know he’s not going to let that ride long because he feels like he’s not pulling his weight.”
“Well, that’s just ridiculous!” Chad leaned back into his seat scowling.
“Yes, we all know that, but he’s stubborn.”
“I guess it’s a good thing Sophia is probably on her way there right now then.”
Jared frowned. “He didn’t say anything about her coming today. I wonder if he forgot?”
Chad grinned. “Nope, Jensen doesn’t know. She decided she wasn’t going to tell him and give him a reason to stress more or talk her out of it.”
“He’ll be glad to see her, but he’s going to be pissed that no one told him. You know he’s nearly as manic about her taking care of herself as you are.”
“Dude! I’m not manic, you’re the one that’s manic!” Chad stated vehemently.
“Okay so we’re both a little overprotective.” Jared agreed. “Let’s go get some work done, maybe we won’t be here till midnight.”
Steven was still sleeping more often than not. He would wake up long enough to eat and answer the nurse’s questions before he dozed off again. The doctors didn’t seem overly concerned and explained to Jason that the body was doing what it needed to do in order to heal. It was also probably a defense mechanism due to the abuse the kid had suffered. He had shut down out of self-preservation, even if he was in a safe place, Steven just had never had any real experience with that.
Jason was in the process of coming up with a plan for Steven’s release, which the doctor said would be in a few days. He’d noticed that Steven did not do well when women were around. The first few times he woke up with a nurse in the room he’d shrunk back, and his heart monitor would increase and several times it had alerted as his heart rate shot up.
The nurses had started making sure he was awake and would explain everything they were doing as they went about their work. If there was a male nurse on the floor for a shift, then he was assigned to Steven’s area to try and keep the kid’s stress down.
Jason had already taken leave from work; he had a ton of time saved since he never really took vacation. Outside of going home on occasion to visit his mom and sisters he didn’t really use his time. He knew that the center was probably not going to be an option for Steven since he didn’t do well being around females. He’d been mulling over an idea, but he wasn’t sure if it was a viable option. Jason sighed, all he could do was ask and if it didn’t work out, he’d go another route. Alex was going to stop by and stay with Steven while he left to take care of his errand.
He waited until the nurse had left after checking on Steven’s IV and notating his vitals. They’d talked a little during the last couple of weeks, but it typically revolved around whatever was on TV. Jason realized Steven was completely ignorant of any pop culture references that any other person his age would know about even in passing. He didn’t know why it surprised him, he knew the kid had been kept in a basement or locked inside a room with no interaction other than his abuser. Jason absolutely refused to call that woman his mother and had to consciously unclench his jaw every time he even thought about her.
Jason cleared his throat, waiting for Steven to focus on him. “I’m going to have to go run some errands, and it’s going to take me at least a couple of hours. I’ve called Alex and he’s going to come by and keep you company while I’m gone. Okay?”
He could see Steven’s whole body stiffen and his hands had started shaking against the blankets that covered his good leg. Jason really wanted to tell the kid never mind and that he’d stay, but he had to go by his house and wash some clothes and he needed to find out if he was going to have a place to take Steven when he got out of the hospital. His apartment, while nice, was not built for a person with broken bones in mind.
“Hey, I’m just going to run home and wash some clothes and then I have to make some arrangements. Alex is a great guy; I work with him. I wouldn’t ask him to come sit with you if I didn’t trust him.” Jason reassured as he stood and moved closer to the bed. He waited patiently for Steven to start to relax, relieved when the boy’s hands unclenched, and he sunk back against the pillows.
“Will you be here when he gets here?” Steven asked quietly.
“I won’t leave until you’re comfortable with him. Okay?”
Steven nodded before glancing away and mumbling. “Sorry.”
Jason reached out gently placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder and squeezing gently. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. Maybe you can get him to talk some, he doesn’t do a lot of that since I’ve known him.”
Steven looked a little curious despite his reluctance. “Why?”
