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***

The boy was hunched over trying to keep warm. The thin camouflage jacket was useless against the cold. Even though he hadn’t moved in over two hours, he knew it could still be many hours more before his prey passed this way.

His eyes never left the small clearing, and he swallowed hard around the cough lurking in his throat. If he was good, if he didn’t make any noise or move at all, and he got his prey cleanly, he might get some hot food tonight. Maybe even hot water for cleaning up in. If he missed his prey… Well. He just wouldn’t miss, that was all.

The boy shifted silently to get a cramp out of his legs, but he knew better than to stand up. His back was still raw from last time, and he wouldn’t fail again.

There was a sudden shift in the branches around the clearing he was aiming at and the boy stiffened, his breath catching: Maybe this time

No. It was just a bird. There was no sign of the dark blue target they used for practice. The boy’s shoulders slumped and he sighed.

“You moved,” a deep voice came from behind him, and he froze, heart pounding.

“When you’re on an assignment,” the voice continued, getting closer, “you
don’t move. Even the smallest movement, even the slightest noise, can give you away.”

The man came around to stand in front of the boy. He was tall and dark, and, when the boy dared to raise his eyes to the man’s face, very handsome. But right now, the man was frowning.

The boy’s stomach clenched at the familiar, dreaded sight, and he felt a wave of nausea, but there was nothing in his stomach to throw up.

The boy trembled when the man sighed, wrapped a large hand around his thin forearm and yanked him up.


Jensen woke up with a gasp. He didn’t move, waiting instead for his heart to slow down before sitting up in bed. His undershirt stuck to his back, wet with sweat.

His apartment was dark, not surprisingly – a glance at the clock showed that it was only 04:30. Jensen turned the bedside lamp on as he got up, though there wasn’t much to see. The room was fairly bare, like the rest of the apartment, and both were small. It all still seemed pretty big to Jensen, though; before joining the Organization, he’d never had a space to call his own.

There was only one thing of real color in the room – a large colorful print of various blues arranged in asymmetrical blocks – and Jensen couldn’t take credit for it. Jared had actually bought that, after he’d realized that Jensen had completely failed to personalize the apartment even after a month of living there.

Two years later, it was still the only personal touch in the apartment, because Jensen really had no idea where to start with that kind of thing, and interior design was where Jared apparently drew the line at trying out “abandoned talents,” though everything else was still fair game.

Jared. Jensen looked at the clock again and considered the cell phone lying next to it. Jared wasn't even in town right now – he was on assignment in Washington alone. Jensen had been given some leave while Jared was gone, which two days in had already dragged on far too long.

The problem was that Jensen didn’t really know how to cope with downtime. Other people probably took vacations or read books, or so he’d heard, but it all seemed so foreign. It had never been an issue before coming to work for the Organization; in his previous life, there had been no downtime.

He needed Jared here to help him deal with it, which was ironic because Jared being gone was the reason for Jensen’s time off. He’d have been happy to go to Washington with Jared, but he hadn’t been allowed on the mission. Jensen wondered if it meant Eric was punishing him for something; he found it difficult to decipher Eric’s thoughts and actions, including figuring out Eric’s idea of unacceptable behavior. Still, it probably wasn’t that. Jared had seemed relaxed and unworried, so Jensen figured he’d been left out because the job was in Washington, and therefore probably political – i.e. exactly the kind of thing Jensen should avoid.

But the whole thing itched. It itched to have Jared out there, alone and unprotected, and it made Jensen restless. Jensen had been a little unsettled even before Jared had left two days ago, because he’d had a prickly feeling between his shoulder blades for a few days prior, which kept making him think that there was something wrong. It was an instinct born of training too deep to be ignored. It had felt like someone was watching him, which was considerably less helpful in the streets of New York than it had been in the jungles of Angola. In Angola, you were almost certainly being watched by a predator – human or otherwise – but in New York… it might just be a bored doorman or some overly appreciative person passing by.

It was probably nothing. Probably. But… Screw it, Jared would just have to deal. Jensen picked up the phone.

“’lo,” came the rough voice down the phone line after a few rings.

“Were you asleep?” Jensen asked.

“Oh no,” Jared said, and Jensen could hear the rustling of sheets. “It’s 4:30 in the morning, what on earth would make you think I was asleep?”

Jensen shrugged, though Jared couldn’t see it, but he made sure his tone was light. “Didn’t know how busy they were keeping you in The Nation’s Capitol.”

“Very, actually,” Jared said. “I only got to bed three hours ago, and I’ll be getting up in two.”

“Shame,” Jensen said, taking care not to sound at all sorry.

“Hmm,” Jared said. “What’s up?”

Jensen paused. He’d never really gotten the hang of small talk and Checking to see if you were still breathing made him sound like an overly-invested idiot.

I am,” he said simply, getting up off the bed to make it true.

“And you just wanted to share the joy,” Jared said, not sounding particularly surprised or annoyed. “Great.”

“I’m a giver,” Jensen said, walking into the kitchen area and pulling out a bottle of water. “How’s the job?”

“Fine,” Jared said with a sigh. “Just looking after a slightly controversial foreign dignitary who’s visiting the White House even though his country’s leaders would rather he didn’t. And his lovely wife. I’m pretty sure it’s his wife anyway. Could be his daughter, I guess, but that’d be an awfully overfriendly relationship.”

