Title: Deception - Part 1
For full Header details please see Master Post
May 18th, 2012
Jensen gnawed on his bottom lip and tried to harden his heart against the plaintive meowing coming from the box in his arms as he pushed through the door of the shelter. It wasn’t his fault he was here with them, in fact he was the good guy in this crap, it wasn’t him that had just left four little kittens in a box by the dumpster behind his apartment. So he wasn’t the one that should be feeling guilty.
The shelter smelled like all shelters probably did, a mix of urine, feces and some sort of cleaner laying heavy in the air trying to blot out the smell. Still it looked clean enough, the cement floor was cracked but clean, the walls were covered with various posters and flyers, praising adoption of a rescue animal, reminding anyone glancing at it to spay or neuter their pets, the shelter rules, signs asking for donations, signs asking for volunteers, and the long desk at the other end of the short room seemed tidy enough, the papers and pamphlets were neatly stacked but there was no one on the other side.
“Shit.” He groaned and glanced back the way he had come. The door had been unlocked and the open sign was on, the red glow reflected in the window was a mute testimony to that.
He sighed as the box in his arms meowed again.
“If I could keep you guys I would.” He muttered softly, mostly for his own benefit, trying to ease the guilt. “But I can barely take care of myself and the apartment building has a no pet rule.” Which was probably why he had stumbled upon them in the first place. Somebody had a cat and didn’t want to be caught with a batch of kittens too. It was easier to hide one cat than five. Resentment twisted in his gut, this should be their job, whoever “they” were, not his.
Gently placing the box on the desk, he tried to peer down the long hallway that disappeared further into the building.
Jensen stood back, keeping one hand protectively on the top of the box, keeping the flaps closed. He already learned the hard way on the drive there that no matter how small the kittens inside were, the little buggers could escape, at least he was still on a side street when the little black one had made a dash for freedom. Though there wasn’t much freedom to be had in the cab of Jensen’s beat up 1984 truck but the little guy had given it his best shot. It had taken Jensen ten minutes to coax him out from under the bench seat after he had managed to find a parking spot along the curb.
“Sorry about that.”
Jensen felt his mouth go dry as the owner of the voice appeared at the mouth of the hallway. The guy was tall, a good couple inches or so taller than Jensen and he was no slouch at six one, with shoulder length brown hair that curled around his ears and along his neck, and hazel eyes that tilted up at the corners, like a cat or perhaps a fox and when he smiled he had dimples.
After all Jensen had gone through over the last couple years, he had been fairly confident that he was asexual but apparently not, not if the way his palms were suddenly sweaty and the way his heart suddenly started to pound.
“We’re technically not open till eight but,” the guy glanced around Jensen and then back, “it looks like somebody forgot to shut off the open sign when they closed yesterday and Sandy obviously didn’t lock the door back up when she came in through the front this morning. That’s why they tell us to come through the back when we open in the morning, that way we don’t have to worry about someone wandering in while we’re getting everything done before we open…”
Jensen blinked at the onslaught of words, hell I thought I liked coffee first thing in the morning
Suddenly the guy’s mouth slammed shut and his cheeks turned dark and Jensen didn’t find that endearing at all.
“Sorry, I’m not usually allowed up front. Sandy says I tend to ramble on and on when a simple “how can I help you” would suffice.” He ran a hand over his face, up into his hair, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “So good morning Sir, I’m Jared Padalecki, the vet here at Animal Friends Humane Society. How can I help you?”
Jensen couldn’t help the way his lips twitched and decided that Dr. Padalecki had to be more addicted to caffeine than he was, no matter what the good Doctor had to say.
“I found them beside the dumpster behind my apartment building this morning when I went to chuck a bag of garbage out before heading to work.” The truth was that he had kicked the box, not hard; more of a not so gentle nudge but it had been enough to start the kittens crying and subsequently giving him a shock. But he wasn’t going to go into that much detail with the good Doctor. He didn’t want the guy to think that he had a mean streak when it came to animals and maybe he didn’t want the guy to stop smiling at him.
Just as Dr. Padalecki raised an eyebrow in question and said, “Them?” the box meowed.
“Kittens.” Jensen couldn’t help but explain the obvious as he carefully opened the flaps of the cardboard box so that Dr. Padalecki could take a look inside. “Four of them.”
“I see.” The Doctor murmured before he reached in and pulled out one of the two black and white ones. Holding it up, he grinned as it tried to curl around his hand and whined pitifully. “Hello. How are you doing little guy?”
“Well they look like they’re old enough to be weaned.” Dr. Padalecki said after a moment of looking the kitten over before pressing it up against his chest.
It wasn’t one of the things that had gone through Jensen’s mind when he had realized just what was in that box by the dumpster but he couldn’t help but feel relieved. “That’s good right? They have a better chance of surviving if they weren’t taken from their mother till after right?”
“Yeah.” The Doctor grinned as a soft thump shook the box just before a pair of black paws and an equally dark head popped up over the side accompanied by the sound of small nails scrabbling against the inside of the box. “And they seem pretty active which generally means that they’re healthy.”
“Why am I not surprised that it’s you.” Jensen muttered good naturedly as he scooped the black kitten up and held him against his chest. “Houdini.”
Jensen shrugged and felt his cheeks warm, “He tried to make a big escape on the way here. He was probably disappointed when he realized the farthest he could get was under my bench seat.”
Dr. Padalecki grinned as he exchanged the kitten he had been holding for one of its siblings, giving it a cursory once over before doing the same with the almost completely white one, just one front paw black. “They all seem aware of their surroundings, curious and none of them seem malnourished.”
“So bright eyed, bushy tailed and well fed.” Jensen couldn’t help but grin as he held up Houdini and look him in the eyes. “Good to know.”
“In layman’s terms,” the Doctor nodded, “yup.”
Jensen pulled the struggling kitten back against his chest for a second longer, forcing himself to not cave in and call this whole thing off as it butted up against the bottom of his chin. “So there’s a good chance they’ll be adopted then, right?”
The smile faded slightly from the Doctor’s face, “Well they’re kittens and we typically see more kittens and puppies rescued then older animals so their odds are better.”
