Once upon a time there were two men who were many things to each other. Co-workers, protectors, best friends, brothers, and finally-lovers.
Their friendly acquaintances knew a little, bosses knew little more, but only we knew everything.
My name is Dean Winchester - I was born with that name, and I used that name right up until the time my partner and I retired from a government agency no one knows exists, but that was not an ending, but a beginning. I have to tell you that story so I can tell you the rest of the story.
I'd just come off one of those missions the higher ups consider a success, but leaves a bad taste in your mouth and a new chapter to your nightmares. Sitting in my 'Company' approved apartment in Georgetown nursing cracked ribs, I stared at a heavy vellum business card with its stark black numbers.
Three months ago, I'd found the card in my jacket pocket after a joint debrief where I had scooped an agent from some Impossible Mission Force wannabe agency. I called the number the next day from a burner phone, and over a very expensive lunch, Jim Beaver gave me a very interesting proposition.
Now, totally pissed with the politics and the narrow thinking of my handler that resulted in my cracked ribs, the deaths of my rookie partner, and a civilian that left the taste of ashes in my mouth, I picking up my personal phone, and dialed the number.
"That job still open?"
"You give a lot of people your personal number?" I teased.
"Not really. What's on your mind, Son."
Rolling my eyes at the 'son' moniker, I got to the point.
"I'm looking to make a move."
"I'll send you an address. Are you able to be here at nine tomorrow morning?"
"See you tomorrow."
I didn't know if I was jumping from the frying pan into the fire, because at the end of the day, spooks are spooks. The pay package was impressive, and Beaver had said he didn't care how a job got done so long as the mission was accomplished.
Having a plan settled my thoughts, and for the first night in many, I slept through to my alarm.
The short drive from my DuPont Circle apartment to Beaver's address was a blessing on my still healing ribs. To the average person, the office building was non-descript, but the security measures were there if you knew where to look.
Inside, the guards were discrete, unobtrusive, but alert. The receptionist was equally average, but sharp, intelligent eyes looked me up and down like she saw to my skin, and with some of today's technology it was possible she did.
Her eyes widened when she caught a flash of my CIA ID under my license. It took no time to get a visitor pass and directions to Jim Beaver.
Once the meet and greet was over, his very capable looking PA brought coffee and a pile of file folders.
"Do you want to get down to business or do the recruitment dance some more?" Beaver asked.
"I'm ready for a move we might as well get to the business of dotting I's and crossing T's. I'm sure you already know my security clearance so I expect you can be ready to put me in the field by the end of the week." I smirked.
He gave me an answering smirk … His pound of flesh, for me leaving his man out of the action three months ago, was stealing me from the CIA.
"What I like to hear. Here's the team you'll be working with once your credentials are in order." He plopped the pile of folders on the coffee table in his sitting area. "I'll have Katie order some lunch." He grinned.
It didn't take long to get through the support members of the team. I don't care how far in the shadows you work; the worker bees are a pretty standard skill set. When you get to the field agents, you see how the rubber meets the road. The deeper the shadows the sharper and more dangerous the field agents.
"Looks like a good crew." I laid down the last file.
Jim threw a folder in my lap and handed me a mug of coffee. The name on the file - Eliot Spencer.
The first thing in the file was a picture of a man that was so ruggedly handsome it made my dick twitch, and my balls ache to look at it. I'd probably come in my boxer briefs like a randy teenager if I ever met the man in person.
Father: Roy Eliot Spencer - Hardware Store Owner, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Mother: Elizabeth Dorcas Spencer Nee Tenkiller - Deceased
Sister: Jennifer Spencer Wallace - Married Steven Wallace; 2 children - Son - Spencer and Daughter - Ashley
Early enlistment into the Army. Completed Ranger school; recruited into Delta Force, where he served until recruited into the ranks of our field agents. Does not work or play well play with others, and often clashes with authority.
"This is Team Leader?"
"I'll put you in as his new tech. His present tech is transferring to a 'less intense' team."
"Langley know you're poaching agents?"
"We should be hearing the screams about this time tomorrow."
The look of glee on Jim's face was downright scary, and as if on cue the phone started to ring.
"Be here at 0900 tomorrow."
I'd like to say we clicked from the moment we shook hands, but I'd be lying. His picture didn't do him justice, and I had to fight down the urge to pin him to the nearest surface, and show him what I thought of all those fine assets until I looked in those blue grey eyes. Arrogance, humor, and a diamond glint looked back, causing me to curse silently.
A chuckle from the office door let me know what Jim thought of putting two alpha males in a small enclosed space.
"Eliot Spencer - Dean Winchester."
We stared, taking each others measure. He wasn't backing down, but neither was I.
"We gonna have a problem?" Spencer growled
His tone was snide, but I figured he was trying to establish pecking order. Since I was low man on the totem pole I decided to let it slide … For the moment. I watched Spencer limp toward the door mumbling under his breath about the dragons in medical. My guess was my new team would be in the field as soon as Spencer was released for field work.
"Only if you do stupid shit that's gonna get me killed."
His smile didn't reach his eyes, but at the sound of Spenser's growl, my lizard brain was trying to crawl to the top again. I gave it a mental kick, and a nod of acknowledgement to Spencer.
"Meet me at 'The Park' at 0500. I need to get back to field readiness, and you're my new training partner." He huffed as he limped out of the office.
After a couple years Jim stopped sending us out with a team. Between the two of us we had all the skills we needed. We could get in and out with barely a ripple. Some dumb ass in OPS had dubbed us The Ghost and The Darkness. Stupid names, but they stuck. Later found out it was a buddy movie with Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas. Eliot jokingly asked me if I wanted to be Kilmer or Douglas, and the blank look I gave him pointed out the holes in my popular culture education. My Dad had an obsession for tracking down radical extremists and working kidnap and rescues so there wasn't much time for TV or movies. It wasn't until after the mission that left me an orphan at 16 that I got an inkling of how to blend into the real world.
For a while Eliot and I spent so much time in South America we needed a score card to keep the players straight. We spent eighteen months being Jake Gray and Lindsey McDonald causing chaos amongst the rebels and drug cartels. We were in a constant state of hyper-awareness, some days the hunters … Some days the hunted.
It was a deadly game of chess with all sides more often than not hiding in the city's slums or the jungle. When Eliot developed pneumonia, I practically carried him through the jungle on my back until we reached the outskirts of a native village. I called out to the people I knew were hiding just out of sight. When I was about to collapse from exhaustion, Doc Rob and his minions rushed out to help me.
We got Eliot settled in Doc's workshop, and while he and Rae moved around each other chattering about ingredients, I stripped Eliot of his clothes and began wiping him down with cool water.
I stayed by his bed, wiping him down, and forcing Doc's concoctions down his throat. I probably looked worse than Eliot as exhaustion became my new best friend. Three days later, his fever finally broke. Once we got him clean and dry, I dropped onto the other cot and let the darkness take me.
The feeling of being watched brought me out of my sleep, and when I saw those blue grey eyes looking at me, I felt a joy that had nothing to do with being job partners. Doc showed up as I was helping Eliot drink his latest concoction, and gave him a thorough exam while filling me in on his latest experiments.
A week later, Eliot was back on his feet complaining about still having to drink Doc's concoctions as I checked and repacked our gear. When he asked me about Doc and Rae, all I told was I met 'Doc' when I was 16. He gave a nod of understanding as Doc drug him off for one last exam while I was said my goodbyes to Rae and the tribe.
Rae gave me her sharp smile and a bone crushing hug.
"Robert's just having a little chat with your partner."
"You mean he's giving him the shovel talk." I growled as I moved after them.
Rae's raucous laugh rang through the jungle as she shouted after me. "Don't be a stranger!"
As we walked out of the rain forest, I filled Eliot in on the details of how I'd met Dr. Robert Campbell and Dr. Rae Crane. When I was 16, Dad got a call for a kidnap and rescue job from a big Pharma company. Two of their top research scientists had been kidnapped by a South American timber company whose logging had been stopped by the doctors' work with medicinal plants of the Amazon rain forest. After freeing the two doctors, we made a run to where we left our Jeep. We were almost there when the overseer of the timber crew caught up with us. He shot at Rae at the same time I shot at him. Dad had shoved Rae out of the way and took the bullet meant for her. We buried Dad where he fell, left the overseer's body to the jungle, and I got them back to civilization.
With Dad dead, and no family, the doctors I had rescued ... Rescued me by giving me a home until I went to college. Having a couple of PhD's home schooling me in the middle of the rain forest allowed me to test out of a lot of crap courses, and pick up a couple degrees in the time it takes for most people to just get through one. The best part of Doc Rob and Rae living in the depths of the rain forest was I always had a place to disappear.
By the time we were pulled out of South America our world had narrowed, and we had locked our circle with only room for two. When Jim found out, he didn't stop smiling for a week. Smart ass said it made me human and Eliot mellow. Eliot promptly kicked his ass around the gym.
"How's that for mellow?" He growled.
Jim was still grinning when he signed our releases back to field duty.
Year seven sucked major ass … Both of us almost died. Me, being an over achiever, went for two.
Needless to say, we spent most of that year healing and rehabbing from our collective Near Death Experiences. Eliot teased me that our house was beginning to look like Tony Stark's workshop with pieces parts of this, that and the other scattered around, and you never went through a room in the dark. There was nothing worse than getting out of bed to take a piss and breaking a toe on one of my piles of scrap. A lot of the things I created out of those piles saved our lives and covers on more than one occasion. If Jim ever found out about my toys, he would have buried me in some basement lab, and things would have gotten real ugly. Eliot and I were not known as a people who shared what we considered ours.
But I got off track … Where was I? Ah. Year seven. After Eliot got kidnapped and tortured, and I was nearly killed getting us somewhere safe, we became two of the most paranoid people on the planet. We became so insular within the agency that only a handful of people had access to our files and missions until after the fact.
We'd just finished a mission and were headed back to the States when I got shot in the back. It was Chinese New Year and when Eliot heard the shot, he thought it was firecrackers until I dropped like a stone. His first instinct was to take care of me, but to do that we had to be safe.
Eliot left it to professionals to care for me while he went after the shooter. The man was a pro, and motivated, but Eliot was committed to him not being alive to get another chance to complete his contract. He stripped the cooling body of its weapons, phone, key card, and collected every bit of information he could find in the motel room before finding the hospital where I was on the operating table.
When he found me - he'd been terrified I was going to die before they got me stable, then we both were worried I was going to be a paraplegic. The day I moved my legs was the first night either of us slept without waking every hour.
During our years together, I taught Eliot all I could about computers, and knowing the agency would have their little web crawlers looking for any mentions of our Agency aliases, Eliot slipped into the admitting office and deleted the Agency alias and used one of our own. We didn't contact Jim until I was discharged from rehab. We didn't want anyone knowing where we were until we were able to protect ourselves.
Jim was furious that we'd dropped off the radar, so when the Agency doctors released me for light duty Jim gleefully sat me amongst piles of mission reports to analyze. Those weren't the only things I was analyzing … I was slithering through the Agency's mainframes at the same time. Since Eliot was stuck in the office with me, he listened around corners and sifted through the break room scuttlebutt. When we got home at night, we'd turn on the television to a loud sports channel and use a combination of sign and our own particular spoken shorthand to talk about what we'd found.
We only had the barest trail of crumbs for months until Eliot got snatched out of the Agency's parking garage. It took me a week to find him. During that week I felt like time was standing still and running too fast at the same time. I only slept when my brain would no longer function, or I was waiting on my computer to spit out answers.
On the second day my searches turned up an email from a spoofed ISP that led to a dead drop. That would have been a dead end for most people, but I'm not most people and they had my partner, so I kept digging. It took me to an address with nothing but a table, computer and Internet connection. Pulling out one of my scrap heap gadgets, I soon had any electronics in the room showing nothing but static and white noise. I didn't have time for finesse, but I didn't want whoever was on the other end to think anything had been tampering with the feed. I stripped all the information from everything I could find and set up my own little leeches in their system. In less than five minutes I had a lead on Eliot and an information feed that might give us a clue as to who was gunning for us.
Day three I spent the night going through my newfound information until I found a name I recognized. My former masters at the CIA had used the man's proclivities in the past to insert agents to do electronic information dumps on his activities. It looked as if Jerry Glover was expanding his territory into the human trafficking, and someone with our own Agency had set it up for Eliot to be the star attraction in one of his auctions.