“Nice.”

“Yep. Though they do seem to be overfriendly in general. Pretty handsy. My ass is bruised.”

“Husband or wife?” Jensen asked.

“Both,” Jared sighed.

“You could shoot them,” Jensen suggested.

“See, that there is why you’re not invited on these little adventures.”

“And that there is why I’d actually be perfect for them.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Jared said through a yawn. “I’m going back to sleep,” he continued, “I know you only called because you miss me.”

Jensen’s mouth twisted wryly, but he made his tone drip with sarcasm as he replied. “Oh sure, that must be it.”

He put the phone down and scrubbed his fingers through his hair, like it would make the feelings go away. He needed a shower.

***

The job wasn’t that different from a dozen others he’d done, and he did it cleanly and efficiently, as always. Morgan always said he was the best of the bunch, his words often emphasized by stroking a hand down Jensen’s back or running a thumb over Jensen's lip. Jensen never liked the way Morgan said that, especially never liked where that praise sometimes led. But he hated what Morgan's disapproval brought even more.

It was true, anyway, undeniably true. Jensen
was the best of them, the best Morgan had trained. He was the best of the boys Morgan had picked up from unknown backgrounds and trained to be perfect soldiers.

With all of the boys Morgan brought in, there was no way of knowing whether they'd have any aptitude for his missions. He was looking and they were available, nothing more. Jensen wished he knew if his parents had let him go or if he’d been taken from them. He'd only been three years old at the time, and his memories of them didn't last long. He'd often wondered who they were and where they were from. But it had been a long time since he’d thought too deeply about those questions, because he'd finally learned that it wouldn't help. It made no difference.

By nothing but sheer coincidence, Jensen had been perfectly suited to the task – he was naturally tall and strong, and he had excellent hand-eye coordination, physical abilities, focus and dedication. At one time, Jensen remembered there being as many as six other boys with him, sharing a single small room outfitted with bunk beds. But there was only one other person now, a twelve-year-old named Mark who was less than half Jensen’s age. The others had all been lost over the years on assignments.

The current operation was simple – Morgan had been hired to facilitate a coup in a small nation, and Jensen’s part of the job was to guard the ex-president and his family until the junta was firmly established and then hand them over to the new rulers for ceremonial execution.

As operations went, it was an easy one, despite the fact that the ex-president’s guards were looking for them nearby, aided by a handful of U.S. government agents who supported the ex-president as a democratically-elected leader as opposed to the dictatorial junta now taking his place. There wasn’t a full military presence; Washington clearly was not prepared to authorize that kind of trouble for a small country that might or might not someday become strategically important. However, agents had clearly been sanctioned to help the president get out of the country. Jensen had seen them come through just hours ago.

The President and his family were sitting in the small hut that Jensen had appropriated. Even though Jensen’s gun was pointed at them, they weren’t looking at him at all. Instead, they looked at each other, the young son sitting on his mother’s lap, and the president and his wife holding hands. They didn’t speak, but apparently they didn’t need to.

Jensen turned his gaze away, looking through a small camouflaged slit in the hut to check once again whether anyone was coming.

They weren’t.

He looked back at the family. The father had pressed his head against his son’s. The boy was no more than six.

Jensen tightened his fingers around the gun. The President’s wife had her hand on her son’s head and rested hers on top of her husband’s.

Would they be together at the end, Jensen wondered? Probably not. The president’s execution would need to be public, but killing the wife and child might be done in private, possibly within minutes of Jensen handing them over when he received Morgan’s call. Possibly. It was also possible that the military rulers would tell Jensen to do it himself as soon as they were there to witness it.

Jensen looked back outside and stilled as two men went by. They were clearly American, even though they weren’t in uniform – Jensen had overheard their communications earlier, and their voices left no question. While the U.S. clearly wasn’t prepared to commit troops on its own, it might still be in the international community’s interests to keep the President alive, perhaps to be reinstated later.

Jensen heard the sound of crying in the room and glanced back. It was a low sound, and the family’s heads were too close together to determine which of them was making it. Maybe all of them were.

Jensen had killed a lot of people. Hell, he’d killed the men guarding the family only today. Still… He looked over the Americans outside who were holding their position. If he –

No, Morgan would know. He would
know. Jensen vividly remembered the last time he’d actively disobeyed Morgan, and that was nothing like disobedience on this scale.

If he
did what everything inside him called out for, Morgan would know. And then Jensen… would be better off dead. There was no running away from Morgan.

Jensen had been no more than eight when the surgery had taken place, and while the small scar on the back of his neck was practically invisible, it had tied him to Morgan irrevocably before Jensen had even been old enough to understand what it meant. He’d never seen the implant itself – only the scarred-over evidence on the other boys’ necks –and he didn’t know the details of the technology involved, but he was all too familiar with how it worked. Morgan had a control device for those implants, which could be used to trigger off excruciating pain. It was a punishment Morgan used sparingly, but he would not hesitate to inflict it for something like this. It had been years since Jensen had last felt it, but he had not forgotten: the pain was unbearable.

There was no way Jensen could simply leave – Morgan could use the device to turn the pain on and then let it keep going until Jensen finally came crawling back. Jensen had never fully tested the boundaries of the device’s reach, but he knew it covered several miles – maybe many more. The range definitely carried much farther than he could ever get before Morgan realized he was gone. So there was no way for Jensen to run from Morgan, no real hope. If he did decide to let this family go, there would be nowhere for him to hide.