“None of us really knows why. I imagine it has to do with his time in the service.” Jason confided his thoughts on the matter.
Jensen had just finished asking the kids what they wanted for lunch when he heard the security gate alarm beep letting him know someone with a code was coming down the drive. He frowned trying to figure out who it could be. Martino wasn’t due until tomorrow, and Cassandra wouldn’t be there for another couple of days. He knew it wasn’t Jared, he’d been working longer hours than normal and none of his friends had said anything about stopping in.
He shrugged and started pulling out the makings for grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids and ham and cheese for him while he waited for whoever it was to make it up to the house. When they knocked on the garage door he was surprised to see Sophia standing there with a goodie basket.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” Jensen asked leaning down to kiss her on the cheek before taking the basket from her so she could take off her coat.
“I figured I’d given you enough time to settle into the new routine of three kids and I’ve missed you. Plus, I wanted to get a leg up on Chad and buy my way into their good graces with goodies.” She smiled, hip checking him at the counter so he’d move over, and she could help. “What are we making?”
“Grilled cheese for the kids, and whatever meat product and cheese we want,” he answered, reaching into the fridge to grab the turkey, lettuce and tomatoes.
Sophia hummed and grabbed the mustard and mayonnaise. “So where are the kids?”
“Upstairs causing chaos, with the help of the dogs I’m sure, since they aren’t down here trying to lick you to death.”
“How are things going? Chad said the introductions went well.”
“Yeah, it’s been fairly anticlimactic in that respect. I took them all shopping, and they saw Lindsey at the center. They’ll be going to the same ones Avery goes to from now on, but I wanted them checked out as soon as possible so I didn’t want to wait for an appointment.”
“Anything bad show up at the doctors? I know Chad said they were underweight, but not too bad.” Sophia pulled two large skillets out and set the heat on low.
“No not so far, there’s been no signs anything horrific happened and Avery said as much. I want to get them into a therapist, just to make sure and because I think it’ll help them deal with their parent’s death and their time on their own.”
Sophia nodded as she added the sandwiches to the pan and turned around to study him. “You look tired. Are you getting enough sleep?”
“I’m pregnant with twins, of course I’m not getting enough sleep, there’s no such thing as enough sleep.”
Sophia giggled. “Yeah, I know, but you haven’t been napping either have you?”
“No.” Jensen sighed. “I trust Brayden to keep them both out of trouble if I fall asleep on the couch, but she shouldn’t have too. She’s a kid too and she deserves to be one.” Jensen answered as he worked on cutting the tomatoes and separating the lettuce to make their sandwiches.
“Are you going to make soup?” Sophia asked, checking the cabinets. “I should have thought to bring some.”
“We have some leftover potato soup, but I doubt the kids want that. I’ll throw some chicken noodle and vegetable beef in the microwave.”
Sophia scowled, but nodded and didn’t comment.
“You’re such a food snob.” Jensen laughed when he caught the scowl.
She shrugged and grabbed several bags of chips and set them on the table, before flipping the sandwiches. “So, what can I help you with?”
“You’re helping me with lunch?” Jensen reminded her, grinning when Sophia gave him the glare of death.
“You know exactly what I mean?”
“Honestly, I have no idea. I have so many lists going right now just to keep my head on straight that sometimes I feel like I’m spinning. Besides you have enough going on with the shop and the pregnancy. You don’t need to add my insanity to your stress levels either.
“Well, we’ll take a look at them after lunch.” Sophia stated, ignoring the stubborn expression on Jensen’s face.
Before he could argue the sound of kids stomping down the stairs interrupted. “Slow down!” Jensen called, raising his voice to be heard over the noise.
The descent slowed, but not by much. It didn’t take but a few seconds for everything to ground to a halt when faced with unexpected company.
“SOPHIA!!!” Avery screeched. Flinging herself forward as the dogs started barking.
