Best Interest At Heart ~ Book I ~ Eliot

Title: Best Interest At Heart ~ Book I ~ Eliot
Fandom: Leverage, Supernatural, Real Person Fiction; Law & Order: Los Angeles; S.W.A.T; Person of Interest; Bourne Legacy; The Magnificient Seven; Medicine Man
Pairings: Eliot Spencer/Dean Winchester; Jensen Ackles/Christian Kane; Christian Kane/Steve Carlson; Dean Winchester/Aaron Cross; Jensen Ackles/Jared Padalecki; Ezra Standish/Vin Tanner; Robert Campbell/Rae ‘Bronx’ Crane; Harold Finch/John Reese
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 19,422
Summary: The Machine always protected The Creator, but when numbers began to appear in other parts of the country, The Creator and The Human Protector could not be in these other places so The Machine found a solution. It found The Sorcerer and The Guardian.
Author’s Note: Mildly Dubious Consent, Implied torture, Violence

 

Once upon a time there were two men who were many things to each other. Co-workers, protectors, best friends, brothers, and finally-lovers.

Friendly acquaintances knew a little, bosses knew little more, but only we knew everything.

My name is Eliot Spencer-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.

~@~@~@~

I’d just come off one of those missions the higher ups considered a success, but leaves a bad taste in your mouth and a new chapter to your nightmares.

Still healing physically, my team’s handler called me to come to the office.

“Jim…”

I was ready to plead my case for driving across town with my foot still in a Cam Walker boot.

“There’s been a development and I need you here.”

I knew that tone. There was no way I was getting out of this.

“I’ll be there in an hour.”

I sighed and said ‘goodbye’ to my quiet day of cooking, and restocking my freezer.

An hour later I limped into Jim’s office and sprawled on the couch — propping my cast on his coffee table. Ignoring the glare he sent my way, I waited until his PA was done fussing with files and coffee before I said anything.

“You better have a damn good reason for interrupting my down time.”

Jim threw a folder in my lap and handed me a mug of coffee. The name on the file – Dean Winchester.

The first thing in the file was a picture of a man that was so prettily 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.

“Jim …”

Was that a whine I heard come out of my mouth? The kid was only 24. At 28, I was by no means old, but I’d come into this profession the hard way. With no money for college, I took early enlistment in the Army, signed up for the Rangers where I was recruited into Delta Force. My current bosses had snatched me l up in the last year of my tour. My bank account was growing as fast as my scars, but training snot-nosed greenhorns was not conducive to me living long enough to spend it.

“Keep reading, Princess.”

Jim only calls me that when I’m too hurt to retaliate.

Father: John Winchester – Force Recon USMC – Deceased

Mother: Mary Winchester – Deceased

Brother: Samuel Francis Winchester – Deceased

During a weekend outing in Spain, Mary and Sam Winchester died, and Dean Winchester was injured by a bomb set by Basque separatists. John Winchester finished his tour of duty then turned mercenary, taking Dean on missions as backup. At 16, Dean Winchester went into the jungle with his father, John on a kidnap and rescue — only Dean and the victim returned. It is assumed John Winchester is buried somewhere in the Amazon jungle.

No known living family.

College degrees collected like baseball cards-top of his group at Langley’s ‘Farm’

John Winchester had been a piece of work.

I took a drink out of my mug and promptly spit it out-it had gone cold. The clock said two hours had passed.

“Son… I just spent two hours reading this because ….”

“He’s your new tech.”

“I have a tech.”

“He’s requested a transfer out of the field.”

“Langley know you’re poachin’ Winchester?”

“We should be hearing the screams any time now.”

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 of his until I looked in those moss green 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?”

I knew my tone was snide, but pecking order had to be established fast. I was heading to medical to get rid of the walking boot, and my team would be in the field as soon as I 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 Dean’s raspy baritone, my lizard brain was trying to crawl to the top again. I gave it a mental kick, and a nod of acknowledgement to Winchester.

“Meet me at ‘The Park’ at 0500. I need to get back to field readiness, and you’re my new training partner.”

  ~@~@~@~

After a couple years Jim stopped sending us out with a team. Between the two of us we have the skills 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. I jokingly asked Dean if he wanted to be Kilmer or Douglas, and the blank look told me I’d hit the one language he didn’t speak-popular culture. It’s a good thing his old man was dead. I wanted to find him and shoot him every time Dean gave me one of the blank stares.

For awhile we 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 among the rebels and drug cartels. We were in a state of hyper-awareness all the time, some days the hunters … some days the hunted.

It was a deadly game of chess with all sides more often than not hiding in city slums or the jungle. When I developed pneumonia Dean practically carried me through the jungle until we reached the outskirts of a native village. Dean called out in a language my fevered brain refused to translate. The next time I was coherent enough to understand anything, I saw an exhausted Dean sitting by my bed talking with someone that could double for Sean Connery. When they notice I’m awake, Dean made me drink some vile concoction. He never missed a beat of his conversation with Sean Connery wanna be.

A week later I was back on my feet and as we checked and repacked our gear, I asked Dean about ‘Doc’. All Dean would say was he met ‘Doc’ when he was sixteen. While saying our goodbyes to the tribe and Doc’s crew, the old man grabbed my arm in a surprisingly strong grip.

“As he once saved me, now he has saved you. Do not be so quick to squander the gift.”

By the time we were pulled out of South America our world had narrowed down to two, and we took the last step that locked the circle with only room for two. When Jim found out, he didn’t stop smiling for a week. Smart ass said it made Dean human and me mellow. I promptly kicked his ass around the gym.

“How’s that for mellow?”

He was still grinning when he signed my release back to field duty.

Year seven sucked major ass … Both of us almost died. Dean, always the over achiever, went for two. Bastard has more lives than a cat.

Needless to say, we spent most of that year healing and rehabbing from our collective Near Death Experiences. I teased Dean that our house was beginning to look like Tony Stark’s workshop, pieces parts of this, that and the other scattered around, I always checked the floors before going to bed. There was nothing worse than going to take a piss and breaking a toe on Dean’s piles of scrap, but the things he put together from those piles of scrap saved our lives and covers on more than one occasion. If Jim ever found out about Dean’s toys, they would have buried Dean in some basement lab, and things would have gotten real ugly. I’m not known as a man who shares.

Where was I? Ah. Year seven. After I got kidnapped and tortured, and Dean nearly killed himself getting us somewhere safe, we became two of the most paranoid people on the planet. We had become 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 Dean got shot in the back. It was Chinese New Year and when I heard the shot I thought it was a firecracker until Dean dropped like a stone. My first instinct was to take care of Dean, but to do that we had to be safe.

I left it to strangers to care for my partner while I went after the shooter. The man was a pro, and motivated, but I was committed to him not being alive to get another chance to complete his contract.

Stripping the cooling body of its weapons, phone and key card, I collected every bit of information I could find in the motel room before finding where they’d taken Dean.

When I found him I’d been terrified he was going to die before they got him stable, and then I was worried he was going to be a paraplegic. The day he moved his legs was the first night I slept without waking every hour to see if he was still alive.

I’d learned a few things from Dean over the years, and knowing the agency would have their little crawlers out looking for any mentions of the aliases they provided us, I slipped into the admitting office and deleted their alias and used one of our own. I didn’t contact Jim until Dean was discharged, I didn’t want anyone knowing where we were until we were mobile.

Jim was furious that we’d dropped off the radar, so when the agency doctors released Dean for light duty Jim had gleefully sat him amongst piles of mission reports to analyze. Those weren’t the only things Dean was analyzing … He was slithering through the agency’s mainframes at the same time. Since I was stuck in the office along with him, I listened around corners and shifted through the water cooler scuttlebutt. When we got home at night, we’d turn on whatever sports was on the tube, use sign language, and our own particular spoken shorthand to talk about what we’d found.

For months there was only the barest trail of breadcrumbs until I got snatched out of the agency’s parking garage. It took Dean a week to find me. That week felt like a year, and we never talk about it, and no one … Not even Jim knows anything but the barest details of the that week, and what Dean did to rescue me. Usually something like that drove partners apart, but we closed ranks. As we healed, we began looking into the information Dean had ‘persuaded with extreme prejudice’ from the guys that snatched me.

Now, Dean and I know each other inside and out. We’ve seen the best and the worst of each other, but the coldly stoic way he extracted that information had me green around the edges. I worried my partner had finally fallen off the crumbly edged cliff where people in our profession stand. I could only watch as he cracked every cell phone and computer in the place for information about my kidnappers before scouring them clean. He even used one of their cell phones to call a team of cleaners before loading the gurney he’d laid me on in the back of an ambulance he’d ‘borrowed’.

When I forced my eyes open, I was still in the ambulance with an IV bag hanging over my head with Dean cleaning and stitching my wounds. The fact that he was mumbling to himself … Reciting the proper way to care for each of the wounds he encountered was comforting. It was something he did whenever he had little practical knowledge and a lot of book knowledge.

Feeling safe, I closed my eyes.

The next time I opened my eyes I was clean, warm and tucked into a bed exactly like our one at home except nothing in the room was familiar until I looked down and saw Dean sitting on the floor — leaning against the bed … Asleep. If this was one of our safe houses, it was one I didn’t recognize, but knowing Dean’s paranoid meter was probably set on ‘TILT’, I reached over and ran my fingers over his face.