All I could see was red. I sat perfectly still because I knew Eliot would be pissed if the apartment was wrecked when I brought him home. When my emotions were once again under control, I knew two things. I would have Eliot back by the end of the week, and there were a lot a people who were going to wish they were dead for taking what was mine. I activated one of my high price hooker covers, inserted myself in Glover's calendar for tomorrow, and sent my spiders into every sector of the Agency's files before taking a shower and passing out in our bed. I would need all my wits about me to get Eliot away from Glover.
When I locked the door of our apartment, Dean Winchester ceased to exist, and Ian Cooper settled his suit jacket and climbed behind the wheel of his understated luxury rental car ... He then drove to the The Hay-Adams Hotel.
I parked the car and pulled a bag out of the back seat. I didn't want to have to wait on a valet in case we left in a hurry. At the front desk I collected the key for the room I reserved just in case we needed a place to hide and get cleaned up after I got Eliot back.
One of Glover's muscle heads opened the door to his suite. Muscle head number two patted me down and got in a quick grope. Glover leered from the other side of the sitting area as he finished a phone call, and settled back in his chair.
"Nice suit, but you won't be needing it for a long time ... Lose it then get over here and start earning your money."
I wanted to grab a gun off one of the knuckle dragging twins and go Old Testament until Glover and his goons gave me what I needed, but I didn't need a mess of that magnitude. Shutting down my brain I neatly folded each piece of clothing as Glover palmed himself through his sweats. I heard Mutt and Jeff snickering under their breath as they watched their boss. Glover pulled his eyes from my body long enough to glance at his men, and their smirks. He popped up from his chair as though stung and motioned me to follow him into the bedroom. Grabbing my clothes, I followed quietly behind.
"Pour me a drink. I want to savor my scotch while I savor that pretty mouth of yours."
I thanked the Universe that watches out for spies trying to make it through a fucked up situation as I dumped a sleeping drug into his scotch and waited for it to dissolve before I turned toward the king sized bed. Glover was propped up naked in the middle. Slithering across the sheets, I handed the man his glass.
"Get to work. I've got meetings later." He bitched as he took a big sip of his scotch.
Looking around the room, I see Cooper's computer and smart phone. Taking my time to move down the bed, I try to stall, waiting for the drug to take effect. A soft hand runs over my ass, and it's all I can do to stay in character. I have his cock in my throat when I feel him go soft, and the fingers in my ass fall away as the glass thuds on the mattress.
Scrambling off the bed, I redress and snatch up the cell phone and computer. I didn't have much time to find Eliot. The computer is child's play to crack. The information I find makes my blood run cold as I read about the mercenaries that Glover used to roundup his latest group of 'product'.
I download everything on a thumb drive, and though I wished to wreak havoc on Glover and his men, I would have need of them after I retrieved Eliot. I would find out who paid to have him kidnapped, and I didn't care who I had to kill to find out.
Checking my watch, I saw almost enough time has passed for Glover to have had his fun, so I go in the bathroom and muss my hair, run the shower, and take all the cash out of Glover's wallet then slip out the bedroom door. His men don't stop me as I leave, and though I want to head straight to Eliot, I have to have a plan. The people that took him are professionals, and it won't be easy taking their toys away.
I spent the night in the room I rented scouring through Glover's information. I found the address where Eliot was being held and pulled all the information I could find about the warehouse and the security company that employed mercenaries doing Glover's procurement. I forced myself to sleep. The next day would start early and before the day was done, I would have Eliot safe in my arms, or we both would be dead.
Dawn was just creeping across the sky when I got in place to surveil Glover's warehouse. There was only one guard on each side of the warehouse and one on the roof. The guard on the vehicles went down without a sound when I hit him from behind. Stupid was a blessing as all the vans had keys in the ignitions and were stocked with weapons and medical supplies. I took one set and disabled the others before turning my attention to the warehouse.
Every noise seemed magnified in the quiet before the birds started their day. Each scrape of a boot or rattle of tree branches had me crouching in the shadows. I slipped in the door and breathed out as a stack of boxes hid my entrance from the six men and women sitting at a table drinking coffee. I couldn't stay where I was … Anyone coming in the door would see me.
The problem was solved when a big guy, that looked like the professsional wrestler 'The Rock', came in the room barking orders that set everyone scrambling. There wasn't much time before they would discover their missing guard so my options were limited. Not wanting to start a gun fight that would bring the cops, my only option was knockout gas. Moving between stacks of boxes and supplies used to provide for Glover's 'inventory', I quietly set off gas canisters around the main room before moving into a hallway. The mask limited my range of vision, but sounds of a large group of people drew me to the right.
The rooms I passed were clear, but I continued to set off gas canisters watching as the smoke and fumes also moved toward the voices. As the voices died down, I crept down the hallway. Peeking around the corner, the mercenaries were sprawled in the aisles as were the people in rows and rows of cages. Sickened by what I was seeing; I also saw a ring of keys by the hand of a downed mercenary. Snatching up the keys, I started unlocking cages while searching for Eliot.
In the last cage in the last row, curled in the corner, his mouth and nose buried in his shirt was Eliot. I fished another mask out of my bag and pulled it over his face. We really didn't have time for Eliot to be stubborn, so I started flashing hand signals trying to convince my partner I was there to get him out. The moment he realized who I was he stopped fighting and demanded a weapon.
Still using sign, I asked the total number of mercenaries. I knew he would have worked constantly on a way to escape. Fifteen, he signed back. We counted seven in the rows of cages. There were three left alive outside, which meant four were either unconscious in other parts of the warehouse or awake somewhere else. I really wanted to search for computers and cellphones, but common sense said get Eliot out and track down the company these people worked for later. Common sense won, and I took point back to where the vans were parked.
There was no resistance until we opened the door to see 'The Rock' and the three guards that had been on watch. I really wanted to take 'The Rock' home and find out what he knew, but my number one goal was to get away from them alive.
With sirens wailing in the distance, Eliot helped me dump an injured and handcuffed 'Rock' in the back of the van. I almost went down when one of the guards got a lucky shot before Eliot put him down. I pulled a field dressing out of the back of the van and slapped it on the wound before gunning the van out of the driveway. We sped away in the opposite direction as the first police cars came into sight.
I swapped the van for an ambulance I had stashed. Eliot had passed out in the seat, but opened his eyes while I was inserting the IV needle before I began cleaning and stitching his wounds while 'Rock' glared over his gag. Ever since my first medic training I had a habit of mumbling to myself - reciting the proper way to care for each of the wounds I encountered. Eliot must have found it soothing because he was soon back to sleep. Luckily, the bullet went through the muscle of my thigh, missing anything vital. I cleaned and stitched the wound, and headed for the first of several safe houses I'd set up.
We never talk about it, and no one ... Not even Jim knows anything but the barest details of that week. Usually, when partners go through something like this, it drives them apart, but we were always the exception to the every rule. As we healed, we began looking into the information I had 'persuaded with extreme prejudice' from 'Rock'.
Now, Eliot and I know each other inside and out. We've seen the best and the worst of the other, but the way I used the instruments from the EMT kit to extract information had even Eliot green around the edges. I could tell he was afraid I'd finally fallen off the crumbly edged cliff where people in our profession stand. He watched from the gurney as I used 'Rock's' cell phone to crack every cell phone and computer from Bad Dog Security for information about his kidnappers. I used the same phone to call a team of cleaners before loading the gurney and heading to the next safe house.
The next time Eliot opened his eyes I had him clean, warm and tucked into a bed exactly like our bed at home. I was sitting on the floor--leaning against the bed--asleep, but woke up when I felt familiar fingers on my face.
"'m fine, but I gotta piss."
I reached for one of those jugs they make you use in the hospital, and when Eliot started to protest, I glared at him.
"Trust me when I say you don't want to move."
Stubborn to the end, Eliot started to reach for his dick until pain flared and stitches pulled leaving him panting and sweating.
It was a week before he could do the simplest things. Frustration on his part and not sleeping on mine had us both snapping and snarling like junkyard dogs, and like all things under pressure there had to be relief or an explosion. Since our usual fighting or fucking were not an option I knew Eliot was going to push me to talk about why I wasn't sleeping.
Going through the information I'd collected, I could see that Eliot was beginning to believe I was right when I said this wasn't about the Agency ... This was about us. My shooting and Eliot's kidnapping were experiments to see how far off the reservation we would go for one another. All the information we had kept going back to the same name ... Samantha Smith.
Samantha Smith was the head of the Agency's behavioral science department, and we weren't someone who should be in her sphere of influence. Behavioral science worked on the live targets we retrieved. We found the files of five pairs of agents she had been studying. One or both partners of four of the teams were dead. Eliot and I were number five. Reading through our files, this lady had way more information on us than was generally available. We knew this because I carefully monitor all our agency files.
"How does she know all this shit?"
I was staring at her personnel file picture when a memory woke up. I snatched my computer bag and rummaged through the pockets. I must have spooked Eliot because he jogged from the kitchen to my side.
I handed him a file and the picture I'd gotten out of my bag.
"As in your mother … Your dead mother?"
"If she got out do you think your brother might still be alive?"
I knew he wanted to ask how I could be sure--I was only four, but I had held that tiny body as it breathed its last breath. There were a multitude of whys and wherefores to what game was being played, for which we had no answers, and the conclusions were uglier than the designs I'd carved in 'Rock'.
We both sat frozen until I moved and started typing furiously. The deeper I dug, the uglier the picture got. As part of a research project, Samantha had taken on the identity of Mary Campbell, married John Winchester, birthed two children then implemented her exit strategy, sacrificing her youngest son in the process.
The jobs John had taken as a mercenary had also been orchestrated by Samantha and the Agency for her study. She'd lost sight of me while I was with Doc Rob and Rae, but in the big picture, I was the culmination of her machinations. Digging deeper we found that one member on each of the four other teams had a parent that was part of Smith's team.
"Why did we survive?"
I looked up from my computer screen. We were the only team with both members alive, but the price had been high. We were healing from the physical damage, but the psychological effects … If I didn't soon get some sleep the bitch would win.
Eliot must not have realized he'd asked the question out loud until I answered.
"Because she made me."
There was all kind of nuances in that statement, but Eliot didn't bother with them, he pulled out all the stops until he had cajoled me to lie down next to him.
We slept in fits and starts. The in between times we started to plan our exit strategy.
In a climate controlled bunker so deep underground only a few people remember it exists, a room full of computer equipment hums. Verbal and video conversations, electronic pulses full of phone calls, emails, and financial transactions roll through a super computer. The Machine does its assigned tasks and sends patterns and video to various and sundry organizations, but every so often a lone number makes it way to an anonymous account accessible by only one person.
The Machine watches as The Creator and his Human Protector either protect the number or eliminate the number, whichever path is dictated. The Machine listens as The Creator expresses his frustration when a number outside their home territory appears. The Machine starts another search.
It takes six months, but everything is finally in place. All we need now is the right mission where Eliot Spencer and Dean Winchester go out in a manner befitting our reputations. The perfect going away present would be if Behavioral Sciences and those protecting them were dead in the process, but getting out of Washington, D.C., with the world thinking we're dead will have to suffice.
Christmas came early. Jim walked into the armory where we were updating our gear and told us to report to Behavioral Science for 'surprise' psych evaluations. Eliot shrugged and secured the weapons while I began to whine about having to cancel my first date in blah … blah … blah until Jim got frustrated and yelled at me to just cancel the damn date and get our asses across town.
Anyone listening to my phone call would hear an age old excuse of, 'So sorry, but something came up at work', but that simple phrase released computer files to our fellow teams that had been through hell at the hands of people we were supposed to be able to trust. We had no way of knowing exactly what the information would trigger, but at least one of the survivors of Samantha Smith's machinations had become increasingly volatile since the events that led to the death of his partner. I was carrying a truckload of guilt over what we set in motion when we walked through the doors of the Behavioral Science building, but we sat calmly in reception drinking surprisingly good coffee waiting for the final act to play out.
In the chaos that followed, four agents and the most senior staff at Behavioral Sciences died in a fire that destroyed the offices. Two of the bodies were never recovered, but the files found on the computers of two of the agents started an investigation. After said investigation, three of Washington's top power brokers died tragically, which caused an interesting power vacuum among the old guard insiders. It was the perfect epitaph for Eliot Spencer and Dean Winchester.
The Machine watched The Apprentice and The Guardian. When it realized the pattern of what The Apprentice was doing, it carefully erased any tracks he left behind. The Machine agreed with the logic of having many hidden places across the country. It would make the work it had chosen The Apprentice to do easier. The Machine watched Jensen Ackles and Christian Kane settle into their new home in Denver, Colorado. Time passed until signals from The Apprentice's computer alerted The Machine that The Apprentice was fading from its systems. It was time to send a missive to The Creator and his Protector.