Jensen wasn’t sure he actually liked the sound of that. He hadn’t been looking for “odds are better”, he had been more hoping for a “yes” or even better, a line of caring people behind him just waiting for their chance to adopt one. “But they won’t be euthanized right? This is a no kill shelter isn’t it?” He had phoned Information from his cell as soon as he had the box in his truck looking for the closest no kill shelter and this was the address he had been given. The woman who had helped him had better been right or this was going to get awkward real quick.
“Yes, we don’t euthanize unless it’s absolutely necessary. Some animals come in too hurt or too sick and it would be cruel to try to keep them alive. Some animals are too dangerous for even us to handle and it would be heartless to expect them to live their lives out in a small cage with no chance to do much more than get a few minutes in the dog run for as long as it takes to clean their cage. But for animals that only need time and the right people to love them, we keep them until they find their forever home.”
Dr. Padalecki gently placed the white kitten back in the box and reached for Houdini. Jensen’s hand instinctively tightened around the kitten before he caught himself and slowly passed him over.
“You sure you want to surrender all four?” He asked as he placed Houdini in the box and closed the flaps, one of his hands instinctively resting on the top of it.
“I don’t want to surrender any of them.” Jensen admitted quietly. It didn’t matter if he really could barely take care of himself, it was lonely in his small apartment and it would be nice to have something, even a small pride of cats to come home to every night but he knew better. Other than handing over the keys to the ‘84 Ford and a couple thousand dollars, Jensen’s parents really wanted nothing to do with him, not since he had made himself the black sheep of the family at fourteen so he couldn’t depend on them to help him out if he got caught with even one cat, never mind four. He just couldn’t take them. “But I can’t keep them either.” He forced himself to smile for the Doctor, pushing back thoughts of his past and scrambling for something witty to say. “Don’t want to be known as the crazy cat guy.”
The Doctor chuckled, “Nah, couldn’t have that.” He eyed Jensen up and down, “In a few years if you’re single then maybe but pretty sure your girlfriend would object to being known as the crazy cat family.”
Jensen wasn’t sure if Dr. Padalecki was fishing for information or not but he was pretty sure he wasn’t particularly comfortable with it. It wasn’t because of the gay thing, Jensen knew he was gay even after what had happened in Juvy, it wasn’t even because Dr. Padalecki was the first guy that had piqued an interest in Jensen since Juvy but because he just had too much baggage to be any good to anyone. Plus he damn well knew he didn’t deserve to be happy. Riley never got a chance to be happy because of what Jensen had done, why should Jensen get that chance?
“No girlfriend.” Jensen shook his head, “Never gonnna be a girlfriend, truth be told. What I do have is a landlord with a strict no pets policy and I can’t afford to lose my place.”
He swallowed against the flare of something, hope, excitement, pride maybe, when the Doctor’s eyes lit up and broke contact to stare down at the box as one of the kittens started to cry again. Jensen was pretty sure it was Houdini and it only made him feel worse to realize that not only had he named the damn thing, he was almost positive he could recognize it’s voice.
“You could come back tomorrow and check up on them if you’d like.”
Jensen’s head shot up and he stared at the Doctor, “What?”
Dr. Padalecki shrugged and scratched at the back of his neck, “It’s not usual but you seem pretty interested in their wellbeing so if you’d like to come back tomorrow I can let you know how their checkup went. Let you know how they’re adjusting to being with us.”
“I…I don’t know.” Jensen crossed his arms over his chest to stop petting the outside of the box. “It would kind of make it worse wouldn’t it? Seeing them one day and then maybe not seeing them the next?”
The tentative smile on the Doctor’s face faded and Jensen felt more guilt rush in to weigh him down. He knew the doctor hadn’t asked him to come back strictly for the kittens and Jensen knew better than to show any kind of interest because he would just fuck things up. And he would only get more attached to the fur balls if he came back and he was far too attached already as it was. But he did want to know that they were okay, the quick once over Dr. Padalecki had given them, really told him nothing. Just because something looked okay didn’t mean it was.
He’d learnt that the hard way.
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Dr. Padalecki said and started hunting around under the desktop for something, struggling to still keep one hand on the top of the box.
“No.” Jensen shook his head and carefully placed his own hand on top of the box, close but not touching the Doctor’s. “I’ll make sure they stay put. And I think I’d like to come back. Make sure they’re really okay.”
The doctor looked from his hand to Jensen’s face before slowly pulling his own hand away, a slight smile lifting the corners of his mouth. “Thanks. I don’t usually do intakes or adoptions but Sandy and Sophia must still be busy in the back helping Chad get everything ready for the day so you’re stuck with me.”
Against his better judgment Jensen was okay with that but then Jensen seemed to being going against his better judgment a lot this morning. Still he had a job to get to and no matter how laid back Jeffrey Morgan seemed to be, Jensen was pretty sure that he wouldn’t be real happy if Jensen showed up late after less than a month at the accounting firm.
Twisting his wrist, he checked the time on his watch. Twenty to eight, he was going to have to skip breakfast, not that that was going to be some great loss, fast food was still fast food even if you threw an egg into the mix, but if he managed to get out of there quickly he could still make it to work on time.
“You need to go?”
“Kinda.” He admitted and started to fidget from foot to foot.
Jared made a noise of triumph as he pulled a clipboard out from under the desk and set it down beside the box. “Okay, well you said you found them and I’m pretty sure I would have heard about you if you had been here before so there won’t be a fee for surrendering them to us.”
Jensen frowned, “I’m sorry? Heard about me?”
Dr. Padalecki blushed again, “Uh…yeah. The girls, they…well it’s just you…” he blew out a breath harshly. “You’ve got nice…distinctive eyes. He scratched at the back of his neck again, “The girls would have been going on about that shade of green…and yeah, anyway so, like I said no fee for first time surrendering but I am going to need you to sign here at the bottom of this sheet. It’s just to verify that you are willingly surrendering these cats to the Animal Friends Humane Society and understand that once you’ve done so that you are not able to return and expect them to be given back to you.”