Sophia had pulled the sandwiches off the heat and turned around, so she’d be prepared for the invasion of mini people. Avery did not disappoint; she was always boisterous when any of her favorite people showed up. There were times she didn’t know if she’d get her husband back when they started rough housing. She stooped down and caught the little girl in a hug, smooching all over her face just to hear her giggle.
When she looked up, she saw the little girl and boy hovering by the door watching the reunion. She kissed the little girl on the forehead and stood up moving closer to where the other two children were hanging back. She squatted down in front of them and stuck her hand out. “Hey, my name is Sophia, and I’m friends with Jensen.”
The little boy glanced back at his sister before taking her hand and introducing himself. Brayden did the same as she smiled at both. She really just wanted to squish them to her and kiss their heads but knew they wouldn’t be comfortable with a display of affection from someone they just met. She stood up and brushed off her jeans.
“Are you having a baby too?” Xavier asked, looking at her stomach.
Sophia laughed. “Yes, I am.” She slid the sandwiches onto a plate while Jensen was pulling the soup out of the microwave.
The kids had all taken seats at the table and dug into the sandwiches once Sophia had cut them into halves as Jensen placed the bowls in front of each kid. “Blow on it before you put it in your mouth, it’s hot.” He warned.
“We’re going to see the babies soon.” Brayden offered quietly.
“It’s really cool.” Sophia told her. “Although sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at.”
“Why?” Xavier asked, crunching on a chip.
“Because they’re so small, and they’re all scrunched up inside. Sometimes the pictures aren’t very clear either.”
“How come?” Brayden asked.
“Well, think about it as taking a picture of an orange through a pillowcase. You see the shape and know what it’s supposed to be, but it’s hard to make out because it’s not very clear.” Jensen explained.
“Weird.” Xavier said.
“I agree.” Sophia responded laughing.
They spent the rest of the afternoon herding kids between different projects to keep them entertained and going through Jensen’s lists even though he tried to redirect Sophia’s attention.
Alex showed up around ten, knocking gently on the door before pushing it open to find Jason watching the entrance for any threat. He relaxed when he realized who it was and glanced over at Steven who had just started stirring from another nap.
“Come on in, I’ll introduce you once he’s up and coherent.” Jason gestured to the other chair.
“Is he going to be okay with me staying?” Alex asked, watching the kid shift to a more comfortable position, still not quite awake.
“Yeah, I think so. I told him you’d be coming to sit while I ran out for a little bit. He’s nervous, but I think he’ll be fine.”
“So exactly what are you going to be doing, besides taking a shower and washing clothes.” Alex sniffed dramatically. “Because I can tell you’ve been showering somewhere even if it does smell like iodine, and you’ve been shaving. I know Derek has been doing clothes drop offs, but I imagine even, you run out of clothes, I’ll give you the washing.”
Jason smiled and leaned back; it was always fun working with the guys in their group because everyone got called on their bullshit. “I’m working on somewhere to take Steven when they release him.”
“Why not the center? That’s what they’re there for and we’re pretty positive she’s not going to show up there.” Alex asked, referencing Steven’s mother without giving the bitch a moniker she didn’t deserve.
“Yeah, I know, but I don’t think he’d be comfortable there right now.” Jason glanced back over at the bed, and the boys’ vitals before continuing. “He doesn’t do well with women; he’d probably be having a full-blown panic attack if he weren’t still on the happy juice.”
Alex winced and nodded. Hell, he got it, that’s why he’d tried to find a place that was interesting to work for and something he’d be good at without triggering his own demons.
“So how much time are you taking off?”
“Don’t know yet, I’ve got about 3 months carried over, so.” Jason shrugged.
Alex looked over at the kid in the bed and then back at Jason, who was still concentrating all his focus on Steven as he woke up. “You plan on using it all, because you’ve told us what happens when you don’t go home often enough.”
Jason huffed. “Well, they’ll just have to come visit me this time if I don’t have any left.”
