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11 June 2010 @ 06:17 pm
fic: a spotlight on these desolate dreams (part three.)  
[back to part two.]

“Took you long enough.”

Jared rolls his eyes as he walks into the conference room at the police station. He’s tired and sweaty and would love a shower and a nap, but things rarely go the way he wants them to.

Bartha is creating a timeline on a whiteboard and Collins is going through a file with a picture of Bradley Cooper clipped to the front of it.

“This fuckin’ guy,” Collins says, flicking the papers angrily. “We know he oversees the drug trade in this goddamn city. He’s the fuckin’ kingpin, but he’s smart, you know? We can never pin anything on him. Everything we have is all circumstantial.”

“So we’re thinking this a drug-related crime now?” Bartha asks, tapping the marker against his bottom lip.

“It might be drug-related,” Jared says as he drops down into an office chair. “But Sandy didn’t do drugs.”

“Right,” Collins snorts. Even Bartha raises a brow. “No one in this town with that much money and power doesn’t do drugs.”

“Sandy never did,” Jared replies evenly. “Not once. That tox report won’t show anything. I guarantee it.”

“We’ll see about that,” Collins tells him. Jared just shrugs one shoulder. “We put a rush on it, but we still probably won’t have the report in hand for almost a week, maybe longer.”

“The coroner put the time of death at four AM, with evidence that she was alive for a period of time when her wrists were bound together,” Bartha says thoughtfully as he notes it on the timeline. “Your witness puts her at the club just two hours before that. It’s safe to say she was either snatched on the way out, or she never left that club alive.”

“So what,” Collins replies. “Do we pick Cooper up for questioning?”

“Nah, we do that, he’s ghost,” Jared replies as he reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “You said it yourself – everything we have is circumstantial. So she went to a club he owns on the night she died. Doesn’t mean he killed her. We question him, he denies it, and we let him go because we have no proof. Then he runs.”

“Fuck.” Collins slams the folder down on the desk and scrubs a hand across his face. “So we tail him. Find out where he goes and what he does. This douchebag knows what happened to that girl.”

“But we have to be careful,” Bartha adds as he pushes his glasses up his nose. “This guy is wicked smart. He’s bound to know the cops are on his ass.”

“Tailing people is my business.” Jared puts his feet up on the table and stretches before rubbing at his eyes. “He’d never see me.”

“You’re not going alone,” Bartha tells him, and Jared raises a brow. Bartha just stares right back at him and Jared finally smiles. He doesn’t need to be a detective to figure out that the kid has a crush on him. He can’t deny the fact that Bartha is gorgeous and maybe under different circumstances he might even give into those baby blues, but now isn’t the time. And it definitely isn’t the place.

“I have to figure out what to tell the press in the morning,” Collins growls. He scrubs his hand over his face and slumps down in his chair. “The first forty-eight are almost up and I have to convince them that we’re not just sitting around with our fucking thumbs up our asses. I hate the goddamn press.”

“Maybe you should let me talk to the press,” Bartha offers. He walks over to squeeze Collins’s shoulder and the senior detective looks up at him with narrowed eyes. “I mean, I’m adorable and charming. You’re intense and scary.”

“Because that’s who the people of Los Angeles want protecting them,” Collins replies exasperatedly. “An adorable little cop.”

“Adorable but vicious,” Bartha replies, winking at Jared before playfully baring his teeth. “Don’t forget vicious.”

“How could we?” Jared asks with a smirk. He feels tired but restless at the same time. His brain feels like it’s being pulled in a hundred different directions and all he wants to do is stop and think. “Well, I think I’m gonna take off. If I don’t catch a few winks, I’ll be no use to you at all.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Collins replies. He checks his watch and winces. “Let’s all do that. And Bartha, meet me back here in a whopping six hours so you can talk to the goddamn stupid fucking press.”

“I’ll be ready for my close up,” Bartha says with a flutter of his lashes. Collins just blinks at him and Jared snorts. It’s rare to find someone that can always diffuse stressful situations and make everyone breathe a little easier. Bartha is a gem. “You, uh, need a ride, Jared?”

“Nah, I have my rental,” Jared replies as he stands up. The hint is less than subtle, and as much as he’d like to blow off some steam, it just isn’t a good idea. His head and his heart are too messed up right now to even think about getting his dick involved too. “I’ll be in touch in the morning.”

Bartha nods at him and Collins waves his hand dismissively. Jared salutes and makes his way out of the station. He knows he should go back to his hotel and get some much needed sleep, but it’s the middle of the night. This is the time that his senses are most heightened, that he’s most able to do his job.

He gets into his rental car and drives back to 500 BC. He parks half a block down from the club, stretching and settling in for a little surveillance. It’s late enough that it’s almost morning, so the sidewalk in front of the club is absent of bouncers and eager partiers. Even the velvet ropes have been dragged inside. Jared isn’t sure what he’s expecting to see.

He goes over the facts. Sandy was last seen entering the private VIP room of a well known drug trade kingpin, but she was vehemently against ever doing drugs herself. Either she flipped her stance, or something bigger was going on.

A sleek black car with heavily tinted windows pulls up in front of the club and Jared slumps down in his seat. The engine never cuts off and the driver never gets out, but Bradley Cooper leaves the club with his arms around two tiny, stumbling girls. He loads them into the backseat and then grins as he climbs into the passenger seat.

Just the sight of him puts Jared on edge.

The car drives away, luckily making a u-turn so it never passes Jared. He takes a breath and waits five minutes before starting up his own car. He gets back to his hotel and face plants onto his bed, somehow falling asleep even as his mind races.

All he knows is that Sandy is dead, and that scumbag has something to do with it.

Jared wakes up just in time to turn on the television to catch Bartha charming the pants off of the press and Collins scowling behind him. After Bartha tells them to fuck off and let them do their job in a way that makes them love him for it, they switch over to other Sandy-related topics. A scholarship has been set up in her name. She will be laid to rest next week at the Forest Lawn cemetary after a private ceremony for family and close friends.

