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The Winchester Identity

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Gonna throw up.

Jared punched the send button on his phone and sat back in the stiff hotel conference chair. He was only half listening to the speaker at the microphone, trying his hardest not to think about how that was where he was going to be standing in a few short minutes.

Him, with the ink on his M.D./Ph.D. diploma barely dry, about to address a major international conference on family medicine as if he knew what he was talking about. Never mind that he'd been invited by his advisor and warmly received by everyone he'd met so far, never mind that the paper he was presenting had already been accepted by a top journal and that he'd heard rumors about a postdoc interview at Harvard.

He was about to ruin it all by puking on the podium.

The phone vibrated in his hand, and he looked down to read r not.

"Eloquent," he muttered under his breath. It was sweet of his little sister to be up at six in the morning back in Texas, trying to steady his nerves via transoceanic texting, but her reassurances were somewhat limited. He'd spent a lot of money to make sure his phone would work in Europe, which seemed kind of silly given that he didn't know a soul on the continent to call, but the slender connection to home that it represented right now was worth every penny.

His thumb started moving in reply, but the sound of applause broke his concentration. Jared looked up frantically to see that the speaker had finished and was now looking expectantly at the audience for questions.

Fuck, he texted quickly, hoping that there would be lots of people with long and complicated questions for the woman at the podium that took up all of his allotted time. He'd look regretful and maybe even a touch annoyed at having traveled all this way for nothing, but he'd be—

Who was he kidding? This was Germany. They'd stick to the schedule if it meant cutting someone off mid-syllable.

Sure enough, a few minutes later he heard, "Thank you, Dr. Hanson." The middle-aged woman smiled and moved away from the podium with "Hotel Bristol, Berlin" emblazoned across the front. Then the moderator, a tall woman with a precise German accent, went on, "Our next speaker is Dr. Jared Padalecki from the University of Southern California, here to talk about his work on ensuring equal access to health care for non-native language speakers in a multilingual urban context."

The phone buzzed once more as Jared reluctantly rose to his feet, and he cast a quick look at it. Good luck, he saw before tucking it away in his pocket.

He squared his shoulders and climbed the steps. It wasn't like his entire future depended on how he did in the next few minutes or anything. Not like representatives from most of the medical schools he'd applied to for a research position were out there in the audience, waiting to hear if he was worth offering a job interview to. Not like his advisor's reputation wasn't on the line if Jared proved himself to be an idiot.

There was no pressure. None at all.

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The Kurfürstendamm is one of the most well-known streets in the world. In the center of what used to be known as West Berlin, the Ku'damm is home to the best shops, the most expensive hotels, and the most exclusive restaurants in the city.

In the early January twilight, pedestrians hurried to and fro along the broad boulevard: students coming home from class, people heading home from shopping or work, tourists aiming for one of the many historical sites along the street's length. Their coats were turned up against the cold wind blowing down the broad boulevard, their attention focused on wherever it was they were headed in the late afternoon.

None of them paid attention to the green-eyed man leaning against the side of the Hotel Bristol, running a hand through his dark blond hair, shoulders huddled in a thin jacket against the cold.

He was watchfully scanning the passersby, relieved that no one seemed to pay him any mind, but never letting down his guard. Every few minutes, he reached behind him to feel for something at his waist, always reassured at the sting of cold metal on his bare hand, always checking again a moment later. Occasionally, he lifted a hand to his temple and rubbed at the dull ache that had been sitting there all day.

It was a double, heavy tread of footsteps that made his head swing up sharply, wary eyes watching as two policemen approached within the crowd of pedestrians. Knowing instinctively that moving quickly would get him noticed, he slowly stood upright and casually looked at his watch, then over at the hotel's employee entrance a few yards away, keeping his back to the building. He held his breath as the two men passed by, forcing himself to stay where he was as though the person he was waiting for hadn't come outside yet.

His mind raced. This wasn't going to work much longer. They'd come back this way in a few minutes, looking for a man with his height and eye and hair color. And if not them, then someone who wasn't in an official uniform, someone who wasn't going to take him to a police station and start asking questions, but who would take him out much more quietly and efficiently. The same someone with round, gold-framed glasses he'd seen not an hour ago, the man who'd been dogging his trail through three cities now—literally for as long as he could remember. Which meant he couldn't stay here: even though the growing winter twilight was his friend, it wasn't yet dark enough to keep him safe.

So he stepped forward to the employee entrance door set into the wall and tugged on it, relieved when it opened. He slipped inside, a sliver of warm light spilling out onto the sidewalk for just an instant. When he looked up, he looked quickly to the left and right and chose the darker hallway to the right rather than the passageway to the left with its sounds of running water and voices chattering away in Turkish.

How he knew it was Turkish, he had no idea.

Rounding a corner, he found himself at the end of a long, dark corridor, an amplified voice coming from behind the wall to his left, the outer wall of the building on his right, parallel to the sidewalk he'd entered from. He walked forward, sneakered feet soundless on the institutional carpet. The cold metal at his waist was still reassuring, but he left it where it was for now. In a moment, he came to another door, and he opened it a crack.

It was the side entrance to a stage-like area at the head of a large room, with a podium at the end farthest from him with a seriously tall guy about his own age standing behind it. His lightly accented English was clearly American, almost certainly from central Texas. Listening closely, he further determined that the speaker had learned Spanish in high school or college, given the way he pronounced the occasional Hispanic surname in his talk with a carefully half-rolled "r" but vowels that were a little too flat. He occasionally made a restrained gesture with one arm that indicated he was used to talking with his hands but that nerves and the desire to impress his audience were encouraging him to tone down his body language.

How the green-eyed man knew these things when he didn't know his own name, he had no clue.

Still, he allowed himself to relax a fraction. There were hundreds of people visible in the audience, most of whom were focused on the young man and his nervously-contained gestures. Hopefully there would be a crowd of people he could lose himself in, a mass exodus at the end of the lecture that was droning on in front of him. All he had to do was wait.

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After an initial stammer or two, Jared remembered the trick of picking one person in the audience and pretending he was talking only to them. There was a petite brunette in the third row of chairs who looked an awful lot like Megan, and with his sister's text messages ringing in his head, he focused on her. Within a few minutes, he could tell his words were flowing more freely and his gestures weren't quite so wild, and before he knew it, half an hour had passed and his time was up.

The applause was louder than he would have expected, and he felt a flush on his cheeks as he ducked his head in acknowledgment. He wasn't even nervous when the moderator called on a couple of people to ask questions; he answered them both with only a short pause to collect his thoughts and felt like he gave good, solid answers.

It wasn't until the second questioner gave a satisfied nod that he recognized her as Dr. Marie St. Jacques, head of the family practice department at Harvard Medical School. Jared swallowed hard, analyzing every word he had just said and hoping he hadn't sounded like an idiot.

The audience was clapping again, and he collected himself enough to nod in thanks before heading off the stage. The final speaker of the session was coming up, and then there was the reception where he'd have a chance to talk to some incredibly important people one-on-one. That, he could do. It was this whole public speaking thing that was difficult.

Jared sank into his seat with a relieved sigh. He waited until the speaker had been introduced and had started to talk before pulling out his cell. Went gr8, he tapped in, sending the message off to Texas.

Megan must have been waiting by her phone. Told u, came the smartass reply.

He felt a broad grin spread across his face. Thx, he replied, and then flipped the phone shut. He didn't want anyone to see him texting like a bored undergrad in a lecture hall when he should be paying attention to the conference speakers.

The final presentation was interesting, an Indian-American woman talking about tracking how patient care was affected by doctors moving in and out of the area or in and out of insurance programs. Jared nodded as she spoke, thinking of his patients' complaints about how once they got used to a doctor, he or she left for somewhere else. It happened frequently at a hospital like his attached to a medical school, but the small towns the speaker was talking about were probably just as prone to high turnover. He'd have to talk to her at the reception, maybe get some ideas about what might work in East L.A.

In no time, she had finished, and the moderator was inviting everyone to the wine and cheese reception in the hotel ballroom. Jared prepared to wait as the crowd filed out, picking up the long woolen coat he'd splurged on for this trip to look at least quasi-professional, folding it over one arm as he rose to his feet.

"Dr. Padalecki?"

He turned to see the second of his inquisitors approaching, a smile on her motherly face. "Marie St. Jacques," she said, extending a hand. "It's very nice to meet you. I enjoyed your presentation."

"Thank you," he replied automatically, hoping his hand wasn't sweating too much as he shook hers. "It's great to meet you. Your program at Harvard is so…well, it's awesome." Jared wanted to kick himself as soon as the words left his mouth. Way to sound like a teenager, you dumbass.

She smiled warmly. "Well, we'd like to have you come out and see it in person, if you're interested."

It took a second to kick in that he was being offered a job interview, and then he beamed. "Of course I'd be interested!" he replied. "That would be fantastic."

"Great. I'll send you an official invitation once I'm back in Cambridge. It probably won't be for two or three weeks."

"No problem," he answered, consciously toning down his grin so she didn't think he was incapable of responding like an adult. Like he would object if they told him he had to be there within twenty-four hours, or ride his bike to the interview all the way from L.A. It was Harvard, for God's sake.

"Good to hear." Dr. St. Jacques nodded towards the back of the room. "We'll talk more at the reception, yes?"

"Yes," Jared agreed. "Thank you," he added.

She smiled and moved off, and Jared couldn't restrain a little fist-pump once her back was turned. That right there made the whole trip. Ten hours cramped in an economy-class middle seat was so worth it if he got a Harvard interview. Now if he could find the guy from the University of Chicago he knew was here and wrangle a visit there as well, that might make the ten hours on the way back less painful.

He had to text Megan the news right away, and he wanted a quiet space in which to do it. Still grinning, Jared moved towards the door set into the wall next to the podium, his coat tucked over one arm. This is so awesome, he thought as he pushed open the door to enter the backstage area.

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The green-eyed man had been watching from the back hallway as the crowd cleared the room. To his dismay, they'd moved out in twos and threes, not in a group large enough for him to slip in unnoticed. He figured now that his best bet was to wait until the room completely cleared and then make his way to the area where the blonde had talked about the wine being set up.

On the one hand, his jeans and worn jacket weren't exactly going to blend in with the conference crowd. But he only had to wait until a good-sized group headed for the hotel exit, and he could make his way outside with them. It was sure to be dark outside by now, and hiding amongst a cluster of people should get him past anyone who might be watching. He had to get to Kreuzberg tonight, but he had to get away from this place first.

And then the door to the corridor he was waiting in swung open, light spilling into the hallway. He shrank back against the wall, watching as the tall guy who'd been at the podium entered, fumbling in his pocket. He fished out a phone and flipped it open, the bright blue glow in the darkness of the hallway outlining a satisfied grin on his face.

Damn, he was huge, his hands all but swallowing the silver cell phone and his shoulders stretching almost beyond the range of the phone's light. The man standing against the wall watched as the doctor—Jared Padalecki, that was the name he had heard—fired off a quick message and stared at the screen as if waiting for a reply.

Come on, get out of here! the man thought, keeping his breathing completely quiet and not moving a muscle. If this guy found him hiding here in the dark, he'd be hard-pressed to come up with an explanation. The feel of the gun tucked against his back reminded him that if all else failed, he had the means of persuading the doctor to keep his mouth shut, but he hoped it didn't come to that.

No, wait—that was it. His mind raced for a moment, putting together possible scenarios. He could take his chances with the crowd of well-dressed people out there, hoping that the people looking for him wouldn't have already infiltrated the hotel to search for a man they knew was in the area.

Or he could turn himself into someone else, be someone other than who they were looking for. Someone who'd had a little too much to drink and was feeling ill, with a doctor friend who was helping him back to his hotel. Yes, that could work.

The decision made, he wasted no time in second-guessing himself and instead worked out a strategy. The tall doctor was still grinning, his eyes scanning the small screen of the phone as he let out a quiet chortle. The green-eyed man calculated precisely how many steps away he was, noted the coat draped over his target's left arm, and figured that he would be putting the phone back in his pocket once he was done. Slowly sliding his arm behind him, his fingers closed over the grip of his Glock.

Padalecki's thumb flicked over the keys again for a few seconds before he pressed a final button and closed the phone. The blue light abruptly disappeared, leaving the hallway in darkness except for the green glow of the "Ausgang" sign over the exit. As the doctor turned towards it, the man who'd been lying in wait in the darkness came forward, feet silent on the carpet. He drew closer, watching as the doctor's hand moved towards his pocket. Wait for it, wait...now!

He swiftly stepped forward and drew his weapon, bringing it up and between the man's right arm and his side, his own elbow jutting out to keep his quarry's arm from slamming back into him as his gun dug into the man's ribs. His left arm simultaneously reached up and across those ridiculously broad shoulders, lower than the windpipe so as not to restrict air flow, but tight enough to keep him from twisting around.

He needn't have bothered. As soon as the gun barrel touched Padalecki's side, he froze, hand in his pocket and back going rigid. Still, the gunman growled, "Don't move," into his captive's ear, tightening his arm across the man's shoulders for emphasis.

There was complete silence for a moment except for the doctor's sudden, harsh pants of breath. He was actually shaking a little where he stood, which probably wasn't surprising given that he had thought he was alone in the darkened hallway and was now being held at gunpoint. After a few seconds, his chest rose with an inhalation and he rasped out, "My wallet's in my front pocket."

"I don't want your money," the gunman replied in a low voice.

His arm was close enough to Padalecki's throat that he could feel the swallow. "What do you want?" the doctor asked, his voice slightly shaking.

"Just do as I tell you and you'll be fine," he answered, pressing with the gun a little harder. His captive tensed even more, if that was possible, and he suddenly knew the man would obey.

Well, at least that gave him one less thing to worry about.

Chapter Text

Jared had never been so terrified in his life. It was bad enough to have someone jump out at him when he'd been sure he was alone, but to feel something at his side that had to be a gun barrel sent panic coursing through his veins. It took a moment for his head to clear enough to think what to do next, but by then the man's arm had tightened like a vise across his chest and he was trapped.

The incongruous thought flittered through his mind that he wished his last message to his sister hadn't been, U r a dork.

He cleared his throat and tried again. "If it's money you want, I can give you all you need." Damn his paranoia for making him wear a money belt—the thousand euros he had wrapped around his waist might get this guy off his back, but it was all he had to spend on the trip.

"I'm not after your money," the man growled in his ear in what was clearly American-accented English. "I want your cooperation. The people looking for me expect me to be alone. Your height makes you stand out and that draws attention away from me. You're going to be my escape plan."

Jared's heartbeat went up another notch. "Who's looking for you?" he couldn't help asking. "The police?"

"Shut up." There was a pause. When Jared didn't say anything, his captor went on, "Give me your coat."

He held out his arm without a word. The arm across his chest disappeared, and as he felt the heavy weight of the wool lift and the gun leave his side, he swiftly reached across his body to grab the gun barrel and shove it back as he prepared to pivot on one foot and throw an elbow in the gunman's face.

Jared knew his self-defense moves. His parents had insisted on it when he came out as a seventeen-year-old in a Texas town that didn't take too kindly to social aberrance. They'd always been supportive of him but recognized that other people might want to do their son harm for simply being himself. So they'd signed him up for self-defense classes, where he'd made a good sparring partner for the women he'd towered over. But he also managed to learn a few moves that had at least made him look like he knew what he was doing, as proven when three frat boys cornered him one night his freshman year. They'd run without landing more than a single punch, and he'd latched onto the self-confidence it gave him with both hands and never looked back.

On the other hand, maybe that self-confidence was more accurately described as overconfidence. Because before he could do more than lay a finger on the gun, he was the one being spun around and shoved into the wall, his left arm twisted up behind his back, the side of his face pressed hard against the painted cinderblock.

And the barrel of the gun was digging into the back of his neck.

Jared's eyes slammed shut. "Please d—don't kill me," he stammered, feeling the gun muzzle press deeper into his skin as he spoke.

A moment passed, and nothing happened except the acceleration of his heartbeat. Then the hand at his wrist let go and the lights in the hallway abruptly switched on.

Jared opened his eyes to see that the gunman had stepped to the side and was watching him closely from a couple of feet away, one hand moving down from the light switch near the door and the other holding the gun at Jared's head in a firm grip. He was only a few inches shorter than Jared and maybe a couple of years older, with close-cropped, dark blond hair and a set of full lips that under other circumstances would have had him thinking some highly inappropriate thoughts.

But it was the man's eyes that stood out: cold, green jade set in a hard, remorseless face. In an instant, Jared knew: this man was a killer.

Green Eyes leaned even closer, his baritone voice low and gravelly. "You gonna try anything else?" he asked, his eyes boring into Jared's.

"No," Jared breathed out, not daring to shake his head or look away from the man's fierce, intelligent gaze. He might have a few inches and a few pounds on this guy, but the weapon at his head more than made up for that advantage. It was clear that whatever moves he might have thought he had, he was far outclassed here.

"Good." The gunman paused. "We're going to walk out of here through your reception. If anyone asks, I'm a friend who doesn't feel well and you're taking me back to my hotel. Say anything or do anything that sounds like a call for help, and I will shoot the person you talk to before I shoot you. You got that?"

Jared licked his dry lips. "Yeah."

"Okay. Turn around and give me your phone." The gun moved away as the man took a step back.

Jared obeyed, his shoulders sagging in relief at the temporary reprieve. His captor eyed him closely, the gun now pointed at his torso as he tucked Jared's phone into his front jeans pocket. "Do as I say and I'll let you go in a few hours."

Okay, I can do that. Act natural, pretend this crazy guy was with him, and in a few hours he'd be all right. If his racing heart didn't give out before then. "How do I know you will?" Jared blurted before he could stop himself.

Stupid, Padalecki. Why don't you just ask him to shoot you now?

"You don't," came the quick response. The shorter man put on Jared's long black coat one arm at a time, switching the gun from his right to left hand without altering its aim at Jared's chest by a centimeter. "But you don't have much of a choice, do you?"

Jared pressed his lips together, looking down at the dark circle of the gun barrel. "I guess not," he replied bitterly.

"Okay then." Green Eyes pulled the coat closed around him but didn't fasten it. His left hand, with the gun, disappeared inside the coat as he turned sideways, the long garment nearly brushing the floor around his feet. "Come here."

Warily, Jared took a step away from the wall. His captor slung Jared's left arm around his back, pressing his body against Jared's left side so that the gun was nestled against his ribs, hidden underneath the coat. "Put your arm around my waist like you're helping me walk."

He obeyed, flinching as the gun pressed in harder. The thought crossed his mind that he'd been allowed to make a move earlier, that the gunman had wanted to see if he was going to try something and how easy he would be to handle. Jared was certainly willing to play along for now, but as he gingerly placed his hand on the other man's waist, he vowed to keep his eyes open for a chance to get away once no one else was in the line of fire.

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So far, so good, the gunman thought as they made their way through the large room where the conference presentations had been held. There were only a couple of people still in the room, their voices lowered in conversation. None of them spared more than a glance to the two men walking slowly towards the exit.

He could feel the tension thrumming through his captive but trusted that he'd keep quiet. He'd listened to the guy talk for half an hour about running an inner-city clinic in East L.A., for God's sake. A bleeding heart like that wasn't the type who'd put innocent bystanders at risk.

Sweat was dripping down his back under the heavy wool coat. His side was pressed against the doctor's in a way that would have felt intimate had there not been a gun in between them. He was slightly bent over, and to a passer-by, it would look like he was holding his arm over a queasy stomach and leaning on his friend for support. Padalecki's left hand rested on the man's outer hip, the picture of a solicitous friend.

Only the tension he felt in the doctor's shoulders betrayed the truth of what was going on. That, and the fact that his breathing was coming as hard and fast as if he'd just finished a long run.

"Take it easy," he muttered. "You're not the one who's supposed to be sick."

The doctor met his sideways glance with a shade of defiance in his blue-green eyes. Staring back hard in warning, he watched as Padalecki swallowed and looked away. He felt Jared draw in a deep breath as they approached the back doors, the noise from the reception spilling towards them.

"Which way out?" Padalecki asked in an undertone.

"I haven't been in here before," he replied. "Out the side would be best, not on the Ku'damm."

There was a pause, Jared's expression turning to one of concentration. Then it looked like something clicked into place. "Yeah, okay," he finally replied, nodding towards their left. "This way. There's a side door."

A moment later, they were passing through the doors and into the brightly-lit reception area. The green-eyed man pasted a sickly expression on his face, looking for the route across the room that would take them past the fewest people. Padalecki started forward, but he pulled hard with the arm across his back and muttered, "This way," steering him close to the wall.

They edged past clusters of people, none of them sparing more than a glance. He wondered how closely the doctor knew his colleagues, if he was expected to be conversing with them or if they would be able to slip out quietly. If all went well, Padalecki would be back here tomorrow, ready to make up for the conversations he'd missed out on tonight. He almost felt bad for the guy, but this was a matter of life and death. At this point, he'd committed to a plan; there was nothing else he could do.

They almost made it out without being noticed. Almost.

"Jared!"

He felt the taller man started to turn instinctively at the familiar voice, coming to an abrupt halt when he jabbed the Glock harder into his side. "Please don't hurt him," Jared said out of the corner of his mouth, watching as a dark-skinned man approached with a broad smile.

"That's up to you," he replied just as quietly.

Jared briefly closed his eyes. When he opened them, the speaker was right in front of him, arm outstretched. "How've you been, Padalecki?" he asked. "How's USC?"

He watched as the doctor tried to return the smile. It was obviously weak, but he wasn't visibly freaking out, which was probably more than he could hope for from having kidnapped a random stranger. "I'm great, Stan." Jared rushed on, "Listen, I'd love to catch up, but my boyfriend here's not feeling well. I'm going to take him back to our hotel."

"Oh, sure." Stan looked quickly at the green-eyed man, who gave him a wan smile and a nod while watching carefully to see how the doctor's colleague took in this information. Stan lowered his hand and stepped back. "I'll see you later, right?"

"Sure thing," Jared replied readily, his voice trembling the tiniest bit.

They had gone a few more steps towards the exit in their Siamese twin fashion when he asked in a low undertone, "So do you have a boyfriend?"

"What fucking business is it of yours?" Padalecki snapped back just as quietly, obviously startled at the question.

He tightened his grip on the shoulder under his right hand, fingers digging into the muscle there, and the doctor flinched. "If your friend back there knows you don't have one, then that's a problem," he hissed. "If you do have a boyfriend but he doesn't look like me, that's another problem. Either way, you could have been sending a signal to him that something was wrong."

There was silence for a second. Then Jared let out a "Jesus!" under his breath. After another moment, he muttered, "Don't worry. No one here knows me well enough to know anything about my personal life."

He relaxed his hand and heard his companion let out a breath.

They were exiting the ballroom area, moving towards the hallway that led to the front of the hotel. He steered Padalecki past the lobby, casting a glance out the front doors as they passed by to see if there was anyone stationed outside waiting for him. The tall blonde smoking a cigarette was wearing the same kind of nametag as the rest of the conference-goers, which made her unlikely. The college-age couple standing on the front steps wasn't paying attention to anything but each other, if the way their lips were pressed together was any indication.

They were passing a pillar on the far side of the entrance when light flashed off something outside, and his head jerked around. He saw a man coming through the revolving door, the round gold frames of his glasses reflecting the light from the building as he entered.

Shit. He ducked his head down, glad that the doctor's bulk was between him and the front door. "Where's that side entrance?" he asked sharply.

"It's, uh, around the corner." Padalecki started to lift an arm to point at the hallway in front of them.

The gunman grabbed his upper arm and forced it back down. "Don't draw any attention," he murmured. "Just keep walking."

His captive's shoulders stiffened, but he didn't say anything.

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Jared was biting down on his lip to keep from screaming. It had been hard enough walking past all those people at the reception, keeping perfectly silent while wanting to shout, "He's got a gun!" Then his old college acquaintance showed up, and as much as Jared had been looking forward to seeing a familiar face a few minutes ago, he'd ditched him as quickly as he could with what he had thought was a clever excuse. Turned out his kidnapper was more than a little paranoid, as if the constant glances around them and the tight control he was keeping over Jared weren't already clues.

His kidnapper. He shuddered, the unrelenting pressure of the gun barrel into his side and the constant fear that someone was going to suspect something fishy was going on and get themselves or him caught in the crossfire wearing him down more every minute. How long was this nightmare going to go on?

And then in an instant, it got much, much worse.

The popping sound from behind them was out of place in the quiet hotel hallway, and Jared was starting to turn his head when his captor's arm pulled him down hard as the gun fell away from his ribs. He stumbled forward, and the hiss of something passing over his head confused him until he saw a chip of marble fly off the wall in front of him.

"Oh, my God!" he shouted, eyes going wide.

A much louder sound burst from right beside him, where Green Eyes had half-turned and extended his left arm backward, pointing his gun at a man right inside the front doors. Jared watched in horror as he squeezed the trigger three times in rapid succession, screams erupting from the people in the hotel lobby as bullets pinged off the polished marble pillars in the entryway.

"Move it!" his captor was shouting, grabbing hold of his upper arm and dragging him forward. Jared briefly thought about pulling away, but the man's grip was merciless, and he obviously wasn't afraid to use his gun. So he stumbled along, keeping his head down as the strange popping noise came from behind them again. He heard a grunt to his left, and his captor faltered for a second before driving them on, pausing once to fire a couple more shots over his shoulder.

They rounded the corner into a long hallway, a set of doors at the far end. Jared was propelled towards them at full speed, the hand wrapped around his bicep unrelenting. He dragged his heels once, but the gun was instantly at his neck, the heat of the recently-fired barrel stinging his skin. "You're not going anywhere till I tell you," the gunman snarled without breaking his stride, and Jared reluctantly matched his pace.

They hit the crash bars on the doors and were outside. Jared shivered as the cold evening air hit his sweat-soaked back, his suit jacket inadequate against the January chill. Green Eyes had switched the gun back to his right hand, and now it was hard against Jared's back without the thick woolen coat in the way.

He swallowed hard and said in a low voice, "If you wanted to use me as camouflage, I think they saw me back there."

"Shut up." The reply was terse and slightly distracted.

Before he could change his mind about pushing his luck, Jared went on, "Where are you going to go? You can't wander around the city with a gun in plain sight like that. This is Europe."

"Shut up!" This time it was more insistent, and the gun shifted so that it was pressing right into his spine. Jared bit back a yelp at the pain. "Listen to me," the man said into his ear, dragging him towards the street as he slipped the gun into the coat pocket closest to Jared. "Take that off," he said, pointing at the name tag still hanging from Jared's neck by a white lanyard. "You're going to put your arm through mine and smile at the people passing by while we walk down the sidewalk like we can't wait to get back to our hotel and warm each other up."

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," Jared growled, staring straight ahead. "I can't think of anything I'd want to do with you less."

"How about get shot?" came the swift, sardonic reply.

Jared pressed his lips together before whipping off his nametag and stuffing it in his pocket. Then he stiffly held out his arm, crooked at the elbow. The gunman tucked his arm through it, hand going into the pocket where the gun was, his side pressing against Jared's once again. Jared pasted a reluctant smile on his face, hoping the evening darkness would keep anyone they passed from seeing how fake it was.

They kept moving forward, out of the side street and around the building they'd just been in. When they came to the front, Jared heard shouts emerging from the lobby as security personnel poured inside, onlookers watching curiously. He thought about raising a hand or shouting, but as if his mind were being read, his captor leaned up and breathed into his ear, "You won't be the first one I shoot. Remember that."

Jared clenched his jaw. "You bastard," he muttered fervently.

Ahead of them was the broad boulevard of the Ku'damm, and they blended into a sea of pedestrians on the sidewalk. Jared kept looking around nervously until the man next to him hissed in his ear, "Keep your eyes ahead. Don't draw attention."

His jaw tightened as he obeyed, realizing that he didn't even know what he'd be looking for. He hadn't seen anything of the person shooting at them other than the really big gun.

Someone had been shooting at them. Could they not see that he was a hostage, that he wanted them to hit the man next to him as much as they did?

They crossed the broad boulevard arm-in-arm, Jared all too aware of the weight of the gun in the coat pocket nearest him. A moment later they were off the main street, walking past well-dressed people entering neat apartment buildings on their way home from work. "Where are we going?" he asked.

"I have to see a man in Kreuzberg," came the brusque response.

"Why?" he asked automatically.

Instead of the none of your business that he expected, his captor muttered under his breath, "I wish I knew."

Jared frowned, trying to recall the map he'd memorized on the flight over. "The U-Bahn's the other way," he said. It had to be three or four miles to the neighborhood the shorter man was talking about.

"Are you an idiot?" Green Eyes retorted. "You know how many cameras they have in the subway stations?"

"So you are wanted by the police," Jared mused out loud.

"Keep your voice down, damn it!" A hand tightened painfully on his arm, emphasizing the harshly spoken words.

"Sorry," he muttered, his brain still whirling. His kidnapper didn't want to be somewhere that surveillance cameras could spot him, but there was no way it had been a cop who shot at them in the hotel. He wasn't sure if German police even carried guns, but they sure as hell wouldn't be shooting first and asking questions later in an upscale hotel lobby full of people. Which meant there was someone less savory in search of the man next to him.

Who was this guy?

Chapter Text

With every step he took, it was getting harder to ignore the stinging burn in his right calf. The bullet fired at him in the hotel lobby had only grazed him, but it still hurt like a bitch.

Fortunately his reluctant companion hadn't noticed; given his attempt at self-defense earlier, the doctor would probably be all too willing to use the injury against him if he knew about it. The arm he had his hand wrapped around felt like solid muscle, and when he'd had Jared pinned up against the wall earlier, it had been hard not to notice the strong build of the man's back and legs. So far, the threat of the gun was enough to keep him in line, but he couldn't be sure that would continue.

On the other hand, as they strode on, he noticed that the taller man next to him was positively trembling. Okay, so Padalecki was being held at gunpoint, but his voice didn't sound shaky as he kept talking back. So what was his problem?

Then they passed under a streetlight and he got a good look at the faint bluish tinge of the doctor's lips, and he understood. Damn it, there were still a few miles to go, and even if Long Legs here had no problem walking the distance, he was bound to get cold enough to draw attention from passersby. They'd already gotten one or two odd glances at seeing a man dressed in nothing warmer than a suit jacket in the chill January air.

He might not know much about who he was or where he was going, but the need to stay inconspicuous was throbbing through him as strongly as the pain in his leg.

So at the next corner, he swung them to the left and then again at the following corner so they were headed back to the boulevard they'd just left. "Where are we going?" his captive asked again.

He didn't respond, figuring that silence was more intimidating than a sharp answer. He only tightened his grip on the taller man's arm.

Sure enough, he didn't get a reply, and they went for a whole block in blessed silence. The lights of the Ku'damm were spilling out onto their side street, and in a moment he saw what he was looking for. "In here," he said, pulling them towards a parking garage behind one of the hotels on the main street.

Padalecki started to balk as they entered the dark garage, but when he slipped the gun out of his coat pocket and nudged it in his captive's ribs, he didn't have any more trouble. They climbed two levels of the ramp before he saw what he wanted: signs indicating reserved parking for valet service at the adjacent hotel. "Come on," he said, pushing Padalecki towards the first car in the row, a small red BMW.

"You're stealing a car?" the doctor asked incredulously. "How are you gonna start it?"

"They usually keep the keys in the vehicle," he replied as he took a step back. "Check under the floor mat and above the visor." He lifted the Glock and aimed it at his captive's midsection, leaving no doubt as to who it was that was going to be doing the actual stealing.

He got a wide-eyed look in response, but Padalecki obeyed, sliding into the driver's seat as the gunman walked around the front of the car, his aim steady through the windshield. He smoothly opened the passenger door and slid in, keeping the gun on his lap pointed at the driver. "You got 'em yet?"

Padalecki was fumbling under the floor mat. "Yeah," he muttered, nearly banging his head on the lower edge of the dashboard as he sat up.

"You know how to drive a stick shift?" he asked, belatedly realizing that might be a problem.

"Yeah," came the doctor's reluctant answer.

"Good. Let's go."

A few minutes later, they were out on the street, welcome hot air pouring forth from the heater. He quietly gave directions to the doctor, who obeyed in silence. It was an odd contrast to the earlier barrage of questions, and at first he figured it was relief on the doctor's part at being out of the cold.

Then flashing lights in the side mirror caught his attention, and his heart leapt into his throat. He whirled around to see a scared but determined expression on his captive's face, and as he looked back out the windshield, he realized what had happened.

Their headlights were off, and Padalecki was signaling a left-turn onto a one-way street in the wrong direction. Anything so blatantly out of order was bound to get the attention of the Berlin police.

"You stupid bastard," he snapped, reaching across with one arm to flip on the headlights before going for the window controls. He waited until Jared was looking at him, then deliberately pointed the gun towards the open driver's side window before looking over his shoulder at the man approaching their vehicle as he pulled a fold of his coat over the weapon.

The message was clear: any funny business and the cop would be the first to get shot.

He watched as Padalecki inhaled sharply, nostrils flaring. Glaring at him for a second longer, he leaned forward, one hand clamping around the driver's bicep as he addressed the approaching cop. "Sorry!" he shouted cheerfully in German. "My friend got confused! Not used to the one-way streets, you know."

It took a moment more to convince the beefy police officer that they weren't going to break any traffic laws before they were sent on their way. He watched as Padalecki accelerated down the block, hands tightly clenched on the steering wheel, and he let the doctor wonder what was going to happen for a few minutes.

He waited until they came to a stop sign with no other cars in sight. Then he swiftly reached across and grabbed the back of Jared's neck with his left hand while his right arm brought the gun up to nestle behind his ear. "Don't you ever do anything like that again," he growled.

Padalecki froze in place, his breath coming fast through his nose, lips pressed tightly together as he stared straight ahead.

There was silence for a moment, only the harsh sound of Padalecki's breaths filling the small space. "Look," he finally said in a low voice with a slight quiver, "you got what you wanted. You got out of the hotel, and you got a car. Let me out of here and you can drive off and do whatever the hell you want. You don't need me."

"Yes, I do," the gunman replied, not budging an inch. He could feel the lines of tension in the doctor's neck, the muscles tight underneath his clenched fingers, and he waited.

Padalecki's eyes closed. "Please," he said softly, earnestly.

"I need to see a man in Kreuzberg. Then I need you to drive me out of the city. Then we're done." He kept the gun resting against the doctor's neck but eased it back, the small knob of the gun sight no longer making a dent in his flesh. "I will let you go. As long as you don't try to fight me again."

Padalecki opened his mouth to reply, but a horn honking from behind startled them both. The gun would be shielded from view by the arm at the back of his captive's neck, but sitting still at a stop sign was too likely to attract attention. "Go," he barked, pulling back but keeping the gun aimed at the driver.

Damn it, why did it have to be his right leg that was injured? He needed this man to drive him around, but the strain of paying attention to his every move was getting old. He was used to being on his own, not having to watch out for someone so closely.

He frowned and rubbed at his forehead. What did that mean, he was used to being on his own? How long was it going to take before these fragments of memory coalesced into something useful for a change?

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

They'd gone at least another mile before Jared felt his heart rate slow down to something approximating normal. He'd taken a big risk, and it had blown up right in his face. Well, not literally—thank God for that. Still, he'd thought that now that they were away from innocent bystanders, it was worth trying to attract attention. His captor's veiled threat to the policeman had shown him he was wrong, and the man's cold-blooded nature was becoming more and more apparent with every minute that passed.

It made Jared determined to see this guy go down.

"What's your name?" he asked quietly, braking to a halt at another stop sign.

"Doesn't matter," the man brusquely replied.

He cleared his throat, hoping he wasn't digging himself in deeper as he went on, "I obviously can identify you. Might as well have a name to go with the face."

He heard a scoffing sound. "You're not doing yourself any favors, kid," the gunman replied.

Jared bit back the urge to reply that he wasn't a kid, knowing it wouldn't do anything but make him sound like one. "Where are we going?" he asked instead.

To his surprise, the other man reacted not by snapping back at him, but by frowning and reaching up to rub his temple. "I don't know," he said, sounding annoyed. "There are these tall white buildings in a half-circle around a roundabout."

It sounded vaguely familiar, and Jared searched his memory. "Kottbusser Tor?" he asked cautiously, looking at his passenger again.

The man's eyes narrowed as his eyebrows lowered suspiciously. "You've been to Berlin before?"

"I haven't," Jared quickly answered. "But I read the guidebook. A lot."

The answer seemed to satisfy his captor, who sat back slightly in his seat. "You know how to get there?"

"Kind of," he replied, trying to take the subway map he'd studied and match it up with the street map in his head.

The gun suddenly pressing into his side caused him to hitch in a sharp breath. "Watch the one-way streets," Green Eyes warned in a low voice.

Jared gulped. "Got it."

They drove the rest of the way in silence, Jared behaving himself perfectly. When he stopped the car a block away from the half-circle of apartments, the gunman reached over and shut off the ignition. "Let's go," he said, pocketing the keys as he reached for the door handle.

Jared literally bit his tongue, sure that an offer to wait in the car would not go over well. Instead he slowly climbed out, keeping his movements as visible as he could. They were parked under a burned-out streetlight, and it took a moment for him to notice that his captor was limping slightly on his right side as they moved forward.

"You're hurt," he said stupidly.

The other man shot him a swift look. "I'm fine," he snapped back.

Jared opened his mouth to say more, but then quickly shut it. The guy obviously didn't want to hear it; maybe he really was hurt and didn't want Jared to know. So as they walked side-by-side towards the centermost building of the white high-rises ahead of them, he kept looking out of the corner of his eye at the gunman, noting carefully exactly to what extent he was limping (not very much) and why (lower leg rather than foot or hip).

When they had passed a few ground-level shops and found the entrance to the apartments above, a hand on his elbow brought him to a halt. "Press a few buttons," the man said, nodding at the panel next to the door. "Someone will let us in."

"Who are you looking for?" Jared asked, scanning the row of neatly-labeled names next to the black call buttons.

"A Mr. Chernak," came the reply, which he hadn't expected to get. He found the name on the list, number 1184, and lifted his hand to push the button.

Instantly a hand closed over his, the iron grip forcing his arm back down. "Not that one, you idiot." His hand was released, and Jared drew on every bit of stubbornness that he possessed to keep from wincing and examining his fingers to see if they were still intact after the crushing grip they'd been subjected to. Instead, he raised his other hand and pressed a random series of buttons.

After a few seconds, a cacophony of voices burst forth from the scratchy loudspeaker, and Jared looked at the green-eyed man in bewilderment. "What—" he started, and then jumped as a buzzer went off.

The other man jerked open the door to the building. The rush of air from the opening door briefly lifted the long wool coat away from the gunman's legs, and Jared saw a thin track of dark red along his right denim-clad calf. He realized that Green Eyes had been shot, or at least grazed, and he hitched in a breath that he tried to pass it off as a shiver. He could feel cold eyes boring into him, but he brushed past and into the building, refusing to let his captor know that he'd just gained a piece of potentially valuable information.

The door shut behind them, and Jared started towards the elevators. "No, the stairs," came the command from behind him.

He didn't figure that whining about eleven flights of stairs would get him very far, so he obeyed silently. But at the first landing, the ever-present hand on his arm jerked him towards the hallway. "First floor," his captor said.

"So you've been here before?" Jared asked as they stepped into the carpeted hallway.

"I might have," Green Eyes replied. The tone wasn't coy or vague; it sounded as if the man was trying to remember if he had been. Jared mentally shrugged and moved on, looking down the length of the hallway and glumly realizing there was no way he could make a break for it without getting shot.

They stopped in front of a door with faded green paint and 1184 in gold letters, the 4 tilting sideways as though it was about to start sliding down the door. Jared shot a look at the other man's right hand where it was hidden in his coat pocket, knowing his fingers were wrapped around the gun. "Go on," the older man said. "Knock and say you have a message from Zurich."

"I don't know any German," Jared replied.

The man rolled his eyes. "English will be fine."

He frowned but did as he was told, knocking twice on the door. When he heard a "Ja?" from inside, he cleared his throat and said, "I have a message from Zurich."

There was silence for a moment. Then the door swung open and a brittle voice said, "Come in."

A hand clamped down on his shoulder and pushed him inside, the gunman close on his heels. Jared took in a small, neat apartment filled with the kind of furniture and knickknacks he associated with his grandparents. When he turned and looked at the person who'd opened the door, he saw he'd been right. It was a man whose beard and hair were white, whose lined face looked like that of a kindly old grandfather.

At least, until his gaze fell on Jared's companion. Then his blue eyes went wide with alarm as he shrank back.

Jared's stomach sank. What where they doing here? What was his captor planning to do to this man?

Green Eyes lifted an eyebrow, his face expressionless. "Herr Chernak," he said. "Nice to see you again."

The man visibly swallowed before straightening his shoulders. He was probably about six feet tall, which made him the shortest man in the room. His eyes flickered back and forth between Jared and the other man. "Where have you been, Winchester?" he asked in a strong German accent.

Jared blinked. Finally, he had a name to give to the police once he got free. He turned towards the gunman to take in his reaction to having his name spoken aloud and his cover of anonymity blown.

What he saw surprised him. Instead of anger or concern, the man's moss-green eyes were faintly puzzled, his sandy eyebrows furrowing like he was trying to remember something but couldn't quite place it. His full lips started to move, shaping the name that had just been spoken aloud as if he were trying it out.

Then his eyes flickered over to Jared's, and his expression hardened. "Is there somewhere he can wait?" he asked the German.

"Ja, the bedroom," the man answered, gesturing behind the two of them.

Jared turned to see an open door leading to a small room. There was a window on the far side, and he thought he saw the gleam of metal on the darkness on the other side of the glass. Hope started to rise up in him. If that was a fire escape, and he could open the window quietly enough—

"How about the bathroom?" Green Eyes' voice cut in, harsh and cold. Jared's head whipped around to see the man staring at him as if he knew what Jared had been thinking. Hell, he probably did. Jared stared back. After a moment, his captor jerked his head to the side, and Jared reluctantly crossed the living room in three strides to enter the windowless bathroom and shut the door behind him.

It took only a moment to search the tiny room and find no way out and nothing that would work as a weapon against a guy with a gun. Jared dropped down on the edge of the bathtub and put his face in his hands. God, was this nightmare ever going to end?

Chapter Text

Winchester.

Was that really his name? He thought it over as he watched the tall doctor stalk into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. It didn't sound right in his head, but then nothing sounded right in his head anymore.

Keeping his face blank to hide his churning thoughts, he turned to Chernak, hoping for some answers as long as he could figure out how to ask the right questions. He'd obviously been here before, given his hazy memory of the exterior of the building and the man's shocked reaction upon seeing him.

The older man had taken a few steps backwards and was standing near an ancient roll-top desk. "Why are you here?" he asked in German, more insistently than he had before.

I have no idea, the green-eyed man thought grimly. Because your name was on a piece of paper in a locked bank vault in Switzerland and I have no other leads as to who the fuck I am.

Out loud he asked coolly in the same language, "You have something for me, don't you?" It was a blind guess, but there must be a reason that he'd been directed here.

Chernak ran a hand through his short white hair, his eyes flickering down to the bottom drawer of the desk. "You cannot want more money. I have never heard of someone paying so much for a job before. And anyway, it's done."

He had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he could play along. "It wasn't exactly easy, you know."

"No, I suppose not." The older man looked at him for a moment, his eyes narrowing. "Is that why you have taken time off lately?"

"That's not your business," Winchester retorted automatically. Something tightened in his gut at the thought that this man know who he was and that he'd been off the grid for the past few weeks.

Then the words slotted together with something he'd seen earlier that night, and his head snapped up as his fingers tightened on the gun in his pocket. "Why have you been having me followed?" he barked.

There was a calculating look in Chernak's eyes that instantly put Winchester on edge. "Let us say there is a man who always advertises his kills after he completes them. Let us say he accomplishes one of the most spectacular kills of the last ten years, but then he disappears for over a month without saying a word."

Winchester swallowed hard. It wasn't too hard to see where this was going, and he didn't like what it implied about who and what kind of man he was. "How do you know it was him?" he asked in a gravelly voice.

Chernak raised one eyebrow. "Because I paid him myself to do it. Because he was there when it happened."

Too bad he doesn't know that himself, he thought.

"Let us say that one might begin to wonder what this man is up to," Chernak went on. "One might begin to think his loyalties have become confused. Turned, even."

He stared at the other man, his brain working furiously. Down in a dark corner of his brain, the words meant something to him in a language that made his blood run cold with the implications. "You were supposed to have something for me," he said, knowing the steps to the dance even though it had somehow gone off-rhythm. He adjusted his right hand in his coat pocket to be sure the gun would come out cleanly if he had to pull it. "Let us say that your scenario is right. So let us then say that one might turn oneself," he said quietly, making the guess sound confident.

Chernak's eyes widened, and Winchester knew he was right. "Who did you tell?" he asked sharply, taking a step forward. "Are they coming here now?"

The split second when Chernak's eyes shifted to the side told him what was going to happen, and he started drawing his weapon before the German even moved. Chernak reached behind him for the antique revolver that had been hidden on the desk behind his body, but Winchester was already raising his Glock. By the time Chernak aimed his weapon, he was already pulling the trigger, his aim centered on the German's chest.

The shot was explosively loud in the enclosed apartment, and the older man's finger jerked on the trigger of his own weapon as he fell heavily onto the desk and then the floor, the multiple thumps echoing through the small room.

It took only a second to see the wide-eyed, vacant stare that meant his aim had been dead-on. So to speak. Winchester stepped over to the desk and rooted through the drawer to which Chernak's eyes had been drawn. Under a pile of worn paperback Westerns, his fingers closed around a stack of small, slender booklets with embossed covers.

He pulled out the passports and flipped open the top one to see his own face looking back at him.

A door banged open behind him, and he brought the gun back up as he whirled around, his finger tightening on the trigger. In a split second, it registered with him that this wasn't a threat—it was a wide-eyed Jared Padalecki, his face paling as he took in the body on the floor, its blank eyes open and staring up at the ceiling. "Oh, my God!" Padalecki burst out, a hand going to his mouth.

"I didn't have a choice," Winchester snapped back, surprising himself at the defensive tone of his voice.

The wide blue-green eyes turned to him and then the gun, and then Jared took a step back, his lips pressing together and his large hands clenching into helpless fists at his sides. The long line of his neck moved in a swallow, and the apprehension on his face made his thoughts all too clear. The kid was sure that he was next. Any reassurances Winchester might have given him before about not intending to hurt him had gone right out the window with the sound of the gunshot, which meant the doctor now considered himself a man with nothing to lose.

Which made him extremely dangerous.

Winchester started in a low voice, "Look, I didn't—"

He was cut off by a firm knock at the door. "Herr Chernak?" a man's voice called through the wood. "Ist alles in Ordnung?"

He saw the doctor's gaze switch from him to the door, and then Jared's mouth opened. Winchester instantly shifted the gun higher and hardened his own expression as he huffed out, "Hey!" When Padalecki looked back at him, he raised his eyebrows in a meaningful look. Don't even think about it.

The message got across, for Jared closed his mouth again, a breath shuddering out as he looked at the gun pointed at him.

Back in control, Winchester nodded towards the bedroom across the apartment as he slipped the passports into his pocket. "Fire escape," he said quietly. "Move it."

He followed the younger man across the apartment, noting how he looked down at Chernak's corpse and the red stain soaking into the carpet. The old revolver was clearly visible in the dead man's hand, but he wondered if it even registered with the doctor that this had been a case of self-defense.

Once inside the bedroom, he motioned to Padalecki to open the window. Cold air instantly swept into the apartment, and he was glad he was still wearing the long wool coat. "Go," he ordered.

He watched as Jared carefully put one long leg through the open window onto the rickety stairway outside, wincing as his hands touched the cold metal. The doctor eased himself over the windowsill. The pounding at the front door grew louder, and Winchester looked over his shoulder to make sure the door was still intact.

The kick to his injured right leg caught him by surprise, and he fell hard to the ground, holding back a cry of pain. He looked up to see Padalecki yanking his leg out of the window, triumph flashing across his face at the hit he'd scored.

He reached out to grab the doctor's ankle, but the window was swinging shut, the tall man putting all of his weight behind it. He lifted the Glock to blast a hole through the glass, but with the light from the living room behind him, he couldn't see a thing in the darkness outside. In a few seconds, the clattering footsteps he heard on the stairway told him Padalecki was trying to make his escape.

Cursing under his breath, Winchester scrambled to his feet and pushed the window back open before clambering out. His quarry was leaping down the metal staircase while he still couldn't catch his breath from having that gigantic foot slamming into his wounded leg. He aimed downwards but realized he was as likely to catch a ricochet as actually hit the younger man. So he hobbled off after him, hoping to be able to fire a warning shot once he was close enough to see him.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jared flew down the fire escape and ran until he could barely breathe, pounding down the dark streets with no idea of where he was going, driven only by the need to get away. He threw a glance over his shoulder every now and then, but the lack of pursuit didn't necessarily make him feel better.

What if he'd been running in circles and Winchester was lying in wait for him around the next corner? What if the next step he took brought him right back to the killer?

After a few minutes, his lungs aching at drawing in the cold air so quickly, he forced himself to slow down to a brisk walk and pay attention to the street around him. Heaving in breaths, heart thumping in his chest, he noted with some dismay the run-down character of the buildings he was passing. This was not the nicest part of town, which was not to say it was anything at all like the L.A. neighborhoods he was used to working in, but it still wasn't the type of place he was going to easily find help. The streets were deserted of cars and pedestrians even thought it was only late evening, and all of the shops were closed up for the night, steel grates forbidding any entry.

Coming to a stop at a street corner, Jared turned around, looking in all directions for some kind of landmark like the tall television tower that the guidebook called the "Tele-Asparagus," or the skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz. At least then he would have something to aim for, some way to get back to familiar territory. But there was nothing in sight above the three-story buildings all around him, and he let out a frustrated sigh.

A car pulled up to the stop sign next to him, and Jared quickly looked at it, praying that it wasn't a red BMW. He let out a breath of relief when he saw it was a dark blue Mercedes with three men inside. Not his kidnapper, then. Before he could think to stop them to ask for directions, the car drove on.

Looking down the cross street, Jared wondered if he would do better to head in one of those directions or continue on the way he'd been going. Then he noticed that the Mercedes had come to a stop on the other side of the intersection, and that the man on the passenger side was climbing out. Jared took a wary step back into the shadow of the apartment building on the corner, watching the man turn towards him, the streetlight glinting off the gold frames of his glasses.

Jared was still wearing only a suit jacket over a dress shirt, and the sweat that had broken out on his back from running was rapidly cooling his body in the winter air. The shiver that swept over him made his shoulders jerk back.

Then a second shudder came over him, this one of fear, as the man across the street started to come straight towards him. It might not be Winchester, but he wasn't about to trust anyone right now. Then he noticed that another man had climbed out of the backseat, and his heart started to pound again.

He had already pivoted on one foot, ready to run, when the man called out, "Dr. Padalecki?"

And that was unexpected enough to make him freeze in his tracks. Who in the world knew his name here?

The man had crossed the street and was reaching into his coat. Panic momentarily flared in Jared until he realized the guy was pulling out identification of some sort, laminated plastic flashing in the orange glow of the street lights as he flipped open a wallet and displayed an identity card. "It's all right, I am with the police," he said in a slight accent. "We're investigating the incident at the Bristol Hotel."

Relief swept over him so abruptly that he staggered back a step, his arm coming into contact with the wall. "You were there?" he asked.

The man exchanged a glance with the man from the backseat, who had come up next to him. "We responded as quickly as we could," he answered. "I am very glad we found you."

"Me too," Jared replied fervently in the understatement of the year. He wiped a hand over his forehead. Thank God. It looked like this horrible night was going to be over soon.

"My name is Stefan Dorner," the man with the glasses said as he came closer, his hands held slightly out in front of him in a calming gesture. He gestured towards the driver, who was the same height as Jared if not slightly taller. "My partner is Hans Heinrich. We are both with the BKA, like your FBI. The man you were with—"

"I wasn't 'with' him," Jared snapped back, adrenaline making his voice sharp. "He kidnapped me."

"We understand," Dorner said placatingly. "I am sorry, Doctor, I know you have been through a lot this evening, but we need to find this man. Do you know where he is?"

"I know where I left him," Jared replied. By the car he made me steal, he wanted to add, but then figured that was a detail that could be saved for later. They couldn't hold that against him, right?

Heinrich tilted his blond head to the side. "He let you go?" he asked sharply.

Jared shook his head. "I got away." The note of triumph in his voice made his spirits lift. He had gotten away. He'd done it, escaped from the killer who'd threatened him and made it to safety.

Then a light breeze swept past, and he shivered, hard. Dorner's sharp blue eyes noticed, and his voice softened. "We can talk in the warmth of the car, if you can tell us where to go."

"Kottbusser Tor," Jared said, taking a step towards the men and the security that their vehicle promised.

The two men exchanged another glance. "You are familiar with Berlin?" Heinrich asked.

Jared shook his head. "I've never been here before. I don't even know any German."

"Well, I hope you won't let your unfortunate experience discourage you from seeing more of our fair city," Heinrich said with a pleasant smile as they crossed the street.

"I'll try not to," he replied, biting back a grimace. Right now there was nothing he wanted more than to point these men towards his former captor and then get the hell out of here. There were still two days of the meeting left, but he didn't think he could handle going back into that conference room without feeling the barrel of a gun digging into his side and Winchester's hot breath on his neck.

It wasn't until they were settled in the car, Jared in the backseat next to Heinrich and Dorner in the front, with a dark-haired and silent driver pulling them away from the curb, that he found the courage to ask the question. "So who is this guy and why are you looking for him?"

Dorner turned in his seat. "We have been cooperating at the global level with Interpol and many other agencies to find him. He goes by many aliases, but his real name is Dean Winchester. And he's extremely dangerous. You should consider yourself fortunate to be alive."

Jared swallowed hard. He did consider himself fortunate to have gotten away from the man, but hearing it confirmed from a member of law enforcement brought it even closer to home. "What did he do?" he asked, a slight quaver creeping into his voice.

"He's a paid assassin," came the response from the man sitting beside him. As Jared turned, eyes wide, Heinrich went on, "He has killed dozens of people around the world. Some for profit, some for political reasons, and some merely to make his name. He is well-trained and has slipped through our fingers many times before."

Jared closed his eyes and bowed his head, a ripple of fear passing over him as he thought of all of the moments he'd narrowly escaped being harmed tonight by a man who turned out to be a fucking assassin. "God," he muttered. "I had no idea." He noticed that his hands were shaking, and he clenched them into tight fists on his lap. Licking his lips, he said in more of a query than a statement, "He said he was going to let me go."

"Then you are fortunate that you escaped." The blond next to him waited until Jared was looking at him, and then went on, "He was surely lying to you. This is not a man who shows mercy to his victims."

"I can believe that," Jared murmured, thinking of the dead elderly man in the apartment. Damn, if he hadn't run when he did, no doubt he'd be on his way to his own death at Winchester's hands. Another shudder broke over him.

"Don't worry, Dr. Padalecki," Heinrich went on. "All we need is for you to identify Winchester once we catch him, and then it will all be over."

Jared leaned back against the headrest as they sped on through the silent streets. God, I hope so, he thought.

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Winchester didn't give up for at least twenty minutes, following a regular search pattern spiraling outwards from the Kottbusser Tor apartments that netted him absolutely nothing. His leg was throbbing hard enough to give him a headache, and the desperation at having lost his hostage was almost overshadowing the despair that was curling around his heart at finally knowing who and what he was.

Let us say there is a man who always advertises his kills.

Chernak had obviously been talking about him, and not only by reputation. The man he'd just shot to death had hired him to kill someone. Self-defense was one thing, and he obviously had good reflexes, knowing the other man was going for a gun before even seeing the weapon.

But the conversation they'd had before he pulled the trigger was something else entirely. Because apparently he'd taken the German's money. And apparently he'd killed someone for it.

Winchester came to a halt and sagged against the nearest lamppost. He couldn't say he was surprised. Anyone who knew how to use a gun and carry out the evasive maneuvers he'd pulled off tonight—not to mention the whole hostage-taking thing—was obviously nothing innocuous like a tax accountant or a schoolteacher. But he'd been hoping to turn out to be one of the good guys, not an immoral bastard for hire.

"Fuck," he breathed out, wiping a hand across his mouth. Focus, damn it. He looked up at the nearest street sign, trying to remember where he was in relation to where he'd started out from. At this point, the longer he stayed around, the greater the risk that Padalecki would find a cop and come back for him. The car keys were still in his pocket; he'd have to work through the pain and drive with his wounded leg.

He had no idea where he was going, but out of town was his only imperative. Away from the one clue he'd had, now lying dead on the floor of his apartment.

Chernak's name had been on a folded piece of paper in a safety deposit box in Zurich. All he'd had walking in was the number to access the account, but somehow instinct and flashes of memory had gotten him through the proper procedures and to the contents of the box. He'd gladly taken the small but high-value piles of euros and tucked them into the money belt he'd bought that morning and donned like a nervous tourist. The Glock pistol had been a welcome addition to his meager store of possessions; he'd been feeling naked without a gun, which was alarming all by itself.

He hadn't yet left the bank when instinct had kicked in again, alerting him that something wasn't quite right.

He'd known the ritual of accessing a Swiss bank account very well, as if he'd done it dozens of times before, enough to burn it into his brain like the way he held and fired a gun. Maybe his head was a sieve with more holes than metal at the moment, but he was pretty sure the point of having a Swiss bank account was confidentiality. No one was supposed to know who held the account or when they accessed it.

Which was why the three men, including the one with gold-rimmed glasses, waiting for him when the elevator doors opened in the lobby had been a surprise.

He'd gone quietly with them at first, biding his time until they were in a back hallway and he could fight them off one at a time, refusing to think about how easily his body went through the motions of knocking two men unconscious and grabbing the gun of the third before shooting him in the thigh. He'd wondered later how he could approach getting free of them as a puzzle to be solved rather that something to get scared of or at least seriously worried about, and how he knew precisely where to hit and punch to inflict maximum damage to them while barely bruising himself.

After hearing what Chernak had to say, it made a lot more sense. He wondered if he would ever find out who the German had paid him to kill. And how he'd done it.

Shaking his head as if to drive away the thoughts, Winchester carefully made his way back to the semi-circle of white apartment buildings. He waited in the darkness of an entryway for a few minutes, watching the red BMW and the street to see if anyone was lying in wait. A handful of cars and a couple of pedestrians passed by, but the street was mostly quiet. It was why he'd had the doctor park back here, away from the main road.

Hands plunged in his pockets, one tightening around the grip of the handgun and one around the car keys, he limped out of the shadows and towards the car, eyes constantly moving, ears tuned to the slightest sounds around him. A dark Mercedes drove past and turned the corner. Across the street, two men emerged from a closed drugstore and pulled the metal shutter down over the storefront, securing it with a padlock before walking towards the subway station a block away. A small East German Trabant rolled past, and Winchester blinked, surprised the little thing was still puttering along after all these years. Talk about being too attached to your car for your own good.

He reached the car and pressed the remote button to open the driver's side door. Carefully climbing inside, he pulled at the folds of the long coat he was wearing to get them off the floor.

A car drove past, and he gave it a sideways glance as he turned the key in the ignition. It was another dark Mercedes, and it made the same turn as the last one had.

Alarm bells went off in his head, and he snatched his hand away from the ignition and reached for the weapon in his pocket, cursing that he hadn't thought to pull it out and put it on the seat next to him. A shadow fell over him from the left, and he reached out to open the door and slam it into whoever was there.

But the door fell away before he could touch the handle. And a second later there was something cold and hard pressing into his left temple that could only be the barrel of a gun.

Winchester froze in place, one hand on his Glock, one hand hovering in midair where the door handle had been a second ago. "Both hands on the wheel," came a voice in German from outside of the car. "Slowly."

He carefully obeyed, flicking his gaze to the side to see the driver's side rearview mirror. Gold-rimmed glasses caught the streetlights, and his breath caught in his throat. God damn it, he thought. Well, he'd gotten away from them once. Surely he could do it again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

It took all of the willpower Jared had to keep slouched in the backseat with his head turned away as they rolled past the red BMW for the second time. The car had stopped a block away to let out Dorner and Heinrich, and the driver was cruising past their target once more. Once they had passed it, the dark-haired man lifted a cell phone to his head and said, "Ja, los." Then they rounded the corner and pulled to a stop.

Jared turned around in his seat, craning his neck to see what was going on. He watched with bated breath as the two BKA men strolled casually down opposite sides of the street and then moved fluidly in tandem towards the red car where a figure in an all-too-familiar long, dark coat was climbing behind the wheel.

A second later, Dorner had yanked the driver's door open and was aiming his gun inside, while Heinrich waited on the opposite side of the vehicle with his weapon drawn as well.

A tense few seconds passed, and Jared realized his hands were clenched into fists on his lap. He watched as Dorner hauled the man out of the car, and even from this distance, the features were clear. "That's him," he burst out. He turned to face the driver, who was watching him closely. "That's him," he said, trying to sound more confident and calm.

The dark-haired man nodded. A second later his phone rang, and he flipped it open. "Ja," was all he said before closing it again. "Come," he said to Jared, climbing out of the car.

Jared nervously followed the driver, rubbing his hands over the upper arms of his suit jacket in the chill of the outside air. The narrow street was funneling the wind right at him, but at the moment, he didn't care. His eyes were fixed on the man who'd tormented and threatened him all night, the killer who'd been caught and was about to be brought to justice.

As they drew closer, he saw that Winchester had been dragged around the car, his back now against the passenger side door. His hands were clasped behind his head, which was being forced upwards by the barrel of Heinrich's gun under his jaw. Dorner was carefully checking over their captive for weapons, and when he dug around the man's ankles and pulled forth a small knife, the green eyes closed momentarily before opening to glare daggers at the man with the glasses.

Dorner stood up and moved backwards, keeping his gun out but pointed at the ground. Jared watched as the man looked around the street, no doubt checking for any passersby who might be at risk should something go wrong. For his part, Jared kept behind the driver, whose bulk was between him and the three men at the car.

"So, the jaguar is finally caged." Heinrich was slowly moving the gun back and forth across Winchester's neck, practically caressing his skin with the barrel. Jared noticed a slight hitch in Winchester's breath at the touch of the gun, but the man's lip stayed curled up in a sneer.

He frowned. It was kind of weird for a cop to be taunting a suspect like that, particularly someone who was more like FBI than a policeman. But if they'd been chasing this guy for as long as they said they had, and he was really as dangerous as they said, he supposed they might feel more than a little vindication at having finally caught him.

"That's him," Jared said firmly as they came within a few feet, watching as the green eyes flickered to his and widened in recognition. "Dean Winchester, right?"

"Oh, God." Winchester looked at the man in front of him, looking more defeated than he had a moment ago. "How'd you manage this?"

"They're with the German FBI," Jared said, unable to hide the trace of smugness in his voice at seeing his former captor trapped. "They've been tracking you for a long time."

"I bet they have," Winchester muttered. Jared could see his eyebrows drawing together hard enough to form little half-moons at their inside corners. "You wouldn't have been following all the way from the hotel or you'd have made a move long before now. Chernak didn't send you—you were staking him out."

"We figured you would come to tie up your loose ends." Heinrich hefted a gun in his left hand, and Jared recognized it as the one that had been used to keep him captive earlier tonight. "We were correct."

Winchester's lips pressed together, and his eyes again cut towards where Jared stood before looking back and forth between the three Germans. "You know he has nothing to do with this," he said to the man holding a gun to his head. "I'm sure he'd be happy to forget this whole night ever happened."

"He can identify you," Dorner said in a low voice from where he stood a few feet away. Then he leaned forward and his voice dropped even further, so that Jared could barely hear it. "He can identify all of us."

A cold chill shot down Jared's spine that had nothing to do with the wind.

He was suddenly aware that the driver was no longer in front of him, but was standing off to the side, his right arm tucked inside his coat. He looked at Dorner to see the man watching him closely from behind his gold-rimmed glasses, his own gun and the one he'd taken from Winchester glinting in either hand.

When he looked back at his former captor, it wasn't anger or fear he saw on his face. It was a warning. And it was meant for him.

Jared cleared his throat, his heart starting to pound hard like it hadn't for, oh, the past fifteen minutes. "So, uh, do I have to give a statement or something? 'Cause it's kind of cold out here."

There was no reply, and the prickles of ice forming in his stomach solidified into a hard ball. Jared shifted his weight slightly, wondering how easy it was to fake a German FBI badge and why he hadn't realized that any normal law enforcement officer wouldn't have let him out of the car but would have shut the suspect up in a vehicle first and brought Jared to him for identification.

"Hey, Padalecki." The familiar if hated baritone cut through the night air, and he looked over at his former captor as confusion circled through him.

Winchester waited until Jared's eyes were locked on his and then barked, "Run!" as he brought his arms down sharply and made a lunge to his right.

Jared's eyes widened, and he cast a quick glance at the driver before diving away from the arm that was reaching for him.

His long legs barely got two strides in before he felt a hand latch onto his shoulder. He twisted away, but out of the corner of his eye he saw something dark descending rapidly towards his head.

The last thing he saw was Dean Winchester's horrified expression before everything went black.

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Winchester wouldn't have thought that six-and-a-half feet of muscle could crumple to the ground so quickly. But the man with the gun obviously knew what he was doing, and the precise strike of the gun barrel on Jared's temple felled the tall man like a tree.

His own sideways lunge was aborted by the gunman in front of him, who spun him around and jammed the Walther into his neck from behind, forcing his head up while pressing his body forward into the car.

From the awkward angle at which his head was being held, Dean made himself watch as they rolled an unconscious Jared face down on the sidewalk and yanked his hands behind him, fastening his wrists together tightly with plastic cable ties. His own hands flattened against the cold metal of the car roof, he kept watching as they bound Jared's ankles the same way.

If it wasn't for him, if he hadn't randomly picked Padalecki to be his hostage and hauled him around Berlin, the guy wouldn't be a prisoner of these men. And there was no doubt what their final plans were for both of them. So he made himself keep watching as the two other men lifted Jared by the shoulders and knees, blood trickling down the side of his shaggy-haired head, and dragged him towards the Mercedes a few car-lengths away.

God, what rotten luck that kid had: first being grabbed by Dean and then getting taken in by the same men they should be trying to get away from. And now it was Dean's fault they were cramming Jared in the backseat and taking him off somewhere to put a bullet in his head. It was Dean's responsibility that they would be dumping the young doctor's body in a remote location, leaving his family to wonder why they never heard from him again.

Dean. Was that even really his name?

The car door slammed, and the man with the gold-rimmed glasses stood up and dusted off his hands, regarding Dean from across the street with narrowed eyes. "We are professionals," he said, this time in German. "He could identify all of us. Surely you weren't going to let him go?"

But I was, he thought automatically, knowing that it was the truth. Knowing that it didn't mesh with what these men thought him to be, knowing it as clearly as he knew how to use a dozen different kinds of weapons and speak as many languages. He filed that away to think about later, when he wasn't watching a man who was his responsibility being taken away to be executed.

"An der Schillingbrücke," the leader of the group said to the dark-haired man.

Dean's blood ran cold at the same time a small spark of hope flared within him as he watched the dark-haired man get into the car with his unconscious passenger. They weren't driving Padalecki out of town to get rid of him. They were taking him a few miles away to a bridge that linked the former east and west sides of the city, his body to be dumped in the River Spree.

If Dean could get free—and he knew he was capable of it, even if his leg had been grazed by a bullet and he was at the wrong end of a gun wielded by a very proficient man—he could keep it from happening.

"You have done us a favor," said the man with the glasses, motioning towards the car that was pulling away down the narrow street. "It would have been hard to explain to him why we were not going to the police station. This way there are two of us to watch you instead of him, hmm?"

His mind raced. That meant he had to move now, while the second man was still on the far side of the car, while Dean could use the BMW as a shield if the German drew a weapon. He couldn't move his hands from the top of the car without his captor noticing, but a well-placed kick to the kneecap should take him out.

"Seine Hände", the leader said to the man behind Dean.

The gun suddenly vanished from under his chin, and he started to turn his head to see what was going on. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the gunman raising the weapon high in the air, and Dean instinctively started to duck out of the way, not wanting to go down the same way Jared had.

But the gun—or the club that it had become—wasn't aimed at his head. He realized a fraction of a second too late that it was swinging towards his hands, still spread on top of the car. He desperately tried to jerk away, but the hand suddenly gripping his right forearm kept him in place, and he could only watch in horror as the gun swung down and smashed the three middle fingers of his right hand.

Dean barely bit back a scream as pain engulfed his hand. "Fuck!" he shouted, instinctively trying to draw his hand towards him in response to the agony sheeting through his fingers. In the back of his mind, underneath the white-hot fire spreading up his arm, he knew that he only had a second in which to act, or both hands would be rendered useless and then he might as well be dead already.

"God damn it!" he shouted for good measure, taking his left hand off the roof of the car as if to protect it from the forthcoming second blow. As he bent over, turning his back to the man behind him, he gave his left wrist a flick, feeling with relief the small, sharp knife they hadn't found while frisking him sliding down into his hand.

"Nein!" the man with the gold-rimmed glasses shouted, taking a step forward and raising Dean's own Glock to point at him.

It was too late.

Winchester's left arm was swinging backward, the blade extending as he swept his arm around to bury the small knife in his captor's back. He kept moving as he heard a surprised grunt of pain, rotating around to put the wounded man's body between himself and the bullets that were already being fired from the leader's gun.

His captor let out a cry as one of those bullets thudded into his chest. From behind him, Dean reached up with his damaged right hand and pressed his useless fingers against the man's hand, shifting his arm so the weapon pointed towards the direction of fire.

As he had hoped, the man's instinctive response to being fired on took over, and the dying man in his arms pulled the trigger once, twice, three times. With Dean aiming the gun, two bullets sailed into the closest wall.

But one found its mark.

The man with the gold-rimmed glasses staggered back a step, clapping his hand to his gut. His final shot went wild, the gun flying out of his hand to clatter across the pavement.

With his left hand, Dean pulled the gun out of his former captor's hand and stepped back. The man let out a final gurgle and fell, the knife driving further into his body as he landed hard on his back.

The street went dead silent.

Breathing hard, Dean leaned over, gripping the Walther tight in his left hand. He looked for the first time at his right hand. All five fingers were bright red with blood, the middle three digits already swelling and turning purple beneath the red streaks. "Son of a bitch," he muttered, cradling the injured limb up to his chest. How the hell was he going to drive like this?

Well, he'd have to figure it out—the car carrying Padalecki was probably already at the river, the man's life now measured in minutes.

Dean reached down and laid the gun on the ground before fumbling through the dead man's pockets for the keys to the stolen red car that had been taken from him a moment ago. Gritting his teeth every time a movement jarred his hand, he dug through the jacket and pants pockets before pulling out the key ring. Then he used his foot to roll the blond over and pull the knife out of his back, wiping it as clean as he could on the denim jacket. Dean stared at the blade for a moment, wondering how to get it back into its hidden sheath with only one hand.

A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he whipped his head up to see motion on the other side of the BMW. Apparently the man with the glasses had been down, but not out, and he was lifting another weapon with shaky hands, pulling the trigger as Dean dived out of the way.

He automatically reached out with his right hand to break his fall, but the bolts of pain shooting up from his fingers as they contacted the pavement made him cry out and crash to the ground, his head hitting the pavement hard before he could stop his fall.

He fought to stay conscious, knowing that he was dead if he passed out. Taking in a deep breath and focusing through the black dots swarming around his vision, Dean rolled over twice and reached out with his left hand for his Glock, now only a few feet away. His fingers closed around the grip, and, still rolling, he fired two shots underneath the car at the other man on the ground.

A sharp cry told him he'd hit his mark, and he waited, panting hard to keep the oxygen flowing though his blood and keep himself conscious.

This time, the street stayed quiet.

He finally rolled onto his back, staring up at the night sky and blinking rapidly, feeling a steady trickle of blood wending its way down his temple and back into his hair. The targets were down, but he couldn't rest. There was something he had to do—someone was depending on him, someone needed him to get there before it was too late. Now the side of his head was throbbing the way it always did when he was exhausted, the older injury adding to the fire burning in his fingers, the combination making it impossible to think clearly.

Memories were suddenly slipping and sliding around each other in his aching head: terrified blue-green eyes locked onto his in the very same street he was lying in, brown hair turning slick with blood under his fingers as empty hazel eyes stared up into the night sky, the bark of gunshots echoing through city streets as his lungs heaved in breaths of salty air while his feet pounded against cobblestone pavement. He was going to be too late, he knew it as surely as he didn't know his own name, but he had to try. He had to run, had to get to the water. He had to save Sam.

No, Dean thought, frowning in concentration, a small flicker of reality flaring through the confusion in his head. That wasn't the tall man's name. It was Jared. They were going to kill Jared, and it was going to be his fault. There would be even more blood on his hands, and when he looked down at his injured fingers and saw that it was more than a metaphor, he nearly passed out right there.

"An der Schillingbrücke," he said out loud, the words rasping out of his throat, forcing him back into awareness. "Move your ass," he added to himself, using desperation like a crutch to lift him to his feet.

He wasn't going to fail this time.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

When Jared came to, his head was throbbing like it hadn't since the morning after that frat party junior year when he swore off tequila. It took only a second for him to realize that he would have much preferred a massive hangover to the situation in which he found himself.

He was lying on his back in the rear seat of a moving car, with something tickling his temple and the side of his head. As a coppery scent filled his nostrils, he realized with dismay that what he felt was blood. He tried to reach up to assess his injury, but he was unable to move his hands from where they were trapped underneath him. What the...

Something was cutting into his wrists, and he felt around with his fingers until he felt plastic under his fingertips. A second later, he realized with a shock that his ankles were bound the same way. Why was he tied up like—

Then Jared's last few seconds of consciousness came slamming back to him, and he froze. Winchester had told him to run. Dean Winchester—the assassin who'd been holding him at gunpoint all night and had threatened to kill him any number of times—had looked at him with a gun at his head and fear in his eyes and told him to run for his life.

And he'd apparently made it about two steps before getting caught and trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Jared felt the car make a hard turn, the engine purring as they accelerated away from the corner. He swallowed hard. He was in real trouble here. It didn't take much imagination to figure out what was going to happen when this drive ended. These guys weren't the cops they'd claimed to be, and they weren't taking him anywhere good, not after knocking him out and tying him up.

The car lurched beneath him once, and then again; it felt like they had gone up on a curb. The vehicle was moving more slowly, with the crunch of tires on asphalt replaced by the soft swish of grass being crushed by the wheels. They made a sharp turn and went down a slope, Jared bracing himself against the seat as best he could.

They rolled down a hard surface for a few more yards, streetlights shining in his eyes through the open window. He could hear traffic noises from above and the lap of water from outside the car and figured they must be under a bridge. When the car rolled to a stop in the shadows, he looked up and saw the curve of concrete that confirmed he was right.

Oh God. Jared gulped hard, suddenly feeling more alone and frightened than he'd ever been in his life. There was only person who might possibly know where he was: the killer who'd threatened Jared multiple times tonight and who was at the mercy of these same men. Why would he care if the driver shot Jared and dumped him in the river? That was the only reason they could be down here, after all. He'd seen enough TV and movies to know that.

Swallowing back a rush of fear, Jared listened as the driver turned off the ignition and climbed out of the car. His heart was pounding so hard that it hurt, but he forced himself to draw slow breaths and keep his head clear. He'd gotten away from an armed man once tonight; was it too much to ask that he do it again? He drew his legs up slightly, hoping it would be the passenger's side door at his feet that opened, waiting tensely for what was probably going to be his only chance to get away.