He looked back at the family. The boy was peeking out at him from between his parents’ arms. He looked scared but trusting, as if no harm could possibly come to him in his parents’ embrace.

Jensen looked back out at the U.S. agents, and made his decision.

He opened the door.


***

It had been over three years ago that Jensen had surrendered to the U.S. government.

He hadn’t expected to survive the experience, figuring either the Americans or Morgan himself would kill him before long. Instead, Kripke took the opposite tack. Once Jensen had explained who he was and why he’d gladly eat a bullet as soon as he relinquished the President’s family to the U.S. Army’s care (outlining the best way for them to extract without running into Morgan’s troop locations), Kripke had gotten Lindberg to jam transmissions to the chip. Jensen had finally gotten the one thing he’d always assumed was impossible: the chance for freedom.

The debriefing with Kripke afterward had seemed to go on for months, but had actually only taken a couple of weeks. Jensen hadn’t been scared, just tired. The relief of finally deciding to leave Morgan overwhelmed him—exhausted him, even, or maybe that was just the adrenaline slipping away. He’d lived with its effects far too long. For awhile, he’d even thought the tiredness might be part of the reason he’d been confused about what exactly Kripke wanted from him.

He should have known, of course. Kripke wasn’t as intimidating or charming as Morgan, but the hard, speculative steel in his eyes was eerily identical to the man Jensen had known and feared his whole life. The similarities were enough to at least be unsettling, but they should have made Kripke more predictable. Of course he’d want to take advantage of an asset like Jensen. Kripke was ruthless enough to take any advantage he could find.

Kripke had Lindberg find a way to reprogram the chip. God only knew where Morgan had acquired the technology, but it had almost made Lindberg explode with glee, and one minor operation later the chip was controlled by a new device. Once Kripke had confirmed that it worked, he had offered Jensen a deal: Jensen would join the Organization and come work for him, and in exchange, Kripke would neither have him arrested nor use those controls.

Jensen knew that the entire arrangement and everything leading up to it was well outside the Geneva Convention, but he would come to find that Eric didn’t always give such minor details a lot of concern, and furthermore that his control over the Organization was absolute.

There had been no legal trouble to worry about, since Jensen had no papers, nationality or identity. All of that was still true – when they became almost friends, Lindberg had suddenly decided one day to search for the name ‘Jensen Ackles’ in as many databases he could find. Jensen hadn’t asked him to, had not desire to really know, but in the end it didn’t matter. No record of him existed. Unfortunately, that meant that Jensen himself technically didn’t exist either, so there was very little problem in keeping him against his will indefinitely.

Jensen didn’t really mind working for the Organization – what other kind of work would he do? – but the compulsion and control chafed, and Eric still reminded him all too uncomfortably of Morgan.

Since surrendering to the U.S., Jensen had spent the first of those three years living at the Organization’s Headquarters. But Jared finally persuaded Eric that Jensen had proved he wasn’t the type to go on a mass killing spree, and that he could be allowed out without supervision. Even when they’d started becoming friendly, Jensen had never suggested to Jared that he had any objection to living at headquarters, but Jared had taken it upon himself to champion Jensen’s comparative independence.

Jensen still found his (apparently small, according to Jared) apartment slightly overwhelming in size and space, two years later. But he’d mostly become used to it by now – so used to it, in fact, that he might possibly admit to even liking it a little.

That history with the Organization was another reason going to headquarters unnerved Jensen a little. The knowledge that the freedoms he’d earned could be taken away from him in seconds at Kripke’s whim made him edgy. He didn’t hide it well, either – the last time he was there, a secretary had squeaked and run away at the sight of him.

It was unsettling to know that his debriefing to Kripke about life with Morgan was common knowledge now, and that everyone at the Organization knew about his past. Jensen was equally sure the whole thing had been massively exaggerated too, though it was juicy enough gossip on its own, without any augmentation.

Jensen was a reluctant legend.

He enjoyed the freedom of life after Morgan, but he was still at a loss over what to do with it. The sheer array of programs on the television was astounding and the number of books seemingly endless, but while he truly enjoyed both activities, he preferred to be outdoors. He enjoyed sports, but only in competition, and since he really didn’t do well in team sports, he mostly played with Jared.

They were fairly evenly matched, physically. Jared had an advantage in foot speed and height, so he preferred to play basketball, and Jensen had an advantage in sports requiring better hand-eye coordination, like baseball and racquet sports. Sometimes they sparred in hand-to-hand combat, and Jensen won consistently in spite of Jared’s superior strength and weight. Jared was good, in the way someone whose life depended on his physical fitness and aptitude had to be, but it didn’t match the all-consuming training that had been hammered into Jensen since the age of three.

But today Jared was in Washington and Jensen was going to have to play by himself, so he went running instead. The task of pushing his body focused his energy, and the rhythm and simplicity were soothing. Though he wasn’t able to completely shake the feeling of trepidation that haunted him, he still felt more relaxed after a two hour run, returning to his apartment tired and dripping with sweat.

But the feeling didn’t last, not after he opened his apartment door to find Jeffrey Dean Morgan inside.

Morgan smiled, no less handsome now for the extra years, as charming a smile as ever and just as dangerous.