Alex raised an eyebrow at that, but didn’t offer anything else. He wondered sometimes how he had gotten lucky enough to fall into the group of people that now took up space in his universe.
Jason finally left thirty minutes later once he was sure Steven was comfortable both physically and with Alex.
Alex didn’t really know how they were going to pass the time. Jason had told him Steven hadn’t really had any access to the outside world, so he wasn’t sure what to talk to him about. He wasn’t even sure the kid could read, the only reason they could come up with the boy had an ID was for whatever services his mom had leached out of the system for him.
He’d had his laptop open for a few minutes, but hadn’t started working on anything yet. Still trying to decide if he wanted to try and engage Steven in conversation. Jason said he’d kept the conversation light, not asking questions that would get the boy agitated, so he didn’t have anything of substance really to help give Alex a direction.
“Is that for your work?”
Alex looked up at Steven and saw he was pointing at the laptop.”
“Well, it’s for work and home actually. You can use it for both unless your company has a dedicated one for work. Ours are encrypted though so we can use it anytime.”
“What is it, you do, exactly?”
Alex wasn’t really sure what Jason had told him, but he’d assumed it wasn’t very detailed as the kid kept dozing off during most conversations according to his friend.
“We work for a private security agency. It does all kinds of things really, but Jason and I are assigned to the security detail that works for First Steps.”
“What’s that?” Steven asked shifting higher up in the bed and trying to get comfortable.
Alex thought about how to describe the center, it wasn’t like the typical institutionalized facility that states ran. Chris and Steve had worked hard to make it a home, even if it was a shared home.
“It’s a huge house that has several different wings for groups of people that have been abused, neglected or just need help. They have counselors and classes to help people work out how they feel, and how they’ve come to be there. The classes are for life skills that everyone needs to make a better life for themselves and their family.”
Steven thought about it for a little while. “Why do they need security? Are they mean sometimes?”
Alex sighed, “No, they’re not mean. People sometimes get upset when they’re talking about things that happened to them, but that’s what the counselors are for. The security detail is to keep everyone in the house safe. Sometimes when a person leaves a bad situation, sort of like yours, the other person isn’t happy, and they try to get the person that left back or hurt them more. We keep that from happening.”
Steven’s face paled, and he swallowed hard. “Would my mom try to get me back? Do I have to go?” He asked barley above a whisper.
“I honestly don’t know what she’s capable of doing, that’s why Jason didn’t want to leave you alone. To answer your other question, no you don’t have to ever go with her again. Your nineteen years old and can make your own decisions.”
“But I’ve got nowhere to go?” Steven mumbled.
“I think that’s what Jason is working on while he’s gone.” Alex confided. “I don’t think he wanted to get your hopes up until he had some plan in place. Jason likes to be prepared, well all of us do really, but Jason is all about not leaving anything to chance.”
Steven’s eyes widened at having a safe place to go to. He nodded his head and glanced out the window. He’d wanted to ask Jason, but he’d been afraid of the answer. Talking to someone that was different helped loosen the questions that had been clogging his throat for the past week.
He glanced back over at the man sitting patiently in the chair waiting to see if he had any more. Jason had said he didn’t talk much, but he had today. Maybe Jason meant he didn’t talk about himself. He’d noticed that there was an air of sadness around Alex when he woke up and saw him and Jason talking. Steven hadn’t missed the way the man would stretch his leg out and massage his knee either. He knew what it was like to have his bones ache and he wondered what had happened but didn’t think he’d get an answer to a direct question.
“Do you like it?” Steven asked.
“Working security at the center?”
“Yeah, I really do. I wasn’t sure I would, it's different from what I used to do. But I like the people I work with, and it makes me feel good to know that the people at the center are safe.”
“What did you do before?”