A moment later, the door he had hoped for opened, and he waited until he felt a hand on his ankle. Then he lashed out with his feet, barely registering the surprised grunt and whoosh of breath before drawing back his legs and kicking out again.

He let out a yelp when a hand closed around his ankle and twisted hard, forcing him to rotate his body towards the back of the seat or risk having his ankle sprained. He struggled against the grip, but soon he found himself being pulled from the car by both legs, his restrained hands unable to grab onto anything.

His ass hit the ground hard, and if he hadn't tucked his head forward, it would have smacked against the side of the car. With all his strength, Jared pulled in hard with his legs before kicking them outwards, hoping to plant his feet in the driver's gut.

He heard an "Oof!" as the grip on his ankles gave way. Yanking hard, he broke loose and tried to scramble to his feet, letting out a frustrated groan when the plastic tie around his ankles denied him movement. Jared made it to his knees when his side exploded in pain, the kick to his ribs driving him back to the ground. Trying to roll away, he came up hard against the car tire.

When he looked up, he was staring into the barrel of a gun.

There was no sound for a moment except for both men catching their breath. Any fear Jared had thought he felt earlier in the evening was nothing compared to the sheer terror that was racing through his veins right now. He'd been kidnapped and threatened and heard one man kill another, but all of that paled in comparison to the grim reality of what he was facing right now.

Then there was a click Jared recognized as the safety coming off the weapon. "No, please," he said, trying to scramble backwards over the concrete with his hands bound behind him, knowing it was useless but still unwilling to accept the inevitable.

The man said something in German that he didn't understand, but the note of finality in his voice was unmistakable. Then Jared did give in, turning his head and squeezing his eyes shut, his mouth dry and his heart pounding out its final beats as he waited for the end.

A second later, a gunshot echoed harshly off the concrete walls of the riverbank.

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Winchester didn't know where he was going, but he let instinct drive him the same way it had for the past six weeks. Instinct told him which turns to take and how fast he could push the BMW around street corners, tires squealing in the night air as he raced towards the bridge.

It seemed like an eternity with the clock ticking down in his head, but it was probably only five minutes before he pulled up a block away from his destination, climbing out of the car as he drew with his intact left hand the Glock he'd retrieved from his would-be killer.

He limped to the steps leading down to the water, pausing to look over the heavy stone railing. About twenty feet below, on the near side of the dark blue Mercedes, he saw a man in firing stance, aiming at something on the ground, and his heart skipped a beat.

In the next second, he heard a broken "please" in the same voice that had begged him in the front seat of a car no more than an hour ago, and he turned to see Jared Padalecki's bound figure lying on his back near the rear of the car, his eyes wide with fear as he struggled uselessly to get away from the death that was staring him in the face.

He heard a gunshot echoing off thick stone walls, his own running footsteps coming to a halt at the sight in front of him, his throat closing with terror as he saw the dark stain spreading onto the grey cobbled street underneath the still, sprawling figure of a tall, brown-haired man—

"No!" he shouted, his voice rough with grief. Reacting more to the past than the present, he automatically raised the Glock and pointed it at the gunman, pulling the trigger.

To his horror, the bullet pinged off the roof of the car, not only missing its mark, but alerting his target to his presence. He hadn't compensated for the fact that he was working left-handed, and the shot had gone wide.

The return fire came quickly, and it shocked him out of his reverie. Chips flew from the stone railing in front of him, and he squeezed off a shot in reply. "Jared, stay down!" he screamed as he half-leaned over the railing, not daring to follow his own advice as long as the doctor was still a target.

He heard a scraping sound on the concrete that meant the guy was trying to obey, and he raised his weapon to provide him cover.

The gunman was crouched by the front tire of the Mercedes, his gun pointed upward as if he was waiting for the right moment. In the next second, he fired.

Unable to evade the shot, Dean stumbled back at the punch to his left shoulder, nearly dropping the gun as he fell hard on his ass on the concrete steps. Waves of pain radiated outward from his shoulder, meeting the throbbing come up from his right hand to flare across his chest and render him breathless.

He shook his head, trying to force away the pain. Sam needed him. Sam was down there bleeding and helpless, and he wasn't going to fail him this time.

Staggering to his feet, he leaned heavily on the stone railing as he pushed himself upright. He peered over the railing and jerked back just in time as he heard the shot, the whine of the bullet almost simultaneously passing over his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the kid—Jared, not Sam—rolling underneath the trunk of the Mercedes, out of the line of fire for now.

Bracing the weight of his left arm on his right wrist, closing the slowly-numbing fingers of his left hand around the grip of the Glock, he fixed in his mind where the gunman was and exactly where he would have to aim the weapon. He took in a deep breath, biting the inside of his cheek hard and using the flash of pain to ground him against how much this was going to hurt.

Then, in one fluid movement, he stood up, aimed, and fired.

The shot was true, striking the gunman in the center of his chest. The dying man's weapon fired into the bridge embankment, his arms spreading wide as he slumped back against the hood of the car. Dean watched through pain-dulled eyes as the German toppled to the ground and went still.

Only then did he give in to the cry of agony that had been threatening to break forth from his lips after the recoil of the Glock sent shock waves up his arm and shoulder. His shirt was already sticking to his skin, and the thick wool coat he was still wearing was slowly soaking through with his blood, a darker stain spreading out through the black fabric. He leaned heavily against the railing, the gun clattering to the stone steps as his fingers finally lost their grip.

I did it, he thought tiredly. He let out a shaky sigh. There was one more thing to do, and then he could rest.

A rustle from below caught his attention, and he blearily looked down to see Jared's head poking out from beneath the trunk. He was looking at the dead man at the front of the car, and then his head slowly swung up until he was looking at Dean. The streetlight lit his features perfectly, the parade of shock and disbelief and confusion passing across them in order.

They looked at each other for a long moment.

Winchester levered himself upright and agonizingly made his way down the steps, both arms cradled against his chest, using his right arm to keep the pressure off his wounded left shoulder, each step jarring his smashed fingers where they curled against his chest. From the burning pain in his upper back, he figured the bullet had gone straight through. Two more holes for the collection, he thought dizzily as he stumbled onto the concrete at the base of the steps.

Padalecki had scrambled to a sitting position and was watching him approach with something like wary resignation. Then he must have seen the blood on Dean's coat and hands, for his eyes got huge. "Oh, my God," he said incredulously. "You've been shot!"

Dean went down to one knee next to him, fumbling at his left wrist for the knife that had saved him earlier tonight. "Turn around," he rasped out. He was half surprised when the doctor obeyed, turning his body away but twisting his head back around to watch.

He managed to pull the knife free, but he jarred his shoulder in doing so, and the fresh wave of pain had him gasping. He barely registered Padalecki's furrowed forehead as he caught his breath before clumsily sawing the knife blade through the plastic tied around Jared's wrists.

When the bonds had been cut, Dean looked up at him, squinting through suddenly blurry vision, and took in a breath. "You'll be okay," he said, the words thick on his tongue. "Th' other two are…down. Find a police station. With real cops…damn it. Tell 'em…everything." Then he clumsily laid the knife at Jared's side before collapsing backwards onto the concrete, barely noticing the bright flare of pain as his injured back hit the ground, his last reserves of strength spent.

The rustling sounds to his right registered as Padalecki cutting his ankles loose, but the shadow that fell over him made him open his eyes. "What're you doin'?" he muttered, feebly trying to bat away the doctor's hands as he folded open the blood-soaked coat and examined Dean's shoulder.

"You saved me," Jared murmured, confusion coloring his tone although his hands were steady on Dean's arm and shoulder. "But you got shot. I can help you."

"No, don't," he muttered back. "Don' bother. You're safe." His head lolled to the side. "'S okay now." 'S okay, Sam, was his last, muddied thought.

And then a wave of darkness rushed up, and he fell into it gratefully.

Chapter Text

The feeling of swimming his way up through dark, pain-filled waters was all too familiar. But this time, when his head broke the metaphorical surface and his eyes opened, he didn't see a whitewashed fisherman's hut with the blue Adriatic outside. Instead, there was a slanted, water-stained ceiling and thick, dingy brown curtains drawn tight over the windows. Instead of a cautious but friendly old man and woman watching over him, there was a tall figure slouched in the rickety chair in the opposite corner of the small room, eyes closed and head leaning back against the wall.

But just like last time, he was wide awake in an instant, and his entire body hurt like hell.

He struggled to sit up, feeling rough cotton rasp against his skin. He looked down to see his right hand immobilized in some kind of binding, the three middle fingers held out straight and taped together. There were white bandages wrapped in a complicated pattern around his left shoulder, a spot of dull crimson marring the surface. Under the cheap sheets, he could feel the fabric of boxers against his upper thighs and groin and another bandage wrapped around his right leg, where the bullet fired inside the Hotel Bristol had grazed him.

"This isn't the first time you've been shot recently, is it?"

Without moving his head, he shifted his gaze to the man in the corner. Jared Padalecki was slowly standing up, his head nearly brushing the slanted ceiling. He was wearing the same dress shirt and pants as before, both looking worse for the wear. He had a butterfly bandage at his left temple and a bruise on the cheek below it.

He had Dean's gun in his hand, his long fingers curled securely around the grip.

Dean met the doctor's eyes, seeing the unanswered question still lurking there. The memory of pain flashed through him, sudden and sharp. Not the bullet that had pierced him last night, but a more powerful punch to his chest, followed by a fiery sting in his head and then falling into the cold embrace of the water.

He shook his head sharply, holding back a wince at the subsequent, familiar throbbing in his temple. "No, it's not," he agreed.

There was silence. Then Padalecki cleared his throat. "There's painkillers on the nightstand; you'll probably want them now that you're awake."

He ignored the suggestion, not exactly keen on going unconscious again anytime soon. Instead he asked, "So what's the damage?"

Cool blue-green eyes regarded him for a moment. Then the doctor said, "Your fingers have been splinted. Two were broken and one was badly bruised." His voice took on the cadence of someone who was comfortable with the routine of listing injuries incurred and treatments taken. "The bullet in your shoulder went straight through; you were lucky it didn't hit an artery. You'll need to see if your arm still has its full mobility and feeling, because there are a lot of nerves running along that shoulder. If that’s the case, it should heal without complications if you can keep it immobile for the next six days or so."

Dean let out a snort. How likely was that? The people who were after him weren't going to take a break so he could lie around in bed for a week. He might have taken care of the three who'd ambushed him and the doctor, but there were sure to be more where they came from.

Padalecki went on, "Your right leg was grazed, but it was a minor injury, as was the cut on your head. You haven't exhibited any signs of concussion, but I'll have to check again now that you're awake. Aside from a few contusions on your lower torso, that's all."

He supposed "contusions" was doctor-speak for the bright purple bruises over his ribs that made him ache just looking at them. "So how much do I owe you?" he asked with a lopsided smirk.

"Maybe I already took what you owe." Padalecki nodded at the small round table in the center of the room, where a money belt was lying with the zippered pouch open. Dean grimaced as he recognized the belt as the same one that had been wrapped around his waist. "A hundred thousand euros is a lot to be carrying around at once."

"I'm usually armed," he shot back, his gaze dropping to the Glock in the other man's hand.

Jared returned the gaze with a half-smirk, and he wondered if the doctor's new look of confidence came from the gun he was carrying or the fact that his former captor was practically immobilized in the bed. "Who are you, anyway?" Jared asked.

He shrugged his good shoulder. "Doesn't really matter, does it?"

"Well, I think it does." Padalecki took a step forward. His wrinkled white shirt was adorned with streaks of dried blood: the smear on the collar looked like the remnants of what had trickled down his face after he was knocked out on the street, while the smudges on the front had probably come from patching up Dean's wounds. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, revealing tanned, well-muscled forearms, and the ease with which he held the gun indicated he wasn't a stranger to firearms.

Damn it, next time pick a hostage you can physically control, Dean muttered to himself. Preferably one who's not from Texas.

Padalecki came forward a few more steps. Dean wasn't exactly in any shape to be making sudden moves, but he still found himself mentally calculating distance and trajectory and where he would have to grab and twist to disarm the man and drive him to his knees.

How in the hell do I know these things?

The watchful look in Jared's eyes indicated that he knew to stay out of range. "I found the passports in your coat—in my coat," he said. "There's at least five different names and nationalities among them, but none from the U.S., which is strange 'cause you sound like an American."

"Think you're clever for figuring that out, do you?" Dean asked with a raised eyebrow, wishing like hell that he'd gotten a chance to look at those passports back at Chernak's apartment. His shoulder was beginning to throb, but he set his jaw and blocked it out.

"I've had a lot of time to think about it," came the acidic response.

"And now you should be going," he replied. "Thanks for the band-aids. I'd appreciate it if you left me the gun and the money, but I'll understand if you don't."

"God damn it, tell me who you are!"

He didn't flinch at the shout, of course, even when it was accompanied by his own gun being pointed right at him. But it did give him a measure of respect for the young doctor, who'd been thrown into a crazy and terrifying situation beyond his control, had been seconds away from being executed, and was still managing to keep his head and even make demands in return.

It also made Dean figure that he did owe the guy as much of an explanation as he could give him. After all, he could have been left for dead, and instead he'd been cleaned and bandaged and protected. That had to be worth something.

So he drew in a breath, looked Jared in the eye, and said clearly, "I don't know."

Padalecki made a scoffing noise. "Yeah, right. Your name's Dean Winchester, isn't it?"

"That's what they said," he replied evenly. "Considering they told you they were the police and that they were there to help you, I'd be kinda skeptical of that."

"So when they told me you were an assassin, that was made up, too?" Padalecki retorted.

"Could be," he answered. "Or it could be the truth. I honestly can't tell you." Chernak's words rang sharply through his head, but he filed them away to think about later when his head wasn't hurting so much and he wasn't being held at shaky gunpoint.

There were horizontal lines forming across the taller man's forehead as his eyebrows scrunched up. "So what's your real name?" Jared demanded.

"I don't know." He licked his lower lip. "I don't know who I am or where I'm from or anything before I woke up six weeks ago in a Croatian fishing village with all these holes in me." He gestured at the two small, round scars on his chest and abdomen; the one on his thigh was hidden under the blankets, but the doctor had probably already seen it. "There was a British doctor there who had retired after losing one too many malpractice suits. He did his best to fix me up, but he couldn't do much about what's in my head. Or what's not there, as the case may be."

"Nice story," Padalecki snapped back. His arms were visibly shaking from holding up the gun for so long, but the sheer stubbornness written all over his face was a good indication he wasn't giving in any time soon.

"It's the truth," he replied. He slowly lifted his good hand to his right temple and turned his head slightly away. "You saw this, right?"

He watched Jared's eyes track the movement and settle on the scar on the side of his head, the furrow plowed into the bone right above his ear that his short hair didn't do much to hide. It was the mark of a bullet that had come within a hair's breadth of taking away his life altogether. Instead, as far as he and the British doc had been able to put together, it had literally scrambled part of his brain and taken away the memory of who he was and what he was doing with three bullet holes in him.

"Yeah, I saw that," the taller man replied, hesitation flickering across his face. "You were pretty lucky."

Dean let out a snort and turned back towards him. "Lucky would mean I didn't have part of my brain missing. Lucky would mean I knew who the hell I am and why I can do all these things normal people can't do, like overpower a guy who's bigger than me without breaking a sweat."

"I'm not overpowered right now," Padalecki shot back, his blue-green eyes hard and bright.

"No, you're not," he agreed quietly. He moved his splinted hand over to the bandage wrapped around his shoulder. "And yet you still did this."

There was silence for a moment. Then Jared lifted his chin and said, "Yeah, I did." He slowly lowered the Glock back to his side, but his piercing gaze never wavered.

"Not that I'm not grateful," Dean answered, struggling to sit more upright. "But why you did it, and why you're still here, I have no fucking idea."

"You came for me," Jared replied simply. "You saved my life."

"Oh, God." He rolled his eyes. "You should have left me there and run as far and as fast as you could. You still should. You have no idea what you've gotten yourself into here."

"It's a little late for you to worry about that," Jared muttered darkly. Then louder, he said, "You tried to get them to let me go, and then you told me to run. You should have left me there, but you didn't. And I need you to tell me why."

"Like you said earlier," he responded with a tilt of his head, "you could identify me. I had to make sure they were going to finish the job."

"Bullshit. If it wasn't for you, I'd be floating in the Spree right now with a bullet in my head." The words were spoken calmly enough, but the doctor was obviously employing some tight control to keep his hands and voice from shaking.

"If it wasn't for me, you'd be on your plane back to L.A." Jared's brow furrowed again, and Dean admitted, "I was listening to your speech."

Padalecki's face blanched and he started to raise the gun again. "You were waiting for me that whole time?"

"Not really." He drew in a breath and watched closely as he went on, "I was waiting for a chance to make my way out. It was random luck that you happened to come back there when you did."

Padalecki froze. Fear and disbelief and anger flickered across his features in rapid succession. Then he lowered the gun and looked away, shaggy hair flying about as he abruptly shook his head. "Some luck that was."

Dean silently agreed.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jared stared hard at the far wall, barely registering the brown water stains on the peeling mustard-yellow wallpaper, hardly able to believe that it was random luck that had brought him here. If he hadn't been so stupidly eager to text Megan, if he'd stayed in the damn conference room instead of sneaking into the back hallway for privacy—like anyone could overhear a text message—then none of this would have happened.

No, that's probably not true. His head whipped back around to see Winchester, or whatever the hell his name was, openly watching him from a few feet away. "But if it wasn't me, you'd have picked out someone else, right?" he asked harshly. "Kidnapped someone else out of the hotel?"

"Probably." His patient's eyes were leveled on his, muddy green in the dim light of the single shabby lamp. "I would have done whatever I had to to get out of there."

Jared drew in a deep breath, struck by the blunt honesty in the words. But that begged the question he'd been waiting to ask since the moment he'd realized his former captor had become his rescuer. "Then why did you risk your life to come and find me?"

That time, Winchester did look away, his strong fingers fiddling with the edge of the bed sheet that covered him up to the waist. The corner of his mouth quirked up. "You were the only doctor I knew in town," he said in a voice that was clearly trying for cockiness but just as clearly came up short.

"When I first saw you there, at the bridge." Jared realized his voice was shaking and took another deep breath to steady himself, willing away the memory of staring up the barrel of a gun and seeing nothing but his death. "You could barely hold yourself up. I thought you were going to tumble right over and fall down those stairs. But then you saw me and you looked...terrified."

He ended the sentence on a questioning note, but there really was no other way to put it. The man who'd been nothing but ice cold and threatening all night—except for the moment when he'd told Jared to run—had suddenly had a look of fear on his face to match Jared's own, and the confusion it engendered in him had been enough to momentarily push aside his own terror and roll out of the way.

He didn't get a response, and then another light bulb clicked on in his head. "You don't know," Jared said slowly. "You can't remember what it was that seeing me like that reminded you of, can you?"

"What makes you think it reminded me of something?" Winchester said in a low voice, his attention focused on the frayed edge of the sheet he was picking at.

Jared reached behind him and laid the gun down on the table, noticing how Winchester's eyes tracked the movement. "Because you'd just spent three hours holding me at gunpoint and threatening to kill me if I stepped out of line," he said, proud of how steady his voice was. "And then after being captured and beaten, you didn't run away or try to find help for yourself. You came to rescue me. And you looked scared to death that you weren't gonna get there in time." He gave a wry half-grin. "I'd like to think that I'm that awesome that you'd do a complete 180 on my account." He shook his head slightly and watched as Winchester's gaze flickered up to his. "But I don't think it's me you were seeing there."

His patient stayed quiet for a moment, his intense gaze searching Jared's face. Finally he jerked his chin towards the gun sitting on the table. "You sure you want to let go of that?" he asked quietly, a trace of warning winding through his words.

Jared wet his lips. "Yeah, I'm sure," he said, hating the uncertainty that hovered at the edge of his voice. He cleared his throat and added more firmly, "I don't think I'm in any danger from you anymore."

"I don't think that's quite true," Dean replied.

A thrill of fear ran down Jared's spine, and for a moment he was afraid he had completely misjudged the other man. But he was going on, "I'm afraid that you're in a helluva lot of danger right now because of me." He leaned forward slightly, his eyes pinning Jared in place. "But I swear to God, Jared, I am not gonna hurt you."

They stared at each other for a long moment. Jared thought that this had to be the weirdest situation he'd ever been in. He was actually contemplating trusting a man who had spent the first several hours of their acquaintance regularly threatening to kill him, a man who even as beat up and bruised as he was could probably get to the weapon on the table and use it against him before he could do a thing to stop him.

Then he remembered how the last thing this man had done before losing consciousness, his fingers crushed and his shoulder spilling forth his life's blood from a gunshot wound delivered by Jared's would-be executioner, had been to cut Jared loose and to tell him that he was safe.

And he realized that he wasn't contemplating trusting the green-eyed man—he was doing it.

"I believe you," Jared replied quietly, watching the surprise and relief flicker across his former captor's face. He hesitated for a moment, then because it felt like the right thing to do, he stepped forward and held out his hand. "Jared Padalecki," he said firmly.

The man's full lips twitched. "Hell if I know," he replied, reaching out to carefully take Jared's hand in his left one without jostling his shoulder. "Dean Winchester's as good a name as any other, I guess."

Chapter Text

Dean's hand was warm in his own, the palm slightly callused, the grip strong. His long fingers weren't completely dwarfed by Jared's, although it was a close thing. After a second, he pulled his hand back and looked around the room, his sharp green eyes taking in every detail. "So where are we, anyway?"

Jared stared at him. "You don't know?"

Dean's eyes snapped back to his. "If I knew, I wouldn't be asking," came the growled reply. The tone of his voice was far too reminiscent of the man who'd kidnapped him, and before Jared knew it, he was taking a step back and looking over his shoulder to where the gun sat on the table.

When he looked back, Winchester had lifted his hands slightly, an apologetic look on his face. "Sorry," he muttered, dropping his gaze to the blanket draped over him.

Jared drew in a deep breath. Apparently just because he had decided to buy this guy's story didn't mean his body had. "Sorry," he echoed. He forced the corners of his mouth up into a tentative half-smile and tried to relax his shoulders. "Guess I'm a little jumpy."

"Don't blame you, what with getting kidnapped and all," Winchester replied with a raised eyebrow.

"Yeah, I guess not," Jared replied, his mouth going dry at the reminder. Then he shook his head slightly. "You told me to come here, you know."

The quizzical look he got in response was full of enough confusion to make Jared totally believe the amnesia story. "I did?" Dean asked, his forehead drawing into a frown that put deep crescents at the inside corners of his eyebrows.

"Yeah." Jared shuffled his feet. "After you passed out, I was trying to haul you into the car, and I guess I jostled you enough to wake you up again. You gave me an address and a name, and I didn't know what else to do, so I found it on the GPS and drove there. Here."

The simple words belied the terror and uncertainty that had warred within him, the desire to get the hell out as fast as possible countered by the need to save the man who had risked everything to rescue him. It had been obvious that Winchester would bleed to death if Jared left him there by the river, but he hadn't had the faintest idea of where to take him. Somehow a hospital didn't seem like the greatest idea, given the badges the two men had shown him and the possibility that they were law enforcement, if not the squeaky-clean variety.

Then he'd clumsily knocked the wounded man's shoulder against the backseat while depositing him in the car. The grunt of pain that followed had brought enough consciousness with it to enable the green-eyed man to mutter a name and an address, not that Jared could make heads or tails of it at first. But once he'd figured it out, he'd driven off, leaving the dead man and his gun behind, speeding through the quiet nighttime streets with his heart pounding every time he saw a police car or a dark Mercedes.

The knowing look on Dean's face said he knew there was more to the story, but all he said was, "So where is here?"

Reaching behind him to snag a chair from the table, Jared lowered himself into it with a wince at his stiff back. "North of the city, in a town called Oranienburg. The woman who owns the house rents out rooms, and she took my money—well, your money—without asking any questions. I convinced her to get some supplies, too." He nodded at the pile of bandages and syringes and medicines on the table. "Then I did her a favor, and she agreed to get my stuff from my hotel room. She should be back soon."

That got him a long, measured stare with questions visible all over Winchester's handsome face. Jared returned the stare unflinchingly for at least five seconds, until a huge yawn crept up on him and threatened to split open his jaw.

"You didn't sleep all night, did you?" Dean asked curiously.

"The first night, no," Jared replied, reaching up to push his bangs back off his forehead. He'd gotten a fancy winter coat before coming here that was now a wreck of bloodstains and dirt, but he hadn't gotten around to getting a haircut. "It took a while to patch you up," he added, which was definitely an understatement.

He'd almost given up a couple of times, almost said hell with it and called an ambulance to take the injured man to a sterile emergency room with a doctor whose hands weren't shaking with exhaustion and the vestiges of being afraid for his life. But something in his memories always stopped him, whether the badges and the brutal efficiency of the men who'd trapped both of them or the relief in Winchester's voice when he'd said, "You're safe." So he'd plowed on, sutured and bandaged and dosed until he was sure his patient was going to make it.

At that point, he'd realized there was only the one bed in the room, and the floor didn't look comfy enough to sleep on. On the other hand, he could tip the chair back against the wall and get almost as good a nap as in the back room at the clinic at home. Good thing he was used to functioning on little to no sleep.

"The first night?" Dean was asking carefully.

Jared nodded. "I gave you a sedative to give your body a chance to start healing. It's noon on Thursday now; you were shot on Tuesday night."

He expected an expression of surprise. What he did not expect was for the other man to throw aside the sheet and blankets and start trying to lever himself to his feet. "Hey, whoa," Jared said, bounding out of his chair and taking two steps to place a hand on his patient's good shoulder. The skin was warm but not feverish, as it had been every time he'd checked over the past two days. "Where do you think you're going?"

"Somewhere else," Winchester muttered, trying to shake off Jared's hand. "I've been here way too long. It's too easy to track me down. If I know where this place is, other people do, too."

"You shouldn't be moving any more than you have to," Jared replied, pressing down harder. "You're damn lucky you haven't gotten an infection, and it could still happen. I don't have any way to replace the blood you've lost. And you certainly shouldn't be getting out of bed for a couple of days yet."

"I don't have a choice," Dean snarled back, eyes narrowing.

This time, Jared barely noticed the harshness of the man's voice, his doctor-with-stubborn-patient mode having taken over pretty much completely. "Where are you gonna go, huh?" He looked down at the splinted hand Winchester was cradling to his chest. "How are you gonna shoot a gun?"

Dean shot him a sharp look. "I managed to save your ass by firing one, didn't I?"

"Yeah, and it just about killed you." Jared put on his sternest look and said, "You are not able to travel right now. If you don't rest up and let your body start knitting things back together, you won't heal properly, and then you'll be screwed." He waved his other hand in the air and went on, "You obviously depend on being in top physical condition to do whatever the hell it is you do, and if you try to go out there right now, you'll be a sitting duck for anyone who's looking for you."

"And why do you care?" Dean barked. The tone was sharp, but there was something lurking in his eyes that Jared couldn't quite read.

Jared set his jaw. "Because it's what I do."

Silence fell while they glared at each other.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Dean was the first one to look away, rubbing his splinted hand over his jaw. "Fine," he muttered. He jerked his chin towards the table and clumsily reached out to pull the covers back over him. Whoever they were, the owners of this dump didn't spend any more on heating than they did on decoration. "Then gimme those passports."

"Why?" Jared asked, a hint of belligerence still in his voice.

"Because I haven't looked at them yet," he retorted. He glanced sideways at the two white pills sitting next to a glass of water on the nightstand. God, those would go down good right about now.

The doctor's forehead crinkled. "What do you mean, you haven't looked at them yet? You were carrying them with you."

He let out a long-suffering sigh. "I picked them up at Chernak's place, but I've been kinda busy since then."

"Oh." Jared took a step back and looked at the multi-colored folders stacked neatly on the table. "You think one of them's got your name in it?"

"Maybe I'd know if I could see them," he shot back.

"Fine," Jared replied, reaching back with one long arm and snagging the top document in the pile. He tossed it onto Dean's lap and dropped into the chair. "I can't believe some of 'em can actually get you across a border."

"What do you mean?" he asked, studying the red cover stamped in gold with what looked like half a compass.

"Just look at the names," Jared said. "You'll see." He paused and gave a slight frown. "Or maybe you won't."

He flipped the little book open to see his photo next to a name stamped in black. "Robert Janssen," he read aloud, pronouncing the "J" like a "Y" to match the Swedish document.

"Yeah, like that one." Jared leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. "Wasn't he that double agent with the FBI?"

"No, that was Hanssen," Dean said absently as he looked over the rest of the information on the page. When Jared stayed silent, he looked up to see a confused expression on the doctor's face, and he quirked up the corner of his mouth. "Yeah, you'd think I could hold onto my own name if I could remember trivia like that."

"Maybe it's not trivia for you," Jared shrugged. "I mean, you could be FBI, or CIA, or something like that, right?"

Let us say there is a man who always advertises his kills.

His fingers tightened on the passport enough to make the laminated paper start to crinkle. "Yeah, I guess I could be," he said, dropping the document as though it were burning him.

"So does that sound familiar?" Jared asked. "Robert? Rob? Bob? Bobby?"

"Do I look like a Bobby to you?" he retorted with a raised eyebrow.

Jared tilted his head slightly to the side and contemplated him for a minute. Finally he said, "No, you're way too good-looking to be a Bobby. Or a Bob. Rob might work, though."

A second eyebrow joined the first, and he saw a slight flush spreading across Jared's cheeks. "Okay, then there's this one," the doctor said quickly, grabbing a navy passport with a gold crest and tossing it over.

He noted the New Zealand label on the front before looking for the name. "John Bonham," he read slowly.

Jared let out a snort. "Yeah, that's not going to help with the missing identity thing. But it's a good match to the one from Australia for James Page."

He looked up blankly. "I don't get it."

Now it was Jared's eyebrows that shot upwards. "Dude, you don't know Led Zeppelin?"

"Oh." He looked at the stern-faced picture of himself for a moment longer before dropping the passport on his lap and surreptitiously reaching for the two tablets on the nightstand, fumbling to pick them up with his thumb and pinky. "What else you got?"

Jared picked up the three remaining passports. "Well, I figure this one's no good either," he said as he flicked the Australian one at Dean. "So there's this." This time he reached out and handed over the document with Canada stamped on the front, watching carefully.

Dean gulped down the pills and then found the name. "Jack Harrison." He thought for a moment, automatically raising his left hand to scratch the back of his head before the pull in his shoulder reminded him that was a bad idea. "Nope," he finally said, looking through at the variety of stamps in the booklet. They were mostly from Europe and East Asia, all dates within the past year. Whoever he was, he sure got around, unless the cancellations were as fake as the document itself.

"What about James or John?" Jared asked. "Maybe the first name's right, even if the surname is fake." His eyes were intent on Dean's, as if he could read the answer on his face.

"You think I haven't tried this already?" he snapped back, leaning forward in the bed, remembering how the doc in Croatia had pushed him to do this very same thing. "Called myself Jim and Bob and Ted to see if anything rang a bell? I've done all that and gotten absolutely nowhere. Which means I either have a freakin' weird name or this doesn't stand a chance of working."

Jared looked at him for a long moment before slumping back in the chair, somehow managing to shrink in on himself despite those ridiculously long limbs. "I thought it was worth a try," he mumbled, eyes lowering to the floor.

Dean's eyes were drawn to the one remaining passport resting in Jared's hand, but then he sighed and sat back against the pillows. It wasn't likely that Chernak's pile of rock star passports was going to include his real name anyway. He wondered if the German had been holding onto them as an additional form of payment, or if they'd been a separate transaction from the assassination thing. "Thanks for trying," he muttered.

"You're welcome," Jared replied. There was a pause, and he rubbed the embossed cover of the deep red booklet in his hand with his thumb. "Hey, Jensen?" he asked casually.

Staring at Jared's long fingers, he absently replied, "What?"

It took a second for him to realize that his automatic response had come too easily. His head shot up. Jared's eyes were gleaming with excitement as he held out the final passport with an expectant look.

The green-eyed man accepted the booklet and looked past the UK cover to see his photo next to yet another name. "Jensen Ross," he read aloud. Then, more slowly, "Jensen. Ross."

There was silence in the room. Finally Jared asked, leaning so far forward it looked like he was going to topple out of the chair, "Is that it?"

"Could be." He ran the fingers of his good hand over the page, willing the unsmiling man in the photo to speak to him and tell him who he was. He shook his head and leaned back. "I don't know," he sighed.

"Let me try something." Jared waited until he was looking up, and then said, "Close your eyes."

Ingrained habit made him wary of the request, but he figured that he'd been unconscious with this man for thirty-six hours without any harm coming to him, so he obeyed. "Okay, now what?" he asked somewhat grumpily.

"Just listen." Jared cleared his throat. "Jensen Ross," he said briskly.

He listened.

"Jensen…" Jared's voice was warning, almost scolding, the stress on the second syllable.

He quirked up the corner of his mouth. "Is that supposed to be my mom?"

"Ha ha." There was a short pause. "Jensen?" This time it was querulous, unsure. "Jensen Ross?"

He turned his head to the side as if he was looking at someone across a room, although his eyes stayed shut. "Keep going," he ordered. Something was tickling at the back of his mind like a wall being eroded away by the ocean.

He heard the doctor heave in a breath. Then, suddenly, harshly, he barked out, "Jensen Ross!"

His shoulders automatically straightened, head jerking forward, although his eyes stayed closed. "Yes?" he replied crisply.

"Good," Jared said. "One more, okay?"

He nodded and listened.

There was another intake of breath, and then a soft, drawn-out moan that made the temperature in the room shoot up a couple of degrees. "God, Jensen," came his name in a low-voiced, husky murmur that lit a fire in his belly and made his head fall back and his lips part before he was even aware he was doing it.

Jensen's eyes snapped open, and he found himself staring at the ceiling. He quickly dropped his head and looked at Jared, who was wide-eyed and open-mouthed, the faint flush back in his cheeks. "That—it sounds like—that might be it," the doctor stuttered out.

Glaring at him, Jensen tried to pull together the shreds of his dignity. "What the hell, did you put yourself through med school at a phone sex hotline?" he snapped, straightening his shoulders.

The flush darkened. Then Jared closed his mouth and swallowed hard. "No," he said. "I, uh, I figured that whatever aliases you might use, there are certain, um, situations where you'd still want to use your real name, right?"

And apparently those situations involve getting it on with someone with a very masculine voice, piped up a corner of Jensen's mind that he promptly swatted back down. "It does sound right," he admitted. "More right than 'Dean Winchester'." He added, "Even if that's who everyone else seems to know me as." Apprehension twisted in his gut at the thought. He didn't think he wanted to be whoever Dean Winchester was, but he wasn't sure he had much of a choice.

"Dorner said it was your name," Jared reluctantly added. Then his mouth twisted wryly. "'Course, he also said he was with law enforcement, so there you go."

"Yeah." There was silence for a moment, and then Jensen shook his head to chase away his dark thoughts. "Say, uh, thanks." He waved the passport he was holding, the one with his name inside. "You didn't have to do this."

Jared shrugged lightly. "The sooner you're fixed up, the sooner I'm out of here. And that includes your head as well as your body."

"Hey, I am fixed up." Jensen wiggled his splinted hand back and forth. "I got a place to crash and some pills to take. You should get out of here and get back to your life."

"Not till you can get around on your own." The reply was quiet but firm.

He rolled his eyes. "You don't owe me anything, kid." He nodded down at the bandage over his shoulder. "We've traded life-saving maneuvers. Now you're done."

Instead of the retort that he expected, he got a short pause and a quiet, "They knew my name, Jensen."

The surprise of hearing his name spoken aloud—if it was his name—was almost as great as that at hearing the rest of the doctor's shakily-voiced words. "What?" Jensen asked.

Jared was folding his long fingers together in his lap. "Dorner and Heinrich. When they saw me on the street, they called me by my name. I didn't think about it too much at the time, 'cause, well…" He shrugged one shoulder.

"You were happy to get away from me," Jensen said knowingly.

"Yeah, I guess so." His eyes shot up to meet Jensen's, a totally unjustified apology lurking beneath the worry. "But how the hell would they know who I am?"

Jensen's mind raced, glad to be working on an easier puzzle than figuring out his own identity. "Probably from the security cameras at the hotel," he eventually said. "You had a nametag on, you know."

Jared worried his lower lip between his teeth. "How did they get access to the cameras?"

"Probably fooled the hotel staff with the same badge they fooled you with." He said it straightforwardly, not intending to insult the other man. Most people have never seen the badge of a law enforcement officer up close and personal, especially of a federal agency like these men had claimed to be with. "Listen, man, you need to go to the police and tell them everything that's gone on," he said, echoing the words he'd barely managed to get out at the Schillingbrücke.

The doctor's gaze slid down to his hands again. "I'm not so sure I trust the police," he admitted. "Those badges could have been real, for all I know."

Jensen let out a snort. "Well, it's not like you should be trusting me. I'm no different than those guys who caught us."

"You're a hell of a lot different than them," Jared retorted, raising his head to look Jensen in the eye.

Jensen stared at him in disbelief. "Dude, I shot someone to death practically in front of you. I held a gun to your head!" Not to mention the murder-for-hire thing, he mentally added.

Jared shrugged one shoulder, suddenly looking tired. "It was self-defense, and you were just trying to scare me." At Jensen's incredulous stare, he rushed on, "Not to say that it didn't work, 'cause believe me, I was scared out of my mind." He wiped his palms on the tops of his thighs and went on, "But you would have let me go if they hadn't caught up with us. I know that now. They wouldn't…they weren't…" He visibly swallowed hard before shaking his head slightly and fixing Jensen with a steady stare. "I know the difference between you and them."

But I was, Jensen thought, his internal response to the man with the gold-rimmed glasses floating through his head. I was going to let him go. He knew that about himself, had known it at the time and held onto it against Chernak's understanding of him as a paid killer. And now it appeared that somehow, his former captive knew it about him as well. "Oh," was the only response he could manage.

The corner of Jared's wide mouth twitched up. "I'm kinda used to making snap decisions, you know," he said. "Not only about medical care, but about whether a patient's gonna come after me if I take my eyes off him. I might not know anything more about you than the fact that you're a dangerous man, Jensen Ross." He lifted his chin. "But I'm not afraid of you."

"That makes one of us," Jensen said quietly, and the admission got him a spark of surprise in Jared's blue-green eyes.

Chapter Text

Jared watched his patient for a moment, surprised at the candid statement. He didn't seem like the kind of guy who would be forthcoming about himself even when he did have all the necessary information in his head. He couldn't imagine not knowing your own name or where you were from, but still being able to take someone larger than you hostage and get away from multiple armed men. He figured the former wasn't something they taught you even in the CIA, but he was going to hang onto the hope that that was who Jensen Ross was.

Because the alternative meant that he had gotten himself mixed up in something pretty awful.

The silence was broken by Jensen clearing his throat. "Hey, uh, you didn't find anything weird when you were fixing me up, did you?"

Jared lifted his eyebrows. "Aside from close to a dozen knife and bullet scars and clear evidence that you've survived having your femoral artery severed?" he asked levelly.

His earlier knowledge of how dangerous his patient was had only been emphasized by discovering the pattern of healed-up holes across his muscular body and a series of faded white lines on his forearms indicating defensive wounds. Then there was the bullet track along the side of his head and the single jagged red line across his inner thigh indicating a wound than in nine out of ten people would mean near-instant death. It figured that this man would be one of the few to have cheated the odds.

Jensen's lips were full enough in their relaxed state, but when they were pursed as they were in response to Jared's question, they bloomed out farther than any collagen-injected starlet's ever could. "Yeah, aside from those," he said, not quite meeting Jared's eyes.

Jared shook his head, noticing for the first time the spray of freckles across the mystery man's nose and cheeks and how they didn't really fit with the whole "dangerous killer" vibe. "Not really," he replied.

"Nothing, like, embedded anywhere?" Jensen asked, an undercurrent of tension beneath the casual tone as he flicked a glance Jared's way.

His eyebrows shot up higher. "Embedded? Are you kidding me?"

"There was a small piece of microfilm buried under the skin of my hip." Jensen gestured at the money belt on the table. "It's how I found the bank in Zurich."

"Whoa." Jared blinked. That had come out of left field. "I wasn't exactly looking for anything like that." He paused and said hesitantly. "I could take another look if you wanted me to."

"No, it's fine." Jensen tugged the blankets up higher to cover his lower torso, and the unconsciously defensive gesture had Jared fighting back a smirk. Not like he hadn't seen Jensen's entire body earlier, but he never begrudged his patients the modesty they requested.

"Okay, but I, uh, I should still check you over now that you're awake," he said, rising slowly to his feet. "Could you lie down?"

There was a flash of hesitation, almost fear, in the man's eyes. Jared realized that if Jensen was an amnesiac, especially one who was running for his life from some pretty bad people, it wasn't surprising that he was anxious about making himself appear even slightly vulnerable. So Jared turned his back and busied himself with the medical supplies that their temporary landlord had brought, snapping on a pair of latex gloves.

The rustling of the sheets behind him told him his patient was doing as he'd been told, and when he turned back around, Jensen was on his back, the blankets down to his waist, eying him warily.

He started with a pulse check, surprised at how strong and steady the beat was, considering all the blood this guy had lost a mere day and a half ago. Then again, Jensen was in damn good shape, obviously able to physically withstand a lot. "So, uh, I've been checking your pupils for signs of a concussion, but now that you're up, can you tell me if you've been dizzy or nauseous at all?"

Jensen shook his head and covered up a quick wince. "Got a headache, but that's pretty much a constant thing."

"Okay. Follow my finger?" Jared moved one finger back and forth across Jensen's field of vision. From this close, he could see flecks of gold and even brown in the depths of the green eyes that closely tracked his finger as it moved. "Good," he said.

When Jared started to palpate the rib cage to verify that his earlier diagnosis of no broken or fractured ribs had been correct, he could feel muscles tense beneath him, but he didn't utter a sound. Tough guy, huh? Jared thought. "So, six weeks?" he asked.

"Yeah." Jensen inhaled sharply as Jared pressed against one of the more colorful bruises over his sternum, but he still didn't say anything.

Jared repressed the urge to roll his eyes. Pain served a purpose, but he could tell that this guy wasn't going to admit that he felt any of it. "Tell me what you remember."

"Not a damn thing."

"Of the past six weeks?" Finished with Jensen's ribs, he lifted the covers to move down to the leg wound.

He could hear the scowl as Jensen spoke. "No, of anything before that."

"Then tell me about Croatia. Or how you got to Berlin, or why you came to Berlin." Say anything so you aren't staring at me while I do this and making me worry you're going to attack me at any second.

To his surprise, Jensen started talking, telling him in a low voice about his recuperation in a small fishing town on the clear blue waters of the Adriatic. The doctor who'd basically brought him back to life had been slightly too fond of the bottle, which explained the roughness of some of the recent scars on Jensen's body. Not that there weren't plenty of scars to pick from. Jared's gaze passed over a tanned, muscular thigh and noticed again the red line snaking around the inside. "You don't even know the story behind that, do you?"

Jensen shrugged his good shoulder, apparently never forgetting for a moment that the other one was disabled. "Not a clue."

Jared looked at him for a moment longer before going back to work.

Jensen went on, describing his journey to Zurich based on the number on the microfilm embedded in his body and his first close encounter with the man with the gold-rimmed glasses, whom Jared knew as Stefan Dorner. He described a zigzag trip to Berlin on which he never quite managed to shake the men following him, with nothing to go on except Chernak's name and address in his pocket. When he reached the part where he arrived at the Hotel Bristol, he trailed off and looked away across the room. "You know the rest," he shrugged.

Jared decided to let that go for the moment, the memories of what had happened at the hotel and after still too fresh in his mind. He peeled off the bandage around Jensen's lower leg, pleased to see that the bullet graze was healing right on schedule. "Looks like we can leave this off," he said, crumpling up the bandage and tossing it into the trash can a few yards away, restraining himself from giving the fist-pump he normally would have done at the bulls-eye shot.

"How about the rest of it?" his patient asked. When Jared looked up, Jensen waved his right hand back and forth to indicate the splints on it.

He barely held back an exasperated sigh. "Maybe you missed the part earlier about the two broken fingers?" At Jensen's scowl, he went on, "They've gotta stay like that for at least a couple of weeks."

Jensen propped himself up on his elbows and asked mulishly, "You got an x-ray machine in here I haven't seen? 'Cause it felt like a sprain, not a break, and I know the difference."

Jared wasn't going to ask how he knew the difference between the multiple ways his body could be damaged when he didn't know his own name, but it didn't really matter at this point. He stood up to his full height and snapped back, "No, but I think the ends of the bone that I felt grinding together inside of your ring finger were enough of a clue."

The other man blanched, and Jared felt a moment of triumph at putting an expression on Jensen's face that he was willing to bet didn't appear there too often. He softened his tone and conceded, "The middle finger might be a sprain, but it was best to wrap the two of them up together. I'll check on it in a few days."

He got a nod of grudging acceptance before Jensen slid back down against the pillows. Jared took in a deep breath before moving back up to his patient's shoulder. Now came the fun part. "So I'm gonna unwrap this and see how it's doing, okay? Can you roll onto your side?"

"Hey, whatever floats your boat." The tense line of Jensen's shoulders contradicted his casual words as he rotated onto his right side. He was staring straight ahead, obviously bracing himself for pain.

Jared wracked his brain for something to say as a distraction as he started to work. He thought for a moment about the one name Jensen hadn't tried on himself but that apparently held some other kind of meaning. He took a deep breath and casually asked, "So who's Sam?"

Jensen's entire body tensed, and beneath the bandage Jared was unwrapping, he felt the faster thud of his heart. "I don't know," Jensen answered roughly, closing his eyes.

"Hmm," Jared replied, carefully manipulating his patient's arm and shoulder as he worked. "You've said that name a couple of times. When you first passed out, and then later when you were unconscious." You said it as if your heart was breaking, he thought privately.

"Pretty common name," Jensen replied, his jaw clenched tight.

"I suppose. Could be a man or a woman." Jared finished unwrapping the bandage and set to work on the tape around the gauze pad. There wasn't any fresh blood coming through, which was a good sign. It really was a miracle that infection hadn't occurred, considering this guy had two holes in his body in an unsterile environment and their landlady had only managed to come up with a general course of antibiotics. Maybe his immune system was as swaggeringly tough as he was. "Someone you worked with?"

Jensen let out a snort. "Like I even know what my job was, let alone who I worked with."

"I suppose that's true," Jared replied easily. He thought of the anguish in the man's voice when he cried out the name in his unconscious state. "Could it be a relative? A lover?"

"Damn it, what part of 'I don't know' don't you understand?" Jensen glared up at him and started to move, but Jared clamped a careful hand on his side to keep him down.

His skin was warm without being feverish, abdominals and obliques firm under Jared's gloved palm and fingers. "Sorry," he said, giving Jensen's side a gentle pat before removing his hand. "Thought I might jog something."

"Well, keep it to yourself," Jensen muttered. After a pause, he added in a low voice, "Doc Thorne said there was probably more than the bullet wound to it anyway." He lifted his hand to touch the furrow in the side of his head, then brought his hand down to scratch at the gingery stubble on his cheeks.

"Emotional trauma?" Jared suggested, peeling away the gauze. The entry wound was healing nicely, puckered skin the right shade of pink to indicate healthy if injured tissue with no signs of infection.

"Something like that." Jensen craned his head to the side, trying to look at his shoulder. "Hey, that doesn't look bad," he said with a shade of relief at being able to change the subject.

"No, it doesn't," Jared agreed. At this close range, he could see the shadows that Jensen's startlingly long eyelashes cast on his lightly freckled skin. "How does it feel?"

"Fine," came the quick response.

Jared let out a gusty sigh, sticking out his lower lip to direct the air towards blowing his shaggy bangs out of his eyes. "Look, I appreciate that you want to keep up the tough guy act, and that's fine by me. But I'm not gonna be able to take care of you if I don't know if you're hurting or not."

"I'm not asking you to take care of me." Jensen's tone went sharp and cold, his eyes darkening to a murky green-brown. "In fact, I think you should leave me the hell alone."

"Not gonna do it." Jared momentarily squeezed his eyes shut to push back the tiredness that was slipping out in his Texas-accented speech. "You need my help whether you like it or not."

"You listen to me, Jared." The harsh tone had Jared's eyes flying open to see the golden sparks in Jensen's eyes practically snapping as he spoke. "I am not one of the good guys. Whatever fucking romantic ideas you have in your head about who and what I am, get them out now."

"I thought you didn't remember who you are," Jared retorted. He smoothed the gauze and tape back into place, placing one hand on Jensen's bicep and the other on his shoulder blade, ready to pull him forward to check out the exit wound high on his upper back.

Jensen's gaze stayed locked onto Jared's as he spoke deliberately in a low, rough voice. "Chernak told me. I kill people for a living."

The words fell on the air like stones, Jared's heart sinking along with them. He stared back with wide eyes, his gut twisting as he remembered how easily this man had kidnapped him and forced him around at gunpoint. He suddenly remembered the bark of the gunshot in Chernak's apartment before he opened the bathroom door to see the elderly man dead on the floor at Jensen's hand.

No, the bark of two gunshots. He furrowed his brow, trying to remember. At the time, he'd barely registered the gun in the older man's hand, but now it stuck out clearly in his memory. Jensen hadn't contradicted him earlier when he'd identified that moment as self-defense, and if the German had been trying to kill him, that made anything he had to say somewhat less than trustworthy.

And then he remembered the desperation written all over Jensen's face when he saw Jared bound and helpless at the bridge and realized there was a hint of that same emotion in the tightly-clenched jaw and the narrowed eyes that were staring back at him.

Jared wet his lips and dragged his gaze away, tugging firmly but gently at Jensen's arm to get a better look at his upper back. "Why are you trying to scare me off?" he asked, proud that his voice stayed steady.

The sharp intake of breath might have been from the way he was prodding at the skin around the exit wound, or it might have been from his brilliant psychological insight. Either way, it was the only reply he got, so he knew he was right, and he bit his lip to keep a smirk off his face.

There was silence as Jared examined the stitches he'd applied thirty-six hours ago, poking and prodding more harshly than he usually did. The muttered, "Ow!" and twitch of the shoulder beneath him gave him a small measure of grim satisfaction at finally causing a reaction. When he withdrew, he stood up and stretched out his shoulders. "Don't lean back," he said, turning around to reach for the gauze on the table. "I need to cover that up again."

When he turned back, Jensen hadn't moved, but the expression on his face had changed from cold anger to wariness with a hint of confusion. "Why don't you believe me?" he asked tightly. "You know what I'm capable of."

"Yeah, I do." Jared laid a square of gauze over the line of stitches and taped it securely in place, using the familiar motions to ground himself. "And apparently it doesn't include keeping your tracks covered by making sure your so-called hostage is dead. I would think someone who kills people for a living would be big on that sort of thing."

Jensen opened his mouth to speak—and then there was a knock at the door.

Chapter Text

They both froze at the sound. Jared moved first, taking a step back and turning towards the door as he pulled off his gloves and tossed them in the trash. From his seat on the bed, Jensen huffed out a quiet but forceful, "Hey!" When the tall doctor looked over his shoulder, Jensen jerked his head sideways at the Glock and the money belt sitting out on the table.

He watched as Jared pressed his lips together for a moment before flipping the belt over so the money wasn't visible. Then Jared grabbed the gun and shoved the barrel in the back of the waistband of his slacks, revealing a flash of tanned, muscular back before pulling his crumpled white dress shirt over the weapon.

Jensen frowned. That wouldn't fool anyone who caught a glimpse of Jared from behind. Before he could say anything, the knock came again, along with a woman's voice softly calling, "Herr Jared?"

The doctor's shoulders relaxed and his face brightened. It's okay, he mouthed at Jensen before reaching out with one large hand to open the door. Jensen started to automatically reach back for the gun under his pillow before the motion reminded him that his fingers were bound together by the splints and couldn't grasp anything.

Besides, there wasn't a gun under his pillow anyway, and why was he expecting there to be one?

Jared pulled the door open, and a tall woman with pale blonde hair stepped inside. She was dragging a wheeled suitcase behind her, its bright purple color a sharp contrast to the dinginess of the room. As she set the bag upright, she lifted the strap of a black laptop case over her head and laid it carefully on top of the purple bag. "This is everything, yes?" she asked as she looked up at the doctor.

"Yes," Jared said with a small, relieved smile, reaching out to lay a hand on the black bag as if to verify it was actually there. "Um, Ja. Danke."

She smiled in reply and went on in lightly-accented English, "I had no problems getting your bags, although the concierge did cost me most of the funds you provided. It was a good story you had me tell them, about the ex-girlfriend who was chasing after you. The car is at the airport, and I will bring you food shortly. Oh, and the last request you made is here as well." She held out a brown paper bag, which Jared accepted and peeked inside, his face lighting up as he did so. "Do you need anything else?"

"Which airport?" Jensen asked.

The woman's head snapped around at the sound of his voice. "You're awake," she said, pressing a hand to her chest as if in fright. Then she gave a shake of her head. "Tegel, in long-term parking. It's the biggest airport in the city; no one will notice it for weeks." Her blue eyes narrowed slightly. "Standard procedure, but you should know that, shouldn't you?"

He looked sharply at Jared, whose guileless expression clearly said he had no idea what she meant. Looking back at the woman, he saw her watching him closely. "Just checking," he replied brusquely.

"Of course," she answered, a smile playing around the corners of her glossy pink lips. She was dressed in a smart navy pantsuit and low heels, totally out of place in the dingy room. Jensen suddenly wondered how much he was paying for her services.

"Katrina here has been very helpful," Jared said, arching his eyebrows. "And she either has a kick-ass first aid kit or there's a clinic in this building, 'cause I wouldn't have been able to fix you up without her help."

Jensen frowned. Point to Jared for slipping in the woman's name so subtly, but minus one for admitting how much he'd depended on her. "Thanks," he said roughly.

The blonde reached out and laid a hand on Jared's upper arm. "Don't worry, I've been amply rewarded," she said with a flirtatious glance, and Jensen suddenly remembered the doctor's earlier comment about doing her a favor. You dog, he thought, looking at the slight blush staining Jared's cheeks.

"Besides," Katrina said, lowering her hand and sounding more businesslike, "I owe you. I might be out of the business, but handsome men who've saved my life are always worthy of assistance."

"Out of the business?" Jensen forced out as casually as he could. That sounded ominous and in keeping with Chernak's identification of him as a paid killer, Jared's denial notwithstanding. On the other hand, if he'd saved her life at some point in the past, then he couldn't be a total asshole.

Katrina's eyes flickered towards Jared and back, and she bit her lip. "It has been a few years, yes. Should I be contacting…someone…for you?"

Jensen shook his head sharply, wishing he dared ask whom she thought she should be contacting. "No one can know I'm here," he said firmly. After what he'd forced out of Chernak about being a former ally who'd turned against him, even if he knew who his bosses or superiors were, he wouldn't be able to trust any of them.

In fact, the only person in the world he could place any trust in right now was the man watching him and Katrina like they were playing a particularly thought-provoking tennis match, his lower lip tucked between his teeth as he stood perfectly still as if to make them forget he was there.

Katrina regarded Jensen for a moment longer, her eyes sweeping across his body, lingering on the gauze pad on his shoulder and his splinted fingers. "That's to be expected," she finally replied. "Given what's been in the papers."

"What's been in the papers?" Jared asked sharply.

The tip of her tongue poked out between her teeth as she looked back and forth between the two men. "There was a murder in Kreuzberg two nights ago," she said. "That is an unusual occurrence in and of itself, particularly with a firearm, but I also recognized the victim's name." She looked at Jensen pointedly. "Many people would recognize the victim's name."

He kept his expression blank. "Have they caught the person who did it?" he asked calmly, his heart starting to thump faster. He didn't dare look at Jared, sure the other man would be unable to keep from giving something away with his wide-open expressions.

"Mmm," Katrina answered noncommittally. "They have a man in custody, but they have not found the murder weapon." To her left, Jared stiffened slightly. No doubt the gun tucked in his waistband was burning a guilty hole through his skin right now. She went on, "There was also a significant amount of blood on the street outside, but no bodies were found. It's all very mysterious."

"Sounds like it," Jensen agreed, meeting her gaze evenly. Inside his head, his thoughts were racing in a dark direction. He had left two men dead on the street and another at the bridge. How had they vanished into thin air?

She looked back at him for a moment and then looked sideways at Jared, who was staring a hole into the worn carpet. "Yes, well," she said. "I did clean the blood out of the backseat before I abandoned the car."

Jared's shoulders jerked, and he lifted his head to look at her. "This doesn't bother you," he said, a statement rather than a question. He half-lifted one arm to gesture towards Jensen. "Any of this."

"Why should it?" she asked coolly. "You're the one who knew to come to me." She leaned her head forward slightly. "Your military has a policy they call 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' yes?" When Jared nodded, somewhat reluctantly to Jensen's eyes, she went on, "The way they use it is silly, but it is a good motto to live by. All I am doing is providing room and board and messenger services for a fee." She looked back at Jensen. "And to repay a debt."

"I don't want to get you in any trouble," Jensen said in a low tone. Not for the first time since awakening six weeks ago, he felt like he was walking on a tightrope when everyone else around him thought he was on solid ground. One misstep on his part, like admitting that he had no idea who he was or what he was doing, and the consequences could be severe. And if Katrina didn't run a safehouse anymore, he could be putting her in serious danger that she wasn't prepared for.

"I still know what I'm doing," she replied confidently. Then her mouth widened into a smirk. "Besides, my compensation has been more than adequate," she added with a nod towards the money belt on the table.

Jensen shot a sharp look at the doctor who had apparently been throwing his money around. Jared's head dropped at the scrutiny, and Jensen rubbed a hand over his jaw. Aw, hell, the kid didn't know any better. It wasn't like he was used to hiding out in a safehouse and staying off the grid. Although, considering how he'd managed to get Jensen here and have Katrina get rid of the Mercedes and fetch his luggage, he wasn't exactly helpless himself.

"Yeah, well, you said something about food?" Jensen asked. He wasn't sure he felt like eating much, but the giant across the room from him probably needed about five meals a day to keep him going. The hopeful look that flashed across Jared's face told him he was right.

"I will put something together," Katrina replied. "Is there anything else?"

Jensen hesitated. "Could you bring a copy of that news article you were talking about?" He needed to gather as much information as he could about what had happened the other night, but he didn't want to rely on this woman he didn't know to tell him.

She regarded him for a moment. "I can do that," she said slowly.

"Thanks, we'd appreciate it," Jared said, taking a step closer as if to direct her towards the door.

Katrina took the hint and ushered herself out, Jared closing the door behind her before firmly turning the lock. Then he turned around and leaned back against the door, dropping his head against the wood and closing his eyes. There was silence for a moment, Jensen watching the doctor closely. As much as he hated to admit it, he was depending on this guy for the next couple of days, and he had to be able to count on him not to freak out. "You okay?" he finally asked.

"Yeah," Jared replied. He rubbed a hand roughly over his face and moved away from the door, taking in a deep breath and then exhaling sharply. "So, you know her?" he asked, carefully pulling out the gun and placing it on the table before dropping the brown paper bag next to it.

"She thinks I do." Jensen watched as Jared sat down at the table. "You had a crazy ex-girlfriend stalking you?"

Jared's face darkened. "It seemed like a good excuse for someone who wasn't me to be getting my stuff." His eyes flickered up to Jensen's, a shade of defensiveness behind his words.

Jensen nodded slowly. "Yeah, that was pretty good." The doctor knew enough not to go back to the Hotel Bristol himself, but had still managed to work something out to get what he needed. "How'd you think of the car?"

"It was her idea." The doctor's eyes suddenly darkened with worry. "How'd you get away from those guys, anyway?"

"A knife and some bullets," he replied simply, watching as Jared's face went pale. "I thought they were dead, but…" Jensen thought for a moment, fixing in his mind where both of his captors had been wounded and then shook his head. "No way they got out of there on their own." He tapped his fist against his thigh. "Damn it, I should have stayed to make sure they were finished." He knew better than that.

"I'm glad you didn't." Jared's voice shook slightly as he went on, "There wasn't much time to spare."

Jensen met his eyes, remembering the crushing dread and the fear that he was going to be too late, seeing the shadow of the same apprehension on Jared's face. Even thirty seconds to finish the job would have meant that Jared would have been finished as well. "Yeah, you're right," he said quietly.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jared looked away, not wanting to remember the horrors of the other night any more right now. The dangling strap of his laptop bag caught his eye, and he reached over to snag it. He was tired and hungry and he really needed to change his clothes, but there was one more important thing to do first.

Digging through the black satchel, he pulled out a black cord and a two-pronged power adapter with a small crow of triumph. He stood up and dug in his pocket for his cell phone. He'd taken it back from Jensen after the man had passed out, but the battery had been completely run down and he'd had no way to recharge it. Now he bent down at the nearest power outlet and plugged it in, sighing in relief when the charging light came on.

"What are you doing?" Jensen asked from the other side of the room.

"I gotta call my sister," he said, reaching for the paper bag on the table. "She must be freaking out."

A flicker of regret passed across Jensen's face, and he nodded, gingerly shifting backwards so he was sitting in the bed, propped up against the pillows. "You got a story to tell her?" he asked.

Jared grimaced. "That I was mugged and had my phone stolen?"

Jensen shrugged his good shoulder. "That works." He nodded at Jared's hands. "What's in the bag?"

"Oh." He flushed and pulled out a package of Haribo gummi bears. Jensen was going to think he had the mind of a ten-year-old. "I kind of have this sugar addiction and I haven't exactly been able to feed it the last few days."

The corner of Jensen's mouth turned up slightly, but he didn't say anything. He closed his eyes and leaned back on the pillows, probably more to give the illusion of privacy than to actually fall asleep.

Jared sat down and turned so his back was resting against the wall before tearing open the package of candy. Picking up the phone, he hit the first speed dial button and crossed his fingers. Too late he remembered the time difference, and he almost hung up when he realized it wasn't yet six in the morning in Texas. But the phone was already ringing, and when it only rang once before he heard a breathless, "Jared?", he knew he'd done the right thing.

"Hey, Megan," he said, breathing out a sigh of relief at hearing her voice.

"Where the hell have you been?" she burst out. "The last I heard from you was a text message two days ago. Haven't you gotten my messages? I've been worried sick!"

"I'm so sorry," Jared said, wishing he dared tell her the truth. "I got mugged, and they stole my phone along with my wallet. The police just got them back."

Her sharp intake of breath was clearly audible across the thousands of miles between them. "Oh, my God," she said. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied, closing his eyes against the memory of staring up a gun barrel, half-consciously reaching up to touch the bandage at his temple. "Barely a scratch. Everything's okay, but I didn't have my phone, and I couldn't remember your new number."

There was a short pause. "I'm sorry, Jared, I wish I didn't have to—"

"Hey, it's all right," he said, straightening up and opening his eyes. "Don't worry about it. You do what you have to, sis." His free hand clenched into a fist, but he kept his tone light.

Megan gave a shaky laugh. "I suppose this means I don't have to meet you at the airport tonight?"

"Shit." Jared thunked his head back against the wall as he remembered that the plane ticket tucked away in his bag had today's date on it and a departure time from Berlin of about an hour ago. "Yeah, they, uh, took my passport too," he improvised, noticing that Jensen's eyes cracked open at that.

"Damn. That sucks," his little sister replied.

He barked out a laugh. You have no idea, he thought. "Yeah, so it's gonna take a couple of days while they get me a new one at the embassy." He reached into the package and took out a handful of gummi bears, closing his eyes in delight as the soft sweetness spread across his tongue.

"Can you get another flight that easy?" she asked.

"I'll figure something out," he replied as he chewed, thinking that arranging for a flight home was the least of his concerns right now, compared to what he was going to do about the gunshot victim sitting on the bed across the room and the men who had put him there.

"I hope so," Megan said. "So is this why that policeman called the other day? Because of your passport?"

The hair on the back of Jared's neck stood up. "What policeman?" he asked cautiously. He flicked his gaze to Jensen and saw that the green eyes had shifted to his and that the lines of his patient's body had gone tense.

"This guy called for you. I was worried 'cause you know, new phone and all, but he said he was with the Berlin police and I should tell you that he called." He heard rustling sounds in the background like she was moving papers around. "I wrote his name down somewhere…"

Jared waited, his heart pounding. "When was this, Megs?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice level, the candy entirely forgotten.

"Yesterday around noon. Oh, here it is," Megan said triumphantly. "It was kinda weird—he didn't want your number, but he said it was important I tell you that he called. Yeah, that was it. Isn't that strange?"

"What was his name?" Jared asked impatiently, and now Jensen was sitting up straight and easing his legs over the side of the bed.

"Geez, chill. He probably had some questions about your mugging or something. His name was, uh, Stefan Dorner."

Ice shot down Jared's spine, and his hand convulsed around the small phone so tightly that his fingers pressed the keypad, sending a small flurry of beeps into his ear. "Ow, doofus," Megan said teasingly. "Watch that ginormous hand of yours."

He barely heard her. His eyes were locked onto Jensen, who clearly knew that something was wrong, looking like he was on full alert as he eased himself onto his feet and came closer. "Hold on," Jared said and lowered the phone to his lap.

"What is it?" Jensen asked quickly.

"Dorner. The guy with the—" Jared raised his hand and sketched two circles around his eyes, and Jensen's eyes widened. "He called my sister!" he hissed out. He felt his chest growing tighter, and he put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. "And he told her to tell me that he called. What the fuck is going on?"

Jensen's face had gone pale, and he was muttering something under his breath. "Damn it," he finished. He wiped a hand over his jaw. "How long ago?"

"Yesterday," Jared hissed back. He leaned forward and said in a low voice, forcing down his rising panic, "Jensen, you don't understand. She has a completely unlisted number. She has this psycho ex who stalked her two years ago, and now she gets a new phone every six months and only gives the number to me and about three other people. I don't think even the police could look her up."

Jensen's eyes briefly closed. "Give me the phone," he said, opening his eyes and nodding towards the device clutched in Jared's hand.

Jared drew back against the wall. "Why?"

"Give me the damn phone!" Jensen insisted in a low voice, and the memory of being ordered around at gunpoint was strong enough that Jared handed it over without further protest.

Jensen had to put the phone in his splinted hand and fold his thumb over it to hold the device against his palm. Jensen shot him an apologetic look before taking a deep breath and raising the phone to his ear. "Ms. Padalecki?" he asked in a charming voice with a Texas accent that made Jared's eyes go wide.

He listened as Jensen said, "Yes, ma'am, my name is Ross and I work here at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. Now, I don't want to alarm you, but your brother said that someone called you claiming to be with the German police?"

Jared leaned forward warningly, but Jensen put out a placating hand, wincing at the movement of his shoulder. "Well, like I said, I don't want to concern you, but there have been a couple of cases lately of passports going missing and break-ins happening back home. Identify theft is a big problem nowadays." He listened and said, "Yes, ma'am, I understand that you don't live with your brother, and I hesitate to worry you unnecessarily, but is there a place you can go for a couple of days? Maybe a friend you can stay with?" The honeyed tone of his voice became a shade warmer, even as his eyes remained hard and angry. "Until we can arrange to have someone come by and check the place out."

Jared could barely hear the squawk of Megan's voice through the phone, but he knew this had to be killing her. She'd spent enough time hiding at friends' houses or taking long vacations visiting him, far away from the nutcase who couldn't take no for an answer. She was just getting her life back together to where she didn't have to feel afraid in her own place, and now this. His fists clenched uselessly on his lap, and he glared at the man who was responsible.

The man in question was listening intently, his features hard as stone. "Yes, ma'am," he said again in a friendly tone that was a complete contrast to his appearance. "We're gonna take good care of him, and we'll have the San Antone police take good care of you. Don't you worry." There was a short pause, and then, "All right, take care." Then he flipped the phone shut and tossed it to Jared.

Jared snatched the phone out of the air and rose to his feet, glad for once to have the height to tower over someone as he took a step closer to the other man. "What is going on?" he asked icily. "What do they want with my sister?"

"They wanted to send you a message," Jensen replied, all traces of Texas gone from his brisk voice. "Looks like they did."

He heaved in a breath, his voice going dark. "She's all I have, Jensen. Our parents and brother died five years ago, and she's all I have. If anyone lays a hand on her—"

"If they wanted to hurt her, she wouldn't have been there to pick up the phone," Jensen replied bluntly. "She'll be fine."

"How do you know that?" Jared retorted, reaching out to jab a finger into Jensen's bare chest, his voice rising as he went on, "You don't even know who they are. Or who you are, for God's sake."

"I'm sorry." There was remorse in the green eyes for a second before they hardened again. "But believe me when I say that I know what I'm talking about."

"You're gonna fix this," Jared said, his fist curling up under the other man's chin as if he were taking a handful of his nonexistent shirt. "God damn it, you're gonna fix this, Ross." He ignored the way his voice nearly broke at the end of his demand.

"I'm gonna try," Jensen agreed, his eyes open and honest.

Jared dropped his arms and slumped where he stood, unable to believe this was happening. He should have called the police and left Jensen at the bridge for them to take care of. How much worse could this get?

Chapter Text

Jensen watched the doctor deflate after his outburst, turning over in his mind what had just happened. Their situation had suddenly gotten even more serious. It was one thing to track a man across four countries and try to kill him along with the only witness to his existence. It was something else to track down that witness's family and leave a very careful but clear warning for him.

"They don't want you to go to the police," he said in a low voice, aiming for reassuring but knowing he was falling far short. "That's the point of the message. That, and letting you know how far they can reach."

"So who are 'they'?" Jared demanded, his eyes hard.

Jensen bit his lower lip. "I don't know, but I do know they're way more powerful than they have any right to be. They were waiting for me in Zurich when I left the bank, but they sure as hell weren't there when I went in. Someone told them I was accessing that account."

Jared's face furrowed in disbelief. "I thought that confidentiality was the whole point of a Swiss bank account."

"Exactly." Jensen replied with raised eyebrows. At the time, he'd been too busy trying to get away to pay attention to the implications, but it was pretty clear that whoever was after him, they were extraordinarily well-connected and powerful.

Jared was still frowning. "That's like hosting a barbecue in the Vatican during Lent."

Jensen blinked. "Okay, if you want to put it that way."

"And what about Dorner?" Jared went on. "How could he be calling Megan if you shot him, or knifed him, or whatever the hell you did to him?"

"It might not have been him. Someone else could have used that name. Whoever it was that cleaned up after me at Kottbusser Tor and at the bridge." Jensen's mind was racing as he thought through the implications. If Dorner and his accomplice were German agents who had gone bad—no, then they wouldn't have been in Switzerland hunting him. So they weren't actually law enforcement. Which didn't mean that he wasn't a wanted man, for Chernak's death if nothing else. He tried to remember if he'd bled at the scene…probably not, but his and Jared's fingerprints were all over the window. But Katrina had said the police had someone in custody, so who could that be?

"Damn it, if I only knew why they were after me…" he muttered, raising his right hand to rub at the back of his neck and finding it not nearly as soothing a motion when his fingers were splinted together.

"I think you'd better tell me everything Chernak said to you," Jared said grimly, folding his arms over his chest.

Jensen looked up at the man standing in front of him, struck for the first time at just how big he was. Jensen wasn't exactly a small guy, but the broad span of Jared's shoulders and the corded muscles of his forearms, combined with his extra inches of height and the scowl currently gracing his face, made him look pretty formidable. Jensen wondered again what the hell he'd been thinking picking this guy to be his hostage.

If you'd picked anyone else, both of you would probably be dead right now, he suddenly realized.

"You sure you want to know?" he asked gruffly. Last chance, he tried to convey with his eyes.

In answer, Jared stood slightly taller and straightened his shoulders even more. "Yeah," he said in a clipped tone of voice.

"Okay." Jensen took a deep breath and laid out the facts, his eyes never leaving those of the stubborn man in front of him. "He said he hired me to kill someone. He said it was 'spectacular' and one of the toughest jobs he'd ever seen. He said I always advertise my kills and the fact that I didn't this time made some people suspicious." He tilted his head slightly to the side. "Then he basically admitted to siccing Dorner on me because they thought I'd changed sides."

"Changed sides?" Jared's gaze went distant for a moment. He frowned and asked, "And then he pulled a gun on you?"

"He tried," Jensen said flatly.

Jared pursed his lips. "How did he know it was you? That killed…" He waved a hand in the air. "Whoever it was."

"It doesn't matter." Jensen held out his hands, palms up, unable to keep the bleakness he was feeling out of his voice. "He said I always advertise my kills. What difference does one guy make if that's what I do, if that's who I am?"

Jared was shaking his head. "That's not you, Jensen. That's not who you are."

"Oh, come on," Jensen burst out, dropping his hands to his sides and glaring in disbelief. "How the fuck do you know that? You have no idea who I am. Given everything I've done to you, it makes more sense than not."

"I know you saved my life." As Jensen scoffed in reply, Jared stepped forward and lowered his voice. "I know you risked your own life to save mine when it would have been easier for you if I was dead. I know you keep trying to talk me out of helping you, and I know you're trying to keep my sister safe from six thousand miles away. Those aren't the actions of a cold-blooded killer."

"Come on, what about the hit man with a heart of gold? You haven't heard of that one?" he asked sarcastically.

Jared visibly swallowed but plowed on. "I was raised to believe that actions speak louder than words. I know you killed a man the other night—two men that I saw, and maybe more, while defending either yourself or me. I kinda doubt they were the first people you ever killed. But I don't think you should let one of them tell you who and what you are."

"And I don't think your Pollyanna tendencies should get in the way of the cold, hard facts." He'd thought he was going to scare the kid off with his recitation of Chernak's words, not find him too stubborn to listen. There was believing the best of someone, and then there was being stupid.

"I don't think they're actually facts." Jared's expression became more earnest. "What you're saying about yourself sounds more like how Heinrich and Dorner described you than anything else. Chernak was talking about Dean Winchester. He wasn't talking about Jensen Ross."

"What, like Dean Winchester is a separate person?" Jensen scoffed. "He's an alias, like the other ones in the passports. He's who I am, for God's sake."

"Then why is there no passport for him?" Jared insisted. "If that's the name that everyone calls you, why doesn't it sound right to you when Jensen does?"

Jensen's head was starting to throb. Irritated, he lifted his splinted hand to rub at his forehead and the ache settling over his right temple. "I don't know, damn it," he growled. "I don't know a goddamn thing."

Jared unfolded his arms and reached out to lay a hand on his shoulder. "Let's go with what we do know, okay? First off, you shouldn't be on your feet for so long. Take a seat."

He glared at Jared but stepped back and lowered himself onto the bed, unwilling to waste time arguing about it. "Okay, so we know I'm good at kidnapping and killing people," he started.

Jared actually rolled his eyes before reaching out with one long arm to snag the chair from the table before dropping into it and folding his arms across the back. "You're good at defending yourself."

Jensen shook his head. "It's more than that. It's—" He looked off across the room, trying to figure out how to explain it. "When I'm inside a room, I'm always looking for the exits. Everyone I see on the street is a threat I might have to neutralize, and it doesn't take me long to figure out how to do it. I look at ordinary objects and think about how to use them as weapons." He nodded at the Glock on the table. "I can break down almost any gun in thirty seconds and put it back together just as fast, and I have no idea how I know any of that."