Jared turns off the television with an angry swipe of his fingers over the remote. He buries his face in his hands, allowing his frustration and exhaustion to overwhelm him for just a moment before grinding the heels of his palms into his eyes and sitting up. He spends a good chunk of the morning making calls to all his contacts on the east coast, trying to drag up anything he can on Bradley Cooper. He even cashes in on all his favors with Sergeant Fuller and doesn’t even bother to try and hide the desperation in his voice. That bastard is the closest thing he has to a friend in that damn city.

He takes a shower, makes some coffee, and then checks in with the detectives by calling the cell number Bartha slipped him. After exchanging pleasantries, Collins snatches the phone away and growls in Jared’s ear, informing him that they’re about to have another debriefing where they introduce Bradley Cooper as a possible suspect, and that a press blackout has been issued to keep him from getting word of it. He hangs up after demanding that Jared drag his happy ass into the station that afternoon with Ackles in tow.

Jared sets his phone on the table and shakes his wet hair out of his face. Facing Jensen isn’t something he was exactly looking forward to this morning, not after the clusterfuck that was the previous evening.

It feels like a door has been opened in the brick wall that separated who they were and who they are. Everything feels a bit off now. Jared feels almost like he did just before he left, and he knows how that turned out.

He shakes off the feeling, gets dressed, and heads out to find his former best friend.

Jared is nervous as Jensen’s butler lets him into the Ackles estate. He’s been here a thousand times, but as a poor kid from the valley, it still hasn’t lost its grandeur.

Even the butler eyes him wearily as Jared passes. He’s been all over the papers the last couple of days. While he was in the hospital he saw a headline that read something like teen sleuth solves brutal crime with Jared’s picture underneath, looking battered and bloody with Jensen’s arm around him to hold him up. The photo had been snapped by the press as Jared was pulled from the place he was held captive; Jensen stuck to his side like glue.

He’s famous now, and the spotlight is starting to burn.

His body protests every trudging step up the grand staircase leading to Jensen’s room. He has cracked ribs and a sprained ankle and swollen eyes, but he’s sick of being stuck in this limbo. He needs to know, once and for all.

Maybe he knows how this will end, and he wants to deal with all of his pain at the same time.

He knocks on Jensen’s bedroom door with scraped up knuckles and takes in a deep breath when he hears Jensen start to move around. The door opens and he sees Jensen’s face, radiant grin warming Jared and making his stomach twist all at once.

“Well, if it isn’t the conquering hero!” Jensen says with a flourish. He reaches out to pull Jared into a careful hug, hands pressing into the slight dip between the wings of his shoulders. Jared closes his eyes and lets out a breath as he rests his chin on Jensen’s shoulder. He even smells unattainable. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“I wanted to see you,” Jared mumbles. Jensen pulls away and Jared makes the mistake of looking into those green eyes. “I, um, wanted to talk to you about something. It’s kinda big.”

“Of course, man,” Jensen says, bright smile flickering for only a moment. He’s too well-versed in masking his emotions to ever look nervous. “Do you need anything? I can have something brought up.”

“No,” Jared says as his heart starts to pound in his chest. “I just need a few minutes of your time.”

“Jared, you can have all the minutes.” He looks at Jensen and wants to cry. He gets all these little flashes of hope only to have them extinguished. It’s a roller coaster that he doesn’t much feel like riding anymore.

Jared nods, and Jensen pulls him into his bedroom.

Jensen’s cell phone goes straight to voicemail and his secretary informs Jared that he has taken a personal day.

There are a few straggling photographers parked outside Jensen’s estate when he pulls up, and Jared rolls his eyes and tips his fedora down to cover his face as he makes his way to the front door.

The butler answers and Jared is too tired and too fed up to even be a smartass. He just follows dutifully through the house and out the backdoor, where Jensen and Katie are lounging in floating chairs in the pool. The butler nods and Jared tips his chin up in return before his brain nearly short-circuits at the sight of a tan, lean, Jensen Ackles in nothing but a pair of small black swim trunks.

Katie is in the chair next to him in a revealing pink bikini. It explains the photographers, but does little to get his attention. She’s gorgeous, of course, but she has never been the one to catch his eye.

“Jared!” Katie gives a sultry smirk as the sun glints off of her glossy, magazine-ready lips. “That suit looks far too hot. Strip down and join us.”

Jared smiles tightly and looks over at Jensen. He gives him a bland nod, eyes hidden by dark sunglasses. Jared knows what he’s doing. Jensen feels like he showed all his cards last night, so he’s making up for it today by wearing one hell of a poker face. Same game, different decade.

“Your phone is off,” Jared says by way of a greeting. He walks over to the edge of the pool and tips his hat back before shoving his hands in his pockets. Jensen stretches, spine arching like a limber feline as he reaches back behind his head. Jared swallows hard, but otherwise doesn’t react.

“Is it?” Jensen replies lazily. “I had no idea.”

“I called your office,” Jared continues undeterred. “Your assistant told me that you took a personal day.”

“Yeah, that was my father’s idea,” Jensen replies. Jared can’t even tell if he’s looking at him. The lenses on his sunglasses are too dark. “He didn’t like that I was working so soon after Sandy’s death. He thought it made me look insensitive. Never mind that it helped take my mind off of everything. Now I’m just sitting in a pool with nothing to do but think about things I don’t want to be thinking about. Thanks, Pops.”

“I hear you,” Katie replies, reaching out to grab the arm of Jensen’s chair and pull him closer. “My publicist set up a lunch date for me, Danneel, and Sophia at the Ivy. You know how this town works. Our dear little shutterbugs won’t rest until they snap a shot of this pretty face. If they want me so bad, they can damn well have me.”

Jensen smirks at her and Jared nearly flinches at the mention of Jensen’s ex-girlfriend. He knows he and Danneel called it quits about a year after Jared skipped town, but he didn’t know that they were still friends.

“I need you to set some time aside for me this afternoon,” Jared tells Jensen, pushing aside his feelings to get down to business. “To discuss the case.”

“I don’t understand why you don’t just leave it to the police,” Katie says before Jensen can give him an answer. “I mean, that’s their job, right?”

