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“Well, you’ve heard of dog or cock fighting, bear baiting, that kind of thing?”

Steve had finally convinced Chris to talk to them. To tell them more about what he’d meant the day they’d found him, why he was so worried about them being in danger, why he’d said they didn’t even know what he was. Chris was well enough to move around on his own, more or less, and he was being taken off the medication slowly. Chances were, he was going to be well enough to be able to survive out there without their help in maybe a week or two. Jensen had watched Steve get more and more worked up about it before he’d finally suggested that they find other reasons for Chris to stay.

He didn’t exactly like the thought of Chris leaving, either, even if he hadn’t let himself analyze it all that much. Too much, too soon, and it was all too confusing to deal with. It was easier to just let things be.

But they’d finally managed to get Chris to tell them about his last few years. His owners’ brand hadn’t been registered in any of the records they searched through, and, as Steve had already known, Chris’ own existence wasn’t in the system. The rest of the organisation had got more curious and had become more determined than ever to find out what the hell was going on so they could figure out what the hell they could do about it.

But this, Jensen thought, was not a good start at all. All eyes were on Chris, who sat a little over from him, next to Steve, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else but here. Jared was on Chris’ other side. They’d somehow become closer over the weeks—something about bonding, but mostly about how Chris’ entire face lit up when Jared brought over his puppies, and Sadie and Harley’s easy love of Chris.

Now, though, there was nothing about Chris that looked even remotely like the man they’d watched get on his knees to greet Jared’s babies. Instead, he resembled students about to walk into interviews or exams when they hadn’t studied and didn’t have a clue what kind of questions were going to come up. Jensen had to fight the urge to reach over and offer reassurance; as far as they’d come, he was still pretty sure Chris wouldn’t hesitate to break his arm if he tried.

“You know what that’s about, right?” Chris asked again.

They all nodded. Chris tipped his head to the side, looked away and then unflinchingly met their eyes, something cold and hard in his irises. Jensen’s stomach sunk even before Chris had opened his mouth.

“Well, it’s like that,” he carried on. “Just… y’know, not with animals. Or, well, with those kinds of animals.”

Jensen swallowed hard. Holy shit. Chris couldn’t possibly be saying that. It was almost too awful to contemplate. And yet it all made sense: Chris’ skittishness, his scars, his nightmares, the way he was always amazed by any small act of kindness. It all made sense if they were treated like animals whose only purpose was to fight and kill and die.

Jensen looked around at their little group. Allison was covering her mouth—of course the good doctor couldn’t understand why anyone could do that to each other. Kristin and Alona looked steps away from being sick, and Lauren was in even worse shape. Even Mike, Tom, Chad, Jared…. and Steve. Steve looked like his whole world had just fallen down. Jensen could tell he was fighting the urge to pull Chris to him. He wasn’t surprised to find his own hands fisted, knuckles almost turning white with the force of his own restraint and anger.

“Living conditions weren’t so bad,” Chris carried on, his tone lacking passion. He sounded almost bored, like their lecturers sometimes did when they were describing events and facts. Things. Not the kind of voice they used when talking about people.

Living, breathing, feeling people.

“Weren’t as bad as durin’ the war. Just barracks, and… they kept us warm enough, fed us enough to make sure we weren’t starvin’ or sufferin’—that we were always strong enough to fight.” Chris let out a breath and glanced at something off to the side, not meeting any of their eyes. Jensen couldn’t blame him in the least. It was hard enough just listening to it, never mind imagining actually living through any of this, and in a time of peace and prosperity, too.

“Guess you’d probably fight about once every couple of days, a little longer if you got injured in the last fight and they didn’t want to risk it, or shorter if you could manage and there was… demand. It all varied, all depended—the only certainty was that you’d probably have to fight, and you’d probably have to fight each other one day or another, so it wasn’t ever a clever thing to do to get attached to anyone.” He trailed off and shrugged again. “The more you fought and earned and the better you were, the more privileges you got. Just like how it works out here, ain’t it?”

“What… what kind of privileges?” Allison asked, voice small, as if afraid of the answer. They all were, Jensen supposed. Here they’d been all worried about the house slaves and the pleasure slaves, trying to work on saving the ones that ran away, to protect the ones that weren’t well taken care of, when somewhere outside their city….

“First to get medical attention,” Chris answered quietly. “First to get the showers or the bedding or the new clothes that came through. Sometimes, you got better food or were even paid a little in coins that you could “buy” some of the rarer stuff with, but also with the promise that, if you saved enough, maybe you’d be able to walk free one day.” Chris shrugged and snorted a little. “It all seems so stupid now. It isn’t war time anymore; those things aren’t so hard to come by, and we… they were almost fuckin’ gold to us. Simple things: a softer pillow, soap… paper and pens.”

When everyone went home, Jensen was going to empty out his whole goddamn drawer into Chris’ hands. Actually, screw that; Jensen was going to make it even more damn clear that not only was Chris welcome to anything in the kitchen, he could damn well help himself to absolutely anything they owned. He felt Steve’s hand slip into his, sweaty and shaking, pulse beating almost wildly.

Chris smiled humourlessly, looking from one face to another. “So that’s that,” he said. “That’s me. That’s what I am. A gladiator, I suppose. They used to say we ain’t better or worth more than dogs, just it was more fun to watch us fight ‘cause human nature and survival instincts make for one hell of a show.”

“So….” Jared started. Jensen turned as Chris’ attention shifted to him. “Why do they want you caught so badly? Ain’t never seen people so furious over an escaped slave before.”

“I killed a man,” Chris said quietly. “To get out. I counted my coins and earned myself enough to fuckin’ buy my freedom, and then I realised it was all a lie. They didn’t give us freedom, only the choice to die there and then or go back into the cage.” The corner of his lips tugged up just a little, eyes sliding to Jensen and Steve, before Chris looked away again and shrugged. “So I killed him and ran. And it’s not like they’re about to start lettin’ me set a precedent so the others in there would figure out they could damn well do the same.”