"So you're well-trained," Jared said quietly.

"And well-practiced," Jensen reminded him, thinking of what Jared hadn't seen on the streets of Kreuzberg, how he'd managed to go from having a gun at his head to putting two men on the ground within the space of a few seconds.

The sound of a telephone cut through the air, and Jared gave a start. "That's, uh, that's my phone," he said, standing up and moving back to where the device was plugged into the wall.

"Your sister?" Jensen asked, suddenly worried that his warning to her to find a safe place to stay hadn't been in time.

"Could be." Jared looked down at the display. "Caller unknown," he said. Then he shrugged and flipped it open. "Hello?"

There was a pause. Jensen watched as Jared's brow furrowed slightly. "Who is this?" he asked. A second later, he said more tightly, "How do I know that?"

Jensen leaned slightly forward, trying to get his attention. But with Jared's head tilted down towards the floor and his bangs hanging over his eyes, Jensen couldn't catch his eye.

"Yeah, this is him." Jared stared at the floor for a moment and then tilted his gaze up to Jensen, a slightly guilty expression on his face. "No," he said into the phone. A moment later, "No, I don't know where he is."

Something prickled down Jensen's spine, and he fought the urge to leap up and snatch either the phone from Padalecki's hand or the gun from the table. Instead he slowly rose, making sure Jared's eyes were on him, and mimed a phone with his hand, pulling his thumb away from his ear and tilting his head to indicate that Jared should share the phone call with him.

"What'd he do?" Padalecki asked, reluctance written all over his face at Jensen's non-verbal suggestion. A second later, his jaw dropped slightly and his eyes closed, a shudder passing over him. He rose to his feet and asked, "You're sure?" He looked at Jensen and then at the wall behind him, brow lowering as if he was trying to figure something out. "No, I really don't," he said. The unknown person at the other end spoke for a long moment, and Jared's jaw tightened as he listened. "You're right, I wouldn't want that," he finally said.

Jensen started to move forward, but Jared backed up, eyes darting back to him warily. "Yes, I'm sure you can understand I want to forget any of this ever happened," he said.

Jensen took another step, keeping his eyes trained on Jared but now aware to within a millimeter of how far he was going to have to reach for the Glock. He was sure he could pick it up with his splinted right hand and switch it to his left before the doctor could touch it. The chair was between Jared and the table, and his right hand held the phone. Jensen kept his face blank as he reluctantly accepted that his temporary haven here was about to come to an end. He'd been a fool to think he could trust this man not to turn him in when it came down to it. He still hoped he would be able to get away without injuring him any further.

"Can you tell me something?" Padalecki was saying into the phone. He held out his left hand towards Jensen, palm out. Wait, his eyes clearly said as he asked, "Where did you get this number?"

Jensen froze and watched Jared as he listened for the answer. "My contact information at the hotel?" he finally said. His eyes darkened and he shook his head at Jensen, but all he said was, "Okay." The corner of his mouth turned up in a grim smile. "Yes, thank you for understanding. Where can I meet you?"

Alarm flashed over Jensen's face, and he forced himself not to look at the gun a few feet away, not wanting to signal his intentions. But Jared was nodding and saying, "Uh huh, yes," without apparently paying attention to anything that was being said on the other end. Finally he said, "I think I can be there in an hour. Is that okay?" He bit his lip, his expression turning nervous. "All right. Thank you."

Jared turned the phone all the way off before flipping it shut and holding up both of his hands as if the Glock was already pointed at him. "I know I said you shouldn't be up and around, but I think we gotta go."

"Go where?" Jensen asked, his entire body tense and his right arm beginning a slow creep upwards towards the weapon on the table.

"Anywhere away from here." Padalecki took a step back, nearly bumping into the wall, eyes flickering down towards the table and back to Jensen.

Jensen suddenly realized that Jared had deliberately put himself out of reach of the gun, and he paused, frowning. "Why?" he asked sharply.

Jared waved the phone back and forth. "He said he was with the Berlin police, but that was complete bullshit. If they'd been trying to reach me, there would have been a voicemail or ten. Why did they call minutes after I used the phone for the first time in two and a half days?"

"What else did he say?" Jensen asked in a low tone, his eyes boring into Jared, watching for any sign that he was being lied to, not yet willing to believe he wasn't being played.

"He said I didn't want to end up being charged with murder." Jared's tongue shot out to lick his lips. "But if he really was with the police, don't you think they would have already confiscated my stuff from my hotel room?" He waited for Jensen's slow nod and then waved the phone around again. "And I never left this number with the hotel."

"So whoever they are, you think they already had your number, and they've been tracking your cell records and noticed the call to Texas," Jensen said.

Jared nodded. "Because how else did they get Megan's number except by searching the numbers I've called?"

Jensen turned that over in his head. "You just figure that out?"

"I don't even know how plausible it is," Jared said, turning his hands outward in a shrug. "You're the expert on this kind of thing."

He made a scoffing noise. "For all that that's worth." He studied Jared a moment longer. Then he let his shoulders relax, watching as the tension released in the taller man as well. "You're right, though," Jensen said. "We do need to get out of here." Then something else occurred to him. "What about your sister?"

Jared's eyes widened. "Shit." He opened the phone back up and started to punch in a number. "If they were testing me to see if I'd go to the police—"

"No, wait." Jensen took two steps forward and closed his left hand over Jared's, wincing as the motion pulled at his injured shoulder. "They think you're meeting them in an hour. They might have someone watching her, but they won't do anything if you don't show up."

"How do you know that?" Jared demanded. His fingers were trembling underneath Jensen's.

He gave a grim twist of his lips in reply. "Too sloppy. The more people who are involved, the more possibility there is of a trail being left. If she never knows anything is wrong, no one can connect San Antonio and Berlin. When you don't appear, they'll back off from her."

"Are you sure?" Jared leaned forward, staring at him hard.

Jensen nodded firmly. "I'm the expert on this kind of thing."

Jared pressed his lips together and then lowered his hand, his fingers sliding out from underneath Jensen's. "You damn well better be right," he said before turning away.

I know, Jensen thought, rubbing a hand over his stubbled jaw. I know.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

There was no way to be sure that Jared's phone was being used to track him, but he didn't want to wait around to find out. Ten minutes later, at Jensen's direction, Jared had removed all traces that they had ever been in the room, packing away the remaining medical supplies and stuffing a garbage bag full of wrappers and bloody bandages. It was beyond weird to have a bag of medical waste perched on his suitcase ready to cart away, but leaving it anywhere nearby would be like a big neon sign advertising their presence should any unwanted visitors come by.

It had been a huge risk on Jared's part to keep Jensen out of the phone call, but he'd realized as he started speaking that if it really was the police, he didn't want Jensen to overhear. It was one thing to hide out here while Jensen recuperated; Jared did feel like he owed him that much, what with the sudden turn-around and saving his life and all.

But lying to the authorities would be something entirely different, and as wary as Jared was of someone claiming to be with law enforcement when they weren't, he would like nothing more than to turn this whole mess over to the real cops and get on a plane home—if it wasn't for the not-so-thinly-veiled threat to his sister.

Instead, he was preparing to put a seriously injured man through the stress of travel with himself at the wheel. Jensen had assured him that Katrina could get them a car so at least they would be traveling at their own pace. Of course, where they were traveling to, he had no idea, and he wasn't sure Jensen did, either. He was hoping for somewhere else in the Berlin area, to make it easier once he was able to go home. Once Jensen remembered who he was—and since he seemed confident that he had his name right, surely it was only a matter of time before the rest followed—Jared could leave him to his own devices and be off.

But in the meantime, they had some frighteningly well-connected people to avoid.

"So how do you know she'll have a car when we ask?" Jared asked, reaching up to push the bangs out of his eyes.

"Standard procedure," Jensen said. He'd put on the only pair of jeans Jared had brought with him, rolling up the cuffs so they didn't completely cover his shoes, and a grey USC hoodie over the money belt he'd fastened around his waist. Then he sat down on the bed, visibly weakened from the minimal effort of getting dressed. "The guests of places like this often have to leave at short notice."

"Huh." Jared looked around the room one last time, searching for anything he might have missed. "So you've stayed in places like this a lot? A safe house or whatever?"

"I guess so," came the reply.

"Do you remember when you saved her life?"

Jensen frowned for a moment and then shook his head. "No."

There was a knock at the door, and Jared reached for the Glock he had tucked into the back of his waistband, looking to Jensen. He was sure that both of them would be happier if Jensen was the one carrying the gun, but given the condition of his hand and shoulder, he wouldn't be able to do much with it.

When they heard Katrina's voice through the door, Jensen gave him a nod, and he moved his hand away from the gun before opening the door. The blonde stood in the doorway with a laptop open in her arms, looking back and forth between the two of them and Jared's pile of belongings. "I was going to tell you to pack up, but it appears you already know."

"Know what?" Jensen asked sharply.

She turned the screen around to face them. It was the online edition of a German newspaper, and even if Jared couldn't read the words, the images were clear: a photograph of Chernak, eyes closed in death, and a larger image of himself, blurry but recognizable. "Mordverdächtiger," read the headline.

"Murder suspect," Jensen read aloud. He clenched his jaw. "Son of a bitch!"

Jared stared at the screen, a ball of ice forming in his stomach. He was a murder suspect? Okay, so he'd been in Chernak's apartment, and his fingerprints were all over the bathroom and the window, but why now? Why nearly three days later? Vision of going to the police and promptly being locked up were suddenly swarming through his head, and he reached for the wall to steady himself.

"This came up in the last ten minutes," Katrina said before placing the laptop down on the table. "Breaking news, etc."

Jared looked over at Jensen, whose eyes were fixed on the computer screen. In the last ten minutes, Jared had told someone who claimed to be with the police that he was coming to see them, essentially turning himself in and maybe Jensen along with him. So why would his face suddenly be plastered all over the news?

Jensen bent over and scrolled through the whole article, his face momentarily going white about halfway through. Jared desperately wanted to know what was going on, but he didn't want to say anything in front of Katrina. So instead he asked, "Uh, would it be possible for us to get access to a car?"

Her blue eyes slid to his. "I take it you're not planning on returning it?"

He looked over at Jensen, but he was still reading, lips pressed tightly together. "No, probably not," Jared agreed.

The corner of her mouth quirked up. "For another two thousand, yes."

"Another two thousand?" Jensen muttered. He glanced up. "Where is it?"

"On the street out front," Katrina answered, turning to look at Jensen without putting her back to either of the two men.

"Fifteen hundred," Jensen returned, standing up, his face still pale but his eyes hard. "Since we haven't seen the car yet."

Katrina looked at him for a moment and then nodded. "In the interests of time," she said.

"You read all of this?" Jensen asked her, nodding towards the laptop.

"I told you it was a name many people would recognize," she replied.

Jensen grunted in agreement, not meeting Jared's eyes as he turned around. "Ready when you are," he said.

"All right." She reached out to close the laptop and tucked it under one arm. "Follow me."

Chapter Text

Jensen gestured towards the black bag with an open hand, but Jared shook his head, slinging the strap of the laptop bag over his head before grabbing the handle of the roll-aboard suitcase and the garbage bag sitting on top. No way a guy with a damaged shoulder and hand should be carrying anything. He wished he could fashion a sling for Jensen, but he didn't think they had the time to spare.

When he realized it would be hard to get at the gun at his waist if he needed to, Jared switched the bags to his left hand. The thought of it made his stomach twist in a knot. He knew how to fire a gun—his dad had made sure of that years ago—but ironically, Jensen was the only person at which he'd ever actually pointed a gun, and that only a few hours ago. He wondered if he'd be able to shoot if he had to.

He momentarily wondered what he could have done if he'd been armed the other night and realized glumly that Jensen certainly would have gotten the drop on him anyway.

They followed Katrina down a set of rickety steps that Jared barely remembered stumbling up while lugging a bleeding Jensen in his arms. They emerged onto a narrow alley with three-story timber-frame houses rising up on both sides. Even the limited sunlight filtering down between the buildings made him blink after being inside the dim attic room for a couple of days.

"There," Katrina said, nodding towards a small orange Fiat in a parking space across the street from the far end of the alley. Jared grimaced, wondering if he would even fit inside the tiny car.

Jensen pulled out a handful of large bills from the front pocket of his jeans. "So d'you know who's still in the business? Somewhere we could go?"

She looked back and forth between the two of them. "Last I knew, Amsterdam and Paris. Maybe Frankfurt or Geneva. London, of course."

"Anywhere warmer?" Jensen asked wryly.

"There is Venice, but that's probably not a good idea right now," Katrina said with a pointed look at Jensen.

"Right," he quickly agreed, but Jared could tell from the way his eyes shifted downward that he didn't know what she was talking about. "How about Prague?"

"I don't know." She shrugged. "I have been out of touch." She held out a set of car keys, which Jared quickly snagged.

"Yeah, okay." Jensen counted the stack of money and then said to Jared, "Hey, you got another couple of hundred? This is all I got."

Jared frowned. There was plenty more than that in the money belt, but as Jensen stared him with a bland expression, he felt a light bulb go on over his head. This guy really doesn't trust anyone, he thought. "Yeah, I think so," he said, putting down the suitcase long enough to dig out his wallet. He counted out two hundred euros in smaller bills and handed them to Jensen.

"Thanks for everything," Jensen said, handing Katrina the money.

"My pleasure," she replied, accepting the bills and folding them up before tucking them down the front of her shirt. "Safe journey," she added. She nodded at Jared. "Both of you."

"Thanks," Jensen replied, turning away towards the car.

They climbed in, Jared depositing his luggage in the back seat before wrestling with the driver's side seat to push it as far back as it would go. It actually wasn't so bad once he got inside. "C'mon, let's go," Jensen muttered, his eyes shifting around from the street in front of them to the passenger side mirror.

Across the street and a block behind them, a car door slammed. Jared turned to see two men in suits moving towards the entrance of the building they'd just left. A gust of wind lifted the suit jacket of the one in front, and a holstered weapon was clearly visible. He froze, one hand on the keys in the ignition and one hand on the door. He was still armed, and with Jensen directing him—

The grip on his arm was surprisingly strong, considering Jensen only had a thumb and pinky to work with. "No. We need to go."

"But if she's—"

Jensen spoke in a low, rapid tone, leaning towards him across the front seat. "If they are who you think they are and you go back up there, then you are dead, and Katrina is dead. If we stay out of there, she at least has a snowball's chance of denying we were ever there."

Jared hitched in a breath and tried to pry Jensen's fingers off. "But she's—"

"No, you listen to me." The older man's tone dropped to something like a growl, and Jared stiffened, reminded of the last time he'd sat in a car with him, when there'd been a gun at his head. "This is not a game, Jared. This is not some fucking adventure you're on. This is a matter of life and death. Yours. And mine."

"And Katrina's," Jared muttered.

"Yeah, that's right. And anyone else who gets dragged into this." Jensen gave his arm a shake before letting go. "Now drive the damn car."

He cast one final look in the rearview mirror before turning the keys in the ignition. The taller of the two men was knocking on the door, the other one looking around the street, and Jared quickly shifted the car into gear and drove off, resisting the urge to punch down the accelerator. He turned the corner and put the street out of sight, hoping it was the authorities and not Dorner's men that were on Katrina's doorstep.

He didn't want to be responsible for anyone else dying.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

There was a long burst of gunfire and then a final shot echoing through the dark streets. Silence fell, the cold of the dank air seeping into his bones as he huddled in the doorway. He waited, dread curdling in his gut, as two people raced past his hiding place without looking in his direction.

Then he slipped out, at first walking carefully on the cobblestones to keep his own footsteps silent, then breaking into a fast walk and then a run. Fear made his legs move faster, his heart pounding hard enough to hurt.

When he rounded the final corner, he saw that his worst nightmare had come true.

The brown-haired man was sprawled on his back, a dark red pool spreading out from under his body. Empty eyes stared up at the night sky, both arms outflung and a ragged line of bullet holes stitched across his torso from shoulder to shoulder.

He dropped to his knees as sudden, sharp grief blurred his vision. He reached out and put trembling fingers to the long neck, his other hand coming to rest over the still-warm, unmoving chest, knowing there was no point, but praying for a miracle anyway. He should have been here, he should have been at his side...he shouldn't have been left behind like this.

He couldn't scream out loud—it still wasn't safe—so he stuffed his fist against his mouth to stifle the anguished cry that sprang to his lips—

"Sam!"

Jensen jerked awake to feel a restraint across his chest and something holding down his wounded shoulder. He fought for a second until his hazy mind registered the pressure as a seat belt and Jared's large hand keeping him against the seat. Then he pulled slightly away, trying not to wince at the flare of pain from his shoulder.

"You okay?" Jared asked, his voice a low rumble over the thrum of tires on pavement, his eyes flashing to Jensen and then back out to the darkness beyond the windshield.

Jensen could still see the blood spreading out on the pavement, could feel the deathly stillness of the chest under his palm. Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, "He's dead."

His voice sounded more high-pitched than normal to his ears, echoing in the sudden silence that fell in the close quarters of the car. He took in a shuddering breath and added, "Whoever he is, he's dead."

There was a pause, enough for him to make out the lines of a highway in front of them in the glow of their headlights, a handful of other cars on the road. Then Jared said softly, "I'm sorry. He, uh…it sounds like you were close."

"Guess so," Jensen agreed, feeling for one second the terror and grief from the last moments of his dream, hoping it was only a dream but knowing it must be a memory buried deep in his messed-up brain. Then he shook his head. "So, where are we?" Before Jared could reply, he added, "I thought I told you to stay off the autobahn and stick to the side roads."

"We went through Hannover half an hour ago." His tone growing drier, Jared added, "You said to keep driving, and I figured they wouldn't be setting up roadblocks two hundred and fifty kilometers away from Berlin."

"Oh." Jensen frowned. Probably not. "You doing okay?" he asked gruffly.

The headlights of oncoming traffic revealed the dark circles under Jared's eyes and the absolutely haggard expression on his face. Then he gave a loud yawn, his mouth splitting open hugely, and said through it, "Yeah, but I don't think I can drive much longer."

"Okay, we'll find a place to crash for a few hours." Jensen stared out the window, trying to shake of the last vestiges of his dream. A mileage sign flashed by with Melle and Osnabrück displayed, and he frowned. "Don't suppose there's a map in this rustbucket," he grumbled, reaching for the glove compartment.

"That would have cost another hundred euros," Jared said. When Jensen looked at him sharply, he winced. "Sorry. Joke. Supposed to be, at least. I get punchy when I'm tired."

Jensen grunted and opened the latch, startled when the compartment fell open abruptly from the weight of his Glock. "What's this doing in here?" he asked as he pulled it out.

"Nowhere else to put it," Jared replied.

He grumbled as he tucked the gun into the front pocket of the hoodie. "Pull over at the next town," he said, wishing he could drive but knowing in the long run it was better to take the doctor's advice regarding his still-healing body.

A few minutes later, they were rolling through a small town with two motels, one at each end of the main street. Jensen chose the one closer to the highway entrance, directing Jared to pull into the parking lot. He didn't miss the quiet sigh of relief the doctor gave when he turned off the car and leaned his head back against the headrest. "I'll be right back," Jensen said, reaching for the door handle.

"You shouldn't be up and about," Jared replied, reluctantly lifting his head. "Bad enough you had to sleep sitting up. Your shoulder's supposed to be immobile."

"You're the one in the newspapers," he said pointedly. When Jared's face flushed, Jensen went on, "Stay here."

The transaction went smoothly, even if Jensen had his hood obscuring his face and his right hand in the pocket of his sweatshirt so the splint couldn't be seen. A few minutes later, Jared was following him into the elevator at the far side of the building, luggage in tow, looking like it was all he could do to stand up. When they entered the room, Jensen locked the door securely behind them before making a slow circuit to check the window exits. He ended grudgingly satisfied that they had a way out besides the door and that being on the first floor up made escape possible while making infiltration unlikely.

When he turned back around, Jared was standing between the two beds and looking at him, a clear question on his face as his hands moved to the buttons of his white dress shirt. "D'you mind?" he asked, eyes flickering towards the bathroom door and back.

Jensen hesitated. There was the matter of privacy, sure, but then there was the fact that waiting in the bathroom would put someone else between him and all of the exits. His skin faintly crawled at the thought.

Jared dropped his hands and said impatiently, "If I was gonna do something to you, I'd've done it during the two days you were unconscious, okay? Jesus!" He stared at Jensen a moment longer and then turned his back with a loud sigh, his hands moving up to unbutton his shirt. "How long can I crash?"

"Is four hours okay?" Jensen asked with as much apology as he could put into his tone, lowering himself into the lone chair in the room.

Jared let out a huff and moved to unbutton his shirt cuffs. "Yeah, I guess." He pushed the shirt off his shoulders, revealing an impressively-muscled back. Obviously the doctor found time to work out in between helping his clinic patients and saving the world with his research because, damn. The man had a set of seriously wide shoulders, and Jensen was not at all jealous of that slender waist at the base of such well-formed dorsals. Really, he wasn't.

He shifted his eyes away as Jared started to remove his pants, starting to feel less like he was keeping an eye on a potential threat and more like he was ogling for its own sake. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw long legs emerging from the dark dress slacks puddled on the floor. Then Jared climbed into the bed on the far side of the room, sprawling face-down with his head turned away, leaving Jensen to stare at the almost brawny arms draped over the sheets, matching the memory of what he'd had his hands around when he'd first grabbed the doctor in the dark hotel hallway.

A minute later, the sound of soft, regular breathing told him the kid had already sacked out despite the harsh glow of the overhead light. Jensen tilted the chair back on two rungs to lean against the wall, the Glock resting in his lap, while he contemplated a sleeping Jared Padalecki. The guy was awfully trusting to just strip and conk out, no matter how exhausted he must be.

On the other hand, a week ago, Jensen couldn't have contemplated letting down his guard enough to fall asleep in the front seat of a car with a stranger behind the wheel. But his usual caution and mistrust had barely crossed his mind when he closed his eyes and all but passed out as they left Berlin. His body obviously needed the rest, and he'd already been unconscious under the doctor's eye for a few days, so what was a few more hours?

Still, it was weird.

One of Jared's legs twitched under the covers as he sank deeper into sleep. Jensen watched him, turning over in his head everything that had happened over the last few days. Padalecki seemed to genuinely care about his well-being, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out why. What was the deal with this guy?

He put together the pieces that he knew: Texas boy, no family left but his sister, young for a doctor, smart as a whip, not afraid of a gun, actually not half-bad in a crisis. Could have cut Jensen loose any number of times by now but seemed to have some stupid obligation to help him because Jensen had saved his ass at the bridge when it was Jensen's fault he almost died in the first place. Had whoever was after Jensen now on his tail as well, and apparently was a fugitive from the law and didn't want to risk straightening that out because of the long-distance threat to his sister. Was stuck with a hired killer with no memory who according to the news had taken out a retired American intelligence associate in the form of Mr. Chernak, which meant there was likely to be a third group of people chasing after them now.

Jesus, what were they going to do?

Jensen ran a hand over his jaw, feeling the prickle of unfamiliar stubble. He eyed his splinted hand, wondering if he could maneuver a razor with it. Then again, facial hair would help disguise him, so maybe it was better to leave it. He sighed and set himself to keep watch for a few hours. Like it or not, he and Jared were in this together, at least for the time being, and they were going to have to watch each other's backs.

He resolutely did not think about the dream-memory he'd had in the car or try and determine if he'd actually discovered his real name in the passport, because his headache was bad enough as it was. Instead, he thought about the places Katrina had mentioned, wondered if any of them would be interested in taking them in at the moment, wondered if he'd been to any of them before and how he could go about finding them. He made plans, made backup plans, then discarded most of them and started over, and pretty soon the clock was ticking over to midnight and it was time to wake up his driver.

Jensen went over and laid a hand on Jared's bare shoulder, surprised at how warm his skin was. "Hey, Jared," he said with a gentle shake. "Let's go."

Padalecki rolled over abruptly, blinking up at Jensen. "Wha—" he asked, and then his eyes widened as he recognized Jensen, surprise quickly replaced by resignation. "Yeah, okay," he said, rubbing his eyes and looking surprisingly childlike as he did so. "Lemme shower real quick."

It was only a couple minutes more before Jared was back in the room, a towel wrapped around his waist, his hair dripping onto the faded pine-green carpet. It wasn't a surprise to see that the man's torso was as finely-molded as his back. Really, Jensen grumbled in his head, this guy has no right to be in better shape than me.

"So where are we going?" Jared asked as he pawed through his bright purple suitcase.

He answered without thinking about it. "Amsterdam."

Jared frowned at him as he slipped a dark grey sweater over his head. "Why? What's in Amsterdam?"

A face flickered through Jensen's head, a tall young woman with dishwater blonde hair and eyes the color of the IJsselmeer. No way to know if she was friend or foe, though he was inclined to think the former, given the memory of kindness he saw in her eyes.

Jensen shook his head sharply. "A lot of tall people," he replied, looking away. "You won't stand out there like a sore thumb."

"I thought you grabbed me because I was tall," Jared muttered, sliding a pair of boxers up his legs and underneath the towel.

"Yeah, but I was planning on getting rid of you pretty quick," Jensen retorted. He saw Jared flinch, and he grimaced, realizing how the words must have sounded. "I was planning on letting you go as soon as I could," he amended.

"I know," Jared quickly replied. Then he ducked his head, pulling slacks on over his long legs. "I know that now," he added, turning to toss the towel into the bathroom.

Jensen looked at the damp mop of brown hair and wanted to ask, How? How do you know? Instead he licked his lips and said, "Come on, we better get going."

Ten minutes later, they were in the car and heading west once again into the darkness of the January night. Jared had paused to dig out a paper bag from his suitcase before climbing in the driver's seat, and he was dipping his hand into it as he drove. "Can we stop to get something to eat?" he asked as he popped a handful of something in his mouth. "'Cause gummi bears aren't gonna do it for me much longer."

"Yeah, we should do that." Jensen paused, lifting his splinted hand to rub the back of his neck. "Hey, you got any more of those things?"

Jared frowned. "The gummi bears?"

"Yeah."

"You're serious?" Jared asked, his eyebrows creeping upwards.

"What, can't I like gummi bears?" Jensen heard the defensiveness creeping into his tone a moment too late.

Jared flashed him a sideways glance, the corners of his mouth curving up. "And you think you kill people for a living."

Jensen rolled his eyes in response. A few hours of sleep had obviously improved the doctor's mood a great deal, or maybe it was the sugar. Jared held out the bag, smirking when Jensen grabbed a handful of the squishy candies and shoved them into his mouth all at once. "Just drive," he said through the sweet, sticky mouthful.

And they did.

Chapter Text

The next two weeks were a learning experience for both men in a number of different ways.

Three days after leaving Berlin, five days after the Hotel Bristol, Jared had already learned a lot of different strategies for being on the run from the authorities and potentially more dangerous, shadowy figures. This included getting out of the country as fast as possible, staying in a hotel room for no more than one night, and always, always being on high alert. It turned out Mad-Eye Moody had nothing on Jensen Ross in terms of keeping constant vigilance.

Jared destroyed his phone not long after their first stop, reluctant to lose that last connection to home but recognizing the danger it posed. Jensen pointed out that Megan probably would have changed her number already, and the risk of being tracked by the phone's GPS was too high for them to take. Then Jared wanted to try e-mail instead, but Jensen was wary of his laptop being tracked the same way. Still, it was hard to imagine that his sister hadn't heard about him being wanted for murder, and the thought that he couldn't communicate with her and assure her he was okay was driving him up the wall. Then again, considering what had happened the last time he tried to talk to her, she was probably safer if he stayed as far away as possible.

For his part, Jensen learned within the first week that Jared could be almost infinitely patient and persistent.

Whether sitting in a random motel room or behind the wheel, he would ask Jensen about the places that Katrina had mentioned, the other safe houses that might or might not still exist, to see if anything rang a bell. He kept asking about Venice, given her emphasis on that place and the fact that Jensen had been found in the Adriatic. He asked Jensen how he'd been trained, where he'd traveled to, what faces he could remember, and when Jensen inevitably got tired and frustrated and snapped at him, he held up his hands and backed off.

At least, he'd give it a rest until Jensen's hackles came back down, which somehow Jared was able to judge with alarming accuracy, and then the doctor would try again. When they ducked into a dimly-lit Internet café to look for themselves in the news, Jared brought up pictures of locations all over Europe and North America, telling Jensen to look through them in the hopes that the visual stimulation would work better than verbal. A couple of times, it brought up a face or a name, but not enough to be of help.

He also learned that Jared was apparently willing to put himself completely in Jensen's hands in terms of where they were going and how they would get there. This involved longer-than-necessary drives between cities to make sure they weren't being tailed, or sometimes traveling no more than half an hour before checking into another room, or going the opposite direction from Amsterdam because Jensen still had no clue where the hell they were going once they got there. He supposed they should ditch the car, but the thought of being dependent on even the highly-reliable Dutch rail network made him twitch. Better to be able to flee at a moment's notice instead of waiting for a train, or God forbid, being stuck on one with their pursuers. He hadn't seen a sign of any pursuit, law enforcement or otherwise, since leaving Berlin, but that didn't make him any more relaxed.

Jared learned after a week that that even well-dried blood did eventually wash out of wool if he kept soaking it in cold water and used enough detergent.

He bought new clothes for both of them at a thrift shop in Nijmegen; Jensen hadn't been able to keep the clothes on his back, torn and bloody as they were, and his own suitcase was stuffed with casual business attire for the conference. On the other hand, dressing as casually as he did at home would make him stand out here, not to mention that it was too cold for flip-flops. And Jensen had drilled into him over and over again the importance of not standing out.

Thankfully, he'd managed the clothing transaction without too much trouble; it was amazing how little talking he actually needed to do in order to purchase something. The familiar routine of putting his purchases on the counter, waiting for the total to come up on the register, counting out the right amount of money, and nodding his thanks was pretty much universal, no matter the language.

Still, he was glad he could keep his coat after scrubbing it mostly clean. Even if the dark stain had barely been visible on the black cloth, the thought of going around with Jensen's blood splashed all over his front was damn creepy.

Nine days after Jensen admitted at gunpoint that he had no idea who he was, they both learned where he grew up.

"So what about sports teams?" Jared asked one night in yet another small, clean hotel room, this one outside of Apeldoorn. There was a soccer game on TV, and the shouts from the bar across the street every time the team wearing orange did something noteworthy made it pretty clear the locals were into it.

"What about 'em?" Jensen asked, settling back against the headboard of his bed.

"You follow baseball? Football?" Jared was sprawled over the mattress, head propped up on pillows, but his feet weren't hanging off the edge like they normally would be on a bed wide enough for only one person, which was awesome. He was really starting to like the Netherlands.

Jensen shrugged his right shoulder. It had been a few days since Jared released him from the immobility restriction, as much as he'd been able to maintain it, but he still favored the side where he'd been shot. "Can't recall any teams of interest."

"Yeah, well, those aren't my sports either." They watched as a penalty kick sailed wide, followed by a groan from outside. Jared went on, "Basketball's the only thing really worth watching, and the Spurs are obviously the best team in existence."

Jensen snorted. "Man, and here I was starting to like you."

"Yeah? Who's better?" Jared asked challengingly.

"The Mavs, of course."

There was a pause. Then they both looked at each other, Jared lifting his head off the pillow. "Dude, you're totally from Dallas," he said with a grin.

"How do you know that?" Jensen asked, looking like he was holding his breath.

He snorted. "'Cause no one would root for such a crappy team unless that's where they grew up."

"Hey now," Jensen cleverly retorted, but there was no sting in his tone. More like thoughtfulness, maybe even a touch of wonder, and Jared's grin grew wider at the thought that they'd made a breakthrough, especially one of such personal importance as where "home" was.

This was followed by an hour of Jared asking Jensen everything he could think of about Dallas and Texas, which as usual ended with Jensen snapping at him in a way that would have been terrifying eleven days ago. But by now, Jared knew to let it go from the crease in Jensen's forehead that meant he was getting a headache and the timbre of his voice that suggested there was nothing to be gained by asking the same questions one more time. They both needed Jensen to get his memory back as fast as he could, but they couldn't force it.

After twelve days, Jensen learned why Jared's acquaintance Stan hadn't been surprised at Jared's introduction of his "boyfriend" back in the Hotel Bristol.

They were in a small Italian restaurant in Amersfoort, celebrating the removal of the splint from all but Jensen's ring finger, which seemed kind of silly but was better than going stir-crazy in yet another motel room, at least in Jared's opinion. The waitress greeted them in Dutch, to which Jensen responded flawlessly. She rattled on for a moment longer, probably explaining the specials, and then said something with a quick look at Jared before grinning at Jensen.

"Dank u vel," Jensen said with a warm smile, putting crinkles at the corners of his eyes that had Jared staring at him in fascination.

She walked away, and Jensen's face fell, his gaze lowering to the tabletop. "What was that about?" Jared asked curiously.

Jensen took a sip of water and set the glass back down, still not meeting Jared's eyes. "She, uh, she said we make a cute couple."

"Oh." Jared felt his cheeks flaming. It was impossible not to notice how the glow from the small candle at their table warmed the highlights of Jensen's dark blond hair and lit his luminous green-gold eyes—but Jared had been trying really hard not to notice. He let out a small half-laugh. "I forget, this is Europe. I'm not used to people saying things like that out loud."

Jensen looked up at him with a slight furrow in his brow. "You know, most Texas boys wouldn't appreciate being told they look cute with another guy."

Jared paused only briefly in his reply, the all-too-familiar thrill of fear fluttering through him no matter how many times he outed himself. "Most Texas boys are straight."

"Oh." Jensen's eyebrows shot up and then leveled off. "Okay, that makes sense."

Something occurred to Jared, and he tilted his head to the side. "You don't seem to mind being tagged as gay, either."

Jensen's mouth twisted ruefully. "Dude, for all I know, I am gay."

"What do you mean, 'for all you know'?" Jared stared at him. "Come on, do you look at men or at women when you're walking down the street?"

"I look at everyone, Jared."

"Oh." Jared fiddled with his silverware as the reminder that they were still two people running for their lives with unknown forces arrayed against them made the severity of their situation come crashing back down on his shoulders.

"Hey." Jensen's voice was soft but commanding, and Jared looked up. Jensen quirked his lips as he went on, "We are the two best-looking people in this place, I can tell you that much."

Jared returned a small smirk. "At least one of us is," he said, tossing his head back in an exaggerated motion.

Jensen let out a small snort. "Didn't realize you had an ego the size of Texas, too."

Jared put on a deliberately innocent expression and shot back, "Everything about me is proportional." A second later, he wanted to clap his hand over his mouth. Was he flirting?

To his relief, Jensen looked vaguely amused. "So you didn't…uh…with Katrina?" He made a rolling gesture with his hand that had Jared at a complete loss. Jensen must have seen his puzzlement, for he went on, "She said you did her a special favor?"

"Oh, God, no." Jared felt his cheeks flush. "I fixed a leak in her plumbing."

Jensen stared at him for a moment before bursting into laughter. It wasn't a loud laugh, nothing like Jared's own cackle, but the throaty sound of it triggered something deep inside Jared that made him suddenly wish he'd met the man under completely different circumstances.

Jared learned after thirteen days in the Netherlands that the concepts of "candy" and "breakfast" were not consistent across cultural lines, which had its good and bad points.

On the one hand, there was the horror that was Dutch licorice. Seriously, why the fuck would anyone put salt in their candy? Still, the puckering of his mouth was more than offset by the delight he felt in getting Jensen to laugh, eye-crinkles and all, at the faces Jared was pulling. He might have expounded upon his ensuing rant about the taste of tire rubber in his mouth solely to keep the amusement on Jensen's face, but he was pretty sure Jensen didn't know he was doing it. After all, his companion had surely learned by now how much Jared loved to talk.

On the other hand, there was the place they stayed at in Groningen that included a proper Dutch breakfast, including two boxes of something called hagelslag, one chocolate and one fruit-flavored. When Jared learned that the small pellets inside were meant to be piled on a slab of buttered bread, his face lit up. "You eat sprinkles for breakfast?" he demanded of the innkeeper, who nodded with a tolerant expression that suggested Jared wasn't the first foreigner to be astonished at this particular foodstuff. "Wow." He beamed at Jensen. "I think I've found my true ancestral home."

Fourteen days after leaving Berlin, they learned that Jensen apparently was a world-renowned assassin.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jared's near-constant questioning of Jensen had finally pried loose a description of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman he thought was named Matthea and a vague description of the Amsterdam neighborhood where her safe house was. But it was going to take some reconnaissance to narrow that down before blindly wandering around a city of a million people.

So after dinner that night, they entered an Internet café not far from Schiphol Airport, the car abandoned in long-term parking, at least for now. At the rate they were going, they had money for a few more weeks, but Jensen seriously needed to start getting some answers about who he was and what the hell he was going to do to get Jared out of this mess. With the goal of finding the safe house Katrina had alluded to, Jensen was perusing Google Maps, trying to find a street that matched the vague memory that had come to light this morning while flipping through a local tourism magazine.

"Hey, what was it that Heinrich called you?" Jared asked from his right, typing something into the computer in front of him.

"When?" Jensen asked absently, dragging the little orange guy on the screen to another blue-lined street. He was pretty sure he'd never seen this technology before, but damn, was it useful. What a great way to scope out locations ahead of time, at least for the basics in terms of sightlines and escape paths.

"When you were, um." Jared cleared his throat, and Jensen turned to see him sticking two fingers up against the underside of his jaw, his thumb held out like the hammer of a gun.

He quickly reached out and folded his hand over Jared's, dragging it down as he looked over his shoulder. Everyone else in the dark room was deeply engaged in their first-person-shooter games, but he still felt conspicuous. Maybe it was because he was the only person obviously over the age of twenty-five in the room, or maybe it was the Glock weighting down the front pocket of Jared's USC hoodie that he was still wearing. "I don't know," he said, letting go of Jared's hand and adding wryly, "I wasn't really paying attention to what he was saying."

"He said something about being caged," Jared replied in a low tone. "I don't know what made me think of it, but we haven't pursued it yet."

Jensen closed his eyes and forced himself back to the street in Kreuzburg, a gun at his throat and his back pressed up hard against the car, right before Jared had shown up and the bottom dropped out of everything. "The jaguar," he said suddenly. "He said the jaguar had been caged."

"Right," Jared said, his fingers flying. "That mean anything to you?"

He was used to the question by now, had even developed the habit of shifting his gaze up and to the right as Jared insisted helped with memory retrieval. He was also used to the frustrating blankness that remained. "No," he finally said, eliciting an apologetic shrug from Jared.

Returning to his screen, Jensen kept virtually traveling up and down the streets of Amsterdam. He'd started by randomly picking streets but was slowly getting a feeling for which neighborhoods were most likely to be a match. After a while, he found himself squinting at a doorway that looked familiar, red wood set into brick with an arching trellis of white roses overhead. A block down was a storefront he could swear he'd entered before, and now at least he had a street name to work with: Lijnbaansgracht. He leaned back in the cheap, creaking computer chair and ran the name through his head, cursing under his breath when it once again failed to produce anything familiar.

It was about a minute later that he heard a sharp gasp from his right. He looked over to see Jared's face pale in the glow of the computer screen and his body suddenly go unnaturally still.

The back of his neck prickling, Jensen shifted his gaze towards the screen, and he frowned. "Wikipedia? Seriously?"

"Just read it," Jared said hoarsely, pushing his chair back.

The page title was "Jaguar (assassin)," and Jensen felt a chill go down his spine. The first sentence propelled that sudden cold throughout the rest of his body: "The Jaguar is a nickname for the fugitive known as Dean Winchester, a man wanted in multiple countries for murder and possible connections to terrorist activities."

Heart pounding, he scrolled through the rest of the short entry, thankful that at least there wasn't a picture with the article, but feeling his stomach drop at the mention of the killer's vivid green eyes that led to the nickname. He could feel Jared's stare at the back of his head as he read, could feel the weight of the gun in his sweatshirt. Now that he knew that Chernak and the men trying to kill him and Jared were right about who he was, it didn't make him feel any better.

He felt like he was going to throw up.

"Like you said, it's Wikipedia." Jared's voice was nearly in his ear, soft but with a tremor wound through it. "Anybody could have written that."

"Doesn't mean it's not true." Jensen took in the half a dozen news articles cited at the bottom of the page. Then he abruptly clicked the "log off" button in the upper left corner of the screen. "Come on, let's go," he said, signing off his own machine and heading for the exit.

Once they were on the street, he pulled the sweatshirt hood up over his head. "Okay, here's what you're gonna do," he said, his mind falling into the familiar track of evasion and planning as Jared strode along beside him. "The American embassy is in the Hague, but you can get back to the car and get yourself there. Just let me get a few things from the trunk first."

"Whoa, whoa, wait a minute." Jared's hand latched onto his arm, but he shook it off. "What are you talking about?"

Jensen went right on as if he hadn't been interrupted, his voice low but pitched towards the man beside him. "Tell them that I've been holding you captive this whole time, and you finally got away. Tell them the truth about what happened to Chernak, and they'll let you go."

This time Jared grabbed him more firmly and pulled him to a halt. "I can't go to the authorities," he hissed. "In case you've forgotten, someone's watching my sister!"

"They'll probably have given up by now since you've been out of sight for a couple of weeks," he replied as he reached out to push Jared against the wall behind him, out of the way of the relatively few passers-by at this time of night. "It's for the best."

Jared shook his head as his back hit the concrete. "I'm not leaving you."

"The hell you're not!" Jensen stepped closer, gripping the lapels of Jared's coat with both hands as he dropped his voice to a near-growl. "You don't want to be anywhere near a contract killer with terrorist connections, Doctor Padalecki."

Jared stared back at him for a long minute, his eyes a dark blue-grey as they flitted back and forth across Jensen's face. Finally he said quietly, "You're scared, aren't you?" Before Jensen could snap back a reply, he tilted his head forward and went on with lifted eyebrows, "You don't want it to be true, but you're terrified that it is. You're exaggerating what you read and trying to get me to believe it, too. That tells me an awful lot right there about who you are, Jensen. And who you're not."

"They knew me by sight," Jensen said, enunciating every word as he glared up at the doctor, wanting to pound the truth into his thick skull. "They knew I was the Jaguar."

Jared shook his head, his too-long bangs practically brushing Jensen's forehead. "I pointed you out to them."

He shook his head impatiently. Kreuzberg wasn't the first time he'd encountered Dorner and friends. "Chernak," he said suddenly. "He called me Winchester."

Jared's gaze faltered slightly, but he licked his lips and said, "Doesn't mean anything. He tried to kill you."

"Oh, come on!" Jensen gave him a slight shove and stepped back. "Why do you always have to ignore the stuff you don't want to hear?"

"And why do you always have to spin everything as bleak as you can? Look, I know this is fucked up, okay? But…I feel safer with you than I would if I was on my own. And I'm not—" Jared reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh. "I'm not as naïve as you think I am. But I don't have anywhere else to go, Jensen. I don't have anyone I can trust but you."

Silence fell except for the traffic on the street behind them. Jensen drew in a slow, deep breath, and then another, his eyes never leaving Jared's. "I can't protect you," he finally said. "If you stick around and it turns out that this is who I really am…" He trailed off and shook his head. "Your life is over."

Jared let out a huff of breath. "At this point, it pretty much is anyway." Jensen winced, and Jared swiftly laid a hand on his shoulder. "Listen, I don't think it's who you are. We just have to come up with some way to prove it."

"What if you're wrong?" Jensen challenged quietly.

Something flashed across Jared's eyes before he looked away. "Then I guess I won't get that job offer at Harvard I was angling for."

Jensen barked out a harsh half-laugh. "You are something else," he said, not sure if the relief that washed over him was what he really should be feeling right now.

Jared's hand fell away, and he stuffed both hands into his pockets, slouching back against the concrete wall. "You got a place for us to go?"

"Yeah, maybe."

"Then let's go." Jared pushed away from the wall and strode away, Jensen cursing his companion's long legs as he struggled to catch up.

Chapter Text

Morning found the two of them leaving a run-down hotel that Jared was pretty sure wasn't in any tourist guide to Amsterdam. For one, despite the cheery name of the Red Tulip Inn, it was within sight and sound (and smell) of the port, making for a less than restful night even without Jensen pacing back and forth and checking the doors and windows on a regular basis. For another, the clientele appeared to consist mostly of sailors who wanted somewhere to go after visiting the city's notorious red light district, usually with a denizen of that district in tow. It made for some interesting combinations of bleary-eyed people leaving the rooms in the pre-dawn light.

Jared kept his head down as they strolled away from the port district, hoping he'd picked up by now at least some of Jensen's instructions on how to look inconspicuous. Once the neighborhood they were walking through improved, he started paying attention to more than the people walking around them and whether or not they looked like they were about to jump him.

He was instantly enthralled.

Amsterdam was a beautiful city, with its narrow streets and picturesque canals lined with tall buildings standing shoulder-to-shoulder, stair-stepped facades distinctive against the dim morning sky. He tried not to be obvious how much he was gawking at the sights, but he could feel a constant, small smile on his face. This was nothing like home, and he loved it.

For one, Jensen hadn't been kidding about the height of the populace. Poor guy must be feeling like a shrimp, Jared thought, looking down at his companion striding next to him. Jared wasn't much more than average height on the Amsterdam streets, and it wasn't at all unusual to see a man pass by who was taller than him.

It was a novelty that he enjoyed at first, until he realized how accustomed he was to being the tallest person anywhere he went. His excitement dimmed further when he realized he couldn't easily see over the crowd like always and that this gave him a slight feeling of claustrophobia.

After a long trek across what felt like the entire city, they were standing outside 163 Lijnbaansgracht. The sun was finally starting to come up, which put it somewhere around 8:15 in the morning. He'd been in Europe for three weeks, and he still thought it was weird how little daylight there was here in the winter and how low the sun was in the sky for the relatively short amount of time it was up. How did people deal with that all of the time?

Jensen raised his hand to knock and then hesitated. "There's too much open space back there," he said quietly, nodding over his shoulder to the canal on the other side of the narrow street. "Keep an eye out, okay?"

"Sure." Jared turned so that he was standing with his back angled towards the building, looking down the street in the direction they'd come. There was barely enough room to stand between the front steps and the concrete bollards demarcating the line between street and sidewalk. He was surprised at how much better he felt having the building at his back, and he noticed that as soon as Jensen finished knocking, he mirrored Jared's position so that he had a view along the street in the other direction.

The door opened, and a woman almost as tall as Jensen peered out. Her curly blond hair was held back with some kind of elastic, and her crystal-blue eyes widened the instant they laid on Jensen. "O mijn God," she whispered, hand going to her mouth.

Her gaze flickered to Jared, and she drew in a sharp breath. He recognized the panic starting to form on her face all too well—it was the same way he'd felt when he'd realized there was a gun aimed at him in a hotel in Berlin, and again when he understood that Dorner and Heinrich weren't the law enforcement officers they'd claimed to be.

Jared's heart sank as he realized he was inspiring that kind of fear in someone else simply by standing on their doorstep.

"Matthea," Jensen said, his voice underlain with surety and relief. This must be the woman he'd been hoping to see. "Alstublieft. Wij hebben hulp nodig."

She was shaking her head, lowering her hand and pressing it to her chest. "I can't help you," she said clearly but quietly in lightly-accented English, her eyes darting back and forth along the street behind them. "You can't be here."

"Please." Jensen's voice was low, his eyes open and honest and maybe even pleading. "We don't have anywhere else to go."

"What did you expect, after Venice and Berlin?" she hissed back. She looked Jared over from head to toe, and he realized a second later that she was trying to see if he was armed. He slowly took his hands out of his pockets and held them loose and relaxed by his sides, putting on the tentative smile he gave to young patients of his who weren't sure how to handle a giant of a doctor.

Her suspicious look didn't change. "I thought you worked alone," she added to Jensen.

"It's a long story," Jensen said. He jerked his chin towards the house behind her. "I can tell you all about it, but I'd rather not be standing out here like this."

Her lips tightened, and she started to push the door shut. "I can't," she said.

"Look, could we talk to you somewhere else?" Jared asked, pitching his voice to be low and soothing. "Maybe meet you somewhere you'd be more comfortable?"

He could feel Jensen shooting daggers at him with his gaze, but he kept looking at Matthea, keeping his eyes wide and ducking his head slightly while trying to look as earnest as possible.

After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a few seconds, she dropped her eyes and nodded. "In two hours. The Café Brakke."

"Fine." Jensen turned on his heel and walked off, leaving Jared to give Matthea a tiny, apologetic smile before following. He could feel her eyes on his back until they turned the corner.

He caught up to Jensen and said, "So do you know where this café is?"

"No, I don't," Jensen said tightly, not turning to look at him.

"Okay, but we can find out, right?"

"Yeah, and we're gonna have to do it pretty damn fast," Jensen snapped, his brisk pace never slowing.

"What is wrong with you?" Jared asked, putting a hand on Jensen's elbow.

Jensen jerked away and came to a stop, forcing Jared to turn and face him. He said in a low voice, "What is wrong is that you just handed her the perfect opportunity to set a trap. We're meeting on her ground, on her timetable, with nothing for us to do but hang out and wait for somebody to swoop by and pick us up. That's what's wrong with me."

Jared was taken aback. "I hadn't even thought of that," he admitted.

Jensen glared at him. "No shit."

Jared scrunched up his mouth and lowered his brows. "Look, she was gonna shut the door on us, and then we'd have nothing. She was freaking out, man. At least this way we can still talk to her."

"If she doesn't have the police waiting when we get there. Or the CIA. Or Dorner's friends. Or whoever the hell she's with, and I don't fucking know because I can't remember a goddamn thing!"

Jensen's voice rose as he spoke, enough to draw the attention of the people walking past, and that inattention on his part was alarming enough that Jared took his arm and drew him to the side, next to a boarded-up doorway. "Hey," he said quietly, bending his head to look Jensen in the eye. "Take it easy, okay?"

Jensen opened his mouth, the look in his eye suggesting a stinging retort was about to follow. Then he seemed to realize where he was, and he let out a whoosh of breath, bringing one hand up to rub over his mouth and jaw. "Sorry," he said, looking away at the passersby on the busy street. His cheeks were slightly flushed as he said, half to himself, "I can't be losing it like that."

"It's okay." Jared slowly rubbed his hand along Jensen's upper arm, feeling like he was calming a wild animal. "I can't imagine how frustrating this must be for you, Jensen."

"No kidding," Jensen muttered, but then he was casting a quick look at Jared from under his eyelashes. "Thanks." The tone was grudging, but the look in his eyes was heartfelt.

"You asked me to watch your back," Jared said with an easy shrug, but inside he felt a small thrill of pride.

"Well, I guess you're gonna have to keep it up," Jensen said. "C'mon, let's find out where this place is, and I'll teach you how to scope out a meet."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"She's coming," Jared said, straightening up slightly in the metal café chair, his eyes locked on the sidewalk over Jensen's right shoulder.

They'd been waiting for nearly twenty minutes, sipping small cups of dark coffee and watching passersby to see if any of them took an unusual interest in the two handsome men sitting outside the Café Brakke, where thankfully it was warm enough to sit in the sun. They were both seated at forty-five degree angles to the street, the front windows of the coffee house at the same angle to their backs. Even though a walk through the building's interior hadn't revealed anyone who triggered Jensen's instincts, he hated how vulnerable he felt without a solid wall behind him.

Now, he wanted to be able to see Matthea approaching, but turning and looking would draw his attention away from other possible approach routes. "She alone?" he asked, knowing that even if she wasn't, any companions were not likely to be at her side.

A faint, almost wistful smile crossed Jared's face. "Not exactly," he said, and at that Jensen did turn to look.

The blonde was about a hundred yards away, and Jensen was puzzled as to Jared's meaning until he saw the leash wrapped around Matthea's hand. Beside her paced a large black dog whose head came up to her waist, its eyes as alert and watchful as hers, its pointed ears cocked forward.

Jensen tilted his head up sharply, and Matthea caught the gesture. She threaded her way through the tables and sat in the empty chair to Jared's left, across from Jensen. "Good morning," she said quietly. The dog heeled at her side with a low growl in its throat.

"Can I?" Jared asked, carefully extending a hand towards the dog with his palm down and fingers curled in. Jensen thought he was nuts; the thing looked like an overgrown German shepherd and would probably bite his hand off as soon as look at him.

"Of course," Matthea replied easily, her eyes watching Jared more closely than her casual words belied.

Jensen watched as Jared made himself smaller in his seat and held out the back of his hand, looking down at the ground but obviously aware of the dog out of the corner of his eye. The animal's nostrils flared as it took in a sniff and then slightly lowered its head. Carefully, Jared bent down further and scratched the dog's neck. When it lowered its head further, all the way down to where its front paws were extended on the ground, Jared moved down with it and rubbed his long fingers over its shoulder and back, bending low in his chair to do so. "He's beautiful," he said quietly, a trace of awe in his voice. Then he looked up at Matthea. "It is 'he', right?"

She was watching Jared closely, and Jensen realized suddenly that the dog was serving more of a function than simply personal protection. "Yes, it is," she said slowly, folding her hands on the table in front of her. "His name is Schaduw."

"Schaduw," Jared repeated carefully, continuing to stroke its back. The dog suddenly raised its head back up and opened his mouth. Jensen froze, then realized it wasn't teeth but a long pink tongue that was coming out to wrap around Jared's hand. Jared gave a loud, clear laugh, rubbing both hands along the dog's muzzle. "You're a good boy, aren't you?" he asked. "Watching out for her, yeah?" He got a slurp on the face for his trouble, and the grin he gave in response was blinding.

Jensen found himself staring. God, actual dimples and everything. He'd seen a warm, easy smile slip across Jared's face on a few occasions, had seen his features light up when Jensen actually remembered something useful, but he'd never seen this open, exuberant side of the man.

It was a sharp reminder that the doctor wasn't meant for Jensen's world, that he had to get Matthea to help him so he could get the hell out of here and let this guy get back to his life.

Jared suddenly looked up at him, and the joyful expression slid right off the tall man's face. Jensen felt the frown on his own features and wanted to hit himself for making Jared's smile disappear. "Sorry," Jared said, abruptly withdrawing from Schaduw and sitting up straight. "I'm totally a dog person, but I can't really have one working as many hours as I do, so I'm always taking advantage of other people's dogs. Sorry," he said to Matthea.

Her face didn't change, but Jensen saw her shoulders drop and her folded hands relax slightly. "He is not always so friendly," she said. "Perhaps he understands you are one of the dog people."

Jared grinned and ducked his head, a quick flash of dimples appearing again. "One of the dog people," he repeated. "I like that."

Matthea looked at him for a moment longer before turning to face Jensen. In Dutch she said, "He is not one of ours, is he?"

"I don't know what you mean," Jensen said in the same language before switching to English. "Like I said, it's a long story."

"I see." Matthea signaled a waiter and ordered a coffee. After the waiter had left, she asked somewhat hesitantly, "Did you want to tell it to me? Is that why we are here?"

Jensen bit the inside of his lip, not wanting to telegraph his nerves but needing a familiar gesture to steady himself. He wanted so desperately to trust this woman who seemed to actually know who he was, and he needed to know his identity more than anything else in the world right now. A movement from across the table caught his eye, and he looked to see Jared reaching down to pet Schaduw again.

No, he thought to himself, what I need more than anything else right now is to keep Jared safe and get him home.

Aloud he said, "No, not right now. I need to ask something of you." He felt Jared's gaze on him, but he kept his own eyes focused on the woman who quite possibly held all of the answers he needed—if he could figure out how to get at them.

At that moment, the waiter returned with a small coffee cup and saucer, setting them down in front of Matthea. She stirred in a spoonful of sugar and took a delicate sip, setting the cup back in the saucer with a light clink. Jensen could recognize the signs of stalling as clear as day, but finally she said, "Such as?"

He leaned forward slightly and lowered his voice. "What have people been saying about Chernak?"

Her fingers tightened on the ceramic cup. "So that was you?" she asked, resignation coloring her tone.

"I didn't say that," Jensen smoothly replied.

She looked at Jared. "Your fingerprints were there," she said, stating a fact rather than making an accusation.

Jensen opened his mouth to cut him off, but Jared got there first. "How do you know that?" the doctor asked, his voice as low as theirs. Jensen saw his large hand gripping the edge of the metal table tightly enough to make his knuckles go white, but his voice was calm.

Matthea's small, snub nose twitched slightly. "The news. The police reports. Other kinds of reports." She looked back at Jensen, her voice growing sharper. "He tried to defend himself, they said."

Jensen looked her in the eye. "Maybe he wasn't the one who was trying to defend himself."

She cocked her head slightly to the side. "Really?"

"Really." Jensen flattened his hands against the tabletop as he rhetorically jumped off the cliff. "He drew on me first."

He heard a sharp gasp from Jared, but he didn't look away from Matthea. "I don't understand," she said slowly, and suddenly he realized that what he saw in her eyes was the dawning of hope. She wanted to believe him, that he hadn't killed a man out of anything but self-defense, but she couldn't quite bring herself to do it.

"I don't know why he did it," Jensen said quickly. Rolling the dice again, he went on, "You know me, Matthea. You know I wouldn't do something like that unless I had no other choice."

"I know," she replied, looking at Jared and then down at Schaduw. She drew in a breath and said, "You are right."

Something twisted in Jensen's gut, and for a moment he was tempted to tell her the whole story, to spill everything about the last eight weeks and beg her to tell him who he was and what this was all about. "See, the thing is, I've been—" he started before a sound cut him off.

Next to him, Jared had pushed his chair back slightly, the metal legs scraping over the brick sidewalk. The taller man was looking at Jensen urgently, his head angled away from Matthea, his blue-green eyes shooting a clear warning.

Please, Jensen thought, staring back at his reluctant companion, feeling his face go unguarded for a second. Please let me be able to trust her.

You can't, Jared's pinched expression clearly responded. I'm sorry, but you know you can't.

Jensen bit the inside of his lip again before looking away. Damn it, Jared was right. How had the doctor come to that conclusion after less than three weeks of this life? "The thing is," he said slowly, "I don't know what to do next."

"And so you came to me?" Matthea's eyebrows shot up. "I'm hardly at a level to be scheduling your assignments."

Jensen shook his head. The words triggered something, a vocabulary of double meanings and hidden phrases that had led him disastrously wrong in Chernak's apartment, and he felt like he was walking through a minefield. "I know," he replied even though he didn't. He forced himself to take a sip of coffee, long since gone cold. "But I need a neutral party."

She licked her lips nervously. "You want me to explain what you've said about Chernak to them?"

"Yes." To whom? he wanted to scream, but instead he reached out and laid a hand over hers on the coffee cup, his own hand perfectly steady. "I know it's a difficult position to put you in, and I'm sorry for showing up on your doorstep without any warning. But I need a messenger, an arbiter, and I think you're it."

Matthea looked back at him for a long minute, her blue eyes flitting across his face. He wondered what she was seeing and what kind of history she was drawing on to compare it to. Finally she met his gaze and said, "All right."

Jensen let out a sigh of relief and drew back. "Thank you," he said fervently.

She nodded briskly, then pulled a pen from her pocket and scribbled on a napkin. "Call in three days," she said, folding the napkin and pressing it into Jensen's hand.

Jensen frowned. That was a long time, but there wasn't much he could do about it. "Okay," he replied.

Matthea rose to her feet without saying anything more and tugged Schaduw up as well. Jared gave the dog one last pat before it followed the blonde out onto the street.

There was silence for a moment as Jensen gulped down the rest of his cold coffee. Finally, Jared leaned forward on his elbows and asked in a low voice, "What did you just do, Jensen?"

He watched Matthea's retreating figure, hoping he hadn't dug them an even deeper hole, and let out a sigh. "I wish to God I knew, Jared. I wish to God I knew."

Chapter Text

Most of the rest of the day was a blur to Jared of walking around, doubling back, ducking inside to warm up, and walking around some more. Jensen had taken it upon himself to drill into Jared's head as much as he could about spotting and shaking a tail, and they spent the afternoon practicing maneuvers. It took two instances of Jensen grabbing him from behind and scaring the crap out of him for Jared to stop paying attention to the pretty scenery and start watching for reflections in shop windows and listening for footfalls that stayed constant behind him no matter how many turns he made.

After a few hours, he was spotting Jensen within ten or fifteen minutes of the head start the older man gave him. One time he even managed to duck down a side street and slip back onto the sidewalk behind Jensen after he passed. When he tapped Jensen on the shoulder, hoping to make him jump, all he got was a nudge in his ribs and a quiet, "Good job, man."

He also got a smile that warmed him straight through despite all of the hours they'd been outside.

After that high praise, he bounced along beside Jensen, unable to keep a small grin off his face. Once or twice, he caught Jensen looking at him with a mix of amusement and curiosity and something else that Jared couldn't quite read.

Jensen had been different since this morning; having Matthea helping him must have lifted a weight off his shoulders. Jared still felt funny about warning Jensen away from trusting her—after all, Jensen was the one who should know better—but he also felt like he'd done the right thing. They didn't know who she was, after all, and somehow he got the feeling that if the head spies or assassins or whoever she was talking to found out that Jensen didn't even know who he was, things might get even more complicated.

Hours after the sun had gone down, but still well before dinner time, Jensen suggested they check out a bar in the vicinity of their hotel. Jared tried not to look apprehensive at the thought of sitting among a bunch of sailors and longshoremen when he didn't know a word of the local language. Jensen pointed out that they were dressed roughly enough to blend in and it wasn't a likely place for anyone looking for them to be hanging out. Then he said with a wink, "Besides, I think I can protect you."

Jared elbowed him in response, but he went along with it.

The bar itself was as dark and worn as any he'd ever been in, but the ancient wood of the walls and ceiling had clearly been around for a lot longer than any similar establishment back home. It felt rough but comfortable, as if the men (and everyone in the place was male) who spent time here were good people despite their coarse appearance.

Jared sat back in a booth and waited for Jensen to return with their drinks. He could hear Jensen's baritone below the other noises in the room as he chatted easily with the bartender, the lilting vowels and occasional guttural sound clearly not English. A moment later, when Jensen slid in across from him, the relaxed line of his shoulders said the place was safe, and Jared sat back against the hard wooden bench. "Cheers," he said, holding out his bottle. They clinked together and then each took a long draught.

They were quiet for a moment. It was weird being in here, like they were just two guys having a beer at the end of a long day's work. He took in the watchful expression on Jensen's face as he looked around the room, the way his graceful fingers curled around the bottle, the way he leaned forward slightly in his seat like he was ready to move at a moment's notice. Jensen must have been aware of Jared's eyes on him, but he didn't look back until his beer was almost gone. Then he cocked an eyebrow quizzically.

Jared felt his cheeks flush. "So, uh, you must have spent a lot of time here," he said as a conversation starter.

"Here?" Jensen asked. "I don't think I've ever been here before," he said, gesturing to the bar around them. "'Course, it's not like I'd know," he muttered into the mouth of the beer bottle as he raised it to his mouth.

"No, not here here," Jared said, admiring the line of Jensen's neck as he tilted his head back to drain the last drops. "In Amsterdam. Or Holland, or whatever. You know Dutch pretty well."

"Oh." Jensen sounded surprised as he set the bottle back on the scarred table. "Yeah. Well, once you know German it's not that hard to pick it up. Like once you've got Spanish down, Portuguese is no big deal." He shrugged, and Jared noticed he was still using only his right shoulder. "Same thing."

Jared let out a soft snort. "Dude, I studied Spanish for eight years, and I still have to concentrate like mad to keep up a conversation."

"Huh." Jensen blinked. "Pues, digame sobre se."

Jared frowned. "Tell you about myself?"

"En español, dumbass."

Jared raised an eyebrow at the casual insult but said carefully in Spanish, "What do you want to know?"

Jensen replied as fluently as any native speaker Jared had ever heard. "I know where you're from and who your family is and what you do for a living. But I didn't know you like dogs so much. So what else don't I know?"

Jared cocked his head to the side. "Why? Are we going to Spain soon?" He hated how stilted the words sounded, but his usual Spanish revolved around phrases like, "Where does it hurt?" and "Take one pill every day," not casual conversation about himself.

Jensen lowered his gaze to the scarred tabletop and rolled the bottom of the bottle around on the wooden tabletop. "No, but I thought—" He broke into English. "Never mind, Jared, it's okay. You don't have to."

"No, it's all right." Jared noticed Jensen's cheeks flushing, and he suddenly realized that maybe the ulterior motive here wasn't getting Jared to practice his language skills, but simply trying to get to know him better. The thought sent a flitter of nervousness through his stomach, but he smiled and said in careful Spanish, "I can tell you about growing up in San Antonio."

Jensen's head stayed down, but his eyes shot up to meet Jared's. "Go ahead," he said.

Jared thought for a moment and then started talking about his childhood dreams of being a vet and the way those dreams had morphed into being a human doctor when it turned out he was allergic to cats. He described his family and his home, slowly realizing as he occasionally fumbled for a word that it didn't hurt to talk about them as much as it used to. Since he'd already come out to Jensen, he didn't mind explaining why he'd gone to college in California rather than Texas: to find a more welcoming climate and maybe an actual boyfriend. He told some funny stories about life at Berkeley, grinning broadly when he got Jensen to laugh out loud.

He brushed over the car accident that had made him an orphan and eldest sibling overnight and found himself equally reluctant to talk about med school and his plans for a research position. Those had likely gone out the window the moment he picked up a bleeding Jensen Ross and carried him away from the authorities. Instead, he talked about his loft apartment in downtown L.A. and how he liked being an urban pioneer, about his wacky artist neighbor and the homeless guy he knew who'd gone to Juilliard and now played violin on Spring Street for tips.

When Jared finally ran out of words, which he blamed on using a second language rather than not having anything more to say, he looked at his watch and realized he'd been talking for almost forty-five minutes straight. He dropped his head and picked at the label on his beer. "Damn, I talk a lot."

"You did well," Jensen said. "I don't think you have as much trouble in Spanish as you think you do."

"I don't know. They say that you know a language when you dream in it." Jared shook his head. "I've never done that."

"What do you dream about?" Jensen asked.

The question took him aback. "I—I don't know," he said. He thought for a moment, realizing he wasn't fumbling for the Spanish words as much as he'd been half an hour ago. "The usual. Showing up for class to find out there's a test I didn't study for, meeting a patient for the first time and realizing I'm naked. Things like that."

Jensen nodded, draining the last of his second bottle of beer that had arrived somewhere in the middle of Jared's monologue.

"What about you?" Jared asked. When he saw the shadow pass over Jensen's face, he could have kicked himself. He knew damn well what the older man dreamt about, in general terms if not in detail. He'd been awakened any number of times by Jensen crying out the same name, always with a mixture of fear and grief that told him Sam had been important to Jensen—and that he was gone. "No, never mind," he said quickly, waving his hands back and forth. "You don't have to tell me. I'm sorry."

"There's not much to tell," Jensen said, his tone bleak. "That's the problem."

"If you want…if you ever want to talk about it. I'm pretty good at listening if you tell me in advance to keep my mouth shut."

A faint smile flickered across Jensen's face. Then his eyes turned dark and serious. "Can you tell me something?" he asked.

Jared swallowed. "I can try."

Jensen's tongue shot out to lick his lower lip. "You have this great life, you've never been in trouble with the law, you're an awesome doctor, and here you are…" He trailed off and waved one hand around to indicate their current situation. "If I were you, I'd be so pissed at me right now for taking you away from all of that. And instead you're sitting here having a drink with me and offering to be my friend. I don't get it, Jared."

He looked down at the table, tracing with his finger a line carved deeply into the wood, decades or maybe centuries of knife marks gouging the surface. "When my parents and Jeff died," he started, then shook his head. Getting the words right was too important to talk in something other than his native language.

He went on in English, "It was hard. I mean, of course it was hard, right?" He looked up and saw Jensen's sympathetic gaze on him. "I went through the whole 'stages of grief' thing, the 'what did I do to deserve this', the rant against God, all of that. But it was Megan who got it before I did."

"Got what?" Jensen asked quietly.

"That there was nothing that we could do about it. That the world, or God, or whatever, had dealt us a crappy hand but we couldn't ask for another one. The accident couldn't be undone. All we could do was go on and, well, maybe not make the best of it, but deal with what we had." Jared gave a slight shrug of one shoulder, his finger still tracing back and forth along the groove in the table. "I guess that sank in somewhere along the line."

Silence fell. After a moment, Jensen laid his hand over Jared's, stilling the nervous motion. "For what it's worth, Jared," he said in a low, gravelly voice, "I'm sorry."

Jared looked up into deep green eyes that seemed to be revealing as much about Jensen's heart as they were looking into his own. "I know," he said quietly. He turned his hand over so that it was clasping Jensen's and gave it a quick squeeze before pulling away. "You did what you had to."

"Yeah." Jensen pulled his lower lip between his teeth and looked at him, his eyes practically ablaze. Abruptly, he said, "You know I'm gonna get you out of this, right?"

The intensity of his gaze made it a promise, a vow, as strong as anything that Jared had ever heard. He also knew it wasn't entirely up to Jensen to make it come true. But all he said was, "Yeah, I do."

That got him a knowing half-smile, as if Jensen had heard the unspoken qualification he'd put on his response. Then Jensen bobbed his head to the side. "Okay, enough of the heartfelt moments," he said with a wry grin. "Let's go scrounge up some dinner."

Jared nodded in agreement and followed him out the door and into the chilly Amsterdam night.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

In the middle of the night, Jensen woke with his fist pressed to his mouth, stifling the cry that threatened to break out. It had been a few nights since he'd had his usual nightmare, seeing the tall figure sprawled dead on the ground and feeling his own grief choking him. By now he'd learned to stifle his reaction, not wanting to disturb Jared's sleep in the other bed. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised that the dream was happening again, given their brief discussion of it in the bar.

What did surprise him was that the name forming on his lips was Jared's.

Jensen shook his head and sat up, looking over at his companion. Jared was on his back, bare arms outflung, head turned sideways and nose emitting a gentle, whining snore. Jensen watched for a few minutes, following the rise and fall of his chest under the blankets, stifling the ridiculous urge to shake the other man awake and confirm that he was okay. Really, it was only a dream.

It was just—Jensen frowned as he realized how much the man in his memories looked like Jared. Had he been projecting the doctor into his dreams this whole time? He thought about it for a moment and realized that no, he'd had the dream before he ever even met Jared, had been screaming Sam's name in his sleep since before Berlin.

But the man he saw in his dreams was tall and brown-haired, with wide cheekbones and a broad, pointed nose and jaw, exactly like the one sleeping in the bed across the room. He stared at Jared, his stomach churning at how similar his current pose was to that of the dead man in Jensen's nightmares.

He forced the thought back down and studied Jared more closely, comparing him to what he remembered from his dreams. Jared might be in good shape, but he wasn't as bulky; his eyes were more blue-green than hazel; and he didn't walk with the dark cloud over him that Sam always had—

Jensen screwed his eyes shut as pain shot through his temple. It didn't happen every time he remembered something about his past, but it happened often enough. And it didn't take a genius to figure out that it happened more often when he recalled something personal, and that Sam's death was probably connected to this whole damn amnesia thing in the first place. He wondered briefly if the dank sea air and the cobblestoned streets he remembered were in Venice, given that both Katrina and Matthea had mentioned that city as significant.

In the other bed, Jared made a snuffling noise and rolled onto his side, away from Jensen. The glow from the streetlight slipping in between the curtains highlighted the curve of his bare back as he settled into place, long legs shifting under the blankets. Jensen had the strange urge to lean over and pull the covers up over his shoulders, even though he already knew Jared's body put out enough heat that he'd be fine in the close quarters of the motel room. He bit his lip and watched the other man for a moment, taking comfort in the fact that he was there and warm and real, that Jensen wasn't alone.

He was pretty sure this sentimental kind of musing wasn't normally his thing, but there was something about waking from a nightmare at 3 A.M. that made you want human companionship, no matter if you were an internationally-wanted killer or not.

After a moment, Jensen closed his eyes and slid back down until he was lying flat. Beneath the random city noises from outside and the whoosh of air from the heater across the room, he could pick out the steady inhale and exhale of Jared's breath. He held onto the sound until he was lulled back to sleep.

When he awoke again, the aroma of coffee was filling his nostrils. He sat up, instantly alert as always, to see Jared sitting cross-legged in jeans and navy sweater on the other bed, sipping from a styrofoam cup, a small tabloid-style newspaper spread out in front of him.

"Hi," the doctor said with a small smile. He nodded at the nightstand, where a second cup sat in front of the clock declaring that Jensen had slept past 10 A.M. for the first time since—well, the first time he could remember. "I know you said I should wait for you before going out, but I was gonna start eating the wallpaper pretty soon, so." Jared shrugged and took a gulp of coffee.

Even from this distance, Jensen could see that the contents of Jared's cup were a pale enough color not to be worthy of the name of coffee, and he hesitantly sipped at his own lidded cup until the strong black flavor hit his taste buds. He "mmmed" appreciatively and looked hopefully at the paper sack sitting next to Jared. "Don't suppose you braved a bakery as well?" he asked.

"Yeah, and it was really good." Jared patted his stomach.

Jensen narrowed his eyes and gave him one of his most intimidating glares.

To his delight, Jared grinned back, cheeks dimpling. "Chill," he said, tossing the bag at Jensen. "There's plenty. Even for sleepyheads like you."

"Isn't sleep supposed to help in the healing process?" Jensen shot back, unwrapping a flaky pastry that smelled of apples and taking a huge bite.

"Yeah, it is." Jared took another swig from his cup. "I didn't think you knew how to sleep past six, though."

Jensen shrugged. "Guess I was due," was all he said. No way in hell was he mentioning that listening to Jared breathe had led to the most restful sleep he'd had in weeks. "What've you got there?" he asked, motioning towards the newspaper.

"Oh, that." Jared shrugged one shoulder. "It's the free paper they pass out on the street corner; it's not like I can read it, but at least it gives me some idea of what's going on in the world."

"Huh." Jensen demolished the pastry in another two bites and reached for the second one. "Let's see it."

Jared handed the paper over, and Jensen scanned the headlines. Israel was building more walls, Italy and the U.S. were both debating immigration restrictions, the Marines were digging further into Afghanistan, and some pop star was entering rehab. He checked the date on the front of the paper. Yep, it was today's date. "Some things never change," he muttered, turning the last page.

Well, this was new. "Nigerian civil war nears second month," Jensen read aloud. He frowned. "When did that happen?"

"Late last year," Jared replied with a shrug. "Something about the president's only son getting killed in a car crash and one of the army generals deciding it would be a good time to try to take over."

"Huh." Jensen looked back through the article. The president was so upset over losing his son that he couldn't get it together to defend himself, but a bunch of his supporters armed themselves and had been fighting off the army ever since. "Olaoluwa Kayode," he murmured as he read.

"Coyote who?" Jared asked, forehead scrunched in a frown.

"Kayode. Olaoluwa. The name of the guy who died and started the whole thing off," he explained. Then he paused. "It's not mentioned in the article, though."

"Guess you read it somewhere else." Jared cocked his head to the side, his eyes lighting up. "Or heard of it somewhere else."

Jensen recognized that tone, and he rolled his eyes. Now the doctor was going to question him for the next hour about if he'd ever been to Nigeria and why he knew Kayode's name when he hadn't known he was dead. "I'm gonna shower, and then we're out of here," he said, pushing the covers aside and getting to his feet.

"Where to?" Jared asked, reaching out with one arm to snag the empty pastry bag. As Jensen watched, he held the bag up at an angle and tapped it, a shower of powdered sugar falling down into his open mouth.