Jensen had no idea what the Doctor had said after saying that Jensen had nice eyes. And Jensen really had to stop noticing that the Doctor had noticed his eyes in the first place because Jensen could not have this. Damn it he had been happy, well not happy, not by a long shot, but had accepted his lot in life, willing to forgo more than casual friendships with anyone but then he just had to stumble across a box of kittens and then meet the good looking, oh who was he kidding, attractive Doctor who seemed to have more than just a professional interest in Jensen. And instead of doing the right thing, the intelligent thing, Jensen had agreed to come back and see him again, under the pretense of checking up on cats he could never take home. It was ridiculous.
But the words to back out just wouldn’t form.
What the hell was he getting himself into?***
“So as you can see,” Jeffrey Morgan leaned back in the leather desk chair and smiled tensely at Jensen, “it’s all fairly straightforward.”
Jensen felt his head dip forward once and straighten without conscious effort and his train of thought ground to a stop. How had he gone from sprinting into the small accounting firm with only one minute to spare still feeling off kilter after his encounter with one Doctor Padalecki to his boss explaining to him that Jeffrey had been voted head of the non-profit board that oversaw the Animal Friends Humane Society and after a brief overview of the shelter’s books was sending Jensen there to audit them. It wasn’t that Jensen was worried that Jeffrey somehow had the power to shut down the shelter, or even would if he could, four out of the five pictures decorating Jeffrey’s office featured his dog, a Rottweiler mix named Bisou, but the fact that it was the very same shelter that Jensen had surrendered the kittens to that morning. And as much as Jensen had told Doctor Padalecki that he would be back to see how the kittens were doing, he had been having a very spirited argument with himself on the way to the office that morning, weighing the pros and cons of actually going back. He had pretty much convinced himself that it would be best for all concerned if he just stayed away.
That wasn’t going to happen if his boss expected him to spend the next who the hell knew how long, in the same building with the doctor in question.
“Are you sure I’m the best one for this?” Jensen hedged, “I mean you said that from just a quick once over, you know that the Accountant the board had hired for the shelter was skimming for years. And I’m just finished school and just started here…”
“Listen Jensen,” Jeffrey sat forward, settled his forearms over his desk; hands clasped together and stared hard into Jensen’s eyes. “If I didn’t think you were up for this, I wouldn’t have offered you the opportunity. “
Jensen got it. Jeffrey Morgan might appear to be easy going with a ready smile, a quick laugh and his idea of work attire, regardless of who his firm’s clients might be away from the building, never included a tie or suit jacket but there was an iron will hidden beneath it all and when he offered a client to one of his accountants they damn well better take the opportunity or there would be consequences. What those consequences might be, Jensen hadn’t been in the firm long enough to even begin to understand but from the quiet warning in Jeffrey’s tone, Jensen was pretty sure they wouldn’t be pleasant.
But on the other hand, he had only just stared working as an accountant and wasn’t sure he was ready for this kind of task. It wasn’t just taking on a client who thought that a shoebox full of receipts, bills and returned checks was sufficient book keeping. Jensen was expected to go back through the last eight years of the shelter’s books, dating back to when their old accountant had first been hired by the board and go through everything with a fine toothcomb. What if he missed something and made things worse? It wasn’t just his job on the line, the shelter and ultimately the not for profit board that oversaw it, had to face the IRS.
And that didn’t even factor in the handsome six foot something, hazel eyed, shoulder length wavy haired Vet that Jensen had felt an instant draw toward that morning and Jensen would be working in the same building with him every day for the next however long.
Jensen wasn’t sure which thought was twisting his stomach in knots. The professional in him wanted it to be the idea of his career ending in flames practically before it began but his conscious mind believed it had less to do with that and more to do with the idea of seeing the Vet again, of being happy when he had no right to be.
Swallowing down the faint taste of bile, Jensen forced a reassuring smile for his boss, “I’m honored by your faith in me sir. When would you like me to start?”
Jeffrey smiled back, genuine and pushed out of his chair. “How ‘bout now?” He stepped around his mahogany desk and waited for Jensen to get to his feet before ushering him toward the door of his office. “Of course you’ll need to go to the shelter, since the accountant that did the books for the board was a consultant, everything was kept there.”Of course it was.
“But if you find your surroundings too distracting there, just let me know and I’ll arrange to have everything brought back here. For now though, I think it’s best if I take you over there and introduce you to everyone, show you where the files are stored and let you get at it.”
Jensen let Jeffrey lead him from the office and into the plush hallway; a warm palm pressed against the stiff cotton at the small of Jensen’s back and focused on counting the steps between his boss’ office to the back exit that led to the employee parking lot instead of the pounding of his heart.
“And how many times do I have to remind you to call me Jeffrey, Jensen?”***
Jensen glanced up at the sound of fingers tapping against the frame of the office door, though to call the room an office was optimistic at best, his best guess was that someone had converted a storage closet into an office by forcing a desk, a cheap desk chair on casters and a phone into the center of the file box and office supply clutter and proclaiming something asinine like “this works” or “perfect” or something equally stupid and into the grinning face of the only person he hadn’t been personally introduced to by Jeffrey as he had been whisked through the back halls of the shelter hours before.
“Doctor Padalecki.” He managed a half smile and tilted his head from side to side, trying to work out the knots slowly forming in the muscles in his neck and shoulders. Jeffrey’s suspicion that the accountant the board had hired had been skimming had been correct. Jensen could only hope that the theft didn’t go back all the way to when the consultant had first been hired or he was never again going to have an office with a window, or even a real office or enough space to walk without having to step over boxes of files or computer paper.
“I know I told you that you were welcome to come back and see for yourself that the kittens were doing fine but this…” he gestured around the room with a hand, “seems a little extreme.”
Jensen couldn’t help but snort, “Yeah I decided to become a CPA because I knew that somewhere in my future lay this exact thing.”
“So you didn’t rush to your job this morning and quit because you couldn’t stand the thought of being away from Houdini and the others until they found their forever home?” The doctor sounded crushed but the weight of his words were belied by the way his lips kept twitching into a grin.
Taking a slow scan around the room, going so far as to make a show of looking behind him at the overflowing shelves, Jensen turned back and shrugged his shoulders apologetically. “No.”
He shook his head and sighed dramatically as he leaned against the door frame, “Disappointing.”
Fighting back a grin, Jensen turned back to the open file containing a stack of paper stapled together listing the donations for the shelter for the year 2010 and the corresponding receipts beneath. So far he had only found two thousand dollars difference between the receipts, the print out and the accounting software. Only.Jesus
“You know,” the doctor continued, “if you keep frowning like that, you’re gonna wrinkle prematurely.”