There was complete silence. Jensen wasn’t sure anyone was breathing. He could feel Steve, tense and almost vibrating beside him, hand clutching his hand so tight Jensen was sure it was going to bruise.

It was Chris that finally broke it. “When they find me,” he said, looking down at his hands. “They’ll make sure I’m made an example of. That no one will ever even think about doing what I did.” He swallowed hard. “And they’ll make sure no one will ever help someone who dared to do it like you’ve helped me, too.”

“They won’t find you,” Steve promised, voice rough and breaking as he spoke. “I swear, Chris, we won’t let them take you back.”

Chris turned and offered them a small, soft smile, vulnerability leaking in around the edges. Jensen’s heart flipped, and he reminded himself that this was all for Steve. This Chris was Steve’s.

“You always were a dreamer,” Chris said.

Steve shook his head, breath hitching. “These days, I make sure I’m prepared to make them real. They won’t find you, Chris—or, when they do, it’ll be on our terms. We’ll help you.”

“Steve….”

“No,” Steve interrupted before Chris could get any further. He glanced around and met all their eyes, and Jensen knew what he was going to say even before he said it. “We will. That’s what this organisation’s always been about. Bringing humanity back to this world, to this fucked up society that’s forgotten people were born equal. That we all believed in before we blew ourselves up with greed.” He reached out for Chris, and Chris didn’t pull away. “Help us, Chris. You’re the only one who knows what’s really going on.”

Jensen watched the indifferent escaped slave Chris had been as he’d clinically told them about the torture he’d been through disappear, melting into the boy Steve had told him Chris had once been – they Chris they saw everyday - right before his eyes. Chris’ whole body language softened before he just let out a sigh.

“Okay,” he answered softly. He looked around at the rest of the people in the room. When he found everyone watching him, that same conviction in their eyes—the conviction that held their group together and kept them working night and day despite the dangers—his eyes came back to Steve, and he nodded once. “Okay.”

“We’ll bring the whole thing down,” Allison said. “Blow this whole bullshit wide open.”

“It’s all going to burn,” Mike said, with a glee that never failed to make them smile.

“We’ll get them, Chris,” Jensen murmured, reaching out to squeeze Chris’ shoulder. “We’ll make them pay.”

When Chris turned to him and smiled, he imagined the sweetness in it was for him and hadn’t come from the way Steve still cradled Chris’ hand in his own. It was almost good enough.

~

Chris started awake, eyes snapping open. He stilled completely, steadying his breathing as he focused, trying to figure out what had woken him up. His body was tensed and alert, ready to fight if he needed to.

Ready to put himself between the intruder and the apartment’s single bedroom if he had to.

He strained his senses again, knowing something had definitely woken him up. It wasn’t like he’d been sleeping very deeply—ever since he’d come off most the medication, especially the sleeping pills, he’d had too many nightmares for him to be able to sleep well.

Thunk.

Chris turned his head and slipped off the mattress, moving silently towards the bedroom, heart hammering with a fear that had nothing to do with the intruder himself and everything to do with what could have happened to the people in that room during the time it had taken Chris to—

A moan. It was quickly muffled but was followed by whispering in rough, hushed voices, sounds muffled against skin and cloth.

Chris moved more quickly, pressing himself against the wall beside the door and leaning forwards, just enough to look through the slight gap where they’d left it open, trying to figure out how to make sure they didn’t get hurt while he dealt with whoever was there. He froze as his eyes focused on what was actually happening on the bed.

Chris’ reaction was immediate. He sucked in a breath and held it, and fuck, he knew he should walk away now, just go back to bed and pretend he’d seen nothing, but… it was… fuck. He’d never seen anything like it before, and it had been hard enough to look away from Steve and Jensen’s soft, affectionate touching, but this… this was….

He couldn’t look away. He could hardly even blink.

They were on the bed, Steve on his elbows and knees, face pressed into a pillow, muffling soft, helpless sounds. Jensen was behind him, hand stroking down Steve’s spine, over his hip, around to his stomach, as he worked two fingers inside, his own sounds breathed into Steve’s neck.

Steve whined low in his throat, lifting himself onto his hands and rocking back a little impatiently.

Chris’ breath caught. His eyes traced the curve of Steve’s neck, and his fingers almost twitched with the want that coursed through him—the desire to run his hand through Steve’s sweat-soaked hair, down his back and over that glistening skin, the toned stomach, and fuck. Chris wanted.

“Shh,” Jensen murmured, almost too low to hear. “You’ll wake him.” Jensen’s voice shook, obviously having to work hard to stay in control as Steve made another sound. His hand came up to brush over Steve’s lips, and Chris had to bite back his own whimper when Steve sucked Jensen’s fingers into his mouth. “Steve, c’mon,” Jensen almost pleaded, pulling his hand back and steadying Steve’s hips. Chris could see him working in another finger, movements more frantic, more needy.

“Hurry, Jen,” Steve whispered. “Fuck, need you.”

Look away, Kane. You’ve already seen too much.

But his eyes wouldn’t obey. Instead, they ran over Jensen’s bare, unmarked, unmarred skin, watched the way he touched Steve, the ripple of muscle.

“Jen, please.” Steve looked over his shoulder and canted his hips, legs widening, and that was the final straw for Jensen. He pulled his fingers out, coating his cock almost roughly, and then, in one smooth, practiced thrust, slid all the way inside Steve.

They both tried to muffle a moan, but the sensation was apparently too much for any sort of control because the sounds didn’t stop then, as if floodgates had been opened and they didn’t have the power to shut them again.