“Come in, Jensen. We’ve been waiting for you.”

***

Jensen’s hands twitched automatically to his waist, where a gun was tucked into his sweatpants. He was never without one – a lesson he’d learned from Morgan himself – but the movement was aborted when he saw that Morgan already had a gun pointed at him and that he was not the only one in jeopardy. Past Morgan, there was man holding a gun against the temple of another person. The small, pale form of the victim solidified as Jensen’s eyes adjusted to the light.

It was Alexis.

Jensen forced his hands to relax and fall loosely at his sides as he walked into the apartment. Alexis stared up at him with wide, dry, eyes, looking fragile next to the gunman despite the firmness of her posture.

“Close the door,” Morgan said, pleasantly, and Jensen obeyed. “And put your hands on your head where I can see them.”

Jensen turned around to face him. Morgan had hardly changed since he’d last seen him. He might be slightly heavier and more lined now, but he was still imposing. Jensen felt his stomach clench. He was in trouble, and his reaction was the same as it had been when he was a child, despite the last three years of freedom.

“It’s been a long time, Jensen. You don’t call, you don’t write, where’s the love?” Morgan said as he approached.

Jensen couldn’t help the instinctive shudder that ran through him as Morgan moved behind him and trailed his hand over Jensen’s shoulder. The hand dropped down Jensen’s back and removed the gun from his waistband. Then the first hand was joined by another, feeling over Jensen’s body, all the way between his legs, over the material of his clothes, and finally making their way down to the leg holster on his left shin that had a knife tucked into it.

Morgan removed the knife too.

“Only two weapons, Jensen,” Morgan said, sounding disapproving. “And your hands nowhere near either of them as you entered the room. It really has been too long.”

Jensen didn’t answer. He knew he wasn’t expected to.

“And where are your manners, Jensen?” Morgan said, suddenly, as if he’d forgotten that Alexis was in the room, when Jensen knew that Morgan never forgot anything. “You haven’t introduced me to your friend.”

Morgan turned and approached Alexis, she flinched away as he trailed a hand over her cheek.

“What a beautiful young lady, Jensen,” Morgan kept his eyes on Jensen even as he trailed his hand further down Alexis’s body. “Though I'd be surprised if you even noticed. I never had you pegged as a ladies man before. In fact, I’d say there was a fair amount of evidence to the contrary.”

Jensen ignored the insinuation, staring blankly over Morgan’s shoulder. It was a long-ingrained habit from all the other times he’d found himself in trouble.

“Does she belong to you, Jensen?” Morgan continued. “Interesting. I’d have thought that tall partner of yours would be much more your type.”

Jensen’s eyes shot immediately to Morgan’s face. It was a mistake, of course—Morgan was grinning at him, waiting for a response.

“Yeah, I thought so,” Morgan said, with satisfaction. “We’ve been watching you for a few days, Jensen – didn’t know that, did you? You’ve really let your training slide. You don’t pay enough attention to your surroundings, or you’d have noticed us before now. And that’s not all you’ve forgotten. Because I’ve been watching you watch that partner of yours.”

Jensen swallowed and looked away. He didn’t need to see Alexis’ reaction—he was sure she’d always known. She’d never said anything about it, that he knew of, and Jared still seemed oblivious to the whole thing in spite of all his professional skills and training. But whatever Jared had missed had been immediately apparent to Alexis, just as it clearly also was to Morgan.

“The lovely lady and I had quite a long chance to get acquainted before you arrived. In fact, I understand she’s your partner’s fiancée. That’s got to be pretty damn inconvenient for you,” Morgan continued. “But maybe Mark there can do you a favor and get her out of the way.”

Another surprise. Jensen jerked his eyes up to the face of the man holding Alexis, and sure enough, it was Mark. He’d still been with Morgan when Jensen had broken away, and Jensen could see the boy’s face he remembered from before echoed now in the hard, scarred features of the man in front of him. Mark had lasted a long time. He’d seemed well-suited to the job back then, just like Jensen before him, but in a different way. Mark had been the type of boy that had enjoyed torturing small animals and had taken naturally to the violence, even as young as he’d been back then.

“Or not,” Morgan continued. “We’ll see. It’s probably smarter for us to continue this conversation somewhere else anyway. Jensen, turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

Jensen obeyed slowly, turning his back on Morgan despite all his instincts’ warnings not to, and crossed his wrists at his lower back. He stayed still while Morgan took his wrists and clasped handcuffs on them, tightly. He remained still when Morgan took off his own jacket and threw it casually over Jensen’s shoulders to cover up the sight of his handcuffed arms. The scent made Jensen shiver. Morgan’s soap was apparently still the same as it had always been, and when coupled with Morgan’s other usual smells of leather and gun oil, it provided a sense memory so strong that it almost made Jensen’s knees buckle from all the negative associations.

“Now, everyone do the smart thing here and stay calm, and we’ll be on our way,” Morgan said, reaching in front of Jensen to open the front door. Jensen heard a low muttering behind him, and craned his neck around to see Mark pushing Alexis to the door. One of Mark’s hands gripped Alexis’s arm firmly, and the other was in his jacket pocket. The outline of the gun was clearly visible to Jensen’s eye, but it probably wouldn’t attract anyone else’s attention.