Jensen raised his eyebrows and looked over the tops of his glasses toward him but couldn’t put words to the strange swirl of emotions swooping in his stomach. It felt like his ego was doing a childish dance at what seemed to be an offhanded compliment, confusion because Jared seemed genuinely interested in him, why else would he have come to this corner of the shelter to find Jensen and anxiety because it finally occurred to him that he had been flirting back. Jensen didn’t want to lead the vet on, not when his only priority was to get through the mess that Jeffrey had dropped in his lap and get back to his, only slightly bigger but with a window, office at the firm and his self-imposed solitude.
He tried to ignore the curl of warmth in his chest as he watched Jared’s cheeks start to darken.
“I…uh…” Jared stuttered and scratched at one cheek. “You aren’t planning on sitting here all night are you? After all, it’s Friday night, the shelter’s closed and now that you’re one of us, you need to come with us for a “thank you God the week is over” beer.”
Jensen let the urge to tease him about the awkward topic change to pass as it could quite possibly lead to Jared thinking that Jensen was interested in more than being work acquaintances. Speaking of, “The shelter’s closed?” He glanced down at his watch and couldn’t quite believe it when he realized that it was after six already.
“Yeah.” Jared straightened, “It closes at six. So you gonna come or what?”
“I…uh.” It was Jensen’s turn to stumble over his words. He didn’t want Jared or the others he had been introduced to earlier in the day to think that he wanted to make a bunch of new friends but he didn’t want to make things difficult for however long it took him to slog through the shelter’s books for Jeffrey.
“Are you and new guy comin’ or what?”
Jared turned his head and grinned at the blond haired guy as he appeared in the doorway beside him, slinging an arm around his shoulders and leaning against his shorter frame. “Just waiting on his answer.”
“Oof.” The newcomer grunted and pushed his shoulder into Jared’s side, forcing him to stand straight but didn’t try to dislodge the arm around his shoulders. “Jesus Gigantor. I get that you like being the tallest guy around but quit trying to make me shorter by throwing your fat ass on me every chance you get.”
“Fat.” Jared sputtered in mock outrage. “Fat?” He took his arm away from around his shoulders and looked from him to Jensen. “Do I look fat to you?”
Jared Padalecki looked anything but fat to Jensen. With the long, white lab coat gone, Jensen could clearly make out the muscles in Jared’s arms and his toned chest under his fitted dress shirt. Friendly when Jensen had barely stepped out of his office all day and had pretty much avoided all contact with anyone working at the shelter, good looking and nicely instead of obscenely built. It wasn’t everything Jensen would look for in a man, if he was looking for a man but it was a start.
But he wasn’t looking.
“No?” He finally muttered as it occurred to him that both of them were staring at him, clearly waiting for an answer or perhaps thinking Jensen had a few screws loose or maybe both.
“He doesn’t sound convinced.”
The blond, Chad, Jensen was certain that Jeffrey had introduced him as Chad Murray and hadn’t Jared mentioned a Chad when Jensen had come in to drop off the kittens first thing that morning?
“I think you should be insulted.”
Jensen did not like the twinkle in Chad’s eyes nor the corresponding grin on Jared’s face as he looked from Jensen to Chad and back.
“I think I am.”
He was grinning but it didn’t quell the sudden urge Jensen felt to try to make up for it. He didn’t know Jared well enough to know if he was one of those guys that would play off insults even if they bothered him. And even if Jensen hadn’t meant to insult him what if he had? He had to work with these people, even if he had no intention of making friends with any of them, he didn’t want them shunning him either.
“No! I didn’t mean…”
Jared held up a hand, “The only way to make up for this is to come with us and buy me a beer.”
“A beer.” Jensen repeated slowly, watching the grin spread wider on Jared’s face and ignored Chad’s chuckling.
Jensen scrubbed a hand over his face, “Look I’ve got a lot to work to do and…”
“It’s Friday.” Chad pressed, “And you insulted Jay here and trust me, you don’t want the girls finding out that you insulted their favorite vet and didn’t try to make amends, they will make your life a living hell.”
“Chad!” Jared admonished.
“What? It’s true!” He shot back, “Sandy and Sophia think the sun rises and falls on you and you know it.” He turned back to Jensen, “Trust me dude, it’s best if you just make amends now.”
Jensen hadn’t insulted Jared and he was pretty sure that Jared damn well knew it but there was something about the look in Chad’s eyes that promised that there would be some sort of retribution if Jensen declined.
“I can’t stay for long.” He hedged but there was nervous excitement tightening his chest. As much as he knew that it was better for everyone, especially himself that he kept to himself, he hadn’t spent any time outside of classes when he had been in school with anyone for an extended period of time. And as much as he had fought to convince himself that it didn’t matter, that he was content spending all of his free time on his own, a part of him needed
some companionship, if only for one night.
“Great, so we’re all going.” Chad clapped his hands together, “Now let’s go before all the tables are taken at the Lobo.” ***
Jensen pressed his back against the warm vinyl of the booth and tried to disappear. Going out with a group of people seemed like an okay idea at the time, something that excited and terrified him at the thought but now that he was there, the excitement had faded and all that he was left with was the terror. It was clear that he had no social skills anymore, he had no idea how to relate to anyone and he was pretty sure if he opened his mouth he was going to come off as a complete idiot. Which perhaps, that was exactly what he was, an idiot with no social skills whatsoever and he really needed to be home before he opened his mouth and really did say something stupid because if he said something stupid then he’d have to explain why he was a social moron which would mean he’d have to explain his past. And if he thought that not coming out tonight would alienate him from everyone else at the shelter, his past sure as hell would.
“So Jensen where did you grow up?”
Fingers instinctively tightening around the neck of the bottle, Jensen swallowed hard and focused in on the petite brunette across from him. He was pretty sure she was Sophia because when Chad had tried to sit down beside her, she had spun on the vinyl, pressed her back against the wall and pushed against him with her feet until he had no choice but to slide out of the booth and let the other girl, Sandy, slide in to sit beside her. Chad had grumbled something too low to really hear over the music before grabbing a chair from a nearby table and sitting at the head of their both while Jared had slid in beside Jensen.Not thinking about that.
