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Through Hell and High Water

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Through Hell and High Water

“You did what?” Jared raged. Storming past his father and making his way over to the sideboard, he poured himself a double, almost emptying the contents of the glass in a single swallow, hissing through his teeth as it hit the back of his throat.

“I posted her bail. She’s not a flight risk; her children are here, her family,” Gerald said oblivious to the growing anger evident on Jared’s face.

“Please tell me you don’t expect me to live under the same roof as the woman who tried to kill me?” Jared sneered.

“Nonsense,” Gerald said, waving his hand as if it were no matter. “You’ve seen what her attorney has to say, she was afraid for her marriage. She followed you that night, and lucky she did,” Gerald went on. “If she hadn’t, if that Pellegrino chap had been successful, if she hadn’t been there to stop him, you’d be dead.”

“She hired him,” Jared said, not for the first time, but like all his other attempts to convince his father of the truth, it fell on deaf ears.

“She saved your life,” Gerald all but shouted.

“She’s not staying here,” Jared said, adamant. “It’s preposterous; I don’t care what the courts say, surely they wouldn’t house her under the same roof as…”

“There are the children to think of,” Gerald said, cutting off Jared for the umpteenth time.

“She killed their father?”

“Don’t you dare drag your brother into this,” Gerald bellowed, glaring at Jared, totally oblivious to the pain etched in Jared’s features.

There was no proof of Jeff’s death being anything but accidental. All the evidence had been destroyed among the wreckage of Jeff’s car, but the similarities to Jensen’s accident were too many to overlook. So far, all fingers pointing toward Pellegrino for both Jeff’s and Jensen’s accidents, but there was nothing, not a single shred of evidence that could tie Ava to Pellegrino, or either explosion.

Ava was sticking to her story. She followed Jared that night sure that he was having an affair, and wanting to confront him. She’d arrived just in time to see Pellegrino aim his gun at Jared; the house had been engulfed in flames and Jensen had lain unconscious on the ground. She’d picked up the gun that Jared had thrown down, aimed and pulled the trigger, killing Pellegrino with a single shot. Then Ava had turned the gun on Misha, believing him to be involved with Pellegrino. Her first shot had been a miss, hitting Jared by accident, but she’d caught Misha in the second attempt, hitting him in the arm, before she felt a sudden stabbing pain as Jensen embedded the glass shard between her shoulder blades.

Ava was adamant. She’d gone there to save her marriage, but instead, had saved Jared’s life.

If it weren’t for Jared, Ava would have been home already, safe in the bosom of her family. If it weren’t for Jared and Misha’s statements, and the fact that they couldn’t find a single motive for Pellegrino killing either Jared or Jeff.

Misha told the authorities everything. How he and Pellegrino were ex-Special Forces, guns for hire, and how Jared had paid Misha to look into his brother’s death. How Misha had called in Pellegrino after the first attempt on Jensen’s life, sure that it was no accident.

The only evidence they had against Ava was her confession that Jeff was going to divorce her, giving her motivation but with Jeff dead, even that couldn’t be proven.

“Where are you going?” Gerald demanded as Jared slammed down his empty glass and made for the study door.

Jared turned and glared at his father, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Ava will need you here,” Gerald said, “The press will be following your every movement.”

Jared continued to stare angrily at his father.

“It’s time to come together,” Gerald said. “Please.”

Jared couldn’t remember the last time, if ever, that his father had pleaded with him, had shown him anything but indifference.

“I will not have you besmirch the family name,” Gerald said, voice rising, and tainted with anger.

“That’s more like it,” Jared said. “This is the Gerald I've come to know and expect.”

“Don’t you dare walk out on me?” Gerald shouted, as Jared threw open the door and walked out into the long hallway. Gerald’s diatribe followed Jared with every step he took on his way to the door.

“I’m warning you,” Gerald continued. “This is about him, isn’t it? That whore.”

Jared almost turned around, made his way back to his study just to punch his father in the face. He couldn’t remember a single time that he’d wished violence against another person, especially his family. But Gerald was skating on very thin ice.

Jared pulled up outside Jensen’s apartment, skirting the edge of the sidewalk as he eased his car in behind Jensen’s, new silver Lexus paid for by the insurance company. Jared had offered to buy Jensen a new car, but was met with a point-blank refusal from Jensen. Jared didn’t want Jensen taking public transport, not in his condition and after everything that had happened. Jared was adamant, but Jensen won out in the end, the insurance company provided Jensen with a newer model of his previous vehicle.

Jared hadn’t seen Jensen in almost a fortnight, not since his last photo-shoot when Jared had turned up unexpectedly, just needing to see Jensen all in one piece, fit and healthy. They say pregnant mothers have a glow about them, but Jensen, the way he looked at the camera¬ - arms cradling his stomach, his baby - Jared's daughter was practically too much for Jared to withstand. He’d almost lost them both, more than once. The one thing that Jared thought of and claimed as his own, something not inherited, and they’d nearly been ripped from him.

Jared had stayed away, what with the media snapping at Jared’s heels to get the full story, to get to Jensen, and so Jared had given Jensen some breathing room. At least that’s what Jared had told himself, and it had nothing to do with the fact that Jared had turned Jensen’s life upside down.

Jared had almost gotten them both killed. Jensen and the baby.

Jared took a deep breath as he raised his hand and rapped his knuckles against the wooden panelling of Jensen’s apartment door, and took a step back as Jensen opened the door wearing loose fitting pants that showed off the curve to his stomach, and a green Henley that brought out the colour of his eyes.

“Hey,” Jared whispered, awed at the sight in front of him.

“Hey,” Jensen replied, ducking his head at the look on Jared’s face. Jared stood there, looking down at Jensen expectantly, a smile lighting up his face. As Senator Padalecki, Jared may not have much to smile about, but plain old Jared Padalecki sure did.

Jared reached out, hand cupped against Jensen’s cheek as he lowered his head, to mere inches from Jensen’s. “How is she?” Jared asked, as the elevator pinged. It brought them both up short, realising the media would have a field day with photos of them kissing, out in the open.

“Let’s take this inside,” Jared said as the elevator doors began to open.

Jared closed Jensen’s door behind him, and whoever was about to step out of the elevator; in all likelihood it was a neighbour, but Jared was taking no chances with his family.

His family.

Jared swallowed against the lump that formed in his throat. Watching Jensen’s movements, every turn highlighting his stomach and the precious burden nestled within.

His daughter.

“She’s fine,” Jensen said, picking up the conversation that had begun in the hallway, as Jensen sucked in a breath and put a hand to his stomach. “Here.”

Jared walked over to where Jensen was standing, and lowered his head, brushing a light kiss to Jensen’s cheek while Jensen took his hand and placed it over his stomach as the baby kicked for the second time.

“Is that?” Jared gasped.

“She’s awake,” Jensen said, the words curving around the smile that lit up his face. One that mirrored the look on Jared’s seconds before Jensen was pulled into Jared’s embrace.

“I’m sorry,” Jared said, loosening the hold he had on Jensen, brushing his cheek against the softness of Jensen’s hair.

“S’okay,” Jensen replied. “I won’t break.”

Jared smiled; he’d never been around a pregnancy before. Sure, he’d been around his nephews growing up, but at thirteen, eleven, and eight they were far from babies. The youngest had already been six when Jared adopted them. This was as new to Jared as it was Jensen. Already he felt a fierce protectiveness toward both, and Jared had to wonder if this is what Jeff felt like, when he had threatened to take his boys in the divorce from Ava; this need to have them close by, safe and away from any possible harm.

Had Ava killed Jeff to stop him from taking her children, or her fortune?

Jared felt sick to his stomach, but if recent events had proven anything, it was that Ava wasn’t about to give up her status as a Padalecki. Killing one, and almost another, was no obstacle in her quest for riches and reputation.

How could Gerald be so blind?

“Hey come back,” Jensen said, stirring Jared from his thoughts, from the look of disgust, and disbelief that undoubtedly was on his face.

“I have to tell you something,” Jared said, carefully manoeuvring Jensen toward the couch, despite Jensen’s protestations of not breaking.

“What is it?” Jensen asked, taking a deep breath at the look of disdain, and worry that marred Jared’s features.

“It’s my father,” Jared began.

“Jared, nothing your father can do will change anything,” Jensen declared. Having come up against Gerald’s wrath more than once, and Jared knew he understood. Jared’s need for caution. But Jensen was a grown man capable of his own decisions, and if anything it was Jared who should be concerned, about his place in the senate for one thing.

“She made bail,” Jared said, slicing away Jensen’s confidence and anything else he was about to say.

“How?” Jensen asked,” shocked, his voice a wash of disbelief. “After everything.”

“My father, who else,” Jared declared. “They’re going with the wronged wife.”

Jensen shook his head. He placed one hand on his stomach and Jared knew the baby must be kicking. It was one thing to stand up to Gerald, to Ava, but to know that Jensen and their daughter were going to be dragged through the mud—it made Jared feel furious and protective.

“I won’t let them hurt you. Either of you,” Jared promised as he pulled Jensen into a hug, bending his head to nuzzle his cheek against the softness of Jensen’s hair. If anything, Jared was even more determined to keep them safe. He had every intention of making sure Misha tailed every single movement Jensen made. Misha may have been a little remiss when it came to Pellegrino, but Jared trusted him with his life, and that of Jensen and his daughter.

“Alex,” Jensen said as he inched closer into Jared’s embrace, picking his feet up off the floor and stretching himself out on the couch. He pulled Jared down, spreading his thighs to make a space for Jared.

“What?” Jared said, just happy to have Jensen close enough to touch. He’d missed this, missed Jensen. He lifted himself up onto both hands and stared down at Jensen. Part of him couldn’t believe that they were going to be parents.

“Alex,” Jensen said again as Jared continued to stare at him, made himself comfortable in the space between Jensen’s spread thighs. Jared lowered himself down until his cock chafed against the confines of his pants.

“I want to call her, Alex.”

“Alex,” Jared said, the name dancing across his tongue and easing its way past his lips. He liked it.

He also liked having Jensen flat on his back, beneath him, legs spread.

Jared smiled and lowered his head and rubbed himself up against Jensen’s groin, feeling his cock harden even more, as Jensen lifted up, and met each thrust of Jared’s hips.

They may be about to become parents, but they were lovers first, and Jared had missed this, missed the soft, want-filled noises Jensen made whenever Jared got close enough to work his way through the barrier of Jensen’s clothes. Like now, as Jared pulled at Jensen’s loose-fitted pants, easing them down, along with Jensen’s underwear until the soft, cotton bunched at his knees. Jensen kicked at both as Jared lifted up and away, giving Jensen room to work his way out of his pants. It wasn’t smooth, in fact it was awkward as hell, Jared thought as he fumbled with his slacks, freeing himself as Jensen’s clothes finally hit the floor.

“I’ve missed you,” Jared said as he lined his cock up against Jensen’s, conscious of the changes in Jensen’s body. The soft curve of his stomach, his nipples darker, apparently more sensitive as he stroked his tongue over one nipple and watched as Jensen bucked up beneath him, his cock bumping, sliding against Jared’s and eliciting a deep, guttural moan from Jared.

“I’ve missed this,” Jared whispered, almost awed, taking both their cocks in one large hand and fisting his way upward. Using the pre-come from them both to ease the friction, as he pulled and twisted in just the right way, just the right amount of pressure.

If anything, the pregnancy seemed to make Jensen more sensitive. Wherever, however, Jared touched Jensen had him writhing, pushing up into Jared’s fist, mouth open, one deep moan after another finding its way past Jensen’s lips.

“Christ,” Jared hissed as he worked them both, as Jensen reached up and pulled Jared’s head down, kissing him hard, and forcing his tongue into Jared’s mouth, finding Jared’s, stroking it, pulling back to nip at Jared’s bottom lip, harder, pulling it into the warmth of Jensen’s mouth.

Jared felt like a teenager unable to control himself; every move, even the whisper of Jensen’s breath against his skin made him want to come. He felt Jensen’s cock twitch against his own, tried so hard to hold on, to push Jensen over the edge before…

“Shit,” Jared hissed as he thrust up into his own fist, his come soaking his hand and Jensen’s cock an instant before Jensen followed suit, lifting up, moaning, long and loud as he slumped back down against the couch.

It was dark by the time Jared left Jensen’s apartment, nodding his head in the direction of Misha’s black SUV. Jared didn’t care if the vehicle stuck out like a sore thumb, even better if it did. He wanted Jensen protected, and he wanted it known to anyone who would try to harm him that Jensen was off limits.

Jared been gone all of the afternoon and most of the evening, the longest he’d spent away from the boys since their mother’s arrest. They weren’t stupid, the elder two especially - they could read a newspaper, watch the news.

Jared didn’t expect them to choose sides. Ava was their mother, and it was Jared’s job to protect them from the media as much as possible. However, he also had a responsibility to Jensen; he couldn’t allow Ava, his father or the media keep him away from his burgeoning family.

He was glad Jensen was still modelling, which was at odds with his previous sentiment on the subject, but Jensen was in demand and anything that got him out of the apartment was a good thing. Jared hated to think of Jensen cooped up, afraid to step outside for fear of being labelled a home-wrecker.

Jared had made sure that Chris and Steve, and more importantly Danneel, had his phone number, were made aware that they could call Jared at any time and he’d be there. Just like he had after Jensen’s car wreck. He didn’t know what he’d have done if Danneel hadn’t called him, if he’d discovered some other way that Jensen was in the hospital, or worse, hadn’t known at all.

He’d heard from Danneel that Jensen’s parents had been at the hospital for the majority of Jensen’s stay, which was why Jared had snuck in after visiting hours, had found a sympathetic nurse who’d allowed him a few minutes.

Just a look, just a touch. Some reassurance.

Ava’s bail conditions were that she wasn’t allowed to leave the house or its gardens; the court even went as far as to fit her with a GPS ankle bracelet to make sure she didn’t stray. It was something Jared was sure she’d hate, but it gave a little reassurance that Jensen was safe from her machinations. It didn’t, however, stop her from hiring someone else, but being the hottest thing in the news right now meant that no one in their right mind would dare to make a move on Jensen, or Jared for that matter.

Jared put his key in the lock. As soon as he entered, the first person to greet him was his mother. He hadn’t expected her, hadn’t seen her since the fire, and he was sure that his father was the one keeping her away.

He hated that she had to play buffer between her husband and her son. She’d lost one son, and Gerald’s attitude and homophobic tendencies meant that Jared was at arm’s length from his parents.

“Mom,” Jared said as Sherri approached him, put her arms around him and pulled him down into a hug.

“Jared,” Sherri breathed. “How is he?” The words whispered into Jared’s hair, barely audible.

“He’s good,” Jared said. “They both are.”

Jared felt Sherri nod, felt her kiss his cheek before pulling away, and straightening her clothes.

“Your father’s in the study,” Sherri said as she pulled herself upright and followed the noise of the three boys, Instead of heading to the study Jared reached out and grabbed his mother’s hand.

“Is she?” Jared said.

Sherri nodded, a look of sheer hatred marring her pretty features. Letting Jared know that Ava was home. “You’ll keep them safe,” Sherri pleaded.

Jared smiled; his thumb stroking against his mother’s hand before she pulled away and continued on her path to the boys.

The last thing Jared wanted or needed right now was another confrontation with his father, or Ava for that matter. He just wanted to be with his nephews, to kick off his shoes and watch a movie, maybe order in pizza, but he’d seen the unmarked vehicles lined up outside the drive gates to the house, spotted them as newspaper and media outlets, all wanting a piece of the entire sordid mess.

He stopped himself short from knocking at the study door, manners at war with the fact that this was his home, not his father’s or even Ava’s for that matter. It was his, and the boys, and he’d be damned if he was going to knock in his own goddamn house.

Jared walked into the study to find his father sitting at the head of Jared’s desk. Ava standing at the window; arms folded in front of her, the GPS bracelet hidden beneath the soft expensive cut of her trouser pants. Both looked up at Jared’s entrance, Ava coming to stand behind Gerald, her hand resting on Gerald’s shoulder.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” Jared said as he walked forward, and placed both hands on the desktop. Leaning in. “You’re here for the boys, and that’s all.” Jared turned around and exited the study, leaving both Gerald and Ava speechless.

Jared spent the rest of the evening as he’d wanted. He ordered in pizza and watched The Goonies with the boys, and if it were a quieter night than usual, more subdued, then no one acknowledged it. Jared was just content to have his boys doing something normal amid all the media frenzy.

Jared dropped the boys off at school himself the following morning, grateful that his car had tinted windows; it meant privacy for the boys, and stopped all the camera flashes from blinding Jared as he steered the car through the drive gates to the school, sure that the media wouldn’t dare to approach any of the boys, but he had warned the headmaster to be aware, just in case.

Jared pulled his phone from his pocket the instant he got back to the car, scrolling to Jensen’s name in his contacts and hitting the dial button, but frowning when his call went to voicemail. Jared figured Jensen was sleeping, maybe that or at work, though Jensen hadn’t mentioned anything about a photo shoot, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t one. Jensen was in hot demand - Samantha juggled his many appointments, even going as far as to refuse work, just so Jensen could rest.

Jared turned his key in the ignition, fully intending to try to call Jensen again once he’d reached his office. He steered his car out onto the freeway and headed for downtown, glancing at his phone from time to time, wondering why Jensen hadn’t called. As he drove he became aware of a car following him.

Jared turned into Claremont Avenue, amid the cacophony of shouting and flashing cameras of the paps as he pulled up outside his office. He debated turning around, but if he went home, it would be to a similar situation, with the media camped outside his house. Instead, he opened his car and stepped out, shielding his eyes from the many cameras aimed at him.

“Senator Padalecki, over here.” Jared turned his head toward the voice and was almost blinded by a sudden flash.

“What do you think of your wife making bail?”

“Does the fact that you’re still living together mean you’ve reunited?”

Jared pushed through the crowd, ignoring the many microphones that were being shoved into his face, his height giving him a little advantage as he headed for his office.

“No comment,” Jared said, shoving at a reporter who came a little too close.

“Senator Padalecki, what do you think of Mr. Ackles’ arrest?”

Jared faltered, and tried to mask his look of confusion; he didn’t know what the reporter was referring to. Instead he pushed harder, shoving at one reporter after another in his haste to get inside.

“No comment,” Jared hissed, forcibly shoving at the reporter who tried to block Jared’s entrance to the door, aware that he was being recorded and that every word, every movement, would appear on numerous news outlets, replaying every hour on the hour.

Jared let the door swing shut behind him with a loud bang, causing everyone in the office to turn his way. Some of his staff made eye contact, others turned away, aware of Jared’s predicament, his infidelity. Jared pulled himself to his full height and made his way to his corner office, almost daring anyone to comment, glad when no one did.

Jared considered himself a good boss, easy to work for, giving his staff numerous benefits, and he’d never doubted their loyalty, but that loyalty had never been tested until now. Still, Jared had faith in his employees, reminding himself that they were good people. Jared smiled, softening his features, as he stepped toward his secretary’s desk. Her annoyance was visible in the stiff set of her shoulders, and the hardness in her usual cheerful voice.

“No comment,” Rachel said, replacing the handset only for it to start ringing again.

“Busy?” Jared asked, trying to lighten the moment, resting his hand for a quick second on Rachel’s shoulder, nothing too heavy, just a little reprieve.

“Off the hook,” Rachel replied, taking a deep breath before reaching to answer the next call.

“Leave it,” Jared said, offering a smile of understanding. “Let it ring.” Jared gave Rachel’s shoulder a squeeze, before entering his office, pulling out his phone and scrolling through his contacts until he came to Danneel’s number.

“Jensen?” Danneel answered immediately.

“It’s me,” Jared said as the call was answered immediately, Jared all too aware of the fear in Danneel’s voice, the tears.

“Oh my God, Jared. I was just about to call you,” Danneel took a deep breath, Jared could practically hear the relief in her voice. “Jared, he’s been arrested.”

Jared heard a muffled voice in the background, heard Danneel tell whoever it was that Jared was on the phone.

“Give it here,” Jared heard Chris say, clearer now that he had the phone.

“What the fuck, man?” Chris demanded.

“I’ve just heard, from the press no less,” Jared said, wondering where the hell Misha was and why he hadn’t called.

“So, she’s back home, in your house, and Jensen gets arrested. Seriously man, what the fuck?”

Jared took a deep breath, totally understanding Chris’ anger, Danneel’s tears.

“On what grounds,” Jared asked.

“Assault with a deadly weapon.” Chris said, Jared could hear Chris reassuring Danneel.

“What?” Jared demanded. “It was a piece of glass and he was saving my life.” Jared cringed at the memory, of the first bullet piercing his skin, the second grazing past his ear as Ava, forced him back toward the flames, intent on killing Jared, of killing them all.

“Tell that to the authorities,” Chris said.

“I will,” Jared said. “Just as soon as I’ve spoken to my attorney.”

Jared wanted to kick himself for not obtaining legal counsel for Jensen sooner, but he never imagined, never dreamed he’d be arrested. Jared sure that Jensen’s arrest was his father’s doing. Gerald had obtained legal counsel for Ava, and was pushing for Jensen to be brought to trial for stabbing her in the back, literally. Jared shook his head, furious.

The first thing Jared wanted was to get an attorney for Jensen, one that wasn’t connected to the Padalecki name or under his father’s thumb. Second, he wanted some papers drawn up regarding Ava’s living conditions, her address. Jared wanted them signed by a judge before he even thought of approaching his father, or Ava.

Jared spent most of the morning in the judge’s chambers, explaining the predicament; he felt glad that at least one judge saw the situation for what is was.

“That’s ludicrous,” Judge Mathews announced referring to Ava’s living conditions and her continued presence at Jared’s house. Much to Jared’s relief, reaching to take the signed documentation he needed from the judge.

“And the children?” Jared asked.

“I’ll petition for them to remain in the family home, in a stable environment, but there are no guarantees,” the judge said, holding Jared’s attention. “Ava is innocent until proven guilty. She will have every right to petition for custody.”

Jared nodded, aware that he was only their adopted parent, but still, he had legal and parental responsibility and would fight tooth and nail for them if need be. Surely the fact that Ava was under the suspicion of murdering Jeff would be enough to keep them where they were. Safe from the person who robbed them of their father, their childhood.

“Thank you,” Jared said, pushing himself up from his chair and leaning in to shake Judge Mathew’s hand.

“And how is Jensen?” The judge asked.

“I’ve arranged for counsel,” Jared said, sure that his attorney, a trusted friend and one of the best attorneys in the country, would already be where Jared needed him to be – at the police station fighting in Jensen’s corner. As Jared would be shortly, but first he had papers to serve.

Leaving the judges office meant another run of the gauntlet from the press, complete with flashing lights and numerous cameras. Jared felt more determined than ever to get home and do what needed to be done, glad that the boys were still in school.

At least it was easier getting home this time; the press was camped at arm’s length from the house, held off by the huge exterior gates. Still, he had to hit the car’s horn several times as a reporter tried to get a glimpse past the tinted windows.

Jared was out of the car the instant he turned off the ignition, storming into the house, a man on a mission. He’d seen his father’s car outside on the drive, causing him a moment’s concern, but not enough to stop him from barging into the study, his study.

“I want you out,” Jared declared, letting the door slam behind him as he stomped over to his desk, where his father was once again sitting in Jared’s chair. Ava was seated on the other side of the desk, and her attorney, who Jared recognised as Matt Cohen, a part of the Padalecki business empire, was seated next to her.

“I beg your pardon!” Gerald demanded.

“I’m talking to my wife,” Jared said, taking the papers from his briefcase and slamming them on the table in front of her.

“What is this?” Gerald continued, his voice loud, demanding.

“Let’s call it a conflict of interests,” Jared said as Ava’s attorney picked up the papers and scanned through them.

“They’re legal and binding,” Matt declared.

“This is her home,” Gerald said, infuriated.

“It’s my house,” Jared said. “It stopped being her home the night she tried to kill me.”

“You wouldn’t force her to leave?” Gerald said, patting Ava’s hand as she turned on the water works.

“You had Jensen arrested,” Jared shouted.

“He tried to kill your wife,” Gerald tried in a reasonable tone, getting to his feet, and planting both hands on the polished oak of Jared’s desk.

“He was trying to prevent her from killing me,” Jared bellowed; he could feel his cheeks flushing, and sweat beginning to bead upon his forehead as his anger took hold. “I want her out, preferably before the boys come home,” Jared said.

“You’re not taking my children,” Ava cried, breaking her silence and standing, turning to face Jared.

“I’m sure my father can keep you in the means to which you’ve been accustomed,” Jared said enjoying how Ava watched him, realizing that he was serious.