“Eliot?”

“‘m fine, but gotta piss.”

He reached for one of those jugs they make you use in the hospital, and when I started to protest, the green eyes narrowed.

“Trust me when I say you don’t want to move.”

Stubborn to the end, I started to reach for my dick until pain flared and stitches pulled leaving me panting and sweating.

“Stubborn.”

“Bossy.”

It was a week before I could do the simplest things. Frustration on my part and not sleeping on Dean’s had us both snapping and snarling like junkyard dogs, and like all things under pressure there either had to be relief or an explosion. Since our usual forms of stress relief were not an option I was going to have to get Dean to talk about why he wasn’t sleeping.

My opportunity came while we were going through the information Dean had collected. I was beginning to believe he was right when he said this wasn’t about the agency … This was about us. Dean’s shooting and my 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 … We weren’t someone 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. Dean and I were number five. Reading through our files, this lady had way more information on Dean than was available. I know this because Dean carefully monitored all our agency files.

“How’s she know all this shit?”

Dean sat staring at a picture then snatched up his computer bag and rummaged through the pockets. His face was so pale I could count his freckles from across the room.

“Dean?”

He handed me a file and the picture he’d gotten out of his bag.

“Who?”

“Mary Winchester.”

“As in your mother … Your dead mother?”

“Yeah.”

“If she got out do you think your brother might still be alive?”

“No.”

My first instinct was to ask how he could be sure … He was only four, but I knew that tone. Assumptions are not something you make in our business, but from the tone in Dean’s voice I had to assume that Dean had watched Sam die.

There were a multitude of whys and wherefores for which we had no answers, and the conclusions were really ugly.

We both sat frozen until Dean moved and started typing furiously. The deeper he 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. Dean had been the culmination of her machinations. Digging deeper we found the 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 that survived, but the price had been high. We were healing from the physical damage, but the psychological effects … If I didn’t soon get Dean to sleep the bitch would win.

I didn’t realize I’d asked the question out loud until Dean answered.

“Because she made me.”

There was all kind of nuances in that statement, but I didn’t bother with them, I pulled out all the stops until I had cajoled Dean to lie down next to me.

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’s even there, a room full of computer equipment hums. Verbal and video conversations, electronic pulses full of phone calls, emails, and financial transactions roll through the artificial intelligence. The Machine does its assigned task 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, DC, 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. I shrugged and secured the weapons while Dean begin to whine about having to cancel his first date in blah…blah…blah until Jim got frustrated and yelled at him to just cancel the damn date and get our asses across town.

Anyone listening to Dean’s call would hear and age old ‘So sorry, but something came up at work’ excuse, but those words 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 their partners. We were both carrying a truckload of guilt over what we had just set in motion when we walked through the doors of the Behavioral Science building, and 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 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 he’d chosen The Apprentice for 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 Dean and I … I guess I better get used to thinking of him as Jensen, not Dean, had property all over the world, we decided to settle in Denver. It had all the things two up and comers like us 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 living space, workshops and training rooms. The suits got pitched, and completing the transformation, Jensen cut Dean’s sun streaked hair that tumbled over his shoulders, and I allowed my close cropped buzz cut to grow into Christian’s long hair that tended to lay in curls, pierced my ears, and got a tattoo I’d designed years ago.

It was amazing how freeing it was to step away from Eliot Spencer, and do all the things I’d wanted over the years, but couldn’t because they would either draw attention, or make me memorable in some way. When you work in our former profession the last thing you want to be is memorable.

I worried over Jensen those first few months as we settled into our new lives. As Dean he’d never hesitated to step to the front, and take charge loudly. He still takes charge, but he’s quiet — reserved. He watches from the shadows, moves behind the scenes seldom coming into the light. Jensen has become the voice in my ear that leads me where I need to go, tells me what I need to hear, and only steps into the light to protect me.

The revelations of the machinations of the woman who gave him life has deeply scarred my partner, and when he allows it I pull him into the sun with me to enjoy this new life we have made for ourselves … I hope it will be enough.

~~@@@~~>

We’d been in Denver six months, and Front Range Consulting was starting to build a client base. Banks and jewelers wanting their security systems tested, the occasional celebrity doing a quick appearance in town. 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 when I would feel Jensen pulling away mentally-I’d use sex to pull him back to me. There were many nights after Jensen drifted to sleep I’d wrap around him and curse Samantha Smith because though we were closerthanthis — I missed Dean. The more Dean became Jensen the bigger the ball of loneliness in my chest became.

That loneliness is the only excuse I have for what happened next. For all that Denver is a large city and the state capital there were 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 talk Jensen into moving to Los Angeles, to do that I’d have to convince him to walk away from our company.

I needed a buyer, or at the very least someone Jensen would trust to run the company in our absence. Using one of the back doors Jensen had left so we could move in and out of the Agency’s files without detection I went looking for someone retired just long enough for boredom to have become their new best friend. Going through the list I’d noted several names until I saw one that made me 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. Jensen was probably going to string me up by the balls, but here was the perfect solution to my problems. Now all I had to do was tug Jim’s pigtails enough to get his attention.

Let the courtship begin.

~@~@~@~

After supper I turned on the TV to watch the Rockies play the Braves. What I was actually doing was watching Jensen. When he closed the files he was reading, I pounced.

“I think we should move to Los Angeles.”

I was ready. All my arguments were solid.

“Okay.”

“What?”

“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?”

“What?”

“How fast do we need to move?”

“No rush. Before you close down the office-I found someone to take over for us.”

It was Jensen’s turn to gape.

“What?”

I handed him Jim’s emails.

“Does he know?”

“No.”

“He will.”

“He retired after we ‘died’.”

“Coincidence.”

“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 we’d decided which Los Angeles property would suit our needs.

After all the years we’d been together I shouldn’t be surprised at Jensen’s 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 truck. Jensen’s pulling a trailer with our motorcycles.

It might be looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I was worried. I expected De … Jensen to go ballistic about not only moving, but about my contacting Jim. By the end of the day the only thing left to put on the truck was a few personal items, duffels and Jensen’s laptop … Our property manager in LA had our new home already outfitted.

By the time we ordered our last meal in Denver, Jensen’s acquiescing to our move with no more than a blink of those pretty green eyes was sticking in my craw, so halfway through supper my thoughts tumbled out.

“Why’d you give in so easy?”

“You weren’t happy.”

Well hell. What do you say after that answer?

“Thank you.”

“There is a price.” Jensen said.

I waited while he chewed his shrimp mei fun to name his price.

“Jim doesn’t know.”

“Jensen …”

“That’s the price, Christian. Jim doesn’t know I’m alive.”

Fuck.

“Fine.”

Since he wasn’t meeting with Jim, Jensen planned to leave at first light. Fighting my own form of separation anxiety, the minute the last empty food carton hit the trash, I was pinning Jensen against the counter … My lips and hands demanding all of his attention.

Every day it seemed he moved further away from me. Dean and Eliot were everything to each other, but now it seemed that Jensen was leaving Christian behind, or I was leaving him … 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 me. So I did what I always do when I’m scared … I get stubborn … I dig in my heels and refuse to let go.

Now Jensen is quietly stubborn. He’s like water against my stone. Everyone knows water is the strongest element on the planet, one minute smooth and reflective — the next boiling and destructive. Whenever some crazy idea went through his scary brain and computed that it was in the best interest of someone he loved, nothing changed his mind. His agreeing to move without a fuss had all the earmarks of one of those ideas.

So I set out to remind him that this is our life … Not just mine that’s important.

I don’t remember how we got from the kitchen to the bed, but by the time my dick slipped from Jensen’s body, my boy was nearly comatose. Looking at the marks I’d left on his freckled and scarred skin left me feeling satisfied that I’d reminded Jensen where he belonged. Tossing the wash cloth in the pile of laundry I had to do before I met with Jim, I slid under the covers and pulled Jensen in close. He grumbled, but settled against my shoulder.

Jensen slipping from my arms roused me enough to look at the time before burrowing down in the warm spot he left behind. The sounds of him getting showered and dressed to leave for California faded as I drifted down toward sleep until familiar lips against my forehead woke my brain enough to enjoy the last contact we’d have until I got to our new home.

“I’ll love you always.” He whispered against my skin.

Warmed by his words I slid all the way down. It wasn’t until I was enjoying the morning quiet that the words came back to me. My first feeling was smugness. Last night’s round of sex must have really left an impression. Once my lizard brain stopped strutting around the inside of my brain, the side that made me a damn fine spy kicked in and left a cold hard knot in my gut. Jensen’s words sounded like he was leaving me because he knew I was going to leave him.

My temper flared. After all we’d been through-all the years together how could he even begin to think such a thing … But those years belonged to Dean and Eliot. Christian and Jensen had only been together for six months. Jensen had settled into his new life in Denver while Christian … I … 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.

The buzzer on the dryer pulled me back to the reality of … Only an hour until my meeting with Jim and throwing the last of my stuff in the truck so I could leave. I needed to get to Los Angeles before Jensen figured out a way to leave me for my own good.