“Jared is better than the police,” Jensen says easily, like it’s not a compliment, just a fact. “And yeah, sure. My day’s wide open, apparently.”

“Well,” Katie says, sitting up in her floating chair and wrapping her arms around her raised knees. “Have you found anything out?”

“Can’t talk about an ongoing investigation,” Jared says quickly. Katie pouts at him and Jared smiles tightly. “Sorry.”

“Jensen gets to know everything,” she points out unhappily. Jared reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He feels spread so thin, and his tolerance for annoyance has always been a little low. But still, he tries not to let his frustration show.

“Jensen is part of the ongoing investigation,” Jared tells her. Jensen reaches out to pat her bare thigh consolingly.

“Them’s the breaks, Katie Cass,” Jensen tells her. “Now shouldn’t you be off getting ready? You don’t want to show up at the Ivy with chlorine tangles in your hair.”

“I suppose,” Katie sighs. She gathers her dry hair in one hand and slips off of the chair to land on her feet in the shallow end of the pool. She wades over to Jensen and leans over to kiss his cheek, and he smiles at her. She climbs gracefully out of the pool and pulls on a robe before sauntering towards the house. “See you around, Jared.”

Katie disappears into the house and Jared turns his attention back to Jensen. He pushes his sunglasses up into his hair and squints at him. His skin is a little pink and Jared turns his head to the side for a moment just to take a break from looking at him.

“You’re gonna burn sitting out here like this,” Jared tells him. Jensen shrugs and looks him up and down.

“You should come on in. The water’s fine,” Jensen says, drawing out the last word. “You’re looking a little pallid, man. New York City skies have not been kind to you. What happened to the tan that put us all to shame?”

“I’m generally asleep when the sun is out,” Jared replies. “And I don’t have a suit.”

“We’re all boys here,” Jensen says with a smirk. Jared rolls his eyes and takes off his hat, jacket, socks, and shoes. He lays them on a lounge chair and sits down on the cement, rolling his pant legs up before slipping his feet into the cool water. His sidearm digs into him when he slumps forward and Jensen scoffs amusedly. “Spoilsport.”

Jared smirks and tips his head back just to bask in the sun for a few moments. When he looks forward again, it’s to discover that Jensen has paddled his way over to him.

“Mojito?” Jensen asks, holding up a sweaty glass. Jared raises a brow.

“It’s eleven in the morning,” Jared says conversationally. Jensen shrugs and holds the glass out anyway. Jared snorts and then leans in to take a sip. It’s minty and cool and Jared gives a tiny shiver as he swallows.

“So what’s up?” Jensen asks, reaching out to grab Jared’s knee to keep himself from floating away. “With the case, I mean.”

“Press blackout. At least when it comes to details about the investigation,” Jared replies. Jensen lets out a sigh of relief. “The detectives introduced Cooper as a potential suspect at this morning’s debriefing. We’re going to have to get closer to him and they’ll probably need you to do it.”

“It’s always nice to be needed,” Jensen replies easily. He jerks his head forward so his sunglasses slip back down over his eyes. He trails his fingertips through the clear water and then grabs Jared’s knee again. Water soaks through the fabric and touches his skin. “When do we have to go?”

“This afternoon,” Jared tells him, ignoring the way Jensen is squeezing his bony knee with nimble, manicured fingers. “They’ll call me.”

Jensen nods thoughtfully and takes another sip of his drink. After a few quiet moments he looks up at Jared again. He’s wearing a smirk, but not his normal cocky one. This one is almost soft and hesitant.

“So you’ll stay for lunch, then?” Jensen asks, but it doesn’t really sound like a question. “I can have Susan make us some meatball subs.”

“You stole Susan from your parent’s place?” Jared asks with a laugh. Susan was the main cook on staff at the Ackles estate, and her meatball sandwiches were Jared’s favorite thing in the world. He’s surprised Jensen remembered.

“She fed me more than she fed them,” Jensen reminds him. “A boy’s gotta eat, you know.”

Jensen squeezes his knee again and Jared bites his lip. He finally lets out a breath and then smiles a little before tipping his head back again. The sun does feel amazing on his skin, and he vows to do a little sunbathing before he leaves. Just for old time’s sake.

“Yeah, Jensen,” he finally breathes. He closes his eyes and rolls his shoulders, sliding his feet through the water. “I’ll stay.”

The fingers around his knee squeeze tighter.

Jared is in surprisingly good spirits when he and Jensen make their way into the station that afternoon.

He ate like he hasn’t since he was a teenager – with reckless abandon and a complete disregard for napkins. Susan cooed over him, told him he was too skinny, and pinched his cheeks while he ate. Jensen just watched fondly and picked at his own sandwich with nimble fingers.

Jensen had thrown on a thin, clingy tee and a pair of board shorts to show off his radiant tan that somehow miraculously didn’t turn into a burn. He looks like he should be on the beach instead of sitting in the middle of a stuffy police station, whereas Jared’s fedora is making his head sweat.

“This way, gentlemen,” Collins says without even slowing as he passes them. Bartha follows close behind him with a stack of folders in his arms and Jared stops him as he passes to help carry them. Bartha smiles gratefully and Jensen’s nose twitches as he spins on his heels to follow Collins into the conference room.

“What we need is a game plan,” Collins says before they even get a chance to sit down. “Give me something, superstar.”

“Well,” Jared says as he takes off his hat and sets it on the table. “I spent a good chunk of my morning on the phone with my contacts in New York to see if I could dig up any dirt on Cooper. Haven’t heard anything yet.”

“Fantastic,” Collins says. A street cop enters the room and Collins rolls his eyes. “Christ, what now?”

The cop swallows hard and Bartha smirks and gestures him forward. He’s a skinny young thing, a scared little rookie, and Jared looks up at him expectantly. The cop’s eyes linger on Jensen’s face for a moment before he turns to Collins.

“Sorry to interrupt, but we have a bit of a situation,” the cop says, and then stops speaking entirely. His eyes linger on Jared, and then Jensen.