That he meant every word.

“Start packing.” Jared turned on his heel and stormed over to the door.

“Jared, you listen to me,” Gerald shouted.

Jared allowed the door to slam shut on his father’s shock and anger. He left both the house and the press behind him, sure they’d have something to print when they saw Ava leave, followed by her attorney and possibly Gerald Padalecki himself.

He wanted to get to Jensen.

Jared’s phone rang as he was exiting the ramp at interchange nine, and heading north toward the police station. Jared switched his phone to hands-free, popping it into the dashboard phone mount.

“Misha?” Jared said as he took the next left. “Where the hell have you been?”

“I didn’t want to call you at home, where your father and Ava were. I thought it best to contact Jensen’s friends, and follow the police here.

“Where are you?” Jared demanded.

“I’m outside the police station,” Misha said. “They had him handcuffed.”

Jared felt his anger flare at the thought of Jensen in restraints, allowing some of that anger to be directed at Misha.

“Misha?” Jared said, cold, calm.

“Yes,” Misha said, hesitant.

“I don’t pay you to decide what’s best, in future you call, no matter what.”

“I’m sorry,” Misha said, contrite. “Wait, he’s been released,” Misha said, as the doors to the police station opened and Jensen stepped out.

“One minute,” Jared said, as he turned the corner, his voice drowned out by the screech of tires as he pulled up fast and hard outside the police station just as Jensen was walking down the steps to the sidewalk, his attorney, JD Morgan at his side.

“Get in,” Jared demanded, nodding his thanks to JD, and leaning across the passenger seat to swing open the car door for Jensen. It was a relief when Jensen eased himself into the passenger seat. He was pale, and quiet, one hand resting on his stomach.

“Are you okay?” Jared asked as soon as he pulled away from the police station, a news crew hot on his tail.

“Just take me home,” Jensen pleaded.

“Is the baby okay?” Jared asked, glancing between the road ahead and Jensen.

“Considering she’s been ran over, almost blown up, not to mention set on fire… she’s peachy,” Jensen said, turning to look at Jared, a sadness about him.

“I’m sorry,” Jared said, releasing one hand from the steering wheel to take hold of Jensen’s hand, squeezing it for reassurance. “If it’s any consolation, Ava is moving out today.”

“Where to?” Jensen asked.

“I don’t care, as long as she’s gone,” Jared said, his earlier anger resurfacing, his knuckles turning white from the force of his hold on the steering wheel while his free hand held tight to Jensen for the rest of the drive home.

“Ready?” Jared asked, turning the corner into Jensen’s street and seeing the media still camped outside.

Jensen nodded, taking a deep breath before opening the car door, waiting for Jared to come around to where Jensen was waiting before easing himself out of the seat and taking his place beside Jared.

“Is it true you tried to kill Jared’s wife?” Someone shouted.

“Jensen, look this way.”

Jensen put his head down, and Jared put his arm around Jensen’s shoulder, both as a comfort and a statement of ownership. “Just keep walking,” Jared whispered.

“Over here, Jensen.”

“Senator Padalecki, is it true you’ve thrown your wife out onto the streets?”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Jared muttered under his breath, about to start swinging when the door to Jensen’s building was opened and Chris stepped out.

“Get out of the fucking way,” Chris demanded, taking hold of Jensen and almost forcibly dragging him into the apartment building. Jared fast on his heels.

“Jensen,” Danneel cried, jumping up from the couch and pulling Jensen into a tight embrace. “I was so scared.” She held Jensen at arm’s length and looked him up and down. “Are you okay?”

Jensen nodded, Jared knew he hated when all eyes were upon him.

“You’re sure?” Chris said as he began to pace the room, fists clenched.

“I’m sure,” Jensen reassured. “Thanks for making bail,” Jensen said, smiling wanly. He looked so tired; Jared was sure he was a little scared that his daughter would be born in a jail cell. She still could be if Gerald Padalecki had his way.

“I won’t let him hurt you any further,” Jared promised.

“I’m just tired,” Jensen said. “It’s been a long day.

“We should leave, let you get some rest,” Danneel said, walking over to Jensen and hugging him for a second time as if reassuring herself that he was safe and well.

Jared reached for his phone as Chris and Danneel said their good-byes. It was hard, the feeling of being pulled between two families, but he couldn’t leave Jensen, not right now. He phoned Misha, arranged for him to collect the boys from school, and to take them home where Jared’s mother would be waiting. The one thing his mother stood her ground with Gerald was when it concerned her grandchildren. Even Gerald knew not to argue where the boys were concerned.

Chris and Danneel were just leaving as Jared made his way back to the living room, Chris shoving into his jacket before hugging Jensen.

“Call me if you need anything,” Chris said, slapping Jensen on the back. “Seriously, anything.” Chris stated. He seemed almost hesitant to leave.

“I love you,” Danneel whispered as she wound her arms around Jensen’s neck and squeezed him tight.

“I love you too,” Jensen said, voice hitching slightly. She was his best friend, and both would and had done so much for him. He knew she felt guilty for having all but introduced him to Jared. The fact that Jensen was pregnant meaning he just couldn’t walk away from the sordid mess that had become his life.

Even Jensen had to think, if it wasn’t for the baby, would he walk away?

Neither of them had said the words.

But it had to mean something that in the past two months, there’d been no pay check from Jared. They both just took it for granted that Jared would be there, paying Jensen’s hospital bills, and other necessities.

Jared was no longer paying for Jensen’s company, and yet he still turned up at Jensen’s door whenever he felt like it, and Jensen didn’t slam it shut in Jared’s face.

That had to mean something.

Jensen closed the door as Chris and Danneel left. He felt Jared come up behind him wrapping both arms around Jensen’s waist, lowering his head to brush a light kiss against Jensen’s cheek.

“I really am tired,” Jensen said, stifling a yawn.

Jared was going to ask Jensen if he wanted him to leave, ready to put up an argument if Jensen agreed. Instead, he took Jensen by the hand and led him to the bedroom, kicking off his shoes as he crossed the threshold into Jensen’s room. Jared took a deep breath as Jensen toed off one shoe and then the other before stripping to his boxers and settling himself down onto the bed. Jared followed suit, pulling Jensen closer, one hand curved around Jensen’s shoulders, the other placed firmly against his stomach.

“Sleep,” Jared whispered as Jensen made himself comfortable against Jared, his eyes fluttering closed, long, sooty eyelashes fanning his face as he yawned for a second time. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Jared’s arm ached from being pinned underneath Jensen, pins and needles already prickling at his skin. He needed to move, to use the bathroom, but was loathe to wake Jensen, who looked so peaceful, so beautiful. Jared was pulled from his reverie when he felt the kick against his palm, and he smiled.

“Hush now, baby girl,” Jared said, rubbing his hand lightly against Jensen’s stomach in the hope of quieting her and letting Jensen sleep. He waited as long as he possibly could; it was already dark out as he eased himself out of the bed, Jensen murmuring his displeasure.

Jared was tempted to leave a message for Jensen, but it seemed too impersonal. Jared sucked in a breath - the times when he had to leave were becoming harder and harder. The instances when he tried to placate himself with five more minutes, which became an hour becoming more frequent.

Jared took a deep breath and reached for his clothes, fastening his shirt and tucking it inside the waistband of his suit pants.

“Hey,” Jared whispered, bending down to stroke his fingers through Jensen’s hair.

Jensen made another noise of displeasure at being woken, snuggling into Jared’s hand.

“I have to go,” Jared said, pressing a kiss against Jensen’s forehead and reaching for his suit jacket.

“I hate this,” Jensen complained, turning on his side and nestling into Jared’s pillow.

“So do I,” Jared whispered, closing the door quietly behind him.

“So do I.”

 

The first thing Jared noticed when he walked through the door were several large suitcases taking up space in the entranceway. He frowned, ready to throw them outside, uncaring whether or not the media saw him when his mother stepped out of the kitchen.

“They’re mine,” Sherri said, walking into Jared’s open arms.

“I’m so sorry,” Jared said, wrapping his arms around his mother, and holding her tight to his chest.

“I won’t stay under the same roof as that woman,” Sherri said, visibly trying not to cry as the tears filled her eyes. “Besides I can help with the boys.”

If Jared were honest, he could use the help, the moral support and sense of normalcy that having his mother, the boy’s grandmother around would bring. He didn’t doubt for one minute how hard a decision it must have been for her to leave, but with the trial set for the following Monday, and Jensen needing support, Jared could use all the help he could get.

“I’d like to meet him,” Sherri said as Jared rallied the boys together for school the following morning. Joshua, the eldest, was holding back and glancing between Jared and his grandmother. Jared was all too aware that he’d have to sit them down and ready them for the trial; he intended to protect them as much as possible, but he knew he couldn’t protect them from the truth.

“Ready?” Jared asked, giving Joshua’s shoulder a squeeze and ignoring the pang of guilt that surfaced when Joshua offered a weak smile.

“Is it true?” Joshua asked, climbing in the passenger seat beside Jared, pulling his seatbelt across his chest and buckling it tight.

“Is what true?” Jared asked, glancing in the rear view mirror, all too aware of his younger two nephews, both within earshot.

“That he’s having a baby?” Joshua said, a look of fear on his face, his voice catching.

“It’s true,” Jared said, and watched as Joshua turned to face the window, a single tear marking a path down his cheek.

“Hey, it doesn’t change anything,” Jared said, wanting to slam on the brakes, pull over and drag Joshua into a hug. “Look at me.”

Joshua turned a tear-stained face toward Jared.

“Did she really try to kill you,” Joshua whispered, holding Jared’s gaze, his eyes pleading for the truth.

Jared couldn’t think of a worse place to have this conversation. He wanted to hug Joshua, reassure him, but could do neither. Jared dragged his gaze from Joshua reluctantly, keeping a steady speed and eyes on the road.

He glanced once more in the rear view mirror and caught the way Jacob refused to make eye contact, glancing anxiously at Jared before turning to look out the window. Noah seemed content to play with the action figure he’d taken from his backpack.

“And dad?” Joshua said, face pale, his voice barely audible.

“We’ll talk about this later,” Jared promised, caught between wanting to protect the boys from the truth, from destroying the image they had of their mother, but needing them prepared for what looked likely to be all-out war at the trial. It was not just Jared fighting against their mother, but their grandfather. No matter what happened over the coming weeks, things were never going to be the same.

“And the baby?” Joshua asked, clearly wanting, needing reassurance.

“Doesn’t change anything,” Jared promised. “We’re in this together. I’m here for you, for your brothers - we’re a family, Joshua. The baby is an addition to what we already have, she doesn’t change the love I have for you, or your brothers.”

“She?” Joshua said, a spark of interest evident in his voice.

Jared nodded. “How would you like a baby sister?”

Joshua took a deep breath, and turned back toward the window, but not before Jared caught the hint of a smile on Joshua’s face, all trace of tears gone by the time Jared dropped the boys off at school.

Jared switched his phone to hands free - he steered the car in the direction of his office, using voice recognition to phone Jensen, smiling when he heard Jensen pick up.

“Hey,” Jared said, sure he could hear the smile in Jensen’s voice. “Are you busy for lunch?” Jared rushed his words before Jensen could refuse. Jensen had been adamant that it wouldn’t be wise to be seen in public together. “There’s someone I want you to meet,” Jared all but pleaded.

“Jared, I don’t know, I mean the press will be all over it. Are you sure, considering the trial is mere days away?” Jensen said, not that Jared needed reminding.

“My mother wants to meet you,” Jared pushed on, not wanting their first meeting to be across a court room. It was bad enough his parents were on opposing sides, Ava relishing the attention she was receiving from Jared’s father, the Padalecki Empire, leaving Jensen out in the cold. “Please.”

“Where and when?” Jensen asked, his voice quiet, unsure.

“You could come to the house?” Jared said, realising his mistake when he heard Jensen’s intake of breath.

“Not the house, it’s the boy’s home,” Jensen said, ready for any argument Jared had. “I don’t want to encroach on their territory.”

“Okay, I’ll pick you up and we can go someplace quiet,” Jared said, uncaring whether the media followed or not. It was known to the press, and the authorities that Ava had not only the Padalecki attorneys at her disposal, but Gerald Padalecki himself, and Jared wanted that for Jensen. To be seen as having some protection, and the support of Jared’s mother.

The Padalecki’s were at war, and Jared wanted it known that Jensen was under the protection of the Padalecki name just as much as Ava was.

Jensen rooted through his wardrobe, throwing outfit after outfit onto the bed. His smartest clothes, the ones that flattered his ever changing shape, were few and far between. He’d have to go shopping, sooner rather than later, but right now he needed something that made him feel comfortable, but looked suitable. He was already anxious enough about meeting Jared’s mother without wearing something that pinched and chafed.

He was just adjusting a pair of black slacks and an olive green Henley, looking sideways at himself in the mirror when he heard the knock at the door. Turning to catch another glimpse, he nodded his head in approval and made his way to the door, opening it to find Jared on the other side.

“You look gorgeous,” Jared whispered, a touch of awe in his voice, as he stared at Jensen.

“What?” Jensen said, standing on the threshold of his apartment, feeling almost under scrutiny.

“C’mere,” Jared whispered, as he took hold of Jensen’s hand and pulled him forward, lowering his head to steal a kiss. His lips were soft, pliant against Jensen’s, his tongue seeking entrance as Jared deepened the kiss, tightening his hold on Jensen and swallowing the moan that escaped Jensen’s lips.

“Jared?” Jensen warned as Jared took a step forward, forcing Jensen to step back, and another step again until Jensen was standing in his living room. “Your mother?” Jensen did not want to meet Sherri Padalecki with bee-stung lips and a permanent blush to his cheeks.

“Shit!” Jared exclaimed, reaching into his pocket for his car keys and stepping back out of Jensen’s apartment, waiting a moment as Jensen locked the door behind him. “You drive me crazy, do you know that?”

“I’m beginning to get the idea,” Jensen said, standing beside Jared as the elevator pinged open. “Is she downstairs?” Jensen’s earlier nerves were resurfacing.

“She’s meeting us there,” Jared said, giving Jensen a moment’s reprieve.

Jensen lowered himself into the car and reached for his seatbelt, making a mental note to ask Jared to adjust its length when it pulled tight to his stomach.

“Where’s Misha?” Jensen asked, realising they were alone, no SUV in sight.

“I’ve given him the day off,” Jared said, catching Jensen’s worried look. “Don’t worry, I have no intention of allowing you out of my sight, and there’ll be a replacement this evening.”

If Jensen felt worried before, he felt terrified at the thought of another Pellegrino.

“Relax, I hand-picked him myself,” Jared reassured him. Turning into Hayton Avenue and pulling up outside an exclusive restaurant, Jared handed his keys over to the valet parking attendant and took hold of Jensen’s arm.

Jensen recognised Sherri Padalecki the moment he saw her; Jared’s resemblance to his mother noticeable. Jensen wanted to turn tail and run, but she looked up and saw them both standing in front of her.

“Jared,” Sherri exclaimed, getting to her feet and coming around the table, catching Jensen unawares when she put her arms around him and squeezed him tight. “Thank you for saving my son,” Sherri whispered before stepping back and reseating herself at the table, as if nothing had happened.

Jensen found himself smiling, more and more as the afternoon went on as Sherri regaled Jensen with tales of Jared’s childhood, the mischief, he and Jeff used to get up to. Sherri’s smile faltered slightly at the mention of her eldest son.

“You’ll see she pays for what she’s done,” Sherri said, taking both Jared’s and Jensen’s hands. “For taking my boy away from us. Promise me?”

“I promise,” Jared said determinedly. He remembered what it was like when Jeff was killed, with his father cloistering himself away, leaving Sherri to grieve alone. Jared had tried his best to fight the agony of losing his brother, to be there for his mother, and the boys. There was a time when Sherri hadn’t been able to even look at the children without crying, and yet she had still tried to be there for Ava, to comfort her despite her own pain.

Jared gritted his teeth, remembering how his father had all but forced him into marriage with Ava, Jared still grieving, and worried for his nephews, and if he were honest, Ava.

His father’s only concern was that they boys retain the Padalecki name, should Ava remarry, or worse take the children away. His mother was terrified she was going to lose the only living remnant she had of Jeff, his children.

Grief can do strange things to a person, and Jared couldn’t bear his mother’s pain as much as he was hurting over the loss of a brother. A parent shouldn’t have to bury their child; it's just not the natural order of things.

Jared squeezed his mother’s hand, realising for the first time how frail she seemed. The past few weeks were taking their toll on her as well as Jared, and the boys. It was Friday, and the court hearing was set for eight-thirty Monday morning, Jared fully intended to spend the night with the boys, talk through any fears or worries they may have and just be there for them. He was desperate to have Jensen at his side, but Jensen was right, now wasn’t the time to bring him into the family home, the boys’ place of safety.

Jared paid the restaurant bill, adding a hefty tip, then took his mother by the arm and walked her to a waiting cab. Jared had offered to drive her back, but she’d been adamant that she had errands to run before the boys came home. She kissed Jared on the cheek, doing the same with Jensen - Jared sure it was for the benefit of the news van parked at the other side of the road. She was bringing Jensen into the family, and Jared couldn’t have been happier.

Jared waited until his mother was seated in the cab, safe and secure, before turning to Jensen. “I think she likes you,” Jared said, his smile so wide his dimples were evident.

“How could she not?” Jensen beamed. “I’m awesome.”

Jared threw his head back and laughed, realising it had been so long since he’d been this happy. Despite the nightmare of a situation, he had his boys, his mother, and most of all, Jensen and his daughter.

Jared looked across at Jensen as Jensen secured his seat belt.

“What?” Jensen said, catching Jared staring.

“I just…” Jared said, swallowing past the lump in his throat.

“What?” Jensen repeated.

Jared shook off his reverie, and smiled, placing a hand on Jensen’s thigh. “Home?” Jared asked.

Jensen nodded, settling back in his seat; Jared guessed that he wanted to climb out of his pants and put on something looser, tracksuit bottoms and a worn T-shirt and just sprawl out on his couch.

Jensen watched as Jared climbed out of his car and walked around to the sidewalk beside Jensen, following him up the steps while Jensen put his key in the lock and stepped inside, Jared close on his heels. “Do you want a drink?” Jensen asked.

Jared shook his head, pressing himself up against Jensen as he unlocked the door to his apartment, and grabbing hold of Jensen as soon when they got inside, the door closing as Jared pushed Jensen up against it.

“What I want is you,” Jared said, lowering his head to scrape his teeth against Jensen’s jaw. He turned Jensen’s head to one side and worked his way to Jensen’s ear, biting the lobe. “Now,” Jared breathed.

Jensen swallowed, his cock twitching against soft cotton.

“Naked,” Jared went on, breathing heavy against Jensen’s ear. Stepping into Jensen’s space, he left just a wisp of air between them.

“Oh God,” Jensen groaned. “Yes, please.”

Jared grabbed for Jensen’s shirt, pulling him up to his full height and dragging him in, slanting his mouth over Jensen’s and biting down on Jensen’s plump bottom lip, worrying it with his teeth.

“Bedroom, now,” Jared urged, wanting nothing more than to take Jensen here and now, but conscious of Jensen’s condition.

“I won’t break,” Jensen said, dragging his Henley over his head and kicking off his shoes as he reached for the button on his trousers. “I’m not fragile,” Jensen continued, as he shrugging down his pants and boxers. “Or delicate.”

Jared watched as Jensen stood there in front of him, naked but for a smile, and wondered not for the first time how he got so lucky.

“There’s that look again,” Jensen said, stepping into Jared’s space and unbuttoning Jared’s dress shirt. “What does that even mean?”

Jared shook his head, not trusting himself to speak for fear of scaring Jensen away, afraid of what he might say.

I want you.

I need you.

I…

Jared pulled his arms free of his shirt while Jensen went to work on his trousers, easing his pants down and pulling his shorts carefully over Jared’s hard cock. Jensen took a step back to allow Jared to kick off his shoes and his pants, leaving them both naked, each staring at the other.

“Beautiful,” Jared breathed stepping forward, forcing Jensen took a step back, and another, until Jensen’s back was against the wall, Jared bearing down on him.

“Turn around,” Jared urged. He remembered the last time they were in this position - sex born of anger, both clawing at the other, trying to tear the other down.

The night Alex was made.

Jared took a breath in through his nose and out through his mouth, as Jensen placed both hands against the wall, spreading his legs and pushing his hips out, turning to glance at Jared over his shoulder and smiling. Jared didn’t think he’d ever get tired of seeing Jensen smile, or be naked for that matter.

He walked over to the wall where Jensen was waiting. Jared’s cock was hard and uncomfortable as it jutted out from the thatch of dark hair; it was already leaking pre-come at just the sight of Jensen.

“Tell me you want me,” Jared said, close enough to touch Jensen, to take hold of his cock and ease it between the cleft of Jensen’s ass. He knew it was overused, cliché, and probably sounded like some cheap eighties porn movie, but he wanted – needed - to know that Jensen wanted him, Jared. Not the senator, or a paying client or a random hook up.

“I want you,” Jensen moaned as Jared pressed his full weight against Jensen, Jared’s chest pressed tight to Jensen’s back. Jared reached up to place his hands over Jensen’s fingers, twining with Jensen’s, thrusting his cock and groaning as it slid up Jensen’s ass crack, teasing his puckered hole.

“I want you, Jared,” Jensen hissed. Jared’s hips snapped sharply, the head of his cock breaching Jensen’s entrance by just an inch before Jared eased back. He kissed Jensen, a mere brush of his lips against Jensen’s cheek, his shoulder. Jared inched lower, taking his weight on his knees and marking a path down Jensen’s back until he came to the curve of Jensen’s ass.

Jared looked up, watched the way Jensen lowered his head to rest against the wall and pushed his hips out further.

“Beautiful,” Jared whispered, as he parted Jensen’s ass cheeks with his thumbs and licked a path up and over Jensen’s hole, pushing in with the tip of his tongue. He felt Jensen writhe at the touch of his tongue, bearing down against Jared’s mouth, moaning loud and long.

Jared was sure that this was as good as it got. What he’d held out for, something that he figured marrying Ava had robbed him of. If only he’d been stronger, stood up to his father.

Jared tore himself from all thoughts but Jensen, Jensen’s voice penetrating the fog that had engulfed Jared, just for a moment.

“Please,” Jensen begged.

Jared flattened his tongue, licked up and around Jensen’s hole, pushing in with his tongue, barely there; pushing deeper with each lick, each press of Jared’s lips causing Jensen's hips to piston back and forth harder, faster.

“Yes,” Jared hissed, pushing himself up to his feet and into Jensen’s space, taking hold of his cock and teasing around Jensen’s hole with it, pushing in ever so slightly, once, twice and then snapping his hips upward, hard, until he was fully sheathed in Jensen. Jared’s hand skirted around Jensen’s swollen stomach to wrap his fingers around Jensen’s cock, fisting it with each snap of his hips.

Jensen pushed back and forth, matching Jared thrust for thrust. He lifted one arm to reach behind and curve around the back of Jared’s head, fingers tightening, pulling at Jared’s hair, holding on tightly and letting Jared lead where Jensen wanted, needed to be.

Jared didn’t think he could hold out much longer. It was always the same with Jensen; naked or not he managed to get past everyone of Jared’s defenses, both physical and emotional. He had Jared so tied up in knots that he didn’t know whether he was coming or going.

This time Jared was definitely coming.

“Jensen,” Jared hissed and felt Jensen tighten around him, the snug ring of muscle massaging Jared’s cock, milking every last drop of come from Jared. Jensen followed suit, groaning as he sunk back against Jared. Jared took both their weight as Jensen rode the aftershocks, Jared stroking him to completion.

It was getting dark out when Jared got ready to leave. Pushing himself up from the couch where Jensen was sleeping, he dragged the comforter from the back of the couch and draped it over Jensen.

“You’re leaving?” Jensen mumbled, nestling into the comforter and yawning.

“I have to talk to the boys, get them ready,” Jared said, reluctant to leave, but knowing he was needed at home. “It won’t always be like this,” Jared promised, leaning down to press a kiss to Jensen’s temple. “It’s just until the trial is over.”

“I have a photo shoot tomorrow,” Jensen said around a yawn.

“I could come by after,” Jared said hopefully.

Jensen nodded, nestling further into the couch and yawning a second time.

“Get some sleep,” Jared urged, as he kissed Jensen once more and headed toward the door, closing it quietly behind him.

Jared spotted the news crew as soon as he arrived home, noticing there weren’t as many as usual. He figured they were either losing interest, or they’d split up between Jared’s home, Jensen’s apartment, and now Gerald Padalecki’s mansion, seeing as Ava was there, under his father’s roof.