~@~@~@~

Seeing Jim Beaver standing in the entryway of the office made me realize how much I’d missed the taciturn man. He’d been a huge part of my life before and after Dean. We’d gone from agent/handler to friends in the years we’d worked together, and the fact that he’d retired after we left proved how much he hid behind his furrowed brow and grumbled insults.

Another realization hit me before I opened the door that stood between me and my oldest friend. Jensen didn’t want me to tell Jim he was alive because I had been Jim’s friend before Dean. Dean had me and a handful of acquaintances, but he didn’t form attachments … Not like normal … Fuck … I wanted to go back and kill John Winchester and Samantha Smith all over again. Instead I steeled myself and opened the door.

“Mr. Beaver. I’m Christian Kane.”

“Call me Jim.” He said as he shook my hand.

“Would you like a cup of coffee or anything before we get started?”

“Coffee, thanks.”

I dropped his hand and turned to give him the folder Jensen had prepared with all the pertinent information about Front Range Consulting. Sticking to the script … Christian Kane does not know how Jim Beaver takes his coffee, I asked what he preferred.

“Black.”

Setting his cup on the small table between us, I enjoyed my own cup while he read. He closed the folder, picked up his cup, and eyed me warily.

“On paper this is a perfect opportunity … So what’s the catch?”

Warning lights flashed in my brain. Jim didn’t get to be where he was in the agency by being stupid. Maybe Jensen was right about staying dead, but I was beginning to suspect he was playing a long game where his chosen family of misfits got everything they wanted while he faded into memory.

“No catch. We had to make a move and I hated dismantling a young company that was just finding its feet in the city. My partner wanted to shut it down, but I felt it could provide a place for people with a specific skill set in the civilian work place given the right management.”

“The right management being your retired handler who always talked about having his own security firm?”

Jim’s words were a spike in my calm, but I held to character.

“Pardon?”

I could see the anger flare in his eyes.

“Don’t bullshit me, boy … Long hair and fancy cowboy duds can’t hide someone I’ve known since he was a snot-nosed kid. Where’s Dean, Eliot?”

“Gone.”

It wasn’t a lie he was gone just not in the way I was intimating.

“You said partner.”

“Yeah.”

“Not Dean?”

I shook my head. Jensen most definitely was not Dean. They were the same person, but Jensen squashed many of Dean’s quirks and habits under the heel of his expensive boots.

“You read the files we sent you?”

Jim nodded.

“I guess Dean took a page out of his parents’ books and set it up so when it ended we were all protected. Take his gift, Jim. There’s not much left of Dean Winchester. Cherish that for a man who never learned to form attachments, he cared enough to make sure you had a safety net when the shit hit the fan.”

“That boy was a crafty little bastard.” Jim smirked.

We spent the next few minutes lost in our thoughts of the past … Of Dean, Eliot and Jim … Late night planning sessions, injuries, and post mission fallout.

“What about you? What did Dean leave you?”

Jim’s voice was quiet but his question felt like a hot poker to the chest.

“Everything. Christian Kane does what he wants when he wants and answers to no one but himself.”

Because I refused to lose anything else to Samantha Smith’s machinations I stepped around the table and held out my hand.

“I think Christian Kane would feel blessed to have a good friend and business associate like Jim Beaver.”

Jim stood and pulled me into a tight hug.

“You’re right, but you ever pull another stunt like this and I’ll hunt you down and shoot you myself.” He stepped back. “Now show me around my new home.”

While Jim went to his hotel for his gear, I called Jensen to tell him the good news. Listening to his phone ring before it went to voice mail I hoped he was in a no phone zone and not trying to disappear. The text I received as Jim’s rental pulled in the lot relieved my worry, but Jim was about to get a crash course. I needed to get to LA.

~@~@~@~

The property we chose was in Burbank, and had been new before there was such a thing as the production studios that had built up around it. The real estate agent claimed it was once a rich hacienda, but we bought it for a song because the buildings had fallen into ruin. Dean … Jensen had supervised the renovations when we’d been healing from various injuries during our partnership. Everything looked original, but under the adobe and wood was probably one of the most modern and secure buildings in Burbank. He’d even kept the escape tunnels that led from the basement into the building next door. It had been the servant’s quarters and kitchens for the hacienda. Now it was being turned into a restaurant/bar that used food, beers and wines from local farmers and wineries.

Food had become my passion when a one week undercover mission turned into six months. Jensen and I could have had a career in any high end restaurant after we wrapped the mission. I cooked for us when we had downtime, using Jensen as my guinea pig, but I occasionally cajoled him into the kitchen. Boy had a knack for sweets that made me shed a tear.

The décor stayed with the period of our hacienda using the courtyard between the buildings for 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 considered it a win when I got Jensen out of his aerie on the top floor of the house and into my kitchen making my desserts.

I was settling. Sure I missed the adrenaline rush of our missions, but I was alive, the soft opening of The Black Rooster was in two days, and I had Jensen in my bed most nights. The few days we’d been apart seemed to have given him the opportunity to find a happy medium between Dean Winchester and Jensen Ackles. I should have been happy.

I should have been more careful about what I wished for.

~@~@~@~

Though the weather was chilly and damp, my world was shiny. Jensen had shown me the numbers for our first quarter. The Black Rooster was operating in the black, my kitchen staff was running smoothly, Jensen had taken over all those tedious duties I hate like paperwork and hiring. Our wait staff consisted of bit players and aspiring stars, but he managed to schedule around auditions and shooting schedules without service suffering.

There were hours when Jensen would disappear without a word, but I didn’t question. The bumps and bruises he’d return with I put down to him finding a gym where he could spar with someone other than me. We kept the old skills sharp, never forgetting who we’d been, and that we’d made enemies.

Jim and I talked often. Denver and Jim were a perfect fit just as Jensen knew they’d be … Our former handler was even developing a social life. Jensen had run 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 had hired Front Range Consulting for 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 Guardian, but there had to be the symmetry of the binary. There could not be only one. The Guardian must be alerted to the actions of The Apprentice for through his actions The Apprentice had elevated 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 that 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 I took the time to fix a plate and set it in front of Jensen. He’d been keeping odd hours, and obviously not eating or sleeping properly. It was time to get to the bottom of whatever he was hiding.

“What’s going on, Jenny?”

Jensen looked up from the paperwork he’d been entering into the computer. He looked like he was about to answer my question when one of the waiters came out of the kitchen carrying something that looked like it was plated by a five year old.

“Mike! Let me see that plate. Take it back. Who made this mess?”

I followed the waiter back into the kitchen, Jensen temporarily shoved to the back of my mind as I did my best to not snatch the cell phone from my assistant and throw it in the street.

~@~@~@~

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?”

“Two only.”

We have seating by the windows if you want to people watch, in the back if you want something more private, 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 wasn’t obvious.

“Can I offer you a drink?”

“Your website mentions an assortment of teas. Do you have Rize?”

“Dark or weak?”

“Dark.”

The tea 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.”

I could feel my forehead drawing down into a scowl.

“Jensen …”

My concern was waved away. My temper grabbed hold of my brain, but before I could get a word out someone called my name.

“Dammit, Jenny.”

“Don’t call me Jenny.” He gave me 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.”

I gave the two men a glare. I felt Jensen move up behind me and lay his hand on the small of my back.

“It’s alright, Christian. I know who they are.” He turned to the two men at the table. “Come to the side door of the house tomorrow at ten.”

I watched Jensen walk out through the courtyard to the house. I turned back to pair at the table.

“Who…?”

“Harold Finch and my associate John Reese.”

“What does a geek and former spook want with us?”

“All will be explained tomorrow, Mr. Kane, but I want to say that we had a wonderful meal.”

“Perhaps you should see to your partner.”

Reese’s eyes twinkled like he understood the pitfalls of living with a genius, and looking at Harold Finch I would say he probably did. For a small man he carried a big presence and a stubborn jaw.

“I will see you tomorrow for breakfast.”

Checking the clock I saw we were an hour from closing. I turned to look for Ashley to have her close, but saw Jensen back at his computer. With a sigh I wondered if Reese and I should exchange notes on bull headed partners.

~~@@@~~>

Promptly at ten the next morning the pair appeared at our door. I was putting the finishing touches on breakfast while Jensen escorted our guests to the table.

Always more night owl than morning lark, Jensen 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 Croseus 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?”

I did not like the sound of this. Someone knew enough about who we were to recommend us to Finch for a job? I needed to call Jim and find out who he’d been talking to. If word got out we were alive the shit really would hit the fan.

I expected the voice to answer my question to be Finch or Reese’s not Jensen’s.

“We get a social security number. We have to find who the number belongs to and whether or not they’re a victim or the threat. The job is to protect the victim or eliminate the threat.”

The three of us stared. So that’s what Jensen was hiding.

“The Machine’s sending you numbers?” Finch sounded confused.

It seemed he didn’t know whether to be amazed or jealous.

“Calls me The Sorcerer, and tells me I’m to lighten the load of The Creator and The Human Protector.” Jensen rubbed the back of his neck.

“If you’re The Sorcerer than Mr. Kane is clearly The Guardian.” Reese informed them.