Chris’ traitorous eyes took in the sight hungrily, etching it into memory: the way Steve’s hands were clenched in the sheets, knuckles almost white; the way Jensen’s muscles shifted and changed with each hard thrust, hips twisting just a little when Steve pushed back to meet every single one of them. The way they muffled their sounds, trying so hard to keep it to themselves, but each movement brought them closer and closer to losing control completely, made them whine and whimper, whisper and curse, gradually louder until Chris was pretty sure there was nothing in the world they knew right that moment but each other.

Until they didn’t remember him.

That thought hit him hard, hurting more than a punch in the gut. More like a knife, one that sunk into his flesh and then twisted sharply more and more the longer he watched Steve and Jensen together. The louder they got, the more desperate their movements, the more Chris wanted, and the more it hurt to know they probably didn’t even remember he existed.

And it was more than just unlikely that he would ever know anything like that. That either of them would want him, too. Either of them.

Chris bit down on a soft sound, eyes immediately going back to Steve and Jensen, checking to make sure they hadn’t noticed. They hadn’t, still completely wrapped up in each other, and Jensen had reached around to jerk Steve off as he fucked him harder, deeper before he squeezed his eyes shut.

Either of them. Both of them.

Oh, god.

He could still hear them. He couldn’t make himself move away. The realisation that he wasn’t jealous of Jensen, didn’t hate Jensen for being able to have Steve, didn’t even just want Steve… it was too much. He felt winded and confused, completely off-balance, but the wall was holding him up. Through the crack in the door, he could hear them.

He could hear the way Steve stuttered Jensen’s name, soft and pleading, need lacing the syllables, and Jensen’s answer, the love all too clear. Then he was listening to them coming, sounds wet and muffled by what Chris could only assume was kissing.

All he could do was swallow hard and try to remember how to breathe. He couldn’t remember anything ever hurting this much.

He didn’t remember how he made it back to his mattress in the corner without Jensen or Steve knowing he’d been there and had seen them, but somehow, he managed. When he fell asleep, a part of him wanted it all to be a dream and another part wasn’t sure he wanted to wake up to face reality.

He slept deeply.

He didn’t sleep without dreams.

~

He’s bleeding. There’s a weapon in his hand, and he’s bleeding. Not hard because he’s not feeling light-headed from blood loss, but enough that he can taste the coppery tang in his mouth, can smell it in the air.

He’s back in the ring. Figures stay just out of his line of sight. They’re the enemy—the friends turned foe that will go back to being friends when this is over. If they’re all still alive.

His eyes sting—from sweat or from blood, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t have time to check.

His grip on the weapon in his hand, a pike this time, tightens as he watches the shadows circle. He feels adrenaline pumping, feels the desire to live flow through his veins stronger than blood—the instinct and need to survive.

His grip tightens, and the figure makes its move. Pain flares in his side, but he’s moved in time, and the pike’s gone straight through the shadowed figure’s throat.

The shadow bleeds into Dave, and Chris feels the bile rise in his throat, his mouth opening as he watches the light in David’s eyes start to dim, watches David’s mouth try to form what Chris knows are comforting words, watches the blood gargling as David tries to just breathe—

And then Chris screams because Dave’s features melt into Steve’s and then to Jensen’s as Chris drops the weapon, shuffles forwards on his hands and knees to slide his arm under the rapidly cooling body. It’s Steve again, looking up at him, dead and cold but lips moving.

Asking him why—why Chris had to come into their lives and destroy what they’d worked so hard to build, why he’d had to ruin everything—and then it’s Jensen once more, telling him that it’s his fault they’re dying.

It’s his fault they’re dead.

Chris screams again.


~

Steve jerked awake at the first bitten-off scream, eyes going immediately to the door, before he looked back at Jensen, who was watching him. Steve swallowed hard as he heard the rustling of the sheets, the soft, helpless sounds Chris was making. The second scream had him out of bed and through the door before his sleep-addled brain could even fully process the movement.

He wasn’t sure how surprised he was to find Jensen right behind him, hovering a little as Steve kneeled down and shook Chris gently.

“Chris,” he said, shaking him more roughly as Chris stayed buried in his nightmare. “Chris, c’mon, wake up. Open your eyes.”

Steve’s heart broke at Chris’ quiet whimper, at the way he tried to push himself away from Steve’s touches, fighting something that was all too vivid to him. His desperation was clear in every movement.

Steve looked up at Jensen helplessly, and Jensen moved to crouch beside him, hesitating for a moment before he brushed soft fingers over Chris’ cheek, slapped him lightly, and held him so he couldn’t turn away. “Wake up, Chris. It’s just a dream.”

Chris’ eyes snapped open, wild and afraid, and Steve bit back on a soft sound at that look. It wasn’t fair, god, it just wasn’t. No one should have to look so… haunted.

“Chris?” Steve murmured, hand slipping over Chris’ cheek, turning him to face them. He waited for Chris to focus, but the seconds ticked on, and that blank, almost unseeing look stayed in Chris’ eyes.

“Here,” Jensen muttered from behind him. A pair of boxers appeared in his line of sight, and he turned enough to look up to find Jensen offering him a small smile. Fuck, they’d both completely forgotten they were naked in their hurry to get to Chris, and Steve hadn’t even noticed Jensen leaving to get their underwear.

“Thanks.” He tugged them on roughly as he turned his full attention back to Chris, who still didn’t look like he’d quite registered the fact that they were there and that he was safe.

“Chris,” Steve said again. He ran his fingers through Chris’ hair. “C’mon, Chris, look at us. You’re here. You’re safe.” He thumbed at the tears that escaped Chris’ eyes before just shaking his head. He gave up fighting the urge to move and wrap his arms around Chris, holding him close. “C’mon, Chris, please. You’re safe with us.”