Jared smiled to himself; he wasn’t a vindictive person by any means, but he couldn’t help wondering how his father was coping at having his home treated like a three-ring circus.

The smell of home-cooked lasagne greeted Jared as he stepped inside the house. The sound of the boys playing a computer game drifted out of the living room as Sherri stepped out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.

“You’re home,” Sherri breathed. “Dinner will be in half an hour if you’d like to shower first?”

Jared nodded, dropping his briefcase at the foot of the stairs, his fingers skirting the handrail as Sherri interrupted his progress.

“I like him,” Sherri said, her smile wide and approval on her face.

Jared returned his mother’s smile, and proceeded up the stairs to his room, stripping off his clothes and climbing under the hot shower spray. He wasn’t relishing having to talk with the boys, but they had questions and better to be answered by Jared than someone at school - a friend or someone else whose only knowledge was from gossip rags, and newspaper hacks. Joshua already knew more than Jared would like, thanks to his parents being the topic of playground conversation.

“Joshua said you’re going to have a baby,” Jacob said, bouncing in his seat as soon as Jared entered the dining room and took his own seat at the head of the table. Jared glanced at Joshua, who glanced down at his plate, cheeks red and face a mask of guilt.

Jared leaned over and patted Joshua’s hand, relieved when Joshua looked up and smiled.

“When’s Mommy coming home?” Noah asked, pushing his green beans around the plate like they were the enemy.

“She’s not,” Jacob said. “She’s going to prison.”

“Jacob,” Sherri said, sounding aghast, and dropping her fork. It clanging against her plate, and breaking the sudden silence.

“Dillon told me,” Jacob said, his bottom lip trembling. “His mom saw it on the news”.

“Is it true, Uncle Jared?” Jacob whispered, on the verge of tears.

Jared put down his cutlery and pushed his plate away, grateful when Joshua took his brothers hand and squeezed.

“You’re going to hear some horrible things over the next few weeks,” Jared said. Noah pushed his way out of his seat and padded over to his grandmother, who pulled him into her lap.

“What’s prison?” Noah asked, scrubbing at his eyes with his tiny fists.

“It’s where they put bad people,” Jacob said, a tear escaping and marking a path down his cheek.

“Is Mom a bad person?” Noah sniffed.

“I want you all to know, no matter what you hear, that she’s still your mother, and she loves you,” Jared said. Jacob leaned in against Joshua’s shoulder, Joshua putting his arm around his brother and holding him close.

“What happens to us if she goes to prison?” Jacob asked.

“Nothing will change,” Jared reassured him.

“But Mom said you have a family, with a whore,” Jacob said.

“Jacob?” Sherri gasped, speechless.

“What’s a whore?” Jacob plowed on, oblivious to his grandmother’s shock and Jared’s annoyance.

“A baby?” Noah said, turning everyone’s attention from Jacob, who look chagrined at everyone’s reaction and not understanding what he’d said or done wrong.

“Does that mean I won’t be the smallest anymore?” Noah asked, a smile lighting up his face. “That I’ll be a big brother?”

“It does indeed,” Jared said. He’d had every intention of waiting to tell the boys about Alex, to reassure them of their place by Jared’s side, their importance. That nothing, not a single thing would change how much he loved and wanted the boys in his life.

All in all, Jared thought that it had had gone well. Yes, there’d been tears, but that was to be expected; he just wanted them reassured, that no matter what, they’d have Jared.

“If you have any questions, you’re come to me,” Jared urged. “If I can’t answer, then we’ll find out together, okay?”

Jared waited until all three of his nephews nodded before smiling.

“Can I tell them,” Joshua asked, turning his face to Jared, excited despite the circumstances.

Jared nodded, glad that there was something positive to talk about, sure that the boys were reassured of their place in Jared’s life.

“It’s a girl,” Joshua said, beaming.

“Wow,” Jacob said, all signs of tears spent. “A girl.”

“Does that mean she’ll be our sister?” Noah said, squirming in his grandmother’s embrace.

“It does,” Jared said, pleased at the boy’s reaction.

“But a baby sister, right? I’ll still be older,” Noah added.

“Yes, a baby sister,” Jared said, and watching the smile that lit up Noah’s face.

“Do you have any more questions?” Jared asked, concerned that the boys were aware that they could ask, no matter what it was, and that they’d get the truth.

“What are you going to call her?” Jacob asked.

Jared laughed, equal parts relieved and excited at the boys’ reaction to the new arrival to their family.

“Alex,” Jared said, and saw his mother’s face light up. Everyone seemed caught in up in a wave of excitement. A bright spot amid what was happening and what was yet to come.

“Right, who wants a game of Minecraft before bed?” Jared said, and watched as each of his nephews jumped from their seats and made for the living room.

“Go,” Sherri said, collecting the dinner plates and making her way to the kitchen to load the dishwasher. “And Jared,” Sherri added, catching Jared before he left the room, waiting until Jared turned around to face her. “I’m proud of you.” Love and compassion were evident in her voice.

“How did it go?” Jensen asked, opening the door to Jared the following afternoon.

“Good,” Jared admitted. “Better than I thought.”

Jared followed the smell of freshly brewed coffee, walking into the kitchen and pouring himself a cup.

“They’re excited about the baby,” he said, smiling at Jensen who lingered just outside the kitchen door, shoulder resting against the wall.

“They are?” Jensen asked with a deep sigh of relief. Jared knew he’d been fearing how the boys would react to Jensen, and more importantly, Alex.

Jared nodded, taking a second mouthful of coffee before putting down the cup and walking over to where Jensen waited. “Especially Noah,” Jared said, taking a hold of Jensen’s shirt and pulling him in, lowering his head to steal a kiss.

“I missed you,” Jared whispered between kisses, his cock already half hard at the feel of Jensen against him.

“I missed you too,” Jensen moaned, deepening the kiss and pushing his tongue into the warmth of Jared’s mouth, retreating only to push back in. Jensen reached up on his toes, causing his cock to bump up against Jared’s groin, feeling Jared’s approval in the hard line of Jared’s cock.

“Yes,” Jensen moaned approvingly, reaching for his pants and shoving them and his boxers down until they bunched at his feet. Jensen swiped the morning mail and newspaper off the kitchen table and leaned down, hands spread on the small wooden slab and looking back over his shoulder at Jared’s awed expression.

“Too many clothes,” Jensen complained.

Jared gave himself a mental shake, fixated on Jensen, the way he had bent himself over the table, ass naked, waiting, and expectant.

“Oh God,” Jared hissed, doubting he’d ever get used to this, to the want that surfaced whenever Jensen was near, the need to take, have, possess. His cock was hard, pushing at the zipper on his pants; Jared fumbled with the zip, not once taking his eyes from Jensen.

Jared freed himself from his pants, took hold of his cock and fisted himself once or twice pre -come coating his fingers as he approached Jensen. Leaning over him, Jared pushed Jensen all the way down until he was sprawled across the table legs, spread and ass ready.

Jared wasn’t in the mood for niceties, and neither was Jensen, if his moans of encouragement were anything to go by. He pushed one finger into Jensen’s hole, twisting, searching and finding the spot he was looking for and pressing down. Jensen cried out, pushed back against Jared, stretching around two digits, Jared stroking Jensen’s sweet spot with each press of his fingers.

“Fuck me!” Jensen ordered, voice harsh, demanding. “Come on, Jared.”

Jared swallowed, lined himself up and pushed into Jensen’s hole, watching it stretch to accommodate Jared’s size, amazed at the feel of Jensen taking him in, all the way to the base of Jared’s cock. Jared stilled for a moment, gave Jensen time to adjust; he relished the heat that surrounded him, the way Jensen’s hole twitched, once, and again, massaging Jared’s already sensitive cock.

“Move!” Jensen said, demanding rather than asking. “C’mon.”

Jared did as asked. He pulled out all the way to the head of his cock, circled his hips, teasing Jensen’s hole, before slamming back in, hard and fast.

“Yes, like that.” Jensen said, as Jared pressed one hand between Jensen’s shoulder blades, fingers splayed as he held Jensen down, and thrust up, aiming and hitting the spot that made Jensen cry out, again and again.

Jared loved this, loved the sounds Jensen made, the noticeable hitch to his breath whenever Jared snapped his hips hard and fast, the slower, drawn out moans when Jared eased away only to push back in deeper. Long sure thrusts that hit their mark every time, making Jensen call out Jared’s name, letting Jared know how that he was close.

“Harder,” Jensen demanded. “C’mon, I’m almost…”

Jared thrust hard, pulled back all the way to the head of his cock, circled his hips and slammed in as he felt Jensen tighten around him, his hole clenching, massaging Jared’s cock until he couldn’t hold any longer; dragging a loud moan of pleasure as he came, Jared rocked his hips back and forth until he was spent. His cock was almost too sensitive as he pulled out and reached for a towel from the stack of laundry on the counter top, wiping himself clean then parting Jensen’s ass cheeks and using the towel to clean him before handing him the towel.

“So, are you ready for tomorrow?” Jared began while they both made themselves comfortable on Jensen’s couch.

Jensen nodded. It was Sunday, one day before the trial, and JD Morgan was coming over to put Jensen through his paces, prepare him for the trial, sure that the team of attorneys at Ava’s disposal would do their best to discredit him as a witness.

The only people who knew the truth of Jared and Jensen’s meeting were Samantha, Steve, Chris, and Danneel. Even Jensen’s parents were under the impression that it was a casual encounter in an elevator. Jared asking Jensen out, nothing untoward, except for the fact that Jared was married, and Jensen agreed, which named him as the third person in Jared’s marriage, making Jared an adulterer.

As far as Ava’s counsel were aware Jensen, was a model for Ferris’ agency, nothing sordid about it. If necessary, Samantha had a whole host of people, attorneys and even judges at her disposal, should anyone insinuate otherwise.

But JD wasn’t going to take any chances. He wanted Jensen ready, prepared, should Ava’s defense dredge up any of Jensen’s former clients. Jared had come clean with JD, and it was his job to keep it from discrediting Jensen’s testimony.

And JD had every intention of making sure that didn’t happen. He’d come up against the Padalecki legal team before and knew they’d leave no stone unturned, would stoop to any level to win the case.

And so would JD.

Once again it was dark out when Jared left, agreeing to spend Sunday with the boys, leaving Jensen alone with JD.

He hated leaving, hated sleeping and waking up alone, of not being there every time his daughter kicked. Jared just wanted the whole sordid mess over with, and then he had every intention of asking Jensen to move in with him. He wanted Jensen with him, wanted to come home to him, and not have to leave after a few hours. He wanted his daughter to be born under his roof and his protection. He’d be damned if the time spent with his daughter was a couple of hours snatched here and there. He wanted her home, his home, with Jensen and his boys.

Jared woke up early Sunday morning, the boys still sleeping except for Noah, who was sitting at the breakfast counter eating home-made pancakes with syrup. His grandmother stood at the stove, her back to Jared.

“Coffee?” Sherri asked, leaving Jared amazed at how she did that, even as a kid; no matter how stealthy he thought he and Jeff were sneaking in or out of the house, she always caught them.

“Please,” Jared said, taking a seat next to Noah, wiping a trace of syrup from Noah’s chin with his thumb.

“Good?” Jared asked.

“Delicious,” Noah said turning his head to grin at Jared, several gaps in his gum line where he’d lost his baby teeth. Out of all of them, Noah was the one most like Jeff, and sometimes it hurt to see the resemblance, but other times it brought back good memories, especially for his mother. He’d seen the way she looked at the children, more Noah, all misty-eyed, lost in some memory or other.

Sherri placed Jared’s coffee on the breakfast counter, catching him staring at Noah. “He gets more like Jeff every day,” Sherri said, handing Jared a plate of home-made pancakes and busying herself at the stove.

The morning passed quickly. Jared felt like he was going stir-crazy, pacing his study, wanting to call Jensen, but he’d promised to give Jensen and JD time to do whatever they needed to do to ready Jensen. He’d called Misha, and reassured himself that Misha was more than ready to be called as a witness. Misha had never lost a client, not on his watch, he had every intention of making Ava Padalecki pay for putting a slur on Jared’s reputation. Not to mention shooting him.

Jared was ready, anxious for Jensen, but ready.

Sherri seemed to be pouring all of her anxieties into cooking if dinner was anything to go by - she’d prepared a roast beef with all the trimmings, and apple pie for dessert, much to the boys’ delight. No one turned their nose up at Sherri Padalecki’s home-made apple pie, especially if it came with ice-cream, which it did.

Jared was in the garden shooting hoops with the boys when JD called, passing the ball to Jacob to answer the call.

“Hey,” Jared said, anxious and a little out of breath, wanting to know how things went.

“He’s ready as he’s going to be,” JD said, sounding confident.

Jared blew out a sigh of relief, thanking JD and agreeing to meet him at the courthouse the following morning. He ended the call and pressed speed dial.

“How are you?” Jared greeted Jensen. “JD says you’re good to go. How do you feel?”

“Good,” Jensen said, taking a deep breath. Jared heard him walking and then running water so he figured Jensen was putting on a fresh pot of coffee.

“I miss you,” Jared said.

“Me too,” Jensen whispered. “I just want this over.”

Jared nodded, aware that the boys were in earshot. “Do you want me to pick you up in the morning?”

“Thanks, but I think it best I drive myself; I don’t know what order the witnesses are being called, and I’ll need my car to get home once I’ve given evidence,” Jensen said sounding worried.

“What is it?” Jared asked.

“My parents are coming to the trial,” Jensen said. “I didn’t want you to meet this way.” Jensen paused then carried on, “But they’re my parents and they insisted.”

Jared nodded again. “It’s okay,” Jared took a deep breath. It wasn’t the perfect way to meet your lover’s parents, but he wouldn’t, couldn’t, deny them the right to be there for their son. ”So I’ll see you tomorrow?” Hearing Jensen's assent, Jared hung up and, lifted Noah with one hand, and smiling as he dropped the ball in the basket; his brothers went along with Jared helping Noah, cheering their little brother as Jared ended the call.

“Soon I won’t need help, right, Uncle Jared? I won’t be the smallest,” Noah said around a huge grin.

“You’ll be a big brother before you know it,” Jared promised.

Monday morning dawned bright and early, the sun shining into Jared’s bedroom window as he secured his tie and pulled on his designer jacket. With his height and made-to-measure suit, he looked every inch a senator, rich and exuding power.

The boys were being driven to school by one of Jared’s security aides. Jared pleaded with his mother to stay home, but she wouldn’t hear of it, adamant, needing to be there for both her son and Jensen.

“She killed my boy,” Sherri said, biting back a sob,

Jared opened his mouth, realising that there was nothing he could say that would change his mother’s mind.

The drive to the courthouse was subdued, with both Jared and his mother lost in thought. Jared trying to concentrate on the road ahead, but aware nonetheless of his mother constantly wringing her hands, twisting at her wedding band. She’d lost her son, and possibly her husband, had them both snatched from her by Ava, and Jared had to wonder if his parents’ choosing sides would be the end of their marriage.

It was difficult trying to find a parking space once they reached the courthouse; it was a media frenzy, cameras flashing here, there and everywhere. A camera crew pitched at the bottom of the courthouse steps stopped anyone who went inside for an exclusive.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” Jared asked, turning towards his mother. Her face was resolute, a feeling of pride warmed him when she took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.

“Let’s do this,” Sherri said.

The first person Jared saw as he entered the courthouse was Jensen - he was standing off to one side, surrounded by friends and family, with Danneel holding tight to his hand as Jared and his mother approached. Sherri broke free of Jared to pull Jensen down into a hug, which seemed much to the approval of the older woman standing at Jensen’s side.

“Mom, this is Mrs. Padalecki,” Jensen said, introducing Jared’s mother.

“Please, call me Sherri,” Jared’s mother said, holding her hand out.

“Donna,” Mrs. Ackles said, taking Sherri’s hand and giving it a shake. “And you must be Jared.”

“”I wish we could have met under better circumstances,” Jared said, shaking first Donna, and then Alan’s hand.

“I don’t doubt that for one moment, son,” Alan said, and much to Jared’s surprise, when Alan pulled him into a hug and slapped him on the back.

“Here we go,” Chris hissed as Gerald Padalecki entered the courthouse, a subdued Ava by his side and a whole team of attorneys in their wake.

Jared watched the way his mother’s shoulders stiffened, as Jensen’s parents and friends closed ranks around Jensen.

Jared took the time to watch as Ava kept in step with his father. She’d dressed to look sombre in a dark suit pants that pulled in her tiny waist, and a royal blue blouse, and flat shoes. Jared was sure she’d had someone dress her; everything made to highlight how small she was, and defenseless.

Gerald moved off to one side, leaving a respectable distance between himself and Jared, his back to Jared and Jensen’s support. Ava occasionally looked over her shoulder toward Jensen, lowering her gaze to Jensen’s stomach, causing him to pull himself in, disguise the pregnancy as best he could.

“Don’t do that,” Jared said. Not wanting to put Jensen on display, but at the same time not wanting him to hide, to be ashamed. He wanted nothing more than to pull Jensen into a hug, but aware of the many eyes trained on them.

“Am I late?” Misha asked, hurrying over to where Jared and Jensen were waiting, breathing a sigh of relief when Jared shook his head.

Jared was about to introduce Misha to everyone when the court bailiff, clip board in hand, stepped out into the long corridor.

“The Prosecution Versus Ava Padalecki,” The bailiff announced. Jared squared his shoulders, and watched the way Gerald patted Ava’s hand. Both Gerald and Sherri Padalecki were allowed inside the courtroom, as they weren’t giving evidence. Everyone else having to wait outside until they’d been called to give testimony. The press all rushed to get inside and find a perfect spot to take notes and watch the trial.

“Vultures,” Jared hissed, a feeling of disgust for the way they’d been hounding him, and Jensen for the past month, about to finally get the story they’d been desperate for.

Jared looked over his shoulder and smiled at Jensen, before entering the courtroom and taking his place beside JD Morgan. He glanced across to where Ava was seated beside Matt Cohen, and several colleagues, and watched as she kept her head bowed and her hands folded together in her lap. Everything had been carefully staged to make her look like the victim.

Most of the morning was taken up with the opening statements, the burden of proof resting with JD, being the party that brought the case to court, and having every intention of proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ava was guilty.

JD paced up and down in front of the juror’s box and looked each one in the eye before continuing.

“You’re going to be made to feel sorry for Mrs. Padalecki,” JD said, placing his hands on the wooden bench separating himself from the jury. “You’re going to feel sorry for her; the defense wants you to feel sorry for her. Look at her,” JD went on, turning to point at her Ava. “Look how small and defenseless she is compared to my client.” JD turned back to the jury. “They want you to feel sorry for her because she lost her husband, the father to her children.”

JD took a moment to look at each juror, holding eye contact. “It doesn’t matter how small she is, how defenseless - what matters are her actions and the truth of the matter is her actions were murderous; her actions were brutal; her actions were selfish, vicious and duplicitous.” JD continued to pace in front of the jury, turning to point at Ava as regular intervals.

“Not only did she murder her husband, the father to her children, but she continued to live in the family home, amid the family’s grief and loss, to carry on the charade of the grieving widow. Successfully, I might add, going so far as to marry my client in a desperate bid to hold onto her fortune, and when that went sour, she turned to what she does best, and that.” JD said, leaning in against the jury. “That is murder.”

JD held the juror’s gaze for a moment longer, letting his words sink in before returning to his seat beside Jared. They were waiting for the defense to make their opening statement, and Jared wasn’t disappointed.

Jared knew the defense were playing up to the wronged wife angle, naming Jared as an adulterer, but he hadn’t expected it to sound so brutal. The defense claiming that Ava was afraid, had been so since Jeff’s death; that she was alone and scared that she would lose her children to the Padalecki fortune, bullied into marrying Jared, a man she didn’t love in order to keep her children, and afraid they were going to be snatched away at any given moment.

So afraid that she’d followed Jared that night with the intention of proving his infidelity, only to stumble upon a murder scene. Scared for her life, and that of Jared’s, she’d found the gun on the grass and fingers trembling, pulled the trigger, killing Pellegrino and turning the gun on Misha when Jensen, her husband’s lover, had snuck up behind her and plunged the glass shard into her back.

Ava kept her head bowed while her attorney Matt Cohen, continued, Matt claiming Ava as the victim who had lost one husband to a tragic accident, and another to his lover, his pregnant lover no less.

Jared was pleased when the hearing broke for lunch, not that he could eat anything. He felt sick to his stomach watching Ava play the victim; she’d certainly had plenty of time to practice, first as the grieving widow, and second as the wronged wife.

“How’s it going?” Danneel asked when Jared stepped out of the courtroom, glad for the reprieve.

“She’s the frail grieving widow and I’m the big bad ogre who forced her into marriage,” Jared hissed. He asked Jensen “Have you eaten anything? There’s a cafeteria on the first floor.”

“I’m not hungry,” Jensen said, his stomach taking that moment to remind him of when he last ate.

“You should eat something,” Jared said, afraid that Jensen might pass out in the courtroom. “It’s hot in there, and in your condition.”

“Please, honey. Do as he asks?” Donna said, giving Jensen’s arm a squeeze.

“We’ve got an hour before the hearing resumes and I could use a coffee,” Jared said, smiling when Jensen nodded.

Jared managed to convince Jensen to eat a sandwich, with the help of his mother. The atmosphere felt strained as they made their way back to courtroom B, Jared giving Jensen’s hand a squeeze as they parted and Jared walked back into the courtroom and taking a seat next to JD.

“How is he?” JD asked, as he shuffled through his notes.

“Good, quiet, but good,” Jared said, getting to his feet as the judge re-entered the courtroom.

“Are you ready to call your first witness?” Judge Michaels asked.

“The prosecution calls Misha Collins,” JD said, getting to his feet as the bailiff called for Misha to enter the courtroom then taking his place in the witness box and swearing his oath.

“Could you state your name for the court?” JD asked.

“Misha Collins,” Misha said, lowering his head toward the microphone.

“And your relationship to my client?” JD continued.

“Jared hired me after his brother was killed,” Misha said, keeping his gaze fixed on JD.

“Objection,” Matt said, getting to his feet. “Your honour, there is no evidence to prove that Mr. Padalecki’s accident was anything but that, an accident.”

“Sustained. Mr. Collins, please rephrase your answer.” Judge Michaels asked.

“Jared hired me after his brother died,” Misha said.

“Why were you hired?” JD asked.

“Mr. Padalecki, Jared, believed his brother’s death was a deliberate attempt on his life,” Misha said.

“And may I ask how you could determine whether it was or wasn’t?” JD said.

“I’ve spent my entire working career in the military, I’ve seen almost every improvised explosive device there is and the damage they cause,” Misha said.

“And in your expert opinion, was Mr. Padalecki’s death an accident?”

“Objection,” Matt said, getting to his feet for the second time.

“Overruled,” Judge Michaels said. “I’m sure Mr. Collins’ military background qualifies him as an expert witness.”

“Mr. Collins, in your expert opinion, was there any evidence to prove it non-accidental?” JD asked.

“Not until Jensen’s accident,” Misha said.

“And why was that?” JD asked.

“The similarities to Jeff’s accident for one. That and Jensen claimed to have smelt ammonia minutes before the explosion, proof that in every likelihood ammonium nitrate was used. If placed in a plastic bottle in the fuel tank, the liquid slowly corrodes the plastic casing, and once the nitrate comes into contact with the fuel, well the resulting explosion is catastrophic,” Misha said. “Unfortunately not only is the car destroyed, but so is the evidence.”

“And that would be the second attempt on Jensen’s life, correct?” JD said.

“Yes, he was previously involved in a hit and run,” Misha said.

“Objection,” Matt said, once again. “While I have no doubt as to Mr. Ackles’ run of bad luck, I fail to see what bearing that has on my client.”

“Sustained,” Judge Michaels said. “Mr. Morgan, can we please get to the point?”

“Mr. Collins, on the night of the fire, where were you?” JD asked.

“There’d been a sighting of an unknown vehicle circulating Jensen’s address,” Misha began. “I called Jensen and told him to leave the apartment and directed him to where Mark, Mr. Pellegrino, was waiting.”

“And at that point you had no idea of Mr. Pellegrino’s involvement in Jensen’s previous incidents, correct?”

“Correct,” Misha said. “Mr. Pellegrino was directed to take Jensen to Mr. Padalecki’s house in Austin and to keep him safe until we discovered who was driving the unknown vehicle. We first became aware that something was remiss when no vehicle was seen, and Jensen failed to pick up his phone,” Misha said.