"There's an Internet café down the street," Jensen said, shucking off his t-shirt and throwing it onto the bed behind him as he moved towards the bathroom. "Time to do some more research."

"Jensen." He turned to see a disapproving look as Jared went on, "You're not seriously going to try to find out who you are using Wikipedia?"

He shrugged. "I need to do something till it's time to call Matthea."

"Yeah, but come on!" Jared's expression was of disbelief, but something else was making his eyes dart from side to side.

Jensen folded his arms over his chest. "Hey," he said softly, waiting until Jared was looking him in the eye, knowing he was thinking of the last thing they'd seen on a computer screen. "I gotta know, Jared. Even if I don't like the answers…I gotta know."

Jared ducked his head, his bangs falling over his eyes. "Yeah, I know," he said softly.

Jensen wanted to offer reassurances, but he knew they were meaningless. Given the bits and pieces that he knew about himself, his earlier insistence that he was not one of the good guys was almost certainly spot on. He really wasn't looking forward to seeing Jared's face when the truth finally came out.

Deep down, part of him hoped that it never happened at all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Two days later, Jared felt like their time was up. A more thorough Internet search had turned up little of interest on Dean Winchester or the Jaguar. Jensen was still grimly confident that he had some personal connection to the assassin, but Jared wasn't going to believe it until he had incontrovertible proof.

Of course, he might be getting that proof within a few hours.

Jensen had called Matthea that morning on one of the disposable cell phones he'd bought the previous day, planning to leave the other one with Jared when he went to meet the Dutch woman. Jared didn't like the idea of him going off on his own, but Jensen had been increasingly nervous about the meeting and insisted that Jared stay out of the way in case things went south. So here Jared sat, picking at the fraying end of his flannel shirt, hoping that in a few hours they'd have some of the answers they needed.

Jensen came out of the bathroom in his jeans, and Jared couldn't help but look him over. He might have lost some muscle definition while recuperating, but he was still dangerously good-looking. Jared had removed the splint from his ring finger yesterday and wrapped it with tape, annoyed with himself for being briefly distracted at the feel of Jensen's graceful fingers in his own.

Now, his eye was drawn to the puckered scar beneath Jensen's collarbone, and before he could stop himself, he said, "Hey, let me take a look at your shoulder."

Jensen stopped in his tracks and frowned. "Why?"

"Well, you've been favoring it, and I want to make sure it's healing okay." He bit back the thought that this might be the last time he was able to check up on his patient, if anything went wrong with Matthea.

"I have not," Jensen replied, looking puzzled.

"Yes, you have." Jared wet his lips. "I've been paying attention, and you favor it a little sometimes."

"You've been watching me, huh?" Jensen's tone was challenging, his eyes twinkling.

Jared let out a huff of breath, hoping his cheeks weren't glowing red. "I sewed up two holes in you not that long ago. I don't want all that work to go to waste."

The corner of Jensen's mouth quirked up. "Okay, suit yourself." He came over and plopped down on the bed, close enough for Jared to smell his clean soap-and-shampoo scent.

Jared turned sideways, pulling one knee up onto the bed, and told himself firmly that this was a patient he was treating. There was a very clear line he'd sworn not to cross, for his personal morality as well as his professional ethics. It hadn't been hard at all when he'd stripped Jensen the first time, when he'd been more concerned about stopping the bleeding and making sure he lived than paying attention to what he looked like. Even later, when he took note of the man's nearly perfect frame, it had been more from the point of view of observing he was in good physical condition than anything remotely resembling personal interest.

He wasn't sure when in the last two-and-a-half weeks that had changed.

Maybe it was all the close quarters, spending twenty-four hours a day together talking and watching each other's backs. Maybe it was the intimacy of sleeping in the same room and seeing each other half-dressed on a regular basis. Maybe it was knowing there was no one in the world they could trust but each other. Whatever it was, Jared knew he couldn't let his growing awareness of Jensen Ross get in the way of what he was doing, or that trust would be jeopardized.

So he shook his head to clear it. "Turn away from me," he ordered, his voice low. Jensen obeyed, copying Jared's position with one leg cocked sideways on the bed. Jared took a deep breath and brought his hands up and over Jensen's shoulders.

Starting with the clavicle, he worked his way outwards, palpating the warm skin, checking for bone or muscle that felt out of place or uneven. His hands reached Jensen's upper arms, feeling around the joints and muscles there. Then he traced back along his shoulder blades, focusing as hard as he could on the medical purpose of what he was doing and not the way that Jensen's skin smelled like summer rain.

When his hands closed over the sides of Jensen's neck, the older man gave a start, and Jared hastily pulled back. "Sorry," he said, hoping he hadn't triggered some kind of fight-or-flight response.

"'S okay," Jensen muttered, rolling his shoulders a little. "Everything checking out?"

"Yeah, it's fine." Jared noticed his voice was a little rough, and he cleared his throat. "On to Round Two."

He started giving Jensen commands: moving one arm and then the other, shrugging his shoulders separately and then together, raising his arms over his head. All the while, Jared kept his hands pressed to Jensen's bare shoulders and concentrated on the movement of the muscles underneath.

"Does any of this hurt?" Jared asked, half afraid his voice would crack like a teenager's.

"What?" Jensen cleared his throat as he lowered his left arm. "Uh, no. Maybe less range of motion than I'm used to, but no pain."

"Good." Jared took another deep breath. "Try putting your hands behind your head."

Muscles shifted under his hands as Jensen raised his arms. "Good," Jared said. "Now, uh, put your arms in front of you, elbows out. Like you're striking a bodybuilder pose."

"Oookay," Jensen said dubiously, but he did as he was told.

"This is to check the grades of strength of your shoulder," Jared said, using his most calming voice as he carefully reached under Jensen's right arm and wrapped his hand around Jensen's left forearm while his other hand came up to Jensen's left shoulder. It was pretty much impossible to do this without his chest and arm touching Jensen's bare back and side, and he felt Jensen stiffen a little as they came into contact.

Jared drew in a breath, that overwhelmingly masculine scent even stronger now that his nose was inches away from the nape of Jensen's neck. He said quietly, "Okay, now move your elbow outward, like you're trying to pull out of my grip." The motion drew his right arm tighter around Jensen's torso, and he closed his eyes, fighting the sudden temptation to lean forward and taste the freckled skin right in front of him on the man who, he firmly reminded himself, was supposed to be his patient.

"Good. Now push back in the other direction," he said, watching the fine reddish-gold hairs on the back of Jensen's neck stir at the breath from his words.

The slight tremor that swept over Jensen was so small that Jared wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't been practically embracing him. "Are you cold?" he asked.

There was a slight huff of breath. "No, I'm not cold," Jensen's baritone rumbled as he moved his arm as requested. "Are we almost done?"

"With this side, yeah." Jared reluctantly let go and shifted backwards a few inches. "Turn around and let's do it again."

This time, they were facing each other, not much more than a foot apart, bent legs touching on the bed, and Jared kept his eyes locked on his hands as he started through the same series of motions. He felt his cheeks starting to burn, but he focused as hard as he could on being a detached observer and not visibly reacting to the man in front of him.

He almost made it.

He was moving onto the last exercise, his palms flat on the upper curve of Jensen's pectorals while his fingers probed at the joint of his collarbone and shoulder, when Jared felt another shiver run through his patient. He looked to up to see deep green eyes locked onto his and Jensen's breathing coming faster through parted lips, and he felt his stomach swoop. It was so fucking clichéd, Jared almost laughed out loud.

But there was nothing funny at all about Jensen's half-hesitant, half-heated gaze, or the way his hands were ever-so-slightly trembling where they rested on the bed on either side of his thighs. Jared blinked, shock settling in as he realized that whatever this awareness or attraction was that he was feeling, it wasn't a one-sided thing at all.

Before he could remind himself of all of the reasons why this was a really bad idea, he gave in to the impulse thundering through him and leaned forward, seeking out Jensen's lips with his own.

To his amazed delight, there was only a split second of hesitation before Jensen was kissing him back.

For a moment, Jared was completely lost in sensation, from the heat of the luscious mouth on his, to the firmness of the muscles his hands were caressing, to the soft, wet sounds their lips made as they moved against each other. For a moment, his heart began to beat faster, and he felt himself sinking deeper, not just into the kiss but into Jensen, who was returning Jared's tentative explorations with something more confident. For a moment, Jared felt calloused fingertips brushing across his cheek and down the column of his neck, and he couldn't help a whimper at the thought of that touch elsewhere on his body.

Then Jensen pulled back, shaking his head as he carefully twisted away from Jared's grasp and lowered his hand. "No, Jared," he said quietly, his gaze dropping to the ground. "I'm sorry, but—no."

Jared drew in a deep, shuddering breath, clenching his hands into tight fists in his lap to keep himself from reaching out again and taking. "I'm sorry," he said roughly. "I thought you—I should have asked. I never—" He squeezed his eyes shut, wanting to sink through the floor and out of sight. "Sorry."

"It's okay." Jensen's voice sounded like water flowing over gravel, and he cleared his throat. "There's this thing, you know, when two people are thrown into close contact in a high-stress situation, they, uh, they can start to think they're developing feelings for each other—"

Jared's eyes flew open as the emotion welling up within him came out in a bark. "I know what fucking Stockholm Syndrome is. And this isn't it."

"Really?" Jensen's eyebrows shot up. "And you know that by comparison to all the other times you've been kidnapped and taken hostage by a trained assassin?"

"For God's sake, Jensen," Jared retorted with exasperation. "I'm not here as a hostage!"

"It doesn't matter." Jensen shook his head and looked at him resolutely, his eyes shadowed. "I know enough about who I am to know that this ends bloody or sad. That's just the life."

In a corner of his mind, Jared could hear Jensen crying out Sam's name in his sleep and realized that sad and bloody was probably something Jensen knew an awful lot about. Still, he said quietly but firmly, "I don't believe that."

Jensen sat up straighter and jabbed a finger at Jared's chest, his face darkening. "Believe what you want. But as soon as it's safe, you're going back home and forgetting any of this ever happened. That'll be a hell of a lot easier to do if you're not confused about what you think you want here." Jensen's eyes glinted a warning. "Stay away from me."

Jared's jaw clenched and he leaned closer. "Are you sure that's what you want?" he challenged, drawing on every ounce of the passion he'd felt between them a moment ago and letting it pour out through his gaze.

There was silence for a moment. Then Jensen lifted his chin, his expressive eyes going carefully blank. "It's what I want for you."

Jared stared back, all too aware that Jensen's lips were only inches away but fighting their pull with everything he had. He couldn't see a chink in the other man's armor, and he knew with a sick certainty that trying another kiss would only lead to another rejection, probably one that was more violent. And there was no way they could afford to be at each other's throats right now.

"All right," he grudgingly acquiesced as he drew back. He saw the line of Jensen's bare shoulders relax a bit, and he pressed his hands hard against his thighs to keep from reaching out to touch. "Have it your way."

Something flashed across Jensen's eyes for a moment, and then he stood abruptly and moved towards the dresser. "I have to go," he said, pulling out a button-down shirt and shrugging it on. "Stay here."

"No. I need to go look some things up." Jared suddenly felt like a sullen teenager who'd been told to go to his room.

"Jared, please," Jensen said, turning around to fix him with a gaze that was stern and beseeching all at the same time. "I need to know that you're safe and in one place, okay?"

"I'll be fine," he insisted, ignoring the flush of warmth that spread over him at Jensen's words. "We never got to research what might have happened in Venice, and you can't exactly ask Matthea about it."

Jensen looked at him for a moment longer, then gave a grudging nod and resumed dressing in silence. He tucked the Glock into the back of his jeans and pulled his jacket over it. "I'll be back in a couple of hours. You think you'll be done by then?"

"Yeah," Jared replied. "Be careful."

That got him the faint shadow of a grin. "Always."

Once Jensen had left, Jared flopped back onto the bed, staring up at the water-stained ceiling. He lifted his hand and traced a finger over his lips, smiling faintly as he realized how much he must look like a kid who'd just gotten his first kiss.

Then the smile faded. Jensen had felt something too, he knew it. Okay, so maybe some of it was their enforced close proximity over the past few weeks, but Jensen hadn't denied any attraction, only tried to explain it away. And there was no doubt that he'd been giving as good as he was getting, which sent a shiver down Jared's spine as he remembered the initial enthusiasm with which Jensen had returned his kiss.

Jared sighed and flung his arm over his eyes, wondering when he'd get a chance to convince Jensen that this was real—and that it was worth the risk.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

If you'd asked Jensen that morning if he wanted to kiss Jared Padalecki, he was sure he would have responded with a completely blank stare. Not that the guy wasn't good-looking, and not that he wasn't growing fond of him, but the thought really wouldn't have crossed his mind.

Which was not to say that it was implausible. Despite his casual response to Jared's question about which gender he checked out on a regular basis, he was sure from his flashback dreams what the answer was. He didn't remember anything about Sam other than knowing he was dead, but the aching despair that knowledge left within him was a pretty big clue that he'd been close to the man. Really close.

At the same time, it wasn't hard to notice how his eye was occasionally drawn to Jared's long, lean frame, or that a thrill skittered across his belly when a full, glorious smile burst across Jared's face and dimpled his cheeks. But Jensen was sure that all it was, noticing someone that you were with twenty-four hours a day, appreciating their good points and preferring them to be in a good mood. That was all.

And then the guy had to go and put his hands all over him.

At some point during their impromptu physical therapy session, Jensen realized that his upper back was being spanned from his shoulder blade up and over to his collarbone by the doctor's huge hands. A moment's idle curiosity about what else hands like that could do had him suddenly glad that he'd put on his jeans before coming out of the bathroom, because a towel around his waist would be tenting something fierce right about now.

Feeling warm breath on his neck had him wondering what it would feel like to have those wide, pink lips pressed against his skin, and he'd had to consciously make an effort not to lean back into it. As it was, he'd been unable to hold back a shiver, and when Jared asked if he was cold, he'd almost barked out a laugh. Quite the opposite, he thought, feeling heat curling deep within him as Jared's arm wrapped close around him and tested some measure of strength that Jensen wasn't paying a bit of attention to.

Once he turned around, Jensen had realized he wasn't the only one being affected. Jared's eyes didn't budge from Jensen's shoulders, but the slight flush in his cheeks and the way he was biting his lower lip were as telling as his lowered eyes. Still, Jensen had cleared his mind to concentrate on the movement of his arms and shoulders, and he'd been managing fine until Jared's hands slid down to his chest.

How ironic was it that the one moment he'd let his guard down, the one second he'd let something of what he was feeling slip out onto his face, had been the second that Jared had looked up and seen him? And then before he could stop him, Jared had leaned forward and oh God his mouth had been everything Jensen didn't even know he wanted. For one moment, he'd closed his eyes and let unexpected desire flare to life, had reached out for Jared's lightly-stubbled cheek, basking in his warmth and his presence and the sweet sounds he was making against Jensen's lips.

Then Jensen's senses had returned, and he'd pulled away. True, a release of tension might be a good thing for both of them, but emotional attachment on either of their parts would be disastrous, not only right now but once this whole thing was resolved. Maybe if Matthea had good news for him, maybe if she could point him to a clear way out of this labyrinth he was trapped in, he could change his mind. Until then, he was going to have to block out the memory of Jared's hands on his skin and his lips stirring Jensen to life.

He briefly shut his eyes. That might be easier said than done.

Shaking his head to clear it, Jensen crossed the street and paused next to a closed café, the outdoor tables and chairs neatly stacked against the windows. Matthea had let him choose the meeting place, but of course he still had to scope it out in advance. He was looking out over the Rembrandtplein, a pleasant city plaza surrounded by cafes and kiosks that was a popular evening hangout but fairly empty in the late morning. The passersby were doing just that—passing by—and there was no one he could see surveilling the square.

Jensen backed up a block, went to the next parallel street, and approached the square again, repeating the process until he'd covered all four sides. Then he found a bench in the middle with a clear view and sat down to wait. His eyes never stopped moving, flitting from side to side as he continually scanned the entire square, glad that the leaves were off the trees.

It wasn't more than ten minutes before he spotted the blonde approaching, Schaduw once again at her side. He nodded as she came over and sat down on the bench. "Your friend is not here?" she asked in Dutch, casually looking Jensen over.

He kept his hands resting on his knees, aware to the centimeter of how far he would have to reach to get to the Glock at the small of his back if he had to. "He's around," Jensen replied in the same language. It was colder this morning, but he resisted the urge to jitter his leg up and down, knowing it would be taken for nerves rather than him trying to keep warm.

She nodded slightly, reaching out to scratch between the big dog's ears as he settled at her feet. "Conklin wants to talk to you," she said.

Jensen looked past her, into the far corner of the square, but he didn't see a soul. "Where?" he asked, searching his mind for anything that name triggered. As usual, he came up frustratingly empty.

Matthea cocked her head slightly to the side. "Why did you go to see Chernak?"

He blinked at the non sequitur. "His name was in the box in Zurich," he said. "But there were people waiting for me there."

Her hand flew to her mouth as it had when he first appeared outside her door. "Who?" she asked.

"I don't know," he replied, turning slightly to face her straight-on. "But they followed me to Berlin. There was more than one man who died in Kreuzberg three weeks ago." More than one man I killed, he thought, even if it had all been in self-defense.

"The Panther's men?" Matthea asked.

Jensen frowned as a phrase ran through his head. The Panther and the Jaguar. He couldn't hear who was saying it in his hazy memories, but the names were bound together, of that he was sure. And then he remembered Heinrich's triumphant words: "The Jaguar is finally caged," and he remembered the words he'd read on a computer screen three nights ago, and his heart sank.

"I don't know," he repeated, his gut twisting slightly at the implications of what he was thinking.

Matthea leaned forward slightly, tucking a long, curly strand of blonde hair behind her ear. At her feet, Schaduw lifted his head, ears perking up as a beagle passed by at the end of a long leash held by an elderly woman. "You are saying Zurich is compromised?" she asked, voice low but incredulous.

"It seems so." Jensen leaned back against the bench, trying his hardest to remain casual as he said, "Unless it's just me."

Her eyes narrowed. "What happened in Venice, Dean?" she asked abruptly.

The twist in his gut became full-on nausea. Jensen had to quickly look away to hide the dread that must be written all over his face. Matthea knew who he was and who he worked for, and she knew him as Dean.

"I can't tell you," he said hoarsely, grateful that at least his voice didn't shake as he spoke.

He heard a sigh from beside him. "I suppose I should have expected that," Matthea said. He felt her hand on his arm, and he jerked away. He turned to see her lowering her hand, looking slightly puzzled. "The thing is—" She let out a short sigh and spoke more quietly. "You did so well, you know. Better than anyone could have expected, even from the Jaguar. There was no trace of suspicion that it was anything but an accident, although it was the Italians investigating, so…" She shrugged with understated Northern European scorn.

Jensen barely heard the end of her sentence. She had called him the Jaguar. The Panther and the Jaguar.

He was Dean Winchester, the Jaguar, the assassin.

Oh God, he thought, fighting with everything he had not to wrap his arms over his chest and curl into a ball. It's all true.

"What, so you're looking for tips on technique?" he asked abruptly, his voice sounding harsh in the quiet plaza. So he'd done an awesome job of faking an accident of some sort. Well, Chernak said I was spectacular, he thought bitterly.

Matthea looked even more confused. "I want to know where you disappeared to afterwards," she said. "So does Conklin. I think that is what everyone wants to know."

He bit his lip and stared across the square. Funny, that's what I want to know, too. "Where do I meet him?" he asked in a monotone.

"I don't know." When he turned to glare at her, she held her hands up. "I run a station," she said. "I pass messages between people. I am not a safe deposit box."

"And I don't want to run into someone else lying in wait for me," he snapped back.

For the first time, she looked slightly afraid, but Jensen couldn't make himself back off, even when he heard a low growl from the dog at her feet. "I do not know for certain," Matthea said quickly. "But I would guess Barcelona."

"You would guess," he repeated harshly. "Be more specific."

She stared at him as if he should know what she was talking about. "The office," she said slowly. "Carrer de Sicilia."

He looked at her for a moment longer, searching her face for any sign of deception, wishing he could ask for more details. Finally he rubbed a hand over his mouth. "Sorry," he said brusquely. "I need to be absolutely sure. After everything in the last few weeks…"

Oh God. Jared. Jensen closed his eyes, regret and guilt ripping into him like knives. What the fuck was he going to do?

"Of course." Matthea hesitated, and then went on, "It has been difficult for all of us, you know. Kayode had to be removed, but without the other half of the plan—"

"What did you say?" Jensen felt the blood drain from his face as his eyes snapped open.

She licked her lips nervously and leaned forward. "I do not know your assignments in detail, Dean, but I know that there was something else you were to do after arranging for…" Matthea ducked her head to the side, her eyes saying, You know. "And that was left undone. And no one knows why."

Jensen looked down at the gravel path, his mind racing and blood roaring in his ears. He was the Jaguar. He had arranged a car accident that had killed the son of the prime minister of Nigeria and left him vulnerable to a coup. Whoever had shot Jensen—no, Dean Winchester—and dumped him in the Adriatic must have done so after he killed Kayode but before he could do whatever else it was he was supposed to do. Which meant there was a fucking civil war in Nigeria that was his fault.

And twenty minutes ago, all he'd been worrying about was the aftermath of kissing Jared.

Jensen shook his head and stood up, feeling a cold calm settle over him, like slipping on a different jacket.

Like becoming someone else.

"Thank you, Matthea," he said levelly. "I appreciate you doing this for me."

"Of course." She stood up as well, her eyes nearly at a level with his. "I will let Conklin know you are coming."

He gave a short nod and held out his hand. She shook it firmly and walked off.

Once she was out of sight, Jensen sank back down on the bench and buried his head in his hands, feeling despair wash over him like a tidal wave. Everything he'd been afraid of, everything he hadn't wanted to know about himself, had just reared up and punched him in the gut. Jared's incurable optimism was meaningless now.

The only thing Jensen could do was get the doctor somewhere safe, like the embassy in The Hague, before taking off. Then he'd face this Conklin guy and maybe even level with him about his memory loss, explain why he'd been running for so many weeks. Maybe the assassins' club or whoever the hell it was he took orders from would let him back into their fold.

Bleakness set into him, colder than the winter air. Or maybe he'd hope the Panther's men caught up with him sooner rather than later.

Chapter Text

The strap of Jared's laptop bag was cutting into the side of his neck, and he switched shoulders for the third time. He took advantage of the movement to look in a shop window angled away from the street, and the knot in his stomach grew tighter.

He hadn't been wrong. Someone was following him.

After Jensen left the Red Tulip Inn to meet Matthea, Jared had taken his own computer to a coffee shop down the street, preferring to use their wireless rather than descend into another dark basement Internet café full of gamers. After three weeks, it was tempting to log in to his e-mail accounts, but he knew the risk was too great. Besides, he was afraid of what he might read. God only knew what Megan was going through now that he'd been missing for weeks, and then there was his job at the hospital and the unanswered invitations to interviews that he couldn't handle thinking about right now.

So Jared set his jaw and concentrated on searching news archives for stories about Venice during the time Jensen might have been there, knowing that figuring out this whole puzzle was the key to getting back home.

He hadn't come up with much. There was one item of interest, but a quick phone call to Jensen's cell had dumped him into voicemail, and he hadn't bothered leaving a message, figuring he was heading right back to their hotel. But then along the way, he'd started practicing the strategies he'd learned of listening and looking for a shadow.

To his alarm, he'd found one.

At least, he thought he had. Not wanting to cry wolf, Jared had walked around random streets until his feet hurt, getting more and more glimpses of a man his height with a dark knit cap and coat, no matter how much he twisted and turned his route. He finally checked the time and gulped when he realized it had been over an hour and a half since leaving the coffee shop. No way this guy simply happened to be taking the same streets as Jared.

The question was, what did he want?

Jared opened his phone and punched redial. Before the first ring even finished, Jensen was on the other end, barking, "Where the hell are you?"

He blurted out, "I don't know. But I think someone's following me."

There was a pause. Then Jensen asked gruffly, "How do you know?"

"Because I've been walking around for an hour and a half and I keep seeing the same guy half a block behind me. He's always the same distance back, and he always stops when I stop. I've been going down random streets and he's still there. I've been listening, and I can pick out his footsteps from time to time. I don't know what to do, Jensen." Jared drew in a breath, willing his voice to stop shaking.

"Damn it." Jensen was quiet for a minute, and then Jared could hear the sound of a door slamming. "Only one guy?"

"That's all I've seen." Jared bit his lip and turned another corner. This was a quieter street, and he quickened his pace, not wanting to be caught in an ambush. "Listen, what do I do if he—"

"If he hasn't approached you yet, he's not going to." Jensen's voice was matter of fact. "He might be with the police, or he might be with—with Dorner. Either way, he's following you because he wants to find me. So tell me where you are."

Jared huffed out a breath. "Are you crazy? I'm not leading him to you, Jen."

"Yes, you are." Jensen's voice was tight, insistent. "And then I'm gonna set a pick."

Jared thought about that for a moment. "Not sure I trust a Mavs fan to do that right," he finally muttered. He rounded the corner onto a broad boulevard with plenty of passersby and let out a small sigh of relief.

"Where are you?" Jensen demanded again, not responding to the jibe at all.

Jared looked around for street signs. "It's a really wide street with tram tracks. Hold on." It took a moment of walking until he saw a tram stop with the line labeled. "Okay, it's called Damrak."

"Good. That's a nice, major street. You stay on that; there'll be plenty of people around and you'll be fine." The clanging of a tram in the background through the phone sounded tinny. "There's a big square at one end of that street; do you know where that is?" Jensen asked.

Jared thought about what he'd seen when he looked both ways before turning onto the boulevard. "I think so. It's maybe half a mile behind me."

"Okay." He heard Jensen's breath huff slightly like he'd broken into a run. "We passed by here the other day; I don't know if you remember it. There's going to be a really long brick building on your right, and then a canal beyond it. Have you seen that?"

Jared dodged a pair of teenagers holding hands and looked to his right to see a brick building about the length of an American city block. There was a sign hanging over the entrance, part of it obscured by a streetlight "Yeah, the Beurs van something?"

"That's it. Past the far end of that building, there's a construction site on the left side of the street. In fifteen minutes, I want you to walk past it. I'll be waiting out of sight, but keep walking past it and let me set the pick behind you. Wait for me around the next corner and do not come out until I come to you. Do not confront anyone yourself, okay? Trust me, they'll kick your ass."

"Fifteen minutes, construction site, wait for you. Got it." Jared spoke briskly to disguise the tremor in his voice.

"What's he look like?" Jensen asked. "Don't look, just tell me what you know."

"Uh, tall with a dark cap and coat." Jared frowned apologetically. "Sorry, that's all I know."

"It's okay, that's something." The older man went on in a slightly less confident tone, "Hey, uh, did you learn anything?"

"Not really." Jared switched hands with the phone and slowed his pace. "Turns out that Nigerian guy's car accident was near Venice, but it was a single-car crash, so it's not like this Jaguar dude had anything to do with it."

"Right." The word was clipped.

Jared frowned. "So, uh, what did Matthea have to say?"

There was silence on the other end of the line, and Jared bit his lip. Finally Jensen said gruffly, "I'll tell you about it later."

Jared could hear the reluctance in Jensen's voice, and he said firmly, "You better. Even if I don't like the answers, I gotta know, too."

There was a huff of breath that came through as static. Then Jensen said, "Yeah. See you in a few."

Jared flipped the phone shut and shoved it into his pocket. He slowed his pace, forcing himself not to check in every shop window he passed for the shadow he knew was behind him. He lingered at one window, subtly glancing down at his watch before looking inside at displays of souvenirs that were as tacky as similar shops in the U.S. Most of them seemed to involve a marijuana leaf or a naked woman, neither of which he found particularly interesting. He shook his head and moved on, feeling as if the eyes watching him were burning a hole in his back.

Checking his watch one more time, Jared started forward again. Soon the construction site was in view, a standard five-story building with a gutted interior and white-painted plywood fencing around the front. As he passed the building, he saw that a section of the fence was slightly open, and then he saw a flash of olive green jacket right inside the empty building. Closing his eyes in relief, he quickened his pace and took a sharp turn at the next street corner, ready to let Jensen do his part.

It was a narrow, quiet street, the trees scragglier here than on the main boulevard. There was graffiti on one or two of the buildings, the first he'd seen in the city. He dropped onto the steps of the first house he came to, staring straight ahead but watching carefully out of the corner of his eye for any movement off the street he had come from.

A few minutes passed, and then a few more. An older man walking a tiny white dog passed by, both of them giving Jared a suspicious look. He checked his watch and frowned. It had been five minutes since their agreed-upon time. Jensen had said to wait for him, but what if he was in trouble?

Jared snorted quietly. If there was trouble that Jensen couldn't handle, which was unlikely, Jared probably couldn't do much to get him out of it, not being a highly-trained super-ninja-assassin. He pulled his jacket around himself more closely, adjusting the strap of the laptop case over his shoulder. He'd been warm enough while walking, but standing still in the shadow of the row houses, it was chilly.

Another five minutes passed, and Jared bit his lip. Okay, maybe he should take a look, walk back past the construction site and see if anyone else was there. He rose to his feet and hesitated.

Trust me, they'll kick your ass.

Jensen had gotten away from two armed men in Berlin to come and rescue him; he could handle himself. And he'd already sounded pissed on the phone; if Jared disobeyed him now, he'd likely be even angrier.

Jared dropped back down onto the steps. Jensen had said to wait, and that was what he should do.

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Jensen moved at a quick trot through the streets, fixing in his mental map where he was in relation to Jared and how long it was going to take him to get there. His heart was thumping faster than it should, fear for Jared on top of the blow he'd received from an unwitting Matthea taking the place of the calm collectedness that he should be feeling. Once he reached the block he was looking for, he forced himself to slow down and breathe more deeply, focusing on what he was about to do.

He pushed aside a section of fencing and stepped inside, ducking into the empty building shell and watching the sidewalk. Sixty seconds later, right on time, a familiar floppy-haired figure strode past, and Jensen let out a sigh of relief. The kid was okay so far. Now he could concentrate on keeping it that way.

Counting to five, Jensen edged forward, listening for footsteps on the sidewalk on the other side of the white boards. He let one set go by—the tail would be keeping someone between himself and Jared. When a second set approached, he reached into his jacket and took out the Glock, pulling his hand back into his sleeve so that only the end of the gleaming barrel was visible. Then he stepped out onto the sidewalk.

About five paces away, a man Jared's height was walking towards him in a navy knit cap pulled low on his forehead, wisps of blond hair sticking out, and a dark green peacoat with a thin rope belt around his waist. He gave a start when he saw Jensen—not at seeing a man come apparently out of nowhere, but at seeing someone he recognized but hadn't expected to see. Jensen curled up the corner of his mouth and lifted his arm slightly so that the gun was visible as he stepped directly in front of the man.

The taller man came to a halt on the sidewalk. Jensen tilted his head sideways, indicating the construction site. The man's sky-blue eyes narrowed, but he obeyed the unspoken command. Jensen followed closely, pulling the fence mostly shut behind them.

Once they were well inside the gutted building and out of the range of hearing of anyone on the street, Jensen grabbed the other man by his shoulder and slammed him face-first into the nearest wall. "Who are you?" he demanded, pressing the gun into his back while he searched him for weapons.

"I should be asking that of you," his captive replied with a grunt. "Accosting me in the street like that."

Jensen pulled a small revolver out of the other man's coat pocket and a short knife from where it was strapped to his ankle. "Give me a break," he said, tapping the revolver against the man's shoulder for emphasis. "Tell me who you're working for."

"Like you don't know," his captive snarled back.

Jensen tucked the second gun into his jacket pocket and grabbed the man's arm, whirling him around and shoving him back against the wall before jamming the Glock under his jaw. "Maybe I want to be sure," he growled in response.

The man's ice-blue eyes narrowed. "You were dead. You were gone. How the hell did the Jaguar come back to life?"

Jensen let the dread he felt at being called that name fuel the dark smirk curling his lips and the hard glare in his eyes. "Obviously, someone fucked up."

His captive started to raise his right arm, but Jensen grabbed his wrist and twisted, hard. The man's mouth curled into a sneer, obviously fighting back pain as he ground out, "You come along with your pretty name and your pretty face, thinking you can cut in on something that took years for Odilon to build. You can rack up all the kills you want, you bastard, but you will never be as good as him."

Odilon. The Panther.

The Panther and the Jaguar.

The names flashed through Jensen's head, tied together with the same strand of memory that linked Dean Winchester to the Jaguar and the Jaguar to himself. Odilon the Panther, the renowned killer who was responsible for the deaths of dozens of men and women around the world in some admittedly clever ways, whose name was known to the newspapers in a way that Dean Winchester's wasn't. Surely that was who had sent men after Jensen to Zurich and Berlin. Surely Heinrich and Dorner were like the guy in front of him.

But what did such a man want with him?

Jensen twisted harder. "What does he want?"

There was a pause. The man licked his lips and said, "This time, he's not going to be satisfied with anything short of your severed head."

The flicker of the blue eyes to something behind him was the only warning he had, but it was enough. Jensen dropped to one knee as he whirled around, and the knife that had been aiming for his back shot forward and into the wall next to the blond.

The man holding the knife jerked it out of the wall, but Jensen was already lashing out at his legs from his crouched position. He barely registered greasy black hair and a pinched face before rolling away to the side and springing back up to his feet, bringing his Glock to bear on the closer of the two men.

His wrist exploded in pain as the first man delivered a well-placed kick, and his gun went clattering across the floor of the empty building. Figuring turnabout was fair play, he spun on his heel and shot his left leg out at the dark-haired man's arm, forcing him to drop the knife. Another kick sent it skittering into the darkness, out of reach of all three of them, and Jensen started to reach for the revolver he'd slipped into his pocket.

Too late, he realized the first man wasn't as weaponless as he had appeared. While Jensen had been busy dealing with the knife, the blond had pulled the rope belt off from his coat and wound the ends around his hands. Jensen saw this in a flash out of the corner of his eye as the man swiftly brought his arms up and over, the rope tightening around Jensen's neck before he could reach up to stop it.

Instantly, the first man started pulling on the belt, and Jensen saw sparks across his vision. He aimed a kick back at the other man's knees. But he was too close to get the right angle, and all it did was put Jensen off balance.

His vision blurring around the edges, he reached up to pull at the belt, now cutting into the soft skin of his neck, but he couldn't do more than claw at his own skin. He managed to dig one finger between the rope and his neck, but it wasn't enough to pull it free.

Then the second man lunged over and pulled the revolver out of Jensen's jacket pocket, tossing it to the ground before grabbing both of Jensen's wrists, pulling his hands out in front of him and holding them in a firm grip.

Nearing panic, Jensen fought wildly, twisting and bucking, trying to break free as his lungs started to ache from the lack of air. He tried to kick the dark-haired man in front of him, but his body was devoting all of its strength to keeping him alive without the necessary oxygen coming in, and his foot didn't connect with anything.

His legs started to buckle under him, and he sank to his knees, his struggles growing weaker as they became more desperate. All he could see now was a narrow tunnel in front of him and the steady, patient expression on the dark-haired man's face as he watched, Jensen's hands trapped securely in his grasp. The man behind him never relented as he followed Jensen's slow collapse to the ground.

Jensen opened his mouth, but he was unable to voice the helpless cry that stuck in his airless throat as the looming darkness closed in on him.

Chapter Text

After a few more minutes of arguing with himself, Jared abruptly stood up and headed back the way he came, rounding the corner and walking briskly down the sidewalk before he could change his mind. Something was wrong. Jensen should have found him by now.

He slipped through the opening in the fence around the construction site and silently climbed the front steps. There was no door; only the exterior of the building and some of the interior walls were still standing. It was obviously a major renovation job. Staying to the side of the doorway so his shadow was swallowed up by that of the building, he eased his way inside.

The light was dim inside the emptied-out building, and it took a second for his eyes to adjust. But as soon as Jared made out the three figures a few yards away from him, his heart nearly stopped in his chest.

Jensen was bowed backwards on his knees between two men, the one in front grabbing his wrists while the other held a rope wound around his neck. His eyes were bulging out, his face was red, and his strength was clearly failing. In the second that he stood there, paralyzed, Jared saw Jensen slump downward, eyes closing, and it lit a fire inside of him like nothing he had ever experienced.

He was not going to let this happen.

Keeping to the shadows, Jared swiftly bent down and slid the bag off his shoulder as he picked up a loose piece of brick. Taking aim and wishing for the first time in his life that he'd played baseball instead of basketball in high school, he let it fly.

At the last second, the man holding the rope bent over slightly as he pulled the cord even tighter around Jensen's neck. Fortunately, Jared's aim had been low, and the baseball-sized brick connected with his head with a thunk. The man instantly toppled over with a grunt, the rope going slack, and Jensen tumbled the rest of the way to the floor to lay there, far too still.

The second man looked up sharply and reached into his coat, but Jared was already there, having crossed the floor between them in three swift strides while lowering his shoulder like a linebacker. He plowed into the man, hurling him to the ground and landing on top of him with a grunt. Jared rose to his knees, ready to throw a punch to knock him out.

Instead, he had to dive backwards to escape a blade swinging towards him, the sharp flash of metal grazing across his ribs and shooting a line of fire across his skin. Jared yelped as he fell onto his ass. Scrambling backwards, he came up hard against a wall and felt his way to his feet, not taking his eyes off the other man.

The sallow-faced guy came at him with a cruel grin, holding the knife out in front of him. It had to be at least four inches long, and Jared gulped.

Then he heard a scraping sound on the ground and looked down to see Jensen's leg twitching, and his heart sank. Please don't let him be dying, he thought. God, please.

Jared looked back up to see the knife coming at him, and he hit the ground, rolling awkwardly forward over one shoulder but managing to come to his feet. He bent low, watching his opponent's legs to see how he was shifting his weight in order to predict his next move. It helped him spin away from another lunge, the skin along his ribs pulling uncomfortably as he did so. He grimaced and tried not to pay attention to the trickle of blood he could feel running down his side, but it was a weird feeling.

A sudden cough from where Jensen lay was weak, but it was a sign of life, and Jared was grateful for it.

The man with the knife was moving towards him, only a few feet away, and Jared went in low, slamming his foot on top of the man's instep and reaching with both hands for the knife to push it up and away from him. He drove one elbow back as hard as he could into the man's midriff and then snapped up his fist towards his face, grimacing with satisfaction at the crunching sound and the cry of pain that resulted.

The knife fell to the floor as the dark-haired man staggered back, putting his hands to his nose. Jared wound up and let fly, hitting him square on the jaw with everything he had. The guy dropped like a stone, and everything went still.

Jared shook out his hand and turned to see Jensen struggling to sit up. "Hey," he said, hurrying over and dropping to his knees, reaching out to support Jensen's back, the pain in his hand instantly forgotten. "Take it easy."

"Dude, you—" Jensen croaked out the words before breaking off into a coughing fit, hunching forward, his face screwed up in pain.

"It's okay," Jared soothed, putting his arm around Jensen's shoulders and pulling him closer, relieved to hear the sound of his voice, meaning his Adam's apple and airway were intact. "It's okay, Jen, just breathe."

"Can't," Jensen gasped out, his chest heaving, the whites of his eyes gleaming in the dim light.

"You're okay now, Jensen. You need to calm down. Breathe with me, okay?" Jared lifted one of Jensen's hands from where it was curled around his ribs and laid it on his own chest, taking an exaggeratedly slow breath.

Jensen caught on instantly, his hyperventilation slowing into shallow breaths and then deeper ones. His breath caught one or two times, sending him into a series of agonizing coughs as he clutched at Jared's shirt. Jared tightened his arm across Jensen's back and mirrored Jensen's position with a hand on his chest, rubbing back and forth lightly over his sternum and willing his own pounding heart to slow down.

Head bowed, Jensen finally took in a deep, steady breath and expelled it through pursed lips, eyes closed. "Shit," he said, his voice more gravelly than normal. He reached up to gingerly feel at his neck, shrugging Jared's arm off of his shoulders. "That's gonna leave a mark."

Jared gently tilted his head to the side and let out a gasp. There were multiple red lines laced across Jensen's neck, one trickling blood but the others only abrasions. Vertical scratches marked where he'd clawed at his own skin trying to loosen the rope, and Jared shuddered. If he'd delayed any longer in coming to see if something was wrong—

"So why d'you fight like a girl?" Jensen's voice might have been weak, but it was clearly a jibe.

Jared shrugged and reached into his coat pocket for his water bottle. "Not my fault everyone else in my self-defense class was female." He wetted the hem of his flannel shirt and lifted it up to wipe at Jensen's neck. "Solar plexus, instep, nose, groin. Best places to hit a man."

"You kinda missed the last one there," Jensen answered, leaning back to expose his neck in a way that would have made Jared's mouth go dry if it wasn't for the harsh red marks marring the skin.

"Yeah, well, it turns out the jaw is a lot more satisfying." Jared nearly growled the last word, remembering how it had felt to punch out the man who'd been trying to kill Jensen.

Then something else occurred to him, and his head shot up. He looked frantically at the man he'd thrown the brick at, afraid as he did so that he was going to see a bloody mess where his head had been. Instead, he saw the man's chest rising and falling, although he wasn't moving. "Thank God," he muttered before returning his attention to Jensen.

Jensen had followed his gaze. "You know we can't leave them here," he said, too calmly.

"What else are we going to do with them?" Jared asked, blotting away the last of the blood on Jensen's neck and lowering his shirt hem.

"We can't leave them alive here," Jensen stressed.

Jared froze. He looked down at Jensen, whose gaze had gone cold. "Oh, no," Jared said, shaking his head.

"I don't have a choice." Jensen batted his hand away and leaned forward. "Come on, help me up."

Jared let go of his now wet and bloody shirt and lurched to his feet, pulling Jensen up with him. "You can't be serious," he said more insistently. "You can't kill them!"

Jensen turned to face him, his expression hardening into something Jared hadn't seen since Kreuzberg, sending a chill down his spine. "I'm not making the same mistake I made in Berlin," Jensen rasped out. "Now listen to me. You're going to get out of here and go to Centraal Station. Wait for me on a bench near the ticket counter. I'll be along in a few minutes…" His voice died out and he made a grab for Jared's water bottle. After a swig, he went on, "Pretend you don't know me when I sit next to you. I'll put my tickets down on the bench, and when I get up, I'll leave one behind. Get on the train and wait for me to contact you."

"What the hell does that mean, wait for you to contact me?" Jared stared at him, his stomach dropping as if he was on an elevator. "I'm not leaving you here, Jensen."

"Yes, you are." Jensen's hand clamped around his arm, his eyes as hard as jade. "Believe me, there'll be more where these two came from. You need to leave the city as fast as you can."

"Wait, what do you—"

"Jared, you don't know who I am." Jensen's voice was brittle, and he shook Jared's arm hard as his throat worked in a swallow. "But I do, and so do they. And they want me dead. So if I don't do this, the next time, they won't just follow you, they'll kill you. Got it?"

Jared could feel himself coming off his adrenaline high, the surge of fear that had driven him for the last few minutes sliding away to be replaced by bewilderment and disbelief at what Jensen was saying. Things were happening way too fast for him to follow, and since when the hell did Jensen know who he was?

As terrified as he'd been seeing Jensen with that rope around his neck, there was no way he could countenance killing the two unconscious men sprawled in front of them. But the look in Jensen's eyes was implacable, and Jared knew that right now, he had no choice but to do as he was told.

"Fine," he bit out, taking a step back and jerking his arm out of Jensen's grip. Then he turned around, grabbed his laptop bag off the floor, and stalked out.

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Jensen watched Jared leave, unsurprised to see anger in the set of his shoulders and the briskness of his pace. He reached a hand up to his neck, still feeling the ghost of the rope digging into his skin. He dropped his gaze to the two men on the ground, both unmoving. He thought of what the man in the knit cap had said to him, of what Matthea had said to him, and he knew that he had no choice.

He hated to do it, but it had to be done.

Making his way over to where the Glock had gone flying, Jensen squinted in the dim light for the dark shape of the gun. He scooped it up and checked it over. Still a round in the chamber, still a full clip at the ready. He wondered if he dared go back to their hotel and grab the rest of the ammo and supplies before making his way to the train station, or if the men shadowing them had figured out their temporary residence.

He walked back to where his assailants lay unconscious on the ground. Jared had clocked both of them good; the dark-haired guy was out cold, his jaw visibly bruised, and the piece of brick had cut a gash across the other man's forehead that was still dripping dark red onto the floor. The kid could defend himself pretty well, and not only because of his size.

Not for the first time, Jensen thought of how differently things might have gone if he'd picked someone else out of the Hotel Bristol to help him make his escape.

Jensen shrugged off his jacket and wadded it up as he knelt by the dark-haired man. Pressing the crumpled garment to the side of the unconscious man's head as an impromptu silencer, he held the gun against it. It turned his stomach to think of doing this, but he really didn't have a choice. His failure to make sure Dorner and his associates were dead had led to Jared and his sister being put in danger. If he let these guys go now, they'd keep following him and Jared until both of them were dead.

He shook his head to try and dislodge the little voice that told him there were plenty more where these two came from, and eliminating them didn't get rid of the overall threat. Odilon probably had an endless stream of men at his command, and picking them off one by one was only good for so long before Jensen inevitably slipped up. He hoped to God that Jared was away free and clear by the time that happened.

Besides, it was another form of self-defense, Jensen told himself firmly as he adjusted the gun so it was aimed at the center of the man's head. The doctrine of the pre-emptive strike. It wasn't like either of the two men he was about to kill would hesitate for a second at shooting him if the tables were turned. With that in mind, he put one finger on the trigger and slowly started to pull.

He felt the click as the first of the three safeties released and noticed that his palms were getting sweaty. Really, this was ridiculous. He was a paid killer. He'd just found out he was good enough that he was fucking competition for one of the most feared men out there, and here he was hesitating over a simple matter of self-preservation.

Jensen set his jaw and kept up the slow pull on the trigger, feeling the second safety release. These men thought he was someone named Dean Winchester, and this was what Dean Winchester would do.

Jared's words back in Oranienburg suddenly popped into his head. Chernak was talking about Dean Winchester. He wasn't talking about Jensen Ross.

The hurt and confusion on Jared's face before he fled the building a few minutes ago rose up in his mind's eye. He could understand the anger visible underneath that hurt. Jared had been trying so hard all this time to believe that Jensen was a good guy and doing his best to get him to believe it, too. And here Jensen was, about to kill two defenseless men, ready to throw all of Jared's work out the window and take on the identity of the cold-blooded killer he didn't want to be.

The bitch of it was, he had to do it.

Jensen paused and lowered the weapon, wiping a hand over his face. He wasn't going to be able to face Jared after this. Not once he knew everything that Jensen was, everything that Dean Winchester and the Jaguar were. It didn't matter if they were aliases or nicknames—they were things he had done, people he had killed. He had a reputation, a pretty valuable one at that, and there was no running away from it. Jared needed to end this whole adventure of his and get away while he still could, get somewhere they could protect him and figure out how to get him home and forget that Jensen ever existed.

Suddenly he was gladder than ever that he'd turned Jared down that morning. The guy thought he was attracted to someone who didn't even exist. Jensen Ross was probably as much a fiction as any of the other names on those stupid passports, someone respectable he cloaked himself with while he was planning how best to murder people. The thought of someone as honest, caring, and beautiful as Jared Padalecki becoming involved with someone as dark and twisted as Jensen was enough to turn his stomach.

Jensen gave his head a sharp shake and raised the gun again, more decisively this time. Two quick shots. Two train tickets. He'd board the train, sweep it and make sure they hadn't been followed, and then slip off. Jared would never have to see him again.

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Jared had been sitting on the bench inside the train station for at least an hour. He'd gone straight there from the empty house on Damrak, stopping only for a first-aid kit at a pharmacy, barely remembering to watch for another tail as he closed his mind off to the thought of what Jensen was doing. Any number of times since sitting down, he'd looked up as someone crossed his field of vision, trying to look casual but certain he was failing miserably. It didn't help that he was a few yards away from the main ticket counter, so there was a constant stream of traffic in front of him.

All he kept seeing in his mind's eye was Jensen's body being drained of life, the angry red marks on his neck afterwards, and the hard, cold look in his eyes when he told Jared to leave. The images played around and around in his head, stuck on repeat.

Something had happened today besides Jared screwing up and not knowing there was a second man following him, besides Jensen nearly dying. Jensen was acting like he hadn't since they left Berlin, cold and shut-off and…and terrifying, even if Jared knew that wasn't what he was really like. Something had happened since they parted ways that morning, since the disastrous kiss that he wished now he'd never initiated.

Jared squeezed his eyes shut and shoved his hands under his thighs to keep them from shaking. He'd been fighting for his life in that empty row house, for Jensen's life, and the aftereffects of it were only hitting him now. He was sure he looked like a freak, with disheveled hair and torn knuckles he tried to keep tucked inside his shirt cuff, his jacket zipped up tight to hide his bloodstained shirt. He'd ducked into the bathroom to lift up his shirt and examine the knife mark across his chest, relieved to see it was only a thin red line that he could slap a gauze pad over and not have to worry about it soaking through more than one layer of clothing.

Now, he huddled back against the wall and hoped no one approached him except the one man he desperately needed to see. Now, all he could do was wait.

It was approaching two in the afternoon when his regular scan across the station's interior caught on a familiar head of dark blond hair. Thank God, he thought, quickly looking away but keeping track out of the corner of his eye.

As Jensen neared the line for the ticket counter, Jared saw that he had slung over one shoulder the navy duffel bag that they'd acquired a few days previously. Since it had been sitting in the hotel room when Jared left that morning, Jensen must have gone back for it, but obviously not for Jared's suitcase. Okay, so a bright purple piece of luggage wasn't exactly inconspicuous, but still…

Jared waited, every nerve on edge, until a shadow passed over him and he heard Jensen sit down on the right side of the bench. The duffel bag went on Jensen's lap, but he placed the two train tickets he held on the seat between them, as he'd said. Jared gave him the quick look that he'd give any stranger who sat down so close, taking in Jensen's upturned coat collar and the way his profile was outlined against the low afternoon light behind the big glass windows of the station before he turned away.

Waiting for some kind of signal, Jared made himself keep watching the crowds, keep looking for anyone who was paying too much attention to them. He leaned forward slightly, propping his weight on his hands on either side of his thighs.

Then out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jensen's hand move towards the tickets. His fingers curled over the top sheet and then stilled. Jared knew he wasn't supposed to look at Jensen, but he cocked his head ever so slightly to signal that he was listening.

Jensen's voice was so low that he could barely hear it, but the undercurrent of determination running through his words carried them right to Jared's ears. "I left them tied up," was all he said, but the wealth of meaning it carried made Jared freeze in place.

There was a pause, and then Jensen's little finger shifted to the left enough to close the distance between their hands. The gentle brush on Jared's skin was there for a second, and then Jensen was picking up the ticket and walking away.

Jared kept staring straight ahead, concentrating on the retreating figure out of the corner of his eye, blind to the other travelers passing through the station, his heart pounding loudly enough to be heard. Jensen hadn't killed the two men Jared had knocked out. He'd let them live, despite his insistence that he had no choice. He was here in one piece, and they were about to get on the train and go somewhere safe, and…

And there had been something odd about that last gesture, and Jared's throat suddenly felt tight.

The way Jensen had said his final words sounded an awful lot like, "Goodbye."

Chapter Text

The train ride from Amsterdam to Paris was four hours long, and Jared didn't relax for a minute of it.

He kept looking down at the tickets clutched in his hand even after the conductor had punched the top one and handed them back. First was the express train to Paris, and then they'd have to travel to a different station to hop an overnighter to Barcelona. He didn't know if this had been the next available train when Jensen bought the tickets, or if there was some reason they were heading for Spain, or really much of anything, since he hadn't heard a fucking word from Jensen since Centraal Station.

He'd seen him once, depositing his duffel bag in the luggage rack near the head of the car before walking down the aisle. There were white cords trailing from his ears that suggested Jared's iPod had been one of the items he had picked up from their motel room. There was no way he actually had the sound on, Jared was sure, but it made him look like any other train traveler. His coat collar was pulled up to hide the marks on his neck, and he hadn't acknowledged Jared at all, but at least seeing that he was on the train and in one piece had relieved some of Jared's anxiety.

Of course, that had been two hours ago, and the seat next to him remained frustratingly empty except for his laptop bag. He didn't dare use the machine, figuring that there must be some way to track his laptop that he didn't know about even though he hadn't accessed his e-mail accounts. There was no way the guys who'd followed him and attacked Jensen had randomly happened across him exiting that coffee shop after using his computer for the first time in three weeks. He probably shouldn't even have the laptop with him, but he guessed that as long as it was off, he was fine.

Letting out a small huff, Jared pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and sent a quick text to Jensen: Where r u? He looked out at the dark Belgian countryside, unable to see more than a few isolated lights here and there, his hand clenched around the phone as he waited for a reply.

When the device vibrated sharply a moment later, he jumped in his seat and looked down at the tiny screen. Im ok, it said. Hang tight.

Jared gave a frustrated snort and let his head fall back against the seat. So not the point.

A second later, the phone vibrated again. Take bag. Switch trains @ paris. Metro line 5 2 austerlitz. Ill keep watch.

Where r u? he asked again, wishing he could make the words sound more forceful.

There was no reply. But fifteen minutes later, a familiar figure in an olive green jacket headed down the center aisle, his back to Jared, disappearing through the far door without slowing down.

Jared bit his lip to keep from calling out to Jensen as he passed. There had to be some purpose to this cloak-and-dagger crap, but it was beginning to piss him off. He still didn't know what Jensen had found out from Matthea, but it obviously wasn't very good. The dark fear that Jensen's farewell in Centraal Station had been permanent was growing more and more with every minute Jared was left on his own.

Jared slouched down in his seat—though not so low that he couldn't keep an eye on his fellow passengers—and resigned himself to staring out the window at nothing for the rest of the ride.

The train pulled into Gare du Nord precisely on time at 6:35 P.M. Jared stood with the other passengers, grabbed the duffel bag Jensen had left, and made his way out, trying to look like he knew where he was going. Pausing to read signs or looking around in confusion would make him stand out, and the Jensen-voice in his head warned him against that.

He barely noticed the soaring architecture of the station, concentrating instead on the signs directing him towards the Metro and trying to keep an eye out for his erstwhile companion. He thought he caught a glimpse of dark blond hair once or twice, but then he had to focus on feeding Euro coins into the ticket machine and scanning the map of subway lines to figure out where the hell he was supposed to go.

All the while, his skin was prickling, afraid that there were eyes on him, either human or electronic. There were so many more surveillance cameras in Europe than he was used to, and as far as Jared knew, he was still wanted by the German police. He had no idea if they were still looking for him, or how far away from Berlin they were looking, but he kept his head down and the duffel hitched high on his shoulder, cursing silently how much shorter the French were than the Dutch. He didn't have much of a choice about standing out in a crowd here.

He made it to the Austerlitz station without incident, about half an hour before the train to Barcelona was due to leave. Dodging people on the platform, Jared dug the now-crumpled ticket out of his pocket and looked up the compartment number. When he'd made it inside the private compartment, sticking the paper ticket on the clip outside the door and shoving the electronic key card back into his pocket, he dropped the duffel on the floor and collapsed on his back on the bottom bunk, his legs bent in half at the knees so he could fit.

Jared put his arm over his eyes and let out a gusty sigh. As much as it hurt to even consider it, maybe it was time to start thinking about what he was going to do if he was separated from Jensen. He had maybe a hundred Euros in his pocket and no way to get more, unless Jensen had slipped some in the duffel bag. He figured there was at least a U.S. consulate in Barcelona, if not an embassy, and if he explained things fast enough, they might be able to get in touch with the San Antonio police and get Megan into protective custody before anything happened to her.

No. Jensen would come for him. He was sure of it.

Shaking his head firmly, Jared sat up, remembering just in time that he was on a bunk bed. Ducking out from under the top bunk, he stood up and paced the length of the compartment, able to take two strides from the door to the outside wall, as long as his arms were tucked into his sides so he didn't bump into the beds on one side or the sink on the other. Well, that was great. Good thing he wasn't claustrophobic.

He flicked open the blinds to look out the small window. They were on the track closest to the outer wall of the station, which was lined by food and news kiosks. He looked down at his watch. Fifteen minutes until they were scheduled to leave, and still no word from Jensen. He bit his lip and reached for his phone.

Then something caught his eye. It was Jensen, strolling down the length of the platform, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets. Jared had no doubt one of those hands was curled around his gun, despite the easy way he was carrying himself. He watched as Jensen came closer and then paused to look at the newspapers in front of one kiosk.

Jensen dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out a coin, flipping it to the vendor and picking up a tabloid-style paper. Jared watched in confusion as he opened it a few pages in and folded it open, turning to lean his back against the wall next to the kiosk. Why the hell was he stopping to read the paper when the train was about to leave?

Through the thick, scratched plastic of the train window, Jared watched as Jensen read. The passersby might not have noticed Jensen's reactions or realized that the fact that he was even showing a reaction meant something huge was going on. But Jared was well enough versed in reading Jensen's face by now to know that the widening of his eyes and the way his chest hitched on a slight gasp was a veritable shout of astonishment, and Jared suddenly desperately wanted to know what was in the newspaper.

Then Jensen brought up a fist and pressed it to his mouth, his eyes darting back and forth across the page. Jared realized he was holding his breath and let it out in a whoosh when Jensen's eyes briefly closed, his clenched hand trembling in front of his mouth.

What the hell did that newspaper say?

An announcement burst over the station's loudspeakers, and the only word Jared understood was "Barcelona." Jensen looked up at the sound, his hand falling down to his side and his eyes darting around the platform. He drew in a deep breath and squared his shoulders, crumpling the newspaper in one hand as he turned away from Jared and back toward the station exit.

Alarmed, Jared craned his neck to watch Jensen retreat down the platform to the rear of the train until he couldn't see him anymore. He scrambled for his phone and texted once again, Where r u?

There was no reply.

Five minutes later, the train pulled out of the station.

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Later, Jensen would shudder every time he thought of how close he had come to losing everything. If the train hadn't been at the platform next to the newsstand, if the secondary headline on the newspaper hadn't caught his eye, if he hadn't given in to his morbid curiosity and taken a look at the article…he would have finished scanning the station and the train for potential threats and gotten off at the first stop, never to see Jared again, resigning himself to a short, bloody life as the Jaguar.

But he had read the article. And it changed everything.

Jensen climbed on the train at the last second, the words on the printed pages spinning through his head fast enough to crowd out any other thoughts. He had to work hard to pay attention as he swept the train for potential threats, even though he'd watched like a hawk as everyone boarded. He might not be able to search through all of the sleeping compartments, but eventually he allowed himself to believe that they'd gotten away from Amsterdam before the men he couldn't bring himself to kill could call for reinforcements, and that no one had been watching for them in Paris.

At least for now, they were safe.

Then Jensen found an unoccupied seat and sat there for over an hour, staring out into the night, working through the implications of what he'd read and comparing them to what he'd heard from Chernak and Matthea and the men who'd tried to kill him and Jared. Hope kept threatening to rise up within him, no matter how many counterarguments he came up with to push it back down. But every time, his mind returned to the date in the newspaper article—the date of Olaoluwa Kayode's death—and finally he accepted that everything he'd thought about himself was wrong.

He'd never been more relieved.

It was only then that he rose and made his way to the train car where he hoped to God Jared was waiting for him. When he found himself in front of the compartment corresponding to his ticket number, Jensen took a deep breath, surprised to feel butterflies in his stomach. A ticket with a series of holes punched in it was hanging off a clip on the outside, so the conductor had apparently already come by, and Jared was apparently inside. That was good.

Jensen rubbed a hand over his face. That was more than good. They had a lot of talking to do, a lot of things to figure out, and the remaining ten hours of the train ride ought to cover it.

He swiped his keycard and pushed open the door, stepping inside and closing it behind him in one fluid movement.

He barely had time to catch a glimpse of Jared sprawled on his back on the bottom bunk before Jared rolled out and onto his feet so fast that Jensen automatically raised his arms and took half a step back, bumping into the door behind him. He opened his mouth to say something light about finally finding the right train car, something to break the tension he could feel draped like a blanket over the cramped compartment, but he stopped dead when he saw Jared's face.

His eyes were open wide, his lips slightly parted, relief written in bold strokes across his features. He looked like he'd been holding his breath for hours and was only taking in oxygen now that Jensen was standing there.

Or maybe that was Jensen projecting how he felt.

It took one stride of Jared's long legs to bring him within reaching distance, and then he was pulling Jensen towards him, right hand grabbing a firm hold of his shoulder while the left one slid around his back. And then both of Jared's arms were wrapped around him, and the fierceness of the embrace was something Jensen couldn't help but respond to.

He lifted his head to keep his face from being crushed against a broad shoulder while his own arms came up to hold close what he'd been a heartbeat away from losing more than once today, closing his eyes as he finally let himself feel safe.

One of Jared's big hands clutched at the fabric of his jacket, and Jensen tightened his own grip, feeling another unfamiliar rush of nerves in his stomach at their close proximity. The response of Jared's body felt more like a wince than what he was expecting, and it took a second before the reason sank in. "Shit, I'm sorry," Jensen said, withdrawing and pushing slightly at Jared's upper chest. When there was the span of a hand between their bodies, he reached down and swiftly lifted Jared's sweater and t-shirt with both hands.

Jared let out a quick gasp, but Jensen was focused on the left side of his ribcage, where the dark-haired man's knife had caught him a few hours earlier. "I thought I saw him cut you and I never asked. Are you okay?" he asked roughly, one hand roaming over the neat white square of gauze taped to Jared's side while the other hand kept his shirt up.

"Uh, yeah," Jared responded, his voice huskier than usual. He cleared his throat. "It nicked me, really." He drew in a breath, and Jensen felt the motion against his hand.

"You sure you're okay?" Jensen asked, feeling like he needed to peel away the tape and see the wound for himself.

"I am a doctor, you know." Jared's tone sounded like he was trying to be annoyed but wasn't quite managing it.

Puzzled at the off tone in Jared's voice, Jensen let his hand come to rest on his ribcage and looked up. The dark heat in the gaze looking back at him was enough to make him draw in a sharp breath. His fingers involuntarily tightened, and then he froze as he suddenly realized he was feeling up the really fine torso of a well-muscled man who had him nearly pinned against the door.

The train jolted, and Jensen brought his arms down, bracing his legs at shoulder width to keep his balance without removing his gaze from the other man. "Jared…" he said softly, stunned by what he was reading on Jared's face and how closely it matched what he could feel welling up inside of him.

This, Jensen thought suddenly. This is why I was freaking out all day. It wasn't only what he had learned—or thought he had learned—about himself. It wasn't only the stress of trying to stay alive while fleeing yet another city, another country.

It was that the man in front of him had become a fundamental part of his world, and the thought of leaving him behind, even if it was for his own good, had torn a hole inside of Jensen that nothing could have fixed except standing here with him, breathing the same air.

Jared hesitantly reached up, nudging Jensen's chin upward with his cupped hand. Jensen allowed him, unsurprised a moment later to feel fingertips ghosting across the abrasions on his neck. He'd washed them clean once they'd stopped bleeding, but the angry red marks were likely to remain for a few days. "How's it look?" he asked, aware that his voice was rougher than normal.

Jared's hand was trembling against his skin. "You—" Jared stopped and swallowed hard. His fingers stilled, and Jensen could feel them pressing against his pulse as if seeking reassurance. "You'll be okay," Jared finally whispered. His thumb started moving gently back and forth on the other side of Jensen's neck, and an involuntary shiver swept over Jensen's entire body.

Lowering his head a bit, Jensen watched in fascination as Jared's eyes darkened to the color of waves in a storm. He was suddenly aware of exactly how many inches remained between their bodies and that every sway of the train had them leaning almost imperceptibly closer to each other.

Jared's breath was coming faster as his lips slowly parted, and Jensen knew he was responding in the same way. He brought his hands up and curved them around Jared's narrow hips, feeling a tremor run through the lean, powerful frame beneath his hands.

Then he leaned forward until there was nothing but the warmth of Jared's mouth on his.

Even if Jensen had no idea what coming home felt like, he knew it had to be something like this: warm skin under his palms as he slid them under the back of Jared's shirt, smooth lips and slick tongue moving over and around his, a strong arm holding him against a broad chest, and Jared's spicy-sweet scent all around him when he breathed in.

When he felt those long fingers glide up from his neck to cradle the back of his entire head, Jensen couldn't help the soft, pleased moan that escaped him. The tiny, automatic thrust of the other man's hips against his in response deepened the sound in his throat, and his fingers tightened on the warm expanse of muscular back as he sucked Jared's lower lip into his mouth, heat slowly and inexorably unfurling within him.

Then the train lurched as it entered a curve, and they broke apart, Jared's arms flailing slightly until one hand latched onto the rail of the bunk bed. "Um," Jared said, his tongue snaking out to lick his kiss-swollen lips and nearly drawing another groan from Jensen. "I'm…awfully glad to see you," he said with a slight flush.

Jensen let out a snort. "No kidding," he said, but he stepped closer and reached up to slide one hand into Jared's tousled hair, feeling something inside of him quietly settle into place. He softly admitted, "I am, too."

"Yeah?" Jared asked, starting to wrap his free arm around Jensen before hesitating. There was a question in his eyes, an Are you sure? that matched the stiffness in the arm that held him, ready to let go if he decided this wasn't for real after all.

"Yeah," Jensen breathed out, feeling the corners of his eyes crinkle with his smile. "I'm sure." He used his grip on Jared's head to bring him closer and wipe away the uncertainty that he'd put on his face only this morning.

They kissed again, more heated than before, using the motion of the train as an excuse to shift their legs and bodies closer until they were pressed together from chest to knees. The vibrations coming up through the floor quickly became as stimulating as the slide of their mouths and the pleasurable feel of skin under their exploring hands. It wasn't too long before Jared's sideways shift to keep his balance brought his thigh up against Jensen's growing arousal, and fireworks exploded behind his closed eyelids.

"Wait," Jensen gasped, involuntarily rocking his hips against the muscles of Jared's thigh, drawing a low groan and a heated look that raised his body temperature a degree all by itself. Despite the heat, he felt a shiver pass over him, and he forced himself to take a step back. Everything had been turned upside down so many times in the past twenty-four hours that he needed a moment to come to terms with it all.

Jared lowered the hand that wasn't gripping the bed rail and asked quietly but warily, "What is it?"

"The good news is, there's no one on the train we need to worry about." He took a deep breath, grounding himself in the relief that washed over Jared's face. He'd have to start worrying again once they reached Barcelona, once their pursuers realized they had escaped and could send someone else after them.

At least for the next few hours, though, this tiny room was a sanctuary for both of them. And Jensen suddenly had plans for making use of every minute of it.

"But there are some things I need to tell you," he said hoarsely, looking up into suddenly-worried blue-green eyes. "Some things I found out that you need to know. About me. About who I am." And about who I'm not, he thought.

Jared's throat worked as he swallowed. "All right," he said quietly, taking a breath as if steeling himself for a blow but not moving back an inch.

Jensen shook his head and moved his hand up to the nape of Jared's neck, amazed at the trust this man had in him and amazed at himself for coming so close to walking away. "But not right now, if that's okay with you," he said, watching in awe as Jared's eyelids fluttered shut from nothing more than his touch.

When he spoke again, he heard the tremor that wound through his voice, but he wasn't ashamed of it at all. "Right now, Jared, I need you so bad that I—"

The words were literally taken out of his mouth as Jared's lips crashed down on his.

Chapter Text

Surreal. That was the only word Jared could think of as he pushed Jensen's coat off his shoulders and licked into his mouth, feeling Jensen shake the coat loose from his arms before grabbing at Jared's hips and yanking him closer.

Well, okay, want and need and now, goddamn it were also running through his head in an ever-louder loop, but still…Twelve hours ago, Jensen had firmly pushed him away from a simple kiss. Six hours ago, he'd shown enough flashes of the man who'd kidnapped Jared from a Berlin hotel that Jared had been glad that kiss had been rejected.

And now, Jensen was practically devouring him, those full lips pulling and sucking at his while his tongue did something inside Jared's mouth that was absolutely setting him on fire. It was simply surreal.

He yanked Jensen's shirt out of his pants and reached up his back, feeling the play of muscles beneath his roaming hands as Jensen's arms shifted to pull him closer without breaking their kiss. He went with it for a moment and then pulled away slightly to get the space he needed to move his hands over Jensen's chest.

The feel of so much smooth skin beneath his fingers was soon driving him wild. His mouth still locked over Jensen's, he flicked one nipple with his thumbnail, then the other, and the resulting moan vibrated against his mouth and sent his own hips rocking forward.

Impatiently, Jared leaned back and curled his fingers around the edge of Jensen's shirt, tugging it up until the skin he'd been touching was bared to his view. It wasn't like he hadn't seen Jensen's bare torso before; hell, he'd seen all of the man's body. But then he'd been touching with the intent of diagnosing and healing, his doctor's eye taking note of the well-built physique as a sign of strong physical condition. Now, he wanted to let his eyes and hands roam over warm skin and hard muscle for the pleasure of sensing both.

Even more than that, he was touching in order to arouse his partner—and the recognition of the difference shot heat low through his belly and straight to his groin.

He pulled higher, and Jensen got the hint and drew back long enough to yank his henley over his head and onto the floor, leaving him bare-chested. Jared hated to take the time to remove his own clothing, but the promise of skin on skin was too powerful to pass up.

A moment later, their chests were pressed together with nothing between them but a thin sheen of sweat. Jared let out a groaning sigh, reveling in the feel of their bodies touching in so many places.

With a quick, sly grin from under his lashes, Jensen ducked his head down. His lush mouth closed around one of Jared's nipples, laving and sucking and making Jared writhe helplessly where he stood.

Gasping, he slid his hand up into Jensen's hair and tugged his head back. The lust-blown, fiery green eyes that met his had him hardening even more, and he shifted his hips forward against Jensen's, watching those gorgeous eyes grow impossibly wider as the teasing brush of groin on groin turned into the solid press of hard heat.

"Fuck," he groaned, leaning forward to press his mouth against the skin above Jensen's collarbone, breathing in that warm, masculine scent he'd been so distracted by this morning, sending his arousal spiraling even higher.

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Even if Jensen couldn't remember anything older than two months, he was sure he had never been so turned on in his life. Because if he had been, it surely would have killed him, considering how close he was to losing it right now.

He couldn't believe that just this morning he'd pushed Jared away under the rationale that this wasn't real, that they were only attracted to each other because of their forced proximity and interdependence. Here and now, after everything that had happened today, with both of them safe and sound and together and wanting, it seemed like a stupid argument.

So maybe this was only two people drawn together by circumstances, two people who under other conditions wouldn't have given each other the time of day. But that didn't make the need to touch and feel and taste any less urgent. It didn't reduce the desire to run hands over acres of skin and tease nipples into hard points and suck a mark into the soft flesh of a neck arched back in ecstasy.

It was almost like drowning, except that instead of breaking for the surface he was diving deeper, his hand skating down Jared's sweat-damp back and beneath the waistband of his jeans. As Jared mouthed at his shoulder, Jensen cupped the tight curve of his ass, fingers splaying across the firm flesh.

Jared groaned against his skin before bringing his hands to Jensen's hips, his thumbs dipping below the front of his jeans to trace the lines of his hipbones, and "Oh, God," Jensen moaned, feeling his knees starting to give way.

Jared sank down with him until they were both kneeling, pressed against each other and swaying back and forth with the rhythm of the train. Jensen tilted his head to the side as Jared kissed and nibbled along his collarbone like he'd wanted him to do so badly this morning, skipping over his abused neck to alight on a point behind his ear that soon had Jensen arching his back at the feel of lips and teeth. He pulled harder on Jared's ass, bringing their erections in line with each other and sending a surge through him like a live wire.

The "Come on, Jen," keened in his ear made it clear that he wasn't the only one feeling that jolt of desire. Jared was tugging at Jensen's belt, and Jensen had the presence of mind to push his hands away to his own pants, figuring that efficiency was key.

They quickly shoved their jeans and boxers down in near unison, and Jensen had a moment to realize that Jared hadn't been kidding with his "everything is proportional" comment before one of his huge hands wrapped around both of their already-leaking cocks, and Jensen nearly whited out from pleasure.

He was too lost in sensation to tell which one of them made the guttural moan and who made the drawn-out whimper, but the way the two sounds of desire blended together only amplified the pleasure coursing through him. He looked down to see Jared stroking them both, and the sight of that, on top of the incredible feeling of another hand and cock along his own sensitive length, almost had him coming right there.

Determined not to lose it just yet, Jensen bit hard on his lower lip and reached down to entwine their fingers and hold them both in his grip as well. Jared gave a sharp cry at the new sensation, and Jensen looked up to see his head thrown back, the tendons in his neck standing out.

He licked up that long column of skin, slowly but surely getting the hang of jacking the two of them at once. "Yeah," he heard Jared raggedly breathe out, "yeah, yeah." Every exhale was the same word, and soon they were thrusting together to the same rhythm into their clasped hands, slicked with their own fluids.

The pressure built so intensely that Jensen couldn't hold it back any longer; it had been too long, and this was far, far too much. He slowed down for one thrust and then another, and then he was calling Jared's name and trailing off into a wordless cry as he came hard and long, clutching Jared's shoulder tightly enough to leave marks.

He felt a second wave washing through him as the big body pressed up against him started to shudder, and then Jared was dropping his head forward, teeth closing down where Jensen's neck and shoulder joined, stifling the cry that ripped through him as he throbbed in their joined hands, a second shot of thick white warmth pulsing onto their abdomens.

Slowly, outside sounds faded back into Jensen's consciousness: the wheels still humming beneath them, the throb of his pulse in his ears, the footsteps of passengers in the hallway outside. This, he thought, bending to rest his forehead against the broad shoulder in front of him, listening to their breathing slow as he clutched at Jared's sweat-sheened back. This, right now, is all I need.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

After catching their breath, they shucked off the rest of their clothing and cleaned off with damp paper towels from the tiny sink in their compartment. The gauze taped over Jared's ribs had unsurprisingly come loose at some point in the last half hour, and he pulled it off the rest of the way, satisfied that the red line across his skin was thin enough that it should be exposed to the air to start healing rather than being covered over.

Then Jared collapsed onto the narrow bottom bunk on his back, his feet hanging off the end, tugging a somewhat-reluctant Jensen on top of him. When Jared started rearranging his companion's limbs to his satisfaction, Jensen apparently couldn't take it anymore. "Are you serious?" he grumbled. "You're gonna make me snuggle with you?"

"Absolutely." Jared pulled at Jensen's left arm and leg, arranging him like a reluctant blanket draped over half of Jared's body. "Cuddling is a mandatory part of the Jared Padalecki Sex Experience."

The snorting laugh that Jensen let out was almost as nice a noise as the open-mouthed, whimpering gasp he had made earlier when Jared's hand closed around both of them. Almost, but not quite.

Jensen shook his head before dropping it onto Jared's chest and throwing an arm across his abdomen while the other one curled under his neck. "Come on, man, I'm not your teddy bear," he grumbled, his fingers coming to rest over Jared's hipbone.

"Nope," Jared said happily, noticing how Jensen's actions completely contradicted his words. "But you can be my Jenny bear."