And Chris finally shifted, then turned his head and buried his face in Steve’s neck, clinging for all he was worth. Steve’s breath caught in his throat. This time, he found himself fighting the urge to cry.

“Stay with him,” Jensen finally said. Jensen’s fingers were in his hair, brushing through the strands, before Jensen tipped his head up so Steve could meet his eyes. “Stay here with him for the rest of the night.”

“But Jen—”

“No,” Jensen interrupted before he could even start arguing. “Just… he needs you, okay? He needs you here.”

“Are you sure it’s—”

“It’s okay.” Jensen kissed him, and it was only as he pulled away that Steve noticed Jensen’s hand dropping from Chris’ neck almost reluctantly. “Take care of him.” And then Jensen disappeared back into their bedroom, leaving Steve with an armful of Chris Kane.

“Fuck,” Steve swore to himself. He shifted both of them until they could get comfortable, curling around Chris the way he remembered Chris used to curl around him when they were smaller and he was scared of the world. He had to remind himself to just breathe, to keep it together, when Chris turned into him and fitted against him like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“It’s okay,” Steve soothed when he finally found his voice. If it came out rough and scratchy, well, no one would ever know. It was just him and Chris and Jensen, and the rest of the world could go fuck itself. “It’s okay, Chris. We got you. It’s gonna be okay.”

He wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince more, but Chris settled, breathing finally evening out as he fell asleep.

That night, Chris didn’t dream again, but Steve stayed awake anyway, watching him. Just in case.

~

After six days of waking up with Steve curled around him, Chris finally asked him something that hammered home the fact that Jensen had made the right choice—and that made having Steve in their bed for only half the night more than worth it.

Jensen walked out of the bedroom, padding through the living room and into the kitchen, grabbing their mugs and pouring in the coffee without ever really waking up. Chris was already awake, as he’d been every morning, and Jensen came back and settled on the couch, handing Chris his cup, careful not to spill it on Steve, wrapped close around Chris, and curling his hands around his own. He sipped at it slowly, finally turning his head to meet Chris’ eyes when he had enough caffeine in his system to register the fact that Chris was staring.

That was different. Jensen tipped his head to the side in silent question.

Chris sighed, ducking his head and staring at his coffee before looking up at Jensen again. “Why don’t you hate me?”

If Jensen had been drinking, he probably would have choked. Instead, he just kind of balked before furrowing his brow. “Why would I?”

Chris looked at him like he was a really dumb child. It still didn’t make sense, so Jensen just stared right back. Chris sighed again, glaring up at him like it was somehow his fault Chris wasn’t making any sense. “Because,” Chris said.

Jensen just waited. Chris rolled his eyes and then looked away. “Because I came into your neatly ordered lives and fucked everything up. And now Steve spends half the fucking night in my bed because I can’t sleep, and… and you’re not pissed off. You’re not angry. You still act like everything’s okay, and you don’t mind… and what the fuck, man? Aren’t you a little ticked off? Don’t you hate me for it just a bit?”

It took a few moments for Jensen to even find his voice to reply. How did you answer something like that? How did you even find the words to reassure someone who’s had to fight for everything he had that you didn’t mind sharing if you needed to?

Jensen finally looked at him and at Steve still sleeping soundly, wrapped around him, and shrugged. “No, I’m not. And no, I don’t hate you.”

“Why not?”

Jensen shrugged again. “I don’t know. I just don’t, Chris. You’ve gone through hell and back, and you’ve… you deserve it, okay? You’ve done more than earn a little love in this world.”

“But—”

“Stop asking questions that don’t have answers,” Jensen said, shaking his head. “No buts. No whys. This is the way things have turned out, and I’m okay with that. You should be, too.”

Chris looked like he wanted to argue the point further, but Steve stirred, mumbling something and tightening his arms around Chris. Chris’ attention immediately shifted as he moved into Steve’s touch, settling Steve again softly. Jensen watched the interaction and felt a small tug in his chest; it was one he didn’t want to examine, but he knew it had nothing to do with jealousy.

And if it was jealousy, he didn’t really want to think about the details.

~

When Jensen woke up in the middle of the night, the other side of the bed was empty, and there were soft, muffled sounds coming from outside. Chris was dreaming again, and Steve… Steve was on the night shift tonight.

“Fuck,” Jensen swore. He moved, sliding out of bed and making his way to Chris’ little corner of their apartment, trying to figure out what the hell he was supposed to do. It wasn’t like he could wake Chris up and curl around him to soothe him back to sleep like Steve did.

He settled on the edge of Chris’ mattress and shook him awake, waiting for him to focus on Jensen before Jensen brushed his fingers through Chris’ hair. It was pretty much the only time Jensen had done that—the only time, he was almost sure, Chris would let him.

“Steve’s out,” Jensen explained when Chris finally looked coherent enough to understand anymore more than gentle, soothing words. “He’s on the night shift tonight.”

Chris stared at him, his eyes dangerously wide. So fucking freaked out by whatever he’d been dreaming about.

Fuck.

“Anything I can do?” Jensen finally asked, slipping his thumb over Chris’ cheek. Chris leaned helplessly into that touch like he craved the contact. “Chris?”

Chris’ hand came up and closed around his wrist before he tugged softly, insistently, eyes doing the pleading that Jensen knew Chris would never voice. Jensen’s eyes widened at the implication, and he froze, a million things going through his mind at once.

It wasn’t a good idea. He wasn’t the one Chris wanted. Chris was Steve’s, and it wasn’t his place to—

Chris tugged again, and Jensen folded like a pack of cards.

He slipped onto the mattress and settled, letting Chris curl against him and get comfortable without saying another word. He tried to figure out where he was supposed to put his arms, and if he was supposed to actually pull Chris closer, or whether it was just that Chris needed another body in the bed with him, or—

Chris buried his face in Jensen’s neck, and Jensen’s brain short-circuited for the time it took Chris’ breathing to even out into sleep.