Though Eliot and I … I guess I better get used to thinking of him as Christian, not Eliot … Had property all over the world, we decided to settle in Denver. It had all the things two up and coming young entrepreneurs could want, and the rest of the country was easily accessible. We started a consulting firm specializing in personal and business security, and set up our office on the ground floor of the warehouse we'd converted into our living space, workshops and training rooms. The suits got pitched, and completing the transformation, I cut Dean's long sun streaked hair to Jensen's short cut, and Eliot allowed his close cropped brown hair to grow so it lay in curls, pierced his ears, and got a tattoo he'd designed years ago.
It was amazing how freeing it was to step away from the Agency, and do all the things I'd wanted, but couldn't because they would either draw attention, or make us memorable in some way. When you work in our former profession the last thing you want to be is memorable.
I know Eliot worried those first few months as we settled into our new lives. As Dean I'd never hesitated to step to the front, and take charge loudly. I still take charge, but I'm quiet--reserved. I watch from the shadows, move behind the scenes and seldom come into the light. Jensen has become the voice in Christian's ear that leads him where he needs to go, tells him what he needs to hear, and I only step into the light to protect Christian.
The vast scope of the machinations of the woman who gave me life has left deep scars, and when I allow it, Christian pulls me into the sun to enjoy this new life we have made for ourselves … I hope it will be enough.
We'd been in Denver six months ... Christian Kane, Jensen Ackles, and Front Range Consulting were starting to build a client base. Banks and jewelers wanting their security systems tested, the occasional celebrity doing a quick appearance in town wanted bodyguards. It was enough to keep us busy, but nothing that would draw attention or put us in the spotlight.
We were still everything to each other, and I admit that I had begun pulling away from Christian mentally … Then Christian would use sex to pull me back. There were many nights after I drifted to sleep he'd wrap around me and curse Samantha Smith because even though we were closerthanthis ... I missed being Dean and Eliot. The more I became Jensen the bigger the ball of loneliness in my chest became. When I really looked at Christian I could see the same thoughts in his blue gray eyes.
That loneliness is the only excuse for what happened next. For all that Denver is a large city and the state capital, there are many aspects of the city that were still small town. For all the clubs and night life, it didn't take long to begin recognizing the same names and faces. We needed a larger city … More sprawling … It was time to move. Christian was getting restless. The best choice would be Los Angeles. All I had to do was wait for Christian to convince me to walk away from our company.
I watched as he started looking for a buyer, or at the very least someone I would trust to run the company in our absence. He seemed to forget I taught him most of what he knows about computers, but I let him work his plan. Using one of the back doors I'd left behind to move in and out of the Agency's files without detection, he went looking for someone retired just long enough for boredom to have become their new best friend. Going through the list Christian put together, I noted several names until I saw the one that would make Christian forget all the rest.
Our handler, Jim Beaver, had retired the day after the last signature was on the last piece of paper having to do with the fire that caused the deaths of Eliot Spencer and Dean Winchester. Christian probably thought I going to string him up by the balls, but here was the perfect solution to our problems. Now all Christian had to do was tug Jim's pigtails enough to get his attention.
Let the courtship begin.
After supper Christian turned on the TV to watch the Rockies play the Braves. What he was actually doing was watching me. When I closed the files I was reading, he pounced.
"I think we should move to Los Angeles."
I almost smiled. I was about to take all the wind out of his sails.
"Okay. We'll have to decide what stuff to take and what stays. I'll send out emails to the clients. How soon are we leaving?"
"How fast do we need to move?"
"No rush. Before you close down the office ... I found someone to take over for us."
I pretended to be surprised
He handed me Jim's emails.
"Does he know?"
"He retired after we 'died'."
"We don't believe in those."
"He's going to be pissed."
"Then I'll let you meet with him first."
"Love you, too."
"Jim always did like you best."
By bedtime we had a meeting scheduled with our former handler, and had decided which Los Angeles property would best suit our needs.
After all the years we'd been together you'd think Christian wouldn't be surprised at my organizational skills. Less than a day after agreeing to move, the non-essentials are packed, there's a rental truck in the loading dock, and a trailer for my pickup. There was another trailer for Christian to pull our motorcycles behind his truck.
I could see Christian was still worried. He'd expected me to go ballistic about not only moving, but about his contacting Jim. By the end of the day the only thing left to put on the truck was a few personal items, duffel bags and my laptop ... Our property manager in Los Angeles had our new home already outfitted and ready to set up house.
By the time we ordered our last meal in Denver, my acquiescing to our move with no more than an eye blink was sticking in Christian's craw, so halfway through supper his thoughts tumbled out.
"Why'd you give in so easy?"
"You weren't happy."
Well hell. What can he say after that answer?
"There is a price." I said.
He waited while I chewed my shrimp mei fun to name my price.
"Jim doesn't know."
"That's the price, Christian. Jim doesn't know I'm alive."
I saw the 'well fuck' expression on his face.
Since I wasn't meeting with Jim, I was leaving at first light. Fighting separation anxiety, the minute the last food carton hit the trash, Christian was pinning me against the counter ... His lips and hands demanding all of my attention.
Each day of our new lives we seemed to pull further away from each other. Dean and Eliot were everything to each other, but now it seemed that I was leaving Christian behind, or he was leaving me ... I was no longer sure. Not much scared me, but the thought of losing the one person in the world that knew ME scared the shit out of both of us. So Christian did what he always does when he's scared ... He gets stubborn … He digs in his heels and refuses to let go.
Now me … I'm quietly stubborn. Like water against Christian's stone. Everyone knows water is the strongest element on the planet, one minute smooth and reflective ... The next minute boiling and destructive. Whenever some crazy idea went through my brain and computed that it was in the best interest of someone I loved, nothing changed my mind. My agreeing to move without a fuss had all the earmarks of one of those ideas.
So Christian set out to remind me that this is our life ... Not just his.
I don't remember how we got from the kitchen to the bed, but by the time his dick slipped from my body, I was nearly comatose. Looking at the marks he'd left on my freckled and scarred skin had him looking smug that he'd reminded me where I belonged. Tossing the wash cloth in the pile of laundry he had to do before he met with Jim, he slid under the covers and pulled me in close. I grumbled, but settled against his shoulder.
Slipping from Christian's arms roused him enough to look at the time before burrowing down in the warm spot I left behind. I kissed him gently on the forehead. Christian woke enough to enjoy the last contact we'd have until he got to our new home.
"I'll love you always." I whispered against his skin.
Winding through the mountains west of Denver, my brain went back to the man I'd left behind. Dean and Eliot had been together first as work partners, and then life partners for many years. Though technically Jensen was me and Christian was Eliot … It was like we were strangers. Christian and Jensen had only been together for six months. Jensen had settled into our new life in Denver while Christian had become restless and moody. Christian wanted to go where it was bigger, brighter, with more people to get lost among because Christian didn't quite know what to do with Jensen.
*Fuck. I need to keep thinking about what's best thing for all involved.* I wondered how Christian's meeting was going with Jim.
I looked at the Caller ID. Christian's meeting must be over, but I let the call go to voicemail, not in the mood talk about Jim. Not wanting Christian to worry, I pulled into the next rest area and sent him a text.
The property we chose for our new home was in Burbank, and had been new when California was young. The real estate agent claimed it had been a very rich hacienda, but we bought it for a song because the buildings had fallen into ruin. I had supervised the renovations when we'd been healing from various injuries over the years. Everything was historically correct, but under the adobe and wood was probably one of the most modern and secure buildings in Burbank. I'd even kept the escape tunnels that led from the basement into the building next door that served as servants' quarters and kitchens for the hacienda. Now it was being turned into a restaurant/bar that used food, beer and wines from local farms and wineries.
Food had become Christian's passion during a one-week undercover mission that extended into six months. We could have had a career in any high end restaurant after we wrapped that mission. Christian cooked for us when we had downtime, using me as his guinea pig, but I let him occasionally cajole me into the kitchen. Seems I had a knack for all things dessert. Who would have thought it?
The décor stayed with the period of our hacienda, turning the courtyard between the buildings into patio dining. The menu would appeal to the studio employees with our local microbrews and wines a good match for our menu and desserts. I think Christian considered it a win when he got me out of my aerie on the top floor of the house and into his kitchen making desserts.
Christian was settling. I know he missed the adrenaline rush of our missions, but we were alive, and the soft opening of The Black Rooster was in two days. I was in Christian's bed most nights. The few days we'd been apart seemed to have help me find a happy medium between Dean Winchester and Jensen Ackles. We should have been happy.
We should have known Fate wasn't finished with us yet. There seemed to be a few more chapters to the story of Eliot Spencer and Dean Winchester.
Though the weather was chilly and damp, Christian grinned at me over the numbers for our first quarter. The Black Rooster was operating in the black, the kitchen staff was running smoothly, and I had taken over those tedious duties he hated … Paperwork and hiring. Our wait staff consisted of bit players and aspiring stars, but I managed to schedule around auditions and shooting schedules without the restaurant suffering.
There were hours when I'd disappear without a word, but Christian didn't question me. The bumps and bruises I returned with Christian put down to me finding a gym where I could spar with someone other than him. We kept the old skills sharp, never forgetting who we'd been, and that we had enemies.
What I didn't tell Christian about was the numbers I'd discovered in some files I had collected. I never discovered the source ... Only that they were Social Security numbers. I had to figure out what to do with the people attached to those numbers. The first one turned out to be a protection job … The second an elimination. I let Christian keep his assumptions about where I was going and what I was doing.
Jim and Christian talked often. Denver and Jim were a perfect fit just as I knew they would be … Our former handler was even developing a social life. I ran background checks on several women Jim dated including the one that seemed to have started taming the irascible man. Linda Gehringer was a successful business woman who hired Front Range Consulting for personal security on her business trips. It looked like Jim would soon be on permanent retainer.
Life was good, my family was safe, and I started to relax.
The Machine was not pleased. The Apprentice had somehow found its numbers. He was working on the numbers without the help of The Guardian. The Machine realized The Apprentice was as skilled as The Creator, but there had to be the symmetry of the binary. There could not be only one. The Creator must be alerted to the actions of The Apprentice for through his actions The Apprentice had elevated himself to The Sorcerer ... Second only to The Creator. Both must be protected at all costs. The Machine sent an email that would set things back in their proper binary.
Harold Finch opened the email that appeared in the account usually reserved for numbers The Machine kicked out. The email was addressed to The Creator, and the files were titled The Sorcerer and The Guardian. He read about their backgrounds from the time they'd entered the system, into an agency so deeply embedded in the dark they gave new meaning to the phrase 'black ops'. The smell of Chinese food brought a fond smile to his face. Harold often speculated the John Reese was psychic as he always seemed to appear at the most fortuitous of times.
The Machine watched the expressions of The Creator and his Protector as they read the information it had provided. Before The Protector left The Creator that night, two tickets for Los Angeles had been procured.
During the lull between the lunch and supper rush, a plate appeared under my nose. I'd been keeping odd hours, not eating or sleeping properly, and now it was time to pay the Piper. Christian was on a mission.
"What's going on, Jenny?"
I looked up from the paperwork I'd been entering into the computer. I was about to answer when one of the waiters came out of the kitchen carrying something that looked like it was plated by a five-year-old. Christian bristled.
"Mike! Let me see that plate. Take it back. Who made this mess?"
I breathed a sigh of relief for the reprieve from Christian's questions unwittingly provided by the careless prep cook.
Ashley smiled at the two middle aged men that entered The Black Rooster. The tall drink of water hovered protectively over the shorter man who moved stiffly.
"Welcome to The Black Rooster. Is there only two in your party or will you be waiting for friends?"
"Only two this evening." The taller man answered in a quiet baritone.
"We have seating by the windows if you want to people watch, in the back if you want something more private, by the fireplace, or on the patio."
"By the fireplace. It's a bit chilly tonight."
"My personal favorite." She said brightly.
Standing by the table, the hostess was touched by how solicitous the tall man was of his partner though he did it in a way that wouldn't be obvious.
"Can I offer you a drink?"
"Your website mentions an assortment of teas. Do you have Rize?"
"Dark or weak?"
"Scotch neat." The tall man ordered.
The tea, scotch, and the meal that followed were perfect. They watched the young man at the dark table near the kitchen as he worked on his computer and the long haired man with his hair held back by a bandana as he moved between the kitchen and his customers.
Small smiles appeared at the growling between the two younger men.