There was silence for a moment, and Jared held his breath, thinking that maybe he'd gone too far. Then Jensen slowly tilted his head up and growled into his ear, each word carefully enunciated. "I can think of at least five ways to permanently maim you right now that require me moving no more than one finger."

Jared froze, cataloging exactly where Jensen's hands lay on his body. They were mostly very nice places for those elegant fingers to be, but he could see how a couple of spots might be vulnerable.

Then a wicked thought occurred to him, and he murmured back, "I can think of at least five ways to make you come without using anything other than my mouth."

The stutter of Jensen's hips against his brought a smirk to Jared's face. "Bastard," Jensen muttered, nipping at his earlobe before lowering his head to Jared's shoulder.

"Hey now, don't be questioning my parentage," Jared retorted. He adjusted his position so that his left arm reached down over Jensen's back, hand splaying out over sculpted lower dorsals, while his right hand came to rest on Jensen's left side.

Jensen muttered something but settled into place, his fingers at the back of Jared's neck absently stroking back and forth.

There was silence for a moment, Jared enjoying himself with every fiber of his being. From the sleepy half-smile on Jensen's face, he figured the same was true for him. He knew it was probably just the afterglow, but then again, he hadn't experienced any afterglow for many months. The passion of the last few minutes had emptied out the anxiety and fear that had been thrumming through him all day, all week, leaving him floating, warm and content.

So of course he had to open his mouth and ask, "You said you had something to tell me?"

He felt the muscles tense all along Jensen's back, but all he said in a low rumble against Jared's chest was, "Yeah, gimme a minute."

Jared waited patiently, cataloguing the feel of Jensen's body against his, from the breath ghosting across his sweaty chest to the crinkle of curly hair pressed against his hip to the muscular legs intertwined with his own. It was nice to pretend that this could last forever. It would be even nicer to close his eyes and give into the exhaustion that was creeping through his veins, between the adrenaline rush that the entire day had been and the peaceful lassitude from some pretty awesome sex.

But something monumentally important had obviously happened between the moment they parted ways at Centraal Station and the moment the door to the train compartment flew open to reveal a wide-eyed Jensen, and Jared had to know what it was. Despite the happy outcome, he was dreading finding out what Jensen had to tell him, especially considering what he'd been thinking the whole time he'd been pacing back and forth. He looked down at his hand where it curled over Jensen's ribs, the ragged ends of his chewed fingernails a reminder of the dark certainty that he'd been left alone.

Finally, Jared cleared his throat. "Sorry if I'm too clingy. It sounds stupid, but I had this, I don't know, premonition or something." He ran his hand along the smooth skin of Jensen's flank, using the pleasure of the touch to distract himself from the unhappy memory. "It was just—when you walked away in the station, I suddenly got this really strong feeling that that was it, that I wasn't going to see you again." He huffed a half-laugh as if to indicate how ridiculous that thought was.

For a moment, there was no sound but the train's wheels thrumming somewhere beneath them. Jensen raised his head to look at him, the expression on his face so serious that Jared's hand went still. "What is it?" he asked softly.

Jensen drew in a breath. Then he reached out and laid his hand on Jared's chest, spreading his fingers wide as if he was bracing himself. "The thing is, Jay," he said carefully, "when I gave you that ticket, I had every intention of making sure you got on this train, making sure it was safe for you…and then disappearing."

His fingers tightened on Jensen's ribs, and he forced himself to relax his grip. "What do you mean?" Jared asked as calmly as he could, his heart pounding.

Jensen bit his lower lip, and while a few minutes ago that same motion would have driven Jared wild, right now he recognized it for the stalling tactic it was and only got annoyed by it. "I was going to leave a note for you with the porter and get off at some random stop. He'd have given you the note before Barcelona, and it would have told you to go right to the U.S. Consulate and tell them everything that happened."

Jared drew back, the space between their bodies suddenly feeling cold. "Wh—why would you do that?"

"Because of what Matthea told me, and what the man who was following you told me." Jensen pulled back and curled his arms up to his chest, looking surprisingly vulnerable for someone so strong. "A man was killed in Venice two months ago. A man whose death looked like an accident. She told me that I had arranged it."

Jared held his breath, afraid that he already knew the answer. "Who was it?"

Those brilliant green eyes lowered their gaze to the bed and then came back up, as if Jensen realized he had to be able to have the strength to look at Jared when he said it. "Olaoluwa Kayode," Jensen said hoarsely. "Dead at the Jaguar's hand. And she called me the Jaguar. So did the man who tried to kill me."

Jared's eyes widened. "Shit," he whispered. For a moment, fear shuddered down his spine. Was that who his newly-minted lover really was? The man who was responsible for not only one man's death, but all that were still following from civil war? An internationally-wanted assassin with a fearsome and ruthless reputation who made a living killing people?

Jensen's eyes were locked onto his in the dim light of the bunk, and the trace of desperation underlying his searching expression confirmed what Jared already knew. He reached out and gripped Jensen's bicep. "That wasn't you," he said firmly. "That's not who you are."

"How do you know that?" Jensen asked levelly, and if it weren't for the hours Jared had spent listening to every nuance of this man's voice, he would have missed the slight tremble beneath the words. "It makes the most sense given everything we know."

Jared was shaking his head before the sentence was finished, even knowing that there were things Jensen hadn't told him yet but knowing they didn't matter. "No, it doesn't." His hand slid across the muscular chest next to his and came to rest over Jensen's heart as he looked the other man straight in the eye. "It doesn't fit with this."

Expecting to get a sharp retort about being cheesy or naïve, he was already mentally preparing his defense. But instead he saw Jensen's eyes close in relief as his head bowed forward to rest on Jared's shoulder. Jared snaked his other arm underneath Jensen's neck and held him close, cherishing the warmth of his body, waiting for him to say something.

After a moment, he heard the words quietly spoken into his chest. "This is why," Jensen said softly. "I know it's completely and utterly fucking selfish of me, but this is why I can't do this without you, Jared." He blindly reached up to plunge one hand into Jared's hair and held on so tightly it almost hurt. "Because somehow, you're the only one who knows who I am. You know me even better than I do."

Jared dropped a kiss onto the top of Jensen's head. "Yeah, I do," he said softly. "But that's not what made you change your mind just now."

He felt the small smile form on Jensen's face, his lips moving against the skin of Jared's pectorals. "You're smarter than you look, Padalecki."

"Shut up," he retorted without any heat. He uncurled himself enough to look at Jensen again. "Seriously, what happened?"

"The paper." Jensen's eyebrows quirked up. "I saw a headline about Nigeria and I couldn't help but buy the damn thing." He leaned closer as the train went around a curve and then resumed, "It was about the two-month anniversary of Kayode's death."

Jared swallowed but didn't interrupt. Jensen's eyes got brighter as he leaned up on one elbow. "The exact two-month anniversary. That means he was killed on December 12."

Jared knew he was supposed to be making a connection here, but he was too tired to see it. His jaw split in a yawn before he said, "I'm sorry, Jensen, I don't get it."

Jensen's full lips were barely holding back a grin. "I woke up in Croatia on the 14th. I'd been unconscious for four days, according to the doc who saved me. That means Kayode was still alive while I was floating in the damn Adriatic."

Jared had always thought it was only a metaphor to say that one's heart leapt in one's chest, but he swore he could feel it at Jensen's words. "So they were wrong. Matthea and Chernak both."

Jensen nodded, his smile widening. "I didn't kill him, Jared. It wasn't me."

He turned that over in his head for a minute. It didn't surprise him in the least; he'd never been able to reconcile the honest fear he saw on Jensen's face when he thought about what kind of man he might be with the detachment that a hardcore killer like Dean Winchester was supposed to have. And he'd long ago understood Jensen's desperate actions in Berlin as the attempts of a hunted man to escape a tightening noose. It was sweet vindication to know he'd been right all along.

"It's more than that, isn't it?" Jared suddenly asked as his sluggish mind caught up. He propped himself on one elbow to match Jensen's pose. "You've been operating under the assumption that what they all said about you was true, all the way back to Dorner and Heinrich and that fucking Wikipedia article. You took Matthea's words as truth, and that guy with the rope, too. But they're wrong. Which means the whole house of cards you've been building to incriminate yourself fell right down."

No wonder he'd looked so astonished reading that newspaper article.

The gleam in Jensen's eyes grew brighter. "I'm not who they think I am," he said in quiet triumph. "I still don't know who the hell I am, but I'm not what they've been calling me. I didn't kill Kayode or start that war."

"Can I say 'I told you so' now?" Jared asked, lifting his eyebrows and tilting his head forward slightly. The thought suddenly struck him that Jensen had gone around all day thinking that he was the Jaguar and that he had murdered the prime minister's son, and Jared's heart suddenly ached for him.

"You can try." Jensen's eyes twinkled as he closed the distance between their mouths.

Jared met him in a kiss more gentle than the intense ones from earlier, but no less passionate. When they parted, Jensen's hand on the back of his head held him in place. "So I decided to stay," he said quietly, his mouth only an inch away from Jared's. "And then when I opened that door and saw you…" His voice trailed off. "The look on your face was like nothing I'd ever seen before, I swear to God."

"I know," Jared replied, his hands stroking down the smooth muscles of Jensen's back. His tongue briefly lunged out to swipe over Jensen's lips, to taste their welcoming warmth and to draw a little strength at the same time.

He pulled back and said so quietly it was almost inaudible, "I walked into that building, you know, and I saw you choking—dying—right there in front of me. When I first got to the train station, my hands were shaking so bad I had to sit on them, and even then, I probably looked like some crazy guy."

"Yeah, you kinda did," Jensen agreed, his mouth quirking upwards.

"Jensen, I don't—" He looked hard at the other man. "I don't know how this is going to turn out. I know you don't either. But I don't want you dumping me somewhere out of some misguided idea that I'm better off without you. Please promise me that."

Jensen's hand stroked through his hair, reassuring and real. His baritone voice rumbled, "I swear, Jared, I won't leave you behind if I have any choice in the matter."

Jared bit his lip. That was a qualifier if he'd ever heard one, but he knew it was the best he was going to get. "All right," he said, leaning forward for a kiss to seal the deal.

One kiss turned into another, and one caress led to a second, and pretty soon they were taking advantage of the close confines of the bunk to press their bodies together as tightly as they could, reality narrowing once more to mouths and hands and skin and desire. Jared closed his eyes and let everything else fall away as Jensen began to move on top of him.

Tomorrow would come soon enough.

Chapter Text

Rubbing his eyes with one hand, Jensen stretched out his other arm as far as he could reach and snagged the collar of his jacket from where it had been discarded on the floor. He pulled it towards him, checking to make sure the Glock was still in the inside pocket before fishing out his cell phone and flipping it open to check the time.

Six in the morning. He rubbed his eyes again and tried to remember the train schedule. Two and a half more hours to go? Yeah, that sounded right.

"Wh' time's it?" Jared's sleepy murmur came in his ear. Last night, Jensen had fallen asleep about five minutes after his final enthusiastic thrusts along the groove of Jared's bare hip. They'd somehow shuffled around in their sleep so that Jensen was blanketed by Jared, nearly smothered by his weight but surprisingly happy with it.

Now, remembering Jared's hands covering his ass and pulling him closer while bucking upwards, seeking his own climax against Jensen's body, a shiver of pleasure shot down his spine, and he felt his dick stirring somewhere underneath Jared's weight.

Damn, this was gonna be distracting.

"It's six," he replied, trying to push up Jared's torso and wriggle out from under him. "C'mon, let me up."

Jared grumbled, at the time or the command, it wasn't clear. He lifted himself up enough for Jensen to slither out and then collapsed back onto the thin mattress, face buried in the pillow.

Jensen bent down and sifted through the pile of clothes until he found what he'd been wearing last night. There were clean clothes in the duffel, but these would do until he could shower. "I'm gonna hit the head down at the end of the car," he said, pulling his jeans on. His throat felt sore, but better than he would have expected for nearly being strangled to death yesterday.

"M'kay." Jared lifted one hand without looking and gave a little wave.

It shouldn't be so endearing for a gigantic naked man to be making a gesture like that, but somehow it was. Jensen felt his lips curling upwards as he pulled his jacket collar high around his neck. "Be right back."

He took care of his business and strolled up and down the train car, letting out some of the stiffness in his legs and arms from being curled up in the bunk all night. The train began to slow down, and an announcement came on about an upcoming stop in Figueres. A bleary-eyed young woman walked by, sipping a cup of coffee, and Jensen headed in the direction she'd come from to find the dining car. He stood in line for a few minutes, bought two large cups, and headed back to Jared.

When he entered their compartment, Jared was sitting on the edge of the bunk, fully dressed. Jared looked up with a quick smile, but Jensen hadn't missed the initial flash of worry in his eyes.

"Here," he said, holding out one of the cups and kicking the door shut behind him. "It's got enough sugar to keep you hyper till lunch."

Jared ducked his head and smiled more fully, reaching out to take the cup.

Jensen sat down at the chair next to the tiny desk, his knees knocking companionably against Jared's. The smell of coffee was filling the tiny compartment, and he watched as Jared took the lid off his coffee and blew across the top of it. Momentarily distracted, Jensen stared at the pursed pink lips until he saw them start to curve into a knowing smile.

His eyes flicked up to catch Jared's mischievous twinkle, and he cleared his throat at having been caught. "Right, okay, so here's the thing." He gestured back and forth between the two of them. "There's gonna be a time and a place where this is the right thing to do, and a time and a place where it's not, okay?"

"You tellin' me or yourself?" Jared said in a sleepy drawl.

Jensen bit down on his lip. Hard. "Maybe both of us."

"Okay." Jared's head bounced up and down with a few nods. He took a sip of coffee before putting the lid back on. "Okay."

Jensen took a gulp of his own coffee. "Sorry if I was gone awhile," he said casually.

"'S all right," Jared said. He looked up from under his lashes. "You said you wouldn't leave me."

Jensen looked back at him for a long moment, seeing the trust shining in Jared's blue-green eyes and feeling something inside him stir in response. "Oh, hell," he finally said, leaning forward to meet Jared's mouth with his.

Jared eagerly responded, his free hand coming up to cradle the side of Jensen's head. They kissed slowly, the soft, slick sounds of their lips the only noises they made. Jensen didn't feel the rush of arousal he expected, only a peaceful, simmering feeling that was as much contentment as it was desire. He gave Jared one last, lingering kiss and drew back to see a shy smile on the lips he'd just been kissing.

"Right." Jensen cleared his throat and took a swig of coffee. "Now that we've gotten that straight—" he ignored the snort Jared gave—"there are some things we need to talk about."

"Like why we're going to Barcelona," Jared said, scooting back and leaning against the wall, his face obscured in the shadow of the upper bunk.

Jensen dipped his head to the side. "Because that might be where my boss is."

"Oh." Jared's forehead wrinkled. "You better start with when you left the Red Tulip."

Jensen drew a deep breath and started talking, laying out every word that he and Matthea had exchanged on the bench in Rembrandtplein. When Jensen was done, Jared tapped his fingers against his now-empty coffee cup, deep lines furrowing his broad forehead. "Was that all, like, word for word?"

He shrugged both shoulders, careful now to treat both the injured and uninjured one the same way. Damn, was it only yesterday morning that Jared had done his impromptu physical therapy? "Yeah, pretty much."

"Wow. You have a really good memory."

Jensen merely lifted one eyebrow in reply.

Jared flushed. "Okay, dumb thing to say. I guess when it's working, it's really good."

"I guess so." He hadn't really thought about it, but now he realized that he could recall in near-perfect detail every conversation he'd had over the past six weeks. Well, not with random shopkeepers or ticket agents, but with everyone who had something to do with his situation. Damn, talk about ironic.

"Who's this Panther guy?" Jared asked.

He cocked his head to the side. "Odilon the Panther. You've never heard of him?"

"I don't think I move in the same circles as you," Jared said wryly.

Jensen shook his head. "You should have heard of him. Raimundo Odilon, a Brazilian nicknamed the Panther. He's had documentaries made about him, I think. He's like the world's most famous hit man, although he'd probably insist on being called something more prestigious than that."

Jared's eyebrows were crawling up his forehead. "I doubt that last part made it into the documentaries."

"I thought—" Jensen paused and gave a soft snort. "I guess I figured that if I knew who he was, he had to be famous enough that most people would have heard of him. I only seem to have forgotten everything about myself, not the rest of the world."

"That makes sense," Jared replied. "I don't pay much attention to the news, so it's not surprising." Then his eyes widened. "Wait, you think that's who's after you? The world's most famous hit man?"

Jensen grimaced. "Yeah. 'Cause the guy who was following you and tried to kill me? He said that. Said Odilon wanted my head, and I think he meant literally."

"Shit." Jared blinked a few times. "Dude, that's serious."

And it hasn't been up until now? Jensen thought.

Jared was biting at his thumbnail. "D'you think that's who Dorner and Heinrich were with? I mean, they were—they wanted to kill you, right?"

Jensen held up his right hand and wiggled his still-taped finger. "I'm pretty sure that's why they didn't want me to get away, yeah."

"Man." Jared continued to gnaw at his nail. "Do they—could this Odilon guy do all that? Fake German law enforcement badges and track my laptop and—" His head suddenly shot up and he instantly clapped his hand to it where it had hit against the bottom of the bunk. "Ow! Damn it. Jensen, could he have tracked my cell? Is he the one who threatened Megan?"

"I don't know." Jensen thought about it for a moment, working around the holes in his memory and patching together what he considered technical information rather than personal, since the former seemed to have survived. "I'm sure he could—he's extremely well-connected. Has to be, for what he does."

"Does he work for anyone? Any government?"

Jensen shook his head. "No, freelance. The thing about him is, no one knows what he looks like. No one."

Jared frowned, shifting to sit cross-legged. "Except the people who work for him."

"No, no one." He saw Jared's confusion and went on, "Don't ask me how I know this, but I'm sure of it. No one knows the Panther's face. He could be anyone."

"Huh." Jared was quiet for a moment. "But the guy with the—" Jared put a hand up to his throat. "He said he was with Odilon?"

"Yeah." Jensen downed the rest of his coffee and recited the short conversation from what was less than twenty-four hours ago but seemed like a lifetime away.

When he was done, Jared was silent for a moment. Then he blinked and asked, "Wait, so this guy thought you were dead? He said that?"

"Yeah, probably because I…" Then Jensen realized why Jared was asking the question, and his gaze flew up to meet Jared's. Slowly he said, "Everyone else has wanted to know where I've been. Chernak and Matthea both said I disappeared. But this guy knew."

Jared nodded, his eyes bright. "So it was Odilon who shot you, or one of his men." His jaw clenched. "Three times, plus the one to your head."

"And dumped me in the Adriatic," Jensen said, his head suddenly filled with the memory of falling backwards into the icy water. He let out a half-laugh. "Which is actually a good thing. Doc Thorne said if it wasn't for the cold water keeping the bleeding down, I wouldn't have survived."

"But then this Odilon guy thinks you're the Jaguar," Jared said, reluctance written all over his face.

Jensen swallowed hard. "Yeah, I guess so." He lowered his gaze to the floor, sick uncertainty twisting his gut once again.

"What about Matthea?" Jared asked hesitantly.

"Her too. She said that what I did with Kayode was better than anyone could have expected, even for the Jaguar." Jensen knew he had it right—he'd played the words over and over enough times in his head.

"That's not the same thing, Jensen. Not at all." Jared was almost glaring at him. "And you didn't do anything to the guy."

"Yeah, but she called me Dean." He looked away, panic starting to rise up in his throat again, the euphoria of last night's discovery being pushed aside by the dreadful realization that he hadn't thought things through. "Jared, what if—" He broke off and tried again, his voice smaller. "What if I was supposed to do it, but—" he reached up and touched the groove that a bullet had carved into his skull—"Odilon got to me first?"

The thought made him feel sick. He'd been so sure he'd found a way out of this, that the fact he hadn't been around when Olauluwa Kayode died meant he was innocent of everything. What if that wasn't true? What if it had been something he was supposed to do, or what if he'd sabotaged the guy's car and December 12th had simply been the first day Kayode had driven it?

Jensen stared down at the floor, a hard knot forming in his stomach, dark thoughts chasing themselves around in his head faster and faster. He shouldn't have come to Jared, he should have stayed away after all, he wasn't—

"Hey, calm down." Jared had shifted forward and taken both of his hands, clasping them in his large ones. "Jensen, look at me."

He reluctantly lifted his head to see Jared's blue-green eyes looking back at him with compassion. "What if you're, like, undercover or something?" he said. "Pretending to be this guy? So some people think that you're him but you're really not? Wouldn't that fit with what both Matthea and this other guy said?"

"That'd be great," Jensen muttered. "Pretending to be an internationally-renowned killer. Go, me."

"Beats the alternative," Jared replied wryly.

He looked back, wanting badly to accept the out that Jared was offering him. "Prove it," he said abruptly. "Gimme some evidence to support that hypothesis."

"Tell me again how you knew to go to Zurich," Jared asked.

Jensen blinked and pulled back, instantly missing the warmth of Jared's hands around his. "Non sequitur much?" When Jared only made a rolling motion with his hand, he went on, "The microfilm." His hand rubbed absently at his hip. "It had a number on it. We figured out it was a Swiss bank account, and on the way there, I remembered the name of the bank."

"Whose name was on the account?"

Jensen shrugged. "It's a standard numbered account. There's no name attached to it, only the number."

"So anyone who has access to the number can get to the account?" Jared was leaning forward on the lower bunk now, his eyes focused on Jensen.

"No, there's other keys; not like a physical key, but procedures for matching fingerprints and handwriting." Jensen frowned. "There's supposed to be a second number that acts as a code, but I couldn't remember it. They said it was okay though, that the other keys matched." He shook his head, suddenly puzzled, wondering why this hadn't occurred to him before. "That's not right. They shouldn't have let me in."

"What was in the bank, Jensen?" Jared replied to his confused stare with a quick, open-handed gesture. "It's the only part of your story I don't know, and something tells me you haven't had much of a chance to think about it."

"You're right about that," Jensen replied. He made a face and scrubbed his hand over the top of his head. "I was so—it was the only thing I knew about myself at that point, this one number. I couldn't understand how I knew enough to get in the door, but I did. Or I thought I did." He shook his head slowly. "I never even realized that."

Then something else occurred to him, and his eyes shot to Jared's. "Did I tell you that was where I first saw the guy with the glasses? Dorner?"

Jared's wide-eyed stare said no as clear as day.

Jensen nodded grimly. "Someone let me in when they shouldn't have. They kept me in the bank long enough to set a trap." He stared off into the distance. "Fuck, why didn't I figure this out before?"

"What's the bank account for?" Jared asked quickly.

"Standard procedure," he replied absently. "Once one job's done, that's how you get the next assignment and the equipment you need for it."

It was Jared's gasp that caught his attention, and then it was like he was hearing his own words from the outside. "Whoa," Jensen said, leaning back in the chair. "What did I just say?"

"What was in the bank?" Jared asked more insistently.

Jensen closed his eyes briefly, the familiar headache dogging him once more. "It was a safety deposit box. It had all that money you found on me, the gun, and a piece of paper with Chernak's name on it. That was all. I remembered he was in Berlin, and I managed to put the rest together once I was there."

Jared was staring at him strangely. "Does that mean Chernak…was your next assignment?"

Something tightened in Jensen's gut, and it was hard to make himself consider the question. Finally, he slowly shook his head. "He had the other half of the equipment. He had the passports and—" Suddenly he pounded a fist on his thigh. "And he was supposed to tell me what to do next."

"But instead he tried to kill you," Jared reminded him.

"He thought I'd turned. That's what he said." Jensen let out a sigh and buried his head in his hands. There were too many pieces to this puzzle, and all he was doing was digging up more. "God, this sucks. I need more coffee. And a new brain."

He felt Jared's hand on the top of his head, steady and comforting. "You're doing great, okay? But…there's something that doesn't make sense about what you said."

"Just one thing?" Jensen muttered into his hands.

Jared's fingers moved back and forth, ruffling his hair. He reluctantly looked up as Jared said, "If this is standard procedure, like you said, if this is how you move from one job to the next, you can't be digging a bank account number out of your body every single time. That's—" Jared wrinkled up his nose and pulled his hand back. "That's kinda gross."

"Says the doctor," Jensen replied, but his mind was whirring again. "Yeah, that's a good point."

But who the hell would bury a piece of microfilm under their skin in case they needed it later?

"So where does this leave us?" Jared asked, shifting forward to put both feet on the floor.

"An hour from Barcelona with no fucking idea of what to do next," Jensen said in a falsely cheerful tone.

"Matthea gave you a street name, right?" When Jensen nodded, Jared went on earnestly, "We start there. Look up the names of all of the businesses on the street and see if anything rings a bell. Walk down the street and see if it looks familiar. Find out who Conklin is and where to reach him."

Jensen looked back at him for a moment and then reached out to grab Jared's upper leg, his fingers digging into denim-encased muscle, all traces of mocking levity gone from his voice. "I meant what I said last night," he said urgently, his heart suddenly in his throat. "I don't think I can do this without you."

"And you don't have to," Jared said just as seriously, putting his hand over Jensen's and entwining their fingers. I'm here, his expression said, the warm pressure of his fingers providing further reassurance that Jensen wasn't alone.

Jensen suddenly wanted to say a lot more, to let out of some of the pressure that the tangle of emotions and memories and questions was putting on his head. He wanted to tell Jared a fraction of how much he needed him—and not only in the physical sense.

Instead, he gripped Jared's hand tighter, trying to say with his eyes everything that he couldn't put into words.

The warm look he got in reply told him that somehow, Jared understood.

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

The sun was rising as they exited the train station, bags in hand and senses on high alert. Jensen looked around carefully, eyes never still but head moving only slightly back and forth. Matthea had said she was going to tell Conklin he was coming, so there might well be someone waiting, openly or otherwise. It was pretty much impossible to get there any faster than they had unless a plane was involved, but there could still be someone watching the train station.

A few minutes of surveillance told him that everyone seemed to be moving purposefully through the station, no one taking an unhealthy interest in them beyond gawking at two men striding along head and shoulders (literally, in Jared's case) above the rest of the crowd. So he leaned towards Jared and casually took his hand, tugging him towards a map of the metro system along one wall.

"What is it?" Jared asked, looking concerned.

"Here's the thing," Jensen said in a low voice as he turned to face him, bringing up their joined hands and kissing one of Jared's knuckles. Using their hands to shield his mouth from anyone who might be watching, he said, "We don't exactly look like we're from around here. So, we do what people expect us to do and act like tourists."

"Oh." Jared stared down at their clasped hands. "Gay tourists."

Jensen's eyebrows shot up. "Is that a problem for you?"

"No, I, uh…" Jared bit his lip. Then he shrugged helplessly. "I grew up in Texas, Jen."

Jensen stepped closer and nuzzled into Jared's broad neck. He felt the taller man stiffen slightly, and he rested his free hand on Jared's shoulder. Tipping his head slightly, he murmured in Jared's ear, "I know you're edgy about the PDA thing, but play along. Barcelona's as friendly as Amsterdam as long as we're not sucking face in the middle of the street. And no one looking for either of us is expecting to see the hottest guy in the whole city cuddled up next to him."

He drew back enough to see Jared's eyes flicker to him and then away. "Okay," Jared said softly, but he remained tense.

Jensen sighed and looked up from under his eyelashes. He hesitated for a moment before admitting sheepishly, "Besides, maybe I kinda want to."

It was like watching the sun rise on Jared's face, the slowly spreading smile that started with a light in his eyes and widened his mouth and dimpled his cheeks and eventually made Jensen's lips twitch as well. Then before he could stop it, Jared had flung both arms around him and actually twirled him around. Jensen sputtered from the moment his feet left the ground at the indignity of being manhandled like he was a little kid instead of over six feet of pure muscle.

When he was plunked back down, he shot a glare at the giant next to him, who was still beaming like a spotlight. "God, you're easy," he muttered, making a point of straightening his jacket.

A second later, Jared was murmuring in his ear, "Wait till we find a hotel, and I'll show you how easy I can be."

Jensen bit down hard on his lip, shutting down the thoughts of what that voice made him want to do. Out loud, he said, "Okay, smartass, if you're gonna be like that, then you be the one laying down our cover."

Jared blinked at him for a moment, then slid his arm around Jensen's back and stepped closer. "Like this?" he asked, nudging Jensen's ear with the tip of his nose.

The warm breath on the side of his neck was intoxicating, and how the hell could he be horny again after the train ride? "Yeah, that works," he replied, hoping Jared didn't notice the extra gruffness in his voice. "Just make sure I can see around your ginormous head."

There was a pause, and then Jared stepped slightly to the side, and oh no, that was not his giant paw taking up residence in Jensen's back jeans pocket. He shot Jared a glare and got a wide-eyed, But you said… look in return.

Purely in the interests of maintaining cover, Jensen reciprocated the gesture, his fingers sliding inside Jared's back pocket over the tight curve of his rear. Their sides were flush against each other, and he had a sudden, disorienting flashback to Jared "helping" him out of the Hotel Bristol at gunpoint.

He shook it off and pulled Jared forward. They had work to do.

For the first few hours of the day, "work" consisted of roaming around the city, their meager luggage slung over their shoulders as they wandered up and down the streets, getting oriented to this new place. Jensen realized quickly that he must have been to Barcelona before, given the way he expertly threaded through dark, narrow streets that opened out into oddly-familiar vistas as medieval-era streets gave way to the regular nineteenth-century grid. He also felt like there weren't enough people on the streets, but then again, it was only mid-morning, and it was February. He knew the tourist season would bring a lot more passersby, but he knew it as if he'd seen it before.

Jared appeared to be enthralled, looking around on all sides in a way that suggested he wasn't doing much pretending to be a tourist. Jensen couldn't help but smile at the enthusiasm he showed at the sights they walked past, from the ruins of the original Roman walls to some of the more modern architecture.

"Dude, it looks like that building melted," Jared said in awe as they passed by one of Gaudi's masterpieces. "Like a gingerbread house out in the sun."

"Do you always put things in terms of food?" Jensen asked in mock exasperation.

"Pretty much. Speaking of food…" Jared put his hand over his stomach and looked over with a pleading expression.

"Bottomless pit," Jensen grumbled. "In a few minutes."

He led them on through the Plaça de Catalunya, the largest open space in the center of the city, and an excellent place to spot or lose a tail. Jensen paused once they were well off the street and within a few meters of a fountain spraying water noisily into the air. He grabbed Jared's arm to bring him to a stop. "C'mere," he said, tilting his head upward and stepping closer.

Jared hesitated only briefly before meeting his lips. Jensen instantly felt warmer at the contact, and he squeezed Jared's hand. He drew back slightly and murmured in Jared's ear, "See anyone who shouldn't be here?"

He felt Jared stiffen, then heard his sheepish reply, "I haven't really been paying attention."

"Well, you've gotta be able to do that and play tourist at the same time." Jensen stepped back and ducked his head to meet Jared's downcast eyes. "We're not here for fun."

"I know that," Jared replied, a hint of steel underlying his tone.

"All right," Jensen answered placatingly. "I'm just trying to keep you safe, Jay. That's the most important thing to me right now."

"Sorry." Jared's broad shoulders heaved as he took in a breath. "Guess I better work on my multitasking skills, huh?"

Jensen slipped both arms around his waist. "I know this is weird, but we'll work it out, okay?" Jared nodded a few times, and he went on, "Like I said before, there's a time and a place. Right now, this is the place for pretending."

Jared kept nodding. "Okay," he said quietly.

"Hey." Jensen waited until he had Jared's full attention before adding, "And later there'll be a place where it's real."

The smile that crossed Jared's face wasn't as full-blown and dazzling as the one earlier, but it was still a smile. "Understood," he said, giving Jensen a quick peck before stepping back and looking around the plaza. "Where to?"

Jensen led the way off one corner of the large square to a diagonal boulevard with one narrow lane of cars on either side of a broad walkway, lined with tall trees and more well-peopled than any area they'd walked through so far. "Every tourist ends up here," he said to Jared. "It's Las Ramblas, the boulevards. It's what this city's famous for."

They found an outdoor table at a café, close enough to the wall of the building that they could both sit at angle to it, their backs somewhat sheltered. Jensen could imagine this place in summer, with leafy trees arching overhead and hundreds of people strolling up and down the broad boulevard. Or maybe he could remember it that way—he wasn't exactly sure.

He watched Jared watching the passersby, noticing the mix of concentration and delight on his face as he switched back and forth between practicing his people-watching skills and being absorbed in the flow of humanity. "It would be really easy for someone to sit out here and watch, wouldn't it?" the younger man eventually said.

Jensen nodded. "This isn't the best place to be if you don't want to be seen."

"Then what are we doing here?"

They were interrupted by a server coming by to take their orders. "Bon dia," she greeted them.

"Bon dia," Jensen replied. "Café i dues coques, siusplau."

When the young woman had left, Jared frowned and said, "I guess I need some practice listening to Spanish, too."

"That's not Spanish," Jensen replied. "It's Catalan. Local language, kind of a mix of French and Spanish, though the locals would object to summing it up like that."

"Huh." Jared sat back. Then his forehead wrinkled in a frown. "Wait, so I'm finally in a country where I know the language, and it turns out I don't actually know the language?"

He let out a soft snort. "It's not that different, and pretty much everyone speaks Spanish, too, but it's polite to use Catalan if you can."

"Dude, are there any languages you don't know?"

Jensen watched a young couple walk by, two men with their arms around each other and heads bent together, and he wondered if that was how he and Jared looked. "Eh, I never could get the hang of Farsi, and I was the worst in my class at Arabic. Kinda embarrassing since I was supposed to be this linguistic superstar."

There was a pause. Then their eyes locked on each other, an excited gleam in Jared's and wary hopefulness in Jensen's. "In your class," Jared said slowly. "College?"

Jensen's gaze went distant, looking across the rambla. "I don't think so," he said. After a moment, he shook his head. "I mean, how many universities have Catalan, you know? And Farsi?"

"I bet UT does. It's huge. If you're really from Texas, you know."

"Yeah." Jensen gave him a slightly fond smile. "You're gonna dog me about this all day, aren't you?"

"You bet," Jared replied, dimples out in full force. Their coffee arrived, along with the pizza-like pastry Jensen had ordered for them. Jared started pouring sugar into his cup, his large hands dwarfing the small ceramic mug. He said, "Think about when you were learning the language, memorizing words and stuff. Were you studying in a library, in a dorm room, where?"

Jensen closed his eyes, mentally translating the conversation they'd just had into Catalan, letting the rhythm of the language take over in his head. He could see the words on the page of the textbook, could feel the sea breeze on his face. When he looked up, fixing verb conjugations in his mind, he saw the sweep of the coastline and the green-and-golden hills behind it. A few yards away, someone paced back and forth on the sand, someone taller than him with dark brown hair and hunched shoulders and the saddest eyes he'd ever seen.

A streak of pain shot through his head, and his eyes flew open.

Jared was watching him expectantly, but it swiftly changed to concern. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah." Jensen rubbed at his right temple, wincing. "It sure wasn't the University of Texas, unless they moved it to the Gulf. Maybe California?" He quickly described the scene, noticing something flash across Jared's face when he mentioned Sam being there.

"Could it be Monterey?" Jared asked before sipping his coffee.

Jensen frowned. "I don't know. What's in Monterey?"

Jared took a bite of the pastry and smacked his lips appreciatively. "My high school history teacher also taught Russian; he knew it from the Army. He'd tell us all of these stories about interrogating defectors and learning military vocabulary and stuff. But he learned it at the Monterey Language Institute. I guess people go there to learn all sorts of obscure languages before working for the government or whatever."

The words struck a chord, and Jensen frowned. "The Defense Language Institute," he said. "In Monterey, California."

"Yeah, that's it." Jared cocked his head to the side. "Do you think that's it?"

Jensen nodded slowly. "It sounds familiar."

"Awesome." Jared bounced in his seat and took another big bite of tomato-covered bread. "We can look that up easy. I mean, pictures of the place and stuff, see if anything looks familiar. Maybe there's a list of alumni or something."

"A list of people who are learning a language so they can go and do classified government work?" Jensen asked dryly.

Jared scrunched up his nose. "Whatever." He downed the rest of his coffee. "We were gonna check addresses on that one street, right? So we need the Internet anyway."

"Yeah, I guess we do." Jensen emptied his cup and stood up. He hadn't touched his food, but he could wrap it up and take it along. "Lemme pay for this and then we can go."

He ducked into the interior of the café and paid their bill, picking up something next to the register and adding it to the tab. When he emerged into the sunlight, Jared was standing at the edge of the roped-off outdoor seating area, adjusting the strap of the laptop bag over his shoulders, scanning the passing crowds with apparently casual interest. He looked tired, but there was a glimmer of something on his face than Jensen hadn't seen before last night, a light in his eyes or a glow on his cheeks or whatever other cliché you wanted to use that was broadcasting a clear message to someone who'd spent as much time watching him as Jensen had over the last few weeks.

Jared looked happy.

Jensen came up behind him and put a hand on his back, pleased that he hadn't been startled by Jensen's approach. He was learning. "I got you something."

Jared looked down at him half-warily. "What's that?"

Jensen held out a small white stick with a brightly-colored wrapped sphere at the top. "Don't want your blood sugar levels falling too low."

Jared accepted the candy with a grin. "Chupa Chups?" he read off the label. "Man, I've always wanted to try these. Thanks!"

"What, you're like a candy aficionado or something?"

"There was this book that came out a few years ago about the history of candy." Jared unwrapped the sucker and stuck it in his mouth with a look of bliss. "It was really interesting, all about what passes for sweets in different parts of the world and the history of why some places are more into chocolate and some are more into sugar. I loved it."

"I bet you did," Jensen muttered, but with a smile. He reached down and took Jared's hand, noticing only an instant of hesitation before the longer fingers entwined with his own. A vivid memory of those hands roaming over his body last night flashed into his head. He briefly closed his eyes, ignoring the shiver of need that swept over him, before moving forward.

They strolled onto the rambla hand-in-hand, Jensen doing his best to keep a regular lookout while at the same time enjoying the closeness and heat of the man walking next to him. He did better when he could focus on only one thing at a time, but he could juggle two balls at once if he had to.

But pretty soon, he realized that getting that candy for Jared had been a big mistake. He wondered if Jared was aware of what sucking on the small lollipop looked like, the way his pink lips plumped out around the hard red candy, the way his cheeks hollowed out when he pulled it out of his mouth. Jensen quickly looked away, forcing himself to pay attention to the people around them, the couples walking together, the old women chatting with their heads bent together, the kids running up and down the broad walkway.

Then he heard a slurping sound next to him, and his mind shot right back into the gutter as he barely restrained a groan.

It was going to be a long day.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jared was finding it a lot easier to cope with everything once he remembered the compartmentalizing techniques he'd learned to manage as an ER intern. Not so much triage, because he was being forced to deal with things all at once instead of prioritizing them, but how to keep multiple trains of thought moving along without derailing any of them.

Like walking down the most beautiful city street he'd ever seen, lined with elegant buildings and thronged with interesting-looking people, while at the same time keeping an eye out for anyone who might be looking their way too often, while at the same time enjoying Jensen's hand clasped in his and wishing they really were just strolling along and taking in the sights.

He sighed and sucked on the lollipop in his mouth a little harder.

A moment later, Jensen directed them both down a narrow side street with four-story buildings looming close overhead. Laundry was hanging from nearly every small, iron-grated balcony, and the mix of languages on the shop window ads suggested this was an immigrant neighborhood. Fortunately for them, that meant numerous Internet cafés for newcomers to send messages back home, and it took only a few minutes of searching to find one where they could sit with their backs to the wall and no possibility of someone behind them looking at their screens.

Jared got to work pulling up information on businesses located on Carrer de Sicilia, absently rolling the candy around between his lips, enjoying the cherry flavor on his tongue. Jensen was right—Catalan was similar enough to Spanish that he could figure out most of it, but it was definitely its own language. After about fifteen minutes of searching, he had a list compiled and was looking around to see if there were any signs about printing.

"Hey, gimme your laptop," Jensen abruptly said, motioning to the bag slung over the back of Jared's chair.

"Why?" Jared asked cautiously, shifting the sucker into his cheek.

"You got any programs on there like MSN Messenger or Yahoo! that automatically check to see if you're online?"

"Yeah, I do…" Jared trailed off, his eyes going wide. "Oh. Shit. That's how they found me, isn't it?"

Jensen nodded. "I've been thinking about it, and I bet that's it. If they knew your user ID, they could check to see if you were online and then track down the IP address. But I should be able to fix it so they can't do that. Then we can use our own wireless and not be lugging this around like dead weight."

Jared dug out his laptop and handed it over, watching as Jensen turned on the machine with a couple of keys held down. "What are you doing?"

"Changing the configuration file."

"Um, okay." Jared waited for a moment. "So you're a computer geek, too?"

"No, but I know how to Google." Jensen gestured at the instructions on his screen. "You can find out how to do pretty much anything to computers online."

"Huh." Jared pulled the lollipop forward in his mouth and sucked on the nub of candy that was left on the stick.

"Would you stop doing that?" Jensen hissed, shooting him a glare. He entered a few keystrokes and sat back as a bar started to creep across the screen indicating five minutes of waiting time.

"Geez, sorry," Jared replied, starting to turn back to his computer screen. Someone was touchy.

Then he did a doubletake. Jensen's cheeks were slightly flushed, and he was biting his lower lip. He shifted in his seat, not looking aggravated so much as—

Oh. Jared blinked. Then he started to grin. Looks like he wasn't the only one who was finding it hard to multitask.

He leaned closer to Jensen, making like he was watching over his shoulder, sliding the white stick back and forth into his mouth. The candy was pretty much gone, but Jensen didn't know that. He sucked on the stick to be sure there wasn't anything left to taste, and the soft wet sound he made had Jensen quickly looking at him.

The heat in those deep green eyes was unmistakable.

Jared slowly pulled the cleaned-off lollipop stick out of his mouth. "Thanks," he said in a low voice before deliberately licking his lips. "That was really delicious."

Jensen drew in a slow breath that hitched slightly in the middle. When he spoke, almost too quietly to be heard, his voice was deep enough to make Jared's toes curl. "I want you so much right now, you have no idea."

Jared felt a frisson of desire run down his spine. "I thought this wasn't the place or the time," he managed to reply.

"Oh, this sure isn't the place." Underneath the table that the computers were sitting on, Jensen's hand landed on Jared's thigh, fingers tracing up his inseam, his eyes never leaving Jared's. "But it's getting to be the time."

Jared gulped. "I, uh, I have a list of places for us to look at."

"Good." Jensen's hand was slowly moving back and forth, and his eyebrows quirked up. "That list include a hotel?"

It took a serious force of will to look back at the computer screen and concentrate enough to answer the question. Damn it, he was supposed to be the one teasing Jensen, not the other way around. "There's, uh, the Hotel Napols, and the Hotel Aranea."

Instantly, the hand on his leg stilled. "Aranea?"

"Yeah." Jared clicked on the window with a map of the neighborhood. "Here." He pointed, noticing that his hand was shaking slightly.

"That's close." Jensen was looking at the screen, but his mind was clearly somewhere farther away. "Aranea—that's one of the places we'd stay. That's really close."

"To what?" Jared asked. If he'd thought it was difficult to concentrate before, the hard-on he was now sporting made it even trickier. He gently removed Jensen's hand from his leg and discreetly adjusted himself under the table.

Jensen didn't seem to notice. "It's close to where…to where we have to go. Where Conklin is." He shook his head, a different kind of frustration written over his face than what had been there a moment ago. "Wherever the hell that is."

"We'll figure it out," Jared said. He pointed at the list of businesses on the screen, hoping the by-now familiar motions of doing whatever he could to help Jensen remember would wash away the arousal still humming in his veins. "I don't think there's anywhere to print, so I'm gonna save these to my flash drive, and then we can go, okay?"

"Yeah, okay." Suddenly Jensen's hand was back on his leg, fingers pressing into the inside of his thigh, as his voice dropped again. "By the way, the time for pretending is just about over. If that's all right with you."

Jared froze for a moment, feeling like a ping-pong ball, his emotions batted back and forth between desire and frustration. He turned to look at Jensen, and the surety in his eyes was enough. "Yeah, that'd be great," he said huskily, trying to convey something deeper with his look.

He actually saw the shiver pass over Jensen's body, and a slow smile spread across his own face.

Chapter Text

Twenty minutes later, Jared was sitting on a hotel bed, his knee jiggling up and down. Jensen had told him to get a room and text him the room number, since if he'd regularly been to the Hotel Aranea before, he didn't want to go through the lobby and be recognized when he could slip in a rear entrance and go right up to the room.

So Jared had done as he was told and now found himself in a room that was smaller than some walk-in closets he'd seen. The queen-size bed nearly touched the walls on both sides, and he wasn't sure he was going to fit in the shower without banging into the sides of the stall. There wasn't anywhere to pace even if he wanted to. He hadn't yet taken off his coat, not knowing if they were only meeting up here before going back out, or if Jensen had something else in mind.

He was really hoping Jensen had something else in mind.

Then three sharp knocks came at the door, and he sprang to his feet. After carefully checking the peephole, not only to verify that it was Jensen but that he was alone, he opened the door and let him inside.

Jensen put a finger to his lips and moved past, dropping a plastic bag and a new FC Barcelona ballcap on the floor as he went. Jared shut the door and waited while Jensen looked around the room (which certainly didn't take long), fiddled with the telephone for a moment, pushed the sheer curtain aside to look out the window, and then pulled the heavy drape shut behind it.

The overhead light cast a weak glow across the room, but it was enough to see the relief wash over Jensen's face. His shoulders came down a fraction as he visibly let his guard down, and Jared suddenly wanted to go over and give him a hug.

But then Jensen's expression quickly changed to something more suggestive as he looked Jared up and down, and then he took a couple of slow steps forward until he was standing at the foot of the bed.

Jared was still up against the door, no more than a couple of yards away, and he was suddenly reminded of nothing so much as a jaguar stalking towards him. "Everything go okay?" he asked, shaking off the image.

"Everything's fine," Jensen replied. He took another step, his tongue coming out to wet his lips. "You?"

"Yeah," Jared answered, his voice higher-pitched than normal. He cleared his throat. "Everything's fine."

He didn't know what he was so nervous about; they'd already come together twice, for God's sake, had already slept entangled with each other, naked. But there was something about Jensen taking charge like this that put him on edge. It reminded him of the danger they were still in, and that wasn't entirely pleasant.

It wasn't entirely unpleasant, either.

"Good," Jensen practically purred. "You're really good at doing what I tell you, you know."

Jared lifted his chin. "To a point," he replied sharply.

Jensen looked amused. "We'll see." He nodded at Jared. "Take off your clothes."

Heat pooled in Jared's belly at the commanding tone in Jensen's voice and the desire gleaming in his eyes. He thought for a moment of how single-minded this man in front of him could be, and the thought of that laser-like intensity focused on him was enough to make him shiver.

He raised his hands to the buttons of his coat and slowly undid them, watching how Jensen's eyes tracked the movement. Then he let the coat fall open. He looked at Jensen for a long moment, noticing how the impatient movement of his eyes across Jared's body betrayed the impassivity of his expression. When Jensen's eyes raised to his, one eyebrow arched upward with clear meaning: Go on.

Jared drew in a breath and lowered his hands to his sides. "You first."

Jensen paused, eyes narrowing. A moment later, his hands went up to the zipper of his jacket, a predatory smile curling his full lips. "All right, Jared. If you insist," he said in a voice like dark honey, slowly sliding the zipper down.

Jared watched Jensen undress, his heart beating faster with each article of clothing that came off. He could hear his own breaths becoming uneven, and the faint smirk on Jensen's face said he heard it, too.

But Jensen didn't say a word as he pulled his sweater over his head and off his well-muscled arms, or as he slowly unbuttoned the flannel shirt underneath and let it drop to the floor.

Nor did he seem to be affected at all as he opened his jeans one button at a time and pushed them down his strong, bowed legs before stepping out of them carefully, toeing off his socks as he did so.

Then he looked Jared in the eye as he hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his boxers and began to pull them down, his gaze completely steady as he revealed all of himself to Jared's hungry gaze.

"God," Jared whispered, stepping forward. "You are so—" He looked up and down Jensen's body like he was seeing it for the first time, his hands clenching into fists at his sides as he traced the contours of muscle and skin with his eyes and imagined doing the same with his hands and mouth.

He took another step forward, wetting his lips with his tongue, his gaze drawn to Jensen's erection, suddenly wanting nothing more than to kneel down and take it in his mouth.

But he hesitated. Sharing hand jobs was one thing, but he didn't want to have to pull off at the last minute, and figuring out a polite way to ask Jensen something he surely didn't know the answer to was more than his over-stimulated brain could seem to manage at the moment.

"There's, uh, something you should probably know." Jensen's knowing gaze caught his, and Jared could see from his flushed cheeks and dilated pupils that he was no longer as calm and collected as he'd been pretending. "The doc in Croatia had a lot of time on his hands, so while he was waiting for me to recuperate, he sent in some blood samples for testing." The corner of his full mouth quirked up. "Said he wanted to make sure I wasn't going to give anybody any nasty surprises because I couldn't remember my medical history."

Jared blinked. "And?" he managed to ask.

"Clean as a whistle," Jensen replied with a small smirk.

"Oh." Jared blinked again. "Good." He unconsciously licked his lips again, and he saw Jensen's eyes darken. "Uh, me too." His gaze shifted downwards, and the need to touch and taste suddenly rose up in him, too powerful to ignore.

Without another word, he took one long stride forward and dropped to his knees, wrapping his hands around Jensen's hips and his mouth around the head of his cock.

"Jesus Christ!" he heard from above him, but he was fully occupied with the silky soft texture under his lips. He swirled his tongue around as he slid lower down Jensen's shaft, rubbing circles on the hipbones under his thumbs. Jensen's hand clutched his hair almost painfully hard, but he welcomed it as a distraction from his own burgeoning arousal.

It had been a while since Jared had done this, but it wasn't too hard to remember the technique, and the helpless sounds of pleasure Jensen was making him told him he was doing a pretty good job of it. He hummed in reply, knowing the vibration of his lips was only enhancing what Jensen was feeling, and he would have smiled at the half-whimpered response if his mouth hadn't been so full.

The combination of being fully clothed while going down on a completely naked Jensen was one of the most erotic things he'd ever done. Even if he closed his eyes, Jared could still feel the heavy weight of his coat enveloping him in contrast to the unencumbered movement of his hands over the body in front of him.

His hands roamed up and down Jensen's bare buttocks and thighs, stroking the insides of his legs and the flat span of his pelvis, kneading the curve of ass that fit perfectly in his palm. At the same time, the lingering taste of cherry in his mouth was being overwhelmed by the taste of Jensen, musky and heavy on his tongue, and he felt like he couldn't possibly get enough.

He relaxed his throat to bring Jensen all the way in, feeling wiry curls tickle his nose and shivering with pleasure at the resulting deep moan issuing from above him and the way Jensen's legs shook slightly as if they couldn't hold him up.

The urge to reach down and touch himself was nearly overwhelming, but Jared tamped it down and focused on what was in front of him. His hands never stopped moving over Jensen's body as his mouth bobbed up and down, cheeks hollowing out on the upstroke and tongue pressing on the underside on the downstroke. The skin under his fingers was becoming slightly tacky with sweat, but the scent of it was as strong an aphrodisiac as anything he could imagine.

Jared's coordination was becoming sloppy as he got more and more turned on, but from the increasingly rapid shallow thrusts of Jensen's hips and the growing volume of the moans of "Jared" and "God" and "oh, yeah," there wasn't much longer to go. His heart beating faster by the minute, he raised one hand to cup Jensen's balls and then slid a finger back to touch the sensitive skin behind them.

And Jensen shot off with a choked cry, hands clenched into fists at his sides, back arched and his body forming a perfect bowed line as the muscles of his legs shook.

The sight sent Jared's hips jerking forward, taking him by surprise. The salty-hot taste in his mouth was enough to push him up to the edge, and he brought a hand down to give himself something to thrust against. A second later, Jared came with a jolt, feeling warmth soak through his boxers in counterpoint to the thick liquid he was lapping up with his tongue.

When he was done, he released Jensen's now-soft flesh from his mouth and leaned forward, resting his forehead against the muscular thigh in front of him as he let his breathing slow. He felt Jensen's hand carding through his hair and smiled at the touch.

The familiar baritone rumbled above him with a touch of ruefulness, "And here I was planning on being the one to take care of you."

Jared sat back on his heels, looking up. "Hope you don't mind too much," he said, feeling a cheeky grin stretch across his face.

Jensen was practically beaming, the corners of his eyes crinkling with his smile. "Yeah, man, it was horrible. Don't ever do that again."

He gestured to his crotch, unashamed of the clearly visible wet spot. "Glad you said that, 'cause it's not like I got anything out of it."

"Well, you did say you were easy," Jensen smirked.

Jared threw back his head and let out a laugh like he hadn't done in weeks, full and loud and freeing. He was so relaxed right now, so happy and warm and didn't he wish he could bottle up this feeling and carry it with him all the time?

When he looked back at Jensen, he saw a fondness in his eyes that he'd never seen there before, and he said without thinking, "God, I wish—"

Then he stopped and let out a short sigh, not sure how he was going to finish the sentence but figuring that any way he did it would spoil the mood.

"Yeah, I know," Jensen said softly, reaching out to trail his fingers down the side of Jared's face, his smile turning bittersweet. "Me too."

Jared leaned forward and nuzzled against Jensen's hip, breathing in the musky scents of sex and sweat and letting out a contented little noise. Jensen's fingers curled in the sweaty hair at the back of his neck and gently tugged until Jared looked up. "Come on," he said, nodding towards the shower. "We were on a train all night and we stink."

"You go ahead," Jared said. "No way we're both gonna fit."

"Oh, you'd be surprised," Jensen said with a wink.

And Jared was.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Thirty minutes later, Jared's voice rang out in the small hotel room. "Wait, you want me to do what?"

Jensen pulled his jeans up and let out a gusty sigh. "I'm gonna find a place to sit and use your laptop, and you're gonna watch to see if anyone comes after me. That's it."

Jared stared at him, arms folded across his bare chest, hair still dripping from the shower. "And what if someone does?" He pointed at Jensen's neck. "'Cause that went really well last time."

"That's why you'll be watching my back and carrying the gun."

Jared shook his head and slouched back against the wall. "I'm not comfortable with that."

Jensen bent down to pick up his shirt from the previous day, barely taking a whiff before tossing it on the floor next to the duffel bag. "Come on, I'm not going to start using the thing in here without knowing if it's being tracked or not. And we can't keep sitting out in public looking up the kind of information we need."

"Jensen, I don't—" Jared broke off and ran his hand through his hair, sending a small shower of water droplets to the floor. "I'm not good enough at this stuff."

"You spotted your own tail in Amsterdam. That's pretty damn good." Jensen fished out a dark blue knit top from the duffle and pulled it over his head. He felt around his neck and was pleased to find that the high collar of the shirt covered the rough lines of broken skin encircling his throat. "All you need to do is watch for anyone watching me, and when I get up and start to move, you look for a tail. Not like I won't be looking out for myself, but I could use the backup."

Jared drew in a deep breath. "It's my computer. I should be the one sitting out—"

"No. No way in hell." Jensen didn't raise his voice, but he put enough steel into it that Jared's eyes widened. "You are not acting as bait."

"Oh, and it's so much better if you do it?" Jared retorted.

"Yeah, it is." Jensen came up until he was standing right in front of him. "Because I know what I'm doing if someone sneaks up behind me or tries to take me at gunpoint. I am not putting you in a position where something like that might happen."

"But I'm supposed to let you put yourself in that position." Jared's nostrils were flaring, his eyes hard as blue-grey slate. "Like you did in Amsterdam."

"Yeah, that's right," Jensen shot back. He jabbed a finger at Jared's chest and said in a hard tone, "And it's not a question of 'letting' me. It's just the way it is."

They both went quiet, glaring at each other. Jensen had no idea how they had gone from rubbing their naked bodies together in the shower a few minutes ago to snapping at each other toe-to-toe.

And then he practically heard the light bulb click on over his head as he realized how the two were related.

He flattened his hand against Jared's chest, feeling the strong, steady beat of his heart, and took in a slow breath. "Listen to me. I meant what I said earlier. I'm trying to keep you safe. Whatever else happens, wherever we both end up…that's the most important thing as far as I'm concerned."

Jared was shaking his head. "It shouldn't be," he said, his gaze boring into Jensen.

Jensen gave a helpless little shrug, hoping his eyes were saying what he couldn't find the words for. "Well, it is."

There was a pause. Then Jared reached up and touched the side of Jensen's neck, fingers gentle on bruised skin. "I don't want anything else to happen to you," he said quietly.

"I know," Jensen replied. "That's why I want you watching my back." He paused and let a smirk hover around his lips as he reached back to grab a handful of Jared's towel-clad rear. "I figure you might have a little more motivation than before to keep an eye on my ass."

Jared gave him a disapproving look but backed away. "All right, tell me what to do."

"Sure, now you're willing to listen to me," Jensen said, casting a meaningful glance towards the door, where Jared had been standing when he declined Jensen's invitation to remove his clothing.

The corner of Jared's wide mouth reluctantly turned up. "Tell you what," he said. "If this all goes well, when we get back here, I'll do whatever you tell me."

"Yeah?" Jensen pretended to contemplate the offer. "Anything?"

"Within reason," Jared quickly added.

"Deal," Jensen said. He leaned forward to press his lips to Jared's. "I'll find somewhere to sit with free wireless and good egress, you'll be within visual range, and we'll give it an hour or so. Then I'll walk around and text you where I'm going so you can hang back far enough to pick up any tails. When we're sure it's clear, we'll come back here, and I'll have my way with you."

Jared's eyes narrowed. "And if it's not all clear?"

Jensen kissed him again. "You already saved my ass once, and this time you'll be armed."

"Jensen," Jared said warningly.

"You need to be able to do this, Jay. I need you to be able to do this." He paused and added, "If it helps, I'll be watching out for myself as if you weren't there."

"Then you should have the gun," Jared said, setting his mouth stubbornly.

Jensen shook his head. "We should get a second one for you, but that'll have to wait. Look, I'm almost positive that there's nothing to worry about; this is just to be completely sure."

Jared finally nodded and backed up, shrugging off Jensen's grip. "Where're we going?"

"Not the touristy part of town. Somewhere I won't look weird for having a laptop out." He bent down and picked up the plastic bag he had discarded upon entering the room, pulling out a copy of the local newspaper. "Let's see what this has to say."

Half an hour later, Jensen was exiting the subway at the Plaça d'Espanya, another large open space that consisted of a traffic circle with a huge stone monument in the middle. He headed away from the circle down a boulevard with a magnificent fountain and large, stone edifice at the far end, lined with long, low buildings that were adorned with signs advertising an electronics trade fair. Here there would be plenty of people from out of town, speaking a variety of languages, needing a good wireless connection, and dressed in everything from suits to jeans: the perfect place to blend in.

He found a coffee kiosk in the far corner of the first building he entered and grabbed a cup, taking it to one of the benches along a long wall of windows. From here, he could see outside the building and had two exits within sight, plus other routes through the building. He could see Jared sitting on a similar bench at the far end of the high-ceilinged hall, thumbing through what looked like a brochure describing the trade fair.

Taking a gulp of coffee, Jensen opened up the laptop and mentally crossed his fingers.

The first thing he did was to get connected. The convention center didn't have free wireless—too much money to be made from trade show attendees—but the coffee kiosk did. Jensen opened a couple of browser tabs with Jared's e-mail and Facebook accounts and minimized the windows.

Then he fished Jared's flash drive out of the laptop bag and plugged it in to pull up the list of businesses he'd collected. Jensen didn't want to distract himself from the real objective at hand by digging too far into his head, but he had to do something to pass the time. His eyebrows shot up as he saw there were over three hundred establishments with an address on Carrer de Sicilia. "Great," he muttered.

He read through the list slowly, pausing for a second after each name to see if it struck a chord with him, looking around in a regular scan after every few. He worked his way past what sounded like a slew of nightclubs and restaurants, combined with the odd gallery or workshop.

Jensen looked up and stretched his neck, casually looking around. It had been half an hour so far, and Jared had been on the laptop for at least an hour in Amsterdam, although he had no way to know when they'd caught his signal. Still, he needed to start paying more attention to the convention-goers to see if there was anyone as uninterested in electronics as he was. So he fixed in his mind the dozen or so people he saw walking down the wide hallway or seated off to the side like he was, and then turned his eyes back towards the list.

And he felt a flash of lightning go off in his head.

Innocuously sitting in the middle of the list, between a grocery store and a lawyer's office, was the name "RIC (Ravenswood International Consulting)."

As soon as Jensen saw the name, it set off a cascade of images and sounds in his head, and his eyes closed as it all washed over him.

Chapter Text

Ravenswood.

Jensen saw the name in bold metal letters on a black wall, with dark wood paneling and luxurious leather armchairs in front of a mahogany desk. He saw a small, cinder-block room with a particle-board table and metal folding chairs and a digital video recorder in the corner. He saw faces he'd remembered before but still had no names to put with them.

He saw a man across the table, about the same age as his father but with a kindly expression that he suddenly felt he'd never see on his own father's face, especially considering who he was sitting next to and what they'd been doing that morning—

"Estás bien?"

Jensen looked up abruptly to see a middle-aged woman standing over him, a concerned expression on her face. He realized in a flash how he must look, hands pressed to his temples, hunched over the laptop, eyes squeezed shut. Damn it. Way to stay inconspicuous.

He forced a smile onto his face and straightened up. "Sí, estoy bien. Gracias."

She frowned, her dark brown eyes looking him over. "Estás seguro?"

No, he wasn't actually sure, but he nodded and told her it was a headache and he'd already taken medication for it. She nodded doubtfully but moved on, casting a glance at him over her shoulder as she went.

Jensen looked in the other direction to see Jared rapidly approaching, his face grim. He looked away and texted, What's wrong?

He could hear the ringing of Jared's phone, now only a few yards away, but he kept his eyes on the laptop. His own phone shook in his hand, and he looked down to read, U ok?

Fine, he replied. U c something?

No, came the response. Jared walked right by, but to Jensen's relief, he didn't acknowledge Jensen's presence. What's wrong?

Remembered something, he keyed in. Stick to plan.

The reply of OK was too terse to leave much room for interpretation, but Jensen could practically hear Jared's disapproval behind it.

He let out a sigh. There was no further need to look at the list of establishments on the street Matthea had mentioned, because he'd found what he needed. Much as he wanted to probe at the memories that the name Ravenswood had unleashed, it could make him far too vulnerable, considering that he was sitting here as bait.

So Jensen fumed for another thirty minutes before deciding he'd had enough. He packed up the computer and rose from his seat, slinging the laptop bag over his shoulder and heading out onto the street.

He followed the boulevard uphill until the street ended when the slope of the hill became too steep, the sidewalk turning into an outdoor escalator. He rode it up past the fountain he'd seen while exiting the Metro, pausing at the top to rest his forearms on a stone railing and look back over the way he'd come as if taking in the view. Jensen carefully watched everyone who came up the escalator or stairs behind him, not recognizing anyone from the trade fair, although the surveillance could have been simply traded off once he'd gone outside. Jared was visible far below, lingering at the bottom of the staircase, the FC Barcelona cap shading his face.

Jensen waited a few more minutes and then headed further up. The impressively large stone building with multiple towers and domes turned out to be the National Catalonian Museum of Art, with a steady stream of tourists walking in and out. He strolled through the park-like grounds around the museum, sticking to less-travelled areas so that a tail would stand out.

After half an hour, the only figure he'd seen more than once was Jared's tall silhouette, and he'd looped around enough times to satisfy himself that no one was following them. So he journeyed back down the stairs and street towards the Metro station, this time seeing a few familiar faces from the trade fair, but no one who seemed to be interested in him.

Jensen boarded the subway and rode back towards the center of the city, switching lines a few times at random stations, always texting Jared in advance. Once or twice he slipped out of the train car as the doors were closing to see if anyone else followed him off, but there was no one back there.

Apparently his fix to the laptop had worked.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jared slipped into the hotel room and closed the door, relieved to see with his own eyes that Jensen was safe. "We're good, right?" he asked as he took his coat off and put the thankfully unused gun on the desk. "I never spotted anyone."

"Yeah, we're fine." Jensen had already shucked off his jacket and draped it over the lone chair in the room. "There's wireless here, isn't there?"

"Yeah." Jared paused, watching the other man pull the laptop out of its bag. "What did you remember, Jensen?" he asked.

"One of those names triggered something," Jensen replied, setting the computer up on the desk. "Ravenswood International Consulting."

Jared shrugged. "I've never heard of it. What'd it trigger?"

Jensen straightened up and rubbed a hand over his mouth and jaw. "A lot."

"Is that why you kinda flipped out?" Jared asked. He'd shot to his feet when he noticed Jensen hunched over the laptop, barely restraining himself from rushing over to see if he was all right. As it was, he'd been unable to resist walking past, at least to get a look out of the corner of his eye.

"Yeah." Jensen sighed. "I saw all this stuff at once and I couldn't take the time to process it, not where I was."

"Well, you can now." Jared grabbed his free hand and backed up a step, legs hitting the bed. "C'mon and sit."

"I want to look up what this place is," Jensen insisted, resisting Jared's pull.

Jared shook his head and dropped to the bed. "You should try and remember what you can on your own first. Let me help."

"By holding hands?" Jensen asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Physical contact helps with memory retrieval," Jared said, keeping his expression as innocent as he could. "It's a proven scientific fact."

"That you just pulled out of your ass," Jensen retorted.

He rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Come here."

Jensen looked at him for a moment longer and then gave in, sitting down next to him on the bed. Instantly, Jared put his arms around him and buried his face in his neck. "'M glad you're here," he muttered into Jensen's skin. "Since I spent the last four hours watching for people trying to strangle or stab or shoot you."

Jensen huffed out a short laugh. "Thanks for that," he said, tilting his head so it rested on top of Jared's.

"Welcome," Jared murmured. He pressed a kiss into Jensen's neck and then scooted back on the bed, dragging him along until they were lying down facing each other, Jared keeping his arms tight around him. "Now. Close your eyes and tell me what you think of when I say it." He waited until Jensen shut his eyes and then said, "Ravenswood."

Jensen inhaled and let it out slowly, his breath warm on Jared's neck. He started describing a room, a comfortable-looking office with a leather sofa and chairs, like the person who worked there spent a lot of time in it and wanted to make it as pleasant as possible. Jared gently prodded him about who he saw in the room, but Jensen said he didn't see anyone there, not even himself.

The second room Jensen described sounded more barren, almost like an interrogation room, but Jared didn't feel him tense up at all when thinking about it. That time, he remembered other people in the room with him: Sam and an older man, but he couldn't tell what they were talking about.

Suddenly Jensen's eyes flew open, and he grabbed at Jared's shirt. "It's here. It's their office here, in Barcelona. It's on Carrer de Sicilia, and there's a tapas bar across the street and a car dealership next door, and he was asking about what happened in London."

"What happened in London?" Jared asked, keeping his voice low and soothing as his hand rubbed between Jensen's shoulder blades.

"I don't know." Jensen stared at his fingers, clutching the front of Jared's blue-and-white-striped button-down. "I—" He closed his eyes and then shook his head in frustration.

"Try it again," Jared said. "Ravenswood. And Conklin, and—" He hesitated for a moment, wondering if this was a good idea, and then added, "And the Jaguar."

"The Panther and the Jaguar," Jensen whispered. He was silent for a moment, Jared watching him carefully. His brows furrowed, and then his eyes opened again on a gasp. "Conklin," he blurted out. "It's Conklin. He's the one who put them together. The Panther and the Jaguar."

"What do you mean, put them together?" Jared's fingers worked at the back of Jensen's neck, easing away the knots of tension he could feel starting to form. "Is that the man you remember seeing?"

"I think it's him, yeah. But I don't know what I mean." Jensen put one hand up to his temple, wincing.

"What does he look like?" Jared asked.

"He's got some grey in his hair, wears a ring…" Jensen trailed off and then said more quietly, "I trusted him." He drew in a deep breath and looked up at Jared, his voice growing more excited. "If we can find him, I think it'll be okay."

"You think you can tell him what happened?" Jared brought his hand up and ran his thumb down the shallow groove over Jensen's right ear, the track of the bullet that had stolen his life, figuratively if not literally.

"Yeah, I do. I—I think he's okay." Jensen's eyes were gleaming with something Jared had never seen there before.

It looked an awful lot like hope.

"That's awesome, Jensen," Jared replied with a grin, pulling him closer so that his face was buried in Jared's shoulder. "You did so great." He kissed Jensen's temple and went on in a different tone, "Totally proved my scientific theory, too."

"You're so full of it," Jensen muttered, but he relaxed into Jared's embrace.

Jared enjoyed holding him close for a moment, breathing in his scent and feeling the brush of Jensen's hair against his cheek. Already, it was noticeably longer than when they'd first met, the short spikes of dark blond softening into longer strands that would soon rival Jared's own bangs for length.

Finally, Jared reluctantly said, "We should still see what the Internet has to say about this Ravenswood place."

"Yeah, we should." Jensen made no move to get up.

Jared dropped another kiss on his head and pulled away. "C'mon. I haven't forgotten our deal, but if what you want to do to me is cuddle, we can do that later."

Jensen tilted his head up, his deep green eyes alight. "Oh, I've got bigger plans for you than that," he said in a low voice that Jared could feel rumbling against his chest.

"Good," Jared replied, letting his own gaze get heated. He let his lips brush across Jensen's all too briefly before pulling back. "Come on, or I'm not going to let you up."

"Might not be so bad," Jensen replied, but he untangled himself from Jared and sat up.

A few minutes later, they were looking at the website for the source of Jensen's latest flashback. Once the fancy graphics were done loading, a silver and black logo faded into the background and words appeared. "Ravenswood International Consulting," Jared read aloud. "Providing global solutions to complex problems in strategy, technology, and operations since 1975."

"Well, that's nice and vague," Jensen muttered from over his shoulder.

"No kidding." He clicked on the "About Ravenswood" link and read a company history that was carefully worded to reveal absolutely nothing except that they were headquartered in Washington, DC. "Too bad we don't have buzzword bingo cards handy," he said as he clicked on another link.

"What kind of bingo?" Jensen asked.

"Buzzword bingo." Jared pointed at the screen. "There's 'solutions' and 'core competency' and 'recognized leader', to start with. Betcha we find 'agility' and 'capacity-building' before too long."

The low chuckle behind him resonated pleasantly in his ear. "Cynical much, Jared?"

"Oh, it's the same language the health consulting firms use when they're trying to get my clinic to hire them with a bunch of money we don't have to tell us things we could figure out for ourselves." Jared paused. "So yeah, maybe there's a bit of cynicism there."

He clicked through the remaining pages, finding a few hints that were enough to put together at least a strong suggestion of what Ravenswood was about. When he was done, he leaned back in the chair, tilting his head back to rest against Jensen's midriff. "I think they're a defense contractor," he said.

"Really?" Jensen's hand started to move through his hair, and Jared barely managed not to purr at the sensation. "Doing what?"

"Intelligence work. There's a lot of things that the U.S. has outsourced in the past few years, beyond the military. Hiring a private company means they can do things that official government agencies can't." Jared closed his eyes, hoping Jensen kept up the soothing motion.

"Like what?" Jensen asked, wariness clear in his voice.

"Hire and fire faster, pay less, work with less oversight. The usual sorts of things. Nothing underhanded, if that's what you're thinking."

"Nothing like assassinations?"

Jared snorted. "That's kinda illegal no matter who's doing it."

"But it's easier to deny it if the U.S. government had nothing to do with it," Jensen retorted. "If you can pin it on an 'independent contractor' or something."

"Maybe. Like the torture in Iraq." Jared replied.

"Yeah." Jensen was silent for a moment and then said more quietly, "I wonder if that's the kind of thing I do."

Jared reached up and grabbed his hand as he turned around. "Don't."

Jensen was looking back at him, his mouth in a straight line but his eyes speaking of the fear he felt at what he'd said. "Don't what?" Jensen asked flatly.

"Don't do this again. Look, tomorrow we'll find this Conklin guy and figure it all out. Don't get yourself worked up over what might not be true."

"But what if it is?" Jensen had the same bleak expression that he'd worn a few times before, always when discussing the possibility that he really was Dean Winchester. The last couple of times Jared had seen it, he'd wanted to take Jensen's face in his hands and kiss it away.

Hey, Jared suddenly realized. I can do that now.

He reached up and put one hand on either side of Jensen's head, pulling his face down and planting a solid kiss on his mouth. "Not tonight, okay?" He looked pointedly into deep green eyes and then kissed him again, this time tracing Jensen's bottom lip with his tongue until Jensen opened up for him.

They kissed for a while, warm and wet and absolutely delicious, until a crick started to form in Jared's neck. He reluctantly drew back and said, "Now, I believe we had a deal."

The corner of Jensen's mouth quirked up, but it was half-hearted. "Can I take a raincheck on that?"

"Limited time offer, I'm afraid," Jared teased. "You can only do what you want with me before the sun comes up. Otherwise I'll turn into a pumpkin."

"You'd be like one of those pumpkins they grow in Alaska and need a pickup truck to haul away," Jensen retorted, a spark of life returning to his eyes. "One of those ginormous ones that can feed a whole town."

Just for that, Jared stood up and did his best to loom over Jensen, drawing himself up to his full height and straightening out his shoulders as wide as he could. Most people would be apprehensive when faced with him like this, but he wasn't surprised that Jensen was not. What he did see in the green-gold eyes was appreciation and a spark of lust, and he grinned to himself, pleased when Jensen gave a small smirk in response.

Maybe they were going to have a good time tonight after all.

But first, there was work to be done. They started out by walking down Carrer de Sicilia, past the address for Ravenswood. It was in one of the five-story stone buildings lining every street in the neighborhood, black wrought-iron balconies on the higher levels with potted plants instead of lines of washing, and a bewildering mix of stores and offices on the ground floor. It was as Jensen had remembered in terms of the neighboring establishments, the bar across the street largely empty at the early hour of seven at night and the car dealership next door closed. A neon green cross hanging over the ground floor of the building indicated a farmacia, also shut for the night.

Jared only took a quick look as they strolled past the address. The entryway was a plain glass door with a sign noting RIC was on the first floor, the same silver-and-black logo from the website adorning the sign. The second floor held a lawyer's office and the top two floors appeared to be apartments.

"All a front," Jensen murmured when Jared mentioned his surprise at a secretive organization like Ravenswood sharing a building with so many other tenants. "Not that there isn't mail delivered to those other addresses, but it's probably entirely fictitious. Makes 'em look smaller than they really are."

They didn't linger in the vicinity but did walk around the block, Jensen surreptitiously pointing out security cameras on a number of nearby buildings, more than would be expected for a random block of mixed residential and commercial buildings. The two of them had their hats on and collars turned up, perfectly in keeping with the brisk February wind. Jared trusted Jensen when he said that their attire and their single pass down the street were enough to keep them unworthy of notice by anyone watching through the cameras.

It was long since dark, and Jared's stomach had been growling intermittently for about an hour. When one particularly sharp pang became audible, Jensen cocked an eyebrow and said, "You trying to tell me something?"

"My body is," Jared replied, putting an innocent expression on his face. "And you want to take good care of my body, don't you?"

Both of Jensen's eyebrows shot up at that one, but all he said was, "Yeah, it's early for dinner, but I think we can manage."