After all it didn’t mean anything, Sophia had sat at the booth first, refused to let Chad sit beside her and Sandy had jumped in to rescue her friend before Jared could. There had been no other choice then but for Jared to sit down beside Jensen and if Jared was taking up so much room that their thighs were pressed together, it didn’t mean anything. Jared was a big guy and needed lots of space that was all.
Damn it! He wasn’t thinking about Jared sitting beside him, he wasn’t thinking about the warmth pressed against the outside of his left thigh. Shit! Hadn’t Sandy, or was it Sophia, asked him a question?
“Richardson.” He took a chance, hoping that Sophia had asked what his hometown was. He took a long pull from the bottle and gripped tightly in his hand, hoping that that was the end of it.
“So why come to San Antonio?” The other girl, Jensen was pretty sure he had it right and she was Sandy, asked.
Everybody was looking at him, suddenly interested in nothing else but him and all Jensen wanted to do was sink into the floor.
“School.” He shrugged, dropping his free hand down to his thigh to dig his fingers into the jean clad flesh.“It’s not that we’re not proud of how you turned your life around Jensen but for now I think it’s best if you maybe go elsewhere for a while.” His mother patted his chest while his father threw Jensen’s duffle into the box of his older brother’s old 84 Ford truck in the driveway. “Just till…well it’s just that your daddy is still pretty upset with everything that’s happened.”
Upset seemed like an understatement. When they had come to pick Jensen up from Juvy, his father hadn’t come into the building and had yet to speak a word to him.
“San Antonio has a pretty good college. Maybe you should head out that way.”
“And accounting is what you’ve always wanted to do?” Sandy pressed.
Jensen could remember wanting to be a cowboy then an astronaut and then a firefighter but that had been a long time ago. Then after the trial all that mattered was keeping his head down and out of trouble, the easiest way to do that was to stick around the Juvy library and finish school and it turned out that he was good with numbers, it just made sense to go with that.
“Don’t like talking about yourself do you?” Chad pointed at him with the mouth of his bottle.
“No, no.” Jensen hurried to try to make something up, something plausible. “I’m a CPA, how interesting do you think I could possibly be?”
“What are your favorite sport teams? What do you like to do when you’re not crunching numbers? Do you like camping or fishing or hunting? Horseback riding or dirt biking? What about your family?” Chad leaned forward, his elbow was pressing against Jared’s forearm on the sticky wooden table. “Come on dude, spill!”
“Chad.” Jared hissed and pushed him back into his chair. “What the hell?”
“I’m just interested.” He shrugged sulkily.
“Just ignore him.” Jared nodded toward Chad, “Chad doesn’t understand that not everyone is like him and is going to share everything about their life with him upon first meeting him.”
“Bite me jackass.” Chad grumbled.
“Nah,” Jared shook his head, “You might like that and even though I’m into dick, I’m not into yours.”
Jensen wasn’t sure what to feel about Jared casually admitting that he was either bi or gay. On one hand, he was flattered that it hadn’t just been his imagination that morning when he thought that Jared had been checking him out but on the other hand it made him feel uncomfortable since there was no way that Jensen was going to allow anything to happen between them, especially now that they would be working in the same building for the unforeseeable future.
“Dude!” Chad sputtered around a mouthful of beer as the girls broke into laughter, “Chicks not dicks! You know that about me!”
“I don’t know Chad. You seem awfully interested in Jensen all things considered.” Sophia teased.
Jensen had started to feel a little of the tension leave his shoulders as the conversation turned toward Chad but his spine stiffened at Sophia’s off handed comment. Was this where he was supposed to say something about his own sexual orientation? Or insinuate something about Chad’s?
He watched as Chad’s eyes flickered around the booth before he turned his head and scanned the bar, either looking for an escape or perhaps about to offer to get the next round just to get a breather. Maybe Jensen should offer first, after all the whole premise for him coming out tonight was to buy Jared a beer to make up for Jensen “insulting” him but two rounds in and Jared had vetoed Jensen paying for anything yet.
“Hey Sandy,” Chad leered as he turned back to the group. “Looks like Mr. Hot Ass is working tonight.”
“What?” She twisted in the booth until she could see around Chad to the bar. “Where?”
It was stupid considering Jensen had no clue as to who they were talking about but it didn’t stop his gaze from travelling to the bar, breath catching in his throat at the bartender clearly just starting his shift. His hair was longer, just past his shoulders and in the low light Jensen couldn’t make out the color but he would bet it was still the light brown it had been at fourteen. And he had filled out in the nine years since the last time he saw him in the courtroom but then Christian and Jason had always been the brawlers out of the four of them so it was no stretch of the imagination to think that he had spent most of his time in Juvy in the weight room, adding bulk to his attitude.
They had never learned which Juvy in which city the others had been sent to but the way Jensen’s life was, it didn’t surprise him in the least that one of them had been sent to San Antonio and it didn’t surprise him that not only had Christian stayed after being released but that Jensen would end up in the bar that Christian worked at.
It didn’t mean that Jensen wanted or was even willing to let Christian know he was there. He might still live with his past but that didn’t mean that he wanted anyone here to know about it. Get out before he sees you.
His heart was pounding in his chest and his hands were sweaty and shaking and he knew that if any of the others looked at him they would know something was up. Then there would be more awkward questions and Jensen didn’t have any answers other than the truth. He couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to anyone about Riley.
He pressed his thigh harder against Jared’s hoping to catch his attention while the girls giggled about how good Christian looked in his blue t-shirt and tight blue jeans and Chad alternated between glaring at them and scanning the small dance floor. “I should go.”
“Huh?” Jared turned to him, “Why? Not having a good time?”
He honestly looked concerned and Jensen instantly felt bad for the guy. Up until they had started trying to learn about his past, Jensen, while not necessarily having a great time, could honestly say it had been good. He had made himself forget how much he liked having other people to talk to about something besides accounts and tax laws.
“No, no.” He shook his head, “I just had a long day and think I should head home.”
“Well if you’re sure.” Jared mumbled and started to slide out of the booth.
“He’s coming over!” Sophia practically squealed.