"If you don't eat, you're going to force me to feed you, Jenny."
"Try it Kane and you'll get knocked off your perfect boyfriend pedestal."
"I have a pedestal?"
"According to the female staff, but they don't know the real you."
"Ah Jenny, you know you love me. Am I really your boyfriend?"
"Just 'til you find someone better."
That made Christian scowl.
I waved away his concern. I could see Christian's temper start to flare, but before he could get a word out someone called his name.
"Don't call me Jenny." I gave him a crooked smile.
"This isn't finished."
The older men exchanged a look.
"So that's them?"
"Can I get you gentlemen anything else?"
"Yes … Mike, a word with the chef."
The waiter gave them a tentative nod before heading for the kitchen.
"I'm Chef Kane. How can I help you this evening?"
"We'd like to have a private word with you and Mr. Ackles."
Hearing my name, I moved toward their table before Christian could glare them to death. I moved behind him and laid a hand on the small of his back.
"It's alright, Christian. I know who they are." I turned to the two men at the table. "Come to the side door of the house tomorrow morning at ten."
Christian and the two men watched as I walk out through the courtyard to the house.
Promptly at ten the next morning the pair appeared at our door. Christian was putting the finishing touches on breakfast, pouting when I would only give him the name of our guests, while I escorted them to the table.
Always more night owl than morning lark, I refused to talk about anything serious until the dishes had been cleared, and fresh coffee and tea were brewed.
"Now, what can Christian and I do for a man richer than Croesus and an ex-CIA asset?"
The corner of Reese's mouth twitched as he looked at Finch.
"I warned you, Harold."
Throwing Reese a sour look, Finch turned his full attention back on us.
"Mr. Reese-John-and I oversee a project that has mostly been confined to New York City. It has recently come to my attention that there is a need for this same service in other parts of the country. You came highly recommended to handle the western half of the country."
"The western US? What do these projects entail, and what are we supposed to do?"
Christian startled when I answered the questions instead of Harold.
"We get a Social Security number. We have to find the person that corresponds with the number and discover whether they're the victim or the threat. The job is to protect the victim or eliminate the threat."
The three of them stared. Now Christian knew what I'd been doing when I disappeared.
"The Machine is sending you numbers?" Finch sounded confused.
It seemed he didn't know whether to be amazed or jealous.
"Since I figured out some files I found hidden on my server. Calls me The Sorcerer, and tells me I'm to lighten the load of The Creator and The Human Protector." I rubbed the back of my neck.
"If you're The Sorcerer than Mr. Kane is clearly The Guardian." Reese informed them.
"Never said anything about The Guardian." I mumbled.
"These things are always done in binary. It's the only way The Machine's logic would be content."
"Wait. What?" Christian squawked.
"You and Ackles have become the West Coast us." Reese's chuckle was quiet.
"It helps if you can cultivate resources inside the police force." Finch volunteered.
Christian had just reached the end of his tolerance, and the puzzle as to what I'd been doing was finally taking shape.
"You two … Make yourselves comfortable. You," Christian snagged my wrist, "with me."
"I wonder if that tactic would work with you, Harold?"
Reese's quiet words brought a rude sound from Finch as Christian dragged me to my floor of the house and slammed the bedroom door behind us.
I explained about the numbers, matching them with people, digging into their lives until I discovered the reason The Machine sent me the number. One number belonged to our hostess, Ashley, who had caught the eye of a serial rapist. I looked away as I told him the man was no longer a threat to our pretty hostess.
I could see when Christian's spy brain clicked with a news story of how the police found a man dead from natural causes lying among the trophies of his victims. Christian had remembered the story because he commented that the detective on the case was hot. The cops had received an anonymous tip … From me.
"You killed him."
"So what, we went from being assets of the Agency to being assets of a super computer? Dammit, Jenny."
"This isn't for someone political agenda, Christian. This is helping actual people one at a time."
"Finch said something about resources … That blond detective … You wooing him with your tips?"
"He's a good cop … Clean … High solve rate. Just your type."
"You've met him! Have you lost your fucking mind!?"
"Not met … Just … Watched."
Christian sat on the edge of the mattress scared, angry, concerned, and so much more I couldn't name. We'd gone through hell to get where we were, and now I was right back in the violence we'd left behind. I couldn't look at him, so I kept staring out the window. The numbers … The code… People with their messy emotions and ambitions hurt me, but the machines were always there giving me a refuge with their cold, orderly logic.
Christian shoved his hands through his hair. I startled when he grabbed me by the nape and smashed his mouth against mine. When he pulled back I stood blinking like I'd just woke up.
"I'll help you, Jen … I'll be The Guardian to your Sorcerer on one condition."
The hope and relief I felt must have shown on my face.
"What's your condition?"
"When we're not on a case you step away from The Machine and live in the real world."
"No. You. Don't. You spend all your time hiding in your nest upstairs when you're not at the restaurant."
"Let's break the news to team New York and send them on their way. We have a date at the Farmer's Market."
"Farmer's Market … Re-stocking the restaurant … Appropriate autumnal decorations."
"I should Tweet this. Christian Kane possessed by Martha Stewart." I chuckled.
"On your life."
"We both know I can so kick your ass."
"But there's so many other things you can do with my ass."
"You're such a horn dog."
"You love me anyway."
My laughter preceded us into the room causing the older men to look up.
"I take it you'll be helping us?" Finch closed the tablet he'd been working on.
"Yeah. Jensen and I came to an understanding."
"Excellent. Mr. Reese and I will leave you to your day."
"Good luck." Reese added quietly as he followed Finch out the door.
Christian was planning our Thanksgiving menu while I set across the table catching up the never ending paperwork The Black Rooster generated.
"You giving me something special for dessert that weekend or doing the tried and true traditional pumpkin pie?"
"Yeah, but not everyone's into pumpkin so probably something with apples and a nice cheesecake …" His voice trailed off.
My email notification sounded off and when Christian looked up I must have been pale.
"What's wrong? Is it someone you know?"
"In a manner of speaking."
I looked away.
"Detective Steven Carlson."
I nodded as I piled the remaining papers on top the closed laptop.
"My stuff's ready for tonight. I'll get started on this."
A burst of noise at the entrance had both of us reaching for the weapons we always carried. We exchanged sheepish grins when it turned out to be a group of thirty something pretty boys and girls from over at Warner Brothers. The standout-literally-was Jared Padalecki. Head and shoulders above the rest of the posse, the kid repeatedly hit on me when he wasn't with one of his cookie cutter brunette actresses. I didn't want to offend a customer so would politely rebuff the younger man. Jared had gotten pushy and I let the leash out on my dark side. It had slowed him down for a day or two, but apparently my pretty face and air of dark mystery was stronger than the kid's fear.
When Christian was sure the group was looking our way, he snagged me around the waist as I started to move past. Pulling me back against him he planted a kiss behind my ear.
"Seriously." He said quietly.
"Just getting the boy to back off. Your pretty face and bad boy vibes draws them like bees to flowers."
I turned in his arms.
"More like flies to your bullshit."
He laughed as he nipped my bottom lip. I loved to hear him laugh so as he turned I swatted him on the ass, which earned me a glower that promised retribution.
When we looked back at Padalecki's group they were wide-eyed at our little PDA, and the blush climbing Sasquatch's face told me my message had been received.
After I got my payback for Christian's little display in the restaurant, we grabbed a shower and changed the sheets before settling with our laptops to begin figuring out why The Machine gave us Detective Steve Carlson's number.
Christian took his personal life while I started combing through his case files. The cases we'd sent his way had gotten him bumped up to Major Crimes and several offers from the Feds. We went through the files, switched computers and went through them again.
The most blatant danger was a witness protection detail on a Mexican drug cartel case, but there was a case involving the members of a prominent motorcycle gang and an ex-lover whose behavior was near to stalking. His parents were upper middle class upstanding members of their community, and Carlson himself was prone to impromptu jam sessions at a bar owned by long-time friend Danneel Harris, in Studio City.
I took the cop Carlson and Christian took the private Carlson.
Ex-boyfriend turned stalker was easy enough once he understood what terrible accidents could befall a person that spent a lot of time in the vicinity of a cop.
I didn't like it, but the only way we could keep track of Steve Carlson off the clock, was if I took over Christian's weekend shifts at The Black Rooster while he became a regular at the Dixie Belle.
After our sparring session, I grumbled my way to the third floor to get ready to go to the restaurant while Christian ducked into the shower to get ready to go to the Studio City suburb of LA. Steve was performing and Christian was excited to hear him sing.
I was already at the restaurant kitchen when I saw Christian slip across the courtyard to tell me he was leaving. He stopped in the doorway because I was talking with a couple customers. I turned and gave him a grin and wave before giving my attention back to the table.
Seeing the pole-axed expression on Christian's face, I could tell he discovered my things missing from his bedroom. Hearing him wax poetic about Steve Carlson made me realize as much as my partner of nine years loved me as Dean Winchester … He did not love Jensen Ackles so I smiled and waved then went back to flirting with Jared Padalecki, putting the final nail in the life of Dean Winchester and Eliot Spencer.
I was finishing breakfast and the paper when Christian and Steve stepped into the kitchen. I eyed Steve warily then looked at Christian, and shook my head.
My appetite disappeared so I cleared my dishes.
"I just made a pot."
I collected my tablet and coffee mug ready to leave them alone.
"Jenny … Stay?"
I stopped, but didn't sit. Christian poured two cups and motioned for Steve to sit at the table.
"Jensen Ackles … Steve Carlson."
I nodded, then turned away.
"Jenny … We need to talk."
I glared at Christian. I did not want to do this in front of Carlson.
"No. We don't."
"Yeah we do. He knows."
"Everything. Including that I'm in love with him."
I closed down my emotions until only The Sorcerer remained.
"If something's going to happen I have a right to know." Steve chimed in. "It's my life."
My expression never changed.
"It's also mine and Christian's lives." I reminded him.
Steve grabbed Christian's hand.
"I know. That's why I want to help. We can't lose each other."
"Fine, but you're cooking breakfast."
It had been two weeks since we got Steve's number. There was still no clue about what was going to happen. Steve and I did not become fast friends, but I had relaxed, which allowed Steve to relax so Christian relaxed. A box here and a duffel bag full of clothes there appeared in the house. Suit jackets picked up from the dry cleaners, and Steve was soon moved into Christian's life. Sheet music littered the living room and recording equipment commandeered one of the empty rooms on the second floor.
Christian was happy and content until I started dating Jared.
"Have you run a check on him?" I asked.
"No need. He won't be around long enough for it to matter."
"What? It's just a couple guys blowing off steam. He's convenient."
"Does he know he's convenient?"
"Yep. Made that clear the first time I fucked him."
Christian pinched the bridge of his nose as I walked away. I know Christian wondered if our breakup was the reason I shut down emotionally, but rather than talk about it, I kept walking when I saw him lean back into Steve's chest.
I walked in the living room to hear Christian on the phone.
"Well now you know. If Jensen finds out about your little stunt with Jared, we both may lose him."
"You're not going to lose me."
Christian spun around so fast he almost dropped the phone.
"It's alright. I knew who Jared was from the first night I fucked him. Boy sleeps like the dead and had his real credentials in his apartment."
Christian put the phone on speaker.
"Hey Jim. You can call your dog home."
"I've tried. Says he wants to be there for you."
"He's pretty and a good fuck, but he needs a lot of work at undercover."
"Yeah. He still thinks he can save everyone."
"I don't need saving, Jim. I'm fine. I've got a new project to go along with the restaurant, and we all live happily ever after."
"Call him home or I'll send him home needing therapy."
I walked out, ran up the stairs to the third floor.
I rushed down the stairs looking for Christian, but was caught off guard when I saw him and Steve cuddled on the couch.
"Umm ... Oh ... We got another number."
"Assistant District Attorney Beth Riesgraf."
"Wait. She's the DA on my motorcycle gang case."
Silence filled the room as I went back into my computer.
I kept typing. I only needed a few more minutes to crack …
"JENSEN." Christian tried to call me out of my zone.
"What! I've almost got it figured out."
Before Christian could yell again, Steve's hand turned his attention away.
"Figured what out, Jen?"
"I knew there had to be a connection. Biker gangs, Mexican drugs, the Feds letting the LEO's take the lead."
"The trials are scheduled to begin the same day … All the players in one place. That's a blood bath waiting to happen. LAPD significantly down in manpower after the shootout. Dead cops, dead crooks, dead civilians. Mayor declares martial law. Good people get swept out of positions of power ... 'Yes' men get put in power. The Agency that has access to The Machine becomes The Wizard of Oz, controlling everything from behind the curtain"
Steve's expression was incredulous.