A few minutes later, they were sitting in the back corner of a cozy bar down the street from their hotel, next to the rear exit and with a clear line of sight to the front. Jensen seemed relaxed as he ordered them some wine and tapas, and Jared hoped that he'd shaken off his earlier fears about his identity, at least for now.

Jensen leaned closer over the light wood tabletop and said, "We'll be out early in the morning, try and catch Conklin as he comes in. There's a bar across the street; we can sit there with coffee."

"And then what?" Jared said. "Accost him on the sidewalk?"

"If it looks doable. Or we wait till he goes inside and follow him in." Jensen's mouth twisted ruefully. "I'm pretty sure someone'll recognize me then."

"But you're not entirely sure that you'll be welcome," Jared guessed, taking a sip of the red wine Jensen had poured into his glass.

"Matthea said everyone was wondering what had happened to me." Jensen spread his hands out on the table's surface. "That doesn't guarantee a welcoming reception, even though she told Conklin I'm coming. That's why I want to talk to him first. That, and I'm sure there are ways I'm supposed to signal my arrival that I'm not doing because I can't remember them. Talking to him one on one will be easier."

"What do you want me to do?" Jared asked.

"Back me up." Jensen's eyes were intent on his in the dim light of the bar. "Stay a hundred yards away in case I need you."

Jared took another drink of wine, barely tasting the complex flavors as he swallowed it down. "I don't know what you think I can do, but I'll be there."

Jensen's expression softened. "That's exactly what you can do. Be there."

Jared ducked his head. Jensen was showing way more confidence in him than he felt was warranted. Three weeks ago, he'd been a brand-new doctor traveling outside the U.S. for the first time in his life, worried about nothing more complicated than navigating a public transportation system in another language. Sure, he had some vague ideas by now about how to be a spy or whatever the hell it was Jensen did, but the other man's faith in him was nerve-wracking.

His own words from less than a week ago, spoken to Jensen outside an Internet café before they entered Amsterdam, suddenly came back to him. Right now, despite Jensen's memories of this Conklin guy, Jared was still the only person he could trust. And he supposed that if he was in the same frightening position as Jensen, he would be clinging with both hands to whatever kind of security he could find.

So yeah, Jared could watch his back and be there for him. With a little luck, which they'd been sadly lacking in so far, they'd find Conklin and explain Jensen's situation, and everything would turn out okay. Of course, he couldn't imagine what "okay" meant at this point in time, given their complicated personal and legal situations, but he wasn't going to think about it any more than he had to.

Across the table, Jensen was emptying his glass and pouring another from the bottle. "Okay, change of topic. Tell me about your last boyfriend," Jensen said.

Jared's eyebrows shot up. Apparently he wasn't the only one interested in avoiding thinking about the near future. "Seriously?"

"Yeah." Jensen leaned forward on his forearms. "How long ago?"

Jared looked down at his glass, wishing there was more than a swallow of wine left in it. "About a year."

"Really?" Jensen's face was mildly surprised.

"Yeah, you know, it's hard with med school to have time for anything more than hookups, and I'm not really into that scene, so…" He shrugged.

"Wait, so you haven't…for a year?"

He glared at Jensen. "I haven't heard you complaining."

Jensen's mouth twitched. "I'm just sayin', that's a long dry spell. Especially for a guy like you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jared retorted.

Jensen held a hand up as if to say, Easy. Out loud, he said, "You're hot, you're damn smart, and I think I can safely say you're a genuinely nice guy. Also, you're really hot."

Jared felt his face flushing. "It's just…hard."

"Uh huh." Jensen held up the bottle and Jared obligingly pushed his glass forward. "Fine, I'll let you off the hook. Tell me something else. More about San Antonio or L.A. or whatever."

Jared looked at him, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. "When you asked me, back in Amsterdam, in that bar…were you trying to get me to practice my Spanish or were you kinda hitting on me?"

"Yes," Jensen replied as he finished pouring, a twinkle in his eyes that belied his inscrutable expression.

Jared grinned, suddenly feeling warmer than a single glass of wine warranted. They had nowhere to be tonight, nothing to do until the morning's attempted rendezvous, and there was a gorgeous man sitting across from him to whom he'd already promised his body once they went back to their hotel. The only direction this night could go was up.

He took a healthy swallow of wine, smiled broadly at Jensen, and said, "What do you want to know?"

Chapter Text

Well after midnight, they stumbled into the hotel room as if they were drunk, although Jensen felt completely sober after his portion of two bottles of really good Spanish wine, and with Jared's larger mass, he couldn't be any worse off. But the flirting they'd been doing all night was equally intoxicating: the under-the-lashes glances thrown at each other, the tracing of fingers over the back of a hand, the rub of a foot against a calf.

Jensen had spent a good portion of dinner figuring out exactly what he was going to do to Jared to fulfill their deal, which meant he had spent a good portion of dinner hard. So once they were safely inside their room, it took conscious effort for him to sweep the room for any indication that anyone had violated the "do not disturb" sign on the door and to take a long moment to peer out the window for signs of anyone watching them.

Finally, he turned around and looked at Jared. The taller man had taken his coat off and was standing in the small amount of floor space between the bed, desk, and door, looking at Jensen as if waiting for instructions.

Jensen let a slow smile spread across his face. "You remembering our deal, Jared?" he asked.

Jared's tongue shot out to moisten his lips. "Yeah, I am," he replied. He reached up and undid the first button on his blue-and-white striped shirt, eyes never leaving Jensen's. "Where do you want me?" he asked.

Jensen raised an eyebrow and pretended to contemplate, letting his gaze roam up and down the tall form in front of him. When his eyes rose back to Jared's, he slowly inhaled before saying, "On the bed. Naked."

Jared's next breath came in more sharply, but he started undressing slowly, mimicking Jensen's earlier striptease in almost exactly the same location. Jensen found himself clenching his hands into fists as each inch of golden-brown skin was revealed, knowing it would be so easy to drop to his knees in front of Jared and give him the same treatment he'd shown Jensen earlier.

But this was going to be different. They had time now, all the time in the world until morning came, and he was determined to make the most of it.

So he watched in silence as Jared shoved his jeans off his hips with a little shimmy and stepped out of them, his mile-long legs as beautiful as Jensen remembered from last night. A minute later, Jared was climbing onto the bed, settling back against the pillows and crossing his legs at the ankles, looking as comfortable as could be. Only the quick rise and fall of his chest and the way his erect cock was straining towards the ceiling gave away that he wasn't completely relaxed.

Jensen took a moment to enjoy the view before removing his own clothing and coming forward. He straddled Jared's legs, sitting up on his knees, hands lightly brushing the tops of Jared's muscular thighs. "Where to start?" he murmured almost to himself, looking up and down the acres of tanned skin in front of him.

Jared moved to sit up, but Jensen put a hand on his chest and pushed him back down. "You're doing what I say, remember."

"All night?" Jared nearly whined, settling back onto his elbows.

"Oh, I don't think you'll mind too much," Jensen said suggestively, leaning forward and planting his hands on either side of Jared's torso, looking into his eyes and seeing desire tinged with uncertainty. "All you have to do is lie there and let me do whatever I want to you. That was the deal, right?"

When Jared nodded and lowered himself back down, Jensen dropped his head and took one of Jared's nipples into his mouth, rolling his tongue around it and smiling at the groan he was eliciting. He started sucking gently, then harder, and Jared's noises grew louder in response. A hand came up and caressed Jensen's arm, and Jensen immediately sat up and pulled Jared's hand away. "No touching till I say so."

"Pushy," Jared retorted, but he was smiling.

"Damn straight," Jensen replied, bending back down to lick at Jared's chest, tasting the faint saltiness of sweat already sheening his skin, running his hands up and down his sides from musky armpits to sleek hipbones. Jensen kept his own hips curled up so his rapidly-hardening cock was well away from Jared's, not wanting to rush things.

Not when there was so much teasing to be done first.

He was rubbing his pursed lips over Jared's other nipple, feeling it stiffen, when he felt a hand in his hair. Jensen instantly reached up to grab it and slam it down on the bed. He lifted his head to mock glare at Jared. "Am I gonna have to tie you up?" he growled.

He watched Jared's eyes flare open, something dark and heated in their depths. "Maybe you are," Jared said suggestively.

Jensen paused. Then he slowly moved up on hands and knees until his head was level with Jared's, his hands pinning Jared's wrists to the pillows on either side of his head. "Think you'd like that?" he asked silkily, dangerously. "Think you'd like your wrists tied nice and tight above your head so you can't move them no matter how much you struggle?"

Blue-green eyes widened as Jensen wormed a leg between Jared's and shifted his body so his knees were between the other man's thighs, their erections barely brushing against each other. Then Jensen slowly pushed his legs apart and said in a low, heated voice, "Want your ankles bound to the sides of the bed so your legs are spread wide open, so that you're completely at my mercy? So I can do whatever. I. want. to you?"

Jared looked dazed, his jaw slightly slack and his cheeks flushed dark pink. "Yeah, I—I think I would," he said slowly, as if he was just coming to the realization.

"I would love to do that to you, Jay," Jensen rumbled before bending his head and kissing him, quick and hard. "I'd make it so good for you."

"But?" Jared asked shrewdly, a trace of awareness returning to his lust-glazed eyes.

He stroked his thumbs along the inside of Jared's wrists. "But I'm not willing to make you vulnerable like that. Not in this place that we're in." He looked down into Jared's eyes for a long moment, hoping that his words sounded like the pledge they were. "Once this is over, and we're somewhere safe, really safe…" He bent down and sucked on Jared's earlobe, drawing forth a slight gasp with a scrape of his teeth before murmuring, "I will be more than happy to do anything to you that you want."

"Promise?" came Jared's low-voiced response in his ear, the word carrying enough weight that Jensen knew his full meaning had been heard.

"Yes," Jensen responded, drawing back to look Jared in the eye, knowing full well that this was the first mention he'd made of any kind of future beyond the next twenty-four hours—and knowing full well that he didn't have the right to do so. "I do."

He waited for a moment, watching the emotions flicker across Jared's face, knowing that his own anxiety and longing were written across his features much more openly than he would like. Somehow he didn't mind so much right now.

Then Jensen deliberately put on a wicked smile. "In the meantime, I think I can improvise something."

He reached for one of the pillows next to Jared's head. Pulling the pillowcase off, he folded it in half lengthwise, and then again. "Close your eyes and lift your head up," he said, climbing up and over Jared's thighs until he was straddling the broad torso underneath him.

Jared gave the folded-up pillowcase only a brief look before doing as he was told, and the trust implied in the gesture made Jensen's heart twist strangely in his chest. He leaned forward and wrapped his blindfold over Jared's eyes, pleased that it was long enough to tie in a loose knot in the back. "Can you see?" he asked.

Jared's head turned back and forth. "A little out of the bottom."

"Okay." Jensen reached out with his right hand and tugged the blindfold down some more. Then he said huskily, "Now take your hands and put them under your head."

He watched as Jared did so, feeling a wave of arousal wash over him at his partner's obedience. "Good," he purred, stroking a hand down Jared's torso, shifting backwards a few inches. "Now, if you need to, you can take it off or move your hands. But I'd really rather you didn't."

"Okay," Jared said, his voice slightly breathless.

He kept moving his hand up and down slowly, soothingly, tracing a line between Jared's pectorals with the pads of his fingers, noticing the faster rise and fall of the broad chest beneath him. "You nervous?" he finally asked.

"A little." Jared cleared his throat. "It's weird not to be able to see, you know?"

"That's the point," Jensen rumbled, shifting the sweep of his hand to flick his thumb over Jared's right nipple, watching his head arch back at the sensation. "You're not supposed to see, Jay. You're supposed to feel."

He waited for a second longer, casting a glance over his shoulder to take in Jared's bobbing erection, dragging his thumb one more time over pebbled flesh.

And then he dived in.

Leaning forward onto his elbows as he slid his legs together behind him, Jensen latched onto the raised tendon in Jared's neck with his mouth at the same time his ass connected with the younger man's long, hard cock, his upper thighs firmly trapping its length in place. At the same time, his thumb and finger caught the already sensitive nipple and gave it a tug.

"Fuck!" Jared burst out, his back arching off the bed even with Jensen's weight on top of him. Jensen took advantage of the move to slide a hand underneath and grab a handful of firm ass while his other hand kept rubbing Jared's nipple and his lips and teeth traced along the strong line of Jared's neck. He was nearly bucked off by the resulting upward thrust, but he let his weight bear down and hold Jared in place, their bodies touching along every inch.

Jensen could feel the growing pull of his own desire as Jared twisted and writhed against him, but he resisted the urge to thrust in response. He was only focusing on one thing—making Jared come apart underneath him.

He moved his hands and mouth up and down Jared's powerfully built body, kissing and sucking and scratching marks into the golden-brown skin, feeling the velvet smoothness of skin unmarked by scars.

Jared was thrusting up into the tight space between Jensen's upper thighs; he could feel the head of Jared's cock brushing over the sensitive line of pink skin that crossed his femoral artery. Jared was already moaning almost constantly, his head moving back and forth over the pillow, his thrusts were growing faster as thin liquid slicked the passage of his cock between Jensen's thighs.

No, Jensen suddenly thought. Not so fast.

He released his hold with his legs and rose up to his knees, shuffling back until he was kneeling between Jared's spread legs and no part of their bodies was touching. He waited for a moment, hearing Jared's sharp whimper at the loss of contact. Looking up, he saw that Jared was moving his hand to the blindfold and lifting his head.

Before Jensen could say a word, the other man paused and then put his hand back under his head, the blindfold untouched. His lips were trembling slightly, and his breath was coming fast, but he laid there, still and quiet, waiting for Jensen to do as he wanted.

"Jared…" Jensen breathed out, the trust and promise of the gesture hitting him like a jolt of electricity. Without waiting a second longer, he opened his mouth and throat and bent forward, taking Jared's length all the way in.

"Aahhh!" Jared's hips shot up even though there was nowhere deeper for them to thrust. "Holy—God, Jen!"

Jensen looked up as best he could from this angle to see that Jared had finally moved his hands, but only to clutch at the corners of the bed sheets. His arms were spread wide open as Jensen had teased him about doing, the veins standing out as his muscles bulged, his head thrown back and his mouth open in a silent cry.

Jensen let out his own moan in response to the sight, feeling the sound reverberate through his lips and tongue to the flesh inside his mouth, and Jared bucked under him again. He hollowed out his cheeks as he pulled off, placing one forearm over Jared's lower abdomen to keep him in place. His other hand began to trace patterns across the insides of Jared's thighs as his tongue teased the swollen red head in front of him.

He alternated between sucking, licking, and nothing, pulling back completely every time Jared started to look like he was about to come but never ceasing the motion of his hand over the muscular thighs and sharp hipbones in front of him.

The frustrated noises he drew out in response grew louder each time, eventually turning into a keening, "Please," Jared's voice higher than he'd ever heard it. The sound shot straight to his cock, and Jensen drew back completely, rising up on his knees and giving into the need to take himself in hand.

He groaned at the touch of his rough palm and fingers on sensitive skin, watching Jared thrust his hips up into nothing in response. "Know what I'm doing, Jared?" Jensen asked, hearing the roughness of his own voice, feeling his breaths come faster.

There was silence for a moment except for the sound of his hand sliding up and down, and then Jared drew in a sharp breath. "Are you—" he asked, leaning his head up as if that would help him see what was going on.

"Yeah," Jensen responded, pumping harder and reaching back with his free hand to brace himself on the bed. "From watching you. From feeling you writhe around and hearing you moan underneath me. Turns me on so much." His hips were moving now, thrusting forward into his hand, the bed moving slightly in time with his rhythm. "Want this so bad, Jay."

"Please," Jared nearly growled, his hands still clenching the sheets above his head, his chest rising and falling as fast as Jensen's own. The blindfold was slipping off, but his eyes were tightly shut underneath. "Please, Jen."

"Please what?" Jensen gasped out. He was so close, the tide rising up inside of him, unfurling like a gigantic wave. "Please touch you? Please suck you?"

"No," Jared replied, his voice darker than it had been. He slowly licked his lips as if he knew Jensen was watching. "Please come. Now."

Jensen's mouth opened on a wordless cry, his head dropping back as he broke over the crest and came with a shudder.

He heard a satisfied sound coming from Jared, and he looked down to see his white streaks shooting across the other man's lower torso. That sight, combined with the askew blindfold and Jared's still-throbbing erection, was enough to wring a second wave out of him. Afterwards, he sank back onto his heels, head down and eyes closed, gasping for air.

When he finally looked up, Jared had pushed aside the blindfold and was propped up on his elbows, almost smirking. Jensen shook his head, feeling an aftershock sweep over him at the fevered need visible behind Jared's dark eyes. He managed to say, "You're not really getting this whole 'submissive' concept, are you?"

Jared grinned. "Oh, is that what this is?" he asked, a wicked gleam in his eye.

"Oh, is that what this is?" Jensen mocked. He narrowed his eyes. "Lie back down."

"Or what?" Jared shot back.

Jensen shrugged. "Okay." He climbed off the bed, legs only slightly shaky, and brushed his hands together, feeling the stickiness on his fingers. "I'm gonna go clean up."

"But—"

"I said I'd rather you kept the blindfold on." He lowered his voice. "Don't want you to think there aren't consequences to your actions." He looked at Jared long and hard, letting a small smirk creep onto his face, before turning his back and heading towards the tiny bathroom.

When he spoke, Jared's voice was much stronger than he would have expected. "Good thing you didn't really tie me down, then."

When Jensen turned around, he saw Jared reaching down, one large hand wrapping around his cock while the other started fondling his balls. His slitted eyes never left Jensen's as he stroked himself, hips bucking upwards at first slowly and then faster and faster. "You said you liked watching me, right?" he said, his voice deep and smooth and almost ridiculously hot.

Jensen couldn't look away.

It was somehow even more intimate than touching Jared with his own hands: watching him pleasure himself, tracing the flush of arousal that crept down his neck as his eyes widened and his lips parted in response to his own touch. Jensen suddenly wished fiercely that he hadn't climbed off the bed, but then he reminded himself that he wouldn't be getting this show if he had.

He watched as Jared bent his knees and planted his feet so that his legs fell open and his hips rolled up off the bed. "God, Jen," he moaned, his eyes roaming up and down Jensen's body. "So hot," he said breathlessly. "Hearing you touch yourself, feeling you come all over me—you were right, 's so good."

Jensen took a step forward, looking intently into lust-blown blue-green eyes. "Just feel, Jared," he said softly. "Do that for me. Just feel."

Jared's eyes slammed shut as he threw back his head and thrust up into his fist, hips working furiously until he came with a shout. Jensen watched hungrily, enjoying this first time he had enough distance to see every shudder and shake of Jared's strong body, the way his face twisted up as his orgasm shot through him, and the way he collapsed back against the sheets, looking totally debauched and spent.

By the time Jensen ducked into the bathroom and came back with a wet washcloth, Jared still hadn't moved. There was a sleepy, blissful smile on his face that made Jensen feel warm to see it. "Hey," he said softly, laying down next to Jared and gently wiping the cloth over his sticky stomach.

"Hey," Jared replied. One eye cracked open. "Can we not move for a couple of days?"

Jensen smiled and brushed the sweaty bangs away from Jared's forehead. "Does that mean I wore you out?"

"Mmm." Jared leaned up and captured Jensen's lips, leading to a series of long, lazy kisses. "It means I thought of all sorts of things I want to do with you that don't involve leaving this room." His eyes twinkled. "The bed, maybe, but not the room."

"Uh huh." Jensen wiped himself off as well and tossed the cloth towards the bathroom. "We'll talk about it in the morning," he said, wanting to put off any mention of the outside world as long as possible.

"M'kay." Jared's knowing look meant he understood what the answer would be, but he didn't push it. Instead, he kicked feebly at the twisted sheets underneath him before untangling one enough to pull it over them both. "C'mon, let's sleep."

Jensen cast a quick glance at the clock. Well, five hours of sleep was better than nothing. Besides, he wouldn't have missed the last hour's activities for the world. "Okay," he agreed as a yawn split his jaw open. He threw his arm over the broad chest next to him and slipped his leg in between Jared's, thankful for a bed instead of a bunk to stretch out in tonight.

Despite having more pillows available, he laid his head down on Jared's shoulder.

A sweaty arm sprawled over his back, like last night on the train, and he felt Jared's voice rumble through his chest. "See, I've got you trained already."

He reached out and tweaked a nipple, grinning at the sharp yelp he got in reply. "Maybe you make a good pillow," he replied.

"Whatever." He felt a kiss on the crown of his head. "Night, Jensen."

"Night, Jay." He closed his eyes, feeling sleep already coming to claim him.

Chapter Text

Jared blinked his way to consciousness, his sluggish brain finally realizing that the source of warmth he had his arms and legs wrapped around wasn't a heated pillow, but Jensen Ross, spooned up in front of him. He breathed in slowly, savoring the deliciously masculine scent at the nape of Jensen's neck. The faintest of daylight was coming in through the curtains, so it was still early morning.

And a quick look downward told him that he wasn't the only one rising up to greet the sun, so to speak.

A faint smile crossed Jared's face. Of all of the ways his life had been turned upside-down in the past few weeks, this was among the most surprising. He'd forgotten how nice it was to wake up with someone else close, with their scent and warmth grounding him, even if it was someone he barely knew.

At the same time, it was strange how much he did know Jensen. It was like skipping past all of the getting-to-know-you stuff about where a guy was from and what he did for a living and what hobbies he had and getting down deep to who he really was as a person. Everything had been stripped away from the man except his true self, and despite the scary things he could do and the fears he had about himself, Jared was liking him more and more all the time.

He lifted himself up on his elbow and watched Jensen's closed eyes moving back and forth, noting with affection that even his eyelids had freckles. He had no clue what was going to happen to the two of them, but he had no illusions about happily-ever-after, and he was sure Jensen didn't, either. His sensual promise last night had been what Jared wanted to hear, but there was no way to hold him to it. He really had no idea what was going to happen to them, with all of their hopes pinned on a man named Conklin and a shadowy organization named Ravenswood.

Jensen stirred slightly, and Jared brought himself back to the present. At least he could make the most of the time they did have.

He realized with glee as the chest under his arm continued to rise and fall with regularity that Jensen was still asleep. Grinning to himself, he looked up and down the length of the body pressed against his, wondering where to start to pay him back for the awesome time he'd shown Jared last night. It wouldn't do to startle Jensen awake; he had no desire to be put in a headlock or whatever else a highly-trained whatever-he-was would do upon being startled awake by someone larger than him.

So he started by pressing his lips to the back of Jensen's neck, keeping his kisses utterly silent. He slowly stroked patterns over Jensen's torso, watching the play of muscles as they twitched under his fingers, watching one nipple and then the other harden as the outer edge of his palm circled over the small nubs. A soft groan caught his attention, but Jensen's eyes were still shut and moving rapidly underneath the lids, his long eyelashes fanned out over his cheeks.

Jared shifted his hips forward, pressing what was now a full-blown erection into the place where Jensen's sleep-sprawled legs parted from each other, biting his lip to keep from moaning at the sensation. At the same time, he dropped his hand lower, playing with the reddish-gold hairs beneath Jensen's navel, stroking small circles on his abdomen and watching in anticipation as his cock twitched higher into the air.

Jensen's breathing hitched and his rapid eye movement ceased, but he didn't appear to be fully awake yet. Jared grinned and bent down, suckling at a freckled earlobe as his caressing hand started to slide even lower, down to where the nest of curls grew thicker. After another moment of teasing touches, he traced his fingers along the curve of Jensen's cock before lightly fingering the head, feeling himself getting even harder in response to the silky skin beneath his fingertips.

"Yeah," came Jensen's husky, sleep-filled voice, sending a shiver of delight down Jared's spine. "Yeah, just like that, Sam."

And just like that, Jared froze, practically feeling his erection wilt.

A second later, he felt Jensen stiffen underneath him, followed by a muffled "Shit!"

Jared forced out a half-laugh and pulled his hand back to rest on Jensen's hip. "Well, I guess that answers that question," he said ruefully.

"Damn it." Jensen turned over to face him, his cheeks flaming. "I'm sorry, Jared."

"S'okay." Jared shrugged one shoulder. "It happens." He pushed back the jealousy rearing up in his head and said, "It's good that you're remembering things."

"Yeah, but—" Jensen brought up a hand and covered his eyes. "Talk about awkward."

Jared rubbed his hand back and forth along Jensen's hip, no longer to arouse but to soothe. "You—d'you wanna talk about it?"

Jensen rubbed his eyes with a fist, looking disconcertingly childlike. "I was dreaming."

"About him?" Jared asked carefully, keeping his voice neutral.

Dark green eyes stared at him for a moment. "I don't know," Jensen said, deep crescents forming where his brows nearly met. Then he pushed Jared's arm aside and sat up against the headboard. "I was, but it changed. I mean—I think you look a lot like him. From what I remember. He looked like you."

"Oh." Jared swallowed. Was this why Jensen had gone to bed with him—because he reminded him of his dead lover?

"It's the nightmare I've been having since—well, as long as I can remember." Jensen let out a derisive snort. He went on, talking in a low voice about the dark and the fog, the terror and the grief, sending chills down Jared's spine as he spoke. He kept his head down, his voice steady but low as he described the scene, ending with a choked description of the dead man on the cobblestone street. "He looks like you," Jensen finished quietly. "When I see him in my head now, he looks like you."

Jared didn't say a word but laid his head on Jensen's chest, throwing his arm over his midriff, offering his presence as comfort. He felt Jensen's hand come up to lay on his head, not to move through his hair, but to sit there.

There was silence for a moment. Then Jared cleared his throat. "Do you—do you think that was when you were shot? That they came back and found you there?"

"I don't know. I don't even know where it was." He let out a sigh, and Jared felt it stirring his hair. "I used to think it was Venice, but it doesn't feel right."

"Why not?" Jared asked.

"Cars on the streets, taller buildings, the wrong colors…I keep seeing more details every time, and it's not Venice. It happened before that."

Jared absently traced the thin line crossing the inside of Jensen's thigh, the mark of a near-fatal injury that he couldn't recall any more than he knew what had happened to his lover. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

"'S not your fault," Jensen replied.

"No, I know, but—I'm sorry you had to go through that." He lifted his head and looked Jensen in the eye. "That you had to lose someone you loved like that."

Jensen nodded once before closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the wall. "Yeah," he said hoarsely. "Thanks."

They both fell silent. Then Jensen shook his head and ruffled Jared's hair. "Sorry to spoil your seduction plans, man. I suppose me freaking out wasn't the response you were looking for."

Jared quirked up the corner of his mouth. "I was more afraid that you'd think I was attacking you and try to choke me to death or something."

Jensen stared at him, eyebrows raised. "You know, normal people don't have to worry about that sort of thing."

"Dude, we're not exactly conventional," Jared replied wryly.

"That's for sure," Jensen agreed. He was silent for a moment and then said, fingers moving through Jared's hair, "Jared, I don't know what we're—"

"Hush." Jared reached up and laid a finger across his lips. "We're going to go find this Conklin guy and find out who you are and get you somewhere safe. Right now that's the most important thing to me." He waited until the flare of Jensen's eyes told him he had caught his own words being echoed back at him before going on. "We can figure out what happens next after that."

Jensen looked back at him for a long moment before nodding. "Okay," he said, his voice slightly rough. He tugged at Jared's arm, urging him to move further up until his mouth was in reach.

They kissed slowly, deeply, exploring each other's mouths more thoroughly and leisurely than they had so far. Jared cupped the side of Jensen's head, palm covering his entire cheek and fingers carding through his dark blond hair as their tongues intertwined around each other. Jensen leaned into the touch, running his own hands down Jared's back as far as he could reach and stroking patterns over bare skin that had Jared pressing against him more closely.

It felt even more like a promise than the words Jensen had said last night.

Finally, Jensen pulled back and brushed Jared's hair away from his forehead, his eyes luminescent green in the early morning light filtering in through the curtains as he studied Jared's face. "I'd love to continue this, believe me, but we need to get going."

Jared reluctantly agreed. "Make it up to me tonight?"

"You bet." Jensen gave him one last kiss and then pushed him aside. Jared would have protested except that it would have totally contradicted his earlier statement about what was most important to him. Besides, they'd have time tonight to pick up where they'd left off.

The café on Carrer de Sicilia was opening as they walked up at eight-thirty, and they were able to park themselves at the front indoor table overlooking the street. Ravenswood was two buildings down. After half an hour of sipping espresso and munching on pastries, they hadn't seen a soul go into the building.

It wasn't until nine-fifteen that Jensen sat up sharply in his seat. "That's him," he said sharply, reaching out to grab Jared's wrist. "Don't turn around. He's at the far end of the block."

"Then let's go," Jared said, standing up, excitement and nerves thrumming through him.

Jensen followed him out onto the street, where a man in a long grey coat and a fedora of the same color was walking towards them on the other side of the street, still several hundred yards distant. He waited as Jensen came up alongside him, wondering if he was going to call out to the other man or approach him more quietly.

As it turned out, he didn't have to do either.

The man was looking back and forth across the street as he walked, and when his eyes landed on the two of them in the doorway of the café, he visibly stiffened, although his hat was angled so that Jared couldn't see his face or if it changed expression. He was only a few doors away from Ravenswood, but he kept walking, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat and resolutely not looking at them.

Turning to look at Jensen, Jared realized his eyes hadn't left the man across the street. He was biting his lower lip, and as Jared looked down, he saw Jensen's hands shaking slightly at his sides. "Come on," he said softly, putting a hand on Jensen's lower back. "Let's see where he's going, yeah?"

Later, Jared would never forgive himself for making that suggestion.

Later, he would wonder if it was their emotionally-charged conversation that morning that had put them off-guard, or if it was Jensen's overconfidence in Jared having a clue about what he was doing, or if it was the fact that even Jensen Ross was not infallible and was bound to fuck up sooner or later. At the time, it all happened far too quickly to analyze, and it wasn't clear that they had another choice anyway.

All he knew right then was that Jensen was echoing, "Yeah," casting a quick glance at the Ravenswood building before heading after Conklin as he turned a corner. Jared followed close behind, the earlier plan to keep his distance from Jensen evaporating at this unplanned turn of events.

They walked for a long time through the gridded streets of nineteenth-century Barcelona, until even Jared could figure out that Conklin was leading them on a chase. Jensen never increased their pace, never tried to close the distance, but he was obviously getting frustrated. They were always close enough to keep the older man in sight, but he never turned to see if they were there. Jared started looking around for signs of anyone else taking an interest in their little procession, but he was unsuccessful, and doubt started to gnaw at him.

It was almost ten o'clock when they crossed a busy street and found themselves in the Plaça de Catalunya again, where Jensen had scolded him yesterday morning for not paying attention to his surroundings. Determined to do a better job, Jared locked his gaze on the grey hat they'd been following as they neared the relatively crowded central square of the plaza.

A group of schoolchildren crossed in front of them, chattering away in Spanish. By the time they cleared themselves from the small bodies blocking their path, their target was nowhere to be seen.

"Shit!" Jensen looked around the plaza. "Come on, he's been letting us follow him, why stop now?"

"Has he?" Jared hoped his greater height meant he would be the one to spot Conklin again, but he wasn't having any luck so far. He hadn't gotten a good look at the man's face, only his coat and hat, and he couldn't find either one right now. "Is that a good thing?"

"Maybe. It means someone else is behind us to make sure there aren't any unexpected surprises. I told you I'm not going about this the conventional way; he probably wants to feel safe before he signals us."

"That's going to be hard to do if we can't find him," Jared muttered.

"Yeah, I—" Suddenly Jensen drew in a sharp gasp and grabbed Jared's upper arm so hard he was sure he was going to have bruises in the morning.

"Jen, what the—" Jared looked back and then started at Jensen's wide-eyed expression, focused somewhere on Jared's chest. "What is it?" he asked more urgently. When Jensen didn't answer, he followed the green-eyed gaze downwards and instantly froze.

Centered over the left half of his chest was a small, bright red dot of light.

Jared's head shot up, voice shaking as fear suddenly washed over him. "Is—is that what I think it is?"

"Yeah," Jensen answered hoarsely. His head came up and he started scanning the rooftops around the plaza as he took a step forward. When the dot disappeared from Jared's chest, he felt only a second of relief before realizing that meant the laser focus was now somewhere on Jensen's side. "Jensen—" he started before breaking off as he noticed something else. He grabbed the shorter man's arm in a mirror of his own stance and said with an even greater tremor in his voice, "You've got one, too."

Jensen looked down and saw another spot of light centered over his heart.

And then, as they both watched, the first laser beam re-centered itself on Jared as the unseen sniper adjusted his aim.

They froze for a moment, looking at each other, Jensen's eyes almost as wide as Jared's. It was as if they were standing in the middle of the plaza with guns to their heads that were invisible to passersby. If it weren't for the dots of laser light, they wouldn't even know they'd been targeted.

Instead, it was all too clear that they'd been led right into a trap.

Jared swore he could feel his adrenaline levels instantly spiking as his body tried to react to the threat. But there was nothing to fight, and flight might well result in innocent people in the plaza being picked off instead. "What do we do?" he hissed.

"First we figure out where they are." Jensen's voice might have sounded calm to the casual observer, but Jared could hear an undercurrent of fear that sent his own heart beating even faster.

Jared opened his mouth to reply but gave a twitch as his phone rang. "The hell?" No one had the number to this phone except Jensen.

"Pick it up," Jensen said grimly, turning to face him.

Slowly, Jared pulled his phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. "Who is this?" he forced out through a dry throat, his eyes not leaving Jensen's.

The voice was calm and confident, a man with an American accent. "This is the man who's commanding the snipers who have weapons trained on the both of you."

Jared felt like the ground had been yanked out from under him even more brutally than it had in the dark hallway of a Berlin hotel. His breath started to come faster as if he was running for his life instead of frozen in place. "How did you get this number?" he replied, inwardly cursing at the shakiness of his voice.

"That doesn't matter. What's important is that the two of you are going to do exactly as I say, Dr. Padalecki, or those snipers are going to open fire."

Jensen was looking at the phone as if he wanted to tear it out of Jared's hands, but he didn't move a muscle. His eyes were blazing, his entire body looking like he was barely holding himself in check.

"What do you want?" Jared asked tightly. His heart was beating so hard it almost hurt, and he swore he could feel the laser light burning a hole through his chest.

"About fifteen yards in front of you, there's a man in a blue baseball cap. Do you see him?"

Jared looked up, searching the crowd until he saw the guy in question. "Yes."

"In a moment you're going to walk towards him. Just you."

He swallowed hard and looked at Jensen. "Why do you only want me?"

As he'd expected, Jensen's eyes flared wide and he started to take a step forward.

"Don't move," snapped the command in his ear. "Either one of you."

Jared held his hand up, shaking his head frantically. Jensen's fists clenched at his sides, but he stayed put.

"Now, Dr. Padalecki. Hand off the phone and then follow the man in the cap. Don't look behind you."

Jared lowered the phone, his hand shaking. His voice wasn't any steadier as he said to Jensen, "He wants me to give you the phone and then follow someone."

"Who?" Jensen asked sharply.

"Blue cap." Jared nodded in the right direction. The man in question had turned around and was glaring at him. "Jen, I—I don't think I have much of a choice here."

"Then do it. I'll keep an eye on you." Jensen reached out for the phone, his eyes darting around the plaza.

Jared let out a sharp breath. "How?" he asked disbelievingly, his gaze inexorably drawn to the red dot positioned over Jensen's heart.

Jensen snatched the phone out of his hand and barked into it, "Who the hell is this?"

A second later, Jensen slowly looked up Jared's body until he reached his forehead, his eyes growing wider as they went. Jared didn't have to look down to know that the laser sight had shifted from his chest to his head, and his throat tightened, wondering if he would feel anything if a bullet suddenly ripped through his skull.

There was a pause. Then, "You'd better go, Jay," Jensen said roughly, looking him in the eye.

It was the first time Jared had ever seen him look truly afraid.

They stared at each other. He wanted to hear Jensen say that it was going to be okay, that they were going to make their way out of this, but that would be an even more futile promise than the one he'd made last night. Considering they hadn't both already been shot, whoever was behind this obviously wanted them for something, which wasn't as comforting a thought as it ought to be.

Not seeing any way out, Jared bit his lip and started forward. He brushed past Jensen and impulsively reached down to clutch his hand for a fraction of a second, feeling an almost physical pain when his fingers slipped free.

The man in the blue cap had turned around and was walking calmly towards the edge of the plaza. Jared followed, heart in his throat, half-waiting to hear a shot ring out or a scream from the crowd behind him. Why separate him from Jensen unless it was to make it easier to pick off one or both of them?

He was halfway to the street when he heard a murmur of noise behind him, and his heart skipped a beat. Jared started to turn around, but a hand clamped down on his left elbow. An instant later, something hard pressed into his side.

He slowly turned his head to the left. There was a dark-haired woman standing next to him, nearly a foot shorter than him, but her hard brown eyes made it clear she was not to be messed with. And that was not even taking into account the gun snug against his ribs.

"This way," she said in a clipped tone, pulling him forward.

Behind him, Jared could hear the low pitch of the crowd murmuring, and he desperately needed to know what was going on and if Jensen was okay. But he was being dragged on relentlessly, and in no time they had reached the street bordering the plaza in front of the big department store. There was a series of tour buses lined up waiting for customers, and behind the last bus was a white panel van. He was marched to the van, whose rear doors opened precisely as they approached.

"Get in," the woman said, giving him a shove. Hands reached for him from inside the van, and he stumbled up and into the interior, the door slamming shut behind him.

Jared got a glimpse of three people in black clothing before something came down over his head. He realized it was a dark hood, and suddenly with his vision cut off and the walls of the van closing around him, panic set in with a vengeance.

He started to kick and lash out, twisting in the grip of the hands that held him down. He felt one foot connect with something soft, but it elicited only a grunt. A hand closed around his wrist and twisted it sharply upwards behind his back, and he cried out.

Then he heard the distinctive click of a gun being cocked as something hard jammed against the back of his head.

Jared froze, eyes screwed shut even under the darkness of the hood. So this was it. They hadn't wanted to cause panic by shooting him in public, so they'd dragged him into this van to put a bullet in his head.

He drew in a shuddering breath and gasped out, "Please," even though begging for his life probably wasn't going to be any more successful now than it had been at the bridge in Berlin.

And Jensen wasn't going to come crashing in to save the day this time.

Then a hand lifted the edge of the hood, exposing his neck. There was a sharp prick over his jugular vein, and he had enough time to realize with a mixture of relief and fear that he was being injected and not shot before something thick and slow started to steal through his blood, robbing his limbs of movement.

Jared's head became too heavy to hold up, and he slumped to the floor of the van, his limbs going lax despite the residual panic coursing through him.

A moment later, his other senses followed his sight down into darkness.

Chapter Text

Jensen stared at Jared's retreating back, unable to tell from this angle if the sniper still had him in his sights, waiting in dread to hear the sharp pop of a rifle or to see that tall figure slump to the ground. He clutched the phone at his ear so tightly he thought he was going to break it, but he didn't say a word.

His mind racing, he lifted his head to scan the surrounding rooftops, calculating the angle and the distance and the best position, trying to find—

There. Above the Banco de España on the west side of the plaza. There was a dark shape on the top story, something long and dark pointing out the window. That had to be the man aiming at him, considering that he was facing west and the tiny circle of red light on his torso wasn't elongated to either side. That meant Jared's guy had to be to his right, in the direction he'd been told to walk.

Jensen shifted slightly, turning towards the north.

"Stay where you are." The voice in his ear startled him. It was vaguely familiar, but he didn't have time to puzzle it out now. Instead, he let his gaze sweep up the façade of El Corte Ingles, past the small windows of the multi-level department store until he reached the roof.

It was the movement that caught his eye, the downward sweep of a rifle being lowered. They were handing off their prisoner. Someone would be on the ground to take over now that Jared had passed below the sniper's range. That meant there would be two rifle scopes focusing on Jensen at any moment.

It had to be now.

Briefly looking back up at the bank, Jensen measured the distance to the nearest tree he could put between himself and that open window. The tree obviously wouldn't stop a bullet or even block the view, considering the leaves had fallen months ago, but it would mess up the sniper's aim. If he was fast enough, the second man wouldn't be able to retarget in time.

If he was right, if he and Jared were being separated to make them easier to control, then dropping the phone and running was the best thing he could do right now, taking away the possibility of holding them hostage against each other.

If he was wrong, both he and Jared would be dead before another minute was up.

Jensen wanted to snarl something at the faceless man at the other end of the phone line who was ripping everything away from him, but he couldn't give him any advance notice. Instead, he checked the distance one more time, slowly drew in a deep breath, and eyed the fountain a few steps away.

Then, all at once, he hurled the phone at the fountain and darted in the other direction, legs pumping as he sprinted for the trees.

It was no more than a dozen paces, but every running stride was taken with the expectation that it was going to be his last. Jensen thought he heard the whizz of a bullet pass by him, followed by the chink of a chip of concrete being torn from the ground, but the exclamations from the crowd around him at his odd behavior were drowning them out.

Reaching the dubious shelter of the trees, heart pounding in his chest, Jensen strained his ears to hear a shot coming from the rooftops or the street, praying they weren't taking out his uncooperativeness on Jared.

He whipped off his jacket, grateful he was wearing a completely different color shirt underneath that would make him harder to find. There was a shriek from behind him, and Jensen swiftly reached back to pull the Glock out of his waistband and tuck it under the balled-up jacket in his hand before anyone else could see it.

Then he kept moving, following a weaving path through the crowd, keeping the trees between himself and the sniper, hoping the second one hadn't spotted him yet, praying that whoever they were, they weren't going to take the risk of mowing down civilians in their eagerness to get at him.

He reached the southeast edge of the plaza, where the ramblas stretched out towards the harbor. It was tempting to try and lose himself in the throngs of people, but he could be putting them all at risk by being a target among them. Better was the Metro stop ahead of him, not because he wanted to be trapped in the metal tube of the subway, but because there were underground passages between different lines at this station. Plus, it was a quick way to get below ground and stop the itch between his shoulder blades at the thought of rifle scopes scanning for his back.

The screeching of tires caught Jensen's attention as he started down the steps, and he looked up to see a white panel van pulling away from the curb in front of the department store, incongruous among all of the tourist buses as it sped down the street.

Jensen's gut twisted, knowing that Jared had to be in that van, feeling nauseous at the thought of him hurt or worse, knowing it was all his fault but that at the moment, all he could do was run away.

Swallowing hard, he continued quickly down the steps, hearing the rush of an approaching train. His cell phone felt heavy in his pocket, and he cursed under his breath. If they'd been able to hunt down Jared's number, for God's sake, there was no way they couldn't get his and use the GPS signal to track him. He might as well go back up into the plaza and give a friendly wave to the snipers.

Jensen scrambled to dig out the phone as he hurried through the turnstile and towards the platform. He bent down to snatch up a piece of litter, a brown paper bag that he slipped the phone into and held down at his side. The lights of the oncoming train were visible in the tunnel, and it was easy to lean out as if to see how close the train was and then let the bag slip from his hand.

Seconds later, he heard the crunching sound as the wheels of the braking train passed over the phone, and the only way for Jared to get in touch with him shattered into a thousand pieces.

Jensen rode the subway for hours, switching lines and doubling back and going above ground between stations before returning below, always keeping his face down and his head turned away from any cameras he saw. It was like Zurich and Berlin all over again, not knowing who was chasing him and why, not knowing what resources they had at their disposal and how best to avoid them, only knowing that keeping moving was the same thing as keeping alive.

He was equally torn between the desire to leave the city as fast as possible and the desire to hunt down Conklin and demand what the fuck was going on. Because as Jensen sat on the subway and warily watched his fellow passengers, as he debriefed himself about what had happened and tried to figure out what had gone so disastrously wrong, he realized two things.

First, they'd been led into a trap. The man they'd been tailing had sent them into the Plaça de Catalunya and right into the snipers' sights, there was no doubt about that.

Second, once he had time to think it over, the voice on the phone matched the one from his memories of the older man in the Barcelona office of Ravenswood. They'd been led into a trap by Conklin.

Jensen buried his face in his hands, momentarily overcome. He'd been so sure he could trust Conklin, so sure that once he found him, everything was going to be all right. And now he had absolutely nothing: nowhere to go, no one to seek shelter from, and no way of knowing if he'd gotten Jared killed. No way to know if he'd ever see him again. He lifted his head and stared blankly out the window at the tunnel walls rushing by.

What the hell was he supposed to do now?

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

There was a dull throbbing in Jared's head that was making it hard to think, and the dry, cottony taste in his mouth didn't help. He raised his head, his stiff neck protesting, and opened his eyes.

He still couldn't see anything.

From what he could feel, the scratchy fabric of the hood over his head was gone, and for a moment he panicked, afraid that whatever he had been injected with was affecting his vision. Then he saw a glimmer of light from underneath a door, and his breath caught in relief. Jared made himself take a few more deep breaths, letting his eyes adjust, before looking around by that faint glow.

He was alone in a small room, sitting in a chair, his arms fastened behind the back of the chair with what felt like handcuffs. Looking down, he saw that his ankles were attached to the legs of the chair in the same way. He was in front of a table that rose higher than his waist, as empty as the rest of the room, with two chairs identical to his on the other side.

Jared wet his lips, wondering if calling out to see if anyone was listening was a good or bad idea. There wasn't any sign that he was being watched—no two-way mirror or surveillance cameras were visible in the faint light—but somehow he doubted he'd be left alone once someone noticed he was awake.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, there was an electronic beep outside the door, and then the lights flickered on. Jared blinked to clear his vision in time to see a man entering with an automatic rifle leveled at him, and he gulped hard.

Behind him was a shorter man with salt-and-pepper hair and beard, his dark grey suit looking like it had been immaculately pressed when he'd put it on many hours ago, although it was now rumpled with his white shirt collar slightly askew. His deep blue eyes were cold behind glasses with small, round, black frames, his expression blank.

Jared instinctively sat up straighter, feeling the handcuffs bite at his wrists.

The door slammed shut, and the man with the rifle took up residence in the near corner, his aim steady on Jared. The man in the suit sat across the table and folded his hands in front of him, his eyes locked onto Jared's. After a moment, he spoke. "Where is he?"

"Who?" Jared asked, blinking.

"Dean Winchester."

"I don't know who you mean," Jared replied as calmly as he could, feeling his heart thumping in his chest. It sounded like the same man who'd called him in the plaza, but he couldn't be sure.

The older man looked at him hard. "Who were you with in the Plaça de Catalunya?"

Jared lifted his chin. "Even if I knew where he went, I wouldn't tell you."

Inside, he was chanting, Thank God, thank God. If they were looking for Jensen, that meant they hadn't killed or captured him in the plaza. Whoever the hell "they" were.

His interrogator spread his hands across the tabletop. "I don't think you understand the seriousness of your situation, Dr. Padalecki."

Jared let out a snort. "Why don't you explain it to me."

The other man leaned forward, piercing eyes boring into him. "You're the only suspect in the murder of a former American intelligence operative in Germany. You've been associating with a man who is wanted for murder in a dozen countries, who was hired to kill the son of the prime minister of Nigeria. You have no idea how deep a hole we can make you disappear into."

Jared looked down at the tabletop, sure that he wouldn't be able to keep any kind of game face on after the things this man had just said about Jensen. "I don't suppose I get a lawyer or a phone call?" he asked through clenched teeth.

"You suppose correctly."

There was silence. Jared looked at the man's hands to distract himself from the choking fear rising up in his throat. On his right hand was a signet ring, unusual enough to catch his interest all by itself. But the letter on it stood out: a Gothic "R" in silver on a black background. He stared at it for a moment, his mind racing, comparing the man's appearance to the person they'd been tailing that morning and to Jensen's fragmented memories and coming up with only one answer.

"If you need me to go into more detail about what's going to happen to you—"

"You're Conklin, aren't you?"

The man blinked. "How did you—" Then he straightened his shoulders, and the trace of vulnerability he'd shown was gone. "Where would he have gone? After leaving here?"

"I don't know," Jared replied levelly. He really didn't, and if he wasn't so scared for himself right now, he'd be wracking his brains trying to figure out where Jensen might be and how to get to him. Instead, he glared across the table. "He said he could trust you. Obviously he was wrong."

Conklin was slowly shaking his head. "I assure you, Doctor, we will find him. The more you cooperate, the easier it'll be for you."

Jared shook his wrists, making the chain of the handcuffs rattle. "You haven't exactly made it easy so far," he snapped back, letting anger carry him over the fear that was all too close to the surface.

"How much has he paid you?" Conklin asked abruptly, his voice tight.

"What?" Jared stared at him, feeling bewilderment all over his face. "Nothing."

"Then you share his ideological views?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" That didn't fit at all with either of the explanations they'd argued over: the Jaguar assassin or the undercover agent. What did ideology have to do with either of those?

The older man leaned forward on his elbows, searching Jared's face. "Why has he been staking out this building? Why follow me this morning? What is he targeting us for?"

"He's not targeting anything!" Jared's voice was rising. "He was trying to figure out how to talk to you."

Conklin shook his head, looking exasperated. "Then why didn't he follow the usual protocols?"

"Because he doesn't know them!" Jared burst out, leaning forward in his chair until his cuffed hands held him back.

Oh, shit, he instantly thought. Way to give it away, Padalecki.

Across the table, Conklin had tilted his head to the side and was looking at him hard. "What do you mean, he doesn't know them?"

Jared searched his face. Conklin looked genuinely confused, and his demands to know where Jensen was had a hint of concern underneath the bluster. Jensen had said he could be trusted, though Jared was more than a little skeptical of that since he and Ravenswood had come after them with guns, for God's sake.

But if they were like Chernak and didn't know what had happened to Jensen and thought he had become one of the bad guys…

When it came down to it, Jared thought, he didn't really have much of a choice.

Praying that he was doing the right thing, Jared spoke quietly but firmly, putting it in medical terms to help keep him focused. "He sustained a gunshot wound to the right side of his skull that apparently impacted his temporal lobe. It left him with significant scarring as well as temporally ungraded retrograde amnesia that is likely also post-traumatic in nature."

Conklin blinked. "Amnesia?" he asked incredulously.

"He doesn't know who he is," Jared confirmed, mentally crossing his fingers. "He doesn't know anything."

"But—" Conklin's eyes lowered to the table, and he let out a gust of breath, suddenly looking a little lost.

Jared felt a surge of hope at the expression. He paused before adding, "He was shot somewhere near the Adriatic Sea." Conklin's head shot back up. Jared went on, looking the other man straight in the eye and speaking deliberately to indicate he knew the significance of what he was saying, "On or before December 10."

Conklin took in a sharp breath and stared right back. "Can you prove that?" he asked, urgency underlying his words.

"Maybe," Jared replied. There couldn't be that many retired British doctors named Thorne living on the Croatian coast, but damned if he was giving this guy any more information without getting something back first.

There was a long silence. Then Conklin rose to his feet. "Tell me how."

Jared shook his head. "Not until you tell me who you are and what this place is. You're the one who had me drugged and chained up." He rattled the handcuffs behind his back again for emphasis. "You kidnapped me at gunpoint and made Jensen run. I've already trusted you far more than I should."

"I thought you said he lost his memory and doesn't know who he is," Conklin said sharply, leaning over the table and putting his weight on his hands.

"He doesn't," Jared said pointedly. Then he realized what he'd just said, and his face fell. Shit. Jensen's gonna kill me.

"Then how do you know his name?"

Jared started, feeling a tiny bit of pleasure at knowing they'd been right. "That's really his name?"

"What do you know him as?" Conklin retorted.

"His name is Jensen Ross," Jared said, holding his breath.

"Jensen Ross…?" Conklin lifted his eyebrows, looking like he was waiting for something else. Jared frowned, not understanding. When he got no answer, Conklin stood back up. "Can you prove that he has amnesia?"

"That'll be hard to do without him here," Jared shot back.

The older man looked back at him for a long moment, folding his arms across his chest, wrinkling his suit even more. Finally he said, "My name is Alexander Conklin. You're inside the building you were surveilling this morning. As far as we know, Jensen has turned traitor to the Ravenswood organization and thus to the U.S. government that hired us. As far as we know, you're an accomplice to everything he has done."

"No." Jared shook his head sharply. "No, he hasn't."

"I have no way of knowing that other than your words," Conklin replied smoothly.

Jared stared back, his gut twisting with indecision. Given the efficiency with which this man had trapped them, he had no doubt that he could make Jared disappear. But he could probably do the same to the innocent man who had saved Jensen's life two months ago, and he shuddered to think of that happening.

Still, there wasn't much else he could do.

Finally he took in a deep breath and said, "There's a small fishing village on the coast of Croatia. A British doctor who retired there found Jensen after he was shot and fixed him up." Jared drew in another breath. "His name is Thorne. He can verify when Jensen was with him and what shape he was in."

Conklin was nodding. "Thank you." He started to move towards the door. "I'll be back later, once I've confirmed this."

"Hey!" Jared shook the chains at his wrists, feeling bolder than he had a few minutes ago. "Are these necessary?"

"Yes, they are." The older man's voice was deliberate and cool. He looked over his shoulder and said, "I'd rather apologize to you later than do something I shouldn't now."

Jared stared after him as he walked out, the man with the rifle close behind. There was the sound of an alarm being set on the closed door and then footfalls down a hard surface outside.

He wanted to lean forward and thunk his head on the table, but the cuffs wouldn't allow him that much movement. God, what did I do? Jared thought pleadingly, closing his eyes. Please let me not have made things any worse.

Chapter Text

By the time dusk was falling, Jensen had left the subway and started walking, heading towards the hills that edged the city, following a deep instinct to get away to higher ground. Blocks of apartment buildings abruptly gave way to steep, chaparral-covered slopes with a sweet, pungent fragrance that made him think of California.

He climbed a dirt path until he had nearly reached the top of the hill, his breath sounding harsh in his ears. There wasn't a soul up here, and he had a clear view down the path he'd taken. Barcelona was spread out below him from hills to harbor, only the spires of the cathedrals and the odd glass-and-steel tower breaking the even height of the buildings. As the sun dropped behind the hill at his back, he wondered how he was going to see to make his way back down.

Then he wondered bleakly if he even cared.

Jensen dropped to the hard ground, drawing his knees up and wrapping his arms around them. The sweat on his back from the hike up the mountainside was drying in the evening breeze, and he could feel goosebumps breaking out on his arms. He shivered and pulled his jacket closer around him.

Taking a deep breath, he let the quiet of his surroundings sink in before he started considering his options. The first and most obvious was to repeat this morning's stakeout but confront Conklin more directly before he could set anything into motion. Of course, Ravenswood would probably be on high alert, and he likely wouldn't be able to step onto Carrer de Sicilia without being grabbed—or worse.

That was the second option: walk right up to the door and turn himself in, so to speak. He'd bolted this afternoon to keep Jared from being used as a hostage against him, but he could always change his mind. Or he could contact Ravenswood himself through the regular mail or phone. Offering himself as a trade would get Jared free and clear, and, Jensen thought bitterly, maybe he'd get the answers about himself he'd been seeking for weeks. That was, if they accepted the trade and didn't simply hold them both.

The third option, the one Jensen was leaning towards, was to get far away from here and regroup. He was recovering more fragments of memory all the time, and maybe soon one would be the key to everything, or at least would help him start piecing together all of the bits that he knew about himself. He couldn't do that if he was always looking over his shoulder.

Of course, that was also the option that meant abandoning Jared, and he wasn't sure he could do that.

Jensen ran over various plans in his head until it was well and truly dark and he was shivering where he sat. He wasn't sure where to go; the Hotel Aranea was obviously off-limits, and he was sure the train stations and airport were being watched closely. It might actually make sense to hang around for a few days and then slip away. Where to, he had no idea. Maybe Venice, since that seemed to be where everything had gone to hell in the first place. Maybe being there would trigger what he needed to recover all he could about himself. Maybe then he could come back and free Jared.

Finally, Jensen stood and stretched his stiff, cold muscles and started the trek back downhill. There was enough light bleeding up from the streets below that he could see where he was going, and soon he was back in the city proper, hopping a local bus and heading across town towards the harbor, hoping to find cheap lodging as they had in Amsterdam.

Thinking of Amsterdam inevitably led to thoughts of the man who'd been there with him. Jensen tried to wrench his mind away from Jared, but he wasn't having much luck. For what now seemed like a fleeting moment, over the last forty-eight hours, he'd given in to the fantasy that he could count on someone being at his side in what had become a dangerously lonely world. It had apparently led him to make a disastrous mistake somewhere along the line, and it terrified him to think about the possible consequences for Jared, depending on what Ravenswood decided to do with him.

Searching for a distraction, Jensen's eyes landed on a discarded daily paper on the bus seat in front of him. He idly leafed through it, noting that world events hadn't changed any more in the past week.

And then once again, everything changed because of one newspaper article.

The story was about the embattled prime minister of Nigeria, who had fled his country after the coup in December to take up residence in London and beg the world for help with his cause. He was traveling to Washington, DC, in late February to plead his case to the U.S. President and Congress, perhaps arguing for military action to be taken against the general who was unlawfully ruling in his place, perhaps arguing for strong sanctions to be put in place, it wasn't clear.

Jensen skimmed through the arguments about how the Americans would be balancing the importance of keeping access to Nigeria's oil supplies with their desire to keep the democratic process going, focusing only on the details of the deposed prime minister's trip. He would be arriving in Washington on the 21st, and after talking to Congress, he would be meeting with immigrants and refugees from his country and holding a public rally for his cause.

Jensen stared out the bus window into the dark streets. That was a week from today.

He knew, and it wasn't from a buried memory or old training, just simple logic, that Raimundo Odilon would be in Washington as well. The Panther and the Jaguar had competed to take down Olaoluwa Kayode and start this war. It would be a perfect next step to remove his father the prime minister as well, when he was even farther away from home with less solid security.

It would be the perfect opportunity for Jensen to remove the Panther. If he could bring this man's head on a platter to Ravenswood, then surely they would believe he was on their side.

Surely they would let Jared go.

He started thinking furiously, trying to remember where in Barcelona to go to get forged documents that were good enough to get him on a plane to the U.S. Then he grimaced. Even if he could remember, which never seemed to happen when he wanted it to, those locations would surely be watched right now. He'd have to travel to another city, and it would take days to make the documents, precious time that he didn't have.

The bus was nearing the waterfront, and the lights off the ships berthed in the harbor caught his eye. Jensen straightened up. That was it. It wasn't as fast or as comfortable, but it would still get him there in time, and that was all he needed.

Half an hour later, Jensen was passing through the gate at Barcelona's container port, making his way to the Northwest Passage, a ship of Liberian registry that the night harbormaster told him could get him what he wanted. A few minutes of bartering with the ship's captain, a story spun about being deathly afraid of flying, and an offer of two thousand of his remaining fifty thousand euros, and he had a tiny spare berth booked on the container ship.

It would be a five-day trip, putting him in Baltimore two days before Kayode Sr. arrived in Washington. That wasn't much time to scope out the lay of the land, but he was willing to bet that Odilon wasn't going to make his move on the first day. Of course, he had no idea what the man looked like, but he knew how to spot an assassin, and all he had to do was hang out where the prime minister was going to be.

In the meantime, Jensen would have several days of solitude to sit and think about himself, about Jared, and about what he was going to do if this didn't work.

He grimaced and made his way back onto the waterfront streets, no possessions to his name other than the gun in his jacket pocket and the clothes on his back. The ship left in five hours, enough time to grab a few supplies, lay down at least a weak false trail, and make sure he'd gotten clear from any tails before boarding.

Enough time to march back up to Ravenswood and demand to see Jared, if he was so inclined.

Jensen shook his head to clear it. Thinking about Jared brought an almost physical ache in his chest right now, but he had to push it aside. He had work to do, work that would help him get Jared back safe and sound, and that was what he had to focus on: finding and killing the Panther. Nothing else mattered.

Nothing.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jared estimated that over an hour passed before the same guard came in, carrying the same rifle but now pointed at the ground. He was followed by the petite woman who had taken Jared from the Plaça de Catalunya. Jared shrank back in the chair, heart pounding. But she held up a key and came forward, unlocking the cuffs around his ankles and then his wrists.

"What's going on?" he asked, but he didn't get an answer. The two left him alone in short order, the woman gathering up the metal restraints and carrying them out with her.

Jared carefully stood up and stretched, wincing at the stiffness in his shoulders and legs. He paced back and forth behind the chair, getting in four short steps or three long ones before coming up against the wall. He cautiously tried the door but was unsurprised to find it locked. As he paced, his mind constantly turned to Jensen, hoping he'd gotten away, then worrying that he had run away when the person he most needed to talk to was somewhere in this very building.

He tried to push away the numbing fear that he was never going to see Jensen again.

It felt like another hour passed before Conklin returned. The guard stayed outside the room this time after helping to carry in a small portable DVD player, a stack of disks, and a greasy paper McDonald's bag. Jared stood in the far corner of the room, silently watching.

Conklin shrugged apologetically when he saw Jared eyeing the bag. "You should have something to eat, but fast food isn't exactly part of Spanish culture."

"How long have I been here?" Jared asked, not moving from his spot.

"You left the Plaça just after ten. It's about six now."

"I 'left the Plaça'," Jared sneered, taking a step forward. "You fucking kidnapped me!"

"Yes, we did."

The admission took him by surprise, and he narrowed his eyes. Conklin went on, "I'm working to confirm what you've told me so far, and it makes a great deal of sense given what I know. But we're at a stalemate here. I want to know what's happened to Jensen, and you probably want to know why, but neither of us thinks we can trust the other."

Jared stayed silent, crossing his arms over his chest.

The other man gestured at the DVD player. "So one of us has to go first, and I appear to be holding more of the cards. You'll find proof there that I know Jensen, that he has reason to trust me, and that you should, too."

"What kind of proof?" Jared asked.

"They're recordings of debriefings. The sound will have to remain muted due to the sensitive nature of the topics, but I think you'll get the gist of what's there."

Jared took a step forward, his hand closing over the back of the chair. "You could have fabricated them."

"Not in under two hours." Conklin shook his head and gestured to the pile. "Not that much footage."

There were about ten disks in the stack, each in an unlabeled jewel box. Jared reluctantly sat down and pulled one from the middle of the pile. Shooting a mistrustful look at Conklin, he slid it into the machine.

When it whirred to life, after a few seconds of static, he saw the image of a room like the one he was sitting in but with more comfortable chairs and a coffee maker on a side table. It looked a lot like what Jensen had described from his memories of Ravenswood.

The door opened, and three men walked in. As they sat around the table, he easily recognized Jensen, and he felt a pang in his chest. The shortest of the three men, with blond hair in a neat, military-style haircut, took a seat across from the other two, casting a quick glance over his shoulder to give a thumbs-up to the camera.

The tallest of the three, lowering himself into a chair next to Jensen, could have been Jared's twin.

He blinked at the screen. "Damn," he whispered. Jensen had said he looked like Sam, but this was ridiculous.

He watched for at least ten minutes, noticing the easy way that Jensen and the blond interacted as they talked. Sam didn't say much, but the glances he shot at Jensen were frequent, as if reassuring himself that the other man was there. Jensen rested a hand on Sam's forearm or shoulder from time to time, and Jared found himself jealous of the easy closeness they seemed to have.

Abruptly, he ejected the disk and selected another. It was a similar scene, but this time Jensen entered the room on crutches, Sam hovering behind him with a dark look on his face. Jared realized that Sam didn't have quite as many inches on Jensen as he himself did, but his shoulders stretched out even broader and his chest was practically rippling under the grey t-shirt he was wearing.

Jared watched as another conversation he couldn't hear unfolded, Sam participating more this time with angry gestures and frustrated expressions. Jensen eventually grabbed his hand and held it still on the table, and the look they exchanged was a conversation all on its own. Jared suddenly realized that the third person in the room this time was Conklin himself, watching the two younger men with an almost fatherly look on his face.

For the first time, Jared looked up.

Conklin was watching him, his face showing nothing but curiosity. "Does he remember?" he asked, nodding towards the image on the screen.

Jared looked at him for a moment, weighing what he'd seen on the recordings and deciding to take a first step of his own. "He has nightmares about Sam," he finally replied. "About how he died. But that's all." Aside from calling out his name at an inappropriate time, he thought, but there was no way in hell he was sharing that.

Conklin nodded sadly. "I'm not surprised. Tell you what," he said, leaning forward onto his elbows. "Why don't I tell you about the Jensen I know, and then you can tell me about the one that you know?"

On the screen, Sam was angrily gesticulating, and Jensen was putting a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. "Okay," Jared said, jabbing the button to make the DVD player stop, feeling his heart pounding in his chest at the prospect of finally getting answers. "Go ahead. Tell me a story."

"His name is Jensen," Conklin began. "Jensen Ross Ackles. And he works for me."

Jared leaned back slightly in his seat. "Doing what?"

"Ravenswood International Consulting provides services to the U.S. government on a contract basis. The kind of services that are officially denied but are absolutely essential to keeping the country and the world running smoothly."

Jared wasn't sure that made him feel any better about who and what Jensen really was. "How did he come to work for you?" he asked.

"We recruited Jensen out of college. He was a linguistics major, absolutely brilliant. Have you ever heard of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey?"

Jared nodded, the corner of his mouth turning up in spite of himself. "We thought he might have gone there, yeah."

"Yes, he did. He studied at Monterey for three years and became near-fluent in Hebrew, Yoruba, and some Arabic. Plus a few cognates to the Russian, French, German, and Spanish that he already knew."

Jared stared at the older man, Jensen's offhanded comment about being a linguistic superstar suddenly ringing in his head. "Those are all completely different from each other in grammar, alphabet, syntax…"

Conklin nodded. "You're right. Something about his brain makes it more open to languages than the average person. So the original idea was to use him as a translator since he had such a wide range." He tilted his head slightly to the side. "But then he met Sam."

"At the Language Institute?" Jared asked.

"Yes." Conklin ran a hand through his thinning hair. "He came a year after Jensen. He had a tremendous facility for the Latinate languages and knew a smattering of some Native American languages as well. Sam never talked much about his background, but he lost his mother at a young age, and then his father and brother died in a hunting accident when he was at college." He let out a sigh. "I had the feeling that that almost broke him. But it was also the motivation for him to come to Monterey, with the goal of working for one of the alphabet agencies. Then we realized he was scarily good at pretending to be someone other than himself, and we recruited him. He said once that it was a different way of fighting evil in the world. Different from what, I don't know."

"And he and Jensen were close?"

"Very close." Conklin lifted his eyebrows. "Though this isn't a military outfit, we never asked and they never told…but it was pretty obvious." He sat back in his chair and looked at Jared more closely. "You can see that he looked a lot like you, though he had the signs of a much harder life on him, scars on the outside and inside both. But he was good for Jensen, and I think the reverse was true as well. I never saw Sam smile except when he was with Jensen."

"What kind of work did they do together?" He was supposed to be hearing about Jensen, not his dead lover, but somehow he felt the one was key to the other.

Conklin gave him a apologetic smile. "I can't divulge the details, Dr. Padalecki. Suffice it to say they made a wonderful team. Jensen was the more bookish one, Sam was more action-oriented, but they complemented each other nicely enough that no one minded the closeness of their relationship."

"So what happened?" Jared asked, afraid to hear the tragedy that must be underlying the story.

Conklin pursed his lips and sighed. "They were sent to pick up a document, but the wrong people somehow knew they were coming. Later, we pieced together that Sam laid down cover fire so Jensen could get out. When Jensen went back…" Conklin shook his head and looked away.

"God, that must have been so hard on him," Jared said softly. A lot of things were making sense now: Jensen's recurring nightmare, his amnesia being centered on Sam, his almost desperate need to reassure himself that Jared was there. It was painful to think of what he must be going through right now, out there on his own.

"You have no idea." Conklin let out a gusty sigh. "Sometimes I think…You know the legend about selling your soul to the devil to bring someone back from the dead?" When Jared nodded, he went on, "Sometimes I think that Jensen would have done that if he could have."

Jared swallowed hard. "So what did he do instead?"

Conklin let out a snort. "I suppose you could say that he made that deal after all." At Jared's quizzical look, he went on, "He came to me and asked if I could teach him what he needed to know to catch the man behind Sam's death. Weapons training, how to carry out covert operations, the whole bit. He had only done…lighter kinds of work before, but he was willing to turn his life over to us in exchange for using what he learned to track down Sam's killers."

"He didn't have any family?" Jared asked, frowning.

"Not that he talked about." Conklin's mouth twisted ruefully. "I got the impression they didn't approve of how he conducted his personal life and hadn't been in touch with him for some time."

"Oh." Jared dropped his eyes. God, Jensen, I had no idea. Of course, Jensen had no idea, either, but that wasn't to say that this whole story wasn't buried in the back of his psyche, still influencing what he thought and did. He bit his lower lip. "So you agreed to this deal?"

"I didn't know what else to do." Conklin spread his hands apart. "I think he would have tried to do it on his own otherwise. At least this way I could keep an eye on him."

"While he did what exactly?" Jared asked, leaning forward in his seat.

Conklin regarded him for a long moment. He finally said, "This is highly confidential material, Dr. Padalecki. What I'm about to tell you is known to less than a dozen people in the entire world." His look became more pointed. "I wouldn't be telling you at all if I didn't think you were the only one who can find Jensen right now. And I'm not here talking to you for the hell of it. I need you to help me find him."

"Go on," Jared said flatly, his gaze unwavering even as his heart pounded faster.

"Jensen was somewhat…known within the intelligence community. Not by face, but by name. We thought it would be easier if he became someone else. And for what we had planned, we would take all the help we could get." Conklin cleared his throat and went on, "I mentioned that Sam rarely talked about his family, but when he did, it was obvious he had worshipped his older brother. So when Jensen needed a name for the man whose sole purpose was to avenge Sam, it only made sense to take on the name of that long-lost brother. When that name became known, it would honor the person who had meant more to Sam than anyone else."

"Dean Winchester," Jared said, another piece falling into place. He hadn't known Sam's last name, but somehow there wasn't anything else that it could be.

Conklin gave a nod.

Jared shook his head. "I don't understand. How is becoming a hired assassin honoring either Dean's or Sam's memory?"

"It's all a matter of the end game. Bringing down the final prey." Conklin's eyes narrowed. "Raimundo Odilon. The Panther."

"The Panther and the Jaguar," Jared said softly, remembering the words Jensen had recited.

Conklin looked at him curiously but went on, "He came up through the favelas of São Paulo, or maybe it was Rio, we don't exactly know, from drug running to gun dealing to assassination. Ties to various terrorist groups, including the one responsible for Sam's death, but nothing substantial. He works independently and no one knows what he looks like, but he has a network of contacts and affiliates who help him get what he wants."

"And right now, he wants Jensen," Jared said accusingly.

"No, he wants Dean." Conklin ran his hand through his hair again. "Dean Winchester was created as a role for Jensen to play: a faster, stronger, better predator who would draw Odilon out of hiding and enable his capture." He leaned forward, elbows on the table. "The Jaguar is more than one man, but he has only one face. And that is the face Jensen has worn since Dean Winchester was created."

Jared sat back and turned that over in his mind. "So your people killed in Dean's name, and he was the one who took the credit?" The wheels were turning in Jared's head, pieces falling into place one after another, and goddamn did he want Jensen here with him to be hearing the whole story about who he was and what had happened to him.

"Exactly."

"How many people?" Jared shot back. "How many people have died in the name of this little role-play of yours?"

"Don't misunderstand me, Doctor." Conklin's voice lowered. "These are not innocents we're talking about. These are people who are undeniably guilty, but who are impossible to capture; once captured, impossible to bring to trial; and once on trial, impossible to convict. They've been tried and sentenced in absentia for terrorism, war crimes, mass murder, what have you. No one mourns their loss."

"Then what do they have to do with this Panther guy?"

"Because of the power vacuums they leave behind. Because their deaths are not only a matter of justice, but a matter of convenience for other parties. In many cases, Odilon would have been paid substantial sums of money by their competition, but the Jaguar—Dean—got there first."

"So was this plan working?"

"Until Venice, yes." Conklin sighed. "At least, it was pissing off the Panther. Obviously, we hadn't caught him yet, but it was only a matter of time."

"How long has Jensen been doing this?" Jared asked, dreading the answer. "Pretending to be Dean Winchester?"

Conklin cleared his throat. "Three years. Three years next month."

Jared inhaled sharply. "My God," he breathed, his heart breaking for Jensen. All that time, pretending to be someone else, always with the shadow of his lover's death not only hanging over him but embedded in his assumed identity.

No wonder he was having such a hard time figuring out who he was.

"It took a while to build up 'Dean's' reputation, but even with that, it is taking longer than we expected," Conklin admitted. "And it's…hard on him to keep up the role, but he's never complained, never asked for a break."

"You have no idea," Jared said, shaking his head, cold fury suddenly forming inside of him, remembering Jensen's confusion and dread at thinking he was an internationally-wanted killer and knowing now that it was all pretend. "You have no idea what you've done to him."

"He asked for it." Conklin stabbed a finger into the air. "I tried to talk him out of it, but he wanted to do it."

"And now he thinks he is Dean Winchester!" Jared shouted, leaning forward and planting his hands on the table. "He thinks he's your fucking Jaguar!"

Conklin stared at him for a moment before putting his hand to his forehead. "Oh, my God," he said, and the broken quality of his voice was enough for Jared to believe that he really was on Jensen's side. "That's—that's who he remembers being?"

Jared shook his head. "He doesn't remember who he is, not for sure. But the people we've run into—that's what they call him. That's what they know him as. I've tried to talk him out of it, but I know it's on his mind, and I know it scares him to death."

The older man lowered his hand. "Why would you try to talk him out of it?" he asked, his eyebrows drawing down. "He took you at gunpoint from your hotel in Berlin."

Jared supposed he shouldn't be surprised that this guy knew how he and Jensen had met, but it was still a jolt to be reminded of it. He lifted his hand to rub at his temple. "Because it's not who he is," he said tiredly. "Because he saved my life, and he—" Jared stopped, pressing his lips together. Because he means everything to me, he thought, then closed his eyes, wishing he hadn't admitted it to himself.

It only made the ache in his chest deeper.

There was a knock at the door, and Conklin rose to answer it. It was a young woman about Jared's age in stylish jeans and a bright red blouse, long brown hair neatly tied back and a black iPhone in one hand. She started speaking rapidly to Conklin, pointing to something on the small screen she was holding. Jared reached for the now-cold McDonald's bag, figuring even nasty congealed fast food was better than nothing.

"Veritat?" Conklin was asking. When the woman nodded, he turned to Jared and motioned for her to enter the room, saying, "It's all right, Isabel, tell him."

Jared swallowed his bite of cold hamburger and nodded at Isabel. She smiled back and said in a light accent, "There was an airline ticket purchased an hour ago in the name of Jensen Ross. It is for tomorrow, from Barcelona to New York."

Jared frowned and looked up at Conklin. "He wouldn't do that," he said slowly. His gut was sinking at the thought that Jensen would run away from him like this. Then again, Jensen's first impulse after any sort of trouble had been to flee, and it only made sense that he would do so now.

Still, it hurt Jared to think that he was being left behind.

Conklin lifted an eyebrow. "I should hope he remembers enough about how to do his job not to be so obvious," he dryly replied.

The corner of Jared's mouth turned up. "Oh, he remembers how to do his job pretty damn well. He just doesn't know what that job is."

Isabel didn't react to his statement, and Jared figured Conklin had already informed her of Jensen's amnesia. She said instead, "Dr. Padalecki, I hoped you could tell me other names he might be using, ones that are not meant to be false."