“Are you going to fucking elaborate, or do we have to guess?” Collins asks and Bartha smacks him in the arm.

“Uh, we got a call early this morning. They found a kid all beat to shit,” he tells them. “He just woke up and he won’t tell us anything. He says he’ll only talk to Jensen Ackles.”

Jensen, who hadn’t been paying much attention to the exchange, looks up and whips around to face the officer. He furrows his brow and looks to Jared and back up.

“Why me?” Jensen asks. The rookie looks a little surprised that Jensen is speaking directly to him and Jared rolls his eyes.

“I don’t know,” he replies. “All he’ll say is to tell you and Spade that he’s in the hospital and that you’ll know why. We got a name. Uh, Efron?”

Jared’s stomach drops. Whoever this person is, they know his alias. He hasn’t been using that name on this coast. Jensen’s fingers suddenly grip his shoulder and when Jared looks over his eyes are pained.

“That’s Zac,” Jensen informs him thickly. “From last night.”

“Wait, the fucking witness?” Collins demands. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“I thought you guys were careful,” Bartha says as he leans in. “I thought you didn’t put him in danger.”

“We didn’t!” Jensen shouts back. “At least, I didn’t think we did.”

“It was a crowded dance club,” Jared replies as he reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “It wasn’t the best place to question somebody but we made do with what we had.”

“I’ll go,” Jensen says, already standing up. “I’ll go talk to him.”

“I’m going too,” Jared adds. Jensen gives him a grateful smile and the detectives stand up as well. “I’d like to know how he knows my alias. We didn’t exactly introduce ourselves.”

“I’m assuming the two of you are going to want to play chaperone.” Jensen levels the detectives with a stare and Collins’s blue eyes narrow dangerously. “Let’s go, then.”

Jared doesn’t miss the way Jensen bites his lip as they leave. It’s a sure sign of guilt. He feels horrible.

There is an officer stationed outside Zac’s hospital room and Collins and Bartha nod at him as they walk in.

“Hey, pretty boys,” Zac says in a raspy voice. Jared winces when he catches sight of him. The face in front of him doesn’t quite match the face from the night before. He was pretty with big blue eyes and a wide, pink-lipped smile. Now his face is covered in cuts and bruises, left eye swollen completely shut. He can see Jensen shudder as he approaches the bed. “Glad to see that I’m worth your time again. But I’m talking to you two. Not them.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Bartha tells him gently. “You’re officially a part of this investigation, and we need to hear what happened.”

“Fine,” Zac croaks out. One of his arms is in a cast but he wiggles his fingers. “Just… stay over there. I’m not a huge fan of those in your profession.”

Collins opens his mouth but Bartha pushes him back to take a seat in the chairs off to the side. He lets out a sigh and glares at his partner as Jared and Jensen approach the bed.

“Tell us what happened, Zac,” Jared says softly. “If you can.”

“I got my fucking ass beat. What the hell does it look like?” Zac rasps bitterly. “Three broken ribs, a broken arm, dislocated shoulder, and a busted face. All because you dragged me into the bathroom at BC’s club.”

“Cooper did this to you?” Jensen asks. Zac rolls his eyes but the effect is ruined by the fact that he can only open one of them. Zac looks at him and licks his split lip.

“He’d never get his hands dirty like that,” Zac tells him. “But they made it very clear what I did wrong. They were pretty loose-lipped. I – I wasn’t supposed to live.”

“What happened, Zac?” Jared tries again. “We need to know.”

“You guys left,” Zac starts. He sounds so tired. Jensen pours him a glass of water and hands it over carefully. Zac takes a sip before continuing. “You left the club and I danced for awhile. Then these two guys grabbed me and dragged me out back. Told me I shouldn’t have been spilling Cooper’s business. Then they kicked the shit out of me.”

“Do you know what they looked like?” Jensen asks him. Zac scoffs humorlessly and a tear forms in his uninjured eye.

“I could tell you their names and what kind of car they drive,” Zac replies disdainfully. “They’re the goddamn bouncers at the club.”

“Zac, I’m sorry,” Jensen starts. Zac holds up his good hand to cut him off.

“I didn’t call you in here to make you feel guilty,” Zac tells them. He looks at Jared and then Jensen again. “I called you in here to warn you. I heard them talking about ‘Ackles and Spade’.” He looks up at Jared again. “Now, we weren’t introduced, but I’m assuming that’s you.”

“Yeah,” Jared croaks. “That’s me.”

Jared doesn’t get spooked easily, but he’s not sure what to make of all these people knowing who he is. There’s no reason they should know him, especially not by that name.

“Guys, they killed that girl,” Zac tells them. He swallows hard and nods a little, closing his eye when a tear rolls down his cheek. “And they tried to kill me. And you two are next on the list. BC’s not happy.”

“Why did they kill her?” Jensen asks desperately. For as good as he is at disguising his emotions, Jared can always tell when he’s hurting. He’s more broken up over Sandy’s death than he would ever admit. They were stuck to each other like glue all through high school and it sounds like that didn’t change in the ten years that Jared was gone.

“Same reason that you’re on their radar,” Zac tells him. “She got too close. I got too close. And now? The two of you are almost right on top of them and they aren’t happy about it.”

Jensen closes his eyes for a moment and then looks at Zac, takes in his face and his wounds, and then gets up and leaves the room. Jared watches him leave and shares a quick look with the detectives before turning back to the injured teen.

“Look, Zac,” Jared starts. “This is Collins and Bartha. They’re good guys, okay? I want you to tell them everything and they’ll make sure you stay safe until this is all over. You have my word.”

Zac tears his eyes away from Jared to look wearily at the detectives. Bartha, as expected, gives him a trustworthy smile and even Collins tips his hat.

“I’ll see you around, Zac.” There’s nothing else Jared can say, no words to make him feel better. He pats him once on the shoulder and gestures towards him when he passes the detectives.

He steps out of the room and looks around for Jensen. A nurse takes pity on him and points him down the hall. He finds Jensen at the cashier, leaning over the counter and deep in discussion with someone. He’s handing her a credit card, and when Jared gets closer he discovers that Jensen is making arrangements to cover all of Zac’s medical expenses.