Jensen finally wrapped his arms around Chris and just held him, trying to calm his own breathing and stop his mind from thinking way too much. He didn’t need to figure out what this meant—really, he didn’t.

But fuck, he wanted to. He really fucking wanted to because, as awkward and fucked up and everything as this was, Chris actually felt good in his arms. And, apart from the occasionally stirring, the occasional movement to get more comfortable, Chris didn’t dream again.

And Jensen didn’t sleep. He was still wide awake and staring at the door when it opened several hours later and Steve walked through, worried and exhausted. All Jensen could do in reply to the surprised look on Steve’s face was to shrug helplessly, careful to avoid waking Chris up.

He watched Steve swallow hard before Steve moved towards them and, without another word, slipped onto the mattress on Chris’ other side, arms wrapping around them both as he kissed the back of Chris’ neck softly.

Steve’s hand ran reassuringly over Jensen’s skin. “We’ll figure it out,” Steve promised him. “It’s gonna be okay, Jen. We’re gonna figure this out together.”

~

It was the fourth morning that Chris had woken up with them both curled around him, and he still didn’t act any less surprised by it. Jensen was already awake, but he was keeping his breathing carefully controlled, noticing what Chris did.

Four days later, Chris still did exactly the same things he’d done that first morning. It was almost amazing, the wonder that could come across with sleep-soft actions.

Chris glanced over at Steve, then at Jensen, and back to Steve again, as if that alone could tell him what was going on. Steve mumbled something, the way he did when whoever he was sleeping on moved too much, and Chris settled almost immediately. He was still for about a minute before he wriggled again, trying to get comfortable, and Jensen slipped his hand into Chris’ hair, tugging him closer, and murmured to him.

The first morning he’d done it, it had been more from instinct than anything else; Jensen had forgotten it was Chris beside him, not Steve. But Chris had moved into it, had turned into that touch just a little. While a surprise, that had been enough of a sign that maybe, just maybe, Steve was right.

“What if… y’know, what if he wants us both?”

It had seemed impossible that first day, after waking up and watching Steve and Chris curl against each other. It had been natural for Steve to lie down beside Chris in the early hours before dawn, but in the sunlight, it had seemed all too stupid. It wasn’t possible. That kind of thing just didn’t happen to people.

Even if Steve was really okay with him starting to… starting to feel for Chris more than he should, and even if Steve was feeling it, too, it wasn’t like they could make Chris love him.

Four days later, Jensen was starting to think that maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe “normal” or “real” or “possible” was overrated.

“You love him,” Steve says when they finally get a moment alone together. “Or, at least, you could love him.”

“I love
you.”

“But you could, couldn’t you? You could love us both.” There’s something in Steve’s eyes that gives him away, not that Jensen hasn’t been able to figure it out himself, that he hasn’t spent a few weeks wondering what the hell was going to happen to them. Because Jensen knew, even then, that he couldn’t have asked Chris to leave or Steve to let him go.

He nods. “You already do,” he says after a moment. It’s not a question because Jensen already knows.

“Nothing would have happened,” Steve says quickly, trying to reassure him, and Jensen knows he’s telling the truth. He’s never doubted Steve. “Not ever. And it won’t if this doesn’t work out. As much as I love him, Jensen, you’re my life now.”

“I know,” Jensen says, pulling Steve against him and kissing him softly. “But what if I could? Even if I could, he doesn’t. That’s not how life works.” You just don’t get that lucky.

Steve stays quiet for a moment before he looks up, locks eyes with Jensen. “What if he could love us both, too?”


He curled his fingers at the nape of Chris’ neck and tugged gently. Chris turned into him without hesitation, pulling Steve with him, until they were as piled up and wrapped tight around each other as they were before Chris had moved. It didn’t take long for Chris to fall asleep again, and it was taking less and less time for Jensen to join them; he seemed to have less to worry about with each passing day.

“Touch him more.”

Jensen felt stupid at first—really fucking stupid—because he’d spent so long trying not to touch Chris too much, avoiding too much intimacy. He still remembered the strength of Chris’ grip on Steve’s arm that first day before he’d figured out who Steve was. Even that injured, Chris could have snapped Steve’s arm in half. Jensen had never for a moment forgotten that Chris wasn’t like the others they’d rescued, even if, most of the time, Jensen really just wanted to wrap him up in a blanket and keep him from the world. Not that Jensen had plans to ever tell Chris that. Ever.

That wasn’t even the point. The point was that they’d started making everything a little more intimate, a little touchier than the weeks before. As stupid as Jensen felt at first, he made the conscious effort to brush up against Chris when he was walking past him, let their hands touch when reaching for something in the same area, or look at Chris far less discreetly than before.

After the first day, it had been almost natural to squeeze Chris’ arm softly when he thanked him or to stand that little bit too close when he was telling Chris how much sugar to put into the cookie mix.

Of course, Chris was confused. Confused was probably an understatement for exactly how much the change had thrown him off-balance, but that had only helped Jensen and Steve more. Every reaction Chris had to them was unconscious and natural, and it was getting clearer and clearer that maybe this could work out for everyone.

“Steve and I are both out late tonight,” Jensen said to Chris, leaning over to steal the remains of the piece of toast Chris was eating. Chris gave a half-hearted little glare. “News that maybe there’s been another escape or something. Weird stuff’s been coming up lately in the hacks, and the gossip’s all over the place.”

Chris nodded. They’d tried to keep him as up-to-date with their underground work as much as possible, but they’d never told him everything. It was a silent agreement between them. Jensen wasn’t sure if it was because Chris was still healing and they were protecting him, or if it was because they were both scared he’d do something reckless if he knew everything.