“And after,” JD prodded.

“We, Mr. Padalecki and I, followed Mr. Pellegrino’s car to Austin, Jared constantly calling Jensen’s cell until he finally answered. It was clearly evident that he was in a distressed state. By the time we arrived, the house was in flames, and Mr. Pellegrino was staggering around outside.”

“And Jensen?” JD asked.

“He was trapped in the fire,” Misha said. “Jared didn’t hesitate.” Misha took a deep breath. Jared was terrified that Jensen would be killed. “I tried to stop him but he ran headlong into the flames, desperate to get to Jensen.”

“And Mr. Pellegrino?” JD asked.

“I lost sight of him when I followed after Jared, who managed to get to Jensen before the house came down,” Misha said. “We barely made it out.”

“But you did,” JD said, encouraging Misha to carry on.

“I knew then,” Misha said, shaking his head. “Knew that Pellegrino was involved, had tried to kill Jensen, I just didn’t know why. No one knew of the house, there was only Pellegrino’s vehicle at the scene.”

Misha took a deep breath. “Jared and I felt betrayed, deceived. I felt for sure we’d never make it out of there alive that we were going to die right there,” Misha continued. “Jensen was in a bad way, mostly from the fire, but also from the beating from Pellegrino; he looked barely alive. We’d lost our guns, and Pellegrino forced us back to the house, to the fire. There’d be no survivors. That’s when we heard the gunshot, and we both turned to see her, Ava, standing where Pellegrino had been standing, with Pellegrino dead at her feet.”

“You must have been relieved?” JD said.

“For a split second,” Misha said “Until Ava, Mrs Padalecki turned the gun on Jared, forcing us back to the flames, intending for us to die in the fire.”

“And that’s when she shot Jared?” JD asked.

Misha nodded. “I’ll admit I was scared for all our lives. Jensen needed medical treatment; I wasn’t even sure if he was alive at the time. Jared had taken a warning shot, as had I and all the while she was screaming about how Jeff was going to divorce her, take her fortune and status.”

“And that’s when Jensen stabbed her with the glass shard?” JD asked.

“Yes,” Misha said. “I’m not sure where he found the strength, but he saved all our lives.”

“Thank you,” JD said, turning toward Matt. “Your witness.”

Jared watched as Matt approached the witness box, not knowing what to expect.

“Mr. Collins,” Matt began “Isn’t it true that you staged the events after the fire? That Mr.Padalecki was grasping at the chance to rid himself of a wife he never wanted?”

“That’s not what happened,” Misha said, calm and controlled.

“Isn’t it also true that Mr. Ackles, taking it one step further, tried to kill Mrs. Padalecki in a desperate attempt to hold onto his lover?”

“If Jensen hadn’t acted, we would all be dead,” Misha said.

“But you and Mr. Pellegrino were both hired guns, having served together,” Matt said, pausing for effect. “You and Pellegrino worked together on numerous occasions, and you expect us to believe he was working alone that night? That he wasn’t following orders.”

“He was following orders,” Misha said. “Just not mine.”

“No further questions,” Matt said, Jared couldn’t help feeling that Matt had sown the seed of doubt.

“Mr. Collins, you may step down,” Judge Michaels said, turning to JD and asking him to call his next witness.

“The prosecution calls Jensen Ackles.”

Jared waited as the bailiff called Jensen’s name, watching every head in the courtroom turn to face the door as Jensen made his way to the witness box, and swearing his oath, while his parents along with Danneel and Chris, quietly took a seat at the back of the courtroom.

“State your name for the court,” JD said.

“Jensen Ackles,” Jensen said, leaning forward toward the microphone.

“And your connection to Mr. Padalecki?” JD asked.

“We’re in a relationship,” Jensen said, glancing across at Ava as she made a sobbing sound.

Your witness Judge Michaels said, turning to face JD.

Jensen sat up straight, remembering Jeff’s advice to be polite to both judge and jury as well as opposing counsel. To speak clearly and to the point. If he were honest, he’d have to admit that he was anxious, even though he was used to be under the spotlight. With his modelling career and not being able to make a move without the press for the previous month, Jensen was used to being the centre of attention.

“Mr. Ackles, Jensen - can I call you Jensen?” JD asked, smiling when Jensen nodded. “What happened the night of the fire, in your own words?”

Jensen told JD the same as he told Misha. He’d been home, all alone, when he got the call to leave the apartment; he’d been sure that something was wrong, that his life could be at stake. He made his way to where Pellegrino was parked and climbed into the SUV, scared for himself and his unborn baby.

He remembered pulling into the drive of Jared’s Austin home, climbing out of the SUV and coming around to the trunk where Pellegrino was standing, and then nothing. He’d felt a sharp blow to the back of his head, and the next thing he remembered had been waking up in Jared’s house, groggy and with a blinding headache.

“And Pellegrino, he was there when you woke up?” JD asked.

Jensen nodded.

“Speak for the benefit of the court,” Judge Michaels advised.

“Yes, he was there,” Jensen said. “He had a gun and, and he’d made no bones about the fact the he would use it if he was pushed, but said he’d been ordered to make it look like an accident.”

“Ordered to?” JD said, drawing attention to Jensen’s words. “Did he say anything to hint at who had hired him?”

“No,” Jensen said, shaking his head, remembering that night. The fear when he woke up from the blow to the head, unsteady, thoughts still foggy. He remembered trying to talk to Jared on the phone. Jared’s relief at getting through to Jensen, that relief palpable through the phone. Jensen trying to warn Jared, recalling Pellegrino tormenting Jensen with the lighter, the mention of fire, and how scared Jensen was, wondering if this was it, the end. He wondered if he’d live long enough to see his daughter born, to see Jared again. To get out alive.

“Talk us through what happened next,” JD said, waiting for Jensen to ground himself.

Jensen remembered the pain as Pellegrino hit him a second time, bringing the butt of the gun down against Jensen’s temple. The last image Jensen had before he lost consciousness was Pellegrino’s grin, and the flicker of a flame.

“I remember the pain,” Jensen said. I remember the smell of smoke, thick and cloying, burning the inside of my nose; I remember hearing the crackle of flames, feeling them licking at my skin, and Pellegrino’s laughter as everything went black.”

Jensen took a deep breath as the memories washed over him; he could almost smell the smoke, hear the hiss and pop of the heat from the flames as they danced up the walls and snaked their way across the ceilings.

He was going to die alone, and his daughter’s life was going to be taken before she had a chance to draw her first breath.

“The next thing I remember was being dragged, pulled, and Jared’s voice,” Jensen said. “It hurt to breathe, my chest was so tight, my lungs burning, desperate to suck in fresh air.”

“Go on,” JD encouraged.

“There were windows shattering, glass everywhere. I tried to get to my feet, to ease Jared’s burden, and then Misha was there, helping, pulling until I collapsed on the grass outside. I tried to suck in air; it hurt so much, my throat was sore. I was so relieved though, because the pain made me feel alive. My baby was alive.”

“And when did you realise it wasn’t over?” JD asked.

“When I felt the first kick to my stomach,” Jensen said, the fear from that night making his voice waver. He automatically placed his hands over his stomach, reminding himself that it was over and that his daughter had survived.

“I tried to curl up in a ball, to protect my baby, when I felt the second kick to my head,” Jensen said. “Everything hurt, I was sure I’d escaped the fire only to die at Pellegrino’s hands.

“Were you aware that Pellegrino was using you as leverage, to get Jared and Misha to surrender their weapons?

Jensen nodded. “Vaguely. I was trying to stay conscious, afraid if I let myself go under that I’d never wake up. I was trying to get to my feet when I heard the gunshot,” Jensen said looked at Ava.

“You saw Mrs Padalecki?” JD encouraged.

“Yes,” Jensen said, turning his attention back to JD. “She was holding the gun on Jared and Misha, forcing them toward the fire, and when Jared refused, she shot him, and then she shot Misha.”

Jensen looked across at Jared, remembering the fear that he was going to die. “I knew I had to do something; I had to try. There was glass everywhere. I didn’t think, I just knew I had to do something, and so I reached for a shard and I stabbed her.”

“Did you intend to kill her?” JD asked. This was the most important question, the one he and Jensen had rehearsed, although Jensen didn’t need that much prompting being that he was telling the truth.

“No,” Jensen said, firmly. “I just knew I had to do something or we’d all die.”

JD nodded, apparently satisfied. “And after?”

“I remember sirens in the distance as she, Mrs. Padalecki, dropped the gun and fell to her knees. I remember Misha taking a hold of Ava before the floor tilted and I went down, Jared there to catch me.”

JD nodded again before turning to Matt. “Your witness.”

Jensen held his breath as Matt approached the witness box. “I won’t keep you long, Mr. Ackles, I’ve no doubt you’ve had a traumatic experience. No one is questioning the fact that you had a real fear of death. “However,” Matt said, paused for effect. “Isn’t it true you had a concussion, was barely conscious - isn’t it possible that you were confused, mistook Mrs. Padalecki’s intention to save Jared? That you saw her actions as murderous as opposed to wanting save Jared?”

“She shot Jared,” Jensen said, watching as Ava’s shoulders stiffened.

“By accident,” Matt said. “Mrs. Padalecki had no prior experience with a gun.”

“And yet she shot Mr. Pellegrino in the head, from a distance,” Jensen said.

JD wanted to smile at Jensen’s reply. He watched the jurors’ reaction, saw several of them nod their heads at Jensen’s response. Others were looking suspiciously at Ava.

“Isn’t it true that you watched Mrs. Padalecki save Jared from Mr. Pellegrino and saw an opportunity to get rid of the competition?” Matt said, voice harsh, unforgiving. “Isn’t it true that you stabbed Mrs. Padalecki in a selfish attempt to remove her from Jared’s life?”

“I was trying to save Jared,” Jensen said, his voice strong, resolute.

“By trying to kill his wife?” Matt demanded. Jensen opened his mouth to reply, but Matt cut him off. “No further questions.”

“You may step down,” Judge Michaels said, shuffling the papers in front of him He called the court to a close for the day. “Court will resume at nine am sharp.”

Everyone rose to their feet as Judge Michaels made his way to his chambers.

“You did great,” Jared said, as he and Jensen made to leave the courtroom. Jared stopping where his mother was seated and waited for her to stand, taking her arm and leading her back outside to join the others.

“I’m so proud of you,” Donna said, smiling at Jensen. “And you,” she continued turning to Jared, visibly moved by Jensen’s description of that night. “You saved my son’s life,” Donna said, as Jared led his mother to where everyone was waiting, Donna trying to gather her composure, her tears gathering and threatening to spill over onto her cheeks. “Thank you.”

Jared felt his cheeks redden, glad that Donna overlooked the fact that he’d put Jensen in harm’s way to begin with, even though Jensen would protest, Jared still felt guilty. The truth of the matter was, yes, if it wasn’t for Jared, then Jensen would be dead, but had it not been for Jensen, then none of them would have escaped with their lives.

Now all they needed was for the jury to see that truth.

They all left the court together, running the gauntlet of the press to get to where they’d parked their cars. Jensen said his goodbyes to Jared as Jared’s mother climbed into the passenger seat of Jared’s car.

“I’ll call you later,” Jared said, aware of the cameras and so keeping his distance from Jensen. Sure, everyone knew by now that he and Jensen were lovers, but Jared didn’t want to flaunt it in front of the press. It was too soon, something Jensen was totally on board with.

Danneel came over and kissed Jensen on the cheek as Jensen’s mother made herself comfortable in Jensen’s car. Danneel was travelling home with Chris.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Danneel said, and watched as Jensen nodded. Jared knew Jensen was grateful for their friends' support.

Jensen dropped his parents at their hotel and drove home, grateful that for once he wasn’t greeted by a cacophony of shouts and cameras, the media having had their fill at the courthouse. He was hoping his part was over, though still conscious that he could be recalled for further examination. For right now, he was basking in what little relief he could muster.

He kicked his shoes off along with his socks and padded barefoot to the bedroom, unbuttoning in his shirt as he went. He wanted something soft, loose and comfortable, which was fast becoming a habit as the pregnancy progressed. He shoved his legs into a clean pair of tracksuit bottoms, dragged them up over his bump and pulled on a favourite T-shirt. At thirty weeks, there was no disguising his shape, like he’d tried earlier that day. He wasn’t ashamed; he just didn’t want Ava anywhere near Alex, which was ridiculous considering she was yet to be born.

Just the thought of Ava looking at him, at his bump, seemed to cheapen what was happening to him. He was carrying a life, his and Jared’s daughter – it was something wonderful, and he had no intention of allowing anyone to taint that, least of Ava Padalecki.

Once dressed Jensen pottered into the kitchen and put on a fresh pot of coffee before opening the fridge and taking out the ingredients to make an omelet, looking wistfully at the bottles of his favourite beer, which he had laid in for Chris, Steve and Jared. It hand been so long since he’d had a beer… he shook his head and put the cheese, eggs and peppers on the breakfast counter along with the onions and mushrooms. His stomach growled at the prospect of something more than a sandwich.

It was past seven by the time Jensen had eaten and checked his messages, mostly from Samantha with several bookings for the week after next, being conscious of the trial, and one wishing him luck.

He was half asleep, the TV on low in the background, when his phone rang.

“Hey,” Jensen said sleepily his voice soft, and low.

“Did I wake you?” Jared asked.

“No,” Jensen lied.

“I was so proud of you today,” Jared said. “You should sleep.” Jared knew Jensen, was worried about how anxious Jensen had been about giving evidence, how little he’d been sleeping on the days leading up to the trial.

“Seriously, Jensen,” Jared coaxed.

“Okay,” Jensen said. He could hear how evident the Texas was in his voice, proof of just how tired he was.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” Jared promised.

Jensen nodded, something he had a habit of doing, not realising the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t see what he was doing. It happened more when he was tired.

“Goodnight, Jensen,” Jared whispered.

“Night,” Jensen slurred. “I love you.”

“Jensen?” Jared said, repeating himself several times before realising that Jensen had hung up.

Jared turned his phone over in his hand and looked at Jensen’s name in his contacts, so tempted to call Jensen back, or go round to his apartment and bang on his door.

The words were quiet, barely audible, slurred down the phone, but Jared was sure of what he’d heard.

“Christ,” Jared hissed, wondering if Jensen was even aware of what he’d said.

Jared poured himself a measure of his favourite bourbon, drinking it down in a single swallow, relishing the burn as it hit the back of his throat. Jensen’s words rattled around and around in his head; something no one besides his mother and the boys had ever said to Jared. Jared thought back, tried to remember a time when his father had told him, but he couldn't recall. Not for a long time.

I love you

Jared picked up his phone and called Jensen, the phone ringing several times before going to voicemail. Jared took a deep breath before speaking into the phone.

“Hey, it’s me,” Jared said. “I just wanted to hear your voice.”

Jared ended the call leaving his study and making his way to the kitchen where his mother was preparing the boys’ lunches for the following day.

“Jared what’s wrong?” Sherri asked, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel before walking over to where Jared lingered, his face pale as he stared at his phone.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Sherri said. “Jared?”

“He loves me,” Jared said.

“Oh honey,” Sherri said, a smile lighting up her face. “How could he not?” Sherri said as she pulled Jared down into a hug, holding him close.

Jared was first at the courthouse the next day, eager to see Jensen. He’d spent an inordinate amount of time pacing up and down the corridor, only breathing a sigh of relief when Jensen appeared, his parents a step behind him.

“Hey,” Jared said, tempted to pull Jensen to him and kiss him hard, regardless of the many witnesses or the time and place.

“Hey,” Jensen said, frowning at the look on Jared’s face. “What’s up?”

“I just… hey,” Jared said again, much to Donna and Sherri’s amusement. It seemed everyone was aware of what was happening between them, all except Jensen.

Misha arrived several minutes before Chris and Danneel, walking up to where everyone waited and taking a step back to look Jared in the eye. “What’s wrong with your face?” Misha said, frowning. “You look like the cat that got the cream. Is there something we should know?”

Jared smiled. Nothing, not a single thing was going to mar his day. Not his father, Ava, the trial, nothing.

Jensen loved him.

Everyone made their way to courtroom B as the bailiff announced the hearing was about to convene. This time Misha and Jensen were allowed inside the courtroom, seeing as how they’d already given evidence. Jared’s mother was seated on one side of the room with Jensen’s friends and family, his father on the other, alone. Jared had to wonder if his father realised what his choice to defend Ava had cost him. Gerald hoping he could make amends to Sherri, and the boys. Maybe even Jared himself, but he wasn’t holding his breath for the last one.

“The prosecution calls Jared Padalecki,” JD said.

Jared pulled himself to his full height and made his way across the courtroom toward the witness box, taking a seat and swearing his oath.

“State your name for the court,” Judge Michaels directed.

“Jared Padalecki,” Jared said.

“Your witness,” Judge Michaels said, looking toward JD.

“Jared,” JD began. “Your brother’s accident, what made you think it was a deliberate attempt on his life?”

“I’m not sure it just seemed off to me, wrong,” Jared said, honestly. “I just needed to be sure.”

“And so you hired Mr. Collins?” JD asked.

“Yes he came highly recommended,” Jared said.

“And it was Mr. Collins’ investigation that led you to believe your brother was murdered,” JD ploughed on.

”Yes,” Jared said, “The car was totally destroyed” Jared flinched, remembering the photographs of the wreckage, wondering about his brother’s final moments.

“Which bring us to Mr. Ackles’ accident. I believe the resemblances between the two accidents were remarkably similar,” JD said.

“They were,” Jared admitted. “Jensen barely made it out alive, if it wasn’t for the smell of ammonia…” Jared shook his head, sick to his stomach. “She would have had her way.”

“Objection!” Matt said, getting to his feet. “Your Honor, there is no evidence tying my client to either accident.

“Sustained,” Judge Michaels said. “Stick to the facts, Mr. Padalecki.”

“Jared, the night of the fire, what happened, in your own words?”

Jared corroborated Misha and Jensen’s story, the ruse about the unknown vehicle circling Jensen’s apartment. Pellegrino driving Jensen to Jared’s Austin address, neither Misha nor Jared aware of Pellegrino’s involvement in Jensen’s almost being run over, and his car blowing up.

“I’d arranged to call Jensen every fifteen minutes to check in; as it was, we were already following Pellegrino’s tracks, worried that Jensen and Mark were headed into an ambush, and then Jensen didn’t answer his phone.”

“When did you realise something was wrong?” JD asked.

“We were almost there, about fifteen minutes from the house when Jensen picked up, but there was obviously something wrong. He sounded distant, his words slurred; I could barely make out what he was saying.”

“And next?” JD asked.

“I could see the flames as soon as I turned into the drive. I saw Mr. Pellegrino stumbling about outside, he was bent over, coughing and gasping, but there was no sign of Jensen. I realized before Pellegrino even confirmed that Jensen was inside, amidst the heat, and flames. Jared glared at Ava, his anger as fresh as the day of the fire. “He’d left him to die,” Jared said.

“And there was no sign of an assailant, or anyone else at the scene?” JD asked.

“I didn’t pay much attention,” Jared said. “I just needed to get to Jensen.”

“And so you entered the burning house?” JD asked.

“Yes, I didn’t think; I just had to get to him. There were flames everywhere. By the time we’d gotten there, it had spread - there were beams falling, debris all around, the windows were exploding firing glass in every direction. I didn’t see how he could have survived. I just prayed that he had,” Jared said, memory after memory of that night replaying in his head like a nightmare he couldn’t shake.

“I could barely see to put one foot in front of the other,” Jared carried on. “There was so much smoke, it was everywhere, in every breath I took. I just had to push on, and then I found him. I couldn’t tell if he was dead or alive. I hauled him up, dragged him part of the way, and then Misha was there, helping to carry him outside.”

“What happened then?” JD asked.

“I fell to my knees; I needed air. I could barely breathe, and Jensen wasn’t moving. He was just lying there on the grass,” Jared said, the remnants of fear from that night making his voice quaver.

“And that’s when I heard Misha challenge Pellegrino,” Jared said. “There were no other vehicles at the property, no one beside Misha and Pellegrino knew where Jensen was, or about my second property. Only family knew, my mother, my father, and my wife," Jared said looking over at Ava almost daring her to look away.

Jared’s breath hitched as he told the court how Pellegrino had turned his gun on them, kicking Jensen, once in the stomach and another to Jensen’s head as he lay on the grass, defenceless, curling up in a ball to protect his unborn baby.

“I was so relieved when he finally moved,” Jared said, remembering how scared, but relieved, he’d been.

“Pellegrino turned his gun on us, threatened to shoot Jensen, to let him die. I couldn’t let that happen,” Jared said. “I just couldn’t, and so we handed over our weapons, tossed them into the grass.”

Jared went on to describe his fear, remembering the heat and the flames as Pellegrino forced them closer and closer to the house. Jared had been sure he could feel his skin blistering as he approached the burning building.

“And then we heard the gunshot. My first thought was Jensen,” Jared said, his gaze seeking Jensen, finding him sitting at the back of the room. “I felt for sure Pellegrino had turned the gun on him; I spun around and there was my wife with a gun aimed at my chest.”

“What was your initial reaction?” JD asked.

“I was stunned,” Jared said, staring coldly at Ava once again and annoyed when she refused to make eye contact. “I’ve never seen hatred like that - she was cold, ruthless, and it was obvious she wanted me dead. Misha and Jensen were collateral damage.”

“Why would she want you dead?” JD asked, encouraging Jared to continue.

“My father’s fortune,” Jared stated, making eye contact with his father for the first time and seeing him flinch. “She was ranting about how Jeff was going to divorce her, take her money and status as a Padalecki, and she wasn’t about to let that happen.”

Jared saw a flicker of doubt cross his father’s face, and wondered if it changed anything knowing that Jeff, the golden boy, had been going to divorce Ava. Gerald kept Ava close because she was the mother of his grandchildren and the love of Jeff’s life. He kept her close as a tribute to his dead son.

A son who, it turned out, didn’t want her.

Jared looked up when he caught the sound of his mother crying, as she heard for the first time how her child was murdered for wealth and status. Sherri had been robbed of her beloved son; the boys, robbed of a father.

Jared wanted to get up wanted to be with his mother, to comfort her, but was taken aback when his father got to his feet and made his way across the courtroom to where Sherri was seated. Danneel moved to another spot to give Gerald a place to comfort his wife.

Jared felt speechless at his father’s actions although, not so much the courtroom as several murmurs followed his father’s movements. The press were desperately scribbling in their notebooks. Ava turned around, curious to what all the fuss was about and she blanched when she saw Gerald at his wife’s side, which caused whispers among the jury.

“It was clear to me that she wanted it to look like we’d died in the fire, she left Jensen to die where he lay. I refused, I couldn’t leave him there, and that’s when she shot me,” Jared said. He shivered when he recalled how he’d taken a bullet to the shoulder, followed by a second bullet whizzing past his ear.

“Misha tried to stall her. We both tried to keep her distracted,” Jared said, describing how Misha also took a bullet, both men aware of Jensen struggling to get up on his feet behind Ava.

“She’d have killed us if Jensen hadn’t done what he did,” Jared said, turning to face the jury. “He saved all of our lives.”

“No further questions,” JD said.

“Your witness,” Judge Michaels said to Matt.

“Isn’t it true that you bullied Ava into a marriage of convenience?” Matt asked.

“It’s true that it was a marriage in name only, but there was no bullying involved,” Jared said. “It was my father’s decision in order to keep Ava and the children cared for and a part of the family.”

“And it had nothing to do with the fact that, as a closeted homosexual, she provided you the respectability you needed to further your career?”

Matt’s accusation was met by a collective gasp from the courtroom, as Jared glared at his father, never believing he would stoop so low.

“Objection,” JD said, getting to his feet. “My client isn’t on trial here, his sexuality has no bearing on the case.

“Sustained,” Judge Michaels ruled, turning to Matt. “Be careful, counselor.”

“Isn’t it true that she followed you that night in a desperate attempt to save her marriage, to confront you and your pregnant lover?”

“Why would she be so desperate to save a marriage of convenience?” Jared said.

“For the same reason she married you,” Matt said, turning toward the jury. “To keep her children.”

Matt watched as Jared shook his head, and continued. “No, you don’t believe me?” Matt asked turning to face the jury. “Isn’t it true you had your wife legally removed from the family home?”

“It’s true,” Jared said, not liking where Matt’s questions were leading.

“Mr. Padalecki, where are your wife’s children?” Matt asked.

“At home where they belong,” Jared said.

“And where exactly would that be?” Matt asked.

“With me,” Jared said.