Jared lets out a breath and smiles. Jensen always did have a heart of gold underneath all that male bravado.

Jensen turns around and lets out a harsh sigh at the sight of Jared. He smirks as Jensen tucks his no-limit black card back into his black leather wallet and levels him with a glare.

“That was nice of you,” Jared tells him. Jensen wrinkles his nose and slips his wallet back into his pocket.

“It was like, literally the least I could do,” Jensen replies. “It’s our fault he’s in there and I’m betting the kid doesn’t have any insurance. I’d pay for rehab if I thought it would do any damn good.”

“You can’t save them all,” Jared replies offhandedly. Jensen looks wounded and Jared clears his throat. “Uh, well. I need to give the detectives the slip. I’ll call you later.”

Jared turns to leave but Jensen grabs his arm and spins him back around. He wrenches his arm from Jensen’s grasp and adjusts his hat.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Jensen demands. “Where do you plan on going?”

“Look Jensen,” Jared grits out. “These assholes made me. They know me, and not the same way you do.”

“So they know your alias,” Jensen snaps. “Big fuckin’ deal. It’s not like it’s a secret. You have it printed on fucking business cards, remember?”

“No, Jensen,” Jared says lowly, taking one step forward to get in his face. “This isn’t me. I don’t sit around and let the cops handle it. I do what it takes to catch the bad guy without fighting my way through sticky red tape. This is personal, Jensen. They killed Sandy and now they’re after us, and you just want me to sit idly by? I don’t fucking think so.”

“I’m not going to just stand idly by while you put yourself in danger again,” Jensen replies. His eyes are wide and shiny and he’s pleading silently with Jared, manicured fingers digging into his arm through the sleeve of his jacket. “Stay here.”

“I’ll be back,” is all Jared says before pulling his arm from Jensen’s desperate grip. “Stay with the detectives and I’ll call you later.”

Jared spins around and rushes down the hall, squeezing his eyes shut and ignoring the heart wrenching sound of Jensen calling his name. It’s not the first time he’s walked away from Jensen asking him to stay.

That still doesn’t make it any easier.

Jared parks his rental a few hundred feet away from Sandy’s bungalow. Jensen would probably describe it as modest, while it’s quite extravagant to someone from Jared’s tax bracket.

Jared looks around and then slinks up to the front door. He knows he doesn’t fit in here as well as he does in New York. He sticks out like a sore thumb dressing like he does in this climate. Sweat dampens his skin and makes his dress shirt cling irritatingly to his body. He vows to buy a goddamn tee shirt before he leaves, even if he will have no place to hide his sidearm.

Jared picks the lock with methodical precision and lets his eyes sweep once more over the area before cracking the door open and slipping inside. His heart clenches in his chest as he looks around the living room. It’s all very Sandy – soft, pink, and elegant. Jared can imagine her handpicking every detail, even with the world’s best interior designers at her disposal.

The police have been here and taken evidence away, evidence that Jared searched through, but the place isn’t a crime scene so it’s not completely ravaged.

Jared’s heart beats rapidly as he circles the living room. There are pictures everywhere and most of them feature Jensen, Katie, and Sandy together. They were the three musketeers, and Jared feels a brief pang of nostalgia for the time he was once considered an integral part of their group.

Jared distracts himself with popping a piece of gum into his mouth to stave off his cigarette craving as he walks down the hallway towards Sandy’s room. Memories are assaulting him from every angle and it’s hard to shake them off.

“I can’t believe I’m at a sleepover,” Jensen laments tragically. “I am an eighteen year old straight boy, yet here I sit braiding hair and eating ice cream.”

“Stop complaining,” Katie replies, tipping her head back and smiling cheekily at him. “Your girlfriend will be here later and you’ll quickly return to ignoring all of us that are lacking in silicone.”

“Implants are a perfectly acceptable eighteenth birthday gift, especially when paid for by her father,” Jensen replies, but he looks like he’s about to laugh. “Fuck you all. My girl is gorgeous.”

Jared laughs awkwardly and Sandy crawls into his lap, looking into his eyes sympathetically before curling her arms around his neck. She’s so tiny, and Jared has no problem lifting her up and maneuvering her into a more comfortable position.

He knows why Sandy is doing this, why she invited them all over. For the past two weeks Jared has either been at school or at the hospital. His grandfather is slipping away and there is nothing he can do about it, so Sandy is trying to help. But it’s only taking his mind off of one problem and putting it on another.

Sandy is the only one that knows how he feels about Jensen, and she is always there to provide comfort when things get too overwhelming. Sometimes Jared wishes Danneel wasn’t so amazing. She’s gorgeous, funny, and sweet, if not a little vapid. But it’s Hollywood. Vapid is in the job description.

“I don’t know, you guys,” Sandy says, addressing Jensen and Katie as her fingers comb through Jared’s tangled hair. “We’re growing up and I don’t quite want to. Tonight is all about our youth. Let’s savor it.”

“Now that I’m all for,” Jensen says as he raises a flute of champagne. Only Sandy McCoy would have champagne and strawberries at a high school sleepover. “I propose a toast, darlings. We all stay young forever. Young and in love. Friends until the very end.”

“Until the end,” Sandy replies, grinning warmly as she and Jared hold out their own glasses. Katie leans in and they all clink their flutes together. Jensen catches Jared’s eye as they drink and something in his gaze makes Jared’s belly flutter.

He tries not to read into it. It’s just another flare of false hope. He pulls Sandy closer and inhales the soft vanilla scent of her hair.

At least he’ll always have his friends.

Jared blinks away the sting in his eyes as he enters Sandy’s bedroom. It looks almost like a teenager’s except for the elegant furnishings. There are pictures everywhere – an entire wall dedicated to memories.

Jared steals a minute to go over and sneak a peak. He’s surprised to see a few of himself mixed in along with photos from the past decade. Sandy obviously never stopped caring about him, and guilt twists in his belly for the umpteenth time since his arrival.