"You're sounding like some kind of conspiracy nut."
"I guess Christian didn't tell you EVERYTHING." I sneered. "This is us. This is what we did. Stabilize, destabilize, and assassinate the ones you can't control. Put the people in that agree with your politics. That's what The Machine was all about ... To watch, to listen, to report, but The Creator taught The Machine like it was a child. He gave it, for lack of a better term, morals. When The Machine would have given in to his every whim, he taught the damn thing to reason, learn and evolve. That's when The Machine appointed itself protector to The Creator. That's why it lets us see the patterns it sees."
"Not us - you." Christian reminded me.
I blushed and rubbed my hand through my hair.
"We understand each other." I murmured.
"So what do we do with this information?" Steve asked. "It's not like I can go to my captain or the District Attorney and tell them a story that sounds like a science fiction novel."
Christian left me and Steve in the kitchen while he went to make a call.
When Christian returned to the kitchen you could cut the tension with a knife.
"We have a plan."
"Jensen has a fucked up Hail Mary of a plan." Steve growled.
"If it works we stop the bad guys, you get to keep Christian, the assistant DA lives, The Machine is safe and the Agency has to back down for fear of exposure."
"How are we accomplishing this minor miracle?"
Christian turned from watching the expressions chase across Steve's face to look at me. I could see the fear that was building in Christian as he watched Steve. A shot of adrenaline went through my veins when I turned around and introduced Steve to Dean Winchester.
"It's the only way."
"Why are you fighting this? You know I'm right."
"We have a good life now. We're settled -- happy. Why do you want to throw it away?"
"You're happy. You don't even like Jensen. I'm not asking YOU for anything here, Kane. I know you're not Eliot anymore. Christian is all the best parts of Eliot without the looking over your shoulder part. Christian loves Steve Carlson with all his heart, and Steve Carlson loves him."
"I do like Jensen ... I just worry."
But it was too late. Jensen was gone like a worn out coat. Only Dean Winchester stood in the kitchen. Christian was about to play his last card.
"What about this whole Sorcerer and Guardian gig?"
I ducked my head.
"The Machine wanted Dean Winchester not Jensen Ackles. Nobody wants Jensen Ackles." I quickly hid my broken heart behind Dean's patented smirk. "See. Everyone wins. Time to get ready for my debut."
I raced up the stairs to get away from their togetherness, and Christian's shock.
"Carlson! My office."
A dark haired man I knew to be Captain Jeffrey Dean Morgan yelled across the Major Crimes bullpen. Steve grabbed several files before he and I went in the office and closed the door. Morgan frowned at Steve.
Before he could finish, I had my hand out and my poster boy smile on my face.
"Senior Agent Dean Winchester, Sir. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
Morgan managed to look baffled and glare at Steve at the same time.
"Is there somewhere a little more private we can speak, Captain?"
"Agent Winchester has recently returned from a deep undercover operation that yielded some disturbing information in regards to some cases we have pending."
I silently gave Steve props for his ability to talk to his Captain without giving anything away to anyone listening. Morgan came around from behind his desk.
"Walk with me."
I knew Christian was watching the camera feeds, but I was glad all he had to do was watch as we walked out of the building, down the block and into Harvelle's Roadhouse.
"Hey Jo. Back room free?"
"Yeah. You want lunch?"
"Three and a pot of coffee. Working lunch."
Until I booted up my field computer, Christian could only sit at the house and wait. We watched Morgan's face as he read through the files I had prepped.
"You got this information how?"
"In no way that would be admissible in court, but my Agency's not worried about those types of things."
I snickered as Morgan gaped in response to me turning on the charm while invading his personal space. I just got serious.
"I thought you may have some people other than Detective Carlson that would be interested in stopping the takeover of Los Angeles from the inside out. If not, I'll have to come up with something else."
"Surely you didn't make it all the way to Captain being that naïve?" My voice dropped to a croon. "I know there are people you'd stake your life on and others you'd like to out, but they're too connected for you to touch. Here's your opportunity to take away their toys ... Take back lost territory."
Morgan shivered as my voice seduced both the man and the good cop. Steve stared with a mixture of fear and awe as I worked my magic. The Sorcerer indeed.
"You have somewhere safe I can bring people?"
"I do, Captain." I handed him a card.
"This is a church." Morgan seemed shocked.
"Not anymore. Rome had a liquidation sale."
Christian had teased me about the church when we were looking at properties. I never told him I bought it. I could smell the smoke from Christian's whirling thoughts all the way to the police station, but I had Morgan on the hook and couldn't worry about Christian being pissy.
Morgan finally agreed to be at the church by nine with friends in tow. Steve and Morgan headed back to their office while I got in my truck and headed home.
The argument that started the minute I walked in the door of the didn't get physical, but we left each other bruised and bloody emotionally and mentally.
I tried not to get personal … Joking about hanging around like a third wheel or someone's eccentric uncle. I tried to leave Steve out of it. I tried so damn hard, but Christian was hurt and mad about me making a home away from him … Leaving me raw, backing me in a corner, and then Christian went for the jugular.
I could feel the blood drain out of my face, my whole body felt cold. I closed my eyes and took deep breath. I felt like I was bleeding out on the living room floor so I gave Christian some home truths.
"I had to move my bedroom from over yours so I wouldn't have to listen to you say all the things to Steve you used to say to me. Memories of when it was me in your bed meant there was no sleep for me as I was graphically reminded that you no longer loved me. You didn't love Jensen ...Hell you didn't even particularly like Jensen. You were so happy being Christian Kane with his blond cop/singer lover that it was okay to be the happy couple with Steve whether I'm in the room or not because you're torturing poor dumb Jensen. Jensen, who took a pretty, innocent Jared and left him emotionally scarred and bleeding all the way to Denver because Jared thought he could prove that someone did love Jensen after he got dumped by his longtime lover. You weren't hurting me because in Christian Kane's world Dean Winchester was dead."
I tried to stop the words, but once they started nothing I did made them stop, or even slow down.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for you. Happy you don't have to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder ... That Christian Kane is such a perfect fit you forget you were ever Eliot Spencer, but I won't stay here and watch the person I love ... Loved for ten years live happily ever after with someone else. I have to go … I'm not that strong or that good an actor."
My vision blurred … Tears. All we'd been through we'd never given in to tears. Here we were in the middle of our new home and new life our faces wet with tears. Christian wrapped his arms around me, and this time I didn't resist. We comforted each other while we mourned the death of Eliot Spencer, and I mourned the loss of my lover. When the tears were exhausted, I pulled away to go to the bathroom and splash cold water on my swollen eyes.
"I can't live here anymore, Christian. I can't be Jensen Ackles."
"I know, but you always have a place here."
"We'll get back on an even keel."
"Yeah. I really like Steve. I glad you're letting him in on your music."
"Danni's thrilled, too. She's turned into a greedy little wench only wanting us for our pretty faces and guitars."
He hugged me one more time as I got ready to leave.
"I'm coming with Steve tonight."
"See you there."
My living room was pretty crowded by the time Jeff Morgan finished introducing me to everyone. There were snacks, drinks and easy to throw together foods spread on the trestle table I'd pushed against the wall. I watched the players that milled around the room. We had two Captains counting Morgan ... Major Crimes and SWAT. Two Lieutenants one each from SWAT and Homicide, each one had brought several of their people. I watched how they interacted, watched the different personalities emerging. It looked like a good group. It'd be interesting to see what it looked like when I was done with them. Steve and Christian stood in support of me and Morgan as the older man started to speak.
Jeff Morgan had presence, but away from the pressures of being a cop was quiet, soft-spoken and easy going. He introduced me then asked everyone to hold their questions until the video ended. The grumbles had started when it was obvious the video was almost over. Finally, Jim Street asked what everyone was thinking.
"So what are we supposed to do?"
"With two high profile defendants coming into the courthouse on the same day, what's the plan? SWAT on the surrounding rooftops, clearing the area where they unload? What's the word from the higher ups?" I asked.
The floor and stained glass windows suddenly became the most interesting features of the old church.
"They're not going to do anything out of the ordinary." I stated.
With a huff of irritation Captain 'call me Hondo' Harrelson from SWAT spoke up.
"Brass wants to keep a low profile."
"They don't think anyone will take advantage of that little fact?" Christian asked.
"If what you say is right, I imagine that's just what they want."
"What about the DA's? Any protection on them?"
I run my hands through my hair making the gelled spikes unrulier than usual.
I snatched up a keyboard and began to type. A computer model of the courthouse with lines of sight and weakness hit the big screen.
"How much leeway have you got with scheduling and who can be where?"
"My crew's probably the most flexible." Lt. Jim Street added. "I've a couple people scheduled to be off duty, but I don't think they'll mind hanging around on their day off."
He looked at the man and woman who'd been introduced as Sanchez and Kay.
"I'm sure we'll need some practice time in the next week." Sanchez gave them a shark's smile.
"Riley and I'll be with DA Riesgraf. We're testifying in the motorcycle gang case." Steve offered.
"Who's on Deputy DA Rubirosa?" I asked.
"Jaruszalski and Winters." Lt. Gonzalez was the highest ranking woman present.
"We don't have the autonomy that departments like SWAT and Major Crimes have in moving people around." Gonzalez pointed out.
"What about the judges and jurors?" Kay asked.
"I don't think we have to worry about them. Judges are easy enough to manipulate, cops are harder. Follow worst case scenario - they take out a Deputy and Assistant DA, four successful honest detectives and whoever else they catch as collateral damage. Rubirosa and Riesgraf's second chairs, civilians, guards, a handful of cops coming and going at the courthouse and a dozen journalists." My eyes stayed on my screen as I threw information out.
"I'll backup Steve and Riley." Christian demanded.
Morgan gave Christian a glare, but kept silent.
"I'll fix you up some papers so you can carry. Morgan can vouch for you." I muttered.
That earned me a glare.
"Going in won't be the problem. They'll wait until court's adjourned for the day. Different times, people are tired, not paying attention, the journalists are being a nuisance about 'thoughts on the trial'. That'd be the best time for the most impact."
"At the end of the day, I can probably have a 'training exercise' in the area around the courthouse. We could be across the street, outfitted and ready to go if someone can give me a head's up when court's adjourned." Jim Street looked at Captain Hondo, who nodded his agreement.
"Christian and I can handle that chore. I'll take Rubirosa and the Mexicans." I said.
We all exchanged phone numbers before calling it a night. Steve and Christian offered to stay and help clean up, but I shooed them out. Steve had work, and Christian had an early morning at the market. Jeff Morgan shows no signs of leaving, and I wonder if he'd succumb to my shameless flirting for a quick fling.
I started with brushes against the man while going between the living room and kitchen. Brushes went to touches as we moved the furniture back in place. When there was nothing left clean or move I stopped in front of Jeff and pulled his head down into a deep kiss. He went along with the program until I started working open the buttons on his shirt.
He caught my wrists to stop my progress and pulled back from the kiss.
"Dean … Stop."
"We just met."
"I think we should get to know each other, maybe find out if we even like each other before we go jumping into bed."
"I like you … You like me … Why wait?"
"Because I'm getting too old for one night stands. I'd like to see if we could have something more."
"I just lost a love I thought was going to last forever. Guest room's down the hall, first door on the right. Towels are in the cabinet in the bathroom."
I waved off his question and his concern and climbed the steps to my empty bed.
While pouring my fourth cup of coffee, I heard the doorbell. Jeff had left a few minutes before so I figured he'd forgotten something. I opened the door to see a familiar fist heading for my face. I ducked while reaching for the gun at the small of my back.
"What the fuck, Christian!" I yelled as I took my hand off my gun.
"You try to leave me again, and I'll hunt you down."
Christian threw an envelope at me. The same one I had put in the safe at his house signing over my half of the property and The Black Rooster.
"It's your dream."
"A dream I shared with my partner."
"I'm not your partner anymore. That's for you and Steve."
"Dean … Just because we're not lovers anymore doesn't mean I don't want you in my life."
Exhaustion hit me hard. Everything I'd done, I'd done so everyone could be happy. I couldn't resist Eliot when he got like this, and I can't keep up the façade with Christian any better. I've always kept everyone best interests close to my heart.
I nodded reluctantly.
"But you have to give me some time. It's been a long time since I was Dean Winchester without Eliot Spencer."
"Seems like you made a good start. I saw Morgan leaving when I pulled up."
I gave an exasperated huff, and shut the door. I went back to my coffee.