Jensen squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed hard, Please not Christian, not Christian. Anyone but Christian.
It wasn’t that Jensen had built this elaborate world for himself; there were no long winded lies or tales of a fantastic childhood that he missed miserably. In fact, Jensen tried very hard not to share anything about himself, not made up tales or the ugly truth. And Christian, Christian was a part of the ugliest truth of all.
“How’s my make-up? My hair? Oh God that rat Terrier in cage three peed on me today, do I smell like dog pee?”
Sandy’s voice was almost lost under the thudding bass of the song blaring over the speakers or maybe that was Jensen’s heart.
A warm palm landed on his shoulder and fingers squeezed into his skin, “You okay?”
Trying to ignore the trembling in his body, Jensen blinked open his eyes and turned to stare up at Jared but could do nothing to block out or stop seeing Christian come to a sudden stop behind him.
“Jesus Christ Ackles it is you.”
It was like everything around Jensen slowed to a stop as he watched Jared’s eyes widen in surprise and somewhere in the back of his mind it registered that the girls had gone quiet, even Chad’s mumbling seemed to have ended. He had to do something, it was clear that Christian knew Jensen and if he didn’t acknowledge Christian right the hell now, the others were going to start to know something was seriously fucked up.
“Kane.” He managed a small smile as he forced himself to slide from the booth, noticing and instantly missing the warmth of Jared’s reassuring hand as it slid from his shoulder.
Christian took a step toward him and it took everything in Jensen not to take a step back, not seeing the boy in the man before him that used to be one of his best friends, just his past rearing its ugly head. But there must have been something in his gaze because Christian stilled and didn’t reach out, only titled his head to the side and eyed him up and down.
“How you been doing Jensen?”Still feeling guilty for killing Riley. You?
The words were right there, right on the tip of his tongue but even if they had been alone Jensen wasn’t sure if he would be able to say that. He might live every day with Riley’s ghost and the memories of that night never faded but looking at Christian he suddenly felt something he had never felt before, anger.
That whole fucking prank had been Christian and Steve’s idea, all of it. So what if Jensen had gone along with it from the first word that had come from Christian’s mouth about it? He had been young and stupid and he was still paying for his part. Jensen had chosen a career that kept him away from most of the rest of the world. Jensen had chosen to forego making friends or even close acquaintances because he had a hand at taking that opportunity away from Riley. But there Christian was, a bartender, smiling and laughing and probably flirting with every girl in sight. Living his life like they hadn’t ended someone else’s, like Riley didn’t matter.
He forced his jaw to unclench, “Living. You?”
Christian shrugged awkwardly, “I’m good.”
“Of course you are.” He couldn’t stop the words even as his mind screamed that he needed to get out before he said something that he wouldn’t be able to explain away easily. “I gotta go.”
He managed a weak smile for the girls and Chad before he turned it on Jared. “Thanks for inviting me out tonight.”
Jared raised an eyebrow, “I’ll see you on Monday.”
It was clear that that wasn’t what he wanted to say but he was letting Jensen escape. Jensen could only hope that Jared wouldn’t corner him about it on Monday.
“Of course.” He muttered and started to brush past Christian, “It was nice to see you Christian.”
“I gotta go back to the bar.”
Christian fell into step beside him and kept with him even as Jensen veered toward the exit. Jensen concentrated on not curling his hands into fists because he knew, he knew
that Jared and the others would be watching them and Jensen knew his behavior tonight would already be cause for speculation.
“You know Jensen, they can’t toss us into the can for talking to each other.” Christian threw out carelessly, “They could split us up as kids but we paid our dues and we’re free. So long as we don’t do something illegal…”
Jensen twisted his head and glared at Christian, “Like murdering a friend?” He hissed.
“That was an accident.” Christian hissed back, grabbing Jensen’s arm and pulling him to a stop.
“Not according to the Texas legal system.” He growled, ignoring the few people around them that could hear them over the music and completely forgetting that they had an audience of people that Jensen had to work with, that even if they couldn’t hear what he and Christian were saying, they could see them. He pulled out of Christian’s grasp but leaned into his space. “And me. Not according to me.”
Christian shook his head, “Jensen…”
“No!” He spat and took a step back to put some space between them before he gave into the urge to punch Christian in his sanctimonious face. “Just stay away from me.”
He spun on his heels, more than prepared to leave and never return but Christian’s next words stopped him cold.
“Steve’s dead and no one’s seen Jason.”
Something cold slithered down Jensen’s back and an alarm went off in the back of his mind. It didn’t make any real sense, people died all the time, it was tragic and heartbreaking but it happened. And for all intents and purposes hadn’t Jensen himself disappeared? This conversation could have very well happened between Christian and Jason and Jensen could have been the one that no one had seen because no way in hell would Jensen’s parents have told Jensen’s “friends” his whereabouts. But something just wouldn’t sit right in Jensen’s gut, something he couldn’t explain or even make sense of himself.
He turned back, “You know that as fact?”
“No I’m making this shit up because clearly I’m a hermit who is desperate for anyone to talk to.” Christian shot back.
“Fuck you Kane.” He spat, glancing toward the booth to see that yes, Jared was still standing where he had been when Jensen had walked away and yes all of them were busy watching him and Christian. “You know nothing about me or my life anymore and I want to keep it that way.”
He raised a hand, warding off Christian, “Just stay away from me.”
He turned and fled from the bar.***
Jensen stared at his cellphone, sitting innocently on the coffee table before him before scrubbing his hands over his face. He had tried so hard to ignore the feeling that something wasn’t right, spending the morning cleaning his apartment from top to bottom. If there was nothing else he had done in the last nine years to make his momma proud of him this would be it. Every surface, including the back of the stove and the top and back of the fridge, wiped down, the tile in the bathroom and kitchen hand scrubbed, the carpet in the bedroom, hallway and living room vacuumed twice. His laundry was washed, dried, folded and not just left on the empty side of his bed to eventually fall to the floor but put away. He had even managed to do the grocery shopping for the coming week but now there was nothing left to do but sit and stare at the T.V. It might have worked if there had been something decent enough to distract him from his thoughts but there hadn’t been.
So instead of either forcing himself to concentrate on the documentary on the Second World War or trying to lose himself in a book, he couldn’t help but think of what Christian had told him the night before.