“Never said anything about The Guardian.” Jensen mumbled.

“These things are always done in binary. It’s the only way The Machine’s logic would be content.”

“Wait. What?”

“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.

“Stop.”

I’d had enough. It was like the three of them were talking a language I didn’t understand. Is this why Jensen had been disappearing at odd hours?

“You two … Make yourselves comfortable. You,” I snagged Jensen’s wrist, “with me.”

“I wonder if that tactic would work with you, Harold?”

Reese’s quiet words brought a rude sound from Finch as I dragged Jensen to my floor of the house and slammed the bedroom door behind us.

“Talk.”

Jensen explained about the numbers, matching them with people, digging into their lives until he discovered the reason The Machine sent him the number. One number had belonged to our hostess, Ashley, who had caught the eye of a serial rapist. Jensen’s eyes were haunted as he glossed over that the man was no longer a threat to our pretty hostess.

My brain clicked with a news story … Police found a man dead from natural causes lying among the trophies of his victims. I remember the story because I thought the detective on the case was hot. They had received an anonymous tip … Jensen.

“You killed him.”

“So what … We went from being assets of an agency that lived in the dark 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.”

I 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 Jensen was right back in the violence we’d left behind. He still wouldn’t look at me. Just kept staring out the window. He was … Disconnecting … Getting lost in numbers … The code … People with their messy emotions and ambitions hurt and scarred him, but the machines were always there giving him a refuge with their cold, orderly logic.

Not just no, but hell no. I shoved my hands through my hair. I was done hiding and ignoring what my instincts had been nagging at me for the past month. I was not losing my partner to a machine.

Jensen startled when I grabbed him by the nape and smashed my mouth against his. When I pulled back he was blinking like he’d just woken up.

“Christian?”

“I’ll help you, Jen … I’ll be The Guardian to your Sorcerer on one condition.”

The hope and relief that filled his green eyes were like a slap in the face. I had gotten so caught up in living a normal life I’d left Jensen trailing behind me like an orphaned pup.

“What’s your condition?”

“When we’re not on a case you step away from The Machine and live in the real world.”

“I …”

“No. You. Don’t. You spend all your time hiding in your nest upstairs when you’re not at the restaurant.”

“Agreed.”

“Let’s break the news to team New York and send them on their way. We have a date at the Farmer’s Market.”

“But …”

“Farmer’s Market … Re-stocking the restaurant … Appropriate autumnal decorations.”

“I should Tweet this. Christian Kane possessed by Martha Stewart.”

“On you 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.”

Jensen’s laughter preceded them 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.

~@~@~@~

I was planning our Thanksgiving menu while Jensen 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.

I’d heard his email notification sound off and when I looked up from my list his freckles stood stark against his pale face.

“Jen?”

“Number.”

“What’s wrong? Is it someone you know?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

The haunted look was back in his eyes.

“Jim?”

“Detective Steven Carlson.”

“The blond?”

Jensen nodded as he 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 Jensen when he wasn’t with one of his cookie cutter brunette actresses. Jensen didn’t want to offend a customer so would politely rebuff the younger man. Jared had gotten pushy and Jensen had let the leash out on his dark side. It had slowed Jared down for a day or two, but Jensen’s pretty face and air of dark mystery was stronger than the kid’s fear.

When I was sure the group was looking our way, I snagged Jensen around the waist as he started to move past me. Pulling him back against me I planted a kiss behind his 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.”

He turned in my 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 I 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 Jensen got his payback for my little display in the restaurant, we grabbed a shower and changed the sheets before settling with our tablets to begin figuring out why The Machine gave us Steve Carlson’s number.

I took his personal life while Jensen started combing through his case files. The cases we’d sent his way had gotten him transferred to Major Crimes and several offers from the Feds. We went through the files, switched tablets 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 member 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.

Jensen took the cop Carlson and I 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.

The bar was a pleasant surprise. Welcoming, intimate with a small stage set so there were not bad seats. Sliding onto a bar stool I could feel something inside me relax. I ordered a draft and listened to the sounds of happy hour. Several of the people were actor musicians who were friends with the red-haired owner manning the bar, while a table of young women was bemoaning the fact that Carlson had to cancel his appearance Saturday night. I was about to swallow the last of my beer when the man himself walked through the door. I ordered a refill and moved to a quiet corner to keep watch over our number.

Jensen didn’t like it, but the only way we could keep track of Steve Carlson off the clock, was if he took over my weekend shifts at The Black Rooster.

After our sparring session, Jensen grumbled his way to the third floor to get ready to go to the restaurant while I ducked into the shower to get ready to go back to the Dixie Belle. Steve was performing and I was excited to hear him sing.

I stopped in the middle of drying off. Carlson was a job. Why was I excited about seeing him? Why was I feeling the way I did the first time I met Dean? My knees gave out and I hit the bed hard enough to bounce. What the fuck? I love Jensen. Why am I lusting after Steve like a randy teenager?

Closing my eyes against the thoughts racing around my brain I anchored myself in my room … On my bed … That I share with a man I love. A man I love, but am not IN love with. I love Jensen, but I was IN love with Dean. I thought Jensen was Dean with a shiny new name, but Jensen and Dean are incredibly different people. Dean and I had been lovers and partners for nine years.

The mind fuck that Samantha Smith had given him killed the Dean I loved, and all that was left was Jensen. Scrubbing my hands over my face I wondered how to tell my fierce and loving partner of ten years that it’s over.

Stumbling over to the dresser for clean jeans and a shirt, I felt guilty for my excitement over seeing Steve. It almost felt like I was cheating on Jensen. The first thing I needed to do was gather up all the stuff Jensen leaves laying around the room, and then I need to figure out a way to talk to Jensen without fucking up our entangled lives.

Pulling a pair of boots out of my closet, I start looking around to gather up all Jenny’s bits and pieces … Only to find there are no bits and pieces. Anything that ever said Jensen slept in my room or bed is gone. Now that I’m thinking about it … Jensen hasn’t been in my bed since the night The Machine sent us Carlson’s number. This just keeps getting better.

Jensen was already at the restaurant kitchen so I slipped across the courtyard to tell him I was leaving. I stopped in the doorway because he was talking with a couple customers. Always aware, he turned and gave me a grin and wave before giving his attention back to the table. I watched for several minutes as Dean Winchester came out to play with kids at the table until I realized one of the kids was Jared Padalecki. I started to move, but stopped myself. I couldn’t keep him pinned to my side if I was going to chase after pretty blond cops.

By the time I arrived at the Dixie Belle, my heart was still heavy, but anticipation at seeing Steve was lifting my spirits. I figured a couple shots of Jack and beer would take care of the rest.

~@~@~@~

By the end of the second set I no longer lusted after Steve Carlson … Protection detail or no, I was having this man in my bed. His music, words, genuine caring about the people who’d come to listen had me captured. I was peeling the label off my beer bottle trying to figure out my opening line when a shadow fell over the table.

“Was it that bad?”

“What?”

“My set. Was it so bad it left you speechless?”

I looked up into the twinkling blue eyes of Detective Steve Carlson.

“What! No!” I chuckled.

“I was trying to figure out a way to talk to you that didn’t make me sound like a squeeing fan boy.”

I motioned to the waitress for another round.

“Have a seat. Christian Kane.” I held out my hand. “Love your stuff.”

When Steve clasped my hand there weren’t sparks that felt like a thousand pinpricks like the first time I’d touched Dean, but a warm rush that traveled up my arm and settled in the pit of my stomach. Stick me with a fork … I’m done. This man was it.

“Steve Carlson. Thanks. My dad’s name is Chris, mind if I call you Christian?”

“Whatever you want, Steve, but I prefer Christian.”

The blush that climbed his face told me I wasn’t the only one feeling the heat.

“How long you been playing?”

After that the conversation flowed like a river. It wasn’t until someone shouted his name I realized how late it had become.

“Hey Carlson! Either take him home and fuck him or send him back where he came from. I’m trying to close down before sunrise.”

“What’s she a vampire?” I teased.

“Some days I wonder.”

Danneel smacked him on the back of the head with an envelope.

“Your cut, Minstrel.”

“Thanks, Danni.” He fumbled with the envelope. “Uh Danni. I won’t be home.”

Sharp brown eyes studied me like she could see the label on my underwear. I pulled out a business card.

“I live next door … If you think you need to find him.”

Her eyes went wide as she read the card then she smiled like the sun.

“Keep him as long as you like, but I expect VIP treatment when I come by.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She handed Steve the card and headed back to the bar.

“Chef Kane of The Black Rooster! My mother is a huge fan. Takes all her important clients there to close the deal.” He laughed. “She says your food closes more deals than she does, and the desserts … She plays an extra set of tennis just so she can have one.”

“The credit for the desserts goes to my partner, Jensen.”

“Partner?” Steve looked a little suspicious.

“Best friend, business partner, house mate. He’s covering for me tonight so I could come see you.”

“Oh … OH! Sounds like a good friend.”

“The best.”

I knew my smile was small and sad so to keep from answering questions I stood and held out my hand. The relief I felt when I felt the steel calloused fingers against my palm made me tug hard enough that he landed against my chest.