Jensen had always thought the agents’ apartments could have used more security. But it was no comfort to be proven right when the four of them left the apartment without any trouble and got into the car waiting outside.

Mark pushed Alexis into the passenger seat and handcuffed her, and took the driver’s seat for himself. Jensen sat behind Alexis, with Morgan beside him. Morgan was holding his gun again, and now he ran it slowly down Jensen’s cheek.

“I suppose you’re wondering what I’m doing here. I might’ve just wanted to call on an old friend, but you’re right, I’m probably here for something else. You see, I heard you were still alive, and I thought, I’ve got to come and visit my boy Jensen. I mean hell, I gave you up for dead back then, thought you’d fallen on your sword after you didn’t come when I… called.”

Morgan pulled the familiar controller from his pocket. Jensen broke out into a sweat and automatically flinched when Morgan flicked the controls, but they had no effect – none of the agonizing pain he expected went tearing from his skull down through his body.

“I knew you didn’t have the smarts to circumvent that little gadget yourself. I taught you a lot of skills, but science wasn’t one of them. And let’s face it, your list of friends was a total zero, so I couldn’t imagine you’d found someone else to do it for you. Who would help a murdering mercenary with that kind of thing anyway?

“Of course, I should have realized the U.S. government would appreciate an operative like you, assuming they didn’t jail your ass for a decade. But until an associate of mine said you’d broken up a bank raid a few months ago, I had no idea you’d come out of the whole thing on your feet.”

Jensen frowned, remembering the incident, and for the first time he met Morgan’s eyes completely.

“None of those men were yours,” he said. It wasn’t a question.

Morgan smiled. “No, not mine. I do have to round up some hired muscle from time-to-time, though, and he’d seen a video of your training during his brief employment. And we both know how memorable you’ve always been.”

Jensen tried not to think about what might have been on that ‘training’ video, and hoped it was just footage of him running through drills.

“The man was sharp enough to think I might help out a little with his legal fees in exchange for information on your whereabouts.” Morgan smiled. “I didn’t believe him at first, of course, but it turned out he was telling the truth. Good thing I followed up on his intel afterward. I’d apologize for the lack of faith, but it wouldn’t make much difference. I hear he ran into some trouble recently in prison and didn’t make it through.” Morgan shook his head with feigned sadness. “My mistake.”

“But now we’re here,” Morgan continued brightly, “old friends, together again. And you can’t beat the timing, with Ms. Bledel joining us—talk about your lucky accidents. I think this is all going to work out just fine.”

“What?” Jensen asked, tired of Morgan’s games. “What do you want?”

Morgan smiled again, an expression all too familiar to Jensen, full of charm and malice and heat. “Are you sure you really want to get to that part so soon? You never used to be so eager.”

Jensen clenched his teeth, swallowed and looked away, his heart beating faster in his chest and his hands balled into helpless fists behind his back.

“I’m not really sure what I want, Jensen, I have to admit.” Jensen didn’t really believe that, because Jeffrey Dean Morgan was never without a plan. “The original plan was to just find you and kill you…"

Jensen nodded. He’d expected that.

“After we’d had a little talk, of course. After you’d come to really see the error of your ways, of course? But you know,” Morgan said, throwing a companionable arm over Jensen’s shoulder, “now that I’ve seen you again, I wonder if I might’ve been rushing things. I hadn’t planned on recruiting you again, Jensen, ‘cause after all, if you can slip away once, you can do it again. But then I thought, maybe if we kept a slightly tighter leash on you this time...” Morgan’s hand clenched Jensen’s t-shirt and pulled it tight around Jensen’s throat, cutting off his air for a moment. “Yeah, maybe with a nice, tight leash on you, the whole thing just might work out.”

Jensen said nothing, just drew in a large gulp of air when Morgan released his shirt.

“Yeah,” Morgan said and sat back, looking satisfied. “I think that just might do the trick.”

***

Jensen tracked the route they took in his mind, a little concerned that Morgan wasn’t taking any precautions in letting him see where they were going.

It wasn’t far, about ten miles, tops. They drove into a large warehouse, and then parked. Morgan and Mark helped both Jensen and Alexis out of the car, and Alexis was tied to a chair and efficiently gagged. Jensen was left standing in the middle of the room, hands still cuffed behind his back.

“Well,” Morgan said with a cagey smile, “time to step up and make the big decision. You could come back into the fold with us, get reacquainted with the family. How about that?”

Jensen looked him in the eye. “I think I’ll pass.”

“That so?” Morgan didn’t seem particularly disappointed. “Well, I think maybe you’re imagining you have more of a choice than you actually do. Would you honestly rather die? You’ve done so much in the name of staying alive – let alone the things you’ve done just to stay in my good books – would you really give up and choose death now instead of going back to the job you’re trained for?”

Jensen looked away, not able to deny the truth of Morgan’s words.

“How about this, instead: I don’t think you really do want to die. If you come with us now, I’m sure you’ll eventually see that doing the job you were made for is far better than death. I’ll call an old friend of mine to reactivate the chip, and then you can stay nice and close to me so we can be sure you don’t accidentally deactivate it again.”

“Fuck you,” Jensen said, but his voice was weak. Trapped under Morgan’s attentions for a long period of time, it was entirely possible that he might once again find the ability to do what Morgan labeled ‘his job’.