"All we did was sleep. He wants to take it slow." I rolled my eyes.
"Someone resistant to the Winchester charm. There's a first." Christian's tease fell flat.
"We'll see if he feels the same way when the dust settles from this mess The Machine dropped on us."
The day before the trials began, Steve took me to the District Attorney's office to introduce me to Connie Rubirosa, Beth Riesgraf, and DA Jerry Hardin. They'd been suspicious until Steve explained they were taking extra precautions due to rumors of an attack.
Nothing happened the first two days of the trial. I could see the doubt in Steve's eyes as he and Christian tucked Beth into her car. On the third day Beth's witness tied the motorcycle gang to the Mexican cartel, causing the journalists to leave the courtroom so fast the judge had to shout for order.
Both trials were adjourned until it could be decided how to proceed. That's when it happened. Beth and Connie were on the landing halfway down the Courthouse steps. The press had finally disbursed, and they were discussing plans for the next day. Everyone had stepped away from the women to give them privacy. Everyone except me ... I was nearly plastered to Rubirosa's back while I scanned the surrounding rooftops.
Dammit. This was the perfect scenario. Both DA's and the cops involved in the cases were standing together. It'd be like shooting fish in a barrel. I saw Christian touch his Bluetooth ear piece. I hoped he was dialing Lt. Street's number as he started to run toward me and the two women.
I pushed them down and sheltered them the best I could, as I drew my gun and pointed at a head barely seen over the edge of a rooftop to the right. I fired and the head disappeared. Shots sounded from three directions. My breath rushed out as I felt two hits to my vest. I jerked but stayed upright. Marble chipped as bullets hit the steps.
Steve and Riley pulled Beth to her feet and back through the doors. Christian covered their backs as they ran. Steve flinched when he was hit with flying marble, the shards cutting through cloth and skin. Once they had her inside, Christian turned back to help me, Winters, and Jaruszalski. They were trying to get Rubirosa up the steps while I covered, but the shooters seemed to be focusing on her.
SWAT teams began swarming the street and rooftops. We almost had the Deputy DA inside when I stopped and curled protectively over her. Christian turned to see what caught my attention. The cop that stood guard on the steps was pointing his weapon in my direction. Christian started firing at him as I saw the muzzle flash, then pain as I went down making sure I was still covering Connie.
The gunfire stopped, but there was running and shouting, sirens screaming as EMT's rushed up the stairs. Winters and his partner had pulled Rubirosa into the courthouse. Christian slid to his knees beside me. The guard's bullet missed my vest and had gone in through my side. The question was what vital organs did the bullet hit? Familiar hands gently rolled me to strip off my vest and shirt.
"Dammit, Dean, what'd I tell you?"
"You always were a bossy fucker."
"I could use some of the good stuff. You might have to ask your boyfriend to fill in for me in the kitchen. Scuttlebutt says he's a pretty fair chef."
"Not something I'm worried about at the moment, Idiot."
"No doing your Jim Beaver impersonation. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be a good idea to laugh right now."
"The best idea you could have is to lay there and quit bleeding." Christian growled.
I gritted my teeth waiting for the wave of pain to pass as he worked the vest open. Christian frowned when he didn't see an exit wound. I hoped it missed anything vital, but a sudden urge to cough and a trickle of blood sent that hope out the window.
The paramedics tried to keep Christian out of the ambulance, but an explanation that he was my emergency contact and good old-fashion intimidation had him riding with me to the hospital.
I stayed conscious right up until they wheeled me into the treatment room. My body had finally had enough of listening to my brain. My blood pressure crashed, and so did I.
The next thing I felt was pressure. Pressure in my side and on my hand. When I tried to move, I felt a familiar hand grip mine in a ritual we'd shared all the years we'd been together. Though the calluses were different, I would always know the feel of those hands. I ran my thumb run over the palm of his hand, then finally pried open my eyes.
"We're safe. You're in the hospital. You were the only one who was badly wounded."
I let my eyes slide close.
The next time I woke, and was coherent … I heard Christian warning the nurses not to startle, restrain or touch me when I wasn't awake. I was happy the staff heeded his warning, and my incision was healing with no complications. The big surprise was seeing Jeff sitting by the bed.
I tried to chase the police captain away. His caring was a complication I didn't need. My side wasn't the only wound that was bleeding. Just my general bitchiness at being cooped up in the hospital usually drove most people away, but I had to concede defeat when Morgan bluntly told me I was stuck with him at least until I could get my lazy ass out of bed of prove that I didn't want him around.
Things went well until they moved me from ICU to a private room.
I was deeply asleep when I felt unfamiliar hands touching, moving, and doing things to my body my brain didn't understand. Adrenaline rushed through my veins as I lashed out with my fists while wondering what happened to Eliot. More hands grabbed so I struck out feeling pain in my chest and arm as I moved to put my back in the corner. I hoped I could hold them off until Eliot found me.
"Dean …" A familiar voice crooned, but there were still angry voices in the room.
"E … Christian?"
"Yeah … It's Christian. It's safe … You're safe … Let me get you back to bed."
"Home. I need to go home."
"In a few days, Darlin'."
Christian gathered me in his arms and helped me back into bed. It took a few minutes, but I finally pushed the fog from my brain.
"Why are you here?" I asked.
"Where else would I be?"
I could hear the hesitation in his voice.
"Not with me … Not anymore."
I saw Dr. Evans coming toward me to check my stitches, and put the IV back in my arm.
"We're brothers. I'll always be here -- so will Steve. Jeff will be here after he gets off work."
"Jeff doesn't need to be here."
"He cares about you."
"I told him to go away. I can't give him what he wants. I'm still bleeding …" I trailed off not wanting to make Christian feel guilty.
My thoughts disappeared as the world went dark. I was going to have strong words with my doctor if she ever let me wake up properly.
Dr. Evans reprimanded the staff and there were no more incidents. A week later, I was allowed to go home with a regime to help strengthen my damaged lung. Steve had stepped into my position at The Black Rooster. Christian told me not to worry about getting back to the restaurant, which told me he no longer needed me … Anywhere.
A week after that, Christian closed The Black Rooster, and invited all our friends and the cops that helped with the case to celebrate. The SWAT and Homicide cops that had been at our backs during the shootout, came early to give an accounting of the aftermath.
Christian also invited their friends from the Dixie Bell. He wanted his and Steve's friends to become my friends, too. I was skeptical, but I'm a pretty fair actor. One more performance in a long line of performances was of little consequence so long as it kept Christian happy.
I was sitting by the fireplace nursing a beer, Jeff looking at me like he wanted to try and change my mind. It took a lot of yelling, but I finally convinced him all I had to give him was sex. On my list of priorities, the feelings of one police captain wasn't very high. Not because he wasn't worthy, but because there was still an empty space where my heart had been.
The cops greeted me like I was one of their own. I felt a more of a kinship with the SWAT crew than the others, and I noticed Christian watching our interactions with a hint of envy in those blue gray eyes until Steve pulled his attention away.
Captains Morgan and Harrelson stood in front of the bar to brief everyone about the fallout from the shootout at the Courthouse.
The trials had continued along with a laundry list of new charges. When word leaked out that there was information implicating prominent authorities in Los Angeles, and the surrounding areas, there was a spate of early retirements and resignations. By the time Jeff and Hondo finished their recitations, the dining room was silent.
"Most of them were dickwads anyway." Chris Sanchez quipped.
"You're just saying that 'cause they tried to keep you, a mere woman, out of SWAT." Kay teased.
That broke the ice, and it wasn't long until Steve and Christian's friends from the Dixie Belle started trickling into the restaurant. I know Christian was keeping an eye on me until Jason and Riley broke out their guitars, and Steve brought his and Christian's guitars from the house.
I knew Riley because he was Steve's partner, and I'd been friendly with everyone else, pulling out the persona I used when Jim told me to play nice with the other children. Christian tried to corner me, but Danni had pulled him back to the other guitar players, and I let myself get lost in the shadows.
Most of the cops had called it a night, citing early work schedules and babysitters on their way out. I stood in the courtyard wishing everyone good night, but Jeff hung back to try and talk. I cut him off by simply walking away.
The next morning, I arrived at the restaurant early to go through the paperwork I'd neglected while I working for The Machine. Catching movement out of the corner of my eye, I saw Christian come across the courtyard. He was probably pissed that I'd left the party after his and Steve's friends arrived.
"You and Jeff run off for hot monkey sex last night?"
My head snapped up. Christian's tone had more bite than humor.
"No … No sex. I had had a therapy session around three ... Left me kind of wiped. Did I do something wrong?"
"You left awful quick after the guitars came out."
I turned back to my paperwork hoping to end the conversation. Since Steve had taken my place in the kitchen, I couldn't lose myself in my dessert creations, so I continued to worked in the uneasy silence. I hoped some day Christian and I would find our way back to the easy relationship we had before our lives went in separate directions.
I had finished the last of the paperwork and was cleaning up to leave when Christian plopped down in the chair next to me.
"I wished you'd try to get know our friends. They're good people."
Christian's tone was a little whiny.
"I know they're good people. They're all nice kids and we have jack in common. We can't exactly have discussion about the 'six best ways to kill a Columbian drug lord' while listening to you and Steve strum a happy tune. Just because we're 'brothers' doesn't mean we're going to have the same friends."
I took a deep breath. Better hung for a sheep than a lamb.
"I finally convinced Jeff I didn't have anything to give him. I know I have more in common with Steve's cop buddies than the teen queens from the Dixie Belle. I've killed people--they've killed people--gives us a little bit of common ground so we can talk from a shared point of view."
Christian grabbed my arms and shook me.
"Shut. Up. Just stop. That's bullshit and you know it."
"No, Christian, it's the truth. I've lied to everyone else in the fucking world, but I try never to lie to myself, and I refuse to lie to you. Our paths are diverging. Brothers grow up and sometimes they grow apart, but they're still brothers."
I hugged Christian like I was never going to see him again then walked away before he could find the words to refute what I'd said.
I threw himself into my physical training like I was still at the Agency, and only saw Christian when I went to The Black Rooster to handle the paperwork. I didn't socialize. I was carrying too much pain from ending my life with Christian to have anything to give another person.
Six weeks after the shooting there was another number. Christian wouldn't have found out if Steve hadn't seen me come out of Lt. Gonzalez's office in Homicide. When Christian asked me, I blew it off as simple surveillance to get a murderer off the streets.
It was strange how our lives drew a line in the sand when I was shot, or maybe I drew the line. Every day I moved a little further from Christian and our old life. I no longer belonged in Christian's life and he didn't belong in mine. I could see Steve tense every time I showed up at the restaurant. Though he acted welcoming, I could see him waiting for me to try and lure Christian back. It was time to put the final spike in the lives of Dean Winchester and Eliot Spencer. A week after New Year's I went to the house to tell Christian and Steve I was leaving, and wasn't sure when I'd be back.
Christian paled at my announcement.
"Are you coming back?" He asked.
"Yeah. I came by to ask you to keep an eye on the church." I handed him a key and texted him my alarm codes.
It was Christian's turn to hold me tight.
"Take care of yourself, Dean. Don't make The Machine look for a new Sorcerer."
I caught my bottom lip between my teeth.
"The Machine found me a new Guardian."
Christian grimaced at he thought of his performance as my Guardian.
"Good. I hated the thought of your out there alone."
Christian pulled me into one more hug. I kissed him on the cheek. Steve came through the door as I was going out. The expression on his face was priceless when I hugged and kissed him, too.
"What was that?"
"He's going to find his Guardian." I heard Christian tell him.
The information I had been able to find on the number The Machine gave me for my Guardian was confusing until I realized the information looked like a built identity. The same way I built ID's when I worked for the Agency. I sent my little web crawlers out into the files of all the alphabet Agencies.
While heading to the airport, my phone pinged one of my searches with a headline out of Washington, D.C. It seemed the CIA was now under investigation precipitated by a sleeper agent known as Jason Bourne who was tied to programs called Treadstone and Black Briar. When I got the airport, I plugged into their Wi-fi and sent out a new wave of crawlers.
My first stop was Denver. I still hadn't forgiven Jim for the whole Jared debacle, but I needed to pick my former handler's brain. He always seemed to know where the bodies were buried … It kept the other agencies from poaching his agents.
I smiled at the young thing at the reception desk and asked for Jim Beaver. She blushed and stuttered before asking my name.
I heard Jared's familiar voice coming from the hallway.
"Don't know any Jensen." My face and voice were bland. "I'm looking for Jim Beaver."