He tasted like beer, cigarettes and sin as I made it my mission to taste every inch of his mouth. When we broke apart he leaned his forehead against my collar bone and panted softly against my neck.

“If the first kiss is any indication, I may not survive the rest of the night.”

“Then we’ll burn together, darlin’.”

The black ops agent part of my brain chittered the whole way home about the stupidity of falling for your mark, but I squashed it right along with my guilt over Jensen and everything else I didn’t want to think about.

When we woke the next day with both our bodies sore and well used and my bed wrecked … I told Steve Carlson everything, and then I told him, “I love you.”

Sitting cross-legged with the sheet pooled around his waist, he listened until I was finished. His blue eyes narrowed as he considered everything I’d said. I chewed my bottom lip and worried the whiskers under my bottom lip while I waited for whatever he was going to say.

“I want to meet Jensen.” He waited an eight count. “I love you, too.”

~@~@~@~

Jensen was finishing his breakfast and the paper when we stepped into the kitchen. He eyed Steve warily then looked at me, and shook his head.

“Morning.”

He moved to clear his dishes.

“I just made a pot.”

He collected his tablet and coffee mug ready to leave us alone.

“Jenny … Stay?”

He stopped, but didn’t sit. I poured two cups and motioned for Steve to sit at the table.

“Jensen Ackles … Steve Carlson.”

Jensen nodded, but his expression was closed. He turned away.

“Jenny … We need to talk.”

Green eyes flashed gold fire.

“No. We don’t.”

“Yeah we do. He knows.”

“Knows what?”

“Everything. Including that I’m in love with him.”

Jensen closed down and left me with The Sorcerer.

“If something’s going to happen I have a right to know.” Steve chimed in. “It’s my life.”

Even I shivered at the cold expression on Jensen’s face.

“It’s also mine and Christian’s lives.” He reminded.

Steve grabbed my hand.

“I know. That’s why I want to help. We can’t lose each other.”

Jensen visibly deflated.

“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. I won’t say Steve and Jensen became fast friends, but Jensen had relaxed, which allowed Steve to relax so I relaxed. A box here and a duffel bag full of clothes there. Suit jackets picked up from the dry cleaners, and Steve was soon moved into my floor of the house. Sheet music littered the living room and recording equipment commandeered one of the empty rooms in the basement.

I was happy and content until Jensen 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.”

“Jensen!”

“What? It’s just a couple guys blowing off steam. He’s convenient.”

“Does he know he’s convenient?”

“Yep. Made that clear before the first time I fucked him.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose as Jensen walked away. I wondered if I was the reason he closed himself off. I leaned back into the arms that circled my waist.

“It’s not your fault.”

I snorted in disbelief.

“He hasn’t dealt with anything that happened. He’s hiding, and he doesn’t want to mar your newfound happiness.”

I turned in his arms.

“You got all that from living here for two weeks?”

“Combined with what you told me that first morning … Pretty much. Maybe you should run a check on Jared.”

“I do love a blond with brains.”

I kissed Steve soundly before grabbing my phone. Jensen would know if I ran a check through any of the computers in the house so I’d get Jim to do it for me.

“Front Range Consulting.”

“Jim Beaver.”

“Who’s calling?”

“Christian Kane.”

“One moment, please.”

“Kane! How’s it going, son?”

“Good. How are you and Linda?”

“Better every day, but you didn’t call to ask an old man about his love life. What’s up?”

“I need a background check.”

“Oh.”

That one word said a couple paragraphs in Jim speak.

“There’re some extenuating reasons I can’t do it myself.”

“Always willing to lend a hand. Name?”

“Jared Padalecki.”

The line got quiet … Too quiet.

“Jim?”

Oh fuck.

“Jim, what did you do?”

“He’s one of mine.”

“Why is he here?”

“I had to know.”

“I asked you to leave it alone. You don’t know what you’ve done. Dammit, Jim, what difference does it make? What she did killed the person you knew. Jensen is not Dean.”

“You were my boys. I needed to know.”

“Well now you know and if Jensen finds out about your little stunt with Jared, we both may lose him.”

“You’re not going to lose me.”

I spun around so startled I almost dropped the phone. Jensen.

“Jenny …”

“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.”

I put the phone on speaker.

“Jensen?”

“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 little 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 lived happily ever after.”

“Jensen.”

“Call him home or I’ll send him home needing therapy.”

Jensen walked out. I heard him run up the stairs to the third floor. At least he stayed.

“Thanks, Jim. You just made my life so much fucking easier.”

I hung up and debated going after Jensen, but had no idea what to say. Steve had already left for the precinct so I went to The Black Rooster to get ready for the lunch rush.

~@~@~@~

Things had remained so quiet I’d almost forgotten the original reason I’d gone looking for Steve Carlson until a grim faced Jensen came down the stairs. It was Steve that noticed the preoccupied expression.

“Jensen?”

“Hmmm. Oh. We got another number.”

“Assistant District Attorney Beth Riesgraf.”

“Wait. She’s the DA on my motorcycle gang case.”

“Yes.”

Silence filled the room as Jensen fell back into his computer.

“Jensen.”

Dammit. He’d promised me he wasn’t going to go so deep. Dean had Eliot and the missions to keep him grounded in the real world … Jensen had Christian and Steve, but no person or thing where he was emotionally invested enough to step away from the cold world of the machines. Shame the whole Jared thing was a bust…

“JENSEN.”

“What! I’ve almost got it figured out.”

Before I could yell again, Steve’s hand on my back turned my attention to him.

“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 bland expression on Jensen’s face was disconcerting when it’s directed my way.

“The trials are scheduled to begin the same day … All the players in one place. There’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.” Jensen 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.” I reminded him.

He blushed and rubbed the back of his neck.

“We understand each other.” He murmured.

I saw the blue light on the tablet camera flash sending cold chills down my spine. Did The Machine take care of The Sorcerer like it did The Creator, or was it setting Jensen up for the ultimate fall? Would it sacrifice the one for the whole?

“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.”

I left Jensen and Steve in the kitchen while I went to make a call.

“Yeah.”

“This is Kane. Tell me about the people that bought The Machine.”

The fifteen minute call was probably the most John Reese had talked in years, but what he told me added to Jensen’s information painted a very ugly picture. When I stepped back into the kitchen Jensen was smirking like Dean Winchester and Steve was vibrating with resigned anger.

I hadn’t been gone that long.

“What’s happened?”

“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 Steve, 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?”

I turned from watching the expressions chase across Steve’s face to look at Jensen. The fear that was building as I watched Steve sent a shot of adrenaline through my veins when I turned and came face to face with Dean Winchester.

“No.”

“It’s the only way.”

“No.”

“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 loves him.”

“I do like Jensen … I just worry.”

But it was too late. Jensen was gone like a worn out coat. Only Dean stood in the kitchen. I had one last card to play.

“What about this whole Sorcerer and Guardian gig?”

The green eyes grew sad and he ducked his head.

“The Machine wanted Dean Winchester not Jensen Ackles.”

The expression was quickly hidden behind the patented smirk.

“See. Everyone wins. Time to get ready for my debut.”

He raced up the stairs as I collapsed onto the bench in the breakfast nook. Steve pulled me close and curled over me protectively.

“I’m sorry, Babe.”

“Not your fault. He tried so hard, but Jensen was never a good fit for him.” I said against his stomach.

Since he was four years old Dean was taught to be a predator. He could no more change his nature than I could turn a wolf into a lamb. All we could do now was damage control.

“We just have to convince him that this is his home no matter what name he uses.”

“Agreed.”

~~@@@~~>

Steve dropped a kiss on top my head and followed Dean up the stairs. The trials started Monday we had a lot of work ahead of us to get everyone out alive.

Steve and Dean had left the house when Jim called from Denver to let me know Jared had finally returned to Colorado.

“You didn’t need to send him back bleeding.”

“You’ll have to take that up with Dean. He’s the one broke him when Jared thought he could take him … Fuck him into loving him so if he’s broken it’s your fault, but you can be happy now. You got your boy and Dean back.”

“What are you blithering about, Kane?”

“Dean Winchester is alive and well back on the active rolls of the Agency after a deep undercover assignment that required everyone believe he was KIA.”

“WHAT! I didn’t … It wasn’t … That’s not what I intended to happen.”

“Dean always did have a way of throwing a wrench in the works.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Wrong person to ask, but I’d hazard a guess that in a few days his status will show ‘retired’ or dead depending on what happens.”

“What have you gotten yourselves into?” Jim was still shouting.

“Maybe someday we’ll tell you, but right now you don’t need to know.”

I hung up feeling smug that someone else was at least as miserable as I was over this whole affair. On the plus side Jim would stay in Denver until he was finished licking the wounds I inflicted keeping him safe when Los Angeles exploded. Before I could get lost in my thoughts, the comms we’d all put in this morning came to life. I turned my attention to Jen … Dean’s computer array and watched through LAPD’s cameras as I listened to Steve and Dean.

~@~@~@~

“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 Dean went in the office and closed the door. Morgan frowned at the two men.

“Who? …”

Before he could finish, Dean had his hand out and his poster boy smile on his 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?”

“How private?”