It should have meant nothing. Shit happened, bad shit, he was proof of that and sometimes people just wanted to disappear and start over somewhere that no one knew them or their past. It shouldn’t matter.
But it did because he could not shake the memory of those threatening letters he had received while in Juvy and all the dark promises of retribution within.
It was sad that Steve was dead and Jensen wanted to know how it happened because they used to be friends but that wasn’t what was really sticking with him. It was Jason disappearing. Jason and Christian had been cut from the same cloth, loud, boisterous and never one not to stand out in a crowd. Jason would not chose to disappear no matter how he felt about his part in Riley’s death, that just was not Jason Manns, at least not the Jason Manns that Jensen had known and he doubted that Jason had changed that much in nine years.
But then Jensen doubted that any of his friends from back then would believe that Jensen would become Michael Rosenbaum’s bitch either but that was exactly what had happened while in Juvy. Jensen might have been a scrapper but he had been a thin, scrawny kid and Mike scared the shit out of all the kids in Juvy in Richardson. There had been rumors that he had been in Juvy because he had killed his parents because they wouldn’t let him go to a senior party when he was a junior and that he had killed another kid, a seventeen year old in the Austin Juvy before he had been transferred to Richardson, beat him to death with his bare hands. The fact was that nobody really knew nor was stupid enough to ask Mike but he was bat shit crazy and as soon as Jensen took Mike up on his offer to be his bitch, nobody dared to bother Jensen, not even after Mike had been transferred from Juvy to maximum security prison when he turned eighteen.
Maybe Jason had changed too, become withdrawn because of his guilt. Maybe he really did just want to disappear and start over where no one knew him and maybe Jensen would never know.
He harshly huffed out a breath, but then again….
He snatched the cell off the coffee table and before he could talk himself out of it punched in a number he had known by heart since he was five.“Hello?”
The sudden dead air hurt and Jensen curled his free hand into a fist and clenched his jaw to keep from calling out for her. It was her choice, she could either talk to him or hang up the phone, Jensen had learned back when he was still in Juvy and only had one precious phone call a week, if he behaved, that he had to let her decide if he was worth talking to that week or not.“Your daddy still isn’t ready to talk to you yet Jensen.”
She never asked how he was doing or tried to pretend to be happy to hear from him but at least she was willing to talk to him. He ignored the ache in his chest, because of him his father had stepped down as Deacon of their church and changed jobs, going so far as to get a job in a neighboring town just so that no one would know that his middle child was a murder. Jensen wasn’t expecting forgiveness anytime soon no matter what his father used to preach about forgiveness.
“Momma, do you ever hear about any of the others? About Jason or Steve or Christian?”“Well of course I do Jensen.”
She hissed sarcastically, “Didn’t I tell you that us mothers exchange Christmas letters every year, letting each other know what our wayward sons are doing now?”
“Momma.” He beseeched.“No Jensen! It was hard enough knowing that the Manns and the Carlson’s and the Kane’s were there in town with us. Do you really think we would socialize with any of them?”
“It’s just that I…” He what? That he had ran into Christian and that he heard Steve had died and that Jason was off the radar? “Just nothing! Don’t you think that you would do better not getting involved with those boys again? Do you not want your father’s love again? What do you think he will think if he finds out that you are hanging around with those miscreants again?”
“Momma…”“Jensen Ross Ackles I suggest you consider if you want to be a part of this family again or not young man. You think hard on it and call me when you have the right answer.”
At least they didn’t have an old rotary phone that she could drop the receiver from an arm’s length away from the base but the click hurt more than a loud crash would have. But it wasn’t really unexpected that she had hung up on him, it was why he had put off calling for as long as he could.
Still he needed to know how Christian knew what he knew. He needed to know that Christian wasn’t just blowing smoke up his ass.
But for answers he was going to have to go back.
He was going to have to go to the Lobo.***
There really wasn’t much difference between the Lobo at night and the Lobo during the day, the lighting was still dim, the atmosphere still smoky and the music still loud, the only real difference was the distinct lack of patrons. Instead of wall to wall bodies crushed together there were only a scant few heavy drinkers scattered throughout the bar, two older men at the bar, three bar stools separating them and allowing them their space to mope privately into their mugs of draft, a woman with bleach blonde hair, heavy black mascara and the puffiness, common among habitual alcoholics, distorting what had once been a beautiful face sitting at a table in the corner and a couple of college age boys loudly laughing while they chased shots of dark amber liquid with beer.
This was both better and worse. At least this time of the day Jensen wouldn’t have to yell to be heard when he asked whoever was working the bar to give Christian his number and let him know that Jensen was looking for him. But on the other hand there would be time for questions and assumptions and Jensen wasn’t about to explain to some stranger why he wanted to talk to Christian.
The sound of bottles rattling in a box snapped Jensen’s attention back to the bar and his breath caught in his throat when he realized that it was Christian himself stocking up for the evening rush. Briefly he considered calling the who thing off, people died, people disappeared, just because it had happened to two people he used to consider a couple of his best friends meant nothing. Except that they were two of the four that had been involved in Riley’s death and those damn letters.
Clenching his hands into fists, Jensen forced himself to walk to the corner of the bar and watched silently as Christian pulled bottles of Ziegenbock out of a box and loaded them into one of the standup coolers behind the bar.
“Hey sorry about that.” Christian apologized blandly as he must have realized that someone was standing just off to his side. “What can I get for…Jensen?”
They stared at each other silently for a long moment before Christian pulled a cold bottle from the cooler and popped the cap as he walked over to the side of the bar. “I didn’t expect to see you here again.”
Jensen watched as he slid the bottle across the bar to him, stared at the condensation just starting to form on the cold glass, “I didn’t ask for this.”
“Call it Southern Hospitality.” Christian picked up a rag from beneath the bar and began wiping along the clean surface absently as he waited for Jensen to speak.
He hadn’t thought this part through yet beyond the general understanding that he needed to talk to Christian, that he needed to know how Christian knew about Steve and Jason and why he knew. But he had thought he would have more time to come up with a plan.
“Didn’t think you’d be working this afternoon.” He stalled, lifting one hand and wrapping it around the sweating bottle, not pulling it closer but not pushing it away either.