“No further questions,” Matt said walking back to where Ava was seated.

Jared wanted to kick himself; he took his seat next to JD and glanced at the jury; and he saw a look of sympathy from some of the jurors, presumably at the thought of a mother being forcibly removed from her children.

The break for lunch gave Jared the opportunity to ask JD how damaging his testimony had been. JD reassured Jared that it could go either way. Some of the jurors might be appalled at Jared taking away a mother’s children, while others might be more understanding about not wanting to uproot them from a stable environment.

The rest of the afternoon saw several character witnesses called for both Jared and Ava. Matt used the fact that Ava had no family, with her father deceased, and her mother a resident of a home for Alzheimer’s, to their advantage, giving the jury more reason to sympathise with her. Her only family were the children Jared had taken from her.

Jared was worried; Ava managed to look small and defenceless, every inch the victim. She’d lost everything that night; Jeff, her husband, her lover, the father to her children. With nowhere to turn, she’d had to remain in the Padalecki home, dependent upon the Padalecki family for support both emotional and financial support. Afraid that at any moment, her children would be taken from her. Alone and scared, desperate to hold on to her boys, she'd married Jared in a last-ditch attempt to keep her children, the only family she had left.

Jared’s only hope was the jury would see through Ava’s lies and deception, clinging to the reminder that justice was blind, and should be meted out objectively, without fear, and regardless of money, wealth, fame, power.

Yes, Jared had wealth, fame, and power, but unfortunately so had Jeff, and it had cost him his life.

Everyone got to their feet as the judge called an end to the day’s session gathering up his papers, before retiring to his chambers. Jared turned around, relieved as his father led his mother from the courtroom, leaving Ava to walk beside Matt. She glanced at Jared and then away, but not before Jared saw the flicker of fear in her eyes.

Jared knew that Ava had gotten used to having Gerald at her side, at her disposal; sure of his continuing support, downright confident that he’d be there no matter what Jared threw at her. What she hadn’t expected was Gerald’s love for his wife. Yes, Gerald was a force to be reckoned with - a tyrant both in and out of the boardroom, but listening to how his son had been killed, seeing his wife alone, distressed? Whether it was love, loyalty, or both, Jared was unsure; what he was sure of was that when push came to shove, family came first to Gerald. Jared had no doubt his father’s loyalty didn’t extend to him, but today he’d made it obvious to all - the press, the onlookers, and more importantly the jury - that his loyalties were and are to his wife.

Jared left the courtroom behind Jensen, marveling as Jensen kept his shoulders square and his head held high, his friends and parents by his side. Jared tried not to let the fact that Ava had no one, apparently not even Gerald, to get to him. If she could garner sympathy from Jared, who’d she’d tried to murder, then he didn’t stand a chance with the jury. He watched as Gerald opened the car door for his mother, and waited for her to secure her seatbelt before closing the door and making his way around the car to the driver’s side, and climbing in beside his wife.

“We’re going out to eat if you’d like to come?” Danneel said, as she sidled up next to Jared as they both made their way down the courtroom steps, extending Jared an invitation.

Jared decided to phone his mother, rather than approach her in person while she was with his father. He’d had enough cross-examination for one day. He watched as Matt held his car door for Ava, closing it behind her and easing himself in the driver’s seat, then gunning the engine and pulling out into the late afternoon traffic.

Jared waited for his mother to answer; he had every reason to think she’d be returning home, Jared’s home, but wanted to make sure before he accepted Danneel’s invitation. He could get a sitter, but right now, with everything going, on he wanted the boys to be with family.

Sherri took a moment to answer; she was quick to reassure Jared that she was heading home to collect the boys and taking them out for dinner with both her and Gerald.

Jared smiled, relieved; he was sure that the boys had missed their grandfather, as no doubt he had missed them. He may be a distant father, especially where Jared was concerned, but he loved the boys, of that there was no doubt.

Jared caught hold of Danneel as she was climbing into Chris’ car, accepting her offer to dinner and getting the name of the restaurant, grateful that she’d extended him an invitation. She was Jensen’s closest friend, almost a sister to him, and it pleased Jared to think that his expanding family consisted of more than Jensen and Alex.

Jensen’s sleepy admission of love still at the forefront of his thoughts.

The restaurant was busy, but apparently not too busy to accommodate a senator, as Jared telephoned ahead and was able to make a reservation. He was last to arrive; Donna and Alan were already seated opposite Jensen, with Chris and Danneel on the other side, leaving a seat vacant next to Jensen for Jared.

“Hey,” Jensen said, tilting his head to look at Jared as Jared pulled out his chair, stooping down to place a quick kiss on Jensen’s mouth before seating himself. Aware of everyone watching, he’d barely spoken to Jensen all day, and just wanted, needed, to touch him in some small way.

Jared watched the blush that crept its way into Jensen’s cheeks, placing a hand on Jensen’s thigh beneath the table and giving it a quick squeeze of reassurance.

Talk was a little stilted as each placed their order with the waitress, all of them aware that they were the topic of conversation on most people’s lips right now, and wanting a little reprieve from the trial.

“So,” Danneel began. “When are we going to have the baby shower?”

“Oh wonderful,” Donna said and they all looked relieved to have something else to talk about, something that didn’t involve their every word being transcribed.

“I haven’t thought,” Jensen said, squirming in his seat. Jared squeezed his thigh again to help him relax.

“Leave it to me,” Danneel said clapping her hands. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun.”

“If you need any help, call me?” Donna said, mirroring Danneel’s enthusiasm and excitement and impending parenthood.

Danneel looked at Donna her smile widening into a grin as talk turned toward the baby, everyone at the table happy sharing in Jared and Jensen’s excitement and pending parenthood.

The rest of the meal followed in a similar vein, everyone happy to have something positive to talk about. Jared found himself more and more a part of Jensen’s family, accepted by Jensen’s parents and friends alike.

“I could come over,” Jared said, barely audible, but still catching Danneel’s smile of approval as Jensen’s parents paid the bill, after much insistence on Alan’s part.

“What about the boys?” Jensen asked all too aware of Jared’s responsibility to his family.

“They’re with my parents,” Jared said.

“Okay,” Jensen said, as Donna came back and collected her jacket from the back of her chair. Chris and Danneel got to their feet to say their good-byes before leaving the restaurant and making their way to their respective vehicles. Jared followed behind Jensen, desperate to have some time alone with him before they had to focus once more on the trial.

Jensen was already out of the car as Jared pulled in behind Jensen’s Lexus, turning off the ignition and following Jensen into his building and up to his apartment. “I’ve missed you,” Jared said as the elevator began its ascent to the third floor.

“I’ve missed you too,” Jensen said, taking hold of Jared’s hand, looking content with Jared there, beside him.

Jensen let go of Jared’s hand to dig into his pocket and find his keys, unlocking the door.

“Hey,” Jared said, softly, closing the door behind him, grateful to have Jensen alone and to himself.

“Hey,” Jensen whispered, stepping into Jared’s space and kissing him, soft and gentle, snaking his arms around Jared’s neck and leaning in, deepening the kiss. Jensen had so many questions.

“What would happen if Ava was found not guilty?” Jensen asked. “Where would that leave us, and the boys?”

“I know you’re worried,” Jared said against Jensen’s cheek, breaking free of the kiss to look at Jensen.

“I know, but,” Jensen began.

“Hush,” Jared said, taking a step back and loosening his tie, popping the top button of his shirt, fingers fumbling slightly as he unfastened the rest before letting it fall to the floor before and reaching for his pants.

Jensen swallowed, taking the moment to just look at a naked Jared. Jared was tall, with several inches on Jensen, and at six feet that was no easy task. Jared’s shoulders were wide, tapering down from his well-muscled chest to his stomach, with a line of dark hair leading to the thicker thatch that surrounded his cock. Jared was half hard and becoming more so as Jensen continued to admire Jared.

“You’re gorgeous, do you know that?” Jensen whispered, taking a step back toward the bedroom, pulling his shirt over his head before tossing it to the floor and taking another step, as, he unbuttoned his pants. Jared matching Jensen’s every move, edging forward, ever closer as Jensen teased his way to the bedroom, leaving his clothes where they landed as he crawled onto the bed.

“Christ,” Jared hissed as Jensen knelt on the bed on all fours. Jared just took a moment to look his fill before stepping closer, holding himself in his hand and stroking himself once or twice before easing his cock into the cleft Jensen’s ass, and hearing him moan.

Jared continued to rub himself up against Jensen’s hole, pre-come aiding the slip and slide of Jared’s cock before pressing inside, just a mere inch and watching how Jensen pushed back, wanting, seeking more.

“Are you comfortable?” Jared asked, conscious of Jensen’s condition.

“I will be once you quit teasing and fuck me,” Jensen said, looking over his shoulder at Jared. “C’mon.”

Jared wanted to take it slow. Yes, he wanted to fuck Jensen, but he wanted more, for it to mean more.

He wanted the words.

“Jensen, I…” Jared began, not knowing if this was the time or the place. Not sure he had the right after everything that had happened, everything Jensen had been through.

“Just fuck me,” Jensen complained, pushing back against Jared, circling his hips against Jared’s cock.

Jared closed his eyes, took a breath, and pushed into Jensen’s tight puckered hole, determined to keep it slow as he rocked his hips back and forth, eliciting almost a growl from Jensen, as Jensen tried to set the pace - fast and hard.

Jared took hold of Jensen’s hips, fingers digging against bone as Jared tried to control Jensen’s movements, Jensen still grinding backward against Jared, wanting more.

“Deeper,” Jensen hissed and was rewarded when Jared pulled out all the way and sank back in, once and again.

“Now faster,” Jensen moaned, “C’mon Jared. You know you want to.”

Jared was becoming used to how pushy Jensen was. If he thought pregnancy had mellowed Jensen at all he was wrong.

Jared was done with being taunted. If Jensen wanted rough, then he damn well was going to get it, Jared thought as he slammed into Jensen, retreating only to thrust back in repeatedly. Jared held Jensen steady, gripping his hips, tight enough to bruise; determined that for once he was going to push Jensen over edge first.

Jared continued his rhythm, feeling Jensen buck back against him when he hit the spot, he was searching for, once, twice, Jared rotated his hips and felt Jensen tighten around him, heard the shallow want-filled moans that meant he was almost there. All it took were several sharp snaps of Jared’s hips and Jensen was coming, crying out Jared’s name as he pushed back hard, clenched around Jared’s cock as they both collapsed onto the bed, Jared remaining conscious of Jensen’s baby bump and moving to Jensen’s side, and pulling him close. Jared’s intent was to let Jensen sleep for a while before he had to leave.

Jensen still was asleep when Jared left; he knew Jensen liked to be awake, and say good-bye, but Jared didn’t have the heart to wake him.

As Jared returned to the Padalecki house he steered the car through the gates, giving way as his father was just leaving. Gerald refused to make eye contact, keeping his gaze straight ahead.

Jared shook his head, and wondered if he’d ever do anything that would gain his father’s approval, made him proud. Jared doubted it, unless someone created a cure for homosexuality. Even then, Jared wouldn’t take it. He was happy with his life, and with his life choices.

With Jensen.

Sherri was in the living room when Jared entered the house, a sleepy Noah on her knee, Jacob and Joshua playing a computer game.

“They wanted to wait up and say goodnight,” Sherri said, nudging Noah to let him know that Jared was home.

“Uncle Jared,” Noah said, scrubbing at his eyes with his tiny fists.

“Bedtime,” Jared said, lifting Noah into his arms, waiting for him to say goodnight to his grandmother before being taken to bed.

“Will you read me a story?” Noah asked around a yawn.

“Let’s get you tucked in and then you can choose a story,” Jared said, hefting Noah onto his hip.

“And you’ll do all the voices?” Noah asked, excited despite his tiredness.

“You bet,” Jared said, as he lowered Noah to his feet and watched him potter toward his bookshelf and pull out The Gruffalo, Noah’s favourite.

Jared was half-way through the story, watching as Noah slunk down into his pillow, and listening to the soft little snuffles he made as he fell asleep. Jared left the nightlight on as he closed the door quietly behind him, checking on Jacob and Joshua before making his way downstairs.

“How did it go with dad?” Jared asked, entering the kitchen and sitting at the table opposite his mother, and noticing how she looked less troubled, even with everything going on.

“We’ve agreed I should remain here until after the trial, to help with the boys,” Sherri said, smiling for the first time she’d arrived with her suitcases. Not a fake smile put on for the boys, but a genuine smile, one that lit up her face and highlighted her pretty features.

“And after?” Jared asked, genuinely concerned for his parents and their marriage.

“We’ve a lot to talk about,” Sherri said, her smile faltering a little at Jared's subtle reference to Gerald’s support of Ava.

Jared leaned across the table and took his mother’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “Don’t be too hard on him,” he said, holding his mother’s gaze. “She deceived us all.”

“I still don’t understand why?” Sherri said.

“He thinks he’s doing the right thing, honouring Jeff’s memory.”

Sherri nodded her head and offered Jared a smile, albeit a weak one, as she kissed him goodnight.

The courthouse was once again packed to the rafters with the press, as Jared made his way to courtroom B, and found JD already there. Jared was almost late, having dropped his mother at the courthouse while he struggled to find a parking spot. Jared turned to look over his shoulder as he took a seat beside JD, smiling at Jensen, who was sitting near the back with his family. Jared was shocked to see his father seated alongside his mother, and Jensen’s parents.

Jared got to his feet as Judge Michaels entered the courtroom and took his seat at the bench.

“Call your witness,” Judge Michaels said, nodding his head toward JD.

“The prosecution calls Ava Padalecki,” JD said. A murmur of voices swelled as Ava made her way to the witness box, swearing her oath before seating herself.

“Mrs. Padalecki,” JD began, after waiting for Ava to make herself comfortable. “Isn’t it true that your marriage to Jeff was over, that he wanted a divorce?”

Ava shook her head.

“Speak up for the court recorder,” Judge Michaels said.

“We were happy,” Ava said, her voice quiet, and subdued. “I loved my husband.”

“But he no longer loved you, am I correct?” JD pushed on.

Jared waited for Ava to answer; he heard the hitch in her voice, and watched the tears spill, sure that they were for the benefit of the jury.

“Isn’t it true that Jeff was about to petition for a divorce?” JD repeated, ignoring Ava’s theatrics. “That he was taking away your status and fortune?”

“That’s not true,” Ava said, her voice rising, her features shifting from timid to strong-minded, a complete contradiction to her tears. “He loved me,” Ava continued.

“But not enough to remain your husband!” JD said, harshly, unwavering, watching the way Ava fidgeted in her seat, her gaze flicking to the jury before hastily looking back to JD.

“He loved me,” Ava repeated, her tears once more evident, but a contrast to the determination on her face, the harshness of her voice. She was tiny, but her personality was anything but. There was a strength about her, a resolve something she’d no doubt been advised to tone down. But it was there, in the set of her shoulders; her head held high, and her voice carrying across the courtroom. She was aiming for fragility, but failing miserably.

“Mrs. Padalecki, on August ninth, the night of the fire, where were you?”

“I was at home,” Ava said. “Waiting for Jared to return. He said he’d be working late at the office.”

“And when he didn’t?” JD asked, hoping to lead Ava to where he wanted her to go.

“I knew he was with his lover,” Ava stated, the hatred, and disgust clear in her voice, reaching the ears of everyone in the courtroom.

“You knew your husband, my client, was having an affair?” JD pushed.

“I…” Ava faltered, looking toward Matt for support, and took a deep breath when Matt nodded. She’d already revealed her knowledge of the affair, there was no backpedalling now.

“I did,” Ava said, holding JD’s stare.

“And the pregnancy?” JD ploughed on.

There was no refuting it, if she denied it now it would only attest to being a lie. She knew about Jensen, surely she’d known about the pregnancy. “I recently discovered there was a baby,” Ava said.

“And how did that make you feel?” JD asked, taking a step back toward the jury, watching as Ava steeled her features, but not quick enough to mask the earlier disgust and hatred from her face. Her mouth a hard line, her eyes hardened as she glanced across at Jared.

“I was hurt,” Ava admitted. “I’d already lost one husband…” she trailed off.

“You were scared,” JD accused. “Scared for your marriage, your reputation.”

“I was scared for my children,” Ava said. “Jared’s baby… where would that leave my boys?”

“Isn’t it true that you used your boys as leverage, as a means to hold onto your wealth, to the Padalecki name?” JD one again accused. “Isn’t it true that they were nothing but a means to an end for you?”

“How dare you say that?” Ava hissed before managing to pull herself together.

“I have no doubt that you love your children, but they were also the means by which you held onto your status. You even went so far as murder to keep that status. “Isn’t that true, Mrs. Padalecki?” JD thundered.

“I wanted what was best for my children,” Ava said, all trace of tears wiped from her face; she pulled herself upright, and squared her shoulders.

“And that meant murdering their father in an attempt to hold on to your wealth and reputation,” JD pushed, glancing toward the jury. “Murdering their father and attempting to murder their uncle.”

“That’s not true,” Ava said, trying to regain her composure as JD continued to fire accusations at her.

“Isn’t it true that you followed your husband the night of the fire with the intent of ridding yourself of a man who had no feelings for you? You yourself have admitted that it was a marriage in name only?”

“I just wanted to confront him,” Ava admitted.

“Not only did Jared not want you, but he was in a relationship with someone else, expecting a child,” JD said.

“That whore.” Ava hissed, Jared saw Matt flinch, and fire a warning glare toward his client.

“Isn’t it true that having once again failed the task for which you’d hired him, you shot Pellegrino before turning the gun on your husband?” JD said, ploughing ahead. “After ridding yourself of the one person who could attest to your guilt, you had every intention of killing Jared and Mr. Collins, and leaving Mr. Ackles to die. You would have deprived the Padalecki family of not one son, but both,” JD said. Several jury members audibly caught their breath.

“That’s a lie,” Ava said, raising her voice and leaning forward, pointing a finger toward Jensen. “He tried to kill me.”

Mrs Padalecki after you shot your husband and Mr. Collins, didn’t Mr. Ackles, heaving himself up regardless of his injuries attempt to save Mr. Padalecki, Mr. Collins and himself?”

“That whore stabbed me,” Ava all but shouted.

“No further questions,” JD said, making his way to where Jared was seated.

“Mrs. Padalecki,” Matt said, getting to his feet and approaching the witness box. “Did you loved your first husband?”

“I did,” Ava said. “With all my heart.”

“You grieved for your husband?” Matt continued.

“I did,” Ava said.

“And it was while grieving for your husband that you agreed to marry his brother Jared Padalecki?”

“I did,” Ava said again.

“Isn’t it true that rather than holding on to the Padalecki fortune, you were, in fact, trying to hold onto your children?”

“I was afraid they’d be taken away,” Ava began, turning to face the jury. “They were the only family I had.”

“Isn’t it also true that having failed to kill you, Mr. Ackles and Mr. Padalecki devised a plan between them, accusing you of hiring Pellegrino and later killing him, all in a last-ditch attempt to rid yourself of any witnesses?”

“Yes,” Ava said, tears slowly falling. “I just want what’s best for my children.”

“No further questions,” Matt said.

“Redirect,” said the judge, waving a hand at JD.

“Mrs. Padalecki,” JD said, approaching the witness box. “You stated earlier that your children are at present living with Mr. Padalecki.”

“That’s true,” Ava said.

“And have you petitioned the court for custody of your children?” JD asked.

“No,” Ava said.

“Have you petitioned for access to your children?” JD carried on.

“No,” Ava said.

“Mrs. Padalecki, have you made any effort any at all to see or speak to your children?” JD continued.

“No,” Ava replied.

“Thank you,” JD said, cutting off whatever Ava was about to say, glancing at the jury before taking his seat beside Jared.

“The court will recess until tomorrow morning, when we’ll hear the closing arguments,” Judge Michaels said. Everyone rose to their feet as he made to leave the courtroom.

Jared was one of the last to leave the courtroom, hanging back as the press hurried to catch up with his father, hounding him for an interview.

“Mr. Padalecki, does the fact that you’ve switched sides in the courtroom, sitting with your wife and Jensen’s family, mean you’ve also switched allegiance?” A reporter all but shouted.

“No comment,” Gerald said as a microphone was shoved in his face.

“Mr. Padalecki, how do you feel knowing your son almost died?” Another reporter shouted, trying to be heard amid the hustle and bustle of the courthouse.

“No comment,” Gerald repeated, as Jared made his way over to where Gerald was trying to push himself through the horde of reporters, Sherri by his side.

“Senator Padalecki, has the family divide put a strain on your relationship with Mr. Ackles?”

Jared ignored the comment, walking ahead of his mother and father, making a space for both Gerald and Sherri to get to the doors of the courthouse, and out into the fresh air.

“Isn’t it true that your father disapproves of your sexuality?”

“No comment,” Jared said, making his way down the courthouse steps, ignoring both the remark and the rapid-fire questions aimed at him as he retreated to his car. Jared glanced over his shoulder and saw Chris barging his way through the press, cutting a path for Jensen to avoid the many microphones aimed in his direction. Jared waited until Jensen had cleared the courthouse steps before going over and reassuring himself that Jensen was okay.

“I’m fine,” Jensen said. “Can we just get out of here?”

Jared watched as Jensen’s friends and family created a circle around Jensen as the reporters continued to hound him, following him down the steps to where Jared was standing.

“I’ll call you,” Jared said, as Chris took Jensen’s arm and pulled him in the direction of where they were both parked, Chris waiting until Jensen and his parents were safe in Jensen’s car before climbing into his own beside Danneel.

Jared pulled up behind his aide’s car and watched as the boys climbed out, Jared’s mother coming to the door to greet them.

“Uncle Jared,” Noah said, almost skipping over to where Jared was standing. Jared lifted him into his arms and carried him indoors, while Jacob and Joshua followed behind, quieter, and more subdued.

Jared put Noah down and turned to the boys, encouraging them to put their school bags away and wash up for dinner; they both nodded at Jared as they made their way up the stairs.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?” Sherri asked, busying herself by chopping far too many vegetables than was necessary.

“Are you planning on feeding an army?” Jared joked as Sherri went to work hacking at another carrot.

“I just want this to be over,” Sherri said, a slump to her shoulders, as she put down the knife and turned toward Jared. “I want to know my family is safe. I want her to pay for what she’s done.”

Jared was about to reply when he caught sight of Joshua standing at the entrance to the kitchen.

“Joshua, wait,” Jared said as Joshua turned to leave, stifling the sob that threatened to escape.

“Joshua?” Jared repeated as he caught up to his nephew and dragged him into a hug.

“I want to hate her, but I can’t,” Joshua said, the words muffled against Jared’s chest.

“No one expects you to hate her,” Jared said, stroking Joshua’s hair away from his face and stepping back to look his nephew in the eye. “You hear me? No one.”

“She tried to kill you,” Joshua said, taking a deep breath.

Jared wanted to reassure Joshua, to comfort him, but there was not a single thing he could say that would make it better. The fact of the matter was she had tried to kill him, and Jensen, even Misha.

“Did she really kill dad?” Jacob asked from his vantage point on the stairs, the fact that he’d been standing there, listening, having gone unnoticed until now.

“That’s for the court to decide,” Jared said honestly; the only reassurance he could offer them was the truth.

Jared hardly slept; he'd gone to bed early, not long after talking to Jensen and reassuring himself that Jensen was fine. He came downstairs just in time to see the boys off to school, his mother handing him a cup of coffee, which he barely had time to drink before they had to leave.

Jared took a long swallow of the bitter brew, glad that it had a little time to cool.

“All set?” Jared asked, watching as his mother grabbed her handbag from the kitchen table, reaching for her jacket as she made her way to the front door.

“Nervous?” Jared asked, as he pulled out into busy traffic and made his way to the courthouse.

“I just want justice for my son,” Sherri said, turning to face Jared. “For both of you.”

Jared nodded, keeping his eye on the road for the rest of the journey to the courthouse; the traffic was insane, reporters everywhere, each jockeying for an exclusive.

“Ready?” Jared asked, as they pulled in at the courthouse, climbing out of the car. Jared escorted his mother up the steps and inside the building, walking over to where Jensen and the others were waiting.

Ava was already seated in courtroom B as the bailiff called the court into session, everyone making their way inside and finding a seat. Gerald once again found and settled beside his wife.

“All rise,” the bailiff said as Judge Michaels made his way to the bench, shuffling his papers as he seated himself.

Jared waited for Judge Michaels to take his seat before settling back down beside JD, as the judge called the court in session. JD sat ready to present his closing argument.

The first thing JD did upon rising was to thank the jury for their patience and attention, before calling that attention back to the facts of the case.