He thought for a moment, trying to recall the other passports he'd run through trying to get Jensen to remember his name. "Try Robert Hanssen or Jack Harrison."

They waited for a moment while she tapped the information into the electronic device. Then she shook her head. "Any others?"

Jared sighed. "James Page or John Bonham?"

Conklin's eyebrows shot up, but he didn't say anything. Isabel said after a moment, "I have a James Page from Madrid to San Francisco and a John Bonham from Barcelona to Venice."

Jared shook his head. "He knows those are questionable names to use. I don't think those are any more legit."

Conklin asked suddenly, "Are you sure Robert Hanssen is right?"

"No," Jared replied, remembering more clearly. "No, it's Robert Janssen. Swedish passport."

Soon the brunette was nodding again. "Barcelona to Washington, DC, tomorrow morning on Iberia."

Jared looked up at Conklin. "I think that's him."

"But he won't be on that flight." Conklin shook his head. "That's where he's going, but he won't go through the tight security of an airport. He's signaling his destination, probably to you, but he'll find another way to get there."

"Then we have to go to Washington." Jared stood up.

"Perhaps." Conklin said something quietly to Isabel, and she left with a nod for Jared. Once she was gone, he said, "I will be going to Washington, yes, but there are some matters we need to take care of for you first before you leave this side of the Atlantic."

Jared shook his head firmly. "If you're looking for Jensen, you need me. I'm the only one who knows what's going on in his head right now." He reached down and wrapped his fingers over the back of the chair, swallowing hard. "More than that, I'm the only person he can trust. If he sees you, after what you did to us in the Plaça, he'll either run the other way or pull out a gun. If you really want to bring him in safely, you need me."

The older man regarded him for a long moment, the hint of a smile playing around his lips. "You still have some things to tell me, Dr. Padalecki. And I get the feeling that it's quite a story."

Jared lifted his chin. "It's what, eight hours to Washington?"

The man's blue eyes brightened as his smile became full-fledged. "I can see why Jensen likes you," he said. "Assuming the feeling is mutual?"

He could feel his cheeks flushing, but he ignored it. "I just want him to be okay."

"So do I," Conklin replied, his expression growing serious. "So let's see what we can do about that, all right?"

Jared nodded. "All right," he echoed. They could straighten out his status with the Berlin police once he told Conklin his story, once he found Jensen and explained to him who he really was and that Jared had been right all along. But first Jared had to find him and make sure he was safe. Nothing else mattered.

Nothing.

Chapter Text

Jared looked down through the airplane window at the hills of northern Spain, thirty thousand feet below. They reminded him of the mountains around Los Angeles: the same impossibly steep sides, the same sage-and-sand colors. He hadn't really noticed the scenery on the way into Barcelona, too focused on his traveling companion. Now, he had all the time in the world to contemplate it.

It was a lot better than thinking about where Jensen might be.

Draining his coffee cup, he stood up and looked around for a sign of the man who'd brought him here. They were in a 757 owned by Ravenswood, ridiculously large for the five people it was carrying beyond its crew, but a necessary size to cross the Atlantic without refueling. Besides Alexander Conklin and Jared, there was Isabel, who appeared to be Conklin's personal assistant, and two men who looked like they could be defensive linesmen for pretty much any football team out there. They were both asleep in a room towards the back (and how weird was it to be on a plane with actual rooms?), having escorted Jared to the Hotel Aranea in the wee hours of the morning to pick up his and Jensen's remaining belongings on the way to the airport.

It had been beyond difficult to walk into that room and see the bed still unmade from the night before, the empty pillowcase folded like it had been over Jared's eyes as he put himself completely in Jensen's hands. He'd grabbed his computer and duffel bag quickly and hustled out of the room, resisting the urge to bend down and sniff the sheets to see if they still smelled of Jensen. He knew Jensen wouldn't be returning to their room, was probably already hundreds of miles away, but it still hurt to think of him coming back to find the place empty.

It felt like giving up on him.

"Dr. Padalecki."

Jared looked up to see Conklin coming from the front of the plane, gesturing to a low table about halfway between them with leather couches on either side. The coffeemaker was closer to the table than to the seat he'd been occupying while staring out the window, so he came forward and refilled his cup. "How long will it take to get there?" Jared asked while he stirred in a generous dose of sugar.

"Six more hours, give or take." Conklin sat down and gestured to the couch across from him. He wore the same suit as yesterday with a different shirt; even more wrinkles had collected in the meantime, and he looked like he hadn't slept even the few hours Jared had been allowed on a cot in another windowless room at Ravenswood's facility. "In the meantime, I have a lot of questions for you, Doctor."

"Call me Jared," he said somewhat reluctantly as he sat down, "since I'm out of the interrogation room and all."

Conklin's mouth twitched. "All right. You can call me Alex if you'd like."

Jared acknowledged this with a nod. "Can I ask you something?" he said before he could change his mind. It had been buzzing around in the back of his head, one of the first things this man had said to him, and it stood out harshly against everything he had learned about Jensen since. He was half dreading the response, but it was something he had to know.

"You can ask, but I can't guarantee that I can answer."

Setting his coffee down on the table, Jared leaned his forearms on his thighs, hands loosely clasped between his knees. "You said yesterday that Olaoluwa Kayode was one of the people the Jaguar was supposed to kill. That—that Dean was hired to do that." It was weird to be using that name, but it made it easier to think of it as someone other than the Jensen he knew.

The other man's blue eyes bored into his. "This is highly sensitive information you are asking about, Jared."

Jared pressed his lips together, fighting down his nerves. "You might not have me in chains anymore, but I don't doubt you can prevent me from walking off this plane and doing whatever I want once we land."

"Touché." The salt-and-pepper head tilted slightly to the side. "Very well. The world does not know this, but Olaoluwa Kayode was planning to overthrow his father the prime minister himself."

Jared stared. "How do you know that?"

"Now that I cannot tell you." Alex drew in a deep breath. "The Jaguar was supposed to eliminate him and search his possessions for proof that he was collaborating with the general who did lead the coup, proof that could be taken to the prime minister and used to avert the situation." He gave a small shrug. "As far as we knew, only the first half of that happened."

Jared looked down at the glass tabletop, his still-sleepy mind struggling to work through what Conklin had said. He compared it to everything he and Jensen had heard and seen and speculated about and found it a surprisingly good fit. "That's what Matthea told him," he mused out loud. "And that's why Chernak drew a gun on him." He looked up at Conklin. "He said he thought Dean had turned."

"As I said, some of us were afraid he had taken a better offer." Conklin pushed up his glasses with one hand and rubbed his eyes. "I didn't want to believe it. I wish that I hadn't."

"Wait, so you thought that he killed this guy and started the civil war?" Jared said incredulously, a chill running down his spine when he recalled that Jensen had come to the same conclusion on his own.

"He disappeared right after Kayode died," Alex replied, holding his hands out, palms up. "How were we supposed to know?"

"You were supposed to know him," Jared shot back. "You were supposed to trust him."

Conklin was looking at him carefully, consideringly. Finally, he nodded his head. "It would be easy for me to say that you don't know the whole story, but then the same is true for me as well." He raised his eyebrows and gave Jared a pointed look.

"Yeah, I guess so." Jared stared down at the tabletop for a moment, knowing it was his turn to speak, wondering where to start. Finally he took a gulp of coffee and said with a weak smile, "It'll probably be easier if I start at the beginning."

At the older man's nod, he went ahead. He told it from Jensen's perspective, from coming to and recuperating in a Croatian fishing village to making his way to Zurich to fleeing to Berlin. He skimmed through the part about Jensen kidnapping him and focused on what had happened in Chernak's apartment, relying on what Jensen had told him later about what the German had said.

It was harder than he would have expected to detail what had happened to them both in the streets of Kreuzberg and how narrowly they had escaped death at the hands of who they later presumed to be the Panther's men. Once again, he left out a lot of details in explaining how the two of them had come to travel together, highlighting the threat to his sister and the public announcement of himself as a murder suspect. From Conklin's narrowed eyes, the older man obviously knew he was leaving some things out, but he let it slide.

From Amsterdam, Jared explained what Matthea had said to them and how they had interpreted it, and then how his own stupidity at using his laptop had led to Jensen nearly losing his life and their subsequent flight from the city. He definitely skipped over some parts of the train trip and their lone day in Barcelona, explaining instead how Jensen had remembered what and where Ravenswood was and what they were planning to do. Then he lifted one shoulder in a shrug and gave a You know the rest look across the table, finally falling silent.

Alex listened intently, his facial expressions changing between astonishment, sudden comprehension, and concern. When Jared was done, he put a hand to his forehead and leaned back in his seat. "So many things make so much more sense now," he said quietly.

"No kidding," Jared replied with a wry twist of his lips.

The older man gave him a faint smile and pressed a button on the phone on the side table next to him. A moment later, Isabel entered, and he spoke rapidly to her in what Jared was pretty sure was Spanish but was coming too fast for him to understand clearly. He thought he heard the word hermana in there, though, and he straightened in his seat.

When Conklin dismissed Isabel, he looked at Jared and said, "We will check on your sister. I think Jensen is right; I'm sure that she's fine."

He swallowed hard. "Would it—could I talk to her? Send her a message or something? It's been weeks since I was able to let her know I was okay."

"We'll see." Alex looked at him with raised eyebrows. "But I would think carefully about it if I were you."

A chill ran down Jared's spine. "What do you mean?" he asked sharply.

Conklin shook his head. "It's not a threat, Jared. It's a reminder that the Panther knows who you are, too, and that you have a connection to Jensen. It's not safe for you to be out wandering the streets, and it might not be safe for your loved ones, either."

Jared slumped back against the leather sofa, feeling slightly sick. "What the hell am I supposed to do?" he muttered.

"Help us find Jensen," Alex said, leaning forward. "Tell him what I've told you, about who he really is and what he's meant to do. Once we get rid of the Panther, you'll both be safe."

"Why is this so urgent? Why now?"

Conklin looked back at him, taking off his glasses and folding them in his hands. "I told you last night that we are nearing the three-year anniversary of the appearance of Dean Winchester. There are…rumors from various sources that the Panther is determined to eliminate his adversary before that date."

Jared froze, seeing for a moment a rope wound tightly around Jensen's neck and his ever-weaker, dying struggles against it. "He's already tried," he said grimly. "A couple of times."

"It sounds like it." Alex hesitated for a moment and then went on, "He's been close for a while. Our sources in Croatia responded early this morning. There was a British doctor named Colin Thorne living on the Istrian peninsula in December."

"There was?" Jared asked sharply.

Conklin gave a nod, his expression grim. "He was murdered in late January."

Jared closed his eyes. "Holy shit." He thought for a moment, and then his eyes flew back open. "That's how they found Jensen in Zurich, isn't it? Because the doctor knew where he was going, and they—" He swallowed hard. "They made him tell them, didn't they?"

Another heavy nod. "He was tortured before he died, yes."

Jared's stomach roiled. Before, he never would have used "lucky" to describe himself being tailed in Amsterdam, but now he realized it beat the alternative. For all of the bravado he'd put up last night when Conklin first asked him where Jensen was, he didn't have any illusions about his ability to survive harsher questioning.

Then something else occurred to him, and he narrowed his eyes. "You knew that already, before I started telling you what happened. You knew this guy was dead and you didn't tell me."

"I wanted to know what you knew, untainted by this information."

"Bullshit." Jared leaned forward. "You still don't believe me, do you? You don't trust that I'm telling you the truth about Jensen."

Conklin steepled his hands together and regarded Jared over his fingertips. "What you have told me fits with all of the information I have, it is true. And it is a much nicer story to believe than what some of us had been assuming." He held up a hand as Jared started to protest and then went on, "But according to you, there was only one person who could confirm it is true. And that source is dead."

Jared looked back at him for a moment, anger and fear warring within him. Jensen had said this man could be trusted, had been so sure of it. And now Jared had laid everything out for him, and he was being treated like he'd made it all up.

"You know the same is true for me, don't you?" Jared blurted out his sudden realization. "I have no reason to believe that what you've told me about who you are and what's going on here is any more accurate."

The sudden thought chilled him. He was trapped on a plane over the Atlantic with no way to confirm that these people were who they said they were, or that they were taking him to Washington as they claimed. For all he knew, they were using him as bait to trap Jensen, to take advantage of his trust and tighten a noose that he'd slipped out of back in the Plaça de Catalunya.

Something of what Jared was thinking must have been on his face, for Conklin lowered his hands placatingly. "You're right, of course. You must understand, Jared, this is not a business in which trust comes easily. Being able to read people quickly is important, yes, but being able to trust them may never come, even after many years."

"But you trust Jensen," Jared said quickly. "You said you didn't want to believe that he had turned traitor."

Alex nodded, and then a slow smile spread across his face. "You're not so bad at reading people yourself." He waited as Jared ducked his head in acknowledgment and then went on more quietly, "Yes, I trust him, and so I trust you. Jensen has been a good judge of character as long as I've known him, and I'd like to think that he retained that even if he's lost his memory."

There was quiet for a moment as Jared took that in. He thought of the recordings he had watched and the looks that the man sitting across from him had given to Jensen in those recordings, and he knew that he was telling the truth. And if Conklin was being honest about this, he was probably being honest about everything else as well.

At least for now, Jared would take him at his word.

He took in a deep breath and quietly voiced the fear lurking in the back of his mind. "What if he's not in Washington?"

"He will be," Alex replied confidently.

"How do you know?" To Jared, the trail of airline tickets Jensen had supposedly left was tenuous at best. More likely, they were all fake and he was headed somewhere else. "Was he spotted somewhere?"

"No, but as long as he reads the news, he has reason to go to Washington." At Jared's soft snort, Conklin raised an eyebrow, but then went on, "The deposed prime minister of Nigeria is traveling there."

Jared sat up straighter. "When?"

"Within the week. That makes it a very likely place for the Panther to be to follow up on his earlier removal of the younger Kayode, and a very good destination for anyone who's trying to trap him."

"Jensen doesn't know that Dean is supposed to be trapping the Panther." It was weird to talk about him as if he was two separate people, but given the circumstances, it made sense.

"No?" Alex looked at him pointedly. "You said that he talked about the Panther and the Jaguar as if they were connected. You figured out that the Panther is the one who shot him in Venice. Even if it's subconscious, I think Jensen knows that this is what he is supposed to do."

"That he's supposed to kill someone," Jared said flatly.

Conklin's mouth twisted. "If he remembers Sam, he should remember that Odilon was responsible for his death. I don't think he'll have any problem pulling the trigger when the time comes."

Jared lowered his head, feeling an ache inside at the thought of Jensen spending the last three years of his life pretending to be a hired killer for the sole purpose of seeking revenge. If something that powerful was driving him, it was foolish to think that the few weeks they'd spent together would have changed him, especially as more and more of his memories crept back. Maybe all Jared could do was help Jensen get that revenge he needed, and in the process, keep himself and his sister safe from the surprisingly long reach of the Panther.

Maybe that would have to be enough.

"I have some more calls to make. You should try and get some sleep if you can." Conklin leaned over to pull the curtains across the windows. That was another weird thing about this plane: actual curtains instead of the tiny individual window shades. "Someone will wake you before we land."

Jared nodded, sleepy despite the coffee, and stretched out on the sofa, fumbling for a seatbelt until he realized there wasn't one. The sofa was almost long enough. Actually, he didn't mind having his feet hanging off the end; it happened often enough when he wasn't in his own California king bed that it was familiar, even comforting in an odd sort of way. He closed his eyes and despite the occasional jolt from the mid-Atlantic airflow, he was soon asleep.

When he dreamed, he was sitting in the train compartment, looking out the window at the platform of the Paris station. Jensen was standing there, gun in his hand, watching as the train pulled away. Behind him, a black panther was crouching low to the ground, stalking towards him and growling. Jared tried to shout out to warn him, but the train rounded a bend.

And then Jensen was gone.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

While taking five days to cross the Atlantic by ship might have been unbelievably fast a century ago, it dragged interminably for Jensen.

Traveling as a passenger on a container ship wasn't unheard of; there were even books you could buy about how to do it. Given that it was the middle of February, however, Jensen wasn't surprised to be the only paying guest aboard the Northwest Passage. Given the roughness of the ship and its crew, he would be surprised if they ever had paying guests.

He was left entirely alone by said crew after an incident the first night, when one of the sailors thought he was asleep and therefore not paying attention to his possessions. The short, well-muscled blond who thought he was stealthily creeping into Jensen's cabin was suddenly surprised to find the barrel of a Glock in his face and the man he'd thought was unconscious staring at him with cold green eyes. He'd stammered out an apology and backed away, and Jensen had let him go without reporting him to the captain, satisfied that his point had been made.

Jensen couldn't help but wonder what kind of moron tried to steal something the first night of a transoceanic voyage, when there was nowhere to run and plenty of opportunity to hunt down any missing items. At least it meant the crew now knew to leave him alone, word apparently having spread that he was a crazy son of a bitch, or more to the point, that he was armed. He ate his meals in the tiny mess hall after the crew was done, using body language to strongly discourage conversation from anyone he encountered at other times.

He stayed above deck when the sun was out, soaking in the warmth and the quiet of the ocean, trying to take advantage of this brief sanctuary to sort out his thoughts and press for more memories from his battered brain. At night, he huddled under the rough blankets and tried not to think of the furnace of Jared's body curled around his. He couldn't believe that it had only been for two nights, given how much he ached for the warm presence next to him as he slept.

But mostly, Jensen thought about who he was and what he might be and what he was going to do in Washington. He could hear Jared's voice in the back of his mind, warning him away from calling himself a killer, but he didn't see that he had much of a choice. People kept thinking he was Dean Winchester, the Jaguar. The man he was hunting thought so, too.

Which meant that was who he had to be.

By the third day, he finally figured out that it didn't matter if the Jaguar was who he really was, or if it was an alias or an undercover identity as Jared had suggested on the train, or some third option they hadn't considered. It was something expected of him, something that people who knew him from before thought he was. And it was someone he needed to be in order to take care of the Panther.

So with every mile he traveled across the Atlantic, he pushed aside more and more of Jensen Ross and embraced more of Dean Winchester. He overrode memories of Jared's exuberant laughter with reminders of how to load, aim, and fire a dozen different kinds of firearms. He buried the sensations of touching and tasting sun-bronzed skin and mentally ran though methods of eluding surveillance from the police and others. He tried to forget the comfort of a heartbeat beneath his ear as he slumbered and practiced being able to both fall asleep and wake up at a moment's notice.

It didn't escape his notice that everything about being Jensen apparently had something to do with Jared, but he pushed that aside, too.

Late in the afternoon on the fifth day, they steamed up Delaware Bay and into the canal cutting across the Delmarva Peninsula, only miles away from their destination. Being a relatively small ship, they could pass through the canal rather than taking the longer route through the Chesapeake Bay. Jensen watched as they passed underneath highway bridges laden with homeward-bound commuters, wondering when the last time was that he'd been in the U.S. Pretty much all of the memories he'd been able to dig up had been based in Europe, despite the global collection of passports and stamps he carried.

The captain had idly suggested during the one time he'd spoken to him during the voyage that if Jensen slipped away before they completely made port, there wouldn't be any need to deal with the hassle of immigration or customs officials. Jensen wondered if it was the last minute cash payment he'd made to board or the gun he carried that suggested he wasn't eager to pass through official channels, but he didn't protest when the ship slowed down close enough to an empty berth that he could leap off the top and onto the wooden structure.

Once the Northwest Passage had sailed on, Jensen snorted a laugh when he recognized the star shape of Fort McHenry immediately across the harbor. Oh, say can you see, he thought as he hitched his small bag onto his shoulder and strode off the dock.

It took a moment to get the hang of walking on land that stayed solid under his feet, but not as bad as he'd feared. He stayed to the streets near the docks until he was sure that he wasn't lurching around like a recently-arrived (or drunken) sailor, then slipped off into the adjacent neighborhood. It was more gentrified than he would have expected, old warehouses having become loft apartments and art galleries for yuppies who wanted an edgy, urban feel. Not a place for someone like him, that was for sure.

Jensen found a local bank and cashed in some of his euros for dollars, not wanting to attract any notice by handling large sums of money. A few hundred dollars at a time was key, using smaller banks that wouldn't have their surveillance cameras wired into a national network like the large conglomerates did. His skin was prickling with every dark dome he saw in the ceiling, but he knew better than to look around nervously in a bank. Still, it was a relief to exit into the cold winter air.

He bought a newspaper at a chain drugstore and searched through it for one particular piece of information. Finally he found it, buried underneath a feel-good story about a cat rescued from a tree in Gaithersburg. The Nigerian prime minister was arriving in New York on Wednesday—today—staying for a day, and then going to Washington on Thursday. He'd be meeting with the President and then with Congress on Friday, and a rally was being planned on Saturday near the embassy to protest the coup.

Taking a deep breath, he folded the paper back up. He had three days to prepare.

Twenty minutes later, Jensen was seated at the counter of an old-fashioned diner on the edge of downtown, a neighborhood balanced between being too seedy to survive and too well-to-do to keep a place like this in business. There was a booth of cops towards the back whom he didn't see till he was seated, but by then it was too late. He gave a friendly nod and a smile when one of them looked up, and they paid him no attention the rest of the night.

He'd made some tentative plans on the ship, but now that he had a schedule in hand, he could narrow things down. Odilon would wait until security was at its lowest point, which left out the trips to the U.N. and Congress. A public rally offered many more opportunities to blend in with the crowd or to cause a distraction when the time came to strike. That meant Saturday was the day.

In the meantime, Jensen needed to scope out the embassy and the likely location of the rally. He also needed to find out where Ravenswood's headquarters were located, so that once he put down the Panther, he knew where to go to demand they release Jared.

For now, he needed a place in Baltimore to hole up while he made his preparations, including getting a hold of a backup gun. There was no way he was setting foot in Washington a minute before he had to. There were probably more surveillance cameras per square foot there than almost anywhere else in the world, and he had no way of knowing who was at the other end of them. Public transit was out for that same reason, so he'd have to lift a car somewhere and use it to get into town.

Jensen glanced up at the cops as if they could hear him planning to steal a car, but they were engrossed in their conversation. He paid his bill and slipped off the stool, shoulders itching as he turned his back and walked out of the diner.

Three more days, and this could all be over.

Chapter Text

Three days later, Jared was standing on Connecticut Avenue in his black wool coat, freezing his ass off, in front of some of the ugliest architecture he'd ever seen. The University of the District of Columbia had obviously been built in the 1960s, given the chunky neo-brutalist concrete structures in front of him. The open, wind-swept plaza in front of the campus held several hundred people who were waving Nigerian flags and chanting loudly enough to be heard several blocks away. Since the Nigerian embassy was only a block away on the other side of the campus, tucked up in a cul-de-sac with no room for a visible public rally to be held, it was the perfect location.

Besides, it was right next to a Metro stop, the importance of which Jared had learned after only a week in DC.

He'd been going nuts ever since arriving in the country a week ago and being swept through a private security entrance at Dulles Airport that had him wondering how ridiculously well-connected Ravenswood was. He'd somehow managed to hold on to his passport in all of the events of the past month, but no one had even looked at it. There were no customs or immigration forms to fill out, nothing that he'd been expecting upon re-entering from a foreign visit. Conklin had simply motioned him along to a waiting limousine that whisked them into the District.

Ravenswood International Consulting occupied a large brick Georgian house, surrounded by a tidy green lawn and secure behind a black iron fence and gate with discreet cameras tucked away on all sides. The street was lined with a dozen other quietly impressive buildings, and most of the traffic consisted of sleek black cars and SUVs with diplomatic plates. On a walk around the block to stretch his legs, a friendly but armed companion walking several steps behind, Jared had noticed the embassies of Serbia, Sri Lanka, and Syria, which made him idly wonder if the embassies were sorted alphabetically within the city.

He wasn't given much opportunity to stretch his legs, however. He was put up in a small room in the Ravenswood building, which seemed to be a combination of office building, hotel, and quasi-military installation. Most of his week was spent telling Alex Conklin every detail he could remember about what Jensen remembered and everything they'd learned along the way.

Conklin hadn't been kidding when he said very few people knew about Jensen's double identity. It turned out that both the trigger-happy Chernak and scared-but-friendly Matthea only knew him as Dean Winchester, a man who took his assignments from Ravenswood. Hardly any of the employees in Washington knew him as anything else, which meant Jared spent most of his time talking to Alex directly lest he slip up and start talking about Jensen instead of Dean.

Conklin insisted that if the Panther was coming here to eliminate the deposed prime minister, he wouldn't do it until Friday's rally. Jared agreed, then argued that Jensen wouldn't arrive until then, either, knowing how twitchy he was about surveillance cameras and how much mileage he could get out of Google Maps. Conklin agreed, but he still set up one of their technicians scanning through the security cameras of the grocery store across the street, tying it to facial recognition software.

Jared's eyes had bugged out when he saw the camera coverage they had over the city. Alex explained that they had to make a special request for any government-owned footage, but as a private company, they could simply purchase the rights from any private organization that was willing to share their data. Given the number of stores and institutions with their own security cameras in place, they had visual access to pretty much every commercial street in the District, some of it even live.

Which was why now, standing outside the university, blowing into his cupped hands to keep them warm, Jared knew that someone back at Ravenswood HQ was watching him on about a ten-minute delay from the grocery store cameras across the street. It should have provided him with a sense of security, but instead it kind of creeped him out.

Or maybe he was still edgy at playing the part of a worm on a hook.

He knew that he had to be out here watching; Jensen was too good to be pinned down by anyone from Ravenswood, and Jared was the only person he was going to trust enough to talk to. There wasn't even anyone else from Ravenswood out here, on the off chance that Jensen would recognize them. Of course, if Jared couldn't find him, that was all a moot point. He'd been out here for an hour already with no luck, and Kayode was about to speak at any moment, which meant the rally was going to be winding down soon.

What was really making his shoulder blades tingle was the thought that Jensen wasn't the only person out here who knew him by sight. Somewhere in this crowd or on the surrounding streets, the world's most dangerous hit man was lurking. And since he'd had men tailing Jared back in Amsterdam, he had to know what Jared looked like, while neither Jared nor anyone watching his back through the cameras could return the favor. The Panther could be absolutely anyone in the hundreds of people around him.

"Anything?" came Conklin's voice through his ear.

Jared started to reach up to the Bluetooth earpiece on his right side before reminding himself that he could simply speak into the air. "No," he said. "How about you?"

"There's a possible from the Starbucks camera down the street."

Jared looked up, searching for the familiar green logo. "Where?" he asked anxiously once he'd found it, scanning the pedestrians in that direction for someone Jensen's height. Fortunately, he was on the edge of the crowd closest to the sidewalk, so he didn't have to look very far.

"It was a couple of hours ago. Washington Redskins cap, black-framed glasses that messed with the facial recog, but the jaw line and mouth were a good fit."

Jared bit back a thought about how remarkable Jensen's mouth was and said instead, "I'll keep looking."

"Good."

He was already head and shoulders taller than most of the crowd, but he stood on his toes anyway, straining for the familiar features that he wanted to see more than anything else in the world right now. The woman next to him looked up, actually craning her neck as he took a little hop to see even farther.

"Sorry," Jared said sheepishly when he came back down. "I'm looking for someone."

She muttered something and turned away, towards the podium at the far end of the plaza where someone was introducing someone who would be introducing Prime Minister Kayode.

Suddenly a hand clamped down on his arm, and Jared gave a start. Whirling around, he saw a short man in his early forties in the pale blue uniform of a private security guard, navy blue cap pulled down over his dark hair. "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to come with me," he said firmly.

"What?" Jared stared back at him. "Why?"

For answer, the man reached up and yanked the headset out of Jared's ear.

"Ow!" Jared exclaimed, reaching up to rub his ear. "What was that for?"

"It interferes with our communication channels." The guard tapped the earpiece lodged in his left ear and slipped Jared's Bluetooth into his pocket. "You're not supposed to have one of those here."

"I didn't know," Jared said, taking a step back, confused. Surely Ravenswood wouldn't have given him one of the devices to use if that was the case.

"That's too bad, but I'm afraid you're going to have to come with me," the man repeated more insistently. He was at least six inches shorter than Jared, but he was carrying himself with his chest thrust out as if he was the most important man in Washington.

Jared shook his head, feeling more and more aggravated. "You've taken a valuable piece of my property," he retorted, stepping back again, farther away from the crowd. "Give it back and I'll leave."

"I can't do that." The guard moved closer, his hand moving towards the weapon strapped to his thigh, the bright yellow stripes on the side identifying it as a taser rather than a handgun.

"Whoa." Jared held his hands up, hoping the motion was being detected on the cameras across the street. This guy was seriously overstepping his authority. "All right, you can have it. I'll just go." In the back of his mind, he heard Jensen warning him repeatedly about not drawing attention to himself, and he grimaced. If the Panther was anywhere in the vicinity, he couldn't miss this little scene.

The man's dark brown eyes were evaluating Jared, a calculating expression on his face that seemed out of place on a rent-a-cop. "You still need to come with me." The man leaned forward and dropped his voice, his hand closing around the butt of his weapon. "I insist, Dr. Padalecki."

Jared's heart shot up into his throat. Oh, God. Apparently it was too late to worry about attracting the wrong kind of attention.

His mind started working frantically. He had set up a series of code words with Conklin in case something like this happened, warnings to give if he couldn't speak freely. But all of that depended on him being able to speak at all, and his only means of communication was now sitting in the pocket of this armed man in front of him who knew his name.

"Put your hands down," the guard said in a low voice, moving towards him.

Bewildered, Jared did as he was told, continuing to back up until he was under the overhang of the nearest building, out of sight of anyone on the street. Then before he could react, the man shoved him backwards against the concrete wall as he drew his weapon. He jammed it into Jared's left thigh, simultaneously grabbing his right shoulder to hold him against the wall as he pulled the trigger.

Pain shot through Jared's leg like nothing he'd ever felt before, and he gasped in shock, his head slamming back against the concrete wall. He squeezed his eyes shut, clenching his jaw to keep from screaming out loud and drawing attention. In a back corner of his mind, he knew that it was the saphenous nerve in his leg that was being directly stimulated with the electrical shock, that it wasn't rolling through his entire nervous system as if the taser was being used at a distance.

It still felt like his leg was on fire.

It went on for what seemed like minutes but was probably less than five seconds, until his legs were shaking underneath him. When the guard finally backed off, Jared kept leaning against the wall, heaving in breaths, not sure he had the strength to hold himself up on his own. "What do you want?" he finally asked, his voice shaking.

"Your compliance," the man said, bringing the taser back up to Jared's leg.

He let out an undignified whimper and pressed back against the wall.

The man leaned closer, dark brown eyes boring into his. "Where is he?"

Jared swallowed hard. There was no reason to pretend he didn't know who this guy was talking about, not when he knew Jared's name. "I don't know," he replied, bracing for the inevitable response to his honest answer.

That time, he did let out a sharp cry as the man pulled the trigger and fire shot through his thigh once more. The incongruous thought slipped into his head that he wished Jensen had told him something about how to withstand pain, because at this point he was afraid he would be spilling his guts about Jensen's whereabouts if there was anything to spill. "Please!" he gasped out, hands tightening into fists, his head thrown back against the wall. "I don't know!"

The guard abruptly drew the weapon back, glancing around quickly and then back up at Jared. Dimly, he noticed that there were people looking in their direction, and he was torn between calling out for help and wanting to keep anyone else from being hurt. The man decided it for him by raising his voice as he said, "Resisting security is like resisting arrest, son. I'm going to have to take you in. Put your hands in front of you and cross 'em at the wrists."

His breath still coming fast, Jared gave the weapon one more glance before doing as he was told. The man pulled out a strip of thin white plastic and, one-handed, started to fasten it around Jared's wrists. It cut into his skin the same way as the plastic ties he'd been bound with in Berlin, and fear rose sharply within him, remembering the last time he'd been restrained like this.

Before he could start to struggle, the taser was pressing into his leg again in warning, and the more immediate threat overrode the flashback. He stood still as his wrists were bound together, his heart pounding hard enough to hurt, his leg aching as if he'd sprinted a couple of miles. Then the man pulled out a second strip of plastic and wound it through Jared's front belt loop and the tie around his wrists, cinching it tight and binding his hands to his waist.

"Now, we're going to walk into this building behind you," the man said as he reached into Jared's coat pocket and removed his phone, "and you're going to do exactly as I say."

Jared's heart sank. It was one thing to be this man's prisoner here in a public setting, but if he was being led behind closed doors, he'd be completely at the guard's mercy. "No," he said, his jaw set, ready to take another blast from the taser. "I'll scream."

The man lowered his free hand to his waist, where a regular gun was holstered. "Then you will not be the only one that I shoot."

Fuck. Just like Berlin, the lives of the innocent people around him were being held hostage. There really wasn't anything he could do. "Fine," Jared ground out.

A hand on his shoulder directed him towards the building and out of sight of anyone watching, either live or on surveillance feed.

He was on his own now.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jensen slipped into the empty classroom and shut the door behind him, making sure it was locked. He tucked his recently-purchased lock picks back into his pocket and moved towards the window, taking care to keep out of sight of anyone looking up from below.

He was up on the sixth story, overlooking the center of the UDC campus where Prime Minister Kayode would be speaking to the crowd in a few minutes. There had been security people up here doing sweeps before the event itself—at least he assumed there had been—but he had easily entered the locked building and made his way up to this vantage point, selected from below a couple of hours earlier while he was scoping out the site.

He'd done what he could with the aerial photos and street-level images he could find online, but there was no substitute for being on the ground. For example, there was the building behind the one he was currently in—on Google Maps, it was still a hole in the ground, but Jensen had seen the seven stories of blue-green glass as soon as he entered the campus. A quick peek inside told him the building was almost finished, the interior completed but still vacant. He'd considered it as a base of operations but decided it was too far away. He needed to be able to see the podium and all lines of sight around it to find where the Panther was going to be.

It had taken only a short debate with himself to conclude that he wasn't here to stop an assassination. If Raimundo Odilon was here in Washington to kill the deposed Nigerian prime minster, Jensen couldn't stop him. That was the role of the private security forces and DC cops roaming the plaza below. Jensen was here to find the man who was targeting Kayode Sr. If he had to do it by noticing which angle a bullet was fired from or where an explosion was triggered, then so be it. He wasn't here as Jensen Ross, but as Dean Winchester.

He wasn't here to save a man's life, but to take one.

Surprisingly, he'd actually been able to dig up the documentary about the Panther that he'd told Jared about, watching it at the Baltimore Library to remind himself of what a cold-hearted but talented bastard he was dealing with. Odilon might have a powerful network of informants and gofers, but he did most of the actual killings himself, apparently enjoying the challenge of not only assassinating well-protected men and women but keeping completely anonymous while doing so.

There were several blurry camera images that the documentary kept returning to, but since some of them showed a man Jensen estimated to be six feet tall while others were of a man five to seven inches shorter, he didn't put much stock in any of them. Still, it was a sharp reminder of what he was up against: a highly-skilled killer who presumably could recognize Jensen by sight but could be standing right in front of him without him knowing the difference.

So it would take a different kind of recognition: noticing someone who was out of place, someone who was in a location they weren't supposed to be or who was moving differently than would be expected, given who they appeared to be.

Scanning the crowd, Jensen estimated there were about two hundred and twenty people in the plaza. Some had flags, some had handmade placards, but all were facing the podium and listening attentively. All of them, that is, except a tall man off on one side who was looking around as if he was trying to find someone—

Jensen's hand shot up as if he could reach through the glass and touch him, his heart swooping in his chest. "What the hell?" he breathed out.

What was Jared doing here?

Taking a deep breath, Jensen looked him over carefully, not sure if he was verifying that it really was Jared or if he was drinking in the sight of him like a glass of water after a week in the desert. He wished suddenly that he hadn't decided that binoculars would be too much of a risk for him to have up here with their propensity to reflect flashes of light. Still, there was no denying those broad shoulders under that dark coat, the swish of brown hair that still needed to be cut, and the familiar broad but pointed nose and jaw.

Thankfully, Jared looked like he'd been treated okay for the past seven days. He was pacing back and forth with no sign of injury, and there weren't any marks visible on his face or hands. A knot in Jensen's gut that he'd so gotten used to he hardly noticed it any more suddenly loosened. Jared was alive. Jared was safe. Jared was right here under his nose and he was—

Moving his lips and raising his hand to the earpiece attached to his right ear.

A chill shot through Jensen. Who was at the other end of that earpiece? Was Jared being controlled by someone listening to every word he said, watching everything that he did?

Jensen dropped to a crouch so he wouldn't be seen from below and focused on Jared's face as best he could from six stories and a hundred yards away. Presumably Jared was communicating with the same people who'd taken him from the Plaça de Catalunya—with Ravenswood—unless he'd somehow fallen out of their clutches and into someone else's hands and gotten to Washington in the space of a week. They must have picked up the false trail of airline tickets Jensen had purchased before leaving Barcelona and figured out why he was coming here. They must have brought Jared here to find him, which meant he needed to stay the hell away.

Could Jared have been coerced or brainwashed into working with them? In eight days, an awful lot could be done to a man, and Jensen shuddered at the thought of what Jared might have gone through, might still be going through. On the other hand, his expression didn't look hunted at all, but rather frustrated and worried.

Then something like excitement burst across his face, and Jensen sat back on his heels. Whoever Jared was talking to, they weren't giving him bad news.

Jensen thought frantically. Maybe Jared was cooperating with them. Maybe Conklin had told him something that had convinced him they had Jensen's best interests at heart. Maybe it wasn't coercion at all, but persuasion, which was certainly more effective in the long run. Given Jared's apparent willingness to be where he was and talking to whoever he was, Jensen suspected the latter. Somehow, they had gotten Jared to think that getting their hands on Jensen was the best thing to do and that he needed to help.

Before he could start figuring out how to get to Jared and get him away from his captors, something caught Jensen's attention from below, and he straightened up. One of the private security guards had broken off from his measured pacing around the perimeter of the crowd and was approaching Jared. As Jensen watched, the man reached up to yank the earpiece away from Jared and then stuffed it into one of his pockets.

Alarm bells started to go off in Jensen's head. An overzealous security guard was one thing, but this guy had efficiently removed Jared's means of communication with an unknown third party. And now he was reaching for the yellow-striped weapon strapped to his thigh, bending closer and saying something to Jared on his right side, where he couldn't be overheard.

Despite the distance, Jensen saw Jared's face go pale.

Fuck. The whole picture had changed completely. Now the threat wasn't an unknown figure at the other end of a Bluetooth, it was a very real and present danger from the man forcing Jared off to the side, away from the crowd and towards the administration building at the edge of the plaza, neatly isolating him.

Jensen's stomach twisted. If this wasn't one of Ravenswood's people—and given the stunned expression on Jared's face, that was highly unlikely—it had to be someone working with Odilon who'd recognized Jared and culled him from the flock as neatly as could be.

No, not someone working with Odilon. Given the man's preference for taking the final step on his own, Jensen was pretty sure that there wouldn't be any of his hired guns here who might accidentally see what he looked like. It was the Panther himself who'd gotten his hands on Jared.

The thought sent icy tendrils of fear down Jensen's spine.

The man in the guard's uniform backed Jared beneath the overhang of the building, only his back and Jared's legs visible from here. Then Jensen saw the guard reach for the taser and bring it forward, and he couldn't help the sharp "No!" that escaped his lips, even though there was no one to hear it.

The overhang hid most of the two men's bodies from his view, but a moment later he could see Jared's legs shaking where he stood, and it didn't take much imagination to figure out what was making such a strong man quake like that. Jensen bit down on his lip so hard he drew blood, fists clenched uselessly at his sides. All he could do was stand there and watch from six stories up as the torture continued.

Finally, the man drew back and took a quick look over his shoulder, not long enough for Jensen to take in anything more than dark hair and clean-shaven face. A long moment later, he was pulling Jared forward, his hands held awkwardly in front of him, and Jensen grimaced as he recognized the restricted movements indicative of restraints.

At least the bastard had let up with the taser.

The two men disappeared into the building they'd been standing against, the university's main administration building. Jensen forced himself to keep watching rather than racing downstairs after them. A moment later he was rewarded when they exited the rear of the administration building and kept moving towards the brand-new, empty building behind it. His mouth twisted into a tight smile at the irony. If he'd decided to set up shop there after all, he might have already run into the Panther and ended this.

On the other hand, Jensen might have the advantage here.

Presumably Jared had been taken to use as leverage against him. After all, he'd counted on the Panther being here to follow up on his successful kill in Venice; the other man must be counting on the Jaguar showing up to make up for his failure to kill the son by focusing on the father. The Panther already knew there was a connection between Jared and Jensen, having set a tail on the doctor in Amsterdam to trap Jensen.

But if Odilon was going to try and kill Kayode, he was going to have to stash Jared somewhere in the meantime. Part of the Panther's signature was as public a kill as possible, and speaking at a rally in front of several hundred people was about as public as it got. Kayode's speech was due to happen within the quarter hour. If Jensen could slip into the building where Jared was being held while Odilon was away, he could retrieve Jared and wait for the Panther to return. Two birds, one stone.

A cold smile crossed Jensen's face as he quietly left the classroom and headed for the stairs. This ends now.

Chapter Text

Jared walked a step in front of the so-called guard, the blunt end of the taser occasionally nudging his lower back as a reminder of what was waiting if he didn't cooperate. He was prodded into the building they'd been standing next to, then straight through and out the other side. A hand on his bicep pulled him to the right, and he obediently went down the sidewalk, away from the busy street.

A couple of passersby gave curious or shocked stares at his bound hands, but the man behind him said, "Campus security," and they moved on. Jared didn't dare contradict him, not with the threat he'd made about the gun he was carrying. They kept moving towards a brand new building in light-colored glass that contrasted sharply with the bunker-like structure they'd walked through.

"What do you want with me?" Jared asked in a low voice as they walked towards a side entrance, half-buried in the hill into which the building was set.

"Bait," the man said bluntly. "You say you don't know where Winchester is, but I know he's here. We have unfinished business, and you're going to help me take care of it."

Jared reminded himself that this guy wasn't looking for Jensen, he was looking for Dean, and he had to play along with that. "How do you know he's here?" he asked.

"Because he wouldn't miss the opportunity to follow up on his work in Venice."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Don't play the fool, Doctor. You know full well what your lover did to Olaoluwa Kayode, although it should not have been possible with four of my bullets in him."

"My—how did you know that?" Jared asked sharply, turning his head to look at the other man. Had they been followed by the Panther's men in Barcelona, too, been seen holding hands and nuzzling each other on the street?

A small smile was twisting the shorter man's mouth. "I didn't for sure."

Shit. Jared swallowed hard and turned away. He'd gone and handed a completely different kind of ammunition to this man, and now if Jensen found them—

Wait a minute. Jensen hadn't done anything to Olaoluwa Kayode. He'd been mostly dead when the guy wrapped his car around a tree. Mostly dead because of the man who'd shot him in the head, who was the same person holding Jared captive, who was probably—

"You're him, aren't you," Jared burst out. He came to a dead stop on the walkway and turned back around, dread curdling in his stomach. When his captor stared back at him with curiosity, the taser half-raised, Jared squared his shoulders and figured he had nothing to lose. "You're Raimundo Odilon."

The man's dark eyes gave nothing away. Aloud he said, "If I was, it would be very stupid of you to point that out."

It's not like you're going to let me go anyway, Jared thought. But he wasn't stupid enough to say that out loud, so he spun around again and walked the few paces towards the side entrance of the building, his heart pounding even harder as the man's lack of denial sank in.

He was so screwed.

As they came to a stop in front of the door, he heard a rustling sound close behind him, followed by the jingling of keys, and Jared realized this might be his only chance. If he could duck away from the taser and run before the guy got a hand on his gun, maybe he could get away. Never mind that he didn't stand a chance in hell if this guy really was the Panther. Once they got inside the building, it would be even harder. And he couldn't bear the thought of being held hostage so this guy could get his hands on Jensen.

Jared surreptitiously tested the reach that the plastic around his wrists allowed him—not much more than an inch away from his waist—and slowly took in a deep breath. Then he whirled around, ready to put his hands on the taser and push it away.

It was like the hallway in the Hotel Bristol all over again. He was instantly slammed back into the glass door so hard it vibrated behind him, and the man had shoved his weapon down into Jared's thigh before he could blink.

Except it wasn't a taser. It was a semi-automatic pistol, the muzzle pressing right over the point where Jared's blood pulsed closest to the surface.

Jared froze, locking eyes with his captor, knowing that if he pulled the trigger, Jared would probably be dead before he hit the ground. He held his breath, his gut turning leaden with fear.

The man waited for a long moment, unrelentingly staring back. Finally he held up a ring of keys, one of them extended. "Take this and open the door," he said in a calm voice that was somehow more frightening than the angry exclamation Jared had expected.

He hadn't been fazed at all by Jared's attempt to get away.

Hands slightly shaking, Jared reached out with his fingers and took the keys. He slowly turned around, the gun tracking with his movement until it was resting at the small of his back. They were on the far side of the building from the rest of campus, so no one was likely to see that "campus security" was holding him at gunpoint. The lock on the door was low enough that he could insert the key in the lock and turn it. A hand reached from behind him to pull the door open, and he stumbled inside, his captor close behind.

They were in a stairwell, emergency signage indicating that it went up to the roof. The man behind him grabbed the keys back and pushed him towards the door leading to the building's interior. Jared pushed the crash bar and found himself in a brightly-lit lobby with a bank of elevators at the far end.

The elevator came when called, and at a prod from the gun, Jared entered. "Top floor," the man said, and Jared strained to reach the button with a 7 on it. The plastic ties cut into his wrists as he reached upwards as far as he could, and he wouldn't be surprised if that had been the point of making him push the button.

The elevator doors closed, and they started upwards with a smooth motion. Jared was still facing the panel of buttons, and the burnished metal of the elevator walls wasn't reflective enough to allow him to see anything more than the vaguest outline of the other man.

He gave a startled jerk when his captor reached around him to punch the emergency stop button.

The elevator slid to a halt, the lighting dimming to the backup setting. "Turn around," the man said, prodding him in the side with the gun. Jared slowly obeyed, his back to the wall, the edge of the inside railing digging into his upper thighs.

The man looked at him long and hard, eyes roaming over his face. Then he said in a matter-of-fact tone, "If you know who I am, then you know there's no further point in trying to escape."

Then he lifted the gun until the barrel was pressing into the underside of Jared's jaw.

Jared froze, terror washing over him. There was silence as he literally stared down the Panther. He'd been here before, a gun to his head as a consequence of his attempt to get away from an armed man. Back then, in the hotel in Berlin, he'd been afraid for his life but also largely bewildered, not fully grasping the seriousness of the situation. Here and now, he had no doubt that this man would pull the trigger without a second thought and that it would mean absolutely nothing to him to do so.

After everything that had happened to him over the past few weeks, Jared thought he had lost the ability to be completely, mind-numbingly, freaked-out.

He was wrong.

As if reading his thoughts, Odilon said, "You need to understand this, Dr. Padalecki. It will be easier for me to get what I want with your full cooperation, but it is not essential. Your full, living cooperation. Do you understand?"

Jared could barely move his jaw against the pressure of the gun, but he managed to croak out, "I do."

"Good." The barrel slowly trailed down his front. When it was resting over his sternum, Odilon drew back and released the stop button. They started up again with a jerk. Jared's eyes didn't move from the gun the rest of the way.

The doors opened on a tiled hallway, and they stepped out. There was a surprisingly cold wind blowing, and Jared suddenly realized that this floor wasn't as finished as the ground floor had been. Some of the floor-to-ceiling windows hadn't yet been installed, wooden sawhorses standing in front of the empty frames in warning.

From far below, he could hear cheers from the rally still going on, but the plaza itself was hidden behind one of the concrete-and-brick buildings. Out of the empty window, he saw someone walking towards the building they were in, someone about six feet tall with a maroon knit cap and a slightly bow-legged gait, and Jared's heart nearly stopped in his chest. God, no, he thought desperately, somehow unsurprised that Jensen had managed to find him but scared to death nonetheless. Jensen, stay away!

He quickly turned away, but the hand on his arm froze him in place. "What did I tell you?" Odilon asked, sounding pleased, looking down towards the approaching figure. "Coming to rescue you. Even easier than I thought." He reached up and touched Jared's cheek, and Jared tried to twist away, grimacing.

But the mocking caress turned into a tight grip on his jaw as the Panther went on, "When he arrives on this floor, you're going to call out to him, let him know you're here. I don't want there to be any miscommunication."

Jared stared back at him, lips pressed together, demonstrating his refusal to speak. Odilon's expression turned knowing, and he dug his fingers into Jared's jaw, hard enough to bruise. "It can be a cry of pain if you'd prefer."

"Fuck you," Jared ground out, a spark of fury lighting underneath his fear. His mind was working frantically, trying to think of what he could say to Jensen in a few short words before he was forcibly shut up.

In reply, the Panther let go and lowered his hand, reaching towards the small of his back. He pulled out a knife, the blade only a few inches long but the edge glimmering in the overhead fluorescent lights as if it were razor-sharp. He lifted it in front of Jared's face and held it there for a moment, watching as Jared's eyes focused on the blade. "We have a few minutes," he said casually. "Perhaps you and I should get better acquainted before your lover arrives."

Jared tore his eyes away from the knife only to focus on the gun in Odilon's other hand. No one knows what the Panther looks like, he reminded himself with a shudder. Everyone who's ever seen him face-to-face is dead.

He thought about what Alex Conklin had told him, about who this man was and everything he had done and how Jensen had devoted his life to taking him down. Jared wasn't exactly a pessimist, but he didn't think his odds of walking out of this building in one piece were very good. So whatever he could do to protect Jensen and help him get this guy would be worth it.

At this point, it was probably all he could hope for.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jensen crossed the short distance to the building Jared and Odilon had disappeared into, moving as quickly as he could to keep from being spotted. He went around to the rear entrance and pulled out his set of lock picks, gaining entry within a few seconds. Once in the stairwell, he looked up and listened for any signs of life. Since it was the weekend, there shouldn't be any workers around. Sure enough, all he heard was the humming of the ventilation system.

Now, if he was stashing a hostage somewhere while he went back outside and took care of business, where would he put him?

The sign on the stairwell helpfully told him that there were seven flights plus the roof. Jensen took a deep breath. He didn't have time to search all seven floors. Whatever Odilon had planned for the prime minister, it shouldn't take him more than half an hour to do it. He was appalled to realize that he could calculate how long it should take to go out and kill a man in broad daylight, but he shook it aside and looked up the stairwell.

Something prickled at the back of his neck. Something didn't feel right, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

"I got a bad feeling about this," he grumbled.

"Dude, I thought I was Han Solo," came the quick, low-voiced reply with a rare but welcome flash of humor.

"Shut up, Sam. I'm serious." He craned his neck to look around the corner, but Sam's long arm held him back.

"It'll be fine. Quick in and out." Sam let go of him and tightened his grip on his Beretta, pointed down at the ground in front of him. "Ready?"

"Famous last words," Jensen whispered in unison with the memory flashing through his head.

Then he shook his head sharply. This was so not the time to be caught up in the fragments of his past. Jared needed him here and now. He drew the Glock that had become a familiar friend and started silently up the stairs.

The first floor was too obvious. So was the second. The third was the first place he should consider looking, which meant it was out as well. It would be easier to climb to the top and work his way down, flushing out anyone else who might be here, but he couldn't climb seven flights of stairs without his breath coming noisily at the top.

So Jensen opened the door to the fourth story and slipped inside, making sure it closed without a sound as he leveled his gun at the empty hallway around him. His rubber-soled shoes stayed silent on the institutional tile floor as he made his way around the U-shaped story. There was a bank of elevators at the base of the U, and classrooms and offices lined the sides.

If he was holding someone prisoner here, he would put them in one of the smaller rooms off one of the main hallways. There was only one exit to block, and up this high, it didn't matter if there was a window or not. Continuing on, straining his ears for any sounds, he found a large classroom at the rear of the building. The room had one entrance from each leg of the hallway, its windows overlooking the row of trees that marked the edge of the small campus. It was as empty as all of the other rooms he'd seen: tile had been laid out across the floor and the lighting fixtures had been installed, but the walls were still bare drywall.

Jensen completed his sweep and headed back towards the stairwell. As he passed the elevators, he noticed the indicator panel above each set of doors that he'd somehow missed before. One read 1 and one read 7. He paused. It was standard in a building this tall to program the elevators so that there was one resting at the top and one at the bottom to minimize the time it took when someone pressed the button to call one. But if this building was still so bare bones that the walls were unpainted, would they really have gotten around to programming the elevators?

His mind made up, Jensen went back to the lone stairwell and quickly and quietly climbed up to the seventh floor. He waited for a long time at the door, listening for any signs of movement from inside, letting his breathing slow to normal. Then he moved to the other side of the stairs, where an unfinished wall revealed bare ductwork snaking into the building's interior.

There. A voice. It was indistinct, but it was clearly audible through the square metal tube. Jensen held his breath and listened. It would be difficult to tell exactly where the voice was coming from, given the way the ductwork twisted and wound through the walls, but he could try.

There was a second voice, lower pitched, and then rustling sounds followed by a short, agonized cry in a familiar voice that had Jensen pressing his fist to his mouth to keep from yelling out. He forced himself to concentrate on where the sound was coming from, not on what might have been done to Jared to make him scream like that.

It almost sounded like it was coming from above, but they wouldn't be on the roof. So it had to be this floor. If Odilon was still here, not outside where Kayode was surely speaking by now, he must be planning on sticking around for Jensen to show up. It meant Jensen was heading for the large room at the end of the hallway, the one with two exits, instead of one of the dead-end rooms.

He checked the ammunition in his magazine one more time and prepared to open the door and move into the hallway, where the room with his target was thirty feet away. Depending on where Odilon was positioned, if Jensen went in there with guns blazing, he might be able to lay down cover fire so that Jared could get out the rear entrance.

"Don't worry, I'll cover you while you make a run for it. It's okay, I'll be right behind you. Now go." Sam flicked brown hair out of his eyes and checked the magazine on both of his guns while a knot tightened in Jensen's stomach.

"Sam…" Don't leave me, Jensen thought, that same uneasiness swirling around his gut.

"Trust me, Jensen. I know what I'm doing." A quick kiss and he was gone, firing with both weapons at once.

Jensen's head jerked up. Was this why he felt so uneasy? Because it reminded him of Sam and a dark cobblestoned street and the bloody end that he'd met protecting Jensen?

He bit down on his lip, hard, tasting the blood from earlier, and shoved it all into the back of his mind. Slowly, silently, he pulled the door open and moved into the hallway in a crouch.

He wasn't making more than a whisper of sound as he moved down the hallway, but the door at the far end was propped open, and Jensen knew the rustle of his jacket and the press of his shoes on the floor must be audible from the room at the end. He could almost see the sharp teeth lining the trap he was walking into, but he didn't have a choice about doing it. Not with Jared's life at stake.

He was about ten feet away when a voice cut through the silence and made his heart skip a beat. "Dean, be careful, it's him!"

Jensen was going to kiss Jared later for packing so much information into one short sentence. It was clearly Jared. He sounded scared but calm, which meant he couldn't have been hurt too badly. It was the Panther holding him captive, who knew him as Dean, and who'd probably forced Jared to say something to spring the trap. But if Jared knew who his captor was, he also knew the impossibility of simply being let go, which would put him in a different frame of mind than your typical hostage.

He took in all of these things in about half a second and adjusted his plan accordingly. Not that he'd had much of a plan other than find Jared and kill the Panther, but now he had a better idea of what to do. He paused right outside the door, listening to the breathing of two different people inside the room, one much faster than the other. Jensen took a deep breath and let his mind clear.

In one fluid motion, he extended the Glock in front of him as he stepped inside and away from the doorway.

They were clearly waiting for him against the far wall, facing the door he'd entered through. Jared was on his knees in front of a short man in the light blue uniform of a rent-a-cop. The man's right hand was gripping a pistol aimed at Jensen. His other hand held a short knife, knuckles pushing Jared's chin up and baring his jugular to the blade. Jared's hands were bound to each other and his waist, and his eyes were fixed on Jensen's, wide and bleak, like he'd passed scared a long time ago and was on his way to resigned.

Despite Jensen's instincts and deeply-ingrained training, despite coaching himself on the climb up here, for a moment, all he saw was the bright, sharp blade at Jared's throat. And everything he'd been forcing down into a dark corner of his mind about how much this man meant to him rose up just as sharp and bright. Jensen felt the emotions flash across his face before he could stop them, and his heart sank.

As quickly as he schooled his features into impassivity, it was too late. Odilon had seen it, and he knew the value of the man he was holding hostage.

Jensen had already lost.

Odilon used the back of his hand to nudge Jared's jaw up higher and twist his head to the side, making his neck more visible and vulnerable. "Put your weapon down, Winchester," he insisted. "Or I slit this pretty throat." Jared's mouth twisted as if he was trying to hold back a sound, his eyes never leaving Jensen's.

Jensen couldn't give in that easily. Keeping his gun trained on the Panther's head, he took a slow step forward. "You put it down," he growled.

There was silence for a moment. Then Odilon said, "Dr. Padalecki, I wonder if you're familiar with something called the Colombian necktie."

Oh, shit. Jensen's heart sank even lower, and he prepared to squeeze off a round. Even a reflexive slash along Jared's neck would be better than that form of torture.

The involuntary whimper slipping past Jared's lips made it clear that he knew what it was, too. His captor went on, "A barbaric custom, but that's the Colombians for you. Still, it can be posed as a challenge." His eyes shifted up to meet Jensen's, dark and cold. "If one is quick and deep enough with the cross-stroke, one can pull the victim's tongue down through the slash in their neck while they are still alive."

Jared's eyes were squeezed shut, his pained grimace so full of fear that Jensen nearly felt his heart stop. The calm look from before was gone. Figuring you were a dead man was difficult enough, but it brought a kind of peace with it. Thinking about meeting a painful end that was nothing but torture for its own sake could break even the strongest of men.

Odilon adjusted his grip on the knife, his eyes gleaming, almost teasing. "Do you think I can meet that challenge, Winchester?"

"Wait." Jensen instantly lifted both of his hands, the Glock pointing harmlessly towards the ceiling. "Don't do that. I'll do what you want."

Jared was looking at him, a heartrending mixture of gratitude and fear and shame written across his features. Jensen slowly bent down, placing the gun on the floor before standing up again, hands in the air.

"That was easier than I'd expected." A dark smile curled the corner of Odilon's mouth, and he lowered his gun hand to rest on Jared's shoulder, the barrel still pointing straight at Jensen. On his knees, Jared flinched away from the motion, a thin line of red instantly welling up from his neck where the razor-sharp blade rested.

This time, Jensen kept his face expressionless, focusing only on the Panther. "Listen," he said, raising his hands to the top of his head without being told, deliberately increasing his vulnerability in an attempt to reduce Jared's. "This is between you and me. He has nothing to do with this." He paused and then said, "Leave him out of it."

There was silence for a moment, Jensen keeping his features blank as the shorter man looked him over. Then Odilon gave a small nod. "You know what?" he asked. "I think you're right." Then he lifted the knife, moving it away from Jared's neck.

Jared's eyes closed in relief, and it took all Jensen had not to do the same.

Then he noticed that the hand resting on Jared's shoulder was pressing harder, like Odilon was bracing himself. At the same time, the hand with the knife was drawing back as if to gain momentum. Too late, he saw the cruel gleam in the Panther's eyes and realized what was going to happen.

"No!" Jensen shouted, fear and disbelief blurring together in his shout as he lunged forward despite the gun aimed at him, knowing he couldn't get there in time.

Hope flared up in him for a fraction of a second when he saw that Jared had either heard his cry or registered that something was off, because he suddenly twisted forward. But he was unable to completely escape the grip on his shoulder.

And so while the blade swinging down towards Jared's back thrust into his left side instead of his spine, it still went in to the hilt.

Jensen watched in horror as Jared's eyes flew wide open, mouth working in a silent scream as if the pain was too great to be vocalized. He toppled forward with a shove from behind, his bound hands and his forehead hitting the ground simultaneously, the knife handle sticking obscenely out of his back as he went still.

Some part of Jensen's brain remembered the weapon in the Panther's other hand, and he automatically dived to his left even as Jared fell. It was the direction away from the gun he had put down earlier, away from where Odilon would be expecting him to go to defend himself.

The two shots that rang out through the air and thunked into the wall behind where Jensen had been standing told him he'd done the right thing. As he rolled over, he reached down to his ankle for his recently-acquired backup weapon, then extended his arms over his head as he moved, aiming at where the Panther had been standing over Jared.

Odilon had recovered quickly and was aiming straight at him. Jensen kept rolling, towards the rear door and away from Jared, trying to draw the assassin's attention away from the fallen man. Then, on his back, he aimed upside down and pulled the trigger.

They fired simultaneously, and both came damn close to hitting their mark. Jensen saw his shot go into the drywall as Odilon clapped a hand to the top of his right shoulder, and a line of fire zinged down Jensen's thigh as the bullet skimmed over his leg. He couldn't even take the time to look at Jared and see if he was still breathing—he had absolutely no cover in this huge, empty room, and the exit was only a few yards away. Firing again to give himself cover and keep his opponent's attention on him and not the wounded man at his feet, he pushed up into a crouch and scuttled towards the door.

With grim triumph, he noted that Odilon was following him. Come and get it, you bastard.

Chapter Text

It was white-hot fire, pain beyond anything Jared had ever known, flaring out from the left side of his back and encompassing almost his entire body. He'd been twisting away from Odilon as the knife struck, and now his hands and head hit the carpet at the same time, barely cushioning the blow. Jared let out a harsh gasp as his side contacted the ground, jarring the weapon embedded in his back.

He felt cold all over, alternating with waves of fire, sweat breaking out on his forehead. Above him, he heard gunshots ring out, followed by the rustle of moving bodies, but he couldn't lift his heavy head to see what was going on.

In a dim corner of his mind, Jared registered that he was going into shock, and his brain automatically started moving down the pathway of how to treat it. The first step was to get the victim on their back—

Jared let out a weak, harsh laugh mixed with a sob. That definitely wasn't happening.

Struggling to think clearly, Jared coaxed his training to the forefront, trying to think of himself as a patient recently arrived in the ER, focusing on the questions he should be asking. How long was the blade? How far in was it? His spleen was down there somewhere, but so was his stomach, and it might be high enough to have nicked his lung. Experimentally, he drew in a deep, shaky breath, and let it out in relief when he didn't hear any gurgling or feel any blood coming up.

The sound of footsteps crossing the carpet caught his attention, and he twisted his head up to see Odilon moving away from him, gun aimed at a doorway on the far side of the room. Jared grimaced and prayed that Jensen could draw him away. If the man noticed Jared was still moving, he was likely to fire at him to make sure he was dead.

A second later, the killer edged his way into the next room, and Jared let out a sigh. Slowly, painfully, he craned his neck around and saw two inches of knife handle perpendicular to his back, with none of the blade visible. A wave of nausea swept over him at the sight, and he lowered his head and forced it back down. He couldn't imagine hurting any more than he already did, but throwing up was one sure way to make that happen.

He took in a deep breath and tried to think. He had to try and get help, but with his cell phone and Ravenswood's communication device both out of reach, he didn't know what he could do. Jared lifted his head slightly to look around the room. The movement pulled at his back, and he grimaced at the feel of the sodden cloth of his shirt and coat shifting over his skin. He wondered how quickly he was losing blood, then decided that not thinking about it was probably a better course of action.

The room was as empty as it had been before—no phones, no intercoms, nothing he could use. Keeping his head down to minimize the pull on his injured side, Jared shuffled his knees around until he was facing the opposite direction. He looked at the wall behind where he'd been, and hope suddenly rose up inside of him.

There was a red fire alarm box halfway up the wall.

Jared stared at it, excitement and despair warring in him. It might not be connected, given that they hadn't even put in all the windows the building yet. It might as well have been a mile away for all that he could get to it. Even if he could stand up—and thinking about it was making him shiver with pain—his hands couldn't go any higher than his waist, and he didn't exactly think he could pull the alarm with his teeth.

Then shots rang out from down the hall, followed by a harsh cry, and Jared froze in place. Had that been Jensen's voice?

He clenched his jaw. That did it. He had to get to that alarm. If only there was something sharp to cut the plastic ties around his wrists.

A half-laugh escaped Jared's mouth, and he clamped down on the hysteria that wanted to bubble forth. Something other than the blade embedded in his back, that was. Pulling it out would be a really bad idea in terms of blood loss, and there was no way he could grab it anyway. Still, the thought that something nice and sharp was literally within reach and yet completely inaccessible was more irony than he knew how to deal with right now.

Shuffling closer to the wall, Jared leaned against it and managed to work himself up to a kneeling position, good side braced against the drywall. He was panting for breath by the time he was upright, sweat trickling down his face, trying to keep his movements quiet so as not to alert Odilon that he was still alive. The fire in his back had become a constant companion, but he was finding that he could wall it off to some extent as long as it didn't get any worse. Maybe that was one of the advantages of shock setting in: being able to mentally detach himself from his injury and enable the rest of his body to work.

More likely, it meant that if he didn't get help soon, he was completely screwed, but then he already knew that.

Jared looked down at his wrists, lined with bloody scratches around the plastic ties from where he'd tried to yank his way free. If he didn't have the strength to break the plastic earlier, he sure as hell couldn't do it now. Leaning his head against the wall, he almost sobbed in frustration. When he looked up, he could see that the fire alarm would be in reach if he could move his damn hands.

There were running footsteps down the hall, slightly off, as if someone was limping, and then a second set that sounded more confident. Had Jensen managed to wound the Panther, or was he the one who was hurt?

Jared looked down with determination. Maybe he couldn't break the plastic, but the second tie was fastened to a belt loop that was slightly weak at one end. Maybe he could pull that loose.

He set to work, tugging sharply with all of the strength he could manage, leaning hard against the wall and biting back a curse as his injured back muscles protested violently. He thought he heard a stitch rip in the fabric, so he tried it again, biting his lip as a distraction and soon tasting copper as he broke through the skin.

How long it took, Jared had no idea, but at some point he found himself staring stupidly at his hands, still tied together at the wrists, but now out in front of him. He'd done it! He could hardly breathe for the pain, and he had no idea how he was going to raise his hands high enough to pull the alarm, but at least he was somewhat free. He sagged against the wall for a moment, gathering his strength.

Then another series of gunshots from the hallway on the other side of the wall brought him back to himself, along with a pained shout that he knew was Jensen's.

Fuck. He had to do this.

Jared took one careful breath and then another. Standing up would be easier than lifting his arms over his head, given where he'd been stabbed and the strain that the move would put on the muscles.

Not to say that standing up would be easy.

Carefully shifting his right leg until his foot was on the ground, Jared pushed upwards, letting the wall take as much of his weight as he could. It hurt like hell, his left leg still weak from the earlier taser attack, and he almost blacked out once or twice. He had to close his eyes and silently scream at himself to keep it together, knowing that if he fell over now, he'd either drive the knife in deeper or send it slicing sideways through more vital organs.

There was no sound from the hallway anymore, and somehow that was even more alarming. What if Odilon was coming back for him? What if Jensen had—

No. Jared couldn't think that way.

Finally, the fire alarm was at eye level. Jared slowly, determinedly, bent his arms at the elbows rather than trying to lift from his shoulders, straining up with his fingers until they closed over the lever. With all of his weight, he pulled downwards.

The shriek of the alarm instantly assaulted his ears, and Jared almost crumpled with relief. In a university building like this, the alarm would be wired right to the fire department. They'd be on their way in a few minutes, paramedics in tow. He wished there was some way to warn them about the men running around with guns, but he couldn't exactly go downstairs to meet them.

Shoulder pressed to the wall, Jared slid back down, coming to rest on his knees and then lurching forward to collapse on his stomach. It felt like his entire back was soaked through, with blood or sweat he didn't know, but he didn't really care anymore. He'd done everything he could, and Jensen would have to take care of the rest.

Jared's eyes drifted shut, and this time they stayed closed.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The hallway didn't offer any more cover than the classroom had, and the first door Jensen tried was locked. For a bad moment, he thought he'd run himself right into a shooting gallery, but then he found a small corridor that cut through the center of the building and ducked into it.

A chip flew off the wall over his head as he did so, the gunshot echoing loudly in the hallway. That's four, he thought. His glimpse of the Panther's weapon had told him it was a Browning, which meant nine more shots before reloading. Jensen was somewhat surprised that none of the shots had managed to do more than skim him; he wasn't that fast, and he was up against one of the best here.

He should have known there was nothing like looking a gift horse in the mouth.

As he ducked around the corner to squeeze off a shot of his own, he found the other man closer than expected. Startled, Jensen jerked back, but not before a sharp sting in his left forearm turned into the throb of a bullet wound.

Shit. He backed up at a half-run, needing to get across to the other main hallway before Odilon got within sight. Arms out in front of him, finger on the trigger, Jensen tensed as he moved backwards, trying not to trip over his own feet while staying ready to fire at a moment's notice.

The bill of a cap poked around the corner, and Jensen pulled the trigger.

Under other circumstances, he would have been amused to see the cap go flying, but right now he was pissed that he'd missed his target's head. He moved faster, stumbling around the corner and back into the hall near the stairwell where he'd come up. Shot number five flew in front of his face as he moved, embedding into the door of the stairwell.

There were more opportunities to hide here, more entrances to rooms set back from the hallway. Jensen took his time to pick one that was deep enough to hold him and had multiple doors coming off it, at least one of which was unlocked. He looked down at his forearm and grimaced. There was only one hole, bleeding profusely onto his coat, which meant there was a bullet sitting inside the fleshy part of his forearm. There was nothing nearby that he could use to bandage it, and he didn't dare put down his gun long enough to do it anyway. It would have to wait until he'd taken care of Odilon.

A sound from the hallway drew his mind back to his quarry. Jensen waited patiently until he heard another noise, only a few feet away. Crouching down, weapon angled upward, he lunged sideways into the corridor and fired.

Odilon let out a loud grunt as the bullet hit his hand, his weapon falling to the floor with a clatter and discharging along the way. Jensen didn't even notice where it went, too busy stepping up and launching a kick at the other man's knee, sending him to the ground with a thud as Jensen aimed down at him, ready to pull the trigger.

But the Panther was too fast, rolling towards Jensen and knocking him back into the wall. Jensen quickly recovered, but the other man was rising to his feet and launching a powerful kick that connected squarely with Jensen's wounded arm.

He couldn't stop the low cry of pain that escaped his lips, and he concentrated hard to keep his other hand curled tightly around the grip of his gun. Odilon was lunging towards him, and Jensen brought up his gun to fire, but he couldn't raise it in time. Odilon's good hand was closing around the weapon, pushing it towards the floor as his elbow slammed into Jensen's ribs.

Jensen would have staggered back except that he was still against the wall, but the whoosh of breath he let out distracted him enough that the Panther was able to get his hand on the gun and start prying it out of Jensen's fingers.

The two men were locked together, face to face, struggling to gain control over the weapon with their hands, legs, and anything else. There were no taunts, no threats, no words at all—they would be as much of a distraction to the one speaking them as the one hearing them.

There were only their highly-trained, well-practiced bodies being put to use as the weapons they were, in a struggle that was life-and-death for more than the two combatants.

Jensen dodged a head butt and brought his knee up sharply towards the other man's groin, but he twisted away. Odilon started to kick Jensen's legs from under him, but Jensen curled his foot around the other man's ankle, bringing them both crashing to the ground, the gun discharging over their heads.

They rolled around on the floor, kicking and punching at each other, until they came up hard against the opposite wall. The shorter man let out a grunt as his back connected with the wall, and Jensen looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time.

No, he suddenly realized. It wasn't the first time at all.

He was on a small boat, trying to keep his balance as the waves tossed it around, trying to stay out of sight. A man stepped out of the cabin, a short man with dark hair and malevolent eyes, and he was aiming and firing before Jensen could do more than raise his own weapon.

The punch to his gut stung, matched by the blow of the second bullet into his thigh. He staggered back, gun falling from his hands, some dim corner of his mind automatically memorizing the features of the man who was firing at him again and again.

As if in slow motion, he felt the third bullet hit his chest, and the fourth one seared fire along the side of his head. Falling backwards, he helplessly wondered if Sam had felt this much pain as the bullets ripped across his body.

He wondered if he was about to see Sam again.

As the icy water closed over his head, the last thing he saw was the face of the man who had killed him.

"You," Jensen breathed out, staring into those same cold eyes from a few inches away.

It wasn't the Panther's men who had nearly killed him in Venice. It was the Panther himself.

Guess the plan finally worked, Jensen thought, but he had no idea what he meant by that.

A moment later, he realized with panic that it hadn't worked at all. His little trip down memory lane had given Odilon the chance to get his fingers curled under Jensen's and his wounded hand around Jensen's forearm. Despite the gunshot to his own hand, he was digging a finger into the bullet hole in Jensen's arm.

With a loud cry of pain and frustration, Jensen tried to pull away, but he couldn't do that and hold onto the gun. White heat shot up and down his arm, and his fingers loosened without him telling them to do so. He kicked sideways at Odilon's thigh, but he was too close to have much leverage, and it only took a shove from the other man to put him on his back.

Jensen looked up to see the barrel of his own gun aimed right between his eyes, and he knew it was over.

It wasn't like his whole life was flashing before his eyes; even now, his past remained largely a blank. Instead, it was one moment—this same man, pointing a gun at him, pulling the trigger and sending him flying backwards into the cold embrace of the Adriatic Sea.

There wouldn't be any water to cushion his fall this time.

Odilon crouched closer so that the end of the gun barrel pressed into Jensen's forehead, the metal warm to the touch. His dark eyes were almost gleeful as he thrust his forearm against Jensen's throat, pinning him to the ground. "I don't know how you escaped Venice," he said in a low voice. "But even you cannot possibly walk away with your head blown off."

There was no smart retort that Jensen could muster, no final fuck you that would ease the pressure at his forehead or throat. He hadn't heard a sound from the other room, where Jared was dying or already dead, and there was no cavalry coming to save the day. He stared grimly back, fists clenched uselessly at his sides, a small part of him glad that the end was in sight.

At least then he could rest.

The gun shifted slightly so that it was perpendicular to Jensen's forehead, and, stupid as it might be, he braced himself for what was coming next.

Odilon's mouth curved upwards in a smile. "Farewell, Jaguar."

Then the air was split by the shrill screech of a fire alarm.

Jensen was moving before the sound fully registered, both hands flying up to shove the gun away from his head. Odilon's finger had been so close on the trigger that he fired reflexively, the shot thumping into the floor a fraction of an inch above Jensen's skull. His ears rang from the gun being fired at such close range, but he took advantage of the Panther's stretched-out position, slamming a knee into the other man's side to drive him back.

Instead, Odilon collapsed forward, his weight shifting to the forearm resting across Jensen's throat. The sudden pressure against Jensen's windpipe caused him to see stars and almost black out, and Odilon took advantage, rolling away and pulling the gun from Jensen's grip.

Desperately, Jensen lunged after him, tangling their legs together as he reached for the gun, his left arm almost useless with the pain blazing through it. But he had to get to the weapon, had to stop the Panther. Jared had to be alive and at least well enough to pull the fire alarm, and Jensen wasn't going to leave him on his own.