“We got to talking, this lovely lady and I, while we were waiting for you,” Morgan said. “She happened to mention an important secret. Did you know she was pregnant?”

Jensen gasped, and jerked his head to stare at Alexis who was staring back, transfixed by the sight of them.

“I see you didn’t!” Morgan exclaimed. “Well, the cat’s out of the bag now.” He pointed his gun over at her. “How about this? We’ll see if you remember some of the more… personal skills I taught you, and in exchange I’ll let your partner’s future wife and child go free.”

Jensen swallowed, his throat seizing up as Morgan let his gaze fall deliberately on his lips. He knew better than to believe Morgan, but he also knew there was absolutely no way he wouldn’t do whatever Morgan wanted when Jared’s fiancée’s life, and his child’s life, hung in the balance.

Morgan laughed, and clapped him on the back. “It’ll be great having you back again. Mark here has many fine qualities, but prettiness isn’t one of them. He’s worked hard to match you on almost everything, but there was never really any hope on that score.

“I’ll leave you to think about that while I get some transport together. I think the sooner we head on out and you start working on your ‘refresher course’, the better. Want to make sure you haven’t lost too many of your other skills while you’ve been gone.”

Morgan turned away, and threw his gun to Mark, who caught it deftly in his free hand and turned it immediately on Jensen, his face unreadable. “Watch him,” he said to Mark. “If he tries anything, shoot him in the leg. But don’t kill him.”

Morgan trailed his fingers over Jensen’s lips as he walked by on the way out, laughing softly when Jensen jerked his face away.

Morgan closed the door behind him.

Jensen turned back to face Mark, and was shocked at the wholly unexpected sight of Mark carefully putting down both of the guns.

When he turned to face Jensen, Mark’s face was filled with an unholy glee, and Jensen was horrified to imagine what thoughts Morgan’s insinuations might have suddenly put into his head.

“Mark,” he started, “you don’t have to do this. I can find someone to reprogram your chip. They did mine in just a couple of days. They’ll even keep you unconscious until the chip’s reprogrammed so you don’t have to suffer at all.”

Mark approached him closely, and Jensen held his ground.

“You don’t understand,” Mark said, and his voice was rough and stilted, probably from lack of use. A weapon didn’t need to talk. “You never have. I don’t want to lose my chip.”

Jensen’s heart sank. He’d suspected as much – Mark had always seemed to enjoy being right where he was.

“I would never be ungrateful to Morgan the way you were. I would never hurt him by leaving him. You broke his heart when you left.”

If Jensen knew anything, he knew that last part wasn’t true. Morgan’s heart had no function other than to pump blood through his body – it had no place in his business.

“He doesn’t care about you, Mark,” he said, desperately but he knew, God he knew, how difficult it was to break free from Morgan’s lies.

“He does,” Mark said, and now that he was closer Jensen could see the light of fanaticism in his eyes. It made a cold sweat broke out on his brow. “He does," Mark continued. "I tried to make it up to him when you left, but I couldn’t. I tried to be as good as you, but it was never enough for him.”

Jensen couldn’t say whether that matched the reality of the situation, but he saw instantly how Morgan could and would have used Jensen to manipulate Mark, holding him out as a distant but always nearly-obtainable goal to strive for. The example of Jensen would have been a constant source of motivation and punishment. And Morgan’s punishments had always made a lasing impression.

“But now I can prove it!” Mark said, a glimmer of passion in his eyes. “I can prove I’m just as good as you. Better!”

Mark pulled a set of handcuff keys out of his pocket. Reaching behind Jensen, he placed them in his hands and then stepped back. Realizing his opportunity, and unable to believe his luck, Jensen fumbled the keys into position behind his back and unlocked the cuffs.

Mark was bouncing on his feet, standing slightly to one side, his arms held loosely by his sides. Jensen looked at the fervor in his face and was sickened once again by Morgan’s ability to control people. He’d made this man want to prove himself so badly that Mark was willing to risk Morgan’s wrath by killing Jensen. Jensen remembered that feeling himself, when he would have done anything just to get Morgan to look at him with approval. But Jensen had always been motivated by fear. It seemed Morgan had found a different button to push for Mark, one that was every bit as effective.

Jensen got into position just in time to duck the first punch Mark threw at his head. Jensen danced out of the way, but Mark was breathlessly fast with his follow-up. This time he caught Jensen with a kick to the shin that nearly took his leg out from him, forcing him to rebalance with a jump that he quickly converted into a kick at Mark’s thigh.

It was on.

As they danced around each other, fighting in a small circle over the two guns on the floor, Jensen realized how evenly they were matched. From the earliest of ages, they’d both had the most extensive combat training available, and they’d both been highly motivated to learn their lessons well.

Mark was younger but Jensen was stronger, and (he thought as they traded ringing blows to the head) he might also be more naturally gifted. But Mark was still consistently at that peak of training, his skills as honed as they could be. By contrast, Jensen’s new life – as physically demanding as it was – rarely called for him to genuinely use the full extent of his hand-to-hand expertise.

They were both, of course, desperately committed to the fight. They were both fighting for their lives now, and while Mark was spurred on by the desire for Morgan’s approval, Jensen was driven by the need to make sure Jared’s fiancée and child survived. Neither man could possibly want it more.

Jensen’s lip was bleeding heavily and his ears were buzzing, and Mark’s forehead had just been gashed open on a rolling fall when Morgan came back in.