“There is no doubt that Mrs. Padalecki shot Mr. Pellegrino,” JD said as he paced in front of the jury. “You have to ask yourselves, did she shoot Mr. Pellegrino to save her husband or herself?

There is also no doubt that Mrs. Padalecki shot my client, again the defense would have you believe it to be accidental, with Mrs. Padalecki being unfamiliar with firing a weapon, and yet, it’s proven she shot Mr. Pellegrino, killing him with a single, precise shot to the head.”

The defense would have you believe that Mrs. Padalecki is the victim in this case, having lost her husband and having no one turn to, reliant on her late husband’s family to support her through her anguish, and while suffering that anguish, grieving her husband, she was then coerced into marrying my client.”

“The truth of the matter is there was no coercion, no strong-arming, and certainly no bullying,” JD reiterated.

“Mrs Padalecki married my client in an attempt to hold onto her status, her standing as a Padalecki. She would have you believe that she married my client for the sake of her children, worried they’d be taken from her, and yet again it has been proven that she has made no attempt to seek custody of her children, no attempt to gain access to them whatsoever,” JD said, pausing for effect.

“Mrs. Padalecki wanted the power that comes with the Padalecki name, but instead of exercising that power, she abused it; hiring Mr. Pellegrino to kill not one, but both her husbands, and when Pellegrino failed Mrs. Padalecki killed him an effort to tie up all loose ends and destroy any evidence that could possibly point to her guilt.”

JD paused, turned to point at Ava. “Based on the evidence, based on what you've heard, there can be only one outcome, and that is Mrs. Padalecki’s guilt.”

“When you retire to the jury room I want you to remember that while motivated by hatred for her husband, and the fear of losing her riches and reputation, Mrs. Padalecki did wilfully and without hesitation attempt to kill my client.”

“She enlisted the help of Mr. Pellegrino, her co-conspirator, and both, with malice and aforethought did beyond a reasonable doubt attempt to take my client’s life.”

JD turned back to the jury, making eye-contact with each juror in turn. “It is your job as jurors - your duty is to justice, and on behalf of my client, I ask that you return a verdict of guilty as charged against Mrs. Padalecki.” JD thanked the jury and returned to his seat beside Jared. Both sat quietly and respectfully as the defense presented its closing argument. As expected Matt totally portrayed Ava as the wronged wife, the complete victim.

The defense claimed that Jared and Jensen concocted the events of that fateful night to suit their needs. The accusation was that they pointed the finger of guilt at Ava in an attempt to rid them both of a wife Jared never wanted and Jensen needed out of the picture. Having failed in an attempt to kill her, they decided to point blame at her instead, Matt concluded before taking a seat beside Ava.

The courtroom quieted as the judge advised the jury of their responsibility to the facts of the case, the credibility of the witnesses, and how the jurors were to base their conclusions solely on the evidence as presented at the trial. Everyone rose to their feet as Judge Michaels dismissed the jury to deliberate and retired to his chambers.

Jared was once again the last to leave the courtroom, the press clamouring for his opinion, on whether or not they’d done enough.

“No comment,” Jared said, pushing his way through the throng of people to catch up with Jensen. The truth of matter was; he didn’t know whether they’d done enough or not. He could only hope, but right now he wanted - needed - to be with Jensen.

“Hey,” Jared said, catching up to Jensen, as Chris made a path for them both. Jared kept Jensen from being jostled, guiding him outside to where Jared’s parents were already making their way to the car.

“Go,” Sherri said, squeezing Jared’s arm. “Be with him, I’ll ride home with your father.”

Jared kissed his mother on the cheek and turned back to Jensen. “I could follow you in my car,” Jared said, smiling hopefully as Jensen nodded his head.

“I have to drop my parents at their hotel,” Jensen said. “I’ll meet you there.

“Okay,” Jared said, wanting nothing more than to pull Jensen into his arms, hoping that this would soon be over, and he wouldn’t have to keep his affections for Jensen at arm’s length. He climbed into his car and made his way to Jensen’s apartment, keeping the press in his rear-view mirror.

Jared took the beer Jensen offered, kicking his shoes off and making himself comfortable on Jensen’s couch, shifting over and making room for Jensen.

“How are you holding up?” Jared asked, as Jensen shuffled over, resting his head on Jared’s shoulder.

“I’m good,” Jensen said. “We both are.”

Jared took a moment to look at Jensen, lowering his gaze to the soft curve of Jensen’s stomach, and his daughter who seemed to be growing by the day.

“I’m proud of you,” Jared said, marvelling at Jensen’s strength over the past few months, and even more so the past few weeks. In the face of so much adversity, Jensen had remained strong; understanding of Jared’s need to be there for the boys, to support them as much as he could, despite the cost to Jensen, leaving Jensen alone. Sure he had his parents, Chris and Danneel, even Steve, and Jared was grateful for that. He just wished he could be there more.

“It will soon be over,” Jensen said, picking up on Jared’s worry, lifting his hand to place it against his stomach.

“I know, I just…” Jared tailed off as Alex kicked against his hand.

“She’s getting stronger, “Jensen said, never failing to marvel at the fact that they’d created a life.

“I wish I could stay,” Jared whispered, lowering his head and pressing a kiss to Jensen’s forehead, his cheek, searching and finding Jensen’s willing, pliant mouth, as Jensen moved to straddle Jared’s lap.

“You’re here now,” Jensen said in a quiet voice, reaching for the button on Jared’s pants and popping it open, easing down his zipper and freeing Jared’s cock, already hard as Jensen lifted up and away, just enough to pull his own, loose-fitting pants to his knees. Jensen cursed as he dragged one leg free and kicked his pants off the other leg. It was awkward; Jensen's baby bump did nothing to make it easier, but he managed, pulling his shirt off and turning his attention back to Jared straddling him, and lifting up slightly until he felt the hard press of Jared’s cock rub up against his hole.

“Are you sure?” Jared asked, aware that he was almost fully clothed compared to Jensen.

“Just do it,” Jensen urged, and was rewarded when Jared lifted up slightly, circling his hips, pre-come leaking from the head of his cock and coating Jensen’s hole as Jared slowly and carefully eased his way inside. He pulled out, and sank back in as Jensen took charge lowering himself onto Jared’s cock all the way to the base.

Jared moaned out loud as Jensen rotated his hips; and lifted up and slammed back down groaning at the hard thrust of Jared’s hips, while Jared matched Jensen’s pace.

Jared watched Jensen’s face, transfixed by his look of bliss as he continued to ride Jared’s cock, lifting up and lowering himself all the way down, circling his hips, finding the spot he needed and crying out as Jared thrust up. Jared relished the feel of Jensen tightening around him, clenching his ass tight around Jared’s cock, eliciting a loud moan from Jared. Both were lost in the feel of each other, wanting, one more thrust. Jensen cried out, his cock barely touched by Jared - Jared snapped his hips, once, twice, his head thrown back, revealing the taut line of his throat as they both came long, and hard.

Jared wiped himself off, and tucked himself back into his trousers, as Jensen grabbed his clothes from the floor and went in search of something more comfortable. Jared was awed at the sight of him. It wasn’t the first time Jensen had revealed how much his body had changed, but Jared could do nothing but stare. He’d noticed a line of freckles on Jensen’s baby bump a couple of days prior, and it had Jared wondering.

Would Alex have freckles?

Gerald’s car was still parked in Jared’s drive, as Jared steered his car through the driveway gates, which led him to wonder how his father felt about having Ava under his roof, in light of all the evidence against her.

“He’s with the boys,” Sherri said when Jared folded his jacket over the back of a kitchen chair. His mother removed a chicken from the oven and left it to cool on the countertop, the potatoes and vegetables still bubbling away on the stove.

“How are they? Sherri asked while Jared took a seat at the kitchen table.

“They’re good,” Jared said, pleased that his mother cared to ask about not only Jensen, but the baby too.

“Uncle Jared,” Noah said, bounding into the kitchen, Gerald not far behind him.

“Hey,” Jared said, ruffling his nephew’s hair.

“Can Grandpa stay for dinner?” Noah asked, taking a hold of Gerald’s hand and tugging him the rest of the way into the kitchen. “Please,” he pleaded seeing the refusal on Gerald’s face, and looking between his grandfather and Jared.

“Stay,” Jared said, watching the smile that not only lit up Noah’s face, but that of his mother’s too.

“Jared’s having a baby,” Noah said while everyone took their place at the dining room table.

“I know,” Gerald said.

“It’s a girl,” Noah continued.

“That I didn’t know,” Gerald said, looking toward the other end of the table to where Jared was seated, Gerald was the first to look away.

“I’m not going to be the smallest anymore,” Noah said excitedly.

“I guess not,” Gerald said, smiling at Noah.

“They’re going to call her Alex,” Jacob said, wanting to be part of the excitement.

Jared looked across the table to where his father was talking to his grandchildren. Jared was filled with wonder and astonishment at just how gentle, how loving Gerald was with his grandchildren, and it hurt Jared to think Alex would never have that.

The rest of the evening passed quickly, the boys excusing themselves from the table as soon as they’d eaten.

“Homework first,” Jared shouted as the boys ran in the direction of the living room and the computer console.

“I should leave,” Gerald announced, while Sherri began collecting the dishes from the table and headed for the kitchen and the dishwasher.

“I’ll walk you out,” Jared said, more for manners than anything else.

“So, Alex, huh?” Gerald said, stepping outside and toward his car. “Strong name.”

Jared was left speechless, having expected more diatribes at the mention of his daughter, or anything that concerned Jared in general.

“He’ll come around,” Sherri said, as Jared closed the door and leaned back against it, his mother all smiles as she made her way into the living room, and to the boys.

Jared woke up early the next morning, hoping for news from the courthouse; the jury had been sequestered to a hotel for the night after failing to reach a verdict, the judge instructing them not to read or view reports about the case in the news, and not to consider or discuss the case while outside of the jury room.

Jared spent the morning at his office, having neglected his work over the past five days, not that anyone would complain under the circumstances. As far as he was aware, the jury were still deliberating all the evidence. Jared wanted to be there, being both eager and anxious to hear the verdict, but knew it could be days before they reached a unanimous decision.

Jared phoned Jensen, who was equally as anxious. If Ava were to be found not guilty, that would mean Jensen would be made to stand trial for assaulting her at best; at worst it would be, attempted murder.

Jensen reassured Jared that he could spend time with the boys. He had his parents at the apartment in case the verdict came through, plus Danneel and Chris would be arriving at any moment.

“You’ll call if you need me?” Jared asked, satisfied when Jensen promised to do just that.

Jared played hoops in the garden with the boys, his phone burning a hole in his pocket as five-thirty came and went with still no word from the courthouse, which had Jared worrying. Jared worried, remember JD telling him that knew the longer a jury took the more likely they’d return a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

It was Friday morning, the boys having just been taken to school by one of Jared’s aides, when Jared received the news that the jury was in. Jared made his way to his car with Sherri making sure that his mother was comfortable before climbing in the driver’s seat.

Jared looked over and saw how pale his mother was, and he reached out and gave his mother’s hand a squeeze. “We’ve done all we can,” Jared said, repeating what he’d said to Jensen.

“I know,” Sherri said quietly.

The crowds gathered outside the building were a nightmare as they pulled up alongside the courthouse. Jared just caught sight of the back of Jensen’s head as he entered the building, flanked by his family and friends.

Jared locked his car and hurried up the courthouse steps, his mother by his side, both of them, ignoring the many accusations hurled at them. Did Jared frame his wife for murder in an attempt to rid her from his life? Was Jensen involved? Did Jensen attempt to kill Ava? Everyone eager for an exclusive.

JD was already seated as everyone filed into the courtroom, and Jared wondered if he ever went home. Jared stopped as his mother seated herself, everyone automatically leaving a space beside her for Gerald, sure that today of all days; he'd want to be by his wife’s side.

Sure enough, Gerald stepped into the courtroom in front of Ava with Matt at her side. Gerald sought and found his wife, walking over to where she was seated, taking the spot beside her holding her hand as the court reconvened.

“All rise,” the court bailiff said. Judge Michaels entered the courtroom, followed by the jury taking their seat in juror’s box.

“Have you reached a unanimous verdict?” Judge Michaels asked, looking toward the jury, and the foreperson who rose to his feet.

“We have, your honour.”

“On the charge of conspiracy to murder Jeffrey Padalecki, how do you find the defendant?” The judge asked.

“Not guilty,” the foreperson said amid a rush of conversation and whispers, the courtroom becoming a hive of activity.

“On the charge of conspiracy to murder Jensen Ackles, how do you find the defendant?” Judge Michaels asked.

“Not guilty,” the foreperson said, as Danneel took hold of Jensen’s hand and squeezed it tight.

“And to the night of the fire, and charges brought,” Judge Michaels began, as people started to shuffle in their seats, leaning forward amid a buzz of excitement. “On a second count of conspiracy to murder Jensen Ackles, how do you find the defendant?”

“Guilty as charged,” the foreperson announced, setting off a wave of conversation that washed across the courtroom.

“On the charge of attempted murder of Misha Collins, how do you find the defendant?” Judge Michaels asked.

“Guilty as charged,” the foreperson announced.

“On the charge of attempted murder of Jared Padalecki, how do you find the defendant?” Judge Michaels asked.

“Guilty as charged,” the foreperson announced. People started to get to their feet and rush from the courtroom, the reporters especially eager to get their story on the air.

Jared turned around, trying to catch Jensen’s attention, and watched how his father comforted his mother, his arm about her shoulders, as she buried her head against his chest and wept.

It was over.

“Court will convene Monday, eight-thirty a.m. sharp, when sentencing is to be passed,” Judge Michaels announced. All those that were still left in the courtroom getting to their feet as the judge retired to his chambers.

Jared wanted nothing more to pull Jensen into his arms, to hold him, and reassure him that all charges against him would be dropped. Jared wanted so badly to be with Jensen, but the last thing he wanted was for one or more of the boys to see their uncle on the news, celebrating their mother’s guilt with his lover.

If the press were determined before, they were even worse now that the verdict had been announced, all pushing and shoving to get to Jared.

“Senator Padalecki, how do you feel about the verdict?” A reporter shouted above the many voices, all clamouring to be heard.

“No comment,” Jared said, shoving a reporter with his shoulder and making his way from the courthouse.

“Senator Padalecki, how do you feel knowing you lover has been exonerated?” Another reporter shouted.

“Will you be petitioning for a divorce?”

“Will you be moving Mr. Ackles into the family home?” A reporter asked, following Jared down the steps as Jared made his way to where he was parked. Jared grateful that his mother was with his father; both already left the courthouse, and so were spared the barrage of questions.

“Senator Padalecki…”

Jared closed his car door with a bang, cutting off the reporter in mid-sentence slamming his foot on the gas pedal and gunning the engine as he pulled away. He drove in the direction of Jensen’s apartment without thinking. Jared took a deep breath as he pulled in behind Jensen’s Lexus, climbing out of his car and hurrying up the steps to Jensen’s building. Rocking back and forth on his feet, Jared impatiently waited for the elevator to reach the ground floor.

“Hey,” Jared said, as Jensen answered the door to his apartment. “I have a few hours before I need to collect the boys, and I just…”

“Is it really over?” Jensen said, edging back to allow Jared to step inside.

“You’re safe,” Jared breathed, as he pulled Jensen into his arms, holding him tight to his chest, pressing a kiss to Jensen’s head. “You’re both safe.”

Jared savoured the feel of Jensen against him, the way Jensen pressed in close and tight.

“She won’t be able to hurt you anymore,” Jared whispered, reassuring himself as well as Jensen.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on Jensen’s couch with Jensen snuggled into Jared’s side; Jared's arms wrapped around Jensen, just content to be. There was no shoving and pushing or jostling the many reporters, there was just the two of them, or three as Alex took that moment to kick and make herself known.

Jared left Jensen’s apartment in time to collect the boys from school. The journey home was silent, even Noah was uncharacteristically quiet.

“Wait,” Jared said as Joshua made to go up the stairs. Jared was glad when his mother arrived home, taking Noah onto her lap as Jared did his best to explain the situation to the boys.

“Is she going to prison?” Jacob asked, tears marking a path down his cheeks while Joshua did his best to remain strong; Jared knew that he was very conscious of being the eldest, and it was his job to look out for his brothers as he did now, putting an arm around Jacob’s shoulders, keeping him close, and noting the look of pride on Jared’s face.

“How long?” Joshua said, tightening his hold on Jacob.

“That’s for the judge to decide,” Jared said, “We’ll know on Monday.”

Jared spent all day Saturday with the boys, glad when his parents offered to take them to the cinema Saturday night. It wasn’t that he wanted to be free of them, it was just so hard trying to take their mind off everything that was going on, knowing they, in all likelihoods they might never see their mother again, or at least for a very long time. Jared had no intention of exposing them to prison visits, no matter his belief that a child needs its parents. A child needs love, and support and encouragement to grow into a well-adjusted adult, and Jared was sure they’d get that from Jared and their grandparents.

Jared had every intention of showing them all the love he could muster.

“Go, be with them,” Sherri said, as Gerald pulled into the drive and climbed out of his car to greet his wife and his grandchildren.

“Jared,” Gerald said, acknowledging his son with a nod of his head, a smile lighting up his face as Noah hurtled himself down the steps and into his grandfather’s arms with Joshua and Jacob not far behind.

“Have fun,” Jared said, hugging all three of his boys, as they each slid into the backseat of Gerald’s car, excited and happy to be out of the house.

“Take your time, I’ve got them,” Sherri said, kissing Jared on the cheek before climbing into the car beside her husband.

Jared watched as Gerald turned his car toward the front gates, before walking over to his own car. He set his foot on the gas pedal as he gunned the engine and set off in the direction of Jensen’s apartment.

“I should get you a key,” Jensen said smiling at Jared as he stepped inside his apartment and pulled Jensen into his arms.

“How are the boys?” Jensen asked, genuine concern to his voice.

“They’re good, better than I expected,” Jared said, giving Jensen a squeeze and stepping back to kick off his shoes.

“And you?” Jensen asked, as Jared took a hold of his T-shirt and pulled it over his head, leaving it on the floor where it landed before setting to work on his pants.

“Better for seeing you,” Jared said as he eased his pants down past his thighs, stepping out of them as they pooled at his feet, standing there, naked save for his boxers. “I just want to be near you,” Jared said, needing to have Jensen close, skin on skin.

Jensen smiled as he reached for his Henley, pulling it over his head, and exposing his baby bump, easing his pants down and kicking them off, taking Jared’s hand and leading him to the bedroom, and down onto the bed. Both were content to just be in each other’s company, Jensen stifling a yawn, as Jared pulled Jensen into his arms, Jensen’s back to Jared’s chest as Jared put his arm around Jensen’s waist to settle against his stomach.

Jensen breathed out a contented sigh, letting himself relax against Jared. Sleep had been something he'd struggled with ever since the night of the fire, and even more so since his arrest. Jensen had been genuinely afraid that his daughter would be born in prison. Now it was over, and at last he could sleep, secure in the knowledge that Ava would be behind bars where she could no longer hurt anyone, especially Jared, that he and Alex were safe.

Jared was the first to wake, checking the clock by the bedside cabinet; and finding it past midnight, he was primarily worried about the boys. He cursed under his breath, before telling himself that his mother would have called had there been a problem. He tried to reach his pants, and was stilled when Jensen murmured in his sleep, easing back against Jared, his ass pressed tight against Jared’s cock.

Jared held his breath, his cock hardening despite not wanting to wake Jensen; Jared became more aroused as Jensen moaned and edged closer.

“Jared,” Jensen said, voice heavy with sleep, as he rocked back against Jared for a second time, closer, tighter until Jared’s cock slipped between Jensen’s ass cheeks and rubbed up against his hole.

Jared wanted, needed, Jensen despite not even being sure Jensen was awake; not fully, just enough to react to Jared’s closeness, as Jared eased his hand from Jensen’s stomach and skirted it lower, through the thatch of hair to where Jensen’s cock was nestled, wet and already hard.

Jared sucked in a breath and edged closer to Jensen, stole the last inch of space that separated them and pushed into Jensen, slowly, carefully, until he was buried deep in Jensen’s ass. Jared’s actions were rewarded, as Jensen rocked back until there wasn't a wisp of air between them. Jensen made quiet whimpers, almost mewling as Jared continued to slide in and out of Jensen, taking it steady, long, sure thrusts, pulling back only to push back in deeper, harder each time.

Jensen breathed out, caught between sleep and awake, before thrusting up into Jared’s fist, back, forward, once and again, perfecting a rhythm they were both happy with.

Soft.

Gentle.

Jensen came seconds before Jared, coating Jared’s hands with his come as Jared snapped his hips, once, twice, before following Jensen.

Jared took a deep breath as he eased out of Jensen and got up from the bed, padding naked to the bathroom to wash his hands, using a washcloth to clean himself before walking back into the bedroom to find Jensen once again asleep, curled up on his side. Jared reached inside his pants, pulled out his phone and checked for any missed calls, or texts from his mother, satisfied when he found neither.

Jared climbed back into bed, making himself comfortable as Jensen turned over and snuggled in beside him, Jared pressing a kiss to Jensen’s forehead.

“I love you,” Jared whispered.

Jensen was the first to wake up - his needing the bathroom was becoming more frequent as the pregnancy progressed. At thirty-two weeks, Alex seemed to spend most of her time on Jensen’s bladder. He took a shower, barely remembering the night before he was content with the slow, sleepy sex, but not so much the morning-after evidence of come dried and crusted to his pubic hair, pulling tight, almost painful, as Jensen cleaned himself. He reached for a towel, scrubbing at his short, dark-blond spikes of hair before drying himself off and making his way back to bedroom for cleans boxers and tracksuit bottoms.

Jared awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and bacon, his stomach letting him know he’d last eaten the day before. He reached for his pants, shoving them on and dragging them up to his waist, as he pulled up the zipper and fastened the button before making his way to the kitchen, and Jensen.

“I was just about to wake you,” Jensen said, handing Jared a mug of coffee, and waiting for Jared to take a sip. Jared unlike Jensen was a morning person, his smile welcoming. Jensen on the other hand was no use to man nor beast until he’d had his first hit of coffee.

“Smells good,” Jared said, nodding his head toward the direction of the stove, as Jensen grabbed two plates, dishing out a healthy portion of bacon and scrambled egg onto both, handing one to Jared and taking a seat opposite to demolish his own.

“Your mother won’t mind you staying away all night, will she?” Jensen asked around a forkful of bacon.

Jared shook his head, waited until he’d swallowed his food before answering, feeling almost like a teenager again. “It’ll be fine,” Jared said, sure that his mother wouldn’t begrudge him spending a little quality time with Jensen.

It was lunch time when Jared arrived home, and the boys were in the living room watching an animated movie with their grandmother. Jared poked his head around the door letting his mother know he was home before climbing the stairs to shower and change, coming back down a half-hour with damp hair and wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

Jared walked into the kitchen and poured himself a mug of a freshly brewed coffee, aware of his mother entering the kitchen behind him.

“I spoke to your father,” Sherri began, cautious.

Jared took a deep breath before turning around to face his mother.

“He said that Ava wants to talk to the boys,” Sherri said, watching as Jared stiffened.

“It’s your choice,” Sherri continued, “Your father thinks it’s a bad idea, but I told him it was your decision to make.”

Jared nodded, torn between wanting the boys to have a chance to say good-bye, but worried about what Ava would say to them, that it would only distress them more.

“It’s their choice,” Jared said taking a deep breath. “I’m not so sure about Noah, but I think Joshua and Jacob can make their own decisions.”

“I’ll go and fetch them,” Sherri said, getting up from the kitchen table and making her way to the living room, returning with the boys.

“I need to talk to you,” Jared said, as the boys each took a seat around the table. “Remember when I told you that your mother was found guilty, and what that involves?”

Jared watched as the boys sat upright, all but Noah, who once again left the table to climb onto his grandmother’s lap. Jared knew he was too young to really understand what was happening, he just know that there was something terribly wrong.

“I told you that your mother was going to prison,” Jared pushed on; all quiet save for a sniffle from Jacob. “Tomorrow the judge will decide how much time your mother has to spend in prison. It may possibly be for the rest of her life,” Jared said, a deep sorrow about his voice, sadness at knowing the boys would be raised without a mother, or a father.

“She wants to say good-bye,” Jared said softly. Jacob jumped up from the table, his chair knocked over in his haste to leave the room, a sob escaping his throat as he ran. Jared heard him trip over his feet as he rushed up the stairs to his room.

“It’s your decision,” Jared said, getting to his feet, fully intending to go after Jacob, and comfort him. “It has to be done within the next few hours, there won’t be another chance after today.”