Alex cringed a little. He really didn’t want to talk about his time in the military, it’s not that he didn’t enjoy it or find it rewarding, but the reason he was no longer in the military was not something he wanted to get into right now or ever. He glanced over at the kid who was looking like he might try to crawl under the bed from anxiety. Trust was a hard thing to give, and he could say with assurance that went for both of them.
“I was in the military.”
“Is that how you hurt your leg?”
“Yeah, I hurt it on my last tour overseas. I wasn’t going to be able to pass the physicals anymore and I’m really not cut out for desk work, so I got out.”
Steven nodded, he wanted to ask what happened, but he could tell Alex was uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was going. He was caught by a yawn before he could say anything else. It didn’t take long for sleep to claim him again.
Alex relaxed when he realized Steven wasn’t going to ask for details. A few minutes later the kid had nodded off again.
Jason had gone straight to his apartment and started a load of clothes before jumping in the shower. By the time he was dressed and ready to leave the first load was done and he started a second. He grabbed his cell phone, wallet and keys and headed to his next destination.
Chad had just passed by the door to the reception area when he stopped and frowned, backing up until he could see the man standing at the desk talking to the receptionist.
“Jason?” Chad asked, walking out into the sitting area.
“Hey Chad.” Jason shook the hand that was offered.
“What are you doing here?”
“I hoped Jared was in and I could talk to him for a few minutes.”
Chad eyebrows shot up in surprise. “He’s in, not sure where he is at the moment. Come on back and you can wait in his office. I’ll track him down. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything is fine. I just need to run something by him.”
Chad nodded at the receptionist to let her know he’d take care of it and then made his way down the hall to the elevator.
Jason followed, glancing around at his surroundings, he’d never been to Jared and Chad’s studio, and it was interesting to see where they worked. Chad ushered him into the office, and he took a seat on the couch and accepted a bottle of water.
“Jared’s on his way. It’ll probably take him about fifteen minutes to get here, he’s on the other side of the complex at the sound stage.” Chad explained as soon as he got a response to his text. “I’ve got to go put out a fire at the prop department, so I’ll just leave you to it. “
“Sure, no problem. I’ll see you around.”
It in fact took Jared about twenty minutes to make it to the office, but Jason was fine with that. He’d texted Alex to see how things were going with Steven, relaxing a little when Alex replied that things were fine, and Steven was taking another nap. He used the rest of the time to organize his thoughts so he could do this presentation without stumbling through it. He wasn’t necessarily nervous per se, he had back up plans, but this was the best option he thought.
“Jason?” Jared asked when he walked in. “Everything okay?”
Jason stood and shook Jared’s hand, sitting back down as Jared took the seat across from him. “Yeah, everything’s good. How’s things going at the house?”
“Relatively smooth. The kids have been getting along, we have a ton of things to get in order to get Brayden and Xavier caught up and back on track for school, but we have a plan at least. Jensen’s morning sickness has eased off, but he wears out quicker now.”
“But the babies are fine?”
“Oh yeah, the doctor’s happy with the progress. We have an appointment in a couple of days. We’re going to take the kids with us because it’s an ultrasound appointment too and Avery has been chomping at the bit to see them. I don’t think she gets that they’re not going to look like her baby dolls.”
Jason grinned. “No, kids typically have no idea that babies look like some form of alien when you’re trying to see it through another body.”
“You have experience with this?” Jared asked curiously.
“I have three older sisters.”
“Ahh. That must have been fun.”
“It wasn’t too bad. I learned to listen, helps me now with the job. “
“So, what brings you all the way out here?”
“I have a proposition for you.” Jason sat back and got comfortable. “I’m pretty sure you’ve heard why I wasn’t able to be there the night Jensen caught up to the kids.”
“A little bit, they said you’d found a kid in the woods, in pretty bad shape I heard. “
“Yeah, it looked like he’d been ten rounds in a cage match with no training. It was bad, scared the shit out of all of us. He’s going to be released from the hospital in a few days, and the center is not really an option for him.”