He tears himself away from the wall of photos and looks around the room with a detective’s eye. Her desk is empty due to her computer being confiscated as evidence, but Jared goes over to search the drawers. There’s nothing out of the ordinary in them, and Jared sighs. A sudden thought occurs to him and he pulls the drawer all the way out of the desk and flips it over, dumping the contents all over the floor.

Taped to the underside of the drawer is a little silver key, and Jared smirks fondly as he peels the tape back. He taught Sandy this over ten years ago. She was always fascinated by his little tricks.

Jared scoops everything back into the drawer and sits down on the floor, leaning back against Sandy’s bed as he stares at the key. It looks like it goes to some sort of lock box, and Jared looks around the room again.

His cell phone vibrates in his pocket, not for the first time since leaving the hospital, but this time he answers it.

“Spade,” he says cheerily. He nearly chuckles at the frustrated growl Jensen lets out.

Where the fuck are you?” Jensen demands.

“The supermarket,” Jared responds easily. He looks at the key again and furrows his brow. “Hey, did Sandy follow in my footsteps?”

What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Did she sleuth it up after I left?” Jared replies. Jensen lets out another frustrated noise and Jared rolls his eyes. “Turn into a little Nancy Drew?”

No. You left and I quit the biz,” Jensen responds sarcastically. “But she was always into detectives. Watched all those old movies and read those boring old books.”

Jared looks around and spots Sandy’s bookshelf. It’s stacked with DVDs and books and on the second to last shelf Jared spots what appears to be a well-worn set of Sherlock Holmes novels. Jared’s eyes light up.

“Thanks,” Jared tells him. There’s some scuffling on the other end of the line and then Collins’s voice is screaming in his ear.

What in the everloving fuck do you think you’re doing, Padalecki? Get your fucking ass back here or I swear to –

Jared pulls the phone away from his ear and ends the call, slipping it back into his pocket before he goes over to the bookcase. The Sherlock Holmes novels look a little off – a little too uniform and shiny. Jared reaches up to tug on the middle book but the entire volume comes out in one piece. Jared turns the novels around to discover that the entire set opens to reveal a small silver lock box. Jared chuckles thickly and blinks a few times.

“That’s my girl,” he whispers, and inserts the key into the lock. He flips it open and digs carefully through the contents. There isn’t much, but the tiny baggie of cocaine is what catches Jared’s attention. He furrows his brow and lifts it up, finding that it’s paper clipped to a business card for 500 BC. In the box are a few slips of paper covered in Sandy’s loopy scrawl. One is the name and phone number for a prominent drug rehab center and the other is just an address for some place out in the industrial part of town.

Jared makes note of the address and puts everything back in the box before locking it up and tucking it under his arm. He replaces the false books and takes one last look around Sandy’s room before letting himself out of the house.

He’s closing the door behind him when he looks up to see a man walking across the front yard. Jared immediately tenses and readjusts the lock box so he can reach for his sidearm if needed. But then he looks closer and sees that the guy is short and lithe with sunglasses covering his eyes and his hands in his pockets. He doesn’t exactly look threatening.

“Hey,” the guy says in a wobbly, slightly accusatory voice. “Who are you?”

“I’m a detective,” Jared replies, purposefully leaving out his name. “I’m investigating Ms. McCoy’s case.”

“Oh.” The guy visibly deflates and pushes his sunglasses up into his slightly curly hair. Another set of blue eyes. “That makes sense. I just don’t understand who would want to hurt such a sweet girl.”

“I’m sorry,” Jared says politely. “But who are you?”

“Sorry, I’m Rob Benedict,” he replies, giving Jared a little wave before pointing to his left. “I live next door.”

“Were you friends with Sandy?” Jared asks, scanning the area with his eyes before stepping off of the porch to approach Rob. He jerks his head towards Rob’s house and he nods before leading Jared over.

“Yeah, I was,” Rob says as he fishes his keys out of his pocket. “Not super close or anything, but yeah. She was a great girl.”

“Would you mind answering a few questions?” Jared asks, pasting on a pleasant smile. Rob looks a little startled, but not in a guilty way. The guy is neurotic as hell.

“Sure. I mean, yeah. I can do that,” Rob says as he unlocks the front door and leads Jared inside. “Not sure how much help I’ll be.”

He leads Jared inside and turns to face him. Jared cocks his head to the side, looking at Rob a little more closely. He looks familiar, but Jared can’t exactly place him.

“Were you home the night Sandy was killed?” Jared asks. Rob winces and goes over to the wet bar to pour himself a drink. He gestures towards Jared with the bottle, but he waves his hand to decline.

“I wasn’t. I was in San Francisco for a gig,” Rob replies. “I just got back last night. I had heard it on the news but I didn’t really believe it until I came home. I mean, she’s gone. It’s crazy.”

“A gig?” Jared repeats, and then narrows his eyes a little. He snaps his fingers and points at Rob, suddenly recognizing his face from the cover of a copy of Spin magazine that he saw on a table at the hospital. “You’re in that band that I keep seeing everywhere.”

Rob merely nods and takes a sip of his whiskey, wincing at the burn. Jared takes his hat off and runs his fingers through his hair before continuing.

“Do you know if Sandy ever did any drugs?” Jared asks, getting right to the point. Rob furrows his brow and sets his drink down on the bar as he shakes his head.

“No, that I can say for sure,” Rob replies. “She was pretty against the stuff. Another reason I liked her. That stuff is hard to avoid in our world. She, uh, actually came over a few weeks ago to ask me about the situation with our friend Tom. He had a problem and we got him into rehab.”

“Why do you think she was interested?” Jared asks. Rob shrugs and takes another sip of his drink. “She didn’t say?”

“She was sorta cagey about it,” Rob responds. “Like she didn’t really want to give out any details. I would guess she was in a similar situation, though. She always did like to help people. I don’t know. I just gave her the number for the place we took Tom. Very discreet.”

“I see,” Jared replies thoughtfully. “Can you think of anything else that could help? Anything strange?”