“When will you be home?” Jensen almost sighed. It also wasn’t like they hadn’t noticed how much Chris hated to be home alone. They’d both done what they could to switch shifts around so one of them was with Chris as much as possible.

“I don’t know,” Jensen admitted. “We’ll get done as soon as we can.” He hesitated a moment before he handed Chris some money. “Why don’t you make dinner? I’m sure Steve’d love to come back to a meal.”

Chris smirked. “What if I burn the place down?”

Jensen laughed and ruffled Chris’ hair, ducking the playful swing. “Try not to, okay? We gotta have somewhere to come back to if we want to eat that home cooked meal.”

“I’ll just boil pasta,” Chris said, but Jensen knew he was joking. Chris loved watching them cook, and he loved helping whenever he could.

Jensen laughed again and nodded. “Whatever you want, Chris.”

“Just don’t come home too late,” Chris said when Jensen was almost at the door. “Or I’m going to eat it all myself.”

It was as close to be careful as Jensen had ever got but Jensen had started to learn all the little nuances in Chris’ character, in the way he talked and what he said, and he knew there was more to it all than just the surface. So much more.

“Yeah, yeah,” Jensen replied, sending a smile over his shoulder, and fighting the urge to turn the fuck around and kiss Chris, who stood there in the middle of the living room, watching him go like some abandoned puppy. Focus, Ackles. There will be the right time for that. “Just make sure it’s edible.”

Chris’ quiet laughter followed him to work, and there was nothing anyone could do to wipe away the smile that tugged at his lips whenever he thought about it.

~

It was the silence that Steve noticed first as he opened the door to their apartment. There was no TV on in the living room, no shower running in the bathroom, not even the hint of sound from the kitchen.

There were no lights on, either.

Steve frowned. Jensen had finished going through the case he’d been working on before Steve was done, and he had insisted Jensen go home while Steve finished up some filing he’d promised Alona he’d do when he’d finished the case. That had been hours ago. There was absolutely no reason why the house should be so still.

Especially since he was pretty sure Jensen had been itching to get back to check on Chris. Who wasn’t here, either.

“Jensen?” Steve called out, flipping on the light in the hallway. No reply.

Steve frowned a little and wandered down the corridor to the living room, turning on the light in there as he walked through the door. “Are you—” He froze, hand still on the light switch.

There was someone in their house. And whoever they were had Jensen tied to a chair in the middle of the living room.

“I was wondering when someone would get home,” the man said. He was sitting on the back of the couch, feet propped up on the chair Jensen was tied to, right between Jensen’s legs. “For a while, I thought I might have to just play with pretty boy here to help with boredom.”

Jensen whimpered past the gag, and Steve wondered how the fuck he’d missed the big-ass sword, the flat of which was running up the inside of Jensen’s thigh.

Steve swallowed hard. “Who are you?” His eyes stayed glued to that blade now that he’d caught sight of it, and it took a lot of willpower to transfer his gaze to check Jensen over for injuries. Apart from a nasty looking bruise starting to purple on Jensen’s temple, where the mystery man presumably knocked him out, Jensen looked okay, if pale with fear could be called okay.

“The name’s Fred,” the man—Fred—said. He flicked his wrist a little, the blade slicing through Jensen’s jeans easily, proving just how sharp it was. A thin line of red followed, and Steve held his breath. “Not that it matters much.”

Steve tried to stop panic from rising, tried to think of his options. “What—what are you doing here? What do you want from us?”

Fred cocked his head sideways, transferring his attention to Steve. “You? Nothing. Well, nothing much, anyway.” He lazily made a matching cut on the inside of Jensen’s other thigh. “I’m waiting on one more person to join this party.”

He saw Jensen freeze at about the same time he felt his heart stutter to a stop, the meaning sinking in slowly.

Chris.

“One more person?” Steve asked. Even as the words left his lips, he realised he’d paused too long. Hesitated too much. Given the game away.

Fred rolled his eyes, amusement flittering through the dullish blue. Old, Steve’s mind supplied. Weary. Wild. Crazy. He didn’t think someone could look more unhinged than Chris did when he woke up from his nightmares, hands reaching for something that wasn’t there.

Steve had never had the courage to ask what it was, but meeting Fred’s eyes now, he wished he had.

“I don’t know where he is,” Steve said shakily. There was a gun hidden in a small compartment close to the door, so close to where he was standing. God, he just needed to get himself together. “Please,” he offered when he saw Jensen tensing. He knew the blade had to be vibrating, biting into skin a little more. “We really don’t know anything.”

“But he was here,” Fred noted, sounding almost bored. He glanced at Jensen again, shifting so the sword slid up his chest, cutting clean through his shirt. As much as he didn’t want to risk Jensen being hurt any more and as scared out of his mind as he was, Steve used the moment to slide over the last few inches, hands working fast to get the lock undone. The tip of the blade rested over Jensen’s throat. “And since he was here, maybe you are more valuable than I thought.”

Steve’s fingers closed around the metal. He pulled it out, both hands curling around the handle as he pointed it at Fred, willing his body to stop shaking. The gun felt cold and alien in his palm. “Back away from him.” He wished it had come out more convincing.

He wished Fred looked even a little bit scared.

Instead, Fred just turned a little more, moving the sword to rest on Jensen’s shoulder. His lip quirked up into a small smile. “Or what?” Hhe asked, voice laced with amusement that shouldn’t be there when he had a gun pointed at him. “You’ll shoot me?”

“Yes.”

He chuckled quietly. “Drop it, boy,” he said when Steve just clenched his jaw, finger on the trigger. “You don’t have it in you.” His gaze turned so piercing that Steve wanted to hide from it. “You’ve never killed anyone.” It wasn’t even a question. “You’re not a killer.”

Steve’s hands shook, the traitors.