“Agent Winchester has recently returned from an undercover operation that yielded some disturbing information in regards to 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.”

How Dean was switching camera views as they walked was beyond me, but I was glad all I had to do was watch as they walked out of the building, down the block and into Harvelle’s Roadhouse.

“Jeff!”

“Hey Jo. Back room free?”

“Yeah. You want lunch?”

“Specials ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Three and a pot of coffee. Working lunch.”

“Got it.”

I didn’t have visuals again until Dean booted up his field computer. I watched Morgan’s face as he read through the files Dean 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 Dean turning on the charm while invading his personal space. Dean turned 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.”

“The press?”

“Surely you didn’t make it all the way to Captain being that naïve?” Dean’s 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 Dean’s voice seduced both the man and the good cop. Steve stared with a mixture of fear and awe as Dean worked his magic. The Sorcerer indeed.

“You have somewhere safe I can bring people?”

“I do, Captain.” Dean handed him a card.

“This is a church.” Morgan seemed shocked.

“Not anymore. Rome had a liquidation sale.”

Son of a bitch. I’d teased Dean about the church when we were looking at properties. He’d never told me he bought it. Thankfully it was only a few blocks from the house. Another thought hit, and while Dean was whispering sweet nothings in Morgan’s ear, I checked the other rooms on the floor. It looked like everything was still where Jensen … Fuck. This was Jensen’s space. Dean’s space was a renovated church a couple miles from here. I was so kicking his ass.

By the time I was setting back in front of the monitors, Morgan had agreed to be at Dean’s by nine with friends in tow. Steve and Morgan headed back to their office while Dean got in his truck and headed home. I’d be ready when he got here.

~~@@@~~>

The argument that started the minute Dean walked in the door didn’t get physical, but we left each other bruised and bloody emotionally and mentally.

Dean tried valiantly not to get too personal … Joking about hanging around like a third wheel or someone’s eccentric uncle. He tried to leave Steve out of it. He tried so damn hard, but I was hurt and mad about him making a home away from me … Leaving me that I went for the jugular. As the words came out of my mouth my brain woke up and called me all types a fool.

Pale and still, expression wiped from his face, green eyes flat and cold. I knew that look, but I’d never had it directed at me. Dean closed his eyes and breathed deep before he began to talk.

“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’s okay to be the happy couple with Steve whether I’m in the room or not because you’re torturing poor dumb Jensen. Dean is dead.”

I wanted to reach out and pull Dean into my arms, but knew he would no longer accept comfort from me.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for you. That you don’t have spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder … That Christian Kane is such a perfect fit that you forget that you were ever Eliot Spencer, but I won’t stay here and watch the person I love 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. I wrapped my arms around Dean, and this time he didn’t resist. We comforted each other while we mourned the death of Eliot Spencer, and Dean mourned his lover. When the tears were exhausted, Dean pulled away to go to the bathroom and splash cold water on his swollen eyes.

“I can’t live here anymore, Christian. I can’t be Jensen Ackles.”

“I know, but you always have a place here.”

“Maybe someday.”

“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.”

“Smart woman.”

I hugged him one more time as he got ready to leave.

“I’m coming with Steve tonight.”

“See you there.”

~@~@~@~

Dean’s living room was pretty crowded by the time Jeff Morgan finished introducing him to everyone. There were snacks, drinks and easy to throw together foods were spread on the trestle table that’d been pushed off to the side. 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 Dean was done with them. Steve and I stood in support of Dean and Morgan as the older man started to speak.

When Steve had introduced us, I was wary. Steve had spoken well of the man, but what I’d seen on the cameras showed a man a bit on the rough side for me to warm up to him. I know Dean could kill the man four ways before he drew a breath, but he had a tendency to give people he cared about a lot of leeway. Watching him in the time before the other officers showed up exposed me to Jeffrey Dean Morgan as opposed to Captain Morgan.

Jeff Morgan had presence, but away from the pressures of being a cop was quiet, soft-spoken and easy going. It made me feel better about watching him flirt while Dean and I set up the refreshments.

Jeff introduced Dean 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?” Dean 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.” Dean stated.

With a huff of irritation Captain Harrelson from SWAT spoke up.

“Brass wants to keep a low profile.”

“They don’t think anyone will take advantage of that little fact?” I asked.

“If what you say is right, I imagine that’s just what they want.”

“What about the DA’s? Any protection on them?”

Dean running his hands through his hair made the gelled spikes more unruly than usual.

“Okay.”

He 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. 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 Riesfraf. 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 … 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.” Dean’s eyes stayed on his screen as he threw information out.

“I’ll backup Steve and Riley.”

Morgan gave me a glare, but kept silent.

“I’ll fix you up some papers so you can carry. Morgan can vouch for you.” Dean muttered.

That earned Dean 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 of the courthouse. We are right across the street. Be outfitted and ready to go if someone can give me a head’s up when court’s adjourned.” Street looked at Captain Harrelson who nodded his agreement.

“Christian and I can handle that chore. I’ll take Rubirosa and the Mexicans.” Dean said.

We all exchange phone numbers before calling it a night. Steve and I offer to stay and help clean up, but Dean shoos us out. Steve has work, and I have an early morning at the market. Jeff Morgan shows no signs of leaving, and I wonder if he’ll succumb to Dean’s shameless flirting. While I’m trying to decide if Dean and Jeff Morgan are a good idea, Steve drags me back to the outside world.

“If Ack … Winchester hurts him, we’re going to have problem.”

“So Morgan swings that way?”

“We’ll just say he’s flexible.”

“You’re giving me the shovel talk about Dean?”

I started to chuckle, but Steve looked stricken.

“Steve? What’s wrong?”

“Your ex. Dean is your ex.”

“No. Dean was Eliot’s Spencer’s partner and lover. Eliot Spencer is dead. There’s only Christian Kane and Steve Carlson.”

“You know how fucked up that sounds? Does he have family?”

“No.”

“So there’s no one?”

“You and me. There’s an old curmudgeon in Denver that used to be Dean’s handler, but they don’t talk.”

“Maybe I should be giving the Captain the shovel talk instead of Dean.”

“Dean’s a big boy.”

“Maybe, but I feel like I chased him from his home.”

“Dean made his choice.”

I know my tone is harsh. My guilt over this whole debacle has me on the defensive. The home truths Dean gave me this afternoon are still rolling around my brain. I shed Eliot Spencer like a snake sheds its skin not giving Dean a second thought about how he was adjusting to our new life. He saw how happy I was as Christian and for my benefit he tried to settle into being Jensen. He’d quietly accepted Steve into our … My life without complaint until I pushed.

Pulling into the garage I rested my head on the steering wheel.

“Christian?”

Fuck. I was worrying Steve.

“It’s just been a long day. Right now all I want is a hot shower and to hide in my bed with my favorite blond.”

I tried to keep my tone light, but I don’t think Steve was buying it. Eliot Spencer could lie faster than a horse can run … Christian Kane can’t lie for shit.

“Jensen’s throwing away a year’s work by resurrecting Dean Winchester, and all those emotional minefields that went along with taking on a new identity came home to roost. I was so busy jumping into my new life I didn’t deal with all the things I left behind … Including Dean.”

I ended the conversation by getting out of the truck, but bless his stubborn heart Steve was hot on my heels.

“Christian, you have to talk about this. You can’t keep all this bottled up.”

“It’s fine. I’m fine. It all worked out.”

“Sure it did. Dean threw his Jensen Ackles alias under the bus, and moved out of Jensen’s life and back in the line of fire. You’re both dealing with this beautifully.”

“Steve …”

“No. If you’re going to be Christian Kane you have to be Christian. You have Eliot’s skills, but you’ve moved out of the mindset, but you didn’t deal with losing Dean.”

“I didn’t lose Dean. We were still together … After.”

I headed for the bar. There was no way I could have this conversation without alcohol. I’d downed a good three fingers of Jack before the bottle was pulled from my hand.

“You’re not hiding behind a drunken blackout.”

“Steve …”

“We talk about this now, and I’ll never bring it up again … Unless you initiate the conversation.”

“I’m not one of your suspects to interrogate!”

I let my anger and frustration show hoping Steve stopped to avoid our first argument.

“No, you’re my partner. I love you, and I hate to see you hurting yourself and Jen … Dean by ignoring the elephant in the room.”

“Now you’re just fighting dirty.”

“I don’t care. Tell me about the past year … Before us.”

“We changed our look. Dean cut his hair. I grew mine out. Dean was leather and denim, and I was … Well my taste in clothes didn’t change. He went from jeans, t-shirts, and leather jackets to ‘business casual’. Dean was flirty, assertive, comfortable in his own skin, and only loved and trusted me … Eliot.”

I stopped. The words and feelings filled my throat until I couldn’t speak. Like he’d done with Jim, Dean gave me everything we’d ever talked about in all those hell holes where we sat for hours waiting for it to be safe for us to move. I buried my face in my hands. I’ve been so busy living in the present I didn’t take the time to look past the next food order or employee schedule. It’s probably a good thing The Machine picked us. Dean probably would have disappeared…

“That son of a bitch!”

I jumped up and ran upstairs to my room.

“Christian?”