“Sorry, no,” Rob says sadly. “I wish I could help. Sandy was always a good neighbor and a great friend. I’m going to miss her.”

“We all are,” Jared says before he can really stop himself. He clears his throat when Rob looks up at him.

“You knew her?” Rob asks. Jared furrows his brow and nods as he pulls out a business card. He hands it over to Rob who reads it before slipping it into his pocket.

“I did,” Jared tells him. Rob nods and gives him a sympathetic smile. He walks over and reaches up to grip Jared’s shoulder.

“Then do me a favor, Jake,” Rob says, looking at Jared with a set of intense blue eyes. “Find whoever did this and give them a swift kick in the ass courtesy of me, alright?”

“Will do,” Jared replies, gaze softening a little. Rob nods and bites his lip before turning back to the bar. “If you think of anything else, call me.”

Rob nods and Jared drops his hat back on his head before letting himself out. He’s so wrapped up in thoughts of Sandy that he doesn’t even see the black sedan with tinted windows sitting across the street.

Things are getting too personal. He’s slightly off his game.

Jensen answers his phone on the second ring.

Where the fuck are you?” Jensen demands before Jared can even get a word out. Jared rolls his eyes and glances at his GPS system before changing lanes. The sun is dropping below the horizon at a swift pace and Jared couldn’t be more grateful. He always thinks better when the sun isn’t in his eyes.

“Out and about,” Jared replies easily. “Just hung out with a rock star.”

You what?” Jensen demands. There a moment of silence and Jared can practically hear the gears turning. “Wait, a rock star? Rob? Were you at Sandy’s?

“You sure ask a whole lot of questions,” Jared replies. “Now I have to ask you one, and you have to be honest with me.”

Out with it, asshole.”

“What are your drug habits?” Jared asks. “What do you do and how often?”

Oh, wonderful,” Jensen replies scathingly. “I already told you. I’ve tried pretty much everything because I’m a fucking lemming, but I hated the hard stuff and I don’t plan on touching any of that shit again. But there is a bag of pot with my name on it in my nightstand. I think I’ve earned it. Also? Thanks for trusting me, dick.

“Fine,” Jared replies with a roll of his eyes. “What about Katie?”

Oh, well. Miss Katie Cass is a little bit more frivolous in that area,” Jensen admits. “She takes a little bit of everything recreationally, but she’s not alone. Why are you asking me this, Jared?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Jared says dismissively. “Where are you right now?”

Home,” Jensen says blandly. “You should stop being a fucking dumbass and swing by.

“I have some things to take care of first,” Jared says in a voice that makes it sound like he’s swinging by the post office. “But I’ll be over later. Maybe we’ll even spark up a bowl for old time’s sake.”

Jared, don’t you fucking – ” Jared hangs up the phone and tosses it on the passenger seat as he switches lanes. His exit is in sight and he doesn’t want to miss it.

He finds the address on the slip of paper with relative ease and parks a few blocks down. There’s a sleek black car parked out front and Jared gathers that this is where Cooper stores his drugs. How Sandy found that out, he isn’t sure, but he steps a little lighter as he approaches. He gives the area a quick but thorough once over and doesn’t see any surveillance cameras, but he isn’t one to take too many chances. He pulls the brim of his hat down to cast his face in shadow.

He creeps along the shadowed alley that runs alongside the warehouse and rolls his lips into his mouth when he hears talking coming from around back. He presses back against the wall and blends in with the shadows, holding his breath as he listens.

“This is bullshit, BC.” The voice is loud and obnoxious and Jared is pissed that he can’t see their faces. “You didn’t hire me to move fuckin’ boxes.”

“You’re right. I absolutely didn’t.” Bradley Cooper’s voice is calm and ice cool and Jared feels anger flush through his veins just at the sound of it. “I hired you to take out the trash, but apparently that’s too much for you to handle. So now? You get to move fucking boxes.”

“I thought the kid was dead, alright?” The guy replies and Jared bites down on his bottom lip as he curls his hands into tight fists.

“Yeah, see,” Cooper replies snidely. “Things that are dead generally don’t have a fucking pulse. So basically, you fucking gift-wrapped a shiny new witness for the LAPD because you’re a goddamn moron.”

“Hey – “

“I don’t want to hear it, alright?” Cooper interrupts. “You fucked up. Now get Casey down here so we can figure out what the fuck to do now, or I’ll put a bullet in your goddamn brain myself.”

Jared hears the sound of scuffling feet and doesn’t exactly stick around after that. He throws himself into the driver’s seat of his car with nothing more than a useless confirmation of something he already knew and white-hot rage boiling in his veins.

Jared walks into his hotel later that evening, to-go cup of coffee from the diner he stopped at warming his palm. Over an hour wasted on shitty coffee and a dry turkey sandwich, and he’s still no closer to a resolution.

He is halfway across the lobby when his cell phone vibrates in his pocket. He assumes it’s Jensen calling to yell at him some more, but when he looks at the display his brow quirks up curiously.

“Sergeant Fuller,” he answers cheerily. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Three days ago you were in my station in Manhattan annoying the shit out of me,” Fuller replies without preamble. “And now you’re in Los Angeles sniffing at some crime syndicate ran by Bradley Cooper. Explain.”

“Last I checked, I wasn’t on your payroll,” Jared replies calmly. He presses the button to call the elevator and leans against the wall. He waits until the doors open and he is inside, safe and alone, before continuing his conversation. “But it sounds like you have some information I could use, so I’ll tell you. Sandra McCoy was an old friend of mine, and I’ve come to believe that Cooper had something to do with her death.”

“Why am I not surprised that you’ve stuck your hand in this honey jar, kid?” Fuller asks. Jared rolls his eyes and scratches the back of his head. “You have no idea who Bradley Cooper is, do you?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t have called you,” Jared tells him. “Whoever he is, he made me. Knows me as Spade, which doesn’t really sit well with me over on this coast. Got anything that’ll ease my mind a bit?”

“He knows you as Spade because he’s from New York, you idiot,” Fuller tells him. “He’s Jack Riley’s fucking nephew.”