“Stop!” he yelled, and they both paused for a moment, their training too deeply ingrained to keep from obeying. But it couldn’t last – they both wanted it too much – and Jensen wasn’t sure who’d started again first, but suddenly they were back at it with renewed fury.

Jensen now had to concentrate on keeping close to the guns to make sure Morgan couldn’t get to them, as well as fighting Mark.

Morgan circled the fight, and suddenly started talking.

“Maybe this is all for the best,” Morgan said, moving around them, his voice silky and insidious. “Maybe this is where the hand of fate comes into play. This way, I can be sure which one of you really is the best. Maybe I’ve been looking at the past with rose-colored glasses all this time, completely blind to the truth. Maybe Jensen was never really as good as I thought he was, and Mark is actually the one who’s better.”

Jensen rolled with a punch, lashing out a kick, and suddenly the years started dropping away. The heavy thudding of his heart, the smooth movements of his body, the mindless instinct of combat all came back to him, and the pain when his opponent landed a hit was overlaid (always overlaid, like so many years before) by the sound of Morgan’s voice.

“Try harder now,” Morgan said in a warning tone, and Jensen forgot to even care which one of them he was talking to.

The compulsion to listen to that voice and to obey it was ingrained in him. Everything from a whip on his back to the violation of his body, from gnawing hunger in his empty gut to the raw burning of his throat as he ran drills with no water in the torturous heat for hours and hours… the years fell away like nothing, and Morgan’s voice drove him on as surely as any other reasons he had for winning.

It was the smallest of slips that decided it, an overextension of the arm, an over-commitment to the blow, that allowed Jensen to roll with the punch and get behind his opponent’s shoulder and grab his head. He maneuvered his body into position to prevent the solid mass of Mark’s body from moving with his neck, and held on through the horrible crack that signaled the end.

Jensen dropped the lifeless body and his eyes settled on the guns. The prize. He swooped down and picked one up.

“Well done,” a voice said softly and Jensen turned instinctively, pointing the gun at the noise.

Morgan’s face and voice showed no fear.

“Nice work, Jensen, you’ve proved yourself once again.” Morgan’s voice was rich and sonorous with praise. Jensen shivered in relief – he’d done well.

“Now,” Morgan continued, “give me the gun. Give me the gun and your job is finished.”

Jensen hesitated. That wasn’t… No, that wasn’t right. He gripped the gun tighter and kept it pointed at Morgan.

Morgan paused, shifting his weight back to where it had started.

“Are you going to kill me?” Morgan asked.

Jensen’s hand shook a little.

“You could always have killed me, you know,” Morgan said, his voice tense but still sounding slightly amused. “Since you were, what, fourteen maybe? I held nothing back. I trained you in every possible aspect of the art of war, gave you the best teachers in martial arts, weaponry and fitness. You were a perfect killing machine, and yet I’ll bet it never even occurred to you to kill me and take control for yourself.

“You couldn’t have removed the chip in your head, of course, but with me gone and the control destroyed no one else would have known how to activate it and you could have been free.”

Morgan smiled, moving closer to Jensen, whose hands were shaking a little with the effort of keeping the gun steady while some of the blows he’d taken were still ringing in his ears.

“Though I can’t fool myself that you stayed because you wanted to. Those sweet tears of yours back then, the pain you tried to hide, they all said otherwise. You stayed because you were too scared of me to leave, and that’s the truth, just like you’re too scared to pull the trigger now. A lifetime of conditioning keeps you from doing it. You can never escape what I am to you, and that was my own gift, in a way. The power of control. I gave you all the gifts of physical prowess you could ever hope for, but I actually gave them to myself because if they were yours then they always really belonged to me. Just like you do.

“If you put the gun down, I won’t be angry with you, Jensen. You won’t have to be punished. You can come home with me and I’ll take care of you, and your pretty partner’s pretty little wife can go back to planning her wedding.”

Jensen’s eyes had been unfocused and his breathing labored as he’d listened to Morgan’s low voice, but he suddenly snapped to attention at the mention of Jared.

Morgan stopped talking as he realized his mistake, all too late.

“You don’t control me,” Jensen said firmly, bringing the gun up to point directly at Morgan’s heart. “I got away from you. And you know what? I got all the way away from you.”

And with the power of that whole horrible history behind him, he pulled the trigger.

Jensen watched, unable to untangle the web of conflicting emotions as he saw Morgan’s face crumple for a moment in pain, and then clear forever.

He stared at Morgan’s body for a long moment, and then the adrenaline seemed to leave him. His knees gave out, and he crumpled to the floor.

***

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?” Alexis asked, sounding worried, as they stood outside by Morgan’s car. “You’ve taken a few blows to the head. Lost some blood.”

“Just get in,” Jensen gritted out from between clenched teeth, and Alexis wisely obeyed, sliding into the passenger seat.

Jensen drove them back carefully, his hands at ten and two on the steering wheel, his speed just below the limit. He licked his bloody lips.

“Is it true?” he asked finally. “What Morgan said? Is it true, or was it just a misguided attempt to get his sympathy?”

“It’s true,” Alexis said quietly, sounding completely unsurprised by the question. “I guess I told him to get some sympathy, not that it worked, but I wasn’t making it up.”