My hair had grown a little past my collar since Jared had last seen me … The natural red and blond highlights streaking the brown. After I stopped working in the kitchen, I'd let my beard grow, but kept it cropped short.
My smile took on a bite at the look of confusion on Jared's face.
"What'd I tell you about damaging my assets?" I heard Jim bark from behind Jared.
"Good thing I don't work for you anymore." I grinned.
I let the older man hug me, and if we both held on a little longer than necessary, there was no one to naysay us.
"Come on back, Boy, and tell me what's going on." He looked over his shoulder. "Becky, bring us a couple cups would you?" Jim asked.
"Sure, Jim." She blushed again.
"Damn, Jim, you robbing day care centers for help these days?" I asked.
"Hush. You were young once."
"Never that young." I muttered as I followed him down the hall.
"How's Christian?" He asked quietly.
"Happy … Settled … Has a new lover." I snapped my mouth shut when Becky came through the door.
Jim frowned as she set down the tray of cups and carafe.
"What about you?" He asked after she left closing the door.
"Christian doesn't love Jensen or Dean. That was Eliot."
"So what are you doing, and why are you here after not wanting me to know you were alive?"
"I killed Jensen, Dean came in from a deep cover assignment, then retired R.E.D. from the Agency. Now I'm looking for a new partner, and I need to pick your brain."
"You know I'll help you boys however I can … Just don't break Jared while you're here." Jim growled.
I paused to gather my thoughts. How to phrase all this without bringing the Sorcerer and the Guardian into the conversation?
"Have you ever heard of a CIA program called Treadstone?"
Sharp eyes narrowed at my questions.
"What are you getting yourself into, Boy?" Jim growled.
"Just something I heard on the news. I'm trying to decide if it's going to affect what I'm doing."
"What are you doing?"
"A little legwork for a client."
"There were sections in the CIA that thought they could build the perfect agent/soldier. Better agents through chemistry ... Think Manchurian Candidate. Treadstone led to something called Black Briar. Last I heard NRAG was working on genetic manipulation and drugs to make a super-agent."
"What kind of manipulation?"
"Intelligence, strength, faster healing. Guy in charge was an Air Force colonel named Byer. It was rumored he got his people from severely injured soldiers with no family. He used promises of healing traumatic injuries … The really bad ones … Brain trauma and such."
"Yeah. He's a real piece of work."
"Think the mud that's being slung in DC will catch him?"
"Probably not this time. He's already started cleaning house."
Jim showed me the headline about a mass shooting in an NRAG lab in Maryland. My attention was drawn away from the paper.
"You need any help with your legwork?" He gave me a sly look.
"No. I don't think it'll be a problem, now." I gave him an innocent smile and stood. "Thanks for the coffee and the 411 on all this."
"You're leaving already?" Jim sounded disappointed.
"Got a plane to catch, but now that Dean Winchester is alive and well, and enjoying his retirement, I'll stop by again … Maybe meet your pretty lady."
"You better." He came around the desk and gave me a hug. "Be careful what ant hills you kick."
"No worries there, Old Man."
Once in the cab, I booked a room at the hotel closest to the airport. There was no sense in going to Washington now.
Settled in the middle of a king sized bed, I put feelers out to find a back door I could exploit to find out why there was such a frenzy of activity on the CIA servers. I set the computer to the side as a knock on the door signaled room service.
By the time I went to sleep, I had booked a flight to Bangkok, Thailand while I watched my Guardian make the CIA look like a bunch of school yard bullies. I wondered if this Guardian would throw me over for his pretty dark haired doctor like Christian had left me for Steve.
Before my thoughts could get any more maudlin, I forced my brain to be quiet and drifted off to sleep. If I kept that up, I'd stay in Denver under the covers and never know if Aaron Cross would join me as my Guardian.
For a week I watched the market side of the harbor until I saw the small junk slide in among the other boats. A white man and woman climbed into a water taxi. I continued to track them as just another tourist walking to my hotel. I got a pleasant surprise when I stopped at the desk for my key, and saw Aaron Cross and Dr. Shearing getting a room. I stopped at the news stand long enough for them to get checked in then got on the same elevator.
Attention on my newspaper, I made note when they got off at the fourth floor as I continued to the fifth. I spent the next three days lounging around the hotel being seen, but not going out of my way to draw attention.
On the fourth day, Aaron Cross slid in the seat across the booth as I enjoyed a cup of after breakfast coffee. I watched him over the rim of my cup as the waitress brought him a cup and refilled mine.
It appeared we were going to sit waiting for the other to speak so after rolling my eyes to show I knew what he was doing, I started the conversation.
"Working?" His eyes were gray with suspicion.
He relaxed slightly and sipped his coffee.
"Waiting on someone." I looked him in the eye. 'My Guardian'."
He nodded like he knew what I was talking about.
"After resigning from my last position, I received a message telling me I needed to find 'The Sorcerer'."
"Your bill, Sir."
The waitress handed me the bill. I filled in a nice tip, and made sure Aaron saw the room number.
"Bring your friend by and we'll do dinner, and discuss the best way to smooth the speed bumps in your road."
With a nod of agreement, Aaron left me to finish my coffee.
It's been many years since I was nervous about a meeting. I was afraid Cross' pretty doctor was going to be a bump I couldn't smooth over. Logically, I knew people formed emotional attachments to their rescuers, and Aaron had definitely rescued the doctor from certain death. Cross and Shearing were a couple dust bunnies Byer wasn't going to be able to sweep under the rug before the wide swath the Senate investigation was cutting through the CIA's secret programs stopped at his door.
To give me something to do before dinner, I planned out several scenarios for Dr. Marta Shearing. If Cross considered her more than a friend, I'd have to deal with having a friendship with my Guardian. If she was a friend, then he would want to see her some place safe and happy. Of course, all of this would depend on the lady herself.
I hacked the CCTV cameras in Manilla and watched the race they'd made through the city to escape the LARX operative Byer sent after them. The lady had guts, and had done as much to precipitate their escape as Aaron himself. If push came to shove, I would ship her out to live with the Docs.
After Dad was killed during the Doc Rob and Rae's rescue, I had dug into who bankrolled the timber company and the kidnapping. When the money trail had led me back to their old bosses. Robert Campbell, Rae Crane, and I sat down and formed a plan to protect the researchers and their research. Doc Rob came up with a list of equipment and supplies for a lab in civilization and a mobile lab for when they were in the bush.
Doc Rae and I worked on the practical side. Where they wanted their 'city' lab, how many layers of shell companies we needed to hide them behind. By the time it was all said and done the only name connected to their lab was mine … Well one of my aliases. Dean Priestly never appeared anywhere but as the owner of Wilderness Research. Our main office and winter quarters were set up in Hawaii so Doc Rob could still tramp through the jungle when we left the Amazon during monsoon season.
With our headquarters on Oahu, I managed the office until I joined the CIA. Needing someone I could trust to herd cats while protecting them at the same time, I called an old friend of Dad's from the Marines that I developed a relationship with, and asked if he wanted to retire to paradise.
Checking the time difference, I grabbed my phone and called Hawaii.
"So you finally decided to come in from the cold?" The cultured southern drawl asked.
"Yeah. I may even get to visit more often if I can get certain plans to bear fruit."
"It would make the Doctors eminently happy, so what can I do to help facilitate these plans?"
"Would you have employment for a highly qualified virologist that happens to need shelter from the cold?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. How large a problem are we discussing? A full court press?"
"I'm going to make an assumption here that you've been watching the news coming out of Washington?"
"You do remember with whom you are conversing?"
"Yes, Ezra, you know everything about everything that's worth knowing. You are the god of knowing everyone's dirty laundry."
"Crude but true."
There was a pause while the other public face of Wilderness Research, Ezra Standish, retired ATF agent, processed our conversation.
"I believe I can be of assistance, should your plans bring you in this direction. I can have Mr. Tanner fetch you from the airport. You will, of course, be put in residence at the compound."
"Ezra, I love you, man. I'll let you know if things work out, but I'll stop for a visit either way."
"Your family here will be most cross if you do not put in an appearance."
Hanging up, I felt torn. The last time I'd been to Hawaii, it had been with Eliot by my side, with the understanding that we would only be parted by death. Now I would be there alone, but technically Eliot Spencer was dead because now only Christian Kane remained.
All this was giving me a headache so I put away plans, scenarios, and 'what ifs'. I went for a walk to the nearby market to kill time until dinner.
I had just finished setting up dinner on the balcony when I heard the knock. I shook hands with Aaron, and was amazed at the tingle that ran up my arm. After the lack of connection with Jeff Morgan, I thought it would be long time before I felt that zing again.
Aaron introduced me to Dr. Marta Shearing, the virologist he had rescued from Byer's CIA thugs. I could see the fear, confusion and determination in her eyes. She had been pulled out of her ivory tower and thrown in the pool with sharks, but had proven she was a survivor.
"Let's enjoy dinner, and then we'll sit and talk about what happens next." I directed them to the balcony.
We had a few tense minutes until I got Marta to talk about her research. Her eyes slid sideways to Aaron. He gave her a nod and she began to talk about chromosomes and gene splices and improvements in healing and other attributes.
I looked at Cross and realized why she'd looked to him for approval. The breakthroughs she was talking about had been accomplished through experimenting on Aaron and his fellow soldiers that Byer had press ganged into the 'program'.
"There are several options we can explore."
"What kind of options? I want Doc as safe as possible." Aaron said.
"Aaron, not just me. They're trying to kill you, too."
Watching them, I saw a genuine caring between them … Then I remembered they'd known each other outside of the controlled environment of the lab less than a month.
"I've taken the liberty to work out several scenarios." I watched their expressions closely. "One I can set you both up with new identities and backgrounds. It will be a little harder for you, Doctor, to keep you in your field because of the vetting process in hiring in today's world."
She gave a moue of disappointment, but stayed quiet.
"You can keep your identity, and I can get you somewhere safe with people I trust. You can continue you your work, and perhaps even publish, though not in your previous field. I imagine your former bosses will be too busy covering their own asses to come after you, so as long as you don't shine light on the research you were doing on Aaron and his colleagues."
Hope flared in her brown eyes.
"I'll be able to see my sister?"
"If you decide to go with option B. If you go the new identity route you can't contact anyone from your past life and it's generally better if you don't work in the same type of job."
"You're sure Doc will be safe?"
"Yes. She'll be with my family. She won't be able to get back into the US as Marta Shearing until I undo the damage Byer did, and get all the law dogs off your ass. I think I can get Byer chasing his tail using his own tactics."
"How are you fixed for IDs. You won't be able to use the ones that got you into the Philippines."
"Then we need to book tickets into Honolulu, and get this show on the road."
"Come down to the room and I'll get you the IDs." Aaron offered.
We were moving toward the door, but Marta stayed in place.
"Can it really be that simple? After all the running and hiding and the … Is it really that simple?"
"Things usually work better if you keep them simple." I said softly.
Still looking dumbfounded, she followed us out of the room.
Standing at the Arrivals door was one of my favorite people in the state of Hawaii. Vin Tanner had retired from the ATF with his partner, Ezra Standish. He was Head of Security, and helped Ezra keep Wilderness Research running smoothly. Doc Rae helped with grants and the scientific bureaucracy, but it was Ezra and Vin that kept the compound functioning.
Vin grabbed me in a rib creaking hug before he herded us into the Suburban. He spent the trip to the compound bringing me up to speed on the ranch and the family since the last time we'd talked. Marta was fascinated by the island, pointing out various things to Aaron as we traveled along the ocean front.
While waiting for the gate to open, I decided to play tour guide.
"This is the perimeter fence for the Wilderness Research compound. The compound consists of 236 acres. The perimeter fence is electrified, and entry is through biometric ID."
Vin laid his hand on the pad that would verify his identity. The gates opened to allow us into the quarter mile drive. Fencing on both sides of the road kept anyone from entering by was of the fields.
"The compound is mostly self-sufficient. We have public electric service for the labs because scientists are such energy hogs." I grinned at Marta. "But there are backup systems … Generators, solar and wind with a monster banks of batteries. We could probably be totally self-sufficient, but the Docs keep expanding the labs."
I looked over at Vin when he snorted at the understatement.
"We have housing on site, Vin is very diligent with everyone's security. There's a fence around the 10 acres of labs, barns, and residences while the rest of the land is left wild. There are animals and gardens that are used to fill the freezers and pantries."
"Why all the self-sufficiency?" Aaron asked.
"Staples are incredibly expensive since anything that can't be grown or manufactured on the islands has to be imported from the mainland. It also limits the people being admitted to the compound. Weekly shopping runs are done, of course, and you can submit your list or you can accompany whoever is making the grocery run."