“Jack Riley?” Jared asks as he reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “As in Irish mob? Fucking fantastic.”

“Look, I don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into over there,” Fuller tells him. “But I wanted to let you know that you may be dealing with a snot-nosed brat who thinks he has the world on a string, but he’s a very well-connected brat. He knows how the game works. Be careful.”

“Thanks for the heads up,” Jared tells him as he steps off of the elevator. “I’ll be back on your side of the states making you lose what little hair you have left in no time.”

Fuller lets out a noncommittal grunt and hangs up the phone. Jared slips it back into his pocket and lets out a yawn as he extracts his key. He knows Jensen is probably worrying about him, so Jared decides that he’ll give him a call after he takes a shower. Maybe he’ll even go over there and see him face to face.

He’s distracted by thoughts of Jensen’s green eyes as he enters his hotel room, so the swift and sudden punch to his jaw is completely unexpected.

Jared blinks the stars out of his eyes as the door to his room slams shut. He reaches for his sidearm but he catches another punch to his stomach and he blanches from the pain. His arms are pulled behind him and Jared struggles valiantly to break the grip, but he can’t. There’s a goon holding each arm and a third punches him again. Jared hisses as knuckles split the skin over his right eye.

Jared continues to struggle but it’s useless. He’s big and strong and he knows how to fight, but he’s up against three guys made of muscle. He lets out an irritated huff and his eyes widen when the lights come on and he sees Bradley Cooper standing in front of him.

“Well hello, Jake,” Cooper says in a warm, friendly tone. He reaches into Jared’s jacket and removes his sidearm from its holster. Jared swallows hard as Cooper twirls the gun around his index finger. “You know, I feel like we know each other already. Like we’re already friends. Isn’t that strange?”

“Extraordinary,” Jared mumbles, eyes locked on the gun in Cooper’s hand. “So glad we could have this little meet and greet.”

“Well, I knew a face to face was in order,” Cooper replies. He’s grinning like a mad man and there’s an odd spark in his blue eyes that sends the thrill of fear down Jared’s spine. “Imagine my surprise upon finding out that you stopped by earlier and didn’t even come over to say hi. I found that to be a bit rude, actually.”

Cooper nods to the man not holding Jared up, and he bites down on his lip to keep from making a sound when he receives two quick blows to his ribcage. A third lands in the middle of his stomach and he tries to wrench himself forward, but all he manages is an odd popping sound coming from the general area of his shoulders.

“Where are my manners?” Jared rasps, grinning snidely before spitting blood onto the floor. His shoulder feels like it’s seconds away from popping out of its socket and Jared gets up on his toes to alleviate some of the pressure. “How can I help you, Brad? I assume you’re here to kill me. Which, I have to say doesn’t sound pleasant at all.”

Cooper smirks and Jared smirks right back. Jared feels his mortality like a tangible string, pulled tight and ready to snap. His life could end at any moment and all Jared can think about is how unfortunate it is that his last memory of Jensen will be the anguished look in his eyes as Jared turns away from him. Just like ten years ago. Only this time he won’t have a chance to make things right.

Cooper saunters up to Jared and lifts his chin with the barrel of his own gun. Jared narrows his eyes and glares at Cooper even as his heart pounds in his chest. Cooper cocks the gun and he keeps his eyes open, doing his best not to display any fear.

“You know what? I’m not going to kill you,” Cooper says as he pulls the gun away from Jared’s throat. Jared’s brow furrows in confusion and even Cooper’s cronies let out bewildered grumbles.

“Well, I’m not trying to push my luck here,” Jared grits out. His shoulders are on fire and he breathes through the pain. “But why is that?”

“Who knows?” Cooper replies bitterly. He takes the clip out of Jared’s gun and sets the disassembled weapon on the table near the window before turning back to him. “Maybe you caught me in a good mood. Maybe I don’t want to see blood all over that exquisite suit you’re wearing.”

His expression goes from playful to dangerous and he walks up to Jared, grabs his chin, and looks right into his eyes. Jared grimaces at the touch and resists the urge to close his eyes, staring back defiantly.

“Or just maybe I think you’re a far sight smarter than your friend Little Miss Sunshine,” Cooper spits. Jared tenses at the obtuse mention of Sandy and struggles vainly against the grip on his arms. They pull his arms back and give him a good shake, and Jared bites down on his lip so hard it bleeds. “I’ll make you a deal, Jake. And I think you’re smart enough to take it. You scamper on back to the Big Apple, and I won’t kill any more of your friends from the glory days. That includes a certain billionaire playboy that you can’t seem to separate yourself from.”

Jared’s vision blurs with white-hot rage at the threat on Jensen’s life, and he tears his chin out of Cooper’s grasp even as his shoulders scream in protest. Cooper merely chuckles and pats his cheek.

“Do we have a deal, Jake?” Cooper asks. “I feel like it’s a pretty generous offer. No more blood shed as long as you pack up and get the fuck out of my life. We clear?”

“Crystal,” Jared spits out. It’s a complete and utter lie, but Cooper seems satisfied. “Now, I’d love it if you all took your leave while I still have feeling in my arms.”

“Of course. We’ll get out of your hair,” Cooper tells him. He tilts his head to the side and looks at Jared for a long moment, one side of his mouth quirked up into a condescending smirk. “But you look so tired, Jake. How about we help you get some sleep?”

Jared has only long enough to raise a brow before Cooper nods and the large guy standing behind him steps forward to pistol whip Jared across the face.

He doesn’t remember much after that.

[onto part four.]
vision_mvision_m on June 13th, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC)
Damn your Bradley Cooper is a piece of work and he clearly doesn't give damn if he left Jared alive, must feel like he is invincible. Heading for the next chapter now
I breathe therefore I writesandymg on June 14th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
Ugh. I have to stop now. Damn RL. This is *so* good. Can't help but pick up the Veronica Mars influence. And I mean that in the best possible way. Loved that show. Nothing beats a neat, twisty plot! And this is that in spades (heh ... there's a pun in there.)

Will move on as soon as I can (pouting).