“Does Jared know?” Jensen asked. Jared hadn’t said anything, and Jensen couldn’t believe Jared wouldn’t have mentioned something so important.

“No,” Alexis said. “He doesn’t know yet. I wanted to speak with you first.”

Jensen glanced at her in surprise. “You wanted to talk to me first?” he repeated, stupidly.

“You know that Jared… cares about you,” Alexis said, carefully. “Maybe not the way you might like, but he does care for you.”

Jensen’s cheeks burned. It was the closest he and Alexis had ever come to mentioning Jensen’s feelings for Jared, although he’d known from the looks (and Alexis’s behavior both toward him and toward Jared around him) that Alexis had guessed what Jared could never be allowed to see.

“He has a dangerous job, Jensen, you know that,” Alexis continued when it became clear Jensen wasn’t going to say anything. “It’s dangerous and it requires a ridiculous amount of travel, often to places that aren’t exactly top vacation getaways.”

Jensen remained quiet, starting to see where this was heading.

“It’s not a job for a family man, Jensen, you can see that, can’t you? It’s not a job for a man with a wife and child.”

Jensen nodded, stiffly. Yes, he could see that.

“I came to ask you to let him go.”

Jensen just looked at her. “What can I do to make him stay or go? You know my position in the Organization – I don't have control over anything.”

“Yes I do,” Alexis agreed. “And I know what Jared thinks about that, and I know he’d never want to leave you there on your own.”

Jensen thought about working for the Organization without Jared, and failed.

“You shouldn’t read too much into that, though,” Alexis continued without pause. “Jared’s a good man. He knows how difficult it is for you to adapt to the real world, and he’s tried to be your friend and make it as easy for you as possible. I know he’s done it on purpose, he’s said so many times. He’d do it for anyone. But you can’t expect him to keep looking after you at the expense of his own family, of his own child.”

“I wouldn’t,” Jensen defended himself.

“Well then,” Alexis said, sounding satisfied. “You need to make it easy for him. When he tells you the news about the baby, tell him you think he should leave and find a less dangerous job. Don’t make him agonize over the right thing to do. You know what the right thing to do is, Jensen, so don’t make it too hard for him.”

Jensen thought about how much Jared would want a child – the way Jared had talked about having a family and how it had seemed so far off in the future to Jensen then – a million miles away from the two of them sitting on long jobs or overnight stays, or on a hundred plane journeys and a thousand car trips.

Jensen pulled up outside the house Jared and Alexis shared, where they would soon be joined by another life that would bind them even closer together than marriage could.

“I can count on you, then, Jensen?” Alexis said.

“I won’t get in the way,” Jensen replied, looking resolutely through the windshield.

“You’ll help persuade him to leave?”

“I won’t get in the way,” Jensen repeated. He couldn’t bring himself to agree to try to get Jared to leave him. Just letting it happen would be hard enough.

“All right.” Alexis opened the door. “You do know though,” she continued before getting out, “even if I wasn’t pregnant, he’d still never be with you.”

Jensen inhaled a sharp breath but didn’t look at her.

“It would never even cross his mind, no matter how pretty you are, as your old friend back there said.” Jensen closed his eyes as she got in her parting shot. “And if he found out what you really wanted… well. If he found out, it would make him uncomfortable, and then leaving the Organization would be just that much easier for him.”

Jensen heard the car door slam, and opened his eyes. He watched her go to the door, and she looked back at him and met his eyes for a moment before going into the house.

Jared had picked a strong woman, he thought, not even shaky after a near-death experience, still clearly focused on her goals. Jensen thought Morgan would have liked her if he’d really had the chance to become acquainted.

Jensen sat in the car for a few long moments after Alexis had gone in the house, and then finally pulled away, barely able to see the road.

***

When Jared got home the next day, he was surprised that Alexis was at the airport waiting for him instead of Jensen.

He grinned, though, as he approached his beautiful girl and swept her up into a kiss.

“Jared,” she said, and he noticed she was a little pale, and her voice a little strained.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Jensen,” she said, softly, touching his face. “He’s dead.”

What?” Jared actually half-smiled, expecting a joke. Ridiculous. Jensen had been home on leave while he was gone. Jensen was indestructible.

“Jensen’s dead. There was a terrible situation and we were kidnapped, and Jensen insisted on driving after, even though he’d gotten a head wound during the escape,” Alexis sounded breathless. “I knew he was upset, I should have stopped him, but I didn’t and he crashed his car on the way home after he left me. I couldn’t tell you over the phone, Jared, but... he’s dead. Jared, I’m so sorry.”

Jared’s knees gave way and folded around the sudden agonizing pain.

***

part 3

Date: 2009-06-30 04:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mangacat201.livejournal.com
Oh what a coniving devious little... there IS no child now, is there... and I bet I know where icky little Morgan really got his tip, oh that BITCH!
cAt

Date: 2010-01-06 01:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sockymous.livejournal.com
i have to say that alexis is indeed a..... b*** on this one.
JENSEN SAVED HER ASS AND RIGHT AFTER SHE PUNCHES HIM RELENTLESSLY RIGHT ON THE HEART!!! wtfh!!?

^^ BUT!!! reading the rest ;)

XXXX

Date: 2010-01-06 05:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jasmasson.livejournal.com
She wasn't very nice, was she! ;)

Hope you enjoy the rest!

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