Steve stood in the doorway and watched as I moved the nightstand and scrabbled to get to in the floor safe underneath. Ignoring everything else I pulled out the legal sized envelope that held the deeds to the house and restaurant. There was a new document in the envelope relinquishing all his rights to the property. There was another one that relinquished his rights to The Black Rooster. All the documents made it seem that I’d bought out our partnership.

“Christian if you don’t talk to me I’m calling Dean.”

“NO! … Not yet. If I see him right now I might have to shoot him.”

“Kane …” He pulled out his phone.

“Bossy bitch.”

At the heated glare that earned me, I took a deep breath, and shoved the papers back in the envelope and shoved it in the safe. Still sitting on the floor, I turned back to Steve.

“We were lovers until The Machine sent us your number, but things weren’t how they’d been. Jensen was quiet, stayed in the shadows, and backed up my decisions. Whatever I wanted, he found a way to make happen. My life was perfect. I was living my dream, but when I saw you I wanted you. As I got to know you and your friends, I wanted you in my life … My bed. I went to tell Jensen it was over only to discover that he’d moved out of my bed and to the third floor without telling me. It was probably the day he started all that legal shit, too.”

“How could you not know?”

“Dean was the undercover genius. He could disappear so far into a role that you forgot Dean Winchester ever existed. He took Christian and Jensen from lovers to fuck buddies to brothers without me noticing anything was happening.”

“So you think what? He’s going to disappear?”

“Yeah. Those papers prove it. They’re dated a few days before Finch and Reese came to town.”

“You think working with these guys will be enough to keep him here?”

“He was flirting with Morgan.”

“Genuine or blowing smoke.”

Steve’s question gave me pause. I thought over their interaction. There were new shadows floating behind those pretty green eyes, but the warmth I saw seemed real.

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Enough to give him another reason to stay?”

“Depends on Morgan though he was practically standing on Dean’s heels all evening.”

“What about you? Are you jealous that Dean’s trying to seduce my boss?”

“I love you, why would I be jealous of my friend’s dates?”

“Just checking.”Steve said before his mouth captured mine.

~~@@@~~>

On my way home from the Farmer’s Market, I stopped by Dean’s to confront him about the documents I found in the safe. Morgan was coming out of the old church wearing a suit and carrying a duffel bag. I prayed to whoever might listen that this was genuine and not a way to distract me from Dean’s real plans.

When he opened the door the first thing I did was punch him. His reactions were quick enough that it turned into a glancing blow, but it made me feel better.

“What the fuck, Christian!”

“You try to leave me again, and I’ll hunt you down.”

I threw the envelope at him.

“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.”

The exhaustion in his voice broke my heart. He’d been working so hard to give everyone else what they wanted. He always had everyone elses best interest at heart.

“Please, Dean.”

He nodded reluctantly.

“But you have to give me some time. It’s been a long time since I was Dean without Eliot.”

“Seems like you made a good start. I saw Morgan leaving when I pulled up.”

Dean gave an exasperated huff.

“All we did was sleep. He wants to take it slow.”

“Someone resistant to the Winchester charm. There’s a first.”

“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, Steve took Dean to the District Attorney’s office to introduce him to Connie Rubirosa, Beth Riesgraf, and DA Jerry Hardin. They’d been suspicious until Steve explained they were taking extra precautions due to rumors floating around the grapevine.

Nothing happened the first or second day of the trial. I could see the doubt in Steve’s eyes as we tucked Beth into her car. On the third day Beth’s witness tied the motorcycle gang to the Mexican cartel, and the journalists left the courtroom so fast the judge had to shout for order.

Both trials were adjourned until it could be decided how they were going to proceed. That’s when I saw it. Beth and Connie were on the landing halfway up the stairs of the courthouse. The press had finally disbursed, and they were discussing their options. Everyone had stepped away from the women to give them some privacy. Everyone except Dean who was nearly plastered to Rubirosa’s back while he scanned the surrounding rooftops.

Dammit. This was the perfect scenario. Both DA’s and the cops involved in the cases all standing together. It’d be like shooting fish in a barrel. I was dialing Lt. Street’s number as I ran back toward Dean and the women.

Dean had pushed them down and was sheltering them with his body as he drew his gun and pointed at a head barely seen over the edge of a rooftop to the right. He fired and the head disappeared. Shots sounded from three directions. Dean jerked but stayed upright. Thank the gods he’d worn a vest. Marble chipped as bullets hit the steps.

Steve and Riley pulled Beth to her feet dragging her back toward the doors. I 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, I turned back to help Dean, Winters and Jaruszalski. They were trying to do the same with Rubirosa, but the shooters seemed to be focused on her.

SWAT teams were beginning to swarm the street and rooftops. They almost had the Deputy DA inside when Dean stopped and curled her into the protection of his body. I turned to see what he saw. One of the cops that stood guard on the steps was pointing his weapon in their direction. I was firing at him as I saw the muzzle flash from his gun and Dean and Connie went down.

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. I ran to Dean. The way his body was positioned meant the guard’s bullet missed his vest and gone in through his side. The question was what vital organs did the bullet hit? I gently rolled him to strip off his vest and shirt.

“Dammit, Dean, what’d I tell you?”

“You always were a bossy fucker.”

“Pain?”

“I could use some of the good stuff.”

He gritted his teeth waiting for the wave of pain to pass while I worked the vest open, I frowned to see no exit wound. I prayed it was lodged against a rib, but had missed his lung. A cough and a trickle of blood told a different story.

The paramedics tried to keep me out of the ambulance, but an explanation that I was Dean’s emergency contact and good old-fashion intimidation had me riding with Dean to the hospital.

~~@@@~~>

Something was wrong. The time in surgery for the removal of a bullet lodged against a rib had come and gone. Steve had come with a change of clothes. I felt better not having to see and smell Dean’s blood.

Morgan and the SWAT Captain Harrelson showed up an hour after that, and still no word from the surgeons. Tired of waiting I started for the nurses’ desk when a woman looking so exhausted I was surprised she was on her feet came out of the recovery area.

“Christian Kane?”

Steve crowded behind me.

“I’m Kane.”

She eyed the man behind me.

“Lover … Mine. Talk.”

“Mr. Winchester survived surgery … Barely. The bullet fragmented giving me more problems than Mr. Winchester. Stubborn man fought everything. Anesthesia, flat-lining, everything … Kept us on our toes the whole time.”

“Flat-lining?”

I heard Steve gasp behind me.

“Twice, but he should make a full recovery with a diminished capacity in his left lung. How much won’t be determined until after he’s healed. Though if he’s as stubborn conscious as he was unconscious, it’ll probably be negligible.”

She looked up from the chart and saw the goofy grins on our faces.

“Figures. I’ll have the nurse let you know when he’s been moved from Recovery to ICU. If things go well, he should be moved to a regular room in a couple days.”

“Thank you, Doctor …”

“Evans. You’re welcome.”

I stayed until Dean woke the first time. When he started to stir I gripped his hand in a ritual we’d shared all the years we were together. Though I didn’t practice often, my hands still carried the calluses from handling guns and knives. It also meant the hand holding his was familiar. I felt his thumb run over the palm of my hand. He opened his eyes.

“We’re safe. You’re in the hospital. You were the only one who was hurt badly.”

The green eyes slid close.

The next time Dean woke he was coherent enough to remember, but I warned the nurses on the floor not to startle, restrain or touch him when he wasn’t aware. Things went well both with his healing and with the staff. The surprise in his eyes was telling when he’d wake to find Jeff sitting by his bed.

It was amusing to watch Dean try to chase the police captain away. Dean finally gave up when Morgan bluntly told Dean he was stuck with him at least until he could get his lazy ass out of bed of prove that he didn’t want Jeff around.

I was leaving The Black Rooster to visit Dean when my phone rang a number I didn’t know. One of Dean’s ICU nurses was calling to let me know Dean had been moved to room 321.

“Did you warn the nurses about him?” I asked.

“It’s on his chart …”

“Did you tell them in person … Face to face?”

“No.”

“Shit. Get someone down there and tell them.”

“Mr. Kane …”

“Just do it. I’m on my way.”

Chaos reigned in room 321. Dean backed in a corner with blood running down his arms from IVs that had been pulled out. Between fear, pain and confusion he was having trouble breathing, but was holding off the staff. A male nurse and three orderlies were supporting broken noses. Security guards were standing just inside the door. I met Dean’s doctor outside the door.

“What the fuck is going on?”

“Mr. Winchester punched a nurse.” One security guard pointed to a man in green holding his nose.

“Why?”

“I was taking his vitals.”

I pushed past the guards. They tried to stop me.

“Let me go or you’ll join him.”

They backed off so I left the hospital people to the doctor. My concern was the wild eyed Dean.

“Was he sleeping?”

“Yes.”

“Did you read the warning on his chart?”

“What’s that …”

“Did you?”

“No.”

“You deserve the broken nose just for being stupid. The man’s a government agent. You don’t startle people like that. You’re lucky you only have a broken nose.”

“Dean …” I crooned.

Confused green eyes met mine.

“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, Babe.”

I gather him in my arms and help him back into bed.

“Why are you here?” He asked.