Jared let his words sink in, sure that Joshua understood the haste, the importance. That after tomorrow she could be gone, forever. Jared nodded his head and went after Jacob.

Jared opened the door to Jacob’s room to find him curled up on the bed, pressing each tear into his pillow as a means of quelling the sobs.

“Hey,” Jared soothed, stepping into Jacob’s room and sitting beside him on the bed.

“I’m sorry,” Jacob said, as another sob forced its way from his throat.

“It’s okay to cry,” Jared reassured him, stroking Jacob’s hair from his forehead.

“Grandpa says I need to be strong,” Jacob said, trying desperately to control his tears.

“Tears don’t make you weak, everyone cries from time to time, even your grandpa,” Jared said.

“Truly?” Jacob asked, pushing himself up so that he was sitting beside Jared.

“Definitely,” Jared said, gaining himself a slight smile from Jacob, as he swung his legs off the bed and got to his feet.

“Are you ready to come back downstairs?” Jared asked. “I promise no one will think any less of you.”

Jacob nodded following Jared down the stairs and back into the kitchen.

“I want to talk to her,” Joshua said, anxious but determined.

“Me too,” Jacob said, equally determined.

Jared walked into the dining room out of earshot of the boys and telephoned his father.

“Put her on the phone,” Jared demanded, and listened as Gerald passed the phone to Ava.

“Hello,” Ava said, quiet, subdued.

“You can spare me the theatrics,” Jared said. “They want to talk to you.”

Jared took a deep breath, hoping he was doing the right thing, but knowing that it would be wrong of him to snatch away the last moments they had with their mother, without giving them the opportunity to say good-bye.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” Jared began. “You don’t make them feel in anyway responsible. Your lies about doing this for them didn’t wash in the courtroom and they don’t here, do you understand me?”

“I only want to say good-bye,” Ava said, her voice hardening.

“Put my father back on,” Jared said, waiting while Ava handed to the phone to Gerald, and taking a deep breath.

“Hello,” Gerald said, as Jared plowed straight in.

“You’re to stay by her side while she talks to them. If she tries to blame them, or uses her love for them as excuse to lessen the guilt, you take the phone from her!” Jared demanded.

“I will,” Gerald said.

Jared listened to his father’s voice and heard the truth in it, satisfied that Gerald would do as he asked.

Gerald had wanted to keep the children in the Padalecki household as much as Ava had needed them there, albeit for different reasons. Ava wanted the power and prestige of being the mother to the Padalecki heirs.

Gerald wanted them because he honestly, truly loved his grandchildren, adored them, and would do anything for them, even going so far as to believe their mother was a grieving widow, and then, with Jared, an unloved wife. She'd played the victim, and Gerald knew now that he had made a huge mistake in believing her.

Jared walked back into the kitchen and handed Joshua the phone, everyone else making their way into the living room to give him some privacy.

Jared held back just for a second, reassuring himself that Joshua was fine, walking away as Joshua’s first words followed him down the hallway.

“Why, mom?”

It had been ten minutes and Jared was wondering if he should check on Joshua when he appeared in the doorway.

“She wants to talk to you,” Joshua said, through his tears as he handed the phone to Jacob, and walked into Jared’s open arms.

“Hello,” Jacob said as he walked out of the room, taking the offer of privacy.

Jared heard the tremor to his nephew’s voice, and wondered if he’d done the right thing; Jacob was barely eleven-years-old, maybe, like Noah, he wasn’t old enough to shoulder such a burden. Jared was proven right when only minutes later Jacob came crashing into the living room, almost knocking Jared and Joshua off their feet.

“I can’t!” Jacob sobbed, “Uncle Jared, I can’t.”

Jared held Joshua tight to his side, pulling Jacob with his free hand to his other side, comforting them both as best he could. Noah picking up on the atmosphere and buried his head in the crook of his grandmother’s neck.

The rest of the evening was quiet, Jared kicking off his shoes and watching a Disney marathon with the boys and his mother. He phoned Jensen twice to check in, happier to hear Chris and Danneel in the background.

“We’re having a girls’ night in,” Danneel shouted down the phone, laughter evident in her tone.

“Speak for yourself,” Chris shouted, mock offense at having his manhood brought into question.

Jared carried a sleepy Noah, hoisting him up and onto his hip as he made his way up to the stairs to Noah’s room and easing him carefully onto the bed, reaching and grabbing Noah’s comforter and laying it over his sleeping nephew.

“Goodnight,” Jared said, as he looked in on Joshua, and then Jacob.

Monday morning dawned bright and early, the sun shining in Jared’s bedroom window as he once again picked out a suitable tie to match his designer suit, every inch the senator.

“You’ll come get us from school,” Joshua asked.

“I will,” Jared said. “I promise.”

Jared waited until the boys were safely in the car driven by Jared’s aide before getting into his own car beside his mother, content that the media were all camped outside the courthouse and not his home.

It was almost over, and Jared just wanted it done. To have some semblance of normality back in his life, in the boy’s lives; it would take some time, but Jared was determined to support them through the coming months.

And then there was Jensen – Jared was desperate for the boys to know him, sure that they’d love him given the chance, and Jared was determined to make the introduction before the baby was born. To give the boys and Jensen time to get to know each other before Alex arrived, which only gave him eight weeks.

“Are you ready?” Sherri asked, dragging Jared from his thoughts.

Jared found the last parking space there was, pulling in and switching off the engine before escorting his mother across the road, through the throng of reporters and inside the courthouse.

Jared spotted Jensen, along with his friends and parents who were seated on a bench outside courtroom B. Jared made his way over to them, Jensen getting to his feet for Jared’s mother to sit, before walking over to stand beside Jared.

Jared felt the buzz of excitement and looked up to see Ava walk into the courthouse beside Jared’s father. Jared knew Gerald was determined to do what was best for Ava, if not for Jeff, then for Jeff’s children. He wouldn’t hear of them growing up to discover his family hadn’t done right by their mother, despite everything she’d done. That they’d cut her loose with no one, and nothing to defend herself.

Jared watched as Ava walked, her head down and shoulders slumped. He’d never seen her anything but strong and confident, an elegant gait to her step, all which were gone from her demeanour.

Jared was intent to not feel sympathy for her, he did however acknowledge a slight pang that she’d never see her children grow to be the fine men they promised to be.

“The prosecution versus Ava Padalecki,” the court bailiff announced as everyone got to their feet, and filed into the courtroom, Jared making his way to where JD was seated and settling beside him.

Ava took a seat beside Matt, her head bowed and hands clasped anxiously in her lap.

“All rise,” the bailiff said as Judge Michaels made his way to the bench, seating himself, and adjusting his microphone slightly.

“Mrs. Padalecki, you stand here today having been found guilty of the charges against you,” Judge Michaels said. “It is my job to determine the sentence you should serve, one that suits the court and metes of punishment and justice for all parties concerned,” Judge Michaels announced.

“In the matter of the attempted murder of Misha Collins, I sentence you to fifteen to twenty-five years in prison,” Judge Michaels said, waiting for the wave of conversation that surged through the courtroom to quiet down before he continued.

“In the matter of the attempted murder of Jensen Ackles, I sentence you to fifteen to twenty-five years in prison.

“In the matter of the attempted murder of Senator Padalecki, I sentence you to fifteen to twenty-five years in prison. Each sentence is to be served consecutively,” Judge Michaels announced. He instructed the bailiffs to take Ava into custody and lead her from the court to where guards were waiting to escort her to the Christina Melton Crain Unit to begin her sentence immediately.

The first thing Jared did was hug his mother; she’d wanted justice for her sons, and she’d gotten just that, forty-five to seventy-five years of it. None of them were in a mood to celebrate since the boys had lost their mother, and would need all the support they could get, but the feeling of relief was undeniable.

Misha got to his feet from where he’d been spending most of his time at the back of the courtroom. He nodded toward Jared, who was surrounded by Jensen’s family and friends, and slipped quietly from the room.

Once more they had to run the gauntlet of the media, Jared catching up with Jensen as Chris plowed a space for him through the crowd of reporters and onlookers alike. Jared content that this would be the last time they’d have to do this. By tomorrow or the day after, they’d be old news; they could get back to normal, and Jared could create a space for Jensen and the baby in his home, his life.

He already had a space for Jensen in his heart.

Jared kept his promise and collected the boys from school, each of them pale and quiet, Jacob dragged his bag in the dirt behind him, not looking up, or making eye contact with Jared. Joshua climbed in the passenger seat beside Jared, keeping his eyes on the road ahead.

“Is it bad?” Joshua whispered, darting a quick glance at Jared.

“Wait until we get home,” Jared said, watching Joshua flinch at the answer his fear palpable in the small confines of the car.

Jared drove through the gates leading up to the house and saw his father’s car in the drive. For once Jared was happy to see his father, knowing the children would need all the support they could get.

Jared pulled up beside his father’s car, the boys grabbing their bags and making their way into the house ahead of Jared. He wasn’t happy about what he had to do, had spent the entire day revising what he was going to say, knowing nothing could make it better. There was no way to sugar coat it; he was left only with the bitter truth. Jared took a deep breath, closed the door behind him and made his way to the living room.

Gerald looked over from where he was standing as the boys entered, dropping their bags on the floor and taking a seat on the couch. Gerald began pacing, as Jared entered the living room and closed the door quietly, all sets of eyes on him.

“There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to be honest, and tell you it’s bad,” Jared said, watching the way Joshua picked at his fingernails, a habit he’d begun after his father was killed.

“At best, she’ll serve forty-five years, at worst - seventy-five,” Jared said, watching Joshua do the math, and seeing the stricken look on his face as the reality that she would be most likely die in prison sank in.

Gerald took hold of Jacob as a loud sob wracked his smaller frame, holding the boy tightly.

Jared walked over to the couch and seated himself next to Joshua as Sherri all but crushed Noah to her chest.

“Thank you for being here,” Jared said, later that night, the boys tucked up in their beds. Jared’s entire being was overcome with gratitude. “Both of you,” Jared added, looking at Gerald.

“I should leave,” Gerald said, stooping to kiss his wife on the cheek.

“You’re staying?” Jared asked his mother.

“Yes, your father and I think it best - just for a few days, or until you find a sitter,” Sherri said, much to Jared’s relief.

Jared was worried about his work, which he’d sorely neglected due to the trial. Of course his absence had been understood, but he needed to get back there. There was Jensen, and the baby, the boys… Jared didn’t know how he was going to juggle all three, so he was grateful to have his mother’s help, for as long as she could spare the time She was right; he needed a sitter, someone long term like a nanny if he was going to work and raise the boys. Jared added it to his ‘to do’ list and marked it urgent.

Jared awoke to a loud thudding noise filtering in through his open bedroom window, climbing out of bed to investigate the noise and seeing Joshua shooting hoops by himself. He turned to look at the clock and saw it was a little before six, so he pulled on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and padded barefoot downstairs.

“You couldn’t sleep, huh?” Jared said, catching the ball as Joshua threw it at him.

“Is Jensen coming to live with us?” Joshua asked, as he caught the ball from Jared, throwing it in the air and scoring a basket.

“I haven’t asked him,” Jared said, catching the rebound and throwing it toward Joshua. “I was waiting until after I’d spoken to you and your brothers.”

“We’ve talked about it,” Joshua said, taking Jared by surprise.

“You have?” Jared asked. “When?”

“The other night,” Joshua said. “The night you didn’t come home.”

Jared was taken aback but he fought to hide it, realising that Joshua was growing up, almost fourteen now, and more observant that Jared had given him credit for.

“We want to meet him,” Joshua said, much to Jared’s relief.

“I’ll speak to Jensen,” Jared said, “Now come inside and eat breakfast before school.”

Jared watched as Joshua walked back toward the house, Jared marvelling at how he’d grown over the past two years since his father’s death. He was tall, almost to Jared’s shoulder, and mature beyond his years, and he took the role of big brother seriously, always there for Jacob and Noah.

And now it seemed, Jared.

“They want to meet you,” Jared said, his phone on hands-free as he drove downtown toward his office.

“You spoke to them?” Jensen asked, surprised.

“Not quite,” Jared said, amusement in his voice. “They talked amongst themselves and decided it was time.”

Jared heard the sound of laughter through the phone and realised that it had been so long since he’d heard Jensen laugh, really laugh, not something staged to fend off Jared’s unease or Chris’ concern, or for the sake of the camera.

“I have a photo-shoot tomorrow,” Jensen said. “I just hope Alex stays off my bladder long enough to get the shoot done. How about Thursday?”

“Thursday’s fine,” Jared said, excited to introduce Jensen to his boys. Jared was proud of the way they had conducted themselves over the past few weeks. The way they’d stayed strong for each other, supported each other, especially Joshua. He loved them and wanted nothing more than to show them off, wanting, needing his family to come together.

Jared spent most of Wednesday at the office dealing with his constituency, and when he wasn’t there he was interviewing caretakers for the boys, grateful for his mother’s continued help and support, but knowing she couldn’t stay forever.

It was a tough time to find reliable help, everyone he interviewed seemed familiar with the case and Ava’s guilt. Jared felt suspicious of their motives, wondering if each possible candidate was in search of a story, a look behind the iron gates, a foot in the door of his home and his boys’ lives.

Jared did, however, manage to whittle it down to two candidates, finally introducing them to his mother and allowing her the final decision. Sherri settled on a middle-aged woman who seemed genuinely concerned that the boys be protected while at the same time not smothered or wrapped in cotton wool.

Jared was satisfied with Sherri’s choice, setting a time the following morning for her to meet the boys, Jared conscious of the fact that they’d be meeting Jensen later in the day and hoping he wasn’t heaping too much on them in such short of time.

If Jared was worried about the boys meeting their nanny he needn’t have been as she proved an instant success, especially with Noah. Joshua hung back, watching her interactions with his younger brother. Jacob looked to his older brother, holding back a little until he caught Joshua’s nod before wandering over and introducing himself, much to Jared’s relief. Jared was eager for the afternoon meeting with Jensen to go just as well, hoping he wasn’t expecting too much of them all at once.

As it was the afternoon went well also, Joshua breaking the ice by shaking Jensen’s hand, pulling himself up to his full height, which was almost as tall as Jensen. Joshua having set a precedent for his brothers to follow, Jacob and Noah then mimicked Joshua’s actions and shook Jensen’s hand, much to Jensen’s amusement. Not that he let them see how charmed he was, especially with Noah, who was trying desperately to be seen as anything but the youngest, the smallest, as he shook Jensen’s hand, eyeing Jensen’s round stomach.

“Can I?” Noah said, as he lifted his hand, tentatively toward Jensen’s stomach before snatching it away again as if burnt.

“Sure,” Jensen said.

“Wow!” Noah gasped, as he placed his hand on Jensen’s stomach, taking a step back when the baby kicked.

“Does it hurt?” Jacob asked as they all filed into the restaurant, Noah taking Jensen’s hand as Jacob and Joshua followed behind.

“When will she be here?” Noah said as he seating himself at the table his feet not yet touching the floor. Noah was asking the questions that all three of the boys wanted to know but weren’t confident enough to ask; his innocence and naivety gained them all the answers, and earned him a space in Jensen’s affections. Jared couldn't stop smiling at his nephew’s interest in Jensen and the baby. The older boys hung on Noah’s every word - they both were smitten with Jensen and the way he reacted to Noah.

“Are you looking forward to the baby?” Jensen asked, looking at all the boys, focusing on Joshua and Jacob. He knew Alex couldn’t make up for the loss of their mother, but he hoped they would be accepting of another family member, two if they were understanding enough to welcome Jensen into the fold as well.

Jared watched the way the boys interacted with Jensen, enamoured with him and the baby, and Jensen seemed equally besotted with the boys, much to Jared’s delight.

“Anyone for dessert?” Jared asked, and watched as all three boys turned their attention to Jensen.

“Apple pie and ice cream,” Jensen said, and all three boys agreed.

“Grandma makes a delicious apple pie,” Noah said, all smiles.

“Well, I’ll have to taste it sometime,” Jensen promised and watched as approval spread across the face of all three boys.

“Are you coming to live with us?” Jacob asked, looking from Jensen to Jared.

“I…” Jensen began, looking questioningly between the boys and Jared. Jared was impressed by Jacob’s directness, and he felt little on an edge, as he saw all three watching Jensen and waiting for his answer.

All three boys had been raised to speak their mind, to be honest and forthright.

“Are you?” Noah asked, waiting on an answer.

“It’s up to Jensen,” Jared said, watching Jensen and noting his look of surprise as all sets of eyes focused on him.

“I don’t know,” Jensen said, almost holding his breath. “Do you want me to?”

“Yes,” Noah said, then Jacob nodded his head, as Jensen turned his focus onto the boys.

Joshua was the last to speak, eyeing Jensen before glancing to Jared, and smiling. “We’re a family,” Joshua said, his voice quiet but earnest. “And that includes Alex.”

“We are a family,” Jared said, turning his attention from the boys to Jensen. “All of us, and that includes you and the baby.”

“If you come live with us, then I won’t be the smallest anymore,” Noah said. Jensen laughed delightedly, Jared had told him of Noah’s excitement at being a big brother.

“Then I guess I should move in then,” Jensen announced, glancing toward Jared.

“Really?” Jacob said, parroting his brother.

“Truly,” Jensen said, and smiled at Noah, before looking at Joshua who had been the quietest. Joshua nodded at Jensen before smiling at his brothers.

“Alex is going to be so lucky,” Jensen said earnestly, looking at all three of the boys.

“How come?” Noah said.

“Who else is going to have such wonderful older brothers to care for and look out for her?” Jensen said.

“That’s me right?” Noah said, looking at Jacob and Joshua. “I’m going to be a big brother too.”

“Yes you are,” Joshua said, his face wreathed in love for his younger brother. Jared knew Jensen hoped that same brotherly love would extend to Alex.

Jared looked around the table as the dessert arrived, and noted how easy the boys were, so accepting of Jensen and the baby and so happy at the thought of him moving in. Jensen was smiling back at the boys; it was one of Jared’s favourite smiles that highlighted the crinkles at the corner of his eyes and lit up his entire face.

An honest smile.

It couldn’t have gone any better and Jared was so relieved. His family had just become larger by two and Jared couldn’t be happier.

Now he just needed to have Jensen move in and his family would be complete.

Jared spent the next two weeks juggling between work, the boys and moving Jensen into the family home. Reassured that Jensen was happy with the situation, Jensen spending the weekend at Jared’s home with Jared and the boys, giving the boys time to adjust.

He could see that Sherri was more than happy to have Jensen stay. There could be no doubt of Jensen’s growing affection for the boys, and of the love he had for Jared. Jared had never been happier, and he knew he was probably broadcasting his love for Jensen all the time.

Sherri watched as Jared and Jensen played video games with the boys, Jared sitting cross-legged on the floor, Jensen on the sofa with cushions to accommodate his baby bump.

“You love them,” Sherri said, taking a seat next to Jensen. Jensen turned to her, cheeks aflame with emotion. “He loves you too,” Sherri said, smiling at Jensen as he put down the computer controller and put a hand to his stomach. “Both of you!” Sherri announced.

Jensen nodded, and Jared saw the pink spread across his cheeks at being caught out.

“Have they set a date for birth?” Sherri asked, knowing it wouldn’t be long.

“The twenty-sixth of next month.” He looked at Jared, who nodded and smiled.

“We’re having baby shower next week if you’d like to come?” Jensen asked, uncertainly, the clearly relieved when Sherri nodded her head in assent.

“I’d love to,” Sherri said.

Jared looked over to his mother and Jensen, watched the way Sherri took Jensen’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly. He glanced around the room - at his family, Noah nestled up against Joshua and Jacob, intent on the video game, Jensen sitting with his mother, a look of pure contentment on his face.

Jared wanted nothing more than for his father to witness moments like this, the coming together of a family. Gerald loved his grandchildren - of that, there was no doubt. Jared looked toward Jensen, sitting with one hand curved around his stomach, something Jared desperately wanted for his daughter to be loved, to feel the same security as the boys. To know she was wanted, was cared for, adored even.

“Dinner in an hour,” Sherri said, petting Jensen’s hand and getting to her feet. Jared moved over to the space she left on the couch.

“Hey,” Jared said, sitting next to Jensen.

“Hey,” Jensen said, smiling at Jared.

“Are you good?” Jared asked, wanting Jensen to stay, but knowing it was only a few more days before Jensen called Jared’s house his home, something that Jared was desperate for. He wanted to kiss Jensen goodnight, to wake up to Jensen every morning; he wanted so much to make the bedroom adjacent to his into a nursery for Alex, a dash of pink among all the blue.

The whole house was excited, the expected birth at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, no more so than the boys and Sherri. Then there were Jensen’s parents and friends all eagerly awaiting Alex’s arrival. Everyone was excited to meet her, especially Jared, who was desperate to hold her and welcome her into his family.

Jensen’s apartment was almost bare, Sherri noticed as she stepped inside, it looked like most of Jensen’s belongings were packed up in one of the many boxes that littered the room. Jared had told her that anything marked with a red sticker was going to good will, the rest going to temporary storage. Pink garland and pink and white balloons adorned the walls and doorway now, heralding the baby shower going on inside.

“Hi, Mrs. Padalecki,” Danneel said, stepping back to allow Sherri to step inside.

“Please, call me Sherri,” Sherri said, wanting Jensen’s friends to see her as family, to know that they were welcome in not only Jared’s life, but also her own, and hopefully someday maybe even Gerald’s. Sherri had seen how close Jensen’s family and friends were, especially Danneel, who barely left Jensen’s side throughout the entire trial. Sherri hoped that the same loyalty and devotion may one day be extended to her son.

Sherri heard the laughter spilling out from the other room, as she followed Danneel and stepped inside to find pink wrapping paper everywhere. “She’s going to be one lucky little girl,” Sherri said, smiling at Jensen and handing him her gift before taking a place beside Jensen’s mother.

“Thank you for coming,” Donna said, turning to smile at Sherri.

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything, Sherri said, returning Donna’s smile. “I’ve seen the way he looks at my son, and Jared? Well, he dotes on Jensen. I’ve never seen him so happy - even throughout the wretched trial, there was a lightness in his step.”

“I know what you mean,” Donna said, looking across the room to her son, as he took that moment to laugh at something Danneel said, a full head-thrown-back belly laugh that lit up his entire face.

“They’ve always been like that,” Donna said, nodding in Jensen’s direction. “I had hoped that one day they might…” Donna took a breath, just a moment’s pause. “But that was before he told us he was gay.”

“I think I knew when Jared never had friends over. He was popular at school, and at college, but he never brought a girl home or mentioned a relationship. He kept his life pretty much behind closed doors. Not so much Jeff, who was the social butterfly,” Sherri said, taking a moment to remember her other son.

“Christina,” Danneel said, loud enough for all heads to turn their way, Jensen red-faced as he held a pair of pink satin shorts in his hand.

“They’re for after the baby is born,” Christina said, joining the laughter as Jensen studiously avoided his mother’s gaze.

It was getting dark when the party broke up, Jensen watching - after being refused his assistance - as his friends packed most of the baby’s thing in the trunk of his car. Danneel once again adamant that Jenson not lift anything. The removal company was arriving first thing to collect the rest, which wasn’t a lot since Jared didn’t have a need for furniture.

It wasn’t long before Jensen called it a night, setting his alarm for eight, and asking Danneel to give him a wake-up call, in case the alarm didn’t work. As it was, the alarm worked fine and Jensen was up and about when Danneel called. He settled for a drink of juice, since his coffee machine was packed already for removal to Jared’s house, it was something he definitely intended to keep.

Jensen was still talking with Danneel when the removal truck arrived, the first one for his luggage and the second that arrived a little time after for all the good-will items.

It didn’t take long for the removal team to have everything packed, Jensen did his best to stay out of the way as they loaded up his belongings. There was just a few more to go to good will and the apartment would be empty.

“Not long now,” The girl from good-will said, nodding her head at Jensen’s baby bump.

“Four weeks,” Jensen replied as the last box was loaded up and ready to leave.

“Good luck!” The girl said, picking up a small box and following after the rest of the crew.

“Thank you,” Jensen said. The door closed behind her, leaving Jensen alone, every footstep echoing on the wooden floor now that there was no furniture to buffer the noise.

Jensen ran his hand across the breakfast counter. He had a lot of good memories in the apartment, like Sundays when Danneel would come around and they’d order pizza and have an old movie marathon. The times Chris and Steve would come over and have a jam session, often crashing on Jensen’s couch when the beer and nachos had all gone.