They were halfway down the hallway from where they'd started, and cold wind was blowing over them from the empty windows a few yards away. Construction debris was lying here and there in the hallway, and something hard dug into Jensen's side. As he rolled clear, he suddenly realized that it wasn't leftover tile or drywall, but the gun Odilon had discarded earlier, sent flying when Jensen shot him in the hand. Taking in a quick breath, he let go of the gun that had been at his forehead a moment ago and rolled back over, scooping up the Browning and pointing it at Odilon's head before pulling the trigger.

Nothing happened. Jensen froze in disbelief. The Panther couldn't have used up all of the bullets. He hadn't fired enough shots.

Odilon was scrambling backwards to his feet, injured hand pressed to his side, his other hand securely gripping Jensen's gun. Jensen had run out of time again, and even as he flicked out the knife from his wrist and cocked his arm to throw it, he knew the best he could do was to kill the Panther at the cost of his own life.

"Brownings are tricky." Sam stood next to him in front of a long table, looking over an array of weaponry that would have made the average NRA member's eyes bug out. "You have to manually release the safety or they won't fire. Too easy to forget when you need it."

"How do you know so much about guns?" Jensen knew that Sam never answered questions like this, but he never stopped trying.

"It's kind of how I grew up." Sam picked up a Beretta, long fingers moving over the black steel in what was almost a caress. "Now this is more like it."

Jensen would kick himself later. For now, he thumbed back the safety and, one-handed, aimed at the center of mass, aware that he was only going to get one shot.

Both men fired at once. Both hit their target.

Jensen had been shot in the chest before, had recovered from a hole in his side that pierced his flesh and skimmed past everything important. Somehow he'd survived being shot four times, in part from the cold water he'd fallen into and in part because nothing vital had been hit.

This time was different.

The bullet thumped into him below his sternum, a bright flash of pain overwhelming him before he could make a sound. Dimly, he heard a shout from above him, and he lifted his head to see Odilon staggering backwards, dark red blossoming low on his shoulder.

Jensen drew in a harsh breath and tried to raise his arm to fire again, but his body wasn't responding. Still, the Panther flinched backwards at the motion, enough to bump him into one of the wooden sawhorses and send it crashing to the ground.

The unexpected jolt made him lose his balance, and he twisted sideways, grabbing for the window frame but unable to grasp it with his injured hand.

With an angry scream, Raimundo Odilon toppled over and disappeared out the window.

Jensen stared after him blankly. He tried again to raise the gun in case the Panther came back, but he soon gave up and slumped to the ground as he realized he had more important things to worry about.

Like breathing.

He sluggishly lifted his head and saw the blood spreading across his chest, dark red against the white of his shirt. It was amazing how much blood there was inside one person, how fast it could spread through fabric and seep down his side onto the floor. His next, raspy breath told him that the blood wasn't only spreading outside of his body, but inside as well, into his lung and upwards to his mouth, where it bubbled up onto his lips as he shakily exhaled, overwhelming him with its metallic taste.

Oh, shit. He was really in trouble here.

Jensen's hands went limp, the gun a heavy weight across his palm. He blinked up at the exposed pipes and ducts in the unfinished ceiling, everything else forgotten except the need to draw one more breath, to fight the darkness that was creeping in with the insistency of the tide.

Through a blurry haze, he saw the stairwell door open and a figure in a worn, heavy yellow-green uniform enter. Behind his plastic mask, the man's eyes widened, and he took three steps forward and dropped next to Jensen, pulling off his thick gloves and pressing his hands to Jensen's chest.

Sheer agony blazed through him like a wildfire, and he gasped in shock before the world abruptly disappeared in a sheet of red.

Chapter Text

The first thing Jared could hear was the steady beep of a heart monitor. Eyes still closed, he breathed in a slightly pungent smell that reminded him of doing his rounds. He was confused about what he was doing back at work, and why he was at the hospital instead of the clinic, but maybe it would be clear when he opened his eyes.

He just needed to rest for a minute first.

Finally, he dragged open his eyelids and took in the view. Although it was clearly a hospital, he was the one in the bed, lying on his right side, facing the door. He was alone in the room with only the steady beep of the heart monitor to keep him company. Something tickled his nose, and he hesitantly reached up to find an oxygen cannula running beneath his nostrils. He absently scratched at the skin under it and then lowered his hand, noticing the IV taped to the back of his arm.

Staring at the clock on the opposite wall, which helpfully told him it was a few minutes after seven but not whether that was in the morning or evening, Jared tried to remember how he'd gotten here, or where here even was. Wouldn't it be funny if he ended up being the one who couldn't remember things, instead of—

Jensen. Oh, God. Where was Jensen?

Craning his neck upwards, Jared saw the cord with a call button dangling near the head of the bed. He reached out with his left hand, wincing as the move pulled on something in his lower back that didn't want to move. As his thumb depressed the button, he suddenly remembered, and his eyes went wide.

The knife in his back. Pulling the fire alarm. Odilon chasing Jensen out of the room, and then nothing.

Where the fuck was Jensen?

The door opened, and a young, petite red-haired woman in pale yellow nurse's scrubs entered the room. "Good morning," she said in a cheerful but low voice with an accent that sounded vaguely Irish. "I'm glad to see you're awake. How are you feeling?"

"Where 'm I?" Jared asked instantly, if fuzzily.

"Bethesda Naval Hospital, north of Washington, DC." She came closer, moving slowly as if not to startle him. "You were brought here with a serious stab wound, but you're going to be fine."

Huh. Jared gave a frown. He wasn't in the Navy. What was he doing here?

He must have said that last bit out loud, for the nurse gave him a warm smile and said, "All I know is that you're in the secure wing and I'm not to ask any questions about who you are or how you got here."

"But that's what I was going to ask you," he protested feebly. "Not who I am, but…"

She shook her head. "I need to take your vitals and then there's someone who wants to talk to you. He can answer your questions."

"Jensen?" he asked eagerly.

She shook her head again, removing a blood pressure cuff from the side table and wrapping it around his arm. "No, I think his name is Alex. Now, you shouldn't be feeling too bad right now, but tell me, are you in any pain?"

"No, I'm fine," Jared replied, struggling to think past the cotton wool wrapped around his brain. She wasn't kidding when she said he shouldn't be feeling bad, if whatever they were giving him was making his head this muzzy. "Was someone brought in with me? I don't know if he would have been hurt or not, but I need to find him."

"I don't know," she replied in her lilting accent, efficiently measuring his blood pressure and checking his pulse against the small screen of the heart monitor. She moved to the end of the bed and jotted something down on the clipboard hanging here. "You can ask your Alex when he gets here."

"Can you…can you do something for me?" He squinted at her name tag. "Maggie. Can you check on something?"

"Maybe." She hung the chart back up and moved to the monitors, checking the level of fluid in the IV bags. "If it involves you getting out of this bed, the answer is no."

"No, I just need to know." Jared thought for a moment, trying to decide which name was most likely, and then said, "Can you see if there was a Dean Winchester brought here with me?"

She patted his arm and said, "You get some rest, and I'll be back with the doctor."

"But…" Before Jared could say anything else, she flashed him a quick smile and left the room.

Jared started to roll onto his back, but the warning twinge of pain kept him in place. Carefully, he craned his head around and saw through the open back of his hospital gown that there was a horizontal line of stitches halfway down his back, dark black thread vivid against his skin. He started to reach back to feel, but his dorsals protested vehemently at the motion.

"Here now, none of that."

Jared looked up sharply to see a tall, middle-aged African-American man in a pristine white coat standing in the doorway. He went on, "As a fellow doctor, I'm sure I don't need to tell you to leave that alone."

"It itches," Jared said slightly petulantly.

"You have no idea how good that is to hear." He came forward and offered his hand. "Dr. Tom Canbury. Nice to meet the conscious version of yourself, Dr. Padalecki."

Jared liked him right away. "Thanks," he said, reaching up to shake his hand. "You can call me Jared."

"Sure thing, Jared. You want to tell me how you're feeling?"

He paused, doing a mental inventory. "My back is kind of throbbing, but not too bad, and my leg is kinda sore from where he—"

"Hold on there." Dr. Canbury held up a hand. "Let's keep in mind that this is a high-security ward, and the less I know about how you got here, the better for everyone. I'm treating your injuries, not chasing down whoever gave them to you."

Jared sank back onto his side, beginning to feel weirded-out. "Okay, then what happened after I got here?"

The doctor sat down in the chair next to the bed. "Well, you came in with a couple of inches of tempered steel in your back. Do you remember that?"

Jared nodded. It was blurred by pain, but the look of terror on Jensen's face as he felt the blade sinking in was something he would never forget.

"Good. Don't tell me how it got there, it's none of my business. Stroke of luck number one, they got you here pretty fast. Stroke of luck number two, the knife went in deep but not hard."

Jared nodded again, thinking of how he'd tried to twist away after hearing Jensen's horrified shout, glad that it had managed to accomplish something. "Is there a number three?" he asked.

"Why yes, there is. It's called your spleen." Canbury's dark brown eyes were almost twinkling. "If you're going to get stabbed in the torso, it's the way to go. We had to take about half of it out, but as you probably know, it'll grow back over time."

"Wow." Jared let that sink in for a moment. For an injury that had hurt so badly, he was doing pretty well. "And long term?"

"As long as you stay here for a couple of more days and don't do anything overly strenuous within the next few months, I don't see a problem. You'll be more susceptible to illness and infection while the spleen regenerates, but that's only within a year." The doctor reached out and patted his arm. "You're a lucky man, my boy."

"I guess so," Jared said. "Thanks."

They exchanged a few more words, and then doctor made a few notations on the chart and then left to let Jared rest. A moment later, Maggie poked her head back in and said, "Alex said to tell you that he's going to be here in about half an hour and that you should rest in the meantime."

She started to withdraw again, and Jared called, "Wait!" When she paused, he asked, "What about that favor I asked?"

Maggie shook her head and looked away. "I'm not supposed to share information about other patients."

"Please," Jared said. Already she'd inadvertently told him that Jensen was here, and if he could be reassured that he was all right… "If he was hurt, it was while saving my life. I need to know."

The redhead bit her lip and then stepped into the room. "Then I'm sorry. I did ask, and there was a Dean Winchester brought in around the same time as you. That was yesterday at around three in the afternoon. But I'm afraid he was pronounced DOA."

Jared stared at her. He must have misheard. "Dead?" he asked in a small voice.

She nodded with a compassionate gaze. "I'm sorry. He was a friend of yours?"

"Yeah," Jared croaked out, unable to believe it. "He—he was."

"I'm sorry," Maggie repeated. Then she quietly opened the door and walked out.

Jared fell onto his back, this time barely noticing the pain. No. Jensen wasn't dead. He had to have gotten to the Panther, otherwise Jared wouldn't have been alive for the paramedics to rescue. He had to have come out on top.

How else was Jared going to tell him who he was and give him the world's biggest "I told you so" when he found out he wasn't actually a hired killer? How else were they going to keep the promises they'd made to each other in Barcelona, before Ravenswood had ripped them apart and brought them here to—

"Oh, God," Jared whispered, putting his hand to his mouth. He was going to be sick. He'd been so sure Jensen was waiting out in the hall to see him, but to hear this…

He curled up on his side and stared blankly at the wall, wishing he could pass out again and leave the world behind. But his mind was too busy, wondering what might have happened, what the Panther had done to Jensen, if there was anything he could have done differently to save him.

By the time the door opened and Alex Conklin stepped inside, Jared felt completely numb. The only thing he could say when the older man approached was a broken, "How?"

Alex looked confused. "How are you doing, Jared?"

He blinked, not sure how the older man could even ask him that. "Jensen. How…?"

Alex nodded and pulled the room's lone chair closer to the bed. He had a dark brown suit jacket draped over his arm, his cream-colored shirt wrinkled and worn. "It's touch-and-go, but you know he's strong."

Jared's brow furrowed. "I—I don't understand."

"I'm sorry, I forgot—I've been with him most of the time. He's in ICU, Jared. The gunshot wound was serious, but they think they were able to repair everything." He looked at his watch. "The next—well, now it's eighteen hours or so—are critical, but—"

"Wait." Jared leaned up on one elbow, hardly daring to breathe. "He's alive?"

"Yes, but not out of the woods." Alex cocked his head to the side. "I'm sorry, I would have come to tell you sooner, but I wanted to speak to his doctor."

Jared stared at him and then let out a huge breath. "Oh, my God," he said, putting his hand over his face. "Holy shit."

He took in a few breaths, letting relief flow through him. Oh, he knew the critical twenty-four hour window bit, and there was a very good chance Jensen might not pull through. But he had never met anyone stronger in his life, and there was no way Jensen would be giving up.

When he finally looked at Conklin, the older man was frowning at him. "Jared, are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, I think so." He eased himself back down onto his side, aware of the pain throbbing from his back like he hadn't been since Maggie left. The sudden rush of adrenaline from hearing Jensen was alive was abating as quickly as it had come, leaving him exhausted. "I, uh, I might have asked the nurse, and she might have told me that Dean Winchester was, well, dead."

"Damn it, no one is supposed to say anything!" Alex burst out, rising from his seat.

"Don't get her in trouble," Jared pleaded quietly. "It's my fault, I badgered her into it. S'pose it serves me right."

"It's not that." Conklin sat back down, putting his hand to his forehead. "It's for your own security, both of you. Dean Winchester is officially dead. Regardless of what happens now, he's gone. You, however, are an actual living person and can't be treated the same way." He gave a wry grin. "Officially, you're in a coma yourself."

Jared frowned, his mind not working as quickly as it should. "What do you mean, 'regardless of what happens'?"

Alex looked down at the floor and sighed. "We pieced together that it was Odilon who hurt you both, and we have some good leads on where he's gone, but we don't have the Panther in hand."

Jared felt a chill run over him. "He—he knows that we both know what he looks like," he said haltingly.

"We know," Alex said tartly. "Thus the secure wing at Bethesda and what is supposed to be high-level security as to the release of information about your condition."

"How did he…"

"We don't know. All we know is that the paramedics only found you and Jensen on the top floor, and no one else inside the building or nearby." Alex shifted in his seat. "When we lost contact with you, we moved in, and we basically ended up following the firefighters into the building where you were. I decided it was best to declare 'Dean' as dead on the spot and hope that both of you pulled through."

"That doesn't make any sense," Jared said slowly, remembering the near-excitement with which Odilon had awaited Jensen's arrival. "I mean, I don't think he would have just wounded us and left. He—he really wanted Jensen dead."

"I think you're right." Conklin shrugged, his blue eyes darkening. "We'll have to wait until Jensen wakes up to find out what happened."

 

Forty-eight hours later, that still hadn't occurred. Jared had been getting regular reports from Alex until the poor guy finally went home to get some sleep, and after that he kept bugging the nurses until they agreed to give him an update every four hours. Finally, after Dr. Canbury pronounced him fit to leave his bed long enough to cross the room on his own to the bathroom, he wheedled Maggie into letting him borrow a wheelchair and helping him sneak down the hall to Jensen's room.

Once she realized what had happened, she felt awful about giving him the impression that his friend had died, and Jared wasn't above using that for his own purposes if it could get him in to see Jensen. So she wheeled him down the hall and left him beside Jensen's bed with a pat on the shoulder and a blanket to drape over his thin hospital gown.

After she'd left, Jared finally looked at the figure in the bed, and he drew in a sharp breath. Jensen's face was so pale the freckles stood out like spots, dark smudges under his eyes enhancing his unhealthy look. He had only the same nasal cannula and IV that Jared had had upon waking up, which was a good sign. Alex had said earlier he was on a respirator because of his collapsed lung, and Jared was glad he had missed that. Those machines creeped him out enough when they were breathing for a patient he didn't know; he couldn't imagine seeing one of them moving Jensen's chest up and down. Even the chest tube had been removed, so his lung must have re-inflated.

Jared hesitantly reached out and took Jensen's hand in his. The graceful fingers were dry and cold, and he shifted his grip until his little finger was resting on the pulse in Jensen's wrist. There was a heart monitor beeping away, of course, but actually feeling the blood pulsing under Jensen's skin was more reassuring than the regular electronic beep.

He cast a look over his shoulder at the end of the bed, where Jensen's chart was hanging, but he decided not to take a look. Doctor-patient privacy was ingrained deeply within him, and more than that, he wasn't sure he really wanted to know the details of everything that had happened to Jensen's body. Alex had told him about the two gunshot wounds and the ensuing pneumothorax, and that was enough for now.

"Hey, Jen," he said softly, tightening his grip on the too-still hand in his. "I'm here now. So, you know, feel free to wake up any time." He wet his lips and went on, "I, uh, I miss those gorgeous eyes of yours, and I'm sure you miss having me babble on and on about everything. It's way too quiet in here. So I'm holding up my end; how about you hold up yours?"

He knew it was too much to hope for that Jensen would magically wake up now that he was at his side, but he kept talking in a low voice, about growing up and going to college, about some of his crazier patients at the clinic, anything he could think of that didn't have to do with Ravenswood or Odilon or being hurt.

Maggie poked her head in at one point, but only to give him a cheerful wave in a Carry on! sort of way. Jared was starting to get tired, but he was determined to sit here as long as he could. He could be sleepy in a wheelchair as easily as anywhere else, and he'd been sleeping an awful lot lately, anyway.

Suddenly, there was a soft rasping sound from the bed, and Jared looked up to see Jensen's head shifting on the pillow. He held his breath and waited.

A second later, brilliant green eyes slid open a crack and slowly moved from side to side. When they landed on Jared, he broke into a tremulous smile, feeling relief welling up in him. "Hey there," he said softly, stroking his thumb back and forth over the back of Jensen's hand. He wanted to ask, "Remember me?" but he was too afraid of the answer.

"Hey," Jensen croaked. He closed his eyes again, then opened them, wider this time, looking Jared up and down. "No gun…this time?" he muttered, barely audibly.

Jared let out a whoosh of breath. "No, just me," he said, his voice catching. "How're you feeling?"

Jensen heaved in a slow breath, his eyes sliding shut. "Got…shot?" he asked haltingly.

"Yeah," Jared said softly, reaching out to stroke Jensen's forehead, grimacing slightly at the discomfort from the strain that the movement put on his back. "Yeah, Jen, you did. Guess you thought there weren't already enough holes in you. But you're gonna be fine, okay?"

"'K." A few seconds passed, and it occurred to Jared that he should be pressing the call button to alert someone that Jensen was awake. But then Jensen's eyes flew open, fear in their clouded depths, and he struggled to lift his head off the pillow. "Jay, you—you were—"

"Hey, shhh, I'm okay, too," Jared said, gently pressing Jensen's head back down. "Actually, I'm better off than you. 'M sitting upright and everything."

"He stabbed you." Jensen's eyes were wilder, his hand tightening on Jared's. "I saw him, he—"

"Jen, I'm okay. See?" Jared twisted around in his seat despite the flare of pain and let the blanket fall away. He was actually glad for the open-backed hospital gown so that the neat line of stitches across his left side was clearly visible. He waited for a moment and then turned back, giving a weak smile. "I wasn't really using that part of my spleen anyway."

Jensen's eyes were wide, but he was settling back into place, fumbling to grasp Jared's hand in his. "You're okay?" he asked tightly.

"A little rest and I'll be good as new." He wanted to bend over and kiss Jensen, but turning around in the chair had hurt like hell, and he wasn't going to risk any more motion right now. Instead, he brought Jensen's hand up and pressed it to his cheek, turning his head to bury a kiss in his palm. "We're both gonna be okay. Promise."

"'K." Jensen's fingers moved against the side of his face and then went lax as his eyes closed again.

Jared folded his hand over Jensen's and watched him slide back into sleep. Drawing in a deep breath, he wasn't surprised to find tears prickling at the backs of his eyes, and he lifted his other hand to brush them away. He pressed his pinky to Jensen's wrist again, letting the steady, strong beat of the pulse there throb through his finger. Closing his eyes, he slowed his breathing so that it was in time with Jensen's.

When Maggie came in half an hour later, she found him sound asleep, bent forward so that his head was resting on Jensen's hip, their hands intertwined and resting on Jared's cheek, both breathing steadily in unison. She was very apologetic about waking him up, but there was someone outside who really needed to speak with him.

Chapter Text

Jensen took a deep breath and adjusted the bed so he was sitting more or less upright. Moving tended to hurt, since they'd been weaning him off the good drugs as he started to recover, but it was getting to be discomfort rather than pain. He couldn't believe he'd been in the hospital for almost a week already. Three of those days had been spent completely unconscious, and the last three mostly so, but only once in that time had he seen Jared.

He hadn't actually seen anyone aside from medical personnel. They did their jobs quietly and efficiently, no more trying to engage him in conversation than he did them. He kept asking to see Alex or Jared, but he was always told they were in meetings or that they'd stopped by when he was asleep. Jensen would have thought he was simply being placated except that he was spending an awful lot of time unconscious. He wished someone would tell him what the hell was going on outside the hospital walls. At least they could provide him with a damn TV.

On the other hand, the quiet solitude gave him a lot of time to think. And he had an awful lot to think about.

There was a knock at the door, and a familiar head of shaggy brown hair poked in. "Hi," Jared said, looking slightly lost.

Jensen felt the grin stretch across his face. Finally. "Hi, Jay. Come in."

He got a small smile in response, barely enough to activate those cute dimples, as Jared came into the room, moving slowly and favoring his left side. When he started to lower himself into the chair, Jensen shook his head and scooted sideways on the bed, patting the space that was left open.

Jared hesitated and then sat in the chair with an apologetic face. "I, uh, don't want to strain my back any more than I have to."

"How's it feeling?" Jensen asked quickly to hide his disappointment.

"It's okay." Jared shifted against the back of the seat. "You, uh, I heard you wanted to talk to me?"

He sounded strained, not at all like the reassuring companion who'd been there when Jensen first woke up, holding his hand and telling him they were both going to be all right. Jensen opened his mouth, ready to say that it could wait and that Jared should tell him whatever was bothering him first.

But he'd had a lot to think about, and he needed to get some things out there before he lost his nerve.

"Yeah." Jensen took a deep breath, suddenly feeling butterflies in his stomach. "I, uh, I guess the trauma from being shot and all scrambled my brain in a different direction or something. I remember, Jared. Who I am. Not everything, and I guess I might not ever get it all back, but there's some things I want to tell you."

"That's great, Jensen." Jared was smiling warmly, but he didn't look surprised.

Jensen lowered his brows, feeling deflated. "They told you?"

Jared shrugged his right shoulder. "I might have kind of begged Dr. Canbury until he gave in and told me how you were doing."

"You didn't come and ask me?" Jensen was taken aback. He'd been bored out of his mind for three days, and Jared had stayed away from him the entire time? Maybe he'd been imagining the heartfelt concern the taller man had shown when sitting by his bedside, watching him as he woke up. Maybe Jared wanted to get out of here and get back to his life.

Jared's mouth twisted. "I've been kept busy." He paused and then shook his head. "It can wait. I want to hear about you."

"You sure you don't know it all already?" Jensen retorted.

"Jensen, please." Jared's face softened, and he leaned forward to lay a hand on Jensen's forearm. "Tell me who you are."

"Okay." He took another deep breath. How do you summarize your entire life to someone who already knows you better than you do yourself? "Well, my name is Jensen Ross Ackles. I grew up near Dallas, I have an older brother and a younger sister, I studied linguistics at UT, and I went to the Defense Language Institute to become a translator. I worked for Ravenswood doing all sorts of things I still can't tell you about, but I felt like I was doing good work there." He grimaced. "I'm not exactly a saint, but I guess I'm more like the guy you thought I was than the guy I was afraid I was, if that makes any sense."

Jared nodded encouragingly, and he went on, "I messed around a little in college, but I didn't come out to my family until I got to know Sam Winchester and realized I—how I felt about him. They didn't take it well, and I haven't seen them since." He saw a quick flash of pain across Jared's eyes before he lowered his head, but the hand on his arm squeezed gently.

Jensen swallowed. This was where it got tricky. "Then Sam—he died for me. And because of that, I spent the last few years pretending to be someone else. I had a damn good reason for doing it, or at least I thought I did, but after a while I kinda forgot. I lost my name and my identity, and pretty soon there wasn't really anyone who knew who I was." He went silent, thinking about the dark despair that had driven him for years, turning him into another person, one who was more comfortable with a gun than a conversation, one who would have rather been shot yet again than open himself up like this.

He quirked up the corner of his mouth. "And then I got shot in the head." He waited for Jared's answering but faint smile. "But then I found someone who did know who I am, even when I didn't have a clue. And he stuck by me when he probably shouldn't have, got me to believe that he was right about me, even when the rest of the world thought I was someone else. That's why I…"

Jensen paused and slid his hand over Jared's, feeling as vulnerable as he'd ever been in front of this man. "Look, I don't know what's going on, because nobody's been telling me a damn thing. But whatever happens, I—I want you to know that…I don't want to be without you. And it's not because you look like someone I used to know, or because you're a replacement for him. It's because you're you, Jared. I need you to know that."

Jared stared back at him, blinking once or twice, before looking down. Jensen couldn't see the expression on his face behind his too-long hair, but given that Jared hadn't immediately moved to kiss him or return the sentiment like he'd hoped, it didn't really matter.

Jensen swallowed hard, his hopes dimming. He should have kept his thoughts to himself. "I just thought you should know before you go back to L.A. or whatever," he said, starting to pull his hand back.

Jared flipped his hand over and grasped Jensen's firmly in his. "Wait," he said. He gave a nervous half-laugh. "About that. There's something you should know." He took a deep breath, meeting Jensen's eyes. "He got away, Jen. The Panther."

Jensen's stomach suddenly dropped. "What? He fell out a fucking seventh-story window. There's no way."

Jared rubbed his thumb back and forth over the backs of Jensen's fingers. "They were still installing the windows, and there was a platform a couple of stories down, like what window washers use. There was blood on it, and they figure he managed to get back inside and slip out as the fire trucks arrived."

"You gotta be kidding me." Jensen put his other hand up to his mouth. The emotional roller coaster of the past few minutes had abruptly turned into the familiar twisting path of strategy and survival, and the abrupt transition was enough to leave him dizzy. "I wounded him, but not real bad. Even if anyone saw him outside, they wouldn't have stopped him, because no one else knows what he looks like."

"Right."

Something occurred to him, and he sat up straighter. "And no one bothered to tell me this for a whole freakin' week?"

Jared heaved in a breath. "Alex didn't want to endanger your recovery by, well…" He trailed off and waved a hand at Jensen. "By getting you upset." When Jensen rolled his eyes, Jared went on, "Besides, they were hoping they'd find him in the meantime. I worked with a sketch artist, and they combed all the surveillance footage they could find, but no luck."

Jensen eyed him closely, suddenly understanding why he looked so lost and why he had, in fact, been avoiding this room. "So now there are two people in the whole world who can ID him," he said slowly.

Jared nodded. "And Ravenswood and the FBI think we should both be in protective custody. Witness Protection, more specifically." He waved his free hand in the air again. "The whole shebang."

"Shit." Jensen thought for a moment. That meant new names, new identities, new everything. That was fine for him, since "Dean Winchester" had never been real and "Jensen Ackles" had been gone for years, but for Jared… "Have they told you where?"

"They want to put us in opposite corners of the country, maybe even different countries." Jared shook his head firmly and said, "I told them that wasn't happening. I can't—I don't want to be without you, either."

Jensen moistened his lips. "I hate to say it, but it'll be a lot harder for us to be protected if we're in the same place—"

"I don't care," Jared replied, leaning forward, his blue-green eyes suddenly wide and insistent. "I can't do this without you, Jensen. You're all that I've got now."

"Your sister?" Jensen asked, his voice a croak. "Is she…"

Jared sighed. "Megan's okay. You were right, no one ever went near her. But I had to—" He broke off and swallowed hard. When he spoke again, his voice was shaking slightly. "They brought her here so I could tell her I'm going to be dead. They told her she was coming out here to see me on life support. Once she got here, they let her meet with me and tell her a half-assed version of the truth. Now she's going to have to pretend that she told them to pull the plug. Tonight, I'm going to be declared dead, and she's going to go back home all alone, and unless they catch the Panther someday, I'm never going to see her again."

There was silence. Then Jensen said, quietly but with great feeling, "Well, fuck."

Jared snorted. "Yeah, pretty much."

"Jay, I…" Jensen trailed off and pulled his hand away from Jared's. "I don't know what to say." His head was spinning. When he'd been lying on the floor, his life bleeding away, the one piece of reassurance he'd had was that Odilon was dead, the Panther was gone.

Now it turned out that it had all been for nothing. He'd spent three years chasing this man down, had ruined Jared's life and his sister's in the process, and for what?

"I am so sorry," he finally said. "If I'd had better aim, if I hadn't let him get a hold of the gun, I don't know. I had so many chances to take him out up there, and I failed."

"Jen, please. You have no idea how glad I am that you made it out, okay? That you're here and in one piece." Jared let out a small sigh. "It's just—I need a little time to think about this right now."

"Yeah, of course," Jensen agreed quickly. "Whatever you need."

"Thanks," Jared said. He slowly stood up. "I'm down the hall. Not supposed to leave my room in case someone sees the guy who's on life support up and walking around. Gonna talk with Megan some more, I think."

"I'm sorry," Jensen said again, wishing there was something more he could say.

"I know," Jared replied, his eyes dim and sad. Then he turned and left.

 

Jensen fell into an uneasy sleep after that, his dreams filled with memories of the past few weeks and the years before that. It wasn't restful at all, and in between fitful dozes, he wondered how long it was going to take before everything got sorted out in his head.

The next time he woke up fully, it wasn't Jared but a familiar salt-and-pepper-haired man seated in the chair next to the bed, his thumb moving rapidly over the touchscreen of his phone. Jensen watched him for a moment, letting the sudden but welcome feelings of security and trust wash over him. A week ago, he couldn't have associated either with the sight of this man, but now it seemed as natural as breathing.

Finally, Jensen started the laborious process of sitting up, struggling to rise enough to prop himself back against the pillows. The man's blue eyes lit up, and he quickly put the phone away, reaching out to help adjust the pillows. "Hello, Jensen," he said somewhat tentatively.

Jensen gave him a warm smile as he settled into place. "Hey, Alex."

The older man's face creased into a grin. "You remember me."

"Yeah." He sheepishly shrugged one shoulder. "Finally."

Conklin gave him a knowing look. "That's not your fault, Jensen. It's a miracle you're alive at all."

"Yeah, I guess so." Jensen cleared his throat. "I, uh, I don't remember everything, but I guess you could say there's more cheese than holes now." He'd been around Jared too long if the food metaphors were rubbing off on him.

The older man nodded. "You must have a lot to think about, a lot of questions to ask."

"I'm sure you do, too," he replied with raised eyebrows.

"Yes, well, the formal debriefing will start tomorrow and go on for quite a while." Alex's smile softened his words. "For now, I'm here to visit an old friend."

Jensen nodded absently. There was something he'd been weighing in the back of his mind since he realized he had most of his memories back, and now with Alex here, it suddenly spilled out. "You were right, you know. You never should have let me talk you into it three years ago. I never should have done it."

Alex's heavy brows furrowed for a moment before his face cleared. "Jensen. You had no way of knowing what would happen or how long it would take. You were grieving and you had to do something about it." He gave a frown. "Truth be told, I was happy to help at the time."

Jensen blinked at him, startled. He could vaguely remember their conversations escalating into shouting matches over the merits of becoming Dean Winchester and hunting down the Panther, angry confrontations over taking time to let the wounds of Sam's loss heal vs. diving right in to the revenge game. "Really?"

"Really." Alex's face softened. "You were both like sons to me, Jensen."

Jensen swallowed and looked away. "He never really got over it, you know," he said, his voice low and gravelly. "Losing his family the way he did, not being there for them. He never forgave himself." Jensen shifted against the pillows. "Kinda funny that I did the same thing."

Alex cocked his head to the side. "What do you mean?"

Jensen sighed. "I wasn't there. I wasn't watching his back, and he died. And I couldn't forgive myself for it. All this time, and I never let it go because I couldn't get far enough away from it to understand."

"Jensen, there was nothing you could have done. We reconstructed it later, went over every angle—"

"I know that." He rolled his eyes. "I know that now. But back then, I couldn't see it. All I could see was that he died alone. My partner died alone."

"He died protecting you," Alex reminded him.

"Yeah, I know." An unexpected lump came into his throat, and Jensen had to swallow it down. "I, uh, I've been thinking about it, and maybe that's how he wanted to go. I think maybe it…it made it okay for him in the end."

Jensen's throat abruptly clogged, and he had to close his eyes, surreptitiously lifting one hand to wipe away the single drop that had come out of nowhere to roll down his face. In a way, the last few days had been like losing Sam all over again, remembering his life as well as his death. But he also had the space now to see the bigger picture, and the words he'd just said were like a weight off his chest that had been resting there for three long years.

Alex was quiet, letting him collect himself. After a moment, he cleared his throat and said quietly, "Jensen, I need to apologize. I should never have mistrusted you like I did. There's always more than one interpretation of events, and I should have stood by you."

"You read the situation like you thought was right. I don't blame you." Jensen shrugged him off, glad for the change of subject. "Besides, if you really thought I'd turned, your snipers would have shot first and asked questions later. I didn't realize that until I was already on my way here, but you were trying to bring me in, not kill me."

Alex nodded. "Jared has given me an earful for that already. For not trusting you and for being so dramatic in the Plaça."

A small smile crept onto Jensen's face. "How's he doing?" he asked.

"Physically, he's healing." Alex shrugged. "I don't know him well, of course, but I think he needs some time to come to terms with everything. It's not easy to be told you have to give up your entire life to go into hiding from an expert assassin."

"Yeah." Jensen swallowed hard. "About that. I need you to do something for me, Alex."

"Of course." Conklin leaned forward slightly in his seat, his head tilted to the side.

"When it comes time to set up the witness protection stuff…whatever Jared wants, make sure he gets it. As long as it's safe for him. Wherever he wants to go, whatever kind of job he wants, if you can make it happen, do it."

Alex looked at him curiously. "I thought you'd be right there to make sure he had everything he wants."

Jensen shrugged. "I'm the one who's completely fucked up his life. He'd be better off if I wasn't around to screw with the rest of it."

"Oh, Jensen." Alex's hand came back down on his arm. "The only thing that's kept that boy going for the past two weeks is the thought of finding you and keeping you safe. There's no way in hell he'd walk away from you right now."

"You seem awful fond of the guy for someone you didn't know until last week."

Alex fixed him with a knowing look. "He's a very likable young man. He has a tendency to make you want to look out for him."

"No kidding," Jensen muttered.

There was silence for a moment. Then Alex sat up straighter in the chair, as if dismissing the topic. "I have to ask you: what did happen in Venice? Have you remembered that much?"

He let out a sigh. "The short version or the long one?"

"The one I can take back to the office to convince everyone I've done the right thing by not making you dead for real." Alex's tone was light, but his gaze over his black-framed glasses was serious.

Jensen grimaced. "I want to make sure I've got things right—the plan was for me to take out Kayode Jr. and find the proof he was planning to overthrow his father's government?"

Alex nodded once.

"Okay. Apparently the general's plan was to hire the Panther for the same kill, but to stop there and make sure he came out on top." Jensen lifted his eyebrows. "I found Kayode's yacht and was looking for documentation, a cell phone, e-mails, something. I heard something on deck, went up, circled around, and met the business end of the Panther's gun." He reached up and traced the linear scar over his ear. "Four bullets and a swim later, I have no idea who I am. I'm guessing by now you know the rest."

"That's odd," Alex replied. "Because according to Jared, Odilon thought that you killed Kayode."

Jensen's eyebrows shot up. "Huh." He thought for a moment. "Maybe it really was an accident?"

"Maybe," Alex shrugged.

Jensen let out a huff of breath. Wouldn't that be ironic? He'd almost abandoned Jared because he couldn't face the thought that he'd killed a man, and not only did it turn out that he was supposed to kill that man and didn't, but no one else had, either.

Something else he'd been wanting to say popped into his head. "I'm sorry about Chernak," Jensen said. "He was a good man, but he didn't give me much of a chance to explain. Not that I would have known what to say anyway, but I didn't have a choice."

Alex's mouth turned down at the corners. "He wasn't as good as you think." When Jensen frowned in puzzlement, he went on, "Jared told me how you found him. Do you remember what that information was doing buried in your hip?"

Jensen looked up at the ceiling, searching his memory. It was hard to get used to, suddenly having mental rooms full of material to sort through instead of the equivalent of a single filing cabinet. Slowly, the answer came to him. "It was for the end of the road," he said quietly.

"That's right. For when Dean Winchester was finished, for when the Panther was gone. And Chernak knew he was the last station on that journey."

"Thus the passports," Jensen mused. "So when I showed up with the job unfinished, he must have thought I'd skipped out."

"Not exactly." Alex's eyes were ice blue. "We've spoken with some people in Zurich. Chernak asked to be informed the second you accessed the safety deposit box there."

Jensen looked at him sharply. "He called in Dorner and Heinrich?" He'd been bluffing when he accused the German of having turned, but maybe it had been the truth.

"He was offered a tremendous amount of money and the continued health of his grandchildren to inform Odilon of your whereabouts." Alex shrugged. "He could have come to us and requested assistance. Instead he took the deal."

Jensen let that sink in. "So I shouldn't feel bad about the guy I did kill, but rather about the one I didn't?"

"You know this is a strange line of work," Alex replied ruefully.

"Yeah, I guess it has been," Jensen said. At Alex's penetrating look, he went on, "Hey, you're the one who killed off Dean. I take that as a sign that I'm done. Especially when I'm gonna be living in East Bumfuck, Montana, in a couple of weeks."

"I'd angle for some place warmer," Alex replied with raised eyebrows. Then he went on more seriously, "There are arrangements that can be made, Jensen. Remote work, if we put in enough security on the data network. Occasional business trips."

Jensen shook his head. "I'm done," he said simply. He had a whole string of arguments and explanations prepared, had listed them all in his head. But here and now, recalling how well Alex knew him, he realized he didn't need any of them. Alex would understand.

There was a long silence. Finally Alex sighed. "I knew that was going to be the case, but I hoped it wasn't. I don't blame you, though, Jensen. Not one bit."

He nodded. Then he cleared his throat. "About Jared. Is there—he said it was going to happen tonight. I want to be there."

"After nine, once the night shift is on. Fewer people to worry about." Alex sighed again. "I'll come by and get you."

"Thanks," Jensen said.

Now all there was to do was wait.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jared looked up as the door opened. Alex was pushing Jensen in a wheelchair, both of them looking somber. Well, the occasion certainly warrants it, he thought bitterly. "What are you doing here?" he asked, hearing the harsh tone of his voice but not apologizing for it.

"Doctor Canbury though you might want some company," Alex said gently.

"More likely he needs witnesses," Jared said, deliberately turning away. He was standing by the window, arms crossed over his chest. The anger was easier to show than the hurt, and he was feeling a lot of hurt right now.

He'd said goodbye to Megan about half an hour ago, both agreeing that she shouldn't be there for the official act. She'd been present when their mother's living will was activated, and the thought of seeing even a simulation of it for Jared wasn't something she could handle. So she was somewhere downstairs, filling out paperwork and making arrangements for an empty urn to be shipped back to Texas and beginning to learn how to live as the last surviving member of her family.

There were monitors running next to the head of the bed, stuck on an infinite loop keeping vital statistics for an empty bed, being recorded at the nurses' station under the name of one Jared Padalecki. He didn't need to look at them to know they were the slow readouts of a body with no hope of recovery, that no one would be surprised when they suddenly went blank. Not after the sole family member had decreed it that way.

That was one of the worst things about all of this: that the decision would go on record as being Megan's, when she'd really had no choice at all. She'd been so shocked to see Jared alive and well two days ago after almost a month of not hearing from him that she'd burst into tears. When he "explained" the situation, that he'd been kidnapped by someone vicious and powerful whom he'd later escaped from but that he could identify (and that much was true, even if it referred to less than an hour's worth of time in Washington, DC and not everything that had happened in Europe), she'd come to the conclusion about what was going to happen before he could even tell her.

At first she'd begged him not to do it. Jared had eventually convinced her that it was her life at stake as well as his, and that once the bad guy was caught, he could come home. He failed to tell her that over a decade of concerted effort by multiple national governments had come up short in that regard, but the small amount of hope it gave her was worth it, and she'd agreed.

In the end, she'd even found the strength to thank Alex for allowing them the opportunity to say goodbye, and Jared loved her even more for it. There was a final embrace in this same room, a final whispered prayer for his safety, and then she was gone.

Now, Jared was standing here with the two people most responsible for this whole mess, waiting to participate in the most surreal exercise of his life. Oh, deep down he knew it wasn't Jensen's fault and that both he and Conklin had made the best choices they could at the time. Jared had just gotten stuck in the middle.

Still, when Dr. Canbury entered the room and quietly asked Jared if he was ready, it took all that he had to lift his chin and say, "Yeah. Do it."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jensen flinch, but he didn't acknowledge it. His eyes never left the doctor, who was tapping something into the computer in the corner of the room. A moment later, the steady beep of the heart monitor started to slow down.

Jared's eyes were drawn to the green blips on the screen, watching as more distance grew between them. A brain-dead person being removed from life support wouldn't instantly flatline; there would be an interim period as their body started to shut down. He knew it could take an hour or more, but thankfully, the doctor knew that realism was only so important here, enough that the recordings at the nurse's station would be taken as accurate should anyone unauthorized ever get a hold of them. It was another a minute or two before the beeping sound faltered, sounding off more and more slowly.

When the harsh squeal of the flat line shrieked into the room, Jared's whole body shuddered.

Dr. Canbury looked up at him, compassion softening his face. "Jared Padalecki. I'm calling time of death at 9:47 P.M."

Jared drew in a shaky breath and looked away. Alex had come to stand next to him, and he reached out a hand to rest it on Jared's shoulder. He shrugged it off and stepped towards the window.

Outside, he saw the lights of the city, people at home or on their way there, people going about their daily lives who wouldn't know or care that he was officially dead. Jared Padalecki was gone, and for most of them, it wouldn't mean a thing.

But for one of them, a few flights down and soon to be in a car on the way to her empty hotel room, it meant the whole world. Jared couldn't help the stifled sob that escaped him at the thought of Megan traveling back home to make funeral arrangements and get his belongings packed up and live the rest of her life on her own. "It's not fair," he whispered fiercely, his throat tight.

Behind him, the shuffling of footsteps and the squeak of the door indicated that someone was leaving the room, and in the reflection of the window, he saw that it was the doctor, followed closely by Conklin. Jensen was still there, sitting awkwardly at the foot of the bed. As he watched, Jensen braced his hands on the armrests and rose to his feet, taking a couple of shaky steps forward. "No, it's not fair, Jay," he agreed in a rough voice. "And I am so sorry."

Jared lifted his hand to angrily dash away a tear. Damn it, he'd cried more in the last five days than he had in the last five years. "'S not your fault," he mumbled.

"Yeah, it is." Jensen sounded resigned, final. In the window reflection, Jared could see him reaching out but then lowering his hand before he touched Jared's back.

There was silence. Jared inhaled with only a slight hitch and said, "It's strange. All that time we were out there, and I never thought anything like this could happen. I figured either everything would get magically worked out and I'd be going back home, or, well, I'd be dead. But this—I don't know what to do. I don't know how I'm supposed to feel."

"I wish to God this had never happened to you." Jensen's voice was low, threaded with emotion. "If I could go back and change things, if I could take someone else from that hotel, I would do it in a second."

Jared let out a soft snort. "Unless they knew emergency medicine like me, you wouldn't have survived the night."

"I know that."

Jared whirled around at the flat tone of his voice. "What?"

Jensen's luminous eyes were wide open, guilt and sorrow shining forth. He was standing there with his arms folded over his stomach as if he was trying to hold something in. "Don't take this the wrong way, Jared," he said, his voice gravelly. "Please don't. But right now, I wish I'd never met you."

Jared looked back at him, taking in the pale cast of his face, remembering for some reason the moment he'd decided to trust this man and the warning that he might still be in danger because of him. But I swear to God, Jared, I am not gonna hurt you, Jensen had said, and Jared had believed him.

"Maybe…I do, too," Jared haltingly admitted, feeling something inside of him break as he said it.

Jensen flinched again, but he didn't say anything. His tongue shot out to wet his lips. Finally he said quietly, "I should probably leave you alone."

"Yeah, probably." Jared turned around again, watching through the reflection as Jensen stared at his back. Then Jensen lowered himself into the wheelchair and left the room.

Only then did Jared sink into the chair by the window and bury his face in his hands, shoulders hitching.

Only then did he mourn for the life that had been lost.

Chapter Text

Jensen clambered down the short, rocky bluff and stood at the edge of the water, gathering his courage. Jared was seated about fifty yards away on a shelf of limestone that jutted out over the edge of Lake Michigan, twisting something in his hands, occasionally looking out over the water. He was sitting cross-legged, broad shoulders hunched beneath his navy blue hoodie, shaggy hair moving with the breeze.

He looked like he was a million miles away.

They'd been here for almost three weeks, recuperating under the watchful eyes of a part-time nurse and no less than five full-time security staff. The one assigned to Jared was lurking in the trees overlooking the bluff, and Jensen knew another was behind him along the water's edge. The others were stationed in and around the house and the wooded drive leading up to it. They were relatively unobtrusive, but they were always there. Until the WitSec program made their final arrangements for Jensen and Jared's new lives and identities, the constant presence wasn't something they couldn't afford to give up.

For a while, Jensen had thought that was why Jared was being so distant. They'd moved into separate rooms at the lakeside cottage, which was fine; they were both recovering from serious injuries, and vigorous physical activity of any kind could have been detrimental to that recovery. Beyond that, having armed men always hanging around put a damper on any kind of physical closeness. It was also kind of spooky that their protectors deliberately didn't address either of them by name, given that both of them were officially nameless at the moment.

But they hadn't touched since arriving here, no more than casual brushes when they passed each other in a doorway. Jensen was starting to wonder if he'd imagined the heat in Jared's eyes, if his own promise about making love once they were somewhere safe had been completely one-sided. He was beginning to think Jared's response to him in the hospital affirming that he wanted Jensen around had been forgotten in the wake of what had happened to him.

Jared rose early and went for long walks in the forested dunes behind the beach, his only companions the security staff at a respectful distance. Eventually, he started going for a morning run along the lake, where there was no beach to speak of, only a slab of rock where the limestone bluffs stair-stepped into the water. In either case, Jensen found it too cold to spend much time outside; spring was slow to come up here in the North, and there was still snow in the shadow of the trees.

Besides, he'd been injured more seriously than Jared, and even though he was cleared for mild physical activity, he still got short of breath faster than he would like. Something warned him that his body could only take being brought to the brink of death so many times before it finally caught up to him. So he stayed inside, took it easy, and tried to think of what he could do to get Jared to talk to him.

When he was indoors, Jared was friendly but distant, watching television or reading the worn paperback thrillers piled on a bookshelf in the family room, speaking when spoken to but not much more. Jensen was willing to leave him alone at first, figuring that he needed time to adjust to his new life and the fact that he'd never be going back to L.A. or Texas, would likely never see his friends or remaining family again. It was a hard burden to bear, and as much as he wanted to be there for Jared, he could understand if he wanted to deal with it on his own.

But it had been weeks, and there was no sign of anything thawing on Jared's part. Jensen kept replaying his own emotional confession in the hospital and Jared's tentative response, and finally he realized he was waiting for reciprocation that wasn't going to happen. He was going to have to suck it up and tell Jared it was okay to let go, that it would actually make things easier if they said their goodbyes here. Moving into witness protection together wouldn't exactly have been happily ever after, but he thought it kind of would have fit.

Instead, the only happily ever after he was going to get was knowing Jared was alive and safe, somewhere far away from him.

He let out a sigh and walked forward, shoes scraping over the rock. Jared turned his head, his body tensing, his face guarded. When he saw who it was, he gave a nod of acknowledgment, but nothing more.

Jensen swallowed hard. He could do this. He had faced down killers and assassins; he could hold one little conversation without breaking down.

He reached the rock shelf and started to climb up the side, accepting Jared's hand to pull him up. As soon as he reached the top, Jared let go, the warmth of his hand vanishing into the chilly March air.

Jensen sat down beside him, feet dangling over the edge he'd climbed up. It was about six feet down to the water, shallow enough that it would only go to mid-shin. Behind him, the shelf of rock merged with the forested land, sunlight flashing off the glasses of the agent patiently watching from the trees. Jensen's eyes flickered back and forth, automatically searching out a clear route into the woods.

Jared was looking at him curiously when he turned back around, and he gave a self-deprecating smile. "Not happy unless I can see two exits, you know."

"Yeah, I guess." Jared shifted and resumed fidgeting with whatever he'd been doing when Jensen approached. It looked like he was braiding dried grasses together, a long strip extending from his nimble fingers and curling into a pile on the rock.

Jensen cleared his throat. "You, uh, haven't been around much lately."

One eyebrow lifted sardonically. "There's not really anywhere for me to go."

"You know what I mean." Jensen leaned forward so his forearms were resting on the tops of his denim-clad thighs, his gaze directed out over the steel-blue water. "Not used to your chatterbox self being so quiet."

"I got a lot to think about," Jared replied. He reached out and pulled a long blade of dead grass from a crack in the rock next to him, adding it to his plait.

Jensen's heart sank. The head security agent, a well-built guy named Tyler, had pulled him aside that morning and said they had three more days until they'd be sent to their final destination, new identities and jobs in place and ready to be learned. When he'd asked where that was, Tyler had said that was still up in the air, thanks to Jared. That was when he discovered that Jared had asked about the possibility of being set up on his own, given the lower security risk if he and Jensen weren't living in the same place.

Which was why Jensen was out here freezing his ass off, ready to have his heart broken.

"Yeah, I know," Jensen finally replied. He scooped up a small pebble and tossed it out into the lake, watching it sink below the surface. "I talked to Tyler this morning. He, uh, wants to know our decision about the arrangements." Jensen lowered his head and took in a deep breath before he said the words. "They'd be happier if we were in separate locations, you know."

There was silence except for Jensen's heart pounding in his chest. He kept his gaze focused on the water even though he sensed Jared going still beside him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jared turn to look at him, could feel his gaze burning into his back.

Finally, Jared inhaled deeply and spoke, his voice tired and sad. "Is that what you want for me, Jensen?"

The words struck him like a punch to the gut. "No!" he answered sharply, whirling his head around to stare at Jared. "God, no."

Jared's eyes were focused on him, the same blue-green color as the lake in front of them. For a moment, Jensen saw everything laid completely bare in those eyes, resignation and sadness swirling around like clouds before a storm. Then Jared looked down, pressing his lips together.

And then he got it. Why Jared had been pulling away from him for all this time, why he looked so scared and resigned now that Jensen was next to him, why he was quietly but determinedly drifting away. And his earlier decision to let Jared go flew right out the metaphorical window.

"Hey," he said, reaching out and folding his hand over one of Jared's, still fiddling with the grass. "Listen to me."

Jared didn't look up, but he didn't pull away, either.

Jensen bit his lip, searching for the right words. "I know you've been dragged along for the ride ever since I grabbed you, and I'm sorry for that. I'll always be sorry for that. And I know I said I wished I'd never met you, but that was only because of what it's done to you. You know that, right?"

Jared's head bobbed a couple of times.

"Okay." Jensen let out a whoosh of breath. "You said once that you'd learned to accept the crap that comes your way and try and make the best of it. And you have done so well with that, Jared. You amaze me how you've managed to survive the past month and a half."

Jared's hand clenched under his, but he didn't say anything.

Jensen wormed his fingers inside Jared's until their hands were clasped together. "But at some point, you gotta take what you want for yourself." He put a wry grin on his face, using it to hide his nerves. "And I was kind of hoping that was me."

At that, Jared finally looked up, surprise on his face. "You—you were? Still?"

Jared's bangs were blowing across his eyes, and Jensen reached up with his other hand to brush them back, lingering on Jared's face, feeling stubble brush against his palm before pulling away. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I never stopped."

Jared bit his lip. "Look, I—I know what you said in the hospital, before…" He waved his free hand in the air, indicating their surroundings and the general situation. "But…I don't know, I guess I thought that was the heat of the moment or something. That it was all the heat of the moment, two people thrown together in a high-stress situation, getting their feelings confused. You know."

Jensen grimaced at having his own words from after their first kiss thrown back at him. But he stayed silent, letting Jared continue.

Looking down at their hands, Jared was studying Jensen's fingers as if trying to figure out how they'd gotten tangled up with his own. Then he met Jensen's gaze and said quietly, "And I guess I thought that now that you know who you are, now that you've had time to figure things out…you don't need me anymore."

"That's so not true." Jensen leaned closer, playing his final card and allowing his emotions to show clearly on his face, letting his own need and fear bleed through into his gaze. "I'm the same person here, Jay. The same guy you've known all along. You really did know me better than I knew myself, all that time. And I—" He broke off, aware there was a tremor in his voice but unable to stop it. "I thought that meant something to you. Because it sure as hell means something to me."

Jared's eyes were gleaming, a sudden, sharp hope breaking though the stormy blue-grey. He reached up to the back of Jensen's neck, long fingers stroking back and forth over the sensitive skin there, sending shivers of anticipation down Jensen's spine, eyes roaming over his face as if reading everything he was putting out there.

When Jared finally spoke, his voice was a low rumble that sent Jensen's heart leaping upward. "Yeah, Jen, it does. It means an awful lot."

It only took the slightest tug for Jared to move forward, and then he was claiming Jensen's mouth with a fierce, possessive kiss. The relief that shot through Jensen was overwhelming, and he opened his mouth to find Jared's tongue already pushing inside, sweeping over his own and sending chills through him that had nothing to do with the temperature outside.

He grabbed a tight hold of Jared's hand and tangled the fingers of his other hand in flyaway brown hair as he kissed back just as hard, angling his head so they fit together better as they dived deeper. Tasting the sweet spiciness of Jared's mouth was exactly like coming home, and the small noises reverberating through Jared's lips as they moved against Jensen's set a fire burning inside of him.

When they broke apart, Jared's cheeks were flushed with more than the cold, and Jensen felt a warmth flowing inside of him that more than counteracted the chilly weather. Still, he rubbed his thumb back and forth over the backs of Jared's fingers and said, "You want to take this conversation someplace warmer?"

Jared grinned, dimples flashing, and the last of the knot in Jensen's stomach dissolved. "Only if you want to make it something more than a conversation."

Jensen was helpless to stop a smile from stretching his face almost painfully wide. "I think I can do that," he said slowly.

"Awesome." Jared suddenly scrambled to his feet and extended his hand. "Come on, then."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

They walked back to the cottage hand in hand, aware of the agents trailing them but not giving a damn about what they thought. Jared's mind was turning over and over so fast that he felt dizzy. He'd thought that he had lost Jensen, that he wouldn't be interested in being with him anymore now that he had his own identity back and time to put into perspective everything they'd done over the past few weeks.

Okay, so that might have been kind of stupid on his part, especially after Jensen's heartfelt confession in the hospital. But the shock of losing his life had thrown Jared for a loop, and he'd needed time to let that sink in. By the time he looked up, so to speak, it felt like Jensen had already gone.

But now Jensen's hand was clasped in his, those beautiful laugh lines crinkling the corners of his eyes, and Jared couldn't help but throw back his head and laugh at the sheer, unexpected joy running through him.

"What?" Jensen looked wary, like a joke had been made at his expense that he wasn't privy to.

Jared shook his head. "Nothing," he said, smiling broadly and letting go of Jensen's hand to wrap an arm around his shoulders. "Just you. You're here."

Jensen must have heard the wonder in his voice, for he cocked an eyebrow and said dryly, "I've been here the whole time, you know."

"I know." Jared gave him a rueful smile. "I've kind of had my head up my ass."

"That's a waste of a fine ass," Jensen seriously responded.

"Oh, yeah?" Jared replied with a hip check. "You think so?"

"There are much better things that could be done with that ass," Jensen continued, the corners of his mouth barely twitching.

Jared licked his lips and noticed Jensen watching the motion. "Gonna show me?" he asked, making his voice low and smoky.

"Hell, yeah," Jensen replied after a short pause, starting to walk faster.

Jared laughed again and matched his pace, feeling anticipation and desire coiling in his belly.

They entered the cottage almost at a run, startling Tyler, who was emptying the last of the coffeepot into a chipped white mug. "No worries," Jensen said with a quick wave as they bustled past, and Jared held back a chortle at the mix of alarm and confusion on the agent's face. "Everything's fine."

It only took a few strides to reach Jared's bedroom, both of them fully aware of who had the larger bed and the room that was farther down the hallway. Jared barely had the door shut behind them before Jensen was slamming him back against it, cold hands sliding under his sweatshirt and drawing forth a yelp that quickly turned into an embarrassingly high-pitched moan as both of Jensen's thumbs found his nipples.

"Shhh," Jensen soothed, his lips pausing in the hot path they were trailing up Jared's neck. "There's an audience outside, you know."

"Maybe they better get used to it," Jared replied breathlessly, spreading one hand over Jensen's ass and pulling him up close and personal.

Jensen stifled a groan as their burgeoning erections pressed together. "I like how you think, Padalecki," he muttered, his increasingly-warmer hands roaming over Jared's torso.

The flash of hurt at realizing that wasn't his name anymore dissolved as Jensen slowly, deliberately, ground against him while one hand slid down the back of Jared's sweatpants and palmed his ass, holding him in place. "Oh, fuck," Jared breathed out, his brain short-circuiting with pleasure as his head fell back against the wood of the door.

Jensen reached up to grab the back of Jared's head and pull him back down, their lips crashing together in a searing kiss. "We gotta remove some clothes for that," he rumbled when he pulled back, and the emerald-bright heat in his eyes almost made Jared's knees give way.

"Yeah," Jared agreed on an exhale, feeling the flush of arousal on his face matching Jensen's ruddy cheeks. He took in a deep breath and smoothed his hands over Jensen's chest. "And we gotta slow down or this is going to end in a couple of minutes."

Jensen smirked, looking up from under his long lashes. "What, you're only good for one round a day?"

Jared stuck out his tongue and was rewarded with a deep, rich laugh that made his already-hard dick twitch. Jensen wasn't quite the same man, he suddenly realized. He was lighter, like a shadow that had been wrapped around him had fallen away, or like a dark cloud had lifted. He was smiling and bright and here and beautiful.

He was pretty much everything Jared could imagine wanting.

Jensen must have seen his sappy feelings reflected on his face, for his expression softened as he reached up to unzip Jared's hoodie. "We can take it slow," he said. Then he raised an eyebrow and added, "Although you should know that I am cleared for any and all physical activity."

There was another twitch from below his belt. Jared wet his lips and said, "I guess there's always round two."

Jensen grinned and tilted his head upward, capturing Jared's lips in a slow, smoldering kiss that he broke only to lift the sweatshirt over Jared's head. "Your turn," he said, holding out his arms from his sides.

Chapter Text

They started to undress each other for the first time, hands carefully unbuttoning and removing clothing, mouths moving eagerly and reverently over revealed skin. When Jensen's hands slid under Jared's t-shirt and his fingers brushed across the short, ropy scar on his lower back, he suddenly went still, leaning his head forward to rest against Jared's shoulder. Jared nuzzled against Jensen's newly-short, spiky hair and stroked down the slope of his ass, letting him feel the strong beat of Jared's heart against his ear until he inhaled deeply and started touching again.

A moment later, when Jared lifted the last of Jensen's three shirts over his head and started to trail kisses down his chest, he froze as his lips brushed against the small, round scar over Jensen's ribs, still slightly red against the pale, freckled flesh. His arms instantly moved to wrap around Jensen and hold him tightly, eyes closing as he drew in a breath. He felt Jensen's hand stroking through his hair and breathed in his scent, and soon he was once again pressing his lips to the warm, scarred skin in front of him.

They stumbled back towards the bed, the heat of their bare chests pressed together more than making up for the chilly temperature of the room. When the backs of Jared's knees hit the end of the mattress, he fell backwards and drew Jensen on top of him. Jensen gave him a sly grin before dropping his head and latching onto a nipple, trapping it between his teeth and rubbing his tongue back and forth across it.

"Christ!" Jared arched back, closing his eyes and remembering Jensen's earlier command to just feel while he had his way with Jared's body. He wasn't about to be so passive this time, and he fought against the arousal clogging his brain to look at the man above him.

Jensen's hands and knees were planted on the bed, hips canted upwards as his mouth—God, his mouth—worked over Jared's chest. The muscular curves of his back shifted as he moved to the other nipple, the sunlight coming in through the window over the head of the bed casting patterns of light and shadow over his supple skin. Jared groaned at the sight and hooked his arms underneath Jensen's shoulders, pulling him up until they were lying flush against each other.

He stretched up and lightly bit and sucked at the ridge of Jensen's shoulder, smiling against his skin at the whimper it drew forth. "Your back is so gorgeous," he murmured. "I can't wait to see it all laid out in front of me when I'm inside you." He felt Jensen shudder on top of him and smiled as he licked around the shell of Jensen's ear, swirling his tongue over its ridges. "Can I do that to you, Jen?" he asked in a low voice. "Please? Can I fuck you?"

"Yeah," came the hoarse reply. "God, yes." Jensen nipped at his earlobe before pulling back and looking him in the eye. "On one condition."

"We can take turns," Jared said with what he hoped was a smoldering look.

"That too." Jensen arched back, pressing his groin down, leading Jared to moan helplessly in response. "But my condition is that I stay right here. Gonna ride you so I can see your face, watch you fall apart when you come thrusting up into me, holding me with those hands of yours."

"Shit!" Jared's hips involuntarily bucked upwards at the heat in Jensen's voice. "When did you get such a mouth on you?"

Jensen's smile was nothing short of devilish. "You might know me, Jay, but there's a lot of things you don't know about me yet."

"Can't wait to find out," Jared breathed, hooking his leg around Jensen's and pulling him even closer so their clothed erections slotted next to each other. "Starting with what kind of noises you make when I'm thrusting up into you and making you come."

"Yeah?" Jensen's eyes darkened further and he bent down, kissing Jared hard and fast, a rush of tongue and lips and heat before sliding off of him and gracefully rising to his feet. "C'mon then," he challenged, starting to unbuckle his belt.

"Let me," Jared said, sitting up so that Jensen was standing between his knees. He slowly, teasingly, slid the belt out of its buckle and started in on the buttons of Jensen's jeans, making sure to brush his knuckles against the hardness behind the fly as he went.

"Jesus," Jensen hissed, clenching his hands into fists and arching his back, head tilting to expose the line of his neck. He looked so much like he had when Jared sucked him off back in their hotel room that Jared had to stop to press the heel of his hand on his own erection to keep it all in. When he'd composed himself, he gripped Jensen's remaining clothing and brought it down his legs in one long pull.

Jared held the jeans and boxers steady while Jensen stepped out of them, and when he sat back up, it would have been almost physically impossible not to open his mouth and take in the hard cock jutting up in front of his face.

The open-mouthed groan Jensen let out probably could have been heard two counties over, much less in the rest of the cottage, and Jared inwardly grinned when he heard the television come on at an excessive volume in the living room. He sucked hard in one long, slow pull, coming off with a deliciously wet pop. When he looked up through his lashes, Jensen was staring back at him with such intensity that he shivered.

"Off," Jensen brusquely demanded, shoving him flat on his back and quickly making short work of Jared's sweatpants and boxers. When he was done, his gaze swept upwards from toes to head, and Jared swore he could feel his skin growing warmer with every inch.

Jensen made sure Jared's eyes were on him, and then he reached down and gave himself a long stroke, Jared's saliva still glistening along his length. He let out a soft groan, and this time Jared actually saw his own cock twitch in response.

"No, Jen," he said, sitting up abruptly and reaching out with one hand. "Not this time. You're mine to touch now."

Jensen's full lips curled up in a sensual grin. "All right," he agreed, his voice gravelly. Then he paused, and his face abruptly fell. "Shit."

"What?" Jared asked, alarmed.

Jensen's shoulders drooped in a sigh. "The good news is, there are condoms and lube in the house. The bad news is, they're in my room."

"And how did they get there?" Jared asked curiously. Neither of them were exactly free to go wandering down to the local drugstore, which was probably twenty miles away, at any rate.

"I might have asked for them on one of the supply runs last week," Jensen admitted, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck. "Just in case, you know…"

Jared smirked. "Good planning. Almost. Now put your clothes back on and go get them."

Jensen gestured towards the hallway and the rooms beyond. "Yeah, but if they see me, they're gonna know we're—"

"You asked them to buy condoms," Jared said slowly. "Besides, I think they've already heard you." He watched as the other man's face flared bright red, and he felt a disbelieving grin form on his face. "Are you shy, Jensen?"

"Oh, fuck you," he retorted, reaching down to snag Jared's sweatpants. "I'll show you shy." He jammed his legs in to the pants and strode to the door, flinging it wide open.

Jared yelped and fumbled to pull the blankets over his naked body. "Dude!"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jensen chuckled at Jared's outraged exclamation all the way down the hall. Thankfully, no one seemed interested in what was going on in the back rooms of the cottage, and he was able to get his supplies and return to Jared's room without anyone seeing the circus tent his dick was making out of the too-large sweatpants.

After he shut the door behind him and shucked off the pants, he climbed onto the bed and unwound the covers from around Jared, feeling like he was unwrapping a present. "Now, where were we?" he asked, straddling the slender hips beneath him and trailing his fingers lightly up Jared's erect length.

"Something—nugh—about me touching you," Jared said, reaching out to wrap his hand securely around Jensen.

He groaned at the welcome heat. "Yeah, that—oh—works for me." Jensen hadn't realized that his eyes had slid shut, and he opened them to see Jared's dark gaze on him as his hips started to piston back and forth against the sweet friction of Jared's hand.

Suddenly it was already too much, rising up too fast, and Jensen abruptly shifted backwards until he was out of reach. "Wait," he gasped out.

"Now who's got no stamina?" Jared teased, but his chest was rising and falling fast as he propped himself up on his elbows, taking his lower lip between his teeth.

Jensen's eyes zeroed in on that wide, pink mouth before he literally shook himself free and reached for the bottle of lube. "We'll see how long you last, Mr. 'I've been busy for the past year.'"

"Oh, and I suppose Dean Winchester had lots of free time for this sort of thing," Jared retorted. Then he froze, his eyes cutting away to the side.

"Not exactly," Jensen replied evenly, reaching down to caress the inside of Jared's thigh. When Jared was looking at him again, more hesitantly than before, he gave a rueful grin. "Let's say I shouldn't be giving you a hard time for a one year hiatus."

Jared's eyes widened in understanding. "Oh." A second later, he was sitting up and putting his hands on Jensen's upper arms, saying seriously, "We don't have to do this, you know."

Jensen leaned forward and kissed him, slowly at first but building the intensity with sweeps of his tongue and a few nips of teeth until he heard Jared's breathing go ragged. "I said it had been a while," he murmured, "not that I was scared of your ginormous dick."

Against his mouth, Jared's lips curved into a smile. "Your charming personality seems to have survived intact," he muttered before returning the enthusiasm, slanting his head to the side and devouring Jensen's mouth, moving his hands to roam over Jensen's back.

"Nngh," Jensen cleverly replied, lost in the touch and taste and feel of the incredible man in front of him. He slid an arm around Jared's neck and used his broad shoulders to lever himself up onto his knees. With the hand still holding the bottle of lube, he popped the top open and squeezed some onto his fingers. Taking a deep breath in between kisses, he started opening himself up.

It had been a while, but Jensen figured it was like riding a bicycle. A bicycle that had an uncomfortable seat at first but that would get you where you wanted to go once you remembered how to adjust yourself and where to hold on to make the ride easier. The initial stretch of his finger was uncomfortable, and for a moment he really was nervous about the large, engorged cock currently trapped between their bodies.

Jared's hands were roaming up and down his back and ass and thighs, his mouth hot and liquid as it traced across Jensen's jaw and over his ear, and when Jared kneaded his ass and pulled him closer so that he was thrusting up against cut abdominals glazed with sweat, he forgot about the burn in the rush of need that he could feel coming off of Jared. "Yeah," Jensen choked out, quickly adding a second finger and scissoring them back and forth, dimly realizing that even though there wasn't room for a third yet, Jared had to be inside him right the hell now.

He yanked out his fingers and winced. Jared had opened the condoms and was rolling one down onto himself, gripping the base of his cock as he did so, and Jensen loved the visual evidence of how close to the edge he was. "Come on," he said roughly, shifting forward so that Jared was right at his entrance.

Jared started to thrust up and then frowned. It must have felt like there was nowhere for him to go. "You sure you're ready?"

"Yeah, now come on," Jensen said impatiently, curling his lubed fingers around Jared's cock and trying to lower himself onto it.

"Hey, hold on," Jared soothed, reaching between Jensen's legs to take his slick hand and enfold it in his own, wrapping his other arm around him to hold him up as Jensen let out a whimper of frustration. "There's no need to rush." He kissed Jensen and then looked into his eyes. "You've got me, okay? I'm not going anywhere."

Jensen drew in a ragged breath. "Jared, I'm not—" He broke off, horrified to feel a lump coming up in his throat. "Fuck me already, okay?"

"No," Jared said in surprise, leaning back. His fine brows were furrowed, horizontal lines across his forehead as his eyes roamed Jensen's face. "Look, we have all the time we need. I might be so wound up I can barely think straight, but I can still tell there's something going on with you."

"Just leave it," Jensen insisted, rolling his hips forward deliberately so his ass rubbed over the head of Jared's cock.

Jared's eyes flared brightly with heat, but he said firmly, "No. Tell me, Jensen."

He stared back, feeling completely wide-open and vulnerable, and it had nothing to do with the position he was in. Then the words came pouring out before the thoughts were fully formed in his head, his heart speaking freely without his head filtering a thing. "I don't want you to change your mind," Jensen burst out. "I went out there this morning to say goodbye to you, and now it's like I have this one last chance. And if I—if we do this now, then you'll stay."

There was silence for a moment. Then Jensen lowered his head. "I know it's stupid," he said, pulling his now-sticky hand out of Jared's and twisting away from the arm around his waist.

"No, it's not," Jared said quickly, tightening his grip so Jensen couldn't break away. "Just listen to me, okay? Please?"

He looked up to see Jared giving him a tentative smile. "You…you're part of me, Jensen. You're in my heart. And now that I know…I'm not going to change my mind. No matter what we do or don't do here. Promise." Then he leaned forward and gave Jensen such a tender, sweet kiss that Jensen felt his toes curling up.

Inhaling deeply, Jensen slid his hand into Jared's hair and held on tight, returning the gentle press of lips and tongue. They kissed for a while, and he started to relax into Jared's arms, feeling the urgency and desperation that had been driving him melt away into something softer but no less heated.

Still, when he felt Jared's finger teasing at his hole, he stiffened. "Can I?" Jared asked softly, sucking on Jensen's lower lip before drawing back and giving him a questioning look.

Jensen slowly nodded, understanding that it was about more than prepping for sex. It was about giving himself up to someone else, letting them take care of him. He trusted Jared with his life in the literal sense. Maybe it was time to do it in the metaphorical sense as well.

Sure enough, it took only a few minutes before Jensen was panting and shaking, Jared's long fingers gently stretching him open and wanting while his other hand was giving Jensen full, slow strokes, enough to work him up but not bring him over the edge. He clutched Jared's shoulders and buried his face in Jared's neck, trying to return the sensations with his lips and teeth, satisfied whenever he heard a hiss of pleasure or felt Jared's head tilt away to give him more access.

When Jared finally put his hands on Jensen's hips and helped him ease down, slowly and carefully, he registered only a slight burn, the pleasure of the fullness he felt quickly overriding it. Jared was biting his lip, eyes mere slits but practically glowing with want, as Jensen lowered himself until he was seated all the way, Jared's wiry hair tickling the underside of his balls.

Jensen sat still for a moment, adjusting. Like riding a bike, he thought with a private grin, and then he nodded and held out his hands, palms down. Jared laced his fingers through his and pushed up, and Jensen started to ride.

It took a moment to get into a rhythm, but once they had it, they never lost it. The bed shifted against the hardwood floor but never squeaked, and the grunts Jared was letting out with each thrust were quiet enough that there was no fear of being overheard. Jensen shifted his position once or twice until Jared's upstroke sent stars across his vision, and he knew it was only a matter of time after that.

His thighs didn't even have time to burn before he could see Jared's body tensing beneath him, and he moved faster as the thrusts from below came harder, hitting that sweet spot inside of him and shooting heat and light through his whole body and—

"Oh, God!" Jensen cried out, legs shaking as he came without being touched, spurting out over Jared's sweat-damp chest.

As soon as the first streak of white liquid hit him, Jared was moaning loudly and wrapping his hands over Jensen's hips, holding him down as he thrust up one last time before pulsing inside of him once, twice, three times with his head thrown back and his eyes squeezed shut.

They both panted, sweat dripping down Jensen's face and pooling in the hollows between Jared's abdominal muscles. When Jared opened his eyes, they looked at each other, eyes wide. Then Jared suddenly started laughing, and Jensen followed suit, all the tension and misunderstanding of the morning and the past few weeks evaporating into the morning air and leaving only joy behind.

Eventually, Jensen eased himself off with a wince, already identifying the muscles that were going to be sore tomorrow. He snatched a shirt off the floor, not caring which one of them it belonged to, mopping them both up somewhat lackadaisically. Jared tied off the condom and tossed it into the wastebasket, giving a little fist pump when it went in.

Lying on his back, Jensen extended his arms over his head and flexed his feet, stretching out every completely relaxed muscle and feeling like he could melt into the mattress. To his surprise, Jared laid down next to him, snuggling up along his side like it was his turn to play blanket. One arm and leg were soon wrapped over Jensen, Jared's face curled into his neck, and the warmth was welcome enough that he didn't even pretend to protest.

They both settled into place, Jensen's hand running through Jared's hair, soft strands slipping through his fingers over and over, while Jared absently traced random patterns across Jensen's chest before laying a hand over his heart and going still.

Jensen took in a deep breath, letting his eyes close and inhaling the musky scent that was a mixture of the two of them filling the room, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight spilling over their sated bodies. "I hope we're going somewhere there's a beach," he murmured.

"D'you like the sound of the waves?" Jared asked.

"No, wanna see you laid out in a Speedo."

He got a playful nip at his chest for that one, and he smiled. "'M so glad you're going to be with me, Jay," he said, dropping another kiss onto his head. "Wherever it is."

"Mmm," Jared agreed. He was quiet for a second, and then he lifted his head, more contentment and peace in his eyes than Jensen had ever seen there. "You were right, you know."

"Of course I was." Jensen paused and raised his eyebrows. "About what?"

Jared stuck out his tongue before turning more serious. "About me. I guess I'd spent so long learning how to roll with the punches that when I got a knockout blow…I kind of let it take me out." He leaned forward and gave Jensen a long, slow kiss. "Thank you for coming to find me this morning."

"Don't worry about it. I can't imagine what it must be like for you right now, but I think you're amazing for facing it the way you are." He paused, wanting to say something else but finding it too cheesy for words. Aw, what the hell. "And I'll always come find you, Jared."

The brilliant smile he got in response, dimples and all, made it worth it. "Thanks," Jared said softly, leaning up to kiss him again more enthusiastically, making Jensen wonder if that second round they had teased each other about was on the immediate horizon.

Jared pulled back and gave him a pointed look. "You know, all things considered, this doesn't seem like a bloody ending or a sad one."

Jensen quirked an eyebrow up at him. "Who said it's an ending at all?" he asked, rolling them both over to cover Jared's body with his own.