Ezra stood in front of the office/their residence. The retired sniper greeted his partner before opening the hatch as the chef and housekeeper came out of the building to help unload the SUV. I gave the older man a hug before turning his attention to my refugees.
"Ezra Standish, I'd like to introduce the preeminent virologist, Dr. Marta Shearing, and Aaron Cross." I pulled the pair forward. "Marta and Aaron … Ezra Standish. He keeps things running around here."
"Welcome to the Wilderness Research compound. We'll get you settled in your quarters. Doctors Robert and Rae are the only scientists in residence at the moment, but they rarely go into the field anymore." He informed them in his soft southern drawl.
Without looking behind him, he indicated the woman who had stepped up behind him.
"Sachi will see you to your rooms. I believe Mr. Winchester and I have some matters to attend to if we wish to begin to repair Dr. Shearing's reputation before dinner, which is at 6pm."
"You can really do that?" Dr. Shearing sounded hopeful.
"We can make the environment uncomfortable enough for the parties involved that they will be required to retract their wild accusations."
Aaron urged the doctor to follow Sachi around the office to one of the guest houses. Ezra turned to look at me.
"I realize that you can coax our electronic minions to do your bidding, but I would have you err on the side of caution when dealing with these cretins."
"If I can wander through the Agency servers with no one the wiser, the CIA will not be all that tough. Besides, they're in crisis management mode at the moment. Files will be flying to backup servers and being deleted. They'll never know I was there." I grinned as I grabbed my bags to headed to my bungalow.
I stopped. Ezra used my first name so I knew what question was coming next.
"Where is your paramour?"
Not wanting to lie to one of my oldest friends, I obfuscated.
"Eliot Spencer no longer exists."
Ezra had been an undercover specialist, and I knew if I looked his face it would hold a bland expression. It was his eyes that I did not want to see, so I didn't look back.
I put a pot of coffee to brew while I grabbed a quick shower. Pausing briefly to commune with my favorite Kona coffee, I opened my computer and got to work.
By the time Sachi announced dinner, a tip showed up at the news desks of the Washington Post and the Washington Times about the mass shooting at NRAG. There were hints that Dr. Foite had been a product of the Treadstone program that was under Senate investigation. Further hints that the CIA was cleaning up the evidence by activating Foite and using Dr. Marta Shearing as a scapegoat. There was a side note that Dr. Shearing had retained legal counsel to combat the CIA's accusations.
All that was left to do was put the evidence in place. By supper tomorrow, I should have moved around enough information that the CIA would be offering an apology and a check for burning down Marta's house.
After supper I got serious, stopping only long enough to make fresh coffee and go to the bathroom. When I shut down the computer, it was 36 hours since we stopped at the front door, and I hadn't slept since the flight from Thailand.
The last thing I saw on my computer screen was a headline stating there was new information on the shooting in the NRAG lab. Seeing that, I felt the last of my energy reserves begin to flag. I stripped off my clothes, grabbed a quick shower, and oozed into the bed.
The next time I opened my eyes, it was time for to get ready for dinner, and find out if anyone had contacted Ezra looking for Dr. Shearing.
Aaron's eyes lit up when I walked into the living room.
"Oh thank god, I feel way out of my league with all these Brainiacs talking their science geek speak."
I looked at Ezra and Vin. The two retired ATF agents simply grinned.
"I beg to differ, Mr. Cross. You have acquitted yourself quite well." Ezra drawled.
Aaron blushed at the compliment just as I felt the need to move. I turned just in time to catch Doc Rae as she barreled into my side.
"Why didn't you come the lab the minute you got here." She scolded.
"You and Doc Rob were elbow deep in whichever of your science things you got going on, and then I had a mission to accomplish."
I let her go to catch Doc Rob in a hug.
"How long can you stay? Where's Eliot?"
"Eliot no longer exists." I told him quietly.
I gave Vin a grateful look for the tumbler of whiskey he handed me. I quickly changed the subject.
"I was hoping you had a slot for Dr. Shearing."
"We were discussing this over supper last evening, and I believe Ezra has some news on that front, but for now I see Sachi heading this way."
I looked at Ezra, who gave me a wink. I felt a weight lift. Maybe now I could settle things with Aaron. I wasn't in a hurry to leave for the mainland, but I did want to know if I was going to be helping The Machine alone. I wanted to feel settled in my own mind in a way I haven't been since I realized my own mother was using me as a lab rat.
In the meantime, I settled in to enjoy good food, and the company of my family with my only worry watching the outcome of my machinations. I was hoping they roasted Byer's chestnuts for his human experimentation.
Ezra and I retired to the lanai for coffee, while Vin took Aaron to check on one of his broodmares. Marta was closeted with the Docs, and I was sinking into the beautiful sunset when Ezra's phone rang with a Washington, D.C., area code. He put it on speaker.
"May I ask who is inquiring?"
"My name is Dita Mandy."
"Ah, Colonel Byer's left hand."
I picked up my phone and began recording the call.
There was a gasp in the background.
"I don't know where you came by that information, Mr. Standish."
"To what do I owe the dubious pleasure, Ms. Mandy?"
"I believe you know, Mr. Standish."
"Unless you've called to offer my client remuneration for her home, the besmirchment of her good name and reputation, I do not believe we have anything to discuss.
"I don't think you're aware of the entire situation, Mr. Standish."
"You would be distressingly surprised at what I know, Ms. Mandy."
There was the sound of computer keys clicking in the background along with words hissed angrily back and forth.
"FUCK!" They heard shouted in the background.
"Can you break it?"
"No. Whoever did this is better than anyone we've got. The stuff's on a server that no one I know can access."
"Mr. Standish …"
"Call it an insurance policy, Ms. Mandy, for my client's continued good health."
"Do you realize the power we hold, Mr. Standish?"
While Ezra kept her talking, I had grabbed my laptop and began typing until I had access of the camera on Dita Mandy's computer.
"Ah, Ms. Mandy, working late at the office, again?"
Byer's gang of three looked around the office until they saw the blue light on Mandy's computer.
"Do not attempt to bludgeon me with the club of your profession, Ms. Mandy. There's always someone who carries a bigger cudgel. Call me with a dollar amount, and if it's something we can live with I'll give you an account to which you may transfer the funds."
I cut off the camera the same time Ezra ended the call.
"Well played, Dean."
Not wanting to pressure Aaron to make a choice, I spent several days in the office with Ezra taking care of Wilderness Research business. When I wasn't in the office, I took one of Vin's horses to ride around the perimeter fence and check on the cattle.
Ezra's silver tongue and the threat of the damage I could do, had the CIA giving the D.C. papers a few very nice stories that exonerated Dr. Shearing, calling the prior stories a gross misunderstanding, and apologized. The money they transferred into the account I set up then promptly emptied, to where they couldn't trace it, would keep the pretty scientist comfortable the rest of her life.
The Docs had taken her into the fold and were already putting her very talented brain to work, and got her settled into one of the empty bungalows. There had been a tearful Skype reunion with her sister in Toronto, and all that was left to deal with would be any post traumatic symptoms from her time on the run with Aaron.
After dropping some plants at the labs the Docs had asked me to gather while I was out riding, I headed to my bungalow for a shower before dinner. I was surprised to see Aaron sitting on the porch.
"You're a hard man to catch up with." He said softly.
"I've had a lot to catch up on. I haven't been home in a while."
"Got some time to talk?"
"I was just about the catch a shower before dinner, but come on in, and grab a beer."
When I got back to the living room, there was a cold beer waiting for me on the coffee table. I settled on the couch, and waited for Aaron to tell me his decision.
"I want to thank you for what you did for Doc and me. It really tore her up when I told her she couldn't go to her sister." He paused picking at the label on the bottle. "I had a long talk with the Doc about what we went through, and how it affects a person and their feelings. We both did something thinking on things, and came to same conclusion … We're closer than brother and sister, but not close enough to be lovers, and she needs to deal with the shooting and everything else before she can think about having a relationship that deep."
I nodded to encourage him to continue.
"I know you've read my file. I figured since The Machine gave me yours, it gave you mine."
I nodded again. Aaron stared out the window, beer forgotten.
"I'll be your Guardian, but I need you to do something for me."
The relief I felt at that statement was so great I would have danced through downtown Honolulu naked if he asked.
"What do you need?"
"The gods know you don't need more brain power, but the stuff your body's been through … I want you to let the Doc viral you out on blues."
My brain flipped through the file on the Operation Outcome experiments. Green virus was mental and blue virus was physical.
"How are you going to do that?"
"I lifted an extra dose when we were in Manilla. Thankfully it made it through all the abuse from traveling in my backpack."
Before I could answer, and not wanting to think about how he got the virus through Customs, I heard my computer ding.
"We've got a number. Dr. Shearing can shoot me up tonight and by the time I get through the process we ought to have the information we need about the number."
"I'll get the Doc."
"After supper will be early enough. Sachi should be calling us to the table any time."
Nervous about what was going to happen to my body, I picked at my dinner, drawing worried looks from everyone except Aaron and Marta. I'd read the file on the blue virus so I knew I was about to be sicker than I'd ever been while the virus rewrote my genetic code.
If I survived, my ability to heal would be boosted. My strength and reflexes would increase. I finally gave up the pretense of eating and excused myself from the table. I heard Aaron moving quietly behind me.
"I won't let you do it alone and the Docs are all here."
We were sitting on the porch when Marta showed up with her kit. She gave me a sad smile as she injected the blue fluid.
"Robert, Rae and I will be doing periodic checks, and if something happens in between, Aaron will be here."
I nodded already feeling the blue fire flowing through my veins.
It's been a long two weeks. Between the three days it took for the virus to run through my system, and then finding and protecting our number, Aaron and I are both running on fumes.
After spending nine years of my life with Eliot, I never thought my heart would heal enough to even think of loving or trusting someone again. Aaron Cross with his soft spoken irony and stubborn protectiveness is beginning to slip through the walls I built around my heart.
Neither one of us had the energy to make it up the stairs or as far as the guest rooms, so we kicked off our boots and stretched out on my sinfully comfortable couch and fell into the sleep of the exhausted until I felt Aaron move.
"Stay still. We have company."
"Christian and Steve?"
Christian and Steve put their guns away as I levered myself upright. Christian was moving toward the couch, as I stood with Aaron's help. He reached out to pulled me into a hug.
"Watch his ribs." Aaron growled.
"Little disagreement while protecting a number."
"Where was your Guardian."
Christian glared into eyes that were a swirl of color. Grey, green and blue flashed before settling on blue as he glared back.
"Protecting the number. Stop glaring, Christian. They're just bruised."
He let me go so I could hug, Steve.
"You quit being a cop yet?"
"Yeah. I'm dessert chef at this cool place called The Black Rooster."
"That's great. Glad you retired the badge."
I stepped back and Aaron moved against my side.
"This is Aaron Cross, my Guardian. Found him on a slow boat near China."
We exchanged pleasantries and small talk. Steve offered to run to the store for fresh supplies.
"Don't bother. We've got the necessities to hold us until tomorrow. I'd have called, but didn't think we'd get back this soon."
"Come by the Rooster Friday. Christian and I are doing a couple sets. Everyone'll be glad to see you."
"We will. Thanks, Steve. Thanks for keeping an eye on the place while I was gone."
"No worries, dude. That's what brothers do."
"Yeah. It's good to be back. We'll see you Friday."
I leaned into Aaron as Steve and Christian headed to the door. Christian turned and handed me back his key.
"Keep it. You never know when you might need it."
As they walked out the door, Aaron started chastising me for being up.
"Since I'm up, I'm heading to my much more comfortable bed upstairs. You're welcome to join me."
"Someone's got to make sure you don't fall down the stairs." He growled.
Steve and Christian had set up in the courtyard between the house and restaurant. Aaron and I sat at the table reserved for family. Steve's mom and dad came out from the bar and sat with us talking to Aaron and I like they'd known us for years, and how happy they were to finally meet Christian's brother.
Then it was time. Steve followed Christian out to a round of applause. They settled on their stools, and while they checked their tuning and settled their microphones, Steve started introducing the first song.
I looked over at the part of my family sitting around the table. The only fear I had in this new life was that I had lost Christian not only as a lover, but as a friend. Now thanks to a computer that had become attached to me, and a man that could keep up with us both … I had Christian back in my life. Eliot Spencer rested in peace, and Dean Winchester was now content.
Sometimes even spies get happily ever after.
~ Fini ~