“No,” another voice said from behind Fred. The kitchen. Chris’ voice. Steve’s stomach bottomed out. “But I am.”

Fred’s slow, Cheshire grin sent a shiver up Steve’s spine. God, Chris. Fred turned slowly. Steve almost didn’t want to look. He finally raised his eyes and looked past Fred’s shoulder at Chris.

Chris pushed away from the wall he’d been leaning against, looking almost relaxed, stalking slowly closer. He had a pair of kitchen knives in his hands, but they did nothing to reassure Steve because an easy twirl of Fred’s hand had the sword spinning carelessly. Away from Jensen, though, which was the only thing about this whole scene that Steve could feel any relief about.

Fred nudged the edge of the chair, sending Jensen sprawling backwards with a muffled pained sound, but Fred's attention was completely focused on Chris. Steve shook himself and rushed to Jensen’s side, slipping the gag out before trying to work those knots free.

It wasn’t an easy task when his eyes kept flickering up to watch Chris and Fred sizing each other up. Somehow, Chris had managed to turn them so he was standing between Fred and the two of them on the floor.

“What are you even doing here, Fred?” Chris asked, voice low and cold.

“You even have to ask?” Fred’s eyes flickered for a moment to Steve and Jensen before they went back to Chris. “It’s nothing personal, but I can’t stay there—can’t be a fucking possession—any longer.”

“So?” Chris asked. “Why are you here?”

“Still don’t get it, do you?” Fred looked back at them again, and Steve tried not to look away first. But God, he couldn’t hold those eyes. He dropped his attention back to trying to undo the knots, trying to get Jensen out of that chair.

A knife appeared in his line of vision seconds later, but when he looked up, Chris hadn’t even looked away from Fred.

Fred sighed, the sound and movement both over-exaggerated like this was some big cosmic joke.

“You pissed off a lot of people, Kane,” Fred said. “A hell of a lot of people who are willing to do a hell of a lot to find you and drag you the fuck back for your just desserts.” Fred shook his head, and Steve kind of wished he could see what Fred was seeing. Chris was still as a stone. As if to make up for it, Steve was shaking like a leaf as he cut carefully through the bindings. “The deal,” Fred continued like he was explaining something to a particularly dumb child, “is that I bring you back. Dead or alive. And I get my freedom.”

When Chris laughed, it was dark and bitter, and Steve almost slit Jensen’s wrist by mistake in his surprise. “You think they’re really going to give it to you? Don’t be fucking naïve, Fred. They wouldn’t give me mine. Hell, these people up here don’t even know we exist. There’s no such thing as freedom. You’re out now, so make fucking use of it and run.”

“Ain’t no one’s ever pissed them off like you, either.” Fred pointed the sword at Chris, and Steve had to lower his eyes and focus on helping Jensen up. “For a bonus, they’ll even help me set up someplace. This… this will get me a real life. I can’t live like you—like some rat, hiding and hunted.”

“Every man for himself,” Chris parroted cynically. “So what? You just take me—or my body—back, and they let you go, then set you up somewhere nice? Just like that?”

Fred’s eyes flickered, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movement, to Jensen and Steve. Steve hadn’t blinked, and Chris didn’t miss it. Steve watched the muscles in Chris’ back tense. “No.”

“They know someone’s hidin’ you,” Fred said quietly. “Because you were beat to hell when you left. Someone’s keeping you breathing. They want to know who.”

Chris’ hand tightened around the knife he still had, stance finally showing something more than boredom. Aggression. “It’s not going to happen.”

“You think you can protect them, Chris?” Fred asked, not unkindly. God, Steve was so fucking confused. Here they were, standing there, ready to kill, yet they obviously shared a lot of history. Fred sounded almost like he cared. “You don’t even have a real weapon.”

Chris laughed again. Fuck, Steve hated that sound. “I don’t need a real weapon.”

“You’re out of practice, kid,” Fred said. He was also moving, shifting slowly, almost imperceptibly. Like the panther Steve had seen once when he was at the zoo with Jensen as it had readied itself to strike. “You’re still healing, still hurting, and I’m fresh out of the cage.” He sighed. “Give it up, Kane. This doesn’t need to hurt any more than it has to.”

“Steve,” Chris said tightly. “You and Jensen need to back up a whole lot.”

Fred frowned for a moment before he gave Chris an incredulous look. “Christian, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me. You’re… them? This is about them? Did you learn nothing from Dave?”

“Fuck you,” Chris hissed. “Fuck you. You know nothing about that, so don’t fucking say it.”

“Sentimental shit will get you killed,” Fred spat back. “You almost fucked up your life then, and you’re going to fight me because of them? You’re going to die defending them when it’s fucking futile? They’re going to keep sending people after you, Chris. They’ll never let you go.” Fred looked at Steve again, and this time, Steve managed a defiant stare back. Almost, anyway. Fred dismissed it entirely. “Turn them in. Maybe you can cut a deal. Maybe, if you come easy, bring ‘em with us…”

“I’m not the one dying tonight.” Chris’ answer was cold. “And you two need to move. Now.

“Fine,” Fred said. As Steve helped Jensen to his feet, he watched the person he’d glimpsed in Fred slowly disappearing. Something cold, something inhuman, replaced whatever had been in the man before. “Let’s do this the hard way, then.”

“Steve,” Jensen said softly. All Steve could do was nod and help him back into the corridor, away from where the room’s temperature seemed to have dropped a few degrees. “We can’t—what if he—”

“We have to,” Steve said, throat tight. He was almost surprised at how he sounded, choked up and shaking. He reached for Jensen’s hand at the same time Jensen reached for him. They gripped each other tight as their attention went back to the living room, where Chris had given them two heartbeats to move before he was kicking the knife up into his hand, flipping them around as he crouched lower.