“Justin called in a favor.” Christian shrugged, “And since I’m low man on the totem pole around here it’s not like I can say no.”
Jensen nodded slowly, not really understanding but not particularly interested in a long and drawn out explanation either.
“Why are you here Jensen?” Christian finally asked after another long moment of Jensen staring at his beer trying to find the courage to start the conversation he came for and Christian needlessly wiping down the same spot on the bar over and over. “Thought you were pretty clear last night. Didn’t want nothing to do with me or am I wrong?”
“How do you know about Steve and Jason? And why?” He blurted out as he dragged the bottle off the bar and started picking at the label.
Christian snorted and shook his head before he leaned on the bar. “We were friends Jensen and I needed to know that everyone made it out okay, okay? Hell I even went to your folks place to see how you were doing and got met at the door by your dad. Threatened to call the cops and have me charged with trespassing if I didn’t get the hell off his property. Figured you were locked up in the house somewhere doing penance for what happened and if you wanted to contact me, you would.”
“Okay, so what about Jason and Steve?”
Christian cast a look around the bar before resting his forearms on the scarred wood and leaning in closer. “Momma Carlson told me that Steve stole a car the week after he got out of Juvy, lost control out on Route 30 and rolled it. State Troopers told her that speed was involved and she figured it had to do with his guilt, that he had gone out to that damn train bridge and that,” he shrugged awkwardly, “was all she wrote.”
He reached out and crumpled the torn up bits of label that Jensen had been methodically peeling from the bottle and dropping on the bar top into one fist before standing straight. “As for Jason, according to his daddy, he just never came back from Juvy. Was in contact the day he was sprung but never showed up at home.”
Jensen could almost see the sense in that. Jason’s home life had never been good, other than having his older brother around but he could picture Jason weighing the pros and cons of going back to a house where his father probably still drank from the break of dawn till he finally passed out for the night and survived on whatever was left of the insurance money the family had received when Momma Manns had been killed in a fire at her job. Facing trying to find a job and save up money to get out on his own while living with the mean old bastard without his older brother as a buffer had probably been too much for Jason to swallow. Hell Jensen hadn’t wanted to face his parents and until that fateful Halloween night back in 2004, things in his home had been good, probably better then good by Jason’s standards.
Christian should have thought the same; it wasn’t like Jason’s home life had been some great secret he had only ever shared with Jensen. The idea of him not going home wasn’t surprising and if Christian had only phrased it differently, if he had said something closer to, “Jason took off and nobody’s heard from him” then this conversation probably wouldn’t be happening but he hadn’t. He had said that Jason disappeared and it just sat wrong with Jensen.
“It’s probably nothing.” Christian muttered and stepped back to toss the torn up label into the garbage behind the bar.
“But?” Jensen pressed hearing the hesitation in Christian’s voice and needed to know if he had received the same threatening letters that Jensen had. If that was why he felt that Jason hadn’t simply just headed to greener pastures without leaving a forwarding address.
Hands on his hips, Christian hung his head and shook it slowly back and forth before looking up at the shelves of liquor sitting along the back wall. “Except there were these letters I got…”
Jensen nodded even though Christian wasn’t looking and glanced at the bottle clutched tightly between his hands wishing it was something else, something that wasn’t alcoholic so that he could wet his suddenly dry throat and not worry about it coming directly back up the minute it hit his rolling stomach.
“It’s just a coincidence.” He finally managed and he knew he didn’t have to repeat himself when Christian’s shoulders went tight and he spun to stare at him incredulously.
“A coincidence?” He repeated, crossed back to the bar and leaned heavily across it. “You got them too didn’t you? You never even asked what I meant. How could that be a coincidence?”
Because it had to be. Because if it wasn’t, that meant that somebody, somebody who had been a kid when they were kids had somehow managed to do something to Jason to make him disappear, murdered him just like we murdered Riley
, and maybe, maybe had something to do with Steve’s death. And no, just no fucking way did something like that happen outside of thriller novels like the ones Jensen’s mother used to like to read.
“It was a kid.” Jensen hissed low, leaning closer to Christian to be heard over the music. “A friend or a cousin of Riley’s that was having problems getting over his death. Can you blame him or her for lashing out? ‘Cause fuck, I can’t. We murdered him.”
“It was an accident.” Christian spat. “Just a stupid, fucking, fucked up accident and we paid for it.”
“Call it what you want.” Jensen shot back and stood up from the stool. “But it happened and a lot of people were hurt. The fact that we only got hate mail from one person is kind of surprising but that doesn’t mean that that person is now out to get us.”
“Steve is dead and Jason is missing.” Christian reiterated slowly and Jensen shivered at the naked fear he could see in his old friend’s eyes.
Christian and Jason had been the biggest of the four of them, the toughest for their age and Christian was always the first one to jump into the middle of a fight, not scared of getting hurt or worse. The only time Jensen had ever seen true fear in his eyes was the morning they were to be sentenced and he had pulled Steve and Jensen aside while Jason kept watch and made them promise to keep their heads down if the four of them got split up and Christian wouldn’t be around to protect them. He hadn’t even been really scared for himself, just for them but now, now he was showing fear, for himself, and perhaps, for Jensen.
“We’ve been out for four years.” Jensen wasn’t sure where the thought was coming from because it hadn’t occurred to him before but now that it was there, bright and promising in his mind, he wouldn’t try to tamp it down. “If the letter writer or someone else was out to get us, don’t you think he would have made his move by now?”
“What if he couldn’t find us? What if he’s still looking?”
“No one is out to get us.” Jensen repeated carefully, “What happened to Steve was just some fucked up coincidence and Jason cut all ties.” He shrugged, “Can’t say as I blame him. This was a mistake.” He shook his head and placed the untouched beer on the bar, “I’ve got a new life now and I’m trying to learn how to live after what we did. I suggest you do the same.”
“Jensen.” Christian called after him, his voice loud and clear over the music. “What if you’re wrong Jensen?”
Jensen pressed his hand against the cool metal of the exit door and shook his head. “Goodbye Christian.”
Christian yelling the same question at him was lost as Jensen stepped out onto the busy street full of Saturday afternoon shoppers and unseasonably warm Texas sunshine.***Part 2