“Where else would I be?” I was afraid of his answer in his confused state.

“Not with me … Not anymore.”

Dammit , we did not need an audience for this, but when I looked up Dr. Evans had chased everyone from the room. She was there to help get Dean settled, and check his wounds.

“We’re brothers. I’ll always be here … So will Steve. Jeff will be here after he gets off work.”

“Jeff?” His voice was hopeful.

“Yeah. Your ruggedly handsome police captain.”

“Good man. Too good …” His voice trailed off.

Panicked, I looked up to the doctor. She was putting a cap back on a hypodermic.

“A light sedative to let him rest.”

“Did he tear anything?”

“No, luckily for the nurse and the orderlies they didn’t cause Dean to undo all my hard work. I think the shortness of breath had him more panicked and confused than anything else.”

“I really need to get him some place familiar, Doc.”

“I can only do so much. We can’t risk him developing any kind of respiratory problems before he’s healed from the surgery. I’ll speak to the staff.”

There were no more incidents and a week later, Dean was allowed to go home with a regime to help strengthen his weakened lung.

A week after that, I closed The Black Rooster, and invited all our friends and the cops that helped us to celebrate. I wanted mine and Steve’s friends to become Dean’s friends, too. I had the SWAT and Homicide cops that had been at Dean’s before the shootout, to come early to give a final accounting.

Dean was sitting by the fireplace nursing a beer, Jeff no more than an arm’s length away. It had taken a lot of yelling, but the older man had finally convinced Dean that he wanted to be there, but they were still going to take it slow until the doctor was happy that he was completely healed.

The cops greeted Dean like he was one of their own. Watching the SWAT crew bonding with Dean made me happy and a little jealous.

“You can’t keep him isolated. If you want him to stay, he has to have roots.” Steve whispered in my ear.

“My logical mind knows that … My lizard brain wants to keep you both to myself.” I leered to keep the mood light.

“I’ll take care of that after the party. I’m sure Jeff can inspire your reptilian friend to behave. Don’t let the suit fool you.”

At Steve’s happy laugh, I relaxed. With the help of our friends I’d be able to hold Dean in my life.

Morgan and Harrelson stood in front of the bar to brief everyone about the fallout from the shooting at the courthouse.

The trials had continued plus the men were facing new charges. When word leaked out that there was information implicating prominent people in Los Angeles, it caused a spate of early retirements and a few resignations. By the time Jeff and Hondo finished their recitation, 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 our friends from the Dixie Belle started to trickle in the restaurant. I kept track of Dean until Jason and Riley got out the guitars, and Steve brought ours over from the house.

Dean already knew Riley because he was Steve’s partner, and he’d been friendly with everyone else, but it was the persona he pulled out when Jim told him to be on his best behavior. I’d tried to corner him, but Danni had pulled me back to the other players, and Dean had gotten lost in the shadows.

Most of the cops had called it a night, citing early work schedules and kids on their way out. I’d seen them in the courtyard with Jeff and Dean before Steve had pulled my attention back to the music. Jeff came by later to tell me he was taking Dean home.

~@~@~@~

The next morning, Dean was already in the kitchen when I got to the restaurant. I was pissed and a little hurt that he’d left the party after Steve’s and now my friends arrived.

“You and Jeff run off for hot monkey sex last night?”

Dean’s head snapped up. I admit my tone had more bite than humor.

“No … No sex. I had therapy around three. Left me kind of wiped. Did I do something wrong?”

Well now I just felt like a prick.

“You left awful quick after the guitars came out.”

Damn. Thought I had the lizard contained.

“Sorry.”

He turned on the mixer making talking impossible. We worked in silence while I tried to figure out where all the resentment was coming from, and how to stuff if back in its box before Dean left-maybe for good.

He’d finished his last dessert for the day and was cleaning up. I walked over and scooped a fingerful of mousse from the bowl.

“I wished you’d try to get know our friends. They’re good people.”

Fuck if that didn’t sound whiny.

“I know their 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’. Just because we’re ‘brothers’ doesn’t mean we’re going to have the same friends.”

I was glad the snark and the sass were back. He’d been too quiet since he was shot, but he wasn’t finished.

“I tried to convince Jeff I wasn’t a good a person … Not that he listened … And I know I have more in common with Steve’s cop buddies than the teen queens you know, I’ve killed people … They’ve killed people … Gives us a little common ground so we can talk.”

I grabbed his arms and shook him.

“Shut. Up. Just stop. That’s bullshit and you know it.”

“No, Christian, it’s 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.”

He hugged me like he was storing up memories then walked away before I could find the words to refute what he’d said.

~~@@@~~>

Dean threw himself into his physical training like he was still with the agency. I don’t know who he was using for sparring partners, I only saw him at The Black Rooster, and he stopped seeing Jeff. Steve and I had him to supper one night to talk about Dean. He wasn’t hurt, but Dean’s image of himself made him sad.

Six weeks after the shooting there was another number. I only found out when Steve saw Dean come out of Lt. Gonzalez office in Homicide. When I asked Dean, he blew it off as simple surveillance to get a murderer off the streets.

It was strange how our lives seemed to draw a line in the sand when Dean was shot. Every day he seemed to move a little further from me and our old life. A week after New Year’s Dean came to the house to tell us he was going out of town, and wasn’t sure when he’d be back.

My heart caught in my throat.

“Are you coming back?” I asked.

“Yeah. I came by to ask you to keep an eye on the church.” He handed me a key — texted me his alarm code.

“Oh.”

It was my turn to hold on tight.

“Take care of yourself. Don’t make The Machine look for a new Sorcerer.”

He caught his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Dean?”

“The Machine found me another Guardian.”

Instead of feeling outrage or jealousy at being replaced, I felt relieved. Steve and I were becoming very popular on the club scene, and had been talking about doing a CD with a friend of his that owned a recording studio. If things went well, Steve was going to leave the police department. We’d make music and great food together.

“Good. I hated the thought of you out there alone.”

I pulled him into one more hug. He kissed me on the cheek. Steve came through the door as Dean was going out. The expression on his face was priceless when Dean hugged and kissed him, too.

“What was that?”

“Dean’s going to find his new Guardian.”

~@~@~@~

It had been over a month since Dean left. We checked the church every few days to let the neighbors see people around … Kept the yard tidy and the junk mail collected. We’d started having potluck suppers on Mondays, rotating whose house we used. Tonight had been Jeff and his new girlfriend, Hilarie. Since we had to go by the church we decided to stop tonight to save a trip out tomorrow.

I paused at the door. There was a light burning I didn’t remember turning on when I stopped by two days ago. Steve tensed when I went back to truck for our guns. Just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I’m not still dangerous. I moved left, Steve went right and we came face to face with the business end of pistol held by a handsome man with the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen. He was lying on the couch, Dean protectively tucked behind him. The movement must have jostled Dean.

“Aaron?”

“Lay still. We have company.”

“Christian and Steve?”

“Yeah.”

“‘K.”

We put the guns away as Dean levered himself upright. I was moving toward the couch, as he stood with Aaron’s help. I reached out to pull him into a hug.

“Watch his ribs.” Aaron growled.

“Dean?”

“Little disagreement while protecting a number.”

“Where was your Guardian.”

I 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 to 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 things worked out.”

He stepped back and Aaron moved against his 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 home this soon.”

“Come by the Rooster Friday. Christian and I are doing a couple sets. Everyone’ll be glad to see you.”

The smile Dean gave us was one I hadn’t seen since before the Samantha Smith debacle. Whoever this Aaron Cross was he seemed to be a perfect fit for Dean.

“We will. Thanks, Steve. Thanks for keeping an eye on the place while I was gone.”

“No worries, dude. It’s what brothers do.”

“Yeah. It’s good to be home. We’ll see you Friday.”

He leaned into Aaron as Steve and I headed to the door. I turned and handed him back his key.

“Keep it. You never know when you might need it.” The smile was still in place and a twinkle filled the green eyes.

As we walked down the path I could hear Aaron chastising Dean for being on his feet. The ribs must have been a lot worse than he let on when he hugged us. Steve was chuckling as we got in the truck.

“Dean may have met his match in that one.”

I chuckled.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that expression on Dean’s face.”

It was with a lighter heart that I looked forward to Friday.

We used the house for a backdrop as we set up microphones in the courtyard. I peeked out the window to see Dean and Aaron sitting at the table we reserved for friends and family. Steve’s mom and dad came out from the bar and sat with them taking to the two men like they’d know each other for years.

Then it was time. Steve followed me out to a round of applause when people saw us. We settled on our stools, and while we checked our tuning and settled our microphones, Steve started introducing our first song. I looked over at the family sitting around the table. Dean had let his hair grow, the blond and red streaks from the Indonesian sun reflecting the light from the torches. The expression on his and Aaron’s face when Dean leaned over to hear what he was saying relaxed something inside my chest. The only fear I had in this new life was that I had lost Dean not only as a lover, but as a friend. Now thanks to a computer that was strangely attached to Dean, and a man that could keep up with both of them … I had Dean back in my life. Eliot Spencer finally rested in peace, and Christian Kane was content.

Sometimes even spies get happily ever after.

~ Fini ~

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