“Time to move on, baby girl,” Jensen said, when Alex took that moment to kick.

Jared was the first to welcome Jensen, stepping out of the house and pulling Jensen into a hug. “Welcome home,” Jared said, when they were both promptly ambushed by an excited Noah.

“Jensen, you’re here,” Noah said, rocking back on his heels.

“Can I help?” Jacob asked, following Noah around to the trunk of Jensen’s car and lifting out the baby gifts.

 

“Your things have arrived,” Jared said. “I’ve put your clothes in my room, the rest you can sort through and decide what goes where.”

“My coffee machine?” Jensen asked.

“In the kitchen,” Jared said, amused at the look on Jensen’s face.

“Lead me to it,” Jensen said, sounding like a man in need. “I had to settle for juice this morning,” Jensen said. Jensen's disgusted look had Jared laughing out loud.

“Now there’s a sound that has been sorely missed around this place,” Sherri said, walking over and kissing Jensen on the cheek. “Welcome home.”

Jared swallowed the lump that formed in his throat at the sight unfolding in front of him. His mother, her arms around Jensen, his boys, Noah and Jacob carrying the boxes into the house as Joshua hung back, a smile lighting up his face.

Jared’s family complete.

Jensen was awakened the next morning by the smell of fresh coffee and bacon. Jared was already up and about; being that it was Monday, and Jared had work and the boys had school. Jensen himself had a photo shoot that afternoon.

“You’re awake?” Jared said, getting up from his chair and walking over to Jensen to press a kiss to Jensen’s mouth, apparently much to Noah and Jacobs's delight as both tried to hide their snickering. Jensen blushed slightly as he sat opposite an amused Joshua, and took the offered coffee cup from Sherri.

“Bacon and egg?” Sherri asked. “There’s toast if you’d like.”

“Please,” Jensen said, looking around at everyone. His first breakfast in his new home and already he felt welcome.

“Come on kids, time to leave,” Jared said, prompting them to get up from the table and grab their bags. Noah half way across the kitchen when he turned and hurled himself at Jensen.

“Bye,” Noah said, giving Jensen a squeeze.

“Bye,” Jensen said, looking at Jared and seeing the look of pleasure on his face.

“I like him,” Joshua said as he climbed in the car and seated himself beside Jared his, his seat belt secure.

“So do I,” Jacob said.

“Me too,” Noah said, not to be left out.

“I think it’s obvious you like him,” Joshua laughed. His laugh infectious, affecting everyone in the car. Jared looked around at his boys, his heart swelling with pride.

“Here we go,” Jared said, pulling up at the gates to the school. He waited as the boys all climbed out of the car and made their way down the drive, Joshua’s hand on Noah’s shoulder the entire way. Joshua made a habit of escorting Noah to the lower school before he and Jacob made their way to the upper school.

Jared put the car in gear as soon as he was sure the boys were safely inside, and pulled out in the direction of downtown, grateful to have some normalcy restored in his life. He’d heard Jacob crying from time to time and did his best to reassure him, but other than that things were going well. No more shuffling from one home to the next. No more having to steal a kiss from Jensen, from sneaking around.

They were a family.

It was late afternoon when Jared got the call, Danneel’s tears greeting him when he picked up the phone.

“Danneel, slow down,” Jared said, only able to make out his name amid a truckload of blabbering.

“Jensen collapsed at the photo shoot,” Danneel said, gulping for air as another sob echoed down the phone line. “They’ve taken him to Baylor University Medical Centre.”

“Danneel, phone his parents, I’m on my way,” Jared said, already out the door when he disconnected and dialed his mother.

“Mom, can you collect the boys from school? Jensen collapsed, he’s at the hospital,” Jared said.

“Oh my god, Jared,” Sherri said, fear audible in her voice. “I’ll get the boys, just go.”

“Mom, don’t tell them until we know what’s happening,” Jared pleaded.

“Of course not,” Sherri reassured Jared before he ended the call and pressed his foot on the gas, desperate to get to Jensen. He pulled up outside the hospital in record time.

“Jared,” Danneel cried, throwing her arms around Jared and holding him tightly, as Chris paced the corridor.

“He’s awake, they’re doing some tests,” Danneel said, trying to regulate her breathing as a hiccup escaped, proof she’d been crying for some time.

“His parents are on their way,” Chris said, stopping to nod at Jared before resuming his pacing, Jared about to make his way to Jensen’s room when he noticed the doctor approaching.

“Who’s the father?” Dr. Cortese asked.

“I am,” Jared said, giving Danneel’s hand a squeeze as he stepped forward.

“Would you come with me?” Dr Cortese asked, already turning to walk away, Jared rushing to catch up to her, almost barreling into her small frame when she stopped and opened the doors to Jensen’s room.

“I’ll get straight to the point,” Dr Cortese said, waiting for Jared to take a seat. Jared sat upright as Jensen started to worry the sheet with his fingers, making a fist around the material, clinging to it.

Jensen looked worried, his natural tan fading to reveal a paleness, the smile sliding away to reveal fear. He instinctively smoothed his hands around his stomach to cradle his unborn child. Jared took a deep breath and took back the distance between himself and Jared, taking Jensen’s hand and clasping it with his own.

“We need to deliver the baby today, in the next couple of hours,” Dr. Cortese said.

“But I have four weeks yet,” Jensen said pulling at the sheet, his knuckles white.

“Mr. Ackles,” Dr. Cortese said, looking directly at Jensen. “Your baby is in fetal distress, she needs to be delivered as soon as possible. Her heart rate is dipping below acceptable levels and the amniotic fluid is greatly reduced.

“My parents?” Jensen said, pulling free of Jared’s hand to wrap his arms around his stomach protectively.

“They’re on their way,” Jared reassured him.

“The anaesthesiologist will be with you shortly to discuss your options,” Dr Cortese said. “I’ll give you some time alone.”

Jared eased himself down sitting on the edge of Jensen’s bed as he put his arms around Jensen.

“Tell me she’ll be okay,” Jensen said, the words muffled against Jared’s chest as he held tight to Jensen.

“She’s survived so much,” Jared began. “She’s tough, Jensen, she can do this, you both can.”

“Will you tell the others?” Jensen asked, sitting upright and scrubbing at his eyes.

Jared got to his feet and turned to Jensen. “It’s going to be fine,” Jared promised before he stepped out into the corridor. In the hallway, Jared found Jensen’s mother comforting Danneel as Jensen’s father took a place beside Chris, both pacing.

“How is he?” Danneel said, breaking free of Donna and coming to stand in front of Jared.

Jared waited a second until everyone had quieted before shooting straight ahead with the truth.

“She’s in fetal distress,” Jared said, watching the way Danneel grabbed hold of Donna’s hand. Chris and Alan both stopped pacing, waiting for Jared to continue.

“They want to deliver her within the next couple of hours,” Jared said, watching the others’ response.

“Can we see him?” Donna asked.

“We’re awaiting an anaesthesiologist, but yes, he wants to see you,” Jared replied, putting an arm around Danneel’s shoulder as Jensen’s parents made their way to his room.

“Is she really going to be okay?” Danneel whispered, leaning in tight to Jared’s side. Chris finally took a seat only to lean forward and put his head in his hands.

“I don’t know,” Jared said as his phone began to vibrate in his pocket.

“Mom, is everything okay?” Jared asked, looking at his watch and realising the boys would soon need to be collected from school.

“Misha is going to bring the boys home and stay with them. I’m so sorry, Jared,” Sherri said. “I need to be there.

Jared explained to his mother that they were planning to deliver the baby and would be performing a caesarean section within the next couple of hours.

“I’m already on my way,” Sherri said, ending the call.

It was half an hour before Jensen’s parents emerged from his hospital room, Donna tearful, Alan with his arm around his wife, comforting her.

“Can we?” Danneel asked.

Jared nodded his head, and Danneel took Chris’ hand as they made their way to Jensen’s room.

It was twenty minutes later when the elevator pinged and Sherri rushed to where Jared was seated, his father behind her.

“Jared,” Sherri cried.

Jared got to his feet just in time to catch his mother in a hug, her tears flowing freely.

“The anaesthesiologist is here,” Danneel said as she re-joined the small group.

“Go,” Donna said, reassuringly. “We’ll be here.”

Jared waited as the anaesthesiologist described the difference between an epidural and general anaesthesia. Jensen looked at Jared, who was adamant it be Jensen’s decision.

“I think I’d prefer the epidural,” Jensen said, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth.

“They’ll be here to collect you in a few minutes,” the doctor said, nodding his head at both Jensen and Jared. “See you in the operating room.”

Jared left Jensen’s room to tell everyone it was happening and that Alex would be here in less than an hour. Jared engulfed by several sets of arms as everyone tried to hug him at once.

Jared felt a heavy slap on his shoulder, turning to find his father right there.

“Good luck, son,” Gerald said, before re-joining his wife and the others.

Jared was taken aback, that his father had just addressed him as his son. Jared didn’t think he’d done so in forever, not since he had come out of the closet. He took a moment just to bask in his father’s at least momentary approval and made his way back to where they were waiting to take Jensen to theatre.

“Ready?” Jared asked, taking Jensen’s hand as he was being moved to the operating room on a gurney.

Jensen nodded, looking both afraid, and excited.

An older man in scrubs and cap came over to Jensen. “I’m Dr Singer, and I’ll be performing your surgery.”

“Dr Singer,” Jared said, shaking the doctor’s hand.

“Please, call me Bob,” Dr Singer said, a confident, reassuring smile about his face; it softened his features somewhat.

“Bob,” Jensen said, shaking the doctor’s hand.

“Are we all set?” Bob asked, as Jensen was transferred onto the operating table. “First we'll be administering the epidural, which will block all the pain.”

Jensen nodded, sitting on the edge of the gurney hunched over while the anaesthetic was administered. Within a few minutes, Jensen had lost all feeling to his legs and feet, and the nurses helped him down until he lay flat on the operating table.

“You okay?” Jared asked as he was brought a chair and the partition was put in place to prevent Jensen from seeing what was happening.

“Let me know if you can feel anything,” Bob said. Jared looked over the screen and saw Bob as he pricked Jensen several times, getting no reaction. “Excellent! Now let's help this little lady out.” Jared hurriedly looked away when he performed the long incision to cut through the wall of Jensen’s stomach.

“Not long now,” Bob said. “Jensen, you’re going to feel some tugging and pulling, but that’s normal, there’s no need to worry.”

Jared took Jensen’s hand and squeezed it tight as Jensen turned a tear-stained face to Jared, unable to hold back his feelings. He’d carried his daughter for nine months and was just moments away from meeting her. “Hey, it’s okay,” Jared said, reassuring Jensen.

Jensen nodded his head, a single tear escaping and marking a path down his cheek. He took a deep breath.

“Here we go,” Bob announced seconds before a new-born cry echoed around the operating room, bringing forth a sob from Jensen.

“We did it,” Jared said, his face full of relief and wonder, as Jared cut her cord, getting a quick glance at his daughter before she was taken to be dried and wrapped in a towel, and then finally handed over to Jared.

“Oh God,” Jared gasped as he looked down at his daughter, her masses of dark hair, and beautiful features. Jared scarcely dared breathe as he lowered her for Jensen to see.

“Hello, baby girl,” Jensen whispered, searching out Jared’s eyes and smiling, the kind of smile that made Jensen’s eyes crinkle and his face to light up.

“You did great,” Jared whispered while the medical team went to work on stitching Jensen’s incision. Another nurse took Alex to clean her up and get her weight, and Jared was surprised to hear that she was almost eight pounds despite being a month early.

Jared waited until the nursing staff finished with Alex before wheeling her back over to where Jared waited, never once taking his eyes from his daughter. He was a little put out when he was asked to leave while Bob finished up with Jensen.

The nurse reassured Jared that they’d be out of operating room in no time. Jared declined the offer to take the baby to the nursery; he’d only just met her, Jensen yet to hold her, and if her were honest, he wanted to show her off to his and Jensen’s family.

“It’s a girl,” Jared said by way of greeting, everyone already aware of the baby’s sex, but Jared was totally smitten at the fact that he had daughter.

“She’s okay?” Donna asked.

“She’s wonderful,” Jared breathed, a huge smile on his face. Everyone breathed an audible sigh of relief.

“And Jensen?” Danneel asked.

“He’s amazing,” Jared said, smile widening to encompass his entire face.

“When can we see them?” Donna interjected, clearly eager to meet her granddaughter.

“They’re just finishing up,” Jared said, turning to face Donna and Alan. “I think you should go first.”

“Padalecki family?” A nurse announced, everyone turning to face her.

“He’s back in his room, two at a time please.”

Jared watched as Donna took hold of Alan’s hand, all smiles as they made their way to Jensen’s room.

“Who’s she like? Danneel asked, so excited to meet Alex that she was almost bouncing in her chair.

“It’s hard to tell; she's all squidgy,” Jared said, remembering his daughter’s features, turning toward Danneel and Chris who had finally stopped pacing. “Beautiful though, she so beautiful,” Jared sighed.

“I’m so happy for you,” Sherri said, walking over and hugging Jared, before taking a seat beside Gerald. They were all eager for their turn; Danneel placed a hand on Chris’ thigh to stop him from tapping his foot.

Sherri turned as Donna and Alan walked back to where everyone was waiting, Donna eyes red from crying as she walked up to Jared and placed her hand against Jared’s cheek. “Thank you,” Donna said.

“You did good, son,” Alan said, slapping Jared’s shoulder.

“Can we?” Sherri asked, hopefully as Jared nodded, getting to his feet, the rules be damned. If his father was going in there, then Jared was too – he was hell-bent on preventing his father from saying anything to upset Jensen.

“Oh Gerald, look,” Sherri said as she walked in the room to see Alex snuggled on Jensen’s chest.

Gerald smiled, indulgently at his wife as Jensen handed Alex to her, with such a look of pride that had Jared feeling like he could burst. Watching his mother cradle his baby daughter was something Jared would never forget.

“May I?” Gerald asked, uncertainty evident in his voice.

Jared saw hesitation pass over Jensen's face, but he nodded. Sherri handed Alex over to Gerald and took a step back, all three holding their breath. Both Jared and Jensen had their eyes glued on Gerald and Alex.

 

“Hello, little one,” Gerald said, a besotted grin on his face.

Jared released the breath he was holding, watching his father cradle his granddaughter, the same look on his face that Jared witnessed every time Gerald was with his grandsons.

Gerald may be CEO of a multi-conglomerate company, but when it came to his grandchildren then he was putty in their hands, and it delighted Jared that Alex was going to be no different. He could see that she already had her grandfather wrapped around her little finger.

“We should let the others in,” Gerald said, kissing Alex on her plump, soft cheek and handing her back to Jensen, before squaring his shoulder, back to being every inch the business man, all trace of softness gone from his features.

Jared hung back as his parents left the room, going over to where Jensen and his daughter were resting comfortably on the bed.

“Thank you,” Jared said, his voice filled with love and gratitude. “I know that was hard for you, just thank you.”

Jensen nodded and placed a kiss on Alex’s head, as Danneel and Chris entered closing the door quietly behind them.

“Ready to meet your aunt and uncle?” Jensen asked his daughter as Jared slipped from the room to re-join his parents in the waiting room.

“We’re just leaving,” Donna and Alan announced. “Let him get some rest.”

“We should be getting back to the boys,” Sherri said taking her jacket from her husband and walking over to place a kiss on Jared’s cheek. Gerald was busy shaking Donna and Alan’s hand.

“It’s been good to meet you,” Gerald said, much to Jared’s surprise.

 

“You too,” Alan said, taking his wife by the arm as they made their way over to the elevator. Sherri and Gerald followed not far behind, leaving Jared alone.

Jared was torn between re-joining Jensen and giving him space to be with his friends. He had all the time in the word to get to know his daughter. She’d be under his roof in a matter of days, his roof and his protection. The newest member of the Padalecki family. Jared took a deep breath, his heart full of pride for Jensen and his daughter. As much as he wanted stay part of him was bursting with excitement at the prospect of telling the boys.

Jared looked up when he heard Danneel and Chris making their way down the corridor, Danneel’s arm tucked into Chris’ as she almost bounced her way over to where Jared was waiting.

“Oh Jared, she’s just beautiful,” Danneel sighed, putting her arms around Jared and pulling him down into a hug.

Chris nodded his head in approval and shook Jared's hand. “Seriously, man. Well done.”

“We’re going to leave,” Danneel said softly, kissing Jared’s cheek. “Leave you two to get some rest.”

Jared took a minute to stare at Jensen as he lay on the bed, his profile to Jared and Alex asleep on his chest. Jared could barely believe they were his.

“Hey,” Jensen said, sounding sleepy as he turned his head to face Jared.

“Hey,” Jared echoed, walking over and running his fingers through Jensen’s hair. Both fixated on each other and Alex, completely unaware as the nurse quietly checked in on Jensen.

“I should let you rest,” Jared whispered, Jensen took that moment to yawn.

“Sleep,” Jared said, bending to kiss Jensen on the mouth before pressing a soft kiss to Alex’s head.

“Is it true?” Noah asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Is she here?”

“I’m sorry, they just wouldn’t settle down. They were afraid something was wrong,” Sherri said, by way of an apology.

“Yes, she’s here, safe and sound,” Jared said, elated by Noah’s reaction.

“Truly?” Noah exclaimed, turning to his brothers and clapping his hands. “Joshua, she’s here.”

“When can we see her?” Jacob asked.

“Tomorrow,” Jared promised, intending for Jensen to get some sleep.

“But we have school tomorrow,” Noah said, some of the excitement diminishing.

“It won’t hurt to miss one day,” Jared said, happy at seeing Noah’s enthusiasm return. “It’s not every day you get to meet your sister.”

“Did you hear that,” Noah said, “Joshua, we can see her tomorrow?”

“I know, I can hear him too,” Joshua laughed appearing equally excited at the prospect of meeting Alex.

Jacob was just as excited, too, his smile a mile wide while watching the conversation unfold between Jared and his brother.

“Okay, get washed up,” Jared announced, his stomach taking that moment to remind him that he hadn’t eaten. “I’m ordering pizza.”

“Hooray, pizza,” Noah said, as he ran from the room, taking the stairs two at a time, his brothers following behind at a more sedate pace.

“Shall I order extra?” Jared asked unsure whether his parents were staying.

“If you're sure we're not intruding,” Sherri said, as Jared placed his order.

“You do know Noah’s not going to sleep tonight?” Sherri said, eyeing Jared.

“He’s excited,” Jared said, caught up in Noah’s enthusiasm, grateful that his daughter had three amazing older brothers who were all eager to meet her.

As it was, Noah did sleep; granted it was well past midnight, as Noah wandered into Jared’s room with his favourite blanket and climbed into Jared’s bed, before finally giving in to sleep.

“Uncle Jared, wake up,” Noah said, bouncing on the bed. “It’s tomorrow, can we see Alex now?”

“It’s far too early,” Jared said, amused by Noah's enthusiasm, but not so much being woken up at the crack of dawn. “Let me get a shower and make breakfast, and then we’ll see,” he promised. He climbed out of bed and walked over to the en-suite bathroom, stepping free of his shorts and turning on the shower.

Jared could hear Noah rousing the others as he stepped under the hot spray, letting the heat soak into his neck and shoulders before reaching for the shampoo and washing his hair. He reckoned he was going to have some very sleepy boys as the day progressed, excited but tired.

He was down in the kitchen loading the dishwasher when Noah once again poked his head in the door, doing the equivalent of ‘are we there yet?’ much to Jared’s amusement.

“Okay, it’s time,” Jared said, grinning to himself when Noah dropped the X-box controller almost falling over his own two feet in a rush to leave. Jared made sure everyone’s seatbelts were secured before starting the engine and pulling out of the drive, and into midday traffic.

The ride to the hospital was a short one, luckily for Jared, who was seriously concerned that Noah would bounce right out of his seat, despite his seatbelt.

“Wait here,” Jared said as he knocked on the door to Jensen’s room.

“You ready for some visitors?” Jared asked, poking his head into the room. Once again he was awed at the sight of Jensen with their daughter.

“You bet,” Jensen said, pulling himself up in his bed, and preparing himself for a whirlwind of excitement as the boys made their way into the room. Noah skidded to a halt beside Joshua, taking Joshua’s hand as both neared the bed.

“Wow,” Noah said, standing up on his tiptoes to see Alex nestled in Jensen’s arms.

“She’s so tiny,” Jacob said, coming to stand beside Joshua and Noah.

“Wow,” Noah said again.

“Do you want to hold her?” Jensen asked, as Noah took a seat by the bed.

“Can I?” Noah said, taking a deep breath as Jared took hold of Alex and handed her to Noah.

“Protect her head,” Jared said, coming down on to his haunches and showing Noah how to hold his baby sister.

“Wow,” Noah said for a third time, as Alex grabbed Noah’s finger and held it tight.

“I’ve never known him so lost for words,” Jared laughed as everyone edged over to where Noah was seated, a contented baby in his arms.

“I think she likes you,” Jensen said, seeing a look of acceptance on the face of all three boys, as Noah begrudgingly handed his precious cargo to Jacob.

“Hi there,” Jacob said, stroking a finger down Alex’s cheek before looking at Jared and smiling, before handing her over to Joshua, who was eagerly awaiting his turn.

“She’s beautiful,” Joshua said, finally getting to hold his baby sister. Joshua looked back and forth between Jared and Jensen, his face wreathed in smiles.

It was late when Jared ushered his nephews from the room, Noah pressing a kiss to Alex’s forehead before leaving ahead of Jared.

“I’ll come back later,” Jared promised, bending to give Jensen a kiss on the mouth, and stroking his daughter’s cheek.

“When are they coming home?” Noah said, almost running in an effort to keep up with Jared and his brothers.”

“The day after tomorrow, Jared said, slowing down to accommodate Noah. Joshua and Jacob walked on ahead.

“Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to spend with them once they leave the hospital,” Jared promised, as they made their way to the car, Joshua climbing into the passenger seat as soon as Jared pressed the key fob.

The drive home was quiet, Noah falling asleep with his head on Jacob’s shoulder, Jacob lifting his arm to curve it around his brother, pulling him in close.

“Pass him here,” Jared said, stooping to pick up Noah from the backseat, hefting him on to his shoulder and carrying him into the house, laying him down onto the couch.

“Pasta for dinner,” Jared said before phoning his mother to ask if she could watch the boys while he visited Jensen. Jared knew Jensen would be home in a couple of days, but he needed to spend as much time with his lover and their new daughter as he possibly could before they introduced Alex to the world.

Dinner was a quiet affair, the two older boys tired after being woken so early by Noah, who was still a little sleepy from his afternoon nap, falling asleep late and waking up at the crack of dawn.

Jared was loading the dishwasher when his mother arrived, Gerald not far behind.

“Give that to me,” Sherri said taking the plate from Jared, Gerald already in the living room with the boys.

“Go, I’ve got this.” Sherri reassured Jared.

Jared smiled at his mother, not knowing what he’d do without her support of Jared and his burgeoning family.

“Thank you!” Jared said, heartfelt, as he reached for his car keys, and made his way outside to his car. He drove to the hospital in record time, desperate to be with Jensen, pulling his car into the parking lot and making his way to Jensen’s hospital room.

“Hey,” Jared said, entering Jensen’s room and finding him sitting up in bed, feeding Alex.

“Hey,” Jensen said, finishing feeding and, rubbing Alex’s back as she nestled into Jensen’s chest.

“You look exhausted,” Jared said, worried. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Jensen said, stifling a yawn. “I’m just tired.” Jensen continued, handing Alex to Jared so he could put her in her crib, and then making way for Jared to sit down.

Jared edged toward Jensen, easing himself down onto the bed. He just wanted to be with Jensen. “Move over,” Jared said, kicking off his shoes and laying down beside Jensen, one arm wrapped around Jensen, bringing him in close.

“Sleep,” Jared urged. “I’ll watch her.”

Jared waited for Jensen to fall asleep, Jensen’s gentle snoring pulling Jared down into a soft slumber. Neither were aware of the nurse opening the door, taking one look at Jared, his arms wrapped around Jensen and holding him tight as Alex slept in her crib something she was loathed to disturb. Stealing one more look at the lovers, she flicked off the over-head light instead and left just the nightlight to illuminate the sleeping trio.

Jensen mumbled something in his sleep, causing Jared to tighten the hold he had on Jensen, nuzzling his face in Jensen’s hair.

“Love you,” Jensen breathed drowsily.

“I love you too,” Jared whispered, smiling.

They’d been through so much; both good and bad, mostly bad, but they’d come through it together.

They’d come through it stronger.

They’d come through it as a family.