This wasn’t the Chris who’d sat on their kitchen counter, watching with interest as Steve made dinner. It wasn’t the man who’d hardly hesitated before crouching down to play with Sadie and Harley, who Jared trusted to babysit his two babies. It wasn’t even the man Chris woke up as, wide-eyed, frightened, and desperate, scream dying in his throat.

The person standing there was a fighter. A killer.

But it was still Chris.

Still their Chris, who was protecting them, who stood between them and a desperate man. It was Chris, who was injured and still favoured his left side. Steve wanted to hide his eyes against Jensen’s neck, wanted to stay there and not have to watch. But he couldn’t look away, and he wasn’t sure he’d do Chris that injustice even if he could.

Their sudden movement took him by surprise, and the sound of metal against metal was almost deafening in a room that had been still for so long. Jensen’s fingers tightened against his skin, grip bruising as he swore under his breath.

It was almost too fast to follow, sometimes appearing as though they were watching a movie where the sound was out of sync. The flash-spark of blades meeting followed by a split second pause before the crash-skid of noise, and the thump of feet-knees-hands on the floor before another flurry of motions followed. Jensen’s grip on his arm tightened every time Chris stumbled, as if Steve needed the reminder; Steve was barely breathing as it was, and every time he watched Chris fall, his heart skipped a beat or three.

It was Jensen who finally almost threw himself into the room, only stopped by Steve’s death grip on him, when Chris’ knives went skidding across the floor. Chris was standing there, weaponless and breathing hard, the weakness of his right side clear.

“Chris,” Jensen was shouting. “Fuck, Chris, stop it. Stop this. We’ll go. Just… fuck, please, don’t—” Steve didn’t know how Jensen could still shout when Steve didn’t think he could make a single sound or even take a breath. “Fuck, no!” Jensen was practically screaming.

Fred threw all his weight into the next swing. It was over in the blink of an eye.

For Steve, it went in slow motion. Chris sidestepped the lunge, gritting his teeth as his full weight strained his still-healing muscles, and then the sword was in his hand, buried in Fred’s body, up through his heart and throat.

“I’m sorry,” Chris whispered, lips right against Fred’s temple as Fred slid to the floor, eyes wide, expression frozen in surprise. “I’m really fucking sorry.”

Steve and Jensen almost tripped over each other trying to get to Chris.

God, Steve had thought—and so had Jensen—that for sure Chris was going to —and now he—

They watched in horror as Chris withdrew the bloody blade from Fred’s body, dropped the sword, then fell to his knees, hand clutching his side. Steve realised with sickening certainty that Fred’s blood wasn’t the only one on that sword or on Chris’ hand.

Chris,” he breathed, sliding to his knees and slipping one arm under Chris to keep him from falling completely, letting Chris lean heavily against him. “God, how bad is it? Fuck, Chris. Chris? Hold on. Let me see.” He eased Chris’ hand away slowly and was suddenly very glad he’d come home on an empty stomach.

Chris’ side was torn. Steve could see it in his mind’s eye: the sidestep that wasn’t far enough, the pained expression on Chris’ face, the blade that had slid into him before he had leaned far enough for the blade to rip out of him.

Now Steve understood the surprise that had been on Fred’s face.

“Oh, god, Jen—”

“Allie’s on the way,” Jensen said. He appeared beside them, pressing a towel to Chris’ side. “I just called. Tom and Mike are on their way, too, and Alona and Kristin are already working on the paperwork. How’s he doing?”

“I—Jen, he’s—I don’t—”

“I’m not the nurse, Steve,” Jensen said, the harshness in his tone surprising Steve enough for him to look away from the blood that was soaking the towel. “Focus, okay?” Jensen looked just as worried, freckles standing out against his pale skin. “How’s he doing?”

Steve breathed, then tried to pull the plug on his personal side and look at this more professionally. “We… we’ve got to stop the bleeding. Got to keep him with us.” He looked up at Chris, fingers brushing softly through Chris’ hair. “Can you open your eyes? Chris?”

“C’mon,” he heard Jensen muttering beside him. “C’mon back to us, idiot.”

Chris’ eyes fluttered open. “Fuckin’ bastard,” he managed through clenched teeth, no heat in the words. And god, Steve wanted to pass out because if Chris could still insult people, his world was still turning.

“Okay,” Steve breathed, trying not to panic. God, it didn’t look good at all. “That’s it. That’s good. Stay with us, okay? Please, stay with us.” His voice broke on the soft plea.

“Yeah,” Chris mumbled, word starting to slur. “Yeah.”

He could have kissed Allison and Chad when they knocked on the door, banging out the code, rough and shaky but recognisable. Jensen opened it and talked rapidly as they hurried down the corridor, explaining what he could, and then they were easing Chris from Steve’s arms.

“No,” Steve said, voice tight, trying to hold on. He couldn’t let Chris slip away from him. He wanted to be there, wanted to hold him and reassure himself that Chris was still breathing and alive.

“You can’t do this,” Allison said softly. “Chad’s here. He’s going to help me.”

“Chad’s just a vet,” Steve said, voice rising a little in pitch.

“You can’t do it,” Allison said again. Chris was—Chad was setting Chris on the kitchen table carefully, pulling out the emergency supplies they’d brought with them. “He can. Trust us. Let us work.”

Then Jensen was there, pulling Steve into his arms, turning him away from Chris—from all that blood because god, how could there be so much blood when Chris’ heart was still beating. Jensen held him tight, face buried in Steve’s hair, rocking them slowly where they stood as the sounds of Allison and Chad came from behind them.

Steve heard every word, but none of it was registering. Nothing was registering further than the fact that it was Chris on that table. That it was Chris there, dying, and he was going to lose him again.

When they hadn’t even really found him yet.

Jensen stayed there, holding him close and tight, whispering comforts that Steve was pretty sure neither of them believed.


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