“Why not? Is he a minor?”
“No, he’s nineteen, but the reason he was in that shape was his mother.”
“Well shit.” Jared ran his hand through his hair. “So why can’t he go to the center?”
“He doesn’t do well with women. If he weren’t on pain medicine that made him groggy, he’d probably have had panic attacks when the nurses came in. As it is, his heart rate increases, and his blood pressure shoots up. They try to keep the male nurses on his rotation, but that’s not always possible.”
“So, what exactly can I do to help?”
“I’d like to move him to your house. I know you’re probably crunched for space, but I can sleep on a couch or bring a cot and put it in his room. In exchange I can help with the kids, and make sure Jensen isn’t overdoing it. I’m also fairly proficient in the kitchen.”
Jared frowned as he thought about it. “You have experience with kids?”
“I have eight nieces and nephews.” Jason grinned. “I’ve watched them all at once on more than one occasion.”
“How did you pull that duty?”
“Mothers Day, I gave them all vouchers for a spa day. The other times it was for various functions I had no desire to attend.”
“Braver man than me.” Jared replied. “Do you think his mom will be looking for him?”
“I’m not going to lie; I honestly don’t know. I wouldn’t think so, not with the total disregard she gave the kid. If she wants to try and reclaim her punching bag she might.”
“How likely do you think she does?
“Personally, I feel she’s on the other side of the country by now. I’d be surprised if she even bothered to watch the news to see if his body was found.”
“So why are you hanging so close?” Jared asked what everyone had been wondering for the last three weeks.
“I’m not big on taking chances with someone else’s life. So, I’m erring on the side of caution.”
Jared thought there was more to it than that, but he let it go. He thought through the logistics of two more people in the house. The room downstairs had an en-suite bathroom, the room was also big enough to put a cot or a futon in for Jason to sleep on.
It would certainly ease the stress of him worrying everyday about Jensen overdoing it at home. As well as give Jensen someone to talk to if he wound up on bed rest with this pregnancy, which was a high probability with multiples, his history notwithstanding.
“How long do you anticipate his recovery taking?”
“Stevens got a leg and arm in a cast, and he’s still covered in bruises and cuts. He’s going to have to go to physical therapy for a few months.”
“Do you have that much leave time?”
“I have three months saved, but when he’s a little more mobile and can-do things for himself I can work the weekends when you’re home to keep an eye out on the kids. That way it should stretch until Jensen has the babies. I know you plan on taking time off then and I hope with some therapy and slowly introducing him to different situations and people he’ll be able to either function at the center or I’ll figure something out.”
“Do you think he’ll have a problem with the girls?”
“I don’t think so, they’re kids. I’m pretty sure he’ll know they don’t pose a threat to him. What about the kids? Did anything happen to them that would make them leery of people, especially men?
“It doesn’t appear so, we’ve got to get them into therapy, but they don’t shy away from touch, not that we’ve been overly touchy just in case. The doctor didn’t see any sign of it when she checked them over at least. They’re shy around strangers until they get comfortable, but I dare say that’s most kids.”
Jason nodded, happy that the kids hadn’t experienced any more trauma than they had. He waited while Jared contemplated his proposition.
“I’ll have to talk to Jensen about it, but it sounds like a win-win situation for all concerned. I’ll give you a call tomorrow as long as he doesn’t crash after supper.”
Jason stood and let out a relieved breath. “Not a problem. I’ll be at the hospital, so if I don’t answer right away just leave me a message. I’ll give you a call back as soon as I can.”
Jared showed Jason the way out, before heading back across the complex, mulling over the conversation. He was listing pros and cons in his head as he went so he could cover his bases once he talked to Jensen. Jared was under no illusion that when he heard about Steven he’d want to help. He was going to make it crystal clear that Jason was there to help and not be a guest, because Jensen didn’t think guests should do anything but enjoy their stay and Jared was not going to let him add more work to his plate.